Chapter 15:

Humans Can Fight Too...

The Life of Death

Left to right. My eyes were always shifting, but never focused on anything. They always sought the source of the voices, but failed every time. The lost souls of Pertudo, as Aoki mentioned, desperately looking for a way to return to the living. They’re trapped between realms, the souls left unclaimed by a death. They speak to me in the hopes of creating a bridge back to this world. I was so relieved to learn there was an explanation for my condition, for my mother’s own mind betraying her. I grew blind to my own actions. I was naive to think Aoki would accept me for who I am, that I could get this involved and still hold onto my old life. I’m nothing more than a fool, conned into betraying the people that ever truly accepted me. Bookmark here

“Spill it. Where is Amber?” Erik shoved me against the wall, his eyes filled with intensity I didn’t recognize. Always the docile giant, he was now the angry goliath.Bookmark here

“What are you planning to do? You can’t save her on your own and who knows if Milo will ever come back to help.” Bookmark here

“He will. He made me a promise that he’d free my sister, but I can’t sit around doing nothing until he returns. So, I’ll ask again, where is my sister?” His voice was a low growl, like an alpha wolf protecting its pack. Bookmark here

His hold on my shirt tightened, the fabric twisting within his fingers. I was met with his intimidating glare, but I felt nothing. His threats didn’t spur any fear in me, nothing inflicted any emotion in me. I was empty, my actions cracking open the reservoir of my feelings, allowing them to rush out like water breaking through a damn. All that was left were depleted remains, shrivelled and dried up like a prune. Bookmark here

“Room 202. There in my bedroom. You won’t be able to save Amber alone.” I pointed towards a door not much further down the hall. Bookmark here

“I’m not going to be alone. You’re coming with me and are going to help.”Bookmark here

“How am I able to be of use?”Bookmark here

“She wanted you to bring us as captives right? Then that’s what we are going to make her believe. You tried to stab Milo with this, so if it’s meant to kill him it’ll work on Aoki.” He flashed me the dagger stuffed down the side of his jeans. It was well concealed, the hilt covered by the bottom of his shirt while the blade was sheathed down his pant leg. Bookmark here

“Milo and her are not the same.” I tried to warn him, but Erik ignored it and released me from his grasp. Bookmark here

“Make it look like I’m your prisoner and let’s get on with it.” Erik said. He slumped his posture, drooping over in defeat. It was a good performance, maybe good enough to fool Aoki into believing I’d succeeded in carrying out her orders.Bookmark here

I guided him forward, stopping at my door. I hesitated, taking a deep breath in and out. My nerves were still firing at full throttle, but I was able to calm my thoughts. I had to concentrate to block out the voices pleading for salvation from Pertudo, their cries too distracting for me to focus on this mission. There was a chance, a small one, but a chance that if I helped Erik save Amber that I could rest easy. Maybe even be accepted once again by my only friends. It was a thin thread of hope, but it was all I had left to hold on to. Bookmark here

My hand was steady as I turned the knob, the cool bronze chilling my fingers. There was a click then a creak as I pushed the door open. The living room was tidy, my mother’s careless littering subdued by Aoki’s curse. She’d been confined to her room, forced into a deep sleep after the death’s first visit. I felt a tinge of guilt every time I looked at the room with relief at how uncluttered it was. Bookmark here

‘She’ll be safer this way’ was her explanation. Now I knew it was to hold her hostage. It wasn’t even a clever ploy; my desire to trust her was my own undoing. I felt a nudge from behind as Erik coaxed me forward. I took a few steps, moving aside to allow him to move in front. We had to make it look believable to fool her. Bookmark here

“They’re in the room back there. Last chance to back out.” I pointed out the door to my bedroom, tucked away in the corner of the apartment. I knew Erik wouldn’t give up at this point, both of us were in too deep to retreat. Bookmark here

“Just don’t let me down, Reggie. This is your chance to gain back my trust. We’re friends after all, that’s got to count for something.” Erik took the first steps, cementing our fate. Bookmark here

Chances of surviving were low. I’d seen what Aoki was capable of and doubted the dagger Erik had tucked away would do any real harm. When it came to Amber though, nothing ever stopped Erik. Ever since I’d first met him, he’d been protecting her. That was four years ago now. Bookmark here

Everyone viewed Amber as the one that stood up for Erik, with her intimidating nature and bossy commands. That’s how it had always been on the surface. Erik the quiet pushover, and Amber the loudmouthed dictator. But, I was one of the few people to ever see Amber cry. When she was in trouble, it was always Erik who swooped in to protect her. Bullies in middle school never even got close to Amber, her brother there every time to intervene. This time it wasn’t a bully, but a monster.Bookmark here

“Where are the other two?” Aoki sat in her chair, eyeing us as we entered. Bookmark here

“I stabbed Milo like you asked, but it didn’t kill him. His wounds were severe enough though that he had to flee with Ava. They left Amber’s brother behind though, so I brought him here.” Aoki studied us for a moment, not saying a single word. My heart raced, the pounding so intense I couldn’t form a thought. I felt my palms grow sweaty, making me rub my fingers together profusely. Bookmark here

Amber yelled from the bed, her screams muffled by her gag. She was drenched in sweat, signs of her attempts to break out of her bonds evident. She eyed me with a cold stare, her eyelids never blinking. Erik didn’t move, his performance of a defeated captive spot on. He hung his head, staring at his feet to avoid looking at his sister. I noticed his fists were clenched, no doubt a way to hold off his anger. Bookmark here

“So this is your brother?” Aoki said, striding to stand beside Erik. She traced a finger along his shoulder, causing him to stiffen his posture. He still avoided looking up from his feet. Bookmark here

“I must say I’m disappointed in you, Reggie. You were supposed to bring Milo and the girl here so we could put on a show for our guest.” She glanced over at Amber, leading to more suppressed yelling. Bookmark here

“There was an opening I thought I could exploit.” I tried to limit the shaking in my voice. One false movement, one incorrect expression could tip her off to our con.Bookmark here

“Unacceptable.” She left Erik’s side to confront me. There wasn’t enough space between us to fit the thinnest of books, her chest practically touching mine. If I breathed in too deeply we would touch for sure. Bookmark here

“You disobeyed my instructions, and I have no use for toys that don’t do what I want.” Aoki’s eyes became cloudy with black, her green pupils slowly disappearing. Bookmark here

I felt her nails skid across my stomach. It was gentle, but I could feel them slide through my skin. It was deep, but blood dripped out of the fresh cuts all the same. I couldn’t breath or think. All I could do was stare back into those cold, dark eyes, analyzing my terrified reflection in them.Bookmark here

“Next time I’ll do better.” I hardly got the words out, my voice quieter than a mouse. Bookmark here

“There won’t be a next time darling.”Bookmark here

“You’re right there won’t be.” Erik said.Bookmark here

It all happened so fast, the point of the dagger barely touching my shirt. Aoki’s fingers stopped, black pools dripping on them one by one. Her face was confused, incapable of comprehending what had happened. Erik stood behind her, his face strained in anger. He removed the dagger, preparing for another strike. Bookmark here

“Little brat.” Aoki coughed, spraying me in a mist of blood. I could feel her seething, her rage emitting from her like a radiator. Bookmark here

“Do you really think that is enough to kill me? One of the Seven Judges of the Underworld!” She spun, her forearm close-lining Erik into the floor. The dagger clattered out of his reach, leaving him straining to breathe. Amber pushed herself off the bed, rolling to lay with her brother. Bookmark here

“I have permission to kill you both after Milo dragged you into this. Him and anyone at his side has been deemed too dangerous to stay among the living.” She lifted Erik to his feet, strangling him in her hands. Bookmark here

The dagger had landed by my desk, laying there as an instrument of hope. I watched as Erik turned blue, his chest struggling to rise as he desperately tried to inhale. Amber kicked at Aoki’s ankles, but she paid her no attention. All her anger was geared toward Erik. Bookmark here

“I hope you enjoyed your short life. It ends here!” She cackled like the monster she was, relishing in her kill. Bookmark here

My eyes shifted back and forth between Erik and the dagger, my body refusing to move. I was always slow with making decisions, every day of my life was filled with so many that I never felt I made the right one. I was cursed with self doubt, always one step behind because I couldn’t bring myself to commit. Bookmark here

I blanked, my brain shutting off as my body reacted. I felt the leather in my hands, my grip strong around the hilt. I didn’t care what happened to me, but I wouldn’t let anything happen to my friends, not again. Bookmark here

The blade sliced through Aoki’s arm like butter, not even the darkness I’d seen swirling under her skin before remained. Erik drew in a breath as he crumbled to the floor, weezing as the color returned to his face. The arm faded away, crumbling like burning coal. My ears rang from the shrieks, Aoki’s non stop screaming chilling the blood in my veins. She turned her attention to me, her jaw clenched so tight I could hear the teeth behind her lips cracking.Bookmark here

“Fine then, if you’re so eager then you’ll die first!”Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

I could hardly move, the pleasant sensation brought on by the crypt’s soul slowly seeping away. It wasn’t replaced by pain, more like exhaustion, my body as heavy as a brick of lead. I plopped to the ground, struggling to even stay in a seated position. Bookmark here

So, did you enjoy it?”Bookmark here

“Don’t talk to me.” Bookmark here

You’ll come around. This won’t be the last time you need me. As it is, why don’t you take a sniff of that girl. You might be needing me sooner than you think.Bookmark here

I shifted my attention to Ava. She was lightly breathing, her body looking less pale than before. Considering the trauma she’d been through she looked remarkably well, but the voice was right. Something about her smell was different. I forced myself to her side, dragging my body across the roof. I felt shackled, like chains were wrapped around my ankles.Bookmark here

The darkness stitched into her side was boiling, as if baking in the sunlight. The smell was unbearable, like a death’s soul cooking in an oven. Bookmark here

“What did you do?”Bookmark here

You wanted to save her life, didn’t you? Only way to do that was to inject a little more darkness into her system, to make her soul a bit more like ours. Don’t worry she’s not a death…yet. Bookmark here

The darkness continued to boil, bubbling over like hot tar. It slid down her side, settling onto the concrete. I still didn’t have the energy to move, every body part too sore and weak. An arm extended out of the puddle, digging its fingers into the roof. It heaved, pulling more of its body out of the ground. It looked like sludge, a toxic darkness oozing as it increased in size. Bookmark here

“What’s happening to her?”Bookmark here

Looks like she’s rejecting it, even though it’s a part of her now. And well, the darkness isn’t so happy about it.Bookmark here

More of its body rose, revealing the head. It had two pointed ears followed by a flat face, its eyes unnaturally close to its mouth. As more of it continued to rise, droplets of its essence dripped down. There was a sizzle as each drop evaporated instantly like hot grease in a frying pan. I didn’t want to think what would happen if bits of it started dripping onto me. Bookmark here

If you want to stop that thing from taking over her body by force, you’ll want me in control. Bookmark here

“Not happening.” I backed away, using my arms to pull myself further from the monster. A toothless smile was directed my way as it inched after me, its legs still not breaching the surface of the puddle. Even without the legs, it still managed to tower over me, casting me in a long shadow as it blocked the sun. Bookmark here

If you don’t, we’ll die.  Bookmark here

N. D. Skordilis
Abraham B. A.
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