PART 3 : EARTH – THE CLAN YEARS
We left the Academy. I packed everything, got Merlas and we left. Amarath teleported us to a clearing somewhere, a power she assured me I was capable of wielding, just not trained to do. I wasn't really listening to her. My mind was too focused on Holly and Natalie, the things we'd done together, the teachers we'd pranked, the trouble we had gotten ourselves into. Amarath snapped her fingers in front of my face. I jumped, glaring at her.
"What did you do that for?"
"You weren't listening. I told you, this is Shaeman." I hadn't noticed the tall man standing as part of the group. Although he looked to be in his early twenties, his hair was silver, cropped in a messy style apart from a lock at the front that reached down to his waist. Dressed in red, he looked vaguely familiar.
"Shadow," he said, nodding at me. "We have met before, although not introduced." I racked my brains for any memory of a silver haired man when it struck me. In Aspheri, the twins who had led me to Karthragan for the first time.
"You, you were one of the boys who led me to Karthragan, weren't you!" I snarled.
Shaeman put up his hands in a surrendering gesture. "To be fair, I was eight at the time. At that point, if I didn't obey Dad, then the consequences were severe. We didn't tend to question his authority."
"Long story short, Shad, Shaeman's our half brother, him and his twin Vrael. Kar's been breeding like a rabbit on speed. Vrael managed to get himself chucked into another dimension. We've got to pull together as a family if we're going to get through the prophecy."
"Oh, in the name of Arias, what did they teach you in the Senate Towers?"
"Obviously not what you think..."
Amarath and Shaeman sighed, exchanging long suffering glances before beginning to explain. In the rules of demons and part demons, they were born in pairs. That much I had finally understood. It also seemed, in the case of powerful demons and all part demons, one of the twin's lives was subject to prophecy. In the most part, they weren't an important factor. However, the more powerful the demon parent, the more the prophecy took control of their life. This time, it fell on me. Karthragan happened to be the Prince of Darkness, the big cheese of the demon world. The poem that Amarath had sent me was the prophecy. In short, I was going to die at his hands and him at mine to determine who would rule over the demons.
"But before we start working on that, we have to find Vrael. Between the four of us, we should be able to deal with Karthragan should he decide to try and start the prophecy early. Which doesn't work, by the way, so don't get any ideas."
"So, where is he?"
DOTH, or the dimension of the dead, has been apply named. No one who has ventured there has returned whole. Many do not return at all. An explorer from Synairn once travelled there. He returned a changed man. He locked himself in his home for days, refusing to see anyone. The day he stepped out of his front door, he disintegrated into dust. He never told a soul what had happened there. And now we were headed to that very same place. Amarath, Shaeman and I. We donned our cloaks, pulling the hoods low over our faces. I took a firm grasp of Shaeman's arm so he could help me teleport.
The dimension of the dead was cold. So very cold and bleak. The landscape was dead, all grey trees, broken branches and sharp rocks. Nothing lived here. Nothing alive could live here, under the red sun. I drew my cloak tighter around my body, trying to maintain a degree of warmth against the ice-tinged wind. Shaeman tilted his head to one side, listening out for something. He started to walk towards a thin pillar of smoke curling up from behind a bank of tall, black grass. Amarath drew her sword, hacking through the brittle blades and sharp brambles.
A small village was the only thing that showed any signs of life. Pale, flickering light illuminated the windows of the blackened timber structures. A larger source of light came from what I guessed was the heart of the village. Amarath gestured for us to advance. Tugging my hood a little lower, I followed their careful, predatory, steps. The closer we got, the louder the sound of clashing metal grew louder. In the central square of the village, in the middle of a circle formed by the inhabitants of the tiny dimension, two men fought with swords around a bonfire whose flames held the only colours I had yet seen. They danced dangerously in the long hair of one of the combatants, loosed from its ponytail. His movements were as fluid and graceful as his slender, lithe body, turning the battle into a dance, the ultimate predator. I hadn't realised that I had actually been watching him with my mouth hanging open until Amarath elbowed me in the side.
"I wouldn't get too many ideas, Shad, 'cus that's your brother."
I rolled my eyes at her, snorting. Ok, yes, he was good looking, but I wasn't interested in him like that. I swear, Amarath is going to be the death of me. I turned my gaze back to the fight where Vrael had managed to thrust his sword through the chest of his opponent. I couldn't believe my eyes as the skewered man seemed to laugh, shaking hands with Vrael before pulling the sword from his torso and handing it back to him. The crowd was cheering for them, several complimenting them on their battle. Shaeman whistled a low sound under his breath, the noise making my fangs ache. Vrael's head snapped up, looking at the people, searching for the origin of the noise.
"Outsiders! Someone yelled. I felt my hood being yanked down, people grabbing my arms, pulling my head to one side to expose my neck.
"Leave them!" Vrael ordered, his sword slung over his back, his shirt hanging over his shoulder. His skin was so pale, so much paler than his twin's. The villagers didn't move back; hissing and snarling in a language I couldn't understand. A language so growling and feral as to be intimidating. The language of the dead. The villagers were restless. Thirsty, needy, hungry for blood. One of the villagers growled at Vrael before raking his teeth down Amarath's neck. Black blood immediately welled in the grooves left by his fangs. Someone's hand gripped mine.
I found myself face down in a pile of dirt. Shaking my head, I got to my feet, brushing myself off. Shaeman appeared at my side, carefully turning me away from something. I tried to look back over my shoulder.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you. You really don't want to see this." He was right. From the glimpse I saw, I really didn't want to know about or see Vrael sucking at Amarath's neck. It was an image I was sure I would carry for the rest of my life, and not one I really wanted to. I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to think about it. Shaeman chuckled under his breath.
"Not particularly nice, is it? But then again, Vrael has to get the venom out of Amarath's system before it starts converting her into a vampire like him."
"Vrael's a vampire?"
"They don't call it the dimension of the dead for nothing. They're all vampires there. Vrael wasn't when he was sent there, but they fixed that for him."
"But he's out in sunlight... I thought vampires couldn't do that."
"Full bloods can't. Vrael's only a half. His demonic blood wouldn't allow vampirism to take over any more than that. He can go out in sunlight, cast a reflection and eat garlic. I'm not sure I'll let him do that last one though. I don't think I could stand the smell of it hanging around."
"It is done, you may now look," spoke Vrael's velvet tones. Amarath was getting to her feet, wobbling somewhat but intact. That's what counts.
Over the next month, we built our house. It should have taken longer than that, and would have if the construction workers had been human. We built it in that clearing, using wood from the trees, occasionally pulled through the forest by Merlas if we couldn't do it ourselves and stone from the undergrowth. Shaeman even figured out how to make a serviceable cement from the river, with water, sand and silt, (I suspect heavy amounts of magic). We even managed a full round of vulnerable periods. Unfortunately, that turned Vrael into a full vampire. We ended up burying him for the duration of the vulnerable period to prevent him from turning into a pile of ash. We were putting the finishing touches to the structure of the house when he started to look at me strangely. I have to admit, I was a little nervous. I didn't really fancy becoming a vampire's chew toy, even if he was my brother (ok, half brother). Shaeman noticed it and threw him a vial of blood from the collection we had all chipped in to create. Vrael shook his head, throwing it back at him, Shaeman catching it in a coordination born of throwing things at each other over the last month.
"What's up, Vrae?" Amarath asked, walking over, wiping her hands on her cloak.
Vrael gestured towards me with one hand. "She's pregnant."
"Pregnant," Vrael repeated, "I can smell the shift in your hormones."
Amarath whacked her head off her palm. "Oh, I'm such an idiot. Karthragan punched you in the stomach. That would have been enough if you weren't blocking it."
"Whoa, slow down here, will someone explain please?"
Vrael and Amarath glanced at each other before Amarath sighed heavily. "Alright, so it's a girl topic. Wusses. Shad, in a magical sense, a child is a bonding of the essences of the parents. In creatures such as ourselves, who can use magic to bend the rules of solidity, putting any part of your bodythroughthe other person's body constitutes a melding of the essences. The only way our bodies can cope with this is by focusing this on creating a child. You should have been taught to be able to counteract this, block it so that he couldn't put his fist right through you. Unfortunately, you haven't, and now you're carrying Karthragan's kid, which is wrong on so many levels."
"Not only that, but for demonesses, the pregnancy is swift, lasting five months at most. Judging by the smell of you, you have perhaps three, three and a half months to go."
I ran a hand through my hair. "There wouldn't happen to be some big book on 'everything you need to know about being a demon', would there?"
"Nope, sorry," Amarath said cheerily. "Just us."