He was standing outside a heavy metal door in a dingy alley, back in his human form, when I found him. He was hesitating to go inside, which I understood completely. There was a feel in the air, something screaming at me to run away, that something bad had happened there. I clamped a corner of my cloak over my mouth and nose. The smell of a battlefield was heavy, all blood and rage and desperation. Sickeningly sweet and bitterest sour at the same time. Bart gripped the amulet tightly, his mind made up. He pushed open the door, stepping inside what looked like an even danker and dingier corridor. I, being my usual curious self, (for which I still blame Holly, since she encouraged that particular trait), followed him. I stuck to the wall, still using my cloak to filter the rank smell. Now I knew what had happened here. Death. A massacre of the few remaining Kraferrs. Who or what did it, I didn't know. Bart barrelled out of there, his emotions whirling dangerously. I couldn't leave him alone in that state, not when he was so young in demon years. It would be all too easy to let go of all control in an emotional outburst. It's ok for humans, but demons could easily level a city with our kind of power. Outside the room, he leant against a wall, breathing heavily. I dropped my cloak, trying to think of something to say.
"Well, I'll happily admit that I am never going to get that smell out of my nose, ever." Not the best of things to say, if his reaction was anything to go by. Fur erupted from his skin as he turned Kraferr, anger boiling up within him.
"You don't get it Shadow! You don't get a damned thing, do you?" Bart shouted. I gritted my teeth, stamping down on my own emotions. Boy did I 'get' it.
"You think I don't get it? Oh, I get it all right. I thought I was the only one of my species until I was eleven! My supposed guardian sent me into a war at the human age of four! I had to learn to be indifferent to these things, or else I would have destroyed the city by now! Death is an everyday occurrence. Get used to it and get on with your life."
"Get on with your life? That's all you can say? You're telling that to a guy who just failed to save a goddamned race from extinction! HIS race!"
Scowling, I grabbed his hand, projecting a memory of mine into his mind, the memory of my first ever battle, of losing control, my magic not distinguishing between friend and foe. Of lying surrounded by the dead, pinned to the ground by a sword through my leg. He gasped, stumbling back. I nodded curtly, retreating to the shadows of the alley to get myself back under control. Running footsteps entered the alley in a flurry of cloak. Expecting Vrael or one of my other siblings, I rolled my eyes. They were never going to leave me alone, were they? But the person who stopped in front of Bart wasn't one of the clan. She wasn't a demon. It was Domina. I heard Bart growl low in his throat.
"Why did you do it, Domina?" He snarled. I frowned slightly. I knew he was referring to the killing of the Kraferrs, but there was something in the emotions of the female Kraferr. Something new and something missing.
"Who?" The girl asked.
"You, stupid. You killed the others! I know you did!"
"I've never killed anyone! Any my name's Dominique, not Domina!"
"I know you killed them! You're the only other person who could have known where they were!"
"I didn't! I swear! I only just woke up in a forest! I don't know what happened!"
"Bart," I intervened quietly. "She's telling the truth. I can feel it." Bart sighed irritably, looking down at the amulet still in his hand. He looked defeated, his shoulders slumped, head bowed.
"Now what?" He asked softly. "All the Kraferrs are dead and this...thingis now useless."
"Not all the Kraferrs are dead," I offered as consolation, "you're still here. Welcome to feeling like the last of your species.
"Ha, ha, very funny."
I retreated to the shadows of the alley, watching as the two last Kraferrs in existence met each other properly. Dominique and Bart Kraferr. Two Kraferr Ones who, as Bart so vehemently put, were definitely not going to try to recreate the Kraferr line together. I smiled slightly, and teleported away, back to my family.
I had decided that I wouldn't run away from my family, but I had to after only a couple of days. The heavy silences were too much to bear. Amarath still hadn't come home, and I was worried about her. I didn't want to lose my family ever again, not after Arellan. Merlas picked her way through the forest, playfully shying away from the woodland creatures. I sat bareback on her, not really paying attention. I trusted the doe absolutely. I sighed, playing with her mane. She stopped, sniffing the air. A gunshot shattered the air. Merlas took off at a full gallop. I came off her back with a thud. Groaning, I picked myself up, heading after her.
I found her eyeing another being, a young man. At least, he seemed to be a young man. He smelt strange. Merlas lowered her head, having a good sniff. I copied her actions. There was blood in the air, and not from Merlas or I. I noticed that he had his hand clamped over his arm, blood welling from beneath his fingers and I could sense his pain. I eyed him warily.
"Who are you?"
"I am Ahrach, Ahrach Lusari." I allowed my expression to soften a little as I gestured to his arm.
"Do you want me to help you with that?" I offered him a brief smile. "I'm Shadow, by the way. Shadow Roth." He watched me for a moment, as if gauging how much he could trust me. He took his hand off his wound, showing me. I probed it as gently as I could. Bullet wound. The pellet was still lodged in the tissue, and he was definitely not human. For a start, his bones were hollow. "This is going to hurt," I warned him before using my magic to extract the fragments of metal and seal the injury into a neat scar. The drain on my energy was immediate, but not overwhelming. Ahrach jumped away with a yelp as he looked at the scar. He watched me with new wariness in his eyes.
"Who are you?"
I let one corner of my mouth tug up in a half smile. "The question you're looking for iswhatam I. Half demon would be the answer. How come you're here?"
I was out flying and got shot by some hunters," Ahrach said. I felt a wave of panic surge through him. I guess he had said more than he intended to say. I have to admit that I was put on edge by his statement as well. Who was this guy, really? I rested my hand on the hilt of my sword, ready to draw if I had to. His eyes flickered to the sheathed blade. "I'm a Kuijin," he admitted, "I can change into an eagle."
I felt happier knowing that. Ok, the last Kuijin had been a right dirtbag, but I couldn't expect Sither to be representative of his race. I dropped my hand from my sword, much to Ahrach's relief if his emotions were anything to go by. "I know your race," I answered, hoping to put him further at his ease. It unfortunately had the opposite effect, he grasped a weapon he carried strapped to his back. I cursed in my mind. I hadn't noticed that. It wasn't even a particularly friendly looking weapon; a long staff, one end topped by a curved, scythe-like blade, the other a vicious looking spike.
"My race isn't known by many others, and we've never consorted with demons."
I raised my hands a little to show him that I wasn't a threat. Ok, so I was always going to be a threat as long as I wasn't confined to a human body, but he didn't know that. "I met one recently."
"What was his name?"
"Sither Moonspike." Ahrach grunted in response, sitting down on a tree stump. I relaxed as well, leaning against Merlas' shoulder as the doe grazed quietly. She raised her head, looking out across the forest. Her ears were pricked up, listening. Her ears flicked back, lying flat along her neck. Not a good sign. I gripped the hilt of my sword again, eyes following Merlas' line of sight. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ahrach take on a battle-ready position.
"Peace!" Called out a woman's voice. No, surely she wouldn't come here. As she stepped out of the tall bushes that had concealed her, I saw that she hadn't changed at all. Not in the slightest. High Priestess Arias stood there, watching me with her silver eyes. I gritted my teeth, tightening my grip on my sword. "Alexiai," she crooned.
"Don't call me that," I snarled in response. She had no right to come calling me that now. She was the one who tool that name away from me. I glared at her through narrowed eyes, trying to keep myself under control. She sighed heavily.
"You must get over this aversion..."
"Who are you to tell me that? Oh yeah, High Priestess Arias. Well, you may rule Synairn, but you don't rule me!"
"I said DON'T!"
"Enough!" Ahrach thundered. I turned a surprised gaze to him. He looked angry enough to kill someone. I hoped he might go for Arias and get her out of my hair. "Who are you guys? I mean, I know almost nothing about you apart from your names!"
"Arias used to be my guardian," I explained, throwing a dirty look at her.
"I came to fetch you back."
"Well you're barking up the wrong tree!"
"Need I find Meran?" Now that was just a low down, nasty trick. She knew that he wasn't allowed anywhere near me. But then again, she was High Priestess. I guess she was capable of rescinding the Senate's orders. I may be stronger, faster and bigger now, but the thought of him still scared the living daylights out of me.
Arias simply smiled at me before she vanished. I swore under my breath. I had no way of telling if she was going to make true on her threat or if it had been empty. I didn't want to think about it. I leant against a tree, trying to look as nonchalant and carefree as possible. No need for this Kuijin to think that there was a real danger on the way. After all, Meran wouldn't attack him. Not unless he did something to really piss the Senator off. I glanced to my left as a twig snapped, terrified that she had already come back. Relief flooded through my as I saw the familiar silver hair of Vrael coming towards me. Ahrach huffed in annoyance.
"Ok, so who are you?"
"I am Vrael Mercian."
"This is one of my brothers." I explained shortly.
"But," Ahrach continued, "There's something I don't get: How can you to be brother and sister, if you don't have the same last name? I mean, Vrael Mercian, okay, but then, wouldn't it have to be Shadow Mercian too? Instead of Shadow Roth? Or is this some kind of demonic thing?"
"We are semi siblings," Vrael explained. "We share one same father."
"Yeah, 'one same father' who hates our guts." I muttered under my breath. Vrael shot me a dirty look. I raised an eyebrow, tapping the half circle scar. He rolled his eyes in return.
"Hey Ahrach!" An exuberant girl jumped out of nowhere, waving at the Kuijin, but I wasn't watching her. I was looking at her companion. He was like nothing I had ever seen before, except in the more obscure scrolls in the great library Armen used to take me to. A Terax Redeemer. In many ways, they were one of the most elite warriors, trained in swordplay, telekenisis and the ability to withstand tremendous amounts of pain. The thing about the Terax is that they're only vaguely humanoid. That made me wonder what he was doing wandering around areas frequented by humans. With an elongated skull, grey skin and legs bent the wrong way, there was no way this guy was going to pass unnoticed anywhere. In fact, he looked a little like the alien from that sci-fi film Amarath made me watch once. He turned to look at me with one yellow eye and one blue eye.
"So, what're you doing out here," the girl continued, "and who're these people?"
"Got shot down by a hunter," Ahrach muttered, rubbing his arm, "and they're demons called Shadow and Vrael. How 'bout you? How come you're here?"
"Val Keshra's still training me... Shadow? Are you ok?"
I hadn't realised that my thoughts had mirrored themselves in body language. I stood rigid, staring past the trio. Vrael glanced at me, but I took no notice. There were people moving in around us. I threw my mind out, trying to identify them. I gripped the hilt of my sword tightly. Ahrach took hold of his own weapon. Silence reigned. The bushes rustled.
"Don't think I don't make true on my threats," Arias stepped out from the trees, accompanied by a group of soldiers. Meran stood to one side of her, but on the other side...
"Amarath!" I shouted, wondering what she was doing there, dressed for battle none the less. She didn't look up at me. Shame came off her in waves. Vrael froze beside me, muttering under his breath in the language of the dead that I couldn't understand.
"Threats?" Intoned Val Keshra. I prayed silently that he wouldn't get himself involved. If Arias was starting to amass the demons, that could only mean that she was preparing to march to war. That's the only reason she would tolerate us being in her dimension. If she was marching to war, then there was nothing she would like better than to have a Terax Redeemer under her control.
"Well, Shadow?" Amarath asked, "Are you going to come? In fact, your friends here can all help us too."
"We have units from the army here. We will take you by force if necessary, along with your friends if we have no other alternative." Arias warned.
"You're not going to take me anywhere!" Kaera exclaimed fiercely.
I gritted my teeth, realising that they had backed me into a corner. Either I went with them willingly, or I risked being dragged backanyway, and the others taken as well. "Leave them out of it," I growled.
"I have another idea, Arias," Val Keshra suggested "Maybe we could agree on a decision. An honourable duel, perhaps? If I lose, you take us and Shadow to Synairn. If I win, though, you let us and Shadow depart," Val Keshra's eyes glistened a little in the dappled forest light. "Do you accept?" I frowned at him, trying to think of what he could be up to. This wasn't normal for a Redeemer, at least, not from what I knew of them. Arias considered the proposition for a moment before she nodded once to Amarath. My sister stepped forwards, her characteristic limp noticeable only to those who knew it was there. I had once asked her how she had acquired it, but her only response had been 'something that happened a long time ago and far away'. Oh goddess, Amarath was going to be fighting Val Keshra. I tried not to think about the outcome, but rather concentrate on not running to either side's aid. All I could hope for was that they wouldn't kill each other. Amarath stepped into position standing opposite Val Keshra in the centre of the small clearing. She drew her two-handed sword, preparing herself to fight. Vrael stood next to me, putting a hand on my shoulder. I flashed him a brief smile, glad for his support.
It seemed as if nothing was happening, and would look that way to Ahrach and Kaera, but for those with a magical inclination, the static electricity feel of magic was heavy in the air. Amarath shifted a little, as if destabilised. The leaves on the trees rustled. The wind picked up its pace, but it seemed to be focusing on creating a tornado effect around Amarath. She tensed, trying to keep her feet. Without warning, she jumped into the branches of a tree to escape the winds. Another handful of heartbeats passed before Val Keshra roared in anger. Another blast of wind knocked the demoness from the tree, but she scrambled to her feet, jamming her sword into the ground. Her hair whipped around her head in the hurricane force winds, her cloak billowing and twisting itself into impossible knots. She reached up a hand to unclasp it, letting it fly away. Her eyes narrowed, doubling in number and turning red. Amarath was unleashing her demonic side. I bit my lip, hoping for her sake that she would go too far into possession that she couldn't come back. The wind stopped. Val Keshra, taking one of his dual reverse blades, drove it into the ground with such force that, aided by his own magic, it created a split in the ground aimed at Amarath. She jumped out of the way, rolling as she landed. Springing back to her feet, she summoned her magic, firing bolts at the Redeemer. Val Keshra deflected them with his blades, charging towards the demoness. My heart was in my mouth as they began to clash swords, Val Keshra attacking and Amarath remaining on the defensive. Amarath parried most of the blows with her sword, taking the others on her armour protected arms. Slowly, she began to take the offensive, attempting to strike Val Keshra where she deemed his weak spots to be. She managed to spear him through the arm. My heart clenched. Val Keshra ripped the sword from her hand. She jumped out of the way. His blade caught her leg, leaving a deep gash down the thigh. Growling, she ran towards me. I froze, not knowing what to do. She yanked my sword from its sheath before running back into the fray. She attempted to cleave the Redeemer's head in two with my sword and her own spare short blade, but he blocked the attack. The fight turned into a dance of death, all flashing metal and clashing swords. She kept one sword on near constant defence, horizontal across her stomach. One of Val Keshra's blades managed to ram through Amarath's hand, forcing her to drop one sword. Magic exploded from her in her fury and pain, directed at Val Keshra. The Redeemer managed to deflect it with his magic moments before it hit him. He lunged at Amarath with his blades, but met the demoness' shields. Dropping the barrier, Amarath made her own lunge, her one good hand still gripping a sword. She started to attack without any discernable patterns or tactics. I frowned, trying to understand what was going on. Amarath had always taught me never to do that, to always think about what I was doing. What was she trying to do? Val Keshra blocked her attacks with apparent ease. Amarath yelled out in pain as one of his swords cut into her side. She managed to slash at his legs, drawing blood from the deep injury, but it wasn't nearly enough to incapacitate a Redeemer. Sweat was starting to drip down Amarath's forehead while her opponent looked as if he could keep up the pace for days. Her injured leg was starting to tremble as exhaustion took its hold. I clenched my fists, willing Val Keshra not to hurt her too badly. Then Amarath just stopped fighting. Val Keshra slashed at her with his two blades. Amarath had a small smile on her face, seemingly relieved. Her leg gave way beneath her, and she fell onto her side, blood welling up in the two wounds to her chest and stomach. Although her eyes were half closed, as if in death, she continued to breath.
"Amarath!" Ahrach yelled. He dashed to her side, putting a hand on her neck to check her pulse before moving on to check her wounds. Vrael's hand gripping my shoulder prevented me from going to her aid as he stared at Arias, waiting for her verdict. I clenched my fists, desperate to go to my sister's aid rather than leave her in the hands of a stranger.
Ahrach glared at Val Keshra as the Redeemer stood calmly, as if nothing had happened. "You were only supposed to bring her down!"
Val Keshra looked back at Ahrach, still serene, "As you can see, that's what I did, young Ahrach."
"You didn't need to seriously wound her!"
"I did what needed to be done, Ahrach. Don't make me to bring you down too." The Redeemer turned his gaze back to Arias, patiently waiting. The High Priestess had a tic twitching in her jaw, but turned her back, gesturing to her group of soldiers and Meran to follow her. Glancing back once over her shoulder, she cast an eye over the defeated demoness.
"Leave Amarath. She's no use if she can't win a simple fight." Amarath turned painfully to look at Arias, her hand stretched out to the soldiers following the High Priestess.
"Marcus..." She said hoarsely. "Don't leave me here, Marcus..." The captain of the group glanced at Amarath, his expression dispassionate. He vanished without saying a word. Amarath uttered a quiet, strangled cry, her hand falling back to the ground. Vrael let me go. I knelt next to Amarath, murmuring words to try and comfort her as tears started to drip down her cheeks to darken the earth below. I ran my hands gently over the wounds, trying to focus my mind enough to heal her, but my thoughts were too scattered. Vrael gently touched my shoulder.
"Go back to the house. Tell them what has happened and assure them that everything is now under control and Amarath has returned to us. I will look after her. Worry not." I nodded, seeing sense in Vrael's words. If the others knew what had happened, they would be ready with back up if needed when Vrael brought Amarath home. I was of no use to anyone there. Saying my farewells, I concentrated on teleporting.
Something went wrong with the teleportation. I could feel it as soon as I had started it. Teleportation normally feels like jumping into cold water, just a little less wet. This felt like swimming through treacle, but it was too late. If I tried to reverse the magic now, I would end up falling into the void. I couldn't breathe. The magic was starting to drain me.