The teleportation ended suddenly, like a piece of elastic snapping. I gasped, drawing in the air I had been denied. My muscles ached. My head throbbed. And that wasn't the only thing wrong. Concrete walls. Concrete floor. This was definitely not the house the clan had built in the woods. The smell was familiar, but I couldn't place it. I couldn't remember where I had smelt it before. Slowly, I pushed myself to my feet, putting most of my weight on my uninjured leg.
"Hey! We got one!" Yelled a male voice seconds before I found myself rugby tackled to the ground. The assailant twisted my arm up behind my back, sending pain shooting through my damaged heart and shoulder. He clamped handcuffs around my wrists before dragging me upright by my hair. I tried to summon my magic to fight him off. Icy fear gripped my heart. I couldn't feel my magic. They must have put silver in the handcuffs! Two men in lab coats surveyed me as if I was nothing more than a lab rat while the man who had tackled me pinned me against the wall, confiscating my swords.
"Mark it up and bring it through." The man nodded and dragged me into a small room just off the concrete chamber. Heat suffused my body from the fire in the centre. I fought with all my strength, kicking and biting. He called for back-up. I found myself slammed to the floor, one of the men sitting on the small of my back, keeping my arms pinned to the ground. Another held my legs down. Someone ripped my shirt away from my shoulder. I tried desperately to buck my assailants off, but to no avail. Out of the corner of my eye, I watched the third man put a metal rod into the fire. A few minutes later, he pulled it out. Taking care not to touch the white-hot end, he approached me. I couldn't struggle. I had no energy to struggle as he carefully positioned the rod. With one quick gesture, he pressed the sizzling metal onto my right shoulder blade. I yelled out as it seared my skin. I could feel the flesh blistering under the metal. He lifted the metal away, dumping a cup of icy water over the branding. For the rest of my rather short life, I would bear the numbers 004-666 on my shoulder blade.
"Ok, take it to the doctors."
I fought against the restraints in some sort of lab. I was strapped down on an examination table, spread-eagled. I growled at myself, banging my head on the metal slab underneath. They had taken every single piece of weaponry I carried, even the dagger I had up my sleeve. They had left me in my blood-encrusted tank top and trousers, without even my boots. Whoever these people were, they weren't taking any chances. I gritted my teeth. Somewhere to the left, a door opened, admitting the lab coats I had seen before. They stood over me, just watching. I narrowed my eyes.
"When you pervs are done watching me, could you let me go? 'Cus I have no idea why I'm here or even where I am," I said. Might as well try. You never know. They didn't answer me to begin with. They just scribbled a few notes on clipboards before talking as if I wasn't even there.
"It's not an ideal model, I'm afraid, some damage has been done to this specimen. There's a puncture wound to the left hand side of the chest."
"It shouldn't impact the studies though. It'll also give us a chance to observe the healing process for more natural wounds." Ok, that put me on edge. More natural wounds? More natural compared to what? I growled again, trying to pull out the straps on my arms. The physical effort sent pain lancing through my chest, but I didn't care. I just wanted out of here. They watched with the same fascination of a five year old watching an anthill.
"From what we already know, this isn't a particularly weak specimen. That means that the silver does indeed have an effect on this species of demon. We can conclude that not only does it prohibit the use of magic, but also limits physical strength. I believe additional testing is needed to prove this, but I'm guessing that the silver actually brings their strength down to the average of an ordinary human child."
"Useful for the ground teams to know." Oh goddess. Now it all made sense. Amarath had told me about these people, after I had a run in with them once before, of which I remember nothing. The milita. Oh goddess, it was the milita! I was in even more trouble than I had realised. The more they learned from me, the easier it was for them to take down the rest of the clan. I couldn't let that happen.
I kicked out at the door of the cell, grinding my teeth. I rubbed my arm, where they had tested the effects of water, holy water and silver solution. Needless to say, I had two large burn sores on my arm. I sighed heavily. The cell wasn't big, two metres by two metres with a glass front. A concrete ledge that served as a bed took up half of the space. I sat down, putting my head in my hands. Just how had I landed myself here? By not concentrating enough to see the trap. A stupid, stupid mistake. Now what was I going to do when Karthragan turned up? There was no way I could fight him on this ground. I lay back with a grimace. The milita had only just begun with me. X-rays, scans, lots of poking and prodding had already gone on to give them an idea of how a part demon worked. I scratched at my wrists, where metal cuffs inlaid with silver had been fitted. No magic for me. I had less than a month before Karthragan would find me. I already knew that he was tracking me, keeping an eye on my every move so that when the time came, he knew exactly where I was. Not that he'd help me get out of here. The weaker I was, the easier it was for him to defeat me. Stupid prophecy, I thought as I curled up in a corner. Stupid, stupid prophecy.
"Aaah!" I screamed as electricity spiked through my body. The scientists scribbled a few more notes down on their clipboards. Three days to go before the prophecy, and I was still in the milita's lab, and nowhere close to being able to escape it. Don't get me wrong, I had tried. I had tried everything I could think of, and nothing had worked. If anything, it had only made things worse. I now had two guards armed with silver bullets posted outside my cell at all times. I spent most of the time outside of the lab drugged up to my eyeballs in sedatives. Inside the lab, they ran experiments on me, determining my weaknesses. My arms were already covered in sores from silver and holy water. They had even tried putting ice against my skin, which had burned without leaving a mark. Fire had invigorated me, to the point where I had almost managed to break free, but I hadn't been able to get further than the door out of the lab. Now they were trying electricity, having hooked me up to all sorts of vital sign monitors. As glad as I was to see that my primary heart was starting to function again, this was not the way I would have wanted to find out. I arched my back, trying to muffle my scream as another, stronger bolt of electricity spiked.
"That charge would have been lethal to humans."
"I think we can count that although electricity can serve to slow a demon down, in the long run all you will do is anger it."
"So the ground teams shouldn't rely on their Tasers."
"No, not if they want to make it out alive. We already know that it is nigh on impossible to contain an angered demon." A needle slid into the skin of the crook of my elbow, releasing a sedative serum into my bloodstream. Waves of tiredness and nausea slid over my mind. Two guards unhooked me from the machines and dragged me back to my cell.
I lay back on the concrete bed, closing my eyes. Tears threatened to spill over. I reached a hand over my shoulder to touch the branding, still heavily scabbed over. I had seen the reflection in the glass front of the cell. The fourth demon they had managed to capture. Six black numbers against pale skin. My hand flopped back down onto the concrete, my muscles too tired and heavy to use.
"Ok, now, how the hell do we open this thing?" Muttered a voice outside the cell door. I tried to lift my head, but the sedative denied me the energy. I could barely lift a finger. My eyelids didn't want to open.
"I don't care how you do it, just get it open before they realise something's wrong!" Hissed a second.
"Shadow?" A finger touched the pulse point in my neck before gently pushing one eyelid up. Vrael! The vampire had never looked so good to me as he did now. Even better than that, behind him stood Amarath and Shaeman, both in total bad ass mode, armed to the teeth and expressions set to kill. Vrael pulled off his cloak, wrapping the thick red cloth around me.
"Vrae? She ok?"
"Sedated, rather heavily, weakened by the trials she has been put through, but she is still conscious. Pass me the green vial." Vrael turned me over onto my back, raising my head slightly. As the potion trickled down my throat, I felt the life coming back into my limbs. I sat up, feeling more alive than I had done for weeks. "Slowly, Shadow, slowly, you are not going to feel very well for the next hour or so."
"Vrael, you're going to have to carry her. We've got to get out of here, now!" The vampire scooped me up as if I was no more than a doll. My stomach lurched, threatening to bring up the meagre meal I had been given to eat.
"Three, two, one..."
We appeared on the edge of the forest I had crossed with Vrael and Bart not all that long ago. Amarath sagged against a tree for a moment, regaining her strength after having teleported four people. Vrael put me down, but still kept my arm around his shoulders for support, for which I was infinitely glad. My stomach was churning.
"She's gonna hurl," Amarath warned a moment before I threw my guts up on the grass. I gasped for air, my legs shaking. It takes a lot to make a demon throw up, but the warring of the sedative and Vrael's antidote had done the trick. I groaned quietly. And of course, just to make things worse, as the first star appeared in the sky, a shiver raced through my body. I glanced at my hand. Oh great. Human again. I glanced at Vrael, who's vulnerable period coincided with mine, curious to see what he looked like. I had never really seen him in human, well, vampire form before, mainly because he always shut himself away to avoid the sunlight. With his russet brown hair, golden eyes and a slightly less pale complexion, he was, and I know this sounds wrong coming from his sister, incredibly sexy.
"Hey! Did you find her? Is she – Whoa, who's that?" Alba emerged from the trees, her eyes locked on Vrael. "Is that... Vrael?" I couldn't help but smile weakly as Vrael's girlfriend took in his appearance.
"Yes, it is me. This is my more human appearance."
"It's the new moon," I explained. "For Vrael and I, that means we turn human for three days and three nights."
"And also means we're in trouble," Shaeman added. "We've got three days before Karthragan turns up looking for a fight, Shadow's injured and weak and Vrael can't help her." For a moment, there was silence, but the silence was soon broken by a thud announcing the arrival of yet another person.
"Hey every – Whoa! What happened to you?" Bart said, staring at Vrael and me. I gritted my teeth.
"Yes, we're a little different. This is what we would have looked like if we hadn't been part demon." I snapped. In one corner of my mind, I remembered Holly teasing me about human 'time of the month', even though she knew I didn't get them. Demons don't, as a general rule. The parts just end up with a different 'time of the month' which was every bit as much of a pain in the arse. And before you ask, three days and three nights."
"And how long until the prophecy?"
"Three days." I closed my eyes as a wave of despair crashed over me. In three days, I die. I may have been mentally preparing myself for this event, I wasn't sure if I could just walk up to Karthragan and fight him, knowing that I wasn't going to live.
"So what are we going to do?" Bart asked quietly. I glared at the ground, working hard to conceal my emotions from the rest of the group.
"I don't know," I answered. I just didn't know." There was silence for a moment before Bart spoke again.
"You must be really brave, Shadow."
I shook my head. No way was I being brave in facing this. "I'm not brave, just scared," I admitted. "If I was brave, I'd be facing Karthragan now, telling him where he could stick his precious prophecy." I paused to take a deep breath. "But I'm not. I'm sitting here, waiting for it to happen."
"You are brave, Shadow," Bart insisted, "To actually keep on going like this. Your final days have come, and you accept it. You knew all these years that this day had to come. And you lived with it. That's what I call brave."
"Everything has its time, and everything dies."
"Well, at least you only have to die once."
"I'm pretty sure Karthragan's planning on killing me so I don't come back."
Amarath coughed politely, "We should probably get back home. I don't want to be caught out by the milita when they come looking for Shadow."
Three days later, I sat up a tree, waiting for the sun to set and give me my demon powers back. The house had been deathly quiet over the last few days, everyone knowing that the prophecy was getting close. Even Archangel had held back on the pranks. Normally she would have been getting the best of Alba and Bart, who were staying with us. Vrael sat on a branch below me, swathed in a cloak as he waited for the transformation to be reversed. I glanced down as I heard Bart's voice mutter a hello. The whole house had been under a black cloud since this morning. No one was really talking to each other. A rush of relief flooded my heart as the first star appeared. The tremors ran through my muscles, followed by the warmth of my magic. I swung down from the tree, nodding at Bart. I touched my injured calf, wincing slightly.
"So... now what?"
"Now, we wait. He'll come to me." I took a deep breath, calming myself. "And I will wait for him." I looked around the clearing, taking in everything I could. The smell of the twilight, the last rays of sunshine filtering through the leaves.
"How's the leg?" Asked Alba's voice. I turned around to face my friend,
"It's getting better," I replied, rubbing my temples. The emotions coming from Bart and Alba were starting to get to me. I tried to smile, but it turned out more as a grimace, so I wiped the look off my face. A spark of excitement came from the house. I looked up, past Alba, to see Archangel running towards us, brandishing a piece of paper. She slid to a stop, panting hard.
"We... found summat... in the prophecy!" She managed to gasp. I bit my lip, hardly daring to breathe. She took a moment to get her breathing back under control, her eyes shining brightly in her excitement. "Remember that line that was always scratched out of the prophecy? Well, we finally found a version on the internet where it wasn't. It reads: 'When One is present, one will survive'."
I glanced at the sky. It was rapidly darkening. It was too late. He was going to arrive soon. "We don't have time to decrypt it fully. We should assume that everything will go as we thought it would. Now, everyone, leave. I have to do this on my own."
The forest stilled as the others left. The leaves stopped rustling. Silence descended. I couldn't hear the stream. I swallowed hard. I tried to control my breathing, to control my fear. Then he arrived. Karthragan. Every time I saw him, someone died. The first time, Arellan. The second, I lost Holly and Natalie. This time, it was me. I wouldn't walk away form this, but I was going to try damn hard to make sure he wouldn't either. He would pay for what he did to my friends. He stood at the other edge of the clearing in his more human form. Muscular torso bared, he wore only a pair of ragged, cut off trousers. His black hair flopped over his eyes. In all, the demon only appeared a couple of years older than me. It made my stomach heave to remember everything he had done to me. I raised my chin in defiance. Neither of us said anything as we approached each other, closing the distance between us to a few metres. We took up fight stances. I spied a sword on his hip and glanced down to make sure I had mine. He chose this moment to strike. I dodged as fast as I could, but his claws scraped the side of my neck. I gritted my teeth as my eyes flashed red. I couldn't afford to lose control in front of Karthragan. Not now. He launched into a series of kicks, forcing me to give ground, dodging as much as I could. My leg seared in pain as he managed to land a clawed strike, but I had to try and move past the pain. I felt my muscles starting to tire as I tried to block his attacks, each blow jarring my joints. I hadn't even tried to go on the offensive yet. What was I doing? He was a full demon; stronger, faster, more endurant than I was. There was no way I could defeat him. I tried to dodge another kick. It connected with my shin, breaking the bone. I yelled out as the pain exploded through my leg, falling to the ground. Karthragan laughed, moving in for the kill. I squeezed my eyes shut. With the sensation of jumping into cold water, I teleported to the other side of the clearing, in the shelter of the trees. Desperate, I glanced around, trying to find something, anything I could use against the demon to give myself an edge. I clapped eyes on a surprised looking Kraferr. I narrowed my eyes, making shooing motions with my hands. He nodded reluctantly, running in the direction of the house. I took a deep breath, moving out from the shelter offered by the trees, pulling down the barriers around my magic. Time to take this battle to another level. I summoned my magic into a fire-like aura around me. Karthragan mirrored my actions with his deep crimson magic. Before long, the clearing was splattered with black blood as we threw razor sharp blades of magic at each other. Karthragan was starting to lag. That was giving me a tiny spark of hope, but I had to face the fact that I was faring far worse than he was. My limbs were trembling with exhaustion. My head felt light from the blood loss. My leg was about to give way beneath me. Behind me, I heard something rip and a feral roar. I whipped around to see a manticore standing on the edge of the trees. Hadn't anyone listened to me? The creature lashed her tail, sending her tail spikes flying towards us. Karthragan used the distraction, blasting me several metres away. Blood poured from a new, deep gash across my stomach and chest. I scrambled back to my feet as fast as possible, turning to face my father. His chest and side were peppered with the spikes, but he wasn't hindered by them. He was walking towards me, pulling them out. I backed away a few paces. Another volley of spikes passed me. Karthragan grabbed one from out of the air. I swallowed hard, fear gripping my heart. I turned to run, but Karthragan lunged. I collapsed to the ground under his weight. The spike speared my arm, poison beginning to pump into my system. I gasped, trying to pull out the deeply embedded dart. Karthragan pulled his sword out. I froze. He barked out a laugh. The sword plunged downwards, through my primary heart, then my secondary. Strangely, I couldn't feel the pain. There was no pain. Lifting my limbs seemed almost out of my reach. Karthragan started to walk away. I gritted my teeth, anger sweeping through me. He had done this to me. He had killed me, and now he was walking away from it. No. I wasn't going to let him walk away from this. I reached under my cloak. Gratitude towards Shaeman flooded through me as I pulled out the handgun he had insisted I carried through my vulnerable period, in case Karthragan decided to turn up early. Using all my strength, I lifted my arm, sighting down the barrel. I squeezed off three shots. One through each heart, one through his head. The gun grew heavy in my hand. I let it drop to the ground, watching as Karthragan keeled over. I let my eyes close. I was so tired. I couldn't hear anything past the rushing of blood in my ears. The beating rush started to slow. My eyes drifted beneath my eyelids. I felt someone pressing on my hearts, trying to keep them going. Something on my arm burned. I flinched violently, but something held me down. Then the pressure was lifted. Someone gently kissed my forehead.
"Kraferric way of saying goodbye," murmured Bart's voice. There was a darkness in the back of my mind, comforting, beckoning. It felt so welcoming. My body started to feel cold. The darkness felt warm. I let it engulf me, blotting out my pain.