When Blake wakes up in Neraka, one of the many realms of Hell that is reserved for those with ancient blood, he must find a way to remember why he is in the ancient realm and prove to the people that unlike them, he isn't dead. But when then the Emperor of the realm punishes him and won't let him come back until he brings back the Red Cloaked Prince, he finds himself with a group of misfits that are equally searching for themselves.
Number One Rule: Don't Breathe
A range of black and blue bruises decorated the prisoner's skin like a disease. Beneath the dark marks, he could barely detect the once-fiery red tattoos that now fell dull and grey like pressed ash. His fingers, crisp with dryness, ran across one of his favorite tattoos - the one on his left palm, and waited to feel the warm heat sizzle back. He felt nothing.
As the murmurs echoed around him, his fingers drew across his wrists. The boy had fought so violently that not only could he no longer feel the pain of them, but there was no skin left to feel. All there was were red circles of dried blood that proved his unlikely fate. He could nearly hear his kindred chiding him: do you want to lose your hands? He smiled to himself over his endless fighting, until he remembered the deadliness of the situation he was fighting for. He heard a huff of disgust from in front of him, as if clearly reading his thoughts.
His eyes rose up slowly, forcing eye contact with a pair of black irises many feet above him before turning his face away coolly. He tried bringing his knees to the ground, but he could barely force his knees to brush against the black salt. He wanted to look forgiving, but when he peered up he knew that his eyes only shone pride.
You? You, the prodigy, bother to bow down to someone weak?, someone had once laughed at him, many years ago after officially pledging his allegiance to his emperor's rule. At first, as the years went on, he denied the mocker's words. He spent years of sleepless nights suppressing the person's words and pretending he had forgotten about them, but the person was correct: Even when he was young, he never obeyed authority. If anything, it felt unnatural. Like it took every ounce of energy to bend his knees and stare, with fake shame, to the ground.
"Emperor Miso," The boy said through his clenched teeth, "You don't understand-"
"You. You of all Luciferians," the emperor exhaled, shaking his head for the thousandth time as the emperor looked away from him. The boy kneeling didn't expect to hear betrayal leaking into the emperor's flat tone, but he still searched for it. His eyes bored into the emperor's, meeting not something strong, but something emotional, searching for some human emotion that proved he was still with him. Finally, when the emperor looked back at him, he saw it. Surprise, hiding beneath the blackness, peaked out.
"You must listen," the boy kneeling half-pleaded, half-demanded. "I saved him-"
"To betray us," the emperor assumed, cruelty rolling in his tone. "You're a traitor, Son of Adam." Son Of Adam. His neck jerked up straight, his shoulders arching back sharply as he pointed his chest at his leader.
"Betray you? This boy isn't even of age," the boy kneeling argued, attempting to beckon to the small shadow behind him but his shackles jerked him back. "His parentage wasn't his fault. He was merely born in a family that is frowned upon." Suddenly, like a lightning bolt, the emperor fell from his throne, creating an echo around the atrium. The boy's eyes narrowed, finally revealing to the emperor that he did not see him as his leader, but as an equal. Or maybe even less.
"The law forbids mixed bl-"
"Even you said it, Miso! Even you said The Fates were cruel!" The boy finally bursted, trying to jump up but was forced down by the chains once again. "Miso, you can change this, you can-"
"HOW DARE YOU?" The emperor let out. The boy didn't flinch back, but his eyes did flicker in surprise. "Not only did you just defy the ancient laws of Lucifer, but you called me by my Christian name!" And yet, he wanted to say, Miso had never stopped him from addressing him as so before. But he knew now that it was very different in this circumstance.
When Miso's men had dragged him into the atrium, shackled him to the ground, and forced him to face his best friend like a slave, he almost didn't do it. He almost demanded death, rather than hand over his pride and force himself to defend his actions. Typically he would be inches away from Miso, looking down at a peasant in disgust, but now only empty footprints filled the spot next to Miso's throne. Still, he refused to be treated like a prisoner. He refused to be a piece of Miso's lesson.
"It's wrong," The boy persisted. "Giving the poor boy a death sentence, merely because his blood isn't as pure as yours? Don't be a fool, My Lord, he's just as true as I." At first there was silence, until Miso paced in front of him. There had always been purple ringlets around his dark eyes, but they had gotten worse lately. Now, they seemed more like black shadows, curling around his eyelids. Miso's eyes, bloodshot, fell to the ground.
"The laws are made for the greater good," Miso said, his voice a projected whisper. "No mixed companionships, no mixed Luciferians. It stops things from breaking equality. Mixing blood creates consequences from the heavens." A fury flushed over the boy's face, his nostrils flaring.
"Why?" He finally bursted. "Why does it matter about this so-called consequence? Because we're dying? Say it Miso, say it is because we're dying! Because they're back!" Miso flinched back at him so fast that his dark hair hit his cheek like a whiplash. Around them, he heard the audience rustle.
"Don't you dare-don't you ever say those words again!" Miso snarled. "We're fine. They will never prevail as long as beasts like it are terminated!" Miso's pale fingers shot towards the young boy, like he was an animal. The prisoner heard the young boy choke down a sob. The prisoner sighed, his body aching from the countless fights he had tried pulling with the guards. Every part of him was covered with a bruise, he had been tortured in ways he forgot were possible, but it was then, as he took a deep breath, did he truly feel his own pain. The guards, who he once knew as friends, had separated their personal identity from their duty.
"I'm sorry, I apologize for my maturity. Just, Miso...do it for me," The boy said, his voice small like a child. "Please Miso, do it for me." At first Miso was silent, his dark eyes wandering across the prisoner in depth for the first time. The prisoner knew Miso was not only looking at his injuries, his bare wrists, his dirty body, but also abuse that could never be seen physically. The stinging beyond his eyes, the deep pain drilling down his chest, and the harsh heartbeat in his ears. The prisoner felt Miso's eyes clinging to him, no doubt sickened by his condition.
"Because you're my most highest knight, I will spare you," Miso said finally, his voice filled with pain as his eyes swept around the audience warily. "I will forgive you, James." At first, there was a moment of silence in case somebody in the audience objected, but James didn't even hear a breath. A relief whistled through James, a small smile reflecting towards Miso. In Miso's dark eyes, James saw relief as well. But then his eyes flickered, like a curtain falling down after a theatrical play.
"But the boy-"
"NO! Miso, no!" James roared angrily, bouncing up harder than before. "You can't do this! You can't!" Miso's pupils dilated, flickering like black flames as he glowered down at him.
"This is your kingdom! Your duty! If you argue with me again, if you defy me," Miso's voice was growing hoarse. "Then I will be forced to cut off your head as well." But it was too late. James could feel his hands heat up quickly, his weak palms filling with energy he had spent years trying to tame. Trying to hide. But he was tired of hiding, he was tired of being suppressed.
"NO!" James continued to roar, and he heard the young boy sobbing behind him. "I will not let you!" And then, as his grey shackles froze over with the golden energy that was spreading from his palms, he could fell himself rising. Miso's eyes widened like black moons, tipping back in horror.
"You," Miso exhaled, shaking his head. His face had grown ashen, his lips trembling as well.
"I will not bow down anymore," James hissed, to not only Miso but the audience circling the edges of the room. There were whispers spreading across the atrium, harsh and urgent, waiting for Miso's word to attack. James' eyes fell out the clear glass window, that revealed the blood-red world that he had bounded himself to for so long. Suddenly, his shackles shattered like blasted glass, and he turned to the boy behind him. The boy had, as well, blown up his shackles.
"SORCERY!" He heard Miso scream at a distance, far beyond his ears. "Kill the little boy! He has infiltrated our bravest knight into madness! It is not the knight's fault, he is under a curse!" But the audience didn't move at Miso's command. As their eyes froze on James, doubt flickered in their eyes. Without skipping a beat, James glanced at the boy desperately, a prayer murmured under his breath. But the boy's fingers, fire playing on his palms, were shaking. The little boy's eyes, which seemed so vibrant under his hair, were filled with fear as his attention was pulled towards his palms. James grabbed his cheek roughly, forcing eye contact with the one-day-legendary eyes.
"Run," James whispered.
NINE YEARS LATER
Breathe. The voice was loud in his ears. Breathe, Blake, breathe. At first it was a soothing voice, like a falling feather, but then it rushed like a roaring air. BREATHE!
Automatically, his dry lips parted. But the breath wasn't relieving - instead, it felt like fire circulating inside two sacks that hadn't been used in eons. As if he was actually inhaling toasted dust, with no air fulfilling its duty. Yet, at the same time, he knew he was inhaling oxygen. He could feel as his lungs contradicted with a ragged beat, that he was in fact breathing, but the act of breathing had no insignificant purpose. He choked.
"He's probably dead," a voice said, with no particular care. "No idea how. The kid got a beating down the river, eh?" Blake, who was still choking on air, heard a slap from far away from him.
"Shut up, Alex! This isn't funny," the second voice was high pitched and anxious. "You better hope he dies or else we will. Again." But then he felt his heartbeat race, and instead of feeling like he was falling into the air as he had before, he tensed over the damp, prickly texture under him. Beneath his eyelids, he saw a mixture of darkness and dots of red.
"He's wincing. Oh sh-" Blake jolted upward, gasping on poisonous air. His hands flew to his neck, clutching it as hard as he could, trying to stop the air from traveling farther into his airways. But then he heard a shuffle beside him, and two hands, far larger than his own, ripped his grip from his throat painfully. His eyes fluttered open, for a moment only darkness covering his eyesight. But then the details started to come to him.
He was looking at stars. Except, it was an odd arrangement of the night sky; the sky was blacker then he had ever imagined it could be, with dim sparkles of red dots. Stars weren't red, Blake thought immediately, his heartbeat running. Blake's eyes drew to the large circle not too far with them. Shining brightly, with a large halo that took up twice as much as its size, down on them with a red glare. They're red, everything was red. Deep, blood-red. Suddenly, his eyes ran around him lively. At first, he could barely make out what was around him. Until he saw the dark outlines of dark green spikes under him, as his hands ran over the dampness, and he could finally decipher the roaring sound of water next to his ears. It appeared that he was next to a narrow river, a thin, deathly river. He inched away from it, his eyes looking at it worriedly. Something in the back of his mind told him not to go near it.
"He's not going to die," a voice, deep and syndical, said behind him. "I mean, look at him. He doesn't even know how to breathe yet." His eyes flew from behind him, his body shifting towards the voices fast.
He wasn't expecting to see people behind him. If anything, he wasn't expecting anything at all. But two people hovered a few feet away from him; one a pale, white boy, and a thin Asian girl. Both of them had a roughly-carved ball on their chest, dangling from a weak lace. It beamed red, exhilarating light, making it easy to see them. The white boy was much taller than him, probably sixteen or seventeen. He had thick, white-blonde hair that fell down to his eyebrows messily. His eyes were a dark blue, that in which appeared more taunting rather than reassuring.
But Blake's eyes seemed to linger on the large mark across the boys face; he couldn't see the color strongly, but a large blotch started at the right side of his forehead, falling down in a slant, running past the bridge of his nose, and ending at the far corner of his opposite cheek. The boy's lips formed into a straight line, probably already guessing what he was looking at.
"You have an issue, Son of Adam?" The boy spat. Blake blinked. Son of Adam? It felt like an insult, but he didn't understand why. Wouldn't being a child of God's creation be a...good thing? But he didn't have time to think about it long. Because as he looked around, at the odd place around him, he didn't understand.
"Who are you? Where am I?" He sputtered quickly. "Was I dragged here? Are you here to-" He choked again, but not because of the air. Instead, the word murder was too far to reach for his vocabulary. It was like a swear word or a foreign word he couldn't pronounce - something deeper than just "unfamiliar". He didn't even know why that would have been the next thing for him to say, but for some reason it seemed very possible.
But the boy in front of him didn't seem stunned by his confusion at all. Instead, the boy rubbed his the bridge of his nose tiredly, completely overdone with Blake's confusion already. An anger seemed to slowly grow in Blake's chest. What was he supposed to be? Calm that he suddenly woke up in an unfamiliar place?
"My name is Alex. I am damned soul here, and this is my sister-"
"Alex!" The girl beside him chided, though there was a small smile on her lips. When Blake's eyes evaluated her, he blinked. She was pretty - not gorgeous, not star-striking, but pretty. She was abnormally thin, probably only a foot wide, with moon-white skin and black-glistening hair that fell to the middle of her stomach. Her eyes, first looking black but reflected with a slight glisten of brown, stared at him reassuringly. She was simple, but she was pretty. And Alex must have seen his eyes evaluate her, because he glared.
"Welcome to the World of Neraka, land of the savior Lucifer, and the seven civilizations," the girl said theatrically. "My brother is named Alex - obviously. And my name is Lily. And we are-"
"Okay, quit it!" Blake bursted, trying to jump to his feet but as soon as he tried to stand up he fell backwards. His hands were shaking. "I wanna know where I am or I swear to-" Alex waved him off like he was a fly.
"I don't have time to give you a video tape," Alex snapped. "You are in a different land. Not Earth, something far different. Accept it so we can continue our pathetic welcome speech, if you could." Blake stared at him blankly for a moment, but then he shook his head like Alex was completely moronic.
"I have my moments, but I promise you I do not have the cash to go to a different land."
"Trust yourself, man. Don't you remember all this? Dying? Coming back to life? Blah-blah-blah," Alex said. A numbness covered Blake, and he merely shook his head.
"Oh, he doesn't remember," Lily said to Alex. "Poor thing."
"I'm hallucinating. Someone drugged me," Blake decided immediately. "And I'm hallucinating." Alex rolled his eyes.
"Oh, for the love of Orc, you are one of those aren't you?" Alex snarled. "Everything is in front of you, and yet you refuse to believe it. Look, dude, our leader is going to be coming soon, and unless you want to have your throat slit, you should try believing us. He doesn't like pity parties." But he didn't believe him. Everything was coming so fast, and his trust of them had died.
"One of those," Blake mimicked. "What do you mean?" Alex tilted his head.
"What's your name?" Alex asked simply. Blake's eyebrows furrowed down.
"What does that have to do with anything?" Blake exhaled impatiently. "I need you to tell me where I am so I can-"
"What's your name?"
"BLAKE!" Blake bursted. "Now, where-"
"How old are you?" Alex asked. Blake opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
"What?" Blake asked, his voice cold. A small smile, which Blake hated instantly, spiraled onto Alex's lips.
"How old are you? Where do you live? What's your favorite sports? Do you have lover? Where did your parents meet? Do you have parents?" Alex rambled fast, too fast for Blake to reply. But yet, even if he did give him time, Blake's mind was entirely empty. "You don't know. You don't know because your mind has been washed away after you were murdered." Blake flinched. He wanted to answer the simple questions, but only anger infiltrated his thoughts.
"Don't say that word," he spat back quickly. "Th-The m-word." Alex's dark eyes looked down at him.
"Murdered?" Alex repeated, and Blake winced.
"I'm not dead," Blake replied sternly. "I'm not stupid. Just because I can't get up, doesn't mean I'm-"
Alex's smile, cocky and mocking, felt like a slap in the face. "Well, it's either you were murdered or you killed yourself. Either way, you died."
"What?" Blake spat. Alex leaned closer, but Lily - the petite Asian girl - gripped his arm warningly. Though her fingers were pressed against Alex's arm harshly, it was awkward seeing someone so small hold back someone so large.
"Slow down," Lily said. "He just came out of the river. And...what if he really doesn't remember?" Alex's dark blue eyes softened when he looked back at her.
"What do you mean?"Alex asked, though his voice was soft and welcoming towards her. "He came out of the river. I'm sure he knows that he died. He doesn't deserve a nurturing talk about-" But then Lily's eyes turned to the blood-red moon.
"What if it's true?" Lily asked. "We haven't had someone come here on a full moon in-" He threw his hands up violently.
"Oh my Lucifer, don't tell me that you actually believe in that crap, Lily?" Alex said loudly. Though she didn't seem infuriated, a flash of emotional pain swept her face.
"Well, Peter did warn us in the beginning of our shift that anybody who is delivered on the full moon-"
"Peter," Alex emphasized, repeating the name as if it was a piece of molded garbage, "Is just trying to scare you." Blake's eyes narrowed.
"What's going on?" Blake interrupted, but addressed Lily. She gave a warm smile.
"Well, basically, this is a land after death. You know, there's heaven, and then there's Hell? Well, I guess you could say this is a branch of Hell. Any person that has ancient blood in them, from one of the extinct civilizations, has a choice to get sentenced here for eternity. Of course, you have to die in vain to end up here, most likely murder or killing yourself," Lily said, her voice cheerful and adoring. Blake's mouth opened.
"You're saying that I died?" Blake asked. Lily and Alex looked at each other skeptically and then nodded at him.
"And that I got sentenced to Hell?" Blake clarified. Lily thought about it earnestly for a long moment.
"Essentially," Lily confirmed. "But it's not as bad as it sounds. We have food here." Blake, whose strength was starting to grow, found a way to stand on his feet. He saw the worry in Lily's eyes grow when he wobbled.
"I-" But he didn't finish. Instead, his knees broke and he landed face-first into the wet grass. The last thing he saw before he was immersed into the darkness, was the smirk on Alex's face.