Part Three : Earth - The Clan Years

Part Three : Earth - The Clan Years

A Chapter by Allyssianne

PART 3 : EARTH - THE CLAN YEARS

 

We left the Academy.  I packed everything, got Merlas and we left.  Raven 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.  Raven 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."

"Prophecy?"

"Oh, in the name of Arias, what did they teach you in the Senate Towers?"

"Obviously not what you think..."

 

Raven 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 Raven 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."

 

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.  Raven, 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.  Raven 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.  Raven 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 Raven 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, Raven 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 Raven'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 Raven'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 Raven'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.  Raven 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?" Raven asked, walking over, wiping her hands on her cloak.

Vrael gestured towards me with one hand.  "She's pregnant."

"I'm what?!"

"Pregnant," Vrael repeated, "I can smell the shift in your hormones."

"But... how?"

Raven 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 Raven glanced at each other before Raven 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 body through the 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," Raven said cheerily.  "Just us."

 

We managed to finish the house completely by the end of two more months.  After a couple of disastrous attempts, we decided to rely on magic and not on electricity in the house.  The smell of fried vampire is particularly insulting to keen noses.  Unfortunately, I now resembled a beached whale.  Vrael had started to get together various medical supplies, pinching what he needed from a nearby city as we had done to help up build the house.  What we couldn't make ourselves, we had to steal, doing so at night, teleporting into the shops so as not to set off any alarms.  Most of my teleportation training was done on such outings.  It also came to general consensus that once the twins were born, (yes, twins.  Demons come in pairs, remember?), I would go into the city and try to find a job.  After all, I was the only one with any kind of qualification that might be recognised in this dimension. 

 

I spent more and more time with Merlas, talking to her and occasionally flying.  Vrael's constant checks on me were starting to get on my nerves.  Although he had studied medicine, (turns out even demons get ill, which is a little odd), he had never really had to apply it.  Somehow, I think he was more nervous about the whole thing than I was.  At least until I went into labour.  I was leaning against Merlas' side when the contractions started.  I hissed in pain, doubling over.  Merlas nickered in concern before letting loose with an ear shattering neigh.  Raven popped her head out of a window to tell her to shut up when she noticed that I was curled up in the grass, sheltered under Merlas' protective wing.  All three of my siblings rushed out to help me back into the house.

 

I don't remember much of the birth.  Vrael had me on a series of painkillers and carefully applied silver to help me get through.  Merlas still grumbles that when she stuck her head through the window of the ground-floor room we had designated as a medical centre, I had grabbed onto her mane and refused to let go.  I suppose it would explain why I had a handful of coarse black hair in my hand.  Either way, the birth went without a hitch.  I had birthed two healthy part demon girls.  I held one of the carefully, feeding her with a formulae Vrael had put together.  For the moment, they were identical, black haired and blue eyed.

"Have you thought up names for them?" Raven asked, sitting next to me.

"Yeah, Archangel Holly and Onyx Natalie," I said softly.

"You miss them don't you?"

Miss them?  An understatement.  I had lost my two best friends to Karthragan just as I had lost my mother.  Not only that, but that b*****d and disgrace to part demons Jamie Carton had walked off scot free.  Every day without them was like living without a part of me.  I couldn't tell Raven that.  She didn't understand friendship.  She had never been taught what friends were.  "Yeah, I miss them."

To her credit, she didn't say anything else.  We sat in silence for a moment before Raven left me alone.

 

As agreed, a week after Archangel and Onyx's birth, I was in the city, looking for a job.  I managed to find something pretty quickly, thank the goddess.  A small, struggling florist shop.  They dismissed my lack of qualification in the face of being able to communicate with people and arrange flowers into something pretty.  I could do that.  I even had the nose to be able to put together smells that complimented each other.  I worked alongside a teenager, a girl who looked to be the same age as I appeared to be.  She smelled a little strange though.  Not quite human.  She hid it well though, with a passion for flora so strong that the owner of the shop often deferred to her when it came to ordering the flowers.  After a few days, I managed to feel enough at ease in the shop to ask her name.  She smiled at me, and said her name was Alba Manticora. 

 

Archangel and Onyx were growing quickly and had thirst for knowledge that superseded my own and taking very much after their namesakes.  Onyx had a passion for reading the dictionary and any other informative book she could find.  Raven often grumbled, as she dismantled prank after prank, what had possessed me to name a certain child 'Archangel'.  Thankfully, I escaped each day to go work, leaving them in Vrael's care.  This bewildered the part vampire and he often found that he had to call in backup from Raven in order to control them.  Each night, I came home to find Vrael in his soul animal form of a panther, submitting to having his ears and tail pulled by the over inquisitive twins.  His tail now has a permanent kink in it, but he considers it to be minor compared to having no tail what so ever.  Strangely enough, they behaved around Merlas.  They never put a toe out of line.  Soon, she became their primary babysitter, much to her dismay, to the point where she disappeared for the best part of three months.  I wasn't worried about her though.  Merlas could fend for herself.  Three years later, when the girls' magic manifested as dark green, I started to see myself also mirrored in them, in Archangel's appearance, which mimicked mine almost perfectly, and Onyx's joking despair on her sister's part, not unlike the expression I used to wear with Holly.  The only way to train them was to play, and I found myself playing games of tag in the forest to train them to teleport, always ending up breathless from laughter.  It was as if I had found my best friends again.

 

I often escaped from my family in the forest, to reminisce.  I often thought about Holly and Natalie, the shenanigans we had managed to get up to at the Academy and its grounds.  Somewhere in the forest of the Academy, there was a tree with the letters HB, NP, SR.  Holly Bristol, Natalie Patterson and Shadow Roth.  The trio that sparked fear in the hearts of the most seasoned of teachers.  It was difficult letting them go.  I wandered further into the forest than I usually did, lost in thought.  Something rustled on the edge of the path.  I stopped, looking around, trying to see what had moved.  A twig snapped.  I put a hand on the hilt of the sword Raven had taught me to use.  Crouching, half hidden by a tree, I watched as a creature of fantasy crept along the path.  A manticore, if I remembered my mythological creatures class properly.  I sniffed the air.  The scent of the manticore was familiar.  I nearly whacked my head off the tree.  I must be stupid.  Alba Manticora. 

"Alba?" I asked softly, stepping towards the creature.  It jumped, morphing back into a rather bewildered looking teenage girl.  I smiled slightly.  "I thought you smelled a little odd."

"Shadow?  Wha're you doin' out here?" She asked warily.  I could sense her kicking herself mentally.  I made a guess that it was because I'd spotted her. 

"I live around here," I said vaguely, holding out a hand to help her get to her feet.  She coughed nervously, brushing herself off.

"I guess you, uh, saw ma transformation there, huh..."

"Yeah, no worries though.  I'm not going to rat on you."  I felt relief coming off her in waves before she tensed, looking back the way she had come.  Grabbing my hand, she started to sprint through the undergrowth, pulling me along behind her with surprising ease and strength.  She didn't answer when I asked her what the matter was until we had gone another mile into the forest where she stopped, breathing hard.

"There are... people after me," she started to explain.  I raised an eyebrow prompting her to go on.  "I sensed someone following me out of the city, but they didn't reveal themselves until after I changed.  I don't know who they are."

Frowning, I scanned the forest around us, looking for any traces of these people.  I couldn't see anything, but that didn't mean they weren't there.    I turned back to Alba, pointing east.

"Look, if you go far enough that way, you'll come across a house.  Tell Raven I sent you.  Get out of the forest.  I'll follow behind masking out tracks."

Alba nodded, looking nervous, but followed my orders.  I glanced over my shoulder one last time, looking for any movement.  Nothing.  I started to walk after Alba, taking care to hide any signs of our passing.  I stopped as I heard something.  Something thudded against my skull, and I was out for the count.

 

When I came around again, my entire body throbbed as if I had been through a power surge.  Fleeting memories were quickly banished from my mind, giving me no recollections what so ever of what had happened since I had been knocked out.  Looking around, I realised I was in the hospital room of our house.  Raven, Vrael and Alba were watching me with worried expressions.  However, their expressions weren't the things concerning me.  I was more concerned at the fact that Vrael had his arms around Alba protectively and was holding her close.  Vrael and Alba?  Ok, weird pairing there.  I wondered how that had happened.

"Shad?"  Raven asked.  "You back with us?"

"Yeah," I grumbled, trying to sit up despite having the mother of all headaches.  "Anyone care to enlighten me as to what the hell happened to make me feel like someone ran over me with a bus and then reversed again to make sure they did it right?"

The trio glanced at each other.  Raven sighed irritably.  "You're such a coward, Vrael.  How come I always get stuck with the task of explaining things?" She turned back to me with her best 'you're really not going to like this' face on.  I cringed.  Whatever had happened, it wasn't likely to be good.

"Long story short, you had a run in with the Milita."

"The Milita?" I asked.

"A group of soldiers-come-scientists who study mythological creatures.  We're prime targets for them, since they don't wait for people to volunteer..." Alba answered quietly, her head resting on Vrael's chest.  I tried not to let the images of them getting together into my head.  I'd never get rid of them if I did. 

"The milita tried to split your demonic side from your human," Raven said bluntly.

"I'm guessing it didn't work..."

"No, duh," Raven snorted, "if they had managed, you'd be dead.  We're parts, more specifically, halves.  Every single part demon ever born has been a half, regardless of parentage.  The non demonic and demonic sides can then exist in a vaguely harmonious state.  If we weren't halves, our bodies would tear themselves apart in the battle between our sides."

"Bloody hell, you demons are complicated," Alba muttered.  A slight smile grew on Vrael's face as he ruffled her hair affectionately.  I averted my eyes.  Yeesh, lovebirds. 

"Anyway," Raven's voice broke me out of my thoughts.  "Since you're obviously so uncultured in the ways of demons, I've written down everything I know for you to read." She dumped a pile of papers at least two inches thick next to me.  "Enjoy."

 

Left alone to recuperate, I began to read.  There were so many things about part demons that I hadn't read in the Scriptures.  Then again, there had been no way of telling if the Scriptures had been intact.  I learnt about our two hearts, the primary and a second, smaller one in the right side of a demon's chest.  Demons didn't get the normal, human 'time of the month', but were constantly ready to procreate and always bore twins.  I read about the politics of Aspheri, the demonic dimension, how it was ruled over by a single individual known as the Prince of Darkness, who happened to be Karthragan.  I cursed in the back of my mind.  What fun.  Another interesting titbit of information was that the behaviour of the demons was modelled on their ruler.  If the ruler was an evil bugger, the demons would all be evil buggers.  If the ruler was compassionate, the demons would be compassionate, (scary thought).  In addition to our magic, we have the ability to teleport (obviously) and to heal others if we are properly trained.

 

Time passed slowly, lazily.  Alba and I still worked in the flower shop and Shaeman and Vrael had found out how to play the stock markets and investments to keep our income growing and taught me more about magic in our spare time.  Raven had wandered off somewhere, no one really knew where, but nor were we particularly bothered.  Raven could handle herself perfectly well.  Unfortunately, Karthragan was moving on the offensive again.  He often tried to break into my mind, to kill me from the inside out.  This often led to my demonic side taking the chance to break free and take over.  Slowly, over the course of three weeks, the attacks became less and less frequent.  I started venturing in back into the city again, although under the constant escort of either Vrael or Shaeman. 

 

I wandered around the city one night in wolf form, closely followed by Vrael's sleek panther form.  He was seriously getting on my nerves though.  I trotted into a square lit only by a couple of streetlamps nearing the end of their life.  Morphing back into human form, I put my hands on my hips, glaring at him.

"Vrael, if you keep watching me like that, I swear I'm going to spontaneously combust!" 

From the other side of a broken fountain, a voice called out.  "Vrael, is that you?  What are you doing here?"  I whipped my head round to glare at a teenage boy, younger than me.  He looked a little scruffy, but smelled a little odd, sort of like a shape-shifter, but not quite.

"Shadow wished to leave the house for a few moments, and I volunteered for the guard duty. It was only chance that lead us here." Vrael replied calmly.  He obviously knew this boy.  I relaxed fractionally.

"Who are you?" I asked.  He narrowed his eyes at me.  I sensed apprehension radiating off him.

"Name's Bart.  That's all you need to know."  I raised an eyebrow at his abrupt answer.  "I met Vrael by pure coincidence a couple of weeks ago."  He pulled a dog-eared piece of paper from a pocket of his baggy white trousers, studying it closely.  He glanced at his watch, apparently waiting for something.   I rounded on Vrael, arms folded.  He raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.

"I was with Alba, there is no harm in that I presume? Bart met she and I there, when you were... not quite with us."

"You mean when I was going mad?"

"Yes." I rolled my eyes, turning back to Bart.

"So what are you doing here?  You're waiting for something, that much if obvious."

Bart looked as if he wasn't going to talk, but ceded.   "I'm a sort of chosen one from a race called the Kraferrs.  I doubt you've heard of them.  Well, we've got this kind of relic, a necklace, the All-Teller necklace.  There are thirteen 'One' Kraferrs, humans given the powers of a Kraferr so they can try and find it.  I'm one of them, but I have to wait for a shaman Kraferr to create a replica of me so my parents don't panic."  Understanding I nodded and watched from a distance as what looked like a further evolved monkey appeared.  I guessed that he was the shaman Bart was looking for since the boy walked over to greet him.  Vrael and I stayed at a distance, feeling that this was perhaps not something to be observed closely.  I could hear them talking, but couldn't make out any individual words.  I felt Vrael stiffen beside me, putting a hand on my shoulder and clenching it hard.  Glancing up at him, I saw his gaze riveted on the proceedings between Bart and the shaman.  A split second later, I realised why.  There was blood involved.  I could smell it.  I guessed that the bloodlust was starting to descend on Vrael, but he was making a valiant effort to fight it.  I put one hand on his, squeezing it slightly.  He looked down at me, his features rigid, but managed a tense smile.  Looking back over at the Kraferrs, the shaman had vanished, leaving Bart standing over his clone.  Bart lifted his wrist to his face, his features bathed in a blue light as I guessed he checked his watch.  Surreptitiously, I slid a vial of blood from my belt and pulled out a windup mouse I had enchanted to never stop once started.  I had to spend some time alone before I went nuts.  Making sure Vrael's eyes were still fixed on Bart, I tipped a few drops of blood on the mouse, enough to give it the scent.  Vrael's head whipped round, the hunger clear in his eyes.  I felt a little ashamed about using his weakness against him, but turned the key on the mouse, sending it scurrying away into the night.  Vrael shot after it in a heartbeat.  Breathing a sigh of relief, I walked over to Bart.

"I should be able to disappear for a couple of months with this replica," he said, his mind obviously a long way away.

"Why isn't it moving?" I asked.  I couldn't fathom how this replica thing worked if the clone didn't move.  Was it supposed to make his appear to be dead or something?  In a coma?

"Won't activate until 10."  He pressed the light button on his watch again, the faint blue light illuminating the planes of his face.  I tilted my head to one side.  He didn't look particularly comfortable in the presence of his clone.  I dismissed those thoughts.  Of course it was strange if you didn't happen to have an identical twin.  I still got a bit unnerved when I looked at Raven and realised that I wasn't looking into a mirror.  Lost in my thoughts, I jumped when the replica sat up.  It nodded at Bart before calmly sauntering off to do whatever it is that clones do when they're impersonating their originals.  He looked a little lost, as if he was watching a large part of his life walking away with his clone.  I felt quite sorry for him, standing in the cold winter winds, now homeless while another person took his place in his family.

"Need any help chasing that relic of yours?" I asked quietly.  He glanced at me before looking up at the moon.

"I dunno," he said, looking a little guilty.  "Someone said that you were kinda dangerous right now.  I just don't know if I can trust you..."

I won't say that didn't hurt, because it did.  I bit the inside of my cheek, trying not to come back with a Holly-worth sarcastic quip.  "Well, I guess you met my family before you met me then, huh."  I pulled the hood of my cloak over my head, hiding my expression in shadow so that he couldn't read my thoughts on my face.

"Sorry," he said quickly, his emotions telling me that he was aware that he had made a mistake.  "I don't really want people I don't know joining me on this.  It's too dangerous.  It's too easy to get hurt, and I don't know what to do if anyone does get hurt."

"Fair enough," I answered neutrally, walking over to the fountain and dipping my hand into its frigid waters, the cold searing my skin as I flicked the drops from my fingers.  I could sense his confusion.

"Where are you going?"

"Nowhere in particular," I murmured, "I just need to get away from my family."

"I need to get away from mine too, but I guess for different reasons than yours."  I turned to look at him.  Instead of the human I had seen before, this humanoid was covered in brown fur, his eyes turned red, his hands clawed and a monkey's tail slicing at the air.  He tilted his head to the side as he watched me.  "You're leaving your family to save yourself, but I'm guessing that there's another reason behind that one."

I turned back to the fountain, looking down at my reflection, at the damning evidence of the prophecy in the scar around my eye.  "They're trying to protect me, to keep me away from something very dangerous, but it won't work for long.  I just don't want to see them hurt..."

"I like that.  You're trying to protect your loved ones even though it puts you in danger." I felt his hand gingerly touch my shoulder, as if he was unsure of what to do.  "I guess you could come with me, if you still want to.  I'll try to protect you too, but I'm not really good at medical things.  I know the basic human anatomy and that's about it., and even then it's only approximately."

"Don't worry about healing," I replied, turning to him.  "Vrael's taught me everything he knows about medicine.  So, where do we start?"

"The relic's last known position was in a mountain range North- West from here, so I guess we start moving.  There's something you should know about where it's kept though."  I glanced at him, wondering what it was as he took a deep breath.  "They say that the walls move.  No one's ever come back from trying to find it."

I smiled slightly.  "Sounds like a challenge."

 

We moved out, starting the journey to the outskirts of the city.  If this All Teller necklace had been made by the Kraferrs, then their scent should still linger on it.  I discreetly sniffed at Bart.  Yep, there was a scent here that was definitely not human, and not like anything I had ever come across.  Taking that as the scent of the Kraferrs, I kept my nose on alert for anything close to it.  There were several living scents in the city, but this one shouldn't be moving.  I stopped.  There was something wrong here.  Bart stopped as well, glancing back at me with a worried expression.  I listened carefully, putting a hand on the hilt of one of the two swords strapped permanently to my side.  There's one thing about walking down a deserted street with another person.  There should only be two patterns of footsteps.  Not three.  Someone was following us.

"Shadow?" Bart asked.

"There's someone there," I replied quickly.  I unsheathed one sword.  He readied his claws, looking around for the unknown stalker.  I took on my battle stance, breathing deeply, eyes searching the dark streets.  Something whistled through the air.  Ducking quickly, I watched as a lock of purple hair drifted to the ground and an arrow quivered in the wall behind me.

"That was too close for comfort," I muttered.  I drew my other sword, taking comfort in the twin weights in my hands.  I was good with these weapons.  I could defend myself and Bart if necessary.  I spotted the assailant.  A black clothed man standing in an alleyway, bow in their hands.  Another arrow only just missed Bart.  The Kraferr darted towards the man, zigzagging to make a projectile attack more difficult.  Obviously panicked, the attacker drew a sword, holding it at the ready.  A scream caught in my throat as I watched Bart launch himself at the person, too fast to stop his attack.  The man lunged at the Kraferr with the sword, piercing Bart's arm then his chest.  Bart seemed to laugh, raking at the assailant's eyes with his claws.  The attacker ripped his sword out of Bart as I ran to help the Kraferr, throwing it towards me before he fled.  My eyes widened as the sword headed for my chest.  It was too late to dodge.  Too late to slow down.  Too late to do anything.  The metal buried itself in my chest, straight through my heart.  Gasping, I fell to the ground.  I lay there on my side, trying to think of what to do.  Nothing came to mind, just the pain of the blade skewering me like a particularly morbid kebab.  The smell of Bart's blood came closer to me, his breathing ragged and panicked.

"Shadow, can you hear me?  I need to call Vrael, but how?"

"I can hear..." I managed to get out.  Arias, breathing hurt.  How was Bart holding up?  I knew that demons had a secondary heart.  I would be ok as long as I didn't bleed to death.  But Kraferrs?  I was fairly sure they weren't as resilient as the spawn of evil.  "Don't call... Vrael.  They... can't know."  I had to get this sword out of my before it caused any more damage.  Grasping the hilt, slippery with Bart's and my blood, I wrenched it out, letting it clatter onto the concrete.  Given the amounts of blood pouring out of the wound, I was starting to doubt my survival.  Gritting my teeth, I pushed those thoughts away.  The consequences were too steep to contemplate.  "I won't die," I muttered to myself.  "I will NOT DIE!"  I pushed myself up on my elbows, then my knees, then my feet, grabbing onto a nearby lamppost to keep myself upright.  I felt Bart grab my arm, putting it over his shoulders before he picked me up with an ease that betrayed his injuries.  I cringed at the pain he felt.  Reaching up a hand to his temple, I let my magic flow into him, to lessen some of his wounds.  I couldn't heal myself.  No demon could.  But I could help him.  He pulled his head away from my touch.

"Keep your energy, Shad, you need it more than I do." He growled.  We reached a doctor's surgery a few streets over.  Carefully sitting me on the ground, he set about picking the locks with a claw.  I put my hand against the wall, sending a magical pulse through the electric system to disable the alarms.  I gasp as the energy left me, leaving me dizzy and barely conscious.  He swore, picking me up again and bundling me into one of the treatment rooms.  I vaguely heard him muttering to himself as he searched for the necessary materials.  A syringe pierced the skin close to the wound, but I barely felt a pinprick.  It was surpassed by the gash left by the sword.  I was dimly aware of the needle passing back and forth, closing the wound.  Slowly, I became more and more aware of the things around me, coming further and further away from unconsciousness. 

"I'm sorry," he was saying quietly.  "I'm so sorry.  I couldn't protect you.  This was the first time we were attacked and I still couldn't protect you."

"It's ok," I murmured, reaching out to squeeze his hand.  "There wasn't much you could have done." I sat up slowly, grimacing as I pulled the sutures slightly.  They were going to be a pain in the backside, especially since they would have to be renewed every day.  With demonic blood being slightly more acidic than human, most stitches didn't last long.  "We should get moving before they attack again." Hearing no answer, I glanced at Bart.  His body was sprawled on the ground, his breathing shallow.  All around the room were pools of red blood.  His blood.  Swearing in every language I knew, I knelt next to him, placing my hands over his wounds.  Focusing my magic, I concentrated on repairing at least some of the damage.  It wasn't enough.  I grabbed the things I needed from the shelves, ignoring the pain in both my hearts.  It didn't matter.  I was going to live, but he wasn't if I didn't do something fast.  I crouched next to him again, prepping a needle and thread.  His hand reached out to grip mine.

"Don't let me die here."

"I won't.  I promise I won't let you die."  After disinfecting the wound, I snatched a compression pad from my pile of supplies, applying it to the wounds, trying to staunch the bleeding. He had lost so much blood. Too much blood. I narrowed my eyes, grabbing an empty syringe. I stuck it into my arm, drawing blood into it. I knew that there would be a few side effects over from of the demonic part to my blood, but it would help. I injected it straight into his heart, followed by two more. My head began to feel light, but I forced myself to concentrate.

I continued to apply pressure to Bart's wounds, praying that my blood would help him. The bleeding was slowing, and I started to stitch the wounds after injecting some local anaesthetic around them. Once I had tiedof the final stitch, I placed a finger on his forehead, murmuring a spell that would hopefully bring him back from unconsciousness.  He awoke with a gasp of pain.  He tried to speak, his eyes wide in panic.  I bit my lip, bowing my head.

"You... You...You..."

"I had to inject some of my blood into your system," I said quietly, "you had lost so much..."

"What'll happen to me?" He asked, his voice sounding stronger as the demonic blood running through his veins started to take hold. 

"I'm only half demon, so my blood isn't as potent as full-bloods."  I took a deep breath.  "You are going to convert into a half over the next few days."

For a moment he said nothing, processing the information.  I mentally kicked myself for not looking for some human blood to give him.  He reached up a hand, touching my neck.  I almost flinched away, but he touched the pulse point next to my throat.  "Your main heart isn't working yet..."  I moved away slightly, dislodging his hand from my neck.  I didn't want to answer that question.

"We should get moving before someone finds us here."  I declared, holding out a hand to help him to his feet.  I grabbed some of the medical supplies, slipping them into my pockets in case we needed them later. 

 

As we walked down the street, I watched Bart carefully.  He seemed to be holding up well given the onslaught the demonic blood must be wreaking on his body.  We walked in silence, the furrow of concentration on the Kraferr's forehead deepening as he tried to keep walking in a straight line.  I glanced away, guilt clouding my mind.  He stopped, crouching and placing one fur-covered hand on the ground.

"Strange..."

I sniffed the air, but couldn't identify the smell.

"We need to get out of here.  Now!" Bart ordered.  The edge of panic in his voice put me on edge.  My already difficult concentration scattered completely.  

"I can't teleport us," I said, not even willing to attempt it.  There was no telling where we'd end up.  Bart answered the problem at hand in his own way, seizing me around the stomach with one arm, scaling the side of the building enxt to us with an ease that I found hard to believe.  We surfaced on the rooftop where Bart staggered, clutching at his wound.  I felt his pain and grimaced.

"Come here, let me heal that," I said in a tone that implied that I wasn't going to take no for an answer.  I didn't care that I was tired, or hurt, or that we were trying to hide from something I didn't know.  He didn't put up a protest as I gently laid a hand on the wound on his chest, concentrating on helping the minuscule fibres reconnect and heal.  Once I had done as much as I could, I sat back, discreetly raising a finger to the pulse point on my neck.  Still twice as fast as it needed to be.  Although I had a secondary heart, it was smaller than the primary.  It had to work harder to keep my body functioning.  I let my hand fall, looking out over the city once more. 

"Who were they?" I asked.

"The Ku'Rutiek.  They're Kraferric outlaws who believe that the necklace should remain undiscovered, that it isn't the answer to our survival."  He turned to look at me through the red eyes of his were-monkey form.  "They are the reason so many Kraferr Ones have failed."  I nodded silently, pondering.  "Shad?"

"Hm?"

"You said you were trying to get away from your family, to keep them safe.  You never said why."

I sighed, shifting into a more comfortable position, looking out over the city with its pinpricks of streetlights.  Leaning on my hands, I thought carefully about my words.  After all, he was one of us now.  He might as well know how we work.  "A part demon's life is ruled by prophecy.  The more important the demon parent is, the more the prophecy impacts your life.  I drew the red card in that my father is the ruler of all demons.  I'm supposed to fight him to the death for control over the demons."

"When?"

"In a month..."

"And you agreed to help me?  Shouldn't you be training to fight?"

"We're both going to die.  It was in the prophecy.  We both have to die, so what's the point?  We should start moving again before they catch our scent."  I stepped over the edge of the building, to freefall to the ground.  Normally it wouldn't be a problem.  A storey or two won't do anything to a demon.  Any more than that, however, and you're looking at scraping bits of demon off the pavement.  As I landed, I staggered, grabbing onto a lamppost to regain my balance.  The sword wound was throbbing again, my heartbeat almost a hum as it raced to keep up with everything I was putting my body through.  I nodded once at Bart, signalling that everything was fine to continue the quest. 

 

We walked in silence for another couple of streets before Bart started to have problems.  The blood was starting to take effect.  He stopped, collapsing onto a nearby bench, breathing ragged as his body tried to fight the onslaught of demonic transformation.  I sat next to him, guilt consuming my mind again.

"I'm sorry, I need to take a break," he said, leaning his head back to ease his breathing.

"I shouldn't have given you my blood."  I looked down at my hands folded in my lap.  "You have no reason to be sorry."

"You did what you had to in order to save my life.  I'm grateful for that."

"There's always an alternative..."

"Shadow, what's done is done, there's nothing you can do about it." 

I said nothing, leaning my head back against the bench, closing my eyes.  It was comforting to just stare at the inside of my eyelids.  Nothing complicated, no prophecies, nothing to run from.

"Hey, Shad, with the blood transfer, what'll I be able to do?"

"Magic mainly.  It should manifest soon, give or take a couple of hours," I said without looking up at him.  "You'll be able to use it like mine. It requires concentration, and an ability to visualise what you want it to do. For example," I raised a hand to chest height, palm facing upwards.  "Within my mind, I can see a small orb of magic above my hand." After a few moments of concentration, it slowly appeared. "You could imagine it attacking something or someone, or seeking something and bringing it to you."

"Cool."

"So, what's our next move?"  I was starting to get restless.  Staying in one place for too long when there were people looking for us was a recipe for disaster, especially since neither of us were in any state to fight, especially not if Bart was going to undergo a rather fast demonic transformation soon. 

"We continue going North-West, towards the mountains.  When we get there, we should be able to get up to the cave easily," Bart said, starting to walk along the street.  I followed him like a kitten on a string.  "By the way, did you recognise our mysterious assailant?"

I gritted my teeth.  Yes, I knew who he was or rather, what group he belonged to.  I wasn't sure Bart really wanted or needed to know though.  "Yes, I did recognise him."

He suddenly became worried.  "Who was it?"

"No one you want to know."

"Shad... Can you at least tell me why he was after us then?"  He was starting to get a little irritated, that much I could tell.  I started to chew on my lip, looking at the Kraferr out of the corner of my eye.

"He was a Demon Hunter." I conceded.

"Like a vampire hunter?"

"No," I had to take a deep breath.  "The Demon Hunters are a cult of humans who worship my father and do his dirty work in this realm."

"So his coming after us had nothing to do with the fact that you were with me?"

"No.  If it was, I would have to remove his head personally and spit down his neck.  They're only supposed to be after me."

 

I couldn't help but notice the silence Bart was keeping up as we continued our trek in silence. I pulled the hood of my cloak over my face as I glared at the ground, cursing myself in every single language I knew. I placed a hand on the hilt of my sword, keeping an ear out for anything unusual.  Bart stopped again, sniffing the air.  I paused, watching him carefully for any telltale signs that meant we had to make a rapid exit.

"Smell something?"

"No, nothing.  I can't see, smell or hear anything.  That's not normal."  I closed my eyes, reaching out with my mind to try and pick up any other forms of consciousness.  I came up with a couple of lizards and a stray cat.  Nothing of any note.  But there was something else there.  Something doing its damnest to hide from me, slipping out of my grasp everytime I tried to get a hold on it.

 

A figure dropped down from the rooftop.  I jumped, drawing my sword.  Bart stood slightly in front of me, claws at the ready.  The figure held up his hands in a peaceful, not quite surrendering gesture.  A young man, perhaps only a couple of years older than me.  He smelled a little strange, not unlike Bart, but a scent all his own.

"I'm not here to fight you," he said, "I am Sither. Sither Moonspike, last Kuijin standing of the Yul tribe.  I was just passing by and I overheard that you were embarking on some sort of... journey." 

Bart relaxed enough to put his claws away.  "I'm Bart, this is Shadow."  Sither inclined his head gracefully towards me.  I returned the gesture, sheathing my sword again but keeping my hand on its hilt.  I couldn't sense anything hostile coming from the newcomer, but that didn't mean that he couldn't turn evil.

"I have a few talents in warfare that may be useful to you both, if you will allow me to accompany you.'

"Shadow?"

"I can't sense anything bad coming off him.  Chances are he'll be harmless enough towards us." 

Bart nodded and started walking again, Sither and I following quietly.

 

Concrete pavements soon gave way to dense woodland as we approached the foot of the mountain.  We continued onwards, a strange trio of a shapeshifter-turned-demon, a demon and an unknown.  Bart stopped, listening carefully.  I cast a glance at him, sensing worry cascading off him in waves.

"Shadow, Sither... I think we have company."

I drew both my swords, brow furrowed in concentration and concern.  I knew I was in no state to fight.  Nor was Bart.  I couldn't even morph!  Sither was the only chance they had at getting out of the fight alive.  I closed my eyes, trying to sense our attackers.  Al I heard was the blood pounding in my ears.  All I smelled was earth, blood and shifter.  All I could feel was Bart's agitation and worry.  The wind riffled the Kraferr's fur, bringing with it the sharp tang that promised rain.  I tightened my grip on my sword, ignoring the pain that lanced through my damaged heart.  Nature settles.  Not a leaf rustled.  I slashed at something not more than a shadow.  Claws ripped at my arm.  Shallow gashes leaked tiny droplets if blood.  I strained my ears to hear more, hear better, hear past the unnatural silence. 

There!

I swung my sword at neck height.  It met with a satisfying flesh-and-bone resistance.  A body thudded to the ground.  I threw my sword at another attacker, listening out for the crunch as it hit its target, drawing my other blade and preparing myself.

"Slay the One and his allies!"

My temper snapped .  Anger boiled through my mind.  Magic surged through my muscles, begging to be used.  I shouted out in Demonic.  Black energy poured from my hands.  I didn't care about losing control now.  Not while Bart was in mortal danger.  Sither could handle himself.  Bart was still injured.  He had been injured while defending me.

 

A handful of heartbeats later, the Outlaw Kraferrs lay dead in pools of blood around us.  I fell to one knee, my arms around my ribs.  Goddess, it hurt  to breathe.  My secondary heart was beating so fast.  Bart crouched next to me.

"Shadow, you shouldn't have done that.  You need to rest!"

I gritted my teeth.  Rest?  Now?  Forget it.  The monkey boys might have back up.  "I'm fine," I muttered, pushing myself to my feet.  The sudden movement proved to be too much.  I collapsed onto the ground again.  I couldn't hear anything through the frantic beating of my secondary heart.  The magical wave had taken more energy than I had realised.  A secondary heart is just that.  Secondary.  It could run my body for a matter of about two weeks, as long as the demon doesn't do anything too strenuous, ample time for the primary heart to recover and take over full duty once more.  After the exertion of the battle, I guessed I had a handful of days at most.

 

I expected to hit hard, unforgiving ground.  Instead, someone caught me before I could, cradling me carefully in their arms.

"I told you, you need rest.  So just relax," ordered Bart.  I felt like arguing back, but didn't.  He was trying to help.  I felt his claw rest on the pulse point on my neck.  His hand then moved close to my wounded heart.  I hissed in pain, pushing his hand away.  He wasn't trained!  He didn't know what to do!  But he maintained his hand close to the injury.

"Let me try, Shad."

Grudgingly, I let him.

 

When Vrael and I heal someone, we use magic to fuse together the fibres of the muscle and reconnect the cells.  This gets harder and harder the deeper you go into an organism, and becomes more difficult the older the wound gets as the magic has to interfere with the natural healing process.  Bart was finding this out the hard way.   Slowly, the depths of the wound began to close enough to staunch the bleeding before he was forced to stop by the toll the magic was taking on his strength.

"Thank you," I murmured.  He smiled slightly, standing up and holding out his hand.  I took it, letting him help me to my feet.  We looked out over the battlefield.  Bart gagged, I guess disgusted by the sight of the remnants of the fight.  I was used to the smells of battle.  The sight of blood didn't turn my stomach.  Don't get me wrong though.  It's not that death and killing don't bother me, it's that this was an exception.  The outlaws wouldn't have hesitated to kill us.  We should not have had to hesitate to kill them.  All that was left was for me to convince myself that it was self-defense.

"Why were they after us?  You said that they believe the necklace should remain undiscovered, but why the violence?"

"The Outlaws used to be a group of Kraferrs who protected the Ones on their quest.  But the Outlaws got scared that the Ones would ask a wrong question, which leads to the One's death and moves the Kraferrs one step closer to extinction.  Well, the idea of 'protect by force' kinda turned into 'kill'.

"I see."  My eyes wandered over the corpses.  I spotted my second sword embedded in the chest of a dead Kraferr.  I pulled it out, trying to ignore the sound of shattered bone against the metal.  I wiped the blade on the grass in an attempt to clean as much of the gore from it as possible.  "It looks like the Kraferrs are another few specimens short then."  My mind, unbidden, turned to my own species. The part demons.  How we had been everywhere, in almost every dimension.  Now only the Roth-Mercian clan was left.  My clan.  And it looked like the Kraferrs were going to follow the same path.

"Yes," Bart spoke again, shaking me from my dark thoughts.  "But it's done now.  Not much we can do about it."

"Hm."

 

I listened to Bart gagging again as he looked out over the bloodstained, corpse-strewn ground.  I rolled my eyes, trying to block out the sound.  But there was something more behind it.  There was something else coming off him.  I whipped 'round to face him as he fell to his knees, his hands around his ribs.  I knelt next to him, holding his shoulders straight to try and alleviate his breathing.

"What's wrong?"

"The... Blood..." He managed to gasp.  "It's interfering... with everything!"  He tried to get up again, but his legs gave way beneath him.  I gritted my teeth.  All the signs pointed to an imminent demonic possession.  Not a good things.  I wracked my mind for a possible solution, for anything that could help him.  The bracers!  Digging into my pockets, I pulled out two long bracelets of metal.  Shaeman had crafted them, working a length of thin, silver wire into the steel.  I slid one over Bart's wrist, pulling at the lacing to keep them tight against his fur.

"I don't normally use these," I explained, slipping the other one into place, "but I think this qualifies as an emergency.  They have silver in them.  It'll help control the demon blood."

"Shadow," he started to say, lying back on the ground with a groan.  "Thanks."

I sensed despair starting to well up inside him and swallowed hard.  "It's one of the few things I can do.  After all, it's my fault you've got this problem."

"Shad..." His voice held a hint of a warning.  I tensed, throwing all my senses onto high alert. "There was nothing else you could have done."  Realising we weren't going to be attacked, I relaxed slightly, keeping my head bowed.  He started to try to get to his feet, but I pushed his back down again, one hand on his shoulder.

"Calm down and relax for a bit.  The silver should take effect soon, but you need to let it work, not get yourself all worked up."

Bart fell back again, grimacing slightly.  I rolled my eyes discreetly, shifting my limbs into a more comfortable position.  He turned his head to look at me.

"Shad, does demonic magic cause any interference with other kinds?  Like, will it change or block my Kraferric powers?"

I looked down at my hands, which were absentmindedly shredding blades of grass.  "I don't know, really.  I don't think there are any specific changes.  I'm going on Vrael though.  He still needs blood, but sunlight won't kill him, so I guess there are small changes that will happen.  Shouldn't be too drastic though."

He didn't reply, seemingly lost in thought.  I continued to shred the grass, trying to get my nose to focus on something other than the cloying smell of the Outlaw bodies starting to decompose.  I could smell something, a scent that gradually grew stronger and stronger.  The smell of vampire.  And if my empathy wasn't deceiving me, which it rarely does, a very pissed off vampire.  I chewed my lip nervously.  Yes, the trick with the mouse had been a very low blow and incredibly dishonourable thing to do, taking advantage of his bloodlust.  Not only that, but he was going to blow a fuse over the fact that I had jeopardised my safety by playing him.  That and the heart injury.  I don't know if vampires could have heart attacks, but he was certainly going to have kittens when he finds out that I was hurt by a demon hunter on his watch. 

 

True to my sense of smell, the silver-haired vampire strode across the grass with fury written all over his face, his bow and quiver slung across his back.  I quickly dropped my gaze.  Initiating a confrontation was not going to make this any easier. 

"Shadow Wolf Alexiai Roth..." He started, but I interrupted him before he could continue.

"I know, it was really dirty trick to play on you and I'm really sorry I did.  I just had to get away from the clan for a while."  Vrael's expression softened slightly, but it didn't last.

"Why can I smell your blood?"

Oh goddess... "We, uh, ran into a demon hunter..."  Vrael was instantly next to me, his silver eyes boring into mine.

"Are you hurt?  Where?"

I pushed him away gently.  "I took a sword through my primary heart, but I'm fine as long as I don't stress myself.  Bart's the one with the real problems, not me."  Vrael turned to look at the Kraferr, who was starting to look a little unsettled under the vampire's unwavering, scrutinising silver gaze.  Vrael sniffed the air.

"By all the gods above and below, Shadow, please tell me you did not..."

"I wasn't thinking." I muttered, looking down at my shoes.  "He was so close to dying from blood loss..."

Vrael sighed, rubbing his temples as if he was starting to get a headache.  "This breaches so many of the ancient protocols that it aches my mind to contemplate them."

"I know!  I already said, I wasn't thinking about protocol..."

"What is done is done.  Although I cannot understand one more thing.  With your heart so grieviously injured and Bart's current conversion, who slew so many?"

"We picked up a helper along the way," Bart chipped in.  All three of us turned to look at Sither, who was roosting up in a tree.  He looked, given the circumstances, impeccable.  If I hadn't known, I wouldn't have thought that he had just fought such a bloody battle.  I wondered how he had done it.  I had been so focused on the Outlaws, I hadn't even noticed how he fought.  I don't think I was even aware that he was there.  Bart scratched the back of his neck.

"Well, we should probably be getting on with the quest before the Outlaws send another party to attack us."

"No, Bart," Vrael snapped.  "You require complete rest until your demonic conversion has had time to complete.  Shadow and I must return home before word gets to the demon hunters that she is out and not heavily defended."

"Vrael," I growled before Bart could respond.  "I said I'd help him in this quest.  You know as well as I do that I need something to occupy my mind, else I go mad and surrender myself to Karthragan."

For a moment, I thought the vampire was going to argue back, but he sighed and shook his head.  Defeat radiated off him, defeat and worry.  He knew well enough that once I had set my mind firmly to something, it was easier to move a mountain than it was to make me change my mind. 

"As you wish, Shadow, although I will insist that you at least take the remainder of the night to rest yourselves before undertaking the next leg of your journey."

I glanced at Bart.  "Sounds like a fair enough compromise to me."  Bart nodded, lying back on the grass once more and staring at the stars.  Vrael folded his long legs to sit down, pulling his longbow and quiver from his back.  He took wooden shafts, arrow heads and black and red feathers from the quiver, setting about fletching his own arrows.  I smiled faintly.  Shaeman and Merlas both gave Vrael their moulted feathers for his fletching.  It was a comforting thought, thinking about how well the clan worked together despite our demons sides.  I gathered some wood, lighting a small fire to ward away the chill of the night.  I curled up next to it, closing my eyes to rest, but sleep refused to come.  I sighed irritably.  My mind was too awake for anything more than waking nightmares as I imagined the horrors waiting for me in the darkness of the city streets and the future.  I sat up, rubbing my eyes.  I glanced at Bart, making sure he was ok, then at Vrael.  The vampire smiled slightly at me, pulling something from his quiver and tossing it to me.  I caught it with an ease born of building our house as a team.  In my hand was a sharpening stone.  I nodded gratefully at my half-brother, pulling out one sword and running the stone along the edges of the blade.  Sharpening a sword, practising my moves, target practice with a bow, grooming Merlas, all repetitive actions that helped me calm myself. 

"Alexiai, I do not believe that it is safe for us to remain here." Vrael spoke in demonic. 

I had to hold back a growl before answering in the same language.  "Don't ever call me that!"

"Alexiai..."

I snarled, leaping to my feet.  Vrael copied my actions.  From within my mind, the tendrils of the demon's influence grew and took hold as I struggled to keep on top of it.  In front of me, Vrael's eyes had turned red, splitting into four.  Demonic possession.  Now it was a show of strength.  My vision became tinted by crimson.  The smell of blood and death became as pleasing a smell as that of fresh air and mountain wind.  I released my iron control over my magic, allowing it to erupt into a flaming aura.  Vrael copied, his red magic bursting forth in what would have been an impressive show of pyrotechnics.  Here and now, all that mattered was showing how strong we were.  It was a fight.  Anger began to consume me.  Until I heard Bart's voice calling my name.

 

My magic flickered.  I stamped down on my demon side, trying to maintain control, to force its influence down.  I gasped aloud with the effort.  Vrael seized the opportunity.  He leapt at me, attempting to make the first strike.  I kicked out, managing to force him to divert his course briefly.  His strength bolstered by his magic, his fist struck my chest.  I felt my ribs crack.  I fell back with a shout of pain.  Bart jumped towards Vrael.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" The Kraferr snarled.  I gasped for breath.  Vrael closed his eyes.   I felt his anger ebb away as he calmed himself.  I glanced over at the pair.  Bart stood behind my brother, one arm round his neck, the other wielding its claws as if to gouge out Vrael's eyes.  I sat up slowly, cradling my ribs with one arm. Bart released Vrael, still watching him warily out of the corner of his eye as he crouched next to me.

"He missed my heart," I assured him, sensing his concern radiating from him.  "He must have broken a rib or two, that's all."

"Yeah, but it's still a broken rib.  Come on," he gently pulled my arms away, laying his hand lightly over my splintered bones.  I threw my head back and snarled silently to the moon as they snapped back into place.  Bart leant back on his heels.  "You ok now?"

"Yeah," I replied, "yeah, I'm alright now.  Thanks."  I lay back, rolling onto my side so that my back was facing Bart.  A hint of confusion wafted from him, but he didn't ask.  I was glad about that.  I was so tired.  So sore.  All I wanted to do was sleep.

 

I didn't even notice that Vrael had gone.  A wave of anger and confusion hit me like a tsunami.  I bolted upright with a gasp.  Vrael never felt emotions with such power, but they had undoubtedly come from him.  Something was very, very wrong.  I grabbed my swords, scrambling to my feet and running back towards the city, towards the epicentre of the emotions, trying to ignore the pain lancing through my chest with every breath I took.  I arrived in a back alley on the outskirts of the city.

"Vrael, take high ground!" I shouted in demonic.  The vampire, bow in hand, swung himself up onto a fire escape.  I drew both my swords, preparing to fight.  I faced my opponent.   Sither and another, cloaked, figure.  I sniffed the air.  Kraferr.  A female Kraferr whose smell was somewhat close to Bart's.  But now was not the time to ponder over the Kraferr's scent.  The emotions I was sensing from Sither were not good.

"Why were you really with us, Sither?" I growled, my eyes narrowed.  I heard the subtle creaking of Vrael's bow as he drew back the string.  Sither grinned at me.  I didn't like that.  It didn't bode well at all.

 

My fears were confirmed when Sither morphed.  I cursed under my breath.  I had forgotten he was a shifter.  Kuijin were an increasingly rare shifter race, and damned strong in their 'true' forms.  And Sither's form did nothing to inspire confidence within my mind.  A two metre tall Praying Mantis was not what I wanted to see.  I tightened my grip on my swords, highly conscious that the hilts were starting to feel a little slippery.  One of Vrael's arrows appeared out of the corner of my eye.  It broke in half as if hit one of the interlocking pieces of armour that formed the Praying Mantis' exoskeleton.  I brought both blades up to parry a blow from the giant bug's bladed arms.  The impact shook my arms down to the very bone.  Goddess, he was strong.  I ducked under another attack, swinging my sword in a short arc.  I barely scratched his exoskeleton.  Growling in frustration, I reluctantly gave ground, concentrating on keeping all my limbs attached to my body.  I couldn't see any weak points in his armour plating, nothing I could take advantage of.  Another arrow narrowly missed me.

"Watch where you're aiming!" I yelled without taking my eyes off Sither.

"Shad?" Called out Bart's voice.  I half turned to tell him to run like the clappers out of here.  One of Raven's combat rules floated through my head: Never turn your back on an enemy.  I jumped out of the way just too late.  Sither's bladed arms ripped through my calf.  I fell hard onto the unforgiving ground.  For a moment, I prayed for the fatal blow I knew was going to come.  I prayed for it to kill me.  To save me from the prophecy.  But the blow never came.  I glanced up.  Bart stood over me, his arms crossed in front of him as he held off Sither's attack.  I rolled out of the way.  Sither screeched in agony.  Blood rained down.  I scrambled to my feet, almost falling again as my injured leg gave way beneath me.  I grabbed onto a drain pipe.  Bart was ripping at Sither's face with his claws as he hung down the Praying Mantis' back.  Sither screamed once more, throwing Bart to the ground and fleeing.  The Kraferr sprang back to his feet as Vrael swung down from the fire escape.  He slung his bow over his back and pulled my arm around his shoulders so he could help support my weight.  I leant against him, relief and gratitude flooding through me.

"It is unwise for us to linger here, we should... Bart?" We both turned to look for the Kraferr, who had lapsed into unnerving silence.  He lay on the ground.  His agony surged through my mind with such an unexpected force it almost blinded me.  I pressed the heel of my palm against my eye as I knelt next to him.  Vrael was trying to in the Kraferr to the ground to limit his thrashing.   Violet fur swept over the brown.  Not far off, the silver bracers lay in pieces.

"Bart, come on, let go of your emotions," I tried to urge him, but he was too far gone for us to bring him back with words.  His claws lengthened, digging deep grooves into the concrete.  His eyes, already red with his Kraferric transformation, split into four.  A double row of of bone spikes erupted from his back.

"Vrael!  The Salent!"  True to form, the vampire handed me a slim vial of silvery liquid.  Pulling out the stopped with my teeth, I grimaced as the smell hit me.  Salent was a particularly nasty concoction the part demons used in extreme cases to control their brethren.  It removed all emotions from the mind for a few moments to a few hours, effectively trapping the demon, who used the emotions to free itself.  I grabbed Bart's jaw, trying to ignore the fearsome fangs he now sported, tipping a couple of drops into his mouth.  The effect was immediate.  He stopped struggling, instead lying on the road much like a limp sock.  Slowly, he began to change again.  The spikes receded, his claws shortened, his fur turning brown once more.  Vrael and I sat in almost identical positions, watching the Kraferr change back into himself.  His red eyes, now only two, were still dull.  I closed my eyes, focusing on his emotions, blocking out all else.  I could feel the faint stirrings of something, but not enough for Bart to pull himself out of the stupor.  Not yet.

 

Ten minutes passed with an agonising slowness.  Vrael was on edge, waiting for another attack.  I was focused on Bart, praying that he would recover from this.  Stronger flickers of emotion started to spark in the weremonkey's mind.  Shadow breathed a sigh of relief as Bart slowly sat up, one hand on his head.

"What happened?" He asked groggily.  "It feels like I've got a heavy metal band in my head..."

I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling.  "You had a close run in with your demonic side.  We were worried that you would not pull through as you are."  To his credit, Bart didn't ask any questions.  I wasn't sure I would be able to answer them.  What he had just gone through was the rough equivalent of what nearly every born part demon went through between the ages of three and five.  We discovered our demonic sides, and one side would be chosen, usually because of the strength required to subdue the other side of our personalities.  Bart hadn't been expecting his.  It was pure luck that he came through still thinking as a human and not as a demon.  Bart pulled his watch from his pocket, staring at it for a moment.

"We should probably be going.  I don't want to have to explain this to anyone," he reasoned.  I glanced at Vrael, who nodded slightly.  Getting to his feet, the vampire then helped me to stand, once more helping to support me.  With Bart at our sides, we walked back towards the forest, to the mountain where the Kraferr necklace was hidden.

 

We walked for a handful of miles before Vrael asked to break for a rest.  Bart looked as if he were desperate to continue, but he couldn't go against Vrael's words.  I was secretly glad.  My leg pained me a great deal, but I didn't want either Bart or Vrael to attempt to heal it.  They needed their energy to continue on the quest.  I sat myself on a fallen tree trunk.  The forest was quiet, a silence only broken by a distant river's thunder.  I rubbed my temples.  Dawn had come over the land not all that long ago, shining through the canopy of leaves to create a forest floor dappled with light.  Vrael morphed into his animal form of a panther before he disappeared into the trees.  I leant me head back ,glaring at the sky.  I didn't want to be stopped for any longer than was strictly necessary.  The prophecy loomed over my head like an ominous black cloud that didn't hold a storm but a hurricane.  A month.  That's all I had left.  Just a month.  My fingers strayed down to the wound, to determine the extent of the damage Sither had managed to cause.  I pressed lightly on the bone in my shin.  Pain shot through the entire limb.  I couldn't help but wince.  The damned Praying Mantis had certainly managed to cause a lot of damage.  I felt concern radiating from Bart once more.  Glancing up, I saw him watching me with worry on his face. 

"Look, Shad, if Vrael didn't heal that, I'm guessing I shouldn't try either.  So please, please try not to worsen it?"

I twisted my mouth into a half smile.  "You don't have to worry.  The injury is minimal.  It's what I believe the humans refer to as a 'flesh wound'."  Who was I trying to kid?  Demons, and by extension, half demons, could normally see through lies if they were looking for them.  It wasn't a difficult thing to do.  Bart locked gazes with me before he spoke quietly.

"If I said I believed that, I'd be lying, Shad." I closed my eyes and bowed my head.  I thought so.  I could feel him glaring at me still.  He was annoyed that I was trying to hide things from him.  I turned my own glare at him out of the corner of my eye.

"You have your things to worry about.  I have mine.  It would be wise for you to remember that," I growled, getting back to my feet.  Knowing that my leg wouldn't hold me, I summoned my magic.  Hovering above the ground I willed myself forwards.  I passed Vrael slinking back towards our temporary encampment, a few rabbits in his mouth.  He nodded his head once to me, his conscious brushing against mine long enough to express his concern that I keep myself safe.  I inclined my head slightly, acknowledging his concerns. 

 

I walked a little further into the forest before sitting down with my back against a tree trunk.  Leaning my head back, I closed my eyes.  A month.  It seemed so short.  I felt tears beginning to prick the backs of my eyes.  Tendrils of someone else's thoughts gently probed mine.  Vrael. 

Shadow?  Are you ok?

Yeah, just... you know... prophecy getting to me again.  It's...

I know.  Just return to camp, please?

 

Back at camp, Vrael and Bart were quietly eating the rabbits the vampire had caught, sitting around a small fire.  Well, Bart was eating it.  Vrael was sucking the blood out of his.  Without a word, he tossed the remainder of the three creatures.  The smell of it turned my stomach.  I felt ill.  I ate a few mouthfuls for appearance, then set it aside.  There were creatures in the forest who would be glad to eat it for me.  Instead, I sat back against a tree.  Vrael coughed politely.  I glanced at him .He tapped his calf, asking for permission to see to my wound.  I sighed, nodding and turning my head away.  The vampire moved in, gently pulling the fabric of my trousers away from the gash and setting to work.  Within a few minutes, it was cleaned out and stitched.  Vrael calmly packed away his tools.

"We should get going, the cave's only a couple of hours away," Bart suggested, getting to his feet.

 

We arrived in front of a cliff, where symbols had been carved into the stone in the shape of an archway.  I chewed the inside of my cheek, leaning heavily on a tree branch I had found, trying to keep the weight off my injured leg.  There was magic here, certainly, the same kind that I sensed around Bart.  Kraferric magic.  I reached out a hand to touch the stone surface, but there was some sort of magical barrier.  I couldn't get more than a couple of inches away.  Bart stepped closer, unhindered by the magic, to run his fingers over the carvings.  I tried to understand the runes, but without success.  I had no idea where to even begin to try to read the Kraferr language.  Judging by the concentrated look on Vrael's face and the confusion I was feeling coming from him, he had no idea either.  Great.  Even Bart seemed to be struggling to read them.  I wondered if the Kraferrs even taught their Ones how to read the language.

"I've got it!" Bart called back excitedly.  He laid a hand on the door, chanting something under his breath that I couldn't understand.  With an ominous crack, the rock within the carvings broke away, sliding to the side.  Vrael and I glanced at each other as Bart stepped inside.  Warily, we followed.  For a moment, there was a feeling like walking through syrup before the magic reluctantly let us pass.  We were in the cave.

 

The cave echoed eerily with our combined breathing.   Bart's eyes glowed a little in the darkness.   Our footsteps resonated off the stone walls.  If any of the little group had been human, we wouldn't have been able to see a thing in the gloomy cavern as we crept through the maze.  I sniffed the air, trying to get a lock on a possible smell of the locket.  I smelt nothing, but I could smell blood.  Fresh blood.  I opened my mouth to warn the others, but the sound of grinding rock pushed all thoughts from my mind. 

"The walls are moving!" Bart cried.  The three of us huddled together, the walls shifting like liquid around us.  I gritted my teeth, trying to tune out the deafening sound.  Gradually, the noise abated.  The dust started to settle.  We continued on as fast as we could, determined to find the necklace before the walls started to move again.  Vrael's nose, more acute than mine, smelt the smell of Kraferr and metal and took the lead until we came to a small, rectangular chamber, right in what we guessed was the heart of the maze.  I looked around.  In the centre of the room lay an amulet.

"This is too easy, there has to be something else," I muttered. 

"There is.  Poison," Bart answered.  "The decorations on the walls hide poison darts."  I glanced at the walls in front of us.  Carved into the stone were Kraferr faces posing with various grimaces.  Sure enough, there was a faint smell of poison in the air, an overly sweet, metallic tang.  I pulled a face.  I hate that smell.

"Shadow?  Give me your staff," Vrael said quietly.  I handed the stick over without a word, leaning against the wall for support.  The vampire stepped forwards, crouching low to the ground, using the staff in an attempt to find the trigger for the darts.  Without warning, darts started flying out of the walls.  Bart and I, still in the corridor, were safe.  Vrael dodged, backflipped and ducked.   The onslaught stopped.  Vrael, breathing heavily, bent to pick up the necklace.  In a blur of motion, two figures jumped past, us, heading for Vrael, grabbing the amulet.  The smell of Kuijin blood went straight to my head.  I clamped my cloak over my nose, trying to filter the scent.  Vrael had paled, trembling.  I sensed his distress as he tried to keep his hunger contained.  I tried to summon my magic.  It sparked feebly.  I swore.  The sheer weight of the Kraferric magic was interfering with mine!

"Sither," Bart growled.

The mantis Kuijin smirked at us, a bandage obscuring his ruined eyes.  "Who else?" 

"Who's your pal?" I asked, referring to the other person who had ambushed us.  The person in question lowered the hood on her cloak.  That explained the smell from before.  A female Kraferr.

"Name's Domina," she said, the All Teller necklace dangling from her fist.  I gritted my teeth.  Vrael was crouched on the ground, glaring fixedly at the stone, trying to control himself.  Domina handed Sither the necklace.  Bart tensed, worry pouring off him. 

"You'd better not ask it about my death," the Kraferr growled.

"I don't have to," Sither answered.  "You die now!"  In a flash, Sither had thrown a dagger at Bart, slicing his neck.  He collapsed next to me.  Vrael was over in an instant, tense as a coiled spring.  I glanced at him worriedly, but he had his medical equipment out, not his fangs.  My heart sank.  I could smell poison.  Anger clouded my mind.  Roaring, I leapt at Sither, intent on ripping out the b*****d's heart.  Domina jumped in front of him, two more daggers at the ready.  I dodged, trying to get around her.  Stepping back into a defensive position, I watched the female Kraferr carefully.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Sither raise the necklace. 

"What is the meaning of human existence?" 

Bart coughed out a laugh as the amulet started to glow strongly, its white light surrounding the mantis.  I squeezed my eyes shut against the glare.  By the time it had died down again, Sither was nothing more than a pile of dust.  Domina had disappeared.  Breathing hard, I scrambled to Bart's side, checking his wound.  Vrael had beaten me to it, having already administered an antipoison.  I took over pressing the sterile pad to the wound, desperately trying to stem the blood flow.  We had come too far to let him die.  Too much was at stake for the Kraferr race.   Slowly, Bart got to his feet, the compress clamped to his neck. 

"Keep an eye on his emotions," Vrael said under his breath to me.  I nodded discreetly.  Bart wound the amulet's chain around his wrist, gazing down at the heavy gold and blue gemmed necklace.  I could feel the weight of it pressing down on him, that there were unanswered questions in his mind, that he held the future of his entire race in his hand. 

"Come, Shadow, Bart, I have a scent trail to the outside."

 

We split up with Bart when we reached the outskirts of the city again.  Vrael and I bade our goodbyes and started to walk back towards the forest to teleport out of sight of human eyes.  I ran through the procedure in my mind.  It shouldn't be too difficult.  As soon as we were far enough out of sight, I reached out and touched his shoulder.

"Sorry, Vrael, but I've got to follow Bart and make sure he isn't going to do anything stupid."  Releasing the magic, I teleported him back to the house.  Casting a charm on my leg to block the pain, I set off after the Kraferr.

 

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... thing is 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.  Raven 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 is what am 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!"

"Alexai..."

"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.

"You wouldn't..."

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 Raven 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...

"Raven!" 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?" Raven 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 back anyway, 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 Raven.  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, Raven 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.  Raven 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 Sither and Kaera, but for those with a magical inclination, the static electricity feel of magic was heavy in the air.  Raven 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 Raven.  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.  Raven 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 Raven.  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 Raven remaining on the defensive.  Raven 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 arrempted 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 Raven'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 raven with his blades, but met the demoness' shields.  Dropping the barrier, Raven made her own lunge, her one good hand still gripping a sword.  She started to attack without any discernable paterns or tactics.  I frowned, trying to understand what was going on.  Raven 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.  Raven 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 Raven'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 Raven just stopped fighting.  Val Keshra slashed at her with his two blades.  Raven 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. 

"Raven!" 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 Raven.  She's no use if she can't win a simple fight."  Raven 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 Raven, his expression dispassionate.  He vanished without saying a word.  Raven uttered a quiet, strangled cry, her hand falling back to the ground.  Vrael let me go.  I knelt next to Raven, 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 Raven 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 Raven 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. 

 

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 out rod.  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.  Raven 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 being an idiot and sending Vrael away rather than letting him shadow me.  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. 

"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.

"Got it!"

"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 Raven and Shaeman, both in total bad a*s mode.  Vrael pulled off his cloak, wrapping the thick red cloth around me.

"Vrae?  She ok?"

"Sedated, rather heavily, 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 managed 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.  Raven 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," Raven 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 I.  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."

Raven 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.  This time, it was me.  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.

 



© 2011 Allyssianne


Author's Note

Allyssianne
Any feedback would be great, thanks!

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register




Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Stats

179 Views
Added on September 11, 2011
Last Updated on September 11, 2011
Tags: demon, part demon, fantasy, prophecy, Shadow, Kraferr, manticore