Remain. [NaNoWriMo '16]

[Sequel to NaNo '15 novel Run.] Ruling the world isn't as easy or as fun as it sounds, especially not when a group of angry angels are thrown into the mix. What's worse is that Baxel is without his right-hand man, who just so happens to be the key to everyone's plans.

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7. Six: What Do Shadows and Angels Have in Common?

    Taryn didn’t get much sleep. Before it was fully light out, she gave up and left the little house, wandering out into the streets. People were just beginning to stir, and the activity was quiet but refreshing. She walked up the street, taking in the place in a way she had neglected to the day before. Isaac had been telling the truth - the journey to get there had been difficult. She’d used up almost all of her savings at this point on flights alone. There were times she wished her magic was useful for things other than a glorified weapon. To be able to summon food or to travel long distances in the blink of an eye - that would be helpful magic. 

    A pale girl like herself attracted many stares as she wandered through the town. Taryn met a few of their gazes, but mostly kept her head down. She wandered into the market area, and as she passed one of the women setting up her stand, she paused. The woman was staring at her more intently than the others. 

    “You are with him, no?” she asked, her voice heavily accented.

    Taryn stared at her in surprise. It had been days since they’d last met anyone who spoke english. Usually, they had to communicate through gestures and charades. “With who?”

    “His face like you. Tall,” she said, gesturing at maybe six feet from the ground. “Dark hair. Light skin. Dark eyes. Dark here,” she said, making a fist and thumping her heart. 

    Swallowing, Taryn nodded. She could only mean Damian. How far gone was he to be known as one with a dark heart? “Where can I find him?”

     The woman raised a finger and pointed at a path that broke off from the village and headed towards the woods. “Old house up there. He comes out few times.”

    “Thank you,” Taryn said, pulling a few coins from her pocket and buying two mangoes from the woman. After saying a polite goodbye and reiterating her thanks, Taryn all but ran back to the place they’d rented, stumbling through the door and rousing Isaac from his sleep. 

    “Wha-“ he began. 

    “I found him,” Taryn panted, tossing him a mango. “Come on, eat on the way.” 

    Isaac caught up with her outside, holding the mango like he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it. “You found him? How?” 

    “One of the locals,” she answered, quickening her steps. Taryn urged again, “Come on.”

    “I’m coming, god,” Isaac muttered. “It’s, what, like six in the morning? I’m so lost on time these days. What if he’s still sleeping?”

    Taryn’s eyes darkened. “Then we’ll goddamn wake him up. You think that after all this, after him disappearing on me, that I care if we interrupt a bit of his beauty sleep?”

    Isaac stayed quiet, probably figuring that she had a point. Taryn wound her way through town until they were past the market and on the path toward the forest. As they got closer to the looming trees, Taryn saw the little cabin that the woman was talking about it. It looked a little dilapidated, but certainly shelter enough. Taryn broke into a little jog as they got closer. 

    When they got to the door, Taryn set her mango outside, not caring about food just then. She knocked loudly a few times. There was no answer. 

    “Told you he’d be sleeping,” Isaac muttered. 

    Taryn ignored him, turning the knob. It was unlocked. The inside of the house was plain - just a bed, a small table and two chairs, and, most notably, no Damian. Her heart fell. Isaac stepped into the room behind her, looking around. “The bed looks slept in.” He peered in a paper bag that rested on the table. “These fruits are still pretty fresh, not rotten. He must have been here recently,” Isaac reasoned. “Maybe he’ll come back.”

    Something told Taryn that he wasn’t coming back anytime soon. She didn’t know what it was, just a feeling that she couldn’t quite pinpoint. A small pile of Damian’s belongings sat in the corner of the room, and she headed over to them. The bag held normal things like clothes and a map. Resting on the floor was the dead cell phone Taryn had been trying to call for weeks now. 

    On top of the clothes lay a leather notebook, worn and a little dirty. Taryn reached for it, flipping it open to the first page. Inside the cover was a picture of her, attached with yellowing tape. She ran her finger over it, remembering how happy she’d been when Damian had taken her to that concert. She missed those days. She missed him. 

    The page opposite the picture held what was definitely Damian’s writing. She began to read. 

 

    I’ve finally reached Africa. I’ve seen the forests like I’ve always wanted. They don’t seem so magical anymore. 

    This notebook isn’t for recording feelings. It’ll serve as my log. I intend to do some experiments with shadows and light, seeing how they mix and how I can use them both to my best advantage. 

 

    If lost, please return to Taryn Cross, 1156 Highland Street, Tulsa, OK 74106.

    

    Taryn stared at that last line, scrawled at the bottom of the page almost like an afterthought. The address was the headquarters of the GITS. Something about the whole thing made her feel sadder than ever. Damian had come here in desperation, searching for peace, for some remnants of the joy that he once had as a kid. He hadn’t been granted even that. 

    Flipping through the rest of the notebook, Taryn found exactly what was promised - detailed accounts of shadow and light experiments. None of it was especially helpful to her considering that she didn’t share that aspect of his blood. 

    Taryn’s gut still wrenched when she thought about the fact that she and Damian were only really half siblings. He was half demon. The thought should probably disgust her more than it did - and maybe it would if she had known that from the start - but it was Damian. It was her brother, the guy who surprised her with concert tickets and promised her trips to Africa and sat up all night with her until she cheered up when she fell to tears missing her parents. It was Damian, the person she could always turn to, always trust, and always love. Half demon or not, that didn’t make him bad. Taryn didn’t like it, but she didn’t have to. She just wanted her brother back, and if accepting his lineage was part of that, then she was willing to push it all aside. 

    “What’s in there?” Isaac asked finally, breaking through Taryn’s thoughts. 

    “Nothing helpful,” Taryn replied, snapping the notebook shut. She wasn’t really lying. “I think maybe he’s coming back. This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing he would just leave.”

    Isaac nodded, sitting down on Damian’s bed and looking around the bare room. “Well, at least now we have a place to stay.” 

    Taryn agreed, though she wasn’t enthused with the idea. It felt too much like living with the ghost of a brother she hardly knew anymore. Damian might as well have been on another plane for all the closer Taryn felt to him. 

    

—[]—

 

    Damian was on another plane, but, curiously, Baxel was not. The effort that trying to pull the demon across the barrier took punched out of Damian like sucking the breath from his lungs. He gasped at the thin air, trying to fill his lungs with something that wasn’t permeated by shadows. Eventually, his breathing evened out, and he felt some of the strength return to his limbs. The more he worked with shadows, the stronger he felt in the Nether. The experiments and manipulations he did down there rarely drained his own strength now that the shadows obeyed him. Which was why it was especially strange that Baxel hadn’t made it through the barrier. For all his strength, he must still be too weak to take a passenger into the Nether.

    For a moment, Damian considered going back for his demon overlord, but he decided against it. After all, there was no reason to think that trying again would have any other effect, and if it further drained Damian’s strength, he might take longer to recover. He had already wasted enough precious time, and they couldn’t afford further delays. With every moment wasted, that was another chance for Sathariel to set another angel free. 

    Once Damian decided to track the angel down alone, he tried to tell himself that he wasn’t scared. After all, the Nether was almost as much his realm as it was Baxel’s. For all the curses that he placed upon the demon blood coursing through his veins, it definitely gave him the upper hand here. Angels in the Nether were all but powerless. They were just like ordinary humans, and Damian could easily take humans with the help of the shadows. 

    Closing his eyes, Damian felt the shadows around him, spreading his awareness out through the Nether. Sensing over long distances was a thousand times easier with no light interference, and in only a few minutes, Damian picked up on a concentrated ball of light traversing the Nether. He honed in on it and willed the shadows to take him there. They condensed around him, pressing close in a comfortable sort of embrace. When they released, Damian opened his eyes. 

    “Hello, Sathariel,” he said from behind a group of four angels, addressing the one with the dagger. They all turned as one, and Damian heart skipped a beat when he realized it wasn’t Sathariel with the dagger. Sathariel stood off to the edge of the group, deferring to an angel who looked much worse in every sense. 

    His skin was gaunt and pale like the others, and he held the unhealthy look about him. But that wasn’t what caused Damian to take a step back. It was his eyes - eyes that shone in the dark of the Nether like shards of stained glass, focusing the heat of the sun into two small dots. It was his mouth, curled up into a wicked grin with lips like a wound that slashed his face in half. It was his bearing, holding himself like a king, like a hunter, like a starving animal all at once. Damian’s voice died on his lips. 

    “Ah,” the leader drawled. “You are the child who has been consorting with the demon.”

    Damian forced himself to straighten, to stand his ground. He had the upper hand. He was strong here. He just needed to remember that. The shadows swirled around his feet, offering their strength. “Who are you?”

    The angel laughed, a sound that grated on Damian’s ears like glass on slate. “He tells you nothing, does he not? Ah, well. I cannot blame him. My old friend Baxel,” he tutted, shaking his head almost fondly, “still manipulating after all these years. Still getting stupid little… humans to do his work.” The angel looked him up and down with a sneer. 

    “I don’t work for him,” Damian growled. “And I’m not stupid.”

    “Oh, I suppose he has told you that you are equals, then? Or, perhaps, friends? That he trusts you?” the angel quirked a brow. “If you believe any of that, you cannot also be intelligent. Baxel does nothing that is not a manipulation. He trusts no one but himself. Every word out of his mouth is a lie. He does not care for you, and he never will.”

    Damian clenched his fists, and the shadows swirled higher. “Who are you?”

    The angel only laughed again. “You are making a fool of yourself. Turiel,” he said to one of the other angels, gesturing at Damian. 

    Turiel advanced. He was a little shorter than the leader of the group, but still had a few inches on Damian. It didn’t matter when Damian swept up a wave of shadows and slammed them into Turiel’s chest, driving him back. 

    “I wondered…” the lead angel mused. “How have you not been destroyed by the Nether? Demon blood?”

    Damian ignored him, turning his palms upward at his sides, letting the shadows whip around them. He threw a chain of shadows at the angel, who cut through them with a flare of the light knife. 

    “You cannot imprison me again, mortal,” he sneered. “I have been down here for hundreds of years. No one will stop my escape, certainly not the weak servant of a weaker demon.” 

    The angel snapped his fingers and all three of the others advanced at once. Damian wrapped himself in a protective ring of shadows, which ripped and sliced at the flesh of the angels. One reached through, twisting his fingers in Damian’s shirt, and Damian whirled around, slicing with a trail of shadows. It hit flesh, and the angel hissed, letting go. 

    Damian was just about to turn and launch another string of shadow chains when a searing pain arched his back, the flash of light flying from the dagger to Damian’s skin and lighting the Nether. Damian cried out, falling to the sharp sand face first. His nerves felt like they were on fire, and when he went to move, he couldn’t. It was like his nervous system had short circuited, and his muscles weren’t responding. 

    The crunch of footsteps was all the warning Damian had before the lead angel was leaning over him, that terrifying face just inches from his own. “If you make it back up to the surface, tell Baxel that Samyaza sends his regards,” the angel hissed into Damian’s ear. 

    Damian tried to reach for the shadows to stop them from walking away, but the pain was too distracting for him to focus. The angels disappeared, leaving Damian stranded, alone, helpless, in the wrong plane. 

 

—[]—

 

    I was stranded, alone, helpless, in the wrong plane. And I couldn’t figure out why. Kim was staring at me, seeming afraid of what I might do, of whom I might take my anger out upon. It was a reasonable fear. After all, I had been trashing her house for the past fifteen minutes or so. When there was enough damage done to calm my nerves, I stood in the center of the wreckage, tearing at my hair and roaring in frustration. 

    “Why didn’t it let me into the Nether?” I demanded of Kim, my eyes and hair wild. “Tell me!” 

    “I can’t! I don’t know!” 

    “Then give me your best guess,” I snapped in return. 

    Kim scrambled for some explanation. “I… if I had to guess, it would be because you’ve lost the trust of the shadows. I don’t know much about shadow lore, but some sorcerers talk about them like they’re an entity, not just a substance. If-if that’s the case,” she stammered, “and the spell forced them to take a being of light into the Nether - a command which seemed to come from you - they might… They might not trust you.”

    “I’ve taken angels into the Nether before.”

    Kim’s eyes shifted from mine. “There’s a chance that the spell wasn’t so… graceful.”

    My jaw clenched. “Say what you mean.”

    “The spell was less transporting Sathariel into the Nether and more… using the shadows to rip a gaping hole in the fabric of their plane so he could fall through.”

    I growled, my lips pulling back into a snarl. “You forced me into that.”

    “I know, but-“

    “YOU FORCED ME INTO THAT!” I shouted, picking up a glass bowl and hurling it at the wall so it broke into a thousand little shards. I reached for the shadows to pick up the debris around me and fling it somewhere and forgot that they wouldn’t respond. That cut more than the crescent shaped piece of glass that I picked up and whipped at Kim. The loss of my shadows hurt more than the jagged cut that now marred her face. I felt more drained than the blood pouring from her skin. Mr. Skullcrusher gave a little whine from my heel, and I forced myself to calm down before I accidentally did something to hurt him. 

    Suddenly feeling claustrophobic, I stormed from the house, my dog right behind me. I wanted nothing more than to drop down into the Nether and have the whole of the world at my disposal, spread before me with shadows willing to take me anywhere I wanted to go. Instead, I was stuck in this half assed little town in this half assed little state and I wanted to punch something, to rip someone apart, to destroy an entire building with my own two hands. 

    The shadows didn’t obey me. My shadows, the source of my power, the core of my very being didn’t obey me. Didn’t trust me. As if I had- as if I ever would betray them. 

    And now Damian was alone in the Nether, going after angels who he knew nothing about. He had no idea how dangerous these angels were because I hadn’t told him. I had told him nothing, and now he was going in blind. No matter what happened down there, I had no way of helping. 

    And, if Damian didn’t come back, I had no way of knowing.

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