Nightblood

In a world of eternal darkness, the light is slowly seeping in. It’s up to one particular winged warrior to save the Night.

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4. Chapter 4

The stairs creek as she descends, each wooden platform letting out aching cries of protest. The shadows are so thick, they appear to extend themselves and coil around her form, clinging to her legs as she wades through inky pools. The smell is the first thing she notices. The overpowering reek of decay and dust engulfing her as soon as she began her descent. The air is heavy with the stench, almost unbreathable. But she refuses to turn back, and instead sucks in breaths thick with dust and peers curiously out into the impenetrable darkness. 

The cold is the next thing to come to her attention. It’s frigid, as if all the heat in her body had been sucked out. The chill presses in on her, causing a fear she’s unaccustomed to feeling to writhe in the pit of her gut. 

“You guys coming down or what?” She shouts up over her shoulder, tossing her thick black hair as she turns her head to look back. When she speaks,  she speaks with a bravado to her voice that’s completely fake. She takes another step, and then another. Following the stairway down into the abyss. 

The steps creek behind her, and suddenly Mercy appears at her side. There’s an unusual coldness to his mismatched eyes that she can’t quite figure out, and an anger to his  stance. 

“We shouldn’t split up.” He states, just as she goes to take another step and realize she’s reached the bottom of the stairs. “It’s always a bad idea to split up in horror movies, and it’s so dark down here we’d never see each other again if we drifted away.” 

“Come on. We just reached the bottom of the stairs, for crying out loud! And you’re already angry with me for ‘splitting up?’” Karma splutters, incredulously. 

“We stay as a group. And for God’s sake, someone turn on their phone’s flashlight already!” Mercy replies, and Karma studies his eyes for a moment. Maybe she mistook him when she thought he was angered. Because right now, he doesn’t look angry. He looks genuinely terrified. 

A couple of lights pop up in response to his words, but they do nothing to thwart the darkness surrounding them. They’re simply pinpricks of faint, white light bobbing about in a see of dark. Karma turns on her light too, swinging it around but still unable to see more than a foot or so in front of her.

“Mick, I’m cold.” Lily murmurs, and Karma rolls her eyes. She can just imagine the incredibly gallant Mick offering a trembling Lily his sweater, or letting her snuffle up to him for warmth. Meanwhile, she leads the pack with her refusal to show fear and proud defiance. She doesn’t snuggle with people. Even if she wanted to, the studded clothes she wears like prickly armour makes it rather uncomfortable. 

“Is everyone still here?” Mercy asks, his silver hair and pale skin turned ashen by the darkness. 

“Yes,” Bruce huffs. He’s followed by another three grunts of agreement. Karma doesn’t say anything though, lost in thought over something peculiar she’s noticed etched into the floor. 

“Guys, come look at this.” She mumbles, more excited than scared by her discovery. 

Five more beams of light join hers, pointed at the floor. Unlike the dirt and who-knows-what-else streaked wooden floors upstairs, down here the floor is made from uneven stone, easily chilled and carved. Though it must have taken some time to create the picture they currently gaze at in multiple shades of awe, confusion and petrification. 

There on the floor, carved with excruciating detail, is the image of a face. Not just the ordinary, basic happy face, but a face twisted into a scowl. Hair snakes out from behind it like whips, going in ever direction, and instead of eyes there’s only two yawning pits. But perhaps the disturbing and unusual feature, are the twin horns that shoot out from the head. The whole carving is huge, more than likely life-sized, and done with meticulous detail. So incredibly realistic, you’d think there was actually someone—something, embedded in the floor. 

“Wow,” someone breathes, so faintly it’s impossible to tell who. For all she knows, maybe the words escaped Karma’s own lips. 

For what feel like an eternity, the six of them stand there and stare at the carving in utter amazement. No one speaks, no one even dares breath to loudly. It’s as if no one knows what to do next. Karma certainly has no clue. She’s transfixed by the horrid beauty of the scowling demon carved into the floor. As if compelled, she reaches down and touches part of the hair. The ground is so cold, it’s seems ripples of shock up her arm and she recoils faster than she’d previously thought was humanly possible. 

Then, out of the depths of darkness, comes a faint noise. So low it’s almost inaudible, so faint Karma almost thinks she didn’t really hear anything at all. But it comes again. Not louder, but also not any softer. And slowly, the lights grow dimmer and dimmer, but no one else appears to be affected. So Karma stays rooted to the spot, a fear she hates feeling making her sick to the stomach. 

One by one, the lights go out completely. Until they’re finally plunged into a darkness so deep, it’s a wonder light ever did shine down here. 

Someone screams. There’s a crash, and a scraping sound. A horrid, terrifying, gut-tensing scraping noise. Another person screams, but not Karma. She feels icy calm, impossibly still. Maybe she’s numb from shock. That’s at least what she tells herself. 

Then fire erupts, bright crimson and orange and deep gold illuminating the darkness. Flickering patterns of light shine onto the floor, heat rolling away from the flames yet they still do little to cut through the darkness or the cold. 

Lily staggers backward, blinking viciously against the brightness of the fire. Terror gleams in her pale blue eyes, and Karma feels pangs of sympathy for her. The poor girl must be out of her mind with panic. Then he remembers they’re all in the same boat, and he has the same right to be panic-stricken as she does. 

The fire mesmerizes everyone, tongues of flame reflected in their eyes. Mick waves his hand, and the blaze follows. He curls his hand I to a fist, and the fire curls into a ball. He swings it around, pushing it to glow brighter and cut through the oily film of blackness. At first, Karma doesn’t register what’s happening. It doesn’t click that Mick is controlling the fire. Then it does, and her reaction is nothing more than a slight scrunching of her eyebrows and widening of her eyes. Her mouth makes the shape of a startled ‘o’ yet she otherwise does not react. 

Unlike Jazz, who for all her efforts to appear bored and bemused. She leaps backward with a flailing of her arms, stumbling away from the light. 

“Woah,” Mick murmurs, his eyes now mirrors of the fire, twin embers glinting  as he waves his hands and the inferno blazes even brighter. Other than a round of gasps, there’s little to no reaction to the obviously unnatural flames. 

Everyone is so mesmerized by the fire, they don’t see the dark figure prowling towards them. Not until Karma hears a faint growl under the roar of excitement and fear inside her head. She turns, half expecting there to be nothing there. But that’s obviously to much to ask for, and before she can open her mouth in warning the figure lunges towards her with a rumble deep in its throat. 

Time slows down, and Karma watches as the monstrous creature sails towards her. It has long arms, sleek with muscle and black as night. It has hands, tipped with elegant fingers and curved claws. It has a face, yet it doesn’t. It’s features, nose and lips, are sunken and smoothed over, like it is wearing a mask. It’s body is thin, leading into two legs that are spindly and distorted, with clawed feet. The entire creature is about the size of a person, and entirely black except for a moon white eye with a thin, reptilian pupil in the top centre his face. 

Time speeds up back to normal, and Karma recoils sharply and without grace in order to avoid the monster. She stumbles, but doesn’t fall. She expects to feel the icky talons of fear clawing away at her insides and courage, but she doesn’t. She feels only calm, and a few hot coals of anger stirring to fuel her recklessness. 

“Back off!” She snarls maliciously at the monster. Her voice is not hollow. She does not tremble from fear. Maybe it’s true that Karma really isn’t capable of being daunted by anything. 

The creature does not react. It hisses slightly, blinking it’s eye against the glare of light from the fire. No one moves, for a while. Mick stands there, a small inferno coiling in bright tongues around his hands and up his arms, but he does not do anything to fight. 

Karma does, throwing up her fists as if going to punch the creature to death. It shows no signs of fear from Karma’s display of strength, and let’s out a growl as it lunges for her once again. This time, Mick doesn’t remain passive. 

He turns to face the monster, and Karma watches him extend his hands and push the fire to burn so bright it appears white with hints of gold around the edges and tongues of blue in the centre. He recoils his arms, thrusting them out again and hurling the fire towards the beast. 

It hisses and spits, stumbling backwards. Mick leaps up and down with shouts of victory as the smell of charred flesh overpower the reek of decay and must that previously flooded their senses. 

“As fun as it is to battle horrid monsters, I’d like to suggest we run!” Jazz says, and for once everyone seems to be on the same page. 

Karma breaks into a sprint, as the monster regains it’s senses and let’s out a roar before giving chase. They all run, Mick with his fire taking the lead and illuminating the way. They stumble and stagger, but as soon as they’re up the steps it’s as if their senses are clear. They sprint for the door, Bruce reaching it first and wrenching the frail piece of wood open. 

They all pile out, scampering loosely around the street before drawing back into a huddle. Breathing ragged, Karma looks around for any sign of the creature. 

“What was that!?” Lily exclaims, sidling closer to Mick as if searching for him to comfort her. Mick simply looks at the girl fawning over him with a bemused expression, shaking his head and pulling away as she tries to throw herself at him. 

“We have a lot to figure out, don’t we.” Mercy states, gazing around the disheveled group. Karma feels his eyes linger on her for just a moment longer than they lingered on everyone else. 

“No. No, no, no. Nonononono.” Bruce mutters. “No discussing. I say we forget all about what happened in there, and just go about our merry lives!” 

“We can’t just ignore this!” Karma explodes. “We just saw a creepy carving of a face in the floor, a weird monster, creature, thing, and Mick light fire out of thin air! This is not something we can just forget about! HOW DO YOU EXPECT US IN ANY WAY TO ‘GO ABOUT WITH OUR MERRY LIVES’ WHEN WE WERE JUST NEARLY KILLED!?” 

“I don’t know! But we should at least try! We can’t go in there again and try and fight this thing! This isn’t some movie, this is real life!” Bruce fires back, drawing himself closer to Karma with a glowering expression. 

“No you’re right, this isn’t a movie! Because in a movie, we’d know what to do immediately! We’d go out and buy equipment and make some monster trap instead of standing around in the middle of a road yelling at each other!” Karma spits back. Bruce looks taken aback, and Karma feels a surge of accomplishment. Bruce is the clearly the type of person who expects everyone to bend to his will, and Karma is the type of person to never bend to anyone or anything.

Bruce draws nearer still, and Karma bristles in anger. She feels something build inside of her, a pressure begging to be released. 

“Guys.” Jazz says quietly. She’s regained her infuriating calm composure, the only one to not be trembling from the leftover adrenaline surging through their veins. “Guys!”

“What?” Mercy snaps. 

“Yelling at each other isn’t going to accomplish anything. I say we go talk this over like a civilized group of people.” Jazz begins walking away, dome the street. 

“Where are you going?” Lily calls. 

“To the coffee house on Roan Street. I need a cup of coffee.” 

“Then when are we going to ‘talk this over,’ huh?” Karma shouts sarcastically. 

“Don’t know, don’t care. Sometime after coffee.” Jazz replies. She doesn’t bother to turn around, to look back at the confused group she left behind. Karma shrugs, walking away too, in the other direction. 

“And where are you going?” Mercy asks. 

“Home.” She replies simply, shrugging her shoulders. “I suggest you all do the same, because in case you didn’t notice the sun’s starting to set. We can all have nightmares about what just happened and go back to yelling and speculating tomorrow when we’re all sleep-deprived and irritable.” 

“Sounds good to me.” Bruce harrumphs, walking away. Slowly, everyone disperses, going their separate ways. Karma walks home with her hands shoved into her pockets, silver eyes trailing along the ground. She thinks about how Mercy claimed he felt something drawing him to the house, and if she focuses really hard she can almost feel something too. It’s indescribable, kind of like the feeling you get when your driving somewhere in a car. She feels as if no matter how far she moves away from the house, there’s still a part of her moving towards it. 

She tries to burry the feeling, scrunching her brows and picking up the pace. She tries to think of anything else, of anything but the house and the monster and the fire. 

She sighs in relief when her house comes into view, and another wave of relief crashes over her to see neither of her parents cars are in the driveway. 

Sprinting the rest of the way, she tosses her jacket to the ground and steps out of her boots, racing up the stairs and into the bathroom. With a solid shove, the window swings open, and she hops out, pulling herself up onto the roof. 

Pulling herself away from the edge, she lies back. Despite the sharp chill to the brisk November wind, she doesn’t find it cold. The dark shingles on the roof have spent all day absorbing heat from the sun, keeping her warm as she stares at the sky. The horizon is still bleeding red from the sunset, the sky not quite black but also not quite blue. The moon hangs overhead, a mere sliver of light. A few stars already glimmer in the distance, and Karma stays on the roof until the sun has sunk behind the edge of the world, and the stars shine in their full. 

She stays on the roof, admiring the stillness and air of peace the stars hold, until the roar of an engine draws her back to the harshness of reality. 

Her parents are home. In one fluid motion, she’s up and through the window, landing neatly on the bathroom floor, racing to her bedroom and collapsing on her bed just as her mother calls out. She pulls out her phone, pretending to have been playing games this whole time. 

“Hey, how was your day?” Her mom asks, poking her head inside Karma’s bedroom. 

“Pretty good.” She mutters, flipping over on to her pack to stare at her mom. “How was yours?” 

“Hectic, this one guy—” Karma abruptly tunes out, gazing absentmindedly at her mother’s shirt. It’s a plain shirt, a cheerful peach colour with a v-shaped neckline and frilled sleeves. It’s a pretty shirt. “Well, anyways, I’m pretty wiped after all that, so I’m gonna head on to bed. Did you eat yet?” 

“Uh, yeah.” She lies, not wanting to get into an argument about being out late and not getting supper, which would lead to questions about what exactly she was doing out. “But I’m getting kind of hungry, so I’ll probably grab something to eat soon. You go on to bed, don’t worry about me.”

“Alright, sweetie. Just make sure you don’t forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed.” Her mom replies. 

“Goodnight.”

“Night, sweetie.”

Karma waits until she hears her mom’s footsteps retreat all the way to her room down the hall, then hops up. Her stomach rumbles, and she goes on an emergency mission to grab as much food as she can in a couple of minutes. Creeping down the stairs, she tiptoes to the kitchen and starts shoving granola bars into her pockets. She almost feels normal, but there’s something not quite right. A pull, a tug. Something drawing her back to the house. It’s not direly persistent, more like the hum of the refrigerated or the constant barking of the neighbours dogs—annoying, but she eventually tunes it out. 

Though suddenly, with her pockets heavy with bars and her mouth stuffed with half a banana, Karma feels a tug on the invisible line connecting her to the house. A tug, and another, until she finally looses her balance and stumbles forward like a puppet who’s strings had been yanked on too hard. 

She closes her eyes, trying to ignore the sensation. As soon as her vision is blocked, images of the monster surfaces. 

It’s lean body, it’s deadly sharp claws. The teeth that showed when it opened it’s mouth. But most disturbingly, it’s singular silver eye. A silver so bright, it flowed in the darkness. A silver that reminds Karma of her own grey eyes. 

She shivers, but as soon as it happens the episodes passes, like a fog burnt off by the hot breath of the sun. So she heads upstairs, finishing up her banana and moving onto a granola bar. She creeps into her room, emptying her pockets into the drawer in her nightstand she’s reserved for snacks. Munching on her bar, she flops onto her bed and fixates her gaze on the ceiling. 

Her room is too colourful for her liking. The walls are a cheerful lavender, her bedspread black and white with hearts in a matching tone of violet. Boxes filled with little keepsakes and junk she had lying around adding splashes of blue and pink here and there. 

Karma likes dark colours. She always did, ever since her mom stopped dressing her and gave her a tiny inch of freedom to express herself. 

Now though, her mom clearly rues the day she ever encouraged her daughter to express herself and be unique. She claims that she’s ‘taken it too far’ and if she ‘weren’t fifteen, she’d have something to say about the way she dresses.’ Karma feels anger surge inside of her. How dare her mom—and dad too—deny her the basic human right of self-expression. According to her mom, the only way to get people to like her is if she pretends to be something they’ll like, and according to her dad any opinion she might have that differs from his is incorrect. 

Frustrated, she slams her fists into her pillows. Anger builds inside of her, hot tears stinging her eyes and a sob slipping out. 

Something builds inside of her, and she lets out a hot frustrated breath. Things always get like this when she’s left alone with her thoughts for too long, she always ends up getting upset. She pushes her emotions away, her mom had been nice to her tonight, hadn’t claimed her makeup was too dark or her studded bracelets were “too much.” Not wanting to think about her parents anymore, but also scared off where her mind might wander, Karma turns on the television and begins browsing through the channels. She ends up watching cooking shows, learning how to make a rather complicated looking chocolate cake.

At around midnight, she drifts off into a restless sleep of monsters with stunning silver eyes and houses shrouded in mystery and shadows.

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