Blood Beyond Darkness (Darkness #4) : chap 1
Sticky and gooey.
It coated our faces and hands, Eli’s and mine, like thick, acrylic paint. Loose strands of my hair stuck to the blood in patches as the light breeze of the Otherworld tickled over my skin, trying to tug my ponytail loose. My mane of jet black hair with its red streaks hung down the side of my neck, protecting the six-inch pixie who hid there. Walking through the deep greens and glimmering magic of the Otherworld forest, I felt the enchantment of the world knocking at the edges of my skin, although it could not break past the heavy iron cuffs pinning my arms in front of me.
Even though I had only been here once before, the Otherworld felt strangely like an old friend welcoming me home. In a way it was home. I was born here, where I should have been raised. But nothing in my life had gone according to plan. The fact that Queen Aneira caught me again and was taking me to her dungeon before she killed me bore true testimony of this. Only a few months had passed since she last captured me when I came to save my family and friends. So much had happened since then.
Leaves and gravel crunched underfoot in repetitive cadence while Aneira floated gracefully over the pathway. She gave little heed to the beauty around her. The forest’s response to the Queen was to lean away. Branches recoiled and trees shriveled, feeling the twisted and cruel power of the woman who walked several yards in front of me. She should have been nature’s champion. Instead, she burned and killed with little thought. If she noticed her effect on the natural world, it did not show.
My boots lurched forward as the guard shoved me. My feet scrambled underneath my body while I tried to stay upright. I cast him a dirty look over my shoulder. The guard’s sardonic smile taunted me, and he gave me another push and laughed. I bit hard on my lip, the coppery taste of blood slithered down my throat. The last time I made a comment he had tripped me, and my face had met a gravely fate.
Being prisoners of the Queen was not how our time in Greece should have ended. We should be back in the small town of Kalambaka, celebrating. After months of searching, we had located the Sword of Light—the only weapon able to kill Aneira, the Seelie Queen, and end her rule. Now this exact sword was in her possession, given to her by Josh, her First Knight, and a former friend of mine I had blindly trusted. Kennedy had been kidnapped by Lorcan, who used the Strighoul to distract us. There was also a good chance Lars was dead. My neck was trying to mend itself from where Drauk, leader of the Strighoul, had ripped into it, before I cut his head off. My bones were bruised from the massive fall Josh and I had in the cavern. And to top it off, Eli, my mom, and I had been captured by the Queen and would most likely be dead soon. Most of all, my heart was still trying to recover from almost losing Eli. All around not a great day. The only positive thing was the rest of my friends were safe and hopefully headed back to the states.
“Hurry up.” A guard shoved Eli, who stumbled forward. A growl ripped from Eli’s throat, and his eyes flashed red. He quickly checked himself. Normally, he could tear through half these guards before they could pull out a weapon. Not today.
I was still useless. Iron did that to Fairies—our main weakness. I was only half Fay and my Demon and Dark Dweller portions would eventually increase my tolerance to the metal. When I first learned about the Otherworld, Cole had described Fay as a shortened word for Fairy—the elite strain who ruled the Otherworld. Fae was a general term for all Otherworld species. Only Fairies, the Fay, had a weakness to iron although each species of Fae had its own flaw. Today my gradual resistance to the metal wasn’t happening fast enough. My body remained too traumatized from all it had gone through back in Greece.
My mother didn’t seem to have the strength to fight against Aneira or the soldiers either. And Eli was definitely not at his strongest. Only a half hour earlier, he had been dead—his throat slit by the Queen in front of me. It had been a test from Aneira to see if my powers could push through the iron cuffs. They had, and now she knew I would eventually become resistant to the metal. She wanted the immunity for herself. Aneira wanted anything she didn’t possess.
Even though we had not planned on getting captured, we were being taken to the place where my step-dad, Mark, my best-friend, Ryan, and West were being held, along with the Sword of Light, Nuada’s Sword. It wasn’t completely a bad thing. Right?
Okay, it was completely a bad thing, but I had to think a thread of a silver lining hid in this mess somewhere.
Eli’s shoulder bumped into me, causing Cal to stir under my hair. I looked at Eli. He wore one of the guard’s robes, but I knew underneath it his naked body was coated with blood and wounds matching his face. Blood oozed into the scars lining his head, and his brown hair was streaked with red. He would heal, but he remained weak from the fight with the Strighoul and from bleeding to death. Not almost bleeding to death. Fully dead. My powers and resolve were the reason he walked next to me now.
Only a short time ago I had told him I loved him. His response to me was: “You shouldn’t. Don’t love me. I’m not worth it.” Not the reply I had been hoping for, especially as I watched him die in front of me.
You okay? his green eyes asked.
Peachy. You? my eyes said back to his. Since the day we met, we possessed this strange way of communicating. I couldn’t hear his thoughts. His words simply appeared in my mind, as though on a computer screen.
Surprised you’re not jealous. The guard is riding my ass so close I’m thinking he just made me his bitch.
A choked guffaw came up my throat. Even in this situation, Eli could make me laugh. Jealous? Hell, I already got you guys t-shirts saying ‘Bitch’ and ‘Master Bitch.’
Eli paused, shaking his head, and received another violent shove. His eyes flashed as his neck and shoulders tightened.
Breathe, Eli. We will get out of this. Not sure if I believed it, but I wanted to.
Twenty-two years ago, the Queen exiled the Dark Dwellers from the Otherworld, preventing them from using the Otherworld doors. Only the Queen or a Druid possessed the power to break the ban. So Eli’s recent entry into the Otherworld had not been smooth. Aneira’s mind hadn’t been on Eli’s access, so when the soldier pushed him forward, Eli slammed face-first into the opening. The guard rammed into him, and both ended with bloody noses.
With a simple wave of Aneira’s hand and an incantation, Eli fell through the veil. The banishment lifted. His eyes widened as he took in his old homeland. He revealed little emotion through his expression, but because his blood flowed in me after saving his life, I could feel what he felt: excitement, confusion, and trepidation as he took in every detail. He was finally home again, something he had wanted for a long time. Would it live up to what he remembered?
My mother was with us after she “volunteered” for the journey to the Queen’s dungeons. I glanced back at my mom. She walked several yards behind us. Strands of her auburn hair stuck out from the single braid tumbling down her back. She kept her head forward, her chin up. She had yet to look at me, probably knowing she wouldn’t get anything but a “what the crap were you thinking” look from me.
To say our relationship had been strained since my mom’s reappearance in my life would be a slight understatement. I hated the tension. We used to be so close, but too many things had happened since her “murder.” Too much pain. She had kept so many secrets from me. Though, she had let Aneira capture her, many years ago, to keep me safe. Her “murder” was arranged to cover up her disappearance. She had not been involved in the details of her demise and had been shocked when I told her I found her body. I could not blame her, but it didn’t mean I was all right with it. True or not, her brutal slaughter had tunneled scars deep into my psyche. There were years of medications, therapy, and a stint at a psychotic ward, though her death wasn’t the only thing to produce my mental break. The moment she was no longer around, I began to hear voices and see creatures, beasts, and things you only read about in fairytales. My bus drivers and math teachers had dissolved into trolls and goblins.
Doctors convinced Mark I created these worlds to escape my reality. Little did they know the fairytales were my reality, not my escape.
The guard pushed me onto the bridge bringing me back to the present problems. A gust of wind blew through the strands of my hair, wrapping them in knots around each other. Far below indigo water rushed under foot, sweeping against the rocks as it gushed into the deep water of the lake on the far side of the castle. A rich forest surrounded the fortress, softening the forbidding presence. The deep green of the trees only highlighted the glistening sapphire color of the lake.
We marched across the span to the where the castle stood. My neck bent back to get a full view. The breathtaking and daunting stone palace reached into the sky. A man in front shouted, and the football field sized gates broke free of their hold, creaking as they spanned their wings open and allowed us to enter.
When I stepped onto the fortress property, my anxiety accelerated higher and higher until it crested, banging against my ribs. Dread of the future sat heavy in my heart. Would I be able to see Mark and Ryan? How could I get West free? Out of the three, he was someone I could possibly help.
An ill-formed and crazy idea formed in my mind. To be fair, those were usually my only kind of ideas.
I mumbled so low the guard behind us couldn’t hear, “Cal, I need you to go to the dungeon. There is a raven there named Grimmel. Tell him Fire sent you to help free the Dark Knight.”
Eli’s head quirked to the side. I could feel the question in his movement.
West. I looked directly at Eli.Our group advanced across the cobblestone, nearing the actual entrance of the castle.
Eli gave a slight nod. I had met Grimmel through one of my dreamwalks. Ravens were known dream guides and could see and interact with people who were not actual present. He lived in the dungeon where West was being held captive.
“You want me to go to the dungeon? Again? Shouldn’t I wait for you?” Cal’s tone sounded apprehensive. “I mean, it’s not like you won’t be there soon enough.”
I flicked my ponytail, the ends of my hair whipping at his face.
“All right. All right.” He grabbed onto my hair, pulling himself up. “You are gonna have to distract Tweedle-dickhead and his cronies behind us so I can fly off.”
“On it.” I let my foot skim the ground catching it on the flagstone. With a stumble, I crashed into Eli. He could have easily taken my weight, but he let himself stagger and fall into an entry side
“Get back on your feet.” Eli’s sentry gripped the stock of his rifle tighter.
“The way you’ve been shadowing my ass, I thought you’d prefer me down on all fours.” Eli winked at the man. My smile only grew wider as the officer floundered and sputtered at Eli’s insinuation.
“I-I don’t trust Dark Dwellers.” The guard huffed. “Now get up.” Dark Dwellers made most Fae want to pee their pants.
With a cocky smile, Eli stood and brushed himself off, the robe opening slightly. He took extra care in a certain area. My shackles clinked as I put my hands to my face, shaking my head. Eli was good at unsettling others no matter what tactic he used. He enjoyed playing with people, and most of the time, I also enjoyed it, even when the person was me. He had a way of taunting me which was torturous and euphoric at the same time.
“What is the hold up?” Aneira’s silky voice slid along the grand entrance hall.
The guard pushed Eli forward. “I apologize, my lady.”
“Is this one giving you trouble?” She slinked through the group and approached Eli, sliding her hand up his cheek. Though Eli noticeably flinched, she drew up on her toes and kissed the corner of his mouth. “He is an unruly one.” Her voice sounded like a purr.
Drops of blood slipped down my throat, my teeth digging deep into my bottom lip.
“I think we should celebrate.” Aneira took a few steps back. Her gaze glided over Eli’s barely covered form. “You and I will have a private party later.”
A growl gurgled from the depths of my stomach as I took a step toward her. Her soldiers were on me before I could take another.
“Oh, your dearest doesn’t like my idea.” The Queen kept her focus on Eli. “I have no doubt you have heard this before, but I am surprised at you, Elighan. A Dae? I expected better. To fall for the precise thing who killed your entire family? ”
He kept his face so still he didn’t seem to be breathing.
“Well, I do not doubt after tonight both of you will see the error in your choice of lover.” She whirled and headed for the doors in front of us. “For now, I feel the need for festivities.” Aneira waved her hand and a gust of wind blew through the corridor, bursting the doors open in front of us. Her main power was controlling air, although this had never been good enough for her. She had been courting my powers of fire, mind, and earth since the day she found out I still lived. She also wanted the added bonus of my Dark Dweller blood, which would eventually make her resistant to iron.
Guards and the Queen’s court stood in a line on either side of the doors waiting for their monarch to enter. They stood rigidly as we passed. Not one head stirred, but many eyes followed Eli and me with disgust and fear. I sensed the prickly tendrils of Eli’s trepidation, mingled with an oily revulsion in my own stomach. The Queen made sure Fae learned to hate Daes by classifying us as abominations with our half Fay, half Demon parentage. She had killed thousands of Daes at birth and hunted down any who escaped. Her fear of our power, a prophecy, and because we could not be glamoured by her fueled her hate-propaganda toward my kind.
The Queen could only be killed with one weapon, the Sword of Nuada, the Sword of Light. The prophecy stated a Dae would kill her with the sword and become Queen. Everyone was convinced the Dae was me. As much I would love to deny these facts, I believed it, too. I had held a shred of doubt until Kennedy revealed a hidden map on my back—a map showing where the sword was hidden. This discovery blew my last hope out of the water. Now the sword I should use to kill Aneira remained in her hands. And if I used it against her, Eli would die. That had been our deal. She had slashed his throat with a Fae-welded weapon, and the only way I could save him was to make the vow. If I touched the sword, death would reclaim its victim.
Aneira sauntered into the massive throne room, her flaming red hair drifting behind. The fire in the bulbs lining the walls reflected off her gleaming hair in a ripple of gold’s, rubies, and crimsons. She stretched out her arms, her presence filling the enormous space.
“We will have a feast,” Aneira called, her violet eyes glistening in the fire light. Her servants moved in response and headed for the kitchen area. “And music.” Other servants dashed off at her request. I expected some version of Renaissance of music with flutes and guitars made of wood while women in wench outfits served beer. Instead, music filtered from the rafters. I craned my head back and squinted. Lined across the beams were speakers. The music wasn’t from Earth, but it wasn’t twinkly flute music either. It sounded modern, like a mix of rock, blues, and Celtic.
These were modern Fairies. Nothing like the stereotypes humans knew from years of ancient fairytales. The Fairies blended old and new in beautiful harmony—an old castle fitted with cutting-edge gadgets and modern designs. Even Aneira was not the normal idea of a Queen. Yes, she had long hair usually braided into extremely intricate designs or left hanging down her back, but she dressed sleek, sexy, and contemporary. Today she wore supple black leather pants, but I had also seen her in a backless, sheer dress, which would make any designer in Paris weep at its beauty.
Tables and chairs seemed to pop out of nowhere as servants quickly did her bidding and prepared the room for her pleasure. I had no idea what she was up to, but if she hadn’t locked us in the dungeon yet, we were here for a reason. The thought terrified me.
The guards moved the three of us deeper into the Great Hall. The name of the hall fit perfectly—great in length and height and grand in beauty. Windows filled an entire side of the room, overlooking the brilliant blue lake below and snowcapped mountains in the distance.Chandeliers hung along the middle, each draped with millions of raw silk strands. The room blazed with a bewitching glow. At each end of the room, a metal plate floated and held a brilliant fire, which flowed through the chamber, warming the large hall.
Aneira spun to face me, then she looked passed my shoulder. “Oh, good. Josh, my dear, you are here. Why don’t you retrieve our other guests? I am sure they would like to join our festivities.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Josh bow and retreat through the doors. The pain of his duplicity remained a raw, open wound across my heart. Deep, burning anger thundered through me. How could I be so stupid? How could I not see it? I didn’t trust most people, but once I considered someone a friend, I went blind. So many people told me my friends and family were my weakness, and Josh proved the theory to be true. After all the lies and deceit, how could I still continue to trust and believe in the ones dearest to me when so many broke off another chunk of my heart? I should have seen his betrayal coming. Deep down, maybe I had. Strangely, there was still a piece of my soul which rejected Josh deceiving me. He had been my friend, but he had turned on me, and I couldn’t seem to face it.
Servants carried trays of food, filling the space with the rich smells of bread and roasted meat. My stomach rumbled at the thought of protein. The Dark Dweller part of me preferred raw meat, but I was starving, and it felt like days since I had eaten. Eli fidgeted next to me, his tongue licking at his lips. Dark Dwellers were complicated and basic at the same time. Food and sex were their top primal needs, but nothing in the Fae world was simple. Eli was by far the most complex person I ever met.
A servant brought Aneira a bowl of water and a cloth. She snatched it and marched to Eli, her hips swaying. “We must get you cleaned up for the party, Elighan.” She dipped the rag into the water and reached to his face, wiping the dirt and blood off. It was strangely tender, except for a glint in her gaze as she unabashedly looked him over.
Eli hissed through his teeth as she touched an open wound.
“There are some bodily fluids from an imp in here.” She wet the fabric again. “Useless things, except when turned into a healing remedy.” She didn’t have high regard for sub-fae like imps, pixies, or brownies. They still ranked way above Daes, though.
The Queen’s hand moved down and opened Eli’s robe, displaying his physique. She rubbed at his chest, moving lower with every stroke. Eli’s muscles tightened, straining against his skin as he stepped back. Another warning growl burst from my mouth.
“It is so adorable. She thinks her little yap is scaring me.” Aneira looked over her shoulder at me. “What are you going to do to stop me, Ember? You think your pathetic growl of possession is going to prevent me from touching him here?” Her hand went to his crotch. Eli grabbed her wrist before her fingers could make contact, and he shoved it away. Aneira peeked through her lashes with a coy pout. “You can get rough with me later.”
Fire burned in my gut and boiled out. Glass bulbs broke along the wall, and fire scorched the stone, touching the ceiling. Energy crowded around her as my mind shoved her away from Eli. She staggered, dropping the bowl and cloth, before catching herself. A few servants close to her stumbled to the ground, not prepared for the energy I sent their way.
“Impressive. And to think you can will it through iron. What power you must hold when you are unleashed.” Her eyes glittered. “Put another set of irons on her. I feel she might get unruly soon, and I would hate to have to kill her before I get what I want.”
A guardsman, already gloved, pulled out another set from a wooden box on the table.
“No-no-no.” I chanted, trying to back away. These cuffs were thicker and sturdier than any I had seen before. The blond-haired, blue-eyed Fay snapped the new shackles next to the other set. My knees hit the floor with a thud, pain filled my chest, and an intense groan came out of my mouth.
“My goodness, child. It’s like I am ripping your soul from your body.” Aneira rubbed at her temple.
I glowered at her. She knew exactly what she was doing. Before these new shackles were placed on me, my powers had been growing stronger, and it wouldn’t have been long before I tossed her through the large bay windows to the lake below.
“Get her up.” Aneira motioned for the guards to lift me. Several men had to hold my entire weight as I couldn’t get my legs to stop shaking long enough to stand.
Josh stepped into the chamber and dipped his head in respect. “Your majesty, I have returned with your guests.” He was now dressed as the First Knight. Fitted black leather pants covered his thin legs. The upper half of his body had changed from the boy I met at Silverwood, causing him to appear disproportionate. The black, long-sleeved shirt with the Queen’s insignia fit snug on his broadening shoulders and muscular arms. His mop of curly sandy-blond hair was slicked back away from his face.
She turned to him, clasping her hands. “Wonderful. Now we can eat. You all must be famished.”
Two people stood behind Josh. My lungs stopped pumping air as I took them in. I now knew what Aneira planned to do. Terror licked through me, like a hot flame.
Oh, please, no ...