|Book 1 in the Series|
If Essallie had turned her back on everything she'd learned, she could have made the most of her fractured life. That is, until Kayden told her that she's a ticking time-bomb; that at any given moment her blood could betray her, her veins burning her alive from the inside out until nothing but ash remains.
Desperate to find answers, and possibly find her only chance for survival, Essallie heads back for New York City, back to the place where it all began. With every answer comes a price, and with every price the risks and rewards become greater. But when Essallie soon finds herself the target of an unknown hunter determined to kill her, she's at wits' end. That is, until a fellow Nephilim named Ari steps in. But is Ari a piece of the puzzle to her salvation, or the promise of her demise?
Once upon a time, on a cold winters night
A young and fair maiden was given a fright
She had awoken to chaos beyond her control
A horrorful sight, a new world to behold
The ocean sealed under a mass of chains
While perched atop, one coffin remains
A circlet of fire wrapped about like a cage
As muffled screams sounded desperate with rage
Yet the only comfort the maiden received
Was watching the white roses burn as she grieved
I jolted against my plastic-backed chair, muscles clenched. The pencil in my hand froze mid-stroke as my mind went blank. I dared the chance to look up. Mr. Whitley, my Biology teacher, gave me a disapproving stare, lips pulled tightly across his aged face. Behind him, my classmates all stared at me, stone-cold silence filling the room.
Instantly I relaxed. A man like Whitley was about as threatening as a newborn hamster. I kept a cool face as I asked, "Was there something you needed?"
Behind him, I heard some of the kids snicker. He did his best to appear intimidating, but only succeeded in looking like a moth-eaten teddy bear. "I was going to commend you on your excellent note-taking for the final next week. Thankfully, I held my tongue." His hand rested lightly on the edge of my desk, tapping it twice to the paper on my desk. "It is good to know though, that you won't be failing your art final."
I glanced down at the paper in front of me. A large human eye encompassed the whole sheet from corner to corner, dark lashes framing a detailed interior sketch of chains settling over ocean waves, a sole hand reaching out from under the surface. Above the chains rested a coffin with several white roses on top, fire licking around the base. It was a scene straight from a macabre book.
"Uh, thanks? The idea sort of stemmed from a poem." I half-shrugged. Whitley didn't seem to notice.
"I'd put the drawings away and lay off the Edgar Allen Poe, Miss Hanley. You missed a lot while daydreaming away. Unless your wish is to have my class again next year, while all your peers are off at college," he straightened and moved his hand off my desk, returning up to the white board up front to continue mapping out the portions of our upcoming final.
Tugging the sleeves of my cream sweater over my hands, I tried to focus on the board in front of me. My eyes however, had another plan. They continued to drift down to the drawing laid out before me. It was one of dozens I had completed in the last two weeks, each one more detailed than the last. It always started with the same eye shape; same curve of the pencil under my hand, same smudging and detailing, everything perfectly identical, save for one thing. Some of the eyes told stories of black birds and blood, others told stories of sunlight and fire. The aching part was that each had been created while I revisited Leo's death in my mind.
Leo... he was gone. Everything had happened so fast, my head was still trying to collect itself from that night. I let out an involuntary shiver as scattered fragments from that night played over in my head. One minute it had been all about dressing up and having fun at a circus event for the ages. Then it had turned to blood, so much blood. Blood in my hands, the dark red staining the cracks of my palms and cuticles. Blood on my white dress, on Leo's button-up, sticky and slick as it clung to his pale skin, two lifeless eyes staring blankly at the ceiling-
I snapped my notebook shut, hiding the drawings from sight, shoulders bunched together. I made sure to pay extreme attention to the white board, writing down as much as I could before the bell rang ten minutes later. Whitley seemed pleased when I passed by him to leave, apparently taking my sudden interest in last-minute note-taking was on his accord. Maybe he thought I'd fail, like the notion of having to repeat a year in a public education system terrified me.
Hah. If only he knew.
I drew out time at my locker, pretending to debate on what books would be most important to take home with me for studying. Not like it mattered much to me. What Whitley and the other teachers didn't know was that in theory I could fail every one of my finals and still graduate with low C's. I had to give a hand to my grandparents, for if it hadn't been for them pushing me into one of NYC's select private schools I wouldn't have the luxury of slacking off like I had been. Again, it still didn't matter much. The idea of even seeing graduation rested on the assumption that I'd live long enough to actually need my schooling. Seeing as they didn't teach the ins and outs of being half of a mythical creature, I was betting that would be a no.
Nothing had gone right since I set foot in Belfast. Only a couple of weeks had passed before I had learned a bitter truth, that every part of my life had been a sick, crafted lie. From the second I came into existence, I had been shuffled and shoved, picked on by a lunatic mother, abandoned by an unimaginable father. I had learned the hard way that running from your past only brings it front and center with a vengeance. Life felt like a tragic painting. A sparrow with clipped wings, still thinking it could fly.
I shrugged and brushed off her question. I was in no mood to deal with any kind of mind games she might try to enact on me. "Did you need something? Or do you just enjoy taking afternoon strolls in the mortal realm?"
The Queen appeared unfazed by my cold shoulder. "Kayden said you were brash. I can see he was right." She smiled. "Do you speak to him like this as well?"
"You answer my question, and I'll answer yours."
Her smile faltered by a fraction before she recovered with poised grace. "Very well, then. I came to see you. You had left in such haste after the... incident. I was worried for your well being."
Her lies lingered in the air like bitter puffs of sulfur, strong enough to taste, strong enough to gag on. "Two weeks is an awfully long time to wait. You could have just been honest and said you wanted to see if I was dead yet."
She opened her mouth slightly to speak, only to close it. Rich honey brown eyes narrowed at me. "You haven't answered my question, Nephilim."
"Essallie. It's Essallie," I corrected with a snap.
"Essallie it is, then. You haven't answered my question."
I turned my eyes back to the drawing on my lap. With a jerk of the paper, I ripped it from the sketchbook, crumbled it into a wad and chucked over my shoulder. "Only those who smell to high heavens of bullshit and ulterior motives." I rose to my feet and faced her, heat lancing through my veins like spears ready for the fight. "Spit it out. You didn't come here to check on me. So why are you here?"
Her eyes widened in surprise as I stood there, waiting. After today's nonsense with Abigail and Kayden, I had heard enough bullshit to span my lifetime six times over. Queen or no Queen, I didn't owe her anything. If anything, she owed me her life. It had been my hands covered in Chase's blood, not hers. For sacrificing my own lifespan to a torture of burning veins so her and all her little supernatural freaks could continue on in their meaningless existence.
Finally, she spoke. "You're smart. Smart enough to know not to trust me." Brushing past me, I watched as the shadows moved with her, forming a small pool around the hem of her dress. "I am, however, surprised to see you trust a demon of all things. Especially someone like Kayden."
It was bait, I knew it. She was testing to see if I'd wait to see the shoe drop off the other foot. Fire spread from my fingers and washed over my hands. I pointed an emblazoned finger at her. "Your simple mind tricks won't work on me. I'm not interested in playing your petty game."
She laughed, a horrid smile spreading so far across her face I thought it might split in half. She stepped closer, until all I could see was the kohl lining the rims of her narrowed eyes. "Oh, you'll play my game whether you like it or not."
God, she sounded like a freaking cartoon villain. I started to turn and leave, my hands still engulfed in the angelic flame. "Sure thing, Queenie."
Shadows erupted from the ground, bursting skyward in sharp, jagged spikes. They spiraled together until a thick black cocoon sealed around the graveyard. I pushed a burst of flame through my veins to light up the inside when I saw a glimmering black spear launch into my hand. I screamed and the shadows launched into a fury, dozens of them stabbing at my hands, my arms, anywhere the fire pulsed from my body.
As I screamed and thrashed, the Queen spoke. "You see, Essallie, there isn't an option to ignore my voice. When you control the dark and all its splendor, you'll find many are willing to listen if it means their lives will be spared, if but for a moment."
Pressure crushed my chest as I fought to breathe. Breathy whispers spoke to me, like wind whistling through barren tree tops. My fire was gone, swallowed by the stabbing shadows that sunk into every inch of me. Emptiness seeped into my pores and filled me with a hollow sensation. Everything was so dark, so empty, so lost.
The shadows retreated, and I collapsed onto the ground. I watched through watery eyes as they took their place just under the Queen, shifting and swirling. She reached down and ran her hand across the shadows in a loving gesture. Some of them had spun up and into the fabric of her gown, forming swirls of deep violet against the black. "Now, let's chat."
I unsteadily rose to my feet, every inch of my body shaking. I felt like a leaf in the wind- powerless, frail, empty. The burn inside of my veins was gone, cooled to an bitter icy sensation that spread throughout my body. I reached deep inside to trigger the fire only to find a cold hollow instead. My fire was gone.
"What," my voice cracked. "What did you do to me?"
"Don't talk to me about Abby." I sat down on the middle of my bed with my arms on my knees, hands splayed palms up toward the ceiling. My eyes lingered on Kayden's hands, and I instinctively wished he'd take my hands into his and tell me everything would be okay. That the rampant chaos running my reality was all a terrible, horrible nightmare.
His voice brought me back from my wishful thinking. I watched as he ran a hand through his hair repeatedly. "She was just trying to help. It's in her blood." He came over to sit next to me, careful that we didn't touch in case we set the bed on fire. "Would you preferred being undefended?"
"I wasn't undefended. You were there," I pointed out.
"Yes, I was. But I was no where near you, Essie. If Abigail hadn't been there, you'd be dead. Would you rather she let you die?"
Yes, yes I would. My death could have been the end of all of this. A war everyone believes is coming now, all because of me. The countless deaths that could and would occur. Kayden had said Leo was just the beginning. Who else would I lose that meant everything to me?
I changed subject. "The Queen came to see me today."
Shoulders bunched, his body tensed at the mention of her. When he looked at me, I noticed his eyes had returned to the color of coal. I could barely make the words through his tightened jaw. "What did she want?"
"To warn me of people who may hurt me," I said carefully. His body tensed tighter, wound like a metal coil prepared to spring at the slightest snap. Cords of black smoke rose from his skin, as if he were barbecuing alive on my bed. I did my best to keep my lips pressed tight as I watched him. The Queen's words repeated in my head with a growing force.
You don't seem to be easily manipulated. Then again, I didn't kiss you like he had.
"You don't like her." The words slipped from off my tongue faster than I could catch them.
Kayden's eyes locked onto mine. His shoulders slowly deflated, the tendrils of smoke dissipating into thin air. When he spoke, his voice sounded calm, but I could still hear the pressure it took him to keep his tone in check.
"Annabelle," he began with a barely contained sneer, "is like the Queen piece on a chess board. She has every move available in her arsenal, and any piece could be hers."
In that moment I wished I could see into his mind and understand the tumbling of emotions lying under his mask. Someone with such a level of dislike for a person had to have a reason for it.
"She mentioned you. I was told that you were distrustful. Dangerous, even."
"Sounds like the pot calling the kettle black to me."
I leaned in closer to him, looked at him curiously. Ever since the kiss he'd been aloof, distant. It was almost as if he'd reverted back to the Kayden I'd met in New York, not the Kayden who'd helped me understand what I was. Not the Kayden who'd encouraged me, pushed me to better myself, to prepare for the inevitable I still wasn't ready to accept.
I decided to act on impulse. "Kiss me, Kayden."
**WOW :D **