A group of friends had their lives changed 4 years ago. Just as they began to cope...
|Author's Note ▼
Chapter One – Lily
Seventy-Six, Seventy-Seven, Seventy-Eight, I swear the stairs never ended. I reached the entrance to the eighth floor and sighed in relief. Now that I’d finally gotten to the top I remembered I wasn’t supposed to leave the stairwell. I sat down, arms crossed, and thought about how angry that made me. Why’d the other guys get to have all the fun while I got to guard the stairs? The front door and the window were already covered. You’d think that’d be enough, but no.
Sometimes I swear they’d all gang up on me and were being purposefully overprotective. Like giving me stair guarding duty instead of letting me fight. I was drawn from my depressing thoughts by the sound of a door being kicked in. I knew the fun had begun and I had nothing to do but wait for it to be over. My eyes glanced over to my right hand and the glove that covered it. The solitary glove was almost like a second skin and I never really thought much of it, but right now I was bored, really bored.
I looked at my hand closely thinking about why I wore the glove. I couldn’t believe it had been four whole years since that terrible day, the day when everything changed, for all of us. It’s also crazy thinking of everything that’s happened since then too. I got distracted by the sudden light coming through the window. The storm outside must have subsided. A ray of sunlight landed on my hand. I moved to take it off, to remind myself why I wore it and why I was where I was. Before I could the door to the stairwell burst open and a body flew over me and tumbled down the stairs.
I glanced down and saw one of my friends, Aidan, crumpled on the stairs. Flying around I came face to face with one of the ugliest monstrosities I’d ever had the misfortune of seeing. It was big, it was tall, it was ugly, and it was ripped. I knew the grey skinned beast was an ogre from the telltale horns on its head and its… stature. Almost before I could react it lunged at me with a punch directed towards my face. Luckily, I saw it coming and used my height disadvantage to my advantage by ducking under and around it through the door and towards the hallway. It just gave me a malicious smile and began walking towards me. I backed up until I hit something solid. Looking up I saw the second ugliest thing I’d ever seen in my life. The second ogre grabbed me by my shoulders and I was definitely afraid.
Then something big shot through the doorway we were standing in front of and smashed the ogre into the wall causing it to release its grip on me. I didn’t bother to look at my rescuer knowing that the first ogre was probably almost on me. And just as I expected a huge fist was coming at me. I rolled onto the ground and backwards summersaulting into the hotel room. From what I caught at a glance the place was completely wrecked. I hoped they didn’t pay with a credit card. I came up from a crouching positon as the first ogre entered the room. It grunted loudly and this time charged right for me. Before it reached me the shadows in the corner shifted and the foot of a silhouette came out to trip it up.
This didn’t frighten me, quite the opposite. I was relieved that my friend had been there to help at such an opportune moment. Then again that’s what he was good at. The one thing I wasn’t, waiting. I took the opportunity to go on the offensive. I knew I wasn’t strong enough to trade blows with it so I reached over and grabbed a lamp that was on the ground. I jumped up and came down hard on its head denting the pole. While it was stunned I reached into my boots and pulled out my combat knives. One in each hand I stabbed them into both sides of its large, ugly head. This made it revolt in pain and it leapt up and began thrashing about. Of course I was still hanging onto my knives and was thrown up and onto its back. I hung on for dear life and kept squirming about trying not to be smashed against the wall.
I tried, but with an amazing amount of effort the ogre threw me off and I flew onto the bed in the corner of the room. I pulled myself up and onto my elbows to see the ogre hovering over me, my knives still embedded in its skull. Several seconds passed and it didn’t move at all. Even its expression stayed the same. That was when I noticed the blade covered in shadows protruding from its chest right where the heart should be. The blade disappeared and in a flash its head rolled off its shoulders and fell to the floor spraying me with black blood. I took a second to get over how gross that was before climbing off of the bed and coming face to face with the living shadow that’d saved me.
I gave my friend a blank look and said, “Really,” gesturing down at myself. He just shrugged.
“You could’ve moved.”
“You could’ve waited.”
“My timing was perfect.”
Our conversation was interrupted by my other friend being slammed through the wall and into the room making us both have to leap away to avoid being crushed. My dark friend, Alec, jumped backwards towards the wall and faded into a shadow against it. I unceremoniously fell backwards onto my behind next to the dismembered head of the other ogre. I tried to grab my knives, but of course they were stuck. I guess I underestimated my own strength, or the thickness of an ogre’s head. I got up and pulled my collapsible, tactical sword from under my jacket ready to jump in. The ogre was on top of Camron and pummeling him pretty good. Luckily he was in his wolf hybrid form so he could take it, for a while.
Before I jumped on the ogre Aidan, our martial arts expert, flew through the hole in the wall poised for a midair kick. He swept his foot across and used the force of his leap to knock the ogre off of Camron and into the wall. He pushed off of the ogre after the kick and back flipped to a fighting stance right in front of me. Alec came out of the wall and grabbed the ogre from behind. Cameron got up and started pounding the life out of the ogre. Aidan looked back at me and, confident that Alec and Cameron had the ogre dealt with for the moment, asked me if I was alright.
“I could ask the same thing,” I replied slightly agitated he’d even asked. “I did see you get thrown down a staircase and all.”
“Yeah, but you’re covered in blood.”
“That’s not really important right now.”
“You’re supposed to be on the staircase.”
“I was. And now I’m here. Because you got thrown down it.”
“You’re covered in blood. If you need to sit out while we finish up-“
“I’m fine!” I snapped.
With that I pushed past him then shoved Cameron aside. Without a second thought I shoved my sword right between the ogre’s eyes. Alec had to fade back into the wall to avoid being stabbed, while Cameron looked at me curiously.
“I thought we were supposed to keep one alive?”
“And I thought we were supposed to be fighting goblins,” I retorted a little too bitchy.
I walked over to the bed and cleaned off my sword, then retracted and put it away. Cameron let the dead ogre slide to the ground. Meanwhile, Alec reformed and turned back to normal followed shortly by Cameron. I walked over to the where my knives were and used my boot to pry them free before cleaning those off too. Putting my combat knives away I took one last look at the room and noted how much we’d destroyed it. I would almost have been proud if I didn’t know that someone was going to have to clean it up, and pay for it. The others started bagging up the bodies as I stalked out.
I walked back down the hall towards the staircase. Sitting down on the top stair I started to calm down and get over being annoyed at Aidan. I understood where he was coming from, but I still hated it. If anything I should be the one fussing over him. He was, undoubtedly, our weakest link. Uhhgg. I put my head in my hands and tried not to think about it. I didn’t want to think about why I was angry at Aidan. It wasn’t his fault he feels that way, but he kept reminding me.
I lifted my head up and ripped off my glove. The light shined on my hand revealing what my glove was hiding: a white mark in the shape of the Venus symbol with little horns. It glowed white when exposed to direct sunlight and stood out in public which is why I wore the glove. The mark could be seen as a gift, but I always saw it as a curse. It changed my life and as far as I believed, it ruined it too. As I sat there examining my hand someone came up and sat down next to me. I didn’t even have to look over to know it was Alec, I just knew at this point he’d be the one to come talk to me.
“Hey,” he started. “About Aidan.”
“You don’t have to,” I told him. “I already know. It’s not… his fault. I just hate being reminded of it.”
“I kinda know how you feel,” he started again.
“No. No, you really don’t.”
“No, just imagine that every time a light comes on Aidan pretends you’re going to disappear. Or when you shadowshift he thinks you can’t change back. Imagine, changing and… not being able to change back.” I looked down feeling really sad for myself. I defeated the entire purpose of him coming to cheer me up, but whatever I wanted to be sad so I was.
“Ok. Yeah. I don’t know what that’s like. But I can try to understand. And at the very least you know he means well.”
“It’s not just him. It’s all of you. You all do it, or you team up on me, or just something. I don’t know. It’s annoying. It’s like just because of my curse I’m suddenly vulnerable or something. You know sometimes I get worried about you guys too.” I shook my head violently. “Forget I said that.”
He put his hand on my shoulder and I tensed at his touch. I know he didn’t mean anything by it, but I was still on edge. I didn’t like where this conversation was heading. At least he pulled away when I turned. I just hoped I was giving off the right message. Sometimes it was difficult for him to pick up on stuff like that, but this time he seemed to.
“Cameron and I don’t like our curses either, but at this point we’re… I don’t know how to explain it. We’re getting used to it, accepting it. At least I almost feel like it’s a part of me. It wouldn’t hurt to-“
“No,” I told him sternly. “You know I hate talking about this. You can feel however you want, but I’m not ready for that. I still have hope.”
“Lily,” he started. I hated hearing that name, but I accepted it. “It’s been four years,” he said flatly. The tone of sweetness had left his voice and had been replaced with agitation. This wasn’t the first time we’d had this conversation and it probably wouldn’t be the last. “If we haven’t found a cure at this point I don’t think we’re going to. Honestly I find myself caring less and less every day.”
“So you gave up,” I interjected.
“No, I didn’t,” he spat back. “I still have hope. We all do. We just see the truth staring us in the face. We haven’t gotten any closer to a cure in four years than we were on the first day. No one knows anything about our curses. There aren’t any leads.”
“We just aren’t trying hard enough,” I said.
He sighed in resignation. “I’m getting tired of having this argument. At this point it feels like I’m talking to a wall.”
He stood up and turned to walk away when I weakly said, “I’m sorry.”
“I know,” he replied. “And I get it. I really do, but if there’s one thing you need to face and accept, god at least for the time being, it’s that you are stuck as you are until we find a cure. If anything you need to deal with that. The rest of us have.” With that he walked away and I was left alone again, just my thoughts and I. Sometimes I hated myself.
Unlike most people, corpses never really disturbed me, even more if I was the one who killed it. I guess I was just sure of the fact that it was dead. Then again, you never knew if it really was anymore, especially if it wasn’t human, which was why I normally took morgue duty whenever we returned from a mission and needed to bring a body back. The guys wouldn’t admit it, but I knew they were all chicken shits when it came to dissecting bodies. Hell, after even a few minutes the freshly dead ones got under their skin. I’m surprised anything even scares them anymore considering everything we’ve seen. Then again, I do have my own fears. I shook my head and tried to focus on the task at hand. I was no good distracted. As was pointed out to me by the old man hunched behind me.
“Wrong!” he blurted out in an obscenely English accent. I dropped my scalpel and turned to regard him.
“Professor,” I said sarcastically. “What did I do wrong, this time?”
He hobbled over and grabbed the scalpel from where I let it fall. He took a second to examine it, muttering to himself all the while. Then, he dramatically held it up above his head and brought it down to what I was working on: trying to open the main artery in the arm. The goal was to keep the blood flow in the body whilst siphoning what you could.
Faster than I could even see he sliced open the flesh, letting the blood pool in a grey stream into the bucket on the floor.
“There,” he said matter-of-factly. “You see what you were doing wrong? You almost severed the artery and killed it.” He laughed a dry laugh to himself. “Well, more than it already is.”
“I don’t think I’m cut out for this,” I admitted more to myself than to him. He came over and grabbed me by the shoulders.
“You are a very intelligent girl. You just keep thinking you’re working on a human. Other creatures are different, they are not the same.”
“I know,” I whispered.
“You need to forget what you learned before and focus on which specimen you’re working on. You need to let go. You might not understand now, but in the future it might mean the difference between life and death.” He released his grip on me and turned to finish the work on the body. He waved his hand above his head at me for his final remark.
“Go on and rest. You’ve had a rough enough day without the scolding of an old man.” He turned his head towards me. “And do not doubt, I will be speaking with Mistress Hobbes about the accuracy of the intelligence for your mission. Or should I say lack thereof?”
With that he waved me off. I collected my things and headed out, shaking my head all the while.
“Crazy old man,” I muttered to myself. “He means well though,” I said with a sigh knowing full well he really did. For some reason I just couldn’t get traditional medical practices out of my head.
I left professor Cumberbatch’s office and entered one of the grand hallways of the castle we lived in. You’d think after 2 years I would have been used to it. Yet, it still amazed me and I found myself looking around at the grandeur of the architecture. The large stain glassed windows, the crumbling stone, and the arched ceilings. I never thought I’d ever be in a castle, but there I was, on the other side of the world. I knew the halls well enough, but I still felt out of place. Most of the students treated me as a stranger. And to be honest I was. As well as coming from another country all together I wasn’t like them. My friends and I weren’t part of their world; we were forced into it and didn’t want to be there as much as it didn’t seem to want us there.
I navigated through the corridors to the dormitories pausing at the two staircases dividing the male and female dorms. I found myself looking at the right wing and thinking about what the guys were doing. I shook my head and went up the left one. Once in my room I dropped my stuff on the ground and took it all in. This room was the closest thing I’d had to a home in years and luckily I had it all to myself. Not sharing with anyone meant I cared less about cleaning it, but I knew I’d get around to it eventually. Sitting on my bed and untying my hair I figured it didn’t look so bad, a shirt here, a bra there, some garbage- ok the garbage did need to be taken out, but other than that it wasn’t so bad.
I kicked off my shoes and fell on my back just enjoying the quiet and solidarity. Not a minute past when a knock came on my door. I looked at the door and rolled off my bed. I wasn’t ready for a visitor, but I had an idea who it was. Opening the door confirmed my suspicions as Aidan stood there looking around for someone to spot him.
“What do you want?” I asked bored.
“Who you were expecting, Alec?” He replied with a cocky grin. I held up my arm pretending to read a watch that wasn’t there before answering.
“Actually…” I said as I began shutting my door. He grabbed the door and forced it back open looking a bit nervous and giving one last look behind him before saying,
“Come on, I was just kidding. Let me in.”
“Afraid you’ll get in trouble?” I asked with a coy grin.
“Please,” he pleaded.
I groaned and stepped aside swinging the door open. He darted inside and closed it behind him. I ignored him and fell back on my bed closing my eyes.
“How did you get up here without anyone seeing you?” I asked curiously.
“I’m not as good as Alec, but I can be sneaky when I want to be,” he said proudly.
“I wouldn’t know,” I said flatly. “I’ve never seen Alec sneak up here to bother me.”
“Oh please, we all know he comes up here to see you. The only secret is why.”
I sat up and put my hand up to my mouth in mock defense of his accusation.
“Are you suggesting moi would allow rule breaking in my presence? I’m shocked.”
He just laughed and said, “You’re the queen of rule breaking. I remember it was you that got us into this whole mess.”
“Well I remember it differently,” I said innocently. He smiled, then his mood changed and he moved to sit on my bed next to me. I sat up all the way and prepared myself for the real reason why he came up here. Before he said anything he took several seconds to stare at the ground and collect his thoughts. There was an awkward silence between us. I hated awkward silences. Luckily he did say what he wanted too, but it wasn’t what I expected.
“I’m sorry, he started.”
“I’m not ready for something like th-“ My response was already programed in my mind. I stopped mid-sentence caught entirely off guard by what he actually said.
“What?” We both asked each other, not sure what the other was talking about.
“I wanted to apologize,” he said.
“Oh. Yeah. No. That’s fine. Go on,” I urged him getting nervous over what I thought he was going to tell me. I was relived I was wrong, but still embarrassed I thought that’s what this was about.
“Uh yeah,” he started again. “Alec and Cameron cornered me earlier and, uh, brought to my attention how I was acting today.” He took a breath. “I guess I was being a bit irrational in light of the situation.”
“You were being a total dick,” I said bluntly. My response knocked what he was going to say right out of him and he paused. He took another second then began shaking his head continuing.
“Ok. Yeah. I guess I was being a dick. It’s just hard. You know. In the beginning you guys needed me and I was I don’t know, the-“
“Overprotective mother,” I interjected smiling at my joke.
He raised his eyebrow and responded, “Oh I’m the mother?”
“Hey I said,” hands raised, “I might be a girl, but you were the one fretting over everyone and being a mother hen.”
“Yeah,” he said chuckling slightly. “Like I’m trying to say. You guys used to need me, but now… I don’t know. You’re the only one I can rationalize protecting. Except, like they pointed out to me, you’re more likely to save me than the other way around. I guess I’m almost jealous of you.”
“Hey,” I said. “If you wanna take all this off my hands where do I gotta sign?”
He shook his head. “I did say almost.”
“Yeah,” I said sighing. “Well… I do appreciate it. The apology.” I bit my lip. “So you are going to stop right?”
“No promises,” he admitted. “But I will start to tone it down. In time maybe…” He let the sentence trail off.
“Alright,” I said. “I guess that’ll have to do. Just don’t put me on stair duty anymore. That was the most boring shit ever.”
“Until I got thrown down the stairs,” he said.”
“Yeah,” I laughed. “Until that.”
Things got awkward and quiet again. He turned to me and slyly asked, “So… What do you and Alec do when he comes up here?”
“I told you!” I exclaimed in disbelief. “He doesn’t come up here.”
“Sure,” he said clearly not buying it.
“Well if that’s all I’m exhausted,” I said over exaggerating the ‘exhausted’ as I fell back onto my bed pretending to be asleep.
He walked over to the door opened it and asked, “See you at dinner?” I opened one eye, looked at him, and responded.
“Will there be food?”
“Is it free?”
“I’ll be there.”
He laughed. “Some things never change. So it’s a date then?”
“You wish,” I said.
“I do,” he replied.
My follow-up was throwing my pillow at him as he ran out of the room closing the door behind him. After he was gone I just laid there in the comfort of silence. He was a jerk sometimes, but he meant well. It still pissed me off though that he couldn’t just let go and get over how things used to be. Things changed, people changed, I changed, he changed. Things aren’t the same so he needed to stop pretending they were.
Eventually I wound up lying on my stomach with my head in my arms. I was too lazy to get up and retrieve my pillow. Being so comfortable on my bed already I saw no reason to get up even though doing so might possibly lead to more comfort. After all, I was already quite comfy. Sleep began to overtake me when at the last second before sweet, unconscious bliss the events of the day came together in my head. ‘Damn I’m such a hypocrite,’ I thought as I passed out.
I was running. I was always running. The world around me warped and faded in and out of existence as my consciousness focused between it and myself. At times I was the only thing in existence and the next second I didn’t exist at all. The only thing that stayed the same was the two competing elements present in all of my dreams: the light I was running towards and the darkness I was running from.
As I was running I saw myself passing by people I’d known throughout my life, both of my lives. Some I’d seen earlier that day, others I hadn’t seen in years, or would ever see again. The closer I got to them the more their features faded, and after I passed by they all faded entirely into the darkness. The landscapes started changing too. Places I’d been in good times and bad. Places that brought up the happiest moments of my life and the worst. The darkness crept through those places after me, its tendrils reaching out and destroying everything in its path, causing it all to dissolve and fade into the obscure blackness.
I ran as fast as I could. I ran faster than what is humanely possible, but that only kept me ahead of the darkness for a bit. In the end I was eventually consumed like everything else. I just couldn’t reach the light I was looking for no matter how fast I ran. This time, like every other time, I fell.
I was falling. I was always falling. If I wasn’t running I was falling. I tripped and fell, the tunnel I was running through becoming a hole I was falling down. Instead of running from the darkness, I was falling into it. My hand reached up to grasp the light above me, but it didn’t matter because it seemed I could never reach it.
Then, to my horror, the white light I longed for formed into large; white; sharp teeth, his teeth. The growing mouth formed into the smile that haunted the subconscious of my mind. It opened wide, an inhuman length, and came at me letting out that scream, that scream. Being caught in freefall there was nothing I could do to even hope to stop it from consuming me. As it reached me the darkness consumed me and I fell into the deepest form of unconsciousness.
Ending Note ▼