The hands on my watch dangled like limp, floppy arms. We’d already all checked our phones the moment we got here and surprise, surprise, there was no service plan that extended to another dimension.
I kept blinking, still unused to the alien landscape of the Stygian. Spiky rocks up to ten feet high shot up into the sky, tufts of plants muscling their way out of the crevices. Everything here was bathed in a dark blue tint but I could still make out the rocky, black terrain as if there was a bright, full moon out. Except there was no moon, or sun, only dark misty clouds stretching and contracting across a starless black expanse. Something inside me shuddered. I had no idea where in time or space we were. I was only acutely aware of the damp chill that cut right through the thin material of my dark pants and crop top, curling and twisting around my bones like a slimy, cold snake. At least I had Krystan’s fur vest, which helped provide a little warmth.
The scent of sulphur hung in the air, along with some other noxious gas I couldn’t place. Every bit of this place offended my senses. My emotions swirled in a panic to figure out where we were and what to do. Of course, my reaction was natural. I had assumed we would all die when we crossed over. I hadn’t planned on our bizarro little group surviving only to end up stranded together.
Yeah, Emma. This was a great plan. You effectively trapped seven people, most of whom absolutely friggin’ hate each other, in a hell dimension.
Something tiny and reflective skittered across the black ground, causing me to jump. Oh goody, bugs existed in this dimension too.
I reached over and laced my fingers through Calan’s, deeply unsettled and unsure of what was next to come.
Jo spoke, cutting through my absorption with our new surroundings. “Let’s kill him.”
I turned to Jolon, surprised he suggested it first. “What? No.”
Regina was next to step forward, drawing out a pair of knives, ready to deal the killing blow. The way she approached the unsuspecting victim was fluid, deadly, like a jungle cat. I’d seen her son move in the same way.
I threw my hands up. “Whoa, we aren’t killing anyone.”
Calan stepped up behind me. His presence was reassuring, silently communicating he would step in if necessary. Even if that meant stopping his own mother.
If I had to go through hell, there was no one I would prefer by my side more than Calan. And after stepping through the dimensional tear and into the Stygian to literally save the world… that’s pretty much where we were at.
The older, wiry woman paused her advance on the unconscious man. She stared down at Damien. He’d been knocked out cold by Calan’s power blast.
“Why would we spare his life?” Regina hissed at the lump on the ground. “He works for the Dark Order. If it weren’t for him, none of us would even be here, Emma.” Her blue eyes flashed dangerously. Calan’s matching pair were so much softer than his mother’s, though I’d seen the same fire in his on occasion.
I tried to reason with Regina. “Don’t you think we should figure out where the hell we are before we start cutting each other’s throats?”
Hell being the operative word.
I tried reasoning with Regina again. “If we killed Damien, we would be no better than him.”
Master Ylang’s knobby bald head seemed to knot up even more as he stared at Damien with his cloudy blue eyes. “You never know what must be done, do you, Emma?”
“Don’t speak to her like that,” Calan growled at his former Master. “If it weren’t for her, the tear would still be open and dark creatures from this damned place would still be pouring over to destroy all of humanity on Earth.” His grip tightened painfully around mine. I squeezed back until he loosened his hold.
I narrowed my eyes at Ylang. “What can I say? I’m not a fan of the overkill club like you.”
Ylang sniffed, then tilted his head up and away. “The Order of Luxis simply does whatever is necessary to serve the Light.”
Jolon’s focus shifted from Damien to Ylang. A sharp dangerous glint sparked from his black marble eyes. “Do you really want to go into that right now?”
Jo was in his mid-twenties like Calan and I. A strapping guy like that could easily break an old, frail man like Ylang if he wanted to. He usually seemed laid back, but he’d proven he would do whatever was necessary to get his Order, the Order of Terra, back into power. The power that the Order of Luxis stole from Terra. Jo had betrayed us and saved us in equal turns, making it hard to anticipate what he would do next. Beating down a graying elder was not out of the question.
Regina also turned her attention to Ylang now. Anger glittered in her eyes. “Yes, shall we talk about what the Luxis deems necessary?”
Oh boy, as if going to hell with this merry pack of dysfunctionals weren’t enough, we were going to start off with a brawl. I half-expected the three of them to dive on each other to pull hair and scream how the other took their toys away and wouldn’t share.
After a drug-induced, vivid technicolor vision, I’d known the only way to heal the dimensional tear between Earth and the Stygian was for one person from each Order to cross through. A flesh sacrifice from the Order of Luxis, Veritas, Terra, Spiritus, and Tenebrae. Granted, Tenebrae, the Order of the Dark, would never willingly sacrifice one of their own, so we knocked Damien out, chucked him in, and called it good.
As the bickering continued in front of me, I sighed as I reminisced. For one split second I had gotten everyone to stop fighting and get on board with my plan to save the world. Though I had tried to maintain faith in the vision I’d seen of us all coming together, I had niggling doubts at the back of my mind whether or not these dingbats could pull it off.
But they had done it. And I had to be the last ingredient to heal the rift. The Propheros. The chosen one to fight the coming darkness. Calan was a bonus. He couldn’t let me leave him behind, and I wasn’t feeling so bad about having a Knight of the Light along in this creepy-ass place. Plus, having the love of my life standing next to me with strong surety was about all that was keeping me from diving into the threesome to do some hair pulling myself.
My mother let out a whimper from where she lay on the ground next to Damien. “Can you feel it?” Her question came out in a ragged whisper.
I gave Calan’s hand one more squeeze, then pulled away to go to my mother’s side. I tried to ignore my proximity to Damien. King Douche of the Dark was what I decided to rename Damien in my head right then. Just because I didn’t want him murdered didn’t mean I wanted to be anywhere near him. He was responsible for reopening the Tear to bring hell on Earth.
Damien believed the only way for humanity to ascend was by some backasswards test of pitting humans against the universe’s worst nightmares. Then everyone would join the Order of Tenebrae, the dark order, and they would all merrily walk into the sunset together.
There was a word for what Damien was.
I lifted my mom’s shoulders to help her sit up. “Are you okay?”
Her face was covered with beads of sweat that rolled down her face and neck. I couldn’t tell if it was the light of this place or if her face truly had a ghastly pallor. My mom’s eyes rolled around in her head as if she were experiencing some kind of episode, or maybe she was having a vision?
I’d only been reunited with her a few days ago. I’d last seen her when I was only a child, before she’d been taken away, reclaimed by her Order.
Her hands came up to cling at my arm. Her voice was raspy with an edge of panic. “Don’t you feel it, Emma baby? It’s too much. It’s all too much. We shouldn’t be here.” She stared sightlessly into the sky, her arms waving back and forth now.
Ylang snorted behind me. “Wonderful. We get to cater to the ravings of a lunatic. This truly is hell.”
I whipped my head around. “Shut it, Ylang. Or I’ll pull out those wispy waterfall whiskers you think make you look so wise.”
The old man’s jaw snapped shut and his cloudy eyes narrowed at me. When I turned back to my mom, I thought I saw Damien shift where he lay. I blinked. He didn’t move again.
My mother went on as if she hadn’t heard Ylang. The whites of her eyes nearly swallowed up her irises as she stared up at me again, clawing at my shoulder. “We shouldn’t be here. The pain, oh gods the pain. Everything is pulsating with pain here.”
I didn’t understand her. Sure, I sensed the severe wrongness of simply being in this place, but she acted like it was ripping her apart.
“Diana’s withdrawal is worsening,” Regina said flatly. “That drug the Order of Spiritus had your mother on is working its way out in a nasty fashion. You need to calm her down or she is going to get us killed.”
“Is she going to get us killed?” Jolon asked.
I didn’t pay attention to his strange question. Instead, I smoothed back the lavender-tinted hair from my mother’s soaked brow. “It’s okay, Mom, I’m here. I’m going to take care of you. You just need to rest.” I already missed the drugged-out woman I’d met at the Order of Spiritus. She may have been high as a kite on ambrosia, but she’d been a helluva lot more coherent than she was now.
“What do you mean?” Calan asked Jo.
Still rocking my whimpering mother, I turned to look at Jo, who had stuffed his hands under his plaid shirt into his jean pockets. Despite his relaxed stance, his black eyebrows dipped low toward his aquiline, Native American nose. “I mean, five minutes ago, dark creatures were pouring out of the Tear, from this very spot, clamoring to get to Earth. Where are they all now? Did they just leave because we fell in?”
Calan’s posture stiffened, as did Regina’s. They both began scanning the surrounding terrain.