– Yesod. The Frontier of the Abyss. 1 –
“And the prince leaned over the princess, awaking her from her eternal sleep, with a sweet kiss.
But the lips that touch my skin burn me, leaving eternal marks.
And although my sleep was cold, empty and cruelly lonely, the world to which I wake up is drowning in chaos.
And so, unlike all those magic fairy tales, the first thing I feel is a deep pain for being forced to wake up."
“Izrail!!” I had the impression that that wasn’t the first time I heard someone call that name and the chaos to which my consciousness returned left me dizzy.
Lea was shouting ferociously and, although he kept his childish appearance, the strength emanating from him was truly frightening. I blinked again, trying to make my muddled thoughts clear enough to understand what was going on, and was finally able to identify the target of his fury.
“I need him to wake up! Now!” the same thundering voice that woke me demanded and I grabbed hold of the couch to help me stand up.
“Alexander,” I mumbled and his disconcerting expression of despair turned to me.
“Don’t make me repeat myself, I will not allow you to step one inch closer to him!” Lea was saying, his voice sounding more like a roar, the air around him becoming heavy with murderous intent, and I stumbled to his side, wishing everyone could calm down.
“What happened?” I asked and Alexander’s red gaze turned towards Lea again, hatred distorting his beautiful face.
“I need him to wake up! And I need him to wake Jonathan up! And that’s what’s going to happen! Even if it’s the last thing I do!” he replied, equally furiously, and Lea flexed his legs, leaning forward ever so slightly, almost as if he were ready to jump him any time.
“It will be the last thing you do!” Lea confirmed, his voice now cold and hard, so similar to Gabriel’s that it sent a shiver down my spine.
“He can’t help you!” I urgently added, stepping in between the two of them, facing Alexander. “But I can. Tell me what happened. Where is he?”
His blood-red stare didn’t seem to recognize me, frighteningly cold, and then his hand was around my wrist, squeezing it with too much strength while he dragged me towards the kitchen.
Pain shot through my ribs as I stumbled forward and down the corridor, making me gasp and cringe my teeth to muffle a scream.
“Let go of her! You’re hurting her!” Lea demanded, following us, but the hand holding mine didn’t obey.
“Help him!” Alexander rudely ordered, throwing me forward as if I were an inanimate object, and I almost hit the table where a young boy was lying.
“Leave her be!” Lea was growling again, and I pressed my right side to stand up straight.
“I’m okay,” I murmured, hopping he could hear me, and tried to draw a deep breath, which made me cringe in pain. Alexander’s face was a frightening mask of fury. “Alexander ...”
“He’s Human like you! Make him better!” he demanded and, as irrational as his demand was, I nodded, not wanting to oppose him.
I turned to Jonathan, massaging my wrist in order to restore blood circulation to my fingers, and watched him closely. Unlike Gabriel he didn’t seem to be hurt, not physically anyway. But, as soon as I touched his forehead, I knew immediately something was very wrong.
”He’s burning up!” I observed urgently. “We have to lower his temperature. I’m going to fill the bathtub with water. Take off his clothes and bring him upstairs!” I commanded and Alexander nodded immediately, obeying without a question.
I rushed out of the kitchen, but had to slow down as I climbed up the stairs. Every breath I took was extremely painful.
I closed the drain and turned the water on, not too cold, but not hot either.
A few minutes later Alexander was at the door. The fury that just moments ago had terrified me was gone from his face as he looked at Jonathan with a pained expression. I stepped out of his way and he slowly lowered him into the water. My eyes were inevitably lost on that naked body, too thin for his height. However, what caught my attention were the numerous red lines crisscrossing over his skin, covering his chest, arms and legs with disordered patterns. Some of those lines, the more faded ones, were cut by thin pale scars. And there were so many scars!, I noticed feeling sick, even more scars than red lines, some of them looking very old, almost faded, but not quite, indicating he’d withstood years and years of torture.
Alexander gave me an angry look, as if I’d just seen something I wasn’t supposed to, and I hurriedly averted my gaze.
“Leave him there until his temperature drops. Then take him out and dry him. You can take him to the room down the hall,” I said, indicating Rachel’s room. “I’ll be outside. Call me.” I left, closing the door.
I went back downstairs, leaning hard against the handrail, and took a peek into the living room. With a sigh of relief I noticed Gabriel was still asleep and that Lea had returned to his side, attentively keeping watch over him.
His face was still too pale, black circles surrounding his eyes, his long hair pasty and sticky from all the blood, and still he was beautiful, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, too perfect by any Human standards.
The pain I’d been unable to feel since he'd left caught me by surprise, as the invisible threads around my heart kept squeezing it, cutting deeper and deeper, stealing my breath away. He was really there, I told myself, still not quite believing it. Maybe I’d end up waking up in my bed, like every other night, all that I’d dreamed up till then erased from my mind. Maybe this alert-me, this feeling-me, was the me from the dream, and everything would be gone once I opened my eyes. But even worse, even more frightening, was if it was all real! If he was really there, lying on my couch. And if he didn’t wake up again ...
I went back to the kitchen, thinking that Alexander would be calling me soon. I filled a basin with cool water and grabbed a soft, clean towel. I also grabbed of a box of painkillers my mom always kept around in one of the cupboards, too lazy to go upstairs to get a pill every time she had a headache from working all through the night. I filled a glass of water and balanced everything on a tray, climbing the stairs as slowly as I could, my ribs complaining from the effort of carrying all that weight.
Alexander had already moved Jonathan to Rachel’s room, lying him down on the huge bed, carefully covering his marred body. Jonathan seemed calm now, and I placed the basin and the glass on the bedside table to feel his forehead again. Alexander’s intent, almost threatening gaze followed my every move, seeming ready to strike me down at any moment, the minute I did something wrong.
“Better,” I noted. “Although still too high. I don’t know what caused this or what’s wrong with him exactly, but if it is as you say, and he’s Human like me ...” I left it hanging and produced the box of pills, handing it to him. “This is what we take when we have a fever. Don’t know if it will work. You can’t give him more than two. So give him one now and, if his fever doesn’t go down, give him another one in about half an hour,” I explained as he turned the box in his hands, analyzing it carefully. “Also, use this to help lower his temperature.” I pulled the towel I’d perched on my shoulder and dipped it into the basin. “Just wet it, then twist it and keep it on his forehead.” I showed him how to do it and, as soon as the cool towel touched Jonathan’s burning skin, his expression became even more relaxed, almost relieved. “When it starts getting warmer, just wet it again.” He nodded, now completely focused on absorbing my every single word, and I pressed my right side to stand up once again. “I’m going downstairs to check on Gabriel. Be back in a minute. If anything happens, just call me, okay?”
He nodded again, his trembling fingers softly brushing against Jonathan’s face, his pained expression making me look away. I silently walked to the door, somehow feeling I was intruding, and opened it carefully so it wouldn’t creak.
“Mari.” His voice stopped me halfway and I looked back over my shoulder. His curved back and desolated expression reminded me of someone who’d been mortally injured. “Thank you, and I’m sorry. Before ... I wasn’t really thinking straight. I never meant to hurt you.”
“It’s fine,” I told him, stretching my lips into what I hoped was a convincing smile. “Just let him rest. And call me if you need me.” I left the room, closing the door behind me, leaning against it for a second, almost too tired to keep standing. Still, I took a deep breath and went for the stairs planning to return to Lea’s side.
Three steps were all I could manage before the world around me started swirling. Afraid I’d end up falling, I sat down at the top of the stairs, lying my head on my knees, waiting for the dizziness to fade.
My mind was completely blank, too numb for any kind of coherent thought, and yet a revolution of emotions filled my chest, things I’d even forgotten I could feel. What would become of me once the numbness cleared away and I’d have to deal with all those raging feelings?
The image of all that blood wouldn’t leave my mind, as if imprinted in fire on the inside of my eyelids. As hard as I tried to avoid it, I couldn’t stop seeing the pain so vividly expressed on his face, or hearing the rough sound of his delirious voice, or remembering the electric touch of his skin every time my hand had unintentionally brushed against him.
If only I could lessen his pain.
I ended up falling asleep, but even in my dreams all I could see was a red sea that wouldn’t stop spreading, covering the floor, threatening to engulf me completely. His screams echoed in the air around me, filled with pain and despair, making me look around, search for him, the urgency making my heart beat faster. I just couldn’t allow it to go on, couldn’t allow him to keep suffering like that. Unbeknown to myself his pain was my pain as well and I just couldn’t bear another second of that torture. My searching gaze fell upon a child sitting amid that red sea, and I instinctively knew that it was him.
Tears fell down his cheeks and he kept screaming, his eyes shut closed in a permanent denial of the world around him. His small, white hands were smeared with blood, and I knew without a doubt that, for a change, that blood wasn’t his. And yet he wouldn’t stop screaming, breath after breath, as if he’d been mortally injured.
I tried to get closer. All I wanted was to comfort him, even if only a bit, make him stop that agonizing cry. But as much as I walked, or ran, the sea of blood that now covered my knees wouldn’t allow me to advance. Sticky and heavy it kept pulling me back, making it almost impossible to move my legs.
“Izrail,” I blinked in surprise as tears rolled down my cheeks. It was the first time that I could recall that they had obeyed my feelings. “Izrail!”
“Mariane.” His hoarse murmur made me jump and I almost screamed when I saw him standing right there, in front of me. It took me a few moments to gather that I’d been dreaming and that he was real. The wave of pain that washed over me made me tremble. Panicking, my eyes were drawn to the red bandages across his bare chest as they quickly absorbed his blood. His breathing was heavy and labored, new drops of sweat shining on his forehead. His long white hands shook uncontrollably as they held on fast to the handrail, his violet eyes glowing feverishly.
“Oh my God! What are you doing standing up like this!” I scolded him, unthinkingly, trying to keep my breathing under control. Just like before, my heart was beating like crazy, leaving me deaf, my body too tense and frozen in place.
A wince of pain contorted his face, making him take a sharp breath, and his trembling arms buckled, making him stumble forward. His white fingers flexed around the handrail even harder, the wood cracking beneath his inhuman strength. A groan of pain escaped his lips, making him lean forth too abruptly, his hair tumbling forward like a dark, silky cascade. I watched as his legs trembled, giving in under his weight, and my heart almost stopped when I saw him fall head-on. And then my body was on the move, although I’d been frozen stiff just instants ago, and I was under him, trying to break his fall.
The direct contact with his skin left me breathless and the arm that reflexively wrapped itself around my waist in search of some support erased all logical thoughts from my mind. His hair brushed my face, soft and cold, and I could feel his warm panting breathing on my shoulder, even through my pajama top. His whole body shook violently and his dead weight was more than I could support, especially with my shaking legs. He groaned again as I fell back, the impact making his muscles stiffen with pain, and his head slid inert over my chest, falling on my legs. Instinctively I leaned over him, trying to hold him in a half-embrace, fearing that he might keep sliding all the way down the stairs, even though he was obviously too heavy for me to hold. My panicking eyes fell on his back, the way his muscles contracted with every single forced breath, and I was frozen again, too terrified to even run.
“Don’t cry.” His muffled voice silenced everything else, almost as if I’d just plunged into deep waters. I thought he’d lost consciousness. His black hair covered my legs, shadowing his face, but not enough to hide his pained expression. “Don’t cry ... just for a moment ... let me stay like ... this.”
My heart hurt at his request and my lungs burned when I was finally able to breathe again. I wished I could comfort him, maybe embrace him, the same way I’d wished I could hold that child in my dream. But, just like in the dream, I couldn’t move.
The scent that emanated from his hair was sweet and the arm around my waist kept holding on to me, as if he were afraid I might simply disappear.
I did cry, and sobbed like a child until my throat hurt. And yet, in all my pain, I didn’t shed a single tear.