– The Path of Daleth. The Black Brothers.1 –
“If I could be the light that lights your way, I wouldn’t wish for anything more of this finite passage over this lost world. And not even all the shadows I carry, nor all the thorns that torture me,
would be strong enough to pull me away from my destiny.”
As soon as I left Michael’s company, my levels of stress shot through the roof. I spent the whole morning in an extreme state of alert, jumping at any unexpected sound, looking for evil shadows in every corner, or crazy beautiful faces in the crowd. As it was, I could hardly concentrate on classes and my ears just couldn’t seem to focus on my classmates’ voices.
As if not to disappoint my expectations, we were halfway through Philosophy when something suddenly changed.
I jumped to my feet, my heart hammering against my chest, and looked around as fear nestled in my stomach. Contrary to what I’d expected, her presence wasn’t subtle at all, echoing through the walls, filling the air all around me. The fury that marked it was simply terrifying and the world seemed to almost bend under it, shrinking as if it could break at any moment.
“Miss Mellis? Is something wrong?”
At the back of my head I knew the teacher had just spoken to me and that I must look like a crazy person, standing just like that in the middle of class. My hands were shaking now and I left my seat running to the door.
“Bathroom,” I said quietly without even pausing to wait for an answer and stumbled into the hall, closing the door behind me.
The blast that echoed through the walls making the air vibrate stole my strength and I almost fell to my knees. I stopped for a minute, trying to regain control, and peered through the door’s small window, afraid of what I might find inside. But class was going on as if nothing had happened. Hadn’t anyone else heard that deafening sound? The teacher was still talking and everyone was calmly sitting in their places.
Another blast made me hold on to the wall and my eyes flew down the corridor. Even if no one else had noticed it, I was sure something really wrong was happening.
I went for the stairs as fast as I could, clenching my teeth as I made my sore muscles obey me in such a strenuous run, holding on to anything my hands could reach, afraid I might fall. The murderous presence I had first felt was now mixed with others that I knew all too well, and my stomach twisted anxiously as I prayed that they’d be safe.
I stopped when I reached the hallway that lead outside and leaned against the wall, trying to recover my breath. Pain was a constant now, pounding throughout my entire body, and each breath I took was like a living hell. My gaze fell immediately on the glass door at the end of the corridor and I shuddered, knowing what I’d find outside. Even so, my feet were already on the move as I dragged myself across the short distance that, on any other day, I would have covered in just a few seconds.
Placing my hands on the cold glass, I looked outside and I could immediately see Alexander, his expression bleak, with Jonathan standing right beside him. His eyes were fixed and burning with a fierce glow and I couldn’t help gasp as I looked at the target of his undivided attention.
Telane stood not two steps away and yet she kept her back to them, almost as if she didn’t know they were there, or if she thought them inconsequential. She was, as I recalled, more beautiful than humanly possible, her red copper hair tied up in a single ponytail, the soft waves cascading over her shoulders and down her delicate back that the white dress she wore left uncovered. Much shorter than her previous dress, this one seemed to only cover the minimum to be considered a piece of clothing, molding itself against her perfect body, around her round, firm chest and long lean tights. The skin of her bare arms and legs was as white and perfect as Gabriel’s, and she stood barefoot just like before, as if summer had already come. Her expression, however, was one of pure rage and her golden gaze burned with a red, fierce glow.
And then there was Gabriel, standing like a shadow, right in front of her. At first I feared his expression, even after noticing he looked his usual indifferent self. Over the last few days I’d come to realize that he was rarely ever indifferent, and that that was just his way of keeping a better control over his own strength. However, right then, he did seem calm, almost relaxed, his opened hands pending beside his body. And, at his feet, nestled a small dark bundle that I immediately recognized as Lea in his cat form, his black fur standing as he hissed threateningly at the beautiful woman in front of him.
“Why are you here, tied up to an insignificant Human?”
I forgot to breathe as her melodic voice filled the air, reaching me as if I too was standing right next to them.
“That is none of your business.”
“I need you outside! Winning this war!” she commanded, raising her voice, making the glass vibrate, but Gabriel’s expression remained calm and I noticed that not even his eyes had changed color, and that he kept them black like he used to do when he wanted to pass for a Human.
“I have nothing to do with this war,” he replied and she seemed even more enraged at his lack of reaction.
“What do you mean, you have nothing to do with it? What are you going to do? Stay here and wait for them to come and destroy you?”
“One thing at a time. I’ll deal with that when the time comes.”
Telane clenched her hands into two tight fists and her entire body shuddered.
“No!” she screamed, making the world around us tremble, and I had to hold onto the wall beside me to keep myself from falling. “If it’s death you want, then I’ll gladly give it to you freely!” she stated, her unrestrained anger filling the air, her eyes burning like molten lava, and Gabriel slightly lowered his gaze.
“You’ll die before that,” he whispered, between a warning and a threat, but Telane was already beyond being able to hear a single word he said.
With a screeching scream that made me cover my ears, two huge black wings sprang from her white back. The blast was even bigger, almost as if someone was hitting the ground, the buildings, the air with a gigantic hammer. The glass from the door shattered into a million pieces and I bit my lip to stop myself from screaming, crouching against the wall and covering my head to protect my face from the sharp shiny rain. The air around me stirred, making me unable to breathe, and the biting, cold wind that pulled my hair and clothes made me remember the chaos that had filled my room when I’d freed Gabriel from his prison.
I made myself raise my head to see what was happening, and saw that Alexander was standing protectively in front of Jonathan. The wind, however, didn’t seem to touch a single hair on the boy’s head, although Alexander was clearly having difficulties standing his ground.
A new blast made me cringe and I noticed that, for a brief second, something glowed around the area where they were standing. A wince of pain crossed Alexander’s face, which seemed intently focused on something, and Jonathan clenched his hands, reminding me of the connection they shared.
“What’s this! Change your form! Fight me face to face!” Telane’s furious voice demanded as she jumped forward like a wild animal, two short curve daggers held tightly in her hands, and I watched as Gabriel took a step back, defending her attack with an incredibly fast but apparently simple movement. He had made his crescent moon spear appear and he swiftly placed it in Telane’s way, easily thwarting her attacks, although I could hardly see her at the speed she was moving. She seemed like a ghost, appearing and disappearing from thin air, her lean body precise and perfect as there was no wasted energy in any of her moves. But still Gabriel seemed to accompany her easily, following her graceful movements with his eyes and moving only in the last split of a second, but with enough time to tranquilly defend himself.
“I don’t need to change my form to defeat you,” he said with that smug smile of his that really irked me, and Telane seemed to share my feelings exactly.
Jumping back, which sent her flying a few feet up in the air, she gracefully landed on the green grass, pulling herself up, the daggers disappearing from her hands in two flickering flames. Hatred marked her perfect face as she stared at her opponent. And then she joined her hands together, in front of her chest, and the air shrieked leaving me deaf, as a lightning bolt jumped from her pale fingers and tore the air at the speed of light, directed at Gabriel’s chest. At the last instant a small black shadow jumped, rolling over itself in midair and the lightning bolt crashed against an invisible wall that slightly glowed, making another blast.
Telane’s gaze was pure fury when she looked down at the small cat as he nimbly landed on the ground, but before she could exert her vengeance Gabriel was on the move and at a speed that made me shudder. She was almost too late in defending his attack, the daggers back in her hands, and she had yet to recover when he suddenly appeared from her other side into another flash attack. The blasts were constant now, but I was too dumbfounded to react, squeezing my hands together, trying to keep my heart from jumping out of my mouth. That was the real him, I thought ... and I was afraid again.
In a desperate jump for not being able to keep him away, Telane rose in the air, making use of her huge dark wings, and, with a cold, murderous smile, whispered something I couldn’t understand.
“Telane! What are you doing!” Listening to Gabriel raise his voice above the constant roar of the wind made me gasp. He rarely raised his voice and he sounded furious now. Telane, however, didn’t even answer and then she was gone in a thin shower of small, bright red glitter. “Suileabhan!” The urgency in his voice filled the air and then the small cat was gone as well.
The unexpected absence of that terrifying presence plunged the world into a sudden silence, and a sigh of relief left my lips even though I was still shaking. At least until I noticed that something wasn’t quite right.
Gabriel hadn’t moved an inch, watching the ground with a dark expression, his long spear tightly held in one hand, and Alexander seemed equally distressed.
“Sigweardiel, raise him up.” His voice, even though back to that velvet murmur, sounded tense and annoyed. Alexander, on the other hand, didn’t even argue and, before my incredulous eyes, I saw Jonathan float into midair, just standing there, about seven feet from the ground.
The boy walked over an invisible floor and placed his hands on an invisible wall looking down with a worried expression, and I finally understood that an invisible barrier had been surrounding and protecting him all this time, keeping him safe.
Still feeling dizzy it took me some time to gather that the ground was shaking, and, to my terror, circles of darkness spread all over the place. I immediately recognized that dark substance that seemed almost elastic, and knew that those circles were, in truth, gateways to another dimension.
Gabriel pointed his spear to the closest hole, waiting, his body suddenly tense, and Alexander made his bright sword appear.
And everything was silent.
The shrieking that filled the air moments later made me cover my ears again, unable to tell what I was seeing, or if I was seeing at all. Huge, dark forms jumped out of the circles in an absence of color or shape. They landed on the ground as if they were giant dogs, or lions, or anything that walked on four legs, and sped into a blur, jumping at Gabriel and Alexander. Their sharp shrieks almost made my heart stop, freezing the blood in my veins, and droplets of sweat slid down my face. I watched as they wielded their weapons, cutting the black creatures with apparent ease, but, although the defeated creatures did disappear, for every one that vanished into thin air, three others would instantly jump from the circles and take their places.
Jonathan fell on his knees on the invisible floor where he stood, his body folding over itself as he clutched at his chest in pain and, for a moment, I could see Alexander, surrounded by numerous dark creatures, gasping for air, vicious, bloody cuts marking his entire body.
My panicking gaze immediately searched for Gabriel, my heart hurting with every new beat, until I found him, although I could hardly see him, the creatures surrounding him showing me only a few fleeting glimpses of his pale skin. He was moving too fast again, appearing and disappearing from place to place and, every time he did, new creatures would shriek and disappear, falling on the ground in dark piles of dust. Still, anxiety kept eating me from the inside out, and I was so absorbed in trying to catch a glimpse of him as much as possible, that I didn’t even notice the danger I was in before it was too late to escape it.
The black shadow that rose in front of me was four times taller than me, even if I were standing. I couldn’t see much of the shapeless creature, except for a pair of bright red eyes and an enormous row of absurd white teeth, sharp as daggers. Powerless, the only thing I could do was scream and wait for the pain that would certainly follow.
The screech that filled the air hurt my ears and the blast made me dizzy, as I fell forward, placing my hands in front of me just in time to avoid hitting the ground. Not knowing exactly how, I was still breathing, and the ferocious shadow was gone, a pile of dark dust covering the shattered glass where it had stood. And then a glow captured my gaze, and I had to blink twice to understand what I was seeing, as a circle of black flames stretched across the floor, consuming all the shadows in its path. The blast that made the walls vibrate was even stronger than before, and I saw Alexander stumble forward as the shadows around him were also consumed by the flames. His lips moved silently as he seemed to whisper something. Invisible walls all around the area glowed slightly, and I understood that there were more barriers besides the one around Jonathan, and that he was the one keeping them in place. As I watched, I saw his wounds close like magic, as if they’d never even existed, and Jonathan’s expression of pain, prisoner in that invisible cage, left a lump in my throat.
My name in his voice made me look away immediately and my eyes found him without even thinking. A single drop of blood dripped from his forehead, but his garnet silk shirt was torn in more places than I could tell, allowing me to see that his pale skin hadn’t been left unscathed. I watched as he raised one hand, silently calling me to his side, and yet I couldn’t help recoil in fear, his crimson gaze looking even more frightening than before. Because now I really knew what he was capable of. And it wasn’t as if I hadn’t known before, but seeing it in person changed everything.
That same sharp sound filled the air, making me shudder, and I saw that the black gateways were still there, which meant that more of those things were about to appear. I panicked, imagining having to face one of those creatures again, and tried hard to push the fear away and the darkness that threatened to engulf me. From the corner of my eye I saw Alexander pull himself up, holding his bright sword, ready for what would surely follow, and I felt sorry for Jonathan, for the pain he was suffering, and wished everything could just be over right that instant!
My eyes searched for him again, afraid for my sanity, afraid for his safety, and I saw that his hand kept that silent invitation, his burning eyes fixed on me. I wished he’d just come and get me, trampling over my will as he usually did, but knew instantly that he would never do it. He’d keep away, protecting me from a distance if need be, just like he’d done before, even if that meant constantly assaulting Alexander’s barrier, for fear that imposing his presence would leave me in a worse state than that I was already in.
I bit my lip and forced my aching body to move, rising from that sea of broken glass, ignoring the burning pain of my cut hands. That barrier was protecting the entire school! And my classmates and teachers were inside it! Michael, Steph, Joanne and Kevin, and the others were inside it! And I couldn’t allow anything to happen to them because of my cowardice. My legs shook as I leaned against the wall, refusing to acknowledge the slightest feeling of insecurity, and I set my eyes on him, on his hand that waited for me. My darkest voice told me that I’d probably never reach him, even if I tried. That those dark shadows would be on top of me even before I could get halfway. That I’d probably fall anyway. I ignored it the same way I had ignored Alexander’s warnings, and stood up straight, letting go of my only support. Gabriel was there ... and he was waiting ... and he would pick me up even if I fell. And so I ran.
Pain burned through my legs, and through my chest, exploding in my head, and yet I refused to close my eyes. All I could see was him, his hand, and I refused to think or feel anything else. I stumbled and my knees buckled and yet I pressed forward, clenching my teeth, pressing my nails against the cuts on my palms. All I had to do was run ... and so I ran, and didn’t stop until I suddenly clashed against something hard and cold that would have me falling on my back, if not for the arm that immediately surrounded me, keeping me in place. My labored breath echoed around us as I gasped for air, desperately holding on to his shirt, my legs too shaky to keep me standing, and then his voice pierced through my brain, silencing everything else.
“Hush ... you’re safe now,” his whisper would have made me cry, if I only could, and I squeezed the silky fabric of his shirt, telling myself I would never let go of it again.
The screeching sound made me cringe against his body, a groan of terror escaping my dried throat, and his cold hand covered my head, slightly trembling, as if he wanted to assure me that he would protect me.
I felt him move and looked up at his beautiful face in fear. I couldn’t stop shaking, and my heart was drumming against my ears, but although I was clearly aware of the danger we were in, I suddenly and irrationally felt completely safe.
Gabriel lowered his spear, pointing the crescent-moon blade towards the closest circle and his expression became stern. The blood sliding down his face was bright red over his pale skin, dripping from his chin, and I noticed other cuts hidden under his shredded shirt.
And then more dark shadows jumped from the black gateways and, in a single swing, he cut two in half. The arm holding the spear moved quickly to the other side, piercing through another one. The speed of his movements was such I could hardly follow them, and I was painfully aware of how my presence hindered him.
“Nyx!” I screamed, as a shadow appeared out of nowhere on his back and his spear cut the air at a high speed, so fast that I couldn’t even react as it brushed my hair near my ear, before he pulled it back in the next instant after having pierced another shadow.
I felt his body grow tenser, although the hand over my head was so light I could hardly feel it, and I saw him clench his teeth, his eyes glowing bright red. Fear coursed through my veins thick as blood and I buried my face on his chest, wishing I could become as insignificant as humanly possible.
“Mariane, I’m making you disappear from here. It won’t be safe anymore,” I heard his soft whisper and I instinctively clenched his shirt even harder, as if that were enough to keep me exactly where I was.
“No! What are you going to do?” I asked, panicking again, recalling our last talk. Without Lea around and with me somewhere far and safe, I was sure he would end up doing something really wrong ... and that was my school! My friends were in there!
“There’s no other choice. Those portals ... can only be closed by the one who opened them. And Lea is taking too long!” he told me, still brandishing his spear and quickly disposing of dark shadows.
I hugged him! And only then noticed what I’d just done, my arms too small to completely envelop him, as I foolishly thought that that could only make it even harder for him to move.
“I don’t care! I’m not leaving you!” I childishly declared, even though my despair was quite real, and suddenly everything was quiet.
A strange feeling took over my body. From afar I could still listen to the sounds of battle, but, where I now stood, everything was peaceful and quiet. I saw a small white light, almost like an overgrown firefly, fly around us in an uneven circle and the huge shadows recoiled, emitting sharp screeches as if they feared it. Gabriel too, stood very still, as he watched it with a puzzled expression. And the light stretched and grew, spinning around us nonstop, forming a bright circle. I couldn’t help smile, because it was if she were playing, her amusement filling me inside and, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, she turned to us in an errant flight and hid in my hair, playing with some loose strands.
You shouldn’t be here, I thought, Go help Alexander!
Obediently and ever restless, she jumped from my hair and split in two, the second light flashing across the air towards Alexander, making all the shadows in her path screech and crouch in terror, until she surrounded him in a circle like the one around us. I saw as he raised his head with a deep breath of relief, but then all that was left was a stunned expression of incredulity as he looked at me from where he stood.
“Mari!” His rough voice left me at a loss and I noticed Jonathan, still in his invisible cage, looking down at me with that same exact expression.
“Mariane?” My whole world turned towards that soft voice and everything else was immediately forgotten, and yet I was strangely aware that I hadn’t even moved. I saw him lean over me, his perfect face filling my entire field of vision, and noticed that, somehow, I wasn’t shaking anymore. The sweet scent of his skin made my heart beat faster, and yet everything around me was peaceful and I knew I didn’t fear him, nor the burning gaze locked on mine. “Mariane, destroy them,” he ordered in a whisper next to my ear, his breath surprisingly warm, and I broke out of my daze, feeling even more confused than before. I wanted to ask him what, but I couldn’t move, my mouth completely sealed, the air sliding rhythmically through my lungs, refusing to go through my vocal cords.
Destroy ...? Who? How?
I immediately saw all the scattered shadows that surrounded us as they persisted in trying to attack us, only to be repelled by the two small jumping lights, and I knew what he meant.
The shadows ... destroy them. I simply formed the thought in my head and, before my puzzled gaze, that inexplicable was able to see all that surrounded us at the same time, the small lights split into more, and more lights, that sped all over the place, leaving bright trails in the air, flying through the shadows that, once pierced, would shriek loudly in terror and explode into piles of dark dust.
The gateways, close them, I commanded next, unsure if my order could be fulfilled, and those same small lights that had just pulverized dozens of shadows plunged into the black circles in ground, making them shrink over themselves until they were completely gone.
I smiled, happy with myself, proud that even a mere Human like me had been useful, and the lights that filled the air jumped up and down echoing my happiness.
“Izrail! Wake her up! Anymore than this can be dangerous!” I heard Alexander’s voice as he shouted from his circle of light, apparently not daring to break it, and I looked up at Gabriel, who was still looking at me with a strange expression.
Wake me up? What’s he talking about? I’m obviously wide awake!
“Mariane, open your eyes. Everything’s fine now,” he told me softly and I frowned. If I was looking at him, how could I possibly have my eyes shut? His cold fingers slid over my throat, sending electric shivers all over my body, and he leaned even closer, his soft hair brushing my cheek as he whispered in my ear. “Mari, if you’re going to keep up this pretense any longer, I won’t answer for my actions.”
His voice made my heart skip a beat and dive into a mad race. I saw the bright light around Alexander jump and, like all the others, run to us, reuniting with the one protecting us. And then, beyond what I could understand or put into words, something that had been empty inside me was filled again.
I took a deep breath, gasping for air, and pushed him away with all my strength, my whole body burning, my heart beating too fast for me to stand it. Unexpectedly, he gave in to my frail strength and my legs shook, dropping me on my knees where I stood. I placed a hand on my chest, trying to calm down, the world still wavering around me, and raised my head to face his smug, teasing smile that made my cheeks burn even more.
“Are you okay?” I ignored his annoying question and tried to control the tremors that were already taking over my body.
He took a step forward and offered me his hand, just like before, his white fingers long and elegant, patiently waiting for a decision. And, anyway, it wasn’t as if I was going to be able to stand up on my own, I thought, placing my hand on his.
However, even with his help, the change in altitude made me feel dizzy again, almost stealing my consciousness away, and Gabriel held me with shaking hands, now with a worried expression on his face.
“I’m okay,” I told him, trying to find firm ground under my feet, and he frowned.
“No, you’re not.” And with that he scooped me up with a single gesture, making me unsure if I was still standing or not, and I held on to his shirt in search of something solid that could stop the world from spinning. “You’re too light! It’s like I’m holding Lea,” he complained, and I would have contested his affirmation had I not been so busy trying to keep my mind from slipping away.
I felt his arms flex and contract so that I wouldn’t feel the swinging of his already soft footsteps, and I couldn’t help notice that his hands wouldn’t even touch me, as if he were afraid to crumple me with the simplest of gestures, almost as if I were made of paper.