“Please!” I managed to yell out. “Don’t hurt me!” The man gazed at me with his glowing eyes.
He stared as if he was studying me, summing me up, or just waiting to digest his last meal before he had dessert. He didn’t blink his illuminated eyes as they seemed to penetrate through me. I stared back and waited for the life to be sucked out of me.
“I’m not going to hurt you.” His voice was soft and eloquent, the opposite of his appearance.
He grabbed my wrists and pulled me to my feet. I stood shivering from cold and fear. The sound of trucks rumbled in the distance, and beams from car headlights cut through the trees in waves of light. I could scream, but the chances of someone hearing me were slim. We faced one another as the wind carried the smell of gasoline into the barren forest.
“Please let me go.” My lips trembled.
He snickered. Suddenly, bright lights flashed from the highway behind us. His attention turned to it as I caught a glimpse of his face. His wavy hair nearly reached his eyes that still slightly glowed. His face had a roundness to it that made him look harmless. Even his grip had softened. In the matter on seconds, his whole appearance changed into something softer. If I didn’t witness what he had done, I would have never guessed him to be a murderer.
“Running away are we, fledging, then you’d better join me. They will be coming for you, and I’m not waiting.”
Bright lights suddenly blasted from behind us, and burned through the cold air. Was I hallucinating all of this, or was it real. Whatever it was, it was unnatural. No one can suck life out of another human being and leave them as bits of tissue paper.
“If you doubt me, don’t.” He pulled back my sleeve exposing my wrist. “This isn’t just some tattoo. This is a hexmark.”
I looked at the tattoo my mom made me get right before she gave me away.
“It’s for our protection.” I could still hear my mother’s words.
I closed my eyes. A veiled woman gave me the tattoo. We had gone to what I thought was a carnival, but through the bright colors, balloons and performers, was a dark feeling that made me want to run.
“I’m asking, are you coming with me or not?” He shook my wrist bringing me to my senses.
In that split second, I had to make a decision that could mean escape, death or going back to Sunrise Acres—I’d never see the sun again if I went back there. He knew of my tattoo, and maybe about the things that lurked in the darkness. I had to take a chance. Voices from the search party echoed around us.
“I’m coming with…” Before I could finish, my feet left the ground, and trees whisked by like speeding cars.
The truck stop lights faded in the distance. I had no idea where I was or what direction we had gone. We moved like flashes of lightning through the timber and then we stopped as quickly as we had left.
He put me down and my feet landed on a paved road. A log cabin home washed in moonlight stood before me with a split rail fence surrounding it. A light shone through the window beside the door making it look like a welcoming house.
“Are you coming?” He asked standing on the opposite side of the road.
I could run, but I’d never make it five feet away from him. It was unnatural to move that quickly through the woods, and without tripping or getting slapped in the face from low limbs. Even if he did know about my tattoo, I still felt uncertain.
“You moved…” I took account of my surroundings. We were in a wooded area, and with no other houses in sight. I couldn’t possibly outrun him to get help.
“I moved like anyone of our kind can move, and I can teach you how, if you like.” He spoke so casually. “And like I said, I’m not going to hurt you, and you are running away, aren’t you?” He looked back over his shoulder at the house. “This is my home, and you are welcome to come in if you like, or you can take cover in the forest. It’s up to you.”
He turned and walked up to the house while searching his pocket. He pulled out a set of jiggling keys, and glanced back at me as he whistled.
I crossed the road and stood at the edge of the brick paved sidewalk. What was I doing? He had just sucked the life out of a man, and we had run through what seemed like miles of timber in the matter of seconds. I should get the hell out of here, especially since he was going into his house and leaving me outside.
“You can go if you want, fledging, but I’m curious about the mark on your wrist. Not many humans have those kind of marks,” he said glancing over his shoulder at me as he cracked open the door.
I gingerly curled my fingers around the small tattoo on the inside of my right wrist. I remembered getting it from an old lady that my mom took me to right before she gave me up. How did he know I had it, and how could he had possibly seen it covered up by my sleeve.
I took a step forward followed by another. He waited for me letting me enter the warm house first.
I stepped inside just enough to let him in. The interior was pretty much what you’d expect a log cabin house to look like. It was a rustic home with a stone fireplace, richly stained beams that was the skeleton on the home, and an open ceiling with a loft overhead. It wasn’t a large home, but looked like it came out of a magazine as it was neat and showed no person artifacts, like pictures.
“Have a seat right here,” he said twirling an office chair around and shoving it towards me.
I looked at the chair then at him.
“Your feet are bleeding, and I don’t want blood all over my rugs any more than it already is.”
I looked down at my bare feet and at the bright red splotches dotting the dull orange rug.
“Sorry,” I said.
“Don’t be, just sit down. I just bought those rugs.”
I sat down and he pushed me into the kitchen. Stainless steel appliances and cabinets made out of knotty wood, made the kitchen look like a professional chef lived here. There was an abundant supply of spices above the gas stove, utensils hung over an island in the middle of the kitchen, and a wine cooler, fully stocked, displayed bottles of wine from behind a glass door.
He went to a tall cabinet and got out a towel and a small, brown, glass bottle.
“So, what’s your name? Mine is Ben.” He glanced up at me as he gently took my right foot and placed it on his bent knee.
I couldn’t give him my real name. “Beth,” I finally said.
Ben snickered as he wiped off the bottom of my foot with whatever was in the brown bottle.
“No, it isn’t. You are a terrible fibber, fledging, and my assumptions were right about you.” Ben wiped other foot. “If you were totally a human girl, you’d be screaming in pain.”
He put the bottle away and threw the towel to the sink.
“If I was human?” I questioned and looked at the bottom of my left foot. There were no scratches or cuts.
“Your mark, and the fact I just used serpent’s oil on you, tells me otherwise.” Ben crossed his arms and smirked at me. “You’ve witnessed some pretty remarkable things tonight, and I’m sure you feel it’s all a dream, but it isn’t. Our kind has a way of …connecting for lack of a better word.” Ben’s image blurred, and then disappeared. I rubbed my eyes wondering if it was the aftereffects of whatever he used on my feet.
I felt my insides tighten, and wondered if I had been drugged. Then, suddenly, Ben materialized in front of me on bent knees. “I found you, and you found me for a reason.” His eyes searched mine as I could barely breathe. “Did you see your wounds?’’ he asked and I nodded. “Serpent’s oil can only be used on one type of being.” He smiled. “You and I are monsters, Beth.”
“Time’s running out,” Ezra stood in front of me running her pale fingers over mine. “I want to stay together. I’m tired of meeting this way.” Her blue-black eyes lifted to mine. “Join me.” Her words slithered like snakes around me. “Join me here, and we can be together.”
“Ughhh!” A female voice yelled like a battle cry behind me. “Let him go nymph!” The unmistakable sound of Nessa’s voice demanded in the distance.
I felt that pull again. Each time I talked to Ezra, I felt a distance slowly separating us. She begged me with her eyes to stay as she reached for my hands.
I had to, but hesitated. Ezra tightened her grip on my hands. It wasn’t only Nessa who pulled at me to come back to the living, there was something else.
I let go of her hands, and gave into that unknown and invisible force that kept pulling me away from the girl I had planned to marry.
“Hey!” I yelled as something burned on my right shoulder. What were they doing, setting me on fire to quit seeing Ezra?
I opened my eyes to see Uncle Hes’s scowling face peering down at me along with Nessa. He held a branding coin in his right hand as Nessa placed her hands on her hips.
“Nessa said you’re being haunted by a dead lover. That mark ought to put a stop to that, or at least slow it down until she gives up.”
I sat up, and should have been furious at them taking such extreme measures without my consent. But, I wasn’t. I looked at the triangle shaped mark filled with intricately weaving lines.
“I know you’re mad at me, but this has got to stop.” Nessa’s eyes were a mix of sternness swirling with concern. “Seth, I had to do something, and if you go on like this, it will jeopardize our mission.”
“Yes, it will,” I buttoned my shirt. “You’re right to have done this. I know you have my better interest in mind, and are trying to help me.”
Nessa’s mouth hung open with surprise. “So, you’re not mad?” She asked.
“No, and I can’t explain why. I should be, but there’s something, I don’t know what it is. Fate is pulling me in another direction.”
“So, Nessa doesn’t get full credit for putting an end to you seeing Ezra, and ending up on your bad side?” Malachi asked shoving a piece of bread into his mouth.
“It isn’t fate,” Uncle Hes said before Nessa could reply as he poured himself a cup of something steaming. “Here,” he gave me the cup of hot liquid. “It’s destiny that is ‘pulling at you’, as you describe, though destiny doesn’t pull, but guides.” He gave Nessa and Malachi cups of the dark, hot, steaming liquid.
All of us looked at it and took whiffs of the strange aroma.
“It’s called coffee, and you drink it, not inhale it. I got it on my last visit to earth, and it will keep you alert. I’ve discovered a very strong liking to it.”
I took a sip of the bitter tasting beverage, but drank it out of courteousness to my uncle.
“What’s the difference between fate and destiny? Aren’t they the same thing?” Malachi asked.
“No, they are not.” Uncle Hes defined each word. “Fate is something you create, tempt, or manipulate by the decisions you make. Destiny is what was woven through the passages of time by someone far greater than us. It has its own plan that sometimes you can find written, and sometimes not, but whether conscious of it or not, destiny will always be followed.”
We left in the cover of blackness. The city was quiet, as if it had taken a moment of peace before the sun came up. With Uncle Hes’s map safely tucked in my satchel, Malachi, Nessa, and I slinked through the streets.
“Bagels, do you smell them?” Malachi stopped and smelled the air with a satisfying sigh.
“They have bagels where we’re going.” I continued walking with Nessa beside me.
“Yeah, but these are the best.” He insisted. “Come on,” he tugged on my shoulder. “One last stop before going on our quest,” he said in a deep voice mocking my uncle.
I turned to him ready to explain the importance of everything, and why this wasn’t a field trip as Uncle Hes explained. It wasn’t just a quest, but something I had to prove to him.
“How about some for the road?” Nessa asked looking up at me with her innocent eyes.
I smiled and shook my head. “The shop is just around the corner.” She took a few steps away from me, and disappeared around the corner with Malachi in tow.
I stood there for a moment, lowered my head, and could hear the displeased voice of my uncle. The first thing in being a leader is having the respect and control of your team. I had neither, and at this point, probably wouldn’t.
I went into the empty bakery. Malachi and Nessa were gazing through the glass case with all the bakery’s delectable goods displayed. It was full of pastries, doughnuts, and of course, our much needed bagels.
I waited close to the door, and looked down at my watch. We needed to get out of town before the sun came up. They made their selection and paid the clerk, when I felt someone behind me. I turned around, and saw nothing but the glass door slowly going shut. Someone had just left very quietly, and by the scent that loomed in the air, an angel had been here.
Angels didn’t come to Iethia very much, and when they did, it wasn’t to take in the sights or visit friends.
“What’s wrong?” Nessa asked reading the concern on my face as she took a bite of her bagel.
“We have to move before I lose the scent,” I said going out the door and letting my nose guide me.
We looped through the streets as if the angel was trying to evade us. But all angels knew that monsters had extraordinary senses to track anyone at any time, or maybe this one didn’t. I wondered what they were doing here, and if they had a connection to the drug that was being manufactured to turn innocent humans into monsters. My uncle had worked with angels before on cases concerning portals before he retired from the portal guardianship. I wondered if the angel we were following knew my uncle.
The scent led us out of town, and then suddenly stopped. I stopped and peered into the darkness.
“Malachi, can you see anything?” Malachi didn’t have the acute sense of smell like me, but he could see in the dark.
“A rabbit, squirrel in a tree, and birds still nesting in the trees—that’s it.” With his eyes still glowing, he shrugged his shoulders. “What were we following anyhow?”
“An angel, I could smell them.”
“An angel?” Nessa asked in disbelief. “What would they be doing in Iethia?”“I don’t know, but we need to move.”