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My eyes expand as I realize how true this is. Once we drive away, it's just him and me against a large army of Death Walkers and a group of Keepers who will do anything to protect the world.
With one hand gripping the steering wheel and the other grasping the shifter, he sucks in a deep breath. "Okay, hold on. It's going to be a pain in the f.u.c.king a.s.s to get out of here. The snow's worse up here than it is in Laramie."
I clutch onto the handle on the roof and brace my feet against the dash. As the door reaches the top, he floors the gas, but then quickly taps the brakes. He stares in the rearview mirror with a look of horror on his face. I follow his gaze to the back window with fear in my veins, wondering if his father has arrived. There are hundreds of yellow eyes flickering through the trees and shimmering against the snow. The whole area looks like it's lit up with twinkling Christmas lights. I'm not sure if I'm more upset, or less, that it's Death Walkers and not his father. Do I want my soul more or my life?
Through the midst of the Death Walkers a tall figure steps forward and into the garage. As the light hits his face, my hand grips the door handle. The scar on his cheek, the darkness in his eyes, the evil he brings with him.
"No, no, no, no." I whisper as I flip the handle and crack the door. "It's him."
Alex turns his head toward me. He's still holding the sword and his knuckles have gone white. "Don't worry, we'll figure something out."
I let go of the door and clutch onto his arm. "No, you don't understand. That's the man who put my mother in The Underworld."
He shakes his head in denial. "No, there's no way."
I release his arm and trace my finger down my cheek. "Yes, the man in the vision had that exact same scar."
He's acting strange, torn and baffled. He reaches for the handle of the door and then changes his mind and shuts off the engine. The man enters the garage and cold air gushes through the vents of the car. "You can't be right," Alex mutters as he lowers his head onto the steering wheel.
"Alex, I'm telling you, that's him," I practically shout. "That's the man."
He raises his head and the look in his eyes takes me off guard because he looks like he doesn't know what the h.e.l.l to do. "No, you don't understand. That can't be him because it's Stephan... That's my father."
The Death Walkers close in on the house, tromping up the driveway and leaving their tracks in the snow. Soon the exit is blocked by rows and rows of black-cloaked creatures, freezing the land and house. It's snowing unbreakably, veil of ice falling from the sky and to the earth. It makes it hard to see, but I can still see enough.
"What are we going to do?" I ask Alex as I kneel in the seat and keep my eyes on Stephan. "I mean, he showed up with them... and he did that to my mom."
Stephan is just lurking at the opening of the garage, leaning against the doorframe, like he's waiting for us to come to him. Like we're that stupid.
Alex takes the keys out of the ignition and stuffs them into his pocket. He turns his body toward the door with the sword positioned at his side. He doesn't explain as he starts to open the door.
I grab the back of his shirt and yank on it. "You're seriously not getting out, are you?"
He glances over his shoulder at me and then exhales before leaning over the console. He gathers the chain of my necklace in his hand and I think he's going to tug on it and break it off my neck, but instead, he tucks it beneath my shirt. "Whatever you do, keep that hidden. Don't let anyone know you have it."
"Wait!" I reach for him as he moves away and land on the console as he climbs out of the car. He shuts the door, leaving me alone in the cab.
I press my hand to the locket hidden under my shirt. Why did he do that? Why would he make me hide it? I think I might know, but I'm not ready to accept it, yet, because it means that he no longer wants to save me. It means that the last few beautiful moments together didn't mean anything. It means that he believes his father is good even after showing up with the Death Walkers. Alex and Stephan exchange a few words at the back of the car. Alex is talking heatedly with his hands, waving the sword around, and Stephan is a motionless conversationalist. I force my gaze off them and start searching the car for a weapon. I'm not going to go down without a fight, not just for myself, but for my mother.
I find an aged pocketknife in the glove compartment and take it out. This isn't going to end well. I can feel it through every infliction that has been done to me, but I get out of the car anyway with the knife in my hand and round to the back of the Jeep, plotting a way to kill him and wondering if I have it in me.
"Gemma," Stephan says in an eerily calm voice as I round the rear of the Jeep and come up behind Alex. "It's so nice to finally meet you."
Alex glances over his shoulder at me and his eyes go straight to the knife clutched in my hand. Don't even think about, he mouths and I shake my head.
"Well, Alex, you've done a really s.h.i.tty job keeping her out of trouble," Stephan says as he walks over to a shelf in the garage and rolls up the sleeves of his b.u.t.ton-down shirt. He scans the shelves and then selects a pickaxe. "I thought I taught you better than that. I thought I taught you to be strong, not weak and pathetic." He holds the axe like a baseball bat and gives it a practice swing. My eyes never leave the blade. "I thought I taught you to never let your emotions get in the way. To turn it off and always put your obligation as a Keeper first."
Alex holds the sword behind his back with the sharp tip pointed at the floor. "I was, but I-"
Stephan swipes the axe down and sinks the blade into the wood of the shelf. It breaks apart and splinters of wood fly through the air. "I don't want f.u.c.king excuses. What I want, is a son that obeys and only follows my orders."
I finally understand why Alex is so hot and cold. Laylen nailed it. He's brainwashed, or at least, his father has tried to brainwash him; tried to create a soldier that only listens to him. The problem is, that the pa.s.sionate emotions that grasp you and control you in the heat of the moment are far more powerful than ones that sedate you.
Stephan continues to swing the axe over and over again, ripping the garage into pieces of wood and spilled tools. He kicks at the tire of the car and slams his fist into the window. Gla.s.s covers the floor and scatters by our feet, but he doesn't stop until everything is broken.
Alex reaches back and grabs my hand as Stephan turns toward the driveway and flings the axe out at the Death Walkers. It hits one of the monsters in the chest and it lets out a deafening scream, but the rest stay motionless, the tail of their cloaks gusting in the wind as snow blows down on their heads.
Stephan stills and runs his hands down the front of his shirt, brushing bits of wood off. "I'm not going to punish you." He seizes Alex's arm and yanks the Sword of Immortality from his hand. "But you're no longer going to be a part of this." He holds the sword in front of him and greed consumes his eyes. "Finding this, however, is the one thing you've done right."
Alex's pulse is pounding through his fingers and against my own racing pulse. His free hand sneaks around his back and he feels around for the knife. He pries my fingers off it, steals it from me, and holds it at his side. "I'm sorry."
I pull my hand from his and search for a weak spot or wide gaps between the Death Walkers that maybe I can slip through and then run out into the night. Because, I'm not going down without a fight.
Alex draws his elbow back and then his arm darts forward. It happens so quickly it takes my brain a second to catch up, but when I grasp what is going on, blood is spilling out of Stephan's chest. The knife is lodged in his chest, right where his heart resides.
A river of blood empties down his body and his skin goes white as he stumbles back, banging his elbow against one of the ruined shelves that hangs from the wall. He's killed his father! Really killed him!
"Run," Alex orders as he whirls to me. He shoves me towards the stairs that lead to the house. "He'll recover in a second."
"But you stabbed him in the heart." I trip up the bottom step.
He shakes his head. "My father's immortal, Gemma. More than immortal. Even the sword won't kill him."
Those words shake the earth below my feet and I swear to G.o.d the ground is about to open up and swallow me whole. Alex shoves a very stunned me into the house and I collapse to my knees and hit the side of the dryer. I skitter to my feet and stand up as Alex starts to shut the door.
"You're lying," I say and step towards him. "That's... no one ever mentioned anything about that."
"That's because no one knows." He reaches forward and pushes me back with strength that bruises my skin. I fall back and bang my head on the wall. "Now run. Just get somewhere and hide until I can figure this out. All that matters at the moment is that you're alive."
I'm unsure if it's a heartfelt moment where he reveals his true feelings or if he's referring to the star. I start to open my mouth to argue, but Stephan appears behind him and the door slams shut as he tackles Alex from behind. I run through the house and head for the kitchen to get a knife, but the front door blows open and is ripped from the hinges. A wave of ice rushes into the house and glazes the wood floor as a Death Walker marches inside.
I turn back for the garage door, but a Death Walker is coming in from that side. Not having anywhere else to go, I sprint for the living room and hop over the coffee table as herds of Death Walkers thunder through the sidewalls. They're stronger than I thought; using their bodies as a wrecking b.a.l.l.s to get through the walls of the house. They're overtaking the place; their eyes lit up and their corpse fingers seeking my body.
f.u.c.k. I need a plan. I back toward the sliding gla.s.s door, glide it open and, not giving myself time to rationalize, I run out into the forest, into two-feet of snow, with no weapon because it's the only choice I have left.
Night and the cold surround me as I swing my arms and battle the branches, fighting my way deeper into the trees. The snow is in my shoes and the cold pierces my lungs. A ways in, I make a curve and follow the moonlight, hoping I'll come out near the driveway and road. Every shadow moves and branches snap from all direction. I'm exhausted and lethargic. I can no longer feel my toes.
I hear a cackle from behind me, but don't dare look to see what it is. I attempt to pick up my knees and take longer strides; move faster. Ice crackles up behind me and I start to run again. My arms and legs are barely moving as ice spirals down from the trees. I hear a snap and another cackle, and then something heavy hits me on the head. My skull cracks and I fall face first onto the ice. I try to push back up, but I'm shoved right back down. I turn my head to the side and skim the outlines of the trees. Death Walkers are everywhere, watching me through the forest.
I have nowhere else to go.
They march me back to the house, some in front of me and some in back. They can't understand English, or at least they pretend they can't, because I try to reason with them as they close in on me. I even beg for my life and feel pathetic for it afterwards. They don't want to kill me, at least not yet, which means everything I've been told was a lie. Nothing makes sense. No one seems trustworthy. It seems like there's no hope left for clarification.
It takes a lot of energy to march one foot in front of the other. I've lost my bandage somewhere along the way and my cut has started bleeding again. My skin is pale blue and mapped with veins, and my clothes are soaked and frozen to my skin.
When we arrive at the back door of the cabin, one of the Death Walkers steps up and glides the door open even though the gla.s.s is gone. It tilts its face toward me and points its bony finger at the open doorway, motioning for me to go inside. It looks like the Reaper giving me a death omen, but I listen because backtracking means going against the rest of the herd.
The cabin is wrecked, the beams of the ceiling have collapsed, the doors are missing and there are ma.s.sive holes in the walls. The furniture is shredded apart and tipped over, and the windows are in pieces on the floor. Alex and Stephan are waiting for me in the middle of the mess. Alex is sitting on the remaining piece of the couch that's intact with his hands resting in his lap and his head hung over. Stephan is near the fireplace and he has a hole in his shirt, blood on his jean, and the Sword of Immortality in his hand.
When Stephan's eyes find me, the greedy look in his eye promptly reappears. "Well, the guest of honor has finally arrived."
Alex quickly raises his head up and he looks ill as he takes in my bleeding wrist and blue skin. "What happened to you?"
The scene doesn't feel right, too formal and subdued for the circ.u.mstances. "I'm wondering the same thing about you."
Stephan walks across the room, whistling with every step. He stops when he's only a few feet from me and tilts his head to a.s.sess me. He isn't much taller than I am, but he's a lot thicker in his arms and shoulders. His cheekbones are sharp and the scar is very distinctive. "My son is no longer going to tell you anything," he says and then calls over his shoulders. "Are you, son?"
Alex avoids eye contact with me as he nods once. "Yes, Father." He seems younger at the moment and breakable. "It was my fault and I messed up, but I didn't understand the situation."
What he says aches, but so does my wound. I press my palm down onto my bleeding wrist and search the wreckage of the living room for some kind of weapon, something I can protect myself with. "What situation?" I ask, trying to stall.
"The one where you stop asking so many questions," Stephan growls and kicks a piece of table across the room. "I try and try to do everything right, but you two have made it almost impossible."
Alex rises from the couch. There's a bruise on his cheek and his nose is bleeding and crooked. "I said I'm sorry. I just got confused and forgot what the purpose was."
"Well, we're going to fix that now," Stephan says. "Before she gets any worse. I don't even want to know how far you pushed her toward humanity."
Alex glances at me and I know what he's thinking. I wonder if he can picture it as clearly as I can; how he thrust into me, pressed himself against me, kissed me and felt me because my images are quickly fading as numbness infects me.
"What are you going to do to me?" I ask, tearing my gaze from Alex and fixing it on Stephan. "Drain me dry, kill me, lock me away in a box?"
"Gemma," Alex says robotically with pity and it makes me want to throttle him. "I already explained to you what's going to happen."
I don't look at him. "You explained a lot of things to me, which make no sense now; especially, since it's been made clear what he did to my mother and that he's working with them." I aim an unsteady finger at the Death Walkers lurking near the walls. "And besides, the last time I checked, you woke me up telling me you were going to save me."
Stephan swipes the sword around and flips the blade into the air. It comes down and he twists his arm to catch it effortlessly. "I'm impressed. I really didn't think anyone would figure out what I did to your mother." He gives a dramatic pause. "How on earth did you do it?"
I expect Alex to tell him about my Foreseer ability, about the visions, about my newfound mark, but he stays silent.
"Your mother needed to go," Stephan says, pacing the length of the room. "And she went like a coward, begging me to take you instead of her. She didn't seem to understand that the world's fate depends on you and your inability to feel."
I stab my nails into my palms and let the skin split open. "If the world's fate depends on that, then why are you working with the Death Walkers?" I ask. "Because I can't see them being in a on a plan that has anything to do with saving the world. They're nothing but evil and they tried to kill me."
He shakes his head. "Kill you? They were trying to protect you."
I sink down on the couch. My skin, my jeans and my hand are soaked in blood and snow. "You can't be buying this?" I ask Alex.
Alex shakes his head and I think I see remorse hidden deep inside his pupils. "I'm sorry, Gemma."
Stephan stretches his hand in the air and snaps his fingers. "Bring me the memoria extracto."
The wind kicks up and spins the air with snowflakes. A Death Walker treads through the back doorway, carrying a small black box with a red eye on the lid. It walks up to Stephan and brings a chill into the room as it hands the box to him before going back outside.
Stephan bends down and sets the sword on the ground. The light casts shadows in his eyes as he stares at the box. He cups the top with his hand and pries the lid off with a requiring tug, then dispenses it onto the floor. He reaches his fingers inside and draws out a round dark object that has a sandpaper texture.
I can't help myself. "A rock?"
"It's not just a rock. It's the most magnificent thing I've ever discovered." Stephan holds the rock between his fingers and squints at it. "I found it in the Wasteland, completely intact." He tosses it in the air, turns over his hand and catches it. "It's so much better than detaching your soul because it wipes out your entire mind. You won't even be able to function anymore."
Vomit burns at the back of my throat as memories of my empty past flow through me in a line of pointless events. "You can't do that," I whisper.
Alex sucks in a breath and his hands start to shake as he joins his father in the center of the room. "You didn't tell me about this."
"That's because I can't trust you," Stephan says. "You prove that time and time again."
"I said I'm sorry. I don't... I don't know..." he trails off. The idea of pleading with Alex seems pathetic, but I spot a small window when his gaze collides with mine. "I get confused when I'm around her."
Summoning inner strength, I stagger to my feet and shuffle to him while gripping my wrist in my hand. "Alex, don't let him do this to me. Please. This is so much worse than detaching my soul."
His eyes hold as much agony as I carry inside me. "I'm sorry, Gemma. About everything. I should have never taken it that far."
When the angry heat sweeps through my body, I let it out the only way I can think off. By kicking him in the shin and slapping his face, arms, and chest repeatedly, but he just stands there and takes it.
But Stephan rushes forward, seizes my arm and throws me down on the ground and I land in a pile of wood that used to be the coffee table. The p.r.i.c.kle spears at the back of my neck, liberating a feeling of irreversible hate. I never loved Alex-I understand that now-but I cared for him deeply. I trusted him against my innermost warnings; let him do things to me that no one ever had. It's my own fault for trusting him, though, and I make a vow right there that if I make it out of this, I'll never trust him again. I'll never trust anyone again.
I pull my knees to my chest and shut my eyes as the Death Walkers close in on me and build a wall of ice around us, trapping us in brick of ice. Stephan squats down in front of me, he eyes me over and then darkness possesses his pupils as he holds the rock up above his head.
"Alex, I'm going to let you do the honors," he says with a grin.
Alex's jaw twitches as he refuses to look at me. "I'd rather not."
"I don't give a s.h.i.t what you'd rather do," he snaps. "I'm telling you, you'll do it or go with her."
Alex's fist shakes as he unhurriedly makes his way over to his father and s.n.a.t.c.hes the rock from his fingers. Stephan stands up while Alex lowers himself in front of me. He struggles to look at me and I make it harder on him, not blinking or moving as I stare into his eyes, forcing him to see me the entire time.
"Please." I try one last time.
He doesn't answer and his hand wobbles as he places the rock in front of my face, right between my eyes. Up close, there are swirls of black that entwine at the roundest side. Those lines begin to pirouette, spin and cycle like writing a song of death and soon I can hear the lyrics.
This is it. This is the end of my short-lived life. It seems like I've done everything, yet, I've done nothing. Every moment, every emotion has been acted out on a stage made of imaginary wood that only I could see. It has never existed, not really, and now it's gone.
My head fills with static. I see my life. I see my death. I finally see my future.