// Fifteen //

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I'd been back in the vault for what felt like hours. I lay on top of the blanket with my head resting on my arms. I could smell the blood at the surface of my wrists. It pounded against the pulse point and leaked through the thin, rope-burned skin.

I was starving. I couldn't think about anything other than blood.

I wanted to kill something. My jaw tensed in anticipation just at the thought of it. Behind my blind eyes, I saw teeth and pain. I felt it in my throat—a need to scream and bite and tear at flesh.

The desire was brutal. Animalistic. It wasn't just anger... there was something wrong about it, like a switch in my head had clicked over and altered the way I thought.

I imagined myself free from the cell. Stalking the streets. Lurking behind a building in the shadows and waiting for someone to walk by. Hunting.

My mind developed an image of red—a blank, violent canvas.

I licked the rope burn on my wrist and tasted blood. My mouth wrapped around my arm, and I pulled rapid breaths in through my nose.

Then, my jaw snapped shut.

Pain shot through my wrist as my teeth tore through flesh. A combination of horror and pleasure rushed through my skull. My jaw would not release. Blood gushed into my mouth and down my throat, and venom pulsed through my teeth. The sharp coldness electrified my body, overpowering and numbing the pain.

Thick, hot blood soaked my arm and mouth and dripped onto the ground. My head felt light, like my mind was dissociating itself from its body. Tentacles materialized in the darkness and dragged at my consciousness, pulling me away from myself. I continued to bleed as venom entered my blood stream. A puddle grew around me. It soaked into my clothes. The world spun and tipped over on its axis, and my teeth released from the bite.

With the pressure gone, the blood flowed freely. It cascaded down my wrist like a waterfall. The roaring of the sea filled the entire vault. Images formed in my mind of the doors bursting open. A torrential downpour had flooded the streets of Edinburgh in red. It was viscous like a soup of molasses. It tore signs from their shops and tires from their cars. It tore shoes from their feet. It tore limbs from their torsos.

The tidal wave crashed down the vault, carving out the same labyrinth the dripping water had echoed and etched through for hundreds of years. Finally, its call had been heard.

The wave reached my cell, and I saw it smash through the bars. It split into slices like fingers and claws. It surged into my body and threw me back against the wall. My head slammed into dirt and stone. The wind was knocked out of me. Vomit burst from my stomach and poured out of my mouth and over my chin and mixed with the sea.

Currents swirled around me like a rip tide. They threw me underwater and pulled me in every direction. I struggled to find my equilibrium. I needed to reach the surface and get oxygen. My lungs burned.

In a desperate attempt to right myself, my eyes shot open in the ocean. One thousand lights glowed beneath the surface, like giant anglers, octopus, and squid with brilliant bioluminescence. The show of lights danced in front of me like fireworks and spun in spirals as a black void formed in the center of my brain. Like a black hole, it had unimaginable gravity and pulled at every inch of my being. I ground my teeth. I needed air. I found footing on the sandy floor and pushed myself towards the light at the surface.

Finally, right as my lungs were about to burst, my head crashed through glass and I pulled in hot, summer air. Gasping, I blinked my eyes, trying to adjust to the bright light. The sun beamed down from above like the brilliance of a supernova. It seared the earth and boiled the sea.

"I'm caught in a rip tide!" a voice shouted from the distance.

I spun myself around in the swirling, salty whirlpool.

"Help!" A girl's face floated only three feet from mine. Her eyes were piercing and blue, and her blond hair was slicked back in the salt and sea of summer. Her cheeks were sun-kissed and red.

"Aaron, help me," she gurgled. "I can't touch bottom out here." Her mouth went under the ocean, and when she re-emerged she spat out thick, black blood. "It keeps pulling."

"Don't swim against the current!" I shouted to her. I kicked and paddled, but every foot I traveled towards her, Dani was dragged three feet back. You can't fight it! You have to go around it!

"Help!" her voice grew further and further away as she tried to swim towards me, but the tide pulled her further and further back. Waves crashed over her head, submerging her tiny body again and again as she tread water to try to say at the surface. She tumbled through the sea.

Suddenly, tentacles broke free from the surface of the water. They stormed up to the sky like rising pillars. They blanketed the sun. As my sister disappeared under the water for the last time, I saw the searing ring of a solar eclipse. Millions of miles away, the corona burned, turning the entire earth into an enormous crucible.

And then, everything went dark.

In the distance, I heard the electrical whirring of lights warming up. Beyond that, the sound of footsteps echoed through the empty void, drawing closer and closer.

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