Chapter 32

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I stared helplessly at the empty air before me, and the finality of my decision, the severity of its consequence, came crashing down on me like a deadly avalanche.

I'd just ended Will's life.

Will, Liam, Asa. The boy I'd journeyed so far to save.

The boy you love.

I dropped my sword to the ground, barely hearing it clang against the rock as my heart shrieked and cursed at me for my betrayal, thrashing to get away from the soul who'd chosen to hurt it so, to escape her choices.

I'd murdered my friend so easily, so suddenly. And although I hadn't witnessed his death, the vivid imagery in my head would plague me forever: organs splashing against rocks, bones cracking and splintering, a broken soldier dissolving into ribbons of ash.

Because of me.

Because of me.

My throat closed in on itself, and hot, salty tears flooded my eyes and rolled down my face.  I covered my mouth with a trembling hand, as if that would stop the sobs from pouring out of me and hide what I'd done. What I'd become.

My legs buckled, and I crumpled to the earth, hard enough to bruise my knees.  "I'm sorry," I sobbed into the dark, my voice leaping an octave, my breath abandoning me. "I'm...I...I..."

I couldn't breathe—my dead and rotten heart sat too heavy against my diaphragm.  A corpse of an organ bloated with guilt.

But I didn't have long to grieve. 

Something sailed through the sky above me—black and quick as an arrow—pulling me back from the edge of despair and drenching me in the icy waters of trepidation. With an anxious knot in my belly, I searched the sky, and I flinched as a second creature shot from the cliff-side, thrusting its wings open to glide across the gray canvas above me.

Crows.

My bleary eyes widened, and a terrible chill overcame me as a murder of corvids rose beyond the precipice like a swarm of black insects, screaming and cawing and whirring in a terrifying cacophony.  In a mass of darkness, they dove and flew and hovered as one, and within the blizzard of feathers—emerging from a cloud of death—was the demon prince himself.

Unbroken and alive.

"Fear not, dear Ikelos! Your favorite demon has returned," the Pan jeered over the crows' deranged cries, body supported by the swarm beneath him.  "It appears the world isn't quite finished with me yet." He raised his hands—his freed, bird-pecked hands—to the moon, his wrists still bleeding smoke. "Lucky me."

I was too shocked to do anything but sit there and gape at him, this demon risen.  Perhaps seeing him alive should have brought a kernel of relief to my heart, but all I felt was horror.

Desperate for answers, my mind latched onto the only explanation for his survival:

Regulas.

I may have been willing to grant Will his freedom, but his brother had likely ordered his demons—wildlife and soldiers alike—to protect the royal at all costs. And now I had a livid Pan on my hands with absolutely no incentive to tolerate my existence, and a king who had no reason to spare me.

Gritz...

The flock carried him to the cliff's edge and dispersed, frayed rope dangling from their beaks as they vanished into the night.  A devil with wings, Will walked casually and confidently onto solid ground, and a maniacal grin spread over his peeling, veiny face.

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