I straighten my legs back up. “Are you sure?” I choke out while I stare at Alex’s slackened body; his shirt’s off and his jeans hang loosely at his hips. His head is tipped down so all I can see is his hair. Is he awake? Dead? Alive? “They look… he looks dead.”
“Yeah, I’m sure. The crystal’s collecting energy from them,” he explains, his hand brushing my back. “If they were dead, they wouldn’t be useful.”
I nod and then I’m running to Alex at a pace I didn’t even know I was capable of. When I get closer, I realize that not only are chains securing him to the crystal ball, but so are tubes. They’re embedded all over his body, sucking his life and blood.
I immediately start pulling the tubes out of his skin. “Laylen, can you break through these chains?” I ask as he moves up beside me. With each tube I remove, a hole and blood trail is left on Alex’s skin. They’re not too deep, though with so many, they have to be painful.
“I think so,” Laylen says, gripping onto the chains.
Alex’s eyelids suddenly shoot open and my breath catches. His normally bright green eyes are dull and he looks incredibly weak. I’ve never seen Alex look so weak. It is strange and heartbreaking as well as completely disconcerting. It makes me realize how much I like the confidence he portrays most of the time and how safe it makes me feel. I realize a lot of things at that moment; about me, about him, about us. I can feel something shifting inside me; chains breaking, my body drifting closer to him and farther from another.
“Are you okay?” I ask, cupping his cheek.
He opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out and his head bobbles around, like his neck is too weak to support it.
Laylen bends the metal links and snaps the chains like twigs. I reach up to help Alex and he falls onto me like a hundred and eighty pound bag of bricks. I almost buckle to the floor, but Laylen catches him and supports the majority of his weight.
“Excellent catching skills,” Laylen jokes, flopping Alex’s arm over his shoulder.
“Hey, I never claimed to have them,” I protest, grunting as I attempt to carry some of Alex’s weight. “Besides, I’m not a half-Vampire, half-Keeper who is freakishly strong.”
“Would you two stop joking around,” Alex says with a smidgeon of humor in his voice as he leans against me and I slip his free arm around my waist. “Can you get us out of here before we get caught?”
I start to retrieve the crystal ball from my pocket, but Alex shakes his head and then nods at the massive crystal ball exploding with energy, a enormous glowing orb radiating around the pallid, seemingly lifeless people. “Don’t use your power too close to this… it could kill you.”
I nod and we head for the door, Alex dragging his feet as we walk. Laylen holds up most of Alex’s weight and we move quickly, distancing ourselves from the gigantic crystal ball. Once we’re a safe distance away, I retrieve the crystal ball from my pocket while Alex works to hold himself up and gather his own balance. Laylen grabs onto my arm and I touch Alex, making sure they both go with me.
I’m getting ready to shut my eyes when the glass of the crystal frosts over with flakes of crisp ice. I hear a crackle moments later and I glance up just in time to see a stampede of black-cloaked Death Walkers storming our way, glazing the land with a sheet of ice and rapidly dropping the temperature to well below freezing.
I start to shake and chatter, the electricity simmering to a murmur as they ascend toward us, their yellow eyes glowing fiercely.
“Shit,” Laylen says when he turns and notices them. “Gemma, get us out of here.”
“I-I’m t-trying,” I chatter as I fight to hold my hand steady, noting the tint of blue my skin is taking on. The Chill of Death. I’ve experienced it once and I don’t want to ever experience it again.
As I attempt to find my energy and some sort of emotion to feed off of, I spot a blond haired, golden-eyed half-Faerie in the midst of the Death Walkers. Traitor! Not only does he play us, but now he’s also siding with evil.
I grasp tighter to Alex as his skin starts turning and alarming shade of purple. He’s too fragile, even with his Keeper blood, to withstand the cold and I need to get us out of here. I shut my eyes and picture Adessa’s living room, the purple velvet couches, the strange figurines everywhere, and the black and white checkerboard floor. Then I let my mind and body sync with the faint spark still thriving between Alex and me. It’s so weak, yet the emotions it brings out of me are more potent than any other emotion I’ve ever felt.
I want to hold him. Make him feel better. Kiss him. Touch him. Breathe in his scent. Feel him rocking inside me, being part of me, being connected with me in every way possible.
“Gemma…” Laylen’s voice is full of fear and panic. “Jesus, please...”
I hear a sharp noise like a thousand glass cups shattering against concrete and I open my eyes. Fragments of porcelain crack apart from the ground and fly through the air, unable to withstand the pressure of the ice.
My eyes open wider as the porcelain rushes towards us in a wave of sharp glass, the ground breaking apart. I hear Alex and Laylen shout out my name as the pillars snap in half and topple over, slamming against the ground and bursting across the ground.
We’re running out of time and soon we’re going to be sucked into the floor or taken out by the Death Walkers who are managing to avoid the opening with little effort, their feet hovering over the floor. Nicholas has disappeared and I wonder if he has gotten sucked down into the hole that’s forming.
Alex suddenly slides his arm off Laylen. Laylen continues to watch the wave of glass roaring closer to us with wide eyes as Alex limps toward me. My heart rate starts to still, my breath suffocating as my blood pressure drops with the temperature.
My breath puffs out in a cloud and envelops my face as Alex places a hand on each of my cheeks.
“Pretend they’re not there,” he says. “Pretend it’s just you and me and no one else.”
The look in his eyes and the delicacy in his words send a torrent of calmness through my body along with the desire to be near him. I can feel us being magnetized together as my body and mind connecting with the energy of the crystal.
I reach out and find Laylen’s arm as Alex continues to hold onto my face. I think I’ve done it, but a set of bony, stone cold fingers seize hold of my arm and the energy is blown out by a vapor of cold.
I scream as the Death Walker wrenches on me and my Foreseer power counters, strengthening. I feel like I’m going to rip apart and I’m not even sure if I’m still holding onto Laylen and Alex. My body becomes numb, brittle, tired, and worn.
I let out another scream as images pound through my head. Mountains… Adessa’s… desert… snow… lake.
They move so fast I lose complete control and disappear into the midst of them.
When I open my eyes again, I’m lying face first in a field of grass. I push up, brush the dirt off my legs and arms, and then glance around at the lake, the cloudy sky, and the shallow hill as well as the stony castle near the horizon.
I start to walk forward, wondering where everyone else is when Laylen rises from the grass. His blond hair shimmers in the sunlight snaking through the cracks in the clouds.
“Jesus, how the hell did we get here,” he says then makes a repulsed face when he spots the grey stone castle towering in the distance. “And why here?”
“I’m not sure,” I say, stepping in front of him, the grass circling around us. “I lost control or something… the Death Walkers’ ice was making my power shaky.” I shield my eyes with my hand and glance around at the field and then the trees. “Where’s Alex?”
“Right here.” Alex coughs. He stands up in the grass just a little ways away from us and then hobbles toward us. There are dark circles under his eyes and he, of course, still doesn’t have a shirt on. The holes in his skin are more defined and his Keeper’s Mark is bright against his somewhat pale skin. His brown hair is damp with sweat and he looks like he’s about to hurl.
He spits in the grass and then hunches over, bracing his hands on his knees when he reaches us. “What the hell happened back there? And why was Nicholas with the damn Death Walkers in the City of Crystal?”
I can tell he’s in a lot of pain. I’ve never really understood compassion or giving comfort. I went years and years without being touched, feeling nothing, and then when I finally did, I was too old and all of my emotions left me confused. However I step forward and start rubbing Alex’s back, tracing my fingers up and down his spine. Laylen tries to ignore the fact as much as possible, but I catch him noting it. Alex tenses momentarily, but then his muscles unravel as he embraces and melts into my affection.
“It might have something do to with the fact that Nicholas was playing us.” I sketch a line up and down his spine. “He never even intended to help me get to The Underworld—he’s not even supposed to be there, which means he’s pretty much been lying and will probably continue to lie about everything. He could have been working with the Death Walkers this entire time.”
Alex elevates his head. “What?”
I sigh and the three of us sit in the grass as I begin explaining what has been going on for the last week while he was trapped in the City of Crystal. I tell him about the visions, how I saw us freeing my mom. I tell him about my nightmares and the triangular symbol. He doesn’t know what it is, either, but he doesn’t seem too surprised by the fact that his father’s scar is actually from a mark that’s been cut off. He says he didn’t know, but that he’s sort of glad, at least that way he has something to justify what his father’s doing—going to do. There are a few times where I swear he looks like he’s tearing up, but he shuts it off quickly, a true pro at hiding his emotions. As I watch him battle them, I start to notice just how similar we are. We both fight our emotions and act as if we don’t understand them. While I understand my reason, I can’t help thinking about what could have caused him to want to turn his own emotions off.
As soon as I get done telling him about what happened in The Underworld, Alex takes us straight to the hideout. It’s like he can remember it as if we’ve been playing in it only yesterday. When we climb up to the flourishing violet bush on the hill, we climb down the ladder and step into the dark. Memories instantly flood me and I realize that we spent a lot of time down here together.
Alex disappears into the darkness and seconds later I hear a match strike. He blows the dust off a candle and lights the wick. The glow orbs around the room and he places the candle down on top of a table, and then heads over to the trunk in the corner.
“It’s still in the same spot?” I ask, peering over his shoulder.
He lifts the lid up and begins rummaging through it. “That was the last time I ever came down here. You went to live with Marco and Sophia and I just didn’t see the point anymore.” He avoids eye contact with me as he searches for the gem.