An excerpt from
I lay on a dirt floor. Mud matted my hair and covered my filthy, torn clothes. I kept track of the time by scratching out marks on the cavern ground with my fingernails. I’d been here ten days. Gage had kept me alive, but barely. He gave me just enough food and water to function. Gage, the minion of a demon that I’d released. Gage, who’d taken me so I could create an undead army to do his bidding. I was now a prisoner of a man more mad than the serial killer I’d faced back at the asylum.
So far, the demon hadn’t made an appearance, but I knew it was only a matter of time. The creature had promised me that our fates were intertwined. It told me we would meet again. It made the declaration before morphing into a young girl and skipping out of a burning ballroom, a hellhound at its heels. The plan that I was being forced to carry out was the demon’s doing. And I had no choice but to serve at its bidding.
I heard footsteps in the distance. I slowly forced myself to my feet and leaned against the rock wall. This was the one thing I lived for. My only moment of happiness in this dark and desperate existence. I shuffled forward until my fingers wrapped around the steel bars. Any moment now…he’ll be here. I realized I was holding my breath. I closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, he stood in front of me, on the other side of my cell door.
Luke. His eyes blazed with anger. His wrists were bound together by chains and a dark metal collar wrapped around his neck. If I summoned any of my magic within 100 feet of the collar, it would collapse inward and Luke would suffocate. I looked down at the chains—the metal cut into Luke’s bare flesh. A drop of blood slid down his skin, hitting the dirt floor beneath him.
“Let him loose. You’re hurting him,” I cried out. I reached through the bars, but before our fingers could touch, rough hands pulled him away.
Two men stood on either side of Luke. They were identical—blond hair, brown eyes, both dressed in black, both Gage’s henchmen. They were brothers. Twins. The only difference between the two was that Caleb had hair that came to rest on his shoulders. His brother, Jacob, wore his hair shaved close to his head.
My whole focus was now on Caleb. He was the one I had to watch. He was the one who seemed to get the most pleasure out of causing me pain.
My eyes met his.
Caleb gave me a wicked smile and then feigned sad regret as he gestured toward Luke with a lazy wave. “Sorry, boss’s orders. Lover boy has been bad. He tried to escape again. I like the other one—he’s more docile. This one comes out every night and tries to make my life hell.” Caleb jammed his elbow hard into Luke’s rib cage.
Caleb was dealing with not one prisoner, but two in Luke—and it was my doing. After I had unleashed the demon and caused Luke’s death, I’d committed myself to an insane asylum with the sole purpose of finding an empty vessel—a living body I could use to bind Luke back to earth and the living. And it worked. I found a young man who was once a death dealer. He’d become mentally lost during his training while performing the second ritual. It was only after I had done the spell and Luke possessed Dean that we realized Dean’s soul was still in residence, and that I’d mistakenly allowed two spirits to inhabit the same body. The second death dealer ritual trapped Dean’s spirit deep inside his body long before I met him—so deep that even his guild had been unable to revive him.
But my powers had somehow woken Dean. He’d been able to come back and claim his body during the day while Luke had full use of it at night.
But now it was only at night that I had any contact with anyone besides my prison guard. I hadn’t seen Dean since Gage brought us here, but I knew he was in there somewhere, listening to our exchange. Caleb said that Dean was docile, but I didn’t believe it. Neither Luke nor Dean would sit idly by while some madman bound them in chains.
Caleb hit Luke again, and Luke grunted, bending over in pain.
For a moment, I forgot my exhaustion. I could feel the rage rising inside me. “Leave him alone!”
“Or what?” Caleb rushed forward and put his face inches from the bars. “Sorry, little bird—they’ve clipped your wings. You try any of your magic, and you know what happens. And let’s not forget the others. What about that dark-haired friend of yours? She’s a pretty one, she is.” He motioned to his brother, who was standing silent by Luke’s side. “She’s a quiet one, but I think Jacob here has taken a real shine to her. Haven’t you, Jacob?”
“Don’t you lay a finger on Wendy,” I growled out. I moved to grasp the bars of my cell and gave Caleb my most intimidating glare.
“More threats? And here I thought we were starting to become friends. If you don’t want to say hello to your boyfriend, I’d be happy to drag him away. I didn’t realize you were so eager to start tonight’s work. There’s going to be a full moon out. Should be a pretty sky full of bright stars. I bet you can’t wait to see them.” Caleb grabbed Luke’s arm, pulling him toward the door.
“No! Wait,” I begged.
“That’s more like it. See how she changed her tune? She tries to look all tough, but when it comes to this one—” he yanked on Luke’s chains, causing Luke to moan in pain, “—she’s all soft inside like a marshmallow.” Caleb gave me another wicked grin. “You have ten minutes. But no touching. The boss wants to make sure you two keep your distance. I think he’s worried about what kind of magic the two of you might do if you ever get together. Me? I’m not so worried. Whatever Death Arts you can muster up don’t scare me. Soft like a marshmallow,” Caleb chuckled as he shoved Luke forward.
Luke fell to his knees on the ground just shy of the bars.
“Luke,” I cried out.
His head was bowed, and for a moment he didn’t say anything. Then he slowly lifted his head, and his eyes met mine. “Colina,” he said my name through dry, cracked lips.
Tears streamed down my face, leaving muddy tracks on my filthy cheeks. “I’m so sorry I got you into this mess.”
Luke murmered something I couldn’t quite hear. He was only a few inches away and I wanted so desperately to feel his arms around me. To put my lips against his. My whole body strained against the metal cage, but the solid bars didn’t budge.
Luke leaned closer and whispered, “If you have a chance, I want you to make a run for it.”
He wanted me to save myself, but I wasn’t going anywhere without him. “I’m not leaving you.”
“If you get the chance, you run.”
I raised my voice. “No.”
There was anger in his eyes. “You escape. You get free. Do you hear me? I don’t know what this sick bastard wants with you. Colina, why won’t you tell me what he wants?” The anger left his face. His eyes were full of concern. “What does he have you doing?” He asked me the same question each night.
I sat back on my heels and wiped the tears from my eyes. Luke kept asking me why Gage had taken us and what plan he had in store. But each time I refused to answer. How can I confess to him the terrible evil I’m doing? Worse, how will he react if he ever finds out? I knew he would tell me his life wasn’t worth the unnatural acts I was committing, but there was nothing anyone could say that would change my mind. I would do whatever I had to in order to keep Luke by my side. I had already broken nature’s laws by bringing him back to me the first time. I would not risk losing him again. I would do whatever this madman asked of me if it meant keeping Luke safe.
I wanted so desperately to tell him, to confess my wicked deeds, but I couldn’t bring myself to say the words out loud. Because of me, dozens—no, hundreds—of undead now roamed the earth. They were zombies, walking creatures formed from carcasses of the living. Luke had once called them draugrs—creatures pulled from his people’s myths and bedtime stories—but the term “zombie” fit them better. They were bodies raised from the dead, inhabited by wandering souls, and used as slaves by the living, in the worst voodoo tradition.
Each night I raised the dead and then bound them to my will. But I was just a puppet as well; Gage was the puppet master. Gage was the one in control, and he could make me do whatever he wanted. He knew I would do his bidding as long as he continued to threaten Luke’s very existence.
I looked away, unable to meet Luke’s eyes. I knew they were full of hurt and sadness. He didn’t know why I was keeping secrets from him.
“Mildred came to see me,” he said, finally breaking the silence.
My head whipped around. Mildred. A woman I’d thought was my friend, but who turned out to be aligned with my enemies. I asked the question that had been haunting me since the beginning of my captivity. “Why did she do it?”
“She told me she was sorry. She never meant for us to get hurt. Gage promised to bring back her daughter.”
Mildred’s daughter died years ago. I knew the loss still tortured her. “Can he do it?”
“He’s powerful. He’s using magics not seen for a hundred years. Who knows what dark and twisted spells he’s been working.”
“But her daughter must have crossed over.” I was almost sure of it. I’d never heard, nor seen the daughter’s spirit. If she’s roaming the in between, surely she would have come to her mother’s side during the time I was in the asylum.
“Gage says the daughter’s spirit is trapped in hell. He says her daughter’s death wasn’t an accident.”
“The girl didn’t drown?”
Luke paused for a long moment before answering, and then he spoke slowly and carefully, his eyes fixed on me with concern. “She was killed…sacrificed.”
Sacrificed like my family? My mind flashed back to the horror I had witnessed as I watched a group of mad men kill my loved ones. I had watched the blood pour from my father’s neck as their leader, Macaven, slit his throat. I watched, helpless, trapped inside the pantry, bound by a spell and unable to escape, as my mother was shot. The image of her face as the bullet tore through her skin was still burned into my brain. And then the dark mage had torn my brother James’ spirit from his body and turned him into a banshee to do his bidding.
My family’s death had set in motion this dark path I know found myself on. A path that so far had caused more misery and heartache than I could have ever imagined.
Was Mildred’s daughter an innocent child scarified like my father? The thought filled me with an incredible sadness. My eyes were full of tears as I asked. “What kind of monster would murder a young child?”
“Someone without conscience. Someone without a soul.” Luke looked over his shoulder. “Someone not unlike the people working for Gage. I’ve seen people become corrupted with the need for power. Once you start down that path, once you cross over the first line…it’s easy to cross over the next one. Then you lose yourself. You lose all hope.” Luke reached out for me again.
In response, Caleb kicked the cage, laughing harshly as I quickly dropped my hands from the vibrating bars. He jerked Luke back by his collar, but Luke no longer seemed to notice the manhandling. He focused on me. “Colina, what’s the work Caleb is talking about? Why are they taking you to the surface every night?”
I looked away, unable to meet his eyes. I can’t tell him. I won’t tell him.
“Whatever it is, you can’t trust Gage. Whatever he promises you, whatever he says he’ll do…he’ll go back on his word. He’s truly evil.”
And so am I. I’ve crossed one line and now another. I’m raising the dead so Gage can have a zombie army at his beck and call.
“Time’s up.” Caleb started forward.
“Promise me that if you see your chance, you’ll take it. Run!” Luke said, this time not caring if they heard him.
I watched in silence as Caleb and Jacob marched Luke out of the room.
My strength left with Luke, and I fell back onto the floor. The tears came, this time fast and hard. I pulled my knees into my chest and rocked myself back and forth on the dirt.
I’m not just creating monsters… I’m becoming one.