Broken visions, p.10
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       Broken Visions, p.10

         Part #3 of Shattered Promises series by Jessica Sorensen
 
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  "I should have done this in the first place," he says, then speeds up so fast that everything becomes blurry and incoherent. I try to keep the sword away from him for the rest of the journey, holding my breath for most of the way and only breathe freely again when he stops and sets me back down on the ground in front of a gigantic rock.

  "I'm guessing this is it," Laylen says, then presses his hands to the rock and easily shoves it aside. Beneath it is a hole burrowing deep into the ground. Even with my night vision, I can't see the bottom.

  "How far of a drop is it?" I wonder, leaning over cautiously and peering down into it.

  He shrugs. "There's only one way to find out." Then without warning, he jumps down into it.

  "Laylen," I hiss, kneeling down by the edge. "Are you okay?"

  "Go ahead and jump," he calls out. "It's not too far and I'll catch you."

  I glance back at the castle and the trees, then slide my legs into the hole. Without any hesitation, I jump in, knowing if I dither, I'll psych myself out. Gripping onto the sword handle, I fall into the darkness, but not for too long and then I'm safe in Laylen's arms.

  "Holy shit," I breathe against his chest as I clasp my arms tightly around his neck and squeeze my legs against his hips. "That was nerve racking."

  His hands are tense on my waist. "Yeah... I guess so..." His fingers shift downward and dig into my hips. As his head leans in, his lips brush the crook of my neck. Before I can stop him, he's kissing my flesh, his tongue sliding out and his teeth grazing but not entering. For a moment I let him, because it feels so good and I feel like a complete asshole when he's the one that pulls away.

  "Sorry," he says, setting me down quickly. "It's just that you smelled so good and I... maybe we should just go back and I'll come here by myself."

  "Laylen, it's fine." I find his arm in the dark. Either my night vision stopped working or there's nothing around us but dark. "I know you won't hurt me." Which is true. His bite doesn't hurt at all.

  "Alright." He pulls his hand out from my touch and looks left then right.

  "Can you see?" I ask. "Because I can't."

  "Barely." With reluctance, he takes my hand and leads me with him as he descends into a dark tunnel that seems to go on forever. Just when I start to think that there's no end to it, it opens up to a room. But I instantly want to shrink back into the dark tunnel again at the sight in front of me. A torture chamber with chains and whips and bars. And in the center of it all, fastened to a rack, is a girl.

  Chapter 14

  "What is this place?" I whisper, staring at the girl who appears to either be asleep or unconscious. She has to be only about eighteen or nineteen, younger than me.

  Laylen shakes his head, his eyes skimming the chains hanging from the ceiling. "I have no idea... I've never been down here before."

  "Should we..." I motion at the girl bound by ropes to the rack. "Should we free her?"

  Laylen looks skeptical but slowly makes his way over to her. I follow closely at his heels. The girl looks dead, eyes sealed, her body still.

  "Is she... is she alive?" I ask Laylen as examines her.

  He assesses the ropes around her wrists and ankles. "Yeah, I can hear her heart beating."

  "Should we..." I move my hand for one of the ropes that's around her wrist. "Should I untie her?"

  Laylen hesitates then nods, extending his hand for the rope around her other wrist. The rack isn't stretching her limbs to their full capacity, but her skin is pulled tight and shows each one of her bones. Her curly black hair is matted and looks like it hasn't been washed in ages. Her blue dress is faded and frayed and she isn't wearing any shoes.

  She remains still as Laylen and I untie her wrists and ankles and she doesn't budge even when she's free, her eyes staying shut as she breathes in and out softly.

  "Maybe she's--" I start to say, but then the girl's eyes open.

  She looks at us then pulls her arms in and bends her knees as she leaps from the rack and backs herself up into the corner where an array of whips hang from the wall.

  "It's okay," Laylen says with his hands up in front of him. "We're not going to--" She lets out a blood curdling scream and Laylen rushes for her. "Son of a..." Laylen grabs her as gently as possible and covers her mouth with his hand. "We're not going to hurt you, but you have got to stop screaming."

  The girl's bright yellow, cat-like eyes scan the room, the rack, the stairway that goes to a door, panting profusely, then land on me. She grabs onto Laylen's arms and draws them down so his hand uncovers her mouth.

  "It's you," she says in amazement. "I can't believe it."

  "Yeah, it's me." I give Laylen an is-she-crazy look and he shrugs, unsure.

  "You think you know her?" he asks her.

  She nods, slipping from his arms and taking a step toward me, but Laylen gets nervous and places himself in between us. "She's the one he talks about all the time. The girl with the violet eyes--the star."

  "Stephan told you about me?" I ask, peering over Laylen's shoulder at the girl.

  She glances apprehensively at the top of the spiral stairs and then nods. "Yes, the man with the scar."

  "Why are you here?" Laylen wonders. "Does he have you trapped?"

  She cocks her head to the side, examining me over with her unnatural yellow eyes. "I'm the half faerie, half Keeper he needs for his plan, so he told me I had to live here." She motions at the torture chamber we're in. "This is my home--where I was raised." She turns around in a circle, looking at everything. "But it's okay..." she says it as if she's trying to convince herself. "Because I'm his daughter."

  Chapter 15

  Time freezes. No one moves, talks, breathes. At first I think I've heard her wrong, but then I see the shock on Laylen's face and realize it must be correct, which leaves me wondering if Aislin and Alex know about her.

  "No, there's no way." Laylen shakes his head in denial. "Aislin and Alex don't have a sister."

  "I'm only their half-sister." She talks strangely, as if conversing is foreign to her. "And they don't know about me. My father keeps me hidden all the time. Down here." She gestures at the rack. "This is kind of like my bed." She says it as if she's oblivious to the fact that it's so warped and wrong.

  "Of course he does," Laylen mutters, disgusted.

  "Why would he keep you hidden?" I ask, moving around to Laylen's side.

  "Keepers aren't supposed to mix like that with fey," Laylen explains to me, his attention focused on the girl untrustingly. "There's something about the blood... too much mythical creature on one side and not enough on the other that creates an imbalance." He discretely nods his head at the girl and lowers his voice. "It makes things a little off."

  "Yeah, I can see that," I say, then turn to the girl. "What's your name?"

  She sticks out her hand awkwardly to shake Laylen's hand. "I'm Aleesa."

  Laylen shakes her hand politely. "Nice to meet you Aleesa."

  I eye over Aleesa's yellow eyes, dark hair, sharp features and something doesn't add up. "You don't look like them. Alex and Aislin, I mean."

  "Oh, I get my looks from my mother. She was fey," she says, like it explains everything.

  "Many of the fey have bright yellow eyes and dark hair like hers," Laylen adds. "Nicholas was an exception."

  "So Stephan's your father," I state still in a state of disbelief.

  She nods, tucking one of her tangled curls behind her ear. "I am the half-faerie, half-Keeper sacrifice he needs. I am what will bind the fey to him."

  My eyes widen. "The sacrifice."

  "Yep," she says simply with her hands behind her back as she rocks forward on her heels.

  "How long have you been down here?" I ask.

  Her face twists with complexity. "I'm not sure. Forever, I think."

  I shudder, feeling sorry for her. "What about your mom? Where's she?"

  "Oh, she's gone," she says with a shrug. "She left me because I'm an abomination."

  I thought my life had been b
ad, but I think hers tops mine. At least I wasn't locked up and tortured for god sakes and it proves just how morbid Stephan is; to do this to his own daughter.

  "Laylen can I talk to you for just a second?" I back toward the tunnel, motioning him to follow me.

  He does, looking confused. "What's wrong?"

  "What are we going to do with her?" I whisper, glancing at Aleesa. "We can't just leave here."

  He looks back at Aleesa, who's fiddling with a hole in the hem of her worn-out dress. "I guess take her with us." He shrugs.

  "But is she...I don't know... She seems a little off. What if she flips out on us or something?" I feel bad for saying it, but it needs to be discussed, if nothing else to prepare ourselves.

  "I could flip out on you and yet you're still with me."

  "Yeah, but you're you. I trust you more than I trust anyone."

  "Maybe you shouldn't."

  I sigh and press a kiss to his scruffy cheek. "We'll take her with us. But just keep an eye on her, okay?" I start to head back for Aleesa, but pause, an emotion arising inside me, one that I think means Laylen and I are becoming good friends and that I truly care about him. "And I'll always trust you, Laylen. I'll trust you forever."

  ***

  Getting Aleesa to leave with us is a difficult task. She keeps saying over and over again that she isn't allowed to go anywhere outside of the torture chamber. But after some persuading, she finally agrees.

  We go up the staircase to the door that Aleesa tells us leads to the inside of the castle. When we approach the top, I realize just how bad my palms are sweating.

  "Okay," Laylen says as he grabs the doorknob. "Everyone be on guard."

  I nod, clutching onto the sword handle, my legs shaking like a fawn learning how to walk. Laylen cracks the door open and withdraws a small knife out of the back pocket of his jeans as he looks out.

  Then he lowers the knife and turns to us. "It seems the secret entrance has led us to yet another secret entrance."

  "Really?" I ask as we cautiously step out into a slender hallway. "Are we inside the walls?"

  Laylen traces his fingers along the wood paneling. "I think so."

  Aleesa hums quietly behind me as we continue down the hallway. The ceiling is low and the walls are decorated with childish art. I sketch my fingers along the drawings of stick people, houses, flowers. Why do I remember this? Each one gives me a sense of familiarity.

  Then suddenly it comes violently rushing back to me, a memory once forgotten, or erased from my mind. Alex and I as children, running up and down the hall, drawing on the walls, laughing, playing. I can almost hear the giggles haunting the hallway now.

  "You okay?" Laylen asks me.

  I pull my hand away from the wall. "Yeah. Sorry, I was just spacing off."

  He gives me a worried smile, but focuses on the task at hand and keeps walking until we reach the end of the hallway where there's another door.

  "I wonder what's on the other side." I say.

  "A spare bedroom," Aleesa says, gazing up at the ceiling.

  Laylen presses his ear to the door. "I don't hear anything..." He grips the doorknob and turns it. "Get ready," he says, then pushes it open.

  It's a bedroom with a bedframe and a dusty dresser. And chained to one of the stones wall is my mom. She just escaped from being a prisoner a few days ago and it tears at my heart to see her like this. She looks like she's sleeping, her head slumped over, her shoulders hunched. There is a piece of duct-tape over her mouth and I run up to her and carefully pull it off.

  "Mom," I say, hooking a finger under her chin and tipping her head up. "Can you hear me?"

  Her head bobs as she blinks at me, tears staining her cheeks. "Gemma," she croaks. "Is that you?"

  "It's okay." I reach for the chain around her wrist. "We're going to get you out of here."

  She blinks again dazedly and then starts to panic. "You have to go. You have to go now." She tugs at the chains, causing the skin on her wrist to split open and bleed. "It's a trap. Gemma, go! GO!"

  A chill slithers down my spine as I turn around and see a thick fog crawling across the floor. Ice covers across the walls, the ceiling, and the floor in a split second and the temperature rapidly drops.

  "Can you get the chains off her?" I ask Laylen.

  He takes hold of one of the chains and bends the links, trying to get the heavy metal to snap apart. But it's thick and covered with the Death Walker's ice.

  "Give me just a minute," he says as he continues to try to get the metal to break.

  Aleesa lets out a high-pitched scream, covers her ears, and backs into the corner of the room. "Help me!"

  I hear the sound of heavy footsteps heading in our direction, one by one. I glance back at Laylen, still struggling to get the chains undone.

  "I'm hurrying," he says, jerking on the chains. "The damn things are thick and the ice is making it worse."

  I face the doorway, where the fog is blowing in. This strange calm settles over me and I block everything out as my power takes over my body and mind, one stronger than I've ever felt, like every part of my brain is in tune with my body. Suddenly, I know what I have to do to protect us and the strange thing is I know that I can.

  I raise the Sword of Immortality in front of me, the tip aimed at the door. My heart rate slows, steadies, my nerves dissipate. When the first Death Walker enters the room, cloaked and eyes glowing, I swing the sword at it and without missing a beat, stab the blade into its heart. Its yellow eyes fire up as its body drops lifelessly to the floor.

  I don't have time to prepare myself as another one comes barreling. I do a twirl and then the sword jabs into the Death Walker's heart, again without any mishaps. I do this again and again, the sword sinking through each of their rotting chests. The bodies are piling up as I move like a pro, swinging the sword gracefully, my feet moving harmoniously with it.

  But more keep coming and before I know it, the room is filled with Death Walkers. The stench of death is in the air as they circle me, blowing their Chill of Death in my direction but I manage to duck out of the way every time.

  Then the crowd parts and Stephan comes walking in, wearing a black cloak. He gazes at the Death Walkers' bodies all over the floor and then at me. "Well, I see that you've changed since the last time I met you," he says, sounding both annoyed and impressed. He stalks toward me, his boots cracking the icy floors.

  I remain where I am, waiting until he's within sword's reach before I take a stab at him. But he swats the sword away as if my new inner strength is nothing but a minor problem, insignificant.

  "You know, you're a very hard girl to track down," he says. "I send a faerie to find you, but he up and disappears. I'd try to find you myself, track you down and come where you are, but that's impossible right now thanks to the memoria extracto."

  It's like he's about to give me the same speech again, like he did in the Wastelands, which has me wondering if he's oblivious to the fact that he's captured me once before, branded me with the mark, and tried to get me to murder Alex.

  "Finally, I thought to myself, what can I do?" he continues on unknowingly. "How can I get ahold of my star without going to her?" He takes the knife he's holding and traces the tip along the scar on his cheek, circling around me. "See, the thing is, Gemma, there's something you don't understand." He gives a dramatic pause and then grins. "I always win."

  Yep, stuck on repeat. I check behind me, relieved to find that Laylen has freed my mother from the chains. Aleesa is still curled in the corner, rocking back and forth as she hugs her knees to her chest. I need to get us out of here. Somehow.

  "I wouldn't put so much trust in people." Stephan says. "You never know what secrets they could be hiding from you. People are great liars, especially when it comes to protecting themselves."

  "And you would be the expert on that, wouldn't you?" I carry his intimidating gaze with confidence.

  He stops in front of me. "I'm not the only one in this room who is an expert at
lying." He looks behind me at my mother on the floor her eyes unexpectedly vacant of emotion. "Should I tell her? Or would you like to, Jocelyn?"

  She says nothing and Laylen shifts his weight uneasily. I discretely point at Aleesa, mouthing for Laylen to get a hold of her and get closer to me. I need to foresee us out of here. Now.

  "Ask her what's on her wrist," Stephan says to me with a wicked grin. "Go ahead. Ask your mother what she's been hiding from you"

  I don't have to look. I think deep down I already know. "No... there's no way," I say in denial.

  Laylen bends over and jerks up the sleeve of my mother's shirt. His eyes widen and I gasp at the triangle outlining by red symbol branded in her flesh on her arm.

  I shake my head, refusing to believe what's right in front of me. "It's not real..."

 
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