The promise, p.21
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       The Promise, p.21

         Part #4 of Fallen Star series by Jessica Sorensen
 
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Page 21

 

  No, Gemma. Her death was her time,

  she explained and we descended to the right wing.

  But she took her own life.

  I ducked below a row of red ribbons that smelled like they d been dipped in moldy water.

  So how was that her time.

  Because it was,

  she replied.

  Just like when you will save the world. Your mother s life ended when she took her own life to save you. It was her time to go.

  But how did it save me?

  I smacked a ribbon out of the way.

  She didn t know if she d lead Stephan to me. She just feared she would.

  No, she knew.

  She stopped in an archway and I almost bumped into her.

  I m sorry, but what?

  I scooted back.

  Are you talking about a vision?

  She nodded

  Otherwise we wouldn t be here.

  This had never occurred to me. That another vision existed. But it made sense.

  And how does this one turn out?

  I think you already know the answer to that.

  She paused.

  Gemma, unless the star is gone the world will end.

  Then she walked away into the darkness and I followed, trying to shove out of my head the picture of Alex and me dead.

  I watched her silhouette as I weaved my way to the mysterious. When my surroundings opened again, I saw a throne. We were in Queen Helena s chambers. Of course there was a throne. This was always the case with someone in higher power, like it was their declaration. This particular throne was twisted with thorny branches, and the blood red platform in front of it seemed fitting for someone who collected the Lost Souls of the dead. There were no mummies in the room, but I swore I could hear them whisper: Help me, free me, let us live again.

  She s not here,

  I noted.

  Oh, she s here.

  Alana pointed to the ceiling, where was a flat sheet of shining silver rippled with our voices.

  The water warped down, a spiral of shimmer, connecting to the throne. It formed a body of a woman, silver and eyeless, with only lips. And the lips knew how to form words.

  Quomodo audent intra hic sponte. Ubi non est libertas.

  Latin. It was always Latin. Why hadn t I learned to speak the language yet?

  I ve come to turn myself in,

  Alana called out.

  And she & well, she would like to make a bargain with you.

  I do not make bargains,

  the queen said, either switching to English or I suddenly understood Latin.

  There are no bargains here, only souls.

  And feel her soul Helena,

  Alana said.

  Feel it and you ll see.

  I was so lost.

  She s broken,

  Helena declared, her mouth a pool of thick liquid.

  Why do you bring her to me? Your first time in the Afterlife and this is it? A soul, broken and torn. This soul belongs to another. Take her away. No better yet stay now that you re here.

  I ve come to bargain for the Lost Souls,

  I said in a small voice.

  Well, some of them, anyway.

  Alana nudged my hand, warning me to keep quiet.

  She s the one responsible for your heavy amount of traffic lately.

  Well, too bad for her, I don t just give over my souls!

  Helena cried, with a slam of her fist, spurting silver liquid onto the red platform.

  Show her the ring,

  Alana hissed.

  Show her now.

  I swiftly raised my hand, showing the queen the purple-gemmed ring.

  Helena gasped, shocked.

  Where did you get that?

  Um & I found it,

  I said stupidly.

  With a swish, the liquid body slithered in front of me. She smelled me, like a dog smells a track.

  Who are you? And why does your soul feel unnatural, like venom in my lungs.

  At first I thought this was a good thing, that maybe, finally, the soul detachment had saved me instead of ruining me.

  It s invigorating. And I want it.

  Then, with a dive, she swooped up and sucked me into her body.

  I could feel her, dead and lethal, and I wanted out of her. Her skin was like warm water, only polluted and revolting.

  Let me out!

  I yelled my voice a thin bubble.

  She slinked back to the throne and I could see the desire in her eyes. She wanted to keep me.

  And there was nothing I could do to change her mind.

  You can t hold onto her forever,

  Alana said after hours had gone by.

  You know you can t. She s not one of your Lost Souls.

  I can if she offers herself to me.

  She roared, but she was weakening.

  And you know the souls that offer themselves to me are the best kind.

  She pounded her fist, an unstable queen throwing a tantrum like a child over a piece of candy. And I was the candy.

  She can offer herself up! She can offer herself up!

  Helena,

  Alana said tired, but patient.

  You can t have her and you know it. So let her go and hear what she has to say.

  There was a pause, then a rumble. The walls shook and the liquid swelled as she undid her mouth and spat me onto the floor.

  I scrambled to my feet.

  Really?

  I wiped the silver spit, or whatever it was, off my arms, shoulders, and hair.

  You couldn t just let me go?

  You re lucky I let you go.

  She smeared her lips with the back of her hand.

  Now what is it you wanted to offer me? My own ring back? Is that what you re offering? Just that and then I let you go and free all your Lost Souls.

  They need to go back,

  I told her, standing straight and confident, even though I was a nervous wreck on the inside.

  You re not supposed to have them and you know it.

  She leaned forward in her thrown.

  You don t tell me what I m supposed to have. This is the Afterlife and I rule it however I want.

  Raising my hand, I gave her another glimpse of the ring that contained her own soul.

  Not even for this? Are you sure?

  She licked her lips.

  If I free them, then you ll hand it over?

  If you free them and give the life back to a faerie named Nicholas.

  Give back a life.

  She mimicked, the erupted in laughter.

  I have no control over such things.

  Yes, you do.

  Alana stepped onto the podium.

  Through your sister, Annabella.

  I don t have any connection with Annabella or her decisions,

  she snapped.

  And how dare you suggest otherwise.

  Oh, I think you do.

  Alana strolled to the throne, each step cautious like a soldier approaching an enemy.

  I know you want your soul back. You ve been stuck in that body ever since you lost it, melting away into a helpless being. And you can t take it from Gemma s hand I know how it works. Whoever holds that ring owns your soul and can only give it back to you.

  Helena snarled, but then simmered down.

  If I were to talk to Annabella and free this faerie s essence, I d want to talk to Gemma alone before giving her the Lost Souls and letting her back into the mortal world.

  I flashed a panicked look at Alana, shaking my head.

  That is my final offer,

  Helena said.

  Take it or take my soul and leave.

  Crap.

  Alana s lips parted, but I intervened.

  I ll do it. I ll talk to her.

  Alana bowed her head.

  I ll go then.

  But not too far,


  Helena purred.

  You owe me your time, collecting my souls, just like all humans who make the choice to cross over into the Banshee world. Immortality doesn t come without a price. And you. You ve been hiding from your debt for a very long time, ever since I agreed to bleed you with Banshee blood and preserve your state.

  Alana lowered her head again.

  I know what I owe.

  Then she backed away, out into the hallway, leaving me alone with the liquid queen.

  I couldn t tell if her eyes were on me, but I sensed they were, heavy and withholding.

  I know you,

  she finally said.

  Everyone seems to,

  I replied with a sigh.

  You re important,

  she said.

  Filled with an essence I ve never tasted before. Annabella would be excited to get a taste of you.

  As much as I m flattered,

  I said.

  I really don t think I want to be tasted.

  She let out a reverberating laugh that rumbled at the walls and floor.

  You re clever. But I wonder just how far that cleverness has taken you and how far it could take you?

  I m not sure I m following you,

  I admitted.

  You re freeing these Lost Souls for the purpose that they aren t supposed to be here.

  Her hands curled around the armrests.

  But tell me. Why not free your own soul?

  I didn t realize it needed to be freed.

  Everyone s soul needs to be freed in some way or another. But yours is different. Yours needs to be freed from the pain that holds you captive.

  I touched my heart, unbeating and hollow.

  My soul s fine.

  But it won t be,

  she said,

  Not after you die. And you will very soon.

  How do you know about that?

  I twisted the ring on my finger.

  How do any of us know anything,

  she said.

  Because we choose to.

  I wondered if the queen had been conversing with a Foreseer recently.

  So you think I m going to die soon?

  All humans die,

  she replied.

  Your life just ends sooner, with sacrifice. But you won t be alone. You ll die with someone important to you. Someone you wish you could save.

  Alex.

  Perhaps.

  But you can t save yourself and others from death. At least not without a price.

  What kind of price.

  I dared a step toward the throne.

  Are you saying there s a way to save us?

  Not us. Only one. Only one can survive. With a simple sacrifice. One for the other. But the question is who will live and who will die?

  Chapter 36

  (Alex)

  It d been too long. But there was nothing I could do about it. Laylen and Aislin were watching me like hawks, afraid I d do something stupid and barge into Gemma s room and wake her. I probably could have taken both of them down, although Aislin and her magic might have been a match for me.

  Quit fidgeting,

  Aislin said sifting through her herbs.

  You re driving me crazy.

  The TV was on and I flipped through the channels, which were all the same: madness, chaos, death. It was depressing. I clicked the TV off and picked up my knife to sharpen it across a piece of metal.

  You re driving me crazy,

  I retorted.

  Just decide already if you have the stuff or not.

  These aren t marked.

  She opened a baggy and picked through the green flakes.

  It takes some time to sort through them.

  I dragged my knife down the sharpener.

  Where s Laylen? I thought he was going to check on things.

  He barely went upstairs a few minutes ago.

  She sealed the baggy shut.

  You need to relax.

  I pointed the tip of my knife at the stairway.

  Relax? You know she s dead up there, right? And her spirit s wandering around in the Afterlife.

  She shook a baggie and then picked up another.

  What is that?

  You tell me,

  I said.

  I m no herb expert.

  She narrowed her eyes.

  Not this.

  She motioned over her shoulder.

  That banging. It sounds like it s coming from the basement.

  My eyebrows furrowed.

  This place doesn t have a basement.

  She sniffed the baggy.

  Well, then it s coming from under the house.

  My ears perked, detecting a faint nose.

  Yeah, what is that?

  I stood, knife out as I headed for the kitchen. When I turned the corner, it was obvious the noise was coming from underneath the floor. I bounced on the tile, searching for a lose one, wondering if there could be a trapdoor. The center stone, right in front of the table, caught slightly. I squatted down, digging at the grout with my knife. It shifted and sure enough, there was a trapdoor.

 
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