The promise, p.22
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       The Promise, p.22

         Part #4 of Fallen Star series by Jessica Sorensen
 
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Page 22

 

  I contemplated what to do. Who knows what could be down there? Anything really. And how it got there was puzzling. I tapped my knife on the tile and the banging stopped. Frozen in the silence, I heard a voice.

  Hello.

  I backed away.

  Aislin, could you come in here?

  The tile grinded as it was forced from the rest of the floor. After a second past, a hand appeared out of the dark hole.

  Hello.

  I almost dropped my knife at the familiar voice.

  The person heaved themselves out of the hole.

  Alex,

  the auburn-haired woman said.

  What s going on?

  I moved at the terrified woman and dipped my knife, resting it at her throat.

  Who are you?

  She blinked wildly, scared to death.

  It s me Sophia, Gemma s grandmother.

  I shook my head.

  Sophia s dead. You what are you? A Banshee? A witch?

  No, no, no.

  She raised her hands in surrender.

  I swear I m Sophia.

  She searched helplessly around the kitchen, looking for something that would prove who she was.

  Better hurry,

  I said, pushing her to her breaking point.

  Tears slipped from her eyes.

  I don t know what to do.

  I felt kind of sorry for her and considered moving my knife back, to let her breathe, when a pan went soaring through the air and smacked the woman straight in the forehead. Her eyes crossed and she collapsed to the floor.

  I turned, finding a wide-eyed Aislin, breathing heavily.

  What was that? A zombie or something?

  Zombies don t exist. You know that.

  I bent down, examining the stranger. A cut on her head trailed blood down her cheek.

  No, she s alive. But did you really have to throw a pan at her?

  I panicked.

  She came up behind me.

  So if she s not a zombie, then what is she?

  I picked up her wrist, checking her arms for marks and then tilted her head, checking the back of her neck. Beneath the collar or her shirt, I spotted the tip of the Keepers mark.

  I think it might be Sophia,

  I stated.

  It can t be,

  Aislin breathed.

  I did a Tracker Spell. It said she was nonexistent. And Marco too.

  Well, then something went wrong?

  How? I never mess up.

  I let out a snort and she smacked me in the back of the head.

  Even if it is her,

  she said.

  Why was she down there?

  I shrugged, heading for the hole, wanting to see if anyone else was down there.

  When she wakes up, we re going to find out.

  The trapdoor was empty and it reeked too, like someone had been down there for a long time, stirring in their own filth. I climbed back up and filled a cup with water. Aislin had left and I bent down over Sophia.

  Wake up.

  I sprinkled some water on the woman s face and she stirred but didn t wake. I patted her cheek, not very gently. I was really curious where this was going to go. Sophia had been missing for months, vanishing without a trace. And suddenly, she showed up a few days before the portal opened. Just a coincidence?

  Another splash of water and her eyes opened.

  Alex.

  She croaked, touching her head.

  What happened?

  You jumped out of a hole in the ground,

  I said simply.

  And then Aislin threw a pan at your head because she thought you were a zombie.

  She winced as she touched the cut.

  A zombie?

  Yeah, apparently you re supposed to be dead, but clearly you re not.

  She eyeballed my knife resting next to my foot and I picked it up.

  Choose what you do really carefully. I won t hesitate to kill you, if it comes down to it.

  She shook her head. The once perfectionist woman had bags under her eyes, dirt on her clothes, and knots in her hair.

  You re just like your father.

  My jaw tightened.

  That s the kind of thing that s going to get you killed.

  Sorry, but I m so confused. The last thing I can remember is Gemma vanishing.

  Her eyebrows knitted together.

  And then Aislin and that vampire showing up.

  What,

  I stammered.

  Aislin and Laylen were here?

  I cast a cautious glance over my shoulder, making sure we were alone.

  When?

  I don t know.

  She massaged her temples.

  My brain is so foggy. I remember Gemma disappearing, Stephan yelling at me for letting it happen and then he went on this rampage, murdering Keepers. Marco and I were going to run, but then Aislin and that vampire showed up and sealed me in that trapdoor with some sort of magic spell. They said they needed my gift Unus quisnam aufero animus so I could detach Gemma s soul again when he finally caught her. He came for me once, but I guess she escaped and he threw me back under the house. And he &

  She began to sob.

  He killed Marco.

  Why didn t you just climb out?

  I asked.

  It s a one-way door that can only be opened from the outside.

  She blubbered.

  And you didn t think about banging on it earlier.

  She rolled up her sleeves, showing me a triangle mark on her arm.

  This kept me quiet & and I think I have to & I &

  As if a sudden energy surged through her body, she lunged for me. With one move of my fist, I knocked her back out again.

  Aislin,

  I called out, gripping my knife.

  I need to talk to you.

  She bounced into the kitchen, Laylen at her heels.

  How s it going? Did you find out who she was &

  She caught sight of the unconscious Sophia.

  Oh, not good huh?

  I think you two have some explaining to do.

  I aimed my knife at them and they exchanged puzzled glances.

  What s wrong?

  Aislin asked.

  She says you two are the reason she was stuck down there,

  I said.

  Can you tell me why she thinks that?

  Aislin scratched her head.

  She s lying. She has to be.

  What happened that time you two disappeared?

  I asked.

  When we were in Colorado. Where were you guys?

  We told you. We were running from the Death Walkers in Nevada.

  Laylen leaned against the doorway, crossing his arms, looking perplexed.

  That s where we were & weren t we?

  Aislin s expression twisted.

  I don t know.

  You seemed pretty confident when you showed up to save us,

  I told them, remembering that day at the cabin in Colorado, when they arrived abruptly, almost out of nowhere.

  Well, you seemed pretty confident when you told us the Death Walkers just picked up your dad and left,

  Laylen countered.

  Seems just as suspicious.

  Why are we even arguing about this?

  Aislin complained.

  It s in the past.

  It s important because we might have a traitor in our midst.

  I could almost hear my father laughing.

  Chapter 37

  (Gemma)

  She blobbed down the hall, a silver body of fluid, leading me to her sister, Annabella. This place was different, haunting like a whisper of wind. White wisps of ribbon danced around and coiled up the leafless trees that lined the garden we walked in.

  She s going to want something,

  Helena said.

  An essence perhaps, if you have one.

 
What exactly is an essence?

  I asked, blowing a ribbon from my face.

  A spirit,

  she answered, smoothing the wrinkles from her body.

  So what s the difference between a soul and a spirit?

  A spirit is the ghostly form of a person,

  she replied.

  They are still themselves, possess their soul, can walk and talk on their own. It s what happens to humans when they die. And Lost Souls are the ones disconnected from their bodies, the ones that are lost due to a death before their time.

  I thought of Nicholas and how he walked the world.

  So why torture the Lost Souls?

  Why does anyone torture anything?

  She smiled with her thick lips of silver.

  For power.

  But you lost your own soul,

  I said.

  You d think you d be more sympathetic.

  Sympathy is weakness. Something you should keep in mind before you make your decision.

  She swirled down the path, a shimmer of light in the white sunlight.

  You re a powerful girl, I can sense that. But your humanity makes you weak.

  I think you re wrong.

  I stood tall with confidence.

  It s my humanity that makes me strong.

  Her lips twitched.

  You re a stupid little girl.

  Perhaps,

  I said.

  But maybe not.

  We neared the end of our journey. A woman stood beneath a large willow tree, her hair as white as cotton, her lips as red as a cherry, and her eyes sparkling with silver. She watched us approach, her gaze never faltering, her long black dress trailing in the grass.

  Annabella,

  Helena s voice nipped.

  Annabella lowered her head.

  Helena, I d sensed you d crossed.

  Of course you did.

  Helena stretched her body, trying to rise taller than her sister.

  You always do.

  Annabelle s eyes were kind.

  And you ve brought someone who wants something from me.

  I stepped below the branches of the willow tree.

  I ve come to ask you for a favor.

  You want me to free an essence.

  It s wasn t a question.

  I nodded.

  If you would.

  But why?

  She ducked under a branch and stepped in front of me.

  Why ask for the freedom of someone you dislike.

  I don t dislike him.

  But you don t like him,

  she said.

  Yet you re still here in death, asking me to let him live again.

  I sighed deeply.

  Nicholas & he isn t that bad. And he s helped me out.

  It was the partial truth.

  Is that the only reason?

  She wanted more.

  I let out a breath.

  I feel responsible for his death.

  But he s not a Lost Soul,

  she said.

  No one is responsible for his death.

  The branches pirouetted, tickling against my cheeks.

  Perhaps he should have ended up one.

  Why do you feel responsible for things that are out of your hands?

  she asked.

  He died because I exist,

  I admitted in the secrecy of the branches canopy.

  Many people have.

  It s not your fault you exist,

  she said.

  Everyone has a path in life, even the Lost Souls. They re there because they have to be. They re there because they re lost.

  This is confusing.

  I sighed, swatting a branch away.

  Death always is.

  Her silver eyes held my gaze powerfully

  You re better than you think you are, Gemma. Your soul is pure, despite what you think.

  Then she held out her hand, her skin shimmering like glitter. It swirled down, forming an orb in her hand.

  Nicholas s essence.

  I was hesitant to touch it.

  You re just giving it to me?

  She smiled.

  Not everything is complicated. Sometimes the answers are right in our hands.

  I traced the scar of the Blood Promise, thinking of Alex.

  Nothing s ever easy.

  Sometimes it is.

  She urged the orb at me.

  But it s the easy answers that humans question, which only makes it complicated.

  I think I understand,

  I said, and gently picked up the orb of essence, which was warm in my hand like sunshine.

  Remember,

  she said.

  Not everything is as hard as you think. Sometimes the answers are right in front of us.

  I nodded, turning away from Annabella, her words the wisest ever spoken to me. I followed Helena back through the garden, leaving the warmth of the trees behind and we shifted back to the darkness of the world of Lost Souls.

  My sister makes things too easy,

  she wallowed, pooling her body back onto her throne.

  She just hands it over, without any bargains. She s always been the stupid one.

 
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