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The fallen star (fallen.., p.27
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       The Fallen Star (Fallen Star Series, Book 1), p.27

           Jessica Sorensen
 
I gasped for air as my eyes shot open. Purple walls and glass counters surrounded me. I was back at Adessa’s. I made it. I wasn’t dead. My skin was dry. My feet were planted firmly to the checkerboard tile. The Foreseers’ crystal ball was cupped in my hand.

  “Ah!” I shrieked and dropped the ball. It hit the ground hard, causing it to crack down the center.

  “Gemma.”

  I looked away from the broken ball and found Alex standing right next to me. His green eyes were wider than usual, and his mouth was set in a worried line.

  Behind him stood Laylen with the same worried expression on his face.

  I breathed heavily. “What the heck happened?”

  “What do you mean, what the heck happened? You touched the Foreseers’ ball after I told you not to touch it.” His voice, although full of anger, slightly shook.

  “It was an accident,” I snapped. “I didn’t mean to touch that—” I waved my hand at the broken Foreseer’s ball— “thing.”

  All three of us stared down at it. Water was seeping out through the crack, forming a puddle on the floor.

  “Well, what happened?” Alex asked, his voice a little calmer now, but he still looked concerned.

  What happened? I thought to myself. Well, let me see. I got sucked into a tunnel, hit my face on the ground, and watched a woman being murdered. All I got to come out of my mouth, though, was, “I-I…”

  “Did you go into a vision?” Alex asked, speaking slowly like I was incompetent.

  “Yeah. I mean, at least I think I did.”

  “And you were able to come back,” he stated with amazement.

  A loud crash suddenly echoed through the room, scaring me to death. I jumped and ended up ramming my shoulder into Alex’s chest.

  “Sorry,” Laylen apologized, as he swept up a black ceramic candlestick he apparently knocked onto the floor.

  I let my breathing slow down.

  “I’m going to take her outside and see if I can get her to calm down,” Alex told Laylen.

  Laylen nodded, and Alex led me to the front door. He made me wait there while he checked inside the GTO to make sure everything was safe. Once he gave me the go ahead, I went outside, and we climbed into the back seat of the car.

  Both of us were quiet for awhile, the night spilling through the cab of the car. I could barely see anything, which did nothing for my nerves.

  “So what did you see?” Alex finally asked.

  “Um…” I fumbled for some sort of words that could explain the horrible scene I had just been forced to watch. “Something….You know, I’m not sure I really want to talk about it.”

  “Well, you have to,” he said. “If you saw a vision, I need to know what happened. It’s important.”

  I massaged the sides of my temples and sighed, “Fine.”

  I gave him a recap of every detail I could remember about the vision.

  “You know you were really lucky, right?” Alex asked when I finished.

  “Lucky? How?” Did he not get that I just witnessed a woman being murdered?

  “Well, for starters, you were lucky you even made it back. I’ve heard stories about people getting stuck inside visions and never returning. And you were also lucky you didn’t get captured by the Water Faerie.”

  “Water Faerie,” I repeated, mystified. “What’s a Water Faerie?”

  “It’s what pulled both you and the woman down in the lake. Water Faeries are the Guardians of The Underworld.”

  “The Underworld?” I said. “As in the place where the Greeks believed people went after they died?”

  “Kind of.” He seemed hesitant to embellish on the subject, but I wasn’t going to let him get away with keeping any more secrets.

  “Tell me,” I demanded. “Or I’ll just go ask Laylen to explain it to me.”

  I thought that might make him angry, but instead, he just stared at me with what I thought looked like a trace of hurt in his bright green eyes. What he had been hurt about, though, I had no idea. I probably just imagined it or something.

  “Fine.” He threw his hands in the air and gave in, which shocked the crap out of me. “The Underworld is the land of the dead. It’s also a prison. After we—the Keepers—capture someone like, say for instance a vampire that had been on a killing spree, we sentence them to a life down in The Underworld as a form of punishment.”

  I questioned whether he used a vampire as his example intentionally, as a way to get back at me for threatening to go ask Laylen.

  “But why wouldn’t you just kill them instead?” I asked. “I mean, you killed that Death Walker. Why can’t you kill a vampire too?”

  “Trust me, death is a milder punishment than getting sent down there. Most go insane from the torture after only a few weeks’ time.”

  Something suddenly occurred to me. “Hold on just a second. Does that mean the woman I saw get dragged down into the lake is going to end up in The Underworld?”

  “Maybe,” he answered reluctantly. “The Water Faeries usually don’t kill the people or the things they capture. They are under strict orders to take whatever they catch straight to the prison.”

  “But why do they want prisoners?”

  “Because they feed off the prisoner’s fear. It’s what keeps them thriving even in their dead form.”

  I swallowed hard. “So if the vision I saw really ends up happening, then the woman’s going to end up being tortured down there.”

  “Maybe. But she also might already be down there.” He sighed. “Sometimes when someone inexperienced tries to see into the future they just end up seeing something that has already happened.”

  “So she could be down there right now!” The loudness of my voice made us both glance around nervously.

  Alex gave me a look that stressed for me to keep my voice down. “She could be down there right now, but if she’s been down there for awhile, then she may have already died. Depending on how strong she is, she could be able to survive the torture for up to a few years without it driving her mad. But if she’s already lost her mind, the Queen would have had her killed.”

  “Why would the Queen have her killed? And who’s this Queen, anyway?”

  “The Queen of the Dead. She’s in charge of everything that goes on in The Underworld. After a prisoner goes insane, they no longer produce the right kind of fear for her people to feed off, so she gets rid of them.”

  I gaped. “By killing them?”

  Alex sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. “You have to understand that most of the things—or people—we send down there have committed horrible crimes; the kind of crimes that haunt people’s’ nightmares.”

  “Yeah, well, considering the Death Walker’s haunt my nightmares…” I really shouldn’t have mentioned that.

  He cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve dreamt about them?”

  I nodded. “A lot, actually.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me this before?”

  I shrugged. “You keep secrets—“and probably still are—“so why can’t I?”

  He shook his head, irritated. “Did you dream about them before you ever saw them in real life?”

  “Yeah, I started having the dreams a couple of months ago, and the first time I saw something that I thought might be a Death Walker was only a couple of weeks ago in the school parking lot. But I wasn’t one hundred percent sure if I had actually seen one. I thought I might have imagined seeing it or something.”

  “It was back when I had to chase you down in the parking lot so I could give you your book, wasn’t it?” he said. “When you were freaking out and wouldn’t tell me why.”

  I nodded. It seemed like such a long time ago.

  He stretched his arm across the top of the seat. “So you started dreaming about them around the same time you started to experience emotions?”

  A touchy subject for me. “I don’t know.” I turned to the window. “Maybe.”

  Electricity tickled up and down my spine.
Being alone with Alex in the poorly ventilated car was driving me absolutely insane. Not necessarily in a bad way though. In fact, I think my body was building up a tolerance to the electric sensation, because it was no longer making me feel like I had a fever. Warm and sparkly, it felt kind of good.

  “So,” I began, turning my head back to him. “If it was a future vision I saw, would we be able to change what happened?”

  He shook his head. “Prophecies are very hard to change, and I don’t have a clue as to how we would even be able to find out if it was a past or future vision. That is, unless we want to go to the City of Crystal and chat it up with the Foreseers.”

  “City of Crystal?”

  “It’s where most of the Foreseers live, but you can’t get there without this special kind of crystal ball, which happens to be very hard to come by.”

  I felt like I just might cry. If I had seen a future vision, how was I supposed to just sit around and let the woman get taken away to The Underworld for real? The place sounded awful and…well, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I knew the woman somehow. “I don’t get it. You say that prophecies are hard to change, but isn’t that exactly what you guys are trying to do with me?”

  “That’s different though. We knew yours was a future prophecy right from the start, and a lot of energy and time has gone into trying to change it.” He sighed. “Besides, you are emotional, so we haven’t done a very good job.”

  “But you’re still trying to, right?” I picked at a loose string hanging off the hem of my denim skirt. “I mean, I’m sure you have a backup plan.”

  “No, we don’t,” he said too quickly.

  A red flag immediately went up. “What is it you’re not telling me?”

  “I’m not keeping anything from you.” His voice smoothed out like honey

  I let out a cynical laugh. “I highly doubt that because, first off, it’s you we’re talking about. And second, you freaked out when I just asked you if you had a backup plan. So what is it? What’s your big backup plan? Are you going to put me up in some super secret chamber and lock me away from everyone and everything until the only emotion I can feel is loneliness?”

  “Actually, that’s not a bad idea,” he said. “I’ll have to pass that one on to Stephan.”

  Furious, I searched for the handle that moved the seat forward.

  Alex caught me by the elbow and drew me back. “I don’t think so. You’re not going anywhere.”

  Wanna bet?

  I tried to shuck off his hand. “Let go of me.”

  He tightened his grip. “No.”

  “I’m not going to just sit here and listen to you talk about turning me back into a walking zombie.” I reached for the seat with my free hand, hoping if I could grab hold of something then maybe I could jerk away from him.

  Still grasping onto my arm, he snaked his free hand around my waist and pulled me back.

  “You’re hurting my stitches,” I whined, even though his hand was on the opposite side.

  He pulled me closer to him. “No I’m not.”

  I put up quite a fight, but in the end he still managed to pin me against him, with my back pressing against his chest. This was both good and bad. Bad because I was really pissed off at him, and the last thing I wanted was to be near him. But it was also good because…Well, because it felt good. Nice and warm and effervescent.

  Ugh.

  “This is so stupid,” I seethed. “You can’t have control over everything I do.”

  “Yeah, I can.” He held me so tight my skin warmed like melting butter, and I thought I might actually melt into him. “Especially when you’re trying to do something stupid. Do you think what happened back at the Black Dungeon was a game? Do you not realize how close you came to being killed? Because let me tell you, if I wouldn’t have shown up when I did, then you and I wouldn’t be sitting here having this argument.”

  I froze, slowly taking in his words. With every breath he took I could feel his chest rising and falling against my back. My own breathing lifted and fell, rhythmically matching with his. The electricity seemed to be synchronized with it, as if it were trying to create a harmonious song or something. It was weird and strangely comforting. Like, if I closed my eyes, I would drift off into a peaceful, Death-Walker-free dream.

  “Gemma,” Alex whispered in my ear, sounding breathless. “I think that—”

  I never got to hear what he thought, because the passenger door swung open and the interior lights clicked on.

  It was Aislin. She held a small gold box in her hands, which I assumed held a crystal inside. She started to climb in, but stopped when she caught sight of us. “What are you two doing?”

  I can only imagine what this looked like to her; me practically sitting on Alex’s lap, his arms wrapped around me, obviously trapping me against him. Yeah, I’m pretty sure more than a few question marks were popping up in her head.

  A few question marks were popping up in my head.

  “Gemma was getting out of hand,” Alex replied coolly. “She needed to be dealt with.”

  “I wasn’t getting out of hand,” I said indignantly. I tried to jam my elbow into his side, but it didn’t go very far since I could barely move. “You are such a—”

  Alex threw his hand over my mouth. I thought about biting it, but then decided against it. I’m not sure why.

  “Alex!” Aislin exclaimed. “You can’t just do whatever you want with her.”

  Alex dropped his hand from my mouth. “Aislin, she was trying to jump out of the car and run away.”

  Aislin frowned as she slammed the door. The lights shut off, and I could barely make out the outline of her face. “You two really need to figure out a way to get along. This whole fighting all the time thing is not helping the stress level in this already way too stressful situation.”

  “Well, if she would behave,” Alex started at the same time as I said, “If he would leave me alone—”

  Aislin lifted her eyebrows at us.

  “Fine,” Alex surrendered. “I’ll stop.”

  “I’ll stop too,” I told her, “just as long as he lets me go.”

  I guess to prove a point that he could still have some control over me, Alex waited about twenty more seconds before finally letting me go. And he refused to sit anywhere else but in the middle of the seat so he could be close enough to me in case I made an irrational decision to “jump out of the car while it was moving,” as he so bluntly put it. Yeah, even I wasn’t that crazy, but okay.

  By the time the seating arrangement was all settled, Laylen emerged from Adessa’s looking somewhat happy. Hmmm….I wondered what was up with that.

  He climbed in the car. “So, what happened?” he asked me.

  I furrowed my eyebrows. “What? You mean with the crystal ball?”

  He nodded. “Did you get sucked into a vision?”

  “What!” Aislin shouted. “She got sucked into a vision and no one told me?”

  I felt like I was getting strangled to death—that’s the effect the vision had on me.

  “I’ll explain it on the way back to the house,” Alex said. If I wouldn’t have known better, I would have thought he said it because he had sensed my lack of comfort with the subject. But I did know better, so…

  “Okay.” Laylen started the car, and the engine roared to life.

  Aislin was more reluctant to give up on the discussion. She remained turned around in her seat, continuously eyeballing Alex and I until Laylen merged the car back onto the busy main street of Vegas. Then the dancing lights and throngs of people distracted her attention away from us.

  After we made it back onto the highway and the last of the lights had fizzled away, I rested my head against the window, and without even meaning to, I fell asleep.

  Chapter 23