Cinder x, p.30
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       Cinder X, p.30

         Part #2 of Death Collectors series by Jessica Sorensen
 
Page 30

 

  I start to sit up, but pause halfway when my vision flickers. For a second I see another world. One where the stream remains before me, the bridge to my side, yet everything is tinted red and shadows dance everywhere. I blink my eyes several times, hearing the up and down movement of my eyelids, then everything goes back to normal.

  I grasp my throbbing head as I sit up the rest of the way and that’s when I feel my skin split open. The sound of my tearing flesh is like nails on a chalkboard. Pressure builds between my shoulder blades while my muscles tighten. Knot. Protest. Then I hear the rip of the fabric belonging to my jacket. Seconds later, it falls off of me, and the only thing remaining are the sleeves. My back gets pushed up, straightened, lifted. For a brief instant, I think I’m going to fly away. I feel wind sweep up behind me and weight pull me back; it’s almost as though a bag of bricks has been tied to my back.

  I don’t want to look because I think I already know what’s occurred. I can’t stop myself from needing to know if I’m right, though. I breathe through the heaviness and then progressively turn my head to look over my shoulder. Just as I suspected, a pair of wings rise out of my back and point to the sky. Beautiful black feathers, almost like Asher’s except for the trim of them are hued with red, like each one has been dipped in blood.

  “Why…” It’s all I can get out of me, too astounded to process what just happened, what I’ve become. Although it’s not written out in front of me, I’m pretty sure I know what this means.

  That the battle is veering to an end.

  And I’m the last Grim Angel standing.

  Chapter 15

  I stumble to my feet, wanting to run away from the sight, but it follows me. They’re attached to my back and take my balance away. I collapse to my knees on the gravel, my skin splitting open, the river washing over to me.

  Fearing what’s about to happen, I glance over at the bridge to see what the mob is doing, only to see that they’re heading down the slope just beneath the bridge, sliding in the loose gravel as they come for me. I don’t know enough about the battle to know what’s going to happen next, but I have a feeling that the last thing I want is to be captured by them.

  I struggle to get to my feet again and manage to get my legs under me this time, but as soon as I take a step, the weight of the wings tilt me back and I tip over, straight onto my back. The sky grumbles above me and my vision snaps again like the lightning, red tinting everything as shadows swarm through the clouds.

  My cheeks soak with raindrops as I flip my body, endeavoring to roll to the side, yet the wings below me won’t allow it and I spring right back over. Rain hits me in the eyes as I hear the footsteps of the mob growing closer. I reach for the sky, wishing I could fly, but I have no idea how. Plus, it looks like its bleeding. Everything does until I blink again, hearing the flutter of my eyelids before the world returns to its normal color.

  It gives me back a little hope and motivation. I summon up every amount of strength I have to lift myself to a sitting position when one of my wings starts to flap on its own and I’m wrenched to the side, tumbling into the muddy ground again. I catch a glimpse of the people that are very close now, and note the man dressed in black, leading them along.

  They mayor—leader of the Reapers—is coming for me.

  This is bad.

  Very bad.

  “Give me your hand. ” Asher’s voice sends elation through me and my gaze eagerly searches through the rain for him.

  He’s standing just to the side of me with his hand extended out to me, a sort of awestruck look on his face as he takes in my wings. Cameron is just behind him, dressed in his normal clothes, although they’re drenched and cling to his muscular body. He’s watching me with wonder and curiosity with the book in his hands, which is something I don’t understand, yet I know now is not the time to question.

  “I’m sorry,” I say to Asher for reasons I don’t understand then I reach out to him and slip my fingers through his.

  With one swift tug, he pulls me to my feet and I stumble into his arms, unable to keep my stability. He grips onto me, his arms wrapping around my lower back while his fingers tickle the wet feathers that belong to my wings.

  “Hold on,” he whispers in my ear and I obey without arguing. “Ready?” he asks. I don’t think he’s speaking to me. He’s asking Cameron.

  “I’m always ready,” Cameron says. “She’s the one I’m worried about. And you. You’re too used to flying and they’re going to chase us. ”

  “I’ll be fine… and we don’t have time to help her prepare. We need to get as far away from here as we can. ” No sooner have the words left his lips than I hear the sound of a voice flowing from the distance, calling out. When I glance over, I see the mob and the leader of the Anamotti closing in on us.

  A lot of them are pure Anamotti, the X’s on their bodies branding them for what they are along with the black cloaks they’re wearing. There are also many possessed humans, some of whom I know. Raven. My brother. My mother. Even Asher’s uncle is there. God, Alton’s got the entire town in the palm of his hands and I wonder how long it’ll be until he kills them all.

  “We have to go. Now,” Asher demands.

  “Where are we going?” I gaze up at him, rain dripping against my eyes.

  He gives me a small smile, I think trying to comfort me, but I can tell the sight of me is making him nervous. It’s making me nervous as well. “Somewhere safe. ”

  A few booms of thunder later, I see a snap of lightning throw silver streaks across the sky. Then the snap of something else rings loudly and suddenly I’m being thrown. Or maybe I’m being lifted upward. Flying. Falling. It’s hard to tell. All I know is that Asher is holding onto me, our bodies pressed so closely together that his heat mixes with mine. Blackness is swirling around us like a funnel. I can still see the river, the bridge, and the entire town below us along with the car crunched up in the bushes just to the side of the riverbank, but it’s in the distance as I realize we’re floating into the sky.

  Screams and shouts chase after us as some of the Anamotti lift off, trying to follow us; their capes materialize as they soar up into the sky.

  “Hold on,” Asher whispers, and without arguing, I grip tightly onto him, wrapping my legs around his waist and holding on for dear life.

  A second later, we’re launched forward, sucked into the darkness around us. It’s like going through a tunnel, lights flickering, cold air hitting my face. Whispers echo around me and the darkness keeps brushing against my skin, which is when I realize that the darkness is a veil of shadows.

  “We’re in the shadow realm?” I ask, looking up at Asher as we fly through the shadows by an unseen current. It’s strange to watch too, because their moving and we’re moving and the two combined make it seem like we’re not moving. They also whisper, but I don’t understand what they’re saying as if they’re speaking in code.

  Asher nods, his face is barely visible with only the ambient light around us, but I can tell he’s trying to concentrate on taking us somewhere. “It’s the only way we could get out of there. ”

  “But can’t the Anamotti get in here?” I ask, looking over at Cameron flying just in front of us.

  He gives a quick glance at me. “That’s why we have to move fast,” he says with concern.

  And move fast we do, going so quickly I start to get motion sickness the more the air flows over my body and the smaller the things below me get. We’re getting higher. Things are getting dimmer. I feel like I’m going to puke. Finally, I give up watching and bury my face into Asher’s chest. I shut my eyes and tell myself that everything is going to be okay. That I’ll get through this. However, deep down, I know I’m wrong. I have hardly anyone in my life left, at least along the lines of being human, and now the fate of the world’s souls is in my hands. I’m going to have to make a choice. I’m going to have to make a sacrifice.

  I’m going to have to kill
someone I love.

  The problem is, I’m not sure I love anyone at the moment. So what does that mean? What does anything mean anymore?

  I continue to think the same things over and over again, feeling myself drifting off to sleep the more time goes on. I don’t even know how it’s possible, considering how much adrenaline is coursing through me, however it feels like I could fall asleep in Asher’s arms, right here in the middle of the shadow realm. I’m about to let myself, too, when I hear something whisper my name.

  “Just hang on, Ember. ”

  My eyelids lift open. We’re still soaring through the shadow realm with the world zipping by below us. Shadows stream at our sides; some of them reach out for us, but Asher easily dodges them, zigzagging from side to side.

  “What’s wrong?” Asher asks, feeling my tension.

  I shake my head, staring at the shadow wall to my right, my vision flicking around again. It becomes more defiant. Darker. Bolder. Forming a shape of a face with eyes that look just like mine; one’s I haven’t seen for years.

  “Dad,” I whisper as it extends out of the surface like a statue made of obsidian.

  He watches me for a moment before his lips start to unnaturally move. “Don’t trust anyone but yourself,” he says. “You still have a long road ahead of you, filled with hard choices. ”

  “I know,” I say. “How do I know what’s right and wrong, though?”

  “You just do,” he says. “You’ve made it this far—you’re the last Grim Angel—which means you’re the strongest—and the Anamotti know that. They fear it. ”

  I’m not sure I believe him. “I don’t feel that way. ”

  “But you are. ” The statue starts to crack. “I know you’ll do the right thing in the end. ”

  “Was it you?” I ask. “That day in the attic. ”

  I swear the dark mass smiles. “How could I not protect my little girl when the leader of the Reapers is after her. . . His voice floats away.

  “Dad, wait!” I call out, but the pieces crumble apart and disintegrate into dust.

  Without even thinking, I try to slip out of Asher’s arms, trying to get to him, pull him back to me, even though I can’t see him anymore. Yet Asher fights me, his arms refusing to let me go, pressing me closer to his chest.

  “Ember, hold still,” he says softly. I wonder if he saw what I did. “I don’t want to drop you. ”

  “I think I saw my dad. ” I squirm and push against his chest. “Asher, let me go. ”

  “No,” he says with relentless stubbornness. “If I let you go, you’ll fall. ”

  I glance over at the shadow wall where my dad was, but it’s now gone and then I look at the ground below me. Even though it kills me, I stop fighting, letting the drowsiness take over. My heart is being ripped apart all over again; just like the first time he disappeared.

  Chapter 16

  The Reaper has returned, tall and sinister, standing in the shadows of my room beside my dresser like a ghost. His eyes light up the night while his presence chills the air, and goosebumps dot my arms as I sit up in my bed.