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Dangerous Ways

 

The Books of Winter: Book One

 

R.R. Virdi

 
Copyright R.R. Virdi 2016

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

***

Chapter Five

There is no one single experience or sensation that can define going through one of the Ways. Each is different, and leads to equally different places.

My body tightened in response to the sensation of freefalling. Hairs stood on end, and air buffeted me. A light tingle coursed over the entirety of my skin. And then the currents of air were gone. A soft jolt rolled up my legs, stopping at the knees. I blinked. We were on the ground. “Cassie, are you okay?”

She panted, doubled over, hands resting on her thighs. “You…douche biscuit!” Straightening up with startling speed, she lunged at me, flailing her arms.

I clapped my hands toward her face, causing her to blink and stumble in surprise. My body shifted as she staggered by. One of her hands clipped my arm.

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not okay!” She was still breathing heavy. “You pushed me through a…” She trailed off when she saw what I had.

We stood in a field of purple grass, blades high enough to brush our knees. Even in the dark, their color was visible and vibrant, catching the pale moonlight from above.

“Where are we?”

“The outermost domain of The Grand Marquis.” I nodded ahead to a massive stonework.

“How do we get back?”

I looked at her.

“Me? Why can’t you, you know?” She pointed at a spot behind us, waving her arms. “Open another one? Open that one back up?”

“It’s one Way. That’s how it works. It leads out, not back. It’s how I’ve traveled the world on occasion. Normally I resort to mortal methods to travel back. Other times, when I’m on Timeless business or invited to a realm or holding, the hosts open a Way back to the mortal world. If I could open Ways at will, I would have saved us back in the Long Gardens.”

“Well, that sucks.”

“It does. Come on. I don’t know how much time will pass while we’re here. Remember, I have other engagements.”

“Oh, right.” Cassie mimed tying a noose around her neck before raising her hand into the air and jerking it in a single sharp motion. “Krrksht!” She accentuated the sound of my neck cracking.

“Yes, thank you.”

“Sorry.”

“It’s fine. Let’s hope it stays an act and nothing more. Let’s go. Time’s wasting.” I walked off.

“Oh, irony!” she called, throwing a hand into the air with theatrical effect. “How cruel art thou? Time slips by for the Timeless man!”

I sighed.

There is something gravely wrong with the youth of today. It must be the food they eat. Or the music. Television could play a role as well.

I felt it safest to blame all three.

Cassie marched beside me and nudged me with her elbow. I turned to look. “So, we’ve got a bit of a walk.”

“Yes.”

“Mind if I ask you some questions?”

I shrugged.

“How exactly does someone become a Timeless? How did you?”

I faltered for a step. I shouldn’t have; the question was to be expected.

How do you answer that?

Honestly, I told myself.

The sky was gorgeous, a gem-infused blanket of black slowly passing over us. We kept an even, comfortable pace as we plowed through the grass. Several minutes went by before I spoke. “I don’t know, not all of it.”

Cassie was silent, but I could feel her watching.

“As far as I know, Timeless are made—chosen from people who do get involved and make a bad habit out of it. It’s sort of a way to bring balance I guess. To get us to serve another purpose, to watch, learn, and preserve important information. And share it on occasion.”

“Share it with who?”

The muscles along my back knotted as I thought about the answer. “Trouble. Dangerous men and women.”

“How so?”

“Leave it alone.” Something in my tone must’ve got to her because she didn’t push it any further. A hint of guilt racked me, so I addressed her previous questions. “Most of the Timeless are plucked from wars. I was.”

“That one?” She jabbed a finger towards my saber.

I nodded.

“What happened?”

“I died. Well, almost. I remember the air rushing out of me. My chest felt like it was broken and I was thrown to the ground. It felt like all the warmth was leaving my body to be on the outside, spreading over my skin. I was vaguely aware that I had been shot. The blood and pain made it obvious. I thought I was going to die. If the wound didn’t kill me, someone else would finish the job.”

“Then what?”

“I don’t remember most of it. Someone dragged me from the battle, tended to my injuries, made sure I survived. When I woke up, we were hundreds of miles away from where I fell. There was a small fire going, and we were in the middle of the woods. It was serene. Part of me wanted to lay there forever. After being in a battle, seeing the things you do, there’s something tempting and peaceful about being in nature.”

“And, what? You woke up and no longer had to worry about buying Oil of Olay?”

I blinked. “No. I woke up feeling like I had been shot. Lost in the woods with a stranger who offered me a choice.”

She tilted her head to the side.

“To drop me back off home. Or to tell me about a world—worlds—I had never imagined. A perspective that would profoundly change my life and, if I did my job, change the lives of a great many others. Told me about fantasies, tales of magic and creatures I couldn’t believe in and, the chance to see them. All I had to do was make a deal. Swear a pact.”

“Hope you got it in writing.”

I chuckled. “Not exactly. I agreed. I was young, eager to travel and see the world, even if I didn’t believe his mysteries and magic speech. That’s when he took to me to see the Ageless court.”

“Sounds like a collection of plastic surgery bimbos,” she muttered.

I resolved to keep a straight face. It was beneath a wizened member of the Timeless to laugh at something like that. A light huff of breath escaped my lips. It wasn’t a laugh and I would maintain that.

I’m not as wizened as I should be.

“What did they do?”

“Apart from terrifying me to utter speechlessness? Shattering my conceptions about the world, life, God and more?”

“Uh, yeah. Crap, didn’t think about that. Um, apart from that.”

“They gave me the opportunity to become one of them, to bless me with the ability to remain my current age. To walk through countless ages so long as I don’t suffer severe mortal harm.”

“So you can die?”

“Yes, just not from old age.”

“That’s a deal I’d kill for.”

I gave her a knowing look. “It’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

“How so?” She arched a brow.

“Imagine living forever, watching the people you grew up with, cared for, loved—and will love—pass. Watching the world fall into several dark moments, knowing you have the knowledge and skills to make a difference—”

“But you can’t? Or aren’t allowed?”

I nodded.

“Well, not for nothin’. Thanks for getting involved this time.” Cassie’s arms wrapped tight around me in a hug. It felt good. We were walking through a dangerous part of the Neravene into a potentially more dangerous part, and I felt fine.

Hugs are a force of their own in the universe. They’re ingrained in us humans. From the moment we are born, we’re inundated with and in hugs. Wrapped in the arms of parents, cradled, and sung to. When we wake from a nightmare and cry out in terror. When we go through heartbreak or experience immense joy. Seeing someone for the first time, or after a long time. It’s one of the simplest mortal actions that carries one of the most magical forces in the world.

Compassion. The reason I had gotten involved in so many mortal affairs.

Compassion was an emotion that many paranormal creatures thought a weakness. Some said it would be the cause of my death. Looking around at where we were, the mess I was stuck in, they were probably right. I looked to Cassie and realized those people had no idea what they were talking about.

I threw an arm around her and hugged her back. “I’m glad I got involved. No regrets.”

“You might change your mind when they glurck you,” she said, placing her hands on her neck in a mock gesture of wringing it.

I stopped. My breath stilled. “Maybe sooner.” I nodded to the immaculate courtyard of stone ahead.

The tiles were near-black in the absence of sunlight. Gargantuan pillars reached into the sky, casting lengthy shadows that looked to sway. No ceiling was mounted atop them. It created quite the view.

“Well, that’s not spooky.”

“You can always go back.”

Cassie glared, making it clear that wasn’t an option.

“You could, though. You can open a Way at any moment. You could go back to my place. You’d be safe. You’re welcome as long as you like. You don’t have to do this.”

“But if I don’t, I’ll never really be safe, will I?”

I shook my head. “No, I don’t believe so. Mind if I ask you something?”

“Shoot.”

“Why are you sticking with me? Trusting me? I haven’t been as forthcoming as I could be; we both know it. You could travel to any point in the world. Be in another country in a blink.”

“I trust you.”

Three words. There’s magic in the number three, and that magic infects words as well. Not to say that words aren’t magic. They most assuredly are. But some of the most powerful words come in threes. I love you. I miss you. I trust you. And many more. Those three have an effect.

“Thank you.”

“I mean, at first I didn’t. Maybe part of me still doesn’t, but I want to. You saved me. You didn’t have to. You’re trying to help me and you don’t need to. You’re right here with me in”—she stopped, looking to the violet blades of grass—“where singing and dancing dinosaurs go to die. Off to the purple pastures they go.”

I didn’t know what she was saying, but I understood the message.

“Plus, you’re teaching me a lot, and I know you’ve got loads more to show me.”

I grinned. “I do. Stick around, kid, and I’ll show you the ropes.” Another nudge to my ribs, and I winced.

“And I’ve got something to teach you, old timer. Stop callin’ me kid. You’ll live longer.” She gave me a feral smile.

“I can do that.” We crossed the remaining bit of the field, a literal footstep away from the stone tiling. I placed my shoe onto the first tile. Nothing happened. My heart raced nonetheless. We were on the grounds of the Marquis’ personal residence. He wasn’t the sort who took kindly to intruders.

“So where exactly is this in the Marquis’ domain?”

“His home,” I said. “And not the front entrance.”

Her opalescent eyes glimmered with an inner light. “We’re trespassing?”

“Only if we’re caught.”

She snorted. “Good point, but couldn’t you have done what you did back in the Long Gardens? Walk me through imagining his home? I could’ve dropped us into his living room. No worries, no travel, no issues.”

I froze. Cassie had said it with such ease, like with a snap of her fingers she could take us into the private domain of a powerful lord of the Neravene. And the terrifying part was she could. And that’s why she’s being hunted, you idiot!

Cassidy Winters was a doorway to anywhere, regardless of the rules and protection governing a place. She was a weapon or the next best thing to one. A living, breathing skeleton key. Cassie needed to know.

I couldn’t have picked a worse spot to stop. We had cleared a good deal of the courtyard and stood in an area packed with more columns. The space gave the illusion of being open, but it was a tight enclosure. A semi-circle of pillars sat on either side, leaving only one path—forward. Walking back was an option. One I was afraid would trigger the guards. Hunched figures carved out of stone sat at the foot of every column.

Their faces looked long and reptilian with broad snouts that doubtless held rows of sharpened teeth. Serpent-like eyes gave the impression they were watching us. They had the bodies of men, large and muscular, with hands ending in elongated and sharpened digits. Muscular legs that would shame professional bodybuilders joined the creatures at the waist, ending in raptor-like feet with formidable claws. A powerful tail as thick as an alligator’s sprouted from behind.

“Gargoyles.” I let out a breath and swallowed. “Don’t make eye contact.”

Gargoyles are magical watchdogs the size of grizzly bears. Stone sentries that are shaped to the creator’s desires and imbued with a spark of will. They hit like trucks and have the disposition of an angry pit bull. They can be animated and used to carry out simple orders. Orders like kill.

“Whoops.”

My heart lurched and I eyed Cassie. “What do you mean whoops?”

“Like, whoops I think I looked at one of them.”

Something sounded like chips of pottery cracking. My body turned like rusted gears to look at the source of the noise. I regretted doing so.

I looked four gargoyles in the eyes before finding where the noise came from. A gargoyle far off to the side of where we had entered had lines crisscrossing its body. I prayed they were defects in its craftsmanship. That theory went out as more lines formed, spreading like ever-growing veins. I figured the construction and shape of our surroundings were behind the echoing cracks. I was wrong.

“Uh…” Cassie shuffled towards me, placing her body against mine. Her fingers fumbled against the loop on her belt. “This seems like a whip it moment?” She undid the clasp and held the rolled weapon in both hands, uncertainty showing on her face.

The stone veneer of every gargoyle was cracking. I counted twelve in total. Twelve monstrous, strong, fast, and furious killing machines.

“I’ve heard of cracking yourself up before, but this is ridiculous,” muttered Cassie.

I groaned. “Please don’t, not now.”

“Can’t help it. I deflect terrible and deadly scenarios with misplaced humor. It’s part of my irresistible charm.” She let out a weak laugh.

The cracking came to a horrible crescendo. It was an earth-splitting sound as tons of stone shattered. Shards burst forth like shrapnel, hurtling towards us.

“Cassie!” I pulled her close, sinking my weight as I brought her to a crouch with me, folding my coat around us. The leather was thick, doubly so since I had it altered. A good coat can be like a second skin. I pulled the mantle over my head, hoping the turtle-like action would spare my face.

The chips of stone struck home. It sounded like pelting rain, each strike ringing with a unique tone. It felt like taking on a pitching machine with my body. And the machine was winning.

A stone struck the back of my hand with a sharp, fleshy crack that sent ripples of agony into my fingers. I would be riddled with bruises. George was not going to be happy. I grimaced.

“Ow!” Cassie’s voice wasn’t a pained yelp but a low guttural growl. “That one hurt.”

The barrage stopped.

Groaning, I took a moment to shrug and loosen my body, which had stiffened in response to the rocky hailstorm. I peeled the coat back and had a moment of wishing I could forever remain inside it.

Twelve beasts, now made of skin—not stone—stood in a semi-circle before us. They blocked the path out. The only way was ahead, into the court of the Grand Marquis. All of the creatures flicked their—for lack of a better term—ears. Large, fan-like things. A series of splayed fingers with thin membranes spread between them. There was a wet slurping sound and I remembered something else about gargoyles.

Their wings. They spurted out of their backs in a single swift motion. Bat-like in shape, covered in a milky mucus. They looked too fragile to carry their weight. But where monsters were involved, the rules of conventional physics were often tossed aside.

One of them decided to prove that point to me. It beat its wings, sending fluid spraying off the limbs. Cassie ducked behind me as I was covered in the ichor.

“Hell no, I just showered!” she shouted from behind me.

I blinked and wiped a hand against both my eyes, flicking the mucus to the ground. The creature leapt into the air, spiraling as it rose several dozen feet above us.

“Move!” I shoved Cassie towards the path ahead. I dove out of the way as the tiling ruptured from the creature’s weight. The impact rattled half the bones in my body. I looked back to the small crater formed by the gargoyle’s dive-bomb. “There.” I pointed to the narrow way ahead, lined with pillars on both sides. “Cassie, go. Use the columns for cover!”

She bobbed her head in understanding and bolted.

That move galvanized the rest of the gargoyles into action. A dozen monsters rushed me. Over a century of living and combat experience led to one outcome.

Running.

My feet scrabbled against the ground. The bare point of my saber scratched stone as I scampered forward. I saw Cassie enter the pathway and duck behind one of the stone structures. The flat of my blade slapped against my legs as I pumped my muscles harder. An ache developed deep within my chest. I could hear the gargoyles behind me.

Some took to the air. The rest pursued me on all fours, their claws gouging and crushing bits of the tiles. Not a trait I liked in my monsters.

My fingers fumbled with my belt, working to free my sword. “Come on, come on.” I managed to draw the saber. Running with it was awkward, however. There was a series of crashes, louder than the rest, from close behind me. I turned without looking and sent the blade into a wide arc.

The gargoyle reeled, losing its momentum as it pawed at the gash in its snout. Its eyes adjusted from the shock and narrowed. Not a good moment for me. I spat a curse and took off again, barreling towards the columns ahead.

The creatures were gaining on me. I came into the passage with a leap, landing hard and tucking into a roll. On instinct, I sunk to my knees. A loud crash from above caused me to flinch as bits of powdered stone rained on me.

I looked up as I scuttled around the pillar. The gargoyle had torn a chunk of rock out of the column that was the size of my head. I swallowed the imaginary obstruction in my throat. The monster rounded on me, watching as I edged around the stone post.

A snap-crack filled my ears and I took a double step back. The gargoyle howled, stopping in its tracks as it clutched its arm. A finger-length wound hissed spitefully as smoke poured from it.

I leaned to the side. Cassie stood next to the opposite pillar, eyes wide in surprise as she held the whip. The iron barb had clipped the creature’s bicep and clearly had an effect.

“Holy crap, I didn’t think I’d hit it.” She wound the whip between her hands, coiling it for another strike.

The gargoyle didn’t care much for that. Its attention left me completely, as if I no longer existed. It hunched, muscles coiling. The adopted posture spelled danger to all. Except Cassidy Winters.

She bristled, thrusting her chest forwards and arms back in defiance. Her lips peeled back. “Come at me!” She swung the whip in a circular motion, the barb glanced off the nearby rock and faltered.

The creature swooped towards her, arms out wide to grab her and God only knew what next. I wasn’t going to give it the chance. A primal scream left my lungs as I flipped my grip on the saber, chasing after it. I sent the point sinking into its flesh.

The blade drove through the creature’s thick back. I wrenched, twisting the weapon side to side. The monster’s wings flapped and beat against me with near-concussive force. I held on. I let out another scream and pulled the sword free, holding it up for the killing blow.

A truck collided with my waist, taking me to the ground. The world shook and blurred around the edges. I blinked several times to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was.

The rest of the gargoyles piled into the tight area. The one atop me clasped its hands above its head. I squirmed every way I could to avoid those hands. I wasn’t looking to have my skull pulped.

Another tight, elastic crack! Black cord snared the monster’s throat, tightening to the point where the gargoyle’s eyes bulged. The iron tip bit into the flesh of its chest. It served as a hook as Cassie pulled, causing the creature enough pain that it had to lean back to alleviate the pressure.

I wormed an arm free of its pin-hold and swung the sword. A section of its throat parted and violet blood sprayed. I freed myself and rushed to Cassie’s side. The other gargoyles took positions around us, nearly leaving us trapped. Nearly.

“Use the columns.” I jerked a thumb over my back.

Cassie nodded and reeled her whip back before taking off.

I used my lengthier gait to pull up beside her. “Nice cast back there. Getting it to wind around something’s neck is difficult.”

“Lucky—oh, crap!” She stumbled and weaved behind and out another pillar as one the gargoyles broke from the pack to single her out. The monster bounded after her on all fours, leaping on occasion to close the distance.

I veered towards Cassie, hoping to cross paths with her as she skirted around and through the columns. The rest of gargoyles took issue with my plan. Two moved in perfect unison, landing before me.

“Cassie—oomph.” A tail met my chest, drawing the breath from my lungs. I tumbled back, rolling over the ground, struggling to keep my grip on the sword. “Argh,” I grunted as I pushed myself halfway up and to the side to avoid another lash of a tail. The second gargoyle advanced with its taloned digits. I was finished having my back against the wall.

Some creatures in the supernatural world have specific ways to kill them. They require certain materials, techniques, and even timing to be destroyed. Many creatures can’t tolerate salt or iron. Gargoyles, on the other hand, are wonderfully susceptible to a great many things. Iron hurts them more than other weapons, but they are essentially like any creature in the mortal world.

I moved towards the blow in a crescent-like arc, feinted, and countered. A thrust of my palm pushed the gargoyle’s arm aside. I kept moving around the creature as I followed with another strike.

The aged blade parted hand from wrist with ease. The gargoyle’s serpentine tongue peeked from its mouth, flailing as it let out a high-pitched cry. More purplish-blue blood spouted from the limb.

His pack mate took umbrage with the maiming of his friend. He released an odd, off-key songlike sound. It was like chimes amidst a xylophone.

And my bravado was gone. I waved the sword at its face to keep it at bay. When it didn’t advance, I spun and sprinted off. “Cassie?”

“Yo!” She appeared in the corner of my vision, still being chased by the single fiend that had set off after her. “Jeez,” Cassie called over her shoulder to her pursuer. “No means no! Take a hint!” She zigzagged and pulled ahead, dipping behind another pillar. Cassie popped back out and around the other end snapping the whip again. “Back, back, hiyah! Crap.” She didn’t bother bringing the weapon back, leaving it to trail behind her as she ran. “Crapcrapcrapcrap! John—I hate you!”

At that moment, I shared her sentiment. My body arched and quivered as the air behind me pushed against my skull. Something parted bits of straggling hair from my head. That was too close for my liking. This was going to end badly.

Chases never end in the favor of the chased. Not in situations like this. That was something reserved for television shows and movies. There’s a reason predators hunt in packs. It’s more effective. They can cover more ground, maneuver more freely, and control how and where the prey is herded.

That was exactly what was happening.

The columns ahead grew tighter, limiting our space. We were being corralled. Our odds weren’t looking good.

“Hey.” Cassie came next to me, breathing hard and fast. She was losing steam. “You suck.”

“No argument here. Keep going.”

She grunted.

“They’re pushing us somewhere.”

“What?”

“They’re herding us, like dogs do for hunters.”

“Where?”

“I’ve got a good idea.”

“So far, man, I’ve hated your ideas.”

She had good reason to. I didn’t think my legs and body would be able to handle what lay ahead of us. It was a staircase built for a Tibetan monastery secluded atop a Himalayan mountaintop. Wide, solid stairs, an uncountable number of steps to climb.

Normally, high ground offers an advantage. Not so much when you have to expend energy climbing, and your adversaries can fly.

I leapt up to the first step, bouncing up to the second as soon as I made contact with the stairs. “Come on, Cassie, faster.”

She didn’t respond, not with words at least.

I felt a heated glower that could have melted stone.

There was a weighted crunch as one of the steps in front of me shattered. A plume of dust and crushed stone obscured my sight. I set my jaw and shoulder, plowing forward, and connected with one of the gargoyles.

I drove up a step, making it fight for balance. It snapped at me with its jaws. I sank, grabbing one of its arms in one hand, and one of its wings in the other. I fell back.

The sudden shift in momentum and loss of balance caused the creature to tumble with me. I tucked my knees and kicked out. The monster sailed over me as the edge of one of the steps ground against my spine. It landed with a soft thud before rolling down several steps.

“That hurt,” I muttered as I picked myself up and covered the ground I had lost.

Cassie was a good way ahead of me, twenty or more steps. More of the gargoyles took to the air.

I’m in good shape; decades of travel, walking, running and climbing do that to you. However, I’m still mortal. I don’t have supernatural stamina, and I was near the end of mine.

Denial is a great or terrible thing. It all depends on how you use it. You deny horrible facts and situations, like ours, up until the moment they kill you. Or, you can trick your mind and body into believing whatever you want. It works.

I am not tired. I run up mountainous staircases all the time. And I’m being chased by gargoyles. I can run harder and faster than this. And I did.

Each footstep was light and quick. The second I touched down on a step, I was back in the air, hopping to the next. My lungs burned, feeling dry and stretched. My legs ached. Molten liquid coursed through the muscles, searing them. I didn’t care. I was driven by a cold fear that numbed me to bodily discomfort.

More and more of the creatures were focusing on Cassie. All of them took to the sky. I pumped my legs harder, closing the distance between Cassie and me.

“This isn’t looking good.”

She was right.

“They’re trying to force us into a corner.”

“And what’s in that corner?”

I had an idea. It wasn’t as bad as it seemed, unless the gargoyles decided to kill once they cornered us. It was always an option. I hoped they were on a tighter leash than it looked like they were.

“How do we stop these things?” Cassie panted.

“Two ways—” I broke off as I stopped and ran sideways, avoiding a swooping gargoyle. I lashed out with the sword. My strike didn’t do much aside from leaving a small notch in the monster’s wing. Superficial damage. “Sunlight reverts them back to stone.”

“Not an option.”

“Or we kill them.”

She furrowed her brows and scowled. “Not an option, it looks like then!” Cassie’s pace slowed. Sweat beaded her face, plastering lengths of hair to her skin.

Things were growing worse by the second. This was a numbers game, and we were losing. We had managed to injure some and had taken one out of commission, but the odds were still in the gargoyles’ favor. We were running low on energy, and the creatures seemed to have no end to theirs.

“Cassie, look at the top of the stairs. Can you do it?”

She glanced up, squinting as she kept climbing. “Think so, but I’m tired.”

“Tired beats dead, kid.”

She stared daggers at me.

I had promised not to call her kid anymore, but it worked wonders in riling her up, which was exactly what we needed.

Somehow, she managed to keep her balance and progress up the stairs as she shut her eyes tight. She stuck her tongue out and bit down in concentration.

I slowed down, running over to her. The air shimmered as if a thin dusting of powdered glass hung suspended through it, catching the moon and starlight from above.

Cassie moved both hands upwards in an almost graceful manner. The space in front of us parted. Her momentum carried her into and through it.

I dove too, hurtling through the Way and appearing hundreds of stairs up. I blinked, realizing I was in the air. I fell. My chest hit the unforgiving stone.

Cassie landed on all fours in a cat-like crouch.

I groaned and rolled over, sitting up to glower at her. “Why did you open it that far above ground?”

“Deal with it…kid.” A smug smile spread across her face. Shrill shrieks pierced the night, pulling her smile away. The gargoyles came together in a tight-knit aerial grouping. “Well, it’s been not so nice knowing ya.”

I gave a slight nod of my head over my shoulder.

Cassie followed it, her eyes widened in response.

To be honest, so did mine.

Imagine the cleanest, most polished mirror you can think of. Now imagine it being made by finer hands than any found in the mortal world. Made of liquid diamonds, shining and reflecting in perfect clarity. Its height could have matched a small skyscraper, as could its width. Two figures regarded us from within the shining surface.

I hadn’t seen my eyes in a while. They looked weary. The usual amber-brown appeared dull. Little branches of red crept over the whites. I looked like shit.

Cassie’s reflection didn’t look any better, a point I decided not to vocalize. Her eyes of tonal reds, oranges, and yellows burned bright in the mirror.

“It’s a shiny dead end. What are we supposed to do?”

“Go through it.”

“You’re joking.”

I waved a hand to the group of gargoyles about to reenact a kamikaze.

“Good point.” She took a step back and leapt towards her reflection.

I followed her through the diamond wall.

***
End of ARC chapter five

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