Divine Mathews was exhausted. The kind of tired that left his bones heavy, his thoughts soggy. Spending all day in the food storage container taking stock of what Sovereign had for winter, next winter, left him ravenous.
No food could fill this hole.
Damn, it felt nice to have Josephine in his head again.
He couldn’t bring himself to be angry with her. The Sovereigns were to blame. Working all day left him smelling like food. The combination irritated his sensitive nose.
He’d never again underestimate his connections— those invisible strings binding him to two people. He could finally walk from home from the farmlands without developing a limp.
Sovereign was small compared to The City of Carris, where he grew up. The buildings, though, were older and closer together. The village was a maze of dirt roads. The flat, identical houses meant it was easy to get lost. A thick forest and Bel Steyne’s shield protected Sovereign. A valuable location. Residents could see the towering Wall of Darkness in the distance, but they were far enough away that they aren’t infected by it.
In true Garden Age style, vines and glowing colorful flowers grew off the older buildings. Sovereign was built during the Mining Age when, due to rare gems discovered in underground tunnels, poorer people for the first time had the opportunity to live well above their means. Sovereign was meant to be pretty, not functional. The new one-floor wooden cabins were the opposite. Residents didn’t care how the structure looked at long as it held and protected them from the elements.
Many older buildings needed repairing. That material could only be imported at a ridiculous price. Bel was developing a shield to help hold up a structure while Sovereigns were figuring out how to make brick and stone. They discovered Divine studied architecture. His work increased. He was always tired.
Divine was inside now. He could stop moving. Bel Steyne’s house. An eight bedroom monstrosity. This mansion was too large for two people.
Divine had no strength to walk to the bath let alone run it. He dropped his filthy body on Bel’s precious, clean couch. The yelling would be unbearable later. Once he recovered his energy, he’d head upstairs. The living room with its four different sized couches surrounding a wood polished table felt too much like a warm home. This room was a waste with only himself and Bel living here.
Divine didn’t know how to describe his relationship with Bel. In Silhouette, they saw each other as siblings though not blood related. Now, they weren’t exactly brothers but they were too close to be just friends. Relationships were too complicated.
Bel raced out of his office. His pale face crimson. His aura livid. Divine shot upright. The couch could be washed. It wasn’t that bad.
Bel ran past him.
“They didn’t have to walk through the damn town. Scaring everyone,” Bel growled out.
Harsh power saturated Divine’s senses. Where was this coming from? What monster reached the village? They shouldn’t have been able to find this place through Bel’s shields.
Bel threw the door open. Power rushed in. The monsters were at the gate.
“Why didn’t you sceadu on my front steps.” Bel roared out the door. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? How in the name of Darkness did you get through my shields?”
Bel was yelling at someone with enough power to crush him with one thought.
“Why are you here?” He continued yelling.
Divine didn’t know Bel could lose his composure so spectacularly.
“Bel, if you want me to dissolve your throat and sew your lips closed, all you have to do is ask,” came a male voice.
That didn’t sound like an innocent threat. From the smell of that beast’s power, Divine wouldn’t be able to stop him if he attacked Bel.
“Shove it Vayle. If you touch me, Shade will cut off your little head and shove it up your back passage.”
Was that Bel’s voice? Sounded like something Divine’s sister, Aliceanna, would say.
A female voice howled with laughter.
“It’s not funny, Niah. I have a hard enough time with that one,” Bel pointed at Divine, “walking around the village with his red eyes and brown skin. Now you show up with your blue hair and your killer aura. I will never hear the end of this. Humans don’t like us remember.”
“So that’s the child my sister was imprisoned for?” the male asked.
No wonder he smelled like Shade Harralite. The male was her brother. The one that hurt her.
Did Divine get Shade into more trouble? She helped when he was lost. She was the first person, he remembered, who really saw him—the good and the bad. She accepted him. Helping him got her attached by an army of cat creatures. Did something else happen to her?
“Bring the cart in the yard and come inside,” Bel demanded.
He turned to Divine.
“You’re washing that couch.”
Two people—one male, one female—walked in. The male’s eyes were impossibly green. His long pale blue hair framed his face. The female had her hair in a similar style. Her eyes were two black holes. Their presence could command any room without them saying a word.
The male turned to Divine. He couldn’t meet those green eyes.
“Shade will be happy you’re all right. She was worried about you.”
Divine’s heart pounded.
“You’re one of her brothers?”
The male flinched.
Divine would kill this monster. He made Shade sad. He deserved to die for that.
The female stepped in front of the male beast. Divine would destroy her if he needed to.
“Shade forgave him. We all have.”
“Then you’re all morons. He hurt her.”
A force rammed into his shoulder. Divine hit the couch. She punched him and he flew. They were the monster humans feared. Divine’s power was nothing compared to theirs.
“Don’t break my furniture,” Bel mumbled.
He was worried about that?
“How did you get here?” Bel asked.
“We walked,” the blue-haired male said.
Bel rubbed his temples. “That’s not what I meant and you know it.”
“How about you ask the right question.”
Divine didn’t like the male. If he knew what Bel was asking, why didn’t he answer the question? This female didn’t do anything to correct the overconfident bastard.
“I hate talking to you,” Bel said. “How did you get through my shields?”
“I was trained by Marion and Bleak,” the female said.
She didn’t offer any further explanation. Good thing Divine didn’t want anything from them. Getting answers out of those two would destroy what little patience Divine possessed.
“I’m better at creating shields than both of them,” Bel mumbled. “There’s no way they can get through one of my shields.”
“You need to do something out that arrogance.”
That green-eyed demon was lecturing Bel on being arrogant.
The female glared at Divine. She swore.
“What happened to you?” she asked
What was she talking about?
“You’ve been broken more times than I can tell. I’ve only see this type of aura from abused children.” She pointed to Divine’s stomach. “Your core is just as damaged. I can tell it’s healing.”
Bel sighed. “Why are you here? You’ve never sought me out at home.”
The female sat beside Divine.
The green-eyed vermin folded his arms.
“Stop calling us ‘the female’ and ‘the male.’ Bel said our names. Use them,” he said.
Divine knew his mouth dropped open. How had he known?
“Our senses have gotten so sensitive we can see a person’s aura. What makes you think we can’t develop a way of using our power to hear people’s thoughts? We do that, in a way, when we connect with someone’s inner Darkness.”
The male actually gave a full answer to a question Divine didn’t ask out loud. Bel’s guests were a pain. Divine couldn’t understand their way of thinking.
“Vayle Slaughter and Niah Weems. Now explain why you’re here,” Bel said.
Slaughter. What fool would name that beast Slaughter?
Vayle huffed. “You’re one to talk, Divine.”
He didn’t talk. That thing had no right to listen to his mind.
Niah poked Vayle’s rib. “You’re older. Stop being a baby.”
Bel’s aura went insane. It didn’t know which way to flow. It turned brown then black. Bel was afraid and confused. Why was it so strange for these two to be here?
“Bleak’s gone,” Niah continued.
His aura stopped moving.
“Don’t make me say anymore,” Niah snapped.
Bel dropped onto the stool in front of the kitchen. His face was pure shock.
He bowed his head. “How?”
“The new masters of Darkness used her and her siblings as an experiment. They forced her brother to… We’ll talk about this later,” Niah said.
Bel’s aura turned blood red. His dropped his fist through the counter.
“Why would the Darkness want Bleak?”
Vayle’s aura darkened. “We’re in the way. The new masters want to take over the world. They can’t fully gain control over Jael. Lifeblood beings were born here. As far as I know, we haven’t left. We consume the Energy in Darkness, lessening its effects on Jaelians. The rest of the world is in far worse shape than our province.”
“Humans overseas live in constant terror,” Niah said. “I stopped sailing to other provinces because the Darkness is so strong outside Jael. The Walls of Darkness play with people’s minds. The power turned plants and animals into flesh eating monsters. It turned a few humans into something worse. The sun shines for only a short period at the beginning of the day. You begin to dread it. The Darkness does bad things to people.” Niah shook her head.
“I never knew why you and Shade stopped sailing.” Vayle said quietly. “I asked Shade. She wouldn’t tell me. I thought it was because…”
“She wasn’t angry with you. We’ve seen people do terrible things to each other.”
Vayle slipped his hand under Niah’s hair and messaged her neck. She closed her eyes.
Divine had no way of knowing. He barely knew what was going on in other regions. He didn’t receive any news on other provinces. What was going to happen to Jael?
Bel took several deep breaths. His aura moved again. His normal colors returned. The deep red remained.
“We will talk more about this later,” Bel said. “I can’t think now, but answer this—are we in danger?”
“We don’t know.” Niah tipped her head.
“Most of our family isn’t here,” Bel growled out.
A sickening feeling festered at the bottom of Divine’s stomach. Were they in more trouble? The Brielle, ravenous monsters who fed on dark emotions, we still after them. Divine was protected under Bel’s shields. The rest of their family weren’t so lucky. They were alive and whole, at least.
Did they now face a new danger?
“Who are the new master of Darkness?” Divine asked
Niah stretched her arms in front of her. “In the past, all Lifeblood beings owned the Darkness. Now, something else controls it. We call them the new masters but we don’t know who they are. We need a new name for them. Darkness is the body. They’ve become the minds.” Niah rocked her head. “That’s not entirely accurate. Darkness has a mind and body but it’s like a child. It only does what it’s told. Has this village been having problems with the shield?” she asked.
Vayle released her neck.
Bel frowned. “How did you know that? The Darkness keeps eating through it. I’m worried about my other villages.”
“They’re fine. Since we haven’t seen you around, we visited your villages. You owe us. You should be happy they’ve all gone through many winters. They don’t need as much as the smaller towns. Their shields were having problems. The Darkness got in. We fixed the situation before it got out of hand. No one died.” Niah said.
Bel’s eyes widened. “You took care of my villages?”
“What an absurd question?” Vayle snapped.
Just because Vayle was in a bad mood, didn’t give him the right to take it out on Bel. Vayle, the male Shade cared so much about the mere thought of him sent her aura spiraling. He didn’t deserve it.
Cold malice and anger hit Divine. Vayle heard his thoughts. Good.
“Vayle, stop being such a darkling,” Niah said. “Bel, you’ll need to go to Bleak’s house at some point. Her notes said the shield around her property should last forever without her help. We’d like to add our power to it just in case.”
Why did they assume Bel would want to add his power to the shield? Didn’t they know how to ask for things?
Bel nodded. “I’m expecting the rest of my family to arrive soon. After that, I’ll go to her house.” Bel shook his head. “She wasn’t supposed to leave.”
“No, she wasn’t.” Vayle said.
A knock on the door. Ru Saage, the leader of Sovereign, never came to Bel’s door.
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