I stole a glance down at the pool, which was dark and still now. Azazel was staring off into the distance. She looked defeated. Graham shoved his hands into his pockets again. I walked away from the grassy hill, back to the place where the doorway stood. I peered through it. I could see our bodies, still motionless except for the rise and fall of our breath. We could burst through right now. We could take over the world, spread the Darkness.
I remembered that earlier, when the first pangs of the Darkness had started to ride me, I’d felt excited at the prospect of killing Kieran and Eve. But now, after hearing what Graham had said, and after everything we’d been through, I knew that wasn’t what I wanted. My heart still raced at the thought, and a part of me felt a twinge of giddiness. But I recognized now that was just the Darkness inside me. What I really wanted was to stop the killing. I’d never wanted to rule the world. I’d only ever wanted to be normal.
But the Light and the Dark had decided for me, before I was even born, that I was never going to get to be normal. If only I’d had nothing more to contend with than myself, instead of bearing the weight of everything humanity had given up. If it had only been me, maybe I’d never have made the choices I’d made. Maybe I’d never have hurt so many people.
Azazel was running up behind me. “Jason, what are you doing?”
She thought I’d decided to charge back through the doorway. “Nothing,” I told her. “Just thinking.”
Graham brought up the rear. “It’s not as if having the power of Darkness robs you two of all of your own decisions, you know.”
“No, I know,” I said. “But you don’t understand how seductive it is for me.” I looked at Azazel. “For us. When they pumped us full of it in the test we went through earlier, we were out of control. I killed my son. And I didn’t even feel bad about it. It took all my guilt.” I scuffed one of my shoes against the ground. “I have a lot of guilt. The idea of getting rid of it…”
“Graham, when we have powers, we’re like vengeful gods,” said Azazel. “We don’t care one bit about anyone except ourselves. And we get so jealous. I don’t know if we can fight it off. We couldn’t last time.”
“The only way I ever saw that what I was doing was wrong was when Cameron started sucking off my powers,” I said. “If I’d kept them, I would have kept killing.”
“We should stand down,” said Azazel.
“But if you do that,” said Graham, “the Light wins.”
“But if we go through that doorway,” I said, “the Dark wins.” I shook my head. “There should be some way to fight them both. If we could only take all that power that people have given up over the centuries and give it back to them. Shatter the Darkness and the Light.”
“The problem is that Light and Dark are fighting with each other,” said Azazel. “The badness all lies in the conflict. If we could break it up and give it back to everyone, that would be the best option.”
Graham scratched the back of his head. “There might be a way to do that. But it would be really dangerous. It could easily destroy you.”
Azazel laughed. “Well, if it’s dangerous, you can count us out. I mean, we never do anything dangerous, do we, Jason?”
“Never,” I agreed, grinning.
“You don’t understand,” said Graham. “You’d have to get the power of the Light away from Kieran and Eve. You’d have to absorb the Light and the Dark. And then to give it back… I’m not exactly sure how you’d go about doing it, but I don’t know if you could. The strain it would put on the two of you would be extreme.”
I was about to speak up and say we didn’t care what the cost would be, we’d do it. But then I looked through the doorway at Azazel’s body. So much of her life had been taken because of things that I’d done. How could I speak for her?
Through the doorway, in the real world, Hallam and Marlena were talking. I stepped closer to the doorway to see if I could hear. Their voice floated through, faint, but understandable. I motioned Azazel over so that she could listen too.
“The baby is going to be fine,” Marlena was saying. “I know he’s okay.”
“The way he punched your stomach,” said Hallam, fury still in his voice. “And I was powerless. I couldn’t do anything.”
“I don’t blame you, Hallam,” Marlena said. “I’ve spent my life taking care of myself. I’m strong. I thought you loved that about me.”
“I do,” said Hallam. “Of course I do. But to watch someone hurting you and not be able to stop it was too much for me. I felt as if something inside me broke.”
“The baby is fine,” said Marlena.
“I hope so.” But his voice was agonized.
“Fine,” she said again. “And when he’s born, we are going to spoil him rotten. We’ll give him everything we ever dreamed of. He’ll…” She trailed off. “Oh, why am I saying this? We’re not going to be able to do any of that, are we? He’s going to live in this screwed-up world, and you and I will always be on the run. And he’ll never be safe.”
Hallam didn’t answer. When he finally did speak, his voice broke. “I wish I could promise you differently. I’d do anything to keep you both safe. But in this world, I’m simply not strong enough. There are powers that are too big for me. I’m worthless to you.”
Azazel turned sharply away from the doorway. “We’ll do it,” she said.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“We have to, Jason,” she said. “Hallam’s right. The dice are stacked against him in the world right now. If we could dismantle that power and redistribute it, it would give him a fighting chance. It would give everyone a fighting chance. And after all the suffering we’ve inflicted on the world, we owe them.”
I nodded. I couldn’t agree more. “What do we have to do?” I asked Graham. Maybe we were going to have to kill Kieran and Eve after all. I tried not to get happy about that. “Do we go back through this doorway?”
Graham shook his head. “You’d never be able to handle all that power in the real world. You’ll have to stay here in the Spiritus Mundi. And to do that, you’ll have to get Kieran and Eve here.”
“How do we do that?” asked Azazel.
“It’s going to take a lot of power,” said Graham. “Dark power.”
Azazel slumped against the edge of the doorway. I sat on the ground, disgustedly tearing up hunks of grass and tossing them on the ground.
“You two have the power of Darkness,” said Graham. “You’re the only ones who can summon it.”
Graham said the best way to get Kieran and Eve to the Spiritus Mundi was through their dreams. Azazel had determined that since Kieran used to have her dreams, she should be able to use that to get to him. And Azazel used to dream about Agnes a lot. We surmised that Kieran did too. In fact, Kieran had apparently killed Agnes in one of his dreams about her. We figured that since Kieran’s and Eve’s powers were so intertwined, pulling him through would pull her through too. Agnes was a creature of Darkness. We had the power of Darkness. Technically, we should be able to make her do our bidding. But for the life of us, neither Azazel nor I could figure out how to summon the Darkness. We’d tried everything we could think of.
My head hurt. Azazel was exhausted.
“Maybe we’re just not in tune with it,” Azazel said. “Should we try killing someone? Graham if we shoot you, will you really die?”
“I’m already dead,” said Graham. “But if you kill me, I won’t be able to appear to you anymore, and I think you might still need my help.”
“Darn it,” I muttered. “I was kind of thinking that strangling you might be fun.”
“Okay,” said Azazel, sounding excited. “Just go with that, Jason. Think about strangling someone. Does it make you feel…powerful?”
“I feel the exact opposite of powerful right now,” I said.
“Think, you two,” said Graham. “How did you used to summon your power? Before Kieran and Eve took it, I mean?”
“I had this image thing,” Azazel said. “I told you that. I uncapped this bottle of foaming liquid, and it took over my limbs. But that’s not working.”
“Together,” said Graham. “How did you do it together?”
“We never figured that out,” said Azazel.
“No,” I said, getting to my feet. “But we did have a theory, remember?” I strode over to her, gathering her in my arms.
She gasped, gazing up into my eyes. “Oh,” she said softly. “The kissing.”
“Yeah.” I lowered my lips to hers.
Azazel’s arms wound themselves around me, drawing me against her. I let my fingers wander over her hips and waist, and I assaulted her mouth with mine. She responded in kind, kissing me back furiously. We might have kept kissing like that for hours, if Graham hadn’t cleared his throat.
“Um, guys? I think it worked.”
Reluctantly, we pulled away from each other. Agnes was standing next to Graham, her arms folded over her chest.
“What are the two of you up to?” she asked pointedly.
“Not your problem,” I said. “You gave us power over Darkness, right? And you’re an aspect of the Darkness. So we’re kind of like your bosses now, aren’t we?”
She made a face and pointed at Graham.”This is your fault, isn’t it? What kind of ideas have you put in their heads?”
“Never mind about that. We have a job for you,” said Azazel.
“Can you still get into Kieran’s dreams?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “Why do you think I was using that Nancy woman to communicate with him?”
I threw my hands up in the air. “This is great. This is just great.”
“But,” said Agnes, “maybe the Light aspect of me could do it. You met her in the Light’s test, didn’t you?”
“We, um, sort of shot her,” said Azazel.
“That might not matter,” said Agnes. “If you can get back to the room where you left her, there may be enough residual energy left to use her essence to get into Kieran’s dreams.”
I turned and looked at the stone building we’d come through. I really didn’t want to go back.. “We’ve got to go back in there, then, don’t we?”
“You’ve already beaten it,” said Agnes. “It won’t be difficult to backtrack.”
“Will all the bodies still be there?” Azazel asked, cringing.
“Probably,” said Agnes.
“Great,” I said. “Well, let’s go.”
“Hold on,” said Graham. “You can’t go until we’re sure Kieran and Eve are asleep. We’ll have to change this portal to reality to watch them. The minute they’re snoozing, you two go.”
Azazel hid her face in my shirt as we walked past the lifeless body of little Aerin. I looked. I felt like someone needed to. I knew that she wasn’t actually a child, that she was an incarnation of the Light’s attempting to screw with our heads. I felt as if I had to see it anyway, to remind myself of what we’d had to become to fight off these crazy forces. If I kept it in the forefront of my head, maybe, even though we were summoning the Darkness, I could keep myself focused.
The maze we’d come through, where we’d gone through the Light’s tests, was a hollow graveyard. Flies gathered on her body, alighting on nostrils and fingers. I could smell the stench of freshly spilled blood. But it was quiet—appropriate for a tomb.
We hurried through the room where Aerin had been killed, not spending time to notice the blood stains on the couches where our future selves had viciously annihilated each other, and came through on the other side, in the room where we’d left Agnes.
Agnes sprawled on the couch, her arms askew, her face gaping at the ceiling. There were flies on her, their wings humming as they alighted on her bloody forehead.
“So,” said Azazel, “what now?”
“The Dark Agnes wasn’t very clear on that, was she?” She’d said something about using residual energy left over from Agnes’ death or something. “Do you feel any residual energy?”
Azazel arched an eyebrow. “No. Are you seriously asking me that?”
I glanced down at the tarot cards, still in their layout. They looked normal and undisturbed, despite the fact their owner had been executed. “Should we use these cards?”
Azazel picked one up. “I don’t know how to use tarot cards.” She studied the card and then held it up to me. “The Lovers. Do you think Agnes was right originally, when I met her in Italy? That you and I were the lovers?”
I squeezed her against me and kissed her temple. “Well, I do love you. Madly.”
“Madly is right,” she said. “We’re both completely nuts.” She grinned at me.”And I love you too.”
Which was amazing. Even now, I was awed and floored by the fact that she could love me, even though I definitely didn’t deserve it. I took the card from her. “There’s always been this undeniable attraction between us, no matter what happened. Do you think it was Darkness? Did we have a choice?”
“Does anyone have a choice in love?” Azazel asked. “Does anyone decide who they’re going to fall in love with?”
She had a point. Falling in love wasn’t like shopping for the best television set. You didn’t read reviews and weigh options. It just…happened. “But our love has been so…”
“Turbulent? Violent? Unhealthy?”
I snorted. “All of that.” I tapped the tarot card against the palm of my hand. “I get that falling in love is a force that you sometimes can’t fight against. But staying in love is different. And if we saw what we were doing to each other and the world, shouldn’t we have made a different choice then?”
“Maybe,” said Azazel. “I did try to leave you.”
“I did too,” I said. “I’ve been gone for five years.”
“You think the Darkness is forcing us to stay in love?”
“I think…” I wasn’t sure how to put it. “I think when all of this is over, if it ever is over, I want to know what it’s like to be together without the world falling apart every three seconds or someone wanting us dead. I think we always spent so much time on the defensive that even when there wasn’t anything threatening us, we were looking for threats. I think that’s why we were always so jealous. Well, I shouldn’t speak for you. I think that’s why I was.”
Azazel put her arms around me. “I think we were young. I think now that we’re older, we realize that, more than anyone else, we can trust the other.” She gazed up at me. “Don’t ever question how much I adore you. I would never consciously hurt you.”
I brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “And I’ve always wanted you to be safe and happy. You’re the reason I do everything.”
She raised herself up on her tiptoes, grinning, and put her lips against mine.
This wasn’t one of those crazed, passionate kisses that made me feel as if I were turning inside out. Instead it was sweet and comforting. But somehow it was even more intense, as if our bodies were melding into each other. I could feel how we were connected, and how much we supported each other. I could feel our love tingling through my limbs. And, even though there was no desperation, the whole world seemed to disappear, and there was nothing left except me and her. I felt right. I felt at one. And when her lips softly disengaged from mine, I kept my eyes closed for a second, just savoring the feeling.
And when I opened them, Azazel was nowhere in sight.
This book is being posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning 1/17/2012. To access other chapters, check out the Onset Posts Archive, here.