I’d never been inside something so black. I couldn’t see anything. It wasn’t the way it is when you close your eyes and patterns swim in your vision. It wasn’t the way it is when you lock yourself in a room with no windows. It was thick blackness. It felt as if it was sticking to my skin, staining me. Azazel and I clutched each other’s hands as we fought through it. My eyes were wide, and I felt as if the blackness was seeping into them, as if it were crawling up into my nostrils instead of air.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was the fear. It ripped at me as if it had claws. The fear raked its way down my neck, tore at my spine. It was crippling. If it hadn’t been for Azazel’s hand, I would have fallen to my knees and wrapped my arms around myself. I would have curled into a ball and whimpered.
But we pushed through it. In retrospect, I don’t think it took that long to walk down that black, black tunnel. But as we walked, I felt as if I’d lost all sense of time. There was darkness in the past, darkness in the future. And fear. Always fear.
When we finally saw the red glow of firelight in the distance, I wanted to scream in relief. We would have sprinted for it if the darkness hadn’t been so hard to move through, like wading against the tide.
He was waiting for us there. Fire danced around him in a circle.
The beautiful man from the pool. The one Graham had called Satan. The one Azazel had reached for, whispering her own name. He didn’t wear a shirt. The flames made patterns on his skin. His eyes pierced me. His smile mesmerized me.
Azazel and I approached him. I dropped to my knees in awe. He was so beautiful. Azazel stayed on her feet, gazing into his eyes as if they were equals. I couldn’t comprehend doing something so brazen.
“My children,” he said. His voice was music, a lilting melody with a sharp edge. I could have listened to it for all eternity, glorying in it.
I lifted up my face to him.
He rested a hand on Azazel’s shoulder. “You are my creature, my daughter, born of me.” He put his other hand under my chin, caressed my jaw. “You were not my creature, but you have become so. You have accepted me, proved yourself in my service. Welcome, Jason and Azazel.”
“Thank you,” I breathed. I could not believe he’d acknowledged us by name and that he’d wished us welcome. We were nothing to him. Insects. Less than insects.
He moved his hands. He smiled at us. His smile was not comforting, nor reassuring. It was frightening in some ways but it was also so savagely exquisite that it was too compelling to look away from. “You have been planning to betray me. You have been planning to break up my essence, fracture me into tiny little pieces.”
I hung my head, ashamed. Would he kill us now? We deserved to die. We didn’t deserve to serve him anymore. He demanded absolute obedience. How could we have been so arrogant?
“But now that we have spoken,” he said, “you will not betray me, will you, my children?”
I shook my head furiously. “No. No, never.”
“Good,” he said. “Now why have you come?”
“We…” I trailed off. “We don’t need it anymore.” All of this had been a strategy to hurt him, and I never wanted to do that.
“A baby,” said Azazel. “We need to create a baby.”
What? She was still going to ask for this? But why? Didn’t she realize what having it would do to him?
He chuckled. “Ah, yes. That is what you want. And I will give it to you. But first, you must give me something in return.” He waved his hand in the air, and an image appeared in the flames surrounding him, much like the images in the pool that Graham had shown us. It was a boy with red hair. He was so grown up, but I recognized him. I felt a twinge in my chest. My Chance. “A trade, then. Give me Chance, and I will make a baby for Kieran and Eve.”
What? I recoiled. “What would happen to Chance?”
“I would consume him,” he said. He grinned, showing us all his teeth.
I shook my head slowly, backing away from him. “No. No, I can’t.”
Azazel took a step towards him. “Why not, Jason?”
“Because he’s Chance!” I said, horrified. “We’re doing this for him.”
“Jason is weak,” he said to Azazel. “Take his power. Use it.”
Azazel reached for me. “Yes. I realize that now. I am the vessel of Darkness. He has always contained too much Light. Too much oppression.”
I felt as if something were being sucked out of my body, and it hurt . I crumpled to the ground, clutching my chest.
Azazel laughed. She was pulling my power away from me! Why?
“Azazel?” I whispered, feeling the last of it leave my body.
She turned back to him, reaching out her hand to him. As if drawn to her, he reached his hand out as well. Their fingers touched. Azazel gripped his fingers with her own. She smiled a fierce grin. “I can take you as well, can’t I? I can swallow all the Darkness.”
“Yes,” he said, smiling. “Yes.”
“Azazel?” I said. What was she doing?
He put his arms around her. She hugged him back, and as she did, he simply disappeared into her. When I looked at her again, she was still Azazel, but she was dazzling with the same beauty he’d had. She stroked my cheek, but the look in her eyes mocked me. “My Jason. You’ve always found the Darkness so alluring, haven’t you?”
“You’re so beautiful,” I murmured. “But I don’t understand. Where is he?”
“In me,” she said. “I am the Darkness now. I always have been, and you’ve always followed me blindly. But now I am the whole Darkness.”
I was shaking in her presence. She was so stunning. She drew me like a magnet, but I was too awed to touch her. “Are you going to hurt Chance?” My mouth was dry. I felt sick and weak.
“Hurting,” she said, “is what I do. And that is why you have always wanted me. You’ve always sought me out because you can’t help but be drawn to Darkness. You want me?” She laughed. “Come find me.” And she disappeared in a swirl of flames, leaving me alone in the black, black emptiness.
The darkness frightened me. I felt so weak. I curled up in a ball on the ground, ducking my head under my arms. I couldn’t see anything. If I hadn’t been able to feel the ground under my body, I would have thought I was in a void. It could have been death. It could have been the end of everything. I lay there, too scared to make a noise, and I felt as though all had been lost.
Graham had warned us that the Darkness would throw us off our purpose. But I’d never expected this. I’d lost Azazel. Without Azazel… I wasn’t even sure who I was. And whatever she’d taken from me had been what had enabled me to have the small shreds of strength I’d had.
I was lost and confused. I didn’t know what to do.
Perhaps I could get back out of this tunnel. But I didn’t think I could get to my feet. Slowly, I rolled over onto my stomach and began to drag myself in the direction I thought was out.
Shivers erupted all over my flesh. Goosebumps puckered on my bare skin. My teeth started to chatter.
I stopped moving. I was trapped here. And for all I knew, Azazel, now filled entirely with Darkness, had gone off to murder my son.
After everything we’d been through together, we’d ended up here. I alone and terrified in the ebony blankness. She consumed with a desire to inflict pain. We were both alone.
I wanted to cry, but I didn’t dare. I was too frightened to form tears. I could hardly breathe. I tried to move again, and the terror shot through my body like lightning.
Better not to move.
Better to give up. To stay here. To rot away in the dark. Alone.
I didn’t move for quite a while, but the passage of time in the blackness was something I couldn’t measure. It felt like weeks. It felt like decades. I didn’t know how long it was, but it was agony. During that time, I only felt fear, and it crippled my movement and my thoughts. I knew that I wanted to get out of the dark tunnel, but I couldn’t think of ways to do it.
Eventually, I began only to wish for it. I recalled what it was like to be able to see and move. I remembered what it was like not to feel staggering terror every second. If only I could find my way back to that. If only someone could show me the way. I began to whisper the names of anyone who had a snowball’s chance of helping me. “Agnes,” I breathed, since she had been our guide through most of this experience. And the only other guide we’d had was, “Graham.”
I lifted my head, but, of course, I couldn’t see. “Hello?”
“How dare you summon me into this?” It was Graham’s voice, and I could hear by the way that it quavered that the fear had gotten to him too.
Summon him? How had I…? Then I remembered that before, when Azazel and I had yelled for Graham, that he’d appeared. All I’d had to do was say his name, apparently. “Can you get us out of here?” My own voice was shaking as well.
He touched me in the darkness. The feel of someone else was so comforting, I almost started sobbing in relief.
“Can you walk?” Graham asked.
“I…” I wasn’t sure. I hadn’t tried to stand up yet. That seemed far too daring. I attempted it then. I tried to position my feet to push myself up but I was assaulted by a wave of fear. My teeth chattered. “I don’t think so.”
“What the hell happened?”
I tried to explain as best I could.
“Azazel absorbed all of the Darkness?” Graham said. “But if she did that, that means you don’t have any powers at all.”
“I know that,” I said. Maybe I sounded a little annoyed.
“Well, you’ve got to stop her,” said Graham. “And there’s only one way to stop Darkness. You’ll have to use Light.”
“How do I do that?” I asked.
“If we can get out of this pit,” said Graham, “I can take you to the center of Light. It’s an equal and opposite incarnation of this place. But you’re going to have to stand up first. And we’re going to have to walk.”
Okay. I needed to do this. I gulped. Maybe it was like jumping into a cold pool. If you did it all at once, it wasn’t so bad. I gritted my teeth…and vaulted upright.
I shrieked. Fear dug its claws into my stomach. I hugged myself to try to calm the shaking.
I felt Graham next to me. “Now we walk.”
It seemed as though we walked for another several millennia. I clutched Graham as we moved, and we didn’t move quickly. The darkness, which had seemed so thick going in, was twice as dense on the way out. Several times, we had to pause to catch our breaths because it was practically suffocating us.
The sensation of it crawling inside me was worse. It felt like thousands of tiny insects burrowing into every one of my exposed cavities and then skittering about under my skin. Once or twice, I screamed again.
Then we encountered a wall of icy blackness. It sliced into our skin and stung the back of our throats. Despair ripped through me. I stumbled, went sprawling on the ground. And lying there, unable to move again, I started to cry.
“Jason,” said Graham, tugging at my arm to try to help me up. But he sounded completely terrified. “You have to get up.”
“I can’t,” I said. “It’s hopeless, Graham.”
“No,” said Graham. “It’s not.” I could tell he didn’t really believe himself.
“She was all I ever had,” I told him. “And now I’ve lost Azazel. There’s no reason to go on. Let me die here.”
“Get up,” Graham growled. “You have to get up.”
“Why? What’s the point?”
Graham didn’t say anything for a long time. Finally, I felt him collapse to his knees next to me. “I don’t know.” He sounded defeated.
This book is being posted on Tuesdays and Thursdays beginning 1/17/2012. To access other chapters, check out the Onset Posts Archive, here.