The Vanquished

 

I wasn’t sure why they were here or even where they had come from. I only knew that in the midst of the chaos I was much calmer than I should have been—as if this were nothing more than a drill I had completed a hundred times—as if I had done this before. Across the room, the door slid open—darkness on the other side, nothing else. I turned my attention to the mob of ghostly silhouettes quickly solidifying into men of monstrous appearance. Their faces were pale as winter’s breath. The bit of life left in their dead eyes glimmered through only when fixed on one of us.

Riley let out a scream behind me. I turned to see one of the demons lunge at her. He tore at her blouse and she fell back. I shoved him away as the others snapped at us. He staggered into the couch, dazed for only a moment.

The sickening rot invaded my nostrils. Thick, decaying muck tainted my fingers. I exhaled and smeared my palms against my shirt to quell the revulsion that arose within me. I grabbed Riley’s arm and we dashed into the kitchen. The force of our bodies slammed us both into the granite counter, racking pain through my torso.

“Find the salt.” I glanced at Riley as I rifled through the cabinets.

“Wh-What were those things?” she stammered.

I chunked the rosemary and turmeric behind me. I couldn’t say I didn’t know what they were, but I couldn’t say how I knew, either. None of this made any sense. Yet, at the same time, it made perfect sense. I grabbed the large container of salt and turned around.

I shook the salt into my hand and gasped. The granules burst into flames. They incinerated every trace of muck on my palm, yet my own skin remained unmarked.

A demon appeared in the doorway. I ducked as glistening silver streaked across the room. The knife landed in his chest. I glanced at Riley, whose right arm was still suspended from the throw. An involuntary smile spread across my face. The sheer force caused the demon to stagger back. He caught himself on the doorframe and continued after us.

I closed my hand around the granules and ducked out of his grasp. I leaped up and flung the salt into his eyes. Upon contact, the demon ignited, writhed in agony, and vanished from the room.

More demons poured into the kitchen. I practiced the same attack on them. Each reacted accordingly until the kitchen was empty of ghouls.

The thick air returned to normal. Riley took a deep breath, her expression relaxed. I motioned for her to stay and crept into the living room to check for survivors.

“It’s clear.”

I inhaled, appreciating the cool, fresh oxygen that filled the room. I strode to the glass door to close it.

I grabbed the knob to slide the door to. A hand appeared from the velvety darkness and fell over mine. I yanked back my hand as a man stepped from the shadows.

He was unbelievably good looking, with almost black, curly hair and olive skin. His eyes were the brightest topaz I had ever seen. For a moment, I found myself lost in them.

I blinked and shook my head, then continued to analyze what stood before me. His countenance differed from the others. He appeared clean, precise, and conscious of his actions. He bore no dead stare. Even so, there was a hunger. For what, I did not know and I had no interest in finding out.

I flung the remaining salt at the demon’s face. My heart pounded in my ears and most of it slipped through my quivering fingers before it could touch him.

With a slight flick of his wrist, the countless tiny granules came to a sudden halt, hovering between us before crashing to the floor. My eyes widened and I took a step back. That alone was enough to convince me that I would not defeat this one so easily.

I turned to escape. Riley was already running down the hall to my room. I followed after her. The slow rhythm of his footsteps trailed far behind us. I made it inside and spun around. I gasped as I came face to face with my pursuer. He stood in the doorway and blocked my attempt to slam it after me.

“Riley, help me.”

No response. I struggled against the door as I glanced back. Riley’s tall, slender frame lay unconscious at the foot of the bed. Her tousled hair was strewn about her head.

I managed to overpower him and stepped back as he began banging against the door. With the extraordinary skill he had shown only moments earlier, I couldn’t expect the lock to hold for much longer.

“Riley, get up.”

I shook her shoulder and pinched her arm. It was useless. She wasn’t waking up.

“If I don’t do something, it won’t matter if she wakes up,” I muttered.

I stumbled to the dresser in search of a weapon to use against the intruder. Lotions, makeup, jewelry—that’s all I had. Grabbing clothes by the handfuls and tossing them behind me, I laid bare the interior of my chester drawers. A red, rectangular box lay tucked away in the bottom. Gold letters on the top spelled out In Victis.

Puzzled, I opened the box. Inside was a dagger that appeared slightly larger than a letter opener. The hilt was black and lined with three precious stones: emerald, ruby, and sapphire. The blade itself was a surreal, iridescent white. I had no knowledge of the precious metal’s origin.

The entire thing appeared ancient, like something out of fantasy. I couldn’t imagine where it had come from, but I grabbed it anyway. The dagger’s small countenance made it more valuable than fiercer weapons under such circumstances, where the element of surprise would be most imperative. I contemplated, for a moment, how I could know such a thing.

I dismissed my suspicion and ran back to the door, hopping over Riley’s body on the way. I took a deep breath to calm my nerves. Standing motionless before my bed, I stared at the locked door. The pounding had ceased, yet I sensed his presence on the other side.

My back tensed as I readied myself, focused on concealing my true intentions. I slid the dagger into the sleeve of my sweater and clenched the hilt to quell my shakiness. The flat of the blade slapped against my elbow. It threatened to slip from my grasp. To appear harmless and stand ready to strike was a challenge I seemed unable to overcome in the midst of such uncertainty.

I unlocked the latch and turned the knob. He stepped in. The demon looked at me with the same fierce hunger I had seen just moments earlier, only he didn’t make one move against me. I began to feel nervous as he stared at me.

I waited for his move so I could counter with mine. I couldn’t let him see it coming, for I would have only one opportunity to take him down. I couldn’t begin to predict the magnitude of this apparent supernatural being’s abilities.

He stepped toward me without a word, his gaze unwavering. He reached out and put his palm on my right arm—right above the tip of the blade—and his other hand on my waist. A jolt shot through his fingertips as he touched me. The traces of something tugged at the edges of my memory.

Leaning forward, eyes closing, lips parted, he kissed me. I tried to pull away, but to no avail. Soon after our lips met, I found myself less opposed. His touch was electrifying—yet his kiss was even more powerful. He kept kissing me, passionately, fiercely, until memory after memory of him kissing me came rushing back.

I knew him.

I loved him.

I drew back to look at his face once more. That face—how had I not recognized him? The blade fell from my sleeve and toppled to the floor as I reached up to caress his cheek, working my way down his neck, shoulder, and finally resting on his bicep—tight, defined muscle under my fingers.

“You’re back,” he whispered. A smile crept at the corners of his mouth.

It was all he said. It was all he needed to say. To hear that voice once more ignited something within me that I had forgotten existed.

I reached up and grabbed a fistful of his curly, ebony hair, running the silky tresses through my fingers. It was longer now, but not by much. Returning his smile, I pulled him down to me and kissed him. This time, I returned his desire in equal measure.