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Fighting for infinity, p.30
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       Fighting for Infinity, p.30

           Karen Amanda Hooper
 

  My body with Rina’s soul occupying it was yards away, crouched over Dakota’s body.

  Krista and I bolted across the valley. Krista skidded to a stop on her knees, dropping her ear against Dakota’s chest. “What happened?”

  Rina’s soul gazed up at me through my own pained face. A warm shiver rippled through me. I gasped as our souls swapped places again, each returning to its own body.

  I was clutching Dakota’s hand. Rina, back in her own body, dropped to his side across from me. “I don’t know. Nathan gave me a gun and told me to hide so I ran and hid behind these rocks. I was watching Dakota until everyone became invisible. When I could see everyone again, Dakota was here on the ground, unconscious.”

  Krista’s hands had been furiously scanning his body. She adjusted his head, arched his neck, and started pumping against his chest. “I think he had a heart attack.”

  I stared, not believing that Dakota could have a heart attack at such a young age.

  “I’ll bring him back,” Krista said before breathing into his mouth. “Don’t worry.”

  “Maryah!” Nathan called to me from the middle of the valley where he stood beside River. At their feet, clutching his chest, was Dedrick.

  Even from a distance, I could see the pool of evil blood.

  RIPPLE EFFECTS

  Nathaniel

  Rina ran toward Maryah. Or vice versa depending on whether you meant bodies or souls. I rushed toward Dedrick.

  Anthony, Gregory, and Carson all braced themselves, preparing to hold me back. But River reached him first.

  He plunged a blade of bone into Dedrick’s chest.

  I closed in on them, close enough to hear River say, “That was for ruining my life.”

  Dedrick clutched River’s wrist, but River stabbed him again. “That was for making people believe I was a psycho murderer like you.”

  The third stab sent Dedrick’s eyes rolling back in his head. “And that was for telling me my mother was dead.”

  Stunned, I called out for Maryah.

  “Whoa,” Carson said, staring down at River and Dedrick. “Didn’t see that coming.”

  Dylan could have stopped River with one word, but he didn’t. He watched River approach and attack, and he let it happen. Dedrick’s blood wouldn’t be on the hands of any of our kindrily.

  In a way, it was a relief, but also very unsatisfying.

  Maryah walked up on the other side of them. Our eyes met, and I could tell her adrenaline was still pumping, but relief had seeped in—relief that Dedrick was taking his last breaths and that we had truly defeated him.

  River looked up at me. “Sorry to steal your thunder, guys, but I had to do the honors. He had to be killed by his own blood with a holy bone.”

  “His own blood?” Maryah squinted, scanning River from head to toe.

  “Apparently, he’s not my uncle. I’m the result of this bastard’s fastest sperm.”

  I rubbed my hand over my mouth, shocked, but also sympathizing with the disgust River must have felt at learning he was the child of a monster.

  Dedrick still quivered, staring at the sky with dilated pupils, trying to find air in his shredded lungs.

  Carson leaned down and flicked the curved blade of bone in Dedrick’s chest. “How’d you know about the bone stipulation?”

  “I cast the spell to protect him from aging or dying.” Evelyn’s voice was scratchy as she rubbed her sore, recently freed wrists. “So I knew its stipulations.”

  She waved her hand in front of her eyes, erasing her gold slits. The same wise and compassionate soul I had known as Emily gazed down at Dedrick with sad hazel eyes. She knelt at his side.

  “Emily?” He watched her as if he was staring at an angel. And in a way, he was. “This whole time it was you?”

  She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket. It was neatly folded in a triangle. “I tried so hard, Dedrick.” She dabbed each corner of his mouth, wiping away the blood he was coughing up. Until the very last moment, I tried to talk you out of it.”

  “We can be together again.” Dedrick reached for her, almost blindly as if he was losing his vision. He was clinging to the last frayed bits of his wretched existence. “I always knew we would be.”

  Evelyn shook her head. “No, Dedrick. Where you’re going, no one can follow.”

  The ground beneath us trembled. The center beam of pink light turned into black fog, spiraling so deep into the earth that we couldn’t see the bottom.

  Dedrick still gasped and struggled, begging for another chance, demanding to be forgiven.

  “Rot in hell, old man.” River rolled his body toward the bottomless black hole and shoved him in. Dedrick’s tortured scream faded as he fell deeper into oblivion.

  One tear ran down Emily’s burnt cheek. “Goodbye, Dedrick.”

  The black hole closed in on itself, and the light returned to a calming pink.

  River embraced Evelyn. I hadn’t seen the mother-son resemblance until that moment, but now it was inarguable. How could River have such an ancient-souled, powerful mother, yet have no ability of his own?

  “I thought Dedrick was castrated,” Harmony said.

  Evelyn nodded. “He was, but I knew someday I’d need our child to end this path of destruction, so I took the proper precautionary measures.” She stood back and held River’s face. “And I couldn’t be more proud.”

  The burning in my lower back pulled me away from the moment of victory.

  As my adrenaline rush subsided, an all familiar light-headed feeling took over. I rocked on my heels, swaying as my fingers searched my back, then I dropped to my knees. Maryah rushed to my side.

  “Nathan?” She scanned me with panicked eyes. “What’s wrong?”

  The world had gone fuzzy, and along with it so did my body and energy. I found my breath and spoke with tingling lips. “I believe I’ve been shot in the back.”

  “No!” Maryah rushed behind me, lifting my bulletproof vest. Although I couldn’t see it, I could imagine the shock on her face at the sight of the wound. “Oh god, no. It hit you right beneath your vest.”

  She screamed Krista’s name so loud the elemental walls around us shook.

  UNTIL THE BITTER END

  Maryah

  “I can’t feel my limbs,” he muttered. “I’ve lost too much blood.”

  “Shh.” I cradled his head in one hand while caressing his cheek. Krista would heal him. Krista would fix it. “It’ll be all right.”

  “You don’t remember.” He placed his hand over mine and gasped for another breath. “But we’ve been through this many times. It’s part of the process.”

  My lips trembled. I couldn’t relate to the process. “No. You’re not going to die.”

  His eyes floated aimlessly like he couldn’t see me anymore. “We’ll be together again.”

  “No, I need you here right now.” We had overcome so much. I couldn’t lose him so soon.

  His hand grew cold against mine. I grabbed his fingers, squeezing them, willing his blood to flow and make them warm again. Death was knocking at my boyfriend’s door, and it felt like he’d be ripped away from me forever.

  “Nathan?”

  The elemental walls closed in on us until I couldn’t breathe. The physical world shrank into darkness as Nathan slipped further through the veil of life and death.

  “I’m always with you.” His last words were a whisper. “Then, now, and eternally.”

  “No!” I curled myself around him, trying to be a barrier between him and death. I screamed for Krista again.

  His heart wasn’t beating against my chest. His body went limp in my arms. I kept begging for it not to be true.

  I felt the sky sigh and the mountains weep as his soul left his body.

  Krista skidded to a stop above us. “No, not Nathan.”

  “Save him,” I begged. “Save him! Hurry!”

  Krista dropped to her knees. She placed one hand on his chest and the other on his forehead. Her nostrils flared, a
nd she bit her bottom lip as she sucked in a breath.

  “Do something!” I urged.

  She stared into my eyes and held my face in her hands. Her lips moved mere inches from mine, but her voice sounded miles away. “He’s gone, Maryah.”

  “No.” It was the only word that would form. “No!” I wailed, hugging his limp body tighter as if I could squeeze life back into him.

  Louise hugged me from behind as I rocked back and forth, clinging to him.

  “Please,” I begged to any gods, or magic stones, or supernatural beings in the worlds that could help, “Don’t take him away from me.”

  I caressed his face and eyelids, willing them to open so I could see his shining eyes again. I ran my fingers through his hair and choked on another sob. I pressed my forehead against his. His head and body felt so heavy. How could there be no life inside?

  The venom in my voice stung Krista. “What took you so long?”

  Tears welled in her eyes. “I was trying to save Dakota.” She touched my shoulder, but I shrugged her away. “We lost him too.”

  I cried harder.

  I cried for Dakota, who couldn’t cheat death a second time.

  I cried for Krista, who I knew would always blame herself for being unable to save either of them.

  And I cried for Nathan. I cried like I had never cried before. I cried because half of me—my soul mate, my hero, my first boyfriend and my last—was gone. I wept, and convulsed, and cursed the heavens.

  Our kindrily stood staring down at us. Many of them were teary-eyed too. I looked away from them and back at Nathan’s perfect face.

  Without Nathan our circle was broken.

  Sobs strangled me to the point that I was hiccupping.

  Harmony crouched beside us. “Maryah—”

  “No,” I growled. “Don’t you dare. You tell him he’s not allowed to say goodbye. Tell him to get back in his body.” My voice hitched with anguish. “Tell him he can’t leave me.”

  Harmony’s chin dropped to her chest. “He can hear you.”

  I frantically searched the empty space around us, begging his soul with everything I had. “Don’t do this, Nathan. Fight. Fight to stay alive. Fight to stay with me. I just found you.” My throat constricted as my tears fell onto Nathan’s chin and neck. “I can’t lose you too!”

  Harmony embraced me. I tried wriggling out of her arms but she held tighter. “I know how bad it hurts, and I’m sorry.”

  “Let go of me,” I whined the words but didn’t mean them. My heart was imploding. Harmony’s strong arms were the only thing keeping me from fracturing into broken, useless pieces. I gave in, collapsing against her, but still clutching Nathan’s shirt. “I love him. I love him so much.”

  “I know.” Harmony stroked my hair. “Death will never change that.”

  The world was spinning out of control and no matter who I held onto, or how hard, Nathan was slipping away from me.

  Harmony loosened her grip on me as Rina squeezed in between Krista and me.

  I glanced at Rina’s sad face staring down at Nathan. I hated how easily the truth slipped from my lips. “He’s gone.”

  More tears fell. I was sure they’d never stop falling.

  Rina lifted my chin. She wiped my cheeks several times before realizing there was no controlling the dam that had broken inside of me. Her hand fell away, but she stared at me so intently, it stifled my breath. Around her dark blue irises was the ring of green that matched Nathan’s. In her peacock feather gaze, I saw so much sadness, but then she smiled. “We did it. We stopped Dedrick.”

  Nathan was dead, and she was still focused on Dedrick? My snot-filled voice came out gargled. “I don’t care.”

  “It’s perfect,” she said quietly. “Now everything can be perfect.”

  Anger rushed through me. “Nothing is perfect. Nathan is dead!”

  “Death is temporary.”

  “I need him with me now.”

  She swayed forward then back again. “I know.”

  In my grief and shock, I hadn’t noticed she was holding Krista’s and Nathan’s hands. For a few seconds, I just stared, and then it hit me. “Rina, no!”

  The color was draining from her face, but her eyes seemed to be brightening. “It’s perfect.”

  I tried prying her hand apart from Nathan’s. “No! You’ll die if you use Krista’s healing power to bring him back.”

  “I know.”

  I shrieked, “Then stop!”

  My hand was closed around her entire wrist. She was so tiny and fragile, I was afraid I’d break her if I pulled any harder. She maintained her literal death grip. “You need him. And I need him. Trust me, it’s perfect.”

  “How can you say that? You’ll die!”

  “I’ll return. And you can be my mother again. But this time you’ll remember me, and it will be the way it should be.” Her voice was weakening. “I’ll know what it’s like to have a real family.”

  “You can’t do this. I can’t lose you!” Tears poured down my cheeks, but in some twisted way, my heart felt as if it were filling up.

  The muscles in her wrist went slack. “It’s already done.”

  Nathan arched his back and coughed. My heart leapt into my throat. His eyes opened. Rina toppled forward against Nathan’s chest. He sat up, cradling her head in his arms.

  He and Rina stared at each other as the last of Rina’s life force drained out of her.

  “Marina,” he whispered. “No.”

  I couldn’t speak.

  The pink beam of light pulsed blindingly bright then retracted up into the sky until it disappeared. The pulsing walls of Air, Earth, Fire, and Water fell around us in colorful crashing waves then receded back into the mountains and into their originating stones.

  My tears did not recede.

  I hugged Rina for so long that eventually Carson and Krista had to pry my hands free.

  Rina—the beautiful, fearless, heroic, lionhearted starstone—had returned to the heavens.

  WITH THIS RING

  Maryah

  The stones were returned to their keepers.

  The Nefariouns who were captured instead of killed had snapped free from Dedrick’s mind control the instant he died. They were returning to whatever semblance of life they had left. The bodies that could be identified were respectfully returned to their families. Those who were unidentifiable, or had no family, were buried at sea as we prayed for the tides to wash away their involuntary sins.

  I stared at the koi swimming around my feet. Drops of water dripped onto my arm from the tail of Eightball’s toy alligator as he sat panting beside me.

  Nathan whistled, and Eightball took off running, the tags on his collar jingling with each carefree gallop. In my next life, I wanted to be a dog. Their lives seemed so simple.

  Nathan sat behind me, his legs stretched out on either side of me. He pushed my hair over one shoulder and kissed my neck.

  His kisses soothed me and excited me all at the same time. I relaxed back against his chest, and he wrapped his arms around me.

  “I miss her so much,” I said.

  “I know. So do I. And it’s been only two days.”

  “It feels like forever.”

  “Death always has that effect on the hearts left behind.” He laced his fingers with mine and pressed his cheek against the side of my head. “Will you come on a journey with me?”

  “Where?”

  “It’s a surprise.”

  “Are we traversing?”

  “Yes.”

  I pulled his arms tighter around me. His biceps flexed, and then we traversed.

  When I pulled away from him, we were standing in the foothills of a desert mountain. Two hot air balloons were lifting off the ground, and two more were floating high above them.

  “Nineteen,” Nathan said. “Balloon Fiesta.”

  My grin lifted higher than the balloons. “Albuquerque. Where we first met.”

  “I took you up in a hot air balloon. You
were wearing a green dress, and your curls were piled on top of your head with a jeweled clip that I didn’t care for very much.”

  “What?” I thought back to our road trip for Nathan’s birthday. I had never worn a dress. And I didn’t curl my hair. “I don’t understand.”

  “The clip had rhinestones glued to the plastic. It was gaudy, and it distracted from your beautiful eyes.” He leaned in and kissed me, picking me up and slowly spinning us in a circle. His kiss was so intoxicating that the world seemed to turn with us.

  When I opened my eyes, the world had turned. We had traversed to somewhere that was the complete opposite of the desert. Rolling greens hills and lush trees framed an elegant but old stone bridge. The sun had almost set, but even in twilight, I could see the detailed architecture in the ceiling and pillars. “Are we in England?”

  Nathan nodded. “Eighteen. Palladian Bridge. It looked a bit different because I lined every wall, ledge, and pathway with candles, but you loved these gardens. You said Mr. Darcy would have proposed to Elizabeth in a place such as this.”

  “Proposed.” I clapped my hands to my chest. “These are the places you proposed to me?”

  “Yes.”

  I looked around, trying to take it all in. I ran my hands along the stone. “I love it. What a wonderful way to try jogging some memories.” Wait. My fingernails dug into the stone as a thought jolted my nerves. Was Nathan taking me on this tour because he was about to propose? I glanced down at my raggedy yoga pants and T-shirt. No, he would have warned me to dress for such a special occasion. Right?

  I was stuck in place, staring at the water beneath the bridge. My heart raced at the idea that today, or tonight, depending where we ended up in the world, might be the moment that Nathan proposed to me.

  He wrapped his arms around me and pried my finger free from my nail-splitting grip. He whispered into my ear, “Shall we continue?”

  My world spun for a whole new reason.

  “Seventeen,” he said before I opened my eyes.

  I yearned to remember every location and every detail that he described, but I was useless. All I kept thinking was, oh-my-freaking-god Nathan is going to ask me to marry him!

 
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