You belong to me and I want what is mine.
These words echoes eerily through Kia’s brain as she shot awake. She was struggling for breath, choking on the very air that should be her salvation. The nightmare always did this to her, always the same one over and over almost every night.
There was a man in black. His face always shrouded in darkness but topped with clipped onyx hair. She was trapped, frozen in place by fear or some other paralyzing force. The air around her would turn to ice as he approached slowly. She couldn’t breathe; only watch helplessly as he drew closer and extended his arm to point at her heart. In a menacing voice he would say-
You belong to me and I want what is mine.
It rasped harshly like the rattling of dry bones, bouncing around her head. Repeating; slowly amplifying, louder and louder, and then everything would go black.
Then I wake up, Kia thought quietly, drowning in my own fear.
She thumped her head against the pillow. Twisting around she saw the ghostly glowing numbers on the alarm clock; 3:23 am. She knew that she wouldn’t be falling asleep again, not until she could get the horrible images out of her head. She restlessly threw the heavy blankets off her fevering body; sweaty brown hair was plastered to her forehead in limp strands.
Kia slid out of bed and threw open the window. Cold wind rushed around her and she breathed in the sweet smell of winter and the pleasant perfume only carried by night air. She stood there, drinking it in and feeling rejuvenated. She slipped on her warm aviator jacket and boots. Climbing out, she landed the low rooftop beneath the windowsill. Often she would spend her nights out there.
Her foster parents sometimes found her in the morning, slumbering on the shingles. They would laugh and tell Kia to get ready for school. They never wondered why she went up there, never suspected that the girl they housed was plagued by never ending nightmares.
Out of all her foster homes, she liked the Karstens the best. She had bounced around from home to home, five in the past six years. The reasons for her leaving each one always blurred together, a destructive break in where nothing was taken; a fight in school where all Kia could remember was being cornered in the bathroom and immerging with long deep scratches. She tried to conjure up the details from each incident but couldn’t. Even her social worker wouldn’t tell her, he even acted as if he had no idea what she was talking about when she asked. Because of this, she tried not to concentrate on the past, it was too confusing, but rather she focused on the present, and if she dared to hope, the future.
The stars twinkled brilliantly overhead, catching the light of her slim silver bracelet. It wound like metallic rope from her wrist halfway to her elbow. Her Grama had given it to her on her 9th birthday telling her that if she was ever in danger its name would appear. All she had to do was say its name and she would be safe. It was her and her Grama’s secret, and like most things they shared, under no circumstances was her mother to know.
And she never found out, because hours later, Kia returned to the house from playing in the snow, to find her Grama’s mauled body lying on the porch and her mother gone. She was missing but her blood wasn’t. Too much, the police had said, likely her remains were consumed in what they declared an animal attack. They declared Elina and Athalia Birdson dead, leaving nine year old Kia orphaned on her birthday, and four days before Christmas.
She shook off the memory, it hurt too much to remember, but even on the cold roof she was haunted by ghosts. She saw their faces in the stars she and Grama would spend summer nights gazing at. Saw them in the crisp autumn leaves she and her mother would roll around in. Always, she saw them as she stared into the mirror. Glimpsed her mother’s face, with light freckles sprinkled like cinnamon in her tawny skin, chocolate hair framing it. She vividly saw her Grama in her green-gold eyes, which her mother called Cherokee emeralds. No matter how much she tried she couldn’t forget. Instead she chose to take the small comforts given to her; the cheerful memories and the familiar scent of her mother, cinnamon and vanilla forever infused into the aviator jacket that once belonged to her. The one she seldom took off.
A rustling in the trees brought her back to earth. The moon was a sliver in the sky and offered weak light. Kia couldn’t make out anything save for a masculine figure. As he drew closer she could identify a head of amber hair and a terrifyingly long sword. She began to slowly scrabble backwards toward the window, not taking her eyes off him.
He stopped and looked at the roof and she froze, hoping that he wouldn’t see her. But he had his eyes boring into, and he did something she never would have expected; he waved at her. She turned to crawl through the window but two strong arms caged her, a hand clamping over her mouth.
“Don’t scream.” A voice urged as she shrieked into his palm. Kia tilted her head sideways and saw the one holding her was another boy, one with dark curls and eyes black as coal. She writhed in his tight grasp, trying to get free but his hold was like iron. She became frantic, knowing that in any second the boy with the sword could be there and she would be truly trapped.
“Shhh.” He whispered, “We’re not here to hurt you-“
Kia bit down hard on his hand and he drew it back in pain. She whirled around, punching him in the gut with all her strength. She scrambled off the rooftop, landing in a bank of fresh snow, grateful for it cushioning her fall. Icy air cut her like a knife as she ran, but she pushed on as her boots sank in the snow. She cursed, knowing that they would be able to follow her tracks. Quickly, she hatched a plan as she raced past the tall oak trees above her.
Jogging another ten yards, she stopped and looked around. Adrenaline was coursing through her veins but she had to slow herself down and carefully walk backwards, placing her feet in the tracks. She went twenty feet back to a towering tree with a low hanging branch. She swung herself onto it and shimmied up the trunk cautiously, as to not rustle the branches. She hoisted herself into a fork and leaned against the rough bark, catching her breath. Although there were no leaves to conceal her, she was fairly confident that she blended into the tree skeleton. She wanted to disappear into the wood, she shut her eyes and prayed she wouldn’t be found.
Slowly her heart beats slowed and she took long deep breaths. Maybe they had given up and left, Kidnappers often went for easy targets and she was trying her best not to be one. Maybe it was safe for her to go down. But the sound of crunching sow underfoot dashed all her hopes, maybe these weren’t just random abductors, maybe they were looking specifically for her, her stomach twisted into knots at the idea.
Her breath hitched as she looked down, both boys were following her tracks. The dark haired one was now clutching a silver sickle, so sharp it made shivers run down her spines. They trudged om and halted where the foot prints ended. They were still in sight when they looked around confused.
“They just stop here.” The blonde one said turning to the other boy.
“Thank you captain obvious.” He remarked sarcastically.
He sheathed his sword, “What now? Do we try to find her?”
“Unless you want to be the one that tells Nita we let her get away.” The dark haired one chuckled.
His friend laughed, shaking his head, “In that case we have to find her!” They both doubled back towards the tree. “I can’t believe you let her bite you! your probably gonna get rabies.” He inspected the boy’s bleeding hand.
“I didn’t exactly expect her too.” He said defensively as they drew nearer. “Hopefully Johannes has some kind of rabies spell, I don’t like shots.”
Kia’s pulse skyrocketed approached the base of the tree. She flattened herself against the trunk, hoping that they wouldn’t see her. A loud whoosh and a thump made her jump and she lost her balance, grabbing a branch to steady herself. But the boys were two distracted to notice the shaking tree.
“Crap” The dark haired boy, now covered in snow, swore. A blanket of it resting on a branch had loosened and fallen on his shoulders.
The other one was laughing hysterically, “What’s wrong Ken doll?” He choked between chuckles, “Ruin you new designer jacket?”
“You suck Alek!” he cursed whipping sleet from his arm, “I hate now.” He grumbled but was now smiling with his friend. He balled up a piece and threw it at Alek, laughing and shaking snowflakes from his hair.
Alek dodged it easily, “Wait until I tell I tell everyone at Haven City that you frosted your tips, literally.” He clapped him on the back.
“You’re just jealous because I can pull them off.” He struck a pose. “Now come on, we have a mission.”
“Whatever you say Jack Frost.” Alek drew his sword.
If Kia had had any illusion that there were two normal teenagers, it was gone now. They were now two boys with weapons trying to kidnap her.
“Kenton, look at this.” Alek called motioning for him to come closer.
Kenton strode forward. “What is it?” he asked crouching down beside him.
Alek pointed to the foot prints, “These ones are deeper than the other, see?”
“Ya, like she walked twice in them.” He nodded.
“But they only went this far-“ she was silently screaming as he trailed his eyes up the tree.
“Holy crap!” Kenton said, “That’s pretty damn clever, looks like we’ve been tracking Katniss.”
Kia was panicking, they knew she was up there. She looked down at her silver bracelet. Why wasn’t it working? I’m in danger! I’m going to die and this stupid thing is broken! She thought angrily.
“We’re not here to hurt you!” Alek shouted up at her, “If you come with us we can explain-“
“Leave me alone!” She spat “I-I have a gun! So go away and I won’t shoot you!” She was skaing but her voice radiated false confidence.
“You’re bluffing.” Kenton challenged, but she could tell he wasn’t sure. She needed to nurse his uncertainty.
“I’m not, I’ll shoot you where you stand, my father takes me hunting a lot. You’re not half as fast as a deer and I’ve taken those down a million times.” She hoped the lie was convincing, she had neither known her father or held a gun, and the thought of killing a deer horrified her. The two boys halted, not quite sure whether to believer her or not.
“We just want to explain.” Alek started, “You don’t belong in this world; you’re not human.”
“You don’t know me!” Kia shouted louder than any gun. She saw them flinch. “Now just go back to wherever the hell you came from and leave me al-“
Something coiled around her waist and she was yanked backwards.
A withered gray vine lowered her down from the tree, “let me go!” she shrieked, kicking the air, and it dropped her in the snow.
“Told you she didn’t have a gun.” Kenton bragged to Alek.
“Please,” Alek shot back, “You almost wet your pants.”
“At least I-“
“Both of you hush.” A girl with two long blonde braids walked up behind them. Although she was much shorter than the two she was clearly older, and the leader. “I swear you two blockheads are always bickering.” Flanking her was a cautious redhead, regarding Kia as if she were an unknown animal and was anticipating the worst outcome.
The blonde girl helped Kia up from the snow, “I’m Leila Deveaux, you’ve already met Kenton and Alek, and this is-“
“Nita.” The redhead finished in a cold voice. Nita’s brown eyes looked at her with disdain; she had now identified Kia as a pest, rather than a threat. “Kenton, Alek, with a target this easy, how did you manage to screw it up?”
“Nita, be quiet.” Leila commanded and she closed her mouth. She radiated a seniority that was hard to ignore.
“Somebody please tell me what’s going on.” Kia begged, taking a step towards the two girls. Before she could blink the redhead pulled a loaded cross bow from her shoulder and aimed it at Kia’s heart. “Come closer and I’ll shoot.” She warned flatly.
Leila threw up her hands, “For Gideon’s sake, put that thing up your scaring her.”
“She could be dangerous.” Nita didn’t lower her weapon.
Kenton laughed, “Oh yes, bitey girl, practically a rampant killer. Seriously Nita?”
Reluctantly she trained the bow towards the snow, grumbling about how she better not get bitten. Kia took a deep breath, relaxing now that she wasn’t in immediate danger of getting shot. “Please.” She said slowly, “Why are you here? Why are you trying to kidnap me?”
“Because you don’t belong with them.” Leila gestured toward the direction of the Karsten’s house. “You don’t belong in this world period.” There was no doubt in her voice, as if this line had been rehearsed and repeated. Her dark green eyes boasted utter sincerity.
“Yes….yes I do.” She insisted, “The foster program isn’t great but I have nowhere else to go-“
Nita shook her head, “Not the foster program you idiot, the human world. Let me guess, you never quite fit in at school, never had many friends?” Her tone was snarky and malicious.
Kia hated her already, “Last time I checked, just because someone doesn’t fit in doesn’t give you permission to try and abduct them!” She stated hotly, “If you take me, my hosts will call the police!”
Alek’s voice was gentle, “They won’t remember, human’s minds are often oblivious to us.”
She looked at his black eyes suspiciously, “You say humans like you aren’t one.”
“Clever girl.” Nita cut in with mock praise, “It’s because I’m not, none us are, and neither are you.”
“Nita stop taunting her!” Leila snapped, she turned to Kia. “I’m sure you must be confused and I promise we’ll explain everything in full when we get back to Haven City. In short, we are Filli Umbri, or in the modern tongue, shadow children. We are the children of demons and angels.”
“Think like Jesus and Satan had a love child.” Kenton added humorously. “And that love child was Alek.” Alek protested shoving his shoulder.
Kia just stood there dumbfounded. She couldn’t believe what they were saying, they sounded truly crazy.
“She’s trying to wrap her tiny lizard brain around the concept, this might take a while.” Nita sneered.
“NITA” The blonde girl gasped in horror, her voice dropping several octaves, as if she was scolding a spoiled child who had broken something during a tantrum. “Stop taunting her. She is handling everything much better than you would have.” That shut the other girl up.
Kenton cut the tension with a smile, “Come on guys, let’s just take bitey girl back to Haven City and explain everything there. I’m pretty sure this nip needs medical attention.”
“My name is not bitey girl!” Kia shot back.
“We know.” Leila said gently, “It’s Kia Ilianne Birdsong. We also know that you aren’t safe here, someone or something is looking for you, and trust me you don’t want them to find you.”
Her face paled and she shifted her weight nervously, “How…how do you know?”
“We intercepted a nest of Kappa demons , Kappas are trackers with incredibly strong noses, once they get a scent….well they always find their target.” Alek answered uneasily as if there was something he wasn’t telling her. Leila reached into her jacket pocket and withdrew a purple sock, complete with orange polka dots. Under different circumstances this gesture would have been hilarious but it only made Kia blanch. Her stomach twisted as she recognized it. Two weeks ago one of her socks had gone missing from her gym locker, she assumed at the time it was just some of her classmates being cruel. “We assumed it was yours because you’re the only shadow child in the area.”
Kia nodded taking it in her hand, “It’s mine. So now those things have my scent?”
“They won’t stop until they find you.” he said gravely. “That’s why you have to come with us, we will keep you safe, I promise.”
“No, No, No.” She shook her head frantically dropping the sock in the snow. “This is crazy, you all are crazy! How do I know you aren’t lying? Trying to get me to join your crazy cult!” Slowly she backed away from them but they had formed a semicircle around her. This was not happening, twenty minutes ago she had been safe in her bed and now….. Without giving them a second glance she spun on her heel and ran.
“No! Please come back you’re in danger!” Leila shouted.
But Kia wasn’t listening, she careened through the banks of snow. The lunatics stood between her and the house and she cursed for not thinking to run in the other direction. Her closest neighbors were a mile to the left but the path there would take her closer to the group than she liked. Half a mile to the right was an old hardware store which had gone out of business almost a decade ago. I could hide out there, she thought, if I cut through the woods.
By the time she reached the old building, her breath had almost completely abandoned her.She greeted the peeling blue paint with gratitude and the sunken roof with relief. Darting inside, she fell to the dust covered floor, leaning her head against the wall. It was painfully cold inside the warehouse, even inside her jacket. Her flannel pajama pants felt as flimsy as paper against the elements. She ducked her frozen nose into the jacket’s warm fur lining, inhaling the rich cinnamon and vanilla perfume. The familiar scent cleared her head.
Focus, she instructed herself. She needed to think.
Rustling and crashing outside made her jump. Her time to strategize evaporated and she crouched into a tight ball, wedging herself behind a shelf. Snow crunching underfoot, trees bending to make way, someone was coming. Kia searched the darkness, eyes wide, straining to see in the darkness. A sharp sting bit into her left arm and she looked down only to see a glowing gold inscription on the silver of her bracelet. It was too late when she realized what it meant.
The wall in front of her was ripped in two, through the jagged trench busted a terrible beast. The first thing she comprehended was its height. It stood at least ten feet tall with twin curling horns that raked the ceiling as it lurched forward. Eyes wide with fear she scrabbled backwards bumping into a display shelf. The monsters grotesque head snapped in her direction. A vein of moon light revealed its fur covered body. It had the head of a bear, long muzzle covered in what appeared to be dried brown blood. An oversized nose protruded prominently and where its eyes should have been, long pointed ears stood erect.
It’s blind, she realized as it moved forward slowly, goat hooves echoing as they hit the concrete.
Her hand shot out grappling for anything, she groped a smooth plastic handle that ended in a metal rod; a screwdriver. Picking it up she flung it to the side, relieved to hear it clang as it hit the wall. The animal’s ears pricked up and it changed direction, hurrying after the sound.
Kia desperately looked down at her glowing bracelet, it looking both ominous and angelic. A single word shone in the dark.
“D…Delitor.” She whispered pressing her lips to the buzzing metal. In disbelief she watched as it grew, uncoiling from her arm, falling like a long sliver snake to the floor. A handle was warm in her palm, covered in an inscription she couldn’t read. She studied the whip that was set before her. How is this supposed to save me? She wanted to scream, I don’t even know how to use it!
The creature sniffed furiously at the air. Her stomach dropped as it advanced on her. Shakily she pulled herself to her feet. The weapon was heavy but somehow felt right, as if it completed her arm. Clumsily she drew her wrist back and pushed the tail of the whip forward with all her strength. It smacked the beasts shoulder and when it came back, was slick with black blood.
It grunted angrily, reaching out one of its bear paws that were laden with sharp talons. It swatted her off her feet and she skittered through the air. Landing on her right arm with a loud crunch as it was jammed between her body and the concrete. She yelped in pain, knowing it was broken.
“Nice try you bastard,” She gritted through her teeth, “but I’m left handed.”
It surrounded her huddled mass and loomed over her. Protectively she raised her good narm to shield her face, whip dangling in her grasp. The creature swiped it from her and her weapon flew backwards. The claw had savaged her forearm, ripping through the soft leather of her jacket and mutilating her flesh. It was a gory mess of shredded skin and blood.
She knew the fight was over.
It raised its razor claws over its head and she closed her eyes, not wanting to see death coming. The air in front of her whistled as the monster brought its arm down. But then there was another hiss and a thud.
Kia cracked her eye open and saw the creature slumped on the ground, severed head resting at her feet. Before she could scream it shimmered away into nothingness.
Now in front of her stood a boy with flaxen hair that shone like the sun, though the moon illuminated the night, and eyes black as pitch. Alek strode forward wielding a golden sword.