Paradise Chapter 6

Some violence in this chapter.

Chapter 6: Capture

Screams echoed through the cavern. She wished the person would stop screaming....it hurt her head....

But then she realized the screaming was her own. She lay in the dirt, her fists ground into it. Pain flickered across her body, then faded into numbness.

A huge dark being stood a few yards away, its back to her. At first it looked completely still, but then she saw that it was making small intricate movements with its hands.

A cry. Ember! That thing was hurting him....

She crawled forward. Ember was still bound to the vines, but he was shirtless now. Spasms seized his face, as if he was struggling to hold back screams. The creature was carving something into Ember's chest with its finger. No knife, just dark lightning burning into him. The thing stepped back to survey its handiwork. Tipped its head sideways at an unnatural angle. Then it began again, painstakingly creating little flourishes, as if it were writing something in Ember's flesh...

Horror sliced through her. She had to get him out of here. But how? This creature could hurt her with a thought--

The thing stepped back again, and heaved a satisfied sigh. "You are mine now. My name is in you. Perfect, tender young human--" It caressed his face, its fingers dripping blood.

Then it leaned forward, its tangled hair blocking Ember's face. He made a muffled cry, but the thing laughed, low and satisfied in its throat.

She crawled forward, trying not to be noticed--maybe she could distract this thing but she was at a loss of what to do after that--

Ember struggled; the vines groaned, wrapping tighter around his wrists and ankles. The thing grabbed his hair, and pressed its lips to his. A strangled cry deep in Ember's throat. It withdrew, its long tongue snaking out of Ember's mouth. Then it yanked Ember's head back and kissed his neck, then bit it, leaving marks of two sharp teeth. It ran its long fingers down over his ribs, lingering over every nuance of his torso, brushing the wounds it had made on his chest. Ember gasped in pain.

"Please, stop," said Sky, her voice barely above a whisper. If the being had heard, it didn't react. It lowered to Ember's stomach, raking its fingers along his sides, drawing blood. It bit his skin, moaning with pleasure, sucking the blood that seeped from the wounds.

Amid the horror of what the creature was doing, anger crept up on her. Ember was hers. No one else could have him. No one could hurt him. No one could take away his dignity, his will—


She struggled to her feet. Covered in mud. She took a step forward. "You will stop," she said.

At first, it didn't react. Then it turned slowly, its eyes dark shards of lust and hatred. "This pretty human is mine. I don't want you. Go away or I hurt you again."

"He's mine. He doesn't want you."

"I want him. I need his love."

"He doesn't love you! Let him go."

"No." It turned back to Ember. Grasped his hips, fingering the waist of his pants.

She ran up to him. "He's coming with me." She grabbed for the vine at Ember's ankle.

"Go away! I don't need you." It raised its arm into the air, palm upward. She lifted off the ground, hovering on parallel with Ember, his face filled with anguish, his eyes defeated, yet sending her a message of love.

The creature curved its hand into a fist and she choked, gasping as air cut off from her throat. She grasped for invisible hands wringing her neck, knowing it was futile--this being would kill her--

It had a satisfied look in its eyes as it drained the life from her, its pale lips stained with Ember's blood, its eyes wild beneath dark strands of hair, something wrong about its face, yet a shattered nobility to it--its body twisted like a gnarled tree, and yet something graceful about it, as if hinting a past when it had been free and sane....

Black spots crowded her vision and she looked at Ember, making sure he was the last thing she'd see.... after her death, the creature would have its way with him--she struggled for breath but all she could do was send her love to Ember, give him something to remember her even in the darkness and terror--

A soft yet commanding voice from below.
She felt herself falling as her vision faded

Dropped into strong arms

And then--

Huge dry leaves cradling her. A hand on her chest, sending tingles of life back into her. She breathed, air rasping into her throat. It felt so good to drink in air--even though it was anything but pure....

Char smiled down at her. "This is the second time I've saved you."

"Thank you," she managed, and tried to sit up. Ember still hung there, bloodied--Char had to save him too--

The creature's huge form hovered in the background, its hands clasped in front of it.
Char helped her sit up.

"You have to save him--it's going to--to hurt him--"

"I know," said Char. "It's been hurting him, and it hurt you too. But it won't hurt you anymore. It was all a misunderstanding."

"What--what do you mean?"

Char sighed, his hand resting on her back, supporting her as he crouched beside her, half-blocking her view of Ember and the thing.

"It wasn't my idea, you understand. But my brother--he did not take banishment well."

"Your brother?"

Char swept an elegant arm toward the dark, twisted being. "Gorge. My brother. At least, as close to a brother as our kind gets."

She looked from Char to Gorge. They had a certain resemblance to each other... And, she realized, the same spark of madness reflected in Char's eyes, though it was muted, glossed over with more complex emotions....

"When we arrived, he didn't cope well," said Char. "I tried to make the best of our banishment, but he abandoned me, curling up in the swamp to pout. He poured all his energy into his despair, and that influenced the earth. He in turn became a part of it. I long ago gave up imploring him to be reasonable. But he has never been as strong as I am. He would not even listen to my commands, but wallowed in this wretched semblance of a life....

"Then, you landed, at the outer edge of where he was just beginning to corrupt the flowers, and he sensed Ember. He's partial to men, as I'm partial to women. He wanted a companion--someone who could give him something I could not. So he dragged the shuttlecar toward him in order to trap Ember on this world.

"You must know that I had nothing to do with that. I only found out about it when you led me back to where the car had been. I used our bond to speak across the distance. He needed Ember desperately. Something to give him hope. Something to give him love. I realized that if you thought Ember was dead, you could be free to love me. It would all work out. It's a good thing I got here when I did--Gorge wasn't listening to my mental commands." He touched Sky's chin.

She jerked away. Shock twisted through her. Char had been behind this from the beginning. Conspired to hurt Ember. Disgust filled her--she couldn't bear to be near him.

She stood unsteadily, and walked over to Ember. She climbed up into the vines, pulling at the branches around Ember's wrist. To her surprise, the vines gave way, releasing him. She leaned across his body, yanked at the branch around his other wrist--he fell forward. She grabbed him, helped him grasp the vine wall, then she climbed down and undid the bonds at his ankles. He descended shakily and stood beside her. She wrapped her arm around him, supporting him. His skin was slick with sweat. Damp hair hung over his forehead. She stroked his shoulder, comforting him.

"I'm taking him home," she said.

Char looked at Gorge, a wry smile on his face. Gorge attempted a smile, though it was more of a twisted grimace, showing sharp white teeth.

"I'm sorry, Sky," said Char. "That is not the deal."

"There is no deal. You will let us go."

"I can heal--I can also hurt." He raised his hand, dark sparks licking it. "As much as Gorge wants Ember, he will listen to me. I hold more power, not to mention I'm more stable. I will let Ember go back through the Portal that's shut to us, let my poor brother suffer in his despair, on one condition-- if you will consent to stay with me." He held out a hand toward her, an expectant look in his eyes. "So, Sky, what do you say?"

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