1. Scarlet (Our desperate new step-sister!)
2. Rachel (Our Lunar Hell Hare!)
Recap: This is it, ladies and gentlemen! It’s time to see if Rachel has really discovered a way to ruin all of Asher’s plans; brace yourself because help is on the way, people! It’s time to close Hades’ gate and stop the apocalypses!
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Scarlet could only watch in fright as black flames bathed across the inner circle, evaporating the corpses of the cult members lining it; a flash of pink moonlight illuminated Rachel as a lustrous globe birthed in front of her.
Sound dying in Scarlet’s ears, she screamed for Rachel, praying to anyone who was listening to save her sister—the one girl who was kind enough to make her a part of her life when the world was collapsing around her.
She hoped—desperately wanted to believe Rachel wouldn’t sacrifice herself. She always found a way to overcome the odds, yet everything had spun out of their control when she opened the way to this nightmare.
It was her power that allowed them to get inside, and if Rachel died because of that, she didn’t know how to go on—how she would face Molly, Alexa, Nam, and Sam—her new family that depended on her to keep Rachel safe.
Grace’s trembling hand was clasped around hers as Scarlet’s new sister’s gothic appearance faded—her protection against what was to come—and all Scarlet could see was a fatigued sickness passing over her.
It only lasted a moment as Rachel’s strength redoubled, looking up in defiance while her knotted muscles lifted her hands up to stop a sea of Hades’ flames. Scarlet stood frozen, vision totally blocked by the raging inferno.
All she felt was misery, anguish, and torturous spiritual wreckage leaking out of the substance, paralyzing her mind in a mixed baggage of pleasure and horror. A current so strong that it shoved Grace and her together, it created some kind of natural shell that blocked out the world, repelling the torrent.
Eight seconds was an eternity as the sheer volume of released afflicted spirits spilled out in the corrupted wave that shook the very physical plane and rattled Scarlet’s bones. The colossal pressure forcing Grace’s chest against her back eased in an instant, dropping them to the ground—Scarlet hadn’t even been aware they’d been carried into the air.
Grace hit the hard ground beside her, coughing and sputtering with tears in her eyes, yet when Scarlet’s hand touched the igneous, blackened rock, all she felt was a pulsating chill.
Shaky vision rising, her hand closed around her mouth. “No…”
Two feet of topsoil was eaten away, leaving vivid demonic symbols inscribed across the charred zone; the asphalt and concrete of the airfield had been replaced by the nightmare Asher had called to this world—Rachel was nowhere to be seen.
“Where is she?” Grace wheezed, following the fire’s rotating around the outer ring of the devil’s circle, spread out over eight hundred meters. “I-I don’t see her … Is she still alive?”
A whirlpool of flames rotated around the ring that had burrowed into the earth, leaking out dull, red light and crimson electricity sparked around the edges. Scarlet’s lips parted while scanning the silent atmosphere—black smoke hazed the heavens, making it seem as if they’d been isolated in the epicenter of the world’s end.
No words left her throat; everywhere her frantic eyes settled, all that met her was rosen brimstone, black flames, and Hades’ sigils, pulling in the light to give the illusion of an unholy, charcoal radiance.
Her fangs bit into her convulsing chest, bloody tears leaking out of her eyes as she saw what circled the satanic halo—skeletons stripped of flesh, encased in an onyx-like substance that kept their spirits compressed into their bones.
Overwhelming emotion stabbed Scarlet’s chest when she saw a lone pinkish sphere hovering among the thousands of trapped souls—one body-sized shard that released a faint rosen light.
“Rachel…” Scarlet whispered in disbelief.
Grace followed her gaze, swiftly finding Scarlet’s trapped sister. “No, is—is she…”
Swallowing the bit of blood that entered her throat, Scarlet shook her head. “I don’t think so,” she cried, crimson leaking from her eyes as they fell to Hades’ flames. “She’s just trapped! We need to get her…”
Her tongue latched to the roof of her mouth; an ocean of nightmarish force slowly rose out of the soil, causing gravity to reverse and her stomach to do somersaults—Hades’ fire was feeding into the outer ring’s demonic language, scorching the earth and sustaining the devil’s gateway as something rose within.
Scarlet wasn’t sure if it was the air, her, or reality itself that inaugurated the arrival of Abraxas, but she had no doubt something far beyond anything they could imagine was reaching out of Hades to claw his way into their realm.
Far above them, floating in the center of the unhallowed pylon was Asher, crimson arcs of lightning dancing off a translucent shell around him that met with the various sides of the sacrilegious aureole.
“H-Hey!” Grace choked, cowboy hat only remaining in place by the string around her throat. “Didn’t Rachel t-tell you to snatch her and b-bounce?!”
Snapping out of the terror gripping her chest, Scarlet reminded herself that no matter what, nothing would be more frightening than the devil inside her. “Yeah!”
Blood exiting her skin and lifting off her cheeks, Scarlet formed the portal above them, allowing the reverse pull to lift them into it. Coming out the other end under Rachel’s imprisoned figure, another wave of dread and inadequacy struck her thumping heart—she wasn’t dead, Scarlet could feel the spirit within her but it was faint and something beyond words was drawing upon her strength.
I’m so sorry, Rachel … You always need to save me.
Forming her blood into another portal, Scarlet squinted her eyes, doing her best to find some way to escape the blasted landscape, panic settling in as all she saw was darkness; she couldn’t see through the clouds and fire of Hades, leaking out of the open gateway.
“Why aren’t we going?” Grace screamed, looking down while clinging onto Scarlet’s waist, Rachel’s crystalized form at their back. “I think—I think something’s coming out!”
Jaw locked together, Scarlet wanted to shriek. “There’s no way—I can’t see past the smoke!”
“Do you have to see?!” Grace returned, arms quaking.
Scarlet randomly selected a far off place, generating the portal as fast as she could while Grace and her watched in stunned silence—giant red clouds radiating malevolence lifted out of the ring to close around hundreds of soul-trapped humans … Unfortunately, the first came for them.
In desperation, Scarlet tried to complete their escape, but the demonic force created a barrier between her blood, trapping them in two different spaces before she could blink—all the strength in her body swiftly left as it separated.
Grace and Grace watched in horror as the incomporial hand split, pulling them away from each other. Fear set in—their one available safety line stolen—her power rejected, blood boxed in next to her.
No! No! Stop! she cried, unable to use any of her other Skills as a force somehow blocked her from taking any action. Rachel! I can’t … Why can’t I do anything right?
It had been so fast to interrupt her, but now every second was an eternity; Grace’s paralyzed figure floated away with Rachel beside her, brown eyes pleading for help while hundreds of others were taken into the infernal maw below. It’s not fair! Why does everything hate me? I’m so slow! So stupid! Move, dang it! Move! I have to save them! Move…
A warmth filled her bones that she hadn’t experienced since a child; a golden white hue pierced the black and red nightmare around them, chasing away the night. A reassuring peace calmed her frantic mind at the thought of sunlight; this was something different.
Rays of purifying energy dissipated the demonic forces to bask her in a protective radiance that freed her blood—a globe of iridescent light chased away the devil’s hands, and a resplendent sphere rose out of the ruined city, bathing it in a rejuvenating blaze.
Lighthouse, the Unicorn’s Achievement Skill, sent the woman’s familiar, hope-filled promise across the landscape, beaming her calming guidance across ten miles to pull the weary, hurt, and desperate to her side while offering her purifying protection against the armies of evil.
Creatures rose out of the gateway only to be driven back as the powerful purifying skill took hold and the illuminated backdrop of dozens of helicopters used the opening Maria had provided to enter.
Scarlet’s gaze turned to Rachel and Grace, more tears coming to her eyes upon seeing the hard case of obsidian being eaten away by Maria’s cleansing star in the heavens. A portion of the trapped souls dangling above Hades’ mouth were freed from their chains, released to continue their journey while their empty skeletons shifted course, falling below.
Even Maria’s level forty ability couldn’t completely purify the raw corrupting power of this tiny portion of Hades’ leaking into their dimension, only acting as a counterforce to offer aid where she could; two-thirds of the circle were pushed back and purged before resistance slowed its advance.
Thank you, Maria…
Gravity returning, Scarlet vanished in her own shadow to appear behind Rachel’s unconscious body when the light hit her the right way to fulfill the skill’s requirement.
Arms closing around Rachel’s chest, Scarlet sent her blood to the side, pulling in Grace as she laughed and cried. “A-Are we safe now? Please, tell me we’re done!”
Scarlet arms tensed, half-afraid she was holding Rachel too tightly, but she wouldn’t let her go; her blood pooled below them as they fell into the mouth of Hades’ gate; far below, a giant serpent’s head the size of a plane snaked up. “Let’s get out of here!”
They passed through the blood, landing on soft, neatly trimmed grass—Cahira’s turtle—hovering below Maria’s sphere.
Shouts sounded around them as Tom, Maria, Fiona, and a host of random people she didn’t know crowded her—they’d made it back.
Gasps and screams brought her attention to the exposed inner circle where the demonic green snake shot out of the portal to the center, glistening saliva visible from even this distance as it opened its gaping mouth to show deadly fangs.
The hiss it released made Scarlet wince and every human around them collapsed to the ground, passing out on the spot; helicopters wavered as the fleet fell to the ground, and only by Maria’s healing globe did they regain consciousness in time to correct their course, but it was over by then.
Grace’s wide eyes were fixated on the scene as the serpent’s jaws snapped shut, and it retreated below. “It ate him—Asher…”
Black flames, laced with crimson electricity, erupted out of the ring before a red cyclone filled the space; the presence that was birthed within seemed similar to the horrific sensation Scarlet had felt before, but this was on a whole different level. Not a sound was heard, everything giving way to Hades’ fiend.
The blood mist departed, revealing an abomination of solid darkness, standing over two hundred meters in the air, tendrils of shadow writhing off of its form as it turned sinister red eyes on the Dragon Turtle.
Mouth opening, crimson liquid belched out of its jagged maw to collect into a thin, tongue-like appendage as blood rain fell to the scorched earth. An unearthly clicking noise resonated in Scarlet’s skull, making her blink, yet an agitated groan soon silenced the noise in Scarlet’s mind—Twilight.
Missiles fired from the helicopters and tanks volleyed rounds with many other military weapons taking aim at the colossal figure—however, the moment Twilight rolled over in her deep sleep within Scarlet’s core, the devil dispersed into blood mist—it was gone.
Explosions resounded across the soaked, desolate rocky plain that used to be for planes, but apprehensive silence followed; Tom was by the edge of the wall, holding his head and looking for where it might appear next, screaming orders to look for smaller targets in case it had shrunk or taken to the sky.
Scarlet had the distinct impression the devil was gone the second Twilight began to stir—the devil within her seemed to just snuggle further into her imaginary blankets, which painted a picture Scarlet didn’t want to associate with the horrible deity that her parents had obsessed over.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Scarlet gently shifted Rachel’s sleeping form to the side and rested her head against her breast, listening to her steady heartbeat. You’re alive … Thank God. Please, please don’t do that to me again … I honestly thought you’d died for a minute.
“No!” Fiona screamed, zipping in closer to hover around them. “Is—Is Rachel dead?”
Her outburst drew quite a few eyes, but Maria soon put the Fairy’s worried mind at rest; the Unicorn knelt down, horn blazing light as her soft radiance burned Scarlet’s skin, but she refused to let go of Rachel.
“Hmm … No, she’s alive—Yo, crap, though … What did she do, Scarlet? Aye, uh—ack, yo, Rachel’s super messed up,” she groaned, distracting herself a little. “It’s like she’s scorched herself from the inside out—only like, spiritually. It’s kind of like Wolfgang, but … It’s so much worse.”
Scarlet tensed. “Spiritually?” Brushing back her messy black bangs to look at the Unicorn, she cleared her throat. “What do you mean? She looks alright on the outside … I’m not sensing anything bad! H-Her spirit’s still there…”
Maria hissed, scratching the side of her forehead, and it was then Scarlet noticed her new ears and tail. “Freak, big difference between her spirit bein’ there and the state of it, chica.”
“You can fix her, though, right?” Fiona pressed.
Grace nodded, sitting cross-legged beside them. “Yeah, Rach like—like set everythin’ up so we’d win. What can we do—can I do anythin’?”
“Shhh—let me think, freakin’ gah,” Maria grunted, folding her arms and glaring at the Lunar Hare. “Eh … I mean, she’s healin’ slowly from Lighthouse—I think it’ll be good, but it’s not gonna last the time she needs. I’ma need ta keep trying to purify and heal her spirit, which isn’t the same as wounds, mis amigas. I only recently started bein’ able to sense this kinda stuff, so—yeah.”
Cahira jogged over, tied back ponytail bobbing. “Aye—yo, sup with Rachel?”
Fiona grimaced, letting Cahira catch up as she pressed Maria. “Eh, so you’re saying it’s just going to take time? How long?”
Maria shook her head and popped her tongue. “Crap, I don’t know—give me a break, I think she’ll be good given a few days, but it depends on how much work I can put in … She’s my chica de casa, but I gots a lotta peeps to heal, ya know?”
Scarlet took the information as positive. “She’ll recover, though—even if it means we need to take it slow. I mean, I don’t think we can move on to the next area—not just yet after all of this,” she muttered, watching Tom continue to keep his soldiers on their toes, looking out for danger and helping those that were flocking to the Dragon Turtle; medical camps were being set up around the giant creature.
“Got a point,” Maria muttered, examining everyone looking to them in the area. “You have no clue how many people are tryin’ to get here … Not enough, though. This slaughter … Can you think of anything that comes close to this madness—it’s insane.”
Scarlet couldn’t worry about them; she was too focused on Rachel. “Okay, umm. So we just need to take care of Rachel while she recovers. I can do that … Yeah, I can do that,” she repeated, trying to bolster her confidence.
I’m sorry, Rachel … You’re always taking everyone on yourself. I want to get stronger. Please, I want to get stronger.
A shiver ran up her spine as if someone were looking at her from within, but it soon passed, and she dismissed the sensation to focus on making Rachel comfortable, bringing out a bed with her Blood Portal to give Rachel a place to rest while Lighthouse was still active.
Eventually, Maria, Fiona, and Grace convinced her to use her powers to aid in the rescue efforts; there were still people broken and buried underneath the rubble after being flung away from the ritual. Grace offered to stay by Rachel’s side, and a few Cubans jumped in to support her.
It hurt to leave her side, but Scarlet knew Rachel would have encouraged her to do it, too, if she were awake. In the end, they’d survived due to the unusual deal Rachel had been forced to make with a Hades Lord, and it twisted Scarlet’s gut knowing she’d been a part of the reason Rachel took it.
Rachel was their leader—the one that made sure everything came together and worked out, and every time Scarlet knew she could have done more to assist her sister—she had to do more.
I have to get stronger. Don’t feel sorry for yourself; get up and do something! Rachel buckles down and finds a way when there is none. I need to be a support, not a burden. I need more power…
* * *
Rachel opened her eyes, ears twitching—she was really awake.
Pivoting on her heel, she shifted to look behind her; Nia was still soundly asleep in her bed, and someone else lurked beyond the overhead light shining down on the platform she stood on. “I’m in my Core … or whatever you call it, Izanami.”
Her head tilted to the left to see the throne and Hades Lord appear, toned, supple legs crossed while gently bobbing her right-heeled foot up and down. Her demonic wings were spread in a flexing manner before pulling in slightly.
“Quite the first act,” the woman snickered, silky white hair covering her right eye, while she rested her cheek on the back of her hand.
Rachel cracked her neck as she scanned left and right, looking for Yseress; the moment she started to look, the answer came since she was the master—the half-devil was sulking in the shadows after the traumatic experience of being wrung out like a rag for Rachel to soak up her essence.
Dismissing her from thought to center on Izanami, Rachel crafted a more Lunar Empress-inspired replica of the woman’s throne since she figured it might annoy the goddess turned devil, promptly sitting down in a manner she hoped spoke confidence. “So, how did it work…”
Her lips tightened as she crossed her own legs, pausing for a moment to see the scorch marks and damage done to herself—visually, she could have been a zombie because no one should be able to survive and look how she currently did. “What … is this?”
“Oh, just noticing, are we?” Izanami taunted. “Did you really believe your spirit could handle Hades for that long, even with that Seed’s aid? Not only Hades but Yseress’s powerful connection to it … stalwart enough to allow me to use her as a scrying tool.”
The devil’s long, lustrous fingernails tightened against her stone throne as her bracelets shifted. Her full, faint purple lips were tilted in her usual superior smirk, and her dress folded back a little with her back and wing’s movements to expose even more of her ample bosom.
“Heh, no, you may not have known the effects, but you knew the misfortune was not over your head—manipulated matters in a way to make sure of it.”
Rachel couldn’t fold her broken and burnt-away fingers, so she settled to rest them in her palm in her lap, noticing the light pink aura surrounding her arm. “Lunar Deadening is masking the pain?”
“Pain?” Izanami scoffed. “Yseress is mitigating your spiritual pain by using her human half as a buffer to take it on herself. Hmm-hmm-hmm, a tricky bit of manipulation on her part that is more proactive than she typically is.”
Yseress’s harsh voice escaped the darkness. “Shut up! I’m not doing this because I want to—I don’t!” she growled, clearly suffering by the tone of her voice. “I’m not your slave anymore.”
A devious smirk brightened Izanami’s dully burning violet irises. “Oh, don’t be so bitter, Yseress; you’re only showing how deep your loyalty runs. You can’t live without me.”
“I’m fine…” she mumbled in return.
Rachel frowned at the small quiver in her usually succulent and beguiling voice; it could have been from the pain of losing her connection to Izanami or the suffering she was taking on for Rachel.
In any case, Rachel was impressed and thankful for the devil’s unrequested action, and it did cause a few questions to skate across her mind. However, it wasn’t a topic she wanted to bring up in front of her condescending former master, knowing words of appreciation would only feel like belittlement to Yseress.
Rachel let out a soft breath, grateful Nia wasn’t awake to see how damaged they both were. It took a second to notice since the teenage girl was covered by a blanket and had her back to Rachel, but it wasn’t only her that had sustained injuries from their transformation. It also meant Yseress was taking on Nia’s pain, allowing her to rest in peace, which could have been a ploy to get on her good side, and by all means, it worked.
Keeping her attention on Izanami, Rachel gave a thoughtful hum. “How did it turn out?”
“Better than it should have,” Izanami mused, crossing her legs the opposite way and scanning the darkness. “Abraxas sensed my and Yseress’s influence in you and tried to make a meal out of you two to gain the needed power to fully manifest himself—as much as it annoys me to be used as bait. Yet, Scarlet managed to zip you away with Maria’s help—quite the thread you pulled to make that happen, by the way.”
The Hades Lord’s glowing eyes snapped to Rachel, the corner of her lip twitching with mirth. “The price is Yseress’s pain, given the added damage it puts on your spirit to end things in this manner. Asher’s trip to Hades was secured by Abraxas himself, and as you predicted, he rejected Twilight out of fear—the manifestation of his avatar was so starved he could barely hold himself together. Now, he waits, watches, and builds his strength.”
Rachel slowly nodded, cupping her fractured chin. “If Maria used Lighthouse, then I should be stable enough to begin recovering. It was also the greatest counter against Abraxas, which put the needed stress on him and the ritual that dipped the scale. It’s settled and done.”
She didn’t have to have fully functional eyes to see, given whatever Yseress was doing to further stabilize her spirit; the half-devil was becoming invaluable to Rachel the more she learned about her. “Now, to the important bits. Are the other Lunar Deities scheming something, or is it only Eostre?”
Izanami’s smug leer shifted to another point in the darkness behind her. “Oh, every one of them has their own little machinations. I can see some being more beneficial to you than others, but the path you choose to walk and the gifts you take from them will determine where you take your final step as a mortal.”
Her left eye narrowed, smile rising ever so slightly. “Contemplate on that devilish thought, and as to your next question, what you seek will be within the World Tree in London,” she finished with a casual wave of her hand before fading into the darkness. “Be firm if you wish to give your sister a place in your future—it is that decision that will most shape your path.”
Rachel receded into her own thoughts as the Hades Lord’s entertained laughter faded into a silence that stretched around her; Izunami wasn’t always with her, but when she was, Rachel felt it.
Vision sliding to where Yseress hid, she realized the woman was embarrassed by how she looked; the half-devil took great pride in her appearance, and their exchange had marred that beauty for a time.
Letting the weight of the situation slide through her, Rachel studied her legs as they slowly healed; it was unusual, having the ability to be conscious while not being awake—another one of Yseress’s gifts.
After a time, a sad smile lifted Rachel’s eyes as she leaned against the side of her throne and stared into the darkness. “How long until you’ve recovered, Yseress?”
“…” It took a moment for the woman to respond, likely preparing her voice to not show weakness. “Depending on your view of ‘recovered’,” she answered in a sullen tone. “If you are asking how long it will be until you can use my powers again … five days, if Maria continues her treatments and I decide to sustain you.”
Tattered ears falling forward for her to examine the restoring skin and muscle, Rachel giggled. “I wasn’t asking about that. How long until you are recovered.”
“…” A low growl rumbled in Yseress’s throat. “Why does that matter?”
“I’d like to see you,” Rachel evenly replied. “I’m not going to ask you to sit with me until you feel that you’re presentable. So, I’ll ask again; how long until you are recovered?”
Yseress cleared her scratchy throat. “I … ahem … I can’t be positive, given your implication that I am the judge of my recovery status. Who knows what scars this will have on me … certainly not I.”
Chuckling at the light lip she gave, Rachel took a deep breath and let it go in a long stream. “Well, when you do feel like talking, I’d like to know more about your time outside of Hades—before being chained to Izanami.”
“Is that … necessary?” Yseress asked, showing a hint of the pain in her soft voice.
Rachel hummed. “Necessary? Not really, but I want to learn more about you. Nia would, too, I have no doubt. I can see you being like a cool big sister or aunt to her; we can start anywhere you like. Think about it.”
The ensuing silence as Yseress deliberated put a small smile on Rachel’s heart; eventually, she reluctantly said, “… I will.”
With that, Rachel sat back and pondered on the future; she needed time to think, and this provided the perfect opportunity. My sister, huh, Izanami? Devious cow, that could be Alexa or Scarlet … Perhaps both. Hmm … when I leave mortality … That has so many implications and questions that shake me to the core. What will happen to my parents?
A sigh left her lungs while resituating herself to look at Nia. My little dark leader, we have quite a road ahead of us, don’t we … At least we’re not alone. Huh? You know … sometimes you need to become the monster.
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