CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

War

We were a mob of silent zombies trekking through the woods to the valley where we'd take arms. Adrian walked next to Jack and I, and his solemn expression made me feel ill. I'd never seen him without a smile on his face, and this terrified me. Yuri was next to him, looking antsy and a little frightened.

Other than the mile-long train of soldiers traveling through the forest, ghosts flooded through with us. Of course, they loved sticking to the shadows of the trees, but I could tell they were here for a reason. Did they enjoy death? Or were they here to guide us out of our bodies?

I remembered being captured by the demons in New York, with no ability to fight back. I was stronger now, but I worried…If just one managed to subdue me, I'd be done for. And despite all that I knew of the afterlife, I was terrified of death. I didn't want to die. The souls in the Underworld were just spirits, just remnants of people. They didn't have emotion or memories. Would I die and forget everyone I knew? Would I recognize anyone in the Underworld if they were to join me? All I knew was that if Jack died, I'm not sure I'd be able to go much further. I physically would be unable to hold my sword if I saw his dead body.

The valley was beautiful. An endless grassy knoll settled between two rolling hills covered in trees, the sun shining through a sliver between clouds in the overcast sky. On the opposite side, I thought I could see the stir of human life—or, demon life.

Most of us wore durable metal chest plates for protection, with hard leather arm plates for movement. The Guardians wore all leather, though, because there wasn't enough supply and they were the best fighters. All of us had metal helmets of various styles, but we currently held them under our arms.

As we gathered into a group, I braided my hair securely out of the way while Grant stood on a stump to address us all. I couldn't hear a word of it, but the general reaction suggested it was encouraging and uplifting.

My heart thudded and I closed my eyes for a moment as we all began making our way into the field. It was ten o'clock. Adrian put his arm around me and murmured, "We'll all be okay." I thanked him quietly.

Somehow, our massive group was silent. The clanging metal armour even seemed to fall to a dull hum. The silence was painful and oppressive.

"Jack," I said, my voice finding its own way out my mouth. The crowd stopped, we'd reached our line, and he and I were somewhere in the middle of the pack. "I love you. Please be safe."

"I'll be with you, Hel," he promised. "You'll be safe, I'll be safe. It will be over by nightfall and you'll wonder why you ever worried."

My lips found his and I was so scared I could have cried. I wanted to.

"Remember what Grant said—don't panic if I get killed—"

"Don't—"

"What would you do, Jack?" I implored him. "If I died, what would—"

"How can you ask that, Hel?" He frowned. "I'd go crazy."

"You'd be killed," I mumbled. I wasn't sure he'd heard me, but then he gave a terse nod that told me he knew, and he was willing. I couldn't argue through the lump in my throat.

I wasn't sure how the fighting was supposed to start. Had I forgotten, or had nobody mentioned it? We stood for eons, on the balls of our feet, waiting anxiously to begin. As I turned to Jack to ask him, there was a collective movement from our side as an arrow pierced through the air, a black needle against the grey sky. Jack lifted his bulky shield but it was heading to the right side of the crowd, and I hoped it missed its target.

Then, everyone pressed forward. Even I was inching closer to the people in front of me, and everyone was talking about that arrow from the demons. Evidently, this wasn't how it was supposed to start. The demons had made their move before we'd even begun.

The ground rumbled as each side charged.


It took a moment to reach the heat of the battle from how far back we were. Jack told me to calm down—I was wide eyed and grinding my teeth as we ran—and then I saw the first one. The demon was human looking, but completely hairy and overlarge. He seemed tough, and several people were trying to cut him down. One person was thrashed to the ground and remained still, pressed into the mud. I looked away.

Next was a scrawny demon dressed in homemade armor. He saw who I was and started to gasp before Jack ended him with a quick stab through the chest. As the man fell to the ground, Jack grimaced and pulled back his bloodied blade. At least he didn't take pleasure from all this.

As the crowd thinned, we saw them in their full numbers. Demons. Hundreds—thousands—of them: terrifying, bulky, angry and with red eyes, all engaged in battle. They looked like humans, only with massive muscles and up to ten feet tall. The more brutish, troll-like ones seemed more like animals than people. The human-like ones had tried to blend in, while the beasts had let their demon blood overtake them. I kept my eyes open for Oliver, but I couldn't spot him.

I killed one of them before I realized I was swinging my sword. It was a woman, harsh and scarred, and I stabbed her through the throat. I rigidly shook her body off my blade, alarmed by my unconscious murder. She gagged and blood poured out her mouth and neck. She grasped her throat and collapsed to her knees. Jack yanked me onward, which was for the best. I'd fatally injured someone—I'd never done that—and I didn't need to watch her die.

I stumbled over a body but Jack continued to drag me along before either of us could see whose side it belonged to. I wondered where he was taking me, but I realized he had no real objective. We pressed further into the enemy's territory. It was Oliver and Alexander who wanted to kill me and it was best to find them as soon as possible. Whether they died or we did, it would end the war much faster.

We fought. Jack's pale hair and skin was stained red with blood. He swung his sword and sliced demons with power I hadn't seen from him before. My arms ached from the weight of my weapon, but adrenaline kept me going, and killing felt natural. There was no other way to say it; I just got used to it, comfortable with it. Jack stayed at my back when our attackers grew particularly dense, and often he'd reach his free hand back to grab my waist, make sure I was still there.

I hadn't seen any friendly faces in a while. We kept moving forward, and I wondered how my friends were. Had I romanticized the idea of war? I couldn't remember anything before today, it seemed, but maybe I imagined I'd be fighting alongside friends, taking down enemies one by one. But we were so far from them and alone, and I had no idea if any of them were safe.

I hacked down a large deformed demon male and pivoted around, coming face to face with someone I knew. Not Oliver or Alexander, but someone else I hadn't entirely expected.

Her light brown hair was tied back , her face was flecked with blood but still pretty, and she had a sinister grin on her face. I froze and stared at her.

"Mia?" I found myself asking. I'd nearly killed her at St. Aldred's, one of my last accidental attacks. But why was she here? As far as I knew she was human.

"Surprised to see me?" She snarled.

"You shouldn't be here—"

"Save it." Mia rolled her eyes. "I found out about all this after you left, when I overheard Oliver and Mr. Moreau talking. I told them I wanted to get you back for what you did to me."

I shook my head. "You're human…"

"What does that matter?" She shook her head angrily, and I got the idea that she wished she was a demon like her allies. "I've been training with Oliver. He's taught me some nice tricks. Unfortunately he won't let me kill you, but I can cut you up a little."

It was insane how delighted she seemed. She was corrupted and I was scared. Killing demons was one thing, but humans? Teenage girls?

"Hel!" Jack yelled as he pushed me to the ground, his body landing on top of mine. Mia had swung her sword and it bit into Jack's arm as he saved me. He showed little interest in the wound despite how deep it looked and how much it bled, but was glaring at me so angrily for letting my guard down.

"Move!" Mia hollered, kicking Jack in the ribs to get him off of me. "You bastard!"

Jack did move, mostly because we were so vulnerable on the ground, and he helped me up.

"Did you want to kill me?" Mia spat as she charged forward. I deflected her sword as she swung it repetitively at me.

"No!" I screamed. "It was an accident, I'm sorry—"

"Shut up!" She hissed. "They told me you'd say that! They told me!"

She was so brainwashed, so beyond reason.

"Helena," Jack grunted disapprovingly, telling me to get it over with. Whoever he was battling managed to strike him in his distraction, and that was two bleeding sword wounds on his body. I realized that I had to get past Mia if I wanted this war to end, and if killing her meant saving hundreds…It had to be done.

So I pressed forward, no longer on the defense. Her eyes showed momentary shock.

Three heavy clangs between our swords and she tripped over a discarded piece of armor, now vulnerable and staring at me like a child.

"I really didn't mean to hurt you," I whispered before killing her.


Author's Note

I found out Hel is also the name of a Norse god who can control the dead, or something like that, which is a ridiculous coincidence. I love it.

Random fact: Harlow's guardian, Grant, was named Alex in the first version of this story. I realized that that was the same name as Alexander, Hel's principal/enemy, so I changed it to Grant…then I realized that's Oliver's last name. UGH.

Yeah, so I wasn't expecting to post this tonight, but I happened to finish it…so here it is! Hopefully the next one will be up soon. I should warn you: there will be some character death. I'm sorry!

Please review! It means so much :)