Coming back to St. Louis cemetery caused unease deep in my belly. Especially to this aisle. Dried blood still caked the altar's marble.
Cameron didn't spare a glance at the scene, following Rory and Romeo inside the magnificent crypt. Drawing one last breath, I marched after them, trying not to think where I was going.
The bag on my shoulders felt light compared to the stone-weight in my chest. Like something I couldn't stomach down. Sabine was on her knees in the middle of a circle of black candles. Her eyes were closed, the moon stone sitting quietly in front of her.
A few feet from the circle, was the same horrendous door from Danvers. Double-doors, serpents running up it, terrifying columns on either sides—the whole package.
Clutching my necklace I mimicked Cam, stepping forward and stopping when he did. Afraid I'd do something clumsy and ruin everything. I could see the anxiousness in his eyes, but at the same time how Cameron's back was taut with tension.
"Is she still...?" Courtney began but Romeo held up a hand, then pointed at the stone.
For a minute, I was compelled to look for a string, something that could levitate the oval stone. There was nothing. Only Sabine's quiet humming. It grew as the milky color began glowing. The Cambion pulled back a sleeve before pressing a palm in the door's circle, like Cameron had done days ago.
Blood ran up the trails—gravity defying as expected—reaching the gargantuan head.
Unlike Cameron, Romeo simply stepped back once the beast's eyes shone an eerie light. Mechanical sounds ensued.
The doors parted together, revealing something black and oily. Like live-petroleum was coating the entrance. And...
"Are those whispers?" I asked softly, clutching the hem of my jacket.
Nodding, Romeo motioned Courtney to his side. She seemed as disgusted and fascinated as the rest of us.
"The Hell Gates were created by Witches. Until then, crossing over was nearly impossible. It took a lot of dark magic—lets just say it involved tons of sacrifices." My jaw hardened. "Human and otherwise," he added quietly. "The Witches killed them in a ritual, trapping their souls in this... black mass. They can never escape, never die. Supernatural blood gets the mechanism going, and it can only be opened on a full moon because that's when the ritual was finished."
"Then why can it be opened whenever in Hell?" I remembered him saying that.
Smirking, he said, "You'll see. Now, hurry up before the energy runs out." He turned to Courtney saying something to her. Then stared at us. "Nothing can hurt you inside the Gate, the whispers are just residual thoughts of when the Witches trapped them. Don't be afraid."
Easier said than done.
Cameron looked down at me, slipping his fingers into mine. I followed our joined hands, smiling when I saw the leather bracelet.
"Hold out your hand like this," Romeo instructed Rory as we stepped closer, inches away from the slimy inside. "Hold still and let it do its thing."
Tendrils crawled up their hands, covering their arms, clothes and everything in their paths. The oily mass seemed to be consuming them—adding them to it. The urge to throw up found me when the gooey darkness covered their heads. Cameron didn't say a thing, but I knew my nails had just broken his skin.
Their bodies stayed there seconds longer, like black statues, until the black-ink wheeled itself in. They were gone.
"Our turn," Cam's murmur wasn't clouded by fright. It calmed me. He wasn't afraid, I could relax. "Nina?"
"Yeah?" I swallowed the shaking.
"Don't let go." Wouldn't dream of it.
When the dark-goo touched my palm it felt cold. When it latched onto my skin it tickled.
I closed my eyes thinking of my hand in Cameron's, of how safe I felt when he was around. I thought about why we were doing this. I thought about how Phillip had forgotten his fears to save his brother.
I wished I could do the same.
My senses were plunged into a void, I couldn't smell, couldn't see. It didn't even feel like we were going anywhere, just that we were stationary. Breathing didn't seem to be a problem and unfortunately, neither was hearing.
Screams of rage, despair and grieve welled up my ears. But that's all they were. Screams. They couldn't hurt me. But they sounded just like the screams and shouts of my family. Blocking out the memories became harder than tuning out the foreign voices. A fiery pit of anguish built up, making me want to claw my way out of the massive, damp cocoon. Then between the cold and harsh hisses, I felt a warmer spot. Clinging to it, my thoughts shaped into peace.
A chill ran me through. Out of instinct, I drew my arms around myself, blinking.
No blackness. No black candles. This was somewhere completely different—a very cold place. Looking behind me, there was an identical doorway. And down a large, cavernous hall of ice, were tons exactly alike.
My shoulders got tugged backward once the double-doors began closing, I watched as the ink was sealed. So were the agonizing whispers. Thank God.
"It's freezing." I mumbled backing into Cameron's arms.
"Were you waiting on fire and brimstone?" Romeo's voice echoed from a few feet away. "Hell's not hot. Well, not only."
Both his and Courtney's reflections bounced off a couple of massive ice crystals. Crystallized ice was everywhere, on the walls and ceiling. Even the ground was wet and slippery with a few solid patches waiting to make you trip.
"Where are we?" Cam asked, getting the leather jacket from his backpack.
"We're inside the Ice Caves. In the main tunnel, to be precise. All the Gates on Earth lead here, but each Gate you see here leads to a different destination on Earth." The sound of Cameron zipping his jacket filled the icy hall. "Rule number one," Romeo's voice dropped. "If you don't want to call attention to yourselves in the Caves, don't get hurt—don't bleed. Don't make unnecessary noise and don't waste time admiring the pretty crystals." He sent a glare Courtney's way.
Her finger dropped from the flawless surface.
"What happens if we bleed?"
Romeo pushed his humid hair off, strutting down a snowy way, leading us into a darker, rounder tunnel.
"You'll attract a bunch of Freeloaders and they'll munch on our necks." His voice sounded bitterly sweet. "Doesn't sound swell, does it?"
"Freeloaders are the Demons who turned humans into Vampires. Remember?" Cam whispered into my ear, plucking a wet strand from my cheek.
When I spoke, I saw my breath, "Have you ever seen one?" I kept my tone as low as possible, not wanting our conversation to be spied on.
He shook his head. Diamond beads of water trailed down his onyx hair, strands clung to his forehead. Looked like he'd been under a waterfall. Shouldering my bag, I focused on the road ahead, silently praying not to fall on my ass.
Romeo made numerous lefts and rights, with each step my eyes were jumping back and forth catching my reflection several times—I looked like a drowned cat—but no sign of scary Demons.
Cameron kept a steadying arm around my waist, every once in a while. He was expressionless, probably thinking about Phillip and how we were going to find him. I just hoped the hardest part had been getting here—
I was jerked against his chest suddenly. Cam's hand clamped my mouth, muffling the yelp. We'd been going down a narrow tunnel, with concave, ice-painted walls. Light somehow was better here and in a corner between two icicles, roamed a gray creature.
It moved along the ground, first on four limbs, then it straightened onto its legs. Its body was made of pudgy muscles and claws the color of copper.
The skull was sleek, elongated and cylindrical. No eyes. The creature was hunched, walking along the path. My legs trembled when the Freeloader's head swung side to side, mouth opening in a low growl, revealing two set of fangs. Each teeth was as long as Cam's hand and as thick as his thumb.
A crossover between Gollum from Lord of The Rings and the monster from Alien.
Romeo held his ground, not batting an eyelash as the creature tilted its long head. I felt static rippling. Lifting my wide eyes, I stared at Cameron, begging him not to attack the Demon. Understanding my mental plead, he scrunched his nose, stifling his Power.
Gesturing quickly, Courtney edged behind Romeo, Cameron pulled me along, careful and swift. I noticed the Cambion reaching into his pocket, retrieving a coin. He tossed it, noisily.
On cue, the Freeloader snapped to where the sound had come from, chasing after it like a Velociraptor.
"Pick up speed before it comes back—with friends." Romeo broke into a dash. Rory, too.
When Cameron flung me over a shoulder I saw flashes of white zooming away, my hair flayed freely. I didn't feel sick, instead, I enjoyed the ride. Not the fact that he was carrying me like a caveman. It reminded me of the first time I'd rode Phillip's bike.
A blast of crisp air surrounded us in a few micro-seconds. I coughed from the sudden change of temperature, it wasn't as frigid, for that I was thankful. I grasped Cameron's mountain backpack when he made an abrupt motion.
Not long before, I was set on my feet.
"Too fast?" His hands enveloped my face, heating it.
"Too brusque..." I sniffed, groping behind to make sure my bag was strapped tight. "I'm okay, though, you didn't break my neck."
"Humor not appreciated." I smiled at the stern glare he was giving me.
"Now you know how I feel about your jokes."
"Ha. Ha. Ha." Cam crossed his arms. "There's nothing wrong with my sense of humor." It was worse than British humor.
Our banter died when I saw what surrounded us. We were outside the cave, still, tall rocks with frozen bits settled us in their middle, forming a slippery path. What shocked me wasn't the abundant dented version of the Himalayas, it was the two huge astral bodies hovering Hell's sky.
One was a brilliant ball of orange flame, three times the size of our sun. This caused the whole horizon to be immersed in a yellowish-red tone. Then... then there was a moon. At least, it felt like a moon. From where we stood, I could see circular depressions on its surface—like our moon had. But this one felt close, so close I was afraid it would fall on me.
And as if to contradict the flaring sun, this moon sported shades of baby blue among white. It was actually a very beautiful thing.
"The moon and the sun are up at the same time... how's that possible?" Everything I'd ever learned in school went against this. Sure we could see the moon when the sun was setting, but not like this. So detailed.
"This is Hell. Not Earth. What makes sense there might—will—not apply here. Here, the moon is never changing, you always see it. Even during daytime."
"There are no moon phases. It's always full." Cameron mussed. "That's why you can open the Gate anytime from here."
I wondered if I was the only one who noticed Cameron's awe. Somehow it felt wrong to be awed by Hell. Like we should be abhorred. Yet, I couldn't help my own excitement.
"Outside the Caves we're safe from Freeloaders—at least until the sun goes down. Most Demons are nocturnal, they come out at night—"
"Which ones aren't?" Rory asked.
"Beasts," Romeo grunted climbing a rugged boulder. It had to be two times his height. Probably three times mine, or four. "The majority doesn't hang around here, though. They prefer the sandy territory in the Wasteland."
Rory climbed with the grace of a dancer and I saw Romeo's eyes on her the entire time. I took a step back, but a pair of strong hands pushed me to the rock. My nose nearly pancaked itself. I glared daggers at Cameron.
"You climb first. That way, if you fall, I'll catch you." Cameron's teasing wink did nothing to drown my anger.
Convincing myself this wasn't that different from climbing a rope in gym class, I set a foot on a deep cavity, hauling myself higher. I latched my hands onto the sedimentary layers, avoiding the trimmed icing.
'Don't look down' was a constant mantra. The worst thing a person who was afraid of heights could do... was look down.
More than halfway up, the rocky platform where I put my foot gave out. My fingers fumbled as I held on for dear life. All it took was one glance. I knew Cameron was at the bottom, he'd catch me—but fear wasn't rational and I'd stopped thinking the moment I saw the ground thousands of feet—to me—below.
Leaning my head into the jagged rock, I breathed shakily. In and out. Get a grip, I demanded, he's not expecting you to fight. All he's asking is for you to climb. Do it.
Reining in my fear of falling, my muscles tensed, giving me the necessary force to pull myself higher, finding another foot hold.
Once I was near the top, Rory offered me hand, pulling me with extreme ease. I staggered on my feet before feeling the sting in my left palm. A trickle of blood bubbled up from a scrape.
We couldn't be more than twenty minutes into Hell and I'd already managed to hurt myself.
I closed my hand in a shaking fist. Angry at my weakness.
"Look who climbed all the way up." I wanted to wipe the grin off his smug face. "You didn't expect me to solve every obstacle for you, did you?" Cam stood in front of me, head cocked forward.
"You're an asshole." I whirled so I wouldn't do or say something worse.
I was tugged by my wrist.
"I can smell blood on you—did you get hurt?"
"I don't know, I did almost fall off a cliff." I rolled my eyes, snatching my hand from his inspecting eyes. "It's a scrape. I'll manage."
His eyebrows twitched. Cam didn't have the audacity to look confused, though.
"You're mad because I made you climb on your own. Get over it." His breath was scalding on my snow-cold skin. "I thought you didn't want to feel like a liability, anyway."
Cameron shouldered past me with a blank face.
I climbed it on my own, my brain buzzed with sudden approval. I hadn't asked for help. I'd done it. Because he'd pushed me to it—because I'd wanted to show him I could be as dauntless as he was.
It wasn't the first time Cameron pushed me to my limits, but it was the first time I felt truly thankful that he did.
After baring miles of inches of snow, the scenery began to alter. There were small chunks of pearly whiteness, but the ground became covered with pebbles and cobbles. The space was open now, with more room to walk and breathe.
As we walked, Romeo talked about a lake up ahead— Abyssal Lake—and how we had to get across it. As I tried not to step on the few seedlings, the humidity on the small stones grew and soon my golden gaze settled on a large shore. The shore was cut left and right by two branches of land.
The enormous sun dipped far to the west, where the lake continued its course until it disappeared. Nightfall was arriving.
Romeo threw his bag to the ground.
"And a cloaked skeleton playing gondolier?" The Cambion mocked openly.
"Stop being a smartass. You've been here time after time, you know the place. We know. It's why I asked you to be our guide—"
"Fine. Don't get your panties in a twist." His lips turned at the corners. "Save that for later."
Rory gave him a death-glare.
"I'm two-seconds away from drowning you."
Holding up his hands in a placating gesture, Romeo glanced to the dark lake.
"We call this lake 'Abyssal' for a reason. It goes on forever—meaning no swimming allowed." I eyed the far, fathomless water distrustful. "The only way to cross it is to wait for night. See, during the day the lake is plain water. When night comes, the surface becomes a large ice-skating ring."
Eyes bulging, I scrubbed my face.
"How cold does it get?"
Romeo shrugged, "Enough for you to freeze."
Oh. Wow. If I wasn't mauled by a blood-sucker I'd die an ice-block.
"That's why we're going to move as soon as the lake gets an ice layer. If we're careful it shouldn't crack." Not exactly reassuring. "Once we're crossing..." he paused, looking uncertain for the first time ever since I'd met him. I could see Courtney eying him, something near concern. "Once we're getting across don't hesitate."
It felt like there was more, if there was, Romeo wasn't sharing. I could see it took Cameron a whole lot of control not to zap his ass until he spat it out. Those midnight irises settled on my face, cataloging the bruises under my eyes. He exhaled.
"How long do we have until then?"
"Few hours, three maximum."
Nodding, Cam's fingers curled on my denim-clad arm, stirring me to a sheltered area. We sat against a rocky wall and I shivered. My clothes were drenched, so was my skin and hair. Cameron turned my left palm over, the scratch still stung, but didn't bleed.
"I'm gonna wrap it up. Prevent infection." He explained zipping open his jacket, before I could ask what the effin hell he was doing, Cam ripped the bottom of his Tee. Like a freaking piece of paper. "Hold your hand open."
I did, watching as he wrapped the makeshift bandage, securing it with a tight knot on the back of my hand.
"That's good, thanks."
I nursed my hand against my chest, staring at him. Then realized—how had this happened? How had we just melted into an embrace? His arms roping my waist, my good hand on his shoulder and Cameron's head dangerously dipped.
His thumbs found their way under my jacket and sweater, moving rhythmically near the band of my jeans. I fought not to lean too close, wishing I could talk with him without anyone else listening.
Please don't kiss me in front of them, I pleaded with my eyes.
Up until now, we'd kissed in isolation from the world, and to kiss here... it would violate that privacy. And I didn't think I could stop at one kiss.
Emanating a low growl, my Prince of Darkness moved his head off, keeping me firmly close to his chest. The smell of leather and eucalyptus submersed me as Cam stroke my hair.
I walked up a set of cement stairs, clutching the iron railing lightly. The glass doors of Haven Hills' library shone light outside, guiding me through the twilight. Kids I'd seen around my high school spilled out when I pushed in, they didn't seem to notice me.
I saw one of the librarians sitting at the entrance desk, but she was busy looking at a computer screen. People did their work and research in utter silence.
I'd come here once or twice and never had there been so much silence.
My body was on auto-pilot taking me past shelves of history, geography and literature, to the flight of stairs. The second level was all about science. I couldn't remember why I was heading there, but there was this excited feeling in the pit of my stomach as I climbed.
The floor was deserted. Was I here for a book report?
I entered the anatomy rows, having no clue what I was looking for.
My skin rippled with uncharted heat as I watched him walking out of the shadows.
"Cameron?" My hand fell from a book's spine. He walked over slowly. "What are you doing here?"
Cam's head tilted in a bird like manner.
"Same as you." My eyebrows jumped. I had no idea what I was doing in Haven Hills public library.
Tugging a wavy hair behind an ear, I licked my lips pretending his steamy gaze wasn't tingling my insides. I flattered back a step as his hands met the shelf behind me, arms caging me in.
"I think we're in the right section," he breathed straight into my ear. My chest heaved. "Don't you?"
Peeking over his shoulder, I read: GENDER AND SEXUALITY. A giggle bubbled up, I had no idea there was a section just for that.
"Hey," he caught my chin, driving my eyes back to his. "Eyes on me, little bird."
I gave a push into his unyielding chest. "Don't call me that."
He smirked, stroking a thumb across my jaw. The lights over us went brighter and was it just me, or was it getting hotter? My hands moved along his arms.
"Little bird," Cam teased. "My lovebird." His voice lowered making me dry heave. "Mine." He growled sexily lowering down, the skin on my neck shivered at his warm breath.
I breathed into him, "It's hot in here." My fingers dug into his forearms.
"Let's make it hotter." He challenged touching his forehead to mine.
Our eyes crossed and our heartbeats kicked in simultaneously.
Hands latched for his shirt, tugging it apart—buttons popped, flying everywhere. Cameron's hands curled on my hips, hauling me with ease and ferocity. My palms moved down his chest, driven by a deep seethed carnal want—his mouth met mine halfway.
"Nina," he moaned.
Pulling to the side, I gasped, "Shut up." My arms went around his neck like ivy.
I covered Cam's soft lips, tasting their hunger. Nails dug into his shoulder blades when he jolted me against a bookshelf. Suddenly, my front was rubbing into his lower stomach. Cameron threw books aside, making room for me to sit—he pushed me back. I cupped his cheek, grabbing his lip with my teeth—moaning.
Cam's hand worked under my top, fingers grazing beneath my bra making me hypersensitive to any touch and breath. I vaguely recalled we were in a public space, that people could come up here any second, and when I did remember... It made me smile.
"They probably wish they were us." He breathed arrogantly like he'd read my mind.
Fingers groping his onyx hair, I pulled his head away and listened to the whine coming from the back of Cameron's throat. Pure ecstasy.
"I said... no talking..."
He grinned mischievously. An arm wrapped me up, keeping my thighs clipped on his hips as Cam moved us somewhere else at hurtling speed. Strangely, it peaked my desire. We flailed for more of each other so violently that I sent a lamp crashing to the ground—barely hearing it break. He sat me on the table where papers scattered.
Finally, I tugged off his ruined shirt.
One hand crawled down his spine, my fingertips dragged greedily. He claimed his way down my throat, pulling off a strap of my top to nip my shoulder. Cameron shivered as the tips of my fingers slipped under his waistband. His hands gripped my face kissing me savagely—my lips would be bruised for days—then he took a hand to my leg—hoisting it—helping me hook it around his waist.
I leaned back admiring Cam's disheveled appearance. Smiling seductively, I reached for his belt and he splattered my cheeks with long fluttering kisses, moving behind my ears, down my chest.
I'd managed to pull off his leather belt. Cam snatched it, throwing it like I'd done with his dark shirt.
Pushing closer, I mounted his hips, using his shoulders as supports for my arms. I looked down grinning, before pressing our faces into one. Cameron's arms held me tightly, his skin felt glorious, the more I touched it the crazier it made me.
I put a finger to his lips, closing my legs harder around him.
"Wake up," I blinked dazed. Cam's arms slacked somewhat. "Wake up."
I swallowed when my eyes snapped widely open. Oh my God. This was not Haven Hills, little alone a library. This was Hell and I'd just had a sex dream about Cameron.
I bit so hard on my lip it was amazing how it didn't bleed. A dream where I... where I'd been about—! My face turned as redder with alarm.
I'd fallen asleep in his arms.
"You were tossing around pretty badly. I thought you were having a bad dream or something." Cameron mumbled, drawing away, inspecting me. "You okay?"
"Huh," I took him in. His hair wasn't nearly as tousled as it had been seconds ago, his eyes looked soft—not lost in monkey-lust—and his belt... Well, it was probably in place. "Huh. Yeah—I mean, just some dream, nothing too important. Actually, I don't remember what happened at all—yeah, so, I'm okay."
Cam's obsidian eyes blinked and his lips parted. I felt my desire peak.
"Good. That you're alright, I mean." He said shaking his head slightly, probably thinking I'd had a stroke.
Thank the baby Jesus I didn't talk in my sleep.
I disentangled from Cameron, wrinkling out my clothes. Halfway through smoothing my jeans, I caught Rory's eyes on mine. She was forcing down a Cheshire smile. Holly crapola. I might not talk while dreaming, but Courtney sure could read minds.
With two bright spots on either cheek, I listened to Romeo—who'd come from near the lake, saying he was confident that the water had solidified enough for us to get across.
Half of me wished I'd plunge into the freezing water so that the shame would wash away.
And they've arrived in Hell! What did you think so far? Let me know!
On another note, I finished a trailer for Nocturnal! The link is in my profile, if anyone wants to see it go over there and click it.
As always you are the best with your amazing support, thank you :)