Blood of Betrayal

(Wrote a short story with a 10 page limit. After forming more ideas throughout writing this, I think I may expand this and make it… more.)

***

Betrayal and death flash before my eyes. Images I wish to un-see, as I am forced to experience such a vivid nightmare. My father. A gun. Yelling and then a loud pop. Pain pierced me as I fell overboard into the raging black waves as they swallowed me whole.

            I woke with a jolt, gasping as drops of sweat dampen my skin. Instantly my eyes take in my surroundings as I turn all my senses into overdrive. All I hear is the chirping of the birds, the leaves that rustle as the wind swirls through them, and the waves lapping at the shore. I allow myself to calm only a little, knowing I am safe at this moment. The nightmare I had comes roaring back at me, and then reality settles in. Still a nightmare, but not a dream. All of that happened three months ago. The only difference is that I was not supposed to survive. My father underestimated me. His voice still ringing in my head, “Life is unexpected, Rosalyn. This is how it has to be. Say hi to your mom for me.”

            I wonder what my allies at the assassin’s guild think of my absence. Surely, they will be scouring every city to track me down since I have never been gone this long, at least without contact. Then again, with my father’s betrayal, who knows what kind of nonsense he is telling them. I mean, he is the leader of our guild in New York City, or as others call him, Chief. Everyone believes the words that come out of his mouth, and they have no reason not to. Until now. I just need to get off this godforsaken piece of land.

            The rumble and pain that curls my stomach over halts all of my thoughts. My father believes me to be dead; that is his mistake. I am not the top assassin at our guild because my father is the leader; I earned my place with my skills and ruthlessness. Amid his deceit, I could read his body language and the twitching of his left eye and index finger. As much as his actions create an emotion I am not used to, I knew he was going to pull the trigger. That is why at the last moment, I twisted mid-leap off the boat and allowed the bullet to just graze me instead of causing major damage. Still hurt like hell, though. I let the sea drag me under and away until he was out of sight, then began swimming for my survival. Which is precisely what I have been doing for the past three months. I found a deserted island that seems to be off any radar and not located on any maps. I’m just doing my best to survive, even though I can tell my muscles are shrinking and my now torn clothes have become loose.

            Slowly standing up since quick movements make my head spin, especially before I have had a chance to find and consume some much-needed food. I grab my makeshift spear that has been a blessing, and I thank the guild for having a class on making weapons. I scan around as I heave a sigh; this place is like a mini jungle. Dawn is on the horizon, splinters of light creeping through the towering trees. Dewdrops dripped off the leaves from the dense humidity. The sun is blistering hot here, and this island smells of earthiness and the perfume of flowers. Everything is overgrown and untouched. I try to catch my food, which consists primarily of fish, in the early morning, and evening when the sun is not trying to burn me alive. Subtle drops of moisture trail down my back as the heat intensifies. Twigs snapping underfoot as I venture through the dense undergrowth. Climbing over enormous roots, I approach the shoreline from my hut made of mud, sticks, and leaves.

            About ten feet before I near the clearing to the beach is when I hear what sounds like a grunt. My whole body seizes as I instinctively form into a low crouch. I keep my spear along my side for easy use and ease myself to lean back into the rough bark of a tree. Patting my thigh, making sure my knives are still sheathed that I always have on me. Another blessing to never take them off because it allowed me to have some sort of protection aside from my fighting skills when I first arrived here.

            I can smell the scent of rain as inky clouds begin to creep toward the island, the wind picking up its speed as gusts make the trees dance back and forth. There is a whistle to the wind, and the water becomes more aggressive as it attacks the shore. As stealthy as I can, I progress towards where I heard the sound. Staying hidden behind trees and bushes, I drop to my stomach and spread the leaves as I spare a glance. What the hell? A man is tugging his boat into the sand while roping it around one of the trees. My training and psyche scream internally at me. Trust no one! Rain starts pelting down and imploding the grains of sand ahead. Shooting my eyes to the man, taking note that he is distracted and unaware of my presence, I dart forward. Unsheathing the blade from my holster, I close the distance before he can register the threat in the air. As he stands, I wrap my arm around him and press the sharp blade against his vulnerable throat.

            His whole body tenses and brings his hands up in surrender, keeping still as I can feel his heartbeat quickening. “I m-mean no harm.”

            With the uneasiness in his deep voice, there is also an edge of confidence. I lean on my tiptoes from behind and put my mouth close to his ear. “Why are you here?”

            Still not moving a single muscle in his body, he said, “I’m just securing my boat up to wait through the storm.”

            I think his words over as my mind keeps repeating, trust no one. But maybe the words he speaks hold truth, instead of the thought of my father sending him. Then again, I am positive my father has no doubt that he did not complete his deed. I slowly walk around in front of him as I take him all in. Messy dark hair soaked from the rain, deep brown eyes that almost look black, golden skin, and definitely built. He is the opposite of me as I have blonde hair that is practically white and dark blue eyes with fair skin. I have no doubt that I cannot take him down, though. “What is your name?”

            He regards me with a cool stare as he seems to think I would not slice his throat right here. “Michael. Yours?”

            I ignore him and drop the knife and place it back on my thigh. The wind is whipping my hair around as the rain is creating a pounding melody around us. “You have two options. Either I kill you quickly here and take your boat, or you can take me to my destination on your boat.”

            His eyes widen a fraction before he masks his face again. “How do I know you won’t kill me if I take you to where you want to go?”

            I lift my eyes to his and stare deep into them. “You don’t.”

Nodding his head, he begins to head towards the tree where he knotted the rope, making sure it will not become loose. He glances back at me over his shoulder. “Okay. I’ll take you.”

            It took hours for the storm to pass through as we waited in silence under cover of the trees. I managed to spear two fish before the water became too frantic, and my attempts would be hopeless. Once the rain let up, I created a small fire under my hut and quickly cooked them. I ended up giving one to Michael even though one is not nearly enough for me. But, if he was going to help me sail, he would need a little energy.

            When it was time to set sail, he untied the rope, and we loaded ourselves in, readying for the journey. He looked up at me, waiting, but I simply stared at him. The vibration of his voice sent a tingling sensation down my spine when he spoke. “Where to?”

            Never breaking his stare, I told him, keeping my voice cold. “New York.”

            The look on his face became questioning as he looked me over. “How long have you been on that island?”

“Three months.”

He just started blinking at me, opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it again. Then, finally, he decided to speak as he choked out the single question. “How?”

Tilting my head, wondering how I want to respond. But, I feel the need to be honest, to see what his reaction will be. “My father shot me off his boat, and I survived by coming across that island.”

All color from his face drains as he begins to scan his eyes all over my body as if he will find a bullet hole gushing with blood. I roll my eyes and turn away, looking out in the distance. “I’m fine. But my father won’t be.”

We sit in silence as the boat rocks and glides along the waves. I feel Michael is too stunned to ask any more questions. Plus, I know I am not the most welcoming person. I prefer solitude. The sea air invading my senses as a sliver of peace settles over me that I have not felt in a long time. Not since before my mom passed away in a car crash. At the thought of my mom, guilt washes over me because I should not have survived. She should have. If I could replace her…

Michael’s voice cut through my heart-wrenching thoughts. “There it is.”

We were not as far as I anticipated from New York, and we were able to dock up on the first piece of land we spotted along Long Island. When we hit the ground, I hopped out of the boat and began walking away while throwing my hand up in thanks.

I heard footsteps getting louder behind me, and I swung around and with a high kick. Holding my foot in the air, a mere inch from Michael’s face. Raising his hands up, he takes a step back. “I was just curious if you needed help finding your way to where you need to go.”

Squinting my eyes as I lift my chin to look up at him, searching those near-black orbs. “I’m good. I’ll manage.”

His shoulders sag slightly before I turn away and walk up mounds of sand, making a beeline for the city. It will take some time to make my way back to my loft, especially with how deflated my body feels, but I have endured worse. Before I entirely disappear out of sight, I twist around and cage my mouth with both hands to yell. I do not know why I do, but I guess knowing I will not see him again is a probable cause. “By the way! My name! It’s Rosalyn!”

Michael’s head jerked up like the speed of light, and his eyes widened as if some sort of realization clicked in his mind. But I decided not to stick around to find out, needing to make my way home undetected and deal with the man who is supposed to be my father.

After hiding in shadows, scaling buildings, and ducking behind corners, I made it home. As soon as the door closes, I collapse to the cold wood surface. The soles of my feet pulsing in pain and knowing they are swollen. I take a deep breath in as the familiar scent of lavender consumes me. Opening my eyelids, taking in my escape from this cruel life, the plush cream furniture, the overflowing bookshelf, the specifically chosen pieces of art hanging on the walls, and the picture of my mom and I on the light wood entry table of a time when I was only six. Guilt lodges in my throat, and grief invades me. The only time I have felt true feelings is before my mom died and now, with her death hanging over my head. When she passed, my father treated me as a recruit. I never felt like his daughter since then, just his human-machine to be a cold-hearted killer. It seems he does not like that I am surpassing him, so he felt the need to handle it.

I scour my pantry for any food that would still be edible and devour it. Then make my way to the shower. There have been a handful of times I have been on the brink of death. Staring in the mirror now, I can hardly recognize myself. My cheeks have caved in, my pale hair appears duller, my soft skin has a tint of red from the sun and scratches all along it from trudging through that dreadful island. My eyes begin focusing on the scars from my past that decorate my body. Most I have earned from missions and various fights that my opponent got a lucky shot in, some from the interrogation classes I mastered, and many others were caused by punishments my father felt the need to extract on me. The thought of him boils my blood, and I clench my jaw as I internally promise I will be the one to take his last breath.

A month has passed since I have been gathering intel and remaining hidden. The best way to go about my plan is to make sure my father still believes me to be down under. I made contact the first week I was back with the one person I trust at the guild, Demetrius. We are both the same age and grew up together training within the guild. He is second best to me, and we both have an understanding that no matter what, we will have each other’s back. All the torment, pain, simulations, and some missions, we have conquered together. He met me at a hole-in-the-wall bar in the city’s outskirts and somewhere my father would never set foot in. I carefully explained everything once his initial shock of me being alive dispersed. When he first laid those familiar hazel eyes on me, his face looked like he saw a ghost. He told me my father said our mission we were on ended tragically when we were “attacked.” Said they got a tip we were crossing the sea to them and took advantage of the information to prevent us from reaching land. That one fighter shot his gun directly at my father, but that I dove in front of him to save him and ended up tumbling overboard in the process. Yeah, right, I’m not clumsy. From there, I guess that gave him time to kill the remaining few, but by that time, I was long gone. Apparently, Chief has been “heartbroken” ever since.

I filled Demetrius in on my plan and that I needed a little bit of his assistance. He agreed, which is how our alliance with the assassin’s guild in Delaware heard a little rumor about my father backing out of their treaty. Like I anticipated, their leader is requesting an in-person meeting with my father to feel him out and demand what the hell is going on. But, of course, knowing how my father operates, he will be requesting his travel by boat to avoid any issues and stay under the radar.

The next day Demetrius confirms when the boat will leave the dock, and I make sure to arrive an hour beforehand to scope it out and welcome myself aboard. I made sure to wear my black custom-designed full body suit with light armor to ensure flexibility, that allows me to blend in the darkness and stay protected. Strapping blades against my thigh, one is tucked into my left boot, and my sword is strapped along my back. Braiding my long hair, even though a few strands manage to escape. Making my way along the dock, scanning the area, I am able to hop up on the deck and back against the side. This boat is huge, more like a ship. I would not expect anything less for my father though, he prefers the finer things. I silently make my way along the walkway on the shiny boat floor; it looks like it was waxed and polished this morning. I memorized the layout Demetrius conjured up for me and crack open the first door I come across and sneak in. Keeping my body ready for attack, I make my footsteps nonexistent as I head down the darkened hallway to my father’s office. The heavy metal door creaks when I push it, the whole room smells faint of his favorite cigars. Bile threatens to crawl up my throat from it; his cigars always made me nauseous. His office is masked in darkness, only the moonlight shining through the small circular window by his desk.

Over an hour passes when I feel the shift of the boat, signaling we are heading towards Delaware. I prop my feet on my father’s desk as I sit in his oversized, cushioned chair. Picking my nails with my sharpened knife as I wait. I can hear the echo of a few voices out on the deck, the water slapping against the side of the ship as we trudge forward.

Another hour passes before footsteps become louder with each second, the door clicks as the handle turns and begins opening. As soon as a foot comes into view, I throw my knife straight into the door frame; it grazes by missing the side of their head by a hair. The man stares at the blade that is embedded in the wood and whips his head to me. I suck in a sharp breath, and my eyes bulge out of my head. “Michael…?”

His dark eyes sear into me with just as much shock. Silence ascends between us for a few moments. “Rosalyn?”

Shaking my head in disbelief at him and to myself, keeping my eyes tracking each of his movements as he closes the door. “Michael. I should have known. What are you doing here? Or should I simply put the next knife straight into your head?”

Taking a step forward, he puts his hands up while his eyes plead for me to listen. “I’m not against you. I infiltrated your guild the week after you went missing. Our leader heard the daughter of New York’s Chief died, leaving your father in a vulnerable state. Our guild took advantage, and I became one of the guards. I met you by coincidence. I was on my way back to New York after making a trip from my home in Cuba, just happened to find that island when I saw the storm brewing. I was sent to kill your father, hence me sneaking in his office.”

Interesting. I know Michael is not lying, no telling signs from his body language or expressions. He must have felt fine telling me his plans to assassinate my father from what I told him a month ago. “My father will die today, but not by you.”

In the next moment that followed, an all too familiar voice carried down the corridor. Michael glanced at me for a second before trusting I will stay true to my word and slid into the shadows aside the bookshelf. As soon as the door opens and my father’s face appears, I leap across the top of his desk and launch myself at him right as he noticed the knife hanging next to the door. Before my father can acknowledge me, I slam the door, knocking him to the floor. He stands up ungracefully, looking at me like I am the grim reaper sent from hell. Maybe I am. He does not need to figure out why I am here. He knows he had a lapse in judgment to believe I indeed died without making sure my heart stopped beating. His hands yank out the metallic pistol with his initials engraved on it, the same gun that he only uses golden bullets with and the weapon he tried to kill me with before. Pathetic.

Like slow motion, I can see his fingers tightening on the trigger. I race towards him in a zig-zag, whipping my sword out. The feel of the smooth handle in my grip ignites a sense of tranquility. The calm before the storm. He blasts a bullet out of the nose of the gun but misses as I spin out high, kicking it midair out of his hand. It slides across the floor with a scraping sound; my father’s eyes follow his trusty weapon. Stupid. I’m the threat. When his heartless eyes connect back with mine, I can see a sliver of fear in them. I bring my arm back, then forcing my fist forward, so it connects to his face. I felt the crack right before he lets out a loud groan. Staggering backward, I kick his chest with my boot, knocking him on his ass. As he meets the floor, I already have my sword against his pulsing neck.

He peers up at me with a big gulp as I put a little extra pressure on the sword. His hands come together as if he were to pray. “Please, Ros, don’t do this. I’m your father.”

I snort while heaving an exasperated sigh. “You never were a father.”

Something cold taps against my hand, and I steadily turn my head to see Michael holding out my father’s most precious gun. A smirk curls the side of my lips as I take it from him. “Kind of symbolic, Father. Don’t ya think?” Before he can say any last words, I cut him off. He does not deserve to have them. Pointing the gun at his head, my voice firm. “Life is unexpected. This is how it has to be. Say hi to mom for me.” Bang.

-A. Stuebbe

The Red Witch

The light would fade in an hour, and darkness will take over the forest. I could see my breath and feel the crisp, cold air straight to my bones. The breeze’s bitterness made my body feel stiff and my muscles burned with every step I took, but now I have slowly started feeling numb. My threadbare clothing underneath my cloak does nothing against the frigid air. Hunger was consuming my every thought, and I felt my body struggling to keep pushing forward as exhaustion was slowly creeping in. I have been traveling since early this morning and am thankful that the snow has not started to fall yet. Winter is close to arrival, making my task at survival that much harder.

            Deciding I need to rest and replenish some energy, I gathered up some wood for a fire and will try to shut my eyes for a few hours. I hated not being aware of my surroundings when I had to sleep; it makes me an easy target to the hunters who have been after me since I was young. Prior to starting the fire, I needed to hunt before the sun completely vanishes from the sky. Retrieving my bow and arrow, my limbs protesting as I began my search, hoping this wouldn’t be another fruitless hunt like yesterday. The animals have been scarce since snow is almost here. All I have left in my bag is the end of a stale loaf of bread.

            Twigs and leaves crunch underfoot as I slowly scoured the forest. Crouching beside a tree, trying to ease my breathing, and straining to listen for any hint of game passing by. Readying my bow as slight movement rustled the bush ahead. Holding my breath, my stomach aching for food, a rabbit appeared in my line of sight. I needed to be as efficient and silent as can be. I drew my bow back, feeling the smooth wood against my cheek, readying my aim. I was reasonably good with a bow, I learned when I was young since it was my primary way of filling my hunger, aside from the minor stealing I have had to do. Drawing my bow back a little farther, I took my shot. Letting the arrow race towards its intended target and I would have hit my mark, but something soared overhead that startled what would have been my supper.

            Glancing upward to where the moonlight is slowly filtering through the trees, searching for anything overhead. The forest around me became eerily quiet; the only sound I could hear was my pounding heart and the faintest whirl of the wind brushing the leaves. The hair on the back of my neck prickled, my body and mind frozen but alert. Substantial black wings zoomed above the trees as quick as lightning. Panic seized me, clutching my bow and arrow as I took off through the woods. The will to live overpowered my body, demanding me to rest. Racing between trees, dodging branches, and leaping over roots, my lungs stinging from the exertion. Before I could form my next move, pain blasted me in the back of my head, and everything went black.

The light started filtering in as I began to peel my eyes open. My head pounding as I took in my surroundings. The contrast from the vast darkness that overtook me to the blinding light caused me to squint. How long have I been out? Where am I? Fear gripped me as reality caught up to me. My vision blurred for a minute before my eyes could fully adjust. The room was cold and musty; the stench of urine and something rotten instantly made me nauseous. The floors were damp, the old tattered brick walls were stained with dry blood. Probably from the previous victims that were captured. With force, the truth settled in my chest as if it was being crushed by a stone; they caught me. Shit.

            I have been hunted my whole life by the demons, and I still have yet to figure out why. I am just an orphaned human girl; my parents died in a house fire when I was twelve and have been on my own for 10 years. Unable to settle anywhere for long, I have not been able to make friends either, especially the part of putting them in danger. Every few months, I have to find a new location to lay low for a while. Why do the immortals want me? I have no ties to the supernatural realm. Looks like my luck has run out. Escaping wasn’t on my side this time. I didn’t even get a fighting chance; they knew my location earlier than expected and ambushed me. Now I am chained in some wretched cell, the sharp cuffs digging into my skin. I stalked up towards the thick iron bars peering down the hall. A clinking sound snapped my attention to the cell adjacent to me, and I sucked in a breath. Another girl who looked a little younger than me stared at me with wide eyes, curled up in the corner. Her clothes were torn and covered in filth, her skin pale, and her body looked haggard from whatever suffering she has endured. Her brown hair is dull, cheeks sunken in, and dark circles under her fear-filled eyes.

            Carefully I lowered myself to her level to try and get some answers from her. “Where are we?” She stayed silent; maybe she was mute or too scared to simply talk. I crossed my legs on the floor and tried again. “My name is Natalia; what is yours?” She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. She swiftly glanced around and whispered so soft that if I wasn’t so focused on her, I would have missed it. “Elise.”

Phew. Okay, not mute. I tried again. “Are you able to tell me where we are exactly?”

She double-checked to make sure we were alone again before she quietly spoke. “In the realm of the underworld. The Dark King’s castle.”

My jaw hit the floor … did she just say the underworld and Dark King?! What the hell would he want me for? I have done nothing to him! Putting my fear and confusion aside, I wondered why Elise was here. “Were you hunted down too?”

She tilted her head slightly, turning over what I just asked. “No … my mother could not pay off her debt, so he took me as a prisoner in exchange. Uhm, did you say hunted?”

I regarded her curiosity that hung onto her question, but before I could say another word, footsteps sounded down the hall. I took a quick glance at her and watched her cower closer to her corner. Dragging her knees to her chest and tucking her chin down. I was terrified and lost, but I did not want to show an ounce of fear. I needed to shove that down right now and put on a strong front.

Three mountainous-sized men appeared in front of my cell. Two of them looked like pure blood demons with their grayish skin, horns, bat-like wings, and pale eyes. Their stare felt like they could see into my soul, causing me to want to shrink back. The third one was slightly different looking; maybe he was half-demon? His wings were black but with soft, beautiful feathers, no horns, golden skin, and searing green eyes. His eyes widened when he noticed me, but just as fast, his eyes hardened again.

The one pure-blooded demon banged on the iron bars with the handle of his sword. “Well, well, aren’t you a pretty little witch.” He spat, seeming intrigued and disgusted at the same time. Wait… witch? They definitely got the wrong girl. I gave him no reaction, just a cold hard stare. Clenching my fist to help me focus on not making the wrong move. The demon unlocked my cell, grabbed my chains, and yanked me across the floor to him. My knees banged on the ground and I landed on my side. He leaned over, getting in my face, “Let’s have some fun with this witchling, shall we?” He went to kick me in the ribs, but before the blow could land on me, he was thrown back into the wall. The third demon, who looked different, glared at his companion.

“NO harm is to come to her, Amon! Those were direct orders from the Dark King.” This man was seething and was about one second away from ripping someone’s head off. He stalked towards the demon, who apparently is Amon, and grabbed him by the front of his armored tunic. “Get out of my sight! Both of you! Let me deal with the witch.” The two demons bared their teeth but followed his orders, nonetheless.

Once they were gone, the half-demon crouched down next to me, offering a hand. I shoved his hand away out of anger and got up on my own. When I looked up at him, it seemed like there was concern in his eyes. He stood up and folded his arms in front of his chest. “I’m Damien and am on your side” Hold up… what the heck?!

“What side?! You DEMONS have the wrong girl! I’m human, not a witch! Is this why you have been hunting me? Because your “Dark King” thinks I’m someone else?!” I was fuming, and from all the confusion, lack of food, and just overall being kidnapped, I took it out on him. I am pissed.

He took a deep breath in and sighed. “Look, Natalia, I can’t get into all the details now, but I am here to help you escape. I have been here for years undercover in case you were brought in so I could make sure the Dark King doesn’t get his hands on you.” I stared at him in shock. Before I could say a word, he continued. “To be blunt, you are a witch who was hidden amongst the humans. The Dark King wants to drain you of your powers to have them for himself and become even more powerful. We can’t let that happen; I need to get you out of here. I can explain the rest once you are safe again.”

I eyed him suspiciously, not sure if I can trust him. But what other option do I really have? I need to get out of here, and then I’ll process everything he just told me; it’s too much right now. I peered over at Elise. “Okay, but I won’t leave unless Elise comes with us.” He looked confused and jerked his head towards her cell. He sighed, closed his eyes, and swiped his hand down his face. Dragging his stare back to me. “Fine. But she will need to do what I say and keep her mouth shut. This is already risky enough. I will be back at nightfall.”

By: A.Stuebbe