Rivers of blood cover the Devil’s eyes. The same blood that runs through my veins.
“Are you going to open it?”
My eyes snapped as if I was waking up from a nightmare. I jumped to my feet and scanned my surroundings. I was alone, but he was close.
Naked tree branches shivered in unison as the icy wind swept the park. Around me, darkness turned pathways, benches and walls into perfect hideouts for the boogieman.
Every little sound, every night critter turning in its sleep made me jump. I had summoned him. Not on purpose. But my reckless cravings had shown him the path straight to where I was sitting.
“I miss you, brother.” His sarcastic voice flooded my thoughts.
His words made my jaw clenched until my grinders threatened to shatter. We were not only entangled by blood, we were also two fragments of the same damaged story. The thought produced the same physical reaction it always did. I felt nauseated and angry.
“You come here every night, Andres, and every night you stand at the edge of that portal. You feed on its magic and wrestle with the temptation to open it, to the take the next step and go back to the motherland.” Roman’s voice was clear as if he was standing right in front of me. “The life of a regular man is worse than slavery. Am I right?”
I reached for the dagger in my back pocket. The weapon I had forged using Steve’s bones accompanied me everywhere I went. I clutched the hilt until it hurt. If Roman wanted a confrontation, I was not about to give him any advantage. I had hurt him before. I was ready to do it again.
“Come on, Andres!” his voice echoed mockingly. “Are you really planning to harm your own brother?”
“Stop saying that, Roman!” I yelled losing my patience and giving him exactly what he wanted.
Central Park felt quiet that night, almost abandoned. The hordes of tourists wielding camera phones and forced smiles had faded away as the sun went down. It was just me and the Naumburg Bandshell amplifying the sound of my heavy and fast breathing.
The pain in my frozen ears made me aware of how much the temperature had dropped since the sun went down. I was so lost letting the energy from the portal flow through me, I hadn’t notice hypothermia was just a couple of minutes away. I took a hat out of my coat’s pocket and put it on.
Winters are cold in New York but this year had to be a record. We had gotten barely any snow, but instead an arctic front had settled in the city and made it its home. The worried weathermen telling people to stay home didn’t stop me, though. My thirst was stronger than my common sense. Part of me was ok with letting frostbite take one of my fingers as long as I was allowed to sit there and gorge on the magical energy flowing between worlds.
Roman was right, for the past three months, I had come to the same spot every night, but I didn’t want to walk back into that nightmarish world –that, he got wrong — I just wanted to get high. Magic was strong, and the veil between worlds was thin where the Naumburg Bandshell had been built. The power suspended in the air had become my junk.
When I closed my eyes and open the doors to my soul, the warm current would rush in, flooding every cell in my body. My head would spin, and my muscles would tense. The air would become a thick golden mist, through which forms and shapes were impossible to distinguish. My skin softened as if it was melting, dripping like the wax of a candle. And then there was the power. Humans were not capable of experiencing the sensation of power rushing through your veins, so they had not created words to describe it. High, rush, ecstasy seemed too ordinary to explain what I felt.
Like every addict, I convinced myself that what I was doing was right and I was not hurting anybody. A year ago, after months of slavery and torture, I had discovered I had a destiny. I was meant to fight a war in a world that wasn’t mine. I had also learned that the monster who kidnapped me and tortured me was my brother. I told myself I deserved a break without any judgment.
The sound of steps startled me. I had to move. With Roman around, the safest place was among a crowd. He wouldn’t dare to attack me in front of people. I took a careful step to the right and let my survival instinct lead the way.
“Come on, Andres, don’t be like that.”
“I’m not falling for any of your games, Roman.”
“This is not a game. This is quite serious, actually.” Every single one of his words felt like a shard of ice rolling over my spine.
The actions that led to Roman’s return started a Sunday afternoon during the fall. Claudia and I were walking through the park, enjoining the sun, the golden leaves when I felt it for the first time. We were talking about famous movie locations when a tremor shook my soul and the same dark tunnel that led me to freedom framed my vision one more time. When my surroundings came back into focus, I could only see the iconic amphitheater standing tall in front of me.
Claudia asked me what was wrong and I lied.
“Nothing,” I said. “I just never noticed how beautiful this was.”
She rolled her eyes, and we continued walking. That first lie led to hundreds of others over the coming months.
When we returned from The Mist, I decided to forget about the augur’s prophecies. Ignoring I was the mythical Worlds Walker was easier once all magic was gone, and the routine of everyday life had settled in. I felt so normal after just a couple of weeks that I convinced myself walking away from The Mist was possible.
Life started rolling again, and we tried to bury the memories of our captivity in the furthest corner of our memory. The Mist was history and the monsters that inhabited it was not coming back.
Until that afternoon in the park, the idea of crossing back to the world where I lived as a slave was inconceivable. But once I felt its magic running through my skin again I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
I didn’t say a word to Claudia. Instead, I lied to her every night. I made excuses; I said I had to work late, or visit friends. At some point, I stopped caring if she believed me or not. The slow moving force of magic felt like a shot of adrenaline straight to my heart. I was an addict, and securing my next fix was all I cared about.
Claudia interrogated me over and over. She was a survivor and could see the signs of a storm before even the first cloud formed.
“I know you are not cheating on me, Andres. That is too easy when it comes to us. I know that for you to lie to me, it must be way worse than that,” she said to me.
And she was right, but I couldn’t share my secret with her. Instead, I let our relationship deteriorate to the point that her departure was just a matter of “when.”
His voice invaded my head one more time. “What about a drink? For old times’ sake.” Roman chuckled. He was enjoying the game.
“Why don’t you come out of hiding and we’ll talk about it Roman,” I yelled.
I moved alert and ready, turning with caution as I headed toward Terrace Drive.
The idea of revenge lured me like the voice of a siren, but I wasn’t ready to face him alone. Roman was not a regular creature. He was a catcher, a supernatural being with extraordinary strength and unbreakable skin, and even though I was holding the only weapon in the world that could hurt him, the chances of things ending badly for me were high.
My back hit a solid object and before I could turn he shoved me with the force of a titan. I landed head first against an empty planter. The pain traveled from the crown of my head to the sole of my feet. I turned around with my eyes covered with tears and the blade in front of me. I couldn’t see him.
“Boo!” Roman shouted.
I ran toward the street.
“Come on, Andres!” his voice in my head teased me. “Don’t tell me you reverted into a coward as soon as you came back to this filthy world.”
I didn’t answer. My boots pounded the cobblestones; my eyes were fixated in the yellow cab parked right where the path ended.
“Stop running, Andres! or I’ll head to your lovely apartment in Astoria and give your girlfriend a visit.”
I froze. I knew he could get there faster than me. He just needed to open a portal back to his world and then another back to the thinning closest to Claudia. I would never make it there in time to help her.
I turned around and prepared myself to face him. I reached for my phone. “Called Claudia,” I said praying the voice activated feature would work this time.
Her phone rang until it went to voicemail.
“Roman is here, get to a safe place,” I yelled at the device in my hand.
“But there is no safe place, Andres. I told you before; I will always find you and your whore.” Roman’s words rumbled in my mind as if they were my own thoughts.
He emerged from behind a tree. His steps were slow and affected. His demeanor was arrogant, as always. Roman loved a memorable entrance. His ego fed on overdramatic speeches and theatrical performances.
“You look good,” he said walking toward me. The thick black fur jacket and the leather pants he was wearing made him look like a mythological creature. He was the closest any human would get to meet a demi-god.
“You like my outfit? I would like to say something nice about yours, but we all know I would be lying.” He tilted his head and smiled as if we were old friends just busting each other’s balls. “Clearly I got the looks and sense of style in this family,” he said flaunting his jeering smile.
I kept my dagger firm and prepared. “Do you really want to do this here Roman? There are people just a couple of feet away.”
“Do what? Give my twin brother a big hug and try to find forgiveness and understanding?”
“Stop the bullshit, Roman! Do you want to kill me? Go for it.” My voice was firm. Challenging him was the only way to keep him away from Claudia and protecting her was more important than surviving the encounter.
“Killing you is so easy and so boring. Believe me, if I wanted you dead, you would be dead already.”
“What do you want then?”
“I’m not sure.” His mocking tone was gone. “Aren’t you curious? Don’t you feel like we should sit down and talk about this whole thing?”
“Do you want me to forgive you? Is that what you’re asking for?”
“Don’t be silly, Andres. I will not apologize for doing my job. I thought you were human I treated you like humans should be treated,” he answered. “Now I know better, and I’m wondering if I should give you a chance.”
Roman was good with words. Trusting him was the stupidest thing anybody could do, but he was skillful at confusing his prey before catching them.
“The only thing I want from you is to leave us alone,” I said. “I’m not going back to your world; I have no intentions of fighting you. You are free to go and fulfill your destiny of becoming the ruler of The Mist.”
No words came out of his mouth. The silenced lingered and the tension rose. I was an idiot. He didn’t know about the augurs’ prophesies. I had just given my monster twin a new reason to kill me.
His menacing figure got closer, but not enough to reach him with my knife. He was keeping his distance. I had hurt him before, and he knew that if he wasn’t careful, I could do it again. He was pondering his next move.
“So, you are not the only special one in the family, Andres. Tell me more about it. I’d love to hear some of that augurs’ nonsense. ” he finally replied.
“I’m just trying to forget about your world, Roman –”
“Our world!” he interrupted me.
I looked at his hand expecting to see a severed limb, but he was whole; somehow the hand I had chopped in an act of desperation had re-grown.
He followed my eyes. “The Mist has sorcerers that can regrow any body part. You didn’t expect me to show up with a hook right?” he said reading my mind.
“I kind of hoped so.”
“I’m serious, you know I have thought a lot about you since you left,” he said while walking toward a bench and sitting down. “And I’m not talking only in an ‘I will destroy that miserable mutt’ kind of way.” He paused and placed his open palm on the back of his neck. “This is as hard for me as it is for you. And please don’t play the slave card.” He said looking at me disapprovingly. “It is not all about you. I discovered I have a brother and, worse than that, that I’m half human. Being a catcher, having ancestors that were humans was bad enough. But knowing I’m actually a mutt like you is disgusting.”
“You are a self-involved psychopath,” I answered. “Is that really your struggle? That you are not pure blood? What about the fact that you kidnapped me and tortured me? What about the fact that Ash almost raped me?” I was growing angrier as I said out loud words I had kept locked inside of me since our return.
Yes, I had thought about talking to him too. As ludicrous as it sounded I wanted him to repent. The most irrational part of my brain imagined him changing his mind, joining the fight and helping the augurs liberate the slaves.
He laughed. “Really, Andres? You thought that knowing I had made my twin brother suffered would turn me against my own kind? You are truly amusing,” he said.
He stood up with one quick jump and started walking away from me. His steps echoed in the solitude of the park. I could read his thoughts too. He felt conflicted. He also felt the energy pulling us toward each other and that was messing with his hate and thirst for revenge.
He caught me peeking into his thoughts. “Read my mind, Andres. I want you to know that everything I’m saying is true.” He turned around, bit his lip and brought his palms together as if he was getting ready to pray. “The closest portal I can open is less than a mile away from here. From there I can open another portal two blocks away from your apartment. So, your only chance of saving your girlfriend is catching me before I reach the first portal. Don’t blink!”
Roman darted into the path in front of him. It was a trap, but I didn’t have an option. So I ran. I chased the devil into darkness knowing I could end up in hell one more time.
“Roman, let’s talk,” I yell while running behind him.
He didn’t answer.
I called Claudia again, but it went straight to voicemail this time. What if all this was a just a distraction? What if Roman had sent his friends Raine and Norhan to get Claudia and they already had her?
“Claudia, get out of the apartment he is coming for you!” I yelled almost completely out of breath.
Roman came in and out of focus as he weaved through Central Park’s trails. He was having fun. I felt the joy and the endorphins his revolting brain was pouring.
“You are out of shape, Andres,” his thoughts popped into my head. “I guess you could use some forced labor.”
The cold air of mid-January made it harder to breath. I ran as fast as my legs allowed me, but he still kept moving farther and farther away. Anxiety was rising. I had to catch him.
If I knew how to control my own power I could performed the same trick he was planning. I could open a portal and transport myself to my apartment much faster than he could. But I had no idea how magic work. Chances were I would get lost either in The Mist or on my way back to my own world.
He vanished when we reached the statue of the Indian Hunter. My eyes jumped from one path to another searching for his shadow. I had no idea which way he had gone. I tried to read his mind, but I saw nothing.
Time was ticking, and Claudia’s life depended on one decision. I took a deep breath. I felt the air lifting my chest, while my shoulders moved back. I straighten my spine and let my brain go blank. I wasn’t sure what I was doing. I was just letting instinct guide my actions. I needed to save Claudia, and my only chance was tapping into the unknown source of my own power.
“Concentrate,” I said coaching myself. “Find him. You know you can.”
The temperature dropped even lower. Thousands of small bumps covered my skin as an energy field expanded from my very core. It wasn’t a portal to The Mist. It was as if all the magic I had been gorging on was suddenly exploding in concentric and violent waves. My ears ringed as the silence settled and an unexpected sense of peace surrounded me.
Then the vision opened like two thick curtains in front of a window. I was inside his head, looking through his eyes. I wasn’t reading his thoughts; he and I were inhabiting the same body.
I felt the air caressing his cheeks and the sweat building in his palms. He liked the cold. The frosty particles entering his lungs reminded him of home. I wondered if he could feel my presence.
He was not moving, that was a good sign. He was not in front of a door either, which meant he couldn’t cross back to The Mist yet. I tried to identify where he was but there was nothing that would give me a clue. The only thing out of the ordinary was a man standing in the park. I felt Roman’s chest rising and falling with excitement as he lurked behind his victim. Then it hit me; the man he was about to jump was me.
Roman fell over my back like a lion jumping from a tree, and my awareness returned to my body. His weight brought me to the floor in one heavy fall. My knees hit the ground first and before my hands had time to react my face smashed the pavement. The pain stabbed my cheekbone as tears blurred my vision.
His forearm was pressing firm against the back of my neck. His knees were digging into my lower back with painful strength. The energy around me was gone.
He reached my right hand and forced my fingers open almost breaking them.
“I’ll take this toy. You may hurt yourself or someone else with it.”
That was the end. Without the dagger, there was no weapon on earth that could hurt him. Even if he decided to continue the chase toward the portal, there was no reason for me to follow him. I couldn’t stop him.
“Isn’t it funny how ego can play tricks on us?” He shoved his knees deeper into my spine. “After you left The Mist I realized it was my ego what allowed you to escape. I was so distracted by your pathetic act of submission I didn’t realize you were capable of something heroic.”
I felt the tip of the blade dragging across my neck.
“Just kill me, get it over with, Roman.”
“I underestimated you; I didn’t foresee what your love for that whore would spur on you. I didn’t think you would risk your own family to save her.” His mouth got closer to my right ear. “Did she take your virginity? Is that why you risked it all for her?”
I needed to answer. I had to distract him long enough for Claudia to hear one of my messages.
“I don’t expect you to understand the idea of love, Roman. You only know of hate, abuse and probably rape.”
“You hurt my feelings, Andres. Anyways, you won the battle because I was arrogant —“
“There was also the fact that I could read your mind and cross back to this world without your help. I bet you didn’t see that coming,” I interrupted him.
The silence around us was unnerving. Even though Central Park was not busy at night, most days you could still hear the traffic on 5th Avenue and the galloping of those poor old horses. But at that moment, the entire place was devoid of sound.
Roman remained quiet for longer than it felt safe. I had hit a nerve.
“I have to admit that was surprising.” He said matter of fact.
“Don’t you want to hear what the augurs told me? Don’t you want to know what you are destined to do?” I was stalling.
“The augurs have a tendency to overstate or straight out lie about their prophecies. They said the eilifts would bring darkness and destruction, but our world is brighter than ever.”
“Your world is full of cruelty and evil. You are just blinded by eternal life.”
“My world does not have more evil and cruelty than yours, Andres. We just make a better use of something that is a fact of existence. Some creatures are meant to rule, others are meant to serve.” He believed what he was saying, there was no doubt in his words.
“Leave Claudia out of this. You don’t need her,” I pleaded
“But you do, and that is why I will kill her.”
I felt his knuckles hit my head like an iron rod, and then the world faded into black.