I had a lot of fun participating in my friend Michelle Simpkin's Round Robin Blogvel, The Skeleton Key. Blogvel you ask? Its a short novel written on the web via a multitude of authors. You can find all the authors, their blogs and their chapters here. I was assigned chapter 13. Tighty Writie is up next!
Chapter 13 of the Skeleton Key. Please click the "read more" button below:
Nausea swarmed over my being as I found myself tangled once again in Ax’s bizarre fiery cocoon teleport. I wanted to jab him in the ribs and demand to know where he was taking me now, but found the best idea was to keep my mouth closed lest I lose my lunch. Was the nausea truly necessary at that point in our gatekeeper, bone key stealing murder-mystery chase? Granted I was new at the gig, but with my knack for “chameleon” adaption I’d supposed I would have this part down by now. So why was I cowering with my head tucked under my pretty dragon man’s left armpit, too scared to watch as the world churned like butter below our luminous bubble? Was it the bad microwave food I had consumed like a ravenous baboon moments before, or this sudden plaguing sense of dark foreboding of what was to come next?
I didn’t have too much time to ponder the riot in my guts before I found the fire had dissipated and left me standing on an oddly familiar gray carpet dully lit by flickering fluorescent bulbs. Ax’s fingers played lightly on my chin. The heat from his touch was smoldering wonderfulness, breathing strength and determination into my body as he lifted my face up towards his. He was stooped a bit, low enough to allow his lips to perch momentarily on my nose like a firefly. Despite it all, I felt my face relax into a tipsy smirk.
“Be brave for me Rebecca. We are at our Embassy, seeking counsel and aid with Genevieve. From the stench of the office building the situation here is deteriorating rapidly. What you will see may be difficult to bear. Prepare yourself.”
Still finding myself without words I nodded, taking one clumsy step away from Ax’s thrumming embrace. After a few moments I made the conscious decision to open my eyes and immediately regretted it. The office building was nearly dark. The sickly, strobing light that remained revealed a row of desks and a broken coffee mug next to a chair leg. A pale slender hand with pink nail polish lay bloodied and independent from its owner at the foot of the copy machine. Dark stains and thick glops of unidentifiable matter made a horrid patchwork out of the carpet. Here and there the light played across faces ruined beyond recognition; others were seemingly pristine but painfully still.
The stench of death hit my nose like a tidal wave. My knees buckled only to skid wetly into an unidentified puddle on the floor. I was only faintly aware of Ax as he held my hair out of the way as I purged the contents of my stomach till there was nothing more left to decorate the carpet but my own throat burning bile.
Just then the building’s central intercom chimed and a deep purring voice spoke in a disapproving tone, “Hadriax, Rebecca. I’d like to have a word. Could you step into my office?”
“Wonderful. Just wonderful. My mom tells me I am an adopted shape changing freak, I am knee deep in mysterious liquids and my own vomit, my sister is off being tortured by some random supernatural thug, I am cheating on my boyfriend with a dragon and NOW my boss wants to speak with me. Can I refuse? Can I call out sick? I think I am gonna be sick again...” My tirade was cut short by a painful bout of dry heaves.
Ax had apparently had enough and hauled me to my feet. “We have to obey the summons, Rebecca. It’s in our own interest, see?” He towered over me, maneuvering my shoulders to face the nearby hallway. It looked worse than creepy. My eyes went wide as I spied an odd green glow lurking where the shadows seemed to shift unnaturally. Ax wrapped his arms around me, and I felt the familiar flames burst into life around us. And POOF, I sat where all this mess began, in the not-so-cushy chair of my mysterious obsidian-skinned, cat-eyed weirdo of a boss’s office. But various details had changed since my first visit. The exotic plants that once draped the office in emerald cascades had turned a putrid brown. He sat in his chair, his feral eyes wide but steady, as his room hummed with nervous energy, packed full of over forty beings that looked human but were not what they appeared.
“What the hell is going on here?” I demanded, motioning to the crusting blood on my knees, the dead plants and the crowd in his once roomy office.
“We are in isolation. All creatures deemed a danger to others have been left outside the walls of my office. As I attempted to make clear during our first meeting together, it would seem that whoever murdered our gatekeeper not only stole the key but cut all of our reserves. Our gate is out of harmony and we are trapped inside. Those of us with certain needs have been left wanting which has resulted in a series of unfortunate and messy accidents that I see you have become well acquainted with.” He looked at me expectantly and I took note of his coal black skin glistening with beads of pearlescent blue sweat. It was the only sign of stress he seemed to exhibit. I opened my mouth to speak but Ax was faster.
“We haven’t the time to explain or update. We have come to demand audience with The Prophetess Genevieve.”
I wasn’t sure if the room’s high pitched hum of chaos died to a deafening silence in response to Ax’s bone jarring snarl or the demand he made. Either way, the air was charged with the smell of fear and the mounting pressure of expectation. The bookshelf to the right of the boss suddenly jerked and made a hard spin, and out stepped Genevieve from a trap door holding a chalice full of glittering gelatinous content. “Rebecca! Poor thing. I have been worried to death. Oh and I’m just so sorry about your sister!” She dashed over and handed off the mysterious chalice to Ax as she scooped me into a clobbering bear hug.
“How do you know about Ashley?” I managed to say while still buried in her embrace.
Genevieve pulled away and straightened herself, her back to business expression a little forced, “I have seen all that has come to pass and have been giving the boss real-time updates. As I believe Hadriax has caught on, there is indeed a need for you to claim full ownership and operation of the gate Angelica is currently using to send out psychic attacks. The way to do this involves entering the realm of the dead, seeking the expired gatekeeper and essentially banishing the mark of his essence, from any ties to the gate. Once this is done you will be the sole owner and operator of that gate and Angelica will have one less weapon to turn against you. ”
“Wait...let me get this straight. You need me to claim full ownership of a gate that Ax just transported me out of? Wouldn’t it have been more convenient to do this realm of the dead ritual thingy’ there? What’s with that gunk in that fancy looking cup? And what about my sister, when will I get to...?”
“Ax was missing an important ritual implement to get you started on the journey to claim the gate. Through the steady stream of visions I have been receiving I recognized the dilemma and to help speed things along I took the liberty of brewing this batch of meta essence. It’s the first time it’s been made in over 7 centuries.” She looked mightily pleased with herself.
I recoiled in horror. “Genevieve. You really expect me to drink that stuff?!”
“Oh, come on. It’s not so bad. I added a nice dose of maple syrup to the batch! It’s a transformation accelerator and extender that we brewed to work with your unique shape shifting abilities. See, you will need, for all intensive purposes, to be dead to enter the realm of the dead. Duh! This meta essence will aid your body and your energy pattern to mimic the state of death thus allowing you to go in and do your business without being swept up in the current that transports souls into the next life for rebirth. It’s quite simple, actually.”
“And how do you expect me to find this ‘expired gatekeeper’ that you need me to banish past the gates of death and beyond?” At this point I was rolling my eyes somethin’ fierce.
The room gasped as Ax, perhaps the most powerful creature in this dimension, bent down on his knees before me, tenderly placing the chalice in my hands as he shot me the most devastating of apologetic looks. “Do you have the key?”
I touched my pocket and felt the ghastly finger bone safe and secure. ” Yes I do.”
“Do you have the Hummer?”
I reached into my bag, pulling out the brass gun looking device which sent most of the creatures in the room scrambling for cover. “Check,” I said with a mischievous grin.
“Then drink. We will be fully equipped to return to the fallen Embassy and secure it away from Angelica’s control. Once this is complete we can use the lasting effects of the meta essence to aid in retrieving your sister from Damien’s fiendish hands. You’ll need to be brave, my mate. My love. Please. Drink. ”
Did he just call me his love? Was I truly swooning while on the verge of drinking a chalice full of goop that was going to turn me into some sort of living dead thing? Yes I was. I drank till the chalice was empty. The meta essence had instantaneous effects. It soothed my bile burned throat with a wintry wash of numbness. The essence continued to seep till I felt every cell of my structure saturated and strange. It would have been relatively pleasant if not for the bone chill that began to gum up the ability to move my limbs.
It was then that Ax spread his arms around my chilled form and used his fire to banish us again to the last site of Angelica’s revenge.
Ax held my stiff and paling body tight to his chest as if his smoldering dragon flesh could keep the chill of death off for a little while longer. But it was too late. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak, and soon I wouldn’t be able to breathe. Yet I had a clear view of Ax’s face, and I could tell Angelica’s psychic attacks against him were increasing in strength. For his sculpted features were contorted in agony. Those brawny arms of his began to prick and rip at my frigid flesh as his thick steely dragon scales began to loose themselves like razor goose bumps across his skin. In sympathy, my body began to shift too. Not only was my body impersonating the fine attributes of a corpse, but mimicking a particularly violent dragon shift, it was an excruciating predicament.
Struggling fiercely, Ax finally managed to lay my body down in the center of a room full of shadows set dancing with the roar of a fire built inside an impressive hearth. I was practically ripping my lungs and throat apart gasping for air without effect. My consciousness was beginning to wane and my vision swam. I could barely make out that I was lying atop a chalked out circular symbol of some kind. Within the circle and around me were an assortment of spices, salt, gems, vials, and herbs placed in a complicated array. Meanwhile, Ax thrashed somewhere in the distant shadows.
The last thing my muddled body recorded was the few audible words within the moans and growls that Ax began to bellow. Something like, “Don’t fight. Let it take....you. Your guide. Your guide awaits you in The Astral River of Transformation. Be brave!”