GUARDIAN CIRCLE, BOOK #3
Copyright © Isabelle Santiago, 20124
All Rights Reserved.
She was going to jump, Phoenix realized, his heart sinking into his stomach. And this time he wouldn’t be able to save her.
“Amaya.” Her name was barely a whisper on his lips, a desperate plea, but somehow, over the hum of hundreds of voices, she heard him.
Her gaze caught his across the subway platform. Blue eyes shimmering with tears.
Don’t, he begged silently. But she’d already made up her mind.
“Please, don’t,” he croaked, his throat raw, his muscles still aching from Death’s phantom grip around his neck. Every inch of him shook violently, his soul rattled, pulled so hard that it nearly left behind nothing but a skin shell. He found comfort in the scent of burning flesh. In Kieran’s charred clothing and blistered chest. The fireballs in his hands still spun, ready for another round.
It was a hollow victory. It didn’t change the fact that his body felt like deadweight and his feet insisted on being cemented to the ground.
Kieran stood beside her, her delicate hands in his, and whispered something Phoenix couldn’t hear, drawing her attention away. Why couldn’t she see? It was Death that touched her face. Death wearing the face of a man but possessing no soul.
Phoenix tightened his fists. The flames dancing circles in his palms grew large, dangerous. He was going to kill Kieran. Really kill him. Burn his body and stomp over its ashes until he knew with certainty that he was dead.
And even then, Phoenix knew, Death would find a way to return.
He was an idiot to think that this time might be different. The entire world might have changed but as much as they fought it, they remained the same. Jaded and broken, but the same where it mattered, at the core of their being. He was destined to play the role of her savior in every lifetime… and fail.
Kieran and Amaya teetered at the edge of the platform.
She was lost to him. Phoenix could tell from the look of conviction etched across her face.
He couldn’t breathe. He watched in horror as their bodies turned toward the tracks, their hands entwined.
And they jumped. Right into the dark underground that so often haunted her nightmares, without so much as a look back.
She didn’t look back.
“No.” Panic built like a growing fire in Phoenix’s chest. He couldn’t breathe. He fell back, his body giving in to the exhaustion of the fight.
The crowd that had gathered flinched, drawing closer to each other to get away from him. They stared, terror stricken, pushing wives aside and children close. He could only imagine what he looked like standing there, balls of fire in his glowing hands, chunks of shattered cement reduced to rubble at his feet.
What was he doing? How had it come to this?
His breath caught. He’d seen this kind of fear before. But not for him. Never for him.
He fought to quiet his frantic Element. The flames flickered, hesitating, before extinguishing completely. Phoenix’s arms fell to his sides, but he couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. Nothing was right. Nothing made sense.
He was the good guy. The hero. Didn’t they know?
The air went still, as though the people on the platform held a collective breath. Waiting.
Run, an eerie voice whispered on the breeze.
Phoenix spun to find its source. A man stepped forward, violence written in his scowl, hands tightened into fists.
You have to run.
A gust of wind pushed him forward. The crowd reacted, panicked. Men shouted something of a war cry as they came toward him all at once. Phoenix went the only way he could, onto the train tracks and into the familiar darkness of the tunnels he spent months scouring to find her.
And now she was gone. Amaya was gone and she took her warmth, her laughter, his entire reason for existing with her.
He ran harder, faster, the world blurring around him. At one point he squinted into the daylight and couldn’t fathom when he got outside. Buildings blended together into swirls of grey and black. His legs throbbed, the ache enough to make his eyes water.
He threw open a building door and took a minute to catch his breath. Stairs. They swayed a bit, but he knew every crevice and crack by heart. All he had to do was get up the stairs and he’d be free. He fumbled for the keys; fell onto the door as it slammed shut behind him.
The sight of their shared apartment stabbed at his heart. Phoenix closed his eyes. Her ghost was everywhere. The ocean fragrance of her hair still permeated the cushions. Paint cans left sprawled along a stained drop cloth filled her room, a half painted canvas sat on an easel waiting for someone who would never return.
You can’t go after her.
Phoenix startled. It was the same breezy voice from the tunnels. A figure materialized in the center of the room, a swirl of reflected light and air taking the shape of a woman.
This is where your paths diverge. Your destiny lies elsewhere.
“Who are you?” He summoned the fire, an instinct to protect himself, though he wasn’t even sure how much longer he’d be standing. His thoughts were a muddled, cloudy mess. The floor beneath his feet spun wildly. “How did you get in here?”
She smirked, her eyes luminescent like silver, at once strange and beautiful. “Easy.” Phoenix shivered at the hollow of her voice. Untethered to the earth, to reality. Then, her smile faded. Her voice took on a grave tone. “Phoenix, you have to breathe. Take slow, deep breaths.”
He sucked in air, realizing suddenly how hard it was to swallow, how lightheaded he’d become. “What are you doing to me?” He clutched his chest, sliding further down the door.
“I’m not doing this. It’s the adrenaline. The run.” She stepped toward him slowly, carefully, moving as though her feet didn’t quite touch the ground. “You may not believe me but I’m here to help.”
Markings, dark and foreign, stretched across her torso like ancient script, bleeding through the thin white fabric of her hava. “Please, let me help you.”
He blinked and there she was, inches from his face, her pleasant smile back in place. She leaned forward and her lips touched his, feather light. A tiny gust of air parted his mouth, not warm as he expected, but brisk, like a crisp autumn day. His Element responded, igniting the Fire, making it dance.
“You may not recognize me, but the Fire does.”
“I get that a lot.” She extended her hand to help him up. Her touch was a strange echo of reality. Wanting to be flesh and bone but falling shy of its true form. “Yet, here I am.”
“I find it best not to ask how or why. I often don’t like the answers. I have an assignment and so I live. That’s all I need to know.”
She toured the living room of the apartment on lithe feet, practically pirouetting around the room. “You will see her again, your painter.”
“Amaya.” He groaned. Standing was a near impossible task. His body ached in places he didn’t know existed. “Her name is Amaya.”
“Yes, Amaya.” She paused. “Do you love her?”
“You do love her.” She picked up a frame sitting above the stone fireplace and traced Amaya’s smiling portrait. “Well, that will complicate things.”
“There’s nothing complicated about it. I’m getting her back.” He forced himself to move, pulled a knapsack from beneath the seating and started stuffing things inside.
“You can’t. Look at you. You’re in no condition to travel. And even if you were, right now, this is a critical moment for them, the time that decides their fate, the fate of this world….”
“ENOUGH!” The walls quivered. He stopped himself, ceased all movement so he could ward off his own shaking. “If I leave her with him, he will destroy her. He’s done it before. I can’t watch her go through that again.”
“Isn’t that her choice?”
He threw a few spare items of clothing into his bag. Some fruit. A canteen. “Not anymore.”
“So everyone’s lives for hers.”
“It doesn’t have to be that way.”
“This is Kieran’s tipping point. This day marks his change into the man we all want-all need– him to become.”
“Don’t speak his name to me. I don’t care who he becomes!”
“Then how are you any better than he was? He was willing to die, to kill, for me. And you’re off to do it for her. At what cost? Hundreds of thousands of innocent lives caught in your cross fire? Didn’t you see how much they fear you?”
He turned his back to her, to the painful truth in her words.
“And what about Enki? Hana? Do they become casualties too?”
He froze at the sound of their names, unspoken for so long. His hand tightened around the straps of his bag.
“Ah. And there’s the conflict.”
He sighed, eyes closed. When he reopened them she was beside him, having made no sound. She placed her hand on his shoulder.
“It doesn’t have to be war between you. Remember what it was like? When you worked together you prevailed.”
“Like you would know. You weren’t there.”
“I wasn’t. But Enki has told me much about our old world. And he tells the stories with fondness.”
Phoenix’s guard splintered. “You’ve seen Enki?”
“Many times. He speaks of you often.”
He looked away, hesitated. “And Hana?”
“She lives. But maybe you should see for yourself what it is she’s become.”
“No.” He knew the minute he saw Hana it was over. He wouldn’t be able to go through with what he planned. It would all be too real then, the things he needed to sacrifice.
Hana, with her bright eyes and warm smile. He couldn’t see her. But he wanted to. He wanted to so badly.
“Maybe she can help you,” Air spoke gently, as though life were slowly leaving her. “The Healer. Maybe she can remind you who you’re meant to be.”
Phoenix paused. The Healer. Hana. She was Life. Kieran would never die at his hand, no matter how many times he tried. But together…. He needed Life to defeat Death.
He strapped the knapsack across his back and rushed to the door.
“Be careful, Phoenix,” the woman said suddenly, stopping him in his tracks, “with the anger brewing in your heart.”
He blinked. He couldn’t be sure but it looked like Air was fading.
“This will not end as you think.”
Phoenix nodded, but by the time he shut the door, she was gone.