Chapter 1 - The Nightmare

2183 Words
William shifted on the bed, enjoying the touch of the cool sheets. A smile found its way to his lips as he felt a warm hand sliding over his chest, a body pressing against his. He opened his eyes, turning to look at her. His heartbeat raced as he stared at the light brown hair falling over her naked back, her delicate hand pulling him closer. Her chocolate eyes watched him with such warmth that he had to remind himself to breathe. Annabel. She looked so beautiful, so happy, so content. “Hi,” she whispered, planting a kiss on his chest. “I am tired of waiting.” William looked around—the room was so bright and so quiet that he could hear every breath she took, every beat of her heart. It was like there was nothing there but the two of them. It was perfect. “What is it?” she asked, her forehead wrinkling in concern. William raised his hand and caressed her cheek. “Nothing,” he mumbled, pressing his lips against hers. She smiled, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him closer. His body felt light and hot as he buried his face in her neck, delighting in the way she ran her fingers through his hair. The touch of her hands and the warmth of her body suddenly disappeared, replaced by a chilly presence that made him shudder. William opened his eyes, sitting up. He was still in the bed they had shared, but it was all wrong. The room was dark and covered with dust and spiderwebs as if nobody had visited it in decades. Sinister shadows moved in the corners, crawling on the ceiling like predators stalking their prey. There was no light to cause the shadows, though. He got to his feet, eyes desperately searching for Annabel. The wooden floor creaked as he paced around, keeping to the center of the room. He couldn’t get rid of the feeling that he was being watched, but as much as he tried, he heard nothing. William raised his hand up, summoning a ball of energy to the base of his palm. The shadows pulled back in panic and he watched them slide toward the door, disappearing into the crevices. He followed after them, eager to get away from this place and the prying eyes, but when he reached for the knob a warning bell rang in his ears. “You shouldn’t be here.” The voice came from behind him and he jumped as he turned. The bed was gone and so was the roof. There was barely anything left of the room apart from the walls, but even they were coated with holes and pure darkness. William’s eyes stopped on the figure that had appeared a few steps behind him—still, cold and threatening. “Leave,” she said, her voice a distant rustling of leaves on the coldest day. He knew that voice, he realized, or he used to. “Annabel,” he whispered before he could stop himself and the figure took a step forward. She was wearing a hood—or maybe it was just shadows covering her from head to toe. William took an involuntary step back, surprised by his own cowardice. “I’m going to save you, no matter the cost. I promise.” The figure removed the distance between them in the blink of an eye. The darkness surrounding her faded just enough to reveal her twisted features. He could hardly recognize her under the sinister expression on her face and the hollow eyes that watched him with pure loathing. “You will not!” she snarled. “You made your choice, and the price was paid in blood. There must be balance or there will be chaos.” She raised her hand toward his face, but her fingers froze inches away from it as if she was afraid to touch him. The pressure around his neck increased as the air was suddenly cut off by an invisible force. “Leave and never come back. You can’t have her.” “I’m not giving up!” William shouted with the last of his breath. The girl in front of him, or whatever it was, smiled. A vicious, threatening smile. Staring at her, he almost missed the shift—like a broken TV screen, her features flickered off, giving place to another familiar face. “I’ll enjoy destroying you, William Larson.” Ariana hissed just as darkness was slowly falling in front of his eyes. A moment later, he was staring back at Annabel, face twisted in rage. A force that her frail frame could have not possessed sent him flying backward, and he crashed into the wooden door, falling right through it. William landed on the floor, his hands rising to his throat as he finally took a big gulp of air. He choked on it at first, staggering to his knees and heaving painfully until he was able to breathe again. The lights came to life at his command, blinding him at first but providing him with the clarity to see that he was utterly alone. He could distantly feel a set of fingers on his neck, even after rubbing it to make sure there were none. He even checked his reflection in the mirror, but apart from the dark circles under his eyes and the sweat glistening all over his body, he noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Not a trace that any of it was real. William closed his eyes, taking a long, calming breath. He glanced at the bed one last time, then headed toward the door. The Headquarters were quiet, with barely any sound coming from the rooms he passed or the foyer downstairs. He reached the inner staircase and climbed up without hesitation, taking two steps at a time until he was on the last floor. Standing in front of the rusty metal door leading to the roof, he pushed it open, cringing at the screeching sound it made that echoed through the building. The moment he stepped outside, the cool night air embraced him, making him shiver. He welcomed the cold, sighing in relief as it quickly numbed his senses and helped him calm down. He stayed like this, eyes closed and head raised toward the dark sky, until he heard a sound. He turned around, his eyes landing on the figure standing cross-legged against the railing. Her long hair was falling to the middle of her back, creating waves that looked like a river of gold under the crescent moon. She gave him a hesitant smile. William sighed in frustration, cursing his jumpiness. He hadn’t expected anyone to be up here so late, and he was trying hard to keep the others from finding out he was having nightmares again. “Another one?” Ariana asked. She looked exactly like he remembered her, just as beautiful, just as captivating—just as perceptive. She pulled her legs to her body, wrapping her arms around her knees and leaning her chin over them. He used to find her in that position staring through the window at night when she couldn’t sleep—it felt like a lifetime ago. “I have those too. Every night.” She looked up at the sky, smiling faintly. “Coming up here helps. Looking at the moon, the stars—it reminds me I am no longer there.” Her face betrayed no emotion as he drew nearer. For some time, she stared at the moon with such longing that he felt like an intruder in an intimate moment. Then she looked back at him. “You look awful,” she said. William laughed—a bitter, tired sound. They hadn’t talked much in the past few months after his unsuccessful attempt to get some information out of her that could help him get Annabel back. She was the only one who could tell him what it was like there, what Annabel was going to face, and the dangers that might threaten her. But she refused to say a word. This was the first time she had mentioned anything from her time back there. Hope rose in William’s chest. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” William said, rubbing his forehead. When he looked back at her, her eyebrows were raised in an amused expression. “Alright, Shakespeare,” she scoffed. “I know you’re strong enough to handle this responsibility, William. You always were, unlike my brother, who thinks brute force can solve any problem.” William nodded absently, looking down. Even though she was right, even though he knew what he had done was necessary, he hated how it had come to be. “William.” He didn’t feel her move but found her standing in front of him, her smile replaced by a serious expression. He had forgotten she was tall, almost tall enough to look him in the eyes, unlike Annabel, who now seemed so small and defenseless in comparison. But unlike before, Ariana’s closeness now made him uncomfortable rather than excited. “I know you and I know your heart,” she said softly, holding his gaze. “You’re brave to a fault but you’re also impulsive and unable to admit defeat. So hear me out, because I know you better than anyone else.” She raised her hand, placing it on his chest where his heart was now racing. “You spent so many years trying to bring me back. And while I am more than grateful, you’re meant for greater things. You’re meant to lead the Ascendants out of the darkness and into the light of a new day, a new beginning.” Her voice was quiet, yet firm, and even though William knew where she was going, he couldn’t stop her. “You can’t spend even more time trying to save Annabel. For good or for worse, she is gone. If love is what you want, I’ll give you all the love you’d ever need. But we cannot...we must not open that gate again. It is too dangerous.” “Dangerous,” William repeated, nodding his head. He felt his anger resurfacing as it happened so often lately. “What is so dangerous? Because if you’re talking about the sacrifice, I am more than—” “I am not talking about the death of one person,” Ariana interrupted, turning away from him. She took a few steps, her back stiff with tension. “I’m talking about what is on the other side.” “So what is it, Ariana?” he snapped, barely controlling himself. “What is this big bad thing that you’re so scared of? This monster that is locked in the Otherworld. Where Annabel is now. Because of us, because of me.” When Ariana turned to look at him again, a shadow had fallen over her face. There was no trace of her smile or the dreamy gaze. He could barely recognize the cold look in her eyes. “You won’t understand,” she whispered. “You don’t know what it was like there. The darkness and them—all of them hunting you, all the time. You can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you can’t die. But you’re not alive either. She’s gone, William. There is nothing you can do.” The words struck him, bringing back the nightmare from earlier. “You survived for years and here you are! Alive, the same as before!” he snapped, and Ariana recoiled. “She will survive because she is stubborn and smart and capable. And I will find a way to get her back.” “Listen to yourself!” Ariana shook her head. “Is the life of one person more important than those of all the Ascendants? Or the whole world, for that matter?” “Yes!” he said almost desperately. There was no more fear in Ariana’s eyes, just anger, and what he thought—pity. She stepped toward him, taking a careful breath before speaking. “It’s high time you realize that the world is not here to please you and bend to your will, William. You’re not in control of what happens and when. And you better understand that your actions have consequences—consequences which affect all of us.” She stared at him for a second as if waiting for the words to force a reaction out of him, but there was none. “If you don’t stop this foredoomed endeavor, you’ll lose everything you devoted your life to. Everything. You’ll lose the Ascendants, you’ll lose your friends, your family. Me. Are you prepared to make that sacrifice?” William didn’t reply, his throat tightening as she moved past him. “There must be balance or there will be chaos, William, that’s the rule,” she said as she was walking away. “Choose your battles wisely. You can’t win them all.”
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