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Sasha sat next to me in a crowded coffee shop. The noise drowned out all signs of our conversation, so we talked freely. I took a bite of small pastry and listened intently to her. “The meeting tonight is important, Naomi. You have to make sure you follow all the rules-all of them. No talking back, no fighting, nothing. Promise me you’ll be on your best behavior. At least try to be,” she sighed. I smiled innocently and took a swig of my coffee, black, before I answered.
“Fine. But you have to tell me what all of this is about. Why does the coven need to meet with me? I haven’t done anything wrong lately; they have no reason to call me out in front of everyone for what I’ve done in the past,” I argued. People were starting to look at us strangely, so I lowered my voice and motioned for her to follow me out. We stood abruptly and left the coffee shop. A blast of cold wind assaulted my bare arms. Pulling on my leather jacket, I led Sasha through a few winding streets before ending up at my apartment complex. I flashed my key at the doorman, keeping my head down to avoid being recognized.
We climbed the stairs in silence. Once we were in the privacy of my apartment, I continued my rant. “Who do they think they are anyway? Just because they are members of the coven doesn’t mean they can rule my life! I can do whatever I want, and none of you can stop me!”
“Naomi, calm down! This meeting has nothing to do with them wanting to control you, but it does have to do with your future. I can’t tell you what it’s about yet, believe me I wish I could. But for now you’re just going to have to trust me when I say this will benefit you greatly in the future. Can you do this for me?” she pleaded with me. I submitted without another thought. “Good. Now come on, we’re going to get you fixed up for tonight.”
“What do you mean ‘fixed up?’”
“Oh come on Naomi, did you really think you could meet the coven looking like you do?” she snorted. I glanced in a mirror, not understanding how I looked bad. My strawberry blonde hair was pulled up into a messy bun, and my choppy bangs hung loose on my face. My leather jacket was worn, but my top was probably worse for wear. It hung in shreds at the bottom from too many battles against the dark magics. Shrugging, I followed her into my bathroom and obeyed her every whim until I was gazing at myself in awe.
Sasha had let my hair down from its bun and had styled it so it hung freely down my back in waves. The band my mother had given me the day of my first demon kill sat proudly on top of my head, its swirling designs framing the jade teardrop that dangled in the center of my forehead. She had forced me into my formal warrior’s outfit: my winged shoulder plates, armored chest plate, and belted shorts, topped off with grey boots that came up to mid-calf and were surprisingly good in combat. After a bit more prodding, she had finally convinced me to let her cake my face with makeup. To my pleasure, she only lined my eyes with dark eyeliner and left it at that. My eyes looked stunning, the eyeliner doing an excellent job of picking up the gold in my hazel eyes.
“This is ridiculous Sasha! No one is going to be able to take me seriously in this get up. Plus, how are we even going to get to this place? I can’t exactly walk out of the apartment looking like this. The doorman would probably call the cops!”
“Who said we were walking?” she laughed. The air around me chilled and I cursed under my breath. The ground beneath my feet moved, blurring as we teleported to the coven headquarters. I stumbled slightly when we landed, but righted myself instantly.
“I’m gonna get you for that, Sasha,” I whispered to her. She smiled. Cautiously, I scanned the room. It was huge, used for balls and feast whenever the occasion arose. Twenty of the coven’s most influential and powerful members sat at a long table. They examined me curiously, and I stiffened under the weight of their gazes. I lifted my head proudly and addressed them directly. “I assume since I’m here you already know me, but I’ll introduce myself anyway. My name is Naomi, and I’m here for-well I don’t know that part. Would any of you like to answer that for me?”
“I suggest you remember who you’re talking to before you continue, Naomi,” An older man warned. I nodded my apologies but kept my head up. “We need you here, quite simply, because you’re one of the best warriors we have, no matter how undisciplined. We are losing the war against the demons, Naomi. Over the past year we have lost more than a hundred of our finest warriors in the battle. It’s time for you to join the fight,” the man sighed.
“I understand, sir. I’m ready for this; I won’t let you down. Just tell me when-” an explosion erupted behind me, cutting me off. Screaming, I flew through the air and landed next to the motionless body of Sasha. I immediately got back up, moving to protect the coven members. Demons flooded the room, surrounding me. I flipped my hidden blade from my boot. A demon sprinted at me from my left, and I turned in time to stab him in the heart, using his momentum to force the blade through his armored skin. He crumpled to the ground and his body dissolved into ash.
A woman snarled at me, baring dagger-like fangs. While I was distracted with her, a burly man came up behind me and grabbed me, pinning my arms to my back. The woman dug her nails into my skin and bit my neck. The pain ebbed throughout my entire body, but I managed to knee her in the stomach and free myself. I plunged the knife into her, enjoying the little scream she made before dissolving like the one before her did.
“NAOMI!” I heard Sasha scream. I whirled around to kill the demon attacking her. I saved her just in time, but in that second I noticed the bodies of the coven scattered around me. My stomach lurched and I shouted for Sasha to leave before she too ended up dead on the floor. She disappeared in a burst of mist and I relaxed.
Realizing the only thing I could do, I gathered up my magic. It swirled inside me, and flames shot from my fingertips. In a burst of light and flame, the room around me exploded once more. My body, which was weak from the woman’s bite, burned and blistered. Distantly, I heard myself scream as the flames licked my body. I fainted, falling to the ground limply.
My eyes fluttered open. Beady, black eyes stared down at me judgmentally. Instantly I was up, and searching for my knives. Finding none, I quickly sized up the demon before me. It was a small thing: body the size of a small dog, and tiny wings that beat furiously to keep the pudgy thing in the air. I was about to attack it when I noticed the bars around me. The demon was safely behind the bars before I could react.
“Now, now missy. I think someone had better teach you some manners or you’ll never sell,” he sneered.
“What do you mean sell? Where am I you little toad? Tell me!” I slammed myself against the bars, reaching out to grab him by his throat. He squeaked and moved farther out of my reach.
“Why little girl, you’re a feisty one aren’t you? I take back what I said before, you’ll sell quite nicely,” he nodded his approval. “As for your question, I think it’s best if you know as little about me as possible. All you need to know is that I’m what you would call ‘the black market dealer of the underworld.’ You are the last of you kind, my sweet. I’m planning on making a fortune off of you; maybe I’ll even go into an early retirement.”
“You sick thing! Just you wait; when I get out of here you’ll be sorry you ever did this to me!”
He laughed. “That’s the thing, missy. You’re never going to get out of here.” I threw myself against the bars again, but he left the room laughing. Dejectedly, I folded my legs underneath me and sat. My head was whirling, attempting to figure a way out of the confinement.
“It’s not going to work, you know. Those bars are charm locked; only Izlal and his minions can get in and out. All you can do is hope you get lucky. Though a girl like you really won’t need luck, a demon will snatch you up without a second thought to the cost. The rest of us will probably die here,” a scratchy voice called out. It sighed. “Just give up; it’ll be over before you know it.”
“Thanks, but no thanks. I don’t feel like being some piece of meat for whichever demon can afford me. When is all of this supposed to go down anyway? I want to be prepared.”
“The next auction is tomorrow,” I flinched at its nonchalant use of the word. Who were these people? “I have a feeling you’ll be the main attraction.”
“If you don’t mind me asking, who are you? How many more of us are here? How did you get here?” I questioned, wanting it to keep talking only so silence wouldn’t creep in on me.
“There are about thirty of us here, including you and me. We were all taken in raids of our homelands, just as I assume you were. Izlal only takes warriors, hoping they’ll make him more money when he sells them off. Most of us never make it out of here, and if we do we are drained by the end of the day. Get some rest; tomorrow’s going to be the worst day of your life.”
Silence enfolded me. I curled into a ball on the concrete floor of my cage, willing sleep to come. It didn’t. By morning, at least I thought it was morning- there were no windows or openings for the sun- I was cramped and uncomfortable. Something pushed a bowl of rotten fruit into my cage, grunting and hollering for the others to get up. I pushed the fruit to the side and stood awkwardly in the small cage. My eyes had long since adjusted to the darkness, so I took the opportunity to survey my surroundings. Cages filled the room around me, varying in size and shape.
It looked as if I was the only human in the room. As the voice last night had informed, all of the demons wore suits of armor or some kind of warrior symbol. They looked at me with a mix of disgust and something else. Hunger, I realized suddenly. They wanted to eat me.
“It’s ok, my sweet. I planned for this and secluded you as best as I could from them. You can thank me by making me some money today. Sound like a plan?” The man I assumed to be Izlal came into my view. I spat at him, refusing to talk to him any longer. “Save it for tonight, honey.”
I broke down, refusing to be claimed by his disgusting pet names any longer. “It’s Talia, not sweety, honey, missy, or anything else your hideous little mind can think up.” I snarled. While I didn’t want to be claimed by him any longer, I knew enough about the underworld to know the power of a name, so I made one up. He seemed to accept it without hesitation and offered a curt bow.
With a snap of his fingers, three brawny men entered my cage. They grabbed me and bound my hands behind my back with a sturdy metal chain, dragging me across the floor. “Escort Miss Talia to the dressing room. Instruct the ladies to leave her outfit alone, but fix the face. She could use some work.” The men nodded sharply and nearly yanked my arm out of its socket while leading me out of the cage and into a dark room.
“Oh, how pretty,” a shrill voice pierced the room.
“Yes, but look at that face! It could use some serious work. Look at the frown lines,” another voice, an extremely critical one, followed.
“And those cuts and bruises, how awful!” the third voice was softer, but somehow still held an almost superior tone.
“Izlal told me to tell you to leave the outfit alone, but to work with the face,” the man barked the order and left the room in a hurry. The women approached- I could tell by only the footsteps, for it was still too dark to see in the room- and I shuddered. Their hands searched the contours of my face, and I batted away at them as if they were flies. They chided me.
“What are we going to do with you? Stay still or this will be a lot worse for you,” the critical voice commanded. Her cold, spindly fingers spread a fiery liquid over my face. I screamed in agony as the liquid seeped into my cuts, melting them away along with my bruises.
“Get it off!” I shouted and latched onto one of the women. I shook her furiously. “What did you do to me?”
“Talia, relax. It is only a restoring potion, made to rid you of your flaws. Now if you would be so kind as to release me, we can continue our work.” She pried my hands off her arms. “Thank you.”
“Who are you?” I ask as they wipe the remnants of the liquid from my face.
“We were the Izlal’s first captives. No one wanted us, so he put us to work. Izlal sends us the ones he knows will make him the most: the fiercest or prettiest warriors. There, you’re done. Good luck out there Naomi,” the shrill voice hissed.
“That’s enough Destiny. We wouldn’t want to give too much away, now would we?” Izlal’s voice assaulted me from behind. “Come along, Naomi. We have a show to put on.” He grinned as I spat at his feet. The burly men returned and hauled me out of the room to a nicer cage. It was still a cage in my eyes, but a nicer one, probably to impress the buyers. They draped a large tarp over me, leaving me in complete darkness. I shut my eyes tightly, not wanting them to see my fear.
Once I was locked in the cage, they wheeled it out onto a stage. The bidding had apparently been going on for quite a while, for I could hear the rumblings of hundreds of expectant bidders. “Ladies and gentleman,” Izlal’s voice boomed out. “Thank you for your patience. Now for the main event. I give you, the last of her kind, Naomi.”
The tarp was lifted, and I stood in the cage. I heard gasps of breath as I stared at them defiantly. A plan was forming in my head finally, but unfortunately it meant I needed one of the bidders to buy me. I began to gather my magic inside me, barely keeping it in control.
“How do we know she is what you say she is?” a voice called out. Shouts of agreement followed it.
Izlal began to banter with them, promising one of them a taste of my blood to prove it. I couldn’t afford to bitten at this crucial point in my plan, so I allowed a small amount of my magic out. I directed it at Izlal’s pathetic attempt at a suit, and instantly it burst into flames. He squeaked and rolled around on the floor until the flames had died. “We will start the bidding at two hundred thousand,” he said meekly.
“I’ll give you three hundred!”
“No, I’ll give you four hundred!”
“I’ll give you one million,” a calm voice called out. I scanned the room to find the speaker. He stood in the back, leaning against the back wall. My heart skipped a beat foolishly as I took in his strong features. He was tall, six foot at the least, and handsome. His jaw was strong and his eyes were a pure gold. His hair was buzzed, only adding to his look.
“Cash only, sir,” Izlal reminded cautiously. The man approached the front of the room gracefully.
He handed Izlal a wad of cash. “I think you’ll find everything is in order,” he taunted. Izlal counted it and recounted it, and finally satisfied, he motioned for the burly guards to let me out. They entered my cage and went to grab me. I pretended to give in, allowing myself to be led out of the cage. I felt their hands loosen, and seized my opportunity.
Flames shot up their arms. They cried out and released me, and quickly I grabbed the knife that hung on one of their belts. I was finally in control, and I relished in it. My body was engulfed in flames, and the other bidders ran screaming for the door. It was too easy, really. With a flick of my wrist, the doors were locked, leaving them all trapped as the flames consumed the room. Their bodies turned to dust almost immediately.
Laughing, I turned on Izlal. “Come on, honey. Let’s play,” I sneered. He backed up hesitantly, terrified for the first time since I had been locked in his filthy cages. “What’s the matter, too hot for you?”
“We can work this out, Naomi. What do you want? Money? Here you go, just take it and spare me,” he tossed the wad of cash at me. I picked it up, as if I was considering the offer.
“You know what I really want, Izlal?” I asked. He shook his head. I channeled my magic into the wad of money, which fell through my hands as it melted into a smoldering ash. “My coven back.” With that, I drove the knife vengefully into his heart. His body disintegrated around the blade, leaving it clean except for the few drops of blood that had fallen on it before.
“Excellent show there. But if you don’t mind, it is quite warm in here for my tastes.” The man said from behind me.
I turned on him, crouching into a fighting stance. For some reason, my magic was no longer in my control and the flames disappeared into me. “Impressive, but not enough for me to spare your life,” I growled.
“Oh, but I think it is. Naomi, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. I recommend the easy way, but knowing you, you’ll choose the hard way. So let me just give you a sample,” he said. The flames rose inside me again, but my body didn’t have its normal immunity. It burned me from the inside, and I collapsed to my knees. My mind wasn’t in my control either, and I twitched furiously on the ground as I tried to regain control of it.
“Ok… I’ll come with you, just let me go,” I pleaded, each word a fight. At once, the flames died and my mind was my own again. “So,” I asked reluctantly. “Where to now?”