Unmade – Amber Lynn Natusch

The building shook with the impact of an unknown force. White marble fell from the ceiling beside me, crashing to the floor at my feet. The room I had called home since I had arrived within the Hallowed Gates was disintegrating around me, and if I did nothing, it would soon be my tomb. As I dodged the falling debris, chaos erupted in the halls outside. The sounds of shouting and wings unfurling echoed into my room beneath the closed door. I ran to it, wanting to join the fight against whoever was attacking, but when I turned the handle, the door would not move. With every punishing blow that shook the ivory tower I found myself locked in, I tried to rip the door free, but my efforts were in vain. Whatever magic held me in could not be overpowered by brute force. Or lightning. Or fire. As the room around me slowly turned to rubble, I darted for the window. It, too, proved to be warded by some strange magic that felt foreign to the touch. But glass was a liquid, and with that in mind, I tried the Dragon’s fire once again, channeling it at the massive window that spanned the height of the opulent room hemming me in. The magic struggled against my attack, then finally gave way. A hole large enough to squeeze through presented itself, and I quickly stuck my head and shoulders out.

I had not yet called my wings because I knew they would not fit, which left me in a precarious position. The fall was long and perilous—and barely far enough to call my wings in time. But that reality was quickly eclipsed by the scene playing out before me. Light Ones peppered the sky, cutting through plumes of smoke. Explosions continued to shake the buildings of the Hallowed Gates, and the glass I was perched upon cut through my leathers with every attack. Darkness swallowed everything in sight, and I knew I had but one choice: escape, or face whatever force was upon us. Thoughts raced through my mind. Where had my mother gone? Was the reason she left related to this attack? Were my brothers safe? My father? Oz? Or had the Dark Ones overtaken them and somehow broken through the Hallowed Gates to defile the very place they had once called home? There was but one way to find out. With great effort, I pushed my body through the glass and immediately free-fell toward the ground below as I forced my wings to come. With every passing second, I grew closer and closer to death.

Just as the ash-covered quartz below came into view, my wings burst forth, and I shot back up into the air. Visibility was non-existent, but I circled the grounds I had seen upon my arrival, calling out for my mother. The mother I had only just met. “Do not fret, Khara,” she had told me as she had rushed me down the sunlit hall of the ivory tower. “We will find a way to fix this—all of it.” Her smile had been so full of hope. “This will be your room for now. Please stay here until I return. There is something I must check on quickly, but once I am finished, I’ll be all yours. I have so much I need to tell you—so much I want to hear.

” With her beaming smile intact, she had slipped out into the hallway and closed the door behind her. That was the last time I had seen her. And as the war in the Hallowed Gates waged on, I wondered if it would be the last time I would ever see her. As I wove through the fray, my wings clipping debris and buildings and possible falling angels, a voice cut through the din. A dark and ominous voice. One that knew my name. “Khara…” it called from everywhere and nowhere, from over and under and through me. It was a trap that ensnared me, caging me in as I tried to outrun it. “Khara…” “No!” I shouted back at the one whose name I dared not speak. “This is not real!” I shouted back at him as I searched my mind for his presence.

Trying to focus on the feel of him as it had been when I had helped to force him from Aery’s mind. But I found nothing, and my heart felt true fear as it never had before. Phobos had penetrated the Hallowed Gates. With no sign of my mother and no knowledge of how to defeat the fear god, I did the only thing I could think of—the thing I knew Oz would have been screaming at me to do had he been at my side where he belonged. Get the fuck out of there. Live to fight another day. So I did as his memory bade me and shot toward the gates, leaving the shadowy melee behind me. I flew through the broken entrance and never looked back. But I could feel the eyes of the fear god on me. And I knew that time would not be the last.

1 I flew over our decaying Detroit neighborhood, headed for the Victorian with a desperation I had never known. It only grew when I saw smoke in the distance. As I neared, my chest seized and my heart raced. I landed in the street at the curb of our lot. What I found awaiting my arrival was nothing short of total devastation. Smoldering rubble greeted me, a mound of charred wood and broken glass the remnants of what had once been my home—our home. The Victorian was no more. Phobos had obviously gone there first. I walked toward it, my feet not my own, and stepped onto the burnt grass. Near where the steps had been was a stony figure.

I pushed aside the debris and ash to find another disturbing sight; a headless stone gargoyle greeted me. Lying next to it on the ground was a piece of its jaw, the distinct absence of a canine tooth noticeable at first glance. Azriel had fallen protecting the Victorian. Fear shot through my body. I dropped the stone and ran headlong into what was left of the house, screaming my brothers’ names. Not one of them replied. With the strength of an army, I threw charred beams and furniture aside, searching for what I prayed I would not find. Surely my brothers would have escaped a fiery death. Pierson’s premonitions would have warned of an attack of this magnitude. They would have had time to get away.

After minutes of looking for them, I had my answer. I was halfway into the basement when I first found bones. I dug and dug until the entire skeleton was unearthed. I searched it for any sign of identification, thinking that it could have been anyone. I was desperate to believe the lie. Not long after, two more sets of remains came into view, lying side by side. In one of their hands was Pierson’s black box of magical secrets that normally sat on the bookshelf in the living room. My heart shot into my throat. Kierson, Pierson, and Drew. My brothers were dead.

And Oz was nowhere to be found. Phobos had killed them all to get to me. “No,” I muttered to myself, the low keening sound escaping me growing in volume with every moment I spent standing in the graveyard that had once been my home. “It cannot be…” But it could be, and I knew it. I had fled the Underworld and left everyone I cared for behind to deal with the chaos I had created. The tang of truth was sharp and bitter on my tongue as I swallowed down the bile rising within me. “This is my fault,” I said, the pain and pressure of grief about to split my head wide open. I clutched it in my hands and squeezed it together, as though that alone could keep the weight of my reality from tearing it in two. I staggered out of the rubble. “I have to go,” I told myself, backing away.

“I have to see them…” With every step I took, I could feel my body stiffen, its reluctance to leave the graves of my brothers behind plain. Halfway into the street, I howled in pain, the stabbing in my head enough to shred my mind to bits. I turned away from where the Victorian had once been and ran. Even as the pull to watch over their remains begged me to stay behind, I fought it until its grip on me snapped. I took to the air and never looked back. I needed to get to the Underworld. I needed to find my dead brothers. I stormed Hades’ realm like a woman possessed by grief because that was precisely what I was. Calling for my father until my voice was hoarse, I sped across the Acheron without incident, its fiery waters calming in the wake of my chaos. Aery met me on the other side, her petite features twisted with worry.

“Khara! What—” “My brothers,” I said, cutting her off. “Where are my brothers?” Her expression darkened further. “With Casey,” she replied, turning away. “I will take you to them now.” “Hurry,” I urged as we ran through the stony halls of my former home. I could not bring myself to ask her anything about what had happened to them—what evil had sent them to their fate. My guilt choked off my voice every time I tried. I recognized Hecate’s room as we approached, and I pushed past Aery to throw the door open unannounced. Casey, Hecate’s son and heir, was on his feet in an instant, blades drawn—a habit that would not die easily, even in the Underworld. I searched the room to find Kierson, Pierson, and Drew sitting at a table in the corner, each with a look of surprise on his face.

I felt a tear slide down my cheek. “I am so sorry,” I said, my voice cracking on the apology; then I realized it was for naught. They, like Drew when he had first arrived in my father’s realm, would not know who I was. “What’s going on?” Casey asked as he rushed toward me, blade still in hand. My sad gaze drifted to the three who were also headed toward us. I fought to find the words to explain. “I…I found…” “Khara?” Kierson said, reaching for my hand. “Why are you here? What happened?” Every cell in my body went still at the sound of my name on his tongue. “You remember who I am?” I asked, stepping closer. His brow furrowed and he reached for my forehead, pressing the back of his hand to it.

“Did they fuck with you up there?” he asked. “The Light Ones…did they do something to you?” I choked on a laugh, the joy I felt in that moment spilling past my dread and sorrow. I did not bother to respond, but instead threw my arms around his waist and held him tight as I buried my face in his chest. He smelled as he always had—felt as he had always felt. “Is she tripping on something?” Casey asked, pulling me away from our brother. “I saw your bones,” I said, looking over at Pierson and Drew. “All three of yours…” “Have her sit,” Pierson ordered. He led the way to the table, and the others ushered me into a chair. “Should we get Hades?” Kierson asked, but Casey waved him off. “Just let her talk—even if it’s nonsense.

” “I saw your remains,” I said, working hard to contain the barrage of emotions coursing through me. “At the Victorian…I flew there as soon as I fled the Hallowed Gates—” “Fled?” Casey growled. “Yes. Fled.” “Why would you have to flee the Hallowed Gates?” When I did not respond right away, they put the pieces together. “Are you saying that the fear god somehow got to you there?” “Yes. He attacked my mother’s home. By the time I was able to escape my room, all I could see was smoke and ash, and I heard him calling me.” “Holy shit,” Kierson muttered under his breath. “Wait! Where’s your mother?” I dropped my gaze to my hands.

“My mother took me to my room upon our arrival and stated that she had a matter to attend to and would be back later—that she would not miss her chance to sit with me and catch up on everything that she had missed. But she never returned.” “Do you think she’s…?” “Dead?” I said on his behalf. “Though it is possible, I do not believe she is. I searched for her before I left and found nothing. She had left long before the fear god’s attack, so unless she went to meet him or he intercepted her during her journey, I do not think he is responsible for her disappearance.” “Khara,” Drew said softly, “do you think that maybe you just want to believe that?” “Of course I do, but that does not mean it is untrue.” I pinned him in place with a harsh stare. “She is my mother. I would know if she were dead.

” I turned to Kierson and Pierson respectively. “And would you two not have foreseen her death?” They shared a silent look before Pierson spoke. “Given her importance and her connection to you, I feel that is likely.” “Then until I learn otherwise, she is missing.” My brothers nodded in unison. “We’ll find her,” Kierson assured me, “one way or another…” The ferocity in my tone evaporated. “As I found you.” “Can we get back to the part about the bodies at the Victorian?” Casey asked. “Yeah, I’m kinda spiraling about that one.” Kierson looked more befuddled than ever.

The way his features scrunched with confusion brought a faint, though macabre, smile to my face. Then it quickly fell away. “When I arrived at the Victorian, I found nothing there to greet me but rubble and ash and Azriel’s remains. I do not know how long I spent digging through it to try to find you, but I eventually did.” My bleary eyes turned to them. “Three sets of male skeletal remains were buried in the debris.” The four of them stared at me for a moment, a look of collective realization dawning on them all at once. “Khara,” Kierson said slowly, taking my hand in his, “when you came rushing in here just now… did you think we were dead?” “Yes.” “But we aren’t. We never were—except for Drew that time,” he said, shooting an apologetic look to Drew.

“Sorry, man.” Drew silently nodded his acceptance. “So you did not perish in the fire?” I asked, needing to hear them confirm their status once more. “There was no fire—at least not before we left,” Pierson said. “Khara, why did you assume it was us in the house?” “I found the obsidian box of treasures you kept in the living room,” I replied. “It was gripped tightly in your bony hands.” I looked past him to Kierson. “There was a body right beside his, and I knew that it must have been you—that you would never have left his side. Even at the end.” I looked to Drew and Casey.

“I assumed that Drew was the first skeleton because he would have put himself in the line of fire first. That is who he is and has always been—our leader.” “What about me, though?” Casey asked. “I hoped that you had remained in the Underworld to help my father—to take your mother’s place in his realm. I clung to that hope the entire flight here.” “Khara, I did stay here to help your father—and the guys are definitely not dead. But you’re still not going to like why they’re here.” “I can tolerate any other reason as long as it is not that one.” But the four of them shared a concerned look that caused my worry to return. “What is it that you do not want to tell me?” Drew walked over to my side.

“There’s a matter we need to deal with.” “What matter?” I asked, the normal tenor of my voice returning. He hesitated, not wanting to tell me whatever had brought them together. But from the way my skin prickled at the thought, I suspected I already knew the answer. “What matter, Drew?” “Oz,” Casey answered, dark eyes swallowing the torchlight in the room. “Kaine has him.” I shot to my feet. “How? Since when?” “We’re not sure. Everything kinda went to shit after you left.” I slowly sat back down.

“Tell me everything.” So they did.

.

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