Authors: Leigh Michael
The bastard dramatically looked around to prove his point.
A spared a quick glance toward Clemente, but his full concentration centered on fending off the other Tracker. The look in the Tracker’s eyes made it clear that he didn’t care if he lived or died as long as Clemente didn’t see another day.
My confidence faded like a dying light bulb as the situation hit me. I really was on my own. Shamus was gone. Clemente fought for his life. My affinity was useless. It was just the Tracker and me. He had a weapon. I did not. He outweighed me, out trained me, out powered me.
I instinctively took a step backward.
“And where do you think you’re going?” he sneered. “There’s no where for you to hide.”
Turning my head, the edge of the cliff dropped off only a few feet behind my heels.
He cocked his head to the side, just a sly suggestive tilt. “How about this? I’ll try to make it quick.”
“Go to hell!” I shouted, taking another step backward.
His laugh could have turned my blood to ice. “One day, but looks like your friends will beat me there.”
His tone was so malicious. I couldn’t understand how someone could hate me so much. Could hate anyone that much.
My hands shook, still outstretched from my failed attempt to shoot my current at him.
“Aw, don’t be scared. You’re just pulling at my heartstrings now, baby.”
I couldn’t help it as I took another step backwards. He matched mine, causing me to take another.
My breath quickened even more as I realized there was nowhere left to go. My heels hovered over the edge.
I felt like I was in one of those movies where the actor’s backward step pushed tiny rocks over the edge. The camera angle always shifted to capture the tumbling pebbles as they fell.
There was no pause button here though. I couldn’t cover my eyes or turn off the movie.
The Tracker raised his palm. “Now that’s far enough. Wouldn’t want you taking a nosedive with my precious flower. Why don’t you just be a good girl and hand it over?”
“Never,” I scowled.
“Well, well, well. Someone put on her big girl shoes.” He paused for a moment, considering his next words. “I have a new deal for you. You give it to me and we won’t kill your boyfriend. It’ll be your life, for his.”
Adrian’s face consumed my thoughts. The Tracker took joy at the reaction that passed over my face.
“Oh dear, did I hit a nerve? What do you say? Do we have a deal?”
I couldn’t let Adrian die. Glancing behind me, I peered out toward the water.
“Looking for him? Good luck. Our guys are everywhere down there. But… they were told not to kill him. Not yet.”
“Okay, okay,” I pleaded. “I’ll give you the flower.”
“That’s a good girl. Slowly take it out and give it here. Nice and slow.”
At a snails pace, I reached into my bodysuit and pulled out the flower, a trail of dirt dropping from the roots.
“Now give it to me.”
“You won’t hurt him? You swear?”
“Scout’s honor,” he taunted, his vicious smile never leaving his lips.
Hesitantly, I stretched out my arm toward him. Instantly, his eyes locked on the flower.
As his greedy fingers neared… I made my move.
With my left hand I dove for his reaching arm. My fingers firmly wrapped around his wrist causing his eyes to jump to my own.
Before he could react, I twisted my body, reversing our positions. Then with hatred of my own, I released my grip. The momentum of my movements pushed him backward. His stumble turned into a tumble as his footing was lost and he went over the edge.
A look of fear instantly replaced the sneer on his face.
Sinking to my knees, my mind tried to make sense of what I'd just done. Yes, it was a calculated move. I had to protect Adrian. I had to protect myself. I'd never caused real harm on anyone else before though. Now I had caused another’s death.
With a shake of my head, my thoughts cleared. He deserved it. It sounded full of malice, but frankly, I didn’t care.
Defiantly, I pushed off my knees to return to my feet, brushing the dirt from my legs. As they buckled, my fingers wrapped around my thighs and I willed myself to steady. Once I felt more solid, I stood straight, carefully sliding the flower back into my suit.
I shouldn’t have done this; there was no real need, but I glanced down. The Tracker’s body lay lifeless on the sand below.
Go to hell, you sick bastard.
The struggling sounds behind me brought me back to reality, to the battle that was still going strong. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, providing me with the determination to now help Clemente. I was about to turn, to jump into action, when I was hit from behind. The duel between Clemente and the Tracker collided with me, knocking my balance off kilter.
The last thing I heard before I plunged over the edge was Clemente’s agonized, “Noo!”
As soon as my feet left the safety of the ground, my stomach sunk, my ears clouded, my eyes watered, my hands fisted. I plummeted towards the awaiting sand.
In the matter of five seconds, my body would be lying alongside the malevolent Tracker. That was all the time I had left. All the time it’d take until I met the same fate. I hated to think of the irony of the situation: to die the same way I killed another. I didn’t know if it was poetic justice or completely unfair.
When I drowned, my life didn’t flash before my eyes. I felt the water rush my lungs and my body’s slow surrender to breath after breath of the sea.
This time, it was a different story.
Visions from my life danced in front of me. It was a slideshow of all the moments I once held dear. I saw them from the outside looking in, how someone else would’ve seen me in those happy times:
My mom gently placing my baby sister into my own little arms.
Swinging between my parents down the boardwalk as they held my hands.
My pigtails bouncing as Lindsey and I jumped from cushion to cushion amidst our “couch fort.”
Waving to my mom after I proudly took my seat on the school bus.
Stretched across my bed with my girlfriends as we talked about our mutual crushes.
Up on the starting blocks with my dad intently watching, a stopwatch in hand.
Getting ready for school dances with my two best friends and fantasizing about the night to come.
Blake standing at my door with flowers clutched in his sweaty palms before our first date.
Opening the sunken chest and finally accepting my fate.
Hiding with Adrian in the curtains as he ran the back of his hand down my cheek.
In my head, the replay of my short life moved in slow motion. In real life, it took only an instant.
The sensation of free falling took hold of my body, forcing thoughts of Adrian to clear from my vision. It was an abrupt transition that ripped me back to reality.
Then, the feeling of the initial descent on a rollercoaster slipped away. A magical notion of weightlessness took over. I felt as if I rested softly on a cushion of air.
In my suspended state, my head filled with new thoughts. I wanted to see more and to know that I’d lived my life thus far to the fullest. I was only eighteen. I yearned to become a doctor, get married, and have kids of my own someday.
I was helpless as I marveled at how the air tousled my hair, altering my shadow. Otherwise, my shadow was still. My face was an unfinished canvas, unreadable in the dark outline of my body.
The only reminders that I fell toward my death were the loud rush of air competing with my thoughts, my growing shadow on the ground, and, of course, the fact that every millisecond I inched closer and closer to the sand below.
I knew I was only a second or two away from—
No, I didn’t want to accept it. I wouldn’t.
I didn’t want my body to mirror the Tracker’s, lifeless and broken.
I wasn’t ready to die and leave my family behind.
I didn’t want to fail.
Fulfilling this prophecy would change things for generations to come. I felt responsible for all those lives. Like me, they wanted their fate to be altered. Simply put, they counted on me to be the one that saved them.
I closed my eyes and called out to for my own life to be saved. For a miracle. For anything.
Before I sucked in another breath, my outstretched legs and arms jolted from the impact.
My eyes bolted open as my body bounced back.
I blinked again and again.
The whistling sound in my ears had stopped.
My hair, once wind blown, now cascaded around my face.
The ground was still at few stories away—and no longer rushed toward me.
I kicked my arms and legs mid-air, feeling as if I was back in the water. My shadow beneath me reacted to my movements.
Instead of plummeting toward the ground, I lingered above it.
For about the zillionth time in the past week, shock overcame me. The twists and turns of my now unrecognizable life once again left me bewildered.
I closed my eyes again, licking my lips and wiping my brow.
I was alive.
Then, as if a switch was flipped, I knew why my body wasn’t broken next to the Tracker’s. I had used water, I had used fire, and now my body channeled my affinity for air. Zeus may have been regarded as a tyrant, but I silently thanked him that his distant blood coursed through my veins.
As my mind drifted, my body dropped a few feet. My arms and legs jumped out to the side, creating a giant “X” as my stomach clenched. Quickly reasserting my thoughts, I rose higher into the sky.
Just like with water currents, my thoughts controlled the air around me. My mind’s frantic desperation to be saved stopped my body before it met the earth. My thoughts acted like two rotating blades, lifting me like the propellers on a helicopter.
While I kept my mind focused on remaining in place, I turned my head to better gauge the distance I fell. The sun beat into my face as I looked up. Shielding my eyes with my hand, my brows scrunched as I examined the darkness that suddenly eclipsed the sun.
It took a solid two seconds before I recognized the shape that followed the same trajectory I’d just taken through the sky.
The hilt of Clemente’s sword was visible in his belly. His skin took on a ghastly white tone, but his face retained the same hateful look I saw on land. He was different than the one I threw from the cliff. That Tracker was a coward who hid behind his sharp words. This one possessed nothing but malevolence.
As if in slow motion, a drop of blood slipped from Clemente’s sword and barely missed my cheek. It was in that moment that I knew we were destined for a mid-air collision.
I willed myself to clear from his path: to move to the right or left. My arms and legs kicked, hoping to propel myself forward. The screams in my head slipped from my mouth, mixing with the distant sounds of crashing waves.
As I narrowly escaped the Tracker’s freefalling body, I smelled the sweat on his skin, tasted his disdain in the air, felt the heat from his body. In a last attempt of revenge, he swung his sword nicking my arm. The slight impact and my reaction to the rush of pain sent me spiraling out of control.
I braced for whatever was to come—the bone shattering ground, the skull crushing side of the mountain, or the forgiveness of the cushioning air.
The impact never came. My fists unclenched as I exhaled a sigh of relief. I now soared overtop the breaking waves, wobbling from side to side from my momentum. Through immense concentration I steadied myself and returned to a flying pose.
In the matter of seconds, I survived two near-death experiences.
Just breathe, Annabelle.
I listened to my mind’s cues and took a deep breath, willing the fresh air to spread to all parts of my body, calming my nerves.
And then I saw him.
From my bird’s eye view, Adrian’s face peeked out between the rocking waves of the ocean. He looked like a buoy held in place, frozen in time.
A mixture of emotions took hold of my body. I was relieved he was alive. And his sheer presence left me feeling overjoyed. The look of concern on his motionless face also touched me, waking an emotion I locked away.
Locking eyes, I took a nosedive toward the water. I focused on riding the air along the surface toward him, willing myself to go faster and faster. His focus didn’t hinder once. His gaze acted as a beacon that pulled me toward him.
As I neared Adrian, my thoughts of slowing barely registered before I threw myself into his arms.
The force of my body shot us below the surface. In the safety of each other’s embrace, we sunk deeper and deeper. Not just into the water but also into each other.
Without any hesitation, Adrian’s hungry hands jumped between my face, arms, and torso while frantically taking an audit of my body. His eyes lingered on the rip across my forearm. Dismissing his concern, I grabbed his hands in mine.
This wasn’t the time for words. I didn’t want to talk. I just wanted him. Sensing my emotions, he wrapped his arms around me and crushed his mouth into mine. It wasn’t the softness we shared before. This kiss was desperate and needy. Neither of our minds functioned fully. It was a primal desire to be with each other. The terror of losing one another fueled each movement.
Just moments ago, I feared for his safety and he feared for mine. From the top of that peak, I was powerless to the Trackers’ actions below. From his vantage point, he watched me plummet from hundreds of feet above. He was helpless to whatever fate I’d meet.
Now we were together. Whatever feelings had developed for Adrian before now increased exponentially. The thought that I might lose him ignited something deep inside. I’ve heard that near death experiences were a catalyst for a passionate, deep bond. Well, Adrian and I faced one close encounter after another. Each and every time we grew closer, pushing the limits of what we meant to one another.
Now we melted into each other’s embrace, savoring the moment together. Both ravenous. Hungry for more. Only breaking apart to suck in more water for air.