Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Snake of Eden

by Jo Kelli



Kavin watched the rise and fall of Avryn's chest as the monitors beeped out the rhythm of his heart. Avryn's curled red-black hair, usually artfully crafted, lay plastered to his skull and pillows with sweat; his normally tanned skin a pale gray beneath the bandages wrapped around his throat and torso.

Kavin felt Avryn's blood pump through his veins sluggishly, a low thrum beneath his skin, his teeth slightly elongated as he bit them into the inside of his cheeks, tasting his own blood instead of his cousins. It wasn't enough.

He knew now why Reilley, the Matriarch of the Kali family, had tried to insist that he stay with her through Avryn's recovery period. His demon half recognized Avryn's weakness and hungered for his power. It was a living thing crawling through his skin, demanding that he rip open Avryn's sickened flesh and gorge on his life. It slithered through him, making him crave his cousin's blood to the point of being physically ill.

Kavin ripped his eyes away from the white bandages covering Avryn's heart and pointedly looked to the other side of the darkened room. He was going to ignore this craving, he was. This was Avryn, his normally haughty, snobbish, vivacious cousin, he owed so much to him he wasn't going to repay him like this. He couldn't live with himself if he did.

The other side of Avryn's room held nothing but a huge painting that covered the entire back wall in a simple wooden frame.

It was a landscape of a mansion from its back side, the sprawling grey stone structure halfway hidden from the woods on either side and the blue sky reflected in the lake's ripples as children played in its waters.

It was the Kali mansion where they had been two days ago to attend a black tie affair held by Reilley for all those descended by her ancestor Kae. Centuries ago when God had let Armageddon descend upon the Earth Kae had led the armies, human and other, against him and destroyed him, though she had died in the process.

Now people worshiped Kae in the place of God, citing her as the savior of the world. He had grown up in the center of this Eagle Religion led by the elf Lufimar until his demon half started to mature and change his body and Avryn had abducted him from the enclave and brought him to the East Coast City Haeven.

It had been a huge culture shock, high society and the constant demands of magic, history, politics, table manners, and any other lessons that Avryn deemed he needed were forced upon him until he thought his head would spin. That was only in the first week.

Life had been different, it had been hectic but a part of him that always chafed at the rules in the Eagle enclave had settled to the point that he thought of this high rise apartment he shared with Avryn as home; a home that was threatened by the very people that had raised him.

When Avryn had bundled him up to leave the Kali mansion they had gone as far as the courtyard in front of the house when the Eagle faction had descended.

Lufimar, the leader of the entire Eagle Religion, had led the party of men that swarmed them. Kavin had recognized them all, each a familiar face twisted in hate as they swung their long knives and sickles at them.

Avryn had shoved him behind his body, raising his hand to blast the onslaught of bodies, muttering the ancient incantations under his breath. It had worked -- for a moment. It was always what you didn't see that got you.

There hadn't even been a whistle in the air where the shaft had been to warn them until the arrow cut through Avryn's throat.

Avryn's warm blood had splattered against his face as his cousin's body fell on top of him, his own throat contracting in horror as both of them collapsed backward on to the stairs.

He still remembered the tang of metal and sweetness as he had tried to swallow back his panic as he recognized the fletching of the arrow sticking out of Avryn's neck to be his foster father's and the sword glinting in Lufimar's left hand as he approached them, his charismatic smile in place as he rested the sword point against Avryn's chest.

Lufimar tilted his head, his pointed ears jutting through his swaying metallic golden locks as he looked Kavin straight in the eye and leaned slightly against the pommel of his sword.

"You need to come home now, Kavin. Play time is over." With a slight motion he thrust the blade completely through Avryn, causing his body to jerk, a bubbled cry emanating from his bloodied mouth, golden eyes wide as Kavin felt the tip of the sword dip against his own heart.

A bright light had flashed with the crack of thunder and all the men had disappeared in an instant, leaving the courtyard empty and the screaming of the guests inside the mansion a wail in the background.

Reilley had been there, her gown now covered in blood as she pressed her hand against Avryn's open wounds and called for the healers rushing from the doorway. Others had disappeared or rushed out of the mansion, trying to track the Eagles that had just been there.

The attack had lasted seconds but it had felt like an eternity.

The crack of the door opening brought Kavin back to himself as Dr. Mallory walked into the room, her honeyed hair twisted up in a bun. She held a chart against her clean scrubs as she went to check the monitors.

With all his injuries he should have had a magical healer of his own kind tending to him but Reilley had told him that witches, the good kind anyway, despised demons because of their cruel nature that went against the very codes the witches lived by. Dark witches and other demons wouldn't be able to help themselves if they knew Avryn was seriously wounded. They would kill him and absorb his energy to make themselves stronger. For the witches it was greed; for the demons it was only nature. Kavin silently thanked his parents that he was only one-third demon and could somewhat control his instincts.

Dr. Mallory was one hundred percent human and had come highly recommended. But for now, there was nothing she could do except check the machines and make sure Avryn's self-healing was progressing smoothly.

"It looks like he's doing okay for now. Progress is slow but I have no complaints."

Kavin tilted his head to the side to look into those chilly blue eyes.

"I'll be back to check on him in another couple of hours."

Kavin gave a tight smile, his eyes immediately darting to the few drops of blood darkening the bandages around Kavin's throat and swallowed, missing the narrowing of the doctor's eyes.

"You need some rest. You can't expect to keep going without sleep, even if you are one third demon." Her voice was controlled like a well-placed punch.

Kavin closed his eyes and breathed deep, trying to keep his cravings behind his teeth. "I will. I just need to make sure he's okay."

Dr. Mallory stood silently for a moment before heading back towards the door. "For a little while longer then. If you're still here when I get back in three hours I'm going to pump you so full of sedatives you won't be awake for a month."

Kavin gave a small huff as she shut the door firmly behind her. "Don't worry, I won't be."

####

The teleportation spell was simple; it had been the first spell that Avryn had taught him when he had taken him from the Eagle enclave just under a month ago.

Gia, had it really only been three weeks? It had gone by so fast. Funny how you could attach yourself to new people and a new life in almost a blink of an eye.

Now he was back. He opened his eyes, still feeling the slight tingle lingering in his body from the spell and looked down on the valley below him, the handcrafted houses sitting around the clearing with the main lodge in the center of it all. The lair of Lufimar.

Like he had said, it was time to go home, wasn't it?

They watched him as he made his way from the woods and followed the familiar walkways towards the lodge, the woman's eyes were scornful, and the men who'd attacked him squared their shoulders and watched him with satisfaction in their gaze.

These people had known him since he was a child, the only family he had ever known. They had always been distant with him, quick to strike out at his mistakes and push him into what they believed he should be.

Now they took pleasure in his pain. Hurting and destroying someone he cared about just so they could get what they wanted from him. He had once been scared of them, of the change and questions he had harbored inside himself. Now he had found a place where he felt like he belonged but they wouldn't let him go.

It didn't matter now, none of it did. This was for Avryn, his cousin who had risked everything to find him and bring him home, who was even now fighting for his life because of him. If these people could enter the Kali territory, the realm with the strongest wards and tightest security of all, then Avryn's home would be much simpler to break into. He needed to do this. To keep Avryn from these people who wanted him to the point they would destroy anything he held dear to get to him.

The freedom Avryn had shown him would have to be enough to last a lifetime, because he couldn't go back now and it held a bitter taste in his mouth.

Too soon he stood before the great doors to the lodge as they were unceremoniously thrown open and Lufimar strode out, arms wide to embrace him.

"The prodigal son has returned!" Lufimar's voice boomed as he swung them both around to face the crowd that had gathered behind them. "The new moon rises at the end of the week, the wedding shall continue as planned. Let us celebrate!"

The crowd roared, feet stomping and cheering. Their cries fell on Kavin's ears and made his stomach churn as Lufimar led him inside, slamming the doors shut behind them.

"Come now, we'll get you settled and have Minerva work her magic on you. I say, you must have grown again while you were away." Lufimar tisked as he walked them back behind the communal dining room and back into the private quarters where he lived with his wife and daughters.

He had never been allowed back there before. It was dark, and there was no light in this place, not even under the doors.

Anger churned inside Kavin's stomach as he watched Lufimar's smiling profile from the corner of his eye and felt his hair sway behind them as he was halfway dragged down the hallway under Lufimar's arm, ignoring the chill of warning sliding down his spine.

This was the man who had tried to kill Avryn. The reason his parents were dead. He felt his eyes burn as they turned and Lufimar opened a door and shoved him inside.

It was bare here, with no windows, no holes of any kind and only a thin pallet and blanket tucked into a corner.

What was inside though chilled him to the bone. The walls were covered in runes that writhed as if they were alive across the gray surface, flashing in and out of sight. He only recognized one or two before the power backlash hit him, slamming him to the ground.

The pain made him gasp, his nerves on fire, his face twisting as he tried to breathe beneath the pressure crushing him.

He heard Lufimar's voice and suddenly the pain ceased and he could relax his limbs against the cold ground.

Sucking in air he stared at Lufimar's booted feet beside his head.

"You can't escape from her." Lufimar's voice was honey wrapped in steel. "No one can find you here. You don't exist as long as you're in this room."

Kavin began to even out his breathing as he slowly tipped his head to the side to look at the elf's face through his dark bangs, his heart squeezed in rage as he tried not to bare his teeth.

Those cat-slitted silver eyes watched him with a tint of madness, a smile tugged at his lips. "You will behave. You will let Minerva fit you for your wedding garments and you will wed Emfilen when the new moon rises." His grin stretched to show off his white teeth against his darkened skin. "Everything will go as planned; you just need to do your part. Understand?"

Kavin didn't need it spelled out for him; the threat was clear. Bodily harm he could handle, but this man was perfectly capable of finishing Avryn off while he was unable to protect himself. He couldn't let that happen. That was the entire point of coming back here. He might do it anyway.

He let out a shaky breath and pushed the hate and fear warring inside him down until he couldn't feel them anymore. "Understood."

"Good boy."

####

Minerva and her women didn't take long in coming, bringing his unfinished matrimonial suit from his previous fittings before Avryn had spirited him away weeks ago.

They clucked at him, telling him he should be grateful for Lufimar's unending kindness and generosity for allowing him back into the fold and still letting him marry Emfilen. They danced around him like a swarm of bees, and the pins they used to adjust the fit of the cloth stung him more than once.

Minerva snarled at his now red hair and gold-tinted eyes, harping that they should use some dark berries to at least try to lighten the color back to his previous blond state to work with her color scheme.

He took perverse pleasure in refusing to tell her that he had already been dying his hair before he had been taken from the enclave and now that his demon blood had reached its maturity nothing would change it.

As he suffered through all of this he stared at the ceiling, counting down the minutes until he had to take his vows and shackle his life forever to this place.

####

It was time.

When he opened his eyes his new clothes were folded beside the door to the room on top of the black ceremonial cloak to hide his face until the wedding.

He donned the dark shirt and pants with intricate trimmings of gold and for the first time since he had come back, released his hair to its full length, letting if fall down his back to his waist. It was the way all the followers of the Eagle Religion wore their hair to show their faith.

Avryn had repeatedly tried to get him to cut his since he was free of the cult but it had been a part of him for so long he couldn't think of his life without it, follower of Kae or not. The compromise had been for him to wear it up or braid it; now that Avryn was lying half dead in a bed thousands of miles away he didn't think that it mattered anymore.

Just as he swept the cloak around his shoulders the door opened and his foster parents Gregor and Laura stepped inside.

They were both human, the people who knew he had been stolen from his family, maybe even had helped kill them. He looked at them now with contempt and simmering rage. Both had at one time been terrifying to him, larger than life, quicker with a whip than a kind word. Their faces were lined with age, long hair brushed and pulled back into intricate braids that must have taken the entire day to create. Their clothes matched his, though they were not as richly decorated.

It looked ridiculous on them, Gregor with his large muscled frame and Laura all twig thin to the point of looking like a toothpick.

They said nothing to him as they turned and led him down the hallway he had come four days ago and out into the night.

The village was deserted as they made their way into the woods and towards the holy ground where the ceremony would take place.

Kavin felt the chill in the air and glanced up at the sky. There were no stars there, no light, and the moon was dark, almost as if the world had shut its eyes to the profanity that was about to begin.

Kavin took a deep breath as they stepped into the clearing.

The entire enclave had gathered in their finest clothes, many having to shuffle between the trees to be present as he was led towards the large black slab that was set in the center of the clearing and had the Eye of Kae carved onto its surface.

Lufimar stood at the end of the slab. The slight figure of Emfilen was concealed by her own white cloak as she stood by her father.

Laura and Gregor left him as soon as he stood beside Emfilen with Lufimar between them.

Lufimar smiled at those gathered before him. "Brothers and Sisters of the true religion, we come here today to witness a rebirth. With the union of these two people we will join our houses and bring forth our savior!"

His face concealed by the hood of his cloak, Kavin frowned at Lufimar's choice of words. Savior? Kae was dead. She had been dead since God brought down Armageddon thousands of years ago.

Kavin's arms were suddenly jerked back as his body was lifted from the ground and slammed down on top of the Eye of Kae, wrists and ankles suddenly bound by the men who had carried him, Gregor among them, his hard face stone while he looked down on him.

He twisted and jerked at his chains that were screwed tightly into the sides of the stone beneath him, the finality and cold of the metal seeping into his bones.

"Come, my dear, it is time." Lufimar held his hand out to Emfilen and brought her next to Kavin's struggling form.

Emfilen's delicate white hands pushed back her hood to reveal her pointed ears thrusting out of her long blond hair, translucent skin, and the same cat-slitted silver eyes as her father.

Lufimar began to chant, eyes closed, head thrown back in rapture as the rest of the followers chanted with him, the clearing filling with the hum of voices.

Kavin stopped pulling on his bindings and instead watched the air above him begin to frost over, his breath puffing white before him with runes dancing above his head. He narrowed his eyes and tried to watch them. If he could figure out what kind of spell they were casting he could try to counter it.

He was so enraptured with the symbols he didn't notice Emfilen crawling on the slab with him until she was straddling his hips, her head blocking his view.

He snarled at her, panic making his body shiver. "Get off of me."

She looked at him, her pupils dilated wide as she swayed from side to side. Obviously she had been given some drug or potion; the Emfilen he knew would never be so bold.

"Em, get off of me. Now." He craned his neck trying to see around her as the chanting began to swell and the air stirred around them. He was running out of time.

"Oh, Kavin, you're going to give me a baby." Her voice was slurred as she ran her hands through his bangs and along his face.

His body stilled as a shiver ran through him. "What?"

Emfilen showed him some teeth as she pressed against him, her face inches from his. "Daddy promised me you were going to give me a baby." She rubbed their noses together. "A baby. We're going to name her Kae."

Kavin caught the image of a symbol out of the corner of his eye and his heart almost stopped. He knew what that was. That was the resurrection symbol.

"A baby. A baby." Emfilen cooed as she continued petting at him. She unfastened her cloak and it fell away, leaving her naked.

It was at that moment that Kavin realized she was naked and what Lufimar planned to do.

For a resurrection to work you needed someone with a blood tie to the deceased. With Kae you needed someone as close as you could get to a true blood tie since she had been dead for so long. It was impossible with the main family, they were too well guarded by those loyal to them and their ancestor. With too weak a tie the resurrection wouldn't work.

His parents! His mother had been the daughter of a powerful demon lord but had been disowned by the family because of her choice of husband. His father, the son of Reilley's sister, had been raised by his father, a werewolf, instead of being fostered in Reilley's household.

His parents had been vulnerable and completely unprotected, weak against the power Lufimar could raise. They had had something he wanted and he'd taken it, leaving dead bodies in his wake.

His parents had died because of him, Kavin realized, because Lufimar wanted to resurrect a dead woman. Fury welled up in him so deep he felt he was about to explode. He twisted violently, throwing Emfilen off his body and onto the ground, her sharp cry a balm to his ears.

Someone was going to die tonight and it wasn't going to be him.

The stone began to warm against his back and the edges of the Eye dug into his skin as the voices of the chant reached its crescendo. They were close to the end, he had to work fast.

He began to mutter under his breath, fingers twitching out the symbolic runes against the stone, never taking his eyes off the ever-changing runes above his head.

The voices suddenly came to a stop, the chant ending, the runes hung in bloody clumps above him, like the executioner's blade before it descended on the neck of the condemned.

The stone beneath him grew uncomfortably warm to the point of burning through his clothes when the hanging runes hurtled downward in a flash of light and he was consumed in fire when the screams started to the sound of gunfire.

He swore he heard his name yelled as his body was burning from the inside out and everything went up in a blaze of white.

####

He heard the continued beep of the monitors that were as familiar as his own heartbeat. He timed the intake of his breath with the slow erratic thrum of the machines.

His body tingled as if he had just been through a transportation spell, the feel of cool sheets against his skin made him feel raw as if from a sun burn.

The gummy crust across his eyelashes made it difficult to open his eyes but finally he raised them enough he could pear through them.

The red painted walls with hand crafted moldings across the high ceilings gave him a start. He jerked his head sideways to see Avryn's body halfway tossed onto his bed, his dark hair shaggy against the white of the sheets.

"Avryn!" For a moment Kavin flashed back to the night of the attack, his cousin's blood splashed across his face... He reached out with his nearest hand to shake Avryn's arm.

His fingers barely brushed the cloth of his arm before Avryn's head jerked up, those gold eyes blazing with no recognition before settling on his face. His features relaxed then hardened.

Kavin was so relieved that he wasn't dead he didn't see the slap coming until the crack resonated through the air and his cheek stung.

Kavin sat dazed as he watched his cousin withdraw his hand and settle himself more comfortably on the side of the bed, tugging at his rumbled shirt.

"Did I not tell you I would handle things?" His voice was all sweetness as Kavin flinched back knowing that deceptive tone.

"You were dying. It was the only way-"

Avryn lunged at him, faces inches apart as he snarled, eyes glowing, showing off his elongated teeth. "You utter fool. You almost got yourself killed. If I hadn't been there you wouldn't have had to worry about anything ever again."

Kavin blinked at him, startled.

Avryn closed his eyes and slowly pulled back from Kavin's prone state to rub at his eyes. "Enough. Just enough."

Kavin worriedly watched Avryn and reached for him as he made to slide off the bed, catching the tail ends of his shirt.

"Wait."

Avryn cocked his head back at him, eyes slitted.

Kavin felt unsure for the first time since he had left this house a week ago, set out to do what he thought was the right thing. He should have known Avryn would have come for him, martyred or not. Would always come for him. They both could have died from his stupidity.

Avryn sighed and flicked him in the forehead, bringing him out of his revere. "Stop second guessing yourself. We both lived."

Kavin smiled and let go of Avryn's shirt, letting his hand drop back onto the bed covers, satisfied that his cousin had forgiven him.

Avryn pointed a long-tinted nail at him, "As punishment you are now under Dr. Mallory's tender mercies for as long as she wants to keep you."

Kavin groaned, head flopping back onto the pillows at Avryn's cruel laugh. Things were indeed back to normal.

THE END


© 2012 Jo Kelli

Bio: Jo Kelli currently lives in Cape Girardeau, MO and attends Southeast Missouri State University as a BFA major and a Small Press minor. She divides her time between working, studying, and chasing her dog who keeps stealing her computer charger so she canít finish her creative writing stories.

E-mail: Jo Kelli

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