by Maxzell Lerm
As Keith confronts the brutal realization that Princess Deso has been hiding a dark secret from him, he discovers that Clara knows of Nevrhada’s existence. Keith is haunted both by Clara’s words and a deep sense of betrayal. Deso continues to avoid the burning question that Clara exploited one night on the dark hill near Keith’s home.
Stuck between two worlds, Keith is forced to choose. Questions fill his mind: Does Clara love him? Will the witches find the parallel world? Why do the Tainos refer to Princess Deso Cressida as “Poison Ivy”?
Venturing to the royal castle in Nevrhada, Keith confronts the royals with the events that unfolded in the dark forest. One of the demons released from this shadowy prison seeks out Keith. During a raging battle, Keith is badly injured and loses his memories of Princess Deso and Nevrhada. As he falls in love with Clara, his heart reminds him of memories—or dreams—of a violet-eyed princess.
Meanwhile, the bloodthirsty Burrower that escaped from Nervhada to Earth causes destruction on the plains of Santillana Del Mar...
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~ Demons on Earth ~
I watched Deso disappear into the forest close to my home with a last wave and a whispered, “Goodbye, Keith.” Fortunately, we had only one world’s wars to worry about or so I thought. I soon learned how wrong I was.
The next night I spied orange eyes from my bedroom window, but convinced myself I was traumatized by my last encounter with a creature having such eyes. A Burrower from magical Nevrhada wasn’t roaming the landscapes of Earth. Surely no one could hallucinate to that extent? Yet perhaps after what I had experienced in Nevrhada, I had every right to see things that didn’t exist. So why did I find myself standing outside in the dark, waiting and watching?
Sounds of marching soldiers and gunfire echoed from the TV, unheeded by Mom and my sister Jessie, asleep on the couch. I tiptoed out of the house and closed the door before my dog Duke, or anyone else, missed me.
Branches swayed gently back and forth. All else was unnaturally silent. Unexpectedly, Duke barked from inside the house, but when I turned around to silence my dog I saw my other sister, Jade, standing on the porch, her eyes big and round. I didn’t know what had gotten into Duke; he might wake Mom. As I walked back up the steps to Jade, her five-year-old face turned into a mask of terror. Her spine-tingling scream echoed across the sleepy landscape.
“Keeeiitthhhhhhh,” she screeched in a high-pitched voice.
I turned when I felt eyes on me. There, not even twenty feet away on the landscape in front of my house, I saw the ungodly crimson orbs, unmistakable in the dark expanse.
“This isn’t happening.” I whispered over and over.
Without a second thought, I spun around and ran. Images and visions of four gruesome arms pulling at my clothes bombarded my mind. I recalled razor-sharp nails tearing at my flesh and blood seeping out of tattered wounds. I relived the Forest of Nightmares attack I had experienced in Nevrhada. A forbidden part of the enchanted world.
Without stopping, I scooped Jade up in my arms. Once inside the house, I crashed against the inside of the door, waiting for the onslaught of the Burrower, thinking it might attempt to break through the flimsy wooden barricade. I had no idea how I was going to explain this living, breathing demon to anyone.
Running feet followed by the anxious face of my mom rounded the living room corner. “What is going on?” she gasped, out of breath and with a worried frown etched on her face. Jade mumbled something incoherent and softly cried against my chest.
“What is it, baby?” Mom persisted, removing my sister from my arms.
“A monster,” Jade whispered and sobbed louder.
“Must have been a raccoon or something,” I replied, trying to pull myself together. Still, Mom shot me an accusing glance and walked back to the living room, curling up with both twins.
Alone in my room, turbulent thoughts swamped my rational thinking. Deso was far from my reach, and the only other person I could contact was Clara. The thought bothered me more than I anticipated. I had to tell someone there was a bloodthirsty beast lurking in the wrong world.
How did a creature from Nevrhada manage to roam on Earth? Were there other demons from the Forbidden Forest? The thought caused panic. I paced my room. I still didn’t remember how I had escaped the nightmare. The last image I saw before I yielded to unconsciousness was the Liche dragons pawing past the magical net spun by the purple crystal Deso had given me.
When I finally convinced myself that calling Clara was the right thing to do, I entered her number. I thought she would never answer. The incessant buzzing reminded me of what had transpired between Deso and Clara a few nights ago. The confrontation when the truth was laid bare. I remember how we had seen each other at opposite ends, me beside Deso and Clara on the other side.
Just when I was about to surrender, Clara answered. “What do you want, Keith?”
Her icy remark made me cringe. A moment of silence followed and then an impatient sigh from her end. I couldn’t form the words jumping around in my head. Finally, I managed to say the only thing I thought would be useful.
“We have a problem,” I retorted, mentally shrugging my shoulders.
“Why don’t you ask your girlfriend to help you?” Clara spat back, barely able to hide the disgust in her voice.
“Clara, this is serious. I need your help.”
My tone must have caught her off guard, because I sensed the awkwardness radiating through the cell phone. I didn’t know whether she was going to speak again, so I swallowed my nagging conscience and told her the problem.
“There’s something on Earth that doesn’t belong here. I saw it from my bedroom window last night. I saw it again tonight outside my house from my porch.” I finished on almost a whisper. “I thought I was hallucinating the first time, but tonight I really saw it.” The words sounded crazy even to my own ears, but considering that I was talking to a bona-fide witch, crazy was no longer a word that seemed out of the ordinary.
“What is it?” The uncertainty in her voice was clear.
I had expected a snide comment about the creature being Deso, but was pleasantly surprised by Clara’s interest. “It’s something I’ve seen before. Clara, it’s dangerous and it shouldn’t be here.”
A brooding silence followed as though she understood my meaning—that this creature wasn’t from our realm. “How?” she said in disbelief.
I continued as though she hadn’t interrupted me. “I don’t know how long it’s been here, or why, or how it even got here. All I know is that if people see this thing, we have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Meet me outside your house in the forest in fifteen minutes,” she snapped and, without waiting for a reply, disconnected. My mom would forbid me going out again, so I didn’t ask. I planted quick kisses on my mom’s and sisters’ foreheads, mumbling that I was off to bed.
Once in my room I locked the door, put on some music, and used the window ledge that led to the roof as an escape. The height worked to my advantage in seeking out the luminous orange eyes. Nothing appeared out of the ordinary.
I saw a flock of crows fly into the trees nearby. I hadn’t expected Clara to come with her entourage. When I finally climbed down the drainpipe and reached them, they hadn’t taken the liberty of changing into their human forms. Was this their way of intimidating me?
Clara was the first to fly to the ground. I watched in disbelief as the large black crow turned into her human form. The Protectors soon followed her lead. Once again, they were all dressed in sombre colours that caused them to merge with the dark surroundings. Clara was the only one who had some colour on her in the form of a figure-hugging, purple-coloured sweater.
Isha, once changed, stepped forward in a protective stance next to Clara. I smiled, finding this absurd. They were the ones with the supernatural abilities. Clara’s lips ticked up in a grin, as she, too, saw the lack of necessity in his actions.
“It’s good to see you,” I said to no one in particular but looking at Clara. I meant it. I had missed my friend’s easy chatter and carefree way. I saw her indifferent mask shift for a second as she peered at me. Then, in the blink of an eye, she recovered her composure. She appeared completely detached.
“What is it we’re dealing with?” Akasha demanded, not looking at me but at his leader.
Every one of the Protectors seemed to agree with the question as their heads bobbed up and down, all eager to hear the news. I noticed that everyone, including Clara, wore small daggers attached to their waists. It was a new addition since the last time I had seen them.
“It’s called a Burrower, and, as far as I know, there’s no way of killing it. No one can outrun this thing.” That captured the group’s attention. I saw smirks on some faces at my remark. “It’s fast, Clara, and deadly. The only thing it wanted to do to me was kill me.”
I peered at her for a reaction. She didn’t give me the support I expected. In a way, she seemed far away, as though her mind was somewhere else entirely. I knew my decision to stand with Deso had upset her, but I hoped it wouldn’t influence her judgment.
“I don’t see, Indrani, how this affects us,” Urvi probed, using Clara’s tribal name. Her eyes held volumes of distrust. For a few seconds, the Protectors spoke amongst themselves in the Taino language I didn’t understand. Clara’s face remained emotionless.
“Are you not the Protectors? Are you not supposed to protect the land and its people?” I said frustrated.
“There would not be a need for that if you had only respected the boundaries.” Urvi revealed her agitation by her grimace. Esha, the third girl in the group, silenced her friend. Om also seemed to soothe Akasha’s and Isha’s bad tempers.
“Quiet. Listen.” Anil, who had been silent until now, whispered as he turned his back on us.
The small gathering immediately fell silent. A deep rumbling sounded inside the forest and, as one, we moved slowly forward into the shadowy gloom. It took time for my eyes to grow accustomed to the dark interior beneath the canopy of leaves. The sound of snapping twigs under our feet was loud in the otherwise hushed forest.
We walked for some time, deeper into the forest, without anybody saying a word. My breathing was loud in my ears as I tried to remain calm. The deeper we walked into the forest, the darker it became.
Then, a silent, unexpected onslaught came from the Burrower. It burst from beneath our feet and threw us in opposite directions. I watched in horror as Clara struck a rock. A loud shattering sound—that of bone—filled the air as she sprawled across the ground. While I struggled to my feet, she stirred. In one fluid movement she rose, her eyes pitch black. She wasn’t Clara. Instead, the witch now faced the Burrower. Her arm dangled limply at her side. I watched as it miraculously healed, snapping into place.
The Burrower manoeuvred in erratic circles around us. He lunged in and out of the ground. I had never seen this side of the creature. It appeared more crazed than I remembered. Before, its razor-sharp claws had pulled at me as I struggled to free myself from its bony grasp. This creature was agile as it attacked. Its head turned 180 degrees with its arms until it faced the other way, ready for another attack. Back and forth it pounced in the soil, clawing at everyone in its path.
It charged at Om as if in slow motion.
“Om,” I shouted. “Watch out!”
The Burrower crashed down on the Protector. Om’s body lay half covered in soil as though the Burrower had tried to pull him into the ground. I rushed forward and tried to lift Om. I furiously scraped away the soil holding his body in place.
“You’re going to be all right,” I said, not believing myself.
The Burrower had injured Om. The beast had made a bloody mess of his torso. He screamed in agony. I turned and saw the demon staring at me. The bloodthirsty orange eyes held me ensnared.
Urvi was standing close to me when I saw the Burrower spring at her. “Move,” I yelled and lunged at her. We landed in a tangle of arms and legs.
“Get out of my way,” she barked and shoved me aside.
I ignored her ungratefulness as I watched each of the Protectors gain his or her ground, ready to fight. Isha resorted to tossing balls of fire at the beast, but the Burrower was faster than I remembered. Each ball missed its intended target as the creature swiftly and silently bounded from one part of the ground to the next. A string of Taino words came from Isha.
Om moaned and I rushed to him, feeling utterly helpless. Utterly human.
“Are you okay?” I peered intently at him. His open eyes were pitch black. I couldn’t make out what he was saying, but he seemed to be in a trance.
Suddenly strong winds swung the trees’ branches back and forth. Leaves and branches scattered everywhere. I held up my hand to protect my face.
Clara’s hair looked midnight-black. She lifted her hands to the sky, muttering words as though she were in a trance.
The Burrower unexpectedly stopped its onslaught. Everything in the forest ceased stirring, leaving only the Protectors whispering soft phrases. Ever so slowly the skeletal being sank lower into the ground until it vanished altogether. The Protectors continued muttering their phrases.
“Was that it?” I was almost unable to believe it had been that easy.
No one replied, and I bit back a frustrated sigh. I didn’t want to admit it, but Clara and her creepy followers would have made my life easier if they had been in the Forest of Nightmares helping me. I scolded myself for even thinking this and then peered down at my soiled clothing.
Burn or give to Maria? I pictured Mom’s face in my mind.
Deep in thought, I was oblivious to all else. Then, wolves approached us stealthily. The snarling animals surrounded a hooded old woman. Her features were hidden in the shadows, and her dark hair spilled over her shoulders. As I saw the silhouette move against the darkness, I instantly jumped to my feet. A sense of unease filled me. My apprehension grew as the figure stood there, glaring at the assembled bodies.
“Clara, who is that?” Was I the only one who saw this woman? Clara and everyone else didn’t respond. The snarling wolves were content to stay at the woman’s side.
I covered the distance between Clara and me in seconds and gently shook her shoulder. I didn’t know if this was a smart move, but I needed answers. If the Burrower was gone, I wanted to go home, away from this and from these people. With both hands on Clara’s shoulders, I shook her again, almost desperately.
Behind me the soil erupted again. Unlike the previous occasions, the beast threw back its head and released a ghastly shriek.
Not even the Burrower seemed to break the trance that held the witches. The beast lurched at Om’s legs and dug its talons deep into his tender flesh, pulling at him. When I realized what the creature had in mind, I ran over to prevent Om from being pulled into his own grave. I stood behind him and gripped his shoulders with all my might. It was no use. The Burrower was much stronger. I landed on my back with Om on top of me, still peering vacantly at the dark sky.
“Clara,” I yelled, tugging and pulling. “CLARA.”
The older woman with the wolves, which were now growling furiously, inched closer but didn’t unveil herself. I circled my arms around Om’s waist and used my foot to kick at the Burrower’s hands. It resisted and manoeuvred its upper body over Om’s legs while its face hovered closer to us. The sight of the Burrowers unique creepy appearance was all-too-familiar. Detailed veins covered its skull and two large holes sat on the sides of the temples. From the holes, a bright orange light radiated. The shimmering orange eyes peered from the open sockets, and the orange light from its gaping skull spilled over Om’s torso wounds.
The smell of Om’s blood triggered another violent set of images from my time in the forbidden forest and I mentally shook my head to regain my sense of reality. Vivid images flashed through my mind. I wasn’t in the dark forest. This was Earth. This was worse.
With two arm holding Om, the Burrower used its two free arms to claw at the ground for leverage, pulling Om farther into the soil with it. I kicked the beast in its head over and over again. Bone shattered under my relentless attack. Still, the Burrower didn’t release its hold. When I lifted my foot to peer at the damage, the Burrower’s skull was covered in cracks. Before I could take pride in my work, right before my eyes its bones shifted and the cracks disappeared. It was as though they had never existed.
The Burrower shrieked as it released its hold on Om. I tried to back away while still holding the Protector’s body. My back scraped over rocks and branches as I pushed away from the vicious eyes glaring at us. Flashbacks raced through my mind of my own encounter when I tried to escape its clutches.
“Help him,” Clara commanded, her loud, authoritative voice resonating over the chanting. Two of the boys instantly helped me, pulling Om from my grasp. I didn’t hesitate and scrambled to my feet, eager to place as much distance between myself and the ground. This didn’t stop the Burrower. Enraged, it once again disappeared into the soil only to rise up again and lunge at Esha. It slammed the Protector into a nearby tree with such force I feared she was dead.
Clara flicked out her hands in the direction of the Burrower. Immediately a glowing red rope shot from her palm and wound itself around the beast. The Burrower twisted and turned, slicing at the cord with such force that I was surprised the magic could hold it. Soon all the Protectors except Om had the creature tangled in a glowing red rope that led from their hands around the Burrower. Even its mouth was encircled by the magic rope so it couldn’t release another sound.
This didn’t discourage it. Instead, it continually twisted and turned, not showing the slightest hint of easing. For the first time, the creepy old woman spoke in her native Tanio tongue. Clara’s eyes cleared somewhat to their normal look. As she lowered her hands, her hair instantly shortened, and the chocolate highlights resumed their rightful place between the darker strands. Clara peered between the Burrower and me. The hairs on my neck stood on end.
“What is it, Clara?” I moved closer to her.
She shook her head as though confused. “My grandmother wishes to take this animal back to our village, so she can…” She trailed off, looking unsure. It didn’t suit her. Uncertainty wasn’t something I saw often in the new Clara.
“What is it?” Impatient, I tried to appear unaffected.
“She wants to find out where it came from,” Clara said, tilting her chin a notch higher.
Her resolve was back with a vengeance. I knew she was thinking of Deso. If that creepy woman somehow managed to find out where Nevrhada was… I couldn’t tolerate the thought.
The blades of the Protectors’ knives reflected the rays of the light generated by their powers. The glint of the daggers was hard to ignore in the darkness. I knew what I was going to do before I did it. I sidestepped Isha and leaped off a small boulder that separated Urvi from my grasp. I landed at her feet and ripped out her dagger. I ran as fast as I could towards the Burrower. When I skidded to a halt next to the beast. I slid on my knees and in one fluid movement shoved the dagger through its gaping skull and into the glowing brain. My breath sounded loud in my ears and my heart drummed against my chest, begging for release.
I watched in disbelief as the Burrower twisted from side to side. Then, thankfully, the light in its skull flickered and died. The skeleton slumped forward, a lifeless pile of bones. It no longer looked menacing without the presence of the glowing eyes. In seconds, the pile of bones disintegrated and vanished into the soil.
I stood and squared my shoulders.
“It doesn’t belong in our world,” I said to no one in particular.
I walked away not even looking at Clara. I didn’t want to see the accusation in her eyes. I hadn’t killed the Burrower to protect Nevrhada. I killed it to protect Deso. I left the blade lying amidst the ashes of the Burrower and left without another word.
I walked to the house, feeling their eyes on me. A screech sounded in the distance. I didn’t stop, but oddly, it seemed familiar. It sounded eerily like a gargoyle. What was happening? I needed to find Deso.