Chapter 35 (Everin)

Everin couldn’t find words to say, so he just gaped at the king standing before him. He’d always assumed that the angels were simply a tool developed by King Valen to aid in his military conquests. From the looks of surprise on the angels’ faces, that seemed to be what they’d believed as well.

Everin stared at the grinning King Valen. This man wanted to be a god? He thought about his own power. The angels were often regarded as near-deities by the public, and he was far stronger than they were. If King Valen proclaimed himself to be a god and showcased abilities like those that the angels had, Everin wouldn’t be surprised if many people accepted it without question and began to worship their king as a divine being.

King Valen spoke again. “Think about it, Everin. Power, riches, respect, love, fame – they could all be yours. What is it that you crave? Join me, and it’s yours.”

Everin met the king’s eyes.

“I want to be happy,” he said.

King Valen spread his arms. “As we all do! Look at my suffering, Everin. I’m sure you can see that I’m an unhappy man. Why do you think I chase this dream? Have you ever heard of miserable god? When I enact this next stage of my plan, I’ll have the love and adoration of every citizen of Allomoria. I’ll be able to absorb that happiness of others with no need for secrecy. Whatever it takes to make you happy, Everin, it will be yours if you accept my proposal.”

Everin frowned. “I want you to let my friends go.”

“They’ll be free to go as soon as you agree to all my terms…”

“And,” Everin cut him off. “I want my parents back.”

“Everin…” King Valen started to speak, but Everin cut him off again.

“And, I don’t want these abilities. Every time I absorb someone’s pain, it hurts. Every time I see someone in pain and know that I can’t help them, it hurts even worse. I hate McCarthy, and I hate what you made him turn me into.” Everin was growling by the time he’d finished. He could sense his own anger flaring up, and there was little he could do to control it.

“You make some pretty unrealistic demands,” the king said.

“Did you think I’d agree to help you after admitting you ordered my parents to be killed?” Everin roared.

He felt Cora put a hand on his shoulder.

“Everin, be careful,” she whispered.

He shook her hand off. He wasn’t going to hold anything back. He was going to let Valen and McCarthy know exactly how much they’d hurt him.

McCarthy looked to King Valen. “My king, perhaps we should capture the boy and bend him to your will through a more direct approach?”

Everin snapped his head back towards where McCarthy stood.

“You,” he growled. “Not a day has passed when I haven’t asked myself the same questions a hundred times. Why? Why me? Why did you kill my parents? Why did you choose my family and me instead of anyone else? I’ve crossed all of Allomoria because I need to know. Why did you choose my parents?”

Everin was maddeningly frustrated to see only a slight flicker of green in McCarthy’s aura. The man wasn’t even afraid.

McCarthy gave a noncommittal shrug.

“Why did I kill your parents? King Valen’s explained the basic idea – that I wanted to induce the negative emotional state needed for an angel reaction. However, it’s a bit more nuanced than that. It’s regrettable, but I’d orphaned a few children before you in an attempt to create the conditions needed to spur a mutation. However, none of them reacted with the water in the ruins. They were sad, of course – deeply sad and traumatized. But that alone wasn’t enough to trigger the mutation. Their emotions weren’t quite the right intensity.”

Everin felt his rage boil with even greater fervor.

“That’s sick,” he snarled.

McCarthy didn’t appear phased by Everin’s words.

“Regrettable, yes, but sacrifices must be made for us to advance. That’s how science works. Anyways, after several failed attempts to create my own angel candidate, I devised a new theory. I’d gone too easy on the earlier kids. I killed their parents quickly and cleanly. They were hurt by the loss, but that wasn’t enough. What made the difference for you, Everin, was the addition of anger to boost the intensity of your sadness. Do you remember what I said to you before I left your house that night?”

Without a conscious effort, McCarthy’s words flashed to the front of Everin’s mind.

Remember, Everin, this is all your fault.

His throat was tight with anger. His neck strained, and he choked out the response.

“Yes, I remember.”

McCarthy grinned. “I’d found the missing ingredient. Self-hatred. By letting you try and fail to save your mother’s life, I was able to instill plenty of it in you. Your combination of sadness due to your parents’ death, fear of the unknown dangers of the ruins, and anger directed at yourself was enough to trigger a complete reaction – one far more powerful than any of the angels experienced.”

McCarthy crossed his arms, a thoughtful expression on his face. “As for why I chose you in particular? Well, your village was close to the ruins. I was looking for a kid who I could turn into an angel candidate, but I needed to be efficient and discreet. Get in, kill the parents, get out, and collect the kid a year later after their emotions had time to fester. You just happened to be the first kid I ran into who was about the right age. Mostly, it was chance.”

That hurt. The fact that McCarthy had simply killed his parents because it was convenient, not because of anything specific to them, made it feel like their lives were even less significant in his eyes. Coupled with the realization that Everin had never really had a chance at all to save his mother, it was too much. He felt something twisting inside him. Some wall that he didn’t know existed within him had just been broken down.

He noticed that he was breathing hard. His vision flashed red. Every moment that McCarthy stood in front of him, casually leaning against the wall, was an insult to his parents. Rage was already coursing through him, why not absorb more? Everin reasoned. Ichoron was the only angel he could see from where he stood, so he let Ichoron’s hatred flow. Everin remembered that he’d once wondered where Kyzella’s hatred came from. Now, he knew. They were slaves to men like McCarthy and King Valen. It was enough to drive anyone insane.

Ichoron’s anger poured into the rage that was already built up inside Everin. Balls of flame materialized in his palms. McCarthy only grinned.

“Remember, Everin, we’ve still got your friend, Ford. One wrong move, and Ichoron will toss him off the side of the castle.”

Everin screamed in frustration. The flames in his hands leapt up to double their original height.

“Everin, you can do this. Stay in control, please, or they’re going to hurt Ford.” He heard Cora’s voice begging in his ear. He turned to look at his friend.

“Remember what you said back in the forest? Revenge doesn’t work, right? Killing McCarthy won’t fix anything he’s done. Don’t lose control of your emotions now,” she urged.

Everin shook his head and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to stop the flow of tears.

“Cora, I can’t. I hate him too much. I can’t even put it into words how much I hate him,” he choked out through ragged breaths.

Everin thrust his flaming hands forward. The fire leapt through the space between him and McCarthy. Before the man could move, he was caught in a ring of fire. Everin kept his hands raised, channeling more flames into the ring to keep it from burning out. Everin was using up the anger he’d absorbed quickly. He wouldn’t be able to sustain the flames for very long. As it was, the circle was wide enough that it didn’t burn McCarthy, but it was close enough for him to feel the heat.

“Let Ford go! Now!” Everin barked at him.

McCarthy’s aura still only showed minimal spots of green. He wasn’t worried.

“Ford’s already done his job of bringing you here. I’ll play along.” McCarthy pointed at Ichoron. “Do as he says.”

If Everin had been thinking more clearly, he might’ve wondered why McCarthy was so quick to release his bargaining chip. Under normal circumstances, Everin might have speculated that McCarthy had something else he believed would protect him. These weren’t normal circumstances, however. Everin could hardly think about anything except the smug expression on McCarthy’s face.

Ichoron lifted his hand from Ford’s shoulder, and the boy ran to Everin and Cora. He and Cora quickly embraced while Everin held the ring of fire steady around McCarthy.

“You’ve got your friend back. You can extinguish the flames now,” he said.

Everin’s hands shook. He hated everything about McCarthy. Even now, when Everin had flames as tall as the man’s shoulders licking skyward all around him, McCarthy spoke to him with the same taunting tone that he’d used when he’d killed his parents. This was his moment. This would be the vengeance that his parents needed, that he needed. All rational thought had left Everin’s mind. All that was left was his loss, his pain, and his uncontrollable hatred for the man who stool before him.

“No,” he said. “People like you deserve to burn.”

Everin closed his outstretch palms into fists. The circle of fire around McCarthy began to shrink. McCarthy’s head swiveled from side to side, looking for a way to escape the flames. The faintest green light began to appear on his aura as he realized there wasn’t a way out. Everin prepared to envelope McCarthy with the fire when King Valen reacted.

The king raised a hand, and an orb of translucent white energy encircled McCarthy, protecting him from the fire.

Everin snarled and expended the last of the anger he’d absorbed. He smothered the orb with flames. The fire rolled off the sides of the ball, revealing an intact McCarthy inside. When the last of Everin’s flames burned out, King Valen dropped his hand, and the orb faded out of existence.

“Everin, I know you’re upset, but McCarthy is valuable. I can’t have you killing him,” the king said.

“My king, he’s too unpredictable right now. We need to subdue him,” McCarthy said.

“Shut up!” Everin screamed. He’d exhausted the red energy from Ichoron, but his own anger was powerful enough that he couldn’t think straight. McCarthy still didn’t even seem to care about Everin’s suffering. He didn’t care about what he’d done – what he’d taken.

“Ichoron, Saphine, move Everin’s companions away from him,” McCarthy instructed.

The armored angel began moving to grab Ford again. Kyzella’s golden wings appeared. With a few flaps, she was in the air and preparing to swoop down on Cora.

Reflexively, Everin absorbed the sadness from Saphine, who was standing nearby. Azure light flowed into his body, and the shock of the emotion almost brought him to his knees. The sadness didn’t cancel out his own anger; rather, the two emotions worked together, creating an even more potent agony. Everin’s muscles shook with rage and frustration and pain.

He raised his hands and summoned two orbs of blue light, one around Cora and one around Ford. He didn’t know how he’d created the orbs, but they were identical to the one King Valen had surrounded McCarthy with. The only difference was that Everin’s were made from blue energy. Everin must’ve instinctively tried to copy the king’s use of his power, and the sad, blue energy was versatile enough to conform.

“Don’t touch my friends,” he shouted at McCarthy.

Ichoron was still approaching Ford’s sphere. Everin shot a beam of sapphire light from the palm that wasn’t generating the orbs. The light punched into Ichoron, sending him flying backwards. The force of the impact was enough to knock his helmet off. It skidded across the stone rooftop before falling off the side of the castle. Ichoron rose, unharmed. He had a scowl on his face, but he didn’t approach Ford again. Everin looked up at Kyzella, but she’d chosen to back off, floating back to the edge of the rooftop. Everin let the blue orbs fade away.

“He’s absorbing energy from the angels. We need to get them out of here,” McCarthy said. Everin still couldn’t shake the flurry of emotions evoked by hearing McCarthy talk. Every time that snide, self-assured voice spoke, it threatened to transport him back to that awful night.

King Valen looked at the three angels. “You heard him. Get out of sight but stay nearby.”

Ichoron was the first to move. He turned and leapt off the side of the castle. Seconds later, Everin heard a thud as the angel hit the grassy courtyard below. Knowing Ichoron, Everin was sure the angel was unhurt. Kyzella ran forward, wrapping Saphine in a bear hug. She flapped her yellow wings, and the pair was carried off the rooftop. She flew after Ichoron, vanishing from sight.

King Valen smiled, slightly distracting Everin from his rage.

“It would appear that you’ve fallen into our little trap,” he said.

“What do you mean?” Everin snapped. “You don’t have my friends to bargain with. You don’t have your angels to protect you either.” He turned from the king and stared McCarthy in his unfeeling eyes. “I’m going to make sure you never hurt anyone again. Then, I’m going to undo what you’ve done to me.”

McCarthy didn’t answer. He only grinned. That sick, conceited, demented grin that had haunted Everin’s dreams for the past year.

“You’re forgetting about something,” King Valen said. “The angels are gone, and I’ve ordered everyone in the castle to move to the lower levels in anticipation of your arrival. If your abilities work like mine, you can only absorb energy from people you can see. There’s only the five of us on this rooftop, Everin. Everyone else is out of sight and out of range of your power. You don’t have enough negative emotional energy to fight me.”

Everin grinned. It wasn’t a happy grin. It was bitter – the smile of a madman.

“You forgot about your own aura. You have enough sadness for me to kill McCarthy easily.”

King Valen sighed. “Everin, you forget that I can absorb the happiness of others just as easily as you can absorb their sadness.”

“So what? Thanks to him, nobody here is happy.” Everin jabbed a finger at McCarthy, who watched with a maddening amount of indifference.

The king shook his head. “Not quite. If you look off the side of the castle, you’ll see a playground. It was one of the first projects I commissioned when I became king. You see, Everin, while people carry loss, regret, mistakes, and other pains with them through life, most children are too young to know what it means to seriously suffer. The children on this playground are my own personal source of power.” He peered over at the playground, where several kids played, ignorant of the supernatural battle that was occurring on the castle roof.

King Valen closed his eyes briefly and raised a hand. He inhaled sharply. Everin couldn’t see the energy, but he could imagine soft light streaming from the children in the playground and into the king’s body. What Everin could see was the harsh blue aura of the king quickly fade away to nothing.

King Valen exhaled and smiled. “Ah, sweet relief. You see, it might hurt you to use your power, Everin. But for me, it’s my release. A momentary escape from my own hellish reality. Now, look at the playground. I have at least a dozen auras ready to use. You can’t beat me Everin, because I know how you work. You’re my compliment. Now, calm down, and we can get to work. Attaining divinity is no easy task.”

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