My lungs burned as I gasped for air. I had been running for hours, without even a hint of safety anywhere near. I couldn't stop. I had to keep going, had to keep running. Something was chasing me, driving me into a corner. I could feel its dark intentions, its evil desires seeping into my back.
A clicking filled the air and a scream lodged in my throat. It was getting closer. It was catching up with me. I didn't know what it would do if it caught me. Didn't want to know. I kept running, praying that I could get away.
I skidded around a corner and this time I did scream as I came face to face with the thing that had been chasing me. How the hell had it gotten ahead of me? Stupid question, I knew. The castle was messed up, its hallways constantly changing.
The monster loomed above me, its body resembling a spider with a human torso rising up where the head should have been. It was male, that much was obvious, with muscles on top of muscles. The thing was ripped and terrifying. Long red streaked black hair flowed behind it, framing a face that belonged in a nightmare. The eyes were like a spider's, with way too many irises, and way too big, while arm fang things perturbed out of its mouth. The things kept twitching and rubbing together, as though in anticipation of tasting my flesh.
I sure as hell wasn't going to make the meal easy for it. I spun on my heel and ran. I flew through the halls, seeking a safe corner, anywhere that the spider thing couldn't find me.
Then, because being chased by a monster from hell wasn't bad enough, the floor gave out from under me and I sank into warm, wet blood. A scream ripped through the air…
I jerked awake, panting as the shriek continued ringing in my ears. My wide gray eyes met those of my sister's, Sable, and I knew in an instant that she, too, had been having a nightmare. There was no doubt in my mind what she had been dreaming about. I could feel the fear rolling off of her in waves just as clearly as I could see how her raven locks clung to her sweat soaked skin.
A year ago, we had lead fairly normal lives. Maybe we'd had more than our fair share of bad luck, but we'd gotten by. A year ago, we had been living in a one bedroom apartment. I'd been working as a thug for the local crime lord while Sable bounced from part time job to part time job. Maybe it hadn't been the ideal life, but we had been content with it.
Then everything had gone to hell when we were drawn into a sort of twisted race. The Immorals, a sadistic immortal race, held a Game once every hundred years where they tossed together their own criminals with human criminals. The goal had been to get through booby trapped rooms with monsters and death waiting around every corner until the players reached assigned locations. Those that completed the game in the given time period won and those that didn't lost.
Sable and I had been separated at the beginning, and I still wasn't fully clear on what she had gone through until we were reunited, but I knew what happened after. We both had nightmares from that hellish game. In the end, Sable had just barely won, reaching her room seconds before the game ended.
As a reward, she had been given a life of ease. The Immorals had set her up as a sort of live in house sitter for a large, comfortable beach house. She received a generous allowance to keep up the house along with a paycheck for staying there and keeping an eye on the place. There were other perks, but that was, literally, the biggest.
According to Sable, I was a black Siamese. Since she woke up in her new home, with me at the foot of her bed, Sable had been trying to find a way to get my original body back for me. I wasn't about to tell her that I had given up on that hope months ago.
However, Sable and I had always known each other so well that speaking was more like a formality. I could always tell what was on my sister's mind, just by seeing her or feeling what she felt. That's what I do. I'm an empath, at least that's the technical term for it. For the longest time, I could feel what my sister felt. When she was hurting or afraid, I knew. When she was happy or laughing, I knew. Recently, I had learned how to expand that ability to other people, but Sable's emotions always were and would probably always be stronger and clearer than a stranger's.
As the older brother, by two minutes, I had always been the one to shield Sable. As best I could, anyway. When I couldn't be there for her, I made sure that Sable could take care of herself. My sister is a bastard magnet. She attracts all of the perverts and assholes. I don't know how she does it, but somehow they always find her. I made sure, as soon as we hit puberty, that my sister could kick, claw and bite her way out of any mess. Or at the very least, hold her own until I got to her.
Sable sighed, cutting into my thoughts. "Three in the freaking morning," she groaned. Sable didn't cuss. It was one of her many adorably endearing traits. One that I did not share.
She scowled at me, not at all a morning person. "I'm the optimist," she remind me grumpily. "Not you."
It's the morning, I countered, You're never optimistic in the morning.
I couldn't help but laugh at that, the sound emerging as a rumbling purr. It took me months to get used to the different sounds I made as a cat. Trust me, it is not a pleasant experience wanting to say something and hearing a merowing sound rather than your own voice.
Figuring that we were awake anyway, I started to climb over Hylan so that I could reach my sister. Hylan was another part of Sable's reward for winning the game. Originally, he had been a decaying hell beast that prowled the hallways of the castle that was the game board. However, when I stumbled across him, he had turned into a big puppy. In his original form, Hylan had been the size of a large horse. After the Immorals had gotten done with him, he was the size of a small pony, and looked like a sleek, and deadly, Doberman.
The second my paw touched Hylan's back, he twisted and gave me a good lick. The action propelled me forward a couple inches and threw me off balance. Rather than snapping at him or getting annoyed, warmth flowed through me along with his pleasure at being there with my sister and me. Hylan was, for some reason, undyingly loyal to us. After he had almost sacrificed his life for us, both Sable and I had an unspoken agreement to spoil him rotten. The fact that he was ten times bigger than I was and weighed twice as much as Sable had nothing to do with the fact that he got to sleep wherever the hell he wanted.
"If you keep humoring him like this, he'll accidentally lick you bald," Sable informed me, picking me up around the middle and setting me back down on the pillow beside her.
I fluffed up a bit to show her my indignation before letting my fur settle and sitting in that regal way that only cats could. I will not be licked bald, I informed her before adding, with a snort, Besides, I'm not the only who indulges the monster mutt.
Sable laughed, a soft tinkling sound. I was glad that she could laugh after the nightmare she'd woken up from. Then again, I could still feel the fear lingering under the surface. Sable had always been good about putting on a smile to cover up her insecurities.
He does make a pretty dog, I agreed, patting Hylan's side with my paw. Basking in our attention, the huge dog happily rolled over onto his back so we could reach his stomach. And he's better than the other stray you picked up.
Before the game, Andy had been Sable's boyfriend. My sister and I grew up as orphans, our mother having died in childbirth and our dad in a slight gun accident. Okay, so I may have shot him, but like I said, it was an accident. I was six. He was hurting my sister. I don't regret it.
As a result for her quest for love, she had gone through quite a few boyfriends. They all ended up being the scum of the earth and, after a few months, broke up with her or were dumped by her. Andy, however, had started off seeming like a rare gem. Then Sable discovered that he'd had a history of abusing his girlfriends and that he had been setting her up for the same fate.
Andy had also gone into the game with us. Like me, he had lost, and like me, he had been given to Sable as a prize. I'm quite proud and please to say that one of my sister's first acts was to have him declawed and neutered. I would have been happier if Sable had turned him out on the street, but she had too much heart to do that to any living creature. She constantly reminded me that Andy was in the same boat as me, and that I should have a little sympathy for him.
Do I have to remind you of what Andy did? I silently asked, my eyes narrowed to thin slits as I stared at my sister.
I nodded my agreement, reluctantly. I didn't dislike Callisthene, though I had many good reasons to. Like with so much else in our life at that time, our acquaintance with Callisthene began with the Immorals' game.
In a twisted way, Callisthene had won the game as well, except he didn't. It's kind of complicated, but to sum the whole thing up in a nutshell, Sable accidentally won for him. While the humans had to find an assigned location, the Immorals had to use keys given to them in the appropriate locks. Sable had used Callisthene's key in her desperate attempt to get into her room, thus winning for bother herself and the Immoral. Twisted, right?
As much as I wanted to hate Callisthene for being an Immoral, and male, and near my sister, I couldn't. During the game, she had nearly died and it had been Callisthene that had saved her. It had been Callisthene that had kept her safe while we were separated. I couldn't hate a man, human or not, who had put so much effort into protecting my sister like that. Even if he had had his own motives.
However, because the Immorals are dickheads and Callisthene won on a technicality, he got gypped. He was free of his cell, sure, and he could go anywhere he wanted to. But he couldn't touch anything, and no one could see or hear him except for Sable, Hylan and me. Not even Andy could see or hear him.
Now, given all that, it still irritated me that Sable refused to learn how to say his name. How hard was it to say Cal-is-then-e? Did she really have to call him "Mine?" Sometimes I wondered if she did it just to annoy him, me, or both. Probably both.
Reassured that Hylan would stay with my sister, I made my way down the hallway, peeking into the many bedrooms. Sable, with her soft heart, had given one of the rooms to Any, in an attempt to make him feel at least a little comfortable. And to keep me from trying to gut him when he tried to sneak into Sable's bedroom while she slept. I found the orange tabby that had once been a handsome blonde man sleeping comfortably on the bed. Disgusted, I moved on.
Callisthene himself was… well… clearly not human. Callisthene was difficult to describe, especially since, as an Immoral, he was constantly shifting. Like humans changed and grew as they got older, Immorals changed and grew. However, their changes came more rapidly and in far less conventional ways. The only thing about Callisthene that ever remained the same were his vivid green eyes with their blue lightning streaks.
I jumped onto the back of the couch and then down onto his stomach. Rather, I tried to. Rather than actually landing on him, I passed right through him and hit the couch. My fur stood on end as a chill ran through me. I was standing in his stomach, as though he was a ghost or hologram or something. You'd think that I would either get used to it or stop trying to startle him like that. Yet, I didn't.
We're going jogging, I meowed at him. I wasn't really sure if he could understand me. Sometimes he seemed like he could read my mind, and others it seemed like he was taking a shot in the dark at what I wanted to say. I also couldn't really tell what he was feeling. That, actually, annoyed me more than anything else.
Except for Callisthene. I wasn't certain if it was because he was an Immoral, or because he was more like a ghost than a living creature, but I couldn't feel a lick of emotion coming off of him. No amusement, boredom, hate, love, nothing.
Callisthene's eyes darted toward the ceiling, as though he could see through the floor to my sister's bedroom. Maybe he could, I wasn't sure. If I knew for sure he was peeping on Sable, however, you can bed he wouldn't have those eyes for long.
I nodded again. Callisthene still referred to Hylan by the name his people had given the beasts. The hall monitors. Never let it be said that the Immorals were overly creative.
"Tell Pet I'll wait on the beach," Callisthene decided, stretching his arms above his head before standing and heading for the wall. He passed right through it as though it wasn't there.