My feet pounded the earth as I pushed them as fast as they would go through the forest. Trees swirled past in green and brown blurs and animals scurried out of my way as I treaded farther into the woods. I was a woman on a mission…a mission to get away from him. I heard only the sounds of my sporadic breathing and my thunderously beating heart. Of course I couldn’t hear his pursuit but I felt his presence. It was as if his essence was calling out to me, surrounding me, only to envelope me in its darkness. I could feel him closing in on me. My head quickly turned right and left; I looked in front of me and behind me, my eyes never lingering on one thing too long. I was seeing, yet not seeing, all at the same time. He could be anywhere, and he could be any thing.
Fear was steadily building inside of me as my feet kept their pace. Was he instilling this fear? My heart hammered inside of my chest painfully, and I felt that my instincts were leading me straight to him. No matter where I turned or how far I ran, he would always find me.
My legs began to ache with exertion and I came to a halt, doubling over with my hands on my knees attempting to catch my breath. I knew he would come then, he always did.
My breathing became regular once again, my heart rate slowed, and the ache in my legs had almost subsided. I straightened my posture only to come face to face with a panther. Its oily black fur and bright yellow eyes did not intimidate me as much as its all knowing stare and complete stillness had. The panther was too calm and too focused to be just an animal. It was him. He had become this panther. I held my position, standing tall and attempting to appear fearless.
"What do you want from me?" I asked the beast.
You know what I want, Amelia.The voice seemed to echo inside my brain.
Before my eyes the animal transformed into the familiar form of a man I once knew. My eyes took him in from head to toe. I started from the dirty blond hair that stood up in wild disarray, shifting to the perfectly sculpted body that I knew was hiding under his tightly fitting t-shirt, and my eyes flowed downward from there. I saved his eyes for last because gazing into those onyx pools of darkness sent a chill down my spine. His face was hard and emotionless, not at all the way I remembered it.
He had given himself over to the darkness and became what I had so long ago feared. He was soulless now as he gazed upon me silently. His eyes were like a vacuum, sucking me in and attempting to take my soul.
"Amelia," he said with more emotion than his eyes could convey.
"Eli," I responded with as much hostility as I could muster.
There didn’t used to be hostility between us. I could remember a time when it was just the opposite. When his eyes were blue, his smile bright, and he was…human. I could feel my body grow rigid with the thought. He had long since become something else, something more menacing. Eli was a predator now; he toyed with and stalked his prey.
"I didn’t come here to hurt you, you know," his deep voice came low in almost a whisper. It still held the power to make my knees weak, but also raise the hairs on the back of my neck in fear.
I said nothing.
"There you stand rigid and tense while your fingernails are biting into your palm." He stalked closer with a devilish smile upon his face. "Am I really something to fear?" He chuckled darkly.
"Is love really something to fear, Amelia?" His blue eyes were pleading and full of emotion. "Take a chance on me and you won’t regret it, I promise."
"Fine, E, one date. That’s all you get to prove yourself." I smiled up at him, getting lost in the sea of his eyes.
I snapped back to the present, wishing that I could take it all back. If I could just take back those two sentences that had allowed him into my life, I wouldn’t be standing here facing this living nightmare.
"Isn’t that what you want? To be feared? You’re a monster," I accused.
"Easy now, I wouldn’t be so quick to throw accusations, if I were you. You can’t run from what you are."
"You can’t run from what you are, Amelia. You’ve been chosen, don’t you see? I knew that you were the one that I was supposed to find. I could feel it." Eli’s eyes were sparkling with excitement.
I had long ago renounced what I was. I had resolved to just being human. The power could corrupt and I was too young to see it then, but I knew now. "What I am? What do you mean what I am?"
"You’re a shifter…like me," he admitted. "But your mark, it’s the mark of the chosen one." He traced the mark in my palm with his finger.
I shook my head, clearing it of the memory. Was he dredging up old memories? Was he projecting them into my head? Surely his powers hadn’t gotten that strong.
"I’m not running from anything. I know what the darkness can do to you. I experienced it first hand," I finally replied.
When I was a teenager, my powers had manifested. I woke up one morning angry at the world, wishing that I could just fly away and I did. I had shifted into an eagle and soared out of my window. At first, I freaked out. I didn’t know what was happening or how I was able to fly. I didn’t realize that I had transformed into something other than my human form until I caught sight of myself flying past a store window. I was a beautiful white and brown eagle.
I had heard my family speak of shifters but I didn’t believe the myth.
A shifter’s parents carried an extra gene that was passed on to their children. There were many carriers of the shifting trait. It was often passed on as just that a trait, but mating with another person that had this trait would cause the reproduction of a shifter.
The change often occurred when the shifter hit adolescence. It was a survival instinct to change; when my body willed it forth, it happened. I wanted so badly to fly away from the arguments with my family that unknowingly, I started my change. It was almost like humans were evolving again, changing into something more, but not everyone was a shifter. There was only one shifter born in a family that carried the gene. It was unheard of to have more than one shifter per family.
There was also a dark side to being a shifter. A shifter was a protector, protecting from the darkness, but ironically every time a person changed forms they began to lose a piece of themselves. They were being pulled into the darkness. Shifters were only supposed to change forms to protect, not to take leisurely strolls as a tiger. Abusing your power put you on the fast track to making deals with the devil, so to speak.
I was a victim of the darkness. I shifted because I could, and soon I went from happy teenage girl to dark and emotionless. I lost my morals; the laws meant nothing to me. I took what I wanted and did what I wanted. My family didn’t even mean anything to me anymore. I was a one woman show, I didn’t need anybody. But it all caught up to me. I was alone with nothing and no one. I couldn’t go home because I had no home. My family had given up on me because I had given up on myself. I had no respect for anyone and the things I did were wrong. I took and took until I finally took an innocent life. I had become too far gone to reason. The woman was in the way of what I wanted, and I killed her with no remorse. When the realization of what I had done had finally caught up with me, I made a vow that I was done with shifting. I fought back against the darkness and gradually managed to stop shifting. I got myself together and eventually went to college, where I met Eli.
"The darkness is like a drug, Eli. Once you’ve experienced it you have to have more. It’s like the perfect high, but it has its consequences."
I thought for a moment about the life I had taken all because she was in the way of me and the man I was having an affair with. He was her husband, but I wanted him, and back then I took what I wanted no questions asked. I didn’t love him because I was incapable of emotion. He was just an object that I wanted to possess. I was a foolish child back then, but not anymore.
"But you are the chosen one. You –" he started.
"Stop saying that! Just stop!" I traced the three lines in my palm. They resembled a piece sign without the circle around it.
"I don’t want to hear it! Just stop!" I yelled.
"Why won’t you just listen to me? We need you!" he begged, still gripping my hand.
I snatched it away. "Listen to me. You have to stop shifting! It’s dangerous." I pleaded with him.
"Stop it! Stop taking me on trips down memory lane!" I screamed at him as I was brought back to the present. "I don’t want to remember who you were before you became this…this animal. I don’t want to remember that you used to be capable of emotion."
"Is that what you think?" he asked. His dark eyes were scorching as he gazed down into mine. He was standing directly in front of me now.
"It’s what I know."
"You also know that you are the chosen one, our leader, and you are supposed to be mine," he reminded me.
"We are meant to be together. Our marks…they go together. I have the circle and you have the lines to form the sign of peace. We are supposed to be together, and you are supposed to rule...to save us…to fight the darkness." His blue eyes were pleading.
"They are just lines, Eli, nothing more. It’s just a birth mark. I don’t have any powers." I didn’t want to get pulled back into the darkness. It was always tempting, always at the back of my mind, but shifting led to the darkness and I couldn’t wreck what I had tried so hard to correct.
"What I said then was true, I don’t have any powers," I lied.
"I don’t believe you," he whispered with a smile, caressing my cheek with his fingertips.
I pushed him away with all my force, watching as his body flew through the air. He hit a tree, breaking it in half with the force of impact, but he got to his feet and walked back toward me unscathed.
I knew that my powers were still there. I was fast, faster than any human, but I never used my speed. I was strong, but I kept my super strengths at bay. I too could project with my mind, but I could only send a sentence or two into someone else’s mind. He could project scenes, whole memories, because he had given in to the darkness. The more you give in, the more power you gain. It wasn’t a fair trade when the losses were more than the gains. As a price for power, you lost your soul.
"You’re very sexy when you get angry." He laughed, walking closer to me.
I held up a hand to stop him where he stood. "I’m going to ask you one more time, Eli. What do you want?" My voice was cutting and anger rose in me.
"I came here to ask you for your help," he stated simply.
Before I could say anything, my mind was whirling with another memory.
"Is that the only reason you sought me out? So that I could aid you in your quest to take over the world?" I asked with tears threatening to flood my vision.
"Amelia, how could you think that?" he asked, stunned.
"Because it’s all you care about. Ever since the day you saw this stupid mark on my hand you’ve been hounding me to join forces, be "the chosen one", face the darkness together. I’ve faced the darkness, been a part of the darkness, but I beat it. I’m not going back. I’m not a shifter anymore. So you can run along. Go find another that is your "prophecy"." The tears began to fall then. I was hurting because I thought he loved me, but all he cared about was the mark on my palm.
"None of that matters more than you. I love you."
I looked into his eyes. They were blue, only darker than before. "Then please stop shifting. I can’t be with you if you don’t. Promise me!"
"You haven’t changed. Was that heartfelt moment supposed to sway me into believing that you love me? You’re so far gone that you are incapable of emotion. You would use any means possible to get what you want," I spat.
With lightening fast speed, he crossed the distance between us. His arms went around me, restraining me as his lips descended upon mine. He enveloped me into a searing kiss as he filled my mind with another memory. This memory was not for my benefit, it was just a memory of the last time our lips touched.
He was standing on the other side of the door as I opened it. It had been two weeks since I had seen him, due to the break for the holidays. I threw my arms around his neck as he pulled me close, touching his lips tenderly to mine. I pulled back and looked into his beautiful dark brown eyes. Dark brown…
I removed my arms from around his neck and stumbled backward. "You’ve been shifting again." It wasn’t a question.
He said nothing.
"You promised. Why, Eli?"
His face was smooth, revealing no emotion. The darkness.
"You don’t understand," he said.
"I can’t do this. I can’t stand by watching you lose yourself to this. Don’t you see that you are hurting me?"
"Goodbye, Eli, forever." I knew that I had lost him to the darkness, and he would never resurface.
Tears fell from my eyes as his lips and tongue took mine hungrily, devouring me. My hands were fisting the front of his shirt, and my sobs were muffled by his lips covering mine. His touch coupled with the memory of our last kiss had reopened wounds that I thought had long since healed. My heart was breaking yet again for the loss of the man that I had once loved. That man was not present, no matter what his insistent kisses said. If anything, his actions just proved how far lost he really was.
He took without permission, urging and insisting with his mouth. This was not the kiss that warmed my insides and made me melt in his arms. The man that I knew would never take without permission; he would never force himself upon me that way.
I pulled away from him to catch my breath, and as I looked into his eyes I felt as if I were gazing into the depths of the abyss. I saw a flicker of something in them…could it be a flicker of emotion? Did he still have some small bit of humanity left?
"You never asked why I needed your help," he said in a quiet voice. "Not once did you ever think to ask why I sought you out."
"You said it yourself, I was the chosen one. I knew why you found me," I assured him.
"Why did you assume that I wanted to take over the world? To your own ears doesn’t that sound like an evil scientist cliché? Shifters are protectors, but at the first mention of the word you assumed that I was evil!" he raised his voice from the careful, taunting whispers before.
I crossed my arms over my chest. "You know, I hear the words coming out of your mouth but I can’t believe them. I’m looking into your eyes, your black eyes, and I’m staring at your face that has lost all traces of the emotion it once held! How can I believe the good in you when there is none?"
"You think I did this out of pleasure? You think I love this power that I’ve gained? Well you’re wrong!" His voice cut through air sharply. "I did this because I had to. I did this for my family."
"Have you lost it, blaming this on your family?"
"I found you because only you could help me protect them. Only you could help me keep them safe. My family is in danger; they have been since the day that I came looking for you. There is only supposed to be one shifter born in a family, but mine is a rare case. It’ s the only one in history that has more than one." He paused, gauging my reaction, but I didn’t react, I just stood there watching him. "I have four brothers and one sister, each of them are shifters."
"That’s not possible," I said more to myself than to him.
"But it is and my family is in danger because of it. Word got out in our world that there was a family of shifters, and soon they were after us. They wanted to study our family, see what was so different in our genetic make up that allowed my parents to produce not one shifter but six."
"They don’t just want to study us, Amelia. They want to use my parents as breeders." His dark eyes had the subtle hint of pleading.
"By they you mean…" I trailed off, not wanting to finish the sentence.
"The shifters that have completely given themselves over to the darkness. They are the darkness now."
"But what could I do?" I asked, already knowing the answer.
"Help me fight. Help me protect them. I won’t betray you, I promise."
"You don’t have a good track record with promises," I pointed out.
"You know why I had to lie to you. My family is important to me. I haven’t given myself over so much that I’ve completely lost my humanity. I still love them and I still love you. Deep down, I’m still E, the same guy you fell in love with," he was begging now, but I could see the truth in his dark eyes.
I could see the glimmer of emotion shining there but could I do it? Could I help him when helping him meant going back on my vow? Would I be able to shift without falling into the darkness once again?
"I know you can, Amelia." He had read my mind, something I was unaware that he could do until now. "You were just a kid back then, but you’re stronger now. You fought off the evil that crept upon you and together we can do it again. You are the chose one, the one to deliver peace to the two worlds and my place is to be beside you, aiding you on your quest," he spoke softly, encouraging me.
His memory came to me at once."Your powers are said to be unparalleled. You are stronger and more powerful than any of us. I know you know this is true. You’ve noticed it too. That’s why you are the chosen one," he tried to explain to me once more.
I stood, biting my lip, trying not to convey the truth in my eyes. I knew I was more powerful than any other shifters I had come into contact with. I could do with ease things they struggled with on a daily basis. I could still speak with my mind, though I wasn’t shifting any more. Most could only speak in their shifted forms. I could cause pain with only a stare when I was in the darkness. I was faster, stronger, and a more efficient predator than most. I was more equipped for the kill than they, but instead of admitting to this I lied.
"E, just give it a rest. I’ve told you, I have no powers and I’m not a shifter anymore." I sighed, exasperated at the constant loop of this conversation.
"I’m not letting you run away this time because I’m going to be right there beside you." He took my hand in his."I love you, Amelia, but I have to protect them with or without your help."This time it wasn’t a memory. He was thinking directly at me.
"I love you too, and I believe you," I thought back.
We walked away hand in hand, silently preparing to protect his loved ones. Once and for all I would fulfill my destiny. I would restore peace among our kind while fighting the darkness with Eli by my side. With my hand in his our destinies intertwined. The lines in my palm touched the circle in his. I was the peace and he was the circle holding me together.
After a minute he stopped. His eyes were searching mine. "Are you sure that you can do this?"
I smiled up at him and took a step back, letting go of his hand. "I’m sure."
I closed my eyes, visualizing the change happening. I was seeing the white and brown eagle that I changed into as a child. I could feel myself grow smaller, and I began to flap my wings. I was flying high above the forest. The feeling was exhilarating. It was a moment of weightlessness, and for time I was carefree as the wind rustled my wings while I soared upward. A black crow soon joined me in flight, and I knew it was him.
Together we can beat this, he thought as he flew by my side.
Together, I thought back.