Jonathan’s canines poked out of Aijun’s gums. He roared in Adrik’s face to let out the pain building inside him. Adrik stayed pressed up against the wall even though Jonathan had let go a while back. He was still gasping for air.
“Stop it! Stop it, I won’t kill you- I won’t-” Adrik whimpered. He balled himself into the alley with his chained arm still connected to Jonathan. His eyes were still glowing and his fangs hung long and outstretched out of Aijun’s mouth.
Aijun had subsided when Jonathan took the front. When Jonathan calmed himself down, Aijun refused to come forward. So the young boy stood there, in Aijun’s body, with full permission to do whatever he pleased. Why would Aijun not want to come back out?
“Let me take the medicine to my mom. I’ll give you guys everything I have for it. Please.” Emma was still too stunned to say anything as she numbly handed him the bottle. Jonathan straightened the shirt Aijun was wearing and was thankful he didn’t rip holes in it. There wasn’t much else he could wear if he ruined that shirt.
Jonathan took off toward his mother's house with the bottle held tightly in his hands. He did it! Somehow, someway, he’d managed to get the cure for his mother. Nothing else mattered besides her. Not Aijun, not his pride, and not Adrik.
“Careful kid, you’re true colors are showing,” Aijun whispered in his head.
“Does it hurt anyone?” Jonathan answered.
The others followed him. Adrik grumbled about his arm being nearly ripped off when Jonathan entered his mom’s house. Emma and Finn were right behind them with Arve on his back. The desert sun was hotter than anything in Carnil or Cape Rilitte, and they weren’t used to it. Sweat beat off of Finn and Emma’s foreheads.
“Mom! Arve did it! He got you the cure!” Jonathan yelled over the groaning coming from the others. His mom came limping out of the kitchen. Her left foot was already being affected. It had started with his toes, and then her foot. The disease was making its way up her calf. But that didn’t matter anymore.
“Baby, we can’t afford to pay for that. Not even for half of it…” The mother stared at the medicine she so desperately needed.
“Arve doesn’t care about stuff like that. Just pay us whatever you can afford to give. He’s just a nice person. Crazy, but nice.” Finn told her. Arve’s eyes stayed closed, but a flicker of a smile reached his lips.
Adrik stood with his mouth open wide. Were they telling him that this kid did this? And just because it was the right thing to do? But he was a kid. And cursed. There was no way a demon would do something for someone else.
“You would really give me this? You don’t even know me,” The woman took the bottle from Aijun’s hands. Jonathan was still in charge of the body, and let his eyes glow to tell everyone it was him.
“Yeah, you barely know her. Why give her this?” Adrik was also trying to understand. He couldn’t fathom the idea that a cursed demon would do something just out of the kindness of his heart. Maybe the demons wanted money. But that isn’t evil. You need money to eat. Money to feed themselves, and apparently replace a loading board they lost.
“I’ll pay you. I have a bit of money saved up. But I have one request. I know I’m not in any position…” Mrs. Clements handed Emma an envelope full of cash. It was more than Johna had paid, but not enough to be comfortable for a while.
“Name it, and it’s done.” Finn smiled warmly. This put Mrs. Clements at ease. This put Adrik on edge. He would never expect this from a demon.
“Take my son, Aijun, and Adrik with you when you leave Meolin.”
The room went silent. Take Adrik? There was no problem with Aijun and Jonathan coming with. That had kind of become the plan over time. But Adrik? Was she insane?
“I know. Adrik is a sergeant, and isn’t very kind to things he doesn’t understand. But that’s the thing. I think he could understand, if you forced him to. Take him with you, okay?” Mrs. Clements urged.
“Mom… why are you sending me away?”
Mrs. Clements came to stand in front of Aijun’s body. Her son reflected in his eyes, and she stared into those yellow glowing orbs.
“Baby, all your life I haven’t the slightest clue what to do with you. Life is determined to curse and kill your soul. But through all of it, you keep living anyway. I can’t keep you here when I know your destiny is to be so much more.” Tears leaked from her eyes, and she smiled through them. “This isn’t goodbye. Just a see you later.”
Jonathan hugged his mother. He wasn’t going to cry. He wouldn’t do that to Aijun’s bad boy image. Adrik awkwardly held his arm out when Jonathan used both arms to hug his mother.
“Not to ruin the moment, but I am not going with a bunch of cursed illegal mercenaries.” Adrik said when things finally came into focus. The mother had just thrown him in with the lot without even asking. Understand them? How could he possibly understand monsters.
A knock sounded at the door and Arve opened his eyes.
“Don’t answer. Bad dudes…” Arve grumbled. Finn patted the small boys head. He never thought he would be capable of worrying about the monster that was Arven’s curse, but here he was. The kid didn’t make so much as a move to get off of Finn’s back. Emma pushed Finn back from the door.
Finn wouldn’t be able to defend himself with the kid on his back. Jonathan went to the front with Adrik following behind and swung the door open. Three large sergeants stood at the doorway, and Jonathan’s mouth hung open. They carried silver, salt, and crosses on their belts, and guns at their hips.
“Adrik. You’ve been missing for nearly a whole cycle. Is there a problem?” The tallest man asked. Adrik was about to speak, but felt the poke of a gun against his back.
“Problem? Of course not. We were just discussing things.” Adrik’s voice sounded two octaves higher than normal, and his smile was sarcastically wide.
“Then come back with us. Chief is giving us all sorts of hell,” The shorter one commented. Adrik started to sweat and he squeezed his hands together. How did he signal that he wasn’t okay, without saying so and getting shot in the back?
“Actually, I’ve still got some business with Mrs. Clements and her friends. Why don’t you wait for me at the market?” That should have done it. Adrik would never disobey Chief’s orders for some unimportant matter like this. The three sergeants stood there, unbothered. They clearly hadn’t received the correct message.
“Alright then. We’ll be waiting by the market for you. Have a nice day, m’am.” They walked off her small porch with a tilt of their hats. Adrik gaped. How could they have not known? What kind of airheads-
“Problem solved then. Let’s get going.” Finn was started to lean forward from Arve being on his back for so long. He needed to start working out again if he couldn’t carry this kid for a little bit.
“Mom, I’ll see you later…” Jonathan hugged his mom one last time before Aijun faded back into the front of his mind. Jonathan had forced him forward on purpose, so that he wouldn’t accidentally cry in front of his mother. How would he face her after being so unmanly?
Emma and Finn waved goodbye before walking out the door. Adrik was dragged along by Aijun, who still looked beyond angry. He didn’t say anything to Adrik. Which was unusual compared to his usual overly flirty attitude toward everyone.
They walked down the long sandy road toward the market when Adrik was grabbed from behind. He thanked his lucky stars. The other sergeants did realize that he was in trouble!
Finn reached for his sword but before he could, Arve shoved his hand away with as much force as he could manage. At the same time, Emma discretely brought out a gun, and Aijun’s eyes glowed a fierce yellow. Both threats made the sergeants flinch back in fear.
“He’s coming with us, I’m afraid. Better luck next time.” Emma scowled. She waved the gun around in the air, which signified that she didn’t know how to handle a gun, or how to use one. The tallest sergeant came forward and tore the revolver from her hands.
So she kicked him where the sun didn’t shine.
Doubling over, she took the gun back and aimed it at the other two sergeants. They raised their hands and backed away. Emma didn’t feel like being messed with, so she kicked the guy in front of her again, and pulled Aijun toward her.
There was a beat of silence.
Aijun and a reluctant Adrik stood behind Emma’s protection, with Finn close by. The sergeant on the ground was recovering but not quickly enough. She could shoot one, but then the other two would get her. There wasn’t enough time to shoot all of them, especially as unskilled as she was.
Emma, Aijun, and Finn took off in the other direction. Adrik being pulled along like usual.
They ran through the market area, where people milled around like a normal afternoon. No one paid them any attention as they ran past, or when the sergeants yelled for them to stop. Yehun was known for not quite enjoying their military presence.
Finn was losing his hold on Arve. As awake as he was, Arve was sure he didn’t have to energy to outrun anything. Finn started to slow down, and Arve knew that it was only a matter of time before he was dropped, or caught.
“Would you get mad if I pulled your sword?”
“Doesn’t sound like a ‘no’ to me.” Arve reached tiredly for Finn’s sword. He was about to unsheath it when Aijun came up and pulled Arve onto his back. Finn’s eyes lit up from the relief.
“You saved my life, so it seems I owe you one…” Aijun panted. The sergeants were pushing past people who had congested the market place up. The ports were over a few large sand hills. Running wouldn’t last forever. They didn’t have the stamina for it.
The group exited the village and ran into the open sand of the desert. If they hadn’t know the ocean was merely a hill away, it would have been as if they were running into the desert with no plan for survival.
Adrik did everything he could to try and slow Aijun down. But he couldn’t. Tripping didn’t work. Trying to just stop running only resulted in getting dragged, and trying to touch the kid would definitely get him punched. It was starting to look like he would really get pulled onto their boat and into their lives. He would certainly catch a curse if that happened.
“Just leave me here,” Adrik squeezed out in between heavy breaths. Adrik was willing to be set free and leave the demons be at this point. It wasn’t beneficial for them to be so close to the curses anyway.
“No can do. Besides, you’re better off coming with us anyway.” Aijun consoled him. Arve was clinging to his back, and was getting steadily heavier as they went. Aijun wasn’t sure how Finn had even made it this far with the kid on his back.
“How could it possibly be better?” Adrik shot back. Aijun didn’t bother to respond. No matter what he said, it wouldn’t change Adrik’s perspective of them. Why even take him with? Wouldn’t it be better to just break these chains and throw Adrik to the curb? Those thoughts whirled in his head and no clear answer could really be made.
The ship was in sight; Finn was feeling deja vu.
Emma reached the rickety dock first. She lowered herself down onto it carefully and sprinted toward the old ship. It was then that she remembered they still hadn’t bought a loading dock. The rope Arve had used to get off was still hanging from the railing. Emma jumped from the dock to the rope, caught it, and climbed up.
Finn was next. And then Adrik and Aijun. Aijun used Jonathan’s inhuman strength to literally throw Arve up to Finn. Luckily, Finn was able to catch the kid. Aijun started to leap for the rope, but was put to a stop when Adrik refused to jump with him.
The three sergeants were just making it to the dock. They had seconds to make the jump.
Emma was screaming, and waving the rope closer and closer to Aijun. Finn had set Arve down and was opening the sails and starting to unhook the ropes.
It was now or never.
Aijun grabbed Adrik’s face. Before any complaint could be made, Aijun kissed Adrik.
Absolute shock hit Adrik like a freight train. Aijun was kissing him. No, wait. A demon was kissing him. He found himself unable to fight back when Aijun threw him over his shoulder, and grabbed the rope just in time.
The boat sailed out of the port at record speed, leaving the sergeants in the dust. The sergeants couldn’t shoot because if they missed, they would hit Adrik on accident. It was better he be alive and kidnapped than dead and free.
Finn calmly lifted the rope up and took Adrik’s free hand. Finn pulled Adrik up and then Aijun. They sailed passed the sandstone cliff and out into open water. A collective sigh of relief was in order.
“Does this feel somewhat familiar?” Finn wondered aloud. He wanted to yell at Arve for getting them into more trouble so early in their travels, but it seemed unfair to yell at an unconscious kid.
“You’re all crazy! Bring me back right now! I don’t want to be cursed!” Adrik screamed. His cheeks were flaming red from the kiss, and from his reaction to it. Somehow it wasn’t his first reaction to push Aijun off of him. The most embarrassing thing ever was, he would have let Aijun keep kissing him if they hadn’t been chased.
“Curses don’t spread. They are handcrafted by witches to suit a specific person. And curse is such an ugly word. Use something else.” Finn complained. He wasn’t so sure how Adrik would handle being on this ship with them. There was limited food, water, and places to sleep.
“What would you suggest I call it?” Adrik ground out.
Emma looked out at the endless sea and an idea popped into her head. Dictionary class when she was tutored at the castle really did help with something!
“Well, curse is synonymous with profanity. How about Magical Profanities?”