The Bloodlust Power
The Insanity Begins
The thin, drawn-out sound of his name startled him; he swung around only to meet Yugi’s witty, golden-brown gaze.
Adriel sighed, stopping to allow Yugi to catch up with him, the ehol swinging his arm around Adriel’s shoulder.
“What do you say we team up for the festival?” Yugi asked.
“Why?” Adriel was never too fond of Yugi. He’d learned to be very wary of the other ehols—especially Yugi.
Yugi’s smile got wider. “You’re Ọba of Kekere-Daun, and I’m of Daun. It would be easier on us both if we just paired up.” His smile quivered with excitement as he spoke.
He knew why Yugi came to him. The Orin-Jua Festival often required each Ọba to present the first harvest’s offerings, and Daun wasn’t necessarily an agricultural Kingdom. Yugi and Eros always came to him around this time to purchase something from his Kingdom since Kekere-Daun had mainly forests and fields.
Adriel took in a breath. He’d only been an Ọba for three years—he was the youngest ehol. It wasn’t fair they were coming to him for help. “How do you feel about what Bryël said?” Adriel asked, quickly changing the subject.
Yugi arched his eyebrows at the question but soon let out a hearty laugh that shook the ground. “You actually believe him?”
Adriel shook his head. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. He could never tell. While he was training, he’d been taught that Sẹda was what made an ehol, an ehol. To give up using such a valuable thing would only deplete an ehol to a mere aingeal. He couldn’t quite understand why Bryël would’ve wanted the ehols to give up using their power.
“About going insane,” Adriel continued. “Do you believe that?” He’d heard the stories of past ehols dying because they couldn’t control their power flow, but Adriel always thought of those things as myths. There was no way an ehol could die from insanity.
Yugi shrugged, nudging Adriel to continue walking down the corridor. “Probably,” Yugi said. “But then again, Bry is old. He gets a little ‘onye ara’, if you know what I mean.”
“But what if he’s telling the truth?” Adriel wanted to think Bry was lying.
He wanted to believe Yugi, but even though he’d written off the past stories as myths, he’d heard the rumors about the Central Octeract. And lately, he’d been experiencing migraines himself. Every time he summoned his energy, a slicing pain would cut through his body, rendering him tired after each use. But Adriel had long shrugged it off, chalking it up to lack of Sleep.
“You worry too much,” Yugi said. “Even if that were to happen, it wouldn’t be until another lifetime. Especially you. You’re in your Age of Youth.”
Adriel pulled a breath in. Yugi was right. Adriel was only twenty-five years old, still in his Age of Youth. It wouldn’t be until another ten years before he would even see his Age of Growth. He shouldn’t have to worry about that now.
“But what about Leviathan?” Adriel asked. “He can’t be going insane. He’s still young.”
Yugi stopped, prompting Adriel to stop as well. “You think Levi is young?”
Adriel nodded. Wasn’t the ehol in his Age of Growth? That was young in Adriel’s book.
“Levi is overusing his Sẹda. I’ve seen it for myself. I wouldn’t blame him, though. Using power is quite addicting.” Yugi smacked his lips.
Adriel couldn’t disagree. If it weren’t for the migraines, Adriel would’ve probably licked it off the very ground, yet he still continued to use it even though it ripped through his body, threatening to unmake him if he dared to push his luck. The power was almost orgasmic, an adrenaline rush. But he still believed he could control how much he used.
“Couldn’t you just convince Bry we can control ourselves?” At least he hoped it was true for the rest of the ehols.
Yugi shook his head. “The god is old-fashioned. He would never listen to a thing I say.” Yugi continued walking. “Of course, Bry also gets his orders directly from the Divine Throne, and once They make a decision, everything else is pretty much a done deal. Unless Bry convinces Them to change Their minds, and by the looks of things, he won’t.”
Kireh spread his wings out.
Feet positioned just beyond his landing balcony, he took a breath in, ready to take flight. He jumped, allowing his wings to catch his weight, and then he pulled himself up in the sky.
Kireh kept his mind firmly on the location. He angled himself in the direction of Eros’s palace. Eros wasn’t necessarily the smartest ehol, but he got around and knew many things. Kireh had long suspected Eros knew about Levi’s dictatorship-style of ruling the Central Octeract, but he couldn’t figure out why Eros would’ve kept silent.
Kireh pushed himself down, gliding over a kaleidoscope of colors that lit the ground beneath him. Cities overrun with skyscrapers signaled he was over the Central Octeract—an entire Kingdom surrounded by the waters that delved into the Abyss.
When fog took shape, he knew it was Daun, the low-lying Kingdom hidden in mist and smoke. It would take him another fifteen minutes to get to Kidul if he maintained this speed, but he wasn’t in a hurry. Kireh wanted to let his mind wander. He wanted to come up with some plan of action before he touched foot on Eros’s balcony.
The mist below him cleared, revealing the forests of Daun and Kekere-Daun interconnecting. He would soon be there. What would he say to Eros? He could ask Eros about Levi’s way of ruling the Kingdom, but with the rumors spreading like wildfire, Eros would’ve expected Kireh to already know that. He could probably ask about the deaths.
Kireh angled himself lower, the air scraping his wings. The fortified city came into shape, its walls seemingly hanging in midair above the Abyss’s deep pits that descended into black. The city’s lights glowed yellows and whites, illuminating the High Lines as Kireh dipped below them, heading toward the city gates.
He heard the sounds of Liners zipping past him, from one regency to the next, and he heard the sounds of aingeals and sanyas hustling to catch the next Liner as it approached the station. Kireh picked up speed, circling the palace before he reached the landing balcony at the back. His feet grazed the charcoal concrete, and he tucked his wings into his back.
Two meetings had passed, and Kireh still never had a solid answer for the Board of Council. They were already preparing their trials, and they had set the court date for tomorrow; somehow, Kireh had to find a way for them to postpone it. Yugi wouldn’t have his Reapers ready until the festival, and no matter what Kireh did, Levi refused to cooperate.
If the Board of Council saw it fit, they would take everything to the higher court—the Awọn Mimọ.
Anything that reached the Awọn Mimọ would attract the attention of the Divine Throne. Because it meant an Ofin Mẹrinla was broken. Kireh couldn’t afford for that to happen.
Kireh took in a breath and looked over the palace. Eros had a dull palette. Or, more accurately, an industrial taste in style. The walls were thick slabs of concreted coated with black paint, and the columns were nothing more than raw cement.
Eros opened the balcony door, letting Kireh in. Inside the main room was worse.
The floor was raw concrete with just a dull rug thrown into the center of the room to ‘liven up’ the hostile environment. Eros’s taste was nothing like the kawaii-looking ehol standing in front of Kireh.
With his cherry-blossom skin complementing rose-colored hair braided down his back, Eros was very different from the room he owned.
“Why are you here?” he asked, his thin blue eyes narrowing at the sight of Kireh. “This is about Levi, isn’t it?”
Kireh nodded. “Any intel is good intel.”
Eros led Kireh to a leather-upholstered chair; Kireh sat, making himself comfortable. “The only thing I can add is he’s killing sanyas.”
Kireh tightened his lips. “That’s an issue.” He wished the statement sounded more pitiful, but it came out harsh and cold. If Levi was killing sanyas, it explained the bizarre uptick in deaths, but none of the Reapers Kireh spoke to reported collecting any additional souls. “How long have you known this?” Kireh probed. “And why is he killing them?”
Eros sat in an armchair adjacent to the balcony door. “He claims these are punishments for crimes. As far as how long he’s been doing this, I can’t give you an answer. But I will tell you I’ve taken a personal pledge to take a hiatus from using my Sẹda.”
Eros shook his head. “I spoke to Adriel.” Eros shook his head. “If you want me to speak with Levi, I can do that as well.”
“What about Luce?” For the past few meetings, he’d observed how quiet the ehol was. Luce, Levi, and Eros were the closest in terms of friendship. The only person who would’ve known about Levi was Luce, but the ehol seemed saturated with anguish the day Kireh had called the first meeting.
Eros shrugged. “I don’t know.” He pushed himself back into his chair. “I’ll ask him. I think he pities Levi.”
“I’ve observed. I think it’s best you confront Levi first.”
“I will.” Eros smoothed his hair down. “Luce is the closest to Levi out of all of us.”
“That’s why I’m worried about him.” Luce had just been inaugurated as Ọba of Lower Kalér five years ago. He’d latched on to Levi since then, admiring the way Levi ran his Kingdom. So far, nothing unusual was happening in Lower Kalér, but Kireh was told to keep an eye on him two years ago when the Divine Throne had made Their annual rounds.
Kireh got up and headed to the balcony. “What time is best? I can come with you.”
“No need. Levi is extremely private. It would be best if I talked to him alone. I will let you know what he says on the morrow.”
Kireh stretched his wings, ready for flight. “Keep your word.” He launched from the balcony.
Eros sensed something was off.
It wasn’t just the blood that tainted the air or the way Levi’s orange-scented embers attempted to cover it. It was the cold smell of copper that tinged the blood.
Sanya’s blood had a warmer iron scent to it. This was different. This was strange.
Eros stepped further into Levi’s townhouse. The main room was clean, and everything was in order, but the atmosphere was off. A string of embers picked at Eros’s flesh, the goosebumps dotting his skin. Eros pulled in another breath, choking back the scent of blood caught in his throat.
Eros heard rumors Levi was already feeding on sanyas outside the Sikukuu Ya Damu, but he neglected to tell Kireh. He feared he would’ve been held responsible for all of it.
Levi killed sanyas; Eros believed it. He was killing them to satisfy his bloodthirst.
The Sikukuu Ya Damu wasn’t until two months. The Divine Ones would invite the ehols to the Temple at Mount Meji, and a small vial of blood would be given to each ehol to help stabilize their Sẹda and increase its vitality. It was a monitored feast. One only the Divine Ones could chaperone. If Levi was feeding on blood outside the special feast, it only meant Levi was probably overfeeding. It was easy to slip into that. Blood strengthened Sẹda with its energy. Just a drop of blood could cause a headache strong enough to knock any ehol into Sleep.
But what if Levi overfed? What if Levi was taking in too much blood? It could very well strengthen his power, causing him to accelerate his Aging process—or turning him insane. It never mattered now; the scent of blood strong in the air was proof enough he was breaking protocol.
“Why are you here?” Levi stepped out of the shadows to reveal blood smeared on his clothes and skin.
“To talk.” Eros’s throat constricted until he had to force the words out.
Levi shook his head, a smile forming on his lips. “I’m not submitting myself to Bry’s silly wish. The taste of power is too fresh and filling. I refuse to give it up.”
Eros swallowed the lump in his throat. The raw pleasure coating Levi’s voice sent chills down his spine. “Not give it up. Just use it less.”
Levi vigorously shook his head, stumbling toward Eros. He steadied himself, bracing a hand against the wall. Levi’s hair drooped over his face, wet and sticky. “I said what I said.”
The blood overpowered Levi’s natural embers, turning it into something raw and putrid and sickly. Levi stumbled a bit closer to Eros, the smell of death on his breath causing Eros to step back.
Then cherry blossom embers snaked into the room—Luce.
“He’s one of us,” the ehol said, stepping between both Eros and Levi.
Levi’s eyes turned a poisonous green glow—just the veiny white of his eyes and neon-glowing irises. Levi stopped, holding his head up.
“He’s one of us,” Luce repeated. “If I were you, I would leave,” Luce commanded Eros, but Eros’s feet were planted firmly on the ground. “Go!”
Eros launched himself backward, trusting the reflexes of his wings to catch his weight and elevate him. He made it out on the balcony before he saw Levi flash him nauseating fangs. There was something seriously wrong with Levi. Eros flew away, daring himself to not look back. It was true. Levi had gone completely mad.
Eros zipped through the High Lines making his way to Kidul. He wasn’t going to say anything to Kireh. At least, not yet. There was something off. Something Eros couldn’t really put together. How did Luce know he was there? And why did Luce even bother to come?
Eros tightened his mental shields, just in case Kireh tried to peer, but the ehol still managed to snake his way into Eros’s mind. The embers of Kireh’s Sẹda drummed on Eros’s shield, threatening to break in. Eros held his grip tighter, blood seeping out his nostrils the tighter he held. Another drum on his shield forced Eros to let his mind fly open, Kireh’s embers rushing in.
<Eros.> Kireh wasted no time fusing his Sẹda with Eros’s synapses. If it had to be done, it was better this way. Eros wouldn’t have to risk using his own power to communicate.
<I learned nothing,> Eros lied. He pushed the thought of Levi to the back of his mind.
There was a stillness to Kireh’s power—he was pondering. <Then I want to speak with him.> The words raced through Eros’s mind, too fast for him to process. <Where is he?>
<I’m not sure. But I’d suggest you don’t go alone.>
Kireh never budged. <I’ll consider Luce.> Kireh’s embers left.