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 released a hearty laughter. “You actually believe him?”
Adriel shook his head. Perhaps he’d believed Bry at first, but he was beginning to have his doubts. Still, during his training, he’d been taught that Sẹda was what made an ehol, an ehol. To give up such a valuable aspect of his life would make him just a mere aingeal.
“Do you believe him?” Adriel questioned. He’d heard stories of past ehols dying because of insanity, but Adriel always wanted to think of those things as myths.
Yugi shrugged, nudging Adriel to continue walking down the corridor. “Probably,” Yugi said. “But then again, Bry is old. He gets a little‘aṣiwere,’ if you know what I mean.”
“But what if he’s telling the truth?” Adriel wanted to believe Yugi, but he’d heard the rumors about the Central Octeract, and lately, he’d been experiencing migraines.
Every time he summoned his energy, a slicing pain would cut through his body, rendering him tired after each use. 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 Ujana Age.”
Adriel pulled a breath in. Yugi was right. It wouldn’t be until another ten years before he would even see his Ukuaji Age. 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 Ukuaji Age?
“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.
“Couldn’t you just convince Bry we can control ourselves?” Adriel asked.
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 Asayli, 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 sprawled his wings out, his feet positioned just beyond the landing balcony. He took a breath in, ready to take flight. He jumped, his wings catching his weight, then he pulled himself upward.
Kireh kept his mind on Kidul as he angled his body toward Eros’s palace. The male wasn’t necessarily the smartest ehol, but he got around, and he knew many things. Kireh suspected Eros knew something about Levi and how he led the Central Octeract, but he couldn’t figure out why Eros would stay quiet about it.
Kireh pushed himself down, gliding over a kaleidoscope of colors that lit the ground beneath him. Cities overrun with skyscrapers signaled that he was over the Central Octeract. When fog took shape, he knew it was Daun, the low-lying Kingdom hiding in mist and smoke. He wasn’t in too much of a hurry, so Kireh let his mind wander. He needed to devise a plan before he touched foot on Eros’s landing balcony.
As the mist below him cleared, it revealed the forests connecting Daun and Kekere-Daun together, and soon, he saw the towering fortresses of Kidul peeking through the clouds. So many things boggled his mind. He could ask Eros about Levi, but with the rumors spreading like wildfire, Eros would’ve expected Kireh to already know the situation.
He could probably ask about the deaths.
Kireh angled himself lower, the air scraping his wings.
The city took shape, its walls hanging in mid-air above the Abyss’s deep pits. The lights glowed yellows and whites as High Liners zipped in and out, taking aingeals to and from the city. Kireh lowered enough to see sanyas and aingeals waiting for the next Liner as it pulled up to the station.
He picked up speed, circling the lower fort before he arrived at the landing balcony. His feet grazed the charcoal concrete. Kireh tucked his wings into his back.
Two meetings had passed; Kireh still didn’t have an answer for the Azharanian Council. They were already preparing, and the court date was set for tomorrow. Kireh needed to find a way to get them to postpone it. Yugi still hadn’t gotten any Reapers, and there still was no solid answer from Levi.
If the Council saw it fit, they’d take the situation to the Awọn Mimọ, and if it got there, the Asayli would get involved. Kireh’s chest caved. He couldn’t afford for this to reach the Asayli. Not when They’d already suspected Levi of going insane.
Kireh took in a breath and looked at the fort. Eros had a dull palette. Or, more accurately, an industrial taste in style. The walls were thick slabs of concrete coated with black paint, and the columns were nothing more than raw cement. He pulled on the knocker.
Eros opened the door, letting Kireh in. Inside the main room was worse.
The floor was raw concrete with a dull rug thrown into the center to ‘liven up’ the room. Eros’s taste was nothing like the brightly-colored 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 fort he lived in.
“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’ve taken a personal pledge to take a hiatus from using my Sẹda.”
Eros shook his head. “I spoke to Adriel. If you want me to speak with Levi, I can do that as well.”
“What about Luce?” He’d observed how quiet the ehol was for the past few meetings. Luce, Levi, and Eros were the closest in terms of friendship. The only person who would’ve known about Levi was Luce, but even something seemed off about him.
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. Since then, he’d latched on to Levi, 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 Asayli 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 better 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.”
Something was off.
It wasn’t the tainted blood in the air or the orange-scented embers Eros had come to associate Levi with. It was cold and dark and smelled of copper. It wasn’t sanya’s blood. Sanyas’ blood had a warm touch of iron.
Eros stepped further into the room. The main room at the front of the townhouse was clean and in order, much to Eros’s surprise. Yet, the atmosphere felt off. A string of embers picked at Eros’s skin. He pulled in another breath, choking back the scent of blood caught in his throat.
There were rumors: Levi was feeding on sanyas outside the Sikukuu Ya Damu. Eros had neglected to tell Kireh, but he was sure the male knew about it.
The Sikukuu Ya Damu wasn’t until two months. It was the one time the ehols would be invited to the Temple at Mount Meji to join the Asayli in a feast They monitored. A small vial of blood would be given to each ehol to help stabilize their Sẹda. If Levi was feeding outside the Sikukuu Ya Damu, then it meant he was overfeeding.
It was easy to slip into that.
And what if Levi overfed? It perhaps might strengthen his power and accelerate the Aging process, but maybe it was that very thing causing the insanity. It never mattered now. The scent of blood was proof enough—
“Why are you here?” Levi stepped out of the shadows revealing blood smeared on his clothes and skin.
“To talk,” Eros forced 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. Raw pleasure coated Levi’s voice. “Not give it up,” Eros said. “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. Levi stumbled closer to Eros, the stench 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 Eros and Levi.
Levi’s eyes glowed a poisonous red.
“He’s one of us,” Luce repeated. He swung his head to Eros. “If I were you, I’d leave.”
Eros swallowed again, sweat washing his tunic. He couldn’t move.
He forced himself to move toward the balcony, one foot in front of the other, his leaded steps weighing him down. He pushed his wings out, hoping he’d reach quickly enough to take off. Eros took another look at Levi and saw fangs flash across his vision.
Something was wrong.
Eros launched upward, careful not to stumble over himself as he flew through the townhouse and into the open. Something was wrong with Levi. He’d gone completely insane. Eros raced away from the townhouse, zipping through High Liners as they passed him with intense speed. He didn’t stop. He wasn’t going to say anything to Kireh—at least, not yet.
How did … how did Luce know he was there? At the townhouse? Eros took a breath in, tightened his mental shields. Why did Luce come?
Kireh’s embers drummed on Eros’s shield, threatening to break in. Eros tightened his grip till blood seeped through his nostrils. Another drum on his shield caused it to fly open, and Kireh’s embers rushed in.
<Eros.> Kireh fused his Sẹda with Eros’s synapses. It was better this way, though he’d felt Kireh searching.
<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.>
<I’ll consider Luce.> Kireh’s embers left.