I don’t think so, little girl. Pazuzu’s voice echoed into her mind. How dare you HUNT me! I’ll show you what it feels to be an animal caught in a trap.
A slice of pain cut through Ari’s cheek and she cried out, sand and wind whipping up against the open wound. Another one, another one, another! Slice, slash, gash after gash, laceration after laceration ripped into Ari’s skin until she was screaming, collapsing to the ground in agony as her whole body went up in torturous stings and flames.
ARI! Jai was yelling frantically in her head at the same time Pazuzu filled it with his laughter.
She was in too much pain to call back to Jai, shuddering on the ground as the desert storm ate at her wounds. Agony writhed through her, so much so she was barely even cognizant when the storm dissipated.
Jai was leaning over her, his face pale, his hands hovering above her, afraid to touch.
“Ari,” he choked, his eyes so full of worry and horror her heart might have exploded in panic if it weren’t already slamming against her ribs in outcry against the pain. She wanted to reassure Jai but she could only bite her lip, tears streaming over her lids. It felt as if the whole of her insides had been laid bare.
Darkness crept over Jai’s face and she watched in blurry disconnection as he stood to his feet and faced Pazuzu. No! Her brain attempted to fight through the pain. He couldn’t face the Wind Demon. Not alone!
Pazuzu’s laughter echoed around the desert, a manic, forced sound that seemed to enflame her wounds. Ari tried to shout out to Jai only to cough up a thick gunk of blood, her throat raw and unusable. Jai jerked around at the noise, his eyes widening, his jaw tightening with rage. Ari tried to plead with her eyes for him to leave. Instead he turned to Pazuzu, whipping his hand out like he was throwing an invisible curve ball. Pazuzu screamed as his eyes bled pure white, his awkward and grotesque arms flailing out in front of him as if he couldn’t see.
Jai had blinded him?
Yes, she choked on her momentary triumph, more blood bubbling up between her lips and cutting Jai’s victory short. I’m dying. Oh god I’m dying.
“This won’t hold, you child!” Pazuzu snarled before he began muttering something under his breath. At the same time alien words met Ari’s ears as they escaped out from between Jai’s lips. She had no idea what he was saying, but as he rose his arms like a conductor at the orchestra the ground beneath her began to shake, scraping against her wounds. Biting back silent screams, Ari watched as Pazuzu rocked on unstable talons. He cursed and began muttering faster.
Just as the white began to melt from his eyes the ground finally gave way beneath his feet and water gushed up out of it like a geyser. As it descended, cascading down over his head, Pazuzu screamed as if someone was sawing off his twisted limbs. Ari’s eyes widened at the bloody pustules that popped up on his skin where the water touched, smoke pouring from his pores like cold water on hot asphalt. His screams nipped Ari’s ears and she curled deeper into herself. When he fell to his knees, she almost breathed a sigh of relief, despite her wounds.
Desert Spirit. Jai turned to her to explain. Water is poison to them.
If she could have, Ari would have nodded at him. She didn’t care why Pazuzu was going down. All she cared was that Jai was safe.
Afraid to move, Ari waited for Pazuzu to pass out, but instead he howled into the New Mexico desert with hatred fuelling his power. A gnarled hand struck out towards Jai and Ari watched in horror as Jai clasped his throat, his face turning purple as he, too, dropped to his knees. Petrified, Ari slid a hand towards him, the sickening agony of her torn skin matching her sickening fear as Jai began coughing up desert dirt, thick with his saliva and insides. The gooey dirt began seeping from his eyes and nose, even his fingernails. Pazuzu was suffocating him, filling his insides with desert.
No. No! NO!
In all the pain and confusion Ari knew there was something she was supposed to be doing. What? What was it?
Suddenly Pazuzu was kneeling before her, his vile, wounded face grinning at her evilly. “So this is the Seal. What a disappointment you are, child. So easy to kill.”
The Seal! Ari screamed inwardly. She choked, trying to force the command out but she only ended up spitting up more bloody globules. Fury and helplessness gripped her as she saw Jai collapse onto his back, his eyes closing and hands falling limply to his sides.
JAI! Her mind screamed.
Pazuzu laughed again.
Eyes widening as she realized what she’d done, Ari slid her narrowed gaze back to Pazuzu and whatever he saw in her face made him freeze. Got you, you piece of crap.
Pazuzu, I command you to release and heal Jai.
Mouth hanging in horror, Pazuzu immediately turned like a robot at the telepathic command and crooked a hand out at Jai. Her guardian’s eyes flew open and he coughed, spitting up the rest of the dirt as he sucked in shuddering breaths, his eyes wide with panic.
Pazuzu, I command you to heal me.
Furious now, the Jinn spun back on her, his legs collapsing beneath him as his mind gave into her. The palm of one of his twisted hands pressed against her forehead, the slide of his skin reminding her of the feel of the lizard’s skin she’d touched at the zoo in Cincinnati years ago when she’d visited with her dad. Relief washed through Ari as the wounds began to close and heal, the pain dulling to a sting, to a throb, to nothing. Before he could disappear, Ari clamped a hand over his and pinned him to the spot with her unrelenting gaze.
Pazuzu, I command you to undo the illness you placed upon Derek Johnson. Heal him. And afterwards, never come near me or mine again.
Despite the rage burning in his eyes, Pazuzu nodded deferentially and she let him step back. The New Mexico air burst into fire as the Wind Demon disappeared into the Peripatos, where she had no doubt he would head to the hospital to revive her father.
Relief crashed over her, deadening her limbs, and Ari had to drag herself across the desert dirt to Jai who was crawling his way towards her. His face was pale, his eyes slightly haunted as he reached her, a large hand cupping her cheek. Ari nuzzled into it, shocked by the depth of her fear of losing him. “You OK?” she croaked, her throat still raw from being shredded from the inside.
For a moment Jai didn’t say anything and when he leaned into her, her breath caught, her heart crashing against her ribs. He was going to kiss her! He’s going to kiss me!
The excitement fizzled out into something deeper as Jai pressed his forehead to hers, his green eyes seeking something – she didn’t know what – in hers. Frozen, afraid to move, to talk, to break the moment between them, Ari merely waited. For what… she didn’t know.
At last Jai pulled away, nodding jerkily. “I’m fine. You?”
“I used the telepathy to command him.”
“Good thinking.” He coughed again, a spittle of dirt landing on his hand. He grimaced, groaning as he eased onto his feet, reaching a hand down to help her up. “We need to head back.”
Ari frowned, swaying into him as his arms banded around her. “Have you got the energy?”
He nodded, the color still frighteningly absent from his cheeks. “We have to make sure Derek is OK.”
She wanted to kiss him. She wanted to reach up and tug his lips back down to hers so she could enjoy the deliciousness of his mouth this time feeling the way she did about him.
But she wouldn’t.
One Plus One Equals Two Walking Away
It was a miracle they made it back to Sandford Ridge in one piece. The flight had been slow because Jai was still suffering from the effects of having desert try to kill him from the inside out. When they touched down on solid ground they both wobbled, clinging to each other for balance. Smiling abashedly, Jai made sure she was steady on her feet before taking a few steps back from her. Ari would have taken the time to frown but as she glanced over at the hospital the need to see if Derek was awake was far more compelling than whatever was going on with her and Jai at that moment. Stepping out of the Cloak Ari nodded tightly at Jai and moved to head into the hospital. His hand on her arm stopped her and she turned back impatiently. He tugged her back into the shadows of a skinny Buckeye planted next to a large sign with the hospital name on it. Following him behind the sign Ari sighed. What?
“Your clothes.” He gestured to her torn and dirty appearance. “Conjure something clean so people don’t ask questions.”
Focusing took a lot of energy she didn’t have but as Jai’s appearance rippled, transforming from ‘biker in accident’ to ‘clean guy’ Ari conjured a fresh t-shirt and jeans too. With a quick glance to make sure no one had seen them, she strode out from behind the tree and sign, dashing across the ER line to the hospital entrance. She barely looked at anyone as she hurried along the corridors and into the elevator that would take her to ICU. Jai kept pace with her, quietly supportive, as her adrenaline shot her body into the stratosphere. Her heart beat out of time with her steps, her limbs not quite able to keep up with the speed it was racing at, and as she neared the nurses’ station it almost exploded when her father’s nurse, Lucy, came out of his room, her eyes widening as they caught sight of Ari.
Her pretty face blossomed into a bright smile and Ari choked on a sob. Jai’s hand pressed against her lower back as the nurse came towards them, and the delicious warmth of his touch shot through her.
“Ari, he’s awake,” Lucy announced happily. “He woke up an hour ago and the doctors are doing tests just now. You’ll be able to see him soon, I promise.”
“Is he going to be alright?” she asked dumbly, knowing for a fact that he would be. But wasn’t that something a normal relative would ask?
Lucy bounced her head cheerfully. “It’s looking good. His vitals are great and there is no sign of brain atrophy. The doctors just want to make sure they haven’t missed anything and to ask your father some questions. He’s kind of a medical mystery.”
Ari gave her a weak smile as Lucy gestured for her and Jai to take a seat in the small ICU waiting area. “I need to call Charlie,” she said, turning to him with tired eyes. “Do you have a cell?”