— Disgraced
The pressure ruptured through the catacombs as the sickly vile rained down upon us. Alice knew the way best, leading me down the stairs, which were slick from the downpour of the adulterated Euphoria.
“I don’t see Stella!” I screamed over the sounds of the mock rain. I already began to feel a numbing warmness fester overtop my skin. Euphoria calmed me down; instead, I felt hyper aware, anxious, and frightened. The voices were beginning to return, but not with coherency.
“We have to keep moving.” She said; her hand gripped my wrist tightly, leading me through the twisting halls.
Unless that isn’t Alice…
Audible hallucinations returned in a demonic and sinister fashion. I turned to the wall to see my other self-staring back mouthing the word, “Grace” over and over…
This won’t help. Nothing could help you.
“Grace.” Alice’s voice rang in my head, “Whatever you’re hearing is not true. It’s just a drug.” Her voice wobbled int my ears menacingly bouncing in and out of tune. At one point all noise receded to a whiny pitch and I thought I had gone deaf.
An explosion of toxins hurled my senses back into their approximate positions. I thought closing my eyes would help still the nausea, but it only worsened as the hallucinations brought me through electric grids of winding tunnels and twisting vines clawing at my throat.
I fell forward catching myself on a steep incline of fallen rock, “This way!” Alice yelled, grabbed my arm and helping me to my feet. We mounted the steps until spilling out into another chamber.
“Does it ever end?” I asked redundantly.
“We’re close, Grace.” Alice said, leading me through another series of tunnels. The spray from the vines had ceased to a halt. The drugs drifted my mind in-and-out of partial disassociation. I felt my body move, and the pain that ached through my skull, but I walked thoughtless.
A rush of fresh, mountain air returned my grasp on reality. The moon shone dimly, through a sparse collection of clouds. The rain had stopped altogether, leaving the ground a wet mess; otherwise, I remained dry.
I took in my surroundings in an attempt to figure where exactly I was. The mountain had yielded me nothing more than a confirmation to feelings I had known all along. If only I had known earlier. All of this might have been avoided. All the pain I felt in my life was wrought with my own hands. It all was in my mind, yet the world soaked through my mind’s poison, casting a sinister shade over my memories.
Alice released her grip on me as I held my weight against the cold bark of a diretree. We had returned to the grove. The trees must have returned to sleep after the celestial events concluded.
“Alex!” Claire screamed, dashing through the boggy soil. Her arms threw themselves around me as I attempted to absorb the force of her momentum.
Jason was behind her, helping a bloodied-Sam limp toward us.
Jason was beaten bad. His face was covered in blue bruises, and ferocious scratches across his neck.
Sam looked even worse. The black puss intermingled with blood, seeping from dozens of open gashes across Sam’s body. His lip was violently split near his chin, forcing him to keep the two flaps closed every time he spat a clump of blood from his throat.
“Are you okay?” Claire asked, “We followed you in, but only found Sam. I was worried those things got you.”
“What happened to them?” I asked.
“Nothing.” Claire said, “They watched us drag Sam away, but that was it. It was horrible, Alex. Their eyes were pale and their mouths!” Grace cried, “Totally fucked.”
I began to recount the events of my escape, but was interrupted by a pair of footsteps approaching from the mine. Keira eyed us suspiciously as she attempted to sneak out of our line of sight.
Alice approached the witch, “If Stella does not come out of the mountain; then, you won’t leave it either.”
“She forfeited her life to me, when I made her who she is. A debt was paid, monster. Nothing more.” Keira continued her strained step.
Alice began to intercept her escape, but stopped in place, “Stell?” She said before the screams of Keira’s voice echoed from the grove. My blood curled as I blocked my ears from the banshee’s shriek; until, all at once the valley returned to a disturbed silence.
“Stella, why?” Alice spoke through her shock.
My ears shook from Kiera’s death sounds. I saw, in Kiera’s place, Stella standing overtop a fresh sapling, bathing in the blood of its former form. Her robes were cast aside, lying in the moist soil of the grove. Stella’s arm was covered in blood, and bits and pieces of Kiera’s innards.
“I gave her what she wanted.” Stella whispered, “I gave us another chance, sister.”
“This mountain has been poisoned. The roots will not weather a year.”
“We’ll see in a year.” Stella sighed, “I just need a break.”
Alice wiped the drying goop from Stella’s face, shaking it off into the topsoil, “We can go dancing. If you’d like.”
“Yes please.” Stella giggled, turning toward me. “Grace,” She said, “Kiera was right about one thing.”
“What?” I asked.
“Sam.” Stella whispered as she moved beside me. Her body was coated in the vile drug, and she kept a firm grip on the hilt of Kiera’s dagger, which glistened red in the dim moonlight.
“So, what if she was?” I responded, “If our friendship died tonight; then, it died. I am a big girl. I can handle it.”
“It’s more than that, sister.” Stella looked at me with a suspicious shadow in the back of her retinae, “He hates you; he will hurt you, and only you. We won’t be here to protect you, but I can now.”
Stella lunged toward Sam, knocking Jason, who was in no condition to struggle, aside. She held the edge of the blade to Sam’s jugular.
“Let him go, Stella, please!” I begged, “If he dies so too does any love I have for you.”
Alice turned to me and lowered to her knees, “Why? He hates you. I have heard his whispers. He has taken to the sap fervently, more so than the others.”
“Alex!” Claire screamed, “Do something!”
“What do you mean the others?” I asked.
“My friends.” Stella said motioning to the cave.
“They were never your friends.” Alice said, “But we are, Stella.”
Sam stared absentmindedly at the woman, who was about to end his life. There was no fight left in him like a fawn left defenseless before the fangs of a wildcat.
Stella shook as her knuckles turned white with the pressure she exerted onto the handle. In one chaotic burst of emotion, Stella threw the blade aside. She stepped off Sam and ran to me.
“Please, Grace.” She said, “I don’t want to leave you here. Come with us. We can figure out your meds just as we will for Alice.”
I picked the knife from the ground, sheathing it in my jean pocket. No longer did the edge shine as vibrantly as it once did, or perhaps it was another symptom of the drug’s departure.
“I can’t run from my old life, Stella.” I said, “I’d just be causing more pain.”
“It is not your responsibility…”
“I know.” I interjected, “But I can’t do that to myself. She gave so much for me to live a life. I can’t leave before I give it a chance, Stella.”
My head roared as my body fought to purge the toxins within my blood. I braced my arm against a nearby tree, while Stella wrapped her arm around my waist.
Stella helped me steady myself as Alice led our group out of the grove. Jason hoisted Sam to his feet as Claire followed in the rear. The vines had closed almost completely, but Alice knew the easiest route. The air brought a relief I thought I would never feel again.
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