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Dream caster shadow, p.11
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       Dream Caster_Shadow, p.11

           Adrienne Woods
 
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  It sounded like a really good question at the time, but then the dark smoke surrounding me appeared in my mind’s eye and the answer was clear without the man speaking.

  “Never mind.” I sighed. I remembered the blow of something heavy against my head. My hand automatically went toward my head. “Did you have to kick me that hard?”

  “I didn’t find you. I’m just the unlucky bastard who had to make sure you were okay.”

  “Huh?”

  “Well, you look pretty okay to me. I think it’s time that you need to be going.” He got up and walked with huge strides to the door.

  “Please, don’t tell them I’m okay. I’ll do anything.”

  “You are not my problem, lass.”

  “Please, I’ve never been in the Oblivion before. I’ll clean your house. I’ll do anything.” My wheedling sounded pathetic even to me.

  “See, this is why I heal Hounds and not humans.” He grunted and disappeared through the door.

  He healed hounds. Shadow Hounds. I remember the sniffing and I shivered.

  Shadow Hounds lived off fear. It was like a drug to them, and they became vicious when they tasted it. They weren’t really that aggressive, but they definitely were not the most beautiful puppies out there.

  I leaped out of bed and lunged for the door as I heard the lock clicking into place.

  Not a good sign.

  I tried to open it, hammering on it. Driving the man insane might do the trick, though the tapping on the floor just told me that he was annoyed. This wasn’t enough to set me free.

  Darkness overshadowed the room. My hand flicked the light switch.

  It was dead.

  The last bit of light seeping through the curtains was fading. The darkness suffocated me.

  I rushed to the window and reached for the curtain. I yanked my hand back as it became something hostile, burning the tips of my fingers, yet there was no fire or heat coming from it.

  I moved away from the window as fast as I could. The room started to spin real fast.

  I looked at the blood on my finger and stared at the drop getting bigger and bigger, and then it faded out, and darkness consumed me once more.

  When I came to, I found shackles around my wrists and feet. I was really getting pissed off every time I woke up in captivity. I knew it was because my body was weak and malnourished after the ceaseless torture, but I was sick of it. I was angry at my body for betraying me.

  The floor underneath me started to glow faintly. It seemed the more alert I became, the brighter the light got.

  There was no furniture in the room. It was like I was stuck in the Virtual Realm, in an electric box, unable to escape. I even had the urge to call out for Leigh, but I stopped myself.

  My nerves heightened as the walls rose away from the floor.

  What the hell? My cell floor rose into the air and I was being lifted up to a theater level. I craned my neck to see better. As the walls vanished, the complex of cells revealed itself. It was a weird warehouse-like space, a prison unlike anything I’d ever seen, even in the most fantastical movies. My cell was only one of a warren of dank squares, all of which I assumed housed captives as miserable as I was.

  I scooted further to the center of the room so I wouldn’t fall off the edge of the floor.

  All around me I saw faces.

  They were everywhere.

  This must be what a circus animal feels when the cloth is finally stripped off its cage.

  The room was filled with people of all ages. The wall had completely retreated into the roof and I realized I was indeed in a cage-like structure.

  “Your name?” A loud voice demanded from behind me.

  I whirled.

  Seven people were seated high on a podium. They all had platinum hair, the same color my mother had the last time I saw her.

  A disinterested boy and a girl of about my age were among the group. Next to them was a woman who seemed to be their mother. An older woman sat beside her, and a man who seemed younger than the first woman. Only two men sat in the front row. One I could only assume was Lord Crane. The other one had long hair in a ponytail. I assumed he was my uncle.

  “Your name?” he asked again.

  “Chastity Blake.” The room filled with laughter.

  When the laughter died down, my uncle spoke again. “Your sand,” he ordered.

  I looked down at my shackled wrists. I had no idea what to do. If I lied, they’d see the truth. And if I didn’t, the consequences would be severe.

  “Are you deaf? What color is your sand?”

  “Gold,” I mumbled.

  Laughter tittered around me. The only person not laughing was the old man. “Show us,” Lord Crane ordered. The door to the invisible wall opened. A guard walked in with keys in his grip.

  He unlocked my shackles and stepped away quickly.

  My mind clicked into place. It wasn’t that gold was a laughing matter down here. It was the opposite. They were scared. Some of them were calling my bluff.

  I closed my eyes and let my sand flow free.

  By the gasps and cries of horror from the spectators, I knew what the color was. A sharp pain speared into my hip and I gasped.

  My sand disappeared immediately as the guards assaulted me. Blood gushed from my mouth at the blows and I doubled over, clutching my stomach. One guard aimed his boot at my face, and delivered the final blow.

  Just die, Chas. Just die.

  I groaned as my eyes fluttered open, my body protesting even that slight movement.

  For a split second, I thought Lord Crane had sent me back to Selene’s torture cell, but the glass window on the ceiling told me it was a different cell. I was back in the strange prison with the vanishing walls. I forced my traitor body to rise. I dragged myself to the door, where some bars around eye level allowed me to see out into a dimly lit hallway. I could barely make out the row of cells on the other side.

  “Christina,” a tired voice called.

  Someone gave a hacking cough.

  I wasn’t alone.

  “Christina! Christina!” he yelled again, over and over.

  “Shut the fuck up,” another weary voice said. “Christina is gone. She’s not coming back.”

  I recognized that voice. “Max?” I croaked. “Is that you?”

  “Chas?” He sounded a bit more alert, excited even. “Which cell are you?”

  I lifted my hand through the bars and waved it.

  “Are you okay?” he demanded.

  “I’ll live,” I said. Our reunion would have been much more intimate if we hadn’t been trapped in different cells.

  Just then something rattled in the opposite wall. I jumped into a defensive position, but Max cried, “Food!” I approached the wall and realized it contained a vacuum chute that had deposited a flimsy bowl of colorless gruel.

  “Eat it fast,” he advised me. “The bowl disintegrates so we can’t fashion anything useful out of them.” All around me, I heard the muffled slurping sounds of other prisoners chowing down on their meals. I lifted mine to my lips. It was disgusting, like chewed-up cardboard. I ate every last morsel anyway. I’d been tortured too long to turn my nose up at any kind of sustenance.

  When we were done, I put the now-falling-apart bowl back in the chute. My fingers scrabbled for purchase, any chance I might be able to escape that way, but it was barely as big around as my fist. Not even Mr. Grey would be able to use that chute.

  I made my way back to the door and heard Max doing the same across the hall. “What are you doing here? I thought you were in the Outer. Where’s Margot? Is she here too?” Questions streamed out of me, and I hardly gave Max any time to answer.

  “Margot is missing too?” He sounded worried.

  “I don’t know.” I tried to put him at ease. “I don’t even know what’s real anymore. Selene said she sent the two of you to the Outer. Everyone thinks that’s where you are.”

  He huffed. “Figures.”

  Silence fell for
a few moments. “Figures what?” I asked when I realized that Max wasn’t going to share.

  “Nobody knows I’m missing, do they?”

  “I don’t know, Max. Leigh thinks…” I swallowed my sentence. “It doesn’t matter anymore. He’s not real. Never was.”

  “What are you talking about?”

  “Selene told me what he was. Why didn’t you tell me about Margot almost dying to be with him?”

  “What?” He sounded confused. “What are you talking about? Who told you that?”

  My brain struggled to understand his confusion. “Didn’t Margot die trying to be with him?”

  “No,” he insisted. “Look, my sister does have a thing for the virtual guy, but he never shared her affection, Chas. I would know.”

  “Then why did…” I stopped, thunderstruck. Selene had lied.

  “Why did what?”

  I shook my head, though he couldn’t see me. I felt so stupid all of a sudden. “Nothing. Selene lied about more than just you being in the Outer. What happened, Max?”

  “It’s a long story, but it’s not like we’re going anywhere soon.” So, Max started from the beginning.

  It started with a girl. She snuck in and out of his room at night. At first, he thought she was imaginary. He hadn’t thought anyone would believe him if he told them about her. Max loved the idea of her and didn’t want to tell anyone about the helpless girl who visited him every night. She needed food and water, a shower. He’d been sure she was in love with him. He’d trusted her.

  She had told him she needed his help. That Lord Crane was kidnapping all the Light Casters to find one who could fulfill his needs. Max didn’t know what those needs were. All he knew was that it was some sort of weapon that could destroy Revera.

  It turned out she wasn’t a Light Caster after all. She was working with Lord Crane, the same as Fox. She was helping him kidnap Light Casters by making them trust her first.

  A Dark Caster showed up one night, and then Max had woken up in here. There were more, a lot more, especially from the previous heist that took place a few months ago in Revera.

  Why had Selena kept Max’s disappearance from everyone? What would she accomplish from this?

  I was horrified by the things Max was telling me. Every second or third night, he said, they would take one of the Light Casters and do terrible things to them. So ghastly that their screams were heard all through the night, until they just died down.

  I shivered, thinking of the dream I’d had of Max’s dead body.

  What did Lord Crane want with us?

  Reaching the end of what he knew, Max said, “Chas, how did you get here?”

  “Selene discovered what I am.”

  “What do you mean, what you are?”

  “She knows, Max.” I sighed, filled with resignation.

  “How?”

  “I don’t know. It could be a million things that made her discover it.” The memory of the scarf—the possibility that my own mistake had landed me here and caused so much pain and death—lodged in my throat. I swallowed it down. “All I know is it’s a miracle that she isn’t a Shadow Caster herself.”

  “Chas, are you trying to tell me she wanted to kill you?”

  “Yeah, she would have. But someone out there had a plan for me. I guess I’ll never know what it is now.” I didn’t want to tell him about Reeves and Vera dying to give me a fair chance. If only Reeves had given me up, then all of this might have been over.

  Silence descended for a moment. Then Max asked the question I refused to think about.

  “Where’s Mr. Grey?”

  PART II

  CHAPTER TWELVE

  Making the best of a Shadow Case

  Max found it hard to believe that Mr. Grey had abandoned me. I’d given him the bare minimum of the details, since it still broke my heart to think of Mr. Grey’s betrayal.

  Max was certain that I was mistaken, that I had misunderstood Mr. Grey. An Anitule would never leave a Tula once the bond was forged.

  I remained quiet. I had no idea why Mr. Grey had decided to abandon me, but he had. Hopefully, it was for a good reason.

  I hastily changed the subject and told Max about my experience in the Dream World.

  He didn’t like Hoarse and agreed that he had told Selene about me. Although Hoarse hadn’t loved the fact that I could feel the darkness, I doubted he’d actually told Selene. Despite the fact that he had been there when I was captured. She’d probably threatened to torture him anyway.

  What was St. Phillipus’s part in all of this? And who the hell was this Eric? And what on earth was a Milleu?

  For some reason, I couldn’t stop worrying about St. Phillipus. He had known about my darkness and believed in me. I couldn’t bear the thought of anything bad happening to him because of me.

  Had he met the same fate Reeves and Vera had? Had Selene killed him too?

  The more I wondered, the more I wanted answers. Answers I knew would never come.

  Could Max’s disappearance be what Selene had wiped from our memories?

  There were so many secrets and so many lies interwoven in this intricate web of deceit.

  She had lied about Leigh being a figment of her imagination—I was ninety percent sure of that, anyway. I missed Leigh. I hated how we’d parted ways. In my defense, it had never made sense to me how someone like him would go for someone like me.

  That night, I dreamed about my mother again.

  It was at the old house. She was frantically searching for something and making a ruckus. She pulled out drawer after drawer, cleared out cupboards, and sent papers flying. The house was a mess, which was not like my mother at all. She liked things neat and orderly.

  Her hair was auburn again and she was thinner. She looked miserable.

  I missed her so much.

  “Christine,” a man’s voice yelled from outside. Mom looked out the window.

  “Christine!”

  “Shut the fuck up.”

  I woke up. Who was this Christine?

  All these questions were driving me insane.

  Just then, one of the doors opened. A barrage of footsteps that belonged to five, maybe six guards, rushed down one of the aisles. The man was still yelling for Christine, but then his words changed, and he started pleading with the guard.

  “No, no, please. Where are you taking us? What are you going to do with us? Please, don’t take me.”

  I covered my ears. Soon it would be me or Max.

  Soon.

  “Meow!”

  I looked over my shoulder. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

  Mr. Grey.

  I blurted aloud, “I should skin you alive for what you did.”

  Seriously, Chas? You think that impostor was me? I couldn’t reach you. I actually faked my own death. She threw me in the dumpster, wanted to set me on fire. On fire. He was frantic. How many times have I told you that not even the Oblivion would keep us apart? He gave a short cough. How could you…

  Okay, okay, I’m sorry, I said and opened my arms. He jumped straight into them. A sense of relief and joy washed over me as I held him.

  “Is that who I think it is?” Max asked from across the hall.

  “Yes. Apparently Selene had an imposter. Mr. Grey had to fake his own death to escape her clutches. Why is she doing this, Max?”

  Max ignored the question and chuckled. “I told you, an Anitule would never abandon its Tula.”

  Is that Max?

  Yes, I think it’s the part she made us forget about. Why we all got so sick. She’s covering up the fact that he was taken. I kept stroking his silky fur.

  That must be why she kept Margot so close.

  My hand stilled. Wait, what?’

  Margot. She forced Margot to try to track down Max. It’s how she discovered what you are. Then she found me. She locked me up, didn’t want me to go and tattle all her plans. Margot didn’t mean to show her, Chas. But once you drink the serum and they plug you in… his voice tra
iled off.

  I’d seen that in my dream. Margot connected to Stickers and steel attached to her body, the screen playing out false images of Fox’s demise. Had I been seeing through Mr. Grey’s eyes?

  None of this made sense.

  “Does he know where my sister is?” Max asked.

  I leaned against the door, my unwashed, raven-black hair forming a lank curtain around my gaunt cheekbones. “Yeah. It’s not good news, Max. Selene has her hooked in some chair trying to find you, and that’s how she discovered what I was.”

  “She didn’t mean to, Chas. I know my sister.”

  “I know she didn’t mean to.”

  Why does Lord Crane want you? Mr. Grey asked.

  I don’t know. I don’t know anything anymore.

  Mr. Grey cuddled closer. Mr. Grey coughed. I’m sorry she made you believe I was that imposter.

  I scratched between his ears. I’m sorry I let her fool me into doubting you.

  He coughed again. The Oblivion wasn’t good for him. He needed to leave.

  I’m not going to leave you. I have contacts who can help us. If I can just get you to a secure location…

  Yes! I need you to get us the hell out of here. Please. It sounded foolish just asking it.

  You could try to wish yourself small again and I can take you out of here easily.

  I laughed at his genius.

  “What is it?” Max asked and I repeated what Mr. Grey had said.

  “It won’t work. Light charms don’t work in the Oblivion. Our sand is extremely weak, too.” Max burst my hopeful bubble.

  “Any other suggestions, party pooper?”

  “Unless Mr. Grey is hiding some sort of saw or axe in that fur of his, then I don’t see a way out of here.”

  Give me a few hours. I’ll see what I can do, Mr. Grey said, jumping out of my arms and pushing through my cell’s bars.

  Please be careful, I begged him.

  I just got him back. I didn’t want to lose him again. He hadn’t betrayed me.

  Always am, Chas, and I never will.

  I smiled.

  “Where is he going?”

  “To find a saw or an axe.”

 
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