Light, p.12Adrienne Woods
I shrugged. “If my cat dies, it’s your fault.”
I sat back down. A bowl of gruel appeared in the mysterious chute and I ate it dispassionately. At least I had one less thing to feel shitty about.
I couldn’t believe the stack of lies Selene had told me.
I’d need all the sleep I could get if we managed to find a way to escape. When I drifted off, I found myself in a familiar place.
Light barely shone down from a lamppost. Shadowy figures loomed in the gloom.
Grass poked through objects in front of me. I realized it was an old carousel. The shells that were supposed to twist and turn were almost unrecognizable. The lever was rusty and the seating had jagged holes.
I’d been here before. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d been here before.
One of the rides a few feet away from me came to life, playing a creepy tune. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I saw two figures in a low crouching position scurrying from one place to another, fleeing the illumination of the ride that had just come to life.
Unease settled in me. I was sure the figure in the front was Leigh, so I followed them as best as I could. I hid behind one of the dilapidated walls so they couldn’t see me.
How many times had he helped others in their dreams? He’d told me I was the only one. And though a part of me still suspected that he wasn’t real, this felt like a betrayal.
I looked around the corner and saw… myself. How was this possible?
We were talking about the sandman from the stories. Leigh struggled to understand how the sand wouldn’t irritate kids’ eyes. The children’s story of the sandman didn’t make sense to him.
I kept following them—er, him and me. It was almost time for this horrible dream to end.
Was I dreaming a window to the past? If I could go back, none of this would happen. I would tell my mother the truth, and we would leave without any of the Seekers finding us. We’d be living a different life.
I watched Leigh shooting at the Shadow Hounds, yelling at Past Chas to wait for the light and run as fast as I could.
For some reason, neither of them seemed to notice me.
The blinding light of the Celestial burst into view as arrows flew overhead. Past Chas was running as fast as she could.
I smiled, admiring at how elegantly I ran.
I realized I should be aiming for the Celestial myself, so I could go back to that time and warn Mom. Warn her that they were going to come, warn her about the dream.
I jumped for the light just as the Hound jumped after me. A loud rumble sounded behind me as he exploded.
I startled awake.
It worked. I was in my bed. I was home.
I was still wearing the clothes I had on a few minutes ago. Not the pajamas from that fateful night months ago.
Glancing around nervously, I took in my old bedroom and a wave of nostalgia hit me. Did I really just… travel to the past? Warily, I climbed out of bed.
Wind howled through the open window. My room seemed bare, unused. Leaves fluttered over my laptop.
I went over to the window to close it. The sight that met my eyes terrified me.
I was staring at what used to be our neighborhood.
It was in ruins. Mr. Bean’s house across the road had been torn asunder, with only the lower structure remaining. The same was true for the Rutcliffs and the Southills. Their houses were empty, decrepit.
What happened here?
I turned and ran toward the door. Mom was still here. She had to be.
I opened my door and took one step. Into nothingness.
I yelped and caught the edge of the threshold as I went down. I dangled over vacant air, gasping and sweating.
Our entire house was gone. The back structure still stood, but everything else was destroyed.
I held on for dear life as I swung in the air. Then she came. It was a Shadow Hound, but mixed with something I never seen before. It was as if this Hound was evolving into a woman.
It seemed stupid, but it was what I saw. I saw her eyes shrinking, her canines retreating, her hair flowing, leaving me with the one memory I would never forget.
It was the woman who had looked back at me from the mirror the first time I’d met Leigh in that dream.
I lost my grip and started to tumble to my death.
The ground grew closer and closer, and just as I thought I might hit the ground, I woke up.
For a moment, I had no idea where I was. Then it all came back to me.
I was stuck in a cell in the Oblivion.
I was reeling from that dream, hoping, praying that it had only been a dream. I didn’t want to contemplate the possibility that my old neighborhood had really been decimated, didn’t want to contemplate that my mother might have been harmed.
For the first time in forever, I thought about all the people I had left in the Domain.
Clare, my former best friend.
I didn’t like that dream. It made me feel so…alone. My life seemed so empty… so wrong. Even weeks of torture hadn’t affected me like this.
Unable to fall back to sleep—which was a godsend, considering I’d spend the better part of the past few weeks in and out of consciousness—I waited for Mr. Grey to return.
He looked oddly shaped as he jumped down from the bars in my door window.
I was so glad he was back.
Duct tape was wrapped all around his body, holding two long, silver files in place.
Just give it one big rip, Chas.
I’m not going to do that to you, you won’t have any fur left. I slowly unrolled the duct tape. Somebody must have helped him. A cat couldn’t possibly have done this by himself. Who helped you?
I have my contacts. You will meet them soon. They want both you and Max out of here. And soon. He yowled as a little bit of fur stuck to the tape.
Are they in the Oblivion?
No. I’ll come back with a portal, one that will get you and Max out of this place.
To your contacts.
Chas, they want to help.
I know they do. I was a bit skeptical. But you have to admit, there’s no safe place for me anymore. Selene wants me dead. She’s waiting for me in Revera. And who knows what Lord Crane wants with me. Neither of those options are good, but I have to decide which is the best for me now, which enemy will inflict the least damage on me.
Blah, blah, blah. He licked a paw nonchalantly. You wuss. Get the hell out of here. I will never betray your trust. You are my Tula. I’m bound to protect your life as long as I live. Just trust me, Chas. My contacts do not want to kill you. Some of them are exactly like you.
He blocked his mind from me, and all I gleaned from him was a structure that seemed like some sort of compound. Was it his safe haven?
What are you hiding from me?
Need-to-know basis until we get there.
I closed my eyes and weighed my options. I came up empty.
I opened my eyes. Mr. Grey was still in front of me, staring intently at me.
Okay, I finally said. I trust you with my life.
He started coughing mid-thought. I could feel the toll the Oblivion took on him. His energy level was dropping fast. My stomach turned from his queasiness
Go. This place isn’t good for you. I picked him up and buried my face in his fur. Come back when you’re better. I’ll be here.
You better be, he growled and jumped out of my arms, through the bars, and down the corridor.
“Was that Mr. Grey?” Max asked.
“Yeah, he brought files. I hope you’re good at filing through bars.”
We spent the next few days filing away at the bars and hiding them when interrogators passed through.
We were desperate to get out, to get to the safe haven Mr. Grey spoke about.
I was furious at Selene for tricking me into thinking that impostor was Mr. Grey. I was also pissed at myself for falling for it.
At the rate the filing was going, we
Still, I didn’t give up. I had to know why Vera and Reeves had died for me. I needed to find out what St. Phillipus knew, what the heck that Hether thing was, and whether Mr. Grey’s contacts were somehow connected to it. And the only way I was going to get the damn answers was to get the hell out of here.
So I kept filing.
I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. They were past cramping; only momentum made me carry on. The ache of my raw skin had faded from overexertion. After what I had been through lately, something needed to go right for me. I needed a win, damn it!
When the door opened and guards came in, I quickly blew away the sand and pretended to be asleep, praying that they hadn’t come to take me or Max.
But the footsteps never reached our row, and as another voice that didn’t belong to Max begged not to be taken, to be spared, I blew out the breath I had been holding.
Max was just as determined to leave as I was. We continued filing.
After a while my arm gave out and I collapsed from exhaustion, the skin on my hands raw and burning. But I spurred myself on and continued filing. There was a sizeable chip in the bar now. I wouldn’t give in to sleep until I managed to get out of here.
I wasn’t sure how long it took, but since Mr. Grey had brought us the files, three people had been taken and four bowls of gruel had appeared and vanished at regular intervals.
It was only a matter of time before it was one of us.
I put my back into it, sawing vigorously. I pushed my file against the bar with all my strength, and finally, finally, it came loose.
I tried to keep my glee at bay as I twisted and turned at the bar. After a few pulls, it came out of its socket.
Max chuckled out of pure excitement. I was as happy as a person could be in the Oblivion.
Footsteps pounded down the aisle. My joy diminished. The guards were coming for one of us. I prayed they weren’t coming for me, not because I was being selfish. Max hadn’t managed to get a bar loose yet, and if they took me, he’d be stuck here, all alone.
I needed them to take him, so I could get out and attack them from behind and save Max so we could get the hell out.
They went for my door. My throat tightened.
And then, as if Max had read my mind, he said, “No, take me.”
“Shut your trap. Our orders were to collect the Dream Caster they brought in last.”
“She’s too weak. She won’t even last an hour. You want to disappoint Lord Crane again? Then fine, take her. But I’m stronger. Besides, I doubt you’ve had a willing candidate before.”
I gritted my teeth and clenched my eyes shut, willing them to listen to Max. I heard my gate being locked and the sound of Max’s being opened.
I opened my eyes and caught Max’s gaze, trying to communicate my thoughts to him. Don’t worry, bud. I will do my damn best to get you out of their clutches. I really hoped he could read what I was conveying to him with my eyes.
They grabbed him hard around the arm, pulled him up, and pushed him out of his cell.
They were just as cruel as Selene. If their cruelty was what instilled her hatred of them, well, then I had news for her. She was exactly like them.
Their footsteps and the light faded away.
I couldn’t wait for Mr. Grey anymore. Not if I wanted my friend to live.
I pulled the bar out again. The opening was just wide enough for me to squeeze through.
I ran toward the footsteps as fast as I could without making a sound, trying to keep up. I had to strike soon in order to help Max. My sand wouldn’t hurt him. From what I remembered from being in the cage in front of Lord Crane, my gold sand worked just as well in the Oblivion as it did in Revera.
I reached the corner. The three men and Max were a few paces ahead me.
The light of my sand came first, and then gasps of surprise from the guards.
By the time they turned around, a big ball of shimmering gray sand was already aimed at the three of them.
Max kicked the first one’s leg out from underneath him, jabbed the second one under the chin, and delivered an elbow the torso of the third guard. The ball of sand hit the third. All of this took place in a matter of seconds.
I looked at Max, a grin stretching across my face. I couldn’t believe it had been so easy.
Max picked up the keys as he kicked a guard full in the face, muttering a string of profanities as he did so. Max handed me the master key and I ran past him. As I reached the corner, I heard Max grunting.
I spun on my heel, and saw one of the guards jamming a knife into Max’s torso.
A ball of light left my hand without a thought and hit them both.
The Shadow Caster burned and screamed in agony.
Max crawled over to the guard and covered his mouth with his hand, and I could smell the stench of burning skin as his hand burned from the contact.
He took the knife and jabbed it into the guard’s neck, silencing him once and for all. “Go, Chas, now!”
Horrified, I ran down the hallway to free the rest of the Light Casters. He was going to make it. Wasn’t he? Well, only if I hurried.
There were only two left. When I opened their cells, they ran off without thanking me or offering to help Max.
“You fucking cowards!”
“Let them go,” Max mumbled. He was leaning against the wall, a sheen of sweat on his pale face.
I ripped a length of material from the bottom of my T-shirt and covered his wound. I grimaced at the filth on the fabric—days of sweat and blood and dust from unceasing torture had rendered me so dirty, I reeked. But cleanliness wouldn’t matter if I let him bleed out.
We both started as an alarm screeched. One of those idiots I had freed must have tripped the fucking alarm.
“Okay, so the stupid cowards just became the stupid idiots,” I jeered as I shifted to take Max’s weight.
Max huffed, his lips tugging into a soft smile. We used all our strength to get to the exit before it closed. I didn’t want to be trapped here.
To our surprise, the door didn’t close, but two big-ass Shadow Hounds entered.
He moaned, “Oh fuck, not this.”
“Don’t show your fear,” I hissed.
“Don’t show fear. They live off fear. They’re not as bad as you think.”
“Oh, you’re a Shadow Hound expert all of a sudden?”
“No, but I used to know someone who was. She told me that they are just badly misunderstood.”
“Misunderstood?” Max sounded incredulous. We retreated slowly, the two beasts stalking toward us as if we were their prey.
“Something like that, but just to be safe, let’s try and hide.”
“Great idea.” Max didn’t wait for a second invitation. He didn’t trust that they were only misunderstood, and although I did trust my mom with my life, she wasn’t here right now to show us how kind these two beasts really were.
I threw balls of light sand over my shoulder, but they missed the Hounds by inches.
“Together,” Max yelled, and balls of light sand exploded from our hands.
One Hound dodged it. The other exploded on the spot, distracting his comrade.
I pulled Max along, panting from the strain his weight put on my body. My eyes fell on a crevice in the wall between two large columns. I pushed Max into it, shoving him against the wall and flattening myself against him.
The Hound was close. I could feel it inside my bones. Almost as if we were connected. I could smell it lingering a few feet away.
I waited for the Hound to take that final step, but something pounced on it. the Hound howled in pain.
Max grabbed my hand as two huge creatures tore at each other.
This was it. It was now or never.
I look back over my shoulder and stopped dead in my tracks.
Max tried to pull me along with what little strength he had left, but I forced him to stop. Th
Only he was twenty times bigger than his usual size.
I couldn’t leave.
I had to save Mr. Grey.
There is light, somewhere.
Reason flooded back and I rushed to get Max out. We made our way outside of the prison and found him a hiding-place in the ditch, ensuring he was out of view in case someone went looking.
I hurried back inside to help Mr. Grey. My sand wouldn’t hurt him, so without aiming too carefully, I threw ball after ball of light at the creature that wanted to sink its teeth into my Anitule.
It didn’t matter whether Shadow Hounds were harmless; the blasted thing was trying to kill the only friend I trusted.
Chas, enough! Mr. Grey yelled. He is a heap of sand.
I stopped. My cat was back to his original size, but he was limping, one paw in the air as he hopped on the other three.
I scooped him up and sprinted out of the building and back to Max, the siren wailing louder in my ears.
I bent down and shifted my weight under Max again, draping his arm over my shoulder.
Chas, Mr. Grey said, What happened?
He’s going to make it! Now show us the damn way.
We must have made quite the funny-looking trio. Max shuffled along next to me, trying his best to walk fast as I propped him up and limped from the excess weight, while Mr. Grey was hanging over my shoulder.
Eventually, we reached the edge of what seemed to have been a village once.
The houses were all broken-down and ramshackle. I imagined it had once been a breathtaking village, but now it was a pile of rubble. No trees or grass grew anywhere.
I gasped for breath. My muscles ached. I maneuvered Max against a half-toppled stone wall and helped him sit down, before I collapsed next to him.
After a short respite, we got back on our feet and headed in the direction I sensed in Mr. Grey’s mind. “So, this is the Oblivion?” I asked Max, grunting under his weight.
There were no people in sight. We hadn’t encountered any since we’d left the building we’d been kept captive in. I doubted there were any people this far away from the city.
Light by Adrienne Woods / Fantasy / Young Adult have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes