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       Light, p.17

           Adrienne Woods
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  “Will your mother take Kiara when she wakes up?”

  “No, she is wanted. It’s best she stays with someone who is also wanted.”

  My mouth dropped open. “So, she’ll become mine?”

  “If she’ll have you. I don’t see why she wouldn’t choose you. You saved her life.”

  “I didn’t. You and your mother did.”

  “You chose to help her, Chas, not to let her die. That’s a pretty big deal to Shadow Hounds.”

  The thought warmed my lonely heart. “Well, I guess we’ll know what she chooses when she wakes up.”

  “She might still want to go back to Briggs.”

  “What?” I screeched in horror. “She’d actually go back after what he did to her?”

  “She might not have been made for Briggs, but she belonged to him, Chas. You guys have Anitules, right?”

  I raised an eyebrow. For someone who claimed to know nothing about Revera, he surprised me with his understanding of Anitules.

  “My mother told me about them.”

  “Oh. Yes, we have the Anitules.”

  “with the bond we share with our Shadow Hounds is similar.”

  “I doubt my Anitule would stick with me if I beat him like that.”

  “You have an Anitule?” he asked.

  “Yeah. He always told me he’d follow me to the Oblivion, but this place didn’t mix so well with him.”

  Ash gaped at me. “He was here?”

  I laughed. “Yeah, he escaped through the Celestial with my friend. I hope they’re safe, wherever they are.”

  “You must miss him.”

  “I do. He had a funny sense of humor.”

  “How?” He sounded so surprised at that, he couldn’t even formulate a proper sentence

  “Anitules and Tulas can hear each other’s thoughts. You can’t hear your Shadow Hound’s thoughts?”

  He shook his head.

  Jeez, is everything about me freakish in this place?

  But if it didn’t work like that here, why had I heard Kiara’s thoughts?

  The conversation ended after that, and we settled down to sleep.

  When I awoke, I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from screaming. Kiara’s face was inches away from mine, her slobber dripping down her jaw.

  I couldn’t hear her thoughts, only her barking and growling.

  “Please,” I begged. “I only tried to help. I’m sorry if you didn’t want help.”

  I closed my eyes and waited for the blow. Instead, her voice sounded in my mind.

  You should’ve left me. I disobeyed my master and I had to be put down.”

  I opened my eyes. She wasn’t growling anymore.

  “No,” I said and she lifted her head. “Nobody needs to be punished the way you were. Sentenced to death for not disobeying your master? He is not worthy to be called a master.”

  She gave a loud bark.

  Ash, who had woken in the commotion, was frowning at me. “Chas, stop talking to her as if you understand her.”

  Don’t talk about my master that way.

  “He beat you to death. Don’t you remember? He left you in to die in that alley. He’s cruel. He disposed of you as if you were garbage. How can you love someone like that?”

  She backed away. You understand what I’m saying?

  “Chas, seriously. You’re only pissing her off more…” Ash’s last word trailed off as Kiara backed away and sat down.

  I nodded my head at Kiara.

  How is this possible?

  “I don’t know,” I whispered softly. “I swear to you, when I found you, you didn’t want to die. You begged me to help you.”

  “What?” Ash said, his head swinging back and forth between Kiara and me. “You can hear her?”

  I nodded. “I don’t know how it happened. It started in the alley. I—I thought there was woman in the alley. I saw her attackers, the men who were beating her. But when I arrived, all I saw was a Hound. So then I assumed that the Shadow Hound was attacking this woman. But I only saw Kiara. It’s how I knew she was female.”

  By the way he looked at me, I could tell this wasn’t a regular occurrence, but he didn’t comment on it. “What is she saying?”

  “She’s resistant, bull-headed. Like you said, she wants to go back to Briggs.”

  You know him?

  “No, but I know anyone out there would be a better master than he is. How could you want to go back after the way he treated you? He’d kill you if he found out you’re alive. You cannot go back. Not ever.”

  She flashed me a memory. She’d tried to obey Briggs, tried to do what he wanted her to do, but she hadn’t been able to do it. He’d wanted her to sink her teeth into Lord Crane, his own grandfather. When she refused, he’d taken her and beaten her, inviting two of his friends to join him.

  “I’m so sorry. You did the right thing. Briggs is a selfish, sadistic, murderous person. He doesn’t deserve anything as beautiful as you.”

  Her eyes drilled into mine. You think I’m…beautiful.

  I surprised myself by nodding. A tentative smile threatened to appear on my mouth. It was true.

  Fear of what would happen to her flashed through her mind. No Shadow Hound had ever been without a master, free to do what they pleased.

  “Stay with me. I’ll take care of you,” I said. “I promise to treat you as my equal, fairly and with respect.”

  She straightened. In that case, it will be my honor to serve and protect you.

  “My name is Chas, and you don’t have to serve me.” Now I really did smile. “Protecting me is more than enough.”

  She sat in stunned silence. Her emotions transferred to me: she was surprised, shocked that someone like me existed.

  But I’d meant what I said.

  Our relationship would be based on equality, on friendship. If she wanted to offer me her protection, then I would gladly accept it. And if she found a better place for herself, I’d let her go.

  Just as long as that place wasn’t with Briggs.

  CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

  Silly little secrets

  Ash left, promising he would only tell his mother that Kiara had woken up and chosen me, not that I had been able to understand her and communicate with her.

  It was unheard of, even among curers.

  We hadn’t seen Ash since, but Kiara made a great companion.

  She hunted for us and brought back crows and sometimes quail-like birds, which I cooked on the fire. Kiara ate hers raw, almost swallowing them whole.

  We spoke about everything that had happened to us over the course of our lives.

  She told me about the day she had been created. I was surprised Shadow Hounds could remember that far back.

  She remembered her twin, remembered falling asleep in front of the fireplace, remembered how she’d loved playing with “her boy.”

  “Your boy was the man who saved you,” I said. “The man who was here the day you woke up. He’s just grown up now.”

  She shook her head. The movement was filled with sadness. No, it couldn’t have been him. My boy died a long time ago, along with his father and uncle.

  I bit the inside of my cheek as my mind tried to piece things together.

  Ash had told me his father and uncle had died, but he hadn’t been with them. And Kiara hadn’t been made for Ash; Kaleido had. Had Kiara’s little boy been Ash’s brother?

  Had Kiara’s little boy been Leigh?

  No, Ash would have mentioned if he’d had a brother.

  Kiara went on to recount how hard it had been for her without a master, and how wonderful it had been to gain a new one.

  And she’d loved Briggs. Both he and she had been teased by his sister and her Shadow Hound, the Hound who had been specially created for her. The pictures she projected wasn’t of a nice girl. No, Guinevere—as Kiara introduced me—was sadistic like her father. And Briggs didn’t fit in.

  Briggs never had a Hound created just for him, because according to Lord
Crane, the men in the Sodivic family weren’t manly enough.

  He also had a daughter, Kiara said.

  I froze. Memories of my mom came unbidden to my mind.

  Kiara sat up straight as she saw them through our connection. You know her?

  There was no way I could hide my identity from her. She was as connected to my mind as I was to hers. I nodded. “She’s my mother.”

  Kiara let out a soft, low whine. What happened?

  “It’s complicated. She fell in love with a Light Caster—my father. They met in the field. She nearly killed him, but it was love at first sight for him.” I told her the story my mother had spun for me that night at the table in the cabin. I ended with Dad getting killed and Mom escaping with me as-yet unborn.

  I’m so sorry, Chas. She was disgusted and awed at the same time. So, it really can work between Light Casters and Shadow Casters?

  “I guess so. They had me. Then again, now I’m sort of an outcast. Everyone knows there is no in-between.” I gulped down a sudden tightness in my throat. “I don’t belong anywhere.”

  Kiara had nothing to say to that. But a sense of kinship kindled between us; the same was true for her, sentences to death, her boy long dead.

  She lay her head on her paws, her smoke shimmering behind her. Her limp stumps weren’t visible anymore. She was back to her usual strength.

  I was grateful Kiara had become my companion; my life in the Oblivion had been harsh and lonely before she’d arrived. But Kiara was far more than just my companion. She’d become a good friend to me. I couldn’t see how anyone could be cruel to her.

  I looked past the ugliness, past the ferociousness, and saw her for what she truly was.

  A big, albeit vicious, puppy with a heart of gold.

  She loved running and playing. We spent the mornings exploring the woods. The woods weren’t beautiful. These woods reminded me more of wintertime, when the branches carried no leaves and everything was cold and stark.

  But I loved watching Kiara play.

  C’mon, Chas, run with me. She laughed and spun on her paws, bowling me over. She ran ahead as I lay on the ground, staring up at the eternally gray sky and laughing.

  It was good—no, great—to laugh again, but I always ended up worrying about my friends and my cat. And lately, Ash.

  If you want to go visit him, you should go, Kiara said as she bounded back to me, sliding to a halt in front of me.

  I sat up and reached out, touching the horns on her face. She leaned into my palm. “No, his mother made it clear she didn’t want Ash near me.” I got up and dusted off my backside. We went back to the cabin.

  You know, Kiara started, There is this top-secret thing our Shadow Hounds can do, but we never share it with our masters. I guess we just never have masters to share it with, no one who could truly hear us and—

  “What is it?” I laughed as she babbled on.

  It’s hard to explain, but I can show you. But I need your complete trust.

  “My complete trust?” I teased.

  Yes, she said so confidently, I couldn’t help laughing.

  “Okay, I’m all yours.”

  Close your eyes, Chas, and clear your mind. Think of nothing. Can you do it?

  “I’ll try,” I said and closed my eyes.

  She edged toward me until she was only a hair’s breadth away. I felt her smoke against me, but realized it was in fact black sand. As instructed, I attempted to empty my mind of all thoughts.

  Her laughter played into my mind before I heard her voice. You can open your eyes.

  When I opened my eyes, I wasn’t in the woods anymore.

  My mouth gaped open and I walked around. “How did you do that?” I looked at her, and I could have sworn she was beaming at me.

  I stared in awe around me. We were no longer deep in the forest—a good thirty-minute walk away from the cabin—but we now stood inside the cabin.

  I told you it’s a deeply buried secret, Chas. I had no idea if it would actually work the first time. You’re good at following directions.

  “Nah, it’s just easy for me to clear my mind and not think about anything,” I said, still staring in wonder at Kiara. “All of you can do this?”

  Yeah, we just never have anyone we could tell. The curers may make us, but they don’t know every single detail of what we can and can’t do. We alone know our limits.

  “Can you communicate with each other?”

  Sort of. I could speak to my twin the way I speak to you, and I used to speak to the mongrel that was Guinevere’s Hound.

  I laughed at the way she spat the word “mongrel.”

  I forgot. She’s your cousin, but she’s nothing like you, Chas. She’s dark and sadistic. She’s a bully, always hurting and teasing Briggs. Lauderdale used to do the same with me.

  “Her Hound’s name is Lauderdale?”

  She flopped her head so her drool-dripping jowls jiggled—her way of nodding. Why are they so cruel, the Crane family?

  “I don’t know. I wish I had all the answers,” I sighed. “I guess when you don’t know light, warmth, goodness, joy, or happiness, it’s easier to become dark and twisted.”

  Briggs wasn’t always like that, you know. He used to be my best friend. At this, her posture slouched. We used to do everything together when he was little. I always took the blame when he did something wrong. His father was exceptionally cruel and his mother didn’t show the poor boy any sign of compassion.

  I could see the memories floating through her mind. Good memories of her and Briggs, ones that made her sad, made her miss him. But then the bad memories intruded, and she recalled how he’d almost killed her.

  “Don’t think about that.”

  Sorry, she said and the images vanished. I sometimes forget we are so connected.

  I perched on the couch. “Why do you think that is?”

  I have no idea. But I’m not complaining. I’m sad others can’t share this like we can. I never want to lose this gift.

  “You think this is a gift?”

  It has to be, but just in case it isn’t, I’m not going to tell anyone. She made a funny part-snorting, part-growling sound that I identified as her giggle.

  “Do you think we can try the teleport thing again?”

  Kiara’s eagerness flowed into my mind. “Ready, Chas? Now clear your mind.”

  A month or so passed. I had no idea how long it had been, how long I’d been away from my bed in Revera, away from the Institute, but all I knew was that it felt like forever.

  Kiara and I grew closer as the days passed. I now knew everything about her past, and she knew more or less everything about mine.

  She was in awe of my still-golden sand. Even though it was deadly to her, she didn’t treat me like a pariah. Whenever I showed her my sand, she whimpered involuntarily. Part of her was totally petrified, but I thought she handled it pretty well.

  My black sand had still not made an appearance, and neither had Ash. I’d kind of hoped he would come by to check on Kiara, or just to say hello, but he hadn’t.

  I figured he had to be pretty scared of his mother. But I missed him. Or perhaps I only missed his face.

  Leigh’s face.

  I wished I hadn’t shoved Leigh away that last time I’d dreamed of him, back when I was half-mad from torture. I wished I’d just listened to what he had wanted to say. I wished I could dream about him again.

  Of course, I’d told Kiara about Leigh. She’d listened eagerly as I told her about our love, why I had fallen for him, and how beautiful our dreams were when we were together.

  She’d listened intently to everything I’d told her of Revera as well.

  She’d once said that, once upon a time, Revera was everyone’s birthplace. And the gates had just closed for some of them.

  My heart tightened whenever she spoke about missing Revera, a place she had never seen. It was as if Revera was imprinted in her soul, but because of what she was, she’d never be able to set in foot in it. Poo
r Ashton probably felt the same way.

  At the thought of Ash, Kiara interjected sternly, Chas, why are you so stubborn?

  “I’m not stubborn, Kiara. If Ash wants to see me, he knows where I live.”

  Just go and see him. It’ll be quick. I can teleport you close and I’ll just wait…

  “No, what if they found you?”

  They won’t find me. I can teleport back if someone gets close. I promise they won’t be able to follow me.

  “Why not? You said all Shadow Hounds could do that.”

  Yes, they can. But they can’t do it alone the way I can, and they can’t do it with their masters because they can’t tell their masters they need to clear their mind.

  My brow crinkled. “Why can’t they do it alone?”

  Because they are not free the way I am. She looked at me. You have no idea what you did for me when you deemed us equal. I don’t have a master. I’m my own master and that is why I can do that, and they can’t. Slavery always comes with shackles, Chas. Sometimes they’re just invisible to the eye.

  Some of the things Kiara said were so wise. I couldn’t fathom why Briggs had been so cruel to her.

  “Fine, get me as close as you can.” I pointed my finger in warning at her. “But not the village. Close to the village, in the woods where no one can see you.”

  Yes, ma’am, she said playfully.

  I stepped into her personal space. I closed my eyes and cleared my mind. Clearing my mind was like breathing to me, and traveling with her in a way no one else had ever been able to travel with a Shadow Hound was the most special thing I had ever encountered. And that was saying something.

  There was no warning or pulling sensation. My body didn’t react in any way at all. I just thought of black, of nothing, and then Kiara’s voice entered my mind.

  Open your eyes, Chas”

  I complied. We were at the edge of the woods.

  I’ll wait here, she encouraged me. Go see him.

  I patted her cheek and pulled my hoodie over my face, then I strode toward the village as fast as my legs would allow.

  I had no idea where Ash lived and neither did Kiara. My only plan was to ask someone where I could find the curer. Hopefully, the wanted posters had been removed as the weeks had slipped away with no sign of me in this realm.

 
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