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Dream caster shadow, p.18
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       Dream Caster_Shadow, p.18

           Adrienne Woods
 
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  Upon entering the village, I found a small group of people huddled together, speaking in hushed tones. I paid them no mind, but as I neared another store, I saw another group huddled together, acting the same way. I scanned all around me. There were clusters of people all over.

  Something was up. My heart raced and my palms became clammy. I inched closer to one of the groups to eavesdrop.

  “I’m telling you,” one guy said. “Lord Crane is not happy about this at all.”

  “I heard there was going to be a hearing in a few days.”

  “Where did you hear that, stupid woman? You should keep your mouth shut about things you know nothing about,” another man said. He pushed the woman away. She staggered back a few paces and fell flat on her backside.

  “Whatever her reasons for disappearing, they had to be good.”

  Nods and susurrations of agreement came from the others.

  I moved on to another group.

  Whatever was causing the unrest in the village had something to do with Lord Crane. That couldn’t be good. And I was curious to know what it was.

  Group after group broke apart as I neared, and I couldn’t glean any information from them. I needed to know who they were talking about.

  The last group confirmed what the woman from the first group had said. In three days, there would be a hearing inside the Equestrian Hall.

  Was that the same place where I had appeared in front of my grandfather?

  I’d have to come back once the hearing had taken place. The urgency I’d felt to see Ash disappeared. I rushed back to Kiara.

  My lungs were burning when I reached her.

  Chas, quick. She was on alert, assuming someone was chasing me. I showed her my thoughts, made it clear what was going on.

  You think it’s your mother?

  “I don’t know. But from the way they spoke… Someone said the woman had to have a good reason for disappearing for so long, which sounds like it might be her. But… I need to know.”

  Clear you mind. She was curt, eager to get back to the cabin. I struggled to clear my mind. I couldn’t ease my worries.

  Chas, take deep, deep breaths. In through your mouth, out through your nose, Kiara spoke to me in a gentle voice. Just listen to my voice. You’re safe. We will be fine. Now clear your mind.

  My mind was still focused on my mother.

  Clear your mind. Breathe, and clear your mind.

  My mind emptied to nothing but blackness, and her dark shadow consumed us. When it evaporated, we were back inside the cabin.

  Immediately, I went into panic mode. If it was my mom, if she was here and about to have a hearing…

  Three days, Kiara said soothingly. We will know in three days.

  “The dungeons…”

  Chas, you don’t even know if it’s your mother. Calm down. We will know in three days. I promise I will do whatever it takes to help you save her.

  I touched the side of her face.

  “Thank you, Kiara. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

  Likewise, Chas, likewise.

  On the third day, Kiara didn’t want to leave me in the woods. I didn’t want her to come with me because I was scared someone would recognize her and capture her. Who knew what they would do to her?

  I can take care of myself. Nobody is going to capture me. I promise.

  “Kiara, you can’t promise that, and I… I can’t lose you.”

  You’re are not going to lose me. If it is your mother…

  “I need you to be safe.”

  You’re going to need my help. Please, she begged.

  I folded my arms across my chest. “I’ll never forgive myself if something happened to you.”

  It’s not your choice. You meant it when you said we were equals; I saw it in your mind. Now you must treat me as such. I want to come with. I need to. As much as I am your responsibility, you are mine. Deal with it.

  She walked out of the woods and I stared at the ethereal black smoke of her withdrawing form. She was adamant and I could tell she wouldn’t change her mind.

  “Okay, it’s your choice.” I lifted my hands to the sky, giving up on our quarrel. And she called me stubborn.

  We stuck to the edge of the woods until we neared the village.

  Kiara kept her head low, as a Shadow Hound was supposed to walk. Heads bowed, respecting their master’s wishes. Every time she revealed something new about how Shadow Hounds were treated, I despised the people they called “master” more and more.

  Not everyone is like you, Chas. I’m a very lucky Shadow Hound.

  My fingers brushed her dark fur. “No, I’m the lucky one for having an awesome Shadow Hound like you.”

  Her mind filled with bashful pride.

  I had tried to lift her spirit on a daily basis, to keep her confidence high, and I was happy that I was so far succeeding in that. Her spirit had been broken almost as badly as her body.

  We passed the village, still hiding on the edge of the woods. She knew exactly where our destination was, having been there on numerous occasions with Briggs. It was where they held all their hearings—and banishments.

  Banishments weren’t the same here as in Revera. A banishment in the Oblivion was death.

  I hoped with all my heart that the woman in the hearing wasn’t my mother, that she was safe in the Domain.

  Though it was impossible to see the suns through the constant cloud cover, we were approaching dusk; the sky was darkening from silver to oyster to slate.

  We hadn’t teleported all the way to the Equestrian Hall because the other Shadow Hounds might pick up on the jump, and they would come for us. Every Shadow Hound would come for us.

  Even though I had come to love one and see her good side, I couldn’t even imagine being surrounded by thousands of Shadow Hounds.

  Kiara stopped on the edge of a cliff overlooking the village.

  There you have it, Chas. We’re almost there.

  “Are you sure the hearing hasn’t started yet?”

  Certain. They hold the very important hearings at night so all the Sodivics can be present.

  My stomach knotted with anxiety. “Let’s just hope it’s not my mom down there.”

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  Sometimes Love is stronger than Nightmares

  The Equestrian Hall was enormous with tall, black windows. Sort of like a fancy factory. People were streaming inside.

  “We’re never going to get in there!”

  Relax, Chas. I know you’re anxious. But you need to calm down, Kiara said. Just follow me.

  I stayed close to her as she pushed her way through the sea of people. Other Shadow Hounds accompanied their masters, and I kept my eyes down to avoid being recognized as we jostled elbows.

  A hearing was already in place, though I still didn’t know who was on trial. It took half an hour just to get inside.

  “Banishment!” the voices around me yelled.

  Easy, Chas. We’re almost there.

  My heart sprang into my throat, and I could hear its pounding in my ears.

  “Answer me!” Lord Crane’s voice boomed in the hallway. “Where have you been for the past eighteen years?”

  I froze. Eighteen years was exactly how long ago my mother had fled with my father.

  Kiara looked nudged me with her big muzzle. Now is not the time to freeze! She needs your help.

  I didn’t answer her.

  Chas, she boomed in my head. The sheer volume brought me back to reality. I was numb, but I was eager to see my mother.

  “I’m waiting for your answer,” Lord Crane said.

  “What do you want me to say?” my mother’s voice replied. Mom. My heart threatened to sprout wings and tear right out of my throat to go to her side. I couldn’t see her; too many people blocked my view.

  I pushed and shoved through the mass of bodies, and followed Kiara as she slipped easily through the crowd.

  “Hey!”

  “Watch it!”

>   People I tried to hold their ground and not let us past, but I didn’t care who I had to step on to get to her. It was taking forever to get through this ocean of humanity.

  Please, Mom. Just tell him the truth.

  One minute, Kiara was just ahead of me, and the next she was gone. She’d been subsumed by the sea of bodies.

  The onlookers started to scream for banishment. Only a handful of people were yelling for mercy. Why did they hate her so much? She was the best of them all.

  I had to get to my mother.

  But I couldn’t leave Kiara.

  I remembered the words she’d said at the edge of the woods: I can take care of myself, Chas. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, as I pushed further to the front.

  She was in a floating same cage-like structure like the one I had been in.

  White floor. Clean glass. Bright light.

  Perhaps the brightness was a cruel gesture; Shadow Casters would never be light. Or perhaps it was just a sadistic pleasure of Lord Crane.

  Mom, standing and trembling on the floor that floated a few feet above the crowd’s level, looked like her old self. Like the mother I had grown up with. The one I’d seen in the dream where she had been searching for something. What had she been searching for? Had the dream foreshadowed this? Had she been searching for a sign from me? She must have dyed her hair back to auburn, since I saw it as grayish color, but the effects of the Oblivion was turning it back to the bright white I had come to associate with platinum blonde. She looked weary, ready to give up.

  She couldn’t give up. She had to fight. Like she’d always taught me to fight.

  “Then you give me no choice,” Lord Crane said. “Tonight,” he addressed the entire hall. “My daughter finally came home. But this is not her home anymore. This is no joyous reunion. She has betrayed her family name, betrayed her kind. She thought herself better than the rest of us, and left to live like a commoner in… who knows where. What do we do with traitors?”

  “Banishment, banishment, banishment,” the room chanted.

  “Mercy!” a few yelled.

  “No,” I yelled, but my voice was drowned out.

  I pushed through harder. The crowd was steadfast; everyone refused to make way. I elbowed faces, punched arms, and stomped on feet. Bit by bit, I neared the podium.

  I wasn’t going to let Lord Crane kill my mother. He was a shallow man if he didn’t even care about his own blood.

  Chants of “Banishment!” still reverberated around me.

  Lord Crane lifted his hands and the crowd stilled.

  “You give me no choice, Vinicola. The crowd has—”

  “No!” I jumped up on the podium where Briggs, Lord Crane, and the other cruel, light-haired Shadow Casters sat ready to judge the accused. “The crowd is wrong. She’s your daughter.”

  Guards rushed toward me.

  I fought them off, using the techniques my mother had shown me. My sand started to flow freely—pure, bright, shimmering gray.

  The guards retreated, terrified of my sand.

  Lord Crane stared at my sand. I also had the attention of the man next to him. His son. My uncle. Not to mention Briggs and his evil sister Guinevere.

  “She’s your daughter!” I yelled again.

  “Vinicola,” Lord Crane looked past me. “Who is this?” he asked.

  I turned around to look at my mother. She stared at me with zero emotion on her face. I ran to the glass and put my hand on the glass, but she didn’t look at me.

  “No, you are not going to do this. Don’t pretend you don’t know me!” A guard grabbed my arms and restrained me. “Please, Mom.”

  “Mom?” Lord Crane queried.

  Mom was stony. “I don’t know what this girl is talking about.”

  “She’s lying,” I said. “I am the reason she left eighteen years ago.” I glared at Lord Crane. “She didn’t want to raise me in this hellhole. I know why she is denying me now. She thinks keeping me a secret will protect me, but she can’t, can she, Lord Crane?” I spat out his name. He wasn’t family; he didn’t deserve to hear me call him Grandfather. “You hunt and kidnap Light Casters. You would have killed me if you had the chance! And for what? What sick and twisted experiments are you performing on Light Casters?”

  “Are you kidding me?” my mother yelled. “You’re still doing that?”

  “Silence!” Lord Crane called.

  I look at back at my mother. She knew what he was doing to do the Light Casters.

  She spat on the floor. “Are you going to listen to her? She doesn’t even look like me. And she is a Light Caster. Common.” Mom’s tone was filled with loathing.

  “I promise you, I am her daughter. My father was a Light Caster.”

  “Don’t listen to her!”

  “His name was Graig Cheng. Your son killed him the day my mother escaped with me. Just ask him.”

  The crowd gasped. Lord Crane regarded Sebastian. His eyes narrowed as he looked at me.

  “She was pregnant with me,” I insisted. “That’s why she left.”

  “Keep your mouth shut!” Mom was now hysterical.

  “Not this time, Mom,” I said over my shoulder.

  “Enough!” Lord Crane’s voice resonated around us.

  Everyone became quiet.

  “I’m not making this up. It’s why she didn’t want to tell you where she was the past eighteen years. She’s the best mother a girl could ask for.”

  “So, you’re here to bargain for her life.” Lord Crane’s tone was mocking. “What does the Light Caster have up her sleeve? What can you possibly give me that I cannot take? It better be a damn good offer.”

  My jaw dropped. I couldn’t believe it. “She is your blood. Your daughter.” I was shocked and disgusted at him. No wonder the Light Casters hated the Shadow Casters.

  “Not good enough. Take her away and execute her immediately.”

  “Wait!” My hands shook. I had no idea what I was doing. “I have something you need. Something you’ve never had before.”

  That caught his attention.

  “Let her go, or else you can forget everything.” My voice was unwavering, full of confidence I didn’t possess.

  “What could you possibly have?”

  “My free will.” Everyone laughed. “I’ll volunteer for your experiment if you release my mother.”

  The laughter ceased. I could feel every eye in the room on me.

  “I bet you’ve never had a volunteer before. Or anyone like me, Lord Crane. My father was a Light Caster, my mother a Shadow Caster. I possess both light and dark.”

  “Chas?” My mother’s feeble voice sounded from behind me

  I faced her. “Oh, now you know me?” I shook my head as she closed her eyes. Her nostrils were flared. She was upset. So was I. But if she thought for one minute that I was going to leave her to be executed, she was in for a surprise.

  “You were wrong about Revera, Mom. It’s not as glamorous as you painted it. There are more dark people living there than there are down here. My shadow sand came later, but it’s just as strong as my light.”

  Tears filled her eyes.

  I turned around, chin held high. “So what will it be, Lord Crane?”

  “I could just kill your mother and take you.”

  “You can try, but I wonder… Maybe the missing ingredient to your little experiment is the one thing you cannot take. Don’t underestimate the power of free will.”

  Not happening, Kiara’s voice filled my head before I heard her low growls behind me. She was crazy with hatred for the Sodivic family. She gave a loud bark, snarling and growling at them.

  “And then there is this little matter. I found a Shadow Hound. Unlike Briggs, I had use for her.”

  Lord Crane gawked at Kiara and then at Briggs. “What is she talking about?” he asked.

  “You have no right to take her,” Briggs whined. “She’s mine!”

  I settled my eyes on Briggs, long enough that he shifted with disc
omfort at the sudden attention, then shifted my attention to Lord Crane.

  “Yours? Kiara is her own master. You all love to control and destroy things you know nothing about. I’ve had her for mere weeks, and I already know everything there is to know about the Shadow Hounds, about you all. Blood isn’t family. That,” I pointed down at Kiara, “she is family. And we don’t even share the same anatomy. No wonder you were all banished from Revera.”

  The crowd was in an uproar. Screams of “Kill them!” pierced my ears. Shadow Hounds slavered and growled in anticipation of a bloodbath.

  Kiara stood firm in front of me, her smoke growing larger with every beat of my heart.

  Don’t, I said to her. We need to get my mother.

  Her smoke receded somewhat.

  I looked at Briggs. Emotions contorted his face: firs he was nervous, then fuming, then scared.

  Locking eyes with Lord Crane, I declared, “She belongs to no one. Not to me, and definitely not to that psycho who almost beat her to death because she didn’t want to kill you.” I didn’t blink.

  Unlike his grandson’s, his face was blank, void of all emotion. His jaw muscles pumped.

  Briggs looked ready to breathe fire if he could. His nostrils flared. “You’re lying!” Briggs jumped down.

  Seriously? Kiara scoffed.

  He strode right to me, his chest puffed out.

  Calm down, Kiara, I know a thing or two about contact sports.

  He came in with a right hook that I dodged. My knee connected hard with his stomach. I slammed both my elbows on his back at the same time. As he went down, I kicked him with as much force as I could muster.

  “That is for what you did to Kiara.”

  He spat blood on the floor, got up, and barreled at me.

  Kiara snarled and let out a loud, unfamiliar bark.

  Briggs flew back as if her bark had brought forth an invisible force. He landed exactly on the same spot where he’d been a few seconds ago.

  Kiara stalked closer and closer to him closer. She was furious for what he had done to her.

  Kiara, it’s okay. I went on my knees and begged her to come back to me.

 
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