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       Light, p.21

           Adrienne Woods
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  “She didn’t try. She ran away.” His tone was sharp.

  “And you think she deserved to die for that!” I bellowed at him, all my pent-up anger infusing my words.

  “She was my daughter. She was supposed to take over, rule these lands. And now I’m forced to give it to her brother. The Oblivion won’t last if he is in charge.”

  “Then don’t give it to him.”

  “It’s not as easy as that.”

  I didn’t want to get into the middle of this feud.

  “So you see, I had to find a way to take back Revera. To make sure my people would be safe.”

  “Your people wouldn’t stand a chance in Revera. They can’t. The light is too strong for their weak and dark minds. They explode after seven days.” I felt confident, parroting what I had learned at the Institute.

  But then he gave me a condescending smile. “It’s just spells, really strong spells that were cast the day Selene threw out Magdalena.”

  “Because of what Magdalena did.”

  He shook his head. “For years, Magdalena was bitter, but she wasn’t dark. She mourned the death of Darius. She mourned being out cast by her best friend. She didn’t act evil.”

  I frowned, but refused give way to my doubt. I’d seen part of her life when I was trapped in the Guile. That woman had to be Magdalena. She’d begged me to help her, but with what and how?

  “On her deathbed, she tried to tell my great-grandfather—your great-great-grandfather—the truth of what happened the night Darius died. She couldn’t. Her lips wouldn’t allow her to release the words. My great-grandfather often regaled us with the tale. How she tried, how she failed, time and time again.” He spoke about it with tears glistening in his eyes.

  “She was angry, and scared that the truth would never be revealed, whatever the truth was. That was one of the reasons we invaded Revera that night with Fox a nearly a year ago. We wanted Selene. She’s a Somnium, maybe the only one strong enough to make the truth come out… whether Selene wanted the truth to come out or not.”

  He was talking in circles. “What truth?”

  “The reason why she was cast out.”

  I scoffed. “She killed Darius. She wanted more power. She tried to kill Selene. The pearl cast her out, not Selene. Magdalena was too dark for Revera.”

  He shook his head. “If that were true, why did Selene place unbreakable enchantments on Magdalena? If that were true, why wouldn’t she allow Magdalena to tell her side of the story? What did Selene have to hide?”

  This rang true, or true-ish. I squinted. It was a good question. I knew all too well that Selene wasn’t as perfect as she wanted everyone to believe.

  “My family tried everything. Magdalena tried to write down the events that had transpired the night of our invasion, but it was gibberish, as if her hands was possessed by some unnatural force. It was a spell, just like the spells Selene cast over Revera to keep all of us out. To deny us our birthplace.”

  His voice was colored with sadness, but I shook it off, remembering my mother’s warning about not getting pulled in.

  “Or maybe it was to protect the Light Casters from you,” I said stubbornly.

  “I almost succeeded that night. Changing the pearl would’ve broken her spell and we could all have gone home.” His voice was harder now, sterner, and his eyes were darker. Discussing that night made anger spark in him. He hit the desk with his fist. “I was this close to releasing Magdalena and finding out the truth Selene so desperately concealed from everyone.”

  I shrank from his temper.

  “The Oblivion is not a place to live!” His outburst caught me unawares and I jumped in my seat. He looked straight into my eyes. “Someone overpowered everything, turned everything back. It had to be someone who carried dark sand. I thought one of my soldiers had betrayed me, and I killed nearly twenty of them out of rage.”

  I broke eye contact with him as my heart started drumming its nervous beat. I knew what had stopped him that night.

  “Chastity, I need to know… was that you?”

  Silence filled the room. I stared back at him, and our eyes warred with each other.

  I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what type of temperament he had. He had just confessed to killing twenty of his soldiers because he’d thought they’d betrayed him.

  Do I lie to him? Do I tell him it was I who thwarted them?

  I knew Fox had been working with him. He’d probably spun her the same yarn—that he wanted to go home and Selene had cast spells all over Revera so they won’t be able to live longer than seven days in paradise.

  But I had firsthand experience with the darkness in Selene. Perhaps his tale had some sort of truth to it.

  I sighed. “I didn’t know.”

  “Didn’t know what?”

  “That changing the pearl would break the spell, enchantment—that whatever she cast would be destroyed. She told us we’d all die if she died. That she was the only reason why Revera still existed. So, I did what I thought was right. I used my shadow sand to turn it back to gold.”

  Lord Crane’s glare was unwavering. After a few suffocating moments, he broke eye contact with me. “I see. Thank you for telling the truth, Chastity. That was your test.”

  “Test for what?”

  “To see if I could trust you. Or begin to trust you. You see, just like you, I own a gift myself. You can hear Shadow Hounds, which is quite uncommon but not unheard of. It’s extremely rare. My gift is knowing when people lie.”

  I shuddered. “So, you already knew it was me that night?”

  “I had a feeling. But now when you admitted it, my senses didn’t sound an alarm within me. You were telling the truth.” He nodded curtly to himself. “Just maybe this will work.”

  “What will work?”

  “Magdalena didn’t die.”

  I cocked my head. “You said ‘on her deathbed.’”

  “I know I used those words, but she is a Somnium, Chastity. One of the three creators of both our worlds. She couldn’t die, even though she wished to. She was a bitter woman, driven by revenge. It tore her family apart.”

  I hadn’t known Magdalena had a family.

  Lord Crane smiled. “You didn’t wonder about her roots? She married one of the first outcasts. She had two children, a son and a daughter. Her son disappeared. We don’t know where he is, but my guess is that he is in the Domain. Well, was. He would be dead by now. Her daughter was the only one who carried on her bloodline. And you are part of that bloodline, even if you don’t want it.”

  I felt like he’d tossed cold water on me. “Wait, what?”

  “I see Vinicola never told you how important we are. We are the direct descendants of a Somnium, Chastity. Magdalena is your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother. It’s our duty to help her find peace. My great-grandfather spoke about her bitterness. When it finally set, she became severely depressed. The Oblivion does that to a lot of Shadow Casters. Especially the ones who don’t belong here.”

  “I don’t understand. They all have dark sand.”

  “I’m not talking about the color of the sand. I’m talking about the color of their hearts. There are good people here, Chastity. There are people here—more than you know—who do not belong here. I am fighting for them.”

  I wanted to believe what he was saying, but the cruelty of his own heart made it impossible for me to fathom the veracity of this revelation.

  As if reading my thoughts, he said, “I know I’m not one of them. I’m not good, even though I attempt to do the right thing.” It was as if he heard my doubts.

  “So if Magdalena didn’t die, what happened to her?”

  He smiled for half a second before pursing his lips. “She couldn’t reveal her secrets about Revera to anyone. She couldn’t tell anyone why she was cast out. We know what the Light Casters are taught. They say she got greedy, which was why her dark sand manifested, and that she killed Darius. We don’t believe that. We believe something else
happened that scared Selene, that she lied to keep covered up.”

  “How do you even know this?”

  “Because, dear granddaughter, we have many Light Casters among us. Their sand turned dark only because they did something bad. Selene cast them out. Well, the lucky ones were sent here.”

  I shook my head. I didn’t want to believe him, but Selene had tried to kill me, so he was speaking some truth.

  “We know they teach you to kill Shadow Casters without asking questions. Many innocent Shadow Casters have died because of Selene’s brainwashing.”

  “You’ve killed Light Casters!” I spat out in annoyance.

  “Because we got fed up with the killing. We had to start defending ourselves.”

  I choked out a laugh. “Spare me. You are one of the most sadistic people I’ve ever seen. You almost killed your own daughter without blinking an eye. Now you want me to believe that Shadow Casters are innocent in this? Please. Shadow Casters have been hunting Light Casters for a long time. My friends died, got burned because you brainwashed a Light Caster. She killed an entire group of people who trusted her.”

  Tears blurred my vision. I wanted to leave, though I knew I couldn’t.

  “You are right. That’s where it ended, Chastity. I promise you, it wasn’t like that in the beginning. The Oblivion corrodes a part of one’s soul. We have many dark souls here, more so than the good ones who don’t belong here. It’s easy to believe you are dark when you live in a dark place, when you are born in a dark place. My people don’t have a choice. Our sand is dark. It’s always been dark. Why do you think I fight so hard? I want this atrocity to end. And we need to know the secret that is buried deep inside Magdalena.”

  I just stared at him. “You said she is…”

  “Not dead.”

  He looked at the bright liquid in the bottle on his desk.

  It all started making sense.

  That was… Magdalena.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

  GHOSTS DO EXIST

  I stared at that bottle until the white blotches dotted my vision again. “You want me to believe that somehow you captured Magdalena’s essence, or, like, soul, or whatever that is, and what, liquefied her?” Even saying the words made me sound like a lunatic.

  “I couldn’t put it any better. Of course, we distilled her essence with her permission. It was my great-grandfather’s idea. Magdalena was fading. She didn’t want to see anyone. She couldn’t tell us the secrets that lay deep within her soul, locked away by something stronger than any of us. So, for generations we tried to find a way to capture her essence. It would mean that she would die eventually, but it also meant we could find a way to find out the truth. I’m not saying that the truth will be easy for us. Perhaps she did kill Darius and wanted more power, but I don’t believe that’s all.

  “Nobody becomes a killer overnight, Chastity. You’re made a killer. Ask yourself, why did she become one? Who pushed her? If she did kill Darius—a man she saw as a brother, a friend—why did she feel the need to kill him? That is what we want, nay, need to know. We need to know what triggered her dark sand. We need to know the truth. Not just for us, but for all the Casters. Light and Shadow. I don’t believe that it’s either light or darkness. I truly believe we can possess both. Not literally, like you. But I believe all people possess goodness and a bit of darkness, no matter the color of our sand.”

  The way he said all this made me feel ashamed. I had been labeling Shadow Casters and Light Casters like some sort of racist. I had bought into all the stereotypes without questioning them.

  “How long has Magdalena been in there?”

  “About seventy-five years. I was very young when they put her inside. I hardly remember what she looked like. I can’t even remember the event. My grandfather was the one who figured out how to do it, and my father was the one who made it happen. I must be the one who discovers the secret, Chastity.”

  I closed my eyes, trying to wrap my mind around all of this. “My mother doesn’t know about this?”

  “She’s the only one who does. The rest of my family has no idea. I can’t place my trust in them. My grandson tried to kill me.”

  I was surprised he believed me.

  “If anything were to happen to me, only then would the few who carry the secret have told Sebastian about it. But I fear for her in his hands. She would certainly die.”

  I could hear the fear lacing his tone.

  “The Light Casters… where do they fit into this plan?”

  “Something I experimented on. We are trying to find a host for Magdalena. Someone with whom she could share the truth.”

  A weird feeling of déjà vu washed over me. The Guile. It couldn’t be what she’d meant when she’d asked for help. She couldn’t have known. She wasn’t even there, or was she?

  “What is it?” Lord Crane seemed to pick up on my worries.

  “Nothing. I still don’t understand why you need the Light Casters.”

  “She was a Light Caster herself before she turned dark. But they are not strong enough to keep her essence. It literally burns their insides when they are injected with her formula.”

  “Her… formula?” I asked and then I waved my hands through the air, indicating that no, I didn’t want to know. “Is that why they die?”

  He nodded.

  “You didn’t once try to maybe use a Shadow Caster?” I asked flippantly.

  “How do you think my father died, Chas? My mother, my brother? They all thought they could carry her. That they were strong enough. I lost my entire family because they weren’t strong enough. But you might just be our saving grace, because you carry both the light and dark within you.”

  I was on the verge of freaking out. They wanted me to share my body with another entity.

  “And how would this work? When she is inside me? How long do I have to share my body with her? Or are these questions you won’t give me answers to?”

  “She’ll leave when the truth comes out, Chastity.”

  My voice was shrill. “You think?”

  “Calm down. If that doesn’t happen, I will find a way to get her out. If I can get her inside you, then there has to be a way to get her out. But first we need to get her inside, need to get her to stick, without losing you. Otherwise there’ll be no getting her out.”

  I couldn’t believe that I was going to have to trust Lord Crane. My mother had warned me not to trust him. But if what was telling the truth? I had to find out what truly happened and why Magdalena had been cast out. What was the connection between her and the Guile? I clearly remembered her sitting in front of me and begging me to help her.

  I wasn’t just saving my mom from her hearing anymore. I might be saving this world.

  There was no turning back now.

  We spent the day talking. I didn’t have to endure any needles or tests or anything. A part of me was glad, and a part of me was anxious to get this over with.

  More and more, I also wanted to know the truth. Just imagining what I’d have to tell my mother made my stomach turn. I didn’t want to lie to her.

  After revealing what was in the bottle, Lord Crane put it back into the safe. He pressed the same combination and then replaced the painting.

  “Are you ready to see the lab?” His face was friendly, and I almost smiled at him. He was starting to break my guard down little by little.

  He took me to meet three doctors.

  One was the woman I had thought was a maid when I had arrived here. She was, in fact, a physician’s assistant and Lord Crane’s researcher. Apparently, she was exceptionally smart. Her name was Alice. She was as unpleasant as she had been when she’d opened the door for me.

  Then there was Dr. Stevens. He was in his forties, had salt-and-pepper hair, and looked as if he walked miles every day. A weariness clung to his posture, and he seemed anxious and lost at the same time.

  Now that I thought about it, most of the people living in the Oblivion looked that way.

&nbs
p; Lastly was Sylvia. She could’ve easily been the reincarnation of Lord Crane himself—his clone if he were a woman. They finished each other’s sentences and even spoke with the same mannerisms. She was one of his partners in this endeavor.

  “So you see,” she said with a British accent. Her short, black hair hung to her shoulders. She wore delicate glasses, which needed a good repair. “This is where the tests will take place. We will start by injecting you with Magdalena’s formula, which is not her essence. We cannot experiment with her, and I’m sure you understand why. Once you have successfully accepted the formula, we will inject you with Magdalena herself.”

  “You mean if I’m still alive?”

  “Smart girl,” she said, and walked over to the other part of the lab where all the electronic equipment stood.

  “Dr. Stevens and Alice will be monitoring you on the screens—your heart rate, organ health, oxygen saturation, and your brainwaves via EEG.”

  “Then why didn’t you stop with the other Light Casters?”

  “There wasn’t any time. It happened so fast. The second the symptoms started manifesting, the subjects became violently ill and vomited blood. There was no time to shut it down. We tried to save them, but the medication we administered only seemed to worsen it. That is why the screaming sounded so excruciating.” Her voice wavered as she spoke, and she trembled as if the memories still haunted her.

  “But I’m sure it will not happen this time,” Lord Crane said. “After all, she is my granddaughter.”

  “Of course,” Sylvia smiled. “If you’d excuse me, I have a lot of work to do in trying to figure out how not to kill you tomorrow,” Sylvia said as she hurried away. Alice followed on her heels with hasty strides.

  I wanted that to put me at ease, but it didn’t.

  The bed I would be splayed out on looked like a hospital bed. I despised hospitals.

  “You are extremely brave for volunteering, Chastity,” Lord Crane’s voice was right behind me.

  “I’m not brave. I did it to save my mother’s life,” I hissed. “Is there anything else you need me for, or can I go?”

 
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