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       Light, p.22

           Adrienne Woods
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  He held up his finger for me to wait and left the room.

  I swept my gaze over the room where I would more than likely die. An eerie feeling swept over me.

  He returned with the bracelet.

  “Trust is a two-way street, Chas. And just as much as you don’t trust a single word that came out of my mouth today, I don’t trust you to return tomorrow.”

  He put the bracelet over my wrist and clamped it tightly. “Nine o’ clock tomorrow.”

  I glared and rubbed my wrist. “So eager to kill me.”

  “Chastity,” Mom’s voice finally penetrated my fog. I shook out of my stupor and realized I hadn’t touched the plate of food she put in front of me.

  “Sorry, Mom.” I flashed a weak smile.

  “I don’t like this.” She was worried, and I couldn’t blame her. “What does he want with you?”

  “I can’t tell you. I don’t want to lie to you, so please, don’t ask me.”

  “You are my daughter,” she bit out. “And I don’t care whether you are twenty, thirty, or a hundred-and-one, you will still be my daughter. It’s my job to know that you are safe.” She eyed my bracelet. “And that bracelet?”

  “Mom, calm down. Just as much as you do not trust your father, he doesn’t trust us. He knows the minute this bracelet comes off we will be gone, and he needs me more than you think.” I inhaled deeply.

  “What is it?”

  “I can’t. He just makes it hard to trust a single word that comes out of his mouth.”

  “I told you. He’s my father; I know him a hell of a lot better.”

  “I know. But do you know if there might be a small part of him that has a good heart? A part willing to fight for the greater good, not just for him but for the whole of the Oblivion?”

  She closed her eyes. “Chas, look where he lives. Do you think by any means that he has a horrible life here? He knows nothing about these lands because he hardly leaves the confines of his riches. He only takes care of himself.”

  I blew a breath out of my mouth. “He doesn’t have to know you told me, Chas.”

  “Mom, it’s not that easy. Please, if you want to know what he’s doing, then go ask him yourself. I can’t tell you.” With that, I pushed away from the table. “I’m not hungry. May I please go to bed? I have a long day tomorrow.”

  Worry creased her brow. She sighed and nodded. I walked over to her and bent down to give her a hug, wrapping my arms around her neck. I stayed like that for a few minutes. “I love you, Mom. And for what it’s worth, I’m so glad you’re here.”

  She patted my back. “I love you too, baby. I would go to hell for you.”

  I broke the hug and beamed at her, which a watery smile to her face. “I mean, you kind of already did.” I walked to the stairs, and without a backward glance, I bade her goodnight.

  It was hard to imagine that this cabin was the same, smelly old cabin I’d found. Mom had fixed it up beautifully with her sand. From what she’d explained, she could only do this for someone of her blood, as the family were all Level Four Casters and only they could do this. If she were to do this for someone else, like Karin for example, it wouldn’t work. I hopped into the amazing shower, but I was shivering as I got out, and not from the cold. No, I felt cold because of what lay in front of me. I was facing a huge mountain and I somehow had to climb it.

  I needed to figure out a way not to die tomorrow, and fast.

  I wished more than anything that I could see Leigh that night. But he didn’t visit my dreams.

  Kiara didn’t want to leave my side the next morning, but I couldn’t keep her close to me. She knew the whole story, because she could see my thoughts, and I was glad I was the only one able to hear Shadow Hounds, or else my mother would have been in a tizzy.

  “You need to go.” I crouched down in front of her.

  And leave you alone with that butcher? Chas, what if he is lying to you about Magdalena.

  “I did think about that. You know I have. But I gave him my word and…” I dangled my arm in front of her to show her the bracelet.

  She sighed in her mind. She was frightened and angry that she couldn’t do more. That she couldn’t get that bracelet off my hand. She even offered to go and steal the key, which I begged her not to do. Lord Crane kept it with him at all times.

  I don’t want you to die, she confessed.

  “I know. But I have no choice now; I’m in too deep. Meet me back here tonight. If I’m not here, you can go get my mother and whoever else you want to kick his ass.”

  Something tells me it’ll be too late by then.

  “Have faith, Kiara.” I smiled.

  I cleared my mind. I didn’t want Kiara to see the doubts I had about this, or hear my goodbye.

  I should’ve woken my mother up, I should’ve said goodbye to her. I might never get another chance.

  I had to do this. I had to get this bracelet off. If I went back on my word now, they’d kill everyone I knew, starting with my beautiful mom. Dying to save the entire Shadow Caster race was much better than dying from poison administered for tardiness.

  Lord Crane was waiting for me in the lounge. He was nursing a cup of coffee and nibbling on a muffin as he perused a newspaper. My mother’s words from last night flashed through my mouth and I sneered at the sight. How privileged he was.

  He looked up from his newspaper. “Oh, good morning, Chastity. Ready for today?”

  “Yeah, I guess.” I tried to muster some positivity.

  He got up from the couch, took the key out of his pocket, and walked to me. He unlocked the bracelet. Again I rubbed my hand to get rid of the numbness.

  “Have you eaten anything?” he asked and I nodded.

  “Then I suppose you’re as ready as you’ll ever be.” He smiled and walked out.

  I followed him back to the elevator.

  I wondered what it would feel like to share my body with a Somnium. Even if she was dark, she was still a Somnium. I’d have a taste of that power flowing through me.

  The ride down to the labs was silent except for the creepy music. Lord Crane didn’t say a word. I was glad he didn’t. He couldn’t promise me that everything would be fine, since that would be a lie.

  My stomach churned with nerves as the elevator descended.

  The door pinged loudly, announcing our destination. It shifted open and we followed the same routine we’d gone through the previous day, but instead of stopping at his office, we went straight to the lab.

  I didn’t want to beg to any higher power, like God, to save my life from this. I’d been stupid enough to volunteer for this, so I kept my mouth shut, my thoughts to myself, and walked my green mile.

  Sylvia and Alice were the first to greet Lord Crane. Sylvia handed him a cup of coffee and they fell into conversation about the experiment.

  Alice took my arm and led me to another room, which held a chair not unlike those found in dental offices. A folded hospital gown lay on top of it.

  “You need to change into this. You may keep you panties on.” She gave me a curt nod as she shoved the hospital gown into my hands and left.

  I closed the blinds on the window and undressed, pulling the gown over my head. I still felt naked.

  My hands trembled. It finally dawned down on me that all those screams from the Light Casters, those horrible and nightmarish screams, had been because of this.

  They’d all been strapped down in this room. They’d all endured horrible, terrifying things here. And they hadn’t had a choice. It disgusted me that they’d gone through something like this without knowing why.

  I might very well meet the same fate they did.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

  HEAVEN IS REAL

  I tried to keep my mind calm, keep the screaming I had heard when I’d been in the cells from my mind. If I thought of the screaming, I’d think of the burning, of the pain I would endure one Alice led me into the lab.

  My hands shook, sending tremors through my body. and I stru
ggled to calm my nerves.

  You can do this, Chas. Again, the voice I imagined in my head to calm the anxiety was Leigh’s. You have both light and dark. You can do this.

  I saw Alice staring at my hand. It stopped trembling, as if her glare was an off button. Her eyes found mind.

  “Please don’t wet the floor,” she said.

  My mouth gaped and I looked at her in bewilderment. She had no compassion whatsoever, and I wondered if this was what Lord Crane had meant when he said some of them belonged here, while others didn’t.

  I forced her unkindness from my mind and sat down on the bed. A few moments later, Sylvia came out as Alice left the room.

  Lord Crane stood in the doorway. “Good luck, Chastity. Sylvia, it’s time.”

  “I know.” She smiled. Her smile disappeared the second he left.

  “I wish I could tell you that this won’t hurt a bit, but if you make it past this, we will be in uncharted territory. So I’m begging you, please make it to the next stage. I can’t bear to see another person die at my hands.”

  The way she phrased her words made it seem like it was my choice.

  She stuck small round plugs all over my chest and back. “These are to monitor your heart rate.” She placed a device over my head. “This is to monitor your brain activity.”

  Speaking about brain activity wanted me to throw up; I swallowed hard.

  She lowered my backrest and the spotlight shone directly into my face. “I’m going to insert the IV, and we will start the tests from there.”

  I felt the burning pierce as the needle entered my skin.

  “Chastity, I’m going to need you take a few deep breaths as the formula enters your system,” Sylvia advised.

  Ice flowed into my veins. The coldness rushed up, and I wasn’t sure if the burning sensation came from the extreme cold, or if it was heating the blood in my body to an unbearable degree.

  My breaths became deeper and frequently as the burning sensation crawled up my neck. My eyes wanted to pop out of my head from the strain the liquid was putting on my body. Was this why Max’s eyes had been burned out in my dream? Was this what this formula did to the other Light Casters?

  I heard Sylvia’s voice, but it was more like a droning and I couldn’t make out a word she said.

  I was too focused on staying alive.

  The pain penetrated my skull, pressing harder and harder against the corners of my mind. I ground down on my teeth as the harrowing, burning pain overpowered my brain.

  An explosion rocked through my skull, searing into every inch of my brain.

  I bit down on my tongue. The pain didn’t lessen. I screamed, howling in pain, tears streaming down my face. My throat was raw. My insides were raw. Agonizing pain pierced me over and over and over. My skull, my skin, my organs, everything was on fire. Ablaze with heat. It felt as if I was burning from the inside out.

  I screamed my final scream as I succumbed to the wildfire within me.

  I blinked. Bright light filled my eyes. Heaven. I must be in heaven. Ugh, my mother was going to be so pissed off.

  The pain returned with full force, tearing at the back of my neck and clawing at my eyes.

  I couldn’t open my eyes, but I couldn’t keep them closed either. It felt like someone was sanding the space between my eyeballs and my eyelids.

  I groaned.

  Heaven wasn’t supposed to be painful.

  This wasn’t heaven.

  Was I still alive?

  “Chas?”

  Was that my mother?

  Chas.

  Kiara?

  Something stabbed at my skull in short bursts. It was unbearable and I screamed again.

  My mother’s voice again.

  Where was I?

  I could hear my mother’s panic, yelling at someone—someone she called her father.

  Her father? But she hates her father…

  What was going on?

  My mind was aching, trying to piece together the things I was hearing.

  Another woman’s voice tried to soothe me, to keep me calm, and just when I thought I couldn’t place the voice, everything rushed back to me, increasing the pain. It was Sylvia talking to me now, trying to assure me that she was trying to get the pain under control. Her cold hands felt good on my burning body. I moaned as it eased some of the pressure on my chest.

  Everything started to go back to normal as my mind cleared. The pain eased, the burning eased, and the stabbing in my skull lessened.

  The ache was still there, pounding in the back of my skull, but it wasn’t as overpowering as before.

  I opened my eyes.

  I couldn’t see a thing. Everything was dark.

  Shit.

  I was blind.

  Frantic, I lifted my hand and touched my eyes. Eye patches.

  I sighed in relief.

  Chas, Kiara’s voice penetrated through the ache. What have they done to you?

  Relax, Kiara. I think I actually survived. I’m… I’m okay.

  “Chastity?” My mother’s voice was close again. It was filled with concern and relief. “Why did you agree to this if you know no other Light Caster woke up?” She scolded me softly.

  “Because they would have killed you,” I murmured. “And because I’m different from the others. Besides, it sort of worked. I’m still alive, which means I am showing progress… Wait, I am alive, right?”

  I heard a sniffle and a huff of her breath.

  Ha, my lame attempt at a joke worked.

  I wanted to see her. My hand automatically went up to take eye patches off.

  My mom’s hand blocked mine. “Sylvia said that it should stay on for at least another day.”

  “Another day?” My voice was filled with trepidation. “Mom, how long have I been out?”

  “A week. When you didn’t come home, Kiara brought me here. My father me what had happened. I almost killed him.”

  “But you didn’t.”

  “Only because I wanted to understand why are you doing this. For what reason? You should’ve told me he was still trying to find a host for her. She is a Somnium, Chas. There can be no host for them.”

  I sighed. My mom wouldn’t understand why I was doing this. I didn’t even fully understand why I was doing this. What had started out as a rescue mission to save her had turned out to be something so much more. I wanted to know the truth. At least some of my grandfather’s story had to be the truth. I saw it in the Guile. “It’s hard to explain.”

  “Hard to explain? YOU CAN DIE!”

  “I know, Mom, but I didn’t. Which means that I might just be…”

  “Might just be what?” she asked. “Chastity, there can be no host! My father had been at this for as long as I can remember. At one stage, he believed I would be the host, that I’d be the one worthy of her essence, but I would’ve died just like his family had. There is no host, Chas.”

  “You don’t know that.”

  “I told you not to trust him.”

  I sighed. “I have to try.”

  “Try what?”

  “Try believing a part of him is good.”

  “Why?” I could hear the frustration in his voice.

  “Because he’s my grandfather! Because he is family! And because the fates of a lot of people—maybe good people—depend on this obsession of his. Maybe.”

  That seemed to shut her up.

  “I know how that sounds. But, Mom, I’ve never had family before. No cousins, no aunts or uncles, no grandfather… Just you. And it’s not that you aren’t enough, because you are, but knowing I have a family, even if they are dark and evil… I don’t care about that anymore. We share the same blood. A part of them must be good.”

  “The Cranes are not like us, Chas. They don’t put any value on family. The night your father died, Sebastian, my own brother, would’ve killed me if I didn’t escape through that Celestial. He wouldn’t have thought twice.”

  “Because he is a psychopath.” I winced from ano
ther throb of pain before continuing. “I’m not saying I would trust every one of them.” I hated fighting with her. “I’m just saying that I’d like to believe my grandfather still had a good side to him. Please, just let me believe that, otherwise, this will be for nothing.”

  My mother didn’t speak again. Neither did I. Kiara kept asking me if I was fine, where it hurt, and it was working on my nerves. I didn’t show her that she was annoying me. I knew she was only worried about me.

  “You really don’t have to stay here. I’ll be fine.”

  “I’m not going to leave you, Chas,” my mom said.

  “Fine,” I replied.

  “Sleep, you need your rest.”

  I did try to sleep, and after struggling for a long time, I fell into darkness.

  Only darkness.

  My dreams used to be so beautiful. Now, they were filled with nothing. Just blackness, until light seeped through when I woke up.

  Although now, no light seeped through because I was still wearing the eye patches.

  I missed my colorful dreams. I missed color.

  I missed my life.

  I missed Leigh.

  My world had been reduced to fighting to stay alive.

  I was glad my mother was here, that she knew what we had been up to, but not so glad that she knew I might not come out of this alive.

  Had Lord Crane entrusted the secret of Magdalena to my mother because he thought she’d be the host? Or because he was grooming her to rule the Oblivion? Or simply because he trusted her?

  My dreary thoughts were interrupted by my mother and grandfather quarreling.

  “Do you honestly expect me to believe that you always cared?” my mother spoke in a harsh whisper.

  “I loved you with my whole heart. Though my ways might not always been kind, Vinicola, I always did things to make you stronger. Strong enough to take my place one day.”

  “You killed everything that was dear to me.”

  “To make you stronger, so that nobody could touch you, or hurt you.”

  “You want me to become like Sebastian?” she asked. “He would’ve killed me if Graig didn’t make sure the Celestial could take me through. Your own son. Whose fault is that? Who raised him to be that monster? He was my twin. A bond that should’ve never have been as messed up as ours is now. You ruined him.”

 
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