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       Light, p.24

           Adrienne Woods
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  Her constant worrying about me never faded. It made her vulnerable and opened up a level of conversation we had never shared between us. Things I never thought she would admit.

  I’d never seen her that vulnerable. She spoke about her life here. About how close she and Sebastian used to be, but how her father favored her and that Sebastian got most of the beatings, even if she as the one who misbehaved.

  She’d been so deep in everything in this place, but then she met an angel. One who pulled her out of her darkness. One who showed her a better way, that he didn’t care about the darkness. He just cared about her.

  My father.

  Tears welled up in her eyes. “You’ve got to stop this, baby. You tried.”

  “Mom,” my voice was barely audible and it wasn’t because I was tired or afraid. I’d been struggling with it since I woke up.

  “Chas, you almost died. I am not going to lose you too. Please, don’t do this to me.”

  “Mom, c’mon…”

  “No, I don’t care about the promise you made. You need to stop.”

  “Forget about it, Mo—”

  “You think he’ll stop because you are his granddaughter? He won’t. He would kill me if he believed it would aid his special cause of waking up that thing in the bottle and getting the truth he seeks…”

  “So you do agree!” I spat out.

  My mother was furious. Her arms were crossed. Her jaw muscles clenched as tears filled up her eyes again. Then the anger just melted. She settled down on the edge of my bed. “No, I don’t. But there was a time that I used to. I looked up to my father, once. Everything I did, I did to please him. It pleased him so much that it became a contest between me and my brother. It drove a wedge between us and we drifted apart. His words are addictive, and the way he makes people feel… you just want to please him more and more. I’ve been there, honey. And I’m seeing it now, with you. It’s not worth it.”

  I wasn’t like that. I wasn’t doing this to please my grandfather. I was doing it for the truth. But telling her that would only end up in a fight. I didn’t want to fight with her.

  She left shortly after our discussion, and I couldn’t turn my mind away from it.

  But I was still yearn to find out what happened to Magdalena.

  Had Fox truly bought into my grandfather’s empty beliefs too, or…?

  You must choose. I kept saying it over and over in my mind.

  Finally, it made sense.

  I had to choose whether I wanted to go on or not. That was what it meant. It wasn’t about my sand, about who I was. It was about this. About whether my grandfather’s cause was worth fighting for.

  The door opened and my grandfather appeared in the doorway. He smiled upon finding me awake. Without a word, he sat on the edge of my bed.

  He picked up the stethoscope on the table beside my bed and gently placed it on my chest. “Breathe,” he ordered.

  I obeyed. When he was satisfied that my lungs were steady and I was breathing, he put a thermometer in my mouth. I sucked on it until a small digital beep went off. He took it from my mouth and a small smile spread on his lips as he looked at the readout.

  His smile vanished. “How are you feeling, Chastity?”

  “Like I’ve been raised from the dead.”

  He didn’t laugh, but he bought into my humor. “You know, you are so much like you mother. She used to have exceptionally fine and witty answers.”

  I snorted.

  “I didn’t know your father well, though not because I didn’t want to. I’m sure he was a great man. He had to have been to make my daughter give up everything.”

  He paused for a while, fiddling with the EEG machine to read the squiggly lines of my brain waves. Without looking up, he continued, “Your mother is more like me than she cares to admit. There was a time that I believed she would be able to carry Magdalena, but I came to my senses. I didn’t want to lose her, and even though she thought herself worthy, I forbade it. My not believing she was capable of the task was the beginning of our drift apart. I’m not going to repeat that same mistake, Chas.”

  I studied his face. He was going to tell me to stop. That I wasn’t strong enough. I had gotten this far. I hadn’t died like the others. Wasn’t that proof enough?

  “If you tell me now that you cannot do it, I will understand. There will be no hard feelings, and I will not see it as you reneging on our deal. Both you and your mother would be safe if you decide to back out now. But if you think you can, I will stand beside you all the way.”

  I nodded. He hadn’t released me from our deal completely. It was now up to me. Funnily, I was relieved that he hadn’t told me to stop.

  Silence lingered between and then he asked me the inevitable question. “So, what’s it going to be?”

  I studied him. In my mind, the same question was asked. It was weird how it wasn’t in my voice. It was in a man’s. Not Leigh’s this time, but a man who made it feel as if I knew him. Someone I felt I could trust.

  You have to choose.

  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

  You have to choose.

  “You have to choose, Chas,” my grandfather now said. “Are you the answer the Sodivics have been waiting for, for centuries?”

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  GIVING IN OR FIGHTING?

  My grandfather didn’t wait for my answer. He simply asked the question, told me that there might be another way to do this, but it didn’t need to be discussed right away, and then he left.

  The similarities between him and my mother amazed me.

  She knew a side of my grandfather I didn’t want to know. The cruel tyrant, the raging abuser, the manipulative narcissist. And I knew I shouldn’t trust him the way I did. After all, he was indirectly responsible for my father’s death.

  But there was just something about him that pulled me in. Whether it was my darkness resonating with his, or more in line with my mom’s warning that he was dangerous at using his charisma to suck people into line with his desires, I did not know.

  I wanted to be the one so badly. I truly did, but I was starting to doubt whether I could do it. I’d almost lost my vision. I’d been dead for nine minutes.

  What if I didn’t pull through after the next round? What if I completely lost my sight?

  I drifted away faster than I thought was possible, and when I opened my eyes, both my mother and Kiara were at my side. I had my eyepatches back on, to protect my eyes from the burning light as they were still sensitive. I could see my mother through Kiara’s eyes.

  I was so happy to finally see Kiara again, and understood what Mom had meant that our gift ran through one another.

  “You don’t have to be here, Kiara. I can feel your pain.”

  She nosed my arm with her big muzzle. It’s okay. I cannot believe you’re doing this, Chas.

  I huffed.

  But for what it’s worth, I’ve missed you.

  “Ditto,” I replied.

  Kiara glanced at my mother, who seemed worried. Her worry washed over me. The way she stared at me made me feel as if she already knew my fate.

  “Stop looking at me like that.” I spoke softly.

  “You have your patches on. There is no way…” she stopped and through Kiara’s eyes I saw her looking at my Shadow Hound. “Sorry, I keep forgetting what magnificent qualities you possess. How does it feel looking through her eyes?”

  My mother sounded chirpy. Was she was sidestepping my choice to continue with this experiment, or dreading it? But her tone made me feel more at ease.

  I laughed at the memory of Kiara and Kaleido playing in the woods behind the cabin. I would love to go home. Though these days, I didn’t know which home I longed for. The one I’d grown up in, back in the Domain? My bedroom at the House of Lords on the Institute grounds in Revera?

  Then ditch the place, Kiara said. Come home. Take a break… She paused. She saw something deep inside me. Something I had been struggling with. You are hesitan
t about this, Chas.

  I sighed.

  If you do not want to do this anymore, then let’s go home.

  “What is Kiara saying?”

  “Nothing, Mom,” I said. “She just wants me to go home, same as you.”

  Chas, don’t do this. Please, I can see you don’t want to do this any—

  Stop it, Kiara. My mother would put a stop to all of this if she knew I had my doubts.

  And she should, Kiara retorted as she settled down on the ground, curling up in a ball. She closed her mind, but I could still see how upset she was with me.

  “Kiara has a point, Chas. Even if it’s just for a few days. You can always come back in a week or two and try again. There’s no need to do it all at once.”

  “Okay, I just need to speak to Grand—”

  “Please don’t tell me you are calling him grandpa.”

  I shook my head. “Sorry, I need to speak to Lord Crane. He wanted to talk to me about something. Something that might help with the next time.”

  “Just talk. Then you come home.”

  I nodded.

  “Good.” I couldn’t see her. Kiara was still not looking at anyone. She was still displeased with me.

  I rested again for a few hours and when I woke up, someone was removing the patches from my eyes. My eyes burned.

  When were my eyes going to get used to this?

  I waited for a few moments before trying to open my eyes.

  When the pain finally subsided, I saw the outline of my mother and grandfather. Sylvia was there too.

  Mom spoke up. “Chastity said there was another way you wanted to discuss with her?”

  “There is, but it’s nothing for you to concern yourself with, Vinicola.”

  My mother gave a half-hysterical chuckle. “Excuse me? She is my daughter. You might not grasp that concept, Father, but she is my concern.”

  “I didn’t mean—”

  “Of course you didn’t.” Sarcasm laced her tone. “Stop wasting time and tell us. Would she be able to keep her eyes?”

  “Yes, she would. But it’s going to take a lot more from her. A whole lot more.”

  “I don’t understand,” I said.

  My grandfather nodded and Sylvia left.

  “It was just a small epiphany we discovered via your other tests. We think we understand now why the others failed. See, I hoped a strong enough Light Caster would be able to handle Magdalena’s essence, but the more and more we’ve been dealing with your tests, your DNA, your matter, and your sand, the more it’s becoming clear to us. Magdalena doesn’t just need golden sand, she needs the dark sand just as much.”

  Sylvia came back with a stack of paper. My mother looked at it first, and then they walked over to my bed and we perused it together. The paper was filled with charts and graphs.

  My grandfather showed us my first test.

  They had measured my sand—seventy-five percent, and next to it, twenty-five percent. I pointed. “What is the percentage?”

  “Both those percentages are your sand.”

  Mom and I both looked up at him.

  “The seventy-five is your golden sand. The twenty-five is your dark sand.”

  My mother and I gasped simultaneously.

  “What?”

  His face was serious. “You heard me correctly, Vinicola.”

  “I can’t show both at the same time?” I asked.

  “You do with the tests.”

  We flipped to the next chart in the stack of papers. The first page chart showed my sand percentage to be seventy-two percent gold, versus twenty-eight percent dark. “And it’s getting stronger and stronger. If we can get your dark sand equal to your golden sand, we might have a chance.”

  “And how the hell do you think she is supposed to do that?” My mother was close to yelling.

  “She has to give in to her darkness. She has to embrace in the same way she embraces the light. It’s the only way.”

  Mom’s face purpled with rage. “You are insane!”

  “Vinicola, you forget why she chose to do this.”

  “Then kill me. If that is what you want to do so badly, Father. Here I am.” My mother grabbed the scalpel and pushed it into his hands. “Do it,” she said, pulling his hands into her chest. “Because I promise you, I am not going to stand by and watch you turn my daughter into a monster.”

  “Stop it!” I yelled. “Please,” I begged weakly. “Can the two of you stop bickering for a change?”

  They both let go.

  “Nobody is going to turn me into a monster. I’m sure it’s not all at once. I can gradually build up to this fifty-fifty goal, right?” I asked.

  My grandfather remained silent.

  “Right?” I asked again.

  “We need to do this as fast as we can.”

  I grimaced. “So there are no baby steps in this?”

  “Not really. But we can try to do this your way.”

  My mother looked down at the floor, her jaw clenched and her hands on her hips. One eyebrow was slightly raised. She wasn’t buying it.

  “See? Baby steps, Mom,” I told her and she snapped out of her trance, nodding at me, though I could tell she wasn’t convinced. Tears welled up in my mother’s eyes as she looked away. She turned away from her father so he couldn’t see.

  “Could I go home, to the cabin, before we attempt this?”

  He nodded.

  “I trust you. Please show me the same courtesy.” I didn’t know if he got what I was trying to tell him. I wanted to go home without being clasped like a dove.

  “You are asking a lot.”

  I scoffed. “No, I’m not. If anyone’s asking too much, it’s you. I believe that I can do this, and I’ve decided I do believe your version of events. You want to know why?”

  My grandfather narrowed his eyes.

  Mom turned her head to me. “Chas, don’t.”

  “No. He needs to know.”

  “Know what?” my grandfather asked.

  Mom sighed and shook her head softly.

  I patted the edge of my bed, and he obligingly sat there. A part of me knew that he wasn’t used to this type of behavior. He wasn’t used to kindness.

  I told him about the Guile and he listened with eager ears.

  “I hope it’s her. I don’t know what she looks like, but I do believe in this project with all my heart. I need to know the truth.”

  “Stay here,” my grandfather said. “I need to show you something.” He got up and left. After a while, he returned with something in his hands. He showed me a photo. “Is this who you saw?”

  I looked at the photo. In it, a beautiful woman posed next to Selene and a gentleman. It was Magdalena. It was the woman I had seen in the Guile.

  I nodded. “It’s her.”

  “She asked you to help her? Those were her exact words?”

  “I swear, that is what she said.” I looked at the picture again. “Is this Darius?” I asked. He looked nothing like Selene. He was the opposite. His eyes were light, his hair dark, and his smile dazzling. His arms wrapped around both his sister and Magdalena.

  My grandfather nodded. Silence filled the room as I handed the photo back to him.

  “Three days,” he said and I felt like hugging him but I knew my mother wouldn’t like that.

  “Thank you.”

  “Only three days, Chas. We have a lot to cover.”

  I nodded, and both he and Sylvia left the room.

  My mother helped me dress.

  I knew she was angry that I’d told him about the Guile, but I had to tell him something to fully gain his trust. I needed him to trust me.

  Especially now that I was planning to break his trust.

  Everything had snapped into place for me when I’d seen how hesitant he was about letting me do take on Magdalena’s essence in increments. I’d seen his darkness and the evil within him. He didn’t care at all. My mother was right. He would kill family if that is what it took.

  And
that wasn’t family to me.

  It was time to get out of here.

  Mom was surprised that I had managed to convince him to let me leave without the bracelet. But it meant I had earned his trust.

  He wanted me to give in to my darkness.

  But I would never choose shadow over light. Darkness had never been the right option for me. He wanted me to give in to it, just so Magdalena’s essence could stick. But not this time.

  You’ve got to be shitting me. Is this for real? Kiara asked when she finally saw what I was hiding.

  She was happy again, but she didn’t show it outwardly. Someone could be watching.

  Kiara took both of us back to the house, this time together, not wanting to leave me alone, and she knew I didn’t want to leave my mother alone here either, even if it was just for a few minutes. It was risky; we both had to clear our minds in tandem, and either one of us could have messed up.

  The minute we reached the cabin, my mother rounded on me.

  “You can’t possibly still be considering doing this, Chas. You have no idea what it is to give into your darkness. It’s not what I wanted for you—or your dad. It’s why we left.”

  “I know, Mom,” I interrupted her but she just kept going on.

  “Darkness like that will only pull you in further and further. It’s seductive and—”

  “Mom! I know.” I put my hand on my mother’s arm and stopped her before her head blew off.

  She paused. Her eyebrows furrowed as she gaped down at me. “What?”

  “I had to get out of there somehow without that deathtrap around my wrist.”

  She grabbed me tight, nuzzling my neck. “You are a genius, sweetheart. Finally, you’ve seen his ways.”

  “I hope you have a plan. One that’ll get us the hell out of here in the next three days.”

  She pushed away from me. “I’m sure we can come up with something in the next twenty-four hours, but we’ll need plenty of help on this. I’ll have to cash in a lot of favors.”

  We stepped inside, and I immediately felt that sense of home.

 
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