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       Light, p.25

           Adrienne Woods
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  “Go take a bath. I’ll whip up some food and we can get to planning,” she said, grinning nervously at me.

  “Okay.” I headed up the stairs to run myself a hot bath.

  As I looked around me, I wondered about my dark sand. I was my mother’s daughter; I had the same blood flowing through my veins. Would I also be able to do what my mother had done to the cabin if my dark sand was stronger?

  It was tempting, just thinking that I might possess this sort of magic, this power, somewhere deep inside me.

  But I wouldn’t give in to the seduction. The plan had always been to stay good. To keep the golden sand strong.

  I wasn’t a Shadow Caster. I wasn’t dark, and I wasn’t going to experiment with my darkness. Lord Crane was going to be furious when he discovered I had tricked him. I doubted that we’d get away with it. But he needed to learn that he couldn’t force me anymore. He needed someone who would be willing to sacrifice everything for this cause, but that person was no longer me. I didn’t wasn’t to succumb to my dark side.

  Perhaps now that he knew he needed someone who was equally dark and light, he wouldn’t capture innocent Light Casters anymore. He needed someone like me.

  But how many of us were there? Segregation between Shadow Casters and Light Casters made it unlikely that there were many couples like my parents.

  I closed my eyes as I lay in the bath and found myself moments later inside the Guile.

  The darkness pressed hard on my chest. It felt as if it was going to crunch my bones. It vibrated through my skeleton. My hands tugged on my hair. My skin pulled taut.

  Just when I thought I couldn’t handle it anymore, the pressure was vanished, the crushing sensation was gone and the irritating clawing against my skull and skin disappeared.

  Images from the last time I had been in here flashed past me, until they stopped on her.

  The blonde lady, the one I suspected was Magdalena.

  “Please help me,” she begged. “You are the only one who can. Please!”

  Something rattled against the door. She looked over her shoulder.

  She raised her voice. “I must go. But all is not as it seems. I need your help.”

  I shook my head.

  “Stop being selfish, Chastity. You are the only one who can help me. The only one! The only one!”

  She was inches from my face, screaming. Spittle sprayed my nose and cheekbones.

  Her face changed into that of a monster, something that belonged in a nightmare. Her mouth stretched as she screamed louder and louder until it was as big as a beast yawning.

  I woke with a startle. Water splashed around me.

  She knew my name. How did she know my name?

  There was a knock on the bathroom door.

  “You okay?” my mother asked.

  “Yeah, I’m fine.”

  “Dinner’s ready.”

  “I’ll be out in a minute.”

  Her footsteps stomped on the wooden floor and down the steps.

  I got out of the bath and dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and yoga pants, also conjured by Mom.

  I opened the door and heard a familiar voice. For a second, my stomach fluttered as he laughed.

  How was it possible for Ash to look and sound exactly like Leigh? I wished I could discuss it with Karin. Perhaps the boy Kiara had been made for was Leigh. And then, perhaps he wasn’t just a figment of Selene’s imagination.

  I rush down the stairs and found Ash and Karin. Kaleido was lying next to Kiara in front of the fire.

  “Hey, Chas,” Ash said with a soft smile.

  “Hey,” I replied with a small wave of my hand.

  “You okay?” he carried on and Karin’s conversation with my mom died out.

  Mom came over and wrapped both her arms around my. She kissed me on my temple and whispered what a great gal I was.

  I smiled.

  “Dinner is ready. We should eat before it gets cold.”

  We took our seats at the dining room table and everyone dug in to savory pork chops and green beans.

  I wasn’t very hungry, though, and scraped my food around my plate with my fork. Betraying someone wasn’t easy. Breaking someone’s trust soured my stomach.

  I looked over at Ash. He ate as if his life depended on it.

  We all stopped and stared at Ash.

  “What?” he asked with a mouth full of food.

  “Nothing,” I said, and my mom and Karin burst into laughter.

  “Good to know someone loves my food. Unlike you, Chas.”

  “I’m not that hungry. I’m sure it’s delicious.”

  “You getting sick, babe?” She leaned over and put her hand against my head.

  I shook my head.

  It’s going to be okay, my mom mouthed.

  I nodded.

  I looked over my shoulder to the Hounds.

  Kiara was troubled. She shared my lack of hunger, even though the food in the bowl in front of her smelled delicious. She glanced over at me.

  “Sorry,” I mouthed at Kiara.

  No problem. Why are you so worried and what was that in the bathroom?

  She didn’t miss a thing. She was such a clever Shadow Hound. There was no way to get around this. I had to tell her. Later.

  She went back to her bowl and finished eating.

  “Chas,” my mom said.

  “Sorry, too much going on in my head.”

  “You need to rest.”

  I nodded. She got up and started clearing the table.

  I said goodnight to Karin and Ash and went upstairs with Kiara following me.

  It wasn’t long until the voices trailed off. I lay in bed, wide awake.

  “Chas.” Kiara wanted to know about the incident in the bathroom.

  “It was just a dream, Kiara,” I said.

  I know about your dreams and about Magdalena and the Guile. You’ve never dreamt about that.

  “I know. Sometimes my mind just works differently.”

  She didn’t reply.

  My thoughts drifted. What if Magdalena really wanted me to—

  Don’t, Chas. You know what you have to do to bring your dark sand, to give in to it. You’ll become like Briggs. I’ve seen that transformation before, and I don’t want that for you.

  “Relax, Kiara, I’m not going to turn into my cousin. Giving in to my darkness was never the plan. I’ve always chosen my golden sand. It’s why my gold to black ratio is so high. It’s why my gold will always be more than the dark.”

  I could see in her mind that she was relieved and satisfied with my answer.

  Thinking about betraying my grandfather weighed heavily on my shoulders. He would find out eventually. I just hoped we’d be long gone by then.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  LAST DAYS

  My mother was gone the next morning.

  I found a note by the bread basket. “Eat and rest. You’re going to need it. Be back soon.”

  I wondered what she was planning.

  I ate a bowl of cereal and watched Kiara cavort in the backyard outside the cabin. used to be dull and empty and cold. Now it was the opposite. Mom had created a paradise in what was once just a drab clearing in the woods. The yard now contained thick, full hedges and lush grass. Nothing about her creations reflected the color of her sand.

  Kiara’s hard and rough physique, her demonic eyes and menacing horns, looked out of place against the backdrop, but I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

  Come play, Chas, she projected into my mind as she chased a songbird. We only saw crows here before Mom arrived. I joined her and tried to share her carefree joy.

  Mom used to tell me that she could only create nightmares, but this was far from one. Kiara was in her element with our new backyard and loved the fact that I was home.

  I hoped with all my heart Kiara would survive whatever it was we’d have to do to get out of here.

  She caught a glimpse of my worries. We are together. It was all that she showed me, and it
was all that mattered to her. Knowing I’d be safe from whatever Lord Crane was conjuring was far better than being here just surviving.

  We headed inside for lunch. As I assembled a turkey-and-mustard sandwich, I worried about Mom not being back yet. I figured she’d gone to call in the favors she’d mentioned. She was planning our escape. I hoped she trusted whoever she needed favors from.

  I must have fallen asleep on the couch as it was pitch dark when I opened my eyes.

  The cabin was too quiet. Kiara was close by, dreaming about the bird she’d chased.

  My mother was still not back. I got up. My concern must have projected into Kiara’s mind because she stirred.

  She started asking questions of her own, adding to mine. She kept showing me her fears that Mom had been caught.

  “Could you please stop that?” I barked at her.

  Sorry, Chas. She lay back down as if she was yielding. My heart twanged and I felt like a jerk for barking at her.

  “Sorry, I didn’t mean that. I’m just worried.”

  I know you are. I am too. If your mother doesn’t come back, you’ll have to go back to Lord Crane. And if you die…

  Her sentence stopped as her lungs contracted. She couldn’t breathe.

  “Calm down. It’s not going to happen, okay?” I stroked her head. “It’s going to be okay.” I rested my head against hers. “You are going to be okay.”

  Still, her worries mirrored mine. Had my mother been caught? Was she with my grandfather? Had he discovered what we were up to? Had my uncle found out? The questions kept streaming into my mind, not easing either one of us.

  We needed to stop. I needed to stop. I was only going to drive myself and Kiara mad if I kept obsessing about all the scenarios.

  Kiara thought about food and fire, wanting some warmth and light to come back into the cabin. I agreed. I wondered if she was afraid of the dark, because she always wanted light and warmth. She was so gentle for a Shadow Hound.

  I switched on the lights, grabbed my jacket and an axe lying by the door, and headed outside. Kiara followed me.

  We needed wood if we were going to light a fire. I switched on the flashlight as we exited the shield around our perimeter and walked deeper into the dark forest.

  Beyond the shield Mom had cast around our cabin, it was colder. The dark was overwhelming. The air was stuffy and stale, which made it feel heavy on my lungs.

  Between the dark and the emptiness of the branches, this looked like something out of a nightmare. How easy it had ben, ensconced in my mom’s magic, to forget that we were in the Oblivion.

  We found a couple of logs, but not enough to last all night. The wind was starting to blow harder and harder, making it difficult to see where the hell we were going.

  This Oblivion I remembered, not just from the time I’d desperately tried to heal Kiara but also from my initiation dream.

  When I’d met Leigh.

  I’d been trying not to think about, trying to keep him as far away from my mind as I could, but tonight I couldn’t push him out the back of my mind.

  I missed—

  We need to get back to the cabin, Chas!

  There were more trees up ahead and we needed more wood, but she was right. The wind was acting up, blowing stronger and angrier against us. Almost as if it was a malicious, sentient being.

  I nodded and turned around.

  One would think that walking with the wind would have made it easier to get back to the cabin with the few useless excuses for logs we had, but it wasn’t. The wind seemed to oppose us. It was now blowing the opposite direction, shoving us backward with nearly every step.

  We finally made it to mom’s shield. She’d marked it in the beginning with a conjured little tree growing out of nothing. To outsiders it wouldn’t look that strange as the tree sort of blended in with its surroundings, but for us, it meant home.

  We crossed over the barrier and the wind suddenly stopped.

  We were safe. My muscles throbbed from walking hard, pushing forward into something that didn’t want us there to begin with.

  Kiara was just as spent.

  I entered the cabin, pulled off my jacket, and hung it over the hook. I placed the axe back in its spot.

  Mom still wasn’t home.

  She will be fine, Chas.

  I was worried, even though I knew Kiara was right. She was a skilled Shadow Caster and this had been her playground for a long time.

  I made the fire, then decided to whip up some mac and cheese. I set some aside in the oven for my mother, and after Kiara and I ate our dinners, I went to take a hot bath as Kiara made herself comfortable in front of the fire.

  It’s weird in the beginning I thought she literally feed of fear, but it wasn’t the truth. She just excel on it. She gets more power from it, and she doesn’t really live on it. A huge misunderstanding from my side and all the other Reverians. They were in fact sweet creatures that were taken advantage from.

  Tonight I tried to bathe as quickly as I could, not wanting the warm water to lull me into closing my eyes, afraid I would dream of Magdalena again.

  I tried to clear my mind to not think about anything. Not even him. Whenever I thought of him lately, I became miserable.

  I got out and opened the bathroom door.

  My mind picked up an extra Hound.

  Kaleido.

  What was Kaleido doing here? Was Ash here?

  I quickly got dressed in a pair of yoga pants and a sweater and put on my slippers.

  I found Ash sitting in the living room, watching the Hounds. Kaleido and Kiara were talking about my mom.

  Chas, Kaleido said. Is it true your mother’s not here?

  “Relax, Kaleido. I’m sure she’s okay,” I said.

  Ash looked between me and Kaleido. “What are you talking about?”

  “My mom left early this morning and she’s still not back.”

  “You haven’t heard from her?” He sounded worried.

  “Stop it. I can’t deal with your worrying too,” I said.

  “Sorry.” The worry creased into the lines of his face.

  “Have you eaten?

  “Yeah, but I always have room for more. What did you make?”

  “Mac and cheese. I know it’s not my mom’s cooking but…”

  “Mac and who?” he asked.

  I gasped. “You’ve never had mac and cheese before?”

  He shook his head.

  “You are in for a treat.”

  Ash’s company kept my anxiety at bay. He made me laugh. We talked about growing up and how different our worlds were.

  I told him about Clare, about my friends in the Domain, before switching to Natalie and my friends in Revera.

  He told me about the art of curing Shadow Hounds, and I hung onto every word he spoke. It was truly an art. I hadn’t been far off about the use of ingredients either.

  A Conjuror need some essence from the master in order to create a Hound.

  So Ash had given his mother some of his DNA, be it hair or a tooth or spit… they even cured Hounds from blood.

  It sounded a bit over the top.

  “Do you now understand how strong our bonds with them are?”

  “I do.”

  Ash finished his fifth helping of food. “I’m stuffed. Really stuffed. That is good. What do you call it again?”

  “Mac and cheese. The pasta is called macaroni, hence the name mac, and it’s gouda you just melt over.”

  “It’s not just gouda. What’s the white creamy stuff?”

  “Sauce made from flour, milk and spices.”

  “Wow. I never thought food could taste this good.”

  I laughed. We relaxed into a comfortable silence, gazing at the Hounds.

  “You know, if you release Kaleido, he could do what Kiara does.”

  Ash pondered that as he gazed over at Kaleido. “I’m scared.”

  “Of what?” I chuckled.

  “That he’d leave me. That he’d rather be on h
is own.”

  Huh? Kaleido was incredulous that Ash would think that.

  “It’s not funny, Chas,” Ash muttered when I started laughing at Kaleido.

  “I’m not laughing at you.” I shook my head. “I’m laughing at his reply.” I pointed at Kaleido.

  “What did he say?”

  “He seems to think you’re an idiot for thinking that.”

  “Oh.” He smiled. “Come here, boy,” Ash called Kaleido and his Hound came closer. “You want to be released? Be my equal?” He looked at the Hound.

  You don’t have to do that, Ash. He lowered his head. What if you don’t want me?

  “What is happening here?” Ash asked me.

  “Looks like he’s just as insecure about you not wanting him to stick around after releasing him.”

  “Hey,” he muttered to Kaleido. “You are part of me. I will always want you, okay?”

  Okay, bud, Kaleido said.

  I giggled. Kaleido was just like Ash, only in Hound form.

  You think so, Chas? Kaleido asked.

  Exactly the same,” I said.

  “What is?” Ash asked and I translated.

  He ruffled Kaleido’s head. “I release you. You are no longer property, but as my equal. You are your own master. No one can ever become your master again. You are free to do whatever you want.”

  Tears filled my eyes as Ash spoke. His voice cracked with each word. He was releasing his best friend.

  Thank you Ash, Kaleido spoke. But I’m afraid you’re stuck with me.

  I relayed his words to Ash, who laughed out of relief.

  It was getting late and my mother was still not back.

  “I could crash on the couch until your mother comes back,” Ash said.

  “You don’t mind?”

  “Not in the least. This is crazy comfortable. And warm.”

  I smiled. “Thanks, Ash.”

  I grabbed a pillow and blanket from the cupboard and brought them to the living room. Ash took them from me and put them on the couch.

  He stepped closer to me, looking at me in the same way Leigh used to. My heart pounded, drumming in my ears as the blood rushed through my veins.

  He pulled me closer and bent down his head, brushing his lips softly against mine. He pressed closer when I didn’t pull away, and the kiss accelerated. I tightened my arms around his neck and he pulled me closer. He ran his hands through my hair, then lifted me off my feet and we ended up on the couch, our lips moving against each other as if they had been made to do it.

 
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