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Shadow Lord's Daughter
I'm lying on my back on the cold, grey ground. Where am I? I lack answers, and I hate not knowing. I look around. Everything here is grey or some shade of grey. As I slowly sit up, I suddenly get this feeling of soul-chilling emptiness.
I wake up thrashing on the cold floor. I look around. I'm not in the supernatural world anymore, and I heave a sigh of relief. I guess dad decided to let me stay at his mansion by my school out in Rochester.
I untangle myself from the blankets that are imprisoning me like a strange cocoon, and get up and look at the clock. It's only three in the morning, which means another three and a half hours till I have to get up for school. I pull the blankets back up on the bed as I puzzle over the dream.
Dream? More like a nightmare.
It felt so real. But then again, even dreams about the supernatural can feel tangible in that sense of reality.
I shake my head as an attempt to clear it. Sleep is always elusive after any encounter with the supernatural, dream or reality, so I'm not even going to try to go back to sleep. So instead, I put on my orange silk robe and walk out of my room, down the hall, and into the kitchen. I flip on the violet lights for low light in the kitchen so I can see what I'm doing. The soft light also helps dispel the lingering fear from that dream.
I wish dad was here. Even though he's the Shadow Lord, he'd sit comfort me and help me figure it out, or he’d take me in his arms like when I was three, and tell me a fairytale about a princess, where the supernatural didn’t exist.
He'd come out of the living room with a book tucked under his arm and sit at the kitchen table while I made a coffee for him, black tea with milk and sugar for me. And then we'd talk about what was bothering me until I didn't feel bothered anymore. I start making coffee in hope that he's here and he'll walk out of the living room and say “what's wrong, Shadow Princess?” And then I'd smile and tell him about the dream.
I sit down while the coffee's brewing. After a few minutes, the coffee maker dings, proclaiming that it's done. The lonely chime seems unnaturally loud in the empty house.
Dad isn't coming out of the living room, so he's not home. Guess he's at his castle. With a sigh, I reach up in the cabinet and get my favorite green mug. Out of habit, I grab dad's big red mug, too. I fill both up and set them on the kitchen table.
It's too quiet in the house tonight. I usually enjoy the silence, but tonight it's just eerie. I get up and turn on the radio. Dad's favorite human CD is on, sounds of different beaches. The sound is very calming right now. I take a sip of my tea and then walk to dad's chair. It’s not as good as a hug from him, but it’s a close second while he’s gone. Between the sound of waves crashing on a beach and the smell of dad that lingers in his chair, sleep miraculously finds me and I somehow find a way slip away into sleep's dark blanket.
I look up and see four huge portals hanging in the air, one at each cardinal point. I look around, searching for movement. Nothing moves under the bare, skeletal branches of the grey trees. The huge circles of swirling black and grey in the sky are the only movement here. Wait…how did I know they were portals?
I slowly start to get to my feet. I hear laughter. I whip my head around, searching for the source.
Nothing. The laughter cuts off suddenly, like someone pushed the “stop” button on the radio, leaving me with the mournful sound of wind rattling through dead grey branches, creating a sound like shaking bones. Okay, I'm starting to get freaked out, and I'm not a girl to get freaked put easily. I mean, it's been hard to freak me out ever since I found out my dad is the Shadow Lord, in control of every supernatural being. It's bad staying with him in his castle on the supernatural side, but it's really scary staying with him on Halloween. It's scary enough to make you want to give a sponge bath to the next fat, hairy guy you see with a huge, blissful smile on your face. And that’s sugar-coating it.
I look around again. I've been traveling through the supernatural world since I was seven, and not all of those were holding daddy Shadow Lord's hand. The last time I was by myself on the supernatural side, well, I almost became one of my dad’s subjects. There was this savage animal ghost I’d been tracking, and I ran into Jack the Ripper’s ghost, and, well, it almost didn’t end too well for me. Thank goodness my dad had been nearby, or I would be just another ghost here.
And if you think the supernatural world is already dangerous enough, try being the beautiful, only daughter of the Shadow Lord. It makes any dangerous situation ten times as bad, like with Jack the Ripper. If I had been anyone else, he wouldn’t have gone through such great lengths to kill me. And he wouldn’t have tried to kill me three different times.
I look around again, hoping for some sign of something close to alive or at least color. I'll settle for color. No luck. I'm the only color around here. Maybe I should go gothic. But who's going to take a blonde gothic chick seriously? And besides, The Clique would never stand for it. The Clique. I know that sounds shallow, but after always being around things as dark as the supernatural world, anything that can be a welcome escape is accepted with open arms and a smile.
The hair on the back of my neck suddenly starts prickling, a sure sign that someone or something here is watching me. I turn around quickly, my boots making a dark line in grey grass. All I see are shadows.
Wait…there's no sun on the supernatural side, so there's no shadows unless…I'm dead unless I can get out of here. I suddenly realize where I am, the Shadow District, home of the Shadows, the recently deceased. The ones still the most attached to human life. The Shadows feed on emotion. Most are evil, but a rare few aren't. The only bad thing is, you can't tell the difference until it's too late. But that's only if you're a normal human without any other senses beyond the usual five. But if you've got more than five senses, then you can tell which are friend or foe by the aura they give off.
The wind rises and gives off a new sound, a sound like a voice. The voice is deep, a male. But it sounds like a young male. I suddenly feel sad, and then just as quickly kill the emotion. I don't want to feed any Shadows today. But since Shadows are souls of people that are stuck between death and the supernatural barrier, also known as the recently deceased, this young male is dead.
I take a step back as the voice gets louder.
"Can you help me?” the sound finally says as it morphs from a groan into words.
The voice gets louder and sadder. "Please? I helped you, now please, help me."
I take another step back, wondering if I still have the silver stiletto dad gave me tucked inside my leather boot. Silver can seriously injure anything on the supernatural side. "And how did you help me?" I ask, trying to buy some time to find it.
A shadow detaches itself from the mass that’s suddenly appeared in front of me and steps closer. "All those memories you didn't want any more, I took those away, Nik. I took the pain away."
It’s not there. Where is it? And how does this thing know my nickname?
I take another step back. "What do you mean? I don't talk to Shadows about my pain and memories I want gone. I use humans for that."
The Shadow reaches one black hand towards me. "But you talked to me all the time before I was a Shadow."
The voice sounds so familiar. Whose voice is it?
"You're implying I knew who you were," I say cautiously, trying to buy enough time to find my stiletto.
The shadow cries out, a loud, long, keening sound that threatens to shatter my eardrums. "Nikki, I was your boyfriend."
My heart almost stops. "Ryan?"
Ryan reaches toward me, and I try to take a step forward to him, but I fall through him and down the cliff that is suddenly in front of me. As I fall, I can vaguely see Ryan, and the only thing I can hear is Ryan saying he's dead.
I wake up again back in my bed and look around. How did I get here?
I hear dad talking to someone on the phone outside my door. "No, she doesn't know. Well, why else do you think she's late? I'm letting her sleep in. No, it'd be better if she heard it from me. I don't care what you say, she's my daughter and she'll do better if it's…I don't care! Yes, she'll still be at school. Is it a crime for her to be late? Look, let me handle this, okay? Fine. Bye."
The door opens slowly, and dad walks in.
My stomach starts sinking as a sudden feeling of dread overtakes me. "Dad? What happened?" I finally manage to ask.
Dad sighs and sits on the bed. He says nothing and his eyebrows smooth over, which happens when he thinks, like he's choosing his words carefully.
My stomach sinks further. "Dad, what is it?"
My dream flashes back into my head and my heart starts beating faster, silently begging the feeling to go away so that nothing will happen.
Dad closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. "Nikki,” he finally begins, “there was an accident last night. Ryan was riding his motorcycle and he ran off the road."
Even though I know what he's going to say, it still hurts. I close my eyes and grab a handful of the blankets, as if that will help with what he’s about to say.
"Nikki, Ryan's dead."
The words are like a physical blow. I feel like I'm in a vacuum in space and everything is being sucked apart. I hurt all over, like I was run over by a steamroller. My heart races, then almost stops.
“Nikki? Say something,” dad says as he looks at me with concern and grabs my hand in his giant one.
I gasp for air. I feel like I’m drowning. I can’t get enough air into my lungs.
Dad reaches for my hand. “Nikki, I watched Ryan’s ghost enter the supernatural side, that’s why I wasn’t here last night. And there was a scent on him, and not the usual scent of the recently deceased. It smelled like…”
“Roses and vanilla,” I say, finishing his sentence. “Like what you smelled when mom died.”
“How do you know that?”
I shrug. “You took me to see her one last time when she died, and she smelled like that.”
He shook his head. “Nikki, how did you know what Ryan smelled like when he passed on?”
I hesitate for a second. “I…”
“Nicole Guinevere Umbra, you went to the supernatural side without my permission, didn’t you? We talked about this, especially after Jack the Ripper. Nikki, you can’t keep taking chances like this, you know that! I can’t bring people back from the dead! You’d have to stay there, and you couldn’t handle constantly living over there, you’re too delicate!”
It’s pointless talking to my dad while he’s in a tirade, so I let him rage. As usual, whenever he’s angry, he starts looking more like the Shadow Lord. His hair gets darker, and his eyes turn to obsidian. Dark shadows start forming around him, and his skin gets paler, and then starts fading, becoming transparent.
“Dad, I didn’t cross over without permission. I was dragged there. I had a dream about Ryan last night. He asked for my help,” I interject as he pauses to take a breath.
Dad blinks. “What all did he say?”
I look down at the blankets folded up in my hands. “He said that he’d taken away all the memories I wanted gone, and he wanted my help in return.”
“And then what happened?”
“He told me who he was and I fell off a cliff.” My voice cracks and tears start forming in the corners of my eyes, threatening to fall.
Dad’s looking at the wall behind me, thinking. With his temper subsiding, he’s slowly starting to regain his human appearance. His black hair is fading from shadow-black to human-black, and his eyes return to their normal brown. After a minute, he turns back to me.
He sighs. “Nikki, I need to look into this. Very few are strong enough to pull humans through the barrier, let alone the daughter of the Shadow Lord. You’ll be staying here, where it’s safe. I’ll have someone to come watch over you.”
“Dad, I don’t need a babysitter,” I protest.
He looks at me, and there’s an unfamiliar look in his eyes. “Nikki, it’s too dangerous for you to be alone. If what I think is true…”
His voice trails off, and the look in his eyes says he’s not going to say anything else about what he thinks.
“So does this mean I still have to go to school?” I ask, trying to lighten the mood.
He nods, but his mind isn’t on me, or this world. “Everything’s still normal for you. Just no barrier jumping. At all.”
“Okay, I won’t,” I say even though the first chance I get, I intend to so I can see Ryan again.
Dad’s eyes snap back to reality. “Nikki, I mean it. It’s too dangerous. No visiting Ryan. Period.”
My heart sinks. “Dad, I at least want to say goodbye. Please?”
He sighs. He knows this feeling, the feeling when someone you love dies. “Alright,” he finally says. “But I’m coming with you.”
One second I’m sitting on my bed, and the next I’m standing next to my dad in the Shadow District. I’m still in my pink sweats and blue tank top. It’s cold on the supernatural side. It’s slightly warmer here, so the recently deceased can make the transition to being…well…dead. From here on, it only gets colder, and even ice freezes.
The shadows start gathering, sensing the presence of my dad. Whispers of requests drift on the frigid air.
“Lord, save me…”
“I cannot breathe, Milord…”
“Am I really dead?”
“I can’t be dead, sir, I have an appointment tomorrow…”
“Lord, let me return to the living…”
My dad raises his hand. “Silence!”
The power in his voice makes the shadows cower in fear. Even though I’ve seen my dad as the Shadow Lord before, it’s still frightening.
“Ryan, come forward.”
All the shadows start clamoring towards him, claiming to be my Ryan.
“I said Ryan. Ryan, come here.”
The shadows melt back. All but one. Ryan.
My dad looks at me, meaning for me to speak.
I take a deep breath. “Ryan?”
“Nikki!” The shadow that used to be Ryan runs towards me, arms outstretched. It runs through me and I almost start crying.
Ryan turns to my dad. “Why can’t I hold her?”
“Ryan, you’re dead.” The word tastes bitter and foreign in my mouth, even though I’ve been surrounded by death my whole life. A tear rolls down my cheek, freezing on my skin in the algid air.
Ryan slowly turns to face me. I can just barely make out his face in the blackness that he’s becoming. His chocolate hair still hangs in his skater boy cut, his blue eyes winking at me from behind his bangs.
“I’m dead?” he asks softly.
I nod as another tear falls down my face, freezing before it passes my nose.
Ryan looks down at his new body. “I’m never going to hold you again?”
I shake my head as more tears follow the first two.
Ryan tilts his head and his lip ring glints in the dim light. Was it only yesterday I had felt that lip ring pressed against my lips?
“Nikki, please say something.” His voice sounds pleading, begging.
“I love you, Ryan.” The words come out as a sob.
Ryan looks pleadingly at my dad. “Is there anything I can do? Can I have at least one more day with her?”
My dad shakes his head. “The dead are dead and cannot mingle with the living. I brought Nikki here so she could say goodbye.”
Ryan looks from my tear-soaked face to my dad. “Shadow Lord, can I please have one more hour with her? I never got to say goodbye the right way. She deserves that.”
The way Ryan’s face is as he says it reminds me of my dad’s face when mom died.
Dad sighs and gives in. “One more hour. Then you’re back here, Ryan. And you will not be able to see her again after that.”
My dad waves his hand and Ryan and I are back in my room. Ryan looks down and sees the body he had before he died.
He looks at me. “Nikki? Is this real?”
I nod. “He gave us one more hour. Then it’s…”
Ryan reaches for me. Slowly, he runs his hands over my body, knowing that this is the last time he’ll ever touch me. His hand travels up my shoulder and to my neck. His hands are warm, like they always were before. Ryan’s fingertips trace my face, memorizing every detail. His fingers stop on my lips.
“I’m going to miss so many things, Nikki,” he says, his eyes never leaving my face.”
“I’m going to miss you, too, Ryan. There’s nothing that can ever replace you, or even come close.”
Ryan smiles. “Nikki, will I be able to kiss you like this? With my extra hour?”
“You can do anything you could when you were alive.”
Ryan hesitates for a second, then moves his hand and presses his lips against mine. Softly at first, then harder as he realizes he can still feel me. He deepens the kiss as his hand slides to the back of my neck. His other arm wraps around my waist and pulls me closer. I put my hand on his chest, pressed half on his leather jacket and half on his dark blue shirt. Tears start sliding down my face. This is the last time I’ll ever be with the living Ryan. My Ryan. My Ryan that smells like leather and outdoors and guitar strings, that tastes like honey. He slowly pulls back and gently wipes away my tears with his finger, callused from the guitar strings he always played.
“Nik, this isn’t the end. I’ll find a way to come back. To…”
“Barrier hop,” I offer.
He nods. “That. We’ll still be together, I promise. We’ll make this work.”
I shake my head, knowing that no matter how much either of us want to, it’ll never be able to happen. “Ryan, don’t make promises. The supernatural world doesn’t obey promises. It rips them apart.”
He’s about to say something when a sudden wind bursts through my windows, carrying the scent of roses and vanilla. Ryan’s face turns from sorrow to terror. I reach for him and scream his name, but the wind carries him away, leaving me alone in my room with only the sickeningly sweet smell of roses and vanilla.
I stand in my room, alone. Ryan is gone. That phrase keeps thundering through my skull. Ryan had an hour, but something snatched him away. Instead we only had ten minutes. I still have fifty minutes with Ryan. I have to try and get back to him, just for those fifty minutes. After that, I’ll let go. Or at least try. I close my eyes and try to cross the barrier. Instead, I end up blown across the room with an eidolon, the child of a human and a spirit, standing by me.
“Shadow Princess, I am thy guardian while your father is gone. I am Wraith.”
The part of me that’s still functioning wants to laugh and say yes, yes you are. But the broken part wins, and I just stare at the floor blankly. Wraith reaches out and puts a cold hand on my shoulder. I look up at him. Wraith is tall, with translucent white skin, like all eidolons. He has black hair, somewhere between a buzz cut and a shag. His empty charcoal eyes watch me. Although his voice portrays concern, his eyes show no emotion. The eyes of the dead. Those eyes are one of the few things I’m used to when it comes to the dead.
“Shadow Princess, thy father told me thou hath school today. Should not thou be getting ready?”
The start of a small smile shows on my face at Wraith’s odd way of speaking. ”I should.”
“Then why dost thou still sit in thy sleepwear?”
I shrug. “Because the school knows Ryan is dead and since I am…was…his girlfriend, they’re letting me skip today if I want.”
Wraith looks confused. “But why would thou skip to school?”
The small smile gets a little bigger. “Not skip to school, skip school. As in, I don’t have to go if I don’t feel like it.”
Wraith nods. “And what does the school think of Ryan’s death?”
The smile vanishes. “They say it was a tragic accident. But it wasn’t an accident, was it?” I look up at Wraith. “You know something, or at least you know someone who knows something.” I don’t really know that for sure, but grasping at any straw, even if it’s empty, makes it easier to breathe.
Wraith turns and walks out my bedroom door and heads down the hallway, suddenly confirming my grasping. “Dost thou want something to eat? Thou must keep up thy weight, else thy father will send me away.”
I jump up and run after him. “Wraith, please. I need to know. Ryan…he was my everything. I need to know everything that involves his ‘accident.’”
Wraith sighs and his shoulders drop. “Princess, thy father would not wish thou to know this what I will tell you.”
“I don’t care what he does or doesn’t want me to know. This isn’t about him, this is about me.”
Wraith slowly turns and faces me. “Shadow Princess, if we could sit and continue this?”
I sit on the floor. “Sit and start talking, Wraith. Please.”
Wraith looks dubiously at the wood flooring. “Would there be anywhere more…comfortable where we could discuss this?”
I shake my head and point to the floor at Wraith’s feet. “You’re already half dead, it’s not going to matter. You probably won’t even be able to feel the floor anyway.”
Wraith glares at me momentarily, then sits down. The human half makes it look like he’s sitting. The ghost half shows that he’s actually hovering a few inches off the floor.
Wraith sighs. “Shadow Princess, Ryan’s death was not an accident.”
“Really? I hadn’t guessed that!” I say, my voice dripping with sarcasm. Somehow dealing with a tragedy gives you the excuse to be rude and sarcastic and bitter.
Wraith taps the floor with his fingertips. “Thou may be the Shadow Princess, yet that will not prevent me from turning thou into one of thy father’s subjects.”
It’s my turn to glare. “Wraith, you are under direct orders from the Shadow Lord to watch over and protect me, not to threaten or harm me in any way, form, or fashion. Is that understood? If not, I’m sure my father would gladly clear it for you.”
Wraith slowly looks up. “There are many reasons that She is targeting those close to thou.”
Wraith goes on like I haven’t said anything. “Mainly because of your lineage. But also because She thinks She should be in power, not thy father. If only She had accepted his alliance when he offered!” He sighs. “Alas, that was many years ago, after thy father met thy mother. Aye, thy mother is the main reason that this is happening.”
“My mother? Wraith, what does my mom have to do with all this? And my lineage? What are you talking about?”
Wraith looks at the wall behind me before answering. “There are many things thou does not know about thyself. And there are many things that thou does not know about thy parents.”
I open my mouth to say something, but Wraith holds up a translucent hand and continues speaking.
“Thy past and thy ancestors’ past is a dark and twisted one indeed, Shadow Princess. Dost thou still wish to uncover the secrets that lie right behind thee?”
Wraith smiles grimly. And for those who have never seen an eidolon smile, it’s rather frightening paired with those empty, charcoal eyes.
“I will help explain some of these secrets, but only for something in return.” Wraith’s lips curve from a grim smile into a crafty one.
I swallow. “What price?”
“For thee to go to school today. I will follow thee and watch thee, if that is thy wish.”
I shake my head. “No, you stay here. And if Ryan comes back, then come get me. Immediately.”
Wraith gives me a look that proves what I thought. Those ten minutes with Ryan were my last.
I slowly get to my feet and walk back into my room. The scent of vanilla and roses is almost gone, too faint for any normal human to smell. I walk to my closet and open the white door. Something black flies out at me and lands on my face. I quickly pull it off and look at it. It’s Ryan’s old leather jacket, the one he gave me two days ago. I bury my face in it. It smells like Ryan, like leather and outdoors and guitar strings. I could live on this smell.
After I crush the jacket to my chest and sob without tears for a few minutes, I reluctantly, I set the jacket on the bed and walk into the giant closet. Slowly, I walk to the back, where I keep the box that I haven’t touched since I put it in here so long ago. I gently slide the box of the top shelf and set it on the floor. The same black clothes are still in here, waiting for my next extended stay at the Shadow Palace. My dad insists on me having black for whenever I stay for long periods of time with him in his palace. The dead are very jealous of color, and will do anything to get it. Absolutely anything.
I sort through the box until I find one outfit that fits best in the human world, a black mini-dress with a lace and ribbon bodice. Matching black leggings follow the dress out of the box. I unwillingly shed my comfortable sweats and tank top for the black mourning wear. After brushing my hair, I slip Ryan’s leather jacket on over my dress. I close my eyes, and for a split second, I can almost imagine I’m safe in his arms again. But the dream fades too quickly and I slam back into reality. Body numb, I open my eyes and grab my school bag off the floor and walk back out to Wraith. He’s leaning against the granite countertop twirling a key ring around his finger. If I wasn’t so upset, I’d laugh at it, because the key ring is sliding halfway through his finger.
He looks at me and smiles. “Ready?”
Wraith walks over to me and puts a cold hand on my shoulder. “Shadow Princess, blackmailing thou was the only way I could think of to get thee out of the house today. Thou needs thy friends for comfort in a time like this, not being alone in a house with an eidolon. That is the only reason thou art going today.”
I nod after a moment. “I’m just not sure if I can handle the sympathy from the Clique and everyone else today.”
Wraith nods sympathetically. “Thou will be fine. And when thou returns home, thou can let thy guard down and grieve.”
I shrug again. “Whatever. Let’s just go and get it over with.”
Wraith nods and leads me out to the garage.
He waves the key ring in my face. “What car do these keys belong to?”
“The corvette,” I say without looking up.
Wraith walks to the silver corvette and opens the passenger side door for me. I reluctantly get in and lean back against the headrest, eyes closed. Wraith closes the door and materializes in the driver’s seat. He starts the car and backs down the insanely long driveway that my mom insisted on having when she designed the house. Mom. The identical scents and looks of fear that I saw on hers and Ryan’s face when they were taken again…who, or what, did this to them? I’ve been all through the supernatural side, and I’ve never smelled anything like it, no matter what I’ve come in contact with. And nothing that I’ve ever seen produces that feeling of pure terror. Not even my father, and he’s the Shadow Lord.
Then Wraith mentioned a She. Who is this “She,” and what does She have against me and my father?
“Stop the car!” I say before my brain even realizes I said it.
Wraith slams on the brakes and faces me. “Is everything okay, Shadow Princess?”
“You said something about my past being very dark,” I begin.
Wraith nods slowly, not understanding. “That I did indeed, Shadow Princess.”
My lower lip starts trembling. “So please, explain.”
Wraith shakes his head. “That is one thing I cannot do, Shadow Princess.”
“Because it is thy father’s wish that thou dost not know about the darkness of thy family’s past. I cannot tell thee.”
I hit the dashboard. “Then why did you bring it up?”
Wraith shakes his head. “I know not why I did it, but I regret allowing the words to pass my lips.”
“Wraith, you’re not moving this car until you tell me what you meant.” I cross my arms. I know I look like a pouty child, but that’s what I feel like right now.
Wraith smiles again. “Shadow Princess, I am an Eidolon. Dost thou really think I need a car for transportation?”
“You may not, but I do.”
Wraith’s smile turns into the cunning trickster grin his kind is known for. “That only shows how much thee does not know about thyself.”
“Wraith? What are you planning to do?”
Wraith takes my hand and we suddenly appear outside the car.
Gasping for breath, I turn to Wraith. “How did you do that?”
“Mommy! That girl and that boy just appeared on the street!”
I turn around and see a young boy standing in a green grassy yard holding a ball, standing in shock.
I glare at Wraith. “What is your problem? You don’t do supernatural stuff like that when a human can see you! What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know anything?”
Wraith shrugs off my anger. “I thought he needed the fright.”
I fight the urge to slap him, knowing my hand would most likely pass through him, and that little boy doesn’t need to see anything else weird. “You thought he needed a scare?” I slowly repeat through clenched teeth.
Wraith nodded. “Humans live in security too much. Thy kind need a good fright every now and again.”
Forgetting that he’s part ghost, I slap him. Instead of passing through his face, my hand makes contact with solid skin. It’s my turn to be shocked.
Wraith’s dark eyes flash with warning as he grabs my wrist in a viselike grip. “Thou art very lucky thy father commanded me not to hurt thee.”
I jerk my hand away from Wraith’s and start walking.
“Son, I’m sure they just got out of that car right there,” says the boy’s mom, watching mine and Wraith’s small fight.
I turn and walk to the sidewalk by the house. “I’m sorry for scaring your son, my…friend isn’t from here, and he’s still learning it’s not nice to scare people,” I say as I throw a glare over my shoulder at a smirking Wraith.
The woman nods slowly and escorts her child back inside, like a mother hen.
After the door closes, I roll my eyes and turn back to Wraith. "This isn't the Supernatural Side! This is where living, breathing humans live and breathe! You can't do everything you did in my dad's kingdom, things don't work that way here! People don’t just appear outside of cars! They open doors and walk out!"
Wraith glares at me. "Then thou best watch thyself and thy temper. Thou art more like thy father than thou knowest."
"What are you talking about?"
"Look at thy hands," he says smugly as he gestures toward my hands.
I look down and see that my clenched fists are slowly turning translucent, like Wraith's skin. "What's happening to me?"
Wraith smiles. "Tis thy coming of age. Here is something thy father never told thee. Thou art eidolon."
Eidolon? Me? "What?" I say weakly, my anger fleeing.
"Tis something thy father never told thee, he did not wish for thee to know that thy mother was a ghost," he says as he casually walks back to the car.
"A ghost?" I repeat softly.
Wraith nods. "Thy mother was the princess of the Supernatural Order before thy father became Shadow Lord. During one of the Order meetings, thy father met thy mother and fell in love. It was hard not to fall in love with her. She was beautiful. Thee looks exactly like her, Princess."
I look away from Wraith's suddenly too keen gaze. “Then what happened?”
"Thy parents were married, and soon thy mother found herself to be pregnant with thee. Thy father moved his young bride to the human side. The longer eidolons stay among humans, the more human they become. By the time thou was three, no one could tell that thy mother was not human. That was when it happened."
"It?" I ask slowly.
Wraith looks at me sadly. "When She came for thou mother. What does thou remember about thy mother's death?"
I look down at the asphalt. "Not much. I was three. It was just mom and me. We were coloring together in my playroom when it suddenly got really cold, like as cold as the Shadow District is. Mom got worried, but she hid it with a smile. She told me to stay in here, that she'd be right back. She closed the door and locked it. I heard sounds of a struggle, and the smell of vanilla and roses. Dad came home a few moments later and heard me calling for mom. All I could say is mom’s gone, and he got worried and then took me to the supernatural side to say goodbye." I look down. "She didn't recognize us when she passed." My voice cracks on the last sentence.
Wraith steps forward and hugs me. "That is because She did not want thy mother knowing who thee was. She did not want thy mother even meeting thy father."
"Who is this mysterious 'She' you keep talking about?"
Wraith sighs. "Remember when I told thee that thy past is dark and twisted?"
"This is where it starts. She is thy grandmother."
“My grandmother?” I ask, disbelief coloring my tone.
Wraith nods and leans back against the car. “Yes. Thy grandmother does not approve of thy father. She did not approve when the Order elected him Shadow Lord. And that is why she is taking away those you love.”
I’m confused. “But why is she targeting me? I haven’t done anything to her.”
“She is targeting thee, Princess, because of the simple fact that thee exists. In her world, humans and supernatural beings stay apart from each other because the supernatural beings are supreme over humans. Thou art part human, and the Shadow Lord’s daughter. If she destroys thee, then destroying thy father will be that much easier.”
I shake my head. My phone vibrates in my jacket pocket. I take it out, the bedazzled cover cool and bumpy against my palm. The glaring glow of the screen brightly proclaims that I have fifteen new texts and three missed calls. I sigh, knowing without looking that they’re all from The Clique. I’m about to put my phone back when I see the time.
“Wraith, I need to get to school.”
“Why? I though thou did not wish to go.”
I shove my phone back in my pocket and get back in the corvette. “I do not wish…I mean I don’t want to go, but I kind of have to, and The Clique won’t leave me alone, they want to make sure I’m okay.”
Wraith materializes in the driver’s seat. “And art thou…okay?” he asks, stumbling over the foreign word.
I shrug and press my forehead against the cool window. “I’m not sure, but I need to go.”
Wraith nods and starts driving to my school. My phone continues buzzing like a deranged hummingbird, but I can’t handle answering right now, so I turn it off and leave it alone.
It’s after one when I finally get to school. With everything that’s happened today, the heavy brick walls seem to be pulsing and made of blood. I’m starting to think it’s a mistake coming in today. My black heels, (the only pair of black shoes I own, and since the heels are made of sterling silver, no supernatural being will touch me…or at least my feet.), click-clack loudly against the laminate flooring. I’m the only one in the hallway, everyone else is in class.
I stop at the third door on the right, my history class. With a deep breath and one look around me to make sure that there are no murderous grandmother ghosts lurking in shadows, I open the door and walk in. Desk by desk, the whole room falls silent. My shoes seem even louder as I walk to my desk in the middle of the room.
“My class has never been this quiet before. What’s going on in here?” Mr. Holt’s eyes slide across the room to me. “Oh, I see. Well Nikki, I knew your presence was breathtaking, but I never knew it could do this.” He laughs and I force a smile. I know he’s just trying to help cheer me up, but it’s really not helping.
He seems to notice his ‘jokes’ aren’t working, and he clears his throat and returns to his desk. “Right. So today we are starting a new unit. Now tell me, how many of you know what All Hallows Eve is?” Without looking up from a paper on his desk, he calls me.
It takes me a moment before I answer. “All Hallows Eve is what we call Halloween. It was originally a pagan holiday when spirits would come back to earth and finish their unfinished business or wreak havoc on the people. The Catholics turned it into a religious holiday, which later morphed into our Halloween.”
Mr. Holt nods. “Exactly.” He reaches into his desk and pulls out a rolled up paper. With a flourish, he unrolls it and pins it on the board. A tall woman with long blonde hair and green eyes is sitting on the Throne of Souls, a throne made of, well, souls of people who committed suicide. The woman is wearing a black dress that is fitted to the waist, then falls from a tight waistband to a full skirt. A black ornately carved crown is perched on her head. I know this woman. This is my mom.
“Now does anyone know who this is?”
The class stays silent.
“Anyone?” Mr. Holt asks as he finally turns around and faces the class.
“It kind of looks like Nikki,” says Alexia, one of the wannabes that follow The Clique. She’s still trying to gain brownie points, and was trying to compliment me.
Every eye turns my way. Thanks a lot, Alexia.
“Alexia is right, it does,” adds Grant, my best friend’s boyfriend.
I sink down in my seat. Why me? Why today?
“Maybe it is Nikki,” says Kendra, a girl who has never liked me. “I mean, she’s got the whole ‘old and gothic’ look going on today.”
Maybe it’s just grief, or maybe it’s because I can’t take anything else today, but I snap. “Kendra, if you knew anything, you would know that this outfit is called ‘vintage,’ and since my boyfriend died last night, I’m in mourning. But that’s not something you would know about, since you can’t hold onto a guy longer than ten seconds.” Judgment still clouded with anger and grief, I grab my bag and walk out of the room. I take a few steps down the hallway and then sink to the floor and lean against a wall and close my eyes.
“Maybe I should not have blackmailed thee into coming to school today, Shadow Princess.”
I open my eyes and see Wraith suddenly sitting beside me. “No, after you had changed your mind, I still wanted to come.”
Wraith opens his mouth like he’s about to say something, but can’t get it out before Mr. Holt’s door opens and Haley walks out.
“It’s okay, Nik. Kendra shouldn’t have pushed you like that, not after what you’ve been through. She’s such a jerk! But don’t worry, we’ll get her back for you.”
Her brown eyes finally catch sight of Wraith sitting beside me. “Who’s this, Nik?” she asks, her voice taking on the flirtatious falsetto that grates like a raven cawing.
“Ciro. I’m her…”
“Cousin,” I blurt out.
Haley smiles and gets a flirtatious gleam in her eyes. “Nik, you never told me you had such a…good looking cousin that was coming to visit.”
I fight the sudden urge to smile. Wraith? Good looking? Well, weirder things have happened, I guess.
“She didn’t know I was coming. I didn’t even know until I heard about Ryan. I flew in to help take care of her,” he says, obviously uncomfortable with her attention.
“Well, if you’re taking care of her, then who’s taking care of you? I’m free if you need someone to look after you,” she says with a wink.
Disgusted with her vulgar flirting, I grab Wraith’s hand and pull him to his feet. “He’ll have to call you later, he’s taking me home. I can’t make it any longer here.”
Haley pouts, her blood-red lips glistening under the fake lighting. “Okay. I’ll tell Mr. Holt.”
Wraith and I walk down the hallway and to the main office, where he signs me out. We get to the car, and I lean against the door.
“Shadow Princess, is everything okay?” he asks with concern.
Finally, I let down my guard and cry. Wraith holds me and lets me cry. With my final shred of sanity not consumed by grief, I think that it’s a good thing that no one’s out here to see my tears fall through Wraith and in a puddle on the pavement.
The drive back to the house passes by in a soggy blur. Between tears and the hole that has suddenly caved in inside me, I can hardly breathe, let alone pay attention to where we’re going.
Finally, the car stops. I look out the window and see the ancient remains of what once was an aristocratic home. The framework of the ruins still stretch proudly to the sky in defiance of age and the elements like the bones of a great and mighty beast.
“Where are we?” I ask as my voice shakes with the stress of crying.
Wraith tightly grips the steering wheel. “My mother’s home.” He grips the wheel so tightly his hands pass through it and he hits the dashboard.
“Your mother was human?”
Wraith shakes his head. “Both my parents were eidolons, yet my mother had lived amongst humans so long she nearly forgot that part of her until she met my father.”
“How’d they meet?”
Wraith looks at me, seeming to fully realize I’m there for the first time. “That story is for another time. Come, I wish to show thee where I grew up.”
Wraith disappears and materializes outside my door. He opens it and helps me out. In awe, I look around. Surrounding the driveway is what appears to have once been a very large and colorful garden, but is now nothing other than a small jungle of colors. Wraith walks across cracked pavement and over long threading roots to the charred yet otherwise whole steel door. Slowly picking my way behind Wraith’s nimble footsteps, I make it to the door a few minutes after he does.
“What lies beyond this door is slightly unnerving based on the outer appearance of my old home, so be prepared,” Wraith whispers as he slowly pushes open the door.
Unsure what to prepare myself for, I look down until the softly screeching door has gone silent. Beyond the charred threshold, the house looks like it’s brand new. It opens up into a large entryway with a vaulted ceiling painted dark blue and sparkling silver dots like stars. Beyond that, a kitchen with cherry wood everything and a white tablecloth on the large table stand solidly, like a guardian of the home.
I turn to Wraith. “It looks brand new.”
He nods and walks to the kitchen. “I fixed this level after it caught fire. These two rooms were my mother’s favorite, so I thought that they should live on in her memory.”
I follow him and sit down at the table. “It’s beautiful here.”
Wraith smiles, and for the first time, I can see a human aspect in him. “My mother surrounded herself with beauty while she lived so that she could forget the darkness and despair of the supernatural side.”
“I completely understand that. As soon as I figured out my dad was the Shadow Lord, I began surrounding myself with color and really stupid, shallow things.”
“And thus ‘The Clique’ was born,” Wraith says with a slight laugh.
For the first time since last night, I smile for real. “The Clique was born because of that, yes.”
Wraith laughs and sits across from me at the table. “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“Being human. Living and interacting with humans on a daily basis. Falling in love with a human,” he says as he gives me a sideways glance.
I lean back in my chair. “That’s a hard question to answer, Wraith. It’s not something we think about a lot.”
Wraith continues to look more human, just like he has ever since he walked through the door.
“Well, being human, it’s not perfect,” I begin. “We all make mistakes, and we don’t have powers to undo it or make other people forget when we say something we don’t mean. Living and interacting with humans? That’s not really something that can be answered, Wraith. There’s not really a possible way to answer it. And falling in love with a human…” Thoughts of Ryan fill my head. “It’s one of the best feelings in the world, but it also hurts when they leave, or when someone takes them away from you,” I say in a voice edged with tears.
Wraith reaches across the table and takes my hand. “I am truly sorry that she took Ryan away from thee.”
A solitary tear rolls down my cheek, taking some of my mascara with it, leaving a black trail down my face. Wraith gets up and walks toward me. Gently, he wipes away the tear and leans against the table next to me.
“Wraith, I need to try and figure out everything about his death. I need to know,” I quietly plead with him again.
Wraith stays silent.
“Wraith, please. I need to know how she did it and why.” I look up at him, tears gathering at the edges of my vision.
Wraith sighs. “I have already told thee why she hath done it, but even I do not know how. But I warn thou, Shadow Princess, it shall not be a pleasant sight to thine eyes.”
I nod. “I know it won’t, but I need answers.”
Wraith nods. “I understand thy need, but thee needs to let go of Ryan. I understand thy lineage, but seeing his death would only strengthen thy hold on his spirit, and methinks that the best option would be to let him go. For both parties. He cannot come back, Nikki,” he says gently.
I look up into his eyes, which are suddenly dark green with flecks of gold. This is the human Wraith? “You’ve never called me by my name before.”
Wraith blushes. “I apologize, Shadow Princess, I meant no harm.”
I shake my head. “I’d rather you call me Nikki. We’re friends, and I need the support of a good friend right now. Not a courtier.”
Wraith smiles and whispers something under his breath. I only catch the last sentence.
The drive from Wraith’s home to mine is surprisingly short. Shows how much I was paying attention. As I’m walking across the garage, I decide I’ve ignored The Clique long enough, so I turn my phone back on. I walk inside and set in on the granite bar and let it vibrate in a deranged hummingbird sort of way as it’s flooded with sympathizing texts, calls, and voicemails. Wraith has remained silent since we left his home. He looks sad, like something’s bothering him. Part of me wants to ask what’s wrong, but the other part knows he wouldn’t tell me.
Suddenly, the front door opens. Wraith and I look confused at each other, then turn to the kitchen entryway. Dad walks through, still dressed as the Shadow Lord, in all black.
He wraps me up in a bear hug. “Glad to see you’re still okay, Nik. I got a call from the school saying that you were only there for fifteen minutes, and that you were yelling at another student.”
“Kendra pushed me too far and I snapped. Then Haley was flirting with Wraith and I had to leave.”
Dad laughs, his baritone voice a comforting sound. “I doubt she’d be flirting with him if she knew what he really was.”
I shrug. “I don’t know, dad. Haley flirts with anything, as long as it resembles a guy.”
Wraith looks up from the wood floor. “Are all girls like that?”
“Only some. Nik’s one of the ones that doesn’t do that,” dad says.
“Oh.” He returns to examining the wood floor.
Dad turns to me, concern chasing the smile off his face. “Nik, what I thought this morning about Ryan is right, and I might need to take you to my castle for safekeeping.”
“But if the problem is on the supernatural side, isn’t it more dangerous for me to be there?” I ask.
Dad shakes his head. “That’s the last place she’d look for you.”
“No, tis not, she shall be expecting thee to do that, Shadow Lord,” Wraith suddenly says.
Dad turns to face him. “Then what do you suggest, Eidolon?”
Wraith looks away from my dad’s sudden anger for a moment, and then looks to me. “My old house. It is safe there, and she does not even know it exists. I would continue to care for the Shadow Princess there.”
My dad sighs. He can see the logic in this. He turns to me. “Nik, it’s up to you. Where would you feel safer?”
With both of them watching me, it’s clear that they’re both expecting different answers. “Dad, although your castle is safe, Wraith is probably right, she’d be expecting you to keep me close to you. It would most likely be safer for me to stay with Wraith at his old home. And it’d be easier for you to concentrate on fighting her if I wasn’t so close to her,” I finally say. “And can you tell me why she wants me gone?”
Dad nods, ignoring my question. “Then you should go pack. I’ll call your school and tell them that you’ll be going on a short vacation to recover from Ryan’s death.”
As dad walks out of the room into his office, Wraith smiles.
“What are you so happy about?” I ask, turning back to him.
Wraith hides the smile with a cough. “Nothing.”
I shake my head. “Right.”
Only when lying across my queen sized bed did I finally let myself check all the messages. Most of them are all the same, apologizing for something they can’t control and something that isn’t their fault. Stupid sympathy. Sympathy won’t bring Ryan back or change the fact my grandmother killed my mom and was trying to get me out of the picture.
The last message catches my eye. It was from…Ryan’s phone.
Hey beautiful, I know you’ve had a long day, so goodnight, I love you.
And the hole in my chest slowly grows…
The sun is starting to set when Wraith and I finally leave. As we pull out of the long driveway, I look back up at the mansion, wondering if I’ll ever be able to see it again. After all, if she succeeds, the only place I’ll ever be able to call home again is my dad’s castle, and icy stone walls aren’t as comforting or familiar as the sun-warmed bricks in Rochester…
Wraith is silent, too, wrapped up in his own thoughts like me. Tired of silence, I turn on the radio and let the fake voices break the silence.
Wraith forces a small laugh that dies at his lips and turns to a cough. “This is what humans call ‘music?’”
I shake my head. “No, this is what humans with taste call ‘noise.’ Real music is much better than this.”
“And what is real music?”
I turn the radio back off and look back out the window. “What is it with you and the impossible to answer questions?”
Wraith smiles as he navigates the broken driveway of his home. “My questions only seem impossible to answer if they are not properly thought over.”
I shake my head and get out of the car. “Well in case you haven’t noticed, my brain shorted out sometime earlier today, and I’m not sure how to turn it back on.”
Wraith walks to the back of the car and grabs my bag.
I turn around. “No, let me carry it.”
“Not at all, Nikki. Thou art a guest at my home, and I shall treat thee as such. Thou shalt not want for anything while staying with me,” he says with an exaggerated bow.
I force a small smile. Other than Ryan, I haven’t met a guy who’s treated me this good.
Wraith leads the way to the door, which opens of its own accord as soon as he gets to it. He sets my pink and blue striped duffel bag in front of a door that seems to blend in with the wall on both sides of it.
“Where does that go?”
“The basement. Twas was not destroyed with the rest of the house, and tis where thy room is.”
I nod and look up at the vaulted ceiling. The beauty of the painted night sky takes my breath away. Whoever the artist was caught the beauty of the night sky perfectly. Looking up at it reminds me of the night when I snuck out with Ryan and we were star watching all night…
It was the best first date and the most perfect first kiss.
Just like earlier when Wraith first showed me his house, the human side of him is becoming more prominent. The human Wraith has black hair pulled back in a ponytail at the base of his neck. His dark green eyes with gold flecks seem out of place in translucent skin until that too fills in with a soft olive skin tone. He turns around and catches me watching him from over calculus homework that I’ve been pretending to do.
“Distracted?” he asks with a smile.
“Of course not. I just need help with a few of these,” I reply and look back down at my paper.
Wraith walks across the kitchen to me and looks at my blank paper. “I see,” he laughs. “Thee needs help with all of them. Is calculus that hard?”
I nod. “Yes. I don’t understand any of it.”
Wraith smiles. “Well that makes two of us. I did not need to learn this mathematic when I was in school.”
“How old are you really, Wraith?”
He stares at the table. “Well, when eidolons have their coming of age, they freeze at that age. I will soon celebrate the eightieth anniversary of my eighteenth birthday.”
I blink. “You’re ninety-eight?”
He nods. “By human standards, yes. By supernatural standards, I am still eighteen.”
“So if I am eidolon,” I begin.
“Then will I be sixteen forever?”
Wraith shrugs. “Thou art not a normal eidolon. Thy father is Shadow Lord, therefore he is immortal, and thou art immortal also. And no matter what thy true age be, thee can choose to appear whatever age thy wishes.”
“Dad never told me about that. How old is he really?”
“Thy father appears to be in his late forties for appearances of having a teenage daughter, but thy father is truly one hundred and five.”
One hundred and five? One hundred and five? “That old?” I ask nervously.
Wraith nods. I look back down at the homework that won’t be getting done anytime soon. A question suddenly pops into my head and makes me worried.
“Wraith, how old am I really?”
Wraith coughs. “Well…”
“I’m not really sixteen?” I ask, tapping my pencil nervously against the table.
Wraith looks up, piercing me with his dark green eyes. “I have already told thee too much about thy past and thyself. I should not say more.”
“Wraith, please. How old am I really?” My pencil tapping gets faster and more frantic.
“Sixteen. I was merely making a joke.”
I laugh hollowly. “Well don’t do that, you had me worried there for a minute.”
Wraith smiles. “My apologies, Nikki. I only wished to make thee laugh.”
I look away, though part of my mind wonders if he really was making a joke or being serious.
“I have a surprise for dinner,” Wraith announces as he walks back up from the basement.
“Okay. And why don’t you use your powers when you’re here?” I ask, a question that’s been at the back of my mind since we came here.
“Because I wish to know what it is like being a human,” he says with a shrug. “And does thee not wish to know what surprise I have planned?”
I shake my head. “I’ve never heard that one before. And sorry, but not really. I’m not hungry. Or in the mood for a surprise.”
“Follow me,” Wraith commands, then walks out the charred remains of a back door. He walks through another section of jungle-like garden and underneath the outstretched arms of two ash trees. Underneath an emerald and sky canopy is a picnic set out on a blue-green blanket.
“You did this?” I ask, my voice ringing hollow in the evening air.
He nods. “I thought that with all that thou hath gone through today, thee deserved something nice.”
I hug him. “This is sweet. Thank you, Wraith.”
He hugs me back tightly and then lets go. “Come, let us eat.”
I reluctantly allow him to lead me to the blanket. I sit down and look up at the sky peeking through broad leaves.
“Nikki, I was thinking…”
“Don’t strain yourself,” I interject sarcastically.
Wraith smiles. “Very funny. But I was thinking about how thee said thou wished to watch Ryan’s death, and I do not think that would be wise.”
I frown and reach for a bottle of water. “You’ve said that already, why are you saying it again?”
“If she caused Ryan’s death, then She could reach thee through watching his death. She will be watching all channels that have to do with him.”
“Wraith, what is her name? We can’t keep calling her ‘She’ or ‘Her.’ I need a name.”
“Thou does not know it?” he asks disbelievingly.
“If I did, I wouldn’t be asking you for it,” I say as I watch him over the top of my water bottle.
He sighs. “Her name is Kendra.”