A/N: I don't know why it was so difficult for me to reach this part in the story, but after months of struggling and editing and re-editing of the editing, I present you with this, Chapter 6. I'm proud of myself for managing to overcome that long struggle, but I hope this chapter's not so bad that you guys can't enjoy reading it. It's pretty long, but I'm going with it. Please let me know what you think!

Chapter 6

I woke up to the calm silence of my bedroom and the warm comfort of my bed. It took a long dizzying moment before I remembered how I had gotten there.

Carlotte had come to pick me up at school after I had fainted in the hall. My friends' faces hovered in my head for a second, and then the faces of Brian, Marien and Drake.

I wanted to smack myself right then and there. My face flushed with embarrassment, even though I was alone in the room. Fainting at school had to be the most embarrassing thing that had ever happened to me. How many people saw that? I sank into my bed, sighing.

A brief image of two men with red eyes suddenly flashed in my mind's eye. I shuddered and clutched my comforter even tighter to my body. They were like a very vague memory, a dream. And I was starting to think that I really had been dreaming. There was no way they could have been standing there in that hall, looking all scary like zombies waiting to attack. It was like they were straight out of a horror film. I was sure I had only been seeing things; they were just remnants from my dream last night, that's all.

A knock on my door startled me out of my thoughts. At first I thought I had imagined it when it went completely silent again. Then there was another knock.

"Come in," I answered weakly. The door opened slightly, and Drake's head popped in. My heart jumped a little when he entered, but then I abruptly, and oddly, remembered Marien's angry glare from earlier today, the one she had worn while scolding me after I had fainted.

Drake opened the door wider, revealing Brian standing behind him. I stilled. Drake was the only one smiling at me.

"How are you doing?" he asked, coming to sit on one corner of my bed. My eyes followed Brian as he entered after him, but he stood near the doorway, peering out onto my small balcony.

"I'm good," I said to Drake, then suddenly felt self-conscious under my comforter, in my own room. Drake and Brian had never been in my room before. I mean, it wasn't like I was afraid they were going to discover rainbows and bunnies on my walls, which I didn't have, of course. It felt weird because Drake was Marien's boyfriend and Brian her friend.

"Gave us a little scare when we saw you on the ground," Drake said.

"I wasn't feeling well."

"We assumed that much." He was frowning at me now, concerned. I'd never noticed how green his eyes were until now.

"Did you have a nice rest?" Brian had stopped looking at the balcony and was watching me, waiting for my answer with the smallest of smiles on his face.

I found I couldn't meet his eyes for very long. Looking away, I said, "Yes."

He nodded and resumed to look out the balcony's doors. It took only a moment before the memory of my conversation with my friends came to me. We had been talking about Brian and the rumor my sister had told them before I fainted. That's right, I was supposed to give Marien a piece of my mind.

Then it was as if my mind had called to her. We heard footsteps in the hall outside my room, and in just seconds, she was standing in my doorway. And she appeared suspiciously happy.

"Drake, there's something I want to show you," she purred, beckoning slowly with her hand. Drake gave me one last look, then followed her out of my room. But before her face disappeared from view, I saw that she was smiling slyly at Brian, who was looking at me.

Oh, God.

When the room was empty with only me and him occupying it, the air around me seemed to hug me tight. I attempted a conversation. "Um, so how was the rest of school? I hope nothing else strange happened."

"No, nothing else," he answered simply.


"How were all your classes?"

"Not too bad."


He wasn't looking at me at all anymore. His gaze had wandered to the floor, and he had a very contemplative look on his face.

I had already guessed at what he was thinking. But he didn't say anything, and the silence was tormenting.

"Is something the matter?" I prompted.

"Well," he began but paused shortly, brows furrowing. "I know that, uh, this is probably not an appropriate time to ask, and . . . I have been wondering for some time . . . Would you – will you – go out with me?"

He had looked back up at me, eyes holding mine squarely as if he was afraid the house would burn down if he looked away.

Would it have been a lot easier if I hadn't known this was coming?

"U-um . . ." I stuttered and swallowed. I've never been asked out before. I've never even been on a date before. I mean, when I was little, all the boys and girls would hold hands and call each other boyfriend and girlfriend. But that didn't count, right? Okay, so what if I never attempted at love? I could live without a boyfriend changing everything in my life. That was normal, right?

Brian grinned and started to chuckle. "I'm sorry," he said. "I knew you'd probably think it was weird for me to be asking you right now. You must be tired, so if you want . . ."

"I . . . I think I need some time . . ." I sounded lame, but I couldn't put it into other words and have it not sound rude.

"I understand," he said, nodding. He then gave me a warm smile. "Well, get some rest. But if something strange happens again, just let me know, okay?"

Something strange? Did he mean my fainting? Well . . . I guess it could be strange in my case, at least, since it had never happened to me before. Besides that, the only other strange thing was me seeing those zombie-looking people in the hall, and I'm sure Brian didn't see them to refer to them.

With my face burning slightly from embarrassment, I answered, "Yeah, I will. Thank you."

He nodded again. But before he turned to leave, he gazed at me for a good three seconds more. Or for a good three heartbeats more.

When he did leave, though, I couldn't stop thinking about his expression. In those last seconds, he had appeared worried. Or had he been frustrated?

I sighed and sank into my bed. What if Karely and the others were right? Should I go out with him? I mean, he didn't try to force my answer or anything . . . And oddly enough, that "weird feeling" that I always got around him wasn't as strong today as it usually was.

I had thought that by now I would be over Brian's staring, or at least all those times I caught him watching me. It should creep me out, yes, but I felt as if it didn't matter sometimes. Brian was nice; he wouldn't do anything to me. And besides, maybe Ericka was right. Maybe that uncomfortable, funny feeling that I felt around him was probably just me having the butterflies-in-my-stomach phenomenon.

"Midnight?" came a small voice at the door. It was Saria. "Marien told me you collapsed in school today. Are you not feeling well?"

"No, I'm good," I replied, waving my hand. "I was just seeing things in the hall, that's all."

"What kind of 'things'? Dusk?"

"People with red eyes."

Saria raised an eyebrow, looking most inquisitive. "Yeah, you might have been seeing things."

I rolled my eyes. "No, but I had a different dream last night. There were these monsters, and they had red eyes."

Saria looked as if her interest had peaked. She moved into my room and shut the door. She continued towards my bed and sat on the edge. "What happened?"

I told her everything, everything that I could remember that had happened. But just as Dusk and I had gotten nowhere with it this morning, Saria couldn't help much either.

"Your dream only gave more facts," she murmured, almost to herself. "It's another puzzle piece of Dusk's memories . . ."

"Well, I know that," I muttered. "I just wish I had the entire puzzle solved already. I'm starting to get worried, after seeing those zombies at school. I don't think I was imagining things. What if they were real? What if-"

Saria's mouth was set in a straight line, resembling a hyphen. She doubted me; I knew it for sure.

Then her face softened. "Don't worry, Midnight," she said. I tried not to take it as a mother telling her kid there weren't monsters in the closet. "It's fine, just as long as you remember where and who you are."

I snorted pretty loudly. "Great." Aside from everyone telling me to go out with Brian, this was probably the best advice I had heard all day.

Saria left me not a moment later, going back downstairs to where Marien and the others were gathered. A round of laughter came up the stairs, but I didn't feel as if I was missing out on whatever jokes they were sharing.

I pushed myself up to rest on one elbow, but the movement caused my head to ring as I re-remembered the dream and the monster visions I had seen at school. Things like this had never happened to me before. So why now?

Before long, I grew tired of sitting in bed and felt hot under my comforter. But standing from bed only seemed to make the headache pounding at my temples worse. I needed a cold drink. I needed something refreshing to clear my mind.

Everyone was in the living room, but as I passed them through the hall, I caught only Drake's eyes. Brian was staring out the window, seemingly oblivious to everything.

I reached the kitchen and filled a glass cup with water from the fridge. But as I went to lean against the counter, my vision began to blur, and all the shadows in the room appeared to grow darker. My eyes flew to the clock hanging on the wall above the doorway to the living room. I didn't see what time it was, but I could hear its ticking as if it were right next to my ear.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick . . .

I didn't know our clock was purple, lilac really, with tiny specs of gray dust on the top. The observation came like a random thought. I tried to think straight, tried to drink the cool water in the glass in my hand. But it was as if my actions were limited. I could only move my eyes, which were now flying down to see why my arm was frozen.

My hand was shaking. Why was it shaking? The water in the cup sloshed around violently. And why was the world tilting?

My head was starting to get too heavy to hold up, my arm too heavy to carry the glass cup. I barely heard the sound of glass falling on the wooden floor. I didn't even feel myself swaying side to side. At one point, I felt my head bang against the brass handle of a cabinet, but its pain came slower than the pain of something gripping my arm hard enough to bruise.

I swung my free arm in front of my body defensively, my vision and head so blurred I wasn't even aware of my own actions. I cried out, too softly for my own ears to hear.

A familiar, but faraway voice called my name near my head. It came again and grew clearer as if someone was calling me out of a dream.

A dream . . .

Someone's voice echoed in the chambers of my memory. Remember where and who you are.

My eyes snapped open. They had been closed tightly. It took one long moment before I stopped struggling and grew aware of two hands holding my arms from flinging out unexpectedly. I was breathing heavily, I realized.

Brian and Drake stood in front of me, each with a hold on one of my arms. Brian's grip was secure, but gentle. Drake's grip had been the painful one I had felt. He also had his other hand at the back of my neck, moving my head so he could examine the spot where I had struck it against the handle.

". . . not hard enough to cause any bleeding," he was saying, brows tight together.

When I had grown quiet and still, Carlotte regarded me with worried, fearful eyes, giving her a frantic look. "What happened?"

I was shaking my head without knowing it. "I don't know," I whispered as Brian and Drake released their hold. My face was burning again. How could this have happened? Would I have fainted again had they not come?

I looked around me. Everyone who had been in the living room was now crowding around me in the kitchen. They surrounded me, enclosed all the space and eliminating any ways of escape.

Carlotte felt my forehead, then exclaimed, "You're burning! What are you doing out of bed?"

"I needed some water," I said, my voice quiet and terribly dry. I stared at the glass cup I had dropped and the puddle of water on the floor, refusing to meet anyone's eyes.

I noticed Carlotte ringing her hands. "Do you want to go see the doctor?"

I was glad she was giving me an option. I shook my head. "No," I said determinedly. I could think straight now. There was no more blood rushing to my head. "It's all right, Mom. It was just a headache. I'm fine."

She didn't want to believe me; I could see it on her face.

"Are you sure, Midnight?" Marien asked. I looked at her. She appeared the most incredulous of them all: arms crossed and mouth in an unpleasant twist.

I nodded, then as if I had been brought back to life – after seeing my older sister's dubious stare – I said, with as much effort as I could put into being joyful, "Yeah, I just need some fresh air right now." Because everyone was crowding the kitchen, I wanted to add.

Drake and Carlotte followed me to the front door, which I opened to step outside, taking deep gulps of cool, early winter air. I saw that the sun had just set, and the rare pink and orange rays momentarily distracted me from the lingering dizziness in my head. Brian came to stand behind me, to catch me in case I fell, probably.

A sting of annoyance shot through my body. Me and those stupid dreams. Making me faint in front of everyone and feel like something was wrong with me. God, what was happening to me?

"If you want some fresh air, you can join us downtown," Brian said. I could feel him there, his warmth standing behind me.

"Yeah. Brian, Marien and I are actually heading there to hang out," Drake added. "You should come. There's a pretty neat café downtown. Legends Café."

"Would you like to come with us?" Brian asked, smiling. I looked at him and his smile and remembered briefly how he had asked me out just a short while ago.

Maybe getting out of the house was a good idea. Fresh air flowing in and out of my lungs was a good idea.

"Sure," I finally said, but just then, realization struck me like a bullet in the gut. I was still grounded.

"Oh, wait, I-" I didn't want to continue because Drake and Brian were there. Carlotte finished my thought for me anyway.

"You're still grounded," she said with that motherly relentlessness. She talked about it as if it were nothing, as if I were eight again. I tried not to glower, because that's what eight-year-olds did. But in front of Drake and Brian, I was blushing with humiliation.

"We'll keep a close watch over her, Mrs. Eckleson," Drake said, sounding most genuine with his smile.

It was a long time before Carlotte said anything. The entire time, she was watching me, and I could see on her face that she was debating whether to make me stay or let me leave, despite her statement. She looked at Brian, then at Drake, then at me, and instantly, I watched her face change as if the answer just hit her like a freight train.

"All right, you can go," she said, a bright, wide smile crossing her mouth. If I had water, I'd be spitting it out in surprise about right now.

"W-what?" I was gaping at her. She rarely changed her mind about things.

I looked at Drake, who was thanking Carlotte, and moving at the same time towards the black car parked on the street in front of the house. Marien trailed after him, promising Carlotte – with a roll of her eyes – that they would be back before it got too late. Brian went after them, but not before I saw his face. There was a slight frown in his brow, a kind of questioning look. His eyes were following Drake or Marien, but I didn't know which of the two.

Carlotte was smiling after them, and it was an odd, easy smile, like she had completely forgotten all the house rules she had set up and was entirely okay with me doing whatever I wanted. I raised an eyebrow at her, but she didn't seem to notice my astonishment. She didn't seem to notice me, in fact.

I left her on the front steps and returned to my room to grab my cell. Then, believing Carlotte could change her mind as quickly as she had given me consent to leave, I hurried back down. "I'll give you a call if something happens," I assured Carlotte before passing her, and she brought her face close and kissed my cheek.

"Marien and those young men will take good care of you," she said, almost sleepily.

I nodded, not giving her expression a second thought, and went to join the others waiting in the car.

It hadn't been a while since I'd been downtown. In fact, it was just a few days ago when we visited the library.

And the park where Dusk had taken over my body.

The thought came to me as a surprise. The experience had been a little frightening, but so shocking and unbelievable. We hadn't tried to "switch places" since then. Dusk never mentioned it again, either.

It had to have been magic that had caused us to switch places. How could anything else explain it? One second I was in my own body, and the next I was floating in an endless pool of darkness only to be staring out of a single window of light at Dusk who was kneeling where I had been. She had said something about the fountain at the park being special. Obviously, it was magical special. I still had yet to investigate it.

Grandmother, was what you told me actually true?

"Something the matter, Midnight?"

Brian, who sat beside me in the back of Drake's car, was watching me curiously. He must have noticed the pensive scowl on my face.

I shook my head, only glancing at him for a moment, as Drake drove us past house after house. The rest of the ride was silent, save for the front of the car where Marien talked about school gossip and Drake listened and gave his own input.

It took just fifteen minutes to drive downtown. Traffic had begun to clear after that rush before sunset when people were leaving work. I didn't know what to expect until we drove through an alley road and entered a parking lot hidden from the main road behind a line of two-story shops.

Everyone exited the car, and I followed after them as they approached a tall, narrow building we had parked directly behind. Crawling upwards on its dark red brick walls were thin green vines and leaves that moved with the evening wind, appearing like hands waving. The building's wide, square windows were tinted with soft yellows and violets, their panes reflecting softly the parking lot lights and glowing from the lights within. Above the dark red door, a wooden oval sign read Legends Café.

As Drake opened the door, a joyful jingle of bells rang above the doorway. "After you, ladies," he said, gesturing to me and Marien. We entered, and after taking several steps inside, my feet froze and my jaw fell slack.

Golden rays of light from wall lamps and four small, silver chandeliers illuminated the large room of the café. The chandeliers were spaced to form a large square in the center of the ceiling, and within that square, tinted yellow and purple glass jutted up and out to form a trapezoidal prism, a window through which light traveled during the day.

The golden light from the lamps fell upon several delicately carved wooden tables and chairs scattered around the large room. Three of the walls and most of the floor were dark wood, but at the far stone wall that faced the entrance was a half circle of stone floor, wide enough that it reached both corners of the wall. And on the floor of stones was a fountain, cut in a half circle and pressed up against the stone wall.

In what would be the center of the fountain, a statue of three girls on a giant rock projected out from the wall. One girl held a flute against her chest, another was running her hand through her hair, and the girl in between them stood in a mighty pose with a spear in one hand. They each wore long dresses, gowns actually that you'd wear to a ball. Though, the girl in the middle was the only one who bore feathered wings on her back, spread out wide against the wall and behind the girls on either side of her. In their free hands, each girl carried an orb the size of her palm.

Most of the light in the café shone on the statue and the glistening clear water that trickled down from the tops of the orbs. In the far left corner by the stone wall, there was a counter and above it several menus. There was a boy at the counter, waiting for the woman on the other side as she mixed his drink. In the far right corner of the room were two dark green couches and a loveseat around a small, wooden coffee table.

To the right of the café's entrance, long strings of iridescent green beads covered a doorway that led to another room. I craned my neck to the side a bit to see that it was another large room with bookcases of books. It was a bookstore connected to the café.

There were about no more than a dozen people in the café, either reading, on their laptops, or eating. One old man, I saw as I walked towards the ordering counter, was sleeping on one of the couches, an open magazine draped across his chest.

"Good day, my young friends," the woman behind the counter greeted. The previous customer had walked away with his drink. Her eyes drifted over Drake and Brian's faces. "Shall it be the usual?"

"Nothing for me," Brian said beside me.

Drake asked Marien what she wanted. She announced, "I would like your white chocolate mocha, please."

Drake ordered two, then turned to me. "Anything you'd like, Midnight? It's on me."

I wasn't really paying much attention to him. Actually, I hadn't known he'd spoken to me until he said my name again. I quickly glanced at the first menu above the woman's head and read aloud the first thing I saw, hardly caring what it was. "Sprite," I said and looked at the woman. She only nodded, her eyes never leaving me.

It had been like that since before Drake had asked me what I wanted. When the woman's eyes had found mine while Marien had given her order, they had widened slightly, almost as if in surprise, and she had continued to stare at me as if I had suddenly grown horns out of my head. I now stared back, wondering why the world seemed to have grown smaller.

She looked to be in her thirties. Her hair fell around her face in brown, frizzy curls, slightly tousled as if she had just risen from bed. Her brow carried several visible lines, showing her tendency to frown a lot. She was even frowning at me right now. Her eyes, which were a light brown, were unwavering and steadily focused on me. I shifted my weight from one foot to the other, feeling her eyes regard me carefully.

When she gave the price and turned to complete our orders, Drake and Marien went over to relax together in the loveseat by the coffee table, leaving me alone next to Brian. I wanted to follow her, even though her sidelong glance told me not to.

She was the best sister ever.

"So, this is your first time here?" Brian asked casually, leaning with an elbow on the counter. He was watching me with a cool look on his face. In just one second, one would have fallen into the endless seas of calm in his blue eyes. I could feel that calming effect over my body, too, as they held me firmly. I felt no fear, but it didn't eliminate the strange vibe that I sensed, at that very moment, coming from him. It sounded ridiculous, but I was starting to get that uneasy feeling again. What was horrible was that I couldn't explain it. I was sure there weren't any butterflies in my stomach. Was it nervousness or just that he gave off a strong presence?

I forced myself to look away from that confident smile and those nonchalant blue eyes. "Yep, my first time," I answered, rocking on my heels as if nothing were wrong with me.

"What do you think?"

"Pretty neat. I like the fountain." I felt like my answers were too blunt.

"Yeah, this place is almost half a century old," he went on. "I'm not surprised that it's still up and running. The manager and the people who work here have been fighting to keep the business going."

I looked at him then. "You come here a lot?" Well, I should already know the answer. The woman had asked Drake and Brian if they had wanted the usual.

"Drake and I are practically regulars," he replied with a grin. He then jerked a thumb at the woman preparing the drinks. "That's Meralda. Her husband, Tristan, manages the book store."

As if it had been her cue, the woman behind the counter turned with two coffee drinks in her hand and slid them forward. She smiled at us both and turned back to grab a Sprite can from the small cooler at the end of the counter. She returned and handed me the drink with a soft smile. I searched her face then, searched her eyes for any sign of why I felt oddly out of place. Her smile never wavered, though. I didn't know why I was expecting it to.

"Meralda, this is Midnight," Brian said.

"Pleased to meet you, Midnight." Meralda had her head at a slight, thoughtful tilt. "Such an unusual, but pretty name." She was also observing my hair with a blank stare. "And . . . purple hair?"

I was surprised. Not many adults actually verbally acknowledged my hair. Carlotte still remains number one in having the best shocked expression. "The result of a sister's love," I replied, motioning my head in Marien's direction.

"Well, how lovely," Meralda said, breaking out into another smile. "You should show Midnight the bookstore, Brian. Tristan should be over there."

"Will do." Brian grabbed the last two drinks on the counter before he led the way to the loveseat and couches. I sat in a chair nearby, sipping my Sprite. I didn't want to sit in the one couch that wasn't occupied by a sleeping man. I didn't want the prospect of sitting so close to Brian.

He didn't seem to notice my avoidance but gave Drake and Marien their mochas. He sat down in the free couch, then reclined so that his long body lay across the seats. I almost gave a sigh of relief. He hadn't planned on sharing a seat with me.

Or maybe he saw I was already sitting and decided to take all the couch's room for himself.

Regrettably feeling a pang of disappointment in my stomach when I realized I had wanted him to invite me over, I quickly noticed the distance between Marien and Drake. Usually they were all snuggles. But Drake was sitting back in his seat, eyes looking up through the window prism in the ceiling, and Marien had her hands and mocha in her lap. The only thing really out of place in this otherwise normal picture was Marien's glare, which was currently burning a hole through my face. When she saw that I finally noticed her intense staring, she flicked her eyes at Brian, then back and widening them as if screaming, Come on!

I only shrugged and looked away, innocently taking a sip from my soda can.

In a short while, the three of them started talking, mostly about senior life. I only heard tidbits of "whos dating who" and "the worst teachers ever." I think they addressed me at one point to give me some advice for my senior year, but I just nodded absent-mindedly.

During their conversation, I was pulled back and forth into remembering my dreams and the things I had seen at school. Their red eyes would never leave me; they were haunting my mind. When I began repeating scenes from my recent dream in my head, I felt the air grow hotter around me in seconds. Afraid that I would lose consciousness, I forced myself to swallow a mouthful of cold Sprite and took several deep breaths. The world soon seemed to right itself.

I continued my never ending cycle of questions, but this time I paced my breaths to keep calm. Dusk had come from some place named Demtuwa. Well, I could just look it up somewhere, right? The internet was bound to provide something. And the man who had also appeared in the dream. The prince . . . Who was he?

A brief image of a fountain flashed in my memory. It was the fountain of the winged warrior in Hupperis Central Park, the one that had switched me with Dusk.

It had to have been magic that allowed Dusk to take over my body and change it so that it somehow looked like her. The thought brought me shivers. Dusk had taken physical form through my body, and I had taken her place to drift in an ocean of darkness.

That was not normal. In Grandmother's letter she had written me before her death, she had said something about me having magic. I couldn't believe her. But now, what else could explain what was going on with me? What if she meant magic as me having all these crazy, unexplained dreams?

I didn't want to take the sane approach: that I was actually insane.

"There she goes zoning off again." Marien's voice was like a knife through my thoughts.

I turned to look at them, who were all watching me, Marien more impatiently than the other two.

"What?" I asked. Clearly, I had missed something.

Drake laughed. "We were wondering if you wanted to check out the bookstore now.

"Oh. Yeah, sure."

The guys stood and headed towards the beaded doorway by the café's entrance. As I stood, I noticed Marien still sitting. I gave one random glance at her but stilled right then. She was staring after Drake with a look I had never seen before, or had not seen in a long time. There was sadness glazing her eyes, something so genuine looking that I almost asked her if she was all right. But when she saw me staring, she scowled at me. I let it pass and wondered if I had misjudged her expression.

We all passed through the doorway of hanging beads and into another brightly lit room. The bookstore was smaller than I had expected. There were three columns of bookcases stacked with books, seven rows in each column . A pair of armchairs were spread out adequately around the store. A counter faced its main entrance, which was in the far corner of the store, and behind the counter was a tall and thin man wearing glasses and reading from a book.

Drake sauntered away in between two rows of bookcases with Marien following close behind. Brian went off into another aisle, and I was left to wander alone. Nothing in particular had caught my attention, so I began at the nearest bookcase.

It was about half an hour later when Brian found me skimming through a book about how to survive a zombie apocalypse. He wasn't alone when he appeared at the end of the bookshelf. The man with the glasses was with him. He looked like a college professor up close in his blue plaid sweater and gray dress pants.

Brian saw the cover of the book and cocked an eyebrow. "Zombies?" There was calm humor in his eyes.

"Yeah," I said, shrugging to hide the embarrassment Brian's grin had stirred. I returned the book to its place on the shelf when I realized he and the man weren't leaving me anytime soon. I grabbed my soda can I had set down and waited, because I knew there would be another round of introductions coming.

"This is Tristan," Brian said, gesturing with his hand. He moved it to point it at me. "Tristan, Midnight."

Tristan reached out a hand, and I took it. He shook firmly, his eyes crinkling slightly as he offered a smile. "Ah, a pleasure to meet you, Midnight. You are . . . not what I picture as the average young woman these days."

I knew he said this with my hair in mind. Then he added, "You must be quite the unique person." He put his hands in the pockets of his pants while examining my hair with manifest interest.

"Well, what kinds of books do you like reading, Midnight?" he asked. "Brian here is quite into history."

I think Brian saw my eyebrows rise slightly because he was grinning. I couldn't possibly see tall, hot Brian as the history-type of guy.

"Um," was all I could say. I didn't have a particular favorite. Most of the reading I did was for English class, but even those sometimes weren't as enjoyable as the teacher claimed them to be. "I like fiction."

"We have plenty of fiction selections here. I'm certain you may find something you like. For example, here-" He was reaching for something off the shelf just above my head, when suddenly the light hanging directly over us went out. I watched it try to flicker back to life, heard Tristan mumble a sound of curiosity. But then all the lights in the room – in the building – went out. Someone yelped in surprise.

I looked around, wondering what had happened. There was barely any light coming in from the streets outside, so almost everything in the store had gone completely black. I could make out my hands, but Brian and Tristan's faces had blended with the shadows. It took just a few more seconds before my eyes adjusted and I could see them again. I saw Tristan's bewildered face disappear as a frown creased his brow. And then my eyes strangely started to blur. "Well, that's odd," he said. "Midnight, why don't you go with Brian to . . ."

I never heard the last of his words. They faded as if he had quickly moved far away from me. I took a sharp breath, and that's when every possible light around me died. The light from outside on the street vanished, and everyone's wondrous utters evaporated. The hiss of a gentle wind filled my ears.

I gasped aloud, felt my heart began to pound. I soon heard voices like whispers in the blackness.

"Brian?" I called. There was no answer. My voice grew louder with panic when I called out again. "Tristan?"

I could feel it now as it started in the pit of my stomach: hesitation and fear. I stared down at my hands, my legs, my body. I was glowing, but very dimly. How was it that I could see myself but everything was pitch black? What was happening?

"Hello?" I cried. I was glowing in the darkness. Someone had to see me! I immediately closed my eyes, remembering the visions – the creatures – from school. Suddenly, I wanted terribly the feeling of being unseen.

"Is anyone there?!"

Something warm touched my arm in response and I almost let out a scream. I leaped back, my eyes snapping wide open.

I was no longer alone in the darkness. A ghostly figure was standing in front of me. It was a woman with eyes and hair that glittered like silver dust. And as I opened my mouth, rendered speechless with shock and confusion, her face contorted into another face, one that I recognized.

She became Dusk as Dusk usually was: transparent and wearing a grave expression. Dusk didn't seem to notice me. Instead, she was looking at something she held in her hand. Her hands grew closer together, and I saw her slide a ring down her right ring finger.

"I claim my right as Guardian," she spoke instantly.

A light exploded from her hands. With it came a force that shoved me back a distance. I stumbled to the floor as the light died just as quickly as it had come. I lay there, startled and dumbstruck and feeling the remaining sting from the light in the back of my eyes. The light gave way to darkness again.

Only this time, instead of being in blackness, I was in a dark room. I lifted myself on one elbow and found myself facing a wide balcony whose doors were swung wide open. It was night outside, and against the violet sky was the silhouette of a girl. She stood on the balcony's rail as still as a statue. Her back was to me.

A rough, cold breeze brushed my skin, and I seemed to wake from whatever trance it was that had captured me. I glanced around, momentarily forgetting the girl. The balcony's doors had translucent curtains that flowed with the night wind. The floor I lay on was solid and carpeted. I glanced around again, feeling the uncertainty start in my stomach.

Everything felt so real. Where was I?

There was a soft rustle of sound from the balcony. My eyes shot back to the girl. She hadn't moved. Then the wind pushed her hair.

Long and black.

My voice escaped my throat. "Dusk?"

Right after I called out her name, large, dark shapes stretched out from her back and far out on either side of her. My jaw dropped, feeling the shadow they cast over me like a physical force.

Then she leaned forward on the rail and jumped off with one silent push of the shapes. She disappeared right then and there into the sky.

A stray shadow floated from the balcony and landed in my lap. I touched it carefully and lifted it up with my hand.

It was a black feather.

I stared at it for the longest time possible, while the silence around me weighed my shoulders down. I finally gazed out into the night sky, completely lost to questions.

Just who were you, Dusk?

A/N: Sorry about the abrupt halt here (I guess I tend to do that), but I had to end it somewhere and this place seemed like the best. I've already started writing the next chapter, so don't worry. ^^" But in the meantime, please feel free to leave comments or suggestions through a review.

Anyway, thank you for reading! I feel as if these words are too simple to show how much I appreciate your time to read, but please understand that I say it with all the love my heart can muster. So, thank you so much for reading!! 3