Day one without Alexander Kim in my life.
Day one of the rest of my life.
My cellphone buzzes, and my eyes snap open. The room's still spinning, and it takes me a few tries before I finally manage to grab it.
There's a text message from Alex.
Greetings from Ashland, Oregon~
A picture's attached of Celestine smoking a cigarette and lounging on his car. I promptly delete it. I need to start cutting him out of my life now.
Start moving on.
I toss my cellphone back onto my lap, shuddering. The sun's just barely shining through the blinds, and the lights are dim, but my eyes still ache.
Enitan and Momma are passed out in chairs, Momma with Enitan's jacket draped over her, and Enitan snoring lightly, his head tossed back.
God, I need to get out of here—need to go back to school, back to training, back to anything to get my mind off him.
My eyes flutter shut again.
A couple of hours later, a nurse gently shakes my shoulder. "Good morning, Miss St. Martin. Time for breakfast."
She places a tray of food in front of me, and I pick at it. Just looking at it makes my stomach turn.
"I don't want it."
She merely gives me her best bedside manner and smiles. "You're not going to get any better if you don't eat."
"I'm just not hungry."
Momma jerks awake. "Etta?"
"I'm here." I pick at the food again.
"Eat." She stares me into the ground.
And so I force myself. It doesn't taste any good—like anything. All my senses are dull. Food tastes like cardboard, my vision's practically monochrome, and everything sounds like I'm underwater.
Is this what it's like to touch death?
"I need to go to the bathroom," I say afterward.
Momma hits the call button, and the same nurse from before helps me into the bathroom.
God, I'm so weak. He made me weak. Dependent. Buttered up and soft.
I lean on one of the guardrails, staring at myself in the mirror. My eyes are sunken in, my skin's sallow, and bruises mar my entire body. I've lost at least twenty pounds, and it doesn't look good. My skin's sagging and dry.
I pinch at my face, and my skin takes nearly a minute to return to its normal state.
Enitan knocks on the door. "Henrietta?"
As soon as I open the door, he takes my arm.
"How long is this going to go on?" I whisper. "I'm dying."
He puts his hand on my forehead. His palms are soft and cool. Just like his.
"Well… Your magic is still low."
I look up at him. Even he looks terrible. Bags sit under his eyes, and his normally immaculate hair is frizzy…
"Once your mother leaves, we're going to meditate together."
I take a seat on the bed, wincing in pain. "A-alright."
About an hour later, Momma leaves, and the doctors come back. They poke and prod at me, ask me questions, and occasionally get mesmered by Enitan if they look at my blood samples too closely.
"Hey, Enitan," I say.
"Why did you bring me to the hospital? Couldn't you have just taken me to my house? Or Alex's?"
"You would have died," he says simply. "Your body was so injured… Your magic stores so low… I needed help. I tried to keep your body alive on my own, but I'm only one man."
I bite my lip.
"I healed most of your internal wounds, but you had gone into shock. You needed something to keep your body going while your magic restored. Do you understand?"
I just nod.
"Good. Now, let's get started." He offers me his hand. "I'm going to put you in a trance, and we'll work from there. We're going to train exclusively in your sanctuary until you've recovered."
I take his hand, and I instantly fall into the void. For once, it's warm, comforting, like being wrapped in a blanket after being out on a rainy day.
I gently fall into someone's backyard. There's a swing set in the corner and a kiddie pool near the sliding glass door—
Soft grass sits underneath me.
This can't be...
"This is your sanctuary," Enitan says quietly.
"This doesn't look how it did before," I say, suddenly breathless.
I... This is...
"It's my old house. Why here?"
He stretches out. "It's where your soul is most at ease."
I swallow. "I don't want to be here..."
Wisps of people play around me. My mother splashes younger-me in the pool, while my father's taking pictures and grinning. She's heavily pregnant, nearly glowing...
But my father... He looks exactly as he does in my memories. Tall and thin, medium skinned, with short, curly black hair.
"Daddy!" I scream.
He stops for a split second, as if he had heard something, but soon turns back to my specter.
"Don't." Enitan grabs my arm. "Not right now. That's not what we're here for."
"No buts. Let's get started."
"Can we go somewhere else?"
Seeing them... Seeing him and not being about to talk to them, touch them... I can't deal with it. Not right now.
"It's your sanctuary. You can go wherever you like."
I squeeze my eyes shut. I want to go to where I was before. Where my friends... where he was. Where I was happy.
When I open my eyes, I'm back in the rolling, grassy hills from when I last meditated. Everyone's still there, being themselves, loving themselves...
While I'm here.
"Let's just get this over with," I say, stretching out.
"Alright then. The real question is... Do you feel any better? Bodily wise, I mean."
Now that I think about it... Yeah. I do. It's almost like before I was in this shit show. I'm stronger... Awake. Magic flows through my veins, and I shiver.
"Good. We're going to do some physical training. Sparring."
I swallow, giving him an odd look. I can barely walk in the real world. How am I even going to try?
The familiar cool metal of my brooch materializes in my hand. I rub my thumb over the runes and take a deep breath.
"Kingdom of Night! Give me your power!"
I transform, tendrils of black light and magic wrapping themselves around me.
"Good," Enitan says.
Though, my outfit and sword are back to where they were when I was first awakened.
"Are you ready?" he asks.
"As ready as I'll ever be."
He summons his staff. "I'll let you start first."
My heart pounds in my chest. All of this is his fault. If he hadn't given me that stupid brooch—forced me and Alex together—this would have never happened. I'd be finishing up my senior year, getting ready to go to MIT, hanging out with Katie...
Not rotting away in a hospital bed.
"You son of a bitch," I snarl. "This is all your fault!" I swing at him with my sword, and he blocks it.
Because of him, I lost the man I loved. Because of him, I nearly got killed. All I Got from him is heartbreak and suffering.
Before I even know what I'm doing, I've tossed my sword to the ground and punched him in the face.
He stumbles back, but I tangle my fingers into his hair and drag him down to my level.
"I hate you. I hate you and everything you've done to me. You've ruined my life."
He gently grabs my wrist, and with a flick of his, turns me around before tripping me with his staff. "You're completely justified in thinking so. But, being like this is only going to cloud your mind and pollute your magic. Calm down."
I hit the ground face first. God, I don't even want to get up. I force myself to my hands and knees, blood dripping from my nose.
"I hate you." I stand up, still unsteady.
"Fight fair," he merely says.
I grab my sword off the ground and charge him again.
For what feels like hours, we spar, going back and forth, back and forth... Him swinging, while I block. Here, it's like I'm weightless, effortlessly light on my feet...
I collapse to the ground, panting. My breath comes out in ragged gasps, my chest and head burning.
My outfit dissolves, and I tremble slightly. The grass's cool.
"Do you feel better now?"
I stay silent.
"You don't have to suffer like this, you know. It's your sanctuary, after all. You could be as powerful as Prince Alexander if you wanted to."
I shiver again. Power. That's what I wanted. To be able to protect my family... friends...
But now I'm weaker than ever.
"I want to leave," I murmur.
"Remember our first training session? If you want to leave—"
I squeeze my eyes shut, and when I open them, I'm back in that godforsaken hospital bed. My head's spinning.
Enitan's just sitting in his chair, legs crossed, as if the past hour hadn't even happened.
I open my mouth to speak, but as soon as I do, I vomit over the side of the bed. This is pathetic—I'm pathetic.
"We're doing this again tomorrow. Every day until you're released from the hospital." His voice is quiet. "I know you don't want to, but you have to. For Prince Alexander. You have to be more powerful so you can serve him—"
"I don't want to serve him." I turn away from him, wiping at my mouth. "I'm not going to be his servant. I'm better than that."
"Even if someone else had been the king, you'd still have to serve him."
"But at least I'd be serving him with the man I love."
"I suppose you're right." He sighs. "But at the very least you should try to get your magic stores back up. The quicker you do that, the quicker you can get out of here. The quicker you can go back to school."
Two weeks later, I'm released from the hospital. While I don't feel as strong as I was, at least I don't feel like I'm dying.
Maybe I'll never be that strong again.
The Monday after, I go to school for the first time since he left. Momma drives me up, even as I protest. She's probably not gonna let me ride my bike for another month.
Katie's waiting for me outside Homeroom, as per usual.
"Etta!" She wraps her arms around me. "You look better!"
There really isn't a difference to me. Sure, the bruises are gone, I've gained a bit of weight back, and the burn marks are nothing more than some small splotches of white on my neck, but...
Enitan's bond. We'll always be tied together with a string.
I could spy on him right now, if I wanted.
Is he watching me? Probably.
I just force a smile. "Yeah. I'm getting better."
The class goes quiet as soon as I walk in. I ignore them, just sitting down in my usual seat.
Ms. Harrison comes over to me, a massive, but obviously still fake, grin on her face. "Henrietta, you're back. What happened? Administration wouldn't tell me."
"Alex and I were in a car accident."
Her eyes flicker to his seat. "Did he...?"
He might as well have.
"No," I finally say. "He... he went back home. He hit his head, and he's not all there anymore."
It's the closest I can get to the truth.
"The two of you were so close..." She glances away. "Well, I'm glad you're back at the least. Without you here, the GPA of the class dropped by a whole point." She laughs.
I force myself to laugh as well.
"It was for the better," Katie says softly, squeezing my hand.
"I know. I just... I don't want to talk about it. Not now."
She squeezes it again. "Just remember that you can talk to me, okay?"
I rest my head on my desk. It's so... empty without him here. Normally, he'd be here, smiling, talking, making me smile...
I focus a bit, trying to get him over the bond. A slightly blurry picture of him pops up in front of me. He's lounging on his bed, playing a game on his phone. Celestine's mouthing off about something or other.
His room at his mother's house is bigger, yet somehow plainer.
The picture clears up a bit, and Celestine's voice echoes in my ears.
"As king, you'll have to know all the rituals and refinements of the Kingdom of Day. Since I have the most memories, I can teach you—"
"I know." He stares out the window.
He's changed even more now. His hair's a bright red, nearly down to his chest, and he's carrying himself differently—
Someone slams their hands on my desk, and I snap my head up.
It's just Melanie. Great.
"What do you want?"
"What really happened to Alexander?" she asks, sneering. "Did you finally stab him and wind up in jail?"
"You heard me. We were in a car accident." I glare at her.
A shiver goes down my spine. He's watching me.
"Oh, really now? Let me guess. You were sucking him off, and made him go into a—"
One of my lines grabs her by the neck and tosses her down the aisle.
She screams as she skids across the floor, and everyone turns to stare.
Alex doesn't say anything, but I can feel his disappointment through the link.
"Etta!" Katie hisses. "What did you do?"
"Melanie?" Ms. Harrison asks. "Are you alright?"
"No!" She cries, pointing at me. "She did this!"
"She threw me!" She pulls herself to a standing position before dusting off and pulling down her skirt.
"Katelyn. Did she do that?"
"No," she says, ringing her hands. "She was just sitting here." She turns to her neighbor. "Back me up!"
He nods. "She didn't touch her."
"It's not my fault you're clumsy," I say, shrugging.
But my head's pounding, and my hands are trembling. I'm that tired from just one show of strength? My stomach lurches. No one would ever let it go if I lost my breakfast in the middle of class. I dig my hands into the wood of my desk.
I swallow. "I'm okay... Just tired."
Enitan's gonna whine about this. You shouldn't have used your powers, you're still weak, blah, blah, blah.
But as he said, I'll never get any stronger if I don't practice. At least using Melanie as a testing dummy'll make it fun.
The bell rings, and Katie grabs my hand. "...Be safe, okay?"
She gives me one last look before scrambling away to class.
I turn to go to physics, but someone grabs my wrist. Melanie again.
"I don't know how you did that, you little freak, but I swear to God, if you do it again, I'll—"
"You'll what?" I sneer at her.
"Wait. You're just like her, aren't you?"
"Rhiannon. I knew something had to be up once the three of you disappeared. Contrary to popular belief, I'm not just an airhead."
"Back in January, I invited her to a party. Next thing I knew, she had put on some silly dress, dyed her hair, and tried to rip a hole in someone's chest. My dad shot her in the head, but she came back."
I freeze. Figures as much.
"Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"Who the hell would believe me? A guy showed up later and beat everyone half to death with a stick before doing some freaky magic. I hid under the pool tarp." She rolls her eyes. "Anyway. If you do that again, I'll out you. Can't go to Cal if you're getting dissected by the government."
"That's not the only thing I can do."
She rolls her eyes again. "Whatever. You know what? I'll tell you a little secret. I admire your spunk. Any other girl would have ran away screaming after we beat you up. And then you went and became valedictorian? Takes balls." She shrugs. "Anyway, if you tell anyone, I'll kick your ass."
Good luck with that.
And she leaves, her high heels clicking on the tile of the hallway.
I adjust my bag and get ready to go to Calculus.
As soon as she touched my wrist, I got the same spark I did from Alex and Taylor. Is she a magician?
She's white, so she's probably just nobility from the Kingdom of Day.
Hopefully. If she was the princess, I'd just die. For real. And I'd probably take her with me.
The rest of the day goes by uneventfully.
I sit near the gates, waiting for Momma's car.
My cellphone buzzes. A text message from Alex.
I saw what you did. You know that that's not right.
I delete it.
And another. Please talk to me.
I should probably just get this phone shut off. My old one works (barely) but at the least, I wouldn't be tied to him.
He calls me, but I decline the call, my heart aching. I want to talk to him. I want to be with him. But I can't.
We'll never be able to be together. Ever.
Just pretending will hurt us more in the long run.
Maybe if I'm lucky, he'll have an affair with me.
But for now, I need to move on. Maybe even start seeing other people.
Katie texts me. Mama wants to know if you want to go back to work soon.
Yeah. As soon as possible.
Even though Alex's father paid my hospital bills, without me working, things have gotten a bit tight. Not to the point where any of us will starve, but it's not a good feeling. At all.
The credit card he got me still sits in the back of my wallet, unused. And it'll stay that way. I probably should cut it up.
She says you can start again next Monday.
At least she's happy.
Momma pulls up in her car about ten minutes later. Enitan's sitting in the front seat. Ugh. Well, I'm about to get lectured.
I climb into the back seat.
Enitan glances at my mother. "You're not going to overhear this conversation."
She goes rigid, but starts the car, staring into the distance.
He turns to me. "Anyway. Henrietta. I saw what you did to your classmate. You—"
"I shouldn't have done it, evil act, I know."
"If you knew, then why did you do it?"
"She accused me of hurting Alex, I think it was justified."
He sighs. "I think your definition of justified and everyone else's are completely different. You could have killed her. What if she had hit her head? Broken her neck?"
I shrug. "But she didn't."
"But what if she did? You can't see the forest for the trees. I know that you're hurting—we're hurting. What happened three weeks ago was awful for everyone, but—"
"What do you want me to do?" I snap. "What's done is done."
"I worry about you. Without Prince Alexander…" He glances away from me. "Without him… He was your other half, he balanced you out—"
My head pounds, and I bury my face in my hands. "Shut up. He's not my other half anymore. And what about you? Your other half? Celestine or Dominique? Once Alex and the princess break the seal—"
He flinches. "…We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. For now, let's just focus on you."
I've struck a nerve.
But before I can say anything else, he says, "Since you've asked me a personal question, I think I can ask you one as well."
"Why do you keep defying me?"
"What's that supposed to mean? You're not my mother, and I'm not your slave." I narrow my eyes. "Just because Alex mindlessly followed your instructions doesn't mean I will."
"Are you so sure?"
"I think I know what's best for me more than you do."
What's he trying to do? Unnerve me? It's not gonna work. Now that Alex… Now that he's gone, I have negative fucks to give about this whole situation.
"You don't even need me now. You found the future king, Rhiannon's not going to shit up the place anymore, and you have Dominique and the Knight of Twilight. I'm not going to be your lackey in a frilly dress anymore—"
He shuts me up with a glance. "We're all supposed to be working together. This is what Queen Aina would have wanted, and you know this."
I do. It's not going to stop me.
I turn to Momma. "Katie's mom said that I could go back to work next week."
She snaps back to attention. "…Already?"
"Yeah. I know we need the money—"
"You nearly died. If… If Mr. Ezra hadn't found you… You just got out of the hospital. Wait."
"Did I stutter? Wait."
"But I feel better. How long?"
"What part of 'wait' don't you understand?"
And, as per usual, the conversation's over.
It's not like I do much at Sugar and Spice anyway. Answering phone calls… Sweeping the back, counting money… Child's play. Maddie does all the hard work. I can't even make normal coffee, let alone whatever soy mocha chai whip abominations the richies and hipsters near Johanna Prep like.
Maybe I could just get a second job. Something light, like office work—
Ew. No. Momma complains enough about that. I'd probably flip a table on someone and get fired.
For now, the best thing to do would be to try and settle into normalcy.
…What normalcy? a nasty voice in the back of my head says.
It's right. I've been changed. I'm no longer human. After I transformed the first time, I ceased to be human.
All I can do is not use my powers, hide, and hope for the best.
I swallow. The real question is whether I've been changed for the better or the worse.
The better, probably. I've gotten stronger—well, I was stronger. I was doing something with my life. As much as I complained and cried about it, I was changing the world, even if it was only a little bit.
Sure, getting shot at by the OPD when trying to save lives sucked, but…
It was fun.
By the time we get back to the house, Patrick and Darnell are already there and messing around with the PS4.
"Etta!" Darnell cries. "What's the password for the games?"
"If I told you, that'd ruin it. There's a reason I put it on."
"Momma…" he whines.
"It's her game system."
"I'm being responsible," I say. "Not letting them play violent games—"
"You play them all the time!"
"Yeah, but I'm eighteen. You're twelve."
He glares at me one last time before playing Tetris.
I slink off to my room, still a bit achy. The doctors told me to take it easy, but I'm itching to get back into my normal routine. Riding my bike, working…
But everyone's treating me like I'm a china doll. Ugh. I survived being attacked by the future ruler of the world, I can deal with a few hours on my feet.
The next day, I sneak out early on my bike. I'm a bit unsteady at first, but soon, I'm pedaling as hard as I can, my heart racing, the wind blowing through my hair—
A burst of pain blossoms through my chest, and I dig my heels into the pavement. You have got to be kidding me. More monsters? Rhiannon's not even here—
I take a deep breath, then start pedaling towards the sound of screams. So much for normalcy.
A furred beast has the lifeless body of a young man in its jaws. I swallow. It's not like Rhiannon's. Her monsters just ripped open holes. This is going to—
Well. Here we go again.
"Kingdom of Night! Give me your power!" I roll my shoulders. This isn't so bad. I've fought the Paladin of Twilight and survived. I've fought the Prince of Day and survived. Some little wolf wannabe is nothing.
"Hey, ugly!" I cry. "Come over here! I'm who you want!"
It drops the man's body and gallops over to me.
"Twilight Slash!" I swing my sword, and knock its head cleanly off. It bounces down the street. The beast shudders before slipping to the ground.
Simple as usual. And for once, there's no creepy chick in a white dress to back it up—
The wolf shudders before standing back up, headless.
I groan. Of course, it wouldn't be that simple. It never is.
My hands shake, and I force myself to take a deep breath. Enitan's right. I'm not a hundred percent.
The Knight of Twilight jumps in front of me, and shoots the beast in the chest. It explodes into shards of light.
"Looks like you needed a bit of backup, fatty."
"Jesus, you're rude. I came all the way out here to save your ass, and this is how you repay me? I should have just left you to die."
"Dunno. Don't care." Their revolvers burst into sparkles. "She's avoiding Enitan's creepy ass, so she's probably laying low."
I run my fingers through my hair. "Look. Alright. We're part of this silly Quintet of Twilight thing, so let's try to have at least some sort of truce?"
"I guess." They shrug. "That's what Celestine told me to do anyway."
I offer them my hand. "Partners? Strength in numbers."
"Strength in numbers." They take it. "Just don't get in my way."
"Don't get in mine, Knight."
They keep holding my hand, and my heart races again. Something about this… It seems wrong, but right. Like when I was with Alex.
Memories flash by my eyes. Memories of me dancing, fighting, kissing—
It's like the memories from before, with Alex. But it's not him. It's—
I take a deep breath, shuddering. No. It's not—it can't be…
A dusky blush comes over their cheeks. "I'm leaving. Call me when you need someone to bail you out again."
"Enitan!" I cry. "I know you're watching this!"
He pops up next to me a few moments later.
"What the hell is going on?"
"Unfortunately, I don't know. My best guess is that with the Crystal of Day being found… The magic's starting to stir a bit. It's been under that seal for so long, and it's so close to being back to the way it was…" He trails off. "I'd be very careful. Don't overexert yourself."
"Right." I let my transformation fade, then hop on my bike. "I'm going to class."
"I'll take you." He grabs my wrist, and the hand of teleportation yanks me to the front gate. It's locked. Great. Just great.
"I'm going to try something."
"Like what—" His eyes widen. "No! No! Don't do it, I'll teleport you in, I promise—"
I pedal as fast as I can, squeezing my eyes shut. Mental tossing. Teleportation. I can do this—
I bounce to a stop inside of the gate. "Nailed it." I keep pedaling, even though my head's pounding. Better than getting a strike from the one of the security guards.
Harrison's not there, and thank God for that. I sigh—
"Henrietta? You're late. That's unlike you."
I wince. Great. "I got held up by traffic. You know that I have to take public transportation and my bike—"
"I know. You're usually quite punctual. I'll let it slide."
I settle in next to Katie.
"What happened?" she whispers. "Did… did he come back—"
"Shh! I'll tell you after school."
"You just look really bad."
After school, Katie waves me down from her mom's car.
I toss my bike in her trunk, then hop in the backseat.
Mrs. Smith smiles at me. "I haven't seen you since the accident. How have you been?"
"I've been better. Just taking it one day at a time." I force a grin.
Her younger brother's sitting in the front seat, tugging at his hair.
"What's wrong with him?"
Katie rolls her eyes. "Going to the dentist."
She nudges me. "When we get back to my place you're spilling everything."
Mrs. Smith glances at me in the rear view mirror. "So… Alexander. What happened to him?"
I tell her the same thing I told Ms. Harrison.
A chill goes down my spine, and the familiar buzzing of Enitan contacting me echoes through my ears.
…Does she know?
Ugh. Does he always have to be spying on me? Just because Dominique told him to piss off doesn't mean that he has to focus all his attention on me.
I pause. No point in lying. Not now.
She's known since Alex became Soren.
A pang goes through me. Became Soren. Alexander Kim's dead now, just a name. He'll never be the same again…
I'm going to have to mind wipe her, she's a liability—
No! I need someone else in on this. She won't tell anyone. She's not stupid.
A bit of a ditz, just like Alex, but not stupid. She's incredibly well spoken, an excellent poet… And it's not like she's a random bystander, anyway. She's my best friend, one of the nobility of the Kingdom of Night… It'd be a dick move not to tell her.
Katie's mom drops us off at her house.
Katie grabs my hand and drags me in. "Hi, Daddy!"
He mumbles something in reply. Ever since he broke his leg, he's never been the same.
I follow Katie up to her bedroom. It's the same as I remember it, painfully pink, with pictures of celebrities and pop stars lining the walls. A stark contrast to mine, drab, with only a calendar and a few science posters pinned over my desk.
She tosses herself on her bed, and I join her. "So… Spill. What's going on?"
"Well… There's someone making more monsters, and one of the other magicians… The Knight of Twilight… We made a truce."
"Ooh! Tell me more."
"They're pretty powerful."
"Boy or girl? What powers?" She rolls over, staring at me. "This is so exciting!"
I shrug. I never really thought about it. "Neither. Or both. I was never able to tell. They can make magical revolvers that shoot lightning."
"It's weird," I say absently. "It's like with me… With me and Alex. When I touched them, it was like I shared some memories with them. Memories of us fighting together—" I shut up. If I even crook my lips and bring up the kissing, she'll never stop screaming about true love.
"Nothing. It's nothing."
"Are they at least good looking?"
"Yeah. Long hair, a pretty face, tall and graceful…"
But their personality…
"Maybe they could be a replacement for—"
I shoot her a glare, and she goes silent.
"I'm just saying. You and Alex aren't getting back together… Maybe this is the person for you?"
Ugh. There's not a snowball's chance in hell that I'd hook up with them. I can do better. Sure, they're good looking, but they're still a douche.
…And what if they're a girl? Momma would lose her mind. She probably wouldn't have even let me date Alex at all if she found out that he was trans.
I bite my lip. Maybe… Maybe she's right. Maybe Alex was just a fluke.
My heart scrunches up again. If she's right about anything, it's that it'd be in my best interests to move on.
"Maybe," I finally say. "We'll see."
My cellphone rings. It's Alex. Again. He's probably been spying on me all day.
It keeps ringing and ringing and ringing…
Katie sighs. "Are you really just going to ignore him?"
"If I talk to him, I'll fall in love again."
It stops. A few minutes later, the quiet tone of a voicemail echoes through the room.
I put it on speakerphone, trembling.
"Hey, Etta." His voice is a little deeper. A little more like Soren's. "I was just wondering if you were alright. If you… if you want, call me back, okay? I need to talk to you."
No. I can't. I won't.
Tears prick at my eyes.
The voicemail continues.
"I'm a little freaked out. Since I've awakened as Soren, my body's been changing a little. Celestine says I sound like I'm going through puberty again. Can you tell?" He laughs, and bile creeps up my throat.
I squeeze my eyes shut, still shaking.
"I've gotten a little taller and buffer too, which kind of sucks. My clothes don't fit, and my mom's getting suspicious. Well… I guess that means I can just go shopping again. Personally, I just hope I don't completely turn into him. I don't want to be a ginger permanently."
My eyes snap open. The phone's quivering slightly. If I toss it out the window, Katie'll never let it go. Deep breaths. Even keel.
"Celestine's being a bit of a drill sergeant. I wonder how the Knight of Twilight dealt with it. But I suppose it's for the best. Having this much magic is really cool! When I come back, I'll have to show you. So… Yeah. Call me back if you can. I love you so much."
Tears stream down my face. No. God, no. No matter how hard I try, I'll never be able to shut him out of my heart.
My hand hovers over the call back button, and I give Katie a pleading look. Don't let me call him. Don't let me be weak.
She just glances away.
I push the button, then put the phone to my face.
It rings three times before he picks up.
"Etta! Hi! You finally called me back! I'm so glad—"
I hang up and toss the phone across the room. It lands on Katie's desk, right near her backpack.
"I don't get it," I murmur. "Why does he keep taunting me? He knows he's going to be with Adeyemi. What's the point of jerking me around?" I curl into a ball, sobbing.
"Etta," she says. "He… He still loves you. We both know that."
"I know!" I whimper, closing my eyes. "Don't you think I know? It's fake. All fake. Once Adeyemi's awakened, that's it. He'll drive off into the sunset with her, and I'll be left behind." I take a deep, shuddering breath. "I'll have to watch them—protect them—every day for the rest of my natural life. Every day. While they sleep together. When they get married. At the birth of their child. Every-goddamn-day. This is just…" I choke on my words, the shaking getting too bad for me to speak.
Katie wraps her arms around me. "I don't really know what to say that won't make it worse. Um… I'm sorry."
It's the thought that counts. I shudder in her arms, waiting for the fit to fade.
"It'll be okay, I think," she murmurs in my ear. "Just relax."
The fit finally fades, and I go limp in her arms.
"Are you alright?"
"I'll recover," I say quietly.
"I'd complain about Gregory, but your problems are a lot worse."
"Nah, it's cool." I wipe at my eyes. "I'd rather hear about your problems than dwell on mine, you know?"
"Yeah, I guess…" She lets me go. "I spoke to Jeremiah the other day, and we kinda had a heart to heart. He apologized for avoiding me, and gave me a bit of advice. So… I just don't think we're compatible."
Thank God she finally got a clue.
"He's fun, and a great kisser and stuff, but I'm going to graduate soon. I really don't even know what I'm going to do with my life. I said I wanted to be a poet, but you can't make a living being a poet."
"I don't wanna just be sucking off my parents' teat forever either. Once I graduate, I think I'm gonna dump him."
"What grade is he in again?"
"He's a sophomore."
I choke. Every time I think it can't get any worse, it does.
"And even if we did stay together, I'm going to St. Mary's, and I can't do long distance relationships. So…"
"Yeah. I'd end it. Spare yourself the pain."
She's gorgeous anyway, with a heart shaped face, long, curly, dark brown hair, a slim and curvy build… She could get any guy she wanted if she tried hard enough.
Another chill goes down my spine. Enitan again.
You and Alexander should really talk to one another, he says quietly.
Have you spoken to Celestine?
Briefly. They say that Alexander's doing well, but I'm sure you already know that.
Did they forgive you for…?
Let's change the subject.
I snap to attention. "Yes?"
"Are you okay? Your eyes glazed over, and I was sure you were gonna have another fit."
The last thing that either of us need is for him to pop up and try to mind wipe her—
Speak of the devil.
"Henrietta… You know that this isn't right."
Katie shrieks something unintelligible.
"Shh! Do you want your dad coming up here?"
"N-no. Who is this guy?"
"This is Ezra—Enitan. My magical mentor, I guess. He's a magician like me and Alex."
"Oh. I… I just wasn't expecting that. Were you doing some spooky telepathy with him or something?"
"Something like that."
And as soon as her fear fades, sparkles grow in her eyes. Jeez. Hasn't even broken up with Gregory yet, and she's already on the rebound.
He sighs. "Pleased to meet you."
"Um… Well…" Drool's practically puddling in her lap. "This isn't fair! You get magic powers, an adorable outfit, a magic sword and then a hot guy to mentor you? Why couldn't it have been me?"
"The luck of the draw, I suppose," he says, sitting on Katie's bed.
Ha. Luck. The luck of nearly getting killed several times, having your boyfriend leave you and constant headaches.
Her eyes roam up and down his body. "You know what we should do when it gets hotter? Go to the beach. Just the three of us."
I roll my eyes. Classic Katie. She'd just ogle him all day.
I shut her up with a glare. He's like a father figure, almost. You don't perv out on your father figures.
"Anyway," I say. "Don't mind wipe her. She won't tell, I promise."
"The cat's already out of the bag, I suppose. Katelyn. You have to promise me one thing."
She just nods.
"If you tell anyone, I will come to your house in the middle of the night—"
She squeals, and he scoots a bit away from her.
"Let me finish. I'll come to your house and wipe your mind."
"The only reason why I haven't done it already is because Henrietta said that she wanted someone that wasn't a magician to talk to. So, promise me that you won't tell anyone."
She goes sheet white. "Y-yeah. I promise."
She coughs, the color coming back into her cheeks. "Well… How did you and Etta meet?"
"Well, she had been cornered by a monster, and Alexander came to her aid."
I scowl. That's not how it went down at all.
"I knew she was the reincarnation of the Mercenary of Twilight, and I gave her the brooch that awakened her powers. But it took the better part of a week for me to convince her to fight with us…"
She rolls her eyes. "Of course, Etta would run away screaming…"
"Well… She stabbed me once, cursed at me at least three times, and attempted to beat me up once…"
I just sigh.
"But yeah, he's right," I finally say. "Don't tell anyone! Especially not Gregory."
I wipe at my face one last time. "I think I'm gonna head home. I'll see you in class tomorrow."
Enitan teleports me home.
By the time I get back, Momma's sitting at the dining room table, reading a book.
"Where have you been?"
"I went to Katie's for a bit. Mr. Ezra and I were helping her study."
"Henrietta, may we speak in private?"
He leads me outside. "As I said before, we're going to have to step up the training."
"Yeah. When do we start?"
"As soon as possible. Dominique may join us."
I doubt it. She doesn't want to be within a ten-mile radius of him. Maybe I could talk to her. The card she gave me had her address in it, and she doesn't live that far away.
"How about tomorrow? Training in the morning and at night. From five to six and ten to eleven."
I groan. At this rate, I'll be dead from sleep deprivation before I can graduate.
My cellphone buzzes in my pocket. Great. It's probably just Alex again.
Huh. It's his dad.
"Etta, hello," he says quietly. "I was wondering if I could speak to you about what happened between you and Alex. I'm just a bit worried about him, and you were there…"
I swallow. What can I even tell him?
"Can we do this in private?"
"Of course. Just call in advance when you want to come over."
"I'll be there within the week."
I can't tell him the truth. I won't tell him the truth. It's just like with Momma. He wouldn't believe me, and Enitan would just wipe his memories anyway.
He clears his throat. "I was going to take Henrietta out to go study a bit more. Is that fine with you?"
She bites her lip. "Well… I…"
He narrows his eyes and they flash.
She shudders. "Oh, yes, of course. I trust you."
God, I hate when he does that. One of these days he's just going to fry her brain.
"Great," I mumble.
But in the end, it's all for the best. So we can find the princess and make the world better.
He leads me back outside.
"The mind control thing you're doing is starting to fade."
"Not… quite. She's just worried. You keep forgetting that you nearly died." He stretches out. "And it's not mind control anyway. It's just a nudge in the right direction."
"Whatever you say." I match him. "So, what are we doing? Sparring? Worst fear training? Teleportation?"
"Teleportation," he says. "You're still not at the point where you can do normal training. Think of it as a marathon runner breaking their leg. Even after it heals, they're not going to about to run another marathon right away. They have to build their endurance and strength back up."
"Grab my sleeve."
I take it, and he pulls me through space and time, as per usual. We reappear in Crystal Park, about twenty feet away from where we usually train. Without Katie or Alex there, it seems so much bigger.
"Well, let's get started, yes?" He stretches out.
I fish my brooch out of my pocket. "Kingdom of Night—"
"Don't transform. There's no point right now." He stretches out again. "You have one goal. Keep up with me."
Keep up with him. Seems easy enough.
He disappears and reappears at the edge of the park. I sigh. Before… Before that night, it would have been easy to go that far. Two hundred feet would be nothing.
"Give me a moment."
I take a deep breath and toss myself towards him.
After what seems like entirely too long, I fall to the ground in front of him, panting.
And he vanishes again. Ugh.
It goes on for what feels like hours. Teleporting, falling to my knees, breathing hard… wanting to die…
Eventually, I stumble to the ground and vomit all over the grass, my clothes… pretty much everything I can. It's a disconcerting shade of red as well.
…Had I even eaten anything red recently?
Enitan appears next to me, and I flinch.
"Oh. I probably shouldn't have pushed you so hard."
I open my mouth to speak, but only dry heave again. A deep burning crawls up my throat, and I shudder.
"Y-you think?" I finally manage to choke out, wiping at my mouth.
He pulls off my t-shirt and tosses it into a nearby trashcan before giving me his coat.
I glance up at him. By now, the sun's completely set.
"Let me see if you're injured."
He puts his hand to my aching stomach, and cool waves of healing magic go through my entire body.
For the first time since I've gotten here, I can breathe.
"Better." I shrug.
At least I don't want to die.
He teleports me to my front door. "I'll see you in the morning. Sleep well."
What's he even doing without Alex around?
The next morning, Enitan gently shakes me awake.
I groan, fighting the urge to pull the covers over my head. My whole body's aching and pulsing.
…This is for the best. No pain, no gain, as they say.
"What's on the agenda for today?" I mutter.
I let out a sigh of relief. Better than pushing me to the point where I puke everywhere.
"Let's get started."
I stretch out before following him into the living room.
"Can I at least have—"
The familiar sound of my cellphone ringing echoes through the house. Our song.
I snatch it from my bedroom. If it wakes the twins up, we're both doomed. They'll never stop screaming, they'll wake up Momma, and then we'll all die.
It's Alex. Again.
Nope. It's going to voicemail. I reject the call.
Like clockwork, my voicemail and text message tone echo throughout the room. Great.
I check the text message first.
I saw what happened last night, and I wanted to cheer you up with my sunny smile!
A selfie's attached of him and Celestine. While Celestine's looking away from the camera and scowling, Alex is grinning—
Jesus Christ, he looks so much like Soren. His hair's a bright auburn now, hanging in barely noticeable curls down to his chest, his eyes are a bright red, and he's more muscular. Before, he was just lightly toned, but it's obvious that his clothes don't fit anymore.
But at the same time, he looks the same. His skin's still light brown, his face is the same, and his smile… It'll never change.
I swallow, bile creeping up my throat. Do I delete it? Part of me wants to, but…
Enitan sighs. "At least listen to his message."
Couldn't I do something else? Anything else?
I put the voicemail on speakerphone.
"Hi, Etta. I know this sounds a little creeptastic, but I've been watching you. I just want you to know that I'm so happy you're getting more powerful. Maybe you'll be able to go toe to toe with me one day?" He laughs.
Oh, piss off. That's not funny. Joking about how you tried to kill me.
But now that I'm listening a bit closer… he sounds a bit off.
His laughter's less musical, and more like a hyena's.
Even Enitan shudders.
Celestine says something in the background that I can't quite make out.
"I'm coming back for you soon. I promise. I love you soooo much."
I bite my tongue hard enough that I taste blood, shuddering.
"Enitan," I mumble. "He's… He's going to completely lose himself, isn't he?"
He tugs at his collar. "I sincerely hope not."
Coming from Enitan, that's a yes.
A sinking sensation goes through my stomach. "How… How powerful is he?"
"I believe that if he really and truly wanted to… He could destroy or take over the entire world in less than two weeks."
The entire world.
The mild shuddering from before turns into a full on fit, and I slip to the floor, jerking and convulsing, my vision blurring—
Thousands of visions flash past my eyes. Visions of Alex—Soren—Alex conquering the world, bodies littering the pavement...
He sits on a massive throne with me and Adeyemi chained to him. We're both naked, crying for someone, anyone, to help us—
I blink a few times, my vision finally clearing.
Enitan squeezes me to his body. "Just breathe. Focus on me. What did you see?"
Can't stop shaking, I can't, I can't—
"Breathe. Focus on me."
His voice is so far away. I squeeze my eyes shut.
"He's going to go crazy," I mumble. My tongue's swollen, too big for my mouth, and the words come out like mush. "HE's going to go crazy. He's going to go—"
He gently covers my mouth.
My whole body's taut, shaking, and red hot tears stream down my face.
"Just breathe. Count with me."
The pain fades.
My arms and legs relax a bit, even though I'm still trembling.
I go limp in his arms.
"Good." He pulls me back up to the couch. "Alright. Let's train. We're going to meditate once you're ready."
Part of me wants to tell him to go piss off, but the rational part of me knows that he's right. We don't matter. All that matters is finding Adeyemi, breaking the seal, and serving the new royal family.
My tremors finally fade, and I take a few deep breaths, swallowing down sweet air.
Another deep breath.
"Take my hands and stare into my eyes."
I force myself to meet his gaze. Alex isn't the only person who's changed. The red in Enitan's hair has all but vanished, and it's a cool black, like mine now. His normally brown eyes have turned a deep blue, just like how mine are in my magician form.
And God, he looks so tired. His eyes are dull and enormous bags sit under his eyes.
My vision goes black as I fall into the void again.
I land gently onto the floor of the hall of memories, but it's not like it was before. It's empty, the colors washed out, and my teeth start to chatter as soon as I stand up.
…A jacket would be nice.
The first jacket that Alex bought me materializes around my body. It smells just like him.
Doors showing all of my memories float by, playing like videos on fast forward.
One stops directly in front of me, and as soon as I open the door, my heart falls.
It's of the first, no, the only time we had sex.
My head's thrown back in ecstasy as I moan his name, cling to his body, kiss him…
It was the only time he had shown me his body. The only time he had let me touch him.
Then, as if it were some form of divine punishment, I lost him and nearly died.
It was a fluke. I have to remember that. Nothing but a fluke. Rhiannon could have attacked him at any time. At any place.
I try to move, but my legs are as heavy as stone. Tears prick at my eyes.
Another door floats by me. It's of when Katie and I first met. She plopped down next to me my first day of Johanna Prep.
"Nice to meet ya, I'm Katie! We're friends now." Her voice was so cheerful.
And that was that.
It's a pity that Enitan couldn't awaken her powers too. She's halfway there already…
I just sigh before closing my eyes again.
When I open then, I'm back in my old backyard.
The specters of my old family frolic around me. As much as I ache to touch them, to grab my father and never ever let him go…
I shouldn't even be here.
I'm too weak.
Enitan shakes me awake. "You should get ready for school."
"Right." I sit up.
He just gives me a gentle smile and vanishes. Where does he even go when he's not bothering me anyway…?
Not the time.
I take a shower, get dressed and wheel my bike outside.
But my mind's still cloudy, still preoccupied with thoughts of him.
One. He's losing his mind. Eventually, and I don't know how long, the man that I loved—love—loved, will be gone forever.
Two. I need to find Adeyemi. She'll temper him. Be his other half.
A pang goes through me.
I'm running on borrowed time.
And I don't know when it's going to run out.