A/N: Well, this is chapter one of Penumbra's sequel. Sorry it took so long, work was a pain in the neck and I had no time to do anything even resembling writing. But here it is. I hope you enjoy it! -MxGladosKnight
The only thing I remembered after that was screams. My screams.
Someone strapped me down, jabbed a needle into my left arm—
"Meredith…? Meredith, are you alright?"
Valerie. Just safe, normal, Valerie.
"He's going to kill us all," I whispered.
My eyes finally snapped open. She was staring at me, biting her lip.
"He's going to kill us all," I mumbled again.
"I know," she said, then sighed. "You've been screaming about that for the past few hours. They had to sedate you a while back cause you nearly ripped out your stitches. Was it a nightmare?"
"…I don't know."
For once, I truly didn't. Hopefully so.
"What did you see?" She crossed her legs, and the mass of jewelry she normally wore jingled with her every movement. "It'll be okay."
"Lionel… He came to me in the middle of the night and told me he was coming back." I forced myself to take a deep breath. "And that he was going to finish what Donovan Serenata—"
She bristled at the mere mention of his name.
"—started. He's going to kill us all."
Strangely, my voice was calm. Wavering, but calm.
She glanced away from me. "I… I doubt it. Z-what's his face said that he was sealed forever. It's probably PTSD or something… I'd have nightmares too if I had to stab my own boyfriend."
"But the book…"
"It's not infallible. We have free will." She smiled at me. "Go back to bed."
Free will. Sometimes it didn't seem like it.
"No. I need to see Zachery. Is he still in the human world?"
She shrugged. "Probably. He was in here freaking out the entire time you were asleep."
One of the nurses came in. "Miss Cartwright?"
I froze up, then turned to her. God, I had gotten so jumpy. I scanned her. She looked normal, at the least. Human, with brown eyes, dark blond hair, and tanned skin. She couldn't be a Shade. At least not a full-blooded one.
I swallowed, still trembling.
"I'm going to undo your bonds, alright? You nearly—"
"Ripped out my stitches. I know. It was just a nightmare."
I was safe. Lionel was in the Shade world, sealed in Queen Noelle's castle… Hopefully just dreaming of me and Zachery in his perfect world.
She gently undid the restraints around my wrists and ankles. "There we go."
I gingerly flexed them. Everything seemed to be fine. "Um… When am I going to be discharged?"
"If all goes well, by next Monday." She gave me a bright grin. "I'll have lunch sent in shortly."
Next Monday. Five days from now. Five days until I could get Zachery to take me to the Shade world.
I shuddered, forcing myself to get a good look at her name badge. Madison Kendricks. Something here didn't seem right, but I couldn't put my finger on what.
A nightmare. That was all it was.
A few hours later, Zachery stopped by.
"The other witch-girl said that you wanted to see me. Need more kisses?"
Even though my face was burning, I gave him a dirty look. "As soon as I get out of the hospital, I want to see Lionel."
"Easier said than done." He propped his head in his hands. "Queen Noelle's still on edge. I don't think she wants anyone near him."
"But as soon as she calms down, I'll take you." He gave me a weak smile. "I promise."
"I just want some peace of mind." I twisted a few of my braids around my fingers. "I… I think that Lionel tried to contact me last night."
The smile slipped off his face as soon as it came, and he narrowed his eyes. "Don't lie."
"I wouldn't lie about this," I said, voice cracking. "He told me to tell you that he was coming back… That he was going to make it work… And that he was going to finish what Donovan Serenata started."
He froze. "Goddess, no…"
"I know. So… I just want to make sure that he's sealed."
"Tell me you're joking," he choked out. "Please, tell me you're joking…"
"I wouldn't joke about this, and you know it." I balled my hands into the scratchy fabric of my blanket. "Maybe it was a nightmare, but better safe than sorry."
"Better safe than sorry," he echoed, face blank. "Right. Well, I'm still at Lionel's parents' house. They're devastated. After all they—we—did, he still…" He stared at his hands, trembling.
A pang went through me. Was I too quick? Could I had brought him back to his senses?
"Zachery…" I whispered. "Should I have waited?"
He rubbed his eyes. "Don't ask me that. I don't know."
"Do you think they'll ever unseal him?"
For the first time since he had gotten there, he looked me in the eye. His gaze said it all.
There was no way in hell he was ever coming back. Not unless…
He got too powerful.
Rose-Marie had told me about the prince consort, and how he had managed to break the seal on his shadow soul. Granted, there were rumors that the crown princess had helped the process along a bit…
"He wanted a perfect world for us." Tears pricked at my eyes.
"He would have wanted us to move on." He took my hand, and my heart skipped a beat. Could I really hook up with Zachery, after all we'd been through?
I glanced away from him before pulling my hands out of his. "I know."
He looked so gaunt and tired. Then again, I probably didn't look much better.
"…I'm leaving. I'll come by when the queen lets people back in."
I couldn't do anything at the moment, so it'd be for the best if I just laid down and tried to get better.
But what if Lionel was right? What if it wasn't a nightmare?
All I could imagine was him killing Queen Noelle and the rest of the royal family. And if he was as powerful, or worse, even more powerful than Donovan Serenata was…
He'd be unstoppable.
And he wanted us to rule by his side.
Well, that wasn't happening. I'd stand by the Shade royal family.
…Even if it wasn't my place.
Next Monday, I finally got out of the hospital. As soon as I got home, Mom dragged me into my room and forced me to go to bed.
"Meredith, what happened last week?"
Well shit. I hadn't come up with a lie.
"How'd you get a gunshot wound to the side?"
"Don't lie. I know it had to do with Lionel."
"It's a long story." I turned onto my good side. "I'm sleepy…"
"Don't you dare. Tell me."
"You wouldn't believe me."
She just gave me that stereotypical I'm gonna beat your ass if you don't tell look, and I bristled.
"It has to do with Donovan Serenata," I finally said, before explaining it all.
Her eyes glazed over for a moment, but she nodded again. "I see."
"So that's what happened. Are you happy now?" I pulled the covers over my head. "I'm gonna take a nap."
As soon as she left, I burst into tears again. There had to be something I could have done to stop him, to bring him back to his senses.
Part of me didn't even want to fall asleep—didn't want to dream of him again.
But my body felt like lead. Why did I have to do this the hard way?
After making sure she was gone, I grabbed my stack of sticky notes and a pen off my nightstand before drawing a circle.
Minor healing. Just enough to take the edge off the dull pain radiating from my side.
I tapped it lightly, and the pain faded just enough that I could fall asleep.
Oh, no. Why?
"Go away," I mumbled. "You're just a nightmare."
"I'm not, I promise. Pull the covers down."
"Why don't you go bother Zachery?"
"I'm going to go see him later."
Against my better judgment, I pulled down the covers, trembling.
He was lounging on my desk. "Are you starting to feel better?"
I pinched my arm. Nothing.
He stood up, then made his way over to me, smiling. "It's going to be alright."
"It's going to be alright? How can you even say that? You're going to kill Queen Noelle. That's not even close to being alright."
He gave me a small smile, but it wasn't him. It was fake.
Now that I had gotten a better look at him…
He didn't look like him anymore. The normally silver stripe in his hair had lightened to a platinum blond, and his black eyes had a hint of blue in them.
No. That wasn't Lionel. Not anymore.
"When did I ever say that?" He sat down next to me, then placed his hands over mine.
I jerked away. "You said you were going to finish what Donovan Serenata started."
"I can do it bloodlessly. I'm powerful enough to do it now."
Bile crept up my throat, and I swallowed, still trembling. "Get out. Just get out. God, now I'm the one going crazy."
"Meredith, please. I want—no. I need you by my side. I need you to rule with me."
For a split second, our eyes met.
He was sincere.
Something snapped inside me, and I screamed, "Get out! Get out, get out, get out—"
"Meredith!" Someone shook me. "What's going on?"
I stared up at them, vision blurry.
"…Mom?" My vision finally cleared.
She was standing by my bed, giving me a concerned look. Katie was with her, eyes glistening with tears. She gently wrapped her arms around me. "You started screaming in your sleep."
"It was a nightmare," I said. "Just a horrible nightmare."
Katie let out a quiet sob, clinging to Mom's leg.
"Katie, it's okay." I tried to smile. "I'll be fine. I just got hurt."
She burst into tears, burying her face into the fabric of Mom's skirt.
Two times in the same week.
I spent the next few days sleeping as little as possible. Just enough to keep me from getting any sicker. Even then, I still managed to have nightmares. Not of him, but nightmares nonetheless. Ones of him slaughtering the royal family, of Zachery and I in chains or worse…
A week after that, I was finally cleared to go to school.
As soon as I walked into Homeroom, the room went silent.
Celeste gave me a weird look, Kaori gave me a bright smile, Jason wouldn't look at me, and Zachery—
Zachery? Why was he here?
"…Why are you here?"
"I didn't want to be in that house alone," he merely said.
Made sense. I wouldn't want to be locked in that house either.
"Lionel's mother said it'd be a good place for me to practice my English anyway, so…"
Celeste frowned and rubbed her temples. Great. The last thing that any of us needed was for her to remember what happened. She'd blab to someone, and the next thing I knew, exterminators would have all our heads on a pike.
How much had Valerie wiped anyway?
"Wait. Creep. Where's Lionel?" she asked.
He flinched back, as if she had slapped him.
I cleared my throat. "Family issues."
"R-right." He nodded, a pained smile on his face. "Family issues. He had to go to his grandmother's house."
Celeste gave me the stink eye. Why did she have to be so perceptive?
Zachery's hands started trembling.
"Something's wrong here, and I know it. Why are you lying to me?"
"I'm not lying."
"You're my best friend, and if the psycho—"
Zachery twitched, and a few of Celeste's pencils rattled. Scratch that. The last thing that any of us needed right now was for Zachery to pull a Carrie and bring the school down. He was probably powerful enough to do it.
"He's got the two of you wrapped around his finger."
Zachery starred his palm and started murmuring in the Shade language. Didn't blame him. At this point, I'd be praying and wanting to cry too.
But if he was so powerful, why did Lionel want me? I was just a half-breed witch. While I wasn't weak, I wasn't on Zachery's, let alone Lionel's level.
Jason touched my hand lightly. "It's going to be okay. …How about we talk later on today? Maybe at lunch."
Zachery glared at him. "This is your fault anyway."
"I know I screwed up, okay? Drop it."
"We really need to talk," Celeste said.
Luckily for all of us, the bell rang.
Zachery clung to me all the way outside.
"Well, I'll see you later," he said, staring at the floor.
The worst thing that could happen to him would be that Celeste followed him and started yelling at him. She'd probably wind up on the roof of the music building, or worse, splattered onto the pavement.
Everything went smoothly until lunch. I sat at our normal table at the edge of the quad, watching Zachery fumble with his tray.
Jason sat down next to me. All he had gotten was a light salad and a cup of water. He really had become a Shade. If he tried to cram all the food down his throat that he used to eat, he'd probably puke it up right then and there.
Zachery had the same thing, but as per usual, he had snuck a dessert on there. Figured as much. He never learned.
"Are you alright?" Jason asked. "After the accident and all, that is."
"I'm fine." I forced a smile. "I'll heal up eventually."
His voice dropped down to a whisper. "…And Lionel?"
A chill went down my spine. I hadn't dreamed of him for a few days, but that didn't really mean anything.
"Sealed," I choked out.
"Oh. God, I'm sorry. Is it…?"
"Permanent." My eyes burned with tears. "He'll be there forever."
He pulled me into his arms, and I sobbed into his shoulder.
"It'll be alright." He rubbed my back.
He would say that, wouldn't he? Half of this was his fault.
Celeste sat down next to me. "Is she alright?"
"She'll be fine."
I wriggled out of his embrace, shuddering. "Yeah. I'm fine."
Zachery stumbled over a few minutes later, balancing a tray on one hand. He really needed to stop using his powers in public. One of these days, he was gonna get caught. If anyone looked too closely, they'd see it hovering a millimeter or so above his palm.
"So… Zachery." Celeste pointed her fork at him. "What's with the glasses?"
"Sensitivity to light. That's why my family and Lionel's are friends."
Kaori finally sat next to him. "I never got the chance to know you better. What's your family like?"
"I lived with my parents. I was a… What's the word? A single child?"
"An only child," I said, wiping at my face.
"Right." He nodded, before straightening up a little. "I had private tutors mostly… Being here's actually quite interesting. There's so many people."
And the façade of the confident socialite was back.
"Your family must be loaded."
"…Loaded?" He cocked his head to the side.
"Rich. English isn't his first language."
She merely nodded.
Celeste's scowl intensified. "Don't get too close to him, he was fucking the psycho."
She choked on her water. "I thought he was with Meredith."
Once a psycho, always a psycho," she said, shrugging. "And a two timing one at that…" Her eyes glazed over, and she trailed off.
Zachery and I glanced at each other. Whatever mind wiping Valerie did was starting to wear off. Great.
"Adrian, Zachery, after school we need to talk. My place?"
They both nodded.
Celeste, for the umpteenth time that day, gave me the stink eye. "Why?"
"Because we can, pajama-girl."
"That was my track uniform!" she snapped.
"Track uniform, pajamas… It all seems the same to me. Human clothes are so—"
I clapped a hand over his mouth, glaring at him.
He let a quiet squeak.
"I'm leaving," I said quietly.
Goddammit. Zachery and his… Zachery-ness was going to get all three of us outed.
Jason and I knew how to keep mum, but Zachery, being raised in the Shade world and all, had no sense of human tact. And it wasn't even something I could teach him unless I tied him to a chair and used electroshock therapy. Which wasn't happening. He'd chuck me out a window before I could even try.
Zachery followed behind me.
I sighed. "You need to act more human. No ranting and raving about Celeste's clothes, no using your powers… Just lay low."
"I'll try." He tossed back his hair. "Speaking of. Queen Noelle's finally relaxed a bit. I think we'll be able to see him by the weekend."
The weekend. Three days from now.
I threw my arms around him. "Thank you so much."
He patted my back lightly. "I'll admit that when you're happy, you look much better. Anger isn't a good look on you."
"You're just proving me right, you know." He nudged me, then slipped his hand in mine.
Damn. When he said he was going to move on, he meant it. Then again, he was just on the rebound. He probably wouldn't even give someone like me the time of day if it wasn't for Lionel.
"Have you been dreaming of Lionel lately?" I blurted out.
He froze up. "What kind of question is that?"
That was a yes.
He stared at his shoes, trembling slightly. "Last night. He claimed that he was coming back, that he loved me, and that he'd…"
I just nodded.
"It was a nightmare. After all we've been through…"
He followed me all the way to the science building. At the least, we had that class together. He'd never be able to do chemistry on his own.
Today was the first day we'd be in lab.
"So… We're going to do human magic today?"
"Something like that."
If I could do it, he'd probably be able to mix stuff over a Bunsen burner without blowing up half the school. Worst case scenario was that he caught on fire.
A smile crept onto my face.
"What's so funny?"
"Nothing. Let's go."
The lecture went by smoothly, with Zachery jotting down notes in the Shade language.
The lab, however…
Dry ice blew his mind.
"It's ice." He jabbed at it with his pen.
"But it's not turning into water."
"It's not water. It's frozen carbon dioxide."
"Okay, so you know what comes out when you breathe out?"
"Of course I do." He gave me his trademark snotty look.
"It's that, but frozen."
His eyes widened. "Wow. Even the elementalists can't freeze breath. Human magic really is amazing."
I picked up a piece with a pair of tongs, then dropped it into the beaker of water.
He let out a tiny scream, and half the class turned to look at him.
"Warn me before you do something like that!"
I waved some of the fog towards him, and he nearly fell out of his chair.
"It's not going to kill you, calm down."
"I-I'm not scared."
"Whatever. Put the plastic wrap over it and start timing."
He fiddled with the plastic wrap before just using his telekinesis to yank it apart and place it over the beaker.
"Stop that!" I hissed. "Do you want to get offed by an exterminator?"
He let out a tiny, undignified squeak. "Alright, alright, I'll stop."
Manipulating him was a bit of a dick move, but he stood out enough with the glasses, odd accent, and impossibly graceful movements…
Then again, exterminators had been trained from birth to identify supernaturals. Even if he hid, if one was in the school…
After school, I took him to my house. Jason was already sitting on my porch, playing a game on his cellphone.
"Hey." He finally looked up at us. "What's up?"
"Valerie's mind wipe is wearing off. What do we do?"
He shrugged. "Mind wipe her again?"
"I don't want her to get brain cancer or something…"
His eyes flashed, and both Zachery and I shuddered. "Sometimes you have to do bad things for the greater good."
God, when he sounded like that…
He sounds just like his father, a nasty voice in the back of my head said.
Even though he was right, it still sent a shiver down my spine.
But tinkering with my best friend's brain seemed to be overkill.
"You're… you're right," I finally said, voice tiny. "I'll call Valerie later on tonight. She's still fussing over me anyway."
This could only end badly.
He gave me a small smile. "I'm sorry about Lionel."
I just nodded. "I know. Wait. Quick question. Have you… have you dreamed of him lately? Had a nightmare?"
He went pale. "Y-yeah."
My blood ran cold. Once made sense. Twice was a coincidence. Three times meant…
"I had a nightmare the other night. Of him. He told me that if I laid a single hand on you or Zachery, he'd kill me. Seeing that he already tried once, I wouldn't put it past him."
"It's PTSD," I said, though to myself, or to them, I didn't know. "I had to stab him, you nearly got killed, and Zachery had to watch it all. They're nightmares."
"I'm gonna go home," Jason said. "Jocelyn doesn't want me out of her sight for more than ten minutes."
"I'm going to go talk to Lionel's mother. I'll come by this weekend."
I just nodded.
As soon as they left, I called Valerie.
"Hi! Are you feeling any better?"
"We have a problem."
"You mind wiped Celeste, right?"
"It's starting to wear off."
"For the love of—I knew I should have used a higher level circle—are you sure she's human?"
Was she human? Jocelyn and Jason were Shades, I was a witch… For all I knew, she could be Frankenstein's bride.
"I think so?"
"Well, don't worry about it. I'll come over later tonight with a better one. That one was drawn on the fly, and I should have been happy it didn't blow up, really…"
She hung up, and I let out a breath. Now, I just had to lure Celeste over here. Crying about "the psycho" would probably do it.
I grabbed my stuff and left.
As soon as she answered the door, she gave me the stink eye. "What's up?"
"We're best friends, right?" I forced a smile.
"I thought so," she said coolly. "Now I'm not so sure."
I faked a few sniffles. "I'll tell you everything over dinner, okay? I wanted you to come over… maybe make it a sleepover like old times? Lionel… He…"
"I knew it!" She balled her fists. "I swear to God, as soon as he gets back here, I'm kicking his ass."
Good luck with that.
"I think I might be pregnant."
Her eyes widened. "What? He didn't use a condom?"
"He claimed he couldn't knock me up!" I buried my face in my hands, letting out fake sobs.
Ugh. If Zachery could see me now. He'd be rolling on the floor laughing.
"He said he was infertile."
"Could it have been his keeper? Did you sleep with him too?"
I nodded. "The three of us got drunk, and the next thing I knew, I woke up in bed with the both of them—"
She squeezed me tight. "Well, let's go get a pregnancy test… It'll be okay. Do you want me to go with you to Planned Parenthood?"
"Y-yeah. If it turns out that…" I trailed off, glancing away. "Don't tell my mom, she'll flip."
"Right. I'll come over later."
Valerie came over a few hours later with a massive blanket. The circle on it wasn't as elaborate as the disassociation spell, but was still intricate nonetheless, drawn in blue ink. She rolled it out on the floor, sighing.
She glanced up at me. "As soon as she walks through the door, lead her onto it. This one'll actually wipe the memories, and not just cover them up. Sorry."
Mom was sitting at the table, fuming. "Did you have to do it here? My husband's upstairs sleeping, and I don't want him to see this."
Katie just looked around, eyes wide. She was scribbling down a small circle herself. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she might as well start young. A few burn marks marred the tablecloth.
"We'll be quiet, Auntie." She flashed her a bright grin, and she sighed.
I sat down next to her, biting my nails.
Mom swatted my hand. "Don't do that. It's a filthy habit."
She was right, though. My nails had slowly, but surely, been worn and bitten down to nubs ever since Lionel showed up.
"Okay, so as soon as she steps on it, all three of us need to put our magic into it."
Celeste came over about half an hour later.
"Hey. You're alright, right?"
"Y-yeah. This is my cousin, Valerie."
She nodded. "Pleased to meet you."
"What's with the blanket?"
"Just a quilt of mine. You can step on it if you want, it's not that important."
She glanced at the four of us, rubbing her arms. "…Something's not right here. That looks like something out of a demonic ritual."
In hindsight, none of us thought this plan all the way through.
"Demons don't exist," she said idly.
Mom gave her the stink eye. "Wouldn't this had made more sense if you used a sticky note?"
"Do you think I could have crammed that on a sticky note?" Valerie asked. "That took three hours."
"Are you going to come over here or not?" I asked.
The blanket was big enough that she'd have to step on it to get to the dining room table. Either way, she was getting on it, whether she liked it or not.
"It just looks weird."
"It's just a quilt." Valerie laughed at her. "You're afraid of a quilt? Man, Meredith was wrong. She went on and on about how brave you were—"
"It just looks a bit off, but whatever."
She stepped on it, and the three of us scrambled to put our hands to it.
"Now!" Valerie cried.
I closed my eyes and focused all the magic I could into it.
"A-alright. There. She should forget everything having to do with Jason and Lionel."
Celeste was staring up at the ceiling, eyes glazed over.
"Did we overdo it?" I asked.
"I don't… think so."
If looks could kill, Valerie would be dead six times over.
"I swear to God," Mom said quietly, "if you've turned her into a vegetable, I'll—"
Celeste blinked a few times before looking down at us. "Meredith? What are you doing down there?"
I stood up. "Nothing. Are you alright? You zoned out for a bit."
She frowned. "…Yeah. What's with the blanket?"
Valerie wiped her hands on her dress. "Just a personal project."
"…Really?" She rubbed her temples.
Mom dusted off her pants, then stood up. "Well, that's that."
Celeste took a few unsteady steps off the blanket, and Valerie rolled it up.
"What's for dinner?" Valerie asked, trying to break the silence.
"Whatever Raymond put in the slow cooker," she said quietly.
"Are you going to eat with us?"
"Yeah…" Celeste said quietly. "I'm trying to remember why I came over here."
"Just to hang out, remember?"
She blinked a few times.
This, like a lot of things I had done lately, was a bit of a dick move. But it was either that or getting outed.
She stared at Valerie for a good few seconds. "You're… Meredith's cousin, right?"
"Distantly, but yes. I was just stopping by to talk to her mother, have dinner, then leave." She put a rubber band around the quilt.
Goddammit, Celeste. Sit down, have dinner, we can girl out for a few hours, then you leave.
The next thing I knew, she had slapped Valerie. "You did something to me!"
"What is wrong with you?" She rubbed her cheek. "This is your friend? Wow, no home training…"
I groaned. "Celeste, calm down. Nothing happened."
Valerie shot me a look, even though she was sweating a bit. "She's leaving or I'm leaving."
Mom grabbed both our arms, then dragged us into the kitchen.
"What the Hell is going on with her?" she whispered.
Valerie sighed. "The mind wipe worked, but I think someone put a bit too much magic into it."
"Sorry," I muttered. "I just wanted it to work."
"I'm leaving," she said. "Don't want to get smacked again…"
Celeste let a quiet yelp, and the three of us ran back into the dining room.
Katie had stuck a few failed circles onto her leg, and was tapping.
Katie… Katie, Katie, Katie…
Well, the cat was out of the bag now.
"Katherine!" Mom cried. "Stop that right now."
"I wanted to try a circle too—"
Mom clapped a hand over her mouth, then dragged her into the kitchen. The sound of her being spanked echoed throughout the room.
Celeste gave me the stink eye. "I'm leaving. Come over whenever you want to tell me the truth."
And she turned on her heel and left.
Great. There went a prospective ally.
Mom and Katie came out a few minutes later. Katie was sniffling and clinging to Mom's jeans.
"What did you learn?"
"Don't use magic…"
"No, that's not it. Magic is good. Don't use magic without Mommy's permission. Okay?"
Valerie just gave me a look. "I'll see you later."
Why did I keep screwing up?
Saturday afternoon, Zachery stopped by.
"You can go see him now. Do you have any of our clothing with you?"
"I have the party dress…"
"That'll do." His voice was flat and quiet.
"You've seen him, right? Does he look okay?"
"What do you think, witch-girl?" he snapped. "Come to his house when you're dressed."
I struggled my way back into the leotard, dress and shoes, then left.
I stopped in front of Dad's study.
"Where are you going dressed like that?"
"Party at a friend's house. The theme's Disney balls."
"Oh…" He gave me a weird look. "You know… If there's anything you need to tell me, I'm here."
He sighed. "I guess I just feel like you're getting a bit more distant. But that's what happens when you grow up, I suppose."
A pang went through me. If I could tell him the truth, I would.
By the time I got to Lionel's house, it was nearly dark.
Zachery was sitting at the dining room table, dressed to the nines in a dark blue dress that hugged his body, before flaring out at his hips. It was a bit less ornate than anything Lionel owned, but still fancier than anything human.
"Do you have your glasses and pendant?"
I nodded, then slipped them both on.
He drew a circle on the floor, then offered me his hand. "We're going straight to the queen's castle, then leaving an hour later. Got it?"
"Alright." I took a deep breath before slipping my hand in his.
He pinned me to his body, and the two of us stepped into the circle.
"Close your eyes," he whispered into my ear.
I buried my face into his chest, and the floor dropped out from underneath us.
The next thing I knew, I was face down on a tile floor.
"By the Goddess, witch-girl, get up."
"I… I'm working on it." I pulled myself to a sitting position, still reeling.
We were at the queen's castle, alright, in the same ballroom where Lionel… Lionel was kidnapped.
Queen Noelle was sitting on her throne, staring off into the distance.
"Queen Noelle," he said, bowing. "I, Lord Zachery de la Fontaine the Second, first born child of the de la Fontaine family, third ranked of the noble families of Erzahov, and Miss Meredith Cartwright, first born daughter of the seventh line of the Cartwright family of witches—"
She snapped her head towards him, and he shut up. God, she looked so much older.
"I know why you're here." She sighed and snapped her fingers.
A servant—Josephina?—scrambled in, panting.
"Josephina. Take them to where Lionel Oliveira is currently interred."
Interred. Jesus Christ. They were acting like he was already dead.
She shook, but nodded. "Of course, Your Majesty."
"You have two hours. Lord de la Fontaine, Miss Cartwright… Do know that there are guards there. Don't try anything."
We both nodded.
"F-follow me," Josephina said. Her voice was shaking as much as her body.
The two of us followed her down into the bowels of the castle until we reached a small, unassuming door.
Two guards were posted there, one male, one female, dressed in identical armor.
The man eyed us. "State your business."
Yikes. If they were being that rude to Zachery, something was wrong.
"They were sent here by Queen Noelle," Josephina said.
They nodded, then stepped out of the way.
My breath caught in my throat. This would be the first time I'd get to see him.
Was he dying? Emaciated? Bleeding out?
"Just leave when you want to go back," she said quietly.
Zachery nodded, then took my hand.
Four more guards were standing around the room, half looking bored, half looking like they were going to piss themselves. As soon as we walked in, they stiffened.
The room was plain, with black walls and flooring. A single lifted slab sat in the middle of the room, and Lionel laid on it, nearly motionless. A few bouquets of black flowers, probably left there by friends or family, were scattered on the floor around him.
I stumbled towards him, tears streaming down my face. He was there. Safe. Perfectly still, just like Sleeping Beauty.
His chest rose and fell slowly, and a serene smile was on his face.
But for some reason, they had changed his clothes to a white suit. The first I had seen since I had started going to the Shade world.
Zachery scowled. "I hate that they dressed him like that."
"White's the color of corruption, death, and disgrace. I know that they couldn't have put him in black, but they could have at least used gray or blue."
I lightly touched the side of Lionel's face. Strangely, he was still warm.
"He looks happy," I said quietly.
Peace of mind. That was all I came here for. And I got it.
He couldn't do anything. Not anymore.
"Stay asleep, okay?" I whispered, still sobbing. "It'll be alright. I'll come visit. At least once a month."
His hand twitched. Could he hear me? No. He was unconscious. Dreaming.
"Lionel…" And I burst into full out tears, clutching his hand to me.
…I could pull out the dagger right now, couldn't I? He'd be okay… Right?
He'd come back to his senses—
Zachery slapped me hard enough to knock me to the floor. "Don't you even try it."
"You were going to pull out the dagger, weren't you? I swear to the Goddess herself, I can't take you anywhere."
"No. I wasn't. And don't you even try to crook your lips and say that you never thought about it either." I rubbed my cheek.
One of the guards offered me her hand. "Are you alright?"
Ugh. As much as I hated to admit it, he was right.
Oh yeah, yank that the dagger that's the only thing keeping your horrifically powerful, possibly insane, kind of boyfriend from trying to kill his own people's royal family, bathe in their blood, and take over both his world and yours? Great plan, self. Great plan.
I took her hand, still reeling a bit. Zachery's smack finally started to sting. Knowing him, he probably used his telekinesis to make it even worse. Wouldn't be surprised if he left a mark.
And that'd be another reason for Celeste to get stuck on her roof or worse. She'd see the mark, put two and two together, get ready to punt him all the way back to the Shade world, and everything would get worse.
If that was even possible.
I made my way back to Lionel, even though the whole room was eying me.
"I'm not going to touch it. I promise."
He seemed to have relaxed a little, breathing even slower, the smile on his face faded to something more neutral. Maybe he had fallen into a dreamless sleep.
Sometimes that was what you needed. Not good dreams, not nightmares… Just the void.
I brushed some of his hair out of his face. They hadn't tied it back, and it spilled all over his chest, some of it even hanging off the slab. At least they hadn't tarred him, feathered him, and shaved him bald.
And the stripe was still silver. At least that was one worry out the way.
Zachery sniffled, staring at the floor.
"Do you blame me for this?"
He was silent, and that was all the answer I needed.
"…No," he said, after what felt like hours. "If I blame anyone, it's Jason. He provoked him into fighting, he hurt you… If he hadn't tried to kill Lionel, none of us would be in this situation right now."
"And Lionel couldn't help being his reincarnation. He didn't ask for this." He balled his fists into the fabric of his dress, tears streaming down his face. "He told me that a lot, actually. That he loved the fact that I didn't judge him or worship him. I just treated him like a normal person, like a fiancé should."
I chewed on my fingernails.
"So, no. I don't blame you. You did what the queen told you to do. And she knows best."
Lionel's hand twitched again.
"When do you think we'll be able to visit him again?"
"I'll probably go back in a few weeks. I need to take care of some family issues, since I've decided to stay with Lionel's family until they get out of mourning."
Mourning. I swallowed.
Everyone was right. It was time to mourn and move on. Even though he was right here, sleeping away the rest of his life, he might as well be dead. He'd never touch me again, smile at me again, laugh with me again, fight alongside me again…
Another sob escaped my lips.
"Are you ready to go?"
Might as well. If I stayed here any longer, I probably wouldn't be able to leave.
He took my hand again, giving me a gentle smile. "I'm sorry for hitting you. I just didn't know how to get your attention."
"Whatever." I shrugged. "Let's just go."
Josephina was still waiting outside for us, chewing at her fingernails.
"That's a dirty habit," Zachery said idly, and she straightened up, trembling.
"I-I'm sorry my… my lord!" she choked out, bowing.
The female guard snickered, and I fought back laughter.
My lord. That was something that Zachery's father deserved. Not him. He was a socialite, yes. Nobility, yeah…
But not a lord. Not like that.
"Calm down," he said. "I'm not going to kill you—you're a turned Shade, aren't you?"
"Is… Is it that obvious?"
He shrugged, giving her a million dollar smile. "Why are you working here anyway?"
"D-debt," she said quietly, looking at the floor. "My boyfriend had me turned, but he was part of some cult and got caught. So, I'm working to pay for amnesty… He was just misguided."
Oh. Another cultist.
"The man in there… Lionel Oliveira… He was the one they were worshiping, right?"
Zachery nodded. "Don't worry about it."
But the look he gave me said it all.
"A-anyway, I'll take you back to the throne room now…" She tugged at the hem of her skirt.
By the time we got back, the smaller moon was peeking through one of the stained glass windows, while Queen Noelle was taking notes on a piece of paper and frowning.
"Oh, Lord de la Fontaine, Miss Cartwright…" She looked up. "I'm assuming that you're going to go back to the human world?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," he said quietly.
"Um… Your Majesty, may I ask a question?"
She barely tilted her head towards me. "Make it quick, if you can."
"Would it be possible for him to break the seal?"
She dropped her pen. "No. Never. Unless someone breaches security and pulls it out, he'll be there until the day his soul reincarnates."
But the tiniest of uncomfortable looks had come over her face, and she bit her lip.
"Even at his level of power?"
She shook her head, the mask coming back on. "As much as you, Lord de la Fontaine, and the Cult of Lionel Oliveira—"
She stopped speaking. She must have seen the horrified look on my face.
"I'll be blunt, Miss Cartwright. They're no longer worshiping Donovan Serenata. They want Lord Oliveira, and they'll stop at nothing to get him."
She was right. All of us knew she was right. But just hearing her say that made my stomach lurch.
Visions flew past my eyes. Visions of him sitting on this very throne, of white clad cult members throwing themselves at his feet...
I buried my hands into the fabric of my dress, trying to steady myself, make it stop—
Another vision. Both Zachery and I were straddled on his thighs, with Zachery already naked, writhing and moaning against his body, while my shirt was half undone.
I glanced up at Lionel. God, he looked huge. Bigger than usual. He met my gaze, smiling, but it wasn't him. It wasn't his quiet, loving smile, but a twisted smirk. He ran his fingers over my face and hair, murmuring unintelligible words in English and the Shade language.
"I love you."
The words were clear as day, as if he was standing right behind me.
"We'll be together forever, Meredith…"
"Meredith!" Someone shook me. Zachery.
My eyes snapped open. Great. I must have fainted. Swooned like a blushing Victorian housewife in front of the Queen of the Shades. Way to go. Zachery was going to mock me for the rest of my natural life.
"Are you alright? Your eyes glazed over, and the next thing I knew, you had collapsed," he said, then offered me his hand.
My face burned, but I took it.
"I'm fine." I forced a smile.
The queen gave me a mild stink eye. "Did you see anything?"
What could I tell her? Oh yeah, I had a vision of him on your throne getting ready to fuck us both stupid?
She'd toss me right out on my ass.
"Just a nightmare."
"A nightmare." Her stink eye intensified, and I couldn't help but be reminded of Mom.
"I…" I glanced away from her. "I don't want to call it a vision, since that means it might happen."
"Did you see anything?" she repeated, voice firm. "Tell me now."
"Right... He… I saw him—the three of us—on your throne. He had us on his lap, and looked huge and powerful…" My face burned. I'd never be able to look her in the eye again. "He was going to have sex with both of us."
Zachery bit his lip.
A look I couldn't recognize came over her face. "There's no need to apologize. You're scared. Fear causes you to do and see irrational things… Anyway. Lord de la Fontaine, I think it'd be in everyone's best interests in the two of you left."
Zachery bowed. "Of course, Your Majesty."
"You can come back in two lunar cycles."
Zachery just drew a circle on the floor, grabbed my hand, and stepped in.
When I opened my eyes, I was back in Lionel's living room.
"How long is a Shade lunar cycle?"
"About three human weeks," he said, then turned to me. "Are you sure that's what you saw?"
"Why would I lie?"
"…Right." He bit his lip again. "I'm going to start on those English worksheets I got. Bye." He gave me a kiss on the cheek, and I sighed.
As much as Zachery wanted to move on, I was stuck. Seeing Lionel didn't make it any better either.
I spent some time in his living room, looking at all the pictures that were set up. Three painted pictures of his family, one from when he was an infant, another from when he was a preteen, and the last from probably less than three months ago, hung over his fireplace.
Lionel had probably painted it himself. His mother and father stood together, holding hands and smiling, while Lionel himself stood behind them, beaming. A couple of outlines that looked suspiciously like Zachery and me stood on the outskirts.
I sighed. If I stayed in here much longer, I'd break down again.
By the time I got home, Mom had left a note on the dining room table telling me that dinner was in the microwave, and to wash the dishes.
After changing into my pajamas, I had dinner in silence.
If I had pulled out the dagger, I could have been responsible for the deaths of hundreds, if not thousands of Shades. And God only knew what he'd do when he got to the human world.
But they wouldn't go down without a fight. No matter how powerful he was, if the government tried to nuke him or something, that'd be it. He'd be gone for good.
It'd be for the best for him to just stay asleep.
I pushed my plate away from me, my appetite all but gone. The pain in my side had returned, a dull ache radiating down my left side. The doctors had said it'd be at least six weeks until the pain entirely went away.
I shuffled off to bed, tears still pricking at my eyes.
As soon as I crawled into bed—
"Open your eyes."
I couldn't. I wouldn't. If I kept my eyes shut and pretended not to hear him, maybe he'd go away.
"I love you so much."
His voice sounded like he was whispering in my ear. I opened my eyes.
He was lying next to me, a quiet smile on his face. "I'm so glad that you and Zachery came to visit me. I was getting lonely without you."
He trailed a hand down my face and neck. I shivered. It was like he was touching me in his shadow form, light and misty.
I reached out for him, but my hand went right through him.
"I'm not powerful enough now. But I will be. Soon." He laughed at me.
"You're not you anymore," I choked out, tears streaming down my face.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Look at yourself," I whispered. "Your hair's turning blond, your eyes have turned blue… Next thing I know, you'll be as pale as him."
For the first time since I'd seen him, he frowned. "Sometimes you have to make sacrifices."
I bit back laughter. Sacrifices. Like your sanity.
"You're just as crazy as him."
His smile crept back on his face, and he tried to brush a few of my braids out of my face. "No. I'm completely sane. I've just seen the world for what it truly is."
"What are you going to do after you've overthrown the royal family?" I asked. "You know the rest of the Shade world's not going to go down without a fight. And if you try to take over the human world, you'll be killed in a heartbeat. You're only one person."
"Who said it would only be me?"
Fuck me. The cult.
I buried my face in my hands.
The compound the Shade queen busted back in February had at least a hundred of them. And that was only one. There could be tens, maybe even hundreds of others, and that wasn't even counting his casual supporters. The ones that had him kiss their babies and threw themselves at his feet.
The Shade royal family was screwed.
"Why? What did they do to you? Queen Noelle did nothing but help you—"
His eyes flashed, and he balled his fists. "She had you try to kill me, just because she was afraid that I'd take her place. She's such a coward."
I cringed back. "She didn't want you to die! She wanted you to have a normal life, but Jason—"
His eyes narrowed. "It always comes back to him, doesn't it."
Of course he'd be jealous of Jason.
"He was one of my best friends," I said. "You were going to kill my friend."
"A friend doesn't try to kill you."
"He wasn't aiming for me!" I cried. "He was aiming for you."
His face softened. "What?"
"He was aiming for you. He thought you were cheating on me with Zachery. So he wanted to fuck you up." Nervous laughter escaped my lips. "That's what friends do. Fuck up errant boyfriends."
"Oh." He put his hands to my face, then kissed me.
"And…" My voice broke. "I was afraid that you wouldn't stop there. Once you killed Jason, you'd move onto Celeste, then Zachery, then me—"
He put a finger to my lips. "I'd never hurt you. I love you so much… That's why I'm doing this."
"If you really loved me, you wouldn't do this."
He flinched back, as if I had slapped him.
"Both Zachery and I are allied with the Shade royal family, and you—"
He chuckled quietly. "I understand Zachery. But why you? You're not one of us. She doesn't care about you in the slightest."
"Maybe she doesn't, but…"
...I didn't really have a reason after all.
"She was nothing but kind to me. If it hadn't been for me, she would have sealed your powers and wiped your memories."
Maybe things would have been for the better if she had.
He rolled over, then stared at the ceiling. "I wish you could see what I see. Feel what I feel."
I stayed silent.
"Wouldn't it be wonderful?" He turned back to me. "You'd never have to work again, you'd have servants at your beck and call… And you'd have power. The power to protect your family and friends."
I balled my fists into the fabric of my pajama pants. Having power would help me through this entire dumpster fire, but I didn't want it. Not like this.
"And as I gain more power… We'll be unstoppable. We'll change the world."
"I don't want to change the world," I murmured. "I just want you to go back to normal. To be the man I fell in love with."
"I am the man you fell in love with…" He glanced away from me. "I…"
His eyes flickered, before settling back to his normal black.
He shoved himself away from me. "I'm leaving. I'll come see you again, I promise."
His specter faded away, and I was left alone, heart racing.
What was wrong with him? For a bit, it was like he had come to his senses. And his eyes…
I swallowed, then turned back to where he had been lying. It still had a bit of his warmth to it.
That settled it. These weren't nightmares. He was really awake and getting ready to come back.
The best case scenario would be that he came back, was lucid, and just wanted to live his life. He'd probably be exiled from the Shade world for good—if not executed—but at least he wouldn't go on a megalomaniac spree to instate the new world order.
If he wasn't sane, at the very least, I wouldn't suffer. I'd suck it up and rule by his side.
But Zachery… He was a wild card. It all depended on what he valued more: love or country.
Most likely, it was the latter. The de la Fontaine family had been nobility for the past ten thousand years, one of the first created when the Shade monarchy was established. The Oliveiras had only been nobility for a fraction of that.
On the other hand, he was smitten with Lionel nearly to the point of obsession. There was a chance—however small—that he'd tell Queen Noelle to go fuck herself, and jump ship to the cult.
And it wasn't like I could just ask him. He'd throw me out of a window.
I had to tell someone.
…No one would believe me. The queen firmly believed that he was sealed for good, so Lionel's parents and Zachery would believe her until the day he actually came back.
Mom would completely lose it, and set up wards around the house so he couldn't get in.
Dad was purposely left out of the loop.
All I could was bide my time and try to keep him happy when he came to visit me—
Valerie. Valerie could help me do something at the least, and she was smart enough to not tell half the city.
That was it. I'd go see Valerie, and soon.