He wasn’t Shoman anymore. He was Eric. Feet away, men held him against a bed as Luthicer poked and prodded his bleeding body. From the hallway, I could see his brown hair plastered to his hot cheek, his continuously bleeding shoulder, and paling skin. His screams were getting louder and louder. I could barely stand it. I closed my eyes and shivered beneath my torn dress. I was human, too, but I wasn’t hurt. I didn’t understand. “Take this,” a boy said as he draped a thick blanket over my shoulders. He was the younger one, with green eyes and black hair, but his arm was wrapped up. He’d gotten injured, too. “Thanks,” I managed, grasping the cloth as Eric screamed again. I trembled. “He’ll be okay,” the boy said, and I realized I had been biting my lip. “What’s wrong with him?” “Darthon’s sword struck him,” he said. “It’s imbedded with poison just like any Light weapon.” He smiled, but I didn’t know why. Poison was serious, wasn’t it? “Luthicer will get him back to normal in a matter of minutes.” I dug my nails into the cotton blanket, fighting my nausea, and Bracke left Eric’s room, shutting the door behind him. Eric’s screams mellowed, but I knew they were just as loud behind the closed doors. “Jess?” Bracke gestured his neck toward the nearest room. “Come with me,” he said. “You don’t need to hear this.” “But—” The boy sighed and pulled me to my feet. “Follow me,” he said, and he dragged me. I was too exhausted to pull back. We walked into the room, and Bracke shut the door behind us—adding another barrier between Eric and us. He was the only thing I could concentrate on. “He’ll live, Jess,” Bracke said, and I sat down. “How’s he doing?” I asked, and the older man took a seat across from me. “Okay,” he said, and the door cracked open. Camille—the white-haired woman—slipped inside, and I wondered if she was who I thought she was. Teresa Young. She had to be. “You asked for me, sir?” she asked, and Bracke nodded. “Watch after Jess with Pierce,” he said, and I looked at the younger boy, comforted by the knowledge of his name.
Tate no yuusha no nariagari
The two replied instantaneously, “Yes, sir.” Bracke’s eyes glanced over me one last time, and he dismissed himself, returning to Eric’s side. I held my breath, watching Camille as she walked across the room. She didn’t sit, and Pierce thumbed his fingers across his leg. Neither of them spoke, but Camille’s dark eyes glided over me. She opened her mouth, sighed, and closed it again. “What?” I asked, and she finally pulled a chair in front of me and sat down. Her gaze flickered over my face. “Jessica, right?” “Jess,” Pierce corrected, and I jumped, blinking at the green-eyed boy. He knew my nickname, the one everyone called me except Eric. “How’d you know?” I asked, and he chuckled. “Hayworth is a small town, Jess.” I squinted at his facial features, trying to tear them apart, but he was unrecognizable. “I’ve never seen you before,” I said, and he shook his head. “Shades don’t exactly walk around school like this.” “Pierce,” Camille hissed, and I knew he’d given away his information. He threw his hands in the air. “It’s kind of obvious if you ask me,” he said, but Camille’s glare didn’t shift. I smiled, hoping to defuse the tension. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Pierce.” He nodded. “Just wish it was under different circumstances.” My eyes dropped to my lap. Eric. I’d caused the attack, but I felt as if I also saved them. Darthon had been beating them—destroying them—and he could’ve killed Eric if I hadn’t shown up. But Darthon wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t followed Eric in the first place. I didn’t know how to feel about it, but I definitely felt guilty. “I’m sorry,” I said, and Camille groaned. “This isn’t your fault,” she said, and I stared, unable to comprehend how her words could be truth. “You didn’t know, and neither did Eric,” she said. “The elders hid everything.
Their decisions caused this, and they know it.” I blinked, and Camille sighed, dropping her head. She grabbed her scalp, stomped her feet, and met my eyes again. “He really didn’t tell you anything, did he?” “He told me a third descendant didn’t exist,” I said, and Pierce chuckled. Camille smacked his leg, and he waved his hands in front of him. “Sorry,” he said. “It’s just sort of ironic if you ask me.” “No one asked you,” she said, and I curled my legs beneath me. “I will,” I said, turning away from Camille to look at Pierce. “What’s going on?” His shoulders rose, but he didn’t speak. “Are you explaining this one?” Camille asked, and Pierce shook his head. “I’d probably screw it up,” he said. “I’m still confused.” I looked at Camille, and she rolled her eyes. I couldn’t believe how light-hearted they could be when Eric was suffering one room over. I wanted to ask how they could be so calm, but Camille began spewing out information. I bit my lip to prevent speaking. She explained the prophecy—the entire prophecy—and didn’t hesitate about my part in it. “Eric left you to protect you,” she finished. “Even though his idiocy got him there in the first place.” I couldn’t speak. Eric Welborn—Shoman—was supposed to love me? He was destined to find me? And I was his weakness? “He’s kind of lucky,” Pierce said. “I wish I had a girl lined up.” Camille smacked him again, and his green eyes widened. “What?” he asked. “It’s true.” “And it came with a price,” she snapped, and I dug my nails into my legs. “So my existence hurts him?” I asked, and the two quieted. “It’s not as bad as it sounds,” Camille spoke through her frown, but I knew it was a lie. It was that bad. We could love each other, but we could die because of it. And the Light. They wanted me, and they could find either one of us if one of our identities were revealed. “What do they want with me?” I asked, and Camille shook her head, the whiteness of her hair glittering in the room’s dim light. “It’s referred to as absorbing, but we don’t even know what that means,” she said, leaning forward to lay her cold palm on my arm. “We only know it could alter the ending.” “So Darthon would win,” I said, and Camille hesitated. She didn’t have to confirm my thoughts. She’d already told me. I exhaled a shaky breath, and Pierce leaned his chair back. “Too bad Shoman’s the only one who can kill that son of a bitch,” he grumbled. “You would’ve solved all of our problems tonight if that wasn’t the case.” Camille’s lips pressed into a thin line. “And we only learned that tonight.” “You didn’t know?” I asked, and she played with the ends of her hair. “No,” she said. “But they did.” “So they know more than we do,” Pierce added. “Which isn’t a good thing,” Camille said. I stared at the floor. It was made from stone. The air was musty and smelled like dirt. I knew we were underground, but I didn’t even know where I was. Were my parents worried about me? I didn’t have my cellphone, but I was afraid to ask them for a phone. I doubted the Dark would be too excited about my adoption. “Did Shoman ever give you a liquid to drink?” Camille asked, and I looked up at her. My heart skipped, but I nodded, remembering Fudicia’s attack—something that seemed like child’s play compared to Darthon’s. “It took away my powers,” I said, and Camille leaned on her hand. “Do you know why he did that?” she asked, and my body tensed as I remembered his words from the night he left me. “I was poisoned,” I said, staring between the two. “Just like he is now.” “See?” She grinned and lightly kicked my chair. “He’ll be fine, too.” “At least no one will get caught in his explosion this time,” Pierce grumbled, and my neck whipped around. I gaped at him.
“He what?” “That was so unnecessary, Pierce,” Camille said, rubbing her forehead before she explained. “He was poisoned that night, too, but he used his remedy on you.” “So he took his powers out on me,” Pierce said, but his face lit up. “I was almost killed.” My jaw dropped, and Camille stood, slapping the side of Pierce’s head. “That’s nothing to be proud of,” she said, rubbing her hands together like she’d hurt herself. He shrugged. “It’s not a big deal now.” “And Eric’s current injuries aren’t either,” Camille said, desperately trying to comfort me. She pointed to the door. “He’ll walk through there any minute.” “He’ll walk out? On his own?” I could barely manage the questions. Everything seemed so unreal—so supernatural—and I had to remind myself that is was. We weren’t human. We never were. “He wouldn’t heal so quickly if he’d let it attack his bloodstream for a day,” Camille said. “He was unconscious for a while last time.” I sat up, nearly dropping my blanket. “He was unconscious last time?” This time, Camille was the one to laugh. “If you’re going to be one of us, Jess,” she began. “I suggest you toughen up.” Be one of them. The words finally brought me the comfort I’d desired since moving to Hayworth: I was one of them—a shade—and I reveled in it. I could finally accept what—and who—I was. The third descendant, someone of power, of reason, of capability. “Thank you,” I said, and Camille started to speak but stopped. “I think you have a visitor,” she said, winking, and the door opened. Luthicer and Urte were the first to appear. Eu and Bracke followed them, but the one I cared about most was in their shadows. Eric’s brown hair was pressed against his forehead, dried to his skin from sweat, and his green eyes were fogged with drowsiness. His clothes were in bits, and his face was scratched, but he managed a smile when he met my eyes. I leapt up, pushed through the crowd, and I was in his arms again. He stumbled backward, but gained his footing and chuckled. “Hey,” he whispered, laying a hand on the top of my head. As much as I hated to admit it, I started to cry. I sobbed, harder than I had in the past few days, and right in front of the ones I wanted to impress. I didn’t even care. All I cared about was Eric’s health, and he was fine—he was alive. “I’m okay,” he said, and his hand stroked the back of my neck. “You’re okay. Everything is okay now.” He moved his hand to my chin and lifted my face to meet my eyes. He wiped my tears away with his thumb. “It’ll be all right, Jessica.” I managed a nod before laying my cheek against his chest. My cold tears pressed against his clothes, and I sniffled to catch my breath. Eric’s hold tightened around my torso, and I could see why. The others were gaping at us, unable to move or speak, and I realized what I hadn’t thought of before. The prophecy said Shoman would love me, but they hadn’t witnessed it. Now they had. “I think it’s time I introduce Jessica,” Eric said, and a few managed an uncomfortable smile. “You’re lucky she isn’t dead,” Luthicer muttered, crossing his elongated arms. “You’re lucky you’re both alive.” “I know,” Eric said. “Thank you for your help, Luthicer. Really.” The man’s eyes widened, but he didn’t speak. “So now what?” Pierce asked, breaking through the tension. “What’s next?” “Everyone will have to stay here tonight,” Urte said. “Darthon left, but we don’t know where he is, and it’s too dangerous to leave until we’re sure he’s not coming back.” I interjected, “But my parents—” “Think you’re at Crystal’s house,” Eric said, and I stared at him. “How?” “Don’t worry about that,” Luthicer said, and I turned in time to witness his grin. “He’s a half-breed, like Camille,” Eric spoke to me in silence. “He can create illusions. Your parents will never know.” “Eric.” His father’s voice was full of scorn. “Sorry,” Eric muttered, but he continued to speak to me. “My father can tell when we’re using telepathy,” he explained quickly. “He thinks it’s rude.” I blinked, trying to process the abundance of information, but it seemed impossible. I’d learned so much, and I’d expected none of it. “But we have to figure out what to do with—er—Jess,” Eu said, flushing as he used my name. I imagined using someone’s human identity didn’t come naturally within the Dark’s walls. “We have to do something,” Urte agreed. “She can’t stay here forever—not when the Light could break in at any moment.” “We can’t even train her here,” Luthicer said. “It’d be risking too much.” “I can already defend myself,” I said, and the others froze. They weren’t used to my input. Eric rubbed my arm. “She’s stronger than Darthon; that’s for sure.” “That doesn’t mean we need to egg him on,” his father said, and Eric’s grip tightened. “So what are you saying?” he asked. “She has to go? Because I can’t imagine that anywhere would be safer than here.” Luthicer grabbed his chin. “We really have no solution.” “But Darthon doesn’t know my identity,” I whined, feeling my acceptance disappearing. “He could figure it out, Jessica,” Eric said, and his heart beat against my back. “He saw you as a human, too.” “But he didn’t know—” “We can’t rely on that.” I froze. Eric was right. I’d made a mistake. Big time. And there was no coming back from that. “What if I wasn’t a shade?” I whispered, and Eric’s eyes widened. “What are you talking about?” he asked. “You can’t just change your genetics.” “You said they stripped abandoned shades of their powers,” I repeated some of the information he taught me and turned back to the others. “If I didn’t have my powers, I’d be useless, Jessica or not.” Bracke’s jaw popped like his son’s. “But what good would that do?” he asked. “You wouldn’t be able to defend yourself if he found you.” “Unless even I didn’t know who I was,” I said, listening to the pieces fall into place before I recognized them. “If you can create an illusion for my parents, you can do it to me, too, and, even if he came after me, I wouldn’t be anything. No matter what absorbing means.” I exhaled, and Camille crossed her arms. “She’d practically be human.” “I don’t know about this,” Pierce said, and Urte agreed. “You wouldn’t want to do something like that anyway, Jessica,” he said, and I shook my head. “If it meant keeping everyone safe, then I would.” The others blinked. “I’d do anything,” I said, and the room was enveloped in silence. It was a solution, and everyone knew it. If I didn’t have powers, I wouldn’t transform, and if I didn’t have a memory, I wouldn’t want to. I’d be a human, unable to slip even in the most emotional times, and Darthon would be unable to trace my powers. Even if he came after me, I’d no longer know, and I’d no longer be powerful. I’d be useless to his cause, and the others wouldn’t even have to protect me. I’d be safe and so would they. “It’s risky,” Luthicer finally spoke. “But it isn’t impossible.” Urte, Eu, and Luthicer erupted into arguments, and the room vibrated with anger. Their voices bounced off the walls and died against the floor until Bracke lifted his hand. Everyone silenced as Eric’s father stepped forward, looking only into my eyes. “We’re capable of what you’re offering, and I think it’s our best option at this point,” he said, pausing to choose his words. “But there are some issues we need to address.” His blue eyes flickered up to Eric, and Eric tensed against me. I knew what his father would ask, even before the words were spoken, “Would you be able to give up my son so easily?” I leaned back and caught Eric’s eyes. They were resigned, shadowed beneath his furrowed brow, and his jaw clenched. He wasn’t talking, and I knew why. He’d realized what everyone else had. “I wouldn’t have to,” I said, unable to look away from him. “I wouldn’t remember him.” Eric turned his face to stare at the wall, and my hands curled into a fist on his chest. I could feel his heart pound.
After everything—after all the tears, words, and kisses—he’d return to being Eric Welborn, the guy who sat next to me in homeroom. Nothing more. Nothing less. And he wouldn’t even try to rekindle the relationship. It had to be over for our plan to work. “There’s no point carrying out this plan if Eric continues to see her,” Luthicer said, and Camille agreed. “And it’d be too risky to mess with his mind,” Camille said. “He might forget his training.” “We don’t have a solution,” Urte said, and Eric shook his head. “Yes, we do,” he said, wrapping his hand around my fist. He met my eyes, but they were no longer fogged over. They were bright, aware and driven. “I can stay away this time,” he said. “My mistakes could’ve caused—” death. He wouldn’t say it. Instead, he ran his free hand through his hair. “I won’t make them again. I can’t.” His father raised his brow. “I don’t know—” “I can do it,” Eric said, and his father stepped back. The forcefulness of Eric’s tone even made me jump. I hadn’t expected it, but the others hadn’t either. Eric wasn’t lying. “Then we’ll do it,” his father said, looking at Luthicer. The half-breed elder shook his head. “I can’t do it now,” he said. “I’m too weak. I need time.” “How much?” Bracke asked. Luthicer breathed in, and his chest sank. “I’d want to wait two months,” he said. “I have to practice. I haven’t done something that big in a long time, and I don’t want to hurt her.” I swallowed my nerves, knowing what he meant. His powers could potentially affect my brain. I pushed away the thoughts as they came. I didn’t want to think about the others who’d been hurt in order for Luthicer to figure out he could do harm. “If that’s our only choice, we can wait for the memory loss,” Bracke began. “But I’ll block your powers tomorrow,” he said, pointing at Eric and I. “And you two can’t see each other—not in public anyway.” Eric straightened up. “You’ll let me see her at all?” I was like him. I had expected to be banned completely and immediately, but Bracke sighed. “I think we can allow it for now,” he said. “But—” Luthicer started to argue, and Bracke glared at him. “Let the two have a few days of normalcy,” he said. “It’s our fault they got into this anyway. It’s the least we can do, and I’ll take full responsibility on guaranteeing it’s appropriate.” The words came out in one breath, and I grasped Eric’s hand. “You mean it?” I asked, and Bracke nodded. No one interjected this time. “Thanks, Dad,” Eric said while the others started for the door. “Let’s get to bed,” Eu grumbled, obviously disapproving. “I can’t handle any more of this tonight.” “Me neither,” Luthicer agreed, leaving with the others. Only Eric and I remained, and he didn’t hesitate to lift my face. “Mind if I kiss you as Eric?” he asked, managing a smile, and I kissed him as an answer. He tensed, but relaxed, and I leaned against his chest, taking him in. We were together—finally—and I loved it, even if it wouldn’t last forever. One moment of true happiness was worth all the moments of pain.