Shadow Games

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Chapter 11

A whisper broke through the endless blackness and with it came pain and fear. With a grumbled whimper, Persephone pushed away reality and tried to sink back into oblivion. Her body shook and another panicked whisper rode in on a wave of nauseating pain.

“Wake up!” The garbled voice exclaimed.

Slowly Persephone’s eyes opened, squinting at the dim light.

Why should I? She thought as she tried to push it all away. This time a soft curse floated in to the blackness but before she could understand, a sharp slap startled her fully awake. Persephone jumped and stars exploded in her vision. Her head pounded with the flood of the raw emotions she’d taken in and she hurt. Her nerve endings were on fire and the softest touch of the barely visible fabric made her want to scream in agony.

“Shh…” Comforted the voice and it made her cringe as she felt a different pain, physical pain. With a great effort she turned her head to see Kylia knelt next to her. It took a few tries to focus but she blinked when she did.

“Kylia?” Her voice was small and childlike. A wash of relief flowed over her, partly her own and partly Kylia’s. She had to shut off her power or she was going to pass out again. As she fended off the enticing blackness her shoulder throbbed, taking her breath away. With a sudden realization she realized most of her physical discomforts were emanating from the woman next to her. What had Kylia done? Her body was so battered that Persephone didn’t think she should have been able to sit up right. Persephone reached out her shaking hand and touched Kylia’s bruised cheek. Tears of relief silently trailed over her fingers and she managed to smile.

“I’ll be alright.” Persephone whispered knowing she’d hear the lie in it. Kylia’s breath burst from her in a quiet sob as she leaned forward and kissed her with all she had. Persephone went still with as much with shock as with the assault on her battered senses. Kylia felt her stillness and pulled back, her cheeks glowing in the darkness. With her good hand she covered her mouth.

“I’m sorry…” She breathed as she averted her eyes. Persephone winced as she sat up trying to figure out how to move her body again. She was, amazingly, overjoyed. The swelling of emotion made her want to laugh or cry or both. But it felt like the wrong thing to worry about at the moment so she tried to brush it off, for now.

“Don’t be.” Persephone reassured as she smoothed Kylia’s hair gently. Kylia took it in stride and levered herself to her feet, eyes still averted.

“We need to get out of here.” She murmured absently. She extended her good arm to help her up. That’s when Persephone noticed the other hung uselessly in a make-shift sling.

“Your arm…” She questioned as Kylia finally met her eyes, sparkling with so many emotions it was dizzying.

“It’ll heal once it’s put back in place. But we need to go, now.”

The command in Kylia’s voice was so foreign that both women stopped and stared at one another, one in awe the other in fear. Persephone, awe struck, grasped the offered hand and stood. The floor started to tilt but righted itself as Kylia, still in shock, wrapped her arm around Persephone’s waist to steady her.

For a few precious moments Persephone leaned into the soft warmth that was Kylia. The Elf’s hidden strength making her want to know more about her. To know everything that was this beaten and broken slave girl, the girl who defied and fought a demon master for her.

“We have to go.” Kylia pleaded.

“How…” Persephone started as they shuffled forward.

“Nicholas decided it wouldn’t be as much fun to break you if you weren’t awake, which is a first.” Kylia spat through gritted teeth, anger and hatred seeping out of every pore. The drastic difference in the emotions stunned Persephone into silence as they made their way from the dark room. As they went she recognized it for what it was, a bedroom. If one were to call it that in all of its twisted splendor. She wasn’t sure of any of the names for the gadgets laying around and she was perfectly fine with not finding out. Persephone nodded and made an effort to pick up her pace.

“Where are we going?” She didn’t know what to think any more, nor did she want to think on what may have happened to her. Her only concern now was getting away from this hell hole.

“Somewhere you can use your talents.” Kylia answered quietly as they neared the end of the hallway and stopped. She leaned out to check for guards and nodded before navigating them away from the main hall.

“My talents?” Persephone whispered and looked up at the Elf. She hadn’t noticed how tall Kylia was compared to her. Kylia looked down at her with a tight smile that brought a sparkle to her eyes.

“You can walk the shadows.”

“Oh!” Persephone exclaimed more loudly than she’d intended and tried to shift the shadows. When nothing happened she frowned as panic stabbed her middle.

“Don’t worry, it’s not you. The main house is warded against things like that. Nicholas doesn’t want surprises, coming or going.”

Persephone could see that Kylia’s strength was waning but she kept pushing on, supporting Persephone’s weight.

“How far do we have to go?”

Kylia hesitated before she responded with a lighter demeanor.

“Just outside on the grounds. The main house includes the research area but once outside it should be fine.”

“Should be?” Persephone asked, fear lacing her words even as she was daring to hope. Kylia nodded keeping her eyes forward.

“Should be.”

They rounded another corner and slid into a door way. Kylia winced as her back pressed against the closed door. They rested there in silence, listening to the house and for someone approaching. A creak pulled their breath short as they tried to sink farther into the shallow doorway. If someone glanced down the hall they’d be undetected but they could only have so much luck. Any of the guards or servants could walk by at any moment. Persephone looked up to Kylia, waiting for her lead. Another sliver of fear iced its way through her when she saw the panic in the girl’s eyes. Footsteps became clearly audible, drawing closer. Kylia’s breathing became panicked and ragged as they both realized someone was going to find them.

“No, no, no… they can’t find us.” She started repeating under her breath.

“They’re not going to, don’t worry.” Persephone lied as she took the girls hand in hers, avoiding moving her injured arm.

“Look at me… look at me!” She demanded when Kylia started to lose her focus. “We’re getting the hell out of here.”

Kylia’s green tear filled eyes met hers and she nodded silently even as she shook.
“Ky…” Persephone whispered as she gently touched her face. “I promise I’ll get you out of here, I’m taking you with me.” At the touch of her hand Kylia closed her eyes as her lips quivered.

“We should get going then.” She muttered and backed away to look around the corner.

“Ky…” Persephone whispered in warning as she reached for her hand but grabbed nothing but air. Kylia was swept out from the doorway; someone had snatched her from their hiding place. With a thud the guard slammed Kylia to the wall where she bounced and slid to the floor.
Persephone gasped as she barreled her tiny body into the side of the man, causing him to stumble.

“Get up!” She screamed as Kylia scrambled to her feet, forgetting her injury and crying in pain as she knocked her shoulder against the wall. Heavy footfalls approached and a glint from something in Kylia’s hand pulled Persephone’s attention. With a smooth motion, Kylia swung her good arm in an upward arc over Persephone’s shoulder. A gasp of surprise and a groan sounded so close to her ear that Persephone gasped as she looked into the Elf’s fierce face. Kylia’s eyes were hard and the dangerous smirk that curled her lips scared Persephone on an instinctual level.

She turned to see the carnage that lay behind her. A small silver dagger, still gripped in Kylia’s small hand, was stuck under the guards’ chin. As black sticky blood ran down over her hand, the Elf let go of the dagger and the body slipped to the floor. Not caring, Persephone took her blood stained hand and pulled her attention away from the dead man.

“Let’s go, ok?”

Kylia nodded and took her hand, holding it tight and lead the way.

***

Serina left Vin asleep, sprawled across her chair and ventured into the halls. The poor man had been beaten and bruised on more than a physical level and he needed the rest. As she stretched she looked around, it felt like the middle of the night but the sparse windows on the floor obscured one’s view of time. One never knew if it was day or night. She took a deep breath to clear her head and the chilled air surprised her. The estate was always kept at comfortable temperatures to accommodate guests.

Serina turned and followed the hall to the main entrance where the door stood open. Her brows furrowed as she looked around cautiously, her body tensing. She didn’t feel as if there was anything lurking and made her way to the doorway. Heated voiced whispered in on the frigid breeze. It had started snowing and a thick blanket was starting to accumulate on the grounds. The shift in weather confused her, but she hadn’t paid much attention to the passing seasons. Noting there was no danger she leaned a hip against the frame and scanned the dark front yard for the owners of the voices.

“No! I won’t stand for it anymore!” The decidedly female voice growled. “Don’t touch me, you stink of her.”

“Stop this childishness.” Came a voice as smooth as black silk and Serina froze. Alec.

“You’ll never…” Whispered the voice Serina had realized was Wiloe’s.

“What?” Alec murmured a mix of pity and anger.

“You’ll never love me.” Wiloe cried defiantly. “Never truly, and all I’ve ever wanted was you.”

“Wiloe, you’re my ward, I…” He paused.

“You never seemed bothered by that before.” Wiloe spat.

“Before was…” Alec began, sounding heartbroken.

“Was what? A mistake? A lie?” Wiloe demanded in outrage.

“No!” He blurted in frustration.

“You took me, made me think you loved me.”

“I took nothing that wasn’t adamantly offered. “ Alec shot back, anger heating his words. “I do love you.” He said softer.

“Then why do you put me through this? And with her?”

Their voices continued as Serina winced at the accusation in Wiloe’s voice and lowered her eyes to the snow padded ground. Her eyes followed the foot prints. Alec and Wiloe were just beyond the corner of the house, he must have followed her outside during their argument. Anger tightened her arms over her chest.

What about me? What’s wrong with me?

Even as she asked herself, her anger ebbed out. She knew exactly what Wiloe meant. She had been unstable on her best days and it stung to finally admit it to herself. A part of her still mourned what she’d lost but what she realized, a bigger part was waking up, and it didn’t like what she’d done to herself. She shook herself and uncrossed her arms, listening.

“But how?” Alec questioned, defeated. Serina had missed something.

“Does it matter? It won’t be the end of the world.” Wiloe snapped sarcastically.

“Wiloe…” Alec warned.

“Let’s just leave, go far away from everything.” She pleaded, a smile in her voice.

“You know I can’t, not yet.” He said gently and the crunch of footsteps pulled Serina from her thoughts. They were coming back in to the house and she stood there frozen. Move. She demanded of herself and finally she turned from the door and in to a side hall, wrapping the shadows around herself as Alec and Wiloe strolled through the door They were murmuring to one another when Alec stopped suddenly.

“Wiloe I’ll join you in our rooms in a moment.” He murmured and she turned on him, fear drowning the sparkle in her eyes.

“I promise, I’ll be right up. I’ve given you my word.” He assured her and watched her go before sighing and rubbing his eyes tiredly.

“I know you’re there.” He said without opening his eyes, fingers still pinching the bridge of his nose. Serina considered staying quiet, her indecision making her feel weak.

“Come now…” He murmured as he faced where he knew she stood hidden. “We both know I can sense you as easily as you could me.”

Sighing, Serina flung off the shadows but refused to step forward, instead she crossed her arms, hip cocked. Alec’s eyebrows rose.

“What?” She demanded.

“Taken up spying on me, have you?” He asked amusement smoothing some of the exhaustion lines on his face. Serina scoffed and rolled her eyes as she let her arms fall, hooking her thumbs in her back pockets.

“It wasn’t intentional, I found the door open. I merely overheard part of your conversation.”

“Oh?” He breathed and took a few steps towards her, halting when she tensed. She didn’t know why she had, but she had the sneaking suspicion it wasn’t to fight.

Why would I run from him? She pondered as Alec watched her, concerned.

“I’m sorry.” He blurted as if he’d never uttered the foreign sentiment before and mean it. He’d never been sorry.

“For what?” She asked a little too quickly to make it convincing. He gave her a pointed look and her shoulders slumped.

“Why should I care?” Even as she asked this, tears surprisingly pricked at her eyes. She hadn’t expected to care.

“I don’t know, but you do.” He looked more in control of himself. His face was carefully devoid of any fleeting emotion he may have felt, even his arrogance gone. He’d become a dark beautiful statue standing there, staring at her.

“What does it matter, I’ve better things to concern myself with at the moment.” Serina blurted, again blinking back unwelcome tears.

“Don’t you always?” Alec asked, mildly disgusted.

“What?” She exclaimed.

“Please, you hide behind your quests or missions or whatever. Worst yet, you hide from yourself.”

“I don’t think…” Serina started.

“No… you don’t.” Alec cut in with an angry motion. Serina’s brows furrowed and she laughed.

“What the hell are we doing?”

Alec sighed and ruffled his hair as he ran his fingers through it. In that simple motion he looked normal, like a man and not the emotionless statue he’d been mere moments before. Her stomach tightened, he was easier to talk to when he didn’t seem to care.

“I honestly don’t know. I mean, there was something… wasn’t there?” Alec dropped his hand as he realized he was fidgeting.

“I don’t know…” Serina frowned not liking how his vulnerability made him more relatable. “Maybe, or maybe my insanity making me do reckless things yet again.” She tried to joke, but the reality of her words left an awkward silence.

“You need to be insane to be with me?” Amusement warred with insult in his forced smile.

“I’ve been numb to the world… to men, for years, and then you come along. Either I’ve completely lost it, pursing death or somehow you’ve made me… better.” Her last word was a whisper.

“How on earth could I make you better?” Alec laughed as he started to pace, his hands shoved into his pockets.

“No clue. All I know is, I saw you and I feel again, I can talk about things without spending the next week in my bed.” She made a helpless gesture.

“You know you’re not doing anyone any favors by inflating my ego. Some say it’s already quite healthy.”

Alec gave her a genuine smile and she returned it.

“I’ve noticed, but I’m just being honest. Something that seems to be rare anymore.”

At her pointed comment Alec lowered his eyes.

“I didn’t intentionally mislead anyone. I do my own thing and that’s always been good enough. Damnable women seem to messing with the system.”

“You mean you actually started to love someone other than yourself?” Serina smiled as she quirked an eyebrow.

“It seems so.” He looked at her apologetically.

“I’m totally cool with it not being me. If it were, I’d be scared. I’ve only known you for a day and a half and we’ve gotten to know each other a little better than we probably should have.”

“I’m pretty sure I will never regret that.” Alec laughed and he made another fidgeting gesture.

“Glad to hear that.” Serina said with a pleased smile. “But I think the best thing we could do is be friends, preferably before Wiloe tries to kill me.”

Alec smiled as he sighed, looking in the direction Wiloe had disappeared.

“She can be trying… but”

“But it’s the sort of thing you like.” Serina finished with a nod. It was easier to drop whatever it was they had than she’d thought. Maybe it was her wake up call, the push she needed to get the hell out of her stupor. Whatever it was had been a good thing in her book.

“Trust me, it’s surprising to me too. I didn’t exactly plan on any of this.” He pulled his jacket straight and stood taller, trying to play off the admission that he wasn’t fully in control of every aspect of his life.

“Well, shit happens.” Serina said and gave his shoulder a pat as she walked past, leaving her fingers to linger a little longer than needed. The gesture didn’t go unnoticed and he smirked. Serina felt her stomach tighten, partially in grief for the loss of something that could have been and partially with the anticipation of the world opening up for her again. Alec didn’t say anything else, just a nod before he turned to retire to his room and Wiloe.

Serina stopped at the cross of halls and unsure where to go. She felt too antsy to go to her room, and it was entirely too early any way. She longed for a distraction before the inevitable over thinking started. Finally, frustrated with her second bout of indecision, she headed in the direction of the library. Maybe a good book would get her mind off things.

“Right…” She murmured to herself as she strolled in the door and stopped. James sat at one of the desks, a lamp shining on an open book. He had his chin resting on his hand as he looked up at her.

“Business or pleasure?” She asked as she indicated the book.

“Pleasure, of a sort.” He sighed as he flipped the book closed and pushed it to the other side of the desk. Serina looked down at the cover and her eyebrows rose.

“Oliver Twist, interesting choice.”

“Just needed something to distract myself.” He muttered and leaned back in his chair, stretching his arms.

“Great minds…” She laughed and pulled a chair to sit across from him. She pushed the book aside and propped her elbows on the desk.

“What are you trying to not think about?” He asked as he propped his feet up on his side. He laced his fingers and rested them across his stomach.

“Talking about it means I have to think about it, wouldn’t that contradict what I was trying to accomplish?” She grinned as he rolled his eyes.

“Don’t want to tell me?” He returned her grin and shrugged. “Even if you didn’t I think I’d have an idea, maybe something to do with a certain dark stranger.”

Serina crinkled her nose and rested her chin on her hands.

“You make it sound clandestine. When it was more likely fate having another go at me.”

“Fate…” James scoffed as leaned his head back and looked at the ceiling.

“Why don’t you tell me what you’re trying to not think about? What games is fate playing with you?” Serina waved her hand in a ‘get on with it’ expression and waited.

“I just so happen to be contemplating fate also. Like you said, great minds.” His expression grew grim and his gaze went distant. “I hate waiting.”

Serina laughed softly and watched James examine the ceiling. She knew there was more than he was letting on but she didn’t want to push him, because he’d push back.

“What are we waiting on?” Serina asked, jumping at the opportunity at a subject change.

“Politics.” James spat, disgusted. He let his feet hit the floor with a heavy thud and he folded his forearms on the desk. His green eyes looked dull in the dim light and he looked tired.

“Isn’t that what you do? It’s kind of your job.” She pointed out.

“Yeah…” He breathed as his eyes moved to the book, something to look at so he didn’t have to meet her gaze. Serina raised an eyebrow and really looked at her father. She hadn’t done that in a long time and it seemed his position took more of a toll on him than she’d ever realized. Day in and day out he was responsible for people that regularly hated him. He made them safe and listened to them bicker and was there to mediate their trivial lives. She suddenly felt sorry for him.

“Don’t give me that look.” He muttered before meeting her eyes. She raised her brow in question.

“I see you looking at me, your expressions do more to tell me what you’re thinking than your words.” He gave her a weak smile. “I didn’t exactly pick this job with all its responsibilities, but it’s been mine for a lot of years.” He sighed. “And a lot more to come.” He added under his breath.

“Hopefully.” She said with a rueful smile, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Well, the longer I stick around the longer it’ll take you to get to my position.” James sat back again, resting his arms on the chair this time making him look formal.

“What do you mean?” Serina laughed but let her grin fall when she realized he wasn’t joking.

“I mean whenever I die… or whatever, you’ll take over… as queen.” His voice was even, formal and she stared at him, open mouthed.

“You can’t be serious.” She scoffed, a smile in her voice trying to turn this into a joke.

“And why can’t I be?” He questioned with a tilt of his head.

“Because I’m not fit to be in the position I’m in let alone giving me more power.” She huffed out a breath as she sat back, crossing her arms over her chest. She was taken aback.

“You’re more than fit for the position. You have a good logical mind for the delicate parts of it. But you are also your mother’s daughter and can deal out your wrath with the best of us.”

“And what about Patrick?” Serina pleaded knowing it wouldn’t do any good. James shrugged a shoulder.

“Patrick has his skills, he has carved out his niche as my right hand, and will eventually be yours. He’s not a leader and he knows it.”

“Madness runs in the family, good to know it’s not just me.” She murmured as she pressed her fingers to her temple.

“I’ve never really been accused of being sane… but I assure you I’ve always been of sound mind when it comes to my family and those I rule.” He finally smirked and Serina stared at him.

“I’m just now getting better from my little vacation in crazy town, and you want to tell me that one day I’ll actually have others lives in my hands? This is ludicrous.”

“It’s been three years… a literal blip in the span of our lives.” James started, his voice holding an old frustration. “I am not belittling your pain or making light of the fact that you’ve lost so much, but you’re strong, and even the strong need to take a vacation from sanity.”

He gave her a small smile, some of the exhaustion melting away.

“James…” She started and stopped when he looked away, hurt and disappointment flitting across his face. “If I ever needed a vacation again, people could die. My people, my family. I can’t risk that.”

James looked at the book again as if he’d rather be reading than talking.

“You have no idea how much your mother and I went through just to be together.” He growled as his fists tightened. Serina understood why he was seeking distraction and her body relaxed.

“Contemplating fate?” She asked softly when he looked away.

“I defied fate and politics… my own father. We were young and stupid. We didn’t give a damn.”

He lost himself in a memory and sighed.

“Where is Elira now?” She murmured as his eyes refocused. Anger tightened his lips as he gave her a glance.

“Pleading with her father to allow us to pursue Nicholas.” He didn’t like the fact that he had to wait on another’s blessing to do what he pleased. Serina nodded her understanding.

“And he’s dragging his feet because he, for lack of a better term, hates you.”

“With a passion to rival my own.” James acknowledged. Serina sat back and shook her head.

“Why do we need his go ahead to pursue who we want?”

“Politics… I wouldn’t want him coming here, if he could, to pick off someone I’m supposed to be responsible for.”

Serina nodded in understanding. She used to do this all the time, sit and confer with James on political strategy and advise him. It had felt wrong in the past years, somehow she felt out of place doing it or just didn’t care. But tonight was different, tonight she felt back in her element, back to who she was when she was considered normal.

Normal.

Serina thought, disgusted with herself. What exactly was considered normal anymore, was the insanity of her life normal? Both James and Serina sat silently brooding over their own private thoughts, too preoccupied to be uncomfortable in the silence. She was so ingrained in thinking of the implications of James leaving her in charge she barely noticed the shift of the shadows. Finally the nagging feeling of an approaching presence pulled her from her thoughts and she looked around. James, being unable to feel it glanced up as Serina sat up in alarm.

“What?” He asked cautiously but sat still as she raised her hand to silence him.

“And you say you can’t do my job.” He muttered as she waited.

Ignoring him, she turned to the door. Not waiting for someone to enter from the hall but to step from the darkness to the sides.

“Maybe it’s Elira coming back finally.” Serina mumbled to herself.

“Your mother doesn’t take forever to travel the shadows, let alone put us on edge waiting.”

At his tone, Serina’s muscles tightened of their own accord even as much as she wanted to roll her eyes at his correction.

Finally the shadows rippled weakly and an odd pair emerged. First she noticed the taller athletic blonde as she stumbled over the solid ground of this side of the shadows. Her skin was pale and by her face it was because of the pain she was in. Next was the smaller one sagging with exhaustion under the taller woman’s weight.

“Sephie…” Serina breathed as she jumped to catch them, but they sank to the floor. The Elf hit the floor, landing on her bandaged arm. With the lack of a natural reaction to the fall, Serina knew she’d passed out.

“Seri?” Persephone started as her gray eyes roved over the unconscious girl at her feet.

“It’ll be ok, you’re safe now.” Serina soothed absently.

“She’s been beaten and her shoulder is dislocated. I’m fine… I will be, but please make sure she is.” Persephone’s words cut off, thick with emotion. Serina looked to James, who had already pulled his phone out and was giving commands in a subdued voice.

She wasn’t sure if she could ever be as calm as he was in stressful situations. Giving orders while assessing the situation, not a pause in his confidence. As she felt the girl in her arms tremble, Serina stood there not knowing what to do.

Some leader I’d make.

She berated herself as she looked down at Persephone and noted how she watched the unconscious girl breathing shallowly. There was something there, but at the moment Serina was more concerned at the savage, almost feral look in Persephone’s eyes. She was crazed with all the emotion she was drinking in.

“Sephie, block it out.” Serina commanded immediately and Persephone didn’t seem to hear her as she stood ridged, her eyes fixed.

“Sephie!” She pleaded as she shook the girl, forcing her to pay attention. Persephone’s bloodshot eyes suddenly focused.

I can’t, it’s too much.” She whimpered and again sagged against Serina.

She looked to James as he tucked away his phone and rounded the desk.

“Scar’s coming, Patrick is calling your mother back.” He looked between the two women and shook his head, anger heating his eyes.

“We’ll see to them…” He looked over their barely there clothing then away. “And make sure they’re warm. We don’t need anyone going into shock.” He squatted to brush the hair from Kylia’s face and neck, checking her pulse with the smooth motion. Persephone tensed.

“She’s passed out, from the pain I expect…” James said softly not looking as to hide his expression. Her injuries must have been more severe than was visible. Serina nodded her acknowledgment but didn’t look away.

The silence was only broken when Scarlet, in a flurry of red silk and even more vibrant red hair. She waltzed into the room, Blinx in her wake, his appearance just as casual. He wouldn’t meet Serina’s questioning gaze as he pulled a blanket from the top of the pile he carried. Serina dismissed it for the moment as she took the blanket and wrapped it around Persephone’s shoulders, forcing her to sit.

“Look at me.” Serina demanded and hesitantly Persephone complied. “You need to shut it off.” She said slowly as she crouched and looked up at the little demon’s tear streaked face. Persephone swallowed hard and glanced at Kylia again as Scarlet bent over to assess her wounds. A silent conversation passed between her and James with a glance before she knelt down to get to work.

“I can’t…” She admitted in a scared whisper. “It’s too much, there’s been too much.” Persephone’s eyes focused on nothing as emotions poured into her, unfiltered and raw. She’d black out soon and Serina didn’t think that was such a bad thing for the time being. As the room calmed to a hush Alec appeared in the doorway, leaning a hip on the frame, watching. Either the news had spread through the house faster than usual, or Kylia really was at deaths door. Or in the more literal sense, at his feet. Persephone’s attention snapped to the door and her eyes, again, became wild.

“No!” She cried as fresh tears spilled out. The room froze as every eye turned to see Alec there, eyebrow quirked.

“Please no…” Persephone pleaded as she clung to the blanket wrapped tightly around her shoulders. Serina looked between Alec and Persephone before it dawned on her. She thought he was there to take Kylia.

“Blinx could you please fill in Alec as to what’s happening. Maybe taking him to a conference room down the hall would be more appropriate?”

Blinx nodded and left his bundle of blankets on the floor next to Kylia and stood. His disheveled appearance making him look awkward.

“Don’t worry he’s been here on business, he didn’t come for her.” She assured Persephone as Alec gave one last questioning glance to Kylia lying silently on the floor. Serina gave him an almost imperceptible shake of her head, warning him not to say a word. With a glance to Persephone and back to Serina he gave a nod and followed Blinx out into the hall. A blank look fell over Persephone’s face again as she began drowning in the rising tide of emotion. Serina was relieved that the situation hadn’t erupted into something worse.

“You may want to take her elsewhere. When I pop this girls arm back in place, Sephie’s far enough gone to feel it physically.” Scarlet said softly as she waited to set the arm. “I’m good at the healing but there is no better way to fix a dislocated shoulder than the old fashioned way.”

Sephie snapped out of it long enough to weakly object but her nearly catatonic state prevented her from putting up much of a fight. Serina walked her from the room at a shuffling pace but before she’d decided where to take her, Persephone collapsed in her arms. The adrenaline and emotional strain mixed with her injuries had taken its toll and her body gave out. Serina caught her easily enough and decided the closest room would suffice.

***

After making sure Persephone was resting comfortably and arranging a room next to hers for Kylia, Serina was unsure what to do next. Elira had returned and she and James were going over what had been discussed with her father. Periodic outbursts from James indicated that not all of it was happy news. Serina contemplated going to wake Vin, and dismissed it. He’d suffered just as many injuries as the two women now being cared for. He needed his rest. She honestly felt useless, she may as well have been a guard posted at the doors because she never paced too far beyond them before turning back. Now that she actually cared, the numbness that isolated her was gone. She worried about all the injuries, fretted about what would happen next. Even a small part of her hurt. She hadn’t been attached to Alec, not really, but how Wiloe and no doubt others saw her, it hurt.

Voices became few and far between when everyone had resettled. As dawn approached many people were winding down. Though it was at least two hours till the sun would be fully up, Serina considered ducking away to her room. Her thoughts pulled her in too many directions to make any sense. Nothing was going to make it better except sitting down and really considering everything. Somewhere in the back of her mind she wanted the numbness back. Serina craved her indifferent nature. She knew it was a way to shut out the world and the pain it could bring with it, but it made everything easier to deal with. Everything became black and white, but now there were intricate shades of gray marring the landscape of her mind. She certainly hadn’t realized how single minded she’d been. In a way it scared her.

Another circuit of the hall brought her thoughts full circle.

“What am I doing?” She muttered to herself. The frustration of jumping into this techno-colored world again was getting the best of her. She jammed her hands into her pockets and turned to make another circle of the hallway and ran right into Patrick.

“Seems to me like you’re talking to yourself.” He grinned as he brushed imaginary dust from the front of his faded t-shirt.

“It’s the only way I get a decent conversation anymore.” She shot back as she returned the grin.

“Ah but people might talk, ya know… the people outside your head.”

Serina tilted her head as if listening to someone then shook it.

“They don’t like you anymore, Patrick.” She giggled and he rolled his eyes.

“If I actually suspected you really heard voices I’d have locked you up myself, besides it might be entertaining.”

“Are you saying I’m boring?” She demanded as he started strolling from the hall and followed.

“No… never. I find your single minded quest for vengeance riveting.” He looked sideways at her as the sarcasm from his words hung between them. He was testing her reactions and out of habit she obliged him. When anger heated her expression, Patrick threw his arm around her shoulders and laughed.

“But I think I’m going to like having the old you back more.”

“What do you mean?” Serina asked quietly as she hooked her thumbs in her back pockets, walking in step with her brother, letting him keep his arm intact… for now.

“I mean how long has it been since you really talked to me?” He asked as he dropped his arm and rounded on her.

Serina stopped short and looked up at him. Just because they were twins didn’t mean they were all the same. Yes they had the same color eyes and the same black hair but that’s where most of their likeness stopped. Where Serina was tall for a woman Patrick was taller, by at least half a foot. Her slender build still had the softness and curves she should have where he was lanky. He didn’t even possess their father’s bulky athletic build. Sometimes she wondered how anyone could have thought they weren’t siblings at one time, but the differences were there.

“We talk all the time.” Serina bulked.

“Without you wandering off to la-la land mid conversation? Or shutting down when the subject even slightly maybe get near Sam.” Patrick waited for a reaction to his words, when none came he smiled and Serina blinked.

“And it’s exceptionally nice to not see your eyes go dead every time your thoughts wander to something painful.”

She blinked again, feeling like a test subject because in reality she kind of was with him. He was pushing her boundaries to see if she’d react negatively. It dawned on Serina that he’d mentioned Sam and she didn’t flinch. She hadn’t even realized it. Suddenly she felt terrible for how she’d been acting and what she must have put them through over the past three years. She had been treated with nothing but respect and love, but all she had offered was snide comments and a wicked temper. She’d been horrible to them. She dropped her gaze.

“I assume they did that quite often. My thoughts were always painful, they still can be.” She admitted, shocked that she could still talk. By this time she usually felt that horrible sucking void in her chest and it shut down everything inside her. But not today, and she realized not for a while, not completely.

When did I start getting better? She wondered before shaking it off.

“I’ve only realized recently that things weren’t as bad.” She continued.

“Maybe you isolated yourself so well that you didn’t know you were healing?” Patrick offered and she shrugged.

“I don’t know.” Serina fidgeted as she looked around, anywhere but at her brother. He had a knack for reading what she was thinking. Sometimes she thought the twin thing was a little more real than people let on.

“Maybe you’ll even give up on your mission to…”

Serina’s head shot up and she leveled her gaze on his. … “Yeah you’re still going to track down and kill her.”

“Oh yeah.” She confirmed then smiled. “I always hated her anyway. She practically begged me to kill her a few times.”

“And you’re just the one to oblige her. I’d almost hate to see what you do to her.” He grimaced as they started walking again.

“What?” Serina asked as he made a face.

“Nothing, I’ve just seen what you do to people that barely even cross you, I’d just hate to be there when someone actually wronged you.”

She shrugged as she grinned.

“I can’t say there will be much left that’s recognizable. Maybe a little elfy ear stuck to the floor.”

The thought of it made her grin wickedly but struck her as funny. Serina giggled and Patrick gave her a cautious look.

“Maybe you’re not doing as well as I thought.” He muttered with a quirked brow.

“Oh come on, you can’t say that finding just an ear stuck to the floor wouldn’t be funny.” She exclaimed as she playfully pushed at him. He laughed and raised his arms to ward her off.

“Alright, alright, it’s a little funny…” He glanced sideways at her. “If you’re off your rocker…” He muttered as he dodged her this time. Serina sighed with a smile. Despite her worries and her unexpected, if not full, recovery, she felt good. For the first time in a long time she was feeling like herself, like there just might be hope for her again. She looked up realizing they were in the hall of the main conference room. Fleeting thoughts of Alec in all his glory danced across her mind and she felt herself smile wistfully.

Maybe to get better all I needed was to get laid.

She thought and felt her cheeks warm.

“What are we doing?” She asked, willing her cheeks to cool. Patrick took a breath and gave her an apologetic look.

“Apparently there’s been a messenger here.” Serina raised her eyebrows waiting for more.

“From Nicholas. Apparently he wants his….property back.” He continued, disgusted.

“Property?” She asked as her brows furrowed.

“Kylia and Persephone.” He explained and shook his head. “Father called us in for a discussion.”

“What’s there to discuss? Surely we aren’t considering sending them back.”

Patrick gave her a tight lipped expression that left anger shining in his eyes. It was such an odd expression on him that she was taken aback. It had to be a serious situation to anger even her cool, calm and collected brother. Her eyes slid to the doors as they opened and again all eyes were on her.

Well there goes my good mood.

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