Shadow Games

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Chapter 17

Serina had observed only half of what had gone on in the courtyard between Vin and Nicholas before the sun had pushed her deeper into the house, Alec on her heels. She envied those that could walk in the sun, something she would never be able to do. It was a limit of an otherwise limitless species and it was frustrating. Another frustrating situation was her shadow. She flipped her hair off her shoulder and from the corner of her eye could see Alec keeping his distance but also keeping pace with her.

“Freaking puppy...” She muttered to herself, her mood lifting at the sound of his deep chuckle. Serina sighed as her mood fell as quickly as it had lightened and she shoved her thumbs in the back pockets of her jeans as she took a sharp turn and ended up in the main hall again. The marble floor was littered with chunks of stone, body parts and smears of dark blood. Worry struck her as she could see and smell blood other than demon. Flashes of her family went through her head as she picked up the pace almost slipping on a pool of red blood that reflected the chandelier perfectly. Red, not black which meant that it was one of her own that had lost a dangerous amount.

Her heart hammered against her ribs in its slow rhythm as she stopped at the double doors of the conference room. She closed her eyes and tried to listen to the voices on the other side but they were jumbled and soft. Her hand rested on the cold door knob and she froze. Serina couldn’t make herself move, she didn’t want to go in that room and find one of her family dead or dieing. Alec placed a warm hand on hers reassuringly. If anyone would know it would be him.

“It’s ok.” He breathed softly into her ear and chills raced down her spine.

“Ever hear of Schrodinger’s cat?” She tried to joke but when her voice came out flat she looked up and met his pale eyes. His eyebrow quirked and he gave her a soft smile.

“It’s not a terribly interesting experiment when you know the answer.” He said lightly and used her hand to turn the knob, letting the door swing open a crack. “It’s ok.” Alec reiterated before gently pushing her to walk forward. Even with Alec’s reassurances Serina couldn’t take her eyes off the floor in front of her as she walked in slowly. Finally building resolve she closed her eyes and swallowed back the fear that threatened to make her run from the room. The first person she saw when she opened them was Patrick, his eyebrows raised in question. Then she noticed that everyone had stopped and was watching her. James leaned a hip against the heavy table as Elira was bandaging his arm, her own injuries already bound and stitched. Blinx was laying unconscious on a side table and Serina’s eyes went to Alec accusingly. He shook his head.

“He’ll be fine. Anyone I would’ve needed to take has already been taken.”

Serina turned back to the room and really looked. Scarlet was haggard, she had clearly exhausted the bulk of her power healing those around her. She was sitting on the floor watching Blinx breathe slowly, hanging onto his hand as if it were life itself. Her eyes never moved from the rise and fall of his chest. The blood had been her little brother’s. The realization hit her with the force of a ton of bricks to the sternum and suddenly she couldn’t breathe. The reemergence of her emotions was difficult for her to deal with and she wanted to run from them again. Alec laid his hand on her shoulder and she took a shaky breath. She looked up into his dark face, examining it. Serina was grateful that he’d brought her back to the world and she wanted to love him for it. She wanted to take those feelings and run with them and live in the little shell of a world and pretend she could love him, if only to feel again. But she didn’t love him, he was only the way back, not the world she came back to. The look Alec gave her said that her thoughts were written all over her face and he gave a sad smile.

“Can’t say I didn’t try.” He muttered with a wink before he turned from her, all signs of his feelings gone from his face as walked out of the room. She took a cleansing breath and faced her twin, a forced smile on her face.

“So you didn’t get yourself killed I see.” She looked him up and down seeing that he had a few small injuries but she knew he could be a beast if he had to fight.

“I did my best, I guess” Patrick rasped and only then did she notice the rope burn around his neck. Her lips pressed together in anger. He caught her look and shrugged it off. “He didn’t live too long, trust me.” The angry flat look he had told more of the truth than his words and she nodded.

“Ruavia is dead.” She said softly.

“Good.” Patrick breathed and that was all they said, the non verbal conversation between them was more than they could ever say. They were alive and had taken care of those that had hurt them, and that was fine by their standards.

“And Vin?” Persephone croaked in a whisper from the corner of the room where she and Kylia were nursing cuts and bruises. The pain it caused her to speak shone from her eyes. To Serina the little demon looked older, something had aged her decades if only in her eyes.

“I don’t know...” Serina admitted with frustration. “It’s a little on the sunny side where he is.” Her statement came out a little more harsh than she’d intended and she regretted it instantly. Persephone’s face didn’t change she only nodded and disappeared into the darkness in the blink of an eye. The speed and ease she moved was eerie and unusual for her.

“I think we either killed or run off all the damned demons.” James growled as he pulled his arm from Elira’s grasp. She pressed her lips together and pulled him back as she tied off the stitches she had been working on. James glared at her as she glared back then his look softened.

“I’m alright.” He muttered to her as he turned back to his children.

“What the fuck was all this about?” He asked, heat tainting the sound of his voice. He pushed up and away from the table, a noticeable limp to his stride.

“Distraction?” Patrick offered as he rubbed the bandage on his head. “I highly doubt it was a full scale invasion just to bring back two slave girls.” He added nodding in Kylia’s general direction. Kylia had changed too, Serina noticed. The timid Elf girl now looked strong and proud, the way most elves presented themselves. For a moment Serina wanted to sneer at her but caught herself. She wasn’t Ruavia or Tanyl, nor was she anything like them.

“Distraction from what?” James continued, throwing his arms up in exasperation.

“Nicholas’ grand reveal.” Serina answered as she turned to face her father. His puzzled look urged her to explain. “He showed up to get at Vin. They were fighting in the courtyard.” She said as she stuffed her hands in her pockets. Serina was frustrated that she could do nothing to help him and it made her restless. She looked away from James’ stare and remained silent.

“He found a way out?” Elira asked, dumbstruck. Everyone was silent and only the sound of door sliding open pulled everyone’s attention from thought of the implications.

“Yes.” Came a rough voice and Serina’s heart jumped into her throat. Vin strode in the door his arm around Edie’s waist. Their faces were streaked with dried tears and shone with their grief. All watched as he lowered Edie gently into a chair and she folded into herself and remained silent.

“How?” Elira breathed as she crossed her arms, her tail flicking back and forth in agitation. Vin didn’t answer as he kissed Edie gently on the forehead then rested his against hers, their eyes closed. No one wanted to watch their shared grief but silently waited as he turned and joined the group.

“One of his experiments must have worked. Honestly I didn’t ask.” Vin sighed as he wiped a fleck of blood from his face and examined it on his fingers before wiping it on his jeans. Silently Persephone slipped back into place next to Kylia and took up her good hand holding it tightly in her lap. Vin glanced over and his eyes softened as he nodded to her. She barely noticed and stared into space as if someone were talking to her and she was listening intently.

“Is he dead?” James asked bluntly and Vin nodded as he glanced back at Edie.

“Yeah... blown to about a trillion pieces.” Vin couldn’t help his proud smile even if it was small and fleeting. Serina noticed that it was the first true smile she’d seen since he’d returned and looked at Persephone again. She had siphoned away his madness and as much of their grief as she could handle, weather it was safe for her or not. Her stupor now made sense, she was filtering out the alien emotions as someone else’s demons howled in her head.

“The girl is a fricken’ saint.” Patrick muttered as he came to the same conclusion. Vin glanced over at the little demon and lowered his eyes not acknowledging everyone’s conclusions.

“Congrats then?” James said his eyes questioning.

“Not me...” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder at Edie. “Don’t mess with moms.” Vin said softly enough so Edie didn’t hear him.

“How?” Serina asked.

“Spell form. Really, really intricate and deadly old spell form. I don’t know where she learned it.”

Elira raised her eyebrows in shock as she looked at the frail and exhausted girl in the chair. She could empathize with her on so many levels. She looked back to her children and smiled her understanding.

“Mothers would do and learn anything for their children.”

No one spoke for a long moment then James sighed as she sat on the table next to Elira. His leg was clearly more injured then he was letting on.

“All of this death for what? Petty vengeance?” He shook his head and absently rubbed his knee. Patrick crossed his ankles and sighed softly.

“You’d think with how long our species live that we’d have gotten past such notions.” He said with regret and Serina scoffed.

“We’re all animals, just because we’ve learned to walk talk and dress like civil beings doesn’t negate that fact.”

Patrick looked at his sister, examining her. “You’re so cynical.” He said with a raspy chuckle that ended in a cough.

***

Serina could feel the mood lightening around her. It was the after battle euphoria that everyone experienced. The feel of being alive and mostly in once piece had them cracking small smiles and making inappropriate jokes. Elira and James started talking in low voices amongst themselves as Serina noticed the gentle absentminded touches and the familiar looks and smiles they gave one another. Patrick and Vin were discussing where to go with clean up and security but even with such a serious topic every now and then they would chuckle at what the other had said. After taking Blinx to bed, Scarlet helped Kylia get the almost catatonic Persephone up to their room. That left the still silent Edie now curled up and fitfully sleeping in the chair and herself. Serina had taken up her usual chair to the right of James’, hung her legs over the arm and watched everyone. No one had noticed that she was in her own world for the simple fact that they were in theirs. Any other day over the past few years this would have been preferred but tonight was different. Serina wanted to engage the world again, wanted to connect with her family. They were so used to her being disconnected from them that they had stopped bothering to try. This more than anything pained her. She hadn’t realized how far from the world she’d gotten, nor how much she’d pushed her family away. Suddenly her eyes brimmed with tears and she wiped them away with the back of her hand.

“Isn’t this your seat now?” A dark voice asked softly and Serina jumped out of her thoughts to see Alec standing at her feet, his hand gently resting on the back of the center chair, James’ chair. Serina composed herself and looked at the ornately carved chair feeling herself cringe.

“So I’ve been told.” She muttered blandly. Alec chucked as he beckoned over one of the servants and asked her softly for a drink. He looked as if he were going to sit in the chair then thought better of it and slid up on to the table to face her.

“You don’t want to be queen?” He asked as he leaned back on his hands casually.

“I don’t think I should be. Psychotic tendencies and all.” She laughed as she swung her feet to the floor and rested her elbows on the table next to him. She was close enough to touch him but she refrained from doing so though she still took comfort in the heat emanating from him.

“Oh I don’t know, I think you’ll do fine.” He adjusted so he could look down at her and smiled genuinely.

“The opinion of one man that barely knows me.” She scoffed as she stared down at his dark hand on the polished wood. The thought of that hand on her skin again flitted through her mind then faded. She told herself it was the pent up frustration after the battle, the primal need to feel alive. It was something that she’d not felt since before Sam was killed. That was all it was. She brushed the feeling away with a swipe of her hair and a sigh.

“You’ll get back into the swing of things.” Alec said softly as he traced a finger down her hair and moved it from her face. The way he did this was gentle and reassuring rather than sexual. He was giving her what she needed, understanding. She looked up at him and gave him a thankful smile.

“It’s all very overwhelming.” Serina sighed feeling the urge to run again. She looked towards the door then back at Alec. “Don’t you ever feel like running away from it all?” She asked quietly, unable to meet his eyes.

“All the time. But I have those that need me, need guidance.” He said solemnly, his gaze far away.

“Yeah...” Serina breathed softly and sat back again to look around. She saw the smiles and the glances her way and felt alone in her little world again. Panic constricted her breathing and she felt like needed to get out of there. Alec noticed her change in demeanor and glanced at the windows.

“Go out and get some air. The sun set a few hours ago.” He leaned down and brushed his lips over the top of her head before he realized what he was doing then stopped suddenly. Serina closed her eyes feeling his presence so close but without touching her then he disappeared with the smell of ozone. She opened her eyes and breathed deep. He smelled like the aftermath of a lightening storm and she’d always remember that.

James had watched their exchange but carefully kept his thoughts from his expression. Serina gave him a sad smile and he returned it briefly. He hadn’t officially announced that he’d be handing over his kingdom to his crazy daughter yet. The only people in the world that knew were the ones closest to her, and she thought she’d like to keep it that way. She didn’t think people would be happy to have her as their Queen especially with how she’d been for the past few years. Serina had earned a fearsome reputation and she absently wondered if that was why James wanted her in a position of power. No one would want to mess with her if they thought she was murderously insane. Therefore his kingdom and legacy would be protected. That thought made her pause as she wondered if he’d be so callous to think like that or it was merely her insecurities. Either may have been possible but the looks and smiles her parents were sharing made it obvious. He wanted to be with the woman he loved, without the restrictions of running a kingdom. He wanted to live the life he’d missed out on for centuries and she couldn’t blame him. He’d been running things for a long time and wanted to pass it on to his eldest child, to Serina.

The trust and faith that had to take made Serina’s chest ache. It was a love she’d never felt before, a true parent’s unconditional love. Again she found it hard to breath as the emotion over took her. It was guilt. She had denied them the one thing they’d craved all these years, their daughter. Serina blinked hard and swiped a hand over her eyes. She’d rectify that now, she didn’t want to be secluded any longer. She wanted to live in the world with her family.

As Serina tried to shake off the sudden tidal wave of emotions the door creaked open and those deep in conversation barely even glanced up. Serina, being left alone to contemplate depressing truths was the only one that really looked. Bare feet poking out from tattered jeans slid across the floor and her heart skipped. As she swallowed down the blossoming hope she forced her eyes up farther. The man standing there, looking confused, gave her a boyish grin when their eyes met. Serina couldn’t hold back any more as she drank in the site. His blond hair was a little shaggier than it had been and his face actually had stubble, something she didn’t think she’d ever seen on him. And as her vision blurred with tears, his white wings seemed to glow with their own inner light. Her breath came out a cry that turned everyone’s attention to her. She didn’t care, jumped up and climbed over the table, not bothering to walk around. Briefly her steps hesitated then she ran to the new comer. Serina threw her arms around him and hugged him tighter than she thought possible.

“Micah!” She exclaimed as she squeezed her eyes shut and refused to let him go. She feared that if she did he’d disappear. He had expected a reaction but not exactly one like this, so he slowly wrapped his arms around Serina and a deep rumbling chuckle vibrated through his chest.

“Hey Seri.” He murmured as he held on to her for a long time. Finally he leaned back to look at her. “Did you know there is a lot of blood being cleaned up... like... everywhere?” He quirked an eyebrow and she laughed.

“Yeah you missed the party, but we’ll talk about that later.” Serina was smiling so much her face began to hurt. How in such a short time had she gotten so much of her life back. She didn’t care, all that mattered was those she loved were here with her. It was an amazing feeling.

Micah dipped his head as he folded his wings tight to his back and moved to the side. Standing behind him was a woman Serina had only heard about. Her auburn hair shown in the dim light and her flawless skin was ethereal.

“Lilly...” Serina breathed in question but she had heard so much about her that she knew the answer. The other woman lowered her eyes and half curtsied before anyone could answer.

“Seri... this is my Lilly.” Micah said with a brilliant smile. Lilly looked sideways at him and Serina could tell she was holding back a sarcastic comment.

“Its very nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard a lot.” Serina giggled and Lilly quirked an eyebrow.

“I’m sure Micah over exaggerated, he’s a bit of a story teller.” Lilly giggled and shook Serina’s hand. “But at least he did you justice.”

“Hey now...” Micah started and was cut short by the others coming to greet him and his elusive Lilly. Serina smiled and took a step back. She’d have her time to talk to him, to find out Lilly’s story. Right now it was just good to have him home.


Serina said her good nights, claiming she needed to rest. She hadn’t slept in forever and the exhaustion was setting in. Her footfalls were slow as she kept thinking happened, with Ruavia, Alec and what laid ahead for her and her life. Again it was hard to breathe and she picked up speed. She just wanted to get outside and breathe the fresh night air, she needed to clear her head. Before she knew it she was halfway through the field standing in the tall frosted grass staring at the moon. Suddenly she was angry and wasn’t sure why, maybe it was the pressure of it all, maybe the lack of sleep or food. Any one of those things could be it so she just stood there and breathed the crisp air. She gazed around the dark field as she crossed her arms over her chest. The cool air did little to cool her temper but it was better than lashing out at those around her. Again she sighed and kicked at a loose clump of dirt and sent rocks spraying into the grass. The night was silent and the air held promises of more cold snowy nights just around the corner. She let her mind drift in and out of memories that weren’t as painful as they used to be. Ones where she was small, making snow balls the best she could just to have them turn to powder when she threw them. She smiled and sat down in the grass, stretching out her legs. She looked up at the sky and remembered trying to count the stars. She laid back and rested her head on her folded arms as the full moon dulled the sparkling stars. It was nice to be out under the night sky with just her thoughts. No one worrying about her or afraid of her, just her and her thoughts.

As Serina laid there, there was a shift in the air like a breeze just beginning to stir but it never did. Something played right on the edge of her awareness and it had her paying more attention to her surroundings than before. Nothing immediately jumped out at her as she looked from side to side slowly and she brushed the feeling off just as quickly as it had sprung up. Again she stared up at the moon and lost herself to the relaxation she had been feeling. If the field hadn’t been so wide open she could sleep there, but in the morning the sun just might have posed a threat to her. She smirked up at the cold moon and breathed a silent laugh. Then she’d be on suicide watch again and never have a moment to herself. She almost giggled aloud at the thought but the feeling of shifting air stopped her again. Slowly she sat up on her elbows and looked around, more alert this time. She wasn’t sure she was really sensing anything but the breeze but something seemed off to her. She listened to the still night but again nothing caught her attention but the nagging feeling that something should. She laid in the grass again but instead of letting her mind drift she waited for something to happen, ready to fight if she needed to.

The minutes stretched on and the nagging feeling seemed to grow in that time until Serina laid there a ball of tense muscle waiting to spring. She felt like she was watching a horror movie where the music builds and builds until the monster jumps out at you, except here and now the music just kept building with no climax. It was nerve wracking. She tried brushing the feeling off again but before she sat up there was an inaudible thud that felt like something hit the ground, hard, and the earth beneath her shook. Serina was on her feet but crouched in the tall grass as her eyes darted around. In the distance flames shot up into the sky, dancing as they tore at the cool air. They writhed at the scorched earth, turning a strange blue color as they grew ever taller. Even at this distance she could feel the heat that rolled from them. Serina, her initial precautions forgotten, stood straight with her brow furrowed. She was examining the flames when a form materialized in the center. Before she could think of anything, her feet carried her closer with fearless abandon. She didn’t know what she was going to do or who could possibly withstand the flames that had suddenly erupted. Except for perhaps Scarlet, but she was an extremely special and rare case.

Serina stopped a mere 20 feet from the flames that were, to her, obviously magical in origin. Still this didn’t trigger her fight or flight response, she was merely curious. Even more curious still was that, the closer she got to the flames, the cooler they became. She shielded her eyes from the fluctuating light and saw that the flames were an ever changing odd shade of blue and on the ground where they had burned the grass where silvery white runes. But none of this mattered to her as much as the tall figure standing shrouded in the center. He looked as though he was standing in a door way to the shadow realm, unsure if he should cross onto the mortal plain. She thought to call out to him but stood there, shielding her eyes, silently waiting. After what seemed like an hour the man finally fully materialized, bright blue eyes wide and collapsed to his knees.

Serina backed up a step and crouched, ready to fight. When the man looked up, his lightning blue eyes still sparkling with power she stood straight again.

“Who the hell are you?”

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