Shadow Games

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Chapter 4

Vin stepped into the street, in front of a speeding bus and grinned at the horrified driver. The sound of screeching tires and the smell of burning rubber filled the air. Blinx groaned and rolled his eyes as he grabbed Vin’s arm and disappeared into the shadow realm before they could become road kill. Scarlet stood by the lamp post, her hip leaned against it as she waited. She tapped foot impatiently. As suddenly as they had disappeared, Vin and Blinx reappeared, safely on the sidewalk, Vin seethed. Violently he shook Blinx’s hand from him and growled.

“I can’t have fun now?” He bellowed as Blinx’s jaw tightened.

“Fun? Is that what giving mortals heart attacks is called? Fun?” Blinx asked tightly.

Scarlet watched, a smile threatening to curl her lip. How time had changed everything. Not too long ago Vin would be the one reprimanding Blinx for a stupid stunt like that. And then, the same as now, she would be fighting a smile.

“Let’s just get to where we’re going. It’s taking forever without your stunts.” Blinx sighed like a disappointed parent and going along with it Vin acted like a petulant child.

“I’ll take as long as I like.” Vin said stubbornly as his eyes flashed with challenge. Blinx rolled his eyes and walked away.

“You deal with him for a while.” He murmured as he passed Scarlet. She rolled her eyes and stood up straight.

“Do I look like his mother?” She asked with a huff. She turned and narrowed her eyes at Vin. “Let’s go… now.” Vin didn’t move.

“Why are you making this so difficult?” She asked when he said nothing. Finally Vin let out an angry sigh then shook his head.

“I’m not looking forward to seeing someone I’ve disappointed so badly.” He bowed his head and examined his dirty boots. Scarlet, stunned into silence, regarded him in a new light.

“What do you mean?” She breathed unsure whether it was a time to comfort him or let him be.

“I told Seri I’d be back… and I didn’t come back.” He didn’t look up as his mind drifted. He knew Scarlet was talking to him, offering words of comfort but he was elsewhere. In another time and place with much different company.

Serina smiled as she flopped down into one of the more comfortable chairs in the room. Her laid back demeanor conveying the informality of their situation. Vin remained standing as to always be ready, his expression serious. She let her friendly smile drop away as she tilted her head and her raven hair fell over her shoulder. Finally Vin ordered his thoughts and took a breath.

When you and Sam asked me to this position I took it.” He blurted out and she nodded, her smile coming back although her eyebrows furrowed with her confusion. Vin lifted his chin and held it high.

To say that it didn’t spark an interest would be to lie. But I have my loyalties to those I consider friends and family.” He paused as he dropped his head. Serina smiled as she waited for him to continue. “And the way I was accepted into this family with open arms and minds has been a blessing to me in many, many ways.” He took a breath to contain his emotion, noting that Serina herself was blinking back a few tears and covering them with yet another smile. “I’ve said it many times before and I stand firmly by it, I am yours and Sam’s man.”

Finally she sat up straight and gave him an honest smile. “And we made a damn good choice when we chose you… I could never replace you.” Vin inclined his head as she continued. “A lot of people would be out a teacher and friend if you were to leave.” Her voice took on a nervous edge.

Vin stood in his place and placed his fist over his heart. “I am the kingdom’s first knight, and in this I say to all and have showed it to some degree or another.”

You’ve done a wonderful job here, on many levels. You’ve been a protector, a teacher, an adviser and most importantly, my dearest friend.” At this she stood as if to embrace him but stopped short. Vin lowered his eyes at the highest compliment one in his position could ever hope to have. When he looked up again she was standing before him with the corner of her mouth turned up in a friendly smile and he returned it genuinely.

I would gladly step in the line of a killing blow for any here or away at the present moment, even if it meant my undoing.” He said in a low and emotionally uneven voice and he watched as her silver eyes started to cloud with unshod tears. The woman had become his closest friend and if he could ever dare to hope… like a sister to him.

Vin wrenched himself from his memories and shoved his hands into his pockets. He had opted to walk rather than travel the shadow realm, which was infinitely faster. But he didn’t want to risk anyone else. The madness inside him whispered to him softly as he kept his head down, telling him to abandon the cause and wreak havoc upon everyone and everything he came across. Vin clenched his jaw as he fisted his hand inside his pockets and focused on the sound of the others following him. Neither had said much since he stormed off in the general direction of James’.

***

Vin hunched his shoulders up to avoid looking at any one. Scarlet had talked for a while, but when she finally realized he hadn’t been listening she gave up and walked silently alongside him. He knew she was walking close enough to grab him if he decided to cause another scene. He also knew that he was being more than pouty that no one would let him cause death and destruction. All the while he trudged on through the pedestrian traffic the voice inside his head murmured ideas.

Look over there, he’s homeless, no one will miss him. All you’d have to do is rip his soul out and be on your way.

What about her? She’s a pretty little thing, I bet she tastes as good as she looks.

Vin would stare at each potential victim as they passed by and plan what he could do before anyone interfered. But once they were gone from his line of sight he sighed inaudibly and held his hands in tighter fists. He thought maybe his rampaging thoughts were trying to keep his mind free and clear of what had happened. Maybe he was trying to forget what happened to Vincent by losing himself in madness. Hell for all he knew he could just be really hungry after being comatose for three years. Whatever the reason he didn’t care, he only cared that the dull ache that made it hard to breathe went away. And that only went away when he was drowning it in freshly disembodied souls. He licked his lips as another mortal passed a little to close. Vin shook his head and looked to the side where Scarlet walked too close and narrowed his eyes.

“Don’t look at me like that.” She said as she kept her eyes forward and Vin wanted to stick his tongue out at her.

“I’ll look at you how I want.” He murmured and realized again that he was still pouting.

“Why are you acting like you’re six?” She asked as she looked at him.

“I’m not acting like a child.” He huffed and she smiled.

“Uh huh. And why are we walking to James’?” Scarlet asked and Vin shrugged.

“I’ve not moved in three years, I wanted to get out… stretch my legs.” He said as he gave her a humorless grin.

“I’m sure.” She said as her mouth pressed into a hard line. She wasn’t letting it go and he knew she’d eventually pry it out of him in her own, usually sadistic, way.

“I’m not looking forward to seeing Seri.” Vin muttered as he ducked his head between his shoulders again.

“Why?” It wasn’t accusatory or even sarcastic, but the way Scarlet asked it made it obvious that she wanted an answer.

“Because I was gone, and I promised her I’d be back. I didn’t come back.”

“So? She’s a big girl, I’m sure she dealt with it.” Scarlet rolled her eyes.

“I left the night of Sam’s funeral. I wasn’t there for her when she most needed a friend.”

Vin didn’t have to look at Scarlet to see her shocked expression as the implications dawned on her. He could feel her realization hit like a ton of bricks.

“Oh.” She muttered in response. Scarlet was one of the few people that knew how platonically close Serina and Vin were and how she would have needed the support. “She did have a hard time.” She murmured softly. Vin sighed and looked over at her, wanting to yell but the sadness in her expression touched on his own and he stopped.

“Tell me what happened, Scar.” He said instead and waited as Scarlet tried to find the words.

“Well, for a long time I know she never left her room. Then when she did it was only with Elira to learn about her demon half, and how to travel the shadows. But after she popped out into the sunlight and had to be yanked back she was put on suicide watch by her family. But that was only in the first year, since then she’s been wildly dangerous to herself and sometimes those around her. Self-destructive is almost an understatement.”

Vin thought about this for a moment then frowned. He knew Serina, he knew her very well and he honestly couldn’t see her trying to kill herself. But the rest he could see her doing, and enjoying the destruction in her wake. He’d seen that darkness come out in her the first time Sam had gone missing and again the night he truly died. Her warpath had been unrivaled, except maybe by his own. Vin looked at Scarlet again and shook his head.

“You see why I’m a little avoidy when it comes to her? I’m not sure if she’s going to kill me or not.”

Scarlet let out a short laugh and shook her head. “Don’t be a sissy… she just might slap you around a bit.”

Vin raised an eyebrow and huffed. He knew he would get his ass kicked but he didn’t know if it would stop there, not in his mental state.

“Although she’s been on a rampage, killing your kind…” Blinx added softly from ahead of them. Vin’s head snapped up as he looked at Blinx’s back.

“Why has she been going after Darklings?”

“A few that escaped from the Alwin place were said to be harboring Ruavia.” Scarlet answered.

“She’s been tracking, torturing and killing those that won’t or can’t give her the right answers.” Blinx added as he slowed to a stop before turning, his eyes weary and somewhat sad. The morning would be coming soon and Vin knew that Blinx would have to retreat to either the shadows or the shadow realm to complete the journey home.

“So, I’m not going to be seeing someone that I once considered a sister, am I?”

“Maybe a darker, twisted version.” Blinx answered as he looked away again towards the horizon. “We’re either going to have to pick up the pace or make this easier on ourselves.”

The three of them stood there staring out into the lightening sky in silence.

“Yeah, I guess I’ll have to face her sooner or later. Might as well be sooner. But with what happened to Sephie, we need to be extremely careful.” Vin emphasized his warning with a glare between Scarlet and Blinx and they both nodded their agreement solemnly. With a sigh, Vin opened a doorway into the shadow realm and stepped through it.

The shadow realm is a very confusing place if you didn’t know how to navigate it. It was a series of ever changing paths that could disappear as quickly as flipping a switch. In fact that’s what could happen if you were skulking around someone’s shadow room and they simply flipped the lights on. Usually doing this could push you into the mortal world at any random moment. In the shadow realm a room could be mirrored as long as there were enough shadows to do it. For instance a completely dark or mostly dark room could be constructed. Paths to different places had no linear or geographical significance. Tahiti could be next to your bathroom in the shadow realm and on the mortal plain you’d be none the wiser. Vin had learned that the hard way when he was in a collapsing path as the sun rose and ended up in the Alaskan wilderness where everything was white… and bright. There had been no shadows to jump back in to, therefore he had to trudge for miles until he found the smallest shadow cast by a small rock. Once the portal opened he had to crawl through it, his shoulders barely able to squeeze through.

Nothing greeted him as he stepped through, just the same swirling and changing shadows that were always there. He looked back to see Blinx expertly guiding Scarlet through the portal then closing it after her. Vin couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride in his former student as he exuded the skills Vin himself had taught him. A grin played across his lips for a moment before he turned and looked again at the undulating shadows. Having spent the better part of a century traveling in and out of the kingdom’s seat of power, Vin knew how to get where they were going and also that it would only be a matter of minutes. With a heavy sigh he headed in the direction he knew would lead him to the place he once called home and to the pseudo family that considered him dead

***

Serina’s blood still rushed through her veins long after Alec had retired to his room for the day. The man was not only death but sex incarnate and he wasn’t afraid to use it to his advantage. It had been so long since she’d paid any attention to that part of herself. She crinkled her nose at the thought of her last encounter. It had been in another life. Before she was a princess, before she found and lost Sam again and before she’d changed. It had been the night she was abducted by the only brother she’d ever known, and of all people it had been with Tanyl. Serina pushed that whole night out of her head before it would lead to more depressing thoughts or even the events that followed. She pushed at the papers on her desk to make room. She’d read Micah’s letter at least a dozen times before putting it aside again. It had been like any of the other hundred or so reports she’d read before but somehow less formal and more… Micah. He’d found a promising lead based on Ella’s broken ramblings. The poor girl would never be able to get her sanity back but at least the shards of it were helping to find her sister. Micah felt that he was closer than he’d ever been and that this lead would pan out unlike so many before it. Serina honestly hoped that Micah would find Lilly and they could maybe return to the kingdom. It was a nice dream to have, everyone home again. She looked around as she realized there would always be a few members missing that could never come back.

Slowly she turned her back on the room and looked at the curtain shielded window and wondered if it would ever get easier. Granted it had gotten much easier over the past years but it was still hard. There was no other word for it, it was just hard. She sighed as she felt a shift in the air and froze mid thought. It was a portal being opened, and she only knew that feeling now because she had been practicing. It was so subtle that it would have gone unnoticed to anyone else. Anyone that dare tread into this house would have to be friendly because with James’ reputation and Serina’s budding one enemies wouldn’t dare. Someone stepped through and froze as did she. The scent was all too familiar but at the same time she didn’t trust it and had to turn around. And she did with lightning speed only to have it confirmed. Her mouth dropped as she gasped.

“I’ve completely gone over the edge.” She muttered as she roughly raked her fingers through her hair. Standing in the middle of the room was Vin, his clothes tattered but his mismatched eyes locked on to hers and they stared silently as two others materialized behind him.

“And here I thought I was the one headed for my padded cell.” Vin answered as he tried to smile but failed. Serina sat stunned, unsure if she’d gone over the deep end or Vin was actually standing in front of her.

“You’re real?” She asked as she stood slowly, keeping her hands on her desk to steady herself. Vin nodded as he regarded her warily. She walked around the desk keeping a hand hovering above it to catch herself if she were to stumble. As she leapt forward, wrapping her arms around him, Vin flinched then stumbled backwards with the force of her hug. As he composed himself he wrapped his arms around her in turn and hugged her fiercely. Relief flooded him as she embraced him with the same fervor but when she loosened dread seeped back in. Serina stepped back and without warning punched him in the face. The hit took him by surprise and he pin wheeled his arms comically before landing flat on his back.

Serina cocked her head as she looked at the other two.

“Blinx! Scar!” She exclaimed to their surprise and she hugged them both in turn and smiled almost normally. Blinx accepted his hug without hesitation while Scarlet paused. She was unsure what to expect after seeing Vin so thoroughly laid out.

“Sis… you’re actually looking well.” Blinx said with a smile as he examined Serina.

“Gee thanks.” She said then offered him a genuine smile. “I’ve been better lately.” She said honestly. She had long ago given up on rolling her eyes or getting offended by people’s observations of her mental state. Everyone seemed to ignore Vin as he sat up on his elbow and felt his jaw. Serina had one hell of a punch to be sure. Finally he got to his feet, opening and closing his mouth to make sure nothing was broken. It wasn’t.

“Nice right hook.” He complained as he rubbed his face again and Serina quirked an eyebrow.

“Where the hell have you been, mister ‘I won’t be gone long’?” Anger sparked through Vin as it fed off hers.

“Dead, actually.” He answered, his words tight and angry. Serina blinked as her angered ebbed away slowly and she crossed her arms. Neither she nor Vin noticed the other two sneaking out into the hallway to escape the tension.

“Oh yeah?” Was all she could manage as her righteous outrage was stopped dead in its tracks.

“Yeah.” He answered as he calmed himself.

“Well…” Serina started but didn’t know where to begin so she moved around her desk again and sat in her chair. Vin could see the questions flitting through her mind as if he were able to read it and sighed as he took the chair opposite her where Alec had been.

“It was a deal to save Vincent.” Vin murmured as the gaping hole opened up inside him at the mention of his son’s name. Against his will he put his head in his hands and sobbed. Serina sat forward in shock and reached out across the desk gently laying her hand on one that covered his head.

“What happened?” She asked softly, knowing he’d answer her when he could. Minutes ticked by as Vin sobbed uncontrollably and Serina did the only thing she could to let him know she was there.

Finally when he was able to control himself again he didn’t move. He stared at the floor recounting the scene in his head before he could speak.

“Vincent found my grave, brought me back through magic. He broke the demon’s curse and woke me.” He murmured, his voice thick with emotion. Serina’s hand fell to her desk with a thud. This made Vin look up at her despite his overwhelming need to mourn his son. At the expression on her face he sat up straighter.

“What?” He asked wiping the tears from his face with his sleeve. Serina’s look of horror quickly dissolved into grief as she covered her mouth with a shaking hand.

“What happened to him?” She choked out as she prepared herself for the answer she knew she was going to get.

“He… took my place.” Vin whispered and Serina cried out before clamping her hand over her mouth. Her body shuddered with her silent sobs as she collapsed into herself. Vin stared at her dumbstruck before it dawned on him.

“You!” He bellowed as he jumped to his feet. Serina shook her head as she desperately tried to catch her breath between sobs.

“How could you let him do that?” Vin said miserably as he leaned forward, placing his clenched fists on the desk. He towered over her, a seething pillar of rage. Serina looked up at him looking like a frightened little girl and shook her head again.

“I didn’t know what he was doing, he only asked me for some items. He never said what they were for.” She finally blurted out in explanation. “Then he disappeared six months ago. No one knew where to or why.” She cried as she collapsed into herself again.

“You didn’t ask?” Vin asked quietly, his rage dulled. Serina shook her head as she covered her mouth again. She was trembling but her sobs had stopped. She was trying to piece together everything Vincent had said or asked for but all she could remember was how off Vin’s coat had looked on him and how much like his father he looked. It had been awkward and painful to be around him and she did what he asked so she wouldn’t have to be reminded of yet another person she’d lost.

“I didn’t know.” She repeated this time pleadingly and Vin scowled. “I haven’t been right since…” Her words trailed off as Vin turned away from her and stalked across the room, his shoulders heaving with every breath he took.

Serina sat uselessly staring at his back waiting for him to speak. In an outburst of pain and grief he picked up the antique lamp and hurled it at the wall. The crash broke the silence and shards of glass rained to the floor. Vin howled as he sank to his knees again cradling his head. He couldn’t make heads or tails of the raging emotions that swirled through him.

“Vin…” Serina whispered as she got to her feet but he ignored her as pain ripped through him again. The madness that had been whispering to him now screamed for action. It demanded that he rip this woman apart and devour her. He didn’t think he could keep himself back as he shook so hard he thought he’d fall to pieces at any moment. He heard Serina round the desk slowly and he clenched his fists tighter. She stopped close enough to touch him but didn’t. She was afraid that he would honestly snap if she were to lay her hand on him. Despite her trepidation she laid a shaky hand on his shoulder. Violently Vin shook her hand off and jumped to his feet, biting back a growl. Serina had taken a step backwards more to prepare herself rather than out of fear. When he finally spun around to see her standing ready he paused. Her eyes were solid black and he could see himself reflected in the dark depths. He didn’t like what he saw and backed away from her. Without another word he wrapped the shadows around himself and disappeared as quickly as he could.

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