“Long night?” Eric asked as he laid his head on the desk and peered at me with his green eyes. I nodded groggily. Ms. Hinkel was allowing a study hall in our homeroom today, but I couldn’t concentrate. I hadn’t slept. “How about you?” I asked, and he shrugged. “Same, but it was worth it,” he admitted with a stifled laugh. “Unlike you, I’m not tired.” “I’m not that tired.” “Mhmm,” he hummed, and I pressed my forehead against the cool table, ignoring his ability to irritate. “What were you doing last night?” I asked. “Getting some stresses out I suppose.” I peeked through my curls. “I heard about the funeral.” The confession rolled off my lips. “I’m sorry to hear that.” His jaw popped. “But I’m used to it, right?” I whistled low, knowing he was referring to the day before.
“So you did hear Crystal.” He shrugged and lifted his head, pressing his back against the chair. I mirrored his movements and opened my mouth to speak, but was interrupted. “Ms. Taylor, can I see you at my desk?” Ms. Hinkel asked, and I straightened up. Eric, on the other hand, didn’t move. I pushed my chair back and hurried to her desk. “Yes, ma’am?” I asked, fiddling with the ends of my hair. She moved a photograph around on her desk. “I hope I’m not out of line, Ms. Taylor, but your mother told me about your parents.” My heart lodged into my throat. “They did?” She nodded. “They thought I might know them, because I’ve lived here my entire life.” Like everyone else in Hayworth. “But I didn’t know them personally, but if you need help looking up anyone else, I’d love to help.” “Er, thanks,” I said, stepping backward. I’d rather not discuss my personal life. “Can I go back to my desk now?” Ms. Hinkel nodded, and I spun on my heel, practically running back to my desk. I slid into my seat, clutched my bag, and threw books on the table, desperately trying to distract myself. Did she seriously have to say something in the middle of class? The entire class had to hear. My face was burning with embarrassment. My fingers shook, and my pencil rolled across the table, toppling off. I sprung forward to grab it, but Eric caught it, inches from me. His eyes met mine, and I noticed the electric streaks in his emerald-colored gaze. We scooted backward, and he laid my pencil in front of me. “No one paid any attention,” he said, running a hand through his hair. His bangs stood up with static. “Except you,” I guessed. He laid his hands on his knees. “I didn’t know you were looking for your family,” he said. “I wasn’t,” I sighed. “I needed good grades before I could.” His jaw rocked. “And that’s why you were so pushy about the project.” I nodded. “I expected something more normal, like being able to hang out on the weekends—or prom,” he said, and I tapped my nails along my thigh. I kept forgetting about prom. I had more important things on my mind. “I’m not as normal as you’d think, Eric,” I said, and his gaze darkened. “Neither am I.” I giggled at his darkness; his personality was beyond bizarre. “I never said I thought you were normal,” I said, and he managed a smile. “And you think that’s funny?” “How couldn’t I?” His smile stretched into a grin. “You’re one interesting girl, Jessica.” My blood tingled through my veins, and I shifted in my seat. “You’re pretty interesting too.” He frowned. “Interesting isn’t what I’d call it.” “What would you call it then?” I asked, and he dropped his eyes, looking at the blank papers in front of him. “I can’t say.” “I don’t believe that,” I said, and he raised his brow beneath his shaggy hair. “I never asked you to.” The bell rang, but we didn’t move. Our bags remained at our feet, and our chairs stayed in place. He stared, widening his green eyes, and I bit my lip, unable to move. “Did I say something wrong?” I asked, and he shook his head. “No,” he whispered before his mouth snapped shut. He scooted back, and I felt a hand on my shoulder. I turned around as Robb leaned over to pick up my bag. Crystal smacked her gum and grinned. “Are you coming or not?” she asked, and I stood up, turning my back to Eric. “Yeah,” I said, even though I didn’t want to.
She was late. I’d been waiting by the river for an hour, and I hadn’t even heard from her. I sat for fifteen minutes, and then I paced like Luthicer, unable to remain still. Had she been caught? I didn’t know, and I didn’t want to consider the possibility until it was too late not to. “Shoman.” She appeared out of the shadows, misty and dark. Her pale face was reddened, and her hair withered like black snakes trying to return to the shadows. I rushed to her side, laying my hands on her boney shoulders. “What’s wrong?” I asked, and she reached up, folding her fingers around my wrist. “I shouldn’t stay; I—I can’t do this anymore; I have to go—” “What?” I searched her face, but she refused to meet my gaze. “What’s going on? Talk to me.” She shook her head from side to side. “Please.” “You wouldn’t judge me?” she asked, biting her lip. “Never.” Her nails dug into my skin, and she stepped back, letting go. “I’m not like you, Shoman,” she said, voice shaking. “I can see it in your face; I can feel it.” My shoulders stiffened. She hadn’t acted this scared since I first saw her by the river. “Feel what?” I asked, and she threw her hands into the air. “I’m stronger than I’m supposed to be, aren’t I?” I avoided her purple eyes, unable to confirm her worries. I knew the truth—she was—but I couldn’t tell her that. I had no explanation as to why, and her power, to be quite honest, was terrifying. The shadows consumed her, and then she was in front of me, solidified. She grabbed my hands and held them up. “I am, aren’t I?” “No,” I lied. “You’re not.” I just wanted her to breathe. “I know more than you think,” she said, dropping her face. “I know how to use powers you’ve never taught me.” Impossible. “Like what?” “I don’t know.” She hesitated. “I can’t explain it all.” “Then show me.” Her brow scrunched above her nose. “I don’t know about this.” “Because you don’t have an explanation,” I said. “If you show me, I can tell you what it is.” And if it’s anything like your previous powers, it’ll probably be sparkles. She searched my face, and her purple eyes glowed. “Okay,” she breathed and took a step back. She locked her feet and spread her fingers apart. A severe wind whipped between us, and her black hair burst around her face. A bright cyclone spun in front of her, and then it condensed, forming into violet metal. A sword sat in her hands. I leapt back. Only descendants could do that—and I was one of them. My palm shot out instinctually, and my sword split through the air, resting in front of me. “Who are you?” My voice ripped against my throat, and she stumbled backward, barely steadying her weapon. “Shoman?” Her back was against the nearest tree as she stared at my mirrored sword. I’d told her it was impossible. “What are you doing?” “Who are you?” I asked, considering my only possibility, Darthon. But I knew he was a male, and she wasn’t. She had to be an illusion, a mask he wore to test my abilities. My grip tightened. “Tell me who you are.” “I’m—I’m—” She shook her head, and the tip of her sword dipped. “I can’t, but it’s me. I’m your student—” “I don’t believe you.” “Please.” Her eyes began to water, and the purple sword flickered, disappearing into the shadows. She’d lost her concentration, and she held her hands up. “Put that away. I haven’t changed.” This was my chance to kill her—or him. She was disarmed, but her powers vibrated off her, and they were vibrant. I hesitated, studying her expression. Her purple eyes were wide, and her black hair stuck to her cold face, blotchy with tears. She was petrified. Her fear was tearing my concentration apart. “What did I do wrong?” she asked, and I stepped closer. She stomped her foot, screaming. “Please, Shoman. Put that away.” Blue streaks of power swirled around my blade, and I knew how it represented my adrenaline. My heart was pounding, and I was ready to strike. I could kill her for her power, let alone exposing mine. The Light was surely tracking it, and Fudicia already had my signal. “Shoman!” Her voice barely penetrated my ears. “I’m telling the truth, please.” I didn’t budge, and tears spilled over her long eyelashes. Her lip quavered, and she grabbed the bark, twisting her torso around the trunk. “Wait!” I shouted, but it was too late. She bolted, not even bothering to use the shadows, and ran across the ground like a human. I absorbed my sword and ran after her. I swung through the thick brush, scraping against the bare branches and tickling leaves. I kept my eyes locked on her black hair, but she dodged every tree, branch, and stone. I didn’t have time to look for them. I hit every one. “Wait,” I tried again, but her body burst into smoke, and I hit the ground, cursing. What the hell was happening? I leapt to my feet, shook off the dirt, and threw my senses out. She was out of my radar, but I knew where she was headed. I compressed my molecules, squeezing my organs and skin together, and ripped them open again, landing on the street feet away from the river.
She always left that way, and just as I planned, she ran right past me. With one arm, I stopped her, and she screamed, pushing off me as I held her. Her nails dug into my skin, and I winced, stepping on her foot before she could kick my shin. “Screaming will only get us both caught,” I said as she continued to fight. “Be quiet.” “Let me go.” She squirmed against my chest. “Someone, help!” “I’m sorry I have to do this,” I said, laying a hand on her cheek before she pulled us to the ground. Her entire body stiffened, and I knew she was paralyzed. I had the power—as did most elders—but I’d never used it on a real person before, and I didn’t like the feeling. Her skin was cold, and her heartbeat slowed beneath my fingertips. I could feel her blood freeze in her veins, and her eyes widened as I lifted her face to look at her. They were blue. Her emotions almost turned her back into a human. I looked away and sat her on the curb. “You have to listen to me,” I said, knowing how the power would affect her. It generally made shades sick. “I’m not going to hurt you, understand?” She didn’t nod, and I had to remind myself that I’d taken her motor movements away. As long as I touched her, she couldn’t move, and I kept my hand on her arm. “That prophecy I couldn’t tell you about—there are two descendants; the first is from the Dark, the second, Darthon, is from the Light,” I explained. “And you just used a power unique to them.” I swallowed, understanding my exposure. She knew who I was now. “But you’re not Darthon, and that means there’s more to the prophecy than I knew, and you’re that part,” I spoke as the realization came to me. “But the Light might know, and they could be after us right now. They can trace a descendant’s power, and we just used it.” I let her go, knowing she’d have a moment before my energy fully left her bloodstream. “I’m trying to help you, but you have to let me,” I said. “You’ll probably feel really sick.” She leaned forward and gasped, pushing her head between her knees. She heaved, and I fought the temptation to touch her. I’d probably paralyze her again. It took a minute to tune the power down. “Are you okay?” I asked, and she gripped the curb with shaky hands. “What you said,” she breathed, keeping her head down. “Is it true?” “Every word.” She laid her cheek on her knee and looked up. Her blue eyes were purple again, but I shivered. They had looked so familiar before. “But that means,” she began, sucking in breath. “You’re the first descendant?” “I told you I couldn’t be a guard,” I joked, but she didn’t smile. “What am I then?” she asked. “Am I Darthon? Do I have to fight you?” I shook my head. “You can’t be,” I said. “For one, you’re a girl, and you are too frightened to be.” I ran a hand through my black hair and shook out the dirt it collected. “And I trust you.” Because I can’t help it. “But—” Her fingers shook as she spread them out to stare at her palms. “How do you explain my power then?” I frowned. “There must be a third,” I said, and she tensed. I grabbed her hand, holding her shaking fingers.
“Don’t run. I’ll figure this out.” She stood up, and I followed her. “I—I don’t know what to say, Shoman,” she said, on the verge of tears. I searched for her blue eyes, ready to study them again, but they remained violet. “I can’t fight you. I can’t be in a war.” “You don’t have to be,” I said, unsure if my words were truth. “The fight is between Darthon and me.” “But I have your power.” “I know,” I managed to speak through the pain of my sinking chest. “How long have you been using that sword?” “Just tonight.” Her lips twisted. “But I’ve known about it all along.” The blood drained from my face. Her words described the very instance I showed my sword to Abby—a time that initiated her death. I’d felt the power in my veins for days, and I couldn’t hold back any longer. Now my student was doing the same thing, and I was in Abby’s place. “You have to go home,” I said, dragging her toward the forest. Energy was easier to muster in the dark. “Don’t activate any powers for two days, okay? I’ll find you then.” Her footsteps echoed behind me. “I’m scared, Shoman,” she said, and I stopped her at the edge. “It’s okay,” I said, laying my hands on her shoulders. Strands of her black hair twisted around my fingers, and I lifted them, watching purple sparkles drift to the ground. “What if it isn’t okay?” she asked. “What if nothing is?” I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her against my chest. Aside from the first time, I’d never touched her first, but I couldn’t stop myself. I wanted to protect her, and, if I couldn’t do that, I’d at least be there for her. I wanted to stay with her, guarantee her safety, but I couldn’t. I never could. “Shoman?” she whispered against my neck, but didn’t ask any questions. It felt too right to be next to her, to feel her heartbeat against mine, to smell her shampoo or see the marks of her past in her eyes. It felt too right to see her and know she saw me back. It felt unnatural to leave her in the darkness with nothing. I gave in. I leaned back, lifted her face, and kissed her. She gasped, breathing against my lips before kissing me back. Her hand pressed against my neck, her fingers twisted into my hair, and I pulled her hips against mine. She didn’t stop, and I didn’t want her to. I was Shoman—Eric Welborn—and I didn’t like anybody. I didn’t want anybody. But, apparently, I did. I wanted her, and I had her all at the same time. Finally. I’d wanted it for longer than I even knew. I understand that now. But I had to let go. If she was going to be safe. My hands wrapped around her hips and I pushed myself backward, stepping away. Her breath fogged out, drifting between us, and her eyes fluttered open. Her cheeks were rosy. “You have to go,” I said, letting go of her. “Now.” Her chest rose as she sucked in breath. “You’ll see me again, right?” I nodded. “I promised that days go, and I intend to keep it.” She smiled, stepped forward, and leaned up to kiss my cheek. Her warmth drifted over my skin, and goose bumps trailed down my neck as she moved away. “Good night, Shoman,” she said, and I bit my tongue to prevent from shouting after her as she dissipated. I wanted to stay with her, but I needed to get home. I had questions, and my father would have the answers.