Come On Out, Shadow

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Before I could move, Noah grabbed the blade of the knife in what I assumed was a panicked attempt to stop her. He hissed as it cut into his hand and black blood ran down his arm, but he didn’t let it go.

“Fool!” Emisair fumed, furiously trying to twist the knife out of his grasp. I finally came to my senses and swiped her with my foot, throwing her across the room, and the knife falling out of her hand.

Noah ran and grabbed the knife, where it was swiftly dropped into his pocket. He gave Jhaq a once-over to confirm she was alright before we both turned back to Emisair.

She was staggering towards us. “She’s not safe!” she hissed. “Either we kill her, or she’ll kill us.”

“There has to be another way!” I insisted. “It’s possible! It just happened for fucks sake!”

“You stupid bitch…lightning never strikes twice in the same place. You’re delaying what is inevitable!” Emisair’s eyes were filled with rage.

“We’re not killing her!” Noah snarled. “Not when we can still save her! That’s all there is to it.” He was more furious than I had ever seen him, and he completely ignored the blood gushing out of his hand from Emisair’s knife. I was about to offer a cloth to wrap it with when Emisair suddenly leapt at him and my focus changed.

I managed to push him away in time, but as a result, it was I who was being pushed against the back of the room by a frenzied Emisair, right next to where Jhaq lay. Her nails were clawing into me, as if she were trying to rip out my heart- maybe she was- and as she did, her eyes seemed to glow completely red and her teeth spread into a sinister smile. “Come on out, Shadow,” she said maniacally. “I know you’re there! Come out and plaaaaa-”

With that, I socked her in the face and kicked her away. “Stop it!” Noah yelled at the both of us.

I ignored him. I had no care in the world anymore. “What are you trying to do?” I asked Emisair, walking towards her. “If you want to kill me…” Everything around me sharpened, intensified, amplified. I could see and feel her heartbeat from where I stood, and it would be nothing to rip it out…”Go ahead,” I finished with a grin.

So she did.

Or rather…she tried to.

I dropped to the ground when she flew at me again. She came to a halt standing above where I lay. Still reeling from her charge, she couldn’t block my foot smashing into her chest, sending her flying into the ceiling. It was almost too perfect that a chandelier was dangling right where Emisair was about to fly into.

Killing was far easier sans a human body.

There was a loud crashing sound as the thing shattered and fell to the ground around me, a shower of glass and crystal. I watched Emisair drop before my feet, shaking with rage and pain. Blood ran down her back, mixing with the glass on the ground. She hissed at me and I could see her body becoming longer, her claws scraping against the ground. A feverish grin spread across her face, and Noah started yelling at both of us to stop. But that wasn’t going to happen.

I raised my claw, ready to strike.

It wasn’t Noah who stopped us. Or even Daniel. It was Christan who yelled out “STOP!” from the doorway, perhaps saving the life of Emisair in the process.

Both of us froze and looked at him. He looked terrified, not at all like a natural king, though the crowds behind him wouldn’t be able to see that. “Step away from eachother,” he commanded shakily.

I immediately obeyed, partially out of sympathy for Christan, but also because I was slowly coming out of my psychotic/demon mode and I wanted things to stop. I fell back into my body, the cold of the room reaching me even with Emisair’s cloak. Emisair merely glared at him. “Your human’s slut has physically assaulted me,” she informed him, her body changing back as she spoke. “I shall not stand for it! Either discipline her or I shall gather my men and leave. Now.

I slowly got up. My senses were still distorted by my rampage. Christan was looking at me, trying to seem stern. “Cat…”

“She was going to murder Jhaq!” I croaked. “That was the only reason why I-”

“It’s true,” Noah confirmed. “It was Emisair who attacked first. Not Cat.”

Emisair flared up. “I was going to kill the demon inside her,” she said. “These two would put their fellow people in danger due to sentiment. I wasn’t about to let her slaughter us all when we knew that she was a danger.” She turned to Jhaq, lying asleep on her bed. “The woman that she was is no more. She would mercilessly murder everyone from her king to her little daughter. And these two would risk that.”

“No…” I took a deep breath. “I had the same monster inside me,” I confessed the boy-king, and the people behind him inhaled. “But I managed to force them out before I could be taken over completely. I believe that Jhaq is capable of doing the same, if she’s given the chance.”

“I agree,” Noah spoke up. “I don’t see the need to take a life in order to destroy what is only a potential threat. We have the time to stop it, it is still-”

“What time is this?” Emisair retorted. “The longer we wait, the stronger that thing is. We’re putting everyone at risk here by waiting for what is inevitable.” She looked directly at Christan. “I will not stand by and wait to die. Either stop this threat…or I’ll leave, with my men behind me.”

Oh please, please do.

Unfortunately, Christan was reluctant to let that happen. “You can’t,” he said weakly. “You know that-”

“I do know. Your forces are far weaker than theirs. Our alliance is the only thing that keeps your people safe. But if you will put them in danger, I see no point in my presence here,” Emisair spoke coldly. “Take a side. Now.”

I knew what Christan would pick, but I tried to speak out. “Listen-”

“What is this?” A voice called out.

The crowds moved around to make way for Daniel who strode into the room. He immediately went to my side and put his hand on my arm. I immediately felt warmer, calmer. “What has happened?” he questioned Noah.

Noah spoke immediately. “The Lady Emisair tried to end Jhaq’s life. Cat managed to stop her, and now Emisair is claiming that she is in the right.”

“I am in the right,” Emisair spoke with utter conviction. “That thing inside her is a slaughtering machine. It nearly took your paramour, and now it is succeeding in taking your servant.”

“And now she’s blackmailing his Grace into submitting to her will,” I spat. “If Jhaq doesn’t die, she’ll leave.”

Daniel’s face didn’t show anything. “Daniel,” Christan spoke. “What do you see?”

He remained silent. I myself had no idea what Christan meant. Noah took Daniel’s silence as an opportunity to speak. “Cat Madigan was able to escape unharmed. I have no doubt that she can assist me in helping Jhaq recover. Just give us that chance, your Grace.”

Before Christan could speak, there was a voice. “Master…Nnnn…”

Jhaq was slowly rising from her bed. “Don’t let her move,” Christan ordered, and several guards dashed in and raised their blades to her.

Slowly, Jhaq backed down, and opened her eyes. Still black. “What is this?” she asked, and her voice made my stomach flip.

“Drop your act,” Emisair ordered. “There’s no doubt of this now.”

“No doubt of what?” Daniel retorted. “Will you explain yourself?”

“Your servant is being taken by the same entity that nearly took Cat Madigan. And now that she speaks, there’s no doubt of it.”

Daniel looked at me in confusion. I bowed my head. “Her voice…it’s Axyl’s,” I admitted. “Not Jhaq’s.”

Emisair turned to Christan. “I believe we have more than enough to confirm this?” she enquired. There was a murmur of appreciation from the crowds, and Christan looked away from us. I knew he had made his decision.

“Cat…”

I flinched at the voice of the monster calling my name. I slowly looked at her, but I couldn’t keep my eyes on her terrified face for more than a second. Daniel watched me in silence.

“Now.” Emisair spoke as if the matter had been settled. “Onto the matter of the assault. I want the girl locked up, considering how she cannot be executed. I believe this is fair-”

“What on earth are you talking about?” Daniel spat.

“I kicked her into the chandelier,” I informed him.

Daniel raised an eyebrow, but Noah spoke before he could reply. “An attack which was initiated by Emisair’s own assault.” He raised his hand to show everyone the ugly knife wound that Emisair had given him.

Suddenly, the atmosphere changed. The crowds started murmuring again, but this time, they were discussing Emisair’s own behaviour. It occurred to me from what they said that while Emisair could outrank both Daniel and myself, she was still an outsider, a visitor in this world. And by wounding one of their own…

“He was stopping me.” Emisair replied, unfazed. “That cut was his own fault, not mine.”

That was her big mistake. The people bristled at her for dismissing what she had done, for making herself out to be higher than the likes of themselves. Emisair seemed to realise what she had done, but she couldn’t recant now.

“Put her under house arrest,” Noah interjected. When Christan looked at him, he went on. “Both of them.”

“What?” Emisair spat.

“Noah…” I was about to argue.

“I will not pretend that Cat Madigan is innocent,” Noah said, meeting my eye. I remembered the moment when I lost control, when I was ready to kill the red eyed woman. “But it was Emisair’s actions which triggered her behaviour. If they’re both placed under house arrest, they will not be within proximity of eachother. No more incidents of this kind shall occur.” Noah shifted his gaze to Emisair. “If that does not stop them, then the next course will be, of course, imprisonment in the cells.”

Emisair fumed. “I am not to be treated like her. I do not need to be punished.”

“By that logic, neither should Cat,” Noah replied. “Your actions are equivalent to hers. And one can go on to say that while Cat’s behaviour is expected of her, because of her humanity, you on the other hand should be able to control your actions.”

She bristled. Noah, as the victim in this, had the most influence over her fate, and she knew it. He may not be letting me off the hook for my behaviour- I was about to kill her for fucks sake- but Emisair would’ve murdered Jhaq in cold blood, and he wasn’t going to stop till she was punished for that.

“I believe this is fair,” Christan finally said. “Cat Madigan will be confined to her chamber for a moon, as will Emisair. Remove them now.”

“Wait,” Emisair said suddenly. “For Cat Madigan, this is not a long period of time. More often than not, she’s unconscious in her room. She could sleep for a moon, and wake up when she’s ready to be released.”

Even I had to admit she had a point. If our roles were reversed, I’d find it pretty unfair too. Of course, I wouldn’t be such a bitch and start a fight with her.

Well, maybe. I dunno.

“Then I’ll watch her,” Noah proposed. “I’ll account for when she’s awake and when she’s not. She can be released after thirty days and thirty nights of activity.”

“And separate her everyone?” Emisair interjected, a sudden gleam in her eye. “Including Daniel?”

Daniel put his hand on mine, covering the light that was about to be thrown in her fucking face. “Her chambers are my chambers,” he reminded her. “We can house Noah if he wishes. Either way, her punishment is identical to yours, my lady.”

She scowled. “Fine. But she is still confined.”

“As you are,” Daniel agreed.

She turned on her heel and stormed out, only to be grabbed by a guard. “I know my way,” she snapped.

Another guard approached me, and gestured for me to walk with him. I was surprised that he didn’t grab me. Perhaps he was afraid.

I followed him, but Daniel stayed behind. As the door closed, he raised a hand to me, as if to wave.

That’s when I remembered Jhaq.

And Axyl.

“What’s going to happen?” I asked the guard urgently. “Will she be alright?”

“What do you think?” There was no unkindness in his face, he even appeared sorry, if only a little bit.

I shook my head. I knew what I thought. I loved Jhaq…but I was even more afraid of Axyl. And if she attacked me, I knew what my first instinct would be. Still, Jhaq hadn’t hurt anyone. The only signs of Axyl she had shown us were her voice and her black eyes…

“Why can’t Daniel see her eyes?” I questioned.

Unexpectedly, the guard answered my question. “I wouldn’t know,” he said. “Perhaps it’s part of his humanity. That would explain it.”

“But I’m human too,” I reminded him.

“Are you?” he replied. “We all saw you.”

I grimaced. “I have no excuse for that,” I admitted. “But even if I’m not human, I’m still treated like one.”

“We cannot change the manner of our birth,” he pointed out. “We have no control of how our lives turn out.”

I thought of Kaya, one moment a promising politician, the next a deadly weapon. I remembered Nereida’s brutal death at the hands of the same one who killed Kaya, her old friend. Daniel himself had been thrown into this world the minute he left mine. And who would’ve thought I would’ve become this? A depressed paranoid schizophrenic with a growing detachment from Reality, no longer able to feel pain or death. “Believe me, I know.”

Dark Hearts and Eyes

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“Daniel, help me!”

“Get it out of her!”

“Don’t let her lose consciousness!”

“Is there anything we can give her?”

“Don’t you see it’s trying to kill her?!”

Those were the last things I heard before…
______________________________________________________________

I could tell from the pure white surrounding me that this was not Reality. But it didn’t feel like Delirium either.

It was warm. I could’ve lain there forever, basking in that glow. But then I heard her voice. Don’t you wonder why I’ve given up on you?

“Hey Kaya.” I coughed and sat up. When I looked around, she was there, standing in front of me clear as day. I couldn’t help it. I ran towards her, and she gave no resistance when I hugged her.

“I’m still annoyed at you,” she murmured, squeezing me back.

“I-I know. And you’re right.” I looked at her face. There were no scars or blood or bruises. The only anomaly were her purple eyes, and they didn’t seem to bulge like they did when she was alive. “I’m dead, aren’t I?”

“Actually, no.” Kaya’s expression became concerned. “What do you remember?”

I remembered, shamefully, what I had done. “I took the pills. I think sixteen? And then I heard voices. Daniel’s, Jhaq’s, Noah’s…” I thought I saw her flinch at Noah’s name. “I should be dead, shouldn’t I? Why am I not?”

“You…didn’t take any.”

“Huh?”

Kaya frowned. “I took over,” she reported. “Everything was spinning, and then I saw what you had been seeing. I got to the sink and I coughed it all up as fast as I could. By the way,” she grimaced, “your brother undoubtedly heard you. He’s going to tell your mother.”

“It’s fine. But what do you mean? I remember taking-”

“I know you do,” Kaya interrupted. “And I thought you had too. Why else would’ve I purged you, if I didn’t think you had consumed something dangerous? But there was no medication. No pills.”

“….huh?”

“Nothing,” she repeated.

“But…why then? Why would I imagine-” I stopped there. If any normal person asked this, it would be one thing. But I was a psycho. It was nothing for me to see things that weren’t there.

Still, this wasn’t the usual hallucination. While I can’t deny that Delirium is indeed not normal, I can say that I have a good idea how it works. And this was the first time that I have hallucinated about my actions in Reality.

“What’s happening in Delirium?” I asked. When she raised an eyebrow, I corrected my wording. “Your world.”

“I don’t know if I can…” she told me hesitantly. “Since your…capture, I’ve become more apprehensive about watching yourself there.”

“I need to go back,” I said. “I need to find out what happened.”

“Cat…”

Something in Kaya’s voice put me on edge. “What? What is it?”

“There’s something I want you to consider when you return. Just to mull over for a while.”

“…okay.”

“What happened to my body?” This wasn’t a question; she spoke as if it were an instruction.

And then Kaya vanished from sight.

“Kaya!” I ran over to where she was standing, only to find thin air. I was alone.

Suddenly, I heard rumbling, as if a herd of horses were approaching. I could see nothing though, only the large white expanse in front of me. “Ka-”

Then there was a flash.
_____________________________________________________________________

“RRRRRRRRRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH!”

“Hol-”

My eyes flew open, gazing at those before me; Daniel, Emisair- to my dismay-, Noah, even Papa Willis was there. And a shadow, being held down by Jhaq of all people, who was growling and hissing in a manner that reminded me of Kaya.

Then I realised that my feet weren’t touching the ground. Nor was any part of my body.

My head was touching the ceiling. Of Daniel’s bedroom.

Oh fuck me.

“Shiiiiiiiiii-” That was all I got out before gravity woke up and sent me falling to the ground below. Daniel dove to catch me, but narrowly missed. “Oof!” I landed on the ground, dazed and confused. Somewhere I could hear Emisair’s low chuckle.

Daniel caught me up in his arms. “Cat! Cat!”

The pain of being dropped from five metres into the air onto my ass finally kicked in. I rolled over in agony, out of Daniel’s grasp. “Ow….son of a bitch…..”

“Are you alright?” Noah asked tentatively.

“MY BUTTCHEEKS!” I howled. “Owwwwwwwww!”

The room was silent, albeit the growling coming from Jhaq and the shadow. “She’s okay,” Willis confirmed.

“Owwww….oh….oh no I’m not….this is hell….” I groaned.

At that he raised an eyebrow, as if to remind me of his arm, which currently had something resembling white plaster encasing what remained of it. I made a mental note to apologise later. Right now, I had bigger concerns. “Shadow,” I croaked.

Immediately, all eyes turned back to Jhaq, who had her hands wrapped around what I presumed was the monster’s neck. “Jhaq!” Noah said warningly.

Had he not said anything, things may have been different. But that split second hesitation was all the shadow needed, and suddenly, Jhaq collapsed and the shadow vanished. “No!” I managed to get up and stagger toward Jhaq.

Daniel got there first. “Jhaq, say something,” he urged. “If you can hear me squeeze my hand.”

“Mom…” I looked and saw Ray, her eyes wide open. God knows what she saw before with me, this was probably the last thing she needed.

“Get the girl out.” The order came from Emisair, and when I looked over to her, there was something on her face I had never seen before, though it was unclear whether it was fear or merely uncertainty.

Then Jhaq opened her eyes. Instead of green, her irises were dark. “Where…where am I?” she asked us.

Uh oh.

“Noah…” I said slowly.

“I know.” He looked over at me and nodded slightly. He took Ray’s hand, and lead her out of the room. Her eyes were wide and frightened.

Daniel did not appear to notice anything. “You’re in my chambers,” he told her. “Cat is here, she’s alive and well, I promise.”

“Good,” she breathed. “May I sleep, my lord?”

“Of course,” he said, taking her hand. She smiled softly, before drifting off into a deep sleep.

I was uneasy. “Her eyes…”

“What about them?” Willis was confused.

So was Daniel. “There wasn’t anything wrong,” he said.

“What are you saying?” Emisair demanded. “Are you both blind?”

“You didn’t…see?”

“See what?” Daniel frowned at me.

“I…” I didn’t understand. Her eyes had gone black as coal. Didn’t they notice at all?

Daniel shook his head. “You need rest,” he told me. “Willis, go and find His Grace. Tell him to send people to collect Jhaq and take her to her rooms.”

He nodded, and ran off quickly. “Emisair, if you don’t mind, I want to speak with Cat in private.”

“You aren’t the only one.” Emisair’s red eyes bore into my face. “You saw what was wrong, did you not?”

I groaned. “How should I know?”

“I know you did,” she insisted. “The physic saw, as did I. Even her daughter noticed. You can’t tell me this is all coincidence.”

“I didn’t see anything strange,” Daniel argued.

“Emisair, I learnt a long time ago not to believe what my eyes tell me,” I said softly.

Daniel inclined his head at that, and Emisair scowled. “I see that you are all but useless,” she said. “Very well. I’ll leave you and your paramour to your own business. I have better things to do.”

So what the hell were you doing here then? “By all means, go.”

The minute the door closed behind her, Daniel turned to me. “You saw something,” he said flatly. I nodded. “What is it then?”

“I…” I closed my eyes. “I may have been seeing things.”

“But what was it?”

“I’m not right in the head right now Daniel!”

“Are you ever?” he replied. “Why can’t you say?”

“My head…I….” I took a deep breath and I told him everything about what I had experienced before I woke up in Delirium; the pills, the meeting with Kaya, and the realisation that my suicide attempt was a figment of my imagination; one that belonged to neither Reality or Delirium.

Daniel listened in silence. “I know what you’re thinking,” I told him. “And I hate myself for it, even more than you do. I know how you feel about it. It’s just…at that moment I could feel nothing except pain, and before I knew it, I had found a packet of pills and…” I cut off. “I’m sorry. It was the stupidest thing I could’ve done, and I know-”

“That shadow that Jhaq had caught,” Daniel interjected. “Was that the monster we met when we went to get Papa Willis?”

“I….wouldn’t know,” I said slowly, confused as to how we got on this topic. “What was that anyway?”

He paused for a moment. “The thing inside your head,” he confessed.

“…wait…what?”

“Remember how that thing took over you that one time?” he asked me. “I have a feeling it didn’t really leave.”

“So that’s why…”

“Right.”

“Wait, so is it gone now?”

“I think so,” Daniel assured me. “There wasn’t a shadow there last time.”

“Okay…” I said uncertainly.

“You look confused,” Daniel acknowledged.

“I am. Very.”

“And I forgive you, by the way.”

I didn’t realise how worried I was until I let out a breath I didn’t know I was holding. “Really?”

He grimaced. “Think of it this way. I’m willing to forgive instances where there are evil demons in your brain.”

“You mean I don’t qualify as an evil demon?”

“I’m afraid you’re just a plain, ordinary demon,” Daniel told me in a serious voice.

“Awwww.”

“However,” Daniel said, “If you ever feel like this, you’re to tell me. I know you like to keep things to yourself. But you don’t need to do it alone. I…I want to help. If I can.”

“Okay,” I agreed, allowing his embarrassment to fade. “I can do that. But I don’t want to be watched like a hawk if I do. More often than not, these things mean nothing.”

“Not always though,” Daniel pointed out.

“No,” I acknowledged. “But if you make it seem like an emergency, then…”

“I get it.” Daniel’s hand encased mine. “So you promise?”

“I do. I won’t hurt you like I did again. No matter how bad it gets.”

I meant every word I said, but my mind kept wandering back to the blackness of Jhaq’s eyes. I looked at her, now fast asleep, and wondered how long it would be before she went down the same spiral I did.
___________________________________________________________________
I awoke to a finger poking me in my shoulder. Immediately, I rolled around, five letters aglow, to see Emisair looking back at me. “Get up,” she hissed. “Noah wants to see you.”

I looked back at Daniel, sound asleep. “It cannot wait?”

“No.” She grabbed my arm and pulled me out of bed. “And your paramour would understand not.”

The eyes. But still…could I trust her? “Give me a moment,” I told her.

Emisair rolled her eyes and took off a velvet cloak she had been wearing. “Put this on then,” she ordered. “You’re already wearing more than an Infernal, but if you insist.”

I looked at Emisair. Cloak removed, she only wore a sheer black shift, which was cut so that her pelvic bones were exposed. Knowing Noah, he would be more than embarrassed to see her that way, but at least she wouldn’t be ashamed to show off her body. I, on the other hand, would never be able to handle both of their eyes on what was barely covered by Daniel’s shirt.

The halls were dark as Emisair lead me through. “I still don’t know why you were there,” I told her.

“I was curious,” she informed me.

“In other words, you wanted to see me in pain?”

“Don’t take me for a sadist,” she replied. “I am not the monster you take me for.”

“Neither am I.” She snorted at that. “Yes. You have every reason to think otherwise. But if you can take me for a monster at the sight of me, then I can do the same.”

“Stupid,” she said flatly.

“I’m going to get nowhere,” I said wearily. “Where is Noah?”

I didn’t recognise the place, but it reminded me of a dormitory. Noah was standing by a rickety bed where Jhaq lay. He smiled at me, trying not to look at the barely covered Emisair. “Don’t blame me,” she told him. “I brought her straight from Daniel’s bed, and she insisted on covering up.”

Noah still looked uncomfortable. “You can go back soon,” he told me. “I merely want you to confirm something for me.”

Jhaq looked so peaceful asleep. I really wished that this all meant nothing, that she would be fine. “Her eyes are black,” I told him. “And us three saw it. And maybe Ray, but I wouldn’t know what she’s said.”

“That shadow disappeared the moment before her eyes changed,” Emisair said. “This cannot be a coincidence.”

“It’s inside her now,” Noah confirmed. “She acts normal now, but who knows how long before it decides to take control and slit the first neck it sees?”

I couldn’t imagine Jhaq doing such a thing. “What should we do?” I asked. “We have to get it out.”

“Obviously.”

I ignored Emisair. “If we can get it out of me, we can get it out of her. We have to!”

“It’s not so simple,” Noah said weakly. He looked tireder than I had ever seen him.

I gave him a sad smile. “Never is, is it?”

He simply exhaled. “I think you were able to force it out, which is why you’re alright. If Jhaq were able to….well, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

“Maybe she hasn’t realised that it’s inside her? If she knew, she could try-”

“Do that, and that thing will realise that we know.” Emisair’s voice was hard. “There’s really only one thing we can do.”

That’s when I saw what she was holding in her claw. Jhaq stirred in her sleep at that moment, and Emisair brought the knife out of the shadows, ready to strike. “No!”

Shot Me Down

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I remember in primary school, I had a crush on Nate C, and I told all my friends about it. I would’ve been eight then, back when I was cute and innocent and the worst thing you could’ve called someone was a bullfrog. That’s what I called Gabby the Gab when she brought him over to where I was having lunch with Hannie and told him that I had a crush on him.

Later I got revenge and told her respective crush about her love for him. AND she was uninvited to my birthday party. I was a bitchy little kid.

The anger I felt when Gabby the Gab spilled my secret to Nate C was nothing compared to what I felt toward Jhaq when Daniel repeated word for word what she had said to him, though far more contained than then. Because Jhaq had meant no harm by saying anything, whereas Gabby the Gab was a scheming bitch.

When I confronted her about what she said, she flung herself at my feet and started shaking. I couldn’t be angry with her, no matter how much I wished to. “Jhaq…calm down now.” I helped her up and moved her onto the chair beside Daniel’s bed. “Take a deep breath, alright?” Slowly, she stopped shaking, as she realised that I wasn’t going to beat her. “Are you better?” I asked.

“Much,” whispered Jhaq.

“Good…” I inhaled. “When you told Daniel about…that, how did he react?”

She hesitated before starting. “His lord didn’t say anything, Miss Madigan,” she said.

“Was he…angry? Upset?” I don’t want to ask these questions, but I have to.

“His lord was…” Jhaq thought for a second. “Surprised.”

“Is that it?” I sat on the edge of the bed. “Nothing else?” She shook her head. “Great…”

Jhaq hesitated. “What…did his lord say to you?” she asked tentatively.

I took a deep breath. “He asked me if what you said was true.”

“And what did Miss…you say?”

“…I told him I didn’t know.”

She frowned, but continued. “And…he left?”

“Yes.”

“His lord will return,” she said decisively. “It means nothing.”

I nodded and went along with what she said. Meanwhile, I was praying that things would return to the way they were, before his Grace came along and fucked up my emotions. I didn’t have feelings for Daniel, it wasn’t like that, I insisted. I cared for him deeply, but nothing romantic would ever come out of it.

I waited for him to return, sitting before the large fireplace, gazing into the flames. Hours and hours I waited, but the castle had gone silent and still he hadn’t come back.

I went into a dream of sorts. It wasn’t a bad dream, not at all. I was on a cliff top when I leapt off, plummeting down. But in an instant, I was soaring high into the clouds, the world becoming smaller in the blink of an eye. Though I was up in the clouds, I wasn’t cold. Dragons don’t feel cold when their blood is always boiling.

I woke up when I felt myself leaving the ground. My eyes fluttered open and I saw Daniel. He froze when he saw me gazing up at him. “It’s okay,” I told him. “I’ll go back to sleep in a moment, I’ll forget that I’m seeing you now.”

“You can’t control your mind,” he pointed out.

“I can try.” I closed my eyes, and I felt myself drifting away. In the distance, I heard Daniel sigh, and I started floating again. At some point, I drifted down to the soft earth, and I felt something feather soft stroking my face.

I awoke to see Daniel watching me. “Don’t look at me like that,” I murmured.

“Like what?”

“Like you’re afraid of me. You’re the last person I want to do that.” I lifted myself up, and I found that I was on his bed again. “I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I just want you to know that it isn’t the way Jhaq may have described it.”

“Then what is it?”

“I…don’t know.” I look up at the ceiling, waiting for the answer to tumble out of the sky. When it didn’t, I tried to phrase it properly. “I…I care for you,” I said. “I…it’s not anything romantic, or…or anything like that. I’m just…I am…unused to this.”

“Unused to what?”

I took a deep breath. “Feeling safe, I suppose. I…can trust you, or at least I feel like I can. And I can’t say that for many others I know.”

“So why did you say to Jhaq that you had feelings for me?”

“I didn’t…I…” Daniel’s face is lost in the shadows, the right side of his face is full of darkness, where his eyepatch is. I can’t see what he’s thinking. “I…I told her that I was confused about my feelings. I didn’t say they were….”

“I understand.”

I shook my head. “If I don’t understand, how can you? Look…” I tried again. “As you know, I haven’t had the best record with romantic relationships.”

“Oh, I know.”

I stuck my tongue out at him, which made him grin slightly. “Shaddup.” I hesitated. “How I feel for you…is not like how I’ve felt in…courtship.”

“Just say dating.”

“Fine. The feelings I have now aren’t like those I had towards my boyfriends at the time, compri?”

Compri, he agreed.

“And recently, I’ve been questioning the nature of our relationship,” I said. “Mainly because….”

“Christan,” Daniel finished.

I frowned. “Be more specific.”

“I…may not have been completely asleep when he came to see you the other day,” he confessed. “I heard things.”

“…I see.”

“Don’t look at me like that,” he scolded. “You would’ve done the same. A lot is said when people can’t listen.”

“Hmmph…” I didn’t know how I felt about Daniel taking in all that information. Nothing bad had been said, but still…

“So what happens now?” I asked him quietly.

He looked over. “What do you want to do?”

If I had just said what I meant to say all along, that he was my dearest friend and the last thing I would want was to lose him, that my confusion was nothing, and meant nothing, the conversation would’ve stopped there, and most likely would not have ever come up again.

Instead I asked, “What are you thinking?”

“What do you mean?”

“Okay…can I ask you something now?”

“…go on.”

“When Jhaq told you, what were you thinking?”

He didn’t say anything, and I was immediately suspicious. “Daniel, what is it?”

He shook his head. “How I feel isn’t important.”

I narrowed my eyes. “Of course it is. It’s why you left after confronting me.”

“Cat, don’t be-”

“Daniel, what on earth were you thinking that was so bad that you can’t tell me about it?”

After a few seconds of completely breathless silence, he exhaled. “You don’t belong here,” he told me softly. “And I…I can’t be part of Reality any more. I lost that right years ago, I…”

“What?” I didn’t know what else to say. Daniel went silent and closed his eyes. Slowly, I took his hand. “What happened to you Daniel?” I whispered.

“I…” He looked at me strangely. “You won’t…hate me, for what I show you, will you?”

I frowned. “That…would depend on what you showed me. But I know that you wouldn’t.”

Daniel paused. Then slowly, he raised his hand to his head and pushed his hair aside, and showed me his temple. When I gasped, he dropped the hair and looked away.

I looked at Daniel, trying not to look as shocked as I felt. “May I?” I asked.

Daniel inclined his head, almost shyly. I reached out and I brushed his hair away to reveal the dark red wound, the size of a twenty cent piece. “I…I had no idea,” I croaked out. The shape of it, the way it concaves in the centre, it’s…it can only be one thing.

“The bullet didn’t leave my head,” he said hollowly. “When I arrived here, they had to open up my head and take it out.”

“Who shot you?” I asked. When he didn’t answer, I realised what he was talking about. “Oh Daniel…”

Tears were streaming out of his left eye. “Unlike you, I couldn’t be saved,” Daniel said emotionlessly. “Bullet in the brain…there’s no coming back from that. And then I woke up there…in the cells, where Kaya was. I…knew that place. I had seen it before, in my own visions.”

“Your…own…visions…” Oh no…Not Daniel…

He gazed up at me. “When I realised…I screamed at them to kill me then. Of course, they weren’t so kind. Unfortunately, before they could subject me to all the treatments, they put me in the path of Kaya…and you know the rest.”

I was stunned. “I…” I stammered. I had no idea what to say to him. All those times I had tried to take my own life…what did he feel?

Daniel smiled softly and touched my face. “In a way, I admire you,” he admitted. “You’re still alive, despite everything. Whereas at the first opportunity, I was selfish enough to take my life. Some said it would take a lot of courage, but…”

“I was just as selfish,” I reminded him. “I was just unlucky.”

“Or very lucky.”

“…yeah.”

We were quiet for moment. “I’m going to get you out of here,” he told me. “If I can do that one simple thing, then I’ll finally be able to see myself in a good light. Cat Madigan…” He gripped my hand. “You’re going to be my saviour.”

“I admire your faith in me,” I noted dryly. “But…you haven’t done anything wrong.”

“I haven’t done anything right either,” he said.

I thought for a moment. “You still haven’t answered my question,” I reminded him. “What did you feel when Jhaq told you?”

He hesitated. “Would you like me to answer?”

It didn’t take me long to choose. I wanted the truth, despite everything. I braced myself. “Go ahead Daniel.”

The Strange Wills of Hearts

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“Ray?”

I see her when I get on the bus to go home, and I nearly run to reach her before someone else sits down next to her. “What is it?”

She has a bright smile on her face as she tells me. “He’s awake,” she says. “He wants to see you.”

“Thank god.” I nearly crush her in my arms, and I feel tears running down my face. I hadn’t realised how worried I had been. “It worked then?”

Ray nods. It’s as if she has lifted a giant weight which had been crushing my chest. I suddenly feel like I could sprint home to see him. Instead, I impatiently wait on the bus, praying that the traffic doesn’t slow it down.

I break out into a sprint when I get off the bus, though Ray still arrives at my house before me. I manage to slow myself down before my mother sees me running, but as soon as I enter the door, I head straight for my room.

He’s there, lying down on the bed when he sees me. He grins as he sees me. “What took you so long?” he asks in a faint voice.

I just throw my arms around him, and it’s a long time before I let go. “I thought you were going to die,” I whisper.

“It takes a lot to kill me,” Daniel says. “Though to be fair, that was pretty close.” He releases me and leans back to look at me. “You look like shit,” he concedes.

I grimace. “That’s generally what mass blood loss does, see.” He looks shocked. “Didn’t they tell you?”

“Tell me what?” Daniel asks. His eyes narrow and he glares over at Noah, who is standing by the door.

I look behind me. “I insisted on it,” I said. “You lost too much blood, and mine was the closest match.”

“Goddammit Cat Madigan,” Daniel groans. “You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Yeah well, you shouldn’t have attacked Christan either.” He growls at that. “Yes, the asshole deserved it, but you forgot who you’re dealing with.”

“Is he going to do it again though?” Daniel’s voice is hard as ice.

“I don’t know. My guess is not, though.”

He scoffs. “You would’ve killed him if I had died,” he states.

“Of course.” I smile at him, but it doesn’t reach my eyes. “In this world, that’s the only thing left after everything else that matters is gone.”

He’s not looking at me. Instead, he’s looking behind me, and the tired look on his face before becomes one of absolute loathing. I immediately know who it is. “You aren’t welcome here,” I inform the king behind me.

“Am I not to be forgiven ever?”

“No,” Daniel and I say in unison. “I’ve already given you my terms,” I remind him. “And I’m assuming you are not missing an eye, are you?”

I hear him walking towards me. “One more step and you’ll regret it,” Daniel says, shaking slightly.

“Get out,” I order him. Daniel begins to shake more violently. “Noah, get here now!” Jhaq pulled my arm. “I’m not leaving him!” I told her. “Daniel!”

Ten seconds later he stops, and he lies there, shivering. I sit beside him and stroke his forehead, measuring how hot he is. “How many of these have happened?” I ask.

“This is the third,” Noah tells me. “Don’t let his blood pressure rise.”

I think of how much the sight of Christan enrages Daniel, and how my mother and my brother could come in and start screaming. “Don’t let them in again,” I order. “At least not while he’s conscious. He needs to recover and he’s in no condition to work, especially not with his Grace.”

“Yes my lady.” He leaves, and Jhaq, Ray and I are left in the room with Daniel, who has gone silent.

“You are learning, Miss Madigan,” Jhaq observes.

“What do you mean?”

“Miss Madigan, you are a lady,” Jhaq insists. “And now you have the words of one.”

“I…no, I’m not.” I look down at Daniel, now sleeping with a peaceful expression on his face. “I’m not a lady, I’m just his friend. To them, I’m a pet human he keeps for company, no one would take me seriously.”

“No.” Jhaq’s voice is determined. “Master Noah takes you seriously. That is a certainty.”

She was right. Noah paid attention to me and didn’t treat me like a monster. He didn’t call me Freak. That was how Christan was before though…
_______________________________________________________________________________

Daniel woke up again later on, and when he went to sleep, it’s wasn’t the aftermath of a seizure. He was upset about his eye, but he calmed down after I reassured him how awesome guys with eyepatches were. His vanity satisfied, he soon drifted off to sleep, his head cradled in my lap. I didn’t try to move him, I just sat with him.

Noah came in and sat down by Daniel’s bedside. “His Grace has promised he won’t intrude when Daniel is awake,” he informed me. “He doesn’t want Daniel to die, so he won’t do anything that would do him harm.”

If Daniel dies, I will not hesitate to make every fibre of your being burst into flames. “What about Thommand though? I’m more worried about him than his Grace.”

“He’s not going to do anything either. I don’t know if you know this, but Daniel’s a valued member of the king’s peers. Christan doesn’t want him dead now anymore than he did when he held out that dagger,” Noah explained. “Besides, Daniel has a fever still. Thommand’s scared for his own skin, he won’t go near anyone who is sick.”

“True.”

He was quiet for a moment. “You…you and Kaya were close, weren’t you?”

“Of course we were.” And now we’re too close for comfort.

“She mentioned you,” he told me. “She told me how you needed help, with them.”

“The shadows? Yeah, I remember.” Those used to be what I was most afraid of. My Delirium was still being created, from Kaya’s memories, I hadn’t fallen down that rabbit hole yet. “She was going to help me, before…”

“I know.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “How much…do you know about her?”

I thought about it. “I…I know she was escaping from here when she got attacked. Then I saw everything after.”

His face went dark. “Oh.”

“Yeah…” I grinned a little. “There was that too,” I added.

“I…”

“I’m the last person to judge anyone,” I told him. “Your secret, and Kaya’s, is safe with me.”

“Thank you.” Noah went quiet, as if he was about to say something, but changed his mind.

“What is it? Ask whatever you want.”

“Did she…” He sighed. “All my life, I’ve never stopped wondering what went on in that girl’s head. And I can’t help but wonder…” He looked up at me. “You saw her memories. Did she…feel the same way that I did about her? Even a little bit?”

I tried remembering Kaya’s thoughts from long ago. It seems like a lifetime ago, in a way it was. There was so many emotions, so strong and vivid. Rage and fear are the most powerful ones. But there’s calm too, calm and care and trust.

“I’d say so,” I told him. “After what Kaya went through, she swore never to trust anyone again, but she came close to doing that.”

“Truly?” Noah doesn’t seem convinced.

I smiled at him. “I don’t know how much Kaya loved people. People who go through all pain can either abandon love entirely or depend on it even more. But she cared for you the most, I can assure you that.”

He gave me a tired grimace. “You loved her,” I said. “Even after she was changed. Why?”

“I…continue to ask myself that question.” Noah paused. “When I knew her, she was the brightest girl in the world, and she didn’t care less what people thought. She was beautiful. And after…I still saw her that way. Even with her purple eyes and her scars, she was still my friend.” He smiled at me. “You have friends in your world, friends who stay by you as well.”

“Yeah…but none of them felt the same way that you did about Kaya.”

“Not one?”

“No.” I hold out my left hand, showing him the scars. “No one wants to love a freak.”

“He does.” Noah looked down at Daniel. “He will not abandon you…Cat.”

“I hope not.” I touched Daniel”s forehead again. It’s warm, but not feverish. “Hearts are so strange, aren’t they?”

Drained

Standard

Jhaq returned not long after. She was carrying different glass jars with her, and in two was her little daughter. “Ray?”

She climbed onto the bed next to Daniel. “Should she be…” I asked Jhaq, but she ignored me.

“J- I shall remove the bandage,” she announced. “I…must clean it.” She was struggling not to speak in third person. I remembered that I had given her another book, another set of words for her to read, from my own shelf. I didn’t know what she would think of the Hunger Games, but the last time I asked Daniel, he said she was enjoying it. He had to stop her from reading them to Ray as a bedtime story though.

He looked so different then. Daniel was so full of life, it was hard to see how now, barely moving except when he was screaming or crying out.

I looked over at his goddaughter, with her little face screwed up in a frown. “Daniel,” she said. Just that single word; Daniel.

“Look away,” Jhaq told the both of us. She took off the bandage, revealing the inflamed skin underneath, and little bits of white that remained of his eye. Ray whimpered and Jhaq looked up exasperated. “Jhaq said, look away,” she scolded both of us. “Silly girls.”

“I’m fine,” I told her. “I want to help.”

“This is nothing,” she said.

“It’ll make me feel like I’m doing something,” I pointed out. “Please Jhaq.”

She shook her head, pouring a fluid onto a cloth. I knew the smell. “Tea tree oil?” I asked.

She looked up. “It’s a good antiseptic,” I said. “I use it sometimes.”

Jhaq nodded. “This will help Daniel fight off infection,” she told me, dabbing it on his broken eye.

I thought of something. “I’ll be back,” I told Jhaq, walking out of Daniel’s chambers, not entirely sure of where to go.

As I walked out, I came into the hallway to my bedroom though. “Wha-” I looked back, and Daniel’s room was there, not mine. I frowned. Was Daniel’s bedroom now part of my house?

At least it’s cleaner.

I went into the kitchen, and started boiling the kettle. “Do we have lemongrass?” I asked mum, scrambling for a tea bag.

Mum mumbled something in response, but I didn’t pay too much mind. Calling back a word of thanks, I grabbed a bottle of essential oil in the kitchen, and finished preparing my cup of tea.

Jhaq frowned as I walked in. “I need to clear the air,” I told her. “It’ll help me breathe. Him too.”

She hesitated, then nodded. “The scents will help Daniel breathe,” she told me. “Mayhaps calm Daniel.”

“Good.” She began to wrap a long strip of cloth around Daniel’s head, covering up the newly placed bandage. Once again, he was barely moving, and I had to feel his heartbeat myself before I could reassure myself that he was still alive.

Then the door opened and I sprang up, expecting my mother or brother. Instead, a young man with grey hair walked in, and looked at me. “You are the human girl?” he asked.

Well, that’s certainly better than freak. “Yes, that’s me,” I told him. Jhaq dropped in a deep curtsey on the ground, and he swept past her without a word.

Then he did something surprising. He knelt down in a bow before me. “My lady,” he spoke, rising up again. “I have heard much about you.”

Part of me is frozen in shock. “Then why on earth would you be bowing?”

He smiled at me wryly. “You’re still a lady,” he said. “And a strong one at that. You’ve terrified his Grace to no end.”

“As long as he’s not coming back,” I simply said. I didn’t trust myself to open up to this stranger, even though he seemed far different from everyone else.

Then he sighed. “I trust that you know what happened.” I nodded. “I’m sorry for what has happened to you both,” he said sorrowfully. “Neither of you deserved what happened.”

I frowned at the bitter tone in his voice. “Has something like this happened before?”

“No, but sooner or later it would’ve.” The doctor’s face is stony. “It’ll happen again as well.”

I don’t know what to say to this declaration. “I cannot control him,” I settled for saying. The doctor nodded.

Daniel yelled out and I turned back to him. I didn’t need to put my hand to his forehead to know that he had a fever, but I did anyway, and his eyes fluttered open, or at least the single one did. “I…”

“Daniel?”

He stares at me for a moment. “Cat Madigan,” he murmured, before his eye closed again.

I stayed by him. “What can be done?” I asked the doctor.

He then proceeded to relay to me a full description of how Daniel’s eye was sliced right down the middle, informing me of how the pupil was completely destroyed and how the rest of his eye would be removed as soon as his body was stabilised. By the end of it, I was feeling slightly ill.

“He is slowly coming out of shock,” the doctor told me. “But he’s got an infection, and he needs blood. My lady…” He inhaled. “You know as well as I do that our blood will not do the job.”

“Then use mine,” I told him.

“I’d have to get his permission,” he replied.

“He’s delirious, how can you get permission from him?”

“My lady, no offence…but using your blood may cause complications. You know why.”

“Oh.” Freak. “I know…but, where else can we get human blood?”

He shook his head. “His Grace told me himself that you are the one human besides Daniel in these grounds. But we don’t know the structure of your blood, it has been through many treatments now.”

I thought for a moment. “It’s…strange.”

“Believe me, I know.” The doctor smiles at me strangely. “I’ve heard of what’s happened. And I can see why you terrify the king, especially now.” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “It’s a frightening prospect; one who has suffered a million hells, and survives every one of them.”

“Not without scars.”

“That’s what makes you terrifying. Not the physical scars,” he added, “but all that suffering has made you strong as steel. You’re a girl forged by pain and rage, and you remember everything that’s ever happened to you. That’s why he’s afraid. He knows that you’ll get revenge, someday.”

I smiled up at him bitterly. “You make me sound like some warrior.”

“That’s what people consider you.”

“People?”

“Indeed.”

I suddenly felt uncomfortable. “Could I save Daniel with my blood? It’s closer than anything else available, and if it can bring me back to life, it can heal him.”

“If he accepts it. More precisely, if his body accepts it. That’s the main worry.”

“Is there a difference between injections and a transfusion?”

“Your blood is used to catering for your body. We don’t know how it’ll react to his. Best case scenario, he accepts it, and it heals his body without permanently impacting his system.”

“And then there’s an infinite amount of possibilities after that,” I concluded.

“Yes,” he said. “And there’s another issue.”

“What now?”

“A lot of blood is needed. He’s nearly comatose right now, but we’re not sure how much blood he’ll need. And we must think of your condition as well. If your bodies are like ours, then you won’t be able to reproduce enough blood to function, at least not in less than a day. You’d die from the blood loss.”

“…you forget who you’re talking to, sir.” Before he could interrupt me, I continued. “Take all the blood you can from me until I stop breathing. That’s how much you’d need for Daniel.”

He hesitated. “Resuscitate me if you want,” I told him. “But if you don’t, I’ll come back anyway.”

“My lady-”

“I’ve died from haemorrhaging more times than I am able to count, and I’m here to say this to you,” I said. “If there’s another option, think of one now.”

He thought for a moment before shaking his head in defeat. “I can’t,” he admitted. “He’s in no condition to consent,” he acknowledged. “But you do realise that this is a coin flip.”

“Of course I do.”
___________________________________________

The doctor lets me stay in Daniel’s room while this happens. Jhaq and Ray are asked to leave, but Ray refuses, and I don’t argue with her. “She can stay if she wants,” I say. “If her mother agrees,” I remedy, at the look on Jhaq’s face.

“You’ll come back,” Ray says firmly. She’s tiny, but she’s stubborn. I’ve forgotten how old she is.

“Of course. Think of a colour while I’m gone.”

“Why?”

“Just for a bit of fun.” Everything starts to go foggy once more. “How much has gone?” I asked the doctor.

“A litre,” he told me. “Shouldn’t be too much longer.”

“Doctor?”

He frowns at me. “What?”

“What’s your name?”

“I…” He looks away. “Noah.”

I smile. “I thought I knew you.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I see Him. He’s opening his eyes and looking over at me. “You’re going to live,” I said to him, as everything fades. “Stay alive for me.”

It’s like going asleep. “Promise me, Daniel.”

Don’t Go Now

Standard

It’s all a matter of waiting. Which happens to be the thing I am worst at.

It’s like that time with Chase; the only thing I can do is sit there and watch on. There’s only helplessness.

And hate. That too.

Daniel’s shivering all the time, and his face is drained of any colour, except for a bright red near his right eye. Right now there’s a bandage wrapped around his head, covering the wound, but I still feel sick, knowing what’s underneath it…

“The eye must be removed,” Jhaq had told me. “It’s been too badly damaged, Daniel would no longer be able to use it.”

Later, someone I assumed to be the physician gave me a much more gory description. The eye had been sliced straight down the middle, whoever attacked him got him straight in the eyeball. His words made everything seem so much worse, I had already felt uneasy at the sight of Daniel; hearing the doctor’s words made my stomach churn.

“What else has been done?” I asked Jhaq.

She just shook her head. “Have you cleaned it?” I probed. “Have you given him water? Please, tell me!”

“We’ve cleaned it, Miss Madigan,” she reassured me hurriedly. “And he’s been given food and water, but…” Her voice trailed off.

I tried to understand. “He…can’t keep it down? Is that it?” She nodded. “Is it the shock?”

Jhaq sighed softly. “The weapon, Miss Madigan…” She stopped speaking suddenly.

I then saw the two figures at the door. One of them is Thommand, the other is his Grace.

“What do you want?” I said coldly.

Christan looked away. Thommand spoke. “We merely wanted to have knowledge of your wishes, Lady Madigan.”

“Wishes? What do you mean?”

He sighed. “Have you seen the condition of the weapon?” Without waiting for my response, he takes it out from behind him and tosses it toward the bed.

I caught it with my left hand and looked at it. I felt my anger rise as I saw it still had Daniel’s blood on it. “Just what am I meant to be looking at?”

“Wipe the blood aside if that helps,” Thommand suggested.

I ran the blade over the leg of my pants, and as the blood disappeared, I saw what he meant. I glared at Christan. “Why would someone carry a blade this rusty?”

“Do not question him,” Thommand said sharply.

“I have every right to,” I growled. Christan’s eyes widened. “After everything that has happened, I certainly have that right.”

“The point at hand,” Thommand was changing the subject again. “Is that if he receives an infection, then he shall slowly rot.”

Christan flinched as my five letters lit up again. “And?” I snarled.

Thommand is completely unfazed. “In the case of that happening, I was wondering if, instead of letting him suffer, you would allow one to administer a quick d-”

A ball of light suddenly seared off the edge of his arm. “Get out now, before you lose the rest of your attire,” I hissed. “Now!”

Thommand turned around in a huff, but Christan remained. “And what do you want?” I enquired angrily.

He shook his head. “I am the king,” he said firmly. “I wish to stay with Daniel as he recovers.”

“I believe you lost that right when you put that bloody dagger in his eye!”

“I will not be ordered around by his wench, my la-”

I caught him by the collar and hissed in his ear. “Listen,” I growled. “I have killed people for far less than you have done, your Grace. I am definitely not below revenge, and no one would blame me for it now.” I looked up and met his frightened gaze. “If your life means anything to you, you’ll leave. Now.”

I let him go, and he turned away with whatever remained of his pride. I looked back at Jhaq, who had no expression on her face. “Are you alright?” I asked, my voice hoarse.

“Yes, Miss Madigan,” she said firmly. She came up to me and put her hand on my shoulder. “Is Miss Madigan?”

I looked away. “What do you think?”

She sighed. “Jhaq…no, I worry too.”

Suddenly, Daniel let out a scream. “Daniel?!” I ran over and gripped his hand. “What’s going on?”

She just stared at Daniel, who was shaking violently. “Jhaq, please, help!” I pleaded.

Jhaq looked up. “Daniel is…”

“What?” I put my hand on his chest and I can feel it pounding like a jackhammer. “What are you saying?”

Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Daniel is…not here.”

“…not here?”

“No. Daniel’s mind is…gone.”

I shook my head. “It’s the shock, that’s all. He’s just in shock.”

Jhaq raised an eyebrow at me, and I immediately understand what she means. Who would know better than me?

“He’ll…he’ll come back though,” I told her. “I always do. No matter how bad it gets, I always come back. Even if it’s against my will.”

Jhaq spoke up again. “Daniel is not like Miss Madigan,” she reminded me. “Miss Madigan…” At the sight of my confusion, she raised her left hand, and I realised what she meant. “Daniel has never…Daniel is not…” She is grasping for words she does not know.

So I speak for her. “Daniel is not a freak,” I concluded.

She nodded. “If he…he won’t…” I inhaled. “He wouldn’t come back. He wouldn’t…heal.”

I looked down at Daniel. His lips were forming words I couldn’t hear, or understand. “How…long?” I asked her.

She shook her head. “No.” She suddenly ran out of the room, leaving me with Daniel.

“Cat…” I heard a whimpering sound come from Daniel. I grasped his hand, and waited for him to say more. Instead, he cried out again, gasping in agony.

His hand tightened around mine, and I thought my bones would break. But I didn’t let go. If I did, he might too. Stay with me Daniel, I pleaded. Please.

The Prince Charming

Standard

“Come down from the tree Cat.”

“No.”

“Cat, you can’t stay up there forever.”

“Yes I can.”

“Cat…” Daniel’s voice takes on a sharp tone. “This is a social function. It might not be one from your Reality, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show the same etiquette.”

“Since when do you care about manners?” I retort.

“Since about now. Now get down!” he snarls.

“Fine.” I jump out of the tree and land on one leg on the blue grass. I walk past Daniel back to the castle without saying a word.

He follows me, equally silent. “Would you like to tell me why you’re in such a foul mood?” he asks, his voice quiet, even though there’s no one around.

I ignore him. He just sighs. “Just promise me you’ll behave,” he says, and leaves me at the door to his chambers.

I enter, and I slam the door behind me. When I turn, I’m startled to see someone there. She’s just as surprised as me, and she drops the large pile she’s holding when I open the door.

“Oh!” I exclaim. “Jhaq, I’m so sorry, I didn’t know-”

She nods hurriedly and resumes to pick up the ocean of fabrics at her feet. “Here, let me help,” I tell her, scooping up a couple of the items. “Who is this for?”

Jhaq looks down as she speaks. “Miss Madigan, certainly,” she says. “His lord sent them for Miss Madigan.”

I grimace. “He shouldn’t have…” It’s too pretty. I pick it up from the bodice, and I can see that it is embroidered with bronze coloured leaves. I run my hands over the fabric. Velvet. The softest, silkiest velvet I’ve ever touched. Fuck. “Jesus Christ…” I murmur.

“Who is Miss Madigan talking to?” Jhaq asks.

“No one. I…” I turn to her, and she flinches away. “What is happening tonight?” I ask her.

“It is the celebration of His Grace’s first day of age,” she informs me promptly. That’s what I could rely on from Jhaq. Unlike Daniel, she would tell me anything I asked, providing she was capable of understanding my question. Not about Daniel of course; whenever I so much as mentioned him she’d go black in the face. I figure that’s their own form of blushing, but when I first saw it happen I thought they were dying.

“I see…” She’s holding out the dress for me, so I reluctantly take off my clothes -my school dress and shoes- and step into it. She ties the laces for me and steps away with her head bowed.

I walk up to the mirror and look at myself. The dress is the colour of the grass I walked on earlier; deep navy blue. The leaves of bronze cover the bodice and short sleeves, and when I turn around, they fall down my back, like a train. This is not meant for a rude little girl, this is for a princess. “People will look at me,” I say aloud. “I don’t belong there. I won’t ever belong there.”

“People will look at Jhaq too,” Jhaq reminds me. Instantly, I feel horrible. Jhaq’s face has tattoos running from her eyes to the ends of her jaw, like tears, and her dark bruises scarring her cheek and collarbone are easy to see. Jhaq’s face shows nothing. Like me, she doesn’t show sadness easily.

“Should we go?” I ask softly.

She gives a sudden gasp. “Miss Madigan’s head firstly,” she says, and rushes off. She returns quickly with a box. “This is for Miss Madigan’s hair,” she tells me.

I open up the box, and Jhaq pins more bronze leaves in my hair. She lets my hair down so that it trails down my back, and Jhaq nods in approval. “You have been good,” she tells me, her eyes sparkling in a rare moment of amusement. “Other girls huff and scream at Jhaq when she does their hair.”

I shake my head. “They’re only pins, and they don’t hurt,” I told her. “How is your talking coming?”

“My…talking is good. A lot better.” She inclines her head and speaks in a whisper. “Thankyou for my words, Miss Madigan.”

“If you ever want another lot of words, let me know.” Daniel has many ‘words’ in his bookcase, and he won’t miss them. “Shall we go?”

“Miss Madigan shall go,” she confirms.

I frown. “Where do I go though?”

Jhaq sighs. “It is down these rooms,” she tells me. “Follow, if you would please.”

Jhaq leads me out, and we walk together down the long hallways. I find it cold and unwelcome here. Grand, certainly, but not beautiful.

We walk past a tall one and Jhaq turns her head away. He walks toward us suddenly, and I raise my arm across my face in a moment of habit. He walks past me however, and toward Jhaq.

And he hits her across the face.

“You’re not to be wandering these grounds at this time,” he fumes. “Foolish slut, get away from here!” He raises his hand again.

Before he can strike, I step between them. “She is guiding me by my own request,” I tell him. “She has done nothing wrong, and you have no reason to harm her.”

He glares at me. “Oh, it’s you, little freak,” he sneers. “What are you all dressed up for?”

“Daniel wants me by his side tonight.” Even though he knows that I hate the idea of a party with these people, and I’ll be in a bad mood the whole time. “I don’t want any trouble. And neither do you, if you know what I am.”

“I’d be a fool not to,” he retorts. “Freak.

I meet his gaze and smile. “You’ll have to come up with something better than that,” I tell him. “Freak is no longer an insult to me. Now…” I gesture to Jhaq. “If Jhaq isn’t allowed out here, perhaps you can show me where to go?”

His face is no longer angry. It is emotionless and cold as a statue. “Of course,” he says shortly. “If you will follow me.”

I turn to Jhaq and incline my head, like I’ve seen Daniel do. She curtseys slightly and hurries away. I trail after the rude man, and I don’t take my eyes off him for a moment. He is wearing a silver robe, as bright as his hair. His eyes, however, are black as ink. One of these things is not like the other… I mused.

It’s all too grand. Everything is done up in gold and bronze. Even servants are painted in gold. I stand next to the man, on top of glossy, golden stairs. I manage to stop myself from wrinkling my nose at the lack of taste, if only just.

“You like it not,” the man says.

I turn to him. “This is all new to me,” I inform him.

He nods. “Your name is short for Catherine, is it?”

“Why do you wish to know?”

“Daniel’s mentioned a Catherine.”

I shake my head. “That’s not me. I am Cat, simply Cat.”

“Lady Cat. It does not sound as easy on the ear as Catherine.”

“Then what about Lady Madigan?”

He sighs. “Very well then. Start down the stairs.”

“After you sir.”

He bows and starts down. When he reaches the bottom, I start walking too. I spot the back of Daniel’s head; his hair is tied back, and he is dressed all in black. When they call out my name, I see him start to turn around, but suddenly, everyone starts walking forward, and I can’t see him any more.

Someone walks up to me and takes me by the arm. I freeze, unsure what to do, and he laughs. It’s a loud, clear sound, and he smiles at me. “Peace,” he says. “You must be nervous.”

I don’t trust myself to speak, so I just incline my head. Keep it up Cat Madigan. “A shy young thing, aren’t you?” he enquires. He does not let go of my arm, and he walks me across the hall. “Contrary to everything I have heard about you.”

“One would hear many things in this place,” I say as clearly as I manage.

He laughs in response. “Is it true though, that you kicked over my advisor?”

“Do you mean…” I nearly say ‘Fat man’, but I correct myself at the last minute. “…Thommand,” I finish.

“Yes. He has a certain dislike for you,” he tells me merrily, stopping at the edge of the giant room.

“He should.”

When I say nothing else, he talks again. “This is the first I have seen of you,” he says. “Why do you not leave your chambers more often?”

“…I don’t get along with people well.” That’s as honest as I get.

“I disagree. You are conversing with me, and I believe, if I may dare say, that we are getting along at least somewhat well.”

“I suppose,” I admit. I look around the room and I catch people quickly glancing away from me. “Still, there are plenty here who would have nothing to do with me.”

“So why are you here today?” he enquires.

“Daniel,” I tell him.

“Ah…yes. How loyal of you,” he says. “I suppose that is another reason why you never leave your room.”

It takes me longer than it should’ve to understand his implication. “I do not know your name,” I say, changing the topic. “I know nobody here, and I should really remedy that, shouldn’t I?”

“Of course.” He sweeps a bow to me. “Christan, though, I think it would suit everyone else better to call me Your Grace.”

Oh….fuck. “Just as well, Your Grace,” I said, quickly recovering. That’s why people were looking before….Cat Madigan, you stupid bitch… “I know only one person called that, and he is a….” I struggle to come up with a ladylike word. “I do not enjoy him,” I say finally.

“As you wish.” He is handsome, in his own way, I observe. He has silver hair, like the man from before, but he has golden eyes, which shine like the sun, and a permanent smile on his face. He is the image of Prince Charming. If Prince Charming was lacking eyebrows.

I didn’t trust him.

Not a lot, anyway.

It wasn’t anything he did. I simply don’t trust handsome strangers who flirt with me for no reason.

He started talking again. “So, when can I expect your first day of age?” Christan asks me. “Of course, it doesn’t matter much, but if you allowed me, I’d be happy to bestow upon you a gift. Or Daniel perhaps.”

I start panicking in my head. What does Day of Age mean? I screamed inwardly.

I just said, “In two years.”

“I see. And how many moons?”

Moons? Wait, does he mean months? I restrain from laughing at the term. “Six.” If it means what I think it is.

“Very well then. Well, I believe I shan’t keep you from Daniel any longer. I wouldn’t want to cause a scandal here tonight,” he laughs, taking my hand.

Suddenly there is a loud bang. “What is that?” I ask, immediately on guard. I feel my hand burning, and I’m grateful that Christan is holding the other.

“The prisoner,” he says, a touch of exhaustion in his voice. “Do not worry, my lady, this isn’t the first time this has happened.”

I take the opportunity. “I was wondering, Your Grace,” I started.

“Go on.” He looks at me with his golden eyes.

“Might I have your permission to see him? The prisoner, I mean.”

Christan frowns. “He’s wild, my lady,” he tells me. “I wouldn’t want to compromise your safety. Besides, we are still trying for information from him.”

“I am human,” I remind him. “Like he is. Maybe I could help?”

“A pretty face might prompt him to tell us something,” he said thoughtfully.

I snort, not at the flattery, but at what would be said in Reality about that. I could almost hear Slenderman sniggering “Heheheh, incest.”

“I’ll consider it, my lady,” he tells me. “Now, if you’ll come with me.” He and I walk over to Daniel, sitting in a dark corner with a cone in his hand. “Daniel!” Christan calls jovially. “So this is the lovely lady you keep locked away from us all. I don’t blame you, my man.”

Ugh….

Daniel sees me flinch, and his lips turn up at the sides. “I thank you,” he tells Christan. “And I thank you for letting me bring her, Your Grace.”

“Ah, it is my pleasure.” Christan was distracted by another beauty passing by, wearing pink and gold and far too much face paint. “If you will excuse me, I must attend to other matters. I hope you enjoy tonight, my lady.” He raises my hand to his lips to kiss and bows, before turning to another girl.

I sit beside Daniel. “Thankyou,” I said.

He turns to me with his eyebrow raised. “I am allowed to see him,” I say. “It’s probably more for interrogation, but I can see him.”

He frowns. “Really?”

“What? You didn’t think of this?”

“Actually, no,” he admitted. “You asked His Majesty?”

I shrug. “He must like you,” he muses.

Another shrug. “Would you like him?” Daniel asks, eyebrow raised suggestively.

I shook my head. “I don’t go for the Knights in Shining Armour,” I told him.

“Oh, you’re more of the Heathcliff type, are you?”

I wrinkle my nose. “Heathcliff is pathetic. He’d probably marry me and ship me off to somewhere dark to die, while he pined over a married woman.”

“Fair enough.” He takes a sip out of his cone.

“Whiskey?” I ask.

He shakes his head. “Cloud dew,” he tells me. “Want some?”

“Doesn’t that mean rain?” I ask, but I take the drink.

He watches me as I take a sip. “You’re behaving quite well, Lady Madigan.”

The drink is sickly sweet. “Thankyou. But if you didn’t take me here to get permission, why did you?”

Daniel smiles. “You like parties.”

“…when I’m around people I enjoy,” I amend.

“Do you enjoy me?”

“Occasionally.” I narrow my eyes. “When you’re not drugging me. What was that for?”

“I was saving your life,” he said mildly, taking the cone back and having another gulp.

“How can you stand that drink, it’s horribly sweet.”

“How appropriate,” he says drily. “It’s alright, I have you, my sour tongued shrew.”

“That’s a rhyme,” I smile.

He grins back. “You forgive me?”

“I will eventually.”

“Good girl. Now.” He stands up. “May I have this dance, m’lady?”

“Do I have to?”

“Well, everyone else is. And the alternative is His Grace, who is coming this way now.”

I look up. “I’ll take His Grace.”

“Whatever. Just watch out for his hands.” He winks at me as Christan appears and holds out his arm before asking if I would accompany him in a dance.

Two dances is all I have with him. Daniel was right, throughout the dance, I’d slowly become closer and closer to His Grace, and by the end of the second, when I asked if I could go back, he pressed a ribbon into my palm before bowing to me and kissing my hand.

When I showed Daniel the ribbon, he sniggered, trying to conceal his face from the crowd. “Please don’t tell me what I think it means,” I said flatly.

When he looked up, his face was straight, but his eyes were gleaming. “It’s a scarlet ribbon, you whore,” he told me cheerfully. “Since when is scarlet ever innocent?”

I grimace. “You’ve had too much to drink.”

“On the contrary. I’ve been feeding on only sweets and secrets all evening,” he said. “Of course, though, I’d like something more savory now. Come dance with me.”

“I told His Grace I was sitting out this one.”

Daniel smiles slyly and turns to whisper in my ear. “Dance, or I’m going to have to make a scene.”

“That’s blackmail.”

“Hadn’t noticed,” he said dryly.

I stand up, and let him walk me over to where everyone is dancing. “I’m curious as to what sort of scene you’d make,” I start. “Would you care to divulge that little secret?”

“No dice,” he tells me. “If I start telling you all my secrets, how will I stop?”

“I have three I want to know. And you don’t know half of mine.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Trade for secrets, hmm? You’ve peaked my interest, Lady Madigan.”

“So what would’ve you done?” I ask.

“Something more public and more embarrassing than a scarlet ribbon.” He grins. “Number two?”

“Who is Catherine?”

He grimaces. “You don’t have to answer,” I tell him. “But I won’t judge.”

“Someone from a long time ago,” he says.

“Lover?”

“God no.”

“You’re not going to tell me any more, are you? Fine then, I’ll be just as discreet with my answers.”

“I wouldn’t expect any less of you. And third?”

“What is the beginning of the end?”

He stops smiling. “Do I want to know?” He shakes his head. “How do you even know? Are you psychic?”

“That is more than 3 questions, Lady Madigan. My turn now.”

I braced myself. This would be painful.