“Your aunt and brother are trapped in the Shadow realm. If they do not return to their bodies before the Shadows find them, their souls will be lost there forever. If the Shadows find a way to get to their bodies and infiltrate your realm, destruction and chaos will ensue.”
Is there ever any good news anymore? I remember when life was easy. I’d get up, trudge to my homeschool classroom, have dinner with the family, and go to bed wishing my life was more exciting. That was a mistake. It’s exciting alright. Now it’s all Witches, Fairies, Shadows and end of the world as I know it doom and gloom.
Okay, maybe it’s not that bad, but it would be nice to have a little break between crises. My plan for the day had been to go swimming in the warm ocean with Kallen before heading back to my realm and the cold of the Colorado mountains. I’m betting I won’t be swimming today. Or tomorrow. “How do I get them back?”
Isla sighs. “It will be difficult.” Of course it will. “You will need to travel to the Shadow realm and lead your aunt and brother back to their bodies without the Shadows taking yours.”
“My what?” Yes, I know it seems obvious what she means here, but I’ve learned that with magical people, I need to ask about every little detail. Less chance of them keeping important little tidbits to themselves like ‘We’re all supposed to blow up tonight, which is why I had you build a giant spider web to protect us,’ or ‘If the protection spell you created is hit by a car, it will feel like you’ve been hit by a car.’ That last one really hurt.
“Your body.” Yeah, that’s what I thought. But, it still seems like she’s hiding something behind that blank expression she’s wearing.
“Grandmother, from the little I know of the Shadow realm, that would be impossible. How is Xandra supposed to enter the realm without immediately being killed so her body can be used as a vessel?” My boyfriend Kallen, he’s always looking on the bright side of things.
“It has never been done before. I am not sure.”
That’s concerning. “What do you mean, it’s never been done before?”
Isla sighs. “No one has ever wanted to travel to the Shadow realm before.”
“Is it really that bad?”
I don’t like monosyllabic answers. That’s never a good omen for me. “Why is it so bad?”
Isla doesn’t look like she wants to answer me, so Tabitha does. “The Shadows are pure evil scraped from the souls of the dead.”
Ouch. “What do you mean, scraped from the souls of the dead?” Another in a long line of questions I don’t really want answered. But, it is, anyway.
Tabitha’s mouth is in a grim line. She hesitates a moment before saying, “When a body dies, the Angels of Death cleanse the soul of all of its darkness. For some, it is a very small amount. For others, a good deal of their soul is taken. The darkness is then sent to the Shadow realm.”
“What happens to the soul?”
“It depends on how much darkness has to be removed. When the soul is scraped, part of the soul is still attached to the darkness. If very little is removed and the soul is still basically intact, then it will move on. If the soul is heavy with darkness and not much can be saved, the soul is returned to its realm as a lower life form, giving it a chance to redeem itself as it moves to higher and higher life forms in subsequent lives.”
Sounds like Buddha got a few things right. “You mean, if I have a lot of darkness on my soul, I could come back as a dog or something?” Hmm, now that I’ve said it out loud, it doesn’t sound half bad. My life would certainly be less stressful as a cocker spaniel.
“Or a toad,” Kallen says barely hiding his smirk. I narrow my eyes in his direction, but I refrain from commenting. “Ow!” Tabitha smacked him in the back of the head. I love her. I grin at him while he rubs his head.
“That is correct,” Tabitha nods.
“So, these pieces of souls with darkness on them, they can still think and move around and stuff?” I’m beginning to understand why no one wants to go to the Shadow realm.
“They combine their energies and grow into fearsome entities of pure evil,” Isla says.
“So, the Shadow realm is basically hell.”
Isla nods. “Some call it that.”
“I have to go to hell to get my brother and aunt back with no plan, no knowledge of what the realm is like, and not knowing how to get back?” Piece of cake. Nothing could possibly go wrong with this scenario, right? I’m going to take the resounding silence in the room as a yes to all of the above.
Wow, this is seriously my life? Really? I guess I have to learn to accept that things really aren’t going to be ‘normal’ for me ever again. Would it be wrong to bang my head on the counter as I try to force this fact into my head? Because I really, really want to. I think I have to at least once. Ouch, that hurt.
“Xandra?” Kallen says when I don’t lift my head back up. “What are you doing?”
“Pondering my life.”
“And you have to bang your head on the table to do that?”
“Okay. Do you think you will be joining us again anytime soon?”
With a resigned sigh, I sit up straight on my stool again. “What do I do first?”
“Xandra…” Kallen begins with a look in his eye that tells me he’s going to argue, but I don’t let him finish.
“I’m going, Kallen.”
He chuckles. “I know you are. I was simply going to say that you are not going without me.”
I smile. He always has my back. “You don’t have to.” But I really, really want him to.
“Alright, I will lounge back here soaking up rays on the beach while you go off alone to fight evil in the depths of hell.” Smack. Rubbing the back of his head again, he says to Tabitha, “I was teasing her.” If she keeps this up, Kallen’s going to end up with a concussion soon.
“This is no time for teasing,” Tabitha tells him but I think she’s trying to hide a smile.
“The first thing we need to do is contact your parents and then figure out a way to get them, and the bodies of your aunt and brother, through to this realm.”
I cast a spell preventing anyone but myself from travelling between realms. Sort of. “Um, that won’t be a problem. I kind of only took the ability to travel from realm to realm away from Fairies. Except Kallen.”
Now I have two sets of vibrant green eyes narrowed in my direction and another pair that looks amused. I suspect this is an instance where Kallen’s not going to have my back. He didn’t have to move his stool back away from the island counter, though.
“That is quite the little detail you forgot to mention,” Isla says evenly. I can’t tell if she’s showing so many teeth because she’s smiling, or because she’s going to tear me apart with them. I think I’m pretty safe in assuming it’s not a smile.
“What are you all doing up?” Kegan asks from the kitchen doorway, saving me at least for the moment from Isla’s wrath. “I thought you went to bed a couple of hours ago.”
I pat the stool next to me. Eager to use him as a buffer, I say, “Have a seat and I’ll fill you in.”
Kegan looks from me, to Isla, and back to me. Instead of sitting on the stool next to me, he picks it up and moves it next to Kallen, who is now about four feet away from the counter because he keeps inching backwards. Sitting down, he asks Kallen, “Does she know that the more teeth you can see, the madder Grandmother is? What did she do?” And then he starts laughing. “Do not tell me you already have to move from being left hand-fasted to right hand-fasted.”
“I wish,” Kallen mumbles under his breath and smirks.
Glaring at both of them now, I pull magic. Kallen senses it, but he’s not quick enough to react. Both of their stools shoot out from under them, and they tumble to the powder blue, ceramic tiled floor. Now, it’s Kallen’s turn to glare. “Was that necessary?”
I smile. “Yes. Yes, it was.”
Isla clears her throat, bringing our attention back to her. “Getting back to the topic at hand…” I can see about twenty teeth. That can’t be a good thing. “Since it is possible for Witches and Cowans to transverse realms, perhaps we should proceed with contacting your parents.”
Kegan sits back on the stool he just put upright. “Witches and Cowans? I thought Xandra…”
“We all did,” Isla practically growls. Kegan moves his stool even farther back from the counter.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I just wanted my family to be able to come here if they wanted. You know, in case there’s ever a reason…” I don’t finish the sentence but my cheeks turn bright red as I bite my bottom lip.
Isla’s eyebrows travel up her forehead and she looks at me expectantly. She’s not going to let me off the hook on this one. “Fine, in case Kallen and I do ever get right hand-fasted.” He and I are left hand-fasted so that we can get away with being as close as we want to be. But, if we ever have sex, a magical compulsion spell with force us to become right hand-fasted. Which, by Fae law, is literally until death do you part. I’m not ready for that commitment, so Kallen and I are trying really, really hard to be good.
“Aw, that is so disgustingly sweet,” Kegan says. Kallen punches him hard in the arm in response. There’s a lot more hitting in this realm than I’m used to. But, that doesn’t mean that I disagree with it.
“Xandra,” Isla says, standing up from her stool. I think she’s trying not to sound as mad as she is. If that’s the case and this is her nice voice, I think her level of anger must be somewhere around ground zero of a nuclear explosion. She gestures towards the main living room, which is a huge room filled with cozy furniture arranged in varying patterns for both intimate conversation and idle chatting. It opens onto a stone terrace and then the beach. “After you.”
Hmm, do I really want to walk ahead of her in her current state of mind? Then again, this is Isla. If she was planning to do something to me, she’d make sure I saw it coming. She wouldn’t attack me from the back. That thought firmly in my mind, I walk quickly to the terrace steps and the sandy shore. Tabitha, Kallen and Kegan are right on our heels.
“Is she really going to open a gateway?” Kegan asks and there’s more than a little awe in his voice. At least someone’s impressed with me right now.
“Yes, with the sole purpose being to send you through it,” Kallen smirks. He almost moves in time to avoid the punch in the arm. He’s too slow. Ouch. That one looked like it hurt. Maybe Kegan’s a little worried there may be some truth in what Kallen said. He did hit on me the other night making both Kallen and me angry.
“Boys, you behave or I will shove you both through and let you stew there for a few years,” Tabitha says sternly. I’d believe her if it wasn’t for the amused twinkle in her eyes.
“Shall we get on with this?” Isla asks. There’s no twinkle in her eyes.
I nod and close my eyes. I imagine my house in Colorado; the rambling ranch style that I grew up in, hidden from the world, high in the mountains. Putting a hand out, I pull it back slowly as if I am peeling wrapping paper off a Christmas present. Opening my eyes again, I smile. I can see the front door of my home and it hits me how much I’ve missed it. Until I see the snow. I don’t miss that at all.
“Mom, Dad!” I call out. It only takes a second for two ghostly bodies to zoom through the front door.
“Xandra, thank god! Zac and Aunt Barb aren’t waking up,” Mom says. I’ve never seen either of my parents look so worried before. Not even when eight of the most powerful Witches in the world wanted to kill me. Tears begin to well up in my eyes and slither down my cheeks. It’s finally hitting me. This isn’t just another magical quest or a fight with magical people who don’t come close to wielding the power I do. This is a life or death situation. If I don’t get my brother and my aunt back into their bodies, not only will they die, but the two ghosts in front of me will feel like they’ve died all over again. They may even ask me to let them move on, as I’m the one holding them here. I don’t think I could recover from the loss of my entire family. Ever. Suddenly, the Shadows don’t seem quite as scary as they did a few minutes ago.
Not wanting to waste any more time, I wipe at my tears and say, “I know. Aunt Barb came to me a little while ago. They’re trapped in the Shadow realm and Kallen and I are going in after them. But, Mom, we need to bring Zac and Aunt Barb’s bodies here. You and Dad, too.”
Mom’s eyes narrow to slits as her brows collide on her forehead like they were driven by two drunk semi drivers. At first, I thought she was looking at me, and I was about to take a couple of steps back, but she’s looking at Isla. “What is she talking about? I’m not bringing my son’s body anywhere. Or Barb’s.”
I knew this wouldn’t be easy. “Mom, the Fairies can better protect their bodies while Kallen and I look for their spirits.”
That was one of those sentences that I should have run through my brain a few times before I let my lips loose on it. I didn’t know it was possible for a ghost to turn that many shades of dark red. This time, I do take those steps backwards. I bump into Kegan and I turn around to apologize, but I don’t think he even noticed. He’s still staring at the gateway in awe.
“What your daughter is trying to say,” Isla says with a severe look in my direction, “is there are many Fairies here to watch over them. You will be here to make sure that they are fine, but if the Shadows escape, it will take more than a couple of magical beings to stop them. Letting them loose in a Cowan dominated realm is too dangerous.”
That was much more diplomatic than what I said. “Please, Mom. I know you’re worried, but wouldn’t you feel better knowing that a bunch of people are helping you look out for them?”
I think Isla’s words must have taken the edge off mine, because she’s becoming just as pale as ever as her ghostly sheen loses the red hue of her anger. “How are we going to do this?”
“Kallen and I will come through and carry them back here. All you and Dad will have to do is follow us.”
“Will it be safe for them to pass through? Will they be harmed in any way?”
I shake my head. “No, they won’t feel a thing.” After a minute, Mom gives a curt nod of approval.
“Julienne, are you sure about this?” Dad asks. He doesn’t look happy at all with the plan. “Do you really want to be in the same realm with that man?”
That man? Oh, my biological father. I hadn’t even thought about that and how that will make both of my parents feel. Especially when they find out that he and I have come to a fairly comfortable truce. Well, he’s not going to try to kill me anymore, at least. My parents, on the other hand, may want to go after him. Not that either of them could actually kill him in their current bodiless state, but I wouldn’t put it past either of them to try. Maybe this is the wrong thing to do. We want to make things better, not worse.
“I assure you, Dagda will not be a problem,” Tabitha says. “He is walking on eggshells right now, and he is not about to jeopardize his precarious hold on the throne to cause you any trouble.”
Apparently, I get my mumbling out loud from Dad, because that was a pretty clear ‘yeah, right’ that just came out of his mouth. “Mom, Dad, this is Tabitha, and she’s right. He’s really not going to bother any of us. But, we do need to hurry. The longer we talk about this, the longer it’ll take to get their spirits back in their bodies. The Shadows are looking for them, as well.” I’m debating whether or not to tell her that Aunt Barb can’t find Zac, but I think some things are probably best left unsaid.
“Alright,” Mom says and she floats to the side of the gateway for Kallen and me to pass through without going through her.
Putting my hand out, I run it through the almost invisible residue to clear it from the harmful effects it can cause to anyone passing through. Turning around, I grab Kallen’s hand and we walk back into my realm. Good lord, it’s really cold in Colorado.
“Where are they?” I ask Mom as I open the front door, hurrying in to get out of the snow.
“They’re in the garage,” Dad says. “Your grandmother had already left, so we were unable to move them.” He sounds more frustrated than ever about not having a physical form.
Kallen follows me through the house to the attached garage. Aunt Barb has a lab set up inside of it for her research on astral projection. I try to mentally prepare myself before walking in, so I stop a second before turning the knob. Kallen puts his hand on my shoulder, gently urging me to keep going. Reluctantly, I open the door.
It’s not nearly as bad as I expected. Both Aunt Barb and Zac are sitting in reclining chairs and they look like they’re sleeping peacefully. “I can’t believe Aunt Barb let Zac be in here when she tried this,” I say to no one in particular.
Dad startles me when he speaks. I didn’t realize he had followed us and ghosts don’t make noise when they move. “We thought the same thing, but I believe she was tinkering and it just sort of happened. She hadn’t said a word to your mother or me about doing any experimentation today.”
I nod. He’s probably right. Aunt Barb would never intentionally put Zac at risk. Looking up at Kallen, I say, “I’ll take Zac if you’ll carry Aunt Barb.”
He’s way ahead of me. He’s already walking over to her chair and he leans down to lift her effortlessly in his arms. I don’t look quite as graceful as I try to get Zac out of the chair. I think if the circumstances weren’t so dire, Kallen would be laughing right about now. Finally, I adjust my arms around him and manage to get my little brother out of the chair. I think he’s gained a few pounds since the last time I picked him up.
Kallen goes ahead of me and I slowly make my way through the house and out the door. As soon as I step through the gateway, Kegan, who has apparently recovered from his stupor, takes Zac out of my arms. He follows Kallen into the house.
Turning back around, I say to Mom and Dad who are standing just on the other side, “All you have to do is come through.”
Dad looks doubtful. “Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Sort of.
With a sigh, he moves forward. Mom starts to follow, but he puts his arm out. “Let me go first,” he says. I don’t blame him for being cautious. We really don’t know a lot about their condition and what could hurt them. They’re enigmas just like me.
Mom nods and waits for Dad to reach this side of the gateway. He turns and holds his hand out to her when he’s safely through. Mom follows quickly. When we’re sure they’re okay, I close my eyes and imagine the seams of the gateway sealing themselves again. When I open my eyes again, the gateway is gone.
Mom and Dad looking about them with the same expressions I must have had when I first came through. “Not what you expected?” I ask.
“Not at all,” Dad says.
I laugh. “I expected it to be kind of like the books back home in the library.”
Dad looks a little sheepish. “I guess I did, too.”
“If you’ll follow me,” Isla says, “I’ll show you where the boys have brought them.”
My parents nod and follow her into the house. I start to walk but Tabitha stops me. She puts a hand under my chin and gently pulls my face up so I’m looking at her. “You are brave, strong, and powerful. You will bring them back alive. I have all the confidence in the world that you are capable of doing this.”
I smile. Tabitha always knows the right thing to say. “Thank you, I needed to hear that.” I give her a quick hug before following her into the house.