Remain. [NaNoWriMo '16]

[Sequel to NaNo '15 novel Run.] Ruling the world isn't as easy or as fun as it sounds, especially not when a group of angry angels are thrown into the mix. What's worse is that Baxel is without his right-hand man, who just so happens to be the key to everyone's plans.

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9. Eight: The Ghost You Are To Me

    Damian sat across from me on the hotel floor, his legs crossed indian style. “So, how do we go about getting the shadows to trust you again?” he asked, clasping his hands. 

    “I don’t know,” I groaned. “They’ve never not trusted me before.”

    “So what if I just…” Damian began, trailing off as he raised a stream of shadows and slowly brought them close to my face. Instead of avoiding my skin like they would usually do out of respect, they poked me in the cheek. Damian let out the first real laugh I’d heard from him in a long time. “Aw, that’s cute, Baxie.”

    I glared at him. “I will cut you.”

    Damian quirked a brow, clearly enjoying this. “With what?”

    With my favorite slicing shadows gone, I cast around the room for something sharp. This hotel room had to be the most childproof ever. “My teeth.”

    “Easy there, tiger,” Damian grinned. 

    “I’m a demon,” I complained. “I’ve been trained in the arts of torture by Lucifer himself. Why aren’t you more intimidated by me?”

    Damian shrugged. “One of three reasons. Either because I don’t respect you, I don’t think you’re going to hurt me, or because you have a dog in your lap that you’re stroking like an old lady with a cat.”

    I looked down at Mr. Skullcrusher. “Excuse me, I take strong offense to all three of those reasons.”

    “Noted,” Damian said as another stream of shadows ran up my back, causing me to shiver. 

    “Will you stop that?” 

    “Unless you have a better idea on how to get them to trust you again, I might as well keep trying to see what works, huh?” 

    My heavy sigh did not discourage him from letting the shadows play with my hair or pull at my nostrils for fun. Damian grinned, enjoying all of this far too much.

    I sighed again, wishing I could just go back two days and pretend that this had never happened.

 

—[]—

 

    Taryn sat on Damian’s bed with her head tucked into her knees, wishing she could rewind time. Somehow, knowing that she was so close to Damian and had missed him was infinitely more painful than having no idea where he was. 

    The door opened and closed, and Taryn didn’t look up. Isaac dropped a small bag of fruit on the table and slumped into a chair. “How long do you want to stay here, Taryn?” he asked. “I mean, not that I’m opposed to an impromptu vacation in a little African village with a pretty girl, but we haven’t had a shower in like two weeks. If he’s not here… maybe we should call it off.” 

    “He might come back,” Taryn protested, her voice muffled by her shielded mouth. “What if he comes back and we’re gone?”

    Isaac shrugged. “Leave him a note. Tell him to call you.”

    Taryn raised her head at that, if only to shoot him a look. “He left in the first place. He clearly doesn’t want to talk to me.”

    “So him coming home to find you chilling in his house will clearly work wonders.”

    She sighed. “What do you want me to do? Give up completely? Go home?” Taryn shook her head. “I think he’s the only one who can fix this. We’ve tried everything else to stop Baxel, and you’ve seen how that turned out.”

    There was a moment of silence as we both remembered all the people we’d lost. The GITS had gone from a hundred or so members to twenty in the past few months alone. Granted some had left, some had gone into hiding, but some… some were casualties. 

    “I’m not asking you to give up,” Isaac hedged. “It’s just, they need us at home. You know how those old people work. They’ll sit around and debate and let everything around them fall apart. They need us to actually do something.”

    “We are doing something,” Taryn shot back. “Besides, they may just sit around and debate, but they’re also the only ones left, besides us. What’s that tell you?”

    Isaac shook his head. “A lot of people just left. There are more sorcerers out there. We’re not alone.”

    “Yes, we are,” Taryn whispered. 

    There was a brief pause. “Do you need a hug?”

    “No.”

    “Because I’d be happy to-“

    “No.”

    “Alright, alright,” Isaac acquiesced. He studied Taryn for a long moment, her dark hair clumped with dirt and hanging half over her face. “Something else is wrong, isn’t it?”

    “No,” Taryn repeated like it was the only thing she knew. 

    Isaac shrugged. “Alright. But you would think, after traveling together for what, like, three weeks? Three weeks of constant contact, and you would think you’d finally be warming up to me. God, what’s a guy gotta do?”

    Taryn rubbed a hand over her forehead. The truth was, Taryn was warming up to him. In her eyes, Isaac had gone from the handsome but arrogant resident fuckboy to moderately annoying but also surprisingly decent friend. Even so, it was hard to open up to anyone but Damian. But maybe that was her problem, and maybe that was what she had to fix in order to let go of him.

    “I just…” she began, then shook her head. “I thought that finding Damian would somehow solve all my problems. That if I could just find him, everything would be okay. He would fix things and I could relax and everything would go back to the way they were before we ever met Baxel.”

    Taryn kept her eyes on the fraying knees of her jeans. “I should’ve known better. Even if I find him, we’re never going to be the same.”

    Pushing himself up from the chair, Isaac came to sit next to Taryn on the bed. “Things might not be the same, but we are going to find him,” he promised. “And then you can try to fix whatever went wrong between you.”

    “It’s not something that can be fixed,” Taryn whispered. Tears threatened to prick at her eyes, but she kept them back. 

    “Everything can be fixed.”    

    Taryn shook her head. “You don’t understand.”

    Isaac looked over at her. “Then help me.”

    For a moment, Taryn considered it. “It’s not my secret to tell.”

    Reluctantly, Isaac nodded. “Okay.” They sat there in silence for a long minute.

    “You’re right, though. We should go. I’ll leave Damian a note, and… maybe he’ll come home.”

    “Are you sure?” Isaac asked. “I changed my mind. Finding him is important to you in more ways than one. We can stay a few more days, it won’t hurt.”

    Taryn looked around at the little cabin, the sparse area where Damian had been living for who knew how long. His clothes were still piled in the corner, his journal still seemed to belong in that little window ledge by his bed. “I don’t know,” she muttered. “I think it might.”

 

—[]—

 

    “Listen,” I told Damian, “until I get my shadows back, you have to be my eyes and ears. You’ve got to spy on the angels with the shadows for me. We need to know what they’re up to.”

    “You never taught me how to do that,” Damian complained. “At least, never exactly. I can kind of do it, but not long distances.”

    I leaned back in my chair, glad that we had decided to take a plane back to my headquarters the night before. It had been almost three days without the shadows, and I was getting antsy. “It’s not that hard. Even you should be able to figure it out,” I snapped. 

    “Simmer down,” Damian muttered, crossing his arms. “Just tell me the best way.”

    Sighing dramatically, I drummed my fingers on the end table. “You could connect from shadow to shadow and see what they’re sensing, but that’s better for short distances. To search everything would take an eternity.”

    “Well, that’s all I know how to do.”

    I raised a hand. “Patience, young one. I’m getting there.” He gave me a flat glare. “The other way is to use the shadows like sonar. Send out an impression of everything you know about who or what you’re looking for, and the shadows will bounce it along until one of them recognizes it. Then, they’ll return the message, and you can connect directly to that spot.”

    Damian thought about that for a second. “You say this like the shadows are conscious. Alive.”

    I shrugged. “Maybe they are. If not, why wouldn’t they trust me right now?”

    “How long does this sonar thing take?” Damian asked, ignoring my question. 

    “It depends on how far away the person or thing you’re searching for is. It can be as quick as minutes, or I’ve had it take days to return. I’d almost forgotten what I was looking for by then.”

    Damian nodded, then stood and shook out his arms, the buckles on his black jacket jingling. “So I just… send out everything I know about Sathariel?”

    “Yeah. The shadows will do the rest,” I told him, not bothering to temper the hint of jealousy in my voice. 

    Closing his eyes, Damian’s face eased into a blank mask of concentration. I watched as the shadows swirled around his feet, caressed his legs, crept around his torso. Those shadows should be mine. When Damian opened his eyes, the shadows went slinking away, dissipating back into the environment. 

    “Well?” I asked, my voice a little too sharp. “Did it work?”

    “I think so,” Damian replied. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

    “I guess so.” I folded my arms over my chest and looked away from him even though I could feel his eyes on me. 

    After a minute, Damian broke the heavy silence. “So, any progress on the shadows?”

    “No,” I grumbled. “Does it look like I’ve made any progress?”

    “Just asking,” Damian muttered. “Look, it’s been a long few days. Is there a spare room or something I could crash in?”

    I tipped my head back to look at the ceiling as I replied, “Sure, just pick one. If someone’s there, kick them out.”

    “I’m not going to do that.”

    Unbothered, I shrugged. “Okay, then don’t.”

    I could sense Damian hovering at the door. “I’ll just ask Riya which one’s free.”

    “Go for it.”

    “Okay, well I’m just going to go, then…” 

    I raised a hand and did one of those sarcastic little bye-bye waves. It was only when the door closed that I sat up, sighing. It wasn’t Damian’s fault that he was still in good favor with the shadows, but he was an easy target to resent. He was like Me 2.0 with light and dark and energy powers. When he learned how to properly use his skills to his advantage, he would be a formidable ally. Or enemy. But, in the end, he was still human. I was a demon. 

    I would always be better than he was. 

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