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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12. Eleven: Truth in the Dark [Alt: Titles Are Hard]

 

    I don’t think I had ever laughed in the Nether, but I was now. After I made first contact with the shadows, it became infinitely easier. They didn’t quite obey me like they used to, but they didn’t fear me either. I could feel the darkness filling me up with every breath I took, and it was so comforting and refreshing and complete

    I laughed. I laughed and laughed, threading shadows through my fingers almost lovingly. I tried to will them to gather around me, and they did. It was like the first wall had crumbled down, and we were back on the road to being one again. I could sense them again, and I could feel the disturbance when Damian appeared behind me. 

    Turning, there was a bright smile on my face as I greeted, “Damian!” I pulled him into a spontaneous hug, ignoring how he tensed under my arms. “They’re back!” I said as I pulled away and held him at arm’s length. “The shadows - they’re back!”

    Damian gave a nod, his brows pulled low and something dark in his eyes that had nothing to do with the Nether. “That’s great, Baxel.”

    My mood fell a fraction. “What’s wrong?”

    “Nothing. Come on, let’s get back to the surface,” he said, walking a few feet back to where they came in. 

    “Did you get what you came for?” I asked, following a few steps behind. 

    “No.”

    “Why not?”

    Damian whirled on me. “Look, I don’t want to talk about it, okay? Especially not with you. I’m going to the surface now, and if you want to come just in case the shadows aren’t quite there for you yet, fine. If not, I’ll see you next time I come down.”

    If I hadn’t been in such a good mood, I probably would have snapped right back at him, accepted his attitude and countered it with my own. But Damian had helped me get the shadows back, and I owed him.

    “Alright,” I gave in. “Let’s go to the surface.” 

    Damian gave a curt nod and brought the shadows around us. I contributed a little, and when they constricted, I didn’t feel claustrophobic. I felt whole. When they dispersed, we were standing in my room, Damian already starting to walk away from me. 

    “Damian,” I said in a low, commanding tone. “Wait.”

    He stopped, but didn’t turn. “Why won’t you just let me go?”

    “Because the last time I did that,  you didn’t come back.”

    There was such silence that I almost wished something catastrophic would happen, just for the shock of it. When Damian spoke, his words were slow and carefully chosen. “I thought all that stuff you said about caring and trying to change was just bullshit because you were weak without the shadows,” he said, his head hung. Raising it, he looked over his shoulder at me. “Don’t tell me that’s how you are all the time.”

    With the shadows back in me, I felt bolder and more confident. I felt less human, and less inclined to say the things that I said the other night. But that didn’t make them completely untrue. “There might have been a grain of truth in there,” I said, noticing how even my voice sounded harder with the shadows back. “You said it was a welcome change.” Damian didn’t respond to that.

    “Anyone who is afraid of you is a coward.”

    My fists clenched at my sides, and I instinctively reached for the shadows before letting them go again. I forced myself to take a breath. I was rash. I was impulsive. It was just part of me, but something told me I couldn’t be that way with Damian. Not if I wanted to keep him around. 

    “You’re trying to make me angry,” I stated, keeping my voice even with some effort. “Tell me why you’re upset, and I’ll fix it. I’ll kill whoever is responsible.”

    Damian whipped around, his eyes red as if he’d been crying. It was more obvious here in the daylight. “I don’t need you fighting my battles like some kind of helicopter mom. I need you to leave. Me. Alone.” He stormed towards the door. 

    “If you walk out that door, it’ll destroy all the progress we’ve made,” I rushed to tell him. His hand was on the knob. “I don’t know what I did to make you angry like this, but I thought we were getting somewhere.  You and me, as a team. Don’t throw that away.”

    I waited as Damian’s hand clenched on the knob. “This is all your fault,” he accused. “If you hadn’t been so greedy for that goddamn ring, you wouldn’t have involved me in any of this, I wouldn’t have found out that you’re my…” Damian cut himself off, swallowing. “Taryn wouldn’t hate me right now.”

    “Taryn,” I said. “This is about your sister again.”

    Damian’s eyes were on the door. “She hates me. She thinks I abandoned her.”

    I chose my words with care. “Well, you did, didn’t you?” His gaze snapping to mine, Damian’s eyes flashed. 

    “You ran away,” I pushed. “Did she tell you to leave? Did she come out and say that you disgusted her?” 

    His silence was enough of an answer. 

    “You just assumed, so you left, and you hid.”

    “Stop.”

    “Do you blame her for hating you?”

    “Stop.”

    “You left her. That’s on you.”

    “STOP!” Damian yelled as every lightbulb in my room shattered and we were cast into gloom. His hand had fallen from the knob. 

    In the tense silence that followed, all I could hear was Damian’s heartbeat. “Look, you can’t blame me for all of this. Some of it, yeah, I deserve that. But if you want to fix this, you have to own up to your own decisions, or she’s never going to respect you, and she’s never going to forgive you.”

    Damian’s eyes were closed, his forehead resting on the wood of the door. For a long moment, he was quiet. When at last he did speak, it was in a whisper. “How do I fix this?”

    I took a cautious step forward, only a few feet from him now. “Taryn went looking for you because she thought that you were the only person alive who could convince me to give up power, or at least stop what I was doing to the world,” I told him. “She’s pissed because she didn’t find you, and now she has to fight this battle against me on her own because you were apparently too selfish to care about anything but your own safety.”

    Damian’s fists clenched. “That’s not wh-“

    “I know,” I interrupted. “I’m just saying how she perceives it. Perception is a powerful thing.” I took another step. “And imagine how she’ll perceive it if it appears that the reason you weren’t in Africa was because you came to stop me. By yourself. Of your own volition. Maybe you spent those last few months getting strong enough to face me.” I lowered my voice. “You would be the hero she remembers you as.”

    For a moment, Damian’s eyes were pressed so tightly closed that I wasn’t sure if he was having a hemorrhage or trying not to cry. But then his face relaxed and he shook his head. “I can’t. That would be a lie.”

    “Sometimes you have to lie,” I told him. “For the good of everyone.”

    “You would know,” he snapped, sending me a glare. “That’s all you do - lie and manipulate. And what good has it gotten?”

    I sighed. “Back on me, are we? This isn’t about me. This is about you and your decision, and you think it’s easier if every conversation that gets a little too close to painting you as something other than the perfect little magic prodigy slash model big brother suddenly turns into you righteously hating me,” I let out in a sudden rant. The moment the words left my mouth, I regretted them. I took a breath. “I-“

    “You’re right,” Damian muttered, closing his eyes again. 

    “That was harsh,” I admitted. 

    “But true.”

    I shrugged. “Well, regardless. Is it still a lie if you actually do convince me to help the world?”

    Damian’s eyes snapped open at that, raising his head from the door to look at me. “What?”

    Leaning against the wall, I shrugged again. “I thought ruling the world would be fun, you know? Do whatever you want with the wave of your hand. It was the dream job. But now that the world’s gone to shit…” I shook my head. “I don’t care enough to rebuild it. But you do. Taryn does. When all this angel business is over, I think we could work something out.”

    Damian was staring at me, wide-eyed and uncomprehending. “You’d give up the ring?”

    “I don’t know about that,” I said quickly. “You know how many years I searched for this thing?” I asked, spinning it around my finger. “But you know me now. I’m not totally unreasonable.”

    Dropping my gaze, Damian replied, “I hate to admit that that’s true.”

    “So what do you say?” I asked. “This is the best solution for everyone. You sign on as my right hand man, you win back the trust of your sister, and you fix the world. What’s not to like?”

    “What’s in it for you?”

    I hesitated. I didn’t want to admit how attached I’d grown to Damian or how much his moody presence actually entertained me. Perhaps a day or two ago when I was shadowless, I might have let it slip, but I was in control now. I was back to myself, whoever that was these days. “I don’t have to rule the world alone. It’s a big job, you know.”

    “You could share that power with anyone and control them at the same time. You can’t control me with the ring,” Damian pointed out. “It’s not logical.”

    “Maybe I’m just too lazy to find another candidate. I already know you,” I shrugged. “Everything I do is out of convenience.”

    Damian studied me for a minute, and I got the distinct feeling that he understood everything I wasn’t saying. In a quieter voice, he replied, “Yeah. I know.”

    We stood there for a minute in awkward silence. “So…” I began.

    “What’s our next move, then?”

    “The angels take top priority. But until the shadows return with a location, we could get some of these wheels in motion,” I reasoned. 

    Damian nodded. “Where do we start?”

    “First,” I said with a thin smile, “I have to consult my publicist.”

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