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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11. Ten: Feeeeeelings

    Taryn was angry as she shoved her few belongings back into her bag. 

    “Are you sure you want to go?” Isaac asked, looking a little nervous off to the side. 

    “Yes.”

    “But-“

    Taryn whirled on him. “Look, you did that 180 and convinced me to stay two more days, but I’m done. He’s not coming back. We’ll just have to find some other way to defeat Baxel.”

    Isaac sat down on Damian’s bed, one knee pulled up on the mattress. “Okay,” he began cautiously, “but what if he’s not gone on purpose this time? Like you said, all his stuff is here. What if he’s hurt somewhere? Should we really stop looking for him?”

    “Damian can take care of himself,” Taryn said to crush the sudden spark of worry in her chest. “If he got himself in danger alone, well, that’s his own fault. He knew where I was.”

    “Welll,” Isaac said, drawing out the last syllable. Taryn’s eyes snapped to his. “All I’m saying is that he didn’t really know where you were these past few weeks. What if he tried to contact you and you weren’t at the GITS headquarters?” 

    Taryn frowned. “I’ve had my phone on me.” 

    “Your phone is buried in your bag, dead.”

    Shaking her head, Taryn muttered, “He has other ways of finding and contacting me.”

    Isaac leaned back on one arm. “What ways? We’ve been off the grid, Taryn.”

    “He has ways,” Taryn insisted in a growl, crossing the room and plucking the journal from on top of his clothes. Her hands tightened around it as she snapped, “You don’t understand me or him, so just lay off, okay? We’re going home and that’s final. Damian’s not here, and he’s not coming back. Alright?”

    Isaac raised his hands in surrender. “Alright.”

    After a moment of hesitation, Taryn shoved the journal into her bag. Throwing open the door, she stepped out into the light. She wanted to be as far from shadows as she could - as far from the poison that had taken her brother away from her. With Isaac trailing behind, Taryn shouldered her pack and set off down the path. 

    If Damian wanted to see her, he could find her. As far as Taryn was concerned, Damian - her Damian - was never coming back. 

 

—[]—

 

    The knock on my door grew more insistent, but I was good at ignoring things that I didn’t want to deal with. 

    “Come on, Baxel,” Damian said through the thick oak of the door. “Open up.”

    “No.”

    I couldn’t hear him sigh, but I was certain that he did. “Baxel,” he pleaded. 

    “If you want the door open so bad, why don’t you let the shadows open it for you?” I heard the bitterness in my own voice, but couldn’t bring myself to care. 

    “You’re acting like a child.”

    “I’m thousands of years old.”

    “Then act like it,” Damian shot back. “Open the door.”

    “Why?” I demanded. “You’re just going to come in and want to talk about feelings or about the bird carcasses littering the sidewalk and I’m bored just thinking about it.”

    There was a pause. “What’s on the sidewalk?”

    “Nothing.”

    This time, I heard Damian’s sigh. “Look, I actually came to talk to you about a possible way to get the shadows back on your side.”

    I didn’t want to give in. If there was one skill I had relentlessly honed over the years, it was stubbornness. Even so, I had put far more effort into my skills with shadows. “What is it?”

    “Are you really going to make me shout it through this door?”

    “Yes.”

    “Fine,” Damian snapped. “I have to go back to my place in Africa. I left some stuff there that I want.”

    As with most things, I didn’t see how this applied to me, which left me bored. “Yeah, and?”

    “And I was going to get there with the Nether. I thought maybe you could come with me.”

    My growl was loud enough to wake Mr. Skullcrusher from his snores. He looked up at me with concern in those wide chocolate eyes. “You’ve got some nerve rubbing salt in that wound.”

    “I was being serious,” Damian said. “I know it didn’t work before, but I was weakened then, and your affront on the Nether was still fresh. It’s been a few days. I’ve recovered. The Nether’s taken people it didn’t want before, like Sirio. Why wouldn’t it take you?”

    “You’re not strong enough,” I dismissed. “It took Sirio, but I was the one who brought him. In case you didn’t notice, you’re half what I am. Literally.”

    After a beat, Damian called back, “What would it hurt to try? Come on, I thought you were willing to try anything.”

    I chewed on the inside of my lip. “Fine. But if it doesn’t work, you’re buying me a consolation pizza.”

    “Okay, sure,” Damian replied. “Now will you please open the door?”

    Grumbling half to myself, I pushed myself up and pulled open the door to find Damian standing in the hallway, a circle of interested servants around him. “Well, this is embarrassing,” I muttered, tightening the tie on my silk bathrobe. “Why didn’t you tell me there were people out here?” I demanded of Damian. 

    Damian shrugged, stepping into my room. “It didn’t come up.”

    I hissed, turning towards the group and commanding, “Do not speak of this or anything you heard here to anyone, understand?” They all gave nervous little nods.

    “Are you done?” Damian inquired. 

    “In a sec, I just have to call my publicist,” I said, pulling out my phone, then yelling, “Publicist!” into the hallway. 

    Damian blinked. “You’re joking right?”

    Before I could answer, Riya pushed to the front of the crowd. “What’s up?”

    I waved my hand at the people. “Clean up my mess.”

    “That’s really not-“

    I closed the door on her. Damian was staring at me, dumbfounded. “Riya is your publicist now?”

    “Yep,” I nodded. “She’s going to make me look like a real heartless demon.” I paused. “Which I am. I totally am. I just don’t always… come off as one. So she’s going to fix that.”

    Damian nodded to the phone in my hand. “So, what’d you pull that out for?”

    “Oh!” I said, remembering that I was holding it. “I just wanted to show you this cute picture I took of Skull earlier; he was dreaming, and his little legs were-“

    “Yeah, Riya has her work cut out for her,” Damian muttered in an undertone.

    I dropped my phone to my side. “You know what-“

    “What?”

    I didn’t really have an answer to that. “If you’re so smart or manly or-“

    “Mature,” Damian suggested.

    “-Whatever, how about you take me to the Nether already.”

    Damian shoved his hands in his pockets and nodded. “I was planning on it.” 

    “Then do it.”

    “I will.”

    “Okay.”

    “Okay.”

    Damian wrapped the shadows around us, and though they hovered above my skin unwilling to touch, I relaxed into their comforting embrace. As they got tighter, they became less comfortable, and I squirmed against their constricting bands. Just as I was about to call out they released, and I opened my eyes. 

    “Welcome to the Nether,” Damian said, grinning at me. “You didn’t think I could do it.”

    I was still blinking away my surprise. “It actually worked.”

    I reached out for the shadows that permeated this plane, and I could feel them hovering at the edge of my senses. I approached them like one would a skittish animal, advancing slowly. 

    “Is it working?” Damian asked, breaking my concentration and letting the shadows slip away again. 

    Glancing at him, I replied, “I think it will. I just need a little time.”

    He nodded. “I’m going to go get my things, then. You okay here till I get back?”

    I almost laughed. “Are you kidding? I’m always okay here.”

    “Alright,” Damian said. “Have fun.” 

    My attention was already back on the shadows before Damian disappeared.

 

—[]—

 

    Something about the place was different. Damian stood in the center of the little room, surveying the place that had become his. His clothes were still in a pile in the corner, but something was off. The table was empty, he noticed, and there was no smell of rotting fruits or vegetables in the air. He could have sworn that when Baxel showed up, he had just bought a whole bag of food. Damian frowned, stepping over to his pile of clothes and rooting through them. 

    His journal was gone. 

    Heart leaping into his throat, Damian threw his clothes to the side, digging through his bag and every pocket. It wasn’t there. He searched the rest of the place, wondering if maybe he had put it down somewhere else, but it wasn’t there. It was gone. Everything he knew about the Nether was in that notebook, but that wasn’t the only reason he wanted it back. Taryn’s name and address was inside the cover. If Sathariel had returned, if the angel had something against him for whatever reason, if anyone wanted to do him harm-

    Damian reached for the shadows. He vaguely remembered Baxel saying that the shadow sonar worked on people or things, and though he still hadn’t gotten a response from his try for Sathariel, he poured all of his knowledge about the book into a stream of shadows and sent them off. 

    Slumping down on his bed, Damian put his head in his hands. No one knew that he was in Africa. Well, no one other than Baxel, and he found out through the shadows. But since it was apparently true that Damian brought Sathariel up with him from the Nether, Sathariel knew. And now Sathariel had the journal with all his notes about light and shadows and with the location of Taryn. 

    He was such a fool. 

    Almost as soon as Damian angrily pushed himself up to pace the room, a wave of shadows washed over him, and he was suddenly seeing through them. He saw a village that he had passed through on the way to this place, a small town only a few hours away on foot. The shadows seemed to be congregating around the backpack on the shoulders of not Sathariel, as he had feared, but Taryn. 

    Damian’s throat caught. She was walking with Isaac, the Spanish boy that was always a few levels below him in the GITS ranks. Damian willed the shadows to move closer, to give him a better view and let him hear what they were saying. 

    “-Sure you’re okay?” Isaac was asking, jogging a little to keep up with Taryn’s brisk pace. 

    “I’m fine,” Taryn replied, her voice clipped. She had changed in the past few months. She carried herself differently; Taryn had always been confident, but now she walked like she was in control. She was leaner, more muscular, and her jaw was set with a fierce determination. Damian noted all of this with a dull detachment, his focus on her eyes and the anger they held. 

    Anger that he was certain was directed at him. 

    “I’m sorry we didn’t find him,” Isaac tried, putting his hand on Taryn’s shoulder and making her stop and face him. “But please don’t give up.”

    “I’m not,” Taryn replied, a hard edge to her tone. “This isn’t me giving up on the GITS or the world or getting Baxel out of power. This is me giving up on my asshole brother.”

    Isaac’s eyes flicked over her face, looking more genuinely concerned than Damian had ever seen him. In their encounters, he was always wearing some mask of charming bravado, but not here. Here, he was worried - worried for Taryn. That had always been Damian’s job, but this… this was his own fault. 

    “You don’t mean that. There could be something legitimate that’s keeping from coming home,” Isaac told her, his voice almost pleading. “I didn’t know Damian, but he seemed like a good guy.”

    “Yeah, well he’s changed.” Taryn huffed out a breath. “My brother was a good guy. He was always protecting me, always there for me. He was loyal, and he cared about the GITS and their mission and the world. He would never have left without a word, wouldn’t have gone weeks without even sending me a text to say he’s safe and okay. Whoever was living in that house, isn’t him. He’s gone, and he’s not coming back. I was a fool to think he would help us,” she ranted, fists clenched. “We’re going home, and we’re going to come up with a new plan. Never mention his name to me again, got it?”

    Isaac looked small next to her swirling anger. “Yeah. Okay.”

    Damian didn’t want to see anymore. He let the shadows go and sat back on his bed, chest tight. A wave of nausea rolled over him, and he dug his nails into his palms. Taryn hated him. She wanted nothing to do with him. It was what he had been assuming all this time, but to see her so angry, so hurt… Damian hated himself. 

    For the briefest of seconds, he thought about dropping into the Nether and going to her, begging her to forgive him. But he didn’t. Damian knew that her anger was justified, and he didn’t blame her. To see him now would only make things worse. Miserable, Damian returned to the Nether, letting the cold and dark numb his heart. 

    Maybe Baxel was right. Feelings and emotions were worse than anything else.

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