Chelsea entered the darkness, and instantly lost sight of everything. Not just her surroundings, either – she couldn’t even see herself.
“Gwen?” Chelsea asked, speaking softly out of nothing more than instinctual fear. “Are you there?”
“Gwen?” Chelsea asked, louder this time.
“No!” Gwen shouted, her voice sounding like it came from farther ahead of Chelsea. “Stay back! I don’t want this!”
Chelsea ran forward, stumbling twice simply because her complete lack of vision made it hard to keep her balance. “Gwen!” she called out. Gwen shouted again, but her voice only sounded farther away.
Chelsea stopped, feeling in her pocket for her lighter. She held it up, clicked it twice.
She heard the telltale sound of sparks being formed. But she didn’t see a thing.
Then, a pit of dread started to form in her stomach. Looking up, she couldn’t see her owl, and as she reached up…
She felt nothing. And the connection she constantly felt with him in her heart was gone. It was as if her Summon had ceased to exist.
“What have you done?” Chelsea asked, glaring at the oppressive darkness that surrounded her. “Where is he? Give him back!”
You don’t need him.
A voice, like a chill whisper. Chelsea couldn’t place where it came from.
You’re better off alone.
“What are you –” Chelsea started, and then her eyes widened as a frigid shiver went down her spine.
Don’t you see? You’re always alone.
The voice wasn’t coming from around Chelsea.
It was inside her own mind.
“These aren’t my own thoughts,” Chelsea said. “Get out of my head.”
What do you mean? the voice in her head asked. Don’t you recognize me?
“Shut up,” Chelsea said. “Get out of my head!”
I can’t. You understand, don’t you?
Chelsea shook her head and continued running towards Gwen’s voice, which continued to sound farther and farther away.
You know you’re better off alone. Why do you think everyone leaves you in the end?
“Shut up,” Chelsea said through gritted teeth, not slowing down, even as Gwen’s voice receded to just faint noise far, far ahead.
They think you’re too angry. Too volatile. What do they know? They could never understand you. The only ones who ever knew everything about you and still loved you died far younger than they should have.
“What do you know?” Chelsea asked. “Lorelei – she knows everything. And she isn’t going anywhere.”
Can you be so sure about that?
Chelsea stopped. She couldn’t hear Gwen’s voice anymore. “Gwen?” she yelled, as loud as she could. “Gwen! Where are you? I’m coming for you, just hang on!”
There was no answer. Once again, the tiny voice in her mind spoke.
We could run down the list, if you’re still in denial. Your mother – killed by Hollows. Your father –
“Don’t you dare talk about him,” Chelsea said in a low growl.
Yikes. Fine, then. You know, anyway. You know exactly what I was going to say. Moving on… your grandmother – sick in a hospital at only sixty. Died from something no one understands to this day. And you remember her final words.
“I remember every word,” Chelsea said.
Your grandfather – car accident. No aunts or uncles, no cousins. Your entire family left you all alone.
“Lorelei’s took me in. Her parents treat me like their own daughter.”
But you aren’t their daughter. You never were, and you never can be. And aren’t you afraid of what will happen if you stay close to them?
“Shut up. I’m not paranoid.”
Chelsea started walking to the left, feeling with hands outstretched for the wall of the corridor. If she could just find something to serve as a guide, she’d have a sense of direction.
Two steps. Three. Four.
Where was the wall? The corridor hadn’t been this wide.
Had she started going back the way she came? Or farther down? Should she change directions?
But forget about the deaths. There’s more, isn’t there?
“Is there a way I can shut you off?”
What, you still don’t realize who I am? If you did, you wouldn’t be asking that.
“As long as I can get some better company soon, I don’t care. I can ignore you.”
Say what you will. You’ve never been able to ignore me. And the reason should be obvious.
“I hate people who speak in riddles.”
Back to the list. Chase Fredricks – he stopped talking to you when you started dating Caleb.
“That’s because Chase is a jealous snob.”
Fair enough. But what about Caleb? Oh – that’s right. He doesn’t know anything. He doesn’t know you at all.
“Don’t talk about him like that,” Chelsea said. She stopped, having taken thirty steps in every direction without having found a wall or any kind of border or object or barrier. It was as if she stood in endless darkness, a boundless world where she could see or feel nothing.
All she had was this stupid voice in her head. This stupid voice that thought it knew everything about her.
And now it wanted to slander Caleb?
Come now, Chelsea.
“Are you the voice that was calling me? The same one that called Gwen, from outside the darkness?”
Oh, no, not the same. She didn’t hear what you heard. How could she?
“You sounded a lot more inviting before I came in here.”
I’m so sorry. Where are my manners?
Chelsea shivered as a strange sensation ran through her entire body. It was like a soft caress, cool and gentle and inviting.
Is that better?
“That was you?”
I do try my best to make you feel comfortable. How can I not?
As the voice spoke, it took on a purring, seductive quality. Once again Chelsea’s nerves shivered, and she found herself shaking her head in frustration.
I’m sorry. I’m overdoing it, aren’t I? I just want you to feel at home.
“At home.” Chelsea scoffed at the words. “What does that even mean?”
That’s right. Such a common phrase, thrown about like everyone knows what home feels like. As if home is a guarantee.
Chelsea felt a bit of a buzz, like her senses had been enhanced. She felt like a current of electricity ran through her. Like she was more alive than she’d ever been.
Caleb couldn’t understand, after all. He’s only ever known a loving home. He’s never had people ripped away from him. And now he’s off on some stupid self-obsessed training mission. He cares about his family and himself – not anyone else.
“I don’t… I wouldn’t go that far,” Chelsea said, but she had trouble fighting back against the voice in her head.
Caleb had left her. She’d thought it was out of his control, but why did he have to use Time Magic in the first place? He never told anyone the toll it was taking on him, just kept on using it, and that stupidity had ripped him away from her.
Caleb ran away. He can’t handle your emotions. Because he can’t understand. How could he? He doesn’t know pain, or loss. He doesn’t know hatred. He doesn’t know fear. He doesn’t know what it is to be all alone.
“He would have… told me…” Chelsea said slowly, but she couldn’t say it with any conviction.
He never said anything about what his Time Magic was doing to him. Why would he tell you how he really feels? How do you know he didn’t know all along that he would end up training somewhere far away? How do you know he didn’t hope for that from the very start? And you know how he always brags so much about his talents, about how he’s the only time mage in… what was it again?
Right. Two generations. He loves it. More than he loves anything, he loves himself and how special and unique he is. Off in some faraway place with a teacher all to himself, I bet he doesn’t even think about you anymore. Who knows what he’ll be like when he comes home?
“He’ll just…” Chelsea blinked as tears threatened to sting her eyes. “He’ll just leave me.”
Like all the others.
“Lorelei hasn’t. She won’t. She never would. We’ve been together since we were kids. We’re basically sisters.”
And? Look at Fae Greyson. She abandoned her family quite easily. If your family doesn’t die on you, they run. Lorelei doesn’t talk all that much, anyway. What does she really think?
Even if she did leave you alone… would that really be so bad?
Chelsea thought about that as a complex mixture of emotions flowed through her.
Was being alone so painful? Why did she keep clinging onto people, as if they could save her from something? What did she need saving from? People just kept leaving her. If she didn’t have anyone…
People talk of loneliness like it’s a terrible, awful thing. They speak of it like it’s the worst possible outcome in life. But what do people do other than fight, and bicker, and hurt, and kill?
What do people do other than lie, even to those they claim to love most?
“I lie right back to them.”
But without them, you wouldn’t have to lie to anyone. You could even be honest with yourself.
“I am honest with myself.”
Really now? And what makes you think that? You’re still holding onto Lorelei. You took Gwen on this little trip… why, exactly? You don’t even know her. You weren’t even being yourself. You were trying to be like Caleb. But now you know how Caleb really is.
“He’s a…” Chelsea started, but she couldn’t say it.
It’s okay, Chelsea. Honesty is good. Tell the truth.
Chelsea swallowed, pushing back the tears welling up within her. “Shut up.” She started walked again, picking a direction and sticking to it the best she could in the endless darkness.
He’s a liar.
He’s a fraud.
He only cares about himself.
He’s just a stepping stone to what you really want.
Chelsea stopped dead in her tracks.
Ah. You forgot, did you?
What? You remember why you first started talking to him, don’t you? You remember what your true purpose was. Caleb was just the closest thing, the perfect avenue towards your own –
Ah, Chelsea. Weren’t you going to start being honest with yourself?
“Doesn’t mean I have to be honest with you.”
So you still haven’t realized it. Oh, well. I’ll be quiet, if you like. It’ll be like I’m not even here. And I promise I’ll never talk about it again. All you have to do is say it out loud.
“Not happening.” Chelsea peered around in the darkness, turning in a full circle.
What? Are you afraid someone’s listening? There’s no one here but us.
“There’s Gwen. Where did she go?”
What do you want with her, anyway?
“I want her to be safe. I led her into this. The last I heard from her, she was freaking out.”
But you don’t hear anything now, do you? And you were freaking out at first, too.
“Where am I? And where is Gwen? If you know so much, then tell me that much. If you called me in here, then show me where to go.”
But we were having such a nice conversation. I think you just want to change the subject.
“Where is Gwen?”
The voice in her mind seemed to let out a tired sigh. She is learning to be honest with herself, just like you are. She’s learning the same things that you are. The two of you have a lot in common.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
What do you want?
“What do I –” Chelsea stopped, wondering about that simple question.
She wanted… what? There seemed to be so many things. She wanted Caleb back. She wanted to go back to Lorelei. She wanted the lights to turn on. She wanted to find Gwen. She wanted to get out of this place. She wanted her Summon to come back to her.
No. She couldn’t want that. No matter how much she wanted it, she couldn’t. It was too horrible. As much as she ached for it, as much as she desired it, she couldn’t.
But why? For Caleb’s sake? Why for him?
Why couldn’t she do something for herself?
Caleb was so selfish, wasn’t he? He hid it with his smiles and his humor and his optimistic attitude, but he only did things for himself.
Why shouldn’t Chelsea do the same?
But… not that. It was too much.
So what? What did she want?
But why was she thinking so poorly of Caleb? On Hollow Island, she’d let herself be revealed, let her inner desires and emotions pour out. All of it… all of it had pointed to Caleb.
But was that right? Was that really what she wanted? If Caleb came back, would all be set right?
Why did she rely on him so much? Why did her heart ache for him so much? After all, the reason she’d first approached him…
“I don’t know.”
Cut through all of the superficial things. Dig deep, to the core of yourself. What do you want, more than anything?
“I want…” Chelsea shook her head. “I want to be able to see.”
Really? What do you think you’ll see if the lights turn on?
“It doesn’t matter. I want to know where I am, really.”
Well. I suppose it will take more time for you to be truly honest with yourself. If it will help you discover what you really want… I can do that much.
Like a switch was turned on, suddenly the area was illuminated. But Chelsea didn’t take in the details.
Standing in front of her was…
“Who… who are…” Chelsea couldn’t find the words. She waved her hand, thinking it was a reflection in a mirror, but the Chelsea she was looking at didn’t mimic her actions. And now that she looked closer… they weren’t the same. She was looking at herself, but the Chelsea across from her had her hair long, like Chelsea had used to, and she was dressed all in black – dress, leggings, boots, all black.
“Don’t you recognize me?” asked the Chelsea across from her.
“You’re… me,” Chelsea said. “But not.”
The other Chelsea smiled. “Don’t be afraid,” she said. She held up her hand. “Go on.”
Chelsea raised her hand to the other Chelsea. When their hands touched, Chelsea’s went straight through.
“You’re not… really here,” Chelsea said.
The other Chelsea shook her head. “Not really.”
“But then who are you?” Chelsea asked.
The other Chelsea smiled again. “I’m you.”
“I don’t…” Chelsea fumbled for words. “I don’t understand.”
The other Chelsea turned away. “Follow me. It’ll all make sense soon. I promise.”
She walked away.
Chelsea, head spinning with questions, followed.