I swear to you guys this chapter seemed so much more awesome in my head than it had turned out on here, but I did warn you that my last chapter would be sort of rubbish so yeah….
You read correctly, this is the last chapter for this story, I don't plan to do anything else to it now, so as my own ceremonial finality to the fan-fiction that took a year to finish, but is probably the only story I've ever bothered to finish, I would like to thank my committed readers: bloodyxfangs, taybay, 1poisonivy, SciFiGeek14, stormie, goat7, JKilove5, PinkPearlWings07 and anyone else that I very rudely missed out, thank you all for continuously making me want to carry on to the end and being so complimentary every step of the way!
I love you guys :')
"What are you doing!" Audrey asked in horror as she joined Michael, Summer and Zach in the local park. She was already having a bad day, after the long dreary lecture she'd had to endure all afternoon, and the dreadful embarrassment from turning up to college with the same Ralph Lauren cabled cashmere dress on as Chantelle. Having to meet her friends in a filthy park with the very same dress on, and arriving to the sight of a small fire in the trash can didn't do anything to ease her nerves.
"I'm burning my books and my papers." Michael turned to look at her standing on the path, unwilling to move onto the grass to join them. He searched her eyes for a few seconds, then turned back to drop a thick red book with gold writing printed onto its side into the fire, feeding it into a frenzy.
"Why? It's nowhere near the end of the year yet! We agreed that we wouldn't let all of this get to us Michael!" Audrey marched onto the grass, ignoring her concerns about ruining the dress and started to gather up the books piled by Zach and Summer, who were sitting close together on the nearby bench.
"No, I'm burning my books on runes and dark magic. I'm getting rid of them once and for all." Audrey looked at him, then down at the books she was holding. Sure enough, they were illustrated with ancient-looking drawings and runic titles printed in striking colours on the spines. She felt uneasy holding them, like they emitted dark magic into the tips of her fingers, so she dropped them onto the floor by her feet and grimaced down at them.
"I thought you threw them out yesterday."
"I did," he poked at the fire with a stick, then threw it in as he spoke "But it didn't feel like enough to me. These books don't only represent the dark side of me. They represent the part of me that wasn't honest with you." His eyes were big and sombre, like an adorable Spaniel as her friends often teased. Audrey's irritation faltered when she looked into them, and she reached forward to kiss him.
"The speech was a little dramatic, but I'm proud of you." She whispered in his ear, and when she pulled away she noticed Michael was blushing.
"We thought we'd come and watch him do it, treat it like a ceremony to let go of all the bad memories." Summer said, leaning further into Zach's protective embrace. He was lost in the fire, and Audrey could see the flames reflected in his clear, grey eyes.
"Here's to a brighter future." Michael sighed confidently, leaning down to take cans of soda out of his bag and pass them around.
"A brighter future." Audrey repeated, holding her can out to the others with a contented smile on her face. They all copied the gesture and opened their cans. Michael's drink streamed out and trickled down his hand, and the others laughed heartily. The simple faux pas changed the entire atmosphere in the group from a tense, serious moment to a familiar casual one. Finally, it felt like they were just a group of friends again, with Michael lightening the mood and laughter replacing silence and sadness.
"What have I missed?" Dee jogged into the park in her dull green tracksuit, flicking her hair off her forehead as she came to a stop and smiled at her friends.
"Nothing, just in time." Michael grabbed another can and tossed it at Dee, who caught it and opened it in one swift movement. She took a sip and collapsed on the empty bench next to Summer, and Michael and Audrey walked over from the fire to stand in front of them. They all sipped at their drinks for a while, quietly watching the fire crackle and the sky darken above them.
"How long has it been since we've all hung out like this?" Zach asked, breaking the silence when the first few stars glinted around them marking the start of the evening.
"Too long. Way, way too long." Summer beamed up at him, and Zach bowed his head to kiss her on her cheek. Dee and Audrey caught each other's eye turning to look at the sweet gesture, and couldn't help but smile.
"Well next time, can we please pick somewhere with less dirt and insects?" Audrey teased, side-glancing at Michael who only grinned back at her.
"I thought Jenny was coming today," Dee said, placing her drink on the grass and checking the time on her bulky white watch, "She should have finished work like an hour ago."
"Maybe she went home first?" Audrey suggested uncertainly. She noticed that Jenny had seemed to favour her house over any other place since Tom had been buried. Summer lifted her head from Zach's shoulder and retrieved a small pink flip phone from her bag.
"I'll call her and find out."
"Why don't I just dump all these in the fire then we can go see for ourselves?" Before anyone could answer, he threw the four remaining books and entire pile of papers stacked to the thickness of a large book in the trashcan, sending the fire roaring upwards, and brushed his hands together with a sense of finality. The others stood up without question and threw their cans into the trashcan by the gate as they walked out of the park, with Michael strolling behind. Audrey fell back to walk by his side.
"Just out of curiosity, how did you start that fire?" she whispered to him. He smiled at her and slipped an arm around her shoulders.
"I used Kenaz." He replied.
Jenny followed Julian into the cave and down a dark, narrow passage into a place Jenny remembered all too well. They walked out into a cavern dimly lit by a fire to the left of the room protected by a simple stone fireplace, with a beautiful white fur sofa spread across the opposite wall. Julian turned to look at her, and offered his hand, which she eagerly took. He led her to the sofa, and they sat down together on the soft surface, lost for a moment to the mesmerizing fire. Jenny felt strangely at home here, remembering the enchanting memories of Julian in this place, how she had let herself imagine an eternity in the darkness with him. She looked over at her Shadow Man; he was staring so serenely into the fire that for a moment Jenny felt like she was sitting next to a god. The shadows untouched by the light of the fire danced on Julian's face, and Jenny watched in fascination as they threw his features into darkness then illuminated his face once again. When the light shone on the tips of his hair, it flashed in brilliant shades of yellow, orange and red. His large sapphire eyes framed by black lashes were deeper than she'd ever seen them before, and Jenny wondered what he saw in the fire that had him so captivated. She sighed involuntarily, and had to remind herself to breathe when those electric eyes locked with hers without warning.
"I suppose we should discuss the benefits and detriments of your desire to stay with me." His tone was so formal, it made Jenny want to laugh. She had heard his persuasive tone, his angered tone, his hungry tone, but this one was so….so…Darien. Jenny cleared her throat.
"I can give you more reasons for me wanting to stay here than in my world."
"I would love to hear them." Julian grinned at her, his natural ability to be courteous and flirtatious all at once causing Jenny to drift closer to him as she spoke.
"I haven't been happy since you were cut out of the Stave of Life. School ended and my friends drifted away from each other, Tom didn't even want to have to see me again, I lost my interest in going to college because I didn't want to have to think of a future without…"
"But now you have your friends and your family back." Jenny was surprised to hear him say it, because he had once gone to extreme lengths to take her away from them. This had been the question bothering her for a while now, and it was time to make her final decision between staying here with Julian, and going back to reunite with the friends from her carefree days. Into the darkness or back to the light.
"It will never be the same."
"You can't know that." Julian stared down at her with hard blue eyes, almost willing her to reconsider, which confused Jenny. He was trying to persuade her to wake up, to leave him, and she didn't understand why; Julian had only ever wanted her to himself for all eternity. She broke eye contact with him to look deep into the fire. This wasn't his decision; it had to be her own.
"Julian, the world scares me. Every single tiny thing about it terrifies me whenever I step outside. Without you to look over me, all the bad things that used to be prevented by you happen, and I don't know how to deal with them. I am so aware of the evil in the world that I can't avoid it, I seem to single it out in any situation. I walk down the streets; I think about what dark secrets those people are hiding. I look outside and see a beautiful sunny day; I know that it's an illusion, to conceal how unjust and cruel nature really is. I look at myself in the mirror, and only feel lost and broken. I'm broken." She bowed her head, swallowing back a wave of tears, then looked back up to the iridescent blue eyes that were staring at her impassively.
"A part of me will always belong to you, and that has become the strongest part of me. I've lived in a world full of darkness for too long, I don't want to be afraid of it anymore. Let me stay here with you."
Julian reached up and stroked away the tear falling down her cheek. Jenny leant into his hand and closed her own hand around his thankfully, watching his eyes move down to her fingers to gaze at the poesy ring he'd given her. She could see he was reminiscing about that moment when she had promised to be his and only his, and was finally accepting that she was ready to keep to that promise.
"I guess the first inscription never freed me." Jenny joked lightly, admiring how the surface of her ring seemed to melt into different shades of gold with the moving light from the fire, and could only just see a smile curl on Julian's lips from the corner of her eye.
"She isn't answering her phone. I'm a little concerned." Summer dialled Jenny's mobile number and held it to her ear again, beyond any hope of hearing Jenny's voice. The group had started a pleasant stroll towards their friend's house, but had started to speed up after the third call to Jenny. It was much darker out now, the stars were bright and plentiful, and there were very few lights on to guide their way.
"She has probably just fallen asleep, don't worry." Audrey sighed.
"Jenny isn't a deep sleeper. She would wake up to her phone ringing, trust me." Dee's voice was stern, and there was obvious uneasiness laced in her tone. Audrey clicked her tongue.
"Bear in mind that we haven't known her well for a while, her sleeping habits could've changed dramatically."
"Let's hope that's all it is." Summer gave up and slipped the phone back in her bag, adjusting its straps on her shoulder as they reached the corner turning onto Jenny's street.
"No, I suppose it didn't" Julian gently ran his thumb along the ring's surface and across the soft pads of her other fingers, which was enough to make Jenny gasp. The gesture was simple yet so sensual, that it resonated through her body and warmed her core. He was staring at her in wonder, seeing something in her eyes that she couldn't see, then without warning, he stood and loomed over her, still very delicately holding her fingers in his hand.
"I think it would be appropriate to renew the vow," his voice was low and compelling, eyes still burning into hers in awe, "If you plan to stay with me."
Jenny rose slowly in the small gap between the sofa and Julian, never looking away from him. Her happiness was impossible to hide, spread unashamedly across her face in a loving smile. Julian returned it immediately.
"It will only be a short ceremony."
Dee rang the doorbell at Jenny's door several times, the others gathering around her impatiently. Mrs Thornton opened it, holding a steaming cup of coffee in her free hand.
"Is Jenny in?" Summer shouted before Mrs Thornton could greet them. She was surprised by their late visit, and momentarily disorientated by the sudden question.
"Erm, I think she is upstairs resting, shall I call up to her that you are all here?"
"If you don't mind, Mrs Thornton, we'd like to go up and see her." Dee said.
"Is everything okay?" Mrs Thornton asked uncertainly, unconsciously placing her newly brewed coffee on the nearby table.
"She was supposed to meet us two hours ago, and she hasn't been answering her phone. We just want to make sure she's okay." Zach's informative tone wasn't convincing enough for Mrs Thornton, who immediately launched towards the stairway allowing the others to pour into the house.
"Jenny?" she called up the stairs before hurriedly climbing them. Dee and Summer followed close behind, but Audrey, Zach and Michael waited on the bottom step tentatively.
"Jenny!" Mrs Thornton tried the handle on her daughter's door, but it wouldn't budge. She knocked harshly on it instead, and when she failed to receive an answer the knocking became frantic banging.
"Jenny let us in!" Dee yelled angrily over the commotion. Audrey and the boys joined them as Joey sleepily stepped out of his room.
"What's going on?" he asked Audrey as she passed him. Audrey put on her best calm smile and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder.
"Everything is fine Joey, try to go back to sleep."
Jenny walked over to the fire very gradually with Julian, savouring the satisfaction the came with becoming entirely possessed by the man she loved. He held the ring carefully between his finger and thumb; he had changed the inscription again, and was now preparing to return it to her finger. They stood either side of the fire facing one another, listening to the soft roar of the flames and absorbing its pleasant heat.
"Repeat after me." Julian ordered quietly, looking down at Jenny with a strange dominating power in his stance. At last, he could now lay claim to the light in his darkness. Jenny lifted her chin to try and appear composed, even with her legs turning to jelly and the light tremors running through her body. In her mind, Jenny was just about to marry her Shadow Man.
"This ring, the symbol of my oath,
Will now hold me to the words I speak:
All I refuse and Thee I choose."
Jenny spoke the words slowly and with as much adoration in her voice as she could fathom, relishing the cool metal of the ring slipping back onto her finger where it belonged, and twitching slightly when the magic of the new oath surged through her system. She leaned forward eagerly to meet his lips, and as he pulled away, Jenny felt something change inside of her, some part of her melt away forever. When she opened her eyes to see Julian's amorous gaze, she knew that part that had disappeared was her sadness.
"Sworn mine. Now and forever." He whispered. And this time, Jenny agreed.
"Stand back, I'm going to break the door in." Dee braced herself, and no one dared to question how she was going to do it. They were all fearful now, expecting the worst from Jenny with every agonising second that she didn't respond to them. They all moved back towards Joey's room, with Joey standing in his doorway watching the situation despondently.
"Three, two, one." Dee landed a hard, forceful kick against the wooden door, but it didn't break or open. She did it again and again, making everyone flinch each time she did. Eventually, the door gave in and opened abruptly, and Mrs Thornton and Dee rushed straight over to the bed, where Jenny lay on top of the covers in her work uniform, hair sprawled carelessly around her face, seemingly unconscious.
"Jenny, wake up!" Mrs Thornton shook her daughter hysterically while Dee tried to check her temperature, and Audrey, Zach and Michael stood in the doorway watching in horror. Joey stood behind them observing through a gap in the sea of heads fussing over his sister.
"Her skin is cold." Dee turned to Audrey, panic clear in her features.
"Talk to me sweetheart, please, please…" Mrs Thornton broke into sobs, letting Jenny fall back onto the bed limply and rocking back and forth in shock. Joey pushed between Michael and Zach to sit beside his mother and hold her. Audrey swallowed hard watching the heart-wrenching scene unfolding in front of her, and as she turned to look back at Dee, her composure slipped entirely.
"I think we need to call 911."
Joey remained by his mother's side all the way to the hospital and during the many hours they sat in the waiting room. Her hysteria had very rapidly died down when the doctors took Jenny away on a hospital bed, and she was now unresponsive, staring at the opposite wall while Mr Thornton, still dressed in his work suit, paced the room incessantly. Jenny's friends lined the seats by the wall nearest to the door; the red haired girl that he could never remember the name of was squeezing Mike's hand, and Summer was nestled into the shoulder of his cousin sobbing silently as he stroked her hair. Dee was biting her nails a few seats away at the end of the row, watching his dad walk the length of the small room and back. Thankfully, the waiting room had been empty for an hour or so, allowing the group to react to the tense moment as they pleased. As Joey considered telling his dad to sit down, a middle-aged man wearing a white coat walked through the door.
"Mr and Mrs Thornton, a private word please." He whispered, and Joey's father immediately walked over to his wife to help her up. Joey watched, biting the inside of his mouth to stop himself from asking to come with, and shifted in his seat when the door closed behind them. Once again, the room was silent, but he could see in the corner of his vision that Summer was now looking at him. He found this uncomfortable, because she obviously pitied his circumstance, and he didn't want her empathy. He wanted to be back at home in his bed, reading the book he'd left face down on his pillow, away from this cold, white, sterile place. Dee rose from her seat and walked over to sit in the space next to him. Joey sighed in response.
"Is there anything I can get you?" she asked him rather uncharacteristically. He had known Dee most of his life as Jenny's sarcastic, strong-willed friend, and now she was acting like the red head. He gave her an awkward side glance.
"No, thank you."
Mr and Mrs Thornton returned, holding a handful of tissues with tears pouring from their eyes. Jenny's friends stood in unison readying themselves for the bad news, but Joey remained seated.
"Jenny is in a coma. The doctors say they can't find the cause, she doesn't have any underlying health problems, that it could be internal trauma or a build-up of stress…" Mr Thornton pinched the bridge of his nose tightly and squeezed his eyes shut, trying to hold back the fresh tears that were preventing him from continuing. Mrs Thornton added in an even more heart-breaking sob,
"They don't think she will wake up."
The waiting room became a chorus of wailing and crying in an instant. Summer collapsed to the floor pulling Zach down with her, holding onto each other in a deflated kneeling position. The red head half screamed half moaned, but Mike was quick to fold her into his arms and rock her like a baby while crying himself. Dee collapsed back into the chair next to Joey and buried her face in her hands, and he watched as her arched back rose and fell with what he imagined was her building hysteria. Joey watched them all react, not quite knowing how to react himself, totally unable to cry or move. His brain was desperately deciphering the news of his sister's condition, wondering how likely it was that the nightmarish experiences with that black haired guy were the cause of her condition. Of course it was, it had to be; something about the timing of the situation was nudging at him, and the words that the guy had said to Jenny:
"Life isn't fair; it has never been fair, and never will be. There will always be an evil force driving people to discriminate, torture, kill, again and again, and there is no fighting it. Good has never truly triumphed over evil, not even in the fairy-tales"
and suddenly, he knew how to react. Joey clenched his teeth together hard, and balled his fists so that his nails dug into his palms.
"How many places are there in this cave?" Jenny giggled as Julian led her through yet another stony hallway. She couldn't see him in the dim lighting from the primitive torches on the walls, but she knew he was grinning at her.
"You should know better than me Jenny, you dreamt me into this place." He slowed his pace and stood aside to let Jenny walk through the small archway into the next cavern. Julian evoked the rune for light, and as the room lit up, Jenny gasped.
The floor was made of spotless black marble stretching across a long room with a beautifully white fur carpet in its centre. The walls were made of stone, but tiny crystals or diamonds, Jenny couldn't tell, twinkled on every inch of it. In the centre of the cavern, positioned majestically on the end of the carpet, sat two elaborately carved black and silver thrones reaching well above head level with matching candle stands either side of them.
"Out of all your fantasies involving me, beautiful Jenny, this one is by far my favourite." She turned to look at him bursting with joy, only to be met by an even more pleasant sight. Julian's bright white clothing had at some point been replaced by tight black breeches and simple black boots, and a black regency-style waistcoat adorned with a stunning silvery swirl pattern down the centre. He offered her an expectant hand, and she admired his intricately designed rings and a simple gold ring identical to her own before raising her hand to place in his. Before her fingers reached his palm, she acknowledged her own very subtle wardrobe change; she was wearing equally wonderful rings on her fingers, and her nails, previously plain and untouched, were much longer and painted in the same swirly silver and black pattern as the one on Julian's waistcoat. On her hands and lower arms she wore lacy, fingerless gloves, and her spaghetti strap white dress had been replaced by a very large and very impressive silky black gown. It was a corset dress that hugged her curves perfectly with the swirly pattern down its centre, and puffed out into a marvellous amount of skirt layers that trailed to the floor. Carefully lifting the many layers, Jenny inspected the simple shimmery black stilettos with long silver heels. She reach her hand up to her neck and felt the cool bumpy surface of a triangular shaped necklace pointing down towards her cleavage, moving her hands up to feel the equally bumpy surface of her earrings. She imagined the jewellery matched her glittering diamond bracelet, and wished she had a mirror to check, even though she knew because she had worn this outfit so many times in her dreams. She then very gently felt her hair, falling in luscious golden ringlets either side of her face and secured into a complicated up-do by her silver and black crown. Her eyes focused on Julian's own very beautiful crown that looked even blacker against his stark white hair, then down to the hungry blue eyes accessing her reaction.
"Wow." She breathed, smiling up at him in uncontrollable wonderment. He was beyond flawless in this setting, in those clothes, in her dream. His presence was so powerful to her that it almost made her want to cry, for reasons she would never begin to understand, and finally placing her hand in his, she was sure she would never regret her decision to be his.
"Come, my princess of darkness." He teased softly, leading Jenny slowly and seductively towards her ultimate fantasy.
Darien strolled through the harsh, icy mountains idly, enjoying the chaotic atmosphere unfurling around him. The screaming of the relentless wind all around him would be considered hellish on Earth, but Darien found it soothing and closed his eyes to concentrate on the sounds obscured by its howling. He heard his elders laughing, hissing, talking in low voices in the distance, the persistent cries of their victim from miles away, and the crackle of never-ending thunder above him. He opened his eyes in time to see a line of lightning strike somewhere far ahead of him, and sighed heavily with his hands tucked into the pockets of his jeans.
"Home." He acknowledged to himself. Through the wind he heard the whisper of his name, and speedily head in the direction it came from, knowing that it was his summoning.
He stepped into the cave minutes later, carefully making his way across the thinly iced-over floor into the small cavern where the elders dwelled. The room was very dark, only lit by the eerie yellow glow from the elder's eyes and the soft silvery glow emitted by the runes carved into the Stave Of Life, secured in the hands of one of the elders. He walked into the centre of the room of grotesque creatures and clasped his hands behind his back formally.
"My presence was requested." He informed them dully.
"Yes, we want to congratulate you on such a successful and entertaining game." The tallest Shadow Man answered with his beautiful wind chime voice.
"Though we were hoping to feed on the boy you killed." Another elder with a voice like nails scratching on a chalk board hissed, and the others laughed at the supposed inside joke.
"Thank you. I was rather impressed myself," Darien replied confidently, ignoring the chiding remark, "I very much look forward to my next opportunity."
"That has come sooner that you expected." Another spoke in a voice like snow blowing. Darien raised an eyebrow quizzically.
"Another human, delving in the forbidden magic, plans to challenge us. He wants to play, and we have the perfect game maker to put on a show."
"He?" Darien asked, an audacious bloodthirsty smile curling on his lips. The tall Shadow Man with the crocodile eyes returned the smile on colourless, deformed lips and fingered the Stave of Life held threateningly in his hands.
"Yes, a young boy you have already encountered once before," the creatures lips pulled back to reveal a row of yellow decaying teeth, eager to sink into warm human flesh. The other elders cackled menacingly around him as he spoke the boy's name:
Thank you to ~Lordofthezodiac on deviantart for providing my amazing cover and essentially bringing Darien to life as well. Thank you for reading. R& R (: