The drive back to the house passes by in a soggy blur. Between tears and the hole that has suddenly caved in inside me, I can hardly breathe, let alone pay attention to where we’re going. Finally, the car stops. I look out the window and see the ancient remains of what once was an aristocratic home. The framework of the ruins still stretch proudly to the sky in defiance of age and the elements like the bones of a great and mighty beast.
“Where are we?” I ask as my voice shakes with the stress of crying.
Wraith tightly grips the steering wheel. “My mother’s home.” He grips the wheel so tightly his hands pass through it and he hits the dashboard.
“Your mother was human?”
Wraith shakes his head. “Both my parents were eidolons, yet my mother had lived amongst humans so long she nearly forgot that part of her until she met my father.”
“How’d they meet?”
Wraith looks at me, seeming to fully realize I’m there for the first time. “That story is for another time. Come, I wish to show thee where I grew up.”
Wraith disappears and materializes outside my door. He opens it and helps me out. In awe, I look around. Surrounding the driveway is what appears to have once been a very large and colorful garden, but is now nothing other than a small jungle of colors. Wraith walks across cracked pavement and over long threading roots to the charred yet otherwise whole steel door. Slowly picking my way behind Wraith’s nimble footsteps, I make it to the door a few minutes after he does.
“What lies beyond this door is slightly unnerving based on the outer appearance of my old home, so be prepared,” Wraith whispers as he slowly pushes open the door. Unsure what to prepare myself for, I look down until the softly screeching door has gone silent. Beyond the charred threshold, the house looks like it’s brand new. It opens up into a large entryway with a vaulted ceiling painted dark blue and sparkling dots like stars. Beyond that, a kitchen with cherry wood everything and a white tablecloth on the large table stand solidly, like a guardian of the home.
I turn to Wraith. “It looks brand new.”
He nods and walks to the kitchen. “I fixed this level after it caught fire. These two rooms were my mother’s favorite, so I thought that they should live on in her memory.”
I follow him and sit down at the table. “It’s beautiful here.”
Wraith smiles, and for the first time, I can see a human aspect in him. “My mother surrounded herself with beauty while she lived so that she could forget the darkness and despair of the supernatural side.”
“I completely understand that. As soon as I figured out my dad was the Shadow Lord, I began surrounding myself with color and really stupid, shallow things.”
“And thus ‘The Clique’ was born,” Wraith says with a slight laugh.
For the first time since last night, I smile for real. “The Clique was born because of that, yes.”
Wraith laughs and sits across from me at the table. “What’s it like?”
“What’s what like?”
“Being human. Living and interacting with humans on a daily basis. Falling in love with a human.”
I lean back in my chair. “That’s a hard question to answer, Wraith. It’s not something we think about a lot.”
Wraith continues to look more human, just like he has ever since he walked through the door.
“Well, being human, it’s not perfect. We all make mistakes, and we don’t have powers to undo it or make other people forget when we say something we don’t mean. Living and interacting with humans? That’s not really something that can be answered, Wraith. There’s not really a possible way to answer it. And falling in love with a human…” Thoughts of Ryan fill my head. “It’s one of the best feelings in the world, but it also hurts when they leave, or when someone takes them away from you,” I say in a voice edged with tears.
Wraith reaches across the table and takes my hand. “I am truly sorry that she took Ryan away from thee.”
A solitary tear rolls down my cheek, taking some of my mascara with it, leaving a black trail down my face. Wraith gets up and walks toward me. Gently, he wipes away the tear and leans against the table next to me.
“Wraith, I need to try and figure out everything about his death. I need to know.”
Wraith stays silent.
“Wraith, please. I need to know how she did it and why.”
Wraith sighs. “I have already told thee why she hath done it, but even I do not know how. But I warn thou, Shadow Princess, it shall not be a pleasant sight to thine eyes.”
I nod. “I know it won’t, but I need answers.”
Wraith nods. “I know, but thee needs to let go of Ryan. I understand thy lineage, but seeing his death would only strengthen thy hold on his spirit, and methinks that the best option would be to let him go. He can’t come back, Nikki,” he says gently.
I look up into his eyes, which are suddenly dark green with flecks of gold. This is the human Wraith? “You’ve never called me by my name before.”
Wraith blushes. “I apologize, Shadow Princess, I meant no harm.”
I smile for the second time today. “I’d rather you call me Nikki. We’re friends, and I need the support of a good friend right now.”
Wraith smiles and whispers something under his breath. I only catch the last sentence.