Their dark, blank faces stare at us emptily, waiting patiently.
“What dost thou desire?” Wraith asks, his voice ringing with a previously unheard authority.
Silence reigns for a few moments until one of the Shadows detaches himself from the group and points towards me. “We will only speak with the Shadow Princess,” he hisses.
Wraith turns toward me and raises an eyebrow.
I nod and slowly rise from my crouch, twirling the stiletto around in my hand. “What do you want?” I ask, my voice ringing out clear, like a bell, in the dead air.
“You want to stop Kendra,” the Shadow hisses, his voice rasping against the air.
“And if I do? I was unaware that my affairs were any of your business,” I reply coolly, hoping that I can keep my face blank and not show how surprised I am at the sudden authority in my voice.
“I want revenge.” His admission brings me up short.
“Revenge?” I ask, my gaze sliding over to Wraith in question. “What did Kendra do to you? You’re a dead human. There’s nothing she could have done to you.”
I get the vague impression of the Shadow smiling. “I am Henki, one of the Old Ones, and one of the two first Shadows created. Kendra killed my brother. Her time has come to an end.”
“The Shadows sided with Kendra before she was forced back to Gahenna. How do we know that thee and thy Shadows do not still side with her and will kill us as soon as our backs are turned?” Wraith asks suspiciously.
Henki laughs and a shiver of fear runs down my spine. “Because of her dead lover.”
All the color drains out of my face. “What does Ryan have to do with any of this?” I ask, my voice beginning to shake.
Henki takes a deep breath, inhaling the emotion that I just put off. “Ryan has convinced us that you are the one who will be strong enough to kill Kendra and to restore balance to our dimensions.”
“What do you care about balance?” I ask accusingly. “Your kind feed on chaos, you thrive on it.”
“As true as that may be, there is still a balance to our order, Shadow Princess. Too much chaos, and we will escape to the human world and run wild there. Too little chaos and we will slowly fade away. Kendra has caused too much chaos, and the spirits with me have become restless and continue to attack the humans,” he replies. “We need balance to that my Shadows can remain here in peace. We may enjoy chaos, but we enjoy the ability not to be dragged away by a need to pursue chaos.”
I nod slowly and look to Wraith for advice. His expression remains guarded and I sigh.
“Okay, you can come with us. But know that there is a time when I will have to continue on my own, and you will not be able to follow me.”
I get the impression of Henki smiling again. “I am aware of the process, Shadow Princess,” he says with a deep bow.
Wraith comes up beside me and I jump slightly as he lightly touches my shoulder. “I believe that was the wisest decision, Nikki.” He brushes his lips across my cheek and I feel a sudden burst of anguish from a Shadow in front of me. Ryan. Surprisingly, I don’t feel the need to go and explain my actions as I watch him turn away.
It feels very strange to be leading the entire population of Shadows to the portals that lead to the next dimension. Shadows were some of those spirits that I was always taught to fear. But as I’ve listened to Henki talking to Wraith about his brother and how life was on the supernatural side pre-Kendra, I’m starting to realize that maybe they’re not all bad. After all, we’re heading toward a fight, and that’s what the Shadows want.
“So how long did you and Ryan know each other, Shadow Princess?” Henki asks as he sidles up next to me.
Ugh, the one subject I didn’t want to talk about. “We’ve been friends for years,” I reply, hoping my cold manner will make him back off.
“Did he always know you weren’t from his world?”
Apparently dead people don’t know what the cold shoulder means. “I never told him. If he found out, it’s because my dad told him,” I say through clenched teeth. “I didn’t want to drag him into this world.”
“And yet your grandmother killed him and put him here anyway. How do you feel about your dead lover and your ghost lover working together?” Henki asks, enjoying the anger and resentment that’s rolling off me in waves.
“Wraith and I are not together,” I manage to say before stomping off in a very un-royal like huff. “I hate Shadows.”
I hear Henki’s mocking laugh behind me.