Chapter 31 of Minutes before sunset

I burst into my father’s office, shadows trailing after my human form. My rage controlled my body, and the double doors leading into his office nearly split off the hinges.  His glasses fell off his nose as he shot up from his desk. “Eric?” “What have you been keeping from me?” I shouted, slamming my hands on his desk.  He straightened, whisking his hand through the air. The air condensed with a silence spell. “Keep the ruckus down; Mindy could hear you.” “I don’t goddamn care about Mindy.” The dangling ceiling lights swung against my raising aura. “Since when has there been a third descendant?” My father’s knees gave out, and he collapsed in his chair. His face paled, and he hunched over as if he were about to vomit. “Who told you?” he whispered.  My gut churned. So it was true; she wasn’t Darthon.  “I found out myself,” I said, curling my fingers into a fist. My heated fingers, like sparks of fire, pressed against my palm. “I met her.” He lifted his face, his brown eyes blank. “Eric, you must understand—” “Understand what?” I spat. “That you lied to me? That the elders lied to everybody?” Even I’d been told there were two descendants, not three, at the Naming.  “I was protecting you,” he said. “They were protecting you.” “From what?” I asked, waving my hands out. “She isn’t dangerous, even if she’s more powerful than I am. If anything, she’s teaching me more than Urte. She’s protecting me.” My father jumped up. “She knows about our world?” he asked, and my brow scrunched.  “I taught her.” My father’s shoulders rose, and his brown hair spiked black. “What have you done?” he asked, his transforming eyes glaring into mine. The blue color burned, and he slammed his palm on the table. A shadow opened up on his carpet, and the elders sprung through as if waiting for the unlikely moment.  “What’s wrong?” Luthicer asked, grasping at the air. Urte and Eu blinked, stretching out, and I knew what’d happened. My father had forced their transportation. “The third descendant knows,” my father said, and Luthicer’s dark eyes flashed white.  “What?” His bellow echoed. “Since when?” “How is that possible?” Urte asked, clutching his bristled chin like a safety blanket. “She left Hayworth years ago.” “Well, she’s back,” my father said, and I stepped between the ranting men.  “What the hell is going on?” I asked. “What aren’t you telling me?” My father raised his hand to my face, keeping his focus on the elders. “Collect a force. Find her, and bring her back here,” he said. “And don’t come back until you have her with you.” “Yes, sir,” Eu said, disappearing with Luthicer by his side.  I grasped for their air, but they were gone. “Wait, what?” My father ignored me again, but Urte met my eyes.  “What are they doing?” I asked. “If they touch her—” Urte’s hand shot up and touched my face, and I fell to the ground, completely paralyzed. He’d used the power I’d used only minutes before. I couldn’t move, and my heart clenched against my ribs.  “You need to calm down, Eric,” Urte said, kneeling in front of me. His green eyes were slits. “Calm down, and we’ll explain.” He turned his face to look at my father. “Bracke, you need to show him the rest of the prophecy.” “That’s against our code—” “It could also save our lives,” Urte said, and blood began coursing through my veins. He’d barely touched me, but the paralysis aftermath twisted my mind.  I blinked, grabbing my temples. I preferred nausea. “The rest of the prophecy?” I croaked, attempting to stand.  My father moved across the room and grabbed my arm. “Relax,” he said, closing his eyes. “I have to take you somewhere.” And we disappeared in a cloud of smoke.
Ze tian ji

 I recognized the room immediately. The roof was decorated with the stars. It looked infinite, but I knew it wasn’t. It was an illusion, created by Luthicer, and I’d figured it out shortly after I learned how to fly. The room used for the Naming was occupied once a year, so I used it as a training room until I was old enough for my own. If I’d only known it was lies, I wouldn’t have bothered.  “Why here?” I asked, rubbing the chills off my arm. I’d transported too much for one day. It was meant for emergencies, not fun. It took too much energy to do.  My father sighed. “Because they can explain.” He pointed to the four shadows—two men, two women—silhouetted against the blue wall. They were never solid, and I’d never asked why.  “Bracke,” I couldn’t tell which one spoke. “We weren’t expecting you for another year.” “It’s time he knows of the third descendant,” my father said, and the last woman moved.  “But the Marking of Change—” “Is jeopardized.” Another silhouette turned, revealing a protruding chest. “We have no other choice?” “None.” “Very well,” she said, and the group clapped their hands together.  The dark room spiraled, stars and mist, as reflections of my past blurred with images of the prophecy—the history of the Dark. I saw myself at thirteen, seated cross-legged on the floor, laughing as Abby joked about the Naming. Our instructor scorned us, and I recognized the look in his eyes, sympathy. He knew what I’d learn about myself only minutes later. Then he was gone, and I saw Camille, my father, and even my mother for a moment. Time flew past us, and the ancient world sprung from the ground—pillars and all.  One man, dressed in black silk, laid a sword on a scroll of paper, and it sunk into the words. Now it was in my blood. I’d seen the images before. “I’d prefer if we skipped this part,” I said. “I know it already.” “As you wish,” the chorus responded, and the image flipped. Two crowds of people, now the Light and the Dark, faced one another in a field of crumbling flowers. Fire raged behind them, and the sky blackened with smoke. I wasn’t there, but I couldn’t breathe.  “As you know,” a woman narrated. “We were one clan until the Light split us in two.” “What does this have to do with the third descendant?” I asked, waiting for the picture to move, but it didn’t. The people remained frozen.  “The Light believed they could separate without repercussions,” she explained. “But energy doesn’t work that way. It must remain equal.” “There was a bind, Shoman,” my father said. “It kept the Light and the Dark together.” “Where’d the bind go?” I asked, and he laid a hand on my shoulder.  “It became its own,” my father said, and my eyes flicked over the picture. More people appeared, torn between the families. “And the Light wanted it for themselves.” One group began to claw at the people, while the others remained still. “They wanted extra power.” “And the balance was lost,” a woman added. “The Light wanted the third clan to be so powerful that even you, Shoman, couldn’t destroy them.” “But they resisted?” My father nodded. “And the bloodline for the third descendant was born.” I shook my head. “For what purpose?” I asked, staring at the war as it twisted into bloody chaos. I knew the story.  No one won, and the powers were stripped and sealed with a treaty—the prophecy. The powers would only return generations before the descendants, and the descendants would determine which clan would dictate the power. Over time, the Dark became the destined winners, but I had yet to get an explanation.  “Because of the Light’s greed, the third clan, being one of purity, rebelled from the treaty,” a man spoke, and his silhouette soared across the wall. “They joined the innocent clan, the Dark.” “That’s why she’s a shade,” I guessed, and wind pushed against me.  “Her clan’s decision wasn’t made without sacrifice,” a voice said, and I turned around. “In order to keep the balance, she couldn’t just join the Dark. She had to weaken it.” I froze.

 “That doesn’t make any sense.” “It does,” they said. “When she only weakens you.” The floor flipped, and I shivered as my vision blurred. The walls weren’t black—they were gold, and the room filled with furniture and light. We were back in my father’s office, and my molecules were spinning.  Urte sprung up from the desk, and my father walked past him. “They weren’t done,” I said, and my father stopped, hand on the door.  “I know.” “Bracke,” Urte said. “He needs to know.” I agreed. “What did they mean by she weakens me? I’ve never felt stronger.” She was the weakness they’d talked about during the funeral. I knew that now. “I need to know.” “Shoman,” he sighed and turned around. “I can’t—” “Dad.” My voice was harsh but desperate. “If you don’t tell me,” I paused. “I don’t even know what will happen, but you do. And I need to know.” “Eric,” Urte began, ready to divulge the information, but my father raised his hand.  “He’s my son,” he said. “I’ll tell him.” “Then do it,” Urte said, and my father met my eyes.  “You’ll fall in love with her.” The words burned like her fear and tears when I pulled my sword on her. My stomach dropped to the floor, my heart skipped every other beat, and my nausea spun my gut into pieces. I was supposed to love her. I was supposed to feel for her. Even my emotions didn’t belong to me. It was fated by something I never asked for.  “But I don’t,” I said. “Love her, I mean.” I’d only kissed her once. How could the prophecy base love off a promised future before the children even existed? I wanted to hit something.  My father sighed, knocking the back of his head against the wall as he leaned backward. “I said, ‘you will,’ not ‘you are.’”  I shook my hands in front of me. “That’s ridiculous.” “Yet you betrayed your kind to meet her,” he said, raising his brow. “That isn’t the son I’ve raised.” My esophagus burned. “You raised me to hate for a reason,” I realized, speaking out loud, and he nodded stiffly.  “The Light tracks you to find her,” he said. “They can absorb her and use her against you.” “Absorb?” The words were unnaturally heavy. “What does that mean?” “We don’t even know, but the Light could win if they got her.” He slowly melted into a human, but his gaze never faltered. “They will kill her, Eric; they’ll kill anyone you love.” My knees locked to prevent my fall. “Abby.” Urte sucked in a breath. “When you showed her your sword, the energy lingered,” he said. “That car wreck wasn’t an accident.” I remembered the blonde girl peeking in, the light. I thought she would kill me. “But they left me alive.” “They didn’t know the first descendant was in that car,” my father said. “Just that Abby had been near him, and that was reason enough to attack.” I swallowed despite my dry mouth and shivered. “I can’t believe this.” Even though it was beginning to make sense. “I killed her.” “The Light killed Abby,” my father said. “Not you.” “But they thought she was the third descendant because of me.” “They shouldn’t have,” Urte said. “They knew the third descendant was gone.” “Gone?” I raised my brow, and remembered what she’d told me. She was adopted. “You put her in an orphanage?” “Not exactly,” Urte said. “Her family fled when she was born.”  I shook my head. “How’d they know who she was?” I asked. “We aren’t Named until we’re thirteen.” Urte’s eyes flickered over to my father, and his face fell. “The mothers seem to know upon birth.” My mom? I looked at my dad and opened my mouth, but closed it. I couldn’t ask. Not now. “So they fled because of me?” My father shook his head. “They fled because the Light would find her too easily,” he said. “And they didn’t want you to sacrifice yourself for her.” My chest knotted. “They knew me?” He didn’t confirm it, but he spoke anyway. “If you respected their memory at all, you’d stay away from their daughter,” he said, freezing me.

Himekishi ga classmate

“Our victory resides on both of your lives, and running around with her risks that.” “But—” I promised to see her in two days. I can’t leave her. Not without an explanation.  “No ‘buts,’ Eric.” My father’s voice rattled against the lights.  “I can’t leave her oblivious to this,” I said, trying to justify myself. “She won’t turn her back on what she is, and if I leave her out there alone, she’s just as likely to be caught.” Urte stepped forward. “How much does she know?” I glanced over. “Everything but this.” My father’s palm slapped the wall. “How long have you been talking to her?” “Months.” He ran his fingers across his face. “And no one caught you?” “No,” I said. “I made sure of that.” Except tonight. The Light must have felt our power.  “I told you not to go out by yourself, Eric,” my father said, and I shook my transformation off my human skin.  “Now I know why,” I said, glaring.  His brow lowered. “How could you do this to us?”  “She was frightened.” I threw my hands up. “She had no idea what was happening to her, let alone what she was. I had to help her—” “Then you felt the need to love her, too, right?” I pointed at him. “You can’t blame me for that.” The words left without denial, and my fingers spread out, shocked by the sound of my own voice. I couldn’t be in love this quickly. I barely knew her. I didn’t even know her name.  “I don’t love her,” I clarified as my father’s shoulders dropped. “But I won’t hate her either. I can’t.” “Then how do you expect her to live, Eric?” he asked. “They will kill her.” “I’ll protect her.” “Like you protected Abby?” he asked, and his words punched my chest, broke my ribs, and sliced my throat all at once. He might as well have killed me with my worst memory, and the worst part was how right he was.  Knocking rapped against the office doors, and Urte shed his appearance as the doorknob shook. “Dear?” Mindy’s voice floated through the wood. “Are you home? Your door is locked, and I thought I heard something.” “Eric and I are talking, sweetheart,” he said, straightening his clothes. “We’ll be done in a minute.” “We’re done now,” I said, storming toward the doors, but he blocked me.  “You can’t do this, Eric; you can’t be with her,” he said, widening his brown eyes. “Tell me where she is; we’ll protect her.” I stared into the eyes of the man who’d lied to me the most and pushed past him. “No,” I said, leaving his office for the night.



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