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Updated: Oct 18, 2021

Chapter Thirty-Six

Literal Lost Souls

My knock draws Soren from his lonely stare. He turns slowly, as if I’ve pulled him from a dream.

“Whatcha thinking?” I ask, eying the room. It’s dark in his suite aside from the fire roaring in the hearth, casting dancing light across the sharp planes of his face.

His chest rises with a deep inhale, and he shakes his head. “Nothing. Everything.”

“I know that problem all too well.”

He’s sitting on the far end of the couch, and I move tentatively to sit on the opposite side. The space between us feels loaded. I want to close it, but I’m not quite brave enough. “We’ll find another way,” I say quietly.

“There is no other way.” His eyes roll half-heartedly, resignation seeping from his body. His shoulders slump, his eyes have lost the brilliant clarity of his calculated thoughts. “I’m thinking about going back.”

My mouth searches for words it can’t seem to find. “Um, what?”

“To Andromeda.”

“Yeah, I knew what you meant, I just don’t understand how you could say it.” I watch his jaw work, his brows flicker briefly with a pulse of emotion. “You can’t just exile yourself to a dystopian universe where you can’t use magic and an evil necromancer stalks the streets.”

“Look. I don’t have a choice.”

“You have the rune, just keep doing it. Or the potion.”

“No one would mourn me.” It’s such a weird thing to say, Soren wanting someone to weep over him. Like he’s ever wept a day in his life for anyone else.

“Why are you saying that? Stop it.”

“Would you, Mika?”

He turns his eyes on me, and I feel cornered. If I were a better person... I’d tell him I’d save him. I’m not, though. I’m afraid, and I’m beginning to think fear is the true enemy of goodness.

What do I really feel for Soren Cain? Is it just the magic inside me, calling out to him? Is that why my heart aches so desperately on his account? Because it’s there, tumbling through me with a fervent plea to be made whole, and I’m not sure how much longer my heart can stand it.

When it comes to Soren, I can’t seem to differentiate between what my magic feels and what I feel.

“I’ve survived my whole life being a shadow walker, Mika,” he says. “The Claiming is the only thing I can’t escape.”

“What will they do to you?”

“If I’m lucky, lock me up in Gloomgate. If I’m not... evanescence my soul, maybe.”

“No way—”

“I’m not supposed to exist, Mika!” His voice grows severe, and I brace myself. “Both of my parents were on the Council. I’m proof of both of their treachery, of a martyred High Chancellor conspiring with a terrorist to bring his son back to life! Whether you like it or not, I’m a pawn. Political fodder. The whole witching world will believe my uncle protected me, that he was involved. I’m a liability.”

“You think your uncle would evanescence you?” There is no coming back for a soul that’s been evanesced. It can’t be raised, and it won’t be remembered. It’ll be as if it never existed.

“What choice would he have?”

“You. He can choose between himself and you.

An expression dances across Soren’s face, a sort of soured amusement. “He won’t.”

My eyes find the fire when they can no longer stand the grief in his expression. I’d believed him a prince when I’d first seen this room. As I’d watched him stride confidently down the halls, Amandine by his side. Soren’s a shell of that caricature now, fractured by a loneliness that I can finally see has chiseled him into this person he wants everyone to believe he is. I can’t imagine what his life has been like, for him to reach his most desperate moment and believe the one person he has left would evanescence his soul.

Then again, Lathan Cain isn’t Soren’s only hope. He’s not the only person Soren has.

Soren doesn’t say it, but I know the answer is for me to unseal the rune and go through with the soul-tie.

He scratches his forehead. “I’d need your help to get back. The portal at Burnbright has been blocked, and I don’t know any other way of getting through.”

“I’m not helping you do that, sorry.” I fold my arms over each other and try to muster up a glare for him and all of his idiotic plans.

“It’s the only way that I can come up with.”

“You’d be less safe in Andromeda than you would be here,” I remind him. “The second you get there, the Shadowmancer’s army will descend. The only place you could go is Pippa’s, and don’t you think a Raresight has more important things to do than look after your literal lost soul?”

He turns his gaze to me and I shake my head. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—ugh.” What was I trying to say? “That world is destroyed. There’s a whole conflict there that you have nothing to do with. You shouldn’t get in the middle of it.”

“You’re sure that we’re not already in the middle of it?” he frowns.

“What do you mean?”

“The look that shadow walker gave you before we left. The things Pippa said about our choices...”

I shrug. “I thought it was more like a general warning, you know? I mean, probably it has to do with whatever deal Lathan Cain made.” I freeze. “Omens, Soren. Do you think your uncle made some sort of deal with the Shadowmancer? That that’s the thing that’s coming here?”

Disbelief flickers across his face. “I don’t know what he’s capable of.”

His eyes find the fire again and I can see it hanging in the air, the question he refuses to ask.

Ask. Ask for my help.

“I know my mom bound my magic, but do you think we’d still go mad if we never accept the soul-tie?” It’s the closest I can get to bringing up the solution. It feels too vulnerable to propose it on my own, too much of a blow to my pride after I’ve insisted I don’t want to have anything to do with him. I can’t possibly suggest that we be magically linked for all time... not when I’ve been so busy trying to convince Soren Cain how much I hate him.

Soren shakes his head. “You wouldn’t go mad, Mika. I wouldn’t reject you.”

I look over at him, but his eyes have wandered somewhere else again. He’s not here with me.

Releasing a forlorn sigh, I mull over which part of the soul-tie, specifically, drove Mom out of her own mind. Was it the fact that her power never felt complete on its own? Or that something desperate in her magic leaked into her sensibilities when it came to Luca Cain?

Because, frankly, if I were to let myself feel much more of anything for Soren—affection or animosity—I can totally see how it would absolutely drive me insane.

An emptiness swells up in my stomach as I search his face. I feel like I have no choice, but just like the High Chancellor, of course I do: I can choose myself, or I can choose Soren.

Deep down, I realize I’ve always believed Soren was capable of taking care of himself, with or without my help. Despite the fractured glances, the fissures in his confidence, he’s never needed me nearly as much as he’s made me need him.

But I guess that’s what happens when you’ve been forged instead of raised, when your cleverness becomes duplicity for survival.

“Was your magic never tithed?” I ask after a moment. It occurs to me that Soren’s always seemed more capable, more attuned to his conjuring abilities than any of the other seventh-years.

He puckers his lips, raising a brow in consideration. “If my name won’t hold in the Tome of Ages, I’m not sure the Council had the ability to tithe my magic.”

“Do you like it, being more powerful than everyone around you?”

Soren shrugs. “I don’t see it as ‘more powerful.’ It’s just what I’ve always been able to do.”

“Would you feel less like yourself if you couldn’t do so much?”

Soren looks over at me, his look piercing. “Are you asking if you’ll feel less like yourself if you can do more?”

I hold his gaze, as if he has the answer hidden in his eyes. Or maybe his eyes are the answer—or rather, Soren is. My mind stumbles toward this possibility, disliking the truth: I can’t wait for him to ask for my help. He’s too arrogant to do that, and he’ll die because of it.

“Soren,” I say, quietly, “my mom said that I would be able to help you with this part. In her message.”

When his voice finally comes, it’s careful. “But you don’t want—”

“I want to be average. Right.” I nod. “But I also don’t want for anything to happen to you. I—” my words stumble clumsily through my mouth. “I would cry if you left. I mean, probably.”

“I want you to think carefully about that, Mika,” he warns, and I suddenly see through our dynamic for what it is. It’s a careful game—me, skirting the edge of admitting that I don’t want him to die, and Soren, covering up his care for my choice with his icy condescension. We frame our care for one another with a deliberate hostility, a battle of egos.

Calling it something else won’t undo the truth.

“I have thought about it,” I nod, “just now.”

“But you can still change your mind.”

This is it. If we carve this rune into Soren, I am voluntarily unlocking powers that could be too big for my skin. And I’ll spend a lifetime stuck with a guy I, as a general rule, can’t stand.

“I won’t change my mind,” I say quietly. And I mean it, but mostly because if I think about it any longer, my mind might change itself for me. “I’ll do it.”


I FREAKING love this chapter. Not only is it a hugely pivitol moment for the plot, it really taps into the sacrifice it requires to know another person and be known yourself. Real human topics that are complex, beautiful, and sometimes difficult. I love writing moments like this--they are kinda why I write at all! ;)

xx Jessa



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Copyright © 2019 Jessa Lucas

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This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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