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HAPPY RELEASE DAY + FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Essence of the Angels (Starlight, #2), by P.S. Malcolm

It's finally here! Today we're thrilled to release book two in P.S. Malcolm's The Starlight Chronicles; the Urenphians have taken over Lucy's home, and Valarie finds herself in enemy territory. Will they make it out alive? Find out in ESSENCE OF THE ANGELS (The Starlight Chronicles, #2), out TODAY!

Get your copy TODAY on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or the Parliament Shoppe!

Start with book one, LANTERNS IN THE SKY, here!


After the Urenphians took over their home, Lucy and her entourage are forced to retreat to the haven of the Angel Sanctuary.    But with Valarie missing, Lucy is oblivious to the lies and secrets staring her right in the face. It's not until she makes a shocking revelation that she realizes just how much danger she and her friends are in. Will she be able to step into the ruling shoes of her past self before it's too late? Meanwhile, Valarie finds herself in enemy territory under the watchful eye of Devian and Reina. But her newly found Shadow heritage and ties to Reina aren’t the only dark secrets in her past… and with the turmoil she's about to face, it's possible that she may not make it out of Urenphia as the same person that she once was... The exciting next installment in The Starlight Chronicles Series will reveal truths to a world they thought they knew—but will they survive in this new world unveiled?


READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Essence of the Angels (The Starlight Chronicles, #2), by P.S. Malcolm


CHAPTER ONE VALARIE I was standing under a shadowy, black sky, surrounded by sprawling gardens that glistened in the moonlight. A gentle breeze caressed my skin, carrying cinders from the burning torches that lit the courtyard. I waited—for whom, I did not know yet, but I waited in the night and wondered what I was there for. A figure finally emerged from the shadows from the arched doorway ahead like it had melded out of the darkness itself, dressed in dark clothes and sheltering its face from view. I recognized his hair and stance, the way he carried his shoulders and moved his legs with such staggering purpose. The sweep of his body cut through existence itself, until he finally lifted his gaze and his emerald green eyes bore into mine. Mixed emotions stung at my heart. One side of me felt a yearning towards those eyes; but that was the part of me that had died long ago, along with the burning flames that singed through my veins. The other part of me was struck with despair, for those eyes were where my pain lay. They haunted my every living moment, taunted me, and told me what I could not have—what my heart would never accept again, not after all that he had done. The hurt and pain he put me through, the burdens and pressure he laid upon me. The people he tore down to claim me once more. I was fire—I was not meant to be contained. Not meant to be kept, ordered, and restricted by boundaries. I needed to be free. Upon realizing that, a sense of claustrophobia came upon me, because I knew—deep down in my heart, in my soul—I was trapped here. In this memory. In this dream, and I needed to wake up. Julian reached for me, seeking to hold me . . . to kiss me . . . and a sense of longing tainted by repugnance came upon me all at once. No, I tried to say, but my mouth would not move. Words would not come. Nobody could hear me. I was trapped in my memory—in a past that had already happened, and I could not escape. I am fire. I am fire. I cannot be contained.

I repeated the words desperately, as those eyes gazed deeper and his mouth drew nearer. His arm snaked around my waist, and his embrace was tight. The part of me that had lived once before did not try to stop him; it leaned into him instead, wanting that affection as much as he did. I could feel our hearts beating together and the tickle of his warm breath upon my lips. I was screaming. The darkness shattered, twisting into light, as I lunged upward. I was in a bed, sweat pooling on my forehead and dripping down my arms. My throat was raw, and the silk bed linings too hot—I needed air. I needed cold, fresh air. I ripped the sheets off just as the door swung open, but I didn’t have time to see who it was before a wave of nausea attacked me and forced me to jerk forward. My knees hit the floor, and I heaved as the contents of my stomach spilled out, the dizzying blackness of my vision taking over. I rasped for breath as everything spun. Suddenly, hands were on me, steadying me. “Breathe,” a voice whispered. It was a familiar voice, who then ordered, “Sadie— fetch some water and a bucket to clean this up.” I gritted my teeth together. My hands were clammy and my brain felt shattered. I hadn’t slept decently since I’d arrived here yesterday; I’d spent the entire time dreaming up night terrors full of my past life’s memories and drifting in and out of consciousness. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t function at all. I finally stopped heaving and realized how weak I felt as exhaustion seeped back into my muscles. “Let’s get you cleaned up,” the voice said, but I ignored it—ignored him, the one who had brought me here. He thought his presence helped, but it made things worse. Sadie returned not a moment later, offering me a chalice of cool water before dumping a wooden bucket of sloshing water to the floor on top of the mess I’d created. My shaky fingers grasped the chalice and I sipped slowly, steadily. Sadie got to work scrubbing the floor, and I tried to swallow the water. Tried to, but my stomach turned again and I had to stop. My curtain of brown hair curled on my left side, blocking out the sight of Devian as he continued to kneel beside me. I didn’t care to see those obscured eyes of his, or hear him speak, for as long as I lived. He had unleashed my powers, my memories, without so much as a warning. He had kidnapped me and brought me here, to this unfamiliar world where enemies prowled, yet I remained confined to this room, unable to fight back or escape or do anything but dream and heave and slowly fade away. A dying ember in the ashes, flickering out. “You should try and get some more rest,” Devian said quietly. My body ached for sleep, yearned for it, but I could not bring myself to face those memories again so soon. I was not ready. “No,” I said, my voice still raw. I clenched my fists and swallowed my remaining nausea, blinking away the tears that had formed. I hated the sympathy in their gazes—hated the way they pretended to care. They were evil monsters—they could never care about me. “I want to be left alone,” I managed to say. There was a moment of hesitation and Devian looked like he wanted to protest but eventually they both rose to their feet and left me on the floor. I heard a click as the door closed behind them, and only then could I let out a sigh of relief. I took another moment to gather my strength before pushing myself up from the floor. The movement made me sick, but I was intent on staying awake—at least for a little bit. My hands pressed against the chilly hardwood balcony doors, pushing them open. The night air hit me like ice and my teeth started to chatter, but I ignored the cold. It felt good to feel something other than tiredness. I’d already tried to escape this way, but there was a barrier preventing me from climbing the rail of the balcony. I could only stare down at the tiny village below . . . The Court of Deception.

I had been told many things when I first came to consciousness here. Not all of it had made sense at the time. I remember being told something about twelve courts—or twelve kingdoms, perhaps. All I could recall was the court in which I resided . . . which was under Reina’s rule. Lucy’s real sister. The real Starlight princess. My brain was still extremely foggy, but I knew something was off about that. I distinctly remember being told by Andrew that Shade was the sole ruler of Urenphia and that no other rulers had been positioned. But if that were true . . . why was Reina in charge of this court? Why were there eleven more courts? What were they for? My fingers gripped the cold stone guardrail, and my gaze focused on the streets . . . the houses . . . the colors. There were rich, golden hills, and trees as black as shadow. The sky had a deep purple hue that dimmed only during the night. The sun was much smaller here and unlike Earth, this place didn’t orbit around it. Instead, we stayed still, and a larger orbiting rock continuously circled around the sun, creating a sort of slow, ever-lasting eclipse that only showered us in darkness during sleeping hours. This rotation resulted in different sleeping hours throughout each of the kingdoms—the distance was hazy from here, but I could see dim sunlight illuminating the buildings in farther away towns. Another strange difference in this world was the smallness of the sun—it resulted in much colder temperatures than what I was accustomed to. I was thankful for my heavy sleeved nightgown, or else I would already have grown stiff enough to snap into two halves just by standing out here on the balcony. Against the golden, desert landscape, a town full of houses stood out. I didn’t know what the houses were made of, but whatever stone it was, it was dark with traces of glittering jewels. An alluring, deceptive beauty; the perfect disguise for these beings who did not have beautiful hearts. This was Urenphia—smaller than I’d pictured, and a thousand times more crowded. During waking hours, the streets were filled with people. I’d watched them from my balcony a couple of times when I’d been conscious, looking down on The Court of Deception. It was so noisy during those hours I could barely hear myself think. I still had so many questions. I wanted to know why I was here, how I’d become a Shadeow, and why Reina stayed back to rule here instead of returning to Ersarence. I wanted to know why they hadn’t chained me up in a dungeon and starved me to death. If anything, they’d been significantly hospitable to me—giving me my own chambers and three meals a day, and a wardrobe of comfortable, elegant gowns for my choosing. Not that I’d had enough energy to really utilize any of that, but still. It was almost as if they were trying to woo my trust. They must have known I’d never trust them after everything they’d done to us. My head started to spin, and I knew I had to lie back down. Sighing wearily, I headed back inside and closed the balcony doors behind me. Though I dreaded what my dreams would bring, my body welcomed the sleep.

__


The next morning, I felt more rested than I’d felt in days, so I took a long, hot bath in the adjoining bathroom. There was a spacious, stone tub with flower petals and sweet scents in the water. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t nice—but for the most part, I just wanted to regain some sense of humanity. I’d been bedridden for nearly two days at this point, and I needed to get it together. I had to find a way out of this place. Once I’d dried off and thrown on the most practical gown I could find, I ventured back out into my chambers with the intention of finding something to break down the doors with. However, to my surpriseand annoyance, Devian was waiting for me near the opulently jeweled mirror that sat above the fireplace. Being in the same room as Devian made my skin crawl. Every time I thought back to that battle, to the flames and the charred flesh— My heart lurched, and I felt sick. I banished the thought immediately from my mind. He turned to me with the hint of a smirk on his lips before speaking softly, “good morning. Sadie won’t be bringing you breakfast today.” He perched on the foot of my bed. I swallowed hard and kept my distance from him, crossing my arms. “Have you finally decided to starve me?” I asked dully. He laughed. “Not at all—you’re not a prisoner, Valarie. You’re our guest. As it happens, I’m actually here to escort you to the dining room—you’ll be eating with the rest of us today.” My expression melted to shock. I had no words.

Devian studied my expression before adding, “Reina feels that you won’t be as overwhelmed now that you’ve had a couple of days to adjust.” The words sank in, and I glowered at him. “You think I want to dine with you?” My hands clenched around my nightgown skirts. “Let’s get this straight, Devian. We aren’t friends; we’re enemies. You’ve killed people, yet you think I’m just going to follow your will and command?” Devian let out a slow sigh. “Look, I know this is hard for you to understand—” “Understand?” I cut him off harshly, taking a bold step forward. “I’ve been kidnapped by you. You dropped a bomb on me, telling me I’m a Shadeow! My memories are coming back in pieces, and they’re confusing and hurtful. You won’t explain anything to me—you just want me to dine at your stupid table and wear your stupid gowns and stay in this stupid room as if it all doesn’t matter!” I glared at him, and he said nothing. His expression was understanding, like he’d been expecting as much. I hated that sympathetic expression. My blood bubbled in my veins. I took a step back from him again, trying to steady my breathing, “You were different once—normal,” I said quickly, thinking back to the boy I’d once known. The boy I’d once seen at Lorelei’s house parties and around the neighborhood. The boy my father always complained about when he came home from a late shift. That past Devian and the Devian before me right now . . . they were completely different people. “Now you’re just a nightmare—you make my skin crawl thinking about the things you made me do. If I’m truly not a prisoner, then I don’t want you in this room, and I don’t want to join you at breakfast. If I’m your guest, then prove it: grant me those wishes at the very least.” Devian averted his eyes and ducked his head slightly. He sucked in a deep breath before replying, “okay. I’ll ask Sadie to bring a meal to you . . . but know that you’re welcome to join us anytime you like. All you need to do is ask.” He gave me a final look before getting to his feet and walking back around the bed to the door. I bit my lip as the realization hit me that I was going to be stuck in this room again. Alone with my thoughts and my dreams. I began to panic at the thought. He’d nearly made it to the door by the time I stopped him. “Wait a moment,” I said sharply, following carefully behind him. He paused and turned to face me once more.

“When do I get some answers? I’ve been here for days and I know nothing. I just want—” I broke off as a sudden dizziness swept over me. I swayed, my vision splitting, but Devian caught me before I crashed to the floor. It took me a moment to gather my senses and regain my footing as my vision swarm through blackness before retuning slowly back to normal. I clutched my pounding head. His hands left me once I was standing again. “I’ll explain everything to you when that stops happening,” he promised, tucking a loose strand of hair behind my ear. “You have a lot more going on inside your head right now—let’s not complicate things. Everything will become clear in time…all you need to know right now is that you're safe, and you're in the right hands.” He held my gaze for a second and my breath caught in my throat, mixed emotions rising inside of me. He turned and exited out of the carved, wooden doors to my chambers. I heard the doors lock after him and reluctantly turned back to face my all too spacious, all too lonely room.


CHAPTER TWO LUCY We were out of time. I hadn’t been able to escape this feeling of dread since my tired eyes forced me into sleep last night. I tossed and turned through nightmares until Jason had shaken me awake and forced me to get up, fast. “They’ve found us,” he whispered hurriedly in my ear, sending shivers down my spine. The doors suddenly burst open and two deranged looking Urenphians wearing official uniforms stormed into the abandoned townhouse we’d spent the night in. I scrambled up off of the couch and followed Jason as he dove headfirst out of the nearest window, crashing to the ground. I’d gotten good at fast escapes—and better at dealing with the bruises that came with such actions. I winced, feeling the scrapes on my wrists. I risked a single glance back and locked eyes with one of the Urenphians through the window. Those familiar eyes with dancing irises—the ones all Shadeows seemed to share—glared determinedly at me, a swirl of vibrant colors. In the daylight, their skin seemed to shimmer as if it were highlighted, and I noticed just how gaunt their cheeks appeared. My stomach dropped at this unusual sight. I was still not used to how different they looked from us—like magic shimmered in every part of their being. I pushed myself up and tore after Jason through the overgrown, grassy front yard towards the car only to find it surrounded by more Urenphian guards. However, Jason didn’t seem fazed; he drew his sword and fought his way to the driver’s door. I elbowed my way past to the passenger side, ignoring the way my joints stung with each impact, and managed to throw myself in just as Jason started the engine. The car chugged to life and Jason slammed his foot on the gas, taking off before his door had fully closed. Barreling through the remaining guards, we shot down the narrow street and headed for the single road leading out of Lorelei. Well, I was truly awake now. My head hit the back of the passenger seat and my eyes fell closed for a brief moment.

“Good morning to you too,” I said to Jason, finally breaking the silence. I kept my tone dull, but neither of us laughed. Maybe if the circumstances had been different, I would have at least chuckled. If Valarie were here, I definitely would have. Andrew had warned us not to come back to Lorelei after our narrow escape three weeks ago, but it was the only place we hadn’t yet searched. Now, I knew for sure that my best friend was gone. I’d last seen her being dragged into a mysterious, magical void and straight back into enemy hands. Our time was up. We were exhausted, injured, and empty handed—but that didn’t feel nearly as terrible as the gaping hole in my heart. I had failed Valarie.

The buildings began to thin and the hills began to slope upward as we drove out of Lorelei. I didn’t want to be the first to address the situation, but one of us had to. “So, what do we do now?” I was met with crackly static sounding from the radio as Jason stayed silent. It was all we ever heard now that communication had been completely cut off from the outside world. Jason kept his eyes on the road—his hair was still rumpled from last night. I’d gotten strangely comfortable with sharing a room with him over the past two weeks—which was surprising, considering how little I used to trust him. But I guess two weeks of running from enemies and searching the surrounding cities for your missing best friend will bring people closer—and over that time, Jason had constantly been there for me. “You tell me,” he replied as almost an afterthought with his gaze focused on the road. “You’re the one calling the shots here.” “I am not calling the shots,” I replied firmly, folding my arms. “If anyone is calling the shots, it’s Andrew. He’s the one who suggested we leave Earth—the reason we now need to get back to the hideout, and the only reason I agreed is because even I can see that we’re not safe here.” It felt strange to be leaving Lorelei again; the first time the Urenphians forced us to leave had been three weeks ago. In the first week, Walter had summoned a healer angel to heal my broken wrist, and then Andrew and Walter had gone out to gather intel. They came back after a few days with the news that every major city had been overtaken by Urenphians, and every minor town apart from Lorelei had been either razed or abandoned. With so much of our world suddenly in the hands of our enemies, it wasn’t safe to stay on Earth. It would only be a matter of time until they found our hideout. As it happened, there were a number of survivors—including the mob we’d saved the night the Starlight Barrier broke, allowing the Urenphians to come through. We spent the remainder of that first week working to get the word out and sending the angels we had to find people, and before long we had nearly a hundred survivors in need of safety and shelter—including my parents. Andrew had told us leaving Earth was an option. The angels had a whole plan to get people to their home—the Angel Sanctuary. There was a special gateway they could use now that the Starlight Barrier had been lifted. Neo had added that the Angel Elite Council would be a strong ally to have, if I could manage to persuade them to fight with us. Except I had my doubts about convincing them, especially after last time. Even though we agreed to eventually leave Earth, both Jason and I had refused to go without Valarie. This had frustrated Andrew, whose argument was strong—we needed the right weapons and resources, and we had one hundred other people needing food and shelter. But I couldn’t bear the thought of potentially leaving Valarie behind in enemy hands. I needed to be certain she wasn’t here before abandoning Earth altogether. So eventually, we came to an agreement: two weeks to find Valarie and then we leave, with or without her. The angels took the survivors to the sanctuary the same day we left to search for her, and they agreed to come back for us after two weeks. Now that the two weeks was up, we had to meet them at the hideout by sundown . . . and the hideout was hours away from Lorelei. Meaning we didn't have any more time for searching. It had been quiet for a long time, until Jason finally spoke. “She killed someone.” It took me a second to realize he was talking about Valarie again, and that he was referring to her killing Kale right before we got separated from her. “That kind of thing leaves a mark on someone. She didn’t even have time to process it . . .” I grimaced. Everything had happened so fast in the end—even I was still trying to process it. I think Jason blamed himself—even though it wasn’t his fault. Maybe he was regretting ever letting Valarie get as involved as she did. If he had sent her away with her maman and my parents, maybe none of this would have ever happened. However, then we would have been screwed—we needed her Starlight powers. Now the enemy had exactly what we needed, so we would have to find another way to fight the Urenphians. My eyes trailed back to the wheat fields, and all of a sudden I noticed a strange, glowing light a little way up. I think Jason saw it too, because he eased off on the gas. “What is that?” he murmured, his eyes fixated on it. As the car drew closer, I recognized the familiar purple swirls in the air. The same image that had been seared in my head the moment Devian had pulled Valarie away from us that day. “It’s a void . . .” I said, my voice barely a whisper. Before Jason could register my words, a figure stepped through it. Her copper-blonde curls bounced around her face and two slender eyes focused straight at us. I gasped. “Look out!” I screamed as she stepped right towards us. Jason turned the wheel sharply without thinking, and we plunged straight into the wheat fields. I gripped the seat tightly, shrieking, as strands of wheat battered the car and we skidded through the golden haze, almost rolling from the impact. My seatbelt yanked hard against my chest before flinging me back against the seat sharply. Jason let out a strangled gasp, his green eyes wide with shock and adrenaline. “Shit,” he cursed, his hand flying to his seatbelt and unclicking it. I copied him—she would be coming for us. But how? How had Chrissy found us? I turned my head and noticed it— my side mirror was uncovered, the cloth we’d tied over it hanginng loose. We’d covered all the mirrors in the car before even setting off two weeks ago, but I must have flung the door too hard in my hurry to get away earlier. Now the mirror was exposed, revealing a clear shot of my face. I exchanged a horrified look with Jason before we scrambled from the car and took off running through the wheat fields. “What do we do now?” I hissed, my shorter legs working harder to keep up with his longer ones as we threaded through the wheat. Jason ripped strands of wheat aside, pushing further and further into the golden unknown. “Hope we can shake her off and that she doesn’t mess with the car. Otherwise, we’ll be stranded here,” he replied, his voice low. My stomach dropped at the thought of being stuck here, in the fields, with Chrissy.

“Damn it—this is all my fault,” I said quietly, as we were running. He shook his head. “Don’t be stupid. If anything, it’s lucky she ran us off the road. It would have been worse if we’d led her right to the safehouse.” Well, he had a point. We slowed to a stop after a few minutes, pausing to catch our breath. “Should we turn back?” I asked hesitantly, looking over my shoulder. Jason narrowed his gaze before clasping my hand and leading me left. “Stay quiet,” he murmured, dropping his stance into a crouch. I copied him, and we crept slowly and silently through the field, ears perked and eyes sharp. I could feel the warmth of his palm—mine was sweaty from the anticipation of being caught. My heart thudded softly, and I could barely control my breathing.” “I think we lost her—we should head back,” he said finally, and his fingers slipped from my grasp. Boom! A resounding echo vibrated the air and shook the ground. We were thrown off balance. An eruption of bright, orange fire appeared above the wheat fields, and a sick feeling developed in my gut. I gawked. “Please don’t tell me that’s the car,” I whispered. Jason made a disgruntled noise in the back of his throat. “That’s definitely the car.” I didn’t know how Chrissy had done that, and I certainly didn’t want to find out. The heat from the explosion reached us, and it occurred to me that the flames weren’t dying. In fact, they seemed to be growing. “Oh God—I think the field is on fire,” I muttered.” Jason gripped my hand again and tugged it hard. “Move!” he urged, and we were running again, sprinting through the field. It battered me but I pushed on, hardly daring to breathe. My legs tore against the ground, and the scent of heavy smoke wafted through the air. It seemed endless—there was no forest or river within reasonable proximity to us. There were no houses to hide in other than Sarzbrek Farmhouse, which was back the other way, and definitely no other vehicles. We were surrounded by wheat in all directions, and the heat on my back kept growing hotter and hotter. Thick smoke grew around us, and golden cinders floated past. “We can’t run forever,” I insisted, risking a glance behind me as I huffed for air. The entire field behind us was on fire now, barely visible through the darkening haze. If the flames didn’t catch us first, Chrissy would find us eventually. Distracted by the flames and smoke, I hadn’t noticed we’d reached the edge of the wheat field where a slope began to stretch down. I suddenly lost my footing and tumbled downwards. I shrieked, still clinging to Jason as he lost his footing and fell with me. We rolled and my joints cracked and bruises bloomed where rocks hit my limbs. We landed together and I let out a muffled groan of pain as he quickly pushed off of me. “Sorry,” he grunted, rubbing his elbow as he stood. We’d rolled into a steep ditch—I’d been so preoccupied with running and the smoke had been mostly blocking my vision, so I hadn’t noticed it before. It seemed to stretch onwards in both directions for quite a while. I wasn’t sure where it would lead, or if it would lead anywhere, but it was better than being burned alive and it was easier to breathe down here. Jason had clearly been thinking the same thing. “Let’s go this way,” he said, pointing us in the direction that we’d originally been driving in. I could only hope it would lead us back to the road and not the middle of nowhere. After running so hard and taking a rough tumble, the last thing I wanted to do was sprint again, but neither of us wanted to risk letting those flames catch up to us. Besides, being able to see where we were going made a big difference, in comparison to running blindly through the fields. We kept running for what seemed like hours, the air slowly clearing above our heads, until we finally hit a stretch of actual road. Thank God it was the road and not something else entirely.

Looking back, we could still see the flames burning the field to a crisp a long way back, but they hadn’t spread this far. And there was no sign of Chrissy, which was a relief. “Hey,” Jason said, nudging me. I turned and followed his gaze to a barn just down the road. One of those old-style ones, with the red panels and the white crisscross doors—one of which was slightly ajar, and the surrounding yard looked ransacked. It might have been occupied, but it was unlikely. Still, we proceeded with caution, our footsteps barely echoing on the dirt as we made our way towards it. Jason kept a hand on the sword holstered against his hip, and I kept my shoulders tense and ready for any sudden moves. Jason nudged the barn door open before leaning to peer inside.

Light shined through the minimal windows, and it was spacious but filthy. The floor was covered in hay and dirt, and the second story landing that occupied the barn edges looked unstable. I couldn’t even locate a way up there, if there was one. One thing was for certain: it was abandoned. We quickly shut the door and secured it with a few hay bales—not that it would do much to keep Chrissy out if she decided to blow that up too, but it might buy us a few minutes. The exhaustion on Jason’s face was starting to show; his eyes were drooping, and he collapsed on the floor with his back against the bales. It stank of hay and poop and other unpleasant barn smells, and that didn’t really help with the queasiness that was starting to accompany my growling stomach. We’d need to find food soon. We hadn’t eaten in hours. We needed to figure out a way back to the safehouse that preferably didn’t involve walking. I pressed my back against the wall of the barn as I continued to think . . . no, more like fret about what to do. I wasn’t exactly the hunting type, and I knew very little about survival tactics. The basics occurred to me—a fire, perhaps, for when it got dark and cold, but starting a fire was the last thing I wanted to do right now after escaping one, and I also didn't want to attract unwanted attention. You’d think that I’d have picked up on this by now, with the two of us driving around in Andrew’s car for the past two weeks, but we’d mostly slept in the backseat or houses that appeared safe. Not once had I been in a situation like this, where our communication was cut off and our escape vehicle was gone, and we were stranded in the middle of freaking nowhere!

Just thinking about it made my anxiety skyrocket. In fact, this had been the first time since all of this had begun to unfold that I’d been able to stop and really think about what a mess my life had developed into. Valarie was still missing. My hometown was destroyed, and the entire world was crawling with enemies that wanted me dead. I was stuck here, in this barn house, being hunted by a Shadeow who I’d once considered considerably less lethal, and my only company was a guy who had once tried to slice my head off and had spent centuries pining after my best friend. It hit me like a ton of rocks, and just like that, I began sobbing uncontrollably. Jason looked up from where he’d collapsed as I slid down the wall and curled into a ball. A million emotions flooded through me; embarrassment that I was crying when I was meant to be stronger than this; fear for what was going to happen to us; and guilt that I hadn’t been able to make the difference I wanted. It was overwhelming—I’d failed everyone, and I’d been so sure, so hopeful I’d at least find Valarie, but . . . “Lucy?” Jason’s voice sounded closer than I expected, and when I looked up, he’d come over to me. Now he was crouched in front of me—like the way he’d perched when we first met—looking unsure of what to say or do. I shook my head, as more tears escaped my eyes. I tried to quickly wipe them away, as if they weren’t there. “I’m sorry,” I sniffled. “Of all the things I should be doing right now . . .” He placed a hand on my arm.

“You should cry,” he said simply. “You haven’t had a chance to grieve your losses.” I must have been looking at him with a confused gaze, because after a moment, he elaborated. “It took me centuries to grieve my old life . . . I think because I was convinced that I’d eventually get it back; but as time went on, and the world around me shifted, I realized it wouldn’t ever be the same again. I had to let go, and that meant accepting that the old me, —my old life, had died.” He looked me firmly in the eyes. I realized how grave of a realization that must have been for him—his old world . . . our old world was so different compared to today’s world. It was an entirely different time, and it had been swept away by the progression of our world. “The sooner you come to accept that and grieve your old life, the better.” He was right—it had all been bottling up inside me, since the day the celestial lantern had fallen from the sky. As much as I hated to admit it, with the way the world was right now, I couldn’t see the old me, or my old life, ever coming back. What was the point of school and studying, or spending hours in Valarie’s room as she stitched clothes, after everything that had happened? Who was I—what was I meant to do with my life? Right now, the only thing I could think to do was to save Valarie . . . and then defeat the Urenphians . . . somehow. What about when all that was over? I let the hot tears slip down my cheeks once more. I grieved for the loss of my friend, my town. I grieved the loss of my world and my old life. The old Lucy Maisfer was dead.

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