Authors: K.D. McEntire
“How about you go to hell?” he said and pushed away from Wendy's lap, dodging past the White Lady's goons, and sprinting for her bleeding body. Long-fingered, bony hands gripped his ankles, pulling him back, draining him, but Piotr struggled, thrashing his legs and kicking over and over again until the hands let go with a brittle crack. Then, Wendy's body only a few feet away, Piotr shoved forward with all his might. The White Lady was screaming, the Walkers howling, but all he could see, all he could feel, was the pulse of her Light sliding out of his grip.
The orb balanced on the tip of his fingers, about to fall, about to break…
Piotr shoved forward…
…and thrust her orb of Light deep into Wendy's gut.
Behind him Wendy shrieked and her pillar's song cut off, the glittering ray winking out.
“You stupid boy,” keened her mother. “Oh you idiot! Look at what you've done!”
Across the ballroom Wendy's soul burst into brilliant Light, filling the room like phoenix fire, and a pulse of silent white exploded through the room, rocking the ghostly Palace at its very foundation. The Light burned everything it touched to a crisp—the White Lady, the Walkers, the Lost, and the Riders—bellowing Light and heat and an immense, billowing flame.
Piotr closed his eyes as the shockwave reached him, prepared for the bitter end.
I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz, or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul.
—Pablo Neruda “Sonnet XVII”
TWO WEEKS LATER
he Palace Hotel was empty for repairs. An earthquake had rocked the historical monument to its very foundations two weeks earlier, and though any contractor would have sworn the grand old hotel would have easily withstood a powerful shock, this quake apparently originated beneath the building itself. Luck was with them, however: a few plates were broken, and a maid sprained her wrist grabbing her cart to keep it from rolling over the feet of a customer, but there was only one serious injury out of all the guests. The Palace would be closed for another month, but residents of the Bay Area counted themselves lucky. It could have been much, much worse.
When Wendy opened her eyes, she found her father slouched at her bedside, head thrown back and snoring loudly, the latest
propped open on his chest. Tubes and wires snaked across her body and her sides ached fiercely, itching like fire. There was a plastic cup at her bedside, and a white pitcher brimming with water, condensation sluicing down its sides. Careful of her side, Wendy gingerly reached for the glass but bumped her elbow. She couldn't stop the curse from escaping her lips.
Her father's eyes flew open. He looked at her, saw she was awake; a long, slow smile worked its way across his face. “Hey Pippi Longstocking,” he whispered, “are you up?”
“Up as I'll ever be,” she said and pointed to the pitcher. “I'm thirsty, though. Could you please—”
“Right away,” he said and jumped up to fill her glass, his magazine tumbling beneath the bed. “You have no idea how good it is to hear your voice, sweetheart.” He brushed a kiss across her forehead. “Sip this slowly and I'll go get the doctor.” He wiped a damp hand across her jeans and Wendy spied one corner of Emma's envelope sticking out of the pocket. The sight of that pristine, sharp corner brought back the dreams of the White Lady in one great rush. Wendy forced herself to stay calm.
“Dad, wait,” she said and gripped his wrist with her free hand. “What happened?”
“We were hoping you'd tell us, honey.” He sat heavily down in the hospital chair. “I thought you were going to stay with Nana, but you turned up at the Palace Hotel after the earthquake later that night. Six point two, they're saying, but no one was seriously hurt. Except you. It was like a miracle…for everyone but me, that is.” He wiped the heel of his hand against his face. “I thought I lost you.”
“Oh Dad, I'm sorry.”
“Your mom, honey, she…she didn't make it.” Her father took Wendy's hand in his own. “I know I shouldn't tell you this before I get the doctor, but I want you to know.”
Some memory niggled the back of Wendy's mind. Something important about her mother. “The earthquake?”
He nodded. “Yeah, honey. Some tubes must have jiggled loose or something. Chel and Jon were with her though, at the end. Nana too. They said it was peaceful.” He brushed a stray lock of hair off Wendy's forehead. “We buried her yesterday. It's just that you were showing the same symptoms your mom had, before. They told me you might not wake up. But if I'd known you were going to wake up today we could have waited, or—”
“It's okay, Dad,” Wendy said. “I don't blame you. Go get the doctor, okay?”
“Okay, honey,” he said and quickly left the room.
“I'm glad you're awake,” Piotr said. He was sitting on the empty bed beside her, one of Dora's sketchbooks in his lap, a package of Prismacolor pencils at his side. He held up the sketchbook; he'd drawn the rough outline of her face, only slightly lopsided, a brief oval surrounded with curls like red fire, tinged black at the tips. “Your soul took a long time to heal.”
“Mom really was the White Lady, right?” Wendy's fingers curled into the blanket. “I didn't imagine that?”
He shook his head.
, you did not. I'm sorry.”
“I'm the one who should be apologizing,” Wendy said bitterly. “I should have known, but it just didn't seem possible—”
“There was no way for you to have,” he said. “Wendy, it's not your fault.”
She wiped her eyes. “My dad'll be back soon.”
He nodded. “I know. I just wanted to let you know that none of it—not your mother, not what happened to me, and what happened at the Palace—none of it is your fault.”
Piotr sighed. “Elle and Lily survived. While the White Lady and her Walkers were occupied with us, Dora had enough energy to crawl over and cut them loose. They were trying to free James when I…when I did what I did. Elle dragged Lily out a window before the shockwave hit.”
“James? The Walkers? The Lost?”
He hung his head. “All gone. The explosion sent them into the Light.”
Wendy nodded once. “I see.” Her fists opened, releasing the bunched bedspread. “And you? You were at ground zero.”
Somehow, I don't know know, I survived.” Piotr shrugged. “The Light destroyed everything around me—even the ground at my feet—but I was left alone.” He laughed. “I guess it really isn't my time to go,
“I'm sorry, Piotr.”
He shrugged. “I'm not. All this, everything that's happened, made me realize that it's time to travel on for a bit. Backtrack where I can, find my roots.” He glanced out the window. “Lily's known me the longest—centuries, and centuries again. So Lily's agreed to come with me, and Elle…she doesn't wish to stay here. Too many bad memories. She's coming along for the ride.” He smiled. “I believe she's looking forward to the adventure.”
“So you're leaving.”
“For a while. See what I can learn about being me. See what memories were siphoned away.” He hesitated. “You…could come with us.”
“I can't. I'm needed here.” Wendy sighed. “I still don't know what happened to Eddie, and I've got a feeling that I'll be cleaning up my mom's mess for a little longer than a while.”
“I understand.” Piotr brushed a finger along her face. “I do not wish to leave you like this. I want to stay but…honestly, Wendy, I need to get out of this place. I need to give this thing—this strange thing between us—a little space. I am not being fair to you.” He grimaced. “You are alive. I think…I think that you need to be with someone who is also alive.”
“All of that doesn't matter to me. I don't care that you're dead. I mean, hell, I'm the Lightbringer often enough that I might as well be—”
“Shhh!” Piotr put his hand over her mouth gently but urgently. “Do not say that! It matters to me. You matter to me. Do you understand?”
“Yeah. It sucks, but I get it.” Wendy shifted in the bed, grimacing at the pain in her side. “I'm going to miss you.”
He ran shaking fingers through his hair, his scars standing out in stark contrast with the unblemished skin of his hand. “I will miss you too. Very, very much.”
“I wonder how many memories I took,” Wendy whispered. “While we were kissing.”
“Maybe some, maybe none,” he said. “But even so, I think it was a fair trade.”
“Right,” she said bitterly. “Sure.”
Fingers, cool and strong, lifted her chin, tilting Wendy's face up. Piotr was only the barest breath away, eyes looking intently into her own. “A kiss for the road?” he asked and, before she could answer, his lips slanted over hers.
When they drew apart, the monitor at her bedside was beeping wildly and Wendy could hear the quick pounding of feet in the distance, nurses running for her room.
“I'll see you around, Curly,” Piotr said, blowing her a kiss as he backed through the far wall. “Good luck finding Eddie.”
The doctor skidded into the room, a nurse and Wendy's father at his heels. He found Wendy sitting up in the bed, cheeks wet and a hand pressed to her lips, staring at the wall. The monitor, which had only moments before been protesting at a high-pitched whine, was dropping its tempo into a steady, pulsing beat.
“Winifred?” he asked, approaching her carefully, worried that his sudden appearance might shock the girl into another series of heavy heart fluctuations. “How are you feeling?”
“I think I'm a little lost,” she replied, eyes never straying from the wall. “But I think I'd like to go home.”
is a mom and animal lover currently living just outside of Kansas City with her husband, son, and two cats. K.D. spends her miniscule free time reading, writing, and battling her Sims 3 addiction. She loves Wil Wheaton, Stephen King, Joss Whedon, gaming, comic books, and all things geeky.