“Why exactly are you here?” Robin asked. “I thought Damian…”
“Captured me?” Miles smiled sadly. “He did. I’m on my first recon mission through time. It would be stupid for Damian to waste someone like me because of my relationship to the victims. I can give him the information that he needs to make Alistair’s life a living hell.”
“I don’t understand. You can’t be working for him now,” Robin said. “No, we had a pact, all of us! Remember? What happened to us all leaving Moonlight Falls? Tell me this is a joke.”
“It isn’t a joke Robin. I work for Damian now. You’re smart enough to figure out why. I wish I had time to tell you more, but you need to stop hiding. Step up and help your friends!” Miles slammed his fist onto the table. “Stop being such a coward!”
Robin stepped back, fear evident on his features. “Just leave Miles. You don’t have to help him. You can help-”
“I am helping them,” Miles said through gritted teeth. “You don’t understand. I’m not giving him any information that he doesn’t already have. I would never sell Sienna out. I love her.”
“You love her?” Robin whispered.
“Yes, but Patrick-” Miles stopped. “No, forget it. I can’t say anymore. Just know that in order for this to dtop, we need everyone, including you and Hayden.”
“How do I know that Damian isn’t watching you?” Robin asked cautiously.
“I’m dimension shifting,” Miles said slowly. “I’m in the middle of our world and another version of Moonlight Falls. Its complicated, but Damian can’t see me right now. But, I can’t do it for long. I’ll be fading away very soon. I just needed you to know that our friends need you as much as they need me and Kat. Tell Hayden too. Alistair is in trouble.”
“But-” Robin began.
“Don’t be so scared. Everything will work out in the end.” Miles gave a reassuring smile before he faded and materialized into his own dimension.
“Where exactly are we?” Pepper asked, looking around.
“My old place, with Sienna, Declan and Miles…” I answered. I had a great year in this place. I hadn’t wanted to be here initially, but as the year went on, the three witches had grown on me. Even Declan, who I was positive wanted to chop my head off the first time we met. Ever since he found out that Lucas had no intention of making me the keepr of magic, Declan’s been a lot cooler. That man worried me. He was always acting like the older brother, taking charge of the situation. By doing that, he neglected his own life. Instead of helping me, he should be focusing on his own life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for his help and without it, I would probably be in much more trouble. I wanted him to enjoy life. I wanted him not to feel like he had to sacrifice anymore. He had done that so much already. He had no parents, his best friend was dead, and now he had to babysit me. I had to tell him to ease up. I hoped this little fiasco would be over with soon, so he’d be able to relax.
“Alistair…are you ok?” I felt the electricity once she touched my arm. “Oh!” She pulled her arm back in shock. “Was that what you call a static shock?”
“I don’t know, maybe?” I didn’t think it was. It had felt much more potent. I had actually still felt the current coursing through my body. It was much less severe than the initial impact. “Maybe not.”
[Shift in POV for this section] Pepper was still looking down astonished at her hands. “Was that because of me?” She shook her head. Damian was right. One day she’d end up hurting Alistair. He had told her about the adverse reaction of imaginary friends to their owners after their connection was broken. It was a one sided love, an obsession almost, that would cause her to destroy her one companion. It wasn’t a change in her personality that would hurt him, no, it was a physical deterioration. This spark was just the first. It’d get worse. That’s why she had to leave. She had to ignore her love for Alistair, and take Charlotte and go to Damian. Anything more with Alistair and she’d kill him. She’d never live with herself if that happened. What about those kids? Adeline would fall into Aria’s hands. No, she couldn’t do that. One child had to stay a Gray in order to save the other. Just like Alistair was doing for his siblings.
Falling to my knees, I screamed in pain. It was happening again. My vision was fading and being replaced by something that wasn’t mine. A memory that didn’t belong to me. Not anymore. Her laugh, I hadn’t heard her laugh since she was still a doll. As a human, I’d never expected her to look as she did, even if she was a creation of my deepest creative thoughts. Her smile, her hair, her orange skin….all of it was refreshing, yet brought me back to my happiest days in Sunlit Tides with my family. When everything was alright. Since when had I felt like this? Since when had I felt this fondness towards Pepper? Was it the vision that was making me feel this way? The rosy surroundings, the classic movie scene pose we were in, the cherry pie?
“Alistair,” She was extremely close to me. Unlike the vision with Aria, I hadn’t been a bystander watching this scene unfold. No, I was in my own body, but I couldn’t move. I could feel the warmth of Pepper’s body, her breath near my face, smell her strawberry flavored lipgloss…Why was this happening right now? “We can’t keep doing this.”
“Why not?” It was my voice, but I wasn’t speaking. “You’re the only thing that’s keeping my sanity. I can’t stay with Aria. I hate her so much.”
“We’re going to get in trouble babe,” She whispered, tracing shapes on my chest. I felt my breath quicken. She was making me…nervous? No, I was nervous. My body was relaxed. My body had relaxed into her touch. “I can’t let Aria hurt you or the girls.”
“This is my choice,” “I” responded. “I love you Pepper. I’ll do anything to protect you. I don’t care what Aria does to me. I can’t live without you. I need you in my life.”
“You don’t really mean that, do you?” She whispered. “I’ve loved you from the moment you held me in your arms for the first time. I just didn’t know what it meant as a doll. But now I do, and I want nothing more than to keep you safe. No matter what happens, even if Aria catches us sneaking behind her back, I’ll still do anything to protect you, because I love you.” She leaned down and kissed my lips. It felt…nice. But was it the real thing? Had Pepper really kissed me?
“Alistair?” Declan called out my name. What was Declan doing here in my vision? “What the hell Pepper? Help him up!”
“I’m trying, I don’t know what’s happening!” She cried.
“Declan?” I asked. “What’s happening?”
“Did you just have a vision?” Declan asked.
“I..” I looked around. I was back in our house, our old house. Pepper was no longer in my arms, I could move my body and speak. “Yes, I had a vision.”
“What was it about this time?” Declan asked.
I glanced at Pepper’s worried expression. “Uh, it was nothing. I just..”
“Alistair!” Declan said harshly. “You promised we’d do this together right? No lies.”
“It was about Pepper and I, that’s it,” I said angrily. “Don’t treat me like a child.”
“Do you realize how many people you’re affecting right now? It isn’t just you anymore!” Declan exclaimed. “I have to treat you like a child.”
“Whatever,” I mumbled. “I don’t have to tell you everything. I’m sure there’s things you’re not telling me.”
“Guys-” Pepper mumbled. “Can we not fight? Please? The girls are sleeping.”
“Fine, come on Alistair, let’s finish this elsewhere. Lucas is waiting for us,” He said.
“He needs to tell us something. Pepper, please be careful. If there’s any trouble, please go to Sienna. She knows what to do.”
“Thanks for joining me boys,” Lucas said. “Like I was telling Declan before, I have some information from the guardians. I will not withhold anything from you, because it’s your life.”
“Then why is Declan here?” I mumbled. “He’s like my dad now or something? I don’t need him to know everything.”
“Stop being mad. You can’t keep information from me, otherwise I can’t help you,” Declan explained.
“You guys are fighting again? I knew it was too good to be true,” Lucas sighed. “I agree with Alistair that you don’t need to know everything Declan. If he feels like you don’t need to know, then don’t make him tell you. It’s his life not yours Declan. But at the same time, you should trust Declan, Alistair. he wants nothing more than to protect you. We’re all working together here, so please behave yourselves. You’re still working on that group project I assigned to you, no matter how much time has passed.”
“I’m sorry,” Declan apologized. “I don’t like to feel like I’m not in control. I’ve always been the protector, that’s what I’m used to. it’s hard for me to give you free reign, but I’ll try to loosen up.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That’s all I want. That vision wih Pepper was kind of personal. I’m not sure, that’s why I want to figure it out myself before I do anything about it.”
“See how smoothly things go when we’re on the same page?” Lucas asked. We both nodded. “Good, now I have some bad news. We can’t turn time back.”
“I don’t want to anyway,” I said quickly. “I’ve become attached to my girls.”
“Emit said you might have.” Lucas smiled. “There’s a way to stop the time distortions though, so that you can live a normal life without fear of changing the world around you so drastically.”
“What is it sir?” Declan asked.
“We find the imbalance that is causing Alistair so much stress. The first time distortion happened when Aria kidnapped him. But, it wasn’t her persay that was causing him distress. It’s the fact that she held the key to finding his siblings. Once Alistair can rescue his siblings, his internal clock will be able to stabilize.”
“Fine, we can get Pepper and go to Imaginationland,” I said. “It’s the reason I came here in the first place.”
“It’s not going to be that easy, is it?” Declan asked.
“Unfortunately, no. Pepper can’t open the portal for Alistair. She’s linked to Cora, not him,” Lucas explained.
“How is that even possible?” I asked. “She’s my imaginary friend.”I thought back to my earlier vision. She was mine alright, not Cora’s.
“Her link with you was destroyed when you forgot about her,” Lucas said. “Her new link was forged when Cora brought her to life. She can’t destroy her link with Cora, ever. The only way to do that is if Cora dies, and if Cora dies, Pepper will too. Or the other way around, as well. That being said, there’s no way for you to get into Imaginationland. Not only that, but Emit explained the only way he can think of that’d get you there without an imaginary friend is through magic and there’s only one person strong enough to rip apart the passageway for two people. He’s dead, Alistair.”
“What are you saying?” I asked.
“Ethan Nair, right?” Declan asked. “He’s the only one who knows all the spells you taught him and the spells he learned on his own away from you.”
“Do you know everything?” I asked. “Geez, you weren’t kdding about not being in control.”
“If I want to be the keeper of magic, I need to know these things,” Declan defended.
“Guys, if I may,” Lucas began again. “The only person who can do that is Ethan, and he’s dead.”
“What does that mean?” I frowned. “I’ll never get there? I’ll never see my siblings again and time will continue to rift. That’s it? We lose?”
“There is one other way,” Lucas said carefully. “But I don’t want you to feel pressured Declan.” We both watched my grandfather. He gulped. This was not something that he wanted to present to the both of us. I could feel his dread in my soul. “There’s a way to bring Ethan back to life. But it’s incredibly risky. I’d do it myself, but my magic is dwindling. I’m not as powerful as I used to be.”
“There’s a way to bring my dad back to life?” I nearly jumped out of my seat. “You realize how much this means to me, right? What is the risk?” I asked quickly. I had read tons of manga, watched several anime, played an immense amount of video games. It wasn’t smart to bring the dead to life. It was best to leave them as they were, but it was different when it was your own father. I’d give anything to see my dad again. To just hear his voice one more time. Anything.
“It isn’t your risk, it’s Declan’s,” Lucas said. “It’s what Declan has to give up for you. It’s a very tough decision, and you can’t expect him to jump at the chance-”
“What is it?” Declan asked. “What would I be giving up for Alistair?”
“Your magic. Your entire existence as a mage,” Lucas said finally. My heart sank. His magic? He’d trained almost all of his life to be the Keeper of Magic. I couldn’t let him give that up for me. It was a deal breaker. I wouldn’t put that burden on Declan’s shoulders. “You’re the only person with enough magic to perform the resurrection. But, Ethan will only stay alive as long as your magic lasts. When your magic runs out, he’ll die. You’re strong wnough to survive that, but when it’s over, you’ll be a human.”
Declan’s face was as hard as stone. What would he think of this? “Will Alistair be taking over as the Keeper of Magic then?” Lucas nodded.
“What? No! This is not what I want. I can’t do that.” I began to protest.
“Yes you can,” Declan said. “You’re the only person who is capable of leading Moonlight Falls to prosperity.” Turning his attention to Lucas, he said, “I’ll do it.”
“Are you sure?” Lucas asked. “I can’t ask you for this favor. It is too much of a sacrifice. You’ll have no place in Moonlight Falls afterwards. Where will you go?”
“I hadn’t thought about that, but maybe I’ll stay in Alistair’s old town. It sounds like he’s made some really good memories there. But, Alistair, please take care of Sienna. I don’t want her to come with me. Moonlight Falls is her home, it’s where her magic and skin will be accepted. I won’t make her face ridicule.”
“No,” I said harshly. “No. You’re not doing this for me. No! We were just fighting, this isn’t what you want to do! Don’t do this for me!”
“Why not?” Declan asked, smiling. “I thought it was clear that I’d do anything for those that I care about. You’re honestly my best friend. If it means making your time distortions stop so that you can live a normal life. I’ll do it.”
“Don’t pull that best friend crap on me!” I stood up angrily. “No. I’ll never forgive you if you do this. If you give up your life for me, I’ll hate you forever!”
I stormed off. This wasn’t happening. I’d never been so angry in my entire life. How dare he even suggest doing something so massive for me? No, absolutely not. I couldn’t even think straight right now. I’d love to see my dad again, I’d give anything for that, anything but Declan’s life. He was the only person that fully understood me. We didn’t see eye to eye like 97% of the time, but that didn’t mean shit. He was the one who came looking for me when the time distortions started. He’d given up so much of his time and effort to help me these past few days. But, that was enough. I had brought enough people down, by just being a Gray. Patrick was dead, Sienna was devastated, Miles and Kat were kidnapped by Damian, my siblings were missing, my father was dead…how many more lives did I have to ruin for everything to be okay? “What are you thinking about?”
I looked up to see him, arms crossed over his chest, unphased by the severity of the situation. “What am I thinking about? You want to know the truth?” He nodded. “The truth is that I’m thinking about how shitty I am as a person. How fucked up the life I’ve been given is. I’m a Gray, so automatically I have this arch nemesis named Mason and now Damian. There’s this group of people trying to dictate how I should live my life. On top of all of that, I lost three years of my life andn have two babies! Oh, and lets not forget about how I killed your sister’s boyfriend!”
My hands were trembling, I couldn’t stop them from shaking. All of my pent up anger, fear, insecurities were being unleashed onto Declan, and he stood there unphased by it all. “Before I say anything else, don’t ever say that you killed Patrick. That isn’t your fault. It’s Damian’s and you have nothing to do with that asshole. As for the other stuff, yeah, i get it. Life can be fucked up. My father died and my mother disowned Sienna and I. She wanted so much for the blame to be placed on Sienna for dad’s death, but that wasn’t Sienna’s fault. It was Damian’s fault, but she never saw that. She made me choose, her or Sienna, and when I chose Sienna she left us. I don’t know how she got out of Moonlight Falls so easily, but I guess I’m rambling. All of that doesn’t matter right now. I guess, what I’m trying to say is that we don’t fall too far from the same tree. That’s why, I have to do this for you. Okay? Unfortunately, people like us always have to make a sacrifice. I’m prepared to do it for you, so you can rise above all of this and shut these assholes up. Show them that your circumstances do not define you. You can succeed no matter what life throws at you.”
“No,” I murmured helplessly. “No, there’s got to be another way.”
“You need to go to Imaginationland to find your siblings, and the only way to do that is to bring your dad back to life. Alistair, there is no other way. You’re lucky that I even have this much magic. Under normal circumstances, this wouldn’t even be possible. I won’t die, I’ll just lose my powers. It’s no big deal,” he tried to explain.
“No big deal?” I ran my fingers through my hair. “From day one you’ve made it clear how important it is for you to be the Keeper of Magic. Now, all of a sudden, it’s no big deal? I know how much you need to prove yourself, how much you care about defeating Damian and keeping the peace. You need to be the one to bring Moonlight Falls to peace.”
“No.” He shook his head. “All I care about is bringing peace to my home. I didn’t think you were right for the job, but I was wrong. As I got to know you I realized that you weren’t that arrogant idiot that I thought you were. You can do it, in fact I’m sure that you’re the only person who can make a difference in this world. You’re special Alistair.”
I fell into Declan’s arms. I hadn’t realized it initially, but I was crying. “Shut up.”
“What?” He rubbed my back soothingly. “I do mean it. You’re more than what those guardians define you as. You can do it. You’re the only person that I’d trust to lead these people.”
“I can’t do it,” I mumbled. “That’s not me. This isn’t my life, I’m a human…I’m ordinary…I’m…” I didn’t finish. The sobs racked my body, but Declan tightened his grip around me.
“You’re a Nair, Alistair. You can do it.”
“I can’t. No, don’t leave me, Declan. Please. I can’t take any more dissapointments. Please, don’t leave me.” My face was buried in his chest, my hands curled tightly around his back. If Declan was phased, he didn’t show it.
“I’m not leaving,” He whispered. “Not now, not ever. Even if I’m in Sunlit Tides, you’ll still have my blessing. I’ll never give up on you.”
“You’re the only one who understands me. Declan, I need you.” I felt him tense up for a bit but then he leaned his head against mine before speaking.
“Alistair, you’ll come across things bigger and better than me. You’re destinated for greatness. Let me be that stepping stone that can push you to those heights. You don’t need me, or you won’t after this is all over with.”
“Shut the hell up, moron,” I said angrily, tears still biting the corners of my eye lids. “You’re not a stepping stone. I’m not using you to get ahead. When I say I need you, it’s because I fucking need you. You’re the one person that keeps me calm in this freaking mess.”
He began to rub my back once again. “You’re a tough kid, you’ll survive without me. You’ve done it for eighteen years, right?” He pulled away from my embrace, holding my shoulders to keep me at a distance. I could see the pain in his eyes for only a moment before he smiled. “You can’t change my mind. It’s what I want to do.”