Reaching Shadows

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Reaching Shadows (Fantasy, Young Writer Award 2023)
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Award Category
Logline or Premise
When Luke wakes up, he doesn't know how he ended up at the manor, only that his sister his missing and that a friend he thought dead was involved. Glamoured and weak from an ordeal he can't remember, Luke is forced to trust his new wardens to find his sister, all while trying to hide an ugly truth.
First 10 Pages

Chapter 1

At first, there was only a suffocating stillness, an overwhelming nothing.

Then came a prickling chill, needles of cold that sliced deep into his bones, curdling in his veins. His skin seethed. Seconds stretched ahead into eternity.

Luke’s eyes rolled behind his eyelids. He felt pressure on his wrists; crushing, gnawing metal. White walls and concrete tunnels. Bright lights, piercing him. Faces, watery and faint, floated back; he saw Sophie, smiling with teeth straight as any other human’s.

Humans? There they were, surrounding them. Staring. Waiting. Then…


A flicker of a voice. DJ. The name came slowly, dragged forth as if from the grave. She was saying something, telling him to do something…

Luke jerked, eyelids snapping open.

Dazzling light swirled around him. His eyes squeezed shut like they could crush out the sting of the lights, the aching cold all over. He groaned, the sound grating, rumbling in his skull. The air thrummed to his heartbeat, the world pitching and tilting beneath him.

Luke forced himself up, white bedsheets tumbling into his lap. His head ached; he bit back another groan, pressed his pale hands to his face.

Pale? He blinked at his hands; they seemed to shimmer in the unstable air, like a human drifting through an oil spill. A glamour. He hadn’t been using it before, though, had he?

The dream floated back to him. DJ had told him to do something… put his glamour on, maybe? But… it had to be a dream. DJ hadn’t spoken to him, hadn’t reappeared to help him. It wasn’t possible.

DJ was dead.

But… The word forced its way through. Why was he glamoured, then? And where was the brace that had been clamped to his wrist before?

Where was he?

Luke couldn’t recognize the small room around him through the fog in his eyes. He couldn’t remember getting out, getting here. All he remembered was…

Humans, all in white, faces hidden behind black visors. One called Sophie’s name. His little sister. And then…

Sophie was screaming, swallowed up by a group of guards. An arm wrapped tight around Luke’s throat. Luke thrashing, and thrashing, and then…

And then…

He’d woken up.

Luke felt a familiar itch on his back. It didn’t matter. He needed to find Sophie. Just focus on finding Sophie. He could deal with the rest after.

Luke forced himself out of bed, over the metal railing girding it. He ignored the static ringing in his head; it was probably just from waking up, anyway. He stumbled when his feet hit the floor, barely catching himself before his face followed.

Something tugged at his arm, pinching the inside of his elbow. A rolling stand clattered to the floor beside him. His eyes focused on the small bag clipped to it, the small tube trailing away from it. Suddenly, the world grew worryingly solid.

The rails circling the bed. The counters and cabinets lining one wall, all clinically white, same as the sheets and his baggy clothes. The metal stand, the rubber tube running right to him.

And the thing taped to his arm…

Gravity hit him with the force of a falling ceiling. Hands shaking, Luke tore off the tape holding the needle in place. Blood streamed down his arm. He hurled the needle away, the cold metal glinting.

Luke clutched his arm. Fire-red blood seeped between his fingers, staining his new white clothes. The gloom of the infirmary room seemed to pulse around him, pounding against his head. The itch on his back began to burn.

He forced himself to focus. The lights were out above his head, but daylight radiated from the wide window to his left. Midday, maybe? But hadn’t he been underground before?

To his right was a sealed, wooden door.

Luke clawed the bed above him, dragging himself to his feet. He lurched for the cabinets. Stop the bleeding first.

He threw open a few drawers. Slammed one shut at the sight of more needles, biting back acid fear. One had bandages; he rolled them sloppily around his elbow. In another, he found a scalpel. He gripped it in his bloodied, shaking hand. Just in case.

Luke glanced at the window, felt the door looming behind him. More static in the back of his brain. The daylight beyond beckoned him, taunted him.

It’s the easier way out, it crooned. You could finally be free.

He ignored it. He couldn’t just leave; not yet. Not while Sophie was still stuck somewhere inside.

So, Luke turned to the door. Blood still dribbled down his arm, slower with the bandages blocking the flow. It dotted the floor, his feet, his clothes; he’d be easy to follow.

It doesn’t matter, he told himself, reaching for the knob. I just have to get Sophie and

The knob didn’t give. Luke twisted it again, wrenching it until his hand ached. He cursed, forced himself to breathe, slow down. Maybe he could pick the lock? But there wasn’t one, just a small indent where one should be.

His eyes swept the room. No vents that he could see. His eye caught the window again, and he turned back to the door. There had to be something else, something he just wasn’t thinking of…

His patience gave out before an idea came. He charged the door, slamming into it with his whole weight. It barely rattled.

Luke hit the floor, gasping, seething. He was shaking again, a chill working its way through every inch of him. Why was that door so stubborn? Why couldn’t he do this one thing right? Why was he so cold?

Maybe I’m dying, he thought. It almost made him laugh.

And underneath it all, he felt something shifting in the back of his mind. Like a hand reaching out from under the blanket of his subconscious, goading him, begging him to take it.

All of this can go away.

You know what you have to do.


Luke forced the creeping sensation away, forced himself out of the darkness there and back to the present. Back to the door. He didn’t need help; certainly not that kind.

Luke stood, ignoring the rush of blood to his head. He grabbed the IV stand with both hands. He marched back to the door, raised the stand high above his head, and slammed it down on the knob. The impact shuddered up to his shoulders, his chest. He grit his teeth. Metal clashed again, again, again, even as his hands screamed at him to stop. He roared, the sound shaking the air.

The doorknob clattered to the floor. Luke staggered back. The IV stand, dented and broken, fell from his shaking hands. I did it. I­­

One knee gave out. He stumbled to the floor, again, cursing. Forced himself back to his feet. He had a chance, now; he couldn’t let it slip by.

Luke reached into the torn remains of the lock, pulled. The door eased open.

Adrenaline flooded his veins, battery acid and hope. He threw the door wide, heart slamming, stumbling forward. Hurry. Just find Sophie, and

He gasped.

Midday light poured in from windowed ceilings a dozen floors above. Hundreds of doors lined the pale walls. They circled him on wide balconies, the white and wood dressed in elegant purples and golds and glittering chandeliers. The doors flooded down a hall that stretched on and forever on, beyond where his wincing eyes could see.

Luke’s head rang, vision distorting all over again. He clutched his temples. His eyes tried to escape the pulsing colors, turning down to the blood at his feet. He was losing time. Someone would find him soon, and Sophie… Sophie could be anywhere!

The doors danced behind his eyelids. Look for her, they dared him. Go ahead and try.

Show her what a failure you are.

A voice. It was distant, garbled, as if separated by a wall of water.

He looked up. Someone was standing ahead of him, blocking the endless hall. They had feathery wings, white and spotted like they’d been dipped in soot. A ring of gleaming golden metal hovered over their head; the sunlight seemed drawn to its edges, burning into his eyes, hiding their face, forcing his eyes away until he could only see their cyan sneakers. An angel.

They took another step toward him.

Luke raised his pitifully small scalpel, ignoring the tremor in his hands. “Stay back,” he managed, voice ragged. Why was an angel here? Maybe they were working with the humans?

It doesn’t matter, he thought grimly. Luke was no match for an angel, even on a good day, even if this one was smaller than him. It wouldn’t stop him from fighting, though.

They were speaking again. He couldn’t parse out the words from the ringing in his head. A few words slipped through, carried on a girl’s stern voice.



Another step toward him.


Let me help you.

Luke’s hand tightened on the scalpel. “You’re not putting me back in that room.”

The angel said something again, less patient now. Took another step forward. Luke stepped back, gut twisting. Maybe he could rush them? But if he lost, if he was locked up in that room again…

“Where’s Sophie?”

The angel stopped. Their head might’ve tilted. They said something, and again, Luke couldn’t hear it, just some mix of muted noises.

Sophie!” he shouted back. “Just tell me—”

Another wave of dizziness rolled in. He staggered, hand pressed to his head.

“Please.” The plea echoed in his skull like a ricocheting bullet. “She’s just a kid. I need… I need to—”

Gravity crashed into him again, heavier than ever. The scalpel clattered to the floor. Fear had barely traced his heart when he felt a new voice echo in his skull, wrapping around him like thick blankets that strangled the breath from him.


Luke hit the floor. He fought it, clawing at the cliff of his consciousness like he could hold on, just a little longer. Magic. Stupid, tricky magic; strong, too. Too strong for him to resist.

Through his shut eyelids, he could see burning light. The angel was calling to him again.

This time, Luke could swear he’d heard his name.

Chapter 2


No response. Just the steady rise and fall of his chest as he snoozed on the hardwood floors.

Maia heaved a sigh. He’d threatened her, begged her for help, then passed out. She wouldn’t be getting any answers out of him any time soon.

“Thanks for the heads up, DJ,” Maia muttered to herself. Why couldn’t DJ warn them that her friend would be such a mess when he woke up? Weren’t telestri supposed to be good at predicting that kind of thing?

Maia knelt down beside him. She frowned at the sloppy wrapping around his arm. He’d pulled out his IV, hadn’t he? At least she knew where all this blood came from, she guessed. He seemed to be breathing fine. Looked healthy enough. If she didn’t know better, she might’ve assumed he’d curled up here, sleeping in the middle of the hall like it was the most natural thing in the world.

Her uncle had said he wouldn’t be waking up for another couple of weeks, at least. That is, if he was… well, normal. He certainly looked human. A pale one at that, with blond hair and green eyes. DJ hadn’t told her if he was, of course, snapping at her every time she asked.

“Ask him when he wakes up,” she’d said.

Because that had worked out so well.

Maia could still see the red determination in his eyes. Could still feel gravity shifting, like it always did while she was training for a fight. She’d tried talking to him. He’d ignored every word she’d said. But then…

Who’s Sophie? Maia was sure DJ had never mentioned that name, but Luke had said it like she should know.

She sighed again. She’d have to question DJ later, wouldn’t she?

But first…

Maia stood. She thumbed the pendant on her wrist: a sword and shield, gold as her halo, woven into her bracelet. It grew warm, glowing slightly; she brought it up to her mouth as her uncle spoke through it.

“Hello, Maia. Has something happened?”

“Luke broke out of his room,” Maia said, wincing as she glanced into the wrecked infirmary. “He broke some stuff, too.”

A slight pause. “I know.”

Maia blinked. “And you were just going to…” She waved her hand in the empty air. “…see what happened?”

“In a sense,” Abraham conceded. “Admittedly, I didn’t expect him to get quite so far.”

Maia’s brow furrowed at the hint of something else in his normally cool voice. “What does that mean?”

“Exactly how it sounds,” he said. “I’ll be keeping an eye on him. Don’t worry.”

“I’m not worried, I just…” She glanced at Luke’s unconscious form. “Do you think I should be?”

“I do remember telling you to be wary of strangers,” he said. “Several times, as a matter of fact.”

Maia fought the urge to roll her eyes. “I’m seventeen. I can handle some guy with a scalpel.”

“I know.”

Maia found herself waiting. But he said nothing, so she added, “Also, you should find somewhere else to keep him. Probably with fewer sharp objects.”

“Trust me, Maia,” Abraham told her, “I will not be underestimating him again.”

Chapter 3

The dream pressed in like a heavy gloom, suffocating, eternally black. Luke felt the sting of a needle against his skin. Felt the draw of each drop of blood.

A scream like bells ringing in his head, deafening, endless. The hand reached out to him again, scraping against the edges of his brain, begging for him to take it. Demanding it.

What other option do you have?

Luke woke with another start. He gasped as if the pressure from the dream had really crushed all the air from his lungs. He sat up, ignoring the worrying twinge in his bones and head. Forced his eyes open despite the light.

Luke was in a new room this time. It was twice the size of the last, easily, with plush carpet and tall windows opposite him. The walls and floor were warm shades of brown and cream. Twin bookshelves stood by a pair of tall windows. A stout desk crouched in one corner, a dresser nearby, their wide surfaces pitifully empty. Three doors; one had to be a way to… where?

Through the fog in his head, he remembered: the massive building, doors lining the walls like dominoes. The infirmary. The angel.


Another lance of worry pierced his chest. I’ll find her, he told himself. Even if I have to break down every door in this place, I’ll find her.

Luke squinted at the windows, the sunlight streaming in through the trees outside. Day again. Was it the same day? He had no way to tell, though the weight of his limbs made him feel like he’d been sleeping for months. The hollow in his gut didn’t do anything to disprove it. The clock on the nightstand read just after one.

Then he saw the folded note on the nightstand. His name was on the front in neat black ink.

Luke scowled at it. He still wasn’t sure where he was, but he knew the humans didn’t use his name unless they wanted him to behave. Like they were speaking to a child, trying to explain how their actions actually made sense, and he was just too stupid to understand. Trust them. They knew what they were doing.

His jaw tightened.

Luke glanced at the door nearest to him, the windows. He didn’t even want to touch that note, but considering his last escape attempt, it probably wouldn’t be quite so easy to get out this time. Not that he saw any handy IV stands around to help.

Luke forced himself to pick up the note, lip curling. He took a breath. He opened it.

It was simple enough. A couple lines about how the door and windows were reinforced with magic this time, if he wanted help, just hit this and blah, blah, blah. Not a word about Sophie, of course. He nearly flicked it away when he saw the name at the bottom. His heart missed a beat.


Luke lowered the note slowly, his hand pressed to his mouth. That couldn’t be right. But then he remembered the dream from before, DJ’s voice. Could that really have happened? Was she here?

A fresh wave of bitterness washed the thought away. It wouldn’t be unlike these humans to use DJ’s name to control him, would it?

They were the ones who killed her, after all.

Luke saw his bare wrist again. He frowned. If the humans were behind this, where was the brace? It had worked well enough before. Why the angel? And when did they get control of magic this powerful?


Luke ignored the thought. He threw off the warm covers and slid out of bed. Ignored the way his head winced at the movement, his muscles crying out for more sleep.

Luke crushed the note, letting it fall to the floor. He wasn’t asking for permission to leave. He wasn’t going to get distracted by false hopes or ghosts from the past. He was finding Sophie and getting out.

On his terms.