Jasmine’s world had been shattered just a swiftly as the glass she had dropped, and she did not know how to pick up the pieces.
She looked down at the glass shards that glittered dangerously around her feet. She could remember drinking from the glass, but it was not until water began to seep through the soles of her boots that she realized she had dropped it. She looked around in a daze; Doom would arrive shortly, and she was not prepared to explain. Fortunately, the palace kitchen was otherwise empty. She knelt and gingerly began to collect the shards.
It had been nearly a month since she had returned to Del with Lief and Barda and the freed slaves. The streets had teemed with chaos in the first couple weeks. People had come from across the kingdom, hoping to be reunited with loved ones, and joyful tears were shed. But there were just as many tears of sorrow. Many Deltorans were not greeted by the faces they had hoped to see, and many freed prisoners returned to find that there was no one left to welcome them home at all.
Those in the palace had crept gingerly around Jasmine since the return, as if any sudden movements would set her off. Out of all of them, only Lief and Barda knew the truth. But the rest —Doom, Sharn, Marilen, Ranesh, Josef and even people she barely knew—still could surely tell that something terrible had happened to her in the Shadowlands.
She slept fitfully, and often was torn from sleep by her own choking screams. It was a dreadfully embarrassing plague, especially when someone happened to be close to her bedchamber’s door. Answering to 'lady Jasmine' was even more humiliating when it was laced with concern from a palace guard whose name she did not even know. Purple bruises under her eyes became commonplace. But no matter how hard she tried to clear her thoughts before falling asleep, flashes of beasts, blood-splattered walls and a little girl peering through tangled black hair tormented her dreams. The nightmares would always end with the girl creeping closer to Jasmine, her green eyes narrowing and her mouth widening until her face was nothing but a red gash filled with sharpened teeth. It was then— just when she would have been swallowed whole— that Jasmine would wake, calling a name that was as false as the child it had been given to. She had begun to dread the night.
Several nights previously, she had fled the palace after such an episode. She ran down to the city, barefoot and half-dressed, and pounded on the Forge’s door. Lief had let her in blearily, his dark hair ruffled from sleep.
“Are you alright?” He had asked, suddenly alert after seeing the look on her face.
“Can I sleep here?” She had replied, rather than answer.
“Of course,” Lief had said without hesitation, and followed her into bed. They had lain facing each other, and Lief clasped Jasmine’s hands between his own. This newfound casual intimacy was still strange, but also remarkably comforting.
“I am always here,” Lief had whispered in the darkness. Jasmine had closed her eyes and let his words and his warmth calm her pounding heart. “Whenever you need me.”
She had slept dreamlessly that night, and not woken until midday.
Lief comforted and supported her in so many ways, but he could not understand. How could he? The night after that had been just as awful as all the ones before. She had not been injured in the Shadowlands, and yet something inside her felt twisted and broken. She had once seen a tree in the Forests that had been struck by lightening. It still stood tall, but it was twisted and wrong, and its gnarled branches reached up to the sky as if it pleaded for help. If Jasmine could see inside her heart, she thought it would look like that.
The one person she really wanted to talk to was Doom. This need surprised her, for while their bond had certainly strengthened, neither of them were very accomplished at heart-to-hearts. But perhaps it was time. This was why she had finally chased Doom down that morning, when he was all but sprinting down a palace corridor, and told him to meet her in the kitchen at noontime.
Jasmine finally pulled herself from reverie and stood up, just as Doom walked into the room. He raised his eyebrows at the handful of glass she held, but kept his mouth shut as she set it aside on a counter and brushed her hands off on her pants. Instead, he pulled out a chair from the table, and sat down with a straight back. He'd cut his hair recently, and Jasmine was unaccustomed to seeing it so short. She carefully pulled out a chair for herself and looked down at the table as she sat, knowing her father's eyes were burning holes into her scalp.
"You are lying to me," he growled, finally.
"I have not said anything," she looked up, and her voice rose with shock.
"Fine," Doom said curtly. He poured a cup of honey mead from a pitcher on the table, and offered it to Jasmine. She shook her head, but he slid it across regardless, and poured a second cup for himself. He sipped his drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "You are withholding something. It is the same as lying."
"It is not," Jasmine argued wearily.
“What is it you wanted, then? I have work to do, and you cannot keep lazing about as you have."
Jasmine tried to hide the hurt from her face. "I have not been lazing about," her voice was laced with ice.
Doom leaned back in his chair without a word, and regarded her calmly. His eyes bored into hers; a challenge.
Rarely prone to hesitation, Jasmine felt the words fly from her lips of their own accord. "I had a reason for going to the Shadowlands. You should know it was not just for the slaves."
"And you should know I am not a fool," Doom sipped his mead. "Anyone with half a functioning brain would know that."
Jasmine slammed her fist against the hard wood of the table. Doom's drink— perched close to the table's edge— shook precariously, but he caught it before it was in any real danger of falling.
“You are impossible to speak to. Listen to me!" Jasmine hissed. She had not known how the conversation would have gone, but she certainly did not imagine it would make her feel even more miserable. “I do not know how to tell you. But you must listen.”
Jasmine did not know if it was her words or the anger behind them, but Doom's casual smirk faded.
"Fine," he tightly replied. "What is it you so dearly wish to tell me?"
Jasmine felt her insides twist like a nest of snakes, but she took a quick breath and let the truth tumble out. What could she possibly lose? “I went to the Shadowlands because I thought I had a sister."
Doom’s face paled, and he stared at her silently. Of all the things he might have expected her to say, this was clearly not one of them. After a moment he settled, but Jasmine could see the way he was gripping the table was turning his knuckles bone-white.
"What do you mean, a sister?" His voice was pitched dangerously low. Jasmine remembered that terrible feeling of shock and disbelief that had greeted her at Faith’s betrayal, and she felt ill.
"The crystal on the third floor," Jasmine explained. Doom’s lips parted with the beginnings of an understanding. "I looked into it. I… I should not have, but it showed me a girl. A little girl, in the Shadowlands. She was so afraid. She told me her name was Faith and that she was my sister. That Mamma had lived a little longer than I had thought."
"Why did you not come to me?" Doom asked roughly. His face was impossible to read. “I could have told you she was lying."
“I was angry at you and Lief for keeping secrets from me,” she admitted, and Doom had the sense to look a little ashamed. ”I felt… unwanted, and I thought I had found someone who would have me; who would care for me without conditions,” Jasmine said awkwardly. "But she was not real. She was a phantom created by the Shadowlord so I would go after her and... and..."
“It was a trap,” Jasmine had managed to keep her eyes level with Doom’s, but it was then that she looked away. "Because he knew that if I went, Lief would follow.”
“A clever move,” Doom released the poor table from his iron grip.”Believe me. I watched An— your mother die. A sorry memory to regain, but I know the only child she ever carried was you."
Jasmine shook her head. “I feel as if my heart is broken.” She hadn’t realized the words were true until she spoke them. “I do not think it is. Wounded, perhaps, but it will heal, I promise,” Doom’s voice was softer than Jasmine had heard it in many, many years. “Besides, if it is reassurance of love that you seek, you will find it easily.”
“It is obvious. Lief risked his life to follow you. He may have gone to free the slaves, but he would not have moved with such haste had he not thought you needed him,” Doom said bluntly. "If that is not proof enough, most in the city are still gossiping about what he said to you before he held your hand. I think I can guess."
Doom’s eyes dared her to contradict him, and he chuckled quietly when she did not.
"Barda, too, followed you," he continued. “Sharn treats you almost like a daughter. Ranesh, Marilen and Josef have all taken a great liking to you, and you have Kree and Filli." He paused. "Where are Kree and Filli?"
"Outside," Jasmine said with a vague wave of her hand. She waited for him to list the final name she yearned to hear, but he did not.
"What about you?" She asked before she could stop herself. "Do you care about me?”
"Me?" Doom looked genuinely surprised. "I would have thought that that went without saying."
Jasmine shook her head mutely. Say it, she wanted to urge. I must hear you say it.
"Of course I do," he said with a mild shrug. “I care about you more than I care about anyone in the world. I am proud to have you as my daughter.”
This confirmation was a great weight from her shoulders, but still she frowned. "Why did you not come and speak to me, then, if you knew there was something wrong?"
Doom's brow furrowed. "Do you think I do not know you? You would not have taken kindly to my intrusions. I thought it best that I wait for you. Was I wrong?"
Jasmine desperately wanted to disagree, but found that she couldn't. "No," she admitted with a wry grin. "I would have wanted you to wait. I... I am glad you waited.”
“Well,” Doom shrugged. “If it was love that you sought, all you did was run from it. You have family here in Del, Jasmine, and not just the kind shared by blood.”
Jasmine smiled softly. There was a warmth that filled her belly and cleared her head. Doom regarded her curiously, and for a moment Jasmine half-feared he would hug her; half hoped he would.
Instead, he finished his drink and stood from the table. Jasmine stared into her own untouched mead as her father swept the broken glass on the counter into a waste bin. When he was done, he walked to her chair, and gripped her shoulder firmly. She did not look at him, but her hand crept up until it was grasping his. Jasmine squeezed her eyes tightly shut. After a long, silent moment, Doom squeezed her shoulder tightly and let go.
He walked towards the door and paused. “I am planning on visiting Tora sometime soon. I would like to pass along some of the research I have done on Adin’s line. Would you like to come?”
“Yes,” she said immediately. There was nothing she would like more, but she would not tell him that.
Doom gave her a firm nod, and left the room.
Jasmine remained in her seat for a while after he left. She could not deny that Doom had spoken only the truth. She did not feel sick anymore, but she did not feel quite well, either. Perhaps, she thought, that was alright. Her pain was real, but she did not have to suffer alone. She would not heal immediately, but she would heal. Doom knew her, and he knew what it was like to lose, and how to survive it just the same.
Many years later, Jasmine would tell her children stories of her youth. Anna, Jarred and Endon would hear these accounts endless times from endless mouths, but they would never tire of them. When the children were told tales of the quest to the Shadowlands, they would hear of sparkling tunnels, selfless warriors, flesh-eating monsters, beautiful illusions and wonderful creatures, but never of why their mother had left first.
It was not until they were much older that their grandfather would tell them a different story: of a brave young woman who would have given anything to have a place where she belonged. Of how she had been tricked into chasing after a phantom. Of how she finally discovered that her true home had been the very place she had once so desperately fled.