The four newcomers looked at each other with confusion, apprehension and nervousness on their features. Even if some tried to hide that fact, it was quite clear that the situation they found themselves in was unlike anything they’d experienced before. “Where are we?” Adriana asked, her pink curls bouncing as she turned her head.
“I don’t know,” Winter said, flipping her long purple hair over her shoulder. “But I’m glad you guys are here. Even you, Owen. Don’t look so excited to be here.”
“How can I be excited to be whisked away from home? We all know from our personal experiences with our family that this means bad news. We’re going to be taken somewhere or forced to do something we don’t want to do.”
“Hey, if our kidnappers think they’re going to get us to do anything we don’t want they’ve got another thing coming to them.” Tommy smirked, placing a hand on his hip. “I’m much tougher than I look. I’ll take anyone down.”
“Well, what if they want us to help them? You know, some kind of grandiose adventure?” Winter posed, suddenly growing excited.
“You’re looking to get away from home?” Owen pondered then let out a small chuckle. He knew how stifling it must have felt for the young vampire.
“Maybe,” She muttered. “I…I just feel like maybe I belong somewhere else? It sounds silly, I know. But I want to be part of something bigger than myself.”
“Don’t you worry, child. Your wish will be granted.” The group jumped when they saw a green woman materialize in the room. She outstretched her arms over her head as if she was exhausted. “You’re all here for, what did you call it? A grandiose adventure.”
Tommy groaned, leaning over the couch slightly. “Funny, Quinn. I didn’t picture your place of dwelling to be so…pink and fancy. It’s like something straight out of a dollhouse.”
“This isn’t my place. Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t need all of this space for just me. I’m not as full of myself as some people. Anyway, that’s besides the point. You’re no longer in my dimension. You’re in our neighbor’s, Audric’s dimension.”
“Huh?” Adriana asked. “What’s happening?”
“She’s a dimension watcher,” Tommy explained. “Quinn makes sure that our home is safe. But there are other dimensions. We’re in one now apparently. Why?”
“The darkness has appeared in this dimension. Audric is having a hard time getting a handle of it because it is showing itself in quite a unique way. It has manifested within a young vampire. Not as a wandler or anything of the sort. I was sure that with the experience you and Owen have with the darkness, and the girls’ unique abilities that the darkness can somehow be conquered and our linked dimension will stay in tact.”
“What will you have us do?” Winter asked, ignoring the look of apprehension from her cousin Adriana’s face.
“Hold on there, Tiger,” Tommy said, placing a hand on the young vampire’s shoulder. “The darkness is very dangerous. Trust me. I’ve been…there, I guess. Something like that.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “Anyway, I want to know why I should care about this dimension. They didn’t send anyone over to help us find the wandler. You know what happened to my brother and my dad. Oh, and what about my wife and son? Huh?”
“I can see why you’re upset, but what help would Audric’s people have been if they know nothing of the darkness? Aside from that, this will benefit all of you. Adriana and Winter, you two will be able to see what is outside of your dimension. There are people who can help you nurture your powers, a man named Alistair and his father, Ethan. They are both very knowledgeable.” Quinn pointed to Owen. “Ypu will get to meet someone just like you. Half human, half imaginary friend. I’m positive that you want to meet someone who understands you.”
Owen looked away from her, but Quinn knew she had ensnared their interests. “And you, Tommy. I’ve brought you here because that vampiress with the infliction is your younger sister. Well, half sister.” A look of confusion spread across his face and Quinn lifted her hand to silence him before his mouth could even begin forming words. “You remember what happened to your father, correct? He was split in two. His other half is here, and he’s started a new life with a woman who loves him more than life itself. They have a beautiful family, but they face a lot of hardships. I can see that you’re intrigued but if you want specifics you’ll have to talk to Audric. He knows the Grays better than I would.”
“Did you just say the Grays?” Tommy asked, eyes widening.
“You’ll start to realize that the three families…Grays, Bennetts and Van Winkles, have a big impact on both of our dimensions. But that’s really for me and Audric to worry about. I know you all have questions but I won’t be able to answer them all. Tommy, I’m sending you to Audric to discuss things further. I will explain your duties to you girls, and Owen…” She clapped her hands together. “You’ll be able to talk to someone very important.” She pointed towards the door. “Okay, boys. Go.”
Mandi crossed her legs and let out a huff. She didn’t know where she was, or why she was brought here. A lilac haired elf looked across at her expectantly, tapping his fingers rythmically against the table. He was trying to be a good host, even offering her a drink. But how was she supposed to accept his offer graciously if she didn’t even know the guy? He claimed he was some dimension watcher, trying to save the world or something. Yeah right! Like that was believable. “Jared, what do you think of that arrangement?” The man asked with a smile Mandi could feel was false.
Jared tilted his head, but said nothing. Mandi didn’t know what Audric thought he would do. He was the one who had said that the orange boy was mute to begin with. “It looks like he’s confused by the plan. As am I, to be frank,” Mandi muttered. “How you think I could help with darkness is beyond me. I don’t know anything about that! Yesterday I was in university taking classes and now this.” Her eyes grew wide. “Oh watcher, my classes! My mother is paying for them. Do you know how hard she works for me?”
“Jared is not confused. He’s contemplating my offer,” Audric said with another phony smile. “As for you, I don’t really need your help with the darkness but you’re going along for the ride because Quinn made me promise.”
“Quinn?” Mandi asked. “How would they know about me? I know nothing about them.”
“You wouldn’t know of her, as she is the dimension watcher for another dimension,” Audric explained. “But she knows of someone very similar to you, and thus she thought it vital that you meet.”
“I mean it’s not like I have a choice right?” Mandi frowned, now drawing circles on the cedar table.
“You do have a choice. There’s always a choice,” Audric said. He placed his fist under his chin and propped his elbow on the table. “For example, you have the choice to help me. If you help me, it’s quite simple. You get to find out the information you really want. Like for example, who your dad is and where he went exactly.”
Mandi’s body grew rigid. “You mean, you know where he is? How I can find him?”
“Of course I do,” Audric said with a simple shrug. “I run this dimension. I also know why he left your family, but see….I think you might want to hear that bit from his mouth. So, you’ll find it very advantageous to work with me.”
It sounded like a threat to her, even if the words were laced with honey. But, if this man knew where her father was the choice was a simple one. “Fine, I’ll do as you say.”
“Very well,” Audric said with a slight smirk. “That was the right choice. Besides, I think you’ll want to learn about a side of yourself you didn’t even know about. There’s a young boy your age Quinn wants you to meet by the name of Owen. I have a feeling you’ll like him. In more ways than one.”
“Oh, gross. You’re not trying to set me up, are you?” Mandi placed her head in her hands.
“I learned not to test a romantic relationship in a capacity like that. You don’t choose who you fall in love with, Mandi. That is the sad truth.” He looked pensive for a moment but shook his head. “No matter. We’ve got work yet to do. Jared, you’re free to roam my haven as needed. Mandi, you’re to meet with Puzzle and I have to see someone myself.”
Tommy felt bile rise in his throat as he listened to the man Quinn called Audric, speak about his father’s new life. It wasn’t that he wasn’t happy for his father. He was overjoyed that his dad had found the one of his dreams. Above all, Jeffrey Bennett had deserved at least that much. What made Tommy sick to his stomach was how overwhelmed he was. Because, not only did he have a step mother but step siblings as well. Charlotte Gray was a vampire, and 3 of her 5 kids were too. “Well? What do you think?” Audric asked. “Will you meet them?”
Tommy nodded. “Yes, of course I will. It’s just a lot to take in. What if they don’t like me? Or, if dad doesn’t remember me?”
“Anything important to your father is important to Charlotte. I’ve learned that about her over the years. You will meet no better family than the Grays. While you know of your aunt marrying a Gray, this is a bit different. I know you’re wary of that.”
“It’s not that,” Tommy mumbled. Though it was his first reaction upon hearing his dad was married into the Gray family. “I know that Charlotte exists independently out of our dimension.”
“While true,” Audric began. “It’s a little more complicated. Though Caleb comes from the same founder, he exists independently because of who his father is. He’s a Gray, but his blood isn’t as closely tied to his mother’s. Charlotte exists from the branch of a different patriarchal figure, Levi Moon. I can explain what I mean about Caleb, as he’s a special existence beyond just that of the Gray bloodline, but it doesn’t seem relevant to the topic at hand. He is a case all his own.”
“Fine,” Tommy said. “But, what I’m worried about are those kids. Quinn said something about darkness within a young girl?”
“She did,” Audric confirmed. “The darkness plagues Graciela Gray and you must go to Moonlight Falls and help the family out of this mess. I beg of you, for your family’s sake and the sake of both dimensions.”
Puzzle looked from both young adults, a finger to her lips. “Oh dear, this is going to be quite the explanation, isn’t it? How much of who you are do you both know?” She asked.
“Maybe you should tell us who you are,” Owen said gruffly.
“I am Puzzle Gray, imaginary friend to a guy you both may know. Caleb Gray. I was brought to life and am now the leader of Imaginationland. A place where all Imaginary Friends can live happily.”
“So?” Mandi asked. “How is that connected to me? Is my dad there?”
“No.” Puzzle shook her head. “Your dad was born there. He was the son of an imaginary friend and a human. So as a hybrid, he then got together with another human and created you. Ultimately, you only have a small percentage of imaginary friend in your DNA but it’s there.”
“Imaginary friend?” Mandi scoffed. “Like, what I had as a child? That’s ridiculous.”
“It’s not,” Owen said. “My dad was the product of an imaginary friend and a human. And then his son mated with a human and had me. I’m in the same boat as you. Except I know that imaginary friends exist. I didn’t know about Imaginationland.”
“It would bring us great pleasure to have you both living there. Some of the locals are still very hesitant about the prospect of humans living with them harmoniously. In the past, humans were attacked and executed. But now I am the leader and I’m aware that humans are not bad people. Please help me bring tolerance to my people.”
“I…I can’t do that,” Mandi mumbled. “I’m not like you. I’m a human. I was raised as a human. Just a few days ago I was at university taking classes for my major. Now you’re telling me to give it all up to live in some world with fantasy people? I can’t do that.”
“Of course you can’t,” Owen scoffed bitterly. “You’ve got the opportunity to see a whole new world and you’re giving it up.”
“What are you implying?” Mandi asked defensively.
“That you should stay the hell home in your little human bubble where you belong. My origins are not some fantasy story. I frankly don’t like how you’re writing off your heritage so easily. You can embrace your human side more, but don’t discount the fact that you’re an imaginary friend. My dad…” Owen clenched his fists and then stopped talking. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Well then I suppose my people can help you learn about your heritage,” Puzzle said with a small smile in Mandi’s direction. “Because being an imaginary friend is much more than a story in a book. You have time to think about it, as you’re promised to help Audric and Quinn in their struggle against the darkness.” Puzzle took a step back, glad to be ridding herself of the tension in the room. Mandi and Owen were glaring daggers at each other. “When you both are done with your journey, I’ll come to ask of your final decision.”
Quinn looked up at the young girls and smiled. What a wonder it was to be young and hanging out with your best friend. The two girls made it obvious how important companionship was. In this new situation, they were happy just to be around each other. “You don’t like your Moonlight Falls,” Quinn observed, eyes falling on Winter. “Your great grandfather being ruler is too suffocating for you?”
“I just want to meet other people like me and not have a security detail on me 24/7. It’s really hard to make friends like that,” Winter said. She picked at some loose threads on her jean shorts. “Having a big family is fun but I want some friends too.”
“You girls will still be in Moonlight Falls, but of a different dimension. The government is much different. It will not be all fun and games. The family you will be staying with has a target on their backs. The ruler of Moonlight Falls is an evil man.” Quinn looked at both of them. “Altiere is no Adam Van Winkle. But, I do still think you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
“What can we do?” Winter asked. “I’m just a vampire. I mean, I get Adriana. She can talk to animals but…”
Quinn cut the girl off. “You don’t need any special powers. You need courage, a strong will and a sense of moral justice. You’ll just need to be yourselves and everything will fall into place. I promise you that.” Quinn gave them both a reassuring smile. “Adriana, what do you think of that?”
“I…I don’t know if I want to be in a dangerous place,” Adriana said quietly. “But if I have Winter there I know we can do it.”
“And you’ll have others, including Tommy and Owen. So, fear not. You will not be alone.” She stood up and dusted off her dress. “Please do your best, girls.”