Graciela balled her hands into fists. Was this why Briella hadn’t wanted her to read the diary? Not because it would overwhelm Graciela, but because it must have said something about Briella in there to implicate her? “Hey, you okay?” Asher asked, leaning on the archway leading into the next room. “You look like you found out something awful.”
“Awful? Oh, beyond awful!” Graciela was shouting now, her anger getting the better of her. “Briella and her stupid lover boy had to go and mess things up in their past and be greedy, so now I have the darkness inside of me!”
“Ah, Indy Draknar, yeah?” Asher motioned to the room Graciela was pacing in. “May I come in?”
“Yes, come in. Whatever…” She crossed her arms over her chest and collapsed backwards onto her bed. “What do you know about Indie?”
“Just that he’s an agent of the darkness. One of many, actually. They come in many different shapes and forms depending on the dimension. The dimension your dad was from had wandlers, but you guys have what we call demons. And before you ask, no they’re not the little flying creatures you guys have in your media. We have those in the underworld, but I wouldn’t call them demons.”
“What are demons then?” Graciela asked. “What do they do?”
“Demons are usually people who willingly pledge themselves to the darkness in return for a favor. Something impossible like granting them immortality, power, protection, money, whatever. And of course, the darkness does pull through for them, but once you pledge your soul to the darkness, you do as it says.”
“But from what Dionysus told me, Indy didn’t want to be an agent of the darkness. Elora made him,” Graciela said. “She forced him.”
“Yes, that’s why I said usually. In Indy’s case, he did make a deal, even if it was unwillingly. He got immortality and the darkness got him to do its bidding. I’ve met the guy a couple of times. The darkness is quite fond of him. Me, not so much.”
“He was greedy and selfish,” Graciela muttered, placing a hand on her heart. “And that’s why I had to stay up all night in fear of falling asleep and the darkness stealing me away. or, why I got made fun in class and why everyone called me a freak.”
“No, all of that happened because you were chosen to save the world from the darkness,” Asher said. “It is not a secret who the darkness does dealings with in the Underworld. I work closely with the keeper there and he knows what happens at all times. He knew you were going to be the one to be chosen by Elora.”
“Why me?” Graciela demanded. “Why not anyone else in my family?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it? Elora put the old Altiere, the one who existed centuries before the Altiere you know, to sleep in order to prevent another great human and vampire war from happening. Your ancestors were the ones who wanted to fight the vampires. And now, look. You are a vampire human mix. The example of what your two people could become if they put the fighting to a stop. As for you personally and not your brother? Maybe Elora saw something in you. I don’t know.”
Graciela felt like shutting her eyes but the darkness was unusually silent today and she didn’t want to give it a platform to come forward. “And yet I don’t feel honored at all. I feel burdened. Is there some kind of war that was supposed to happen now? Why do I have the darkness inside of me now? What am I saving the world from?”
“The Underworld is the sole connector of every single dimension. If I am there, I can pass through any dimension, no matter who sealed it or what the status of it is. So, it is not shocking that working so closely to Damian, I know a lot about the other dimensions. Damian is your great grandfather on your mother’s side.”
“Yes, that vile man who told Declan to kidnap me, I remember him very clearly. He is not my great grandfather, I will never consider him that.” She turned over on her side, ignoring the shift in the bed as Asher sat beside her.
“There is a purpose for everything Damian does, and I do mean everything.” Asher reached down to tighten the strings on his shoes. “Except now, I don’t think things are going according to his plan.”
“Good,” Graciela mumbled.
“No, not good. Say what you want about him, but he was keeping a balance. His plan wouldn’t have cost you your memory, or your dimension. If I could just get you down there, he’d be able to explain to you what I can’t. Why you’re so important and what’s going on. He knows, but apparently this Cassius guy must know too because I can’t get back there and that’s nearly impossible to do. I’ve never seen the Underworld sealed off.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Graciela cut him off sharply. “Why tell me anything at all? You all want to keep secrets.”
“No, I thought that Briella was trying to help you by keeping you in the dark. I saw what happened in the Underworld and I thought that by easing you into your memory, a discharge as large as you let off last time wouldn’t happen again. But now, the more I look into this the more I think you had nothing to do with any of this at all.”
“Graciela, sit up,” Asher demanded. “I need you to listen to me. This is serious, what I’m about to tell you. Whether you remember what happened or not, you have to listen to me.” He grabbed hold of her shoulders once she pulled her body upwards. “Don’t trust Cassius. This isn’t right. He doesn’t want us to access your dimension for a reason. I think that’s why it was almost destroyed entirely. Something is there.”
“We have to find it,” Graciela said, looking into the eyes of the man she knew she’d trust with her life. She barely remembered him and knew he worked closely with Damian, yet Asher was the only one besides Dionysus to tell her anything she about what was happening. “We have to find a way back to my home and see what Cassius is keeping us from.”
“Yeah,” Asher said. “And reaching the Underworld is the only way. Except we can’t right now.”
“Sure we can,” Graciela said. “Why can’t I just make a deal with the darkness? It’s not like I’m not already plagued by it. I will gladly give my life to it if it is better for my family and my dimension. For once, I want to do something bigger than myself.”
“No, you’re not doing that again,” Asher said sternly. “You almost lost everything the first time.”
“Again?” Graciela’s eyes widened. “What do you mean by again? Am I a demon?”
“I keep forgetting that you don’t remember what happened in the Underworld. Your diary, can you read it?” Asher asked. “All of it, not page by page. Just…just read what happened in the Underworld.”
“Sum it up for me,” Graciela said, feeling the tears biting her eyelids.
“No, I can’t,” Asher said. “I was only there for the trials. The rest…the rest you did on your own with your friends.”
“My friends?” Graciela asked. “I do remember grandpa Alistair teaching us about the Underworld. It was me, Braylin, Tommy, Adriana and Winter. Uhm…I think Mandie and Owen went to Imaginationland…yeah! Oh and, was Leon there too?”
“Yes, Leon was there. You all entered together. Do you know about the pregnancy?” Asher asked.
“Pregnancy?” Graciela tilted her head like a dog trying to make out what a sound was. “Whose pregnancy?”
“Your pregnancy,” Asher said, his features falling when he saw Graciela had no idea what he was talking about. “Damn it, why did I listen to Briella? I thought she actually had your best interests in mind. Come on, now. You gotta read that diary. You need to know what happened right before you got into the Underworld and what happened in it. Yes, I’m sure you can fill in the blanks for me with that information and we can figure out what went wrong. Something….I’m missing something.”
“I was pregnant?” Graciela asked, feeling like her world was closing in on her. “With a baby? Whose baby? Leon’s baby? Maric’s baby? Some random guy’s baby?”
My baby. Our baby. Our lovely lovely son with that name you chose to mock me with, Kalmali.
“Kalmali…” Graciela mumbled aloud. “A son, with the darkness?”
“We’re missing something,” Asher repeated. “Why the hell can’t I remember? I know that I know what the missing piece is, but I feel like when I try to reach for it, it gets pulled farther and farther away…!”
But Graciela couldn’t concentrate on his words. She felt sick to her stomach with the idea that she could have carried a baby for the darkness. Even more so with the idea of what could have happened to him. “I…I have to lie down or something I…Maybe I need my diary.” She stood up on wobbly legs and walked over to the dresser where she had kept it hidden in her clothes draw. Pulling it open, she felt like she would really vomit all over the floor.
“What is it?” Asher asked. “What’s wrong?”
“The diary,” Graciela mumbled, crumbling to the floor. “The pages are missing. All of them. It’s just the binding. Cassius must have found it.”
“Maybe even someone else in this house,” Asher muttered. He stopped talking and grabbed Graciela’s arm firmly, squeezing it.
“Asher, what gives!?” She cried. He pulled her closer to him and began to whisper in her ear, causing a shiver to run down her spine. “I’ll meet you on the next mission you and Dio go on. Don’t worry how.”
“Huh?” She muttered aloud.
“Play it cool,” He whispered, pulling her even closer as if he was hugging her. Her face was pressed against his chest and her mind ran wild at the smell of his cologne. “Someone could be watching.” He threw his arms around her and announced loudly. “It’ll all be okay, Graciela. Don’t worry about it.”
She knew it meant to keep quite, but she didn’t know how that would be possible. For now, she’d follow his lead.He released her from his grasp and nodded. “I’ll be okay,” She whispered back to him. “Thank you.”
When Asher left, she pulled her legs up to her chest. If the diary pages were gone there was only one person she could really turn to for answers. It was dangerous, but she knew she needed to do it. “Darkness, talk to me. What do you know about all this?”
I know all of it, for I am everywhere. You can hear my voice but that doesn’t mean I don’t exist in other places besides you, darling.
“So then just tell me,” Graciela said. “Please.”
I could but you wouldn’t believe me. You always think I’m trying to trick you. What an unbelievable host you are.
“Can you blame me?” Graciela asked. “Besides, I’m unbelievable!? You have been living in my body for years.”
You weren’t supposed to be my permanent host, Kalmali was. But as your friend said, things don’t always go according to plan. You can choose to ignore what I say, but right now I am always going to be here. And I may as well be your only way into the Underworld.
“No, there has to be another way…” Graciela said. “I just want the truth.”
Well, the truth is going to cost you.