Maric was unresponsive to any of Leon’s words. Instead, he stared into the reflection of himself in the mirror, hoping that this was all just a dream. He couldn’t have been the Altiere of legend, could he? Even having read the account of Leon’s ancestor, he didn’t feel a connection. “Maric, come on,” Leon said, shaking the man’s leg. “It would make sense, wouldn’t it?”
“What would?” Maric asked, looking up at Leon only for a brief moment.
“Why Graciela and you were drawn to each other. You had a connection with the darkness, same as me,” Leon said.
“No,” Maric muttered, annoyed at even the suggestion. “I was drawn to Graciela because she was different from everyone in that stupid town. She wasn’t caught up in all that superficial crap. No cliques, no biased ideas, just what she felt. That was real, and I loved that about her.”
“I’m not saying that she wasn’t all of those things for you,” Leon said. “I’m just saying, maybe something else pulled you guys together. Fate, maybe.”
“Stop postulating,” Maric said. “You know you don’t believe that. You’re the first one to denounce fate.”
“I think my light brought me to Gracie,” Leon said. “But it was hers that kept me there.” Leon looked away from Maric now, thinking about the girl he had loved and lost so many times in his lifetime. When would the two of them be able to just be together?
The floor began to shake under the men. Had they not been sitting down already, they might have toppled over. “What the….?” Leon’s eyes widened. There had been nothing but he, Maric and a mirror in this room for so long. Leon didn’t know where he was, or how he was able to survive with no food or water. He never seemed to get fatigued either.
“Listen to him, dad. The guy is right!” A tan hand slapped Maric’s shoulder. A woman neither of the men had seen before was crouched down by his side, flashing a brilliantly bright smile.
“Did she just say dad?” Maric asked Leon. “Please tell me that’s not what I just heard.”
“She said dad,” A tall vampire in the back grunted angrily. “Don’t pretend like you don’t know your own kids, you dead beat.”
There were four individuals standing there, none of which Maric had ever seen before in his lifetime. “I don’t have any kids. Unless I’m living another life I don’t know about.”
“Altiere had kids,” Leon said, piecing the puzzle together quite quickly. His face lit up at the realization. “Altiere kidnapped a bunch of kids. They would call him dad if he raised them, no?”
“He didn’t raise us,” A fairy with soft pink hair and white wings similar to Callen’s spoke up. “Father was asleep by then. Mother couldn’t wake him and we couldn’t stay to watch over him. Mother made us leave.”
“Amanda,” Leon said. “Amanda is your mother’s name, right?” Leon asked the group. “And your father was Altiere?”
“Yes,” the same girl said. “You must be the kin of Lapis. He said we would meet you one day. I’m glad. You have a remarkable power. My name is Maisie. This is my sister, Veronica, and my brothers Casper and Antone. We have come to claim our father now that he has been awoken once more.”
“Enough,” Maric said angrily. “Cut the crap. I’m not doing this right now. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to tell you what I told my friend here. I am not Altiere. My name is Maric Endar and I was raised in a loving home with my mother and my sister.”
“Ah,” Antone said calmly, running his hands through his long brown hair. “Mother did say you may not recognize us. But not recognizing yourself? That is something I didn’t expect.”
“When he was put to sleep by Elora, he must have been changed into a baby. That would explain why he can’t remember who he is or what he’s supposed to do.” Veronica snapped her fingers. “Lucky for you, Pops, Mother taught us everything before she died. We can help you usher in your new world.”
“We’re not ushering anything in,” Maric said. “I’m not saying that I am Altiere, but if I was, I wouldn’t want to go back to his plan anyway. He was a bad guy. He kidnapped you guys, centuries ago! How are you even still alive?”
“Immortality is a blessing received when you pledge yourself to the cause,” Antone said. “Poor mother wasn’t around long enough to figure that out, unfortunately.”
“You know a lot then,” Leon began. “What about the darkness then?” Leon asked, hopping to his feet. “You can tell us why it’s acting the way it is now? Why is it so strong out there? I vanquished Graciela’s darkness, but it just returned.”
“Someone undid your work,” Maisie said. “We had a plan and we stuck to it, but it didn’t turn out the way it was supposed to, even wen we had the seer’s tales to prove it. It means someone has rewritten a timeline.”
Maric shook his head back and forth, unwilling to believe anything more. “And, let me guess. You’re an angel of death, right? With the white wings?”
“Yes,” Maisie said. “It is how I know so much. I’ve met the darkness on more than one occasion. It is how we are going to help the two of you escape. I will open a portal to the underworld and carry you through to your dimension.”
“You have to take me to Graciela,” Leon said. “Please. She must be suffering from the darkness’ surge of power. I have to help her and vanquish the darkness again.”
“We will,” Caspar said, the manacling one of the group. “If dear old dad comes with us. He can’t go to that vessel. He needs to stay with us and carry out his plan.”
“I’m not doing anything,” Maric said. “I told you that I’m not a bad guy. I will not usher in a new world. I refuse!”
“You don’t have a choice!” Casper spat. “Your dimension is sealed away, haven’t you realized that? If you want the people you care about to have a home, you need to usher in this new world.”
“We don’t have any intention of creating some kind of dystopian future with you ruling,” Antone said. “That dream died with Mother. As soon as she was gone, we were able to think for ourselves, and we realized that the world- our world that we traversed for so many centuries, was in trouble.”
“And you need me to fix it?” Maric asked incredulously. “There is no way.”
“Let me explain it to you in simple terms,” Casper said, losing his patience. “None of this was supposed to happen. The darkness knew you were going to be put to sleep eventually, even before Elora was summoned. So, it made you take us from our families so that we could be the ones to awaken you in a few centuries. When the time came to do that, which was supposed to be like a few months ago, you were already awake.”
“So we consulted the books that your…” Veronica looked at Leon. “Er…our, ancestors, left. They said we were supposed to awaken Altiere, he would attempt to overthrow the light and shift the balance of power to the darkness. But that would ultimately fail because Graciela Gray, the vessel, would take in the darkness and harness it. You would relinquish the darkness from her and become the one to harness it, by giving up your life to live in the underworld forever. Protecting the world for centuries more.”
“But I defied that….” Leon muttered in realization. “When Graciela’s mother swapped places with me in the underworld. When she took the burden of the darkness on herself in exchange of me, it triggered something.”
“We don’t think so,” Maisie said. “If someone was holding the darkness at bay, it wouldn’t matter if it was you or someone else. Your job was supposed to be the light to take away the darkness from Graciela, which you did.”
“That doesn’t account for what’s happening now,” Leon said.
“That’s because the good old darkness isn’t playing nice anymore,” Antone said. “We don’t know how yet, but we know the whole thing boils down to that child born of the darkness. You call him, Kalmali Gray. We think he is a manifestation of the darkness, not a vessel.”
“Meaning what exactly?” Maric asked.
“A vessel is someone who holds the darkness of the world so that the light may shine through. A balance of sorts,” Maisie said. “The goddess Elora bestows that on another person. You know that yes, Leon?”
“But Kalmali was not blessed by Elora,” Leon said in realization. “He was brought into the world by the darkness…”
“The time we are originally from,” Veronica began. “Knew gods and goddesses to be real. Oral tradition told to us by our Mother said that there were always two sets of them. One side was light, and one side was dark. A truce was said to have been made between the warring sides. Darkness would come out at night and light in the day. That would be held in place by Elora, representing the light and, Victus, representing the dark.”
“I’m familiar with those stories,” Leon said. “I was taught them when I was training to be a seer. Victus couldn’t be acting out, could he? He’d need to be summoned and not many people, if any, know those rites anymore.”
“Precisely,” Veronica said. “So, we think someone is trying to summon Victus but can’t. Why else practically make a physical manifestation of the darkness? Someone may be trying to tilt the scales.”
“Nolan,” Maric said. “It’s the only thing that makes sense. That guy shows up out of nowhere, pretending to be Kamali’s dad? Graciela disappears, her family starts thinking they’re living another life.”
“Yeah, it’s definitely that creep. You have to stop him, Maric,” Leon said. “For all of our sakes. I don’t know what will happen if he summons Victus, but it won’t be good.”
“Well, someone has yet to tell me how I’m supposed to help,” Maric said with a grunt. “or, why for that matter.”
“In the original tale, you were strong enough to attempt to overthrow the light. We are going to train you to hone your powers, the way you told mom to teach us before you went to sleep,” Maisie said. “But we are going to use them for good this time.”
“Come on then,” Antone said. “We have little time to lose. Father must gain his powers back and stop the darkness from spreading even further.”
“And we need to find the vessel,” Casper muttered. “For the lovesick puppy over here.”