Kalmali followed his father outside of the muscle car. The drive to his new home was much longer than he had anticipated, and he was glad to be able to get out of the car and stretch his legs. He loved the scenery of the countryside, but for once he had wanted to see something different like a city. He didn’t know for sure, but he had a feeling his mother wouldn’t be found in a boring place like this. Kalmali walked to the trunk to grab his bag, his father stopping him. “We’ll get it later. Let’s just go inside and eat some lunch.”
“It won’t take too long to bring in my stuff. I only have one suitcase,” Kalmali said, once again reaching for his bag.
“Kal, things are going to be different this time. Please, relax. I’m not going to be leaving. This time I’m going to do things right. I’ll be a good father.” Nolan placed a comforting hand on Kalmali’s shoulder that the boy eased into. Kal grinned and nodded, following his father into the house.
“This place is really big!” Kalmali cried, placing his hands on his face in shock. “I wasn’t expecting this.” He imagined coming home from school, placing his bag down by the door and eating dinner with both of his parents at the table. He had wanted that life of normalcy more than he had cared to admit.
“This place has just enough room for you, me, and your mother,” Nolan said. “We’re going to be that happy family you’ve always dreamt about.” Nolan ruffled Kalmali’s hair, signaling for him to head up the stairs. “The last door on the very left leads to another staircase which takes you to your room. It’s your own little suite up there.”
“Really?” Kalmali asked. “I don’t need all of that. I don’t mind being down here with you and mom, when she gets here.”
“You’re a teenage boy,” Nolan said. “I know you don’t want your stuffy dad breathing down your neck all the time.” Except, that’s exactly what he had wanted. He wanted to be close to his father. He didn’t want to be upstairs, because those stairs leading to another set of stairs began to feel insurmountable. “Check it out first and tell me what you think. If you absolutely hate it, I’ll let you stay downstairs with me, alright?” Kalmali nodded in agreement. He would hate to seem ungrateful after all the effort his father had put into making this house a home.
Kalmali trudged up the stairs while his father began to prep a meal. Even when his father was here, it felt as if he wasn’t. Nolan talked as if he had wanted a life for his family, but he didn’t act like it. Kalmali knew that was only because his father had missed his mother dearly. Her disappearance, the murky memories, and the tension of it all made everyone act differently than they would have otherwise. Kalmali could excuse that. He hoped that by staying here, he could convince his father to reconnect with his grandfather, aunt, uncle, and cousin. Though, that would take one step at a time. Opening the door to his new room, he felt the air being knocked out of his lungs as a thick gas wafted into his nostrils. Kalmali stumbled to the ground, gasping for air. He tried to kick his foot out to stop the door from closing but he couldn’t find the strength. What…what was happening? “Dad…?
The door’s lock clicked and Kalmali heard a voice over what seemed like speakers. “It’s okay, Kal. This is how we’re going to find your mother. Just close your eyes and fall asleep.”
“Dad?” Kalmali asked again, his lungs burning raw from the gas that entered his body. “Please, what’s happening?” Kalmali’s head began to spin, his heart pounding rapidly against his chest and his body growing hotter than flames. He felt as if he would burst any moment. “Dad!”
“Shhh, it’s okay Kalmali. Just go to sleep. When you wake up your mother will be here. You trust your dad, don’t you?” It was a new voice, one he had never heard before. Though it sounded as if it was only in his head. “I will make sure she finds you. After all, you two make the whole.”
“What…?” But every time Kalamli tried to talk, he coughed. He tried fighting the dizzied spell he was under, but he found he just couldn’t, instead collapsing once again onto the ground. This time, with no resolve to get back up.
Graciela hated the job of barmaid almost immediately. She hated scrubbing old metal mugs, waiting on drunken old men (who got drunk in the morning anyway!?), and listening to people prattle on about their miniscule problems. She needed to recruit people, but it was a lot harder than it looked. Why this dimension, anyway? Cassius must have realized that unlike the other dimensions she and Dionysus had been to, this one was stuck in the past. Imagine the kind of culture shock it would be moving these people to a world full of technological advances they never even heard of. “Gable, I understand this is your first day but ya gotta pick up the pace, love.” Her boss- she had already forgotten his name- had placed a hand on her shoulder. Whether it was supposed to be lascivious or comforting, she couldn’t tell yet.
“Uh, yes. Sorry sir.” She picked up a glass she had filled nearly to the top with ale and placed a metal straw into it. Thankfully she had worked in Callen’s coffee shop growing up, so she knew how to do work like this. She placed a hand on her chest, startling herself with her memory. When she held the glass underneath the ale’s tap she recalled the sensation of filling up a warm coffee. That wasn’t something she could learn from a memory transplant or by reading a diary. Did that mean experiences triggered memories?
“Gable, look at me.” Riley? Rickey? Roley? Something along those lines- snapped his fingers in front of her face. She tried to focus on his words instead of her racing thoughts. “Careful now. Those men who just sat down near the window are squires.” She’d have to explore her hypothesis later on.
“Squires? Like knights in training?” Graciela asked aloud, following the man’s pointed gaze to two men. One with bright red hair and another with a much softer pale pink. They were both chatting adamantly to each other, one laughing heartily and the other scowling.
“Yes, exactly. I want these guys to be your top priority. Do ya know how much a squire eats after training? Make sure they tell their friends and come back for more grub later on.” He reached towards Graciela’s wavy hair and tousled it. “Smile and look pretty.” He patted her on the shoulder once more before leaving to yell at some other barmaid. She felt gross being paraded around like some piece of meat, but her boss may have been on to something. Squires must have flocked together in groups so it gave her a chance to recruit a larger number to the new dimension in a shorter time.
She patted her bodice and straightened her skirt. Taking in a deep breath, Graciela filled two glasses of ale and approached the males. When she got to their table, she slid the ales their way. “Complimentary,” She replied, mustering as kind of a smile as she knew possible. “Its our special cinnamon blend.”
“Thank you!” The male with bright red hair beamed happily. “You got Riley to give us a free drink, since when?”
Graciela bit her lip. Oops, that wasn’t part of her script. She was hoping she’d be gone before she had to listen to him yelling at her for that. “Oh uh, well he’s a big supporter of the military. So, yeah…”
The man let out a chuckle and reached into his pocket. He slid a few gold coins her away and winked. “Don’t get in trouble on our account. We appreciate the gesture but know that Riley would never offer out anything free of charge.” Graciela wracked her brain to say anything but before she could offer even a tiny apology, the man filled the silence. “You’re new here, right? What’s your name?”
“Gable,” Graciela said quickly, catching eyes with the pale haired man across from the other squire. He looked just like her uncle Zayne, but she was afraid that maybe she hadn’t been traveling to other dimensions but in time. Or worse yet, meeting another dimension version of her uncle who didn’t know her. “Who are you two?”
“Kenji.” The man with red hair extended his hand towards her. “And my friend Travis. Pleasure to meet you. Don’t let Riley work you too hard, alright?”
Their conversation was short lived, neither party wanting to disturb the unspoken social traditions of only small talk when being served. “I’ll be right back with your meals. Thanks for ordering,” She said quickly after they had told her what they wanted. She scurried back to her space behind the bar, periodically looking up at the man who reminded her of her uncle.
Damian felt at ease watching his visitors squirm. The children of Altiere. He had been waiting for them for a long time. They had a plan that needed enacting and with their help, he could accomplish his own goals as well. They just didn’t know that yet. “Welcome to my underworld. How may I be of service?” He made a grandiose gesture, bowing slightly in front of the group. He smirked on his way back up, catching the eye of two males he had seen down here before. Leon Sikes, the bringer of light, and Altiere, or Maric Endar as he had been calling himself now, the missing piece.
“You know why I’m here!” Leon cried angrily. Damian couldn’t help but chuckle as Leon’s fists trembled with anger. As far as Damian was concerned, Leon had his free pass when Charlotte Gray took his spot in the darkness. Because she wasn’t an agent of light like Leon, she was not sacrificing any power, instead becoming a prisoner of the darkness. If the darkness were to catch wind of his arrival, which it most certainly would, it would demand Leon’s light be extinguished so he would pose no threat to them. For now, Damian would see how useful the boy- man, now- could be to his agenda. “Where is Graciela?” Leon cried angrily, stepping forward forcefully. “I know you know!”
“Wow, no hello? I thought you were politer than that,” Damian said, feigning hurt. “I was the one who saved your life by offering my granddaughter up to the darkness do not forget that.”
“I’m going to save her,” Leon said. “I promise you that I’m going to make everything right, even if I have to die to do it.”
“No one needs to die!” Maisie cried, standing in between Leon and Damian. “We’re here because some of us need passage to a dimension that is sealed.”
“Ah, why didn’t you just say so?” Damian asked. “I can bypass any seal, but it will cost you dearly. I could get in a lot of trouble for helping you. Who are you anyway?” He asked, feigning ignorance.
“You know who we are!” Caspar barked. “You’re the freaking keeper of the underworld, don’t give us that crap.”
“Reign in your puppy,” Damian instructed Maisie. “Or I will not be doing any business with you.”
“Business?” Leon cried. “These are peoples lives on the line! You’re playing some game that is going to hurt so many people. I don’t want to hear any more, just tell me where Graciela is. Now!”
“Or what?” Damian asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “It doesn’t matter what you try to do to me, you will fail. Besides, I can’t help you. I don’t have access to Graciela.”
“You have access to everyone!” Leon cried, balling his hands into fists. “You just said you can bypass any seal, so just get me to where Graciela is.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” Damian said. “I don’t have a tracking device floating about. I can’t tell you where Graciela is. You’ll need to find her yourself, and if you do I’d so very kindly allow you to use a passageway from the underworld to get to her.”
“I want Charlotte too,” Leon said. “I’m not leaving without her.”
“You have to,” Damian admonished. “Why do you think the darkness is at bay currently? Charlotte’s presence appeases it. You see, you were supposed to vanquish it with your light, but that didn’t really happen did it? And, you can’t exactly do it right now with your little love bird all on her own. Scared, clawing for her life.”
“She’s not clawing,” Leon said defiantly. “I know Gracie. She’s strong and she can get through anything life throws at her.” Damian knew this much which is why he was confident Graciela would play her part perfectly. He also knew that Leon wouldn’t fight for Charlotte right now if it meant that he couldn’t reach Graciela. A pure light blinded by one piece of darkness. Damian couldn’t help but be amused with the idea of Graciela tearing apart the boy’s light, until there was nothing but darkness left and no chance at redemption.
AN: Kenji Lambert was made by Dandylion240