When Kalmali opened his eyes he was in a place he hadn’t recognized. A place he was sure he’d never see another soul in. He was standing in nothing but a big white open space. There were no sounds aside from his own labored breathing. he looked down at his hands. Everything was in tact. He took in a deep breath- his lungs seemed okay. Nothing out of the ordinary. Yet, everything was out of the ordinary. What was going on?
He looked around for anything really. A door, a smiling face, a floating note…something to tell him what to do next. “Hello?” He called out. “Anyone there?”
“Ah! You’ve made it to the in-between. I was afraid you wouldn’t make it here in time. I am glad that you did.” A voice, one Kalmali was sure he had never heard before, began to speak to him as if they had known him for as long as he had been alive.
“I’m sorry. Do I know you?” Kalmali asked into the air. “It sounds like I do, but I don’t recall ever meeting you.”
“You don’t know me yet,” The voice said.
“I don’t understand,” Kalmali said, placing a hand on his heart.
“I think that you do,” The voice responded with a hint of amusement. “I can’t really say much more than that. We don’t have much time.”
“Time for what?” Kalmali asked. “What’s going on?”
“Someone is attempting to use the darkness inside of your heart to connect with the darkness inside of your mother’s heart. We cannot allow that to happen. If the darkness in both of your hearts join, it will make way for a malevolent power that may be unbeatable.”
“My mother?” Kalmali asked. “What do you know of her?”
“Not much unfortunately,” The voice, female in nature- calm and serene, spoke. “I know that there is a bridge between you and her through your subconscious. That’s where we are now. That path is what will allow you to find your mother. That man, Nolan Hager, he is not your father. he is using you to get to Graciela.”
“No,” Kalmali cried. “That’s impossible. I have memories of him and I since I was little. With my mom too.”
“False memories,” The voice said. “I am sorry, but you must believe me. Would a father who cares about you lead you into a death trap? He was trying to knock you unconscious so he could rummage around your psyche.”
“To find this place?” Kalmali asked. “And to get to my mom?”
“Yes,” The voice responded. “It is exactly that. You and your mother are connected in a way that’s not usual. If you channel your emotions and thoughts to this path, she can hear and feel them. That is how you will communicate with her.”
“But…if our hearts meet here, the darkness will combine…” Kalmali mumbled. “Right?”
“Yes,” The voice agreed once again. “I’m going to be here as often as I can to make sure that you do not give up to much. The darkness in her heart will be able to access this channel if you allow it entry. It is very risky.”
“But the only way to find my mom. I need to find her,” Kalmali said. “She’ll know what to do about all of this.”
“I’m sorry I don’t know more yet,” The voice said. “But we will make sure that nothing happens to you. It is our solemn promise.”
We? Kalmali wanted to ask, but he felt the whiteness dissipating. He had so many questions. Who were the ones who wanted to help him? Could the voice be trusted? Was it right in saying that his memories were false ones? Was Nolan really not his father? Could there be a big threat looming over him and his mother?
“When we meet it’ll all make sense. I promise.”
Riley snapped his fingers in front of Graciela’s face. “Enough daydreaming. Unless you’re going to use that charm of yours to get us some more business, I don’t want any distractions. Even drooling over one of the king’s squires.”
“Huh?” Graciela frowned. “I’m not drooling over him. He just looks familiar to me and I can’t put my finger on it.” She let out a huff at the idea that she could be attracted to anyone when she could barely remember who she truly was.
“That guy over there? He’s new to this town,” Riley explained. “Newest of all the squires at least. Rumor has it that the King was impressed with his tenacity and let him promise his service to the kingdom. You wouldn’t know he he was unless you left the village.” Not anything like the young and naive girl who was supposed to be hired for this job.
“Right,” Graciela said with a slight nod. “I must have mistaken him for someone else.”
“In this business we learn to keep our heads down or else,” Riley said. “Just serve the drinks.”
“Yes,” Graciela murmured. “I’ll do that.” As her boss walked away, Graciela felt an intense wave of nausea fall over her. Her throat began to close up and it was becoming increasingly hard to breathe. She placed a hand on her stomach as she coughed mercilessly. What was this feeling? Where did it come from so suddenly?
Kenji played with the hilt of his sword absentmindedly as he looked up into the darkening sky. Though there was still light out, it was getting late and would serve both men well if they got some rest. Besides, there was something the men needed to check on. Drinking could wait until after training tomorrow. “You coming or what?” He asked his companion, Travis, who looked longingly at the door.
“I…” Travis bit his lip. “That barmaid looked so familiar, like my cousin Graciela. But, it couldn’t be.”
“From that other dimension?” Kenji asked. “The one I keep teasing you about?”
“It’s real,” Travis insisted. “Jordyn and I don’t belong here. If that’s my cousin like I think it is, we can finally go home.”
“How do you not know your own relative, hmm?” Travis pressed. “Besides, you have a good job here. You can create a life for you and your sister.”
“This is no life for my sister and you know it,” Travis stated bluntly. “Besides, I haven’t seen Graciela in years. I wouldn’t know if it was really her or not. Do you understand how much of my family I’ve lost out on? We have to return. It’s been nice here but…”
“It isn’t home,” Kenji concluded. “I understand, but doesn’t mean I like the idea of losing you any less.”
“I won’t ever forget you,” Travis said. “Not after how kind you’ve been to me and even Jordyn, though she won’t admit it.”
“Yes well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves then.” Kenji shoved his friend towards the door they had both just exited from. “Go and see if that’s your cousin. She had been staring at you the entire time we were in there. Maybe she recognized you too.”
“You don’t mind?” Travis asked, eyes lighting up. “I can ask her?”
“Yes,” Kenji said, waving the man away as if he was an annoying and pestering fly. “Just don’t be weird about it.”
“Me? Weird?” Travis feigned shocked. “Not me, you have me mistaken. I’m so well put together.”
“You’re wasting time,” Kenji said with a small smile. “Just go. Felisha will kill us if we’re any later than we promised. She could get in a lot of trouble.”
Travis gave Kenji a thumbs up, a gesture that was telling of the modern dimension he was from. Kenji let out a sigh, rubbing his temple. If only Travis realized how attached the male had become to him. Opening the door, Travis took in a deep breath. At only 18 years old, he was forced into a maturity not common of others his age. He had to adapt to a whole new world without his parents, and under circumstances that weren’t the best to be put lightly. He had no one but his sister Jordyn to rely on. He caught the Graciela look alike falling to the ground, clutching her heart. “We need a doctor!” Riley called out, waving his arms wildly. “A cold rag. Now!”
Travis rushed to the girl, sliding down by her side. “What’s wrong?” He asked, looking at Riley. “Is she okay?”
“I’m fine…!” The girl cried, gasping for air. “Just some pain. That’s it. It will pass.”
“She needs bed rest,” Travis said. “Shall I escort her to her home? Is that what you want, miss?” She looked up at him, eyes timid and fearful. He could tell it was hard for her to even gulp. “Miss?”
“T-ake me,” She mumbled, allowing him to pull her to her feet. She couldn’t see a doctor here. She was a vampire. Did this dimension even have them? She could be putting herself in a lot of trouble.
“You better take her straight home,” Riley said. “Or her father will kill me.”
“On my honor as a squire,” Travis said, bowing his head. That seemed to be enough for the man. in another time and another dimension, that could have been seen as a red flag. He was actually upset by how easily Riley was passing the girl off to him. Travis helped the girl up to her feet, placing his arms around her to help her walk.
“Is it you, Graciela?” Travis mumbled as he led her out of the building.
“You… know me?” Graciela asked, struggling to catch her breath.
“You don’t recognize me, right? It’s been awhile and I was small back then. It’s me, Travis. I know we didn’t spend a lot of time together, but we’re cousins.”
“Travis…” Graciela’s words began to slur. “Yes, Travis. It is you. I knew you looked like uncle Zayne…” She tripped over the step that Travis had tried to bring her down, nearly falling to the ground. Kenji outstretched his arms and caught her.
“What’s going on?” He cried, looking at the dazed girl. “Is she alright?”
“I don’t know,” Travis said. “She was collapsed on the ground when I got in there and Riley seemed all to eager to get her out. It is Gracie though. I’m sure of it. We have to take her with us.”
“Madam, can you walk?” Kenji asked, though it seemed like Graciela was having a hard time even standing straight anymore. She wouldn’t stop coughing as an invisible gas filled her lungs.
“No doctor!” She managed to cry out. “Please…I can’t. Travis, you know…” A look of realization spread across his face.
“She’ll be in the same boat as Jordyn if she sees a doctor. Maybe Felisha can help. We need to go.” Travis walked by Kenji’s side and helped him carry the girl.
Cassius stood above Asher’s bed, dangling something he couldn’t quite make out. “What are you doing here?” Asher mumbled, pulling the blanked up to his neck. A feeling of cold he had never experienced before washed over him.
“Just drink it,” Cassius replied with an uneven tone. “Or, you’ll die. It’s been so long since you’ve left the underworld and seen actual daylight that you don’t even know what a fever feels like.”
“I’m not sick,” Asher mumbled, despite his teeth chattering and arms shaking violently. “You did something to me.”
“Not me,” Cassius replied. “You did it to yourself. Were you not warned by the keeper of the underworld that the longer you spend away from it, the sicker you get? Someone of your stature who has been trapped there for centuries has a low tolerance of sunlight.”
Asher shut his eyes and pictured Graciela’s worried face as she left the mansion earlier for her newly assigned mission. He couldn’t go to her as he promised because after being outside of the walls for a few minutes, he had collapsed with an exhaustion that was foreign to him. It seemed like sunlight had an extremely negative impact on him- prevalent only when he left the walls of the mansion. “What’s in the drink?”
“Why don’t you take a gamble and find out?” Cassius asked, leaving the vial by his bed. “Could be a cure, or could be poison for trying to conspire against me. We shall see.” Asher couldn’t help but cough as Cassius trudged out of the room, a smirk dancing on his lips.