False Dawn #11 : Crossing Over
Part One of Four: Reunion
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
Darkness bathed the landscape, and even though Ral slapped his hands over his eyes, he split his middle and ring fingers to see, then quickly shut them. When he played peek-a-boo with his mother, she was always there when he cheated. Now, only pitch black greeted him, and he refused to open his eyes again.
It was dark there, too.
“You belong here.”
Ral stubbornly shook his head.
“Instinctively, you know this.”
Ral shook his head again. “…no.”
Icy, squishy fingers slithered across his cheek, pulling his hands free from his face. Still, Ral refused to open his screwed shut eyes.
“You cannot fight it forever.”
A brush of his blonde bangs reminded him of his mother, and Ral’s eyes fluttered open. Before him stood a tall man, and Ral refused to meet his eyes, somehow knowing that if he did, he wouldn’t leave.
The man bent a knuckle under his chin.
“You were born from shadows. Welcome home.”
Okay, I admit it. I’m afraid of the dark. I wonder if there are support groups for that type of thing.
I wasn’t always, but when you travel through a dimensional gateway and land in a realm where darkness is light and light is darkness, you tend to collect phobias like iTunes.
I’m not the only one. Standing on a cliff overlooking a medieval looking city and a dark, Wicked Witch of the West castle, Lance blanches and tries to mask his gulp as a cough. It doesn’t work. Casia usually hides her fear by lightening her flames. Now, she just stands, cold like the rest of us.
“Well, guys,” Lance murmurs, “welcome to Skadoia.”
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
I duck a lunging tentacle and retaliate the best way I know how—with a lighter. The temporary flame sends the Skadoian Warrior back, but he’s only one. We have about a million more to go, and against the three of us—a reincarnated squire, a were-phoenix, and me—the odds don’t look good.
Huh. My eighth grade algebra teacher was wrong. I AM good in math.
Lance throws a mace—where he got it, who knows?—and it would have killed the warrior behind me if the guy didn’t turn all shadowy. He warps around the weapon, and his tentacles snatch my left arm. I pivot on my back leg and slam my foot into his stomach. Of course, his stomach just holds my foot, and I’m left jumping. I really should have thought this out better.
I look over my shoulder for help, but none’s coming. Lance has used a torch of orange fire to keep the warriors back until one of them fires a blue flare. The flames race up his arms and engulf his jacket, and by the time he works it off, he’s screaming in pain. A warrior smothers the fire with his shadow body—and smothers Lance.
Casia’s burning, her body one large flame, but a gust of wind from a large clap steals her orange fire. She slams hard against the wall as the warriors surround her.
Boot heels click upon the stone of the small hallway. I look up as Lasantra comes forward, a black cloak sweeping the cobblestones behind her. “Evans, LaCroux, Child. You were foolish to come here.”
“Ah, Lasantra. I didn’t think I’d be seeing you so soon,” Lance snorts. “After all, how long was it before? A millennium? Maybe two?”
She slaps Lance hard across the cheek, and blood trickles from his mouth. He narrows his eyes but says nothing.
“If you wish to live, I suggest you cooperate,” she leers yet there’s an odd look to her eyes, one I can’t read. Snapping her fingers, Lasantra turns away, and her cloak slaps Lance again. “Guards, take them to the Kitchen. My lord will wish to deal with them personally.”
The warriors bow—I think. It’s hard to tell when they’re just darkness and shadows.
And the Kitchen—I don’t think I want to know.
The warriors drag us down an elegant staircase, and for the second time in the twenty-three minutes I’ve been Skadoia, I really need to slap myself across the face.
I feel the slap before I even see it, and the Skadoian Warrior to my right retracts his dark tentacle.
I touch my stinging cheek, and the warrior smiles. “You were thinking too loud.”
They have telepathy?
“Not all of us. It runs in families.”
Okay…he’s creepy. And his smile reminds me of a gothic Brad Pitt on crack with black hair and a pale complexion. His rich blue eyes seem to glow through the shadows.
The castle, honestly, is like Graceland on acid. The elegant staircases are carved from black diamonds. Lanterns burning with blue fire “light” the hallways, casting shadows that every warrior seems to disappear into when the pass. The granite walls glimmer with orange and blue splotches. Black and azure curtains hang across the entrances to balconies while pictures of dragons line the walls between curtains.
Like I said—creepy.
TEN MINUTES LATER
Well, I’ve had detentions more productive than this. My wrists hurt from being chained above my head, and I’m pretty sure my arms are asleep.
“You can’t tell me this is going according to plan.”
“What if I told you it was?” Lance snorts in my direction. He and Casia are chained like me.
Casia laughs. “Try that on someone who doesn’t know you.”
I take a deep breath and glanced about the dungeon. Three out of the four walls are made of the black stones, but the last one across from us looks like a black curtains at the movies or the inside of my mom’s oven after she burned something.
A growling rumbled through the room, and Lance and Casia glare at me. “Hey, totally not me, guys.”
The warriors guffaw as they leave the room. “No, that was our little pet.”
Once the door clunks shut, Lance keeps my attention. “Where’s Connor?”
“Lance—” Casia starts, but Lance doesn’t budge from his Batman glare.
“Ral, now’s not the time for playing around. You have to find Connor.”
The growling thunders fiercer now, like a ravenous lion.
“How am I supposed to find him?” I snap. “This is the first time I’ve been here. Same as you.”
Casia’s eyes burn a low blue flame. It kinda mimics the lanterns we saw on the way in. “Lance!”
The growl becomes an all-out shriek, worse than girls during a horror flick, and my eyes widen at the huge, yellow orbs staring back at me from the far wall.
“LANCE!” Casia shrills as her flames burn on the edge of her body.
I can still feel Lance’s hard eyes scrutinizing my face. “DON’T BURN!”
Slowly, a snout of a scaly beast sniffs the floor before coming straight at me. I pretty sure I let out a girly peep or something equally as embarrassing right before its clammy nose touch my face—
—and I crouch in the corner of a smaller cell, the tiles too familiar for my taste, the Wicked Witch of the West herself cackling.
“Oh, dearest Connor, you don’t understand, do you? There is no hope. Not for you or Adeline or any of the Crossing Guards.” Lasantra stands before my badly beaten uncle, who can hardly breathe. Connor still finds the energy to cock a smug grin.
“Oh, sweetie, you only wish I didn't have hope. If I’m still here, then that means Addy hasn’t given into you. And if she hasn’t, then I sure as hell won’t.”
“So you say.”
“So I know.”
Lasantra’s face lightens, just a tad, as she leans over to whisper in my uncle’s ear. “Why do you continue to deny me, Connor? We will find the Crossings eventually. Why go through all this pain?”
“Better me than someone else.”
“Yes, like your nephew, correct?” She turns her back to my uncle as his face clenches. “Or perhaps you’d rather we take the were-phoenix again or that disappointment you call a—”
“Touch them, and I’ll—”
“Or you’ll what?” Lasantra challenges. “Spout empty threats? Choke out sarcasm? Why don’t you at least give into your desires?”
“And what might those be?”
Then she grabs my uncle by back of the neck and slams her lips into his.
I pull Maiden’s Glory and lunge. “Get away from him!”
Lasantra pulls herself from Connor and chucks a shadow spear toward me. “How did you get in here?”
Hey, look. Smirk still there. “Don’t tell me the Shadow Lord’s afraid of us?”
Connor grabs his chains and lifts himself up, kicking Lasantra away. “Ral, get out of here!”
“Too late!” I rush forward as she picks herself up, but before I can lunge, Connor jumps before me, out of his chains, a hand out to stop me from engaging.
“Don’t tell me.”
I don’t have to ask. “Yep.”
“You NEVER listen to anything I say to you.”
“That’s a lie.”
“Oh, please. Don’t—”
“Forget to say good-bye!”
Lasantra throws out a tentacle, and Connor slaps his hands, creating a ball of white light. It disintegrates the tentacle easily.
Never seen him do that before.
“Where!” he demands.
“Some place called the Kitchen.”
“Got it!” He pivots toward me, and I’m blinded by the ball of light—and now staring into the eyes of the beast—a dragon. It has pitch black scales that blend into the abyss, candle-light eyes, and a mouth that could swallow me and the entire Facebook community in one gulp.
You probably think I’m exaggerating. I’m not.
The dragon turns away from me, scrutinizing Lance before his eyes focus on Casia, and then it hits me. Casia’s a bird. Maybe dragons eat those like I eat chocolate.
“Now?” Casia mumbles.
Lance takes one glance at me and whirls. “NOW!”
As the dragon lunges, Casia’s body explodes with flames, burning the beast’s snout the moment it touches her. Even though I can barely breathe, let alone scream, I…I feel bad for the thing when it starts to whine and shakes its massive head. Then it recovers and looks at Casia with a fury nothing can match.
The thick, wooden prison door cracks in half when a Skadoian Warrior flies through it, and I’m proved wrong again. Connor bursts through like a locomotive, wielding a shadow spear.
“I spy with my dragon’s eyes—a toothpick!”
He throws the specter into the dragon’s orb. The beast immediately falls back into the abyss, shrieking and whining, as Connor races toward me.
“Hey, kiddo, long time no see,” he mutters, slicing through my chains with Maiden’s Glory. He frees Lance and Casia before we quickly exit.
“Okay, so where’s Addy?” Lance demands, snatching his sword from an unconscious warrior. They’re lining the hallways like breadcrumbs.
Casia takes her specter and bag from another, and Connor steals one of the warrior’s swords.
“Wait,” he commands, and I figure he’s pretty bad off. After all, he’s been tortured for the past six months and just fought how many warriors to get to us. He heaves violent huffs, barely taking in air before pushing it out, and his shimmering green eyes are half-lidded, exhausted. Bruises “decorate” his torso, and I’m sure his legs, too, though they’re hidden underneath his ripped jeans. His face is worn with lines drawn from pain and hunger, but his mouth quirks into a “gotcha” grin.
He pushes off the wall and grabs me in a tight hug. “I missed you, kiddo.”
I’m not gonna cry. I’m just not. “I missed you, too, Uncle Connor.”
“But you’re idiot!” He slaps the back of my head.
He then walks over, and in one gripping hug, drags Lance and Casia to his chest. He kisses the top of each’s head before slapping Lance like he did me. With Casia, he tugs her hair playfully.
“You two—you’ve never learned survival skills, have you? Always looking to kill.”
Casia blushes. “It’s what Lance does best.”
“I wasn’t talking about HIM. I’m talking about ME. You two always try to give me a heart attack. I swear.”
It hits me—right then and there. Since this whole fiasco started, I’ve seen Lance and Casia as my “parents.” I mean, they fight like normal husband and wife, and they look out for me like a big brother and sister. But then I realize—that’s exactly what they are. My siblings. The way Connor looks at them, the way he pushes back Lance’s bangs and checks Casia’s bruise—they’re his kids, too.
A pang of jealousy works itself in my chest, but I push it away. Connor’s known them both longer than he’s known me.
“So can we go get Mom now?” I ask.
Connor turns and smiles. “Of course. Yes. Addy. Come on.”
Once he finishes pulling on a warrior’s tunic, we follow him down the hall and up a flight of stairs. We dashed down a hallway with massive, ornate doorways, bejeweled with diamonds, blue crystals, and black marble. We finally stop before a rather large door with the scratches of a dragon’s claws across its breast.
Connor puts a finger to his mouth and then puts up one finger, two fingers, and three. On the third, he slices through the lock and allows us entrance. The chambers must be from a high-ranking official’s with gold crown-modeling, accents on curtains, and even splashes on the marble floor. Blue also dresses the chairs and couch in the sitting area while blue fire burned in the mantle. A door leaving to another room—perhaps the sleeping area—is closed.
“Why are we here, Connor?” Casia asks. “Where’s Addy?”
Connor immediately runs to the balcony, and I come to stand next to him, overlooking a garden filled with blue, silver, and purple flowers among trees with gray leaves, green fruit, and maroon trunks.
“There,” my uncle rasps.
In the middle of the garden rises a silver statue of a woman dressed in a medieval gown with tears trickling from her eyes, down her body, and into a small pool surrounding her.
TO BE CONTINUED…