False Dawn #12 : Crossing Over
Part Two of Four: The Truth
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
“Mom’s a statue?” I demand.
Uncle Connor can’t meet my eyes. “Yes.”
“But…she’s a statue. Like, stone and rock and Mount Rushmore.”
“Well, technically, she’s been frozen, like a Popsicle or those waffles you pop in the toaster, but—”
That did it. I snatch my uncle like nerds grab first-edition comics and slam him against the wall. “Technically!? TECHNICALLY!”
And before I know it, the words spill from my mouth faster than the Flash can run. “In the last six months, I’ve been traveling the East Coast with a reincarnated immortal and a were-phoenix. I’ve been attacked by SHADOW WARRIORS who have kidnapped you and Mom, and I’ve been transported to another dimension through the head of Edgar Allen Poe and almost been eaten by a freakin’ live dragon. I’ve found out that the two people who have never been three feet from me my entire life are actually immortals called Sojourners, and maybe—just maybe—I might not even know them at all. And you use the word ‘TECHNICALLY!’”
I’m pretty sure Lance and Casia are debating what to do, and Casia finally just shakes her head. There’re not going to interfere.
Connor smiles apologetically. “Would you have rather almost been eaten by a freakin’ dead dragon?”
I slam him against the wall again, hoping to break something. I’m pretty sure I didn’t. Damn.
A soft hand cups my shoulder, and I wish I could say Casia’s touch soothed the wild beast. “Connor—what’s going on? What happened to Addy, and just why are you and she here?”
Connor clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. “Those are some loaded questions, chickie.”
A Beefeater has nothing on Lance’s cold expression. “Then perhaps you should get a bullet-proof vest.”
You have to realize something. My uncle is the second-bravest person I know, my mom being the first. I’ve seen him take on drunken bikers, the Wayne PTA, Skadoian Warriors, and now a (live) dragon. So when he looks down at Mom, his eyes quaking, I let go of his collar. His lips venture a sad grin, and he ruffles my hair like he used to at the bar when I refused to serve a drunkard.
That seems like a million years ago.
Sighing, Connor collapses to one of the royal seats in the room. Crossing his ankles on a coffee-table, he grimaces and clutches his torso. Bruised ribs at least, but after what he’s been through, I’m surprised that’s all he has.
Lance lets out a growling sigh and pulls off his sweatshirt, revealing the tattoos on his arms. I don’t think he’s done that since…well, in a while. In front of Connor, he’s comfortable, and he shreds his sweatshirt into pieces.
He kneels at Connor’s feet, almost like a servant bends for a king. “Let me dress those.”
Connor puts a fatherly hand to Lance’s cheek, then lifts his shirt. “There are three planes.”
“Planes?” Casia repeats.
“Planes, dimensions, worlds—call them what you will.”
“Skadoia, Knightsdale, and Zenith’s Rise.”
Connor bows his head in respect, then pauses. “How do you know that?”
Lance meets Connor with hard eyes. They seem to speak telepathically before Connor continues with only one beat missed. “The planes are connected by portals called The Crossings.”
“And you’re a Crossing…Guard?” I blurt.
Connor hisses when Lance tugs the bandages. “You…you heard that, huh?”
He braces himself before waving Lance off and sitting back in the chair. His stern glare rings me out like I’m seven again and tried one of his cigarettes. I never did it again because of that glare.
“What I will tell you…it will change your life.”
“Mom’s a freakin’ statue. I think we’re WAAAAAY past life-changing events.”
“Stop using that word.”
“Would you rather I say fu—”
“All right!” Connor rubs the back of his neck. “Zenith’s Rise represents the sun, the light. Where Skadoia has unending darkness, Zenith’s Rise has unending light. It’s a peaceful, simple kingdom that hasn’t been touched by outside forces since time immortal. It’s where the River of Life begins before it trickles through Knightsdale and collects in Skadoia.”
“And your point?”
“MY POINT,” Connor’s voice rises like a teacher’s, “is the Crossing Guards. They’re known as Sojourners—or in Zenith’s Rise, Scions of Dawn—and have been banished from the Rise. As punishment, they must serve as protectors of The Crossings and must not allow Skadoian Warriors to pass.”
“Banished?” Lance asks. “Like, originally from Zenith’s Rise?”
“But…you’re a Sojourner,” Casia says. “…a Crossing Guard.”
His dark bangs hide his eyes. “…Yes.”
Oh, God. I walk over to the balcony. “And…and Mom?”
“She’s originally from Zenith’s Rise, but she’s not a Crossing Guard. Not technically.”
Back to that word again.
“She wasn’t banished,” Lance interjects. “Right? She left with you.”
Connor winces, though not from the pain. “Yes. I was…young and stupid, but that’s not important. The Warriors have been torturing me, so I’ll tell them where my Crossing is,” Connor tells. “They want to start a war, and Knightsdale will most likely be the battlefield.”
“But you’re not going to tell them.” Casia sits on the couch next to my uncle. “Why don’t they get another Sojourner?”
“Sojourners are hard to pin point most of the time. We don’t stay in one place too long. We fake everything from Social Security cards to driver’s licenses. We hardly get sick, so there are no medical records. We have almost no real relationships because the people around us die. There’s no point. It’s why Urban’s such a charmer.”
“But that’s not true,” Lance balks. “You had been living in the same house for—what? Fifteen years? You bought a bar. Addy worked as a doctor in New York. Why—Ow!”
I hear Casia’s slap and the silence that follows. Me. They settled for me. All his happened…because of me.
The door to the bedroom creak open, and all four of us whirl, weapons ready, to attack the intruder—uh, a kid? He’s young, can’t be much older than five, with the blondest hair you’ll ever see. Seriously. I swear it’s spun from sunlight itself. And his eyes—after he’s done wiping the tiredness from them—blink at us with the kind of innocence you see only in puppies when they want to curl in your lap. And they’re green, like the first patches of grass in spring. He’s wearing footie PJs, and we’re pointing all these sharp weapon at him like he’s a Skadoian Warrior.
He looks at each one of us before his eyes focus upon me. Then, out of nowhere, I hear, Selac!
Except his mouth didn’t move.
“Um….did anyone else just hear that?” I ask.
Lance wraps his sword about his hand. “Now’s not the time to go crazy, kid.”
Connor puts out a hand. “No! What’d you hear?”
Eyes wide, muscles tense, Connor rushes toward me. “MOVE!”
“What?” Casia laughed. “He’s just a—”
And that was when the doors to the chamber bust open. Shadow tentacles lunge our way, but Casia drops to the floor, igniting a wall of fire to block our escape. Connor’s jumping off the balcony, and guess what? I’m following.
Pain cracks in my knees and back as I land in a bush of flowers and roll, bringing my sword to bear even before I’m on my feet. I’m slicing through tentacles and weapons as a Casia’s flames rage over my attackers. A moshpit of Skadoian Warriors attempt to press us worse than fans at an Ozzie Osborn concert. As I turn to take another warrior on, a brazen gust of darkness blindsides me, and I’m sure it almost took off my head. It swirls like I’m on a Tilt-A-WhirI, but I stiffen and try my hardest not to swallow. Yeah, the shadow dagger in my throat is not at all comfortable.
“HALT!” the warrior holding my life in his hand screams. He’s one of the guys who took us to the Kitchen. “Or your runt will be euthanized. “
I can’t turn, but I hear the fighting stop. Casia gasps; Lance growls. Connor snorts.
“Thanks for the rescue mission, guys.”
“Don’t mention it,” Lance laughs.
“You will not be laughing for long,” Lasantra claims.
The warrior allows me just enough wiggle room to see the dark servant, in all her dark glory, stride into the garden.
“Congratulations, Children. You have just become our number one priority.”
Casia’s fire burn off her skin. “Our?”
My uncle’s nostrils flare as a coldness slicks my cheek. I fight the shiver but lose the battle as a shadow creature forms from the water in my mom’s statue pool—
—Yeah, seriously never thought I’d say that—
—and warps about my body like a mist, whispering, “Embrace me…”
Did I mention creepy before? Because we just reached mega levels of creepiness.
The mist then races away like a battered dog and swirls about Casia, Connor, before settling before Lance. It slowly begins to take shape, first as a blob, then as a human being. His features become more distinct with high cheek bones, ruffled raven hair, and abysses for eyes. He’s young, probably not much older than my uncle looks. Dark crystals and blue trim adorn his elaborate robes and black slacks, marking him as a man of power.
The Skadoian Warriors, even Lasantra, fall to their knees, and the one holding me at knife-point drags me down with him.
This is the big guy. The head hancho. The man Lasantra wanted Lance to meet in Tennessee, who Casia barely stopped from crossing into Knightsdale.
The Skadoian Lord himself.
My shocked stare moves from the shadow man to Lance, who’s honestly freakin’ out right now. He’s barely breathing; his eyes wide like twin moons. A soft tentacle caresses his pale cheek as he whimpers, “Bergener?”
“We meet again, my Lance.”
“N—No. It’s not POSSIBLE,” Lance stammers, something I’ve never seen him do. “Prince Edward KILLED you. I saw you DIE.”
“You saw what you needed to see, and now—” His boots clasp the stony walkway as he approaches me. “—we must deal with the latest causality of your curse.”
I take deep breathes, trying to keep my face from scrunching. I’m not scared of him. I’m not.
His long tentacles come up to caress my cheek. They’re cold, and a wet dog smells better. I can’t stop the flinch before it happens, and his caustic laugh is a nail on the chalkboard.
“So you are the hybrid.”
“Hybrid?” I whispered. Where’d my voice go?
Before he answers, a warm arm rips me from the tentacle’s embrace, and Connor’s in front of me, separating the Skadoian Lord from me. “Leave him alone, Bergener. He’s not a part of this.”
“Oh, but he’s the nexus, isn’t he, Connor? A mortal surrounded by immortals. An innocent in the midst of the immoral. A darkness blighted by the light.”
“What!” I demand.
Connor growls, “Shut up.”
“You know I can save him, Connor. If you surrender him to me, I will make sure no harm comes to him. He will taught with the ashlings, reach his full potential as—”
“—your lapdog? You really think Addy’s going to embrace you if you make her son your servant?”
The Skadoian Lord’s white teeth lights his dark features. “Let us find out.”
A tentacle tightens around my torso, and I hiss as the skin on my palm gives way. By the time the blood wells in the crevasses, Connor’s upon me, pulling me under his arm. The Skadoian Lord dabs my palm with his handkerchief, his gentle hands no rougher than a doctor’s. Then he treads toward my mom.
I want to help her, stop him from ever going near her, but Connor holds me tight. “It’s okay,” he promises, though I know it’s a lie.
My whole life has been a lie.
“What’s he doing to Mom?” I ask.
Connor’s voice tightens as Bergener wipes my blood on Mom’s palm. “Addy placed herself in this state to stop the Skadoian Lord from using her against those she loves.”
“And my blood?”
“Proof that you are here.”
“NO!” I scream, but it’s too late. I want her safe. I want her some place she’ll never be touched, but as I lunge forward, her skin thaws. Her steel coloring becomes peach once more, and whatever darkness that lives in Skadoia dies against the light in her green eyes.
In my green eyes.
“Ral!” she exclaims, warm and kind, and I feel like a little kid, rushing to her after a bad dream.
I only wish this was a dream as her soft arms hold me tight, her silken, chocolate strands tickle my nose. Hot tears break the dam and course my cheeks as I bury my face in her shoulder, and when I sniffle, a whiff of antiseptic and oatmeal cookies infiltrate my nose.
Mom. Mom’s okay.
“It’s okay, sweetie,” she whispers to me, her thumb brushing the tears from my face. They stain her face, too, before she pulls me close again. “We’re going to be okay.”
“I have returned your son to you, Adeline,” the Skadoian Lord proclaims, his tone pitched to command. “You owe me retribution.”
“Returned?” Lance challenged. “We came here on our own.”
“You truly believe that, don’t you, waif?” Bergener closes upon Lance like a storm trooper who’d disobeyed the Emperor. “You believed my warriors couldn’t stop three children?”
“Children?” Casia repeats.
“In Nashville, in Richmond, even in Shiloh, we allowed you to believe what you wanted, what you wished.”
“Why?” Lance demands. “What was the point? If you wanted us here, you could’ve brought us at any time.”
“Because we needed to know the truth.”
Casia snorts. “What truth?”
“No one can cross into Skadoia without the company of a Skadoian Warrior or—” He stared directly at me, and I know I’m gonna hate how he finishes his sentence. “—an ashling.”
TO BE CONTINUED…