False Dawn #13: “Crossing Over”
Part Three of Four: Embrace the Darkness
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
I’m sure you’ve heard the news. I’m an ashling…I guess. I mean, I don’t trust the Skadoian Lord, y’know? But my mom and uncle couldn’t look me in the eyes after that, and even Lance shuffled his feet and Casia rubbed her palms together, I took the guy’s words as fact.
…I’m an ashling.
It wasn’t long until the Skadoian Lord ordered us separated, but he allowed me to stay with Mom. They have an understanding, it seems, Mom and he, and we were ushered into royal chambers.
Sitting on the windowsill, I gaze out upon Skadoia, half-shocked that I’m part of this miserable kingdom that would make Batman afraid of the dark. The other half still can’t believe that a horse as dark as Black Beauty is pulling a carriage that looks like it belongs in front of the Haunted Mansion. Blue torches light the cobblestoned streets, where people throw up streamers and banners and dance. What could they possibly be celebrating? And—And are those yellow eyes in the abyss beneath the castle?
“How’d this happen?” I mutter as the eyes retreat in the darkness.
Hesitation constricts Mom’s voice. “Do you want the birds and the bees talk?”
“No! I DON’T want to KNOW how my mom and a Skadoian Warrior got it on. I want to know everything else but THAT.”
Silence plagues the room, and I snort. “And why’s it called the birds and the bees talk anyway? I thought bunnies do it more.”
Mom’s laugh reminds me of home, and I miss it. I miss my room and my bed and my stacks of comic books. I mean, did Bruce Wayne ever come from back from his time-traveling journey? Hey, did Steve Rogers?
Mom takes the windowsill next to me. Oh, did I mention she’s wearing one of those girdle-dresses like princesses and queens did in the middle ages? It flows from her collarbone to the floor with a navy cape attached to her shoulders. A white frill ruffles across the floor, and the blue A-line dress reminds me of the sky on a summer’s morning.
Her smile is the sun itself.
“Honey, listen. I know this is difficult.”
“No, difficult is trying to finish my homework in between basketball practice and my shift at the bar. Or worse—doing it during my shift. This is whacked to the point of Tony Soprano.”
“Spoken like a true New Jerseyan.” She sighs, and I see the circlet woven into Mom’s curled hair. It’s pretty small, actually, twinkling with blue and silver crystals with just a hint of amber. Lasantra handed it to Mom reluctantly after we settled here. “The world isn’t black and white, Raleigh.”
“Please don’t call me that.”
“It’s your name.”
“Why did you even name me that? It’s a girl’s name.”
Mom bits her lower lip and smiles sheepishly. “It’s where you were conceived.”
I grimace and slap my hand over my face. “MAH! Please. TMI!”
She laughs again, holding my knee, and for a moment, I almost forget we’re in New York City—I mean, Skadoia.
Then her eyes darken, just a tad, and I know what she’s thinking. We’ve always had this connection.
“What happened…y’know, between you and…HIM?”
I’d never call the guy my father. Connor deserves that title.
A reminiscent frown puffs out her top lip. “It had been awhile since…since I had been IN LOVE. I was scorned once, a thousand lifetimes ago, and when I met…” She shakes her head to rid herself of the memories. “He wasn’t what I thought.”
“…I’m sorry, Mom.”
“Don’t be.” Her gloved fingers brush my cheek. “Aside from our current dilemma, I got you from it.” Her arms wrap me in her smell, and even after all these months, she still smells like antiseptic and chocolate chip cookies. “We’re going to get through this. I promise.”
I bury my face in the shoulder. “How?”
“By doing everything you’re told.”
We swivel to the chamber’s opening, where the Skadoian Lord now stands, flanked by three of his men. “Adeline, as always, you look ravishing.”
Mom stands in front of me, never letting go of my hand. “Bergener, as always, you look Machiavellian.”
“Oh, please, Adeline. Give Skadoia a chance. We have nice ash beaches, great schools for the little ones, and you can’t really see the dirt with all the darkness. Cleaning is a cinch. And you can’t tell me you just don’t love my interior decorator.”
The chambers are actually pretty roomy and what I think Donald Trump’s place looks like—dark and hard but oozing opulence. Marble accents the framework of the couch and chairs. The pillows are so plush their seams to almost pop. I wish I could say the blue fire in the black diamond fireplace heated the room, but I’m pretty sure the temperature has actually dropped since one of the warriors lit it. Dark bronze curtain brush against the floor, and the gold weave belts their fabric against the wall. Pictures depicting legendary battles in Knightdale—Medieval Europe and whatnot—are displayed like masterpieces.
Mom dissects the place in a few seconds and shrugs. “You should have seen Versailles when Louis first built it. Breathtaking, the gardens alone.”
The Skadoian Lord is not pleased. “Child—Ral, is it?—why don’t you come with me? I have someone I want you to meet.”
“No.” Mom tugs me to my feet behind her, holding my wrist now. “You want me to go through with this, he doesn’t leave my side.”
I think the Skadoian Lord just twitched. Or maybe it was shrug. It’s so hard to tell with the dark and creepy type, but the next time I know, my back hurts from being thrown into a wall, and Mom’s a good five feet away, one of her gloves missing. Oh, wait. It’s in my hand.
A dagger’s back against my throat, held by the same guy who slapped me upside the head and almost tore my throat out. Between then and now, he has a nasty scar down his cheek.
“You should introduce yourself,” I mutter as best I can without giving myself a tracheotomy. “Since we’re getting to be so friendly and all.”
“This is Amaris, my personal guard,” the Skadoian Lord says. “Let’s just say that however good you think you are, he actually is.”
Mom’s trembling hand reaches for the pendant around her neck, and for the first time in my entire life, I notice it’s not a snowflake.
It’s a sun—with dragon claws, like the necklace that houses my sword.
She doesn’t snap the cord, though. Instead, she forces herself to let go. Her piercing stare turns toward the Skadoian Lord, and no one, save my uncle, can receive her angered glare and rebuke. Even then, Connor took his smoking outside of the bar.
“You are a bastard.”
“No, actually, that’s your son over there.”
She slaps him, hard, like I think his head’s going to spin around.
“If you do anything to harm him, and I mean ANYTHING, I will burn your precious city to ground myself.”
“Oh, Adeline.” He kisses her cheek. “I hope you grant our children the same fire.”
“Children!” I push the knife away from my throat. “What the hell are you talking about, you—”
A meaty hand scrunches my neck and smashes me back against the wall. “You will not do that again,” he warns.
“Or you’ll what? Kill me?”
“No.” The Skadoian Lord slithers past Mom. “Killing is far too humane.”
“Yeah, I’d rather be dead than married to you.”
“Be good or I’ll make you my best man.” The Skadoian Lord slaps me on the shoulder, then crunches it UFC fighter-style. Lance’s lessons replay like a reflex, and I reach for his wrist—only for Amaris’s hand to clasp mine and twist, forcing me face first into the wall.
“Stop it!” Mom orders, and the Skadoian Lord retreats toward my mother. His smile is devious and conceded, and when he touches her tightened cheek, I jerk, only for Amaris to twist my arm worse than a burn.
“Adeline, I apologize, but it seems your runt cannot control his temper. We better get him to the doctor, maybe get him a lobotomy.”
My mom’s hardened face doesn’t melt, and it’s like she’s calling my Algebra teacher, Mrs. Heller, a Sasquatch and a Spice Girl all in one breath. “I meant what I said, Bergener.”
He, too, remains firm. “I know, Adeline.”
Amaris forces me out of the chamber before I say good-bye, and two of the warriors stays with her. The Skadoian Lord, Bergener, walks on my right, while Amaris holds me in a quasi one-armed hug.
“Don’t worry, Ral. You and I are going to good friends.”
“I doubt it.”
“Maybe, but you and Amaris here are going to be best friends. He’s your new…ahem, bodyguard.”
The dark hallway leads to the Grand Staircase, and the Skadoian Lord stops, coming to stand next to me. “Let me make this clear. For the moment, I need you, but as soon as your mother and I have one child, you’ll be obsolete.”
“Hey, Ral Dawson will never go out of style.”
His smile is so totally going to give me nightmares for the rest of my life. “You are a wealth of knowledge…for now. I’d rather torture you than the children Addy and I will have, but if you don’t cooperate…well, I’ll let you finish that thought. Amaris!” The demon’s smile actually widens. “Take young Ral here to meet our specialist.”
Amaris hesitates, and I realize, he’s not bowing. Instead, he just pushes me down the stairs. “As you wish, my lord.”
Since we have a little time, I try to get to know my new BFF. “So…you listen to dark creepy head guy for what reason again?”
He pushes me again, this time a little hard, as if he wants me to fall face first down twenty-some odd stairs. “Shut up.”
“Oh, come on. You can’t tell me you like being head lackey. What’s in it for you?”
“I get to meet new and interesting people such as yourself.”
He slaps me upside the head again. “No. I get to babysit some punk kid from Knightsdale who gets to play lab rat to a sadistic bastard with a god-complex.”
Amaris shrugs and grabs my arm. “What do you kids say? ‘My bad.’”
A thick, wooden dungeon door separates me from unending darkness, and I make a pact with myself not to let Amaris drag me through it.
FIVE MINUTES LATER
The fall from Amaris’s shoulder to the floor stings worse than Lance’s hits, and with my hands tied behind my back, I can’t even brace.
“Suck it up,” Amaris mutters and crosses his massive arms. Seriously, this guy could have been a UFC fighter. Of course, this “specialist” could have been on Lex Luthor’s payroll. Built on a cliff in an endless cavern, the laboratory has everything from a gurney to jumper cables to giant tongue depressors to—to—is that blue lightning crackling across the stalactites?
Boot heels click upon the floor, and a warrior comes forward wearing a black trench coat and a mechanic’s jumpsuit, with long hair tied back at the nape. His eyes glisten a crystal blue.
I’d seen those blue eyes before. I was stupid to think I could avoid seeing them.
“Kalidas,” I hiss.
“Hello, Dawson. We meet once more.
I swallow down my fear, but bile still rises in my throat. “What do you want from my life now?”
“What I’ve always wanted. Your screams. Indulge me, will you?”
Tentacles grew from his arms and warp about my head until all I see is darkness, lik.
A faint, grief-stricken roar pierces my ears, and the coldness freezes the air inside my lungs. The crippling pain buckles my knees, and I try desperately not to panic.
It’s not working. I can’t breathe! I can’t—
Uncle Connor made white fire from his hands, like the Skadoian Warriors can make dark projections.
And white light fills the area. Fleeting warmth allows me to take a deep, gasping breath before blue fire surrounds me and the coldness thrives. Tentacles shoot from everywhere, pinioning my arms, my ankles, keeping me from standing.
“You’re stronger than my lord wishes for you to realize.”
I cock my neck to see the specialist there, sans his coat. “So why are you telling me?”
Kalidas shrugs and unclips an escrima stick from his belt, which grows to the length of his neck down to his feet. “My and the Skadoian Lord’s goals don’t always coincide, and right now, my immediate goal is make you into MY servant before his lordship seeks you as such.”
He swings the stick like a golf club, and when it smacks my stomach, sizzling blue lightning rips through my veins. A burning zap stings my torso, wracking my nerves, and my stomach smokes. Clenching my teeth, I glare up at him through sweaty bangs.
“I didn’t give into you as a kid. I’m not going to now.”
Another zap; this time, I yelp.
“Oh, you think I was trying through our sessions?”
Another zap; longer this time, and my mind begins to swirl. I can’t tell where he is through the haze and blurriness.
“That was just practice for the main event—this event.”
Another zap and another—
“You don’t know the full power of a Skadoian Warrior, Ashling.”
—and another until he just holds it to my chest, and I give him what he wants—a pleading shrill.
“You don’t know MY full power.”
I don’t know when it happened, but my shoulder’s propped up against something—the ground, I think. My chest heaves, my mouth spitting out air faster than I can take it in. That shrieking roar cuts through the haze, and I’m back in the cavern. Stalactites threaten to stab from the ceiling, and the dark abyss before the platform wants to suck me in and never let me go.
A calloused and unforgiving hand fists in my soggy hair, and Kalidas’s rotten breath flogs my cheek.
“There’s only one way to survive, Dawson. EMBRACE THE—”
A flare of blue fire explodes from the darkness, and protesting screams dance on the edge of my hearing. Then, I see it. The dragon that almost ate me, the dragon my uncle poked with a specter—that dragon flies from the darkness, and I can see him fully now. Dark black scales race down his back, but blue horns poke down his back. The crest of his head flies back with an accent of orange, and even his plated belly shimmers in the darkness, almost a glittery sky color. His wings are magnificent, blue inside with a golden seam.
And he’s missing one eye, thanks to Connor.
He shrieks again, and more fire spits past me. By the cries I hear, I guess it must have hit Amaris and Kalidas.
Then the dragon sets his venomous amber eyes upon me.
When it lands upon the cliff right before me, standing qualdruple my height and looking down like Mrs. Heller when I hit her with that spitball—oh, I’m gonna die. I’m gonna die. I am SO gonna die!
He bends down, and his snout puffs smoke at me…then touches my cheek.
An intense coldness that’s never touched Northern Jerseyan sweeps through me, and blue flames ignite my—Oh, I’m on fire! ON FIRE!
But…it tickles, and now I’m in a small cell, watching as the warriors eat Casia’s red fire.
“CASIA!” I lunge for her, but now I stand before Lance, who in a chamber like Mom’s, wrapped in tentacles and glaring up at Bergener.
“What do you want?” he demands.
Bergener smiles deviously. “My life back.”
Then I’m with Connor’s, but he’s not as lucky. Lasantra’s tentacle steals blood through his wounds. Huffing, my uncle collapses in his chains, looking up at her through his sodden bangs.
“Tell me, Connor! Where’s your crossing?”
“Newark, New Jersey. Good luck finding it there.”
Her tentacle retracts to become her hand, and she wipes his own blood on his cheek. “Then perhaps I’ll just have to ask your nephew.”
She stalks toward the door, and he mutters, “High Point.”
Lasantra stops and pivots on her heel. “Excuse me?”
“Connor!” I step forward. “You can’t! What have you—”
“It’s in High Point Monument, all right?” He spats out blood, disgusted. “Durant, forgive me.”
As if I didn’t think it could get any worse, I see Mom before an altar, surrounded by warriors, waiting for the Skadoian Lord.
She’s going to marry him.
Then I see the dragon, soaring through the night sky of Skadoia with only the moon as his guide—oh, and a little dragon, matching his father—no, his MOTHER—down to the golden seam of his wings.
My back arches off the ground, breath exploding in my lungs, as I once more lay in the cavern. My body shutters; adrenaline, fear, and coldness flood my veins. Sweat dribbles down my flushed cheeks and cools, and I realize the dragon’s not here to eat me.
She’s here to save me.
To Be Continued…