False Dawn #14: "Crossing Over"
Part Four of Four: Lessons Forgotten
Short Story Format
Devin Leigh Michaels
The blue fire burns Casia, and for a were-phoenix, that’s pretty scary. She screams, thrashes, and fights the blue flames that engulf her body, but her own red refuse to light. Thumping upon the floor, her breath gone, she realizes this is the end. She won’t end up like Reger. She won’t give into the warriors. She’d rather die, and that’s fine with them.
She doesn’t expect me to save her, but I try to exceed people’s expectations.
Of course, the dragon whose neck I’m straddling kinda helps.
Torch—as I like to call her—knocks down the door, faster than a dog hunting Doritos, and her blue flames dowse the warriors. I jump off Torch’s back and wrap Casia’s arm about my neck, helping her up.
“…Ral?” she rasps. “What—?”
Her eyes widen at the monolith sight of beautiful and ferocity before her.
I smirk. “Can I keep it? PLEASE.”
She doesn’t say no.
Lance has long since been afraid of deadly situations. For a guy in his fifteenth lifetime, you get used to dying. Doesn’t mean you like it, but you get used it.
Tied by shadow tentacles and “guarded” by three warriors, he hitches one foot upon the coffee table and sits back.
“Sooo… any of you guys afraid of the dark?”
The warriors remain stoic.
“Oh, come on. There has to a support group for that or something.”
Silence greets his smirk.
“Tell you what? You can close your eyes and raise your hands, so the others don’t have to know. I won’t tell. Scouts honor. Well, I was never a boy scout, but you get the—”
I finally help the warriors—for once—by allowing Torch to burn through the chamber’s window. Jumping inside, I grant the warriors a few swift kicks, a back flip, and a slash of my sword to free them from Lance’s wrath.
Wow. I took down Skadoian Warriors.
Lance grumbles and shakes his head. “Great job, Page. Now who’s going to get me out of these things?”
I place my hand about his back, and a cold sensation creeps up my arm as I absorb the bonds.
Yeah, you probably want to ask about that.
“Oh, they just disappeared.” I head back to Torch. “Come on. Let’s go.”
Lance stares down at his wrists, baffled, but doesn’t ask. Right now, we have more pressing matters.
Lasantra trails a finger down my uncle’s cheek, then his chin, and finally his throat. Shivers tickle up Connor’s body, and he raises his chin to avoid her touch. It doesn’t help.
“You’re lying to me,” she coos.
“Uh, really not.”
“I wonder…” Lasantra levels a dagger close to Connor’s crotch. “If we cut off certain parts, do they grow back, even if you can live without them?”
That’s when Torch’s tail knocks out a wall. The rocks crumble inside, missing Lasantra, but Casia doesn’t, throwing whatever power she has left. When she’s done, the mistress of darkness lies upon the tiled floor, smoking.
Connor’s bright smile lights the room. “Now that’s what I call a rescue.”
“Having second thoughts?”
Adeline shakes her head. “No, my lord.”
The Skadoian Lord laughs heartily like a hungry lion and touches her cheek like a loving husband. “ ‘My lord?’ You ARE learning. In time, you might even appreciate my presence. ”
“Don’t push your luck.”
“I won’t, but unlike Durant, I will not forsake you or your brother, Adeline. You have my word.”
Adeline hesitates only for a moment before she places her hand in the Skadoian Lord’s. His thumb massages her knuckles.
A kind, almost humane smile perks up the Skadoian Lord’s cheeks, and he turns to the man draped in a blue, black, and white robes. “Please begin.”
The minister returns a nod. “The time has come for the two kingdoms, Zenith’s Rise and Skadoia, to finally merge under the banner of holy matron—”
The doors to the throne room burst open, and Torch leads us through. While smoke escapes her snout, anger scraps my words. “I object!”
Lance whirls his sword about his hand. “We’re not to that part yet.”
“Do I have to wait? Because I have better things to do with my life.”
“Don’t we all?” Red flames blaze about Casia’s hands.
Connor, bleeding and exhausted, steals a baton from a warrior, and blue lightning crackles on its end. “Bergener, in case you didn’t know, my sister is already taken.”
Okay, where did that come from? I whirl to Connor. “WHAT?!”
He mentally slaps himself. “Right. Right. I’ve got to remember you don’t know these things.”
“WAIT!” Mom throws up her hands, coming to stand before the Skadoian Lord like a human shield. What’s she doing? “I—I want this. Please. Don’t interfere, Ral.”
“Mom, what’re you talking about?” I gesture to the Skadoian Lord, using a specific finger. “How can you possibly—?”
“I’ve been foolish, Ral. In Zenith’s Rise…” Her eyes mourn her life forgotten, and I try not to believe that this is all true—that she’d had so many lives. It seems so surreal, even as she wears the circlet. “I had a duty to fulfill, and I abandoned that duty for my family, but I can’t ignore who I am anymore and what this means to Zenith’s Rise.”
“If our two kingdoms merge, perhaps war doesn’t have to be inevitable. Perhaps our worlds can live in harmony. Perhaps I can prevent all those deaths.”
I hear her unspoken, ‘Perhaps I can prevent yours.’
She nods to the minister. “Proceed.”
Even as he begins to speak, even as I see Lance and Casia look to Connor for a sign to strike, I know that this has never been their fight. As much as they tell me I’m along for the ride on THEIR journey, I know the truth.
They’re along on MINE.
I lied to Lance and Casia. I lied to my mom and Connor.
I lied to myself.
I knew the truth before we stepped into Skadoia, but I didn’t—don’t—want to admit it. As if believing that I was part of this place would make it real, and I wanted nothing more than for it be a night terror, lived for days on end, long buried where no one could find it.
Remembering lessons I spent nights crying to forget, I reach out my hand and shoot a spark of blue fire at the Skadoian Lord’s head.
“Get away from my mother!”
He swipes with a tentacle, dispersing it like swatting a gnat, but his widened eyes scream in disbelief. “It isn’t possible,” he mutters.
Connor, Casia, and Lance hold the same shocked gaze, but I’m moving, tearing my lavaliere from my neck. As Maiden’s Glory forms in my hand, I bring it down upon the Skadoian Lord as he brings his staff to bear. Blue lightning crackles over both weapons, tickling my hands. For the first time in more than six years, I let my eyes grow black, my skin cold, and my hair an ice blue.
“You’ve been trained,” the Skadoian Lord snaps, kicking my stomach.
Lance’s lessons keep me moving, and I flip into a crouch, my sword before my face. “I’ve been tortured. There’s a difference.”
The warriors pounce to protect their leader, but Lance, Casia, and Connor protect me. Torch sets the throne room ablaze, her flames crashing upon us like waves hitting the shore.
In the middle of the chaos, the Skadoian Lord and I stand at odds. “How…How do you do it?” He slashes my sword, and when it spins out of my reach, he throws all his weight behind his crackling staff.
I throw all mine to construct a shadow shield, and while it doesn’t save me from the blast, it cushions it. Thrown back, I skid to a halt just before my sword, but as I reach for it, a tentacle as sharp and pointy as a pitchfork stabs my shoulder, pinning me against the floor.
I shriek before my instincts bite down on my lower lip.
The Skadoian Lord steps on my good hand and stops it from getting my sword. He leans down close to my face. “WHO WAS IT?” he demands. “Who taught you? Was it Torence? Nax? Ender?”
Paralyzing pain steals tears from my eyes, and I can hardly focus on his commands, let alone breathing.
I do—with a knee to the crotch.
“BITE ME!” The surprise and pain trips him, and with my good hand free, I retaliate with a lance to his chest. At the last possible moment, he dives, and the tentacle sinks into his side.
Blue blood slicks my tentacle, and he places a hand on it. Coldness seeps through my shocked body, and as he absorbs it, his dark grin demonizes. The momentum tugs me forward until his hand clenches my neck. His breath rankles of fish and nicotine, but it’s gone a moment later when he cuts off my air supply.
“I will find the traitor,” he seethes, “and when I do, he will pay for making you an annoyance.”
I somehow suck the air to grunt, “Can…I watch?”
I feel the stab, but its twist, the proverbial knife in my gut, really hurts. I cry out, and he tosses me halfway across the battlefield.
“RAL!” I hear Casia whisper or at least that’s what it sounds like.
“No…” Lance gasps, and Connor lunges forward, only to be met by a wall of shadows.
My shivering hands press down on my wound, but still, blood squeezes through my clenched fingers. I kick off the ground, trying to squirm away, but a snail moves faster.
“Oh, don’t leave yet. We’re not done with the experiments.”
Somehow, that seems worse than option A, and like Casia, I choose option A.
I will never be their pawn.
Throwing up my palm, I form a shadow shield, but his tentacle cracks it in half and stabs my leg.
“Oh, come on, now,” the Skadoian Lord chortles. “You can do better than that.”
I toss a weak tentacle at him, but he absorbs it. The shadow connection between us lugs me about a foot above the ground. The slashes rip my skin faster than a gangster on the subway, and I don’t feel it, not really. It’s as if someone else’s body is being ravaged, their skin torn by a shredder. Their blood, not mine.
When he drops me unkindly to the ground, I don’t even feel the impact over the sharp agony.
A shadow casts over me, and through half-lidded eyes, I watch as the Skadoian Lord descends.
“You will learn to respect me, Dawson. Your mother is mine. Soon, your friends will surrender, and even your world will be consumed by darkness. I offered you a place at my side.”
“As…as a guinea pig,” I gasp.
“If you would have cooperated, you could have been more. Much more,” he entices, and his cold hand slithers through my sodden hair. “You still can be.”
I spit in his face, and his hand comes down.
I’m not quite sure what happened after that, but on the edge of my hearing, my mother soothes me to sleep.
“I already am, my lord.”
The Skadoian Lord, Bergener, slapped him pretty hard, and he’s not moving. I burn through three warriors, but it’s not enough.
Luckily, Addy’s already there, snagging the Skadoian Lord in a tight grip, and she presses her lips firmly against his. White fire flowed from her shoulders like a cape, crashing to the floor before his blue flames explode from his back, twisting and warping about hers. They fight against one another, the distraction we needed. The warriors disengage to watch their king fight a queen, and I land next to Ral. Connor and Lance grab the boy by the shoulders, an arm about each of their necks.
“Dame, burn us a path,” Lance commands.
Under normal circumstances, I would have told him to go to Hell, but I listen, this time allowing my entire body to burn. I zip past the warriors, my flames a massive bonfire that tosses them to the side. What I don’t stop, Torch—Ral’s dragon which he will certainly NOT be keeping—takes out, and the young dragon engages the warriors to cover our escape.
Before we leave the throne room, I glance back to see the blue flames win out, crashing down upon Addy. Her eyes—they’re a dull, ice fire.
I look at Ral. She’d want us to save him.
Torch helps us up to a cliff overlooking the city, and Connor lays Ral down, gently tearing away whatever cloth is left of his shirt.
His eyes jerks up, glaring into Lance’s and mine. “I’ve seen this before—the white glitter about the wounds. He’s…He’s drunken from the Fountain of Youth.”
“WHAT?” Lance takes off his shirt and presses down on Ral’s shoulder. “That’s…That’s not…”
I slap my forehead. “That day…we let him go back for his necklace. He must’ve stopped by the fountain.”
“It probably saved his life,” Connor adds, cupping Lance’s and my cheeks. “The wounds probably would have killed him. This at least gives you some time to get him medical attention.” Then, he squeezes like a sumo wrestler. “It takes more than one drink to become immortal, so you will not let him near it again—RIGHT?”
Lance mutters, “Right.”
“Totally,” I agree.
“Good.” He lets go, kissing Lance and me on the head. Then, he oversees Skadoia. “I…I can’t leave Addy like that, and I know Ral will be safe with you.”
“I’ll stay,” Lance volunteers. “It’s not safe for me to be by Ral anyway.”
“I trust you, and besides, if you stay, Bergener will use you if he doesn’t just kill you. And Casia, they’ll torture you again until you succumb.”
“I will never—” I begin, and he shushes me with a hand upon my head.
“I know. That’s why you have to go.”
“We’ll…” I fight through the sudden constriction in my throat. “We’ll be back,” I promise.
His smile comes from the land of the sun. “Don’t be.”
Pouring rain pounds our shoulders when we fall through the bust of Edgar Allan Poe and once more stand in Knightsdale—uh, Richmond, Virginia.
Lance pleads with me, “We…We have to take him to the hospital.”
“Are you crazy?!” I scream. “You know what will happen if we do.”
Streaks stain his cheeks, and they’re not from the rain. “I know.”
Ten hours, two surgeries, and one tube stuck in Ral’s mouth later, the inevitable occurs as I have my feet crossed on Ral’s bed and Lance is reading a not-so-scrupulous magazine.
Two suits appear in the hospital room doorway.
“Casia LaCroux, Joshua Sterling.” The female’s voice sounds practiced, forced to be stern. “I’m Agent Holly Skylar. This is Agent Darnell Towne. We’re here for the boy.”