Apocalypse averted for another day, according to the numbers at least.
Energy field normal.
Flow and transfer of power balanced.
Realm splice at zero.
Arute shift at zero.
Leakage of void energy on either side at zero.
Incidence of accidental arute jumps in the last day at zero. And in the last week. In the last month. The last year.
Ori Vikan stared at the pages of information spread out on the table in front of him and didn’t even bother trying to hold back his sigh. Slouching down in his chair, he tossed the papers he’d been studying onto the table and scrubbed his hands over his face, rubbing at bleary eyes.
By the Light, what a surprise…
The arute, the barrier separating his world from the human’s, was stable. It had always been stable, aside from tiny fluctuations of less than a percent either way. It would always be stable.
Dropping his hands, he let his head rest back against the chair and closed his eyes.
If it weren’t for the whole possible exploding world scenario, he would wonder why they bothered training bidkailna to read it anymore. He had spent most of his life doing exactly that, analyzing it every day, but it had been thousands of years since the damn arute had shifted by so much as a flicker.
Well, when I’m no longer needed as a bidkail at least it’s never too late to take up the family business. Selling dreams isn’t so bad.
So why, when all evidence pointed to the usual perfect balance of energy, did he feel so uneasy? And what, exactly, was he supposed to tell Daura when she arrived? He had called a meeting with her for what? Because the arute was too stable? It sounded crazy, even to him. In his mind, he could already see ‘the look’ she would give him.
He stood up slowly, a little stiff from sitting so long, and stretched. Maybe they could discuss it over a meal and catch up on old times. At least then it wouldn’t be a complete waste of time. Glancing at the reports one last time, he grabbed his cloak from a hook on the wall and headed for the door. He hoped some air would help him clear his head as he waited.
The early evening was cooler than he had expected as he stepped outside. He locked the door before turning to walk towards the arag, hidden by a circle of small trees in the very back of his garden. His biggest responsibility. One of the weak points in the arute, where accidental jumps could happen.
And yet I haven’t had to re-balance it even once in the past hundred years.
He sighed again, pulling his cloak over his shoulders. Why couldn’t he just accept it as a blessing? Re-balancing was time-consuming, intricate work that could take weeks to complete at just one arag site. He knew he should be relieved.
He looked at the small, seemingly innocent empty space between the trees and shook his head at himself. As he did every day, he raised a palm towards the arag, letting his energy flare out to scan.
Daura was going to think he’d lost his mind.
Not a flicker of instability.
No hint of void energy.
At one of the supposedly most unstable points.
Fantastic. He was seeing shadows where there were none.
He was dropping his hand and turning away when something caught his attention, just out of the corner of his eye. He froze, scowling at that space again.
No. This is lack of sleep. I did not just see that.
He waited. Just in case he wasn’t suffering a mental break brought on by exhaustion and paranoia. One never knew.
A lone, black speck floated between the trees.
Then another a few seconds later.
It could be a bug, if living creatures didn’t naturally avoid aragna.
It could be a hallucination.
Or it could be an exploding vortex of death.
He extended his palm, scanning again, and closed his eyes to concentrate fully.
And was met with… absolutely nothing out of the ordinary…
He frowned and pushed harder. He sensed the edges of the arute, frayed like soft cloth, fluttering as if moved by the wind. There was a very subtle pull as energy passed between the realms, but nothing outside of the normal safe range.
He moved closer, stopping at the border of the trees, and let his palm rest directly against the arag. It was a foolish, dangerous thing to do with no other bidkailna there to assist him, but he really didn’t care at that point. Observing from a safe distance had given him nothing, and if he wasn’t imagining the bits of void energy…
He examined those fragile threads that made up the perimeter of the arag. They shifted, flowing along his energy like water against his skin. There, hidden amongst the natural strands, were very faint lines of some foreign energy he had never felt before. He wrapped his energy around one of the strange threads, amazed that it blended in so well, and tried to examine it.
Without warning, the edges of the arag tightened, drawing in on itself. He stayed still, carefully trying to pull his energy away, but the arag wouldn’t release him. His skin tingled and his breath caught, the tiny hairs on the back of his neck standing up. Afraid he would be dragged across the arute, he wrenched his energy away from those grasping strands, and immediately regretted it.
He had used more force than he’d meant to.
His eyes shot open, and he tried to hurl himself away, but it was too late.
The empty space between the trees exploded right in his face.
Shauna Pierson swiped at the red hair falling over her forehead as she admired her handy-work, not really caring if she got dirty. The garden was perfect. In a matter of weeks flowers would be blooming everywhere.
Cheered by the thought, she grinned as she rose to her feet and tugged off her gardening gloves. She tucked them inside a pocket in her shorts, and turned towards the house.
That’s when she felt it again. A sensation like a breath against the back of her neck.
She whipped around, frowning towards that darkened corner of her garden where nothing ever grew besides mushrooms and some strange moss she couldn’t get rid of. It gave her the creeps sometimes, but today had been different.
The feeling had been more persistent.
She shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. The sun was going down, taking its warmth with it and adding to her uneasiness as she watched that empty space become even darker.
This is ridiculous. I’m a grown woman. I will not be afraid of a damn patch of moss.
Squaring her shoulders, she dropped her hands and walked purposefully towards it. She was going to march right over there, see that there was nothing weird or eerie about it, get over whatever her issue was, and dig up the whole freaking thing the next day just to prove it.
She would plant something there. It would grow like a normal plant. And it would be awesome.
End of story.
Just because she could, and she wasn’t afraid, thank you very much, she made herself stand right in the middle of the space.
A shiver immediately raced up her spine and her whole body automatically stiffened.
She sniffed indignantly. It was cold out. It was perfectly normal to shiver.
The hairs at the nape of her neck stood on end.
She shifted her weight from one foot to the other, wrapping her arms around herself again. It wasn’t so bad here. Very quiet. Very… Peaceful… There in the shadows. In the dark. Where it was way too freaking silent.
Something… Moved around her. It was a breeze… But it really didn’t feel like one somehow. Then there was a pressure all over her body, moving like water. Her skin tingled.
She felt a subtle tug, everywhere all at once, and almost lost her balance.
Her breath caught, and her eyes widened.
Okay. Weird. Very weird. Walking away now. Calmly.
The second she moved a wall of air hit her like a tornado had just landed on her head. A roar filled her ears, drowning out her scream as she was jerked off her feet.
It was the relentless tingling that slowly woke her. Like her entire body had fallen asleep, the sensation of little pin-pricks fluttered over her skin. Shauna had no idea where she was, or why she was laying on the ground outside, or why her limbs felt so heavy.
Somehow finding the energy to roll onto her side, she carefully sat up, covering her face with her hands as she tried to remember what happened.
I was standing on that damn Amityville patch of moss… like a moron…
She jerked her head up, looking wildly around as it all came crashing back to her. Panic clenched in her gut so tightly she thought she would pass out again right there.
Where the hell am I?
She wasn’t in her back yard anymore. She was sitting in the grass, looking at someone else’s garden. Outside someone’s… little stone cottage? She took in the tall stonework fence around the cottage, the strange plants that she didn’t recognize at all, the faint lights glowing outside the fence and in front of the cottage in what looked like waist-high decorative pillars, all in that same multi-hued stone… and what looked like a dead body laying about ten feet away.
“Are you… awake over there?” she said, her voice annoyingly hesitant to her own ears. When there was no response, she carefully rose to her feet and started moving towards him.
“Okay… Calm. Remain calm,” she said, trying to stem the panic welling up inside her. “He’s not dead. And I can’t be that far from home.”
She paused when she was close enough to make out what he was wearing. Any other time, in any other circumstances, she would be surprised. He was in some kind of re-enacting get up. Cloak, leather pants, linen shirt, worn boots that came up to his knees, the whole deal. But, at this point, it was just one more detail on the list of strange, and it barely registered when she was so busy praying this guy, whoever he was, wasn’t dead.
A soft groan escaped him, the unexpected sound making her jump and gasp. Cursing herself for acting like such a ninny, she took a deep, steadying breath.
He raised a hand, eyes clenched shut as if he had a headache, and pushed a hand through long, light brown hair.
“Are you okay?” she asked, finding her voice again.
Hazel eyes snapped open, focusing on her as he lurched into a sitting position. She could see by the way his eyes widened that he was as shocked by her as she was by him. He struggled to his feet, much faster than she had managed, and backed away from her.
“Tun ek suna…” he said.
Shauna was beyond confused at this point. “So, uh, that’s a ‘yes’ then?” Fear was beginning to chip away at her ability to think this all through, and she was starting to wonder if she were in a coma in some hospital somewhere, dreaming this all up. Or maybe she had died, and this was a really odd version of the afterlife? Her stomach fell at the thought, and she felt a little rush of dizziness.
He raised an eyebrow at her. “Yes, I am fine,” he answered, his words colored with an accent she couldn’t place. Scrubbing his hands over his face as if he were tired, and had no more idea what to do than she did, he sighed. “I won’t be able to say the same when Daura gets here…” he muttered before lowering his hands and returning his attention to her. “Are you hurt?”
“No… I don’t think so,” she said, wrapping her arms around herself.
“Are you sure?” he asked, starting to move closer.
Shauna took a quick step back. She was glad he wasn’t dead and all, but she had no idea who this man was. He could have dragged her away from her home for all she knew.
He stopped, holding his hands out from his sides, palms up. “I won’t hurt you,” he said, his soft tone coaxing her to listen. “I only wanted to assure myself that you are not injured.” His gaze moved over her in a clinical way as he looked for any obvious wounds. He seemed to linger on her bare legs.
Heat singed her cheeks, and she tried to swallow past the dryness in her throat. “Um, maybe I’m a little sore.” His eyes met hers again, his expression softening into a gentle smile that made her knees feel weak.
“Will you wait here?” he asked. “Then we will find someone to help us.”
She nodded, but inside her head was spinning. She had no idea what had happened, or where she was, and now this stranger was telling her they needed to find help.
“I’m alive. I’m fine. I’m going to go home,” she babbled, trying to distract herself. “And as soon as I get there I’ll just set that moss on fire and that will fix everything…”
She took several deep breaths while she tried to figure out what to do next. She watched Robin Hood over there stop at a circle of trees and close his eyes, extending his hands in front of him. She could hear him whispering in that strange language he had used before.
“And now medieval man is talking to the trees. Awesome,” she muttered under her breath, slowly backing away towards the open gate behind her.
A ball of light suddenly erupted between his hands, and she stopped dead in her tracks.
“Okay…” she said, her heart beating like a drum in her chest. “I’m in a coma somewhere, having a drug-laced dream…” But if she was dreaming, why could she feel herself breaking out in a cold sweat?
She watched as the ball of light fractured into tendrils and shot out from his palms, wrapping around the trees like serpents, and her breath picked up so fast that she couldn’t pull in anything more than quick, shallow gasps of air.
If she was already unconscious somewhere, why were the edges of her vision getting hazier by the second?
Laboring for breath, she spun away from the man and ran for the gate.
A shrouded figure stepped through the opening before she could reach it, and Shauna stumbled to a halt. In the light from the columns she could just make out the hard expression on the older woman’s face as she scowled at the man near the trees. Then pale blue eyes glanced over to meet hers, the weight of the woman’s stare pinning her in place.
“Calm yourself, child,” she said, lips softening into an almost gentle smile. Her voice was kind, yet still so commanding that she couldn’t make herself disobey the order and continue running. “Your own fear is making you ill.” She moved closer and raised a weathered hand to Shauna’s brow. “Rest now. We’ll take care of you.”
Blackness immediately swallowed her, dragging her down into unconsciousness.
Beyond the Gate (Chapter One) <– You are here.