Thursday, March 8, 2012

Monthly Story Treat #3

e-novella written by Vanya D.

~ Chapter 2 ~

I watched Dawn swagger toward the moonlit marble structure, as if she was about to conquer a whole new world. Perhaps she was. I didn't know what was on the other side, but I hoped that the witch was right and it wouldn't be a danger to Dawn.

She didn't look back – perhaps it was easier this way. Not for her, but for me. I hated to see her go, especially since I couldn't follow. And I wanted to follow her, to the end of the world if must be. The last couple of years, while she'd been Connor's, were a torture to me. I'd barely been able to stand looking at them being happy together. At least I never had to pretend that I liked it. There were times when I hoped that the internal pain tearing at my heart would really make me bleed. That it would put me at peace for good. Because then I wouldn't have to see her in someone else's arms, feeling someone else's kisses.

It was even more wrong, because that someone had been my Chief to whom I'd owed allegiance. He was not only my leader, he was my brother, he was my soul bearer. And now he was gone and I was left to figure out this mess he left behind.

A huge mess that I couldn't see the end of. A huge mess with Valiant at the center. A huge mess that could get me killed.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and concentrated on observing Dawn. Every step she took was elegant, measured and quiet. She was a Hunter alright. But she was also much more than that. She was beautiful in body and soul, she was loyal and fierce. She could be the perfect Chief to the Crew should my plan not succeed tonight.

That morbid thought again. It seemed to be all I thought about these days. But it wouldn't lead me anywhere.

I'd rather think of lust. I'd rather feel it scourge my insides and leave me barely breathing. And with that sweet, curvy body swaying before me in the tight Hunter outfit... it wasn't all that difficult.

I'd longed to touch her, to feel her in my arms for so long, and when Connor died and I was pointed out as the leader, I saw my dreams finally come to life. But Dawn was a wreck. She was devastated by his death because she'd given him her heart, her soul, her everything. Yet, when I saw her earlier in the garage, I could tell that there was a difference, her aura had changed. It wasn't as black as it had been, and I had made the move. I had claimed her as mine. I had given her my scent. And she gave me hope.

Now I had to watch the girl I loved walk into a world I could never enter; a world that could be dangerous. A world that could trap or kill her.

I saw her tiny pale hand touch the black stone then make a trail to the wooden door. As soon as her skin connected with the wood her whole body began to shake violently. For a second she remained standing, then her body crumpled in a heap on the ground. But her hand never disconnected from the door.

So it worked. Dawn went through.

I wanted to run to her and cradle her in my arms, but it was out of the question. It was dangerous for both of us. Instead, I took out my cell phone and pressed 2. The ringer sounded two times, then she picked up.

“Am I right to suppose it worked?” Rebecca asked without any sort of a greeting.

I sighed. “Yes. Yes, you are.” I hoped she wouldn't ask for a pay bonus for it, though I wouldn't put it past her.

“Good. Now tell me exactly what happened.” She urged with the curiosity of a first degree witch. I could hear traffic noise in the background, which meant she was already on her way here. Good.

“It was exactly as you predicted, although you didn't mention that she'd be able to sense Valiant's energy on the stone.”

“She did what?” The astonishment in her voice surprised me. Usually she was the one who knew things.

“Yeah. When she first touched the house, not the door, something happened. I guess she read the energy fields or something, then this shadow came out of nowhere and covered her, as if it wanted to suck the life out of her.” I pressed my lips tightly at the memory. The image was clear in my mind – Dawn, being sucked by that hideous black cloud. “Good thing I was fast enough and pulled her out on time. Otherwise, who knows what could've happened.”

A snort reached my ear. “Oh, you know exactly what would've happened. If she really felt Valiant's energy, she would've been sucked into it. He's a fairy prince, his imprint is powerful enough to consume her whole. And she isn't exactly intact to begin with.”

“Yeah, well, it's that flaw that we counted on, isn't it?”

“True.” She said dismissively. “So how did it go?”

“Well, naturally, I had to tell her about the debt, but other than that it went as predicted. She touched the door and her spirit got sucked to the other side of whatever's in that house.”

She chuckled briefly. “You still don't believe me, do you?”

“How can I? You say it's a portal to the spirit world, but how are you so sure when you haven't seen a ghost in your life?”

“In my life, no – but in my dreams I see them every night. There's something great stirring in there Eric, trust my word on it.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. I wanted to believe her, mostly because that would explain a whole lot of odd occurrences. But ghosts? Really? Then again, perhaps I did believe her. Why else would I have Dawn go in that house when it was clear that no body could ever cross its energy field? Perhaps I just didn't want to believe. I didn't want to have another type of creature to deal with.

“Fine. Whatever you say. I'm waiting for you.” Then I clicked off and began unloading the truck.

Three bags of sea salt, a couple of duffels full of thick light blue candles that smelled like dew and freshness, two fifty-pound clay pillars and a gallon of holy water later, the lights from Rebecca's mini-cooper danced on the surface of the black marble, announcing her timely arrival. I continued unloading the ceremony stuff without paying her any attention, though I did notice that she was already changed in her blue robe. If I remembered correctly, blue was for calmness and security. It also appealed to the feminine side of nature.

“So how are you gonna do this? Any special arrangement?” I asked, wiping the sweat from my forehead on my sleeve.

She didn't respond right away. Instead, she walked over to where Dawn's body lied, then turned her back on the house and started counting her steps.

“Thirteen.” Rebecca announced and reached for a packet of salt. “Thirteen feet all around her should be enough. Sprinkle the salt, but try to maintain an arc. We don't want any angular structures here.”

“Shouldn't we set up the pillars and the rest of the equipment before we do the salt? It's only logical.” I stated, as if I knew what I was talking about.

Rebecca narrowed her eyes on me. “No.” And that was that.

I sighed, took a packet of salt and began to work. When the ground was sparkling with the moonlit salt crystals, I was made to set up the two pillars right in the middle of the salted area. Exactly six feet away from the line of the arc and six feet away from Dawn's body, and about a foot apart. Then I watched as Rebecca positioned the candles. Each one had an exact spot, and not an inch to another direction. I had to give it to her – the girl knew what she was doing.

Watching her work reminded me of that one time we'd tried to have a relationship. It hadn't worked out because Dawn was always on my mind. But I had tried really hard. So hard that it would show on the outside, in my body language. Rebecca would always tell me to 'just relax and take it easy', but I couldn't.

It was the same kind of thing right now – she wanted to work calmly, quietly with the exact amount of concentration that she needed. While I was a ball of tense nerves that threatened to implode on itself, creating a huge hole in the middle of my chest.

“Stop fidgeting, Eric.” I heard Rebecca's calming voice waves reach my skin, making my hairs stand on end. “I can't concentrate with your energy being so intense. It's busting the whole idea of the security ritual.”

“Easy for you to say.” I muttered. “It's not you who's gonna die if this thing doesn't work.”

“This thing will work just fine if you stop working yourself up. Besides, there are still four good hours until dawn, so there's nothing to worry about.” She said, while circling around the pillars, sprinkling everything with holy water.

“If I know Valiant, he wouldn't wait till dawn. He'll be here earlier. What's to stop him from killing you or Dawn when he sees what we're up to?”

When she turned around, there was a grin on her face. “I didn't tell you before, because I know your binding is absolute and you would've stopped me. But now that it's all done, I think it's safe to say that there's no way Valiant could come in a hundred feet radius from this place.” When I looked at her dumbly, she rolled her eyes and went on to explain. “This stuff you were sprinkling around was iron chloride mixed with table salt. But under the moonlight they look the same.”

“Iron?” I asked, a slow smile spreading over my lips. She nodded. “You're pretty smart for a witch.”

Rebecca smirked. “I am, aren't I? He can't come close to us, nor will he hurt you before dawn – the binding works both ways. So just sit down and watch.” She said, placed a large bowl of holy water on the ground and sat next to it.

I shook my head still unable to believe how she'd tricked the prince and me. But on the inside I was happy. We were protected until dawn. Now we only had to hope that Dawn could figure out what was going on in that house.

I sat down next to Rebecca and concentrated on the water until an image of a young woman dressed in tight crimson pants appeared in it.


I felt like I'd been sucked into the tiniest tube of an overly stuffed vacuum cleaner only to be spat out later with every bone of my body crushed to finest powder. I was sure that I should hurt all over, but all I felt was the distant beating of my heart.

I remembered the light that had enveloped me as soon as I'd touched the wooden door – it's warmth had reverberated through my entire body, leaving a sweet feeling of peace. Now that feeling was gone, replaced by a tingling numbness.

“Silly human,” A voice came from somewhere above me. I tilted my head so I could see the stranger's face, but instead I got personal with his boots. Heavy boots caked in dust and dry mud, and they were no more than an inch away from my mouth. “Are you going to get to your feet or are you planning to lie in the dirt? It makes no difference to me whether you walk or I drag you. So what will it be?”

I didn't want to respond, but I knew that I shouldn't be proud and self-important when I wasn't on my turf. “I'll walk.” I said, but even to my ears it sounded distorted, like I was speaking in a different frequency.

Then very slowly, very deliberately, I tried to push myself up, using both my arms as leverage. All I managed to do was fall over myself in a terrible humiliation. And the worst part was that I had no idea where each part of my body was. I did feel my arms, but I could hardly control them. And my legs... did I still have them?

The stranger sighed in a manner that had me believe he wasn't seeing a helpless puppet for the first time. “Let me help you, girlie.” He said then and the next thing I knew, I was heaved up, almost eye level with him, pressed tightly against his chest. He cocked up a one sided grin while studying the surprise on my face.

And how could I not be surprised? I felt like I was paralyzed from the neck down, excluding the feeble life that ran through my arms. The rest of my body was like dead. There was no sensation in it whatsoever.

“What's wrong with me? Why am I like this?” I demanded, wanting more than anything to just stand on my own two feet, away from the stranger with the cocky smile. Still though, I couldn't deny he was gorgeous. He must've been my age, or at least he looked my age. He had sparkling blue eyes, a straight nose and high cheekbones. His mouth was in the shape of Cupid's bow, and that one sided grin only made him more delicious. There was a faint scar running from the bridge of his nose through his left cheek and down his neck, but so far this was the only imperfection I noticed.

“Because you have no body on this side, silly. And by default spirits can't walk on their own. Until they're taught that is.”

I looked at him dumbly, unable to understand a single word he said. “Wait, what?”

A short laugh came out of his throat, tickling the skin on my face, which seemed to be the only sensitive part of my body so far.

“You don't know, do you? Nobody seems to know nowadays.” He said with a smirk.

“Know what?”

“You're dead, girlie. And you've passed through the veil, so now you're in the spirit world. And like I said, spirits aren't meant to walk on their own. That's what the bodies are for. But, walking can be taught and learned, so no worries, you'll be up and about pretty quick.” The stranger explained as if he were talking to a two-year old.

“Do you realize how insane you sound right now? I have a solid body you know. Besides, I'm not dead.” He cocked his brow at that, his smile spreading even wider. “I'm not! I came here with a life-depending mission, and instead I'm a useless paralytic who can't even stand on her own two feet!”

“Now that right there's called wishful thinking. You're dead as a doornail, and the sooner you accept it, the better.”

I knew what was better alright, but accepting a death I knew wasn't real, wasn't on the list. I just needed my legs, so I could walk on my own and figure out what this place was, and why it was so special that Valiant would want access to it. So far the only things I've seen were a dirty floor (or was it ground?) and a weird stranger, and neither of them were a clue to my whereabouts.

“When will I be able to walk?”

“As soon as you realize that you need only will it.” The stranger declared matter-of-factly.

I looked at him in disbelief. Could it really be that easy? Will it and voila? I narrowed my eyes at him, letting him know that I didn't trust him for one second. “Show me.”

He rolled his eyes but complied. “Okay, here. I'll put you on your feet, but you must want to feel them touching the ground if you're to stand on them by yourself. Otherwise you'll end up back on the ground, and this time I'll just drag you to town.”

It infuriated me that he sounded serious. For some reason, I knew that this wasn't just a threat and that he'd do good on his word. I clenched my teeth and nodded.

The stranger put his hands on my waist, and I felt them there, on both sides of my body. Steady, strong and tight. A moment later, I was at least a head shorter than him and had to look up in order to meet his eyes. The cocky grin was back on his lips, mocking me silently.

“Do you feel the ground underneath?”

No, I didn't. I didn't feel anything but his hands on my waist. I wanted those hands gone, but at the same time I knew that if he let go of me, I would be in a heap on the ground, and that was the last place I wanted to be.

“Could you tell me precisely what I need to do? This isn't exactly easy.” I said, looking down at my unresponsive feet.

“Sure it's easy. Just imagine yourself walking. There's nothing more to it than that.” He said and let go of me.

Before I could understand what was happening, I was standing up on my two wobbly legs, hunched grotesquely and grasping for the safety of his hands. But he wasn't there anymore. He'd backed away, so I wouldn't try leaning on him, and watched me with curiosity.

“Bastard.” I muttered under my breath and glared at him with the intensity of a thousand more profanities.

He chuckled. “That sure is a lady's vocabulary.”

“Shut up and help me, you idiot!”

“For a new arrival you're pretty demanding, you know that girlie?” He said, standing right where he was.

“And stop calling me that. I have a name you know.” I spat out, trying to maintain balance on my feet while righting the upper half of my body. I couldn't rise to my full height, but there was an improvement.

“You do? Let's hear it then.” The stranger retorted, the challenge clear on his face. He even crossed his hands on his chest in the same manner Eric did, his bulky build stretching his black t-shirt in all the right places. What was wrong with the guy? How could he be so infuriating?

I shook my head. “You're the gentleman, you should introduce yourself first.” Right back at ya, asshole!

He smirked and gave me a mock bow, to which I rolled my eyes. He couldn't have been more obvious.

“Reuben, Sentry at gate Tuerie at your service, Madamme.”

“A Sentry? At the death gate? Are you serious?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips, completely forgetting about my inability to control my limbs. When I realized what I'd done, I looked down where my hands were resting, the amazement on my face slowly melting into satisfaction. I was getting the hang of it.

“Dead serious. So?” Reuben asked, motioning toward me expectantly.

I looked at him with a confused expression, then I remembered. “Oh, my name. I'm Dawnielle, but I prefer Dawn.”

“Dawnielle.” He said, tasting the sound of my full name in his mouth. “I like it.”

I smirked, and attempted a tentative step in his direction. And fell. Smack on my face. But that wouldn't have been half as bad if Reuben's laughter didn't resound around me like an echo in a dark tunnel.

“You're not a patient one, are you Dawnielle? Tsk-tsk. Let's see how we can mend that.” He said, and before I knew it he'd taken hold of both my arms.

“Oh no, you don't!” I pulled my arms free and scrambled to my feet. They still felt wobbly, and I wasn't completely trusting them, but I wasn't going to be dragged either. “I said I'll walk, and I fully intend to do so.”

“As you wish. But just so you know, I was trying to help you up so we can be on our way to the Sentinel. He'd want to have a look at you and besides, you're gonna have to sign your name in the book of the dead.” Reuben explained, then held out his elbow, and cocked one brow up. Another challenge, which was quite convenient this time. I could lean on him, instead of falling over my face every couple of feet.

“I'm not signing my name anywhere.” I said with determination, hooking my arm through his. His skin felt soft under my light touch, but I knew that underneath it was a spectacular world of muscular highways, strong and solid because of years of extensive training. Could this guy be really dead?

He smirked. “Like you have any choice. You're on this side of the veil now, which makes you a citizen of Spectrum.”

“What the hell is Spectrum?” I asked, my gaze traveling as far as my eyes could see, but if there was anything worth seeing, it must've been well hidden. Besides the unpaved road where we were walking and the bare fields on either side of it, there was nothing that could catch the eye. Not a single tree, nor an animal. Nothing.

“This is Spectrum!” Reuben exclaimed, waving his free arm to one side, as if what he was showing me was something spectacular. Well, it wasn't. It was bare, plain and ugly. It also felt abandoned. He cleared his throat, as if reading my mind. “Well, it used to look much better until those freaking faeries started stealing from our essence. Everything you see now used to be gardens and forests, untouched by any destructive forces. Now it's like this. But it's been getting better ever since the Sentinel took the reigns. We've gained some territories back as he started locking down some entrances. Including the veil you came through. But of course, the securities don't work on the dead.” Then he winked at me, as if we shared a private joke.

“I told you, I'm not dead.” I repeated, rolling my eyes. But how could I be so sure? If no one but a dead person could walk through a locked down gate, how had I come here? Yet, I didn't doubt it for one second. I knew I was alive because deep down inside me I felt a connection to my beating heart.

“If you say so. But you'd better be prepared for it, you know, in case you are.”

“Where are you taking me exactly?” I asked, changing the topic. Pondering upon my dead-or-not case just didn't feel right.

“To the city of course. The Sentinel will be waiting for your arrival.”

A city? In this wilderness?

“What city? And who's this Sentinel you keep on talking about?” I inquired, my gaze roaming the horizon for any trace of life. At first, it all looked the same – a gloomy flat terrain in all directions. Nothing worth my attention at all.

But then, suddenly, as if I'd just walked through an invisible wall, I was in a city. On a busy street. With people running in all directions, shouting things at one another in a gurgle of voices that sounded like a million echoes. To my surprise, none of those people looked like the pearly shapes I'd been seeing in my world. They looked like they had flesh and blood – just like me. Just like Reuben.

This city.” Reuben chuckled beside me, seeing my amazed expression. Then he pulled me in one direction and we left all the cacophony behind.

I looked around, trying to commit to memory everything I saw. Except that there was nothing unusual about this place. It looked just like a normal city from my own decade. And this had to be the downtown, if the tall buildings and overly populated streets were any indicator to go by. Some buildings were made of glass walls, others of concrete. There were schools, hospitals and even a river.

But we weren't headed toward any of them. When we reached a wide square, we came before the most beautiful building I'd seen in my life. It didn't have pillars or flying buttresses. It didn't even have a dome, or a tower. It wasn't built with concrete or bricks. It had no windows or doors. Instead, it was made of live matter – trees, and weaving plants, flowers and ivy. They all connected and intertwined, forming a round structure the size of the White House, but a thousand times more dashing. And it didn't maintain one shape. It moved, breathed, writhed. It twisted and turned and morphed before my own eyes. It was like nature had fallen from the sky – or risen from the ground – only so it could show its splendor to the silly humans.

“C'mon, we're running late.” Reuben said, tugging me along, as my head spun in all directions, trying to take in all that my eyes were seeing. But mostly, I wanted to remember the people, their solid bodies, their expressions, their humanity. Could they be dead in our world, but very much alive in this Spectrum realm?

When we climbed the couple of stairs that lead toward the live building, I noticed that it looked even more magnificent from up close. I could see every leaf, every leaf's veins. I could see the giant roots that held the enormous structure grounded securely to the earth below, and I couldn't help but marvel at this insanely beautiful creation.

“How could this be?” I whispered more to myself, but Reuben must've heard me because he stopped his rushed stride and pulled me to the side, so he could show me the live wall.

“Here, give me your hand.” He said, and once I complied, placed my bare fingers over the closest vine. It moved beneath me for a second, then twisted and tried to writhe over me, to enclose me in the structure.
I pulled away, gaping in astonishment.

“The vines are ever hungry. They consume everything they touch, but if you steer clear of them you'll be fine.” Reuben explained, then guided me toward the opening that seemed to serve as a door. It was rectangular as we passed through it, but mere moments before it had been arched at the top.

Once inside the live building, the noise from the outside seemed to melt away, completely swallowed by the walls. Yet, that didn't make the place any quieter. Even with the street noise gone, there was a constant humming and squeaking that I gathered came from the stretching and twining of branches, leaves and the like.

A woman in her fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair, a thick-framed pair of glasses and an olive business suit, greeted us from behind a desk made of intertwined flat roots, situated in the middle of a grand foyer. “Reuben dear, you've brought her I see. Very good.” Then turning to me she said. “What's your name, sweetheart? Let's sign you in the book of the dead.” She clicked a pen and waited for me to speak.

I turned to look at my companion. “I'm not signing my name anywhere. I'm not dead and I don't want my name featured in that book.” Not if I could help it.

Reuben frowned. “But you're here, aren't you? You're in Spectrum, the realm of the dead. You're a spirit with no body.”

I shook my head. “That doesn't mean I'm dead.” Besides, I could still feel the thread of life that connected me with my body on the other side. If that thread hadn't been there, they would've been able to convince me. But my heart was still beating, strong and independent.

“Dear, you aren't the first one who thought they were alive, but if you're here – you're dead. There's nothing else you could be. Not really.” The woman intervened, and I shut my eyes for a second so I wouldn't glare at her.

“She's right, Dawnielle.” Reuben said, and I saw the woman scribble my name in the awful book before her.

“Hey!” I protested. “You can't write my name in there! I'm. Not. Dead.!” But I sure was getting angry by the second. “Scratch it!”

The woman scowled. “What's been written once, remains in the book.”

An unearthly growl escaped from my mouth. “I don't care!” I pushed Reuben away and rushed toward the desk hoping to snatch the awful book and tear down the page with my name on it.

But she was faster, and Reuben had figured my intentions quickly and held me from behind. I twisted in his arms, but the bastard was strong and wouldn't budge. No amount of struggling seemed to have any impact on him.

“Let go of me, damn you!” I yelled and gutted him with my elbow. He didn't as much as flinch.

“Reuben! Tasha!” A deep, commanding voice suddenly echoed around the foyer, claiming their attention. I used that moment to finally get away from my captor, and kicked him in the shin. Then I watched him hop on one foot.

“You asked for it, asshole!” I said, proceeding to kick him again, but was interrupted by a heavy hand that landed on my shoulder from nowhere.

“What's going on here?” The same commanding voice demanded? But this time it came from right behind me. The echo was gone, replaced by a velveteen sound that always melted my insides. It's by those deep, calming tones that I recognized it. It's how I always recognized him.

“Connor.” I whispered soundlessly.

The hand squeezed my shoulder, and I knew I was right. He was here.

Chapter 1                                                                          Chapter 3