Soft rustling filled the silence that encompassed Nora’s disoriented mind. The fog in her head was dense but despite her muddled state, she had the faint impression that she had been drifting in and out of consciousness for quite some time now. Her fingers twitched as she attempted to force her heavy eyelids open to no avail. All she could see was darkness and despite knowing of her long-held reservations towards the deep abyss of what she could not see, a sense of peace washed over her; one so strong that it was almost unsettling but was ultimately stifled by the air of calm that surrounded her. In her deliberations, the pads of her fingers had begun to rub against something soft.
Fabric, her mind registered in awe. It had been something she had not encountered in what felt like eons ago. Gone was the harsh sensation of gravel against her bare skin, with which she was so familiar with and in its place was something soft and pillowy. As the clouds in her head began to disperse she came to the understanding that she was cocooned in what felt like a well-cushioned nest if the absence of cold hard concrete against her spine gave any indication.
Concentrating on the rise and falls of her chest as she steadied her breath, Nora groggily opened her eyes. Blinking rapidly to clear her bleary vision, Nora found she was unable to move her head. The image that greeted her caused her mind to backpedal, as she failed to recognize her surroundings.
Nora blinked slowly as she took in the stark white curtains that made up the makeshift walls that enclosed the space she inhabited. It took her several seconds to realize that no longer was she in the cell in which she was held prisoner for a better part of six months. No longer was she locked up in a ten by ten space where she was subject to a madman’s depravity. Nora pursed her chapped lips together as a dizzying relief took hold of her. Her eyes blurred once more as hot tears welled up in them, spilling onto her cheeks as a wet sob tore from her chest. The sound of her shuddering cries resounded in spite of her hoarse throat. Her desolate cries racked through her frame violently as she fought to regain her breath.
She cried for her sister whose whereabouts she knew not of. She cried for her friends who probably thought her dead by that point. But overall, Nora cried for the injustice she’d suffered at the hands of a vile beast who knew no mercy, a beast who possessed not a shred of morality or empathy towards the woes of others.
As her tears ran out and her cries slowly came to an end, exhaustion once more gripped her being. Dark spots crept their way into the edge of her vision. In spite of this, Nora could distinctly make out the soft padding of footsteps drifting towards her. The curtains that encircled her, rustled as they were peeled open by an indiscernible figure. A soft hand pressed against her forehead, but by then Nora was too far gone to make out the face of the person to which said limb belonged. Instead, she focused on the sensations. It had been a long time since she’d felt such a gentle touch; one that was warm and inviting. A soft cloth swept across her cheeks, drying her tear-stained face, leaving Nora in a state of wonder. It was at that moment that the last traces of consciousness slipped from her grasp causing Nora to fall into a deep state of slumber.
Nora was disgruntled.
She’d long been aware of the fact that she no longer resided in the city of Los Angeles. No longer in the state of California or even on earth for that matter. She’d have to have been a fool if she hadn’t picked up on said fact early on. Nora had spent weeks ruminating over said prospect shortly after she’d first been captured. Though all sense of reason told her that this was improbable, impossible even, eventually she knew she could no longer deny the circumstances that had presented themselves before her. Nora knew not why nor how, but somehow she had ended up on planet kailohk. That much was obvious to her and though it was a bitter pill to swallow at first, she had made peace with the fact.
The U.S government had been telling the public for years that travel onto planet kailohk was not possible for humans; primarily for health reasons. In fact, it was an internationally accepted fact that the only ones capable of traveling through the Cardinal Passages―the only and heavily monitored portals that gave way to and from kailohk on earth― were Kailohkians. It was well established that there had only been three attempts made in history by mankind to traverse through the passages onto kailohk and given that all three attempts ended up in three individuals burnt to a crisp with ruptured organs, suffice to say no other attempts were made in the last several decades. After all, not many were willing to give up their lives in the name of science.
For the most part, other than interplanetary trade, both humans and Kailohkians kept to themselves. That is to say, you would never see a Kailohkian tourist roaming around the streets of LA, taking in the sights. Matter of fact, Nora herself had never encountered a Kailohkian before her capture. The only Kalohkians that ever traveled to earth were all diplomats and high profile businessmen who imported and exported goods to and from earth―not that there was a lot of that happening. Kailohkians were a rather private sort, so the business dealings between kailohk and earth were not something noteworthy. To further elaborate, Kailohkians did not do trade involving manufactured goods. Everything was always reserved solely to raw materials, for reasons unknown to humankind.
This did not come as a surprise to Nora when she first came to learn of it. It was a widely known fact that Kailohkians were not keen in their interactions with humans and really only ever did the bare minimum when it came to diplomatic relations. This in itself, was another reason why the knowledge known about planet kailohk and Kailohkians themselves was so vague. It was also the reason why educational institutions didn’t have much information to go off of regarding both subjects and why what little was taught about them in schools was always so obscured and generalized in part.
All of this aside, while a small part of Nora was still concerned as to how the hell she’d managed to end up on the elusive planet, Nora was a little more preoccupied with the current dilemma at hand. And it was that she was bored― to tears.
Though elated as she was initially at having been rescued from her previous confinement, her current confinement was not doing any wonders for her state of mind either. Every day it was the same monotonous routine. She’d wake up and lay in bed whilst her smothering caretaker ran circles around her, fussing over her every second of the day; a woman who she now knew to be called Anlyra. Nora knew herself to be in the eastern continent known as Silsei, in the kingdom of Laydet, as she’d been informed by Nani many months ago.
Although Nora’s ‘Layri,’―the official language spoken in Laydet― was to put it simply, complete and utter shit, Nora was thankfully still able to glean a thing or two from Anlyra’s incessant chattering. It really only took about half a week for Nora to come to two realizations: one was that much to her dismay, Nora had lost most of her muscle mass, thus leaving her completely debilitated mobility-wise and two was that Anlyra did not have a clue in hell that Nora was not a Kailohkian. Despite this, Nora could not find it in her heart to denigrate the woman. Frankly speaking, appearance-wise there really weren’t that many notable differences between humans and Kailohkians.
Really one of the few traits that alluded to one of the two, was a person’s height. Kailohkians, as opposed to humans, were tall. And not just the rare individual, average height tall but almost freakishly so. Adult women on average were never under 5′9”, a trait that Nora had found intimidating on more than one occasion. Men, on the other hand, all seemed to be built like basketball players; not that she’d encountered many Kailohkian males but from what she’d seen on tv and what Nani had suggested, Nora knew enough to get the picture. This in turn led to another moment of clarity that Nora came to much later on after much thought and it was that Anlyra―bless her kind soul―saw Nora as an adolescent female. It only made sense. The way Anlyra fussed over Nora was wholly unnatural to the point that it could be seen as motherly.
Though well-intended, Nora’s experience under Anlyra’s care had been humiliating to an utmost degree. Anlyra’s nurturing and stubborn nature had given Nora an innumerous amount of embarrassing experiences to last her several lifetimes. In all fairness, Nora knew that in her current state, she really couldn’t be complaining and as such could not reproach Anlyra’s efforts. However, if there was one thing Nora couldn’t get over; it was having to be bathed and cleaned every time she soiled herself in her sleep. This was something that shamed Nora to no end. After months of being locked up in a cell with nowhere to relieve herself, Nora no longer had full control over her bodily functions. And then there were the nightmares as well. Every time she had one, Nora would almost certainly wake up wailing in an all-encompassing terror with a wet bed.
Faint voices could be heard through the thin curtains of Nora’s allocated ‘room.’ Nora was cognizant that her current environment was a healing ward of sorts and that most likely the low whispers that filled the air belonged to the other patients that resided there. When she’d first arrived, the ward had been more packed but as the weeks passed by, more and more patients went away. Most of those patients were all like her, in that they’d all been females rescued from the hell she’d been living in the not-so-distant past. All were victims of the monster that had tortured Nora for months in succession. But unlike her, none of the others were human, that much Nora knew to be true. From the little that she’d managed to ascertain whilst sitting around on her ass, each woman that came and went all had families―a place to go back to―which indicated that they were all Kailohkian but that much was evident from the fact that they were all also able to fluently speak Layri.
That aside, Nora had also been able to determine another glaring fact about things that were going around in the ward. Shortly after each woman was discharged from the ward, they were immediately taken by some government officials in which they were interrogated and asked to give full accounts of their abductions to serve as testimonies. Much to Nora’s misfortune, this only further incensed Anlyra to focus all of her attentions onto Nora. Despite Nora’s objections, the woman could not be deterred. Nora suspected that Anlyra was at the very least conscious of the fact that Nora was not from the kingdom of Laydet, seeing as how the woman had on more than one occasion taken advantage of the language barrier to disregard Nora’s complaints and impose her will.
A little over two months had passed and Anlyra’s paranoia did not lessen one bit. On the contrary, it seemed as the more time passed the more the female would fret over Nora. Undoubtedly, this elicited warm feelings in Nora and frankly, she was rather flattered that the elder woman had grown so fond of her in such a short time. But lately, it almost seemed like Anlyra’s coddling had reached new heights. She’d only heard faint whispers about it but it seemed like Nora’s time in the ward would come to an end soon. Anlyra was being pressured into discharging patients as soon as they were well enough to give their statements and Anlyra had seemingly been doing her best to prolong Nora’s own discharge. Nora could see why this would concern the woman so much. Out of all of the victims that had been rescued alongside Nora; Nora was the one that had been found in the worst condition. Even as it was, Nora still couldn’t properly stand on her own for more than a few seconds and when she’d come into the ward―aside from the salient plethora of fissures that marked her body―she had also entered with several broken ribs.
In spite of all this, it appeared that everyone other than Anlyra had expected Nora to be completely up and running after only seven weeks of respite. Nora deduced that Kailohkians most likely healed at a much faster rate than the average human for their expectations to be so unreasonable. As to why Anlyra hadn’t suspected anything strange about her; Nora chalked it up to the fact that the woman still believed Nora to be an underage female much to her dismay.
A heavy sigh broke the silence of Nora’s cubicle. Comforting scents of various herbs permeated the air of the healing ward. Though it took a while getting used to, Nora had now begun to associate the soothing smells with something akin to an analgesic. The medicinal treatments of Kailohkians were another jarring difference between earth and kailohk. Whereas on earth the medical field was heavily influenced by pharmacology, on kailohk more traditional means seemed to be widely employed. This answered a lot of Nora’s questions when she recalled many instances in the past when Nani had forced her to chew on a varied assortment of leaves.
A flurry of taxing thoughts plagued Nora’s mind more often than not as the days passed on. She constantly worried about Sam, worried about Robyn, and worried about the coming days. It wouldn’t be long before she was well enough to be released from the ward and then came the million-dollar question of how she was to explain to the government officials of Laydet that she was not Kailohkian. Would they even believe her? Or would they think she was not yet a fully grown adult female as Anlyra had presumed and just brush off her claims as the ramblings of trauma afflicted foreign youth? Even if they did give credence to her words, would they let her go? Or would they choose to keep quiet about her existence and silence her as a means to cover up her appearance on kailohk?
Nora had heard many stories from Nani about the lengths the Kailohkian diplomats were willing to go to in order to hide things from the general public. She also knew that she herself was not the first human to make it onto kailohk as believed on earth. There were others. Not many but a few that were like Nora; individuals that were abducted and dragged onto kailohk against their will. However, almost all of these unfortunate souls never lived past a few weeks. Though they would somehow miraculously survive the passage onto kailohk, they most certainly did not get away unscathed. Blood boiling, third-degree burns, and organ failure was a major cause of their deaths. That and the fact that those that were remotely well enough to stand, were sold as playthings for the wealthy to pass time with only to expire from their afflictions shortly after their sale.
Nora knew there was something wrong with her. It was the reason why the Handler could not bear to part with her. Unlike all of the other humans that had fallen into his lap, Nora had survived the passage. Not only that but she had gotten away practically scott-free, without a mark that would suggest that she had traveled through a portal. This only fueled his interest in her and resolved his determination to test her limits before she would break.
A part of her even believed that he most likely suspected her of being of a species other than human; of which Nora knew for a fact not to be true. Nora was as human as can be and though she did not understand how it is that she’d managed to survive a trip onto kailohk, she knew that it was her humanity that would cause her a lot of problems in the future if she could not convince the government officials of her origins. Or worse if they did believe her and simply choose to get rid of her regardless.
Nora would have to tread carefully from now on. Stepping on the wrong toes would do her no good and if she was to get back home safely to find her sister, she would have to be wary of anyone she had contact with from that point on.