Naturally by the time we went back to school, everyone knew what had transpired that night. It took a whole week before we got over the events and had everything settle back down to what I called normal. Lynna wasn’t at school in the week that followed the incident or the next. She supposedly had a severe epileptic attack that left her body crippled and was recovering from the episode. Ella hadn’t even seen her since the dance, which was odd.
Jacelyn and Kyle’s relationship started going downhill fast, post dance, which we all expected at some point. Mini-fights erupted in between classes and at lunch. By the time Christmas rolled around, they were completely broken up, each of their closest rat pack choosing a side and sticking with that person.
Kyle tried intermingling back into our friendship circle, but Ella received this gesture by literally vomiting on his shoes, blaming it on a bug rather than her being sickened by the sight of him. She left him stranded in the hallway as everyone moved away avoiding the smell from the mess she left. Since that day he moved back into the circle of his football friends rather than us.
Jacelyn took a drastic, yet different approach to getting back into our social ring. She loudly started apologizing to Ella within everyone’s hearing range and basically blamed Kyle for forcing her to like him. Her gal pals played along with this new charade and publicly congratulated Ella for having the sense to move on while defaming Kyle for his part in harassing the girls.
Ella listened to Jacelyn’s endless whines with everything that went wrong with their relationship, but she would not yield to the girl. She was still hurt by what Jacelyn did to their friendship, and a breakup combined with a hurtful attempt at an apology would not mend the broken bond between them. Eventually Jacelyn left her alone and sought comfort in the arms of her closest comrades that she called friends, which I knew were nothing of the sort.
Christmas break settled in and I was ready for the peace and quiet it offered. Ella and her parents flew to Paris for the holiday. They invited Lynna along and she went, so there was no chance of me asking her any questions as to what happened with me a couple of months ago.
Drew ended up staying with us over the holidays, as his dad was suddenly called for duty in the army and he didn’t want him to be on his own in the house after what happened with the Homecoming party. His mom lived in California, but she did not have room for him. Drew wished to live out his senior year at the school, so my mother arranged for him to stay with us until his father returned or he hit his eighteenth birthday.
Three days before Christmas my mom surprised us both with a trip to Switzerland. My father would meet us there for a few days of rest and relaxation among the famous Swiss Alps. As luck would have it, Drew had a passport from being shifted around army bases as a kid. Mine was immediately renewed at the request of my mom when I turned eighteen. Father’s business trips usually took him to far off places, and she occasionally joined him with me in tow for holidays and vacations.
During the long flight I thought about my current situation. It had been weeks since I dreamt of the lady, or blacked out, or heard anyone speaking Gaelic or Latin or some other language that was odd to hear in our part of the country. I hardly had seen Lynna since the night of the dance, though I never really saw her that night. I hadn’t had a chance to speak with her regarding that recent vision or the odd circumstances that I found myself in once I awoke in the ambulance. I remembered her saying that I might go crazy, but I didn’t feel like I was. Yes, my world was unbalanced, but my mind was set and steadfast. I understood things I wouldn’t have before the incident occurred. I felt stronger than I did before. I sensed things about my environment that I hadn’t previously. I overheard conversations that I shouldn’t understand, but I couldn’t help it. These new abilities weren’t like a light switch that I could turn off and on at will, they were permanent, and they were changing me in how I saw the world. Somewhere in my brain, I knew Lynna understood what I was going through. She was a part of all this, and I would remember, hopefully, how she was involved. If not, I’d demand the truth.
Two days after arriving in Switzerland, Drew and I marched our way towards the ski lift. He and I both liked snowboarding; we took trips to Colorado in the past with other friends. We carried our boards with us up the mountainside. My parents skied somewhere nearby, but we hadn’t seen them all morning. There were several families present, most of whom left their younger children alone in the outdoors while they engaged themselves in other events. Already several teenage girls caught my eye as well as Drew’s, but we didn’t do anything other than smile back at their batting eyelashes. Very few of the people here knew English, and the only other language Drew spoke was Spanish.
That night, the four of us took a bus to Lucerne and went shopping for gifts. Drew bought a pretty gift for Ella and his mom. He had the shiny bracelet shipped to the apartment in California while he kept the gift for Ella with him. For his dad, he bought a watch and had it shipped to the army address that was provided via email. I bought Drew a watch as well but made sure I hid the gift box from his presence, so he wouldn’t argue about it. Mother ended up taking it with her shopping bags concealing it further.
In one of our last stops for the night, I spotted a crystal hair comb that reminded me of the lady I saw in the vision at the masquerade. There was a beautifully sculpted amber butterfly with emerald leaves underneath the creature. It was purely a display only type gift, but it was so beautiful I bought it. I nearly forgot about the lady in the prison during my time here and seeing this brought all those memories back. The owner of the boutique let me purchase it without a hassle, which was odd because she argued with the last person in the store over the price of antique dishware.
Later, we had a special Christmas feast with the rest of the lodge guests. We ate in the hall where the great fireplace was filled with burning wood; it heated the entire room. They served hot cider, hot chocolate, tea and coffee, along with delicious delicacies and alcoholic beverages. We sang carols and drank Wassel before retiring.
Christmas Day brought presents and family time; we included Drew in our family’s traditional celebration, which wasn’t any different from other families. We played games and did puzzles before taking a hike up the mountain. I made sure I thanked my parents and Drew for the gifts I received, but at the end of the night, I fell soundly asleep in front of the fire.
The blackness of my sleep thinned as a light pierced my eyesight. I knew I was being called into the place I dreamed about often. The lady appeared in my sight instantly, fading from the light and taking the shape of a young woman. The last time I saw her in the crystal prism, she was a child. But now she was older and completely devoid of any clothing. She stood among the lake, letting her long golden hair fall into the water. The tree branch was gone. She didn’t glance at me once, but I had the feeling that she knew I was present. A bed of leaves, every color and shape materialized on the surface. The pieces floated as she lay down on them. The scene was surreal, and peaceful. She never once spoke to me. I couldn’t turn away and not watch her move. I couldn’t propel myself forward to check on her as her body drifted towards the middle of the shallow pool. I was frozen in place, unable to move or look away or even shut my eyes.
A shadowy mass formed in the far distance. The black cloud grew and expanded. Usually I blacked out at this part, but not today. I watched, helpless to act upon the encroaching darkness and save the maiden from its clutches. A dark figure stepped through the cloud and stood still in the shallow pool. The man wore a violet robe laced with black and red trim. He was thin, unusually thin for a man. As he approached the lady and grew closer to my location, I realized that this wasn’t a man, but a mere adolescent barely out of puberty. He was young, but old enough that he could pass for a teenager in human form. His face was round and soft, but his eyebrows were arched high matching his cheekbones. These features made him look sinister. He stared down at the lady with no emotion on his face. His long blond hair was pulled behind his back with a hair tie of some sort. He stopped when he reached the lady’s pallet. Stepping onto her bed he let his robe fall and then he lay with her. She never moved, not once, but became like a rag doll, allowing him passage to do what he pleased. And he did this repeatedly, taking his time and giving her no rest.
I don’t know how long this continued. I didn’t want to watch this intimate moment, but I couldn’t wish it away. I couldn’t stop staring; I couldn’t close my eyes or wake up. I was stuck and frozen, made to witness this.
Eventually the bed of leaves that held the makeshift pallet together fell apart, and the lady sunk beneath the waters. The man’s knees hit the shallow ground and he regained his bearings. He put on his robe, which somehow remained dry, and stared at the blue hued pool of water.
“You will not intercede on my plans. Your child will be mine!” He sneered before walking back into the shadow cloud. He eventually disappeared.
Time drifted into nothingness. I don’t know how long I waited for the lady’s reappearance. I wondered if she had drowned in the pool of water. I wanted to protect her from such evil and the abhorring treatment that the young man gave her. But I couldn’t move. I yearned to put my thoughts into actions, but nothing obeyed me, even my own will.
“I appreciate the kind gesture, but this is my prison,” she whispered in my mind. “If you had revealed yourself, they would’ve executed your soul on the spot. You would cease existence, and you weren’t called here for that purpose.”
The tree limb I had seen before arose from the water. An arm reached out and grabbed a hold of the branch at the right moment. The lady appeared out of the water. She pulled herself onto the branch and lay down upon it. Her hair was draped over her like a shield. She twirled her fingers in the water, as some petals fell from the branch’s flowers and encircled the ringlets of the waves she caused.
She didn’t worry over the man who had treated her horribly, but I did. Who was that creature? Was it her warrior or someone else?
“That is not him,” she answered. “He is called, Verassin.”
Then why did this man want her?
“Because my child, the child born in my second form, is my heir.”
What did that mean? Second form? The man took advantage of her body because he wanted her throne? It sickened me to think that such things existed, even on this world.
She glanced at me. “That was the reason why I was put into this prison. They trapped me in my second form.”
I reeled. Earlier she had stated that the blueprints surrounding her prison had backfired. How could that be true, when they successfully trapped her as they meant to?
She smiled again. “You know that answer.”
What? That wasn’t an answer to my question. How did I know what she implied?
Her eyes found mine. “It’s beautiful,” she said before turning away. She sat up and stared at the shadowy mass that formed once more over the water.
Even though I knew what was coming this time, I didn’t want to watch it again. But I had no will. The same man appeared, though he wore a different colored robe this time, looking more sinister and darker than the first one he had on. Jade swirls adorned the black and red robe.
“Aren’t you tired of these games?” he sneered. “Give me what I want.” He walked over to her.
Her smile was gone. Vines rose up out of the water and wrapped around her body like clothing. They surged forward encasing her in a shield of ivy and leaves. Even tree branches surfaced and took on shapes that twisted and bent with every breath and move the maiden took. One of the vines lashed out at the man and wrapped itself around his feet, lifting him off the surface of the water. He gasped in surprise and threw down his robe as his arms grabbed the vines and pulled them off his body. The maiden wasted no time in pursuing her attack. She used the branches, throwing him off course and pushed him into the shallow pool. The vines swatted away his attempts at reaching her body. Though he was thin and small, he was quick and powerful.
The battle lasted a long time, but eventually he beat her back and forced himself upon her once more. This time was worse than the first that I witnessed. He beat her, again and again, not bothering what part of her he attacked. He scratched at her and pulled on her hair; pieces of it fell into the waters. He even strangled her at one point. He drew upon the black cloud and created tentacles that bound her against a branch. Then he called upon the shadowy tendrils which sucked the life out of her and cut her in numerous places. He did all this without showing remorse or mercy. She never once cried out in pain, but I spotted the tears falling down her face.
I didn’t want to watch anymore of this, but the endless torment didn’t stop when I willed it to. If I was truly asleep I would’ve awoken by now, but the nightmare continued. I witnessed too much terror, too much horror; even I started feeling the pain, her pain, in my heart. At times she tried sinking into the water as her body would go limp, but the shadowy tendrils pulled her back out and kept her from rejuvenating her life. Eventually he stopped, once he grew tired. The tendrils disappeared and let her body fall into the water. She hit the sandy bottom with a splash, and her frail body lay in the shallow pool, unmoving.
He sneered at her from where he stood. “Fight me again, and you’ll wish you were entombed.”
There was that word again, but what did that mean?
She never moved once she fell into the water. He grabbed his dry robe and disappeared through the cloud of darkness. Once he was gone, the pale walls of the prism that allowed light in grew dark. For the first time since I’d been here, it was night in the crystal shell. The vines and branches were cold and lifeless. They were massed in heaps and tangles, and they didn’t once form a barrier around their mistress.
I wondered if she was even alive. Her hair was yellow now, no longer the color of golden rays. Her skin was pale and taut. I wished to go over to her and comfort her soul, wondering how anyone could leave someone debilitated like this. All at once, I moved. I was finally able to walk in here of my own free will, no longer held in place by an unseen force. As I reached out I found that my hands were no longer transparent, but real as they had shape and form. I was tangible in this vision.
I knelt upon the shallow depths of the pool and pulled her out of the water. I cradled her in my arms, hoping that she wasn’t dead. Some part of me knew she wasn’t, but she still did not move. The remaining shards of light that had seeped through before night fell, faded into the darkness, but I still held her. In the dark I heard her breathe in the air and let it out slowly upon my neck. The scent of the forest wafted across my face.
“Whatever happens,” she whispered. “You need to keep the secret.”
Secret? What secret was this she referred to?
Instead of answering my question, she continued talking. “I will not be able to summon you here again. I need your witness for the truth of my prison. No one else knows that I am alive.”
In this darkness a sense of dread filled me. None of her people knew that she was alive? Or what was being done to her? All the images of the visions and the dreams flashed through my head one by one. She had prepared me for something, but what exactly?
“I’ve never fought him before,” she said, her voice was stronger now than from before. “He usually likes to watch me from within the prism as my age rubber bands within time. But he’s not watching now.”
“So that’s why…” I trailed off. I could speak. The shock of speaking caused me pause.
“You are no longer in a corporeal form. You can think, act, and move all on your own accord. Only when he’s watching can the souls of people visit me. But when he’s not looking, when he doesn’t care about me, can those people take form.”
“You did this on purpose,” I stated, though I didn’t understand why.
“I did. I needed to speak with you. What Cassidhe did to your mind was out of line no matter what he believes. Everything about me and our world, you already know. It’s all there in your head.”
“The visions…” I remembered the memory of the girl at the dance. “You were at the dance, my school dance. I saw you there.”
“That wasn’t me you saw. I cannot leave this place.”
I didn’t know what to believe. “Are you Saladian?” I asked her, whispering the name from that dream.
“I am her.”
“But it was you I saw…” I stammered out.
She took my hand and the vision repeated itself. I saw the girl again, I witnessed the event again. Her hair shimmered golden brown and molasses, the color of trees. The man standing near her wasn’t Saladian’s warrior, Lord Trionden, it was me. I was the warrior who stood next to the girl. What was this?
“The answers are in your blood, what you seek.”
Rays of light seeped through the opaque walls. Her face was pale in the dim light. She opened her eyes and stared into mine.
“You must leave me now. He will be back soon.”
I shook my head. “No, I can’t leave you to face a monster like that. He could kill you, he nearly did…”
She smiled faintly. “I cannot die in here. I will always rejuvenate with new life; this is my fate.”
“But…you’ll be in pain. You were feeling the terror and anguish he wanted you to feel, I can help…”
Her fingers silenced my words. “No, you can’t. Listen, Garrett,” she whispered. “You are so much like Lord Trionden whom I chose. But you are not him, and I didn’t choose you to be my protector.” She stood up in the pale light. A white robe appeared out of the water and wrapped itself around her body. She wrung out her hair. “We will not see each other again.”
Already my body was fading. I couldn’t speak to her anymore, though I wished to. My hands faded away until I could see the ground beneath my legs once more.
“You should know that you are the first warrior to be chosen in several thousands of generations.”
She kept speaking, regardless if my body fled her prison. Her words confused me. She stated I was chosen as a warrior, a protector, but a second ago she refuted that I was her protector. Didn’t she make the decisions?
She smiled one last time at my fading form. “You were chosen, but not by me. The answer lies in your blood.”
She completely phased away, or I phased away; I didn’t know what happened.
I awoke instantly. It was daylight outside, but the light didn’t bother me. The dream or the vision did. What did this mean? And who chose me to be their warrior if Saladian didn’t? Once more the name Karis was on the edge of my tongue. It was a Latin word, meaning grace. I thought about all the people that I knew, but I don’t remember any Grace’s or Gracie’s or even Karis’s being among those. There was only one person that would know who Grace was; Lynna. She knew about this; Saladian and her world. She knew the history and the lore, I was sure of it. But if Lynna knew who I needed to find, then that meant Cassidhe knew as well, whoever he was. Somehow, I had to get a hold of Lynna first, and figure all of this out.