Drew and I were back on the slopes two days after Christmas. There was only a day of our vacation left before we flew back home, and I wanted to spend every minute getting as much snowboarding in as possible, especially after my recent dreams. The sport should’ve taken my mind off what I had witnessed in my dream Christmas Day, but the memory stayed fresh in my mind, branded there no matter how much I tried letting it fade.
The both of us watched several people go down the slopes before our turn. We entered a hard pike this time around, and I hoped that the challenge would keep my mind off things. Drew was a pro boarder; he lived in Colorado when he was younger and spent most of his time skiing and snowboarding for fun. I quickly gained talent that was on par with his skill level. Over the past few years when took vacations into the mountains I kept practicing, and after this week my technique still climbed. Sometime in the afternoon he wanted a challenging slope before we went home; something he could gloat about to our friends once we got back. I personally needed a stress release, and the adrenaline rush I received from the slopes helped me in that sense. At least I would forget about the vision momentarily while shifting my body in multiple directions, diving around objects. This was a distraction, a small one.
One of the purple jumpsuits that usually marked a girl entered the same pike we had. She slid down the slope easily, gracefully, and turned her board in whatever direction she wanted to go without moving much. It was a treat watching another professional do tricks, even though this girl took her time instead of flipping and rotating a lot. Drew usually tried mimicking some of the other boarders on his way down, trying new flips and tricks. I did the same, though mine were usually done well whereas he occasionally screwed up a critical point by over thinking it too much. But we watched the girl and whistled in appreciation as she slid down the slope of the mountain.
Another one in a green jumpsuit raced down, catching up with her. This one aggressively attacked the slope as they turned, jumped, and flipped their board over obstacles. They were quick, and it wasn’t too long before the person outpaced their companion far below us in less time than I thought was possible.
Drew nudged me as we waited in line for our turn. “Those two have some skills. We should find them at the lodge.”
I nodded, not really wishing to do that. There was only one girl I had my mind on, but Lynna was in Paris, and not anywhere near here. It didn’t help that she was not answering her phone. Somehow, I got the feeling that I would be the one introducing and translating for Drew while he flirted with the pair, assuming the second boarder was even a girl.
Drew flew down the pike as it was his turn. I followed him once he was safely down and I wouldn’t run him over. On one of the turns I threw in a twist and flip. I nearly landed on my back, overcompensating for the unnatural bulkiness my body had built up over the past few weeks, but my feet caught the miscalculation, and I hit the snow upright. At the bottom of the hill, Drew watched me perform the finishing move. He threw up his hands and cheered as I slid to a halt in front of him.
“That was awesome!” he bellowed. “You should seriously think about going pro!”
I shook my head and removed my goggles, so I could see him better. “I prefer hockey,” I stated glumly.
We trudged back into the lodge for some rest. On the way Drew spotted the two boarders that went down in front of us on the pike. They were talking in English, which was unusual at this resort.
I turned Drew in their direction, hoping he wouldn’t need me now. I leaned towards his face. “They’re American,” I said.
He grinned with one of his mischievous smiles that meant he planned something. “Should we pretend to be Swiss?”
I frowned at him. That was a bad idea. Drew didn’t know any of the local languages. Plus, I really wanted some time by myself.
He shrugged and chuckled as soon as he saw my face. “I’m just kidding.” He strode over. “It’s nice to see some fellow snowboarders out here today,” he greeted them. “You girls did an awesome job on the pike!”
They turned around and faced him. They still wore their hats and sunglasses and scarves, so I couldn’t see exactly what they looked like, though I imagined they were cute. The girl with the purple suit’s jaw dropped open in shock.
“Drew?” she questioned, shocked and excited at the same time. “Andrew Hawthorne?”
Drew’s smile waned. “Err…yeah,” he answered not clearly recognizing the girl.
I didn’t recognize her either.
She pushed up her sunglasses and flew into him. “Oh my Gosh! I can’t believe you’re here!” she squealed.
Drew reached up and patted her back hesitantly. He shot me a look of ‘Who is this person?’
The girl finally let him go. “How long are you going to be here?”
“Um, ’til tomorrow…” he slowly said. His head swiveled back towards mine. He had no clue who this girl was, and I shrugged because I didn’t know either.
She grinned from ear to ear. “Us too! We can get seats next to each other on the plane! Oh, this is so awesome! I didn’t know you were out of the country. I thought you were spending Christmas with Garrett.”
This was someone who knew the both of us. I walked over, appearing in front of the chatty girl for the first time. Once I was in her line of sight, faint traces of honeysuckle tickled my nose hairs. I squinted at her in the bright light. “Ella?” I inquired.
She grinned at me. “Of course, it’s me,” she started, but was cut off by a congestive cough that erupted from her chest. When she resumed talking her pitch was a little higher, to where she sounded more like herself.
Drew and I realized that because of her cold, we hadn’t known it was her. She was sick, and out in the snow.
“Lynna’s here too,” she smiled and gestured to the green suited girl.
My eyes were dawn over to her immediately. I needed to talk with her, and here she was. I realized then that Lynna had been staring at me the entire time, though she never said a word to Ella about knowing I was there behind Drew.
“How long have you guys been here?” Ella asked us.
“Since the twenty-third,” I answered without taking my eyes off Lynna.
“We arrived this morning from Paris. Mom and dad wanted to ski, so we booked a room for a night.”
Drew glanced over at Lynna. “You have serious skills with that board.” She turned slightly towards him. “I didn’t know you could snowboard with the epilepsy and all…” he trailed off.
I rolled my eyes.
“Thank you,” Lynna honestly stated.
“Have you thought about going pro? Because you have the skills to do that. You were so amazing on the slopes that you should really consider it. You could be an Olympian! I’ve never known one…”
At the word Olympian, Lynna twitched slightly. It wasn’t an epileptic attack or the beginning of one; it was more agitation. At the mention of the pronoun she was one second away from retreating into her shy girl façade and never erupting from it again.
“I know a trainer who could help you.”
Lynna shook her head frantically and turned away.
Drew knew when to back off, thankfully. He sighed and glanced back at Ella.
She perked up and smiled. “Which flight are you guys taking tomorrow?”
“We take a commuter train to London and board the British Airways flight back home at six.” I answered her because Drew wouldn’t know those details.
“I’ll have to talk with mom and dad about how we’re getting back home. I didn’t expect to see you here, so I’ll see if we can fly with you guys!” She picked up her board and slung it under her arm. “Are you guys headed back for the lodge or are you planning to race one more time?”
Race? Wait a second…
Drew’s smile grew bigger and wider. He grinned from ear to ear. Before I could stop him, he asked about it. “What about Glacier Point?”
I didn’t feel good about this. Ella considered it. Lynna whirled around at the suggestion. I couldn’t believe he asked about that hill. It was notoriously famous for being slightly dangerous and off limits to inexperienced skiers. If one didn’t take the right turns while flying down the hill, they could end up skiing off the mountainside and into a ravine. Sometimes the sharp turns were lined by a walled cliff. And most of the time the slope was closed because there hadn’t been enough snowfall for it to be considered safe.
Ella frowned after a while. “I think I shouldn’t do that hill, with my foot and all.”
“You’re on,” Lynna agreed suddenly.
Drew beamed at her. “Excellent. Come on Garrett, let’s go!”
“We can’t just leave Ella here.” I was confused now and upset that the two were even leaving us for that hill.
Drew glanced at me and shrugged. “Suit yourself. You two stay here. I want to beat Lynna down the hill.”
I glanced over at Lynna, but she wasn’t staring at Drew. She gazed past him at something or someone else. She switched her gaze onto me for a brief second. Her body shook slightly. “Maybe we should try this later…” I began but was cut off by Lynna.
She edged near me. “We’ll be back. Stay with Ella,” she whispered the last part and took off after Drew. She muttered to herself as she walked away. I distinctly heard the words, “Nothing will happen,” leave her mouth.
I watched them as they boarded the lifts and fade away from sight as they climbed up the hill.
Ella peered after them. “Do you think they’ll be alright?” she asked me.
“Has Lynna had any seizures since you guys arrived?” I asked her and didn’t bother answering the previously stated question.
“No, why?” she responded.
I didn’t answer her. I saw the shivers Lynna displayed earlier, but the other two hadn’t noticed that there was an immediate problem. In the past, Lynna always shook slightly right before she had an attack, but probably most were chalking her tremors up to the cold temperatures.
“Garrett, I think they’ll be fine on the pike. I’m more worried about their friendship than I am about their ‘mad’ skills. Lynna didn’t look happy when Drew talked about her being an Olympic professional.”
She caught that too? What else had she seen?
“Let’s just get some hot chocolate and wait for them to come back.”
Before I could respond, she grabbed the sleeve of my right arm and pulled me towards the lodge.
“How was your Christmas?” She genuinely asked me that, but I knew it was meant to distract me from what happened outside.
“Good so far,” I answered. “Yours?” I repeated the question.
We conversed about the holidays. I glanced at the clock several times wondering how long they’d been gone. Ella and I both stared at the top of the hill they would appear on before completing the slope. So far, I’d been disappointed by all the people coming off it, and every time I realized that it wasn’t them, I felt more and more anxious. I also felt complacent that nothing major had happened, but I was more stressed than I was content. There was something off this afternoon. It was in the air, not in the conversation.
Ella and I returned out to the wintery wonderland, in hopes that we might have mistook them for some other pair that finished earlier. But when we got outside, they still hadn’t arrived yet.
Another ten minutes went by and my anxiety increased tenfold.
Even Ella looked distressed. “Where are they?” she muttered.
After another five minutes, Lynna appeared at the top of the hill. I noticed her jacket flew out from behind her. It rippled in the wind, as a part of it had been slashed open, like someone tried cutting her. I straightened and watched her zigzag towards us. She didn’t bother slowing down, as the other skiers had done when they came close to the gorge.
“What the…” Ella began, but she silenced herself and squinted into the distance in time to see three other boarders following behind Lynna edging ever closer to her.
These people followed her every move and tried gaining speed on her. They were hindered by the natural complexity of the landscape. A fourth appeared, bringing up the rear, but he was on a snowmobile. A passenger, presumably Drew, because he wore the trademarked red jacket that the lodge suited with injured skiers, rode on the back.
“Is that Drew?” Ella exclaimed, clearly worried now. “What happened?”
I shook my head, not knowing what had taken place. Some of the other tourists now watched this scene unfold, because it was bizarre. Lynna entered the downhill twist, where even the most experienced set of skiers and boarders met with unfortunate injuries if they didn’t turn in the right direction at the right time. Everyone that finished the course earlier took their time traversing this part of the hill. Not Lynna and not the three people that followed her.
Ella gasped. “She clearly won. Why is she still doing this? This wasn’t a part of the deal… Drew must be so crushed,” she muttered.
The three followers yelled to each other. One yelled back and I heard a familiar voice. The second girl, closest to Lynna, was the same woman from the ambulance incident. I shoved my cup of hot cocoa at Ella. “Hold this,” I demanded her.
She took it without question, clearly frazzled about the entire scene. “What are you going to do?” she asked me as I grabbed my board and pulled on my sunglasses.
“Lynna needs help. She’s going too fast to stop, and we are on the mountainside,” I breathed out. The heat from my body evaporated quickly, but new warmth from somewhere within flooded me with assurance that I was doing the right thing. Lynna came closer and closer; one of the boarders disappeared behind the trees. I could only assume they hit the obstacle and stopped. Two were left now.
Lynna flew into the outpost, holding out her arm for balance. I glanced at Ella briefly and prepared myself for a sudden burst of speed. “Get Drew and go back to the lodge!” I shouted.
“What are you…?” Her question trailed off as I grabbed Lynna’s arm right she flew past us.
Some of the snow that was displaced by her speed landed on Ella. She shook her head and turned towards me. “Garrett!” she yelled.
I ignored her and focused on the slope in front of me. I had let go of Lynna’s arm, now that I propelled my own speed. I watched her move and followed her, mimicking every twist she made. Drew was right about her; she had professional moves. Miraculously she dodged every single tree and rock in the path, and I followed every encounter. She jumped slightly sideways avoiding pitfalls and snow dens from the animals, like she knew they were there, but despite her mastery and cunning display of skills, the pair of chasers gained distance on us both.
We closed in on one of the nearby gorges. There wasn’t much of a path left to follow, as we made our own. Lynna didn’t stop or slow down. At the last second, she swerved left and followed a trail of trees. I moved with her, and nearly scraped the edge of the cliff. One of the people behind us didn’t maneuver quickly enough to avoid the trap. They went over the side and disappeared. The boarders behind that guy corrected the path and trajectory before resuming the chase on Lynna.
I glanced down at the lodge below us; we headed towards the resort at an alarming rate. Lynna jumped avoiding a rocky patch. I jumped as well, nearly missing the rocks; my instincts weren’t as good as hers. Someone grunted heavily shortly after my stunt, and I quickly knew that the guy behind us had stopped uncontrollably. But when I searched for the halted figure, the remaining boarder had leapt up off her board and flew at us from overhead. I followed her body as it collided with Lynna’s; the girl tackling her from the air. They both went down into the snow, tumbling down the slope. Their boards slid off the edge of the mountain.
With the combined force of the pair from the collision, Lynna was now a mile ahead of me. I pushed myself to go faster, so I could catch up. The girl’s hat had come off; her jet-black hair was free and whipping around her body in the wind. She grabbed Lynna’s head and pulled it back, ready to plunge her fist into Lynna’s chest. Lynna shook slightly in the wind, growing to a violent shake. She reached up and tried prying the girl’s fingers off her neck, but they wouldn’t budge.
I flew into the girl and pushed her off Lynna. I picked up the black headed thing and threw her into one of the nearby trees. She hit the trunk and it buckled under from the force. I slid to a stop and jumped off the board after undoing the snaps. I reached Lynna’s side and picked her up. She coughed a little and wriggled out of my arms. I let her stand up, but I grabbed my board and settled my feet back onto it. Lynna’s board had disappeared, but I would carry her down this mountain if I had to.
The tree behind us groaned. We both turned our heads as the girl pushed the massive trunk off her body. Dead leaves were strewn in her hair. She didn’t bother picking them out. Her clothes were scratched and torn from where the tree branches had scraped her body. She looked like she’d been thrown in a wood chipper, but she was conscious and angry.
A nasty grin spread across her face. “I knew you were one of us!” she shouted at me in Gaelic. “It’s clear you serve the Empress. How fitting! Lord Trionden’s family is dwindling. I now know your secret. Exile on Earth? How dumb do you think the Imperious is?”
Lynna stared at her. She didn’t move much from my side. Her arms were completely white, though. Even her face was white. Parts of her jacket were completely shredded and missing now. She should’ve been shivering with cold, but she wasn’t and remained calm.
“You should really revert to your normal self. You’re so ugly in this form,” the girl teased.
“Whatever happens,” Lynna mumbled, “Don’t fight her.”
“Why?” I growled at her. I wanted to punch that woman from the moment she called Lynna ugly. It was one thing to mess with me, but to mess with Lynna? That was uncalled for.
The ground underneath us trembled a bit. Lynna backed up a few steps and I followed suit. From the corner of my eye, I spotted an avalanche coming our way. The boarder was in the direct path of the falling snow and debris. She unknowingly stayed in place. “Oh, I can’t believe that I finally have caught you! She’s going to be so pleased.”
“Um,” I began. I had lost my temper. “Correction!” I yelled at her. “You’re the one who is caught!”
Lynna completely shook, whether from the cold or with rage I could not tell. I felt her trembling against my body. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the woman, for fear that she’d try an escape and attack us.
The girl looked shocked by my statement, but her head swiveled around towards the sound of the noise that deafened our ears now that the avalanche reached us. For a split second I saw her, and then she was thrown off the side of the hill into the gorge below as the snow and debris plummeted down the mountain.
Lynna grabbed me and turned us around with such an amazing amount of strength I didn’t think she possessed. I spotted a flash of green as her board appeared out of nowhere. She pushed me down the trail and followed on her board. Some of the snow fell on us and not off the side. She swept past me leading the way. I followed her. I glanced back several times and watched the progress of the avalanche. At one point I caught a glimpse of the girl holding onto a tree branch that jutted out from the side of the mountain. She hung there, letting the snow fall on top of her head. I couldn’t believe that she survived the fall into the gorge.
When we reached the bottom of the hill, I stepped off my board and searched for any signs from followers. Lynna grabbed her board in a flip and landed on top of the snow with her feet. She slung the neon green board under one arm and trudged through the countryside towards the resort. I grabbed my board and caught up. “Aren’t you worried that the woman survived that?”
“Why did you come after me?” she angrily responded.
“You needed help,” I pleaded with her.
“You left Ella by herself.”
I gaped. “It’s not Ella they’re after, it’s you!” I yelled at her. How did she not see that?
“No, you’re wrong.”
“Lynna,” I pleaded again and pulled her to a halt. “Enough with the pretenses and lies. Why won’t you tell me what is going on with you?”
“Garrett…” she began but stopped.
“No! No more ‘I can’t tell you until you remember.’ There’s something different about this situation. That girl or woman, whatever she is, singled me out. She singled me out in the ambulance that carried me to the hospital. She and a man asked me about whose side I belonged to! And that was before the explosion in the cab! She was here today, Lynna. She was here! Hunting you!”
Lynna pleaded me with her eyes. “But you know already. I told you everything that day and you can’t remember it because of the oath that you made!” she stated slowly.
“Then why can’t you repeat it?” I asked her.
“Because if I do, then you will die. There are circumstances surrounding the type of oath, but I do not possess the means of breaking the magic that guards my tongue,” she explained.
I let go of her arm.
“To protect our secret, the blood pact will kill you.”
“But you told me before…” I froze. “How can it do this to me? Make me forget what happened, what I learned that day?”
She didn’t answer.
“This is so ridiculous, Lynna. I can’t help you if I don’t know what I’m up against!”
“And how do you think I feel?” she yelled at me, losing her calm demeanor. “I can’t utter a single word to you about what happened for the fear that you’ll die in an instant! I don’t know how you have managed to not go crazy yet, or why you have weird dreams and visions surrounding our world, but I’m just as confused as you are, and I don’t have the answers to those questions! This has never happened before! I…What I did…I…” she couldn’t find the words to speak. She fell silent and stared at the ground.
I was so upset with her for hiding the truth from me, but it never once occurred to my mind that I would die if she tried explaining the circumstances surrounding that day again. She was frazzled about this, as was I. We were both confused and both us wanted to know the truth behind our questions. There weren’t any answers to them. I pulled her into a hug. No matter how angry I was at this situation, I still cared about her.
“I’m sorry I keep yelling at you,” I started. “It’s not my fault that I can’t remember exactly what you told me, and I forget that you are looking out for my welfare as well as our friends.” I let her go and she untangled herself. “Is that why you are so concerned about Ella? That something will happen to her?”
“Why was the girl chasing you down the hill?” I asked her calmly. If we couldn’t talk about things past, maybe we could talk about the present.
“Apparently my exploits on the pike didn’t go unnoticed as I hoped they would. I’ve been exercising great control over my self that I think I might have slipped a little while having fun. I’m out of practice now that I’ve become noticeable at school. It’s been a long time since I had friends of any sort.”
I thought about her mutterings. “Did you accept Drew’s offer on purpose?”
She looked up at me. “Well his offer couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. I accepted, but it was the others I was really accepting to meet. I didn’t want Drew in the way, and neither did they. It’s a big deal if one of you sees them in their true forms. They’re not as forgiving as we are.”
I nodded. I had gathered that much information already; Lynna only affirmed the truth. “What happened to him?”
“He was pushed into a snow bank. One of the resort’s medical team was watching at the time, I made sure they were, so he could be rescued and carried down.”
“So, if they don’t want to harm Drew, why are you so concerned about Ella’s welfare?”
“Ella is collateral damage.”
I narrowed my eyes at her. “From what?”
“Well, she’s your collateral damage actually. They believe that you are one of us, though you’re clearly not. Even I can see that. But Ella was present when she witnessed the disintegration of the man in the ambulance, and she’s seen one of us in our true forms.”
I gaped at her. “But she won’t remember that! She was in a time capsule or whatever they called it! They did that to her!”
“I know,” she stressed. “But it doesn’t matter. Her brain witnessed the explosion and eventually parts of that night will surface whether she’s conscious or while she’s asleep.”
“Well, why can’t you get her to take an oath like I did?”
“It doesn’t work like that,” she stated.
“Then explain how it does!” I stressed.
Her face fell. “I can’t. To understand our oaths, you must understand us and by that you must remember what I told you. The logistics of our promises aren’t just words and phrases like they are in the human culture. They mean unending promises, infinite. Words are weapons and shields. They bind us all, eternally. If you break an oath…well…death isn’t the worst thing that would happen.”
“What’s worse than death?” I blurted out and didn’t bother checking my words.
Lynna looked horrified. She didn’t want to answer me. She turned back around and headed down the remaining part of the slope. I followed along shortly.
Several minutes of silence drifted between us. It was a long time before either of us spoke. We continued down the hill, taking a leisurely pace. Once we were in sight of the resort I broke the silence. “What now?” I asked her.
“We tell them that we boarded down the rest of the mountain together,” she explained casually.
“And the others?”
“We lost them.”
I nodded. She and I both knew that the three weren’t lost, but they had abandoned the idea of trying to take out me, Lynna, and Ella for the time being. “Do you think they’ll try and harm us again before we leave?” I asked her, curious to know if I should be on guard or not.
She turned and glanced up at the Alps that dotted the landscape in the background. “They’ll always try.” Her head swiveled back around, and she threw me a sad smile. “They always do.”
I gazed in the direction she stared in. A faint twinkle from a star appeared in the sky. It wasn’t dark yet, but it was getting there. It must’ve been my imagination, but it seemed like a star was brighter than it was before. It was as if I knew the way to get to the heavenly object and it was calling out to me.
Lynna tugged on my arm and pulled my gaze back onto her. “If you stare at it long enough, you’ll start wishing you were there.” She smiled, but I got the feeling she let me in on a secret of some sort. “We need to go check on Ella.”
I nodded. She was right about that. In my attempt to save Lynna from the boarders, I had left Ella without the protection of one of us. I didn’t want Drew swept up in the middle of all this; it was bad enough that Ella had been dragged into it without any knowledge on her part.
I followed Lynna into the resort and took one last glimpse at the star in the sky. Though I secretly longed to visit it, the crisis was here, plus I couldn’t leave. I settled comfortably knowing that one day I might get the chance to visit the far away planet. There was a lot stipulated in Lynna’s statement, and I guessed that she knew exactly how to travel there and back again, without the world knowing.