I snapped awake in a cold sweat and tore my exposed back from the tangled sheets. It was the same dream as the night before. And the night before that and the night before that.
My mother. Weak, unmoving, comatose.
I knew I had to go back. Still, I really, really didn’t want to. Every morning, I’d wake up and spend hours contemplating my return, but my trepidation always got the best of me. But that night was different. I had no other choice but to go home.
If I can still call it that.
I moved from my side of the bed as gently as I could, wrapped a robe around my body, and tip-toed across the room as to not disturb the man currently sleeping.
He wouldn’t be totally surprised to find me gone in the morning. We had agreed that there would be no strings and no commitment. It wasn’t for a lack of trying on his part, but I couldn’t seem to let anyone close enough to hurt me.
“What are you doing?” he asked languidly while I searched for my missing undergarments.
I didn’t look at him as I began dressing.
“I’m heading out. Didn’t mean to wake you.”
The air between us felt thick.
“But it’s Friday…I always make breakfast.…”
His crestfallen tone forced me to finally face him. The look in his eyes matched the dejection in his voice.
It was borderline mercenary of me to keep doing this to him. I was being so damn selfish, but I couldn’t let him go.
His eyes pleaded for me to stay. To wake up the next morning in his bed, to wear one of his shirts around the apartment, to sit on the counter while he made pancakes. To love him.
He wanted those things and he deserved them.
I just wasn’t capable of such a life with anyone from the Real World.
So, without another word, I picked up the last of my clothes, looked at his heartbroken expression one last time, and left the apartment without another word.
I called my boss on speakerphone while I packed a duffel bag. He answered on the first ring, even though it was barely seven in the morning.
“Rinaldi, I sent you a follow up report on the Ziegfeld account, so run those stats again before your meeting with them next week—”
“There’s been a sudden death in my family,” I lied quickly before he had time to launch into strategy plans for our firm’s recent acquisitions. “I’m headed out of the country for a few weeks to handle it.”
He fought past his evident discomfort with having to be sincere and sputtered an apology before telling me to take all the time I needed.
That meant I’d be using all of my PTO and I had maybe three weeks tops before I was expected back at the firm managing my accounts.
I ignored the overwhelming emptiness that accompanied the thought.
With a final splash of cool water on my face, I was out the door and on my way to the secluded manor near the inconspicuous town that I arrived at five years ago when I first switched worlds. My car sped along the road and I fell into a steady rhythm as I drove beyond the city and suburbs which gave me plenty of time to ponder what the hell I was doing.
The tension growing in my shoulders and neck was substantial with the mere thought of going to the Eighth Domain once again.
Was it home anymore? It was where I grew up, but I never felt like I belonged in the first place. I tried not to dwell too much on what lay ahead of me because the longer I thought about it, the more my heart constricted with nerves.
The drive took nine hours and two stops for gas. Eventually, I turned into the town that I hadn’t seen in years, my eyes wide, taking it all in. Besides a small grocer stand, a 24-hour cafe, and a drug store, the one-street town was practically desolate.
Perfect hiding place, I thought with a long sigh and turned once again down a narrow dirt road that passersby wouldn’t know existed without prior knowledge. It wound deep through the forest surrounding the town and my car jumped along the uneven ground. The drive took another thirty minutes before I could make out the lavish, but decaying building that my ancestors called home for so long.
When I finally arrived, I couldn’t help but shudder. It was the same cold, empty place that I remembered. I pulled the car safely into the old carriage house and grabbed my duffel from the passenger seat.
I approached the massive residence and was hit with a magnetic energy almost immediately. The years of power that had been emanating from its walls was enough to make me stumble backwards. With a determined and frustrated huff, I pushed through the thick air to the porch and found the front door was cracked open from when I ran for a new beginning instead of rotting away along with the house.
All the research in the world couldn’t have prepared me for what the big city had in store. While living in the small town, I had figured out how to use currency, I had started working at the cafe whenever I could, and most importantly, I had avoided the townspeople’s questions about where I came from. I was doing perfectly fine.
But the big city was different. I didn’t have a decrepit mansion to hide away from everyone and their prying eyes. I didn’t have anywhere to hide at all. I was left to claw my way around, learning everything I could about the Real World as I went, just hoping I never let on that I had spent the majority of my life in another realm entirely. Within five years, I had managed to work, educate myself, and survive using only a library card, determination, and sheer fucking luck.
And yet, after all of that, I was back. In the minuscule town, at the decrepit manor, returning to the world I ran from in the first place. I shoved my feelings back into a small, sequestered part of my mind and pushed my way through the front door.
Drafty air blew in the main foyer, dried leaves swirling over the marble flooring. I didn’t doddle in the entryway, instead stalking straight to the ballroom-converted-war room where the switch to the Eighth Domain would happen with sunset.
If I thought the energy outside was strong, it was tangible in the hallowed hall. The elaborate wall sconces around the space were covered in dust and webs that seemed to vibrate between the waves of power that coursed around the room. The chandelier was gently pushed back and forth endlessly, never coming to rest. The whole house practically shook as it held together the passage from the Real World and the Eighth Domain.
It was all too familiar.
On a massive table near the far end of the room, there were maps, all marked and pinned, strewn across the surface near a resplendent fireplace. I knew what would happen if I pressed a single finger to the top of the table, running the tip along the edges of old parchment maps and lists that had faded with age and sunlight.
I checked my watch.
I had time and was suddenly feeling sentimental. I pressed a hand to the table, the vision clouding my sight entirely.
“Solomon, we cannot begin work on the Eighth Domain until all six societies have been collected.”
Solomon LeBrev didn’t turn to face the man who had the audacity to question his leadership. Something that was happening far too often for his liking.
The fire that he kept burning with the occasional wave of his hand was now bright enough to illuminate the expansive ballroom used to strategize. The massive oak table near the fireplace had maps strewn about, some marked more than others of where they had traveled to already and where they had yet to go.
“We have four collected already, there is no need for the others.” The tone he used was threatening.
It seemed that Xavier Rinaldi didn’t notice. Or simply didn’t care.
“Solomon, if we leave them behind, we are making a mistake. The Physicals and the Psychs are vital to this plan and if you can’t see that, then you are not fit to lead us to our promised land.”
“The Naturalists have always been superior. That is why I was chosen to lead and that is why we will proceed without the remaining Physical and Psych societies.”
Xavier’s scoff echoed in the cavernous space against the marbled walls. “The reason you lead us is because you’re feared. The others are scared of what you’re capable of.”
Solomon finally turned to face the man behind him. “Everyone seems to respect that threat except you.”
I blinked the scene away and pulled my hand back from the table. Boring. I’d watched the vision play many times when I arrived five years ago and first discovered the little trick to see into the events that took place here hundreds of years ago. Some were foggier than others and with a careful hand on the tabletop once more, I searched through what I could make out until I came across my favorite scene to watch.
“Papa, where were you? Were you talking to the Leader? Can I come with you next time? I think I want to be the Leader when I grow up. Do you think I could? Are you going to get more people tomorrow? Can I come with you? I’ll stay in the carriage this time, I promise.”
“Landon, get back to bed. Give your father a chance to get inside,” a feminine voice pleaded.
Xavier gave his wife an appreciative kiss before following Landon to his room for their nightly bedtime story.
“Which book shall we read tonight?” The man asked as his little boy climbed under the covers and pulled them up close.
“Can you tell me the creation story again? Please?”
Xavier sighed deeply. “Again? Are you sure?”
The boy nodded vigorously, aghast that his father even had to ask such an absurd question.
“Well, alright then.”
Landon grinned victoriously as his father took a seat in the chair by his bedside.
“A long time ago, there lived a group of people who were very special. These people possessed abilities that most everyone else did not. They had found each other from near and far, joining their powers to live together as one, united by their differences. These people made up The Society.”
Landon whispered, “That’s us, Papa.”
“You’re absolutely right,” he whispered back before resuming the tale he’d told hundreds of times.
“There were six different kinds of abilities that these people were born with. Those gifted with the first kind were called Physicals. They were incredibly strong and agile, but deceptively so. You’d never know that they could carry five times their weight or run for hours without tiring. Their stamina allowed them to work effortlessly, efficiently, and precisely all day long.”
“Physicals built this manor, didn’t they?”
Xavier chuckled and nodded his head. “Indeed, they did. The second kind were called Psychs.”
“Mama is a Psych!”
“Right you are. Now Psychs were known for their ability to see into the minds of others. They had impeccable memories, able to recall stories or information they hadn’t thought about in years. Fueled by logic and filled with a desire to learn, they would spend their entire lives searching for knowledge.”
Landon’s blue eyes glowed with unbridled awe.
“Lastly, there were the Naturalists. These people were even more divided. See, a normal Naturalist possessed the ability to control either fire, water, earth, or wind. They could procure their particular element out of thin air and do with it as they pleased. Over time, they formed the final four societies, each clinging to those with the same abilities, however, the Naturalists in The Society were unique from any other as they learned how to control all four elements instead of just one. Being with one another and working very hard, they were able to achieve what other Naturalists could not.”
Landon smiled. “That’s you.”
To accentuate the point, Xavier closed his fists and held them out for the boy to choose one. Landon carefully tapped his father’s right hand and when it opened, there sat a delicate rosebud, formed from nothing but the air around them. Before his son could reach out and grab the flower, Xavier had tossed it in the air and incinerated the petals into a hundred bright little sparks that danced above their heads.
Landon gasped at the show and clapped his hands in excitement. “Papa, do you think I’ll be a Naturalist?”
“I think whatever powers you possess will be just perfect for you.”
The boy nodded innocently at his father’s noncommittal answer and prompted the man to continue his story. Xavier obliged.
“The Society continued to flourish for years as the people with different powers worked together but one day, they caught word of another group of powerful individuals living not too far from their manor. A few of the men decided they would go visit, but when they did, they found out how horribly the powerful were being treated. They were being abused and condemned for having powers so The Society decided to take action.”
Landon’s face lit up with elation as it did every time they reached this particular part of the story.
“They decided to once again travel near and far, collecting every powerful being they could find. Most of them were divided into packs which were coined as the first six societies, making our original group become The Seventh Society. Together, they will soon unite as one to create a new world—a new dimension—called the Eighth Domain, a place for powerful people to live freely without the fear of ever being hurt again.”
Landon collapsed into his mountain of pillows and sighed with contentment. “I can’t wait to live in the Eighth Domain!”
Xavier placed a kiss to his son’s forehead. “Soon, my boy. Soon.”
When I was pulled from the vision, I smiled. Hearing the wholesome creation story from my great-great-great-grandfather was just the nudge I needed to follow through with switching worlds instead of turning around, getting in my car, and ordering a cheeseburger to-go for the nine-hour drive back to the city. It was a reminder of the good intentions that existed those hundreds of years go.
I checked my watch again and gasped.
I only had a few minutes before the sun would set entirely past the horizon leaving the Real World dark and hazy with nightfall. It was at that exact moment that I needed to focus. I flung my bag back on my shoulder and cleared my mind. I slowly allowed thoughts of the Eighth Domain to develop: the expansive fields, the historic buildings, the people.
I pinched the bridge of my nose as forbidden memories pushed against their barricade and threatened to enter the forefront of my mind.
My heart pounded watching the sun dip lower and lower into the sky. It was now or never.
I took one last deep breath and closed my eyes yet again. Thoughts raced through my mind like a VHS tape on fast-forward. I could make out images here and there, but it was an all-consuming blur when suddenly and without warning, the walls around me melted away and I was left standing alone on the edge of a cliff overlooking the crashing waves of the Eighth Domain’s ocean below me.
Just like that, I was back. Quite unceremoniously.
Seemed rather fitting for the girl without power.