Power. An enigma, really.
Those in the Real World believed power to mean having status or control. In the Eighth Domain, power didn’t take on that same meaning. Power to us is what Real Worlders would call magic.
We didn’t call it such. That would be strange.
In this world, having power was the same as having the ability to breathe. It’s innate. Everyone has power.
Everyone except me.
I stood there watching as the sun slowly rose up from the horizon. It was early morning in the Eighth Domain and I knew my body would struggle with the time difference just as it had when I left. Nothing like losing an entire night’s sleep to start off my time back home.
“I did it,” I said to myself, only slightly surprised that the switch was successful.
I took a deep, clarifying breath. The breeze was fresh, not an ounce of pollution in the sky. As my lungs began to adjust, I wondered if they’d go into shock without any car exhaust to inhale.
The air was so crisp it seemed to bite at my face while my eyes squinted to adjust in the light of the rising sun. It was bright. The colors were so vivid, I almost forgot what it was like to see such incredible pigmentation. The dull, seemingly muted, tones of the Real World were already growing distant in my memory. Everything I had become accustomed to was fading as I took in the realm before me, so unchanged from the day I left.
Even the tall grasses that tickled the exposed skin of my ankles felt familiar, but jarring all the same. It was a feeling I never noticed growing up, but now I could hardly ignore it.
I let my gaze fall to the distant buildings. Being back for the first time in so long allowed me to see the world in a whole new light and I quickly concluded that the Eighth Domain was merely a time capsule of centuries prior. The Victorian architecture and lack of basic advancements like electricity were standard and the fact that we had running water was truly a great achievement in itself.
Before I left, I knew nothing different. None of us knew any different. Now, I briefly questioned if I was going to survive without the modern luxuries I’d become accustomed to in the Real World.
Am I going to remember how to light a gas lamp? How often did we get new blocks of ice for the cold box? How many revolutions should I crank a phonograph to play a record? Will I be able to make coffee without a machine?
This was going to be hell.
Off in the distance, I just barely made out the scattered silhouettes of people milling about, and my heart pounded in my chest as their figures reminded me of all the reasons I left. They’re people who rejected me slowly. They’re the people I would eventually run from.
Between the overwhelming brightness, the pure air, and the damn grass tickling my ankles, I could feel myself getting panicked.
What was I thinking coming back here? Forget the buildings, forget the people, and forget the Eighth Domain.
I turned on my heel and strutted briskly back to where I previously stood near the edge of the cliff with every intention of getting the hell out before anyone knew I’d arrived. I tilted my head towards the cloudless sky and whispered under my breath, “Come on, come on, come on,” hoping I could get out just as quickly as I came in. I let images of the Real World dance through my mind, but the longer I stood there, the foggier they became.
My fate was sealed: the sun was out and I was stuck.
Without a single ounce of warning, I felt a gentle hand on my shoulder making me whip around ready to scream in defense—the only defense I had, really—but standing in front of me was none other than my once best friend with a soft, decadent smile gracing her features.
“Hello, Amabilia,” she spoke quietly, her voice laced with uncertainty and maybe a touch of bewilderment.
I stood frozen. I wasn’t ready to face her yet, but there we were. I had no recourse.
I could run, maybe? I could run and hide from her and my mother and everyone in this godforsaken world.
“You know I’ll find you either way. Running probably isn’t your best option.”
I took a deep breath, hating the way she read my thoughts like the morning paper. “Hi, Memor.”
She stood, staring into my eyes for a few moments before jumping forward and tightly wrapping her arms around me with no indication of letting go.
“I missed you,” she whispered. I could feel her quiet sobs into my shoulder and a wave of guilt settled in the pit of my stomach.
“How did you know I was here?” I asked, pulling away and wiping her teary eyes.
“I felt your presence the second you switched over and then I saw you trying to leave again and I couldn’t let you go,” she rushed out before adding, “Your hair! It’s so long!”
She reached out to run her fingers through the ends and I suddenly became self-conscious. I was going to stand out like never before in this world of people who looked so similar. Memor, on the other hand, hadn’t changed since the day I left without saying goodbye.
She was still shorter than me and had the daintiest frame. Her parents were both Physicals, tall and lean, so I always wondered if she would ever have a growth spurt and put on some muscle, but it appeared not. Her dirty blonde hair that just reached her shoulders, her favorite white and gray striped dress that looked shorter than it did five years ago, and her bare feet standing in the grass—it was all the same.
She sighed, “I didn’t prioritize footwear over seeing my best friend for the first time in five years.”
I glanced down at my own black leather mules that I purchased at a high-end boutique near my apartment in the city.
I quickly cleared my thoughts of the Real World. I wasn’t ready to divulge details. If I was smart, I would have used the long drive to get a plan together for what I was going to say when asked about my new life, but instead, I’d blocked out those thoughts and listened to Top 40’s radio.
“Thank you for coming back, Lia,” Memor said suddenly.
That wasn’t what I was expecting. A scathing lecture on how I was the worst best friend ever for leaving in the night without telling a soul? Sure.
“I know you had your reasons for leaving and I just…I’m glad they weren’t enough to stop you from coming back.”
“You might be speaking too soon,” I grumbled and Memor ignored it, beginning to inspect my black knit sweater and dark jeans.
“These clothes are so strange. Does everyone look like this in the Real World?”
I sighed. Fucking Top 40’s radio.
“Not necessarily. Everyone has different styles. I just prefer…this,” I finished lamely.
She looked up and met my gaze, suddenly reserved.
“Right, well, let’s head home. Estelle is making breakfast.”
My chest suddenly ached at the mention of home and my mother. I was excited for neither of those things. I still had a million questions, but didn’t want to overwhelm Memor, like I knew she was holding back so as to not overwhelm me.
I settled on a vague, “How has it been since I left?”
The way her face became somber in the blink of an eye sent me spiraling.
“Not great. Mostly due to the abysmal leadership we’ve got. Coming back is probably going to start up the firestorm again. But I’m glad you’re here, Amabilia.”
We began the trek back to the center of town, walking through the open fields of the sunny realm. There was a cool, refreshing breeze in the air that smelled of florals and the salty sea—a welcome change from the usual gasoline and street garbage I had grown familiar with in the Real World.
Memor was trying her best to give me a rundown of everything I’d missed, but five years was a lot to cover in a ten-minute walk and she was obviously avoiding the reason I came back in the first place—the condition of my mother. But Estelle was well enough to make breakfast and that provided enough information for the time being. Other than that, I was too afraid to ask. Afraid of what, I couldn’t really say. It was an even toss between seeming like I cared and getting an answer I did not like.
I had just gotten my nerves under control when I saw it. It was tall, taller than I thought it’d be at least.
“Lia? Are you okay?”
The statue of the two men that meant most to me in this world stood before me, towering really, in the rising sunlight. It was situated far outside the center of town, meant to be a quiet place to come and pay respects but instead felt forgotten.
I walked closer, feeling tears prick in my eyes and a lump form in the back of my throat. I couldn’t help the reaction though I wanted nothing more than to be able to hold my feelings inside, keeping them close to me so that no one could know I was hurting.
“It was finished right after you left,” Memor whispered, keeping a distance.
I walked up to the base where their feet were permanently planted and looked up at my father, Orion Rinaldi. The figure was like any other statue: similar enough to the real thing, but slightly off to remind you that it wasn’t. His hair was delicately carved in subtle waves, but the part belonged on the left side instead of the right. No one else would notice or care about something as menial as that, but this piece of stone was all I really had left of him along with my memories I refused to let out of their cage.
I next analyzed the figure beside my father, Divinus LeBrev. Even crafted from stone, his eyes were gentle. I spent much of my childhood idolizing the man and all that he strived to accomplish during his time as Leader. Along with unfailing compassion, he had the ability to embrace others as family, evident by how he loved my father like a son and myself as a granddaughter.
The bronze plaque at the base of the statue was dull, not having been shined in a while. I used the end of my sleeve to wipe away the fine layer of dust from the engraved text.
’Divinus LeBrev and Orion Rinaldi. A fallen Leader and his hero. Always in our hearts and remembered as two powerful figures in the Eighth Domain’
I was surprised how loud my seething voice sounded over the piercing crack of my heart breaking.
“That’s all they had to say?”
Mem knew not to answer.
“Who the fuck wrote this?” I demanded, feeling my pulse quicken as I already knew the answer.
A few long seconds passed before Memor’s quiet voice broke the silence, “The aforementioned abysmal Leader.”
“What a disgrace to the Eight Domain. Writing about my father’s power as some defining trait of his. It’s bullshit. He was more than just a Psych. You know he wrote this garbage to take a stab at me. Like pouring salt on my powerless wounds—”
Memor was bold enough to roll her eyes. “Lia, you’ve been saying that since the accident. We know he’s been terrible to you ever since he took control. We know he’s not the greatest Leader we’ve had—” I scoffed. “But he lost a father that day too. You have to respect him.”
“I’ll do no such thing.”
With a last glance at my father’s stony figure standing next to the once-great Leader of our world, I turned on my heel and began walking away. I carefully put my mask back on, concealing my emotions yet again.
The better I guarded my feelings, the less likely Memor was to do a thorough deep dive in my head, something I was positive she was dying to do.
I glanced at her walking beside me, no longer attempting to hold a conversation. She really did look the exact same. Residents of the Eighth Domain rarely changed—there was simply no need. Fashion wasn’t a concern. Style, beauty, none of it mattered. I had undergone many changes since living in the city; there were fashion magazines on every surface of my apartment and I was likely perusing a department store in my free time, picking up some piece I just had to have. Meanwhile, Memor was in the same dress she got at seventeen.
I did notice how she walked differently. Her strides were full of confidence. It was a stark contrast from how I left her: a meek little girl who avoided speaking out like it would cause her to instantly drop dead.
She seemed to be analyzing me as well. Understandably so. I had never looked like more of an outsider than at that moment with my dark wardrobe and highlighted hair. Long gone were my signature florals and pastels.
Before I had time to mentally prepare, we were in the center of town. It was early, yet the square was filled with people flooding the grassy streets heading to work or school.
The Academy stood magnificently to my left with its bright white columns and hundreds of red brick steps leading to the grand doors where the promise of knowledge lay just behind. The morning light hit the building in such a way, it beckoned you to enter and learn something new, something amazing.
Across the grassy road opposite the Academy was the Leadership Tower still looking like an ostentatious cathedral of mystery. It was the tallest building in the Eighth Domain and visible for miles and miles which was no coincidence. The Tower was a presence like no other, always there, always looming. At the very top was a polished gold bell that had the power to gather all the residents of the world with its blaring ring. It rang when there were assemblies, it rang to begin and end the workday, it rang to remind everyone who was in charge. Inside the tower were meeting rooms, offices, and the archives that documented the extensive history of the creation of the Eighth Domain.
I had spent a fair amount of time during my childhood in the Tower while my parents were off in Seventh meetings or I was visiting Divinus after class. The last time I stepped foot in the building was shortly after the man died to collect all of my coloring pages that lined the walls of his office. Divinus’s son was apparently incapable of dealing with them himself. His exact words were, “Come get your things out of my office for Solomon’s sake. It’s been weeks.”
Between the two buildings was the Fountain of Freedom. Solomon LeBrev stood mighty at the top, his golden figure glistening in the sunlight as a light spray of crystal water trickled down to the large pool below, lined with more golden tiles. The display was, admittedly, quite marvelous to see after being gone.
I was mesmerized as I took in the unchanged sights for the first time in so long, feeling like I traveled back in time. The modern world I’d just come from was nothing more than a memory.
Then, out of nowhere, I heard his voice.
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