The shaking almost knocks me out of my bed; I bolt up, covered in sweat, taking a deep breath of air, ready to let out a scream if needed, as I look for the cause of the tremor. Suddenly a large hand covers my mouth, looking for its owner, I turn and see a large dark form. Poe gives me a stern look as he places his finger over his mouth to silence me.
He removes his hand from my mouth, and I let out a deep breath. "What's happened?"
Poe looks around the bed, into the darkness, where three more sets of eyes glare back. "Nothing, Kat, but you were dreaming." Emphasizing the word allows me to know what has happened.
I've had another vision while I was sleeping.
Shivers run through my body; I try to shake them away as I sit up straight, smooth the sheets over my hips, and place my hands in my lap. "Well, did I say anything?" My voice comes out small.
I hate the visions that come with my dreams; they usually mean death, sadness, and loss. They are warnings of bad things that will come, and hardly ever bring good tidings.
There is a long silence, and then Wade clears his throat as he steps out of the shadows. "You said a name. And…" he hesitates, as if uncertain whether to continue. His eyes shift meeting the others, still hidden in the darkness; they are sharing a wordless conversion about whatever is going on.
"I'm exhausted, guys. Spit it out already," I huff.
Byron jumps on the bed next to me and props up on an elbow, taking my hand in his. I roll my eyes.
"Well?" I demand.
"So, it's like this," he says with a smirk, "you were enjoying your vision, and it was about some guy named Dix." He winks with a low chuckle as he slaps my hand and then smiles broadly.
"What do you mean enjoying my vision? I never enjoy my visions." I look into each one of their catlike eyes; black, blue, green, and amber. More silence fills the room.
Poe nods to Wade and Blake. They make their way to the door and seal it with a silencing ward; it will prevent anyone from listening in to our conversation. I look back at Poe, waiting for further explanation.
"Wade and Blake were making their rounds when they heard you making noises as if you were in distress. They summoned Byron and me immediately, and we all entered your room to make sure you were okay." Poe pauses, thinking through what to say next.
"We didn't see anything, but you were thrashing about a bit," Wade continues. "Blake had gone over to your bed to check on you. We all heard you whimpering and sighing as you called for this guy named Dix. It was sort of..."
"It was as if you were enamored with him," Blake keeps going at Wade's hesitation. "You two were being intimate, but then your demeanor changed; fear crossed your face, and you keep shaking your head. And then you began to call for Dix as if he was out of reach or something." He leans forward and kisses my forehead. "It was heartbreaking to hear you like that." Blake steps back in line with Poe and Wade. They're watching me.
The four Darklings that are hovering around me are my guards and my only friends. My only family. My betrothed, John, presented them to me as a gift while they were still eggs, indicating that they were the best that this world has to offer and would protect me from any harm. They were intended to be my guards and sitters since I am such an unruly girl.
Darklings are developed as the Shadowlands soldiers and guards; they are scientifically crafted and enhanced with magic. The Darklings hatch from eggs that are about four feet tall, looking like gargoyles that should be sitting atop of old gothic churches and buildings, with catlike eyes that allow for good eyesight in any type of lighting, and reach adulthood within a year of hatching. They are tall and muscular, with human-like features, and have intricate designs that appear etched into their skin from their skulls to their shoulders and arms.
Each Darkling is a different shade of color and has a different design, which is specific to them. Almost like tigers and their strips, no two Darklings are the same. The patterns on their skin contain an iridescent scale quality along the temple of their skulls, which darken when they sense danger. The Darklings hold a dark beauty to them, but looks are deceiving in this world.
The Darklings are also linked to the Stronghold, the principal capital of this region, from their hatch day. Then they are imprinted with the Shadowlords and the commanders to ensure perfect soldiers, the kinds that are deadly, able to complete any task, and listen to commands without questions. But not mine. However, I refused to have my four linked or imprinted. Instead, I raised them as if they were my own.
John insisted that they trained with the rest of the Darklings and learned different combat skills and magical abilities like the others; otherwise, they would be useless.
While my Darklings were training, I used my endless amount of time to read and study. Taking full advantage of my position as a Shadowlord's fiancé, I was able to obtain virtually anything written in this world or the human world. As a result, I shared my knowledge with my Darklings, and they shared theirs with me.
Within the last two years, Wade, Poe, Blake, and Byron have proven to be some of the best Darklings ever created. They surpass the other Darklings in combat skills, ability response time, and intelligence. That is all that John cares about and allows them to remain with me as long as they prove that they are perfect soldiers.
John believes that all the training that my Darklings went through has formed them into the perfect loyal soldiers. He never considered that love, compassion, and friendship could have altered their development because although they behave like perfect Darklings, they are loyal to me, and me alone.
My Darklings and I have bonded; we have become a family. They still play the soldier part to protect me as well as themselves, but they are prisoners under John's rule just as I am.
Each one of my Darklings is named after a writer or poet that was able to give me joy at one time. The oldest is Wadsworth, Wade, for short. He is the leader, the problem solver, and always the peacemaker amongst the others. Wade is a deep green color that reminds me of a pine forest after it has rained. His green eyes match the colors of my mother's hostas plants, at least from what I remember; a vibrant green that fades into a hint of yellow.
Second to the oldest is Poe, who is the color of ebony. His skin reminds me of the sky on a moonless night, his patterns are constellations, and his eyes are the color of black walnuts; dark, but warm. Poe holds all his emotions on the surface and has a short temper. I have to remind him to calm down, or he could ruin the perfect soldier facade that we have created. It usually just takes putting my hand on his arm; my touch gives him comfort and focus.
Then there is Byron, who is a deep crimson color with eyes of amber. He is charming, funny, easy-going, and overconfident. Byron is mischievously talented and is always getting into trouble, especially with the flower maidens who act as servants for the Shadowlords.
Lastly, there is Blake, who is a deep teal color with eyes as blue as a robin's egg. He is the quiet and watchful one. Always observant and aware of everything that is going on. Blake is also the most honest of the four, and I can always rely on him to tell me the truth since my Darklings enjoy keeping things themselves.
I do not believe that I would have survived these last two years without them by my side. I would have gone insane.
Blake reaches for my hand and squeezes it, pulling me out of my thoughts. I refocus and try to remember the vision, but draw a blank. This is not the first night that I have awoken in a cold sweat, but it is the first time that my Darklings were present to witness me in that state.
Something is blocking me from drawing the vision forward, which is John's doing. John has placed wards or spells on me to blocks my abilities so that he can have control over them.
I don't know how he managed to place them on me; all the ward and spell magic I read about involves incantations or something spoken aloud. I don't recall John ever using magic around me, but I know something is there as if a cage is wrapped around my gifts. I don't have any access to them, and even in John's presence, he only opens the cage just enough for a Judgment to pull out the vision for himself. John calls them sessions and forces me to sit while a Judgment kneads into my mind to extract any images I may have had.
The frequency of these sessions has died down in the last couple of months when only random images would show. John became frustrated after weeks of the same pictures, and I haven't seen a Judgment since. I hoped that the cage around my gifts would have weakened, but it is as strong as ever.
Unfortunately, I have a feeling that my current vision will not make John very happy, and I will have to find a way of keeping it from him. But first, I would need to seek out a Judgment to pull the current vision out of me, and then I can find a way to keep it from John.
Shoving the sheets off myself, I climb out of bed. The moonlight is peeking into my room through the narrow slits that are supposed to be windows. The apartment is large and extravagant, decorated with luxurious fabrics, rare art, and expensive furniture. It's beautiful, but it's not a room. It's a glorified prison cell, and the light from the moon looks like bars stretching across the floor.
I begin to pace across the bars of light. This vision is persistent. I used to be able to control when I had them. It is only visions that involve me that appear while I am asleep. The last time I had images like this, I was fifteen, and the people I loved died.
A shudder runs over me as the memory of that night floods my mind.
Shaking away the disturbing images, I make my way over to the fireplace. I suddenly feel freezing and want a fire. Poe is beside me in an instant, lighting the fire I intended to start.
"Thank you," I manage as I sit at the edge of the sofa.
Blake sits next to me and pulls me back into his embrace. The rest are hovering again, ever-present, and well aware of my thoughts and memories. They know me too well and can read me so clearly.
"We'll go to the Market tomorrow, in search of a new book or something simple like that, just to get us out of the first few terraces," Wade begins, in a clear and deep voice. "We'll get in contact with a Guide and ask them to meet with you so they can lead you to the entrance of Guardia." He looks over at Byron with a solemn stare. "We may need you to create a distraction if we come across a patrol."
"What are you going on about—" I begin, while moving my gaze over all of them.
"Why am I always the one that has to create a distraction?" Byron huffs, almost pouting and nods to the fireplace where Poe is feeding more wood into the fire. "He's the most distracting. He looks like one of the Old Ones."
Poe stands with his hands forming into fists, letting out a low growl. He hates being compared to an Old One; he finds it demeaning.
"Enough!" Wade bellows, making me jump. He looks over at Blake with a curt nod. "Tell her."
"Right," Blake replies as he shifts in his seat and loosens his hold on me. "We've heard talks of an old Judgment that is known as the Music Man. He keeps sanctuary in Guardia in some old gypsy caravan. We think he can help you," he pauses and then lifts my chin so I can look up at him, "and with more than just your vision."
Poe straightens and turns back towards us. "She can't go to him. We need time to verify the information and devise a plan; otherwise, Ganix may find out, and we will all be killed." He sounds angry but worried as well.
Wade gives a low growl, stopping Poe from speaking further. Poe turns his back to us again and watches the fire.
"What is it that this Music Man can do?" I pause to wonder, feeling curious. "Can he send me back…send us back?" The thought of going home is almost overwhelming.
John brought me here from the Other side, the human world. I was a rancher's daughter, happily living in California with my family until they died in a house fire. John pretended to be a friend and brought me to the Shadowlands. Eventually, he got me to agree to a three-year courtship to consider his proposal to marriage. At the end of the three years, I would have to give him an answer to his request. John only agreed to wait the three years because I was only sixteen when he crossed me over to the Shadowlands, and I convinced him that nothing younger than nineteen would be a suitable marrying age. Even though I have not answered yes to the proposal, he calls me his fiancé and considers the marriage emanate.
I have been here for two years so far, and I have been plotting an escape since the very start. There have been some hitches, and my time is running out.
One major problem is that I need help traveling back to the human world. The travel between this world and the human world is closely monitored since there are only a few ways to go about doing it. You need permission, a visa, so to speak. Since I am the fiancé to John, aka Ganix, aka Shadowlord, aka controlling and conniving selfish bastard, I would never get that permission. Very few do get to cross over. There must be ways to sneak over, but I have yet to find one.
John, of course, has an all-access pass and can come and go as he pleases. He is even able to travel not only to the human world but also can move back in time, which is what he did to find me, in the late nineteenth century. The present date in the human world may be completely different if I attempt to travel alone.
Following my train of thought, Blake shakes his head, drawing my attention back to him. "No, the Music Man can't do that. Only Shadowlords can travel between the cracks or give you the power to do so." He smiles warmly at me. "But, we were told that the Music Man might be able to sever your bond to Ganix and the wards or spells blocking your gifts so that you can free yourself of him forever. And then we will work on sending you back to the human world."
I did not miss his emphasis on sending me back. They do not plan on coming with me whenever that time comes. However, I will not leave without them, but there is no sense in arguing over that now.
"How…?" A thousand thoughts race through my head, but only one screams at me; freedom.
"We don't entirely know," Wade gently answers as he sits next to me on the sofa, "but we have a reliable source that states that the Music Man is...compelling. More than a Judgment. We just have to convince him to help you."
"You know the price she may have to pay," Poe barks. His anger is growing.
They are not telling me everything, but it doesn't matter; I have made up my mind. I stand up and make my way to Poe and place my hand in his, squeezing it gently.
"Whatever the price is, I'll pay it; after seeing what John has done and is still doing, I have to do something to get away from him. I can't be part of it any longer. I have to find a way to stop it." I feel so defeated. John is slowly killing this land by harvesting the people's light, and it's all my fault.
Poe squeezes my hand back. "Very well. We will be with you every step of the way, as always."
I smile at him, feeling a warmth grow in my chest. "So, are we ready to get into a little trouble?"
Poe laughs with a shake of his head. "Anything for you, sweetheart."