Chapter 1: THE LOST GIRL
The wind was whipping across her face as Natalia walked through the winter snow that covered the path along the riverbank. Trying to avoid the cold, grey, dead-looking landscape that surrounded her, Natalia lost herself in a daydream, knowing it was her only escape from her everyday life of poverty.
Lost in her daydream, it wasn’t until her watch beeped that Natalia noticed she had long since strayed from her usual path and was now lost in a bog surrounded by swirling mist. Although she had walked these paths many times before, she had never seen this bog. Being just ten years old, Natalia was afraid because being lost in the Russian wilderness is a scary thing for an adult, never mind a little girl.
Natalia was brave so she walked on and tried to find her way back to the riverbank. The warm ground of the bog turned the fallen snow to slush so Natalia could only guess which direction she had come in. The fog only made matters worse.
After walking for half an hour, Natalia knew she would not get home that night and she did as her father had taught her. She found shelter and waited for the morning light.
Hearing the wind rushing through a cave, Natalia headed straight for it. She stopped to listen for anything that might be living inside but it was quiet, so she slowly walked in and made her way deep into its tunnels.
As she walked further into the cave, Natalia could hear the soft flow of water as it trickled against the rocks that lay in its path. She was feeling thirsty, so she followed the sound until it led to a small pool.
Kneeling to drink, Natalia noticed a glimmer coming from the stream that fed the pool. She headed straight for it and with one look at the perfectly rectangular shape that lay there Natalia knew right away it wasn’t water. It was richer, cleaner and thicker than the water that surrounded it. Forgetting what her Father had always told her (if you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it), Natalia touched it.
As she dipped her finger into the glimmer, Natalia felt a tingle as it touched her skin. She tried to pull her hand back but found she was being pulled forward into the glimmer.
Feeling weak, confused and lost, before she could scream for help, the glimmer enveloped her and pulled her from the cave.
Natalia left the cave and stood there, feeling woozy and out of sorts. She hoped she would feel better in the morning. She wobbled to the wall and rested against it, waiting for the sun.
Confused but not afraid, Natalia momentarily stood in the centre of the warm glittering goo only to be pushed out of the other side with a pop.
Feeling that something was missing, Natalia began checking herself, making sure she had all her parts. Looking down she could see she was covered from neck to toe in diamonds of so many different colours and sizes that all she could do was look in wonder at their beauty. She watched sadly as they dropped to the ground and burst like drops of water on her shoes and then returned to the glimmer that was a lot larger than it had been a few seconds ago. It now ran all the way outside the cave.
“That just keeps on happening,” came a voice from behind her. She turned in surprise.
Walking out of the shadows was a boy no older than Natalia. He had silver hair, bright red eyes and was wearing a cloak.
“I’m Natalia. Who are you? What happened to my diamonds?” she blurted out.
“Do you always talk so fast that no one can answer you? First of all, I’m Catalyst. Secondly, they’re not your diamonds. They belong to the river and it’s nice to meet you, Natalia,” replied the boy.
“Hahaha, Catalyst, that’s a funny name,” said Natalia, giggling.
“It means the beginning of trouble,” said Catalyst sharply.
“Are you trouble?” demanded Natalia just as sharply.
“Some people think so,” replied Catalyst.
“The river owns the diamonds?” asked Natalia mockingly.
“Yes it does. They’re a part of it. We call it the Liquid Diamond. It’s a river that is no longer solid,” replied Catalyst, looking into it.
Turning around, Natalia saw the glints of light bouncing off the cave walls.
“Now why don’t you come with me, Natalia?” requested Catalyst as he took her by the arm.
“Why should I go anywhere with you?” demanded Natalia, pulling free of his hand.
“You may be the one responsible for the missing crystals and diamond ring that is keeping the portal sealed. The King has given orders to all that should anyone come through the portal they’re to be brought before him for questioning,” replied Catalyst as he nudged Natalia out of the cave.
“I don’t know how I could be responsible. I was only pulled through just now and I have never been here before,” said Natalia.
“Maybe so, but the King has given his orders. Besides, the Queen will know all about you soon enough. She’s a seer and with one look into your thoughts she’ll know everything you know,” said Catalyst.
Some time later they arrived at the castle. A guard watched over them as the King was informed of their presence. A few minutes later, the King and Queen entered the hall. Their guards surrounded Natalia and Catalyst. One very large, angry beast-like guard with huge sharp teeth paid very close attention to Natalia.
“So you must be the Human that came through our portal,” said the King as he waved to a guard to take hold of her while his Queen approached.
Gazing coldly at Natalia, the Queen strained to see her thoughts. With all Natalia’s fantasies filling the spaces that most people use for fact, a burst of energy exploded between them, sending the Queen flying across the hall into the wall behind her. Natalia was ripped from the guard’s hands and sent crashing into Catalyst’s chest. The impact sent him flying into the wall as Natalia landed face down on the floor where Catalyst had been standing.
The King helped his Queen to her feet and whispered in his ear. They both looked sternly at Natalia.
“It seems that my Queen cannot see your thoughts so there’s no way for us to know whether you are innocent of tampering with the portal,” said the King as the guards pointed their spears at both Natalia and Catalyst.
“I will question you first,” continued the King, glaring at Natalia.
“Who are you?” asked the King.
“I am Natalia Cherkasskaya,” replied Natalia calmly.
“Where are you from, Natalia Cherkasskaya?” continued the King.
“I am from Yekaterinburg, Russia,” replied Natalia proudly.
“What are you doing here in this world?” demanded the King.
“I was taking a walk, I got lost, I found a cave, I took shelter for the night, I touched some glimmering water stuff and I was pulled here, wherever here is,” replied Natalia.
“Have you ever been here before?” asked the King suspiciously.
“No,” replied Natalia simply.
“Did you have anything to do with liquidizing the portal?” asked the King.
“What kind of a question is that? I have never been here before,” shouted Natalia, tired of his badgering.
“Mmmmmg!” growled the King as he turned his attention to Catalyst.
“What have you to do with all this, Catalyst? After all everyone knows you’re trouble – you must have had something to do with it,” said the King as he stood towering over both of them.
“I only went to see the Liquid Diamond Portal for myself. I watched as this girl came through, then all I did was as you ordered: if anyone comes through the portal, bring them before you,” replied Catalyst.
“I do not believe either of you. One last question, tell me, are you friend or foe?” asked the King as he looked at Natalia, paranoid about her Humanity.
“Friend, of course,” replied Natalia, being a decent girl.
“Good! Then you won’t mind retrieving the locking crystals for the portal then, as it would seem that one of you Humans have taken them,” demanded the King, looking boldly at Natalia.
“Just how am I supposed to do that?” asked Natalia.
“You find them and bring them back,” growled the King as he held up a key and showed it to Natalia.
“Do you recognize this?” asked the King.
“It’s a key, but I’ve never seen this one before,” replied Natalia.
“Well it would seem that this key was the only evidence found in the portal cave. It was used to release the locking crystals by opening the portal from your world to ours. And since we’re the ones that locked it to keep you Humans out, I think it highly unlikely that anyone other than you opened it. Since the crystals would have liquefied going through the portal and there are some Humans scattered throughout this world, they must still be here. Catalyst, you will help her and be her guide,” ordered the King as he handed the key to Natalia.
“Your Majesty, if the crystals liquefied in the portal, how are we to know?” asked Catalyst.
“The crystals are not the same as the diamonds in the portal. We would have detected the difference. They’re here in this world somewhere. Since we learned long ago not to trust Humans, you can be sure they’re here,” replied the King. “Furthermore, I hope for both your sakes that the key helps you two in finding our crystals. Only in this way will you prove your innocence,” said the King.
The Queen gave orders to a guard to provide Natalia and Catalyst with a meal and a place to sleep for the night, and then be sent on their way at first light.
As they sat there eating their meal Natalia had to ask.
“Catalyst, if the portal was locked from this side, how could anyone from my world have opened it” asked Natalia.
“I don’t know, but the King and Queen are paranoid and very dangerous. They believe there are still Humans here so one thing is for sure, we have to try and find the crystals,” replied Catalyst as he took the key from Natalia and examined it.
“Do you recognize it, Catalyst?” asked Natalia.
“No I don’t but I bet you I know someone who might,” replied Catalyst, looking hard at the faded engravings on the key.
“Who?” asked Natalia.
“The Krusnik woman. She’s lived here for three hundred years since coming through the portal and she’s been alive a lot longer than that, so if anyone would know, it would be her,” replied Catalyst.
“What’s a Krusnik?” asked Natalia.
“You can ask her when you meet her,” replied Catalyst with a smile. Natalia just looked at Catalyst and went off to bed. She was much too tired to talk with such an exhausting boy.
When Natalia woke the next morning, she found breakfast on a table beside her bed and clean clothes laid out for her journey ahead. Through the window she could see the most beautiful sunrise she had ever seen in her whole ten years. She noticed she no longer felt afraid of where she was. Try as she might, she could not remember feeling afraid the night before either. “How funny,” she thought to herself as she started to daydream again.
“Natalia, Natalia,” came a shout that shook her out of her thoughts.
“Catalyst, Catalyst,” Natalia shouted back at the boy. She really hated being yelled at. Being a very proud Russian girl, she didn’t expect to be yelled at.
Natalia stepped outside her room with a mouthful of food to find Catalyst waiting for her. Walking as fast as they could, they headed off to find the Krusnik woman.
“So Catalyst, where is this Krusnik woman?” asked Natalia.
“She’s about a day’s walk from here, just through the wooded maze,” replied Catalyst.
“What’s a wooded maze?” asked Natalia, not liking the sound of it at all.
“It’s a maze through the woods. We have to go through it to get to the Krusnik woman, take this path or that path. In the end it really doesn’t matter because with one wrong turn anywhere in the maze you’re lost. So stay close and keep up and don’t look back, because you will get lost in the blink of an eye,” replied Catalyst not thinking of the dangers that might exist for a Human and trying to scare Natalia just a bit…for fun.
After a long and boring walk to the wooded maze, Catalyst took Natalia by the hand as they entered.
“Don’t let go,” whispered Catalyst.
Natalia squeezed his hand hard enough not to let go then twice as hard to make sure of it. Catalyst started to run, dragging Natalia behind him faster than she could run, making her almost fly through the air.
“Why are we running?” screamed Natalia.
“We’re being followed!” yelled Catalyst. Looking back fearfully, Natalia’s hands started to sweat. Losing her grip, she went tumbling to the ground, rolling head over heels until she came to a stop with a thump.
Looking up, all Natalia could see was a swirl of black, red and silver with Catalyst laughing as he went flying through the air. He landed on his rump with a thump and came to a stop.
“Mom, hi,” shouted Catalyst with a huge smile on his face as the swirl came to a stop and showed herself to be a woman.
Walking over to her son, Natalia watched as her skin turned from the blackest black to a soft shade of pink no different from her own skin colour.
She gave Catalyst a huge hug and seeing Natalia out of the corner of her eye, the woman walked over to her.
“Why, you are a small one, aren’t you? And you’re Human too,” said the woman softly.
“Hello,” replied Natalia with her voice, hands and knees shaking as she looked up at this woman who was a perfect six feet tall with such long silver hair and eyes so deep and red.
“So what’s your name, little one?” asked the woman.
“My name is Natalia…Mrs?...Mrs?” replied Natalia as she waited for a name to call this woman by.
“Krusniks don’t have last names like you Humans do, so you can just call me Anastasia. Yes, I like that name best of all. But enough talking for now – let’s get you two out of here before the Cockatrice sees you as the next meal.” Anastasia swept them both up into her arms and started gliding across the forest.
Catalyst pointed to the Cockatrice circling overhead. It had the head of a rooster, a body of a small dragon and two eagle-like clawed feet. After a few minutes they arrived at the home of Anastasia and Catalyst.
“Well, children, here we are – home safe home,” said Anastasia as she put them back on their feet.
Natalia was still in awe of what had just happened and started asking questions.
“Anastasia, who are you? What are you? I mean your hair, your eyes, you can fly and your skin changed colours. I just don’t understand,” said Natalia, not giving Anastasia time to reply to one question never mind anything else.
“You mean Catalyst didn’t tell you?” asked Anastasia, looking at Natalia and then Catalyst.
“Well I’m a Krusnik and Catalyst is half-Krusnik and half-Human – Russian Human to be precise. Well, your father is Russian,” replied Anastasia, looking at Catalyst and making Natalia smile.
“What’s a Krusnik?” asked Natalia, hoping for some glorious answer.
“A Krusnik is a dark angel. You see, Natalia, a long time ago on Earth there was a race of demonically mutated Humans called Vampires. They fed on Humans to survive. When it was apparent that the Humans were being eaten to extinction by these creatures, a group of my kind was sent to feed upon them. That stopped them from turning mankind into a slave race and in some cases even more Vampires,” replied Anastasia as though Natalia never heard of the Vampire.
“Really?” asked Natalia, not sure whether to believe her or not.
“Yes, really. Do you have Vampires? Ever heard of the Vampire?” asked Anastasia, leaving Natalia unsure of what to say.
“Show her, Mom...show her,” said Catalyst as he watched his mom and Natalia.
“Want to see something that will prove it, Natalia?” asked Anastasia as she stood up.
“Okay,” replied Natalia, not really sure if she wanted to. Natalia braced herself as she watched Anastasia standing there. In the blink of an eye, Anastasia vanished from sight, only to walk in through her front door.
“Wow! Anastasia, that was so great. How did you do that?” asked Natalia so fast it sounded more like panic in her voice than wonder.
“Show her the other one, Mom. That will really make her wonder,” interrupted Catalyst before Anastasia could even answer.
“Hmmm, okay just one more then,” replied Anastasia as she watched Natalia looking at her in suspense.
Taking the hood of her cloak and slowly pulling it down over her face, Anastasia ripped it back as fast as she could and scared Natalia into belief as she stood there with her skin as black as the darkest shadow, her eyes glowing a blood red. Her eye teeth stuck an inch below her bottom lip and her finger nails were an inch longer than they had been a second ago. Seeing how afraid Natalia had become, with just a quick spin, Anastasia was back to the woman she had been just a moment ago.
Still as white as a sheet, Natalia stared at Anastasia in fear.
“It’s okay, Natalia. I only hunt Vampires,” said Anastasia, reassuring Natalia she was safe. Natalia took a deep breath and the look of fear faded from her face to be replaced by relief.
“Do you mind if I ask another question or two, Anastasia?” asked Natalia after thinking for a moment.
“Only if you’re sure you want the answer,” replied Anastasia with a smile.
“If you were sent to Earth, how did you get here? Are there Vampires here?” Natalia blurted out.
“Careful Mom, she’s good at that. She talks so fast you never get to answer one question, never mind two,” laughed Catalyst.
“Well, Natalia, I suppose I got here the same way you did, through the portal. As for Vampires, they say there was one here long ago, but I have never seen it and by your calendar I have been here a very long time. So don’t worry, you’re safe,” replied Anastasia.
“So all you did was step through the portal diamond thing?” asked Natalia.
“Well I was out one night hunting the Vampire and happened upon your cave that holds the other end of the portal, but I didn’t know that at the time. When I saw the glitter I wanted to know what it was. I touched it and I imagine like yourself I was pulled through to this world. Then I noticed right away my thirst to feed disappeared just like that,” replied Anastasia with a snap of her fingers.
“You know, it seems to me that this place is like a world with in a world. It shares the same space as Earth but not the same time and even then it doesn’t share the same time with itself,” continued Anastasia.
“Doesn’t share time with itself?” questioned Natalia.
“Well, there are four Kingdoms here, Natalia, and due to warring and grief from a very long time ago, an agreement was reached. This was so long ago that no one remembers when it happened. I don’t know the whole story, but only one Kingdom would rule over the lands at any one time. This lasts for one full year and during that year, three of the four are out of phase by 0.2 seconds, so everyone has to trust the others. It stopped the wars,” replied Anastasia as she set the dinner table, gesturing for Natalia and Catalyst to sit.
“Well, I can tell by the look on your face, Natalia, that there are more questions you want to ask,” said Anastasia, handing them their plates.
“Those creatures flying over the forest where you found us – what were they?” asked Natalia.
“Those, dear child, are the Cockatrice. They’re vile little things. They carry a poison sack in their mouths, and should they spit in your eye, the poison causes paralysis and then they eat you alive. Their claws are as sharp as any razor, so be very careful around them,” replied Anastasia, as she handed Natalia a pair of spectacles.
“What are these for?” asked Natalia.
“They’ll protect your eyes around the Cockatrice,” replied Anastasia smiling, as she knew it was too much for anyone to take in all at once.
“Now I have one question for you, Natalia. What are you doing here? The portals have been sealed for a very long time,” asked Anastasia.
“I was out for a walk, I found myself on a path that I never seen before, I tried and tried to find my way back but I ended up in a cave. I did what my Father has always told me not to do: if you don’t know what it is don’t touch it. But I did, then your son forced me to go and see your King. The next thing I knew I had to find some crystals. I don’t know how many there are or where to look and until they’re found I can’t go home, or so it would seem. Isn’t that right, Catalyst?” said Natalia so fast that not even she herself could be sure if she took a breath. She had forgotten that Catalyst had their only clue, the key.
“There are three crystals and a diamond ring used to seal the portal, Natalia. Don’t worry, my son will be joining you in your search,” said Anastasia calmly while frowning at Catalyst for turning in an innocent girl.
“Yes he will be and the King says so too,” replied Natalia.
“Anastasia…speaking of here, where is here?” asked Natalia, still trying to put it all together and just as confused as ever.
“As I said before, Natalia, this is a world inside a world. It’s another dimension to be precise. This land is called Kyopelivuori, which means Ghost Mountain, as the ghosts of long-dead women seem to gather here in this land. They stay mostly in and around the mountain of Kyopelivuori, but from time to time you will find one or two wandering about the countryside. Don’t worry, for the most part they’re harmless and only now and again will you ever run into one that’s bad, but that is very rare. Even those ones will stay where they’ve been placed. They’re used to protect people or things,” replied Anastasia.
“Don’t worry, Natalia. You’ll learn as you go,” said Catalyst.
“You mean as we go!” replied Natalia.
“Well it would seem that the two of you have a long day ahead of you tomorrow, so enough chat for tonight. Finish your meal and off to bed with you both,” said Anastasia, looking at Natalia with pity for the mess her son had gotten her into.
Rising from his bed the next morning with a yawn and a stretch, Catalyst could smell his mother’s cooking and as quick as that he was at the table, shovelling food into his mouth.
“Mom, have you seen a key like this before?” asked Catalyst in-between bites as he held it up to her.
Taking the key, Anastasia looked closely at it and the barely visible markings carved into the squared knob on one end.
“Catalyst, where did you get this?” asked Anastasia.
“I didn’t, not really anyway. The King gave it to Natalia the day before yesterday and I got it from her a while later.”
“Good morning everyone,” said Natalia with a smile on her face as she sat down at the table.
“Good morning, Natalia,” replied Anastasia.
“Morning.” Catalyst’s speech was muffled with a mouthful of food.
“Well, Catalyst, the markings on this are definitely from the hand of a Basajaunak. They’re too detailed for any lesser craftsman and it could be made into a key I guess,” replied Anastasia as she handed the piece of metal back to its rightful owner, Natalia.
“Wait a minute! The key, Catalyst – it has changed shape and it’s crusty. Look,” said Natalia handing it over to him.
“That’s weird,” replied Catalyst, handing it back and wiping his hand.
“Anastasia, what do the markings mean?” asked, Natalia seeing how little help she got from Catalyst.
“One of the markings is that of a Dark Elf, but it’s not of their Kingdom. Beside it is the mark of Chatice as far as I can tell, then the mark of what would appear to be Annan and of course a marking so close to that of Kyopelivuori it couldn’t be anything else. But as much as those markings are of those Kingdoms, they’re simply not right. Take the Dark Elf, for example – it’s supposed to be of Svartalfheim and clearly it is in their style, but it’s not correct,” replied Anastasia, just as confused as Natalia.
“It looks as though the two of you will need to go see the Basajaunak and find out who made the key and try and find out who owns the marking on its top. That, I’ve never seen before,” continued Anastasia.
“Anastasia, we’re only kids – how are we supposed to do this?” asked Natalia.
“Little one, Catalyst may look and act like a kid and I suppose he is really, but he’s been alive for two hundred and fourteen years, and he’s been running around this world for more than half that time. I am sure he knows this land better than anyone else,” replied Anastasia.
“Two hundred and fourteen years old?” questioned Natalia with a look of disbelief in her eyes.
“Yes, that’s right. You see, Natalia, the people of this world have days that pass just like those on Earth, but time works differently here. When it comes to someone’s aging, it seems that for every twenty years that pass here, the people of this world only age one year, so on one hand Catalyst is just a boy, but on the other hand he’s an old boy,” replied Anastasia.
“Don’t worry, after all what kind of a mother would I be if I let two kids go running around on their own? You’re in good hands with my son, and don’t forget Catalyst has some of my strengths. He’s fast, he’s stronger than average and he’s got great eyesight. He can jump pretty well too, buuut…he’s got his Father’s mind, his only drawback really...everything has to be done the hard way,” continued Anastasia, smiling awkwardly at her son.
“Seems there’s a lot of that going around these days,” replied Natalia, thinking of the boys from school.
“Now I have to be on my way and so should the two of you. Don’t worry, I will find you later.” And just like that, Anastasia stepped outside her front door and disappeared into the sky.
“I’ll grab my fitsall and be right back,” said Catalyst running up the stairs. He got his bag and returned a little faster than Natalia ever could.
“What’s a fitsall?” asked Natalia laughing as she compared his bag to her backpack.
“It’s simply that, it fitsall, see?” Catalyst held it up to show her.
“Yes I see, an over-the-shoulder bag,” replied Natalia with a smile that showed how unimpressed she was.
“It’s much more than that. Here, hand me those two pillows and two blankets from that chest,” said Catalyst.
She handed them to Catalyst and he shoved them in the bag, which should never have had enough room for both sets. He smiled at Natalia. Catalyst walked into the kitchen and brought back all sorts of food and put that into the fitsall as well, followed by two cloaks, two pairs of boots coated with waterproof something or other and just for good measure, Anastasia’s homemade candy.
Baffled by what she had just seen, Natalia just shook her head.
“I don’t want to know how, but I do want to know why you put all that stuff in there,” asked Natalia.
“Well, we have a two-day walk before we reach the home village of the Basajaunak,” replied catalyst.
“Good thing I wore my runners when I left my place,” said Natalia to herself.
“Think I forgot anything?” asked Catalyst as he threw the bag over his shoulder.
“Only the kitchen sink,” replied Natalia under her breath, frustrated with the thought of having to walk for two days and having to sleep outside.
“Not much of an outdoors person, are you Natalia?” asked Catalyst.
She looked at Catalyst, huffed and walked out of the door.
“Catalyst, you may as well tell me about these Basajaunak people, so there will be no surprises. I think I’ve had about enough of those over the last few days,” said Natalia in a tone of voice that suggested she was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
“The Basajaunak…you’re going to like them. They’re friendly, kind and very skilled workers. They are the best blacksmiths you’ll ever meet and a lot of them are great herdsmen,” replied Catalyst.
“Blacksmiths and herdsmen,” said Natalia, laughing as she pictured the old Wild West movies she’d seen.
“They’re big and tough, and they average about seven and a half feet tall,” said Catalyst as he tried to figure out why Natalia would laugh at their craft.
“It’s said they make the very best swords and the sharpest knives. Their arrows are second to none, and it has to be true because the Elves have been buying them from the Basajaunak by the wagonload for a long time now. At least that’s what I hear,” continued Catalyst, bragging about these people.
“Well if these people are so great, why not send them after your locking crystals? I mean a seven-foot tall man – a ten-year-old girl...” asked Natalia with her mouth slightly open and the deliberate look of confusion on her face as she mocked the King’s decision.
“Well you’re new here, so let me tell you, when the King gives you an order, you follow it. If you don’t…well let’s just say no one has ever not followed an order, not in my time anyway,” replied Catalyst.
After walking all day and having very little left to say to one another, Catalyst saw a spot he thought would be a good place to rest for the night.
“Natalia, see that riverbank over there?” asked Catalyst as he pointed to it.
“Yes,” replied Natalia, thinking about the riverbank she loved to follow and feeling a calm come over her.
“Well, let’s stop there for the night,” said Catalyst, seeing the relief wash over Natalia’s face.
After starting a fire and setting out their blankets for the night, Catalyst started cooking their meal.
“So, Natalia, tell me more about yourself,” said Catalyst, handing her a plate of what looked like roasted beef and something that resembled twigs.
“Like what? What do you want to know?” asked Natalia, knowing it’s never polite to answer a question with a question.
“Well I know you’re ten years old, I know you’re from a land called Yekaterinburg, and that’s all I really know,” replied Catalyst.
“First of all I’m from Russia. Yekaterinburg is the city in which I live. It’s an industrial city and there’s a lot of work there, but there are also a lot of people, so the trick is to find work. My Dad’s a doctor and so is my Mom, but the pay is low for that work, so they both found jobs in sales. They make just enough money to pay for our food but that’s it. They say sales pay more and living’s not free. I go to school and I am training in gymnastics and I like candy, so why not give me some from your fitsall?” replied Natalia.
“Oh yeah, I forgot I had that,” replied Catalyst.
“Now why not tell me…more…about…you, Catalyst?” asked Natalia with a mouthful of sugary something or other. “Like how you could be two hundred and fourteen years old and still be just a boy?” mumbled Natalia with another mouthful.
“Well, as my Mom was telling you, time just works differently here. Somehow it affects our aging and I am half Krusnik. So who knows really? Like my Mom, I just might live forever, and while I’m not exactly sure, I don’t think you’re going to age while you’re here either. If I understood what I’ve learned from my mother, you’re going to age very quickly when you step back through the portal and merge with yourself,” replied Catalyst.
“What do you mean, merge with myself?” demanded Natalia, looking at Catalyst suspiciously.
“First of all you need to understand that what was once one became two and will return to one,” replied Catalyst.
“What? What are you talking about?” demanded Natalia once again.
“Look at it like this, Natalia – when you touched the liquid diamond or the portal, whatever you want to call it, you separated from yourself and became two separate people, with one of you here in this world and one of you in your world. When you go back through, you should meet yourself and merge into one person again,” replied Catalyst.
“Should merge with myself? I hardly believe anything you just told me,” stated Natalia pointing her finger at him.
“Well my Mom told me about this a long time ago. She was there when they sealed the portal and just to make that if it was ever opened again, it was cursed so that it would seem as though the one trying to come through never came through at all. So with no reason to try again, people from your world would just stop. For the half that did show up, they were never allowed to leave. They just wanted the warring between our worlds to end. Just ask my Mom – she’ll tell you the same thing,” replied Catalyst.
“Well if they wouldn’t let the other people go back, then why would they let me?” asked Natalia with fear in her voice.
“Not to worry Natalia, my Mom will make sure you get home. Remember she was sent to Earth to watch out for your safety and I don’t believe she ever agreed with what they did in the first place. You’ll get home,” said Catalyst smugly at the thought of anyone from this world telling her no when yes is what she would demand.
“You know what’s funny though, Natalia? Right now you’re living your life back where you came from and at this very moment you could be in so much trouble!” laughed Catalyst.
“That’s not funny!” replied Natalia in a stern voice, trying to hide the grin on her face. “Ohh, I hope I’m being good,” she whimpered as she and Catalyst burst into laughter.
“What...else...should...I...know?” asked Natalia in-between laughs.
“I’m not sure,” said Catalyst as his laughter slowed.
“Explain the phase that your Mom was trying to tell me about,” said Natalia.
“Ah, the four Kingdoms share control of this world, but only one rules it all at one time. Right now the Kingdom of Kyopelivuori is in charge and all the other Kingdoms are out of phase by 0.2 seconds. At its simplest, they’re behind us in time by less than a second,” replied Catalyst.
“That doesn’t seem like much,” said Natalia, wanting to believe him but only because Anastasia had spoken about it first.
“0.2 seconds out of phase means they are still able to speak with us and us with them, and we can still see each other, but we can’t touch them or anything in their realms. In this way any threat of war between the Kingdoms was stopped and a new trust and peace was born,” said Catalyst.
“Well why open the portal then? What’s a doorway to my world have to do with your war and peace?” asked Natalia.
I don’t know, but there are those who feel that their Kings and Queens have betrayed them by not grabbing power for their Kingdoms and ruling over all of this world forever. Even the King of Svartalfheim said in public just the other day that he believes some of his own subjects are part of this group. And if the Elves are involved in the crystals being removed, you are I are in real trouble,” replied Catalyst.
“Why is it, Catalyst, that since I’ve met you all I seem to find is trouble?” asked Natalia with a deep sigh.
“I don’t know Natalia, but none the less here we are and it’s fun, isn’t it?” asked Catalyst. “You know something, Natalia?
“No, what?” asked Natalia.
“My Mom named me Catalyst because I was the beginning of her trouble as well,” said Catalyst.
Looking at Catalyst as though he were nuts, Natalia just burst out laughing and so did Catalyst.
“So no one really knows who they are,” continued Catalyst.
“No one knows who what is?” asked Natalia.
“The group I was just telling you about. They’re all very cloak and dagger. I’ve only ever heard rumours, know what I mean?” asked Catalyst.
“Yes, unfortunately, I do. Earth has so many men at war with one another. My Mom says a woman would do a much better job at running the world than a man, ever since Eve. Now war is still very much a part of everyday life in my world,” replied Natalia.
“You know, if the people you’re telling me about are involved then maybe that’s why they opened the portal. If they could get mankind here, then your world would be at war again and with mankind as well and, Catalyst, I can promise you, man has become a lot meaner these days,” said Natalia.
“Now tell me, when do the others get to rule here?” asked Natalia, trying to change the subject.
“Well every sixth cycle the transition begins and power is passed from one Kingdom to the next one in line to rule. Catice’s turn is next,” replied Catalyst.
“What’s a cycle?” asked Natalia, finding it hard to believe that she had to ask.
“A cycle is a period of time from one moon phase to the next. It works like this – December and January share a thirty-day moon phase, that’s the Transitional Moon Phase when the ruling power is handed over. During the cycle all the peoples are free to trade, buy and sell to one another as everyone comes back into time.
“Now the full cycle takes place throughout the year. There is a moon in March, May, July and October, but those only last for one week and nothing happens, like you can’t touch anyone from the other Kingdoms or anything like that.
“When the new cycle begins, which is the Transitional Moon Phase, then power changes hands once again, and what’s really good is at the end of the December and January moon phase, a wave of light that I can only describe as an energy blast slips across this whole world and pushes the other three Kingdoms into the 0.2 second time lapse…yep that’s the cycle,” replied Catalyst, as though he understood it any better than Natalia.
“Catalyst that’s so much to know I don’t even want to think about it, but I do have just one more question for you and then I want to go to sleep. Tell me, where’s your Father? After all, I’ve met your Mother,” asked Natalia.
“I don’t know, no one’s seen him for the last one hundred and fifty years. He’s just gone. One night he went out to check on our sheep and never came back. The next day all my Mom and I could find was his vest and one shoe. There was no sign of a fight, no blood, no note – he was just gone. Mom and I looked for a long time, but never found anything that could tell us what had happened. I know Mom still misses him. Sometimes I can hear her weeping through the night. We still have hope he’ll come home one day and I hold on to that hope for her sake,” replied Catalyst, looking at the ground.
“That would have made you only two and a half years old,” said Natalia, having done the math quickly in her head. “How could you remember that, being just a baby?”
“Just one question, huh? Well I may have aged only two and a half human years, but I had been alive for fifty years and I remember the day he left. I remember what he looks like. I mean I could still talk and think,” replied Catalyst as he fell silent.
“Well, Catalyst, it’s been a long day and I am so tired I’m going to get some sleep now,” said Natalia. She gave Catalyst a hug to comfort him. Curling up in her blanket, she drifted off to sleep.
Being half Krusnik, Catalyst needed to sleep only every other night and watching over a quiet Natalia was something everyone should experience. Ah!
Out of nowhere and as silently as it could, a Cockatrice swooped in, trying to grab Natalia by the leg. Catalyst jumped to his feet and gave its head a swift kick sending it smashing to the ground. With a wallop from behind, Catalyst landed face first in the dirt. He watched as another Cockatrice flew off with their spit in its beak, taking what was left of their dinner. The flapping of wings in the air warned him that two more Cockatrice were heading straight for Natalia as she lay sleeping and unaware of it all. With one punch to the chest of the first Cockatrice it was sent flying into the Cockatrice that followed, and with that, Catalyst had sent the small swarm flying off into the night. Despite the loud commotion Natalia was only slightly disturbed and mumbled something about not liking thunder.
Smiling at Natalia, Catalyst was happy she didn’t wake, as he didn’t want to be distracted any more that night, not with his feeling of being watched, and not being sure if it were more Cockatrice or if what he was seeing was a pair of eyes or common spark bugs. All Catalyst knew for sure was they were being watched.
Arriving outside the Gallows that evening, two cloaked figures had dug a tunnel deep enough to reach directly underneath the cell of the one they had been sent to free.
“You’re sure about this? Do you really want to free him?” asked one of the cloaked figures.
“Doesn’t matter whether I’m sure or not, the order to free him was given by Sirdis himself,” replied the second cloaked figure.
“What if he refuses the deal offered?” asked the first cloaked figure.
“Then we seal him back in, and that’s that. Now enough talking – let’s just get on with it,” ordered the second cloaked figure. The crowbar ground between the rock plates, lifted the one plate of rock and scraped the plate as it slid across the broken rock floor.
“Well, well, well what do we have here?” said the vile, wretched, old and ugly Elf that sat on floor looking up at the cloaked head.
“Shut up and listen. I’m going to say this only once. If you refuse this offer I seal the tunnel and you’re here until you die! Understood?” whispered the cloaked figure.
“I’m listening,” replied the vile old Elf, smiling at the thought of escaping from his prison.
“Sirdis has sent us with an offer for you. There are two…and should you fail, you’re the one that dies, is that understood?” asked the cloaked figure, pulling back from the vile Elf’s ear.
“Agreed, agreed,” replied the vile old Elf.
With a file no bigger than a pinky finger, the cloaked figure pressed it against the head of the Elf and drew out his worm.
“Now get down that hole and get out of here,” said the cloaked figure, sickened by what the Elf had become.
Waking to the smell of breakfast cooking and the early dawn, Natalia helped herself to some tea and fire-roasted toast smeared with Anastasias’ homemade sweet sap.
“Catalyst, I have to tell you, I’ve never had tea so good before and the jam stuff here is fantastic, thank you. I’ll make the lunch today,” said Natalia.
My Mom’s homemade sweet sap, and her home-mixed tealeaves – they’re pretty good, aren’t they?” replied Catalyst, smiling.
“I slept so well. This must be what my Dad has been trying to tell me about sleeping under the stars,” said Natalia.
“Well that’s good,” said Catalyst, just smiling as he looked at her with amazement for all she could sleep through.
“What’s so funny?” asked Natalia.
“Nothing,” replied Catalyst.
“Well you’re grinning for a reason,” said Natalia. “What’s with all the footprints around here? What were you doing walking in circles all night? Boys! You’re always running around, never looking before you leap and finding trouble nine times out of ten!” said Natalia before Catalyst could answer even one of her questions.
Standing there shocked, Catalyst just thought to himself, “How can a girl talk so much and so fast? I could tell her what happened but I’m sure she would never believe me, or worse she would and I would end up carrying her all day?” At that thought he just chose to shut up.
After packing everything back into the fitsall, Natalia and Catalyst began their walk again.
“Chin up, Natalia, we’ll be there sometime this afternoon,” said Catalyst, trying to break the silence of their walk.
“Are you sure these people are the ones that made the key?” asked Natalia.
“Well, you heard my Mom. She thinks so and regardless of what she says, she knows more about this world and the people in it than I ever will, so yes I’m sure. The problem will be in finding the one that made it. There are so many Basajaunak, and who knows how many are blacksmiths?” replied Catalyst.
After walking for a few hours it was with an uneasy feeling that Catalyst turned his head to Natalia and whispered in her ear, “Shhh, can you hear that? Footsteps... breaking twigs…yes we’re being followed. Just wait here. I’ll be back in a minute.” He darted back the way they had come, running twice as fast as Natalia could.
As Natalia stood there watching Catalyst speed away, she wasn’t aware of the sound of footsteps behind her. A soft rag was wrapped around her mouth and Natalia slipped into darkness.
Finding nothing, Catalyst headed back for Natalia, returning to the very spot where he had left her. Natalia was nowhere to be seen.
“Natalia, Natalia!” called out Catalyst. He listened closely but there was no reply. “Oh not again,” thought Catalyst as he remembered his father’s disappearance.
He started running in an outwardly spiralling circle trying to find her, but it was too late. Whoever had distracted him did it so that Natalia could be taken, but why? She’s just a girl, a little girl.
Frustrated by it all, Catalyst had no choice but to continue to the Basajaunak village.
Moving cautiously along the rocky path, Catalyst could find no sign that Natalia had come that way. Finding nothing and now standing at the entrance of the Basajaunak village, the one Basajaunak that Catalyst knew very well came out to greet him.
“Catalyst, it’s been a long time since you’ve come to visit. I would ask how you are, but I can see from that look on your face you’re not well. What’s wrong?” asked the seven foot, two inch tall, five hundred and sixty pound, hairy from head to toe herdsmen, Careoshenog, as he wiped his mouth and the fanged teeth that reached past his bottom lip.
As Catalyst explained the disappearance of Natalia and the fact that she is Human, Careoshenog’s jaw dropped, as he knew full well that not many cared for Humans. Their history for being ruthlessly cruel to the beings of their world was something none of them could ever forget. Not having seen a Human in two hundred and fifty-five years since the portal was locked down around 1756, there would be no reason to assume that a Human today would be any different from those that came before.
“Well, Catalyst, let’s ask around. Maybe someone will know something,” offered Careoshenog.
Feeling the panic from Catalyst’s mind as it instinctively reached out to her, Anastasia took to the air in search of her son.