Authors: J.W. Lolite
stared at the woman across from me, my eyes wide with fear. This woman, who had so casually invited me into her home, was going to kill me. All because she thought I was one of those
things. I’d let my guard down, become too complacent with this stranger.
I scolded myself. There must be some way out of here. She may be a martial arts master, but I was a hell of a lot younger.
I can outrun her!
I thought with confidence.
She continued to study me, that cool smirk never leaving her face. I was so busy preparing myself for her strike that I almost jumped out of my skin when she spoke instead.
“Of course not, you silly girl,” Meissa denied with a light air, mimicking her earlier statement. “I’m not some barbarian that attacks people I invite over to my home. Tell me, why would I have gone to all the trouble to feed you and tell you about the Ankida?” she asked, waving her hand in my direction. “Besides, there’d be no point in it now.”
My mind calmed a tiny bit at her statement, but my body was still tense with anticipation. Curiosity overwhelmed my fear, and I couldn’t help but ask, “What do you mean?”
“Hmm, that? Remember when I said we lived in secrecy and protected the stone for thousands of years? Truthfully, we have been the only line to successfully do so,” she paused, pursing her lips, “until yesterday.”
I frowned. “What? So you mean
“It was stolen,” she stated.
“And the others?”
“Stolen, discarded, lost through the passage of time, and spread between the realms. It’s no easy task protecting something so sought out. Throughout the ages, the Orion Clan traveled all over China, building new temples in secret and moving when the location was no longer safe. Eventually, we migrated here. The other lines were not so fortunate.”
“But weren’t the Ankida sealed away?” Confusion swept over me. “And how can they be ‘spread between the realms?’ Don’t you need all of the keystones and the Gateway?”
“Not all of the
Ankida were transported, only those that were on the battlefield at the time. Some of those that remained did try to seek out the stones. Others settled in obscurity far from human civilizations. As for moving between the realms,” she continued, “the keystones are quite special on their own.” Sensing what my next question would be, she went on. “It is true you need all five to unlock the Gate, but you don’t necessarily need the Gate to travel between the worlds. A single keystone can transport you. That is one reason they have become lost. Either by Ankida moving between the worlds or by clueless humans accidentally activating them, the stones have been spread out.”
“And there’s no way to find them?” I inquired, looking at the Orion carved into the table.
Meissa didn’t respond, instead standing and walking over to one of the cabinets. After reaching in, she pulled out a box of matches. Producing another cigarette from the folds of her robe, she leaned against cabinet, lighting it and inhaling deeply.
“Markus tells me you’re quite swift,” she commented completely out of the blue. My mind blanked at the sudden change in topic before trying to place the name in question. I had a flash of the teens that came to my aid last night, and the image of a tall soldier filled my mind. I’d thought his style of dress was strange, but after coming here . . .
“You know that guy?” I questioned her. Though I tried not to dwell on it, I also wondered if he had said anything else about me.
“Yes, he is an apprentice here. It is as I said: we are the only remaining temple left to protect the keystones. As a result, we are the ones who continue to train those who must fight to defend and seek out the stones.” She looked at me with narrowed eyes, a thoughtful look on her face. “Wait here,” she commanded, moving from her place against the cabinet. “I have something for you.”
I watched as she crossed the room and entered the doorway along the left wall. What in the world could she possibly have for me? Allowed a peaceful moment to myself, I let my mind replay all that Meissa told me. There was no way all of that was true. Meteorite pieces that could transport you around? A secret race of people that were banished to another realm? Come on. Even with a bunch of families sneaking around and erasing history, there was no way all traces of these beings had been kept from the entire world. Hell, I had glowing eyes and I didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. It was just too extreme, too absurd – too amazing.
Rubbing my eyes, I could feel the beginnings of a huge headache. After a short internal debate on the pros and cons of being here, I decided it was best to just leave while she was in the other room. This fairytale
pow-wow had come to an end. I’d just have to find out the truth on my own. Having made up my mind, I stood up and started towards the exit.
“Where do you think you’re going?”
Meissa stopped me, returning with something sticking out of her clenched hand. “I’m not finished with you yet, and I certainly don’t remember giving you permission to leave,” she said with that insufferable smirk.
I ground my teeth, trying to be as polite as possible. “Thank you for the meal and everything, but I’ve heard enough. I’ll be going home now.”
“Very well,” she replied with a bored look, waving me off. “But since I went to all the trouble to find this,” she said, raising her clenched hand, “the least you could do is take a look at it for me. After that, you are free to leave.”
I glared at her, wondering if this was some kind of trick.
I should just say no and be done with this crazy bag
. But, I did come all this way . . . and climb that stupid hill. What could it hurt? It was probably just some more garbage she had come up with.
“Okay,” I complied, walking up
to her. Her eyes twinkled with a mischievous gleam as she held out her hand and opened her fist. Laying across her palm was a long, jagged rock. It was grayish-black, and when the light of the setting sun shone on it from the doorway, it glittered beautifully – as though encrusted with thousands of tiny diamonds.
“It’s a nice rock. What do you want me to do with it?” I asked, perplexed.
“Um, okay,” I said, cautiously picking the object up from her palm. I studied the rock, turning it in my fingers. It really was a pretty stone. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. Compelled, I pressed the rock into my palm and began enclosing my fingers around it.
I want to keep it
, I thought, selfish desire spreading through me.
Keep it and never let go
. As I clenched my hand, a bright light suddenly erupted from my fist. Crying out, I dropped the shard and covered my searing eyes with my hands. I blinked frantically, trying to clear the burned afterimage from my retinas.
What the hell was that
?” I demanded, trying not to panic. Without my vision, I was an easy target. I heard a quiet scraping noise near my feet and took a few steps back.
“Just as I thought,” I heard
Meissa mutter, a smug note in her voice. “
.” Moving my hand, I forced my eyes open and looked at her. She appeared a little blurry, but my sight was returning to normal. I opened my mouth to yell at her again, but she turned around and started walking away. “You are free to go.”
Rage lit through my body like a wildfire. Every single curse I knew danced on my tongue and I sputtered, trying to use all of them at once. I felt a surge run through me down to my toes. Slamming my foot into the floor, a loud
rang throughout the room. I ignored it and turned sharp on my heel towards the door.
“You may want to have a conversation with your aunt,”
Meissa’s voice chimed behind me. I didn’t bother acknowledging her while I huffed my way to the exit. “I’m always here when you’re ready to hear the rest. And, Ingrid,” I slowed, “the stairs are to the right.”
Fearing I would deck and strangle her to death if I turned to retort, I plowed my way out of her house and took a right. My vision danced red, and the blood rushed to my head. Stomping my way to the entrance of the temple grounds, I discovered that, sure enough, there were the fucking stairs descending all the way down the hill. I’d be damned if I ever came back to this place.
The sun was starting to set as I made my way across town. I inhaled deeply, enjoying a cool breeze that flitted across my face. The long walk worked to ease my fury, and I could feel my headache begin to fade. Though I tried to push the events of the afternoon far from my mind, I couldn’t help but dwell on that rock she had given me. There was definitely something special about it, besides the fact it could light up like a signal flare. I felt so drawn to it, like it was somehow attached to me.
“Just as I thought.
The words burned in my ears.
Stupid old bitch,
I thought in viscous contempt.
Better watch your back.
Coming to the street that would take me home, I counted back from ten in an attempt to lower my rapidly rising blood pressure. There was no point in dwelling on that
or anything that had gone on at the temple. I was going to figure this out on my own. Although, and I hated to admit it, she did give me one good piece of advice. I came to the front door of my house and reviewed what I was going to say. Determined, I opened the door and entered.
“Auntie, I’m home. Where are you?”
hile my conversation with Meissa hadn’t been exactly what I’d hoped it would be, it did make me realize something important: my family had been keeping secrets from me for far too long. I was going to find Auntie and demand she tell me about our family and my father. No longer was I going to stumble around in the dark like a helpless child. I was going to get some answers once and for all.
The lights in the living room were on, but my aunt was nowhere in sight. It was still way too early for her to be out at her favorite dives, so I knew she had to be around. After exiting the living area, I took the turn in the hall that would lead me to the master bedroom. It turned out this would be easier than I thought it would be. Unfolded in the middle of the hall was the ladder that connected to the attic. From what I could tell, she had been up there all yesterday.
Don’t tell me she’s been up there all day,
I thought, walking to the ladder. I gripped the sides ready to climb up when a muffled noise fluttered down. Little sobs and whimpers filled my ears. Loosening my hold on the ladder, all of my previous determination deflated out of me like a squeezed balloon. She was up there with
things looking at
picture. Taking in a deep sigh, I turned around just as the sound of whispering passed down the stairs. Not caring to make them out, I made my way to my room.
I tried not to think about what was happening upstairs and started on my homework. The deeper I got into the material, the more grateful I was for the distraction. Of all the things that had been thrown at me today, at least this was something that made sense. It was something I could understand and something I could solve. Why couldn’t life come with example problems? Shaking my head, I finished my work and put it into my bag.
As soon as I sat down on my bed, I let out a huge yawn. Now that I was finally able to relax, it was apparent just how exhausted I really was. My limbs felt like jelly. Struggling, I forced myself to get up and go the bathroom to prepare for bed. Once ready, I sank deep into my sheets, my eyes closing as soon as I hit the pillow.
, I promised,
I’m going to ask her.
And nothing was going to stop me.
Today was a momentous day, for not only was it Friday – the best day of the school week – today was the second day in a row I made it on time. From all the side glances and money changing hands, I had no doubt I was becoming hot gossip. I even saw a couple of betting pools for those daring enough to see if I could pull it off next week after the three-day weekend. I couldn’t help but shake my head. So little faith from the masses.
The first half of the day proceeded without much incident. I managed to surprise some of my teachers by handing in my homework on time, but those cheap thrills don’t go far. Lunch couldn’t come quick enough, even if all I got to do was watch others eat.
“Don’t look so sad, Ingrid,” Lesia soothed in her gentle voice. “My mom is making one of your favorites tonight.” At my surprised look, she let out a giggle. “You mean you actually forgot? It’s only your favorite day of the week.”
I gave her a quick apologetic look, ashamed that I actually forgot my weekly treat. She was right. Friday was my favorite day of the week; it was the day I got to spend the night at
Lesia’s house. I don’t really remember when the situation became routine, but it started a couple of years ago when I would walk Lesia home. Back then, Lesia wasn’t allowed to walk around town or play during the week when she had homework. Since Friday was the only day she was off the hook, I just came home with her. Some afternoons I ended up staying pretty late, and Mrs. Delaney didn’t want me walking by myself in the dark. She always insisted I eat dinner with them and stay the night, not that I minded. Boy, was she a good cook. Anyway, eventually it got to the point where Mrs. Delaney would already have extra food ready for me. And somewhere along the line, Ty had gotten involved.
“It’s fine by me, Ingrid. I’ll just eat your share,” Ty said. He was smiling at me, but I got the feeling he was still a little miffed about yesterday afternoon. I felt a bit guilty about blowing him off for some wild goose chase, but that didn’t give him the right to eat
“Not a chance. I’d do a lot for you, but there’s no way in hell I’m going to let you gobble up my feast,” I counted, poking him in the chest with my finger. He tried to look offended, but my poking soon got to him, and he started laughing. Grabbing my hand to stop me, his eyes gleamed with mirth.
“What was that about? Have you been watching those shows with the sassy women?” he asked. I couldn’t think of a comeback as I became aware that he made no attempt to release my hand. His grip was firm, but I knew he wouldn’t try to hold me if I took my hand back. Not that I’d want to. It was so warm and comforting.
“So, you are coming?”
I quickly turned my attention to Lesia. Her eyes were acutely focused on mine. She didn’t sound or look angry, but there was a keen edge to her eyes that made me think she was determined to look anywhere but at our hands. Not wanting to create a tense atmosphere, I pulled my hand from Ty’s and gave her a light smile.
“You bet. I wouldn’t miss this night for anything,” I stated in earnest. “Besides, I’ve got some wild stories to tell you guys.” At that, both my companions perked up, giving me their undivided attention.
kind of stories?”
“You’re going to tell us where you went yesterday?”
Ignoring Ty’s inquiry, I looked at Lesia’s now excited face. “Of course, I told you I would. It’s a pretty long story, so it’ll have to wait until after dinner. I’d tell you after school, but I just need to go home and uh,”
interrogate my aunt
, “get a few things.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Ty interjected, his brows furrowing in anger. “You told me you were going home yesterday. Is that not what happened? And how come
Lesia knows about it?” Ty demanded to know, his voice raising. “Didn’t think you could trust me,
is that it
?” He clenched onto the edge of the lunch table, his forceful grip pressing into the wood.
“No, that’s not it!” I cried in alarm, trying to ignore the increasing number of stares we were attracting. “I had something important I needed to do . . . by myself,” I quickly added when he opened his mouth to protest. “I didn’t tell
Lesia, either. She kind of figured it out.” I looked to Lesia for help, which she, in all her merciful glory, gave.
“Calm down, Ty,” she said, her voice pacifying. “I knew she was up to something, so I made her tell me after you left.” I stayed silent, not wanting to draw attention back to myself.
Ty brought his hands up to cover his face and took in a few deep breaths. He muttered something to himself before standing up. “I’m sorry, guys. Ingrid. I just need to get some air.” He sped out of the lunchroom amid hushed comments and open stares. I watched after him with deep longing, worried about the state of our friendship. What was going on? This wasn’t like Ty at all. I had expected him to be a little annoyed with me after finding out I lied to him, but to take it so personally? I was at a loss.
“What the hell was that about?” I murmured my thoughts out loud, eyeing the edge of the table Ty manhandled in his rage. The wood had been pressed into making an almost perfect indentation of his hand. Running my hand around the side, I discovered that even the metal lining was bent.
“I have no idea,” came Lesia’s gentle reply. She watched me study the table’s injury with the same lost look on her face. Where had normalcy gone?
One might call it single-mindedness: another, determination. Whatever it was called, no one could deny that when Ingrid Fairheit had an objective in mind, she didn’t rest until it was fulfilled, and I assure you, I didn’t waste any time in heading home after the final bell rang. There was little point in hanging around anyway; Ty pretty much avoided Lesia and me for the rest of the day. I was a little concerned, but I had more pressing things to deal with. So after a quick “see ya” to Lesia, I was on my way. I had been too exhausted to confront my aunt last night, but now I was refreshed and ready to force the issue if need be. After all that I went through, there was no way I was going to back down. Auntie would tell me what I wanted to know, whether she liked it or not.
After bursting into the front door, I surveyed the living room for any signs of life. I was a little disappointed, but not wholly surprised, at finding nothing. I didn’t let it deter me, though, because I knew just where to go next. Sure enough, the ladder to the attic was still pulled down, blocking the hall to the master bedroom. Steeling myself, I began my ascent to the top. It was dark in the attic. That wasn’t a problem for me. My eyes adjusted in an instant, and I took in my surroundings.
Boxes and old chests covered in thick layers of dust lined the walls. A few sheets lay here and there in what looked like a poor attempt to shield some of the items. Turning towards the only source of light in the room – a single candle – I saw my objective sitting beside it. Her back was turned to me, her long hair hiding most of her body.
Kaline,” I called, being sure to use her name. That was one of the ways she knew when I was being serious. She jumped at my voice. She turned the top half of her body to look at me, and I caught a glimpse of a dusty old mirror, some jewelry, and a few random stray things in front of her. My throat tightened when I saw
picture propped up behind the items. Swiftly moving my gaze away from it, I fixed my focus on her face.
Kaline was hardly known for cleaning up her appearance, but now she looked atrocious. Her face was smeared with dust and streaked with sweat. Taking in her body, I could see she was still wearing the same clothes from two days ago. Her arms and hands were even dirtier than her face. Worst of all were her eyes: hollowed and dull, like she was slowly rotting up here. That might not have been very far from the truth considering I was fairly sure she hadn’t bathed or even eaten since being up here. I planned to address these concerns, but first things first.
“Tell me about my father.” It wasn’t quite a demand, but it was firm nonetheless. A rush of relief came to me when I saw a spark of life return to her eyes. It was small at first, a shadow of a glint, but it soon grew, filling her light green eyes like a fire. Her eyelids narrowed, and a scowl adorned her face.
“What about him?” she snapped.
“Well, uh . . .” I was a little intimidated by her harsh change in mood, but I couldn’t back down now. “Who was he?”
“No one of importance,” she sneered. “He’s better left forgotten.”
Refusing to let her drop the subject, I pursued, “No
, he wasn’t! He was different. He was someone or something – ”
is right,” my aunt quipped, taking quick advantage of my words. It had been so long since I’d seen my aunt completely sober; I had forgotten just how sharp she was. My eyes narrowed in frustration, and I instantly wished I brought a six pack with me to throw her off. She might have actually released some info in her drunken ramblings.
She whipped her body back to its original position, and I had half a mind to throw something at the back of her head. “I never understood why father always insisted we learn to fight.”
“Huh?” I needed to learn how to handle my dumbfounded moments better.
Ignoring me, she continued, “I mean
, there was no point in it.
had been lost so long ago. He still insisted, saying we would always be targets. I never put much effort into it,” she said with an offhanded sigh, “but they did – even after father died.” Her voice remained airy, like she was telling a fairy tale or bedtime story. Without warning, she slammed her fist into a nearby box. I was taken aback by her continuous mood shifts but stayed silent.
came!” she spat, her voice filling the room. “I was barely a teenager, but even I could tell there was something unnatural about him! I begged her not to keep seeing him.” Her voiced cracked with desperation. “But Adeline never could leave well enough alone.” I felt a twinge in my chest at the mention of my mother’s name. “Even when Sebastian forbid her to go, she kept sneaking off into the night to be with
.” She gasped for air. “And then it finally happened. She’d gotten pregnant with that monster’s child!”
I felt my eyes burn at my aunt’s callous interpretation of my conception. My aunt could be carless and even selfish at times, but not once had I ever doubted her affection for me. But now, as I stood listening to her speak of my
parents, I had to wonder if that’s what she really saw me as: “
that monster’s child
“They even had the nerve to act so happy. It was so dangerous. And he knew it!” She slammed her fist into the box again. “He knew
was angry; that
would never let him go. For the sake of his child, he wanted nothing more to do with
.” Confusion soon joined the sadness that was dwelling in me. Who was she talking about? “They tried to live in secrecy. Hiding away from the world with their baby, but it was useless. She was relentless, that lady. He had Sebastian take Adeline and the child, while he stayed behind to confront her.” Her voice was calm now, a dark quality to it. “He died that night,” she stated, staring at the objects in front of her, “and it’s all your fault.”