Authors: Paula Flumerfelt
Copyright © 2012 Paula Flumerfelt
Cover Art by Claudia Lucia McKinney (
Illustrations by Stephanie Jones
All rights reserved.
To my mom, Beth, for never saying it was a stupid idea; and to my best friend, Nikki, for the countl
ess hours I stole from her life.
There are just a few people that I would like to thank.
To start with, my parents.
My mother never told me I was talking her to death while I complained about my book and hit my rough patches; my father deserves some credit too for his realistic outlook and his completely ‘logical’ fear of dragonflies. My best friend, Nicole Laux, of course gets a shout-out for all the hours she spent acting as my sounding board, and for the car trip between Lake Tahoe and our home, where I hammered out the details of
by narrating the entire story. Tara Weber was also there, so she needs some credit, too. But most importantly, my biggest acknowledgement goes to every person who said I couldn’t be a writer because they were ‘one-in-a-million’, or told me that I was ‘too young’. Telling me I couldn’t was the best thing you could have done for me. Thank you.
THE body in his arms was broken and shattered, left to decay on the side of the road. It had once been a she; a vibrant, loving,
she. But now it was just cold.
Cold and dead.
“Erik, we must go. I cannot stay on this land any longer.” The boy laid a small hand on his shoulder, urging him to his feet with a gentle push. “We need to go. If I perish, you are lost as well.”
He stood with the woman’s body cradled in his arms. She was light.
Far too light.
Her body had become emaciated, her hair lank, dirty and clumped together with blood, its strands cut unevenly as if done by a knife. It contrasted with the memory he had of her: five and a half feet tall, long white hair that fell in a sheet down her back, lean body, soft purple eyes, and ruby red lips that tilted up with good humor. She was only twenty-two years old.
As Erik looked down into her blank face, panic started to claw up his throat, bringing bile with it. Dark red, nearly black eyes, scanned the surrounding area.
Where is he?
“Come Erik. We have no more time. We must leave.” The boy was pulling on the hem of his shirt with an iron grip, dragging him slowly forward.
“No.” His voice was choked with barely restrained terror, his heels digging into the cobbled stones as hard as possible. “He’s gone. Mathieu’s gone! You promised
he’d be safe!”
The boy’s bangs fell forward, shading his eyes. “He is…safe.”
“He isn’t…he can’t be…”
“Mathieu is very much alive.”
Erik’s grip on Anita tightened, shaking slightly. “Where is my son?” He wasn’t sure if he could hold back his desperate tears any longer.
The boy looked up with big, innocent eyes, mouth tilted down in a frown. “How would I know? This isn’t my territory. I have no sway with the forces.” The look in his eyes changed to deathly serious. “We
Around him, the world began to change. The trees drained of their brilliant color, the air stilled until it suffocated, the ground trembled slightly to the beat of the boy’s heart. The boy’s mousy brown hair crackled with the force of his power.
Erik bit the inside of his cheek until his mouth filled with blood.
With a childish smile from the boy, the wind began to blow again and the trees regained their lush hues. “Wonderful. We take our leave. Bring the body with us. I‘ll see to its proper disposal.”
He looked down at the hollow face one more time, tears leaking down his cheeks.
Oh Anita…where is our Mathieu…
“Nearly six thousand years ago, the country of Unith became a predominant world force. Unith was a place of peace, somewhere war had never touched, situated alongside the ocean. It was beautiful: flowers bloomed year round, streams wound longingly through the countryside, people were happy. Primarily, the country was made of smaller, picturesque towns that radiated from the capital of Ateri. Ateri was a colorful, vibrant city; it was the bustling hub of trade and the residence of the royal family...”
“Blah, blah, blah.
We’ve heard this story a hundred times. Twins were born into the royal family, the sister that didn’t get picked to take the throne pms-ed and left, taking her minions of doom with her to create Korinth and then there was tentative peace until the sisters died and rising tension and more blah, blah, blah. Get a new story, Rebekah.”
The tall teen gave him a pointed glare, one hand on her hip. “Well, thank you, Mathieu, for that butchered version of our country’s history. You have a way with words.”
“Anything I can do to help.” Mathieu was sitting sideways in an armchair, his hair draped over the edge. He stretched slightly, internally groaning at the pull of his muscles from sitting too long.
“Fine,” Rebekah said, tapping her foot lighting on the carpet, “how about this. Korinth isn’t just a principality;
it’s also the haven of this country’s oddities. How is that for a new story?”
Mathieu straightened in his seat.
She nodded, looking out the window. The setting suns caught her brown hair in a cascade of soft tones. She was pretty, if plain. “Yes. There are some people within the population of Unith that have been the victims of genetic mutations. They’re…different than we are. It’s said that they’re tapped into the Other Side.” Rebekah shrugged. “That’s the rumor, anyway. Supposedly, Korinth is the haven for them. Also, it’s supposed to be all one, giant walled-in city where there isn’t any separation between classes or people. Everyone there is equally…er, ‘odd’, so they live peacefully.”
Mathieu spun in his seat, feet on the floor. He tapped his bare heels on the carpet in a tuneless pattern. His lower lip was caught between his teeth as he stood. “Tell me something…if this is, in theory, a war-free country like we claim, why do we have need for an army?”
“I don’t know.” Rebekah sighed and put her hand on Mathieu’s hand. “That’s a question better suited for when you’re older.” She smiled softly and ruffled his bangs. Mathieu huffed as she left the room.
Darrel sat up from the floor, looking directly at Mathieu. He was a burly kid, more muscle than brains, with bright orange hair and hands that were far too big for his body. “That’s where you belong, freak. I bet you’re one of those ‘oddity’ things.”
me?” Mathieu’s eyes glinted dangerously, his weigh shifting onto the balls of his feet.
“Well, for one thing, no one can tell if you’re a girl or a boy.”
Mathieu looked down at himself, bottom lip popped out in a slight pout. His hair was just past the bottom his shoulder blades and feathered bangs, a pure white color, his chest flat and his frame thin, feminine. It was true, what Darrel had said. He was androgynous.
Very well, Darrel.
He cocked his head to the side and placed a hand on his hip, batting his lashes in the girliest way he could manage. “Oh? Well, I can be anything you want me to be, baby.” His lips danced with a smirk and his hand brushed his bangs back.
“You’re a sick freak.” Darrel took two lumbering strides across the room and picked Mathieu up by the front of his shirt, snarling. As if Mathieu was nothing more than a rag doll, Darrel threw him into the nearest wall with all the ferocity
Mathieu sucked in a harsh breath as he flew through the air, his hair twisting around himself as he spun to get his feet between him and the wall. He wasn’t quite fast enough, cracking his knee and shin on the hard wood that paneled the room. Seconds later, he dropped like a stone to the floor, managing to land on his feet, and took a stumbling step forward. In a moment Darrel was on top of him, knocking him sideways to a firm kick to his ribs.
Wincing, Mathieu scrambled to his feet and took a real fighting stance, feet planted shoulder width apart. His injured knee was stinging something fierce and his ribs ached from the last hit, but that didn’t deter him. Breathing wasn’t pleasant, but nothing was broken.
Darrel fought much like a bear: close in with wild swipes and pray one connected. But Mathieu was smarter than that, watching for the gaping openings that Darrel left in his defense. With precision, he dodged the first swing and managed to get under Darrel’s guard. The world seemed to pause as Mathieu’s fingertips struck forward, hitting the bundle of nerves in the center of Darrel’s chest.
The bigger boy stumbled back, clutching his chest. “You…faggot!”
It was a strange feeling that came next. Mathieu heard something like a snap and his ears started to ring. His restraint was gone, arms blurring and fingertips slamming into the pressure points along Darrel’s chest. Mathieu was small, but he’d spent enough of his life reading to know how to take down someone bigger than himself.
It wasn’t until Rebekah burst into the room and tackled him to the ground that he relented. He was winded and slightly sweaty, caught in a headlock. Mathieu squirmed for a few moments before lying still. It was useless to fight when someone had him in a headlock and pinned to the floor. Darrel lay a few feet away, curled up in a ball and coughing blood up into his gargantuan hands.
Mathieu averted his eyes, coughing slightly.
Rebekah let him up, pointing to the door. Mathieu bit back an annoyed growl, but he slunk out of the room anyway. Darrel had started the fight and he’d gotten what he’d deserved.
Sighing, he ran his hand along the knotted oak paneling of the walls. The orphanage was an old-fashioned house, nothing like the new ones of the capital, each looking exactly like the next. The entire house was carved out of wood: the polished floors, the paneled walls, the beamed ceilings. It had ornate designs engraved into the baseboards that wound along the bottom of each room and along the banisters that flanked the staircases. The dark wood always seemed warm to the touch, filling every space with a soft fragrance unique to old wood, and it made the place feel like a home. It had a huge library, eight bedrooms with equal number baths, two kitchens, multiple sitting rooms like the one he’d just inhabited--filled with overstuffed chairs and loveseats--a music room, his favorite place to be, and a terrace looking onto the sweeping back lawn. It was a little piece of paradise. There was even a river not far from the orphanage.
But for Mathieu, the fifteen years he’d spent there had been a tedious hell. He couldn’t help that he was androgynous, had been abandoned on the side of the road by his parents at two-years-old, and had a strange strength that didn’t fit his narrow frame. It wasn’t uncommon for him to accidently break things when his temper got out of control. He was a freak and it made him the outcast of the orphanage.
It shamed him, however, to think about what he’d done to Darrel just a few minutes ago. At seventeen, he didn’t have any more self control than he’d had at six. His feet followed a familiar path and stopped just outside the music room, looking at the portrait on the wall. It was of an older couple: a man with salt-and-pepper hair, a lined face, and a calm smile sitting in a wing-backed chair, arms around his elegant looking wife. She was rather striking with a cascade of blonde pin
and a loving
smile on her face.
The portrait always struck Mathieu as odd. In an age where all memories were captured with hologram crystals, to see a genuine, oil portrait was a rare thing. It made him smile to see something so special tucked away in such an innocuous place.
He went into the music room to find it empty, as expected. It was long and wide with high ceilings, stands for instruments, and a full wall of windows that looked over the pond and wild flowers. He went to the bank of windows and looked out at the overcast sky, then the faint reflection of himself in the window. He knew he’d messed up this time, and it seemed that the world agreed with him. Mathieu frowned. It wouldn’t do him well to dwell on it now.
Biting his bottom lip, Mathieu looked around before sneaking to the hidden compartment in the wall, retrieving his cello. He sat in one of the chair littered around the room and set the cello in front of him, cradling it between his knees. Taking a deep breath, he slid the bow along the strings, his heart soaring as a note sang through the still air. Slowly, he began to play, the song he wove mirroring his shame and concern, filling the space with a sadness that couldn’t be put into words. His bow slowly coaxed a string of harmonious notes from his beloved cello, letting his feelings flow from himself and into every corner of the room. It saddened him that no one got to hear the sweet melodies his instrument could produce, but he was someone happy that no one got to see the vulnerable side of him that arose when he was playing.
He continued to quietly entice gentle songs from his cello
until both of the suns fell below the horizon and the dual moons rose high in the air. The room was aglow with moonlight when he finally realized that he was hungry. Stowing his instrument in its case and hiding it away again, he snuck out of the music room and down the hallway. The small kitchen was closer to this end of the house, so he headed for it. The floor barely creaked as he ghosted his way down the stairs.
The moon light provided enough light that he was able to navigate to the fridge and pull out a container of leftovers. It was only rice and beef stir fry, but it was better than nothing. He ate it cold, the meat was a bit chewy, and washed the dish once he was done. Mathieu was somewhat ready for sleep; it’d been a long day.
Mathieu’s room was the most barren of all that were inhabited in the orphanage. The changes that he had made through the years were merely cosmetic. He’d changed the curtains from an ugly green to a deep red and the bedspread was now a lovely shade of purple as opposed to the drab brown it originally was. Other than that, the room was just a shell: bed, desk, bookshelf, closet, and end table.
Climbing into his bed and tucking himself under the puffy comforter, he closed his eyes. The world of dreams was just beyond his consciousness…but there was something else, too. Whenever he reached the cusp between the states of consciousness, another plane was always there, pulling and inviting him in, wrapping him in a warmth and care.
Often he was tempted to fall into it, but never before had he allowed himself to drop into the other realm. Tonight though, was different. He could feel it. The warmth was
more like loving arms pulling him back to the bosom.
In all honesty, he craved the comfort that it was offering, but it seemed…dangerous.
What is it, though…?
Fighting the other plane’s call, he settled into the realm of unconsciousness, falling into the darkness of sleep.
The sunlight filtered in from the outside world through a somewhat dirty window, waking Mathieu with it. Groaning, he slowly got out of his warm, comfortable bed, his body protesting. He trudged to the tiny bathroom attached to his room and pulled his shirt off, the taut muscles of his chest and abdomen rippling under his skin. His pants came next and he looked at himself in the full length mirror, clad in just his dark blue boxers.
The skin of his knee and shin was bruised to a faint purplish color from making contact with the wall the night before, however it was mostly hidden by his tattoo. The ink had originally been just a fanciful idea to set him apart from the rest of the kids in the orphanage, but after winning a bet with the local artist in the next town over, he had gotten it done for free. He didn’t regret it. The tattoo was a blood red tribal that started on his lower back and wrapped around his right hip and down his entire leg.
Smiling at his reflection, he yawned and moved to the sink, turning on the water. It flowed coolly over his hand, making his fingers tingle slightly. Mathieu leaned over the basin and splashed water onto his face. It woke him with a pleasant jolt, causing him to blink rapidly a few
Today was going to be a battle with the others; he was going to pay for attacking Darrel. The orphanage dealt with its own through a rigorous internal justice system that kept the peace. It was never anything obvious like an old fashion beat-down, but it was normally a punishment in stages, starting with being alienated from the rest of the group, being checked into the wall in the halls, just little things like that. Then it would be sabotaged duties, messes left to be cleaned, innocuous possessions broken. How difficult things got depended on how severe the crime was. Mathieu could expect no less than accepting Darrel’s duties, being the errand boy, his few pictures smashed, more bruises to come and isolation. None of it was personal, however. The hand of justice in the orphanage was fair and swift. It wasn’t going to be an easy time.