baglamas

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 14

Deep in the forest, two men crouched over the crackle of fire. The pale light of the flames highlighted hands lined with scars. The unhooded man pulled his hands back and sat on his heels.

He turned to his companion.

“How long do we wait?”

“It won’t be long. If we hide, he’ll find us. It will only make matters worse.”

The hooded man grunted. He stared in the direction of the world’s entrance portal. Instead of sitting on his heels, he squatted, ready to pounce. His hand rested on the hilt of a weapon hidden beneath his cloak.

A hand, followed by a pair of arms, and a body emerged from the portal.

The man in the tunic smiled broadly.

“Do you have it?” he called out as he worked his way to the fire. Slowly. He tugged at the tunic that tugged at his steps.

The cloaked men stood from the ground. The unhooded man’s lips remained silent in a face as cold and hard as stone. His companion did not move.

Sharp eyes glittered through slits in their visitor’s mask. “Well, where is it? Where is the baglamas?”

“We will have it soon,” said the hooded man. “It’s not in our possession, but we have found someone who will retrieve it.”

The man in the tunic squeezed his chin before responding with a roar of laughter. “We have found someone who will retrieve it,” echoed the man in the tunic, his voice mimicking the blood curdling pitch of the hooded man’s voice. “That,” he said sharply, “is what I have asked you to do. You were to retrieve the baglamas and bring it to me.”

He turned from the fire. The rear of his tunic shook violently.

The heads of the cloaked men turned toward one another, snapping back in position when the body of their unwelcome visitor stilled.

The man in the tunic inhaled deeply and turned to the cloaked men. The pallor of the fire reached his face, highlighting the redness there. It was not clear whether the sudden flush came about through anger or glee. Or, perhaps, a little of both.

He scratched his head. “So, let me get this straight. You asked someone to go and get the baglamas for you, and they’re going to do that and bring it to you?”

“It was an order accompanied by a threat,” said the hooded man.

“Ah, good!” The man in the tunic clapped his hands. “It seems you’re finally learning something.” He glanced at the ground as if considering how he would seat himself by the fire. “That boulder over there,” he said, pointing. “Bring it here, and place it in front of the fire. I’d like to hear more about your plan, and who it is that will retrieve the baglamas.”

The hooded man grunted. He pulled the boulder from the earth. Soil and vine clung to it as he carried it to the fire and dropped it before the man in the tunic.

The man in the tunic bent forward and brushed off the top of the boulder before easing backward into a semi-seated position.

“Go on, tell me,” he said with a wave of his hands.

The unhooded man crossed his arms. “We found a Time Keeper.”

The mouth of the man in the tunic dropped open. “One who reads and unlocks portals?”

“Yes. He arrived here with a girl. We captured both of them and threatened the girl’s life if he did not agree to find the baglamas.”

More clapping came from the man in the tunic. He squinted up at the cloaked men. “Does he—the Time Keeper—know where it is?”

“He has seen the instrument. He attended the Healer’s funeral. We overheard him talking about it. He has a lead, and if he knows what’s good for him, he is currently looking for it.”

“Why didn’t you ask him where he thought it could be? It could have shortened the process, and then you could have gone and looked for it yourselves.”

“We couldn’t be certain that he wouldn’t warn whomever he was going to take it from. It would have been necessary to threaten the girl’s life either way. And if he was a guest at the funeral, he has an insider’s advantage.”

“You know very well we can’t leave here for long periods of time,” added his companion.

The man in the tunic nodded. He grinned widely. “And where is the girl?”

“She was of no use to us. She has no travel talents, so we let her return with the Time Keeper in exchange for his promise.”

“In other words, you let both of them escape. You fools!”

“But he cares for the girl,” gargled the hooded man. “If he doesn’t deliver the baglamas soon, we will catch her. We could use a portal trap. The Time Keeper may not be fooled, but she will be.”

His companion grinned. “Especially if we make it nice and sparkly.”

“She has no travel talents. She will want to impress the boy—to be like him.”

The man in the tunic sat still with his hands clasped at this lap. “To impress him.” He smiled. “And if that doesn’t work?”

“Then we find the girl and bring her here.”

“No.”

The hooded man made a choking sound before speaking. “Why not?”

“I don’t trust you to keep her here. If and when she arrives, whether by portal trap or brute force, you will bring her to me.”

“She is not part of the deal.”

“Oh, but you see,” said the man in the tunic. He pulled at the lower half of his garments as he struggled to bend and stand. “You have made her part of the deal. By bringing her and the boy into my problem, my secrets—”

“Your secrets?”

“I had no intention of making my desire for the baglamas known to anyone except to you, whom I’ve arranged to help me with this task.” The clenching and unclenching of his jaw made small crunching and popping sounds. “And now there are two others who know about this. I ask you again: what were you thinking?”

“We didn’t tell them about you. For all they know, we want the baglamas.”

The man in the tunic chuckled. “Is that what’s happening here? Are you planning to betray me by keeping the instrument for yourselves?”

“No,” growled the hooded man. He towered over the man in the tunic, with his face so close that his hood grazed the smaller man’s brow. “We agreed that we will give you the baglamas, and then you will set us free. Your terms, not ours. Trying to confuse us won’t work.”

The man in the tunic stepped backward. His lips formed an indignant smile. “Be sure to keep your end of the bargain.” He scanned the dark woods, stretching his neck toward the river that flowed through it, and smiled more graciously. “Because if you don’t, you will be tied to this world, to this wasteland in time and space, for always.”

The crunch of bone chomping bone or teeth gnashing teeth could be heard from beneath the hooded man’s cowl. He cracked the knuckles along his hands. “Enough of your talk and your reminders. If you’re finished here, let us be. We’ll contact you when we have the baglamas.”

“Strong words for someone with less power than he thinks. But I sense I’m not welcome here. I will leave for now. Don’t keep me waiting.”

The man in the tunic clasped his hands and shot a simpering grin in the direction of the river. “Have you been able to open that portal?” he said. “The one atop the island of stone?”

The hooded man grunted. “No. We’ve tried. It’s locked, and we’re unsure where it leads.”

“That’s too bad,” he said with a wicked grin. He looked down at his tunic and then wistfully toward the river. “On the other hand, had you been able to leave this place through that portal, the pain would get to you, eventually. I’d try it myself, of course, but I have other means…”

The cloaked man who wore no hood snorted, his gaze fixed on the cumbersome tunic. “I’d like to see you try to navigate the river and climb the rock.”

“Enough,” said the man in the tunic. “I’m overstaying my welcome. You must be delirious with sleep. You no longer make sense.”

He turned and walked back to the portal he’d entered, only instead of stepping through the way he came, he walked to the space behind it, and turned his back toward the portal. Then, with small steps, he walked backwards until he disappeared.

“It’s a good thing he left,” growled the hooded man, cracking his knuckles again. “I grow tired of him more quickly each time we meet.”

“Agreed, though it would have been worth it to see him try to get to the portal on the rock.” He chuckled darkly.

“To see him smack his face on the water?”

“Exactly.”

“Then to see him curse at not being able to open it.” The hooded man lazily threw more wood on the fire. Warmth and light spread, throwing shadows across him and his companion.

“And what if he could? What if the portal opened for him—what would that mean?”

“That he’s a talent like none seen before.”

The man who wore no hood stretched forward and rubbed his hands over the revived blaze. “It is frustrating that we can build portals and travel through those we build. But we cannot unlock this one. If he’s right—that temporary separation from this world will cause us pain—it would be worth seeing where it goes. Even if we got lost.”

The hooded man grunted. “That’s the only reason keeping me from destroying the portal on the rock. I’ve seen others like it, in other worlds. It’s as if each entrance portal has a companion portal that cannot be unlocked by anyone but a Time Keeper.”

“What do you mean?”

“The entrance portal here can be accessed because it is not locked on this side. But its companion portal, and others similar to the portal on the rock, are always locked.”

The man who wore no hood cleared the grit from his throat and sat back on a log. He stared at the portal, thoughtfully. “If the boy, the Time Keeper, was able to take the girl through, then he could port us, too.”

“I have no doubt of that. In fact, I’ve already considered it. But first, we must collect the baglamas.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 15, to be posted May 16. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 9 Memory

I curled up in a chair in the family room to read in front of the fireplace. Studying became increasingly difficult the more I devoted time to the hospital, but this book interested me. It related to pre-modern medicines and technologies not used at our hospital, treatments used on Earth, where bodies could be healed with the help of machines and medicines, and without the physical contact of a Healer.

I was so absorbed that a deep sigh startled me. I bookmarked my page with a finger and looked up.

Father stood in the doorway, his gaze shifting back and forth between me and the bookshelves that lined the wall behind me. His hair was slicked back and to the side, and he’d changed into a sweater and jeans.

“Looks like you just got back from the gymnasium,” I said with a yawn. One of the perks of working for the hospital was the use of its exercise equipment and showers.

Father nodded. He walked past me to the shelf. He swiped a finger along titles of books as he searched. I craned my neck, curious to see what he was looking for.

His hand landed on a brown volume with a ragged spine. The gold lettering was faded and too small for me to read from where I sat.

“What book is that?” I said, squinting.

“It’s a journal kept by your grandfather, Plaka.”

Father didn’t provide explanation beyond the question asked. I shook my head and laughed inwardly. That would never change.

“What did Grandpa Plaka write about?” I prompted. I hadn’t read the journal, but I hoped it had something to do with healing. No one had mentioned it to me before. Maybe Grandpa Plaka left a set of instructions, something I could follow and learn now that he and Mother were gone.

“That’s what I’m about to find out.” He leafed through the pages and frowned.

Getting nowhere, I decided to look at the journal later, after Father was finished with it. And if he didn’t return it to the shelf, I’d know it was something important. Maybe something he didn’t want me or Javis to read. Which made me that much more interested in reading it.

Maybe it had something to do with Mr. Calcott’s visit to the hospital today. I took a deep breath, ready to test the waters, and uncurled my legs from beneath me.

“I’ve been thinking about what Mr. Calcott said and—”

“You will not be searching for Mr. Calcott’s sister,” Father said, not bothering to look at me. He focused on the turning pages of the volume wedged in his hands.

I pushed myself up from the chair. “Because I’m a child? Isn’t that what you said earlier, at the hospital?”

“You’re too young to undertake such a dangerous mission.”

“Do you remember what Mr. Calcott said?” I squeezed the book I held to my chest. “The man was from Chascadia. The Lost person he’s worried about is his sister, which means she’s Chascadian too! The last Lost person with Chascadian heritage was Mother.” At least, I hadn’t learned of any since the stories I’d heard from before my parents’ marriage. I hoped it was still true.

Father’s lips tightened. “Yes, and your mother wasn’t much older than you in maturity when she became Lost. She was still in her teenage years.”

I already knew that, but I didn’t want to hear it right now. Mother was older than me in Earth years when she first learned how to travel, but our timelines were different. Mine was longer because I’d been born on Edgar; here, the timeline was longer than Earth’s but not quite as long as Father’s was at the White Tower, where he was born. My parents had somehow managed to marry and start a family despite the difference. But that was far too complicated and not persuasive enough for me. I needed something that appealed to Father’s emotions, his heart, and his pride.

A grim thought flashed in my mind, one so true I couldn’t help pointing it out.

“Mr. Calcott was right, wasn’t he? You didn’t want to be alone—to lose another of us. Don’t you want to see me do what I was meant to do? Do you know how embarrassing it was for me to watch you tell a suffering man to go away?”

Father looked up from the journal. “Silvia, enough.”

“Why won’t you talk about it? Is it so wrong to admit you care for me? That it has less to do with my abilities and how capable I am?”

His eyes softened, but his lips remained firm. “That should have been obvious by my unwillingness to let you go.” He lowered his gaze. “I refused to argue further about this. I need to get back to the hospital. I’ll ask someone else to cover your evening shift.”

“Now you’re firing me?” I huffed. It was my job. How dare he?

“No one’s being fired. I don’t want the recovering Lost to see you like this—out of control of your emotions.” He carried Grandpa Plaka’s journal with him to the door. “I think you need a break. We’ll discuss this again when you’re thinking more clearly.”

With quick strides, he walked out of the room, leaving me in front of the fireplace, my body shaking with rage. How Father was able to do that—push my buttons while still sounding calm and reasonable—was beyond me. It was like he was a robot, detached from the full range of emotions that made one human.

I stomped to my bedroom and threw aside the book I’d been studying. I snatched a pillow and smacked it against my bed, convinced I’d received my compassion from Mother.

After the pillow had been thoroughly pummeled, I sat down on the floor and hugged the pillow to my chest. I had to get my hands on Grandpa Plaka’s journal.

A framed portrait of Mother, propped on my bedside table, smiled down at me.

“You must think I’m crazy,” I whispered in the direction of the portrait. “I have pictures of you everywhere, and I talk to you like you’re still here.” Tears filled my eyes. “I just wish—” I sniffled. “I wish you were able to talk back, that I could hear your voice. One more time.”

By the time Mother died, she’d aged so much more quickly than Father. Some had mistaken her for my grandmother. Her dark, curly hair had grayed so much it matched the color of her eyes. I don’t know how she did it—watched herself age while her husband and father stayed young; cared for children with a body that aged and ached. Yet, she never complained.

Father looked at her the same way he always had, with love, like he couldn’t believe his fortune, that he’d been lucky enough to have such a beautiful wife.

I sighed.

“What good is being a Remnant Transporter if I can’t use it?” I mumbled in the direction of the portrait.

Mother would have supported me. I knew it. We would have gone on the mission together. She could have trained me. Grandpa Plaka would have done the same, the way he had by training Mother. But, now, both were gone. The only person left to train me was Father and he didn’t seem to want to do anything about it. He was completely uninterested.

I’d accepted my vocation as soon as I learned my travel talent. Mother was overjoyed. Father was not. Had he ever supported my talent?

I closed my eyes, remembering. Mother and I had been on an outing. She was pregnant with Javis and had a craving for key lime pie. I gagged, remembering how she’d eaten it with fermented cabbage. How gross I thought that was, even though I was only five years, Edgar time.

Father wasn’t present; it was just Mother and me. We’d left Edgar to travel to a different time and place using Mother’s pair of travel glasses, an unofficial travel object. She hadn’t inherited the baglamas because Grandpa Plaka was still alive, and he was usually off healing travelers and searching for the Lost. Mother did similar work, but when she was pregnant, she traveled less and spent more of her time at the hospital taking care of those who Grandpa Plaka brought to Edgar to recover.

Mother smiled at me as she slung the shopping bag over her shoulder and covered my hand with hers. She slipped a pair of dark sunglasses over her eyes.

“Ready, Silvie? Grandpa’s not with us today, so we’re going to use the travel glasses. You remember how to do this?”

“Yes!”

“Okay, then, put on your pair.”

I slipped on a tiny pair of sunglasses Father had given me. I knew they weren’t filled with magical technology like Mother’s pair, but they helped protect my eyes from the light.

“On the count of three,” Mother said.

I bent my legs at the knees, ready to run.

“One. Two. Three!”

Mother’s feet pressed forward as she pulled me along with her. The world streamed past us in colors tinted by my dark lenses. Mother’s shopping bag fluttered in the breeze of our momentum. I looked up to see if she was smiling, too.

Her lips were pursed in concentration. She whispered words aloud, like she was talking to the travel glasses, telling them where to go.

And then the sky, and everything beneath it, glowed with a white light that would have been blinding had I not been wearing the tiny pair of sunglasses.

When the brightness faded, I handed my sunglasses back to Mother and bounced in place.

She pressed a finger to her lips. “Not yet. First we need to ground.”

She knelt, holding one arm protectively around her swollen stomach, where my younger brother was growing inside her. I mimicked how she stayed low to the ground.

The dirt and grass shook and trembled—a symptom I later learned was caused by tearing into a different place and time. When the ground stopped moving, we brushed ourselves off and entered the pie shop.

Bells jingled, announcing our arrival. A plump lady with thick, red lips smiled at us from behind a counter crowded with bins of lollipops and other candies.

“What can I get for you today? Pumpkin-raisin, or how about the cinnamon cream?” the lady said. She pointed to counter, filled with trays of pies.

I pressed my hands and nose to the glass, searching for a green and white pie, the one I knew Mother wanted. But I couldn’t find any. I hadn’t thought about how different the pies looked before they were sliced, with the citrusy green layer hidden beneath the meringue.

Mother pointed to a pie that was white on top with a candied slice of lime wedged in a dollop of cream. “Is that key lime?”

The lady nodded. “How many would you like?”

“Four, please.”

The pie lady’s laugh was merry, almost musical. She boxed the pie on display, then disappeared through a door behind the counter.

I stared up at the bins of lollipops while I waited. I liked the red ones best, but I only saw orange, green, and pink. Startled by a sucking sound behind me, I turned my head.

A girl, the same size as me, sat at a table, licking a lollipop. She had a round nose and dark pigtails. I smiled and waved.

The girl smiled back at me with orange-stained lips.

I tugged at Mother’s hand.

“You can’t stay and play,” she said. “But go ahead and talk to the girl while I pay for the pies.”

“Hello,” I said when I reached the girl’s table. “I’m Silvie. I can’t stay and play.”

The girl grinned. “My name is Gemma. This is my mommy’s shop.”

My eyes grew wide. Even though my parents had a hospital filled with interesting people, I couldn’t imagine how wonderful it would be to have parents who had their own pie shop, with bins of lollipops. Though, I’d make sure we had the red ones, too.

I decided I liked Gemma. If I couldn’t stay, perhaps she could come home with me. Mother hadn’t said we couldn’t go back to our home and play.

I peeked at the counter to make sure Mother was still talking to the pie lady, Gemma’s mommy. “Want to play a game?” I whispered.

Gemma bobbed her head.

“Follow us when we go,” I said. “Outside, we’ll start running.”

“Why?”

“To get home,” I said. “Don’t let my mother see you’re there. Stay hidden.”

Gemma sucked at the lollipop before answering, “Okay.”

“But when you see us running, you start running too. As fast as you can.”

“Okay.”

“Try to catch us before we disappear.”

The girl’s eyes popped open. “Disappear?”

“You’ll see,” I said.

“Silvie,” Mother said, walking toward us. Her shopping bag was so full the corners of the pie boxes poked through the bag. “Time to go. Say goodbye to your friend.”

“Bye, Gemma.” I waved.

On our way out the jingly door, I turned to the girl and winked.

Mother held my hand and walked me to where we’d been when we’d arrived and had knelt on the ground. I kept looking back for Gemma, hoping she’d keep her promise to play the game. If she couldn’t come with us, I at least wanted her to see us disappear, to know the special thing Mother could do.

But I hadn’t told her about the travel glasses. If Gemma was behind us, hidden somewhere behind the buildings and trees, I wanted her to see our sunglasses, too.

“Ready, Silvie?” Mother had on her travel glasses and helped me with the tiny pair that covered my eyes.

I looked back for Gemma one last time. Please run with us, I whispered in my heart. At the same time, I felt Mother’s hand tug me forward until we were both running.

My mind whirled with thoughts as the sky turned white. What if I never got to see Gemma again? Mother visited all kinds of pie shops, in different times and places. What if we didn’t come back to this shop in this world? I wanted Gemma to tell me what it looked like when we disappeared, and what she thought of Mother’s talent.

I wanted her to come home with us, to Edgar.

I felt something press against my open hand, the one Mother wasn’t holding. The sunglasses protected my eyes, but they didn’t keep all out the white light. I turned my head to see what was next to me, what had touched my hand. There was nothing but blurring clouds of white.

Whatever I felt went away. I grabbed for the air, to see if I could catch it. My hands clasped what felt like fingers, small ones like mine. Smiling, I held on tighter.

I didn’t let go. Not until the brightness faded and I was standing beneath the warm glow of Edgar’s three suns.

“Wow,” said a voice from somewhere next to me.

A girl with pigtails stood waist-deep in a rainbow of flowers, smiling and staring up at the sky.

I was so excited I forgot to stay low and press a hand and a knee to the ground.

At first, my parents thought it was an accident, that Mother had pulled Gemma through time and space. They didn’t bother taking her home, either. Father told me it was because this version of Gemma was a silhouette, a copy of a person from the past who would eventually fade. He explained that Mother had traveled with me to the past, to a pie shop she’d visited as a child, and that Gemma would be Mother’s age by now.

“Won’t Gemma’s mother miss her?” I asked, confused.

“Maybe for the rest of the day,” Father said. “But all will be forgotten when everyone wakes up the next morning. The past has already been written, and minds of silhouettes cannot be changed without leaving a Daily Reminder—a written reminder intended to change the past.”

After the incident with Gemma, it happened again, and again, usually with other children my age, those I wanted to keep as friends and to know about Mother’s travel talent. Sometimes children from the present slipped through time and space with us and had to be transported home. But most of them were remnants from the past.

Eventually, my parents figured out my game and that I’d willed them to come home with us. They and Grandpa Plaka were stunned because I hadn’t been in charge of the travel glasses and where we were going. Each time, I’d only known and expected we’d be returning home, to Edgar. Who knows what would have happened if Mother had decided on a different course without telling me?

That was how it was discovered that I was a Remnant Transporter—that I could transport silhouettes through space and time, to wherever and whenever I was going.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 10. >>>

Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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