baglamas

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 24

Darker Stars Beta CoverThe hooded man returned to the woods, and fell to his knees.

His companion exhaled and paused in his tending of the fire. “Are you in pain?”

“No. Only relieved.”

“Then it worked?”

“He kept his word.” The hooded man stood and cracked his knuckles. “The curse has been lifted. We are free.”

“Where will you go from here?”

“I will find my way.”

The cloaked man lifted a bucket and spilled water across the fire. Flames crackled and sizzled before burning out.

“Have you anywhere to go?” garbled the hooded man.

“For now it is enough to be free to go where and when I please.”

Both men stood in awkward silence; neither turned to move. Then, as if pulled by the hand of a giant, they walked in unison toward a portal.

“Where do you two think you’re going?” A voice called out at the same time a face and an outstretched arm appeared through the world’s entrance.

The man in the tunic grabbed the hooded man, digging fingernails into his gullet.

Gagging, the hooded man pulled back the cowl that covered his face. His eyes glowed white with the glow of the moon. With a piercing gaze, he locked eyes with the man who held his throat.

“I will not listen to your pathetic pleas.” The man in the tunic stepped forward and smiled as he averted his eyes, breaking the connection. “I asked you to do something and it has not yet been finished.”

“We’ve done everything you’ve asked,” said the cloaked man. “Which is why the curse has been lifted. We are free men. We no longer work for you, and we are not in your debt.”

“Oh, but you are. You see, I am no longer in possession of the instrument.”

“That is none of our concern. We are not responsible for your inability to keep it.”

“I would still have the baglamas if you would have explained how to use it. In that you have failed, and you will not be free until you get it back for me—and this time with instructions! Consider your freedom revoked.”

The smile that burned across his lips caused both of the cloaked men to pale. Seemingly satisfied, he dropped his hand, careful to avoid the glowing white eyes. He pulled the hood over the man’s face. The hooded man became hooded once again.

“When did you last see the baglamas?” said the hooded man, rubbing his throat.

“It was stolen from me,” he snapped. “By children.”

The cloaked man snorted. “You were fooled by children?”

“They were vile creatures trained by Evil itself.”

“Describe them.”

“A girl and a boy, both in their adolescent years. She had black hair and emerald green eyes. She played the idiot—pretending not to know how to play the instrument.”

“And the boy?”

“Dark curls and matching dark eyes. He seemed the more even-tempered of the two. Cautious. Quiet.”

“Their names?”

I didn’t bother learning their names because they were my prisoners!

The cloaked men exchanged a cough resembling joyless laughter.

“Their descriptions do not match the boy and girl who arrived here,” said the hooded man. “The boy who retrieved the baglamas had black hair and purple eyes. The girl’s eyes were not green.”

“But the boy,” added his companion. “You said he had dark curls. Did he have an aquiline nose?”

The man in the tunic seemed to consider the question for a moment before throwing his arms in the air. “Yes, but why would that matter?”

“The Healer matched that description. Perhaps they are Basileios Plaka’s descendants. The rightful owners of the baglamas.”

The man in the tunic clutched at his chest. He tried to picture the Healer in his mind, the way he was on the night they’d trapped him and found that the baglamas was not on his person. The children—the boy in particular—looked much like the Healer, only younger and with dark eyes instead of blue-green. He gritted his teeth at his own lack of observation.

“I had them…within my grasp,” he choked. “But… They… They pretended not to know how the instrument worked.”

“So you’ve mentioned.”

The cloaked men looked down at the ground, not bothering to mask the smirks that formed across their faces.

“We will help,” said the hooded man. “But you will pay us more than our freedom. This task will be costly.”

“What is it that you want?”

“You will return my dog to me.”

“Eurig is mine.”

“Only because you stole her from me,” growled the hooded man. “You forced her into service. You stole her voice.”

The man in the tunic laughed. “I hear her voice in my head each day.”

“You hear only want you want to hear.” The hooded man pulled back his cowl; his eyes glowed bright in the darkness.

With a mocking sneer, the man in the tunic looked away.

***

“We can learn from the Time Keeper who Plaka’s descendants are and where they live. But how do we discover how the baglamas works?”

The cloaked man dragged a stick across a new fire pit and stirred the embers. “Perhaps the Time Keeper has learned that as well. If not, we ask the children to tell us.”

“Why should they tell us?”

“We will make them a promise.”

“What could they want from us?” the hooded man’s voice rasped, tilting to a shriek by the end of the question.

“We will explain who sent us to them.”

“But they’ve already encountered and escaped Yannan—slipped like fish through his fat fingers.”

“We will not mention him. We’ll send the children off course, all while telling the truth.”

“The truth?”

“That it was the Time Keeper who stole the baglamas, and that it was he who sent us to them.”

“How can you be sure that is what they’ll want?”

“They will be curious about how Yannan retrieved the instrument to begin with, and they will be afraid. They’re children. If they are anything like we were growing up, or anything like we are now, they’ll want their revenge.”

The hooded man sniffed. “And we will promise that revenge? In their fight against another child?”

“Yes. But only if they demonstrate how the baglamas makes one travel through time.”

Continue the adventure with Chapter 25, to be posted June 20. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 19 Treasure

Darker Stars Beta Cover“What was that about?” Javis asked me the next morning. We were walking back to the house, talking about Father’s gift to us, our pairs of travel glasses.

“Maybe Father needs time alone—to process everything,” I said.

“And that becomes our problem, how? He could travel. Why do we need to be the ones to go?”

“I don’t think that’s the problem. Think about it, Javis. Maybe it’s not as fun for him without Mother or his best friend.” I thought about my recent visit with Mother, in her past. I imagined Father was even lonelier without her.

Javis blinked rapidly and looked away. My eyes stung with tears. We were each other’s best friend. If I’d lost him and Mother, I don’t know what I’d do. Maybe I’d want to hole up somewhere, alone to grieve, too.

“Come on,” I said. “Forget about the travel glasses. You wanted to try traveling to the inter-world racing tracks using the baglamas.”

“Now?”

I knew he’d just gotten out of the hospital, but he looked as if nothing had happened to him. He didn’t appear the slightest bit sick. At least not on the outside.

“Father only gave us the morning off. I still have afternoon rounds, so it will be a short trip,” I said. “And if you suddenly don’t feel well or get tired, tell me and we can come right back.”

He looked at me, surprised. “Yeah, okay.”

With a smile as bittersweet as the chocolate drops Javis used to make my favorite cookies, I trotted up to my room to grab the instrument. It wasn’t leaning against my pillow, so I figured I’d left it on the chair next to my bed. My lower lip quivered as I gazed at the chair’s empty cushion.

“Where is it?” I whispered. I felt nothing but complete, utter disbelief.

I spun around, lifting up blankets, tossing pillows and socks, and checked every corner of the room. Rows of uniforms stared back at me from inside my closet. After rifling through the clothes, I surveyed the shelf above them, and pushed around the shoes that covered the closet floor.

I closed the closet door and turned around, pressing my back to it.

Rising panic filled my stomach and trailed up my chest. “Where could it be?” I muttered over and over again.

Javis’s face poked in through the door. “I’m getting old, not to mention bored, waiting downstairs—” His lips pulled back into a confused frown as he took in the mess I’d made. “What are you doing, Silvie?”

“The baglamas,” I said, shaking. “It’s gone. I can’t find it anywhere.”

Javis stepped over blankets and shuffled a hand through his dark curls as he approached. When he found an uncovered spot on the floor, he raised his hands and brought them down slowly. “Okay, calm down. Where did you last see the baglamas?”

“I thought I left it on my bed. I usually keep it on the chair, but yesterday… I remember moving it over to the bed.”

Javis cradled his chin in his hand. “Who else has been in your room lately?”

“Father never comes in here. So no one other than you, Sloe, and me.”

Javis and I blinked at each other. I knew Javis hadn’t taken the baglamas. He wasn’t home long enough to have done so as a joke. Father had no reason to raid my room while I was away, and had spent most of the day before with Javis. That left—

“You don’t think Sloe took it,” I said, shaking my head, not wanting it to be true. “Why would he? What would he want with the baglamas?” I squeaked. “I hadn’t even told him what it was or what it can do.”

Javis’s lips pulled together tightly. He lowered his eyes. “You didn’t need to. He was at Grandpa Plaka’s funeral.”

My cheeks burned as I blinked back tears. I trusted him. And he stole from me? Javis was right. Sloe had been at Grandpa Plaka’s funeral, and he should have known how much the baglamas meant to me. How could he do this?

“Looks like we’ll get to try out the travel glasses today, after all,” I said, through gritted teeth.

Javis’s eyes widened. “Are we searching for Sloe, specifically, or are we going to search for whoever has the baglamas right now?”

“What’s the difference?” I groaned.

“Maybe it wasn’t Sloe,” said Javis, jamming his hands in his pockets. “What if one of the recovering Lost wandered in here somehow? Sloe’s not the only person who can travel to Edgar from other worlds.”

I glared at him, both because he suddenly seemed to be taking Sloe’s side, and because his ideas were so reasonable. And calm. He was nowhere near hysterics like I was.

Javis smoothed the cover at the edge of my bed and sat down. “Silvie, think about it. Trying to find Sloe because we have a far-fetched reason to suspect him would be a waste of time—especially if we travel to him and find out he doesn’t have it. It would be an extra step, when we could go directly to and confront whoever has the baglamas right now.”

“You’re right,” I said, quietly. “Given Father’s warning about how the travel glasses will affect our eyes, the fewer trips made, the better.” I wanted to reserve as much use of the travel glasses as possible to visit Mother.

“So do we go now?” Javis jumped from his seated position.

“Yeah, let’s clean this mess up first, and then we’ll go outside to gain the necessary momentum for travel.”

***

Since the loss of the baglamas was mine, not Javis’s, I offered to transport us using my pair of travel glasses. I felt I knew the instrument in greater detail, anyway. I also wanted to exercise my Remnant Transporter talent. Even though Javis was not a silhouette, a remnant of the past, I wanted to get more used to transporting others with me through time and space. He’d grudgingly accepted, and had stowed his pair of travel glasses in a case inside his backpack.

We stood side by side on the path between the house and the hospital.

I sucked in a shaky breath. I really, really hoped Sloe wouldn’t be there, wherever Javis and I were headed.

“Are you ready?” I said.

Javis nodded.

“Good.” I grasped his hand. “Run on three. One. Two. Three!”

Our feet pressed into a hard run, thudding noisily against the path. I could feel Javis tugging me forward, his speed far more impressive than mine.

I pushed all remaining thoughts of Sloe from my mind and focused on the instrument, the object I desired to find more than anything in this moment—the baglamas as it existed and where it was right now.

Javis groaned aloud as everything around us went white.

When the brightness faded, we were surrounded by an eerie, piercing darkness.

We lowered ourselves so we could ground. I slipped the glasses back from my face and found Javis, next to me, rubbing his eyes.

I smirked. “You could have shut your eyes, you know.”

You try running with your eyes closed sometime!”

“Not so loud,” I said, looking around. “I don’t want whoever took my baglamas to know we’re here, at least not yet.”

Trees swayed and bent as the ground below us trembled. A fat moon hung in the sky, casting light among the shadows. In the distance, stood a building the size of a mansion with jagged spires. Had it not been for the moon and occasional flicker of light from the building’s many windows, it would have been difficult to distinguish it from the darkness.

I hiccupped, surprised, at the rustle of leaves behind us. Slowly, I repositioned myself so I faced the direction of the sound while still keeping low to the ground. I squatted to the side until there was a tree between me and where the noise had been.

Following my lead, Javis got into position behind me. “Where do we start?” he whispered.

“I don’t know,” I said, keeping my voice low. “I half expected to land right next to the baglamas.” I thought of Mother and our trip to the pie shop, remembering how much she wanted key lime pie. She still had needed to go inside the store and buy one. We hadn’t landed in an empty field with a pie sitting there waiting for us; it wasn’t instantaneous. Yet, her task seemed more obvious than this one.

“We could take a look around.” I shuddered. “But I don’t know how we’d get into that house over there without being invited, or how to explain why we’re here.”

Javis let out a slow breath. “Yeah, and I’m sure our explanation wouldn’t go over well.”

“Exactly.”

I stepped backward at the sound of more rustling of leaves. A moment later I heard a high-pitched, twangy chord that was wildly out of tune. I whipped my head around and pressed my back against the tree.

Moments later, Javis and I poked our heads out from behind the trunk. “Where’s that coming from? The trees or the house?”

“The house, I think,” I said, craning my neck toward the sound.

“I wonder if whoever’s playing the baglamas heard and felt the rumbling from our arrival.”

“Maybe.” I shrugged. “What I want to know is why the baglamas is being played, and whether whoever’s playing it is trying to travel.”

“Don’t worry,” said Javis. “If they go somewhere else, we’ll just follow again by using the travel glasses.”

His words gave me some measure of comfort.

“You’re right,” I said. If this failed, we’d keep trying. And as much as I didn’t want to get Father involved, if Javis and I came across obstacles we couldn’t handle on our own, we could always ask Father for help. If he knew someone from a place like this had somehow managed to get their hands on the baglamas, I doubted he’d blame me for being careless. This was already bigger than anything I’d imagined.

The “music” continued, not the tangy and exotic dancing of notes that I’d heard Grandpa Plaka play on special occasions or when he was happy. These notes were an angry plucking that made my ears ache.

“I don’t think he knows how to play it,” Javis whispered.

I stifled a laugh. “Come on, let’s go see who it is. He or she may be trying to travel using the baglamas. What they’re doing won’t work, though, so we should be able to catch up to them.”

After a few more notes, Javis and I shared a knowing glance and began walking in that direction. The travel vortex wasn’t created simply by strumming the strings of the instrument. There needed to be a source of momentum, often created by jumping from a high distance. I remembered how Grandpa Plaka would scoop the baglamas through the air, like it was a giant ladle and the air was its soup. After more than a few swipes, there would be a buzzing in the air, a low sound that signaled the process was starting.

I listened closely for the buzzing sound, hearing nothing but the ongoing tang of a poorly played baglamas.

The moon provided barely enough light for us to see from within the wooded area, but once the trees were behind us, I squinted so much that I considered slipping the travel glasses back over my eyes. This moon was brighter than any I’d seen in any world, anywhere or anywhen. It glowed white and silver. Had there been warmth and golden light, I would have thought it was this world’s sun. I looked over to find Javis’s hand pressed to his forehead, casting a shadow over his eyes.

An open area of grass, rock, and dirt walking paths stretched out before us. The dark house was still in the distance, but not as far away.

I frowned. “Between the flatness of the land and the bright moon, there’s nowhere for us to hide now.”

“But there’s plenty of space to run. Keep your travel glasses ready, just in case.”

The wilder, flatter terrain smoothed further into manicured lawns with hedging and flowers, their petals closed for the night. Brick paths replaced those made of dirt. The largest path led to a gate coated in a shiny substance that reflected the moonlight as well as any mirror. Hedges flanked the gate on both sides. Through its metal bars, the dark house appeared nearer.

Javis slipped his hand through a handle at the side of the gate and slowly turned it back in on itself. “It’s open,” he said as he started swinging the gate toward us.

“Open it quietly,” I said, hoping it wasn’t protected by an alarm.

I held my breath until the gate was fully open and we were on its other side. “Let’s leave it open—in case we have to leave here quickly.”

He nodded.

Now that I’d started breathing again, I was struck by how the air smelled and tasted of smoke, like a candle had been snuffed out.

In addition to the notes from the baglamas, there was a trickle of running water. Our footsteps tapped lightly across the ground, now more fleshed out with brickwork and edged with grass and plants. The greenery here appeared to be strategically placed rather than naturally grown in the wild. In the yard’s center stood a wide, round fountain.

Curious, I approached it. Its clear water was dappled with silver light.

Movement from behind the fountain caught my eye. I squatted, hiding behind the fountain, and pulling Javis down along with me.

That’s when I heard a long, drawn out sigh.

I held my breath, my fingers digging into Javis’s arm. He looked at me wide-eyed and then down at his arm.

“Sorry,” I whispered.

We scooched ourselves around the edge of the fountain to see what was in the yard behind it.

A man sat reclined on a bench, with his legs sticking out in front of him. He wore a tunic, white with a silver sheen, which ran past his knees and seemed to tighten mid-calf. He swiped his fingers across an instrument that sat in his lap. My baglamas.

I gritted my teeth as my chest flooded with anger towards the man.

“A true work of art, isn’t it, my pet?” said the man in the tunic.

A canine with a thin coat of pale, golden fur yawned, its ears twitching each time a sour note was played. Its fur stretched taut against its middle, held up by limbs that were long and lean.

“My only regret is not asking how it works,” continued the man in the tunic. “No matter. Once those fools find they need me again, I’ll request they provide instructions as to how to travel with the Healer’s beloved device.”

The canine whimpered.

The man in the tunic chuckled. “Not to worry, Eurig, my dear girl. No one visits me here. No one knows this world exists, not even the TSTA.” He scrunched up his face. “Only a Time Keeper would be able to find it using portals.”

He looked down at the baglamas. “Or, perhaps, someone with access to unofficial objects of travel. But what business would they want with me?” The way he gazed and smiled at the instrument made me want to vomit.

“Well, that explains why he leaves the gate unlocked,” whispered Javis. “Do you really think he can translate the dog’s whimpers?”

“Shh, focus, Javis. I don’t care about that. We need to figure out how to get the baglamas away from the man so I can get it back.”

“We can’t exactly grab it from him, and he doesn’t seem the type to respond well to Oh, hey, that looks like my baglamas; could I have it back, please?

I rolled my eyes at Javis and frowned before turning my attention back to the thief. A shiver shot up my spine. Had he been in my bedroom? I hoped not.

“What a beautiful thing,” continued the man in the tunic. “To be able to travel with mobile objects instead of portals fixed in time and space. The ability to find anyone, anywhere by searching specifically for them.”

Eurig stretched her forelegs and sat back on her haunches. She whimpered, this time with her face tilted toward the sky.

“It’s getting late, yes. I, too, would like a warm drink before bed. We can study the instrument more tomorrow. I look forward to learning if there are connections between the portal’s song and the inner workings of this object of time.”

The man wriggled his body back and forth until he sat diagonally with his feet resting against the ground and his behind leaning against the edge of the bench. He held the baglamas in one arm as he used his opposite arm to hoist himself up into a standing position.

Each step toward the house was painfully slow. His canine companion showed more restraint than any dog I’d ever seen, especially the way she waited until he took a few steps before catching up to the man, instead of rushing out ahead of him.

“I think we could take him, Javis. He seems pretty slow to me.”

“Yeah, but I feel bad, like we’re taking advantage of someone with an infirmity. Unlike the recovering Lost, this guy’s injuries are purely physical.”

“Seriously, Javis? He and these men he’s been talking about stole my baglamas. This guy knows its value as a travel object. He’s the bad guy, not us.” He’s the bad guy, I repeated in my head, thankful that the thieves were vile men like these, and not Sloe. At least I had something to be relieved about.

“So, what do we do now? Try to follow him inside? Or come back at a better time?” He blinked. “Is there a better time?”

“If that dog makes more noise than a yawn or whimper, I don’t know how we’ll get in undetected.”

“Yeah, that dog is amazing. It’s like…it knows. I really think they talk to each other.”

I glared at him. “Stop worrying about the stupid dog, and help me figure out how to get my baglamas back!”

“Sure, right. Get the baglamas back,” he mumbled, his eyes still trained on the man and his dog.”

When the door to the house opened, I bent my knees, ready to spring forward and follow. If the man is so unworried about visitors that he leaves his gate unlocked, maybe he doesn’t lock his front door either.

Eurig turned and looked directly at us. From this angle, I was able to see something I hadn’t noticed before. The dog’s eyes glowed white, edged with the silver pallor of this world’s moon.

At the same time, Javis gasped and I froze in place. While the man in the tunic walked through the door, we squatted there, unflinching and unbreathing, with the dog’s gaze upon us, her back legs blocking the door from closing.

My heartbeat echoed the seconds that ticked by. Eurig saw us. Was she waiting for us, too? I’d decided that must be what she wanted—for us to follow her. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that she should be running toward us, or at least barking like any other dog would have done.

I pleaded with her, with my eyes, willing her to understand. Don’t give us away. Please.

Eurig’s eyes flashed brighter as she let out a soft and drawn out whimper.

I squinted past the dog, worried that she’d caught the attention of the man in the tunic—that he was on his way back outside where he’d find us.

But then, from inside my head, I heard a female voice, both kind and stern.

Leave this place. Quickly.

The dog turned and walked inside the house, letting the door swing closed behind her.

Javis grabbed my hand. “We need to leave here. Now.”

“I know,” I whispered.

I slipped the travel glasses back over my eyes, and we ran—into the safety of the bright, white light.

Continue the adventure with Chapter 20, to be posted June 3. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.

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. >>>

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Darker Stars BETA: Chapter 9 Memory

Darker Stars Beta CoverI 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 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 out all 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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