We grounded to the soothing fragrance of flowers. It would have been difficult not to, seeing as our arms, legs, and faces were buried in them.
“What was that?” Javis was wild-eyed as he brushed pollen from the legs of his pants.
“I don’t know, but we have to go back. Let’s give it a day or two,” I said, pacing. “I need to think this through.”
“A day or two? I don’t trust that man, and we have no idea what type of time scheme his world has.”
“Okay, fine. We’ll go back tomorrow, the same time we left today, if possible. That will give us some idea of the day cycle there; and if it’s around the same time when we get there, we may get to see him outside again. Maybe one of us can distract him long enough to leave behind the baglamas, and the other can grab it. Then we can both transport home using our own pairs of travel glasses.”
“That plan makes more sense than anything else I’ve seen today.” Javis tapped at his head with a fist. “Or heard. How do we get past the dog?”
“You heard it, too? The voice telling us to leave?”
His scowl was replaced with an expression that reeked of I told you so. “That man was talking to the dog, responding to her whimpers and the words she put inside his head. I knew it!”
I huffed, leaving him standing there, ankle-deep in flowers, as I stepped up onto the path. He followed me, mumbling about how smart he was or something. I didn’t know because I’d stopped paying attention.
There was a group of people standing in front of the hospital. I pushed through to find two of the recovering Lost, with tears streaming down their faces, pounding at the door.
I pulled the nearest recovering Lost, a girl named Maya, into my arm as I rifled through my pockets for my key. She yelped when she recognized me, and then fell into a fit of loud, wet sobs.
“He pushed us out. He—he said we should wait until you return.”
The lock clicked when I turned the key. I held the door open. Javis caught up to me once everyone had scrambled inside.
“Who said that, Maya? Who can’t deal with you anymore?”
“Valcas, I mean…Mr. Hall.”
The spaces behind my eyes burned with the information. How could he?
I placed my hands on the girl’s shoulders and held her out at arms-length. “Explain.”
“Curt and I had scheduled visitors…”
I nodded, acknowledging that the visitors must be the other people who’d been standing outside with the recovering Lost.
“You and Javis weren’t here, so we went to Mr. Hall’s office to check in our visitors. He sent us outside and told us to wait for you.”
Javis and I exchanged a glance.
“But afterwards, I remembered I left my sketchpad in my room, and I wanted to show my drawings to my brother. I tried to go back in to get it.” Her lower lip quivered. “But the door was locked.”
With the baglamas momentarily forgotten, I stormed through the hallway, with Javis at my heels. Father’s door was closed. I peppered the door with loud, angry knocks.
“Come in,” he called from inside the room.
I threw open the door and placed a hand on my hip. “Why did you send two of the recovering Lost and their visitors outside?”
He didn’t bother looking up from his papers. “I was busy, and it is a beautiful day. The flowers and suns help your mood, Silvie. Why shouldn’t they help theirs too?”
I hadn’t expected such a reasonable answer. He didn’t seem upset at all. If anything, he was eerily calm, and his words disarmed me. I dropped my hand from my hip and looked to Javis for help.
“After everyone went outside, one of the recovering Lost tried to get back inside, but she couldn’t.” Javis worked his jaw, as if he wasn’t sure how to raise such a serious accusation against Father. “The door was locked.”
Father looked up from his papers, finally, and gave Javis his full attention. “What do you mean the door was locked?”
“Silvie used her key to let everyone back inside. So, you mean you didn’t do it?”
I winced at Father’s tightly set lips. His eyes were filled with astonishment and pain.
“Of course not,” he said.
“Oh,” Javis said, his voice weak. I would have to thank him for putting himself out there, later. “Then that means…”
Father sat back in his chair and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “The hospital’s security has been breached.”
Javis and I checked in on each of the residents while Father initiated a flurry of activity, which involved inspections of both the house and the hospital and the installation of replacement locks on the doors.
When no one suspicious was found on the premises, Father handed me and Javis new keys. I bit my lip, unable to handle the disappointed look he gave us. I couldn’t believe I’d thought Father had locked out the recovering Lost. I’d been so taken back by what we found when we returned to Edgar. Not to mention my state of mind after our attempt to find my baglamas. Still, I was ashamed I’d let these events make me mistrust Father. He’d done nothing to deserve that.
Javis and I attempted to retrieve the baglamas the next day, before my morning shift.
I removed the travel glasses from my face to better see our surroundings. I couldn’t decipher any noise over the rumblings that announced our arrival. But by the time we’d finished grounding, a shriek erupted that made my skin crawl and tingle all over.
My gut reaction was to help someone who was in pain.
Javis held me back. “Silvie, no. Remember what the man in the tunic said about no one coming to visit him.”
“I know but—”
“Let’s check it out, carefully. Maybe he’s out for a walk…” He frowned. “In the dark with his creepy dog.”
“Then why would he be screaming?”
My question was answered a moment later when Javis and I stumbled upon the man and his dog. We’d been circling backwards, staying covered behind trees and looking through them, instead of behind us. When we backed up, something caught my foot and I flew backwards, landing on my butt.
The shrieking started again, only now it was right in front of me.
Javis ran to my side and pulled me up and away from the man in the tunic who was lying on his back. He rocked back and forth and pushed at the ground with his arms, struggling to get up. His feet wobbled up and down in front of him, without bending at the knees.
Eurig, his dog, sat at his side. She turned to Javis and me, catching both of us with her glowing eyes, and whimpered.
Your earthquake made him fall. You should not have returned.
She broke eye contact with us more quickly than she had during our last visit. As soon as I regained my wits, I pulled Javis out to an open space where we could run.
“Our earthquake?” I mumbled. “She must mean the impact of our arrival.”
“Yup, let’s bail. We’ll come back at a better time, if such a thing exists.”
“Call for help, Eurig!” the man yelled. “Make sure someone catches them!”
I shuddered at the wolfish howl that followed, a deep grow that swelled an octave higher before scooping back down again.
“Okay, here,” I said, indicating the open space before us with plenty of room to gain momentum for travel.
I slipped on the travel glasses and squeezed Javis’s hand.
We made it three steps before a half dozen men wearing tunics closed in on us and pulled us to the ground. I clawed at them with my fingernails, kicking at them as they tied my hands behind my back. Pain flashed behind my eyes. They’d nearly dislocated my shoulders in the process.
Three of the men dragged me and three dragged Javis through the gate and into the house. Without the brightness of the world’s moon, it took me a moment to adjust to the lack of light inside the house. Flames from torches flickered along the walls, mingling with the light from above—chandeliers filled with lit candles.
The men said nothing to us the entire time, even when they dropped us on the floor in front of a chaise lounge. I wriggled my shoulders to relieve the stiffness that had set in since my hands had been tied. I looked up and scowled. The man in the tunic lifted his head from a pillow and rolled to his side, resting his weight on a propped up arm.
Eurig sat next to him, curled up in a sleeping position, her eyes closed.
“Thank you, men,” said the man in the tunic. “I have something to say to our visitors, and then you will move them to a cell.”
The men grunted and stepped backward in a single file behind us, blocking the only exit I could find in the room.
I pulled at the binding around my hands, a material that had the silkiness of ribbon and the strength of rope. A cell?
The man in the tunic grinned at us. “My home has experienced unlikely weather conditions as of late. I felt the rumblings of an earthquake yesterday evening. Eurig and I went out for a walk this evening to be nearer, should the phenomenon repeat itself.” He grinned widely, showing us his full set of teeth. “And sure enough, it did.”
I bit my lip, frantically trying to figure how to get out of there. He hadn’t asked us a question, and I had nothing to say to him, so I kept my mouth shut. Javis sat with his legs crossed next to me, shaking.
“How did you arrive here?” the man in the tunic said, his eyes pinning me to the ground.
“We traveled,” I choked out.
A flicker of surprise shone in his eyes. “Using what method?”
Javis shot me a pointed look, but it wasn’t necessary. I had no intention of telling our captor about the travel glasses. Or that I knew anything about the baglamas.
“My men have ways of making you answer, children,” he warned. He shifted his weight back slightly.
I glared at him.
“Surely you two are able to speak. Eurig, we heard them outside when the girl tripped over me, didn’t we?”
The dog opened her eyes and tilted her head toward him. I couldn’t see the moon-glow in her eyes from where I sat when she let out a soft whimper.
“Eurig agrees with me, children. She says you can speak.”
My lips pulled into a frown. I hadn’t heard Eurig say anything. I hadn’t heard her words inside my head. But I had heard her whimper. Did Eurig have to be looking at a specific person, capturing them with her eyes, to be able to drop words in their head?
Javis and I exchanged a worried glance.
“I tire of waiting. Take them away.”
The men along the wall rushed forward, breaking out of their single file like marching band members scattering in different directions. Half of the men surrounded me, while the other half surrounded Javis. I don’t know why so many of them were necessary given our hands were tied behind our backs.
One of the men lifted me up in his arms and slung me over his back, with his companions flanking his sides. The more I kicked, the more he pinned my legs to his chest. But I didn’t yell out. I bit my tongue. The man in the tunic did not deserve my words.
Javis appeared not to be doing much better than I was. He was younger than me, but larger and stronger. Two of the men, both a head taller than him, had grabbed him beneath his armpits and were dragging him so that when he kicked, they lifted him up higher, leaving his legs to flail in the air.
Before we left the room, Eurig’s glowing eyes locked with mine. Her whimper was low and gritty, more of a growl.
I told you to leave. You should not have returned.
The man in the tunic stroked her head. “What’s wrong, my pet?”
She broke her gaze from mine and leaned into his petting before curling back into her sleeping position.
The men dragged Javis and me to separate cells, instead of the one cell the man in the tunic had warned us about.
“We’ll untie you,” one of the men said, his lips close to my ear. “But you should fear no less. We can rewrap your wrist as quickly as we did the last time,” he warned.
I twisted my face in horror at the sound of his voice. It was as if he literally gargled broken glass. I’d heard that expression before and thought I had an idea of what it meant, but now I had a real life audio-visual. His words undulated between low and high-pitched sounds, with the awful texture of sandpaper.
He stepped back and laughed at my reaction. “The punishments here are cruel,” he said, rubbing a hand across his throat. Then he clenched his jaw and sneered, as if he didn’t find the joke funny anymore.
His companion kept his strong grip around me while the man with the garbled voice untied and pulled at my bindings. The third man stood guard near the cell’s door, careful to allow himself and his companions to exit while leaving me trapped inside. The guard stayed behind and pressed his back against the opposite wall.
I shook out my arms and rubbed my wrists as I paced back and forth along the cell floor.
I looked out through the bars of the left front corner of my cell, noticing a man in a tunic who stood watching roughly ten feet away from where my guard stood across the wall in front of me.
I took this to mean that our cells were side by side. But I couldn’t see Javis because of the heavy wall between us. I also guessed his cell had metal bars in front like mine.
My teeth gnashed together.
The men had deprived us of being able to communicate in whispers, gestures, and glances. If we had something to say, we had to speak loudly enough for everyone to hear us, including those men who’d stayed behind and stood guard outside our cells.
I blinked at my guard.
He locked his gaze on me. This turned into a staring contest that continued until I began to feel uncomfortable. I switched to averting my eyes every time he caught me looking at him.
I slipped the travel glasses over my eyes and snickered, knowing the lenses were so dark the guard wouldn’t be able to tell whether I was looking at him or not.
I blinked and the guard faded from view, replaced by an all-white background. Javis’s face appeared like a cardboard cutout against it.
“Silvie,” he whispered.
“Excellent idea to call me using your pair of travel glasses,” I said, keeping my voice level at a low murmur.
“You too,” he said. “I was hoping you’d think of this, eventually.”
My lips pressed into a guilty grin. I shrugged. I didn’t want to tell him the real reason I was wearing the travel glasses, and the fewer words the guard overheard the better.
I retreated to the deepest corner of the cell and pressed my back to the wall and rested my cheek on my hand so the guard no longer had a head-on view of my lips moving. I hoped he’d think I was sick of our awkward staring contest. I leaned back slightly in an attempt to look like I was trying to get into a comfortable enough position to fall asleep.
“There isn’t enough room in my cell to gain the momentum needed for travel,” said Javis, his lips barely moving.
I peered up, over the glasses, briefly, to gain a sense of how high the cell was—to judge whether we could gain vertical momentum as opposed to running horizontally. The ceiling was no higher than the track on the upper level gymnasium. Even that wasn’t high enough for me to risk dropping to my death before the travel glasses ported me home.
“It’s not high enough, either,” I said. “Not that there’s anything in here I could use to get up there.”
“So what do we do? How do we get out of here?”
“We’ll have to wait until the doors open. Maybe then we’ll figure something out.”
“But we’ll be outnumbered.”
I cringed. He was right. The man in the tunic had too many of his lackeys on us. There was no use trying to mess with the cell door with our guards staring at us, either.
My guard cleared his throat.
“We should stop now, before they suspect something,” I said.
Javis tilted his head in a barely perceptible nod before letting out a huge yawn.
The skin above my eyes twisted. Oh shoot. My painted on eyebrows were probably smeared off by now. I rubbed my eyes anyway, taking Javis’s hint that we should look like we were falling asleep. He didn’t have to be so obvious, though.
He and the white background faded, leaving my cell feeling darker than before.
I left the travel glasses on my face and closed my eyes.
Continue the adventure with Chapter 22, to be posted June 10. Read Darker Stars from the beginning, and learn more about its serialization here.