“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.”
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.