I had been leaning across from the red door for about ten minutes, thinking about everything I had heard and seen today, when I began to have the very uncomfortable feeling I was being watched. So I glanced up and down the hall until I saw Nate standing in the doorway to one of the stairwells. She was surrounded by shadows and staring directly at me. I glanced again around the hall, only to realize we were somehow the only ones there, and pushed away from the wall, not knowing what to do.
At that moment, the door across from me swung open, and Glenna stepped out. “Oh, Haylee. I was just about to come find you. Sabella is ready if you are,” she gestured toward the dark room beyond.
I glanced once more down the hallway and, seeing no one, nodded and stepped through the door. It closed behind me, Glenna on the other side.
“Hello, again. It seems quite a bit has happened since we last spoke.” The flame of a single candle lit the woman across the room. “You are wondering about the candles, yes?”
“Uh, actually, yeah.” I slowly moved forward and sat in the chair across from her.
“Everyone who passes beyond the Red must have a representative light,” she said, as if I understood what this meant. “A source of protection on this side. Often shields are down, and one must take precautions. It will be especially important when I am training you to defend yourself psychically, at least until you have mastered it. Of course, even then you are more open to attack whenever you cross over.”
“If I’m vulnerable to attack on this side anyway, why train me at all?”
“Because, without it, you are also more susceptible out there,” she nodded toward the door.
“I see…” So, Derik had been right, probably on both counts. I did need training.
“You have more questions?”
“Oh… I guess I do. Something Glenna said earlier has been nagging at me. She mentioned how Derik and, well, Nate came here with nowhere else to go. What did she mean by that exactly?”
“Well, I suppose it’s common knowledge around the compound… So there is no reason I could not tell you the story. I believe it was about five years ago. A group of ours was out scavenging, as we are required to do from time to time, when they were attacked by a small mob of Pale Ones. We were no match for their strength, we never were in those days. Two people were killed before Derik swooped in. He was as strong as them, stronger than each individually, and they had no choice but to scatter. He then helped us carry the wounded back. Somehow, Glenna convinced him to stay, said we needed him. And he’s been here ever since, teaching us to fight and defend ourselves. In a way, he’s become honorary leader, sharing the title unofficially with Glenna. His knowledge of the Amara has been very helpful, as well, as it has given us much insight into their tactics and habits. He is one of us, part of our family, now. It is as if he has always been here.”
“Where was he? What did he do before he came here?”
“We didn’t ask. We owed him too much. The past is past, as they say.”
I sat for a moment. “What about Nate, then?”
“Well… Nate is a slightly different story… She showed up about two years or so ago, wounded, running for her life. They were hunting her down, after she had gotten separated from her own foraging group. She received attention from Derik almost immediately and now has the respect of most, if not all, of us.”
“She didn’t go back to her people?”
“She could not. Only she survived the attack. Though I do not know that she would have if she could.”
“I see.” Maybe I had judged Nate prematurely. Perhaps she only felt I was infringing on her terrain and was jealous of the attention I had been receiving from Derik, however absurd the idea. She obviously had feelings for him, so I just had to find a way to show her I wasn’t after him.
“So you have had encounters with Nate, then?” Sabella leaned forward in her chair.
I glanced up. How much had she gotten from me? “Yes. She doesn’t like me much.”
“I supposed she would not.” She studied me, as she leaned back. “What do you think of her?”
I was surprised. “Uh, I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t really spoken with her. When Derik tried to get her to train me, I – oh,” I caught myself. Keeping secrets was not my strongest trait. Then again, how was I to keep something from someone who could read my mind? “I…”
“No worries. Derik’s disinterest in training you himself has already been brought to my attention. Go on, please.” She did not seem upset by his noncompliance.
“I… had the feeling she disliked me intensely. And I told him so and that I didn’t want her to train me. I’m afraid to be alone with her, honestly.”
“And what was his reaction?”
“He seemed shocked by my response. I guess though it would be irritating to have someone speak of your mate in that way… I don’t know.”
“Yes.” She simply stared at me. “I suppose so. Well, do you have any other questions before we begin?”
I thought for a moment. I had hoped for more elaboration on her part about the partner policy, or whatever they called it. But she changed gears without divulging even the smallest detail about Derik’s relationship with Nate. Then again, it was none of my business. Why did I even care? I didn’t. Did I? “No. Not that I can think of, anyway.”
“Alright, then. Let’s start with clearing your mind. Close your eyes and relax into your chair. Let your body just sink into it. Allow everything to go limp. And breathe. Don’t think about anything. Simply focus on the empty space. Okay.”
Somehow I felt as though I was floating. I couldn’t feel the chair beneath me. I was suspended in space, empty, infinite. I could hear only her voice.
“Alright, now let’s try something else. In order to begin building your defenses, you must have a sense of security, so we’ll need to locate that security. We need to find something that makes you feel safe… Let your mind wander a bit – but not too far now. Just inch out of yourself a bit at a time. Now, tell me what you are experiencing. What do you hear? See, feel? Tell me everything.”
I pushed out a tiny bit, felt a slight barrier, and replied, “Something’s blocking my way.”
“That is alright. Quite natural. Just push ever so slightly. Be very gentle. Otherwise you could force yourself too far.”
I gave the slightest of pushes but whatever it was would not give. So, I pushed a little harder and harder, until I burst through to the other side. Dazzling light surrounded me, disoriented me. It was too bright.
“Slow down now…” she said, soothingly. Her voice seemed a little distant. “You pushed little too far, but you should be alright. You shouldn’t encounter any more barriers. That was your own subconscious keeping you in. It often happens at first, when you are unused to the act. Later, you will have little to no trouble at all. But go on, keep searching.”
So I did. I thought I heard voices, so I focused on them, until I could also begin to make out shapes. When I focused even harder, those shapes became clearer. They were people. Where am I? I still felt weightless but now I could make out my surroundings. I realized it must be the room across the hall. I couldn’t exactly recognize anyone there, for they were more like glowing shapes of humans. None were exactly the same, some were brighter than others, and each was a different shade of varying colors. The brightest light, a calming shade of cerulean blue, came through the door and spoke.
“Jacob, do you think the water will last until the next trip out?”
It made sense, her being all glowy-blue and all.
“Yeah… I think so. Though we did lose quite a bit of it the other night,” said a slightly duller green figure.
“Fine. I’ll let Derik know then. I was on my way to find him. You have not seen him, by any chance?”
“No, I’m afraid not, Glenna. Sorry. If any of us do, we’ll let him know you’re looking for him, though.”
“I would greatly appreciate that.” And out the door she went. I felt compelled to follow her serene glow. She made me feel the safest, and if I was looking for security, she might be it. I realized too I didn’t feel safe because I knew her better than any of the others but I was drawn to her brightness and warmth, what could only be her aura.
I followed her past several figures of varying radiance and color. It felt later in the day then it should have. More people filled the hall than earlier. Following Glenna took little effort. I simply had to think of her, focus on her brilliance, and I floated along behind her.
She inquired of Derik’s whereabouts a few more times before pausing in another doorway. “Have you seen Derik, lately?”
I couldn’t see to whom she spoke, so I focused on the room and was pulled through the wall dividing us. And nearly couldn’t stop. I found myself face to face, so to speak, with darkness, and it nearly devoured me. Where there seemed there should be some form of light, there was nothing. A vacuum. A black hole. It terrified me.
It gripped me so I could not make out the voice or any of my surroundings. I looked to Glenna and saw the slightest bit of her sucked into it. It. I could think of no other term for the figure. I had no way of knowing if it was male or female, and was now kicking myself for not hearing the voice. When I felt Glenna pulling away from me, I nearly panicked. Don’t leave me alone with it! I had to focus harder than ever to return to her side. It took too long, and though I was brought down the stairs in her wake, I could not find her. I was becoming frantic. With the feeling of that void still on me, still pulling, I needed a connection, and Glenna was all I had. Instead of thinking of Glenna, I concentrated on familiarity and security itself, hoping to find another way to be drawn to her. In my desperation, I focused too fiercely, and found myself hurtling along. In my flight, I saw her, up ahead. But it was not her I was rushing toward. Another figure in front of her, of muddled color and the feel of an overcast day, came into my vision and before I could stop myself, we collided. Instantly, I felt a sense of security and belonging.
Oh thank you, thank you, I thought. It was terrible. So horrible. Thank you… I was now desperate with relief.
“Are you alright?” I heard Glenna ask with concern. “You look a little pale.”
“I’ll be fine… I just need to go sit somewhere alone for a moment…” Whoever it was sounded shaken, obviously not him or her self.
“Alright… Get some rest. You have not been getting enough.” I felt her hand brush mine. Er, ours? Theirs. That was strange…
I clung to the person, as they moved away from her and down the hall. It was as though I had no choice. I felt, if I let go, I would be sucked away. Gone, forever.
They entered an empty room and firmly closed the door. “Get out,” he said, mouthing the words carefully. He.
Derik?! Is that really you? I asked without speaking.
“Who else would it be?! Now get out. Now.” He was angry. Again. But I could feel why he was angry, and that was new. He was angry at the intrusion, at my barging in on his privacy, his personal space. He tried very hard at blocking something. Something I suddenly felt the need to see. “Stop!” And all his barriers came up. I was struck and everything was spinning. I now understood why his aura had appeared cloudy. He was hiding something, some part of himself. He was guarded.
I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything. It was terrible. It almost had me. The fear was coming back. Please, please, don’t make me go… I’m not even sure I could if I wanted to.
“What do you mean, you can’t? And what are you talking about?” he continued in hushed tones, so no one thought he was talking to himself.
Someone here is a big black hole, sucking the life and light from everyone. It’s not enough to notice. I’d say everyone recovers before they even know it’s happened. They didn’t know I was there, but I saw them and must be especially vulnerable in this state. I felt the pull until the moment I collided with you. Now I’m afraid to let go and I’ve moved with you without trying… I’m not really that sorry, I guess, ‘cause I feel better now.
“Someone?” I felt him narrow his eyes. “What do you mean? You don’t know who it was then?” He guarded his thoughts well.
No. I can’t see faces, only shapes and auras – I guess that’s what they are, anyway… They spoke but I freaked out and couldn’t hear them clearly. So, no, I don’t know who it was…
“Well, calm down then,” he tried to sound soothing, but I could feel his mind reeling even though I had no way of knowing what he was thinking. “I can feel your fear…” he stopped himself, but I heard the tail end as he thought it …and I don’t like it… His barriers dropped for an instant, as something dark stirred there. Then he pulled them back into place. “We need to get you out of… here.” We moved toward the door.
What is it you feel the need to bury so deeply… I keep getting the impression, if you were more open to this, you wouldn’t have to talk out loud. If you trusted me, I think I could hear your thoughts instead. I thought this at him, as he reached for the doorknob.
“Yeah… we’ve really gotta get you out of my head.” As before, he ignored everyone in the hall and made his way to the stairs. I couldn’t get a clear view of anyone, as we went, but was also afraid to look at the same time. So I merely held on – tightly – for the ride. When I looked ahead, I caught a glimpse of the red door through his eyes. When I looked again, I saw a white outline only, as if some great light existed beyond. We, er, he knocked, and the door swung open. I was so stunned by the brilliance of the light, Derik nearly stumbled into the room. The door closed behind us.
“Well, hello, Derik. I see you’ve brought Haylee back to herself?” Sabella spoke, solemnly. “This is highly unorthodox, though I do appreciate the consideration.”
He felt as if she was baiting him. My knowing this irritated him even more. “Can we just get her out of my head?” As he moved closer to her, I felt a vibrating. I looked through his eyes and saw the back of my chair. He placed his hands on the back of it, and the vibrations were nearly too much for me to bear.
“I do not think we will have any trouble getting her back where she belongs. Though there could be some disorientation for both of you. I believe you’re already feeling it.” She indicated the front of the chair. “It will be a much smoother ride for her if you touch her.”
So Derik came around the chair, and when I had almost glimpsed myself, everything blurred. The vibrations were so strong I could no longer focus my energy on sight. But I felt Derik fall to his knees, rather abruptly. Was he feeling the vibrations too? Or was he just eager to be rid of me? I couldn’t tell anymore, maybe I wouldn’t have been able to anyway. I felt him reach out and, suddenly, I was water. I was air. I was flowing back into myself. It would have been amazing had it not also been painful. I was being ripped away from him. And it was disorienting, mainly, because of the motion. But also because I didn’t know why it was so painful. I was losing that sense of belonging and felt as though I was losing a part of myself along the way but couldn’t understand why.
I felt suddenly very heavy, and everything was dark. I could feel the pressure of the chair in my back and the floor beneath my feet. But what I felt most was a slight pressure over my hand. A connection existed there. I opened my eyes to see Derik staring back at me. He looked so tired. When he removed his hand from mine, I had the urge to touch his face and tried to rise up from the chair, but found I could barely move. “Wow,” was all I managed.
“You’re telling me…”
I looked back to him and noticed he wasn’t kneeling in front of me but sitting at my feet, as though what ever had happened had taken nearly the toll on him it had on me.
“I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen… I was just trying to find my security and then that darkness…” I shivered. “Sabella, I saw something terrible. Someone here is not what they seem.”
“I know. I heard everything. You spoke your thoughts aloud and showed physical signs of your emotions. Even I was afraid for you. I cannot imagine what it was like to actually feel that fear.” She looked down to Derik who refused to meet her eyes.
“Do you know who it was?” I asked her.
She stared at Derik for another moment before answering, “Alas, I do not. Though it does cause me to worry. Derik, what are your thoughts?”
He glanced up at her. “What? My thoughts on the identity of our mysterious black hole? I don’t know,” he said quickly. Then he added, “If Haylee hadn’t been so genuinely afraid, I might have thought she was imagining things… Truthfully, after the fact, I’m not so fully convinced.” At my look of rebuttal, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep my eyes open for signs. I’m not stupid.”
“There is something else now we must discuss,” Sabella went on. “It involves you both. Nothing like this has ever happened before. There may be repercussions.”
“What do you mean, repercussions?” Derik nearly growled.
“Well, the two of you already shared a connection before – oh, come now, Derik, you felt it – but it may be a bit more pronounced after this.”
I finally managed to sit up, causing him to pull a little further away. “What do you mean? What does she mean?” I directed the question to him.
She answered, “Being a part of someone in that manner is a very rare thing. Whatever connection the two of you shared before can only be strengthened by it.”
“But I don’t understand… What connection?” I frowned.
“She thinks we’re each other’s Other Half,” Derik replied.
I felt my jaw drop. “Wha – How? You mean, the mate theory I’ve heard about? That’s not possible… Is it? I mean, Nate’s your mate, right?”
He looked up at me, startled. I had not yet seen that look on his face, could never have imagined it there. Then, startling me even more, he let out a small laugh. “Nate. Me and Nate? Just because I’m around her more often than other women, they all assume we’re mated.” His meager smile faded. “What, a man and woman can’t – ” He glanced at me and looked away, clearing his throat. “Never mind. It doesn’t matter. We,” he indicated us, “are not connected. And that’s that.”
I tried not to be hurt by his flat-out refusal of the notion. It’s not like it mattered, but what was so bad about the idea of us being connected at all. Without all the “Other Half” mumbo-jumbo, it wouldn’t be so terrible, would it?
Sabella interrupted my musings, “Well, you know it is not for me to say who is the other half of whom, as that is for you to discover in your own time. Either way, you cannot deny a connection, whether you like it or not.”
Derik just rolled his eyes and proceeded to get up off the floor.
“Well, Little Miss Haylee, I believe our exercise is over for today. You will need to rest for a few days before we attempt anything else. These sessions will take a lot out of you, as you will see. I believe we should alternate them with the training Derik will be providing.” She turned her attention to him again. “If she is ready tomorrow, begin her lessons, Derik. If not tomorrow, then the next day should be adequate.”
I pulled myself out of the chair and used it for stability. “Thank you again, Sabella. I’ve never experienced anything like this before. I hope it wasn’t all for nothing.”
She smiled. “I think not. You found what you needed, so we will move on from there. In regards to this unknown person among us, the first line of defense is knowing the threat exists.” Then she frowned and turned once more to Derik. “Keep this one safe, Derik. Keep her safe.” He met her eyes for a moment and turned abruptly toward the door.
I realized I did feel more connected to him than before, but still was unsure of what that meant, as I followed his example in leaving the room.