Trapped in Eternity (Book 2)
Author : Lora Douglas
The white room buzzed. The silence couldn’t just be content with what it was supposed to be. I bit my thumbnail, so my ears could hear a sound that I controlled. It was supposed to calm the agitation I couldn’t out run, but all it did was remind me that of all the noises in the silence, I only had a say about one. The high hum of my nervous system (that should be long dead) and the pulse of my heart (that should long be still) just shouted the fact that I wasn’t dead, I wasn’t alive, I was stuck. I gave up trying to understand my condition years ago, centuries ago. Stuck in this in between; this Realm.
The hard floor of the Greeting Room, exiled to the back of the left wing of the Council Chambers, was uncomfortable to state it mildly. The stark white of the bare walls hurt my eyes. There were no shadows in which to find solace. There was nothing good in that room; only perfect visibility, a woman lying on the floor in pain, and me fighting a crippling need to help while simultaneously wishing I could run and never look behind me.
The woman lay in a heap of layered shrouds and muffled moans. She was barely larger than a child. But thankfully, her energy lacked the wild innocence that soaked that of someone too young to die. I crossed my legs and stretched out my arms. Blood returned to my fingers. Sitting with my arms crossed for hours drained what little feeling I had. I took a slow breath and allowed the surrounding energy to gather inside of me like taking a breath of crackling electricity then spitting out the triggered sparks to ensure there never was a flame. Releasing that breath, pushing that energy outward, liquid electricity poured over my skin.
I adjusted my eyes, shifting their sight about three clicks away from human, and watched the light blue sparks shoot in hairline arcs down my arms. I let the change to my appearance, the Alter, drop. The smooth skin on my arms dissipated and the scars emerged. Centuries old cuts and burns flashed then disappeared back under the Alter of unmarred disguise. I shivered from the brief sensation that washed over me with the drop of the Alter. With it back in place, I was once again comfortably numb. Being a Chameleon had its perks. Sometimes I wondered why I ever dropped that Alter at all. Physical sensation, like the feel of the sunlight or the tingle of a breeze was pleasant at times but the guarding shroud of the Alter over my scars was thick enough to deaden me against the world. Wrapped inside, I was safe. Hidden behind it, I was protected.
My dark brown hair fell over my shoulders, nearly touching my legs, as I stretched. The woman didn’t move. She hadn’t moved in days. Her real Greeter, the one assigned to this room, left after not more than a couple hours. Most Greeters didn’t have the patience for the difficult ones. The Vortex wasn’t kind to anyone, but this poor thing had an especially rough trip. Being ripped from the Living World and thrown into the Realm was violent, quick, and painful. The jolt left some unconscious while others fought not to vomit. The lights in the Greeting Rooms were blinding, the smallest sounds were deafening, and everything hurt. Every thought, every touch, every breath was excruciating. I dared not speak or even breathe loudly for fear of sending the woman into another fit of convulsions.
Staring at my hands, I picked out the tinted shades of brown and olive in my skin tone compared to the whiteness of the floor. As a rule, I tried to not think of the past and I ignored the future. Sitting in the quiet used to be a refuge. I enjoyed it. But that was before I royally screwed up. Now, the quiet was a hunting ground with my shame, the predator, and my sanity, the prey. Why did I agree to be a Greeter again?
I needed to work assignments in the Living World. Honestly, I didn’t even mind the occasional fighting anymore. As long as I kept my body moving and my brain busy, I didn’t have time to remember. I never should have run away from Silas, my oldest and dearest friend. I never should have hidden from the promotion to Guardian. Why did I go to Kato’s training group? Why did I run? I never should have talked with him. The immature man with dark hair, golden eyes and sultry smile. I never should have flirted with him. Never should have believed him, trusted him . . . I never should have told him about my life and my death. The sound of his mocking laughter invaded my head, sending missiles of guilt darting through me. I never should have become a numb figment of his desire. I never should have let him hit me. I let him get to me. Indigo was another painfully ignorant mistake in my four hundred and seventy-two years of existence. Just to punish myself, I dropped the Alter over my scars again. My eyes trailed the road map of my inadequacies that spanned the backs of my hands.
“Who else would be with you? Who else could love you?” I repeated the words that followed me all the way back to a lowly position at the Chamber of the Council.
I never cared before if someone, other than Silas loved me. I never cared for romance, lust, or the like. So why did the last words that Indigo spat at me, play like a longing melody in my head? Why did it hurt so deep, almost as deep as the scars he didn’t create?
The woman let out a soft moan and I jumped, instantly returning the Alter that hid my scars. A delicate hand reached out from underneath the mound of fabric. Long, sinewy fingers clawed at the floor.
“Try not to move,” I whispered.
The cycle of self-pity and ego fueled misery in my head broke and I went to work. The woman shifted, and I saw her face. Her hands slammed over her ears and tears ran down her round cheeks. Staring at her face, I pushed my mind to touch the edge of hers.
Can you hear me?
The mental whisper was faint, but the woman slowly nodded.
I’m not a strong telepath. I chewed my lower lip, a nervous habit I detested. It made me feel like a child. But if you can hear me, it means you are, so we can talk here.
Her hands fell from her ears. Her arms wrapped around her middle. More of the fabric fell away. She was in her thirties, maybe, judging by her hands. Her frame and face were deceptive. If she were moving and smiling, I bet she could pass for a child. My gut wrenched.
“She is not a child,” I reminded myself.
The woman groaned. I shut my mouth. She was petite, thin, and bird like. I could see cords of muscle running the length of her arms. Snatches of brown hair fell in matted tangles around her cherub cheeks. Curled up, she was nothing more than a baby bird in a nest of rags. My heart ached. I scooted closer but not close enough to touch. Shifting my eyes as I had before, I watched her energy. It lifted from her skin in wavering lines of yellow and lavender. It had an iridescent quality, a haze that rose and vanished. There were droplets caught between the colors, like condensation evaporating. For someone so fresh from the Vortex, her energy was stable. There were no balls of electricity shooting across the room, no crackles or sparks of agitation. I could see no trace of fear in that energy. Respect for this woman welled inside me, drowning out the helpless compassion.
I’m Calla. If you move slowly, the adjustment will be easier. Try and sit up.
The woman visibly trembled but she tucked her shoulder beneath herself. She grunted something in a language I recognized as Polish. Keeping her eyes closed, the woman worked herself into a seated position. She took in long, even breaths.
Well done. May I speak? I asked. Are you in a place to understand? Do my words sound funny to you? The woman slowly moved her head from side to side. Do I sound different? She nodded.
Leaning against the wall, I could faintly feel the coolness through my Alters and clothing. I shifted my energy, adding another change, another Alter until I could not feel at all.
You are in the Realm. Here you are neither alive nor dead. The woman grunted but didn’t speak. I know you feel that you have died. As far as the Living World understands, you have. Your existence there has ceased but you are very much alive. We, Members of the Realm, are not ghosts, spirits, angels or gods. I am not certain what you have been taught in your life or what you believe.
My fingers began knotting stands of my dark hair around themselves.
I am not one to speak on religion or things of the sort. The woman bristled. I cannot say what is true other than you are here. The woman released a deep sigh and gracefully opened her eyes. Intelligent, perfectly round pools of fathomless brown stared at me. I no longer worried that she didn’t comprehend what I was telling her. Those eyes were clear.
Some people find it difficult to accept being here, because of belief systems or expectations. Very few come into the Realm. Most pass on into whatever lays beyond. Most of us just call it Eternity because no one here really knows. Some people believe that there is a Limbo. Ghosts and such I guess but I am not one to speak on that either.
The woman nodded, those eyes never leaving mine.
Here, in the Realm, we are special. I rolled my eyes at the Council preferred word. I preferred cursed. There is something inside of us that brings us here. The Realm exists parallel to the Living World. Some of us can come and go. Over the Centuries, it has been debated as to our purpose in regard to that world.
I began to ramble on about the Ages of Darkness and Shadows, the Rise of the Elders and now, in this reestablishing of the Realm’s role as Watchers and workers amongst the living. I recanted the history of the Realm from the time of the ‘gods’ we pretended to be to the time I entered, The Era of Shadows where we were invisible and silent. We moved and hid among the living, lamenting the life lost or the Eternity denied. We waited to cross over in peaceful desolation. The wars of those who wished to destroy the living or lay claim to the authority of the Realm were only stories, whispered in passing or in the comparison of scars. I missed that time, before the wars of humanity tainted our world again.
Any peace never lasted long it seemed. By the time I returned to Silas, my only true companion, if he forgave me this time, the Realm would be at war again. It would mirror the Living World. It always did. People came in hungry for power and drunk on the blind fairy tale that they were anything more than cursed humans with trivial abilities.
I paused for a moment in my tumbling of words to make sure the woman was comprehending and as comfortable as possible. She shifted stiffly, emerging slowly from her nest of rags. Doing well to keep my negative sentiments to a minimum, I continued explaining how now, the Realm took on the bureaucratic style hierarchy, similar to the leading powers of the Living World. The Greeters were now assigned, and the Chamber of the Council was militant in appearance and function. Rules were rolled out, as fickle as those penning them and those of us who came in the silent shadows skirted the demands of public admittance of abilities and the declaration of status. I explained the newer factions that rose out of discord and existed to give people, Members of the Realm, a place to belong and those of like minds to fight beside. I explained how I stood with the Lux, the first named. We were the calm, noble, human-loving peace keepers even if that peace required a sword. I did not truly stand with them to honor conviction, but because that is where Silas pledged his allegiance.
The other faction was created because the Lux needed a counterpart and those who saw things differently needed a banner to wave. The Mala, or so they were nicknamed, were strong and loud and branded their sword with pride. I told the woman of the newly minted titles and labels. The Greeter script was easier when I first came to the Realm, when all the red tape didn’t exist.
Yes, you are dead. No, I do not know why. You will develop powers and we will teach you how to use them. Stand with us or fight against but stay invisible to the Living World because that is how things are.
Now, it was detailed and annoyingly propagandic. I was required to explain how Members of the Realm were humans of special caliber, passingly referred to as Notables. Though one could never be a Notable in the present but only obtain the title when looking back. It was impossible to determine if a human would enter the Realm. Though some had tried in vain to find a predicting quality or definite reason, whatever marked us as unworthy of passing directly into whatever Eternity lied in wait was beyond comprehension and alluded discovery. You entered the gnawing jaws of the Vortex and were spat out the other side into the Realm, or you didn’t. You died in peace or you didn’t. You were cursed to be stuck until ‘your time to Cross Over’ or you weren’t. It was that infuriatingly simple.
This woman leaned in to listen as I told her she was a Notable and now a Seeker, a Member of the Realm without a faction. Strands of brown hair fell into her eyes as she contorted her face in concentration as I explained how she could choose to remain a Seeker or align with the Lux or Mala. She could train to become a Unit Leader or a Trainer. She would be told to volunteer as a Greeter or could work within the Chamber or Court of the Council. She could gain ranks in her chosen faction. For the Lux, she could become a Leader then a Guardian, then a Commander. For the Mala, it was a Leader then a Sentry, then a Superior. And someday she could be asked to fill the role of an Elder.
“Who are they?” she asked. “The Elders?” Her voice was mild and flowed with a confidence that ignited envy but earned my respect. Her language fell in a strange melody on my ears but like with all persons in the Realm, my mind could understand.
I leaned against the white wall and stretched my legs before me. I didn’t know as much as I desired. I could only repeat the script I was given. “They are the most allusive form of authority in the Realm, developed over centuries of chaos. The Elders are secretive, always waiting to stop an uprising or any attempt to destroy the balance between the Living World and the Realm.”
“So, there is no war here now?” The woman wrapped her arms around her thin knees. Hope danced in her eyes at the possibility and my heart ached at the thought of disappointing her. There was something about her that pulled on me. She tugged on places I kept buried deep and hidden from view. I pitied her. I liked her and that terrified me. Instinctively, I jumped to my feet and began pacing in the small space. Biting my lower lip, I spoke in rehearsed, monotonic authority.
“The Elders allow war and conflict and never step foot into a political issue, but they are the peace keepers; the legendary higher authority that stepped in when dire circumstances called for a bias or a strong hand.” My brain kicked into a gear that removed my personal emotions. Only words on the new Greeter script left my lips.
In the Realm, the Elders were the embodiment of ideal justice. They were a comfort and the promise of some peace. “Only two make their identity known.” I kept my eyes down as I spoke. “There are twelve in total. Never more and never less. They are made up of people from different cultures, genders and allegiance to factions. It is said they each possess rare and powerful abilities.” My nose crinkled. Or the Elders were a myth, merely a construction of the Council to pass a decree by claiming it was given by a higher, undisputable power.
I crossed my arms and stopped pacing. That was my thought, but I knew better. “I have seen them work,” I confessed. The words jumped off my tongue without courtesy or permission. Like biting my lip, my occasional word vomit was a trait I despised. If I connected with someone, if I was comfortable in the slightest, words could jump forth without warning. It was just another reason I stayed away from people.
The woman’s eyes widened at my inadvertent comment. I swallowed hard and wished someone would come into the Greeting Room and usher us out. I wished I had just disappeared after the issue with Indigo. I wished I never agreed to be a Greeter again. And for the thousandth time in the last few days, the surge of self-loathing gushed from my gut to my gullet and I fought the urge to actually vomit. The woman just watched me. Her brown eyes seemed to see past my hard demeanor to the rolling waves of anxiety underneath. I was trapped.
Somewhere inside I was still a warrior. That fire and fight was there. That lack of emotion Kato had taught me, that hard, cold, relentless power but for the life of me I could not keep a strong hold on it. The woman rose to her feet but slowly sank back down.
“Be careful,” I heard myself say. “You will feel strong soon. Probably better than you have ever felt but it will take time.” I swallowed again and moved back to her side. Sitting back on the hard floor I did my best to push my mental battle aside. The faster I explained everything and the faster this woman found her strength, the sooner I could crawl back to Silas and maybe get some rest.
“Where was I?” I whispered.
“The Elders.” The woman faced me, her slender fingers began moving her hair into a low bun. It felt like she wanted to touch me, maybe an embrace or a knowing pat on the shoulder. I moved away just in case.
“Like I said, there are always twelve. Basically, they are a secret force to ensure the war to end all wars never comes. But most of this you will never see while you are here in the Realm. Most people complete their training, maybe move into a job or into a Unit and work assignments in the Living World. Though some people stay here for centuries, most only stay for a short time. Chances are, you will move on, cross over before most of this even matters.” I closed my mouth; my script was finished. My fingers picked at a loose thread on my pants. I waited and watched the woman, all the while shoving that tidal wave of anxiety behind a temporary dam of forced confidence.
The woman nodded and tilted her head in perfect understanding. She repeated some of what I had told her, musing over the part about the Elders. Her voice danced on the air between us as she made sense of things in her own way. After some time, she took a long, deep breath and seemed to simply accept her new state.
“Thank you,” she whispered then smiled at me. “Forgive me, I have forgotten your name.”
“Calla.” To everyone that didn’t know my history, that was my name. Just Calla. The only ones that knew any different were either a dear friend or a close mistake. Silas knew me because he truly cared, and Indigo knew because I was an idiot who thought it was love. “Who are you?” I asked the woman.
Wrapping a shroud around her thin shoulders, she pushed stands of hair from her eyes. She dove into the story of her life, from birth to death. She referred to ‘they’, never being more specific but I was aware of the war among the countries of the living. I knew of the regime and third Reich. I stayed away from the world now, but I listened to people in the Realm.
“My family called me pigeon.” I liked the word in her language. It suited her, but she no longer wanted to hear that name. “I do not wish to share my name. I fear the sadness it will bring. I wish this was a dream, a fever delusion but I fear this as real as the bullet that took my life.”
She hid children beneath the planks of her floor. I could see their faces as she spoke. Her energy danced. I did not need to touch her to see the images of her life and the tragic scene of her death. Most of my interactions are tainted with these unsought moments of others’ memories. It was a reason I did not touch others unless I was forced by tradition or a common courtesy Silas had worked to ingrain in me. This woman was open, her energy honest and her story wrenching.
“I want a different name?” she whispered through pursed lips. She had explained her work in keeping the children a secret. They came to her and left in the shadow of the blackened moon. She fed them. She told them stories and she risked her life to watch them run off into the darkness with others that shared her plight. That night, the night of her death, they had come. She spun a tale to distract them as the children ran into the cover of the trees.
“I wish I could see them, just to know if the younger ones, the last ones made it safely. I just wish for a moment I could see him, the last boy to run. He was almost a son to me.” Tears flowed down her cheeks, but her voice never wavered. A spark burst in my chest and I almost told her I could take her back. Words bubbled up about our little rebel group that took people back into the Living World, just to see, never to interfere, but I managed to swallow them down for now. Telling a new Seeker about our Syndicate would be risky and Kato was not one I cared to irritate at the moment with that kind of revelation.
The woman continued her story. She distracted the men that came. She talked until her mouth ached and her heart pounded. In the end, they pushed through and she pushed back. The truth was discovered, and they put a bullet in her head. Relieved the mark did not follow her into death, she still touched the spot below her brown hair with graceful fingers as she finished her story.
At the end of our meeting, after she was stable and stood on sturdy legs, we emerged from the Greeting room. I knew of her life and her death. She knew my name and of the workings of the Realm. She moved with purpose, ready to join another fight. I moved with the soundless trudge of resurfacing memories weighing on my mind and the familiar itch to run rising up from my feet. I had a friend to see and a mistake to fully own up to. I was an idiot again. If this woman, who chose to go by the name Harper could rise that fast from a world of terror and pain with a calm confidence, I could admit to my dearest friend that I had fallen for a man who left me raw and beaten and I was still that trampled child that needed someone to tell me the world was not all evil even if that was all I seemed to know.
I moved forward, unaware that years later I would see those golden eyes and sultry smile walk through the door during a Presentation for a Unit that shouldn’t have been brought together to work an assignment I never should have taken. And ultimately, to get away from Indigo, I would change seats on a flight and meet a man I never should have met. And that once the dust settled, Silas would once again, have to put me back together.