Either some really ugly fans, or zombie suckers.
Doing a drawing with the awesome Rachel.
Chocolate-covered zombie brains,
My zombie daughter and zombie-bait grandson.
And if you're really a glutton for punishment, you can even watch the whole thing, thanks to the great folks at Writer's Cubed.
Starting two weeks ago and going through the end of April, I'll be visiting schools both locally and across the country talking about reading, writing, and valuing our differences. Tomorrow I will begin posting weekly updates about the tour, what I've learned, what I wish I hadn't learned. (For example that my car automatically locks the doors when you start it. So closing the doors to clear the windows is a bad idea.)
And finally, the next chapter of Air Keep. This is the last chapter in Part 1 of the book, and the last chapter I will post on-line before Air Keep comes out . . . next month!
Chapter 10--The Time of Shadows
Chapter 10--The Time of Shadows
“Maybe you should think about this a little more,” Riph Raph said, hopping from the chair to Kyja’s bed and back again. “Master Therapass seemed pretty sure that bringing Marcus to Farworld was a bad idea.”
“Master Therapass thinks everything’s a bad idea.” Kyja walked to the balcony and looked out at the night sky. Two of the three moons were visible—an almost completely full pink circle and a green fingernail. Should she wait to pull Marcus over? She definitely didn’t want to put him in danger. But what if he was already in danger, and she did nothing about it?
She ran her fingers along the worn surface of the stone railing. Should she try to help Marcus but risk hurting him or leave him to something that might be even worse? There was no good choice.
Riph Raph flapped over to the balcony. “What if you can’t find him?”
Kyja chewed the inside of her cheeks. The first time she’d found Marcus, she wasn’t even sure he existed—or if he did, where he was. She’d never heard of Earth, but she’d found him then. “It wouldn’t hurt to look for him.”
The skyte clucked. “Why do I think I’ll regret agreeing to this?”
“You’re not agreeing,” Kyja snapped. “You’re not doing anything.”
Riph Raph cringed at her tone, making her feel worse than she already did. Things were happening on Farworld—none of them good. The strange weather patterns were drying up every body of water. Land and water magic had lost most of their potency. Cascade and Lanctrus-Darnoc hadn’t been seen or heard from in months. None of it spelled anything good, and yet, as far as she could see, no one was doing anything about it. They were waiting, studying, planning. It was enough to make her scream.
“Keep an eye on the door,” she said, crossing to her bed. “I promise, if anything seems wrong, I’ll stop.”
“It doesn’t matter to me.” Riph Raph flicked his tail. “I’m not doing anything.”
She’d soothe the skyte’s feelings later. Now it was time to act. It was either the middle of the night or slightly past. Kyja settled herself on the center of her bed, legs crossed.
Closing her eyes, she let her mind wander. In the past, when she wanted to bring Marcus to Farworld, she’d reached for a golden rope. She didn’t know if the rope was real or imaginary, but it had always worked. Now, as she reached to find it, there was nothing.
“Where are you?” she whispered. She pictured herself floating off the bed, through the balcony, and into the night, letting herself drift farther and farther away. She felt like a fisherman casting out her net for one certain fish. Only she had no idea where the fish was, so her net had to be extra big.
Sweat rolled down her forehead as she reached into the dark void before her. Where was he? She’d never worked this hard to find Marcus before, never stretched so far. Little by little, she felt herself losing touch with the room she was sitting in. The sound of Riph Raph scratching anxiously at the stone floor disappeared, replaced by the smell of the outside air. The rough feel of the wool blankets against her fingers dissolved as if she was no longer in her room at all, but floating in space.
“Marcus!” she called inside her head. “Where are you?”
If I go, I can come back?
The voice was so faint, she wasn’t sure she’d heard it at all. If might have been her own voice, questioning whether she was stretching too far in her search.
Won’t want to, another voice said.
“Marcus?” she murmured.
A feeling came to her—one she was almost sure hadn’t come from herself. Someone was thinking . . . thinking . . . thinking what? The voice was so far away, so hard to make out. She pressed her hands to the sides of her head, trying to concentrate.
The words came to her distantly, like the sound of an Earth radio. If I stay here, I can’t fail.
“You can’t succeed either,” she said at once, not sure why she was saying it or who she was saying it to.
“Who are you talking to?” Riph Raph’s words pulled her back to the room, and Kyja looked around. How long had she been sitting there? It felt like hours, but outside the balcony, the moons seemed to be in about the same positions as before.
“I think Marcus is lost,” Kyja said. “Even he doesn’t know where he is. And I have the strongest feeling that if he doesn’t get back soon, he might never find his way out.”
Riph Raph licked his beak and nodded. “Then go get him.”
* * *
Marcus lay on the floor of the pit, beyond cold and exhausted. His mind ached in a way he’d never known it could—as if someone had reached into his head and torn his brain to pieces. Tears dripped down his face and froze to his cheeks.
Let me freeze to death. Let me die here and now. It was better than the future he’d seen.
“I won’t,” he whispered to himself. “I won’t let that happen.”
Dully, he glanced at the last coin in his hand. It was blank. He turned it over with the tip of his thumb. The other side was blank too. Mist rolled over him—although he hadn’t heard the falls start up—and a figure in black stepped out of the fog and picked him up. He felt a blanket being wrapped around him.
“Leave me,” he managed to get out between chattering teeth.
“Shhhh,” the figured whispered.
He felt himself being eased onto a soft bed, and he opened his eyes, expecting to see the boy again. Instead he found a woman watching him. At least, he thought it was a woman. She wore a long black robe, and her face was almost completely hidden behind a gauzy black veil. The only visible parts of her were her white hands and beautiful blue eyes.
He was in a dark room with a shiny black floor glittering with specks of silver and gold. He rolled onto his side but saw no walls or ceiling.
The woman leaned over him. “You didn’t choose to come here,” she said—her words a tickling breeze against his ear.
He shook his head.
“Yet here you are.”
Marcus felt blood returning to his hands and feet in a painful rush. “Who are you?”
“I thought you would have guessed.” It was impossible to read anything from the woman’s voice or eyes. “I am Time.”
Marcus shook his head and coughed. His lungs burned. “I know. The Was. The Is. The Will Be. But when are you?”
Instead of answering, the woman pointed a finger as white as death toward the mist they’d come through. “You can still choose any of them.”
“The guide said I couldn’t change the future.”
The woman nodded. “Your visit to the Will Be has set your path in stone.”
Marcus clenched his eyes and buried his face in the pillow. “Put me back in the pit. Let me die.”
* * *
Kyja closed her eyes and reached out again. She could sense Marcus now, feel the direction he was in. But it was so far away she wasn’t sure she could reach him without losing her grip on where she was. If only she could get him to come to her.
“Marcus!” she shouted. “It’s me, Kyja.”
No! No. Take me back. The words exploded inside her head so forcefully they seemed to rock her backward. I changed my mind. He sounded like he was sitting on the bed next to her, screaming into her ear.
What would make Marcus scream like that?
A tidal wave of dark emotions rushed over her. Fear. Terror. Self-loathing. She felt her stomach heave, and it was all she could do to keep from pulling away. What was happening to Marcus? Where was he?
“Come to me!” she cried, holding out her hands.
* * *
The woman rolled Marcus over, her fingers neither warm nor cold. “You choose not to return to the Is, the Was, or the Will Be?”
“Yes,” Marcus groaned. “Leave me in the pit.” He couldn’t take any chance of hurting Kyja.
“Time can only be frozen for so long,” the woman said, her voice showing no hint of emotion. “You cannot stay in the pit. But there is another way.”
“Will it keep me from the future?” Marcus asked. The frozen moisture on his cheeks began to melt, and salty tears dripped to his lips.
“Yes,” the veiled woman said.
“How?” Marcus asked. “Whatever it is, I accept it.”
“The Never Was.” The woman pointed to a swirling darkness Marcus hadn’t noticed. It looked as if the floor of the room itself was being sucked into a vast whirlpool. The longer he looked at it, the more the darkness pulled at him. He thought he could see worlds spinning in it. Worlds that had never been, choices not made, changes untaken. Mistakes erased.
“The Void of Unbecoming,” the woman whispered. She held out her thin fingers.
Marcus reached out and dropped the coin into her palm.
* * *
Let me die.
The words rang in Kyja’s ears.
What was happening to Marcus? The feelings, so strong only a moment before, had dissolved into almost complete nothingness.
She stretched her mind, desperately searching, reaching. She had no doubt that Marcus was in terrible danger. But she didn’t know how to help him.
“Marcus!” she screamed again and again. “Where are you?”
The only thing she felt was black despair. In all the time she’d known Marcus, he’d never given up; she didn’t think it was in him. They had both faced the possibility of death several times. But what she felt now was even worse than that. It was as if Marcus stood on the edge of a cliff to nowhere—a precipice that went on and on and on forever.
Whatever it is, I accept it. His tone was one of failure. Of complete and total surrender.
“I won’t let you give up!” she cried. Tears flooded her eyes and ran down her cheeks. Her brain seemed on fire. She couldn’t find the golden rope, but that didn’t matter. She wouldn’t let Marcus die. Releasing her hold on Farworld, she dove over the cliff into the darkness, wrapped her arms around something only she could feel, and pulled with all her might.
* * *
As the coin slipped through Marcus’s fingers, a million images raced through his mind—everything he’d ever done, seen, or felt. Like bits of wood pulled into a whirlpool, the memories swirled into dark emptiness.
The woman’s fingers reached out to accept his payment.
Marcus felt himself swirl into the void along with his past, and a sense of relief came with it. He was falling, disappearing. But at least he wouldn’t ever—
Something more powerful than he ever could have imagined reached into the darkness and snatched him out.
For the first time, the blue eyes behind the veil showed an emotion: shock.
Marcus felt a tug at his stomach. He seemed to turn inside out. Then he was lying on a cool, stone floor. He looked up to find Kyja staring down at him—face pale with fear and desperation. In that moment, he saw her face as he’d seen it inside the glass coffin.