He walked toward me, his piercing, lightning blue eyes cutting through my tough façade, melting my insides. I hoped that my fear didn't show. I wasn't sure what I was afraid of, but it was a gnawing fear. You know, the kind that rests in the back of your mind, just out of reach. The sensation of wrongness soon became too much, and my vision began to go blurry.
The last thing I saw was his perfect form morphing into a body so grotesque it might not have been human, if it weren't for those spine-chilling blue eyes. The figure was so hunched over it was almost twisted. The hands and arms were too long, the legs too short. Black claws were emerging from his fingers and ripping through his sneakers.
"You never should have followed me, Ezzy. But it's too late for regrets now." And with that, this newly mutated monster took a final step towards me and my vision vanished completely. I could only hear the slow rhythm of his ragged breath getting closer and closer to me.
Little did I know then, what was going to become of the night, that oh so life-changing night I followed Abraham and got lost in the mysterious world I never even dreamed could exist…
"Ezzy!" Miranda called from the front seat of her VW Beetle. "Hurry up! We're going to be late!" Throwing her an exasperated glance, I put the cat inside, grabbed my bag and locked up the house.
"EZZY, come on!" She yelled at me a final time, giving a couple honks on the horn to stress her point.
"I know! I'm coming, jeez!" I retorted as I threw my stuff in the back. I hopped up front and slammed the door. Giving her one last glare, I popped in our favorite mix c.d.
It was hard to believe we'd finally reached our senior year of high school. For a lot of girls in our town (a small one, on the East Coast) this was the day they live for. They had spent all summer perfecting their tan, picking out the perfect outfit and making sure they all had their cell phones charged. Every year these drones planned, without fail, to arrive at school at exactly the same time. As for Miranda and me, we spent our summers driving, talking and doing nothing in particular. We don't need a lot to keep ourselves busy; just the car, the music and us.
I was lucky if I even had clean clothes to wear on the first day of school! This year was no different. Why should we waste all that time and money on ourselves when no one's going to care anyway? You see, we're considered the "freaky emo kids" at school, along with our other friends Jonah, Marisol and Greg. We're just too complicated for the "normal" people, I suppose.
"You still taking those AP classes, Esmeralda?" Miranda asked as we made the final turn towards the Jonston High campus. With a slight nod of my head, I bent down and re-tied my three-year-old converse. They were beginning to wear at the heels, I noted as I sat up. She pulled into the student parking lot at the back of the school, and we made our way to our usual place, the farthest spot from the building. We don't get close to the school unless we have to…
As we were making our way across the asphalt, we met up with our old "friends", Patrick and Kenneth. They were the idiots who'd been tormenting us since freshman year. They just couldn't take the hint that we did not want to go out with them!
"Don't you guys ever get tired of being obnoxious?" I spat, shooting a glare at Ken and wriggling out from under the arm Pat had placed around my shoulders. Ken gave me a little smirk and retorted, "Yeah but for girls like you, we'll always have enough obnoxiousness to go around."
Ken proceeded to grab my tote and managed to find my cell in the jumble of my things. "Let's see if you kept my number, shall we?" he mocked, flipping open the phone. He started scrolling and let out a small grunt as he said, "Aww…guess I'll just have to put it back in again, huh?"
"Come on! Give it back to her!" Miranda pleaded as Pat moved on to her and put his arm around her waist. She pulled away with a disgusted look on her face and wrestled my phone away from Ken. "Thanks, Miranda," I said as I stuffed it deep down into my green army bag. The guys threw us one final glance and walked away laughing.
Walking in silence, thinking our own separate thoughts, Miranda and I sought out our old spot, a corner towards the back of the school, and sat against the wall. I pulled on my headphones and blasted my music as high as it would go. I know it's not good for me, but it's easier than listening to the Preppy Posse shrieking about their great summers and oohing and ahhing over each other's tans.
After about fifteen minutes, Miranda gave me a little nudge, signaling that the bell had just rung. Quickly thanking her, and throwing my iPod into my bag, I made my way to my new homeroom. I stuffed my hands in my pockets, trying to keep out the chill that had just come over me. I felt as if someone was watching me, but when I glanced around, I saw nothing strange.
"Probably just the September wind…" I thought to myself, and headed into the up-stairs hall. The feeling stayed with me as I entered Mr. Housend's geography class and made my way to the third row back. I hate sitting in the front, but I don't want to be all the way in the back, either. Yeah, I'm weird like that.
I just couldn't shake that feeling off; it still felt as if someone was watching me from behind. It soon became too much, and I had to turn around. There, in the back corner of the room, was the most perfect boy I had ever seen. He had skin that was the perfect shade of tan, somewhere around caramel, and broad shoulders. His face was perfectly symmetrical and his hair was jet black, slightly long, about to the middle of his neck. The most breathtaking things about him, though, were his crystal blue eyes, which reminded me of a lightning strike in the distance. Now I knew why I could feel him staring at me; the intensity of those eyes bore into my soul…
He flashed a perfect grin and I blushed and grinned back. I didn't want to draw attention to myself so I turned back around in my seat and finished filling out that stupid info card they always give out at the beginning of school. I could still feel his eyes, but somehow I didn't mind them as much now. I smiled to myself and though, "Looks like this year might not be so bad after all…" As it turns out, things didn't go quite as I had hoped.
It was only third period, and I was already sick and tired of school. I hate how the teachers at our school think they're so great because they're the only ones in the county that give out homework on the first day of school. It's retarded…they expect us to remember all this crud from the year before, when they know that 99.9% of the teenage population looses brain cells every summer...sheesh.
It was finally time for lunch. I opened the door to the lunchroom, and was greeted with the signature arctic blast of AC. I spotted Marisol and Greg at a table and made my way over. We conversed about the day so far, and caught up a little (we'd seen each other all summer, so it wasn't like we had many new things to say). As we were looking for Jonah and Miranda, they strolled up behind us, explaining that Mrs. Lauland, the band teacher, had kept them behind, to give them a new brass piece.
After waiting for the two latecomers to purchase their meals and make their way to our table, we discussed some of the new people we'd seen so far. Jonston High is the most highly acclaimed school in the county, so we always have a butt-load of new transfers from around the area. I let everyone else go first, wondering whether or not I wanted to share Mr. Blue-eyes. I sort of wanted him to be my little secret.
Jonah went first, "Yeah, did any of you see the new Russian exchange student? She is seriously buff!" We all giggled as he did his impression of Helga, and Marisol continued, "Well, I bet the new guy in my P.E class is more buff than she is. He's ripped!"
Inevitably, they all wanted to know if I'd met anyone interesting. I was about to tell them that I'd seen no one in particular, but I didn't have the chance; Blue-eyes walked up behind Greg and Miranda at that very moment. I could hear the table's synonymous intake of breath; no doubt they had noticed his wonderful, clear eyes.
"You're…Esmeralda, right?" His deep, perfect voice was almost hotter than he was! Not to mention the fact that he had actually addressed me! All heads swiveled in my direction. "Uh…yeah! You can call me Ezzy, everyone does," I stammered, well aware of the heat rising in my face.
"Yeah, I saw you in geography today. I'm Abraham; just moved here a couple of weeks ago. I was wondering, would you like to meet me at CaféIne tonight? We could talk and stuff." His deep eyes gazed into mine, already knowing my answer.
"That would be…great! I love CaféIne." I could barely believe I had just accepted a date from a complete stranger, a cute one, but a stranger none the less. I grabbed a napkin and quickly scrawled down my address and phone number. He took it from my hands eagerly.
"Great. I'll pick you up at seven?" I nodded my head, unable to say anything else. And with another grin of pearly whites, he confidently glided off. The whole table, and even those around us, broke out into frenzied conversation. No one could believe, least of all me, that Esmeralda Sparston, outcast of Jonston High, had gotten a date on the first day of school!
The rest of the day flew by, and quite honestly I didn't remember anything we learned. I only saw Abraham one other time during the day, on the way to English. We passed in the hall and his hand briefly touched mine. It's easy to say I was in a fairly good mood the rest of the day.
Of course when I got home around two, I was alone. Mom was hardly ever around. Sometimes she'd decide to go to work, but usually I had no idea where she was; probably out at some bar getting drunk. The only times I ever heard from my father was once a year on my birthday. He always sent me a twenty-dollar check and told me to "buy myself something pretty". I suppose I've gotten used to it.
I cranked up the radio as high as it would go and made a start on my physics homework. I worked right up until six, figuring I could be ready in an hour. I slipped into a quick shower and freshened up. I didn't know the guy very well, so I wasn’t about to go all out with my outfit. I decided on my favorite pair of black, pinstripe slacks and my lacy, also black, tank.
I finished straightening my hair right as the doorbell rang. Quickly slipping on my shoes, I grabbed my army bag of the sofa (I take it everywhere) and opened the front door. Abraham was standing there with six red roses in his hand. I was so flattered I had trouble locking up the house!
"Oh my gosh, those are so beautiful!" I gushed as he placed them in my hand. "You are so sweet!" he gave me a little smirk and managed to return, "I try." We stepped over to his car and he opened the passenger door for me.
As we drove, we talked about school, the weather; all the casual stuff. Finally I couldn't take it anymore; I wanted to know more about this mysterious Abraham. So far all I knew was his name, when he moved here, and that he was perfect in every way! "So where'd you move here from?" I inquired. I thought I saw a dark shadow sweep over his face, but the moment I had noticed it, it was there no longer. ”Just my imagination," I assured myself.
"Well, uh, I used to live in a really small town out west. My dad got a job offer, though, so we made our way out here in time for me to start school." After that, he pretty much closed up when it came to questions about him. He would only give me short, one-word answers, so I finally took the hint and moved the conversation on.
After almost too short of a time, we arrived at CaféIne, the local coffee shop. I liked sitting next to him in the car, his arm resting near mine. But, inevitably, we had to get out, so I made the best of it. Still feeling a little shy, I made the decision to sit across the table from him at the café.
"Can I get you anything?" he asked in a very gentlemanly way. "Um, could you get me a Creamy Cocoa Cappuccino?" I replied. With a smirk and a nod of his head, he was up in the line. As the in-house band began to play the night's set about five minutes later, he came back with our drinks in his hands.
"What's wrong, Ezzy? You look like you're about to be sick," he wondered. I had been thinking about my dad, and hadn't realized the emotions were showing on my face. You see, when I was little, before my parents split up, my dad used to always take me out to CaféIne. It was our special place to go, and we talked about anything and everything. It was the first time I had been there alone with a guy since then and I guess it brought back memories.
"Oh nothing, I just don't feel very well. Nothing a nice, hot drink won't fix, though." Putting an end to that particular conversation, I grabbed my cappuccino and took a swig. We spent the entire evening talking; what we wanted to do after high school, our hopes and dreams, that kind of stuff. Before I realized it, it was almost ten thirty!
"I better be getting home. My mom will flip if she finds out I left without finishing my homework," I said, praying my mom wouldn't pick tonight, of all nights, to be home on time. Abraham looked forlorn, and I wondered if it was because I was leaving, or for some darker, unknown reason.
"Hey, you alright?" I asked, trying to be nice. "Why do you care?" His harsh, mean tone surprised me so much that I actually gasped.
"Uhh…I mean, nothing, nothing, I'm fine. Um…let's get you home," he saved, picking up my bag and handing it to me. The drive home was not nearly as nice as the rest of the evening had been. We sat in silence; I suppose I didn't talk because I was afraid of what might happen (though I have no idea why), and as for Abraham, well, I assumed he was busy thinking about something important.
He dropped me off at the curb, without as much as a good night kiss, or even a walk up to my door. I felt sort of gypped, and as I made my way up the walk, I decided to go back and give him a piece of my mind. I knew he was still there because I hadn't heard the car drive away.
I was right about one thing: the car was still there. Abraham was nowhere in sight. I rushed over to the driver's side of the car, but he wasn't there. Spinning around looking this way and that, I couldn't find any trace of him. Then I heard a noise, coming from the woods by my house. Scared for him, but at the same time for myself, I cautiously pushed through the brush. If he was in there, I would find him; I knew these woods like the back of my hand. And somehow, I knew I had to find him, because something was terribly, terribly wrong.
The only sound I could hear was my quickening breath, synchronized with the speed of my beating heart. I should have found him by now, the woods weren't that deep and there was no way he could have gone far in this short amount of time. I was really starting to get creeped out, and I started to turn back.
Then I saw it. About twenty feet to my right, was an eerily glowing indigo light. It was bright enough that I couldn’t tell what was making it, but dim enough that I could see the faint outline of a human form slipping…into it? I knew something was definitely wrong and I probably should have turned back then, but I couldn't help my curiosity.
I cautiously slipped toward the gentle radiance that I could now see was coming from the trunk of an impossibly large oak tree. There was actually a hollow spot in the trunk, and the glow was emitting from whatever lay beyond. Thinking that this was just all too weird, I bent down and poked my head through the four-foot-high opening.
I could not believe my eyes as I stepped through. I had entered…another world! The colors were surreal. I stood atop a hill covered in lavender grass, looking out over, what appeared to be miles, of landscape. I could just make out a deep-crimson sea in the distance. The horrifying thought of a pool of blood passed quickly through my mind. Two pallid moons were reflected in the ebbing tides.
Just off the coast was a small jungle, tinged in shades of evergreen. To my left, off in the distance, was a pale yellow mountain range. A small, pink castle sat atop the highest of the peaks. Flowing down from the mountains, across my path and into the jungle, was a crystal clear river. I couldn't make out what was to my right; there was a dark shadow over the whole area, thick black clouds frothing above it. I could tell that was no where I wanted to be.
I was about to turn around, this whole situation being too weird for me (I'm a very straightforward girl, and if it can't be explained, I don't like it). Then, just out of my sight, on the edge of the shadowed area, I heard a whimper. It sounded as if something or someone was in pain. The whimper grew louder and more frequent, until it finally became sobbing.
However badly I wanted to leave and run to my safe, secure home, I knew whoever this person was needed help. Not believing myself, I quickly slid my way down the hill, stopping at the edge of the darkness. It was literally the edge. The grass was still lavender where I was standing, but two inches away, it was a deep gray. Now that I was closer to it, I didn't like what I saw. The castle in the mountains had been a brilliant pink; the castle I saw under the Shadow was ink black, all color absent.
The castle wasn't what I was worried about now, though. I needed to find whatever was in pain and help it somehow. I scanned the area, and finally found the source of the sobs. About two yards away from me, leaning against a dead tree, was a badly injured creature, the likes of which I had never seen before.
Its head resembled a rabbit's, excepting the two small horns above its ears. The creature's torso seemed to be that of a small mammal's; I couldn't put a name to it. If the poor thing's legs hadn't been so badly beaten and broken, they would have been those of a faun. To my surprise it looked my way and began to speak. I knew it wasn't English, or any human language for that matter, but oddly, I understood every word of it.
"Who…who are you?" It asked in fear. It tried to crawl away from me, but made little progress, considering the fact it was up against a tree with two broken legs to boot. "My name is Esmeralda. I'm not exactly sure how I got here, but I want to help you." The words coming out of my mouth were foreign to me; I had no idea what language it was, but whatever it was it was the same language the creature had spoken, and I spoke it with perfect ease.
The creature tilted its head, if pondering my truthfulness. Apparently deciding that I was no harm, it introduced itself, "My name is Illirosah. You may call me Ili. I am a third generation jorlial." Assuming a jorlial was his species, I let him continue, "Where do you come from, stranger?"
“Jonston; it’s a town in America. Where exactly am I now?” I asked, looking around. I thought I saw something move in the dark woods, but I took it to be my imagination. Ilirosah chuckled, “Why, you are in Morphidium, of course!” Seeing my blank look he continued, “Don’t tell me you’ve never heard of it! I do not know about this America of which you speak, but Morphidium is the largest land in this world.”
“Well, that’s not important now. We need to get you help! Where is the nearest--" I paused. This didn’t seem to be the type of world that would have modern hospitals. “Do you have doctors here? You know, people that heal you?” I waited expectantly. A sudden look of fear came over him and he began to whimper again.
“Ilirosah! What’s wrong?!” I bent over him, stroking his head. “It—it—it’s HIM!” he stammered, pointing a paw (can you point a paw?) past my shoulder. I spun around and couldn’t believe what I saw.
It was Abraham. He was breathing heavily, as if he’d been running a long distance. “Abraham! You’re all right!” I exclaimed. My eyes drifted up to his, and all of a sudden, I knew nothing was right at all.
“Abraham! Died you do this?” I gestured to the now sobbing Ilirosah, stiffening. He didn’t say a word; his eyes became steely, cold. He began to walk toward me, those piercing, lightning blue eyes cutting through my tough façade, melting my insides. I hoped my fear didn’t show.
I wasn’t sure what I was afraid of; but it was a gnawing fear. You know, the kind that rests in the back of your mind, just out of reach. The sensation of wrongness soon became too much and my vision began to go blurry.
The last thing I saw was his perfect form morphing into a body so grotesque it might not have been human, if it weren’t for those spine-chilling blue eyes. The figure was so hunched over, it was almost twisted. The hands and arms were too long, the legs to short. Black claws were emerging from his fingers and ripping through his sneakers. His skin turned a deep blue color, his outward clothing fading.
“You never should have followed me, Ezzy. But it’s too late for regrets now.” The crudely formed words fell out of his crooked mouth. And with that, this newly mutated monster took a final step towards me and my vision vanished completely. I stumbled back and tripped over the crushed legs of Ilirosah. Crashing to the ground with a thud, I lay still. I could only hear the slow rhythm of his ragged breath, getting closer and closer to me.
I braced myself, waiting for him to attack. He was right on top of me, I could feel him tense, ready to pounce. All of a sudden, I heard the sound of hoof beats nearing. A loud cry erupted from Abraham’s jagged mouth and just like that I felt his presence vanish, my vision slowly returning.
As my sight cleared, I saw a large form stooping down over me. Quickly crawling towards Ili, I screamed, “Get away from us! What do you want?” My sight returned completely, and now I could see that the form was actually a centaur. I could tell this from the traditional half man-half horse body. He had a tan upper body that faded into chocolate brown fur. His facial features were nicely defined, not as symmetrical as Abraham’s but almost as breathtaking. His eyes were the same lightning blue.
“Child, I mean you no harm,” His warm, compassionate face shown only with honesty. “Please, allow me to introduce myself. I am called Haden. I am a sworn enemy of Groguern and his minions.” He spoke the same language as the small Ilirosah.
“Wh—who is Groguern? What exactly is going on?! I want to go home!! Please help me!” I began to moan, well aware that I was in over my head.
“Shh…young one. Now is not the time for questions. I must help your friend.” In one majestic motion, Haden was bent on the ground beside me. I hadn’t noticed the leather sash across his chest until he pulled some sort of ribbon-like herb from one of its many pockets. He soothingly bent over Ilirosah who was now unconscious from all the excitement. Haden bit the herb into two equal halves and wrapped one around each of Ilirosah’s goat-like legs. He then gently lifted Ili off the ground and turned towards me.
“You know little about this world, child. We must get the two of you to a safer place. This one,” he gestured towards Ili, “—needs more healing than I can give him, and you need to be informed of our…situation. Hop on my back; it will be easier and quicker for the both of us. And we shall need speed tonight.”
I climbed onto Haden’s horse-like back, feeling awkward because, first, I had never ridden a horse before, and second, I felt slightly embarrassed to be on the back of such a cute centaur. I managed to wrap my arms around his waist, and we trotted back in the direction I had come; out of the dark reaches of the Shadow.
The journey seemed endless; we traversed across what appeared to be the entire length of the land, following the beautiful crystal river I had seen upon my entrance. It must have been hours before we neared the mountains, but as wee did, Haden made a sharp left turn, and we entered the mouth of a cave hidden in the lower crevasses of a peak. The cave ended up not being a cave at all, but a tunnel through the mountains. Torches had been mounted every ten feet or so, making for a slightly shadowed journey. I saw in the dim light that drawings lined the walls of the tunnel, depicting what seemed to be hundreds of years of history. I nodded off, the rhythm of Haden’s beating hooves lulling me to sleep.
I had troubled dreams. They were filled with darkness, and I could see nothing. All I could hear were those last words, “There is no time for regrets now.” I woke with a start, and found myself in what appeared to be a small cottage. Apparently, Haden had lain Ilirosah and me down on a bed, a large one, made out of roughly hewn wood and covered in hay.
Ilirosah was sound asleep, his legs wrapped in cloth bandages. I searched for Haden and found him stooping (if centaurs can stoop) over a crackling fire. “Where are w—we?” I yawned.
"You are in the house of Yarweln the Great, the kindest warlock in these parts." A voice from behind me answered before Haden had the chance. It had a strange sound behind it; a faint, melodic whisper. I turned and saw a very tall, very old man.
"Thank you for helping us, both of us," I nodded towards Yarweln and Haden. "But I really must be getting home." I knew I had been here for hours, perhaps days; it was hard to tell, because the glowing light around here never seemed to change.
"All in good time, all in good time. First, you must learn the significance of what has happened this faithful day." Yarweln sat in a chair by the fire, and motioned for me to do the same. I plopped down, eager to do anything that would get me home without a fight.
"There has been a bubbling sense of nearing battle for a long time now. I suppose I should begin where this all started. You are in a land called Morphidium. Your world is called earth. There are very few connections between the two worlds; only five that I know of. Thousands of years ago, when this world was barely born, there were no passages between our world and yours. But over time, as creatures evolved, one became too powerful for his own good.
"He became known as Groguern, but he was originally a warlock, such as I am. The majority of the creatures in Morphidium are kind, good-spirited creatures, however, there are a select few that make it there business to harm, and use black magic to harm, other creatures," Yarweln's face grew grim. "Groguern was not satisfied with being a simple warlock; he wanted much more power. So he spent exactly one-hundred years learning the blackest, darkest magic from the blackest, darkest monsters in this land.
"Nobody knew where he had been, or what he'd been doing, until the day he maliciously attacked a young unicorn. It is one of the greatest sins to kill a unicorn, especially the young. From that moment on, things just became worse. He went on killing sprees, murdering those who got in his way and recruiting those who would follow. Do you remember seeing a black castle earlier today?" he turned towards me expectantly.
Seeing the nod of my head, he continued, "Well, that castle has not always been there. Groguern spent years building his fortress; the castle in which he plans to rule if he succeeds in taking over Morphidium. The Dark Shadow has been growing, along with his power, ever since the Ebony Castle was built. It now encompasses more than half our land.
“Groguern is not satisfied with taking over our world though. Yes, you perceive correctly," he said, noting the look of dawning realization on my face.
“He is planning to take control of your world as well. Groguern has succeeded in opening permanent pathways between Earth and Morphidium. He has also given a select few of his minions some of his power. This allows them to change form, among other abilities. One thing the Shapshifters cannot mask is their eyes. Every living being in this world was born with, and will always have, bright blue eyes.”
“But what does all this have to do with me?” I interjected. My head was beginning to throb with the intake of all this new knowledge. “Why is all of this my problem?” I stood, ready to ask out of this nightmare, but I didn’t have the chance. Yarweln shot me a severe, but not unkind, glance and I knew I would have to let him finish his story.
“It is, as you put it, ‘your problem’ for three reasons. First, now that Abraham knows you have found this world, Groguern will know and do anything in his power to use you. That is why you must not let Abraham find you in this world again. You will be safe if you see him in your world because his powers are greatly depleted, but do not venture anywhere alone in this world. Now, for the second reason you must help, I am going to need to summon a few others in here. This may come as quite a shock, so you may want to sit down.”
Yarweln eased me down onto a stool, made of the same roughly hewn wood that had constructed the bed. He put his hands to his lips and whistled shrilly four times. I heard the oaken door open, and in walked the last four people I expected to see in a strange, fantasy land that I never knew existed.
There before me stood Miranda, Jonah, Marisol and Greg. This was going to need a lot of explaining. I’m sure they could tell by the startled look on my face how surprised I was to see them. Before I could ask any questions, Yarweln continued:
“You are most defiantly wondering why your four closest friends are here. Well, you are about to find out. You see, they happened upon our world at various times during the past…year, as you would say in your world. Miranda was the first to find me, and that was around Auktobear? Is that how you say it?” he fumbled with the word.
“Close enough,” I managed. “Well, anyway, it was then that I figured out what Groguern had been up to, creating the portals between your world and ours. I made Miranda, here, along with the others when they found Morphidium, not to tell anyone about their discovery; if they did, the results would have been catastrophic. The people from your world would have caused many problems and made it much easier for Groguern to accomplish his plan.
“So now I am telling you the same thing, we beg of you, please do not tell anyone of Morphidium’s existence. The fate of our world, and yours, rests upon that fact.” I nodded my head in response and Yarweln continued, “Now that you know the seriousness of our situation, are you willing to help?”