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       THE emissary-  THE ONE                                     CHAPTER 1 THRU 6





I was dreaming, but awake, and somehow, I knew that I wouldn’t remember what this dream, vision, or whatever it was, for years to come.  What I did know was that this would be my last lesson with Rasha.  And that after this, she would return to the earth plane as the oversoul to the Orenda- the magical healer for the Cheveyan warriors, and this time, her spirit would inhabit my body!  I was to become the Orenda.   


Rasha explained our task was to ensure that Cheveyan warriors who battled the Dark Lords from the Orion empire, defeated them this time.  The war has been long, spanning centuries and making their way into scriptures and scrolls of antiquity.  Seers depicted the war as a battle between light and dark, between good and evil.  They were accurate, but the images that they saw made no sense to eyes that couldn’t fathom technologies beyond their era.  There is no Satan, only advanced beings whose evil consciousness streams through the astral plane and into our atmosphere like the gushing tails of a passing storm.


The enemy of mankind are the Dark Lords from the Orion star system who use telepathy to lure mankind to hunger for worldly power, greed, and never-ending wars.  Their planet is dying, and time is running out for the Dark Lords and the civilizations that they rule.  But time is running out for Earthlings too.


It’s the year 2099, and every three thousand years the energy that ignited the Big Bang circulates through the Universe like an eternal spring ushering in new life. Worlds are born, single-celled organisms evolve into fungi and microbes, and if they’re lucky enough, sentinel beings all over the universe graduate to their next evolutionary stage. In my lessons, Rasha explains what that means for humanity who is on the cusp of evolving past the dog-eat-dog world of third-dimensional consciousness into a new fourth-dimensional being.  Once mankind graduates, they transform into powerful beings who have the ability to manifest their hopes and dreams through the laws of attraction. Traveling to other dimensions and realms awaits them.  And with the mere will of their minds, one can join the great festivities going on in the outer realms of the galaxies where other beings who have evolved beyond the prison of their minds experience freedom well beyond man’s most fantastical imagination.


I learn these things in my dreams when I meet with Rasha, one of those higher beings who used to explore the universe before she became a member of the Confederation and guardian of Earth. She’s a fifth-dimensional being and the mystical oversoul to the Cheveyan’s prophesied Orenda, also called the emissary.  I am her—in a way.  Or maybe it’s better to say, that I’m the human vessel that she’ll inhabit, which even in my dream state sounds humongous.  Rasha’s been telling me that soon it will be time for me to go to the land of the Cheveyan warriors.  But now I have a feeling she’s going to tell me, soon is behind me, and the time is any day now.  I won’t remember anything, but she assures me that I’ll figure it out, and I’ll have a little help along the way.


I will live near the Cheveyan people who are actually from another planet called Cheveyo.  They are fourth-dimensional beings who were granted permission by the Confederation to help defend Earth from the Orion attack.  Rasha tells me that they look human, but unlike humans, they are nourished by the sun, which affects their blood.  It gives them superpowers like being able to move at the speed of light and wrapping time and space.  They’re much stronger than humans and the warriors can travel to the astral plane where the battles against the Dark Lords take place.  She’s described the battles to me, but I still can’t grasp how the warriors can use the light inside their bodies to create weapons made of M-waves and Gamma Rays which is the most powerful light in the universe.


“The wars were simpler centuries ago when the Dark Lords only used the mind-statis technology to stream their consciousness through Earth’s magnetic field.”  Rasha told me during one of our past lessons.  “From there their consciousness found human minds willing to be seduced by dreams of power and domination. And once the Dark Lords connected with a human’s mind, they could then use their bodies to host their consciousness.  This is how they control Earth’s culture, their beliefs and world powers.  The end game is an all-out takeover of the planet.  But then the Cheveyan’s were given permission to intercede and they entered the astral plane and tracked the streams of consciousness.  They used their light-weapons to decimate them, and then the Dark Lords began sending mercenaries to protect the streams.  This is when the war began.  And now the warriors must fight to break through their defenses to stop the streaming.  Many have died on both sides, and time is no longer a luxury for either side.”  




My fourth-dimensional nature instinctively knows how to navigate the galaxy in spite of my human mind which hasn’t been further than 40 miles outside of Pennsylvania.  But on this final night, I wake up on my feet, and already twirling around as I gaze out at the outer rims of the Milky Way.  We’re surrounded by brilliantly colored nebulas and bathed in the sounds of spheres and stars that radiate cosmic harmonics that make my heart swoon like a harp. The galactic chorus douses my body with its ethereal chords and my dreamy flesh transforms into countless strands of filament that pulse like thousands of heartbeats. There’s only boundless space around us, and majestic art of twinkling stars millions of miles away and worlds made only of blue oceans and others of only sunset-swirling, colored skies. It feels too beautiful to be real, but Rasha tells me this is nothing.


“Try visiting worlds where cities and civilizations live inside crystal blue seas.”


I open my mouth to say, “Let’s”, but I sense her brows furrow with a sense of serious urgency.  Yes, right, Earth is in peril and I’m the one who’s supposed to save it!  I become distracted when a brilliant school of orbs gently floats toward the heart of the cosmic chorus somewhere inside the miles of magnificent purplish-blue-pinkish nebulas.  Infant suns float deep inside its belly, and they shine like hazy pearls made of gold.  My mouth nearly drops to the swirling clouds at our feet when I see the crooked rays of a fetus sun breaking through the mist like the fissures on the surface of a shell.   The Milky Way is captivating, and I crave it like nectar, though it’s so endlessly vast its allure is too sweet to endure, yet so difficult to resist I want to scoop up the air into a bear hug.    


I feel Rasha staring at me as she patiently waits for me to get over the exquisite atmosphere.  I look over at her and think, probably for the hundred time, how she looks more like a being made of light than flesh, yet somehow her blurry features rejoice at how striking she is in spite of the soft haze that hides the crispness of her features. I wait with bated breath for her to remind me again, of who I am, and finally, what my tasks as the emissary will entail.   

“Soon you will be chaperoned by the goddess of magic.  She will make herself known to you, she will stir your memories and then you will begin your journey back to the Cheveyan warriors.”

I nod, gritting my teeth as I make a mental note that I tell myself, will stay this time!    

“I am the oversoul to the emissary, who the Cheveyan call the Orenda, which means, magical healer.  I’ve incarnated as their healer for centuries, but this time is different.  The planet and the sun will soon align, and the power that created the very universe will ripen the peoples of Earth into a harvest of evolution.  They will be ready to become fourth-dimensional beings…  So, exquisite one, you are the chosen vessel to ensure the warriors defeat the empire this time.” 


Rasha’s tall, giant-sized, svelte and elegant.  And when she looks down at me, my face tilts upward. “You are to become the next Orenda, the magical healer, the emissary who will be greater than all the others before you.” Her voice quakes with excitement and the air shimmers and leaves dew on the surface of my face.  When it evaporates, it tickles pleasantly. “Mankind’s reality is on the cusp of its fourth-dimensional nature and no longer will the enemy dim the light of the sun with its streams of darkness.  The veil shall be destroyed, and Earthlings will transform into multidimensional beings, free of disease and death.“ She gestures like a joyful child, and I can see her smiling inside the hazy light that surrounds her.  “Their dreams will become the lives they live, and they will travel to breathless realms and fantastical planets and learn about the Master Creator whose endless artistry is laid bare for all those who dare to evolve! The cosmos will become your playground.”


My eyes swell as I gaze at her and imagine the new era.


“Yes, exquisite one, these three decades will be looked upon with vast excitement by us, the delegates from the Confederation, whom you’ve called extraterrestrials, gods and goddesses and even on occasion, angels.”  She waves her hand at how we’ve misunderstood who she and the others are.  But I can tell it’s not especially important to her. “We talk of little more than the thrill of watching your evolution.  And Anayehi, whom the Cheveyan call the god of war and the hunt- he will guard you fiercely as he always has through all my incarnations.  I tell you this, but of course, you will know fear and fret like all humans.  But at least for now, you can be at ease.  You- I- we are his favorite.”  


Rasha sighs and the colorful rims along the Milky Way respond by churning slightly to the left, revealing two new fetus suns that just twinkled into existence.  “The Great Master of the Universe, the One older than time, and younger than a babe, Adonai, the radiant Light that is Love, and the Love that is Light, sends you many blessings.”  


Her words make my face warm with blush and when I look into her translucent face, not even her luminous glow can hide the reflection of the colorful nebulas around us, or how the infant suns dapple her eyes with gold. I know I’ve realized her ethereal beauty before, but as always, my experience of her is forever new.  Except tonight–tonight is different.  This is the last lesson before my life changes, and I’m finally going to see what she’s always held back- a glimpse of what I can possibly do to help the mighty warriors win the war and save the world from the Dark Lords of the Orion Empire.    





My awareness jostles as the sound of air rushes out in a rhythm that reminds me of someone breathing hard.  It takes a few seconds for me to realize that I’m inside someone’s body, and then several more seconds to notice that it’s the body of a woman.  I feel her lungs bursting with hunger as the soles of her feet trample over hard uneven earth.  She’s running through a terrain of emerald green, dense with bushes, foliage and brown barks that stretch toward patches of clear blue sky. The smell of moist earth and new life sweeps up her nose, then gushes back out as she exhales so hard, she almost grunts.  Then I see a man running beside her, he’s so close their shoulders kiss, and his long black hair whips across her ebony skin and stings her face every now and then.   His skin is lighter, his hair straighter and he shines like the sun lives inside his heart.  


The air is thick and humid and wiry branches graze their skin and leave long angry scratches in their wake. Out of the corner of her eye, I see others.  Their faces are painted with a single swath of black from ear to ear. Long feathers twined to braids fly madly in the wind.  The men’s hard muscles coil as they move through the bush, and the fierce women run like sleek panthers. There are about twenty of them, all racing so fast they’re beginning to fade and resemble the wind more than flesh and bone.  


My heart pounds with excitement as I wonder if they are running away from someone or chasing after the enemy.  Just before their flesh fades into the air the man to the woman’s side looks at her.  He takes her hand and squeezes it hard and their physical atoms transform into energy.  Her eyes lower to where his warmth touches her skin.  She sees the tattoo of a sword circling his wrist-a symbol only for the most gifted within the tribe.  Her eyes shine with pride just as they go invisible and warp time and space. 


               They’re all inside something that looks like a tunnel or a portal of some kind. Nothing is solid, and they’re all just lines of stretched taffy in a backdrop of black space.  Something about the properties inside the portal or tunnel lock me firmly inside the woman.  There’s no more me.  I’m her now and I hear a voice that is familiar to her and somehow, I recognize it as beings whom she calls, High Command.  They’re giving us coordinates and the tinny voices sound like the many realms away that they are, but their power is close, so close that it surrounds us and guides us as our atoms mutate and transform into our astral bodies.  


We all land inside a place called the slip plane, the only sector of the astral plane where we can intersect the streams of consciousness.  But as always, first we must battle the Dark Lord’s mercenary fighters.  Dust kicks up around us as we tumble from the astral portal and steady our bodies from having just traveled the speed of light to an abrupt stop.  When the murky dirt particles clear, our eyes instinctively dart around to ascertain the danger.  We’re on the edge of a field that was probably green with grass once.  Now it’s mostly sandy-colored dirt, and in the distance, surrounding us on three sides is a dense forest of trees so tall, they must be thousands of years old.  I take a deep breath and don’t smell even a particle of stench. That means the enemy and the streams are nowhere around.  The others sense the same thing, and we relax.  A few warriors lift their hair to wipe the sweat from their necks, while several others drink from their canteens like their throats are as dry as the earth we’re traveling on.   

We’re here to replenish the numbers from Huron’s squadron.  More than forty warriors returned to the tribe several nights ago too injured to go back into battle even after my healing.  That’s what happens when the enemy's venom burns away the warrior light. It melts the flesh and it takes a while for the pain to subside, even after I regenerate the skin tissue and bone fragments.  Anyway, we’re here to make up the numbers and now that I’m on the scene, I can heal the injured nearly instantaneously.  The mood amongst the warriors we’re with is heartened with the reality that my presence means a certain win, at least against this enemy faction.   If we’re lucky, we’ll get to disintegrate a few hundred miles of the veil lurking somewhere up there in the atmosphere.  Just the thought of what it’s doing to the humans it’s made contact with angers me.   But taking out a few hundred miles will free ten times of that when it comes to human minds.  I’m eager to battle and can’t stop the images of seeing myself face-to-face with the enemy.  The over-soul, Rasha has merged her fifth-dimensional powers inside me, which makes me as lethal as they come, but it also makes me the enemy’s number one target, even on-planet.  But I don’t think I’ll be fighting.  In fact, I’m 100% sure I won’t. Starman, my mate, the one who grabbed my hand just before we blurred into nothingness, wants to start a family, and when I battle, my feminine nature takes a back seat, and we end up bickering like comrades who’ve had too much sun in their blood and too much balché in their stomachs.  He tells me he longs for his soft wife.  And when his rough hands grab the bare skin of my hips, and he bears opens his heart to me, the blood in my veins sings like a songbird, because I miss her too.   Still, it’s hard to swallow the licks of hungry fire that live in my belly, especially when it starts sending red-hot flames into my bloodthirsty mouth.  I have to keep telling myself over and over that I will be the healer for the remainder of this tour.  And probably for the remainder of any tour I join for the next few years at least.  


My eyes study my striking mate as he moves his well-developed body.  His muscles show through the protective uniform that was gifted to the tribe by the god of war centuries ago when the gods, as the humans call them anyway, were still able to penetrate the veil.  Now that the Dark Lords use merceries, they’ve infiltrated the minds of millions of humans with their evil.  That’s what the veil is, and it’s thickened little by little since the sacrifice of the lamb, or the Messiah, as the scriptures refer to him.  Anyway, despite the power and strength inside the fibers of the uniform, it does nothing to hide how Starman’s muscles blend and bunch and move like he’s part animal.   


“Watseka,” His rough voice calls me, as he uses the name that his father, the chief, and his mother, the high priestess gave me once I was accepted by the tribe and became his wife. He lifts his hand and stops walking, and we all go as still as statues, our eyes darting around in search of danger.  It takes a moment, but we soon realize that he’s only sensing where the other warriors are.  Once he senses them, we trek northward across the field, the sun beating down on us as we trample over patches of dry grass and head for the shade of the cool forest that rises along with a mountainous terrain whose peaks are white with snow.  I stare at the summit as my blood practically boils and I fantasize about rolling around in its icy soft matter.  The only thing I can do to get my mind off the snow is to use my inner eyes to see the warriors that Starman just felt with his bodily senses.  I see images of the healers administering to the minor wounds of several of the fighters.  I know them all, and can see that they’re safe and camped inside the caves of the great mountain.  I sigh, realizing that means that its humid wherever they are too.  That might make sense on Earth, but inside the slip plane the landscape can change in an instant. I sense they’re a good forty minutes away and that the majority of the journey will be inside the shade of the woods.  


Once we get within feet of the warrior camp, my nascent fifth-dimensional abilities ripple out from my body and send waves of healing light singing through the air.  Even before I have a chance to lay a hand on any of the wounded, their burned skin is being renewed and the places where their flesh had been gorged is knitting back together.  As we close in on the caves, I hear relieved sighs as pain dials down.  


When we enter the caverns, a few heads pop up as they realize their Orenda is close by.  I still lay a hand on a few shoulders and on the parts of the body that were wounded just to mitigate how surreal it is to be healed without contact.  The high priestess had a talk with me about that and warned me that it makes the warriors unsettled when my magic doesn’t follow at least some of Earth’s laws. Their ancestors may have been from another planet, but they’ve been under the conditions of the veil long enough to have lost some of their other-worldly ways.  Once I’m done, the other healers and I sit away from warriors who are talking battle and strategies, while we quietly pray and break the afternoon fast.  We eat the cheese and soft bread that I brought with me before I surprise them with enough juicy black grapes to fill our stomachs to the brink.   Then I give them the most recent update on the warriors that returned to the Great Hall a few nights ago, many of whom were close to death.  They’re all relieved when I say that no one passed on to Sahalie, the warrior’s heaven, even though we know death really doesn’t exist. Still… we all look into each other’s dark eyes with relief shining through.  Now that I’m here, there’s no need for them to stay, and before nightfall, a level-one warrior escorts the healers back to the planet since healers, including me, are unable to warp time and space and return on our own. 



We start tracking the enemy streams early the next morning.  It’s easy for the warriors because to them, the enemy sounds like swarms of cicadas’.   Once the sound is loud, we know we’re minutes away, and that’s when a platoon of mercenaries shot down from the sky.  The elite warriors sensed them coming, and the air grew tense in a heartbeat as they positioned themselves along the front line of the battlefield.  The elites are so deadly after they do their damage, they leave the battered enemy for the first-level warriors to get practice on by finishing them off.  


It doesn’t take long for the field to become littered with high-stakes skirmishes between my Cheveyan comrades and what looks to be an upgrade of genetically engineered enemy fighters.  They’re bigger, and now their uniforms give them a little protection from the light weaponry of the warriors.  It helps from what I can see, but nothing can stop a warrior who yields gamma rays.  Still, I feel edgy by the uniform upgrade but I manage to do as my mate asks and remain hidden in the bush as my eyes dart from one brutal clash to others of even greater intensity.   


 Most of the warriors are faring well, but after a few hours of fighting the light reserves inside some of the level-one fighters are starting to dim.  I reach out my hand and a blaze of light crashes down my arm before blasting through my palm like a horizontal thunder strike.  Several enemies spy the brilliant stream cutting across the landscape and follow it all the way back to where I’m hiding.  I duck further down behind the bushes, scratching up my neck before I begin crawling on my belly to a new location much further away.  When I’ve relocated far enough, I can see Starman as I peer through the leaves.  I squint, straining to keep my eyes on him through the constant moving bodies in the foreground of the field.  The movement rustles the dirt and clouds of dust hang in the air like the morning fog.  It’s hard to see clearly, but nothing can dim a sword gleaming with the light of the sun inside its metal, and I see hundreds of radiant lines still painting the air long after the deadly strikes have done their deeds.  I see a lot of wounded enemies, their blue flesh ripped and dark blood splattering the air as swords cut through the wind. Some of the enemies keep at a safe distance from the warriors, then they morph their arms into tentacles or whips or worse, black streams of poison.  I hate that tactic because it works pretty effectively, especially against a level-one warrior who doesn’t realize he’s using up his light reserves trying to laser-tase a target that far away.  I crawl some more and tiny stones sting my elbows and scratch my forearms as I aim for a better view of Starman.   When I have a good lock on him I get off my belly and squat just in case I need my hands to help out in a moment's time.


I stare intensely, my eyes are glued on him and his hand not yet grasping the hilt of his sword.  But he’s planted firmly in place and I wonder why he’s not moving.  I change my position to angle my gaze and follow whatever he’s staring down. I gulp when my eyes land on the enemy blinking in and out between the skirmishes as he comes for my mate.  A sick feeling overtakes my stomach when I spy the tattoos on the side of the mercenary’s face.  My instincts tell me that the tattoos are symbols for its bravery– and kills.  It moves fast, faster than the others, as it closes in on Starman.  I see its stubby, blue-skinned fingers in the beginning stages of transforming into long snake-like whips.  Once they’re fully formed, they hungrily claw the air to get hold of Starman whose hand is still ready at his side, close to gripping the hilt of his sword, but hesitating.  For what!?  I scream inside my head as his sword gleams brightly feelings its master’s emotions and wanting to do his bidding.  He won’t reach for it though, instead he just stands in the middle of the battlefield, his eyes on the enemy as warriors and enemies fight all around him and move across the field in a dance of death.  


The enemy tosses its venomous tentacles toward Starman’s ankles, other tentacles try to wrap around his hips, all its attempts end in instant disintegration.  The mercenary’s tactic is what every seasoned warrior would expect. The enemy wants to topple Starman and drag him into a death grip where its poisonous skin will deplete the light inside his blood.   My heart pounds with every whip that catches him, but the only thing that keeps the snaky tentacles from taking hold around Starman’s limbs is his light, a golden egg-like aura surrounding his body with impenetrable armor.  His light reserves are still strong, and his armor turns every tentacle that touches it into ash. 


The enemy finally stops walking.  It's staring at my mate, probably realizing only now that it wasn’t the distance that diluted its weaponry- but a warrior still brilliant after an hour of fighting must not be a wind chaser.  He must be either a firebird or a light-bearer.  I smile.  Starman is deadly, he’s an evolved light-bearer, even more devastating than the lethal firebird!   His body feeds from the sun, the celestial intelligence that created everything from its own atoms.  Suns' aren't just globes that give off heat and light, they're intelligent beings that create the blueprints for their solar systems.  And when a warrior feeds from the sun, that makes him or her powerful.  But if the warrior can handle the sun’s most powerful light, its gamma rays– nothing can kill them.  Almost nothing, at least.  


I anticipate what’s going to come next, and I know Starman does too.  Firebirds and Light-bearers attract the attention of the enemy like honey to a bee because in one-to-one combat, the mercenaries don’t stand a chance.   Five enemy fighters running through the battlefield looking for a fight spy Starman’s angry opponent, and do the only thing they can.  They join the huge one staring Starman down with eyes that would put at least a little hesitation into even the fiercest warrior.  The enemies' astral flesh fades as they close in on the huge adversary, and they merge into a shadow.  It begins to whirl as it expands, and whip-like appendages emerge, the kind that most warriors never walk away from with their lives. 


 Starman can handle the vortex of spinning venom- easily.  The gamma in his blood ensures it.   And when he stops being so stubborn and takes out his sword, the steel will transform into metal infused with gamma. I feel antsy waiting for him to pounce into action, eager to see his body move like a lion and my heart pounds hard and aches for the strike of his sword.  The anticipation sends heat through my body no less thrilling than his rough touch and wet kisses.  I hold my breath knowing he’s about to move and slash the sword so quickly all I’ll see are the shadows made of light hanging in the air as hundreds of dark tentacles fall to the ground as fiery electrocuted matter.  The excitement in my veins verges on excruciating until the enemy unleashes an unexpected tactic. 


My stomach falls to the dusty ground beneath me as I see the whirling shadow swell into the shape of a bowl.  Seconds later a squad of enemy mercenaries waiting beyond a cloud formation plummet into its center like black rain.  They dissolve into what was already a huge mass wide enough to take down twenty warriors, into one that could engulf a platoon!  


The vortex blisters toward Starman.  Before I can even blink, it consumes him.  No warrior, not even a light-bearer, can maintain his light reserves long enough to fight through a mass that big.  I cringe at the thought of how much enemy poison is draining the sun from his veins.  He has seconds, not minutes to find a way to escape and I have to make a choice and do the best I can to honor my promise while saving the warrior that my very heart beats for.  Springing to my feet, I risk showing myself to the mercenaries who would be paid handsomely to end me- but I can’t worry about that now.  Instead, my mind goes into my body to summon the small sun of fire that lives inside my belly like an ever-waiting infant.  It burns as it grows and pushes the walls of my gut, the pain is immeasurable as my organs melt into liquid wax.  I command my fiery newborn into a swirling ball as hot as the sun and nearly collapse from the pain as it ejects from my body.  I will my legs to keep me upright as I watch the trail of flames scorching the field in the direction of the vortex.  The fire consumes everything. My poor Cheveyan comrades look awful as their skin chars like logs inside a hearth. Fortunately, the fire, though painful, will only feed their reserves ten times over.   As for the enemy, every mercenary that was on the field is decimated to nothing but embers floating in the air like black snowflakes.  By the time the flames reach the mighty vortex- it attacks it like a hungry inferno, and the DNA of my anger creates a merciless ear-deafening explosion that expands as far as the mountains, causing the trees to tremble before it contracts so fast, that the only thing left of my fire-infant is a dizzy spark the size of a firefly.  It swirls, returning to its mother and diminishing to a pin-sized flame until it crashes into my stomach and returns to my womb..  


Starman is stunned, his muscles still coiling from the mighty strike of his blinding sword.  The air stirring around him settles, but he and the other warriors are looking around the empty field dumbfounded.  There are no more enemies.  There’s nothing but ashes and black blood staining the dry dirt like dark wax. Meanwhile, my legs have given in, and I’m writhing in pain on the dusty ground, halfway pleased that I’m out of their sight and not readily the obvious cause of the destruction…  But of course, they’ll all figure it out. Who else has that kind of power but their warrior Orenda?  The one who just promised her husband she wouldn't fight and who's willing to exchange the fire in her belly for at least two dark-haired, big-eyed, adorable children.  


                                 CHAPTER 1


     I’ve had enough loss to last a lifetime, and in a week, I’ll be forced to lose even more. Everything and everyone that has any meaning in my life will soon be nothing more than a dream, and eventually, even that will fade. It’s been just me and my mom for years, but now there’s Rob, her attorney boyfriend whom she’s decided to leave the city for and move to Indian territory where there’s no tube rail, no Bullet Langdon’s, and the kids in school still use books instead of multi-tech tablets.   I can’t imagine what living without modern technology will be like, but my mom has spent the last month trying to convince me that we’ll love it.  She hasn’t come right out and said we’re going to leave the city life and go back to where the advances of the modern world barely exist, but she’s been dropping hints and describing the place where her attorney boyfriend lives, as this amazing place on the edge of the woods. Her eyes get so dreamy, I look at her wondering if I even know who this person is anymore. We’re city dwellers, proud Philadelphians.  We live in a place that in Greek means brotherly love and where mostly everyone travels in ‘bullets’ that to the people in Indian territory, probably looks like space vehicles. 


     My mom taught me to love the history of the City, and brags whenever she gets a chance about the time we were in Olde City and ended up sneaking into the tour of Edgar Allen Poe’s colonial home. I’ll never forget the magic of watching my mom running her fingers along the wooden surface of his writing table. Dust motes floated into the air and shimmered like tiny crystals in the shaft of sunlight. My mom startled at the same time, but it wasn’t because of the twinkling dust. I remember the look in her eyes as they became dazed and then wide. She whispered, her voice shaky and excited as she said that somehow, she knew that the feather pen and inkwell on the desk actually belonged to the author! The certainty in her voice and the zeal in her timbre tickled the hair on the edge of my ears, and then I saw images of the dark haired poet writing feverishly and dipping the tip of a feather into black liquid.  History was magical.  Philadelphia was special, and I fell in love with the city and magic too, but not enough to want to live without technology.  




     “It’s so mysterious … Julion, you’ll love the Valley!” she says, her voice so shrill it jolts me back to a reality I wish I could flee. My heart swells, quivering inside my chest and takes up so much room my lungs can’t breathe in air.  When I picture what mysterious means to me, I imagine spooky supernatural things and chainsaws only found in horror movies. What will I boast about now, I wonder? My father is gone, we struggle to make ends meet, my best friends are digital books and nightly dreams of scary aliens and the mighty warriors who fight them in blazing battles.  


      If there was any hope, even the kind that hangs from a string, it gets shattered by the sound of my mom dropping three moving boxes onto the floor where the contact against the wood causes them to spring open into perfect squares.  The sound of the plastic yawning as it unfolds resounds inside my head like a slap on the ear, and my lungs freeze from the realization of it all.  I feel the lunch I had earlier suddenly stir awake, and I push my state of the art, Langdon silver-screen to the side of my bed just in case. The words we’re really going to move start repeating themselves in a nightmarish, ghoulish voice until my head gets so woozy that I suddenly find myself inside the memory of the only time I actually visited the Valley, which is where Rob lives.



       The images are so real, I shiver as I see the cold steam from street gutters billow into the air like there’s a fire inside the sewers. I’m in the back of Rob’s soundless bullet manufactured by Langdon, the top high-tech company in the US.  The hyper-performance, wheel-less  bullet flies past the slower-sports bullets, and those who still drive antique cars are left in a dust so inconsequential they have their own lane.  Vintage vehicles are still the dreams of collectors, which doesn’t make sense because they’re so slow most drivers end up getting them lifted to the tube where they hitch a ride to wherever they’re headed.  But my mom can’t afford either, so I can’t stop staring out of the window and craning my neck to catch a rare look at the city which at this speed is only a blur of color mixed with squiggly lines that look like liquid light.  My eyes follow the exciting scenery as the bullet slows into a smooth turn and Rob’s makes a right onto Fairmont Avenue.  He has to slow the bullet’s speed because of the nearby university and number of pedestrians, and we pass blocks and blocks of elegant neon lights and cheerful patrons bundled in coats and scarves.  My eyes drink in everything as they watch them scurrying quickly toward the warmth of pubs and restaurants.  Just ahead and further down the tree lined Avenue, the dark starry sky and the river gobble up the horizon like an endless wall of black and my heart pounds with the anticipation of seeing what that much water really looks like up close.   When we reach the end of the Avenue, Rob has no choice but to turn left toward the skyscrapers of Center City, or right, a direction that looks almost as black as the river. My eyes scan the moon-dappled waters as they rush in the direction of the exciting lights of Center City.  And as we turn right, I quietly grumble how even the river prefers left. The bullet increases its speed, and zooms fast, and away from the tall buildings where the lights shining through the windows dot the night sky.  Something inside me stirs as the cloak of darkness grows deeper the farther we head into the unknown, and as much as I hate to admit it- something inside me is excited by the silence that engulfs everything in the blindness of night.  


      The black sky only deepens as we follow the gold-snaking lights on the surface of the water.  It’s narrower now- by a third of what it was and surrounding us on both sides are huge rocks that soar toward the sky.  Rob's bullet peels around winding curves, my shoulder presses heavily into the door but my eyes stay glued to the window as my nose nearly  touches the freezing glass.  All I see are trees embedded in the rock face and standing as tall as buildings.  I’ve forgotten my nerves about attending Rob’s parents’ swank New Year’s Eve party.  I’ve forgotten about my grumpy attitude and the fact that I had to wear a dress instead of kecks.  My mind is floating on nothing but air, and I find that up or down mean nothing when you’re blind.  


      I’ve never been anywhere that didn’t have streetlamps, and row homes with lights shining through crooked window blinds, I think as Rob turns again, this time leaving the remnants of the strangled river behind.  The bullet silently cuts through the air, riding as smooth as a knife slicing butter. My back pushes into the leather seat as the bullet climbs to the top of a steep hill. When he reaches the apex, the moon takes up the entire windshield. Its red hue stuns the rhythm of my heart, it stops, then kicks in and sends icy blood into every vein inside my body.  With disbelief, I stare at the celestial orb until my breath makes my lips feel dry and shriveled.  


       A relieved sigh eases out from my lungs when I see streetlights up ahead. They look old-fashioned and the light falls onto the road in triangular rays of gleaming white light.  I bite my lip as my eyes drink in a sky darker than black by several shades and that stretches so wide, I can see the entire world, from one corner of the galaxy to the other.  The silence is deafening and looms as quiet as the bottom of the ocean.  I don’t know what to make of this alien landscape and fail to notice that the bullet has come to a stop until I notice the world looks like a photograph of a landscape.  I scan my surroundings and my ears wriggle when the sound of metal yawns, clinks, and then yawns again. I press my cheek against the icy window and spy a tall, intricately barred gate slowly parting.  Then my eyes land on the gray stone-like castle that stands out on a canvas of uninterrupted land.  


      Light gray smoke billows from the chimney on its steepled roof.  I watch the smoke thread the air and disappear before turning to peer out of the bullet when the door shuts.  It clips the silence with a sharp thud and Rob circles the front of the bullet to the side where my mom is. Warmth mushrooms inside my chest when the spacecraft-like door slowly lifts into the air and I see his hand reaching for hers.   He’s not wearing a coat but he looks to be impervious to the sweeping wind that rustles his auburn hair.  The light from the moon slants across his face, making his gray eyes shine like dark marbles.  Meanwhile, I push the button on the side of the door and awkwardly climb out before it’s fully opened just so he can’t unleash his courtesy on me.  Mother nature rewards my lack of gratitude by sending an unfurling breeze from the faraway trees that pushes me back into the sleek, frigidly cold panel of the bullet. My unbuttoned coat spreads at both sides like a cape and the dress I was forced to wear flutters wide as the wind swats across my legs like tiny whips.  So, this is what the air feels like without a blockade of row homes to tame its brutality? I muse, breathing out a huff of astonished air. Then with blushing cheeks, I smooth down my dress and look at mom and Rob, who have amused smiles on their rosy faces. 




    The memories end there—well, except for entering the house by way of the kitchen which was large and designed with white marble counters and shiny silver appliances, and classical music playing softly in another part of the house. The memories fade now, and as I look around at my own room, I know that this will be one of the last times I’ll ever see its pink wallpaper and the tan ceiling fan with the gold scroll lines on the edge of the blades. The room shimmers as water tickles the rims of my eyes, and I swallow the taste of pain that grows edges and bruises my heart with every breath. Then I hear my grandma’s voice inside my head, telling me that if I’m going to live in this place called the Valley, at the very least I should investigate it.


   I always do what my inner grandma says since that time when she warned me not to stick my face too close to the neighbor’s pit bull and nearly lost my nose. I still have the graze of a scar as proof of my obstinance. I slide my multi-tech tablet toward me, grab my pillow, and rolling onto my stomach, my fingers start typing in an Instant Search for Wissahickon Valley, the town’s proper name. Seconds later, a page populates with multiple articles written about it. I breathe in, shock gushing down my throat and my mouth drops like I’m yawning after a long nap.  Okay, this is a surprise, I think. If this many people would write about this place called the Valley, it couldn’t be such a weird town after all. I end up deciding to read the still trusted Wikipedia’s historic version of the place. And so begins my impromptu history lesson.

The town of Wissahickon Valley is the sole territory of the Cheveyan Indians who were known to be a strong and powerful tribe. They absorbed many other groups into their tribe through warfare and by offering shelter to displaced peoples. In the mid-1800s, a story circulated around Europe about the duke of Saxe-Coburgan’s miraculous recovery after a boating accident that occurred near the caves in the deepest part of the woods.


   It was written that Edmond, the duke, drowned during a winter rowing accident when rapid currents capsized the boat he and his friends were in. Several Cheveyans canoeing came upon the distressed party and took the duke’s lifeless body to the waters by the steep hill close to the Oenikika caves. It was said that they immersed him in some sort of baptismal ritual until he began coughing up water, revived. The waters that bought the duke back to life travel through the Oenikika, which sits hidden beneath the hillside where small holes on the natural stone of the rock face blow cold air even in the midst of summer. Since antiquity, the Valley was said to be a place of healing and the Cheveyan consider the woodlands to be magical.  After the duke’s recovery, he remained with the Cheveyan tribe for several months and later reported seeing flashes of light that appeared humanlike, running through the snow-covered woods and traveling at great speeds. The story of his revival was corroborated by the group he’d traveled with. As for the flashes of light, there was no corroboration for those occurrences; however, the duke was too respected and admired to be doubted. However, the myth of “wind chasers,” as the swiftly-moving human lights are called by the Cheveyan tribe, has been recorded in history all over the world for over 1,500 years.


   Life changed for the Cheveyans after the duke returned to Europe. Known for their exceptional beauty and dark, alluring eyes, the Cheveyan women were often courted by the wealthy settlers who traveled to the town with prospects of capitalizing on the Valley’s growing reputation. In 1851 the chief allowed the building of Coburgan Spa, which was erected not far from the woods where Edmond had been healed. It was agreed that all lands would remain the territory of the Cheveyan tribe, and all property erected was drawn up as life estates, meaning that after the death of the current owner, the property would return to Cheveyan ownership. Despite this agreement, wealthy investors were still willing to build inns and hotels; and later stores and businesses in what would become the town’s center were constructed. Thousands of people would flock to the Valley, booking stays at the inns and hotels as they waited for an available room inside the spa, which to this day boasts of healings that can’t be explained using today’s medical paradigms and modalities.


   In the years since the duke’s revival, the Valley has grown in wealth and prestige. As time passed, the surviving legacy of the Cheveyan tribe as the descendants of the chief, all still carrying the surname of Silver Rain or some rendition of his sons’ or their sons’ first names. The Silver Rains remain the pillars of the Valley and the tribe maintains one hundred percent ownership of the land. The oldest families in the Valley all have bloodlines that tie them in one way or another to the sons and daughters of Starman, the chief of the Cheveyan tribe from 1845 to 1862.


Today the town is an eclectic mix of pure-blooded Cheveyan and those mixed with Europeans and free Blacks. Their intermarrying has resulted in unique features like brown skin and golden-brown hair, or curly or straight dark hair and blue eyes. The descendants, of both pure and mixed blood, take great pride in claiming their native roots and continue to this day to celebrate the traditions of the Cheveyan run through the ancient hunting trails during the summer solstice and the Cheveyan rowing competition, an honor for the duke that occurs during the fall solstice.


    I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling as fears and misconceptions scatter like leaves in the wind. The Valley is a place of healing and wonder, and our Gothic palace is modern compared to its ancient roots. Images of the proud chief and his people whirl through my imagination as I muse on his descendants—still alive and living a legacy that bridges the past and present all at once.


    My heart races, beating hard as frayed nerves light up inside every corner of my body like fireworks during the rainbow festival.  I may be leaving a city where tourists visit from faraway places, but I’ll be moving to a land where ancient mysteries, sacred traditions, and miraculous healings are still alive. My curiosity rages like a hungry inferno and fire ignites my soul with new life that rushes through me at the speed of light.  I feel I might burst a lung as I snatch in too much air to fit inside them.  For the first time since my mom brought up this whole insane idea, I’m so eager to move I jump from my bed and start stuffing my belongings into the boxes. 



     There’s only one high school in the Valley, it’s called Water House High and I'm surprised when I see a fair amount of the students with Langdon A.I. wristbands.  But I’m not surprised when I notice they barely interphase with them.  Except for a rare glance here or there, I have a feeling they just use them as watches.  I thought that would bother me, but instead the opposite turned out to be true.  I’m fascinated by the indigenous students and something about them draws me in.  It’s not just their beauty, though, just like the article said- truly they are striking, it’s something else that I can’t put my finger on.  By the third week of school something that began as barely noticeable, begins to fill my head until it forces me to admit that something I’ve never experienced before is really happening.  At first, I think it’s my contact lenses that cause my Indigenous school mates skin to look so radiant they look like they’ve swallowed gold or something.  And then I chalk it up to the hallway lights falling on them in some peculiar fashion.  But after going through three packs of lenses, and witnessing their skin, even briefly glowing, I’m forced to admit neither of those things are the cause.  The next time I catch a glimpse of their skin doing that one-second poof of light thing, I look around at my non-descendant schoolmates for their reaction, and see nothing, not even a quick raise of the eyebrow.  I eventually have to admit it’s me.  I’m the---problem.  I’m pretty sure the normal students don’t get tingling electrical shocks that make the hair on their arms rise when they stand close or bump into them either.  Which makes that again—all me.  


         It's hard not to stare at them when their skin glows or when their bodies send shivering tingles coursing through my veins, but every cell inside me wants to. The mixed and the pure descendants both have almond-shaped eyes and thick lashes that make them look dark and mysterious.   I’m so drawn to them that I want to ask a million questions about the spa and how they heal ailments that the doctors in the big, high-tech hospitals can’t.  And I want to ask the question of the century too- which is, has anyone else been resurrected since the duke? 

I never get my chance to ask anything, because my indigenous schoolmates, who prefer to be called indigenies, only hang with other indigenies.   I soon figure out that the school is divided into three groups.  Those who aren’t indigenous, those who are, and the obit of kids that get to hang out with the athletes, which include the girls who look like models and the cheerleaders.


     Everything I just mentioned became evident during lunch when I kept seeing groups of indigenies only sitting with other indigenies.  They tend to huddle closely, talking amongst themselves while the rest of us non-descendants try to pretend their beauty isn’t the nectar we all crave.  My eyes aren’t the only senses that have heightened, it seems my ears have become bionic too.  And whenever a group of indigenies are close by, I can’t explain how I manage to hear snatches of their conversations, but I do.  And I realize that lives are practically unchanged from the history that I’d read about them.  Their traditions are still alive and the mysteries that surround them, are too.  “The fall solstice ceremony,” I hear one of the girls whisper. “The foreigners arrived for their healings,” another says a few days later; and then, “they’re celebrating Elan’s promotion as hall guard to the high priestess.”  Hall guard to the high priestess?  Just that comment alone reminds me of a mixture of ancient civilizations mixed with the court life of royal families.  Images form inside my mind and construct fragmented puzzles that give birth to an insatiable craving for discovery.  It seems a journey has landed in my lap, and from all the books I’ve read, I should be prepared to meet up with dragons and villains, even if they only exist in the imagination. 




      After my first full month of school, I still haven’t made any friends yet, so I don’t really know what makes the girls in my class nearly fight to get out of the room with such desperation, chairs screech, some nearly topple and their giggles fill me with curiosity, hungered and unfulfilled. It will be weeks until I realize the school is graced with three Cheveyan boys, called the trilogy, who are practically considered nobility.  I won’t see them stroll through the corridors like some kind of sacred cabal for quite a while yet. Then there’s the centuries-old celebration that the entire Valley attends and which is coming up in a week or so.  But that has also escaped my apparently rusty radar.


     Of all the things I missed, my greatest regret is never having met Sam.  He’s my schoolmate whose death changes everything.   The first way his death changes me is that I cross paths with the girl who will become my first friend, and ultimately, my best friend. Her name is Rhianna, and she writes for the school paper, the Herald.  The second way his death changes me, is that, because of her friendship I’m given a map that propels my journey to understand the mysteries of the Cheveyan world.  But what I didn’t expect, is that the map would cause me to question reality and uncover secrets and truths that would ultimately land me inside a den of unforgiving wolves.



                                                CHAPTER TWO


      Perfection doesn’t exist in this world. Not even if you’re the descendant of a noble and powerful tribe or live in a place where a British royal spied wind chasers zipping through snowy woods. I’ve never had a charmed life, and I know firsthand that life can be hard as nails and the only way to survive is to just grit your teeth and stop the bleeding. My father taught me that, not because he sat me down by a fireplace as he passed along his wise counsel about life and the world, but when his hands were around my mother’s throat.  When I watched him trying to choke the life from her, the lesson became pretty apparent.  And also, we didn’t have a fireplace or even heat a times.   So, when it comes to teeth-gritting, it doesn’t take me long to realize that making friends at Water House High will be harder than I’d hoped. 


    Sam was still among the living for the first few weeks after my transfer, but I never met him or passed him in the halls. I wished my introduction didn't have to be by way of an obituary left on a random lunchroom table. But that's how I met him, curious as to why an obituary would ever be found in a place where only kids my age would be. But when I read the words, the hairs on the back of my neck stand up straight as I wonder how someone his age could be lost to the world so soon. He was a descendant but there was no picture of him on the glossy tri-fold notice, just wonderful words about his kind nature and exceptional athleticism.  When I read the final sentence about how he was meant to change the world, the words go blurry, and my fingers get a prickly feeling inside them.  It happened so quickly it was easy to ignore. 


       And I did, for the most part, and moved onto where it talked about his achievements.  He was the school’s quarterback and was sure to be a first-round draft pick. He’d already been approached by talent agents; it went on to say. After reading about Sam’s life, my ears would perk up anytime I heard his name, and I was in the bathroom stall when I overheard two non-indigenous students whispering about how his body was found by a hiker who stumbled onto the private land of the Cheveyan tribe and reported that there was something strange about his veins. Some of my schoolmates who obviously hadn't seen the obituary weren’t even sure he was dead because there hadn’t been an official announcement. That would come two days later when Principal Silver Arrow announced it during the special auditorium assembly.  It was then that he dropped an atom bomb when he added that Sam had died by his own hand.  I remember looking around in shock as everyone sat there frozen as the air screamed with unheard wails of pain and disbelief.


    The principal’s voice shattered the walls of uncertainty and numbness when he pleaded that we learn from this. But it was my indigenie schoolmate’s stoicism that spoke volumes and whispered that they’d known about Sam and were now only trying to manage to get through the assembly without revealing their real feelings in front of the rest of us.  After all I’d discovered about them even now, it wasn’t hard to imagine that learning to be clandestine was probably the second lesson after learning to walk. Principal Silver Arrow requested us to think about why living is the only option and how rules are important. His last comment about rules seemed an odd statement to make, but I was reeling from the stagnant shards of air piercing my lungs with disbelief mixed with sorrow. Then he invited us all to write an essay on the topic of suicide and said that there would be a contest.  When he promised that the most inspiring essays would be printed up in the school paper my attention rang like a gong inside my brain.  An extracurricular activity was music to my ears. 


    After the assembly, the knowledge of Sam’s death rippled through the student body like a fierce storm. For the first time in my life as a student, I didn’t want to bury my nose in my school books. The tragedy felt raw; the promise that his life held was snatched from the annals of time and somehow it didn’t seem possible to me how this could be. He was too young, he was too promising, and he had too much life for it to seem possible to end. The emotions of my schoolmates soaked through the hard marble walls, and even the stones wept and filled the corridors with storm clouds that rained for days on end.

    My heart felt as though a line of blood was attached to my Cheveyan schoolmates and their mourning strummed my soul like the strings of a guitar. Their tears made my eyes sting, and their pain sliced through my body like a sword. I didn’t want to hear the voice inside my head telling me that life doesn’t end well for everyone—even teenagers. But the voice wouldn’t stop repeating the words, kids my age can die—we aren’t immortal after all! Soon the raw truth swallowed my mind into a reality that shocked every nerve inside my body like they were live wires.



      The mood doesn’t just last for a day or two—it’s like a rainy season, dreary and gray, and lasts well into the following week. I feel it as I look around and see there’s not an eye in the entire school that isn’t red, puffy, or both. The air inside the hallways is stifling and heavy like a hurricane swelling to the brim and threatening to gush the halls with a river of salty tears. I’m too stunned to notice that somehow, I’ve acquired a superpower.  How else should I describe the ability to feel everyone’s pain like it’s my own? I get confirmation of my superpowers when I enter the bathroom, I find a girl bent over the sink weeping choked heart-wrenching sobs from the core of her soul.  It takes everything in me to not move her hair from her face and embrace her hard. But I see her blood shimmering with golden light which means she’s an indigenie. I watch quietly, her dark hair like a sheet of glass falling over her shoulders and covering her eyes. As I stare, she suddenly jerks her body upright, her hair flashing backward and down her back as she spies me in the mirror. I’m surprised she felt me, and just as surprised to see blue eyes staring back at me. They’re wet with tears, proud and aloof. “This is tribal business.” How I hear her silent warning as clear as if her lips had formed the words, is beyond me.  But I do and it's yet another strange ability that the land, even Wikipedia said, awakens ancient magic.


    I stand there stunned at the loaded words as the breeze from her nearly running out of the bathroom caresses my skin. My eyes turn toward the mirror where I see myself.  Big green doe-like eyes look back at me. I look frail, but life outside the Valley has forged my blood into liquid steel. My mother is half-African American and half-Puerto Rican; I’m a shade lighter than her bronze skin, but my father’s Irish eyes made it into my gene pool. I pray that’s all I have of him. Our life was tough, like most in our neighborhood, so I had to learn how to be strong and handle more than most kids my age. I wish more than anything that I’d known Sam because I think if I did, I could’ve helped him. Finding a way out of trouble is what I do best, and there’s a fissure inside my heart when I think of the missed opportunity of not being able to help him.


    I decide on entering the contest, and I address my essay to Sam as if he was still alive and I had one last chance to convince him to choose life over death. People look at themselves like they’re different from the world and everything in it. But I remember part of a dream I had a long time ago when things at home were pretty tough.  In my dream, some mysterious being told me that our lives and emotions were like seasons and storms. Sometimes we’re tsunamis and sometimes we’re as perfect as a summer breeze cascading on the crest of an ocean’s wave. The sun rises everywhere, even in places where the dark night of the soul lasts for what seems like forever. But even the longest and iciest of winters melts and bows down to the birth of spring. We have only one creed- and that is, to have faith in a better day.  That’s the only part of the strange dream that I recalled.  And it’s those words that I wished I could have relayed to Sam, instead, they caught the eye of Mr. Peterson.  He’s the head of the English department and runs the Herald.



     It’s almost two p.m. My eyes are locked on the minute hand of the clock as it slowly ticks toward twelve. Math is my least favorite subject, and Ms. Stanback is my least favorite teacher, and I have a feeling she doesn’t like me either. Well, actually, I don’t think she likes any of us. A student enters our classroom; she’s curvy and has dark, shoulder-length hair and brown skin. I toggle between her and the clock as she leans in close to Ms. Stanback’s ear and whispers into it. Both their faces turn toward the class at the same time.  Their eyes sweep the room like a lighthouse beacon and then Ms. Stanback’s beady gaze lands on me. 


   My heart seizes, sputters, then slows to a more disturbing thud, and when I try to swallow, my throat is desert-dry. Her eyes squint into mean little slits, my blood pressure soars to the boiling mark in a blink of an eye, and percolating plasma races to my face. I feel two small rosy balloons forming on the skin of my cheeks. I think of my mom, picturing her on the side of the road.  She’s glassy-eyed as she scrolls through her A. I wristband unable to find AAA, which should be the first contact under the A’s. But she can’t find it for some reason, which is why she’s called the school.  She needs me as usual. But then again, she has Rob now, he’s her new savior and seems to enjoy his superman role, so maybe this isn’t about my mom?  I glance down at my watch anyway and don’t see any missed calls or text messages.


    My gaze lifts to where Ms. Stanback is sitting once again.  My breathing catches when I see her nod her head at me, then she cranks her finger back and forth. My knees tremble on the inside as the chair slowly pushes back. A blinding spotlight lowers from the ceiling, flooding me with light. I cough to make the vision go away; it fades, but it doesn’t clear up the air, which is full of tension thick like smog in a garbage-filled alley. The legs of the chair scrape against the old, tiled floor. I see a roaring circus elephant in my mind’s eye. The Indigenous boy sitting next to me is skinny, not at all like the others who are tall, glowing, athletic-looking nobles. He covers his precious eardrums and crinkles his eyebrows helplessly. I want to roll my eyes at him, but I don’t; I just stay on the path to what feels like my execution as the stares from my classmates burn holes through the back of my sweater.


    I reach Ms. Stanback and she refuses to part her lips until my ear is directly in front of them. I bend down. Her breath is warm and smells of coffee. The tiny hairs on the edge of my earlobe wriggle. She tells me I’m to accompany the curvy girl to Mr. Peterson’s room. Her voice sounds like it’s in the back of her throat; it’s high-pitched and halting too. She could play the part of the witch in the school play without any rehearsals.


   My emotions well up. I feel like I’m being kicked out of her classroom, even though I should be happy because I hate math. But I’m convinced it has something to do with me not being good enough. I always think that. I manage to keep the humiliation from creeping up into my face, though I wonder what class the girl is taking me to. Could anything be worse than math? My nose is running; I sniffle and inadvertently lock on Lindsay McCann’s square face. She has blue eyes and a winning smile, which at present is smirking my way. I can tell she’s just whispered something to her sidekick, Kel, because she has a snide smile with my name on it too. Neither Lindsay or Kel are indigenies, but Lindsay is the head cheerleader and Kel is on the squad too. I feel my face blush even more and patter quickly behind my curvy escort, wishing I were in the hall where there’s a suitcase of money waiting for me because I’ve hit the lottery. Then a voice whispers inside me, musing if I’ve just dodged the guillotine for a trip to the dungeon. I bite my lip as my brows pinch tight.


    My escort and I are heading for the double doors at the far end of the once-white marble hall. My eyes are mindlessly staring down at my feet as each footstep closes in on the stairwell behind the doors. My tan Achilles are almost the same color as my straight-legged kecks. I have about ten pairs of them in all different colors, the same with kecks. V-neck sweaters, sneakers, and matching kecks—it’s my only trademark that has some pizzazz to it, or so I think. Everything else about me is plain.  My grandma begs to differ, I’m the rising sun with my golden skin, hair and green eyes.  I’m the star inside a family with a dreary heritage.   Anyway, the hall is so empty that my screeching rubber soles echo loudly. Then I notice the stomping metronome sound in the background. It’s the girl’s hard-soled loafers and she sounds like a one-person marching band. Once we enter the stairwell, she glides down the stairs and then turns to me as if she’s only just noticed she’s never said a word yet.


   “Mr. Peterson wants you to come to the newsroom because of the essay you wrote,” she informs me, her eyes twinkling as mine grow twice their normal size. “He likes it!” she adds, her dark eyes sparkling more with kindness I think, though there’s a smirk that looks like it might be dying to burst through her pursed lips.




      “What’d ya think?” Mr. Peterson wonders. His smile beams. He looks so happy I expect both of them to fall to the floor laughing because it’s all just a practical joke. But mostly, I can’t help but wonder why he looks like he’s the lucky one. His head cocks to the side and his arms open wide while my jitters melt and my heart whispers that it likes him. I notice how his smile gushes out niceness in piles that could fill the entire room in the blink of an eye and I want to say thank you, or something, but he goes on about my essay and how inspiring it was. He doesn’t just compliment me; he actually wants me to join the small staff of writers that put out the biweekly edition of the Herald. “You’re gifted,” he says, shaking his head. “And far too wise for your young years,” he chuckles. “Perfect.” He winks. “Perfect!”


    My mouth is open, and I feel my city-smart brain scrambling to respond to someone without guile or cunning. I’m left speechless. “Yes … I mean … yes. Thank you …” I manage, realizing my answer doesn’t match the conversation. Not really. Giddy butterflies flutter inside my belly like a swarm of them whisking down my throat when I inhale emotions between dazed and shocked. His eyes are on me—he sees me, I mean really sees me. I’ve never been seen before. It’s an odd sensation, and my face feels like an expanding balloon. I may be close to having a panic attack, I’m not sure since I never had one before.


     “Okay, okay,” Mr. Peterson’s voice sings as he rubs his hands together and his eyes begin darting around the room, clearly in search of something. “Well, we’ll talk later about your essay,” he adds, walking away, his voice trailing in the distance. “We need to change the format, so it reads like an article. Yes?”


     I nod. My essay is going to be in the school newspaper! “Yes!” I answer, sounding enthusiastic instead of the shocked that I really am. “Yes, Mr. Peterson.” My head has too much air inside it. Sentences collapse in disarray as words search for each other in slow motion.


    Mr. Peterson doesn’t look like a native of the Valley just as the student who beckoned me from my class doesn’t. Mr. Peterson’s skin has no brown, bronze, or gold highlights. If the truth be told, he looks like a young Albert Einstein with his utter mess of thick dark curls and a shirt with more wrinkles than an elephant’s hide. My eyes keep panning over at him. The room feels fuzzy like a dream, and my ears feel like there’s water inside them. The air inside my head begins to evaporate and soon sentences begin moving across the screen inside my skull in real time. I notice he wobbles when he walks, and that his stomach is the size of a soccer ball. He keeps a finger to his lips as he browses through the binders of books on the old, dark brown floor-to-ceiling shelves. He’s so disarming, I could watch him forever. My heart already liked him, but now so do I.


     My kidnapper is smiling my way like I’m some kind of rock star. I do a double take, thinking my essay couldn’t have been that great. Right? But then again, it was inspired by a dream and amazement is written all over the girl’s face.  Her eyes are brilliant too, like there are a lot of thoughts and questions ping-ponging inside her head. She beckons me with a side nod, and her eyes shimmer like she has a secret to tell. She’s sitting on the very edge of a desk occupied to the brim by an old-fashioned computer and a black and white composition book with actual handwritten notes scribbled from the top of the page to the bottom. To the left of the book are three ballpoint pens lined up neatly next to one another. I notice this and immediately picture the girl’s bedroom, pillows just right against the headboard and sneakers inside the closet lined up according to color.  I study her as she reaches for a black office chair. The pale sun splashing on it makes the leather look like it’s covered in silver. She rolls it over, offering me the seat. The wheels against the tiles are soundless. I give her a small smile and sit on it, then let out a shriek when the seat crashes down a notch. My arms unfurl like I’m a bird about to take flight and my chest barrels with air while I fortunately manage not to turn beet red.


     Rhianna is her name. She explains the Herald to me from A to Z. I find out that it’s published twice a month and that they actually print the articles in something called news-paper.  She writes a column called “All Things Valley” and repeats something to me that I overheard last week.  What she relays is that a busload of visitors from another country arrived in the town square. They booked a stay at the Coburgan Spa, which is not far from the woods. She talks about the Indigenous kids in school, and how she thought I was Cheveyan when I first transferred here. I’m shocked. She says it’s because I have a golden-bronze complexion, light eyes, and honey-brown hair. “Some of the mixed Cheveyans look like they were made from gold,” she points out, sounding like my Puerto Rican grandma when she told me that my mom swallowed a ray of sunlight when she gave birth to me.


     “Did you ever meet Sam?” Rhianna wonders, leaning in closer.


     I shake my head no, leaning in toward her too, and eager to hear anything about him.


    “He was pure Cheveyan and related to Chief Silver Rain.”


     I recall reading that in his obituary, but I just listen and don’t say a word because I want to hear everything I can about the tribe. 


     She tells me what I’ve already noticed, like how the pure Cheveyan have brown skin and dark hair, but even the ones who are mixed have the same eyes and bone structure. “Most of the boys are super athletic and very tall.” She smiles with a roll of her eye. “And the girls are more beautiful than beautiful.”


    I nod, thinking I’ve noticed the same thing about my Cheveyan schoolmates.


     “He was an unusual kid,” Rhianna adds, twisting the direction of the conversation and lowering her voice even more. Mr. Peterson must have some really good hearing if she thinks she has to whisper this softly, but she looks in his direction just the same before continuing. “He was on the football team and would’ve made it to the top … That was such a definite.” Her eyes lower, and her lashes are dark and shiny. My heart pricks softly when she shakes her head as though she’s remembering him and all that wasted potential.


   “How was he unusual?” I ask, mirroring the girl’s low, hushed tone.


   She hesitates to answer, and my eyes drop to her lip when she bites it. It takes her a while before she starts speaking again. “He knew things and said strange things like he was a psychic or something. Also, I think he was sick. I saw him doubled over in pain a few times.” Her eyes dart toward the window as though it holds significance to the unfolding story. “He was always at the back of the school, alone. So, in order to make the deadline for publishing the paper, I have to stay late sometimes, and he and the other football players practice at the end of the day. So, he stayed late too. He’d go to the back of the school where the teachers park because he didn’t think anyone was around. But I saw him … I saw him.” She shakes her head again. “I keep thinking whatever was wrong with him had something to do with why he killed himself.” Her chest rises and her lips quiver. When her eyes meet mine they shimmer, glazed with tears.


    My breath snags at the back of my throat as my heart skips. “What do you mean?” I ask, my eyebrows scrunching questioningly. “When you saw him in pain?”


    “Yes, I think he must have been sick … I think it was going to stop him from getting into the pros.”


    I gulp; sports to a kid like that was probably everything. My stomach sinks and feels hollow inside. Though I never met him, I feel him, and how his sickness seized his dreams. My bones ache all the way down to the marrow.


    “People said he knew things about them that were impossible to know.”


    I sigh, a tad happy to have my curiosity swept away by what she just said. Thinking about Sam is hard- it hurts and weighs on my mind. I’ve never known a kid who died before, and the world feels upside down like pieces of life that seemed so certain have gone missing. Her comment about him knowing things that were impossible piques my interest, and I scoot to the edge of my seat so I can hear every word.


    “Like when Mr. Blackwood was late for class.”


    I lean in more; my eyes even bigger.


    “We were at lunch. Carlo was interviewing the team, but Sam muttered how he hoped Mr. Blackwood wasn’t injured too badly. The thing is, no one even knew that Mr. Blackwood had been in an accident on Lincoln Drive until later in the afternoon. Sam even knew when the Cougars were going to win or lose. He was unusual like that. But he was so handsome, that’s really all we noticed. He was perfect.”


    Hearing her talk and share things relaxes me. I think I may like her.


    “He was the best quarterback the school has ever had,” she continues quietly. “Did you know he was discovered in the woods?”


    I did, but I also heard whispers about a hiker finding him. “How was he found?”


    “He was discovered on Cheveyan property, so all we know is what the tribe told the principal. They said it looked like he jumped off a cliff.” Her voice is even quieter, and I have to read her lips. My chest tightens when I picture his body on the ground, his arms and legs bent in unnatural positions.  But I heard another story, a story about something about his veins being strange. 


    “What about the hiker who found him?” I think to add, but as soon as the words come out of my mouth the look on her face makes me swallow hard. Her eyes are large as quarters, and they pan away quickly.  I was just about to say what I heard about his veins, but her reaction looks like she’s gone into code-red silence.  I wonder why since she’s not Cheveyan. 


    After a long awkward silence, she goes on as though I never asked the question. “But then …” Rhianna’s eyes dart toward Mr. Peterson; he’s returned to his desk which is behind a cubicle wall, and I hear his fingers typing away. “The window was open, last spring, and I overheard a Cheveyan kid say that Sam told him he was leaving to go there. The other kid said it was too dangerous, and then they walked too far for me to hear the rest.”


   I frown, not expecting her to say something like that. It doesn’t seem to go along with the rest of the story.


   “It’s so weird, right?” Rhianna asks, her voice low and ominous.


   “What does that mean—what dangerous place?”  I ask, as some part of me whispers- remember. 


   Rhianna sits back in her chair as though she’s said too much. “The Valley is ancient, not just old.” She sighs, her eyes dropping to the silver bracelet around her wrist. She starts fiddling with the heart trinket dangling delicately and catching the fluorescent light. “The woods are actually on sacred land, and the Cheveyan aren’t just Indians, they are shamans and warriors. And my father told me that indigenies don’t leave their land.”


    My mind is stuck on the words, “The Valley is ancient and the Cheveyan are shamans and warriors,” and something about the word warrior rings inside my ears for a few seconds before fading away. 


    “But I know that’s what I heard.” Her eyes turn toward the window again. “I heard them right outside.”


    My fist clenches; her every word is another drop, and another piece to what feels like a secret world.  This isn’t the first time I’ve thought that the Cheveyan secrets and ancient traditions far outweigh Philadelphia’s Liberty Bell and cobblestoned roads. The tribe is a mystery, but something whispers there's a way to discover the answer to my questions. And not just some of them.  The thought stirs me, then I feel a strange sensation.  I hold my breath trying to figure out what's going on.  It's like something's inside me—and it's desperate.  It's clawing through my skull searching for something.  I'm a hair's width away from screaming bloody murder when an invisible force pushes me back into the chair and my eyes behave like a camera spinning too quickly. I see trees blurred and out of focus and leaves as big as the room we’re in. It's like something inside of me is trying to see through my eyes! I swallow hard, then tense up like a piece of steel when a voice calls my name.  I freeze into a terrified block of ice, but seconds later- I’m normal again, and breath in a mountain of relief.  Rhianna didn’t notice any of that- whatever that was.  She’s staring in the direction of the window still thinking of Sam.


    I have a strange sense about Sam, and I think there’s more to his death than what any of us know.  I wish I didn’t just have that thought, because it’s made my stomach contort into new configurations of knots that are twice as tormenting. I sigh again and hear the air shiver as it leaves my lips.


   “It’s such a shame,” she mumbles, still looking in the direction of the window.

“When you heard the boys talking about him going away—what did they say exactly?” I ask, motivated by the suspicion that maybe there’s more to know about Sam.   My gaze pans toward the window too.


     “They said it was dangerous … that’s all I heard.” Rhianna’s raspy voice makes everything sound all the more ominous. “Hold it! One of them said he shouldn’t go in alone.”

   “Go in alone?” I check, emphasizing the word in.


    Rhianna looks like she’s thinking, her eyes slanting toward the ceiling. “I don’t know. Maybe he said he wasn’t supposed to go it alone.” Her nose crinkles, she’s confused herself now.



                                              CHAPTER THREE


    I get permission to transfer from my art class and into Mr. Peterson’s creative writing, reporting, and interviewing class.  Bursting and swelling with pride I leave the administrative office and walk the halls with my new invisible badge that says Herald Press on it.  For the first time in my life, I have a plan as I envision myself majoring in journalism and becoming a journalist. I’m on my way to have lunch in the newsroom, at Mr. Peterson’s insistence. I need to get acquainted with how things run and peruse the stacks of old research books to help me in my new endeavor.


    I enter the newsroom excited about seeing Mr. Peterson again, but the only person there is Rhianna. She informs me he’s at a staff meeting so we have the room all to ourselves. She offers me a welcoming smile that verges on shyness and I greet her with a cool nod, mostly because all of a sudden, I feel overwhelmed and awkward. I may look collected, but my face is so hot I have to wipe the sheen from my forehead.


    My eyes restlessly pan around the room looking for a distraction.  I saunter toward the corner where the wall is pinned with a slew of old, faded articles. They’re all written by students who attended the school years ago.  It’s just what I needed, and my curiosity is piqued as I read the impressive and catchy headlines that prompt a mental note to remember how to say a mouthful using only a few words. I feel my lips smirk as I guess the reason Mr. Peterson posted them on the wall was to teach us a lesson without saying a word. Nice sleight of hand there, I think, picturing his kind face and actually wishing he were here. Feeling a bit more relaxed, I turn to look back at my new friend. Her head is cast down, reading from the pages in her notebook. She looks up and catches me staring.  As soon as I sit down her lips curve into a warm smile and, without missing a beat, she goes right into showing off her interviewing skills by asking me about school—if I like it, what I like, and if I’ve noticed that there are differences or categories that make some kids different than the others. I suppose asking questions comes naturally to her by now but since this is my first time being interviewed, I thoroughly enjoy the attention. I answer her eagerly and tell her how I hated the idea of moving here until I read about the history of the Valley. She wonders if I’ve noticed the Valley is a hierarchy made up of indigenies and outlanders and kotes, pronounced- ko-tees, which means to be without ancient bloodlines. Having explained what a kote is, she asks if I know what it means to be an outlander.  I admit I have no idea, but I find out that I’m both a kote and an outlander, which puts me at the bottom of the food chain. I chuckle at how much I’ve fallen from grace. At my old school, I was the crème de la crème because of my smarts, but now I’m just a shoulder for the upper echelon to use as steps to their throne. 


   “My parents moved here when I was in third grade, so we’re not outlanders anymore,” she announces without a hint of bragging. “We’re commoners though, or ‘kotes’, as they call those who don’t have tribal bloodlines,” she adds. “But my dad is the attorney that helps the council with legal issues like ordinances and city or state policies that the tribe wants no part of."

I wonder if he works in the city like Rob and if he drives a bullet as well.  Then my thoughts drift to how important her father is.   I lift the fresh roll that my mom purchased from the Seneca grocery store to see what she stuffed in between it.  “That’s a prestigious position,” I mumble, taking a bite into my sandwich before telling her that Rob is the attorney for the Silver Rain family.


    “That’s the chief’s surname.” she marvels, still understanding me despite the food-jumbled pronunciations.


    I nod, feeling surprisingly proud to be associated with Rob for the first time ever.


    “There are a lot of Silver Rains here in town,” she informs me. “And some Silver Rains changed their names but are still directly related to the chief too.”


   Moments later Rhianna’s face lights up, and my heart skips a beat when her eyes shine. “I bet you can’t wait for the fall solstice rowing event.” Her voice is so full of excitement that my eyes feel like they might drop to my cheeks.  When she’s done, though, she closes her eyes as though a whiff of just-baked chocolate chip cookies wafted beneath her nose.


   “Rowing?” I mutter, brows drawn close as a few thoughts whirl around inside my head. I take a long swig of my cold ginger seltzer thinking there is nothing quite like a chilled soda guzzling down the throat—even if it does burn! “I’ve overheard kids talking about it. But what’s with all the enthusiasm over rowing?” I wonder, with the bare modicum of interest only now bubbling up because her jaw is an inch from the tiled floor. 


    “It’s been going on for centuries!” she exclaims, her voice hinting at a level of shock brought on by my cluelessness. It fades fast. “And guess who’s rowing?”


    My heart thuds to a stop when the air tangles inside my lungs. This girl is way too enthralled for this event not to be a big deal. “Who?” I ask, my voice hoarse from a lack of air. Rhianna glows like the fantasies inside her mind are rolled up in sunshine and when her hand clutches above her heart, I clutch mine too.


    “Max and Vixbi.”


   My hand drops like a brick as my nose crinkles.  “Who are they?” My voice hushed, like we’re exchanging secrets.


   “Oh, my God.” she responds, shrill voice underscored by her palm, now patting her chest to keep her heart inside. I can’t help my lips from curving but manage to resist an audible giggle. “They play for the Cougars, our basketball team! Haven’t you seen them? They’re called the trilogy.” She runs both her hands through her hair and grips a handful of locks before letting go.


    I can’t keep the giggle shackled any longer. “Ohhh.” I laugh, half-musing over why she doesn’t mention a third name since the word trilogy implies three. I don’t say anything. I only feel certain that she and I are going to be good friends. She’s so unpretentiously free and silly that it quiets the hypervigilant paranoia that happens when where you live, everyone wants something that you don’t want to part from. “I heard someone mention the trilogy.” I reminince about my assumption that they were a band.  “So they’re athletes, not musicians?”  I wonder, still a little confused.


    “No.  And they’re just the most gorgeous boys in the whole school.” Rhianna finishes with a look of dead certainty aimed my way. “So, you’ll come?”


    Rowing—that means I’ll be close to the woods. I’ve never seen the woods before and the thought of going sends a surprising rush through my being; not to mention I’ll finally see who the trilogy is. “Yes,” I answer decidedly and am actually excited about it all.  “Yeah, I’m totally there,” I add with more enthusiasm.  “How does everyone get there?  I wonder since the Valley doesn’t have a high-speed rail.  “It’s along the creek, right?” I check, just to make sure my city-dwelling intuition hasn’t failed me.


   “Most families have horses, and the kids are really into vintage cars.  But a lot of us ride mopeds.”  Rhianna smiles.  “Do you know what a moped is?”


   I nod, because people in the city who can’t afford bullets ride them too. 


    Then she tells me that the woods are past the town square, which is a two square mile municipality that’s nothing like Philadelphia’s Center City in size but more exciting as every tree is wrapped with twinkling lights and neon signs outside of restaurants and coffee shops glow softly against the night sky. My mind reels back into the annals of my recent past, just two weeks ago when my mom first introduced me to the town square. My eyes are on Rhianna’s lips as they move, but the sound is on mute.




   My mom and I are walking down Valley Green Drive on our way to meet Rob for lunch at the Bear Claw Pub, which has the best fry-bread fish tacos, ever. According to Rob, anyway. We’re approaching the corner of a narrow walkway called Alleyway Road.  It’s right around the corner from our destination and once my mom and I are close enough, my inquisitive eyes latch onto the first group of kids from the area that I’ve seen yet.  My gaze is more than just mildly curious but grows even more when I see a few strikingly handsome youths with long dark hair and skateboards in their hands.  They're watching a boy blading so fast, all I see are snatches of colors whizzing swiftly away from me and my mom in the direction of where Alleyway dead-ends.  The images are still clear and the sounds of his board searing loudly in the air still fills me with a bubbling excitement that threatens to send blood rushing to my face. 


   He speeds like a thunder god and when he skids to stop, the sound etches the air like rough sandpaper.  I get a split-second look at his handsome features when he turns, his dark eyes squinting as he skates in our direction.  He blazes through the wind in less time than would seem possible, his long hair so dark it glistens blue in the soft sun.  His eye lift and see me.  My expression gushes with attraction, while his resembles concern.  He screeches to a hard stop and his friends follow his eyes and land on me.  I gulp while his dark pupils boldly eat me up. I feel like I don’t have a stitch on as my face smolders red and my eyes land on a sleeve of tribal-looking tattoo painted on his arm.  Five footsteps later and the brick wall of the Bear Claw Pub hides him from my sight. But maybe not forever, I think as I hear the tail end of Rhianna’s conversation, which lucky for me, doesn’t end in the form of a question.




    My mom is in Rob’s kitchen. In our kitchen? Well, I get home from school and she’s there, standing in front of the stainless-steel stove preparing dinner. Audrey, Rob’s housekeeper since he graduated from law school, shines it a million times a day, along with the gigantic stainless-steel refrigerator that is so high-tech I'm sure if Istepped inside it, I might not freeze so much as zip out the window toward the planet Mars. Everything inside the kitchen is futuristic and either talks or sparkles.  It’s huge too, so huge that both my mom’s and my old bedrooms could fit inside it. In fact, there’s room left over for, I don’t know, three guys playing the violin in case crying when cutting onions feels better when classical music is playing in the background. But I like how bright and airy the space is and how instead of my neighbor's roofs, I can see the sun and sky through the windows every morning.


   Entering the house through the garage door as usual, I hang my coat on one of the hooks of the tree rack as soon as I walk in and slide off my sneakers, struggling to maintain a successful wobble that won’t land me face down on the floor. Having a friend makes me feel bubbly inside, and finally I even have weekend plans in the not-too-distant future, too. Now that I know more about the rowing event and that the trilogy will be there, I feel like a normal teenager with a life as exciting as everyone says it should be at my age.


    My mom looks back at me; she’s happier than I’ve ever seen her in my entire life, and I walk across the cool tiled floor digging my toes snuggly into my socks. We talk about my grands and a cousin moving to Florida before I start my homework and soon the only sounds in the room are me turning the pages of my history book and metal utensils clinking against cookware.  When Rob gets home from work, he uses the garage entrance too.  My mom looks toward the door for a second when she hears the soft woosh of the Langdon’s door shutting.  Seconds later Rob enters and whisks his scarf from around his neck like he’s on fire from the kitchen’s blazing warmth. He greets my mom with a kiss on the cheek and an affectionate squeeze of her hand. When he smiles my way, he always looks awkward, and I probably do too. Then he heads for the living room and a few moments pass before the sound of ice chimes from warm scotch pouring into his glass, then classical or jazz starts to play softly through the speakers.



   I tell them both about my writing job at the Herald while we have dinner, then, feeling proud that I have the beginnings of a social life, I let them know about a new friend inviting me to the Cheveyan rowing event next weekend. Rob perks up when he hears the news. 


    “My word!” he exclaims, his face brightening as he sits up taller. “I’ve been going ever since I was a kid.” Past memories fill his tone with richness, and his eyes shine like his insides tickle.

    He’s more relaxed with me than he’s ever been and a ripple of surprise rushes through me as he continues on.  “It’s an incredible time, you’ll love it,” he adds when I’m too speechless for words. “Wow, I’m so glad you’re interested!” he finishes, as his color actually reddens.

I watch him, still wordless, as he beams at my mom. He tells us how he was going to bring up going to the event, but he thought I probably had too much on my plate with the new school and all. I notice Mom give him a small but sweet smile, her head tilting to the side as her eyes sparkle.


    “So, were you born here?” I wonder, then notice a wall of ice lower over his face like a collapsing glacier. My mom’s eyes fall to her plate, and I feel as though I’ve just asked if he’s related to the guy that invented plastic. My fork is suspended in the air as Rob’s already blushing face turns his tan complexion into a ruddy shade of rust.


    “My family has known the Coburgans since before I was born.” His reply is curt before he returns his attention to the sumptuous meal that my mom prepared. Maybe fitting in when he was younger was as hard as it is for me. I wouldn’t want to remember that either, I think, turning back to my meal as I wonder if that’s what’s really bothering him anyway.

“So, what’s this rowing event?” My mom’s voice is upbeat. She knows how to think quickly after a faux pas and my head pops up, surprised to hear her voice. I notice her looking from Rob then to me again, her eyes laser sharp with interest as her bubbly demeanor lowers the temperature in the room down to a bearable degree.


   “Oh, well, it’s to commemorate Chief Silver Rain and the duke’s friendship.” Rob answers instead of me. “And how that friendship resulted in the birth of this entire town.” He takes a sip of his scotch after Audrey pops into the room to refresh both his drink and my mom’s wine. Everything seems right as rain again, and I sigh quietly.


    After a few more minutes Rob is his uneasy self again and begins his nightly invisible list of questions that he poses to me. Did I have any tests this week, what grades did I get, am I having trouble adjusting to reading hard-copy books instead of the digital format?  And then he ends it with, “Well, this weekend is shopping and dining out. Do you need anything, a new coat or something?”


    I wonder if there is something wrong with my coat, just like two weeks ago I wondered if there was something wrong with my bookbag when he asked if I needed a new one. But I’m beginning to suspect that new coats and book bags are to be purchased after having them for too long. I mean, when you have extra money, you have to spend it, right? I suppose I’ve finally arrived, because on the weeks between the shopping excursions, we drive out to his summer home in Ocean City. It’s right on the beach and we get to watch the sunset above the ocean every night. I think of his question about whether I need a new coat or not. Puckering my lips and squinting my eyes as I look toward the ceiling, I finally answer him. “Yes, a dog.” Rob leans in asking me to repeat what I’d said. “A dog, a Yorkie. I’d like one.” My head tilts upward proudly—which is a sign that I’m feeling the opposite.


    My mom squeals with delight. “Oh, I miss Princess.” Her slender hand covers her heart, then her fingers touch the small trinket hanging from the thin gold necklace that Rob gave her on her birthday in July. “I didn’t think you’d ever want to get another one after …”


    I give my mom a how could you look. Was she almost about to tell Rob that my dad killed our Yorkie during the fight when he nearly killed her? He hadn’t meant to kill Princess—not that that detail makes him a nice guy, or even a decent one, because he was actually trying to kill my mom. Anyway, he stomped her to death chasing my mom from the bedroom into the living room as she tried to reach the front door. In our neighborhood, if you were in trouble, and you were able to get outside, someone was sure to help you, but if you were inside—everything was fair in love and war even if you were screaming bloody murder. I think back to that awful day. Princess would have lived if she’d gotten help, but my dad was too busy punching my mom all around her head and shoulders to hear Princess whimpering in my arms, which is where she died. There wasn’t any blood or anything, but I imagined he damaged one of her tiny organs and she bled to death internally. I still have nightmares of that night every now and then. I’ll remember the feel of her small warm body in my arms, and that last trembling whimper of a breath that she made before her head softly slumped to the side of my arm, for the rest of my life. I can almost feel the tears running down my face and wetting her soft fur, darkening the brown to black. I cried until the warmth from her body left her cold. I also have nightmares about what happened after the fight when I saw my mom looking like a black and blue monster with bumps and cuts all over her face. I thought she was dead and that I was going to be alone in the world, because there wasn’t a way in hell that I’d stay with my father. Not after killing both my mom and my dog. I didn’t think anyone could look the way my mom did and still be alive. I’m pretty sure she would’ve died if I hadn’t made it out of the house and knocked on Mr. Clyde’s door. He was the one who called 911 and saved my mom’s life. He even came into the house hunting for my father. The way he walked, with his fists balled up and his chest puffed out, made me think my dad was lucky he’d left. But he was a coward and no doubt at the corner bar on Broad Street crying “woe is me” over how my mother brought out the worst in him. She was the one who was always wrong. If he was a genius at anything, it was how to turn a situation around and make any and everything my mom’s fault. I look at Rob and sometimes wonder if he’ll end up being like that too.


    Then two days later he crushes the thought of him being like my dad to pieces when I come home to find that he purchased a moped for me.  It’s a shiny pearl-purple Scorpion at that! He goes on to tell me that he doesn’t want me to have to count on my schoolmate for a ride to the rowing event, before mumbling something about underaged drinking.




                                               CHAPTER FOUR



   Five days before the Cheveyan rowing event, I begin having strange dreams where I feel as though I’m awake but inside someone else’s body.   Most of the images inside my dreams fade away as soon as I open my eyes, but two nights ago, I woke to find myself sitting up with my hand still reaching out to touch the veins of a tender new leaf so real the sunlight warms my flesh.  Then there are the dreams that bathe me in emotions so stirring and deep, my soul shimmers and ripples through far away realms.  Long bands of brilliantly colored clouds stretch for as far as the eye can see like space-highways sprinkled with flickering stars.  These dreams are always shrouded in mysteries and when I wake up my brain buzzes like it does after a long night of studying sacred geometry.


    On the night before the rowing event, I dream of visiting a castle high on a mountain swathed in thick fog.  It’s home to six sibling gods and goddesses who all possess special skills and powerful magic.   A veil separates me from them, but every now and then when the mist separates, I can see glimpses of them.  One of the goddesses has long raven hair and I watch her and another goddess reclining on a deep red velvet sofa.  The one with the long raven hair looks to be composing music as the other watches attentively.  Instead of sounds, fragrant flowers, crystal blue waterfalls, and the images of glittering trees appear from her graceful gesturing.  Then with a wave of her hand, the images disappear.  The goddess directs an image of a snow-covered mountain to appear that is suddenly marred with a puff of smoke creeping across its image.  We all turn, our eyes landing on a tall muscular god leaning against the wall with a bored look on his face.  He flicks his hand, and from his splayed fingers, a thunderbolt goes whirling through the air.  It strikes the center bullseye on a circular plaque hanging on a wall across the large room.  Blackened with scorch marks, the surface smokes from a new thunderbolt whirled its way. 


   I squint my eyes to make out an image through the ever-changing mist.  Sitting away from the others, I see a prim goddess hunched over an ornate desk.  Writing feverishly into a large leatherbound book, symbols and gleaming geometrical shapes come alive and lift above the golden pages before vanishing as suddenly as they appeared. Her head snaps to the side, surprising me.  I inhale a shock of air when she springs from her chair screaming that I’m not the real Rasha. 


    My heart pricks, with bruised feelings as she furiously points to the doors shooing me.  My eyes drop, heavy with tears to where an explosion of colors begin swirling around me in fantastic hues.  My sadness slowly dials toward curiosity when the  colors transform into a shimmering satin cloak, then dissolve into giggling dust motes. I spin around to see the god who was flicking the thunderbolts along with the two goddesses who were sitting on the red sofa laughing heartily.  They’re pointing at me, their shiny eyes narrow from the big smiles on their faces.  My heart shrivels like a raisin, and then their eyes swell and twinkle as they silently communicate that they meant me no harm.   They reach beyond the veil, and the god and one of the goddesses each take my hand.  They giddily pull me down a long hall while the other goddess chases at our heels and her laughter echoes against the walls and high ceiling of the corridor. My lips finally curve, my teeth beaming as excitement rushes up my throat and busts into a loud chortle.  


   We crash through massive intricately carved doors and enter a sunlit, fragrant meadow full of songbirds soaring above grass that shines like glass.  The colors of the flowers don’t exist on Earth and their sweet fragrance makes me wish I had two pairs of lungs.  The other goddess bumps the thunderbolt god to the side and slips her cool flesh into my grasp.  Her giggle shivers and raises an octave or two when he sends a spark of harmless lightning our way.  Ahead of us is a forest where the peaks of the trees are hidden beyond cottony clouds and swells of enchantment ripple through the air and beckon us like a pied piper.  


    A blast of light explodes several feet from us, we skid across the grass to a frightful and abrupt stop.  A tall fierce-looking god materializes out from the radiance and glares at us with disapproving eyes.  I tremble when he folds his bronze shining arms over his muscular chest, and I shiver even more when I see a highly shone sword on one side of his hip, and deadly curved knife on the other.  My eyes hesitantly lift and then I spy a quiver on his back with golden arrows poking above it.  


    The goddess’s hands tighten around mine when he reaches for me.  He calls me his little Rasha inside his mind and when I hesitate, jealousy deepens his already dark eyes.  The two at my side speak without words too and complain and plead with him before trying to scoot around his tall frame.  He’s too swift for them, and we all bump into his hard chest and bounce off it like rubber balls striking a wall.  Their disobedience angers him, and his rage quakes the ground and the forest whispers loudly as mighty winds sway barks and branches as thick as my torso.  The two goddesses cower, then with bright grins mixed with sulking eyes they nudge me toward his hand as he stretches it toward me for a second time. I raise my arm, and when my hesitant fingers touch his strong hand the wind inside the forest quiets and time stands still as though even the laws of the universe are relieved by his improved mood. 


        His eyes soften now that I’ve surrendered to him, and when his scowl disappears they twinkle and his fingers close gently around my tiny hand.  


       Visiting realms and meeting naughty goddesses is what life will hold for humans who evolve into their fourth dimensional nature. He silently communicates with a wink of the eye.  His words fill me with wonder and his kindness melts the fear inside me.  Then he playfully pulls me and I trip on nothing but air as we rise above the ground and fly through the enchanted forest where the trees have eyes.   We scatter delicate butterflies and colorful birds in our wake and they form into the pattern of a cape as they follow behind, mimicking our quick turns as we swerve around barks and finger-like branches adorned with hundreds of green leaves that glitter like gems.   The fog thickens the deeper we go into the forest and forces us to land and walk the rest of the way to wherever we’re all headed.  The thunder god and the two goddesses trail behind until we reach an abyss of swirling sky.  The war-god with the shining weapons points into the vast canyon and the sky parts until Earth appears.   We admire the misty mountains that rise high into the clouds and the blue rivers flowing like veins on the planet's surface.  I see patches of shimmering lights that I know are the cities of Earth and vast rolling seas of blue that swim mightily toward white shores at every corner of the planet. I smile and wonder flows through my mind like cool winds blowing away the mundane and imprisoned past of humans who will one day be capable of an adventure such as this in a twinkling of an eye.  But when I look into the eyes of the war-god and then the others, I see only sadness on their faces. My lips gape with fear because I can hear their thoughts.  I must leave them and take the essence of their sister goddess, Rasha with me.  And together we return to the Earth plane, this time to complete the mission.  The war-god lowers his head. His eyes latch onto mine and I see danger inside his fearsome glare as fire blazes inside his dark pupils. Then I feel his thoughts surrounding me like the impenetrable walls of a mighty iron labyrinth. Nothing will harm you, he says with emotions that cause the ground to quake once more. 



   My heavy eyes flutter open; the sky is still dark and the sound of rain falling onto leaves both soothes and unsettles. I manage to fall back to sleep though a knot weighs heavy in the pit of my stomach. Right before I return to the unusual dreams, I hear a voice telling me not to fret—“The Cheveyan rowing event won’t be canceled.”  Still, a shivering breath leaves my lungs and some part of me knows it has to do with the war-god’s words that nothing will harm me.   That can only mean there is something out there that will try,  Visions of dragons and villains flutter across the screen of my mind while my inner voice assures me that these are only the stuff of my imagination. 



     After what literally feels like days of dreaming, the morning arrives and greets me with a weak splash of sunlight that gently urges me awake.  My lids slowly pry apart, while the images of dreams dancing inside my head crumble by the second until I barely know if they ever existed. I don’t react to the demise of the dissolving dreams because my ears are too busy wriggling for the sound of rain.  When all I hear is the morning songbirds, between a long yawn and a feline stretch of my spine and arms spread wide, I notice how deliciously rested I am.



                                                 CHAPTER FIVE


    I hitch a ride to the Cheveyan event with Rob and my mom.  There were floods in some parts of the Valley and cleanup crews are still working on getting the debris removed.  I’m happy about the change of plans because I still couldn’t remember the directions Rob gave me even after he repeated himself three times.  


   I enjoy the ride and I’m glad Rob is driving the bullet super slow because I don’t want us to stand out amongst the others who still prefer vintage cars, plus I get to use my new school reporter’s eyes and ravish the sights that I’ve seen but never really noticed before.  Right now, I’m watching the morning mist at the end of Navajo Lane slowly creeping over the stone walls that surround our neighbor’s properties.   The weightless fog floating across the road looks just like fingers stretching for the barks of the tall trees. 


   Rob makes the turn onto Silver Rain Boulevard, it's the only road that will take us to the town square so it's long and traffic travels in both directions. We pass Dakota’s Jewels and the Priestess Gowns Boutique. Both businesses have flags posted outside their storefronts with the colors of yellow, red, and white along with the image of two Cheveyan youths inside a canoe. It’s strange to see the square as deserted as it is and the only people around are gathered into three pockets of cheerfully chatting groups.  My eyes stay on them as they saunter toward the two buses parked in front of Oenikikas. That's the most popular restaurant in the Valley, and not only do you need a reservation, but you better make it weeks in advance or else you're out of luck. 


    After we pass the crowds, we approach the Black Fox Inn and then the landscape transforms into green land speckled with grooves of huge century-old chestnut trees.  Dark green leaves adorn thick branches that extend far beyond gnarled barks, the cover tints the grass so that it looks almost black. My eyes light up when I see a sign written in fancy script that reads Sacred Land No Loitering.  Despite the somewhat off-putting warning, it sends a swell of warm emotions surging through every part of my body.  When the emotions reach my heart my breathing stirs and my inside voice tells me that we’ve just entered the private lands of the Cheveyan tribe.  I remember when I researched the Valley and recall the pleasant warning that the very land that can awaken the magic inside your soul. I’m not sure I believed that, even then, but part of me wonders if it might be true in light of my experiences in school. 


   Just as I have that thought, the atmosphere becomes decidedly still, as though we’ve just crossed through a portal of timelessness. My mind starts to play tricks on me as images of ancient rituals and ceremonies loom like ghostly dreams on the crest of the hill.  I swear I hear the sound of drums echoing from the past and am shocked that my imagination knows how to shift into overdrive after spending the better part of my life in neutral. The timelessness doesn’t go away, but it levels out somewhat, and my attention turns to the black winding road and the soft rolling meadows sprinkled with tiny pale blue flowers. When I spy the first of the estates where the tribe resides my spine goes arrow straight.  


    The look of the homes surprise me because they're nothing like the eighteenth-century stone architect in our cul-de-sac and the rest of the Valley. The properties are constructed of pale sandstone adobes.  They're elegantly linear and all have multiple modules, which make me think the homes must house more than a single generation.  Images of great-grands sharing stories with the young ones around the dinner table about their traditions and mysterious powers excite me and the thought of family and togetherness pluck my heart with tender longing and a tad bit of envy.  I wonder what it must be like to have firsthand knowledge of a history that spans a millennia. 


       When the landscape changes I think of Rhianna for the first time since waking up and wonder if she’s already in the woods.  Neither of us expected the rain, I think as we drive by expansive acres of farmland. Some plots have fruit-bearing trees and long rows of vegetation, but I perk up when I see flocks of sheep grazing lazily.  Their chubby woolen torsos and skinny legs make my lips curve, and a wily chuckle softly fills my mouth when I notice their elfin ears wiggling as dark noses glisten and round eyes look me dead in the face with only the vaguest interest.  A herd of horses come into view and I crane my neck as my heart patters fast. I marvel at their beauty and how their muscles gleam and coil beneath the pale morning light as they gallop toward the green summit.  


      So, this is where my Cheveyan classmates live? I think to myself, understanding now why they seem so different from the rest of us. They are. They live in a world where time doesn’t exist, and all that surrounds them is nature and the spirit of age-old traditions.  The trees further away rise up as the earth forms into a soft mountainous terrain and gravity increases against my chest as Rob’s bullet makes the ascent.  I hear crackling electricity that starts popping inside my ears and my instincts tell me that we’re getting close to the woods. Fuzzy images begin playing like a movie in my mind’s eye, and dreams from last night begin to run amok inside my head.  My heart swells as a riveting sensation rises up inside my skull that feels like feather-light fingers pushing something apart.  When my awareness starts to slide to the side I panic with the thought that there’s someone inside of me that is trying to get a front-row seat of the world. It doesn’t make sense, but my fingers grip at the leather seat anyway.   When the sensation continues my eyes pan to the rearview mirror where they pleadingly try to catch my mom’s eyes.   Her face is turned toward the window lost in the beauty of the land.  It’s too late for her to help me now anyway–whatever was grappling for the front row seat inside my head has just pushed my awareness into a corner of my mind where it’s too dim for me to do anything but gawk dumbfoundedly. 


    “Julion,” the intruder says, sounding breathless, surprised–and like me! My chest barrels with a flood of air as my eyes grow even wider.  “Julion, this is what it's likek to be fourth-dimensional!” It says as snatches of last nights dream finally fade again.  This is me—my dream-self me, I conclude feeling bone-chilling fear mixed with confusion about the whole fourth-dimensional thing. 




    I can’t see the realm of what I’ve decided to label as my dream-self, but I feel it, and it’s as endlessly vast as one would expect the world of dreams to be.  Though there’s something invigorating about the experience, I can’t deny that for right now I remain a hostage sitting in the backseat of my awareness as I watch the outside world through her eyes.   In spite of my bizarre circumstances, my brain enjoys the pleasant sensation of floating at the edge of infinity.  I sense a cord that leads from my dream-self to the real me, and without any effort on my part, I’ve apparently become a virtuoso wire walker spanning multi-worlds. I hear Rob’s voice in the background of my spellbinding experience and catch the name-Santi Silver Rain.  My ears grow twice their size. Silver Rain—that’s the chief’s name. My dream-self shudders at the mention of his name, and my curiosity piques even more. 


   “His estate is up ahead,” Rob is saying. “He and his family are full-fledged Cheveyan,” he informs us, a tinge of pride coloring the timbre of his voice. “The chief’s three oldest sons never married outside the tribe either, so there’s a branch of Silver Rains whose blood remains pure even after all this time.”


     I’m impressed about his knowledge of Cheveyan history as the lens of my attention begins to focus clearer.  His estate has a balcony that overlooks expansive acres of lush green. Below it is a veranda that wraps around the house until tall pines stand as a fortress hiding the rear of the property.   I drag my eyes away from the formidable grove of trees when shadows fall inside the bullet.  We’ve just driven through a cluster of mature trees, moments later the land opens into a wide clearing of grass hemmed in by the entrance of the woods. 


    Once we enter the spacious green, we wind up in a long line of vintage cars, SUVs, and 4X4s snaking forward toward the area where some early birds have already parked.  I study the antique vehicles, noticing how well preserved and shiny they are before catching a few eyes staring at the gleaming silvery- white finish of Rob’s Langdon.  Several early birds snag my attention as they march toward a wall of thick green leafed trees.  A breeze rushes in from the woods and the grass trembles as golden lines of sunlight shimmer along the blades.  I marvel at how every living thing in the wake of the currents sways and bends from the wide breath of wind, and my ears tickle when the shivering leaves sound just like hundreds of tiny chimes.  I feel the woods calling me and I claw at the leather seats as I try to lessen the growing anticipation.  


   “Well, we’re here,” Rob announces as the bumpy ground destabilizes the air currents and our bodies sway as though the bullet had wheels.  There’s a hint of excitement in his cadence as he undoes his seatbelt and it soundlessly retracts into the holder.   


    I mirror Rob and undo my seatbelt while I study a man heading in our direction. His long hair is pulled back into a single loose band.  A spark of alertness rips through me like I’ve been struck by lightning.  Something about him looks familiar as he waves Rob through and halts the other vehicles in front of us.  Rob veers around the other cars, and my shoulder softly smashes into the door.  Curious faces eye Rob as we slowly glide to the front of the line.  I feel like we’re royalty or something,  and the emotion is so rare, I can’t hide the unintentional smugness forcing my lips to curve.  


    “That’s Santi.” The pleasantness in Rob’s voice hints at his fondness and admiration for the man. He smiles as the window soundlessly lowers.  Air fills the interior of the bullet, and the humidity from last night’s rain smells like green, new life.  My eyes stay focused on the man though, as I notice his athletic, regal gait.  My insides stir as I realize that I’m looking at the descendant of the chief.  Images of wind chasers and the duke resurrecting vie for my attention, but nothing overtakes the whispers of how his face and his walk are so deeply familiar something deep inside my soul churns from its very depths. 


     He’s tall and his shoulders are noticeably wide. The sun is weak, but it still transforms his cinnamon skin into a sheen of bronze metal. There’s something ethereal about his flesh that makes me think he’s not fully human, and I glance at my mom and Rob expecting one of them to make a remark about his unusual complexion.  When neither of them comments I sigh and resign myself to the idea that for some reason, I’m the only one that seems to be having one bizarre experience after another. I inhale deeply, sighing quietly as I catch the faint fragrance of damp earth and what I instinctively know is the scent from the creek. It smells musky and teeming with life.


    “How’s it going?” Rob is all easygoing as he grabs his Ray-Bans from a compartment in the ceiling of the bullet. From the corner of my eye, I see him slipping them to the top of his head, but my attention is still on the stranger at full blast.


    “Busy as ever. The cars started arriving by five a.m.” 


    His voice- I’ve heard that voice before!  And he’s so close I can feel subtle emotions surging through his blood and pulsating through his mind.  My heart pricks with a pain that makes no sense to me, but his soul reverberates inside mine like a mallet striking a gong. From the rear shadows of the bullet, I spy on him secretly.  His raven eyes are black like marbles and his ebony hair shines like water beneath the night sky. He’s attractive in a way that makes my blood spark into licks of flames.   But there’s something about him that feels untouchable or distant.  And something whispers that if I reached over and touched his hand, mine might pass through his flesh because he’s as timeless as the Cheveyan territory and not really here. If things couldn’t get any weirder, when I see a tattoo of a sword circling his wrist and glimpses from a forgotten dream explode onto a screen behind my eyes in living color!


    My heart is pounding as I run through thick bushes, branches tear at my skin, leaving red whelps down my arms.  My pace is so swift, my lungs spread wide and nearly burst as they heave for air.   I don’t know if I’m running from something or someone, but I know my chest is filled with steely courage, so red-hot it’s turned to liquid and mixes with the blood inside my veins. A hand reaches out for mine and my eyes swell when I notice my flesh fading into the air.  My already-pounding heart leaps when the hand grips tighter around my palm.  My eyes stay on the warm flesh touching my skin.  The tattoo of a sword wraps around his thick wrist, while the real sheathed sword rumbles at his side.  My gaze lifts to the man’s face.  It’s kind. His almond-shaped eyes are dark and shine with so much love, invigorated air explodes inside my chest- and then we fade… into invisibility! 


   The reverie shatters, and my dazed eyes lower and rest on his hands again.  His fingers are gripping the edge of the opened window.   My mind slowly returns to the present, but only in time to get smacked by the scent of his pheromones riding on the breeze that glides into the inside of the vehicle. He smells like the ocean air sweeping through a field of lavender. It fills my lungs and I want to breathe in every molecule of his fragrance into the core of my being.  My lids softly cover my eyes.  When they open, I see him nodding hello to my mom. He still hasn’t seen me yet.


   Rob moans—it rumbles like a growl as he offers his friend a bit of sympathy. “You’re going to have a long day ahead of you.” He laughs.  It’s rare to see him so relaxed. 


   “As always.” Santi nods, then pans around to someone else directing the cars in his place. He’s a younger version of Santi—similar complexion, black glossy hair worn long, but this man is more muscular. Despite the distance, I can tell he’s handsome. Dark eyebrows, square jaw, and athletic prowess. I gawk, moistening my lips as they part. Santi’s eyes turn away from the long-haired Cheveyan and land on me as though there was an invisible cord from the athletic Cheveyan to the back of the bullet that he simply followed until it reached me. My heart thumps and the shock in his eyes when our gaze meets is unmistakable. His stare scorches me through like a hot sword slipping into my heart. I can’t breathe for a few seconds as the hold from his stare lasts for what seems an eternity. When his eyes blink the sword slides out of my chest. My eyes narrow with blatant confusion. His gaze isn’t mean or harsh but the impression it leaves has lasting power. My head is woozy, and my eyes close and open in slow motion just in time to see his brows knit together. It’s so fleeting it was barely noticeable. But when he shakes his head, catching his reaction before it takes hold, I’m as certain as can be—he thinks I look familiar. And what’s even more bizarre- we both know it.


   The entire exchange is less than three seconds, so Rob doesn’t notice any of it, and he continues with his conversation as though something strange and supernatural didn’t just take place. “We need to catch up.” Rob nods as his eyes scan around fleetingly. “Maybe take in a football game?”


   “Sounds like a winner,” Santi says, inclining his head and tapping lightly on the roof of the bullet before announcing that he has to get back to directing the traffic. He sends me one last soul-shattering glance before his eyes pan around the field like everything is normal, as though he doesn’t seem mysterious, as though his eyes don’t possess a force that I’ve never experienced before. I watch as he salutes Rob and my world cracks with fissures that threaten to destroy everything I thought I understood about life and what was normal.


    My eyes don’t let go of him as he walks away, even as the distance between us widens and my heart crumbles with every step he takes until there’s nothing inside my chest but dust.  I realize none of this makes any sense, but maybe it has to do with the dream-self that is staring through me with eyes so wide I can’t help but suspect the stranger is very important to her too. 


   There’s a leafy hollow, and when the wind blows, a path appears. I happily notice something that feels mundane. In fact, I could take a big spoonful of the mundane right now.  Me and my mom bob back and forth as Rob backs into a parking space, then inches forward before backing up again.  He’s as serious with this parking as a scientist scribbling some kind of mathematical equation that holds the balance of mankind in his hand.  When the bullet eventually stops and he slips the key from the ignition, I launch from my seat like a rocket. Marching off starry-eyed, my heart still feels the remnants of the aching transaction with the chief’s descendant. I’m desperate for a distraction from it and I eye the fluffy crown of the trees whispering from the breeze. When the branches fan apart, I spy a narrow entrance that I know is the trail that leads to the woods.  I smile---distraction found. My ears fidget from my sneakers making a swooshing sound across the worn path. When I get too far from my mom and Rob, my nerves begin to fray and I temper my trailblazing to a slow tentative mosey.  My eyes start darting around in search of animals hiding in the brush.  I look for bared teeth or bodies hunched and hungry to make me their first meal of the day. I gape over my shoulder to see if Rob is close enough to rescue me just in case I need him in a pinch.  I growl when I see both of them still gathering things from the trunk.


    A family that parked after us is heading my way. Their two little boys march bravely past me without the slightest bit of fear of becoming the breakfast for beasts lurking beyond the trees. Then the mother smiles seemingly unconcerned as well and even the dad nods along with a half wave like he hasn’t a care in the world. I return their greetings, raising my hand and moving it side to side with the brightest smile that I can manage under the circumstances. 

Once the family is further down the trail I start kicking a few stones near my feet until my boiling impatience reduces to a simmer.  My mom and Rob are finally heading my way with happy grins on their faces. When my mom gets close enough, she reaches out her arm toward me, my white sweater draping from her hand.


   I take it, hiding my annoyance as I tie it around my waist and Rob advances to the lead like he’s that character from the old Indiana Jones movies. My mom’s the pretty professor that Indiana Jones has taken a liking to, and I’m the flunky assistant that keeps peeking around his shoulder wondering if there’s any black bears wandering our way. My hair is tied back in a knot that keeps bouncing on the back of my neck—the loose strands feel like insects, and I’m constantly swatting myself until I realize I probably look like a maniac. I undo my hair and twist it into a tighter knot as we make our way through the thickening bush.  My breathing has become fuller now that I’m convinced that there’s no danger waiting for us.   Relaxing more, I finally begin admiring the beauty around me and my eyes lift to a delicate ceiling of branches and sun washed leaves covered in veins that offer us shade.  The woods are a canvass of lime and emerald green and columns of gold sunlight.  It feels magical and wonderous, I think as pale blue patches of sky peek through nature’s ceiling and the sound of leaves fills the area like hundreds of katydids.  My eyes squint and I crane my neck when I catch what looks to be man-made steps climbing the side of the black rock. It’s partially hidden from view by thin wispy bushes growing from the crevices of the crag.  Memories of fairy tales and children’s stories sprinkle images inside my imagination and visions of lost treasure chests and fairies spring up behind my eyes. When Rob veers in the direction of the hidden stairway and my stomach rumbles with excitement.


    Rob is cool on steroids with his Ray-Bans on top of his head, hiking khakis, white polo, and trail-blazer boots; he pushes the overgrown branches blocking the steps and looks back at me and my mom without saying a word. My mom goes first, and I follow close behind as Rob waits with an encouraging smile on his sun-kissed face.


   There are only ten or so steps before we reach what looks to be the main trail.  And the first thing I see is a group of rowdy youths passing as we make our way out of tangled vines and foliage.  Once we’re on the path, Rob stops at its edge and looks out at the warm misty sky before he sighs loudly and opens his arms wide. My mom beams and as I look across the dark soiled trail, I feel like I’ve officially entered a new world.  There are black cliffs farther away, separated from us by a wide gully and the sound of rushing water. A wooden fence stands posted at the edge of the precipice to protect the hikers from what I imagine might be a pretty steep drop. 


    We begin walking and my mind slowly turns to taffy as it stretches to make room for unfamiliar emotions rising up from deep inside me.  They skitter through my veins injecting me with quiet anticipation and awe. My dream-self nudges my mind to the side once again and when her eyes slide over mine, a thin glassy film covers them and makes the world shimmer with fantastical colors and hues that I’ve never seen before. And just in case I’m not sure if she’s really commandeered my senses or not, she changes the rules of our world and makes the wind move in slow motion then she sprinkles the currents with whispering words that ride on the flowing streams. My head tilts to the side as I try to make out what the words are saying, but they’re just beyond the reach of hearing.  Though my dream-self is in charge, my body is still my own and I shiver when the wind tickles the ridges of my ears and moan with annoyance when strands of hair stick to my moist skin. 


    When the wind blows again, this time I hear the words Great God of the Skies uttered with intense emotion. The words bathe me in overwhelming reverence and fill my being with ancient memories of sacred rituals and battling warriors. I see the feathers woven into their plaits and painted faces as they run through a field thick with plumes of black clouds that block out the sky.  Then I see dark-haired priestesses rushing down a torchlit corridor, their hands clutching their hearts and eyes wide with horror.  My eyes slowly pan around, and I find myself inside a great hall thick with the echoes of uttered prayers and the remnants of deep mysteries. My gaze lands on steps that lead into a lower level- this is where ancient mysteries lie and my dream-self tingles with an irresistible urge to venture below.  A swirling fog appears, the steps disappear, and my dream-self spins around.  She’s looking at me, the me walking in a daze inside the woods, she looks startled and slightly confused. 


    The lessons haven’t even begun.  She mutters to herself, her eyes glaring wide as she stares into mine.  You aren’t supposed to be able to do this yet. She adds.  I open my mouth, words poised on the tip of my tongue, when I hear the words again—Great God of the Skies—the feeling behind the words stuns my being and fills my cells with an all-consuming joy that bursts with boundless ecstasy. I feel larger and my flesh thins and verges on ethereal.  The visions fade but not the phrase—it repeats over and over dousing me with even more intoxicating bliss.  The words begin to quiet until they fade, but my emotions remain heightened, scorching me as they rush through blood and bone washing away cobwebs and old decrepit sensations stuck in the crevices and corners inside me.  Something within has been born—reborn or altered in some way.  Then I hear the warning again--  You aren’t supposed to be able to do this yet.

                                                       CHAPTER SIX


   With my dream-self still peering through my eyes, we both look out at what for me is a new world. I’ve never been any place where there wasn’t technology all around, and as I explore the landscape, I can’t help but notice that there’s not one thing that was made from the hands of man.  All I see comes from the womb of the Earth, the fauna and flora, the lush algae and tall cliffs separated by a vast abyss…. All of this is born from the blueprint of infinite life.  Created from cosmic intelligence.  I explore what lies beyond the protective wooden fence, my eyes dropping to the deep chasm where waters rush along a narrow beach.  Patches of foam float along the tiny, pebbled rocks and thunder-splintered tree trunks splay across the surface of the creek.  Two hikers use one of the trunks as a makeshift bridge to tread across the water and I watch as they wobble dangerously from one side of the creek to the other.


   My eyes stay trained on them until they reach the beach, and then I turn to see what other new sights there are in the world.  My gaze lifts to the columns of dark bark rising toward the skies like sentries guarding the realm of natural beauty. I notice the trail is surrounded by black cliffs on both sides of where we all are, and only now realize that we’re actually inside a deep canyon. I look to the ground and spy roots far from the mother-trees—they’ve broken through the dirt like long curious fingers thirsting to feel the pattering of the humans and animals that are passing through the majestic gates of the natural landscape.  The fragrant aroma of musky soil and moss rushes up to my nostrils and my eyes instinctively turn to find the origin of the scent. When they lift, I find the ceiling of the forest is a canopy not made of sky, but of translucent emerald-colored leaves and rays of sunlight falling between the openings.


    When we’ve walked long enough for my emotions to quiet, I can’t help but sense that there’s more to my dream-self than I first suspected.   I know her emotions to our surroundings are keen, and I for now I chalk it up to the belief that the Valley truly does awaken the magic inside.  The music of forest comes to life on the heels of those thoughts, and the light chirping of birds stand out as bullfrogs moan and creatures scattering through the bush cause the leaves to both sing and shiver as though fairies might actually be real, and rustling through the flora as they do whatever fairies do inside the woods.  But I don’t doubt that they are real.  Not any more, and actually, I can almost feel them watching us so I scan the bushes every now and then hoping to catch one skittering between the tiny flowers.  


    A strong current flutters my sweater from my hips, and my face snaps to the side just in time to see a blur of wind streaking the air. My eyes follow the direction of the current as it crosses hundreds of feet within seconds, leaving branches swaying in its wake.  Wind chaser, the words utter, exploding inside my mind as air rushes down my throat. I’ve just seen one!

     I spin around, air rushing up my throat as I’m about to speak the words, but when I see my mom and Rob chatting pleasantly, I know they didn’t see a thing.  There are two small groups of hikers around us. I search their faces for signs of awe and bewilderment too, but I see only smiles and glinting eyes as they admire the scenes along the trail. I turn back around, my heart still racing and my nerves sparking like fried electrical wires. I swallow my awe and begin to suspect that it’s just me.  All of this is happening to only me and I’m not sure if I should be exhilarated that the Valley is awakening only my magic or succumb to panic because someone other than me is inside my head?



   The trail continues to unfurl until I see the fullness of the landscape.  We’re all hundreds of feet below ground level, deep enough to be at the bottom of an ancient sea.  The softly curving landscape resembles a sleeping serpent and the waters below snake around the bottom of the black hills.  The unmistakable beeping of someone’s A.I wristband goes off, startling me back into the real world. I look around, reorienting myself and noticing that no one is looking down at their wrists because it’s my band that’s lightly vibrating.  I eye the caller ID and swipe to answer it.


    “Where are you?” It’s Rhianna, her husky voice is anxious and bubbly but I’m the only one who can hear her because everyone’s A.I is programmed to resonate with only their particular auditory signature.  


    “We just got here a little while ago,” I answer, not really knowing how much time has passed. My eyes sweep around just in case she asks me to describe where I am on the trail. Trees, green, black cliffs, creek below. Oh, that’s describing everywhere.


     “We?” Her voice rises half an octave.


    I eye my mom and Rob walking by me now and answer her, my voice sounding soft and airy. “Where are you?”


   “Down by the Coburgan estate. So, you just got on the trail?”


    “Yeah.” I answer as laughter and snatches of words in her background travel through to my end of the phone. We talk and she tells me what she’s wearing and how to find her, and then her words tremble with excitement.


     “I’m standing right next to them,” she says in a hushed whisper.


     “Who?” I wonder, my stomach muscles tightening like a vise is squishing the life out of it.

“The trilogy.” Rhianna’s words are muffled, and I imagine her hand shielding her mouth because her A.I can control who hears me, but not who hears her.  So, she sounds like she’s talking through a can that has a string connected to another can farther away. “I’m where all the rowers begin the race.” A pang of excitement surges through me like lightning grounding me to the earth. My knees tickle in the process as I think about how I’m soon to discover who Rhianna and all the girls in school have been going on about.


    I wave goodbye to my mom and Rob who are meeting up with their own group of friends with mixed feelings swirling inside me.  It’s just me now- me and my dream-self walking along the trail of whispering words and normal people who I know, I will never be again, even if this is the last time that I ever have this experience.  Rhianna told me to look for a mansion on the hills because the beach below it is where the race begins.   It’s on the other side of the creek, so I walk close to the fence and where I can see the water’s surface.  It’s dappled with silver-gold sunlight and the beach narrows and widens as it spirals around the feet of the rock face.  When a breeze sways the trees growing from the side of the cliff I catch a glimpse of white stone.  I crane my neck to see between the settled leaves, but another wind sweeps by and I see the Corburgan estate with its handsome balcony and rows of window panes the color of the bluing sky. My brows pinch as I wonder how I’m supposed to reach Rhianna when the mansion is on the other side of the creek.


    After a few more minutes of walking I see some of the hikers splintering between a structure that looks like the opening to a cave and a dirt path that continues in a winding direction through a patch of thickets. When I get closer I see that the cave is actually a moss-covered tunnel. I call Rhianna to make sure I’m going the right way as I enter the cool, dim tunnel that smells like fresh moist earth. Three younger girls brush by me, arms flailing, braids everywhere. Their feral cackles shock the inside of the tunnel, smarting my eardrums in the process and blocking out every word coming out of Rhianna’s mouth.


    “Umbrella magnolias?” I say, having heard nothing else.


    She chuckles. “Yes, just look for yellow blossoms on something shorter than a tree and go in that direction.”


   After swiping off I check my wristband for the time. It’s 9:04 a.m. when I exit the tunnel.  The sun is beginning to break through too, and humidity thickens the air. I lift my hair and wipe a sheet of sweat from my skin.  It feels more like August than the beginning of October, I muse, spotting the grove of the hearty three-petaled blooms.  Encouraged about my sense of direction and rallied by the thought of seeing what the trilogy looks like I walk with a pep in my step toward the wooden barrier. Emboldened and giddy on the inside, I slip my leg through the dry splintered rails without hesitation or fear.  When my foot lights down on the soft ground, excitement injects every cell in my body with quiet mirth and my feet sink a little deeper into the dark, leaf-covered soil. I scan my surroundings, the sweater around my waist flapping in the wind like the cape of a superhero. 


      A sense of satisfaction hitches a ride on the air as I stretch my lungs until they can’t expand even an iota more and my gaze softly lowers to the crest.  The beach is a good sixty feet drop below me and the steep angle is muddled with decomposing leaves and other debris. It still glistens moistly from the rain, I notice as I take my first two steps.  The earth is a sliding board made from moist soil sprinkled with dark shards of bark, spiny twigs, and gray shimmery rocks that stick up like jagged weapons. I look over at the trees, they’re old and soar high above the soil and branches don’t sprout out until they’re nearly half way up the bark. I continue to inspect my environment, noticing the foliage at eye level is rich and plentiful. I’m in the middle of thick bushes and saplings, and the leaves create a patchwork of varying shades of green that block out the full view of the bustling activity below. I reach out to touch a vine, pulling on it to test its sturdiness. The rough surface feels both slimy and coarse inside my warm palm, but the vine is strong enough to support a sumo wrestler carrying another sumo wrestler on his back, so I shoiuld be more than good. The vines are plentiful, and some hang freely as they slowly sway like pendulums in the mild breeze. Others are tangled, creating circles and ovals as they intertwine with each other and the fragile branches of nearby bushes.


    I begin my trek down into the unforgiving wilderness. My foot swiftly drops further than I expected, and my ankle bends to the side as my sneaker lands crookedly on a thick root traveling horizontally across the terrain. I stumble, my body crashing sideways faster than my eyes can see. But somehow my palm slams against the uneven bark of a nearby tree, balancing me in an instant and preventing me from tumbling down the hill and landing in a heap of humiliation. I shudder, and my eyes intense from the near mishap, focus like I suddenly have superhuman vision. With a foot on either side, I straddle a thick root, straightening my body and catching a glimpse of the rower’s canoes that peek through the bobbing branches. They’re nestled right at the bend of the beach, their shiny white and blue finishes gleaming blindingly in the sun. I catch sight of a few athletes attired in white kecks or shorts and blue polo shirts. A sheen of perspiration suddenly coats my upper body from my face all the way to my arms as I watch them interacting robustly.  Slapping backs and playfully nudging one another, their faraway laughter commandeers the currents threading the trees and foliage and reaches my ears. They’re all finely built with broad shoulders and corded biceps that bulge beneath the skin tight fabric of their shirts. My face grows warm and the air rushing down my throat is quietly feral. The sight of the rowers erases my fear of falling as effervescent emotions loom inside my chest and tickle the edges of my stomach. 


    I resume my trek, taking another step. Air passes my lips and quivers down to my lungs where it explodes inside my chest, my eyes brighten and I take a few more steps.  My feet are pointed like a ballerina on her tippy toes and the muscles in my stomach tighten their grip as my body pivots backward for balance. It feels odd and unstable, and every nerve inside my body screams to just inch my way down and to hold onto every available branch that I can wrap my hands around. I obey happily—even my stubborn side thinks it’s a good idea. I grab onto the closest vine; my sigh trembling, nonetheless. My eyes are keen as an eagle’s now, and I notice every inch of the ground which is wrought with debris and thick roots peeking between dark shiny leaves. I’d have zero leverage were it not for the vines in my tight grasp. Every step changes the soil, loosening small stones and crumbling the debris beneath my feet. I’m probably an archaeologist’s worst nightmare, but I wish the earth would stay put as well. I’m nostalgic for asphalt about now, and the bleak, unchangeable paved sidewalks too. I sense my body angling sideways—my feet do as well, both sneakers facing rightward. With a branch in one hand and a vine in the other, I manage to gain a few more feet toward my destination. I feel like Spiderman scaling a wall, my pursed lips softening as the lines between my brow melts. I take a few more brave steps—I’m still in one piece. Armed with more courage, I decide that going snail-slow is the culprit. I think about my mom and Rob and how they’re probably safe on the edge of the beach, catching the sun and  laughing with friends. The image spurs me on and I take tiny two-stepped leaps as my pounding heart thunders in protest.


     I take two more little leaps—my left foot lands on nothing but an empty pocket of dirt. My knee buckles, and my foot ends up beneath me. I have no idea how. I feel dirt and debris sliding inside my sock before I somehow manage to straighten out my leg.  I’m halfway standing, but still sliding down and over the gravel—it’s just a better look than the rag doll configuration. My arms are out like a surfer balancing on a board and my eyes are darting around at insane speeds looking for something to grab onto. Instead, I see something that puts balancing in second place. Wide tree stump ahead! Stop!!! My brain is screaming so loud it hurts inside my ears. Breath rumbles up my throat and the guttural groans exiting my lips sound nothing like me. There are long vines everywhere—I can see them from the corner of my eyes, some round, some unbounded and loose. All I have to do is reach out and chances are good I’ll grasp onto something. My fingers stretch, extending themselves as far as they can reach. I’m trying so hard to grab onto something I expect bones to split through the tips of my fingers at any moment.


    Another odd sound rings out—a shriek rushing from my throat along with the intense sting of pain in my fingers and palms. I found a vine, but it has thorns. My hand jerks away, and my speed down the hill could probably match Rob’s bullet.. My knees collapse—again. It changes the trajectory of my descent. I tumble sideways twice, and the tree stump is no longer a problem, but now I’m fully prostate—only my head is perked up. I feel my eyes bulging, sweeping swiftly in all directions for a solution. Despite so much going on, I feel my superhero cape bundling up and peeling away like the mere sweater it really is.  There’s nothing between my skin and the harsh earth as the motion pulls it practically to my shoulders.  Pebbles begin scraping against my spine and dirt jams beneath my fingernails. I’m still desperately grabbing for anything rooted in the earth that can hold me in place.


     Suddenly my mind slows down. This is it. This is how I die, humiliated as my body tumbles down, ending up in a heap of broken bones right at the feet of the entire Valley of hoity-toity Silver Rain descendants. In my frightening reverie, I live just long enough to see their radiant faces literally looking down their noses with expressions aghast. Another problem shows up. This one is real and big. At the foot of the hill, blocking what would have been my not-so-graceful entry to the crowd is a massively large gray boulder the circumference of a very huge bear. If the tumble doesn’t kill me—this will. Really—it will. I crane my head up and to the side; two flashes of something catch my attention. In unison the flashes evolve into a long continuous streak like a shooting star falling horizontally. Wind chasers to the rescue! I think, frightened into delusion. I’ve lost my mind as blurs of blue and white still appear dashing and whizzing through the bark and bushes at the speed of light. My delusion even includes branches see-sawing in their wake. The entire experience lasts only a moment, but I’m seconds away from my first kiss with none other than a boulder. What a way to die, I lament.

Moments later my heart seizes at the sensation of warm flesh tightly gripping my arms and halting my free-fall. I look up, dazed, my body and mind still reeling though everything is suddenly immobile. My thoughts and emotions haven’t gotten the memo and are still in a state of accelerated motion. In a confused state of amazement, my eyes latch onto two tall, stunningly good-looking boys on either side of me. With radiant skin that almost glows, I know they’re definitely Cheveyan.


    “Oh my God!” I say, breathy, voice uncommonly shrill and wondering where they came from. They both help me to my feet as though I’m feather light. There’s a fallen tree nearby and they guide me to it so I can sit down and catch my breath, I suppose.


    Despite my stupor, I feel something like two warm laser beams landing softly on my skin. When I look behind me, I find it’s coming from the gaze of one of my rescuers. I can tell he didn’t expect me to turn to look at him, and he averts his eyes quickly. I can’t look away. I only saw his eyes briefly, but something inside them reminded me of iridescent light. I’m staring; my expression of pleading bewilderment stuns him when he finally looks my way again. Our eyes lock. Lock, as in hard to turn away, and not because he thinks I’m beautiful, or because his eyes are mesmerizing. My eye muscles feel stuck in one direction; his eyes widen as though he’s as surprised as I am by the strange sensation that I’m nearly one hundred percent sure he feels too. His brows furrow and he manages to turn away. His eyes leaving mine is like a string of taffy that snaps in the space between us. My mouth parts. The other boy speaks as though on cue.


    “Her hand,” is his brief comment. His voice is scratchy and deep.


    My hand closest to the boy with the intense gaze is bruised. I can’t feel any pain; I only realize it because he’s lifting my hand to examine the blood and bruises smeared across my palm. Gently he brushes away the small particles of crumbs soiling my flesh, making sure to avoid the violent scratches that are oozing beads of shiny red blood. I remain silent—still wondering about his eyes—holding my breath and expecting to feel pain at any moment. I don’t. But I feel his friend watching us. My heart rate begins decelerating as air expands into tight lungs. Everything is slowing down and becoming absolutely quiet. My caretaker’s attentiveness is coaxing my muscles; they’re becoming lax, and a soft tingling sensation pierces my skull and  begins pouring down my veins. My eyes close slowly, and my lips part as a soft breath releases. Whatever is pouring through the top of my head is coming from some place above me, maybe even beyond the skies.  But whatever it is, and wherever it’s coming from, it's lovely beyond words and it finds every vein inside me and courses toward my caretaker’s hands.


     His hands let go of mine and the coursing sensation immediately stops pouring through my head and veins. I hear a searing noise. The hem of his polo shirt is in his hand. I glimpse his smooth, lean muscled stomach. He’s ripping the bottom of his blinding white tee shirt. I feel a rush of calm surging through my body. It’s warm and comforting and finds its way to my heart where it swells softly. He’s making a makeshift bandage and some part of me feels relief—it’s going to keep the bad germs away. When he grabs my wrist again, a vague jolt explodes between his touch and my skin. I feel the tingling feeling seeping into my head again, moving through brain matter in search of my veins again.  This time the power is more forceful as it rushes down my arms. It smashes through my palm and penetrates his hand. He pauses. I can tell he’s shocked. I am too. His eyes are still on my hand, but he’s frozen, and I know he wants to look up at me. He’s dying to. But he doesn’t. He takes a deep breath, his wide shoulders lifting as the air fills his lungs. He adjusts his hands and starts moving again, his fingers digging into my wrist with snug pressure. The jolt continues feeding us both as it soars down my arm and into his fingers. The zinging sensation is amazing, it feels like pure life and it's connecting everything around us, the trees, blades of grass, and rocks---all into a silent melody of cosmic music. Some part of me wants to let out a loud bellowing sigh and announce that whatever this is, I want to feel it for the rest of my life. It’s smooth, mercury fast, and exciting.  I’m lost. Mesmerized. My eyes are glued to his hands as they wrap the bandage around my wound. I flinch. He freezes. His eyes almost look up at mine. They pause at my lips instead. When my mouth softly closes, he begins wrapping my hand again.


   A faraway sound startles me, piercing a cocoon I only now notice is around the three of us. I sense it—an invisible egg-shaped dome with fragile gold filaments that thread its surface.  It connected the three of us to a world that was all our own. The sound shatters it though, and the delicate tissue fades into the unknown while the outside world plows over our perfect haven. Noises bombard my senses and from my peripheral vision, I see life ---branches swaying and leaves fluttering.  It was the vibrations from the bell tower that decimated the delicate fortress, and as the last of the chimes complete their final pirouettes, loud chattering and laughter from the beach appear like a theater performance once the curtains are parted. 

“Are you all right?” my other rescuer asks as I feel him brushing debris from the back of my shirt, and then my hair. He goes gently on the hair; the knot is probably nearly undone by now. I notice his hands are large like his friend’s. They feel heavy, though I can tell he’s trying to be gentle.


    I look over at him, still feeling far away. I nod that I’m fine. He has a slender muscular build like his friend. I’m surprised to see his hair is ash blond; it looks freshly cut, short but just long enough for the curls to bend. It’s unkempt like he rubbed his hands through it. When I meet his golden hazel eyes, I feel intensity radiating from them. His complexion is brown, and the undertone of gold shines radiantly. He looks as though his blood is made from gold and his beauty creates a longing inside me as I lose myself even more inside his almond-shaped Cheveyan eyes. He’s simply too perfect to exist in the world. It takes a moment for my mind to untangle itself from his otherworldly beauty and realize that I’ve already nodded that I was fine.


   “I think so.” I decide to say in conjunction with the nod—which probably took place about five seconds ago. My voice is scratchy and high. It sounds nothing like me. Had I been screaming as I tumbled? Oh, God, I hope not! He finishes cleaning me up and steps away, sliding his hands halfway into the pockets of his white shorts. He gives his friend, who looks briefly his way, a small nod that seems to impart my positive prognosis.


   I turn my attention back to my caretaker medic, curious as to why concern for me is even an issue. Coming to my rescue is one thing, and it’s noble, but to care if I am going to be okay? That’s something far more perplexing. I begin sensing into the one still attending to me—slowly. I feel a tightness at the pit of my stomach that’s oddly exciting. I have a feeling he’s telling himself not to look at me again. It makes the tension between us expand like a rubber band threatening to snap. The excitement grows into a fire that is scorching the insides of both of us. I don’t know how I can feel into him and wonder if my dream-self is responsible for it.

Never turning my eyes even for a moment, I keep them fixed on him. His lashes are dark and shiny, his raven hair is buzz-cut short, and each strand shines almost silver. His skin is a shade lighter than his friend’s. His bronze and gold undertones make him look as though he’s swallowed a flask of sunlight. Apart from his friend and the other Cheveyan, I’ve never seen skin like theirs up close. I squint because I saw a shimmer of sunlight flash momentarily from his veins. I have a feeling he knows I’m staring. Somehow, I know the more he refuses to look at me and quench my unspoken desire for his eyes, the more the desire thunders and threatens to tear something inside of him to shreds.


     Once he’s completed wrapping my wound, he folds the end of the makeshift bandage inside the space between the wrapping and the tender flesh of my wrist. When our skin loses contact, the zinging feeling that was running through my vein’s halts, pops, and dies. He unfolds his tall body, towering above me as a quiet strength radiates from the mounds of muscle that begin at his shoulders and cascade down his thick-veined arms.  His gaze is still on my hand as his bronze fingers take hold of my wrist. With one powerful jerk, he pulls me up from the tree trunk and to my feet. His long fingers loosen from my wrist and a jolt of disappointment tears through my chest. A nanosecond later, he slides his large palm into my unbruised hand, restoring the hairline fractures in my heart and making it whole again. The blissful rushing sensation returns, but now it’s cool like mercury, palpable, stronger, and starting to send chills to every part of my body. His back arches reflexively, as though somehow a sickle of ice slipped down his shirt—he feels the mercurial sensation too, I’m sure.


    I should feel like a royal dork staring at his strong masculine profile the entire time he escorts me down the hill. He moves slowly, clearly for my benefit, and the earth yields to him, to them both. I can’t help but scoff at how I could’ve used some ground rubble stability about fifteen minutes ago! I can feel his friend behind us, his eyes studying me and sending two cool laser beams on my back. I’m inside our cocoon again; the safety they’re sending me radiates from their very pores and I feel like an indigenous princess being protected by warriors. Ha! Me? A princess? But I feel utterly at ease, all the way to my bones. We take our last steps from the descending earth and onto the pebbled beach. My sneakers crunch into sand and I wish I could wallow in their strength forever.  When my medic doesn’t let go of my hand, I breathe in a secret wish that he never would.  Spectators’ heads are turning one by one our way, their expressions evolve from casual to alarmed when they notice my bandaged hand.  I’m sure their uncomfortable stares will cause him to slip his hand away now, but he doesn’t.  At least not yet. 


     My eyes curiously scan the crowd and land on several broad-shouldered men with long silky black hair and bronze skin that shimmers in the light. They remind me of Santi, only bigger-much bigger. It’s obvious they’re Cheveyan, and when they nod at my two rescuers, I realize they obviously know each other. My neck cranes and my head tilts curiously to the side when I notice something on the side of one of the men’s necks. It’s a black scorch-like scar that starts at his neck, hides under his shirt, and peeks out again from his elbow down to his wrist. Bewilderment steals all of my attention into a tiny, focused ball of awareness until I see his friend has a black scar too. His is accompanied by a chunk of skin removed from his earlobe that is noticeable when the wind sweeps his hair from his shoulders. The marks resemble a claw that grabbed his head, then its nails dragged down his temple toward his ear.  He escaped the creature, but not before it nicked his earlobe. 


     My brain is ticking fast as it scans my mind for the types of creatures that leave black wounds, and my heart pounds hard and fast with alarm when I come up empty.  Something tells me the Valley is more than a land of magic- it may be a place plagued by unknown beasts that ravage those who live too close to the woods.  Maybe the reason why the men are so powerfully built, is because they’re the ones chosen to battle the creature?  I honestly don’t know what to think, as I examine their chiseled features.  Their cheeks and jaws form strikingly masculine lines and the fierceness in their countenance screams warlords and fighters.  My eyes swell when all three of them look at me at almost the same time.  The intensity that grows inside their eyes is impossible to miss and I almost shake my head at the impossible thought that I apparently look familiar to more than just Santi. Then I hear Rhianna’s voice in my head telling me how she thought I was an indigenie, and it all falls into place. They’re wondering who I am and why they’ve never seen me before. Something about the notion that they think I am one of them leaves me with a giddy feeling.  I feel like I’m part of something special, even if it’s only in my imagination. 


    My eyes flick toward my medic as he finally slides his hand from mine. My heart drops, slamming hard to an achy thump, but our eyes lock and my mouth separates to release the staggering breath rising up from my lungs when I notice his eyes. They are the most beautiful pale shade of green I’ve ever seen and have iridescent streaks of gold and blue that look like strikes of lightning somehow lodged inside them. His gaze penetrates me to my core, moving past my skin and fastening to a place deep inside my being. It makes my head feel airy like a balloon, and my mind starts floating drunkenly. I swallow hard, disoriented by both his beauty and his penetrating gaze.


     “What’s your surname?” His voice has a serious cadence to it, and it’s softly deep, but inside his eyes is the unmistakable emotion of concern.  His feelings snag my heart and my eyes glisten with wetness.  His brows are pinched— it’s more than a casual concern. Who does he think I am? I wonder. I’m not Cheveyan, though now I’m pretty sure he and the others must believe I am. 


    “My surname?” I repeat, speechless with a mouth as dry as sand. I’m about to say more or repeat myself, I can’t really say, I’m not sure.  But I hear my name, the voice is faraway and tainted with exuberant joy.  I turn instinctively to see Rhianna nearly running in between the dotted groups of spectators in my direction.  Her presence snatches me out of the intense moment, but I turn back to my medic.  He and the other boy are facing away from me as someone waves standing near the canoes’ waves at them.  I watch them sprinting away as several athletes untie the canoes, and a few more begin pushing their vessels  into the water. 


        “Julion?” I twist back in Rhianna’s direction.


          She’s out of breath and patting her forehead with the back of her hand. I’m so disappointed to have missed saying more to my rescuers, my chest feels like a weight that nearly suffocates me to tears. 


     “Are you okay?” she asks, noticing my watery eyes. “What happened?” she says, not giving me a chance to answer her first question and gently reaches for my hand. She examines me, worry all over her face. “How’d you do this?”


     All I notice is how dirty my fingernails are and my horror usurps the painful regret of not being able to thank or say goodbye to my rescuers. I look at both my hands now and feel like a four-year-old who’s just been making mud pies. I amble quickly toward the water’s edge, absentmindedly weaving through the crowd as the urgency to clean my hands feels like a code red moment. Rhianna follows closely behind, asking again what happened, and she’s so near, I feel the heat from her body on my back.


     “I sort of had a little tumble, then …” I look through the dotted crowd of spectators toward the two boys. They are much farther away, but I can still see them.


    My golden rescuer spots me looking their way. His brows furrow. He doesn’t look angry, only like he’s musing about my obvious search for them. The raven-haired friend doesn’t see me as he stands there leaning prince-like on one leg, hands on hips and shoulders slanted. My blood goes supernova hot. I think he’s handsome… More than handsome.


    Her voice is an octave higher when she follows my gaze to the dark-haired boy. “Max came to your rescue?”


    “Yeah, so that was …” I say, staring unwaveringly in their direction. The golden one with the radiant brown skin is walking toward the water and his body moves with the raw coordination of an athlete. I watch him as he reaches for a rope that secures the canoe, he studies the knots before untying them.  The muscles in his arms shimmer in the sun as they flex and bunch. 

    I crouch down, my face still in their direction, as I dip my fingers into the water. It’s arctic-cold.


    “He bandaged you up?” Rhianna’s voice is so shrill it grabs my attention in a stranglehold. I turn, only to see her clutching the material of her hoodie in a tight fist.  She looks like her heart is about to seize up on her and I manage to keep my expression poised though I want to grin from ear to ear.


    The water tickles as it moves between my fingers and the buildup of dirt releases from beneath my fingernails. It clouds up the water for a moment before it dissipates and washes down the stream. “So, that was him?” I ask, taking my first really good look at her.  Rhianna’s skin is perfect with not even a single zit. “And the guy with the ash blond hair?” I examine my nearly presentable-looking hands. They look clean, just bruised and blotchy with red marks all over my wrists and on both palms. 


   “Vixbi?” Rhianna’s face is all alight, her eyes nearly rolling to the back of her head. “They both rescued you?” Her head turns in their direction as all the rowers ready themselves for the start of the race.


   “Vixbi?” That’s an unusual name. “Vixbi and Max,” I mutter beneath my breath. “Why are they called the trilogy?” I straighten my body, looking around at the crowd and feeling grateful the premonition of me with broken bones and near death never came to pass. Most people are wearing white sweaters or windbreakers. Only a few are dressed in the darker hue of blue.  The warlord-looking men are still in my sight.  Unlike the rest of the spectators, they’re attired in dark tee shirts and dark spandex kecks or black leather kecks. One of them is wearing a choker that reminds me of Santi’s. They’re muscular, and look scary.  Even when they laugh and their faces light up I sense the hint of danger lurking inside all of them that sends an uncomfortable shiver through me.  I turn to Rhianna feeling awkward, not that there’s anything she can do about what I’m feeling. 


    “There’s Jackson.” She nods her head toward a kid wearing a white polo shirt that hangs over dark straight-legged jeans. His complexion is fair, his brown hair speckled with auburn highlights that shine when the sun washes onto it. He doesn’t look like a descendant but I still sense an air about him. “His father owns the Coburgan estate,” she informs me, unknowingly explaining the reason for his air.


    “The mansion?” I ask, looking up at the mansion and feeling a tinge of awe. “So, he’s one of them …?”


   “One of who?” Rhianna asks, looking perfectly confused.


    I decide not to say what’s on my mind. After all, I still don’t know where Rhianna is classified in this Valley of theirs. But what I am thinking is that Jackson is one of the smug kids in the school—that he’s a descendant of Chief Silver Rain.


   “No, that’s the mansion,” Rhianna corrects me, forgetting she’s asked a question.


    So, Jackson’s parents don’t own the mansion. His grandfather does. And how was that really so different? I muse.


    “His grandfather owns the mansion, and his ancestor was the Duke of Saxe-Coburgan. So he owns the spa, but only as a life estate.”


   I don’t understand anything she’s said except that Jackson’s family is rolling in money. “Wow.” I hadn’t gotten it fully right the first time. Jackson isn’t one of the smug kids, he is the money.


    “Yeah, but his mother is Indigenous, you just can’t tell by looking at him,” she adds.


   “So, he’s not on the team?” I wonder, sneaking another look back at the rowers—Max, in other words.


   Rhianna’s shaking her head when I turn back around. “No, his mother doesn’t like him exerting himself. At least that’s the rumor.”


   “Rowing can be rough?” I wonder, feeling confused.


    “I think so, but most Cheveyan are really physical. They jump off the high ledges into the water and ride their horses to the sacred caves at the top of the cliffs … or so I’m told.” She darts a distracted glance my way. He’s not as big as the others so I suppose she doesn’t want him to get injured.”


    I nod, thinking of the three men who look like warlords again. They’re huge, and Max and Vixbi are tall and muscular, though not nearly as deadly as the adult men. “Who’s the old guy next to him with the silk ascot around his neck?” He’s fit for his age. Has a full head of shocking white hair and is dressed in a navy suit and white polo shirt. His build is a bit stocky, but he’s handsome and out of place. Well, maybe not out of place, but like he may not really know a lot of the spectators.


     “That’s the grandfather.” Rhianna looks up at the mansion poised on the hill above us. “He owns that, plus the spa.” She repeats, appearing distracted as she peers around at the lively crowd. My eyes sweep around at the small groups as they chat. They look happy and carefree and I see a lot of Cheveyan but kotes too, and I suppose even some outlanders are here as well. “Well, maybe I shouldn’t say he owns it—all kotes have life-estates, which is another way of saying the tribe ultimately owns everything.”


    Rhianna starts dragging me through the bystanders, having taken my good hand, thankfully. We skirt in and around the laughing onlookers as they talk loudly and don’t notice us as all. Rhianna is heading for the hill. Good grief, I fret, feeling my feet sinking into the pebbled beach with every labored crunching step we take. My ears perk as someone on a loudspeaker announces the rowing is about to commence. “We gotta see them pull off,” she squeals as the agitated crowd moves like a swarm of excited moths toward the edge of the beach.


    Yes, yes. I want to see them pull off too! I want to get another glimpse of Max. I want to see if he’s really as handsome as I recall. It doesn’t seem possible for anyone to be that perfect. And that goes for Vixbi too. Did he really look like nature made him from liquid gold? My breath tickles as I breathe, and my heartbeat is like laughter running through my blood. My mind remembers the strange sensation that riveted through my veins when we touched, but part of me wonders if it was just fear and adrenaline racing through my body? Rhianna stops in her tracks; her eyes are like arrows landing on the two boys. I stop too, looking just as stunned.


      “They call him Sedeni, the god of thunder and wind,” Rhianna mutters as though she’s in a trance.


     I get my second look at Max and know why he’s earned the nickname. He looks like a mythical god with his viscerally handsome features and extraordinary thunderbolt eyes. “And what do they call Vixbi?” I wonder, still staring at Max, my heart beating with alarming palpitations as I admire his wide shoulders and rock-hard muscles.


   “Azeban. The god of the underworld.”


    My face swivels her way. 


   “Because he’s a hothead,” she adds, staring at him with dazed eyes.


    “Azeban? There’s a place in the woods called Azeban,” I say, remembering the lesson from my social studies class. But I’m also thinking that I can’t imagine Vixbi being a hothead. He was so gentle and caring toward me.


    “Yeah, that’s where Devil’s Pond is,” she answers.


      Seconds later the crowd shoves the thoughts from my head as ear-deafening cheering plows across the beach like a tumbling storm.  The volume stings my ears, leaving them ringing like bells while laughter and the buzz of chatter spread through the crowd. The wonderful sounds of community and excitement latch onto something inside my chest and my heart begins to melt like wax. Everyone here is so different from anything I’ve ever known. Life in the city was fast and disjointed and I doubt that most people knew that inside their chests was a living heart that felt things. Before now, my entire life was a painting of only monochrome hues. But here … I scan the people standing around and start to feel strands of unseen luminous threads connecting us with shimmery points of light that playfully hop along the strands like grasshoppers before they burst into sparks and fade away. Life swells inside my body and joyfully flushes my emotions. My slate is almost as pure and clean as a babes as my gaze sweeps around with wonder and awe. My attention falls on a woman dressed in a long pale yellow summer dress. She’s unmistakably Indigenous with her radiant skin and hair so long it nearly reaches the back of her knees. Her eyes narrow curiously when our gaze locks. 


      The word shaman comes to mind just as her eyes follow the magic threading the hearts of the onlookers who smile and even chuckle in response.  I didn’t think there was much more in the world for me to know, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. 


CHAPTER 7-13 Julion enters a world of magic where she finally meets the goddess of magic.  It is now that her lessons begin and Juilion discovers she is much more than just a youth who came from turbulent past.  Her arrival to the Valley was prophesized and she will be the one to ensure that this time, the Harvest, the event that transforms mankind into powerful,  multidimensional beings is successful. But first she'll have to stop the Warriors from dying out. Chapters 7-13


CHAPTER 14-20 Julion befriends Max and Vixbi and becomes certain that they are "wind chasers".  She's also certain that the tribe is fighting some kind of enemy that from the wounds she's seen, is not from this world.  She's tempted to journey into the woods to find where the battles take place.  Chapters 14-19


CHAPTER 20-26 Juion admits the truth to Max, and tells him she knows he's a wind chaser.  And then both she and Max are shocked to discover that she has healing powers.  Max admits he has an affliction that could end his life as it has so many other warriors before him.  Shortly after his confession, Julion's healing abilities are put to the test as Max lay dying from the very affliction he's just revealed.  Unfortunately, Julion's not allowed to interfer with tribal matters and Vixbi must defy tradition by bringing her into the 'fold'. But someone betrays them, and the council discovers the trespass.  Julion and her mother are banished from the Valley, but Julion won't allow her mother to suffer the end of a life that she's waited for, for as long as she can remember.  And Julion leaves the Valley, facing the bitter outlands and the arctic winter all by herself. 'Chapter 20-26

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