Authors: Irene L. Pynn
“Well, then what’s taking us so long? If we know where they are, we should go get them,” the young man said in a quavering voice.
“Are you so ready to burst in there and arrest two Light People?”
“Time spent preparing is never time wasted, Higrads. Remember that.”
“Yes, Lieutenant. But I just—”
“Forgive me, Lieutenant Matboc, but I just don’t understand. If we know the two Light People are hiding at the child Caer’s house, then we know they don’t have strong support, right?”
“Quiet,” Vul whispered.
“No, Higrads, we don’t know that.”
“Because the Exile is missing as well.”
“How do you know?”
“A Governors’ report arrived to all commanding officers this morning. The Exile didn’t report to the Shade last night for his monthly meeting. It may not be a coincidence that he has vanished at the same time two Light People breached our world. We have reason to believe he may be aiding them.”
them?” The younger man sounded incredulous.
Eref listened as hard as he could, but confusion clouded his mind. Light World had a former criminal named the Exile who reported monthly to the Governors. Did Dark World have an exile as well? The similarities kept increasing.
“Would he do that, Lieutenant? I mean, knowing he’d be sent to the Pyre?”
“I don’t know, Higrads,” Matboc said. “But it is suspicious. That’s why we’re getting troops ready before we storm the child’s apartment.”
“My apartment!” Caer gasped again, and this time Eref heard Vul slap a hand over her mouth.
“Shut up,” Vul hissed.
Caer mumbled something from under Vul’s hand and grew quiet again.
“Why did the Light People come, Lieutenant?”
“Nobody knows. There’s a hole in the sky, right above this place. You can’t look up at it without special glasses, but trust me, it’s there. And it leads straight to Light World. One thing’s for sure, though, Ensign.”
“It wasn’t an accident. That hole was made specifically to drop Light People into our world. They’re here with a purpose.”
Eref couldn’t see a thing, but he felt Vul and Caer staring directly at him. He shifted in his place.
“How long until we raid the house?”
“Probably another two hours,” Matboc said. “We’ll use flamethrowers to smoke them out—or kill them—if they’re there.”
With that, Caer cried out loud. Vul grabbed her to silence her again, but it was too late.
“What was that?”
“A spy! Grab your weapon.”
Nobody said a word, but Eref, Caer, and Vul all jumped up and took off in unison. The sound of their breath panting in the humidity provided a counterpoint to the sound of their feet smashing through the grass.
Eref didn’t know whether the two men were close behind, or whether they had called for backup. Maybe they had chosen not to follow after all. He just knew he had to run, and he had to keep up with Caer and Vul.
Eref felt Caer collapse beside him, and he turned, lost in blind darkness. “Caer?”
“I tripped. My ankle,” she whimpered.
“She was ahead of us. I don’t think she heard me fall. I can’t stand up.”
A surging panic rose in Eref’s chest. He could do nothing to help. He didn’t dare scream for Vul, in case his voice would direct the soldiers to them.
“Go, Eref,” Caer cried. “They could be here any second. You’ve got to get out of here.”
He hesitated. Could he leave her lying there? And even if he did, where would he go?
“Just run in the direction we were going. Go now! You’ve got to hurry!”
The panic rose to his throat. “What will happen to you?”
“Please, just go!”
There was no time to argue. He couldn’t transfer his situation to Caer. He couldn’t simply give away his problem. Eref knelt down and reached out for her. If he could find her, he could carry her away. Otherwise…the flamethrowers…. “Where are you?”
“Stop wasting time!” she cried. “I hear them coming.”
Suddenly Eref touched Caer’s hand, and he grasped it hard in his. For a moment, a tingling ran through his arm. Caer took in a sharp breath of surprise.
The panic that had flooded his body ebbed. His heart slowed to a relaxed pace.
“Eref,” Caer whispered.
He didn’t let go of her hand. Within seconds, an overwhelming calm and happiness enveloped him. It was better than anything he had ever felt before. He had reached the peak of health, serenity, and joy.
Suddenly, from between their hands, a soft, dull light began to glow. Eref could see his dark skin wrapped around Caer’s fuzzy white fingers. The light grew stronger but still stayed cool and soft.
He saw her thin white arms. Her curved shoulders draped by a light purple dress. Her slender neck.
White, silken hair cascaded down around her body, adorning her head like a veiled crown.
She looked at him and blinked her enormous black eyes in an unmistakable expression of shock. “Eref….”
“This way! Is that light over there?”
“Put on your glasses!”
Both Caer and Eref started at the sound of the men approaching. Eref suddenly realized the implications of what had happened. He could see now. He could get out safely.
“Here, climb onto my back, and I’ll carry you,” he said, still holding Caer’s hand.
“No,” she said. She got gingerly to her feet. “I’m better, somehow.” Her pretty white face and round black eyes looked as confused and thrilled as he felt.
He nodded. Somehow everything was better. She was healed, and he could see. “Let’s go.”
They held tightly to each other’s hands and ran, not daring to let go and lose the soothing light. Energy coursed through Eref’s body, and he guessed it flowed through Caer, too. She looked vibrant.
The world was green. Living, beautiful, healthy green. Vines and trees mingled all around him. Fresh flowers, red and blue and yellow, dropped at his feet as he ran. It was more amazing than anything he had imagined. There was a mystical sparkle on every moist leaf, every thick trunk.
The rest of his senses were also heightened—he smelled life all around him, felt every blade beneath his feet. He opened his mouth to laugh and tasted the fragrant, warm air. He heard the leaves rustling against one another in the magic of the soft jungle breeze.
And he saw it all. Dark World. Beautiful, magical, mysterious Dark World.
Caer squeezed his hand tighter and let out a low whoop of joy. She pulled him faster, farther through the trees.
They weren’t running from anyone. They were together. They were complete. They were safe. Feeling like this, they couldn’t be touched.
“Caer! Caer!” Vul’s voice rang out from their left.
Caer stopped running but held tight to Eref’s hand. “Vul! Come here!”
Vul stood a yard away, her beige, fuzzy arms at her sides, her pink mouth open. She was smaller than Caer, but more muscular. Her face bore a horrified expression that Eref couldn’t understand. His emotions were all positive.
Vul pointed at them. “Light,” she whispered.
“Come over here, Vul. We’ll hide together!” Caer motioned her over with her free hand.
But Vul shook her head. She backed up into the trunk of a tree and stumbled.
“What’s wrong?” Caer loosened her grip.
“The Light Person,” Vul said, still shaking her head. “What’s he done to you?”
“No, Vul,” Caer said. “You don’t understand—”
“Let go of her!” Vul screeched at the top of her lungs. Her tiny body shook with the words.
“Over there!” Men’s voices came from behind them, still in the distance. Eref and Caer had to move quickly or be captured.
“Vul,” Eref said. “I haven’t done anything. Caer fell. I helped her—”
“Let go of her, let go of her!” Vul screamed over and over again, her eyes shut tight. Her voice became a beacon, guiding the soldiers their way.
“We have to hide,” Eref said to Caer. “They’ll find us.”
Caer blinked, and her grip loosened more. “Not without Vul.”
“Vul,” Eref implored. “They’re coming. We have to get out of here.”
Let go of her!
Caer slipped her hand out of Eref’s, and the joy vanished from his chest. The light remained, glowing independently from both his and Caer’s hands. But within seconds, it began to grow dim.
“You see, Vul?” Caer held up both arms. A muted light shone from her right palm. “He’s not holding me. I’m safe.”
Vul’s eyes opened wider in shock. She pointed another shaky finger at Caer. “Light….”
“Come here, Vul,” Caer said. “We’ve got to hide.”
Eref’s heart began to race again. Darkness crept into the corners of his eyes. “We have to go. Now—”
Caer ran forward and grabbed Vul by her waist. Vul screamed.
“They’re right over there!” The men’s voices sounded much closer.
Almost completely in silhouette now, Caer gestured upward to Eref. She was pulling Vul up the tree.
He dashed toward them and jumped to the nearest branch. From there, he helped Caer hoist Vul upward, the little Dark Person kicking and biting as they went. Once the three of them were seated on the first branch that was large enough for everyone, Caer put her hand over Vul’s mouth.
“What are we going to do? She won’t calm down.” Eref said.
“We can’t let her be caught,” Caer said. “Tomorrow’s her birthday.”
Vul squirmed on the thick branch and struggled to get free. The light coming from their palms dimmed even more.
“I was supposed to spend time with her the last few nights. That’s why she was so angry when I was busy taking care of you.”
“What will they do if they find her?”
“She’ll go to the Eighteener Entrance.” Caer stared at Vul, her expression very stern. “It’s too soon, Eref. She’s not ready for that yet. They can’t take her.”
Vul kicked her tiny legs out and hit Eref on the thigh. He held onto the branch for support.
“It’s getting dark again. I can’t see much anymore.”
“I know,” she said. “But we don’t want them to notice the light anyway. Just stay still. Stay
Vul groaned under Caer’s hand and wriggled like a mad person. Her bright, black eyes glared at Eref as though he were a monster. Darkness continued to creep into his vision.
Eref looked at the writhing, shadowy mass that was Vul. “If she keeps that up, they’ll know where we are.”
“Vul. Stay. Still,” Caer said between her teeth.
“Can you move your hand?” Eref spoke softly. “I want to talk to her.”
A moment of silence hung in the blackness that had returned, and then Vul’s voice rang out. “What have you done? What was that light?”
“We don’t know, Vul. Calm down. I didn’t hurt Caer.”
“Liar! We heard what they said at the Pyre! You made that hole on purpose! You came here to hurt us!”
“No, I didn’t!” Eref tried to keep his voice a whisper. “I don’t know who made that hole. I was being executed and I fell. That’s all I know.”
“You’ve got to be quiet, Vul,” Caer said. “Please. Remember about your birthday—”
“What are my choices? The Eighteener Entrance, or let this Light Person kill me? At least I’ll live if they catch me! I’d be safer running on my own than hiding with him!”
“Where were you going to run?”
“We talked about it years ago! We were going to run away!”
“But, Vul,” Caer said. “We didn’t have anywhere to go.”
There was a pause, and Vul made a sound like choking back tears. “Now that the Light Person is here, you don’t want to!”
“Vul, please,” Caer moaned.
“They’ve got to be around here somewhere,” a young man said. “I heard someone shouting.”
“Search the area. We’ll find them. Torch anyone who gets in your way.”
The three of them grew silent and stiff. Even Vul stopped yelling.
Footsteps crunched in the grass just feet below. Eref stretched his eyes, willing them to see, but everything had turned black again.
“Nothing, Lieutenant Matboc,” the young man said. “What do you think?”
Eref held his breath in the chilling silence.
“The trees. Search them all.”
Caer let out a tiny sob.
Eref remained still. What could he do? They were trapped.
Something moved on the branch.
“No!” Caer whispered. “Vul, what are you doing?”
“I’m going down, of course.”
Vul struggled next to Eref. She prepared to climb down the tree.
“But, Vul!” Caer cried softly.
“Be quiet. Do you want them to hear you?”
“I don’t want them to catch you!”
“Listen,” Vul said, moving closer to the trunk to stretch her legs down. “I don’t trust this Light Person. But you’re still my best friend, and I can’t see you on the Pyre. I can distract them. I’m fast. I can get away. They’ll leave you alone.”
A tiny hand gripped Eref’s shoulder, little fingernails poking him like needles. “Light Person,” Vul growled into his ear. “Don’t you ever,
let anything happen to Caer. If you do, I swear I’ll kill you myself.” Her nails dug deeper into his skin. “Did you hear me?
I will kill you.
Eref nodded, his heart racing.
“Vul!” Caer sobbed. “Please, there’s got to be another way.”
Eref’s mind raced. Was there another way?
“Should I torch the trees, sir?” The voice was so close...
“If it comes to that, I will give the order. Keep searching.”
The fingernails left Eref’s shoulder, and he heard Vul shift over and embrace Caer.
“I love you. Be careful.”
“You can’t go down there!”
“Let me go, Caer. I can get away! I’m a good runner!”
Caer sobbed a little louder. “No, please.”
The small struggle next to Eref made his branch sway dangerously, and he gripped the bark to stay stable. “Caer,” he whispered. “Vul.”
Then something terrible happened. A crack of wood sounded from a lower branch, and Caer gasped. Eref heard Vul’s body crash downward, slamming into thick tree limbs on her way down.