I reached for the control strip and tapped the edit icon. Immediately, the scene changed to a woodland, dark fir trees casting long shadows beneath a heavy winter sky. For background effect, I added... [+]
"No." Alec stood five feet away and still couldn't stop the scaredy-cat shiver that began with a scrunched up nose. "It says ‘sewer’."
"It's a doorknob."
"That's not better!" He was turning to run when Verity squatted down, and disappeared.
Aleena gave him an apologetic smile and stuck her foot ou—.
The words he was mentally throwing at the girls were stopped by a barrage of giggles.
“You can't be mad,” Verity reasoned. “It was your idea.”
“He needs your help.”
Alec gave a big sigh while looking around the parking lot, taking it in one more time. “I know.” His thoughts traveled to the girls somewhere in the portal, going somewhere — who knows where — to help a friend in need.
Suti. Always traveling, exploring, sticking his horn wherever it didn’t belong. Helping. The last time he’d heard from the unicorn, Suti had been tracing the trail of two friends who had disappeared. Now he was missing. Alec knew from experience that there was no distance his thoughts couldn’t travel. Either Suti’s mental projections were being blocked, or... they were being blocked. He refused to think negative thoughts, or let worry and fear seep in. Alec knew Suti never would.
With a determined nod, Alec stepped forward. The ‘x’ painted on the sewer cover caused his mouth to twitch. “Somebody has to say it....”
“’X’ marks the spot.”
He smiled as Verity's voice rang inside his head. This was the place, the portal, that Suti had discovered. He hadn't known where it led, or why his friends had been here. But he was sure they had stood in the middle of this parking lot, staring at the white ‘x’ on this piece of metal, marked ‘sewer’. Alec hesitated.
Since Verity and Aleena had befriended him, uncomfortable situations had become common. It wasn’t new for him to be unsure of the next step. Things needed to be done, and he was going to do them. He was clear on that. At least, he decided he was going to do them, and Verity and Aleena made sure the doing got done. They went first, knowing that he didn’t want to jump; knowing he didn’t want to be left miles from home in an empty parking lot. He scrubbed a hand across his face. He adjusted his backpack. He wrinkled his nose.
“Really not a sewer,” Aleena said.
He plugged his nose and jumped.
Silent, peaceful, pitch black, terrifying, and over. He was out, shielding his eyes against the flashlight Aleena was writing in the air with. One ginormous hand repositioned her light so it was aiming at the ground.
“Alec. It is good to see you. It is also not good to see you here.” Before Alec could protest, Gian continued. “Your friend demonstrates great strength. If you will hide yourself with a cloak, we will take you to observe.”
Verity gave him a tiny nod, Aleena turned her flashlight off. It was then that Alec noticed the moth flattened against his shoulder, and he marveled at the light it emitted. As they moved to follow Gian from the room, he cloaked himself and studied the outline of the others that filled the space. He did not recognize the races, he did recognize the energy they carried.
“Yes, these beings have joined the Light.” Gian’s voice filled his head. Alec could see the nine-and-a-half-foot leader of the Grevlakrolian race at the front of the line. His solemn attitude seemed unnatural when compared to the energetic, upbeat behavior Alec had witnessed on Zambos. Then, Gian had been guiding his race to a new home. They had just discovered the positive energy of the Light and were exploring how to harness it to protect themselves. It was reassuring to see that everyone here was carrying the Light with them. It was a visible sign that they were on the same side.
“What is it with caves?” He grumbled to fill the silence, and to silence his thoughts. His mind wanted to ponder the purpose of so many diverse beings in one place. His stomach was agitated that Suti wasn't with them. “Couldn’t we have a portal that ends in a happy meadow? At the end of a rainbow? In a baseball museum?” A high-pitched squeak sounded behind him.
Aleena peeked over her shoulder, at the ceiling, and grinned at whatever she saw there. Alec figured that meant it was safe to look, and found himself staring at a belly that was changing from blue to an interesting shade of yellow.
“He thinks you’re funny,” Aleena interpreted.
“I hate baseball,” was the only thing a stunned Alec could think to say. As he raced to catch up to the others, another squeak followed him.
“Absolute silence is necessary.” Gian’s voice traveled mentally to everyone. “We must remain undetected. Close your minds please.”
Serious faces lined the path Alec followed to the front. Aleena and Verity were already there, staring at a wall of rock. When he drew closer, Alec realized he could see through the rock into the cavern. Suti was the only one standing.
Surrounded by a forcefield of Light, friends on the ground beside him, Suti stood. His coat was spotted with sweat, streaked with mud. His legs trembled with exhaustion. Alec now understood the number of beings behind him. Many had come searching for their friends.
“Why are we waiting? How long’s he been in there? Why isn’t anyone fighting?” The questions burst from him as he pressed his nose against the rock. “Where is their Light? They need to charge with the Light!” Alec arched back to study the impassive face beside him.
“Why wouldn't they charge?” Gian’s voice was soft, calm. His eyes narrowed in interest, studying the scene before him.
“If their minds aren’t closed, the Dark entities could be controlling them. Interfering.”
Verity’s words caused unease to rustle behind them. Gian sent a spark of Light into the air, and the room settled.
“Suti would never let the Dark entities in,” Alec said. “He won’t forget the Dioniks. He knows the Light is stronger than them.”
“It takes time for a body to be able to store large amounts of energy.” All eyes were drawn to Aleena. She continued. “The Light is an infinite, positive form of energy. The body can bring it in and send it out, but it takes time to build strength. He’s using more than he can bring in. And his body needs rest.”
Alec felt the Light growing in his hand. He formed the energy into a ball and tossed it gently in the air. Verity followed its path, watched as he caught it, grinned when he met her eyes.
“They number in the thousands,” Gian stated. “We have called for help.”
Verity laughed and took Aleena’s hand. Alec joined them. Together they began building a wall of Light, separating the good guys from the bad. Alec felt the shift in energy as the beings behind him called the Light in and added their power to the wall. A roar of anger carried to them, but the Dark entities were unable to break through. Gian wasted no time destroying the rock keeping them from their friends.
It was then that Alec noticed the Dark entities that had cornered Suti and the others in the cavern. Instead of the white Light, the Dark entities attacked with negative energy that varied in color as it varied in strength. It was designed to debilitate and cause pain where it hit the body. When he saw the magnitude of the Darkness coming at them, Alec's mood flipped.
“It’s not over, it’s not over.” He pointed. He backed away.
Gian blocked his view and bent down to make eye contact. “It is over for today.”
Suti nudged him forward, Aleena tugged his hand. Verity gestured at the portal out. Alec took a deep breath and one last look over his shoulder, where the wall of Light continued to stand. With a determined nod, he stepped forward.