I leaned against the railing when I reached the top of the stairs. The muscles in my thighs burned, so I took a minute to catch my breath. Cobwebs wove through the iron chandeliers dangling from the ceiling, with maybe a couple dozen little candles sputtering in each one. I pulled away from the railing and looked down the hall. One of the girls waved to me, so I hurried toward her.
Giggling, the girl led me into a large room. Quilts covered the stone walls and a glass door opened up to a balcony behind a waterfall. I crossed the room to the fireplace and stuck my hands toward the fire.
“You may wash over there, do you wish?” The girl pointed to a steaming tub.
“Okay.” I glanced around, my teeth chattering. “Where’d Tuggin go?”
She pulled a gold robe from a drawer in a spotted dresser. She dipped her head and hid behind her curtain of dark hair, but not before I saw her blush. “You have known Tuggin long, yes?”
Oh, for crying out loud, was she into Tuggin? “No, we just have this kidnapper-kidnappee kind of thing going on. He’s not much fun, let me tell you.”
The girl giggled, and then laid the robe on the bed and sped from the room without saying another word. I studied the closed door then the bed then the tub. What did I want more? A hot bath, a nap in a real bed, or escape? I debated another minute then grabbed my pack and crept into the hall.
“Going somewhere?” Tuggin leaned against the wall with his arms crossed.
“Looking for a bathroom?” My lie turned into a question.
“With your pack?”
“You never know what you might need.”
Tuggin approached me the way a tiger closes in on its wounded prey. I backed against the wall, Tuggin stopping only inches from me so that our personal space clashed with a surge of intense heat.
“There is no escape from me.” He raised an eyebrow. “Do you prefer being tied?”
I swallowed, loudly.
“Take your bath and behave like a proper tenya,” he said.
I ground my teeth, but then dashed into my room.
“You suck!” I blurted, and had the satisfaction of seeing Tuggin’s blank stare before slamming the door in his face.
I heard Tuggin growl on the other side and I flung my backpack at the door. Fine. I’d really wanted a bath anyway. I wiggled out of my dirty clothes and folded myself into the tub. I laid my head back against the rim. My bones soaked up the heat from the water, and my muscles melted. I’d had no idea my body had been so clenched.
I lifted a foot out of the water and pointed my toes. What a mess of broken toenails and red callouses. My pedicure was shot, but at least it matched my disintegrated manicure. I plunked my leg back into the water. Enja seemed like a witch on a queen hall goddess level, and obviously didn’t like me much. The girl seemed a little naïve if she had a thing for snarky Tuggin. Something gnawed my stomach at the thought of them together. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care.
When the water turned cold, I left the tub and slipped on the robe; it felt silky smooth, gliding over my skin, and smelling faintly of flowers. Yawning, I lay on the bed, stretching my arms as though to hug it. My God, a bed! All I girl needed was some bitchin’ clothes and a soft bed and she could be happy.
Watching the dancing flame from the candle on the dresser, I let the sound of the rumbling falls outside sing me to sleep.
I stretched. “What?”
“Get up. I want to talk to you.”
My head ached, feeling like I’d eaten a bowl of ice cream too fast. I peered around the room. It was damp, and shadows crept from the walls. Too dark, too cold. I snuggled deeper into my pillow.
“Haley,” the pouty voice insisted. “Come on!”
Groaning, I lifted my head. A woman stood in the waterfall and waved to me. I checked the room then tumbled out of bed and opened the balcony doors.
Her long, blonde hair drifted like silk around her pale face. Her iridescent blue gown merged with the water, so that I couldn’t see where her gown ended and the water started.
“I’m Nala.” Her low voice wavered as though she spoke under water. She smoothed her dress. “Do you like my dress?”
“I like your robe. It’s very pretty.” Nala inspected her image in the glass door. “The waters are disappearing. Did you know?"
I wiped water from my eyes. “I heard something about it.”
Nala smoothed her hair, and then turned her head to study her profile. “The Eyids need harmony for the globes in the planetary chain to survive. When the Eyids fight, it affects nature on all the globes.” She turned to study the other side of her face. “Was nature on Earth affected by us?”
Crazy things were happening on Earth, like ravaging tornado outbreaks, one devastating hurricane after another, out of control wild fires, tsunamis, earth quakes, and global warming.
Nala smiled as if she could read my thoughts. “The Eyids have been at war for thirteen generations, when some of our power-hungry descendants broke the Web and shattered the harmony amongst us. Greedy, vain little brats.” She patted the moss crown on her head. “Do you like my crown?”
“It is pretty, isn’t it?” Nala shifted her crown. “It’s bad enough that Soltar is making life for the rest of us so difficult, but now his descendant wants to take away all the water! Can you believe it? The planetary chain will burn.”
“What about Earth?” I shivered. So much for my warm bath.
Nala stuck out her lower lip. “Well, of course! Earth’s part of the planetary chain. Anyway, everything will be destroyed if the Eyid descendant isn’t stopped. I know Nomer told you about him.”
Cold fear cramped my stomach. I bent over, wrapping my arms around my waist. “I thought that was a dream.”
“It was a dream, silly. How else are we Eyids supposed to talk to you mortals?”
“I’d like to wake up now.”
“It doesn’t matter what you want. How can you be so selfish?” Drops collected on Nala’s lashes. She blinked, and they swept into the mist. “Many generations ago the Eyids had mates and babies.”
Nomer had mentioned something about them having families, but I hadn’t really thought about it. What would the kid of an Eyid be like? A demi-Eyid, like the demi-gods in Greek mythology?
“Eyid descendants have more power and longer life than other Eyidorans, even more than the Mentas.” She slid a glance at me then back to her reflection. “Not as much power as the Eyids, of course.”
“What are Mentas?”
Nala clucked her tongue. “They’re supposed to be protectors, but they’ve become twisted with power and greed. They can persuade your thoughts, and…” She hesitated, sliding a look my way. “There’s more they can do, but they’re not allowed, because being mortal they become addicted to the power.”
“I will not talk about it. It’s bad.” She touched my arm, leaving my skin cold and clammy. “Oh! And they can sense emotions, so don’t bother lying to Tuggin.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
Nala rolled her eyes. “Are you even listening to me?” She fiddled with her crown again. “A firestorm is coming, and Eyidora’s growing weak. Something has to be done, before the whole chain falls. Descendants of the Eyids need to rise together and restore harmony to Eyidora.” She splashed her hand through the waterfall. “Did you know?”
“Seriously, I don’t know what you expect me to do about all that.”
Nala pouted then pressed her lips together. Lifting her chin, she placed her fingertips against my temples.
Images burned into my head like a wild slide-show that I couldn’t stop: Eyidora engulfed in a roaring blaze; trees burning like matchsticks; flowers crisped; Mom screaming with her clothes on fire; Elana shriveled like a corpse, her face purple and wrinkled and her eyes bulging. I gagged, and Nala released me.
I sagged against the balcony door. “What the hell was that?”
“A glimpse of your future if you don’t fight to save this globe.”
“I can’t fight this war.”
“Neither can the Eyids. We live in the spirit world, not the mortal world, so you have to do it.”
Nala interrupted. “It centers on the fourth truhaan phase, so you must hurry.”
“You mean, like, four moons?”
“Four truhaan. You already have one stone; you must find the others before he does. You must take them to the Caves of Xenia. That’s where harmony is found.”
“Are you out of your freaking mind?”
Nala pursed her lips. “Are you ever rude. I haven’t spoken to a mortal in ages. I’d forgotten how difficult it is. We should’ve known you were too immature to handle this.”
Nausea clenched my gut and my head reeled, but I sputtered, “Hey, watch who you’re calling immature.”
“You don’t have to use that tone with me.”
I leaned against the wall and slid to the floor. Clutching my stomach, I pulled my knees to my chest and rested my forehead on them. “I’m going to puke.”
“Gross. I have much more fun things to do than argue with you anyway.” Nala’s shape shimmered, melting into the falls. Then she evaporated into the mist, her final words trailing after her. “Did you know?”
A rapping noise filled my head. I tried to tell whoever was making the racket to shut the hell up, but my lips felt too heavy to move.
Someone was knocking on my door. Groaning, I rolled out of bed, landed on the floor, rested on my hands and knees for a minute, and then stumbled across the room to open the door. The same, nameless girl held a green dress.
“It is time for raha. I have brought you clothing.”
“What’s a raha?” I asked, yawning and checking out the girl. She wore a silvery gray dress that draped to the floor. She looked pretty cute.
“The evening fare. Eyids be!” The girl dropped the dress in order to clap her hands over her mouth, looking at me as if she’d just found out I was a serial kitten killer.
“What’s wrong?” I stooped to pick the dress up, an excuse to look away from the girl’s horror-struck face and secretly sniff my arm pit.
“Your eyes.” Her hand muffled her answer. “They are strange, dilated with blue sprinkles. I do not understand.”
I lurched to the mirror and confirmed her words. What the hell? Did I get some freaky Eyidoran disease? Was I going blind?
The girl edged toward me. “It is peculiar, is it not?”
I gripped the dress, wrinkling it in my sweaty hands. “Maybe I’m contagious. I probably shouldn’t go to this raha thing.”
The girl slipped her face behind her hair. “Non, O’ma has ordered your presence. I shall wait for you in the corridor, yes?”
She slipped out of the room. I fumbled with the dress, trying to figure out how the straps were supposed to cross my shoulders and back, and then had to undress to take off my bra because the straps were showing. I hid the herb in my backpack.
Time and again I checked myself in the mirror. My eyes were still dilated with those bluish specs around the edges, but the effect seemed to be fading a bit. I tried to smooth the wrinkles out of my dress, finally gave up, and opened the door.
“Oh,” the girl said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, looking down. Maybe I had the dress on backwards.
“I will help you, yes?” She pushed me onto the stool in front of the dresser, picking up a black stick.
“What’s your name?” I asked, while she ran the stick over my eyelids.
“Adrana.” Adrana did a bunch of stuff with my face and hair, and then made a clucking noise when she spied my ragged, dirty fingernails. She cleaned and buffed them, and then stepped back and grinned. “There.”
My rain-kinked hair was glossy smooth and pushed back with hair combs with embedded green stones. My eyes looked rounder from the dilation and eyeliner, and my cheeks flushed rose to match my lips.
Adrana nodded, looking pleased. “You look pretty.”
I snort-giggled. “Thanks.”
Adrana swept her hair over her face. “Come. We do not wish to be late.”
When we reached the dining room, I searched the men and women seated in high-backed chairs around a long wooden table. Thin candles flickered in iron chandeliers hanging from the ceiling, casting long shadows that crept into dark corners.
I tripped when I saw Tuggin. His deep blue jacket intensified the blue of his eyes, which were even more noticeable now that he’d tied his hair into a pony tail with a black cord. Gold buttons trailed up his chest to disappear into the soft folds of some kind of white collar-scarf wrapped around his neck.
Wow. I’d never be able to hold a coherent thought when he looked like that. Half of me hoped I could sit next to him; the other half was petrified at the thought.
Adrana pointed to the empty chair next to Tuggin. I stepped carefully so I wouldn’t trip again. I skooched my chair closer to the table then tried sitting up, but the hem of my dress was pinned under a chair leg. Hopping in my seat, I used both hands to lift the chair while I kicked my dress clear. I was pretty sure I heard a faint tearing sound.
“Are you all right, dear?” asked the woman sitting on my other side.
I pretended to be interested in my silverware, not relaxing until Tuggin wrenched his gaze from me to talk to Enja, seated at the head of the table. I let myself drop into a daydream. One where Tuggin’s hand grabbed mine under the table; his thumb lightly traced a pattern on my palm; the tickling sensation chased goose bumps up my arm to my neck; he leaned close and whispered, “You are so beautiful”; his warm breath skimmed my ear; trembling waves of heat exploded in my chest, dripping into my stomach, lingering there before traveling further down, melting me…
“Haley?” Tuggin said.
I snapped my head toward him. He looked as if he was waiting for an answer to a question. I stared, wishing I could stop the heat spreading from my neck into my face, and his eyes widened.
“What?” I asked, my face getting even hotter.
“Greetings, Haley,” Enja said. She glanced sharply at Tuggin, who lowered his gaze to his plate.
“Hi,” I said. I had the feeling that I’d made Enja repeat her greeting. I had the feeling that Tuggin, as well as Enja, could read my mind. Was Nala right about that sensory-reading trick?
“You are rested, yes?” Enja asked.
“You have met my daughter, Adrana? Tomorrow she will show you our city.”
“Sure, okay,” I answered.
I pushed around my pale pink shrimp and flaky fish wrapped in wide green leaves. I was sure everything tasted great, but I had that groggy feeling again and wasn’t hungry. The fires blazed, and each time Tuggin brushed against my arm I almost choked. How’d it get so hot? My head started to spin. I felt as though I’d been drugged.
I couldn’t get the images from the dream out of my head, the burning, and the screaming…it had seemed so real. Were my dreams real, on some kind of level? Like when I dreamt about that Nomer guy, and woken up with a scratched face.
I touched my necklace through my shirt. Both Nomer and Nala had talked about those power stones…how many were there? If I found them all, maybe I’d have enough power to jet this insane world and go home. I rubbed my neck and shifted in my chair.
“Haley, you are well, yes?” asked Enja.
“Yeah, I’m good.” I forced a laugh, searching for something to say, and latched on to the one thought in my head. “I was just thinking about a strange dream I had.”
I was answered by silence. The kind of silence you hear right before a witness screams, “She did it!” in a trial for murder. Whispered rustling broke the silence as everyone shifted in my direction.
Tuggin ran a hand through his hair. “Jahme.”
“You had a dream?” Enja asked.
“Uh huh. I mean, yeah.” I wiped my sweaty palms on my dress.
I flinched when Adrana dropped her fork with a clang. Her eyes looked as though they’d pop out of her head, shoot across the table, and use my face for target practice.
“What’s wrong?” I asked her.
Adrana blurted, “Eyidorans do not dream.”
I leaned back in my chair. “Seriously?”
“Tell me of this dream,” Enja commanded.
“Well, hmm, it was…” My throat was so dry that my voice cracked. I sipped my drink, not sure I should say anything, but not knowing what else to do but answer. “I dreamt that there was a lady in the waterfall, and she, you know, talked to me. No biggy.”
Enja leaned her elbows on the table. “What message did she bring to you?”
I shifted from one butt cheek to the other. “She said something about a firestorm, and four moons. And we, you know, talked about the whole global warming thing.”
“Four moons?” Enja asked, tilting her head.
“I have told you. They are truhaan,” Tuggin murmured.
Enja asked slowly, “You are speaking of the fourth truhaan phase?”
I nodded. “Yeah, I think that’s what she said.”
A serving girl flung a platter of roasted potatoes onto the table and ran out of the room. One potato bounced off the platter and rolled to a stop against Enja’s plate.
“You’re sure about this no dreaming thing?” I asked.
“There have been dreamers, yes? Seers from ancient days.” Adrana’s gaze swung from me to her mother. “Haley is a Seer.”
“That is absurd.” Tuggin spoke softly, but his face could have been chiseled from granite. “She is tenya.”
I ignored Tuggin, and asked Adrana, “What’s a Seer?”
Enja spoke. “Tales speak of Seers communicating with Eyids in a dreamstate. They were rare, yes? A Seer has not lived on Eyidora in many generations.”
“What does a Seer do?” I wanted to know.
Enja folded her hands in her lap. “A Seer heeds the call of the Eyids. Whether the message is conveyed, and to whom, is a path chosen by the Seer, yes? The entire path of Eyidora depends on what the Seer does.”
There was a ton of stuff I’d been told. There were stones of power that would stop the war, and Nala wanted me to find them and bring them to those caves. Nomer said my necklace was one of them. There was a guy who wanted to steal the water, and he had to be stopped. I didn’t like Enja’s attitude, but she seemed like she was in charge. Then again, knowing something Enja didn’t gave me a twisted sense of satisfaction.
Enja bowed her head when I didn’t say anything. “Have you come to save our globe, Haley Allaire?”
My scalp tingled when Enja lifted her gaze. I had the feeling her next words were meant for me…some kind of warning, or omen.“Will you save it…or destroy it?”