Prologue- Ita is ea id incoho
The sun was shining, Eirene was skipping, and everything was wonderful. Almost unbelievably wonderful, Eirene thought as she came home from school, skipping down the sidewalk out of pure pleasure. She was making friends at school, her parents we talking about staying here, and Justin was coming home in a week.
She couldn't wait to tell her older brother about how great things were going. He had never had trouble fitting in when they moved, unlike her, and was always okay with letting her hang out with him and his friends. Everyone loved Justin, he was a terrific older brother, excelling at everything he tried. Eirene adored her older brother, but he was gone on a trip to some island off the coast of Florida, part of one of those traveling student tours.
Then things would be really perfect. Too perfect to believe, Eirene thought as she walked up to the door of their average two story house. Then she stopped and frowned. The calm before the storm, the light before the dark. A feeling of foreboding came over her as she stood at the threshold of the door. No. Mustnt think that way. Shaking her head, she stepped through the door into the kitchen.
"Hi! Mom, I'm home!!"
Her voice echoed eerily throughout the house. She tossed her backpack on the kitchen table, then stood still and listened. A muffled noise that she didn't recognize was coming from the living room. The strong feeling of foreboding that she had felt at the door came back full force as she slowly walked into the living room.
"Mom? Mom, what's the matter? Why are you crying?"
Her mother, who was sitting on the floor and sobbing helplessly, said nothing.
Eirene saw a tearstained letter sitting on the couch. Waves of dread washed over her as she thought of all of the horrible things that could have happened. Her hand shaking, she picked up the letter and began to skim. Words and phrases jumped out at her. "Horrible accident....sincerest condolences...." and then her eyes settled on a phrase, the worst one of all.
Chapter One- Nostos
TWO YEARS LATER
Hot, humid, forest. Crumbling ruins. Forest again, then a glimpse of ruins. Stupid car, stupid road, stupid holes in the stupid road.
I sighed, then looked away from the window to the front of the car where my parents were sitting in icy silence. They'd had another fight, over whether we should move again or not. My mom said that moving so often was damaging my social development. Gee, Mom, you only figured it out about five years too late. My dad countered that with the fact that he earns the money and some interesting ruins has been discovered, it was his big chance, blah blah blah. Hence the icy silence.
Thank God it was summer. No struggling to find a school, no trying to fit in, no moving in two months, losing whatever friends I had struggled to make.
We bounced in yet another pothole in the dirt track. Everything around me rattled violently. The car slowed as the road turned abruptly, following the terrain as it dropped off into a stunning view of what looked like a ruinous temple surrounded by rainforest. A few minutes later, the small car shuddered to a stop. My mom and dad got out, still maintaining the silence and managing to shoot daggers at each other while they were at it. I rolled my eyes. This summer was going to be a joy.
Gathering some of my belongings, which were shoved haphazardly into a backpack(my work), or stacked neatly in boxes.(my mom's work)
After getting an armful of boxes and slinging my backpack over my shoulder, I walked up to the porch of the house. Well, it wasn't much of a house. Small, one story affair. Looked to be made out of logs, but at least it had running water. Of course, we weren't much of a family either. Dad had always been slightly distant from the rest of us, but things had gone nowhere but worse since Justin had died. Mom had fallen completely apart, Dad has shut himself out from everyone and everything and thrown himself into his work.
Which left me. Alone. Without my beloved big brother, my only friend.
I snapped out of my reverie. Shaking my head to clear away depressing thoughts, I walked into the little house. My mom was standing by a table in what I assumed was the kitchen, a dimly lit room with a small refrigerator and a tiny white counter. Then my mom pulled apart the blinds. Bright, buttery sunlight spilled through the slightly grimy windows, illuminating every corner of the small kitchen. I looked around and sighed. This was going to be great, a summer in a small house in a hot, bug-ridden rainforest, with no people for miles around except for my fighting parents. At least the house had air-conditioning.
"Your room is that way," my mom said tartly, pointing to the entry of the kitchen. I nodded, then walked through the door, to see a small living room with a tiny couch sitting in one corner, facing huge windows that looked like they hadn't been cleaned in years. How long has it been since someone's lived here?, I wondered.
"Eirene, stop daydreaming, and help unload the boxes."
"Okay Mom, just let me put these ones up in my room first."
I untangled myself from my thoughts and walked into the hallway on the other side of the living room. My worn flip-flops made a thwacking noise on the hardwood floor, a change from the worn carpeting of the kitchen and living room. The short hallway had two doors on the right, one at the end of the hallway, and one directly to my left. I opened that one and stuck my head in. Tiny, slightly crowded room, empty bookshelf, dusty desk. Dad's study. I closed that door and opened the one across from it. Big bed. Two small dressers. Mom and Dad's bedroom. I walked to the end of the hall and stuck my head in that door. Bathroom. Which left me with the last door on the right as my room.
I walked in and tossed the boxes and my backpack on the bed, which was small but serviceable and bare of any blankets, pillows, or sheets. I sat on it and looked around my new room. It had a small closet in one corner, the bed I was sitting on now in the center of the room, and a window with a seat by it. I strolled over the to window and looked out. I had a great view of the forest, and the clearing with that temple. I'd have to go down and look at it, Dad would probably love to take me there.
Turning away from the window, I glanced around my room. Wait. I whirled back around and opened the window for a better view. The heat flowed in, along with probably more than a few bugs, but I didn't care. Leaning out the window as far as possible without falling, I stared at the temple. When turning away, I could have sworn that I had seen a creepy black-robed figure standing on the huge pyramid-shaped temple. Staring. At me. I shuddered.
"The heat's getting to you, Eirene," I muttered to myself as I pulled myself out of the window and shut it. Shaking my head, I left the room and helped my parents get the multiple boxes out of the car then started unloading some of the boxes.
Late that night, I flopped down on my bed, newly outfitted with blankets, sheets, and a pillow. I was exhausted, but I knew I wouldn't be bale to fall asleep. It always took me ages. I sat up and got off of the bed, weaving through boxes to get to the closet. I slid the door open, revealing the few clothes I had managed to get on hangers and a full length mirror, me staring back at myself. Shorts and a t-shirt, curly brown hair, blue eyes, and the locket I always wore. It was unique, a birthday gift from my father when we had been living in Egypt. A small, bright blue scarab, carved out of stone, that had a tiny latch on the side. When opened, it showed a picture of my family, about two and a half years ago. I had been so happy, a bouncy twelve year old finally fitting in someplace. Then everything came apart...
I sighed, scooted some boxes out of my way to make a straight path, and lay down on my bed. To my surprise, I found myself drifting off almost immediately. I closed my eyes and descended into darkness.
Chapter Two- Reper
Darkness all around me. Darker than the darkest night, emptier than the depths of space. Where was I? This didn't feel like a dream....
I turned in a full circle, expecting to see something. Nothing. Just...dark empty nothingness.
"Don't let them find you."
The voice came from all around, and yet nowhere. I spun around once more. Nothing.
"You won't be able to see me. Stop trying."
"Who are you? Where am I?," I asked as I squinted into the darkness, my heart pounding.
"You don't need to know. Just don't let them find you."
"Who's them?" Something about the way the voice kept saying "them" made me shiver.
"You'll find out soon enough. Just remember to be careful."
"Wait! Where are you going? What's going on? Don't leave!"
The darkness was suddenly replaced by a blinding brilliance, shining all around me, through me, bleaching me, burning me. I couldn't see couldn't think couldn't move make the light stop! Make it stop too bright I'll be blinded I'll be burned I'll die help me someone help me!
I was sitting up in bed, screaming at the top of my lungs, drenched in a cold sweat. The blankets were strewn around me, some tangled in my legs, some hanging off of the bed or thrown on the floor. I stopped screaming and looked out the window. The sun was just coming up. I shivered violently, remembering the other light, the one in my dream, the one that burned.
"Honey? Eirene? What's the matter?" My mom was standing in the doorway in her pajamas, looking disheveled and tired, her light brown hair that was getting a few gray streaks sticking out at every angle.
"Nothing Mom, just a...nightmare. I'm okay, really."
"You sure?" My mom was squinting at me, as though she expected me to tell her about it. Fat chance of that.
"Yeah, I'm fine." I jumped out of bed, smiling as happily as I could. "I'll be getting up now anyways."
"You do that, I think I'll sleep for a while longer. Your dad's outside. Ask him if you need anything."
I nodded and smiled, and she left the room, going back to her own. I sat back down on my bed momentarily. What a dream, so real. But that was all it was, a dream. Part of me didn't believe it, but it was true. I stood up again, showered quickly, and put on some new clothes. I'd go ask Dad about going down to the temple now. I walked down the hall, through the living room and the kitchen, grabbing a piece of toast while I was in the kitchen, out onto the wraparound porch. I started around the house, looking for him. He had to be around here somewhere....
"Eirene?" I jumped as I heard my name from behind me. I wheeled around quickly.
"Dad? Don't sneak up on me like that, you scared me."
"Well, someone's jumpy today. Were you looking for me?"
"Yeah, I wanted to ask you about that temple down there." I pointed towards the clearing with the ruinous temple.
"Ah, that. It's Aztec, very well preserved." My dad took a deep breath, looking like he was getting ready to give me one of his extensive lectures detailing everything about a culture.
"I know what culture it is Dad, I was wondering if you could take me down there today," I hastily said, to curb the lecture.
My dad perked up, ecstatic that he was making some kind of impression on his teenage daughter. "Sure, we can go now if you want."
"Really? That'd be cool."
"Well, get your stuff together and get in the car, and I'll be there in a few minutes, okay?"
"Great, I'll go get in the car now."
My dad turned and walked into the house. I watched him, with his glasses constantly falling down his nose, hiding his brown eyes. His dark brown hair was always messed up, his clothes were wrinkled half the time. Absentminded, but behind the forgetful person was someone of surprising intelligence.
I walked over to the small beige four-door car and got in the passenger seat. It was hotter inside the car than it was outside, by at least five degrees. Humid too. Good thing I was wearing shorts and a tank top. Even so, I was beginning to get impatient when my dad finally walked out of the door and bounced over to the car, smiling and then chattering at me as soon as he opened the door and got in.
"Fascinating temple, different in small ways from all known ones...."
I plastered a false smile on my face and nodded my head agreeably, tuning him out. He could ramble for ages on a subject, whether someone was listening or not. I stared out the window at the jade forest flashing by as we bumped down the dirt road. Still babbling incessantly, my dad pulled onto a small path, even worse than the one we had just left. Branches whipped the car doors, as it occurred to me that this was probably not the best vehicle to travel on a tiny dirt track in a rainforest. Too late for that now. At least a small team had been here before us, making the trail more beaten and easier to travel.
What were they thinking when they rented this car?, I wondered. A little four door has no place in an Aztec jungle.
The car gave a tremendous jump as we flew over another rock. I was jarred from head to toe, the inside of the car and the greenness outside multiplying themselves twice over. Ouch. Not good.
"Here we are, Eirene," Dad said in his cheeriest voice, cutting off his lecture. Yay. Blissful silence as he perkily jumped out of the car.
Still shaking my head and trying to clear my vision from that awful bump, I climbed out of the car unsteadily. Looking around me, I gasped and stared at the temple. Wow.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
"It looks a lot bigger up close....," I replied. Craning my neck, I looked up at the temple. And up. And up. And then up some more.
Blocks upon blocks upon huge, aged, plant-covered blocks that made you feel as insignificant as a speck of dust. One of these blocks could fall and smash you like a three-year-old stomps on an ant, and you'd be left as a small red speck of a smear. That was just one block. Hundreds upon hundreds of these huge square boulders, stacked one on top of the other, to make something that leered at you, stared you down, intimidated you.
"These pyramids were used for sacrifices, you know."
My gaze traveled up to the small copper-stained top at the top of the vast pyramid. The altar.
"Yeah, Dad. I know."
We walked over to the base of the......what could you call it? Building wasn't big enough, temple seemed too.....good for something that people had sacrificed other people on, and they both implied that it was a pile of rocks, nothing more. But it was more. There was a presence there, an undeniable sense of malevolence. You looked at it, and it looked at you, it scrutinized you, found your weaknesses and decided you were beneath worrying about. You could do nothing in the shadow of this huge ruinous thing, couldn't make a ripple in it's lake of pure evil. You could try, but you wouldn't succeed. No way, no how. Not a snowball's chance in hell.
"Well, what do you want to see, Eirene? What do you want to do?," my dad said in his happy father-daughter outing voice, interrupting my thoughts.
"I'd like to climb to the top."
"Hmm.....I want to look around inside, is it okay with you if we split up?"
"Great, Dad," I replied absently, already starting up the step-aisle, made up of blocks about half the size of the other blocks. Still rather large.
It was hard work hauling myself up the steps. Each one was about a foot shorter than me, so the only fairly easy way up was to lift myself up by using my arms, then try and find a hold by kicking my legs frantically, pulling and pushing myself up onto the next slab, to repeat the process. Slow, hard work. Tons of fun.
After a while, I flopped down, gasping for breath like a fish out of water. My arms, legs, and back ached. My clothes were getting pretty grimy, the bugs were starting to get annoying, and my hair was getting heavy on the back of my neck. I sat up, looking around. It was hard work getting here, but the view was almost worth it. A swaying dark emerald-green sea surrounded me for miles, under a cloudless robin's egg blue sky. The smell of plants and the sounds of life were all around me. But still....
The hairs on the back of my neck prickled as I turned around slowly. I was almost to the top now, I could see the altar. It wasn't much, a large slab of perfectly innocent-looking rock. Then you saw the stains, the streaks of dark dark scarlet. You realized, even if it was just a slab of rock, it reeked of death and horror.
I climbed up the last few steps to the top. The view was even more magnificent here, but I couldn't enjoy it. I felt eyes on the back of my neck, someone was watching me.
Trying to shake off the feeling, I ignored my mixed feelings of fear and disgust and walked over to the stained slab of rock, examining it. You would think that after hundreds, thousands of years of sun and rain and wind, no stains would be there, no trace of bloodshed.
But they were.
I crouched down, reached out to trace one of the stains with the tip of my finger. So many lives were ended here, people's hearts ripped still beating out of their chest. Sighing, I started to stand up and turn around. A tide of dizziness hit me and I heard a hissing voice.
"Run! Don't let them find you or all will be lost!"
The green spun around me, the ground tilted. Up was down, down was up, nothing was right. I dropped to my knees and clutched my head. Abruptly, it stopped. I could see without feeling like I'd lose my lunch.
A cold hand clamped over my mouth. My arms were grabbed, then twisted painfully behind my back. I froze, then instincts kicked in. I fought frantically, biting down on the hand over my mouth and kicking my foot backward, hard, while trying to twist away. I caught my attacker by surprise, my kick cracking hard on bone as he yelped and jerked away. The force of him thrusting me away spun me around and made me fall flat, facing him. Black robe, hood over face, glassy eyes glinting.
"Little brat!," he snarled as he advanced towards me. "You'll pay for that...." The sun shone cold on a long crooked knife he pulled out of the folds of his robe. I caught a glimpse of a cruel, twisted smile on a pale face beneath the hood.
I crawled backwards, looking around for something, anything, that would give me a small chance of survival. Nothing. This was most definitely not good.
An idea popped into my head. An idea that would take my chance for survival from about zero to one in a hundred. Better than nothing.
"Please....please mister, please don't hurt me," I said in my best whimpering, helpless little maiden voice, with an expression plastered on my face to match. I stopped crawling backwards and looked up into the darkness of the hood. "I didn't mean to hurt you, I promise I didn't mean to...."
"Too late for sorry now, filthy little brat." He wasn't far away now.....I could almost reach him.....
He crouched down and stared at me. I could see a shadowy face, dark eyes, cruel mouth that was a slash in pale skin. He started to reach the knife towards me, pointing at my neck. Three....two......one......
I lashed out viciously, kicking him in the knee and hitting him in the face with my elbow at the same time.
"I'll show you a filthy little brat!"
I jumped up and kicked him again. That got a swear as he dropped the knife to put his hands to his face. They came away bloody. I looked around wildly. What to do, where's the knife....
Our gazes fell on the blade at the same time. I dove at it, he scrabbled towards it. I got there first, grabbing the carved wooden haft of the night and rolling over. He was there, trying to get the knife. I panicked and slashed at his face, his hands, anything within reach. He howled as his hood fell backward, revealing messy black hair. A long, garnet-red line appeared on his face, reaching from the outer edge of his left eye to his cheekbone, following his face. He stared at me, I stared at him. The crooked blade caught the light as it clattered to the ground. I slowly stood up, backing away from him.
I twirled around, looking for the source of the voice I recognized as my father's.
"What's the matter? I thought I heard something....."
I mouthed wordlessly, turned and pointed. He was gone. The knife, the guy, the blood that had dripped from his face. All gone.
"What's the matter?," my dad said, walking over to me.
"Uh....nothing. I thought I saw something, must be the heat getting to me." That got a strange look. Oh well. "So, where'd you come from?"
"Oh, there's a door about halfway down on that side," he said, pointing at the side opposite the one I'd climbed up. "More of a rectangular hole in the wall than a door, but you know what I mean. I thought I heard someone talking, then I thought I heard you yell. Must be the heat getting to me too."
I gave him a rather weak smile and received one in return. We decided that we should go down the way I came, my dad didn't want me going inside the temple, he said there were some dangerous parts. So, we made our way down, slowly but surely, my dad trying to make small talk most of the time, failing mainly due to my lack of interest and participation. I was lost in my thoughts, wondering how that person got here, how attacked me, how lucky I was.
I was wondering these questions the rest of the day, as I ate dinner at a table with ear-aching silence, as I got ready to go to sleep. Then, right before I drifted off into the realm of dreams and darkness, I thought of one more question.
Why did he want to kill me?