Chapter 14 ∞ Veils
Hellenia came to my room later that night to tuck me into bed as she had never failed to do for the past twelve years of my life. I might fall asleep ahead of her arrival on certain occasions, but she never missed her nightly visits—that, I knew for sure.
My only concern was my inability to sleep. The sweet milk she brought to me before bed didn’t do the usual trick. I had a habit of falling asleep after downing the glass, but there was something different about this night.
I would think I was in a circus with all the restless tossing and turning I was doing in bed. My heart was pounding in my chest and anxiety was coiling in my stomach.
I looked at the shadows in the room, feeling movements at the foot of my bed. There were slithering whispers and ill promises that chilled my flesh straight to the bone. I endured the torment for moments never-ending before finally moving. I hastily tapped on the stem of my nightlamp. A warm, golden light flooded and relief washed upon me when I realized nothing was there.
I shivered, pulling the blankets to my chest and pressing my back against the wall.
“Well, well! I gotta say, how you’ve grown! It’s been a long time since you were just a small…soul!”
I looked up in shock and found amber eyes boring into my own. He appeared before me from the elongated shadows, appearing out of nowhere as though he had just taken off the ring he stole from Gollum.
My jaws dropped. Words spurted up my throat, but never rolled past my tongue.
“Lesson number one,” I heard him say. “Finish what you started.”
“What the actual—”
“When you stop the veils from claiming a package, they will gather and attempt to take back their prey. That’s the nature of death. You cannot leave the life you saved until they give up. Otherwise, all that pain from earlier will have gone to nothing.”
“You!” I exclaimed, sitting up. “What are you—how did you get in here?”
“Come on, Evyionne. As if you aren’t already aware of my capabilities.” An arrogant smile floated up his lips. “Twelve years. I told you I will return soon.”
“Twelve years isn’t exactly soon.”
“You’d rather it be fifty?” he shot back.
“What are those shadow things?” I asked instead.
“They aren’t shadows of anything. In the in-between, we call them veils. They’re marks of death. They gather when a person reaches the end of their lifespan. You just tried to ward them off.”
“Are you crazy?” I intoned softly.
“What? Me? That should be my line. What got into that stupid little head of yours to do what you did? That boy was as good as dead.” He rolled his eyes and sat back, propping a pillow against his chest and looking around. “You know, this place is not that bad. You were quite lucky I gave you to that woman from back then.”
“Just tell me what you came here for and leave.”
He looked at me sullenly. “Why don’t you check on that boy you just saved?”
I stood, realizing he wasn’t kidding at all. The jerkhead must know something was going on.
I sped through the hallway in the Veneryan version of pajamas, barefooted as I raced across the cold, wooden floors. No wonder I had been so restless just now. It just didn’t feel right.
As I rounded the corner heading to the lobby where we were housing our patient, I caught a fleet of those weird shadow sprites hanging about.
They were bigger.
“You know, these things usually come like one or two at a time…” Amber shrugged as he walked behind me. “But the balance has been broken and they are starting to get out of hand. Twelve years is a long time. It’s enough to proliferate well.”
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’ve been living this peaceful life for all these years—you never bothered to know what was happening outside?” He looked at me criticizingly. “I’m sure you’ve heard of it one way or another. You’ve just ignored it?”
I clenched my fists and stepped back in fear as the shadows flitted about so thickly.
“Just do something and stop finding faults with me!”
“I’m still weak. I can’t do anything,” he said with a shrug. “I just came here for a visit to look at the state of you and boy am I disappointed.” He put a hand on his chin thinkingly and his eyes glazed with memories of the past. “Maybe it’s a little bit of my fault because I took you too far away. The idea back then was to take you somewhere safe. Maybe this place was too safe. You were supposed to—”
“Tell me what to do to make these things leave, otherwise I’m exorcising you!” I said, pointing at him and panicking as I glanced at the shadows encroaching into the lobby. I could not even take a step closer with how cold the temperature in there had dropped. Not to mention I’m really worrying about that boy.
“Still the same attitude back then,” he muttered. “This ingrate. Should’ve left you back then to die. Fine. I’ll do something. Consider this another favor.” He took out a fabric from his pocket as though gearing up for a magic trick. He wrapped a fist around the body of the fabric as he held one end and straightened it out. “It’s hard trying to familiarize this world’s energy flow. It’s very different from Earth’s. My guess is that we got sucked into one of the inner worlds—realities in these parts tend to be richer compared to the bland one we’re used to. But that makes it a little less stable and all the more susceptible and vulnerable to tears…”
I had zero inkling as to what he was grumbling about, but I took a step back as he took a stance. Warmth flooded him as he finally settled into tranquility. I strained my ears as his voice fell to notes of soft whispers and a small symphony was freed from his tongue.
“That music—” I began, but halted when I saw the sheer concentration in his eyes.
The cloth snapped forward from his hands and a force rushed with it that blanketed the immediate vicinity. While it did nothing to these strange shadows, they fled in every direction as it washed onward. The coldness was cleared and a long-awaited peace finally dawned.
“Go check on your buddy,” he said, pocketing the cloth and rolling his creaky shoulders.
This snapped me out of my stupefaction and urged me forward to check on the boy. Just as I knelt beside him, his hand snapped upwards and dragged me by the sleeves. Wide, silver-violet eyes regarded me with horror—at least the one that could open. The other one had shut close, black and blue. He seemed ready to defend himself at any given moment. Waves of sound was leaving his throat, but he could not speak considering his current condition.
His face was still red and swollen, especially the area around his mouth.
I tried to speak. I found no words. What was I to tell him? I did not wish to be the bearer of bad news. Would comforting him do? How do I do that?
Past my silence and the sounds he was gurgling, he stopped. It was then that the realization dawned on him and I caught the tears rise at the base of his lashes. The grip he had on my sleeve loosened and his arm went lax, falling on his side with defeat. What I heard after that were cries. He was sobbing for a time. And I didn’t know what to do other than stay and hear him.
He clawed around for something, panicking.
“What are you looking for?” I softly asked. As I looked to the side, I caught sight of his amulet. I reached out for it and brought it to his side. “Is it this?” I inquired, then lifted his calloused fingers and put it between them.
I knew he was weak, but the strength at which he was gripping that thing made me realize it bore strong sentimental importance.
I looked up to see Kora coming forward. I was a little startled and hurriedly glanced at the direction I last saw Amber standing in. I almost forgot he was just there.
“What happened here?” Kora inquired.
“I felt that something wasn’t right,” I said, stammering. Where was that guy? “I came in and I found him like this…I’m sorry, mistress…I didn’t really want to leave him.”
“It’s alright, love.” He put a hand on my head and patted me comfortingly. “Go get some warm water on a basin and some fresh towels. Also, grab some herbs that help with the pain and swelling. Can you do that for me?”
I nodded and rose.
“And put on a robe, Evyionne. Your clothes are inappropriate,” he continued to tell me in a low voice.
I looked at my thin night clothes. I had long sleeves and was even wearing pants. There wasn’t a skin of mine showing that felt ‘inappropriate.’ I was twelve years old! I had nothing that could be considered an asset yet. However, in this world’s standards, perhaps I was being indecent.
I shot to the direction of my room to do the last one I was told to do—especially since it was a little cold and breezy tonight. Amber reappeared and was tailing me closely from behind. He was moving in a manner that resembled having clouds under his feet—it didn’t feel as though he really was there. It felt like he was there just in…spirit. And Kora didn’t see him when he came in too.
“Tell me what’s happening, really,” I said calmly, pulling the outer robes up my shoulders.
“Hey, hey, what do you think I am?” he asked.
“What are you?” I shot at him, lifting a lantern to my side and making my way to the gardens. It was a little dark out considering the time, but it was darker than most nights. As I stepped out, I looked up to the sky and realized why.
There was no moon.
“Good for you to notice,” he said. “The new moon helped me attempt this contact. Even if I think you’re unreliable, you still are the only one who knows one bit of what has truly happened. And you’re the only one who can hear me. Nobody else in this world is able to.”
I glanced at Amber and sank to my knees near the plants to pluck off what I needed.
“So why did you come?”
“The veils have already broken through the tears left by your rebirth into this world. You weren’t supposed to be here,” he told me. “In these twelve years, some of them have crossed the ocean and are making their way to this continent. It won’t be long before they flood this place.”
“Let me clear this up. You keep saying veils. Should I put a capital letter on that?” I inquired, pausing from my work and looking up at him. From this point of view, the lantern struck him in places—I realized he was completely see-through.
“Maybe you should. They will be some trouble.”
“And you’re saying it’s my fault?”
He crossed his arms. “I wanted it to be—it’ll be very simple that way, won’t it? But no, it’s more complicated than that. Your rebirth to this world may have been a consequence of the true reason. And also why I’m stuck here.” He looked up to the stars. They shined brightly now that they didn’t have to compete with a larger heavenly body. “Something tipped the balance and it has affected this place greatly. I think something happened in another reality that caused a chain reaction.”
“Much like Earth, much like this world—if I’m not mistaken, they called it Csidellon,” he said. “There are many worlds out there apart from the one that we see in a lifetime, all governed by different laws, all created by many different gods. Something happened in another world that exists alongside this one. We’re dealing with what might be an aftermath of something calamitous. Or something worse.”
He looked at me, amber eyes shining with the starlight.
“We just happened to be there in the most unfortunate moment,” he added.
I didn’t realize I had stopped what I was doing to listen to him. Looking at the herbs I had plucked, I resumed my work and gathered enough leaves to do whatever Kora needed to do.
“What is it we need to do?” I inquired softly.
“For now, we find the root of the problem. We find the tear, we put a plug in it. When the balance is properly restored, we have a chance of righting everything that had gone sideways when you were reincarnating. And I can go back to my job.”
“This whole life is an accident, then?” I softly intoned, cradling the leaves with one arm and taking the lantern high so that it was by my face.
“Call it serendipity,” he said. “In about two years, I should be at my strongest. I need you to come and find me then. However, I need you to be prepared before you try and find me. If there’s anyone who hopes of ever controlling the Veils, it’s only those with the hands of death or those who have been touched by it.”
“So you’re saying what? I’ve been touched by death? Haven’t we all?”
“Even better. You’ve been kissed by it. And with that, you have something that transcends life. I’m sure you already know what that is.”
I sighed. “I don’t think you ever asked me if I’m willing.”
“It’s not like you have a choice anyway,” he told me. “Evyionne. That’s the name they call you here, right? Even if you try to hide from it, you cannot run away. If you do, everyone will suffer. This peaceful place? Don’t expect it’ll be in a few years. So, unfortunately for you, until I can find someone in the higher rungs to blame, we’re stuck finding ways around this on our own.”
“What about my family?” I blurted.
“The one you took me away from,” I said.
“Oh, that.” He pocketed his hands casually as he paused to think. “I don’t know. Why would I check on them? Try finding out on your own. I’m sure you will be able to do that if you try. I can’t be bothered to make these trips. I’ve gone out of my way to help you with that boy already. So deal with it by yourself.”
I took a sharp breath to say something then halted in my tracks just as the words were rolling in my throat. He might be a jerk, but he had his reasons. I would have to comprehend this conversation and think about my own plans for the time being. Blaming him for all this catastrophe when he was just as clueless and bothered as I was would accomplish nothing but foster the bad blood between us two. He didn’t like this situation just as much as I did. For that, I would have to go out of my own way to find out more.
“Can you give me something to start on?” I asked.
“Give you what now?”
“Something I can start on to find out more about this business,” I explained. “I mean…all that talk of tipped balances and Veils barely gave me anything to work on. Tell me what I can do now and what I’m supposed to do until you…whatever you’re going to do.”
He looked at me with furrowed brows. “You know…I expected more…resistance from you. Your attitude in the Soul’s Landing was—”
“I know I had no will to live back then, but neither am I willing to die now. Just cut off all these nonsense and tell me.”
“Fine, you no-nonsense girl. You really don’t like small talk.”
“I’m not living for it,” I replied. “Now straight to the chase, jerkhead.”
“It’s really simple,” he said. “Follow this world’s rules and find out more about what you can do, nurture your talents. Start with your own life, that’s how you can ever hope of doing something about somebody else’s. Remember, when you take up this task, you’ll be responsible for so many lives…and deaths.”
“Fine.” I turned to head back to the lobby, pausing to look back when he didn’t move to follow. Amber was just watching me go, arms crossed while looking at me expectantly. I didn’t know what he wanted, but it was already too late to refuse.