So, here is the next chapter...where things get a little creepy. I have been a total gothic mood the last few weeks. I am all about ghosts and zombies and things. It's kind of weird. Werewolves, people going mad, unhappy endings...I'm just a regular ray of sunshine, aren't I? Enjoy! Remember you can read the whole story in order at scribd.com.
In Recap: Gratefully unmagical Becca Beckons, cursed to die during her eighteeth summer...doesn't. She's alive and no one, not even the most advanced magical researchers, can discover the cause. But something has to pay the balance of her life. Becca knows disaster is looming, a curse that could slaughter humanity. She sets out with Kevin Walowitz, a user of magic, on a Quest to find a way to stop the tragdey she knows is coming. They are currently in Montana, searching for clues about a man Jeff Strenton, one time collegue of Walowitz, and a man Becca suspects of knowing more about her fate than he is telling her.
Though my parents had taken me backpacking and camping, I had never liked it. I preferred the cheaters method; bring a camper trailer and never have to actually be outside. Outside was dirty and dusty and too hot or too cold. I set my teeth and forged ahead.
Kevin followed me, letting me pick the direction. I couldn’t tell why or where we were going and that frustrated me. We had walked for nearly an hour when I stopped, scowling.
"What is it?" Kevin asked.
I only shook my head, trying to feel. I had lost the urge to be moving, losing myself under the glare of the sun.
Kevin took a long drink from his water bottle. Had I passed whatever it was, a school maybe, and that’s why I had lost the trail?
Kevin cleared his throat. "It would help if I knew what you were looking for."
"You and me both," I snarled, jerking on my backpack straps. I closed my eyes and turned slowly, feeling the wind shift over my skin. Nothing.
"Maybe it’s right here." Kevin suggested. I glared at him. I was in no mood for his optimism. There was nothing here. Only empty, rolling hills covered in tufts of blue green grass.
I paced back and forth under his eyes, trying to feel if one way pulled me more than the other. Still nothing. Cursing in annoyance, I turned back toward the direction of the car, kicking at sagebrush.
There was a metal clang and I yelped, jumping on one foot as the other ached suddenly.
Kevin had me around the waist and drop behind him in an instant. Something flickered in his hand as he stood before me, hands out defensively, like a ninja prepared to attack.
"What was it?" he asked.
"I hit my foot." I whined, rubbing the offending toe.
He looked down, searching over the ground. "Where?"
I inched around him and pointed. He squatted, looking into the bushes intently.
I copied him, still wincing. His hand closed around my wrist as I reached to feel.
"Never touch without knowing what it is," he cautioned. The stiff branches of the bush shivered as he gestured at them. Then they parted meekly reveling…dirt.
"What did it feel like?"
I shrugged. "Probably just a rock." Even as I said it I knew it wasn’t true and he spared me a disgusted glance.
"A rock that rings like steel?" he asked dryly.
"I wasn’t looking at my feet!" I snapped back.
He chuckled, and let go of my wrist. He found a stick and started poking among the grasses. It made dull noises, rustling, for a few moments, then clang!
He tapped the stick again and was rewarded with a second hollow peal of metal. I coughed as dust flared up around me, blowing free of the ground. A dull metal disk lay in the dirt, tilted so one end stuck up above the ground, the edge that had caught my foot.
Kevin hissed suddenly, backing up a step.
"What is it?" I demanded, eying the rusty circle with distrust.
"A foundation stone," he said, barely murmuring, so I could hardly hear him over the wind.
He knelt next to it and brushed a stray smear of dust from its surface.
"A foundation stone." He said again. He ignored his own advice and reached down and lifted it with a grunt. It was easily as wide as a manhole cover, and a good three inches thick. The underside was shiny smooth, the top distorted and rusty. I could just make out etchings on the weathered side, pits and streaks of rust obscuring the design.
He stared at it for a long time until I wondered that his arms weren’t getting tired. It looked heavy.
"There was a school here," he said finally. "See here?" he pointed at one marking, a squiggle indistinguishable from the others. "That means school, or…place of rest." He ran his hands though his hair. I gaped at the stone hovering in front of him. He let out a gusty sigh and the stone fell to the earth, vibrating the dirt and raising a cloud of dust.
"Let’s find the others." He said. "That one’s runes are too weathered to read."
I waited, but he just looked at me. I gulped as I realized he meant me to search out the next one.
"I…" I faltered. "I don’t know how to look for something specific."
He smiled. "You’ll never learn if you don’t try."
I closed my eyes and thought about the best way to go about this whole searching thing. A circle of metal, a so-called foundation stone, three feet across. That was what I wanted most in the world at this moment.
A foundation stone. A foundation stone.
I repeated the words over and over, letting them fill my thoughts, my everything.
There was a jerk and the world broke loose once more, drifting around me. The wind was spinning it, turning it like an enormous waterwheel, with me at the axis.
"There!" I said, pointing. I took off running before he could led the way. I could feel it now, tugging at me, leading me in the right direction. It felt good, good to be going to correct way, knowing I was close to my goal.
I slid to a halt, panting. Kevin stopped beside me, his hand on my shoulder.
"Here?" he asked.
"Here!" I exclaimed, grinning.
He glanced over the earth, identical to the area we had just left, some quarter mile behind. He turned slowly in place, then stepped out, still looking at the ground.
I followed, shivering and excited.
He stopped and crouched, his hand hovering over the ground. The dirt shivered under his palm, writhing. With a crack, the dirt shot away in all directions and a stone jumped out of the ground. A real stone this time, granite gray and covered in writing.
"A school," Kevin said again. "The name isn’t on here, though." He added, tracing a finger along the writing. "This marked the entrance." He shifted to look over his shoulder, scanning the plains. "The school was somewhere out there."
"Yes," I agreed. But no matter how hard I looked, I couldn’t see anything. I closed my eyes while Kevin muttered to himself and tried to feel where it was. But my abilities were waning, growing weaker. I was tired suddenly and grunted as I sat down hard.
Kevin glanced at me. "You’ll get used to it." He said.
"What?" I asked, shivering even in the heat.
I gaped at him. "What?!"
He grimaced. "Not really, not like I do. But it is magic, a Speaking. You’ll feel funny for a while, until you get used to it."
I swallowed nervously. I was a hypocritical fool, but the idea of using magic myself made my skin crawl.
Kevin was engrossed in the stone again. "This says the school was founded before the breaking of the Nor’watch Pact." He said, making no sense. "If this was a entry stone, then the school can’t have been far from it."
"What’s an entry stone?" I asked.
"You had to go through the stones or you wouldn’t find the school. It could only be reached if you passed between both entry stones. One side or the other and you’d never find anything."
He stood and looked over the empty prairie. "But where is it? It should be only a few feet away, like gate posts."
He turned back to the stone. With a gruff word and flick of his fingers, the stone shivered and lifted into the air. Slowly it turned over. I sucked in a breath as Kevin’s tanned face went white. The stone slammed back to the earth as he staggered away, his hand coming up as if to protect himself.
I stared down at the shimmering underside of the stone, polished smooth, but for where a jagged gash had been drawn across it.
"Good God!" Kevin whispered. He was nearly green, breathing shallowly.
"What is it?" I demanded shrilly, standing up to edge away from it as well. It was just a ragged gash, cutting deep into the stone, but looking at it made my skin crawl.
"Someone…someone…" He didn’t seem to be able to articulate his horror.
"What does it mean?" I insisted.
"Stand behind me." He said, his voice suddenly stern and deep. I obeyed without question. He stood square shouldered before the stone, his hands clasped together before him.
I saw something flicker again as he raised his hands above his head, still around nothing, like he was holding an invisible broom stick. He swung down with a grunt, slicing the air with his nothing.
There was a crack, a sharp snap that echoed around us. I flinched as a blast of something washed over me, pushing us both back a step, my shoes grating in the dirt.
Kevin was panting harshly. I could see sweat dripping down the back of his neck, making clean streaks through the dust covering him.
The stone had been cracked, the strange gash split across the center.
Kevin straightened, released whatever had been shimmering in his hands. He turned slowly, his face stricken. He was looking above me, staring at something in the sky.
I didn’t want to look.
Kevin closed his eyes, his mouth thin. When he opened them again, they were blazing, brilliant bright clear blue, almost colorless they were so light. When he spoke, his voice was deeper than it had been, rolling.
"Stay with me."
I had to turn then, as he stepped forward, his hands clenched at his sides.
It was a large building, built of logs and stone. The outside was weathered gray, the stones muted shades of gray and red. It stood dark and silent above us, a hundred feet away, several stories of dark windows. I shivered as I followed Kevin. None of them were reflecting the nooning sun.
The wide walk up to the front doors was overgrown, the bricks moved out of place by sagebrush and tufts of waving grasses. I hunched my shoulders as we crept closer. It loomed over me, leaning, yawning. Kevin dropped his pack a few feet from the stairs. I copied him, shivering.
Kevin put his hand on the front door. He stayed there silently for a moment, then pushed at it. It swung easily.
I jumped as his hand closed around mine, squeezing tight. He took a deep breath and pulled me inside.
I couldn’t help my sigh of relief. This was where I had been going. It was dark inside, which I absently noted was strange, as the day was clear and bright just a few feet away. I had been meant to come here, to find whatever I was looking for. I still didn’t know what that was, but it was here.
Kevin stopped us, his hand on mine almost painfully tight. He spoke softly and a wavering light flared in front of him.
It revealed a large room, full of armchairs and tables, the floors wood and covered with dust. I looked around quickly, my release from the Speaking replaced with unease. Kevin’s body was taut next to mine.
The windows were uncovered, the curtains drawn back. I could see the sun streaming down. None of it leaked inside.
"What is this?" I hissed. "What did that mark mean?"
Kevin’s arm went around me, holding me closer. I could tell he wasn’t trying to comfort me, but protect me, guard me against something.
"This was a school." He said softly, his eyes moving over the shadowy walls, the bookcases. I could dimly see rooms through open doorways filled with desks and chairs. It had obviously been a long time since anyone had come here. Neglect hung like a fog on the room. The dust was thick, the air stale and close.
"Where is everyone?" I whispered.
A shiver went through Kevin’s body, a tremor that made my blood go cold. His voice was hoarse. "Don’t touch anything," he warned. "Don’t leave me, no matter what you hear."
"What do you mean?" I asked, my voice a shrill wavering echo of his powerful baritone.
"Don’t eat or drink anything. Do whatever I say without question. And whatever you do, don’t look in any mirrors."
"But, what happened to the students?" I insisted.
I held my breath until he spoke again.
"They’re still here."