Part 10 is here! As always, if you haven’t read the previous posts yet, please read them first. Enjoy!
Mirror of the Nine Halls part 10
Kalgan’s dreams were a swirling vortex of fire and ice. He barely felt it anymore, or rather, he could ignore it for the most part, now.
“Down you go…” a mysterious female voice said to him. “Down into the deep dark…”
Her voice was strange… Like it was made of dozens of voices speaking in perfect synchronicity. He couldn’t reply as he continued to endlessly fall through the tornado of red and blue light.
“Down you go… Down into the deep dark…” the voice repeated.
He didn’t know how long she had been repeating the same words over and over. This was a nightmare without end. And it was useless trying to wake up. He had no body here, just his awareness. And willing himself awake did nothing.
Up ahead, a spot of darkness began to grow larger, but instead of feeling relieved at a change of scenery, it terrified him.
“An end to pain… an end to everything awaits you in the deep dark…” the voice said. “Join usssssss!”
Kalgan felt himself being pulled towards that darkness as the voice hissed louder and louder all around him.
He gasped in a breath of air and opened his eyes to see the white walls of his infirmary room around him. The incessant beeping of the heart-rate monitor was as irritating as usual… Especially since it was beeping quite quickly.
After a few more deep breaths, his heart stopped beating as fast. He looked out the window to see that the sun was shining bright. It couldn’t have been much past sunrise, as the slats of the blinds cast horizontal shadows on the wall opposite him.
He was famished. He looked around for some kind of buzzer or call button, or something, but found nothing. “Umm… Hello?” he said in a small, breathy voice he barely recognized as his own. “Is anyone out there?”
His door was open, but he didn’t know if there was anyone on the other side of it.
Suddenly, a foot appeared and kicked the door open slightly, followed by the emergence of the girl from the other end of the cafeteria-table… yesterday?… The day before that? He didn’t know how many days it was since that happened.
“A little help here?” she said as she carried in a food tray heaped with several bowls precariously sliding around. Kalgan started to rise from his bed. “No. Not you, silly!” she added.
Next, a woman in a white lab coat came up behind the eleven-year-old girl and held the door open just as it started to swing back. “I got it, Alexis. Go on ahead.”
Alexis approached Kalgan’s bedside and swung the table-arm over him before setting the tray down. “There you go,” she said, then moved to take a seat in the corner.
The doctor approached carrying her clipboard in her left arm and a pen in her right hand. “I’m doctor Subaki, Kalgan. I’m the one who is going to be overseeing your recovery. How are you feeling this morning?”
“Okay, I guess,” he said. His voice was still far too quiet. “I feel like I’ve shrunk down to nothing, though. And I’m still really tired.”
“That’s normal for someone in your condition. We’ll have you back to normal in no-time.”
Kalgan looked down at the bowls in front of him and sighed in disappointment as he realized it was just watery soup. He picked up the spoon in hands that didn’t shake too much, and began eating right away.
“Well, your appetite is up. That’s always a good sign,” Doctor Subaki said, scribbling a note on her clipboard.
“Any idea how long I’m supposed to just lie here, doing nothing?” he asked after he had finished the first bowl of soup. There were still two more to go.
“That depends on your dedication to getting better. Maybe as early as a week if we get enough food into you, but then we will need to see how well your muscles return. You may have to undergo a lot of physical therapy afterwards. You need to be prepared for that possibility.”
Kalgan sighed. “I suppose…”
“Well, I’m going to let you get some more rest. Try not to talk his ear off too much, Alexis. He needs to sleep.”
“Yes, Doc,” Alexis said with a wide, disarming grin.
Doctor Subaki rolled her eyes and left the room.
Kalgan started on his second bowl of soup. It tasted surprisingly good, even though it was little more than beef broth heated up. It helped his thirst, but left him feeling hungry still.
“I’m Alexis,” the girl said from her chair in the corner of the room.
Kalgan slurped up another spoonful. “Kalgan,” he said afterward. Then took another spoonful.
“So… Fire and Ice, huh?”
Kalgan glanced over at the young girl. She was leaning forward with her fists under her chin, gazing at him with interest. “Yeah… I guess…” he said, not sure where exactly she was going with this.
“You already met my brother. His is electricity, by the way.”
“Yeah. I know.”
“Do you want to know what mine is?”
Kalgan wasn’t in the mood for any conversation, but maybe if he humored her, she would go away. He sighed. “I guess.”
Alexis smiled, then turned her gaze towards his spoon.
Suddenly, he felt it slowly being pulled from his grasp and lifted up into the air. Once free from his hand, he watched it slowly rotate in the air.
“I can manipulate magnetic fields!” she exclaimed with glee. “I don’t know exactly what that means yet, but it’s still kinda neat, huh?”
Kalgan hesitantly reached for his spoon. Was everyone here like she was? Some kind of freakish ability around every turn? Was the army secretly recruiting people like her? Like him? And for what?
“Yeah. Really neat…” he said in a sarcastic tone.
“I know, right?” she replied, not taking the hint. “I think soon, my father and uncle will let me do missions like everyone else who is of age.”
“Yeah. We get told by the President what needs to be done, and we go do it.”
“The President? As in… Of the United States? That President?” he asked, suddenly a little more interested as he grabbed his spoon and felt whatever force controlling it relinquish its hold. He spooned another bit of broth into his mouth.
“Yeah. We technically aren’t a part of the army. My father and uncle are the only ones in the military. The rest of us are counted as private contractors trained by the army… Whatever that means.”
That made sense. If something went wrong, the army wouldn’t be blamed for it.
“What kinds of missions are we talking about?”
“Whatever the President feels is needed. Some of us could be sent pretty much anywhere in the world. Neltharia was even sent to Antarctica once!”
“Antarctica! Why would anyone be sent there?” Kalgan asked, suddenly forgetting about his food.
“Don’t know. I think it might be classified. A lot of our missions are.”
“Huh.” Kalgan resumed eating his soup.
Doctor Subaki came back into the room and looked at Alexis sternly. “Time to go. Come on. Leave Kalgan alone. He’ll have more time to talk tomorrow.”
Alexis got up slowly with a sigh and left. Kalgan continued shoveling broth into his stomach.
Doctor Subaki let him finish the second bowl before approaching. “Now that we have a little privacy, there is something we need to talk about.”
“First of all, the ability you used to travel very quickly. I don’t want you to do that again. It puts incredible strain on your body, and is likely the thing that almost killed you.”
Kalgan nodded. “That makes sense. Do you have any idea how I’m able to do that?”
“Probably a manifestation of your ability to transfer heat. You heat up all your cells’ atoms to the point where they can get an incredible amount of work done very quickly, but at the cost of all your cells’ energy and nutrients getting used up all at once.”
“Oh. Okay. That makes a lot of sense, actually.”
“It would explain your ability to cool things down as well. Not so much two abilities, but two manifestations of the same ability. Heat transference. You transfer heat from the things you cool down to the things you heat up.”
Kalgan nodded. That made a lot of sense as well. “But how did this happen in the first place? Why do I have these abilities?” He thought of telling her about the mirror that was not a mirror, but decided against it. He wondered what had happened to it? Did they confiscate it already, or did they not find it in his jeans pocket?
Doctor Subaki removed her glasses and pulled up a chair to sit next to him. Uh-Oh. He knew that look. It was the look of someone who was about to tell him something he didn’t want to hear.
“To put it simply…” she said. “You have an extra chromosome that we’ve never seen before. There is a small chance it was introduced to you recently, but the more likely explanation is that you’ve had it since before you were born.”
Kalgan’s pulse went up.
He forced himself to calm down.
“You think my mother… Did this to me?”
“It’s possible. She has the know-how. Even though her research was classified, I was able to take a look at some of it. Genetic manipulation. New gene-therapy techniques, introducing foreign DNA into human subjects…”
“You have to be kidding me.”
“I’m afraid not.”
Kalgan shook his head. “No. She wouldn’t do that to me.”
The doctor sighed. “You would have made the perfect subject. Human experimentation is still strictly controlled, and for good reason, but her own child? No one would ever know if she didn’t tell anyone.”
Kalgan wasn’t feeling hungry anymore. “You said it’s possible that something else introduced this to me recently.”
“Possible. Not likely. These things usually lie dormant for a very long time, until some outside stimulus activates them. Suddenly. One day, you’re a normal human being. The next, you have… abilities.”
Kalgan clenched his fist around his spoon. Would his mother really…
“I was… sick… a few days ago. I had a terrible fever. Hot. Then Cold. Then Hot again. Over and over. I had… dreams. The next day, it was gone, but a few hours later was when it started. I hurt some people really bad. Could it have been a virus?”
“Sounds more like the Awakening. If it had been a virus, you would have been sick a lot longer.”
Kalgan nodded, but inside, he was burning, literally and figuratively, with unanswerable questions. Did his mother really do this to him? Had the mirror merely awakened the power already asleep within him?
Suddenly, he remembered a time a few years ago. His mother had been sitting down, reading a book when she looked up at him with the strangest look on her face. “You’d tell me if anything strange ever happened to you, right?” she had said. He had replied with a roll of the eyes and a “Yes,” before leaving to go hang out with Karl. He hadn’t really thought anything of it at the time, but now…
“I… Think I want to be alone for a while,” he said, feeling very tired, and as if his entire world were crumbling around him.
Doctor Subaki simply nodded and left him in peace.
Once it became clear that he was recovering nicely, he was allowed to start having real food again, which he was quite glad of. Three days of broth was leaving him feeling hungrier than not eating at all would have done.
Alexis made a habit of visiting him in the mornings. Neltharia would stop by in the afternoons. From both of them, he gathered tidbits of information on how this place worked.
“So some missions involve bringing back new recruits, while some missions involve… well… doing things only people like us can do?”
“That’s correct,” Neltharia said. “Only about a quarter of us are out on missions at any given time, though. We have a lot of new recruits that need training. Yourself included.”
“What kind of missions do you usually get assigned?”
“Well… A lot of it I can’t really talk about, but most of the time it’s searching for more people like us. I’m kinda good at it, actually.”
“Oh yeah? Why is that?”
“My ability. I can get in the heads of others, make them see things. I can track them if I need to from halfway around the world once I’ve formed a connection. I can also find others like ourselves if I’m within a certain radius.”
“Impressive. Was it hard?” he asked. “I mean, at first? Learning to control it?”
Neltharia shrugged. “I suppose. I took to it pretty quickly, though. I had to. Some people got hurt, and I didn’t want a repeat of when my abilities first awoke in me.”
“And how old were you when that happened?”
“Let’s see… Nine, maybe? I had no idea what was happening at the time. It got so bad that some people where I was living tried to have me killed. The General was the one who found me and rescued me from them.”
“Yeah. That’s why I work so hard to find others before bad things happen to them because of the ignorant general populace. At least here, they can learn to control their abilities among others of their kind. They learn useful skills, and become important to the continued prosperity of their world.”
“That sounded… Memorized,” Kalgan said, slightly amused.
Neltharia smiled. “You could tell? The General has said it numerous times to all of us.”
“What about the General? What kind of person is he?”
Neltharia shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “Well… None of us know much. I know he’s one of us. I don’t know what his abilities are, though. He has a single child I know of. A son… Who also happens to be my boyfriend,” she said, a little embarrassed, but also with a smile.
“Oh really?” Kalgan said, feeling a little crushed for some reason. “I take it that’s where you get your fine taste in music?”
“Ha! Yes, actually. He introduced me to metal music a few years ago when we first started dating. I just love the way it sounds. Not that terrible screamy stuff that you can’t understand what they’re saying, though. I like the kind with soul, you know?”
“Oh yeah! Sure,” Kalgan agreed. “What is your favorite?”
“Well… I like The Nightcursed the most at the moment.”
“Old or new?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well… Old Nightcursed, they had an amazing vocalist. Very talented. New… Not so much. Still good, don’t get me wrong, but not the same. The cadence of her vocals are different. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Neltharia looked at him with entirely new eyes. “I didn’t know you liked them!”
Kalgan shrugged. “I turned my best friend on to them a few years back. I try to get the word out about them. Not a lot of people outside Europe know they even exist. I have all of their albums.”
“Really?! Could I borrow them? I’d really love to listen to some of their old stuff. We aren’t allowed a lot of internet time here, unfortunately, or I’d just download them.”
“I suppose. As long as I get them back, of course.”
“Of course! The General gave me permission to have both of us drive back to your home when you’re better so we can grab some of your things.”
Kalgan’s heart went cold all of a sudden. He really didn’t want to ever go back there. The house without his sister and mother just wouldn’t be the same. He just nodded.
Neltharia, of course, sensed his change of mood right away. “Look… I know things are hard for you right now, but things will get better. You’ll see.”
Kalgan just nodded again. He wasn’t really in the mood for the usual platitudes today.
“I’m really looking forward to leaving this stupid bed, soon. You have no idea,” he said instead of snapping at her like a wounded animal. She didn’t deserve that.
“I know how you feel. I got some foreign sickness once on a mission overseas. I was laid up for over a week. Second-worst time of my life…”
Kalgan could tell she was reluctant to talk about it, so he didn’t press her.
“Anyway, thanks for visiting. I know you’re busy with important stuff. You don’t have to come every day, you know.”
Neltharia shrugged. “I’m between missions at the moment. It’s not that big a deal. Anyway, someone has to save you from Alexis…”
Kalgan rolled his eyes. “She’s not that bad. Just…”
“She has a crush on you. I hope you’re smart enough to have seen that.”
“Yeah. I did. I just don’t have the energy for drama right now.”
“If you want, I’ll speak to her and get her to leave you alone.”
“Thanks,” he said, quite appreciative. “Ten year olds aren’t really my type.”
Neltharia laughed. “Sure thing. I’ll see what I can do.”
She got up and made her way out of his room with a final smile and wave. After she was gone, Kalgan sighed.
“A boyfriend, huh? That’s just my luck…”
He then closed his eyes to take a nap before dinner.
After dinner, which consisted of a pleasantly-hearty meal of mashed potatoes and pot roast, Kalgan settled down to watch a little TV before going to sleep.
But that was interrupted by Sameth’s dumb face peeking into his room from the cracked doorway.
“Good. Neltharia isn’t here,” he said, then sneaked into the room as if he wasn’t supposed to be there. He even shut the door quietly so no one would hear.
Kalgan sighed and put the remote back on the table next to his bed. What did this fool want?
Sameth grabbed the chair and quietly placed it next to the bed. Then he sat down in it and leaned forward conspiratorially. “I’m in kind of a bind here,” he said. “I could really use your help when you get out of here tomorrow. You see… I’m supposed to train with my sister and father, but my sister is a useless noob when it comes to using her power. I’ll never be able to get any real training done! Could you… I don’t know… Take my place?”
“Wait… Did you just say I’m getting out of here tomorrow”
“Yeah. Doc is releasing you. Didn’t she tell you?”
“Oh. Well… Congratulations. So?”
“I don’t know…”
“I’ll make it up to you. I promise!”
Kalgan sighed. He supposed that he didn’t have any other plans, but… “Fine. Whatever.”
“Nice! Thanks a million, Kal!” he said excitedly. “I’ll let you get back to watching your soap operas, then. See ya’ tomorrow!”
He watched as Sameth quickly left his room and closed the door. Then he grumbled in annoyance and picked up the remote again. “What an annoying asshole…”