“Ethan, what happened to him?! Can’t you do anything?” Krista’s urgent voice was fraught with concern.
“He appears to have gone into a sort of trance“, Ethan replied. “Perhaps his memory has started to…” he trailed off into silence.
“Hey! What’s everyone fussing about?” I rubbed my eyes as Krista and Ethan’s faces came into focus.
“Gray!” Krista knelt hastily and threw her arms around me. “I was worried sick about you! What happened?”
“I was actually hoping you could tell me. All I remember is you saying something about my face then everything went black.”
“Yeah, I was telling you how much you and Matthias look alike. You looked shocked, and then I realized you’ve probably never even seen your face before. I’d started to ask you when you fell back and hit your head. You were unconscious for about an hour…”
What?! But I was only gone a few minutes… What I’d witnessed on the beach came flooding back in an instant. Nevermind. I wanted answers.
“Where’s Matthias?!” I exclaimed abruptly.
“Huh? What do you want with Matthias?” replied Krista, nonplussed. “He went off somewhere with Soren and Reg, I think.”
I rose hastily from the floor, looking around for a sign of them. “Which way did they go? I need to talk to Matthias right now.”
Krista pointed down the corridor to the left. “I think they went that way, but I don’t understand…”
I was determined to get some answers and Matthias was going to give them to me whether he liked it or not. “I’ll be right back, Krista. Don’t worry.” I started off down the corridor but no sooner had I stepped around her than I was met by Ethan’s stern gaze – he stood right in my path and didn’t appear intent on moving.
“Gray, now is not the time” Ethan said firmly.
“Ethan, move!” I snarled at him. I’d lived in the mines all these years without any clue as to who I am and I wasn’t about to let anyone get in my way.
Ethan reached out and touched my shoulder. I thought I saw his eyes flash and then I was unable to move forward, like I was being repelled by some opposite magnetic force. “Gray,” he said in a whisper “be patient. I know you don’t understand, but if you do this now, you will ruin everything. Come to the cavern just outside my barracks tonight after the Guard leave to make their rounds. Then, I will tell you about who we are and where we come from.”
“What do you mean, we?” I said, incredulous.
“Gray, we are the same, you and I. Your home is my home. That is why I took you under my wing when you came here.”
“What?!” I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I eyed him with the utmost caution now. “If that’s true, why did you wait all this time to tell me?”
“People of our kind experience a sort of ‘awakening’ – a surfacing of our abilities – when we reach adulthood. Had I told you sooner, you would have grown impatient for this day and perhaps done something rash.”
“So that means…”
“Yes. Today is your eighteenth birthday, Gray. It was imperative that I keep your identity secret from the Guard at least until you were strong enough to protect yourself. They are under strict orders to turn over any of our kind to the Overseer – to be executed.”
“What?! Why? After today, they must know what I am – why haven’t they come for me yet?”
“We have taken…steps – to ensure your safety. You see, Gray, they fear us. We are the only ones that can truly combat them and expose them to the world above for what they really are.”
“And what are they?”
“Though they know it not, they are part of something much more sinister than mere slavery. I can say no more here.”
“You’re talking crazy, Ethan. I’m not saying I don’t trust you, but…it’s just a lot to take in at once. What about all this ‘we’ business? Are you saying there are more people like us?”
“Yes, but I dare not say more now. We have solidified a position of relative power for the moment, but our encounter with the shade wolves today gives us reason to believe our presence here is no longer secret.”
In the span of only a few minutes, everything I thought I knew had been completely overwritten. And I was to learn more later? Though I sensed that this was only the tip of something much larger, I’d survived these many years in the mines by learning how to operate within the confines of a world that was now crumbling by the second – I wasn’t sure how much more change I could take.
Ethan’s demeanor changed from matter-of-fact to empathetic. “Gray, I know this is a great deal to take in. Go and rest for awhile. Talk it out with Krista – she can be trusted with what I’ve told you, but make sure no one else hears you. There may yet be others among us that are more than they appear. I must go now, but please leave Matthias be for now. You will have your chance to speak with him in due time.”
I didn’t understand. Like an impatient child, part of me wanted to wait until Ethan left then march straight over to Matthias and demand an explanation. The fact that Ethan had let me in on any of this, however, made me think better than to give in to my impulses. I nodded to him in agreement and watched as he shuffled slowly down the corridor to his barracks.
Krista caught my shoulder and I turned to face her. “What was all that about?” she asked.
“I’ll tell you, but not here. Let’s go back to the barracks.”
She nodded, took my hand, and we walked in silence down the corridor. The journey was a short one, with ours being the first unit on the left in the passage, but while we walked, a growing sense of apprehension began to take hold. Tomorrow, I would be going on an incredibly dangerous mission, which, with my newfound abilities or not, I wondered if any of us would survive, but this feeling was deeper than that.
For everything Ethan had shared with me, I felt that there was something more to this mission than simply reestablishing contact with the command center and saving my fellows. If our conversation had shown me anything, it was how painfully little I knew of what was really going on, and that terrified me.
When we arrived at the barracks, the dim purple glow emanating from inside revealed that the normally cramped room was relatively empty – everyone must have gone off to the mess hall further down the corridor to get their daily rations. I turned to Krista, feeling somewhat relieved.
“Looks like we’ve got the place mostly to ourselves for the moment, but, umm…I imagine you’re hungry after a day like today.” I said, my head sinking slightly at the end.
“Not at all!” she said brightly. Let’s take advantage while everyone’s away – I want to hear about what Ethan told you.”
“Are you sure?” I said with concern.
“Gray, I’ll be fine! Come on.”
I knew there was no point in discussing it further – her mind was set. I half-smiled back at her as we went inside and walked to my bunk. There were only a few others in the room that I could see, but they all looked sound asleep.
“I think we should be OK to talk in here…not much room to sit up in these bunks – well, you know. It looks like the one above mine is open; do you want me to take that one?”
“Gray, don’t be silly. You know I can’t stand talking to people when I can’t see them, and besides, I promise, I won’t bite.” She smiled coyly and slid across my bunk to the inside closest the wall.
I eyed the remaining space on the bunk with doubt – as it was, I typically occupied every available square inch of my bunk on my own, but I squeezed in gingerly beside her, laying on my left side as straight as I could manage. We were still unavoidably close, but the look on her face told me she was quite pleased with our arrangement. She put her free arm around me, and sighed with contentment. My heart fluttered.
“So what happened with Ethan back there?” her voice was hushed to a whisper now.
At this distance, her brilliant green eyes were completely mesmerizing. I’d been lost in them for several seconds when I realized she’d spoken. I composed myself as best I could and replied, “He said he didn’t want me to talk to Matthias. Said something about me ruining everything if I did.”
“Hmmm…that’s weird. I wonder what he meant by that.” She searched my face for a hint but then seemed satisfied that I genuinely didn’t know. “What’d you want to see Matthias for anyway?”
“You know when I passed out? I had a dream that I was on this beach in the world above. There were two brothers there fighting over a piece of Darkstone.”
“Darkstone? Up there?”
“Weird, I know. Anyway, they both looked identical to each other except one was older – both had brown hair and gray eyes – and the older one was called Matthias.”
Krista’s eyes widened with comprehension.
“Matthias had taken the Darkstone from his brother, but the younger one persisted in trying to get it back. At first he couldn’t but then he got really serious. He hit Matthias harder than I would have thought possible and took back the stone. When he looked up, his eyes flashed red, and then I passed out again.”
“His eyes flashed red? You mean like yours?” I nodded. “Gray! If that was you, then that means…”
“That Matthias is my brother.” I finished her sentence and watched as the questions visibly flew through her mind. I wondered which one she would ask first.
“So does that mean he can do what you can do?”
I hadn’t considered that one. Oh God, can he?
“To be honest, I have no idea. Ethan says he’s going to tell me about who we are and where we come from tonight, so I guess I’ll find out then.”
“Wait…how would Ethan know about you two?”
“Beats me, but he said ‘we’re the same’ and that’s why he’s looked after me since I came here.”
“So he’s like you too? How could he have been here all this time without anyone knowing?”
“I don’t know, but I get the feeling he’s much better at controlling his abilities than I am. I think he can change his eye color to disguise what he really is. When we were waiting in the station earlier today, I looked at him and he had gray eyes. Then I heard a voice in my head and it was him. He said that I don’t understand what I am but that I would learn to control it. When I looked back at him just a moment later, his eyes were brown again.”
“Can you do that?”
“Which thing, change my eye color or project my voice into people’s heads?” One was clearly more advanced than the other and yet, I was pretty certain I could do neither.
“Changing your eye color, silly! The other thing’s kinda creepy. Can you make them turn green?”
“What’s wrong with gray?” I said, now worried that she didn’t care for my natural eye color.
“You’re so predictable, Gray! I love your eyes the way they are; just see if you can…please?” This time she used her eyes to an unfair advantage on purpose. I simply couldn’t say no.
“Well, at least I have a shade to try for” I said, indicating her eyes “but I doubt I’ll be able to make mine anywhere near as amazing as yours, if I can do it at all.” She blushed at my compliment. “Here goes nothing.”
How in the world do I do this? Maybe if I draw out the light like earlier but try to focus it in my eyes… “How’s this?”
“Gray, you did it!” My heart jumped with excitement, but then she added, “your eyes are blue!”
“Oh…” I said, crestfallen.
“No, no, it’s OK! Just keep trying. Focus hard on the color of my eyes.”
I laughed silently to myself. How could I not focus on the color of her eyes? It was like asking me to remember to breathe. Nonetheless, I focused even more intently on the breathtaking green and tried again. I pushed the light up through my eyes and willed it to bend, watching her expression for signs of improvement.
“They’re turning yellow, keep trying!” she said encouragingly as she gripped my shoulder.
I redoubled my effort, becoming entranced by the shade of her eyes. Turn green. Turn green! Turn…
“Gray, they’re green! You did it!” She leaned in unexpectedly and kissed me, sending my senses over the edge. “Whoa, now they’re REALLY green…Gray, that’s kinda scary. Gray, calm down.”
I refocused on the color of her eyes and consciously slowed my heart back to normal.
“There! Perfect. I knew you could do it.” She ran her fingers through my hair and it sent a tingle down my spine. “Wow, this stuff is really dependent on your emotions, isn’t it?”
I refocused, allowing the light to recede from my eyes, and smiled back at her. “I guess so.”
Suddenly, her demeanor changed from jovial to somber. Her smile was replaced by an expression of uncertainty and her eyes were serious. “Gray, I’m worried about you going on this mission. Even if Ethan and James are going with you and Matthias is your brother, I don’t trust Soren.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, he’s huge, for starters!”
“You mean, like Jonas?”
She hesitated a moment “Yes, but…I, I don’t like the look of him!”
I could tell she was reaching now, so I decided to have some fun with her. “He looks like Matthias, who looks like me…what are you saying? You don’t like the look of me either?” I knew it was cruel, but I couldn’t help laughing on the inside.
“No, that’s not what I meant!” Her voice was starting to quiver. “I mean…and what about the wolves? What if they hurt you?! I just…I don’t want you to leave.” A single tear escaped from the corner of her eye.
Whoa, I had no idea she’d get so upset. I’m such an ass! “Krista” I whispered softly to her “Everything’s going to be fine. I have to go…otherwise none of us is getting out of here, but I swear to you. I will come back. An army of ten thousand wolves led by the Overseer himself couldn’t keep me away.”
She hesitated a moment, apparently trying to catch her breath. She gazed intently at me, her eyes glinting in the dull purple glow like the surface of a lake reflecting the light around it. She gently inhaled and then whispered the words: “I love you.”
I’d never wanted to hear three words more desperately in all my life. I cradled her head gently in one arm and ran the fingers of my other hand gently through her silken hair. I struggled for what seemed like an eternity to find the strength to reply, then, at last, it came. “I love you, Krista.”