Two-Hundred Years Previous
She stood alone. Adeline looked longingly across the field at the nearby lake. A few more leagues, and she would be at the portal. Adeline felt queasy. Lately, she’d felt more comfortable there than at her own home. Why couldn't he leave her be? That man was obsessed. They weren't even the same kind. She was water. He was land. Why Gelick was fixated on her, she had no idea. It was downright creepy.
She stared at the reflection of the plum-tinged evening sun bouncing off the undisturbed water and wished for some solution to present itself. While she more than enjoyed her time on Earth, she couldn’t continue to spend all her time there. Nor could she allow him to drive her away from her family and friends. Of course, that was easier said than done; even with her eel animal spirit, she still had a human side and needed to spend time outside the water. And though she was seriously testing all known limits for time spent in her eel-hybrid form, barely surfacing save for necessity, he always seemed to know when she would emerge. If she didn't know better, she’d say he camped near the water's perimeter in wait.
Adeline jumped when a hand grabbed her around the waist. Gelick smiled apologetically and stepped to the side. "Sorry to surprise you. How was your afternoon? I’d heard you visited those Earth lakes again. Are you sure you should be doing that? Things there have been getting increasingly dangerous for our kind."
Putting a few steps between them, Adeline turned to face him. Her skin crawled. It was bad enough he always found her here, but how could he possibly know of her travels through the portal? Somehow, he’d found a way to monitor her movements and activities. He took liberties that were not his to take!
She silently bid her brother to return home, but there was no way of knowing if he’d heard her. Bry was still back at the lake, and communication between Calaspia and Earth was difficult and sporadic. Some thoughts made it through, but it wasn’t dependable. Even so, she sent the plea. In the meantime, she looked around for a way out. The water was a good hundred feet away. She could make a run for it, but he’d easily overtake her on the land before she ever made it.
She shook her head, wondering what was wrong with her. Okay, so he was creepy, but it wasn't like he’d hurt her. He seemed legitimately worried for her safety. Maybe he’d just overheard someone talking about her visits? He couldn't possibly be able to track her underwater. "I appreciate your concern, but the humans tend to stay away from the deep water, so there’s little to worry about."
"If that's the case then, why do the villagers near the lake speak of strange serpentine lake creatures, my Naitaka?" He whispered the name like an endearment.
Her eyes widened in surprise. He knew the name the humans had given for her and the others who traveled through to the other side. It was what they called their lake monster. She hadn't told anyone that. Neither had Bry. There was only one way he could have known about the rumors. "You've been to the village?"
"Of course." He stepped toward her with his arm outstretched. "I had to make sure you were safe, and I'm glad I did. If you continue to go there, they’ll find you and possibly do you harm. You must stop these excursions."
Her eyes blazed with anger. "That’s none of your concern."
"None of my concern? You are my concern!"
"No, I’m not," she said flatly.
His eyes flared feline for the briefest of moments. "It's Bry, isn't it? He's never approved of our relationship."
"We have no relationship!" she cried out in frustration.
Gelick's eyes softened, and he placed a hand gently on her arm. "I understand you’re afraid, but there is no reason our kinds cannot be together."
He was insane. What else could she say to that? She couldn't think of any way to be clearer
"Let go of my sister," Bry’s voice called out.
Gelick's fingers curled, his sharp nails digging painfully into her arm. She didn't flinch. The ache was nothing compared to the anger rolling off him, pressing against her until she could barely breathe.
Bry approached from the shore, water still dripping off his body. Heavy breathing indicated the speed with which he’d swam here. Gelick's eyes suddenly appeared feline. His lips curved up at the corners. She felt her heart in her throat.
"Bry, run!" She pulled her arm from his grasp, leaving jagged, bloody scratches from her elbow to wrist, and took off for the water.
Mid run, Gelick transformed into his panther form, a sleek black beast of pure muscle and precision. On land, he had the advantage. They had no chance of outrunning him here. She caught Bry's eyes and felt time stop. He looked between her and Gelick, and then to the lake, and came to the same conclusion.
She skidded to a halt and watched as he turned toward the attack and braced for impact. "Get to the lake," he ordered, just as Gelick's powerful claws dug into his arm and shoulder.
They fell to the ground in a tumble of fur and limbs. Bry fought back, but he was no match for Gelick's stronger animal form. He had no claws and no protection, but he grabbed at the panther's mouth, trying to hold back his teeth; with minimal effort, he shook free of the hands. She screamed and ran back to them.
Gelick's razor-sharp teeth ripped Bry's flesh. Red splattered the grass and shrubbery as a pool spread beneath them. Desperately, she beat Gelick's back. He knocked her aside, sending her rolling into a group of bramble bushes. Thorns tore into her skin as she scrambled to get up.
Gelick stood over Bry's motionless body. He changed back into his human form, but she could still see the blood on his face and hands. Staring at her brother, she looked for signs of breathing.
Gelick stumbled a few steps away from the body and smiled. "It had to be done," he explained. "Now, he can’t poison your thoughts against me. He can’t stop our love."
Adeline ignored his insane ranting. She went to her brother's side and laid a trembling hand on him. He didn’t react to her touch. His chest no longer moved, not even to take a shallow breath. He was gone. She didn’t realize when she’d began to cry, only that her cheeks felt wet and her vision had blurred.
Gelick took a step back in surprise and looked at her as if deciphering a puzzle. "I’ve freed you," he said. "This should be a joyous day. There is nothing to keep us apart now."
Unable to fathom his madness, she focused on clinging to the fabric of Bry's tunic as her body convulsed with sobs. He was more than her brother; they were best friends. He was the only one who understood, and even shared, her fascination with Earth.
She heard Gelick speak, but his words were drowned out by pealing thunder and heavy rain. When had it begun to storm? The sky was filled with clouds of the darkest gray. Static electricity snapped in the air. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning hit the ground by Gelick's feet. He looked at her in panic. It was his punishment, she realized. He’d broken one of their cardinal rules. He’d taken a life. His life energy was no longer in line with the energies of Calaspia. She almost laughed at the irony. Gelick was right. She was finally going to be free, just as he’d said, only it was at the cost of her brother. Where was the justice in this? There was no justice or good in the world. Faith was a joke, a lie she’d been taught to believe. She would put up with an eternity of his insanity to have Bry back. Nothing would ever be right again.
Gelick ran, but you couldn’t run from something of this magnitude. A thick black fog surrounded him and she heard him scream with terror.
Her hair floated around her head. Her body felt heavy. The air felt heavy. She swayed from lightheadedness, sure she would fall over or throw up. Voices called out above the maelstrom. There were people approaching from the village, but she couldn’t make out who they were. Her vision blurred and cleared again. The black clouds dissipated, and Gelick was gone.
With a faint smile, knowing he could never return to this world, she closed her eyes on Calaspia for the last time.
* * *
The first thing she was aware of was voices.
"It was the lake monster," a man's raspy voice said. Others groaned.
"Don't be ridiculous," another man snorted.
"The girl was found by the lake, soaking wet and covered in blood. What would you say was responsible?"
"Looks like some wild animal left those marks on her arm," a woman noted.
"And what would you call the lake monster? Tame?"
Everyone was quiet at that, until they heard her groan. She opened her eyes to a small room, dimly lit by candles and filled with people. They looked down on her with a mixture of concern and fear. "Can you tell us what happened, girl?" the first man asked anxiously.
"Seamus," the woman chastised, "you didn't even ask her name."
"Fine, fine," he relented. "What’s your name?"
She opened her mouth to speak, but no words came out. What was her name? Why couldn't she remember? She sensed it, like a dream moments after waking, but she couldn’t grasp it and keep it in her thoughts long enough to answer. "I don't know."
"Do you know how you were injured?" the woman asked softly.
Adeline looked down at her arm, blood soaking the simple cloth bandage. She could feel other bruises as well, but she had no memory of what had caused any of them. She shook her head and ignored the disappointment she sensed from those present. The men began arguing amongst themselves again at the probability of attack from sea creatures and other wild animals. The woman shooed them out of the room, sat down by her bed, and gently began brushing her hair. "It will be alright, my dear," she assured her. "You're safe, now."
A young boy rapped lightly on the door and stuck his head in the room. "Mother, I fixed the chain." At the woman's nod, he walked in and handed her a necklace. "I cleaned up the pendant some. There's a name on it."
"Thank you." She gave the boy a quick smile, and he left them alone, again. The boy's mother looked closely at the intricately engraved letters. "Adeline. Is that your name?"
She felt a knot of pressure in her chest, but words eluded her. Was that her name? The woman gently placed the necklace in her hand. "This is your necklace," she explained. "At least, we found it on you, but the chain was broken."
She stared at the letters carved in smooth metal. "Adeline," she said aloud, but felt nothing.
The woman patted her on the shoulder and resumed brushing her hair. "It will be alright, my dear. I'm sure it will all come back to you in time."
Maybe, she thought, looking down at her injuries. The real question, however, was did she want to remember?
* * *
Time had no meaning. It swirled around him, pulling and pushing, corrupting his already shaky memories until he wasn't sure what was real and what was imagined. He remembered her face. That remained, even when he couldn’t remember his own name. He didn't know who she was. Just a face. Her beautiful smile was enough to help him hold on when his body and spirit cried out for an end to this meaningless existence. How long before they stole that memory from him, too?