The air of the crumbling fortress was cold and flat. Samir never felt like he had quite enough to breathe. In here, it wasn’t moving, but he could hear wind howling outside.
Krys was a soft warmth against Samir’s face, and he automatically reached up to touch her. She was on his shoulder, chittering urgently. He rubbed the top of her head, both offering and taking comfort, then lifted his arm to offer her a more comfortable perch. She hopped down, hooking her long toe claws over his fingers to hang. She would get heavy after a while, but for now, he could carry her.
Uneasy, he looked around the dark, stone room. Here again. Was it again? He thought he remembered dreaming of this before, but he was so disoriented nothing felt entirely certain.
“Where are we?” he murmured, stroking a knuckle down Krys’s soft, furry back. “Why do we keep coming back here?”
One thing was clear; he wasn’t going to find any answers by simply standing here.
He stepped out onto the landing of a balcony that formed a U shape with a staircase in the center. Below was a door leading to an outside that was just as dark as the inside of this crumbling, abandoned building. Everything was unnaturally quiet.
Had he heard something before? Why couldn’t he remember?
He doused the light he couldn’t quite remember summoning and crept down the stairs. Only after he passed through the door did he realize where he stood.
This both was and wasn’t Castle Ulek as he remembered it. Empty and crumbling, like Samir was visiting a far, far future. A future where, after the war, no one had ever returned.
Samir looked around the outer courtyard, his eyes only barely able to pierce the gloom. This darkness wasn’t natural.
A dream, Samir reminded himself. Except those words didn’t sit right in his mind. Something more was happening.
Across the way, the gate that led deeper into the castle crashed shut. Samir flinched at the sudden sound. Krys flapped wildly. “Shhh,” he soothed. And started walking in that direction.
Through the bars, the inner courtyard looked just as empty as the outer. No sign of what had caused the gate to close. Samir could see the lever that controlled it, but it was well out of reach. No trouble with magic. He planted his feet, reached out with his free hand, and willed it to lift.
The handle started to raise, and with it, the gate. It came up about two feet, then Samir met resistance. Something fighting him. Samir fought back for a moment, making no progress, then released and the gate slammed back down.
This funhouse nightmare was getting tiresome. Dream or not, Samir was ready to assert some control. For that, he was going to need something more subtle than the magic Sheluna had taught him.
He put his hand over the vest pocket where his fate deck resided. He didn’t pull the cards out, but that point of physical contact helped ground him, focus him. In his mind, he summoned a picture of the card he needed—the Star. It was an easy card to visualize, a single, bright four-pointed star floating on a dark field.
The Star came after Night in the deck, and was its opposite.
—tugging at Samir’s mind: when had he seen Night? Not long ago. What was the context? What had it meant?—
The Star shone it’s light into dark places, revealing that which was hidden. Bringing truth, understanding. And, when needed, hope.
“Show me what I cannot see.” Samir’s voice was soft, but commanding, fueling power through his words. “Give me light to see what’s hidden. Guide me to understanding.”
The shadows were fighting him. He could feel the resistance of the entire world around him. But Samir was patient. He didn’t try to overwhelm with force, but he kept his focus and gave no ground. And slowly, inch by inch, he felt the world around him move.
A ripple, a whisper of power. The gate didn’t move. The shadows didn’t change. But in the blink of an eye, Samir wasn’t alone. On the other side of the gate, staring at—or through—Samir, was someone he knew. Raj.
No, not Raj. That wasn’t his name, was it? That had been a lie. But how did Samir know that?
Why couldn’t he remember?