Chapter 08 - Storyteller

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Jaylina and Michael returned to the astral plane. Jaylina hovered above her unconscious body as it lay peacefully in the material world. It was like looking at an image of herself underwater.

All around them lay a great and vast space of energy that she could see, hear and feel on her skin. Jaylina breathed in. To her, the place smelled vaguely of cardamom and vanilla beans.

After taking a moment to look around and a quick glance at Michael to be sure it was safe, it felt soothing. It seemed infinite. It was a vast place, seemingly connected to every possible place and time simultaneously. Here, anything seemed possible. She hadn't time to really experience it before when Michael had removed the monster that had been leeching her essence.

Instinctively, she reached behind her neck. Nothing there.

"That shadow from before," she said. "It was feeding on me. After you detached it, I felt different. Better. Is that thing what made me so miserable?"

"That shadow had been a part of your life for a long time. It was strong, but not stronger than you," replied Michael.

"Will it come back?"

"Not that one."

"Will another take its place?"

"Only if you allow it."

Jaylina considered that. "How did it get there?"

"You know how."

Jaylina considered that, too. She did know how. She realized she'd known all her life but didn't have enough information to understand what she had known. It was there because she allowed it to be.

But was it a symbiote exploiting her weakness, or had she been an unwitting host who had unconsciously nurtured it? She thought of the countless horrors she'd read about throughout history, the terrible atrocities people committed against each other, and realized that shade and others of its ilk had been there since the beginning of time preying on the light of all humankind. Feeding on its collective pain.

Did every human being harbor one? More than one? She shuddered at the thought.

"So where are we? What is this place?" Jaylina was ready to think about anything else.

"You are in the ether," said a child's voice behind her. "The astral plane of existence, the bleeding wound between two universes."

She turned to face it. Michael said, "Jaylina, this is Bellamy."

That was the first time he'd said her name since they'd met. He said it with a strange accent that she found rather pleasing.

Before them stood a small boy—or rather the projection of a boy's spirit there in the astral plane—hunched over as though a dark cloud weighed on him. His eyes were dark hollows and his spirit seemed dim. His projection wore dingy shorts, a jacket, and a clip-on tie that reminded her vaguely of a schoolboy. Behind him a tarnished and frayed silver thread trailed into the darkness.

The presence of his aura captured her attention. It wasn't just its grey color or dark hues. It had texture, as though microscopic bits of each universe had latched onto this boy though his travels. The boy's spirit had spent a lot of time on the other side. His soul looked as though he'd seen the very ends of space, all its secret hiding places, perhaps even several beginnings and ends of time.

Jaylina felt an odd affinity for this boy, as if fate had brought them together in some predetermined way out of the control of either. It seemed natural that he was here with them, as impossible as that sounded.

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