A/N: First chapter - basically I'm setting up stuff for the future. You may not think this chapter is important, but it is. I might take more sign ups (found in Profile) but I might not. Remember, if you want to try to submit a character, e-mail me, don't post in the reviews. Reviews are for the story, only. And here it is:
Chapter 1: Lost Child of Time
"Time has been transformed, and we have changed; it has advanced and set us in motion; it has unveiled its face, inspiring us with bewilderment and exhilaration."
(Altaria 438 A.B.)
They are funny things. Real, but not quite real, with a wondrous separation between illusion and reality; however, for Connor Evanes, there was no boundary. No longer did Connor have the luxury of telling himself that the things were not real, as he had long ago lost the ability to decipher visual lies from truths. He was only a child of eleven years of age, and lacked the mental capacity to carry on.
It had been like this ever since he was young, this he was sure of. Though he could not quite remember feeling the apparent confusion, only a strange knowing – a knowledge of things he shouldn't know, but did. … and once, Connor felt he knew perfectly why.
Often, when he opened his eyes to the sunlight, there would be bodies in front of him, worried ones with eyes filled of warmth and concern. They were figures he recognized and could easily call them by name. When he closed his eyes he was met with people just as real in front of him then. They were so close, so tangible, he could reach out and touch them.
And that was only the beginning.
As time went by, there would be times when he woke up – was he even awake? – finding himself crying, huddled in the very corner of his room, haunted continuously by people with white hair and two-toned eyes; just like him. And there was one girl in particular, that scared him the most.
He felt as if he should know her, and felt ashamed that he couldn't cry out her name and make her smile. Her blank, soulless gaze terrified him, even more so when she'd speak to him and tell him to 'come home'. When she'd take a step towards him, he'd scream: a scream of fear, pain, and want.
Immediately upon doing so, she would vanish.
Then a person he knew as his mother – or so his muddled brain would tell him – would rush into the room, her form a corporeal figure of flesh and blood and heat. Still, when she'd come near him, he'd only cry harder, and he did not know why. He'd stay that way for hours, sobbing into her shoulder, telling himself over and over again: "I am Connor Evanes. I am Connor Evanes. I am Connor Evanes."
But not once did he fully believe it.
When Connor Evanes turned twelve, the illusions were still there, but far less frequent and common, fading away until they seemed more like the dream they were supposed to be. Connor was relieved, thinking that maybe he was finally growing out of it. Everything finally seemed to be returning to normal.
That is, before he received the letter.
He found it lying innocently on his doorstep with his name written carefully in black ink along the top. He picked it up with trembling hands, and ran to his room with a feeling of anticipation coursing through his veins. He did not have any friends – no one that would even bother sending so much as a friendly note to him. He kept indoors and rarely strayed outside, so he never had the chance to make any acquaintances of any sort.
So why would he get letters now?
Slamming his bedroom door shut, he tore open the envelope with an almost insane fervor. Almost immediately, his breath caught in his throat and his heart began to pound like a drum deep within his chest. The letter was written in a weird rune-based language he had never seen before. But that was not what frightened him.
It frightened him because he could read it.
"Meet us by the bridge in two days. It is time."
The second day came much too fast, too soon for Connor. It came with an unexpected snowfall, chilling the world of Farinia even more than it already was. For the entire day, he was a nervous wreck, wearing down his bedroom floor with his constant pacing. Even Braun, his mother's laid-back Guardian noticed Connor's agitation as something different from the norm.
His mother asked him what was wrong, of course, but Connor couldn't tell her. He knew he couldn't tell her.
This was something, he knew, he had to face alone.
It was late into the evening when Connor had finally plucked up the courage to leave his house and trudge down the paths of Altaria, now covered in several inches of newly fallen snow. Connor deliberately made sure he took the longest possible route that led towards the bridge that lay just on the outskirts of town, leading into the wilderness.
His going was calm, uninterrupted by anything save the sporadic howl of icy wind through an alleyway. Not many people or Guardians were out, preferring to warm themselves in their houses while the snow continued to fall, leaving the streets as desolate as a town completely dead.
Connor rounded the final corner just yards away from the bridge without even realizing it, too busy staring at the ground, confined to his thoughts to be aware of his surroundings. It was only when his eyes registered the appearance of humans did he finally react, stopping dead in his tracks.
There were five waiting for him – white haired children in black cloaks. They were huddled together, talking to one another in hushed, frantic whispers. One suddenly made a movement with his hands, and all talk abruptly ceased.
All Connor could do was to bear the uncomfortable scrutiny in silence, trying to find something for his own eyes to fixate on.
"We were beginning to wonder if you were going to show up at all," one of the children said, while the shortest of the bunch laughed only to be shut up by the speaker's glare. "We left the letter under the assumption you would be here this morning. You certainly took your time in coming."
One of the girls slowly made her way out of the circle of children. Her expression was that of joy – there was nothing more to describe it. She even began to run towards him, calling out that name. It was his name. His name. She was calling out to him.
Slowly, Connor was becoming aware of a dull pounding in his head that was steadily increasing.
This girl. She was the one who he saw every night; the one who haunted his dreams and his waking nightmares. She was the one who would tell him to 'come home' with such empty, soulless eyes.
However, she looked to be much younger than the specter had been, though they shared roughly the same features, including the long, flowing hair.
That name. Each repetition felt like a nail was being driven into his head. His head was throbbing even more now, each pound searing painfully through his head like electricity. It was becoming harder to concentrate.
It took him a moment to realize the girl was hugging him, clutching him in an embrace so tight it felt as if she would never let go. Fear swiftly retook precedence over shock and pain. Connor quickly pushed the girl away from him, with more strength than he had intended. She collided shoulder-first with the cobblestone path, confusion and hurt etched on her face.
The name had come out of nowhere, searing through his brain like white-hot fire. Myrel. That was her name. Myrel.
The other children were staring at him in shocked silence until one of the children – the one who had laughed before – spoke up.
"Rigil! Did something happen?"
Images, rapid and barely discernable, were flashing quickly through his mind's eye. Colors, faces, feelings, places, feelings, unbidden emotions. The pain in his head was growing to a fevered pitch, until he could barely see the white-haired children coming towards him. They were making this pain: they were responsible for it. They were doing something.
The pain finally overwhelming him, Connor fell to his knees clutching his head, trying to do something – anything – to banish the images that were bombarding him. "Leave me alone! Leave me alone!"
"Rigil!" it was that girl again. She hadn't moved or taken the hands offered her, still sprawled along the ground amongst the cold snow and stone. Her voice was pleading. "What's wrong? Please! What's happened to you?"
"Stop saying that name!" Connor shouted before being hauled roughly to his feet by one of the children. This one was taller, sterner than the others with cold eyes that lacked warmth or emotion.
They were just like the specters in his bedroom. Was he seeing things again? He had to be… They had to be illusions... but why was he seeing these things… these images? Who was he? What was he?
"We don't have time for silly games," said the cold-eyed boy who had lifted him to his feet, now gripping him by the shoulders and staring him hard in the eyes. "Get a hold of yourself, Rigil. We can help you, but not here."
"I told you to stop saying that name! I'm not Rigil! You've got the wrong person! I'm Connor Evanes!" The boy's grip on his shoulders tightened. "You hear me? Connor Evanes!"
"You are Rigil," the boy told him firmly while all the other children except Myrel took their place behind him, side-by-side, "whether you like it or not."
"Look into my eyes and tell me you are not."
Connor's gaze slowly met that of Myrel's, and he felt a sudden flash of guilt. Images continued to dance through his brain while searing pain accompanied every flash, though it was becoming duller now. "You're just a dream, like before," Connor said in a hoarse, frantic voice. "All of you. You'll go away, I'll wake up..."
It took Connor a few moments to realize he was being shaken, and even longer to feel the sharp pain of nails digging into his shoulders. Only reluctantly did he meet the gaze of the green and blue-eyed child, whose face had contorted with anger and rage.
"We're not a dream, and we never will be! We are reality. We've been your reality!"
But Connor didn't listen to the loud words, convinced that if he didn't do anything, they would go away and he would wake up in the comfort of his own room. He'd be safe and warm under the covers of his bed, with the sun glimmering through the window, not snow.
"Are you listening to me? This is no dream!"
All at once, he felt a hard impact at the base of his jaw, jolting him back into awareness as he slid across the ground, wincing as he slowly tried to pick himself back onto his feet. "Does it feel like a dream to you?" Connor stood, swaying on unsteady legs as the boy continued to approach him. Connor still could not the meet the boy's eyes, or any of the other children's. "You don't feel pain in dreams, Rigil!"
"Astor, stop!" But he didn't, he kept advancing. Connor could only take a few steps back in fear as the boy – Astor – continued on his tirade.
That name, it was so familiar.
More images, pictures – no, memories. And Astor was in them. They were in the field, all five of them, tinkering with something the glowed and spun with a million colors.
"What about the letter, Rigil?" Astor hissed, despite Myrel's continuous pleas. "How do you explain that?"
"Didn't you wonder why you could read it? No one else in this pitiful place can!"
Another hard blow from Astor's clenched fist sent him toppling to the ground again, breathing hard as pulled himself to his hands and knees before falling into a dazed sort of trance.
The fields in his mind became darker, and the smell of ash and smoke filled the air. They were still there, but they all looked different. He was with them, running. Fear filled him, along with the sense of determination for something they had to do.
Astor, Myrel, Eltanin, Cal, Tahir … the names came to him.
Astor had pulled back his fist again, preparing to strike. But this time, he was stopped as Myrel latched herself onto his arm. "Stop it, Astor, you're hurting him."
"As long as it knocks some sense into him, I don't frankly care. Now let go of me!"
But the other memories were there, too, conflicting with his old ones. Not just the ones with he and the other white-haired children. They were the memories of he, Connor, in his room, around the house, being with the woman he called his mother and her Guardian Braun. These memories, he felt, were just as important to him. They mattered just as much… and perhaps, even more, than the ones that were filled with the children.
They were a part of him, too.
He couldn't deny that.
Within him now, there was a new light, a new knowledge. Or maybe it was something he had known all along, buried deep within the confines of his brain. It was like a voice, an altogether different voice, was whispering to him, telling him things. It gave him the names when he strained for them, and told him, made him know instinctively, what to say.
"Astor!" Myrel was struggling to hold him back.
Rigil closed his eyes, taking a deep breath before rising to his feet. "It's fine, Myrel." With those words, Astor visibly relaxed, his angry visage fading, while sighing heavily in relief. The others looked relieved as well and Myrel released Astor's arm.
Connor felt like he should be happy at this meeting, but he found that he was not.
Already, the new memories were fading, like sand through a small crack. He wouldn't have them long.
Rigil sighed. He was tired, tired of all of this.
Astor pressed a cloak into his arms, identical to the ones the other children were wearing. He examined it carefully, moving the folded piece of black material back and forth in his hands. There were plenty of memories attached to this cloak alone, he was sure.
"Sorry," Astor said gruffly a few moments later, "But I –"
"You did what you had to do, I know," Rigil replied, letting the smooth, silky material slide through his fingers like water. None of the others spoke, but he could guess what they were feeling: elated, relieved… even afraid. He would be feeling the same in their position. "Thank you."
"We have your Prism back in one of the abandoned houses not far from here," Astor continued, while Myrel and the others nodded in confirmation. "We need get as far away from here as soon as we can, before people start looking for you."
Astor spun around abruptly, walking across the bridge pathway and the others turned around to follow him. Only Myrel stayed, waiting for him.
And something told him she always would be.
But this time, he thought, looking upwards into the white, starless sky, I won't be coming home.
"Aren't you coming?" Myrel said quietly, and the other children immediately stopped in their procession, turning to watch the exchange with unreadable expressions. "Rigil?"
Rigil's gaze dropped from the sky to the ground below him. He felt he needed to say something, but the words caught in his throat.
Finally, the words came, and he managed to find the courage to look Myrel in the eyes, and even then, only to say: "I'm sorry."
"Sorry?" Her voice was panicked. "What do you mean 'sorry'?"
"You can't possibly be thinking about staying here." That voice was Eltanin's, steady and unwavering. "This place does not love us. There is no place for us here, and there never will be."
Rigil's hesitated, as he tried to think of what he needed to say. His voice was quiet at first, but grew in volume. "Everything's… been over for a long time, hasn't it? Things change, times change… people change."
"You can't be serious," said Cal, disbelief leaking into her voice.
"I…" Rigil turned his back on the children, his gaze following the road that led to where his home, his mother, and Braun awaited him. They were probably worried about him. He let the cloak fall to the ground – a black blemish against the white snow. "… I want to stay."
"Rigil…" Myrel began hesitantly.
"No" – he smiled and shook his head –"my name is Connor Evanes." The frozen rain continued to fall, and Connor allowed his mind to wander, to let go, like so many times before. Soon, it would all be a dream.
Just a dream…
He could see the one called Astor's face contorting with fury out of the corner of his eye. "Fine then," he spat out, his eyes as hard as ice and his tone just as cold. "Fine then!"
"Rigil!" cried the girl from before, taking a few steps in his direction. "What about me?" The first trace of tears began to prick the corner of his eyes, but he did not look back. "What about my fe –"
"Your feelings don't matter to him anymore," the Astor snarled, stopping her with his arm as she tried to run toward Connor. "We're leaving. He made his choice."
Without bothering to look back, Astor turned on his heels. The other children looked on in confusion and uncertainty. They were looking to Connor now, expecting him to say something, anything to break the barbed silence, but Connor didn't move from his position, stuck in an almost catatonic stupor as the snowfall became harder.
One-by-one each the children left, following hesitantly in Astor's footsteps. He watched them leave. Some actually looked back at him before vanishing forever into winter's shroud, though not one sad a word to him. Now only one – the girl from before – was left.
She was trying to say something; he could see her stumbling to form the words.
"Don't wait for me," Connor said gently. It was something he felt compelled to say.
"No," the girl said, a betrayed look in her in her eyes; even so, there was no hatred in them, just a melancholy acceptance. "No."
She picked up his cloak, taking it in her arms before walking along the bridge in a nervous, rattled sort of gate. She took something out from the pocket in her cloak, something shiny. She fingered it in her hand, an unreadable expression coming to her face at some secret thought.
The girl looked over her shoulder as a voice – not his voice – called her name. She looked reluctant to leave, running a pale hand slowly along the bridge's railing.
She didn't want to move on. He could understand that. "I'm sorry."
Shaking her head as she gazed at him, she smiled sadly, letting the sparkling object in her hand drop into the snow. "Good-bye, Connor Evanes."
Then, she was gone.
Slowly, Connor made his way over to the middle of the bridge, bending over to pick up the sparkling object lying abandoned in the snowdrift. It was a stone, polished into a form of some sort of crystal. It was almost as big as his hand, glowing with a strange radiance. At his touch, it grew warm.
Tears began to prick at the corner of his eyes, and he was powerless to stop it. He let himself lean against the bridge railing, sliding to the snowy ground, as the tears began to fall.
The stone continued to glow, and through the tears and sadness, he was beginning to feel something he had not felt in a long time: peace.
With a relieved sigh, Connor closed his eyes, listening only to the sound of snow falling and his slow, steady breathing, until he fell asleep, not knowing that upon the morrow, all the memories with the mysterious children would be gone.
Connor Evanes had finally found his peace, but he felt, even in the coming years, that he had paid for it at a terrible price.