Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Summer Reads 2020

     Lexy broke the silence by saying, “I didn’t know about the plot to make you a Dragon. I understand why it had to be done but, I didn’t know beforehand.”
     Lexy wasn’t one to sugar-coat things. She would have told her if she’d known and chosen to keep her mouth shut about it. Kayn met Lexy’s eyes as she disclosed, “I knew we had to kill our enemies during the Testing but when he slit my throat…I guess on some level, I never believed he’d be able to do it. When I woke up, I felt nothing but all-encompassing rage. I killed everyone that crossed my path until I caught up with him. I’ll never be able to forget the expression on his face as I embraced the hollow sensation within myself and slit his throat. I was lost for a while after that and my memory of that time is sketchy, to say the least. All I can recall is the warmth of the blood as it sprayed on my skin and how good it felt. I fought and died over and over until the pain didn’t matter anymore. When Kevin coldly tossed me into a room full of demons, I was eaten alive and that was the moment I understood we were both gone.”
     There was a long drawn out silence before Lexy clarified, “You’re not gone. Your perception of everything has been altered. All you have to do is embrace the change and accept the new version of yourself.” 
     “How do I do that? I used to imagine myself as a noble creature, a golden stallion or perhaps a lion. I know better now. I’m a hurricane, a plague, I’m an apocalypse. I am a Dragon. I’m a method of destruction.” Kayn knew Lexy understood what she was saying because she was also meant to be a method of destruction.
     Lexy pointed to the lush landscape before them and exclaimed, “We can burn this field to ash if you want to. My instinct has always been to burn it. Even though you are meant to be a warrior, you will always have a choice. We choose to work with the Clan, instead of against them. We choose right over wrong. We choose when to be a lion and when to be a Dragon. We choose to be warriors instead of methods of destruction. You’re still the same person. You just need time to sort through what happened to you during the Testing. Some of the dark things you’ve done will stay with you always, those acts are important. You now know that you can survive the darkest of times. You will always know you led your Clan through that dark place and came out on the other side. You found your way back to the light because you’re a survivor. You can choose to be a lion. My attachment to Grey allows my Dragon to sleep. I know having Zach as your Handler, might be complicated. It takes time and it’s not always easy. You’ll both make mistakes while you’re maneuvering through this situation you’ve found yourself in.”
     Kayn felt a tickle and noticed a tiny red ladybug walking across her barefoot. She had the urge to step on one foot with the other but didn’t. Baby steps. She glanced up at Lexy. 
     Her fellow Dragon teased, “Is that big bad ladybug bothering you?”
     It was bothering her. It was a reminder that she’d changed on the inside. She’d been happy with who she was as a person. She was funny and dorky and a little bit strange and now she was just angry. She was enraged by the beautiful colours in the sky. She was furious that the bumblebees hadn’t heeded her warning and settled back down in the flowers around her. Their buzzing had once been a soothing song and now it was as irritating as someone methodically scraping their nails down a chalkboard. Once again, she fought the urge to stomp on the tiny insect. It remained there, taunting her as it continued its ticklish stroll across her foot. Lexy playfully shoved her and the ladybug spread its tiny wings and flew away. Now, she wanted to punch Lexy right in the face.
     Lexy winked and teased, “I wouldn’t try it. You can’t take me, Brighton.”
     She wasn’t sure about that anymore. She’d never felt stronger. Lexy had obviously hitched a ride on her train of thought again. She was grinning at her and shaking her head as they continued their stroll into the scenic backdrop of the in-between.
     They wandered aimlessly for quite a while in silence before Lexy continued her, it’s good to be a Dragon speech, “Being a Dragon isn’t a bad thing. The good and the light need Dragons to do what they can’t. They don’t want to step into the dark. Not even to do what’s right. It’s not always light outside when it’s time to make a stand for what is right. Dragons can be beautiful things when properly attended to. I love my Dragon and occasionally, I let it out to play. My Dragon enjoys the kill. My Dragon’s a warrior and that’s what warriors do.”
     She’d enjoyed the kill. She heard the rustling of footsteps in the grass. Kayn spun around, it was Grey. She saw the apology in his eyes before he attempted to speak.   
     Grey shook his head and confessed, “We didn’t know about what Kevin had been asked to do, until after the three of you were already in the Testing. They were right not to tell us.”
     It wasn’t an apology. With his concerned expression, she knew he hadn’t known of the Clans plans beforehand. Kayn didn’t want to talk to anyone else right now nor was she feeling like a, ‘you just need to take time to smell the roses’ speech from Grey. The talk with Lexy about Dragons had helped but right now she needed to be angry. The fury within her made her feel strong. Grey cautiously inched closer. Kayn scowled at him. Her furrowed brow, a silent suggestion that she still required personal space.
     He paused, gave her one of his overly charming grins and disclosed, “Kevin was ordered to kill you. It was a means to an end. You know I liked the kid. In destroying you, he more than likely destroyed himself. He was asked to do this to help you evolve into what you needed to become to survive. Your survival outweighs the trauma you went through, in the long run. You don’t see it now, but someday you will. The plan was set in motion so the three of you could make it back home. People tend to lose their marbles in the Testing. It could be that Kevin lost his while trying to do what was best for you.”
     He was ordered to kill me. Kevin had said the words but she hadn’t believed him capable of doing it. She’d been lying to herself about so many things. Kayn wiggled her toes in the luxurious grassy carpet of brilliant green underfoot, expecting the act to be followed by a feeling of happiness but it wasn’t. This was bullshit. Complete and total bullshit. They started to walk as a trio, their footsteps rustling in the grass. Kayn noticed a lone bumblebee pollinating a flower. She stopped walking and stood there mesmerized by the movements of the tiny legs caked in pollen as the others continued to walk away. A vision of Kevin and Chloe as children lying in the grass on their stomachs watching bees caused her heart to feel nothing. She stomped on the bee and felt the burn of its stinger on the arch of her barefoot. Pain felt good. It felt like she’d discovered something intensely personal about this new version of herself. She glanced up to see how far the others wandered without her, they’d remained close by, watching. Her face felt warm. Confused by her reaction to the pain, Kayn placed her hands on her cheeks. Lexy’s lips slowly turned up in a knowing smile. She was aware of how the pain made her feel. Lexy was standing slightly behind Grey. She raised a finger to her lips as a signal to keep it a secret between Dragons. Pain was now a turn on…Interesting. She’d always been curious about Lexy’s motivation for things and now she knew her secret. On the bright side, if she could feel rage and arousal then it did stand to reason that she’d be able to feel joy again. Kayn glanced at her wounded foot. There was nothing there. No stinger and no mark. The in-between was a magical place. A place where you could feel the pain but not suffer any permanent physical repercussions because your body was elsewhere. That made her think. Were they the first ones out? Had any of the other Clans made it out? She pressed her lips together so she wouldn’t ask the question threatening to spill from her lips. Had he made it out?
     From behind Grey, Lexy responded to the question she’d only asked in her mind, “Triad made it out.”
     Kayn couldn’t allow her face to register a reaction.
     Grey cautiously clarified, “They were the first Clan out of the Testing.”  
     Kayn’s heart was quiet. Maybe she’d be happy he made it out someday but right now, all she could see was what she’d lost during the Testing. Her mind wrapped around the concept. If Triad made it out and Ankh made it out, that meant Trinity was lost. Leanne and the others were trapped within the Testing. She responded with a question, “That means Trinity didn’t make it out?”
     Grey tenderly cupped her chin in his hands as he assured, “It’s okay to be happy he survived. The Testing is meant to destroy what’s left of your mortal emotions. Don’t let them do it. That’s why we fight to keep them. Your spirit can only be broken if you choose to allow something to break you. You are truly immortal now, in every way. You fought your demons and survived the Testing. Now fight like hell to get the Kayn we all know and love back. You have to try to find the joy in everything again. If you spend time looking for it each day, you’ll find it. If you consider yourself ruined, then you will be. It’s simple, cause and effect. They can’t destroy you physically once you are claimed by a Clan but they can and will continue to try to destroy you emotionally.”
     Grey pulled her into his brotherly embrace but her body remained as stiff as a rail. She couldn’t let them in. She couldn’t allow herself to feel because she wasn’t prepared to feel everything.
      He stroked her hair gently and whispered, “Let it go. That is the secret to a happy life. When somebody hurts you, let it go. Take the pain as a learning experience and move on.”
     Where tears would normally come, there was nothing. She willed her body to relax against his but she couldn’t. It was going to be a long way back to the girl she’d once been.
     Lexy joined their sappy conversation and this was a peculiar thing for her to do, “I know where you are inside of your head right now. You don’t want to feel anything and until you do, you won’t. Just take all the time you need.” Lexy wrapped her arms around them both and whispered, “I wish I could heal you emotionally but that’s the one thing I can’t heal.”
     She felt like the cat from one of those old Pepe Le Pew cartoons, being hugged against her will but let it happen, knowing Grey needed to try to make her feel better. He probably felt bad about the lack of Handler attention she was getting from Zach. Where in the hell, was he? Wasn’t he supposed to be her Grey? Oh, yes. He didn’t want this job. His reaction probably would have been hurtful if anything mattered right now. This hug had started out uncomfortable and now it was taking all she had to stop herself from squirming away like the cat in that cartoon. When they finally freed her from the unwanted embrace, Kayn released an exasperated breath as she sat down in the grass, where it would be more challenging to hug her without it getting weird. She plucked a handful of grass from the ground and allowed it to slip through her fingers and settle on the bare skin of her legs. Kayn brushed it off, laid down and rested her head on the pillow of lush greenery. She inhaled the fresh scent while quietly observing the clouds drifting across the sky above. She’d taken note of the exquisite silken texture of the grass cushioning her body but was incapable of feeling joy as she once had. Her memory flickered and she was a child in the grass with her best friend sprawled next to her. They were guessing what the clouds resembled. The memories that would have broken her before caused not a twitch in her heart. They were just images now. What if the joy of these moments never returned and all they ever were, was a reminder of her lost humanity? She wanted them gone but knew she could never get rid of the clouds in the sky on a whim. The grass rustled as Lexy and Grey laid next to her. She heard another noise. Without looking, she knew Melody and Zach had joined them. Grey maneuvered away leaving a place for Zach, so he could sit beside her. He was here to apologize. She could see it in his eyes.
     Zach spoke, “I reacted unfavourably regarding my new job.”
     Kayn nodded and replied, “I’m sorry you have to be my keeper, Handler, whatever it means. I don’t think I’m going to need one. It’s going to be easy. I wouldn’t worry about it.” Grey started to chuckle. Lexy socked him in the stomach. Zach squeezed her knee tenderly. She didn’t want to punch him in the face. It was a good start.
     Her new Handler grinned as he said, “I just wanted to say I’m sorry and I’m in.”
     Kayn couldn’t help but crack a smile at the blatant lie he’d just told. He didn’t want to be in. Zach had no lying ability, none whatsoever. She did note that his presence made her feel lighter.
     Zach pointed at the clouds as he observed the sky above and remarked, “I see something in that cluster of clouds to the left.”
     Mel brushed her auburn hair away from her eyes as she stretched out in the grass and scrutinized the clouds above. After a second or two she answered, “I’ll bite. What do you see?”
     “Can’t you see the moose? It’s obvious. The antlers are over there and wait, there’s Frost driving the RV in the next cloud.”
     He was trying to make her laugh. He wanted her to reminisce with him about happier times. That moose versus RV incident had been a harrowing couple of days, for her. She hadn’t been able to heal as quickly back then. It probably wasn’t the best example to use. Giggles erupted within the group of immortals lying in the grass. Kayn felt her heart begin to thaw, just a little. The moose in the clouds joke made her think of something sort of related. Kayn stated, “One of you has to teach me how to drive.”
     Grey playfully tossed a handful of grass at her as he volunteered his services, “I will. We can start after the banquet.”
     She smiled again. With each smile, she felt a little bit lighter inside. Wait a minute, did he just say banquet?  Kayn scowled as she asked, “What banquet?”
     Grey plucked a flower from the earth and tried to tuck it behind Lexy’s ear. She started swatting him away as he replied, “There’s one for the survivors of the Testing and their Clans. They’re just giving us time to unwind before we have to go back there.”
     She was going to see him. She was going to be sick. There her emotions were.  Attempting to keep her cool, she closed her eyes. She’d hoped it would be years before she’d be forced to lay eyes on Mr. Smith again. Judging by Lexy’s expression, she’d once again deciphered her thoughts.
     Lexy leaned in and whispered, “Don’t worry, you’ll sit beside me. I’ll remind you that you’re a badass and strong until you feel that way again. That’s what friends are for.” 
     It was ironic that the other person with the same emotional defect was the one trying to be supportive. Kayn sensed more people approaching. Haley and Astrid were standing above her grinning.
     Astrid smiled and asked, “Mind if we join you?”
     Grey nonchalantly tossed a handful of grass up into the air, it came back down and landed on his face. He brushed it away from his mouth with his hand as he replied, “Feel free. We’re guessing what the clouds look like.”
     Haley was beaming as she made herself comfortable in the plush bed of greenery and sighed “I can’t even tell you how much I’ve missed this place. I never thought we’d see it again.”
     The new girl’s grin was contagious. Kayn smiled and then looked away. What was wrong with her? Those two had been lost in the Testing for twenty years and she was hyper-focusing on the fact that her ex-boyfriend killed her. Her woes seemed ridiculous when she put them in that context. There were now seven Ankh lounging in the heavenly meadow, peacefully staring at clouds. This felt right. It felt like this was exactly where she was supposed to be.
     Lexy pointed to the sky above and proclaimed, “I see a Dragon.”
     Grey met her eyes as he whispered, “Isn’t it magnificent.”
     Kayn knew what they were trying to say. She sighed, “Yes...yes. I guess it is.” Zach threw a giant handful of grass right at her face. She almost smiled as she spat it out and wiped it away.
     “I must be a strange anomaly,” Zach exclaimed as he shifted in the grass and added, I became Enlightened in the Testing and I still don’t know what I am.”
     “Worry about your position as Brighton’s Handler. Your abilities will come,” Lexy assured.
     Grey sat up, averted his gaze to Melody and probed, “How are you doing with the whole Testing thing Mel?”
     Melody didn’t meet his eyes. She continued to stare at the clouds as she replied, “I’m healed on the outside.”
     They all understood what she meant. Grey plucked another handful of grass out of the ground and tossed it behind him. He was making her think about someone she didn’t want to think about until she had to.
     Astrid looked directly at Kayn and chuckled, “Isn’t that the story of our life?” She nudged her. Kayn nodded mechanically, giving her a response. It took her a second to get it. They were still talking about Melody’s healed on the outside statement.  
     Zach inched closer to her in the grass. He whispered, “I think Frost is keeping his distance. He knows you know about the getting Kevin to kill you deal, they made with Tiberius. I have to be honest. Yes, it’s messed-up but it was the means to an end. Even I can see that and I’m not the deepest guy around.”
     Kayn cracked an enormous grin. Good one Zach. She remarked, “Whatever do you mean? You are super deep.” She was starting to feel peaceful on the inside. Beneath her fingertips, the grass was softer and the colours of the sky were vibrant. She felt the warmth of the air and the tickle of a faint breeze. Kayn smiled, quite relieved to be feeling anything at all, besides angry. She nodded as she assured, “I’ll go talk to him. I just need a few more minutes of this.”
     Sprawled on his back, with his arms behind his head, Zach teased, “Look at how emotionally evolved you’ve become. I’m personally impressed.”
     Oh hell, she might as well just go and get this over with. Kayn sighed as she got up and brushed the grass off her sparse white attire.
     Zach stood up and said, “Wait a second.” He plucked some grass out of her hair, chuckled and declared, “Go get him tiger.”
     She rolled her eyes as she wandered away from the group thinking, we’ll see how emotionally evolved I am if I can stop myself from blowing up everybody at the banquet. She strolled away in the lush emerald grass. She’d followed Zach’s suggestion even though she hadn’t really wanted to. That was strange. There was a blinding flash of white light as the scenery changed and she was standing in waist-high purple heather. What was this place supposed to signify? She’d never been here before. The vegetation rose, surrounding her with twisting budding stems until she could no longer see the sky. The purple flowering plants appeared to be living breathing beings, dancing around her as they reached up to the clouds. She worked her way through the sea of greenery, shoving the stems to either side, forcefully creating a path until she heard something rustling in the brush up ahead. She paused. Something golden was moving through the towering stems. It couldn’t be? It was the stallion. Her heart flickered. She could choose to be a stallion. She reached to caress its tender satin nose and the creature morphed into a lion. She yanked her hand away. The magnificent being rubbed up against her as though it were nothing more than an oversized house cat. It knocked her over and she landed on her behind in the shrubbery. The act of falling startled her, Kayn reacted as though she were still in the Testing by crossing her arms above her head to shield herself from its powerful jaws. When nothing happened, she peered up. The King of the wild was gone and she was on her butt in a forest of towering heather stems only inches from what appeared to be a baby Dragon. She was from Vancouver Island and when you see a baby animal you always assume the mother is nearby. She’d better not touch it. No matter how tempting it was, with those large innocent eyes and shiny scales that glistened in the sunshine. It was sort of adorable. It was going to leave. No, don’t go. Kayn couldn’t see the significance of the encounter until the fledgling Dragon shrieked, spread its wings and flew away. In awe, she parted the overgrown sea of green stems that obscured her view to watch it soar through the pink and orange-hued sunset above her. The sky had changed again. How long had she been here? She stood in the overgrowth watching as the magnificent creature vanished in the distance. She realised what she’d been shown. These were the versions of Kayn Brighton. She wasn’t just one thing. She could still be as graceful and unbridled as the stallion or as majestic as the lion but when she needed to be, she was capable of being a Dragon. She was now many things. The purple brush shrunk and the stems were sucked back into the earth all around her, revealing Frost, standing twenty feet away. Forgiveness was a tool she’d always used most generously. It flickered within her even though her emotions were still dull and stagnant. Yes, his deception had hurt her but she was still undeniably drawn to him.    
     Walking towards her, he started to explain, “What we did, helped you survive in there. I’m not going to make excuses. I’m sorry I hurt you but I’m not sorry we did it. I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me someday.”
     That wasn’t much of an apology. Too mentally exhausted to play his games, she shook her head. It served no purpose to hold a grudge. She needed what little inner peace she’d managed to find to continue, even if it was only for a little while longer. He cautiously closed the space between them and as he took her in his arms, the icy indifference encasing her heart melted away. The strength of their connection completed the thaw.
     He whispered in her ear, “I wanted to hug you the moment I saw you but I knew you’d clock me.”
     She might have. Kayn whispered in his ear, “It’s probably a good thing you waited.” He chuckled in her ear. She whispered, “Just one question.”
     He spoke against her hair, “Anything.”
     She hesitated, already knowing the answer. Kayn placed her hands against his chest to put some space between them, so she could think rationally. She needed to look into his eyes. She probed, “Would you have left me in that place?”
     Frost’s eyes met hers as he replied, “Why do you think we were willing to do whatever it took to trigger your Enlightening? There’s no way to get anyone out.” He got down, yanked the long purple flower from the earth and gallantly handed it to her on bended knee. He taunted, “You’re not going to make me sing or recite poetry, are you?”
     He was smooth, so damn smooth. Kayn shook her head and provoked, “I don’t know. Poetry might work.” She accepted the flower.
     With a playful grin, he chuckled, “There once was a guy from Nantucket.”
      Laughing on the inside, she spun around and strutted away, leaving him on bended knee in the field of now normal sized flowers. She’d always enjoyed these naughty flirtations and right now, this was exactly what she needed.
     Frost called after her, “What’s wrong beautiful? Do you already know that one?”
     He’d catch up. It would do him good to think she was mad for a few seconds. She heard him behind her, shuffling his way through the flowers. He smacked her butt. She stopped walking and sighed, “That sweet apologetic behaviour lasted all of five seconds.”
     He put his arm around her and teased, “Would you really want me any other way?”
     Looking into his mischievous eyes, she countered, “Who says I want you now?” Kayn slipped out from under his arm and swung her flower at him. He ducked out of the way and chuckled. They began the trek back to the others, strolling side by side. He laced his fingers through hers and she let it happen. 
     He paused with a gentle tug on her hand and their eyes met as he suggested, “I don’t want to go back yet. There’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to see. Come with me?”
     She met his inquisitive eyes, knowing she wanted to go with him but not entirely certain she should. Before the Testing each step she tried to take in Frost’s direction had been blocked by something or someone. She suspected they’d be an unsavoury combination for obvious reasons. She was a Dragon and he was…Frost. She hadn’t yanked her hand away even though she’d had the urge to. Staring at their intertwined fingers, she nodded as her response.
     Taken aback, Frost provoked, “Really? I honestly didn’t think you’d say yes.” He smiled and tempted, “Let’s go.”
    The scenery altered again with an explosion of blinding light and they were standing on the edge of a cliff, barefoot in the snow. They both started jumping around; laughing because standing barefoot in the snow was a ridiculous thing to do. Why would he even think of this place? He started to run and it only took her a second to figure out what he was doing as she noticed the steaming pool of water. She chased him to the hotspring. He hopped in and began to curse. She jumped in and her senses exploded. To go from snow to steaming water had them both laughing and swearing up a storm. When her body assimilated to the heat, she relaxed in the liquid heaven and met his eyes, feeling alive. He’d shocked her senses and made her feel pleasure again. Why couldn’t he be like this all of the time? Why did he do ten stupid things for every sweet one? Frost left his perch on the opposite side of the shallow pool and slowly made his way closer as the steam rose around him. She found her eyes glued to his muscular abdomen and chiselled chest. Frost’s presence had never prompted rational thought on her behalf. He relaxed beside her. He was far too close and everything about him was alluring. She was mesmerized by the beaded droplets of water on his chest. She’d only spent a short time in his presence and she was already feeling like doing something reckless. She bit her lip. She was feeling. This was why he’d taken her to this place. For a second, she’d forgotten everything that ailed her.
     He sighed, “Now this was a great idea, wasn’t it?
     Kayn grinned as she answered, “An amazing idea but we’re going to have to get out of this heavenly pool eventually and stand in the freezing snow barefoot again.”
     “But it was worth it,” he teased.
     She saw what he was getting at. He’d just pulled a Greydon. She splashed his face. He sputtered and choked but ended up laughing. He splashed her back and for a moment she wondered if this was what it’d be like to be with him. Would he always make her feel this reckless and wild? The need to throw caution to the wind and do whatever felt good always seemed to snuff rational thought when she was with him. Frost would have been an amazing Handler.  
     He got up, grimacing from the cold. Frost questioned, “A penny for your thoughts?”
     “I’d be stinking rich if I had a penny for every time you’ve used that line on me,” she taunted. She didn’t want to get out. “Can’t we just stay here,” she pleaded, pouting just enough to intrigue him. If she got out, they’d have to go find the others, then she’d have to deal with this infamous banquet where she’d undoubtedly see Kevin. Kayn stiffened in the icy air as she rose out of the water. It was painful but not in a bad way. Frost cleared his throat. She noticed his agonized expression. He was standing in the snow enduring the pain with his hand gallantly extended in her direction to help her out of the water and into the icy torture that awaited her toes. She took it and stepped out of the warm caress of the pool into the frigidly tortuous snow. They laughed as they dashed away from the pool towards the edge of the cliff. This time it was different. The pain of the snow beneath her feet felt oddly incredible. The agony of her icy feet had summoned the Dragon within her and given her an overwhelming urge to do something dangerous. She let go of his hand and winked at him as she leapt off the cliff into the powdery fog of the unknown.
     Frost peered over the edge and hollered after her, “Seriously!”    
      Kayn was laughing as she disappeared into the mist. The wind rippled through her hair, her pulse raced and her heart pounded rapidly during the downward spiral. Usually she could gage the time of her descent, but not this time. She didn’t know how far she had to fall but it wouldn’t have mattered. She had no intention of stopping. She wanted the pain that came with the end of this ride. It was more than that, she needed it. Was this what she had become? She was now a creature in search of pain. She felt a tug. Frost had a hold of her sarong. Party pooper. With another yank, he had a good hold on her arm.                                       
     He yelled, “I don’t want to lose you when we hit the bottom! I’m guessing you don’t want to stop before we hit?”
     She looked at him with her hair whipping around and gave him nothing in response but a smirk. He cursed as they hit the ground with a surge of excruciatingly magical agony.
     The world was humming around her as she came to. That was awesome. She felt the warmth of the sand beneath her fingertips and smiled. The in-between had given her a clean slate. She raised her head, spit the sand out of her mouth and started to giggle.
     About ten feet from her face down in the sand, Frost groaned dramatically and mumbled, “You suck.”
     She scrambled to her feet and casually wandered over to observe his plight as he fought to operate his death stunted spaghetti limbs. She took pity on him by holding out one of her hands and saying, “Come on princess, I’ll help you up.” He took her hand and she yanked him to his feet. Frost shook his head slowly from side to side as they strolled away barefoot in the silky warmth of the sand towards the ever-changing swirling backdrop of the glorious sky.
     He gave her shoulder a nudge and urged, “Give Zach time. He’ll get used to the whole Handler thing.”
     She nodded without responding. It was all too much to process. He took her hand and gave it a reassuring squeeze. She looked at him and the scenery exploded with brilliant light as they were transported back to the rest of their Clan. The others noticed their arrival and enthusiastically waved them over. Kayn scooted back down beside her fellow Dragon in the grass.
     Lexy gave Frost an ominous look as she warned, “You’d better be nice to her.”
     He flirtatiously responded, “Whatever do you mean? I’m always nice.”
     Everyone began throwing fistfuls of grass at Frost. He shielded his face laughing until they gave up and sprawled on the grass as a group to watch the crimson-hued awe-inspiring sunset, swirling a magical path across the horizon.
     Haley randomly piped in, “After 20 years in Astrid’s happy place, I keep expecting there to be clowns.”
     Perched on his elbow, Grey enquired, “There were clowns?”
     Grinning, Haley replied, “There were always clowns.”
     “I can vouch for that,” Zach chuckled. “Her happy place was getting a little warped.”
     Frost’s eyes lit up as he dared, “I say we all check out this happy place right now.”
     Grey gave an immediate response, “No thank you. I’m good.”
     “Oh, come on. Don’t be a wuss,” Lexy taunted as she tossed grass at Greydon.
     Kayn had been quietly watching the exchange. Frost was intentionally pushing Grey’s buttons. She came to his defence by saying, “The last time I was in her happy place, the balloons were really chainsaws and the clowns tickled us when they caught us.”
     Grey jumped up and stammered, “Like hell!”
     Lexy kissed Astrid square on the lips. She leapt up, chased Grey down and tackled him into the grass. Against his will, she planted a long kiss on his lips. He kissed her back. She’d seen his response. Something must have happened between these two while they were attending the Summit. She was dying to ask but knew this wasn’t the time.
     Staggering around, with her head in the palms of her hands, Lexy giggled, “This is so messed up.”
     The others became curious. When Lexy says, something is messed-up you just know its absolute insanity. Astrid worked her way through the group and kissed them all. It only took moments for her ability to take effect. They were all on the same page as dozens of clowns skipped across the field of floating bubbles towards them to the tinkling music of an ice-cream truck, wearing brightly coloured outfits, towing bouquets of swaying balloons. Kayn stood calmly beside a grinning Lexy. Creeped out by the idea of being tickled by clowns, everyone else scattered. Laughing hysterically, the two Dragons joined in on the twisted game. There was an explosion of light as the rest of their Clan appeared. The freaked-out Ankh sprinted past the others.
     Markus hollered, “What in the hell are you guys doing?”
     Kayn was having a blast playing clown tag when her chest tightened. The hallucination instantly disappeared and reality sucked. Her chest was on fire. She dropped to her knees, finding it difficult to breathe. What’s happening?
     Immediately at her side, Markus whispered, “It’s going to be okay, just breathe through it. The Enlightening isn’t one moment. Sometimes it’s a process that takes days or even weeks. The Testing was only the beginning.”
     His words rang in her ears. The Testing was only the beginning. She was at the beginning once again. She’d travelled in a circle and she was standing in the same place. Grey sprinted past her terrified, narrowly escaping imaginary clowns. Kayn laughed through her agony.
     Markus crouched beside her and whispered, “What are they running from?”
     The pain passed. Exhausted, Kayn peered up and said, “Clowns. They are running away from clowns.”
     Markus chuckled as he held out a hand to help her up. Lexy and Melody were already healed. The two girls casually strolled over, laughing as Grey raced by again.
     “I guess we can let Grey do a few more laps before we go,” Markus laughed.
     Out of thin air, Jenna appeared and they stood together watching Grey run laps. He was the only one left under the influence. 
     “What is he running from?” Jenna asked.
     Kayn grinned as she replied, “Imaginary clowns.”
     Jenna giggled as Grey narrowly escaped his invisible assailants. She commented, “I always miss the good stuff while I’m at these Oracle things.” Jenna left her side, walked over to Markus and whispered in his ear. Their Clan’s leader looked directly at Kayn, obviously concerned about something. 
     Well, that’s never a good sign. What now? Maybe, she didn’t want to know. Kayn took a deep breath as she changed the subject, “What is this banquet?”
     Lexy gave her a straightforward reply, “They’re going to bathe and dress you up. There will be some form of entertainment, food and dancing.”
     Kayn knit her brow and replied, “Refresh my memory as to why would I allow a stranger to bathe me? I’m not a toddler.”
     Grinning, Lexy sparred, “If I had to allow strangers to bathe me, then you do. It’s a respect thing. We take any respect we can get from the Third Tiers.”
     Kayn felt apprehensive as goosebumps rose on her skin. It was a warning. 
     “Is everybody ready to go?” Markus bellowed.
     No, not really. Kayn didn’t like the way she was feeling. Perhaps it was the lack of choices. She preferred to make her own decisions and this felt forced. They all stood side by side and joined hands. Kayn was awaiting the stomach-churning sensation of the tomb travel but instead, they all began to disintegrate into the air. She held her palm in front of her face as it turned to sand and the delicate grains of her essence floated away on a breeze.

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