Chapter 1: Inside the Mirror
Everything lingered in silence. Sabine floated amidst a confusion of dark and blurred geometric shapes, her own body a shadow of itself as hardly any light existed in this strange realm. She opened her mouth to scream but no sound escaped, only a vibration that set the shapes nearest her tingling. She didn’t know how long she’d been here; if felt like she had always been here.
She could sense that the realm had once held light, and people, and movement, but no longer, because the ones like her who brought the movement were now gone. Destroyed. And she was surely to be destroyed here as well. She tried to move and found that while she could move, it made no difference. It was like the gravity had been turned off and none of the shapes were close enough for her to push against. She could only float in place and make the shapes vibrate with her cries.
“Sabine,” a voice whispered.
She went silent. Had she imagined it? Could sound truly exist here? She hadn’t heard her name, but she had felt it in the same way the shapes heard her cries. Somehow, someone else was here and her body had vibrated in a way that her mind had interpreted as her name. What was going on?
“Welcome to the void, Sabine,” the voice continued.
Between two squares, a figure emerged, one hand resting on one of the squares. So he could move, and talk. Surely she could reach that point as well.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
The figure rippled slightly with the force of her question. She saw a smile cross his shadowed face. He was so close to being in the faint light.
“I am the one who controls this realm,” he said. “Do you know where you are, Sabine?”
She pushed up her chin, not quite willing to admit her ignorance. The details of how she got here were fuzzy, but it involved Yashim. She remembered being in the tower on Proto Cinde and falling asleep, then waking up to see Damien. Only it wasn’t Damien; everything about him was different. She had seen him like that twice before, once when he had first taken her powers and tried to hurt her, and again when they had entered the world of dreams at Proto Cinde and he had tried to hurt the towers. It was like someone else was controlling him, and she suspected it was Yashim. Damien had carried her downstairs to the room she was terrified of, a room filled with mirrors that didn’t reflect her. A hand had reached out from one of the mirrors and she had attacked Damien and dodged, but another hand had caught her and ripped her into this empty space.
“Are you Yashim?” she guessed.
The man laughed. “I’m insulted that you don’t recognize the man you loved for so long. No, my darling Sabine, you are looking at your fiancé.”
Her blood ran cold. Bertran. He moved into the light and she recognized his strong features and square jaw, those predatory blue eyes under the slicked back blonde hair. He always looked flawless and he still did, and she had once been deeply in love with that perfection. He had been her first love and she would have done anything for him, but he had betrayed and manipulated her. He had addicted her to a drug that guaranteed absolute obedience and had to be taken every couple of days or she would die. He had lied to her and tricked her into treaties signing away her nation’s greatest assets. And the entire time she had been with him, he had been sleeping with another woman, Ultia, a fighter like her. He had forbidden her from being in the military but he must have encouraged Ultia, and the rage she felt for the woman rivaled the rage she felt for Bertran. When Bertran had found her on Vega not too long ago, she had nearly fallen back under his spell. There was only one reason she would forgive him, and she had asked if he loved her. He hadn’t responded, so she had killed him. But he was here. This must not be her dimension. Because he was Valeforan, he had multiple bodies and even though his body in her dimension had died, he had been able to come here and survive. But this was nothing like the other dimension, with its crystal city and green plains. Every other time she had been here, it was like a normal planet. Even when she had entered the other dimension at Proto Cinde and been in a different location, there had been gravity and a real world around her. Here, there was nothing except the strange shapes that were too far away to be any use to her.
“What have you done to the other dimension?” she asked. If he had destroyed that city and forced it into this darkness, she was determined to kill him even more than before.
“This is not the other dimension,” he said. “I would never harm the crystal towers and neither would you. They were built by Valeforans and are our lifeblood, Sabine. No matter our disagreements, we both must protect them. This place, however, is also something we share. This is the place between dimensions. This is the place where ships pass through when they jump through gates.”
Sabine’s eyes widened. There were gates scattered throughout the galaxy that allowed ships to jump from one to another in only twenty minutes. It didn’t matter how far apart the gates were, it always took twenty minutes. When Adrian had shown her information on Valeforans, she had learned that Bertran was in control of those gates and could interfere with gate jumps if he wanted. The Valeforans were a race of aliens native to her dimension who had ruled over the humans from the shadows for centuries until the Galactic War when they were mostly wiped out. Only a few survived, including Bertran, their king, and that was why he could control the games. Only those with enough Valeforan blood were able to use the jumps, and they were marked by a tattoo of a phoenix on the back of their necks. The darker it was, the more alien blood they had. She was half-Valeforan and had an incredibly dark tattoo, but there had to be others like her.
Luckily, Damien knew other gates that only he could use that were safe from Bertran, but there was always a risk. She suspected those other gates were Lithilien gates and therefore she could use them too, but she wasn’t sure. Lithiliens were an alien race from the other dimension who could travel between dimensions. She and Damien shared a mother, Queen Kalis of the Lithiliens, though they had only found that out recently. Yashim, the king of the Drakor, another race from the other dimension, was Damien’s father and that had to have something to do with the change in Damien that had sent her here. But how could this be the space where ships jumped? She had always known that jumps went to a different realm; that was why they were so risky. But there were no ships here. It felt empty and abandoned, and it couldn’t be the right place. There was that sense that the people who used this place were dead, after all. How to explain that when humans regularly used the gates? He wasn’t telling the truth.
“You’re lying again,” Sabine said. “You’ve lied to me since the beginning and you’re doing it again. I don’t believe you.”
Bertran shrugged. “It’s not a lie, but perhaps it isn’t the entire truth. This particular space between realms is in the other dimension. It used to be inhabited by Lithiliens, who controlled the gates in this realm. I suppose given your Lithilien blood you can feel their absence. Today, with all the Lithiliens dead, no one uses it except me.”
He waved a hand carelessly. “This realm in your dimension is quite a bit more lively, but since you killed me, I am no longer in charge of it.”
“Shouldn’t you be wondering how to get out of this realm? You’re trapped here until I let you go, after all.”
She hesitated. If what he was saying was true, and it seemed like the truth now that he had explained himself, then she was trapped here. And even if he was lying, she didn’t know how to escape and he was the only one here. She couldn’t let him leave without helping her. But what would he want? Her powers? She had already given those to Damien. What else did she have to offer?
A vision flashed in her mind of Bertran demanding sex from her and she blushed, angrily shutting the image as far away as she could. She was still furious that Bertran had been having an affair with Ultia while courting Sabine. Sabine had been so innocent and trusting, believing that Bertran was hers alone as she had kissed him and taken him into her confidence. And the entire time, he had been talking about her behind her back, conspiring with Ultia about the best ways to seduce her.
Thoughts of Ultia led to thoughts of her army, sending a pang of sorrow through her heart. It still hur to them about them, since the few who had been loyal to her had been murdered so brutally. It was good to remember that, though, to remember the sting of betrayal, because the man behind the betrayal was right here in front of her. Should she try to kill him now and never mind the escape?
It was tempting, but then she’d be trapped here forever and no one would ever know that Bertran was dead. Damien and Mat would spend the rest of their lives looking for her, and she didn’t want to do that to them. No. She would have patience, and wait to strike, but when she did, none of his sweet words would stop her.
“It’s amusing watching you think, Sabine,” Bertran said. “Your thoughts are so transparent.”
She was tempted to stick her tongue out at him but she should be a little more dignified. Still, her childish nature had always irritated him and that was the worst she could do to him. But she kept her tongue in her mouth because she needed his help and they both knew it.
“What do you want, Bertran?”
He smiled a cat’s smile. “Surely by now you’ve grown weary of the curse I placed on you. I would be willing to lift it, and take you out of here, in exchange for one little thing.”
She couldn’t help but perk up. He had done something to her that made the touch of another human like poison, so she couldn’t embrace or kiss Mat the way she wanted to. Oh, it was a problem with everyone, but especially with Mat, the man she loved but couldn’t show her affection to. She was also unable to change from her Lithilien body, which had no fighting abilities and was generally useless, into her Valeforan body, which would protect her and which she needed to survive. Her inability to change was a major problem and even worse, he had done something to prevent her from healing, one of the few things she was capable of doing in her Lithilien form.
Still, she was wary because it wouldn’t be a little thing he asked in return. What would he want, and why?
“All I want is a piece of your heart, Sabine. I think you owe me that.”
A chill ran through her. When Yashim had first attacked her, he had placed his hand over her heart and tried to dig his nails into her. Then something had shifted and her chest became numb, and his hand started to slide into her. Bertran had done almost the same thing later and when Sabine had given her powers to Damien freely, he had reached within her to clasp her heart and take her powers. But why would Bertran want this now? Her powers were already claimed. What would he get out of it now?
“You won’t get anything,” she said cautiously, and he laughed.
“Oh, I know you’ve given up your powers to your brother. An interesting choice, given his Drakor blood, but not the worst option. That’s not what I want.”
“Then what do you want?”
“As I said. A piece of your heart. You have hundreds of pieces, perhaps even thousands, depending on how loving you are. One of those pieces already belongs to me. I just want it for my own.”
“Why? What will you gain?”
“Simple. I’ll gain a part of you to treasure as my own until you come to kill me and reclaim it.”
Sabine frowned. That was it? “What will I lose?”
“Most likely nothing.”
“Most likely? That doesn’t sound very reassuring. What could I lose?”
“When you think of me, you won’t feel any love anymore. But is that really a loss when you’re trying to kill me?”
Sabine pressed her hands against her head. It was so confusing. He had to be lying, but about what? What would he gain and what would she lose? And really, what other option did she have? If all he took was a piece of her heart that already belonged to him and it had no ill effects, she had to do it. But that couldn’t be it. He wouldn’t be willing to free her just to temporarily hold part of her life. There was some trick to this, some catch, but she didn’t know anything about this. She didn’t know about her heritage or what it meant to be half-Valeforan and half-Lithilien and she sensed that having that knowledge would make all the difference right now. He knew something and she didn’t, and he was once again taking advantage of her. But she had no other options.
“Alright,” Sabine said, lowering her hands. “You can have the piece of my heart that’s already yours as long as I can freely touch people again and get all of my powers back, and you take me back to my dimension.”
Bertran grinned. “As you wish. This may hurt a little,” he said as he sprang down from the square he was crouching on and was at her side in an instant. His hand pressed against her chest and began to glow, then he reached inside of her and embraced something soft and cherry red. She moaned at the gentle touch, then it felt as though he struck a single note on a keyboard and that note came loose in his hand. A sliver of the red came away in his hand as he removed it from her body. She felt no different.
Then the world began to spin and she heard her name repeated in a different voice, Mat’s voice, sobbing.
“Sabine, I need you,” he was saying.
She opened her eyes and reached out to touch his tear-streaked cheek, half to alert him to her presence and half to test Bertran’s promise. At the touch, she felt no pain. He was true to his word, then. Mat, however, leapt up as if shocked and grabbed her hand.
“Sabine, I need you to heal Adrian now,” he said. “He’s about to die and you have to help.”
Sabine sat up, a little wobbly in the gravity. It was relatively low but she had just been in zero G and it was an adjustment. He swept her off her feet and carried her through corridors until they reached a cot where Adrian lay, eyes closed, breathing labored, blood trailing from his mouth. He was about to die, but she had to try, for Mat’s sake.
She didn’t know if she’d be able to use her powers, since Damien controlled them and Bertran had only just given them back, but when she laid her hands on Adrian’s body, the swans on her wrists glistened silver again and it reassured her. They had been burnt black when she was under Bertran’s curse and she had been unable to use her powers. If Bertran were true to her word, then she would be free to heal now. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, focusing on the body below her. The bleeding was bad, but she inhaled and tried to force the body to pull back its blood into the veins at the same time, then exhaled and forced the veins to repair themselves. Inhale, exhale.
Soon, instead of focusing on the veins, she was working on the flesh itself so the veins were healing in midair in some places, and before long she had the holes in Adrian’s body completely healed, though he was still weak and would need intensive care for weeks.
As soon as Adrian was completely out of the woods, she collapsed. Mat scooped her up again and, after confirming with the doctors that she was okay and that Adrian would survive, he returned to his room and laid her on the bed. She gazed at his beloved face through a haze of exhaustion and while there were so many things she wanted to tell him, it would have to wait until she recovered her strength. But for now, she could at least lie beside him and worry about the future later.