Part One. In-Between-Worlds Chapter 1. James
Hey, sleeping beauty, wake up!’ Those were the first human words James heard in years, or was that decades, it was hard to tell precisely really while spending your time in hell. If one might have thought that James meant tough life or something humans usually face in their everyday life, then one made a huge mistake. Because James Blackwood, literally, spent god knows how long, in hell.
‘Where am I?’ James managed to utter. His own voice seemed foreign. His vision hurt from the light, which was beyond his reach for many long years. It felt as if someone threw a handful of sand into his eyes.
‘You are safe, don’t worry,’ said a slightly too cheerful voice which belonged either to a woman or a teenager. Or probably he had finally gone mad and he just imagining all of it. The last thing he remembered was, well pain and constant fear. That’s all he could feel for a very long time.
‘Boy, you are heavy for such a skinny guy,’ the woman complained a bit, James decided that she has to be a she after all. The discontent in her voice when judging his weight amused somehow. ‘And we are in Pluaurea, if that would tell you anything, which I assume, wouldn’t.’
James tried to open his eyes once again. Now he was sure he had gone mad. Cheerful girl, plusomething, light. He was in hell and he was supposed to stay there for all eternity paying the price for what he had chosen to do. How he wished he was smarter than that and never did what he risked to do. James clenched his fists trying not to think too much. If he had become delusional for some reason, he would rather spend his hallucination more or less happily.
With an enormous effort James managed to open his eyes one more time and tried to figure out his imaginary surroundings. First thing he noticed was the pair of curious golden, literally, golden eyes. She leaned above his face and smiled at him expectantly, as if he was her old friend whom she waited to see again. James opened his mouth to say something, but the best he could do right now is gaping at her. She laughed at the bemused look, he was sure, he had on his face. James looked around and saw the meadow, wide and endless, but he could swear it was not planet Earth, maybe, by some miracle he was forgiven for his stupid bargain? Maybe this is heaven; the woman in front of him certainly looked like the creature of light. Everything around him was made of pure gold; the tall grass, the mighty trees, the tiny flowers, even the sky was yellowish. He glanced back at the young woman. It felt as if he was staring at the living sun. Her curious eyes never stopped glowing slightly with golden glimmer. James tried to focus on her looks, to distract himself from the impossibility of such a human being. The girl in front of him had medium length light brown hair, which right now was loose and fused slightly with the surroundings of this strange place. Her face was generously adorned with freckles; she had a small, perfectly shaped nose and a mischievous smile. The woman looked like she was travelling a lot. She was wearing old torn jeans, blue sneakers and a blue sweater with several fresh dirty spots on it. She also had a weary, leather hiking bag on her shoulder.
‘Am I in heaven?’ was the first thing James asked. The moment the words left his mouth he understood how ridiculous it sounded. The very brisk reaction from the woman only confirmed it.
The very unlady like snort escape the girl and she laughed like a maniac. The spell was broken and James saw crystal clear that she was not an angel. If she was one, which he was starting to doubt now, then she was way too new age. James looked properly at her and blinked, she looked absolutely ordinary. You could see such girls anywhere. She was easy on the eyes, but other than that, James probably wouldn’t have noticed her in the crowd, the only thing that stood out were her eyes, big, warm and slightly shining.
‘You humans are so funny! I still can’t believe I was one of you!’ Her loud voice was full of amusement. When she noticed James’s irritated look, she continued in slightly calmer manner.
‘You are not in heaven, sleeping beauty. You are in Pluaurea, it roughly translates as Country of Eternal Gold and,’ she waved her hand as if she was trying to scare off the annoying fly, ‘as you can see, here lots of things are gold or yellow, too yellow for my liking,’ she added and looked at the sky. ‘Anyway, this is not heaven, because there is no such thing, this place is one of many worlds that exist on different planes or realms. There are Dark Realms and Light Realms, obviously this one is the light one.’
She looked at his reaction with curiosity and James felt his head starting to hurt. Realms, planes? What the hell she was on about? He was supposed to be the crazy one, he was in hell, for crying out loud, he knew that much! He started to feel the anger bubbling in his chest, whoever she was, this golden-eyes, she was starting to get to his nerves.
‘It’s always fun to break it to people,’ she said, positively ignoring his obvious displeasure. ‘You all expect to see the winged peopled with harps or red bouncers with horns. But here we are, just you and me and infinity of the Universe.’
‘So what you are saying that if there is no heaven, there is no hell,’ James concluded harshly.
‘Precisely! Glad we established that, sleeping beauty!’ she said cheerfully.
‘And for the last few decades, where was I exactly? On vacation?’ he snapped.
The woman stopped smiling and glanced sadly at him. She kept her eyes on his face for a moment and then looked away. When she spoke, her voice was serious and a bit angry, without any hint of excitement or warmth in it, she sounded cold.
‘You were trapped in the Black Market as a punishment for your treaty. It’s, well it’s an illegal business, so to speak, to trade souls, even here,’ she looked at his face again. ‘I am sorry for what happened to you, I wish I could help you forget this, but I can’t. You made a wrong choice and you paid a terrible price for it. We can stay here and talk how hard it was, but we need to go. It is dangerous here for someone like you.’
She stood up on her feet and reached out for his hand, only now James realized that all this time he was lying on his back. The anger vanished as quickly as it appeared, whatever happened to him it was not this girl’s fault. He, actually, has to be really grateful that for whatever reason, he was here now. Not in his doomed cage and was found not by one of his wards, but by her. He took her warm hand and tried to steady himself on his feet. It was like he had to learn to walk again, every bone, every cell in his body was aching, but the worst was his mind, scarred and troubled. He didn’t want to remember why he traded his soul, he didn’t want remember where he was born or what he looked like, he didn’t want to know if he had any family left. Whoever he was before his time here, is gone.
‘Come on big guy,’ the woman said as she helped him stay steadily. ‘You are definitely too heavy for someone that skinny. And we are not even in a physical world! I once carried a very round old lady for miles and she weighted like a feather! You surely do have a lot of thoughts on your mind.’
‘Sorry, as soon I’ll get out of here I’ll diet,’ James attempted to smile, it felt too unnatural to him. It felt as if his face was made of wax. He was sure that his usually charming smile looked like a grimace now. But for some reason the woman laughed, brightly and happily, like a runlet in the woods.
‘Attempt for a joke? This is good, you have a strong spirit. I can work with that!’ She grabbed his hand once again and pulled him, showing they need to get going. ‘Come on, I know you must be tired, but we really need to move. As much as this place seems to be appealing, it is dangerous here, considering where I dragged you from.’
‘You were the one who saved me? ‘James exclaimed in a surprise. Whoever she was, James knew that hell, or Black Market as she called it, was not the place for someone like her. But then again, there was a time when he did not think it would be a place for him either. Or that this place would be real at all.
‘Of course, sleeping beauty,’ the girl rolled her eyes as if James just said the most ridiculous thing in the world, ‘why do you think I am babysitting you right now?’
‘Could you please stop calling me that?’ James asked with irritation. ‘And I don’t need a babysitter.’ What is wrong with him? This girl dragged him out of hell, literally! She could call him chicken butt, if she wanted too. Not that he wanted that.
‘Yeah, right,’ snorted the woman. ‘And I called you that, as it sounds really fitting. You did sleep for hours and you are definitely pretty! But anyway, it’s not like I know you real name,’ she pointed out.
‘My name is James. James Blackwood,’ he answered a bit officially and suddenly remembered how his friends used to tease him whenever he introduced himself, saying he sounded like Pierce Brosnan.
‘James, ha? I liked Sleeping Beauty more. Well, James it is. I am Cerridwen,’ the girl introduced herself and once again smiled at him and he felt something weird inside.
‘Unusual name, a bit.’
‘Well I am not usual, relatively speaking,’ Cerridwen looked around. ‘Damn, I wish we could just spring to the place, but you don’t seem to be really dead to me, so we have to walk. I hate the usual way, it’s so slow,’ she frowned a bit.
‘Well, yeah. I mean this is how people usually get here. But you are still tied to your body or whatever is left of you in the physical world, which means you are not fully dead. So I can not spring you to the right place.’
‘Spring?’ James felt himself like an idiot asking yet another question. Half of what she was saying did not make any sense to him.
‘Yes, spring. You know jump,’ she looked at him with confusion for a second and then brightened as if realizing something. ‘Oh, right the new guy. Sorry. Well, quick introduction. I am a springer. I can spring between worlds, you know, any kind of worlds. This is how I found you,’ she smiled again while James felt like his eyes were getting wider and wider. ‘And sometimes I can take passengers. But the passenger must be, you know, fully detached from the physical world and certainly not after what you’ve been through. So you and I will walk, slowly and nicely, like you humans do when hiking.’
Once again James felt a terrible headache emerging in his left temple, he decided not to comment on “worlds-jumping”, “you humans”, but instead he focused on moving forwards, wherever that was. He didn’t have much of a choice but to trust Cerridwen, besides, nothing can be worse that he had already gone through.