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Book 3

Stelladaur: Fraction in Time

Stelladaur: Fraction in Time

Chapter 1
Buried Alive

Three days had passed since Reilly's first kiss. He could still taste her on his lips—warm and delicious. Despite all the bizarre events since his return, the kiss was enchantingly tangible.

He remembered the exact spot in the Suzzallo Library where he and Norah had landed through the portal. Relieved that they were both home safe, he couldn't wait another minute! He took her in his arms, breathed in the sweet scent of her chestnut hair, caressed her smooth neck, and cradled her face in his hands. Their lips touched gently ... before the moment gave way to a prolonged kiss—deep, wet and passionate. For three days, he replayed it in his mind, over and over, hoping another perfect moment would come to hold her.

Reilly had been trapped at Black Castle in Wicklow, Ireland, for more than a year. There, in 1896, he rescued Norah from being imprinted by Ukobach, the Prince of Hell. Distracted and mesmerized by a powerful force that transpired between Reilly and Norah, Ukobach chose to inhabit the body of Travis Jackson, the only person Reilly truly hated.

Now, after his mom's initial shock of seeing him home, sheer exhaustion kicked in and he crawled into bed. He flashed a smile at Tuma, the big, longhaired albino dog, who circled on the bed until she found her spot to settle down for the night, resting her neck on her front paws. For a moment, Reilly felt as if he'd never left Eagle Harbor Drive on Bainbridge Island. Thrilled that his mom had invited Norah to stay at their home all summer, and knowing she was asleep in the guest room down the hall, he drifted off to sleep.

The next afternoon, Reilly woke with his stomach gurgling so loudly that he thought Tuma was growling at something. He reached for her, and she responded with several hearty licks on his face.

"Hey, Grandma Charlotte, let's get something to eat."

Tuma barked, and her tail wagged.

Reilly looked into his dog's silver eyes. It was surreal, knowing she wasn't just a dog. She was also his fourth great-grandmother! Tuma understood Reilly better than anyone—except maybe Norah ... Norah! The empty feeling in his stomach collided with the memory of the kiss, and he bounded out of bed.

This was a welcome relief from the excruciating pain he'd endured in Black Castle. The spell had him doubled over in agony. Every time it happened, he knew that Ukobach was torturing Norah somewhere in the castle and that she was near death. But their unspoken love had saved Reilly and Norah inexplicably from the fatal imprinting at the bonfire. The force was so strong that it halted even Prince Ukobach momentarily.

Pulling on a pair of jeans, Reilly took a deep breath, and wished every bit of it had only been a nightmare. He wished he could turn back the passage of time, change the past—re-arrange history somehow. He just wanted to make his life be as if it never happened—all the horrific stuff—everything in his nightmares about demons that wanted his soul, his body, and the people he loved. But he knew with certainty that nightmares happened when he was completely awake ... and alive ... when he wished he were dead. Nevertheless, it was in the midst of those haunting realities that he began to recognize pain as an indication that he was still breathing.

More anxious to see Norah with each second that passed, he grabbed a green hoodie and sprinted to the door, with Tuma at his heels. Inside, he ached to kiss her again. He wondered if that was how other people felt after a first kiss and before the second. Or was it because he wasn't like other boys his age—the kind of boys who had their first kiss when they were eleven, claimed half a dozen girlfriends before they were thirteen, and bragged that they'd kissed more girls than they could count by the time they were in high school. Irritated by the unwanted comparison of himself with anyone else, he tried to brush aside the self-scrutiny. Besides, he'd always been different from his peers. It hadn't bothered him before. Why should he care now?

Had kissing Norah changed things that much? Had it changed him? Or was it something else?

Suddenly he was tormented by thoughts that he might never kiss her again! As if she were still trapped in Black Castle!

He quickened his pace and followed the hum of conversation into the kitchen where he found Norah, Chantal, James, and his mom seated around the table.

"You're awake!" Norah chimed.

"Still alive!" Chantal added.

"I didn't want to wake you," said Monique. His mom stood up to hug him. "How do you feel this morning?"

"Good, I guess," he said, winking at Norah. "I'm starved."

"I bet you are!" said Monique, releasing her son. "You missed breakfast, but there are plenty of sandwiches and other leftovers on the table." She stepped to the refrigerator and grabbed a gallon of milk.

"It's great to see you, Reilly," said James as he reached across the table to hug him.

As Reilly pulled out the chair beside Norah, he eyed a golden cord around James's neck. "You still have your Stelladaur!"

"Yep! I haven't taken it off since we found it in the library, before you went through the portal."

"Neither have I," said Chantal, tugging the cord around her neck.

Norah reached for her own Stelladaur, bulging under the thin pajamas Chantal had given her.

Reilly looked at Chantal and then at James. "Have you figured out how to use it?"

"We haven't gone through any portals yet," said Chantal, "if that's what you mean."

"That's weird," said Reilly. "I thought you'd go through a portal, too. Maybe to Jolka, where Norah and I went just after we found our Stelladaurs."

"We thought so, too." James sounded annoyed. "I've lost count of how many times we tried to follow you through the paneled door. But the good news is we found my father's key after you used it. It fell to the floor just before you and Tuma disappeared. But," he groaned, "we couldn't get it to work."

"I've learned how to use my Stelladaur ... sort of." Chantal tugged at the cord again.

"What do you mean?" said Norah.

"I don't know how to explain it. I'm more confident with my decisions, even when they don't make sense." She speared a whole dill pickle with her fork.

"What decisions?" Reilly asked.

"Deciding to stay home for a while, for one thing."

"A while?" Reilly gulped half a glass of milk and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Okay," she said. "A long while."

"Hey! I'm not complaining." James smiled at Chantal.

"I know twenty-seven is a bit old to live at home, but I needed a change. Advertising isn't what I thought it would be, even with the bigwigs in New York. It's a rat race! With Dad gone, and not knowing when—or if—you would return, I decided that helping Mom with the bakery would be the best thing for me."

Reilly reached for Norah's hand under the table. "Yeah, of course."

"Seems everyone in this family has a Stelladaur but me," Monique quipped, as she refilled Reilly's glass with milk.

He thought he detected a hint of sarcasm in her voice. Or was it jealousy?

"Not to worry," she continued. "I believe that several are available, but I don't expect to need one."

Reilly sensed that his mother's assumption was far from the truth, but it hardly seemed the time to be disagreeable. After all, he still had no idea where his own Stelladaur was since it had disappeared.

"James and I have kept things going at Eilam's Kayak Hut," said Chantal, ignoring her mother's comment. "It's been a busy year."

"Eilam!" That got Reilly's full attention. "Any word from him?"

Chantal turned to her mom.

"I'm afraid not," said Monique, shaking her head. "A few days after you left, his kayak was found abandoned just northeast of Suquamish. Rescuers searched for a week. They never found a body."

Reilly squeezed Norah's hand and let it go. He stood up, walked to the window, looked out at Eagle Harbor in the distance and softly said, "That's not far from where Dad drowned."

Silence swept over the room like a fog over the sea on a chilly morning.

"Eilam was like family," said Chantal. "We all miss him."

Reilly stared out the window, blinking back tears. "He didn't die. He was already immortal."

"Perhaps," said Monique.

Annoyed that his mother still had doubts about Eilam and Stelladaurs, and frustrated by his own annoyance with her, Reilly walked back to the table. "I've asked myself numerous times why Eilam left the way he did, without saying good-bye—and just leaving me a note. I still don't know the answer. But I know he's alive! He helped Norah and me come back through the portal."

"What?" James asked. "You saw him?"

"No, but Lottie did. She saw him in Tir Na Nag, and then in Wicklow. It's a long story."

"Who's Lottie?" Chantal asked.

"Charlotte Louise McKinley, our fourth great-grandmother," Reilly replied.

"And mine!" James said before Monique could argue. "Remember? We're like third cousins twice-removed, or something."

"That's right," Reilly said. "Anyway, since I've apparently been gone for more than a year, there's a lot to tell you."

"Obviously!" Chantal pushed her plate away and leaned forward on her elbows.

"The bakery is covered all day," Monique said, settling into her chair. "We have all afternoon."

Encouraged by his mother's response, Reilly nodded. He started at the beginning—the moment he transported through the paneled door of the reading room and landed in the middle of the Crumble in Wicklow. He told as much of the past year's events as he could remember.

It was especially difficult for Norah to hear the details. A few times Reilly suggested that he finish another day, but she insisted that he continue. She said it was best for them all to hear the whole story together, at the same time. Three hours, four sandwiches, and several glasses of water later, Reilly finished talking.

Too stunned to speak, Monique, Chantal, and James simply stared at Reilly.

"Somebody say something!" said Reilly.

James broke the silence. "I'm perfectly content if I never go through a portal!"

"My little brother ... an Echtra!" Chantal whispered. "It's all so incredible!"

"It's a miracle you survived!" Monique reached for Reilly's arm across the table. "I don't suppose there's anything I can do to keep you from ever time travelling again, is there?"

"Probably not, Mom." Reilly chuckled. "But I don't plan to go anywhere for a while. Still, I'm bummed about needing to catch up on an entire year of school!"

"Let's get you registered for online classes," Monique suggested enthusiastically. "Considering everything you've been through, I can't imagine that returning to a normal high school would be the best idea. Homeschool would be a much better plan."

"I agree. Thanks, Mom."

"No sense in rushing into any of it, though," she added. "You need to relax, take things easy, and enjoy the rest of the summer."

"So, what day is it?" Reilly asked. "My time-clock is messed up—like I have portal-lag, or something."

"That's funny!" said James, laughing with everyone else. "It's July 31st."

Reilly recalled the date on the online news article he'd read over a student's shoulder at the library. "I hate to ask, but have you heard anything lately about Travis, or seen him since his release?"

Norah flinched. Monique squirmed in her chair.

"There's talk at the bakery that he's back on the island," said Monique. "But we haven't seen him."

"There's other talk, too," James added.

"Like what?" said Reilly.

"An online article today said that Travis claims he was 'redeemed' in prison," said Chantal.

"Redeemed?" Reilly shouted. "He was imprinted by the Prince of Hell himself! He cannot be redeemed!"

"Absolutely—not that demon!" said Norah.

"Redeemed?" Reilly blurted out again. "What could he possibly mean by such a statement?"

"According to the article, he 'found God' in prison," said James. "He still denies any illegal activity with regard to making fake Stelladaurs and lacing them with drugs. But he did admit that he'd had a drinking problem. He apparently went through a rehab program in prison and said now he's committed to staying clean."

"That's ASININE!" Reilly shouted again and pushed away from the table.

"There's more," Chantal said. "He says he wants to 'settle down and become a family man.' And he pledged fifty million dollars to various organizations for homeless children."

Reilly covered his mouth to keep from spewing the ham and cheese sandwich in his stomach across the table. Then he took a deep breath and stood up.

"The man is a master liar!" Reilly said. "No amount of redemption will change his evil soul." Reilly clenched his jaw, remembering the horrific scene he'd witnessed when Prince Ukobach imprinted Travis's body at Black Castle.

As far as Reilly was concerned, the conversation was over. He turned and walked out the front door, with Tuma right behind him.

Reilly sat on the porch steps and pet his dog in slow strokes, from the top of her head along her back. She was shedding, and he dropped her long white hair to the ground in handfuls. A few minutes later, Norah came outside and squeezed in beside Reilly.

"Coming back is going to be more difficult than we expected," she said.

"I never thought Travis would already be out of jail," said Reilly.

Norah nodded.

"I hate him, Norah. I really hate him."

"I know."

"Redeemed? He's insane!"

"Ukobach is to blame. He imprinted Travis years ago, after he witnessed the murder of his own family."

"He had a choice, Norah!"

"He was just a kid, though—younger than us."

"We've experienced horrific things, too, but we didn't choose Ukobach." Reilly stopped petting Tuma and faced Norah. "It's weird, though, because Wicklow and Black Castle are just memories now."

"Awful memories that we'll never be able to forget!" She slipped her hand into his.

"It seems like it all happened a long time ago," he said, caressing her thumb with his. "But I feel like ..."

"Like what?"

"Like something inside of me is being buried alive."

© S.L. Whyte