Authors: Dale Mayer
Book #2 of the Design Series
Copyright © 2011
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidences either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
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In Dangerous Designs we left off with this chapter...
ll the way back to Paxton's lab and the resounding victorious welcome waiting for them, Storey had trouble dealing with the fact that it was all over. That this nightmare she'd been living for days had finally finished. So much excitement. So much panic. So many emotions had rushed through her constantly. And then everything stopped. The chaos was over. Resolved. The change so sudden…she found it hard to believe.
It didn't feel right after days of living on a roller coaster. Days of fearing for her life and Eric's, the ranger from a different dimension. Now he was safe. She was safe. Everyone in his dimension was safe.
The stylus, the odd pencil-computer thingy with souls bound inside that she'd found, had opened a portal between the Louers' old and new worlds. Only time would tell if they'd make good use of it. Her stylus assured her the Louers were exploring their new world already.
Paxton, Eric's mentor and senior council member to the Torans, had monitors that tracked any activity through the areas where the dimensional tears had been repaired until they could all be reinforced. The process would take a bit longer, but like he'd said to her, they were on it.
They were on it.
As in she wasn't needed any longer.
They'd even managed a decent conversation over the future of her stylus. Now that she knew more, she understood his reluctance to let her keep it. Then he also understood her unwillingness to die in order to give it back. A truce had been made letting her keep it until they could figure out how to separate it from her safely. She kept the fake one tucked away. Just in case Paxton decided not to be as reasonable as he currently appeared.
Instead of feeling euphoric, she felt odd, uncertain. Almost as if she expected, no wanted, more chaos. And that couldn't be right. She wasn't a masochist. Why the hell would she want more war?
Because there'd been a certain attraction to being someone respected, looked up to. Someone who'd had answers. Someone who'd learned to do something others hadn't. Her pride and self-confidence had definitely had a good time here.
And it was coming to an end.
God, she was becoming downright depressed.
Off on one side, she watched the party going on around her. It was a standing-room-only crowd. Where had all the people come from? There were some seriously beautiful women here tonight which just added to her depression. She was still wearing her old jeans and sneakers.
Even the usually formal and uptight Paxton had let loose. He'd danced and hugged his way through the crowd. With so many well-wishers, she'd hardly had a moment to herself, hence her attempt at a time-out.
Eric found her a few minutes later. He slung an arm around her and held her close. "Hey, what's wrong?"
She relaxed against his shoulder, thankful he'd joined her. She needed this – him. "Nothing." With a light laugh, she added, "I was just ready for a couple of minutes of peace."
"That makes sense." He snagged a stool and sat on it without disturbing her position. "Are you ready to go home?"
"In a way. Then again, I finally feel connected to everyone here. We've been through so much, it's hard to leave."
"It's not forever. I'll be able to come over and visit, and you'll be able to come back."
"Will you though?" If she were honest, the fear of never seeing him again was behind the sense of letdown she'd been feeling all night. With his world safe again, it was over. There was no reason for Eric and her to meet anymore, except wanting to be together. They had a relationship – she just couldn't decide what it was. But she wanted to see where it could go. And how could she do that if they lived in opposite worlds?
If long distance relationships were hard to keep, then cross–dimensional relationships would have to be impossible.
And given his father's disposition, she didn't think she'd be welcome over here anytime soon. Everyone else had been friendly though. Several people had stopped to thank her. Some had stopped to ask her questions about her world and how long she was staying.
She needed to go home. Who knew what she still might have to fix back home yet? She'd left things in a bit of mess. And undone. Like the note on the inscription of the stylus she'd hidden on her computer. Not that it mattered any more as she could just ask the stylus about the lettering. Later, when she got home and had time to delve into all the unanswered questions.
"You look like you've lost your best friend." He bent closer to peer into her eyes. "Are you okay?"
"Yes." She gave him a reassuring smile, at least she thought it was. "I'm just sad."
"That's understandable. You've made some friends here. We appreciate all you've done. We might even be able to have you come over as a consultant on some projects."
"Really?" She brightened. "I figured I'd never be welcomed back – considering I had a death sentence on my head at one time."
"A fond memory of your visit." He snickered. "Even if they aren't interested in having you consult, I'll come visit you. I promise. There's no way I'm giving up our friendship."
She closed her eyes briefly. Then said with a lilt in her voice, "Boy, am I glad to hear that. I guess I was feeling a little blue, thinking I'd never see you again."
"Not going to happen." He stood up. "But I understand you need to go home. Did Paxton speak to you yet?"
"He apologized and thanked me." She smirked. "I think he's still a little miffed at me over the stylus stuff."
Eric laughed. "I wouldn't be surprised. He's been bonded with his for over a century. It can't be easy to be shown up by a young girl. Especially one not even from his world."
"I can understand that."
Eric pulled her upright and into his arms. He stared at her quietly for a long moment. His voice rumbled from his chest. "Thank you for coming back and helping us. I'm not sure we'd have survived without you."
"You would have, just in a different way." Storey nestled closer. "I couldn't see your world suffering when I'd figured out a way to help."
"And help you did. The Louers are gone forever and all because of you."
She lifted her head to caution him. "We don't know they're gone for good. It's too early to say. Paxton still has some work to do there. He has to make sure the portals are permanently sealed. We also don't know which dimension the Louers ended up in – for sure. We
we do, but..."
"Paxton will sort it out. He's nothing if not dedicated." As if to calm her worries, Eric bent and kissed her gently, then with growing enthusiasm.
They broke apart to find Paxton standing in the doorway. "I think it's time. Everyone wants to say good-bye to Storey and watch her leave."
"Oh." She brushed her shirt down and walked over to where her backpack sat on the floor waiting for her. "I hadn't realized."
They walked back into Paxton's lab to find a line had formed. Most of the Torans hugged her or shook her hand. By the time she'd reached the end of the line, she could barely hold back the tears.
Paxton gave her a codex. "So you don't have to travel by drawing portals everywhere. We all saw the result of that effort!" There was mixed laughter from the crowd, but it was the warm look on Paxton's face that made her respond with a big grin.
When the laughter died down, Paxton added, "This is a guest codex. It's pre-coded for your home, my dear. Thank you for all you've done."
Tears collected in the corner of her eyes. Storey smiled mistily. She really was going to miss him. "You're welcome." Impulsively, she gave him a quick hug.
Eric walked her over to the portal that his people used for travel and dropped a kiss on her cheek. "I'll pop over tomorrow to see how you're adjusting to being home again. Your mom has to be wondering where you've been all this time."
"True enough." Thinking about her mother brought her father to mind. Oh boy. What waited at home for her? Not daring to speak in case she broke into tears, she managed a brave smile. He reached over and hit the button on her wrist unit. The familiar musical notes sounded.
Storey straightened her back, determined to go out gracefully. Forced to sniffle back tears, she gave the crowd a quick wave good-bye. It had been a hell of a weekend. She'd miss these people. Definitely Eric and maybe even Paxton. With a final look around the room, she recognized Eric's father, the hated Councilman, standing in the far back corner, a malicious grin on his face. What was he up to? He looked way too happy for her comfort.
The black mist swirled up around her legs.
The Councilman gave her a wiggling fat sausage finger wave good-bye and opened his other hand so she could see what he held. Nestled deep in the rolls was a long thin object.
The black swirling mist rose to her chest.
She gasped in shock.
It was too late to stop the portal.
His grin fattened.
The room disappeared into darkness. Panic threatened. Oh God. Was she going to die now? Could the esteemed Councilman have actually won? She closed her eyes, hating him and what he'd done. How could she contact Eric to let him know? Without her stylus she had no way to communicate with anyone here.
Just then the mists thinned and cleared.
She turned around. An oily darkness greeted her. The rank smell of death rose, overwhelming her senses. She wrinkled up her nose and coughed, then coughed again. "Oh God. I know that smell!"
Hearing something behind her, she spun around. A long meaty arm stretched through the darkness. White bony fingers reached for her.
he stench woke her. It spread deep into the recesses of her comatose brain like a shockwave. Storey Dalton slammed back to consciousness – and retched violently. Again and again. Finally, she groaned and collapsed to one side.
Coughing spasms came next. By the time that slowed, her thin frame stopped shaking and her stomach calmed down, Storey could lie in relative peace. Except for the smell. The sour reek of vomit now mixed with a horrible odor, almost like sulphur or rotten eggs. For a moment she just rested. Then her eyes shot open. She stared around in shock.
What the hell had just happened? Deep, depressing darkness surrounded her. She could see no lights, windows or moon around her, only complete, unforgiving blackness. She rolled to her right side and shifted to a sitting position. In a denseness where all other senses were deprived, the stench was almost enough to send her reeling to the ground again.
And ground it was. Dirt. Damp, black, hard dirt. If there were a hell, she imagined she'd found it.
How had she ended up in such a place? Events were as murky as the atmosphere around her. Eric. She'd been with Eric after helping to save his people, his entire dimension in fact, from the Louers. There'd been a party where everyone had joyously gathered around to thank her and send her off properly.
She'd been going home.
Storey struggled to her feet. Home. To her mother. And apparently after messing with the essential fabric of her own dimension, her father maybe as well. And that was so wrong. He'd been absent from her life for over a decade until she'd screwed with things. She'd tried to fix her mistakes, but hadn't had a chance to find out if her changes had been successful or not. Did her parents still believe that she attended a Roman Catholic school and did her homework on time? A snort escaped. As if. Given a chance, she'd spend all her time drawing.