Chapter One: Crumble of the Embassy
I'm not allowed to speak unless directly commanded to do so. I'm not allowed to feel. Crying, anger, fear—it is forbidden. The ground rules have been set up like this Up Here ever since I can remember. In fact…I can't remember anything else. It almost makes me sad, but then I have to remember not to feel again. The consequences are too dire to waste petty time thinking of such things, anyways.
Every day is the same. We wake up early, train, eat very little, train more and go back to sleep. We are not permitted to speak with one another or our Elders. Listen and learn—or suffer. There isn't much of a choice.
One time a boy rebelled. He looked a little older than me. I couldn't be too sure, since I'd never seen myself in a mirror before, but I'm pretty sure he had the same hair as I did. He said that he was sick and tired of taking orders, of living this life, of being deprived of the pleasures of Earth.
We never saw him after that.
And later that day, when I hesitantly asked an elder what Earth was, I was whipped. Perhaps Earth is a deadly place. Maybe Earth is what we're training for. These spells, potions, defense mechanisms…maybe we're fighting against this world below us that I hear the other children mumble about in their sleep.
There are only two things I know for sure about myself: My name is Chris and I know nothing. Not very comforting, but true. I guess I was on Earth once myself—we all were. But I can never remember anything. Once I saw a face in a dream and cried out—I was smacked for that one—but after the punishment, the face wouldn't pop into my head again. I wondered if they did that on purpose. I wonder if the face was my imagination or a possible link to my past.
It doesn't matter anyways. If I had a past with anything or anyone, I'd be long forgotten by now. I'd have to be at least eight years old.
The bell rang at precisely five in the morning, as it does every day. My eyes adjust to the bright light in the room and I immediately jump out of my bed. We're punished if we aren't quick enough in making the covers and dressing into our plain white robes. The last one up it always smacked with the morning Elder's cane.
It was a little boy today. I would pity him, but I'm not allowed to. Tears well up in his eyes and I silently hope that they don't notice, for he'd be punished even more than the previous time. Fortunately he bites them back and replaces his expression with the void, lifeless one we are all forced to wear.
It's like a mask, only worse. I pinch myself, remembering that I'm not allowed to feel this way. The Elders do what's best for us—that's what they always say. It's the rule to always trust in the elders.
When I was smaller, they told me that our training was to save witches. I don't know what a witch is, but if they're stupid antics that need saving trapped us Up Here, I'm not very happy with them.
"Children, to your first class," the morning Elder barks. "Now," he emphasizes harshly.
I step in front of the little boy that was smacked so they don't see him flinch at the volume of the Elder's voice. His eyes flash at me gratefully before stepping into line and following me down the hall to the dark room where we study potions.
A bell sounds shortly after our silent studies and we parade into Spells. Our heads are engrossed in our books—we have no other option, obviously. If we so much as glance up at the wall, we're smacked. I've known this for a while, so there was no excuse for my stupidity when I jerked my head up after hearing a sharp crack.
The cane collides with my head before I even realize my mistake. I return to my studies, attempting to ignore the sharp, throbbing pain in my skull. I'm used to it, thankfully. We're lucky not to be hit more than three times a day.
But that isn't the end of the peculiarities. Another crack sounds through the room, and this time more children avert their attention towards the walls. Smack, smack, smack—all three are hit. Didn't they know any better after seeing what the elder did to me?
It doesn't stop there, either. Suddenly the room is shaking. My fists squeeze the book, but I am not afraid. The ceiling begins to cave in on us, but I do not run. I do not even utter a single cry when the plaster hits my head. It is not allowed.
Nothing is allowed.
But what is happening? The cries of the other children begin erupting, and I pity them as they start to run. The elders will punish them all for their fear.
What I don't realize until the building crumbles is that in the end, they were the lucky ones. I was chosen. The entire ceiling fell—and I was the only one left in the room to hit. Maybe I was hoping it would kill me. But I wasn't that fortunate. Instead, my brain seems to scatter…I'm falling….and then, nothing.
There's a terrible storm brewing outside, rattling the windows and shaking the house. A part of me almost wishes it were demonic so we could stop it, but no such luck. It's an every day, ordinary storm, and I'm sitting alone in the foyer on an ordinary night.
Leo's somewhere in Elder-world. I can't even remember the last time I saw him, come to think of it. He took off when our younger son was kidnapped by demons. We didn't even get to name him. But to me, he was always Chris.
My eyes cloud over, thinking of that day. How overjoyed we were. Would things be any different if the baby were still here? I wonder. Leo had acted so strangely. Not betrayed, not anguished…almost…I can't place my finger on it. Nervous? Like it was his fault our baby was missing.
But of course it wasn't. It was all of our faults for leaving him alone.
Life's okay, though. I've got Wyatt, my first son, and Phoebe and Paige. Phoebe's actually had a boyfriend for more than a year now (a record, I think) and Paige is a teacher for Magic School. Wyatt's…well, going through I phase, I think. But he's ten years old, so I'm sure it's to be expected.
I don't know why, but I feel nervous about this storm. I'm waiting for something to happen—anything. Somehow I just can't bring myself to believe that the storm is nothing and completely natural.
My eyes dart to the window and I do a double take at what I see. Was that a dead bird, falling from the sky just now? No way—it was much too large to be a bird.
"What in the hell…?" I mutter, getting off the couch and leaning into the windowsill.
It's a boy, laying still on the side of the road in white robes stained red with blood. I gasp as he slowly lifts himself up, not even stopping to flinch. The pain doesn't seem to affect him at all. Was he a demon?
A clap of thunder erupted, but he remains where he is. Doesn't even twitch a muscle. He looks down at his wounds before staring straight ahead and beginning to move down the street.
"Hey, you!" I call, opening the window.
He doesn't look back. Is he deaf?
"Over there—kid in the robes! Hey! Stop!"
It looks as if he's forced to obey as he comes to an uneasy halt in his tracks right in the middle of the street.
"What are you doing out there? There are cars—it's freezing out, and you're wearing—hey! Are you even listening?"
He doesn't even look at me. He's still staring straight ahead. The expression on his face is almost frightening, it's so eerie. I remember how abruptly he stopped after my command.
"Look at me," I say loudly.
He slowly turns and moves his head up towards mine, but his eyes, dull and gray from this point of view, never meet mine. Instead, they stare behind or below me…maybe even right through me.
His feet carry him over to me and he stops at the front walk, the rain beating down on his head. A flash of lightning pierced the sky, illuminating his face. He couldn't be more than seven; he was fragile and small for his age with a mop of wet brown hair sticking to his head. He almost looked familiar, but I couldn't tell. He looked too hypnotized by some strange, compelling force for there to be a real connection.
"Where's your mommy?" I say to him gently.
He stares into space, as if pondering the question.
"I do not know what to answer," he admits, his voice plain and even in a monotone.
"Are you all right? You're bleeding everywhere, you poor thing. Here…come inside…"
"No!" he gasps. His hand flies over his mouth and his eyes flash green with a sudden fear—but it's gone. The lifeless face returns.
"You're coming in with me," I assert, grabbing his arm. He tenses. "I won't hurt you," I assure him with a little laugh.
He doesn't smile back. Did he really think I was going to hurt him? Pulling him inside, thoughts nagged at my brain. How could a boy fall from the sky like that, bleed from numerous wounds, get caught all alone in the rain and pretend like nothing happened. The mystery intensified.
"Leo!" I call. Oh my god—did I just call for Leo? It seemed so natural to do so, like it was back in the old days all those years ago. Watching the child standing in the doorway, I decided I'd better not take my chances by hesitating. "Leo? Leo!"
Slightly confused, Leo orbs down to the dark kitchen. I flick on a light, indicating the small boy. He gasps, rushing to heal the boy.
"The lighters' embassy fell," he gasps, observing the boy's robes. "You…you're from the training camp. You're a lighter," he says in wonderment. His face shines in a deep respect I've never seen before, just over a little boy.
"Care to explain?" I ask him sharply, reminding him that his ex-wife that he hasn't seen in a year is also in the room.
"Um, Piper, I really have to…"
"Go?" I snap. "Go ahead, then."
"This is a really delicate situation," he pleads. "Look, Piper, he and the other lighters… they're in great danger. I don't know what's happening, but if we don't sort this out soon, then the entire world could be at stake." He orbs out.
The boy stares at the spot he orbed from.
"That's orbing," I explained to him gently. "Whitelighters orb to their charges, witches. We're magic—witches. Do you already know all this?"
The gray in his eyes only stare through me once more. I sigh, rephrasing the thought. "Tell me what you do know."
"My name is Chris. I am seven years of age and in training to protect witches," he responds, obeying my command to speak.
I frown. "Protect witches? Protect us from what?"
"The embassy has fallen," I cry to my fellow elders in council. They glance from their meditation stances in shock. "The embassy for the lighters has fallen!"
"What?" demands Ariel, an elder to my left. "The embassy is protected. It can't fall—you're speaking nonsense."
Rage bubbles through me. "I got a call from Piper, my charge," I attempt to explain. "A boy in the robes of the lighters' was there, bleeding heavily. He has been healed, but he won't last long on earth. The evil will kill him." I pause. "There could be others that fell. We have to check the embassy—the lives of the elders and the lighters depend on it!"
Ariel is consumed by orbs, obviously to visit the embassy. She is followed by myself and three other elders.
The destruction is overwhelming. I bite back a cry—the elders there are struggling out of the rubble. I know for a fact that there are fifteen children among the lighters, and yet there are only ten standing in a row, battered and bleeding. They do not cry or make a sound, simply watch the decay.
Tears are welling up in the eyes of a lighter no more than four. A freed elder immediately whips him; I cringe at the injustice.
"What happened here?" I finally strike up the nerve to ask. Two lighters join the line-up after escaping as well. Twelve out of thirteen, I note to myself.
"We were under siege," an elder cries. "The walls and the sky toppled upon us. The lighters—there are—" He counted. "Three missing," he says. "They will be punished," he adds icily.
Another joins them, limping. She's hit as well for the display of weakness. What will happen to the boy below, fallen on earth?
"Keep him," says a voice.
I turn to face Ariel, confusion evident on my face. The other elders are distracted with their interrogations as we converse.
"I've been on this council longer than any of them. I'm telling you to keep the boy that fell," she informs me. "I have seen him. His name is Chris, and he is the most powerful among the lighters. He is serving a purpose on earth, but the elders don't know it."
"He'll die in an instant down there," I cry. "If he's the most powerful force here, than he's the most powerful force of good on earth—he'll be killed. He's too little." I search her face for support, but find none.
"You're journey has only just begun, Leo Wyatt," she says gently. "Go to earth and don't come back. Protect the child."
"You mean…abandon my duties?"
"Yes. That's exactly what I intend for you to do." Concern spreads on her face, watching the lighters. "I never believed this was right, stealing children from their homes and bringing them to such a miserable society. Try to convert the boy. He only takes orders; otherwise he won't speak." She sighs. "This training is never as effective as love."
"Should I leave?"
"Yes—now. Quickly, before the others see."