When Zeke woke up, he let his eyes stay closed for a few minutes, feeling that he was lying in a bed which meant that this was not part of the dream that he just had. I finished it, he thought quietly to himself, a sense of achievement flooding through him. Smiling slightly, he opened his eyes to see the ceiling programmed for all of the football team records, circled in their respective team colors were the Belgons and the Starsers team records, along with Luke's and his brother Jerry's records. Good old Luke, thought Zeke. He always loved football. Zeke sat up slowly, looking around. Starsers and Belgons posters were plastered everywhere on the maroon wallpaper. There was a dresser just off to his right and the closet door was slightly open off to his left. Next to the dresser was a black laundry basket. It was currently half full. The carpet was thick and colored a dark gray. There was a wooden chest at the end of the bed. The door to the hallway was across the foot of the bed and wide open. Downstairs he heard his friends talking about the chill they had all just felt.
Suddenly, his dream and SÃ©maj's request came back to him. He immediately got out of bed, but grabbed the dresser as he swayed. Why was he so light-headed all of a sudden. He mustâ€™ve gotten up too fast. His body swaying caused the floor to creak below him. He heard his friends stop their conversation and, almost instantly, appear out of thin air at the foot of the bed.
â€œZeke?â€ said Jade, sounding concerned. â€œAre you okay?â€
â€œYeah, I think so, Jade,â€ said Zeke with a small smile. He felt a little dizzy still but he didn't want to worry them by complaining. He wasnâ€™t that type of guy. Besides, he thought. I can rest later. I have to do what SÃ©maj asked me to do.
â€œSit down, Zeke,â€ said Kiro with a mother-like tone in her voice. â€œYou are looking really pale. We don't want you fainting again and getting knocked out for another hour.â€
Zeke did as she requested, surprised. â€œI was out for an hour?â€ he said, feeling better as soon as he sat down, some of the color coming back to his face. The others nodded.
â€œSo, Zeke,â€ said Lucky quietly, speaking for the first time. â€œWhat happened? One minute you're standing there talking with us about the pendants. Then, the next thing we know, our pendants shine brighter than I've ever seen them before. When we could open our eyes, we saw you laying on the ground, knocked out cold. We hauled you up here then went downstairs to talk for a while. All of a sudden we all feel a weird chill and then hear the floor creak up here to tell us you were awake.â€
â€œDragonlyer's Cave,â€ muttered Zeke softly under his breath.
<Don't forget to get everyone who has a dragon-star pendant to Dragoon Lake in two daysâ€™ time. Before the full moon, Zeke, find the portal at Dragonlyer's Cave,> said SÃ©maj's voice in his head. Startled, Zeke looked around but all he could see was Jade's, Kiro's, and Luke's faces looking at him expectantly. Well that was slightly odd, he thought to himself. I wonder why they didnâ€™t hear it too.
Kiro cleared her throat, getting Zeke out of his thoughts. Haltingly, he told them all that had happened leaving out the detail that SÃ©maj was Jimmy's twin and the part about the ghosts. â€œNow I have until Wednesday to get everyone to Dragonlyer's Cave and into Markan,â€ he concluded. â€œSÃ©maj will meet us at Dragoon Lake.â€
â€œAre you sure you just didn't dream all of this, Zeke?â€ said a deep voice from the doorway, making them all jump. Zeke looked over in the direction of the doorway to see Luke's twin, Jerry, standing there with a puzzled look on his face.
Jerry looked a lot like Luke. They both had green eyes, dark brown hair and the same friendly smile. They both loved football as well and trained hard for it. Jerry, however, was different than Luke in a couple of ways, even though they were twins. Jerry's muscles showed more than Zeke's, making him look more buffed, and he was slightly taller than his slightly older twin. Lucky, on the other hand, was skinnier even though his muscles showed, making him look more like a runner than a football player.
â€œI was coming up the stairs when I heard your voice, Zeke,â€ explained Jerry. â€œWhen I heard you mention the pendants, I listened in because I have one too.â€ He pulled a maroon dragon-star pendant out from underneath his shirt. It was strung on a black cord like Jade's, Kiro's, and Luke's.
Luke looked surprised. â€œWhere'd you get that, Jerry?â€ he asked. â€œI don't ever remember you having that before.â€
â€œI bought it at a card game shop in town. It was the last one. Dad told me where he had gotten yours. I liked it, so I went and got my own,â€ answered Jerry, not looking at Luke as he added to Zeke, â€œSo, are you sure that this was a vision and not just a dream, Zeke? I mean, I've been around Dragonlyer's Cave. The people who live closer to it tell everyone not to go in it. Itâ€™s kind of a taboo place around those parts and a source of dares for most kids: how far they can go and how long they can stay in. Strange things happen around that place.â€
â€œYes, Jerry. I am sure,â€ replied Zeke with a note of finality in his voice. He was thinking back to the ghosts. Come to think of it, Jerryâ€™s was among them. Who else? If only he could remember... The dream was slipping from him, like water through his fingers. â€œIt was like a vision. I seem to be more sensitive to these pendants than you guys are. Now, let me ask you something. Have you been having any weird dreams lately?â€
Jerry blinked, surprised. â€œI have,â€ he answered. â€œThereâ€™s one with a greenish light that calls to me. Why do you ask, and how do you know that?â€
Lucky nodded. â€œI've been having the same dream,â€ he said.
â€œAs have I,â€ added Kiro. â€œWhat's this all about, Zeke?â€ Jade nodded in agreement.
â€œSÃ©maj was trying to reach all of you,â€ he said. â€œThe only one who didn't have that dream was me. I've been having the dream about the tunnel, but every time I got close, someone would wake me up. I've been having it for about four years. That's was this was about today. I'm most likely the only one he got through to.â€
â€œFour years, Zeke, really?â€ said Kiro. Zeke nodded. â€œWell, I should say that you are sensitive, Zeke. You didnâ€™t even have your pendant back then did you?â€
Zeke started, rather surprised, because what she said was true. He didnâ€™t have the pendant then. Why was this all happening to him. Wait, they kept mentioning Keith Rhiner. Could it be that his great-grandfather was involved in all of this somehow? No, that couldnâ€™t be true. His great-grandfather... disappeared in his early forties. No one knew how or why or even where he had gone, but his great-grandmother Sharla seemed to think it was okay. That it was for the best. Zeke had asked about his great-grandfather when he was only seven. His parents had been trying to make up again, so they had dropped him off with his great-grandmother while they had went out for dinner and a movie. His great-grandmother was always fun to be around. His grandmother Nacia usually put him to work out in her garden or on the farm.
Sharla loved to tell Zeke stories about heroes and pirates and bandits and other such kid stuff. That night when he was seven, he had asked his great-grandma to tell him a story about his great-grandfather. Whether it was everything that had happened the past few months or some after-effects from his vision from his pendant, he didnâ€™t know. He was remembering that night as if it were last night.
It was a cold, stormy night as Sharla had tucked him into bed with his favorite stuffed animal, a cheopard he had named Synthero. She had looked at him, her silver hair dancing in the fake firelight that flickered from a part of the wall. â€œCan you hear the tree spirits dancing on the gusty winds?â€ Sharla had asked him. â€œIf you listen carefully you can hear the sound of the chief banging on his big drum.â€
Zeke had listened, his eyes wide, Synthero clutched to his chest, and sure enough he had heard the rum-tum-tum tim-tum-tum that sounded like the little drums from his great-grandmaâ€™s story. He had nodded vigorously. His great-grandmother had smiled. She was about ninety then, it had only been about forty years since her husband had disappeared, but the toll it had taken on her seemed like it had been much longer. She had lost all of her teeth, so she wore dentures, but her wrinkled face and brown eyes were warm and kindly. She almost always smelled like lilies blooming. Zeke always loved to think of his great-grandma like that: a lily blooming in the moonlight. He thought that was how his great-grandfather saw her as all those years ago.
That was the night Zeke had decided to ask her about him. â€œHey, Grandma?â€ he had asked, his tone climbing upward at the end to hint at a question. â€œWhat was great-grandpa like? Did he get mad and leave like Dad threatens to do? Or is he off on some big adventure?â€
Sharla had blinked, obviously surprised at the question. â€œWhy would you think he was mad at me? Your great-grandfather is out there having the biggest adventure of his life,â€ she had replied with a twinkle in her eye. â€œWould you like to hear a story about him?â€ Zeke had nodded. â€œI have a tale about when he first came here.â€
â€œDid he come in a ship?â€ Zeke had asked. â€œLike a pirate or an astronaut or an explorer?â€
â€œNo,â€ Sharla had said, her voice tinged with laughter. â€œHe came through a doorway from another planet that is linked with ours.â€
â€œReally?â€ the little boyâ€™s voice was full of excitement as he held his toy closer. â€œWhat was its name?â€
â€œAre you going to let me tell the story?â€ she had said. He had nodded. â€œOne more thing,â€ she had added, her voice taking on a stern tone that she rarely had to use with him. It had surprised him more than anything, but Zeke had listened more closely to the words that followed. â€œYou must promise never to tell anyone this story or any other adventures I tell you about your great-grandfather, okay? These stories are more important than you may realize now, but you will in time. Promise me you wonâ€™t tell anyone.â€
Zeke had nodded, put an â€œXâ€ over his heart with his pointer finger then put up three fingers like a Cub Scout salute (three fingers up and held together) and answered, â€œCross my heart and hope to die; I will not tell anyone about these stories Grandma, I swear.â€ He even made Synthero swear too. â€œSee, Grandma? Even Synthero said he wonâ€™t tell either.â€
Suddenly, she was back to her old self. â€œLetâ€™s see, your great-grandpa Keith Rhiner came from a land called Markan, which lies out of reach from any boat or plane. He came through a magic portal thatâ€™s hidden not very far from here. No electronics will work on Markan or near the portal. Thatâ€™s what he told me. He brought with him eighteen necklaces. They were the prettiest things I ever saw,â€ she said. She had touched her hand to her heart then, as if remembering some far off memory. A few seconds later, she had snapped out of her reverie and continued. â€œEach one of these necklaces were unique, he said. Each had a different dragonâ€™s blood in them. He said they would save his world and ours if given to the right candidates. He told me that his world was in grave peril by a sickness and an evil black dragon.
After several months of being here, he said he would like to be with me. Within a year he confessed that he had instantly fallen in love with me the moment he saw me and that he wanted to stay with me.Time moves differently here than in Markan he told me. No matter how long we were together here, he would get back at the time he would be needed. We were wed and he told me about the pendants. Then we had your grandfather, Zeke.â€
Zeke had nodded. â€œWhat happened to him? Did he return home?â€
Sharla had smiled at him. â€œYes, he returned to Markan. He said he was needed again,â€ she had answered, a small tear forming in her eye. â€œI knew one day it would come, but that didnâ€™t make parting any easier.â€
â€œIs he having an adventure right now?â€ he had asked, so inquisitive as he held his cheopard close.
â€œI am sure he is, Zeke,â€ she had said. â€œMaybe one day you will too.â€
He had blinked in surprise, his eyes wide. â€œYou really think so?â€ When she had nodded, a grin lit up his face from ear to ear and he added, â€œIâ€™ll go to Markan and bring him back for you, Great-Grandma, I promise.â€
So intense were his eyes that Sharla had to chuckle. He was certain he would go and bring Keith back to her. Her eyes had twinkled as she answered, â€œIâ€™ll hold you to that promise, little man. Just come home safe too, you hear?â€
He answered her and swore just as he had when she told him to keep it a secret that he would. She had smiled and tucked him into bed. As she laid a good-night kiss on his forehead, he had asked what sort of adventure his great-grandfather was on then.
She had smiled and changed the programming on the walls to a jungle setting and wove her tale, her green pajamas blending in with the setting, gently lulling her little explorer to sleep.
But she had not seen his promise fulfilled. Sharla passed away at the age of ninety-seven in the hospital after a stroke. Just before she died, she gave fourteen year-old Zeke the gold dragon-star pendant which he currently wore. As she lay there in the white hospital bed, an IV in her arm, Zeke thought she had looked like an angel. Her white hair had shone like moonlight and somehow the doctors had allowed her to keep her perfume. She had asked for Zeke to come in alone. Meera told him to be brave for his great-grandma, so when the door opened, Zeke walked through with a smile and was instantly greeted with the smell of lilies.
â€œHi, Grandma,â€ he had said, trying to keep a smile on his face. He had seen that she looked like she was doing better and hoped she would make a full recovery. In his hand, he held a get-well card. It was about the size of a small poster and it had a picture of lilies blooming in the moonlight on the front that he had drawn. Inside, it had read: â€œGet well soon, Great-Grandma Sharla!â€ and it was signed by almost everyone at the school. Teachers, students, friends and family, all who knew Sharla was in the hospital had wrote their name or a little note. Sharla was well-known in the school. She had helped with the kindergarten as often as she was able. She held the highest purchases from the school fundraisers and donated everything she could. Everyone loved her. She even insisted they call her Great-Grandma Sharla. Zeke had read most of the notes out to her, pointing out a few particular names that he knew were personal friends of hers. Sharla was like her old self, smiling at some notes and names and laughing at others.
After what seemed like an hour of going through the get-well card, Sharla had him prop it up on the stand next to her. â€œI have something for you, Zeke,â€ she had said, smiling mysteriously as she always did on his birthday or on the gift exchange day.
He had blinked, surprised. â€œFor me? What is it?â€ he had asked.
She had answered, â€œClose your eyes and open your hand. No peeking.â€ She had caught him trying to glimpse at it from a sliver of his eyelids. He felt something cold slide onto his palm and a tingling sensation creep up his arm. Instantly whatever was cold in his hand became warm and he had heard her say, â€œOkay, Zeke, open your eyes.â€
Zeke did as he was told and there, in the palm of his hand, rested a pendant on a silver chain. It looked like a silver dragon claw. It was clutching a golden marble about an inch across. As he looked at the marble, the insides seemed to be swirling and pulsing with a strange light.
â€œHere, Zeke,â€ she had said. â€œI think your great-grandfather would have wanted you to have it. Always keep it on you whenever you can.â€
Zeke had smiled, awed by the gift. â€œThank-you. I will always treasure it,â€ he had answered.
She had yawned then. â€œI need my rest, my dear boy. Go back to your parents now and I will see you the next time you are here.â€
He had nodded and kissed his great-grandmaâ€™s forehead, but she was already asleep. She had looked peaceful, as if all the weight had left her shoulders. He knew she was flying with his great-grandfather again. She had told him stories about that too: flying on the wings of a dragon up into the clouds where humans were barely beginning to reach. Planes and jets flew, but the feeling of having your own wings, the wind in your hair, being able to look down and see the world, she told him, his great-grandpa said there was nothing else like it. Zeke had tucked her in carefully and left the room, not knowing that she wouldnâ€™t wake from her slumber again.
Suddenly, a snap of fingers in front of his face literally snapped Zeke from his memories. â€œZeke? Come in, Zeke,â€ Jade was saying.
â€œWhat? Sorry,â€ he answered. â€œI was just thinking. What were you saying?â€
â€œI was saying, fainting at the first sight of the four of them together, what are you going to do when there are more?â€ answered Kiro before Jade could respond.
Zeke shrugged. â€œI think this was a one-time thing,â€ he said. â€œSÃ©maj really needed to get through to somebody and I guess the barrier was weak at that point. I should be fine.â€
Jade cut in and asked Jerry, â€œWho else do you know that has a pendant?â€
â€œMiron, Cole, Marco, and Dave,â€ he answered. â€œThey showed me theirs when I showed them mine. Apparently, they got theirs and left about half an hour before I did.â€
â€œI think Sitka, Ivan, and Genryu have them,â€ said Zeke to Luke and Kiro. â€œSitka gave me a funny look that day I talked to Jade about it. I think Jimmy and Zach have them as well.â€ He wasn't telling them the whole truth, but he knew that they had to hurry and as long as they were convinced, then that was all he needed. He didn't want to have to explain the ghosts as well. â€œOkay,â€ he added, not letting them ponder on it for too long. He sounded like the leader of a search party. He had to stop getting involved in all of these leadership positions. â€œWe need everyone who has a dragon-star pendant to get to Dragonlyer's Cave on Wednesday. If you guys see the people we just named, ask them if they could come play paintball with us on that day around five P.M., okay? Also ask them if they know anyone else who has a dragon-star pendant. I don't want anybody left out.â€ They all nodded.
â€œWhat about you, Zeke?â€ asked Kiro suspiciously. â€œYou seemed to have left yourself out.â€
â€œI'm going to take another look through your book, Kiro,â€ he said. â€œMaybe there is something in there to explain why this is affecting me so much and what else we can do to prepare. I also just thought of something that I need to check on.â€
The others nodded although Kiro seemed unconvinced. â€œWell then,â€ she said. â€œI guess we'd better get moving. Wednesday is only two days away.â€
Zeke got up slowly and found that it was easy enough to stand without swaying around. He felt a lot better. â€œAlright then, I'll see you guys at five on Wednesday,â€ he said. When they nodded, he half-turned on the spot and vanished into thin air.
â€œWell,â€ said Jade after Zeke had gone. â€œAt least it looks like he recovered quickly.â€
Luke and Jerry nodded. Kiro however remained silent and looking after the way Zeke had gone, thinking privately, There's something he's not telling us.
â€œAre you okay, Kiro?â€ said Jerry. â€œYou are awfully quiet, even for you.â€
Kiro looked at Luke, Jerry, and Jade, who were all looking at her and blinked. â€œI'm fine, guys,â€ she said with a smile. â€œI was just thinking thatâ€™s all.â€
Jade nodded. â€œWell, I might as well go home,â€ she said. â€œI have some stuff to do if we are going to Dragonlyer's Cave on Wednesday. Hey, Kiro, why don't you come over tomorrow and we can talk for a bit? I have some things I need to talk to you about.â€
Kiro blinked, surprised, because Jade didn't usually invite her over. In fact, no one usually invited her over. The only reason her and Luke had been hanging out recently was because of the pendants. â€œSure, Jade,â€ she answered slowly, still surprised, â€œhow about we meet at three?â€ What could Jade want? Could she be having the same doubts as Kiro was about Zeke?
Jade nodded then waved good-bye to everyone and left in the same manner Zeke had. Kiro sat there thinking until a tap on her shoulder made her come back from her thoughts. Jerry and Luke were looking at her. â€œYeah?â€ she said.
â€œYou look a little preoccupied, Kiro. Is something on your mind?â€ asked Jerry. â€œLuke asked you a question twice.â€
â€œNo, I'm fine, guys,â€ she answered, a little untruthfully. â€œWhat did you ask me, Luke?â€
â€œI forgot,â€ he said slowly. â€œIf I remember it, I will let you know when I see you next.â€
Kiro nodded then said, â€œI should probably be getting back to my parents' house. We all know my dad doesn't like it when I go over to boys' houses for long.â€
Jerry nodded as Luke sighed softly. Kiro waved to Jerry as Luke led her out. When they had reached Kiro's bike, Luke looked at her. â€œKiro, what's really wrong?â€ he asked. â€œYou've been acting really strange since Zeke woke up.â€
â€œIt's nothing, Lucky,â€ she answered. â€œI'll be okay. I'll see you on Wednesday.â€
Luke sighed softly again, giving in because he knew how stubborn Kiro could be. â€œGoodbye, Kiro. Please be okay,â€ he said, waving as she hopped on her bike and rode out of sight on the three mile ride back to her house.