October 28 2006
Daniel woke up in the middle of a summer night, disoriented. He felt like
an invisible hand had jerked him out of sleep. The bedroom was dark. With
the leaden starlight from the window, every piece of furniture was like a
crouching beast, cold and menacing.
The night was really quiet. Daniel could hear a mouse running across the
floor. His clock was ticking persistently. The wheezing of his chest sounded
loud and ragged. He suddenly had this fear that his chest was empty and he
was going to die. He wanted to call his father, but feared that his voice
would shatter the peace of the night and everything would fall apart like
broken glass. He got up, wrapped a blanket around himself, and walked to his
father's room. The hallway was so cold. He could almost see his breath
frozen into different shapes like ghosts hanging in the air. Every step he
took towards his father's room, the air got colder and colder. It was like
he was sliding into a deep cold pond.
The door to his father's bedroom was ajar. He stood outside the door for a
minute, feeling the darkness closing in on him. He had an eerie feeling that
he was the only one in the house besides the mouse. He pushed the door
slightly. It moved a bit-he waited-nothing happened. He pushed again until
he could see his father's bed. It was empty. One corner of the bed sheet was
flipped open, as if his father had just gotten out of the bed for some water
in the middle of the night; but the room was too cold. Not a trace of human
warmth was lingering in the air.
"Dad-" he called.
His own voice was so loud. It scared him. The sound was like blind birds
bounding back and forth on the walls. When it finally died down, all he
could hear was his breath again. He stood in the dark, searching frantically
for someone that he could call for help. No name came up. It had always been
just him and his father. He didn't think that they had any living relatives.
If there were any, they certainly didn't bother to get re-acquainted with
"It must be a nightmare," thought Daniel. "I've got to wake up."
He stood there waiting for the moment to come, but everything remained the
same. He was still in his father's bedroom instead of his own. The cold in
the air was palpable, and his feet were numb. He thought he might be better
off going back to the bed. Maybe tomorrow morning, when he woke up,
everything would be fine again.
His bed was cold too, and it was really hard to fall asleep when all he
could think about was what could have happened to his father. It didn't help
that his feet were bothering him like bullies in school. He finally fell
asleep when his mind wandered away to things like the latest video game or
the last action movie.
When Daniel woke up in the morning, he felt miserable. He had a vague
felling that something bad had happened. He looked out of the window. It was
a sunny morning. Sunny mornings like this always cheered him up, but this
morning was different. It was like he just woke up from a nightmare.
Although he could not remember anything, the sorrow was still there. Then
something caught his eye. The plants on the sill were all dead. They were
hardy plants like cactus and mums. They were now all dry and wrinkled, as if
all the water was sucked out overnight. He suddenly remembered how cold he
was last night, and his first reaction was to find his father.
"Dad-" he called.
He got up and ran out of his room, expecting to see his father downstairs
making breakfast. The kitchen was quiet and empty. The morning sunlight came
in from a window. He could see dust dancing in the sunlight. He thought that
maybe his father was still in bed.
He ran upstairs but stopped in the middle of the hallway. The memory came
back new and fresh. Everything remained exactly as he remembered-the door
was open, and the bed sheet was flipped. He started shivering. He ran
downstairs and stayed in the sunlight in the kitchen-there was something
about the sunlight that made the fear thaw.
Daniel was glad that it was Sunday, and he didn't have to go to school. He
didn't want to miss his dad if he came home. School had never been his
favorite place. It was his third year in junior high. He didn't have any
friends in school, nor was he one of the teachers' favorite students. He was
small and skinny, and he always felt cold-even in summer. The other students
liked to make fun of him because he always hid under layers of clothes. He
did fairly well in most classes but never brilliantly. He had this feeling
that he understood everything the teachers said, but he kept making silly
mistakes on homework and exams. It was like he knew the lyrics of a song in
his head, but they didn't come out quite right when he sang the song.
Kids in school liked to show how pampered they were, and how prominent
their families were. On those occasions, Daniel had nothing to say. His
father was an accountant. They were not rich but not poor either. He didn't
know much about his father. Even though there was only the two of them, they
weren't exactly close. Rarely did his father show him any affection. It
still bothered Daniel, but in a way he had gotten used to the relationship.
He never had the courage to ask his father why their family wasn't like the
other families. When he was younger, he had thought it was probably because
he had done something wrong. He had tried his best to do things right-he
made his bed every morning, cleaned his dishes after every meal, and even
did his own laundry-but nothing really changed.
Daniel could not remember his mother. The tiny bit of memories he could
conjure seemed unreal. Sometimes, he wondered if he had invented them
himself. He had this image in his head: he was swimming in a pond; sitting
by the pond was his mother; a little further away, his father was jumping
down from a rock with a beautiful flower in his hand; they were smiling at
each other. He had been questioning himself since he was five. First the
rock was really tall. It was impossible that anyone could jump down without
hurting themselves. In the background was a mansion. The place was
completely different from where he was living. The house that he lived in
was just a small house like any other houses in a middle size town, where
most people minded their own business and life was as plain as the suit his
father wore everyday.
Daniel turned on the TV and browsed through the channels. It was all
morning news: somewhere in the world, a war was going on; there were
earthquakes and hurricanes; but none of these really meant anything to him
or caught his attention. He was trying to catch any sound from outside. His
father could walk in any moment. He would tell him that he had to run to
help an estranged friend after an emergency call, or he was out jogging, and
what Daniel had experienced was just a very realistic nightmare. The morning
sunlight and the background noise from the TV soon sent Daniel into his
dreamland. This time he had a real nightmare. He was running in a dark
forest. There was fog lingering in the air. He knew he was looking for
something but didn't know exactly what he was looking for. At the same time,
he knew he had to get out of the forest before something bad happened. He
was running frantically but found himself in the same spot again and again,
feeling more and more disappointed and desperate. Then he heard the doorbell
ring. It was like a life-saving cord for someone about to be drowned. He
grabbed it and felt himself dragged out of his nightmare.
He lay on the couch for a while, trying to clear his mind and regain the
senses. Then it suddenly came to him that it could be his father. He could
have forgotten the key. Daniel jumped up and ran to the door. He was
disappointed when he saw a stranger instead of his father standing at the
The first impression he had about the person was that he was tall. He had
to walk back so he could have a complete view of him. The suit that he had
on was immaculate. The hems and the sleeves were so straight and crisp that
they looked metallic. Daniel looked up and saw a very interesting face. It
looked middle age. On a second look, Daniel found it to be much younger.
There was not a single wrinkle on the face. There was, however, something
very old about it. The person had a long and thin nose. His mouth was wide
and firm. What interested Daniel most were his eyes. They were almost
mesmerizing. One moment, they were fierce and looked right through you. The
next moment, they picked up something interesting, and there was pure joy
"Yes?" said Daniel.
"Hi, my name is Edmond Alverdine," said the person. "I'm a friend of your
His voice was deep and full of confidence.
"He's not home," said Daniel. The visit seemed to like a bad omen. They
rarely had any visitors. A visitor in the morning after his father had just
disappeared certainly wasn't a good sign.
"May I come in? I'm here to talk to you."
Daniel felt a knot in his stomach. Alverdine seemed to already know that
his father wasn't home. He was too scared to consider what it meant. He
turned and walked back into the sitting room automatically.
Alverdine walked into the sitting room and sat down on the couch. For a
moment, the TV commercials seemed to really catch his attention. Then he
turned to Daniel.
"Come, sit down and tell me what happened," said Alverdine. He didn't sound
worried or grave.
"Are you a cop?" asked Daniel, feeling his fear ease a bit. If Alverdine
didn't know exactly what had happened, then he probably didn't know where
his father was either. That meant that his father could be safe somewhere
neither of them knew of.
"No, no, I doubt in this case the police would be of any help."
"Er-why should I trust you?" asked Daniel.
"Good question." Alverdine smiled at him. "Let me see-I have known you
since you were born. Your birthday is April 29. And you are wearing a
locket, aren't you?"
Daniel's hand went up to his chest. Underneath his underwear was a locket
that he had been wearing forever. He was told by his father never to take it
"So? That could be a lucky guess."
"It has a engraving of fire. I gave it to you on your first birthday. You
see, among five elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal, you lack
fire. The locket came from deep inside the earth where the undying fire
roams. It complements you-and it has other powers that you will come to know
in the future."
Daniel could not remember seeing Alverdine before, but Alverdine seemed to
know a lot about him. Few people knew about the locket. He always hid it
underneath layers of clothes even in summer. He knew that if Alverdine
wanted to hurt him, he certainly didn't need to go through this much
trouble. Something about Alverdine also made Daniel want to trust him.
Slowly, he moved to the couch and sat down at the other end.
"Unlike you father, you have a calm soul," said Alverdine kindly.
"Now tell me what happened," he said with a change of tone.
Alverdine listened carefully to Daniel's recounting of what had happened
last night. He didn't interrupt but seemed to be absorbing every word Daniel
"Let's take a look upstairs." He stood up and walked to the stairs.
Daniel followed him. It struck him as strange that Alverdine seemed to know
where he was going, but it also eased his feeling of helplessness that
Alverdine was in full control.
Alverdine stopped in the hallway. He closed his eyes for a minute. Then he
entered the bedroom. All the coldness had dissipated by now. Alverdine stood
in the middle of the room, quiet and unimposing. Unlike anything Daniel saw
in detective movies, he didn't look at each item in the room carefully for
clues. He didn't even leave the center of the room, but Daniel had this
feeling that Alverdine had become an integrated part of the room and nothing
They went downstairs in silence. Alverdine seemed to be in deep thought,
but his face was still serene and peaceful.
"So-where do you think my father is?" asked Daniel. Somehow he knew
something bad must have happened.
"I do not know," answered Alverdine carefully.
"He-he's dead, isn't he?" asked Daniel. He felt himself sink into a sea of
fear the moment those words slipped out of his mouth. In his mind, that was
the worst thing that could have happened. All he wanted was a negative
answer. Everything else could be solved step by step afterward.
"No, he is not dead," said Alverdine with certainty.
Daniel found that he could breath again.
"Do you know where he is?" he asked.
"No, I don't know," said Alverdine calmly.
"How can you be sure that he's still alive?" asked Daniel, even though he
wanted to believe it badly. He was afraid that Alverdine was going to tell
him that it was just a guess.
"You see, the presence of a person at one place leaves an imprint," said
Alverdine. He didn't sound slightly offended by Daniel's bluntness. "From
what I picked up in the room, your father was unharmed when he was taken
away; but I could not tell where he is or who took him away. As for now,
he's not in any kind of life-threatening danger-his lifeline is still very
To Daniel, what Alverdine said was strange but seemed to make sense. If
what Alverdine said was right, he, however, didn't seem worried that
Daniel's father was kidnapped.
"Should we call the police?" asked Daniel.
"No, I don't think there is anything they can do about it."
It was said in a way that Daniel found no need to argue.
"What am I supposed to do now?" he asked, feeling exasperated.
Alverdine didn't answer right away. He looked like he was making some
"There is no easy way to do this," he finally spoke. "I want you to trust
me. Please close your eyes."
Even though Daniel still had doubts, he closed his eyes. At first, he was
looking into muddled darkness with apprehension and expectation. Then, he
felt a tiny shock at the center in between his eyebrows. When the shock
disappeared, he found himself looking at a scene he had never seen before.
It was a village at the top of a mountain. It was like an ancient palace.
Fog in the air gave the whole village an ethereal feeling. Daniel had an
impression that the buildings were built on the clouds. People were flying
in and out of the village as if they were riding on rays of sunlight passing
thought the clouds.
When he opened his eyes, suddenly the room became small and dull. He felt
like he had just woken from a beautiful dream and wanted to go back again.
"Where was that?" he was still in shock. "And-how did you do that?"
"That's where I grew up," said Alverdine amiably. "Beautiful, isn't it?
What I have done was just a little bit of magic."
"Who-who-are you?" Daniel felt like he was losing his mind, but he knew
that what he had experienced was not a hallucination.
"I'm one of the people you just saw," Alverdine said slowly. "We are what
people call immortals, and so are you."
Even though Daniel had prepared himself, he still thought that it was some
kind of joke.
"What? No, I mean, I'm just a boy-I can't do magic like you do."
"Ah, but you do have powers you don't know of. They have been shielded by
your father. It takes some time to open them and develop them-we are getting
ahead of ourselves. First let's have some tea, shall we?" Alverdine opened
his palms, and a tray with a teapot and cups appeared. He put them on the
table, poured one cup for himself and one for Daniel.
Daniel knew that it was Alverdine's way of showing him his powers. Although
he was still in shock, he knew that it was more than magicians could
achieve. Suddenly all the worries that he had since last night seemed to
"You'll save my father, won't you?" he asked.
"I will do my best," said Alverdine slowly.
"But you're an immortal," Daniel exclaimed. "You'll save him before
anything happens to him, right?"
"Sorry, Daniel. I don't think I can promise that-yes, I'm more powerful
than mortals, but in this case, we're not dealing with mortals."
"I tried to get here before anything happened," said Alverdine. He didn't
go on to tell what prevented him from getting here on time.
All of a sudden, Daniel realized that he couldn't just wait for others to
find his father. He had to do something-it was his responsibility now. He
searched frantically inside his head whether there was anything he could do.
Then he remembered what Alverdine had said trying to convince him that his
father was still alive.
"Could the lifeline of my father lead us to him?" asked Daniel. "You said
that his lifeline is strong and you could sense it."
"That's a very good question," said Alverdine with an encouraging smile.
"But the line is not directional. As far as I'm concerned, I cannot do it,
and I don't know anyone that is capable of doing it."
"How about the imprints of the people who took him. Shouldn't they tell you
"Normally yes, but they were very good at erasing all the traces. The only
thing that I could pick up was the cold-I think it was left as a challenge.
What they have done requires a powerful mind and soul."
Daniel felt very disappointed but didn't say anything. The only consolation
was that his father was safe in a sense. He had a feeling that Alverdine
knew exactly what he felt.
"I will help you find your father, but I don't think it can be done in a
short period of time."
"Now let's decide what we are going to do with you," said Alverdine, as if
he had just finished one topic and was moving to the next one in a lecture.
"You can come with me or you can stay here. I think your father wanted you
to live as a mortal. It's your choice now. If you want to stay here, I can
make sure you live in a nice home and are well taken care of."
It was the first time Daniel had to make such a big decision, but it didn't
take long for him to make up his mind. Now that his father was gone, there
was no point staying where he didn't really belong.
"I'll go with you," he mumbled.
"Are you sure?" asked Alverdine.
"Er-yeah, I-I'm sure," said Daniel.
"If it doesn't work out, I can always come back and be a mortal, can't I?"
he asked on second thought.
"Yes you can, but it won't be easy." Alverdine seemed amused. "I think it's
time for us to leave, we have a long way to go." With a wave of his hand,
the tea tray disappeared.
They walked to the river outside of the town. The river was where Daniel
spent a lot of time. It ran down from the mountains. The water was crystal
clear. Trees covered both sides of the riverbanks. There were different
kinds of fish living in the river and birds living in the woods. Daniel knew
he was going to miss this place-it had been his home for as long as he could
remember-but he knew somehow he was making the right choice.
"This suit is starting to bother me," said Alverdine. The next moment, he
was in a long robe. He drew out a sword the size of a pen from the robe and
released it. It floated in the air and grew bigger and bigger until it
reached the size of a small boat.
"Hop on," Alverdine encouraged.
Daniel jumped on, afraid that his weight was going to bottom out the sword.
Amazingly, the sword stayed in the air. Alverdine got on a second later.
"Hold my hand tight," said Alverdine. "Here we go."
The sword started at such a speed that Daniel almost fell off it; but at
the same time, a wave of excitement rushed through his body. He had always
wondered what it was like to be able to fly and to glide through the air
like birds. He stretched out his free arm and felt the wind.
The river and the woods became smaller and smaller. The clouds were so
close that he felt he could just reach out and touch them. Sunlight coming
thought the clouds made things seem unreal. It was like he was underwater,
and he was a dolphin cutting through the water. The air became colder and
colder until his teeth began to chatter.
"I'm sorry," Alverdine turned around. He murmured some charm, and the next
moment Daniel felt like he was in a bubble and all the cold air was blocked
The sword picked up speed. Looking down, Daniel could tell that they were
basically following the river. The view was so much different from high
above. It was like he became bigger. Soon they were at the point where the
river met the sea. And for the first time, Daniel saw the ocean. Above them
was the vast sky that stretched on and on, and below them was the ocean as
big as the sky. There was no limit. Daniel suddenly felt a wave of
seasickness-it had nothing to do with flying over the sea; it was what was
lying ahead-he knew that he was scared, even though he didn't like to admit