Author's Note: Hello! I hope you enjoy my story. I may not update insanely fast, but please don't assume I abandoned the story, because I would never. I'll update as often as possible! Don't forget to drop a review; I love constructive critism! And again, I hope you enjoy.

PS: The title is Latin for "The Hidden World." I'm not Latin, so I'm not sure if that's grammatically correct. if you know, please tell me so and I'll fix it!


~OCCULTI MUNDUS~

There is a world.

No, not our world,

But another world.

Hidden right beneath our noses.

Summary: Jeremiah(Jai) Weston has lived twelve years of dull, dull and duller. That is, until he turns thirteen and he begins to be able to understand what animals are saying, and knows, out of know where, how to speak back.

Jai tries to ignore his newly discovered powers, but you cannot run from the truth forever. When his younger brother, and best friend, is taken by a dark, inhuman race, Jai is determined to get him back, and he will do anything to do so- even if it means teaming up with a group of kids who are total strangers to him, but prove to know how to find his little brother.

Now, Jai and his newly-found friends must go on an epic adventure to save him; and face what is probably everyone's darkest nightmare come to life.


One

The Ember Eyes

"Do you believe in monsters?" Alex asked.

Jai Weston glanced at his younger brother from behind his insanely huge math book. "Not really." He looked back to the small, colorful type on the smooth pages. He was supposedly looking at a lesson on how to do "long division," but to Jai, it just looked like a bunch of scrambled words, dismissively thrown inside some poor kid's math textbook. He shook his head and sat the book down on the nightstand next to his brother's unruly bed. "Why?"

Alex said nothing and stared at his newest pile of trading cards. He had been collecting them for two years, and there were piles upon piles of bright, colorful trading cards littering his room.

"Did you watch a scary movie today or somethin'?" Jai knew one of his brother's favorite things to do was to watch some horror film or another. Jai didn't think the other boy necessarily liked being scared senseless; he just watched them because their Aunt Karel disapproved.

But the younger boy only shook his head and gathered his cards into a neat pile. He always cherished his newly bought cards, treating them as if they were his children for a good two days before growing bored of them and throwing them, with the other forgotten cards, into the cardboard box that sat in the corner of his room. "No… but I've been… I've been seeing things." Alex looked at Jai with big, blue eyes that only showed one emotion, clear as the summer sky.

Fear.

Jai blinked slowly. "'Seeing things'? What do you mean, 'Seeing things'?" When Alex said nothing, Jai pushed on. "Seeing what thing—"

Before he could finish, there was a soft, hesitant knock on the door. Still staring warily at his brother, Jai called out, "Come in, Aunt Karel."

The door opened with a loud, high-pitched squeak that Jai had grown accustomed to over the years, and Aunt Karel stepped in. She wore her usual blouse, capris and ankle socks, her frizzy, chocolate-colored hair pulled back into a ponytail. Thick glasses were balanced on her nose.

Aunt Karel had taken the boys in three years ago, after their father—her brother—passed away, leaving them completely parentless and orphaned. Even before then, she would always be helping Jai's dad take care of Jai and Alex. She was the only mother Jai could remember having—really remember, that is, not like the fake-feeling, clouded memories he had of his real mother—and sometimes he thought his aunt's face was more familiar to him than his own.

"Hey, boys." She smiled at them and stepped into the room, closing the door behind her. "What are you guys doing?"

"I'm showing Jai my new cards!" Alex said, waving the stack at their aunt. It never failed to surprise Jai how good of a liar his ten-year-old brother was. Alex wouldn't even let him look at the cards for more than two seconds. Aunt Karel didn't know that, though, and she glanced at Jai, who shrugged and nodded.

"Ok…" Aunt Karel said slowly, her amber eyes darting from one boy to the other. "Well, I came in to tell you two that it's time for bed, so—"

Alex made a loud noise of disapproval. "No fair! How come Jai gets to stay up later than me?"

"He doesn't, sweetheart." She answered automatically, walking over and ruffling his thick, brown hair. She shot a warning glance at Jai that said, Play along.

"I don't want to go to sleep yet," Jai mumbled, ignoring her completely. He still had to ask Alex what he'd been 'seeing.'

A chill crept up his spine and he rubbed his hands over his arms, hoping the friction would generate some sort of heat.

"Well, you need to sleep, hon." Aunt Karel shot a leveled stare at Jai. "It's kind of a necessary thing. And besides, don't you want to be able to get up early for your birthday tomorrow?"

"I don't care about my birthday." To Jai, turning thirteen didn't sound so great. It just meant he was another year closer to high school, the supposed dark side of every teenager's life. He was teased and bullied enough as it was.

"Mhmm." Aunt Karel answered in her one-of-a-kind I'm not buying it voice. Her eyes flicked over to Jai's math book, sitting abandoned next to Alex's bed. "So, did you do your homework?"

"Um... no."

"So you had some trouble again?"

Jai shrugged. "Long division sucks, Aunt Karel."

She chuckled. "I know, Jai. Well, lucky for you, tomorrow's a Saturday, so I can sit down and help you work through the problems."

Jai gnawed on his bottom lip. "But tomorrow's my birthday—"

"I thought you said you didn't care about your birthday."

He suppressed a groan. Aunt Karel always did this to him, somehow. "I never said that," he lied, plastering what he hoped was a charming, boyish smile on his face. "I'm ecstatically excited for my birthday."

"So then I'm guessing you wouldn't mind going to lunch with me tomorrow? We can go to Pizza Hut, and you can bring your friends—"

"What friends, Aunt Karel?" He regretted the words as soon as he said them, as soon as the look of immense hurt dawned over Aunt Karel's face. The worst part was that it was not because she, herself, felt hurt; it was because she felt hurt for him.

"Jeremiah—"

"I'll come!" Alex yelled, saving the day as he somehow always managed to do. He was tying up his trading cards with a rubber band, making sure they were stacked evenly and in an organized fashion. "I like Pizza Hut!"

"Thanks, Alex," Jai mumbled, struggling to keep the smile on his face.

It looked as if Aunt Karel, too, was struggling to keep her face light and cheerful, most likely for the boys' sake. "Well then." She clapped her hands together once, beaming at them both. "I suppose it's settled. The three of us will go out for a family dinner tomorrow, in celebration. Deal?"

"Deal," the boys parroted, Jai sounding reluctant.

"Good. So it looks like Jai," she pushed up her glasses and pressed a kiss to the top of Alex's head, "and Alex will have to go to bed, so we can all get up early and have fun. Right, Jai?"

He sighed and stood up. "Right."

Aunt Karel positioned Alex's wheelchair so it was right near his bed and helped him put his cards away into a little tin, which she sat on his dresser.

Alex had lost usage of both of his legs in the same car accident that killed their mother, five years ago. He had only been five.

Jai didn't remember a thing, but he was in the car. That, he knew for sure.

Aunt Karel put a kind hand on Jai's shoulder, leading him out of his brother's room. "Night, Al!" She called over her shoulder.

The older boy turned also, offering his brother a meaningful glance as he did so. They would talk later—about the things that Alex had supposedly been 'seeing.' Aunt Karel flicked off the light, so only his spaceship nightlight was illuminated in the dark.

It could've been a joke. Alex was obsessed with anything having to do with fantasy, so maybe this was one of his little imaginary games he forced Jai to play sometimes.

But still, he couldn't escape the cold, dreadful feeling squeezing his chest.

After they left the room and the door was securely shut behind them, Aunt Karel turned to Jai. "Are you ok, Jai?" She crossed her arms over her chest, a concerned gesture.

"I'm fine, Aunt Karel. But I'm kind of tired, so…" He started to head for his room, but abruptly, Aunt Karel grabbed his shoulders and pulled him to her—hard.

"Jeremiah, I need you to listen to me very closely." Her voice was so serious—so intense—that he didn't try to pull out of her tight embrace. He squeezed her back and leaned his head on her shoulder. She was a tiny woman, only a little taller than Jai, and smelled of soap and her favorite vanilla perfume.

"Aunt Karel, what's wrong?"

"Jai—Jeremiah—"

"Why do you keep calling me that?" Aunt Karel only used his full name when she was angry or scared, and Jai was starting to get worried that, in this case, it was the latter. "What's going on? Are you ok?"

"I need you to promise me that—that you'll be careful from now on."

"What—"

"Turning thirteen isn't a joke, Jai."

He blinked, completely flabbergasted. "What—"

"Promise me you won't leave. Promise you'll stay here, with me. Promise me you'll stay safe."

"Aunt Karel—"

"Promise!"

"I promise!" He said earnestly, in an attempt to get her to stop freaking out. She was nearly hyperventilating, and it was frightening Jai. "I promise. What's going on?"

She pulled far away enough from him so that she could see his face, which she cupped in her hands, a cool, comforting, and familiar touch. Her eyes were shimmering, and not with pride, or happiness, but with tears. They beaded up in the corners of her eyes like diamonds. She shook her head slowly as she spoke, "Jai. My Jai. You have no idea—" She swallowed loudly in an attempt to keep a sob from escaping her mouth "—how much I love you. I love you so much, and—and the last thing I want is for you to get hurt. If you got hurt, it would kill me. You and your brother. I want you to stay with me. You can't go with them when—if, if—they come. No matter what they say. You hear me?"

Jai spoke softly, hoping he'd be able to soothe her, like one would soothe a frantic horse. "Aunt Karel…I don't know who they are. Who—who are—"

"It's better that you don't know. Just—stay with me." She kissed his head and wiped her eyes, and, just like that, she was her normal self again. "Now, you should get some sleep… Uhm, sweet dreams, hon."

Jai stuttered, shocked. "Aunt Karel, wait—"

But she acted as if she hadn't heard him, ruffled his hair and walked off, probably into the kitchen for her usual midnight cup of chai tea; it helped her keep her calm, apparently. Jai shook his head slowly and turned to head into his room, directly across the hall from his brother's.

What was that? he wondered as he climbed under his navy blue blanket. His room was scattered with various, abandoned school notebooks and textbooks, and also discarded pencils, every color of the rainbow. One thing Jai did love to do was sketch. Every inch of his cream-colored walls was covered in his sketches; he'd been told by his art teacher that he was exceptionally good, but she could have been lying.

For the longest time, he just stared at his ceiling, stared at the fake, glow-in-the-dark stars Aunt Karel had helped him stick up there for his twelfth birthday.

Aunt Karel.

He just couldn't figure it out. Aunt Karel was always cool and collected, calm and kindhearted. She never freaked out like that, at least not in front of the boys. She made everything an overly safe environment for them—especially for Alex and his dead legs—and she never let them know if she was sad, even if Jai suspected such.

This just wasn't her.

She's probably just worried about your first year as a teenager, Jai reassured himself. Probably thinks, that as soon as you turn thirteen, you're going to go off and do drugs or whatever.

He glanced at the clock that sat on his nightstand, red numbers glowing like stars in the night sky.

12:37 am.

Apparently, he turned thirteen four minutes ago.

And he felt no urge to go out and smoke, or whatever Aunt Karel feared.

What Jai was not expecting, though, was to see two glowing, ember eyes at his window, horrifyingly disturbing and horrifyingly real. He gasped and sat up, rubbing his eyes.

Yet, when he opened them again, there was nothing at the window; certainly no eyes. Jai shook his head, as if to clear it, and told himself that it was only fatigue that was causing him to see things.

But still, he made sure the window was locked and the curtains drawn, before he fell into a black oblivion of sleep.