I didn't question, I didn't think, I hid. Before I understood why my hand was on the closest door knob. The door, which should have been locked, swung open easily. I closed it behind me and waited. A few seconds later I heard footsteps. They grew closer, until they were just outside, and then began to fade again.
Whoever was out there had walked into view of at least one security camera, but I felt no urgency to leave. Nobody was coming to check on the school. This person was unnoticeable. "Someone else can do it too?" I asked.
I threw open the door and silently chased the fading footfalls.
Someone who hears voices is crazy. Someone who obeys them without question is psychotic. What are you if the voices are always right?
I hurried down the hall. The source of the footsteps had turned. I had a feeling I knew where it was going. There was no reason to think I was right, but I did anyway. Sure enough after two more turns whoever it had been was in front of a door. I knew it was locked. But it wasn’t locked in the normal sense. A normal locked door had never stopped me. This one could.
The person walked up to the door and swung it open with no hesitation. It opened easily with no resistance. I craned my neck to see who it was. A girl. She had long black hair and a feminine figure. Before going through the door, she turned. I ducked out of the way before she could see me, but I got a glimpse of the side of her face. I thought I recognized her.
I forced myself to count to ten, and then looked back around the corner. She was gone, the door was closed. I walked up to the door, and waited another minute, then grabbed it and pulled. It didn’t budge. I tried to concentrate, a little unsure of what to do. Normally locked doors opened at my touch, with no real effort on my part. I was a little uncomfortable concentrating on something so natural, it was like trying to force my heart to beat.
It didn’t work. I dug into my pockets and pulled out the pocket knife I always carried. I flipped open the blade and tried to wedge it between the door and the wall. I tried to pry it open. Then I tried to hook the latch.
The door remained as stubborn as ever. I use to believe it had been nailed shut or something. Now I knew I just couldn’t open it. It was beyond whatever strange powers I had.
The more this door resisted, the more frustrated I got. I had accepted there probably wasn’t much on the other side long ago. It was probably just a janitor’s closet. I snuck into the school, and every other public place in town, at night for one simple reason: I could. Between opening any door, and never being seen by cameras or alarms, I could go anywhere I wanted. This door was the only exception.
But she could open it. I decided then that the next day at school, I would try to speak to Jennifer Carling.
Jennifer Carling was a junior in my high school. I had two classes with her. We had never talked. Honestly, I had never even heard her voice. She wasn’t very social, even though she had the body to date the quarter back or be head cheerleader. The lack of socializing must have been her choice.
I sat next to her in trigonometry for third period, and decided to talk to her then. The most direct route would have been to ask, “Are you in the habit of walking around, unnoticed by security cameras, and entering locked doors without the key?” I didn’t think direct was the best option.
“Um, hi Jennifer.” I expected her to ignore me, or answer and call me Tony or Johnny.
“Hi. Dominic, right?” Oh. She had known my name. This surprised me, because I wasn’t very popular. I had friends, but I didn’t expect people I had never met to know my name.
She waited. My brain locked.
“Did you need anything?”
“Um, no. Just wanted to say hi.”
Yeah, that went well. I sat, sitting forward while she stared at me. I prayed my face wouldn’t go red. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her open her mouth to talk. She hesitated, then turned forward.
I watched her at lunch, then in chemistry. No one talked to her. She did her assignment quickly in chemistry, and then pulled out a book. She didn’t move for the rest of the class. I couldn’t tell what she was reading, but it looked like an old, very beaten up paperback.
“I’m home!” I called as I walked in the front door.
“Hi honey,” my mom called back. She came into the living room before I had finished taking my shoes off. “I have to work late tonight so don’t stay up to long.” She gave me a kiss on the cheek and went out the door.
“Bye,” I called after her. My mom worked evenings so she could go to classes in the morning. She hadn’t had the chance to go to college while I was young because she had to raise me alone. Now that I could look after myself she had started classes at the community college.
I glanced up to the entertainment center, looking for the familiar picture. Just above the T.V. was the smiling face of my dad. I didn’t remember myself, he had died in a car crash just after my first birthday, but I saw his face every day.
For some reason seeing his face didn’t calm me down like it usually did. I felt agitated. It was like something at the back of my mind kept nagging me, and I couldn’t figure out why.
I went back to the school that night and waited. No one else joined me. The next night, the same thing. On Friday, I went back, my hopes low. It was a clear night, the stars bright and the moon just coming over the horizon. It was warm, but not too hot. A perfect night. The weatherman had promised perfect weather for the next three days.
I hid out in a room near the door. I was close enough that I would hear her coming. Then what? I could just show myself if she came. My instincts were against that idea. I wanted to find out what was through that door. If I showed myself before she opened it I might never get through.
I didn’t have time to think of another plan. It was ten minutes untill midnight. The steady sound of feet hitting the tiled floor reached me, growing until they were right outside.
I did as the voice in my head, my own instincts in some way, told me. I waited until the footsteps stopped.
And then I was walking, making as little sound as I could. I rounded the corner as she stepped through the door, and kept going. I managed to catch the door with only an inch to spare. I counted to ten again, then threw open the door. She was halfway down a hall. I no longer worried she would hear me, it was loud in the hall. It sounded familiar, but I couldn’t place the sound.
There was another door at the end of the hall. She had already disappeared through it. I followed her. She had stopped in the next room, facing away from me. The background noise was even louder here. The room we were in was about ten feet wide. It was a light blue, nicer than the pale grey of the school walls. The floor was smooth as glass.
I had a strange feeling about this place. The proportions were wrong. A map of the school showed the locked door as a solid wall, with no more than five feet between it and the next hall. We had gone five times that distance.
There was a loud bang in the hall behind us, as though the locked door had been slammed. I winced as she turned. It was Jennifer, like I had thought. Our eyes met.
I was expecting anger. I had been following her, even though whatever she was doing was none of my business. I expected suspicion, questions of why I was following her, and what I was doing in the school in the first place.
I had not expected the fear that was clear on her face.
“Dominic?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper. I could hear footsteps behind me.
My watch beeped, announcing the top of the hour. It was midnight.
Suddenly Jennifer darted forward, grabbing my hand and pulling me forward.
“Don’t talk if you want to live.”
I barely had time to take in her words before she pulled me to the door and threw it open, then forced me through.
This was the moment my life changed. I thought I knew how the world worked. I was wrong. My mind tried rejecting the image before me for several reasons.
We had been walking deeper into the school, and should have been near the middle. I stepped through the door and into the open air. Somehow I had ended up outside. The warm summer night had become cold. The clear sky had darkened with clouds. We had walked into a storm.
The strangest part was the lake far below us. I couldn’t see the other end in the darkness, but I could tell it was huge. There was no lake near my school. I didn’t think there was a body of water this big for miles. We were at the edge of a cliff, something else we didn’t have in my town. It looked like it dropped straight into the water.
“Where are we?” I tried to ask, but the words were drowned out in the sound of a sudden lightning strike. Then she was pulling me forward again. We ran, slipping over rocks that dotted the shoreline.
“Why are we running?” I asked.
“Because if you’re found you’ll be killed.”
Good enough for me. “Why? I haven’t done anything.”
I continued to run after Jennifer. I didn’t only follow her because of her words, I could feel something coming from behind us. I could sense that whatever I had heard behind us wasn’t going to be friendly. I almost tripped as we ran over the rocky slope. The ground was uneven, some rocks we had to run around because they were too big, and it all slanted toward the cliff. The feeling of danger grew fainter. Whatever had been following us was falling behind.
I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going, and fell as a rock shifted under my feet. I shouted out as I fell. Jennifer stopped and helped me up.
My heart raced. Whatever was out there was close by, it had caught up. Jennifer pulled me behind a large rock. “Stay very quiet,” she whispered.
I sat still, the cold rock to my back, and concentrated. I closed my eyes and tried to block out the sound of the storm. I concentrated only on my sixth sense, the one that had originally warned me of the danger.
And then I felt his presence. Whoever was out there was only a dozen feet away. He was walking in a straight line, not really searching. But he was going to pass within three feet of us. All he would have to do is stick his head over the rock and look down to find us.
I felt him draw even with the rock. He called out, “Jen?”
I looked at Jennifer, curious. She avoided my gaze. The guy that seemed to know her moved on. The sense of danger began to lessen.
A fact was making itself very clear, despite my attempts to suppress it. I was in danger from that guy because I was human, but he knew Jennifer. She was able to open the door while I couldn’t. Jennifer had come to this place voluntarily, but was afraid for me.
The guy was too far away for him to hear over the storm, so I asked, “Are you human?”
She looked at me, debating whether or not to answer. Maybe she was afraid of scaring me. “Half. My mother was human.”
“And your dad?”
“He’s Fey. I’ve heard them called fairies, elves, and sprites before. They take whatever names they like from human mythology, but mostly they call themselves Fey.”
“And where are we?”
“This is the crossroads. This is the home of the Fey. It’s not on Earth. It’s another world entirely.”
“What! Then where the hell is it?”
“It’s hard to explain. And now isn’t the time to try. That guy was someone I know. He doesn’t like me because I’m half human. He would probably try to kill you. We need to find a safe place for you.”
“Why can’t we go back through the door?”
“It closed at midnight.”
I wasn’t sure how much I believed about fairies and other worlds, but I had no other explanation for the lake and the storm. She was the one that knew what was going on, so I had to trust her.
“So I’m stuck here until morning?”
“I’m afraid so.”
“How were you able to open it in the first place? I’ve never been able to.”
“You have to be part Fey to open it. Humans can pass through as long as they have a little magic in their blood. But I couldn’t even open it at first. I actually learned to pick locks when I first discovered I couldn’t open it. It didn’t help.” She looked in the direction the guy had gone, as though she could see through the rain. “Let’s go, I know of a place you can hide.” She stood up and pulled me to my feet.
The city materialized from the darkness. Jennifer led me along to a side road into the entrance, she said there would be less chance of anyone seeing us than if we went through the main gate.
“Welcome to Farrain, capital of Seirah.” Jennifer told me. She led me along the street and up to an old building. The city, or what I could see of it in the rain, wasn’t like a capital at home. Normally you would expect to see tall buildings made of steel and glass, but what I saw was mostly stone. It looked nice, with arches and towers, but nothing modern. I felt like I had stepped back in time.
The building she led me to was small, and looked like one good gust of wind would tip it over. But I didn’t care once we were inside. We were out of the rain and wind.
“Sorry, but this is the best I can do. Not everyone hates humans, but it would be best if we don’t take any chances.”
I was past caring. If it hadn’t been for my gifts, knowing that there was some things that couldn’t be explained through science, I probably would have gone crazy. I might have anyway, I couldn’t be sure. I didn’t know what crazy felt like.
“Why do some of the Fey hate humans?” I asked. Talking was better than doing nothing, even if I didn’t entirely believe what she said.
“They have as many reasons as humans do for hating other races. Most were raised by parents who hate them, they think they’re better than humans. Others think humans started it, fearing the supernatural as far back as medieval times. Many were offended by the Salem Witch Trials, even though none were actually caught. Even if a Fey were caught, it wouldn’t be hard to get free.
“And many think humans are a disease, not hard to believe when you look at how they have treated the planet.”
“So I’m in danger because of a couple religious nuts and some litter?”
“Uh, yeah. That about sums it up.”
“Why did that door close?”
“Human superstitions, they believed that ‘dark creatures’ hunted humans in the night. When the doors were created they were made to close during the night, in case humans tried to hunt the Fey. That was before the Fey discovered how weak the human race was.”
I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted. I finally decided she hadn’t meant anything by calling me weak. I asked another question, “So if they hate humans, how did your mom and dad end up together?”
It took her a while to answer, and for a second I thought I had offended her. Then she said, “Not all Fey are against humans. My father is one of the biggest human rights activists in the city. He helped pass laws that made it illegal to kill humans on Earth.”
Her words comforted me for a second, before I noticed the problem, “On Earth?”
“The law doesn’t extend to humans coming here. Too many people wanted to keep the crossroads pure. Any human here is in danger.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to be cool. My voice was a bit high.
“Try to sleep. You’ll be safe here.” She started to get up.
“Wait. Where are you going?”
“My father is expecting me. I’m late as it is, and I don’t want him sending anyone to search for me. This use to be a hangout spot for me and my friends, so they would look here. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Oh.” I wanted to argue, I didn’t want to be left alone, but what she said made sense. “See you.”
She left, and I was alone.
What had happened started to set in. An hour ago I was in the school, and all was normal. I was a teenage boy with an odd ability or two, in a world that almost made sense. Now I was in another world, hiding from fairy people. The idea of me sleeping like she had suggested was laughable. Imagine being told, “There are fairies and other worlds, and you can be killed here for being human. Sweet dreams.”
The more I thought about it, the more surprised I was that I hadn’t started screaming. I guess I had always known I was different, that not everything was how it seemed. Being here almost felt right. Another possibility was that my instincts, both the feelings that I got, and the voice that told me what to do, were keeping me calm. It was as though a part of me already knew that all of this existed.
I walked around the little room. There wasn’t much in it. The remnants of an inner wall were strewn about, with one large pile of stone. I thought the building might have been an old storehouse or something. I heard the sound of the latch being released on the door. “Finally.” I muttered.
I was surprised to find myself ducking beneath the pile of rocks. The door swung open, and a teenage boy stepped in. “Jen, you in here? Damn. She was supposed to be at her father’s house three hours ago. She wasn’t at her house on Earth. Damn, damn, damn!” The boy looked like a rebellious high school student. His messy shoulder length hair was dyed bright red. His clothes were artfully torn. He wore comfortable looking boots. Some things were off about his appearance. His pupils were slits, and his irises were the same red as his hair. His ears were pointed. A reptilian tongue darted out of his mouth, tasting the air.
He froze, the forked tongue darting out again. His eyes swept over the room, more slowly, more carefully. I wanted to pull my head entirely out of view, but knew the move would show him where I was. It didn’t matter.
His eyes came to rest on the pile of rubble. “Well, who brought the human in?”
There was no point in hiding, so I stood.
“Where did you come from?” He stalked forward until he was only a few feet from me. His tongue darted out again. “Definitely human. You smell like Jen. You have a bit of magic in your blood. One of your parents steal it?”
I wasn’t sure what he meant. How do you steal magic? Though it would explain the things I could do. “I don’t know how I got here.”
“Don’t know? There are only two ways. Did you force your way over, or did you use a gate?”
“A gate, I think.” My voice shook a little. The other boy smiled when he heard the fear.
“I thought so. No human could have enough magic to force their way here. Not even the ones with the occasional increases in the little magic that runs in human blood.
He had lost me. Did he mean there was real magic? And did some humans have it, other than me?
“Well, it doesn’t matter how you got here. You shouldn’t be here at all. I had better get to righting this wrong.” He stepped forward faster than any human I had ever seen. He snatched the front of my shirt and lifted me off the ground. With only one arm he threw me across the room. I hit the wall and slid down. Small rocks had been knocked loose and bounced off my head. Before I could recover he was on me again. I was swinging through the air and then flying into another wall.
“Keep this between us, won’t you? Some people would be angry with me. I especially don’t want that human lover on my case for a month. You won’t tell anyone who it was that killed you, will ya?” I tried to stand, but he hit me. It felt like I had been hit by a truck. A stinging told me my lip had been split.
He picked me up and threw me. The blow didn’t feel as hard this time. The wall collapsed around me and I fell through to the other side. I landed on the muddy ground and rolled to my feet. I was flying down the road before my internal voice had time to tell me to run.
“Ah, don’t ruin my fun.” The guy called. He jumped through the hole my body had made and chased after me. I glanced back to see how fast he was. Olympic sprinters who trained year round might have kept up with him. I was no Olympic sprinter. I wasn’t even on my high school track and field team.
He caught me in under a minute. My internal voice told me to duck to the side. Before I could react he hit me in a full bodied tackle. When he hit me I fell forward, and we rolled head over heels in the mud. I flailed, hoping to get a lucky hit. He pushed my arm away and grabbed me around my throat. I struggled as hard as I could, but wasn’t able to get free. I couldn’t breathe. Everything started getting a little fuzzy.
I felt myself slipping away. I was moments away from blacking out when he removed his hand. The sudden rush of air to my lungs was almost painful.
“What the hell was that,” The boy asked. He was a dozen feet away, lying on his back.
“Do you even have to ask?” My heart skipped a beat when I heard Jennifer’s voice. She came over to me and kneeled down, “Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” I managed to choke out.
She helped me into a sitting position, then turned on the boy. “What the hell were you doing?”
“Getting rid of the human. What did it look like? Or is that illegal now too?”
It was interesting to hear him talk so calmly about my murder. For a second the boy looked like he was going to attack again, but Jennifer stared him down. He stood, not wanting to go, but not wanting to face her either. “Go on Michael,” She said, “Just get out of here.”
“You’re as bad as your father. What happened? You used to be fun to be around.”
“That was before you started hating humans. Before you started hanging out with those creeps.”
The boy, Michael, shrugged and turned away. As he walked away he called, “Just watch your back, human. You won’t always have your protector around.”
“Come on,” Jennifer said, helping me stand. “You can’t really hide anymore, the next safest place is my father’s.”
I was pretty banged up, but still able to walk. She led me toward the main street. The storm was bad as ever.
I stopped when I saw where we were heading. “Are you serious?” In front of us was the nicest house I had ever seen. It wasn’t even a house. It was a mansion. It was four stories of white stone. A walkway led up to two glass doors. All the windows glowed with a flickering light, as though they were lit with candles or fires. She led me inside.
She grabbed some towels from a cupboard near the door and we dried off. Then she led me farther in. We went through the main hall. Another hall branched off on one side. At the end of the hall was a grand staircase. Rather than climb, Jennifer took me through a door and into a large room. The place was warm and inviting, and it was spotless. I didn’t see a bit of dust. In the room there was a woman polishing everything that could shine. She looked normal except for several small differences. Her eyes were an acid green, with no whites or pupils. It was a bit weird, but kind of cool. She also had a tail that looked a bit like a cat’s.
“Angela,” Jennifer said, and the woman noticed us. She stopped cleaning and came over. I saw her stiffen when she really looked at me.
“I need to speak with my father. Is he in his study?”
“No. Acacius was called to an emergency session of the council.”
“An emergency session? Why, what’s happened?” Jennifer sounded alarmed. I didn’t like that reaction, it meant something bad had happened.
“I do not know ma’am. He left almost immediately after you did.”
Jennifer grabbed my hand and started pulling me back. We were almost at the front doors when she stopped, “What am I thinking? I can’t take you to the council. Stay here and I’ll… no. That didn’t work very well last time.” She thought for a few more moments before pulling me away from the doors and toward the stairs.
“I’ll just have to wait until he gets back.”
We ended up in a bedroom. She indicated the bed, which looked extremely comfortable. She took a chair near the corner. “You might want to try and get some sleep, it will be a while before my father get’s home. Even if he gets home soon, there isn’t anything we can do about you.”
I wouldn’t have been able to sleep if I wanted to. I sat on the bed, but didn’t lie down.
“So what exactly is this place? You said it was the home of the Fey, and another world?”
“Yes, though calling it a world is a bit misleading. This is the crossroads. It is the result of several overlapping worlds. That’s why many of the Fey here speak English. They speak the languages of the worlds this one is made of.”
It was quite for a few minutes before she spoke again, “You followed me here through a gate. That means you have at least a little magic.”
“I think so. I can do a couple of things, like open locked doors and walk around without being noticed. I think that’s why I haven’t started freaking out yet.”
Jennifer nodded and fell silent.
“Who was that Michael guy? Why did he have such a problem with me?”
“Michael was one of my first friends when I joined this world. He showed me around, and taught me a lot about magic. Then he started hanging out with some people from Dalruan, and all of a sudden humans were trash, and I wasn’t much better.” She sounded bitter.
A door slammed downstairs. Jennifer jumped up and rushed out of the room. I followed behind her. I stayed halfway up the stairs while Jennifer descended completely, “Hello father.”
“Oh, good, your back. Did you find Michael? Tell him he could stop looking?”
“Yes father. What happened? I heard they called an emergency session.”
“Oh, it’s quite bad. The human organization, HEROS, has found a way to pass across worlds. Some kind of machine that duplicates our magic. They launched an attack this evening. They have weapons that can harm even Fey. Twenty Fey died in the attack. We’ve declared a state of emergency, and even closed the gates.”
Jennifer gasped. I couldn’t even manage that much of a reaction. Out of everything he had said, I understood only one part. The gates were closed. I was stuck.
I must have made a sound, because the man turned toward me.
“Who is this?”
“Uh, this is a student at my school. He followed me through the gate.”
“Oh,” The man said, a little confused. Then the real problem hit him, “Oh!”
“Yeah,” Jennifer said, “So, I really don’t know what to do.”
“Well come down here. Let me get a look at you.”
I walked down the remaining stairs to look at him. He was a bit taller than me, with brown hair and deep grey eyes. His ears were slightly pointed. He looked about thirty, but when I looked into his eyes, I knew he was much older. His eyes seemed as though they had decades, maybe centuries behind them.
“Ah yes,” The man said, smiling, “Yes, I see. Well, you are certainly welcome here for tonight, and I will see what we can do tomorrow. Oh, I haven’t introduced myself, I am Acacius Carling.”
“Uh, Dominic Taylor.”
The smile seemed to get bigger. “Yes, Taylor. I’ll be sure to remember that.” Acacius gave my hand a small shake and hurried upstairs, a spring in his step that hadn’t been a few seconds earlier.
“That was odd,” Jennifer noted.
We went up stairs. Jennifer led me to a room, found some extra clothes, and left for her own room. I lied in the bed, my mind swimming with thoughts. This had been the longest, strangest day of my life. I doubted I would be able to get to sleep.
The next thing I knew it was morning.
It was a bit disorienting. I didn’t remember falling asleep. Actually I didn’t even know where I was for a few seconds, and then I remembered the previous night like some kind of bad dream.
The room I was in was warm, and my clothes were dry. Sun streamed through the window like the storm had never happened.
I wasn’t sure of what to do, so I went down stairs. Jennifer was already down in the dining room. I sat down next to her at an elegant dining table. The green eyed maid put a plate in front of me. It was piled with bacon, eggs, sausages, and toast.
“My father is at the council. He wants to convince them to open the gates for just a short period of time. He doesn’t think they’ll go for it, especially since he doesn’t want to bring you into it. It’s best if few people know you’re here. He seemed to be in an oddly good mood considering the fact he thought he would fail.” Jennifer told me.
I didn’t respond. I was too busy worrying about what would happen if they said no. Would I be stuck here? Then I thought of what Michael said, about there being two ways of getting here. “Isn’t there another way to cross between here and Earth? Michael said something about forcing your way over or something.”
“There is one way to cross over without a gate. The gates are places where the worlds are closest, so it takes only a little magic to cross over. But if you have enough magic, you can force your way through almost anywhere. It’s difficult for me to do, and it would be impossible for a human. Even if a Fey helped you, the pressure would kill you.”
“Oh,” I was amazed at how many things could kill me here. Michael could, that was sure. Probably all the Fey, even the green eyed maid. And Acacius. Another thought hit me.
“Why do the Fey look different? Not just from humans, but from each other too? Like that woman with the green eyes and Michael with his snake tongue.”
“Fey are shapeshifters. It allows them to go into the human world unnoticed. When they’re children they will take on different characteristics. Most look different from their parents, but oddly enough, siblings look similar.”
“So you don’t have any weird ears or a tail do you?”
“No, it’s just full Fey. I can’t even shapeshift if I really try.”
“But you can use magic?”
“Yes. Did you forget, so can you.”
I remembered talking about it the day before, having my suspicions confirmed that it was really magic, not just some trick. Another thought came to me, and I had to ask, “Do you ever get a voice in your head? One that tells you to do something, even though you couldn’t know that you were supposed to do it?”
Jennifer nodded, “Yes, it comes with the magic, though I’m not sure why. I’ve never heard of humans having it, it usually doesn’t get more evolved than uncanny instincts in them.”
The maid cleared up our plates when we were done. I had to admit, it was kind of cool not having to do it myself. Jennifer took me on a tour of the house.
Acacius’s study was simpler than I thought it would be, with one large, expensive desk, and a leather chair. A bookcase stood off to the side, with several dozen thick books. I would have figured he would have more than that.
The next room she showed me was the library. It was larger than the public library in my small town, and I saw why there weren’t many books in the study. Those must have been books he used while working.
“So do you live here?” I asked.
“Only one or two nights a week. I have my own apartment on Earth. It’s easier that way, and I like having to pay for my own place. The first part of my life I didn’t have much, and it was weird to suddenly have a rich and powerful parent.”
I nodded. I could understand how weird it would be, but didn’t really think I would be disappointed. I wouldn’t mind living in a house like this.
The door opened and closed in the hallway, and Acacius came into the kitchen.
“No luck.” He said before I could get my hopes up.
“So what now?” Jennifer asked.
“I don’t know. I need the rest of the council if I want to open the gates.”
“Is there nothing else we can do?”
“Well,” Acacius said, but trailed off.
“We only control the gates in our borders and the smaller countries that answer to us. There is one other place the gates may be open, but I doubt you want to go there. Dalruan.”
“No,” Jennifer said quickly, “We would never get close.”
“I know. But it’s the only place I can think of. Dominic, I think you’re stuck here until this conflict with HEROS is over.”
I wasn’t sure what to say. Why couldn’t we go to Dalruan? Why did the thought scare Jennifer so much. I asked.
“Dalruan is the most uncivilized of all the countries here in the crossroads.”
“Jennifer, they are not uncivilized. They have different beliefs, most of which I admit I am against. But they are far from uncivilized.”
“Well, whatever they are, they are wrong. They want to go to war with humans, at least most do. Even half humans like me would be killed if I went beyond their borders. They are the only country left with a monarchy. The king died a few years ago, leaving control to his wife. The queen is cruel. The army officers are vile and love to fight.”
I got the idea, and wasn’t any more keen on going to Dalruan than Jennifer seemed to be. I didn’t like the idea of being considered illegal because I was a human. But the I didn’t know how long this conflict would take. For the second time I wondered who HEROS was. I didn’t bother to ask.
“But, I have to get home! My mom will think I’ve gone missing or that I’m dead.”
“It’s better than if you actually were dead,” Jennifer said, “But I see your problem. And just because you stay here doesn’t mean you would be safe. You saw that last night with Michael.”
“Oh, did you have the misfortune of running into him?” Acacius asked?
“Yes,” Jenifer answered for me. “He tried to kill Dominic.”
“Oh dear. I must say, I’m sorry to see how much he’s changed. It wasn’t that long ago that you two were inseparable.”
“There is time to reminisce later. What are we going to do about Dominic?”
“Well, Dominic, you have a choice. You can go to Dalruan or you can stay here. If you go I will send someone with you, and they will show you how to find a gate.”
I thought I heard a double meaning in the words. Show you how to find a gate. Not show you where one is. My instincts told me that maybe he wanted me to be able to find my way back.
“You would have him go with someone else?” Jennifer asked.
“You would be in as much danger as him. A full Fey would be much safer.” Jennifer didn’t argue, but she didn’t seem to agree. I wondered why. We had hardly known each other before last night, and we only knew each other now because I had followed her last night.
“The choice is yours Dominic.”
Great, just what I needed. A huge choice that could get me killed. I tried to weigh the pros and cons. If I went to Dalruan, I could end up dying. But if I didn’t go my mom would be worried. The entire town would search for me. My friends would wonder what happened. Could I really let my mom believe I was dead?
But what Jen had said made a lot of sense, because being dead would ensure that I never went back, and my mom would still worry. Could I get to the gate alive? And how long would this conflict last? Was I really in danger here, with Acacius and Jennifer. I didn’t have enough information.
“I don’t know,” I said, “Can I have a minute to think?”
“Of course,” Acacius said, “Take all the time you need.” Acacius got up and left. Jennifer followed, leaving me alone with my thoughts.
Eventually I made up my mind. I was in danger either way. I might as well try to do something. Honestly I didn’t want to stay here for however many weeks or months or years it might take for them to sort this out.
I suddenly thought of Jennifer. Would I see her again? Either here or on Earth. She couldn’t use the gates now either. What would they think at school? Would I tell people what really happened? Of course not. But could I make something up to tell people? That was a harder question.
I would miss her regardless, which confused me. Sure she had been nice enough, but it was more than that. The thought of not seeing her felt like the thought of not seeing one of my friends from school. I realized that she was somehow, in the course of one terrifying night, a friend. I wondered if she felt the same way.
But I had to go. I couldn’t just leave all of my friends and family alone because I was scared. I went to find Jennifer and her dad. They were in another room, sitting by a fire. They weren’t talking. “I decided I want to go,” I told them.
“All right,” Acacius said, “I will try to find someone to go with you, and we will see if we can get you ready in tomorrow or the next day. Until you leave though, I think it’s best if you stay here.”
Jennifer led me back up to the room I was staying in. “So you decided to go? Why?”
“I figured I couldn’t let my mom, or the rest of my family, worry about me. If I went missing, my mom would cry nonstop, sure I was dead. The entire town would start searches, and my friends would wonder where I went. If I’m in danger either way I might as well try to get home. And Michael knows I’m here. He sounded serious about me watching my back. I don’t want him finding me again. I don’t think I would live through a second fight.”
“I would protect you,” She said, “It is my fault you’re here.”
“No, you never asked to me to follow you.”
“Why did you anyway. I’ve been meaning to ask.”
“I heard you walking through the school. I figured you were doing what I had always been able to do and I got curious. I wanted to meet someone like me.”
“Oh. I guess I would have done the same.”
We were silent for a few minutes. Just sitting there. It was weird, because it wasn’t awkward. It felt like sitting with any of my other friends.
“I am going with you.” She announced suddenly.
“What? But your father said it would be dangerous.”
“I want to go with you to the Earth. It would be odd for me to disappear too. I was a student, was I not? I was seen around town.”
She had a point. “And if I go missing for any length of time, with you being gone for a few days and showing up, people are going to be suspicious.”
She had a very good point.
“Have you talked to your dad about this?”
“Not yet. But he will agree with me when he hears my reasons. I can find a gate as well as any Fey. I will take us back to earth.”
Jennifer didn’t talk to her father about going before he left for the council again to finish the day. I had learned the council was the governing body of Seirah, and Acacius was the eldest council member. He came back later with talk about HEROS attacking smaller towns In Seirah.
I was curious about HEROS. They knew about all of this? Why had no regular humans heard of it? Who were they with anyway?
“Your government,” Jennifer told me when I asked. “It stands for Humans Enforcing the Rights of Order and Safety. They want to get rid of magic so that humans will be at the top of the food chain.”
“So are they against all magic, or just the Fey?”
“All magic. They wouldn’t consider you to be human. Sorry.”
I shrugged. I was human, and I didn’t really care what some government people said. “Seems a lot like those Roswell conspiracy theories.”
“So are you going to tell your dad when he gets back?”
“Yeah, I had better. You should get some sleep. It will be a long journey.”
We woke up early the next day. It was a bit awkward, because Acacius was in poor spirits. Jennifer had told him that she was going with me, and nothing he had said could convince her otherwise.
I was actually glad she was going rather than some stranger. I trusted her. And, as odd as it was, I felt like we were friends now after only one day.
We were taking a cart, the kind that was normally pulled by horses, but this ran on magic. There were no cars in the crossroads, they produced too much pollution. I was sure the Fey could copy our technology, but it seemed like they chose not to. The cart was better than just the horses, and Acacius was able to get it for us.
Jennifer and her father figured it would take about a day and a half to get to the border, and between one and two days to find a gate. I would be missing at least three and a half days, maybe up to five.
I was a bit worried what I would tell everyone, but I had three days to come up with something. Jennifer and I would tell everyone we disappeared together because no one would believe it was a coincidence.
I got onto the wagon, and Jennifer climbed on next to me. She grabbed the reins. “You know how to drive this, right?” I had to ask.
“Yeah, anyone with magic could, the cart responds to it. Let’s go!” Jennifer called. The cart started moving. “I’ll be back as soon as the gates are open,” Jennifer called back to her father.
It was bumpy in the cart, but not too uncomfortable. The seats were padded. I was still worrying about what to tell my parents. Jennifer had no ideas either. After a few hours I gave up and tried to enjoy the scenery.
I was really starting to notice the difference between Earth and the crossroads. The air was cleaner. There were no extremely tall buildings. Everything seemed natural.
There were trees that I didn’t recognize, huge ones with colorful leaves and smaller ones that looked like Christmas trees, but with orange berries. The rivers and clouds looked the same, but somehow brighter.
I had stopped looking around by sunset. I felt like every bump in the road was a mile fall. There wasn’t much room to move so I sat still for several hours. Twice Jennifer stopped the cart. I was happy to jump down and stretch out my legs during these breaks.
We finally stopped as the sun hit the horizon. As sore as I was, I still had to appreciate the beauty of the sunset. Yellow melted into orange and red. During the last few minutes it seemed as though the sky was on fire. Then it went dark. The sunset seemed more colorful than on Earth, and I wondered if the magic had anything to do with it.
Jennifer made a fire by waving her hand, which I thought was cool. I had seen a little magic in Farrain, but not much. I helped her pull out some camping supplies from the cart. We laid out sleeping bags and pulled out some of the food Acacius had sent with us. There was fruit, bread, and some kind of jerky. It was pretty good.
We ate silently for a while, but I had too many questions to stay that way, “So when did you first find out about your dad?”
“I found out when I was ten. My mom died of cancer. I was going to be put into a foster home, but then he came for me. He proved that he was my father and they released me to him. He knew it wouldn’t be safe for me in the crossroads so he had someone take care of me on Earth and visited every other day or so.”
That would have been strange. I couldn’t imagine if my dad had come back to raise me every other day. “Why didn’t he just come to live here with you?”
She looked up, her eyes seeming darker. I realized how judgmental my tone had sounded. Her voice was a bit colder when she answered, “My father is a very important man. He is the most senior member of the council, probably the most influential man south of Dalruan. He could not simply take off to care for a kid. He did the best he could.”
I tried to keep eye contact, but it was uncomfortable. I glanced down as I said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
She didn’t say anything, but she did stop glaring at me. It was a while before she said anything.
“So what about you Dominic? How long have you been able to do whatever you can do?”
“As long as I can remember. I’ve never really given it much thought before now.”
“So it’s entirely passive? That’s usually what it’s like when humans have magic. Fey start off with passive magic, like a natural defense, but they gain the ability to purposefully use magic at a young age. I didn’t learn until I was about twelve.”
“So do you think I’ll ever be able to do more than I can now?”
“It’s possible, most abilities are activated when the user needs them, but I doubt it.”
“So what exactly can magic do? Does it have limits?”
“Magic can do almost anything within reason. It can lift and throw things, shoot fireballs like you see in movies, and accomplish things you’re not strong enough to do yourself. The limits are pretty obvious. Magic can’t restore life or mess with another person’s thoughts. And it isn’t good for healing unless you know everything about the body part you’re trying to heal, down to the arrangement of the blood vessels.”
I shrugged, it was still more than I had ever thought possible, even with those few limitations.
“So why do you stay on Earth. I know you said you don’t want everything handed to you because of your father, but you could still live on your own here. All the magic and strange things, I would think it’s more interesting than Earth.”
“You could stay here if it’s so great.”
I thought about it for a second, and could see her point. This wasn’t my world. She had been raised on Earth, so this probably didn’t feel like home to her either.
“We should get to sleep. We’ll be reaching Dalruan tomorrow, and going by foot then. We will need our energy.”
We left the cart an hour before reaching the border. The magic would have been detected by Dalruan Fey if they got to close to it. I walked along the road at first, but then Jennifer led us off to the side, where it would be less likely for us to be spotted.
I had woken up sore from riding in the cart all day, but after an hour of walking, I really missed it. Every bruise from the bumpy ride was being worked over on the uneven ground, and I thought longingly of the main road.
“This is the border,” Jennifer announced suddenly. I had no idea how she knew.
“Can you feel it?” She asked.
“The shift in power,” she said, “You might not be able to. The power from the council and the power from Dalruan’s capitol are equal. That’s how they decided to put the border here.”
Now that she had pointed it out, I could feel it. It was like gravity was pulling from both sides, so weakly it was barely noticeable. “Yeah.”
She started walking again. My spirits dropped as I followed, we were officially in enemy territory. I wondered how long we could go without being spotted. The answer was about eight minutes.
Me and Jennifer moved at the same instant, I dived to the side, head first into some bushes. She vaulted up into a tree, gracefully climbing out of view.
The sound of people came not long after that. They were off to the side like us. I wondered why. When they came into sight I saw they all wore the same uniform. It was sturdy looking clothes, with an emblem stitched into the front. The emblems were all bright scarlet.
I had no idea who they might be, but my subconscious told me to stay away from them.
“Johnny”, one of them called out, “You’re getting too far to the side. We don’t want to miss anything.”
“Yes sir,” one of the younger people, the farthest one out, called back.
“Why would the humans be looking out here? If they are bent on destroying us, wouldn’t they attack us at our cities?”
“We don’t expect to find any humans or to engage in combat. We’re out here on a patrol, on the off chance there are humans out here. Get used to it cadet.”
So they were looking for humans? That was great, I thought. How long had we been in Dalruan? Too long already. But I guess the info was useful, we now knew that Dalruan was having trouble with HEROS too. I wondered if they would close the gates as well. I had really hoped not.
All of the uniformed Fey were slightly different. But nothing that would give me nightmares. One of them had pointed ears and silver hair past his shoulders, even though he didn’t look much older than twenty five.
“Jericho,” another one said, one with black hair the same length, and the same pointed ears, wouldn’t you be more useful in another form”
“We’re not going to find anything,” the silver haired one answered. The black haired one just looked at him until he shrugged, “you’re the boss I guess.” A moment later the one called Jericho started to shake. He seemed to glow, and the air around him started to shimmer. He bent down and a moment later a large silver wolf was standing there.
I almost screamed. The only thing that stopped me was that I didn’t want that thing to find me. The wolf that had been Jericho started sniffing around. After only a few seconds it started whining and clawing the ground. I could guess why, it had caught a human scent, mine. And then Jennifer was screaming, not out of fear, but to confuse them. She leapt from here hiding spot, light dancing off her palms. Three of the uniformed Fey were thrown into the air before she had landed.
The wolf charged her. I screamed for her to watch out, and the wolf whipped its head in my direction. Jennifer took the opportunity to attack, sending a bolt of light into the wolf. It stiffened, and then went flying, changing back into a man in midair. The others had gotten their act together. The black haired leader charged Jennifer. She sent magic at him, but he stepped to the side, and lashed out at her. A jet of flames shot toward her. They stopped for a moment several feet from her, then jumped forward to only a foot away. Jennifer seemed to be concentrating, as though she was keeping them back with willpower alone. The flames finally stopped, and she stepped back. A moment later she feinted. The others were on me in a second. I was overpowered, and one of them hit me. Everything went black.
I woke up in the dark. My head was killing me. No one else was around. I was on a stone floor, in a damp room. There was no furniture. The word dungeon came to mind. My hands were bound with iron manacles.
I got up and circled the room three times. Nothing. More nothing. I gave up and sat down. It occurred to me that I was extremely hungry. I wondered how long it had been since the fight, and where Jennifer was. Who were the people that had attacked us?
I thought I knew the answer to the last question. They were the army of Dalruan, which raised another question, Why was I still alive?
I wasn’t disappointed about being alive, but it was a bit confusing. I had been under the impression that I would be killed on sight if found. Instead I was here in this stone cell.
The iron door opened, and a man came in. I recognized him after a moment. He was the silver haired Fey, the one that had turned into a wolf.
I shuddered as I remembered the fight, of what he could do, and what Jennifer had been capable of. I could still see her, hair flying wildly around her face as she fought for our lives. I had thought she and I were almost equal, but she was half Fey. I would never be capable of doing what she had done, of throwing the soldiers without touching them, of hitting the wolf with that bolt of light to change him back, of holding off those flames. I had been defenseless, I just sat there and let them take me down.
“Oh, you’re awake.” Jericho said. His voice was warm and inviting, not what I had expected. I was slightly pleased to see him walk with a limp.
“How long have I been asleep?” I asked.
“It’s noon. You were knocked out yesterday, so almost twenty four hours.” That explained why I was so hungry.
“If you’ll come with me please,” he said, indicating that I should stand.
I forced myself to my feet, knowing I had no choice in the matter. “Where are we going?”
“My superiors have a few questions for you.”
“Where is Jennifer?” He ignored me.
I was right about being in the dungeons. We climbed several flights of stairs before even seeing a window. Not all of it was as dark and damp as the cell. Once we got to more lived in areas it became warmer and brighter, the walls were a light color, sculptures and paintings were seen every few feet, and many halls had carpets or rugs.
Jericho led me to a small room with a chair. He had me sit down and left. A few minutes later a man came into the room. He was huge. He was at least seven and a half feet tall, with shoulders twice as wide as mine. He was built like the terminator’s older, meaner brother. He had long black hair that was tied back into a ponytail. His eyes were black. He looked like he would kill his neighbor just because he was bored.
“What’s your name?”
“Dominic Taylor,” I answered without hesitation. I knew not giving him what he wanted was a bad idea.
“Why are you here?”
“My friend and I were walking down a road when some people attacked us. Next thing I knew I was…” He cut me off.
“Why are you here in the Crossroads!”
“Oh, well I came on accident. I followed a friend here.”
I could tell he didn’t believe me before he spoke, “What were you doing trying to get into Dalruan? Who are you working with?”
“I’m not working with anyone.”
“Liar! Did you come here as a part of the HEROS Project?”
“No, I…” He didn’t let me finish. His massive hand came up and I went flying out of the chair. I saw stars when he hit me.
“Your human,” He accused. There was no point trying to deny it.
“Yes I am,” I said from the floor.
“And you insist that you are not part of HEROS?”
“Yes.” My internal voice warned me that it was coming, but I couldn’t avoid the kick. As I hit the wall I wondered randomly why they bothered starting me in the chair.
I didn’t know what good this was doing, but the man seemed to be enjoying it.
The man stared down at me for a few moments and then sighed. He left, closing the door behind him. A few minutes later Jericho was back, “Ouch, he did a real number on you,” he said, sounding a bit uninterested. He helped me stand and started walking with me. It didn’t seem like we were going back to the cell I was in. He led me to a different part of wherever we were.
He threw me in a room that was a bit brighter than my first cell. Sitting on a chair, hands chained like mine, was Jennifer.
I walked over to her, “Are you ok?” She nodded slowly. She looked like she had been worked over too.
We were left alone, no guards in the room. “Can you get these things off,” I asked.
“No. They’re Iron. Magic doesn’t work while the hands are bound with Iron.”
“Well why not? That seems kind of stupid.”
“I don’t know. It was decided a long time ago, when the magic was still being forged.”
“Oh. Wait, so the magic was forged, like created?”
“That’s the general belief. It was long before the Fey were around. There are old legends about a single source of magic, usually just called the Source, but I’m not sure what parts are true.”
“Why aren’t we dead?” I asked.
“I don’t know. They questioned you, right? I think they are having as much trouble with the HEROS as Seirah, and they wanted to find out if we knew anything. Then they are probably going to kill us.”
“Oh. Ok, just checking. Do you know where we are?”
“If I had to guess I would say Loden. The capital of Dalruan. The large man, the one that could be his own squad, is well known. He is called Luther. He is one of the most feared Fey in this world.”
Jennifer stood up and crossed the room, looking around. “Look for something straight and thin,” She ordered. I started looking around. We seemed to be in an old bedroom. A desk was against a wall. Looking through it I found a sewing kit. I pulled out a needle. “Will this work?” I asked.
“Yes,” She said, taking it from me. “The Fey believe that if you can disable someone’s magic, then they aren’t a threat unless they attack physically. We would never stand a chance in a fight against a full blooded Fey, they think we are stuck here. Most Fey rely on their magic to get them out of tough spots like this. But we grew up human, so we have an advantage. I picked this up from a human friend when I first found the gate, because it wouldn’t open to me.”
I remembered her telling me about that.
A moment later the door sprung open and Jennifer let out a small cheer, “Yes!”
I followed her as she ran into the hall, moving as quickly and quietly as we could. We both knew if we were caught we were probably done for. We didn’t bother to look for the front doors, we knew those would be guarded. Instead we were looking for tools, something that might get us out of these cuffs. Then Jennifer could use magic to get us out.
It occurred to me that we were getting into an area that was nicer than before. Marble sculptures seemed to appear at twenty foot intervals, and every window had a breathtaking stain glass picture. I wasn’t sure what to make of it.
Jennifer was faster to act than I was, grabbing my arm and pulling me to the left. Neither of us could be sure why we should go this way, but we both knew it was the right choice. At least that was what I thought. We almost ran past a turn when we heard voices. We stopped, feet away from where we would be seen. The voices were of young girls, no older than me. I thought it would be okay, teenage girls couldn’t be that much trouble, and then I heard the words.
“Are you sure, your highness?”
“We would be more than happy to accompany you milady.”
Great, of all the people we could run into, it was the queen. I remembered Jennifer telling me she ruled after her husband had died, and that she was cruel and evil.
“No, I want to go alone. I just want a few moments of peace and quiet.” The voice was much younger than I thought it would be.
“But if we let you go alone, your mother will be quite upset with us,” The first voice said.
Her mother? I guessed this was the queens daughter. A princess then. I felt a moment of amusement at the thought, a fairy princess. Then I felt a tug on the back of my shirt. Jennifer had started backing down the hall. It was a good idea, if anyone came through here, we wouldn’t have time to hide.
“Oh go away! I will take the blame! My mother cannot have me followed every moment of my life!”
“Yes your majesty,” The other girls said, practically running from the sudden outburst.
We had no chance to hide. As soon as I realized what was going to happen, it already had. The princess had rounded the corner, we had been found.
I wasn’t sure who was more surprised, her or us. She was surprised to see two handcuffed people with no outward Fey appearances standing feet away from her. We were surprised to see a girl that looked more Fey than human. The first impression I had was of a walking cat. She had two large ears, wide, bright green, catlike eyes, a tail that had frozen mid-swing and orange-yellow fur covering most of her exposed skin.
But then I saw some human characteristics, the hands were definitely human, with bare palms and only a little fur on the back of them, her face was more human than cat, despite the short fur, and the arms and legs were the proportions of a humans, meaning the legs were longer. She had hair longer on the top of her head, like a cross between a human hairstyle and an animal’s fur. It didn’t go all the way around the neck like a lion’s mane.
She was even dressed like a teen girl, with jeans and a green jacket. Of course, the jeans looked like the two hundred dollar jeans from designer magazines, and the jacket looked as soft as silk.
We stared at each other for a few minutes, and then the princess burst out, “Oh, your humans!” Her furry face broke out into a grin. “You’re the ones they brought in from the border last night, aren’t you! How did you get free? I thought you were going to be executed?”The grin fell from her face, “You aren’t really from HEROS, are you?”
“Um,” I said, a bit confused, “No.”
The cat/princess smiled again, “Oh good. Do you want to go on a walk with me? I was heading out already, and I find humans rather interesting. I’m Princess Kitara by the way, my friends call me Kitty.”
“Uh,” Jennifer was as confused as I was, “A walk?”
“Yeah, I go for walks sometimes. Visit the different places of the city. You guys probably want to go, since I know how to get out of the city. If you’re really not with HEROS, I’ll help you. I don’t get why so many people want to kill humans just for being humans.”
I jumped on the chance to get out alive, “Yes, we would love to go with you. And we really aren’t with HEROS.”
“Look me in the eye and say it,” Kitty said, still smiling, “And I’ll know your telling the truth. If you lie though, I’ll have to kill you. I can’t let you go if you want to hurt my people.”
I looked her right in the eye, and started talking. My tongue stuck for a moment, and my heart skipped a beat, then, “We are not with HEROS, and we mean your people no harm.”
I felt tired after saying it, but Kitty seemed pleased, “Yay, I was hoping I wouldn’t have to kill you.” She raised her hand and the handcuffs fell to the ground.
“How did you do that?” Jennifer asked in amazement.
Kitty’s smile widened, “It’s easy. Magic is a lot more useful than you half humans seem to think. It isn’t all about shooting fire balls.”
I was confused. Had she just made me tell the truth? I didn’t know, but it seemed that way when I was speaking.
“Okay,” Kitty said, “We can’t get out of the city without being seen, so I think we need to find you disguises. Come on, the Royal Guard has a store room close by.”
“Royal Guard?” I asked while we walked.
“It’s Dalruan’s military,” Jennifer answered
“Those guys that attacked us?”
Kitty led us to a room several halls away. As we walked I asked Jennifer something that I’d been curious about since I had seen her fight. “How do you use magic?”
“It’s hard to explain. Some of it is automatic, like what you can do. The rest is just knowing what you want, and making it happen. I can’t really say what I do to use it.”
“It’s more like letting something happen than making it happen,” Kitty said, “The magic is driven by instincts, which is why they are better than in some people who don’t have magic. The magic lets your body know what to do, and all you have to do is let your body do it. Trying to force the magic to do something is a very bad idea. Are you new to using it?”
“Yes,” I answered. I didn’t bother mentioning my limits, I was getting tired of being inferior.
The room Kitty led us to was filled with boxes. She had us search through them until we had two complete uniforms. We put them on. They didn’t look that bad on me. Jennifer made hers look great, of course. She had the look of someone used to being in charge.
“No one will look too closely, because of your uniforms, but if they do it will be kind of obvious that you’re not entirely Fey. Stay away from other members of the guard, they are more likely to look at you closely.”
Some voices came down the hall. “Oh no,” Kitty said. Several members of the guard turned the corner in front of us. Kitty turned toward me and Jennifer, a look of anger on her face, making it look more like an animal’s, “I don’t want to see either of you again!”
I jumped back from her sudden anger, confused. “Get out of my sight or I will have you removed from the palace and transferred to some backwater town.”
It took me a few moments to realize what she was talking about. Jennifer was faster than me. She gave a sharp salute, “Yes your majesty.” She grabbed the back of my shirt and pulled me away. We left the hall, and as soon as we were out of view we took off running.
“Stop,” Jennifer said when we were a few halls away, “If someone sees us running it will seem suspicious.”
I stopped. We were coming to another place where the hall branched off. I wondered which way to go, but didn’t have time to ask. A voice came from behind us, “You two!”
I turned to see the eight foot man, the one Jennifer had called Luther. “What are you doing here? Get to your...” Recognition hit him, and my instincts screamed at me to run. Jennifer and I took off at the same time. I heard Luther scream some orders, and then the sound of people following me. I pushed myself to run faster. The hair on the back of my neck stood up, and I felt sure someone had tried to hit me with magic. It missed.
I managed to shake them.
I ended up in a large office with a desk and some seats. One other person was there. He looked up when I entered, showing no surprise. I took a step back to the door, but heard people running outside.
“Who are you?” The guy asked. He looked about my age, except his hair was white. He had pointed ears, like a lot of Fey I had seen. The strangest thing about his appearance was the fact that he had wings. Not wings like an angel, more like a bat, or a demon. They were a deep purple, almost black. He also had a skinny tail that wrapped around his waist twice. At least it looked like a tail.
My voice shook as I answered, “Dominic.”
“Dominic? I don’t believe I have a guard named Dominic. Are you new?”
“Yes sir.” I answered.
“Well, I don’t know why you’re here. Luther is the one you should be reporting to. Although I guess he is busy fixing his mistake this morning.” The man smiled at the thought. The way he said the name made me think he disliked Luther. He stood up and started toward me. I took an involuntary step back. He stopped, and looked at me curiously. “What are you so jumpy about?” Then a reason occurred to me, “Oh, you don’t need to worry. I’m not nearly as strict as Luther. I’m not going to give you forty lashes or anything just for bothering me. Oh, I haven’t introduced myself, Lysian, Captain of Her Majesties Guard. Of course you already probably knew that.”
He took a few steps closer, and froze. His eyes moved up and down, taking in my appearance.
It didn’t look like he had moved, but my face jerked to the side and I felt something like a whip across my face. I felt something wrap around my ankles. I looked down in time to see it was the captains tail. Then he pulled and I went down. I turned over and pushed myself up ready to defend myself.
He moved faster than should have been physically possible. His hand struck out like a strike of lightning. My had jerked back. Before I could recover he spun, and his foot hit me in the side of the head. I went down again.
I rolled to the side. A moment later his foot came down where I was a moment earlier. I stumbled to my feet and ran for the door. I tasted blood, and wondered how bad my face looked.
I never made it to the door. I was picked up, suspended in air. Lysian didn’t even look like it was a strain to use the magic. It probably wasn’t. With a casual twitch of the fingers he threw me. I hit a wall and slid down.
“So you’re the human Luther lost?” He still sounded friendly. I wondered if any of the Fey I had met would actually frown while killing me. Even Kitty had been smiling when she told me she might have to.
“Well, you should already be dead, so I see no reason to arrest you. Although we haven’t had a public execution in quite a while. And it’s an excellent day for a hanging. Oh well.” Lysian started toward me, energy coming off his hands in little sparks.
Suddenly I was on my feet. Lysian slashed with one hand, a trail of light flying off of it. It hit the wall like a whip, the wall cracking with the power. But I wasn’t there anymore. Somehow I was standing right behind Lysian. I hadn’t even tried to move though.
My hand came forward on its own just as Lysian turned toward me. Lysian was thrown into the wall. It had weakened when he attacked it, and the force he hit it with caused part of it to collapse, burying him in rubble. With a jolt I realized I had just used magic. Not just the usual tricks, but real magic. It was almost as powerful as what Jennifer had done.
I guess you don’t have to be part Fey to use it like that.
I was running before I even knew if the Captain of the Guard was still alive. I didn’t know where I was running, and I didn’t care. I wanted to get as far away from that man as possible.
“Dominic! Jennifer, he’s alive.” I turned to see Kitty standing behind me, and I went to her. Jennifer turned the corner after her.
“They saw we were wearing the uniforms, I doubt we’re going to get out like that,” She said.
“You two are going to have to hide until tonight, when this all dies down. They’ll think you got out, and go looking for you. Then you can get out. This is a lot more trouble than I thought. I may have to authorize a pay raise for all of the guards for doing their job so well.”
Jennifer and I just stared at each other.
“I know where you can hide. The guard won’t even think to look there. They’ll check the living quarters of all the nobles to be safe, so I can’t hide you in my room, but this is better anyway.” Kitty smiled at her brilliant idea, and I felt worried.
She took us through the halls. We tried to be as quite as we could so we would hear others soon enough to hide. It happened twice. I couldn’t tell Jennifer I had used magic.
The area we were in now seemed familiar, and I had a feeling of déjà vu, but I thought most of this palace looked the same. Kitty led us through a door.
It took less than a second for me to recognize the room, think about what was about to happen, and reach a conclusion about Kitty. Lysian, captain of the guard, looked up from the seat he was sitting in, a roll of gauze in his hand. He had been bandaging his arm, which had a long deep cut. The rubble from the collapsed wall had been strewn across the ground where he had thrown it, probably with magic.
“Lysian! What happened to you?”
“One of those damn humans came in here. I almost had him, but he… You!” He jumped out of the chair and rushed toward me. A moment later he flew into the air, where he flailed, trying to get down. I looked at Jennifer, but she hadn’t moved.
“No attacking my friends, Lysian!” Kitty shouted.
“Kitty? Let me down!”
“Not until you promise to be nice.”
“I don’t care if they have Fey blood, they’re humans. They shouldn’t be here.”
Kitty sighed, “Stop being so hateful Lysian, it’s annoying.”
“Damn it Kitty, let me go or I’ll break free.”
All traces of humor left Kitty’s voice, “You’re going to use magic against the queen’s own daughter?”
Lysian struggled for a few more seconds before giving up. “No your majesty.”
Kitty smiled again, “Okay, good. But don’t call me majesty, how many times must I tell you? Now, can I let you down, or are you going to attack my friends?”
“You can let me down.” He dropped to the floor, landing on his feet without a sound.
I finally found my voice, “Him? You led us to the Captain of the entire freaking Royal Guard? You remember who wants us dead, right?”
“Do not speak to Princess Kitara like that, mortal!”
“Calm down Lysian, I know why he’s upset.” She turned toward me, “Lysian has been my best friend since we were children. He was the only one I knew I could turn to.” I glanced at Lysian. A skeptical look was on his face.
“So what’s the plan?” Jennifer asked. The way her voice shook made me realize she had been as scared as I had been. She probably knew who Lysian was, and realized he would have killed us.
“Well, Lysian is captain of the guard, so I figured they wouldn’t search his quarters. We’ll hide you in his room until night. Lysian will wait a while and then order the guard to search outside the castle. The city is large enough for them to spend several hours searching it. We’ll sneak you out through a northern gate. There smaller and you need a key, so they won’t be looking for you there.”
The look on Lysian’s face had been replaced with horror. “Kitty, you want me to hide the fugitives, and then help them escape?”
“So it would be better to kill the innocent humans?”
“They shouldn’t be here. They’re breaking laws just by being in our country. They’re not innocent.”
Kitty hissed, “Being human is no reason to be killed. Why can’t this country just accept that?
“Kitty. Be reasonable. It’s been the law for hundreds of years, as long as the humans have hunted witches or seen demons where there was only magic.”
“Lysian, we can argue about the legal issues later, but right now these humans need our help. Even if it isn’t legal, you know it’s the right thing to do. You’re not that cold.”
“Fine, they can stay here,” Lysian agreed, looking irritated, “but this is stupid. You know what they’ll do if they find out about this.”
“Oh,” Kitty said, throwing herself into a hug with Lysian, “Thank you thank you thank you. You’re the best friend there is. Ok you two, let’s go back to the room, Lysian, you go pretend to help, then send the guard outside.”
Kitty led us deeper into the room, to a door that led to a simple bed room. I wasn’t sure what to say.
Jennifer broke the silence, “Thank you.”
“Oh, you’re welcome. I have no problem helping you. I hate it when Fey want to kill humans for no reason. I’ve always disagreed with my mother on that point. We should not hate people for who they are. You two aren’t even full human, only half.”
“No,” I said, “I’m full human. I just have more magic than most humans”.
Kitty leaned forward, staring into my eyes. She sniffed a few times, and touched my face with her hand. She shook her head, “No, you’re defiantly half Fey.”
My head drooped as I tried to stay awake. I had spent the last few hours with nothing to do but think. I wasn’t sure of what Kitty had told me. Could my father have really been a Fey? My mom had told me that he had died years ago, when I was just a little kid. Was that true? If he was Fey, did my mom know?
“Kitty,” Lysian’s voice came from the other room. She jumped up and went out to him. I tried to listen, but was too tired.
A few minutes later the two of them came back. Kitty said, “I have to go. Lysian is going to stay here with you. I’ll be back by night time.”
That woke me up. “You’re leaving us with the guy who tried to kill me?”
“Yes.” I wasn’t sure what to say to such a simple answer.
“He isn’t going to kill you because he knows I would be very upset with him. My mother is looking for me. You don’t deny the queen an audience, even if you’re her daughter.”
And then she left.
Lysian sat down, looking like he was in a very bad mood. I really couldn’t blame him, being forced to commit treason by your best friend wasn’t a good way to spend the day.
The door in the other room slammed open. Lysian was standing in a moment. He half ran into the other room, “Luther? What are you doing in here? The guard was sent to search the outskirts of the city.”
I tried to sit perfectly still, not even breathing loudly. Every beat of my heart seemed loud enough to give us away: Thump-thump, thump-thump, thump-thump. Jennifer looked as scared as I was. I pictured Luther, almost eight feet tall, all muscle. He could have killed me with his thumb.
“Sir,” Luther said, disgust twisting the word, “I don’t believe they have left the city. No one saw two people matching their descriptions. We should run another sweep of the palace.”
“So you think they’re camping out here in the palace? Maybe under the queen’s bed, or the Royal Guard’s living quarters. Hell, they may be sitting back in my room. Be reasonable Luther, they’ll want to get as far away from us as possible. Stop wasting my time and find them.”
I heard the footsteps of Luther walking to the door. He stopped when he reached it, “You may mock me now brother, but that will not last long.” Jennifer and I glanced at each other. I had not expected them to be brothers. Jennifer said that Fey siblings look similar, but they looked nothing alike. Luther was muscled up and almost entirely human looking, while Lysian had wings and a tail. I was also surprised at the tone Luther used, despite talking to his superior. “Your usefulness will end, and the queen will do away with you. But as for me, she will always have need of my strength.”
I heard the door open, then close. Lysian didn’t move for a moment, then he came back to the smaller room.
I decided not to mention what had just happened. I said in a quiet voice, “Thanks.” Then I went silent.
“So what’s with him?” Jennifer asked.
Lysian glanced at her, and then looked away. I figured he wouldn’t answer. After a while he said, “He’s my brother. He has always been jealous of my status. He thinks he deserves it more.”
“Oh. He doesn’t seem very nice.”
Lysian laughed, “Nice? He’s never even heard the word. Luther would run me through without a seconds hesitation if he thought he could get away with it. He was right in that regard, I am safe only as long as I am useful to the queen.”
“Aren’t there laws that would keep you safe even if you weren’t the captain?” I asked. The longer I stayed in Dalruan the less I liked it.
Lysian laughed again. It was more bitter than amused, “Of course there are laws against murder. They wouldn’t stop Luther though. Only the knowledge that the queen would punish him stays his hand. I must admit the same reason has stopped me from killing him. I don’t wish him dead, but it may come to that if he attacks me.”
“So why did you end up where you are? And he’s where he is? I don’t mean to pry, but it’s not like we have anything else to do but talk.”
Lysian starred at nothing in particular, “When I was just a kid, uh, about a hundred and ten years ago now, Luther and I…”
“What? A hundred years!”
“Yes,” Lysian said.
“They live a lot longer than us Dominic,” Jennifer told me, “They could live forever, assuming they aren’t killed.”
“That’s right,” Lysian said, “as I was saying, Luther and I wanted to join the Royal Guard for years. When Luther was old enough he joined, and I followed a few years later.
“Luther is very powerful, probably the second most powerful Fey alive, and the officers saw that. He was promoted quickly, and given the most dangerous missions. He completed them all. It seemed as though he was going to be Captain of the Guard as soon as the previous one retired or was killed.”
I had another question, “Who is the first most powerful Fey?”
“That would be our queen. The royal family has always had tremendous power.”
“Does that mean Kitty…”
“Princess Kitara,” Lysian corrected me.
“Sorry, does that mean Princess Kitara is really powerful too?” I couldn’t imagine it, the walking cat that always seemed overexcited being some powerful being.
“She is at least as powerful as I am. But that’s beside the point, do you want to hear this? As I was saying, Luther was incredibly powerful.
“But he was missing something. Something I had.
“When I joined the guard, they saw that I was very powerful, though not as powerful as Luther. They saw I was intelligent, and cunning. Luther could be clever when he needed to be, but I was a natural. But the thing that I had, that he never did, was a way with people. I was very charismatic, even at that young age. My fellow recruits were put under my command to take advantage of that, and I quickly rose through the ranks.
“Luther was never good with people. Even his looks scared them away, which is why he takes another form anytime he’s out in public, even among the Fey.
“Soon Luther and I were at the top, equals taking orders from the previous Captain of the guard only. I had never liked Luther’s means, but I had no problem with him as a person. He thought I was too soft, but I would make a good second in command.
“Then the previous captain announced his retirement. The queen threw him a feast, where the entire guard gathered to hear the new captain. Luther knew it was going to be him. He was very angry when they called my name.”
“When did you meet Kitt, uh, Princess Kitara?” Jennifer asked.
“Only a few days after joining the guard. I was stationed here in Loden, and I caught her sneaking out of the palace one night. She begged me not to tell, and I didn’t. We’ve been friends ever since.”
“You left out the part where you used to sneak out with me to get out of the guard for a few hours, and the entire time worrying about Luther catching you.” We turned to see Kitty come in.
“The guards have moved farther south, it’s safe to move them.”
We moved through the darkness like shadows, making little noise, trying our hardest to not exist. The gates to the north were unguarded after Lysian had ordered the manhunt in the south. Of course, they were hardly ever guarded at all since you needed a key. We had one, compliments of Kitty.
The lock clicked several times as Lysian turned the large key, and the gate swung open. We went through, and Lysian locked it behind us. We were free of Loden. I wanted to sing and dance. Instead I just smiled as we ran, trying to keep out of the open.
It wasn’t long before we were half a mile away, too far to be spotted on such a dark night. Lysian slowed down the pace, and I knew we were free.
“Thank you,” I said. Kitty gave me one of her wide grins, and Lysian shrugged.
“It’s about three miles to the nearest gate,” Lysian said, “We can take you there, and be back before we’re missed.” He started walking, and the rest of us followed silently. Three miles and I would be home. Everything would go back to normal.
But I knew that wasn’t true. Things would never be normal again. I had been missing for four days. My mom would want to know where I was, but I would never be able tell her. Or could I? Did she know what my father was? Maybe I could find some answers. Either way, things would never be the same.
We were a mile away from the city when it happened.
The moon had come out, but we were too far away to be spotted by anyone who might have been looking our way. After a few minutes the light flickered. I looked up, but the moon was still untouched by the clouds. I thought I must have imagined it. Then it happened again, the light flickered as though something had moved across it. A minute later I felt the urge to look up. I saw it this time, something flashed against the night sky, too fast to really see. Something seemed familiar about it. I was about to mention it when I looked at Lysian. His wings caught my eye, large and bat-like. I remembered Jennifer telling me that siblings looked similar. I knew what I had seen in the sky.
I took off, the others followed a moment later, trusting me. The trust saved their lives, for a moment at least. The space we had just occupied heaved upward, tearing itself to pieces. Fire erupted from the fissures and the area around it exploded upward. The shockwave threw us forward.
A huge creature landed in front of us. He was eight feet tall, with a row of short horns framing his face. Massive bat-like wings grew from the creature’s back. Its skin looked thick, and hard enough to stop a sword. I thought I could see a pattern of plates, like a natural armor. The thing’s bloodthirsty eyes settled on us and its thick reptilian tail swung back and forth. It wore clothes, and had black hair tied into a ponytail. It was Luther’s true form.
“Well brother,” Luther said, “I thought you might be helping them.”
Lysian didn’t say anything. Instead he launched himself at his monstrous brother. Luther hadn’t been expecting that, and didn’t block in time. He fell, dragging Lysian with him. Lysian twisted free and Kitty used her magic to throw Luther into the air. “Run!”
The four of us ran. We heard Luther pick himself up and let loose a savage cry as he threw himself into the air.
“The ravine!” Lysian shouted, pointing forward, to a place where the ground fell away, “The gate isn’t much farther!”
We turned as we approached the ravine, following it for almost a hundred feet. Luther attacked again before we could go farther.
He dived at us, and we jumped away. He landed on his feet with a deafening sound. He turned on me and backhanded me so hard the world flashed with color. I landed on my back several feet away. I managed to look up and saw Jennifer launch a stream of fire at Luther. He brushed it aside as easily as he would wave away a fly. Another wave of his hand sent her flying.
I stumbled to my feet. Luther and Lysian were fighting, trading physical and magical blows. Kitty was kneeling beside Jennifer.
I felt a strange power building up in me. It had happened too quickly last time for me to really feel what the magic was like. It was a heat traveling through every fiber of my being. The air shivered around me and suddenly I saw an infinite number of ways to use this magic. I remembered what Kitty had said, about letting the magic do what you wanted, rather than forcing it. I knew what I wanted. I wanted to attack Luther. Not to kill him, I could sense that that was beyond me. But if I could distract him, Lysian could deal a fatal blow.
As soon as I had thought about it, I was doing it. I was running towards the monster without any conscious command to do so. When I was close I launched myself into the air, higher than I had ever jumped before. I rose above Luther’s eight foot height. The moment before I hit him I brought my hand down, fire trailing from my fingers. His instincts told him I was coming, and he turned to defend himself. He caught my arm and the fire extinguished itself. Before he could do anything else a bolt of electricity hit him from behind.
My hand slipped out of his grasp, and I fell to the ground. He turned to Lysian just as another blast hit him. He was thrown, and sailed through the air, falling past the edge of the ravine.
It was silent for several seconds, and then Kitty freaked out, “Oh my god! We killed Luther! We killed a general in the guard! My mother is going to have you executed and I’m going to be locked up in the palace and the…”
“Kitty! Calm down.”
Kitty shut up, trying to breathe normally, “Lysian, they will punish you for that. You need to hide or run or something.”
“No. Luther disappeared in action, chasing the humans that escaped earlier today. The same humans probably found some way to trick him, and killed him. That’s what we’ll tell anyone who asks. It’s close enough to the truth, we’re just leaving out our involvement. The only one who can refute it is lying at the bottom of the ravine.”
Jennifer and I stood at the mouth of a cave, saying our goodbyes. I wondered if I would ever see the two helpful Fey again. Maybe, but only if they came to Earth.
“It was great meeting you two,” Kitty was saying, giving Jennifer and me hugs. “I’m going to miss you.”
Even Lysian was slightly nicer than before, “Take care Dominic.”
We entered the cave together. It was dark. Jennifer created an orb of light that floated several inches above her hand. I wondered if she would be willing to teach me more when we were back home. I would ask her later, when all of this was over. We talked over possible stories, trying to come up with an explanation for our absence. She had it easy, with no parents on the other side to question her.
Even though I was worried, I was very happy to be going home. I missed my small town of Westover, California.
We reached the gate. It was an old wooden door. It looked bizarre really, set into the back of a cave like that. Jennifer stepped forward and pulled it open. We stepped through, and back into reality.
We were in a tiny room full of dust and cobwebs. Boxes sat all around us, some were open. They were full of tools.
We moved through the room and out another door. We were out in the open now. I had never realized how bad the smells from car fumes were. I shouldn’t have been surprised, since I’d spent four days in a world where pollution didn’t exist, but it seemed worse than it should. We were in an alleyway between two apartment buildings. I was feeling uneasy now. I didn’t recognize the buildings. And had it always been this loud?
Jennifer had started walking, and I followed. We stepped out of the alley and froze.
I realized I had been stupid, thinking that we would be home. Not every gate could lead to the same town. But still, I never would have been prepared for this.
We were staring at the Empire state building.