Authors: Lola Kidd
“Congratulations,” Margaret said as she sat down next to Ellia.
“Thank you. How are you feeling today?” Lena asked. She and Ellia were sitting on one of the turrets of the castle. Lena needed some quiet time after the big fuss everyone had made during the entire morning and early afternoon. She and Ellia were pushing magic back and forth and lazing in the sun. Ellia’s powers had returned after they’d gone behind the wall but she still needed to practice using them.
“I’m doing fine. I’ll feel a lot better once someone tells me how I’ll be able to get home.”
“We’ll figure it out soon,” Lena assured her. “You look very nice in your new dress.”
Margaret held up the brown fabric. “It’s a little different than I’m used to but it’s better than running around in a dirty dress.”
“It won’t be for long,” Ellia said. “All our powers are coming back. We’ll have you home in no time.”
“You lost your powers too?”
“Almost all of us did,” Lena said. “They’ve only recently begun returning. Are you not able to shift?”
“It’s the strangest thing. I could shift just fine when I was with Sophia but now that I’m here, I can’t.”
“It has something to do with the wall,” Ellia said. “My powers only came back once I had gone back there.”
Margaret nodded and leaned back against the stone. She tilted her face up and closed her eyes. Lena could see the resemblance strongly in the light. Margaret looked like a blonde Sophia, only not as beautiful. Her eyes were the same shape as Sophia’s and Lena’s, too. Lena wondered if there were any more siblings out there. Margaret didn’t seem so bad. She wasn’t sure if she would be able to get the girl home, but she was going to ask Sophia for help.
Her sister had seemed much less angry the last time she saw her, and very magnanimous. If Lena could catch her before whatever she had planned took place, there was a chance Sophia would help them.
“It was a real nice thing you did for Prince Troy.” Margaret looked at Lena. “I really respect your decision. I don’t think I would have been able to marry a complete stranger.”
“A very handsome complete stranger who just happens to be a dragon,” Ellia said. “None of that would sway your opinion? You’re not curious at all what it would be like to be married to a dragon?”
Margaret pulled on her short blonde hair. “He is pretty spiffy. It could be interesting. I’m just not sure what kind of kids a fox and a dragon would have.”
Lena laughed. “I hadn’t even thought of that.”
“I’m going to bed one of these dragon men soon,” Ellia promised. “I for one am very curious what a dragon-shifter would be like.”
“Is his tongue rough like sandpaper? I always imagined lizards had a rough tongue.”
Lena’s eyes widened. “That is my husband you’re talking about. The future king of Clan Blackfire…and no.”
Ellia giggled. “I can’t believe you’re a married woman! I can’t wait for this party.”
“You think I’ll be around long enough to see it?” Margaret asked.
“Afraid not. I don’t think we can wait too long to get Sophia to send you back. I’m going to speak to her after dinner today.”
“I’m coming with,” Ellia said immediately.
“And me too,” Margaret chimed in. “Maybe if she sees me, Sophia will feel sorry for me and send me home.”
“Don’t count on it,” Ellia snorted. “Sophia isn’t known for her sympathy. If she’s going to help, she’ll want something in return.”
“No, she won’t,” Lena argued. “Sophia can be kind.”
“When was the last time she did anything nice?”
“The last time she saw us, she didn’t try to kill either of us.” Lena said lamely. “You know, maybe we should go see her right now.”
“What?” Ellia said, annoyed. “There’s no way we’ll get out of the castle without being seen right now. And I’m enjoying the quiet.”
“Now is the perfect time.” Lena stood up. “Everyone thinks the three of us are up here enjoying the light, so they won’t be looking for us. After dinner, I know Troy will want to…spend time with me. He’ll notice if I’m gone. Yes, we should go now.”
Ellia stood up and put her hands on her substantial hips. “And just how do you propose we get out of here without being seen?”
Lena sighed, exasperated. “We both have our powers! You cloak us and I’ll fly us out of here.”
Ellia frowned. “That’s actually a great idea. I can’t think of anything against it right now…but I really want to stay here and relax. We just pulled off a pretty big coup and I think we deserve a few hours to relax.”
“We’ve been relaxing.” Lena levitated them a few feet off the ground. “Once we get Margaret home, we’ll only have one bigger thing to take care of. That’s half the battle won!”
Margaret spun her arms comically like she was about to slip on ice. “Whoa!”
“Just relax,” Lena instructed her. “It’s only in your head that you’ll fall. I have us perfectly level.”
The shifter swung her arms a few more times before relaxing. She blushed. “Sorry. I’m not used to having my feet off the ground.”
The blonde crossed her arms. “I want to say that I am against this endeavor and you owe me, Princess. I want a whole day of rest and relaxation after this.”
“Done. We’ll need time to plan for the party, anyway.”
Ellia raised her arms and a magic barrier surrounded the women.
“At least you won’t have to trek through the jungle this time.”
Lena levitated them higher in the air and shot off for the wall in the forest as fast as she could manage.
“This is amazing,” Margaret said. “I’ve never known anyone but witches and vampires who could fly.”
“You need to get out more.” Ellia said, sitting down at the bottom of the invisible bubble they were in. “Fae can fly very well. We just don’t do it often in the view of others. Do you even have any fae friends?”
“She has me and you,” Lena said sternly. “Now please be quiet. I’m trying to find the spot.”
Lena navigated toward the forest and flew as quickly as she could control. In the distance, she saw three dragons diving and soaring over an island. She hoped Ellia’s cloaking spell was working. She didn’t think Troy would be very happy to hear she had left the castle without telling him. Remus wouldn’t be happy they had let Margaret go back home before he could see her transform, either. He was very keen on seeing exactly what a fox was.
The wall was actually easy to find. The outer edge of Lena’s bubble ran into the magical field. She was glad she had slowed as they got close. Were they going any faster, there was a good chance she would have lost control and let them fall. Sophia’s wall extended high into the sky. Lena wouldn’t be surprised if it went all the way to the edge of the planet’s atmosphere.
She felt for an opening in the field with her mind. It was harder to open a space large enough for the three of them to pass but she managed. She flew them straight to the beach after closing the opening behind her. They touched down on the beach and she let the field around them drop.
“No welcoming party this time. How disappointing,” Ellia said. She lifted her dress to avoid getting covered in sand. “Next time, drop us on the grass, Lenny. I was shaking sand out of my dress for hours last night.”
“Sophia might be at her house,” Margaret suggested. “I can take us there.”
“She lives in a regular house?” Lena asked.
“Yes, it’s the same as all the rest except now hers has a bathroom. She put it in for me.”
Lena laughed. “I can’t believe my sister stooped as low as putting a bathroom in her home.”
Margaret shook her head. “It’s a normal human function! Fae are so strange.”
“I’ll wager she took that dirty toilet out the moment you were gone,” Ellia said.
Margaret sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?”
Lena shook her head. “No. Smells normal to me.”
“No, there’s something here. I don’t recognize the smell, exactly. It’s a bit like fire, though.”
“I think there
a fire. Look.” Ellia pointed to one of the homes close to the beach. It was charred but no longer smoking.
Lena breathed deeply. “Now that you mention it, there is something in the air.”
Ellia knocked on the door but no one answered. “Hello? Hello?”
No one came out of any of the homes.
“Maybe we should ask Sophia what happened,” Margaret suggested. “Hopefully she won’t try to kill me when she sees me this time.”
“She won’t,” Lena said. “She never stays mad about anything for long.”
Something wasn’t right in the village. There was a smell in the air everywhere. Lena would almost say magic fire but she didn’t want to jump to conclusions.
Margaret led them to a home on the cliff overlooking the beach. It had the best view in the whole village and was clearly set apart from the rest even if it looked normal.
Lena knocked on the front door and when no one answered she opened the door. The place was completely dark. “No one’s home.”
“There is a forest behind the village. Maybe they’re out there?”
“All of them?” Ellia asked, doubtful. “There’s no way the entire village emptied out into the forest. This is strange. I think we should go back.”
Lena nodded. “We should check the forest to be sure. What if our tribesmen are hurt?”
“Our tribesmen are back at the castle,” Ellia said pointedly. “These traitors sided with Sophia. Whatever befell them is their own stupid doing.”
“That isn’t very nice, Ellia. People make mistakes. I just want to check on them.” Lena turned to her half-sister. “Where is this forest?”
Margaret pointed to the way out of town. Lena turned to look but something behind the house caught her eye. There was a pool of blood spreading in the grass. With a rapidly beating heart, she approached the spot, Ellia close at her heels.
“Oh, my God!” Ellia put her hand over her mouth. “Is that Gavin?”
Lena got closer to the body. It was her ex-knight. He was facing the sky with empty eyes. He didn’t have his glamour up anymore and his true face was splashed with blood. Someone had cut his throat.
“It is. He’s been murdered, I think.” Lena ran her hand over the body and said a quick incantation. She sat in the grass. His body had no more magic in it. He’d been drained completely. “I think we have a serious problem.”
“You don’t think Sophia…” Ellia started. “She wouldn’t. That isn’t allowed! Even she isn’t that crazy.”
“We aren’t on Earth anymore and are no longer bound by the Council’s laws,” Lena said.
“What’s going on?” Margaret asked, looking away from the body.
“I think our sister is up to her old tricks,” Lena said, standing. She swayed for a moment and put her hand on her head. “I think she killed Gavin to take his magic.”
“Why would she do that? She’s very powerful. Isn’t there a limit to how much power one person can have?”
Ellia shook her head. “Not if she uses it quickly to bolster her own powers. It isn’t allowed on Earth because of how unstable the whole process is. You could easily rip a hole in the universe.”
Margaret’s eyes lit up. “She’s trying to get home without anyone else’s help!”
Lena nodded. “I think so.”
“So let her!” Margaret said. “I can piggyback on her portal and get home with a little help from you ladies. We have to find them before she does it!”
Lena shook her head. “It isn’t that easy. If Sophia goes back, the Council may punish us all again for whatever she does. I don’t know how far their power reaches, but I don’t want to put anyone on Manna in danger.”
“They’re going to be in the forest. It’s the strongest power source. Come on!” Margaret stepped over Gavin’s body and practically ran for the forest. Lena and Ellia could only follow. Lena didn’t know how, but she was going to have to stop Sophia this time.
“Has anyone seen Lena?” Troy asked the group of maids sitting and talking at the front of the castle.
They all shook their heads. The youngest raised her hand. “The princess and her friend were looking to get away earlier. I think they may have gone to the top of the castle.”
Troy sighed. “You haven’t heard from her since then?”
The young maid shook her hand. “Sorry, your highness, I have not.”
Troy nodded. “Thank you. If you see her, please tell her I was looking for her.”
Dinner was approaching fast and Troy couldn’t find Lena anywhere. The morning had been hectic but things had settled down by the evening. Tavis was out flying with Zane. Catherine was picking out fabric for her new dress and Remus was experimenting in his lab. Everyone was back to normal but Troy couldn’t find his wife anywhere. She had excused herself with Ellia earlier and now he couldn’t find her anywhere in the castle. He went to the blacksmith’s shop.
“Troy!” Allen clapped Troy on the back. “How are you doing, my prince?”
The blacksmith was sharpening Allen’s sword and looked up to nod at Troy. Allen’s sword didn’t need sharpening but he liked being in the blacksmith’s shop. Troy suspected he wanted to combine metallurgy and magic. The giant man had talked about it a bit with Zane at breakfast but Troy hadn’t been able to follow the conversation. Too many people were coming up to shake his hand and bless him and Lena. He would have to have Allen explain it all to him sometime.
“I’m doing great, Allen. I was wondering if you’d seen Lena or Ellia?”
“The fox-woman was looking for them earlier. I believe they were on the top of the castle.”
Troy was starting to sweat in the small shop. He mopped his brow. “That was the last place they were seen and I’ve already checked all of the spots at the top of the castle. I was wondering if you’ve seen them in the village.”
“No, sir.” Allen pursed his lips. “If I had to guess, I’d say they’re all down at Sophia’s wall. That’s where Lena has been sneaking off to lately.”
“The wall? Why wouldn’t she just tell us she was going?”
Allen looked uncomfortable. “She’s been behind the wall, sir.”
Troy frowned deeply. “Why didn’t you mention this to me earlier?”
“I didn’t think you’d be interested. There was nothing new learned. Sophia didn’t try to kill Lena and then Lena left.”
“Why would they return to the wall, then?” Troy asked, annoyed. He couldn’t believe his wife had just run off without consulting him. The forest was dangerous even for a fae princess. Troy would have to assign Lena a pair of palace guards.
Allen shrugged. “Maybe they wanted to talk to Sophia about the fox-woman?”
Troy wiped his brown again. “Thank you, Allen.”
“Will you go to find them, my prince?”
“If they aren’t back by an hour before dinner, I will go looking for them.”
Allen nodded. “I’ll join you.”
“Thank you, Allen,” Troy called over his shoulder as he left the hot shop. He leaned on the outside of the building and let the hot breeze pass over him. It felt almost cool in comparison to the shop. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back. He was going to speak with Lena about this at dinner. She couldn’t just run off anymore. She would be queen of Blackfire soon but before that she was still vulnerable to Hera’s attacks.
The announcement of their marriage must have reached the Eternal Sun queen by now. Troy had sent a handwritten note with the announcement. He hoped she wouldn’t be too angry when she found out. Her man Rustion and the town crier would both also receive the wedding announcement. Troy didn’t want to risk Hera keeping the news to herself and starting a war just to spite him.
The wind picked up and tousled Troy’s hair. He looked up to see a dragon landing in the courtyard. As it got closer to the ground, Tavis shifted back to human form.
“Troy!” Tavis got closer and spoke in hushed tones. “You need to come with me right now, brother.”
“Why? What’s wrong?”
“Our favorite queen has gone behind the wall.”
“What? Impossible. How could she?”
“I don’t know the hows or whys, but Rustion came to me himself to beg for our help.”
Troy didn’t need to hear more. He walked from the castle grounds swiftly and as soon as he was outside, he shifted. Tavis followed close behind as he flew for the wall. How could Hera get behind the wall? The only one who had been able to penetrate the magic was Lena, or so Allen had said. Could the two be working together? It didn’t sound believable but Troy could think of no other explanation.
When he felt himself brush against the magic wall, he landed and shifted. Rustion was wringing his hands, pacing back and forth.
“Prince Troy! Thank you for coming. I don’t know what to do. Hera’s been gone since last night.”
“How can you be sure she’s behind the wall?”
“No one’s gotten back there,” Tavis added.
Rustion hung his head. “I don’t know how she did it. Her dragon was working on the wall all night looking for an opening. I was dozing nearby and one moment she was there and the next she was slipping behind the wall. I tried to follow, but the opening was closed.”
“How did she do it?’ Troy asked.
“I don’t know,” Rustion said miserably. “She just did it. I can’t duplicate it! I’ve been trying for hours with no luck. When I saw your brother, I thought you might be able to assist.”
“How?” Troy asked. “I haven’t been behind the wall.”
“But the princess at your castle may be able to help. Could you ask her? Please, Prince Troy, I don’t have any other options.”
“Leave me and my brother alone for a moment. I have to talk about this,” Troy said.
“Of course.” Rustion hung his head and walked a distance away.
“Well, do you think she can help?” Tavis asked.
“Maybe. But I don’t have any idea where she is. Allen thought she might be at the wall, but Rustion didn’t mention seeing her come by.”
“You don’t know where your wife is?”
“No, I don’t. She, Ellia, and the fox-woman are missing for now.”
“Well, we can’t tell Rustion that. He’ll think they’ve kidnapped his beloved queen.”
“Exactly. We’ll have to bring him back to the castle with us and stall.”
A tremor passed through Troy’s body and his hair stood on end.
“Did you just feel that?” Tavis asked, patting himself all over.
“I sure did.” Troy put a hand up and the wall was gone. “Whatever it was, the wall is gone now.”
“No.” Tavis felt the air where the wall used to be. He cautiously stepped inside. Tavis wasn’t standing in the forest. There was a small stripe of land before a stretch of water. There was a pale moon rising in the sky.
“What the hell is this?” Troy asked, stepping onto the beach.
“You’ve done it!” Rustion stood in the forest. He stepped onto the beach and transformed.
Tavis and Troy followed quickly. The three flew for the beach across the water. There was a small village. Troy saw fire damage and touched down.
“You think this was her?” Tavis asked.
Troy touched the burned house. “It smells like dragon’s fire. I doubt the wraith could reproduce the smell.”
Tavis looked around. “I’m not so sure. I can smell salt water, but there was never a lake here before. She created this. And what’s that in the sky?”
Troy looked up. The pale moon looked different already. It was starting to fade into the background. “It didn’t look like that before. Where’s Rustion?”
“Looking for Hera, no doubt. He didn’t land with us.”
Troy took to the sky again. Rustion was easy to spot once he was in the air again. The Eternal Sun messenger was flying over the forest behind the village. He was circling an area but not landing. Troy felt something rippling in the air as he got closer. He couldn’t see anything in the air but he knew something magical was happening. The trees were too dense, so he went back to the clearing to land.
Tavis landed a few moments later. “There’s something in the forest.”
Troy nodded. “Is Rustion coming?”
“I don’t think so. He’s still circling in the air.”
“Just as well. Keep your eyes open.”
Troy and Tavis entered the forest together. Troy had been in these forests many times as a boy, but there was something different about them now. They reached the small river that ran through the forest. Troy knelt and took a sip of the water. “This tastes fine.”
“I can smell an animal here,” Tavis said, looking around. “The smell is very faint, but it’s not something from Manna. It smells like the fox-woman.”
Troy stood up. “This way.”
They picked their way through the trees, following the tingling feeling. As they got closer to where Rustion was circling overhead, the feelings became more intense. Tavis stopped and rested against a tree. “I don’t know if I can go on. It feels like I’m wearing full armor.”
Troy put his hand on his brother’s shoulder. “You can turn back if you want, or wait for me here. I have to see what’s causing this.”
“You think Lena’s involved.”
“I do. I would also like to know what’s going on within my own forest. The wraith is up to something back here.”
Tavis took a deep breath and stood up. “I’ll go on if you will. I can manage.”
“Are you sure?”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m a big dragon. I can take a little magic.”
Troy continued into the trees. The feeling got worse as they got closer. It was very slow going. They were taking a step and being pushed back two by the magic force. Troy knew they were close. He stopped. If only he could change, his dragon would have no problem with the magical onslaught.
Tavis linked arms with him. “We’re going to have to do this together.”
Troy took one step and Tavis took one. They waited and then took two more steps. They were moving even slower than before but at least they were making progress.
“I can see it!” Tavis pointed in front of them.
It was slight but the trees were shimmering. There was something in front of them that had to be the source of the magic. There was no one around the shimmer.
They had to get to their knees and crawl to cover the last distance. Troy touched the shimmer in the trees and his hand began to disappear. He yanked his hand back quickly.
“What in the hell is that?” Tavis asked.
Troy looked at his hand. “I have no idea. I think it could be some kind of portal.”
“A portal to what?”
“Very good question.” In his heart, Troy knew. It was a portal to Lena’s home. It had to be. Wasn’t that what her sister had been trying to do this entire time? She had brought Margaret to Manna for that purpose. She must have figured out a way back. And Lena had gone too.
“I’m going through,” Troy said. He fought to stand up in front of the portal.
“You can’t! You don’t know where it leads.”
“It leads to Lena. I can’t just leave her, Tavis.”
“She might have gone on her own. Maybe she was helping her sister this whole time. She could have brought back Margaret and helped her sister open this.”
“Then why would she have married me? She could have done this on her own without us noticing. I don’t think she wanted to go back.”
“This is madness.” Troy stood up slowly. “If you’re going, I’m coming with you.”
“No. You have to stay. If I don’t come back…”
Tavis put his hand on Troy’s shoulder. “You will come back, brother.”
“But if I don’t. You have to take my place.”
Tavis hugged his twin. “You’ll come back. I’ll be waiting at the castle for you both.”
Troy hugged Tavis back. He let go and took a deep breath. He looked at the shimmer and closed his eyes before stepping into it.