“We should be much safer here.”
“Where is here?”
“We’re cutting through other peoples domains, we have permission from most so there will be no way to easily track us. No one will know what direction we went, or where we were going. The man who captured you will probably assume it was Max and his people that freed you. That is good for us, it means they’ll be looking for you in the wrong places.”
“And who exactly is the person behind this rescue?”
“I’m afraid I can’t say. You’ll find out soon enough. Don’t worry, they have your best interests at heart.”
“What makes you so sure?”
“Their business would do better if travel through the gates was allowed, the more tourists we have, the better it is for everyone.”
“Why was I kidnapped then?”
“Well, the person who kidnapped you is part of a radical group that wants more power. They too would be better off in the long run, but they don’t think of long term plans, they look for the instant result. Of course there are groups who want to keep us all stagnant and unable to contact the outside world, it makes it harder for people inside to cope, removes the hope that they’ll see loved ones again.”
The area they were walking through was bright and sunny, flowers were blooming all around, most looked similar to the flowers they had burned their way through, but Doug didn’t want to get too close to them to check. Around them were hills, blocking the view of the rest of the lands, they walked through a small valley.
Everything turned white, Doug started to shiver. Before them was a flat expanse of land covered with snow, around them large flakes drifted gently to the ground. The snow was thick, but they moved through it with surprising ease. The grooves they were making were already being filled in, when Doug looked back he saw nothing but a long stretch of snow fading into the distance. He was already shivering from the cold, “How, how much further?”
The cold crowded him, burning and numbing at the same time, he stumbled once or twice but each time Sue reached out to steady him. She walked calmly, as though she didn’t notice the cold. Doug thought back to the stone the goblin had given him and wished he had it with him when he was grabbed.
Doug stumbled forward as the snow disappeared, they were on top of a hill, beside them a river gently flowed up it, snaking out behind them. They moved down the hill slowly as Doug regained the feeling in his limbs. The sun was shining down, gorgeously hot after the cold.
“Do they all have different weather patterns?”
“It depends on who runs it, but for the most part they even out. Only the really powerful can influence the weather to that extent here, and even then they have been struggling with it lately. Lands are shifting here, still growing, we don’t fully understand it ourselves.”
As they walked a large wall came into view, it looked about ten feet high, but as they moved closer it seemed to grow taller. The stone was completely white and shone in the sun. Sue didn’t change her course, but Doug could see no way inside the wall, perhaps the lands would change again before they reached it.
When they reached the wall, Doug was squinting, but he could see a faint outline, more of a gap in the light than any visible gap in the wall. Sue reached out to it and pushed against it, a door swung inwards, Doug stepped through and she followed. They were in a large garden, around him flowers bloomed, thousands of different kinds, small creatures flitted around the garden, as one flew closer Doug realised it was a fairy, small and gleaming in the light, it appeared as though her body was made of metal, her hair shining like copper, it moved toward Sue and without looking at it, Sue batted it away.
“What are you doing?”
“They’re people, or at least they were. You cant treat living things like that.”
She snorted, “They’re not living, not in the way you think anyway. They weren’t people before. They just are”
As they moved through the garden Doug saw more of them, some seemed to be made from gems, different colours blending together and sparkling in the light, while others seemed to be made of a plant like material.
“What are they?”
While they walked through the garden, the bushes occasionally rustled and every so often he heard what sounded like a child giggling.
At the centre of the garden was a tall tower, stretching higher than most sky scrapers Doug had seen. It was made of the same white stone as the wall, but it didn’t seem to shine with such intensity. This time Doug could plainly see a large wooden door. As they approached it opened, together they stepped into a large hall, to one side a staircase twisted upwards, to another there were doors to rooms deeper in the tower. The floor was made of white marble, polished to perfection. Sue walked directly to a small, unassuming door directly in front of them, she stepped through and Doug followed. His ears popped as he passed the threshold, in front of him was a throne that seemed to be made of glass, twisting upwards in beautiful arches and curves, a set of steps led up to the dais the throne sat on, to the left there was a large door. Tapestries hung on the walls, depicting scenes and battles of histories and stories that Doug had never heard, they shimmered in the light. When Doug glanced at the window, he saw nothing but the pale blue of the sky outside, he didn’t move closer, he guessed that they were at the top of the tower. Behind him, Doug heard a door closing, he turned to find Maggie sitting on the throne, she was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, but something seemed off about her, like her face was just a close proximity to the one he had seen before.
“Ah, finally, you’re here.”
“I assume you’re the one who had me rescued then?”
Her voice was harsh and slightly cold.
She looked down at her skin, “I can’t abide looking like this here.” She sighed impatiently, “I can’t have you become a drooling idiot again.” She tapped one finger against her leg, then smiled showing perfectly white teeth, it was almost predatory.
“I have an idea. I’m going to give you a little something. Don’t worry, it won’t harm you, but it will allow you to see me as am truly am and allow me to relax while I am here.”
Doug opened his mouth to speak, then closed it, hadn’t she said something about gifts before?
“What do you want in return?”
She frowned, “Fine. You have something that belongs to me, I will trade for it.”
“What is it?”
“A ruby, it was stolen from the marketplace and found its way to your hands. My request is simple enough. You give me the trinket and it will be even.”
“And that’s it? I won’t be punished or anything because it was stolen?”
“You didn’t do the stealing. The one who did has been dealt with.” She smiled at him and Doug felt a wave of goose bumps crash over him.
“Ok, I’ll trade it, but I don’t have it with me.”
“That’s fine, I will send someone to collect it. Agreed?”
She stood from the throne and quickly descended the steps, each step was graceful, almost as though she were a dancer, she held out her hand and caressed Doug’s face, alternating flashes of cold and warmth stroked his face, he shivered once, then she stood back, smiling. She shimmered slightly, the old skin seeming to fall away as before him stood the same beautiful woman form before, but it wasn’t as enchanting this time. This time it had a coldness to it, a stark harshness, an almost unreal beauty, like looking at a statue.
“There, much better.”
Her voice was sweet, but lower in pitch than he had expected. She returned to the throne and settled.
“Where are we?”
“In a little sanctuary of mine. I claimed it when the changes first happened. I brought the children here, where we were safe. It was wonderful, we played endless games.”
She looked at Sue, Sue turned and left the room.
“I brought you here because if I hadn’t you would have been stuck in that dreary place for months, if not years. Max couldn’t have capitulated to the demands and your captor would not allow himself to appear weak.”
“Plus, now I owe you.”
She fluttered her hand, “Think nothing of it. I may call on you for some small favour at some point, or I may not. You have such short lives. It’s hard to believe that I never realised it before. What’s the point of it all?”
She smiled at him again, “You don’t have to live like that you know, you could stay here, with me, roam my lands, eat and drink all you like. I could make you strong, stronger than you could even imagine now, you could live forever, in eternal sunshine.”
She shuddered, then shook her head slightly, “I’m sorry. It can be hard here. This is a known sanctuary of mine, but people can only come through by invitation. So far you and Sue are the only adults that have been here, excluding myself.” Maggie seemed to have shrunk slightly, before she had appeared tall, even when sitting, but now she seemed to be closer to human height. She frowned and looked down at herself, then at Doug.
“Oh, I see.” She squinted at him for a moment, “It’s sometimes hard for me to think clearly. I shouldn’t have done that. I’m sorry.”
“It appears as though I have given you a little of my magic. Don’t worry, it won’t hurt you, if anything it will help you, but it shouldn’t have been done, you couldn’t have understood the implications.”
Maggie shook her head, “No, it doesn’t matter now. What does is that you need to leave the city. Someone has started to stir up trouble, I don’t know who, but if you don’t leave I fear you might be killed and if you are that would mean a lot of trouble for those of us inside, and outside, the wall.”
“There are many people who gave in to the change entirely. Not all of us did, but enough to cause problems. There are a few that I can think of that would want war with the outside, but I’m afraid I cannot say who it is exactly.”
“How could there be war? The walls separate everyone, they’re impenetrable, right?”
“Yes, but they may not fully believe that. The magic is strong and alluring, almost intoxicating, they may believe they can over come it, and who knows, maybe they can.”
“Do you think it’s possible?”
“It could be. I still don’t know enough and I’m afraid that when I do, I’ll be of very little use.”
“The magic is taking over, it’s all consuming, I try to fight it, but it doesn’t always work. I know that I won’t be gone completely, that parts of me will remain, but I will be a different person. When I’m her, it’s like everything has changed, the scale of things is different. Things that I think are important now seem trivial and sometimes vice versa. Much of what I know when I’m her is gone when I’m me again.”
She frowned, “I hope you can understand what I’m trying to say.”
Doug nodded, “It’s like having a split personality.”
“Yes, we’re aware of each other and each is trying to win out, but I know I’ll lose eventually”
“Is there anything you can do to help get me out of here?”
“I warned Max already, but he didn’t listen, he thinks he has everything under control, he can’t see the danger. I warned the Baron too, he listened and should be able to help somewhat. Max will not keep you here against your will, but be careful, he may try to convince you to stay, don’t listen to him. His desires can blind him sometimes. It is vital that you leave here, for your own safety and hopefully the safety of us all. Certain rules have been put in place, no one knows them all exactly, but once they doors are opened to free travel they fall away and things are safer for both us and you. Those rules should have ended long ago. I’m afraid I can’t keep you here, nor can I leave you in the Warrens, it wouldn’t be safe there. I’ll have Sue bring you somewhere safe, I think the doors are being watched so be careful of ambush when you leave, now that you are free they may not necessarily care about keeping you alive.”