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Author's note: All I started with was an image in my mind. An author with writer's block is sitting in a train station when a boy suddenly appears in her mind, the perfect hero for her story (sound familiar?). The only problem is that he's real, and he needs her help. After that, I just needed a plot, a setting, a villain, some more characters, a...oh, this was going to be harder than I thought!
It was a cold February morning, the kind of day that made you want to crawl back into your bed, turn on a few warm lights, read a book, and forget about the world. The sky was such a cold grey that the color itself seemed to lower the temperature a few degrees. A few tiny snowflakes drifted down, not enough to be a real snow storm, but just enough to make the weathermen doubt their predictions. People sat hunched over against the biting wind, fighting to keep their extremities warm. Even layers of sweaters, scarves, and hats could not make people forget the weather.
Brigit O’Keeffe sat among the passengers on a cold bench, writing in a tiny notebook. At least, she was trying to write. For days now, she had been plagued with writer’s block, and no known remedy had been able to cure it. It was very frustrating for her, the blank page staring up at Brigit, daring her to have an actual idea. She closed her eyes, hoping that something would appear on the page. Sadly, when she opened her eyes, the paper was still as white as the snow surrounding the station. Brigit put the pencil down and snapped the notebook shut. There was no point in continuing with it now. Without an idea, the notebook was just a bunch of white paper bound in pretty leather.
Sighing, Brigit looked up at the empty tracks, wondering when the train would arrive. It was twenty minutes late. The other passengers shifted impatiently, shivering; a strong breeze had suddenly blown up. The smell of coffee and chocolate wafted over from the small café on the platform, and Brigit wrinkled her small nose in distaste. A train pulled into the opposite tracks, thundering down before slowly stopping in front of the small crowd. Steam billowed from the train and people’s mouths, creating a hazy cloud above them. The crowd’s chatter and the noises of the trains were enough to make anyone go deaf.
Brigit closed her eyes again, trying to block out the sound. She had lived in Boston for five years, but Brigit still missed the quiet, rural town in which she grew up. The loud noise still bothered her. For a moment, she seemed slightly sick. Maybe it was the smoke combined with the cold weather, or the noise, because to Brigit, everything suddenly had an almost hazy, dream-like aura. She swayed a bit on the bench, her already light skin pale. Not even realizing it, she wrote a few words in her notebook, not seeing what she was writing.
It was then, in the noise, the steam, and the cold Boston winter, that she saw it.
Or rather, she saw him. A boy, who could not have been more than five years old, was standing hunched over on the platform, next to the tracks. He had uncombed, dirty brown hair falling into his large, dark blue eyes. Not only was he small, but he also looked quite skinny, as if he could do with a few good meals. His clothes looked slightly strange. No logos, words, or pictures adorned his shirt, just a plain green-grey coat and brown pants. It was as if they were homemade, or belonged in another time.
It was not the boy’s strange clothes or his abandoned look that caught Brigit’s eye. No, what she saw was flickering, like a projected image and the light bulb was about to die. In and out of sight he came, sometimes in front of the tracks, and a second later, gone. His movement was stilted, and although he might have been saying something, Brigit could not tell because she only picked up a few sounds before he disappeared again. It reminded her of watching an old black-and-white movie with half the slides missing and nothing to connect them.
Then, the boy was gone altogether.
For a moment, Brigit was stunned. Where had he gone? He could not have disappeared into the crowd; there were not nearly enough people for that. Someone would have said something if he jumped onto the tracks. No puff of smoke, no bang, no nothing. He was just gone.
Brigit shook her head. He must have been a figment of her imagination. She was tired and cold, and she did not feel very good right now. The boy probably stemmed from a combination of these elements and her yearning to cure the writer’s block that plagued her. Well, he’ll be good in a story, Brigit thought to herself. She smiled. Add on a few years and he would make the perfect hero. Not an especially strong or confident one, but he seemed smart, and that fearful look in his eyes could mean something important. The writer in her warmed and her heart did a little skip as she thought of the possibilities. This is it. She could almost see the boy smiling at her, sharing her secret joy.
As Brigit put her pencil to the paper, something made her stop. She looked up again. There he was, standing just where he had left her.
The boy made eye contact with Brigit for a moment. This time, she saw more than fear. She saw someone who had been through things too horrible to describe, and who would go back in fighting.
The boy looked around. Before he could walk off, Brigit impulsively called out, “Hey!”
A few people raised their eyebrows or looked at her in confusion, but she either did not notice them or did not care. Brigit stood and walked over to the boy, pushing through the crowd, seeming intent to finding out what was going on. Usually, Brigit was not this rash. She was an observer, a listener, not an actor. However, this was different. For Brigit, this was too important to just sit back and watch, although she could not say why.
“Hey,” she said again when she reached the boy, sounding a little unsure of herself.
He did not run or call for help, even though a strange woman was talking to him. Instead, he looked up at her with eyes filled with tears. “Where am I?” he asked in a small voice.
“Where…” Brigit repeated, confused. “We’re at the Boston South Station. Where are your parents?”
The boy burst into tears and clung to Brigit as if she were the only thing he had left. Sobs racked his body as his tears streamed onto Brigit’s jacket. Knowing there was nothing else she could do, Brigit just held him tight and let him cry. Even though she had no idea of what was going on, Brigit had to forcefully push back tears. She had to be strong and keep a clear head to deal with this; that was what they had taught her in the foster parent classes, at least.
The crying boy started attracting stares from other passengers, and although Brigit did not really care what they thought about her, she did not want them to make a scene. She gently led the boy over to her bench in the corner of the platform.
The train pulled into the station. Even though Brigit knew it meant she would not get home for at least another hour if she waited, she did not make a move to board the train. The passengers crowded through the doors, the commuter train pulled out, and suddenly the platform was a lot quieter.
The quiet seemed to slow the boy’s tears, and Brigit got in a question. “What’s your name?”
“D-Dustin,” the boy said with a bit of a hiccup. “Dustin Vairam.”
Strange name, Brigit thought. Aloud, she said, “Dustin, I’m Brigit O’Keeffe. I need to know where your parents are.”
He paused for a second, as if he did not understand the question. “I don’t know!” Dustin cried out, which brought another round of tears, although this time it was considerably shorter, and he talked through it. “They... they sent Thia and me away. I don’t know where they are.”
Trying to stop the flowing tears, Brigit quickly asked, “Dustin, how did your parents send you here? Did they put you on a train?” Remembering the way he flickered in and out of sight, Brigit doubted this was the answer, but she could not think of any other possible answer.
His answer was so simple, so honest, that for a moment Brigit believed him. She was about to ask him what exactly he meant, when she realized that this was ridiculous. There was no such thing as magic; Brigit had learned that a long time ago. However, she knew the last thing the boy needed right now was a dose of reality. Slowly, she said, “Dustin, are you sure?” the boy nodded vehemently. “Do…Do you remember what happened? Did you fall asleep, or-”
“No! The bad man broke into our home, and took Thia. Mommy and Daddy told me they would send me to Lucy-Anna…”
“Yeah, that. They were going to send me there with magic and someone would meet me there, but they sent Thia and then they sent me, and I think something went wrong and I don’t think I’m in Louisiana.” A few tears formed in the corner of his eye.
Brigit was torn between going along with Dustin’s explanation and getting to the truth. However, according to him, his parents were missing and his sister was sent to some mysterious place. This was not the time to be worried about child fantasies. “Dustin, I need you to tell me the truth. Not about magic. What really happened to your parents and sister?”
“It was magic!”
Brigit sighed. “What are your parents’ names?”
“I…” He trailed off, and a strange look overcame his face, as if he was trying to remember something. “I don’t remember.” He looked down at his hand. Brigit saw that on his wrist was a woven cord bracelet with a crystal on it. The crystal was clear, but inside there was what appeared to be a tangle of gold, silver, and copper filaments.
“What’s that stone?” Brigit asked.
“I don’t know,” Dustin replied, shaking his head. “It’s important, but I don’t remember why. I don’t know anything.” He clutched Brigit’s arm, and she realized that he was trembling slightly. “Brigit, I’m scared.”
“Don’t worry, Dustin. We’re going to find your parents and your sister. Everything is going to be okay. You can stay with me tonight, and I’ll call the police, and we’ll figure this out.”
Dustin looked like he wanted to protest, but he was too exhausted and distraught to do anything but nod and allow himself to be picked up by Brigit.
Brigit got Dustin some hot chocolate from the little café. When the next train came twenty minutes later, they boarded it, although Dustin seemed to be a bit afraid of the huge train. Then they walked half a mile to Brigit’s home in a small, quiet neighborhood.
Most of the houses there were almost a hundred years old, made of brick, and had a stately elegance to them. It was leaning toward nightfall by now, and the ancient, leafless trees created strange silhouettes against the indigo sky. There was now a light dusting of snow on the ground. It sparkled in the streetlamps, as if fairies had come by and sprinkled glitter in it. Brigit shook her head. Fairies, she thought to herself. Next, it’ll be dragons and mermaids. Get a hold of yourself. Fantasy was for books, and books alone. It did not cross over into the real world. At least, that was what Brigit told herself repeatedly as they walked down the almost-deserted street.
“Is this where you live?” Dustin asked quietly. It was a minute before Brigit realized he had spoken, and was pointing at the house.
“Yes, since I was a child.”
“It’s very pretty,” Dustin commented. Brigit smiled; most of her neighbors complained that it was old, the heating never worked, tree branches were always crashing down from the weight of the snow, and it took forever to get to the city.
“It is pretty, isn’t it?” she replied, thinking that maybe things would turn out all right.
That night, Brigit lay awake thinking to herself what was going to happen. She had to find the boy’s parents. The question was, how? What if Dustin came from the other side of the country, or even another continent? Vairam was not a common name, but if he did not know their first names, it would make things a lot more difficult.
Brigit knew people in child services who could help her, take Dustin off her hands, but Brigit had a feeling that she did not want that to happen. She felt connected to Dustin’s life now, even though she had only known him for a few hours. She wanted to see this out. She would see this out.
Little did Brigit know just how many years it would take. She called child services, but they could not help her find one set of parents in the world; they were already bogged down with abuses and neglects. She tried the police, but since all she had was a last name, no location, no relatives, no information at all really, they said they would try, but it was a long shot. She even considered trying to find the person who was supposed to pick up Dustin in Louisiana, but since he did not know what the person’s name was, Brigit knew it would be impossible. No missing persons notice for Dustin went out either. After a month of searching, the police told Brigit that they would probably never find Dustin’s family. Since he did not know any other relatives, they said that he would likely go into the foster system, for as long as it took his family to find him, or until he turned eighteen.
That was where Brigit came in. When she found Dustin, she had just completed her foster parent training and applications. The day after the police gave up the search, she requested to take care of Dustin for as long as it was necessary.
At first, Dustin seemed a bit out of place in Brigit’s home. Some of the technology she owned, like a microwave, took a while for Dustin to figure out. He had never heard of quite a few famous movie stars. When she first took him to the local elementary school, he seemed a bit unsure of himself, as if he had never been to one before. To make things worse, something seemed wrong with his memory. Every time he started to mention his parents or his past, he got confused and distant. Try as he might to remember, the only thing Dustin knew was his name and a vague memory of a “bad man coming to take him away.”
Seven years later…
The sound of two boys arguing pierced the cool, quiet morning air.
“Brigit, the new boy stole my watch!”
“Did not! Why would I want to steal a piece of junk like that? Besides, if I stole it, you wouldn’t realize it was missing for a week.”
“Ha! So you admit you’ve stolen something!”
“Never said I haven’t.”
Dustin rolled his eyes without opening them. New kids always meant noisy mornings. The only good thing about the loud wakeup call was that it had woken up Dustin from his nightmare. It was always the same one: a huge building was burning down around him, flames reaching out to devour him, and a tall, terrifying man was coming to get him. Dustin was not sure where this dream came from, and the odd thing was that it did not feel like a dream anymore. It almost felt like a memory.
Dustin sighed as the shouting continued; he did not have to know the newest foster child, Jordan Varela, very well to figure out that he was going to be trouble. According to Brigit, Jordan, at thirteen years old, was the youngest of seven siblings. His dad had left them when Jordan was a year old, fed up of taking care of a bunch of kids. After his dad left, Jordan’s mom turned to drugs and completely forgot about him. Jordan had been caught shoplifting several times and often got into fights with other kids at school. He had also run away from three previous foster homes. The only good part was that Jordan swore he would never touch a drug because of the awful smell that constantly pervaded his house due to the smoke.
Despite all this, Jordan seemed like a cool guy. Although very independent and a bit secretive, he smiled easily and joked around a lot. He especially liked playing pranks on the other boy whom he was currently arguing with, Clive. From the moment he had stepped into the house, Jordan and Clive had been fighting over just about everything under the sun; it was starting to drive Dustin bonkers.
Luckily, no matter who came in and out of the house, Brigit managed to keep the kids from killing each other. Of course, it helped that every child who walked through the door instantly liked her. It wasn’t hard. Her dainty, dancer-like body complimented her soft spoken, graceful nature. Of course, crossing Brigit was not something you wanted to do. Under her delicate face and conservative clothes was a temper that could rival a tiger when provoked. She did not like showing it, but everyone knew it was there.
Dustin knew he was very lucky to have Brigit as a foster mom, because he knew a lot of foster parents only took in kids either for the money or were too busy to care about them. Still, Dustin wished he knew who his parents were. He did not remember where he came from, which was strange, because according to Brigit he had been found when he was about five years old (no one knew his exact age, so they just celebrated the day he was found, February 24, as his birthday).
All Dustin knew was that they were alive, and somewhere in the west. However, west was a very big place, and Brigit told him that if anyone could find his parents, they would have done so by now. Not only was it disappointing, but Dustin often felt extremely guilty for forgetting his family. What kid forgot his own parents?
Sometimes Dustin made up little fantasies in his head about who his parents were, both to lessen the guilt and to give Dustin hope. Maybe he had fallen from a train and hit his head, so he did not remember anything, and his parents lived halfway around the world and were too poor to come get him. Or maybe they were bank robbers and had accidentally lost Dustin on one of their robberies and did not want to come get him for fear of being discovered.
However improbable these scenarios were, it was better than letting the guilt and wondering consume him. The guilt followed him everywhere. No matter what Dustin did to redeem himself, to try to prove that his future was not his past, he could not shake the feeling that he had done something shameful and disgraceful.
It did not help that Dustin was not a great student. He understood all the theory behind things, sometimes even better than the teachers did. Sometimes, however, he got distracted by little things in class, like the shadow a tree cast on the floor, or the sound of the choir class two hallways over. The next thing Dustin knew, twenty minutes would fly by and the teacher would be standing over him, demanding why he was not paying attention.
Then, when a test came around, Dustin usually blew it, unless he was writing an essay. The whole testing concept just did not make sense to him. Why should a math problem only have one answer? Why does gravity always have to make something come down? The teachers all thought he was either trying to be smart with them, or he was completely out of his mind. Brigit tried to help him, but even her teaching experience only got her so far. Whenever Dustin saw his report card with things written on it like “He has potential, but where’s the drive? He won’t get anywhere staring out the window while I lecture” or “Last week I asked him one of the causes of the civil war. He gave me six different answers, and none of them even came close to being correct, I’m not even sure where he found out about some of the people he mentioned!” he felt extremely guilty, because he felt like he was letting down his parents by doing poorly in school.
That feeling, combined with his nightmares, made many of Dustin’s days almost unbearable. However, he tried his best to move on, telling himself that someday he would find his parents, and when he did, he will have proved himself worth something. Maybe that was why he had gone a little crazy and decided to join the track team at school.
Knowing that he’d have to get up in a few minutes to go to school anyways, Dustin slowly opened his eyes. Sunlight streamed in from his attic window, which made everything better. It was always harder to wake up to a gloomy morning in Boston, which happened a lot more often that Dustin would have preferred. Rolling out of bed, Dustin automatically ducked to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling. He loved his attic bedroom, as it was closer to the sky and he could get away from some of the noisier kids. Of course, being in the attic meant sloped ceilings and some colder nights, but Dustin didn’t really mind.
Dustin hastily made his bed and threw on about three layers of clothes; just because it was sunny, didn’t mean it was warm. By the afternoon it would be okay, but on a March morning, it could feel more like January outside. Luckily, Dustin owned a lot of sweatpants. In fact, in the winter and the cold parts of spring and fall, that was mostly what he wore. Dustin did not own a single pair of jeans. He was not sure why, but since the time he was little, Dustin could not stand the feeling of denim against his skin.
After a moment’s indecision, Dustin also picked up the cord bracelet with the little crystal in the center and slipped it into his pocket. It was the only thing Dustin still had from the day Brigit found him. Although he had no idea why he had it, it made him feel better when he wore it, like a little spark a power was flowing through him. Things did not always work out when he wore the bracelet, but today was track tryouts, and he felt like he would need the extra luck.
After getting dressed and grabbing his backpack, Dustin hurried down the ladder to the kitchen. Mornings were always slightly hectic in the O’Keeffe house, and today was no exception. Dustin walked into the kitchen to find Jordan and Clive having a stare down, both daring the other to throw the first punch. Neither would dare do it, though, with Brigit in the room. Despite her soft voice and dainty body, there was something about her that was to be obeyed. It kept peace in the house, no matter how much the kids hated each other.
Clive’s little sister, Alice, cowered by Brigit’s leg as she ran around the kitchen trying to get breakfasts and lunches together. Alice was very tiny, even at seven years old, and had pale yellow hair and watery blue eyes. Clive, on the other hand, was tall, thin, and sharp at thirteen, and reminded Dustin a bit of a toothpick with an attitude. The siblings were not actually foster children, but rather kids who used to live down the street. Their parents, who were both rich and flighty, decided to take a year-long vacation in Africa and left them with Brigit, knowing she was qualified to take care of their kids (probably a hundred times more qualified than they were.) Dustin would have understood Clive being a bit whiny and hard to deal with if he had not always been that way. After all, what responsible parent left their kids for a year while they went on a luxury safari? But Dustin knew Clive long before the kids moved in, and from the beginning their relationship was less than friendly.
Jordan Varela contrasted the blond siblings with his creamy brown skin and messy deep brown hair. He looked strong but also very quick, and Dustin knew he would not want to get into a fight with him.
“Here we go, guys,” Brigit said, gliding over to the table with four bowls of cereal magically balanced in her hands. “Dig in, before it gets soggy.”
“I don’t want cereal,” Alice whined. “I want toast.”
As this was the third complaint Alice had made this morning, Dustin probably would have told her to just deal with it. Brigit, however, seemed to have a never-ending reserve of patience. She crouched down next to Alice and said, “I had to use the last of the bread to make your sandwiches. But I promise I’ll run to the market between classes, okay?” Brigit was a professor at Boston University, in the literature department. She was by far the youngest teacher in the department, but no one questioned her right to be there, since she spoke seven languages, including Greek, Latin, and old English, and had read more books in one year than most of them had read in the past ten. Still, Dustin wondered how awkward it was when she taught an evening class and most of the students were older than she was.
“Now remember, today I don’t get done till four because I’m meeting with Dr. Blandus to talk about a grant.” Brigit pulled her wavy, dusty blonde hair into a messy bun as she continued, “Dustin, Clive, you’re going to track tryouts, so you’ll be fine, right?”
Dustin nodded, and Clive said under his breath, “Yeah, right. Like he could actually make the team.” Dustin resisted the strong urge to kick him under the table, but when Clive gave a small yelp, Dustin realized that Jordan had already done it for him. Jordan winked at Dustin, and continued to listen to Brigit. Either she did not notice what had just occurred, or she was too frantic to care.
“I have Girl Scouts today and it’s my turn to bring the snacks,” Alice said.
“Right!” Brigit exclaimed, running to the pantry to grab some cookies and chips. “And after that Lea-”
“That’s what I said. Lily’s mom said that she’ll take you back to her house until I’m done?”
“I could just hang out for a few hours,” he said innocently.
“No,” Brigit replied forcefully.
Jordan looked slightly shocked. “What? It’s like you don’t trust me.”
“That’s ‘cause she doesn’t, blockhead,” Clive muttered.
“Don’t worry, Jordan,” Dustin said. “She doesn’t let any of us wander around alone. It’s part of her requirement to keep us safe at all times.”
Jordan didn’t look too happy with this, but all he did was take a big bite of cereal.
“Why don’t you stay at the school with Clive and Dustin,” Brigit suggested. “You could go to the library. Or track tryouts.”
“I don’t do team stuff,” Jordan replied. Dustin wasn't surprised at this. Jordan had been there less than a week, but Dustin had already figured out that he was a kind of do-it-himself person.
“Well, just stay there until I’m done,” Brigit replied. She gathered up her laptop and various papers and books, grabbed a travel mug full of tea (Brigit hated coffee), and gently placed her writing notebook into her purse. Dustin was not sure why she still carried it around, since she had not written in it in years, but then again there were a lot of things Brigit did that Dustin did not attempt to understand. She called, “Have a good day!” as she walked out the door.
Clive immediately turned on Jordan and said, “Listen, thief, you take one step onto that track field, and I swear I will make your life here even more miserable than the one you came from.”
With a calm, almost humored expression, Jordan replied, “Look, I said it once and I’ll say it again: I don’t like team sports, and I definitely don’t want to be on one if you’re on it.” He got up from the table and went to rinse out his bowl. “And by the way, I didn’t take your watch. It’s under Alice’s pillow.”
Alice paled and ran out of the room. Clive made a nasty face at Jordan before running after her. Jordan and Dustin glanced at each other before bursting out laughing.
* * *
A crisp breeze blew across the football field as over a hundred middle schools kids stretched that afternoon. Some of them, including Clive, were filled with arrogance. Others, whose parents were forcing them to try out, looked like they really did not care and just wanted to go home. And of course, there was Dustin, whose heart was pounding a hole in his chest.
He was not sure why he was so nervous. He was a very fast runner, one of the best in the class. And it wasn’t like the team was super competitive; as long as you did not fall on your face or went slower than a turtle, you got in. Maybe it was the fact that half the school was there, or that Clive was expecting Dustin to be a flop, but Dustin knew that right now, he could not mess up.
They ran a couple laps around the track, did several warm-ups, and then the various coaches divided them up by their events: jumpers, sprinters, long-distance, and field events. Dustin went with the sprinters, while Clive went with the field kids; Dustin was not sure why Clive was doing field, since his strength definitely had room for improvement, but at least he wasn’t in the same event as Dustin.
Then came the waiting. There were over thirty kids trying out just in the sprinting event, and since they were going in alphabetical order by last name, Dustin was dead last. He alternated between sitting in the slightly muddy grass and pacing back and forth on the gravely track, both increasing his nervousness. He watched some kids fly down the track as if their feet weren’t touching the ground, while others plodded along, and Dustin wondered how that could possibly be their best effort. He carefully watched the expression on the coach’s face, trying to gauge how the others were doing in his eye. Would the kid who started out strong but slowed down by the end be let in? Or would he only accept the boy who beat the others by five full seconds, nearly breaking the school record. As they slowly went down the list, Clements, Freeman, Levy, Olson, Potts, the dread filled Dustin. He felt like he needed to run a mile but could not lift his foot off the ground. His heart pounded against his chest, far faster than the runners’ feet hitting the ground.
After Robles, Santiago, Taylor, and Todd ran, Dustin stood up for another round of pacing, and saw Jordan sitting in the stands across the field. He looked a bit bored, but when he saw Dustin, he gave a wave of encouragement. Dustin smiled weakly, glad that someone had come to support him. Dustin was not exactly popular at school, which probably stemmed from his small physique, the fact that he was a member of the robotics club (they had lost at the state competition three years in a row), he was not a very good student, and that he just always seemed a bit out of place.
Dustin could not describe it, but something made kids a little wary of him. He had a few friends, but just about everyone else kept their distance. When asked, no one could explain why they felt this way; it was just something slightly uncool, and slightly frightening. Maybe it was one of the reasons Dustin was trying out for track, other than to lessen the guilt. Flying down that narrow strip of dirt, he was absolutely free, and did not have to worry about what other people thought of him. Of course, he had not foreseen the fact that his heart would be racing faster than the runners by the time tryouts came along.
"Tye, Ugalde, Vairam, Wade!" the coach called out. In a sort of haze, Dustin walked over to the starting line. His heart, rather than thumping madly, had decided it was just too scared and seemed to have stopped altogether. His wrist tingled where the bracelet's stone touched him, but Dustin barely noticed.
"Take your positions." No! His mind screamed. It's not gonna happen. I can't do this!
"On your marks..." The four runners crouched down. Dustin's heart started up again and beat faster than ever. His legs were jelly. His head felt like a load of cotton had been stuffed in.
"Get set..." They leaned back. Whatever happens will happen. Suddenly Dustin's mind cleared. Here he was, at the starting line, and there was the finish line. One-hundred meters between them. All he had to do was run. His muscles quivered in excitement rather than fear now. He was going to fly.
And just like that, Dustin was on his feet, racing down the track. His feet barely touched the ground. The cold air parted around him, giving him goose bumps and even clearer senses. His vision narrowed to the white line he was about to cross; nothing else mattered. He had no idea where the other runners were. All Dustin could hear was the rush of the wind and his feet hitting the gravel. He was halfway there and nothing was going to stop him. His heart was floating.
As if from a long ways away, Dustin heard another runner coming up behind him. Only twenty-five meters to go. Come on, a little faster. Dustin felt a strange shock on his hand, and his heart skipped a beat. Suddenly his veins coursed with newfound energy. Surprised, Dustin skidded on the gravel track. He pinwheeled his arms, but to no avail. Slowly, as if falling through molasses, Dustin felt himself crash to the ground.
For a moment, Dustin could not figure out what happened. Then, a sharp pain in his knees and hands hit him. The crazy energy had left him, to be replaced by sickening humiliation. He had blown it. His big moment, and Dustin had made himself look like an idiot in front of half the school. To make things even worse, Clive's laughter carried across the entire field to Dustin's ears, making his face burn red with shame and anger.
"Hey, Vairam, you okay?" the coached asked, the hint of a smile on his face.
"Fine," Dustin growled as he jumped up.
"You know, you were going pretty fast there up until you fell," the coach continued. "What happened?"
"I dunno," Dustin sighed, walking toward the bleachers. This was not the entire truth. Although he was not exactly sure what had happened, Dustin had a pretty good idea that it had to do with the bracelet on his wrist. He did not wear it often, but when he did, odd things often happened. Sometimes they were good, like the time Dustin ran out into the middle of the street without looking and a drunk driver was hurtling toward him. Dustin was not sure how it was possible, since the car was inches away from hitting him, but he felt a shock on his wrist and suddenly the car veered away from him and harmlessly hit a trashcan. Brigit scolded him for a good hour, but at least Dustin was alive.
Most of the times, however, the things that happened got Dustin in trouble. They could not always pin it on him, like the time a teacher was yelling at him for not turning in a big assignment (again). She called him stupid and lazy, and suddenly the pen she was holding exploded, covering her face in ink. It would have been okay, except for the fact that Dustin showed the hint of a smile. Once again, Brigit scolded him, though this time not quite as much, because she was also angry at the teacher this time.
And of course, who could forget the day that one of the seventh graders tried to beat up Dustin? Dustin ended up breaking three of the boy's bones, even though Dustin was half the size of the bully and did not even remember hitting back. Not only did Brigit yell at him, but he also had detentions for a month for hitting the other student. Nobody thought to punish the bully that started the fight.
So Dustin, although angry, was not surprised at what had happened on the track field. He would have thrown the stupid bracelet away, except that whenever he tried to get rid of it, it somehow, as if by magic, it appeared in his room or his pocket again. Plus, Dustin did not really want to get rid of it. Despite all the trouble it had caused, it was the only thing Dustin had from when he was a child, and he figured it must be important.
When Dustin reached the bleachers, Jordan said, "Bad luck, dude. You were doing really well up until then. I thought for sure you were going to beat all those other kids by at least a couple of seconds."
Dustin felt like snapping at Jordan, but his cheerful, sly expression made it hard for Dustin to stay angry at him. "Thanks for coming out anyways," he said.
"No problem. What d'you think I was going to do? Sit in the library for two hours? At least here I can see some entertainment." He pointed to where Clive and the rest of the field kids were throwing a discus. Some were okay at it, but a lot more were pathetic. One kid barely threw it ten feet, and another kept winding up too much and throwing the discus into the safety cage. One by one the students tried to throw the discus, and after about ten of them Dustin was not feeling nearly as bad as he had been. At least he had been doing well until he fell.
Then, it was Clive's turn. "This is going to be good," Jordan said, leaning forward in anticipation. As Clive got ready, Jordan continued, 'He isn't gonna make it ten feet."
"How do you know?" Dustin asked, turning to look at Jordan.
"Just watch," Jordan replied lazily. "A two year old would have better form than that."
Sure enough, Clive's discus barely made it past the concrete circle. Once, twice, three times he tried and failed miserably. As Clive pleaded with the coach to give him another chance, Jordan muttered, "This is ridiculous. Does nobody in this city know how to throw a rubber disk?"
"What, and you can do better?" Dustin asked dubiously.
"You bet I can," Jordan said, getting up.
"Where are you going?"
Jordan grinned mischievously. "To show these jokers how it's done." And before Dustin could stop him, Jordan was halfway across the field. Dustin had a feeling this wasn't going to end well. For a moment, it looked like Jordan was arguing with the coach. About half the kids on the field stopped their event to see what would happen. Even the other coaches looked interested. Even from hundreds of feet away, Dustin could see that Clive was livid. He wondered which would be worse: Jordan beating everyone and having Clive make his life a living hell for humiliating him, or Jordan failing and Clive making his life a living hell for being humiliated.
Not wanting to miss this, Dustin got up and hurried over to the cage with the rest of the spectators, thinking that maybe this would turn out to be an okay day. Finally, the coach nodded. Jordan held his hand out, and Clive slammed the discus into Jordan's palm. Jordan tipped his head and smiled amiably, which made Clive even angrier. Jordan then smiled and winked at the crowd, did his wind up, and threw the discus. It soared thirty, fifty, sixty feet before finally hitting the ground in a cloud of dust. Everybody was stunned for a moment, including the coaches. Then, the crowd burst into applause, all except for Clive. For a moment, he just trembled with fury as Jordan smiled at the crowd, looking extremely smug. Then in a dangerously low voice, Clive warned, "You're going to regret this, new boy."
"Funny," Jordan said calmly. "I don't feel very scared right now." Dustin would have been a little annoyed with Jordan's smug attitude except for the fact that it was directed at Clive and Dustin knew that Jordan was not normally this cocky.
Clive growled something and stomped back to the school. The kids all cheered again. Somebody behind Dustin said, "Hey, Dusty, makes your run look pretty stupid now, huh?" Dustin turned to see one of Clive's friends smirking and pinwheeling his arms, mocking Dustin's fall. "Maybe you should've tried out for dive team instead. At least they consider falling a good thing."
"Just ignore them," Jordan muttered to Dustin. "They're just pissed I embarrassed their little leader."
"Why don't you go running home to your mommy, Dusty?" Another kid asked. "Oh, that's right. She got so sick of you that she dumped you!"
Dustin's heart pulsed with anger. He clenched his fist and started to turn, but Jordan said, "Just leave them, dude. They're not worth it."
"Too afraid to fight us, Dusty? Or is your new friend here the wuss? I would've thought that he would want to get into a big fight. Then he could join his family in the old county jail!" The boys laughed, but Dustin did not hear it because of the roaring in his ears. It was one thing to pick on him; he had dealt with it his whole life. But picking on Jordan because of his family was going too far. Without thinking, Dustin turned around and punched the boy in the nose much harder than he should have been able to. The boy crumpled to the ground, moaning.
This did not sit well with Clive's other friends. They quickly advanced on Dustin and Jordan, but the two boys were prepared. Jordan must have learned quite a few fighting skills from his older siblings, because before one of the boys could even realize what was happening he was out cold on the ground. Dustin barely noticed the shock on his wrist as he ducked another boy's punch, turned around, and kicked him square in the back so that he went sprawling in the dust. Some people in the crowd were cheering on the fight, while others looked on in horror. Dustin did not notice the bully coming up behind him until he felt a massive blow on the side of his head, causing him to fall to the ground, knocking the wind out of him.
"Stop, stop, STOP!" the coach yelled, pulling Jordan away from the boy he was currently punching. "What the hell do you think you’re doing?"
"Teaching this jerk a lesson," Jordan replied.
"Office, NOW!" the coach said, pulling Dustin up buy his collar. Dustin labored for breath as he said, "They...started it."
"Yeah, and I'm ending it," the coach snapped. "Now go!"
As Jordan and Dustin trudged back toward the school, Dustin revised his earlier thought. This was, in no possible way, going to turn out to be an okay day.
"Really Dustin? Another fight?" Brigit asked as they climbed into her small blue car. "You said you were going to try harder, but if anything they're happening more often. What's going on?"
"They insulted my parents. And Jordan's," Dustin mumbled.
"Hey, dude, don't bring me into this," Jordan said, holding up his hands as a spectacular blue-and-purple bruise bloomed on the side of his face.
"He most certainly will bring you into this!" Brigit snapped. "You've been here less than a week and you're already getting into fights. I thought you wanted this to work out?"
"I do!" Jordan exclaimed. "And now that I've taught that jerk a lesson, I'll be perfectly cordial to him."
"You weren't there, Brigit, you didn't hear them," Dustin said. "They were awful!"
"I don't care if they insulted every person you've ever known," Brigit said. "I expect you to behave better, especially since they considered suspending you for breaking that boy's ribs last time."
"I told you, I don't know how that happened! Do I look like I could take on a huge seventh-grader?" Brigit glanced at his scrawny figure but did not say anything. "I don't know why this is happening, Brigit," Dustin continued, a hint of worry in his voice now. "Today at tryouts I felt a shock, and I was suddenly going faster than a car. I was almost off the ground. I keep having these weird feelings in my chest, like something bad is about to happen. And look!" He held out his right arm, which had sported a large, ugly bruise just a few minutes ago. Already it had turned yellow, and the area it covered had shrunk considerably. "How do you explain that?"
"Well, you've always been a quick recoverer..." Brigit trailed off.
"Yeah, but I've never heard of someone whose injuries heal in about ten minutes!"
"I have," Jordan said suddenly. "Back in New York, there was this really quite, really smart girl in my class who kids always loved to pick on. One day she said she wouldn't do this guy's homework for him, something about because it was some Jewish holiday and her entire family was coming over for dinner. This guy got so angry that he accidentally broke her arm and left a bunch of nasty-looking bruises on her neck. But the next day, she waltzed into class looking as if nothing had happened; if anything, she looked healthier."
For a moment, Brigit was silent. Then, she said stiffly, "Well, odd classmate occurances aside, I'm not sure what else you want me to do, Dustin." She sounded a bit desperate, as if she was not quite sure what was going on but needed to fix it anyways. "Should I call a counselor? A doctor?"
"No!" Dustin shouted. Then, in a quieter voice, "I don't want them putting me on some wacky ADHD meds again. Remember what happened last time?" What had happened was that a few short hours after taking the medicine, Dustin had gotten a raging fever and threw up every ten minutes, as if his body was forcing the medicine out. He did not go back to school for two weeks. The doctor said that it might have just been a coincidence, but Dustin knew better.
Another pause, and then Brigit, remembering too, said, "No, no meds." Looking back at him with a pleading expression, she continued, "But we have to do something about th-"
"LOOK OUT!" Jordan shouted. Brigit slammed on the brakes as she realized that there was a man standing in the middle of the street. A man that Dustin was pretty sure had not been there before.
He was standing in the middle of the road looking completely at ease with the situation. He was a tall, broad man, who stood in such a way that radiated power. Both his hair and eyes were dark brown, almost black. His skin, however, was fair, as if he did not see a lot of the sun. He was wearing a nice shirt and pants, but there was something odd about them, an almost homemade quality.
"Hey, watch where you're going!" Brigit shouted in a rare moment of anger, rolling down the window.
"You're Brigit O'Keeffe, guardian of Dustin Vairam?" the man said, not so much as a question as a statement.
Brigit's voice shook as she said, "Yes." She and Dustin got out of the car.
"I need to speak with Dustin, right away." It was an order, not a request.
"Look," Brigit said, a little scared now. "If this is about Dustin getting into fights, I assure you we were just discussing-"
"You've been getting into fights?" the man asked, suddenly curious. Half to himself, he said, "It's happening sooner than I expected."
"What's happening?" Brigit asked, desperate and angry now.
"Miss O'Keeffe, I need to discuss some things with Dustin. You see, I'm Ralles Vairam, Dustin's uncle."
For the first time in seven years, Dustin had a clear memory of his childhood before Brigit. It was just a name, nothing more. His parents were sending him to Louisianna to meet his uncle Ralles...
"His uncle?" Brigit said in disbelief. "Are you sure? Dustin's never mentioned-"
"Here's my driver's license," Ralles said, handing it to Brigit. Then, Ralles said, "I must speak to Dustin, alone. I'll explain everythign ot you later."
It was the oddest thing. One moment, Brigit looked like she was about ot freak out or call the police. Then, a slow change came over her face. She looked torn, as if she was not sure what to do, but then, to Dustin's surprise, she agreed, and got back into the car. Dustin gave Jordan a questioning look, but he just shrugged. Jordan did not have any more idea about what was going on than Dustin.
Brigit kept the window rolled down, and Dustin knew that she would be watching the two while they talked. Dustin knew that Brigit did not completely trust Ralles yet, and frankly, Dustin was glad that Brigit was sticking around. Just because Ralles was his uncle did not mean Dustin was ready to drop everything and follow him anywhere, even if anywhere was where his parents were.
They were on a quiet street lined with shops. Brigit pulled over into one of the parking spaces. Jordan acted as if he didn't care what was happening, but Dustin could tell that he was listening just as hard as Brigit. Dustin followed Ralles slowly, but then with more confidence, as they walked over to a small picnic table outside a cafe. This was his time, and he was not going to hesitate any longer.
As they sat down, Ralles looked around and muttered. "Don't want to be overheard." Ralles tapped his finger on the table, and Dustin suddenly felt a breeze go through his hair. When he looked around, it was like he was looking through bad glasses, or a fish tank; everything was slightly distorted and fuzzy. "What did you do?" Dustin asked.
"I told you," Ralles snapped. "I don't want anyone hearing this conversation. They won't notice us now."
Dustin had a feeling that even if a pedestrian looked right at their table, he would not see or hear a single thing. Slightly awed and slightly scared, Dustin asked, "Where are my parents? Are they okay? When can I see them?" He was about to let more questions tumble out of his mouth, but Ralles held up his hand to stop him.
"Your parents are alive and healthy. I don't know if I can say the same about your sister."
"My sister..." Dustin thought back through hazy memories. "Thia?"
"The one and only," Ralles replied. "However, before you meet your parents again, there are a few things you should know, things you should've forgotten since they sent you away seven years ago."
"Should have forgotten?" Dustin repeated, very confused.
"Yes," Ralles said. "My brother, Gern-" he pronounced like "Gairn". "Your father, put a small bit of magic in your memory so that you would forget your past. Not too strong; it was just to make sure that if you were ever found by a...less friendly group, they would not be able to get information out of you."
"Magic?" Dustin said, his voice full of both doubt and apprehension. "So you're saying you're a-"
"A dri, yes," Ralles replied calmly.
Suddenly confused, expecting quite a different answer, Dustin asked, "Wait, a what?"
"A dri, and so are you. I believe that humans often call us shamans, or wizards?"
"Wizard?" Dustin repeated. "You're telling me that I'm gonna be an old guy who wears a magic cape and has a black cauldron and stuff? You're kidding, right? This is crazy."
"I forget how easily humans are mislead," Ralles said with a bit of a sneer in his voice. "Cauldrons, honestly. And I suppose you think faeries are little girls who prance among the roses waving tiny wands?" Ralles sounded almost scornful, and Dustin shook his head quickly, even though that had been the image in his head of a faery. "Dri look similar to humans but are an entirely different race. And unlike human portrayals, we do not make rabbits appear out of hats or ride on broomsticks. No, we deal in magic of the mind."
"The mind?" Dustin repeated slowly. "You mean like memories and emotions and stuff? How is that magic?" Dustin had to remind himself that the question was crazy. Whether it dealt with the mind or rabbits, there was no such thing as magic.
Disbelief and yearning wrestled inside Dustin's mind. It all sounded right, and yet it was impossible. It just seemed so unreal. Finally, Dustin found his voice and said, "I'm sorry, but you've obviously made a mistake. How could I be a...a dri? It's not possible, it's-"
"Dustin," Ralles interupted. "Did your foster mother ever mention that you seemed to appear out of thin air when she first found you?" Dustin started to say something, but Ralles continued. "Didn't you think it odd that you did not remember you past, and that you were unfamiliar with household names and objects for the first few months? Am I wrong to believe that strange things have happened as you've gotten older? Maybe you've even felt inclined to fight more, or to seek refuge from crowds and commotion?" With each of these comments, Dustin's tan skin became paler. He could not decide whether Ralles was crazy or telling the truth. It seemed so impossible, and yet it all fit so well. Dustin felt the ideas settle into his head, and then, as if someone flipped a switch, Dustin suddenly knew that Ralles was telling the truth. This was real.
"As you've gotten older, your feystone," Ralles pointed to the bracelet in Dustin's hand, "has been urging you to use magic. It's being bottled up inside you. No wonder you've felt more tempermental recently."
Dustin asked, "What's a feystone? All I know is that whenever I wear this thing, weird things happen."
"Your feystone is a part of you, as much as your heart or your brain is," Ralles replied. "On your fifth birthday, miners brought you a chip off of a deeply magical stone called the Hartstone. They took the chip and wove it into a bracelet for you to wear, as is customary for all dri children upon reaching their fifth birthday. When the feystone touched your skin, it imprinted on you, opening a passage for magic and energy to travel between you. As long as your Feystone is touching your skin, near one of your veins, magic will flow through it and into your blood, enabling you to perform magic. Take it off, and you have so little magic, you're almost human. It is no wonder strange things happen when you wear your feystone. In times of fear or extreme emotion, immature dri often let their energy run amok, allowing the feystone to do whatever magic is most beneficial to its dri."
Dustin didn't like the way Uncles Ralles said "immature". However, his brain was swirling with too many thoughts to dwell on it. "So a bunch of magic people have been living around here without us knowing? How come no one's ever found you?"
"Oh, but they have," Ralles said with a smile. "But who in their right mind would tell their friends that they've just met a bunch of magic-weilding beings from another world? Most of them keep their mouths shut or write about us in books. They always," Ralles shook his head, "get it horribly wrong. It has gotten better, though. We used to be persecuted. People thought we were demons, or possessed by the devil or some evil god."
"And in reality?" Jordan asked.
"We are a race of Folk, magical beings that come from a world similar to this one. It is not the type of world you can reach by rocket or even see through a fancy telescope. It is beside you, around you, within you, and yet you cannot reach it, unless you know how."
"Why come here, though?" Dustin asked, still trying to process everything.
"Thousands of years ago, there was a massacre of dri in the Old World, much worse than anything that happened here on Earth." Uncle Ralles' expression darkened. It was clear that this memory was still horrible to the dri. "It was mass slaughter. Any being who seemed to have the slightest hint of magic was put to death immidietely. We escaped here, and have never gone back."
"But where'd you go?" Dustin asked. "It's not like you have secret cities or something."
Ralles gave Dustin a look that affirmed that the dri do indeed have secret cities. "Many dri banded together and created communities unreachable by those who are not Folk. Atlantis, the City of Caesars, Avalon, and others that are not so well known, these were all created by dri. The others decided to integrate themselves in with humans. A few live completely immersed, almost cut off from the dri but for a few meetings. I, on the other hand, took a middle approach, like most of the others who decided to live near humans. I own an apartment building a few miles away from the city where many dri families live. I must say, when my brother first sent me there to run it, I was not pleased, but now I see it is actually quite an ingenious idea."
"Your brother, as in my dad?" Dustin asked. "When can I see him?"
"Ah, yes, getting back to that," Uncle Ralles said. "You see, when you were five years old, your parents decided to send you to me for... training reasons, and your sister to your aunt. Things got complicated, however, and I was never able to meet you at the train station. I assure you, we tried our best to look for you, and I even moved and set up shop here in Boston to help aid in the search for you. We knew you were safe, though, and being well cared for. We decided that unless something horrible happened, we would slow the search until you reached the age of thirteen, when most dri begin their high-level training. It was not until today that we finally got a bearing you. I was hoping that after we explain everything to your foster mother, we would be able to depart for Gaelagell soon."
"Gaelagell?" Dustin repeated, confused, but suddenly his mind brought forth the place that went along with the name. "Wait, it's a city in the mountains, like a capitol, isn't it? I think..." Dustin thought for a moment. "I think it's where I used to live."
"Indeed," Ralles nodded. "It is truly an amazing place..." Ralles trailed off, looking at something over Dustin's shoulder. Dustin whipped his head around, but all he spotted was two men in buisness suits standing around outside the department store across the street. They were staring at Dustin and Ralles, which seemed a little odd, since Ralles had done some sort of magic so that they would not be noticed. "What's wrong?" Dustin asked.
"Dustin, I know this sounds a little sudden," Ralles whispered. "But we need to get you out of here."
"What?" Dustin asked, dumbstruck. "What do you mean? What about Jordan and Brigit?"
"They'll be fine. Those men only care about you," Ralles replied, his tone calm but serious. "Remember when I said we put some memory magic on you to make sure that you styaed safe? Well, those are the men we were trying to protect you from. They want you."
"You mean, like, to kidnap me?"
"More or less," Ralles replied. "If we leave quickly, everything will be fine."
"Wait," Dustin said as Ralles grabbed his hand and stood up. "We're just leaving? When will I get to see Brigit again?"
"Hopefully soon," Ralles said, although his tone suggested otherwise.
Dustin felt fear threatening to overwhelm him. Half an hour ago, Brigit had been scolding him for getting into a fight. Now he was going to magically travel with an uncle he didn't know to a special building to escape men who wanted to kidnap him. The thought hit Dustin like a kick in the gut, these men wanted to kidnap him. He was in danger. It was like he was in a dream that had turned into a nightmare, but it was all real. Dustin's heart raced. He felt slightly sick, and although Ralles was whispering instructions to him, Dustin couldn't hear a word of it.
Dustin saw that as his fear grew, Ralles became less confident, and his fair skin turned paler. "Dustin," Ralles said sharply. "Calm down." But both of them knew that that was not going to happen any time soon. Ralles rolled his eyes and grabbed Dustin's hand. Once again, he said, "Calm down." But this time, as he said it, Dustin felt a warmth of confidence spread through him. He was still scared, but it was no longer overwhelming. Dustin wondered what Ralles had done, because his words alone certainly hadn't quieted his fear.
As Ralles watched the two men across the street that were supposedly out to get Dustin, Dustin noticed that Brigit had suddenly gotten out of the car. Evindentally she was wondering why it looked like Ralles was about to steal Dustin away.
"Alright," Ralles said. "When I count to three, we're going to flicker out of here."
"What's flickering?" Dustin asked. Despite the fact that he was scared, he wasn't going to let Ralles drag him off without at least knowing what was going to happen.
"It's a form of teleporting," Ralles said impatiently. "Now, I have to close my eyes to focus on the destination, so if those men make a move toward us, you need to tell me, okay?"
"What?" Dustin said, suddenly overwhelmed. He wasn't ready for this. He barely remembered Ralles, and now he was going to magically travel across Boston to escape two men that were trying to kidnap him. Meanwhile, it looked like Brigit was telling Jordan to stay in the car.
"Good, are we all ready then?" Ralles asked, his eyes already closed. "On three then. One..." Dustin saw Brigit start to run toward them as the two men across the street perked up. "Two..." The men were slowly making their way across the street, but Dustin's brain was too confused to tell him to warn Ralles. And what would happen if Brigit reached them before they flickered away?
"Three!" Dustin felt Brigit's hand latch onto his. He saw a look of surprise on Jordan's face, and the men start running toward them, but it was too late. Dustin suddenly felt weightless, as if all the matter that made him up had suddenly been turned into something lighter and less substantial than air. He saw the world flicker around him, and then darkness surrounded them.
It was with a strange feeling in her chest that Kayonna woke up on a blustery March morning. She felt her feystone sending tingles through her veins and into her heart. She grimaced with guilt. At fourteen years old, Kayonna could easily control her magic when she went to sleep. However, on a night such this, when she had a feeling that something was wrong, she let her barrier down subconsciously to let the magic flow better, to see if it could offer her better insight into the problem. Kayonna knew she shouldn't; dri who let their guard down at night sometimes set fire to their bed sheets or ended up turning everything in their room into tangelos. Kayonna quickly looked around to make sure her room was tangelo free, only to remember that she was on the roof.
She suddenly remembered why she was up there, and quickly wrapped the blanket around her. Although it had warmed up since the night, a cold, harsh breeze was blowing across the Boston rooftops. Yesterday morning, Kayonna noticed a foreboding feeling in her chest. She knew something bad, or strange, was about to happen, but despite being better at scrying than most, Kayonna could not see what was going to happen. Hoping for a clear image, she had floated up onto the roof to get closer to the sky. As with all dri, Kayonna found that the closer she was to the sky, the easier it was for her magic to make sense. However, despite trying to stay awake and alert, Kayonna had fallen asleep after a few minutes. All she had gotten from the experience was a crick in her neck from looking up and a frozen bottom.
Not quite ready to go back down to the real world, Kayonna looked around once more. The sky covering Boston was a cold, pale blue, a color much too close to grey to be any source of warmth or hope for spring. Despite the cloudless day, the sun hung feebly on the horizon, as if it were unsure of whether it was allowed to be there or not. The sharp air stung her nose. The old oak tree that grew in front of the apartment building had the tiniest of buds, scared to bloom but too strong to give up.
Kayonna felt sorry for the tree, and her first impulse was to help it. However, years of training in the apartment had taught her at least one thing: never do magic outside of the building. It was the very first rule children were taught here. No magic was allowed outside the apartment building in case a human saw. Of course, Kayonna knew that a lot of the kids and even some of the adults broke the rule, but Kayonna was usually the one reprimanding other for doing it. Besides, she had also been taught to not mess with nature unless it was absolutely required. And what if someone did see?
Kayonna immediately threw out that worry. The sun had barely risen and she was on top of a ten-story building. No one was going to notice one girl performing a bit of magic. Feeling a bit guilty but also glad to be doing something good, Kayonna raised her hand and waved it gently toward the tree, giving it a small bit of protection against Boston's cold wind and rain. The tree seemed to stand up a little straighter, stretch its branches a bit further. Kayonna smiled, and her guilt flew away.
Kayonna remembered her worries as her feystone gave a little pulse, as if to remind her that there were more important things to be done. She knew that most of the dri were still asleep. However, the bad feeling she had seemed just too important to ignore, as her feelings often turned out to be true. Determined not to waste another second, she stood up, walked to the edge of the roof, and jumped.
Immediately, she had the feeling of being absolutely weightless. The wind caressed her gently as she hovered in midair. She drank in the cold, brittle march air that had just the touch of spring in it. It was such a subtle, moist, earthy smell that Kayonna was sure only a dri's highly-tuned senses could smell the spring coming. She had a sudden desire for winter to end so that she could fly all night without a human seeing her and without freezing to death. Flight was the one magic Kayonna did that required no studying, no teachers, and no rules. The sky was her haven. It was free.
Arms out to her sides to keep her balance, Kayonna twirled a bit. Never, since learning how to fly when she was six years old, had Kayonna ever tired of the magnificent feeling. Then, feeling slightly stupid because she was spinning around like a ninny in plain sight of the humans, Kayonna quickly swooped down and navigated herself through an open window that led into a hallway.
Just as she expected, the apartments lining the hallway were silent in the hour before dawn. Floating quietly above the brown carpet so as not to disturb anyone, Kayonna headed down the hall toward her teacher's classroom. Even if Lern Salin was not awake yet, she would be able to leave a note, telling him of her worries.
A stab of pain suddenly went through Kayonna’s chest that had nothing to do with flying down the hall. Panting, she touched down on the floor and leaned against the wall, catching her breath. She felt like sparks were going through her feystone into her blood, one after another. Her heart raced as though she had run a mile. Adrenaline and fear pulsed through her veins along with the magic that kept her heart beating. Kayonna trembled. She was better at sensing things than a lot of other dri, but never had this sense caused her pain, and she had always been able to control it before. Now, though, the magic was controlling her, as if it wanted her to see something.
Kayonna may have been young, but she knew enough about magic to know that when her feystone spoke to her, she had to listen. She had to scry what was going on. Closing her eyes, Kayonna made her mind retreat from the pain and all other senses calling to her from the outside world. Slowing her breath, Kayonna sank deep into herself, and imagined herself floating above… whatever her mind wanted to show her. Usually Kayonna focused on a particular person or place, but since she had no idea what was going on, she just let her feystone whisk her away.
Kayonna felt as if she was twirling very rapidly through space, a feeling she had not had since she learned how to properly scry. Strange images flew past her almost faster than she could comprehend. There was an old house on fire, the ancient wood collapsing in on itself. Two boys and a woman looked on in horror as the hungry flames devoured their home.
Then, a cold, dark cell, made of dark stone pulsing with a strange blue glow. A girl that vaguely resembled one of the boys Kayonna had just seen lay on the floor. Kayonna felt that she was a dri, but she could not see the girl’s feystone. The girl looked too still to be sleeping. She was either unconscious or…
Faster than she could blink, Kayonna suddenly saw a city surrounded by snow-tipped mountains, with tall, spindly buildings that seemed to defy gravity. People in bright, flowing clothes walked and flew around. On closer observation, Kayonna saw that they seemed anxious, as if they were waiting for something terrible to happen.
And then, Kayonna was in an underground chamber. The golden-red soil seemed infused with light. In the center of the room stood a crystal, the largest, most magnificent crystal that Kayonna had ever seen. It pulsed with a million colors, its faceted surface casting bright lights on the walls.
Then, there was darkness. Kayonna thought the scry was over, but then she heard a voice, almost too soft to hear, and in a lilting accent that sounded slightly familiar. “Beware the human. He will destroy us all.”
Kayonna’s dark brown eyes flew open as she gasped in horror. In the second before her normal vision cleared, Kayonna thought she saw a strange girl crouching against the wall, dressed in odd clothes that looked like they were made of some sort of animal skin. Then, in a blink, the girl was gone. Maybe she had never been there at all.
For a moment, Kayonna just leaned against the wall, trembling with shock and fear. What she had just seen made no sense, especially the voice and the girl at the end. Rather than easing the tight feeling in her chest, as scrying usually did when Kayonna felt that something was wrong, it only seemed to have increased.
Not knowing what to do, Kayonna flew down the hall toward her classroom. If Lern Salin was not there, she would knock on every apartment door until she found him. She had to find him and tell him what was wrong.
* * *
Luckily, Kayonna did not have to go on a rampage through the apartment to find Lern Salin. When she knocked on the classroom door, a sleepy voice immediately said, "Come in."
Although called a classroom, the place resembled something between a library, a comfortable sitting room, and a small ballroom. Books of all shapes, sizes, and languages fought for space on the worn wooden shelves that lined the room. Even more books were scattered on side tables, chairs, desks, the floor, and pretty much every other available space. Lern Salin was not the most organized of dri. Instead of desks like in a human classroom, there were old, squashy couches and rickety chairs for the students to sit on. This was because when lecturing or doing a demonstration, many of the dri teachers believed that a personal, comfortable environment made the students more engaged in their lesson than if seated in uncomfortable desks miles away from the teacher's podium.
For theory lessons that required notes, desks lined the few spaces on the wall not taken up by book shelves. Stacks of paper and jars of pen and pencils sat on the desks, ready for students to write down the latest method or bit of history. On the far side of the room, a large space was cleared so that the students could practice more kinetic magic. Odd objects like cups, sticks, photos, rings, and pieces of fabric sat on a table, ready for students to use for various magics. The cups and photos were for animation, while the rings were for developing the ability to see into an object's past.
For a moment, Kayonna could not figure out where her teacher was. Then she heard a loud crack. Looking up, she saw a very strange sight. A young man was hanging from a lighting fixture with one hand while trying to fix a hole in the ceiling with the other. He was swinging back and forth wildly, which made Kayonna suspect that a moment ago he had been hovering near the ceiling, but lost control and grabbed onto the chandelier.
Not able to conceal a smile, Kayonna called up, "Lern Salin! I need to talk to you!"
The man turned his head into an awkward position so that he could see Kayonna. "Oh, yes, hello Kayonna. Just give me a mo-"
At that moment, the chandelier made a particularly violent shake. Distracted, Lern Salin lost his grip and plummeted to the floor. Acting on pure instinct and skill, Kayonna brought her hand up and halted Lern Salin's fall. He hovered in midair, a few feet from the ground. Then, with all the grace she had, Kayonna gently brought her hand down and placed Lern Salin firmly on the ground, who was only slightly shaken from the fall. "Oh, thank you, Kayonna. Don't know what I'd do without you."
"Well, you'd go to the infirmary a whole lot more," Kayonna smiled. "Why are you up so early?"
"Couldn't sleep," Lern Salin replied as he straightened his glasses. Lern Salin was one of the younger teachers at the apartment, only in his mid-thirties. He was quite brilliant, but got confused easily and was often distracted. Unlike her last Lern, who had been about a gazillion years old and smelled like boiled turnips, Kayonna adored Lern Salin, from his untidy auburn hair to his tall, gangly figure. He may not have taught to the book, but lessons were always interesting in Lern Salin's classes. Sometimes he brought in a rare creature for them to meet (and get bitten, scratched, or burnt by). Other times he taught them about some long-forgotten war between faeries and selkies, or the philosophy behind emotion reading. The very first day of class, Lern Salin had taken their text books and ripped out several chapters, saying they were nothing but junk. At first, Kayonna had been shocked and a bit nervous, because she quite liked textbooks. However, a few lessons in, Kayonna got a handle on Lern Salin's teaching style, and had been his best student ever since then.
"I figured I might as well be of use and fix that hole," he replied.
"That's what maintenance is for," Kayonna pointed out.
Lern Salin shrugged. "So what brings you here at so early an hour?"
Kayonna's smile vanished as she remembered the terrifying experience she had had a few minutes earlier. "Well, last night, I had a... a feeling."
Lern Salin, who was used to Kayonna having odd feelings when something was about to happen, simply said, "Yes, and...?"
"I went onto the roof to see if I could get a clearer image but..." Kayonna felt slightly guilty as she continued, "I fell asleep."
"Completely understandable. Continue."
"When I woke up this morning, the feeling was still there. I decided to come and talk to you. But when I was walking down the hall, something weird happened."
"Weirder than normal?" Lern Salin asked, smiling.
Kayonna described her odd scry, including the voice and the girl she saw at the end. "And now I feel even worse. What if something bad is happening, something worse than usual?" She paused, and then whispered, "What if there's something wrong with me?"
Lern Salin raised his eyebrows and then burst out laughing. "Kayonna," he said. "If there's something wrong with you, then we're all in trouble." Seeing that this did not make her feel any better, Lern Salin said, "Look, I wouldn't worry about it if I were you. It is said that dri who are naturally gifted in scrying sometimes involuntarily see things that will involve them later in life. But there's nothing you can do about it now, and frankly, I often find that trying to change the future just ends up making it worse."
"And the girl?" Kayonna asked.
Lern Salin frowned a bit. "Well, I've never heard of a dri seeing her before. She sounds a bit like a faerie, or a nymph of some sort. I'm guessing that she was a leftover image from your scry. Like I said, you shouldn't worry about it until it happens. And who knows? Lots of dri scry things that never actually occur for one reason or another. These things might never come to pass. Now-" he started straightening the room in preparation for the day's lesson. "Pass me that book on wyverns."
* * *
Dustin felt like he had been dropped off the edge of the universe. The darkness that surrounded him was so complete, Dustin felt like if a light were to be lit in this place, it would instantly be absorbed by darkness. However, it was not just the darkness that scared Dustin. It was the fact that he felt like he was nothing, had never been anything, and would be nothing for the rest of eternity. He could not feel anything; he had no body. This meant that he had no eyes, ears, or mouth. It was an unimaginable pressure of nothingness. He had no substance, no thoughts, no emotion. It was like his very being had been dissolved into the darkness so that he could never come back together.
And then, quite suddenly, it was over. Dustin felt like his molecules were being forced through a funnel. He was being squeezed to death, and then it stopped. Although he did not remember falling, Dustin found himself lying on a cold floor. He heard people around him, and cars driving along outside. A warm breeze was coming from somewhere, and the fear that Dustin had felt as the men moved to attack them melted away. Feeling considerably happier than a moment ago, Dustin opened his eyes.
He was a bit surprised to find himself in what appeared to be an apartment lobby. The walls were partially brick and partially covered in a cream-colored wall paper. Victorian-era, like most of the buildings around Boston. The floor was made of some sort of dark stone tiles, with beautiful rugs placed here and there. There were lots of windows that let in the late afternoon sunlight. The odd thing was the furniture. Along with a TV, potted plants, and landscape paintings, there were strange artifacts scattered throughout the room, including ancient vases, a tapestry of a lizard-like horse running through trees, and a beautiful gold plate with cryptic symbols on it. It looked like whoever ran the building was either a huge history buff or had a thing for antiques.
Dustin turned his head and saw Brigit crouched on the floor next to Ralles, who was standing up as if nothing of the slightest interest had happened. Either Ralles had not noticed Brigit yet, or he had other things on his mind.
Other people were slowly trickling into the room, ranging from adults to some younger than Dustin. Despite different hair, skin, and eye color, the people all vaguely resembled each other, although it would not have been immediately obvious had Dustin not recognized the same traits in himself. They were all on the smaller side, with builds that were more delicate and graceful than muscular. They all had slightly arched eyebrows and large, dark eyes, regardless of their complexion. And there was also something else Dustin couldn't quite describe. It was not a physical feature so much as a presence. Finally he understood what people meant when they said he felt different, strange. Despite their human appearances, Dustin had no doubt that these people were not human. They were different, but not necessarily in a bad way. And without knowing a single one of them, Dustin already felt like these were his people. They felt strange, yes, but it was his strange.
Realizing that he was still on the floor, Dustin quickly stood up. "Don't worry," Ralles said, breaking the silence. "Flickering does take some getting used to."
"Where are we?" Brigit asked, also standing up.
Ralles looked both surprised and annoyed to see Brigit. "What were you thinking? You’re stunt could have put us all in danger, especially Dustin. Do you know how many laws you're breaking just by being here?"
Brigit was ready to protest, but before she could, Ralles shook his head and said, "Just... never mind. We'll deal with it later. And to answer your question, we're at Summerhill, my apartment. A haven for all dri in the area. Currently we have... ah... Dusa, how many residents?"
A tiny blonde woman answered, "Two hundred-fifty-one, and the twins will be arriving any day now."
"Excellent," Ralles said. "Now, circumstances being what they are..." He looked at Brigit with a slightly dissatisfied look, as if she were another problem he had to deal with. "I suggest that for the time being, everybody go back to what you were doing. I am going to have to fill Miss O'Keefe in on a few things."
"He resembles the missing Tala," someone called out. "Have you found her yet? Does he know where she went?"
"Yeah, didn't Tala Thialelle have a twin or something?"
"But the Tal went missing years ago. It couldn't be him."
"They said Tal Dustin was living with humans. Maybe-"
"Enough!" Ralles shouted with authority. The room immediately went silent. "Yes, this is Tal Dustin, son of Talan Gern and Trir Lusemni. No, he does not know where Tala Thialelle is. He still has memory magic wearing off, so don't ask him any questions. Now if you don't all go back to what you were doing immediately, you will be packing you bags before you can say 'Hartstone'!"
The crowd disappeared so quickly Dustin could have sworn some of them disappeared into thin air. However, there was one person who hadn't left. It was a girl who looked a little older than Dustin, maybe thirteen or fourteen. She was taller than most of the other dri, with long black hair and warm, light brown skin. Dustin saw that hanging around her neck was a thin silver chain with a shimmering blue crystal pendant. Her feystone. She was staring at Dustin with a mixture of confusion and surprise on her face. "Ah, Kayonna," Ralles called to the girl. "Would you come over here for a moment?"
After hesitating, Kayonna trotted over, her lithe figure moving gracefully across the floor. "Yes, sir?"
"Kayonna, this is Tal Dustin Vairam, my nephew. Dustin, this is Kayonna Kerun, one of our best students here." Kayonna blushed a bit at this. "Kayonna, would you please watch over Dustin for a bit, perhaps give him a tour, while I talk to Miss O'Keefe?"
"Sure," the girl, Kayonna, replied. She still looked a bit confused, but she quickly snapped out of it and said to Dustin, "C'mon. I'll show you around. You don't expect me to call you Tal, right? 'Cause I'm just going with Dustin."
"Sure," Dustin replied hesitantly, unsure what this whole "Tal" business was and why everyone seemed to think it was important.
They bypassed the elevator leading to the upper floors and instead went down a side hallway. Kayonna chatted with Dustin about small things like his hobbies and what it was like growing up with humans. She did not reveal much about herself, but Dustin felt like she was an old friend within minutes. He had not spoken to a lot of girls before, and Dustin wondered if it was her warm conversation or the fact that they were actually the same species that made her easier to talk to.
Kayonna pointed out the classrooms, which did not look like any classrooms Dustin had ever seen and were filled with books that Dustin was pretty sure weren't in English. As they left the classroom, Dustin said, "So you're the best student here, huh?"
"I guess you could say that," Kayonna replied, not bragging, but not denying it either. "But I have some pretty good Lerns."
“Oh, um, I think humans call them teachers,” Kayonna explained.
"I've never been very good in school," Dustin said quietly. He was not sure why he was telling Kayonna this, but he had a feeling she would understand a lot better than some of his teachers.
"Oh, don't worry about that," Kayonna replied. "I'm guessing that it's the tests and the focusing that get you?" Dustin nodded, wondering how Kayonna could know this. "It's not your fault. Human schools have it all wrong, teaching that there's only one correct answer and only one way to get there. It bothers some kids who often think outside the box, and it drives us dri crazy."
"Why?" Dustin asked.
Kayonna thought for a moment, and then replied, "Well, I guess it's because since we use our minds so much to perform magic, we learned a long time ago that there's more than one way to achieve a result. For example, if I wanted to heal a broken wrist, there are a few different ways I could go about it. I could use healing magic to just knit the bone and muscle back together, but since I'm not very good at healing yet, that may not be the right option for me, right? So instead I might use my magic to encourage growth of new cells in that area. Or I might go into the patient's mind and tell his subconscious to speed up the recovery process, if I were particularly good at persuasion. Or, if it was really busy and I needed to conserve my strength, I could animate some normal medicinal tools to work on the patient while I move on to others that need my help. So it's really not a problem you have at all. In fact, some people would consider it good that you have the capacity to think of so many answers. There are philosophers who spend their whole lives trying to do it, and we can do it naturally."
"Oh, good," Dustin said, a great weight lifting off his chest. Now that Dustin knew he wasn't the only one who did it, that it was a good thing, he suddenly felt a whole lot less guilty about the D he had received that day on a math test.
Kayonna led him to a giant kitchen only used for special events, which was not too remarkable except for the pots that were cleaning themselves. When Dustin asked how they were doing that, Kayonna replied, "Oh, that's just simple animation magic. The real trouble is getting them to dry themselves. I think a rivalry has been struck up between the towels and the cookware." Dustin nodded numbly, not pointing out the obvious fact that normal towels did not even know what a rivalry was.
She showed him the exercise room, where in addition to the standard weights and treadmills, there were also some unusual weapons, including bow-and-arrows, swords (not the medieval knight kind. These were shorter and had an almost leaf-like shape to their blade), spears, and strange looking staffs and orbs that Dustin thought might be used to channel magic. "Why no guns?" he asked Kayonna.
"Have you ever seen a dri thrown into the middle of a battle? Their magic sort of takes on a mind of its own. Trust me, you don't want a magic-crazy dri in control of a gun; they'd blow the whole place up.” Kayonna said this as if it were quite obvious. “Besides, you can't build a gun to have magic in it. It screws up all the gunpowder and parts and stuff."
"But why do you need weapons in the first place?" Dustin asked. "Isn't that why we have police and a military?"
"True, but they only deal with mortal threats." Kayonna stroked the edge of a bow in a sad way, as if she were remembering someone who had been killed by it. "There just aren't as many dri as there are humans, so we can't have a special dri military to fight if someone or something decides to attack. We all need to be ready if something bad happens. Plus, when you’re up against an enemy that has magic, sometimes you have the advantage if you can wield a weapon other than a feystone, especially if they're more powerful than you."
Dustin saw that the subject bothered Kayonna, and he wondered if she had been in a fight before. They quickly left the exercise room.
"So what's with this whole Tal business?" Dustin asked to break the silence.
Kayonna smiled a bit and replied, "Well, do you really expect a bunch of hidden magical people to run around with no ruler and no laws?" Dustin had no answer to this, so she continued. "The Talan is sort of like a king to the dri people of this continent. The Trir is his queen, although they hold the same amount of power. A princess is called a Tala, and a prince is a Tal."
For a moment, Dustin did not process what this meant. Then, with a strange feeling in his stomach, Dustin said, "So you mean, I'm a... a dri prince?"
"A Tal," Kayonna corrected. "And yes. Your father is Talan Gern, the leader of all dri in North America. There are other smaller leaders, like your uncle. He's the leader of the East Coast. And sometimes all the Talans and Trirs come together for a big meeting to discuss world matters. In fact, I think that your parents are at one of those meetings right now."
It took quite a while for Dustin to process this. He was barely starting to remember being a dri, and now he was suddenly a Tal too? If Dustin had more vivid dreams, he would have sworn that this was one.
They went to the upper floors, where Kayonna explained that the families lived together. Some of the adults worked in the human world, while others dealt more in dri matters. The children mostly got their education from the Lerns. Some of the older kids also went to human schools if they planned on living around humans when they grew up, but Kayonna wasn't one of them.
When Dustin asked which room Kayonna's family lived in, she did not immediately answer. Then, she said, "They actually live in a tiny town fifty miles away from here. I stay here with another family, but I mostly take care of myself."
Dustin wanted to know more, but at that moment a strange creature flew up to them. It looked like a very tiny dragon, about the size of a cat, but its scales looked sort of feathery, and its face had an almost puppy-like look to it. Its feet looked like the talons of a hawk. It was pale blue in color, with white scales on its chest and tail. Overall, it made for a cute, if strange, creature. To Dustin's surprise (as if he weren't already surprised enough) the creature opened its mouth and spoke in a small, musical voice. "Lord Ralles wants Dustin in the meeting room immediately."
"Of course," Kayonna replied, completely at ease. "Tell him we'll be right there." She stroked the creature on its head, just behind its tiny ear, and it gave off a sound that almost sounded like a purr. Then the deyr nodded its head and vanished.
"What was that?" Dustin asked.
"A deyr. They’re relatives of dragons, but much less territorial and they can’t breathe fire. They make great companions, and with enough training they can speak aloud, so we use them as messengers."
Dustin wanted to say something, but all the information swirling around in his head made it impossible. If Kayonna noticed this, she did not acknowledge it, because she just said, "Come on, we don't want to keep your uncle waiting."
Kayonna led Dustin back downstairs and through a side door. Inside there was a large meeting room that looked like pretty much every other meeting room Dustin had ever seen, except that here, too, Dustin could see signs that the people who used the room were definitely not human. His uncle was in deep discussion with the statue of a woman holding a sword. Instead of light bulbs, tiny orbs of light hovered in the air, illuminating the room as it got darker outside. A deyr was flittering around the ceiling, and as Kayonna walked in, she withdrew what looked like a dog treat from her pocket. She tossed it up and then raised her other hand. The treat stayed hovering in the air, and then she pushed her hand forward, making the treat fly across the room. The deyr tumbled after it, nearly smashing into the opposite wall as it snatched the treat out of the air. Kayonna smiled, and even though it was weird and Dustin still could not quite believe it, he smiled too.
Brigit was sitting at the long meeting table, her face pale and her expression one of total disbelief. When she looked up and saw Dustin, Brigit said is a soft voice, "Dustin, is it all true? Are you really a-?"
"A dri?" Brigit nodded wordlessly. "Yeah, I guess so."
Brigit gave a small nod, and although her skin tone did not change, her face changed from disbelieving to amazement, as if Dustin's comment had confirmed her fears.
"-and tell him that we should be arriving within a few hours. If all goes well, we'll be staying in Gaelagell tonight," Ralles told the statue. The statue nodded and froze, and for a moment, Dustin thought she had become normal stone again. Then, Ralles turned to Dustin and Kayonna and said, "I've just sent Brigit on ahead to tell Lord Paric that we will be going to Gaelagell soon." When Brigit looked up, startled, Ralles added, "I mean the statue of Brigit, goddess of poetry and war. At least, the humans think she was a goddess. In reality she was just an extremely talented dri, one of the first to come from the Otherworld."
"Now," he said, gesturing for Kayonna to leave. She looked slightly annoyed at this, but gracefully walked out of the room. "I have explained everything to Miss O'Keefe that I explained to you, Dustin. She agrees that you should go meet your parents, although she is worried about leaving you on your own. I have," he said impatiently, "explained that you will have some of the best security the dri can provide, and that everything will be fine. So, if there are no further questions, I suggest we take Brigit back to her apartment and allow you to collect some things, and then we can depart for Gaelagell immediately."
"What?" Dustin and Brigit both shouted in unison. "You mean this is it? I'm just leaving everyone?" Dustin asked, completely taken off guard.
"Well, that was the idea, yes," Ralles replied. "It is of the utmost importance that we get you home as soon as possible."
"But Boston is my home!" Dustin protested.
"Is it?" Ralles asked quietly, and Dustin remembered all the times he had felt out of place, all the times he said the wrong thing in class or made weird things happen or scared kids away just by looking at them. He remembered how lonely it sometimes felt... Then he looked at Brigit, and remembered that no matter how bad his grades were, or how friendless he felt, Brigit was always there with her sweet smile and some quote by a two-thousand year old philosopher to make him feel better. Dustin knew that the dri were his family, but Brigit was his family too.
"I...I don't know," Dustin finally replied. "I want to come, but I just-"
"We're worried about the future," Brigit finished for him. "I don't want him going off and living with people he doesn't even remember if it's not what he truly wants."
"You don't want him to leave," Ralles commented.
"I never said that!" Brigit protested.
"No," Ralles agreed. "But you thought it." Dustin was too amazed already to even acknowledge the fact that Ralles had read Brigit's mind. Ralles sighed and said, "I suppose that it is your choice, Dustin. If you choose to live the dri, you will probably live in Gaelagell with your parents, although you will be allowed to visit Summerhill so that you may see your foster mother." Ralles made a face, showing that he did not exactly approve of Brigit. "If you choose the humans, which I highly discourage, we will take your feystone for safe keeping and give you a suppressant so that your magic no longer explodes out of you at unexpected moments. We will renew the memory magic on you and put some on Brigit so that you do not remember the dri, and we, will ever bother you again, nor the men who were trying to attack you. It is your choice, but you know what my opinion is."
Dustin looked from Ralles to Brigit and back again. Uncle Ralles, who looked so confident about the situation. Dustin knew that if he chose the dri, he would learn things most people could not even dream. He would get to see his parents for the first time in seven years. He would be around people like him, people who did not think it was weird that he could make strange things happen. He felt the pain of longing for his parents, something Dustin had not felt since he was young. He had always known that they were out there, and now he would get to see them again. Dustin had never realized how much he wanted his family until now.
Yet, Brigit was the only family he had ever known (or at least that he remembered). She looked so frightened about what his decision was going to be. He wanted to go with all his heart, so much that he could not imagine waiting another minute. But what would Brigit say?
Ralles leaned forward and said quietly, "We need you, Dustin. Brigit may want you with her, and I understand that, but the dri are the ones that need you right now."
Dustin let that thought sit in his mind. For the first time, someone needed him. They were not disappointed or angry; they thought he was special. They needed him. Dustin relished in those words, and yet he was still hesitant.
Ralles saw the conflict in Dustin's mind, and so said, "I will give you a day to decide. We cannot waste any more time than that. I will come tomorrow for your decision." He stood up, and so did Dustin and Brigit. "If you need me sooner than that, just say my name into your feystone. I will come as quickly as I can."
Ralles held out his two hands. As Dustin and Brigit each took hold of one, Ralles said to Dustin, "Try not to get killed before then, okay?"
"Right," Dustin replied, not sure how well he would be able to prevent that.
Ralles closed his eyes, and the group flickered out of sight.
* * *
The second Dustin felt himself become whole again, he knew something that was wrong. The air smelled like a campfire, but without the warm, comforting scent to it. He started coughing as dust and smoke worked its way into his throat. He felt heat rolling across him in waves, forcing him to the ground. Dustin opened his eyes, and then immediately wished he hadn't. Besides the fact that the smoke burned his eyes, the scene in front of him was too horrible to look at. Dustin froze in fear.
The old Victorian house that had been in Brigit's family for three generations was on fire. Flames engulfed the top floor of the building, including, Dustin realized, his attic. Orange tongues licked out the windows. It looked like they were searching for more prey, the old house not enough to satisfy their monstrous appetite. A cloud of darkness surrounded the house as smoke billowed from the flames. The smoke crept forward slowly, ready to suffocate Dustin in its grey world. The ancient maple tree that grew next to the house, the one that Dustin had known since the time Brigit found him, was crisped black, its uppermost branches crumbling into ash. Lone surviving leaves from the tree fluttered down, their journey hopeless as the wind blew them toward the fire. Dustin heard wood splitting and stone collapsing as the house was devoured.
He could hear the cries of neighbors and pedestrians, but they were far away. People edged away from him with frightened looks their faces. Brigit was calling his name, but it was in another world. Dustin's mind went blank as those bright flames hypnotized him with fear. A part of him told him to run away, to get as far away from the fire as possible. But his body would not respond. All he could do was stare in horror as the fire destroyed his home.
“….Witnesses say the fire sprang up without warning,” a reporter said in the distance. “Within seconds, the house was engulfed. Firemen have no idea what could have caused such a massive inferno this quickly…”
Dustin felt a new fear clutch his heart. Me, was all he could think. What if I started it? So many strange things had happened that day; would it really be that much of a stretch to say that he had somehow made the fire appear by magic? Ralles had said that his magic was fighting to get out. Maybe this was it finally being released. Dustin felt like his legs had turned to jelly, and he almost collapsed onto the pavement.
"C'mon boy! Get out of the way!" a man yelled at Dustin. Someone grabbed his arm and pulled him to his feet, dragging Dustin toward the opposite side of the street, where the air was mercifully clear. Dazed, Dustin looked up and saw that a fireman had grabbed him. The fireman shook Dustin a couple of times and said, "You there, boy?"
"Yeah," Dustin stuttered after a moment. "Yeah, I'm fine." He turned back to look at the house. Brigit was running around trying to find Jordan, Clive, and Alice. Looking up at the crumbling building, Dustin suddenly had a horrifying thought. What if they were still in there? Trying to push down his fear, Dustin ran toward Brigit and the fire.
As he got closer, the shouting and voices seemed to increase, but they were not surrounding him. It was as if the voices were appearing in his head. Images flickered in his mind, layering over the things he saw right in front of him. Dustin shook his head, trying to make it all go away, but if anything, the images and voices became more powerful. He heard many people screaming, some calling his name, others crying out for Thia, Gern, and Lusemni. Sometimes Dustin saw his old house on fire, but other times he saw towering white buildings engulfed in multicolored flames. Mountains towered in the background, and emerald green grass turned black as ash rained down. In both visions, the sky was painted with a fiery sunset, the clouds competing to be more spectacular than the flames. Dustin felt his feystone grow warm, and it gave off shocks from time to time. Dustin wondered if the voices and images had to do with magic, but even if they did, he did not know how to get rid of them.
Distracted, Dustin nearly crashed into Brigit. She clutched him close as she asked, "Oh, baby, are you all right?"
"Fine," Dustin coughed. "We have to find the others."
Together, the two set off through the crowd, but it was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. Reporters, firefighters, paramedics, and concerned citizens crowed the streets.
Where are you? Dustin thought to himself, his voice almost unusable because of the smoke. He did not know how Brigit was able to shout the kids' names at the top of her lungs, over and over again.
Suddenly, Dustin felt a tiny pull in his gut, as if there was a compass trying to push him in the right direction. Not knowing what else to do, Dustin followed the pull, dragging Brigit along behind him.
Suddenly, Jordan came into sight, looking both worried and angry. When he caught sight of Brigit and Dustin, he demanded, "Where have you been?"
"There's no time to explain, Jordan," Brigit replied. "Are Clive and Alice okay?"
"Yeah, I got them out of the house before the fire spread and sent them over to the Olsson’s'. What is going on? And who are those guys?"
Brigit and Dustin whipped their heads around to where Jordan was pointing. Standing across the street from the burning house, looking slightly disappointed, were the two men who had been chasing Dustin earlier, right before Ralles took him to Summerhill. Dustin felt a chill of fear run through him that had nothing to do with the fire.
"They were hanging around and acting really weirdly right before the fire started," Jordan stated. Then, realizing what this meant, he asked voice, "You don't think they started the fire, do you?"
Brigit, tears running down her cheeks but a steely look in her bright green eyes, replied, "I think we need to call Ralles."
* * *
Once Dustin said Ralles' name, it took exactly fifty-three seconds for him to flicker into sight. Standing with him was Kayonna and a man that Dustin had never seen before. The man was tall and had auburn hair, and reminded Dustin of some of the professors that worked with Brigit.
Ralles gave a knowing smile and was probably about to make some sarcastic comment when he saw the smoke rising from Dustin's home, which was now almost completely destroyed. "They have found him," Ralles whispered, horrified.
"What do you mean?" Dustin asked. "Who’s found me?"
"Hey," Jordan said. "'Him' could be me too."
Everyone ignored Jordan as Ralles continued, "I'm sorry, but there is no time for discussion. We must take Dustin and go to Gaelagell, now."
"Not without me, you're not," Brigit said, her sweet face in an expression that would have made a tiger quiver in fear.
Ralles was not, however, easily swayed. "Absolutely not. Do you know how many laws I broke just by bringing you to Summerhill? If I let a human into Gaelagell, they would have my feystone!"
"I don't care if they have your head!" Brigit said, her tone deadly serious. "If your brother is king-"
"Tal," Kayonna corrected.
"Whatever," Brigit snapped. "I'm sure you can make one exception, considering the circumstances."
If the situation had not been so dire, Dustin was sure Ralles would have refused. Even so, Dustin was not sure if he was going to agree. The man standing next to Ralles said something in a low voice so that Dustin could not hear, but evidently Ralles understood, because he sighed and said, "Fine. Miss O'Keefe can come. But if anyone asks, I was not the one who agreed."
"What about me?" Jordan asked. "I wanna come too."
"No!" Brigit and Ralles said in unison. Shooting Ralles a poisonous glare, Brigit continued, "It's bad enough that Dustin is going; I'm not letting you go to strange places too."
"You people must be really set on seeing me get in trouble, huh?" Ralles asked.
Knowing that Brigit would never agree just because he asked, Dustin tried a new tactic. "Brigit, those men burned down our home and I wasn’t even there. What happens if they come back? What if they try to interrogate Jordan or something?"
"Miss O'Keefe," Kayonna said. "I hate to butt in, but those men you're talking about are right over there and you probably have about five seconds before they realize Dustin's standing over here."
This brought everyone to their senses. Sure enough, one of the men pointed out Dustin. Before they could get any closer, Ralles told everyone to grab hands. He closed his eyes, and they vanished.
When they arrived, Kayonna could not believe her eyes. She blinked a few times, sure that something had gone wrong in the flicker and she was either unconcious or dead. It seemed impossible, but Kayonna knew it was real. And the strangest thing of all was that Kayonna vaguely recognized the scene that lay before her.
It was a city, but unlike any city Kayonna had seen before. For one thing, it was spread out. Almost all of the buildings were tall, but they were narrow too, spiraling toward the sky. They must have been held up by some sort of magic, because they were mostly made of glass and creamy white wood, with accents of white marble. They reminded Kayonna of a cross between futuristic skyscrapers and a bunch of intricately designed tree houses.
Wide streets laced the city, paved with more white stone. One street looked like an open-air market, where bright tents were set up and vendors called out their wares to passerbys. Some of the streets were purely pedestrian, while others were filled with strange-looking vehicles that Kayonna could not identify. Trees and flowers dotted the grassy areas between buildings, their branches and blooms formed in such a way that they themselves were a work of art. On some of the tallest buildings, gardens sat on the roofs, aspen trees shading beds of primroses, lilies, irises, columbines, and a hundred other species Kayonna could not name. Kayonna knew that she would be able to sit in one of those gardens for days, soaking in the mountain air.
Above the city, strange tracks hovered in the air, where short train-like vehicles sped over. Sunbeams permeated the city, creating rainbows as they passed through all the glass. Everything felt clean and colorful and fresh. Kayonna knew that the city had been designed that way on purpose. Dri loved the sky and light, and this place amplified both.
The city was set on a large island in the middle of an even larger lake. The island looked a bit like an arrow, with the city concentrated in the northernmost point and spilling down a gentle slope into a wider valley, where smaller homes dotted the land. Those houses were lower to the ground and had wide plots of land around them. At the north tip of the island, a castle of spires and balconies rose into the air. The lake was formed by thousands of waterfalls tumbling down the mountain peaks that surrounded them. Gentle slopes led down to the water's edge, where a few boats were tied at a dock.
The towering peaks that surrounded them were rocky and covered in pale emerald green grass, with snow capping them off. However, whether by nature or some sort of magic, the valley itself was almost completely free of snow. The very land felt infused with magic too ancient to fade away.
Flying overhead, along with normal birds, were deyrs, their jewel-bright scales reflecting the sunlight. Wherever they were, it must have been to the west of Boston, because the sun was still a few hours away from setting.
"It's beautiful," Kayonna said in a hushed voice. They were standing on a gentle slope of a mountain, about half a mile away from the lake.
"Welcome to Gaelagell," Ralles said.
"Where are we?" Jordan asked. "I mean, where are we in the US?"
"Colorado," Ralles answered. "In the Rocky Mountains. However, the nearest human town is miles away."
Suddenly, Kayonna realized why the city looked familiar. It was the same city she had seen briefly in her scry. And the two boys, Dustin and Jordan, she had a feeling she had seen them too...
"Come on," Ralles said briskly. "The sooner we get to see my brother, the sooner this whole mess gets cleaned up."
Kayonna narrowed her eyes, thinking that Ralles might take a bit more interest in his nephew. Then again, Ralles had never been the paternal type. Knowing that arguing would only get her in trouble, Kayonna followed everyone down the hill.
Despite what the boys had just been through a few minutes ago, they were now joking and pushing each other around as if nothing had happened. Jordan shoved Dustin so that he fell and started rolling down the hill like a log. A second later, Jordan happily joined him, laughing like a drunken hobgoblin. Kayonna and Brigit exchanged a look that said, in an exasperated way, Boys.
Kayonna still was not sure what to make of Dustin. She positive now that Dustin and Jordan were the two boys she had seen in her scry earlier that morning. But if that was true, what did that mean for the rest of her scry? And was it possible that the girl who had resembled Dustin in the scry was Tala Thia?
As Jordan and Dustin rolled down the hill, Lern Salin turned to Brigit and said, "I don't believe I've introduced myself. I'm Arinor Salin. I'm a lern at Summerhill, kind of like a teacher for dri kids."
"Oh, then we should get along fine," Brigit said, smiling for the first time in hours. "I'm a professor at Boston University. I teach literature."
This got the two started on a lengthy conversation about writing styles and philosophy, which Kayonna did not quite understand how they did it, because they had probably never read the same books. Then again, some very famous human authors had actually been dri.
Once Dustin and Jordan reached the bottom of the hill, they went into deep conversation, although they still looked more than a little dizzy. Sharpening her hearing, Kayonna listened to them. Just as she had suspected, Dustin was explaining to Jordan who the dri were. Jordan looked and sounded surprised, but was not in denial at all. In fact, he seemed to accept it the easiest of the three newcomers.
When they reached the dock, Ralles approached a dri man who was sitting on the edge of one of the larger boats, reading what looked like a letter or a report. He was short and looked no older than twenty, and gave off the definite aura that he did not like his job at all. He probably some kid who had been roped into the boat business by his family because he did not have the drive or talent to keep learning magic.
Ralles cleared his throat expectantly, but it took a moment for the man to look up. When he did, it was with a bored expression. "Welcome to the Outer Docks," he recited in a monotone voice. "My name is Gilno Sul. Passage to Gaelagell and Sadam's Caves is five dollars a person, as well as to the merrow village, but you must pay extra to go there in order to receive water protection. You-"
Ralles cut him off. "Young man, I would appreciate it if we could get to Gaelagell before tomorrow. We have important business with Gern."
The boatman, Gilno, almost fell into the lake. "G...Gern? As in Tal Gern?"
"The one and only," Ralles said. "I'm Ralles, his brother. Now, if we could please move on...?"
"Yes, yes, of course!" Gilno said, scrambling to get one of the smaller boats ready. "So sorry, Lord, I didn't realize."
"No," Ralles muttered. "Most people never do."
A few minutes later, Kayonna and the others piled into the boat. Gilno took the oars and started rowing them across the lake. "Why don't you just use magic?" Jordan asked.
Ralles snorted. "My boy, the dri are not wizards, able to use magic in the slightest things. Our magic is a nobler sort, present in the mind and soul of dri. We do not and cannot use magic for things such as rowing a boat. And no one is allowed to flicker into Gaelagell, for security reasons. Once we are in the city we'll be able to do it, of course, although I suppose you and Brigit will have ot use other transportation." Jordan narrowed his eyes at Ralles' tone, but seemed to realize that it would not be wise to argue.
Trying to change the subject, Dustin asked, "You use human money?"
"Of course," Kayonna replied. "More than half of all dri have at least some interaction with humans. Some of the dri who live in dri cities prefer to trade or to use other forms of currency, but they're usually just laughed at."
Kayonna saw that Dustin was about to ask another question, but stopped as he stared at something over the side of the boat. "What is it?" Kayonna asked, before looking over herself.
In the water, keeping speed with the boat, were merrow. Their front halves looked relatively human, except for the fins on their arms and the webbing between their fingers. From the waist down, however, they had the tails of fish. A fin ran down the length of their back, as well as the sides of their tails. They all were female, and had long sea-green hair. Large, dark eyes stared up at their boat with a friendly glint. The green-blue water rippled over them. The merrow dove and leaped in the water, but they always stayed below the surface. They were quite pretty, although Kayonna didn't think they were worth diving into the sea for.
"What are they?" Jordan asked, enraptured, as leaned over the side of the boat to get a better look.
"Don't even think about it," Kayonna snapped, pulling him back. Lern Salin and Ralles laughed at the expression on Jordan's face, which was one of awe and disappointment. "Those are merrow. They're Folk of the water who came from the Otherworld, like us."
"They look like mermaids," Dustin commented. "Are they the same?"
"Well, except for the fact that mermaids will rip you to pieces and merrow won't, usually," Dustin turned a bit pale at this and backed away from the edge. "They're pretty much the same," Lern Salin answered. "Mermaids probably came from the fact that merrow men are very violent. Their wives try to keep them below the waves where they won't do as much harm, which is why they're not as popular in human culture."
"Plus the males are dead ugly," Kayonna added.
"That too," Lern Salin agreed.
"What are those red hats they have on?" Dustin asked.
To Kayonna's surprise, it was Brigit who answered. "They're called cohuleen druith in Irish mythology, although I'm not sure if that's the proper term for them now. The merrow have to wear them in order to be able to live in the sea. If they lose them or if the cap is stolen from them, then they must live on land." She lowered her eyes as everyone in the boat stared at her in amazement, even Gilno. This earned him a rap on the arm from Ralles, who told him to keep going.
"How did you know that?" Kayonna asked.
Brigit shrugged. "My family is Irish, and I minored in World Mythology when I was in college."
"Impressive," Lern Salin said. Jordan rolled his eyes, although Kayonna sensed that he thought the merrow were pretty cool. They sped toward the island, faster than Kayonna suspected the boat should have been able to go. She looked down at the water and saw that some of the merrow were pushing the boat. She waved to them in appreciation, knowing that to a member of the Folk, a thank-you went a long way.
They reached the island in less than twenty minutes. Gilno docked the boat on a small beach of pebbles at the south side of the island, next to a steep slope that led to the city. A strange vehicle was waiting to pick them up. It looked a bit like a carriage, but there was no harness for a horse and no driver's seat in the front. There were wheels, but they were quite small and did not look like they could hold up the vehicle. The body was smooth and burgundy red, and made of a strange material that looked like a fusion of wood and metal. When Kayonna looked to Lern Salin, he explained, "It's called a sedarn. They have a bit of levitation and animation magic built into them. The wheels just help to keep it going straight. It can also steer itself it if knows where its going."
Kayonna was surprised. She did not even know such vehicles existed. In her mind, if a dri wanted to go somewhere, they could flicker, or they could walk, or they could use human transportation. It had never occurred to her that in dri cities they would have their own method of transportation.
The group waved goodbye to Gilno and climbed into the sedarn. The seats were made so that they were facing each other. Brigit, Dustin, and Jordan took one side, and she, Lern Salin, and Ralles took the other. Kayonna immidietely sensed the difference. Human verses dri, newcomers verses oldtimers. Kayonna hoped that it would not stay this way. She hated when people divided themselves up unneccessarily.
"So... what's the plan?" Jordan asked, still seeming to be the least fazed about everything that was going on around him.
"Your parents will not be arriving in the city until tomorrow, Dustin," Ralles replied. "They're in Ireland right now, discussing some important matters with other dri leaders." Kayonna thought she detected a bit of jealousy in Ralles' voice, but he was a skilled dri when it came to blocking his thoughts and emotions, so Kayonna could not be sure. "We'll drop Kayonna and Arinor off at Mirridor so that he can discuss some things with the other lerns while we get Dustin reaquainted with the city. We'll stay at the Lalid House tonight, that palace building at the northern point. Tomorrow, we'll talk to my brother, and arrangements will be made for the future. Kayonna and Arinor will go back to Summerhill tomorrow morning."
"What?!" Kayonna cried out in protest. When Ralles had offered the opportunity to go to Gaelagell while he dropped off his nephew, Kayonna had been thrilled. She had always wanted to see Gaelagell, both because it was so different from anything she had experienced before and because of all the amazing sights and knowledge it was supposed to contain. Ralles had implied that she and Lern Salin would be staying for quite a few days so that he could collaborate with some other lerns. Now, though, it sounded like Ralles was changing his mind. "That's not fair!"
"Life is not fair," Ralles said, not even looking at her.
"But you said-"
Ralles gave her an icy stare, his dark eyes boring into her. Kayonna closed her mouth and averted her eyes. "I suggest you use a more polite tone when you meet the Talan, young lady," Ralles said in a low voice. Kayonna felt like making a nasty retort, but she was not stupid; arguing with Ralles would mean horrible nightmares for days, plus she might not to see Gaelagell at all.
As they drove through the city, more smoothly than Kayonna thought possible for a vehicle, she was amazed by just how many dri there were. It was not the crowd that Kayonna was used to in Boston, but there were certainly more dri than Kayonna had ever seen in her life. Some were shopping, some were chatting, some were selling items from small carts, some were walking with their families. Most of them wore brightly colored clothes, layering shirts, jackets and shawls made of thin fabric, which gave them a sort of vintage, mystical look. Even the men wore brighter colors than most human men did. Kayonna liked it; she felt that it fit the dri very well.
Kayonna noticed that the streets and sidewalks seemed oddly empty. There were plenty of people, but it felt like something was missing. After driving through an intersection, Kayonna realized what it was; there were no street signs or traffic lights. In fact, the entire city was devoid of any signage except for boards hanging off the corners of buildings that showed the street name and the shop signs themselves. Kayonna wondered why there weren't any, until she realized that she was riding in a magical sedarn. If they could drive themselves, then they why would they need signs that said things like "right lane must turn right" and "yeild to buses"?
Dri frequently flickered in and out of places. A pushbroom was sweeping the street all by itself, and Kayonna saw a dri girl no more than five years old have an animated conversation with a large hawk.
They passed a bookshop, The First Page, with a poster in the window that read: THE ATLANTIS ATLAS: History, Culture, and Travel Guide by Creena Miru. Another poster advertised: Coming Soon! By Brew Sirana, the author of HIDDEN DRI IN A HUMAN WORLD comes a stunning new work GREAT DRI IN HUMAN HISTORY: CIRCE, MERLIN, HOUDINI, AND MORE!
Across the street, next to a coffee shop, Kayonna saw a pet store advertising a new shipment of rare shi cats, which, according to the sign, could turn into shadow and had very high intelligence. The picture on the poster looked like a normal black and white cat to Kayonna, but who was she to judge? In addition to dogs, birds, and gerbils, the shop also carried pygmy basilisks, telepathic mynah birds, kelpie food, and strange creatures like bitu, tiny chinchilla-like animals that had leathery shells on their backs and laid eggs.
There was a health shop that kind of looked like a hippy health store with things like magic rocks to realign the spirit and crystals that could catch thoughts, except Kayonna had no doubt that the products in that store worked one-hundred percent. Next to that was a travel shop with maps of other dri cities, ever-expanding bags, and magical sleep medicine to help with jet lag, or in this case, ship lag. Apparently dri who had families or who had to go long distances used magic flying ships that looked an aweful lot like the dingy Gilno Sul had used to row them across the lake.
Kayonna's favorite was a toy shop called Benovi's Wonders. She only got a glimpse of the inside, but what she saw amazed her. There were tiny gold and silver animals that moved and made sounds, extravagant kites that flew on their own, strange instruments for children that played together in a mini orchestra, and many more fantastical toys that Kayonna could only begin to describe.
About twenty minutes later, the sedarn arrived in front of a large building made of white stone, with huge windows every few feet looking out onto the bustling street. At first, Kayonna could not figure out what it was supposed to be for. It wasn't a shop, and the houses nearby were all apartments. It was Dustin who answered her question. "Mirridor Academy of the Mind," he read off a sign mounted above a large double-doorway.
Of course. It was a school. Kayonna only felt slightly embarrassed for not knowing. After all, the only education she had ever gotten came from the lerns, and before that, her parents had homeschooled her. "This is where we get off," Lern Salin said.
Kayonna, seeing the way Jordan sat by the side of the sedarn looking a bit lonely and overwhelmed, said, "Hey, Jordan, wanna come with us?" A smile spread across his face and he nodded excitedly. Kayonna, Jordan, and Lern Salin climbed out of the sedarn and onto the busy street. The sedarn glided away. Lern Salin then told them, "I need to go discuss some things with the lerns here. Why don't you go join the students in the practice yard and I'll come get you when I'm done?" Kayonna nodded, and they parted ways.
* * *
Kayonna led Jordan toward a large grassy area full of dri students. Some of them were lounging around the edges of the field and chatting, while others were giving advice to those dri who were practicing magic in the center. A girl who could not have been more than eight years old was making a flower grow straight out of the ground, like one of those life cycle videos put into fast forward. An older boy was creating a beautiful image of a glittering palace that shimmered and seemed slightly transparent. Jordan thought it was amazing, but another student yelled to the boy, "It needs more substance, dummy. Not even a human would believe that thing is real." Jordan narrowed his eyes at this comment, but he felt a wave of calm melt over his anger, and decided to let the comment go. Seeing Kayonna watch him out of the corner of her eye, Jordan wondered if she had anything to do with calming him. It was a pretty cool power, although Jordan was not sure how much he liked knowing the fact that this girl could probably turn his mind into a vegetable with one thought.
The magic that caught Jordan's eye, however, was in the center of the grounds. Jordan watched as two teenagers, a boy and a girl, fought each other with wooden swords. The odd thing was that they were not holding the swords. With intense looks of concentration upon their faces, they directed the swords with their minds, slashing, feinting, and stabbing like the most experienced knight. Their classmates cheered them on, including Jordan. This looked way cooler than the track team, and he wondered if you had to be a dri in order to own a magical flying sword. Jordan could tell that the girl was winning, although it was a difficult battle.
A couple of minutes later, the girl's sword knocked the other one out of the air. The classmates cheered as the two opponents shook hands. Both the boy and the girl had sweat pouring down their faces and they were breathing heavily, despite the fact that their work had been only in their mind. As another boy stepped up to challenge the girl, Kayonna walked up to a dri boy about her age and asked, "What is this?"
The boy looked at her, slightly stunned. Then, taking in the jeans and plain sweater Kayonna was wearing, as opposed to the boy's bright blue shirt, darker jacket, and brown pants made of some sort of soft material, he said, "Ah, your an urbian, aren't you?"
"A what?" Kayonna said, looking slightly offended.
"You're from the human world," the boy explained. Jordan did not like the way he said it, as if it were something to be pitied. "I bet this is your first time in Gaelagell, huh?"
Jordan was about to answer, but Kayonna cut him off. "Yeah, this is our first time. We're from Summerhill, in Boston."
"Summerhill?" the boy said. "Wasn't the Talan's brother sent to run that place after he tried to take over the dri in Andorra or something?"
Kayonna looked surprised at this. Jordan wondered what else Dustin's uncle was hiding. Then he wondered if the boy's comment was even true. After all, he did seem to take delight in knowing something that Kayonna did not. Shaking off her surprise, she said, "I'm Kayonna Kerun," holding out her hand.
The boy shook it and said, "Martyn Fi."
Jordan introduced himself and then asked, "So what is this game? It looks awesome."
"You don't have it at Summerhill?" Martyn asked, slightly shocked, slightly pleased with himself. "It's only one of the most difficult challenges dri have. Or at least, dri in Gaelagell have," Martyn responded. "We call it psyche fights. Sometimes they get really brutal. You're not supposed to actually attack your opponent, you know? Just try to outfight or outlast them. But sometimes one of the kids will get really angry and start attacking the other with the sword. When that happens the lerns usually have to get involved. Mostly we just play on our own though."
"And so you just keep playing until you lose?" Kayonna asked.
"Pretty much," Martyn answered. "Or until break is over. Every day we start a new round, although Nessa is usually the one to start, and the last one standing."
"Who?" Jordan asked, wanting to see this warrior woman.
"Nessa Lae. She's the one fighting right now," Martyn answered, gesturing to the girl who had won the last fight, and was now clearly beating this new boy. She had silvery blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and her long layered turquoise skirt did not hinder her fighting abilities. Jordan thought Nessa was very pretty, but she had a nasty, superior look in her eyes as her sword crashed down on the other and snapped it clean in two. He decided that dri girls maybe weren't for him. A cheer went up from the class again, and Nessa said, "Alright, who's next?"
Jordan took a step forward, but, as if reading his mind, Kayonna said, "No," sharply. "Are you insane? You're not even a-" She saw Martyn staring and whispered, "A real dri. Besides, what would Brigit say when she found out that you had been fighting?"
Jordan felt like arguing back, especially when he saw the way Nessa laughed when no one stepped forward to challenge her. "Someone has to do it," he said. "I've been in fights before."
"No dri fights," Kayonna pointed out. "She would squish you like a bug in two seconds."
"Gee, thanks for the words of encouragement," Jordan muttered. He knew, though, that Kayonna had a point. In a city full of powerful magic people, he was the only one who had absolutely no defense. Well, except for Brigit, but most people would not want to cross her anyways. Even Gilno, the dropout boat boy, had more power than he did. Jordan had always been proud of the fact that he was able to take care of himself. Now Kayonna was saying that he wouldn't stand a chance against this girl, and as depressing as it was, she was probably right.
It seemed like Kayonna was not a big fan of bullies either, though, because she said with a small smile on her face, "I'll do it."
"What?" Jordan said, thinking that this was very unfair.
"Trust me, I've been doing telekinesis since I first got my feystone," Kayonna said. "Just this morning I stopped Lern Salin from falling to his death. I can do this." Jordan snorted but didn't say anything. Kayonna walked out onto the field and said, "I accept your challenge," to Nessa. Nessa smirked slightly as she looked at Kayonna's clothes, but nodded.
As the two girls started to fight, Jordan saw that Nessa was trying to pound Kayonna even more than she had with the other kids. Maybe she recognized that Kayonna was new, or maybe she just felt the urge to crush Kayonna into a pulp. Whatever her motivation, Kayonna seemed to be standing up to Nessa just fine. "This is going to be awesome," Jordan said, smiling.
"Yeah, if she doesn't get herself killed," Martyn said. "In just the past month Nessa has sent three kids to the Physicians' Hall after they drained out."
"They what?" Jordan asked.
Martyn gave him a skeptical look, as if wondering whether Jordan was joking or not. "Drain out. You know, when a dri uses too much magic and they exhaust themselves. After that they can't do magic for a while because both they and their feystone need to build their strength up again." He shook his head. "Have you been living under a rock your whole life or something?"
Jordan was about to make a nasty retort, but realized that what Martyn had said was partially true. There was Kayonna out there, fighting like some figure out of legend, and he was here, no power, no knowledge of this strange new world, and no family. A small voice in his head tried to convince him otherwise, but Jordan knew that it was true. Even when he had lived with his mom, who was barely awake most of the day, Jordan had known that she would still be there for him, at least in theory. Of course, it wasn't like she could go anywhere.
Then the social workers had taken him away after he stole that fancy watch right off a lady's wrist (no one could say he wasn't talented). Instead of sending him to jail, they had taken pity on him because of his family situation, and decided that the best thing to do would be to throw him into the foster system for a few months. Well, Jordan didn't want pity, and he certainly didn't want to live with total strangers who owned twenty cats or made meth in their basement. No, all Jordan had wanted was to have a family, and not one that forgot his name half the time. He thought he had found that with Brigit, but it just proved that good things never last, because less than a week after he had came to live with her and Dustin and the rest of the kids, he had gotten swept up into this mess. When Dustin and Brigit first disappeared from the car, Jordan was worried that they had decided to abandon him or something. But honestly, this was even worse. Jordan knew how to handle being on his own. He didn't know how to handle being dragged around a strange city like some silly little human pet that no one quite knew what to do with. And what if Dustin and Brigit decided to stay here for some reason? He could run away before social services came again, but Jordan wasn't even sure where Gaelagell was in relation to Boston. Maybe it wasn't even in the real world. He could wander around for days and never find a recognizable place. No, running away was not the right option. But neither was getting left behind while everyone else went on fantastical magic adventures. Maybe he could just steal one of those water protection things that Gilno had mentioned and live with the merrow at the bottom of the lake. Then again, he didn't really know how to swim...
Sighing, Jordan turned and saw that Kayonna and Nessa were fighting fiercely. Jordan had to admit, Kayonna was an extremely talented dri, although the two girls fought very differently. Unlike Nessa, who made almost no movement and kept her mouth firmly shut, Kayonna made small motions with her hands, directing the sword. Jordan could see that she was muttering something, but the students were too loud for Jordan to be able to hear. The problem was that as talented as Kayonna was, she had probably never played this game before. Nessa knew all the right moves and tricks so that she could catch Kayonna off guard. Once or twice Jordan thought that Kayonna was about ot win, but then Nessa would come in with an amazing block, as if she were reading Kayonna's thoughts. Then Jordan realized that this could very well be true.
"What's she doing with her hands?" Martyn asked, genuinely confused.
Jordan realized that he meant the way Kayonna was making tiny gestures. "Well, she's using it to focus her magic on the sword, isn't she?"
"Oh, is that what it is?" Martyn said, a smile spreading across his face. "I thought she was having a seizure or something. You know, here at Mirridor we're not allowed to use gestures and such. The lerns say that it helps to increase the power of our minds, by not relying on the physical. Of course," he smirked. "I guess urbians just can't find the control and focus that those in the dri cities can, what with all that human racket."
Jordan turned sharply and glared at Martyn. "Hey dude, let's see you go out there next. Then Kayonna can whip your sorry dri butt."
Martyn looked a little intimidated and backed away a bit, but the smirk did not leave his face. "Of course, that's only if your girlfriend survives," he taunted.
Jordan was about to protest, even though he did think that Kayonna was rather pretty, but then realized what Martyn had said. Jordan saw that Nessa was overpowering Kayonna. Just a few minutes ago Kayonna had looked healthy and in control. Now she was pale and sweating. She glanced at Jordan and gave him a look of, "why did you make me do this?" Jordan could only shrug and give her a sympathetic look. It wasn't his fault she had volunteered to go out there. In fact, right now Jordan was secretly feeling very happy that Kayonna had stopped him from fighting Nessa himself. If Kayonna thought that this was too much, Jordan could only imagine what would've happened had he gone. It probably would have involved him passing out and a lot of yelling from both Brigit and Ralles.
With a final triumphant smack, Nessa brought her sword crashing down on Kayonna's. Dizzy from exhaustion, Kayonna sunk to her knees, to which Nessa and a bunch of her friends laughed. Jordan started marching forward, intent on giving those dri girls a piece of his mind, but he suddenly slammed against what felt like a very solid rock wall. He raised his hand and pushed on the invisible barrier, but it would not yield in the slightest. In fact, it seemed to be growing warmer, and Jordan quickly took his hand away before it burned him. As Kayonna trudged over to the boys in defeat, Jordan turned to Martyn and asked, "What the heck is this thing?"
Martyn looked slightly confused. "It's a fey fence. The lerns put them up so that only a dri with their feystone is allowed to pass through, so that those who don't have their stone for some reason don't get hurt. But I've never seen it actually work..." Then, a funny expression crossed the Martyn's face. "Hey, you're not a dr-"
Kayonna, who had just passed through the fey fence with ease, instantly snapped her fingers and the Martyn's voice became silent. He moved his mouth, but no words came out. Evidently even though she had just been through a difficult battle, Kayonna still retained quite a bit of her magic. There was a firey, fierce look in her eye that had appeared the moment she lost the game and was increasing by the minute. "I can tell you're a better aura-sensor than most," Kayonna said in a dangerously low voice. "So I'm warning you now. You tell a single person in this city who Jordan is, and I will personally hunt you down and curse you to the Otherworld, got it?" The boy nodded quickly. "Good, I'm glad we understand each other." She snapped her fingers again and the boy regained his voice, although he looked a bit intimidated to use it. She then turned to Jordan and said, "C'mon, Jordan, let's leave before we cause a citywide headhunt for you."
Jordan felt like telling her no, but seeing the angry, almost dangerous look in her eyes, and the way the feystone on her chest sparked and pulsed with energy, Jordan decided that right now it would be best to just listen to Kayonna. He let her drag him out of the school yard as laughter from the students viciously teased him.
Dustin looked out the window, marveling at the sights outside. His eyes were drawn to the sparkling stones that the dri wore as jewelery. Feystones. Dustin twisted his own feystone bracelet as he noticed the way the dri carried their feystones. Most of the younger people wore them as necklaces, anklets, or as bracelets, like Dustin had. Older adults who were married had their feystones set into their wedding rings. Dustin wondered what would happen if a dri lost their ring down the drain or something.
"You can't," Ralles said. Dustin turned to him, confused, and Ralles continued, as if he had read Dustin's mind. "A dri cannot lose their feystone. There is an almost magnetic pull between the two. It is physically impossible to lose one. If a dri takes it off, they will never forget where they left it and they will have a natural intuition as to where it is. But, it can be stolen."
As they approached the Lalid House, the shops were replaced by large, delicate-looking houses with wide lawns. Even though it was the middle of March, most of the trees were in full bloom. Dustin saw the lake sparkling in the late-afternoon sun, and realized how long the day had been. Just that morning, he had been worried about track tryouts. Now he was driving to the palace where his magical parents lived.
Suddenly, the sedarn jolted, bounced, and grinded to a halt with a wheezy sigh. Ralles cursed quite a bit, earning him a dark look from Brigit. He went out to see what was wrong with the sedarn, cursing the dri who made the sedarn, the lack of magical talent today, and the world in general. After a few moments, he came around and told them, "Something's gone wrong with the magic that works this thing. I'll try to fix it, but we may have to call a mechanic. I've never been good with levitation magic. You might as well get out."
Brigit sighed and climbed out of the sedarn, followed by Dustin. Brigit stood by the side of the road, watching as Ralles tried to fix the sedarn. Tired from his long day, Dustin wandered up the hill and sat down beneath a grove of aspen trees. He was just about to lie down when a voice said, "Well, they're in quite a fix, aren't they?" Even though Dustin did not know any magic, he levitated at least a foot in surprise. He looked around to see who had spoken. It sounded like a young girl, but Dustin didn't see anyone. "Up here, silly!" the voice said. Dustin craned his head and saw that nestled in between two sturdy branches was a girl who looked about his age, although she looked like a very strange girl indeed.
She had wild, bright gold hair that stuck up and had different colored strips of fabric braided in. Her skin was pale, but her eyes were large and bright, although Dustin could not decide what color they were. They seemed to change from green to blue to violet to amber every few seconds. She wore amber-colored leggings, a skirt made of different colored yarn threads, sort of like a hula skirt, a loose amber blouse and a shawl made out of more yarn. She had a golden chain around her neck with a tiny hourglass as the pendant. She wore no shoes, and her skin, though pale, looked darker under what looked like years of dust and dirt. She had a mischevious smile on her face that made Dustin think she and Jordan would get along very well.
"Seems like they'll be here for a while, huh?" the girl said.
Dustin stared at her with a mix of confusion and surprise. "Did... did you make the sedarn stop?"
The girl shrugged. "Maybe. You're Tal Dustin, aren't you?"
"How do you know who I am?" Dustin asked.
The girl laughed, a bright, floating laugh that seemed to echo in the air. "I know many things, Dustin." She stood up and walked down the branch, even thought it seemed much too thin to support her weight, and stopped in front of a bluebird. She winked at Dustin. Then she sang a few haunting notes and blew gently into the bird's face. The air around the bird rippled like soft waves. When it went back to normal, in place of the bird was a small blue fairy, barely six inches tall and with feathery wings. The fairy saluted the girl and flittered away, a trail of cerulan diamond dust glittering in its wake.
As the girl waved goodbye to the fairy, Dustin said, "Who... who are you?"
She leaped out of the tree and floated down gracefully, lightly touching down on the bright green grass. She thought about it for a moment, and then replied, "Why don't you call me Flick?"
"Are you a dri?" Dustin asked.
The girl, Flick, smiled. "Not exactly." She didn't feel like a dri. Her aura was... ancient. Dustin felt like she was completely timeless, something beyond the world of mortals. She looked young, she acted young, and yet Dustin remembered what she had said. I know many things. What was that about?
"So, what do you think of it all?" Flick asked, sitting down in the grass next to Dustin.
"All of what?" Dustin asked, still trying to figure out what was going on.
"This!" the girl cried, spreading her arms, indicating the whole world. "The magic, the dri, your family. You're a part of it all, Dustin! Just think what your life is going to be like."
Dustin smiled at the prospect of having a family. He imagined himself learning magic at Mirridor, and finally being at the top of his class. He thought about living at the beautiful Lalid house. He imagined running down the grassy hill, fast as the wind. He heard Brigit curse as a gear came flying out of the sedarn straight toward her head. His smile faltered. What would happen to Brigit?
"You'll find the right path," Flick said calmly. "You're destined to do great things, you know. Kayonna has already seen it, although I don't think she realizes what it means. Then again..." she frowned. "It's going to be so difficult for you. So much sadness." Then, she perked up. "But lets not talk about that right now. I should probably fix your sedarn before Mr. Cranky over there throws a fit."
As she waved her hand toward the vehicle, Dustin said, "Wait!" She looked back at him, curiosity in her eyes. "Who are you, really?"
Flick didn't immediately answer. She pulled a wisp of pale white fluid from the air, something between water and spirit. She cupped it in her hands. It formed a small transparent hourglass, then an image of one of those ancient cave drawings, then what looked like some sort of Celtic knot, and then it was a clock face, the hands spinning wildly. Although it was a still day, Dustin felt a breeze in the air, carrying with it the sense of something old, and yet forever in the future. It made Dustin long to remember his past, and to know what was in store for him. The girl opened her hands and gently blew the strange substance back into the air.
"Dustin!" Brigit called. "C'mon, we fixed the sedarn!"
"I fixed the serdarn," Ralles corrected.
"Coming!" Dustin answered. He turned back to Flick, but she was gone, the sound of ticking clocks in the air.
* * *
That night, Dustin couldn't get to sleep. Due to Flick holding up the sedarn, they hadn't arrived at the Lalid House until late. Lalid House was a huge white chateau-like building that overlooked the lake. It was not huge, but it was larger than Summerhill, and certainly larger than Dustin's home. At least, the home that he remembered. Ralles talked to a lot of important-looking dri, and it sounded like he was mostly trying to get out of trouble. Dustin tried to keep up with what they were saying, but their conversations involved a lot of laws, names, and places that he did not know. Finally Ralles finished and Lern Salin arrived at the house, along with Jordan and Kayonna. Kayonna looked like she had just run ten miles and was about to pass out. Jordan shook his head in warning when Dustin was about to ask what had happened. By that time it was getting dark, and all three kids were exhausted. Ralles went off to attend to important business, as he put it, so the two adults and three kids had dinner in a grand hall. The food was good, although Dustin did not really taste it. The second he had arrived at the Lalid House, it felt like a bubble was growing inside his stomach. He found it hard to think straight, and felt like running ten miles wouldn't be too bad.
Around halfway through dinner, Kayonna, who was sitting next to him, said, "Dustin, stop that."
"Stop what?" he asked.
"Freaking out!" Kayonna hissed. "I can feel your anxiety. You have to calm down, control your emotions."
"Why isn't Jordan affected?" he asked quietly, since Jordan was sitting on the other side of him.
"He's human," Kayonna answered. "Dri feel emotions much more sharply than humans do. I know your worried, but if you don't stop then you might accidently lose control of your magic. I nearly set the tablecloth on fire a minute ago because your nerves were influencing me so much. And I am not an easily influenced dri!"
Dustin tried to calm down, although it was hard. He could tell it hadn't completely worked, because Kayonna kept her hands clutched in fists and ate very little of her dinner. By the time they finished the sun was long gone. The kids all went up to bed, but Dustin realized that as tired as he was, there was no way he was going to get to sleep.
His room, which probably hadn't changed since the day he left, had a window seat that overlooked the lake. Dustin gravitated toward the window and sat down, leaning against the wall. Pale moonlight washed across his room, illuminating it in icy brilliance. He was amazed at how clear the sky was, how bright the stars were. Dustin hadn't realized how many stars there were in the world. Back in Boston, there was always an orange glow on the horizon.
Dustin tried to identify the constellations he knew. Orion, the Big Dipper, Hercules, the North Star. According to Ralles, Hercules and all those other heroes had been real people, dri who set out on impossible missions for one reason or another. Was Dustin really related to them?
His gaze kept drifting back to the North Star. He had heard that no matter where a person was, they could always see it in the sky. Did that mean that his parents could see it right now? Were they as excited to see him as he was to see them? Dustin wondered if he looked more like his mom or his dad. Despite what Ralles had said, the memory magic did not seem to be wearing off. Certain places and images in Gaelagell had seemed familiar, but his parents remained a mystery. He also wondered where his sister, Thia, was. Everyone seemed to change the subject when he asked about her.
Dustin heard a tap. He turned and saw Kayonna hovering outside his other, smaller window. She was wearing a long nightgown and had a jacket draped over her shoulders, probably because it was freezing outside. She smiled and waved, and Dustin let her in through the large window. "Couldn't sleep either?" She asked as she settled down on the bench next to him.
He shrugged. "I'm nervous."
"Yeah, I guess I would be too, if it were me."
"Do you know anything about them?" Dustin asked, slightly worried about the answer.
Kayonna thought about it and replied, "Not really. Ralles doesn't really like his brother, so it's hard to tell what the Talan is really like. The people like him, although some complain that he's too gentle, that he should fight rather than flee."
Dustin was about to defend his father, but Kayonna held up her hand and continued, "You asked if I knew anything about them. This is what I've heard."
Dustin sighed and looked up at the sky again. "Why did they send me away?"
"Well, they didn't abandon you," Kayonna replied.
"I didn't say they did."
"No, but you thought it," Kayonna pointed out.
"You know, I prefer to keep my thoughts to myself," Dustin said.
"It's not like I'm trying to read them," Kayonna said. "You just don't know how to close your mind like most dri do. It's something we all have to learn. Since we're naturally more open to energy and thoughts than humans, we also have to be aware of what thoughts and emotions we're letting run free."
"Great, another thing I don't know how to do," Dustin grumbled. "I'm sure my parents will be very proud."
"Don't talk like that!" Kayonna protested. "The entire dri world has been waiting for you to return. The last thing they'll care about is how much magic you know. You'll have the best lerns in the world. I'm sure it will be wonderful." At this last thought, Kayonna's voice turned dark. She quickly averted her eyes and looked out the window, although her expression was full of strength, not longing.
"Kayonna," Dustin said gently. He could tell that she was upset, although he couldn't tell why. He detected a sort of determination in her... and loneliness? "Kayonna, why don't you live with your parents?"
Kayonna sighed. He could tell that she was trying to figure out how much to tell him. Finally, she said in a very soft voice, "My parents live in a small town, completely immersed in humans. We always had enough, but not much more than that. They were strict, but they loved me. They taught me as well as they could, but neither of them were very good at magic, and they saw that I needed something... more. I sort of felt the same way you did in school. I wanted to learn more, to grow, but I just couldn't." She sighed. "So when I was ten years old, I called Ralles in the middle of the night and explained my situation to him. He had met me once many years ago when my aunt got married, and remembered that even right after I got my feystone, I had talent. He agreed to let me live at Summerhill with another family. My parents were upset at first, and then they offered to move closer to the dri, but I couldn't do that to them. They loved living with humans, away from all the strange dri stuff. I left a few days later, and since then, I've only seen them a couple of times."
"You chose to leave your family?" Dustin said, shocked.
Kayonna turned sharply to face him. "Do you think I wanted to? I would give anything to live with them, but the fact is they and I are completely different people. I had to decide whether staying with them in that tiny town was worth being isolated and ignorant of my own race, my own people." She sighed. "I'm sorry I snapped at you. It's just... I sometimes feel like I'm stuck between two worlds, you know? My parents are my family, and I love them, but all the people at Summerhill who have raised me, those are my family too. And sometimes I wonder if I made the wrong decision."
"Yeah," Dustin said. "It seems like the longer I'm around you people, the harder it is to find the right choice. It's like, sometimes there just isn't one."
"Exactly," Kayonna agreed. For a moment, they just stared at the sky, each thinking of their families. Then, she stood up, smiled and launched herself out of the window. Dustin couldn't help but gasp in amazement as she soared through the icy night air, swooping around, her nightgown fluttering in the breeze, before turning and returning to her room.
Dustin shook his head and closed the window. He may not have felt any less nervous, but at least he knew that whatever happened tomorrow, there was at least one person in this city who would understand.
The next morning, time acted so strangely Dustin was sure he had been sucked into some dri wormhole. One moment it was racing in leaps and bounds, the next moment it crawled along as if it were dreading the looming events. Ralles rushed around looking very irritated and snapping at everyone he passed. Kayonna, although calmer, was also a bit nervous. She kept telling Dustin to fix his hair and Jordan to tuck in his shirt. Jordan kept cracking jokes, trying to lighten the mood, but it mostly just earned him nasty looks from Kayonna. Dustin did not see much of Brigit. When he did, she was nice enough, but he could tell that she was very upset about something. He was not sure what it was, but he knew that it had something to do with him.
"You're so dense," Kayonna said when Dustin asked why Brigit was sulking. "Don't you see how worried she is?"
"About what?" Dustin asked.
"About you, dunderhead! She's obviously terrified that you're going to love your parents and not want to have anything to do with her ever again! I mean, she's always felt a little insecure knowing that one day she'd have to give you up, but now she knows that not only are your parents alive but they're also these incredible magical rulers who know about things she never even knew existed. And she sees how excited you are and she wants to feel happy for you but at the same time it's impossible for her to, so she feels really guilty."
"Wow," Jordan said. "Did your magic tell you all that?"
"No, empathy and good old common sense did, although seeing as you lack both, I can understand why you didn't see that."
"Hey!" Jordan protested, although not completely offended. "I have tons of empathy. Bucket loads, mountains, all the-"
"Fix your shirt," Kayonna interrupted. That morning they had all exchanged their human clothes for dri clothes, which seemed like a bit of a waste, since both Kayonna and Jordan would be leaving that evening. Dustin was wearing a long sleeve pale blue shirt, a grey jacket made out some soft material, and dark grey cargo pants made out of the same material as the jacket. Jordan was wearing a greyish-blue sweater and brown pants. Kayonna looked quite pretty, although a little bit uncomfortable, in her long green skirt and blouse with a dusty grey gauze shawl layered over it. Dustin realized now that his aversion to denim made a whole lot more sense now, feeling the soft materials the dri used for their clothes.
Suddenly, the steward of the Lalid House shouted, "They're here! Talan Gern and Trir Lusemni have returned!"
Dustin’s heart started racing a million miles an hour, and he felt sick. Kayonna patted him on the shoulder and headed outside. Jordan said, "Whoa, dude, if you're going to hurl, can you at least use some magic dri spell so that it doesn't get on me?" Dustin smiled. Feeling a bit better, he followed Jordan outside, where the crowd of staff, as well as Brigit, Lern Salin, and Ralles were waiting. However, instead of looking at the long driveway, their eyes were watching the sky. Dustin looked up too, and was amazed by what he saw.
Soaring through the sky was a large ship, at least fifty feet in length, with towering sails on both the top and bottom and broad golden wings stretching out to either side of the body. The wood was creamy white and brightly polished, and the dri flag, deep blue with a silver knot and four gold stars at the corners, flapped brightly in the air. Dustin could only watch in amazement as the aircraft settled down to Earth. Immediately various staff members ran to help the workers on board, lowering a gangplank and tying the ship to stakes in the ground while the levitation magic wore off. Then, a horn sounded, and the Talan and Trir stepped off the ship.
* * *
Talan Gern resembled his brother Ralles. They both had the same dark brown hair, the same broad shoulders, and the same deep eyes. However, whereas Ralles radiated power and seemed to have a perpetually annoyed look on his face, Dustin’s father looked like he laughed a lot. He waved to the staff in an easy manner. He was slightly rounder than Ralles, but it seemed to fit him. He looked royal with his deep purple jacket and silver piping. Unlike Ralles, his skin was tanned, similar to Dustin’s.
It was his mother, though, that Dustin resembled. Her long dusty brown hair was tied up in a knot. She had large, deep blue eyes, a heart-shaped face, and arched eyebrows that gave her an innocent yet somehow devious expression. She wore a dusty purple dress that had a layered skirt, over which she wore a pale brown wrap and a cream-colored scarf. When she saw Dustin, her eyes lit up.
Oddly enough, Dustin felt very calm. The sight of his parents stirred a deep memory in him, a memory of magic tricks before bedtime and grand parties and travelling to strange, far off places. There was something else, though, that Dustin didn’t quite recognize. It was a distant feeling, as if he did not know his parents.
The crowd parted as the Talan and Trir made their way toward Dustin’s group. Lern Salin, Kayonna, and Ralles quickly bowed, although Ralles didn’t look too happy about it. Not sure what to do, Dustin bowed as well. His mom gave a musical laugh and said, “Enough of that. Come, Dustin, and the rest of you as well. We have much to discuss.”
After the introductions were made (both his mom and Brigit seemed less than happy to be meeting each other), the group proceeded into the entrance hall and sat down on some chairs in the far corner. For a moment, everyone was silent. Then, Ralles said, “Well, I suppose we should get straight to the point. The dri are leaving, Dustin.”
“Ralles!” Dustin’s dad reprimanded, although Ralles didn’t seem the least bit sorry.
“Leaving?” Dustin repeated, confused.
“Wait, you were serious about that?” Kayonna asked.
Lern Salin stepped forward. “I thought that Your Majesties had agreed to wait until we knew more?”
“The circumstances have changed,” his mom replied calmly.
“Hold on!” Dustin shouted, since everyone seemed to have forgotten him. “Where exactly are the dri going?”
His dad sighed and then replied, "Home, our original home. We're going back to the Otherworld."
For a moment there was silence. Dustin felt like his brain was working extremely slowly, trying to get through a lake of molasses. "The Otherworld? But, isn't that not part of this world? Why do we need to go there?"
"Because, much like many years ago when the dri escaped persecution in the Otherworld and came here," Dustin's mom answered. "There is someone or some group that is set on destroying the dri here."
"But if you left the Otherworld because of that," Dustin said. "Then why would you go back?"
"Exactly the question I asked," Ralles grumbled, his arms crossed.
"We believe that since it has been over two-thousand years since we left the Otherworld," Dustin's dad replied. "Things will have either cooled down or been forgotten. Besides, the Otherworld was always a wild place, full of unexplored territories. Even if we are not welcomed, we can always disappear into the mountains in the Otherworld. It is not that easy to do so here."
“But…why?” Brigit asked. “Why after all this time do you have to run away to some fairy land and take my son?”
The room instantly became cold. Dustin’s mom said, “May I remind you, Miss O’Keeffe, that Dustin is not your son? We appreciate that you have taken care of him all this time, but now you must realize that Dustin must return to where he belongs if he is to be truly happy.”
Brigit was speechless for a moment. She glanced from Dustin to his mom and back again, as if trying to figure out the connection between the two of them. Suddenly Dustin felt a bit embarrassed, although he wasn’t sure why.
“I still don’t get it,” Jordan said, breaking the silence. “Why does Dustin have to go? What’s this big danger you keep talking about? Everyone looks pretty well off here.”
“It has to do with those men who were following me, doesn’t it?” Dustin asked quietly. “Where is Thia? Every time I ask, people get this weird expression on their face like they’re really worried, but they’re trying to hide it. I want a straight answer!” Dustin realized that he sounded desperate, that he was on the brink of tears, but the truth was that that was the way he felt.
His mom and dad shared a worried look. Then, the Talan sighed and said, “She was kidnapped a few weeks ago, by the same person who keeps sending men to follow you. We don’t know where she is.”
“Kidnapped?” Dustin repeated numbly. “So she’s just… gone?”
Ralles said, "You see, when you and your sister were five years old, there was a man named Jonathan Allistaire, probably more than a little crazy, who believed that you two had some special power that he needed. To this day we’re still not sure why.”
Dustin’s mom continued, “We decided to send Thia to my sister for protection, and to send you to Ralles, back when he lived in Louisiana. But the night that we were supposed to do the flicker, someone betrayed us. They told Allistaire that you were being moved that night. He got desperate and attacked Gaelagell. The city went virtually unharmed, and we were able to send Thia to her aunt safe and sound. But before we could send you to Ralles, the Lalid House was set on fire. It was… chaos. There was smoke everywhere and no one could think straight. You were nearly burned to death.” Dustin remembered the image he had seen yesterday as his house in Boston went up in flames. The towering white buildings burning, the people screaming his name and the names of his parents. It had been a memory. “We finally flickered you away, but there must have been some special chemical in the smoke that made us distracted and our magic dull, because instead of going to Ralles-"
"He was sent to the Boston South Station," Brigit finished in a daze.
"Exactly,” Ralles replied. “We searched for you for many months, but it proved useless because of your altered memory. Your mother, however, could sense that you were alive and well, so we decided to just let you grow up in peace. Thia was growing up with dri, and since she is the older twin, she would be the one to inherit the throne. It was imperative that she was kept safe and educated. When we found you, or when you found us, everything would be explained to you. All your mother knew was that you were somewhere in the eastern seaboard area. I moved up there in hopes of running into you one day, but it never happened."
"Until now," Dustin said, suddenly annoyed. Why had everyone abandoned him? Was he just not that important? Did dri have different family morals than humans? If they did, Dustin was not at all sure he liked them.
"Yes, well, in the past few weeks, circumstances have changed," Ralles said, sounding a bit worried. “Last month there was a break in at your aunt’s house, despite all the protection we put around it. No one was injured, but Thia was gone. Dozens of dri have been sent out to search for her, but in case the search proves fruitless, we realized that we still would need an heir. I finally found you in Boston, but it was too late. We had hoped that if we found you before Allistaire did, you would be safe, and they would stop searching for you. But they found you the same day I did, so it’s obvious that even hidden among humans you are not safe. We don’t know what Allistaire is planning to do with Thia, but considering how long he’s searched for you, it can’t be good.”
“We have decided that our only option is to return to the Otherworld, before the situation grows worse,” Dustin’s mom said.
“Yeah, cause it isn’t already bad enough,” Dustin grumbled.
“That meeting in Ireland was concerning Thia’s disappearance,” Dustin’s dad said sharply. “But it turns out that dri around the world have been experiencing… unexplainable difficulties. Strange plagues, natural disasters targeted at dri cities, wars between once-friendly dri tribes. It’s obvious that Allistaire is part of a movement, a movement that is targeting more than just our family.”
“So you’re just going to abandon her?” Dustin asked, appalled. “You’re the most powerful beings on earth and instead of trying to save your daughter you’re just going to turn tail and run away?”
“Now listen here, young man,” Dustin’s mom said in a dangerous voice.
“I agree with you, Dustin,” Ralles replied. “The dri are an ancient and powerful species. We should have no trouble conquering this threat.”
“It’s not about conquering!” Dustin’s dad insisted. “Do you realize how much the dri population is dwindling, especially since this group showed up? Even before Allistaire returned things have been getting worse. Just last December every single dri in Liechtenstein was killed overnight by a powerful curse. Already we have lost several defenders trying to find Thia and instead finding soldiers sent by Allistaire and his friends to slaughter them. I want to find my daughter as much as the next person, but this isn’t about family or pride! This is about saving our people!”
“They will be saved if we just go in there and show these people what the dri can do!” Ralles argued. “We don’t have to hide anymore!”
“Wait!” Dustin shouted. “Don’t any of you actually care about saving my sister?”
The room was silent. Then, the Trir said, “Dustin, it’s more complicated than that-”
“Oh, yeah?” Dustin interrupted. “I don’t see how it is. Thia is your daughter, and regardless of whether she’s the heir anymore or not, you should still care about her enough to go and find her yourself. And why didn’t you try to find me, huh? You knew that I wasn’t with Ralles; you knew that I could be in danger, but it didn’t matter to you, did it? As long as your heir and your pretty little city were safe, then everything was right in the world. Well guess what? I spent seven years of my life feeling like an outsider and dreaming about my family. Turns out I should have dreamed about other things, because my parents are a bunch of coldblooded cowards!”
Dustin suddenly fell silent, his angry energy spent, replaced with a sickening feeling. It wasn’t hate or anger or even fear. It was disgust.
“And by the way,” Dustin said, his voice suddenly calm. “I’m staying here, on earth, with Jordan and Brigit. I’m not going to the Otherworld.”
Before anyone could say another word, Dustin turned and fled the hall, throwing open the great wooden doors and escaping to the world outside. His mind was clouded and he didn’t know where he was going. All he could think of was the one image he remembered of Thia, and how at this very moment she could be dead because of his parents.
Back in the hall, everybody stood in silence, not sure what to do. Then, Jordan said critically, “Wow, and I thought my parents were a letdown.”
* * *
Kayonna and Jordan found Dustin sitting at the northern tip of the island, his feet dangling over the cliff, hanging above the deep indigo water below. Kayonna saw tear marks on his cheeks, but she wisely did not mention them. Instead, she quietly sat down beside Dustin, motioning for Jordan to do the same. After a while, Dustin said quietly, “I can’t believe it. I wasted seven years of my life waiting for them.” He smiled bitterly. “You know, in the fairy tales, the poor orphan boy always finds these wonderful parents after being raised by a horrible family. I guess I should have known when Brigit turned out to be the nicest mother in the world. Sometimes your dream parents are exactly that: a dream. I can’t believe I let Ralles talk me into this!” he stood up and hurled a rock into the water, not gaining any pleasure when it sailed farther than any human being would have been able to throw it and landed with a huge splash in the lake. Some merrow surfaced and waved their fists at Dustin in annoyance, but he didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, the merrow were just another part of his parents’ twisted world.
“Dustin, you have to understand,” Kayonna said gently. “It’s not just Allistaire the athe dri fear. He’s only one part of a larger group, a force set on getting rid of us for some reason. We thought that we might be safe here in Gaelagell, but now that Allistaire has taken Thia, we think that maybe he and his group are planning something bigger. Your parents can’t just look like they’re standing around waiting to find a girl who’s probably dead already. Dri were suggesting that we leave both you and your sister and return to the Otherworld months ago. Others are saying that we should enlist every adult dri there is to get rid of Allistaire’s movement before they gets rid of us. They’re in a very tight position right now!”
“Wow, Kayonna,” Dustin snapped. “I didn’t think you’d be the one to defend them!”
“Dude, she’s not defending them!” Jordan said. “Look, my mom has made a lot of bad decisions in her life, but I tried until the very end to get her back on her feet because she’s my family. You can’t just abandon your parents!”
“Oh yeah, like they abandoned me?” Dustin fired back, throwing another stone into the water. He turned to Kayonna and demanded, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I thought that you of all people would want a family to be together!”
“I’m sorry, Dustin, I really am!” Kayonna replied. “But Ralles made us swear not to tell you about Thia. He said that anyone who did would be kicked out of Summerhill.”
“Oh, that’s right,” Dustin growled. “Because you already ditched your family so that you could be some famous dri person.”
“Dustin!” Kayonna shouted. He realized that she was crying, but her expression was one of fury, not sadness. “Don’t you get it? We want to help you! We’re going to find Thia!”
For a moment, Dustin was shocked. Then, he said slowly, “What?”
“Yeah, dude,” Jordan confirmed. “As we were looking for you, we decided that we’re going to help you find your sister.”
“Well, we don’t know exactly,” Kayonna replied. “But Lern Salin knows everything there is to know about the dri. And this Allistaire guy doesn’t exactly sound stealthy. It shouldn’t be too hard to find him.”
“Right, and then we just have to break Thia out of a prison run by a guy who could possibly eliminate the entire dri race,” Jordan added. “Piece of cake.”
“Jordan, not helping,” Kayonna scolded.
“No, he’s right,” Dustin said. “What chance do we have against these people?”
“I don’t know,” Kayonna replied matter-of-factly. “But would you rather sit around here until your parents decide that it’s time to go to the Otherworld?” Dustin was silent. “That’s what I thought. Come on; we have to go tell your parents.”
* * *
“Are you insane?” Ralles shouted. “There’s no way we’re letting three children go on some crazy mission against a group that has power to rival that of the dri!”
“I thought you just said that the dri could get rid of Allistaire and his leaders in an instant?” Lern Salin pointed out smugly.
“Yes, grown dri with years of magical experience,” Ralles said. “Dustin hasn’t used magic except by accident, and Jordan is a human for fey’s sake!”
Dustin’s parents looked apprehensive as well. “But d…dad,” Dustin stumbled over the word that was so unfamiliar in his mouth. “It makes sense. You let us find Thia, who is the one that you really want to be the heir, and you let me go back home with Brigit. It’s a win-win!”
“B-but,” Ralles sputtered. “This is ridiculous! What if something happens to them?” his voice trailed off, as if suddenly realizing something.
“Ralles is right,” Dustin’s dad said. “We’ve already lost Thia. What will we do if you get hurt, or killed?”
“I’ll be there with them,” Brigit suddenly said. Dustin stared at her for a moment, wondering if he had heard her right. From what he had sensed, Brigit wanted nothing to do with the dri world. “If you let them rescue Thia, I’ll do whatever I can to keep them safe.”
“As will I,” agreed Lern Salin. “You said so yourself, Your Highness, that if there was anyone who could figure out how to get rid of Allistaire and the others, it would be me.”
For a moment, the Talan was silent, unsure of what to do.
“You know,” Ralles said, suddenly contemplative. “It could work. Kayonna is one of the top students at Summerhill, and Dustin is your son. He seems to have quite a bit of innate talent, considering he hasn’t been trained. Why don’t we give them a chance?”
Dustin’s dad still looked unsure. Remembering what Kayonna had said about his emotions being powerful, Dustin tried willing confidence and optimism into his parents. He was not sure if it was working, but his feystone did feel a bit warmer.
After a long moment of deliberation, Dustin’s mom said, “I give you permission to go. But please be careful, and bring back my little girl.”
The kids cheered, and even Brigit couldn’t contain a smile. "We're going on a flicker!" Kayonna cheered. When Dustin and Jordan gave her a questioning look, she explained, "You know, a flicker. A journey, a quest? Since the dri use flickering to travel, it's just a synonym for a trip as well. A flicker."
"A flicker," Brigit repeated. "I like it."
“So I just have one question,” Jordan said. “Where the heck are we flickering to?”
It was amazing how fast the dri could get things done once they had their mind set on a task. Within hours of the kids deciding to find Thia, they had bags packed with several days-worth of clothing, food, and other necessities; a minivan had somehow been brought to the outskirts of Gaelagell so that when they were ready to enter the human world once more, they would have a way to get around. Lern Salin even had an idea of where they would start their search.
"We may not know the exact whereabouts of Allistaire," Lern Salin explained to the others as they bent over a map of the US. It was obviously a dri map, because in addition to human cities, dri cities were also labeled, and there were markers such as "Woodwose here" near the Appalachian Mountains and "Beware: Night Hags" next to Chicago. Dustin was not sure what a night hag was, but it did not sound very friendly. "But I have a hunch that they might be able to help us," Lern Salin said, pointing to a marker in the southwest. Dustin looked at where he was pointing and saw that it said "Marassa tribe land" next to a tiny symbol that looked like a horse. "What's Marassa?" Jordan asked.
"Not what, who," Kayonna corrected. "They're a race of Folk that are part horse, part human.”
“Like centaurs?” Dustin asked.
“No, it’s more like their essence is that of a horse and a human all at once. They can be human in form or horse, or a mix of both, but their minds are always divided between the two worlds. I've heard they're very wise, but..." she turned to Lern Salin. "Aren't they very wild?"
"They do not have laws as we do, if that's what you mean," Lern Salin answered. "However, they are a benevolent people, and I'm sure that they will help us. The marassa can communicate with all creatures, so they often know things even before the dri that are good at scrying." Kayonna rolled her eyes. "I suggest that we drive down to their territory and ask them if they have heard anything about Allistaire or about any more kidnappings."
"Why don't we just fly in a ship, or flicker?" Kayonna asked. "It'll be a lot faster." Dustin thought he saw Jordan shiver with fear, but he could not be sure.
"True, it would be faster," Lern Salin answered. "However, considering the fact that his men found you hours after you performed magic, we have good reason to believe that he is able to track you through the magic that you perform. It would be best if we use as little magic as needed, at least until we know more."
Jordan let out a sigh of relief. Dustin turned to him and said, "You're not afraid of heights, are you?"
"What, me, afraid of heights?" Jordan scoffed. "I just...ah... think that humans were meant to stay with their feet firmly on the ground."
Dustin couldn't help but smile. He had always loved heights, and although he knew that many people didn't, it was still amusing to know that Jordan, who had survived in some of New York's toughest neighborhoods, was afraid of heights.
Lern Salin continued, "When you reach the marassa-"
"Wait," Brigit interrupted. "Aren't you coming with us?" She sounded nervous, which didn't surprise Dustin. He would be a little scared too if he was about to be sent out into the world in search of a dri powerful enough to wipe out an entire race with nothing but a few kids for defense.
"Unfortunately, I can't accompany you," Lern Salin replied, shaking his head. "I don't like the way Ralles suddenly changed his mind about you kids going. I've only been at Summerhill for a few years, and Ralles is good at blocking his mind from others, but I get the sense that he has an agenda of his own. I want to stick around and see what he's up to. And also," he looked around nervously, as if to make sure no one could overhear them. "I'm worried about the Hartstone."
Kayonna gasped, but Dustin did not understand why. He tried to remember what Ralles had told him. Something about feystones being mined from the Hartstone... "What's wrong with it?" Dustin asked.
"I don't know," Lern Salin replied. "That's why I wanted to come here to Gaelagell. I thought that maybe since the lerns here live right above the Hartstone, they would be able to tell me-"
"Wait a minute," Kayonna interrupted. "You mean that the Hartstone has been underneath Gaelagell all this time?"
Lern Salin looked confused. "Didn't I tell you that?"
Kayonna rolled her eyes, and from her expression Dustin figured that this was not the first time Lern Salin had forgotten to tell her something. Dustin was surprised but also impressed by Lern Salin; he certainly was not like any teacher Dustin had ever known.
Lern Salin said, "The other lerns told me that for months now the Hartstone has been flickering with power, as if trying to ward off an attack or something. The Gatherers-"
"The what?" Jordan asked.
"The dri who protect and mine the Hartstone," Lern Salin explained. "The Gatherers have been trying to protect it, but they say that this is a foreign threat, something that they have no idea how to deal with. None of the dri have felt the effects yet, but I fear it won't be long."
"Do you think it has to do with Ralles?" Brigit asked, probably thinking that the answer was yes.
"I don't know," Lern Salin replied. "I just don't understand why a dri would attack the Hartstone!" he said, throwing up his hands in frustration. "It's our power, our life source. Why would a dri want to destroy it?"
"Maybe it's not a dri," Kayonna suggested.
"Or maybe they don't want to destroy it," Dustin said quietly. Everybody turned to him for an explanation, although he was not quite sure he had one. "I mean, if feystones are mined from the Hartstone, then maybe somebody figures that they can have more power if they control the whole Hartstone, not just a piece of it. Cause like you said, why would somebody want to destroy it? It would destroy the dri, wouldn't it?"
The next morning, Lern Salin, Ralles, and Dustin's parents escorted them back to the human world. Gilno Sul, the boatman, was overjoyed to have the entire royal family in his boat, and consequently almost capsized the vessel. He rowed them to a tiny stream Dustin hadn't noticed earlier that led between two of the tallest peaks. For about twenty minutes they sailed down the stream, the glittering city receding in the distance behind them. The high cliff walls were painted in rust, gold, sepia, and grey, with white streaks running up the sides. Pine trees clung to the rocks, and Dustin wondered how they were able to survive like that; they looked like they were about to tumble down the slope any second. Tiny yellow wildflowers lined the bank of the stream. Overhead, the sky was cloudless and clear blue, stretched over the ceiling of the world like a freshly washed sheet. Dustin had never seen the sky like this, or at least that he could remember. In Boston, the sky was usually cloudy, and when it wasn't there was always a foggy film overhead, waiting to descend on the city as a dense cloud.
Finally they emerged from the canyon and their stream merged with a larger river. Trees covered in tiny green buds created an archway over the boat, and evergreen bushes lined the shore. Warm sunlight filtered through the branches, casting a green-gold morning light over everything. Large boulders were propped next to a small dirt path that wound next to the river. Dustin could not see any houses, but he heard cars nearby. The went a little farther downriver, and then stopped the boat on a small, rocky beach.
"This is where we leave you," The Talan said. "The car is just up that path, parked by the side of the road. There are instructions in the glove compartment that give directions to the airport and four plane tickets, as well as what to do when you find the Marassa." He handed Brigit a single key.
"This is for you," Lern Salin said, giving Brigit what looked like a badly carved stone bowl that had been eroded over many years by flowing water.
"Um, if you haven't noticed, it's a rock," Jordan pointed out.
"It's not just a rock," Kayonna sighed. "It's a mortar, like what people used to use to grind grain with."
"Exactly," Lern Salin said. "If you fill it with water and say my name, then I'll be able to speak with you. Only use it though, when you are in times of distress. Remember, no matter what, we can't let Allistaire find you."
"What happens if he does?" Dustin asked.
"I'd prefer not to think about it," Lern Salin grumbled.
"Thank you, Mr. Optimistic," Kayonna snapped. "Come on, we should go before traffic starts building up."
Dustin's parents each gave him an awkward hug, and Lern Salin shook their hands. Then, without another word of farewell, the tiny group marched down the dirt path up a tiny hill that led to the road. When they reached the street, they found a grey minivan parked on the curb of the road. It looked about thirty years old, and Dustin wondered how long it had been since the dri had last used it. Obviously the dri were not used to using human modes of transportation.
Dustin looked back, but he could no longer see the river nor the boat. He felt nervous. They were walking into a world blindly with nothing but some instructions and hope to guide them. According to his parents, a mad dri was trying to kidnap him, and so far they had nearly succeeded twice in doing so. Still, in a way, Dustin was excited. He no longer felt the need to prove anything to his parents; if anything they were the ones who should have been making things up to him. All he had to focus on now was finding his sister.
Right, like that was going to be any easier.
Dustin had never been to Colorado before, so as they drove through the mountains on their way south, he could not help but marvel at the scenery they passed. Brigit had once taken the kids to some mountains outside of Boston for a weekend trip, but those were like molehills compared to the rocky faces soaring above Dustin. Carpets of evergreen trees were broken up by patches of slender, white-barked trees just starting to bloom. Brigit told him that they were aspen trees, and that a patch of aspens was actually one giant tree with an enormous root system underground. Near the peaks of the mountains the trees fell away to reveal stark grey cliffs covered in glittering snow. The river that they had sailed down followed the highway on their right, tumbling over boulders and mini-waterfalls. Jordan looked a little queasy as he saw the rushing water race past them twenty feet below with only a low wooden rail between the road and the cliff edge.
During the drive, Brigit told them funny stories about when she was a kid. "You know, for the longest time I wanted to be a dancer," she said.
"Really?" Kayonna asked.
"Yep," Brigit replied, shaking her head and smiling. "My mom took me to see the Boston Ballet when I was four. I think they were doing Sleeping Beauty. That night after the show was over, I ran up to my room and found the fluffiest, pinkest skirt I had and started twirling around the living room. I made my brother play the prince. I think he still resents me for that, especially since I accidentally whacked him on the head when I 'woke up'." They all laughed. Dustin most of all, because he simply could not imagine Brigit as a tiny, ungraceful girl in a pink tutu. She had always been so graceful and composed to him. Even when her temper came out, she was always so... in control.
"But you never took classes?" Kayonna asked.
"Actually, I did," Brigit responded. "In fact, up until I was sixteen I was one of the top dancers in my class. Of course, that's not saying a whole lot, considering most of those girls were only dancing so that they could be on stage and get famous."
Jordan snorted. "Why am I not surprised? That's what every girl wants these days."
"Excuse me!" Kayonna snapped, giving him a dangerous look.
"Chill, Kay-Kay," Jordan said, holding up his hands. "I was only kidding."
"What did you call me?" She asked. "Kay-Kay?"
"Okay," Jordan whistled. "A little touchy today. Brigit, please continue before she turns me into a toad."
Kayonna humphed, but she listened when Brigit said, "Well, as I was saying, I danced for a long time. I just loved everything about it! The freedom, the music, the excitement backstage. I remember this one time when our company was doing Peter Pan. I was supposed to be doing a pas de deux with this new boy who was playing Peter. He was a beautiful dancer, but I swear he spent more time fooling around then actually dancing. Well, we went up on stage and he completely forgot the moves. I did this huge leap, expecting him to catch me like we had rehearsed, and he just stared at me as I fell!"
"What did you do?" Dustin asked.
"What could I do?" Brigit asked. "I wasn't going to punch him in front of the whole audience. He helped me up and then basically improvised the rest of the dance. When we finished, he actually turned to me and said, 'great show, huh?'. I swear I was about to send him to Neverland the hard way!"
"But you didn't?" Kayonna said.
"Well, he kissed me before I could," Brigit replied, blushing a bit. "That night the audience gave us a standing ovation."
"Awesome," Jordan said.
Kayonna rolled her eyes and then asked, "Why did you stop dancing?"
Brigit's expression became more somber. "Well, I didn't want to. In fact, I was planning on auditioning for Julliard. When I told my parents, though, they disagreed. They said that dance was a nice hobby, but it was time to get serious."
"And you listened?" Dustin asked.
"Not exactly," Brigit replied. "I started planning on going into history or something, but in my senior year I sent in an audition tape to Julliard, just like I had always wanted. I told them my situation with my parents, and that even if I was accepted they weren't going to support me. I asked for a scholarship. A week later, I got a letter back from them. The admissions told me that I had some skill, but that there were ten-thousand other girls out there with the exact same dream as me and who needed this more than I did. They told me to reapply in a few years." She took a deep breath. "That summer, I dislocated my knee three times and then hyper-extended it. I had to have surgery and was in a wheelchair for months. By the time it was safe enough for me to dance again, I had already been accepted to Yale with a full scholarship. My parents threatened to disown me if I turned down the acceptance to go to a dance school." She hung her head and whispered, "I haven't danced since then."
"That's terrible!" Kayonna cried.
"Why didn't you just leave?" Jordan asked. "I've done it loads of times."
"Yeah, and it almost landed you in juvie," Kayonna retorted.
"Still, that would be better than going to some boring old school, right?" Jordan asked.
"But that was the problem," Brigit replied. "When I got to Yale I took a creative writing class, and I realized how much I loved it. Besides, every time I considered dancing again, I remembered what my parents had told me, and what the admissions people had said. I couldn't bear to hear that kind of rejection again."
After that, no one said anything for a while. Dustin remembered the day he had told Brigit he wanted to try out for the track team. Even when he had gotten bad grades and fought with other kids, she had always supported him. He couldn't imagine trying to deal with all his issues without someone like Brigit to support him. Brigit had never really told Dustin about her parents before. It sounded, though, like they might even be worse than Dustin's own parents.
As they emerged from the mountains and starting driving through the foothills and plateaus, Dustin drifted into an uneasy sleep, the image of Brigit dancing and falling haunting his mind.
Dustin was jolted awake by a clash of thunder. Even though it was not even noon yet, the sky was black. It looked as if a charcoal-black blanket had been thrown over the roof of the world. Cracks of lightning cut the sky everywhere Dustin looked, their bright light bruising the sky purple and blue. Rain pounded down on their car, looking more like a waterfall than individual drops. The car's windshield wipers were going at top speed and the headlights were burning brightly, but Dustin could still not see more than a dozen feet in front of them. Brigit had a determined expression on her face, her hands gripping the wheel tightly.
"Where did this come from?" Dustin asked, to which Brigit shhed him.
Quietly, Kayonna replied, "I don't know. One minute there was clear skies, and then all of the sudden it was like all the lights were turned out."
"Dude, this can't be normal," Jordan said, looking out the window. "I mean, there's clear sky all around us!"
Dustin realized that Jordan was right. It was like they were trapped in their own personal storm.
"It can't be," Kayonna whispered. "They never come here."
"Whoa, hold on a second," Jordan said. "You mean that some weird dri thing is causing this? Cause if so, I'd prefer if you make it stop, like really soon."
Kayonna gave him a condescending look. "Why would I create a storm like this? Besides, dri don't have powers over the weather. No, this is something different."
"What is it?" Brigit asked, her teeth clenched as she jerked away from the side of the road.
Kayonna looked out the window and replied, trying to keep calm, "Well, judging by how fast the storm came on and the fact that it's only over us, I'd say that some sort of creature is causing this storm. And the only creature I know of that has this much control over the weather is a kisera."
"Gee, that's helpful," Jordan said. "Mind telling us what the heck a kisera is?"
"Kiseri are birds," Kayonna replied, stunned. "They were created magically hundreds of years ago out of fire and water. Their very essence is that of a storm. Usually they're free spirits and just run around causing havoc where ever they go. They stay by the coasts and cause hurricanes and stuff. I've heard rumors, though, that someone has been trying to control them."
"Allistaire?" Dustin asked.
"I wouldn't doubt it," Kayonna replied. "The thing is, if these really are kiseri, does that mean he's found us already? Or did he just tell them to come here in the off chance that we showed up?"
"Either way," Jordan said. "We're in big trouble!"
At that moment, a huge force slammed into the side of the car, nearly sending them off the freeway. Dustin felt a ringing in his ears and his left arm was on fire. He looked down and saw that the glass in his window had exploded, and a few pieces had embedded themselves in his arm. The pain left his mind, however, when a blinding flash of lighting struck right next to their car. The world went black.
Blinking his eyes a few times, the dark patches over Dustin's vision cleared, revealing some sort of ... thing flying next to their car. Looking around, he saw that there were four winged creatures keeping pace with the car, although it was hard to tell exactly how many because they kept disappearing and combining with each other in a flash of lightning. "You've gotta be kidding me," he muttered. First he found out that his dream parents don't exist, and within two hours of trying to find his sister and get back home, they were being attacked. "What do we do?" Dustin asked.
"We just have to get to the airport," Kayonna replied. "They don't like civilization."
The problem was that the airport was still a couple miles away, and the faster they drove, the darker the sky got. All the cars that had been driving near them earlier had somehow pulled away from the storm. Dustin saw a tall figure looming out of the darkness, glowing red eyes staring at him.
"Relax, it's just a statue," Kayonna said, as if reading his thoughts. Dustin realized that she was right. A thirty-foot tall blue mustang was rearing up by the side of the road.
"It's still way creepy," Jordan said.
"It's art!" Kayonna retorted.
"I thought art was supposed to make people happy, not scare the hell out of them."
"Guys!" Brigit snapped, cutting off the argument. "We have to-"
An explosion loud enough to be heard in Boston shook the world. There was a bright flash of light. Dustin felt the car swerve, the wheels finally surrendering to the rain-slickened road. Everybody screamed as they broke through the short wooden rail and tumbled into the ditch below.
For a moment, all that could be heard was the patter of rain and the crash of thunder in the distance. At first, Dustin thought he was dead, but then he quickly threw out that thought. If he was dead, then his body wouldn't ache this much. His arm still throbbed, he felt like someone was banging on his head with a hammer, and it felt like Jordan's head had been driven straight into his stomach. The smell of burning rubber plugged his nose. He blinked several times, trying to get the smoke out of his eyes.
As Dustin tried to catch his breath, Kayonna called, "Is everyone alright?"
"Well," Jordan said. "Except for the fact that we were chased by demon storm birds and driven over a cliff and your elbow is in my eye, I'm just super."
"Oh, shut up," Kayonna said. "Dustin?"
"Ow," he replied. "Fine. What about you, Brigit?" There was no reply. "Brigit? Brigit, are you okay?" The car was silent. "Oh no," Dustin whispered. The kids untangled themselves from each other's limbs and the seat belts. Dustin leaned around the front seat and saw that Brigit's eyes were closed, and a long gash ran across her forehead. She was leaning against the door, and her entire left arm was burned and smoking. Dustin realized that lightning must have struck the car, and that's why they crashed. Dustin thought that cars were the safest place to be in a lightning storm; then again, this was no ordinary storm. Brigit's breath came in quick, rattling gasps. Dustin tried to shake her awake, but she did not move. He knew that she was still alive, but how long would she stay that way?
Dustin tried to open the door, but the entire left side of the car was smoking from the lightning strike. Sparks flew out of the metal every few seconds. He could barely get within a few inches of the handle, much less force the door open. "Try your side," he told Kayonna.
She first tried the handle, and then shoved her shoulder against the door when that didn't work. The problem was that the ditch was filling with mud fast, and the right side of the car was embedded in the brown muck. The more Kayonna pushed on the door, the further they sunk. "What do we do now?" Dustin asked.
"Hold on," Jordan said. "I have an idea." He clambered into the passenger's seat. Then, he pulled some of the wires from the busted dashboard and started twisting them together with rapid precision. Dustin glanced at Kayonna, but she looked just as confused as he did. Dustin figured that whatever it was that Jordan was doing, it was probably illegal. "Watch this," Jordan said. Then, he took a coil of wires and wrapped it around the handle of Kayonna's door. "You'd better get back," he warned them. Then, he took the other end of the wire and touched it to the dashboard.
There was a crash and a smaller boom, and Kayonna's door was blasted open. "Do I even want to know where you learned that, Jordan?" She asked as she got out of the car, careful not to touch the smoking edges.
He smiled and shrugged, "Probably not."
"That was awesome," Dustin told him. Then, remembering why they had to get out, he leaped out of the car and ran around to the side that Brigit was on. The door was still smoking. Dustin was prepared to go in and get her, but at that moment a voice behind him said, "Wow, you're in a doozy, aren't you?" He spun around and saw that near the road, hovering a few inches above the ground, was Flick, the girl that Dustin had met a few days ago. Despite the pouring rain, she looked perfectly dry. Her multicolored eyes sparkled with excitement.
"Who are you?" Kayonna demanded. She looked at Dustin and said, "Be careful. I've heard that a kisera can take the forms of other creatures." Then, she turned to Flick again and said, "I saw you in my scry, when I saw Dustin and Jordan."
"What scry?" Jordan asked. "Wait, what's a scry?"
Ignoring him, Kayonna asked, "Who are you, and what do you want with us?"
"Whoa, calm down, Kayonna Kerun," Flick said, holding up her hands. Kayonna bristled when Flick said her full name. "I came to help."
"We're fine on our own, thank you very much," Kayonna growled, turning back to the car to figure out how to get Brigit out. Dustin thought she was being a little rude, especially considering the fact that they were nowhere near figuring out what to do. "Just let her talk, Kayonna," he said.
Flick took a deep breath, glanced at Kayonna, and then said, "Your Brigit is badly hurt. Kisera lightning can be quite deadly."
Dustin swore as Kayonna said, "I know that, but what do you suggest we do?"
"I can get her back to Gaelagell," Flick answered. "My magic is untraceable, so you won't be in any danger. If you want, I can arrange for a bus to take you to the airport. But if you want to stay with Brigit, you can all go back together."
"Of course we're going to keep going!" Jordan said. "We can't stop now."
"Uh, if you haven't noticed," Kayonna said. "We were almost blown to smithereens by the kiseri and that was probably an accident. At this rate we won't even make it to the airport alive. Besides, Brigit may need us."
Dustin slumped down into the mud and put his head in his hands, anger and anxiety boiling up inside him, vying for attention. They were next to a highway, miles away from any dri who could help them. If Flick was right, then Brigit did not have much time. But even if he did go back to Gaelagell with Brigit, then that would mean that they would never get another chance to find Thia again. Not after their failure this time. By the time Brigit would be well again, Dustin's parents would probably have already shipped him off to the Otherworld with all the other dri, leaving behind Thia and Jordan and Brigit. Then again, what would happen if they went all that way only to find that Thia wasn't even alive anymore? And what if they came back and Brigit was... Dustin couldn't even bring himself to think about it. He sighed and then asked without looking up, "You'll make sure that they help her?"
"Trust me," Flick said. "She'll be okay. I can't promise the same for you, though. Allistaire has been getting stronger ever since he kidnapped Thia."
"How do you know?" Kayonna asked.
Flick paused, and Dustin said, "It doesn't matter. Let's just get out of here before a kisera comes back."
"You're coming with us?" Flick asked.
Dustin sighed and said, "No, we're going to find Thia. I said that I was going to stay with Brigit no matter what, but unless we find Thia I'm going to have to go to the Otherworld."
"Great," Jordan said. "I just love life-threatening quests."
Flick disappeared for a second, and then reappeared with the plane tickets in her hand, as well as the mortar and their bags. She handed the tickets to Kayonna ("What, you don't trust me with them?" Jordan complained) and then said, "I'll try to be back as soon as I can." She waved to them, and disappeared. Dustin looked in the window of the car, and found that Brigit was gone.
"Who was that?" Jordan asked, confused.
"I don't know," Dustin and Kayonna said in unison. Then, "You've met her before?"
"Whoa, that was weird," Jordan commented.
Dustin was about to ask what Kayonna had meant when she said that she had seen Flick in a scry, but Kayonna cut him off and said, "We should try to contact Lern Salin. Maybe he can help us." She held out the mortar to the rain. Within moments it was filled to the brim. The kids crowded around it, ignoring the fact that they were freezing cold and injured. "Arinor Salin," Kayonna said. "We need to talk to you."
For a few seconds, nothing happened. Then, the water shimmered, and Lern Salin's face floated up from the depths of the mortar. Before the kids could say anything, Lern Salin demanded, "What is going on there? You're gone for two hours and suddenly this girl shows up with an unconscious Brigit and tells me that she's been burned by a kisera. She told me that you guys were fine and that she would try to help more later. Why didn't you come back with Brigit?"
Dustin explained what had happened during the storm, and their decision to keep going. "You can heal Brigit, can't you?" he asked after finishing the story.
"Well, I'm pretty sure I can," Lern Salin replied.
"Good," Dustin said. "Because I need to find my sister."
Lern Salin shook his head. "Well, I guess I can't force you to come back, especially since I agree with you one-hundred percent. Try to be careful, though. I'm sure that if Allistaire is the one who sent the kiseri, then he won't be pleased to find that you've survived. Make sure you reach the Marassa; they'll be able to help you. I don't want you wandering around the world forever without knowing what to do."
"At least we'd still be in this world," Dustin grumbled.
Jordan said, "Relax, guys. We just handled a bunch of storm birds. What could be worse than that?"
"The famous last words," Kayonna muttered.
The bus driver did not seem too keen on letting three dirty, injured kids on his bus, but after a moment he changed his mind, telling them to not get his seats too dirty. Dustin wondered if the man's change of mind had anything to do with Kayonna, who looked quite pleased with herself as she sat down by the window. "I thought you said you weren't very good at persuasion," Dustin said.
"I'm not," Kayonna replied. "But he was already considering letting us come; I just had to nudge him in the right direction. Besides, he had a lot of other things on his mind, which always makes things easier."
"Dude, you're mind control stuff is scary," Jordan said to Kayonna. "You know that, right?"
"Just remember that I could turn your brain into a vegetable if I wanted," Kayonna replied.
Dustin sighed, but the other two did not hear him. It just seemed unfair, the way that Kayonna could so easily manipulate a person with magic that she wasn't even good at. Here he was, supposed to be the prince of the dri, and yet he did not even know what Kayonna was usually talking about. When Brigit was in danger, it had been Flick who saved her, not Dustin. Even Jordan had saved the day by getting them out of that car. This was supposed to be his mission, and yet he seemed to be the only one who had not done anything useful. He was right back where he had started before he found out about the dri, which was unhelpful and lonely. This time, however, instead of trying to please his parents, he felt a constant anger and disappointment toward them. Even when he was laughing with the others, there was a tiny pit in his stomach, a reminder of seven years' worth of dreams vanished in a few short moments.
They arrived at the airport around one, just as the last wisps of the storm were disappearing. They went into the bathrooms to change into some clean clothes, and Dustin saw that the arm that had been hit with glass shards was bruised and bleeding badly. "That doesn't look too good," Jordan said. "Maybe you should get Kayonna to look at it, see if she can do any magic healing or something."
"I don't need her help!" Dustin snapped. Then, quieter, "I'll see if she can teach me how to heal it. We'll never get anywhere if I keep having to ask her to fix my paper cuts and bruises." Dustin washed the cuts, trying not to swear as the pain went from fiery to incinerating. Then he wrapped some paper towels around it and hoped that it would last until he was able to properly take care of it.
Jordan just shook his head as the two went to meet Kayonna by the check-in desk. Dustin put his jacket back on, both because he was still cold from the rain and because he did not want people staring at his various cuts and bruises. When they got to security, Dustin thought for sure that they were going to be caught because of their feystones; after all, those little rocks had enough magical energy in them to make a bomb look like a party popper. Somehow, though, they managed to get through the line without getting arrested by Homeland Security.
As they were sitting in the terminal, waiting to board their plane to Albuquerque, Kayonna suddenly said, "Dustin, what's wrong with your arm?"
"Oh, it's nothing," he said, receiving a knowing look from Jordan. He looked down and saw that blood was starting to seep through his jacket sleeve. "It's just a few cuts I got from the broken window."
"Take off your jacket," Kayonna said with authority. "If it gets infected, we're all screwed."
"Since when did you become the mom?" Jordan demanded.
"Since Brigit left me to deal with two boys," she retorted. When Dustin unwrapped the paper towels, she did not gasp, but merely looked around to make sure that the other passengers were not looking at them. However, their flight was not very full, and most of the people nearby were either working or reading. She whispered, "Dustin, we need to heal this."
"But what about what Lern Salin said?" Dustin asked. "Remember, we're not supposed to use magic."
"We're not supposed to use it unless it's an emergency," she corrected. "Besides, we'll be leaving this place in a few minutes, and it's very hard to track magic in the air; it has to do with wind currents and stuff."
"At least teach me how to heal myself on my own," Dustin said.
"But Dustin, healing is difficult," Kayonna said. "I've been learning it for years and I'm still not very good."
"Maybe you just don't have a talent for it," Dustin suggested. "C'mon, let me try."
Kayonna sighed and muttered something that sounded an awful lot like "Stupid, stubborn boys." Then she told Dustin, "If we were trying to heal someone else, I'd tell you how to use persuasion to speed up their healing; but since you can't persuade yourself, I'm going to have to teach you plain healing magic, which I'm not very good at." Dustin nodded, anxious for her to start. "Okay, so what you need to do is find your center."
"Center?" Jordan repeated. "You mean like his belly button?"
"Shut up," Kayonna said. Turning back to Dustin, she said, "I mean you need to focus on your mind. Block out the other distractions, and just focus on what you want to do."
"I want to heal myself," Dustin said.
"More than that," Kayonna encouraged. "You want the flesh and skin to knit back together, for the bleeding to stop and for new cells to grow. And you want it to happen on where your arm is hurt."
"Now, imagine the cuts healing. See in your mind what would happen."
Dustin tried to picture what she said, which looked sort of like one of those fast-forward videos of a flower blooming, except instead of a flower, he tried to visualize the skin coming together again, and the angry red bruises retreating. He felt an odd sensation on his arm, tingly and warm, like his arm had fallen asleep and now all the blood was rushing into it. "Good," Dustin heard Kayonna say. It sounded like she was far away, or her voice was travelling underwater. "Keep that image. Don't get distracted."
You're distracting me right now! he thought to himself. At that moment, the strange feeling retreated, and the image in Dustin's mind broke. "You broke my concentration!" he accused. Several nearby passengers looked up, but Dustin only half-regretted his outburst.
"No, you broke your own concentration," Kayonna said. "I was only trying to help. Do you think that you'll have absolute peace when trying to heal yourself during a battle, or when people all around you are dying?" Dustin felt waves of anger and sadness rolling off from Kayonna. He tried to figure out what was driving her words, what had happened to her that made her so defensive about this. Before he could, however, Kayonna seemed to realize that she was giving off emotions, and quickly shut off the flow. Her expression became plain and harsh. "I decided to come with you because you're my friend, and because I thought I might be able to help you find Thia and teach you something about the world you've forgotten, our world. But if you're going to snap every time I try to help you, then I really don't see the point of me being here. If you want to jump into the ocean without knowing how to swim, be my guest. But don't blame me when you drown." She looked up and said in a clipped voice, "It's time to board. C'mon."
As Kayonna marched over to hand over the tickets, Dustin glanced at Jordan, who merely shrugged his shoulders in confusion. Why do girls have to be so weird about everything? Dustin heard, or at least, he thought he heard. It was more like a thought, except he knew that he was not the one who had thought it. Yeah, especially that girl, Dustin thought back, only realizing a second later what he had done when Jordan glanced up in surprise. "Dude, did you just read my thoughts?" Jordan asked.
"I...I don't know," Dustin stuttered, wondering if maybe Kayonna had a point. He looked down at his arm, and noticed that what had been a bloody mess a few minutes ago was now only a few scratches. Yeah, he definitely needed to listen to Kayonna more often.
As the plane started to take off, Jordan looked like he was facing death itself. His hands gripped the armrests with vice-like strength and his face was pale white. Dustin tried to send calming emotions toward Jordan, figuring that the risk was worth it. After a few moments, it seemed to work, and Jordan slightly relaxed his grip. Dustin suggested that he listen to some music in order to take his mind off things, to which Jordan happily obliged.
Kayonna was sitting in the row in front of them, since they had originally had four tickets and the rows contained groups of three. However, it was not a crowded flight, so when the fasten seat belt sign turned off, Dustin swallowed his pride, quietly left his seat, and slipped into the chair next to Kayonna. "Hey," he said. Kayonna continued to stare out the window. "Look, I um, I guess that we didn't exactly start off on the right foot back there." Kayonna snorted but didn't say anything. "So maybe we could-"
"Your apology is accepted," Kayonna said without looking at him.
"What? Who said anything about apologizing?" Kayonna gave him a hard look. Dustin hung his head and said, "I'm sorry I blew up on you."
Kayonna sighed and said, "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have snapped. It’s just that I was so excited to see how well you were doing for your first time, and I didn't think about the fact that your concentration would still be unstable."
For a moment, they sat in silence. Then Dustin asked, "So are you going to teach me how to do more magic?"
"Maybe later," Kayonna said. "It's been a long day, and Folk know that we'll need our energy. I doubt we'll make it to the marassa without some sort of hindrance."
"How do you know that?" Dustin asked.
"It's just a feeling," Kayonna replied. "But my feelings are always right. I may not be a good healer, but I'm a great clairvoyant."
"It means that I can sense or even see past, present, and future events," Kayonna replied. "The future is the hardest to see, though; usually I get more of a feeling of what's going to happen rather than an actual vision."
"You said that you saw me and Jordan in a vision," Dustin pointed out.
"That was different," Kayonna replied. "I'm still not sure what happened that day, the day you came to Summerhill." She explained what she had seen to Dustin, who could only explain the fire part to her, since what she had seen was Brigit's house burning down. "And I thought that Flick might be a faerie, but after the way she helped us, I doubt it."
"Well, let's just say that faeries and dri have a less-than-friendly relationship," Kayonna replied.
"Why?" Dustin asked.
She shook her head with a slight smile on her face and said, "You know, just because you ask me doesn't mean I have all the answers."
"But you know a lot more than me," Dustin remarked.
"True," Kayonna replied. "Well, I guess in order to understand the thing between faeries and dri, you have to know that there are many different types of Folk. Some of them humans have heard of, to an extent: nymphs, merrow, dragons, you know them. And then there are others that humans don't know about, either because there are so few in the world, or they never left the Otherworld in the first place. Those kiseri are an example, and the marassa. Believe it or not, dri are considered the least magical of all the Folk, because we get our power from an outside source, our feystones." She automatically reached up and clutched her feystone that was hanging around her neck. Dustin noticed that she did that a lot, as if making sure it was still there. "Basically, back when we lived in the Otherworld and the humans were starting to hunt us, the faeries told us that the only way to stay safe was to integrate ourselves with humans, to learn about their culture and to teach them ours. But the dri didn't like that option; they wanted to stay separate."
"Do the dri not like humans?" Dustin asked.
"Oh, no, they like them well enough," Kayonna replied. "But... it's sort of like jocks and brainiacs, where each group doesn't really dislike the other, but that doesn't mean they want to be best friends either. Both the humans and the dri have always agreed that it's best if we just stay in our own separate worlds. That is, until the humans decided that even being separated wasn't enough and decided to get rid of us."
"So it was the humans' fault?" Dustin asked, confused.
"Only partially," Kayonna replied. "You see, the faeries had already made an alliance with humans centuries ago, helping them in the house and garden in exchange for protection and friendship. The faeries didn't understand why we dri couldn't just swallow our pride and try to communicate with the humans. I think it was our downfall, although most dri prefer to believe otherwise."
"And so after all this time you guys still don't like each other?"
"It's more complicated than that," Kayonna replied, sounding frustrated. "Faeries aren't like people. Their essence is made up of the energy and spirit of the earth. They don't have solid forms like us, and they are restricted by a single lifetime. Time flows differently for them, because they remember everything that has ever happened to them, and yet they live only for this moment. So when the dri didn't accept their advice, it was like a shadow was cast over their view of the dri. Even faeries who weren't alive when the dri were prosecuted inherently know that the dri are supposed to be untrustworthy and selfish."
"That's harsh," Dustin commented.
Kayonna shrugged. "It's just different than the way we look at things. And maybe they're right; Folk know that dri have never been a people to make the best decisions."
"Yeah, like my parents," Dustin grumbled.
"We will find her, Dustin," Kayonna insisted. "You know that Thia's alive and out there somewhere."
"I know," Dustin sighed. "I just wish that I could see her."
"Maybe you can," Kayonna said. "Did you ever consider scrying her?"
"Just try focusing on her," Kayonna said. "Let your mind spread out and find her."
Dustin tried doing it. For a moment, he just felt a little stupid sitting there with his eyes closed. Then, he felt like he was slowly floating upwards out of his body, and yet he could still feel himself sitting in the seat. He saw himself in his mind sitting next to Kayonna. Behind them he saw Jordan listening to music and trying not to look out the window. He saw the various passengers and the pilot in the cockpit who the stewardess was gossiping about to her friend. "Find Thia," Kayonna said. "You know who she is."
"But I don't remember her!" Dustin protested.
"Just keep looking," Kayonna said.
Dustin tried to expand his thoughts to outside the plane. He floated in the sky for a while, but when he tried to sink down to the earth, he felt his mind growing even larger. He saw the tiniest bug and the entire US at the same time; he could see specks of dust in the air and the skyscrapers of New York and the beaches in California. He continued to grow, and when Dustin tried to stop and focus in on Thia, he found that he could not. He just kept expanding, his thoughts growing ever more thin and insubstantial. The things he saw overwhelmed him. He couldn't think straight, but by now he wasn't even sure he had a brain. It was too much. His mind kept expanding and yet he felt a horrible pressure in his head that kept growing worse. It was like flickering, only a million times worse, and this time, he wasn't sure that he could arrive back in one piece.
"Dustin!" he heard a voice shout from all around him. "Dude, snap out of it!"
Dustin opened his eyes, his real eyes, and suddenly he was sitting in his seat in the airplane, with Kayonna next to him and Jordan standing in the aisle, shaking his arm. "I... I can't," Dustin gasped. "I can't find her. I can't do it."
"What happened?" Jordan asked.
Dustin, his entire body shaking with shock and fear, replied, "I don't know."
Just then, the fasten seat belt light came back on, and the flight attendent announced that they would be landing in ten minutes.
"Time to find the marassa," Jordan said.