Adelaide couldn’t help but stare as she was pushed through the building. It wasn’t a hospital, as she first thought, but rather a large, sterile-looking office block. The ward was situated on the top-most of twelve floors and, once they moved outside to the main corridor, the view that opened up around her was spectacular. She was in a city, though not as built up as the likes of Houston. There were a few other office blocks and large buildings but the skyline was mostly clear at the level they were at, allowing her to see for miles across the houses and other buildings, the glass and metal shining the vibrant red of the sunset back to her.
“Where are we?”she asked, looking around and taking it all in.
“Jackson,” Tristan said as he slowed down, allowing her to have a longer look.
“Jackson! I’m in Mississippi?” Adelaide said, shocked. “I’ve never been further than Monroe!”
“It was between here and Shreveport. We needed to get you somewhere fast after the accident and the Sisters were here so it was a no-brainer really.” He stopped abruptly as they came to an elevator and he pressed the call button. As they waited for it to arrive, Tristan moved round to the front of the wheelchair and leaned against the wall, arms folded as he looked down at Adelaide. Watching him like this, she recalled the first time she saw him as he crossed the road. There had been something unusual about him that she couldn’t quite place and it was here again. He smiled as he noticed her scrutinising him.
“Penny for your thoughts?” he asked, his voice waking her from her reverie.
“Sorry, I was miles away. It’s just...” she paused for a moment before deciding to go for it. “There’s something about you, something different.”
“You mean aside from my charm and devilish good looks?” he gave her a wink and Addy was sure something melted inside her. His face darkened for a moment though and she couldn’t help the sense of foreboding that threatened to creep in. He pushed off as the lift pinged and the doors opened, guiding the chair in gently before pressing the button for the floor they needed. As soon as the doors closed he turned to her, fully serious now.
“The cameras in here are down so I can talk frankly. Yes, there is something different about me and you’ll soon find out what it is, but you have to brace yourself. A lot of what you’re about to hear will sound crazy, it was to me at first, but it’s all true. I don’t exactly know what McGordon has planned for you downstairs but I’ve got a good idea and, if I know him, chances are it’s going to be unpleasant. You have to be honest with him, okay? No matter what, don’t lie to him or it’ll be worse. Promise?”
“I promise,” Adelaide said, swallowing hard as the lift came to a stop.
“I’m going to be there, I won’t leave your side.” He gave her shoulder a squeeze as he went back around to the rear of the chair and got ready to push her out. The doors opened onto a wide, plush corridor with wooden panelling on the walls and a rich red carpet underfoot. Classical music floated out of speakers hidden behind strategically placed plants. As wonderful as the surroundings were, Adelaide couldn’t help her nerves building as they approached a large oaken door.
“Ready?” Tristan asked. Adelaide nodded and he knocked on the door.
“As I’ll ever be,” she whispered and he smiled comfortingly down at her.
They waited for a few moments that seemed like years to Addy, before the chrome handle twisted and the door was opened from the inside. A young woman in a smart grey, pencil skirt and white blouse held the door open for them, her auburn hair fashioned into a neat little bob that framed her heart-shaped face, her dark skin smooth and unblemished. As soon as Tristan had moved them into the room, she closed the door and Addy heard the click of a lock, adding to the nerves in the pit of her stomach.
The office was large and intimidating, tinted windows casting a moody gloom over the whole room. Two large filing cabinets stood against one wall and a vast bookcase filled with thick, leather bound tomes faced them on the opposite side. In the centre of the room was a large glass and metal desk, covered with various official looking documents and objects. A Newton’s cradle sat front and centre and Addy had to fight the urge to set the balls going. Behind the desk, in a large black, leather swivel chair, his arms and legs folded over, sat Chancellor McGordon, his eyes fixed levelly on her as she took everything in. The young woman had, by now, moved around the desk and was standing behind his right shoulder, her hand on the back of his chair.
“This is a very nice office,” Addy said, after what seemed like a lifetime of silence had passed, every ponderous second measured loudly by a large clock hanging on the wall by the bookcase. McGordon just continued to stare at her, unblinking until she felt the uncontrollable urge to squirm.
Finally, he shifted in his seat and, unfolding his arms, laid them out on the arms of the chair.
“Adelaide, I have asked you previously about who you are, your clan and what you know. You have pleaded ignorance to these questions thus far. However, to show to you that I am both fair and lenient I will give you one last chance to tell me the truth. Why have you not yet been declared in my Chancelship? Why did your mother’s family not inform us of you after her death?”
Addy looked at him, before turning pleading eyes to Tristan, who now stood beside her. She had no idea what this man was talking about. What did he mean by declared?
“The truth please, child, and do not keep me waiting.” Though his voice was soft, there was a warning tone there and Addy swallowed hard.
“Look,” she started, “I really don’t know what you’re talking about. My mom died when I was eight. My dad had a huge fight with her family over it and we haven’t seen them since. It’s just been the three of us, my dad, my brother and I. I don’t know anything about declaring or whatever it is you’re talking about.”
“Your brother? So there’s two of you?” McGordon leaned forward and folded his hands together on top of the desk, his eyes seeming to bore straight through her. Adelaide felt, rather than saw, Tristan tense next to her.
“Well, yeah,” she said, her voice timid, “but he doesn’t know any of this either.”
“I see.” McGordon sighed and his face genuinely looked saddened for a moment. His eyes, however, remained fixed on her. “I am afraid that your response is unsatisfactory to me. It seems I must use other means to get to the truth.” An image of a torture room flashed across Adelaide’s mind and she felt her stomach drop.
“I’m telling you the truth!” she cried, looking desperately to Tristan for help.
“Please, sir,” he implored, “I really think she is…”
“Then she should have nothing to fear,” McGordon said simply. He turned to the woman beside him and gave a sharp nod. She strode around the desk and, pulling up one of the guest chairs that stood to the right of Tristan, she sat down opposite Adelaide.
“I’m going to be as gentle as I can,” she said, her voice a rich and soothing Louisiana drawl. “It might sting a little at first, but just try not to resist and you’ll be fine.” She reached out and put her hands either side of Adelaide’s face, her thumbs resting lightly on her temples. Adelaide had a moment to think how warm her hands were before a sharp pain shot across the top of her head, seeming to pool behind her eyes. She cried out as another wave came. Tristan dropped to his knees beside her and took her hand in his.
“Squeeze as tight as you need to,” he whispered, placing his other hand on her shoulder. She gripped him hard as a third wave passed through, more intense than before, seeming to spread further across her head until her whole skull was burning with a continuous white heat.
Just as Adelaide thought she couldn’t bear any more, the pain cut out and relief flooded through her. Her cheeks were damp and she realised that she had been crying. Tristan cleared his throat gently next to her and she let his hand go, wincing apologetically as she saw the nail marks in his skin.
“It’s okay,” he said, his voice gentle, “are you alright?” She nodded meekly, instantly regretting the motion as a pounding headache set in. Meanwhile, the young woman had moved back round to behind the desk and was whispering something to the Chancellor.
“Cassie confirms that you are telling the truth, you know nothing of us or yourself, for that matter. I am sorry that I made you endure that, but we had to be sure.” The Chancellor’s voice was soft and low, but Addy could tell that his words were far from genuine.
“Can you tell me now what’s going on?” Adelaide said, her voice echoing painfully in her own head.
“Very well,” the Chancellor said, nodding sharply. “Fetch the girl some water,” he barked at the young woman, Cassie. She gave a shallow bow before leaving the room. “The headache will subside soon, water will help.” He motioned for Tristan to sit down and he obeyed. “Normally, I would not be the one to do this, however as you are here and, considering the family you belong to, I suppose I can make an exception.” Adelaide stared blankly at him, waiting for him to continue. Cassie returned at that moment with a glass of water and Addy took it gratefully, feeling the headache starting to abate a little almost as soon as the ice-cold liquid hit her stomach. With another short bow, Cassie left, closing the door behind her. McGordon waited a few moments whilst Adelaide drank some more before continuing.
“Since the dawn of their time here, man has always been aware of other beings beyond themselves, something more than them. Many they lived in harmony with, some they feared and others they even worshipped as gods. As civilisation advanced and other religions emerged, these creatures were pushed back and wars were fought for territory, sometimes resulting in extinctions for a few species and forcing the rest to hide. Gradually, these beings, once the superior species on earth, became the stuff of myth and legend, even being classed as demons in some cases.
“Over time, we have developed a way of living alongside humans, hiding in plain sight as it were. There are those who are aware of our existence, though most do keep it to themselves for fear of being classed as mad. Others try to warn you through subtle means, but humanity just classes these warnings as fiction and make entertainment out of them. On the whole, though, the human race is now unaware of us.”
“What exactly do you mean by ‘us’?” Addy asked, taking another sip of water. The Chancellor sighed and once more levelled his eyes at her.
“We are called the Aos Sidhe,” he said calmly. “It’s an old Gaelic term and is only one of the names that we go by, but literally translated it means ‘the people of the mounds’ or ‘the hidden people’. The Celtic people referred to us as the fair folk, though not all of us are fairies. It’s more of an umbrella term.” Adelaide choked on her water as he said this and Tristan had to give her a pat on the back to stop her from coughing.
“Fairies? Are you… are you serious?” she asked, looking at the Chancellor incredulously.
“Deadly serious. Though as I said, not all of us are fairies. I, myself am a Dokkalfar, or Dark Elf, my kind originate from Scandinavia and we are most prevalent in Norse mythology. Tristan here is somewhat more popular in modern culture, being a werewolf.”
“Say what now?” Adelaide said. She honestly thought that she had reached the limit of what she could believe and she turned to Tristan for some sort of confirmation that this was all a sick joke. He didn’t meet her eye, however, instead looking down at the floor as though hoping to sink into it. She turned her gaze back to the Chancellor and cried out in shock. He had changed, somehow. His skin was darker, with a greenish tint and his eyes had widened into large black ovals. Pointed ears stuck out from beneath a ragged mop of silver hair and the skin on his face had sunk to reveal prominent cheekbones and jawlines.
“It seemed easier to show you than to simply rely on your potential for belief,” he explained, his voice now seeming hollow and breathy. “I am able to hide my true nature with a glamour of sorts, though it isn’t easy when emotional.”
“So…” Addy stammered, “this isn’t a joke. Am I dreaming? Am I still unconscious?”
“Would you like to pinch yourself?” She nodded absently and pinched herself, wincing as she felt the sharp pain. “Satisfied?” the Chancellor asked and she simply nodded again. “I would ask Tristan to demonstrate as well, but I’m afraid his particular transformation requires him to be unclothed. I think we should take this one shock at a time.” He smiled at his own humour, an effect that was quite disturbing in his current guise and Adelaide felt herself becoming uneasy.
“How do I fit into all this?” she asked, trying her best to look away as he slowly morphed back into his human form.
“You are a witch,” McGordon said simply. “Or rather, you’re from a witch family and a powerful one at that. They are quite influential amongst our people.”
“Witch family? Like in Harry Potter?” she asked slowly.
“Sort of,” he conceded with a shrug, sitting back in his chair once more, “only real and you don’t need to use a wand. The powers that your kind uses are more instinctual, reflexive even. Though there are those that can only work through incantation or ritual.”
“But I’ve never done anything magical in my life, not even close.”
“That may be because you didn’t know,” Tristan offered. “You can’t really use something if you didn’t know you had it.”
“He’s right. The question now, however, is what to do with you? You understand that we can’t have you running around back in the human world unchecked now that you know.”
Adelaide’s eyes widened in shock. What did he mean, now that she knew? He had chosen to tell her all this. It wasn’t her fault. Almost as if he could read her expression, Chancellor McGordon nodded slowly.
“There may be a use for you. We have an organisation here, a United Nations of the Aos Sidhe, if you will, they are known as the Peacemakers. It is their job to prevent any unwanted attention from the human world by whatever means necessary although, admittedly, diplomatic solutions are the best. Each country has a number of Peacemaker cores, depending on size. You are currently in the headquarters of the Southern USA Core, covering Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and New Mexico. Each core is run by a Chancellor, in this case myself and contains a diplomatic contingency as well as an armed contingency just in case.
“I, myself answer to a Council of Representatives wherein each member represents a particular country. They, in turn, answer to the Divine Council, made up of the oldest and most powerful of our kind, veritable gods amongst men and Aos Sidhe alike.” Adelaide’s head swam as she took all of this in and part of her was beginning to wish she could write it down. “Tristan here is a member of our armed contingency. Should you wish to join that faction then I will assign you to him as his student and you will thenceforth be in his charge. However, if you find yourself less physically inclined, I can assign you to an apprentice diplomat. The choice is yours.”
“And is that my only choice?” Addy ventured. The look that McGordon gave her was more than answer enough.
“It all comes down to whether you’re a lover or a fighter?” Tristan asked jokingly. She turned to look at him and his earlier shyness had gone. Now that she knew what was different about him, she understood. His features were handsome but there was something wild about them, something untamed. When he smiled it lit up his whole face and there was a cheeky twinkle in his eye that reminded her, ironically, of an Alsatian she once owned. Adelaide knew her mind was made up then and there.
“I think I’d like to work with Tristan,” she said slowly. “If that’s alright with you,” she added hastily, looking at him.
“That’s fine by me, though you’ll need to heal up first.” McGordon nodded as he said this and, taking up a blank piece of paper and a pen, wrote something down and handed it to Tristan.
“Take her back to The Sisters, give them this. It is my permission to do what they must to heal her quickly. Once she can walk without hindrance, we can test her strength. At that point, take her to Dekker.” Tristan seemed to start at this and Adelaide looked at him, confused.
“Dekker?” he questioned, brows furrowed. “Are you sure?”
“Positive.” His response was short and seemed to broker no argument. With that, the meeting seemed to be over. As if on a silent cue from the Chancellor, Tristan got up and opened the door before wheeling Adelaide slowly out of it. As soon as they were back in the lift, he turned to look at her.
“Are you okay? I know it’s a lot to take in. It was all a blur for me when I found out. I ended up running away but they hunted me down and brought me back. I know you haven’t exactly got that particular luxury.”
“I’m fine, I think, I don’t really know…” she shrugged absently. “I’ve always believed that there’s other stuff out there, like ghosts and that there’s some sort of truth to the myths and fairy tales. I just never figured it was quite like this.”
“It is a bit overwhelming. There’s a library on the third floor though, with loads of books and scrolls on us. I can take you down there later if you want, might pass the time until you can walk?” The doors pinged and he pushed her out again onto the more sterile top floor.
“Maybe tomorrow? I think I just want to sleep right now, my head still hurts and I’m exhausted.” He made a noise of assent, aware that she couldn’t see him if he nodded and carefully pushed her through the double doors that led to the ward and back towards her bed. She noted that a fresh jug of water had been laid out and a fragrant bunch of lilies were in a vase on her bedside table.
Slowly, Tristan helped her out of the chair and back into bed, making a concerted effort not to touch the parts of her back where the hospital gown was open. Once she was tucked back in, he folded up the wheelchair and made to leave.
“Tristan,” Addy said, her brain becoming fogged with exhaustion, “if my brother calls can you come and get me?” He nodded. “Good,” she said with a yawn, “if I wake up and see you, I’ll definitely know this isn’t a dream.”
“Then I promise I’ll be here when you wake up, whatever happens,” he said, grinning. With that smile in her mind, Adelaide slipped into a troubled sleep