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The First

By Laura Kinch

Fantasy

Chapter 1

In a single flash his whole world changed. The force had thrown him to the ground, face first in the leaf litter. He pushed himself shakily to his knees. It was dark, a dimly moonlit night. He had materialised in a forest. It did not look that different from the forest he'd come from, not in shape or form at least. But something in the air, the change in temperature and humidity, told him this place was not familiar. It was not his home; it wasn't even his world.

Baelfire rolled over and faced the crater that marked his entry point. He'd been thrown a good few feet away, but it was impossible to miss where the magic had knifed a pinprick into the fabric of this world. A crater marked the spot, and every loose bit of leaves and dirt had been thrown clear, piled up in a ring at roughly the distance Bae had been tossed.

"Papa…" the boy called out. His voice sounded strange. Weak and small; wavering like a child younger than he. Bae cleared his throat and called again. His voice did not come out much stronger. As his second attempt was swallowed by the stagnant night air, he knew. His father had not come with him. He'd known before he'd even crossed, seconds before, when he was too far down that hole to have any hope of hauling himself out again. Screaming at his father to let go of the knife hadn't worked either. But then he'd known that too.

Bae stared at the small crater, his chest shuddering as he drew in air. Perhaps there was still some way back. He stood shakily to his feet, feeling queasy. Apparently jumping between worlds was not something his stomach had been prepared for. He stumbled to the craters edge. Nothing. No light and no sound. He sunk to his knees and ran a hand over the bare patch of rock hard dirt, in case he'd missed something in the darkness.

Still nothing. Bae felt tears building behind his eyes. "All you had to do was let go of the knife! It wasn't that hard!" As he screamed out the words, raw and ragged at the night air, he knew that wasn't quite true. For his father, letting go had been the hardest thing Bae could have asked him to do. He should have seen it sooner. He should have realised it was so hard, his father would sooner let his son cross over alone. A sob broke from Bae's throat. "You promised! We… we had a deal!"

Baelfire hung his head, wiping a hand across his eyes and stifling another sob. He drew in a shuddering breath and forced himself to stand to his feet. He wrapped his arms about himself, though the night was warm. Briefly, he considered waiting. But he knew the portal would not reactivate. Bae forced himself to turn his back on the crater, picked a direction at random and walked away.

It did not take long before a break in the trees and a sharp drop in the earth brought him to a halt. Bae would have rather kept walking without thought, but if he was to survive here he really needed to get his thoughts together. Bae shuffled to the edge, his heart not quite in it. He let his gaze wander down the slope over the dark forest, but it was instantly arrested by the village that sprawled out below him.

It must have been a village. But it was like none Bae had ever seen before. No, it had to be bigger than just a village. A kingdom, perhaps, though he could see no central castle. This 'village' was huge and sprawling. And instead of the muted, yellow candlelight glow that would normally mark a place of habitation, the lights were stark cold and white. They shone out in bright little pinpricks, the white interspersed with reds and greens that flickered on and off.

Bae forgot about his father for the briefest of moments, his attention solely caught up in those lights. What was this place? The obvious answer was simple: it wasn't his world. His heart was pounding, but mixed with his fear was a sense of curiosity. He was drawn to it, and though cautious, Bae knew that this was where he must go.

His father wouldn't. His father would be frightened. A deep sense of sadness washed over Bae, his wonder vanishing. He'd give anything right now just have his father by his side, even if it meant he had to convince him that it would be okay to go and see this strange sight. But by his father's own choice, he'd made that impossible. Facing those lights alone still scared Bae a little. He would not have come here except to save his father! He'd given up his whole world. And for what? It was not just fear, Bae realised; his father would rather have his power than his son. "You couldn't even turn down the deal…" For the first time that night, Bae's anger at his father built to a greater level than his sadness.

Bae found himself sliding down the slope. He was lucky he didn't hurt himself, so great a rush was he in to just get moving again and stop thinking about his father. He landed on firmer ground, pushed himself up, and kept walking. He knew he was headed towards those lights, though he only caught an occasional glow through the trees.

Bae knew had he wanted there would be no chance for him to help his father again. He had to concentrate on surviving here. And that meant heading towards habitation. He couldn't afford to slow or stop. If only because he'd think about his father abandoning him and give into despair. He was never going to see his father again.

For what felt like hours, Bae continued on through the dimly lit forest. Eventually, inevitably, he came upon a road. But this too was strange. It was wide, and cut through the treeline like a knife. He could see stars dimly above. The trees did not close about over this road, as if they had been ever forbidden from taking back what once was theirs. The roads surface wasn't dirt or cobblestone, but some dark, hard, seamless stone.

Whatever differences, this was still a road, and it would surely lead to the strangely lit city. Bae stepped onto the road surface and continued on. Fear crept in. As he'd walked through the woods he'd been able to pretend he was still in his world, but out here, it was impossible. And what was he to do when he reached the strange city? Again, thoughts of his father rose unbidden in his mind. Perhaps he would now be suggesting they get off this strange road? Bae winced as he realised he'd given into thoughts of his father again. "You're. Never. Going to see. Him again." His words chilled him to the bone. Who would save his father now? "And you'll never see me again…" Who had really lost more? But his father had made the choice. Not him. When he'd realised what was going to happen it was too late to escape the portals pull. Father's weren't supposed to let their sons go. Bae drew to a halt in the middle of the road, suddenly unable to work up the energy to take another step. "Papa… I never intended to do this alone…"

Through his grief Bae vaguely became aware of a sound. Like an insect, buzzing, but far too loud. The trees were illuminated suddenly by a wave of pure white light. The buzz became a roar. Bae spun around.

A creature rushed towards him, blinding him with a cold flame and letting out an almighty screech. Bae fell to the ground as the creature leapt upon him. Almost. It drew to an abrupt halt inches in front of Bae's face. The boy squinted up at the chugging, growling beast.

"Oh my God!"

A figure materialised at the edge of the light. Human, definitely. Bae's racing heart began to slow. Apparently the beast was tame.

"Sweetheart, are you hurt? What are you doing out here all alone?"

"Walking…" Baelfire managed to say.

The figure moved in front of the light and knelt down besides Bae. Now he could see her more clearly. She was darked skinned, and dressed oddly. But her face appeared kind, if her expression a little shocked. "In the middle of the road?"

"Where else would I walk?" Finding himself a bit more confident now, Bae stood shakily to his feet.

The woman stood with him, placing a hang on his shoulder as she made sure he wouldn't go back down.

Something slammed sharply. Bae jumped, bumping back against the woman.

"Alice… is he alright?" A man stood on the other side of the creature now. No, Bae realised. The creature was some sort of carriage. But what hauled it? Maybe there was some creature inside the front, where all the growling was coming from.

"I think so," said Alice.

The man was taller and older than Alice. He wore the same clothes, or uniform. So they were some sort of palace guard? Or knights or soldiers?

"My name's Derek," said the man. "This is Alice. And what about you, kid?"

"My name's Baelfire. Bae."

"That's a pretty name," Alice commented.

"You really shouldn't be out here all alone, Bae," said Derek. "We could have killed you just now. Where were you going?"

"I was trying to find the city with the strange lights…"

Alice and Derek both exchanged glances.

"You mean into town?" said Derek. He looked Bae over. "How long have you been out here, son?"

"Well…"

"We'll take you," said Alice. "We were just heading back from a patrol; we're heading back home now."

Bae opened his mouth to protest; these two were far more helpful than any soldiers he'd ever met. Far more interested in some peasant on the road, but that could have just been how this world was, he told himself. And he suddenly realised he was exhausted. He didn't have the strength to argue within himself.

"Yeah…" Bae shrugged. "Thanks… I guess I could use some help…"

Alice smiled and showed him to the rear door of the carriage. Inside was far more comfortable than what Bae would have thought would normally be provided for a couple of soldiers. The carriage leapt forward suddenly and Bae grasped the door. "Woah…"

Alice looked over her shoulder. "You okay?"

"I didn't think it'd go so fast…" Bae released his grip on the door handle. Though fast, after the initial jerk subsided, the ride was actually really smooth. He leaned back against the seat, and rested his head against the window. Everything was moving past in a blur. Between that and the steady vibration that came from the hidden beast, it was actually rather calming.

Derek cleared his throat. "So, Bae. Are your folks somewhere in town? We should really find where you belong…"

His father. Bae felt the sadness well up inside him. "No. I don't have anyone. Not here. I don't know where I belong…" Exhaustion must have taken its toll then, because Bae didn't remember any more of the trip.

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