August 17, Two Years Earlier
Killarney National Park
County Kerry, Ireland
Thomas was oblivious to the constant thundering that surrounded him, not from the storm clouds above but from the engine of the helicopter that had come to airlift humanity’s last hope in the final battle with the Faye.
The only thing that held his attention was the still figure lying beside him. He couldn’t even bring himself to look at her; just knowing that she was dead was slowly chipping away at his sanity.
As he held his knees up to his chest, rocking back and forth in an attempt to keep from crying himself hoarse, the only thought that was going through his mind was of how he had failed her, her and everyone else that had ever counted on him.
When the rain finally began falling from the clouds, it seemed to Thomas that even God himself was crying at what had happened and what He knew would be coming next. All the old texts had said it would happen, they had only painted a vague picture but revenge is what they said would cause it and revenge it would be.
It was ironic really, all this time he was fighting to maintain the Divide between humans and the Faerie so as not bring about the Apocalypse when it turned out that everything was building up to it and nothing could have stopped it.
His path was laid out before him, who was he to try and change his own destiny? He was the Bringer of the End and he had brought it full force. There was only one thing left to do, and as much as he wanted to finish it on his own, it had been decided long before he was even born.
He stood slowly, trying to keep steady on his feet as the helicopter pitched with the fury of the storm. He took a deep breath and kept his eyes closed in an attempt to brace himself for what he was about to do. Ever so slowly, he placed one foot in front of the other and made his way to the open doorway.
It only took him three steps to reach the edge but for him; each felt like he had traveled the three parts of his life all over again.
The first was before he knew he was a Keeper of the Divide, where the worst thing he had to worry about was being pantsed in the school hallway by Scott Philips or failing Algebra. Second came his training, when he realized that a lot of things wanted him dead to prevent the Apocalypse but even more wanted him to live so they could watch the World of Men burn and hopefully be worshipped as gods again in the chaos that followed. In the third he fought his way through his worst nightmares, in the darkest depths of his very own personal version of Hell, literally.
Only now, with all of his toes peeking over the edge, did he finally open his eyes to see what those steps had wrought.
On any other day he would have thought the view stunning, if not for the rain soaking him to his core and the once proud city of London burning to nothing but a mere husk. But today was not any other day, today was the fourth step in his life, the step that he still had yet to take, the step that would decide mankind’s fate, and the step that he knew would be his death.
Thomas wanted to be mad at God, it was because of him that such horrors even existed let alone had come back with a vengeance, and it was because of him that he had lost the only person he had ever truly loved. But as hard as he tried, Thomas could only be angry with himself. Angry that he didn’t have the strength to change his destiny and angry that even after she had said that his love for her was and always would be unrequited, that he didn’t have the courage to challenge it until the very last second she was with him.
As he gazed out over the horizon and at the rubble that signified the beginning of the End, Thomas let out his final breath, closed his eyes for the last time and cleared his mind of all thoughts save for one.
“Forgive me, Lisa.”
Then took his fourth step off into oblivion.
A gentle nudging roused Thomas from his fitful sleep, carrying him away from the nightmare and back to his seat on the Tour EZ coach.
“You okay, Thomas?”
“As okay as okay can be,” he said stifling a yawn. “Why do you ask?”
“You were twitching a lot without really even moving, it almost looked like you were having a mini-seizure.”
“Oh, that. It’s nothing to worry about, just sleep paralysis.”
“And you were moaning, almost sobbing really.”
“That would be my night terrors. Like I said nothing to worry about.”
“If you say so,” she said, getting the hint and turning back to the sketchbook on her lap.
Realizing that his avoidance of the issue came off as a little harsh, especially to someone he had met not even one week ago, Thomas quickly thought of an ultimatum.
“How about this; if we ever camp together I’ll tell it to you as a scary story.”
“Promise?” Lisa asked, peering at him through layers of red hair that hid a soft smile.
“Well,” she said, tucking the wayward locks behind her ear, “in that case I suppose I can finally show you my picture of you when I’m finished.”
“Really?” he exclaimed, trying to sneak a peek.
“Ah, ah,” Lisa chided, snapping the book shut and almost nipping Thomas’ nose in the process. “When I’m finished and not until then.”
“Fine,” Thomas sighed. “You take that artist privacy stuff really seriously.”
“Damn straight,” Lisa replied grabbing her satchel.
As Thomas watched Lisa struggle to shove her sketchbook back into that mess of a bag his stomach began to rumble, reminding him he hadn’t eaten much at the authentic Irish breakfast that their hotel had provided.
“Was that your stomach?” Lisa asked glancing over her shoulder.
Before he could even open his mouth his stomach answered for him with another feral growl.
“How can you be starving? You had three bowls of porridge and like twenty pieces of toast,” she chided.
“Twenty-four actually,” Thomas corrected, a bit embarrassed.
“And it’s not my fault, I have yet to acquire a taste for black pudding or colcannon. Sausage boiled in blood and leeks,” Thomas shuddered just thinking of how they looked let alone their smell, “that’s just nasty.”
“Well, tell your stomach to be quiet. We have about twenty minutes until we stop at the Muckross Gardens for lunch.”
“I suppose I can try to hold out ’til then,” Thomas replied.
“Good. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to use the little girl’s room,” Lisa said, rising from her seat.
As Lisa made her way down the bus’s alleyway, Thomas couldn’t help but smile at the memory of how they had first met.
It was just shy of a week before, in the hotel bar just before the dinner on the first official night of the British and Celtic Classics Package with Tour EZ.
Never having been much of a social butterfly Thomas knew right away that it was going to be a long night and to make matters worse, most of the other travelers were three generations older.
So instead of mingling, as was the whole point of the pre-dinner social hour, he decided to find a nice quiet spot that looked over the Thames and just watch the boats float by while he drank his complimentary root beer.
That was when he first saw her, sitting out of the way in a high back leather chair wearing a pair of artistically ripped jeans, a deep-necked plain orange shirt covering a white undershirt and her red hair as loose as the wind.
She looked completely at ease, with her legs dangling over the arm and staring out the window with a dreamy look on her face all the while idly drawing in the sketchbook that lay open on her lap.
There was something about her that made him stop dead in his tracks; he could have sworn that they had met before but for the life of him, he could not remember from where.
Thomas had no idea how long he had been standing there staring at the girl but it must have been long enough for her to notice him and most of his drink’s ice to melt.
“Well, are you going to sit down or not?”
Finally out of his daze, Thomas noticed that she was no longer watching the river but instead was staring at him through the reflection of the window.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I asked if you were going to sit down. You’ve been standing there for a while,” she replied.
“Yes, sitting, I should do that.”
As Thomas took his seat in the chair opposite her, he still couldn’t shake the feeling that they had met before and it must have shown as she followed his movements with a wary eye.
“Are you on drugs or something?” she asked sounding more curious than accusatory.
“Am I what?”
“On drugs. You seem really out of it almost like you’re high, and don’t get me wrong I have nothing against users, but…”
Her voice trailed off and her eyes drifted back to where the other tour group members mingled.
“You want to be prepared in case I start having a bad trip,” Thomas said, finishing her thought.
“Yeah, that,” she answered not returning his gaze.
“No, I’m not on drugs. It’s just that you look really familiar and I can’t figure out where or when we might have crossed paths or if we even have for that matter.”
“Oh!” she said perking up again. “If that’s the case then forget I ever said anything. And to answer your question, I don’t think we’ve ever seen each other unless it was on the street or something. Where are you from?”
“I’m from the town of Nine Hills in the north-eastern area of Pennsylvania just shy of an hour south of Scranton.”
“Ah, then I doubt it, I’m from Portland. Unless you’ve vacationed around there,” she replied dropping her sketchbook into an open bag on the floor
“I have but only once, two years ago and it was more of day long layover before we flew up to Anchorage,” he said before taking a sip of his watery soda then placing it next to hers on the table.
“The Portland in Maine, not the one in Oregon,” she clarified, rearranging herself in the chair.
“Oh, then no, I’ve never been to Portland.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Thomas shrugged. “What is it?”
“Why does everyone assume that when someone says Portland they’re talking about the one in Oregon?” She inquired. “That Portland was named after the one in Maine because of a coin toss.”
“I’m not sure,” he replied, thinking about the question. “I guess it could be because the Oregon Portland was at the end of the Oregon Trail so you have that historical factor to think about but nowadays it could be because of the stuff it’s known for like that nude bike race, it being considered the weirdest city in the US then there’s the whole food truck thing that they’re playing a big part in.”
“Huh, I guess that could be true. I mean you don’t here much about the Maine Portland except for the really nasty blizzard and the really nasty blizzards that never end. But still,” she continued, “I like the bitter cold nights that we have, especially when the power’s out and you can’t do anything other than drink some cocoa and snuggle under some blankets with a good book by the fire.”
“Oh? Ever snuggle with something more than a book? A someone perhaps?”
“Well, yeah a couple of people.”
“Really?” Thomas asked with a wry smile. “Had a lot of would-be suitors did you?”
“Ye-wait, no, I didn’t mean it like that!” she exclaimed, lightly kicking him at what he implied.
“Hey!” Thomas cried, exaggerating his injury. “I had to ask.”
“Yeah, sure, whatever,” she said with a scowl.
Even though she tried her hardest, it took only about a second for her frown to soften back into a smile.
“Not for a lack of trying.”
Thomas couldn’t help but choke on his drink at that response.
As he wiped the bit of soda that had escaped onto his chin, she tried to hide her laughing by pretending to rest her chin in her hand.
“You timed that perfectly,” Thomas said, trying to sound angry but failing miserably.
“I try,” she shrugged.
As both grabbed their glasses and took a few sips, they watched each other to see would be the next to make an off-handed comment.
Not really in the mood for nothing more than colored water, Thomas set his down first.
“I’m Thomas by the way,” he said just as she took another sip.
Knowing that it was payback for making him spit out is soda earlier; she could do little more than give him a half-hearted glare followed by a smile.
Since then they had been nearly inseparable.
Only when Thomas came out of daze did he finally realize that Phil Beauchamp, Lisa’s father, and his entire beefy 6’7” frame had taken her seat and was giving him a judgmental look.
“Oh, hey Mr. Beauchamp,” Thomas slightly embarrassed at being caught staring into space.
The only response he gave was continuing the unnerving stare.
After a few more unsettling seconds Thomas was about to say something else when Mr. Beauchamp spoke at last.
“What were you thinking about?”
Not knowing what else to do Thomas told him the truth. “Uh, the first time I met Lisa.”
“Hmm,” he nodded, “so you say. It would appear you and my daughter have become quite close this past week and she especially has taken a liking to you but I am curious as to your intentions.”
“I have no, um, intentions, she’s just my friend.”
“Well, you have nothing to worry about then, do you?” Mr. Beauchamp asked not even trying to hide the blatant threat.
“Dad, what are you doing?”
The question made both Thomas and Mr. Beauchamp jump but Lisa’s father was quick with a response.
“Oh, nothing sweetie, just having a little chat with Thomas here. Isn’t that right?” the smile he gave never met his eyes.
“Right, we were just having some small talk,” Thomas replied with a look that spoke the truth.
“That’s nice,” she said tilting her head. “But, I need my seat back. Stan Carp doesn’t want us up and about when the bus is moving let alone unbuckled.”
“Yes, of course, wouldn’t want to upset the tour guide, I’ll be taking my leave then” he said as he shimmied out of the way, “and I’ll be seeing you two later.”
When her father was finally out of earshot Lisa turned to Thomas.
“So what were you two really talking about?” she asked, fiddling with the seatbelt.
“You did understand the look I gave you,” Thomas said slightly surprised.
“Of course, that’s why I titled my head to the right. When I tilt to the right I got the hint and am playing along but if I tilt to the left I either don’t get what you’re trying to say or I’m the one giving the hint of something being amiss without trying to draw attention, like if I had a gun to my back or knew there was a sniper on one of us and a wrong move could spell the end,” she explained.
“Gotcha, I’ll have to remember that and in answer to your question your dad asked what my intentions were concerning yourself and our new friendship.”
“Oh, that old question. Don’t take any offense to it; he asks that of every new guy friend of mine he meets.”
“A bit overprotective isn’t he? I mean it’s not like I’m your boyfriend or anything.”
“Yeah I guess, but with me being an only child let alone his daughter, what’re you going to do?” Lisa shrugged.
“I suppose that’s a fair point, but still, it’s really unn-”
Thomas never finished his thought or, at the very most, it was spoken but lost in the chaos that followed.
As in that instant the inside of the bus transformed into a sea of shattered glass, silencing the hypnotic lull of the engine with the thunder of buckling of metal and bloodcurdling screams.
But just before everything went black, Thomas felt as if he were floating through the air with the world around him spinning like a top.