When Grace woke Beck the next morning, it was still dark out. He groaned and pulled the covers over his head. Unfortunately, she flicked the lights on and ripped the blanket from him.
Beck groaned again, struggling into a sitting position. He glared out the window, doing his best to blink the sleep from his eyes.
Grace smiled at him. “Good morning, sunshine.”
He glared at her. “It is not morning,” he grumbled.
“Yes it is,” she chirped. “It’s three in the morning.”
He groaned and fell back against the bed again, throwing an arm over his eyes. When Grace pulled on his foot, though, he kicked at her and forced himself to stand.
“Shower,” he muttered like a zombie. “Coffee.”
He took a cold shower, hoping the freezing water would wake him up. It did somewhat, but not enough. He knew if he sat, he’d fall asleep.
After Beck had showered and dressed, he stumbled his way down the stairs and into the kitchen. Grace and Basil were sitting at the table, each of them eating a bowl of cereal. Malcolm was seated at the breakfast bar, with two steaming mugs before him. Beck slid onto the stool beside him, letting his head fall on Malcolm’s shoulder. The mage chuckled and pushed one of the mugs towards him, the sweet aroma of coffee drifting towards him.
Like a zombie come back to life, Beck slowly straightened brought the mug to his lips. He took a sip, sighing in contentment. Black, with just a little bit of honey. Not too much to make the coffee too sweet, but just enough to cut through the bitterness.
Malcolm slid a plate of bagels over to Beck, keeping his gaze away from him. Beck shook his head, refusing to eat anything. Malcolm sighed, and behind him Beck could feel Grace’s gaze on him.
Ever since Diana almost killed Grace, and Beck attacked her with her memories of pain and fear, he hadn’t been the same. He could feel his powers, lying just below the surface of his skin. It pushed and pulled at him, threatening to break free again.
He still couldn’t forgive himself for what he had done. His friends had assured him that it wasn’t his fault, and maybe they were right. But it still didn’t stop the nightmares, or the feelings of guilt and self-hatred. Grace was his best friend, and he had hurt her. Whether he meant to or not, how could he forgive himself?
Malcolm stared at him, meaning in his eyes. Beck sighed, rolled his eyes, and grabbed one of the bagels. Only when he took a bite did Malcolm nod and look away. Beck swallowed, his stomach clenching at the sudden appearance of food. He hadn’t been eating properly since the night in the warehouse. He couldn’t sleep well, and though he physically looked fine, inside he was a storm of emotions.
After the four of them had finished their breakfast, they grabbed their luggage and packed it into the back of Grace’s aunt Beth’s van. Grace disappeared inside, and returned moments later with her aunt. They all piled inside, and then Beth pulled away from the curb. By the time they left Wolf Valley, Beck had fallen asleep.
“Beck,” a deep, soft voice murmured above Beck. “We’re here.”
Beck’s jaw opened wide as he yawned. He pushed himself to a sitting position, glancing all around him.
They had stopped in front of a set of double sliding doors. People walked in and out, some dressed nicely and talking on cell phones. He saw families leaving and returning from vacations, and he saw other young people his age chattering excitedly before going inside, while those coming out looked sad, but happy to return home, and with whole new stories and experiences to tell others about.
Beck had always loved airports. There was an air of expectation and anticipation about them. The ability to travel, anywhere in the world, from one place had always seemed magical to him. He never had the opportunity to travel much as a kid, but whenever he and his mother did travel, he held onto the memories like they were gold.
The doors opened, and Grace and Basil piled out. Beck turned his head to the left, when Malcolm was sitting. The mage smiled, and Beck grinned in return. Then, following Malcolm’s lead, he grabbed his duffel bag from the floor of the van beside him. After making sure he had all of his belongings, he climbed out of the van and stretched.
“Enjoy London!” Grace’s aunt Beth called from the window. Once the way ahead of her was clear, she gunned it towards the exit.
He felt a hand tug on his fingers. Beck glanced down a moment, and then let his gaze travel up towards Malcolm’s eyes. Beck was at least two inches taller than Malcolm, but lately, he had been slouching, so the mage seemed to tower over him.
Malcolm smiled again, lacing his fingers through Beck’s. Beck grinned, a jolt of calm and peace washing through him. He knew that it was Malcolm using his magic as a small, temporary antidepressant, but Beck didn’t care. Holding Malcolm’s hand was enough to snap him back into the world.
They made their way inside, where people were moving back and forth, from one terminal to the next, from the entrance within, or towards the exit. They made their way through security, and then continued their journey to their gate. Basil and Grace walked ahead of them, holding hands. Grace laughed at something Basil said, then glanced back to Beck and Malcolm. Her eyes landed on their linked hands, and she smiled when she met Beck’s gaze.
They arrived at their gate, and after checking the time, the four of them sat down to wait. An hour later, their gate opened, and a flight attendant began calling people up. When she called for first class seats, Malcolm stood, stretched, and said, “Let’s go.”
Beck and Grace stared at him a moment, then at each other. First class? She mouthed. Beck shrugged, unsure what to think. He had never been in first class before.
The seats were huge! When they reached their assigned seats, Beck threw himself onto the plush leather and sighed in contentment. Malcolm laughed, gracefully lowering himself onto the seat beside him. Grace and Basil took the seat in front of them, and she turned in her seat to look at Beck. “They’re so big!” she shout-whispered. All Beck could do was nod. He had only ever flown once in his life, and that had been in economy seating, near the bathrooms. This was heaven compared to that nightmare.
Before long, everyone had been seated. The flight attendants gave the safety demonstration, and a few moments later, they were soaring. Beck stared out the window, watching in amazement as the world fell away from them and they flew.
As the plane made its way across the United States, Beck did what he could to pass the time. He finished reading the book he had brought with him, and he played several games of Go Fish with Malcolm. He watched some movies and TV shows with Malcolm on the tablets the plane provided, and after a while, he drifted to sleep.
He awoke once again to Grace’s voice. “Beck!” she whispered loudly. “Beck, wake up!”
He blinked his eyes open, glaring at Grace. She ignored him and pointed excitedly out the window, saying, “We’re here!”
Beck frowned a moment, and then glanced outside. He gasped when he saw a mixture of old and new buildings, a river with several bridges, and a large, white Ferris wheel.
They had arrived in London.
This is amazing!
The thought raced through Grace’s brain as she soared above London, the lights penetrating the darkness that surrounded the city in a dark halo. After they landed, a cab had arrived to take Grace and her friends to Malcolm’s London flat, at the northernmost point of London. As they drove through the city, Grace had relaxed her mind. She sensed the presence of her familiar, a golden eagle named Vincent, soaring high above them. Somehow, he had managed to follow them across the Atlantic Ocean. She decided it might be best to not question it. She learned long ago that not all things were as they seemed, thanks to the help of magic.
She returned to her body, squeezed between Beck and Basil in the back seat. Because she was the smallest in her group of magical companions, she had no choice. Both Beck and Basil had wide shoulders, and narrow hips. So, she had plenty of room for her waist, but she had to turn her shoulders one way in order to avoid being squashed by the two of them.
“So?” Basil asked, a mischievous glint in his brown-and-gold eyes. “What do you think?”
Grace smiled widely. “It’s amazing!” she exclaimed. She had seen the London Eye, Big Ben, the Tower Bridge, and many other places, all from a bird’s eye view. Literally.
She was excited to go explore the sprawling city. It had been a dream of hers to visit London since she was a little girl, and now that she was finally here, she was going to take advantage of the opportunity. She had just under two months until the tournament. June twenty-first, on the summer solstice. That was when she would fight for her right as queen.
She shook her head, chasing the terrifying thoughts from her mind. Instead, she let her gaze travel between Beck, Basil, and Malcolm, and the city outside. Basil was gazing out the window, a small smile on his face. Beck’s head was twisting and snapping around so fast, Grace was afraid for a moment that he would break his neck. Malcolm had his eyes closed, and his head tilted back to lean against the seat. He also wore a soft smile, but it was different from Basil’s. He seemed content, but Grace knew it wouldn’t last.
After what seemed like forever, the cab entered an old, rich neighborhood. Grace gaped out at the mansions they passed by, each of them beautiful and unique in their own way.
They stopped before a wrought-iron gate, the design fashioned into rose vines. Malcolm glanced at the cab driver, and when he was sure the driver wouldn’t notice, he flicked his wrist. The gate groaned, and then slowly swung open. The driver looked around, confused for a moment. Then, shrugging, he pulled forward.
Malcolm’s London home looked like a cross between a small castle and a modern home. The ends of the mansion curved around a circular drive, the stone walls covered in creeping ivy. The roof was made from wood, and out front was a beautiful garden full of wildflowers.
After they climbed out of the cab and the driver had driven off, Grace, Beck, and Basil followed Malcolm to the front door. The mage smiled at them all and said, “Wagaya e yōkoso.” Then, he opened the door and stepped aside, allowing the others to pass him.
Grace’s jaw hit the floor as she walked inside. They stepped into a foyer with plants and old, wooden boxes along the sides. There were two comfy leather chairs, as well as a coat rack. When she stepped forward, she was in a long hallway that held potted plants, portraits, weapons, and other paintings on the walls. In front of her was a wide, tall entryway that led into a grand sitting room. The ceiling here was high, allowing a view from above on the second floor balcony. A large fireplace adorned the wall before her, and hanging high above from the ceiling was a grand chandelier. The wood and walls were dark, with heavy red drapes covering the floor-to-ceiling windows. Grace glanced right and left, noticing two more doorways.
Malcolm stepped inside, smiling at Grace’s expression. Beck had a similar look on his face, his amber eyes wide as he stared at the sight before him. Malcolm gestured to the doorway left of Grace and said, “Through there is the kitchen, and then the dining room.” He pointed to the other doorway and said, “And that’s the library.”
Grace and Beck raced back and forth, while Basil and Malcolm watched with smiles on their faces. The kitchen was exactly like she expected, with a chrome sink, stove, and washer. The hardwood floor was dark, the walls painted a lighter color. Modern lights hung from the ceiling over an island, and off to one side was a large dining table with ten chairs wrapping around. The counters of the kitchen and island were made from black marble, and the black fridge was huge.
Grace made her way to the library, which was twice the size of the library of Malcolm’s burned down mansion in Wolf Valley. The ceiling rose high above her, easily two stories tall, and it was full of nothing but books. A sliding ladder was shoved into a corner of the room, so anyone could move it along the shelves and climb to find the book they were searching for. The center of the room was lowered, with a small set of stairs leading down to a sitting area, complete with large, comfortable leather couches and chairs with throw blankets laid across them. A fireplace rested against one wall here as well, and just like in the great room, the wood here was dark. It felt cozy.
When Grace and Beck returned to Malcolm, he smiled and gestured to the hall. “Down the right when you enter, you’ll find yourself in a banquet hall. To the left, there is a ballroom.”
“Why do you have those?” Grace asked.
Malcolm smiled, his electric eyes blazing. “Why not? They’re for parties, of course! In America, I am pretty tame and relaxed.”
Basil snorted in laughter, a smile pulling endearingly at the corner of his mouth.
Malcolm waved the laugh away and said, “But here in London, I am well known throughout all of Europe and the United Kingdom for my parties.”
“What’s the term?” Basil asked. “He’s what you would call a ‘party animal’.”
Grace and Beck laughed, and Beck said, “It’s beautiful, Malcolm.”
“I’m glad you approve,” Malcolm replied, a wonderful light flashing in his eyes. Beck’s words seemed to be like a gift from God to the ancient mage. Grace couldn’t help but smile. Malcolm had done such wonders with Beck, and she was frustrated that they weren’t a couple yet.
“Let’s unpack,” Malcolm said, clapping his hands together. “I will show you to your rooms, and then I’ll leave you to settle in. Remember, we all have jet lag, so don’t fall asleep!”