Avery wiped the sweat from her brows, staring up into the blazing sun. Shit, she thought. Summer is coming earlier this year. She huffed and continued pulling the weeds from the garden, scowling at the ant hill that stared into her face. She glared at it, contemplating destroying it, then decided that it was probably best to leave them alone.
Though her father hadn’t been a gardener in years, Avery still loved going back to her roots. Her father, Jordan, had taught her how to pull weeds, harvest food, and plant flowers at a young age. While many of her friends had snubbed their noses at Avery getting her hands dirty, she absolutely loved getting knee deep in dirt.
Her father lived in a vast estate over by one of his banks, Sun Crest, but Avery moved out when she got engaged to her fiancé, Mekhi. Mekhi was 100% born and bred Fokreni, a town even smaller than that of Selal. Mekhi got into politics in his 20′s and he packed up and moved into Selal when he was 29, where he met Avery at her father’s bank. They two of them have been together for 3 years now, and they now live in a much smaller estate than her father’s, just on the edge of Selal.
Avery smiled at the thought of her fiancé. Where is he? He should be home by now... she thought. She sighed and grabbed her two baskets; the one full of weeds would go in the garbage and the one filled with fruits and vegetables would go to the kitchen. She made her way into her house as she went through her harvest. The onions, potatoes, and carrots all came from her plot in her garden, but the fruits—the apples, strawberries, oranges, and cherries—all came from the many bushes and trees she had throughout the yard. Avery had even more growing, she had watermelon, bananas, mangoes, and even coconuts. Her garden was much larger than their estate. When she started dating Mekhi she made sure that it wouldn’t be a problem. Gardening was her life.
She began washing the vegetables, picking out the rotting ones, or the ones with spots, humming quietly to herself, and moved on to the fruits, doing the same with those. In the midst of washing the apples, she heard Mekhi’s voice.
“Ave? You home?”
“In the kitchen!” she called, shutting off the water. She wiped her hands on her jeans and went to meet her fiancé. She smiled at the sight of him. His dark brown eyes always crinkled at the sides, which Avery had fallen in love with immediately, and his curly brown hair was always messy and tousled. He was tall and lean, not too muscular at the slightest, and his jawline was sharp, though usually hidden with a beard. She stood on her toes to give him a kiss. “How was your day?”
Mekhi groaned and pulled her in for a hug. “God awful. You know that Richardson wants to put a train in Selal? A train, Ave. We’re a port city! If he gets elected I will absolutely lose my shit. I have no idea how that man has 30 years of politics under his belt because half the time he’s spewing utter horse shit.”
Avery laughed at her fiancé’s complaining. James Richardson has been a politician for more than 30 years, and the people of Selal both completely love him and blindly follow him. He’s currently running for office, trying to get into the head seat of the board of politicians of Selal, and Mekhi is the one trying to stop him.
“Is anyone behind him on that?” Avery inquired.
“Nearly every man in his 50′s. I swear, Avery, if a train pops up in Selal we’re moving.”
Avery laughed, pulling out of the hug and staring up and Mekhi. “Where would we go?”
They wouldn’t go back to Fokren, it was too small for the plans Mekhi had, and there weren’t any large cities that neighbored Selal. That’s why people from the neighboring smaller cities come here on vacation. It’s bigger, has a port and beach, and a shit ton of tourist attractions.
“Inegan,” he deadpanned.
Avery’s eyes widened and she took a step back, staring up at the man who she thought was completely sane. “Are you serious?”
“Think about it, babe. Inegan has everything. And it’s so far from here no one would even know us.”
“Exactly!” she threw her hands up and stormed back into the kitchen. Avery turned the sink back on and started furiously scrubbing at fruit. “You’ve worked so hard to get here, and you’re willing to pack up and leave, start all over, because of a damn train? We don’t even know if it’ll happen!”
Inegan was the country of King Maxwell and Queen Eliana. It was hundreds, if not thousands of miles away from Selal, and it had all of the newest technology. Inegan is filled with all types of the Unnatural, mages, fae, werewolves, and even more that Selal doesn’t know about. It was also filled with blood thirsty royals.
Mekhi sighed as he followed his fiancée into the kitchen, watching her scrub the same apple for five minutes before he stopped her. “Ave, relax. We aren’t moving to Inegan, okay? Think of it as a... a back up plan. If everything goes to shit here and I can’t put my foot in the door, then I can start over in Inegan. I don’t even have to go into politics there. Gods, Avery, I’m 32 years old. I can’t keep chasing this dream forever.”
Avery relaxed and put the apple back into the sink, looking up at the man she loved. His face had fallen, and his eyes had gone dark. She knew the story. She knew the story of his father, Mazin Vonson, the great politician of Fokren. She knew why he was so desperate to hold onto his father’s ties, why he was so desperate to do anything to make it work.
“Okay,” she sighed, turning off the water for the second time that day. She smoothed her blonde hair back and placed her hands on Mekhi’s chest. “We’ll make this work. I’ll do anything you need me to do. Hell, I’ll give up the garden if I need to.”
“Gods, no, Avery,” he fumed. “You don’t need to do anything. Just be here for me, okay?”
Mekhi grabbed her hand and places a chaste kiss on the back of it and she smiled, silently agreeing. As she opened her mouth to reply, a sharp pain shot down her back. She gasped out for air and clung to Mekhi’s arms, groaning in pain.
“Babe? Ave, what’s wrong?”
She screamed, the pain moving up into her shoulder blades then finally into her head. A blinding light shot into her eyes and she screamed for the second time, clinging onto Mekhi harder. She started to sob, mumbling incoherent words. Her vision went dark, and she couldn’t see when she opened her eyes. All she could see was red.
Mekhi rubbed her back. He was used to this by now. In a calm voice, he asked “What is it?”
“They’re coming,” she croaked out.
Nicholas dug at the dirt beneath him, waiting for Emerson. She had said that today was a good day to go into Selal to see his family, and he was growing more and more anxious as the time passed. It had been two weeks since they had met, and they were still practically strangers, but Emerson was still helping him. And he didn’t know why.
He drew lines in the dirt, humming to himself quietly, when a hand came down on his shoulder.
He jumped up and looked at his assailant. “Gods, Emerson, you scared the shit out of me!”
She rolled her eyes, hoisting her quiver and a backpack over her shoulders. “That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention to your surroundings.”
He stood up. “No, that’s what happens when you move like some type of friggin’ ninja,” he shot back.
Emerson sniggered, then gestured him to follow her. It wouldn’t be as long as a journey as it is to Granny Isa’s house, but it wouldn’t be an easy hike, either. They were up on the mountain, and it wasn’t all shits and giggles getting up or down the mountain for someone who had never done it before.
“Stay close to me, alright? We don’t want you falling down a hill.”
He scowled at her, then gave her a sarcastic salute, motioning her to lead the way. They walked silently, and he noticed that she really did move like a ninja. Her steps her soft, and his steps were loud and chunky, each time his foot hit the ground earned him a loud thump.
“How do you do that?” he asked her.
Emerson looked at him. “Do what?”
He guttered to her feet. “Move so quietly.”
She shrugged. “I’ve been hunting for years. Can’t exactly hunt for food sounding like Bigfoot over here, now can I?”
He glared at her, only earning a chuckle in return. They continued that way for hours, bantering back and forth, shooting insults at each other, and it usually resulted in Nicholas getting his feelings hurt.
“Watch your step here. It’s steep.”
Nicholas nodded, very carefully sliding down the side of the rock, or trying to, just like Emerson, but he tripped on a root in the ground and ended up falling down the mountain, taking Emerson with him. They rolled and grunted all the way down, until they hit a large tree trunk that had fallen years ago.
“Ow,” Emerson groaned. “I told you to watch your step.”
She stood up, rubbing at her side, and checked to see if her red cloak had been ripped. Luckily, it hadn’t, but thanks to Nicholas, it was now streaked with mud and grass. She groaned again and turned to the man. “Seriously, be more careful. You can get killed out here.”
Nicholas pursed his lips as he silently stood, wincing at the pain coming from his left hip. It crushed his ego that a woman five years younger than him could so easily make this trek, and he had been the one to trip on a damn root. Why was it that she was so much better at this than him?
“I know what you’re thinking,” she interrupted his sulking. “Don’t. I’ve lived out here a long time. And contrary to what you might believe, I actually hate coming down to Selal, so I don’t make this hike often. Only when needed.”
He nodded, then thought of when she went into town to get him clothes. It hadn’t even taken her half a day to get down there and back, but by looking at the sun, Nicholas was sure they had already been at this for five or six hours. “How close are we?”
She laughed. “Not even half way. We still have to make it down the mountain, then have to go through Sanguine Spring.”
He continued sulking, thinking about how he was slowing her down. If it wasn’t his family, he wouldn’t even have to come. Hell, it probably would’ve been easier to just bring them to him.
“So how long have you lived out here?”
Emerson glanced at him from the side, unsure of how to answer. “Since I was eight. My mom moved me out here because she hated Selal as much as I do. She made sure it was okay with my Granny before we moved. Granny stayed in the city till mom died. We still went to visit her every now and then. I’ve been on my own since I was 12, though.”
“You’ve been on your own for 11 years?” he questioned.
Emerson ignored the pang in her heart. “More or less.”
They traveled in silence, neither had the desire to broaden the subject, nor change it. It was a comfortable silence, only filled with wind and animal sounds. Soon, Emerson could hear the water trickle.
She stopped in her tracks. “We’re coming up the the spring. Do not, and I mean do not, make any sudden movement, and for the love of gods, don’t talk, got it?”
He nodded in confusion. They came up to the spring in question, and his jaw dropped. The water was deep blue and completely clear, lined with trees of all kinds and colors; blues, purples, and pinks, and butterflies flew around. He heard laughter and buzzing in his ear. When he went to ask Emerson another question, she slammed a hand over his mouth.
Don’t, she mouthed.
She came to another stop, and before Nicholas could think about taking another step, a woman appeared before them. And she was beautiful. The first thing Nicholas notices was her floor length white hair. The second? She was naked. Completely. She had red jewels decorating her skin from head to toe, and a flower crown made of roses atop her head. Her eyes were, surprisingly, purple. Nicholas gaped at the woman.
“Emerson,” she purred. “What brings you back so soon?”
“I need to get through, Amethyst,” she replied.
Nicholas looked at his companion, who still had a hold of his face. When he turned back to the woman, he noticed that there were more people—were they people?— in the water, men and women alike, and they were all staring at them.
“Come on, Emerson, don’t be like that. Why don’t you come play?”
Emerson shook her head. “I can’t today. I have to get him to town.”
For the first time, the woman, Amethyst, noticed Nicholas.
“Oh!” she exclaimed, walking toward him. She trailed a hand down his arm and he jerked back. “And who is this?”
“A friend,” Emerson deadpanned.
Amethyst pouted. “Really?”
Amethyst studied both of the humans before them, one who was clearly not aware of what was going on. She grinned. “Can your friend stay and play?”
Nicholas started to talk, but Emerson clamped her hand on his face harder, making him wince. She looked at him dead in the eye, and he shrunk back. If looks could kill, he thought.
Amethyst sighed. “Well okay. But you know the price you have to pay...”
Emerson nodded. “Of course.”
Amethyst clapped her hands and two more people came around her, equally as beautiful and equally as naked. One was a tall, black man who had the same jewels in his skin, though his were purple, but he had no crown. The other was a small woman, with jewels, but they were dark green, contrasting with her pale skin. She also had no crown.
“Jezebel, Yakob, take the payment from Miss Russell please.”
“Yes, my Queen,” they replied in unison.
The two moved in sync, moving to Emerson’s side, and Jezebel grabbed the arm that wasn’t holding Nicholas. “I miss you, Emmy.”
Emerson looked at the woman holding her, and her eyes softened. “I know.”
Yakob pulled a knife and vile seemingly out of nowhere, and cut into Emerson’s palm. She winced at the pain, but let it happen. She clenched her fist over the vile and watched her blood trickle into the glass.
“Wonderful, Emerson. You may now pass,” spoke Amethyst.
The three of the stepped back and out of the way for them to cross, and Nicholas started to wonder how they were going to get across a spring, when Amethyst clicked her fingers and a narrow pathway sprouted up from the bottom of the water. Nicholas’s eyes grew wider as Emerson led him across the path.
They reached the other side, and Emerson turned back at the sound of her name. Amethyst stood in the middle of the spring, smiling from eye to eye. “I’ll see you soon, Emerson.”
The others called their goodbyes to the woman and Emerson responded with a wave and a small smile. When they were out of the spring’s territory, she pulled her hand from Nicholas’s face and he ripped his body away from hers.
“What the hell was that?” he yelled.
She ignored him, digging in her backpack for a gauze. She wrapped it loosely around her palm and ripped off the end with her teeth, tying it in place.
She continued walking, ignoring the sudden interrogation from the stranger behind her. She felt a hand go to her arm and she froze. “Emerson. What. The hell. Just happened? Who were those people? How do you know them?”
She shook him from his arm and contemplating telling him. It was another secret from her past, one that wasn’t needed for their journey into Selal, but the confused eyes string into her own made her give in.
“Fae,” she said simply, continuing her path.
“F-Fae?” he stuttered. “You led me into a spring with fae?”
“To be precise, they’re water nymphs,” she responded coldly, not liking his tone of voice. Most people got the wrong idea about fae. They assumed them to be evil, name-seeking creatures who wanted to enslave humans for eternity, when in reality, they were mischievous creatures who doted on humans and just wanted companionship.
“Are you crazy?” he shouted, pulling her to another stop. “We could’ve been killed!”
She stopped in her tracks. Of course he just had to be an idiot. She spun around quickly, grabbing a dagger from her hip, and pressing it to his neck. “Do not talk about things you know nothing of, got it?”
He nodded profusely, shaking at the weapon so close to his Adam’s apple. He swallowed and she backed up and sighed, placing the weapon back at her hip. “I was born there.”
His eyes grew so wide he thought they would pop out of his sockets.
She nodded and motioned for him to continue walking. They were so close to town, they couldn’t stop now. “Yeah. I spent some of my childhood there, actually. When we left the city, we didn’t go straight to the cabin. We stayed there for a couple years.”
“You lived with the fae?”
“Yes,” she sighed. “For more reasons than one.”
Nicholas looked at the woman beside him, who was becoming more of a stranger than she was the day he met her. “Care to tell me about those reasons?”
“You sure you want to hear them? We’re here.”
Nicholas paused his footsteps and shifted on his feet. He didn’t know whether to listen to Emerson’s story or to go barricading into the his hometown, searching for his family.
“I want to hear,” he spoke quietly.
“Oh gods,” she said. “Might as well sit down, this won’t be easy.”
They sat down on a pair of rocks, sitting facing each other. Emerson had set her backpack and quiver on the ground but kept her bow on her lap, tracing her finger over the design.
“For one, it’s a lot safer there,” Emerson started. “People can’t get in or out of the spring without a nymphs permission, and my mom was so scared when we first left Selal so she went to the first place she could think of that could keep us safe. And that was Sanguine Spring. For two, it was familiar. I spent my first two years of life there, so my mom knew that I would be okay with living there. She knew that I wouldn’t go absolute bat-shit crazy there. And for three...” she trailed off, not sure whether she should share this piece of information with the strange man before her. She looked at him, and he was watching her so closely, eyebrows furrowed, lips slightly parting, hanging on every word. She took a deep breath.
“For three, I’m half fae.”