“We’re going to get another map,” Athena told Annelise the next morning, after they’d all had showers and gotten dressed.
“And we’re going to see if there are any Taco Bells around here too,” Dianna added. “Want to come?”
“I don’t really feel like it right now,” Annelise said, shaking her head.
“Alright, miss out on all the fun then,” Dianna teased as she stepped outside.
“See you in a bit,” Athena said.
“Yeah, see you,” Annelise replied as Athena stepped out as well, leaving her sitting there alone.
She sat on the bed for a second before pulling her dream journal out of her bag, even though she couldn’t recall any of her dreams from the night before. She hated not being able to remember. There was no telling what adventures she might have had in the realm of dreams, or what strange worlds she might have visited. For all she knew she might have traveled to Ulthar in Dreamland like H.P. Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter, and met the glorious general of the local cat army, Hamish. She didn’t know why the name Hamish came to her. It wasn’t in any of Lovecraft’s tales, but it felt right to her nonetheless. So maybe she did indeed have adventures with Hamish and his army in the night. Still, she’d never know now.
Finishing her silent lament for her dreamless night, she proceeded to write down her dream about the crossroads, just as she’d written down every dream she had ever since she was thirteen. She still wasn’t really sure what to think about her newest dream, though. Yes, it had led them down the right path at the fork, but that path hadn’t been anywhere near as safe as it had been in her dream. Sure, it could all just be one big coincidence, but that didn’t feel like the truth to her. That dream had been a part of her walking dreams, after all. And she believed that they meant something, which meant that she had to believe that that specific dream meant something too. Maybe all it did mean was that the correct path was the right and the left path was wrong, or maybe that was only a part of the meaning. Maybe it was part of something bigger. But either way, she wasn’t going to figure it out no matter how long she sat there thinking about it. So, when she was finished writing, she grabbed the remote control and flipped on the TV.
Other than a few game shows and the morning news, none of which Annelise was interested in, the only other thing on was a documentary about the Atlata virus. She’d learned all about it in school, and remembered it well as summer hadn’t given her enough time to forget it yet, but she didn’t feel like sitting there in silence. She glanced over at the phone, considering calling home, but didn’t feel like doing that just yet either. So she just leaned back in bed, and absently watched the documentary.
The Atlata virus originated in the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility in Manhattan, Kansas. No one, to that very day, knew exactly how the virus made it out of that facility and into the outside world, or even whether or not it was an intentional act. All that was known, and really mattered, was that it did get out.
At first the Atlata virus infected only the bovine community. Cattle in the immediate areas surrounding the research facility caught the virus, though to them it manifested as nothing more than a cold, which their immune systems beat back within a week of the first symptoms. Not a single head of cattle died of the virus, nor did it leave any lasting effect on them.
Then, about a week later, the first humans contracted the Atlata virus. Unlike with the cows, it was much more than a cold to humans. Those infected oozed puss and a plethora of other bodily fluids from every bodily orifice, until their brain liquefied and oozed out of them as well.
In the early days, when it was rapidly spreading, no one could figure out how it was transmitted. The CDC was able to determine that the virus didn’t have the ability to pass from one human to another, but not much more.
Then a genius named Harold Reese, one of the only CDC officials who had looked into the cattle outbreak just weeks before, figured it out. He realized that the illness that was ravaging the population was the same one that had infected the cows. And upon further testing, he was able to definitively determine that the cattle that had caught the virus had been irrevocably tainted. Any human that consumed their meat or milk would, almost without exception, become infected by it.
Humanity hailed Harold Reese as its savior. Every single head of cattle that even had the tiniest chance of having been exposed to the virus was culled. Milk, beef, and other dairy products were removed from store shelves indefinitely. Goat, almond, and even human breast milk surged onto the shelves of supermarkets everywhere, while cattle ranches and dairy farms went bankrupt. Overall, though, it was but a small price to pay for the survival of the human race.
But then, just as the last of the infected cows were being destroyed, the virus mutated. And suddenly, the virus could indeed be passed from human to human with only the slightest of touches.
With that jump, the Atlata virus became unstoppable. Before six months passed from the initial outbreak, over half of the world’s population was infected. Within a year, seventy percent of the world was dead.
Yet still there was hope for humanity. For Harold Reese and his team were tirelessly looking for a cure. They located a handful of people with a natural immunity to the virus, and hoped to use their blood to derive a cure. But before they could succeed, Harold Reese and his team were all infected as well and joined the billions of other dead around the globe.
So hope faded. The plague spread unchecked, killing untold thousands daily. There were so many dead that it became impossible to dispose of the bodies. Decomposing corpses littered the streets. Food and water supplies dwindled, and many that remained were contaminated. Famine, drought, and other diseases that had long ago been eradicated killed even those who weren’t infected by the Atlata virus. So, it seemed, humanity was in its death throes. It seemed that the human race was about to go the way of the dinosaurs and the dodo bird, and go extinct.
Then, just as humanity inhaled for one final breath, the fae revealed themselves. They left their caves, their boroughs, their forests, claiming that they could help.
Those in the few remaining shards of government were skeptical, but they didn’t have anything left to lose at that point. They had no other choice other than to trust the fae if humanity was to survive. And so the Reykjavik Treaty was formed between the leaders of humanity and the Seelie Court, the worldwide ruling body of the fae. There were hundreds of technicalities and terms that were worked out, but the gist of the treaty was simple: humanity and the fae would share the planet in peace. And so the world that Annelise had known her entire life was created.
As the documentary ended and Annelise turned off the TV, her thoughts turned to Grandma Emily, and what it must have been like to live through the hell of the Atlata Virus. She couldn’t imagine watching the people she loved die gruesome, agonizing deaths. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to see the world she knew and loved burn down to the ground around her. She thought about the stories Grandma Emily told her about scrounging through garbage for something to eat and drink, and the vague references she made to things that she and her father had been forced to do to survive. Grandma Emily never went into any further detail, but her eyes would well up with tears, and a tortured, haunted expression would come onto her face.
With all that in mind, she could understand why Grandma Emily would distrust the fae. They’d had the cure to the Atlata virus as billions died, while society burned, and had done nothing. If they had come forward sooner, billions could have been saved.
On one of the final days of negotiations, just days before the final signing of the Reykjavik Treaty, one of the delegates for the humans asked the Seelie Court that very question, why they hadn’t come forward sooner. One of the fae explained that they were afraid of what would happen if they revealed themselves while humanity still dominated the earth. They’d witnessed wars, genocide, atrocities that no one had any idea that there were witnesses too. They’d watched cities get vaporized by nuclear bombs, and people blow themselves and others up for their demented religious ideals. And so, for their own protection, they decided to let humanity handle it themselves. They did, that is, until it became clear that humanity couldn’t handle it themselves.
Their reasoning made sense to Annelise, especially in the wake of seeing two huge, powerful trolls get blasted away by a few humans with guns. The Seelie Court was just trying to take care of their own people, and ensure their safety. Then again, she was also fifty years removed from the terrible images she’d just seen flash across the TV. And so it also made sense to her that Grandma Emily, who had seen all of the horrors firsthand, would distrust the fae. It made sense that she would blame them for all the dead, whether or not it was justified.
And with that, Annelise picked up the phone on the end table next to the bed, and called home.
“Hello?” Her mother answered.
“Mom, it’s Annelise.”
“Hi, honey! You just missed your dad. He left for work a few minutes ago.”
“That sucks. Is everything alright there?”
“Other than missing you, yes. It’s so different around here without you here. Much quieter. It makes me kind of glad you’re not going away in the fall, because I don’t know what I’d do with myself that whole time. Are you in Alexandria, then?”
“Yeah. Athena and Dianna went out to get some stuff, so I’m here at the motel alone.”
“Are you guys behaving yourselves?”
“Of course. When haven’t we behaved ourselves?”
“Yeah, sure. I hope you’re staying safe too, being extra cautious and everything.”
“Yeah we are, I think. There’s only been a little bit of life threatening danger so far,” Annelise said truthfully.
“Haha, very funny,” her mother replied. “Seriously, though, you guys need to be careful. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there.”
“I know, mom.”
With that, Annelise heard Athena and Dianna talking outside, and fumbling with the lock.
“I have to go, mom. Athena and Dianna are back.”
“Sure, you don’t want them to know you called home, right?”
“It’s not that and you know it.”
“I know. You guys want to go have some fun. And that’s fine. I love you, honey.”
“I love you too, mom. Tell dad I love him, too. And Grandma Emily. Tell her that I especially miss her, and love her.”
“I will. Talk to you later.”
With that Annelise hung up the phone, and Athena and Dianna walked in.
“We’re back!” Dianna announced.
“I can see that. Did I miss anything good?” Annelise asked.
“No. This place is dull,” Dianna answered.
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“No, she’s actually not exaggerating this time,” Athena said. “This place may actually be more boring than Sunnyville, and that’s saying something.”
“There are tours of old world Chicago, though,” Dianna said, pulling a brochure out of her pocket and handing it to Annelise. “There are even a few skyscrapers still standing there!”
“Why aren’t people just living there, then?” Annelise asked, looking through the brochure and seeing the pictures of the landmarks, and monuments that still stood in nearly the same condition they had pre-Atlata.
“It’s too much work,” Athena explained. “Keeping a building standing and pretty on the outside is one thing. Making it safe enough to live in is another. There’s just no need for buildings like that these days.”
“If you had your way you’d probably rip them all down right now, wouldn’t you?” Dianna asked, glaring over at her.
“Maybe I will one day if you keep annoying me,” Athena shot back, only half joking.
“This does look like it would be interesting. We should do it,” Annelise said, handing the brochure back to Dianna.
“Yes! I was hoping you’d say that,” Dianna said.
“Okay, then. Let’s do it,” Athena nodded.
With all of them in agreement, they repacked the stuff they’d taken out of their bags and went to check out of the motel.
“They left?” Annelise asked when they stepped outside, noticing that the guys’ car was gone.
“Yeah. We saved their lives, and they didn’t even have the decency to say goodbye,” Dianna remarked, shaking her head.
“She’s just mad she didn’t get to see Tyler again,” Athena told Annelise.
“Oh, really,” Annelise said, turning to Dianna.
“I can’t be the only one that thought he was hot. And thanks for blurting that out to the entire world,” Dianna added to Athena.
“You’re welcome,” Athena responded simply.
“Tyler’s not my type. And anyway, you guys wanted to leave them to die,” Annelise reminded them.
“Athena did. I wouldn’t have been able to go through with it,” Dianna said.
“And we didn’t leave them to die, which is what matters,” Athena retorted. “Now can we please just forget about them? This trip is about us, after all. Not a bunch of stupid boys who can’t even be bothered to say goodbye to the people who saved their lives.”
“You’re right. Forget them,” Annelise agreed as they loaded their bags into the van.
“That’s going to be easier said than done. I mean, did you guys see Tyler’s arms?” Dianna asked.
“Stop it! Just stop it!” Athena ordered. “Now I’m going to go check us out, and when I get back I don’t want to hear any mention of those boys. Got it?”
“Yeah, yeah,” Dianna sighed, climbing behind the steering wheel.
“You’re driving today?” Annelise asked, hearing her mother’s voice in her head telling her to stay safe. She’d driven with Dianna before, and as such, knew that that wasn’t staying safe.
“You guys have both had turns. It’s my turn to drive today,” Dianna said with a shrug.
“And Athena is alright with this?”
“I already promised her I’m not going to crash into a tree, or drive off a cliff, no matter how much I like that movie.”
“Welcome to my world,” Dianna replied with a smug smile.
“I’ve never heard of that.”
“That’s not what the movie’s called. Just, never mind,” Dianna grumbled, shaking her head.
A minute later Athena rejoined them, taking the passenger’s seat, which left Annelise navigating in the back.
“Which direction am I supposed to go?” Dianna asked, before turning left out of the parking lot.
“Right,” Annelise answered, consulting the map.
“Well we’re off to an auspicious start,” Athena remarked.
“Pipe down, you,” Dianna ordered. “No passenger seat driving.”
“All I did was make a comment!”
“You had an attitude. And while I’m captain, the only attitude in here will be mine,” Dianna said as she found a place to turn around.
“It is my van, you know.”
“And I could drive us into a tree right now if I wanted to,” Dianna countered.
“You promised not to!” Athena exclaimed.
“Should I sit up front?” Annelise asked, not liking where things were going.
“We’re fine!” Dianna and Athena snapped as one.
“Okay. This is going to be one long drive,” Annelise said, sitting back in her seat.
Chicago was only about an hour away from Alexandria, but the way Dianna drove, it only took them forty five minutes to get there. And the entire time, Athena nit picked everything that Dianna did. Dianna’s responses, meanwhile, waffled between dismissiveness and making fun. So, by the time they did make it to Chicago, they were all more than ready to get out of the van for a while.
As Chicago is a vast amount of ground to cover, the tour was conducted not on foot, but from an old double decker bus, the top deck of which was open. They were surprised to see that it was only half full, but pleased that that meant that there was plenty of room up top for them. Annelise and Athena filed into one of the seats around the center of the bus but, even though there was more than enough room for her too, Dianna elected to take the seat behind them, which was empty.
“Really?” Athena asked, unable to believe her childishness.
“I want a window seat,” Dianna replied smartly, sitting down behind Annelise.
Athena rolled her eyes, but didn’t want to start another argument in public so she remained silent.
A minute later the tour began.
Chicago was like nothing the girls had seen before. They’d lived their entire lives in a city surrounded by trees and nature at every turn, where the tallest building was a mere six stories high. There, on the other hand, buildings rose around them seemingly as high as the eye could see, and other than Lake Michigan, not a shred of nature was in sight. But while they were indeed amazed by it all, they were also filled with a strange, uneasy feeling. They’d seen pictures of those streets and sidewalks filled with cars and people. And that was how they’d always imagined it, with noise, and activity, and strange smells. But now that they were there, all there was was silence and solitude. They were the only people in sight.
“It’s like something out of a movie or something,” Dianna remarked, eagerly taking in the sights around her. “I wouldn’t be surprised if zombies started pouring out of these buildings. Or those monsters from that Will Smith movie.”
“I’ve never seen it,” Annelise said absentmindedly, snapping pictures of the buildings with her camera.
“I figured that. You haven’t seen any good movies,” Dianna remarked simply.
As the tour continued, they saw Sears Tower, and the bean when there was a forty five minute stop to allow the tourists time to explore Millennium Park. As they walked around it, Annelise’s mind turned back to the documentary she’d watched that morning. She couldn’t help but wonder how many people who had once lived there had died because of the Atlata virus, and imagined how full the city would be with the dead if they had all turned into zombies.
The last stop on the tour was the original Lou Malnatti’s Pizzeria so everyone could experience the wonder that was traditional Chicago deep dish pizza.
Each of the girls got their own personal pan pizza. Annelise’s was plain pepperoni, Dianna’s pepperoni, sausage, and bacon, while Athena’s was topped with only vegetables.
“Yuk,” Dianna said, shaking her head when Athena’s pizza was brought out.
“I’d take mine over your heart attack special any day,” Athena responded.
“I’m with Dianna. Yuk,” Annelise said.
“We’ll see who gets the last laugh when you both die of cardiac arrest,” Athena remarked.
“Of what?” Dianna asked, confused.
“Heart attacks,” Annelise explained.
“I’d drive off a cliff before that happened,” Dianna stated.
“You promised not to do that either,” Athena reminded her.
“I’m not going to do it today. But when I’m old, who knows.”
“If things keep going the way they are I might just push you off of one when the time comes.”
“I’d drag you off with me,” Dianna warned her.
Annelise couldn’t say that that line of conversation filled her with glee, but at least they weren’t yelling at each other.
At three o’clock the tour officially ended and the bus pulled back up to where everyone had gotten on. Before they left, though, they took an obligatory look through the gift shop.
“I want all of it,” Dianna said, gazing at the souvenirs with wide eyes. “Ooh,” she said, a display of mini Sears Towers and beans catching her eye.
“We’re never going to get her out of here, you know,” Athena said to Annelise.
“Yes we will. Just enjoy yourself. Find something cool and buy it,” Annelise ordered.
“I don’t want anything.”
“Well we’re here, so you’re at least getting a t-shirt.”
“I don’t wan-”
“You’re getting a t-shirt!” Annelise ordered.
“Whatever,” Athena gave in, shaking her head.
A half hour later, after Dianna bought a mini Sears Tower and bean, Annelise a souvenir pen and postcard, and Athena a t-shirt, they climbed into the van and got back on the road.
Like on their way out to Chicago, Dianna put the pedal to the metal on their way out. In seemingly no time at all the city disappeared from view and they found themselves wholly surrounded by the forest again. The trees, bushes, and tarmac flew past them in a blur as Dianna pushed the van ever faster.
“Now this is more like it!” Dianna yelled, relishing the speed.
“Maybe you should slow down,” Athena suggested.
“What was that? I can’t hear you over all this power!” Dianna replied, pressing the gas pedal to the floor.
Annelise, meanwhile, was clutching the armrests in the back seat, praying that Dianna would keep her promise and not wrap them around a tree or hurtle the van off of a cliff in a fireball of death.
“Seriously, slow down!” Athena ordered as the speedometer approached the one hundred mile an hour mark.
“What’s that?” Dianna asked, not heeding her friend’s warning despite the fact that the van was now shaking.
“You can hear me!” Athena roared, losing her temper.
So the situation descended into Athena and Dianna screaming at each other once again. And when they passed a sign warning about the possibility of gnomes crossing the road, only Annelise noticed.
She thought about interrupting their mindless arguing to warn them about the possible gnomes about, but she really didn’t want to get involved in their mess. What were the chances that any gnomes would be crossing the road, after all? She was pretty sure they were nocturnal. Or maybe it was that they were diurnal. Actually, she couldn’t remember that much about gnomes. Still, what were the odds that any would be crossing the road at that time? It didn’t seem very likely to her.
It didn’t, that is, until about five minutes later when, to her horror, she noticed a dark spot on the road up ahead. And Dianna and Athena, still busy bickering, hadn’t.
“Brake, Dianna! Brake!” Annelise told her.
“Of course you’d take her side!” Dianna snapped.
“Just shut up and brake!” Annelise shouted at the top of her lungs, ready to leap forward and grab the wheel if necessary.
There was no need, though. For detecting the panic in her friend’s voice, Dianna slammed on the brakes.
The van’s tires squealed and smoked against the road as Annelise’s head smacked against the front seat. It was padded, but still, it hurt.
“Aaaaahhhhh!” Athena screamed.
“Oh my gosh!” Dianna shrilled, finally seeing what they’d potentially be killing in a matter of seconds.
It wasn’t a gnome, as Annelise had feared. It was a family of gnomes. The largest gnome, standing only three feet tall, was clearly the parent and had a long, blonde beard tucked into its belt, which was wrapped around a blue shirt with the saying ‘If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy’, that it was wearing as a dress. With the form of breasts clearly visible under the shirt, it was clear that it was indeed the ‘momma’ gnome.
The younger gnomes, of which there were three, only stood about two feet tall. Their beards were only about four inches long, and they were huddled around their mother in fear, who wasn’t sure if she should try to jump out of the way or duck under the van. Two of the babies were in green colored shirts and brown pants, while the third was wearing a Led Zeppelin shirt that was comically large on it, and had a pierced nose.
“Stop! Stop!” Annelise screamed desperately.
“I am!” Dianna shouted back.
They were quickly coming to a stop, but it takes a while to come to a stand still after going a hundred miles an hour in a vintage van.
With every gnome and girl shaking in fear over what would happen if the van didn’t stop in time, it continued forward, each foot bringing them closer to the gnome family.
Ten feet. Nine feet. Seven. Ever closer to the fearful creatures the van came. Five. Four. Three. Two.
And then, finally, the van came to a halt.
Still shaking, the three friends peered out of the windshield. The mother gnome was hurrying her children away from the street, towards the right-hand tree line.
Athena and Dianna were still frozen in terror, breathing heavily, when Annelise thought of her camera. The sight of the gnome family was just too precious not to capture, even if they had just almost killed them.
She looked to where she’d set it on the seat, only it wasn’t there. The braking had flung it off of the seat, onto the floor.
Hurriedly, she scooped it up and turned it on, relieved to find that it wasn’t damaged, and pointed out the window as the two green shirted gnomes disappeared in the forest.
Before following them, though, momma gnome turned around to face the van, and Zeppelin paused next to her as well.
Annelise didn’t know what they were doing, but snapped a quick picture of them.
Then, momma gnome gave them the finger.
Again, Annelise snapped a picture.
And then, when its mother had finished, baby Zeppelin gnome gave them the finger as well.
Chuckling at the baby’s imitation, Annelise snapped another picture.
Then, realizing what its baby was doing, momma gnome slapped her child on the head disapprovingly.
A second later, they followed the other two into the trees.
“Well that was close,” Dianna stated simply.
“Yep,” Athena agreed.
“So I’m going to slow down a bit, I think,” Dianna said.
“Good idea,” Athena replied with a nod.
“Poor daddy and baby gnomes,” Dianna said as they started moving forward again, much, much slower than before.
“You know what they were?” Athena asked, surprised.
“I’m not a complete idiot. I know what gnomes are.”
“Actually that was their mom, though,” Annelise corrected her.
“No, that thing was a guy,” Dianna insisted.
“It had breasts!” Athena said.
“It had a beard!” Dianna retorted.
“All gnomes do,” Annelise informed her.
“Okay, that I didn’t know,” Dianna said. “Man, that must really suck.”
“I certainly don’t want a beard,” Annelise commented.
Silence fell as their heart rates finally returned to normal, and the adrenaline pumping through their veins wore off.
“So are gnomes magical?” Dianna asked
“All fae have some measure of magic in them, but gnomes are about the least magical any of them get. They’re less like the dryad we saw last night, and more like the trolls,” Annelise answered.
“Ok,” Dianna said thoughtfully, with a nod.
“What are you getting at?” Athena asked.
“I just wanted to make sure that the mom didn’t curse me or anything. I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and be bald, or have my hair turn green or something.”
“I don’t think they can do stuff like that,” Annelise assured her.
“I think it’s safe to say that they were cursing at us, though,” Athena said.
“They definitely were,” Annelise agreed.
“I’m glad you guys know all this stuff about the fae. I’d be lost without you two. It kind of makes me wish that I had paid more attention in our North American Fae class,” Dianna said.
“You should have paid more attention in all of your classes,” Athena said.
“Except math,” Annelise interjected. “No one really needs any of that crap for the real world.”
“Uh, yes they do. I’ll be using it everyday when I start working,” Athena argued.
“So in other words, no normal people need it,” Annelise joked.
“Oohh. Annie for the win,” Dianna laughed.
“The only reason this van is moving is that a lot of smart people knew how to do math,” Athena retorted.
“Sure, I’ll give you that. But the fae have magic! What use is math now that we know that magic exists?” Annelise countered.
“The fae have magic, and we have math. Math is our magic,” Athena explained.
“If that’s true then we got gypped,” Dianna stated.
“Definitely,” Annelise agreed.
The rest of their driving for the day passed without further event. Dianna, having learned her lesson, and terrified that if she went fast again she’d piss off something that did have the ability to curse her hair, maintained a reasonable speed. So reasonable, in fact, that Athena even had to ask her to speed up a couple times.
By the time they pulled off the road for some sleep they were all more than ready for bed. Annelise, however, felt a jolt of excitement when she marked where they stopped on the map, and saw what they were approaching.
“We’re entering sprite country tomorrow!” She exclaimed.
“So?” Dianna asked, pushing Annelise off of the seat so she could lie down.
“The forest tomorrow night is going to be absolutely beautiful,” Annelise said. “Imagine thousands of fireflies, only they’re actually tiny fairies, each with their own unique color, flying all around us. It’s going to be amazing.”
Neither of her friends responded, though. For they were both already asleep.
“You guys suck,” she remarked, shaking her head as laid down next to Athena in the back. “Tomorrow is going to rock,” she whispered to herself.
A minute later, she drifted off to sleep too.
Like many times before, Annelise found herself walking west. She didn’t know how far she’d gone, but she knew that it was far. Very, very far. The pounding inside of her was stronger than ever and it was still growing. Its source couldn’t be much farther now, not unless she was going to start swimming after running out of land.
Then, feeling a sensation almost like being pulled by a magnet, she stepped off of the road she’d followed for countless miles and started heading north, across a vast, grassy plain. She could feel the grass under her bare feet, feel the blades brush against her ankles. She walked for what felt like both hours, and moments, until she came to another forest. And then, like she had when coming to the crossroads, she stopped. She looked up and around at the forest in front of her. She didn’t know how she knew it, but she knew that her destination, the source of the pounding, was just beyond that forest. After so long, and so far, she was so close. The time to learn what it all meant was drawing near.
Not sure if she was ready for that to happen or not, Annelise stepped forward, into that new forest.