The streets were quiet for a Friday night in the bustling metropolis. Alexandra clenched the collar of her jacket tighter around her neck. The wind was starting to pick up, and the chill was unseasonable for the beginning of September in Boston. Her heels clicked along the damp cobblestones of the ancient sidewalks as she headed towards her apartment. The evening’s rain made the stones slick, leading her to believe that her trek home would be easier, and safer, if she took her shoes off. Unfortunately, walking around the city barefoot at two o’clock in the morning was not exactly socially acceptable, unless she wanted passersby to think she might be a trashed idiot who lost her way home.
That wasn’t to say she was one for social acceptance, but she still had an image to uphold within the city, even if she was only a barista at one of the city’s many Starbucks. Making a fool of herself now would have miserable repercussions at work in the morning, for news seemed to travel fast in Boston, and so she continued on her way, hobbling along the uneven ground, praying to whatever deities were listening that she didn’t twist her ankle during her ten- minute walk home.
The city had been her home for some time now, so walking home alone by herself at this time of night never truly fazed her. In fact, she’d be lying to herself if she said she did not enjoy it. She had to keep up the strong front – having to interact with half of the population of Boston on a daily basis motivated her further to be that strong, independent woman expected of a twenty-something living on her own. Maybe it was her upbringing, or maybe it was the license to carry a concealed weapon that gave her the extra strength she needed to walk the streets of the city at night. Whichever it was, neither prepared her for her heel getting caught within the rough cobblestones.
Whether internal debate or residual from the night’s alcohol intake, she was caught off- guard at the abrupt end of the sidewalk, which caused her to stumble and take a wrong step towards the street. In an attempt to regain her balance, her other ankle twisted underneath her. Without another option, she put her arms in front of her face to brace herself as her head was on its way to meet the asphalt, all the while trying not to think about the pain her skin would endure colliding with the rough pavement...
... until an unexpected hand grabbed a hold of her arm just before her face greeted the asphalt.
He was strong, she observed as his other arm wrapped around her waist to return her to a standing position. She remained motionless in the stranger’s arms for a moment longer, giving herself some time to allow the shock to wash over her. As she composed herself, she shook her head and glanced towards the individual who just saved her from needing a nose job.
His hair was dark under the streetlights, side- swept and held loosely in a ponytail at the base of his neck. He was dressed like any other guy one would meet on a Friday night in Faneuil Hall, wearing a dark, button-down shirt over clean denim jeans and sensible dress shoes. His features were thin with chiseled cheek bones, but then she looked into his eyes.
They were the most piercing blue she had ever seen, almost too blue, especially without the sun shining to light them. It was as though they radiated with their own light source- odd, but yet they seemed so familiar that she felt as though she stared into those eyes before. The feeling was almost nostalgic, but also possessed a certain this- has- never- happened- before aura.
By the time she realized she was still staring he had already released her from his grasp.
“I.....” She blinked, unable to find the right words to say.
“A simple ‘thank you’ should suffice.” His words purred through a familiar foreign accent, but she couldn’t place it. Irish? Scottish? She wasn’t even sure if it was European, but she knew that she could listen to it for hours if she had the choice.
She knew he was staring at her, waiting for a response
“... oh... sure.... thank you.” She started to brush herself off in an almost awkward way, anything she could do to avoid his gaze. This wasn’t like her - she needed to compose herself. “I didn’t even hear you....”
“I know. You’re a horrible drunk.” He gave her a smirk. A familiar smirk. “You probably would have been safer taking those damn shoes off and walking home in bare feet.” He winked, and before she could ask him how he knew who she was, or that she was heading home, or that she was contemplating the same question, he was already continuing on his way.
“Happy birthday, Alex,” he waved back to her without another glance.
How did he....?
“Hey... wait...!” she called after him, but shouting was useless. He disappeared out of sight as quickly as he arrived.
Alex brushed herself off as she considered exactly what just had happened. Summing it up to one ridiculously drunk night that needed to end, she did, finally, remove her shoes and continued slowly along her way down the quiet street. She had no idea who the man was, or if she had even ever crossed his path before, or if he was just some crazy standing too close to her at the bar that night, but it sure wasn’t the oddest thing to ever happen to her since she lived in the city. The streets were known to house the weirdos once the sun went down, so she determined that she was going to chock it up to just that.
Finally she came to the street leading down to her apartment, but as she turned to head down the final stretch, something jarred her senses. Before she realized it she was instinctively reaching into her purse for the handgun she always carried with her, just in case she came across something like this... whatever this was. A security blanket, she supposed, but living alone in Boston, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Case in point..
She lived in one of the older colonial town houses that later converted into apartments and condominiums for the upper class as the years went on and the economy grew. But seeing as she was anything but upper class, she rented which left her stuck on the bottom floor of the building. It was this ground-floor entrance beneath the building’s main stairs that gave her a moment to pause and assess the potentially dangerous situation before her.
The heavy wrought- iron gate that barred the entrance to her apartment had been bent in a fashion that it looked as though a gorilla took a bar in each hand and used all of its strength to spread them apart. Through the warped iron, she could see the lock to her apartment had been destroyed, blown apart and taking the surrounding door with it, but not by a gun. Rather, it almost looked as though someone had their own private battering ram by the way the door had splintered. The light above the door had also been destroyed, suffering a similar, exploding fate. Clearly whoever wanted to get into her apartment didn’t want anyone else to know they were there.
With her gun poised, she slowly stepped through the warped gate and pushed open the ruined doorway into the mud room of her home. Everything was dark and quiet, just as she left it, which caused her more concern. Whoever was here, they weren’t here to rob her or else every drawer and cabinet would have been torn apart by now. She quietly walked into her kitchen, her ears still perked for even the slightest hint of sound. Soon she heard it, a subtle creak of a floorboard was enough for her to take the safety off her gun and put her finger on the trigger. Peeking around the corner from her kitchen, she noticed a dull light emanating from her living room; it appeared as though a television had been left on in the darkness, only she didn’t have a television in her living room.
Cautiously, Alex approached the living room, hiding just outside the archway, craning her neck to see who decided to take their liberties within her apartment. She heard a conversation of some sort, but it was difficult to understand the context. She couldn’t tell if it was muffled, hushed, or in a completely different language. She willed herself to look, as her heart pounded in her chest, but what she saw before her was enough to make it stop.
Crouched in front of her fireplace was a figure in black with its back turned to her. Its stature appeared to be male, which was confirmed once he started talking. His focus appeared to be on an orb within her fireplace instead of her, but at that moment she could have said the same about him. It hovered in place; its swirling red flames neither burned nor emanated heat. Curiosity almost got the best of her as her attention was drawn to the orb, but she caught herself once she realized the flames were communicating with the crouched intruder.
It was also at this time that she deducted that what they were speaking wasn’t English at all, and yet she could understand every word they were saying as if it was.
“Has the perimeter been secured?”
“It has, my Lord,” the figure spoke into the flame-less conflagration. “There is no sign of the Empress. She’ll be none the wiser that the Key is in place.”
“Good. Where she will be, the Prince will follow. We must make sure the Empress is in our possession before he makes his move.”
“What are your wishes for me now, my Lord?”
“Be patient. Be vigilant. And so help me, when the Empress returns, do not allow her to leave.”
“And the Key?”
“It will activate within the next moon cycle. Until then, she will be your only way home. Do you understand me?”
The figure bowed his head. “Yes, my lord.”
This all seemed surreal, potentially dangerous, and Alex had heard enough. Whomever the Empress was, or this Lord, or that Prince, or any other royalty that may be involved, enough was enough. Gathering her now-growing courage, she hugged the wall as she turned the corner into the room, keeping her back to the wall, and once she was sure she wasn’t heard, made her presence known.
“Sorry to break up this lovely conversation,” she interrupted as she walked out from her spot against the wall, gun aimed at the head of the intruder, ready to shoot. “I think it’s time you remove yourself from my apartment and back to... wherever you’re from.”
“Who is that? Is that the Empress?!” The voice from the flames sounded panicked as the orb’s size and power intensified.
The intruder turned around to face her. For the first time she was able to catch a glimpse of his features in the light, though there was not much light to go by. He was clearly humanoid, but there was something otherworldly about him. The feature she noticed the most, however, were his eyes, glowing red within the shadows. Her surprise was clearly overshadowed by his, though she wasn’t sure if it was because he had seen the gun or not, for once he saw her he sprung to his feet as if he saw a ghost, knocking over a nearby lamp on a side table.
“It’s... Alexstrayna. She’s here...” he exclaimed, almost falling into the fireplace as if the orb would give him protection, or a quick escape out of the room.
She rolled her eyes. “The name’s Alexandra, but close....”
“THE PRINCE! He’s following her. Find him! Find him NOW!!!” The orb’s flames erupted within the fireplace in a glowing fury. “Do not let the Empress out of your sight, or so help me I will rip you apart should you ever return here!”
The orb continued to rant and rave as the minion composed himself and started approaching her. He leaped into the air with inhumane-like grace, lunging at her as she cocked her gun, but before she could get a round off, a sudden bolt of blue flame came over her shoulder, knocking the attacker back towards the fireplace. She looked over her shoulder in the direction of flash, and in a lingering glow of azure stood the same individual who helped her up from her tumble in the street. Flames appeared to grow from his right hand as he was poised in a battle-ready position, preparing for another attack.
Turning back to the fireplace, the intruder ceased moving as remnants of the blast sparked over his still body. She began to turn towards her stranger, ready to confront him for his actions, but no sooner did she open her mouth than the orb within the fireplace found its voice.
“So he’s come. You’re too late, Treyan! The Key is placed. The Empress will be mine!”
“Sorry to disappoint you, Reylor, but my Key has been in place for years.” The stranger walked forward, outstretched his right hand, and again blue flames sprung from his hand, this time engulfing the red orb, and not a moment later, it was extinguished.
Without delay, he turned towards her and began to approach her. “I’m sorry about all of this, Alex...”
“You....?” She raised her gun to him, the nozzle hitting his chest before he could move another inch. “Who are you? What are you doing here?”
Sighing, he brought his hand to the gun, where familiar blue flames began to warm the metal, and if Alex didn’t let go she would have burned her hand. Reluctantly, she dropped the gun, clutching her sore hand as she stepped away from the stranger. Before she could turn to run, he grabbed hold of her forearm, and he pulled her face to his.
She caught herself lost in his blue eyes yet again, and as his lips met hers with an enthusiasm that was unwarranted given their sudden meeting. She felt an intense warmth throughout her body, akin to the comfort of a lover’s embrace and just as unnatural, but before she could protest, her world fell to darkness.