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The Gates of Avaelon

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Chapter One

When he first entered the small bedroom at the end of the hall, he didn’t expect things to be any different from the last time he had been there, and the thought made him very sad.

However, as he stepped through the narrow doorway of the bedroom and peered around, taking in his surroundings, a brilliant flare of hope ignited in his heart and he began to focus more closely on the room’s decorations.

Lining the top of the white dresser, prancing on posters that were once more hung on the walls, even adorning the surface of the thick white comforter on the bed, were unicorns, and he inwardly rejoiced at the sight of the familiar items that had been gone for so many years.

Still not daring to let his hopes build up in vain, he slowly approached the bed, letting his gaze travel from the bottom to the top. And when he at last beheld the head of the person who slept peacefully beneath the unicorn comforter, the breath caught in his throat.

It was her... he could hardly believe it, but it was true. She was different than she had been before… taller, and older. But then again, so was he. And despite the physical changes that time had brought about in her, she was still undeniably the same girl he had known so many years ago.

She lay on her back, her face turned towards the ceiling so that he had a clear view of her, and, still holding his breath somewhat, he moved to the side of the bed and leaned over; gazing intently at her features.

Her curly black hair, once worn boyishly short, now spilled down over her shoulders: falling over the stark whiteness of her pillow in midnight-colored strands. Her lips were fuller than they had been when she was a child, the upper one shorter than the bottom, and both were a pale rose pink. Her nose was slightly turned up at the end, giving her entire face a hint of youthful appeal; and her skin was a lovely shade of cream with just a faint flush to her high cheekbones.

Memories of the time they’d shared together passed through his mind, and a soft laugh escaped his lips as he smiled, looking down at her with a tender expression, still hardly able to believe in the miracle that must have occurred to bring her back.

Then, unable to resist, he reached down with one hand and gently touched her pale cheek, his fingers stroking the smooth skin and moving until they were resting against the black silk of her long hair.

“Melissa.” he breathed softly, his words really no more than a whisper.

Abruptly, her eyes snapped open and she bolted upright into a sitting position, the sudden motion of her body shaking off his hand.

Breathing a bit raggedly as if she had been frightened, Melissa turned her head, peering around the bedroom. However, when her eyes, dark in the shadows, though he knew they would shine a beautiful golden-green in the sunlight, turned directly to him, they remained blank, and instead focused on the poster that was behind him on the wall.

His heart sank, though he scolded himself for not expecting this development. It had been fourteen years; after all, since he had last seen her… of course she wasn’t able to see him anymore.

All Terrans, as his kind referred to humans, were born with the ability to see things that existed outside their own dimension. His people were only one example; ghosts and other spirits were another.

They retained this ability throughout their early years, but with the exception of a few special individuals, lost it as they grew older, usually at the insistence of parents that they focus their attention on `the real world’

So of course Melissa had done the same, and could no longer see him.

Though, he had hoped, if she ever came back, that she would be one of the lucky ones who held onto the ability even after they had reached adulthood.

But still, he thought to himself, something had woken her up. If she couldn’t see him anymore, then perhaps she could still hear him?

For a moment, he was tempted to speak again, just to see if she would react to his voice. But then, seeing her wide eyes as they continued to nervously scan the room, he decided against it.

She already looked startled, and he didn’t want to take the chance of frightening her. It was enough for him, for the moment at least, just to know that she was back. He would return at a better time, and then see if he could somehow re-establish communication with her.

And so, smiling affectionately down at the dark-haired girl who couldn’t see him, he slowly backed away from the bed, and turned to face the wall, that same burst of blue light that was invisible to her eyes shimmering around him as he vanished from the house just as silently as he had come.

● ● ●

Breathing deeply, Melissa clutched her blanket tightly against her chest as she swept the room with her gaze. She could have sworn that someone had been in her room, though she wasn’t exactly sure what had made her think it.

She had always been a light sleeper, but normally only woke up if someone was close to her.

When she had bolted awake just a few minutes ago, she knew she had felt someone’s presence, but now, as she looked around the room, it was completely empty.

Very cute Mel, she thought to herself wryly, you’ve been home for less than a week, and you’re already paranoid! Maybe Linda was right; maybe you aren’t ready to live on your own yet…

Oh, don’t be so pessimistic! Another part of her snapped irritably, you’re going to do fine if you just give yourself half a chance!

In a much better mood, Melissa once more lay back against her pillow, giving the room one final, thorough glance before, when she was reassured that she was, indeed, alone, she closed her eyes and slowly went back to sleep.

● ● ●

The next morning was normal enough at first, and Melissa laughed at herself for her paranoia of the night before.

The winter day was sunny and cool, the warm light shining cheerfully down on the house, field, and the small section of trees that stood on the edge of the wide yard.

The old house had originally belonged to her grandparents. They had kept horses in the big field, but when they had gone too far into debt, they had finally been forced to sell them.

Then, after her grandparents had died, several years before Melissa and her older sister Linda had been born, the house had been willed to her mother and father.

They’d taken down the fence around the field and let the area remain clear. It had been Melissa’s favorite place to play when she had been little.

But then, when she was five and Linda twelve, their father had been killed in a car wreck. They had stayed at the ranch house for the duration of the summer, but in the end, the memories there had been too painful for their mother, and they had moved to upstate New York to live with her sister Sabrina. She’d lived there ever since, until-

Suddenly, Melissa froze, turning her head to look around the kitchen. She had been frying herself an egg for breakfast, and then had felt an odd sensation across her hair; almost like a soft breeze, though she knew perfectly well that all the windows were closed and the house, though old, didn’t have any drafts.

The room, naturally enough, was empty, and after a few more moments, she turned her attention back to the stove and finished cooking her meal.

Once she had transferred her egg to a saucer and poured herself a glass of orange juice, she made her way to the kitchen bar and sat down on one of the tall bar-stools, picking absently at her food as she was distracted by thoughts of the things she had to do that day.

First, she had to call Aunt Sabrina and let her know that she had made the long drive without any trouble, and was settling in just fine.

Then she had to call Joanie. Joanie had been her best friend when she had lived here, and they had kept in touch with each other through E-mail, letters, and the occasional phone call. Though they had not physically seen each other in fourteen years, they were still just as close now as they had been then.

She had just finished her egg when once again she felt a soft brush of air against her face. This time it was slightly different than it had been before, accompanied by an odd sensation that felt like she had just walked through a cluster of floating cobwebs.

But, after a few minutes of holding her breath; waiting for something else strange to happen, she shook her head in disgust and grabbed her dishes, standing up and going over to the sink.

What’s wrong with me today? She wondered irritably as she washed her plate and cup and set them in the dish rack to dry. I’m never this paranoid, and I certainly never imagine things! I’m just not used to being in a house alone; she decided finally, going into the living room and flopping down on the couch even as she reached for the cordless phone.

She quickly dialed a number and listened patiently as the phone began to ring. After a moment, she heard the sleepy voice of a middle-aged woman answer on the other end.

“Yes, is Joanie there? This is Melissa Crawford.”

“Melissa! Is that really you? It’s so good to hear from you! Did you make the trip from New York all right? Such a long drive!” there was a brief pause then, before the woman continued, “I’m so sorry to hear about your mother.”

“That’s okay.” Melissa responded stiffly, taking a deep breath in order to retain the calm, level tone she had been using before, “But is Joanie there?” she repeated, wanting desperately for the topic of conversation to be changed.

“Yes, of course. Joanie!!” the woman screeched loudly, making Melissa wince and turn her ear away from the receiver for a minute as she waited for her old friend to come to the phone.

● ● ●

He sighed in frustration as he leaned against the wall directly across from the girl he had waited so long to see again. He had made two attempts that morning to make contact with her, and both of them had mostly failed.

When she had been cooking, he had spoken her name as he’d stood behind her. She had stopped what she was doing and turned her head, and for a moment, he had been hopeful that she had, indeed, heard him. But then, after another moment, she had merely shrugged and went back to her task.

A few minutes later, as she sat at the bar eating, he’d reached out and gently touched her on the cheek. She’d jerked slightly, holding completely still for a few moments, but then, as she had before; regained her composure and once again acted like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

Taking a deep breath, he crossed his arms, thinking. If she couldn’t see him, or hear him, then how was he supposed to make himself known to her again? Of course, there was a way, he realized dimly, but did he really want to frighten her that badly?

On the other hand, what other choice did he have? He thought, and maybe it wouldn’t frighten her. Just because she couldn’t see him, it didn’t mean that she didn’t remember him. After all, they’d been so close back then; she couldn’t possibly have forgotten him, could she?

“Yes, I can come over,” Melissa was speaking into the phone, her voice more cheerful than it had been a few minutes before, “About eleven? Sure, that’s fine, see you then!” Smiling, she hung up the phone and stood up, stretching out her arms.

But, what if she did forget you? If you try that, and she does not remember you, you shall probably frighten her to death! I need to think about this before I do anything rash, he decided, gazing at her wistfully as she grabbed her car keys off of the coffee table and practically ran for the door, shutting it quickly behind her as she left.

When she was gone, he walked over to the couch and sat down in the place she had just occupied, leaning back against the gray leather cushions and soaking up the warmth her body had left behind.

“Oh, `Lissa,” he sighed wearily, “What am I supposed to do about you?”

● ● ●

“I know this sounds stupid, but when you guys were renting the house out, did you ever hear anything about it being, well… haunted?” Melissa blurted finally, wincing as soon as she had gotten the dreaded word out.

Joanie looked over at her in surprise. They sat together on the floor of Joanie’s bedroom, they had been chatting about random, trivial things really, and then Melissa had finally gotten up the nerve to ask the question that had been nagging at her all day.

Joanie was almost exactly the way she had been when Melissa had moved away so many years before. She was still slightly chubby, with rosy cheeks and a warm smile. Her hair was still the curly blonde mop it had always been; no matter how many times she brushed it or tried to smooth it down, and her eyes were still the same lovely, sparkling sky blue that Melissa had always admired.

“Haunted? No, why?” Joanie asked, glancing at her intently.

“Nothing really.” Melissa answered evasively, her face flushing a little, “It’s just that, weird things have been happening to me there lately.”

“What kind of things?” Joanie pressed, making Melissa blink, though she should have known that Joanie would still be the same direct, practical person she had been even when she was a little girl.

“Well,” she responded slowly, choosing her words carefully, “I know this sounds stupid, but ever since last night, it’s been like… I don’t know- like someone’s watching me. I’ve felt this...presence...in the house. And the really weird thing about it is-...never mind, its dumb.” she broke off suddenly, her golden-green eyes looking out the bedroom window and staring out into the distance.

“No, go on.” her friend insisted.

Melissa sighed and paused for a moment before speaking again, taking a few deep breaths to compose herself and gather her thoughts, “Fine, it’s almost like this presence, or whatever it is, is familiar to me; like I’ve felt it before. Pretty crazy, huh?”

Joanie shook her head, “No, not really. You just have to think about it. Okay, you moved out of that house when you were five, right? You moved because your dad got killed, so you were already pretty emotionally messed up. You moved back here less than a week ago after not stepping a foot in the place for fourteen years, so you have a lot of memories to deal with, and with what just happened to your mom, it’s no wonder you’re imagining things.” Joanie’s voice softened as she noticed Melissa’s flinch at the mention of her mother, “Don’t worry Mel, everything’s going to turn out fine. You got that job at the newspaper you always wanted, didn’t you? All you need is a little more time to get settled in and to get used to being on your own.”

Melissa smiled gratefully, turning her head away from the window to look at her friend, “You’re right, I’ve been through a lot this past month, and it’s probably just gotten to me. Thanks.”

Joanie grinned, “Don’t mention it, what are friends for? Now, how about we go downstairs and raid the fridge?”

Melissa brightened, “Sounds like a plan to me!”

● ● ●

Three weeks passed without further incident. Melissa settled into the house and her new job at the town newspaper easily. Joanie had been right, all she had needed was a little time to get used to being on her own, and she chuckled at her own initial paranoia.

She worked as a part-time article writer. It didn’t pay all that much, but it was something she enjoyed doing and it was at least enough to pay her bills, if only barely.

Her aunt Sabrina called often, and so did her sister Linda, at least at first. When they realized she was doing all right, their calls tapered off until she received one only about every other week.

It was Valentine’s Day, and the editor of the newspaper had allowed them to take the afternoon off. It was a Friday, and since Melissa only worked through the business week, it left her the entire weekend to look forward to.

Sighing, she sat down on the couch, opening her notebook and a seed catalogue she had picked up from the local nursery. In a few weeks the weather would be warm enough to start planting flowers, and she planned to restore the old garden that her father had built when she had been born.

She liked lilies, irises, about any flower really, but mostly the garden was going to be for roses; which was the way her father had kept it.

Picking up an ink pen, she began flipping through the catalogue and circling the flowers she was going to buy, pausing every few minutes to write down a garden idea in her notebook.

Then, out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of something that was sitting on the foyer table. Puzzled, she put down her pen and paper and stood up, walking slowly over to it and peering down.

Laying on the smooth wooden surface was a cut flower. But that wasn’t the strange thing. The strange thing was the flower itself; she had never seen anything like it before in her entire life, and she had been exposed to a broad range of flowers already in her nineteen years.

It was about the size of a common daylily, with long, wide petals that curled upward, forming a perfect circle. In color it was a deep purple with streaks of pink running across the petals until it reached a bright golden, plume-like center.

Even the stem itself was unusual, with two diamond shaped leaves, opposite the other, resting about halfway down. They were the same color as the stem, an intense aqua that was more blue than green.

Cautiously, she picked the flower up, admiring both its beauty and the silky feel of the stem and leaves beneath her fingers. Slowly, she lifted it to her nose and inhaled, gasping a bit at the sweet, heady fragrance that almost overloaded her senses.

Where had it come from? Concerned, she searched the house, still holding the flower, for any sign of intrusion. Finding nothing, she went back to the table, hoping to discover a note, a card, anything to help her figure out who had left her the strange flower.

When that examination also turned up nothing, she sighed in resignation. Probably someone from work had wanted to be nice and had snuck it on the table while she had been shopping in town earlier. And it really was a beautiful flower, even if she had never seen anything like it before. It was silly to get all worked up over such a sweet, thoughtful gesture anyway, and it was Valentine’s Day after all; she should’ve been expecting something like this to happen.

Melissa smiled, reassured by her rationalization, and went into the kitchen, taking a clear glass vase and filling it with water from the sink. She carefully placed her gift inside it and put it on the kitchen counter; standing back for a few seconds to admire the way it seemed to brighten the entire room.

When that was done she went back into the living room and returned to her garden plans, feeling happier than she had been before as she began selecting her future flowers with great care; too absorbed in her work this time to be aware of the presence that was watching her from outside the bay window.

● ● ●

Leaning against the railing of the front porch, he watched Melissa as she returned to whatever it was she was working on. When he had seen her smile in response to his gift, he’d felt a flush of warmth as bright as the Terran sun itself, and he was so glad that he’d thought of it.

Flowers had always been important to her, and though she couldn’t see the people from his world yet, she could see simple objects, like the flower, that had come from there.

He’d been watching her for the past three weeks, though this time much more discreetly than he’d had at first, keeping a slight distance between them so he wouldn’t alarm her again.

Slightly disappointing as this one-sided vigil was, it had given him the chance to become reacquainted with her, and to see how her personality and mannerisms had changed since their last encounter.

She was, obviously enough, more mature than she had been as a child, and much less ready to believe in things that she couldn’t see or touch. She still apparently had retained her fondness for unicorns though, so maybe she hadn’t completely lost her affinity or fondness for the ‘fantasy’ world.

He’d seen her donate her less than ample money to various charities around the town, had seen her volunteer at a benefit for a sick old woman who lived in the community. He’d even seen her spend over an hour playing with the one-year old son of a co-worker who’d had to leave to pay her bills and couldn’t find anyone else who was willing to watch the boy; all things that assured him that Melissa was still the same kind, caring person that he had known years ago.

Moving to sit on the rail, he continued to stare through the window at her, wondering what she was doing, and half-tempted to enter the house again just to see, but he decided against it. He just didn’t want to risk frightening her again.

Abruptly, his reverie was shattered by a light, casual voice that came from only a few feet away.

“Imagine it, a holiday expressly for the purpose of celebrating love; Terrans are funny creatures, aren’t they? If they had half as much sense as we do, then they’d know that love should be celebrated every day, not just on one.”

Suddenly irritated, he glared at the new-comer out of the corner of his eye, not even bothering to completely turn his head as he continued to look through the window, “What are you doing here, Aiden?” he demanded shortly.

Aiden laughed, “Is that any way to say hello to your best friend after I’ve come all this way just to check up on you?” Noticing his distracted demeanor, Aiden followed his companion’s gaze and peered into the living room window himself.

“Oh no… don’t tell me that’s the same Terran you spent all your time with when you were five?” Aiden asked, giving him a critical glance.

“Yes, she is.” he answered, still not looking at the other man.

Aiden chortled, laughing so hard that tears eventually appeared in the corners of his eyes and he clutched at his chest. When he was finally able to get himself under control, he crossed his arms over his chest in a lazy gesture, “So, the love of your life finally returned did she?”

Instantly, he flushed, “Calling her the love of my life is a little premature, I’ve not seen her in fourteen years, and we were only children then! Besides, she lost the ability; she can’t see the Fae any longer.”

Aiden shrugged casually, “So? Just use the Dreamthorn on her. Then she’ll be able to, end of problem.”

“You make it sound so easy!” he snapped, still not looking at his companion, “Just `use the Dreamthorn on her’ eh? Have you not considered what the shock of seeing me, or anyone like me, might do to her after she‘s not seen one of us since she was a little girl? Great Gaspar, I want to talk to her again, not frighten her to death!”

Aiden snorted, “That’s the whole problem with you nobles, you’re all the time spouting moralistic nonsense about, `not interfering in innocent people’s lives’, and giving speeches about how, ‘we must keep the two worlds separate in order to maintain peace’ ect, ect, ect. Oberon’s ulcers, you guys have been so high and mighty for so long that you’ve completely forgotten how to have any fun! Sure, she’ll probably shed a little when she first sees you, but then she’ll calm down, and you can be friends again, no big deal.”

At this, he became annoyed enough to turn his gaze fully onto the other man, “Is pestering me the only reason you came here, Aiden? Because if it is; then I’d really appreciate it if you’d just return home.”

Aiden chuckled, “No, actually, I came to remind you that the gates close at the summer solstice as always. Since you seem to be so preoccupied with staring at your little Terran girl, I was a little concerned that you’d lose track of time, and as your best friend, I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I let you get stuck here for seven years, now would I?”

“I thank you for your concern about my welfare.” he answered with a distinct trace of rare sarcasm in his otherwise gentle-sounding voice, “But I assure you that I’m quite capable of telling time. Now, are you going home, or are you going to find some other poor unsuspecting soul to annoy to death?”

“Well, if it were up to me, I’d stay here and amuse myself, Terrans are so fun to play tricks on, and we only get the chance once every seven years. But, according to a little message my mother left me by Luwana a few minutes ago, it appears that Zara’s run off again, and as the dutiful big brother that I am, I guess it’s up to me to go `rescue’ her. So, I’ll leave you to your moping for now, but I’ll tell you this, my fine, saintly friend; I’ll give you the chance while I’m gone to be a man and do what you have to do to talk to her again. But, if I come back, and you haven’t used the Dreamthorn on her, then I’ll do it for you!”

Horrified, he stared at his friend in shock, “You-you wouldn’t dare!” he sputtered.

“Give me a few weeks and watch me!” Aiden said cheerfully, winking at him, and with a bright burst of golden light, he was gone.

When his so-called best friend had disappeared, he sighed and returned his gaze to Melissa, who was still writing intently in her notebook, “Oh Melissa,” he sighed wearily, putting his face in his hands and rubbing his temples, “I’d better think of something, and quickly. Aiden,” he muttered, taking a deep breath before shaking his head, “I hope Zara’s gotten better at hiding from you. I need some time to work things out!”

Remembering his companion’s final ultimatum, he gritted his teeth slightly, “Sometimes friendship can really give you a headache…” he mumbled under his breath, glancing at the spot Aiden had just occupied.

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