Chapter 1 (1st edit)
Hailey’s third eye opened wide, and she saw herself standing alone in the middle of the National Mall in Washington D.C. The glaring midday sun illuminated the completely deserted complex. Nothing moved; nothing made a sound.
She recognized the vision for what it was; she had them often enough. The experimental gene therapy that had saved her mother’s life had gifted her and her two sisters with psychic abilities. Hailey’s strongest gift was precognition - an ability to see possible futures so strong it often felt as though she was living them; so sensitive that the even the slightest skin contact could trigger visions.
A large, charcoal gray, wing-shaped craft with sharp edges sat in the open area at the base of a broken Washington Monument. It was perhaps two or three hundred yards wide, and certainly didn’t look like something from her time.
She blinked and swallowed hard, pushing down a growing sense of dread. The museums and galleries that lined the mall were riddled with holes the size of softballs. The capitol building itself was cracked and torn, with massive holes blown in the walls and the majestic dome caving in.
Her vision came to life as her consciousness merged with her dream body. Burning smells filled the air and wisps of black smoke rose from the skyline in every direction. The echoes of screams and gunfire could be heard in the distance.
She needed something to give her some sense of time and date. She kneeled for a closer look at a newspaper crushed into the grass - it was dated six weeks from now.
”This is only one possible future,” she whispered, closing her eyes and straining to see any other possibilities - other threads. None appeared; this one was definitely coming.
“Every city will be like this,” a female voice said behind her, soft and sorrowful. “Every country, every continent.”
Hailey jumped to her feet, startled. Beside her stood a tall woman with olive skin and black hair, dressed in a simple white robe trimmed in gold. Hailey gaped at the large set of black, feathered wings on the woman’s back.
“What? Why? Who would do something like this?” Hailey asked, afraid of the answers.
“The Elthari would,” the woman said in a matter-of-fact tone, as if that explained everything. “They were exiled millennia ago, and now they’ve come back to destroy everything. They are a race of genocidal xenophobes who wipe out anyone not like them.”
“How do we stop them?” Hailey asked, feeling numbed by the destruction that surrounded her. “Can they be reasoned with? Is there something they want?”
The woman shook her head. “They don’t negotiate. They are coming here for one thing. When they get here they’re going to level a city because they can, to show you they can. After that they’ll tell you to stay out of their way - or else.”
“No future is ever absolute,” Hailey insisted. She could feel the threads shifting already - tiny shifts, but they were there. “We’re already changing things just by talking. There is a better future, I can feel it. So why can’t I see it?”
The woman moved closer to Hailey, stepping around some debris in the grass. “Too many variables. Too much chaos.” She studied Hailey’s face, gauging how well Hailey was handling the near-certain Armageddon facing Humanity. “You’re right, though, there is a better future. I can help you get to it, but the cost will be high.”
Hailey stared at the woman, trying to get some sense of the stranger standing in front of her. “Who are you? How do you know all of this?”
“My name is Gabrielle, and I was there when the Elthari were exiled. You could say my official title is Warden of the Vault. The same Vault that you’ve been dreaming about all these years.”
Hailey never told anyone about the dreams that started several years ago – the day she found an old necklace in her mother’s jewelry box. Dreams of a massive library filled with more books than she could hope to read in a lifetime. Hailey unconsciously caressed the necklace that now hung on her neck.
In those dreams she was also different; she was an elf, with a metallic sheen to her skin, hair, and eyes, and pointed ears. She discovered that they were called Sidhe, had existed long ago, and commanded potent arcane abilities.
“The Vault is real,” Hailey said, as the pieces from countless dreams and visions suddenly fell into place. “The necklace came from the Vault.”
Gabrielle smiled. “Yes, it did, and it’s no accident that it found its way to you. It’s one of the five keys that are needed to open the Vault. They choose their bearers very carefully.”
Hailey felt the threads starting to untangle, though the picture was still only partly clear. “You think the Vault can help, but you also said that there would be a price.”
“I know the Vault can help. As for the price, that depends on your point of view. The Vault can only be accessed by five specific races working together, and none of those are human."
Hailey crossed her arms, one hand fidgeting with her necklace. “So we have to find members of these races and get them to open the Vault?”
“No.” Gabrielle shook her head. “None of the five races have been seen in millennia. Even if we could locate them, there is not enough time to find someone from each race that could be entrusted with access to the Vault.”
“What can we do?”
“Human DNA is very flexible, stable, and has been used as a template for many other species. The keys have already chosen their bearers. As Warden, I have the power to transform them.”
Hailey didn’t like where this was headed. “I have to agree to the transformation, don’t I?”
Gabrielle nodded. “It won’t work if the person isn’t willing. The keys were designed to prevent it.”
In her minds’ eye, Hailey looked at the dream version of the necklace. It was a simple disk with a tiny hole for the chain and was decorated with some of the most intricate runes and knot-work she had ever seen. The runes and knots were vaguely reminiscent of various cultures, mostly Nordic and Celtic, but she'd never been able to positively identify them.
As she studied it, she felt its power stirring, a feeling that the universe itself was extending its hand to her. It was offering her a future that promised to be better than any of the others that awaited her. Her inability to see that future frightened her.
“This one belongs to the Sidhe? In my dreams I’m one of them. And you’re asking me to become one in reality.”
“So, I become one of these Sidhe, and then what?”
“You do what you feel you need to do, what you think is right. There are too many probable outcomes to map out a single path through the complications. The key selected you because you are most likely to make the right decisions at the right time.”
Hailey’s gaze fell to the ground. "I'm seventeen years old. You're asking me to give up my entire life before it's even started. And I'd be alone."
Gabrielle took a deep breath, and softened. “You don’t have to do this. It's still a choice. You can turn it down - I'll find someone else.”
A plume of smoke and fire erupted from behind a building. A deafening crash sounded. Hailey pictured this same scene playing out in hundreds of other cities and dozens of other countries around the world. Even If Humanity stepped aside and these Elthari got what they came for, she doubted they would just pack up and leave. Earth would end up being enslaved.
“I don’t really have a choice, do I? If you find someone else and they fail, all this blood will be on my hands. Even if they succeed, I’ll still have to live my life knowing that another person's life was destroyed because I was too scared to do the right thing. ”
Gabrielle watched in silence as Hailey struggled to make a decision.
Finally, Hailey let out a long, shaky sigh. “I’ll do it.”
The power that had been building in the key seemed to pause, as if giving her an opportunity to change her mind. Hailey gave her assent a second time, and all that power rushed into her.
There was no pain, just light-headedness and a tingling like static electricity, and the feeling of having had way too much caffeine. Knowledge began rooting itself into her mind and she saw webs of energy coming from and connecting to everything.
She grabbed the thread of time that had been so still, refusing to let her see forward along it, and pulled. Finally, in the distance, she saw a small ray of light, a spot of hope.
Gabrielle spoke one last time as the vision faded, but the words were lost as Hailey regained consciousness.
Hailey shot upright in her bed, gasping. She extended her senses and felt the room, making sure she was conscious. Her alarm clock’s red digits changed over to 6:00 am; Boston’s morning routine was getting underway outside her window.
She felt it at that moment. A terrible sense of dread filled the air, like when you hear the roar of a hurricane coming. She scrambled out of her bed, pulling herself out of a tangle of sheets and tottering on her feet. As a dancer, she was well aware of her body. But everything felt off. Not wrong, just off; different.
She thought a moment about calling out for her sister, Leah. They were all staying in the house that their parents had left them and Leah’s twin, Amanda, managed. Leah was in town on leave from her duties as an Air Force pilot and was currently staying in her old bedroom while Leah’s best friend, Alicia, stayed in the guest room.
Hailey remained silent, fear choking her words as chills ran down her spine. She felt them coming, someone was coming. She had minutes, at most. She pulled on clothes, grabbed her phone, and slipped out the door and down the hall.
Her senses were flooded with new sensations. Her gift had allowed her to envision time as a spider’s web woven together from an infinite number of differing threads of probability. Reality itself now revealed itself to her in the exact same way.
She could see the patterns of the carpeting on the floor, the walls, the decor. The light, the heat, the sound. It all had a pattern to it; patterns she could almost reach out and touch, draw in, manipulate.
She pushed with her telepathy as she approached Leah’s door, trying to get her sister to wake up before she got there.
“Leah,” she said in a loud whisper, opening the door and peering in. Leah was already sitting up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
The sisters had always been open with each other about their abilities. It was hard not to be. Hailey’s sisters had learned to trust her visions. Alicia had been Leah’s close friend since flight school and through the USAF Weapons School, and also knew of the family secrets.
“What’s going on?” Leah mumbled.
“We have to leave, now. Amanda will be back from her hospital shift soon, we need to be outside waiting for her.”
Leah swung herself out of bed and clicked the table lamp on. She gawked at her sister. “Hailey, what the hell…”
Hailey appeared now as she had in her dreams. “I’ll explain in the car. It’s really important that we leave now.”
“Alicia! We gotta go!” Leah called out as she got up to change clothes. Moments later Alicia entered the room, clothes looking disheveled and staring disbelievingly at Hailey. Hailey paced around the room, trying to filter through all the new information coming in.
“Is it that Vault place you’ve told us about?” Leah asked.
Hailey nodded. “They’re coming for it, and they’re starting with us. There’s a group of them coming, they’ll be here soon.”
Alicia looked between the two of them, “Who are ‘they’”
“The Elthari.” Hailey said. The sound of a vehicle pulling up halted further explanation, and Hailey darted for the door. Leah and Alicia swept up their duffel bags and shoes as they ran after her.
Amanda halted beside her SUV, watching the three of them in confusion as they stumbled out of the house.
Leah rushed ahead, cursing as her socked foot hit a twig. “We gotta go, now! Hailey’s seen something.”
They froze as an odd sensation descended upon them. All sound around them stopped, except for the whine of a few dogs that scattered with tails between their legs. The few people on the street glanced around in confusion and scurried back into their houses.
“Let me drive!” Alicia called out when she saw Amanda getting back into the driver’s seat of the SUV. Amanda nodded and got into the back seat instead, with Hailey taking the seat beside her and Leah in the front passenger seat.
“They’re here.” Hailey gasped as a pair of white sedans rounded the corner several blocks down.
Her eyes closed and her brow furrowed, “No…no….no…no.”
Alicia glanced at her in the rearview as she floored the gas. Glancing at Leah she said, “What is she…”
“She calls it looking at ‘threads.’ Kind of like a maze. We’re at the start, the outcome where we escape and live is one end. She’s trying to figure out which set of decisions gets us there.”
“Left!” Hailey shouted.
Alicia nearly rolled the SUV on the hard turn. They made several more turns, but the sedans continued to gain. A major cross street loomed ahead with the usual morning traffic and a red light.
“Don’t slow down…go, go.”
Alicia took a deep breath as they neared the intersection. Traffic was closing from both directions. She gripped the wheel and yelled as they barreled through.
Horns blared as they passed in front of a semi with barely inches to spare. They missed by inches the bumper of delivery truck going the other direction. The semi swerved, its tires howled, and it jackknifed into the side street, completely blocking the path of their pursuers.
Alicia glanced in the rear view, “Where to?”
Hailey relaxed and sighed with relief. “We need to go west…along I-90. Purgatory Chasm State Reservation.”
Alicia chuckled, vocalizing the nervous tension they all felt. “That doesn’t sound ominous, not at all.”
Leah turned to Hailey. “Now, we’ve got some time. It’s time to catch us up.”