For my dad Tom, with love ❤
His heart was pounding at the speed of light…there wasn’t much time left. No, scratch that; there was no time left. Harvy glanced at his watch as he yanked it off. Half past ten. He was going to be late. His clothes followed his watch. He didn’t want to call undue attention to himself, and wearing outlandish clothes was a great way to do that. Harvy thanked his stars that he had packed the night before.
The message had been brief and to the point. It was happening soon. They were needed. Harvy thought of Leva. It was a shame that he had to bring her into this, but she was the only one he could think of that would be resourceful enough to carry on if he was…well, he didn’t want to think about that.
A sound outside made Harvy freeze, ears straining. He didn’t hear anything more, but he knew it was time to go. He let himself out of the back as silently as he could. Crouching close to the ground, he ran along the thick shrubbery that passed for a back yard. Harvy had a moment to be pleased that he was never home to care for his garden; then three pairs of shining eyes glared at him from the other side of the fence.
* * *
He was late. That was not a good sign. He was never late. Not for the important stuff. Leva was hesitant to go on without him, despite his injunction of last night. She glanced down the path into the trees and decided she would wait a few moments more. The pack on her back hardly weighed anything thanks to Harvy’s spartan packing list. A blanket. Water. A knife. Nothing superfluous. Leva sighed and tapped her foot, thinking of all the useful items she wanted to bring but couldn’t.
“Things that were set in motion long ago are coming together, and we have to be there by yesterday,” Harvey’s voice echoed in her thoughts.
He hadn’t had time to give her more details, but his eyes had burned intensely and something in his manner had struck a chord deep in the place that knew the right thing to do, even if her mind couldn’t make it make sense.
“Hey!” Harvey’s voice came through in the real world. “What are you waiting for? I told you to go without me if I didn’t show up!”
“I know,” Leva said turning around, and her jaw dropped.
Behind Harvey’s six-foot frame was a pack of something that looked like rabid wolves, but Leva was fairly certain wolves didn’t have wings or glitter that flew from their paws as they ran.
“What the….” she started to say.
“No time!” Harvey said, catching her around the waist and throwing her towards the path. “You should have left when I told you to!”
* * *
Ferma had been given several clues, but the slave with the raven hair was the key to all of them. He strode through the crowded market place, using his long legs and broad shoulders to clear a path. The auction was held on the plateau, in full view of the city. Ferma stopped behind a huge pillar and glanced around. He didn’t want to be noticed or worse, recognized.
The row of people in chains looped around the arena twice, and Ferma started to panic slightly. He didn’t have time to look over all of them! He looked up next to the auction block. A fat man was entering the slaves into the register one by one, the camera an old model that still flashed and clicked, and he had to lick the back with his fat, purple tongue to stick it next to the entry of the slave’s name. Ferma looked at the next slave in line, and his heart stopped.
A small girl with dark skin and the blackest hair he had ever seen stood in chains so large it seemed she should be able to slip out of them with ease. Across the distance of the arena, Ferma caught her eye, and his knees went weak. That was the one!
His eyes widened as a thin man in a dark cloak and a wide-brimmed hat took her arm and led her away, towards the white palace on the hill. Ferma started to follow, determined to keep her in sight, but his view was blocked by a familiar red uniform, and he looked into the cold eyes of the woman with the scar, already planning how not to die, again.
* * *
Harvey’s grip was too tight on Leva’s arm, but when she glanced behind her and the wolves and their weird eyes that smoldered with green fire, she didn’t mind so much.
“How much farther?” she panted, trying to keep up with him.
His eyes stared grimly ahead. “The portal should be here, should be close,” he said.
As he spoke, Leva felt like she had just ran into a brick wall. The world took on a glossy hue. It looked like a huge cartoon bubble, all shimmery and bouncy.
“What is happening?” her voice stretched out, warped.
Harvey didn’t answer and suddenly they were falling. Leva opened her mouth in a scream, but no sound passed her lips. Then they were in the middle of a crowded market. Leva tried to keep her balance, feeling as though someone had just pushed her, and she stumbled into a woman in a red uniform.
“I’m so sorry,” Leva started to say as she pulled herself upright using the woman’s very muscular arm.
When she looked into the woman’s eyes, all words fled from Leva’s mind. The cold glare was enough to freeze blood, and the scar across her eye pulsed with rage.
“Get out of my way,” the woman snarled.
Leva was grabbed on both sides. To her left was Harvey. To the right was a man she had never seen, tall, handsome, in plain clothes with a gold chain around his neck.
“Run!” they both screamed, and Leva was swept off her feet into a crowded street.
* * *
Aniph walked with the man in the black hat. She wasn’t worried about the chains or the man with the picture machine. By tomorrow morning, her face would have faded from the book and the ink that marked her name would be gone. Her kind were impossible to remember or keep in mind for very long. Even the physical world couldn’t hold an impression of them.
The little fairy creature didn’t like coming here, but this was where she was to meet the man who would save their worlds. And just as promised, he had found her with no problem.
A rough tug on the chains pulled her onwards. Somehow Aniph knew that now was not the time to get free. The man would soon be in danger; he did not need to be distracted. The fairy kept turning though, trying to see. Now there was another man with the first, and a woman. They were running. A second woman, a giant in red, was fighting to come after them. That as not part of the plan. Aniph decided that contrary to her feeling, she should go to him now.
The chains let her go as gently as a mother puts down her baby. The man in the hat didn’t even notice she was gone until it was too late. The fairy made her way through the crowds towards the beacon that was the woman in red, because that was where the man was.
Aniph found the man fighting to get past two tough old men. She touched his elbow, but even when she concentrated, she couldn’t find his center. That wasn’t how it was supposed to be. The little fairy knew despair. Then someone grabbed her elbow. A dancing rain of sparkles and music exploded in her head. Aniph swung around to find a man who was desperately trying to blend in, but his style was definitely not from around here. Beside Aniph’s childlike stature, he seemed very tall.
“Corlax elehtrast nonstras tem pax ter lexum,” he said.
It took Aniph a moment to translate the horribly garbled version of the mostly dead fairy language the man was attempting to speak.
“Perhaps we could just try this,” Aniph said.
“Good idea,” the man was relieved. “Now we just need to get out of here, and we can have a proper conversation.”
“I can help with that,” Aniph said.
* * *
One moment, Ferma was fighting for his life to get away from the woman in red, wrestling with two stubborn men who seemed to think he wanted a better view of the slavers’ wares. Then he was in a cool, green paradise, the silence pressing on his ears.
“Where am I?” he asked no one in particular.
“This appears to be the emperor’s private garden,” a voice said beside him.
Ferma swung to see he was not alone. Another man, a woman, and a child stood behind him. The man and the woman were looking around, enraptured as he was with the beautiful garden. The child was equally enraptured with the people. Ferma focused on her and realized with a shock it was the slave.
“You!” he cried.
“Me,” the creature said, turning alien eyes on him. “You.”
“Me?” Ferma said uncertainly.
“Stop. What is going on?” the woman interjected.
“Perhaps we should do introductions,” the man said. “My name is Harvey. This is Leva.”
The woman gave a curt nod.
“I’m Ferma Du Tari Ver Sarathael.” Ferma didn’t know why he gave the last part of his name, but he felt it was important.
“My name is Aniph,” the creature said. “And you are mine.”
The fairy frowned. “You are for me?” she tried again. “From me?”
“Corthain,” the man called Harvey said.
Aniph looked pleased. “Yes. Corthain.”
“What…is…that?” Ferma said.
“Yes, what is that?” Leva demanded. “Does that have anything to do with the things…”
“Yes,” Harvey cut her off.
Aniph came forward, eyeing Harvey curiously. Ferma watched the pair; it slowly dawning on him that they knew more of what was going on than either he or the woman did. Then he wondered if they would bring more clues, or the answers to the ones he already had. They did both.
* * *
Harvey waited, holding very still as he allowed the fairy to approach. He didn’t want to spook her. There was no telling how long she had been in this plane, or how well adjusted she was. Leva had no such compunction.
“I still don’t understand what’s going on,” she said. “Where are we? Why is there a child here? Who is this man? Do you know these people?”
“Leva, please, you’re making my head hurt,” Harvey said. “We are…well, it’s difficult to explain, but we’re somewhere important and that’s what matters. The child is older than all of us put together. She is a creature of Fae. This man is her Corthain. Her other half, if you like. And while I know them, I don’t really know them. That is, I’ve never met them.”
“You realize how little sense you’re making?” Leva said, the first stages of panic making her eyes bigger than they already were. “Did you give me something? Is this some kind of trippy hallucination?”
“This is all very real, and if you calm down and breath for one moment, I’ll explain everything.”
Harvey saw that he was holding her arms so tightly his knuckles were white, but Leva was so freaked out that she didn’t feel it or didn’t think to protest. He released her, checking to make sure she was breathing like he had told her to. Then he turned on the man named Ferma and held out his hand.
“We haven’t been properly introduced, Mr. Du Tari.”
The Corthain reached out tentatively and gave Harvey’s hand a quick shake. The electric jolt he received when he touched Harvey’s skin made him squeak and convulsively grip the other man’s hand.
“What the…” Ferma said, yanking his hand back and giving it a shake. “Who are you?”
“My name is Harvey Seth Ver Gurrod,” Harvey said. “And I’m the Link.”*
* * *
Leva still wasn’t sure this wasn’t all a very bad dream. Harvey had gone beyond scaring her. She was now officially terrified to the point of not caring. The wolves could come back, and she’d probably be okay about letting them sniff her hand and then scratching their ears. Or maybe not. Using a lot of very strange words wasn’t helping her state of mind. But Ferma apparently didn’t know what that meant either, so that was comforting, if she didn’t think about it for too long.
“The link?” the man in the black hat was asking. “I don’t understand.”
The fairy was interested in a different part of what Harvey had said. “Ver Gurrod. Not Ver Huntentes?”
Harvey shook his head. “No. That’s a long story, and we’ve no time for it right now.”
“I can make time for it,” the fairy said, holding up her hands.
“No, no, no, that’s okay,” Harvey said quickly, grabbing her wrists and bringing them down. “We don’t want to do anything rash. We’ve all met up, and that’s a good occurrence. Almost a perfect occurrence, if I do say so myself. More than I could hope to expect, really…”
“Wait. Why do you sound like it’s a lucky happenstance that we ended up here?” Leva asked. “What might have happened instead?”
“Do you know how many autonomous entities there are in the universe? And how many particles those entities influence? And how many universes, independent and otherwise, there are? If you take all of that, do you know how many different possible and actual occurrences occur in any give instant of any give time continuum? To many for a normal mind to fully comprehend.” Harvey turned back to Aniph. “Now, I don’t want you messing with an already messy set of circumstances, alright? We’re going to do this thing, and we’re going to get it done right, but that’s only going to be an actual occurrence if we do things logically and systematically.”
The creature of Fae (whatever that was) nodded dutifully, gazing at Harvey with her very unusual eyes. “Very well, Ver Gorrod. Now, what of the Corthain?”
“Yes, what of the Corthain?” Ferma tried to cover his nervousness with a laugh.
“You don’t know what that means, do you?” Harvey said.
Ferma shook his head.
“Do you know what is about to happen?”
Again, Ferma shook his head.
“Do you know anything about anything that is going on?”
“I know I needed to find her,” Ferma pointed at Aniph. “And…that’s about it.”
“That’s a start,” Harvey said, setting his arms akimbo. “I’ll do my best to explain.”
Leva smiled. Finally.
“You and Aniph are the Corthain for your worlds. Together, you are the…well, let’s just say you’re the ones who are going to fix things up when they go wonky.”
“When…?” Leva asked. “No if?”
“When,” Harvey said firmly. “And when is unfortunately now. I am the Link. I help you to communicate and work together, in a manner of speaking.”
“That is why I can’t hear him,” Aniph said.
Harvey nodded as if that made perfect sense.
“And what do we have to do?” Ferma asked. “All I know is that I get given the task of finding out why the water is going rotten, and one thing leads to the next, I’m being hunted by a demon in a red uniform…”
“Speak of the demon,” Harvey muttered.
In the entrance to the garden, partially hidden by a row of green hedges with big golden flowers, stood the woman in the red uniform. She glanced across the garden, searching. Even from here, with the cover of the plants, her eyes stung Leva.
Then a large canine animal appeared at the woman’s side, wings dragging on the ground, sparkles remaining where its paws touched. The woman petted the wolf and pointed into the garden. The wolf sat down and scratched its ear with a hind leg, making its wings jump and flop. The woman scowled, and from her fingers came a bolt of blue fire, which ignited the fur of the wolf. It set off with a howl.
“There is something very wrong with that woman,” Leva whispered.
“How does she always find me?” Ferma moaned, shrinking back.
“She’s her own type of Corthain,” Harvey said. “Not really someone we want to mess with.”
“So you’re a Link and they’re all Corthains, and that’s a creature of Faith…”
“It’s just Corthain, and she’s a creature of Fae.”
“Whatever. The point is, what the heck am I?” Leva said.
“Backup for what?” Leva said heatedly. “I have no idea what’s going on!!”
“You’re the backup Link,” Harvey said. “You know, in case anything happens to me.”