Authors: Leigh Michael
“It is not an honor. It’s a disgrace.”
Logan waved his hand at nothing. “Tomato, tomahto. Now back to business. Are you going to hand her over? Or am I going to have to take her?”
“I think you know.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. Do you know how long I’ve waited for this moment? To fight my big brother once and for all.”
“I didn’t realize you thought that fondly of me.”
“Fondly? Not quite. But I am sick and tired of this illustrious way people see you. Frankly, it bores me.”
At Blake’s blank stare, Logan threw up his hands. Through gritted teeth he launched into his own little soliloquy. “Don’t tell me you are that blind. That you don’t bask in the glory that Father bestows on you. His perfect son. And what am I? Nothing. Until now. You see, this is my chance to kill two birds with one stone. You and Annabelle. Oh, I’ve been waiting for this day for so long.”
Blake didn’t direct his response toward his brother. Instead, it was to me. He turned to slightly face me, his mouth brushing against my ear, and spoke through a rushed whisper.
“Go, Belles. Run. When you get to the edge of the fountain, use your fire affinity.”
What he meant struck me. “What? No, you’ll be trapped inside.”
“Don’t worry about me. I just want you to be safe, happy. Even if that’s not with me.”
“I can’t just leave you!”
“Listen to me. You need to do what’s right… and that’s helping the sprites. I see that now. Take Crowe’s Crossing.”
Taking a step closer, Logan tried to interject, suspicion clouding his eyes. “Now speak up you two. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that secrets are no fun?”
I ignored him, my full attention on Blake as he glared across the water at his brother.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I spoke into his ear, while keeping my own eyes trained on Logan.
“It connects the fresh water beneath the earth,” he whispered back. “Under the bridge, there’s a trapdoor. It’s the fastest way to get to the lake.”
My mind couldn’t keep up. He spoke too fast.
“I’ve only heard of its existence.”
He didn’t give me a chance to respond. His fingers wrapped round my arm and pushed me to the side. Just as he did, Logan made his move. Blake matched him stride for stride, angling his approach to intercept his little brother.
I didn’t see the crash, but I heard the impact of their bodies. Light-headedness slowed my legs as I trudged through the knee-high water toward dry land, willing myself not to look back. Reaching down, I looped my arm through the handle of my now soaked bag. As I eyed the flippers inside, I tossed the bag onto the pavement in front of me.
My breath labored in my lungs, even more so when I cocked my head toward Blake and his brother. Logan had gotten the upper hand and was climbing off of Blake, toward me. My heart sputtered at the hate in his cold eyes.
I forced myself to breathe. It took all my concentration to break my gaze from Logan's approach. Hatred oozed from every inch of his being. At a crawl, I kicked the remainder of the way out of the water and sunk to my knees.
Inside my head, I screamed. It was an action that now felt familiar; as if it’d always been a part of me.
The warming in my hands spread to my arms, my torso, and eventually it consumed me. Just as Logan took his final strides to close the distance between us, I thrust my palms downward to meet the surface of the water.
Instantly, fire erupted.
The burst of flames catapulted me onto my back.
Red, orange, and yellow danced around heating my skin and jutting into the sky.
In the blink of an eye, the blaze took on a life of its own, spreading along the perimeter of the water until the circle was fully intact, trapping Blake and his brother inside.
It was impenetrable.
The fact that Blake sacrificed himself for me threatened to break my resolve to pieces once more. Not to mention, the sheer amount of information I’d absorbed in the course of just a few days left me unsure how much more I could take.
Love, death, and destruction had become common threads that pulled at my heartstrings.
Turned out, the spectacle I summoned with my affinity wasn’t solely for my eyes. As I lay flat dissecting the inner workings of what my life had become, I became acutely aware of the stopped cars with their doors ajar. Passengers with cell phones in hand hesitantly approached my fire.
I vaguely heard a voice call out in my direction. I didn’t respond or even acknowledge their yells. Instead, I scrambled to my feet, ripped the flippers from the bag, and broke into a full sprint toward the Thames.
Though it’d have been simpler to retrace my steps back to the jet streams, I knew it’d take too much time. I owed it to Blake to listen to his advice. Ultimately, I needed to swallow whatever pride or hurt I was harboring and simply trust him.
Besides, I could only have imagined the twelve o’clock news. This wasn’t the time for me to be wandering the streets of London.
Crazed American girl emerges from water, breaks into yacht, swipes personal belongings, assumes free-riding train privileges, sets memorial ablaze, flees the scene of all crimes. More updates to come on the five o’clock news.
I needed to get away, and fast. I had to put as much distance between my arson misdemeanor and myself as possible. As I ran, I wiggled one arm then another out of my dress, while shifting my flippers from one hand to the other.
I couldn’t miss the open-mouth stares from those I passed by, especially after revealing my chameleon-like wetsuit beneath. At least I wouldn’t add indecent exposure to my rap sheet.
I left the dress I’d stolen somewhere in the garden that I trampled for a second time. The stitch in my side increased with every step. Still, I pushed forward. I felt the pull of the water on me, luring me toward it. It was a feeling I’d always had growing up, but now all the pieces had fallen into place. I belonged there.
Once I reached the middle of the bridge, I skidded to a stop. My hands came to rest on the banister as the cool air filled my tired lungs. At the sound of honking horns and approaching voices, I quickly bent to slip my flippers on each foot.
There wasn’t a need to look at the upstanding citizens to know they quickly approached me. My bizarre behavior clearly alarmed them. First the fire, then running away, now stopping to outfit flippers on my feet.
In a moment, their interests would be further piqued.
I stepped up onto the bridge’s ledge, carefully stepping over the handrail to position my feet on the other side. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, held the air inside my lungs, and jumped.
The second or two it took me to meet the water below was the most free I’d felt in forever. I barely heard the screams of the men who now leaned over the banister. I didn’t think about this insane love triangle I found myself in. My mind didn’t register how much I missed my family. Or how I was once again racing toward my destiny as the “Second Alpha.” I welcomed the feeling of the icy water against my skin.
As I sunk deeper, I felt whole again.
Then, reality set in.
I dove to the depths of the river and examined the soil for any signs of a trapdoor.
Plant life littered the riverbed, reminding me of the stalagmites from the cave, except these were green, and slimy. I pushed handful after handful aside, trying to catch glimpses of the soil beneath. When my efforts proved futile, I frantically shifted rocks and waterlogged branches from my path.
I knew I needed to hurry, and not because I expected the men above to pursue me into the water, but because I still raced the clock. I didn’t need to remind myself that it was midmorning on the only day of the year that the entrance to the Lake of Elfin could be unlocked. I couldn’t help myself though, the thought was stubborn, repeatedly hitting against the forefront of my mind.
Another thought that consumed me centered on the existence of Crowe’s Crossing. Rather, if it even existed. Blake had only said he’d heard of it. Plus, he breathed saltwater. Crowe’s Crossing was a passageway he couldn’t use. I found it peculiar it was even part of his repertoire.
The decision was made though. I would trust him. I’d find the door and, God willing; make my way to the lake. On that faith, I ran my hands along the earth, feeling for anything abnormal.
In a story, this was when the girl experienced dumb luck and stumbled upon what she looked for. Unfortunately, this wasn’t that type of story.
I searched tirelessly, becoming more anxious with each passing minute. I scoured along the stone abutment of the bridge that met the ground. I followed the banks, running my hand through the mud as I swam. Nothing. I couldn’t find any type of door.
I just had to think.
My search thus far followed the mindset that the trapdoor would be well hidden, just like the entrance to the cave where we found the fake chest. But that was where I realized I’d gone wrong. Sand masked the opening to Tritonis; otherwise it was out in the open. Mamadjo was the same way. And for the Trackers, a crevice between two rocks concealed the entry to their village.
It was time to rethink things. Two phrases instantly jumped to the forefront of my mind, both expressions from my mom.
The first… “Sometimes what you’re looking for is right in front of your eyes.”
The second… “If it were any closer it’d bite you.”
I couldn’t help but smirk as I reached straight down to brush my hand across an open patch of dirt. The dark soil effortlessly glided across the metal beneath. My smile spread as I pulled my hand away to examine the door. While I reveled in the fact that I’d found the entrance to Crowe’s Crossing, the slick mud seeped back to hide the surface once more.
Hurried, I removed as much of the dark paste as possible then yanked as hard as I could, revealing a tunnel beneath.
I stared down into the hole. It was much like a manhole on a New York City street. From what I gathered, it led to various other tunnels that I assumed could be reminiscent of the tunnels in the depths of a city.
Diving through trapdoors and into caves had become somewhat of a pastime for me. Although this time, in particular, made me nervous. I didn’t know what lurked below the earth. Not to mention, I didn’t have any insight into how to navigate the tunnels. I wasn’t even sure how far Wales was from here. By car, maybe four or five hours? In the tunnels, it could have been longer for all I knew.
Brushing a stray hair behind my ear, I was hesitant to admit the real reason why I was nervous. My eyelids fluttered shut as I pictured his face. The hard lines of his cheekbones, sturdy chin, and almond shaped eyes pulled from my memory. Every time I made that leap of faith into the unknown, Adrian had been right beside me.
Reassurance was what I needed, or so I told myself. As soon as I took this next leap, Adrian would be that much closer.
It also meant Blake would be that much further behind.
Sighing, I leaned forward and let myself fall.
I swam for only a few minutes before the path I followed revealed an opening above. When I first breached the trapdoor I immediately had a choice to make. Go toward the dark, creepy passageway on my left or venture down the dark, creepy passageway to the right. My gut told me to head right.
Now, it was also telling me to keep going straight, but curiosity as to what waited above built inside of me.
My adventurous side won out, yet again. I told myself it was simply to get my bearings. I had to, um, make sure I ventured the right way.
I fluttered my feet to change direction. My outstretched arms hit the door first. Grunting, I pushed. And pushed. Finally, the heavy mud shifted, allowing for a crack.
Sliding my arm through, I widened the gap to peer out into the water.
It looked just like where I’d entered, minus the bridge. Similar flora swayed in the slight current and the same types of debris littered the ground. My assumptions were correct; I was further down the River Thames.
Satisfied, I made a hurried one-eighty… right into a face.
It was one of those moments that caught me off guard: startled, shocked, frightened, shaken, surprised me.
Basically, all of those words used to describe when your heart jumped into your throat.
Seeing the face of that young girl shot me backward. The sting of the heavy metal door against the back of my head vibrated down to my toes. I cursed as the already tender area scorched with pain and blurred my vision.
When my eyes cleared, she was gone. As if she was an apparition… or something. Except I knew she wasn’t.
I saw her. From that moment forward, I’d always remember that girl’s auburn hair and porcelain skin. She was strikingly beautiful.
“Hello?” I called out.
Now, confusion set in. As my heart rate slowed, my brows wrinkled at the situation at hand. In the split second that we were nose to nose, she appeared just as shell-shocked as I must’ve looked.
A tiny voice broke through the silence. “Princess Annabelle… Princess Annabelle Leigh Walsh?”
The use of my whole name was interesting. Especially with the addition of “princess.”
Suddenly, a few strands of hair dangled within the opening of the tunnel. Slowly, a top of a head, one eye, and then another poked out from around the corner.
“Um, hi. Prince Adrianus sent me. To, um, find… to meet you.”
The sound of his name made me smile. Which must’ve given my new little friend confidence to continue, even though it came out more like a question. “He said you’d be at the harbor though?”
“Yeah, I guess you could say I had a change of plans.”
Her eyes darted around. She looked like she had little clue what to say next. I figured I’d save her.
“What’s your name?”
“Wynfield. But I go by Wyn.”
“Wyn it is then.”