I have no idea how we got from kissing on the rooftop to running all around the streets, searching for a missing boy.
I have no idea how all of this happened.
All I know is that I’m running, blasting the humans that chase me with magic, pumping my legs hard, laughing under my breath. I’m the most wanted elf in this entire realm, I’m in the accursed capital city, I’m running for my life, and the one main problem in my life is that I kissed a human girl and I liked it.
I laugh harder and harder, and send a few brief flicks of magic all around me, searching the minds of the ones around me for any signs of Max. Where could he have gotten to? Why hadn’t the others watched him?
I scramble up the walls again, dash across rooftops, drop and roll into alleyways only to scramble up again and run even harder, even faster than I had before. MAX! my mind shouts into the world around me, reaching into minds, searching for a mind that replies to me anxious scream.
But I hear nothing.
What is going on? What’s going wrong?
Well, granted, this is my glorious world. So of course nothing’s got an explanation and nothing’s going the way it should be.
I whirl at the top of a tall roof, stare at the humans as they attempt to climb up after me. I wait patiently, and they eventually reach me. “You blasted fast elf…” one of them mutters at me, pulling his sword and trying not to collapse from exhaustion.
I shoot him the finger—something humans apparently do—spin on my heel and continue running, feeling rather pleased with myself.
Even though I knew I was only losing my mind more and more, this feeling of freedom was more than worth my sanity. I knew it wouldn’t be worth it, falling in love with Anne. It would only lead to complications in the mission, which honestly was complicated enough as it is.
But onto more pressing things…..
I blast them backwards, gently enough to make sure they don’t fall off the roof, but hard enough to send them staggering. I laughed wildly, loving this, loving this freedom, loving this wildness. I never understood until now what it was to be a ‘rebel’: Utterly free, running fast, going off on psychotic impossible missions to get things enchanted with spells you can’t comprehend, trying to deal with circumstances way beyond you, chained by love and loyalty while somehow remaining free. I laugh and whirl, dancing upon the rooftops, my hair red as rubies in the wild western wind, loving every second.
I ran across what seemed to be half the rooftops in the city, dodging arrows they shot at me, going for blocks without magic when they drained it from the area, or shooting back when they attacked with magic. Loving this, loving every moment, I run fast and hard.
And then I sense him: Quiet, curled up in a corner, a few hundred feet beneath my feet, between us a solid wood ceiling. You have one guess as to what the building was: A library.
Rolling my eyes, I leap the few hundred feet down to the earth, landing in a roll to keep from breaking every bone in my body and softening my fall with gentle blasts of magic. I get to my feet easily and run up the hard marble steps, worn smooth from centuries’ worth of feet passing over them, dodging through a small crowd of pale-skinned humans with large reading glasses perched over pierced noses. I scamper past guards, ignoring their hands as they reach for me, continuing on and on. I find myself in a cavernous room dimly lit by lamps, bookshelves reaching hundreds of feet into the sky. My eyes fill with wonder—I had never been much of a reader, but yet I couldn’t deny the glory of that library. How many books could there be in this wondrous world, if this massive, glorious room doesn’t hold anywhere near close to all of them?
I send flicks of magic all around, sifting through minds as I run, taking care to take the stairs and avoid touching the shelves, not desiring in the least to cause any damage at all to this haven of books.
I find Max in a few seconds of hard running. He was curled up in a corner, knees up, balancing a massive dusty book in his lap as best he can, puzzling over words written in a language he didn’t comprehend. I smile and sigh, before grabbing him, lifting him up in my arms, and carrying him out of there.
The run back was only mildly harder, as even with Max in my arms I was still faster. And the fact that Max was so caught up in his book that he barely noticed anything going on around him helped me out a great deal.
I reach the harbor, Max held quietly in my arms, to see Joey, Leslie, and Anne waiting there for me. “Maxie!” Leslie shouts, toddling over to him.
I groan, and set the kid down on his feet, stretching. The mob that had been tailing me for the past few dozen streets I’d ditched a few corners ago, and it’d take them a while to get here. Which, of course, didn’t mean I could go slowly. I still needed to find transportation out of here to our correct destination.
I pulled out my lucky stone.
It glowed in my hand, and it seemed to pull me to the left, so I go left. I follow its directions in this matter for a couple hundred feet to a horse-drawn wagon, the back of it filled to the brim with hay. “Well, looks like we’re leaving the horses here. We should buy more supplies.”
I grab the horses’ reins, and guide them in the general direction of the scent of manure. Which, oddly enough, leads me to a noble’s household. I glare at it, and follow my nose to where the smell of flowers originates.
It’s a stable.
I refuse to think about it, sell the horses, and follow the scent of rotting food to the market, getting used to following these weird scents. Or, at the very least, learning to expect the very opposite of the expected from this weird city.
This weird city that goes by the name Wild Wind Work City.
In its defense, the people who named it were high…..
High on misery, that is.
Grinning to myself about the weird thoughts going through my head, I purchase as much supplies as I can carry (aka about twice the amount we most likely need) and run back to the harbor, running into very little opposition.
God, this city was depressingly easy to be notorious in and not get caught.
I reach the harbor in a few quick seconds, laughing and smiling. I sling the packs of supplies onto the others’ backs, keeping one for myself, and dive surreptitiously into the hay. They follow me, complaining and decidedly displeased, but willing enough to not have to walk or ride.
We scurry deep into the hay, managing to avoid arousing suspicion from the people all around, hurrying into seclusion. And well we did, as about half a minute after we were fully hidden the wagon began to move.
We spend perhaps an hour buried deep in the hay, barely moving, breathing in the scent of farms, trying not to inhale the lice that swarm over us. Finally, when I feel the stone give a sharp jerk in my pocket, we scramble out and drop gratefully to the ground, gasping for breath and fighting to breathe but unable to. We roll off the road, Anne and me collapsing into the ditch on one side, Joey, Max, and Leslie ending up in a small pile of limbs on the other.
“That was officially the worst hour of my life.” Joey mutters, groaning and raising his head to glare at me.
“I’ve had worse….Try letting a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing give it to you from behind for an hour. Trust me, that was heaven compared to what he did to me.”
I feel, of all things, a random burst of jealousy. I wasn’t jealous of her—I was jealous of whoever that man had been…..
I scramble to my feet, and I don’t help Anne to her feet as I doubted I could handle touching her skin at this second. It would only make my feelings for her even more confused than they already were.
We gather on the road, stretch, scratch, and our muscles screech with stiffness. “I’m tired!” Leslie whines. “I wanna sleepies.”
I groan, rub my eyes, and examine the packs of supplies. Luckily, not too much was broken or damaged. A few of the vegetables and fruits were damaged, and the bread now was mildly flattened, but otherwise everything seemed to be fine.
“Where to now, fearless leader?” Anne asks, resting her hand on my shoulder. I shrug it off, and step away, pulling the stone out of my pocket. It doesn’t seem to move at all.
“Give me a minute….” I tell them, and sprint into the trees, hoping that maybe Lady White’s other directional tip would help.
Feeling like a fool, I skid to a stop, do a backflip, land, spin in a circle, do a few jumps, flying kicks, mid-air somersaults, all the while attempting to sing the words, “I wanna go, where do I go, I wanna go, tell me where to go!”
I land for the final time, and start doing something humans call the Chicken Dance. I have never felt more like an idiot than I do at this second, and I have no idea if it will be worth it, but I just have to trust her and try. I just have to trust her and try.
After maybe ten minutes of the infernal torture they call the Chicken Dance, I stop, barely able to breathe. I shout into the world around me, both mentally and physically: “TELL ME WHERE TO GO!”
My efforts pay off.
I’m hit in the head with a rock.
And do you know what?
It was actually preferable to enduring another few minutes of that horrific dance.
I wake up to find a piece of paper lying on my chest. It seems to be around ten minutes or so after the hit, so I know I should most likely be heading back as soon as I feel like I can stand. I eye the paper, and I’m pleased to find orders on it. Well, it looks like Lady White had been telling me the truth: The world was on our side.
I run back to them, and before long we’re on our way once more, our steps lighter despite our heavier packs: We were less than a quarter mile from our very first Key.
We reach the cave where it is in a few brief minutes of running.
It looks like a very ordinary cave. Nothing spectacular, very calm in fact. I didn’t sense anything sentient about it, and the only bats I could hear inside it were ordinary ones. So what could be special about this place to make it a suiting hiding spot for something as powerful and important as a Key?
Keeping the thought of what I was searching for inside my mind, I walk in first, ready for anything, any kind of defense that might be thrown against me and my companions.
But I encounter nothing.
I light my single torch with a snap of magic, and begin walking.
The cave is dark. The scent of must floods my nostrils, my breath hitches in my throat, and I try not to throw up. It’s not an easy thing to avoid doing. Taking my companions’ hands so we form a chain, I guide them into the dark, wishing I had thought to purchase a few more torches.
It’s not long until we hear the chattering and squeaking.
My heart leaps into my throat. I know that noise. I know it all too well.
The puffballs were here.
I swallow, and lead my companions towards the sound, knowing that our chances of victory had just halved.
I stop when the sounds of chattering and squeaking flood my ears, the echoes almost shaking the walls, knowing that now we were right at the edge of a massive pit. I look down, and try to keep from screaming as I make out their tiny red eyes peering back up at me like sparks from a fire in a starless night. Suddenly, a little pink ball leaps into the area lit by my torch, propelled by tiny little stubby legs. I scream and jump back. As I do so, a few hundred other puffballs begin to jump as well, drawn by my horrified scream.
But of course the only place the Key could be was on the other side of the puffballs….
So which one of us was going across? I doubted all of us could make it over, and whoever did go over might not be able to make it back. Who knew was on the other side?
But I was, after all, the only really magical one….
So it looked like I was going to fly over a pit of pink puffballs propelled by power people pretty much never possessed.
I groan, give them one last look, make my companions swear to not leave here unless it was a guarantee that I was deceased, and sent a single hard blast of pure power at the cave floor, hurling myself up and forward.
I fly through the air, blasting at the cave floor and the puffballs that soar up to attempt to eat me, unsure whether I was more afraid or more entertained by this psychotic experience.
I land hard on the other side, rolling several feet until I can halt my momentum, more than a bit pleased to be far from the dangerous pink puffballs in the pit.
Staggering to my feet, I pull the stone from my pocket, and thankfully it works. I follow it, relying on my instincts, as I had been unable to take the torch with me.
I continue walking, getting happier every second that the horrific sound of the puffballs fades away. I start going downhill, but luckily it’s not that steep. I walk into walls a few times, but otherwise it was rather easy to find my way through the cave.
I end up bursting into a run as I become a bit more aware of the passage of time, unwilling to be in here longer than absolutely necessary.
Perhaps ten minutes after landing on this side of the pit, I find the innermost chamber of the cave.
I walk into a room flooded with light, my boots whispering through soft carpet, my hair being played with by the gentle wind. I didn’t know what I was doing, where I was going, how I had gotten here but I knew the Key had to be somewhere around me.
I look around, turning full circle, but I see nothing that seems out of place.
Nothing besides my dear sister, of course.
“Natalie….” I whisper, staring at her. She walks toward me, her waist-length ruby red locks shining in the light, her long legs carrying her elegantly from where she had leaned, posed, in the corner of the room.
“Brother dear,” she replies, “You’ve come for the Key.”
“Yes…yes, I have….Do you, by any chance, know where it can be found?” I ask her, before stammering out, “The-they told me you were dead.”
“I am dead. The only thing keeping me alive is this.”
She pulls at a chain that dangles around her neck, and lifts the rest of the necklace out from between her breasts underneath the neckline of her red dress.
It was the Key.
The Necklace of Infinity was here.
“You have it…?” I ask foolishly, before the full implications of this sink in: If she was wearing the Necklace of Infinity, her body would shut down the instant its magic was taken from her. You see, the name is literally meant: Its wearer is granted an infinite life. They will never die as long as they wear it constantly.
“I have it. And you need it.”
I swallowed. I did need it—but there had to be another way…. “Come with me!” I beg, “I don’t want to lose you again.”
“I died three years ago, Avery. I died giving birth to my daughter on the road. I can’t ever see her, ever tell her I’m alive. There isn’t any reason for me to be alive. So take the Necklace, and let me die.”
“You lost me three years ago, Avery. Even though I stand before you now, I’m still not back. I’m still dead. Still gone.”
“Natalie, I can’t. I can’t take your life. You’re my sister!”
She reaches up to her Necklace with both hands, and gives a sharp jerk.
With a sharp snap, it breaks, and falls to the floor.
Natalie smiles, hugs me, turns, and walks away.
She takes four long strides before she collapses to the floor, her breath leaving her in a single whoosh, her limbs losing all strength instantaneously.
I fall to my knees, gazing at her. Natalie was dead.
I take the Necklace of Infinity, still warm from her skin, slip it into my pocket, turn around, and start the journey back to my companions.