The ward of castoria, p.41
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       The Ward of Castoria, p.41

           Robin Silverglate


  As Bryn mopped the floor and Nicole cleaned up the counter, she told her friend about all the various places she and her father planned on visiting on their trip. Boston, Acadia National Park, and a cabin on Lake George were some of the highlights.

  “That sounds like fun,” said Nicole. “My mom is taking Ryan and me to New York City for a few days. But that’s about it for my summer plans.”

  “I think that’s great,” confessed Bryn. “My dad and I were just talking this morning about maybe making a stop in New York City, too. We have friends there that I want to look up.” Even though she didn’t have a clue of how to find Dane.

  Bryn went in the back room to say goodbye to Joan and to make arrangements for where her final paycheck should be sent. When she was done, the girls made their way outside to where the sun was beginning to dim on the horizon. Bryn knew she had just enough time to get home before it set. She turned to Nicole and said, “I’m going to miss you.”

  Nicole hugged her and said, “You won’t have time to miss me because I plan on texting you a lot and letting you know what’s going on here.”

  “You better,” said Bryn. “Tell your mom and Ryan that I said goodbye.”

  “Will do.”

  The girls slowly walked apart from each other and held up their hands to wave goodbye. Bryn felt a little sad ending this chapter in her life. The Coffee Grinder had been a fun place to work. As she headed home, she mused over how much her life had changed in just the past few days. She was now a high school graduate and currently unemployed. She was probably not going to see her best friend for most of the summer and the person who hated her the most, was ignoring her. But the change that eclipsed them all was the fact that she now knew her recurring dream was not a dream at all. Even though she could not explain how she knew it, it was now a fundamental belief that she was really attacked by some strange animal. She did not remember all the details yet, but she was confident she would figure them out soon.

  As she ambled by Fletcher Park, her steps slowed to a stop. This was the last place she remembered being that night. Bryn and Dane had stood on this very sidewalk. She wondered if the attack had taken place around here. It could have happened in the park or near the houses across the street. She saw that several houses had balconies on the second story. Maybe she had somehow hidden on one of them. It didn’t make sense to her how she could have gotten up there unless she had run through the house and up the stairs. Unfortunately, she did not remember doing anything like that. She moved across the street to more closely check out the houses. Even though the attack happened a few months ago, she looked around for hidden clues. She boldly stood on the sidewalk directly in front of the houses and craned her head up. Bryn wanted to see if there was any damage to the balconies. She didn’t find anything unusual.

  “You shouldn’t be out here by yourself, you know,” a voice from behind her said quietly.

  Bryn drew in her breath and turned around to see who was talking. Dane was standing three feet away from her. She had not even heard him approach. He was exactly the same as she remembered him. His brown hair was perfectly combed over and his eyes still had that strange, dark color to them.

  “What are you doing here?” Bryn said roughly. As soon as she said it, she immediately regretted it. She saw the miniscule downturn of his mouth. She really was glad to see him. Hadn’t she wanted to find out the answers to her questions? “I’m sorry,” she said in a kinder voice. “I didn’t mean to sound rude. It’s just that you scared me. I thought you were in New York.”

  Dane peered over into the park and then turned back to her. “My apologies for scaring you. I didn’t intend to. I just think it’s safer for you to be home right now.”

  “Why?” asked Bryn. “Is another animal going to attack me?”

  She saw the surprise register in his eyes with her last statement. He must not know she remembered. Dane placed his hand on the small of her back and led her down the sidewalk. “Please, Bryn. It’s best you get home.”

  She moved away from his guiding touch and faced him. “No. I’m not going anywhere with you until I get some answers.”

  Dane checked the area all around them. She felt drawn to look as well, but could not see anything. When Dane faced her again, his eyes stopped on the necklace she was wearing. He sighed and said, “Fine. What do you want to know?”

  “First of all, what are you looking for? Is it a xenther?”

  “Probably not,” he admitted. “They are rare.”

  “But that was what attacked me.”


  “And you killed it.”

  “I had to. It was trying to kill you,” he said defensively. “Do you remember that part?”

  Bryn shook her head and said, “I only remember bits and pieces. I remember you holding a sword and I remember being scared of the xenther.”

  Dane nodded. “I’m sure even more memories will come back to you.”

  She stomped her foot and asked, “Why is it you seem to know all the details and I barely recall anything?”

  He did not seem to want to answer at first, but then with a resigned look said, “I had your memories altered to forget the attack.”

  Bryn scrunched up her face and frowned because none of this made any sense. “How is that possible?”

  “It’s too difficult to explain. All you need to know is that we have the ability to make people forget things.”

  “I still don’t understand,” said Bryn. “Can you try to explain?”

  “No,” he said in an authoritative manner.

  Bryn clenched her fists in anger. She had hoped Dane would answer her questions. Now it seemed that some of his evasive answers made her even more confused than before. “Why are you here? Aren’t you supposed to be in New York?”

  “I came here to protect you.”

  That simple statement of his made Bryn catch her breath. After an endless moment, she asked, “Is another animal going to attack?”

  “There’s a possibility,” he said as he monitored the street again. “That’s why it’s best you get home.” He put his hand on her back again.

  She shrugged off his hand and said, “Wait. What kind of animal is going to attack this time?”

  “I don’t know, but the most common animals that attack people are sarlocks and grunth.”

  Bryn shook her head and said, “Do you realize how crazy you sound? I’ve never even heard of these animals. I tried finding information on xenthers, but they apparently don’t exist in this world.”

  “That’s because they are not from this world,” Dane said quietly.

  “How do you know so much about them then?”

  Dane took a deep breath and said, “Because I am not from this world either.”

  Now Bryn had confirmation that Dane was officially crazy. She knew he would have answers to the puzzling xenther attack, but she never expected something this preposterous. She was torn between feeling pity and anger for Dane all at the same time. She wanted to get to the bottom of her memory and Dane was not helping.

  He had to be mentally ill. His face was full of concern and his eyes seemed earnest in his belief. But that was the problem. If he really was crazy, then he wouldn’t see anything wrong with the delusional things he said. In the end, pity won out. She placed her hand on his arm and said, “Dane, you don’t know what you are talking about. Let’s go find your brother. Is he here in town, too?”

  Dane frowned at her, appearing hurt that she did not believe him. He shook his head and said, “Listen to me very carefully, Bryn. There is a creature that has escaped from my world and is loose in yours. It is very dangerous and I have been sent to protect you from harm.”

  She wanted to laugh, but didn’t. “This all sounds so ridiculous.”

  He put his hands on his hips. “If you remember me fighting a xenther, then how could another creature chasing
after you sound so unbelievable?”

  “Because creatures from other worlds just don’t go around attacking unsuspecting humans,” Bryn said vehemently.

  Dane laughed harshly as he said, “They do all the time. You just don’t know about it.”

  Bryn wanted to say more, but she was stopped by a high pitched whistling sound traveling in the air above them. She saw a green strip of light illuminating the night sky. It was losing altitude and it looked like it would land near them.

  She wanted to run away, but Dane grabbed her arm and said, “Don’t move.”

  Together, they watched the green arrow land on the sidewalk by their feet. Bryn looked down at the light in disbelief. It was in the shape of a thin cylinder and it had pierced the concrete layer of sidewalk. She bent to inspect it more closely and reached out to touch it. Dane stopped her hand and held it back with his. The light dimmed and eventually dissipated into nothing. The only remnant left of its existence was a burnt black indentation on the sidewalk. “What was that?” asked Bryn in disbelief.

  “That was one of Beck’s arrows,” said Dane in a worried voice.

  “What’s the deal with the arrow? I remember you shot a purple one that night.”

  Dane leveled his eyes on hers with such concern it was palpable. “It means he has seen the creature.”

  She shivered from head to toe as she took a step closer to Dane for protection. “Where is it?”

  Dane blinked hard and said, “Your house. Beck was sent to protect your father.”

  “No,” she said in a thin, frightened voice. The thought of her father being attacked by a xenther-like creature caused Bryn’s heart to skip a beat. She had to help him in some way.

  Bryn pushed herself away from Dane and stumbled through her first steps toward home. She eventually gained control of her footing and ran at full speed down the street. Suddenly, she felt her legs lift off the ground. At first, Bryn had no idea what was happening, but then she realized Dane was carrying her in his arms while he ran. He ran faster than anyone she had ever seen. The neighborhood houses were practically blurred in her eyesight. However, she was so worried about her father that she did not question the method of travel. At this point, she was grateful for it.

  They arrived at her house in less than a minute. From the outside, nothing appeared out of the ordinary. The lights were on in her father’s room and the front porch was illuminated. As soon as Dane put her down, she sprinted for the door. Dane grabbed her shoulders and said in an authoritative voice, “Let Beck and me handle this. You need to stay out of the way and make sure to keep that necklace on.”

  Bryn watched in stunned disbelief as Dane ran down the driveway and around to the back of the house. She followed him, but at a much slower pace. In no time at all, she could hear the tell-tale signs of a fight taking place. She hoped with all her heart that her father was safe inside the house.

  When she rounded the back of her driveway, she was shocked by what she saw. Dane had already drawn his sword and was pointing it toward the creature while Beck had taken a more defensive stance with his sword near her father’s car. The clothes from their suitcases laid scattered across the ground nearby. Beck, however, was standing next to something laying near the car that was much bigger than a suitcase. It was hard to see, but she saw a glint of light reflected on what must be glasses. With a burst of terrifying realization, Bryn knew it was her father on the ground. Her chest constricted with the thought that they may have been too late. That terrifying thought almost overwhelmed her until she told herself if her father was dead, then there would be no reason for Beck to still protect him.

  Bryn glared wide-eyed at the creature. She had never seen anything like it before. It was even more terrifying than the one which had attacked her. The creature was the same height as Dane. In the light from the porch, she could see that it was covered in wiry brown fur. A long tail rose up above the creature and swayed as if trying to distract Dane. A menacing hissing sound came out of its hooked beak as it warily watched Dane.

  The creature moved back and forth on its four thick legs. However, Dane did not step back or falter as Bryn would have done. Instead, he appeared calm and viewed the creature as if this kind of occurrence happened every day. Bryn gasped when she saw the creature push up on its hind legs and grow even taller than Dane. It stretched its front legs out and she watched in terrified awe as they expanded into two large wings with its bones clearly visible underneath the tight, brown skin.

  The creature flapped its wings twice and lifted itself into the air. When its hind feet pushed off of the ground, Bryn saw they stretched into large wings, as well. If Bryn hadn’t already been so scared for the safety of her father, she would have been fascinated by what she was witnessing. The creature hovered over Dane for an endless moment. It opened its mouth to draw in air and Bryn watched in fear as the creature’s chest expanded. She heard a whooshing sound as something sludgy was spit from its mouth. Dane jumped to the side and out of the way of the foul goo.

  He reached behind his back and drew out a bow that had clearly not been there earlier. He pulled on the string and a glowing purple arrow materialized. Dane aimed at the creature flying above him and released the arrow. The animal veered to the right and the arrow missed it by mere inches. When the creature flew so high into the sky that Bryn could no longer see it, she took a hesitant step toward her father. Dane’s attention was intently directed at the night sky, but he still held out his hand and said, “Stay where you are, Bryn.”

  “But Dad needs help,” she pleaded.

  Beck turned to her and said in a gentler voice, “It’s not safe out in the open.”

  Bryn listened to him and stayed in her spot next to the house. She was extremely worried since she had not seen her father move since she had arrived. Her attention returned upward when she saw the pointed beak of the creature as it nose-dived toward Dane. Its chest once again expanded and it spit out the pink sludge. Dane stood his ground until the last second before jumping out of the way. The creature spread its wings wide in order to slow itself down before landing on the ground. Dane loosed another purple arrow. This time, he did not miss. The shot pierced through the front wing of the creature. It lurched to the left and shrieked in pain.

  Both Dane and Beck hurled arrows at the creature as it unsteadily propelled itself back in the air. The night sky was practically lit up with green and purple lights. It looked like fireworks over her house. One of Beck’s arrows ripped through the bottom wing of the creature and it could no longer stay airborne. It landed awkwardly on the ground. Bryn watched in fascination as its wings crunched up to convert back into thick legs. It was like something straight out of a science fiction movie… but this was real.

  Dane sprinted across the driveway and jumped directly onto the top ledge of her back porch. She drew in her breath and wondered how he had propelled himself so easily. Even though the creature was disabled from flying, it was still on the offensive. It ran with its stroppy gait at the porch and Bryn tensed in fear as it moved past her father.

  Dane was apparently the creature’s new target because it raised its front legs onto the column that held up the porch. It hoisted itself up with the sharp, finger-like talons at the end of its legs and began to climb up toward Dane. Bryn was shocked at how long the creature was when it stretched out its body. Its front legs were almost at the top of the column, while its tail still touched the ground.

  Beck ran in the same direction with the same speed Dane had shown moments earlier. He took his sword and stabbed it into the creature’s tail. The beast cried out in pain and Beck held on firmly to his sword in order to keep the creature pinned to the ground. Bryn watched in horror as its chest began to expand as it turned to face what had halted its progress. She knew if Beck did not move soon, he would get hit by the sludgy substance. Suddenly, a glowing purple arrow shot through the head of the creature and it fell t
o the ground with a loud thud.

  Beck removed his sword from the creature’s tail and stabbed it in the chest. A moment of unnerving silence followed and then Beck turned to Bryn. “It’s over,” he said quietly.

  Bryn took that to mean she could safely go to her father. She ran over to him and knelt beside his body lying on the ground. Her hands covered her mouth as she gasped in horror seeing a gooey pink substance all over the right side of his face. The creature must have spit on him before she had gotten there. She did not know what the stuff was or what it did, but it couldn’t be good. It didn’t appear that he was breathing. Bryn reached out her hand to take off his glasses.

  “Don’t touch him,” Dane commanded.

  “What is this stuff?” asked Bryn as tears began to form. “Is he okay?”

  “It’s a type of venom that paralyzes a person on contact. If you touch it, the same thing will happen to you.”

  Bryn blinked back her tears as she asked hesitantly, “Is he dead?”

  Dane’s face softened and said, “Not yet.”

  “Wake up, Dad,” Bryn said in a trembling voice. She clutched her hands into fists in order to avoid the urge to wipe the waxy venom off of his face. Bryn felt utterly helpless as she watched for the tell-tale rise and fall of his chest. “I don’t think he’s breathing,” she said as she reached for Dane in wide-eyed panic.

  “He is, but it’s hard to detect,” Dane said. “The venom slows down the actions of the body so the victim can no longer fight back. The nardoc likes to kill its victims at its leisure, but we stopped it before that could happen. So for now, your father is still alive.”

  Bryn began to shake in the face of all of this. “Will he regain consciousness soon?”

  She saw Dane look doubtfully over at Beck. Bryn didn’t want to hear his answer so she fumbled in her pocket for her cell phone. “I’ve got to call 911.”

  Dane grabbed her hand and said, “Your doctors won’t be able to help. They’ve never seen anything like this before. And if anyone touches his face, they’ll suffer the same fate.”

  Bryn felt a tightening in her chest that made it hard to breath. Her eyes filled with more tears as she gazed at her father. She couldn’t lose him. Bryn turned to Dane and desperately grabbed the sleeve of his shirt. In a rough voice she said, “If you really are who you say you are, can you help him?”

  Dane bore his dark intense eyes into hers. He was clearly torn between conflicting thoughts.

  “Please,” she said as tears flowed freely down her cheeks. “I’m begging you. If you know of a way to help, please help him.”

  Dane seemed to be waiting for a cue from Beck, but when none came, he glanced back at Bryn and softly said, “I can take him to someone who may be able to assist, but we must act quickly. The venom will be active for the next three hours. If it doesn’t get off his face before that time, then I’m afraid it will be too late for anyone to help him.”

  Bryn smiled weakly through her tears and said, “Thank you.” Even though she knew her father was still in danger, at least there was hope now. She stood up and said, “What do you need me to do?”

  Dane checked out around the area and said, “I need some type of blanket to wrap him in. We can’t let the venom touch us.”

  “I’ll get one.”

  As Bryn sprinted into the house through the back door, she felt the wind cool her face where her tears were. She ran directly to the family room and grabbed the large blanket draped over the couch. When she got back to the kitchen, she halted when she overheard Dane and Beck talking about the situation.

  “Are you bringing Bryn, too?” Beck asked in a hissed whisper.

  “I don’t think she’ll let me just leave her here,” said Dane in a resigned tone. “Besides, I’m already breaking the rules by bringing one human. Might as well bring two.”

  “Yara’s not going to like this.”

  Dane did not answer for a moment, but then added, “Let me deal with her.”

  “As you wish,” said Beck with a sigh.

  “I’ll take them back by myself. This was my decision so I’ll accept the consequences.”

  “Don’t be a martyr, Dane,” Beck said firmly. “I agree with your decision.”

  “I’m sure you do. But we both know that, in the end, Yara’s going to be a lot nicer to me than she would be to you.”

  Bryn wondered who this mystery woman was they were talking about. She had never heard Dane talk about another girl before and wasn’t sure if she liked it. Bryn did not have time to worry about it so she forced the thought out of her mind. She was glad she would be allowed to stay with her father. The thought of leaving his side had never even occurred to her, but at least it wasn’t going to be an issue. She opened the door and stepped out onto the porch.

  Dane directed his query to Beck. “Will you take care of everything here?”

  Beck nodded and said, “Of course.”

  Dane held out his hand for the blanket. Bryn gave it to him and watched as he carefully wrapped it around her father’s face. He made sure to keep it loose enough in order to allow space to breath. Dane then hoisted him onto his shoulder and said to Bryn, “Let’s go.”

  “Who’s down there?” asked a familiar nasal voice. All three of them turned to see Mrs. Crocker standing at the end of her driveway. She took two steps closer and said, “Bryn, is that you?”

  “Yes, Mrs. Crocker,” Bryn said in a strained tone.

  “Who’s with you?” Mrs. Crocker asked suspiciously.

  Bryn opened her mouth to say something, but found that she had no idea how to explain… this. She turned to Dane for guidance. He tilted his head in the direction of Mrs. Crocker and said politely, “Ma’am, please do not be alarmed.”

  Mrs. Crocker stepped backwards, apparently terrified, and shouted out, “I’m calling the police.”

  Bryn was scared as well, but for a different reason. If the police came, valuable time would be wasted and her father might not make it.

  Dane, however, stepped deliberately at her neighbor. “There is a perfectly good explanation for what has happened here,” he said calmly. Mrs. Crocker’s face suddenly became void of expression. Bryn had never seen her appear so dumbstruck before. Dane continued to stare at her with an intense gaze and Mrs. Crocker nodded her head once.

  Her eyes soon brightened and she glanced over at Bryn. “Good night dear,” she said in an upbeat voice. “Have fun with your friends.”

  Bryn did not know what to say, so she simply said, “Umm… okay. Goodnight, Mrs. Crocker.”

  Taken aback, she wondered if this was how her memories were altered. Bryn remembered how stupid Mrs. Crocker appeared and wondered if she looked the same when she forgot about the xenther attack. She hoped not.

  As soon as Mrs. Crocker’s retreating figure rounded the corner into her yard, Dane headed down the driveway. Bryn saw Beck attending to the slayed creature, but she ran to catch up with Dane. He was already turning onto the sidewalk. She marched next to him at a brisk pace. Even though she knew he could move significantly faster than she could, she noticed he kept his speed to match hers. They walked in silence for several minutes as he led them in a weaving direction through the streets. She was too stunned by all that had happened to talk anyways.

  Bryn was so worried about her father. She had never heard of his type of injury before, but Dane seemed to know enough about it. She had no choice but to trust him. But she did trust him now. He had saved her life and she hoped he would be able to save her father’s, as well. She did not know what she would do if she lost her father. She took it for granted that he would always be there for her. This was an idiotic assumption given the fact that she had lost her mother at a young age. Nothing in this world could be depended on for certain.

  All that Bryn could see of her father were his feet dangling out from the blanket as he hung over Dane’s shoulder. Dane did not look fatigued from carrying hi
m at all. She was surprised by his obvious strength and the fact that he didn’t even seem even a little out of breath. Not to mention he had also just fought and destroyed a dangerous creature.

  “Are you doing all right?” she finally asked.

  Dane raised an eyebrow at her. “I’m fine. Why do you ask?”

  “How did that monster not hurt you?” she asked. “It was terrifying just watching you fight it.”

  “I appreciate your concern,” he said politely, “but I’m fine.”

  “Is my father too heavy for you?”


  “Are you sure?” she asked a little out of breath. “I can’t believe you can keep up this pace even while carrying him.”

  “Where I come from, people are stronger,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

  She gave him a sideways glace as she asked, “And where are you from exactly?”


  She frowned at the unfamiliar place. “Is that where we are going right now?”


  “How are we going to get there?” Bryn asked cautiously. As far as she could tell, they were heading to the center of town.

  Dane did not answer her right away. “There is a portal that connects our two worlds,” he finally stated.

  A laugh suddenly erupted from her throat. “This is crazy, Dane,” she said as she shook her head. “How could there possibly be a portal connecting Gaithersburg to some secret world?”

  “You saw the creature that attacked your father,” Dane said in a calm tone. “How else could you explain its existence in your world?”

  “I don’t know,” Bryn said as she shook her head. “Maybe it’s an undiscovered species of a mutant bat?”

  “What about me, then?” Dane asked as he glanced over his shoulder at her. “My strength… my abilities… even my weapons.”

  Bryn realized that he did have a point. She had never seen anyone do the things that Dane could do. Still, they were all too outlandish to fully believe. “Genetically altered top secret government agent?” she guessed weakly.

  “I’m afraid not,” he said with a sigh. “You’ll have to believe me eventually if you intend to come with us to Castoria.”

  Bryn dreaded that he would probably be proved right. She went through the list of amazing things she had seen. Dane ran with super speed and could jump to the top of her roof. He convinced Mrs. Crocker to leave them alone just by staring at her. And that monster… where did it come from? Bryn massaged her temples in order to relieve her rising headache. “This is crazy, Dane.”

  “You’ve already said that.”

  “I know,” she said quietly. “I’m trying to believe you.”

  Dane nodded his head in acknowledgement. Bryn got the feeling that he was allowing her some time to process this information on her own. A thought popped into her mind that if Castoria wasn’t a real place, then walking with Dane was a waste of valuable time. Her father was injured and required medical attention. If Dane was leading them on some wild goose chase, then all hope for her father would be lost. She wanted to believe that Dane was right. She needed to believe in Castoria.

  If Castoria was real, then where was it? Better yet, where was this mysterious portal that Dane mentioned. All she could see around her were empty streets and sidewalks. It suddenly hit her how strange it was for the city to be so deserted at this time of day. She was not wearing a watch, but she guessed that it was somewhere between eight and nine o’clock at night. It wasn’t that late, yet she had not seen a car or another person since they had left her house. She was grateful there was no one around since they looked very suspicious as they carried a lifeless body down the street.

  “Where is everyone?” she asked quietly.

  “I’ve made it so no one comes near us.”

  “I don’t understand.”

  “It’s hard to explain,” said Dane.


  Dane sighed and said, “I’m sending out a telepathic message that discourages people from coming here. Anyone thinking about driving down this street will decide to take a different route. Anyone wanting to look through the window or step outside will suddenly realize there is something else they need to do.”

  Bryn blinked hard at this new revelation. “So you can alter people’s thoughts?”

  “Yes. It’s similar to how we can make people forget things. Like I did with your neighbor tonight.”

  She was beginning to understand. “And how you made me forget the xenther attack?”

  “Yes, but I had Beck make you forget on that night?”

  Bryn was surprised. “I don’t remember Beck being there.”

  “He came after I killed the xenther,” Dane stated. “I had him take you home and erase your memory.”

  “Why didn’t you do it?” she asked with intent curiosity.

  He stopped and turned to face her. “Take you home or erase your memory?”

  “Erase my memory.”

  Dane started moving again. Bryn thought she saw a hint of a blush in his cheeks as he said, “It just didn’t seem right for me to do that to you.” He seemed relieved when he pointed at something across the street and said, “We’re here.”

  Bryn squinted to see what he was pointing at. How on earth can this place be Castoria, she wondered. It was just a plain, ordinary park. Usually during the day, it was populated with kids playing on the swings or running around the large water fountain. “I don’t see it,” she said in confusion. “Am I looking in the wrong place?”

  Dane shook his head and said, “No, you’re looking in the right place.”

  She was even more confused now. “The park is Castoria?”

  “No, but we are close,” he said as he headed to the water fountain. “It’s in here.”

  Bryn shifted her eyes to take in the large marble water fountain before her. It certainly seemed normal to her as it burbled and sprayed a stream into the air. Thick sheets of water cascaded over the top level and down into the pool below. It wasn’t exactly how she imagined a different world to be. Lights from beneath the water shone brightly in order to illuminate the fifteen foot fountain. “Castoria is in a water fountain?” she blurted out in disbelief.

  “There is a portal inside that connects my world to yours.”

  She pointed with a bit of disdain. “Inside the fountain?”

  “Yes. Follow me.” Dane stepped over the ledge and into the shallow water. He waited a moment to make sure she was following. She still had her doubts, but cautiously stepped into the fountain, as well. Her shoes were completely immersed as she waded toward Dane.

  “This way,” he said with a nod of his head at the falling water. She thought she heard him say something else, but she couldn’t tell what. The pounding waterfall drowned out his words. Her breath hitched as she watched him carry her father through the wall of water. It was so dark and she could no longer see either of them. Dane’s hand sluiced through the glass-like cascade and reached out for her. She hesitantly grabbed his hand and allowed him to lead her. Bryn hunched her shoulders over and was momentarily stunned by the pounding of cool water on top of her.

  Dane let go of her hand as soon as she emerged. She touched her hand to her hair, expecting to push back the wet strands, but her hair was fine. She should be soaked to the bone, but she was completely dry except for her shoes from having walked in the pool. She stared at Dane and saw that he was bone dry too.

  “Why didn’t we get wet?” she asked curiously.

  “I used a repelling spell,” he explained. “It kept the water off of me and since I was holding your hand, it kept it off of you, as well.”

  Now that that mystery was solved, Bryn could take in her surroundings. She did not know what she had expected, but the typical inner workings of a water fountain was an utter disappointment. This was not a portal to a secret world. There was nothing here but pipes and water. She wanted to ki
ck herself for being almost gullible enough to believe him about this mysterious world.

  “This can’t be Castoria,” she whispered as she gestured toward the pipes on the wall.

  “No,” said Dane as he spun in the opposite direction. “But this is.”

  Bryn faced the falling wall of water she’d just come through and was very confused. The cool liquid rushed over the top ledge of the fountain so much that she felt the soft spray of it on her face. Nothing seemed unusual, though.

  Dane slid his fingers against the inner wall and then said with a confident smile, “Keep watching… it will be here soon.”

  She blinked and blinked really trying to see something. She stared intently at the deluge of water and hoped something would appear. And then, all of a sudden, Bryn thought she saw a hazy image through the water. It was hard to make out at first, but as it began to get clearer, it seemed as though she could make out a small room.

  “Ready?” he asked her and then reached for her hand.

  Bryn swallowed down any fear or trepidation and nodded.

  He took a step into the water and Bryn followed him. Even though the water once again pelted at her, she did not get drenched. She squinted her eyes and followed Dane without hesitation as he led her under the falls. Once she sensed they were through, she opened her eyes and saw that she was, indeed, standing in the small room she had seen before.

  Upon further inspection, she realized it wasn’t a room in the typical sense. The walls glistened from the spray of the water fountain and were made up of jagged gray stone. Was this a cave? There was a door imbedded in the wall that was made from a dark, solid wood and reminded her of an entry that would be found in a medieval castle.

  “Is this Castoria?” she asked, not quite understanding how they got here.

  Before he could respond, Bryn drew a surprised breath. The Dane she knew was no longer standing next to her. It was still him, but many of his features had changed. The most obvious difference was his clothing. Gone were his t-shirt and jeans; replaced by clothes that seemed as though he had come straight from a Renaissance Fair.

  He wore a white, long-sleeved shirt with a brown vest that buttoned down on the left side of his chest. His pants were well-fitted and tucked into a pair of knee-high boots. Hooked over his shoulder and around his chest was the strap of his bow.

  But it was Dane’s face that left her breathless. The neatly combed hair over his ears was now in a spiky disarray. His face was still the one she knew with only two exceptions: the dark eyes, which had previously bothered her, were now a startling and vibrant shade of purple and the other drastic change was in the shape of his ears. Instead of the rounded top of a normal ear, Dane’s ears were most definitely pointed at the tip.

  “Wow…” was all she could get out as her heart hammered away inside her chest.

  Bryn could see the uncertainty in his expression and knew he was watching her closely for her reaction.

  Finally, he took a hesitant breath and said to her, “Welcome to the Elven land of Castoria.”




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