Guardian (Creepy Hollow, #1), страница 1
By Rachel Morgan
Copyright © 2012 Rachel Morgan
Cover Design by Rachel Morgan
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously.
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Kindle ebook ISBN: 978-0-9870290-0-3
Smashwords ebook ISBN: 978-0-9870290-1-0
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Next Installment in the Series
About the Author
For Mum and Dad.
Thank you for never telling me what I
should be when I grew up.
Guild Rule No. 2:
Never reveal yourself to a human.
Guild Rule No. 1:
Never bring a human into the fae realm.
My assignment tonight is cuter than most. He’s asleep at his desk, his cheek stuck to the open page of a textbook. Strands of sun-bleached hair lie across his forehead, and his lips—which I may or may not have been admiring for the past half hour—are parted.
I slide off the window seat and creep across the room. It’s bigger than I first thought, and with couches and a television arranged to form a separate sitting area, it’s more like a hotel suite than a regular bedroom.
Great. More places for things to hide.
I shrink into a shadowed corner and wait. For what, exactly, I’m not sure—the Seers never See more than a glimpse of what may happen. The boy’s steady breathing fills the room. A breeze lifts the curtain, and I catch the flicker of a streetlight on Draven Avenue.
There she is! With a hiss, the serpent woman streaks across the room, lamplight reflecting off her scaly skin. I stretch my arms into position and feel the prickly warmth of the bow and arrow as they materialize in my hands. I pull back and let go. The arrow flies across the room in a shower of orange-gold sparks, finding its mark in the reptiscilla’s shoulder.
She cries out, stumbles, and twists in my direction. Her black eyes bore into mine. “It’s happening already,” she whispers.
She rips the arrow from her shoulder—a move that must have really hurt—and lunges for the boy. I toss my bow aside and dive toward him too, knocking his sleeping form to the floor. He’s awake now, which isn’t ideal, but at least he can’t see us.
I roll off him and spring to my feet, just in time for the reptiscilla to throw herself at me. We’re on the floor. She buries her fangs in my arm, but I barely register the stinging pain. I hear Tora’s voice in my head: Bend your knees, arch your back, thrust your opponent right off.
I hurl my body over and pin the reptiscilla down by her throat, my free hand already reaching into the air for another arrow. I bring it down swiftly, straight toward her heart.
But she’s gone.
Thankfully. I hate it when I have to kill them. With a heavy breath I collapse against the nearest wall, still gripping the arrow. The cord that held my hair back has come undone, and tangles of purple and black fall in my face. I push them away, and begin to feel the tingling ache of the reptiscilla’s bite.
“What . . . the hell . . . was that?”
I raise my eyes. The boy is looking at me.
My heart stutters. I mentally feel for my glamour, the magic that should be making me invisible right now. It’s still in place, I’m sure it is. So how can he possibly see me?
This is bad. This is very bad.
A few feet away from me, the boy pushes himself up onto his knees. “What just happened?”
“Um . . .” Crap, I am going to lose so many points for this.
“And what the hell is that?”
I follow his gaze to the arrow in my hand. It sparkles with its own light, as though made of hundreds of tiny red-hot stars. I can see how that would look weird to a human. I let go of the arrow. It vanishes, causing the boy’s eyes to grow even wider.
“Well, I should really be going.” I stand up, hoping my stylus is still in my boot.
“Wait.” He gets to his feet. “Who are you? What are you doing here? What was that . . . thing?”
“That thing?” I casually reach behind me for the wall. “Oh, you know, just a product of your subconscious. And all that ice cream you ate earlier. Indigestion can make for some interesting dreams.” I cringe internally. Dreams? What idiot would buy that explanation?
His eyebrows draw together. “I guess that could make sense. You are way more attractive than any real-life girl who’s managed to find her way into my bedroom.”
This is not happening.
I slide my hand into the top of my boot and retrieve my stylus. “You need to wake up and carry on studying,” I tell the boy. Then I turn to the wall and scribble a few words across it. The writing glows and fades, and a portion of the wall melts away like ribbon held too close to a flame. “Goodbye,” I call over my shoulder. I step into the yawning darkness, holding two words in my mind: Creepy Hollow.
“Ow!” He grabs hold of my arm—the arm that’s only just begun to heal from the reptiscilla’s bite—and I stumble on the invisible path. My mind loses hold of my destination and I tumble out of the darkness and onto the forest floor. I don’t usually exit the paths so clumsily, but I don’t usually have a human boy on top of me.
The reality of what has just happened strikes me like a slap in the face.
In the fae realm.
And I’m the one who brought him here.
No no no NO.
I give the boy a good kick and he lands on the ground beside me with a groan. “What did you do that for?” I yell, jumping to my feet. “You can’t follow me through! That’s not how this works.”
He sits up and stares at his surroundings—the wildly tangled trees; the creeping mist; the shifting smoke-like colors in the yuro plants’ leaves—with a mixture of horror and awe on his face. “That . . . was . . .”
“Probably the most idiotic thing you’ve ever done,” I say. I doubt he’s listening to me though.
“I think you were right about the dreaming thing,” he says. “There’s no way this could be real. Am I high on something?”
“Ugh.” I clench my fists so tightly I can feel my nails digging into my skin. “It’s magic, you moron.”
He looks at me and frowns. “There’s no such thing as magic.”
“Well, you probably think there’s no such thing as faeries either, and yet here I am.” And here he is. In my forest. My home. I kick a flurry of leaves into the air. Their colors shift rapidly in protest, cycling through an endless palette: lavender, magenta, burgundy, sienna. I bury my face in my hands. I have so failed this assignment.
“No way,” he says, rustling the leaves as he stands. “You can’t be a faerie. You’r
I lower my hands. “Excuse me?” I’ve been called many things in my seventeen years, but ‘big’ has never been one of them. Quite the opposite, in fact.
“Aren’t faeries supposed to be, like, really tiny? With wings and a wand and faerie dust?”
“I’m not Tinker Bell!”
He takes a step back. “Okay, okay. Since this is a dream I guess you can be whatever you want to be.”
“Did it feel like a dream when I kicked you just now?”
“Actually that did kind of hurt.” He rubs his leg.
I shake my head. “This is such a mistake. You should not be here.”
He crosses his arms. “So you don’t have wings then?” he asks, completely ignoring what I just said.
“Sure I do, they’re in my pocket.”
“No!” I’m trying to think of the best way to fix this, and I wish he’d just keep quiet.
“Oh, wait, you do have a wand though. I saw you using it on my wall.”
“It’s not a wand, it’s called a stylus. Just a stick, really.”
“You know, if it weren’t my sole purpose in life to protect humans like you from crazy magical fae, I’d leave you here to find your own way home.”
“Is that what you were doing in my room?” he asks after a moment.
I sigh. Why am I telling him any of this? “Yes. I was on assignment.”
“I was your assignment?”
Wow, you catch on fast. “Yes.”
He hesitates a moment, then grins. “That’s kind of hot.”
“Okay, listen up, Draven Avenue,” I say before he can make any more inappropriate comments. “I’m going to open up another path and take you back to—” I stop as something jogs in my memory. “Wait a sec. Why aren’t you dead?”
“Um . . .”
“Faerie paths are for faeries. You shouldn’t survive the journey.”
He stares back at me, and it’s then that I hear the footsteps. Guilt rushes through me as though I’ve been caught doing something terrible, like carving initials into a tree. I get the sudden urge to open up a doorway and push the boy into it, but I’m worried that it was some strange fluke that he survived the first journey. What if a second one kills him?
A figure appears between the trees and my heart sinks when I see who it is. I’m definitely not getting out of this one.
“Ryn,” I say, trying to keep my voice even. “Back so soon? That’s unlike you. I heard you came in second to last for the previous assignment.”
Ryn stops and leans against a tree, tossing a ball of moonlight back and forth. Its glow dances across his face and causes his blue-black hair to gleam. “Don’t you mean second, Pixie Sticks? I would have thought you’d pay more attention to your closest competition.”
“I would—if you were competition worth paying attention to.”
Ryn’s eyes narrow. He opens his mouth to speak, then freezes, his eyes moving to the boy beside me. He pushes away from the tree and steps closer. “You have a friend, Pixie Sticks?” he says. “You’ve actually managed to find someone willing to—” He breaks off and stares at the boy for several moments. His eyes slide back to mine, and a grin spreads across his face.
“Well, well, well. Look who broke rule number one.” He spins the ball of moonlight on the tip of his finger before squashing it into nothing between his palms. “Tell me, Pixie Sticks, how does it feel to fail an assignment?”
My mental call is automatic, and barely a second passes before my bow and arrow are blazing between my fingers. I point the arrow directly at Ryn. He flicks his wrist, almost too fast to follow. A whip with as much fiery brilliance as my own weapon appears in his hand with a snap.
“Wanna play?” he says, his voice low and dangerous.
“Get out of here, Ryn,” I say without lowering the arrow.
Ryn laughs and winds the whip around his arm. He hesitates, as if teasing me, and then tosses the whip into the air where it disappears. He pulls out his stylus and opens a doorway in the air in front of him. Show-off. It’s the one thing he can do better than I can. I have to use a solid surface to open a way to the paths. “I’ll make sure Tora knows about this,” he says as he steps through the doorway. “You know, in case you forget to mention it to her.” The air closes up behind him.
Great, great, great. I wish I were still at the age where having a tantrum would be acceptable. I’ve never known anyone to mess up an assignment this badly, and I’m pretty sure it’s not even my fault.
“Pixie Sticks?” says the boy beside me.
I swing my arrow toward him. “Don’t call me that.”
He raises his hands in surrender. “Sorry. I thought that was your name.”
I fling my weapon into the darkness. “That is definitely not my name.”
“Oh.” He stares at me with large toffee-brown eyes, waiting, as though I’m supposed to say something now. But I am not going to be the one to make this situation any less awkward. “So . . .” he says eventually. “What is your name?”
Well, I’ve just about told him everything else. Why not my name? “My name is Violet. Violet Fairdale.”
He bursts out laughing. “Right, and my name’s . . .” He catches sight of my expression and the smile fades from his face. “Oh. You’re being serious. I thought . . . because of the . . .” He waves his hand in the general direction of my head. Is he trying to say that I’m crazy?
I cross my arms and turn away from him, trying to pretend he isn’t here. Ryn will definitely tell Tora about my disastrous assignment, and knowing him he’ll make it sound as bad as possible. I need to be the one to tell her, but I’d rather explain this in person than in a message. I glance up at the sky; it’s late, but I know Tora will be at work still. How quickly can we get there?
“So did you get the purple hair and contacts to match your name?” the boy asks. He’s standing in front of me again.
I blink at him. What is he talking about?
“You know, contacts?” He points at his eyes, and after a few seconds I make the connection between the word ‘contacts’ and the memory I have of a girl sticking curved, gel-like shapes into her eyes. That was the assignment where I got rid of the fire-spitting lizard that found its way into some bathroom plumbing.
I narrow my eyes at the boy. “Are you suggesting that something about my appearance is fake?”
“Well, yeah. Purple eyes and purple streaks just aren’t natural.”
“They are where I come from.”
A tingle in my pocket catches my attention. With a growing sense of dread I reach in and slide out the rectangle of amber. Sure enough, Tora’s graceful script burns across the amber’s smooth surface.
See me. NOW.
“Dammit, Ryn,” I mutter. With one swipe of my hand I clear the words from the amber and stuff it back into my pocket.
“What was that?” asks the boy. “Did you get a message on that thing? What’s it made—”
“We’re leaving,” I snap. “Try to keep up.”
“Wait,” he says. I turn back, ready to give him a piece of my mind, but the look on his face stills me. He seems younger all of a sudden, lost almost. “This . . . this is all real?” he asks. “I’m not actually fast asleep in my bed, dreaming some crazy dream?”
For a moment my frustration dims, and I see a confused boy standing in a world he was never meant to know about. I should at least try and be civil, shouldn’t I? But then I think of what I’m about to lose because of him. I could be expelled, or, at the very least, suspended. All my training could be for nothing. All the blood, the bruises, the pain. The nightmares that come after having to kill someone. I may have gone through that for nothing—all because this boy couldn’t just stay in his damn bedroom.
“Yes,” I say, doing my best to keep my voice free of emotion. “It’s real. And you have no idea what you’ve c
“Hey, what do you mean?” he asks as he catches up to me. “What have I cost you?”
My fingers curl automatically into fists, and I force my words out between my teeth. “I am two months away from graduation, Mr Draven Avenue. Two months. That’s how close I am to being the best guardian the Guild has seen in years, and you may have just ruined that for me.”
I hear nothing but the sound of our footsteps, and then he says, “My name’s actually Nate.”
Well, clearly Nate doesn’t get why I’m so upset. And why should he? He has no idea why that top place is so important to me, and I’m certainly not about to tell him. I stomp around the edge of a clearing where giant mushrooms are swelling as they soak up the silvery glow of the moon. “Do not stand on the mushrooms,” I tell him. “They don’t like it.” And the last thing I need now is for him to show up at the Guild covered in poisonous goop.
An eerie howl vibrates through the air, rustling the leaves above us and causing a nest of tiny airhorses to take flight and disappear into the night. I quicken my pace. I can handle pretty much any creature we might come across, but having Nate with me would no doubt complicate things. I glance over my shoulder at him, only to find that he’s stopped to watch the airhorses fly away. “Come on,” I call.
He shakes his head and hurries after me. “This is incredible,” he says. “I know I should be freaked out or something, but . . . wow.”
I don’t say anything.
“Hey, since you’re magical and everything, are you also, you know, immortal?”
I don’t know if he’s deliberately ignoring the angry vibes I’m sending his way, or if they’re simply passing right over his head. Either way, it’s getting tiring. With a sigh, I say, “Faeries are not immortal. Old age catches up after several hundred years.”