A.N. Wow! Thank you to adnapusa, "anon", Panchromatic, and Violet Spark for being my first four fabulous reviewers!!! Seriously, you guys have no idea how happy I was to get those reviews. This chapter was mostly written already, but you gave me the much-sought-after inspiration to actually finish it, edit it, and then post it – so here it is, Chapter 1.


Hourglass

Part I • Chapter I

It was evening. My homework lay half-completed on the squat wooden desk in the corner of the room. I was hunched up in my bed, head resting against the wall.

My bedroom was tiny, messy, and totally mine. I'd always tried very hard not to get any matching furniture; therefore, nothing matched – and since I never allowed my mother in to criticize, everything was thrown haphazardly about, with a complete lack of direction and order. The fact made me smile to myself.

It must have made something else smile to itself, too – something that liked disorder a lot more than me, and happened to live up there where it could do something about it. I didn't reason this out at the time, of course. It just seems probable, now.

I reached for the hourglass, which was sitting complacently on my bedside stool. On second thought, I also reached for the stopwatch that was dangling out of a drawer under my desk. I sat back down on my bed and studied the hourglass for a moment, feeling rather regretful that I'd said five minutes. I turned it right side up and shook it until the last of the sand leaked back into the bottom, just to make sure the timing was exact, and then flipped it and started the watch.

Six minutes later, it was barely halfway through. I huffed dejectedly and stretched out on the bed, feeling a tad grumpy – I'd lost five bucks andwas now stuck timing an hourglass. I considered finishing my homework while I was waiting, but that idea crashed and burned. Homework was always saved for lunch.

I brightened up a little when the stopwatch passed ten minutes, then made a face again, realizing no matter what it finally stopped at, grandpa'd be closer and I'd still owe him five bucks.

It kept ticking on and I peered at the hourglass. It was about to finish draining. The stopwatch said 11:34 and I wondered briefly who would want an hourglass to end on such an odd number like that, and then the last grain of sand disappeared.

And I felt a whoosh of air and so did the bedroom, the stopwatch, and all of my clothes.

I would have screamed, but grandpa got me out of that habit years ago. Instead, I sat up and squeaked, wide-eyed and butt-naked. I was in some sort of old shack, and there was straw on the ground, and I was most definitely sitting in the straw (I noticed because one piece was wedged somewhere exceedingly uncomfortable). The place was really dark, and I couldn't see much of anything except a sort of hallway extending in front of me – although it smelled absolutely revolting, like a port-a-potty. I stood up, thought better of it, and crouched down, and then I decided nobody was here anyway so I stood up again. It was terrifying, it really was – but I'm a shy, modest girl and I didn't fancy dawdling around in a strange place without any clothes, so I ignored the little voice that was encouraging me to sit back down and roll up into a shaking fetal ball at the sheer impossibility of what my brain seemed to be telling me.

I swallowed nervously (well, more than nervously, since where the hell was I and how the hell did I get here?!?) and I felt my way forward, through the smelly mess. Maybe I'd blacked out or fallen asleep or something –

"Eep!" I squeaked again, freezing up this time with fear. Something slimy was squirming under my foot. And I don't do slimy; I do blindly dash off into dark smelly places when I think there's something yucky after me. I got a distance away before I stopped in a panic, realizing stupidly that the scant light I'd had before had totally vanished, leaving me alone in the dark and horribly, nakedly vulnerable.

Thankfully, or unthankfully, I heard something moving - something breathing – off ahead of me. I'd been running (albeit for a very short distance), so I was breathing very loudly and the something heard me. I know that it heard me because seconds later, it was talking.

"Buenyadste, acktnetnov dfia?" Um. Shit? Yeah, shit. What the hell was it speaking? What do I do?

Suddenly the man – and although it took me a few seconds, I finally did realize that it was a man speaking and not a monster – growled softly. "Tlhark. Srtak," he said in a menacing voice. Oh shit! I couldn't speak the language but I knew damn well that was a threat!

Grandpa's voice from years ago filtered through my system. "Don't talk to strangers," he'd warned me. "You never know if he's a good 'un, or one of the suckers with a saber." The remark hit home. I took in a deep breath of air and turned around, starting to dash back the way I came, but rough hands grabbed me from behind and held. In about .2 seconds, my very bare back was shoved none too gently against a very tall man, who had one huge arm looped tightly around my waist and the other holding something sharp to my neck.

A terrified sob caught in my throat. Yup, he was a sucker with a saber. At least the man wasn't naked too. I didn't think he'd even realized I wasn't wearing anything, since he couldn't see me and was wearing a thick, leathery garment and gloves.

"Acktnetnov dfia," said the man, softly, menacingly, right against my ear. I was reminded terribly of the incident in the lunchroom. "Sty nigtrl abftrn…" he muttered, pressing the blade closer to my neck and tightening his hold on me.

"Please, please, I don't speak your language," I squeaked desperately. "Don't hurt me, don't hurt – oh god you can't even understand me! Shit, shit, shit!" I was breathing heavily, wheezing almost, and rambling – but the knife relaxed, as did his grip on me.

"An Anglix?" he said, his voice suspicious.

"Ahhh god, I'm s-sorry I'm not religious, just p-p-please – Ahhh shit, shit, shit! That d-damn hourglass!" I was stuttering now, actually stuttering. The man stiffened and released me and I toppled forward, no dignity.

I was ready to bolt but he struck a match or something and then he was holding up a torch to me, his eyebrows crinkled together in elegant confusion. In that moment, I got a good look at him and he got a good look at me – he was tall, buff, and wearing something totally messed up, and I was skinny, crouching, and wearing nothing at all – and you could see his eyebrows snap up past his hairline when that last fact clicked. He spun around so quickly and flung a gloved hand over his eyes so hard it made a smacking sound. The torch was still held over his head.

I'd decided, as terrified as I was, that I shouldn't run.

"Lady, I am sorry. I did not realize you were an Anglix, nor that you were –"

"Hold up," I squeaked, my voice hoarse and embarrassingly high-pitched. "You speak English?"

The man drew breath to say something else, but I beat him to it, my terror of him mostly gone even if the shock of actually being here hadn't worn off in the slightest. "Before you say anything, can I have some clothes? Please, uh, sir."

He twitched, shuffled uncomfortably. "I would walk you to the fortress, but that would not be appropriate, so – Miss, I can think of nothing other than sharing my own clothes, though pardon for I see how that might startle you – "

"Yes, please, and really, could you hurry?" I really didn't mean to sound rude, but I wasn't exactly concerned with that at this point. I mean, fortress? "Here, gimme the torch."

I plucked it out of his hand, still attempting to keep my exposed body a distance from his. He hesitated, then began to pull off layers of something that looked like, well, armor. Cloth armor. I watched in the dim light, curious despite myself.

After a couple of minutes, he was down to what I assumed were his usual clothes. He fussed with the front of a long, white shirt, finally managing to tug it off (there was an odd sort of undershirt underneath), and then held it behind his back. "Try this on," he said.

I took it. It was button up, and had quite a lot of frills for a guy's shirt. I peered suspiciously at the man, even as I slipped my arms inside. The sleeves dangled five, maybe six inches from the tips of my fingers. I rolled up the arms, then proceeded with the buttons.

It was, perhaps, the most ill fitting garment I've ever tried on. Although in this case, it was probably for the better, since it reached midway down my thighs, and the situation would probably get awkward if he needed to take off his pants, too. The man made a soft grunting noise, then cleared his throat. "Well, does it fit?" he asked.

"You could say that," I answered, clearing my voice a little, too. "If you usually wore circus tents."

"I may, uh, turn around now?" he asked. He didn't seem to realize an outfit usually consisted of top and bottom, and I'd kind of expected him to offer me some sort of leggings, but I was going to deny them anyway (for reasons stated above) so I didn't push.

I nodded, then realized that his back was turned, so I said yes rather reluctantly. After all, I was still scarcely clad.

He turned around and stared at me uneasily, then bent down to pick up the torch that I'd propped up in the hay. "Not a good place to leave this," he muttered to me.

"Oops," said I.

He stood up and we looked at each other for a few uneasy seconds, and then seemed to realize that something needed to be done.

"What is your business here?" he asked, breaking the silence.

I gave a sort of snort. "I don't know. I was gonna ask you, actually – I…" I trailed off, not sure how to explain my version of events. He raised his eyebrows.

"Miss, these are the royal stables. What are you really doing here, and – and how did you get in?" The suspicion was back in his voice.

"I… royal?" I paused, but let it slide. "I honestly have no clue. I just – well – I was doing homework, and then poof, very, very bad smell." I frowned, spun in a circle, and realized I didn't see any horses. What kind of royal stable doesn't have horses?

Then I caught sight of his face, which had a heartily disbelieving expression on it, on that slowly turned to anger. "Lady, you are leaving me with little evidence proving your innocence besides – goodness, could you be a watcher? Such customs were spoken of but I did not think the easterners would employ their women in positions of danger and - wait – lady, did somebody take you in here and, and – what happened to your clothes?" he finished. His look of anger was intensifying (though perhaps not directed at me), and I hastily shook my head.

"Uh, nobody raped me, if that's what you were asking, just, everything sort of disappeared. I was in my bedroom, and then I was here, and I'm not a spy, if that's what you meant, cause trust me, I've got no sense of sneakiness whatsoever." As I was speaking, I watched his face contort into many more expressions of bewildered outrage.

"You are trying to avoid punishment for trespassing, and I will not be fooled. Especially with such a poorly defense!"

"I'm not lying! I know it's impossible, but I'm really not! I was timing an hourglass, and – " He grabbed my arms and brought my wrists together behind my back.

"I do not trust you. I am taking you to the fortress, to consult with my father."

"What?" He began to steer me forward, holding my wrists with only one hand but it felt for all the world like steel handcuffs. I writhed in protest. "Hey, you can't – who are you, anyway? What right have you got to touch me?"

"You may keep your protests for later. You should know very well who I am, and I probably own you anyway, so – "

"What?! What the hell? I'm from America, land of the free! I own me, and I've got no idea who the hell you are, so leave me alone!!! And to think, I was going to forgive you for holding a knife to my throat!"

"We have mages who understand Anglix; do not presume that speaking the language will shield your lies. Act as crazy as you please, but you will be found out, lady; no woman such as yourself could – "

He opened a latch on a door I hadn't even noticed, and pushed me out into the open air. I choked on my own retort, realizing, finally, just how not in America I was right now.

A valley stretched out before us, glittering with frost even though the breeze was warm and gentle. In the distance was a gigantic, medieval-looking castle thing, with tall spires and metal gates and everything. Miniature horses were galloping over the fields, and tiny insect-like toucans zoomed around overhead. There was a moon in the sky, twice as large as the one I'd grown used to looking at, and it was glowing an odd color that I couldn't quite identify. The grass, too, seemed a bit off – too rich and long. It crunched underfoot. Things twittered behind us, and I peeked over my shoulder to catch sight of a hulking forest next to the giant fort-like barn I'd just been in.

"Oh, fucking hell," I whispered. "Grandpa, this is entirely your fault and you'd better bring me home right now."

Nothing happened, besides my realizing that the guy's face was inches from my own, his eyes trained on mine, his breath pleasantly stirring my hair.

"Who are you?" he asked again, his previously terrifying voice now a gentle murmur in my ear.

He hadn't looked that much older than me. And he was handsome, even though he had one seriously screwed up dress code. "Name's Kerry," I managed.

"Byron," he whispered. "And you have really never seen this country?"

"No shit, Sherlock" I said weakly. "Pleased to make your acquaintance." He didn't let got of me, but I began to feel a little bit less panicky and a little bit more hormonal.


Reviews welcome now!!! I admit, I literally jumped for joywhen I got those first four reviews - I've no idea how those other authors handle hundreds...In any case, if you review, it'll inspire me tospend more time on the nextchapter.