Chapter One

Arrival

My purple eyes had always been my least favorite part about me. They got me branded as a witch, and the worst thing about it, was that I wasn't. It would have been slightly less humiliating if I could cast a curse on whoever made fun of me, but I was defenseless.

I pulled my covers up to my chin and sighed. I, Lacey Moore, was a freak, and that would never change. I would forever be an outcast. It is a depressing thing to face, but it's true. It became clear to me at a young age I would never be treated as normal. Not in this town, anyway.

I fell asleep; not knowing my life would soon be changed forever. For better, or for worse.

***

"Where am I?" I whispered, looking at the flowers, listening to the cheery songs of the cluster of birds nearby. In all my seventeen years, I had never seen anything so beautiful.

"I was hoping you would know." A young girl with long blonde hair said. "None of the others do, although Dermont thinks we're dead."

I reacted in the most reasonable way there was. I screamed.

The girl came closer and tried to hush me up, but I was so freaked, I could barley understand what she was saying.

"Calm down. I won't hurt you. It will all be okay." She uttered the reassurances with absolute belief in them. She actually thought everything was fine.

I frantically glanced around, looking for an escape. It was useless. The meadow was endless, but I managed to convince myself I would eventually find a way out of here if I ran long enough.

Springing up, I sprinted through the thick grass, and tumbled on loose roots that tried to trip me.

"Come back!" The girl called. I kept going, running so hard and far, I thought my lungs would burst. Get away from her, was the only thought in my head.

When the meadow finally ended, I was standing at the edge of a forest. It was dark and scary, but hearing the strange girl coming up behind me, I ran into the cluster of bare, wooden skeletons.

Who knew what she would do to me, where she would take me. I couldn't let myself get caught. I had read enough books and seen enough movies to suspect she was some sort of devil wanting to steal my soul or something. The thoughts of what she would do to me shot through my head like bullets.

Eat my flesh.

Maybe she worshiped a demon and was going to feed me to it.

She could be a vampire! A bad one!

Maybe she wants to strengthen herself by stealing my dreams and slowly driving me insane.

What if this is a dream? The thought was rational, the last thing I remembered before this was falling asleep, but I kept running. This didn't make sense now, but I had always sort of believed in vampires and magic and things like that. If this really was one of those situations I had read about, where people were kidnapped by non-human beings, then I would regret slowing down and becoming the blonde girl's prey.

I pushed on, eager to get out of the forest. It had gotten even darker and the ground was getting wet. Mud tried to swallow my feet as I crashed through the thick undergrowth of what I had named, "The Forest of Gripping Branches."

I heard the trickle of a stream and thought, man, I'm thirsty!

Shaking my head, I jumped over the small creek and kept going. I couldn't stop, I had to keep going, but I was so tired.

I had no idea how long I had been moving; I knew it had been a while. My feet were sore and my throat was dry, but I couldn't let those things weaken me. Keep going.

Suddenly, I burst through the last of the trees, only to find myself at the edge of a cliff. I teetered precariously on the rock wall. I took a quick step back, bumping into someone. Whirling around and backing up, I almost fell off the cliff again.

A lanky boy with wavy light brown hair and hazel eyes reached out and pulled me away from the edge. "It would be a long way down." He murmured quietly, so quietly I thought he might be talking to himself.

I looked over the side, and he was right. It must have been at least forty feet high, but the important thing was, it had lots of ridges and cracks. I could climb down and escape!

Then what? I looked beyond the cliff to see nothing but a short stretch of sand, the rest was water… kind of.

It looked enough like water to convince me that that's what it was, but parts of it were glittered with fluctuating color.

It was unnatural. It was beautiful.

"This is my favorite part about this place." The boy said dreamily, looking out at the ocean of rainbows. "We call it-"

He was cut off when the girl from the meadow burst through the forest behind him and rushed up, panting heavily.

"Gosh, you run like a cheetah!" Her chocolate eyes were wide. "I thought I had lost you. This world might be little, but it's very easy to get hurt."

"This world?" I asked, hoping she would start laughing and hidden cameras would show themselves and she would explain I had just been pranked on some big show or something like that. Unluckily, she just solemnly nodded her head.

"We think so." Her eyes lit up and she thrust out a hand saying, "I'm Edlyn."

I stared at her hand, then at her face. She looked nice, but you never can be too careful. "Lacey." I nodded at her. After a few moments she dropped her hand.

"I'm Collin." The boy said. He was looking at the ground when he said it so his quiet tone was even softer. Collin's shoulders were hunched in a way that told me he was uncomfortable. I smiled at him, even though I knew he wouldn't see it.

I didn't feel threatened around him like I did with Edlyn. The fact that he was so unsure of himself made me believe he was harmless; I knew I would later find out just how wrong I was. It always happened like that. The weakest turns out to be the strongest.

I looked over the side of the cliff again. Collin and Edlyn were far enough away that I could jump off the ledge without them catching me. And they were far enough apart that I could run in between them back into the forest without them catching me. Of course, both situations depended on them being human and not having superhuman reflexes.

"Please just let us explain." Edlyn pleaded. "We are just as confused as you."

"Yeah, right." I said, my mind weighing the two options I had. Jump and risk breaking your neck, but possibly saving yourself from vampires, or run and risk getting caught.

Run. I am going to run.

That moment I sprung forward and dove for the opening between Collin and Edlyn. I got pass them and sprinted back into the woods.

I could feel my long black hair slipping out of its usual ponytail. Oh well, I sighed.

I was knocked to the ground as Collin proved he was stronger than he looked.

He stood up and pulled me with him. He didn't try and pin me down or anything like that. He just held my hand, and wouldn't let go.

Edlyn came up to us and pleaded with me. She begged me to understand that no one would hurt me and everything would be fine. Only I knew it wouldn't.

I was in a strange and creepily beautiful land held captive by two possible monsters. What could be worse than that?

Just as I thought it, a third person stepped out from the underbrush. A short boy with brown hair that reached his shoulders.

"Hey mom!" Did he just call this girl mom? They looked to be the same age. He smiled and looked at me. "Who's the newcomer?"

"Oscar, this is Lacey. Lacey, this is Oscar." She waved a hand each of us as she introduced me.

"Hi, Lacey!" He stepped forward and tried to hug me.

I pushed him down and tried to run away, only he grabbed my ankle. I face planted into the soil and kicked against his grip.

It was stupid to try and flee. Collin was still holding onto my hand, and I had taken him down with me.

"Just wanted a hug." Oscar muttered as he brushed himself off.

"Let me explain." Edlyn urged.

"Fine." I had tried running away too many times, and failed. It was time for a different strategy.

"We should get back to the others-" Collin tried speaking, but Edlyn was already talking.

"We all arrived over the course of several months. First there was Azurite, and then came Oscar, then me, then Collin, next Vivianne, and lastly Dermont. Well, until you came. Now you're the lastly." She smiled and continued. "We all arrived in the meadow, well, except Azurite; no one knows where he arrived."

Oscar jumped in, "And we found this really cool mansion that was there before any of us came, and in one of the cabinets there was a map!"

"A map?" I asked, interested.

"A map of where we are, it's called the Otherlands." Edlyn clapped a hand over Oscar's mouth so she could speak. "The place we were in before you ran is called The Meadow of Heaven on Earth." I could see why that was, it had been beautiful. Although I'm not quite sure if we're on Earth anymore. "You ran into The Dark Forest. Next, you came out onto the cliff and looked out over the Sea of Colors and Wonder."

"Oh." Was all I said.

"You're lucky you didn't run the other way." Collin said quietly, like always.

"Why?" I inquired.

"You would've stumbled into the Valley." He blinked and looked up. "The Valley isn't so bad, but beyond that…" He trailed off.

"What's beyond the Valley?" I frowned.

"First is the Desert of Death!" Oscar began. "A desert so dry-" He paused, trying to think of something to compare it to. Getting nothing, he moved on. "Next is the Frozen Plains, it is supposed to be so cold that it can get up to negative bazillion at night!"

"The last realm is the World of Fire." Edlyn said quietly. "None of us have seen it before, but the map shows there are volcanoes, lots of volcanoes."

"Earlier, you said this world was small," I began.

She nodded. "It is. This entire space is surrounded by a fence. On the other side, there is nothing." Edlyn said.

"Nothing as in nothing worth our time, or nothing as is nothing." I asked.

"Nothing as in nothing." Oscar clarified. "The map calls it The White Space of Nothingness."

"We should get back." Edlyn said. "The others might get worried."

Oscar snorted. "Please! When do they ever get worried about anything?"

"Come on." Edlyn took the lead, Oscar trotted next to her.

"So," I asked Collin, "do you guys just graze on the grass from the Meadow or do you have actual food?"

"There are wells-" He was cut off when I took his chin and tilted his head up.

"Look at me when you're talking." I said. "It's polite and the only way I can hear you."

"There are wells scattered randomly around the Otherlands, you cast down a bucket, pull it back up, and it's filled with food." He looked back at his feet as soon as he was done talking. I thought I heard him whisper something like, "delicious food," but it could have just been my imagination.