The week flew by in a blur. Hollie spent time with her mom by going to see a romantic comedy in a theater near them. The day ended with a dinner at a cute bistro and dessert by the docks. When it was all over and Hollie was back with Lia and Deacon, her planning began. With the six days she had left, Hollie started thinking about what in the hell they were supposed to take.

Ana had skimmed the details and managed to flee before they could ask more questions or find a way to contact her. What were they supposed to bring? Clothes? Food? Could they find supplies wherever they stayed? More unfortunate than that, she only had what items she brought on their trip. She was nowhere close to having what she needed. One suitcase was too much for travel, and yet not enough all the same.

"What if it gets cold?" Lia asked, looking through her luggage. "We packed for Miami weather."

"Speak for yourself." Deacon grinned, pulling out a maroon zip-up sweater.

Hollie stared, dumbfounded. "Why do you have a sweater?"

"I get cold."

It was the only piece of warm clothing in his suitcase. Hollie noticed it was full of mostly cargo shorts and t-shirts. At least he brought boots for if they went hiking. Lia's suitcase resembled Hollie's primarily. Shorts, tank tops, and the occasional high heel or sneaker when they weren't barefoot, were scattered across her garments. Maybe they would get lucky. The weather could be scorching wherever they went.

There was a soft knock at the door. Hollie opened it to see a smiling Jocelyn, carrying bits of food precariously so nothing dropped. Alex stood behind her, two bulky coats in hand. Hollie didn't understand why coats seemed to be in abundance. Were they supposed to take a detour she wasn't aware of?

"Brought you some snacks," her mother said. "Wasn't sure how much you would need."

"How are you all getting to…wherever you're going?" Alex asked, laying the coats on the nearest bed.

"A friend of ours is down here, and we're taking her car," Hollie lied. She didn't actually know if a car would be involved or not. It was already a leap of faith trusting Ana. Hopefully they had somewhere to go. Now wasn't the time to be thinking of her overzealous acceptance though.

"Wherever you go, stay out of trouble," Alex told them. "I don't want to get a call from the police unless they want to tell me where my daughter is."

"We'll be good," Hollie assured him.

Jocelyn placed the snacks on the hotel desk, and then turned to face Hollie. "Call when you can. I'll answer no matter what time it is."

The two hugged, giving Hollie more doubts about this whole trip. She had to do it, though. It was too important to pass up. How was Sophie supposed to find her way home if she wasn't near home to begin with?

It was Alex's turn next. They hadn't spoken about last night, but no words would have been enough to say how much he was sorry, or how much Hollie hated seeing him in pain. He was as much of a father to her as he was to Sophie. Her own father was off on vacation in Germany, unable to attend the dreary memorial trip.

"Don't be gone long," Alex said, bringing her into a bear hug.

"I won't be," she said.

Jocelyn was finishing up her hugs with Deacon and Lia by the time Hollie started storing the food away. The two said their final goodbyes, reluctantly leaving the three to finish packing.

"Did you call your parents?" Hollie asked both of her friends, stuffing the last package of carrots into her duffel.

"They were at work. I told Louise to tell them I said hi, and that our trip would be a little longer than planned," Lia shrugged. Louise was Lia's housekeeper, and while Hollie liked the woman, it would have made her feel better to know Lia got to talk to her parents directly.

"What about you?" She asked Deacon. "Did they answer?"

Deacon shook his head, not bothering to look up. "They said they would be working extra hours this week."

Oh. "They'll have enough without you there."

"I'm already risking it by being gone this long. I'll have to skip out on the bike helmet until my next my two paychecks," he chuckled, zipping his bag close.

Hollie met Lia's gaze. "You know we could help you, right? You can't ride without a helmet that isn't cracked."

"I can wait," he said a little too quickly. "I'm sure Kenny enjoys not seeing me in his office for once."

As if she had expected him to accept the help. It wasn't in his nature to take it.

When everything was packed and ready to go, the three called a cab to take them back to the library. Jocelyn made sure to give her some extra money the night before for cab fare and anything else they might need. The evening sky was beginning to settle in place, pinks and purples spread over the sky like watercolors. They made a plan to stay for at least half an hour to see what Ana planned. If nothing, then they would spend a night somewhere, and come back saying their plans fell through.

Surprisingly, Ana was outside waiting in the back parking lot. They happened to see her when the cab pulled up to drop them off. She was alone, dressed in nothing more than jeans, flats, and a blazer. She carried few items, the most noticeable being a beige backpack. The three looked at each other quickly before walking toward her. Their surroundings seemed clear and Hollie was running out of ways to back out.

Ana looked away from her cell phone as they walked toward her. "I was wondering if you would show."

"Yeah, but we want some answers first," Lia piped up calmly. They had all talked about this beforehand. Hollie and Deacon stood quietly while Lia took the wheel. "Like where are we going?"

Ana wore a tight grin, her back straight. "Someplace far from here."

"We need more than that," Deacon added.

It was silent for a while. Ana eventually loosened up, giving them a worried look. "Do any of you have an aversion to water?" The three looked at each other, and then shook their head. Ana nodded. "Good. Just curious."

"If you're not going to tell us where your home is, will you tell us how you know what those lizard men are?" Hollie asked.

"I promise that all of your questions will be answered when we get there," Ana tried to assure her. "For now, we must get going."

"How are we traveling?" Deacon asked.

"With this," Ana said, pulling at her pendant necklace. Multi-colored gems surrounded a ruby stone, each one glittering from the fading sun.

"You really are crazy," Lia breathed, eyeing Ana suspiciously.

"Hold on to your luggage," Ana instructed, ignoring Lia's comment, "then hold on to me or each other. As long as someone is connected to me."

This was definitely not what Hollie expected earlier. She did as she was told, nonetheless, and waited until Lia held her hand, and Deacon held hers. Ana began fiddling with the necklace, rubbing her thumb along the pendant and little gems around it. This was the perfect time to tell if the whole set-up was nothing but a joke. She wasn't sure if they should expect a flying car to appear or what, but Ana obviously thought this was a legitimate way to call a cab. Or plane. From the vague answer she gave, it would seem like Ana lived on a far off island. But which island?

When Hollie was about to ask what her necklace was supposed to do, her vision began to blur. She didn't feel light-headed or nauseous, but it was as if she needed glasses after having near perfect vision all her life. The sky blended with skyscrapers and streetlights faded into sidewalks. The only thing stranger was that Lia, Deacon, and Ana remained as clear as ever. Lia and Deacon looked around, eyes wide and mouths shut tight.

"This is normal," Ana spoke up. "Stay connected to me."

"What's happening?" Lia asked.

"We're traveling," Ana said with a kind smile. Hollie caught a mocking tone underneath the sticky sweet words. "We should be there shortly."

Lia's hand tightened in Hollie's grasp. Hollie squeezed back, trying to comfort her. So this wasn't a lie. She wouldn't have to take her luggage back, filled with embarrassment and remorse. Sophie's disappearance had been unexplainable in a way. There was no way Jocelyn or Alex would believe this if she told them about it.

Their surroundings only got worse. Everything became one large, abstract painting. Hollie wasn't sure how they were standing when there was barely a ground to stand on. It felt like they were floating and not moving all at once. Cars disappeared and soon, everything was gray. A large, gray blob they couldn't escape from.

It was a stand still for a while. Ana clinging to her pendant while everyone looked around, searching for some kind of normalcy in Hollie's case. Hollie started to regain hope in their arrival when cracks of blue made their way into whatever void the four of them were stuck inside. That was when all that had faded out before began to fade into something new. Something unrecognizable.

There were varying shades of blue that became more visible, speckled with yellow and gray. A loud hum reverberated around them, bouncing off walls she couldn't see. It was slightly jarring to still not know where she was. This was far beyond a city she had never visited. The steady sound of chattering became more audible, sure, but it wasn't comforting. That could be anywhere. And what about the island? Where were they supposed to be?

The first thing to become clear—other than the people who surrounded her—was a tall, stone building they stood beside. It had to be fifteen stories tall, with a set of wooden double doors nearby. Next to appear was a grassy patch of land beneath their feet. Flowers practically popped into view, but nothing like any flowers she had ever seen. Petals with pinks and purples, blues and dark oranges, all of which were too luminescent to be real. The centers glowed with a brightness that made Hollie think it was more night light than plant. She was surprised the smell of them permeated through whatever fog they found themselves in. Mangoes and pears seemed to be what she could identify.

Everything faded into view after that and Hollie was very suddenly surrounded by a vast city. For miles there were people that intertwined through streets and other small buildings. Loud, train-like horns sounded off as people stopped to socialize or move about their day. Hollie and the rest seemed to be elevated compared to them, steps leading down toward the general congregation to their right. All in all, it would have seemed ordinary except for a few minor points that stood out, one in particular.

They were underwater.

Looking up and to each side of her, Hollie could see a fair amount of space before a barrier stood between them and the water. It was unsettling to watch types of fish—she presumed that's what they were—swimming just outside the city. Some were small, but easily visible from where she stood. Some were larger, more terrifying in substance. When she heard a booming roar that was so low it vibrated through her chest, she flinched. The animal that caused it swam overhead, larger than two jumbo jets put together. It swam gracefully with deft fins, twisting and turning through the water like it was air.

The city stretched out for miles, and she could see buildings in practically every direction, lights from farther off than should have been visible. The water's reflection found it's way onto almost every surface, dancing and waving in place as though they were visiting a zoo's aquarium. Only they were inside the tank instead of out.

"Where are we?" Hollie asked, not caring who answered.

"Welcome to Cydare," Ana greeted. "More specifically, Cardell."

"Where is that?" Lia looked to Ana. "Pacific? Atlantic?"

"The Luxor Sea," Ana corrected. "This is my home, not yours."

"What do you mean?" Deacon asked.

"Arcane," Ana smiled. "It never used to have a name, but word spread that the humans were calling it that around a thousand years ago. It stuck."

"Humans?" Hollie questioned. That implied there was more than one species walking through the streets below them. It did explain some of what she saw, though.

It wasn't just people with two arms and two legs. Not all of them were people, really. Some were human-like, but that was as far as the resemblance went. She could only see the major differences from where she stood, but some had four arms, some had horns, and some most definitely had holes. Craters where chunks of their stocky bodies went. The city was a melting pot of creatures and humans alike.

"Yes. I assure you they were not always born here. People still stumble into the stations at a constant rate." She gestured toward a grand structure off in the distance, the very same direction the train sounds came from.

"Wait," Deacon groaned, rubbing his forehead, "people just pop over here?"

"Unless you have one of these," Ana glided her fingers across the necklace she wore, "then you only come here by accident. And only leaders have these."

"How does that explain Sophie, then?" Hollie asked.

"We'll get to that shortly, I promise. Right now, we must go inside." Ana waved her arm toward the building they stood beside. A castle.

"Wait, why aren't we over at the stations?" Lia asked. "If that's how people get…here…then why are we…here."

"Necklace," was all Ana answered with. She began walking toward the wooden double doors, forcing Hollie, Lia, and Deacon to follow.

Immediately Hollie was shocked to see the expansive room they entered. The white marble flooring, pillars that touched the sky—or ceiling—and to top it off, a whole row of beautiful trees and flowers that extended down the middle of the corridor. To each side of the plants were doors that lead to places she could only guess. Three grand staircases stood at the end of the hall, statues at each railing's end. It was the only three she saw though. Getting to the other floors must not have been so extravagant.

"So, where are we going?" Deacon asked, looking around the castle entryway like Hollie had been. Like she still was.

"To see Samara. She is in the throne room. Mind your manners in her presence."

Hollie knew there shouldn't have been a reason to ask, but the question slipped out anyway. There was more than just a reminder behind Ana's tone. "Why?

"She rules over Cydare, of course. Samara is intelligent, kind, diplomatic—"

"You're gushing," Deacon smiled.

Ana rolled her eyes. "The point is: as a woman who has lived for five thousand years, she needs little excuse to remind you of why she was given the throne to begin with."

"What would she do? Throw us in a dungeon?" Deacon asked.

Ana grinned, giving a small shrug. "Probably drown you."

That was disconcerting.

"Wait, five thousand?" Lia looked ready to commit everyone. "How?"

"You wanted your answers, now be patient. They will come," Ana assured her.

What was it like to have lived for so long? How could she have lived for so long? Was she another creature born from Arcane? Ana had given them little time to process this new tidbit of information, so it didn't leave much room for her to be nervous. Though her hands still felt a little shaky. This was all so much.

They walked to the right of the middle staircase, opening two doors that ran as high as the second floor's edge. Every detail of the castle was so intricate, so thought out. She had never been to a place so beautiful before.

The throne room was nothing short of spectacular, walls made of stone and pillars that spiraled. At the end of the large room, two thrones stood close together atop a perch, a small set of stairs leading up to them. Unlike the gold she was expecting them to be, the thrones shone with a silvery gleam, complimenting the cobalt blue walls and green trimming of the room. Not surprising to see was a fish tank behind the grand chairs, filled with a variety of colorful, normal looking fish. Except the one with sharp teeth outside it's closed mouth.

Sitting on the throne to Hollie's left, and talking to a large, muscular man, was a breathtakingly gorgeous woman. Her hair was long and black, styled in tight spirals that cascaded down her back. Her skin was darker than Ana's, and with no blemish in sight. A fitted, crimson dress with intricate beading and jewel neckline clung to her body, hugging every curve of her hips and thighs. Tiny gems glared just by the corner of each eye, a mix of yellows and oranges. She looked like a flame in the ocean.

"Hello," she greeted, her voice deep and powerful. "Anamika, you did not tell me you were bringing guests."

"I'm sorry, my darling. I planned on telling you tonight, but they were very eager for answers." Ana practically skipped to Samara, sitting on the edge of Samara's chair, opposite the hulking man, wearing a bright smile. Her moods shifted so often it was starting to give Hollie whiplash.

"Answers?"

"They offered to help us with our problem if we helped them find their friend."

"We do not need their help," Samara said nonchalantly. "They have wasted their time."

Ana paused, licking her lips. "They found a Scorpos scale."

That got Samara's attention. Her eyes flicked between the group and Ana. "What do you mean?"

"I've seen it," she explained, smiling at the group. "They may be new to Arcane, but they are a determined bunch. We could use that."

Samara turned to Hollie and the group, an idle finger resting on her cheek. "What are your names?"

"I'm Hollie. This is Lia, and Deacon. We come from…earth." That sounded weird to say. Was that what they called it here?

Her scrutinizing gaze made Hollie's knees shake. "Explain this abduction to me."

"It was my younger sister who was taken," Hollie said, stepping forward a little despite her nerves. She tried to keep her head slightly bowed. "And we didn't see. We only heard what she told us. She said there was something in the mirror, something that wasn't technically in the room with her. When we got inside she was gone. I just want to find her, that's all."

There was a long silence, an unbearable pause that made Hollie unsure of whether Samara would accept their help or not. It was a long shot, especially if what Ana said was true. She was five thousand years old. Hollie was twenty-one. Lia was twenty-two. Deacon was twenty-four. They were specks compared to Samara. She really regretted asking Ana for help now. This could lead to something they were far from prepared for.

"Why should I help? My land is facing a far greater danger than a simple kidnapping." Samara paused, her features softening. "I sympathize with you. I do. I can only imagine what I would do if my dear Anamika was taken, but I have important issues to tend to. I cannot waste my time helping strangers."

"We don't have a lot to offer," Lia admitted, stepping forward to stand beside Hollie, "but Sophie is important to us. We took a risk trusting Ana and we took a risk coming here. And we'll take more risks if it means getting your help. We could really use it…your majesty." Lia gave a quick, tiny curtsy. It seemed more like an afterthought, but Hollie smiled at the attempt.

Deacon moved up to Lia's other side, making Hollie's chest swell with pride. She was glad they agreed to go on this convoluted trip with her. She couldn't have done it alone.

Samara examined them thoroughly, her eyes roaming over each one. Her fingers tapped repeatedly against the arm's edge. The air in the room felt tense, yet the three of them hadn't done anything. Only asked a question. Hollie had never felt so small in her life.

"They seem trustworthy, my darling," Ana stated, wearing a serious expression. "They only want the girl."

"Anamika, this is not the time to be trusting those we don't know. You were the one who told me that."

"But I have met them, and now I know them," she grinned. Ana ran a hand over Samara's. "If I am capable of trusting their intentions, don't you think they are worth a chance?"

Hollie watched silently as Ana's logic seemed to work its course on Samara. Hollie wasn't sure they could look anymore harmless than they already did. Should she slump more? Look smaller? No, that didn't seem right.

"Fine," Samara announced, standing up with a grace Hollie only imagined came with her age. "Kaiden, go back to your post. I'm taking our visitors to the library. If they're going to be of use, then they will need to be properly informed."

He gave a quick bow, his deep brown eyes staring at her with admiration. "Yes, ma'am."

Once he was gone, Samara glided down the steps, her dress flowing more behind her with each step. Ana, seeming more chipper by the minute, jumped off the chair's edge and led the way. Hollie, Lia, and Deacon followed without saying a word. They were already pushing their limits. The last thing they needed to do was have a misstep.

It was a long trip to the library. They passed many ornate hallways and expensive artwork, pieces she didn't recognize. Not that she had visited a museum of late. She always felt too busy with school or work to go visit one. A small part of her wished she had now. When they got closer to another set of double doors, with a fish tank built into the wall on either side, Hollie saw through the swimming fish that there was a large room that made the Miami library pale in comparison.

The doors swung wide open with a single push from Samara, revealing a black hole of books they could get lost in. The room was at least seven levels high, a dome topping off the room for about three of those levels. The entire left wall was nothing but thick glass, allowing them to see the ocean fully. Creatures of all kinds swam outside the window, some stopping at the glass while others continued about their business. There were four floors of nothing but wooden shelf after wooden shelf of books. A set of metal, spiral stairs to her right led up to each floor.

Wooden tables were spread throughout each floor, a large collection of them by the window on the first floor. As the five made their way toward them, Hollie looked up and noticed that they weren't alone. There was an open book on the second floor, the holder hidden behind its cover except for short, blonde hair peeking over the top. Besides them, the entire library was empty. Samara and Ana didn't seem to mind the extra person.

"Sit," Samara commanded. Hollie immediately found the first seat she could, Lia and Deacon sitting beside her. Ana took to a table top, close to where Samara stood by the window, looking out at the creatures swimming by.

"Cydare has recently faced an attack," Samara began. "It's been peaceful here prior to the intrusion. I intend to make sure there are no more threats to my land."

"Do you know who was behind the attack?" Deacon asked.

"His name is Dario Shaw, leader of the mountains north of here. He orchestrated the ordeal."

"Is he the one that took Sophie? The one who controls the Scorpos?" Hollie asked, leaning closer.

"No," Samara said, her features soft, "the only person I have ever known to possess Scorpos is Elias Caelan. He lives south of here in the _. He is the one you're looking for."

"But if Elias is who we want, and Dario is who you want, then how are we supposed to help?" Lia leaned back in her seat, watching Samara intently.

"Our problems may intertwine in ways that have not yet shown themselves," Samara explained. "Dario is who I want, but Elias could be a problem to me and my people. He is unpredictable, temperamental, unstable—"

"What's the connection?" Deacon asked unexpectedly, looking half in thought and half like he was listening. "How do you know them so well?"

"You knew you were going to have to tell them," Ana grinned, leaning back on her palms as she watched Samara. Hollie waited patiently for someone to explain what was going on.

Samara sighed, moving to lean on a table close to her. She looked hesitant, but began speaking anyway. "We were friends once. A group of five; thrust into a world of leadership we knew nothing about. Dario, Elias, Talon, Bredock, and myself knew each other for…much longer than you would understand."

"So what happened?" Lia asked.

Samara steeled her gaze. "Bredock died."

The room got quiet after that. Hollie closed her eyes briefly before they shot open again. That didn't seem right. She turned to Samara. "You're five thousand years old. I thought you couldn't be killed."

"To a degree, yes. We are granted immortality when we take the throne by the Overseers of Arcane. We cannot be ill, and we cannot age. A stab to the heart will not do damage. A beheading, however, does tend to do the job. An Overseer could kill us. If you are bound to someone, and they are killed, then you will die as well."

"Bound?" Deacon asked.

"It's like marriage in our world, only more severe," Ana explained. "A ruler and their beloved can bind together if both parties consent. It's a safety precaution for the leader as much as a ceremony celebrating the love between two people. The catch is if one dies, so does the other. It helps prevent anyone from trying to sabotage everything from the inside."

"No one ever tried to kamikaze the place?" Lia lifted an eyebrow, her arms crossed over her chest.

Samara seemed confused by the term, but Ana clearly understood. She appeared almost uncomfortable at the thought. "I have only heard of it happening once or twice in the past. Most people are not willing to risk their life."

Hollie couldn't imagine what it must have been like to wonder if your bed partner was planning on taking your head off. She looked between Ana and Samara. "Are you two bound?"

Ana's tiny smile was all the answer she needed.

"Back to the story though," Deacon added. "Bredock died, and then what?"

"We drifted apart," Samara shrugged. "I was the last one to see him before his death. The rest became paranoid and our trust was shattered. They believed I had something to do with it. That I killed my friend. As if I could kill someone who was a part of my central being for thousands of years."

"How long were you all friends?" Hollie was having a hard time grasping the concept of being around Lia and Deacon for that many years.

"Since I took the throne five thousand years ago," Samara said. "I was a friend to Bredock first. Dario took his throne shortly after. We met Elias four thousand years ago, and then Talon after that. We were a strong alliance to other lands. No one dared bothered us. But, after so many years of watching our back, even our friendship could not save us from mistrust. When Bredock died…we broke."

"That doesn't make sense. That's years of trust and it just vanished?" Lia asked. "All it took was someone pointing their finger?"

"You see a lot when you never die," Samara explained. "You would not understand."

"It sounds like your epic friendship wasn't as strong as you thought," Lia mumbled.

Samara's eyes narrowed. "You would know? You know what it's like to have a part of yourself die, and watch as the rest go with it? I still feel their absence. As ruler of Cydare, I cannot risk the safety of our people or myself for a friendship. Ana and I do not like being separated from them. They were a defense against outsiders as much as our friends, but if they intend to hurt our people, then I will do what must be done."

"So what do you want us to do? We can't…kill," Hollie told her. Samara couldn't really expect them to kill Dario and Elias. Even if Elias was the one to take Sophie, she couldn't behead him. She shivered at the mere thought of it.

"If we do not kill them, then they will kill us. It is as simple as that."

Hollie put her head in her hands. This was not what she signed up for. All she wanted was a quick in and out trip. She wasn't supposed to be planning someone's murder.

"Take Elias first," Ana said, her tone disheartened. "Save your sister. Dario will not attack again until he finds a way to make a more lasting impression. Elias is not so conniving. If he is to be trouble, he will cause mayhem when he chooses."

"Okay, so point us in the direction we need to go," Lia shrugged. "We can figure out something as we go."

"It's not that simple," Ana said.

"It never is," Deacon sighed.

Ana grinned. "There are other ways to kill someone besides beheading. Ways involving magic."

"Of course," Lia deadpanned.

"A dagger was forged long ago in hopes of eliminating the threat of immortal beings. Before it could be mass-produced, the warlock who created it was killed by one of the great leaders of our time."

"It's magic though. As long as you have magic you can make more," Hollie mused. "My guess from looking around here is that you aren't at a shortage for that."

"The incantation died with the warlock, as did the level of magic required for it. It takes a strong wielder to produce an item capable of killing someone who cannot be killed. Only the one dagger remains now, and you can use it to kill both Elias and Dario without the need for gruesome decapitation." Ana smiled, looking quite proud of herself.

"So where's the dagger?" Deacon asked.

"In Parandor, just at the surface of Cydare. Talon holds it within Alnor's walls," Samara explained.

"I thought you had a falling out with him, too," Lia said.

"He is the only one I have kept a tentative alliance with, even if we are not on speaking terms. I don't invade his land if he doesn't invade mine. He has kept his side of the bargain, I have no reason to dispose of him."

"How kind of you." Lia grinned tightly.

"You would think so if you knew her better," Ana giggled.

"Do we still have an agreement?" Samara asked, not bothering with everyone's remarks.

"Honestly, it sounds like you would have better luck with someone else," Hollie pointed out.

"You are not my first choice. The other lands don't want to get their hands dirty, so I have only my soldiers and you three. If you are still up for the challenge, that is."

Hollie rubbed her forehead. This was all so much to take in. What choice did she have though? Maybe she didn't know what they were really getting into, but she couldn't navigate this place on her own. What if Elias was scarier than Samara? With creatures like those pictures she saw, she had no doubts that he was. She didn't want to face him alone.

"Yeah. We'll help however we can," Hollie sighed.

Hollie didn't expect Samara to give them a warm smile. She certainly didn't expect the gentle kiss to the forehead either. Hollie's brows furrowed as Samara did the same, slow motion to Lia and Deacon. They looked as confused as she felt.

"Then you will need help finding your way," was all she said.

"Connor!" Ana called, smiling up at the second floor. She looked at the boy hidden behind his book. He didn't move.

"Don't be shy. Say hello to our guests," Samara coaxed.

Hollie was expecting to see a younger boy, but it was easily a man in his early thirties who finally put the book down. He stood up, trotted down the stairs with a confidence that didn't match the sweet tone the other two women used with him. Now that he was closer to them, Hollie could see how his simple gray t-shirt clung to a thin frame, his pale arms riddled with lean muscle. He had dark blue eyes that watched them carefully, and lips that tightened into a forced smile. She waited for him to extend a hand, but he kept wiping his palms over his jeans. No wonder he was hidden behind a book earlier.

"Our guests will be travelling to Alnor the day after tomorrow," Samara explained to him, "and they will need a guide."

"I was afraid you'd say that," he mumbled.

"Connor can protect you from any dangers you may face," Ana beamed. "He's one of the best fighters we've had in a long time."

"I don't know about that," Connor blushed, shaking a hand at her.

"You bested me with an axe," she shrugged. "No one has done that for years."

"I got lucky," he said very seriously.

"You practiced," she assured him.

Connor sighed, turning to Samara and the other three. "I'll be ready by then."

"Good. Perhaps you can take our guests to their rooms on the seventh floor as well?" She turned to Hollie and the rest. "Relax and enjoy your stay tomorrow. You have a long journey ahead. If you need me, I shall be in my quarters for the night, and the throne room for the rest of tomorrow. Come, Anamika. We need our rest."

Ana grinned, hopping off her spot on the table to take her place beside Samara. She took the other woman's hand gently, intertwining their fingers as they glided across the room. Once they were out of the room, Hollie turned to Connor, who refused to look any of them in the eye.

"Follow me," he instructed, marching to one of the doors just off in the corner.

The four of them travelled up seven flights of stairs, then walked down a long and winding corridor fit with luscious green plants and detailed trim. They stopped at the end of the hallway and let Connor open the door for them. The room was spacious, with two full beds placed on one side, and a floor-to-ceiling window of the city adjacent to them. The city was splayed out before them, a flurry of activity. A sofa, armchair, and glass table sat in the corner, the sofa's back against the window. It was a cozy room, one she hadn't expected to stay in. She felt more at ease knowing they weren't being sent off to their doom the next day, but now she wasn't going to want to leave.

"Breakfast is at eight," Connor said, his hand on the doorknob and one foot out the door. "It's all food you're used to, I promise."

"Thanks," Lia said, dropping her bags by the closest bed. She paused. "What food aren't we used to?"

"Mostly fish that only Cydare has. Probably some meat brought in from Parandor. Everything else you should know. Anamika and I still like earthly products."

"You transferred?" Deacon asked, putting his stuff on the far bed.

"Transferred?" Connor questioned, his face all scrunched together.

"Yeah, uh, from earth. Not born here," Deacon clarified.

"Right, right. Yeah, fell here I dropped, and—" he paused, his lips shut tight before slowly continuing, "I got here accidentally. I was at the grocery store, grabbing a loaf of bread, when I was suddenly surrounded by water. If a fisher hadn't swum by, I wouldn't have known left from right."

"Sounds scary," Hollie commented. One minute deciding between white and wheat, the next fighting for air. She would take the after work crowd any day in comparison.

"You could say," Connor muttered.

"Is everyone's trip different? Ours wasn't so…violent," Lia said, plopping down on the bed.

"You came by choice. Few get that option," he said. "The necklaces are a much kinder form of transportation."

"Can you leave?" Hollie asked. "Are you stuck here?"

"Not entirely. I can go back, but it costs more than I can afford. I haven't accumulated that many coins yet."

"Sounds like a scam," Lia noted. "Can't Samara and Ana pull some strings for you?"

"No special treatment," he answered, giving a slight shrug. He saw the clock and seemed more anxious to leave than he already was. "I need to sleep."

Connor struggled to find words for what she presumed was a goodbye, but he never did find them, and he left promptly after that. Lia chortled, and Hollie couldn't help joining in. The guy seemed harmless enough. He would be an interesting companion. It was hard to imagine him as much of a fighter though. How he bested Ana was beyond her.

"This doesn't feel real," Deacon laughed, laying back and staring at the ceiling. "I shouldn't be happy right now, but I'll be damned if I can't stop smiling."

"I know. We're far from home, in a place that shouldn't exist, and Sophie is still missing. Sounds great," Lia deadpanned.

Hollie slowly took a seat beside Lia. "I know Sophie's not here, but it is kind of nice. There's something kind of extraordinary about it, don't you think?"

"Apparently I'm the only one who doesn't," Lia retorted. She pulled the covers out and buried herself in them. "Shouldn't we be more wary of them?"

"No one said we weren't," Deacon added, putting his hands behind his head. "We're just smelling the roses."

"We are doing something. As long as we keep moving forward, I don't see why we should go crazy worrying over what we don't know," Hollie stated, pulling the covers over herself as well. They could end up being in Arcane for weeks. She didn't want them all to lose their sanity in the process.

"I guess," Lia murmured, rolling over to her side. "It just feels weird."

"I know," Hollie said.

"Hey, guys?" Deacon spoke up.

"Yeah?" Hollie and Lia answered in unison.

"How do we turn the lights off?

"How should we know?" Lia shot back.

"You know what, never mind. I got it."

Hollie watched Deacon lumber out of bed, wandering around the room for a good five minutes before touching a button, turning the lights off and casting the room in a blue glow. He stumbled back to bed, flopping down stomach first onto the sheets. She smiled, staring out of the window until she began to feel her eyes droop. She was sure it would all hit her at once sometime, but right now, dealing with a whole new world seemed too surreal to react over it. How could she argue with what was right in front of her? She pinched herself, making sure it wasn't a dream. Nope. Still awake. Still in Arcane.

Still unsure of how she was going to pull this off.


A/N: Pretty much unedited, so excuse any mistakes.