On May 25th, I found out how not special I was. My two best friends? Heroes of some ancient faerie prophecy. Me? Not even an honorable mention.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
We were hanging out in the park when we spotted a fairy ring; a circle of mushrooms about ten feet across. It was the biggest fairy ring I'd ever seen.
"Let's go stand inside it," Thea announced, sun glinting off her long black hair, which went well with her dark eyes and light mahogany-colored skin. She was obsessed with faeries and the like, so this was not something that surprised either Hallie or me.
"Okay," Hallie and I agreed.
We all stood up, brushing ourselves off, and wandered over. One by one we gingerly stepped inside, being careful of the little mushrooms. We giggled like idiots, up until there was a rumbling underneath our feet. Chalking it up to an earthquake, we were about to step out when Hallie noticed something.
"Was that hill there before?" she asked, squinting. She was pale olive-skinned with dyed pink hair and brown eyes.
We looked and sure enough there was a large hill that hadn't been there before. At its base was a large, gnarled tree made of sickly gray wood, a few shriveled leaves clinging to its branches for dear life. Nothing else had changed except for the randomly appearing hill and tree.
Just as gingerly as before we stepped out of the ring and made our way over to the hill. We bypassed the creepy-looking tree and began climbing. As we crested the top, we were shocked to see what was on the other side. There was a copse of trees, though these looked much healthier. In the center there was a throne, on which sat a woman with impossibly long brown hair and ivory skin, clad in an elaborate green-and-gold gown. Surrounding the throne were what looked to be soldiers in armor.
"Walk," commanded a voice from behind us. We all jumped and spun around to find one of the soldiers standing behind us. The metal of the armor was dented and scuffed, the helmet shaped like a bird's beak complete with a mane of feathers. They held a silver spear in their hands. Impatient, they repeated with a nudge of the spear, "Walk."
Left with no other choice, we walked. The soldier escorted us towards the throne, where all eyes were on us. Once we got close, the soldier behind us grabbed me by the shoulder while one of the soldiers by the throne said, "That's far enough."
The woman eyed us from underneath her crown of branches and twigs and leaves, and from here I could see they were a warm, earthy brown like her hair. She smiled and said in a sweet voice, "Thea Brunwick and Hallie Stone. Come closer."
We looked at each other and Thea and Hallie stepped closer, leaving me with the soldier who kept their spear aimed at my back.
"How do you know our names?" Hallie asked hesitantly, hunched over in a subconscious sign of submission.
"We've been watching you for some time," the woman answered. "We believe you two are the ones spoken of in an ancient prophecy."
"What prophecy?" Thea asked curiously.
The woman gave a wave of dismissal. "That is not important right now. What matters is that I have an important mission for the both of you."
"Three of us," I corrected, immediately regretting it when the woman's eyes snapped to me.
"We're a package deal," Hallie confirmed.
The woman looked back at Hallie and Thea, dismissing me as if I were nothing more than an after thought. "She may join you if she wishes. It is no matter to me," she said with a shrug. "I am the Seelie Queen. There has been a recent spree of fae killings. Members of my court have been turning up dead. I want you two to investigate it and find the murderer, and bring them to me."
"What makes you think we're qualified for this?" Thea questioned, clearly the braver of us three.
The Queen's eyes twinkled as she smiled at some secret joke. "I think you will find yourselves more adept than you think."
"But," the Queen continued, "I would be remiss to not provide you any aide. I will assign you one of my guards for protection. He will serve you as faithfully as he serves me, this I swear." Without looking away from us, she said in a commanding tone, "Eryl."
The guard known as Eryl stepped forward and swept off his helmet. I was shocked to see a beautiful man who seemed no older than us. He had curly brown hair, a chiseled jaw, and the bluest eyes I'd ever seen. He knelt down before Thea and Hallie, a fist crossed over his chest. "I swear my fealty to you both. You will not come to harm under my care, this I swear," he said in a tone so serious I couldn't help but snort. He looked at me for the first time, and he looked at me just as dismissively as the Queen had. I was starting to feel insulted.
He returned his attention to Thea and Hallie, standing up. "Thank you?" Thea said awkwardly, not sure what else to say. Hallie looked just as uncomfortable by the whole thing.
"I am Eryl Brighthollow," he said with a bow of his head. Then he turned to me. "I don't believe I caught your name." He sounded like he didn't really care if he knew it or not. Too bad, because as long as he was with Thea and Hallie, he wasn't getting rid of me.
"Tracy Carson," I said, crossing my arms over my chest.
"Right." He looked less than impressed. Dick. "Our first duty of business is to go to one of the bodies and look for any clues as to the murderer's identity. Follow me." He tucked his helmet under his arm and began marching back towards the hill.
"Do we really get no say in this?" Thea asked as she, Hallie, and I fell into step behind him.
"You could have left at any time. We did not hold you captive," Eryl said as if that explained everything.
"We had a spear to our backs," I pointed out grumpily.
"You could have requested to leave," he countered. It felt like every word out of his mouth made me want to punch him more and more. Maybe it was the way he spoke with such authority and condensation, but he came across as a gigantic dick. Maybe I was just taking his dismissal of me personally.
"You might have made it more clear," Hallie complained.
"I apologize, my Lady," he said, and he almost sounded sincere.
"You don't have to call me that," she said uncomfortably.
"It is only appropriate. You and Thea are my superiors. It's a sign of respect."
"It's weird," Thea said, Hallie murmuring a noise of agreement.
"I apologize, my Lady."
Thea, Hallie, and I groaned. There was apparently no stopping him.
"Where is the body?" Thea asked.
"A couple blocks east of here. Not far."
Instead of leading us east, he led us back to the fairy ring. We all stepped inside it, and soon there was another rumbling underneath our feet. Then he led us east. It was a long walk, made even longer by Eryl's complete lack of small tack. Thea, Hallie, and I whispered among ourselves.
"Is this real?" Hallie said in a hushed tone.
"I'm not sure," Thea whispered.
"We can still run," was my input.
"What if he follows us?" Hallie pointed out.
"They said they've been watching us for a while now," Thea put in. "They probably already know where we live."
"This is so creepy." Hallie shuddered.
"Agreed," Thea and I chimed.
"What if we—"
Whatever Hallie had been about to say, it died in her throat once we saw the body.