My mind is groggy when I wake up. Strange sounds coming from outside feel out of place, and the surface beneath me is firmer than usual. It takes me a full minute to remember where I am and what happened last night. A groan escapes me at the realisation.
I grab my phone and spend over an hour searching online, formulating a plan as I go. When I'm done, I have a new credit card on order, a new email address, train times, and accommodation being sorted for the foreseeable future. As much as I would love to stay in my cottage, it would be far too obvious a place for me to be. I will still be going to university, but under my new name. I'm lucky term starts next week.
A dull ache appears in my left arm, and I remember the poison. I inspect the cut and discover that my magic won't heal it either. For now, I'll just have to live with it and hope it heals naturally.
The next few days are spent doing further planning and purchasing. I transfer my money back and forth between multiple accounts online as a precaution until even I lose track of it. Every night is spent in a different hotel.
So many times I try to write a letter to my dad, but I just can't get it right. How do I tell him his wife allowed (and possibly ordered) an assassination attempt on their daughter? And, even though a letter is the best way to reach him without alerting my mum, how would a human girl named Ally Evers get a letter into the hands of a Topian king? Topia is a magical planet, after all, and humans aren't meant to know about it.
When I'm ready, I head towards Euston Station, stopping on the way for a croissant and a book. From there, I can get a train to most places in the country. It's not long before I'm on a train out of London. I'm not used to using proper transport; I'm used to flying or using portals to travel.
Watching the scene outside the window move from cityscape to countryside provides some form of comfort, despite everything. Once I've had enough of gazing outside, I begin to read my new book. I get swept up in an utterly ordinary story of love and friendship. For a while, I forget my troubles and am simply Ally Evers.
Eventually, the train stops and I depart. It doesn't take me long to find a taxi driver willing to take me to the university. It's a campus university, so the taxi driver drops me off at the main gates.
The buildings are even more beautiful in person. I explain my situation (my parents kicked me out, so I came here early with nowhere to stay) through an intercom by the gate and am directed to student services.
"Are you Ally Evers?" A man asks from behind a desk.
"Yes. I am."
"Okay. Just let me pull up your details." He types something into the laptop in front of him. I hold my breath. Has my new name been inputted to all British documents yet? Maybe I should've waited until I was expected here. "Ah, here they are." I release my breath. "It says here that you had accommodation arranged off campus, but the situation has changed."
"Yes. My parents pulled out of the purchase, so I don't have anywhere to stay anymore. Has a free room been found on campus for me?"
He types a few more things into his laptop "You are one incredibly lucky girl. Someone deferred entry only two weeks ago, so her planned accommodation is available. Are there any other issues I can sort for you now, or would you like me to take you to your room?"
"I do have another request, actually. If anyone asks any questions about me, I don't want them to be answered, and I want to be notified immediately. It doesn't matter who they say they are. I've had a bit of trouble from some people recently and would like to keep my distance."
"Of course." He smiles kindly. "We take the safety and happiness of our students very seriously here. I will notify the rest of the staff of your concerns and we will not disclose anything to anyone. Here is your student card and welcome pack." I accept the bundle he pulls out from behind his desk.
"Thank you so much. Can you show me my room?"
"Right this way, Miss Evers." He stands up and leads me out of the building. "You will notice that the campus is quite quiet and empty at the moment, but that will all change in a few days when the other students arrive. Feel free to explore the area and, if you have any questions, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a member of staff; a lot of us are on campus preparing for next week."
We walk past buildings and grassy areas. I see signs for lecture halls and libraries, spying bookshelf after bookshelf through large windows. Everything seems ordinary; a world away from the palace. Once upon a time it was all I wanted. But now it feels tainted.
We stop outside a small brick building. "Welcome to Ash House." The man swipes a card down the side of a keypad and pushes the front door open. "You will be in room 3. There is a living room, kitchen, and dining room on the ground floor. All the bedrooms are upstairs. This is where I leave you, but I wish you all the best during your time here."
"Thank you." I step inside my new home and close the door behind me.
A wooden staircase takes up half of the hallway I'm in. The walls are white and bare. Three open doors are visible as I begin to explore.
The first door opens up to a kitchen-dining room. There is a wooden dining table with four chairs organised around it. Ash House must be for four students, I think. Having a peep into all the kitchen cupboards, I discover plates, cutlery, and basic cooking equipment, but no food. I resolve to go shopping for supplies in the afternoon.
The next door leads to the living room. Two navy sofas are arranged facing a TV, with a coffee table in the center. There is a piece of abstract artwork hung above a fireplace.
Behind the final door is a tiny toilet.
When I go upstairs, sure enough, there are four bedrooms. There is also a decent bathroom. I push open the door to room 3 and am overcome by emotion.
I've successfully made it here. But now what? For the first time, I allow myself to feel emotional over the night of my birthday. I dump my bags and collapse onto the bed. The tears flow like a waterfall, gushing endlessly.
I think of my mum's betrayal and the likelihood that she's the traitor my dad spoke of. I think of the ball I never got to attend and the unopened presents. I think of my friends and how no one knows what happened to me. Liam was supposed to be here with me. This isn't even where I'm meant to be; I should be in my cottage. I feel hopelessly alone for the first time in my life.