Chapter 11 — Matt

"What took you so long? I have Westin's address, and school's out today."

"Thought I might snoop Carl's computer."


"Nothin'. Kid's got it locked up tight. We'd need an expert."

"Given his father's occupation, I doubt we'd ever get into it. Did he ever come home?"

"Never showed. I watched that front door all day and night."

"Well, start driving. Chief wants an update in person before we head out again."

"Kid's gotta come home sometime."

"I'd rather follow the solid suspect than a murky one we can't find."

  A day off. I’d forgotten what they were like. Days off weren’t exactly common on the other side. There was always way too much to do. I never got a chance to just cool off for a day. Now, I was eager to enjoy some actual rest and relaxation—but my anxiety wasn’t about to give up the high ground. We had a three day weekend, which I should have been looking forward to, but after Jen’s apparent breakdown the night before, I was really worried about my Friday afternoon.

  She’d come home from Sara’s and locked herself in her room for the night, not giving more than a single word to me or Mom. By the time I woke up Friday morning, she was already gone, headed out to God-knew-where. I called her cell phone from the house phone, but got an “out of range” message. I assumed she’d turned it off.

  I knew she could take care of herself. I wasn’t really worried about her physically. But mentally? Emotionally? She was obviously unstable. I couldn’t stop thinking about what might happen to her, or to anyone around her.

  There wasn’t anything I could do, as much as it pained me. I had to believe in her for now, because whatever had happened last night, whatever happened at Sara’s house, I couldn’t see any way it wouldn’t come up on our date today. I had to get ready for that.

  I was going on a date today. A first date with a girl I’d had a crush on for years and years. Apprehensive was a pretty good word for how I felt.

  So, of course, when Sara knocked on our front door, I pulled it open just a little too eagerly.

  “Uhh, hi,” she said, small fist frozen in midair.

  “Hi.” I smiled, hoping it would break the ice a bit. To my relief, she smiled in return, although hers was a bit more guarded. I wasn’t sure what it meant, but I just chalked it up to her own nervousness. I definitely felt nervous, why wouldn’t she? “Want to head out?”


  Sara followed me to the garage, and moments later, I was backing down the driveway, the truck positively purring as we rumbled away. Or so I wanted to believe; in reality, it probably sounded as terrible as ever.

  “So, you hungry?” I asked, as I pulled out onto the main road.

  She rolled down her window and let her hand dangle out in the wind. “What’s on the menu?”

  “I was thinking pizza.” I caught a wince out of the corner of my eye. “What, not a pizza fan?”

  “No, I love pizza. It’s just… we had it last night, actually.”

  “Oh. Okay.” I had to wonder again what happened last night, but it wasn’t the right time to ask. “Well, are you in the mood for anything?”

  “...No, not really.”

  “All right then.” I was trying to stay cheerful. She really wasn’t giving me much to work with for conversation. Meanwhile, my mind raced through topics I’d usually bring up in a situation like this, where I wanted to impress or flatter a girl. Stuff I was used to talking about.

  It didn’t help one bit. I gave up and landed on nothing.

  “Where are we heading?” Sara asked, breaking the awkward silence.

  “Well, after food, I hadn’t really decided. Want to go see a movie?”

  “Actually, would it be cool if we spent some time outside? I’ve really been feeling cooped up. Maybe a walk in the park?”

  I felt a chill roll down my spine, as if I somehow already knew exactly what she was about to say next. I couldn’t see any way around it though. It was inevitable, unless I wanted to just call the whole thing off now.

  “Sure. Sounds good.”

  “Cool. Ever been to Cyraveil Park?”

  The chill became solid ice, and yet I kept talking like it was perfectly normal. “A couple times, I think.”

  “Shall we?”




  Why on earth did I actually agree to this?

  A fifteen minute drive later, and we were at the edge of the forest, driving down that same fateful route I’d taken Tuesday night. At least the conversation had gotten lighter after that; some good-natured teasing and talking about movies, and we were actually starting to bond. I was surprised to learn she was an avid cook too, same as me. I took that as a real success, something great we had in common.

  Fate, of course, had no intention of letting us enjoy the rest of the afternoon.

  I don’t actually believe in fate and destiny. I hate the idea of not being in control of my own life. Even if plenty gets chalked up to luck, at least I can make choices and steer my own free will. But that Friday, of all the days in my life, was the closest I came to believing the universe really had it out for me.

  Our conversation took a bit of a lull while we enjoyed sharing a park bench in the sun. We were still way out on the edge of the forest, where the trees and foliage weren’t so thick. I decided I might as well get at least one answer out of Sara, to calm the fears still bubbling away in the recesses of my brain.

  “So, and tell me if I’m breaking a rule or something here, but weren’t you and Jen supposed to hang out today?” I asked, trying to stay casual.

  Sara watched a leaf twirl down from a nearby tree. Her dark, thoughtful eyes tracked it all the way to the ground before she finally answered. “Yeah. Jen called me this morning though, said she had something important to do. Nothing to worry about, just something.”

  Which, of course, only made me more worried. Jen breaking her routine, missing spending time with her best friend, was definitely something to worry about. Sleep clearly hadn’t done anything to help the pain from the night before.

  She wasn’t getting better.

  “Didn’t have a fight or anything, did you?” I asked, acting like it was a joke—though I actually hoped that was the real answer from last night. A fight between Jen and Sara wasn’t unheard of. That was something we could solve.

  “Nope.” Sara stood up, stretching out her arms. She yawned—which I found strangely adorable—then pointed at a trail peeking out between two trees, one leading much deeper into the forest. “That looks like it could be fun.”

  I disagreed wholeheartedly, but I shrugged. “Lead the way.”




  “So you’re saying you’ve never watched a single episode?”

  “I’m not really a TV guy.”

  “Oh man. I’m bringing over all the DVDs then. You’ll love it.” She shook her head in mock disgust. “Not one episode. Horrible.”

  “That sounds nice. Let’s make a whole day of it. I’ll cook up something special.”

  “Mmmm.” Sara licked her lips exaggeratedly. I laughed. She grinned back—then promptly tripped over a tree root.

  In an instant, I closed on her, sweeping one arm under her chest and gently catching her. She never came close to falling down.

  I felt my heartbeat quicken. The thick forest seemed to surround us, like we were the only two people around for miles. All I could hear was the birds chirping and the wind rustling through the leaves, and all I could see was Sara’s face as she twisted in my grip, eyes wide. I could feel her body moving as she took sudden, deep breaths, still in the midst of reacting to falling.

  I didn’t want the moment to end, me holding her like that, but I felt like I was already overstepping. I helped her up and let go, stepping back to let her catch her breath.

  As she relaxed again, she smiled. “That was your moment, Matt.”


  “Shouldn’t’ve let go.” She turned away. I cursed under my breath. “Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll get another.” She steadied herself, then continued walking, heading deeper into the forest.

  Maybe I would’ve gotten that moment, too, if it weren’t for what I spotted between the trees. I’d turned to look away for just a second. I wasn’t familiar with this area of the woods, and I wanted to get my bearings, figure out where we were. When I looked back toward Sara, I saw her.

  She flitted through the trees ahead, clad in a green jacket and dark pants. She wore a hood that mostly concealed it, but some of her dark brown hair still spilled out onto her clothes. Over her shoulder was a strung longbow, and on her back was a quiver of arrows. Her face, which turned to meet mine for only an instant, was clearly my sister’s.

  Jen’s eyes widened. I’m sure mine did too. I wasn’t sure what to do. I couldn’t call out to her, not with Sara so near. What was Jen doing out here? Where did she get a bow? Questions were exploding in my head like fireworks. I had to do something before Sara spotted her.

  A single nod. I tried to put as much meaning and emphasis behind it as I could. I wanted to tell Jen I accepted this. Give her some kind of comfort. To my relief, after the briefest hesitation, Jen returned my nod.

  A second later, she disappeared into the woods once again, as thoroughly and silently as only an elven-trained huntress could.

  I stared after the spot where she’d vanished, hoping she’d come back home someday, but not really sure if she ever truly would. Hoping that we’d actually talk again, like we used to.

  “You saw her too, didn’t you?” asked Sara.

  Any hopes of returning to our date were dashed. I sighed. I didn’t see any point in denying it anymore. “Yes.”

  “She’s kind of crazy to be out here hunting, isn’t she?” Sara spoke so calmly, so benignly, that I was completely stunned. “...Sorry to spring this on you, but yeah, I know.”

  How was I supposed to respond to that? “Jen told you?” I hadn’t meant to sound so accusatory, but there it was. I was angry.

  “Don’t you dare get on her case,” she snapped. “She was going to crack if she didn’t talk to somebody.”

  “She still might,” I murmured.


  “She came home a wreck last night,” I said. My eyes narrowed slightly. If we were going to have this conversation, I was going to get answers. Whatever might shed light on Jen’s condition, so I could actually get her some help.

  “Oh…” Sara’s eyes shimmered slightly. “I don’t know what happened. We were fine, right up ‘til dinner. Then Jen… snapped? I don’t know, really. She got super defensive and twitchy during dinner, then ran out the back door when we were done. She seemed like she might attack someone.”

  I paused, trying to consider exactly what to say next. “How much did she tell you?” I asked slowly.

  “A lot, but I’m guessing that with seven years behind you guys, there’s no way she could have told me everything.” She spoke so matter-of-fact. I was seriously unsettled. Her voice fell as she went on. “She told me that only three of you came back, too.”

  A complex mixture of emotions was springing forth, betrayal and rage and fear and a whole host of others I couldn’t name. I had to force them away for now. Sara knew. I had to deal with that now. There was nothing to do to take it back. It was time to get more information. Whatever she knew, she knew, and I would figure out where to go from here.

  “Did she say what she went through?”

  “Lived with Sylves for six years, completely cut off from people, got into a huge war, only found you guys again way later. Is that about right?”

  I nodded. “Mostly. But Jen went through a lot worse stuff than we did.”

  “Like what?” she asked. She was direct, which was one of those traits I’d always liked about her. No beating around the bush. Straight to the point. I decided to tell her the rest. She already knew more than enough to damn us; better she know everything so she knew what to look out for. Maybe she could help Jen where I couldn’t do anything.

  “She was captured,” I answered. My voice caught as I tried to continue. I swallowed a few times, clearing my throat. Even now, way after the fact, it was still painful for me to describe, even though it hadn’t happened to me. “She was tortured. Forced to fight, I think. I’ve never gotten the whole story.”

  “Oh God…” Sara’s face fell. “So she has… what? PTSD, I guess?”

  “I think so. That’s probably the best way to describe it. What she went through was… well, horrible. I think it’s preventing her from remembering how to live in the real world again.”

  Sara shook her head. “It’s not just that. Unless I got mixed up, she was the only one of you who could do stuff. Like, magic and stuff. Right?”

  I nodded. I wasn’t quite sure where she was going with this.

  “So yeah. Consider that. Not only did she get shoved back into the real world, she’s seriously traumatized and she lost all her support systems. Her power. Plus, she’s gotta deal with losing hundreds of years off her lifespan.”

  “She what?” That last sentence was news to me.

  “Oh.” Sara looked uncomfortable. “...I didn’t realize she hadn’t told you.”

  “Can you explain? Please?” I had to know.

  She shifted in place, glancing away. “Jen told me she had a ritual she did every day, just like the Sylves. She said it restored her, that she could really feel it.” Her face twisted into a sad smile. “She probably could’ve lived to be three hundred or more.”

  I felt like she’d just hit me in the face with a sack full of bricks. My sister, my happy ray of sunshine sibling, who I’d spent six years searching for, who had turned the tide of the war along with Carl, was still dealing with so much more than I could imagine, or understand—and in some twisted, indirect way, I was responsible for this. I’d brought us home, and by doing so, I’d cut her life drastically short.

  “You’re blaming yourself, aren’t you? Cut that out.” Sara grasped my arm. I looked around, and saw a fire in her eyes. “You saved her. You got her home. You couldn’t’ve known.”

  “She didn’t have to come home though,” I said weakly, words I hadn’t dared to voice even in my own head.


  “She could have stayed. It was my decision to bring us all back. I could have let her stay.”


  “She was happy there, I think. She had friends. She had a family. A best friend named Naeflin. And she had a position of real importance. Prestige. She was the sylajen, she ended a whole war and united the kingdom.” A warm streak rolled down my face. I reached up to brush it away. “I was proud of her. Proud to be her brother. Then I ran away. I selfishly forced her back to the real world, where she’s got no accomplishments, where she’s terrified and hurting and I can’t do anything for her. All because I was scared to come home alone.”

  Sara shook her head. “Don’t be an idiot. If you came back alone, you’d be in even worse trouble. How could you have explained that to your mom? Or to the world?” Sara put an arm around me, and pulled me into a hug. “Hindsight’s a stupid useless thing. I’m super biased, but I think you made the right call.” She stepped back and smiled. “Come on. Let’s go back.”

  “Pretty awful first date,” I joked, though my voice was still thick.

  “As if. I got to see the closest thing to a real elf on this whole planet, and I got to feel up a great looking guy.” She grinned and took my hand. “Just promise that our second date won’t involve you bursting into tears.”

  “Deal,” I said, with a burst of completely incongruous joy at the words ‘second date’.




  Despite that happy note, the rest of the date was mostly awkward silences punctured by brief anecdotes of Cyraveil. Sara seemed way more interested in anything having to do with Jen, which didn’t surprise me, since we’d barely hung out before. I couldn’t blame her for her curiosity—or her concern, since I was just as worried myself.

  It was one thing for Sara to insist I didn’t get lost in hindsight, but quite another for me to actually follow that advice. I felt like reflection was productive in some cases. Looking back on my mistakes was a useful tool for learning. In this case though, Sara was probably right. My decisions had been made in a radically different situation, in a castle on another world. How could I possibly judge them against my life now?

  Yet I couldn’t help myself. I ran circles in my head, blaming myself over and over. I wanted desperately to find a solution, anything I could do to help Jen. Anything to help my sister out of the rut of despair she’d found herself trapped within.

  For the second time since we’d come back, I wondered if she truly belonged in Cyraveil.

  I didn’t dismiss it so fast as I had before. By all accounts, Jen had taken to Cyraveil so thoroughly that the Sylves considered her one of their own. That might just sound special, but really, it was totally unique. So far as I knew, including what Carl had told me in his own research, the Sylves were incredibly insular and xenophobic. They were openly dismissive, if not outright hostile to all attempts at contact by human settlers. A rare few traded with humans, but for the most part, they maintained the circle of silence to a man—err, elf.

  So how was it that Jen, a perfectly ordinary human from another world, had so perfectly ingratiated herself that they gave her a new name, and adopted her as one of their own?

  I wanted to hear that story, but I knew I could only get it from Jen herself—and she had never been in a state to share it since I’d reunited with her. First, it was the negotiations, where she hadn’t even recognized me. She was so busy juggling the various dignitaries, generals and nobles—while still struggling through basic English—that she just glanced right over me without a second thought.

  Every Sylf commander present treated her with the utmost respect. An older looking elf with very kind, silvery eyes watched her every move from afar, usually perched in the corner of the tent like a wise old owl (not that he looked a day over thirty). In turn, I watched him, carefully. I later learned his name was Tethevallen Sylnanden, and that he was the elder of sorts for the forest where Jen had first appeared.

  I only spoke to him once, on the eve of his death. I’d asked him, after stumbling through what I’m sure was awful Etoline, what he thought of my sister. He laughed, and answered me with a clap on the back and a string of words I hadn’t understood in the slightest, even after two tries. When I repeated them carefully to Jen the next day, she looked embarrassed, but thoroughly pleased with herself.

  Of course, only an hour later, we found his dead body on the side of a cliff, pinned to the wall with a scroll stuffed in his mouth. Jen’s happiness hadn’t lasted long.

  The memory of that event sent me spinning back into the present as I drove Sara home. How could I have even considered sending Jen back to that place? Where war and pain and darkness loomed high in memory, and our friends were slaughtered by a delusional madman?

  Our worlds were separate—and should remain separate. I’d find a way to help Jen, no matter what it took. Once we were united again, we could stabilize Carl, and the three of us would return to a normal life. The path was beginning to clear up once again. I could see the bricks in the road once more as it stretched out to the horizon. All I had to do was start walking it once again.




  As I pulled into our garage, the first step revealed itself, like fate sending me a signal to begin. Jen had just walked through the front door, after probably taking the bus home. It was time for a talk, and she knew it too. She went straight to the living room as I walked in. I stalled a bit, pouring myself a glass of water and grabbing a bowl of chips before I sat down on the couch opposite her.

  “So,” I started, but Jen cut in before I could say another word.

  “Yeah, I went hunting. I needed to be alone, and it seemed like a good place to go. Nobody saw me. Got a problem?” Her voice was instantly hostile. I recoiled. I didn’t want this to be a confrontation, not at all.

  “I was just going to ask how your day went.”

  “Keldaphut. You were getting ready to lay down a lecture.”

  I raised an eyebrow. “Do you want a lecture?”

  “Matt, I’m twenty three years old. No, I don’t give a shit how old I look right now. That’s where my mind’s at. I don’t need a lecture from my brother.” Jen leaned forward in her chair. “What I do need is some support, because I’m barely holding on by a twig here.”

  I sat back, unsure how to respond, and Jen took that as reason enough to keep rambling.

  “I’m scared, okay? I’m sure you already heard about what I did at school yesterday, since you always know everything.”

  “Back up a second. What happened at school?”

  Jen faltered. She shifted in her chair, glancing away. “Oh. Uhh… shit. Well, I kind of went all out on a guy, just for a second. It was a super easy takedown, I couldn’t help it. He ran into me and I just… reacted.”

  I shook my head. “Well, if I didn’t hear about it by now, it probably wasn’t that big a deal. What happened last night though?” Her lips squeezed shut. I sighed. “Jen, you said it yourself. You need support right now. Talk to me.”

  “...I don’t know,” she murmured. Her voice cracked as she continued. It was clear she was barely keeping herself from falling apart. “Everything was going great. I felt better than I have in years. All Sara’s work, no thanks to me. But then all through dinner… I don’t know if it was me, or if it was just because there were too many people around. But I felt… vack. In danger. Uhh…” Jen paused, searching for the word. Her eyes always darted around in the same way whenever she was trying to think in English. “Threatened.”

  I wanted to get up and go to her, to hug her and reassure her that everything would be all right—but I knew, in her current state, that I would only make things worse. She didn’t need someone physically by her side. I didn’t know what she needed. I just had to hope I could provide it.

  “You thought you might attack them,” I concluded. Jen nodded, looking ashamed of herself. “But nothing happened, right?”


  “Then it’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong.”

  “I don’t want to keep feeling like this, Matt,” she cried. “Vei kilsve dov vei nalv vnulvus.

  I couldn’t understand what she’d said, but the emotions behind it channeled more feeling than anything from her in English could have. It was so full of bitter desperation that my heart wanted to burst out from my chest.

  What could I say?

  Tell her it would get better over time? I believed it would, but the words felt so hollow and empty in the moment.

  Should I offer her anything she wanted? Try to provide for her, like I always did?

  Did she want something stern and commanding, or did she need kind and gentle?

  Why was I the father figure? The leader, the general, the commander?

  I hated my thoughts for turning back to me again. This was about Jen, not me. I didn’t have time to worry about me right now.

  An idea struck me.

  “Jen, tell me about Tethevallen.”

  It was a shot in the dark. Something we’d never had time to discuss, but the elf was clearly of great importance, and nearly everything was a positive memory. Something she could anchor herself to. It might not have been of this world, but I’d take anything that pulled her out of this spiral.

  Jen blinked furiously for a few moments, looking startled. “About Tethevallen? Like what?”

  “Who was he? I mean, he obviously cared a lot about you. I only met him once, but he seemed like a great man.”

  Jen wiped her eye with a sleeve. “He was my father.”

  I raised an eyebrow. “Not literally.”

  “No, ‘course not.” Jen rolled her reddened-eyes, but she smirked slightly at my joke. “But he adopted me, basically, when nobody else would. He gave me a name, and brought me into our suunsyl. If he hadn’t found me that week, when I was starving to death, I wouldn’t be here now having this great chat with you.”

  I was never more aware of Jen’s elven accent than that moment. As she talked about her other family, the one I’d never known, I could hear their culture right through her voice—that unique sound I’d never heard anywhere else. Carl might seem crazy to me about the supposed ‘magical language’, but that accent was certainly something special.

  “You couldn’t understand him though.”

  Jen smiled. “Not a word. We got some good hand gestures down after a while. He didn’t learn any English ‘til after the war started. I asked him about it years later, and he said English was apparently forbidden long ago. I was the first in the entire suunsyl to learn it, and between the two of us, we started teaching others.”

  “Sorry to interrupt, but what does suunsyl mean?”

  Jen giggled. “Sorry. Hard to remember you’re an uneducated lunkhead.

  I raised my eyebrows exaggeratedly. “How did you learn a whole language that quickly?”

  “Magic, duralav-hila.” She grinned. “Suunsyl is a… vack. Shortening. Of two words.”

  “Abbreviation,” I supplied. “Lunkhead.” Jen chucked a pillow at me. It slammed into the wall, right where my head had been an instant earlier. “Is that really the best you could come up with?”

  “I could do way better, but you wouldn’t understand it, so what’s the point?” Jen sighed mockingly. “Anyway. Suunsyl is an abbreviation of suunis and sylvec, meaning ‘our forest’. Really just means a group of Sylves though. Or a home. A community, I guess you’d call it.”


  “Language lessons with Jennifer Silverdale.” She gave a mock bow, twirling her hand. “Hey look, it worked. You… syldavacka. You manipulative bastard. That’s the one.” Jen laughed. “I’m all cheerful now, good for you.”

  In spite of the insult, I laughed too. The best strategies I ever devised were as straightforward as that one. I knew if I could just get her talking, on any subject related to her adopted heritage, she’d regain some kind of peace. Much better than the doubt-filled, angry, fearful creature I’d first walked in on, at any rate.

  I wish it could have lasted, but as per the norm, fate’s ugly claws were reaching for us once more.

  A knock came at the front door. Our heads both snapped in that direction. It was the middle of the day; no one we knew was likely to come calling, were they?

  The knock came again. The doorbell rang a second later, and again. Whomever it was clearly had no intention of leaving.

  “Wait here?” I whispered. Jen nodded.

  I crept toward the door, anxious to get a view of our unexpected guest before I came into view. To my astonishment, I heard a clicking at the doorknob. A moment later, the lock clicked open, and the door swung wide.


  I was simultaneously relieved and infuriated. “Hello, Carl.”

  I walked up and yanked him inside, shoving the door closed. His face twisted into an expression I couldn’t describe. There were too many emotions scattered across it to name them all.

  “You son of a bitch,” he growled.


  “Don’t you ever play dumb again. This is about Blake.”

  Did Carl know? How could he possibly have found out? There was only one possible, logical conclusion.

  Jen, what did you do?

  I went for diplomatic. “Carl, I’m sorry.”

  “Sorry? Sorry?” Carl’s voice rose in pitch. “Oh, that’s great. Matt’s sorry he sent a friend to his fucking grave.

  Like a curtain falling from the stage, a veil lifted away. Carl knew. I was exposed before him. The secret was out, and he was in front of me, with fury in his heart and vengeance filling his eyes like twin bonfires.

  “Blake and I made a decision. We did what needed to be done.” My own voice rose in volume, as if drowning out Carl would somehow make it right. As if I could simply overwhelm all the guilt and depression I felt in my core.

  “If I hear one more crap excuse out of your mouth, you’ll be eating the floor, asshole.”

  Carl’s stance changed. I saw it plain as day. While he might still have the mental ability and long study of a dozen fighting techniques, his body just wasn’t trained or focused enough to keep up. Anything he did was wildly telegraphed.

  His weight shifted. A punch, coming in low. I dodged aside easily, and he swung wide. Carl managed to keep his balance though. He’d never intended for that one to land. Another fist, already on its way from the opposite side.

  His punch landed. I rolled with it, letting momentum absorb the blow, refusing to let him make an impact.

  “Calm down,” I shouted, but Carl’s expression only got sharper. His determination was set in deep. He swung again, and I dodged aside. I might have thrown a return punch by then, but neither of us got another chance.

  A sharp thwok of an arrow. The shaft sprouted out of the staircase bannister, right between the two of us, at eye level.

  We froze.

  As one, our heads rotated to face Jen. She stood across the hall, with another arrow already nocked on the string. Ready to pull back and launch at a moment’s notice.

  “Are you two done being idiots yet?” she asked, quite calm.

  I nodded, taking a step back.

  Carl was breathing heavily. His eyes narrowed.

  “Carl, vei torl I will put this arrow through your skull. Ovol nos.

  Slowly, reluctantly, Carl retreated. He leaned against the doorframe, while I waited by the stairs.

  “We can’t fight,” Jen stated.

  “No,” I agreed.

  “But—” started Carl.

  “But nothing,” Jen snapped. “Arrow. Skull.”

  Carl fell silent.

  “Good,” said Jen, still remarkably calm. “Matt?”

  “Carl, we have to stick together right now,” I said. By Carl’s reaction, I’d chosen my words poorly.

  “Stick together?” His voice began to rise once again. “That’s rich, you fucking hypocrite.”

  “Calm down,” I started, even though I knew it to be futile.

  “Se develd!” Jen hissed.

  We all fell silent instantly. Carl and I both knew what those words meant—but even on top of that, the sudden intensity in Jen’s voice sent my mind reeling in fear, back to memories of ambushes in the deep forest.

  “Someone’s at the door,” she whispered, barely louder than a breath.

  I turned. It took an eternity just to rotate myself to face the dark brown door. The entire world faded away as my eyes focused on the golden door knob. I hoped that Jen was actually wrong, for the first time ever, about the presence of a threat nearby.

  Fate wouldn’t have that. Fate and I were mortal enemies, from now until the end of time.

  Knuckles rapped on the door three times—and in that moment, I knew our lives on Earth were about to be shattered completely.






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