Sunday, 30 July 2017

Chapter 3.05 - Anomaly

*Warning: This blog contains bad language and a little bit of nudity (nothing explicit). If any of this upsets you, don't continue.* I have issues with the normal adult content warning, so I'm trying to sort that out. :)

 Alison had poured herself another cup of tea, and the silver spoon clinked against the fine porcelain as she stirred the aromatic fluid, dissolving the little sugar crystals hidden within. Lyra wrapped her hands around her own mug of rich strong coffee, grateful for the thoughtful gesture. She’d definitely need the caffeine if she was to listen to old bedtime stories and accept them as truth.
 “Before we begin,” Alison started mildly, her eyes focused on the swirling liquid inside her cup, “there are a couple of things that need to be established. The main thing: everything I am about to tell you, is the absolute truth. No matter how unlikely something sounds, or how unreal it seems, or how unlike it is from the stories you’ve heard, everything is true. You will get no twisting of facts from me, and I will not sugar-coat anything either. Everything you hear from me, is the absolute, unaltered truth. You are, of course, free to ask questions, but I would prefer it if you allow me to finish, before you do so.” She picked her cup up, and smiled invitingly at Lyra. “Now then, let’s start.
 “The first thing you need to be aware of – and you probably already are – is that there are an infinite number of different worlds out there. What you might not know, is that all of these different worlds, every single one of them, are the same physical world.”
Lyra blinked in confusion. That didn’t make sense at all. Alison seemed to realise this, as she held up a hand to halt Lyra’s question before she even had the chance to ask it.
“Rather than call them different worlds, it is more accurate to call them different versions of the same world, or in more common terms, different dimensions. They all started out exactly the same, but due to different histories they evolved differently, thus presenting us with the worlds we have today. This collection of different worlds, different dimensions, I will refer to as the ‘multi-verse’.
 “The next thing you need to be aware of is quite complex, and for that I will need to go back a step further. Tell me: have you ever heard the terms ‘Magic’ and ‘Energy’ before?”
Lyra frowned at the question, idly sipping at her coffee.
“Magic and energy?” she repeated hesitantly. “I’ve heard of both, obviously. But…I get the feeling you’re not referring to the conventional definition of the words.”
Alison smiled into her cup, as if the very idea that she was referring to a definition was greatly amusing her.
“Of course not,” she agreed. “I am referring to the forces. The Magical and Energetic forces which determines what kind of life a world sustains; the forces which makes out the very essence of the Balance.”
Mutely, Lyra shook her head. In all of the stories she had heard, there had never been any mention of forces.
 “Very well,” Alison replied. “I will explain. In the multi-verse, there are two different forces – Magic, and Energy. As I mentioned, these forces determine what kind of life a certain world sustains. The world you came from, a world we refer to as the Sunset Valley world, is an Energetic world. That means that only the Energy force is present in significant amounts. All life in the Sunset Valley world are of the non-magical kind – nothing and nobody is capable of the supernatural, of magic. This is true for all Energetic worlds. On the upside, Energetic people have better control over their minds. They are capable of more complex thought, so those worlds are scientifically and technologically much, much more advanced.”
“Hold up,” Lyra interrupted Alison’s explanation. “That can’t be true. My mom can touch ghosts, and my Aunt Mia developed a potion that can turn you into one for three hours. How is that not supernatural?”
 “And that, child,” Alison replied with mournful eyes, “is where everything went wrong.”
The reply was not something Lyra had expected. “What do you mean?” she asked, confused.
“If you’ll let me continue…” Alison reprimanded lightly, slightly tilting her teacup to the side. Lyra waved the woman ahead, rebuked by the mild reprimand.
“What I just explained was the Energy force. The other force is, of course, Magic. It works on a similar principle: on a Magical world – that is, a world that’s mostly surrounded by the Magic force – all life are of the magical kind. Everyone and everything is capable of the supernatural or magic in some manner. It is also on Magical worlds where you will find creatures such as unicorns, or dragons, like the ones our dragoneers command.
 “It is absolutely vital you understand that these forces cannot mix. Life in the multi-verse is very fragile, and the creatures that live here cannot cope with an incompatible force. If they are exposed to the wrong force for a prolonged period of time, they will fall into a downward spiral, losing their emotions and eventually, their minds, making them mere shades of existence, incapable of forming thought. This process is known as ‘Falling into Damnation’.”
Lyra frowned. Again, that was different from the stories she had grown up with.
 “It’s similar to the stories I know,” she admitted, “but I thought Damnation is something that only affects ghosts. When they linger too long, they lose themselves, and they become Damned.”
Alison’s lips tugged into an easy smile. “That is true,” she agreed, “but it is not the whole truth. Ghosts – who at the very moment of their deaths, become magical – cannot cope with Energy, so if they linger on an Energetic world, they will start to Fall. On the other hand, if a ghost lingers on a Magical world, they will not Fall. They will be compatible with that world’s force, so they will be free to linger as long as they wish. Damnation most definitely is not something that is limited to ghosts. The proof of that, my dear child, lies in you.”
 “What the hell do you mean by that?” Lyra asked defensively, a massive scowl on her face. It didn’t make sense. They were talking about ghosts and different worlds, so how exactly did she suddenly fall into the picture?
“Peace, child,” Alison deflected easily. “All will be explained. So, do you understand the link between Energy, Magic, and Damnation?”
At Lyra’s terse nod, she continued. “This link, this ratio, this delicate balance of forces surrounding a world and its creatures, is known as the Balance. Nothing more, nothing less. But since every single life in the multi-verse depends on these forces, you can understand why it is so vital that the ratio – the Balance – does not get disrupted. Are you still with me?”
At that, Lyra nodded slowly. “I think so, yes,” she agreed hesitantly, still trying to wrap her mind around the concepts.
 “Good,” Alison praised, an enigmatic smile on her face, “because this is where it becomes complicated. When the Balance gets distorted, things go wrong. The Balance is auto-corrective, which means that if everything is as it should be, every world will deal with small changes to the Balance on its own, and no intervention is required to protect a world’s life.
 “But sometimes, something happens in a world that causes its Balance to get out of sync. Over time, the distortion will increase, and eventually the Balance will be completely disrupted, causing the creatures of that world to start the Fall. To make it even worse, in worlds where the Balance is in serious danger, there are people or creatures who are born to a world they do not belong to. Magical creatures, born to an Energetic world, or Energetic creatures born to a Magical world. It goes against the laws of nature, and it is never supposed to happen. It is one of the biggest signs that intervention is required in a world. These creatures, we refer to, as Anomalies.”
Silence fell around them as Alison gave Lyra a chance to process her words. She felt numb, a little overwhelmed by the knowledge she had learned. The same words that had echoed through her mind the previous night reverberated now, repeating over and over.
Anomaly. Not Right. Balance cannot be kept.
Leneo had called her an Anomaly.
A Magical creature born to an Energetic world.
Lyra shook her head, desperately trying to deny it.
“That can’t be right,” she denied vehemently. “No. No way. Why would I be an Anomaly? What makes me so different from all the other people in my world? If someone was to be an Anomaly, wouldn’t that be my mother? She’s the one who’s always going on about magic.”
 “Your mother is Magic-touched, yes,” Alison agreed, “but in essence she remains purely Energetic. The amount of Magic that has touched her is far too minute to affect the essence of her being. You, on the other hand, are the opposite. You have been born to Magic, with only a minute amount of Energy affecting you.”
“That’s bullshit,” Lyra disagreed angrily. “How the hell would it be possible for me to be ‘born to Magic’? I wasn’t even born on Full Moon.”
“No, you weren’t,” Alison agreed, “but you are the result of a combination of factors. One,” she raised a finger, “your mother is Magic-touched. It means that from the very beginning, you were never going to be born completely Energetic. The same, of course, applies to your siblings.”
The words caused a chill to run down Lyra’s back, and she felt herself blanch. She had never even considered the fact that Arienne or Renard might’ve been affected as well.
“Are you saying my siblings are Anomalies too?” she asked softly, her voice filled with dread. To her utmost relief, Alison shook her head.
“No, they’re not,” she confirmed. “They are Energetic – barely – but Energetic nevertheless. But your idea was right: they could’ve been Anomalies. The second factor,” she continued, raising a second finger, “lies in that very potion you mentioned earlier, the one your Aunt Mia created, and the fact that it was used on your father. That potion, dear child, was the very reason the Balance in Sunset Valley started to deteriorate.”
Lyra’s mouth was completely dry, and she tried her best to swallow the lump in her throat. Her coffee sat forgotten, cold from being ignored for so long.
“How?” she whispered, forcing the words around the lump in her throat. How could something so innocent as a simple potion have an effect that was so big?
Alison sighed, the slight smile still on her face as she fiddled around with the fresh pot of tea Sionann, who had so far simply been listening patiently, placed on the table.
 “The core concept of the potion is flawed,” Alison admitted, daintily holding the lid of the teapot close as she poured herself another cup. “It doesn’t really turn the user into a ghost for a short time. It simply mimics the effect, by enveloping the user in a field of Magic. It tricks the brain, making it believe that it can recognise Magic, which it cannot do. The maintain the ‘trick’, Magic is needed, so the potion causes Magic to be constantly drawn to the user. This causes the Balance to distort, as it cannot get rid of the excess Magic. The potion causes that Magic to be trapped around the user.
“So why would the fact that it was used on your father, have an influence on you being an Anomaly?” Alison asked. “Do you think you can answer this, considering what I’ve told you so far?”
Lyra frowned, deep in thought, idly playing with her mug of cold coffee.
“I suppose…if my mom is ‘Magic-touched’, and the potion caused Magic to be drawn to my dad, that would mean…” Her eyes widened as things started to fall into place, especially as she considered what Alison had said about her siblings, “…that we, as their children, would be affected by the Magic as well? Is that right?”
A satisfied smile played on Alison’s lips. “Yes. Exactly. The difference being, that while your mother got touched by the Magic at birth, you and your siblings were touched before birth. ‘Magical creatures born to an Energetic world’. Now the third factor,” Alison continued, raising a third finger, “and the thing that distinguishes you from your siblings, was the fact that you were born at home, and your siblings not. At the time of their births, they had not been exposed to any additional Magic, while you, being born in a house build right next to the Rift, was bathed in it. You, were born Magical.”
Lyra stared mutely at Alison with wide eyes, completely overwhelmed by the things she had learned.
“The Rift?” she asked, a bit confused. “The one Charlotte apparently opened last night? That thing that brought us here? Why would that have an influence? Isn’t the Rift closed normally?”
Alison inclined her head. “Indeed,” she agreed. “But Charlotte has been opening that Rift for many, many Full Moons. Consider that with the fact that for a very long time, the house you lived in was inhabited by Magical creatures – ghosts – and then, by your family. Your family, which we have already established have a unique link with Magic. Magic has been drawn to that house for many, many years, and when your family moved in, it couldn’t escape the effects of the potion. It continued to build up and linger around the house. Have you never wondered by people tended to avoid your house?”
Lyra shook her head. She hadn’t. She’d only been glad that people avoided their house, especially after her dad had died.
She wrapped her hands around the warm coffee mug in front of her, freshly replenished by Sionann. The things Alison had said…she desperately wanted to ignore it, deny it, but deep within herself, she knew she couldn’t. Everything Alison had told her, was the truth.
Anomaly. It felt utterly unreal. She finally understood though, why she had never felt like she belonged in Sunset Valley, and that no matter how far and how long she looked, she would never have found anywhere she felt at home. It was daunting, to think that if she hadn’t followed Charlotte last night, she would never have found out, and she would have been doomed to live a drifting life, never belonging anywhere. What a horrible thought.
 “So what,” she asked hesitantly, “will this mean for me? I get that I can’t go home, that I will never belong there, but…” She looked down, unable to form her thoughts into words. Plumbob. She was never going to see her family again. She was never going to see the bonds in her family repaired, and she was never going to see Renard be a dad, and…and…
A soft touch on her hands drew her out of her thoughts, and she stared at Alison with tears in her eyes.
 “I know this is a lot to take in,” Alison remarked softly and gently, “but you are not alone. There have been others in the same situation as you, and all of them have found the place they belonged. The future probably feels very bleak to you right now, but that will change. In five years, you’ll get the chance to move to a different world, a Magical one. Until then, you are welcome here, and I’m sure you’ll be surprised by the amount of support you’ll find here.” She smiled, her eyes warm, but Lyra wasn’t exactly warmed by her sentiments.
“That doesn’t help me much,” she pointed out thickly, trying her best not to cry. She had lost everything. Her family, her home, her money, her photos, her camera, every single thing she had ever possessed. Everything. She had no way to get home, and she’d have to find a new way to get money to survive, as she was quite aware that her photography wasn’t going to cut it. The only reason she had been able to make do with it previously was because she had had the massive inheritance her dad had left her when he died. Now she was stuck in a strange land where there were dragons and fairies and fucking magic. How, exactly, was she supposed to be comforted by that?
 “You basically just told me that I have lost everything,” she continued bitterly. “I have nothing. Do you really think I care about something as vague as support at this stage? The only people I have ever cared for are as good as dead to me, and I to them. I care about their support, but hey, what do you know? That’s lost to me now.”
She jerked her gaze away, breaking eye-contact and trying her best to blink away the hot tears pooling in her eyes.
“Perhaps,” Alison agreed not-unkindly, “but nevertheless, life will go on. You can either try to make the best of your circumstances, or sit in a corner and sulk about things you cannot change. We will provide you with everything to make the transition as smooth as possible, but in the end, the choice is yours, child.” She stood up from the table, her every movement graceful. “However, for now, I must bid you farewell. Sionann will take it from here,” she excused herself, leaving Lyra to sit awkwardly with the fairy who had so far not exchanged a single word. She was very tempted to just stand up and leave, but she had nowhere to go. She was all alone; a stranger in a strange land.
 “As Lady Alison has mentioned, I am Sionann,” the fairy reintroduced herself, pulling Lyra away from her brooding. She was very soft-spoken, her voice as pure and sweet as an angel’s. Lyra almost pulled a face at the sound. Plumbob, it was annoying. Soft, gentle, dainty, pretty…nobody should be so perfect. She would be the perfect trophy wife, Lyra was sure. She probably had a husband who was rich and successful and handsome and all those bunch of lovely clichés. It made Lyra sick to just think about it. It didn’t help much that her mind traitorously provided her with an image of Edwin and Sionann standing lovingly by each other, staring adoringly in the other’s eyes.
Here was the wife Edwin should’ve had.
Completely oblivious to her thoughts, the perfect fairy continued talking.
 “Here on Howell Island, all of us serve a specific purpose,” she explained, drawing Lyra out of her unkind thoughts. “We have a duty to protect the multi-verse and the rest of this world from those who would harm it. We have a role to play not only to this world, but also to our community. I provide our community with fresh fruits and vegetables, and otherwise I serve as a Healer.”
“Right,” Lyra agreed flatly, already bored by the conversation. She was so over it. She wanted a shower. She wanted clean clothes. She wanted to get rid of the grime she could still feel on her hands and knees from where that arrogant ass had pushed her into the ground the previous night. She wanted to go home. She wanted clean teeth, but guess what? She couldn’t get any of it. She didn’t even have a goddamn toothbrush!
She was so, completely, and utterly, over it. But Sionann simply blabbered on, either oblivious to Lyra’s disinterest or simply just not caring. Whatever it was, Lyra just hoped she would get to the point.
“Due to the very nature of this island, we have a lot of people coming and going,” Sionann continued. “Those of us who prefer to serve a greater good stay longer, and we try our best to provide those who are stranded with a safe haven. To that end, I would like to offer you a place in my home.”
“I…what?” Lyra blinked at Sionann, completely blindsided by the offer. “Seriously, what? You want to offer me a place in your home? Why?” She had not expected that. To be honest, she didn’t know what she’d been expecting, but it hadn’t been that. She suddenly felt horrible. Here she was, thinking unfavourable thoughts about the woman who had just offered her a place to stay. How low could she get?
“Well, you can’t very well stay here in the base, can you?” Sionann pointed out pragmatically. “The facilities are very limited, and I’m sure you’ll be far more comfortable in a normal house. You’re not here entirely by choice, and we have room in our house, so the least I could do is offer you that room. If not me, someone else would’ve offered you a place in their home. It is simply the way we do things here.”
Lyra ducked her head, trying to hide the tears that formed in her eyes from Sionann, overcome by the sudden gratitude that filled her up. It might not be home, but at least now, she had somewhere to go. Now, she could move on with her life. It was entirely unexpected, and definitely not the way she wanted things to go, but she couldn’t change the past. The only thing she could do was to make the best of it. It was like Alison had said. Sitting in a corner and sulking wasn’t going to change things.
“In that case, I will gladly accept,” she gratefully accepted Sionann’s offer.
The house Sionann took her to was a charming wood-and-stone cottage, nothing like what she’d been expecting. The grey light from the stormy sky above slightly dulled the golden stone, but the bright colours from inside were warm and very welcoming.
 “Welcome to our humble abode,” Sionann welcomed her, twisting the keys in the lock and opening the door for Lyra, graciously inviting her inside. “It’s not much, but it’s home. I hope you’ll enjoy it here.” She flicked on the switch, flooding the room with a bright light that drowned out the dismal light from outside.
“We only have a couple of house rules,” Sionann continued with a wave of her hand, placing her keys on the end table and kicking off her shoes. “Really, it’s just basic stuff. Keep everything tidy, clean up after yourself, respect each other’s space and privacy, you know, basic stuff. Keep your bathroom clean. We take turns to cook and do dishes, laundry is done on Fridays, if something breaks let A or B know…uhm. If we run out of something, let me know...and…yep. I think that’s it. Any questions?”
“A or B?” Lyra repeated sceptically. That could not be their real names.
 “Oh!” Sionann exclaimed, her expression sheepish. “I’m sorry. Adrian or Blaise. My boyfriend and his best friend respectively, you should meet them later today. We used to have another girl – Agneis – but she moved back to the mainland a coupl’a months ago, which is why we have room available. The rooms aren’t terribly big, I’m afraid, but we spend most of our time out here anyway, so I hope it won’t be a problem.”
“Of course not,” Lyra agreed mildly. It didn’t really matter how big the rooms were. It wasn’t like she was going to turn around and go ‘Fuck this. This room is way too small.’ She needed somewhere to stay. As long as she didn’t have to share a room, she didn’t really care about the size. It wasn’t like she had a ton of stuff to put somewhere. No, that was still in Sunset Valley.
“Good!” Sionann exclaimed happily. “So, directions. This is the communal space…”
 “…kitchen is over there…”
 “…my garden is out of that door – which, by the way, I’ll expect you to help me with.”
“At the end of the corridor is my and Adrian’s room, Blaise’s is the one at the start and yours is…” She led Lyra through the house, pointing out the different rooms before pausing in front of a door.
“…this one.”
She opened the door, revealing an admittedly rather small room. It was smaller than the room Lyra had had back home, but it held all of the essentials, so it would have to do.
Sionann turned around and pointed at the door right opposite Lyra’s new room.
“This is your bathroom,” she explained. “You have to share it with Blaise, unfortunately, so you’ll have to discuss details with him. Other than that there’s not much to show.” She gave Lyra a satisfied little smile before clicking her fingers.
“Oh, right,” she suddenly remembered. “Clothes. Agneis left some behind, so you’re welcome to have them, if they fit you. Otherwise we’ll have to go back to the base so you can search through their collection. We don’t have a lot of access to shops around here, so someone from the island goes back to the mainland every now and again to get the necessities and just drops them at the base. We share pretty much everything here on the island.”
 “Okay,” Lyra nodded, showing she understood. Great. Not only was she stranded in a strange world where they didn’t even have proper shops, she was going to have to wear some stranger’s outcast clothes. Just great.
Sionann clapped her hands together.
“Well, that’s all good!” she exclaimed happily. “I’ll leave you to get settled in then. You’re probably dying for a hot shower, so feel free to have one! You’ll find fresh towels and toiletries on the dresser in your room.” She gave Lyra another bright smile before she excused herself and disappeared off into the room at the end of the corridor.
Well, there was no time like the present. With a despondent sigh, Lyra stepped into her new room, studying the neutral colours with distaste. She silently vowed to get something pink for the room as soon as possible. Bedcovers, preferably, but at this stage she’d settle for anything pink. There was just far too little colour.
The clothes in the closet weren’t exactly her style, but they fit, and they were clean, so they’d have to do. She idly let her thoughts wander as she picked up the clothes, the towel and the toiletries, getting ready for that highly-anticipated shower.
So, she was going to share a house with three other people, none of whom she knew very well at all. Sionann and Adrian were the couple, while she and Blaise would be the hang-ons, all living happily in the same house. Plumbob. It sounded like some sort of cheesy TV-drama, the kind that had a gazillion episodes and faithfully ran every night for the last forever.
…Come to think of it, why did the name Blaise sound so familiar? She idly allowed her eyes to drift upwards as she tried to remember, a part of her brain very appreciative of the view presented to her. Those were some very toned, very good-looking legs.
Where had she heard the name? It was somewhere in this new world, she was sure. The name had been mentioned in an off-hand manner. Oh look, a six-pack. Edwin didn’t have those. Very nice. And those pectorals…hmm.
Wait a minute. Blaise. Wasn’t that the name of…
“Are you going to stare at my chest the whole day, or are you gonna get out of my way?”
…that ass who had knocked her out?
Plumbob!” Lyra shrieked, dropping her stuff and abruptly averting her eyes. “Put some clothes on, you ass! Nobody wants to see you strutting around half-naked!”
He crossed his arms and glared at her, one eyebrow raised marginally.
“You’re the one who were staring,” he pointed out with a dangerous growl. “And you’re still standing in my way.”
She spluttered indignantly, staring at him in disbelief. No. This could not be happening. He was just here visiting. Who cared if he had the same name as someone in the house?! There was no way he could be her new housemate!
“What are you even doing here?” she demanded, stepping away from him and trying to create as much distance between them as the narrow corridor would provide.
 He shot her an incredulous look, as if he couldn’t believe she’d ask the question.
“I live here,” he confirmed, and fuck, there went all her hopes. He brushed past her close enough that she could smell the shampoo he’d used in his shower, and feel the heat radiating from his body. She hurriedly stepped even further away, almost stumbling over the clothes she had dropped on the floor.
 “Just stay out of my way, and we’ll be good,” he warned her with that same dangerous growl before entering his room and closing the door a bit harder than strictly necessary, leaving Lyra to stand awkwardly in the middle of the corridor. She stumbled back, her back hitting the wall, before she slowly slid down to the floor, burying her face in her arms.
Of fucking course. Her luck just never ended, did it? Of all the places she could’ve ended up on, she just had to end up in the same house as the one freak’n person she never wanted to see again. Why? Why was this her life?
Plumbob. The next five years were going to suck royally.
A/N: I know, I know, very cliché, but I couldn’t resist. XD
The sets I’ve been using so far is part of the world, except Sionann’s house. I built that one myself. I’m a little in love with it, but I will actively try to avoid shooting in that corridor again. It was horrible. Way too many walls with way too little space.
So, this chapter should have explained the main concepts that are important to understand Lyra’s story, but there are many other parts of the lore I have touched on before that I haven’t explained here. These parts are explained on the Lore Page. I will occasionally refer to these parts, so feel free to read through them. If, after that, anybody still wants a better explanation, drop me a comment and I will try to work it into the story. :)
Also: Plot-holes? What are those? XD Jokes aside, I’ve tried my best to cover all plot-holes, but I’m only human, so I’m bound to have missed a couple. If you notice any, just ignore them (or point them out, it’s entirely your call). ;) 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Chapter 3.04 - Old Wives' Tales

Lyra stared at her surroundings, her eyes bewildered. The reeds rustled in the wind and in front of her, the Full Moon glistened ominously in the crystal water stretched out before her. The absence of the usual night sounds was almost obtrusive, but Lyra was only vaguely aware of it. All she knew for certain was that the lake in front of her was not the one she had been standing at before that flash of light had thrown her senses haywire.
"What," she asked bewilderedly, "just happened?"
The night remained silent, and the wind blowing through the reeds and treetops did nothing to answer her, so she turned to the presence she had heard beside her. A presence who turned out to be Charlotte, her oh so favourite being in the world.
"Hello? Charlotte? An answer please?"
The ghost looked up at Lyra's request. She too had large eyes as she regarded their surroundings.
"This is bad," she muttered anxiously. "This is very, very bad. We have to get back."
"No shit," Lyra agreed enthusiastically, "but where are we? And how did we get here?"
The ghost looked at Lyra with a slight scowl. The sight caused Lyra to start slightly. She had never seen the ghost scowl before.
"It's Full Moon," the ghost replied, her voice slightly irritated. "You know what it means, you've heard the stories before."
Lyra crossed her arms and scowled at Charlotte, not amused at all by the answer.
"What, you mean the stories about 'The Wilds'? You know just as well as I do they don't exist," she scoffed.
"Oh, they're real alright," Charlotte disagreed and turned around, looking anxiously around them and searching for who-knew-what. "And right now you don't have to worry about the Wilds because here, we are the Wilds."
The words sent ominous shivers down Lyra's spine.
"What the hell do you mean with that?" she asked again, but the ghost ignored her, her eyes still searching the reeds surrounding them. "Charlotte? Answer me, dammit!"
"Lyra, please," the ghost muttered impatiently, another first for Lyra, “can you just keep quiet for a bit? I'm trying to listen."
Lyra abruptly closed her mouth, swallowing her next question and strained her ears, trying to figure out what Charlotte was trying to listen to. An uneasy feeling ran down her spine when she noticed the absolute silence around them.
That wasn't right. They were in the middle of the wilderness, at night. There should've been the sound of wildlife around them.
A shrill cry sounded above them and the next moment something hit Lyra's back, causing her to tumble forward and onto the ground once again. It didn’t stop there, as her arms were suddenly pinned mercilessly to the ground. Charlotte cried her name out in concern, but a flying creature of some kind dove at her and she shielded her face. To Lyra's immense surprise, the creature actually managed to topple the ghost to the ground and keep her pinned there, providing Lyra with a clear view of the creature for the first time.
...It was a dragon. An honest-to-god, goddamn dragon. It was quite a lot smaller than the ones in legends, but there was no mistaking the features.
"You'd do well to listen to your ghostly friend's advice," a male voice announced gruffly from on top of her, providing her with the first clue of her attacker’s identity. "Sound travels far in the darkness. Now, who are you, and why are you here?”
Lyra swallowed heavily, having no idea how to answer the gruff stranger on her back, but Charlotte relieved her of that responsibility.
"We're travellers," the ghost proclaimed. "Please, we just want to go home."
The man made a disgusted sound at her revelation and his hold on Lyra's arms tightened.
"Wilds, you mean," he snarled, his tone heavy with disgust. "I should just kill you here and now. You guys just never learn, do you."
"Please," Charlotte pleaded, "I swear, we mean you no harm. We arrived here simply by accident. We just want to get home."
The man snorted, unamused.
"Do you take me for an imbecile, ghost?" he asked shortly. "Rifts don't open by accident. One of you opened that Rift, and somehow I doubt it's the human."
"Fine," Charlotte submitted. "Alright. Yes, I opened the Gate, but I swear, I do not mean to harm this World. I simply wanted to find my brother. My companion was brought along by accident. My name is Charlotte Ainsworth, and my companion is Lyra Marquel. I swear to you, it is the truth. We mean you no harm."
The man’s hold tightened even more, causing Lyra to clench her teeth together. His hold was physically causing her pain.
 “A likely story,” the man disagreed. “Give me one reason why I should believe you.”
Lyra tried to move her wrists, trying to lessen the pain of his hold, but the man didn’t even spare her glance, tightening his hold instead. She finally snapped from the pain and indignity of being ignored for so long.
“Listen, you ass,” she interrupted him angrily, ignoring Charlotte’s warning cry for her to stop,” what the hell do you want from us? You’re clearly not willing to listen to a word we say, so what do you want?! Seriously, just let us go already!”
“Like hell I will,” the man instantly retorted. “You’re dangerous. I’m not going to let another goddamn Wild ruin things even further.”
Lyra twitched beneath him, trying to turn around and get a clear view of her captor, but his hold on her back was too tight.
 “And what,” she replied waspishly, “do you expect – “
He clamped a hand across her mouth, instantly silencing her.
“Listen,” he hissed quietly. “I don’t care who you are or where you come from, or what your intentions are, but I will not let you endanger us. So shut up. As far as I’m concerned, all you damned Wilds should just go to hell.”
Bright light gathered around his hands, crackling ominously with power. Lyra flinched back from the sight, trying her best to renew her struggles, but his hold was unrelenting. Lyra clenched her eyes shut, knowing that whatever he was going to do to her was going to hurt hellishly, but a different, unknown voice barked out a sharp command and at the last moment, the light around her captor’s hand changed and instead of the harsh slam she had been expecting, her captor merely laid his hand against her forehead.
However, that didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.
The moment he laid his hand on her head, a massive headache exploded into her head. Her sight dimmed, and through the haze that suddenly seemed to engulf her, she vaguely heard an unfamiliar voice speak.
“Are you out of your mind?!”
Her eyes fluttered close and the world grew dark.
When she woke up again, the sight that met her was pretty dismal, and the ass that had knocked her out was nowhere to be seen.
 “Great,” she grumbled irritably, “just what I need.” Her words rang dully through the cell with no reply. On the other side of the room, Charlotte was curled up against the wall with a thunderous expression on her face.
“How the hell did they manage to capture you?” Lyra asked irritably. While she was glad not be alone, she did not want to be stuck here with Charlotte.
The question made the black look on the ghost’s face intensify. It was quite a novel sight, Lyra mused. Charlotte didn’t do the angry look. She just didn’t. No matter what the situation, the ghost always, always had that tranquil, I-know-everything look about her. So yeah, the scowl was quite a novel look on her.
 “They have a death dragon,” the ghost grumbled her reply. “What exactly am I supposed to do against a death dragon? I don’t want to go to the World of the Dead yet.”
The answer was intriguing enough that Lyra managed to put her dislike of the ghost to the side.
“A death dragon? So that thing really was a dragon?”
Charlotte gave a soft sigh before she nodded reluctantly.
“They’re native to magical worlds,” she imparted. “Which means we’ve landed on one. As a ghost, a magical being, that death dragon holds immense power over me.”
“And don’t you forget that,” the voice of their captor came from the direction of the bars separating them from the rest of the world.
Lyra jumped up from her position on the crummy bed she had been sitting on. For the first time, she could clearly see the face of her captor. She was surprised. He was younger than she had expected from his voice. He couldn’t be much older than her.
“Get up,” he ordered briskly. On his arm, a different dragon than before chirped at them. The sound caused Charlotte to scramble up as well, staring at the dragon with fear.
Huh, Lyra thought absently. So that’s the ‘death dragon’.
 “If it had been up to me, I would have killed you the moment I found you,” the man informed them gruffly. “But my orders are clear, and it seems you’re in luck today. Our leader wants to give you a chance. If you answer our questions.”
He tilted his head up, staring down at them with cold eyes.
“First question: What exactly are you doing in our world?” he demanded brusquely. “Why are you here? What do you hope to achieve?”
 “We came to this world to look for my brother,” Charlotte answered him timidly. “At least, I did. Lyra here was brought along by accident. I’ve been following his trail for a long time now, and I finally found the world it leads to -”
 “Spare me the sob-story,” the man interrupted her rudely. “What is the real reason?”
The ghost raised her hands in defence.
“I swear to you, it is the truth. I swear by the Keeper.”
The Keeper? Lyra wondered, brow creased in confusion. Just why does this damn ghost keep going on about old wives’ tales?
To be perfectly honest, Lyra hadn’t thought about those tales for ages. They were bedtime stories, for crying out. She remembered sitting on her granddad’s lap as a toddler, eagerly listening to him as he told her about the supernatural being that collected souls after death, thereby keeping the balance of the universe (or something like that: she couldn’t exactly remember all the details). She remembered nights of lying in her bed, listening to her dad’s strong, familiar voice reading her the stories he had written – stories about magic, creatures, different worlds, and the way they were all connected. They were just that though – stories. Nothing else.
So why did Charlotte keep mentioning those old tales, and why was this ass acting like she was talking sense? What would it matter if Charlotte swore by the Keeper or not?
The man stared broodingly at them after that confession, his expression thoughtful as he seemingly mulled over the words.
"A ghost, swearing by the Keeper,” he mused, breaking the silence. “How unusual.”
“Please,” Charlotte begged again. “Please, just let us go. I need to get Lyra back home before the Full Moon ends.”
The man snorted unceremoniously. “Fat chance of that,” he declared flatly. “This is a Gateway World, ghost. The Rift is closed for this cycle. If you really want that Rift to open again, you’ll have to convince our leader to reopen it. With all these Wilds about, I doubt you’ll be successful,” he sneered contemptuously.
“Gateway World?” Charlotte questioned in a small voice, clearly stumped by the term.
“So what, you’re just going to keep us here, against our will?” Lyra interrupted crossly, angered by the ass’ demeaning attitude towards them. “We’ve done nothing wrong!”
 “I don’t have to explain myself to you,” he snapped at her. “I might be willing to give her a chance, but you’ve done nothing but antagonize me, so if I were you, I’d watch my step.”
Fire snapped in her eyes and she gave a step forward, eager to give that arrogant ass a piece of her mind, but the dragon on his shoulder flared its wings in warning, causing her to flinch back. There must’ve been a reason Charlotte was so afraid of the damn thing.
“And don’t stick your uppity little nose in matters you don’t understand, human,” he continued his lecture. “There are only a handful of people with the power to reopen a closed Rift, and none of them will do it without our leader’s say-so.”
“Gateway World?” Charlotte asked again in a louder voice, her voice apprehensive.
There were several moments of silence as the ass stared incredulously at the ghost.
“You opened the Rift, but you don’t even know what a Gateway World is?” he asked incredulously. “This the first time you jumped?”
Mutely, the ghost nodded, her eyes wide.
 “I’ve opened the Gate before, but I’ve never gone through,” she admitted. “I thought –“
“You didn’t,” the man growled at her before shaking his head. “Fuck this,” he muttered to himself. “Leneo can deal with this himself.”
Charlotte’s eyes went wide, and her mouth formed a round ‘o’ with surprise.
“…What did you say?”
The man shot her an annoyed glare.
“Nothing that concerns you,” he snapped before turning around to exit the room, but not before giving them one last warning.
 “If you put even one toe out of line, I will put you down,” the man growled at them. He shook his head in dislike before he walked away from them, his footsteps disappearing into the distance.
Lyra sighed tiredly and sank to the floor of the cell. Charlotte just stared mutely at the cell wall, her thoughts clearly very, very far away. Lyra had absolutely no desire to talk to her, so she flatly ignored the ghost, choosing instead to glance at the dismal cell surrounding them.
An indeterminate time later, their captor returned to their cell and with a noisy clank, he unlocked the door.
“Come with me,” he ordered them briskly, opening the door and leading them off into the corridor without a second glance at them, his footsteps silent. Lyra followed quietly, taking the opportunity to study the people she could feel looking suspiciously at her.
They weren’t like any people she’s seen before. There was a wary and dark air around them, as if any of them could kill her at any moment without spending any effort. More than that, they were different; some had skin that was just a shade too pale, others had eyes that were just a little too bright, and others…others had wings. Like fairies made human. It was utterly surreal.
Their captor – and honestly, how annoying was it to keep referring to him like that? Couldn’t he at least have given them his name? – led them to a corner across the room, where another man was standing, talking to a woman who gave of a feel of otherworldly beauty. In front of these people, Lyra felt like she was an insignificant bug that could be squashed with a simple wave.
Without question, Lyra knew that man was the ‘leader’ their captor had mentioned. 
 “Our ‘guests’,” their captor announced their presence the people in front of them. “One idiotic ghost and one just as idiotic human.”
“Thank you, Blaise,” the ‘leader’ addressed their captor, the tone of his voice carrying a slight reprimand.
Ah, Lyra thought, the ass finally has a name.
Beside her, Charlotte gave a startled gasp.
“No way,” she breathed in disbelief. “Leneo?”
 The leader wordlessly raised his eyebrow at her, just a little, staring at the ghost for several long moments before recognition lit his face.
 “Charlotte,” he reciprocated. “What a surprise.”
 “You’re still alive,” Charlotte stated, her voice filled with wonder. “After all these years. I thought, that night – “
 “ – that I died?” Leneo wryly completed her sentence. “Not quite. But that was centuries ago, so it doesn’t really matter in the here and now. What matters is that my son tells me you want to reopen the Rift to Sunset Valley.”
The indifferent way he treated Charlotte must’ve taken her off-guard, as she was visibly surprised by the change of subject.
“I…yes,” she agreed hesitantly. “The Gate…it wasn’t supposed to be used, but Lyra surprised me into opening it fully. I never meant to go through, and I definitely never meant for Lyra to come with. Her family and her entire life is in Sunset Valley, and I’m very close friends with her mother. I have to get her back.”
Lyra crossed her arms and glanced away, slightly disturbed by Charlotte’s words. Her entire life was in Sunset Valley? Not quite. The only thing she had left in that godforsaken place was her family.
Leneo turned his gaze to Lyra, studying her with inquisitive eyes, but his words were directed at Charlotte.
“You’re friends with her mother?”
“Yes,” Charlotte agreed. “I’ve known her since she was a very young girl, and I’ve known her children their entire lives. Chantia – that’s Lyra’s mother – was born on Full Moon, so she’s always been able to –“
Charlotte was still talking, but Lyra could clearly see that Leneo was only paying attention with half an ear. Instead, the majority of his attention was fixed on Lyra herself.
 “You don’t feel you belong there, do you,” he addressed Lyra, interrupting Charlotte’s explanation. His words were a question, but his tone anything but.
Lyra stared mutely at him. How could he know that? Was it just a lucky guess?
“Why would you say that?” she asked defensively, deflecting the question.
His eerily glowing eyes continued staring at her, and there was some emotion in them that filled Lyra with dread. His question hadn’t been a lucky guess. He knew. Somehow, he knew that she had never felt like she belonged.
…But what would it matter anyway? She had to go home, whether she felt like she belonged or not. She had things she couldn’t abandon. Her family would be looking for her. She had photoshoots she had to complete. She had a myriad amount of arrangements she had to make before she could finally leave that godforsaken town. She still had to –
“I cannot allow the Rift to be reopened.”
Her thoughts came to a crashing halt at those words. By her side, Charlotte immediately began to protest, but Leneo resolutely held his hand up to stop her.
 “She’s an Anomaly, Charlotte,” he declared sharply. “Allowing her to return to return to a world she does not belong to will only disrupt the Balance around that world even further. I cannot allow that. The Sunset Valley Balance is very, very close to being irreparably disrupted, and I will not allow that to continue. Above all else, I serve the Keeper, and the Balance. I will not let the Rift be reopened.”
Lyra stared mutely at him, horrified by his words. What the hell?! How could he refuse her to go back? It was her home! Yeah, sure, she didn’t exactly like it, or even felt like she really belonged, but why would that give him reason to keep them here? It wasn’t right!
A subtle rustle of cloth drew her attention as the woman who had so far been standing silently and motionlessly turned to her. Once again, Lyra was struck by the otherworldly sense of beauty the woman radiated. From a completely conventional point of view the woman wasn’t even that pretty, but something about her made Lyra feel utterly mediocre in comparison.
In front of this woman, she was utterly unable to move or even think, simply staring at her in wonder, even as the woman delicately placed two fingers under her chin and forced her to look her in the eye. Images from an almost-forgotten dream from a night long, long ago flashed through her mind, swirling around and around, the images just as vivid as she remembered them, and voices from that same dream echoed off the walls of her mind, echoing again and again and again.
Anomaly. Not Right. Balance cannot be kept.
 “The Keeper’s touch is upon you,” the voice of the woman sounded as if from far away, intruding into her thoughts. “He has identified you many, many years ago, as one the Balance cannot deal with. You are not here by accident.”
Lyra stared at the woman with tears in her eyes. Her mind was a fractured mess of vivid images, and she couldn’t focus on a single clear thought. Like snowflakes in a blizzard they swirled around and around, keeping her from forming a single lucid thought. She felt suspended, stuck in a snippet of time that would never move again. Everything around her, every sight, sound, texture, smell, everything, faded into the distance, and the only thing that kept her from drifting off into the infinity of the abyss was the vivid green eyes staring into her soul, and the light, gentle touch of two fingers placed beneath her chin.
 “Sleep, child,” the silver voice told her. “Tomorrow things will make more sense.”
The fractured vivid images in her mind blackened, and she allowed darkness to pull her under.
Tomorrow things will make more sense.
Lyra woke slowly and heavily, her eyes feeling gritty and her bones and muscles feeling leaden with fatigue. She had slept the sleep of the dead, but she didn’t feel rested in the least. She had a vicious headache splitting her brain right above her eyes and with a groan she buried her head in the soft pillow, attempting her best to drown out the pain and remember what the hell she had done the previous night.
Her eyes shot open as she remembered everything – Charlotte, that arrogant ass, Leneo, that beautiful woman, fractured images that were breaking her mind
She gasped and shot up, trying her best to drive those images out of her mind, her heart racing. The images stubbornly lingered, twisting and mixing into one senseless picture, but to her relief, the images no longer felt like they were going to break her mind. They still gave her one heck of a headache though.
She glanced around at her surroundings, anything to drive those images away.
Well, at least the room was an upgrade from her dismal lodgings of the previous day.
A knock on the door startled her, causing her to jerk her head and stare at the closed door in apprehension. Charlotte was nowhere in sight, and for the first time Lyra realised she was completely alone.
Alone, and somehow stuck in a place with no way to get home. And yes, she was so utterly aware that she could not go home. Amongst all the senseless, vivid pain and imagery, she came out of it with only one lucid thought:
I mustn’t go back. I won’t ever belong there.
The knock on her door repeated, insistently. Plumbob, that was annoying. The sound drilled into her mind, poking and prodding at her blinding headache.
Annoyed, Lyra stalked across the room and jerked the door open.
What is it?” she snapped irritably.
The woman at her door simply lifted an eyebrow, clearly unimpressed with Lyra’s snappish behaviour. She chewed on a piece of gum, blowing a bubble and popping it with a loud snap.
“Alison wants to talk to you,” she informed Lyra, her entire bearing filled with boredom. “She told me to fetch you, so I’m fetching you.”
“So what, are you a goddamn dog to play fetch like an obedient little puppy?” Lyra snapped at her.
“Ooh, testy, aren’t we?” the woman responded, not intimidated in the least. “I’m a wolf, love, not a dog. And if you don’t want to meet with the most powerful person on this island, then that’s not my problem.” She gave Lyra a sweet smile. “If you do care though, I’ll be waiting outside this room for five minutes. If you’re not here after that, I’ll assume you don’t care about the consequences and I’ll inform her promptly that you don’t give a shit.” She raised her eyebrows at Lyra challengingly. “So what’s it gonna be, love? Should I wait here like an obedient little puppy?”
Lyra ground her teeth together in anger. She was stuck in a completely foreign place, with absolutely no way to get back home, and as much as she would like to send this harpy to hell, she was her only ticket to finding answers.
“Fine,” she bit out. “I’ll be here.” With that she slammed the door shut, trying her best to forget the smug smile that was on the harpy’s face.
Five minutes later, she was back in the self-proclaimed wolf’s company, trailing sullenly behind her as she was led through the strange corridors of the place. There weren’t a lot of people around, but the ones who were around carried that same air of wariness and danger from the previous night.
“What is this place anyway?” Lyra asked absently, feeling unsettled from the stares directed at the two of them.
“Our base,” her escort answered with that same lazily bored tone she had initially greeted Lyra with. “Every Full Moon we gather here for the hunt, and in between to discuss it. If you wanna know more, you’ll have to ask Alison.” With that she gestured lazily at a table where two women were already sitting – one of them being the woman she had talked to the previous night.
 “Come, take a seat,” the woman greeted Lyra with a friendly smile, gesturing at the empty chair. In the bright light of the room, she looked just like a normal, ordinary person. She was still beautiful, but Lyra no longer felt like the woman had that earth-shattering beauty that had captivated her and kept her in complete thrall the previous night.
“We have not been introduced properly,” she smiled at Lyra. “I am Alison Everhart, and this -” she gestured at the other woman sitting by the table, “- is Sionann Bernier, who you’ll be seeing quite a bit of in the next five years, fate willing. I understand your name is Lyra?”
Lyra nodded hesitantly and took the seat presented to her.
 “Lyra Marquel, yes,” she agreed. “What’s going on? What happened last night? And where is Charlotte?” She was desperate for a familiar face, even if that face belonged to someone she wasn’t exactly fond of.
Alison hummed and took a sip from the cup in front of her.
“All difficult questions,” she remarked, glancing at Lyra over her glasses. “I believe Charlotte has moved on, after her conversation with my partner last night. She’s been…made aware of her actions, and I believe she’s come to an agreement with the Keeper. Whatever that agreement is, I do not have the privilege of knowing. As to what happened last night, to you in particular,” she paused, taking another sip of tea, “is a bit more complicated. Tell me, child: what do you know of the Balance?”
…And again it was with the old wives’ tales. Why was everybody lately fixating on old bedtime stories?
“I know it’s a fairy tale,” Lyra answered flatly. Honestly, she wasn’t a child. “Something that’s been made up to entertain little children while they’re trying to go to sleep. Why are you bringing this up?”
Beside her, the fairy burst out laughing, her laughter ringing across the room in peals. Even Alison was smiling, like Lyra had told them a particularly funny joke. Well, whatever the joke was, she didn’t get it. There was nothing even remotely funny about the situation she found herself in.
“The Balance is not a fairy tale,” Alison informed her indulgently, her mouth still quirking up in amusement. “It is the truth of everything, the one thing that remains true in every single world out there. It is the one thing that governs the worlds, and the one thing that determines whether a world thrives, or dies. It is the one thing around which every single thing revolves. It is also,” she pointed out, “the reason why you cannot return home.”
Lyra felt her eye twitch at that reminder. This was ridiculous. She just wanted to go home, but the knowledge that she couldn’t, that she mustn’t, was so deeply ingrained on her mind that she simply couldn’t dismiss it. She wanted answers, not some goddamn story.
The smile on Alison’s face softened, and a gentle look appeared in her eyes.
“I see I lost you,” she remarked gently. “Calm down, child, and listen. Let me explain to you why the Balance is not a fairy tale, and I promise, things will make more sense. Not only just the events from last night, but also things you didn’t even know didn’t make sense. I promise.”
There wasn’t even a hint of doubt in her voice. Lyra took a deep breath to try and calm down. She wanted answers. Bedtime story or not, if the answers really lied in a fairy tale, she’d listen. Alison had told her that things would make more sense, so things had better make sense.
She sat up straight in her chair, and listened.
A/N: I’ve recently realised that I’d done an absolutely terrible job in explaining the lore of the Marquel universe, so I’ve created a new page that explains it. Generation 3 is not going to make sense at all if you don’t have the lore, and the majority of Chantia’s part of the story in Generation 2 is lore-based (but slightly buried in between Sam’s drama), so I suggest reading it. Alison will explain the majority of the lore in the next chapter, but the lore page explains it in shorter and simpler terms, so feel free to take a glance. ;)
Also, how satisfying was it to see Lyra get a taste of her own medicine? XD I enjoyed writing it way too much. The sassy lovely wolf-lady is Melody Matthews, from FutureCarrie?’s blog.
Some random stuff about the newly introduced sims:
Sionann Bernier - Sionann’s name is pronounced as Shaun-nahn. She is the 2nd generation heir of my wishacy, and the daughter of Sean Kelly from Dragon Valley. She’s quite pretty for the daughter of a townie sim, isn’t she?
Leneo Ainsworth – Leneo is the 2nd generation heir of my play-for-fun RL. Charlotte is a spare from that same generation. So yes, Leneo was the brother she’s been looking for the whole time. ;)
Alison Everhart – My original play-for-fun RL save went glitchy after I installed IP, so I plucked Leneo out and made him the founder of my next attempt. Alison was his co-founder.
Blaise Ainsworth/Everhart) – The son of Leneo and Alison, thus making him the 2nd generation spare for my second attempt at a play-for-fun RL.