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Welcome to my Writing in Real Time serial novel experiment – this first story in the Realm Wraith Trilogy will unfold here on my blog in weekly episodes, and is yours to enjoy. Friendly discussion and thoughtful comments are welcome. Who knows – your ideas might just help shape the story as I write! If you’re joining us in progress, start with Episode One: Leap of Faith
The crossing is quick, but excruciating.
The portal transports matter across the dimensional planes by compressing its mass into an energy stream. It’s a lot like shoving a spike through a pinhole. The cellular distortion is brutal. It would also be fatal, without the gossamer.
This second skin is better than magic. Besides making me mutable, the sheathing enables my body to morph in response to a whole host of external forces. It also gives my regenerative abilities a hypernatural boost, which can come in handy when one is out of her realm and all on her own. Most importantly, it has chameleon qualities which allow me to adapt to any alien environment. In the mortal realm I will appear to the most scrutinizing observer to be as human as any other inhabitant of this world, even though I am not human at all.
I land hard, coiled in a sprinter’s crouch beside the same kedge stone, but in an entirely distinct and separate reality. The same and yet totally different – just one of many paradoxes that transect the realms.
A sudden gut-wrenching convulsion throws me forward onto my hands and knees, and I hurl all over the pine needles and leafy dust that litters the forest floor. Nausea is a normal aftereffect of the crossing, but I am still mortified. Over two dozen training excursions and three covert ops missions in the human realm, and every time it’s the same. I should be able to hold it together better by now. I’ve never seen Violet puke.
I want to rinse the bad taste from my mouth. I need water. But first, I need to get my bearings. It takes a few deep breaths before I can force myself back on my haunches and get a look at my surroundings. The crossing key is still curled in my clutch, and I am quick to loop the lanyard back around my neck. This key is my lifeline, the only connection I have to my home realm. If it were lost, I could be stranded here and next to failing this mission, I have no greater fear. I will never let this key out of my reach.
The moon is high and gleaming bright white through the dense evergreen canopy of the Olympic National Forest. This time of year, the climate in the Pacific Northwest is ever changing – cloud covered and rain soaked one minute, crisp air and clear skies the next. The weather is working with me tonight.
We fae are not nocturnal beings by nature, not in our home realm, but it is easier to operate at night in the human dimension. Less chance of being detected, of course, but it is also easier to function when there is less noise – the static interference created by the frenetic energy discharges of daily mortal life. Preternatural beings are super sensitive to it.
While the moon and the stars make it easier to set a course, I don’t need them to navigate. Like all sylph, I have a hyper-developed sense of smell. EDL reconnaissance and recovery expeditions usually deploy an advance scout team, often a cross gender pair. A sylph’s olfactory abilities partnered with a satyr’s superior nocturnal vision make for highly accurate covert tracking. A kind of sensory GPS, I guess. But I have only myself to rely on this time.
Nose to the sky, I snuffle the scents on the damp night air. The salty smells of sand and sea creatures are mingled with the piney perfume of the evergreens. Beneath these pungent aromas, I catch the faint, distant tinge of satyr sign. It is unmistakably Auger’s. The scent is stale; days, maybe even weeks old, the lingering trail left by his last trip to this realm. Squad members are each assigned a monthly sector tour as a part of our regular duties, for reconnaissance mostly, but also to resupply the forward operations bevies. Sector Five is on Auger’s watch, and one of our support stations is nearby. This is my first checkpoint.
A warbling caw in the boughs overhead jump-starts my heart and sets my teeth on edge. I’m being watched. It was only a matter of time until my presence was detected, but I am surprised the sentinels have spotted me so soon.
They are everywhere here. Preternatural souls trapped in the form of a crow, banished from the Empyrean realm and condemned to eternal internment in the human world. The can only be released from this purgatory by the Empyrean being that cursed them, and if it should happen that a sentinel outlives their jailor, they are essentially damned for all eternity.
Some of the sentinels are ancient. By human measure, the preternatura appear immortal, though we can and do die. We have our vulnerabilities, but we are less susceptible to injury and illness, and our post-adolescent cellular degeneration progresses much more slowly than that of humans. Given the right circumstances, magical beings can live a long, long time – eons even. So when I say these earthbound souls are ancient, I’m talking centuries old, maybe even millennia.
It isn’t all bad; sentinels do have the freedom of flight. But they can never return to our dominion, and this is the cruelest of all fates. I truly cannot imagine anything worse than never being allowed to go home.
These disenfranchised spirits could be useful too, though not completely trusted. Beings without belonging lack the loyalty that naturally comes from a sense of solidarity with your own kind. This makes them mercenary, and prone to make alliances that serve their need to have purpose. They are not alone in this realm. Others among the preternatural races have been banished here, for crimes against the home realm. Still others have escaped here, looking to infiltrate human economic and political systems and manipulate them in order to create their own power bases.
Some of the more nefarious deserters are actually on the EDL’s most-wanted list and known known to use the sentinels as lookouts. The last thing I need is an off-mission confrontation with a fae fugitive who thinks I’m here to drag them back. I didn’t have the time. There is no way to know whether this fowl is friend or foe without getting up close and personal, so I decide to play it safe.
I burst out of my crouch, sprinting full-force for the heart of the nearest stand of trees. The sentinel has the advantage of moonlight and a birds-eye view but I have stealth on my side, and the camouflaging the gossamer sheath provides. I run low, slinking deeper into the forest undergrowth until I am fairly certain the sentinel has lost sight of me, and then cut a zigzag path all the way to the tree line on the other side of the forest.
By the time I reach the tree line, I am remembering standard infiltration procedure. Before entering the open, I throw a scatter charge to disguise any residual energy signature I might be sloughing. The charge is effective for a radial mile or more, enough to ensure I won’t be followed.
From the forest, I walk along an abandoned access road toward the checkpoint. My first objective is to collect some solid intel, but for that I need transportation. I also need some real protection from the elements. Gossamer is waterproof, but it isn’t much good in chilly weather. It isn’t exactly fashionable either, and I need to blend in with the mortals in their communities.
Auger’s scent leads me two miles west, to the tiny tourist town of Port Angeles and the lonely parking lot at the ferry dock. The town is tourist driven, nearly derelict in the off-season, and all but abandoned at night. The perfect staging area – within easy reach of the kedge stone, and populated enough to provide cover and the means to secure any basic supplies the team might need.
The ferry-runs to and from Victoria are suspended until later in the spring. I won’t have to worry much about avoiding chance encounters. Then again, if I wander around in the open too long I risk drawing the suspicion of local law enforcement. I need wheels to get myself inland. There’s a lot of ground to cover between Port Angeles and the Emerald City, and not a lot of time.
Three vehicles are parked in the lot – a road-weary jeep, a tricked-out newer model crew cab pickup, and a powder-blue vintage replica roadster convertible. The truck and convertible likely belonged to locals or tourists, but the jeep is an EDL stash vehicle.
Stowed in the rear compartment of the jeep is a small supply of bottled water and a duffle stuffed with a selection of coverings and foot gear to suit the varying seasonal climates of this realm. Underneath the compartment decking is an emergency munitions cache, in case any of us run into serious trouble. But for now, all I need is the water, and a little extra protection from the elements.
An unlined black canvas trench coat and black jump boots appeal to me, partially for the added layers but also because they give off a particular vibe. I like black. The gossamer bodysuit and tactical vest are organically mimetic and automatically adapt to match the coat. The total look is a bit too dark and edgy out here in the sticks, but once I get to the city no one will even look twice. But before I drive all the way to Seattle, I have a stop to make.