“It appears that way,” the woman said. “They are trying to capture someone, some thing.”
As the woman nodded, she transformed into an alabaster white woman with shocking blue eyes and jet black hair.
“Your friend,” the woman said.
“Tanesha?” Heather said in a whisper.
“And Perses’ granddaughter, the one protected by the Sword of Truth,” the woman said.
“Katy?” Jill asked.
“Wait,” Sandy said. “What are we talking about?”
“Serpents!” the woman said as she transformed into a disheveled woman with bushy-eyebrows and an inch of grey roots on a bad black haired dye job. Her clothing looked as if she was homeless.
“We’ve killed serpents before,” Sandy said. “Why would they want Katy or Tanesha?”
“Or Keenan, Jake, and Delphie?” Jill asked.
“Blane,” Heather said.
“Blane, too?” Sandy asked.
Heather gave a sad nod.
“What do you know, Perses?” the woman asked, as she transformed into a pirate-captain complete with a big black hat, a purple feather, and a parrot on her shoulder.
“I know that you are driving me crazy, Hera,” Perses said. “Stop changing.”
“Sorry.” The woman looked embarrassed. “I do that when I’m nervous.”
“Well, knock it off,” Perses said.
“Yes, my dear.” Hera sounded like she was talking to a beloved child. She transformed into a medium brown skinned woman with curly brown hair in a long white dress. “Sorry girls. I wondered why you were looking at me so oddly.”
“It’s not usual for us to see someone …” Jill said.
“Yes, I imagine that’s true and also not true,” Hera said. “As women, we transform into whoever our loved ones need us to be.”
“Be a role model,” Perses said. “Stop doing it.”
“Yes, yes, you’re right,” Hera said with a smile. “I imagine your daughters don’t do that.”
Jill cleared her throat as to not answer the question. Hera gave Perses a kind of “I knew it” look and he groaned. They clearly knew each other well. There was a kind of caring that passed between them, like a beloved Aunt to nephew or an old friends who’d seen good and awful times.
“What are we doing here?” Jill asked.
“We’re saving them,” Heather said.
“Who?” Sandy asked.
“Jake, Blane, Keenan, and Delphie,” Hera said. She smiled at them. “Rodney, too.”
“Why are you here?” Sandy asked Hera. “In the last few years, I’ve met fairies and goddesses and all kinds of creatures. I’ve learned that no one helps unless they have something to gain. So what is it you want?”
“Hera has an issue with the serpents,” Heather said. “She’s been bugging me to help her ever since we killed that pair of serpents.”
“Why us?” Jill asked.
“That’s what I asked myself,” Hera said. “Why you?”
“And?” Jill asked.
“I don’t know,” Hera said. “Perses?”
He gave her a vague look and a shrug.
“Wait,” Sandy said. “What does the great Hera need help with?”
The woman looked at Sandy and then looked away. Sandy looked at Jill’s father. He was giving Hera a hard look, which she ignored. Heather scowled and looked at the floor of the boat.
“Oh, look,” Hera turned back to look at Sandy, “We’re here.”
“Where is here?” Jill asked.
Without warning, a serpent erupted from the sea of amber and flew at the boat.
Jill swallowed hard and stepped onto the boat. The craft seemed to be made out of some kind of sturdy wood with animal skin stretched to create the hull. A wooden mast shot up from the center of the small boat, but there was no sail. Wooden seating was situated around the edge of the boat. Jill took special care to step only on the wood flooring. Sandy and Perses followed her onto the boat.
Somehow, the small boat expanded to fit all of them. Sandy sat down on the wooden bench, and Jill took the seat next to her near the back of the boat. Perses’s bulk took up the entire stern of the boat. Heather and the woman she was with stood near the front of the boat. Perses pushed the boat off the dock.
They floated along the placid burnt-orange water. There was no discernable wind or current. Somehow, the craft moved across the amber sea. After a few moments, the shore they’d been standing on sank into the gelatinous water with a quiet “plop.” Otherwise, the only sounds were the sea of amber lapping against the boat and the gentle sound of their breath going in and out.
“How are we moving?” Sandy whispered to Jill.
Jill shrugged and looked at her father. His gaze was fixed on the horizon. She followed his gaze and saw only the sea of amber meeting the cloudless orange sky. Jill shivered.
“Are you cold?” Sandy asked.
“Creeped out,” Jill said under her breath.
She glanced at the woman Heather was standing next to. While she watched, the woman’s body shifted from one female form to another. At one point, Jill was sure the woman looked like the Virgin Mary from her Catholic school days with a white head covering and blue robe. A few minutes later, the woman took on the image of the pagan goddess, Bridhid. Jill blinked and the woman had long, kinky grey hair that stood out from her head and white, sightless eyes. Her skin turned to the deepest black with bright dark eyes and dreadlocks that looked like snakes as they came off her head. Every once in a while, Jill saw the woman’s visage settled into some version of a beautiful woman with regal bearing and golden brown skin.
“Is she …” Sandy leaned closer, “ …changing?”
Jill nodded. Sandy cleared her throat.
“Heather?” Sandy asked.
Heather turned to look at Sandy for the first time. For a moment, Heather’s eyes scanned Sandy’s body. It was clear that she didn’t recognize her friend.
“Heather?” Sandy repeated. Heather’s face broke into a warm smile.
“Sandy,” Heather nodded. She glanced at Jill, “And Jill. Yes.”
Heather looked like she would run to hug them. She glanced at the ever-changing woman and decided against that.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Heather said.
“Where is here?” Jill asked.
“This is the sea of amber,” Heather said.
“Obviously,” Sandy said.
“Yeah, I guess that is obvious,” Heather nodded.
“Trust nothing you see,” the woman standing next to Heather said in the visage of an African warrior princess. “Everything is a fabrication of the serpent. Even this boat.”
“They want us here?” Sandy asked.
The woman changed into a Chinese woman who looked like Ng Mui, one of the five elders of the Shaolin Dynasty.
“It appears that way,” the woman said. “They are trying to capture someone, some thing.”
“Really, sir, I feel just awful,” one of the other fairy corps leaders said.
“Not enough to tell me that Celeste was offering a reward to the fairy who injures my child,” Abi said.
“She’s of the court, Abi, and you’re …” the other leader said.
Abi gave her a hard look.
“You’re a courtesan, Abi. That’s all,” the other leader said. “You couldn’t have thought that this thing with Prince Finegal would last.”
“Go,” Abi said.
The other fairy lifted a shoulder in a shrug and disappeared. Soon, Abi was alone in the hallway. She converted to human size and walked out of the building. Outside, she caught a cab to Luke Air Force Base. She announced herself at the gate, and as she expected, she was allowed into the base. A young man came to take her to her destination.
They drove in a Jeep for a few minutes and got out at a nondescript building. Abi followed her guide through the maze of the building and up an elevator. They went down a long hallway and into a room. There she found a group of men and women working on computers. She saw Alex Hargreaves talking on the phone near the front of the room. Alex nodded her head toward some cots set up along the wall. Tanesha was lying a cot. Prince Finegal sat on the edge of her cot. The children, Paddie and Katy, were sharing a cot next to Tanesha.
Abi opened her mouth to say something. Fin got up to greet her.
“We wanted to let them sleep for a while,” her young man guide said.
“Why?” Abi asked.
“We have time,” the young man shrugged.
“We don’t time!” Abi said.
“They need to rest,” Fin said. “As do you.”
He took her hand and led her to the open cot near the rest.
“But Celeste and …” Abi said.
“I’m sorry I doubted you,” Fin said. “It won’t happen again.”
“They were happy that Tanesha was lost!” Abi said.
Abi took a fast breath to keep from crying. Fin hugged her.
“General Zeli told me flat out that Celeste was of the court and me … and I’m just your whore.” Abi started to cry into his shoulder.
“You sent them home?” Fin asked.
Abi nodded against his shoulder. Over Fin’s shoulder, Alex Hargreaves caught Abi’s eye. Alex smiled and rolled her eyes at the phone caller. She hanged up the phone and came over. Alex pointed to a free cot.
“Please rest,” Alex said.
“But…” Abi started.
“You won’t miss a thing,” Alex said. “But you will if you’re not rested. I can’t afford any screw ups.”
“My team is not immortal. Their lives are on the line,” Alex said. “My team and my family are in danger. And we are coming after the serpents and they hold grudges. If this isn’t done well, we will make enemies.”
Alex gave Abi a curt nod and turned to go.
“How did you get involved in all of this?” Abi asked.
“Serpents natural enemies are …” Alex said.
“Dragons,” Abi said.
She stepped back from Fin and looked at him. He nodded.
“There’s an answer,” Alex said. “Another would be that we respond in kind to threatens on the lives of our families and team.
“Come, my love,” Fin said to Abi.
He took her hand and led her to the open cot. He lay down and she lay next to him. Magically, the small cot fit them. Abi was so upset that she was sure she’d never rest. She closed her eyes and in a moment she was out. The next thing she knew, it was daylight and the humans around them were getting ready for war.
“Fairy corps!” Abi yelled and the fairies surrounded her.
They had spent the last few hours containing the serpent dust. After cleaning the hallway, they had to capture all of the dust and take it to the containment units on the Isle of Man. Every team on the entire corps joined in to help Abi’s team. The work was hard, detailed, and exhausting. But the fairy corps practiced every day for a serpent outbreak. In some ways, it was an honor to finally have a chance to use their skills.
Leaders of the other fairy teams gathered around Abi. The rest of the fairy corps surrounded them. They were equally tired and exhilarated. It wasn’t every day that four serpent-men were destroyed. Abi scanned the crowd. She caught sight of one of the fairies who was supposed to watch Tanesha.
Then Abi realized — she hadn’t seen Tanesha in a long time.
“Where is Tanesha?” Abi asked.
The leaders of the other fairy corps teams looked confused. Abi called to the five fairies who were watching Tanesha.
“Where is Tanesha?” Abi asked again.
The fairies glanced at each other and then at Abi.
“Sir, we went to fight the serpents,” a fairy said.
“So, where’s Tanesha?” Abi asked.
The five fairies looked at each other.
“We…” another fairy started.
“You lost my great-granddaughter! Prince Finegal’s great-granddaughter?” Abi asked. “The woman he says is the best friend he’s ever had?”
“Um…” another one of the five fairies started. “Celeste said …”
Abi felt her blood pressure rise. She was furious and panicked at the same moment.
“What?” Abi asked. “Celeste said what?”
“Celeste told us that she’d …” another fairy started to say.
She stopped talking when the fairy next to her nudged her shoulder. Abi shook her head at their nonsense.
“Where did you see her last?” Abi asked.
“She got stuck in that woman’s hair,” one of the fairies said.
“And you didn’t free her?” Abi asked.
“We tried but…” the fairy looked at the other four fairies.
“The serpent came and…” another fairy offered.
The fairies fell silent. Abi stared at them.
“I can’t believe this,” Abi said. “I gave you one thing to do and…”
“But, sir, there were serpents!” the fairy said. “And Celeste was really clear that losing this human was a good thing.”
“I’ll be sure to tell Queen Fand that her great-great-grandchild, Prince Finegal’s progeny, was lost because there were serpents!” Abi said.
“Why not just run a trace on her?” one of the five fairies offered.
“You can’t trace her,” Abi said. “Something to do with her father. Magic doesn’t work on her.”
“So she’s lost?” another fairies voice rose with something that might have been panic. The way the other fairies looked at her, Abi was certain she was happy that Tanesha was gone.
“She’s lost,” Abi said.
The entire fairy corps became still.
“We can…” a leader of another team started to say.
“We can’t,” Abi said. “All we can do is go home and hope she turns up.”
Abi stared at the ground and the fairies stared at her.
“Go!” Abi ordered. “Get out of my sight before I show you what I do to traitors like you.”
The phone beside Jill’s bed rang. She sat up in bed.
She fumbled for the light and managed to knock the phone off the table. She heard her sister’s voice coming from the floor. Jill hopped out of bed and dropped to the floor. She grabbed the receiver from under the bed.
“Hello?” Jill asked.
“Jilly?” Megan’s voice sounded panicked.
“What’s up?” Jill asked.
“Do you have Katy?” Megan asked.
“Katy?” Jill asked. “No! I left her at your house!”
“She was here,” Megan said. “Her friend, Paddie, came over for a while with his dad, Colin. They played with the boys until it was bath time. Paddie left and I gave Katy a bath.”
Megan let out a little sob.
“I put her down in the boys room, but …”
“But what?” Jill asked.
“She’s not there!” Megan said. “Ryan got up to use the bathroom and noticed she was gone.”
“Katy’s gone?” Jill’s heart was beating so fast she could barely speak.
The phoneline clicked indicating that there was another phone. Jill scowled at the phone. Jacob had insisted they keep this landline, but Jill didn’t really know how to use it.
“Is that another call?” Megan asked.
“Yeah but …”
“Just click the button,” Megan said. “I’ll hold on.”
Jill clicked the phone.
“Jill?” a woman’s voice asked.
“This is Jill,” she said.
“It’s Julie. You know, Paddie’s mom?”
Julie, I’m on the other line with my sister. Can we …”
“Do you have Paddie?” Julie asked.
“What? Paddie’s gone, too?” Jill asked.
“You mean you don’t have him?”Julie asked.
“My sister said he and Colin came to her house to play tonight,” Jill said.
“No, I don’t think so,” Julie said. “I mean he and Colin went out but … Colin?”
“I’m going to talk to my sister,” Jill clicked over to Megan. “Meg? Paddie’s gone, too.”
“How is this possible?” Megan asked. Her voice was filled with panic and tears. “The boys didn’t hear a thing. It’s like she just vanished into thin air!”
Hearing a noise, Jill looked up. Her father was standing in the doorway.
“It’s time,” Perses said.
“Time?” Jill asked. “What about Katy? Paddie?”
In an instant, she was standing on the shore of a burnt-orange sea. The sea of amber was placid with only a ripple of a wave across the surface. Jill looked up at her father and he pointed. Heather and a woman she didn’t know were standing on a boat at a dock about a hundred feet from her.
“Is this it?” Sandy’s voice came from Jill’s left.
Jill turned to gawk at her.
“The sea of amber,” Sandy said with a nod to Perses. “You ready?”
“I am,” Perses said. “Jill?”
Jill’s mouth moved up and down as if she were a fish out of water.
“That’s a yes,” Sandy said.
Sandy walked toward Heather.
“You ready?” Sandy asked.
“All set,” Heather said.
Jill followed Sandy into the boat. When she turned, she could have sworn she saw her father waving to someone. He gave her a curt nod and stepped into the boat. They pushed off into the sea of amber.
Heather was sound asleep when the phone rang. Her heart jumped for fear that something had happened to Blane. She tried to roll over but her round, pregnant belly wouldn’t allow such ease of movement. She scooted on her rear until she could sit on the side of the bed.
“Hello?” Heather asked.
“Heather?” a woman’s voice said on the phone. “It’s Amber. You remember, I’m Blane’s night nurse at St. Joe’s.”
“Blane,” Heather said in a whispered out breath.
“He’s unconscious again,” Amber said. “He seems to be fine. Healing, gaining white cells, I mean, everything’s on track.”
“That’s what’s weird,” Amber said. “He was asleep. He woke up when you called. After talking to you, he ate a snack, and went to bed again. He was upright, reading a book when he fell unconsciousness.”
“You tried to wake him?” Heather couldn’t keep herself from asking the obvious.
“Of course,” Amber said.
“He’s in a coma,” Amber said. “The doctor said not to call it a coma because we don’t know why it’s happening.”
“But it’s a coma?” Heather asked.
“Yes, yes, I think so,” Amber said. “Unofficially, of course.”
“But he’s alive?”
“He’s definitely alive,” Amber said. “Healing well too, so don’t be disheartened.”
“Um…” Heather said.
“Yeah, easier said than done,” Amber said.
Heather looked at Mack, who was sleeping in his crib in her room, and Tink, who was sleeping on the futon near the door.
“What can I do?” Heather asked.
“We just have to wait it out,” Amber said.
“You don’t know if he’ll come out of this,” Heather said.
“He did last time,” Amber said.
“And this time?
“There’s no way to know,” Amber said.
Heather nodded and then realized Amber couldn’t see her nod.
“Thanks for letting me know,” Heather said.
“We’ll call in the morning and give you an update,” Amber said.
“Oh, and Heather?” Amber asked.
“Yes,” Heather said.
“I’m really sorry,” Amber said.
“Me too,” Heather replied but Amber was gone.
Heather looked at the handset for a moment before setting the phone down in the cradle. She stared at the wall for a moment trying to decide what to do.
“God damned serpents,” Heather said under her breath. “Hera?”
A transparent apparition of the Queen of Olympians appeared.
“I’m ready,” Heather said.
“It’s about time,” Hera said. “What about…?”
She gestured to the children sleeping in the room. Heather went to Tink and shook her shoulder.
“Tink?” Heather asked.
Tink opened her eyes.
“I have to take care of some things,” Heather said. “I’ll be back.”
“You’re sure?” Tink asked. She looked in the direction of Hera, but couldn’t see her with her human eyes.
“I’m sure,” Heather said. “I’ll see you very soon.”
“Okay,” Tink said.
Tink picked up Mack and carried him to the futon. Heather cleared her throat and Tink startled.
“Sorry, I forgot you’re still here,” Tink said.
“Blane’s in a coma again,” Heather said. “If I’m not back by dawn…”
“I’ll call Jill and Sandy,” Tink said.
“See you later,” Heather leaned over to kiss Tink’s cheek. She touched Mack’s soft baby cheek. She helped Tink make a little nest for Mack on the futon.
“It’ll be okay,” Tink said.
“Everything,” Tink said. “You don’t see it, but I do. Everything is in order. Just remember that boats float.”
“In order?” Heather scowled. “Boats?”
Tink gave her a sleepy smile.
“Did you say something?” Tink blinked at Heather.
Heather shook her head.
“See you when you get back,” Tink said.
“Love you,” Heather said. She kissed Tink’s cheek again.
“Me too,” Tink smiled. Heather started out the door when she heard Tink say, “Bye Hera.”
Heather stopped and turned but Tink was clearly asleep. She glanced at Hera.
“She’s a special girl,” Hera said.
“Special?” Heather asked.
Hera smiled. She took Heather’s arm and they disappeared.