“Where are we going?” asked Eve as she followed Will through the front door. The gravel crunched under his heavy footfalls as Will made his way quickly to his father’s car parked in the driveway.
“It’s hard to explain,” he replied as he climbed into the driver’s seat and slammed the key into the ignition. “Just get in.”
Eve climbed into the car’s passenger seat. She had barely closed the door before she was pinned in her seat as Will accelerated away from the house. She quickly pulled on her seatbelt. “Are we going after that thing? That man?” she asked.
Will sucked in breath impatiently and said, “We’re going to ask for help from some people called the Procnatus.”
“It’s complicated,” replied Will, “you won’t understand.”
“Why?” asked Eve, who was now feeling thoroughly confused with the turn the morning had taken and Will, who was clearly under pressure, lacked the patience for explaining anything. She pushed him nonetheless and said, “Tell me.”
“They’re like another species. They’re called thorian,” replied Will in almost a growl, a surge of irritation had struck him as he narrowly escaped a head-on collision with a truck while overtaking another car. “They look like us, but they’re not human. They’re stronger and faster, and they’re immortal.”
“You’re right, I don’t understand,” said Eve, feeling her breath quicken and wishing she had brakes in her foot well as Will—who had passed his driving test only days before—almost hit another oncoming vehicle. “What are they?”
“I told you; they’re another species.”
“That makes no sense. How can there be another species of people?”
Will drove the car into a multi-storey carpark; he pulled the ticket from the machine to raise the barrier and sped up the levels to find an available space. After parking, they ran down four flights of foul-smelling stairs, entered the street and tore towards the train station. Will purchased two open returns for the next train to Milton Keynes, and they headed for the platform.
“It’s delayed,” he said, eying the departure board. “We have twenty minutes.”
“Good,” said Eve. “You can tell me about these magical beings.”
“Hush,” hissed Will, motioning for her to enter the empty waiting area. “Keep your voice down. Look, I will tell you, but you need to keep it to yourself.”
“Sure, whatever,” said Eve. “It doesn’t sound like something anyone would believe anyway.”
“No, you’re probably right,” Will said. He gave her a thin smile before continuing. “There is a world located above our world, and it is home to the thorian who I mentioned earlier and some others. The world has continents like our world; the one we are going to is called Arkazatinia. It is split up into wards, each controlled by a different group of thorian who have a ruler. We’re going to see the Procnatus thorian ruler.”
“So why are we going to Milton Keynes?”
“We’re going to use an entrance to their world in Milton Keynes, there are others, but that’s the only one I know will take us right where we need to be on the other side. I haven’t been many times, and I don’t want to struggle to find my way around.”
“Okay,” Eve slowly replied as she tried to sift through the mass of questions filling up her consciousness. “So, they look human? And they can pass to our world? So, I could know one?”
“It’s possible—they are really good-looking.”
“I haven’t met many, but they were stunning … this is our train.”
The two left the waiting area and joined the small crowd gathering on the platform to board the train. The train was relatively quiet, and they managed to find an empty table. A couple and a small child, who was busily colouring a fairy princess, occupied the table next to them. Eve and Will sat opposite each other.
“What is the world like?” she asked.
Will glared at her to keep her voice down and looked at the family next to them who, amidst colouring and chatting amongst themselves, seemed not to have noticed. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a sleek pocket watch that appeared to be coated with some fluid-like substance. He opened the reverse of the watch to reveal a small control panel, which housed a screen displaying the words ‘NORMAL MODE’, Will pressed a red button on the touch screen panel and the screen now displayed ‘SECURE MODE’.
“We can talk now,” he announced. “I have cloaked us so we’ll look like we’re not speaking.”
“Okay,” said Eve slowly. “I’m so confused, what is your part in all of this?”
“My family and I are guardians; we help to make sure Arkazatinia is kept secret—hence the speakeasy.”
“Yeah,” Will smiled. “My great grandad was American and was a young man during prohibition; he called the watch the speakeasy because it was easier to say than vox dissimulatrix.”
“You mean to tell me that this space age cloaking device has been around since the twenties?” exclaimed Eve.
“Well, not this model,” replied Will, “but others like it. My grandad had an actual Victorian style pocket watch; it is quite cool—very steampunky—my dad still has it. There have been many devices modified to conceal speech; that’s more or less what vox dissimulatrix means … oh, hang on.” Will switched the watch back to normal mode as the conductor approached them to check their tickets before turning back to secure mode and continuing. “I was given a speakeasy when I turned sixteen. When every member of my family reaches sixteen, they become a guardian, and we’re given the task of keeping the supernatural world a secret.”
“How? Do you turn up when something strange happens and cover it up like some secret government agent?”
“More or less,” smirked Will. “At least, the adults do, I’m only seventeen so I’m still in training.”
“Why doesn’t the supernatural world just be more careful and then you wouldn’t have to cover stuff up?”
“Most want their world to be kept secret, but there are a few who cause trouble in Lycea—that’s what they call our world. It is the role of the guardians to seek out the rogue Arkazatines and deal with them.”
“Deal with them?” asked Eve. “You mean you kill them?”
“Or send them back and have them arrested under Arkazatine law,” replied Will coolly. “Whatever it takes. To be honest, it sounds more exciting than it is; it is actually quite rare that we have to deal with anyone.”
“Right.” Eve shook her head in disbelief. How had she known Will all her life and never known any of this until today? “So, this supernatural world,” she said. “What is it called again?”
“The world is called Anaxagoras, the continent we cover is Arkazatinia, well, we cover part of it anyway.”
“Ok, Arkazatinia, why hasn’t it been found by our world? How can a whole world exist on Earth and we don’t know about it.”
“It exists on Earth, but on another level. It’s invisible to humans. I don’t really know how to explain it—I’m not sure if anyone does. Have you heard that sub-atomic particles behave differently at a quantum level and that some scientists have even suggested that it is evidence for an alternate dimension? That is perhaps the smallest hint of that world.”
“Wow! So one day scientists could just stumble across it?”
“They might do; some humans can detect the supernatural world, some people have ‘gifts’. Humans just write them off as being eccentric, but there have been some people who have managed to pass over. They are usually sent back home after their memory has been erased.”
Eve pressed her hands to her head as she imagined plausible explanations for every UFO disappearance she had heard of—did she just think this was plausible?
“This is hurting my brain,” she said. “I need coffee.” Will switched the watch to normal mode while they made their way to the buffet car to order coffee. On returning to their seats and with secure mode safely on, Eve took a sip of her coffee before continuing her interrogation. “These people we’re going to see? What are they called again?”
“Yes, why are we seeing them? Are they in charge?”
“No,” he said, “their government, the Imperium, is in charge of Arkazatinia, but my dad always told me to speak to the Procnatus first in an emergency as they’re the most rational.”
Will had spoken calmly though Eve could see that his eyes were betraying a hint of anxiety and she stopped her questioning.
They continued the rest of the journey in silence. Will gazed out of the window, the anxiety, which had settled on him briefly, had left his eyes and his expression gave nothing away. Eve felt a surge of anger rising in her stomach as she imagined all the lies he had told her and all the secrets he had kept from her. She swallowed the feeling and thought instead of everything that he had told her and everything she had seen that day. The world was so different from yesterday; yesterday supernatural beings were the subjects of fantasy: books, movies and TV dramas, but now they were real. She squeezed her temples to push a sharp pain that had formed behind her eyes into a dull ache.
Will shook Eve gently as the train arrived at Milton Keynes Central Station; she rubbed at her neck, which was now sore from dozing off with her head on the window. Her headache, at least, had subsided.
“It’s not far,” he said, leading Eve out of the train station and into the streets. They walked for around ten minutes with Will using a map feature on his pocket watch to guide them. “We’re here,” he announced as they approached a large glass fronted building.
“They live in a theatre?”
“Their guild occupies the same level as the theatre; they’re not in it.”
Will opened the reverse of the watch to reveal the control panel; he selected a new menu, and a lock replaced the speech display. Concealing the watch from view, he entered a password and instead of the theatre, they saw a beautiful neo-classical building fronted with massive columns.
“That is amazing!” exclaimed Eve. “It looks just like the British Museum and it doesn’t…what? What is it made from?”
Eve stared at the material used to construct the building, it looked like stone, but it moved, only slightly, but it definitely moved!
“I was shocked the first time I saw it,” laughed Will. “All of the buildings in Anaxagoras are built from this, it’s like an organic material, and it can move and change shape. It’s because rocks and metals in this world are alive.”
“Are you serious?” Eve spluttered. “So, the building could just decide to change shape if it feels like it?”
“It’s alive in the same sense that a tree or a plant is alive,” chuckled Will. “They don’t just have rocks wandering around. They can manipulate the material to join with other materials to form and hold the shapes they want. It doesn’t grow like a tree or a plant or erode like a rock, so it has zero maintenance.”
“Your watch thingy, that fluid isn’t just some weird case, it’s actually the metal?”
“That’s amazing! What is it called?”
“All the materials have different names, and I don’t remember any of them, apparently the guild has a great library.”
“With real books or are they alive too?”
Will laughed as he rang a bell at the door of the Guild of Procnatus and said, “No, the organic matter used to make books dies just as it does in our world.” An incredibly handsome man answered the door; Eve felt her mouth fall open at the sight of him.
Will also seemed slightly fazed, but recovered quickly and said formally, “Good afternoon, I’m William Farley, I’m a Guardian of Arkazatinia, and I request an urgent audience with Lord Thalia.”
The man glanced towards Eve, who blushed heavily. He did not react and looked back towards Will and asked, “Who is this? Another guardian?”
“No,” replied Will, maintaining his cool, “I shall explain all to Her Lordship.”
The man invited them into an elegant waiting area. Despite the grand exterior, the building did not have a vast entrance hall or high ceilings and instead showed a practical use of the great space. Both Eve and Will, expecting a breathtaking scene, found it a little disappointing. They were invited to sit in the waiting area chairs, which had the same ‘living’ properties as the building. Feeling a little creeped out, Eve preferred to stand.
“Did you say Her Lordship?” she asked.
“Yes,” Will said, “they have male and female lords.”
“Weird,” replied Eve.
“Why don’t you sit down? The chairs won’t hurt you.”
“You said it forms new shapes with other material,” replied Eve, jumping away from the wall she had leaned on without thinking. “I don’t want to become part of a chair or a wall.”
“They wouldn’t use it if it was that easy,” Will laughed, “they need a skilled alchemist to change them.”
“I’ll stand all the same,” shuddered Eve. “It would be like sitting on a chair made from bugs.”
Her eyes ventured towards the organic floor, and she began to shuffle uncomfortably. Will started to laugh, but quickly silenced himself as the door opened and a young woman entered. She appeared to be around nineteen or twenty and was incredibly beautiful.
“This way,” she said, indicating for them to follow her through the door.
She led them down a corridor rather grander than the entrance hall. The walls of the corridor were filled with portraits and news clippings of scientists and scientific feats through the ages. The walls were lined with display cabinets containing a trove of apparatus, gadgets and what looked like random junk. It should have looked cluttered, but its beautiful arrangement could easily pass for an exhibition.
The girl led them into a large office and motioned for them to sit on two chairs in front of a solid oak desk. The office was like a library/laboratory hybrid. The walls were lined with thousands of leather-bound volumes, and more cabinets displayed everything from crude tools to microscopes and numerous planetarium and orrery models. Eve and Will sat (Eve was relieved to find that the wooden seats did not appear to move) and were surprised to find the girl had sat opposite them.
“You’re Lord Thalia?” stuttered Will, blushing furiously.
The girl smiled. “Pleased to meet you, Guardian,” she said. Eve studied her face; she was as fresh-faced as a skincare model, but her eyes appeared to be as old and wise as an ancient scholar. Will started to speak, but something about her gaze hushed him, she said gently, “I am not accustomed to visits from guardians, Mr Farley, nor am I accustomed to visits from humans who should be unacquainted with our world. I assume you have a good reason for this interruption?”
Will nervously swallowed, he felt his heart beat faster and stammered, “I did not know where else to turn, my father has been taken … by … by a demon.”
Thalia raised an eyebrow and betrayed a mix of alarm and confusion before quickly regaining her composure. “I sympathise, Mr Farley, really I do,” she said, “but we have a protocol and channels to follow. Surely you’re aware that Arkazatinia is controlled by the Imperium?”
“Yes,” said Will, lowering his eyes, “but my father always told me to go to the Procnatus in matters of urgency as you are the most rational.”
She smiled, it was a warm smile and she said, “It’s kind of your father to say so. I may be able to be of some assistance in this matter. Have you eaten?”
Will relaxed a little; Eve had not noticed how tense he was until he did. He replied, “We had coffee on the train.”
Thalia pressed a button on a panel on the desk.
“Yes, My Lord?” came the crackled reply.
“Mark, could you arrange for some refreshments to be brought to my office and ask Mikæl to attend?”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“So,” said Thalia, leaning back into her seat, “tell me about this demon.”
Will and Eve glanced at each other before Will regaled Thalia with the events of the day. “My father, Andrew Farley, had been working in the garden before I got up around ten this morning when Eve phoned and said she was on her way.” His cheeks reddened and he felt a little foolish, but Thalia listened patiently and he continued. “Anyway, Eve and I went into the garden; I’d made my father a coffee and was taking it out to him when—”
Will stopped as the door opened and another handsome male entered with a tray of food and drinks. Eve stared at the man who was even more beautiful than the man who had answered the door. Breathe, she told herself.
He grinned and set the tray on the desk, he spoke in a jesting tone, “You called, my queen?”
Thalia smiled at him and said, “William Farley and I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name—Miss?”
“Eve Franklin,” said Eve, her cheeks burning.
“This is Mikæl Livius Salinator; he is my head Consiliario or consul if you will.”
“And head tea boy and bringer of scones,” Mikæl said, he winked at Eve and she blushed furiously.
“Mr Farley was filling me in on a schedule twelve incident that occurred earlier today in Lycea. Please continue.”
Mikæl appeared intrigued and perched on the edge of Thalia’s desk and folded his arms. Eve peeled her eyes from his bulging biceps when she realised that she was not breathing.
Will continued, “Eve and I had taken a coffee to my father in the garden and we saw that he was speaking to someone, it appeared to be a heated discussion. I asked Eve to wait inside, and I approached my father. I noticed that he was speaking with a demon—it was humanlike with eyes like green glass and its nails were like talons.”
“That’s an Asmodeus demon,” observed Mikæl. Thalia showed no reaction.
“I called out to my father to ask if everything was okay,” continued Will, “and the demon grabbed me and said, ‘I could take him, I could take him somewhere you’ll never find him.’ My father shouted at him to let me go and said he would do what he asked. Eve heard the raised voices and came into the garden. The demon moved from me to her, he taunted me and said that he could easily kill her. I shouted at him to ask what he wanted. He laughed at me and squeezed Eve around the neck. I tried to fight him off, but he threw me across the garden.
“He said that he had a message for the Imperium; he said, ‘you tell the Imperium that we want our seat and we will attack Lycea until we have it. We will start a war with the Imperium, with Lycea and with anyone who gets in our way. Here’s some incentive for you, I’ll kill your little girlfriend.’ I picked up a garden fork and drove it into his back and he let her go. He just laughed at me and said ‘you have spirit, little guardian, I like that. You pass on the message; tell the Imperium if they want to keep Lycea safe and get their guardian back, then we want our seat.’ Then he grabbed my father, leapt over the fence and left.”
Eve pulled down the collar of her sweater to reveal the bruises the demon had left behind. Thalia had stood and was pacing nervously as she listened.
“This situation could have been avoided if the Imperium weren’t so stubborn,” she said. “I can only see things becoming worse.”
“What do you mean?” asked Eve.
“Our government, the Imperium,” replied Mikæl, “thought it wise to exclude the demonic officials from the court. Demons have always been part of the Crown Alliance, the Crown was like our monarchy, and now we have the Imperium the demons are not included and they’re not happy about it. It’s a dangerous situation because the Imperium is unwilling to cave on giving a seat to the demons and the demons will up the ante.”
“I’m sorry if I sound a bit dumb, but,” said Eve, “demons have officials and want a say in parliament? That makes no sense to me; I mean, why do they care? They’re evil; they can do what they want, right?”
“It’s a common misconception,” said Thalia, “demons aren’t inherently evil, like everyone they are both good and bad. They have a role to play in the world like everyone else and that role is to provide balance. They challenge people, tempt them from righteousness to test who proves worthy to enter paradise. The demons were angels once, but they tired of the oppression they faced under Heaven’s strict rules and started a rebellion, which got very messy and saw them cast out. They formed Hell, their own system and lived by their own rules.
“They did eventually make a truce with Heaven, but they were never invited back—it seems they preferred Hell anyway. However, they did agree that they would work with Heaven to test for worthiness and have done so ever since. Demons now live and work between Hell, Anaxagoras and Lycea. The Imperator is of the opinion that the demons do not belong in our world, and he wants them cast out of Arkazatinia. He does not seem to realise the consequences of excluding them, the demons had been oppressed before and waged war on Heaven because of that. Even Heaven had to compromise with them eventually.”
“So, what now?” asked Will. “How can I get my father back? Do I need to speak to the Imperium?”
“That is what protocol commands we do,” replied Thalia. “I fear involving them will serve only to make matters worse. Mikæl, your thoughts?”
Mikæl was on his feet, he was fiddling with the instruments on the display cabinets. He answered, “Taking hostages and revealing themselves to humans is out of character for demons, it seems they have grown quite desperate in their rage against the Imperium. I agree involving the Imperium will only fuel their cause against the demons and we risk the life of your father. Mr Farley, whatever action they deem appropriate is unlikely to be a course, which will prioritise the life of one man. The Imperium has already proposed war against the demonic forces and if we involve them, it will not end well.”
“What option is there?” asked Will anxiously.
“We have always had an accord with the demons,” answered Thalia. “I shall visit Prince Calab, the head of the Asmodeus demons, and try to reason with him.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” exclaimed Eve. “They could kill you!”
“He may not listen to reason, but I shall not be harmed,” she replied calmly. “Mikæl, will you accompany me?”
“Of course, my queen,” he smiled.
“I want to go too,” said Will.
“If you’re going, Will, so am I.”
“I will make the arrangements,” said Thalia, pressing the call button on the control panel desk. “Mark, could you arrange for transport to convey four to the Guild of Asmodeus and call ahead to advise we seek an audience with the prince.”
The transport Thalia had requested was a vector. It resembled a horse-drawn carriage, but required no horse and propelled along silently at great speed. Eve could not identify a power source, but assumed it had some sort of battery as it had an electronic control panel programmed with the destination. The vector sped away from the guild so fast that Eve could only see the distant landscape of Arkazatinia, anything closer blurred. It was charming and very like the English countryside.
“Is your home based on the British Museum?” asked Eve.
“It is a similar classical style,” she said. “The guild has changed many times; we usually model other buildings of interest to us. The last model was based on the Pantheon though having a round building limited the available space considerably. When I was much younger, I had a thing for large empty spaces but as I have gotten older, I have realised that we actually need to use indoor space for more than ‘gazing in awe’. We kept the columned frontage and changed the rest of the building and the interior so that it was more practical.”
“It’s gorgeous,” Eve smiled.
“Thank you,” Thalia smiled back.
“Does everyone live at the guild?” asked Eve. “I’m sorry, I’m being nosey.”
“Not at all,” grinned Thalia. “And no, many live out in Eurasia or in Lycea. The guild is mostly home to the younger generation and the troublemakers who can’t be trusted outside and would otherwise end up on the wrong side of Mr Farley’s sword.”
Eve’s curiosity was piqued and she had a ton more questions; however, she worried that she was becoming an annoyance and bit her tongue.
Despite the speed, it still took almost an hour to reach the Guild of Asmodeus. The guild was also built in a classical style and was smaller than the Guild of Procnatus but just as impressive. A demon met the group at the door. He had the same eye colour as the one who had attacked Eve and Will that morning. Eve guessed the species of demons shared characteristics, which was how Mikæl was able to ascertain who had attacked them.
The demon led them through to an impressive library, Eve gasped—the library was so vast she thought it must house every book ever written. Sat in an armchair aside an open fire was the demon who had attacked them. His face made Eve gasp and although he appeared much calmer than he had that morning, his appearance was quite terrifying. He looked to be no more than twenty and had a lovely mop of black, curly hair, but his thickset features and a cruel twist to his mouth gave the impression of an ancient evil lurking within. He could have passed for human, albeit an unattractive one, had it not been for his eyes. They were like brilliant green emeralds or marbles, or as Will had described—like glass. He also had long, deadly claws, which protruded about two inches from the end of each finger.
“Calab,” smiled Thalia, extending a warm greeting.
Calab looked somewhat puzzled when he noticed Eve and Will, but returned the greeting. “Thalia,” he said, kissing her cheek, “a pleasure as always.” He invited her and Mikæl to sit by the fire, motioned for Eve and Will to sit at a desk behind them, and said, “Thalia, I must say I am somewhat concerned that you have arrived here with the two humans. Are you doing the Imperator’s bidding now?”
“Not if I can help it,” replied Thalia. “Mr Farley came to me as his father had instructed him to seek out the Procnatus rather than the Imperium in times of need. I have not contacted the Imperium and I rather hope we can avoid doing so. It won’t help your cause Calab; it will only give them further ammunition against you.”
“What choice do we have?” asked Calab angrily. “The other princes and I, we won’t be without rights and without a voice. We have existed peacefully in Arkazatinia for thousands of years, Thalia, we don’t deserve this.”
“I am on your side, Calab; I have been very vocal in my opinions of your lack of presence in court. The Imperium has tried to have me voted out because of that. Fortunately, it wasn’t supported.”
“Yet our exclusion was supported?”
“It wasn’t—isn’t. The Imperium has not put it to a vote, I have implored them to do so, but they refuse. The other Arkazatines are supportive of your seat.”
Calab bit his lip and relaxed into his chair. “Why are they so determined to run us out?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” said Thalia. “But I do know that acts of war and attacks on Lycea will not help and you risk alienating your allies.”
“Calab, you know we won’t have a choice,” she said sadly. “We have to protect Arkazatinia and protect Lycea from threats from Arkazatinia. We have been friends a long time; I’d hate to see us fall out. The Imperium is the problem, I’ve already moved for a vote of no confidence in the regime. Please let’s tackle this through the appropriate channels; let us spare lives and the exposure of our world.”
Calab took a deep breath. “Charon, release the prisoner,” he instructed the demon who had let them in. Charon nodded and left the room. “You’re right as always, Thalia.” The demon gently took the thorian’s hand in his taloned hand and said, “I have acted irrationally and out of desperation. I will listen to your counsel, but if your method does not amount to change, then we will take action.”
Thalia nodded and said calmly, “I understand; however, I would urge you to speak with me before making any decisions.”
The door opened and Charon entered with Andrew Farley, who looked furious.
“You’re free to go, Guardian,” said Calab, turning Will and Eve. “I assure you he is unharmed and I offer my apologies for this morning. I would not have killed you, human; I was merely trying to be heard.”
Eve nodded and gave a thin smile. She thought she would be filled with hate for the demon who had left her bruised and fearing for her life; however, she was surprised to find she sympathised with his plight.
“That’s all well and good,” snapped Andrew, “but what happens the next time you don’t get your way. It’s only a matter of time before you kill someone!”
Calab snarled at Andrew. “There will be a war if the Imperium does not allow us the same rights as everyone else and unfortunately, wars have casualties!”
“It isn’t just you,” Andrew snarled back. “Guardians haven’t been given a seat either. We’re supposed to risk our lives defending our worlds and we have never had a say. It baffles me that you thought the Imperium would be concerned for my safe return. If my son had gone to them, he’d have done them a favour and given them a reason to take action against you.”
Calab shuffled in his seat, his brow furrowed with irritation, “Well, it seems everyone has drawn that conclusion,” he said dejectedly.
“You would too if you thought anything through!” continued Andrew.
Mikæl stood and said sternly, “We should not be quarrelling amongst ourselves. The Imperator clearly has an agenda and fighting amongst ourselves or endangering the lives of the innocent will not help anyone.”
Thalia looked thoughtfully at Mikæl and said, “Mikæl is right, he does have an agenda. I don’t know what it is but it involves more than just levying and wasting taxes.”
“So, we rally our armies and start a rebellion!” stated Calab.
Thalia shook her head and replied, “We shouldn’t be so quick to resort to acts of war, we first need to try and settle this by non-violent means.”
“I will go along with you, for now, Thalia, but,” said Calab, “there will be a war, I feel it, and you will need to decide which side you’re fighting for when it happens.”