It had been worth a try. As Frane knelt on the ground trying to push away the nausea he felt he kept reminding himself he would have been executed if he hadn’t walked through Auberon’s door. Even though it hadn’t worked the way a normal door would have done Frane was obviously somewhere that wasn’t the jail. He just wasn’t with any of the eleven other ‘demons’ who had also chosen life. For all he knew he was the only one who’d survived the journey, but at least he was alive. Alive and kneeling on the ground of what could only be another world.
Slowly, breathing deeply because he still didn’t feel normal after the tumultuous journey, Frane looked around. There was a tree he thought he recognised, but he couldn’t be certain. It was something that happened occasionally, even when he was on a world that he’d never visited before, because he always wanted to be somewhere he knew. Exploring a new world could be wonderful, but most of the time it was just terrifying. Once he’d had a family who cared about him, until one of the natural doors had deposited him on another world, and he hadn’t yet managed to find his way back, even though he’d been trying his hardest to find one.
“Good morning,” a male voice said, making Frane jump. “Would you like a drink of water? I promise you it’s safe.”
“That sounds great,” he replied, before thinking about what he was doing.
A bottle was placed next to him and Frane turned to look at the man who’d been kind enough to share his water with a stranger. He looked young, but his eyes were old, which described almost all the demons Frane had met over the years. Summoning a weak smile he picked up the bottle, unscrewed the lid, and sipped the water carefully in an attempt to settle his stomach.
“Really?” Frane couldn’t stop himself from looking once more at the stranger, unable to believe he’d really ended up on the same world as the man they’d been searching for. “Sorry, it’s just…”
“You can talk to me, if you want to. Don’t feel like you have to tell me your story if you aren’t ready to.” Leolin smiled. “I know that some travellers never wanted to be what they are.”
Frane bit his lip, before nodding. “I think it’s just the journey.” He drank a little more water. “Some of them are more difficult that others.”
“Do you know where you are?”
“No.” Frane looked around again, still feeling like he recognised one of the trees, and, possibly, the purple flower that was blooming next to Leolin. “It seems familiar, but it’s easy for the mind to trick itself.”
“You’re on Athare.”
“I take it you didn’t want to be on this world.”
Shaking his head, Frane started trying to push himself into a standing position. He had no idea where the nearest door was but he needed to find it quickly before the Council realised he was gone. Leolin didn’t say anything, instead gently wrapping an arm around Frane to help him stand, and it was nice to have someone there to help him. He’d never had that before, because he didn’t dare get close to anyone after what had happened.
“How did you get here?” Leolin asked, his arm still around Frane’s waist, and Frane wasn’t sure whether he felt trapped or relieved.
Choosing relieved he let Leolin hold some of his weight as he attempted to deal with the effects of the journey and push the fear that had surrounded him aside. “There was a door…” Frane could still see it in his mind. “I don’t know exactly why I ended up here, but we were attempting to reach you, so I think that might be part of the reason.”
“None of the natural doors I know of lead here.”
“It wasn’t a natural door.” Frane sighed. “We’d been arrested by the Council, and Auberon could create doors, so the best option we had seemed to be walking through the door, even though we didn’t know what was going to happen. Lisette mentioned you, because she thought you might be able to help us.”
“How many of you were there?”
“Twelve.” Frane looked around again, unable to believe he’d found himself on Athare, even though it was, according to Leolin, not the main continent. Until then Frane hadn’t even known there were other continents. “I didn’t know any of them, but I didn’t want to die, and the door looked real enough.”
“I don’t think anyone wants to die, Frane, although I’m not sure I would have dared to walk through a door created by someone I didn’t know even if I was going to be executed.”
“For a while I wasn’t sure I was going to, but when it worked… I thought I really had a chance of survival.” Frane bit his lip. “Now I’m not so sure.”
“You don’t need to worry about the Council or the Walkers here. This is one of the safest places you could be, because no one travels to the other continents of Athare, and I don’t think very many people even know they exist.”
“When the fae first created the races of Athare they were placed on the second and third continents. It wasn’t long before they chose to move to the main continent, the one everyone knows now as the home of the Council and the centre of the Web, believing they were much more likely to survive there. They may have been right.” Leolin gently guided Frane forwards. “I’ve built a place here I can come when I don’t want to have to deal with the Council, although I come here less often now I have a house on Oracle.”
“Lisette said that you were attempting to learn everything you could about the doors.”
“I think it’s important that we know exactly where each of the doors are and where they’ll take us, because there are so many people who find themselves lost when they step through a door.”
“You lost someone?”
“My sister.” Leolin sighed. “The problem I have is that I know travellers who’ve found themselves in different times, and I think that might have happened to my sister, because I haven’t found her even though I’ve been searching for her for nearly twenty years.”
Frane studied Leolin. “How old were you when you started?”
Leolin smiled. “Sixteen, I think. I’d been travelling before that, but it wasn’t until I was sixteen that I started really looking for her, because that’s when I found that I had a connection to Athare. Athare is the reason I’m here, actually, so I could be here for someone who’d need me, and, even though I should have known better, I didn’t believe her. No one has ever willingly travelled to one of the other continents of Athare. Stupidly it never crossed my mind that you might be travelling here unwillingly.”
“It was a mix of both, really.” Frane found himself smiling back. “I stepped through the door willingly, but coming here…” He looked around. “This definitely isn’t somewhere I would have come if I had a choice.”
“The first time I found myself here I felt the same way, but it’s nice here.” Leolin removed his arm from around Frane’s waist, but stayed close, and that was something Frane was immensely grateful for. “You get used to the quiet and the ghost towns are fascinating.” Leolin bit his lip. “Emrys was here once.”
“How do you know that?”
“He left his journals here. I’ve read through some of them, but there are so many of them, and Athare told me that he comes back here every so often to leave another one. They’re copies, just in case something happens to the originals, that he wanted me to see, because he knew about me before I was even born… or, at least, he knew I was a possibility. If it hadn’t been me there would be another someone travelling the worlds, doing their best to learn about all the doors.” Leolin shrugged. “He seems to be happy that it’s me, even though I’ve never met him.”
“You’ll probably meet him in the future.”
“Probably.” Leolin looked at Frane. “Do you think you can walk?”
“Maybe. I’ve never know a door journey to be that turbulent.”
“With so many people using it the door was trying to send you all to where it thought you should be and that would have been difficult for it. They aren’t meant to be used by that many people, especially not when they’re only temporary, but considering the circumstances it does seem to be the only option that you all had. I’m not surprised that you’re the only person to end up here, although I’m not certain why it’s you.”
“Do you really believe there’s a reason for everything?”
“After spending so much of my time talking to Athare I can’t not believe it. She spends so much of her time planning everything out to make certain that the right people are in the right place at the right time that I know there’s a reason for most things.”
“Including the disappearance of your sister?”
“Yes, even that.” Leolin sighed. “Athare hasn’t told me what it is or if I’ll ever meet her again, but I accept that my sister had to go somewhere else, because she wasn’t in the right place or the right time. It’s one or the other.”
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