Twelve had been arrested. Twelve had been sentenced to execution. Twelve were planning to escape. It had been Auberon’s idea, because he could create doors from anything, which was why they were all standing around in their underwear. It was chilly, but seeing the door come together made it all worth it. Falk was the one who had freed them from their cells, with his ability to unlock doors using magic, while Bran was busy creation illusions of them all. Hopefully they would give them a bit more time to get as far away as possible if anyone happened to notice that something strange had happened. Tanis curled her arms around herself, grateful she had ended up with a group of demons who could escape. If she hadn’t she would still be sitting in her cell, waiting for the morning when they would come for her, and she would end up like so many demons had before. Dead.
“Ready, everyone?” Auberon asked, holding the last item of clothing in his hand.
Everyone but Daina nodded. “This could all be for nothing,” she replied, looking around at the group. “We don’t know he will be able to guide us through the door.”
“We know.” Falk sounded more like he was growling than talking. “You keep telling us that and we keep telling you it’s worth a try. Unless you actually want to die.”
“I just…” Daina bit her lip. “I’m more worried about what might go wrong if we do manage to step through the door. We know that Auberon can make the door and step through it, but what could happen to us? The magic has never been tested.”
“As far as we know,” Tanis clarified, almost smiling, because for once Daina had said something useful. “The problem we have is more that we don’t talk to each other, so there may well have been demons who have tried this before and found out what happens. We’ve just never heard about it.”
“Tanis makes a good point.” Bran smiled at her and it was a nice feeling. She’d liked Bran since the day he arrived. Had things been different… but she wasn’t going to think about what might have been. “If we manage to get out of here we need to start talking to each other. Keeping to ourselves in an attempt to stop anyone from finding out what we are doesn’t work, because we don’t find out the things we need to find out. Until Auberon mentioned it I didn’t even know there were demons who could create doors.”
“We can’t have a council the way the walkers do, but then I don’t think we’d want to,” Falk said, his voice much more normal. “Instead we need some form of communication net, so if I find something out I can tell every demon I know who can then go on to tell the demons they know.”
“Have any of you heard of Leolin?” Lisette asked, speaking for the first time. They all looked at her, then at each other, all seeming mystified. “He’s…” She trailed off, running a hand through her hair. “For all I know he might be a myth, because I’ve only heard stories, but he’s said to be a demon who’s attempting to learn everything he can about us and the doors. No one I know has ever met him, or even seen him, and I probably shouldn’t have said anything, but I think if there is someone out there who does know more than we do he might be worth seeking out.”
Auberon nodded. “It’s possible, sometimes, for me to choose where I want my door to take me. More often it takes me where it thinks I should be going, but if I ask it maybe it will take us to Leolin.”
Once again they all looked at each other, before nodding in agreement. “Okay,” Daina said, still sounding unsure. “I do, and have always, thought it’s worth a try. It’s just…”
“Terrifying, right?” Falk asked, wrapping an arm around Daina’s shoulders.
“Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“We’re all scared. It’s just none of us want to die, so we’re going to do everything in our power to make certain that doesn’t happen.”
Auberon smiled. “I apologise if this does go wrong, everyone, but I hope to see you all safe wherever we end up.” He put the last piece of clothing into the door, making it shimmer in the way Tanis had seen doors do before, and then held his hand out to them. “Let’s go.”
Daina took Auberon’s hand, Falk took hold of Daina’s, and Bran took hold of Falk’s. Bran turned to Tanis smiling, holding out his own hand, and she took it before holding out her hand to Lisette. Slowly they began walking forwards, knowing that if it didn’t work Daina would be the one to walk into the wall, but as she went through the door after Auberon a cheer went up. They began moving faster, not knowing how long the door would stay open with Auberon already through it, even though no one really knew what had happened to Daina. As Tanis finally stepped through the door her hands were ripped from Bran’s and Lisette’s. It didn’t feel the same as a regular door, which simply took someone from one world to another in a movement as gentle as entering a house, but instead felt turbulent, like it was trying to find places for everyone who stepped through it. Tanis just hoped it would end soon, because she was beginning to feel a little nauseous. Finally she was spat out, into a clearing in the middle of what appeared to be a forest, alone.
Breathing a deep sigh Tanis lay still. She was relieved to be out of the door and that feeling was the one she was going to focus on. Not knowing where she was wasn’t unusual. There had been times before when she’d stepped through doors she thought she understood to find herself in unknown places. All the demons had been strangers to her, so she wasn’t as worried about them as she would be if it had been someone she cared about, but she still wanted them to be somewhere safe, because they’d helped her. Doing her best to stop feeling ill she rolled onto her back, looking up at the sky, and then wished she hadn’t as she watched Bran falling.
There was nothing Tanis could do to stop Bran from falling on top of her, because she still couldn’t really move after the uncomfortable journey through the door, so all she did was take a deep breathe and hope he wouldn’t crush her. Having someone land on her did wind her, but thankfully he rolled off her seconds after he fell onto her. Running a hand over her rib cage she ascertained there was no real damage. Slowly she turned her head and looked at him.
“That was interesting,” Bran said, smiling at Tanis. “Any idea where we are?”
Tanis shrugged. “I’m just happy to be alive right now,” she replied, attempting a smile and failing. “That journey was intense.”
“It was. Theories?”
“Created doors take people to where they’re meant to be and because there were so many of us it had some difficulty making that happen, which is probably why it tossed you out in midair.”
Bran nodded. “Sounds logical.” He breathed in deeply, running a hand down his ribs. “I think I’m in one piece, so should we have a look around and see if we can work out where we are.”
Slowly, carefully, Tanis began pushing herself into a sitting position. Bran did the same, looking as though he felt as uncomfortable as she did after the tumultuous journey from Athare. For the first time she had a chance to look at where the door had tossed them out and she was beginning to think she might know where they were, but if she was right there was no chance of them getting back home any time soon. Not that she knew where he lived before they were arrested or if she wanted to return home after what had happened. It wasn’t likely that anyone had told the Council about her and yet she couldn’t help wondering if someone had.
“Where do you think we are?” Tanis asked, glancing over at Bran.
“Nowhere I’ve been before.” Bran shook his head. “I never really travelled much before I got arrested.”
“I did.” Tanis looked around again, sighing. “If I’m right…” She really hoped she wasn’t, but the clearing was very much like the one she’d found herself in the last time she’d accidentally travelled to the lost world. “The last time I was here I got stuck for a year and it’s not somewhere I particularly wanted to return to.”
“Any specific reason why?”
“I fell in love.” That was all the explanation Bran was going to get, because Tanis didn’t want to think about the man she’d left behind. “Walking along the trail surrounded by purple flowers should take us to the nearest town, if we are where I think we are.”
“Tanis…” Bran sounded unsure, which wasn’t exactly a surprise after what he’d said. “I’ve never done this before.”
“Don’t worry about it. Most places near natural doors are used to demons and this world has no connection to Athare at all, because the door they created failed.” Tanis smiled, relief filling her body when she realised exactly what that meant. “The Council won’t be able to find us here.”
Confused, Tanis looked at Bran. “If you didn’t travel much how did you get arrested?”
“By accident.” Bran’s cheeks flushed with embarrassment. “There was a door I didn’t realise was there and I ended up stepping through it into a trap set by the Council.”
“That’s really bad luck.” Smiling, Tanis reached out and patted his hand gently. “I’ve heard of it happening before, Bran, so you aren’t the only one to have been caught in a trap by accident.”
Bran looked at Tanis. “How much do you know about what we are?”
“I’ve been travelling the worlds since I realised I was a natural Walker. Until I got arrested it wasn’t something I was particularly worried about, because I hadn’t been to Athare for years, but the door I stepped through led to the main continent of Athare and the Council were there waiting for me.” Tanis shrugged. “The thing I’ve learnt is that the doors have a bad habit of taking someone where they need to be rather than where they want to be and it’s possible I was meant to get arrested for some reason.” She smiled at Bran. “It was possible you were meant to get arrested too.”
“Why did you chose to travel the worlds?”
Tanis ran a hand through her hair. “The first door I stepped through, many years ago, took me from Kniroch to Siaral, which wouldn’t have been a problem if I hadn’t travelled through time too. I found myself 400 years in the future and the worlds had changed a lot in that time.” She ran her tongue over her bottom lip. “Every journey I take may get me home, but I don’t think it will ever happen. None of the time travellers I’ve met have ever been lucky enough to get back to the time they came from.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You don’t need to say anything, Bran. I still miss my family, and if I did get home I’d be ecstatic, but I’ve come to terms with what happened to me.” Tanis smiled. “I had a choice when I realised exactly what had happened. I could either spend my entire life focusing on what I’d lost or I could accept that my old life was gone and work on creating a new one. There are other people who would never have moved on, but I’m not like that. I tried to keep moving, because I decided I never wanted to get close to anyone, just in case I ended up travelling through time again, and that didn’t work out as well as I was hoping it would.” She looked around, remembering the first time she’d found herself in the same clearing and what had happened in the year she’d been on Kankirin. “I think we need to focus on where we are, because this world… there are some parts of it that are controlled by people you really don’t want to meet. We’re in a safe part, luckily, so I have time to teach you about Kankirin.”
“The lost world?”
“One of the three.” Tanis bit her lip. “Although that is what the fae told us. There’s a chance there might be more than three and the fae simply chose to not mention them for whatever reason.”
“How did we get here?”
“Luck. I’m not sure whether it’s bad or good luck yet, but it was definitely down to luck.”
“Where do you think the others ended up?”
“I have no idea.”
“Do you think we’ll ever know?”
“I doubt it.” Tanis didn’t know why Bran was looking to her for answers, but it wasn’t unusual. It happened a lot when she told someone she was a time traveller as well as a natural Walker.
“Getting off Kankirin isn’t easy and I don’t know if I’ll be permitted to leave again. You might be.” She studied him. “You said you hadn’t done much travelling before you were arrested. How much is ‘not much’?”
Bran sighed. “I only travelled the worlds when I didn’t have any other choice. When I was eight my brother went missing, so my parents moved miles away from the nearest door. They wanted to be certain the same thing wouldn’t happen to me – only magic doesn’t work like that. The worlds wanted me to know I was a Walker and that meant they created one just for me. I ended up on Labyrinth, bartering with the races there for help to get back, which took me nearly a year and a half in the end, as getting from Kniroch to Saethera wasn’t as simple as I wanted it to be. Now that I look back at that time I get the feeling that the worlds didn’t want me to, as doors that should have taken me home didn’t.
“When I finally got back my parents were so ecstatic to see me that I promised them I wouldn’t leave Saethera again unless I had no other choice. Fortunately I wasn’t lying to them, but they won’t know that unless I manage to either get back or send them a message. They’re just going to think I left them again and this time…” He shrugged. “If you’re right I won’t be able to get back, so they’ll have lost both their sons to the magic of the doors.”
Tanis reached out and squeezed his hand. “It’s never easy, Bran. You just have to decide what you’re going to do – are you going to spend the rest of your life trying to get home or are you going to do what needs to be done?”
He studied her. “How did you get back to the Web?”
“Luck.” She shrugged. “I found a charm and I used it. All I knew was that I wanted to get away from this world, away from everything that had reminded me of what I could loose, so when I came across one of the door charms it seemed like a dream come true. When I stepped onto Kniroch I felt so relieved, but now I’m back again, I have no idea how long I’ve been gone, and I know that my departure would have affected a number of people.”
“Don’t tell them about the charm. That way maybe we’ll have a chance of surviving here.”
“Surviving isn’t all that hard, you know.” Tanis smiled. “When you find yourself in another time you start to realise how hard things really can be, but I got through that and I can get through this too, even though I don’t want to be here.”
Nodding, Bran stood, and held his hand out to her. “I’m guessing it would be best if we got this over and done with quickly.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” She accepted his hand, because she still felt unwell after the journey from Athare. When she was standing she gave herself a moment to breathe. “One of the other things I’ve heard of Walkers doing is travelling to other Webs. There is a chance that might have happened to us.” If it had that would make things so much easier. “Or, like I did before, we might have travelled through time. Until we reach the town I have no way of knowing for certain we are on the Kankirin I know.”
“Even if you weren’t planning on travelling it’s always a good thing to learn more about the Web, because you never know when something might happen to you.” Their eyes met. “From what I’ve read there are a number of different Webs, all created at different times.” She nibbled her lip as she tried to work out how to explain it to him, gesturing for him to lead the way down the path. “I don’t really know how to put it into words, but there are multiple universes, which means there are multiple Webs. Athare found out the fae were coming from one of her alternate selves. Had they not come to wake her up she never would have known what was going to happen to her.”
“Athare is sentient?”
“All the worlds are.” Tanis stared at Bran’s back. “Before I let you go home I’m definitely going to have to teach you what I know.”
He glanced back at her. “Considering how much I’ve already learnt today I really think I needed someone like you in my life.”