Silently Guinevere stepped into the pitch black room. Her target was meant to be asleep in the bed, so she waited until she heard the even breathing that told her the information she’d been given was correct. She set her light charm working with a whisper as she closed the door carefully behind her with one hand and used the other to take a sleep charm out of her bag. Even though it was the most expensive charm she had in her bag, and was a single use charm too, she used one for every job to make sure that she was in the right place. A couple of times she’d found herself in the wrong room and checking before she’d done anything meant she always got the person she’d been hired to rid the Web of.
The plush carpet swallowed the sound of Guinevere crossing the room. Thankfully there was no one else in the room. Her job was always made more difficult when her target had a partner, but this one seemed like it was going to be easy. At least that was what she thought until she went to place the sleep charm on the forehead of the man lying in the bed and realised that he looked nothing like the picture she’d been shown. His eyes opened as she stepped backwards.
“I’m glad you could make it, Guinevere,” he said, as he slid out of the bed fully dressed.
One of the emergency charms Guinevere kept in her bag, and never wanted to use, was one that created a temporary door. She didn’t know where it would lead, so she wasn’t sure she wanted to use it if there was another way out of the trap she’d got herself into. Normally the first thing she did, after making sure whoever was in the building was asleep, was look for escape routes, but she hadn’t had a chance. Jumping out of the window wasn’t a good idea, because she couldn’t do magic and safe landing charms were even more expensive than sleep charms. As one of the best assassins in the Web she earned good money, but there were days when it still wasn’t enough.
“Who are you?” she asked, in an attempt to stall him.
Smiling, he raised an eyebrow. “That’s a question we both know I’m not going to answer. All you need to know is that I was hired by someone who isn’t very happy with you.”
Guinevere looked at him, knowing who the most likely candidate was for someone who wasn’t very happy with her, but it wasn’t just one person. Being born a demon meant she was always going to be hunted by the World Walkers’ Council because she could travel the Web without needing any tattoos and that made her dangerous. Choosing to make the most of the magic she’d been given made her even more dangerous, which explained the trap. He watched Guinevere and she knew that getting away from him wasn’t going to be easy, but she wasn’t going to let the Council take away her power.
The door charm did seem like Guinevere’s only real option. Fighting him was a stupid idea, due to the lack of magic and and the fact nothing else she had would be even slightly useful. It had, for a moment, seemed possible to throw the sleep charm at him in the hope that it would hit him, but that would just be a waste of an expensive piece of equipment. Slowly she slipped her hand into her bag, watching him watch her. All the charms had a slightly different shape so they were easy to find and it took her less time than she expected to find the door charm. With it in her hand she thought about what it’s creator had told her. Using the charm would open a door that only she could use, so it would fade away after she’d stepped through it, but there was no way of knowing where it would lead.
Charm makers were attempting to create charms that would take the user to a specific world, but it hadn’t worked. Guinevere had been one of their test subjects, because it led to her getting a couple of extra charms for free, and as a demon she knew all the ways back. Her worry, the same worry all the demons had, was that one day a charm would take them to a world they couldn’t get back from, and as she ran her fingers over the door charm she couldn’t stop herself from hoping that the charm would take her to a world she knew well. Breathing deeply she pulled out the charm, saw the sudden understanding in her watcher’s eyes, and murmured the word that opened the door.
As Guinevere stepped through the door she felt a hand curl tightly around her arm. It stayed holding on even when she dug her nails into it and somehow the grip he had on her meant that he could follow her through the door. Snow fell all around them, as they both turned hopefully back to the door, but by then it was already gone. Shivering, she looked around, trying to work out where they’d ended up, and had a terrible feeling she knew the world even though she’d never been there before.
“Where are we?” her watcher asked, trying to keep his voice emotionless, but she could hear a slight tremor of fear.
“I think we’re on Aerith,” Guinevere replied, searching with her eyes for shelter before one or both of them froze to death.
Smiling, Guinevere shook her head. “Nothing’s impossible when you live on a world that’s been made from magic. Can you see anything we can use for shelter?”
“No. Don’t you have any heat charms in your bag?”
“I had no use for heat charms and they’re expensive.”
“You’re an assassin.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m rich. It just means I’m good at killing people.” Guinevere kept searching with her eyes as she spoke, hoping that the races of Aerith would have some plan for people who were stuck out in the snow. “We need to start walking.”
“Walk where?” He sounded scared. “There is nothing around, Guinevere.”
“Maybe it seems like that, but this is a world where all the people know is snow, so that’s something they’re always going to be prepared for. Anyone trapped out here would need shelter and even if that’s something that doesn’t happen regularly it doesn’t mean it would never happen. Especially if the people here realise that occasionally a door will lead here.”
“You make it seem so simple.”
Wrapping her arms around herself Guinevere shook her head. “Nothing about this is going to be simple.” She started walking, knowing he’d have no choice but to follow her. “I just believe that every race understands what it’s like to to be a part of this Web of worlds and because of that understanding they’ll prepare for the unexpected.”
As they walked, she could hear the sounds of his footsteps in the snow, she searched for something, anything, that would shelter them from the snow. Guinevere wished she was alone, because things would be much easier then, but she wasn’t, so she was just going to have to deal as best she could with her unwanted companion. She glanced over her shoulder at him, wondering who he was and why he’d been chosen as an assassin’s assassin when he didn’t seem prepared for things going awry in the same way she was.
“What’s your name?” she asked, just before something caught her eye that she thought might be a shelter.
It wasn’t a name she recognised, but Guinevere wasn’t surprised. She walked in the direction of the flash of colour, hoping she was right, because on the other less hospitable worlds she’d found herself there had been shelters. When she’d been trapped for three moons, alone, in the deserts of Oracle she’d only survived due to a shelter that had been built for unlucky people like her. The flash of colour turned out to be a piece of red fabric tied onto a tree branch and as she got closer to it the sound of something hollow told her she was right. Kneeling she brushed the snow off the door that was below her.
“Are you always this lucky?”
Guinevere shook her head. Standing, she pulled the door up, and made her way down into the shelter, with Donovan right behind her. The door shut behind them, making her feel safer than she had done out in the snow, even though she was with a man who wanted to kill her. It made sense that it was underground, but it still wasn’t warm. Wrapping her arms tighter around herself she looked around, seeing the sort of things she’d expected to find, and gratefully picked up the single blanket. Looking once more at Donovan she knew she couldn’t keep it to herself, no matter how much she wanted to.
“We’re going to have to share this. It looks like no one was expecting more than one person to arrive on Aerith.”
“That’s just wonderful,” Donovan muttered, shaking his head. “Multiple people travel through doors all the time.”
“On the lost worlds, and Kniroch’s sibling worlds, it’s normally different. The doors to Aerith, Taithmarin, and Kankirin failed because the worlds wanted them to, so when they permit anyone from one of the Walker’s worlds to travel here there are strict conditions. “ Guinevere looked around the shelter, wondering what else she was going to find. “One of the main conditions is usually that only one person at a time is permitted through them, and I think the only reason you managed to come through was because you were holding on to me.”
“How do you know that?”
“I’ve travelled to one of the lost worlds before.” Shrugging, she passed Donovan the blanket, and made her way over to the small kitchen area. “Never to Aerith, though, so this should be rather interesting. At least it’s better than finding myself back on Kankirin. I never want to go back there, but you never know what might happen.”
“The Council always said it wasn’t possible to travel to the lost worlds. I think even the fae don’t believe that the lost worlds still exist, but…” Donovan sighed. “Here I am on Aerith. It’s impossible to disbelieve in somewhere when you’re there.”
“For a time I didn’t believe the lost worlds existed, but when I found myself on Kankirin I had to deal with exactly the same thing.” Guinevere smiled as she looked through the supplies. “I was unlucky to have ended up on Kankirin first. If I could have chosen a lost world to visit it would have been Taithmarin.”
“Do you think we’ll be here for long?”
“There’s no way to know.” Guinevere moved to one of the other cupboards, hoping for some dried fruit. “The last time I was on Kankirin I was stuck there for over a year and when I was on Taithmarin I was there for three years.”
“You look too young.”
“It was travelling to Taithmarin that did it. Their calendar is very different to that of the majority of the other worlds and when I stepped through the door it changed me. So far I’ve lived one lifespan of my race already. I don’t know how much longer I’ll live, but I want to do the most with it that I can.”
“So you became an assassin?”
“Being an assassin isn’t necessarily a bad thing.” With one hand Guinevere pulled out what looked like a cloth bag full of dried apple and turned with it to look at Donovan. “I do my best to make certain that I only accept jobs when I’m certain the person I’m going after is doing something that’s affecting someone else badly. The man you took the place of…” She shook her head.
“The Web would have been a better place without him.”
“You don’t know that for a fact. He might be able to change now he has a chance and he knows how close he was to dying.” Donovan shrugged. “There are no definites in life, Guinevere.”
Guinevere studied Donovan. “You are right about that, but I’m lucky enough to work with a Seer. We do our best to make certain that we make the best decisions we can and getting rid of him…” She shrugged. “Obviously there was some reason for him to survive, so that’s why you were there, and a reason why we were meant to end up here, although I can’t think of what it might be.”
“There isn’t a reason for everything.”
“In the Web there normally is.” She took a piece of dried apple out of the bag and started chewing on it. “Taithmarin only let me there because I needed to have a longer lifespan, although Athare won’t tell me why. She’ll only say that I’m going to be needed, which isn’t a good enough reason for what she did as far as I’m concerned, at least until I find out what it is I’m needed for.” She held the bag out. “This is going to be what we have to survive on for now. Although I’ve never been to Aerith before I did find myself on Oracle once, and that place is almost as inhospitable as this one if you find yourself in the wrong place. Unfortunately I did, and it wasn’t much fun, but I did learn a lot from being there. Of course that’s probably the reason I ended up there.” She shook her head. “Maybe this is where I was meant to end up. I have no idea why it would be, but you never know.”
Donovan took the bag, and looked at the apple pieces with distaste. “Do you know anything about Aerith?”
“As I’m a natural I made certain to learn something about all the worlds. I know of Aerith. From what it was like out there I believe we’ve arrived at the beginning of the hard snows, which means we’re going to be stuck here for a while.” He stared at her. “I’m not any happier about that than you are. I didn’t ask to come here with you.” She sighed. “We’re just going to have to do the best we can to get out of this without killing each other. Once we’re out we can go our separate ways.”
“Exactly what do you expect to happen, Guinevere?”
“You’re not a natural, are you?” He shook his head without speaking. “Unfortunately that means it’s going to be far harder for you to leave Aerith than it will be for me. At some point I believe I will find a way back. Unless you can find someone here with the ability to create doors you’re not going to be able to get back to the rest of the Web, but I can tell your family what happened to you, if you’d like me to.”
“I don’t have a family for you to tell.” He took a piece of apple out the bag and nibbled on it. “There’s no reason for me to try to get back.”
For a few seconds Guinevere stared at him, not certain how to reply to what he’d just told her. “What happened?”
“We aren’t friends, Guinevere, and we’re never going to be, so that’s not something you need to know.” He held the bag out to her, and she took it. “Being trapped here with you is quite possibly the worst thing to have happened to me.”
“Do you really think I’m that much happier about it?” To make it easier for her not to look at him she turned to put the bag away, not wanting to go through their supplies too quickly. “I’d rather not be here. Unfortunately, if we’re going to survive this, we’re going to have to work together.”
“Yes, it does seem that way.” He sighed. “Why didn’t you just try to kill me?”
“That’s not how I work.”
“Oh, I remember. You only kill the ‘right’ people, based on some personal definition created by you and the Seer you’re working with, which I think means you’re often wrong about the people you kill.”
“When I am wrong the worlds stop me, like they did this time. I trust them to help me do the right thing.” She turned back to look at him. “You really don’t understand what you’re talking about and as you aren’t a Walker you’re never going to understand. The worlds are in control of everything, no matter what the fae, or anyone else, thinks. They’re the ones who try to get the right people in the right places at the right times. For some reason at least one of us if meant to be here. I have a feeling it’s both of us, otherwise you wouldn’t be here now.”
Laughing, Donovan sat down on the only chair they had. “You believe the worlds are sentient.”
“No, I know the worlds are sentient. I’ve talked with them before.” She shrugged. “You can think what you want about that, because I don’t care if your accept that or not. I don’t care if you survive while we’re down here. The only thing I care about is making sure I get through this okay, and if that means I have to work with you I will, even though I’d really rather be stuck with anyone else. You were right when you said the two of us are never going to be friends.”
As she sat down on the bed she did her best not to think too much about what had happened. Ending up on Aerith wasn’t a bad thing. Had she been alone Guinevere could have dealt with the whole thing easily, but she wasn’t. Instead she was stuck with Donovan. Sighing, she lay down, and stared up at the wooden ceiling of the sanctuary she’d found herself in. Maybe if she went to sleep she’d find it easier to deal with him when she woke.