"We're here to rescue you," Sharon said, grabbing Diana's hand.
Sharon started dragging Diana toward the road, and caught sight of Heather, staring in fascination at the cottage.
"Heather! Snap out of it! Come on!"
Heather blinked and followed. They struggled through the barrier of Fae magic. Diana dragged her feet, and a sudden bolt of lightning lit up the sky. Diana yelled something, but all Sharon could hear was the thunder, practically on top of them.
Sharon felt frantic, wondering what to do next. They had to escape, and walking wouldn't be fast enough. What could she do? They needed a car or something, but she was pretty sure she couldn't wish a car into existence. All that iron. What to do?
She closed her eyes, stumbling, holding onto Diana's hand in a death grip. Believe horses are in the road, waiting for us.
They reached the end of the trail, which spilled into the road. In front of them the road stood empty, leaves whipping in a sudden wind and droplets of rain beginning to splat on the pavement.
Heather muttered something, her voice drowned out by thunder and the sudden cacophony of rain around them.
What had happened? Sharon wondered. She raised her voice to Heather to be heard over the whip of the wind. "There should have been horses here."
Sharon turned and did a double-take when she saw the fear in Diana's face. Then she saw the marks on the ground where Diana had dragged her feet. Why hadn't dragging Diana been harder?
"Let me go!" Diana yelled, the rain plastering her hair down. "Please, please let me go."
It must be Stockholm Syndrome or whatever, Sharon thought. How could the girl think that she was better off with the Fae? There was no time to argue, so Sharon focused on a point between Diana's eyes. A few seconds later, Diana went slack and fell into Sharon's arms.
"How did you do that?" Heather yelled.
Sharon gently set Diana on the ground. "A tailored glamour. She thinks she's asleep and dreaming, so her body believed it too."
"That could be really useful on a bad date!"
Sharon stared at Heather for a second before laughing. "We need to get out of here fast, and you're joking around."
"So conjure some horses?"
"I had the same idea, but it didn't work."
Heather thought for a second. "Maybe you need mice or something to transform them into horses, like in the fairy tales."
"But I didn't need anything to make the frogs or the butterfly-"
"Maybe there was a tiny microscopic bug there in each case or something, but you can't transform an insect into a horse?"
The sound of a car starting from the Fae house distracted them. Sharon's pulse jumped. She felt the overwhelming urge to fly. She couldn't outrun the Fae on foot, dragging Diana. Rage and helplessness tugged at her. She was in the land of the Fae. She had to blend.
Sharon closed her eyes and wove a glamour around them to hide them. It might not work on Fae, but she had to try something. Sharon stared at Heather, a wild plan forming in her mind. "How do you feel about being a rabbit for a while?"
Heather's head whipped back and forth between the Fae barrier and Sharon. "I'd rather be a bird."
"Hand me your backpack. When it's done, take off and cross the river. Do you remember that little campground before we entered town? Let's meet there."
Heather handed over her backpack. Sharon took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and released her energy. She believed in the transformation she wanted. She opened her eyes, and found a raven where Heather had been. A rabbit sat where Diana had been. She stuffed Diana's peasant dress and the rabbit in her backpack, and Heather's clothes in Heather's pack.
The raven shook out her wings, then took off.
The car burst through the barrier, fifty yards away. The sky opened up, drenching the world in a sudden downpour; but Sharon had a split-second where she saw a blonde woman and a dark-haired man in the car.
They looked familiar.
Now or never, Sharon Mary Elizabeth Dulcet Vaughn.
Fairy wings sprouted from Sharon's back. She grabbed the backpacks with her clawed hands, and jumped into the air. She beat her wings hard. She shot into the sky, and didn't look back until she reached the river. The car was nowhere in sight, but she couldn't shake the feeling that she was being followed.
Sharon climbed higher in the air, and crossed over the river, seeing a shimmering wall of magic a hundred feet below. Something crawled under the bridge, looking monstrous. Bells rang somewhere nearby.
As Sharon looked back, a bubble of something passed between her and the magic barrier wall, looking like it was following her. She felt her own glamour fading, magic draining from her.
She recalled the vineyard, and the way she had felt renewed by the plants. She needed to get lower. She crossed the main road and the town, and dropped to tree-top level. She buzzed the trees, trying to rub an arm here, a leg there. Lightning struck too close, and the thunder deafened her.
Sharon dropped onto a bare branch of a large pine, and wrapped her arms around the trunk, a backpack in each hand. She almost dropped Heather's pack, but recovered. She soaked in the feeling of life from the tree. A tingle and warmth flowed into her. Rain soaked from head to toe, she shivered; but felt renewed. Precious seconds ticked away, and she made herself invisible against the tree.
The rain slowed.
Sharon watched the sky for any signs. She caught glimpses of something passing through the trees – raindrops bouncing off a round space in the sky. It headed toward her, but at a slight angle; and she realized that it was following the path she had taken before veering toward this tree.
Have to move.
Sharon reluctantly pulled herself from the tree and dove off the branch, focusing on her glamour again. She headed back toward the town, but not too close to the road. She followed the tree line, watching for signs the bubble was following.
She could see the campground ahead. Behind her, the bubble appeared again, looking like the rain was avoiding a spot in the sky. If not for the trees as backdrop...
Sharon wondered for the briefest moment if she had a bubble like that, but the rain pelting her back assured her it wasn't so. It must be one of the Fae, following her and using a glamour too; but how could a Fae track her?
Magic. She's sensing my magic somehow! That had to be it. Sharon dropped to the ground and skimmed the surface. She had to hide her magic somehow. Block it.
Iron. She watched the road as she flew, and caught sight of a freight hauler truck with a large shipping container as a trailer. It was heading south, and only a minute behind her. She sped toward the campground, zigging and zagging between trees and even circling a few times to confuse her trail.
A familiar looking raven sat perched on the "Welcome to Strathyre" sign. Sharon put one arm through the backpack straps so she could free her hands, and scooped up the raven as she flew by. She circled the campground with the raven squawking in her arm, and headed back to the road, landing on the shipping container's top as the truck hauling it continued down the highway out of town.
Sharon's arms sagged under the weight of the backpacks and Heather-the-raven, so she dropped the packs on the corrugated metal. The wind from travelling forty miles per hour on a truck whipped at her wings. The rain pelted her back. She focused on Heather, transforming her friend back to human.
Heather squawked and then coughed, shivering in a ball.
Sharon grabbed Heather's pack and pulled her jacket out, wrapping it around the shivering witch. She had to get them inside the container, and fast. She closed her eyes, and believed the driver into a bladder emergency.
A moment later, the truck pulled to the side of the road. The driver jumped from the cab and ran into the bushes by the shoulder.
Sharon jumped off the back of the container. The levers that held the container door shut were unlocked, and she managed to work a door open. She peeked in. Empty.
Heather passed Sharon the backpacks, then grabbed the edge of the metal and swung down. She landed gracefully with a little flourish, and smiled at Sharon's wide-open mouth. "Four years of gymnastics."
Sharon pulled the door closed, but the latches were outside. The truck started to move, and Sharon used a final burst of magic to transform to human and dry out. The door started to swing open as the truck accelerated, but Sharon held it until they were up to speed and it stayed shut.
Heather started to dress.
Sharon reached into her backpack and removed Diana-the-bunny. The bunny scrambled in her hands, attempting to get away. The crazy rabbit almost bit her, before she managed to grab it by the scruff. She pulled out Diana's clothes and willed the girl back to human.
Diana stared at Sharon and Heather for a moment, her eyes wild and her lips trembling. Her voice was barely audible over the road noise and the rattling in the huge empty container.
"Who are you?"
Sharon handed Diana her dress, waiting for her to get dressed before speaking. "My name is Sharon Vaughn; and until yesterday, I was you."
"You're the changeling?"
Sharon nodded. "I had no idea what I was. As soon as I found out, I came to rescue you."
Diana's voice had a tinge of hysteria in it as she clung to the clothes in her hands. "Rescue me?"
"From the Fae," Sharon said. "I'm so sorry you had to suffer so long. It must have been horrible."
Diana's mouth dropped open. "You don't know anything, do you?"
Sharon opened her mouth and closed it. What did she really know? She had assumed Diana would want to leave. She was a slave to the Fae; or wasn't she?
"We need to go back. Now!" Diana said, straightening her dress.
"Why?" Heather asked.
Diana looked at Heather, then back at Sharon. When Diana spoke, her voice had a distinctive Scottish accent. "You're the Earth-borne Fae Eddie and Caroline had to give up and trade for me. Your parents have been longing for your return; but if we don't go back, they'll think someone abducted me, and send some very nasty things to hunt us down."
Sharon blinked. "Wait. I'm what?"
"Just get us out of here, and back to Strathyre; and your parents will explain everything."
Sharon looked at the slightly open door and thought about jumping. She tried believing the truck driver had another bladder emergency, but the truck didn't stop. Then she rubbed her face in frustration. "I got us into this container to keep the Fae from tracking me; but I think we're stuck now."
"What do you mean we're stuck?" Diana cried.
Heather patted Diana's shoulder and smiled. "We can get out as soon as the truck stops, but that may be a while. So now we can trade life stories."
Diana glared at Heather. "Who are you, again?"
"My name's Heather, and I have cookies," Heather said, ignoring the barb.
"Ooh, pass me one!" Sharon said, watching Heather rummage through her pack. Heather kept rummaging, her face twisting in confusion.
Sharon's cell phone started to ring.
"You having trouble finding the cookies?" Sharon asked, digging in her pocket.
"No," Heather said, rummaging more.
Sharon looked at the display on her phone, where it showed Heather's face and number. "Did you butt-dial me?"
"That's just it," Heather said, looking up. "My phone is missing."
(go to Chapter 16)