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Tess was in the Realm. She was wearing black and gray, the color of exiles, which she never wore when she was in the palace of Clan Holly. She wandered the halls like a ghost. It was like picking at a scab, coming here, no good for her, yet something she couldn’t help doing.
She didn’t even need to be sleeping, but it had been days and Chance hadn’t come back, and since she’d already decided that she was going to stay by the car and wait for him, she had nothing to do but sleep. She couldn’t even listen to the radio, since he’d taken the keys. Every evening she cooked noodles over the tiny propane backpacker’s stove and embroidered for as long as there was light to see by. When it got dark, she slept.
When she slept, she dreamed. When she dreamed, she came back to her home.
The palace of Clan Holly, where Tessali and the rest of Clan Hawthorn lived, was more open than other palaces, she’d heard. She hadn’t actually been to other palaces, but when high ranking visitors came, Tessali’s mother was one of the Indel appointed to serve them. That was one of the things visitors always exclaimed over, how open it was. It was one huge, vast cave with a smooth floor of pale gray stone, divided into sub-chambers by ornately embroidered tapestries.
In some places, the wall of hanging tapestries continued sinuously for what felt like miles, seemingly unbroken on either side. The tapestries hung from chains extending upwards to vanish in the darkness overhead. The engineers could rearrange the tapestries to form new rooms and hallways and open areas by manipulating hidden clockwork in the upper reaches. She’d never seen the clockwork, but her mother had told her this. Vargel of Clan Holly had created them long before her mother was born, and Indel weren’t clever enough to learn their workings.
But there were things that servants understood that the Vargel did not. One of these servant secrets was that the tapestries felt like impassable walls of cloth and thread, but if you knew where to look you could lift a catch of the fabric and slip through. You weren’t supposed to do this. They tolerated it from children, but when she became adult, her mother had strictly forbidden her from walking in between the tapestries. It was disrespectful, she said, and moreover, it could damage the fabrics, which had been made by more talented Indel than her, her mother would add. She did it anyway. What were they going to do? Exile her?
Someone was kicking up a fuss. Servants scurried here and there, rushing with baskets in their arms. Tess stayed out of their way, trying to edge away from the epicenter of the chaos. Her own rooms were empty, but she avoided them. She might run into her mother there.
Did ghosts in the dying lands want to haunt their own home? Now that she was in the dying lands, she should have been able to explore other palaces, see the wonders of the Realm of the Faerie, but she always came back home again. Maybe ghosts, like her, came back to haunt their home because they couldn’t help themselves.
She slipped through a tapestry wall and found herself in a room where servants were preparing flowers for arrangements. She ducked around the buckets of water and cutting tables and lifted the edge of the tapestry on the other side. Here she found herself in a hallway, but it, too, was filled with scurrying servants. She knew many of them, but most of her former Clan caught sight of her black and gray tunic and avoided eye contact. Tessali slipped through a seam in the tapestries at the end of the hall, and sidled between them until she came to another seam.
When Tessali found the next seam, she peered out and saw some yellow-clad Clan Holly Vargel lecturing servants, so she scurried along, hoping they didn’t notice the slight bulge in the tapestry walls. She skipped the next room, where she heard voices, and the next, and then she came to a long stretch of hallway with no seams on either side. When she came out, she found herself in a waiting chamber.
Because of the thick quilts laid on the floor, you wouldn’t know you walked on stone. A chandelier hung from a bejeweled chain, and a small flock of padded ottomans crouched on the floor. Tessali had rarely been allowed in a room so fine when she was still here, and she marveled at the luxury of it. Veins of metallic gold and silver and green and red snaked through the quilts, echoing the paler hues of the seascape embroidered into the hanging tapestries.
A woman came into the room. She wore shirfa, the shapeless white pants which all Clanfaeries wore, and she also wore a thin, plain undertunic. She had dark brown hair and pale brown skin and Tessali felt an instant kinship with her, thinking she might be a half-breed too. Then Tessali caught sight of the woman’s short nose and arched eyebrows and realized that the woman was human.
The human smiled a greeting, shy but not unkind. She held her finger to her lips, pleading for silence the way people did in the dying lands. Tessali nodded, puzzled. Why was a human in the Realm of the Faerie, and why was she sneaking? The shrill barking orders of Muula, one of the higher ranked Vargel of Clan Holly, pierced the fabric of the chamber. Tessali and the human exchanged glances of mutual horror.
Tessali beckoned towards the gap in the wall. The human frowned, but when Tessali lifted the edge of the tapestry, the human nodded in understanding and followed. They slipped through the walls. The human made the walls bulge out with her passage, which meant she was either here for real or a very good dreamer. Tessali reached back and took the woman’s hand, leading her in a twisting path she had taken before many times. They half-walked, half-ran, side-stepping through the narrower parts. Tess went by memory, only making a few false turns and dead ends when she led them through areas that had been rearranged. The secret to not getting caught slipping between the tapestry walls was to keep moving quickly so that no one had time to shout at you. Eventually she found the area she wanted. The tapestry walls ended and they found themselves along the edge of the cavern, in a dark, forgotten store room.
They stopped, panting quietly in the dusky half-chamber. The wall sloped steeply here, and Tessali bumped her head on the stone ceiling of the cavern. She sat down on one of the bales of cloth, and the human took another.
“We should be safe here,” Tessali said. “I used to come here often, and no one ever bothered me.”
“Thanks,” the woman said. “I’m Kit. Here they know me as Kit Cypress.” She spoke clean, proper Vargel with a Clan Cypress accent. She bowed a greeting.
Tessali returned the bow. In the dark storeroom, her eyes were adjusting, and she could make out the human’s features. She was older than Tessali, but not more than thirty. She had a trim, muscular frame, dark brown hair cut short, and an ordinary face made pretty by clear skin and expressive features. She smiled at Tessali.
“I’m Tessali Hawthorn,” she said. “Or at least I was born into Clan Hawthorn. I’ve been exiled.”
“Oh, you’re a dreamer too! You felt so solid.”
“The secret is to not leave the dream until you wake out of it,” Tessali said. “That’s what I tell other exiles who ask. They don’t believe me though. They always wake whenever they want to escape from something, and then they find they can’t dream themselves here anymore.”
“Do you have a lot of exiled friends?” Kit asked. “I’ve never seen you around the ex-pat clubs in Seabingen.”
“Seabingen?” Tessali felt shocked. She hadn’t been there in years. “You’re from Seabingen? What a strange coincidence.”
Kit laughed. “Not such a coincidence. Exiled Clan faeries almost always end up near Seabingen. That’s where the portal lets out. Are you there now?”
“No, I don’t live in Seabingen anymore. I’m traveling right now. I mean, I was traveling, but now I’m stuck.” Tess felt herself choke up, and before she knew it, she was crying.
“What’s wrong?” Kit asked, switching to English.
“I’m lost,” Tessali said. “I’m in Kansas.”
“Kansas? How did you get from Washington to Kansas?”
“I got a ride with this guy, and he left me. I mean, I was going to go to Texas, and then I woke up in Utah, and then he got kind of angry, and it was raining and he left.”
“Wait, go back.”
The human made Tessali backtrack and tell her everything, about working at the Renaissance festival with Sage and Rosemary, and how Rosemary wanted to put Sage in a real school, so Sage went back to Seabingen to live with her aunt and uncle, while Rosemary went on tour with another band, which is when Tessali was left to fend for herself. And she’d been doing well, so well, except that she didn’t have a car.
“So I got a ride from a guy named Chance, only he took the wrong way, and then he said he had something to take care of, and he just left me there.”
“You’ve been there for three days? Do you know what highway you were on? Or what road marker?”
“No, well, I think I know, but I’m not sure. I was asleep when we passed the last city, and then it was storming and we pulled off the side of the road. I think I’m near Salina. Yes. I remember passing the signs, but that was before we got gas. I don’t know where I am.”
Kit’s frown increased. “I’m going to get a ticket to Kansas City, or wherever the nearest airport is. I’ll rent a car and drive out from Salina. It will probably be most of another day until I can find you though. Are you going to be okay until then?”
“He told me to wait for him.”
“What makes you think he’ll be back?”
Tessali looked at her feet.
“Then it’s settled. I’m absolutely coming to get you.”
Tessali thought about it. “How can you help me? I’m in Kansas and I don’t even know where I am. How would you find me?”
“I don’t know. Do you have any better ideas?”
“I guess I’ll walk back to the road and hitchhike my way to Texas.”
“Hitchhike? Honey, that’s even less safe than waiting for that loser to come back. I can’t believe someone would do that to you. How could someone do that?” Kit looked furious. “What an asshole. As soon as I wake up I’ll get a plane ticket. I’ll ask my boss if I can take a couple days off. It’s an emergency. I can find you. You’re probably off Interstate 70. Are you north or south of the highway?”
“I don’t know. It was dark and stormy when we pulled off onto this gravel road, and we’d been driving off of the interstate on local roads for quite a while.”
“I’ll have to check them all then.”
Tessali was crying. She wasn’t crying so much because she was scared, but by the shocking realization that this woman, this stranger, cared about her. She cared about her enough that she wanted to fly over a thousand miles to rescue her. “Plane tickets are expensive. I can’t ask you to do this for me.”
“You’re not asking, I’m offering. You’re a sweet young girl and this dickwad just abandoned you miles from nowhere. If you were my daughter, I’d be worried sick about you. You could get robbed or murdered. I can’t believe no one has come by yet. There haven’t been any highway patrolmen or anything?”
Tessali shook her head.
“You poor girl. I’m so sorry you’ve had to go through this. Do you even have food and water?”
Tessali nodded. “There’s ramen and a few gallons of drinking water.”
“It will be at least twelve hours before I can get to you. Will you be okay until then?”
“Don’t come. Please. It’s too much. I think he’ll be back by then,” Tessali said, alarmed. “If he comes back and we continue on to Texas, you will have wasted a trip.”
“But what if he doesn’t?” Kit frowned. “Will you meet me here tomorrow night?”
“I can’t always dream myself here at will. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t.”
“Well, can you … do you have email? Can you email me and let me know you’re safe?”
Tessali nodded. “I’ll email you.”
Kit hugged her. Tessali had to concentrate to keep herself solid enough to accept the hug. Kit patted Tessali’s back. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Tess said. Tess almost cried again. People could be so mean, but sometimes they could be so nice too. Kit made her feel as safe as she had when she was with Rosemary and Sage, eating peanut butter sandwiches in their trailer while Rosemary practiced new riffs and she thought she had a new Clan and everything was going to be okay.
Kit’s face was a study of concern and worry. “You have my email memorized?”
Tessali recited it for her, and repeated her own.
Kit was beginning to turn translucent, probably falling into a trash dream. “Email me. You promised.”
Tessali watched Kit fade away.
Chance wouldn’t come back, and Kit would come as she promised, and rescue her, and she’d take her back to Seabingen and let her live with her. And Tessali could have her own bedroom, and she and Kit would become friends, and she could see Sage again and they’d all be friends together, and Tessali could get a good job waiting tables and she’d never have to move again.
Tessali lay down against the bales of cloth and rested her head. She closed her eyes, as if she were falling asleep, though no one slept in the Realm of the Faerie. After a long while, she fell into a trash dream. She dreamt about working in a shop and sitting around a campfire drinking with friends and about trying to find her shoes and other mundane details of life in the dying lands.
She dreamt that she was on the road with Rosemary and Sage and that they’d gone into a quickie mart and never come out again. She’d gone in after them, but instead of shelves of brightly colored snacks the quickie mart only had an endless expanse of prairie.
When she woke, she felt damp grass under her head. The sky rumbled overhead, threatening rain. It already felt muggy and warm. And silent. Why was it silent? The birds and insects had ceased their endless chirruping and droning. She sat up.
Chance crouched on the ground near her. He looked even thinner, and wrung out. He was barefoot, and wearing a pair of boxers. His skin was goosepimpled from the cold, and his bone and antler necklaces rested on a sunken chest. The overclocked tension had left him, and the muscles of his face and arms hung slack, making him look much older.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “I had some shit I had to deal with.”
Tessali picked up her sleeping bag and shook the grass and leaves off it.
“Are we cool?” Chance asked, and he sounded contrite.
She rolled it up as best she could, and tied it closed with a bungee cord since it never fit in her stuff sack properly. “You have the keys?”
He nodded and stood up. His hair looked so tangled it was almost matted, and his face was rough with stubble. “Let’s go.” She threw her sleeping bag into the back of the car and got into the passenger seat.
Without a word, Chance slipped into the driver’s seat and started the car. He rumbled across the muddy grassy slope to the dirt road, and from there to the gravel road, and from there eventually to the Interstate south towards Oklahoma, then towards Dallas and the Faire, where she could get a job and get a few dollars closer to her goal of a car of her own so something like this would never, ever happen again.
They made it to Texas. She got registered at the Faire and asked around about a job and got her campsite reserved and then, as promised, she found a place with an outlet and wi-fi so she could plug in her borrowed tablet. She wrote an email to Kit, telling her she’d made it safe.
Her finger hovered for a moment over the send button. If she didn’t send it, Kit would worry, and she’d come and rescue her, and take her home with her to Washington state. They’d live in a big house and maybe Kit would hire her as a servant and she’d have clean clothes to wear every day. She’d be nice to her, and tell her she was good at sewing, and Kit would let her sleep on her couch until she found her own place. And Tessali would tell her mother how well she’d done and Kirali would finally say that maybe Tessali was a good Indel after all.
But she wouldn’t be able to find her, because she wasn’t in Kansas anymore. She was in Texas now, and she had to find work because the Faire started in just a few days and she’d need money to buy food.
Tessali hit send.
She waited. Hoping, but the reply came right away.
Glad you’re okay—Kit
Like the book, but short on cash? New chapter next week!