“Can you drive me?” I pointed in the direction I wanted to go in.

“Not that way,” he shook his head rapidly and then spat on the ground.


“I will pay you,” I said clearly and pulled out my stack of Lei again.

“Not enough to go that way,” he looked back in the direction with an expression of fear.

“Please,” I said plainly and when he shook his head no again, I resorted to begging. “Please, please,” I cried out.

“Why do you want to go that way?” he asked with a thick accent.

“I have to save my friend,” I begged, helplessly. “Please.”

“I will not take you all the way, but I will get you close enough, da?” his expression was full of pity and I was so thankful that I rushed over and hugged the poor man. He spat his cigarette out and choked on the smoke, completely surprised by the affection.

Before he could recover I hopped into the back seat, a near replica of the first taxi I was in. I exhaled, but was unable to relax. Once the driver successfully started the stubborn car, my nerves only grew. I rehearsed again and again the case I intended to make for Lilly, my stomach turning into knots.

The cab drove out of the city and into the winding roads of the mountains. The countryside only became more beautiful; millions of trees in all different fall shades blanketed the horizon. Their loveliness stretched out across the rising hills and as the sun set lower in the sky, their reds and oranges melted into one extraordinary canvas of color.

The center of magic grew stronger and stronger the deeper we found our way into the lush forest; its call became more clarified. At this point I could have given directions to the driver, but he seemed perfectly able to find the way on his own. And as the magic intensified, the poor driver’s speed decreased. The pitiable man was clearly terrified of a force I would not have expected him to be aware of.

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I watched him become more and more agitated, lighting thin cigarette after thin cigarette, never allowing his mouth to sit idle. I wondered what sparked his anxiety, unsure if he was even conscious of exactly what he was afraid of.

Whether it was his nervousness that rubbed off on me or my own sense of foreboding I couldn’t tell; but I did wonder if I shouldn’t be proceeding with a little more caution. I thought of my purpose again though and my determination was renewed.

Lilly, who had done nothing wrong, who fought to save the very Prince who condemned her. Lilly, sweet Lilly, who had never said a hurtful word about anyone and befriended me when no one else would. She wasn’t afraid of the consequences of her actions when she defended Kiran, why should I be?

As the sun took its lowest place on the horizon before it dipped below the never ending peaks and valleys, the driver finally slowed to a complete stop. He looked up towards the wilderness with mouth open, eyes wide, his cigarette hanging precariously from his lips.

“Multumesc,” I mumbled quickly and threw my remaining stack of Lei in the front seat. He didn’t respond to me, but as soon as the door was closed he performed a quick u-turn and sped off down the hill.

At this point the magic was so strong I knew I was only steps from the Citadel. Completely unsure what to expect next, I began my trek off the road and into the wooded wilderness. There was a steep hill I had to climb, I was hoping at the top I would be able to take in my surroundings a bit better.

Time was of the essence, so I did my best to hurry. Thankful for my devotion to yoga and the sudden necessity of magic, I scaled the vertical incline. Despite the electricity rushing through my veins, and the flexibility yoga had blessed me with, I fell several times and began to sweat despite the coolness of the evening.

By the time I reached the top of the hill I was covered in dirt and my hair was soaked with sweat. I did, however, get a better perspective once I could see more of what was ahead of me. I saw the low glow of lights in the distance, they encompassed a valley a few hills away from mine. The lights stretched out in a square of sorts and I took this to be the Citadel. I also felt the magic swirling about, indicating a large gathering of Immortals.

For a moment I was seized with anxiety and doubt. I forced myself to breathe, reminding myself for the millionth time my purpose. I picked up my pace; running down the next hill and doing my best to hike quickly up the following one. I became more and more dirty and I smelled a distinct odor not at all pleasing.

Eventually, I stood above the Citadel on a surrounding hill. I paused for a moment to take in the sight. The Citadel was huge, nestled into a valley surrounded by camouflaging hills. It was bordered by walls as if it was once a fort, or still was a fort of some type. Buildings lined three of the inside walls, with more buildings built into the center. The fourth wall was left as a type of entrance, only with large doors that could be closed if needed.

The Citadel reminded me of some type of medieval village, with a castle positioned towards the back and clearly the most protected structure inside the walls. The spires of the castle wound towards the sky, each window lighted by a soft yellow glow. The streets of the city were littered with Immortals of every color and race. Several men stood at the entrance gates stopping people as they came or went.

I hiked down the hill and then around the Eastern wall to the gates. I took my time so that I could observe others enter through the wide doors, hoping to emulate their example. The Guards at the gate reminded me of Talbott and had a strict, military way about them. I noticed that they also carried both a gun and a sword attached at their belts. The people entering the gates were all stopped and asked to give their first and last name. They were then asked to hold out their palms so that the guards could grasp their hands firmly. The people were all clearly Immortal, I had no trouble reading that off of them, and it made me wonder if the guards were searching for something else.

I noticed one other fact about the people entering the gate, making my nerves skyrocket once again. All of the people, without exception were very well dressed. The women wore expensive ball gowns and the men were dressed in full tuxedos. Hair done, makeup done, expensive shoes, couture jewelry, it didn’t matter, these people went all out.

I looked down at my pathetic shambles of clothing and took a sniff under my armpit; not pretty. I paused for a final moment to stop and reassemble my hair which was nearly impossible to unhinge from the hair tie. Eventually I succeeded, but not having a mirror around, I suspected I might have done more damage than good. I smoothed out my Nebraska hoodie and took a confident step forward. I’d made it this far….

“Name,” a gruff Guard demanded when it was my turn. I could feel more than hear the Guards’ confusion with my appearance.

“Eden Matthews,” I said clearly.

The Guard looked over his list, and then over it again, clearly not finding my name. I hadn’t realized there would be a guest list. The Guard looked me over skeptically at first, but then his expression turned to disgust and for a moment I thought I might be in trouble.

“Give me your hand,” he grunted menacingly.

I obeyed, sticking out my palm and allowing him to grip it firmly between his.

“Your name’s not on the list. Who are your parents? And why do you look like that?” two other Guards walked over to listen to my explanation.

“I go to school at Kingsley,” I started to explain, realizing I knew nothing about this people group I belonged to. “I came with Seraphina Van Curen, we go to school together. My parents couldn’t come, they’re on business in India,” lies tumbled out of my mouth built from random pieces of overheard information, and I forced my magic into submission, refusing to let it give me away. “I just went for a hike, but I am going to shower and change before I attend the feast tonight,” I offered a wide smile, but then closed my lips quickly afraid of what my breath smelt like after not brushing my teeth since the airline bathroom.

“With Ms. Van Curen?” The guard asked skeptically. I nodded my head affirmatively and pushed a little magic his way, hoping he didn’t notice. I knew it worked on humans, but I had no idea what the outcome would be on another Immortal.

“Please I would really like to be ready on time,” I stared past the Guards as if I knew exactly where I was going once inside the gates.

“They just started the trial; you’ll have plenty of time before the feast,” the Guards made a path for me to fit through and the first Guard nodded his head for me to pass.

I rushed past them and into the narrow streets of the Citadel. If they had already started the trial, I didn’t have much time. From the top of the hill I was able to see exactly where I had needed to go; but from the streets below I could not have been more lost. I moved in the direction of where I thought the castle was and let my magic lead the way.

I put all of my hope in the castle ahead of me. I didn’t know for sure where the trial would be held, but logic encouraged me to examine the castle first. I sprinted full force through the mobs of people lingering about in the streets. My sole purpose was to get to that trial before a verdict was given.

Out of breath and out of willpower, I stumbled into a square by chance. Tall edifices surrounded a cobblestone piazza with an enormous fountain in the middle. The square was lit up with a thousand lanterns strung together and hanging from the buildings surrounding the fountain. Musicians played Beethoven and I glanced over expecting to see an orchestra, but was surprised by the eight or so Immortals that made up an intricate string ensemble.

With renewed vigor I took the remaining distance in strides and ran through the open castle doors. The floors of the castle were marble and I was suddenly sliding across the lobby trying to stop. Another Guard looked up at me from his post just inside the doors.

“Trial?” I asked, breathless and unable to slow down for a minute to listen.

“Through those doors,” he pointed to a set of brass double doors that were almost an exact match for the ones at Kingsley. “But you can’t go in there like that,” he glared disdainfully at my red sweatshirt and I realized that he was probably right.

“Bathroom?” I patted my backpack like it had the answer to my disturbing appearance.

He pointed to a door positioned behind him and I rushed past. The bathroom was surprisingly modern, despite the old world appearance of the place. I didn’t have time to take a good look however and I got straight to business.

I headed directly to the sink and mirror and was almost horrified to see the image staring back at me. My face was caked in mud and dirt and my hair was a big pile of tangles. My mascara and eyeliner had dripped down my face. I looked like a dirty raccoon. My clothing was completely ruined, not to mention the fact that it didn’t match to begin with. I could only do so much and decided to focus on my face.

I turned the cold water on and splashed my face, scrubbing it roughly. Once it was clean, or at least clear of mud and makeup, I focused on my hair. I ripped the pony tail holder out and did my best to comb through the tangled mess with my fingers. Thankfully it was greasy enough that my frizz was actually more tamed than usual. I decided to leave it down, hoping the length and color would disguise the bright redness of my ridiculous sweatshirt that under normal circumstances I would have been proud to wear.

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