I didn’t even get both eyes opened and focused before I knew something was wrong. Where was the color? I was only seeing sepia? Everything was brown. Blinking rapidly, I tried to readjust my eyes to see if there was any other hue. It didn’t change a thing and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.
Sitting there, I tried to decipher what was going on and why I was sitting on the ground. Looking down I ran my hand over the dried out dusty surface. Why was I on the ground? Craning my neck as far as I could in all directions, I looked around. Okay, where was the pavement and cement? The buildings and streets I called my natural turf?
The why’s flying around in my brain suddenly decided on the top question, as in what the hell was going on?
Squeezing my eyes shut, I struggled to recall the last thing I remembered doing. I was hunting down a bounty—a nice one with a large dollar sign attached to her. I had tracked her ass down and …
I confronted her? Yes, I was minutes away from calling Frank and telling him to get out his shiny pen and sign my check.
So what happened between then and now? Not to sound repetitive, which is something that drives me nuts, but what the hell was going on?
Jolting, I started to check for bullet holes or the deep crevices that knives leave behind in flesh. That had to be it, I’d taken a beating of some variety and this was that in between place you sit when you’re near deaths door, but not quite ready to see what lies on the other side.
Finding no critical injury anywhere on my body, I slumped forward and rubbed my head. There was some rational explanation for this, there had to be. Had I been drugged? It could be some crazy hallucination. Any minute now I was going to either wake up in my bed at home or some hospital with a cheery nurse leaning over me, reassuring me I was going to be just fine. I only had to wait it out a little longer and all would be normal and good.
To kill time until I wake up, I looked around some more. Where ever this was it looked like a burnt out world. Not the charred kind of burn, but depleted and completely used up sort. Vacant.
Sitting still wasn’t really a strong trait of mine, so I figured I’d get up and take a look around, there had to be something to see around here. If my body was actually somewhere else for safe keeping, what harm could come to me, right?
I staggered like I’d never stood before, trying to get my balance. Whatever was going on with me, my equilibrium was totally shot. Standing there swaying like grass in the breeze, I turned carefully trying to see if there was anything around me except rust tinted dirt and nothing.
My heart stumbled around in my chest when I spotted someone coming in my direction. Yes! I wasn’t the only one in this soulless place.
The closer it got to me made me question my original conclusion. I didn’t know exactly, but it was not a someone it was a something. No one label could describe it. Standing over six feet, it had the shape of a man dressed in jeans and a large, very out of fashion gingham snap up shirt. When I reached the face, I can only describe it as part wrinkle puppy dog with floppy ears and the result of Freddy and Jason after the slash scenes.
It stopped in front of me and instinct had me reach around behind me under my jean jacket for my raptor claw knife, which I put on as regular as underwear when dressing and that would be everyday, by the way. Relief washed over me when I felt the small circular handle. At least while waiting to survive I got to bring my toys with me.
Big brown eyes assessed me slowly and I wanted to make the call that it was harmless, but yeah having tracked down anything from a sicko killer to a card shark in the last three years, I knew better than to fall for sappy looks.
“Are you a magishian? You juist appeared.”
A male voice, even though he spoke with a heavy lisp, that randomly inserted ish into his words it would seem. Then again if I had saggy lips like he did, I’d be happy to talk at all. I sized him up for a few more seconds, trying to gauge whether he was really in front of me or if I was having some sort of psychotic episode. Was a magician good or bad? I decided the play dumb, being blonde did have some advantages. “A magician?”
Those brown eyes developed a nervous quiver. Magician equaled bad. “No…”
He looked relieved. “Oh good. I didn’t want to have to bash you over the head.”
I grasped my raptor tightly and shrugged. “Yeah, me either.”
The sky brightened and began to glow a rust orange color. When I asked for some color, I’d hoped for something out of the orange family.
“We better go, they’ll be coming soon.”
“They?” I glanced around quickly, not wanting to take my eyes off him for long.
He nodded and pranced on the spot, the nervous movement had me on high alert. “The daywalkers.” He whispered.
Daywalkers? Did I even want to know? I didn’t think so, but this bizarre nightmare wasn’t going to be complete if I didn’t ask.
Looking me over a few times, his eyes widened under the pressure of his drooping forehead that was quite the expression. “You’re not one of them are you?”
I walked in the day, night and even at dusk, but I wasn’t going to tell him that. I decided honesty might work, if not violence was always a good backup. Judging by his expression daywalker ranked on the bad list with magician. “I—I don’t know what you’d call me.”
Those sappy eyes looked me up and down a few times trying to figure me out. “You better come with me. It’s not safe to leave you wandering around.” He looked behind him and then motioned behind me and started walking.
I knew in my gut it was a mistake, but as I had no other real options… I didn’t know where I was or what was going on and so far he knew more than I did. “Where are we going?”
Pausing he glanced over his shoulder and then lumbered along again. “I’ll take you to Troy, he’ll know what to do.”
My eyes were starting strain as the sky brightened. “This Troy, he’s in charge?”
He stopped so suddenly I almost ploughed right into his back. When he turned and looked at me, his eyes weren’t a sad brown any more but were leaning more towards red. It had to be from the strange color of the sunrise. “You’re not from Alterealm are you?”
“Is that where we are?”
That nervous jitter of his seemed to return all at one. “How did you get here?”
A reasonable question that I had nothing to offer that resembled an answer. “I don’t know that either.”
His red eyes darted to the sky. “We have to go.”
Turning, he began jogging toward, well, nothing that I could see. Not wanting to find out what he was afraid of, I ran along behind him. All I could think was this Troy person, if he was a person, better have some answers.
He stopped again and dropped down onto his knees. Was he hurt? Surely that short jaunt hadn’t winded him that much. He began tapping his hand on the ground. What was he doing? Looking all around us, I kept watch for anything really, not wanting to meet these Daywalkers in the slightest. Just when I’d had about enough of his short break, he grasped something in the sand and pulled a door in the ground open.
“We’re going to have to use the shortcut. We don’t have time to get to the main gates.”
Looking down into a hole with a ladder, I glanced around again and despite every muscle in my body telling me to run and get the hell out of here, I started down the metal rungs into a deep hole that would take me, hopefully back to friggin’ reality.
I stood there at the bottom of the ladder and waited for him to come down. The floor was dirt, but the walls were something I knew and was happy to see, cement. The tunnel was at least eight feet wide and tall enough that I didn’t feel closed in, but that could have had something to do with my height.
When the big guy stepped off the ladder and came to stand right in front of me, I realized I only came up to his chest and his clearance to the tunnel roof wasn’t as spacious as my own.
“This way.” He began a lazy jog down the tunnel.
Pulling my jacket tighter around me, I walked quickly behind him. I wasn’t ready to run into the unknown. I’d had enough of that for one day so far.
The lights that lined the tunnel were shockingly bright and no surprises here but almost glowed orange. Would it be too much to ask for a little blue or green in this Alterealm place?
When he reached a door, he started to open it and then paused and waited for me. “Stay beside me, okay?”
I nodded. Did he really think I was going to wander off into God knows what on my own. Like it or not, he was my life line in this screwed up adventure and I was sticking with him until the time came when I knew enough to get the hell out of here.
Placing a hand behind my back he ushered me though the door and closed it again. He turned and entered some numbers into a key pad and locks clicked into place.
If my tear ducts hadn’t been filled with dust from the dried out place we’d just come from I may have shed a tear at the mere sight of advanced technology.
“Troy will still be awake. He likes all his Captains to report in just after sunrise.”
I filed all that information and kept silent. We walked though so many doors and rooms I knew there was no way I’d ever find my way out if I needed to. That left me feeling a little distraught inside and wanting to hurry up and get some answers and get my weirded out ass home.
When he paused in front of a huge wooden door, I felt like a dwarf lost in the giants’ castle. If this Troy turned out to be an actual giant, I was taking the first tunnel I could find back out into the orange world.
Knocking once, he opened the door and went in. I stepped in behind him and used him for cover as I looked around to scope out what I was going into. There was no giant to be seen. What there was were half a dozen really big guys standing, leaning or lounging, all facing a man sitting behind a desk. The part that had me reach for the comfort of my raptor was that not one of them except the guy behind the desk seemed—human.
They weren’t like my giant puppy guy with the sappy eyes, no that would be okay at this point. What they were, was, well I didn’t know. They looked normal enough with the exception their skin glowed and their eyes were bright colors, anything from green to lava red. I’d wanted new shades besides orange. Definitely a be-careful-what- you-wish-for moment.
“Troy.” Puppy man said without a single ish I noticed. “I found her in the wasteland, she just appeared.”
My shaking hand grasped the handle tightly behind my back.
“Did you check her for weapons?” A large creature with neon green eyes and long white hair, that gave him a glow of white all over stalked toward me. He was dressed all in black leather like a biker and I found that to be the only normal thing about him.
“Back off Welsley.” My finder stepped forward and blocked this other things path.
“Move aside Quapple or I’ll have to move you. We can’t let a stranger just walk in here.”
My protector’s shoulders slumped and that alone made me want to stick my blade into Welsley just for being a big glowing jerk. Glancing over his shoulder at me, his brown eyes apologizing, I gave him a little nod and stepped over so there was no one between the white guy and my path.
Neon green eyes moved over me and then paused on the arm still behind my back. He sneered and steeped towards me again.
Taking a nice wide stance, I braced myself for some action and pulled the raptor free. With a very practiced move, I flipped it from a hidden position to plain sight. I locked eyes with him. “You. Back off now or I will slice you a whole new life style.”
He stopped and there was no mistaking the shock on his face. I heard a few snickers, but wasn’t about to look away from a pissy male that had just been put on pause by a woman half his size, even one that was having a bad day.
“Stand down.” A voice of definite authority ended all motion and sound in the room.
My glowing aggressor stepped back and moved aside so I had clear sight to the man behind the desk. Nothing on him was glowing. To be honest he was most likely the nicest-looking piece of man I’d ever seen. The am-I-drooling-on-myself kind of nice. He had long blonde hair that made my own look blunt and in need of some serious conditioning therapy. His face was taken right off some Greek god statue, of masculine beauty and slapped onto what looked like a body to match—at least the part I could see above the desk.
“Everyone move back and let our guest have a little breathing room.”
Like soldiers marching, the six light radiating beings stepped back as far as furniture and walls would allow. The Greek Adonis gave a small nod of approval and then looked at me. Hazel eyes with long lashes that made me jealous looked at me patiently. Feeling really awkward, I slid the blade back into the sheath on my back and stood up straight. Slowly his eyes moved to the only body that hadn’t moved away from me.
“Quinton, I was beginning to worry. You’ve been gone three nights.”
“I was safe enough.” Again there was barely a trace of the lisp, as if he tried harder to conceal it then he had with me.
“I don’t doubt it, but next time call or at least turn on your phone.”
Phone? Music to my ears thank you very much for this weirdness, now call me a cab.
“Please take a seat.”
Eyes widening, I looked back to see him looking at me. Glancing around at the others, I moved and sat on the edge of a chair closest to the door, trying to stay at an angle that let me see if one of the glow brights made a move toward me.
Quinton came over and stood behind the chair, his sad eyes conveying he had my back. At this point I’d take what I could get.
The white haired one moved around and stood behind the desk. He crossed his arms, green eyes shooting darts at me. One of the others moved over and stood behind him. He wasn’t as unearthly looking, with a dimmer shade of blue aura and red eyes.
“She’s looking at us like she can see us.” One of them said with fear in his voice.
Were my eyes supposed to be obscured? I could see them and I wasn’t sure who but I could definitely smell one of them too and he was long overdue for a little personal hygiene. Slowly they moved to stand where I could see them, my first thought right after you’re screwed was all those horror movie marathons were coming back to get me. All that was missing at this point was the screaming damsel —oh wait, I could play that part. I wasn’t much of a screamer and rarely freaked out, but there’s always a first time.
Glancing around the room again, hoping I’d missed the flashing exit sign I noticed the looks I was receiving were anything from shock to disdain. Except for the cutie behind the desk. Actually he fit more into the hottie category and leaned heavily to the sophisticated side of life with the way he just sat there observing everything.
Raising a hand, he waved off the others from speaking. “Do you know how you got here?”
Saving the lengthy explanations on my own personal theories I just shook my head in answer.
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
He seemed like he was really trying to help me. I shrugged. “Not much, I was chasing down a bounty.”
“You’re a bounty hunter?”
I nodded and then froze when there were several gasps and sounds of shock in the room. Quinton sounded like he sighed in relief. I hoped that meant a bounty hunter was good thing in this place. “Where the hell is this?”
He leaned forward on the desk and looked like he was trying to think of a way to explain it to me. “This is Alterealm, which is more or less the same time, same place as you came from, just a slightly different reality.” He smirked. “I believe we’re what nightmares are based on.”
Raising an eyebrow, I looked around at the guys with their own light systems built in and their pimped out eyes. “Are you seriously telling me that all those things that go bump in the night are true?”
The sexy one behind the desk flashed red eyes and I’m not kidding, fangs at me for a few seconds, just long enough to make sure I caught it all.
“Yeah, that covers the next question too.” Taking a deep breath, I reigned in that feeling you get when you want to run screaming. “So, why am I here and how the hell do I get home?”
Eyes all normal hazel again, he sat back and studied me. “First we must find out the why. Not just anyone can walk both worlds, it’s very rare. Now tell me the last thing you remember.”
My survival attitude kicked in, also known as sarcasm. “Should I be laying on a couch for this?” I heard Quinton chuckle behind me and fought the urge to smile. The others looked confused, but the man asking the questions did smirk, at least I think that’s what those appealing lips were doing. Taking a deep breath, I sat back a little more. “Okay. I was taking down this chick, a bail jumper, Wanda something and I shit you not her alias is Glenda the Witch…”
He sat forward and held up his hand. “Wait. Black hair, two different colored eyes?”
I frowned, not liking he knew this. “Uh, yeah…”
“She belongs on this side,” he said quietly.
Quinton stepped around the chair. “She’s in trouble. Let me go help her, Troy.”
The man sitting sighed. “Quinton, you know you can’t cross over, right now…’
“You mean ever again.” Quinton muttered.
“We don’t know that and now is not the time to…”
I stood up. “Hello, can we get back to Wanda? I don’t care where she belongs, she’s a bounty and I don’t ever lose a…”
The one with the blue aura stepped forward and pointed at me. “You’re her!” He looked around at the others. “It’s her!”
Hands on hips, I snarled at the hand pointing at me. “Her who?”
They converged on the desk like flies and spoke quietly, all while giving me strange looks out of the corner of their eyes. Quinton remained where he was and I was half a second away from begging him to take me out to the daywalkers he feared. I’d like to wake up now. Promise never to eat fudge before bed again, I thought.
“Is your name Daxx? D.A.X.X?”
Please let this be a dream. “Yeah, how do you know my name?”
He motioned to the chair I’d been sitting in, I shook my head feeling a little better on my feet and ready to spring into action if I needed to. “An old prophet told of a woman hunter named Daxx that would cross between and serve justice.” He looked up at Quinton. “You’re right Wanda is in trouble if she sent Daxx here.”
I backed up a few feet and lifted my hands to show I was emptied handed. “Look, as entertaining as all of this is, I really have to go.”
“There are ways to prove what we say is true.” The blonde behind the desk smiled suggestively.
My heart starting convulsing inside my chest. “Does it involve a stone alter and all of my blood?
He smiled, plainly to see this time. “No.” He motioned once again to the chair. Quinton turned and gave me a little nod, he still had my back.
Sighing, I sat down and leaned back. Let them prove their crap and then go home, that was the plan.
“Do you have the mark of a sundial on your back?”
Lunging forward I glared at him. “Okay, how the fuck do you know about that? I don’t even know how I got that!”
“You were born with it, but it wouldn’t have become visible until you came into your power.”
I snorted. “Power? Now I have power?”
He sat back looking amused at my reaction. “Shielding would be the best way to put it. Other supernatural powers won’t work on you.”
“Oh well, there ya go. Good to know.” This guy was on crack for sure. I waved a hand around trying to appear calmer than I was inside. “So if what you’re saying is true then how did the witch get me here?”
“She merely transported you, it’s not a power it’s a device.”
I sat there and watched him for several seconds, waiting for him to crack a smile that told me he was just feeding me a line of bull. My theory of being in purgatory while my body was struggling to live seemed to be the more appealing one at this point. If what this guy said was true, I had no idea what I was going to do. Taking a deep breath I tried to keep my voice steady. “Whatever you say. Look, your story, while fun in the beginning is filled with a whole lot of gaping holes and you need to work on some serious rewrites. First you say a select few can cross over and presto now you have a device that does this…”
He flashed a brilliant smile. “I see where I left out a few pieces—anyone can cross over, only a few can do so without dying in the first minutes of doing it.”
I closed my mouth that was hanging open. “Oh.” Really, what could I say to that?
Quinton moved over to the desk. “We need to find Wanda.”
Troy nodded and then looked back to me. “Why were you hunting her?”
Eyes wide, I sat forward. “She jumped bail. I’m a bounty hunter…”
He nodded. “Yes, but why was she arrested?”
“She beat the hell out of two guys, mind you I probably would have too, they were in serious need of some readjustments in the attitude department…”
“Troy…” Quinton said impatiently.
“I know.” Leaning on his desk again he watched me. “She’s in real trouble, Wanda doesn’t have a violent bone in her body, if she…”
I got up, unable to sit still for a second longer. “Wait, are you saying she deliberately got herself arrested and then jumped bail?”
He offered nothing more. Sighing I paced a few feet and then looked back at him. “Why?”
“To find you,” he added with so much conviction I really believed him.
Could anything they were saying be true? Was I supposed to be here? I didn’t know how the hell they knew about my tattoo, very few knew about it. Looking up from the floor I stared him down. “Okay, let’s say I am starting to believe some of the crap you’re shoveling, you said you could prove that I’m this hunter or whatever.”
“I already believe.” He added quietly. “I haven’t been able to pick one single thought out of your head, and that I can swear has never happened before.”
He could pick thoughts out of heads? Right. “Afraid I’m going to need a little more proof.”
He smirked. “You haven’t run screaming from the room, have you asked yourself why?”
“I’ve thought about it.” I looked around at the others that had become very quiet and still. “Didn’t think I’d get far to tell you the truth.” I shrugged. “I’m more of a stay and fight kinda gal, not much of a runner.” I glanced around at the others again, either I was getting used to it or they had dimmed the glow thing. “What else have you got?”
“Arius, can you suggest anything?”
A smaller one, and I mean he was less than seven feet tall by smaller stepped forward. “I’ve been trying, it’s not working.”
I frowned. “Trying what?” I watched Arius as he moved forward and stood in front of me. Had I thought smaller? He was just as big as Quinton was and perhaps his shoulders were even wider. He smiled at me and I couldn’t help but think that was a definite player in front of me. Flipping back his long black hair he glanced around at the others.
“Pick one and tell me what you want him to do.”
It took several seconds before it sunk in. “You can make them do whatever you want?”
“Yes.” Another playboy grin flashed at me.
I hoped it was true. I looked around the room and then zeroed in on the one with the white hair that still stood there and glared at me with disdain. Even without his eyes all bright green he still bugged me. “If I can’t slice him a new life style, maybe he could be shown a little humility.”
“Troy,” The white haired one growled at me.
“Welsley, I will allow it.” Troy uttered with that voice of authority again.
Sighing, Welsley moved around to stand a few feet away from Arius. “Don’t think this gives you free reign to do this whenever the mood strikes.”
“I only do what I am commanded to do.” Arius stated drily and then turned to me. “What do you request?”
Studying the way Welsley sneered at me for a moment, I moved over and reached up to whisper my request so only Arius could hear me.
He straightened and looked down at me, a smirk playing at the corners of his mouth. “Not what I expected, but more than doable.”
Crossing my arms, I stood there beside Quinton and watched Arius stand in front of Welsley. Welsley’s eyes were locked onto Arius’s as he stood there silently. I could tell when the suggestion, with his mind, had been made because Welsley’s spine stiffened and even though I watched I wasn’t sure if this was going to actually happen. With ridged movements, as if he was being pushed against his will, Welsley came over and stood in front of me. Dropping down to one knee, he looked up at me and I’m sure if he had the ability to kill with a look I would have fallen dead to the floor in that second. With his teeth clenched his eyes moved to Quinton.
“I — apologize for my rude behavior, Q-uinton.” He clenched his jaw as if fighting what was happening. “I will…” he closed his eyes, “not call you Quapple again.”
I hadn’t known the end part, Arius must have added that little bit in for himself, but I still liked it.
Welsley stood up and glared down at me before moving to the other side of the room.
Quinton turned and looked at me. He didn’t need to say it, I could see the surprise and looks of thanks in his deep brown eyes.
I smiled and then turned to look at Troy. “Okay, so this could be fun in ways.” I shrugged. “What’s next? You’ve got me on the fence. I just need to pick a side.”
Everyone turned and looked at Troy with a mix of fear and excitement on their face. He pushed his chair back and stood up. “I don’t have a witch handy or we’d try some magic and see if you can reflect it like Arius’s suggestion.”
I mentally checked to make sure my tongue wasn’t hanging out as he stepped around the desk. My first thought of how he’d looked had been a slightly underestimated. He was huge, in size from height to well toned width and leather pants had never looked so fine on a body before.
“I can’t precisely prove that I have the ability to read one’s thoughts…” he looked to Quinton. “Perhaps you could vouch for me?”
Quinton nodded and leaned closer to me. “He used to pick all those embarrassing thoughts you thought were your own and blurt them out when he was a young brat.”
Troy raised an eyebrow at him and then looked down at me. “I’ve matured greatly since then.” He glanced up and down me and I fought the little flutters that took flight in my entire system from his eyes moving over me. “May I?” He looked innocent enough in his gesture. “Sometimes if I’m closer I can pick up things from those that are more resistant to me.”
My brain was thinking there was no one out there that would be able to resist him, I was struggling with it right now. Then I realized he meant to see if he could figure out what I was thinking, which might prove embarrassing on my side. “Give it your best shot.” I wanted to cry uncle as he stepped close enough that I could feel the heat coming off his tall well built body. I found out too that he was not the one with the offensive smell, because he smelled of pure fantasy and sin.
He looked into my eyes as he rested one large warm hand against my neck. I knew I was holding my breath, but I was afraid to breath and tried to focus on clearing the naughty thoughts out of my head, just in case I wasn’t impervious to his skill. He didn’t need to know what I was thinking that involved his body and mine—naked. I couldn’t do it one second longer. “Look, handsome—as much as the vibes from you rock me, if you get any closer I’m going to have to ask for some privacy…”
Hazel eyes moved over my mouth and then he looked back to my eyes. The look he gave me said he knew how I was feeling, but not necessarily had he needed to look inside my mind to find that out. Dropping his hand, he stepped back giving me some air to suck back into my lungs.
“Mmm, not a thought to be had.” Turning he looked around at the others and then moved back over and sat on the edge of his desk.