12.3 The First Moment

by Matt P.

When Walter could tell what was happening again, he knew for sure that he wasn’t in the attic of the High School any more. There was a palpable sense of being outside that pressed in on him before he could even recognize anything he saw. The weather was warm but dry, and there was the feeling of dust in the air that reminded him of time he had spent in the Southwest. When he opened his eyes he found that it was greener than he expected, but definitely dusty. They appeared to be in a grassy plain between two large patches of dense forest. The sky was a brilliant sapphire blue interrupted by the ominous dark gray of storm clouds, and he had a good view of them because he was flat on his back.

With a groan he pulled himself up to his knees and feet, looking around. Apparently he was one of the last ones to stand up, and the others were already in an argument. “What the hell happened?” he asked. He started to check his pockets but stopped when he saw who Morgan and Ryan had cornered; then he drew his pistol, and moved quickly to join them.

“If I wanted to attack you I would have done it while all of your backs were turned!” Tennyson said angrily, holding his hands out in a universal symbol of emptiness. “I was trying to stop you from going through the portal!”

“Tell me that I get to shoot him?” Walter asked as he came up on the others, keeping his pistol low but ready. “Because you didn’t get me anything for my last birthday, and that would be a good way to make up for it.”

“Dammit, Mab, call off your dog before I have to put him down,” Tennyson growled angrily, flashing Walter a look that could charitably be described as unkind. Walter raised an eyebrow in return, before he ‘woof’ed once, and looked to Morgan. Gabriel, for his part, didn’t look at Tennyson directly, but was looking around curiously.

“The others didn’t come through?” The not-psychic asked, looking around. Ryan shook his head, frowning in concern.

“Not yet, but if he doesn’t explain what he did and where we are, the yes. Starting with somewhere unpleasant,” Morgan ordered, giving Tennyson a sweet smile. “So start answering, before I let him off the leash.”

“Wait…what do you mean, where we are?” Walter asked with a blink, looking around as if there would be a sign or something he could orient himself off of. Besides the distant sounds of cicadas there was nothing particularly unusual about their surroundings—which bothered him as soon as he realized it. “This isn’t Faerie, is it?”

“I think things went pear shaped before they could come through,” Ryan answered Gabriel in a whisper, so as not to distract from the angry conversation between the others. Gabriel looked distinctly troubled then, but said no more.

“No,” Morgan responded angrily, her features returning to the glare they had held before as she turned back to her half-brother. “It is not. If it were, I would have regained the parts of me that were left behind when we cast the banishing spell. We would also be deep in Winter, and I wouldn’t feel an odd itching at the base of my skull. So where are we and what did you do?” she finished explaining, reaching out to grab Tennyson by the front of his clothing. He wore a dark red and black surcoat over what looked to be mail. “So tell me right now what you did before I pull your spine out your asshole and start whipping you with it.” Her voice started off loud, but by the end it was frosty and cold and quiet. Tennyson paled in front of the power of her anger, apparently doubting the truth of her threat even less than Walter did.

“I didn’t do it…it was a trap!” Tennyson sputtered angrily. “Morgan, he tied the portal to a second one that shunted us here. That’s why it took so much extra energy, you were fueling two different ones at the same time. And I don’t know where we are, which is why I was trying to stop you!”

“What caused your change of heart?” Walter asked, adding his glare to the force of displeasure leveled at Tennyson. “You were pretty damn smug before at the station, didn’t seem like there was a lot of dissension in the ranks before you ripped your way out of the interrogation room.”

“There wasn’t dissension then, mortal—now there is,” Tennyson answered angrily, apparently feeling it safe to be angry at Walter rather than Morgan. “I disagree with some of the steps he has taken since then, and the way he wishes to pursue the war.”

Morgan snorted, letting go of Tennyson and turning away angrily. She ran a hand through her hair, considering him for a moment. “Fine. If this is a trick, I swear to you that your death will be as long as it is painful. But that doesn’t change the fact that we need to know: Where the hell are we?”

“Nightmare.” The voice that answered was deep and rich, practiced and smooth and rolling out to fill the nooks and crannies of the landscape. It commanded attention, and almost obediently they all turned to look at the speaker.

“Oh shit,” Ryan said with an almost flat terror.

The man before them was dressed in dark, rich fabrics. Unlike Morgan or Tennyson he hadn’t bothered with armor, but his clothing was cut in a military fashion and served to highlight his broad shoulders and muscular build. His hair was pure white but in a way that didn’t seem to age him, and hung in a simple ponytail down to his shoulders. His face was strong and cut, and almost absurdly handsome; the handsomeness was only undermined by the confident sneer on his features. Walter couldn’t recognize the face because he hadn’t seen it, but he could place the voice.

“Shit, it’s Professor Gloom,” Walter stated, primarily for his own benefit. He snapped his pistol up and fired off three staccato rounds that should have taken the terrifying man in the face. They didn’t, not because they didn’t hit but because they never seemed to impact. They simply disappeared into nothingness inches away from his face.

Oberon raised an eyebrow at the nickname, but looked instead to his daughter. She was responding to his words with a look of pure, unfiltered shock. She had gone as pale as Tennyson did earlier, and Walter noticed Tennyson was rocking the look as well. Even Ryan had blanched, and was nervously fiddling with his rifle. “The Seven Lords of Nightmare haven’t allied with anyone since the defeat of the Fomor. They stay out of our politics…what did you do?” she asked, her voice rising in a combination of panic and anger until by the end she was shouting. “What did you promise them?” She raged.

“Nothing I couldn’t stand to part with.” Oberon answered simply, shrugging. “Some dominion over the new lands that we make will be given over to them. That is what the Fomori promised them and what they have wanted.”

Tennyson almost fell to the ground in shock, his knees giving way for a moment before he caught himself on his sister’s shoulder. The two of them stared back at their father, and Walter didn’t think they could have looked more afraid and stricken if he had announced he bathed in the blood of children and played croquet with the devil. From the looks on their faces, and what Walter thought his words meant, maybe he just had.

“They will remember you worse than Balor the Smiter, Father; you will be a worse villain than the Evil Eye. If you succeed at this your legacy will be drenched in blood from which it can never be clean, and they will some day rise to overthrow you as we did the deep terrors.” Morgan’s voice was pitched to breaking with terror, but she kept it even and steady as she stared at her father. “And us? Condemned to worse than death?”

“I knew eventually you would have to attempt coming through—the opportunity was too good. So I linked them to the lands ruled by the Seven, where I expect you will perish. Or if you do not, will be too late to stop me.” He looked around at that, before shrugging, and offering a stately bow. “Goodbye, children.”

With that he was gone, and Morgan screamed her fury to the empty air as mist began to slowly gather around them as if creeping for their souls.