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Treading Water - Chapter One

Tensions remained high in the atrium where we housed three magnificent oak trees which were used for sanctioned travel through the realms. We had been forced to test the blood of each traveler due to the discovery of multiple labs that were injecting mixed blood fairies and shifters with Void magic. This process had turned these beings into ticking time bombs. Through our findings, we were able to thwart attacks in Winter and Summer. However, we hadn’t been able to stop the initial attack in Summer.

“Don’t touch me!” a female snarled at one of the new lab workers that Dr. Ramsay had hired to conduct the quick blood tests in the atrium. We’d set up a secondary pass-through area where travelers had to check-in with their tests.

“I’m sorry. I must test your blood before you go through the trees,” the shy dryad lab-assistant replied.

“I want to speak to the supervisor!” the woman huffed.

That was my signal. I walked toward the pair, pumping the air with a calming song. It seemed to have no effect on the woman. I looked through my sight. She was a troll, but not full-blooded. Her aura was a mix of green and brown with splotches of grey.

“Hello, I’m Killian Hart. How may I assist you?” I asked. I placed my hand on the shoulder of the dryad. I felt her heart pounding through the light touch. I sent extra calming vibes to her. She relaxed while holding the needle prepped to stick the troll.

“I do not have to submit to this mistreatment,” she said.

“Unfortunately, because of recent incidents, we have been forced to extra precautions before fairies can travel the ways. It is a painless procedure, and it will only take a minute. I’ll show you.” I held my hand out to the dryad. She blinked twice, then realized what I had said. She took the needle, which was very small, and pricked my finger. A small dot of blood pooled up on the digit. The dryad quickly placed the strip into a digital reader. A green light appeared almost immediately on the device. The strip was removed from the reader and placed in a jar on the table. It immediately incinerated. We knew how disturbing it could be for fairies to leave blood traces. Blood could be used for many spells and rituals. So, we made sure that the blood would be burned up immediately so that the traveler could see that it was destroyed. We also had wards on the pass-through area which would clot the tiny wound as soon as it was made. We provided wipes and other methods of cleaning any excess blood. These implements including the test needle were also dropped into the incineration jar.

The troll watched the process with her arms folded across her chest.

“Do you know who I am?” the troll asked.

I looked down at her paperwork. I had no idea who she was. I frankly didn’t care. It didn’t matter. If you were going through my trees, you would be tested.

“Madam Harlow Elodie,” I read from the paper.

She waited as if I should have known who she was. Learning the nobility of the realms beyond the main players hadn’t seemed important to me. I didn’t care who you were. If you came through my building, you would be treated with respect. No preferential treatment for anyone.

“I am the third cousin of the high lord of the Trollish Nation of Summer.” She waited again for me to respond.

“It is my pleasure to meet you.” I gave her a friendly nod. “Madam Elodie, if you would please provide your finger for testing. If you refuse, you will be removed from the facility and your passport privileges will be revoked.”

“You can’t do that!” she yelled.

We’d drawn the attention of all the travelers in the pass-through.

“Watch me,” I replied calmly.

She flexed her fist. I watched the veins ripple through her arm. She wasn’t overly built, but I knew the power of a troll was often hidden beneath a pleasing exterior. They were deceptive and strong. I didn’t want this to become physical. Thankfully with my gifts, I knew it wouldn’t come to that.

“I am going to report you to Lord Tavish. He will speak to the King of Summer about our treatment in this facility,” she said. However, she offered her finger to the dryad.

“Please tell Astor I said hello,” I replied.

Her eyes widened with the surprise that I would call the King of Summer by his first name. Astor had been my sibling’s nanny. Well, manny. He was very close to our family. At one time in ancient history, he had been betrothed to my mother. That wasn’t meant to be. Still, he was like family to us. I didn’t know Lord Tavish or anyone in the Trollish Nation of Summer. The King of Summer backed the steps we were taking to protect the realms. Not to mention his daughter was a friend. Well, sort of.

“How disrespectful,” she muttered.

The dryad’s device beeped and displayed a green light.

“She’s clear,” the dryad replied.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” I said to the troll. She grumbled something as I walked away to allow the dryad to do her work. I looked at my watch. I had a meeting in an hour. I hoped my time monitoring the atrium would pass quickly. Jaehyun and I took turns keeping an eye on the place to ease the tensions.

I hadn’t made it back to my spot where my cold cup of coffee sat on an empty desk when something crashed behind me. I spun expecting to see the troll causing trouble. Instead, she was on the ground, looking up at the dryad who had tested her. The petite woman had grown massive branches in place of her arms. She swiped through the pass-through area, knocking over tables and equipment.

Her name didn’t come to my mind, and I hated myself for not knowing it. We had hired so many new employees. I was struggling to remember them all.

“Easy,” I said, sending out a sonic wave to slow her movements. She pushed through the magic with a screech of agony. Something was forcing her to fight. I saw the pain in her eyes. I had to end it swiftly, but I also had to remember the last incident in the atrium with the lion.

Security flooded into the atrium. Alarms triggered in the building reacting to the magic controlling the dryad. I scanned the room with my sight. The magic was a grey tether back to the troll on the floor.

“Madam Elodie, release her!” I demanded, rushing toward the dryad.

“You are blaming me! I’m the one she attacked! She’s tainted!” the troll yelled.

“This is your last warning. Stop the spell!” I yelled, drawing the power of music to my body. I had tried to not rely on Winter. This wasn’t about my position in the realms.

“You hear him he’s threatening me!” Madam Elodie yelled as she cowered on the floor.

“Anyone with sight can see that you are controlling the dryad! Let her go!” I slowed as I neared the dryad who was still struggling to fight the magic that controlled her.

“Do not stand for this injustice. They have no right to test us! Fight back for your rights!” the troll screamed.

If I knocked her out, it would look bad on me. If I didn’t stop her magic, she would harm the dryad. Yumiko. I remembered her name. Yumiko. She wore a pair of sticks in her hair which looked like arrows that were wrapped in a cherry blossom vine. She’d told me that her mother had given them to her, because her name meant arrow child.

I had to protect my own which included the troll, unfortunately. Instead of knocking her out, I used force with a song to bind her. Musical chains wrapped around her magic forcing it to break contact Yumiko. The dryad’s branches morphed back into her body which fell limply to the floor. I reached her just in time to catch her before her head hit the concrete. Security rushed to my side taking the dryad from me.

I turned my attention to the troll who was furious. She couldn’t speak or move.

“I hope your trip to the realms wasn’t important. By the authority granted to me by the leaders of the realms, Madam Harlow Elodie, you are forbidden to travel between the realms for a period of one human year. You will be detained by this facility until such time we determine what caused this incident which threatened the safety of all who are here. You can have your crusade about fairy mistreatment, but you will not harm innocent lives. Take her away.”

Our largest security guards, who were curupira, seized the troll, locking her in magical bindings that prevented her from using magic. The curupira had been hired by Jaehyun. He’d met them while traveling in South America. They were a race of giant beings like a sasquatch, but with vibrant red hair. Their bodies were covered in hair and their feet faced backward. They wore custom shoe made just for this abnormality. They were reliable, strong, and hated anyone that caused harm to nature. They were perfect protectors for the trees.

“Thank you, Celso and Leonus. Take her to the holding cells. I’ll deal with her later. Get those alarms turned off. Send an all clear to the building,” I instructed the curupira.

“We got her, Boss,” Celso replied.

Leonus was already speaking into his radio to quell the alarm. It stopped, but the low murmur among the travelers continued.

I knelt next to Yumiko who was now surrounded by the other lab assistants.

“I’m fine. Really,” she said.

“I’m so sorry. I acted as quickly as possible,” I said.

“Don’t worry about me. Focus on them.” She nodded toward the travelers who were now looking over the mess in the pass-through area.

“I’ll call for help to get this reset.” We were already strapped for employees. I dialed my phone. “Hey Bree. Yes, it’s all fine. Can you and Nicole come to the atrium. We have a mess that needs to be cleaned up quickly.”

“On the way,” my cousin replied. I was so glad that Aubrey was here. It was nice to have family close.

The travelers were helping each other from the floor while others were staring at me in expectation.

“I’m very sorry about the disturbance. If you have concerns about the testing process, please speak to an F.B.I. agent about your reservations. However, at this time, we are forced to protect the realms from attack. I hope you understand how serious this is. If you are uncomfortable with the tests, our housing director will be here in a moment. She will help you find accommodations until such time we do not have to test anymore,” I informed the crowd.

“How long with that be?” someone in the crowd asked.

I took a deep breath. “I’ll be honest. We do not know the depth of the problem. We are offering medical assistance to those who are infected. The others are being allowed to travel. We are doing our best to accommodate everyone.”

“It’s not enough,” someone else said. The troll had struck a nerve with those who were waiting.

“I agree. I would love to do more, but at this time we are at our capacity until we understand the problem better. I assure you that Dr. Ramsay and her team are working around the clock to find a better way to do this. Until that time, I ask for your mercy and understanding.” The tension eased, but I didn’t want it to disappear before I had a chance to play on it myself. I allowed a warning song to silently drift around the room. “However, another outburst like this and I will be forced to close the atrium until such time we are able to isolate those who are infected. I will not tolerate anyone using magic against someone’s will. I will not tolerate outbursts that cause harm to innocent bystanders. I went easy on Madam Elodie. Don’t make me show you my worth.”

I saw the fear flash in their eyes, but I also saw a measure of respect, which was what I wanted. I’d acted swiftly and tried not to harm the troll despite her outburst.

I knelt to speak to the dryad.

“Yumiko, are you sure that you are alright? Perhaps you should take a break. Dr. Ramsay has a cot in her office. Or perhaps one of our apartments in the upper levels,” I offered.

“No, thank you. There is a mess here. I feel like I should help clean up,” Yumiko answered.

I placed my hand on her forearm, injecting her with a little magic. “This isn’t your fault.”

She lowered her head. “I know, but it was me.”

“No. It wasn’t. If anything, it is my fault for not seeing it before it escalated. This is on me. Let me carry the burden,” I emphasized.

“You are a good leader, Mr. Hart.”


I didn’t feel like a good leader, and the mess in the pass-through area didn’t look like I was a good leader. Most of all, those who were waiting to go through the checks and those who were waiting to use the trees wouldn’t have given me that title. I had work to do.

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