She was holding Marco’s arm as he led her through the streets leading to the forum. She’d walked here many times but never giggling foolishly as they were doing right now. She could barely see where she put her feet trusting Marco to guide her. A foolish idea too though since he was even more drunk than she was. They had celebrated the success of the show: their success. She was unusually tipsy. She barely avoided a tall man as Marco was pulling her.
“Marco! Attenzione.” She exclaimed as he almost knocked a girl off her feet.
“Perdono, perdono bella ragazza,” he apologized with a flash of teeth. The girl was blushing already; Marco was a handsome guy and his smile was dazzling. She knew. It once intimidated her. The girl cast a quick glance at her and pouted; she started laughing, couldn’t help herself.
“Marco?” She asked as he didn’t appear to want to look away from his would-be victim.
“Si.” He didn’t seem to remember where they were going.
“Si. Mi ricordi.”
She pulled him behind her… They must reach the entrance to the forum before nightfall and it was becoming less likely with every passing minute. Oh well they’d meet the others elsewhere later.
“Erin amore…” Marco started, the word dousing her mood like a bucket of ice water. Love. That was the shadow. She turned around: nothing. Or… She looked up and smiled though worry nagged at her. How?
“Declan?” He nodded a grim expression on his face.
“Marco shut up.” She placed her hand on his mouth and pushed him against the wall nearest to them pressing her body against his shielding him from what was about to happen.
She silenced him with a kiss: it obviously took him by surprise for his eyes widened in shock. It was curious: she had wondered what it would be like to kiss him and have him kiss her back. And now it was happening she felt nothing. Of course it might have been because she knew the danger they were in and she wasn’t in the mood but even as she heard the clash of a fight behind them she knew it was more than that. She had liked the idea but she hadn’t known him. Now she did and it felt like kissing a brother. She couldn’t love him. When the sounds receded she stepped back; Marco looked thoughtful.
“That wasn’t what I expected.” He said quite surprisingly in an unaccented English.
She smiled ruefully.
“What were you protecting me from? Another world traveller?” And that as much as anything caught her off guard. She suddenly felt extremely scared.
“So you are the other one,” Declan’s voice came from right behind her. His arm came to rest upon her shoulder, a comfort: she almost leaned into him. “They said we should find you.”
“I don’t understand.” She said quite truthfully.
“He’s a world traveller like you.”
“How are you here? I…”
“Not here. Do you live close by?”
“Not really but…”
“I do.” Marco said. “Come.”
His English was perfect. What the hell? Who was he? She had so many questions and she had to wait. Within fifteen minutes they had reached his apartment looking over the forum.
“Nice place.” She said.
“I’ve got money.”
He must for the neighbourhood was expensive to live in. Even her father said so when they came to find a flat for her.
“Some wine?” He offered.
“Water please.” She asked while Declan declined.
“How many were there?” Marco asked Declan as he gave her the glass of water she’d asked. Declan shrugged.
“I don’t know.” Of course he did; he just didn’t want to sound as if he were bragging. She looked at him with a raised eyebrow. “Fine six of them. But it’s not like they stood a chance.”
“Yes, I heard of you Declan of Lestarin but the stories don’t do you justice. You’re even more impressive than I could have imagined.” Declan shrugged again; he’d heard this his entire life. “My name’s Marco I serve the god in Persal.”
“You’re the high priest’s heir.”
“I would if Persepolia were my world. As it happens this is where I was born like Erin. This is where I belong ultimately. But I was dedicated to the god as I was here.” He pulled the shirt aside revealing a chain that held a cross and an endless knot, one she was very familiar with. She barely suppressed a gasp. How had she missed that? In four years she had never seen that knot. He looked at her. And as if he knew what she was thinking he answered her question. “Unlike Erin though I have a measure of control of when and where I arrive when I travel. You saw that knot the very first time we met. You guessed but I could not let you know. I travelled back to a few minutes and removed my chain. Afterwards I always took care of removing it when you were around.” He paused…”And then there was the day your parents came and you disappeared in the changing rooms. You were gone a long time.”
“About half an hour. I saw Corinna leave with your dress… When I checked you were gone… but I told your parents the dress was complicated to get out of.”
“I see… Thanks.” Mostly she felt stupid for not realising she could not possibly be the only world traveller.
“Don’t feel bad love,” Declan said reaching for her hand, “we did not know there was another traveller until last week. The servants of Aeon and Aditi told us there were attacks planned against you. It was the first time they used the plural. We had no idea.”
“How did you get here?”
“They created a portal. I’m not sure how. It took all of them to send me through.”
“How will you go back?”
“They said between the two of you, you should be able to bring me back.”
She bit her lips; that was a lot of pressure. And yet how could they afford not to succeed? Declan belonged in Lestarin. Marco looked at her a curious look in his eyes.
“What?” She asked. He shook his head.
“We’ll be fine. Why did they attack us now?”
“When were you last in Persal?”
“Hard to answer that question. Last week here.”
“How much time since I came last?” Erin asked.
“So you’ve just started the year of the Aquarius.”
“What? How’s that possible?” Marco answered. “It means I’ve been gone two years. I don’t understand. I was there after you Erin.”
“The timeline has changed. I guess that explains it. We are at war. The priesthood believe Perses is come to return the world to chaos. And laying Lestarin to waste is a first step. Though he will probably attempt to destroy the temples everywhere.”
“All right so maybe we shouldn’t tarry. I mean if two weeks meant two years we should go now.”
“I agree. Can you handle a sword?”
Marco’s face meant yes. Declan gave him one of his and handed her the dagger she always left in her rooms. She smiled.
“Marco you said you could control your travels.” He nodded. “When did you leave Declan?”
“Can you get us close enough?” She asked Marco.
“I’ll need your help to get Declan through.” She cast a quick glance at her brother.
“I trust you love.”
“Yes, well I don’t know that I trust myself,” she replied tartly. “It’s not like I’ve ever controlled my travels. But we don’t have a choice.”
“We don’t.” Marco interrupted. “Ready?”
She frowned. No they weren’t ready but again they had no choice. Marco took her hand and Declan’s creating a circle. She’d never travelled with anyone else. She wasn’t even sure it was something she could do. And yet there seemed to be a connection between the three of them; she felt Marco’s mind bend itself towards Lestarin and pull her with him. So she focused on Declan and bringing him back where he belonged. That was the only thing she could think of. She’d never consciously crossed before; she’d never realized it was possible. Although in truth, she must have known as a child because she crossed every night. She remembered spending days wishing it were night so that she could go and be in a place that was different, where she had siblings who loved her and not a house where affection was only earned with good marks and talent. It hadn’t been true of course but she hadn’t realized until she was older that both her parents were hurt and scared of loving her too much. Losing a child could do that to you as she learned that day she took the car without telling them.
“Erin!” Marco yelled. “Don’t let go. We’re there.”
Why was it so hard? She had never had trouble. She landed on her knees scratching them quite badly. A quick look made her blush.
“Oh no. Not again.” She whispered. Hardly had she spoken that Declan’s cloak fell upon her naked shoulders. She looked up: his face was a mix of amusement, worry and something else. He’d shoved Marco aside that the other traveller wouldn’t see her. How was it that she was without clothes and they were perfectly dressed, as one would expect in Persepolia? “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Turning to the other man he asked the question she had wanted to. “What happened? It wasn’t so hard for me to travel the other way.”
“Something was preventing us from crossing. And you were loosening your hold Erin.”
Thankfully Marco wasn’t eyeing her in any curious way. In fact he appeared oblivious to the fact that she was naked mostly observing his surroundings. She had the sense that if he did, Declan would punch him or more.