Invincible (The Twixt #4) - Dawn Metcalf

ONE

JOY MALONE STOOD inside the Bailiwick and stared out the newly opened door between worlds. Her bare feet tingled on the illusion of grass, and Indelible Ink’s hand hung loosely in hers. Her boyfriend’s black, fathomless eyes were wondrous-wide as they absorbed the unbelievable sight.

Yellow banners snapped over bivouac camps spread over miles of green, grassy hills. Soldiers gathered around a large central court—elves and sprites, demons and gargoyles, gryphons and centaurs and fairies garbed for battle, all staring back at them, dumbstruck with awe. In the middle of the courtyard, nine princesses were laughing and sobbing hysterically, reunited after centuries apart. And beyond them, two crowned figures stood before their thrones, their long hair lifting like angel’s wings in the wind; the Royal Majesties, the King and Queen of the Folk.

The King turned to his Queen, his words, crisp and clean, crossing the miles, slicing through sound.

“It is as you foretold,” he said. “Behold the Destroyer of Worlds.”

Joy swallowed. Her heart might have skipped a beat, but as Joy was only half human, her heart was still.

Ink turned to her, his voice uncertain. “Joy?”

She shook her head, not daring to look away. “I don’t know,” she whispered. She had no idea what they were talking about, but their words chilled her. She shivered. Her leotard stuck awkwardly to her skin. As a former gymnast, Joy was used to wearing next to nothing in public, but right now she wished she’d kept on the elaborate ball gown. The layers of silk and crinoline might have been some small protection from the otherworldly glares, but she’d shed it while making her escape from Under the Hill. The costume was likely trampled by angry Folk searching for her back at the gala, including the rampaging dragon, the Head of the Council, Bùxiŭ de Zhēnzhū. She could almost hear the distant howling as the mob swarmed the Grand Hall.

But that was back in the real world, her world—a strange mix of the human world and the Twixt—not this pocket dimension, the “Bailiwick,” hidden inside Graus Claude, which held the secret doorway to the lost King and Queen of the Folk.

The world beyond the doorway sparkled, muted like honey, motes of pollen flashing with lazy golds and greens. Purple clouds hung above jeweled fruit trees and tall waterfalls tumbled over sharp, blue-veined cliffs. There were castles in the distance with rainbow lakes and silver springs bubbling under bridges that looked spun from diamond glass. It looked like every fairy tale, every fantasy made real. This was the world of magic where the Folk had gone to hide.

Joy swallowed, forcing herself to relax, and lifted her chest and chin.

“Your Majesties.” Joy raised her voice. “Your people await your Imminent Return!”

She thought that would do it, she really did. All heads turned to look at the Queen, whose face was as beautiful and terrible as the alien sky. Her skin was the color of morning glories and her eyes were as bright as stars.

The wind picked up, blowing her long hair back from her face. Her crown winked gold in a sea of amber curls. The lost Folk gathered nearer to their monarchs with a low, buzzing mumble, the curious murmur of bees.

“You are not our people,” the Queen said slowly. “Come forward if you come in peace.”

Ink tugged her hand gently. Joy hesitated. It was true—as a homunculus and a halfling, neither Ink nor Joy was truly one of the Folk, but, however unlikely, they were the ambassadors of the Twixt. Joy could hear Graus Claude’s advice whispering in her head, Etiquette and decorum.

The rampaging mob