Invincible (The Twixt #4) - Dawn Metcalf Page 0,1

Under the Hill weren’t half as frightening as the King and Queen of the Folk. Theirs was power, old and absolute, serene and inviolate. They had literally spoken a world into being, gathering all the nonhuman creatures together to safeguard the last vestiges of magic on Earth in a place they called the Twixt, bound by the rules that all Folk must obey. These were the two who had done everything in their power to protect their people and their magic from human harm.

It was like looking into infinite space and having it stare back.

Joy leaned forward, but her feet refused to move. The soap-bubble barrier that stretched over the length of the doorway bowed and wobbled, rainbow reflections dancing on its surface. This was different from walking into the Bailiwick, to the safe room down the stairs under Graus Claude’s tongue—this was an actual door to another world, and to step through it was to leave everything she knew behind.

The King raised his arm. He was the color of earth and wore a cape of velvet leaves; his voice was warm and rich with hope.

“Come,” he beckoned. “Tell us of our people.”

Joy squared her shoulders and held her breath as the ward bowed gently to allow her passage. The barrier peeled away with a popping sound, jellyfish-slow. She felt the sudden warmth of the sun on her cheek and the cool, dewy ground under her toes. The air was heavy and humid and sweet on her lips, tasting of lavender and moss and cinnamon.

Joy drank a deep breath. She was in another world.

Ink stood in the doorway, still holding Joy’s hand. She smiled back at him, radiant.

The ground cracked open.

Jagged fissures of superheated rock ripped through the grass, bleeding hot lava and billows of steam. A blast hit her full in the face. Joy reeled back. The air became dark and acrid and choked with ash. Liquid stone churned. Grass blackened. Smoke boiled. Joy stumbled forward, each step cracking and shattering beneath her like glass.

There was an inhaled gasp, then silence, then noise.

Volume blurred it into a visceral sound—the collective outraged battle cry and the collective thunder of weapons and claws charging full speed down the hill. Joy stepped back, tearing another wound in the earth. A gout of wet fire spewed behind her, orange-hot spatters smoking in the grass. The hillside tilted on a sea of molten rock. Joy pitched forward, using Ink’s hand for balance. Winged things crested over the front line, talons bared.

Joy shouted, “Ink!”

His hand fastened over her wrist, his face a mask of terror.

“Joy!”

The ground crumbled underneath her. She jumped, grabbing his biceps, suspended over a glowing chasm. Heat baked her heels. Joy screamed, “Don’t let go!”

“I’ll not let go,” he assured her.

“Don’t let go!”

“Never.”

He twisted sharply, pulling her up with impossible strength, her body arcing through the air with a familiar feeling of weightlessness before piercing the fine membrane of the doorway and crashing against Ink. His arms wrapped around to catch her as they landed in the Bailiwick’s hazy meadow with a punch of breath. They both turned to look back at the army hurtling toward the open door.

Joy opened her mouth to shout and nearly gagged on the taste of limes as Ink snapped open his straight razor and slashed a door through space, whirling them through the flap of nothing hanging in midair.

They reappeared on the edge of the Bailiwick, at the base of the stairway to their own world.

Ink urged her upward. “Go!”

They ran up the stairs in a blur of slapping feet, heavy boots and heavy breathing, racing