Chapter 1: Edge of DeathAlex had never felt so alone in her entire life. She stared blankly out the window of the limousine she shared with Admiral Teller and his staff. Her eyes focused on her reflection as a tear escaped down her cheek. She swiped it away. It wasn’t that she didn’t feel grateful for their help and support, but her heart ached—she wanted to go home…to Eledon…to her Elf grandparents…to her job as the Keeper of the Keys…not to London.
Alex’s mortal father had died when she was four and she’d been raised by mortals until she turned fifteen. She thought she’d have a better understanding of life here on Earth, but she didn’t. She even missed the snooty Council of Elders and the grumpy Chamber Elf. Helping those mortals had been the worst decision she’d ever made. Over seven hundred sailors on five ships had been stranded in Eledon and she’d returned them safely. She brushed away another tear and looked around. Good, no one’s looking at me. She turned back to the window.
An unusual sound caught her attention and she gazed out the sunroof of the black limousine. It was a helicopter. Or a chopper. A helo—whatever they called it. Alex leaned her head back and sighed. What was it doing here? It wasn’t part of the motorcade. Over the past few weeks, she’d seen a lot of them flying in and out of Portsmouth’s Royal Naval Base in southern England. The Royal Marines had told her about them. This one hovered way too close. The pilots smiled and waved at her, so she waved back. Friendly, she thought, at first. But why were they wearing sunglasses on a cloudy day? Her instincts told her something wasn’t right. Who were these men? Assassins? Why were they waving at me? The hairs on the back of her neck rose as she thought of the worst-case scenario. The helo was going to attack them.
She nudged Leftenant Nelson of the British Royal Navy—the red-haired, fair-skinned man raised his chin, but his eyes remained fixed on the screen of his mobile. He played a video game to pass the time.
“Wait.” The young officer pushed the buttons with his thumbs and stared intensely at the small screen. The car crashed and the game ended. “Damn it!” He shook his fist and gritted his teeth. “I can’t get past this level. What in the bloody hell do you want?” He pulled his ear buds out and turned sharply; his eyes narrowed—his anger still prevailing.
“Sorry, but why is that helicopter flying so low?” Alex pointed up. She had learned one thing about the mortal world—it could be dangerous here.
“It’s just a traffic helicopter, looking for accidents on the highway.”
“So why are those men wearing sunglasses? It’s cloudy out.”
“They’re pilots—they think it makes them look cool.” He waved his hand dismissively and went back to his game.
“Good.” Alex felt relieved. Her instincts were wrong. No need to worry. This was normal. Since that night she was supposed to return home to Eledon, but couldn’t, she wasn’t quite sure what was normal and what wasn’t here in the mortal world. She relived the scene, repeating in her head on an endless loop and clenched her jaw. Lord Fissure of the Rock Elves had threatened to kill her grandfather if she tried to return home—and the sneer on his face told her that he’d won.
Sitting across from her was Vice Admiral Sir Malcolm Teller. He was a kind man, but he was a mortal…and a target. She’d already foiled three assassination attempts on him. He was targeted by a white supremacist group called the 23rd Infantry, just because he was a black man. It didn’t make sense to her. Over the past few weeks, he’d also become her mentor and benefactor and promised to help her find a way home. But how? He didn’t know anything about the Elf world. Were there more entry points somewhere? Even she didn’t know—she was stranded. No, exiled.
Next to him on a laptop computer was Captain Jonas, a brilliant naval officer and the Admiral’s chief of staff, who always looked at her with suspicion. Was there any way to convince him I wasn’t a scout for an alien invasion? She doubted it. He was a stubborn man.
Over the past few weeks, the Admiral had taken charge of the return of the sailors, the ships, and the civilians who’d been stranded in Eledon, while she’d made friends with Captain Shauna O’Leary, Royal Marines. Alex worked out with the Marines on a daily basis and learned a lot about the mortal world from them. This morning, however, she was notified the Admiral had completed his task and would be leaving for London in an hour. She would have liked more time—she barely had a chance to say farewell to Shauna. But she packed quickly and got to the limousine before anyone else.
Alex had no clue what to do next, but she felt an urgent need to get back to Eledon to protect her grandfather from those Rock Elves, especially Lord Fissure. Until she figured out how, the Admiral had offered to let her stay with him and his wife. Without any other option, she agreed.
Her best hope of getting home was to find Ecstasy, the wizard. He’d brought her to the mortal world in the first place, but even Detective Inspector Tyler of Scotland Yard couldn’t find him. So, how could she?
* * *
Leftenant Nelson tapped her arm. “Hey, Alex. I didn’t mean to snap at you like that. You didn’t know about the traffic helo. Sorry.”
“It’s all right. Sorry, I bothered you.” Alex wasn’t really sorry, but thought it was the polite thing to say. He’d always been pleasant to her. The chopper rose higher over the vehicle, pacing the limo’s speed on the highway. Its body was made of glass and metal with pods on either side. Alex stared at it curiously and went back to her thoughts.
Without warning, the limo veered off the main highway and exited onto a two-lane country road. Alex grabbed hold of a handle to her left and sat up straight, alert for trouble. Her eyes widened and her pulse quickened as her head swiveled around, looking for the source of the problem.
“What’s going on, Jonas?” Admiral Teller dropped the newspaper onto his lap and looked over to the Captain.
“I’ll find out, Admiral.” He pressed a button near his head. “Petty Officer Thomas, where are we going?”
“Following the security car in front, Captain. It’ll take us around an accident ahead.”
Captain Jonas glanced at the traffic on the highway. It wasn’t slowing down and his phone didn’t have any reported accidents. “Thomas, there aren’t any accidents reported. Call the security car and get them back on the highway. We have an appointment at the Ministry this morning.”
Yet, the limo continued along the empty country road.
Thomas reported back. “Captain, no reply from the security car.”
The Captain grew alarmed; this wasn’t supposed to happen. He checked his phone again, still no accidents. He craned his neck to look at the traffic, flowing smoothly on the highway.
The sound of the chopper drew closer. Alex looked out the sunroof—the pilots grinned. This time, not in a friendly way. Alarm bells went off in her head.
“I thought the chopper was supposed to watch traffic on the highway.” Alex looked to Nelson, who was also peering out the sunroof; his jaw tight and his eyes focused on the chopper.
“I don’t like this.” Captain Jonas pressed the button. “Thomas, get us out of here!” His eyes narrowed.
“I can’t, sir. We’re boxed in.”
“Leftenant, send out a distress message immediately!”
Nelson’s thumbs flew over the screen of his mobile phone, sending out a text message.
Alex felt helpless and she could tell the men didn’t know what to do either. She turned in her seat to see the driver’s face in the rearview mirror. His eyes were so wide she could see white around his pupils as he clutched the steering wheel.
Captain Jonas slammed his laptop shut and pushed the intercom. “Thomas, take evasive action. Turn left up ahead.” He turned to his right. “Fasten your seat belt, Admiral. Leftenant, call for help again.”
The Admiral put on his seatbelt and Alex tightened hers. The Leftenant sent out another message over his phone. Thomas slammed on the brakes and turned the limo to the left. The long vehicle barely made the sharp turn and skidded sideways before it straightened. Then he stepped on the gas. All at once, he jammed on the brakes and nearly ran into the chopper as it hovered low over the road.
Alex broke into a sweat. How are we going to get out of this? She looked to the Admiral, who looked at the Captain. No one had any answers.
“Turn right!” The Captain pointed to a smaller road.
Thomas quickly turned the limo down a road which became a dirt path leading into a pasture where black and white cows munched on grass. The limo broke through a barbed wire fence and drove into the field. Alex gripped the handle as she bounced in the seat. Oh, my stars!
“Damn it! Turn around! Get us out of here!” The Captain’s eyes grew large as the chopper followed behind. “Did you send the message, Nelson?” He pulled the Admiral away from the window as Nelson frantically texted another distress message.
“Jonas, this car is armored. We’re safer in here than out there.” The Admiral pointed out the window.
“Thomas, get us out of here!” Jonas waved his hand forward.
“I can’t, sir! I’ve lost control!” The steering wheel spun wildly under his hands as the limo fishtailed across the grass.
Alex rocked to the right as the chopper’s nose tilted down. “It’s aiming at us!” She pointed out the back window. The Marines had told her about helos, firing rockets and shooting guns, but that was in a war zone, not in the English countryside.
Two white streams of churning smoke fired from the pods on the chopper, exploding just behind the vehicle, kicking up mounds of dirt, and lifting the rear end. Gunfire strafed the back window, shattering the glass but remaining intact.
Alex covered her face as the limo sped through the field, barely missing a cow. Seconds later, the limo ran into a stone wall and came to an abrupt stop. The airbags deployed and everyone sat stunned for a few seconds.
“The chopper’s coming around for another crack at us, Captain.” Leftenant Nelson grabbed the door handle. “Let’s get out of here!” He scrambled out the door, followed by the rest, jumping behind a stone wall in front of a stand of trees.
Just as they ducked behind the wall, the chopper sent two more rockets at the car, which exploded at the rear. Then it opened fire with machine guns. In spite of the armor plating and bulletproof glass, the limo was severely damaged—it hissed and steamed.
Alex hunkered down next to Nelson as bullets pounded against the wall. She’d never felt anything so powerful and wondered if the wall was strong enough to protect them. It brought back memories of when she’d been shot, but somehow, she didn’t remember it this way. Her recent training with the Marines had involved simulated bullets; this wasn’t the same. Her panic rose. She couldn’t move. Her breathing grew shallow; sweat dripped off her face. She felt if she was on the edge of death, about to go over. The men were just as scared as she was.
Her courage was buoyed by a short lull in the action; she peeked around the wall and saw the chopper back up to maneuver for another round. I have to do something.
“Is there a weak point on the chopper?” Alex asked.
“The rotor on top.” The Captain pointed up.
As the chopper flew forward, Alex aimed the palms of her hands at the rotor. “Break!” she shouted. An intense beam of blue light shot from her hands, knocking the rotor off. The blades struck the ground, sending dirt and shrapnel in all directions while the cabin tumbled across the field and exploded.
“What in the bloody hell was that?” Captain Jonas stared at her—his eyes wide.
“My blue light.” She grinned at him.
“My God!” The Captain glared at her. “Don’t do that again!”
Why was he so surprised? The Captain had seen her use it before when she’d healed some people. She pressed her lips together in frustration.
“Wicked.” Nelson glanced at her and nodded, raising an eyebrow.
Wow, that’s weird. He can raise one eyebrow at a time. At least, Alex thought it was unusual. She’d never seen…
“Stay down!” Captain Jonas pushed the Admiral’s head behind the wall as he detected movement to the left. The two fake security vehicles had arrived on scene. Out of one car, two men in black ran at them on the left—they were scouts, leading the attack.
“Men on the left.” She nodded to Leftenant Nelson.
“More on the right.” The Leftenant grimaced. “We’re screwed.”
“I’ll use my blue light again.” Alex was about to raise her hands.
“No!” The Captain glared at her. “Don’t use that thing. It’s unnatural.”
“So are guns. We can’t just sit here and do nothing.” Then, she had another idea.