Note that this is the very, very first draft of this chapter — I have done little to no editing.
Also note that this story switches perspectives every chapter, so that’s why there is a name at the top of this one.
It’s only for a split second that I’m turning away, but when my eyes expect to meet his again, he’s gone. I run into the street, whirling around, searching. “Finn!” I yell. “Don’t scare me!”
I run to the corner, look, nothing. As I turn back to go to the opposite end of the street, though, something catches my eye.
It’s as if I was looking at a piece of camouflaged fabric floating a bit off the ground, and someone took some scissors and cut a line in the middle.
Confused and curious, I slowly walk toward it, and confirm that yes, I am looking at a floating tear in the world. I feel the loose “threads” between my fingers, and then I hesitantly stick my finger in the rip.
I don’t know where my finger goes, but I don’t see it. But I do know that wherever it went, it must be where Finn is. So I take a deep breath, nod, and swing my leg into the rip. Then, to see where I am, I tuck my head in. Next my arms.
I’m in a long, long hallway with stone walls. A ways ahead of me is Finn, being pulled along by someone. They’re both walking away from me, so they must have come through the rip. I start to quietly follow them, only to realize my leg is still in Chash.
My leg! I suddenly see that the portal has been closing slowly this whole time, and now it is painfully squeezing my thigh. For a second, I almost smile when I wonder what everyone in Chash is thinking, seeing a leg floating in the street. I clutch it and jump away as hard as I can. I have to leave my shoes behind, but eventually I regain my balance and tiptoe quickly after Finn and the stranger, who are now nearing the end of the hallway.
They turn a corner and I follow faster. When I get closer, I sneak a look around the corner and see a room with two chairs. Finn is roped into one, and a tall man is sitting in the other. By the way his lips are slightly curved in a permanent frown and his eyes are squinting in a permanent smile, I can tell he is Huxyan.
“Guess what?” he says. “You’ve come of age.” His thick accent confirms my suspicions.
I can hear Finn’s shock. “Un– I–” he stutters, hyperventilating.
“Not sure what to call me, are you?”
Finn doesn’t hesitate. “Ilten Bay.”
“What happened to Uncle Aran?” Ilten Bay asks.
“You tell me.”
“Rule number one: you will call me Uncle,” he announces.
“You’re not my uncle,” Finn says icily.
Ilten Bay raises his eyebrows slightly. “Is that right? I’m still hurt, you know. I may have lied about my name, but I still treated you like a nephew, didn’t I? And you didn’t even say goodbye…”
Finn looks down silently, and I know this is a yes. “I tried to say goodbye,” he mutters. “They didn’t let me.” Then he shakes his head and looks up. “But now… some uncle you are. You just kidnapped me.”
“Trust me, boy, you will thank me by the end of this. Now listen.”
“Fine. I am.”
Ilten clears his throat and begins, choosing his words carefully. “I have brought you here because I believe… you are the chosen one. Let me finish! I don’t suppose you have heard of the Trials, have you? No, you haven’t. Well, I am about to blow your mind. Magic… is real.”
We are all silent for a moment, and then Finn says, “How do you know?”
“Well, how do you think we got here?”
He harrumphs in defeat. “Okay, so let’s say magic exists. Finish talking.”
“There are three Trials. The Trial of Courage, the Trial of Ingenuity, and the Trial of Passion. At the end is more riches and treasure than you could ever imagine. And you are going to do them. Well, try to, at least. As you can assume, if you don’t get past them, you… Let me put it this way. From now on, you will either be rich or dead.”
“What if I run away from you? What if I don’t want to do these trial things? Then I’m not rich, and they don’t kill me.”
“Like I said, boy, you’re either rich… or dead.”
I hear Finn’s slow, heavy breathing. “I don’t want to do these Trials. Please don’t kill me. Can’t you find some other boy to do it?”
“Fine. If you don’t want to cooperate, be my guest. You may go.” I assume Bay then unties Finn from his chair.
“Really? I can just go?”
“Yes. But wait — are you sure you don’t want this? Only a small risk for tons of riches. Probably not much bigger a risk than you have every day, what with your being a thief and all.” I don’t bother to wonder how Ilten knows so much about Finn. By now, for all I know he could be invisible, spying on him his whole life.
Finn says, “No.” And before I can think anything, I hear his footsteps coming toward the hallway. Toward me.
I am finishing up quickly imagining how I will cover his mouth so that I am not caught — I don’t want to do these Trials either — when just as Finn’s shadow falls across the hallway, an arrow hits the stone wall I’m facing and flips to the floor, nearly missing him.
He turns around, stunned. After a moment, Ilten speaks in a steady voice, “You choose.”
For several minutes, no one says a word. Then, Ilten says cheerfully, “Shall we be going?” I hear the ripping of fabric, and after a few seconds I peer into the room. They are gone, so I follow them through the portal.
When I emerge, I find myself standing in a place that is completely flat and empty, even way off in the distance.
There is nowhere to hide.