Headed to the big city for a summer internship, Marny Fanalua is glad to leave her hometown and its creepy connection with the Realm of Faerie behind. Drastic heroics in Feyland are what her friends do – she's just trying to figure out where she fits in the real world.
Livestream gaming star and entrepreneur Nyx Spenser isn't sure why he's able to create incredibly realistic simulations straight out of the game of Feyland, but he plans to share his crazy new talent by opening an all-ages hangout called Club Mysteria.
As the boundaries between the human world and the dangerous Realm of Faerie weaken, Marny and Nyx must forge an alliance to repair the damage he's done – before it's too late.
USA Today bestselling writer Anthea Sharp writes about the intersection between games and faerie—you know, between real life and (ahem) real life. She tells powerful stories about characters who become so real that they jump off the page. (I'm sure that's her next series.) Anthea writes under a variety of names in several genres. She also writes powerful short stories. You'll find one of her short stories in Fiction River: Hex In The City, which shows you just how varied (and strong) her work can be. – Kristine Kathryn Rusch
"This novel has it all: vivid and larger than life writing, characters that you can't help but fall in love with, and a fast paced, fantasy plot full of action and adventure."– Pure Jonel
"Marny is a great read if you like urban fantasy, plucky heroines, and video games."– Amethyst Marie
"Ms. Sharp creates a wonderful blend of Fantasy, Gaming, and SciFi adventure with a nice touch of sweet romance... along with good suspenseful action and really creepy baddies! Overall a very fun, enjoyable read."– DeeHat, review on Amazon
The first time the enchanted forest appeared in his bedroom, Nyx Spenser wasn't exactly sure how it had happened. Or even what had happened.
He'd finished questing in the new game called Feyland, pulled off his gear and powered down the equip, then got out of his sim chair to find half of his room engulfed in a magical forest. He'd blinked hard, bent down and put his hands on his knees, took some deep breaths, rubbed his eyes…
When he stood up again, the trees were still there. Sunshine slanted through the silver-leafed branches, and a mysterious wind ruffled his hair. Beneath the trees lay a mossy forest floor. Red and violet flowers bloomed on clumps of bushes, and butterflies flitted in and out of the shafts of sunlight, turning orange when the light hit them, then blue in the shadows.
Legs unsteady, he'd walked over to the nearest tree and put his hand on the pale bark. It felt real—slightly rough and cool under his palm.
But it couldn't be.
He swallowed back fear and wonder and curses. What the hell was going on? Carefully, as if the remaining half of his room might disappear at any moment, he sat on his bed. Breathe. Think.
Birds chirped overhead, and the smell of damp soil mixed with the reek of Nyx's sweaty workout clothes piled in the corner. As he watched, a small, gold-furred creature the size of a mouse crept out of the underbrush. It lifted its pointed nose and sniffed, then dashed over to the discarded pizza box that hadn't made it into the trash yet.
Unbelieving, Nyx watched while it hopped inside, then emerged a moment later, carrying a pizza crust in its nimble, definitely un-mouselike hands. The thing looked up at him, then winked—winked!—and scurried back into the forest.
"No." Nyx covered his eyes with his hands. "This is not happening."
His heart pounded frantically while his mind scrabbled for an answer.
Somebody had slipped him drugs, or piped hallucinogenics into his room. Except that he'd been home from school for hours, and nobody in his family would do something like that. For one thing, they had no imagination, and for another, their life out in the suburbs of Newpoint was almost stereotypically squeaky-clean.
Maybe the meatloaf his mom had made for dinner had gone bad. He burped experimentally, but only ketchup and broccoli aftertaste filled his mouth.
He dropped his hands from his face and looked again. The forest was still there. It started partway across his room, the tan wall-to-wall carpet rumpling up and becoming tree roots and soil and emerald green moss. The far wall was just gone—only trees stretching away, and a path that seemed to beckon to him.
Okay. Okay. He could deal with this. He'd dealt with crazy stuff before—though never as completely tweaked as this. His martial arts training kicked in, though, and he made himself center, breathe.
First thing was to figure out if it was him, or if the forest was actually there—impossible as it seemed.
He stood and backed to his bedroom door, keeping a wary eye on the trees. He fumbled at the handle, turned it, and slipped through into the absolutely normal hallway of their split-level home.
Resisting the temptation to open the door again, he quietly hurried down the hall to his sister's room. Emmie was supposed to be asleep, but he knew she'd be up, reading her tablet under the covers.
For that matter, he was supposed to be asleep, too. The parents were big on getting to bed early, but Nyx couldn't even deal with turning his light off at ten o'clock. That was just ridiculous. After a serious shouting match a few months ago—where he'd reminded his parents he'd be eighteen soon—they'd finally caved.
"Stay up as long as you like, then," his mom had said. "But don't whine at me when you're exhausted the next day."
"Natural consequences." Dad shook his head. "You'd better get a loud alarm, son."
So far, though, Nyx hadn't missed any of his classes. Been late a couple times, sure—but he was practically done with high school anyway. And he wasn't headed for college, so he only had to keep his grades up to a minimum standard. It wasn't like he had a brilliant academic future ahead. He was "clever," his mom liked to say. Which meant not necessarily academically gifted.
But since he'd already made over a hundred thousand credits from his entrepreneurial ventures, his parents didn't give him too much grief about not going to college, beyond the occasional suggestion he should look into business classes. Nyx figured he could hire accountants and managers, though. He was good with people, and already had his friend Durham crunching numbers for him.
He gave his sister's door a quiet tap, then slipped inside. The glow emanating from under her blankets went out.
"Hey, Emmie, it's me," he whispered.
She turned her tablet back on, then stuck her head out from under the covers. The blue light illuminated her pale skin and her bleached hair, all frizzed out.
"What," she said.
"I need you to come look at something," he said.
She rolled her eyes. "If it's another live-stream idea, it can wait until tomorrow. I just got to a really good place in my book."
"Why can't you be a normal teen and stay up late gaming instead of reading?"
"Normal teens read, too. Not that you'd know anything about that, mister illiterate."
He had plenty of comebacks for her endless store of cracks about his supposed stupidity. Most of them had to do with money and usually shut her up. But whatever was happening in his room was severe. Way more important than arguing with his younger sister.
"Just come," he said. He needed to know if he was going insane in the brain.
Emmie let out a gusty, impatient sigh, but set her tablet aside. "This better be good."
He didn't say anything, just held the door open and waited for her to get up. With another long-suffering look, she grabbed a fuzzy blanket off her bed and wrapped it around herself, cloak style.
Again, Nyx bit his tongue. Usually he'd make a comment about the fact that winter was over. His sister was a complete wuss about the cold. She was wearing flannel PJs, too, and paused to slip her feet into her fuzzy pink slippers before following him down the hall.
He hesitated a moment in front of his door. Maybe the trees had disappeared.
The thought left him half relieved and half disappointed. It wasn't every day weird magical stuff happened, like enchanted forests taking over bedrooms. Probably he'd dreamed the whole thing.
Only one way to find out.
He pushed the door open, his breath catching when he saw that the pale-barked trees still extended past his bed and into the sun-dappled shadows. The thing was, did Emmie see them too?
"Holy crap," she breathed, stepping into his bedroom. "How did you do it? Projection holos? MR console? This is amazing."
Thank God—he wasn't having crazy hallucinations.
"Not exactly," he said, carefully closing the bedroom door behind them. The last thing he needed was his parents seeing this and completely freaking out.
"It looks so real." Emmie went up to the nearest tree and swung her hand, clearly thinking her fingers would pass right through the illusion.
Instead, her palm slapped against the bark.
"Ow!" She stared at her hand. "You set up some columns and are projecting the images over them? That's dumb." She glanced up at him. "But kind of interesting."
"I wish it were me." He swallowed, hard. "Em, believe me. This stuff is real. I was gaming, and then the forest was just… here."
"Right." She smirked at him. "Nice try, bro. Still, it's pretty believable. Though you'll need a bigger place than your bedroom if you want the final installation to work."
"It's not a trick," he said, frustration starting to burn through him.
She watched the butterflies flit through the sunbeams. "That's a nice touch."
He wanted to take her by the shoulders and march her into the woods—except he didn't trust those deeper shadows. Strange creatures lurked in enchanted forests; at least he knew that much.
"I'm touched you think so highly of my skills," he said. "But this isn't me, I swear it."
"Does anything else happen?" she asked, completely ignoring him and staring into the forest. "Or is it just static?"
He dragged the pizza box over with his foot, then bent and grabbed the last piece of old crust.
"That's disgusting." Emmie wrinkled her nose. "I don't want your moldy pizza. Get some personal hygiene."
He crouched at the border where his rug turned into mossy forest floor, and waved the crust around.
"Wait, is that your magic wand?" his sister asked. "You're doing a transformation spell? Turn me into a pepperoni. No, no—an olive."
She cracked up, but Nyx ignored her, his gaze fixed on the bushes where the little golden mouse-thing had first emerged.
"Come on," he coaxed. "Come out—yummy yummy."
Nothing happened. The shrubbery didn't rustle, and no creature appeared to snatch the crust from his fingers.
Emmie folded her arms. After a minute, she yawned.
"So, that part's broken," she said. "Whatever. It's still a super illusion, but I'm going back to bed. You can show me more tomorrow, after you get it all fixed."
Nyx set the crust on the moss and stood up. Clearly his sister wasn't going to believe him—at least not yet. He was just glad he wasn't crazy. Though it would help if Emmie would actually wake up enough to see that there was no way he could have engineered such a complex setup.
In the light of day, maybe the otherworldly aspects would be more obvious. If the forest was still there tomorrow.
"Fine," he said. "Good night."
Though how he would get to sleep with a creepy magical forest in his bedroom, he had no idea.
"Night," she said, opening his door and shuffling out like an old woman, blanket still wrapped around her.
She didn't close the door behind her. Typical.
Nyx shut it, then turned at the rustle of leaves behind him. The little golden-furred creature was sitting by the pizza crust, sharp nose twitching.
He almost yelled down the hall for his sister to come back—but she was probably under the covers already, lost in her book. And he didn't want to wake up his parents.
"Now you show up," Nyx said to the little creature. "Nice."
It grabbed the crust and, with a flick of its long, fuzzy tail, dived into the underbrush.
"And stay there." Nyx folded his arms. Stupid mouse.
He was thirsty, the back of his throat dry with the aftermath of fear. All the water bottles on his floor were empty, though, except for one that seemed to be growing algae.
"Don't do anything," he said, eyeing the forest. "I'll be right back."
There was no answer. Just the brush of a breeze riffling the silvery leaves, and the distant trill of a bird. It would be peaceful, if it wasn't so freaky. Nyx gave the woods a narrow-eyed look and slipped back out of his bedroom.
It would be all right to go down to the kitchen, since the trees hadn't followed him when he'd gone to get Emmie. At least, he hoped everything would remain stable.
He listened hard as he headed for the stairs, the carpet soft under his bare feet. His dad's snores filtered from the master bedroom, but that was it. No weird sounds coming from his own room.
He padded down to the lower level of their house. When he hit the kitchen, the cold tiles made his toes curl.
Halfway to the sink, something happened. A sub-audible pop, a feeling like his ears had just cleared. Nyx shook his head, then hastily gulped a glass of water.
Still moving as smoothly and quietly as his karate training had taught, he hurried back to his bedroom. He took a deep breath and opened the door.
The forest was gone.
Dammit. He folded his right hand into a fist and tapped it against his leg.
Except for the fact that Emmie had seen it too, he'd think he'd just had a super-intense, vivid dream. But no.
The enchanted trees had been real. The creature that had eaten the pizza crusts. The flowers and butterflies—those had all been there. A magical forest had manifested in his bedroom.
Somehow, he'd figure out how it had happened. And find a way to bring it back.
Deep under the hill, through misty halls and jeweled forests, a king sat in the center of a shining glade. His hair was golden, nearly as bright as the crown rising above his severe, unearthly face, and his armor gleamed like the sun.
High above, a brilliant ruby cast warm light over the gold throne and emerald grasses of the Bright Court. Harp music filtered through the air, lilting a jig that a half-dozen gnomes cavorted to. Pixies darted, bright sparks, through the jade leaves of the nearby trees and over the heads of the fey folk.
Some of the court were beautiful as the dawn; nixies with eyes a mortal could drown in, faerie maids with wings like glimmering rainbows in the clear air. Others, like the hobs and brownies, were squat and hairy, better fitted to concealment among the stumps and shadows. Twig-limbed spriggan guards surrounded the clearing, holding spears made of sharpened blackthorn.
The Bright King raised his jeweled goblet, his gaze distant and thoughtful. Something stirred in the air of the Realm of Faerie, something mortal—and innocent. The king's lips curved in a faint smile. The lines of fate and foreshadowing shimmered about him. It seemed that, once again, a human would stumble into his court—and no doubt prove to be a very useful tool.