Introduction

Have you ever had a dream where you were someplace else, and everything was different?  Even simple things like gravity?”

I guess.”

Well, what if that was a real place?  What if you could go there, just by stepping through a door?”

There are roads that are not on any map.  Pathways between worlds that anyone could walk if they only knew the way.  A turning in the middle of a field.  A crack between two stones that didn’t seem to be there a moment before.  A course plotted by stars that can only be seen when the moon is right.

The clouds gathered beneath the city like foam on the waves of a stormy sea.  Arsha stood at the railing, the cold air running over her thickly gloved hands even as the bright sunlight warmed her face.

For Arsha, growing up aboard her father’s airship, the Borderlands are the only world she has ever known.  Worlds, really; countless worlds, each different in their way, but all of them connected by the hidden paths known as The Ways.

A steady drum roll brought Rachael to her senses.  Rain hammered against the roof of the cardboard box which had sheltered her, as the chill of the morning air worked its way into her bones.

For Rachael, none of this is real.  How can it be, when she’s only ever known the cold grey reality of life in London, a city of glass towers and smoke-stained brickwork?  A city that just get meaner and more frightened by the day.

There’s a girl.  She’s running away from something.  She’s scared and in pain.  I saw a boy with her, but I couldn’t see his face.  He seemed to be made of shadows and smoke. They were standing together, Arsha and this girl.  Their hands were bound together with red string, wound all around them, spilling over the ground.  The girl, her other hand was covered in a gauntlet of iron, rusted and old.  The boy was with them, watching them.  I could see his shadow, surrounding them both.”

This is a story about two young women, their lives connected by a single strand of Fate.  Across worlds, across realities, their lives bound to each other by a choice that neither of them made.

It was there, in her palm. The Seed. Oh Fates, Rishi, I could feel it. I could feel its power, from across worlds.”

Because all it takes is one wrong choice, one mistake, to set events in motion that can change lives and change worlds.

The raven’s body was so vast that it could have been an aircraft. Its glistening black eyes were each the size of a beach ball. Talons, ugly yellow and large enough to lift a car, dug deep into the rooftop. Black wings shook out, the backdraft rocking the tiny ship as it pulled away. For a moment the curve of the raven’s beak seemed like a cruel smile.

This is a story about monsters.

The hand on her ankle yanked hard and her grip gave way entirely. Then he was on her, a mass of hair and bone and muscle and the overpowering stink of him. She felt the sweat of his palms as bony hands caught her wrists.

The kind that snarl in the darkness, lips smeared with blood.  The kind that hide behind friendly faces, and smile because they love us.  The kind that live inside our thoughts, waiting to drag us down into the darkness with them.

Did they tell you this would help?  That if you took the pills and closed your eyes, all the scary things would go away?”

This is a story about the choices we make, and the price we pay, whether we mean to or not.

All the chaos around them seemed to fall away, and beneath the sound of the wind and the rain, there was something else.  Like the feeling you got, when you heard a familiar song.  His knife had fallen from his pocket.  She picked it up and unfolded the polished steel blade.  She lifted the knife over her head, clasping the handle tightly in both hands.

It’s a story about finding friendship in the strangest places.  The kind of friendship that comes crashing into your life at the moment you least expected, and changes everything about you.

So… What are we doing here anyhow?”

Arsha grinned, and hoisted herself up to sit on the railing, with her back to the open sky

Something fun,” she said. Before Rachael could ask what she meant, the girl spread her arms, raised her head, and fell backwards off of the deck.

It’s a story about fear…

Her mind raced, hoping for any idea that might see them to safety, but only one thought came to her, repeating over and over.

Run.”

A story about strength…

At the last moment she kicked out with all the strength her legs had, hauling herself upwards, oblivious to the pain in her hands.  Muscles burning, she dragged her body over the edge of the rooftop and collapsed onto the other side.

About the things we’ve lost…

It was always awkward, the way people were so wary of discussing a woman she’d never even met.  She supposed it must have been different for people who’d had a mother and a father, but all she’d ever known was growing up with her dad.

And the things we find…

She saw the cobblestone street far below, and butterflies sang in her stomach as she landed, boot leather skidding on the tiles.  She barely stayed on her feet, as Rachael reached out to catch her by the arm.  Her head span, and it took her a moment to realise she was laughing.

But most of all, it’s a story about family.  The kind we spend our lives searching for… And the kind we spend our lives running from.

They stood facing each other in the darkness.  She saw the tears on Rachael’s cheeks, and wondered if it was real, or her imagination. Surrounded by endless darkness, alone, she reached out and took the girl’s hands in her own.

This is The Stolen Child.

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