The rug skidded beneath her feet as Emily hurried to answer the front door before the doorbell had a chance to ring again and wake Jarrad up from his nap. She had been quietly working on homework while he slept and the sudden chime made her jump up from her seat at the dining room table.
It was more than a surprise to see Toby standing at the door, so alight with excitement that he barely let Emily get out a hello.
“What are you do—?” she tried to ask.
“I need to talk to you,” he said, interrupting her with his urgency.
“Okay…you couldn’t have called?”
“No, it’s too important.” He glanced down at her socked feet, then up to her outfit of Jarrad’s boxers and white dress shirt and frowned. “What, are you living here now?”
“Um, yeah,” Emily shrugged.
“What’s wrong with your home?”
His scowl softened a little.
“Whatever.” He shook his head and pushed his way into the foyer, looking around and pacing back and forth with his hands on his hips.
“What’s going on?” Emily asked, shutting the door and leaning against it.
“Is your boyfriend here?” he asked, narrowing his eyes. Emily couldn’t tell if his behavior was fueled by jealousy or not. It seemed like something else, some sort of suspicious anticipation that made him a live wire. It didn’t seem like jealousy that placed emphasis on the word “boy.” Which was weird. Not that he wasn’t jealous, but that he would say “boy” that way.
“He’s asleep upstairs.”
“Worn out, is he?” His eyebrows were raised, daring her to lie.
“Toby, what the hell is going on?” Emily asked, unable to take anymore of his erratic and dubious behavior, and knowing the slightest noise would wake Jarrad. After everything he had gone through last night, coming home bruised and bleeding, he needed rest.
Toby moved in closer, leaning in and lowering his voice, his eyes wide. “Okay. I just saw some bat crazy shit and I need you to be straight with me, dig?”
Emily pressed against the door, frowning. Shit.
“What did you see?”
“I was in Raleigh, checking out this new music store, got a couple of old vinyls, and as I was heading back to my car, I pass by this alley, like the kind you see in New York, you know?” He spoke low, but so quickly Emily had to lean in to keep up. “All dark and greasy-looking and who do I happen to see in said alley but your one and only. He’s dressed all in black, like some kinda warrior angel or something with these crazy ass blades in his hands and strapped to his back and there with him is this…thing. I don’t even know how to explain it, but it was big and didn’t look human, it looked animal-like, like a boar head on a huge bouncer or body builder’s body or something. And they’re taking it to the mat. Your old man is flipping and twirling all around this guy, just laying the metal down on him and I don’t even know if that boar guy landed one hit, and I’m freakin’ out, cuz I can’t believe no one else sees them there, and then Jarrad’s got him on the ground, standing over him with this big, glowing sword pointed at his throat and he said some words in some weird language and this bright, blue light sorta rips open the brick wall right next to them and Jarrad pulls the boar guy up and they both go inside the opening. Then the light disappears and the wall’s back to normal. Now what the hell is going on and what the hell is your boyfriend? Cuz he sure ain’t normal and he sure ain’t human.”
His breathing was labored after his rant, his tattooed arms still bent, fists on his hips and though outwardly Emily stood staring calmly, collected, inside she was reeling with fear and anxiety and indecision, seriously freaking out over how to handle this situation. So she thought—how would Jarrad handle it?
“That’s some story. Did you write it down right after you woke up or remember it later?”
“Emily, I’m not kidding.” His voice grew louder with his annoyance. “This was real and you know it, so what gives?”
“It’s alright, Em,” Jarrad said, suddenly standing on the stairs behind Toby, halfway hidden in the dark and wearing his pajama bottoms. He still looked exhausted with dark circles under his eyes and his hair a mess. His voice was weary with surrender, but at least his lip looked like it was already healing. “You can tell him the truth. Soon enough the whole human world will know anyway.”
Toby spun around, startled, before scowling at Jarrad’s bare, rippled chest. Jarrad walked past him into the living room, sprawled onto the couch, rubbing his eyes with one hand, and motioning to the room with the other. “Come in. Have a seat.”
Toby walked toward the armchair slowly, regarding the room with apprehension as though more crazy creatures would jump out from the shadows before sitting down while Emily padded in after him and tucked herself in between Jarrad’s legs on the couch, hugging his knee close to her chest. Somewhere inside she was annoyed Toby was going to get answers so easily when she’d had to fight for them.
Jarrad lowered his hand from his eyes and ran it up Emily’s arm, smiling warily. He closed his eyes, sighed, before opening them again and looking at Toby.
“So, ask your questions.”
“What are you?” Toby asked, his voice hard.
Jarrad looked at Emily, his gaze locked on hers while he answered, his whole being resolutely surrendering his hidden identity. “I’m a Liosalfa.”
Toby was quiet a moment before asking, “A light elf?”
Jarrad frowned and turned to him. “You know what that means?”
“Like…an elf, elf?” Toby asked. There was the slightest hint of disbelief in his voice and Emily recalled how she’d felt when she first heard those words, though the situation had been very different and felt so long ago. Then, Jarrad hadn’t so easily given up his true self. And she hadn’t known what to expect from him. The fear had been paralyzing. Did Toby feel that way now? He sure didn’t look scared.
“Yes,” Jarrad said, watching him with interest. “An elf.”
Toby frowned, staring at the floor while the information settled. But when he spoke, his tone was completely changed.
“Dude! That is freaking AWESOME!” he exclaimed, smiling wide, his eyes bright.
Jarrad’s brow remained drawn.
“Awesome?” he asked.
“You’re like WoW, but for real. The real McCoy. That’s awesome!”
“Wow?” Jarrad asked, still looking confused at everything Toby said.
“It’s a video game,” Emily explained.
“It’s not a video game,” Toby said, giving her a dirty look before turning to Jarrad. With a serious expression, he explained, “It’s an MMORPG. It’s a whole world. It’s much more than a video game.”
“Sorry,” Emily laughed.
Toby sat forward in his chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. “So—,” he motioned toward his ears, but quickly drew his hand away. “You not got em?”
Jarrad raised an eyebrow. “We keep them hidden,” he answered flatly, a smile hinting on his lips, before he tucked his hair behind his pointy ears.
“Holy Batman, Robin!” Toby cried, slapping his knee. “You know, you see images in the movies and all, but to see it in person…wow. I mean, I don’t even know where to begin. Are you a night elf? Are you a soldier or a gatekeeper or some vigilante? Was that an Orc you were fighting in the alley?”
“Toby, this isn’t WoW,” Emily said. “It’s not the same.”
He looked deflated. Emily sighed and took Jarrad’s hand. “It’s way cooler, actually. Let me formally introduce you to His Royal Highness Prince Tahlam Alean’raheal of Arèthane.”
“No. Effing. Way.” Toby watched Jarrad with a newfound respect and admiration. “You’re a freakin’ prince? Well no joke, I didn’t stand a chance with Emily!” He laughed and sat back, righting his glasses on his nose and shaking his head. “So is Jarrad your human name?”
Jarrad nodded and said, “And my preferred name.”
Jarrad nodded and said, “And my preferred name.”
“So that Orc thing…?” Toby asked.
“Was not an orc,” Jarrad answered. “There’s no such thing as orcs. Well, at least not in any of the worlds I’ve known. That thing was a Borath. He’s an Onderworlder. The magic that has kept our world hidden from yours has been broken and now your world is being infiltrated by some very unwanted guests. We have to hunt them down and send them back. They’re wreaking havoc on the human world and pretty soon, everyone’s going to know about it.”
“Who’s we?” Toby asked.
“My sister, Karawyn, the queen, and her husband, Aerath. My other sister, Dafne. Aerath’s brother, Aelrah, and our army.”
“That dark-headed doll is the queen? Of all the elves?”
Jarrad nodded again.
“Well, anything I can do to help,” Toby said. Jarrad grinned, clearly tired but also amused.
“What?” Toby asked, looking offended.
“Nothing.” Jarrad shook his head. “It’s just interesting, your reaction. And your questions were very different from Emily’s. Of course, she also laughed at me when I first told her what I was.” He sat up and wrapped his arms around her, pressing his lips to her temple.
“Well, telling me you’re an elf was the last thing I expected you to say.” Emily smiled.
“And me being a vampire or an alien was more likely?” he asked.
“Ah, a vampire, Em?” Toby groaned. “Really? That’s just insulting.”
“It was a very intense situation,” she exclaimed, defending herself. “And I didn’t have World of Warcraft to teach me the elven ways.”
Jarrad laughed and kissed her on the cheek before pulling himself from around her and standing up.
“Please excuse me,” he said. “But I have to travel to Las Vegas and need to get cleaned up before I go.” He straightened his back, stretching his muscles and standing taller, looming large over Toby. “I know I said the world will soon know of us, but in the meantime, your silence would be greatly appreciated.”
Toby stood up, nodding. “Of course, of course. You can count on me. Mum’s the word, man.”
“Thank you,” Jarrad said and then left the room.
“God, you just rose like a thousand degrees in cool points,” Toby said to Emily as she escorted him to the front door.
“I thought you didn’t like Jarrad,” she said, grinning.
“Are you kidding?” Toby was wide-eyed again. “I wanna marry him.”
“He’s totally taken, but if it’s just an elf you want, I’m sure I can put in a good word for you with some of the elven. I have a little pull, being declared to their prince, and all.”
“Declared?” Toby looked stunned a moment, but not confused. Of course he would know what that meant.
“That’s pretty serious.”
Emily regarded him warily, wondering if she shouldn’t speak the words she was about to say.