You look up at the number on the sign. Pier 12. You recheck your ticket. Pier 12. You frown slightly, and look around you. By day, the pier is filled with people and sounds and activity. But it isn't day now, it is night. By night, the pier is filled with silence and shadows. You look again at your ticket, still wondering if it is all some sort of joke.
You had received the ticket earlier in the day. It arrived via mail in a small white envelope with a curious copper colored seal. The seal seemed almost familiar to you. As though you had seen it somewhere and forgotten about it. Inside the envelope, you found a small card bearing your name and a message. The message read, "You are hereby invited to the Conference of Introductions." On the other side of the card was another message. "Present this card at the offices of Haven Unlimited, Manhattan to receive your ticket." Curious, you did just that and received another envelope. Inside this envelope, you found a ticket and a single sheet of delicate, rose scented paper. It read "You have been chosen as one of the representatives of your city to attend the Conference of Introductions. The Conference will begin tonight. To attend, present yourself at the Manhattan Port - Pier 12 - at the stroke of midnight. You will be guided from there." Although you were hesitant about the strange request, something deep within you whispered that it was a conference you shouldn't miss. Which is how you came to be standing on an empty pier just before the stroke of midnight.
Thinking how silly this whole thing is, you turn away from Pier 12 just as midnight strikes. Suddenly the area is filled with bright lights. You turn around in surprise and are immediately hit by the glaring brightness of the lights. As you stand there, waiting for your eyes to grow accustomed to the light, you hear a soft male voice. "I'm glad you could make it." As your sight begins to return, the voice continues, "The ship is ready to sail, you're the last passenger." You blink as the world returns to focus.
The soft voice belongs to a boy of around 14 years. His dark brown hair is short and slightly wavy and his smile seems oddly reassuring. The most striking things about him though are his eyes. You have never met anyone whose eyes seem to be almost silver, or perhaps it's just the light... Although the look he gives you is friendly, you can't help but be wary. There is something very unusual about those eyes. "It's time to go," he says, "the conference awaits." Putting your doubts aside for the moment, you follow him towards the small boat docked at the end of the pier.
It is a small sailboat, with a white hull and tall mast. On the side, you can see the name "The Gift" painted in graceful swoops and swirls of a cheerful yellow. As you draw nearer, the door to the small cabin opens. A man with a long light brown beard reaching almost to his waist emerges. For some reason, probably the beard, he reminds you of pictures you've seen of the legendary wizard Merlin, only younger. He smiles and makes a sweeping motion with his hand, gesturing for you both to enter the cabin. As you pass him, he says simply, "I hope you enjoy the journey." He closes the door behind you.
The interior of the cabin is set out like a comfortable waiting area. A long continuous sofa takes up three of the walls, with the fourth wall reserved for the doorway and a large window. You find that when you sit down, you get a really good view of the starboard (right) side of the ship. As you settle into your seat, you realize that the boy and you are the only passengers. There is something very unusual about all this and for a moment you are tempted to get up and leave the boat again, but then you feel the telltale movement beneath your feet and realize that you are too late, the sailboat has already begun to leave the pier behind.
For about an hour or so you chat with the boy as the sailboat makes its way to its mysterious destination. By the time you arrive though, the only thing you have learned about your fellow passenger is that he is remarkably adept at avoiding answering questions about himself. As the sailboat docks at another pier, you realize that you still don't even know his name! You are about to ask him when you look out the window and see your destination for the first time. You frown slightly as you look at it; it seems oddly familiar, although you're sure you've never been here before. The sailboat stops at the small wooden dock and you emerge from the cabin to take a better look.
The moonlight is bright enough to make out the tall tower-like structure ahead of you. It appears to be made of dark grey stone and is about four stories high. It is basically a simple square tower with a small thatch-roofed, grey stone cottage attached to one side of it. For a moment you think you see someone looking out the window, when you look again though there is no one there. There is however someone waiting at the other end of the dock. As you stand on the deck, uncertain of what to do next, the captain jumps from the boat to the pier, nods to the waiting stranger and heads towards the tower. The stranger looks over and beckons to you. When you reach him, you blink and try to hide your surprise.
The man is tall with blonde-white hair, a cheerful smile and a rangy build. For the second time in the same night you meet the gaze of a pair of grey eyes. These eyes though are darker and seem to hold warmth and the merest hint of mischief. He looks to be over 50 years old, perhaps closer to 60, although he seems remarkably fit for his age. The surprising thing about him is his outfit. It reminds you of something worn by the Sheriffs in old westerns, complete with black vest and silver star. You blink, but the star is still there. You can't quite make out the words inscribed on it though. Suddenly the man takes the star off and holds it out to you. Embarrassed that he caught you staring, you glance up at him. He smiles and nods at the star, which you reluctantly accept. The words read "Havenwood County Sheriff". You blink in surprise and hand the badge back. Smiling, the man finally speaks.
"I'm Ralph Patterson, but my friends call me Sheriff. Welcome to Havenwood County. If you'll both follow me, we'll be off." Nodding, you and the boy follow the sheriff to his car.
As you drive along the narrow, winding backroads, Sheriff Patterson fills you in on a bit of the county's history. Apparently it was founded in the year 1692, during the infamous Salem Witch Trials. The founders named it 'Havenwood' but over the next few years the nickname 'Witchwood' began to emerge due to certain unexplained occurrences in the area. The Sheriff adds that strange things still occur in the area from time to time.
Finally you reach your destination, and gasp in astonishment. Someone has moved an English Castle to Havenwood County! It is a massive building made of white stone with wooden shutters on the windows and a heavy wooden door. It is not like the castles you have seen in fairytale books, there are no fragile spires and turrets sticking up wherever the castle builders found enough room to place one. Instead, it reminds you more of a fortress. A large square structure with a taller tower at each corner. Sheriff Patterson leads you and the boy around the back of the mammoth building.
You hear the gathering long before you see it. Voices, music, laughter and other sounds that remind you of parties you have been to in the past assail your ears. A few moments later, the rich scents of food, flowers and perfumes reach you. A few minutes later you reach the gathering and grow still in astonishment.
On the large expanse of lawn behind the castle, a masked ball is being held. At least, you think it is a masked ball until you take a closer look. You are stunned, and a little afraid, when you realize that the costumes are not costumes at all. You take a hesitant step back. Sheriff Patterson smiles at you. "I know they look different, but we are all friends here. Don't be afraid of them. They would never hurt you." His low Texan drawl combines with the understanding look in his eyes and you are suddenly unafraid. You even smile as you step forward. The Sheriff starts introducing you.
An hour later you have met many of the beings that make up the heart of Havenwood County. The good vampires (which you once thought to be a contradiction in terms) Briarley and his adopted father Michael, as well as Michael's Enchantress, and very human, wife Alana, prove to be very nice indeed. You have also met Briarley's cat, Prophecy, with whom you have had an extremely interesting conversation regarding the differences between 'fate' and 'destiny'. Several members of the area's rather large Werefolk community have made your acquaintance and you have also had the pleasure of meeting Mrs Spinner, the Weatherwitch. Along with one or two coven's of White Witches, the area appears to have rather a lot of them, you have also met a rather peculiar man. He identified himself as the Great and Mighty Punjarba. Odd enough, but considering that he was wearing an emerald-studded turban and a red sequined jumpsuit with a blue velvet vest over it at the time, and sitting cross-legged on a hovering carpet... well it was rather disconcerting to say the least. You are still trying to recover from that encounter when Sheriff Patterson introduces you to the Ravenstone Clan. You can barely hide your amazement at the sight of the tall creatures that stand before you. You had always thought their kind was nothing more than legend. You talk to them for some time before a loud alarm begins to sound somewhere inside the castle. Even as they make their apologies, they are on their way to find out what the trouble is.
A few minutes later, there is a disturbance in the crowd as several shadows flit across the face of the moon. When they land, you realize that they are not real. *Robots* you think, but when you see how they react with the others, you begin to understand that they are much, much more. You become certain of this when you notice a human child running up to one of them and witness her being swung into the air. As the child is pulled into a gentle hug, her happy giggles make everyone in the vicinity smile too. Sheriff Patterson explains that the owner of the castle, the Professor, created them to guard his home.
"The Professor is a bit ... eccentric. He decided that he wanted guards that wouldn't seem to be out of place while guarding the castle." The Sheriff grins. "As long as they stand still, it works, oddly enough. It's when they move that the problems occur. They're not the only ones the Professor created either." A grim look comes to the Sheriff's face. "We've had some problems in this area lately. There are some people that just don't understand that not everything magical or unusual is dangerous. We had something similar happen here a year or so back too. That was why the Professor created the others. The forests of Havenwood County are guarded by a group of mechanical creatures that look like myths and legends come to life. It works though, there haven't been any problems in the forests since they were created."
As the Sheriff is speaking, a hush suddenly falls over the crowd as another shadow flies across the moon. Sheriff Patterson frowns and watches the newcomer land in the middle of the dance floor, which clears to make room for him. The people begin to speak to each other in low tones and whispers. You don't understand why everyone suddenly seems so worried. After all, the newcomer appears to merely be part of the Clan you met before. The Sheriff moves forward and nods to him. Nodding back, the stranger speaks.
"I must speak with my chieftain." As Sheriff Patterson points him in the right direction, a soft voice comes from behind you.
"He is Master of the Rookery and never leaves his post unless the life of one of those in his keeping is endangered." Turning, you see a blonde girl of about 14. Behind her wire-rimmed spectacles, her sky blue eyes are calm and serious. Before you can thank her for explaining the situation, one of the younger Werefolk you met before and a red-haired girl of about the same age, 16, appear from either side of you and pull the girl away, saying that they must speak to her. As they turn away, you distinctly hear the words 'dragons bane ' mentioned. Shrugging to yourself, you turn back to find Sheriff Patterson heading back to you and the other boy, who's name you still don't know. As you remember that, you turn to ask him, only to be deterred by yet another disturbance in the crowd. You look up as a tenseness suddenly fills the air.
The back door to the castle opens and four figures emerge. One is the Master of the Rookery, the other was introduced to you earlier as the Chieftain of the Clan. The two humans with them though are unknown to you. One of them is a tall dark-haired man with alert eyes that glance swiftly over the crowd. For a moment, you have the distinct impression that his gaze fixes on you. The slender woman with him bears enough of a resemblance for you to recognize her as his daughter. Her red-gold hair tumbles in waves down to her waist and her steady green gaze also seems to hesitate on you when she scans the crowd. After a slight pause, her father speaks.
"My friends, I regret to inform you all that the Conference of Introductions shall have to be delayed for the time being. I fear that trouble has once again come to Havenwood and many of us are needed elsewhere at present."
His words are met with soft groans of disappointment from many in the crowd, but the anxious looks on many of the faces reveals that his words signify far more than a postponed gathering. As the speaker turns away to talk with some of those concerned, Sheriff Patterson gains your attention and starts to lead you and the boy away from the gathering once more. As he leads you back to the car, he explains that the speaker was none other than the Professor, and the woman was indeed his daughter, Catrina.
Although you are disappointed that the conference did not take place, you are pleased that you had the opportunity to meet so many different people, from so many different races. Before you can make any comments about the gathering though, you hear a soft voice calling from somewhere behind you. Turning, you spy a small figure running towards the three of you.
The girl races across the front lawn before skidding to a stop just before she reaches you. Beside you, you sense the boy from the port growing suddenly tense. You glance over at him and discover his eyes suddenly focused intently on the girl from the castle. You look back at her and find she is looking at you and your fellow guest. As she pauses to catch her breath, you take a good long look at her.
She is around 14 years old and is small and slender with blonde hair that flies freely around her face, falling to just above her shoulders. Her eyes are an odd shade of blue, almost blue-green and she is wearing simple jeans and sneakers teamed with a butter-yellow peasant-style top. Around her neck hangs a silver chain with a small circular mirror suspended on it. The mirror has a delicate, light blue rose etched in the center. She smiles and nods at you and the boy.
"Hi, I'm Jasmine of Triplestar Castle. I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am that you came all this way and the conference had to be postponed. Don't worry though, we'll still be holding it, just at another time. Until that time comes though..." Jasmine pauses and looks at a point behind you. As you begin to turn, she continues speaking and you suddenly find yourself unable to move. "... we'll have to veil your memories of your visit here. It wouldn't be good for you to remember everything, and everyone, you've seen here. You'll remember..." her voice begins to fade, "but only as though it were a dream. Or maybe a story." Everything goes black.
You blink and wonder why you are standing at your window at midnight. You can't remember getting up, but you do vaguely remember a dream, or maybe a story, you can't quite recall.
On another world...
"Relen! Relen! Wake up! The soldiers are heading this way, it's time for us to move out." The girl's voice woke Relen out of a deep sleep. As his silver eyes opened, he brushed back a wayward lock of dark brown hair and blinked up at his commander and partner Jade. Her lantern cast a pale light over her flame-red hair and for a sleep-hazed instant she seemed to be blonde. For a moment he thought she was someone else. Someone else? Then he remembered.
"I had the strangest dream."
On to the next story