When my eyes could not find any more tears and my lungs ached from sobs, I dried my face with the sheet and took a deep breath.
I have always kept my head in high-pressure situtations; that's probably one of the reasons I made such a good candidate for 'integration'. At least, that's what the man with goat eyes told me last night outside of Mister Chang's Chinese Buffet.
There was a knock on the door-that-was-not-mine. I jumped, and hurridly threw back the covers and stood up out of the bed, straightening my slept-in clothes and finger-combing my mousy hair. "Co--Come in," I called out, clearing my throat nervously.
There was a click and the door opened gently. A girl with hair so pale it was white and feathery eyebrows peeped her head in. Her eyes were large, black, and pupil-less, but her smile was kind and I only trembled slightly. Inwardly I congratulated myself.
"Good morning," she said, her voice surprisingly strong for such an insubstantial body. "I trust you slept well. I was told this was your apartment."
"Yeeesss," I answered hesitantly, not sure what to say. I felt very plain in front of her, my short curls mussy and rumpled beside her sleek, straight, beauty. "Uh...who are you?"
She smiled again. Coldly. I flinched inside, but forced myself to paste on a sardonic, arrogant grin myself. "You don't need to know that, Charlotte Ivy Barrow. Come with me."
"Why?" I asked bluntly, feeling like a dog on a chain. I don't like being told what to do and what not to do.
"Because you have to meet someone. Now," she hissed, and I shuddered. And image of a swan floated up before my eyes. They're pretty, but once I saw one in a park attack a three-year-old who got a little too close.
I nodded and followed her through the door.
The hallway of the small brownstone I shared with three others was silent and empty, something that rarely happened...well, wherever I came from.
"Uh, excuse me," I called to the swan-girl's back. "Where are the others that live here?"
"You can't see them." Her onyx eyes flashed icily over her shoulder. "They are in New York."
"Buh...But I thought this was New York," I stammered. "I mean, it looks like it..."
"This is the City Between."
"They fey world and the human world. This is the place for anyone who can make it--wanderers, traders...and changelings," she replied, grinning cruelly at me. "If you want to please the Counsellate, you will live. And if you would live, you must do what I say. Now, no more questions."
I followed her in silence, her words sitting like swallowed ice in my stomach.