They turned down a small alleyway next to a red brick building. The building was cracked all over, and had cement and moss seeping through the openings in the walls and windows. If Willow didn't feel so. . .so. . .indifferent to everything right now (why, she didn't know) then she would have turned back right then and there, gone back home, apologized to her mother for leaving, and forgotten all about what she had read. But, with how she was feeling now, for all she knew it could very well all be a dream, anyway. So she kept going.
They came to a large metal trash can, which Devlin slid over to the right to reveal a grimy door hinged flat into a brick wall. There was no door handle, just a small hole where it looked like one should be. Willow put one hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh. "This is crazy!" She said. "What's next, a secret password?"
Devlin rolled his eyes, made a fist and knocked three times, hard. Less than a few seconds later, and to Willow's surprise, a small piece of tough looking cardboard was dropped from the hole in the door. Devlin bent down picked it up, and then picked out one of the knives from his belt- the smallest one- and began to carve. It took him only about thirty seconds, and when he was done, Willow realized she was craning her neck over his shoulder to get a look at what he was carving. He turned his head around close to hers, and smirked confidently. He held up his finished work, still giving her that aggravatingly close up smirk of his. But Willow couldn't help it; she let her eyes steal a glance at the cardboard anyway. He had written: Dread, Plus Girl. Willow scoffed and turned away as he sent the piece of cardboard back into the darkness beyond the door. "Plus Girl?” Willow inquired. She again wondered how it was possible that her painfully shy personality had suddenly been morphed into outgoing and giggly.
"You'll see". The door swung open slowly to reveal a dark room. "Just, don't worry." He said. "Stay calm."
The door continued to open, and a hand revealed itself from the opened part of the building, beckoning them inside. Devlin strolled in, Willow sticking close behind. She didn't know why, but she did trust him, to a degree. He didn't really seem like he was going to hurt her in the immediate future, which was one thing she couldn't say in the least about whoever was inside this building. Anyway, he was the best she had at the moment.
The door closed behind them. Willow squinted her eyes, trying to look around. She giggled, in spite of herself, when she realized there were lots of people in the room. That meant lots of emotions, most of which Willow couldn't quite place. If anything, she would've said they seemed mischievous.
Willow blinked, as her eyes began to adjust to the dim light. All of the people were male, and they were all dressed very similarly to Devlin. A few of them began to crowd around her, stepping closer with smirks on their faces, arms crossed. She noticed Devlin take one sidestep closer to her.
"Never thought you'd bring a girl back," one of closer ones said. His words were very slurred, and his body wavered. "She's pretty nice looking'" He continued, more seriously now. "Now how'd you manage that, little Dread?"
Willow whispered to Devlin, "Is he drunk?" and proceeded to gasp after her own words, for they too, were slurred. And she knew for a fact that she hadn't drunk anything strange.
Immediately after she had said it, she heard mocking laughter fill the room, surrounding her, and her cheeks flushed. She bent her head down, eyes to the floor.
Finally, Devlin spoke. "I didn't pick her up because of her looks. That's not why she's here." Devlin pivoted his head around to look at all the faces in the otherwise empty room, almost as if making some sort of speech. And, as much as Willow couldn't believe it, she sensed he was actually nervous about it! He went on, "She might be one of us. I don't know much about her yet, but she can sense emotions. And if any of you had had half a brain you would've realized something. Look at her, everyone. Who does she look like to you?"
No one said a word. You could have heard a pin drop in the room, and every eye was on Willow. Every emotion in the room, every little feeling, every little ounce of hope and recognition was pouring straight into her. For a moment, the giddy feeling she had had before soured up to enormous heights. It was the most at peace Willow had ever felt. And then it stopped, and the darkness around her grew. It spread first to the corner of her eyes, and then consumed her entire body. She swore she could here Devlin still talking away as everything around her faded and, before she knew it, the surreal world was gone, and she was out cold.
Willow awoke to voices. Her eyes felt pasted slut, and she kept her body motionless as she was swept back into reality.
"This is the second day she hasn't woken up!" Said a man's voice, whose Willow didn't recognize. Panic flowed into Willow's veins as if she had been shot with it. This was no longer dreamlike. This felt real. She had woken up in an unknown place, with strange, unknown underworlder spies, who wanted who knows what with her. Nothing "didn't matter" anymore and Willow wanted to cry thinking about how she could have been so stupid to think that way. They could kill her! They could kill her, and she would never see her mother again-
Her mother! That was the reason Willow had followed Devlin in the first place, and that was why she was here. She needed answers, and these people were her only hope. Answers, Willow, she thought to herself, focus on answers. You can do this. She heard the voices again, closer this time.
"Hey, Dread, are you sure about her? I mean, even young trainees who faint at over intake wouldn't stay asleep for this long. And if she's really the daughter of Sparks, shouldn't she be able to handle it? I mean, shouldn't she be more powerful?"
"Thanks for the encouragement, Bud. I've got the whole team pressuring me to be right about her. Do you have to keep bringing that up? But, no, I'm not sure. Also, she wouldn’t necessarily be that powerful. If she was mixed between an Under Worlder and an Over Worlder she might not have inherited all of her mother's powers." It was Devlin’s voice! Willow opened her eyes at last, to reveal that she was lying on a blue cot in a small, chilly brick room. It was dark, just like the other room had been. The only furniture was a small lamp with a dim bulb buzzing on the floor next to her. There were no windows, and, looking ahead, Willow could just make out the figures of Devlin and another boy talking just outside of the doorway.
"Hell, you better be right about her, Dread. You could really redeem yourself if you were."
"You don't have to tell me. I know."
Willow shifted, attempting to prop herself up one of her elbows. A terrible metallic screeching sound emanated from some part of the cot beneath her, and immediately she had won the attention of both Devlin and the other boy. They had turned towards her so fast it was almost as if they had been on alert for some sort of animal attack throughout their entire conversation. And, apparently, Willow was the animal.
The boy that Willow didn’t recognize took a few steps further into the room she was in, and folded his arms across his chest. He looked like he was taking a real good look at her. Willow just stared right back at him, feeling more than a little bit dizzy. That’s right, She thought to herself, they said I’ve been asleep for two whole days. Mother must be searching for me…
The boy said to Devlin seriously, and without taking his eyes off of Willow, “So, looks like she’s awake.” He looked like he was poised and ready for her to bolt at any moment, feet apart, limbs tense, and hands slightly raised. Devlin looked a bit more relaxed.
“Obviously, Bud. Try to relax. She’s not going anywhere.” Devlin’s cold stare seemed to pierce through Willow like jagged icicles. She did her best to send a cold stare right back at him, challenging his last statement, but, between her fleeting confidence and her dizzy spells, she bet that it came off as no more than a pathetic blank look.
Willow managed to stand up fully, without the support of the cot, and wobbled quite a bit. “Where am I, Devlin?” Willow tried to say the words in her least, “I’m-so-shy-so-please-don’t-mind-me-voice” and her most angry voice.
The response she got wasn’t quite as an intimidated one as she might have hoped for. The tense boy flung a hand up to his mouth, covering it, like he was trying hard to stifle a laugh. His shoulders shook at the effort. Willow balled her hands into fists, enraged, dizzy, and realizing that laughter seemed to be the only response she ever got in this from these God awful people. It took Willow a moment to regain whatever sort of tranquility she had managed to hold onto, and realized that the boy wasn’t laughing at her. The boy continued to laugh, staring straight at Devlin, who had his eyes averted from both of them. At long last, the boy wiped a fake tear from the corner of his eye and said to Devlin, “You told her your name? Not only that, but your real name? And that’s capturing her for further study? Did you tell her anything else that you shouldn’t have? It is kind of hilarious, though, Dread.”
Devlin opened his mouth to say something, and then stopped. He clamped and unclamped his hands together, in what looked like a sort of a nervous tick. After a long moment, he said, “Look. You don’t tell anyone about this, you got it, Bud?” Devlin suddenly looked very tired, like someone who was right where they didn’t want to be in the world, and couldn’t stand it for one moment longer. “She seems harmless enough, and, besides she’ll be here for a while, won’t she? Shouldn’t she know our names?
The boy, “Bud,” apparently, shook shut his eyes and shook his head. “We don’t know that. You know we don’t know that. She might not be the right girl, you know. And you know what happens then, Dread. I’m warning you, don’t get too attached.”
Willow was getting dizzier by the minute and began to feel that even if she had known what the two were talking about she wouldn’t have understood. She was starved. She hadn’t eaten anything since lunch three days ago.
Willow cleared her throat, annoyed that the two of them seemed to have forgotten her presence so fast. “Excuse me,” Willow began meekly, “But I do believe I deserve to know what’s going on here, and-“
She wobbled, and found her balance just quick enough to fall back into sitting position on the cot. Devlin then told Bud to go alert the others that she was awake, and to bring something for her to eat. “She’ll need her strength,” Devlin half called to Bud as he scampered out of the room to “alert” whoever he was going to alert.
Willow put a hand upon her forehead, willing the room to stop spinning, as she pulled her fingers up through her bangs. She was aware that she must look wild after sleeping on the makeshift bed for two days. Her clothes were creased everywhere and her hair, she knew, must look like a tumbleweed. She attempted to stand once more, wanting to look authoritative when she tried again to demand answers from Devlin. But before she could even begin to lose her footing, Devlin spoke. “Don’t try to stand,” he commanded, “you’ll just fall. Bud is bringing you something to make you feel better.”
Willow sat there, glaring at him with all her might. She prayed that he would understand the silent question of, “What in the world is going on here?”
“I know, I know.” He said, softer this time. His expression was still set in stone, though. His words implied comfort while, physically, he radiated hostility. “You’ll learn everything you need to know. And so will we all. Unfortunately, I can’t be the one to answer your questions. I’m simply here to keep watch over you until the staircase into the underworld has been built. And, once you arrive in the underworld, we’ll be able to figure out if you’re really the one.
“The one what? What are you people talking about? I just want to know who my real family is. How is that of any importance to you? Why can’t you just fill me in?” Willow realized she was shouting, and probably sounded hysterical. She stopped, and put her head in both hands, defeated by her own outburst.
Devlin’s answer was a mere whisper when he took a few steps closer and said, “It’s not that simple.” And, for the first time since they’d met, he sounded like he was defeated, too.