First 3 Chapters...

In honor of there being only 3 days left before the print edition of Harlow Whittaker & The Soothsayers is released to the masses, I am providing the first 3 chapters!  Enjoy!

1



Harlow Whittaker was eleven years old when she first realized that she had the power to travel to different worlds.  Just before her twelfth birthday her father had gone back east to say goodbye to her dying grandmother.  The second night that her father was away her grandmother appeared to Harlow in a dream.  It was the only experience in her life that she would classify as indescribable.  In fact when Harlow is asked of that moment she will say,
“She spoke to me without words, saying goodbye.  She looked so beautiful but no longer human.  It was not frightening like it may sound. She looked more beautiful than anything I had ever seen.  I wasn’t in a place I recognized, everything was so clear, you could see the atoms floating in the air.  But it wasn’t just my sight; all of my senses were amplified.  And somehow I knew I was surrounded by the dead. Not the heaven we so often hear about, but a place, a world, that was just for them, yet somehow I was there too.”
        After that there were more dreams, each one taking place somewhere that Harlow would only be able to visit while she was asleep.  Destinations that she felt she shouldn’t be able to go, with their diverse populations and extraordinary sights. Harlow had accepted the fact that when she fell asleep she would be transported to a faraway place but she never expected it to occur while she was wide awake.  
        Harlow had been salsa dancing with a fellow classmate at a party. In the middle of being dipped, she happened to catch a glimpse of a magnificent green.  It was a color that, although exquisite, did not seem as though it belonged something about it seeming forced.  At that moment a feeling of both excitement and uneasiness crept inside her body, she even felt it in her organs, as the adrenaline began rushing through her veins.  She fought the urge to run even though the voice in her head told her to precede cautiously, every fiber of her being felt as though it was captivated with an anxious curiosity.  It gripped her so that she did not even remember how it came to be that she was soon outside and staring at an astonishing sight. 
        The emerald color she had glimpsed from inside was just one of two eyes on this man.  It did not seem as though he had noticed her, or if he had he made no indication of it.  Although he looked like a man, there was something about him that made him move differently.  He was wearing a black leather Perfecto motorcycle jacket, with a pair of black jeans and steel toe motorcycle boots.  There was a recurve bow hanging from his shoulder, both of his hands were heavily occupied.  He was crouched down working on a 1940 Harley Davidson, with a two person seat.  The motorcycle was all black; with the tanks being a flat black while the fenders each had a polished finish.  Even though his hands were moving at a speed that seemed unnatural, the rest of his body remained extremely still.  Harlow watched as bright green and gold flecks flew from his hands, illuminating his work area.  Using the small amount of light produced from the flecks, Harlow tried her hardest to make out the features of his face.  All of his facial characteristics were perfectly symmetrical to one another.  His face seemed to be sculpted out of clay, it was flawless. His crescent moon shaped radioactive green eyes sat on either side of his narrow pointed nose that rested just above his heart shaped lips.  His cheekbones reminded Harlow of a caricature depicting the force of a jet engine on a human face.  The two slant like indentations on his face were paired with his pronounced jaw line.  Each of these chiseled features gave his face a model like feature.  He had jet-black hair that was cut short, and his thick dark eyebrows framed those splendiferous eyes.  Although he was handsome Harlow knew almost immediately that he was not human.  As her gaze wandered over him, looking for a clue as to why, she realized they were no longer on the ground.        
         They were in the sky, but not hovering in mid-air, Harlow was very much on the ground. It was more as though the sky had come down, so that now it was only an inch above their heads.  The colors were vivid, deep dark blues mixed with poignant purples.  The stars seemed to twinkle as bright as a lighthouse, shining right in her face.  Out of instinct Harlow reached up to touch a star, but found that it was still too far away to grasp.  Occupied with the radical change of sky to ground ratio, Harlow hadn’t noticed that the man with the motorcycle was now standing right next to her, staring at her without displaying any sort of emotion.  He looked her up and down, assessing her, studying her.  Before Harlow could react the man was moving away from her.  As he mounted his motorcycle his jacket rose up and Harlow could make out what made him move so differently than a human.  He had wings.  From what Harlow could tell they were a pair of, rather large, black angel wings.  With the roar of his motorcycle engine filling her ears, Harlow had somehow found her way back inside with her head upside down, in the arms of her classmate, still in the middle of a dip. 
        It was not uncommon for Harlow to avoid mentioning strange such happenings. She had found that most people found “out-of-the-ordinary” to be at the very least incommodious.  In fact she doubted very much that it was coincidence that her ex had broken up with her soon after (only two days after) she had told him about her twelfth birthday visit from her grandmother. So without any indication that she had just witnessed anything remarkable, Harlow continued dancing and stayed at the party long into the night.  She later returned home to her third floor apartment and began to consider how it was that she had somehow gone to another world while she was awake. 
        For four days she tried to dream about the man with the unforgettable eyes, but it never worked that way.  Since the first time it had happened Harlow had tried to lead her dreams, choose a location (anywhere that didn’t believe in term papers or final exams), visit a particular person (her future husband), find out the answer to a life-changing event (would she be accepted into a prestigious summer internship) but it never worked that way.  This however didn’t deter Harlow.  In fact after she arrived at work Monday, she spent nearly forty-five minutes trying to force herself into a deep sleep that would take her to the man on the motorcycle.
        Staring at her computer screen in the office she shared in the university’s Career Services office, Harlow began to recall everything she knew about the beautiful eyed man.  She recounted every detail, his black leather jacket, his vintage Harley, and his perfect lips.  She freed her mind of anything else, but it was fruitless.  Defeated, Harlow began to lazily sift through computer images for the office bulletin board.  Leaning back in her chair Harlow stared up at the ceiling and without even a flicker or any other warning, the overhead lights went out. 
        The only light in the room was cascading in through the mini blinds hanging over the windows that were directly behind her, the small beams of sunlight only allowing Harlow to see objects that were directly in front of her.  Her computer screen had also gone out.  It had to be a power outage.  It was eerily quiet, as though the volume to her life had been turned off.  The door to the office was still propped open.  She could usually hear the two guys that worked across the hall from her but she didn’t hear a thing. Harlow squinted her eyes trying to see if the office across the hall even still had their lights on.  Through the darkness Harlow was able to see that their door had been closed and the hallway was pitch black.  And then Harlow heard what sounded like firecrackers going off.  She jumped, startled.  Taking a deep breath she heard them again.  They seemed to be coming from down the hall.  Harlow stood up and began to make her way to the door.  She barely reached the file cabinet when she heard the same cracking noise again, only this time it was louder.  It was getting closer.  Harlow picked up her pace making her way to the door before closing it but not before she saw what looked like a small red iridescent ball, the size of a golf ball, suspended in midair about four feet away from her. 
        Harlow stood at the door for what felt like an eternity in all of the silence.  The anticipation was killing her, what was that ball that she had seen?  Was it what had caused the electricity to go out?  Harlow opened the door just enough to peer out of it.  As though hearing the turning of the doorknob, the bright red ball turned, and Harlow felt it looking at her.  She shut the door and ran over to her desk, picking up her desk chair and pushing it up against the door as fast as she could. As she stood holding the chair against the door she felt her heart pounding, its pace had noticeably accelerated.  She looked down at her chest, watching as her shirt rose and fell aggressively.  Her hands felt clammy.  
        Whatever that thing had been she did not trust it.  As soon as it had turned and faced her she had felt threatened.  The unmistakable sense of utter fear consumed her.  Harlow couldn’t help but feel as if the sphere was after her, but why?  Each beat of her heart felt intensified, like at any moment her heart may pound out of her chest.  That thing was not safe and it had seen her.  Harlow heard what sounded like bottle rockets going off and then just like it had turned off, the power was back on.  Harlow waited a few seconds before moving her chair out of the way and opening the door. The door to the office across the hall was open.  Harlow could see that Jesús and Richard were working away as though nothing had happened. 
        “Hey Harlow, nice bulletin board.”  Richard chimed sarcastically in reference to the blank bulletin board that Harlow had been working on earlier. 
        “Yeah, I’m thinking of keeping it that way.”  Harlow joked back, trying to remain calm.  No one else had seen what had just happened.  Had she imagined it?  Had she fallen asleep at her desk?  This wasn’t like her dreams.  She had definitely not gone to another world.  She was in the campus career office, where she spent twenty hours a week.  Nothing otherworldly about it, it was an office like hundreds on campus, small and forgettable.  But then what had that thing been?  It did not belong here; it was the epitome of otherworldly.  She turned slowly and staggered back to her desk, clutching her chair.  What had just happened?  Even though she had seen the man on the motorcycle while she had been awake, this was different.  This scared her.        
***
        Fast asleep a dream entered Harlow’s mind with the most vibrant of colors.  An enchanting array of dark blues and greens filled the sky of this world.  Bits of oranges and reds shined like the stars and Harlow was so consumed with this incredible display that she almost didn’t notice the winged man on the motorcycle. This time he was standing on what seemed like a mountain, and like before, the sky was almost resting on his head.  He looked just as magnificent as the first time Harlow had seen him.  His phenomenal green eyes remained captivating and he was wearing the same black leather jacket and jeans.  Harlow looked for his motorcycle but didn’t see it.  They appeared to be in a forest, but not one Harlow could recognize.  The landscape was so dense with trees that Harlow found it difficult to stand.  The ground was uneven due to the hundreds of tree roots that covered the forest floor.  Harlow couldn’t help but feel as though at any moment the trees could swallow them.  They were growing right before their eyes.  Harlow watched fascinated as the branches grew both up into the air and out from their sides.  The green grass reached their knees and swayed in a breeze that sent the gentle smell of spring into Harlow’s nose. 
        “So are you going to stay here?”  The man mumbled to Harlow as she slept.  His voice deep, and though the words came out slowly there was a sense of urgency behind them.  It was an odd combination, the slow quickness.     
        “Who are you?”  Harlow asked, watching him.  He seemed to find this amusing, a coy smile spreading across his face. 
        “I’m Larken.  Now answer my question, are you going to stay here?”
        “What do you mean?”   
“You know what I mean; you obviously have the ability to travel.  You need to do it.  They need you.”  Larken removed a pipe from one of his saddlebags.  “Smoke this--.”  He stopped short, looking around.  Without seeing where it came from, his motorcycle appeared underneath him and he was driving away. When Harlow woke up she saw that the pipe was resting on the white pre-fabricated bookcase next to her bed.  






2


Harlow studied the pipe.  It was as big as a corncob pipe with the same shape.  The bowl was made of briarwood, and it had a carving of a snake crawling through the eye of a human skull along the base.  The stem to the pipe however was made of amber.  Harlow picked up the pipe and held it in her hands, it was quite light.  She began to inspect it, spinning it.  It looked ancient but it was still in impeccable condition.  The briarwood bowl and the amber stem looked like they had always been connected, not as though they had once been forged together to make one solid object.  Harlow ran her index finger along the length of the pipe trying to see if she could find the point where the two materials met, she did not feel an imperfection.  The amber smoothly ascended into briarwood without any strong contrast. Upon further examination Harlow saw how the amber seemed to bleed into the briarwood.  It was as though the coolness of the amber gradually adopted the smooth consistency of waxed wood floors.  It was brilliantly made.
        Not sure what to make of this Larken, she put the pipe back on the bookcase and opened her bedroom door. The two bedrooms and the living room were the only rooms that were carpeted in the apartment and Harlow braced herself for the coolness of the ceramic tile under her bare feet.  Reaching the kitchen she noticed she had no reason for being there.  Her mind was racing.  What had Larken meant by, ‘they need you?’  Who were ‘they’ and what would ‘they’ want from her?  She suddenly felt light headed and made her way to the dining room table and pulled out one of the chairs and sat down.  Looking out through the sliding glass doors that were on the farthest wall of the living room she saw the tops of the pine trees from down below.  It reminded her of her dream.
She tried to calm herself down by thinking of the dream like a math problem from her homework that simply needed to be solved.  Had there been any warning signs in the dream?  Had she felt threatened by him?  She answered herself.  No, if anything she had found him intriguing, and he hadn’t said anything ominous.  She had had dreams in the past that had told her the future but they always had a strong feeling tied to them.  Even the dream with her grandmother, though beautiful, had also been pungent with death.  The dream with Larken however had no feeling, which was almost more unnerving than the feeling of death.  The absence of feeling felt unnatural, but so had Larken the first time she had seen him.  Yet in a strange inexplicable way she was still attracted to him, and extremely curious.  Standing up and walking over to the living room she took a lighter out from her purse, which was on the floor against the bookcase.  Harlow walked back to her room and picked up the pipe.  As she held the pipe in her hand Harlow wondered if Larken had anything to do with the power outage at work and the little red ball that had caused her to feel so alarmed.  Harlow decided that Larken had nothing to do with the red iridescent orb even though she had no logically reason to. She was just going with gut instinct because at the moment it was all she had. That wasn’t true, Harlow thought looking at the pipe in her hand.
        It was just as impeccable as before, but this time it had its own sense of urgency, not unlike the tone that Larken had had when he was giving it to her.  Perhaps this would be able to provide her with answers somehow.  She brought it to her lips and placed the lighter to the bowl.  It appeared empty until she brought the flame to it, then a deeply red leaf appeared.  It looked like one maple leaf that was as thick and as wide as the bowl itself.  With one deep inhalation the room transformed.
        As she blew the smoke out of her mouth she found herself sitting in a lecture hall.  The lecture hall was much like Jardín Hall where she had taken Biology 101 her first year at State.  She placed the pipe in the pocket of her sweat pants and looked around.  There were over five hundred seats with sixty stairs on both sides of the seats, three doors on each side.  The stage looked even larger with only one red velvet topped stool sitting on it.  Harlow took in the scenery, the room smelled like mildew and chalk, just like it did during Bio 101.  If this was a dream, out of all of Harlow’s dreams this felt like reality the most. Harlow half-expected to see her old professor, Dr. Tamlin to come strolling in.  Harlow began to make her way closer to the stage, as she did so, on the red velvet stool a woman appeared.
        She was short, Harlow could tell, her legs didn’t reach the floor of the stage.  Instead she had her legs crossed at her ankles, dangling in the air.  Like Larken she too was very attractive.  All of her features were sharp like his.  The way she sat, so incredibly still on the stool made Harlow realize that she and Larken must be from the same place.  Harlow noticed that this woman also had a bow.  It however was a crossbow and resting on the woman’s lap.  Her skin wasn’t as dark as Larken’s.  In fact her skin looked like porcelain and her facial features went together perfectly, as though she were manufactured.  Her rosy checks looked like they had been painted on but Harlow could tell she wasn’t wearing any makeup.  The same could be said for her pink plumb glossy lips.  She had a small button nose that rested in between those radiant violet eyes.  She had distinctly high cheek bones that were only made less enchanting by those intensely purple eyes that stuck out from behind her swooped style bangs.  Harlow could see that the woman’s thin light brown hair fell down her back even though the top of it was covered with a thick dark green scarf draped above the top of her head, flung around her neck, and loosely hanging from the back of her shoulders.  The white cotton sundress she wore appeared to be made for her the way it laid on her body, like it was skin rather than a garment.  The well-fitted cotton dress was paired with tan leather knee-high boots.  She wore a long gold necklace with an ivory pendant hanging from it.
        “Hello Harlow I’m Hendrix.”  The woman’s voice was the same mix of slow and fast that Larken had spoken with; although she spoke calmly it still sounded hurried, as though she were constrained by time.  Harlow paused, she was about three rows from the stage and she began once again to ask herself about the potential danger of the situation.  The woman was armed yet she was shorter than Harlow by a few inches.  They were both under 5’5’ and by looking at the woman Harlow guessed they were probably around the same age.  Yet even though they appeared to be of equal weight, Harlow didn’t feel confident that she could win in a fight.  There was something about those violet eyes watching her that made Harlow stay where she was.  Unlike Larken, Hendrix’s demeanor was harder for Harlow to sense yet she was just as intriguing.  She didn’t feel threatened like she had by the flying ruby ball, but there was a certain level of caution that Harlow felt she should proceed with.   
“I’m Harlow Whittaker.”  Hearing her voice Harlow was taken aback.  It had that same slow and fast quality of both Larken and Hendrix’s. 
        “You’re alarmed,” Hendrix smiled at this, making all of her features relax, which made her look like a child; seeing this made Harlow feel less intimidated.  “It’s the effect of the Ester Leaf; it makes your body lethargic, yet your mind races, causing each of your emotions to intensify.  This is all reflected in your voice.”  Harlow nodded. 
“What is this place?”  Hendrix looked at her in the eye, all of her features again tensing up, all childlike resemblance completely vanishing.
        “You have come to a tutorial.  I am here to answer all of your questions.  You just have to ask them.”  Hendrix remained eerily still on her stool as Harlow tried to decide what she wanted to ask next.  There were so many thoughts flying through her mind, and the effects of the Ester Leaf only further complicated this.
        “Who are you?”  Harlow was surprised at how hard she was trying to keep her mind still enough so that she could form questions.
        “I am Hendrix, please keep up--.”  Harlow cut her off feeling that her question had not come out as she had planned. 
        “No, no I mean, what are you?”  Hendrix laughed, toying with Harlow.
        “I know what you meant.”  This annoyed Harlow, the way Hendrix was playing with her.  It was obvious that Harlow was at a disadvantage, and yet Hendrix found it comical.  “I’m an Archer.”  Hendrix paused and Harlow waited for her to continue, but Hendrix didn’t. 
        “And what is an Archer?”  Harlow pressed, crossing her arms over her chest.  She had felt a soft breeze come past her, which was strange since there appeared to be no means for a draft to enter the hall; all of the doors were shut. 
        “We travel between the different worlds, usually without notice.”  Hendrix explained, bored.  A voice seeped into Harlow’s thoughts, clearer than all the whizzing thoughts that had entered since she’d smoked the Ester Leaf.  “But you Harlow, you can see us.”  It was a voice that Harlow recognized.  Hendrix studied her face, noticing that Harlow was less occupied with her.  Realizing this Harlow tried to de-tangle her thoughts in order to form another question.   It was clear that Hendrix viewed herself as superior to Harlow, at least in the sense that she was more knowledgeable.  It was a game she was playing, the way she held the information that Harlow desperately wanted, dangling just out of reach.  This made it difficult for Harlow to trust Hendrix.  Harlow remained on guard and therefore, decided not to mention the voice that she had just heard.        
        “Between worlds?”  Harlow made her way to the front row and sat down.  The idea of there being different worlds didn’t surprise her as much as the fact that someone else had come to the same conclusion.
        “That’s probably a good idea.”  Hendrix smiled as she said this, referring to Harlow’s decision to sit down.  “There are an infinite number of worlds,” And then Hendrix, suddenly quite chatty added, “I’ve never even been to them all.  There are worlds for all the different stages of man, and then there are worlds that are filled with different creatures, that are far older than man.  There are worlds for the dead just like there are worlds for the living.  The worlds lay parallel to one another, that’s how we're able to travel.”  Was this how she had visited these worlds?  “No Harlow you are different.”  Harlow heard the voice in her head answer.  And for a brief moment she wondered if she had posed her query allowed.  Who was this in her thoughts, answering her questions?  Hendrix watched her expectantly.
        “Uh, um, why do the Archers travel between the worlds?”  Harlow managed to spit out, her mind still occupied with the presence of someone else in her thoughts.  Hendrix smiled, a cat-like smile and Harlow wasn’t sure if she was going to answer her.
        “All kinds of reasons,” Hendrix baited.
        “Can you please be more specific?”  Harlow was growing exponentially more irritated with Hendrix and was considering walking out.  But where would that take her?  She had arrived here by smoking a leaf after all.  
        “We are in charge of monitoring the worlds, to make sure no one leaves their own for another without permission.”
        “So you’re like a rent-a-cop.”  Harlow sneered sarcastically.  And then like the words that had seeped in her thoughts, there was a chuckle, a loud belly laugh in her mind.  This Harlow could not mask as easily and she herself laughed, making Hendrix stare at her harder. 
        “Well what is it?”  Hendrix demanded, and for the first time moving off of her stool she stood up.  Harlow kept her eyes on her but she did not walk, instead with one swoop she was off of the stage and on the ground in front of Harlow.  And with a small flick her wings were back behind her, hidden from view.  Harlow knew this must have been how Larken had appeared so close to her one minute and then back on his bike the next.  Their wings let them fly incredibly fast.
        “It’s me, Hendrix.  And you’re being rude.”  The same voice that had entered Harlow’s mind was now coming out the mouth of another Hendrix, this one more beautiful than the first if it was possible.  It was as though every one of her features was more enhanced.  Each individual strand of her light brown hair had flecks of gold braided into it.  Her unblemished tanned skin softened her strong bone structure.  She wore a turquoise dress with gold necklaces hanging from her neck to her naval.  Her gold sandals laced up to her knees.  She had a crossbow in her left hand.  As she walked towards the first Hendrix, Harlow saw her wings poking out of the top of her dress, in between strands of her hair.  The first Hendrix stood on stage watching the new Hendrix as she made her way onto the stage.
        “You said you needed help, that you didn’t have time, so here I am, trying to get this tutorial over with, but this one...” The first Hendrix motioned towards Harlow, who at this point was staring intently at the two Hendrix’s.  “This one is particularly dense.” 
        “Perhaps it’s your approach Olaf.”  As she said this, the new Hendrix outstretched her right hand and the first Hendrix swiftly transformed into a cottontail rabbit as it leaped up into her palm.  Harlow stood up and began climbing the stairs to the stage; feeling that if she were closer maybe she would be able to better examine the past events.
        “I’ve been talking to a rabbit?”  Harlow asked aghast.
        “I’m an indentured servant.”  The rabbit spat at her from Hendrix’s palm.
        “Olaf, that’s enough.”  Hendrix declared.  The rabbit jumped from her hand and before he hit the floor had transformed into a small gold figurine of himself.  “He’s a bit snarky, but he does help me be in two places at once.  I apologize for being late.  I really do take these things quite seriously, I mean we haven’t had to perform one in at least sixty of your species lifetimes but at one time they were rather common.  You see the subconscious of the participant chooses the location.  You equate learning with academia, which is why we are here.  I remember once I showed up to one and the participant’s subconscious had selected horse stables that the participant had frequented as a child.  The smell was a bit distracting.”  As she spoke Hendrix walked over to where the rabbit figurine sat and picked it up.  Taking one of her necklaces that housed a collection of coins, charms and other trinkets, she attached the rabbit.  Then she moved with the same speed that Olaf-Hendrix had, and sat on the red velvet stool.  Harlow watched astonished.
        “Could you please explain to me what just happened?” 
        “That rabbit is a trinket, like the other charms on my necklace it has a specific skill that I am able to utilize whenever I need.  Olaf for instance is able to impersonate others, well look like them anyway; I hope you don’t think that I’m that rude.”  Hendrix paused and suddenly looked extremely focused. 
        “What is it?”         
        “Listen Harlow we’ve wasted time, and the effects of the Ester Leaf are becoming less and less potent, I can tell by the change in your voice.”  Harlow had noticed that her voice was almost back to normal, where Hendrix’s still possessed the same quality of both fast and slow that came from the effects of the Ester Leaf.  “Take this back with you, it has been charmed by Larken, so that it has the ability to travel between the worlds.  It will explain what I came to tell you.”  Hendrix handed Harlow a small leather bound book.  It was a deep brown color and had red ribbon tied around it, keeping the cover closed.  “Do you still have the Peragro Pipe?”  Harlow checked her pocket and felt the pipe inside. 
        “You’re referring to this?”  Harlow took the pipe out of her pocket and held it out to Hendrix. 
            “Yes that’s it, keep it, we will have to meet again.”  As the last word came out of her mouth, the room quickly began to fill with smoke.  Harlow felt her eyes stinging and she could no longer see anything but Hendrix’s violet eyes.  And then all she could see was smoke and she heard a loud ringing in her ears. 






3


“Harlow, are you going to answer your phone?”  Persephone yelled into her room.  Harlow, coughing from the smoke opened her eyes and saw that she was back in her bedroom, her cell phone ringing loudly.  The same ringing she had heard in the lecture hall as it was consumed with smoke.  She looked in her hands.   She was still holding the brown leather book. Checking her pants pocket she saw that it still housed the Peragro Pipe.  Harlow stood up and opened her dresser drawer and placed the pipe in one of her socks, while doing so, Persephone appeared in her bedroom doorway.
        Persephone was twenty-two, three years older than Harlow. For being sisters they looked nothing alike. Persephone’s nose, unlike Harlow’s small flat nose, was long and pointy.  All of her facial features were more angular in comparison to Harlow’s rounder face.  She had prominent cheekbones that rested just below her eyes.  Harlow had often been compared to a cartoon character, with her big brown eyes and animated expressions.  Persephone was much more monotone in her speech and expressions.  Her lighter brown eyes were often half-open as she mumbled her words when she spoke.  Persephone leaned on the doorframe, her caramel colored skin accentuated by the orange t-shirt she wore.   Large silver hoop earrings hung from her ears.   Her light brown hair had been pulled back into a ponytail and the remainder of it was hidden under a teal and purple scarf. 
        Harlow, who had dark curly hair that she had to fight to keep straight, always envied Persephone’s naturally straight hair.  In fact both physically and in every other way possible the two sisters were opposites.  Where Persephone had broad shoulders, and a well-endowed chest, Harlow was naturally slender.  Persephone had an athletic build, from running high school track.  In contrast Harlow was stick thin without any effort.  Persephone had a toilet sense of humor where Harlow was extremely witty and sarcastic.  Although they were opposites they were still quite close, as close as Harlow allowed.  Harlow was somewhat of a loner, not revealing her true feelings to hardly anyone.  It was isolating being able to travel to places that no one in her world knew existed.  Falling asleep and finding herself in a world that was inhabited by giant creatures that looked as though an ape and a cutthroat trout had mated may first appear to be a nightmare (Harlow assumed she would be brutalized or tortured the second she laid eyes on the eight foot tall ape/fish).  However as her dream progressed she learned that they were gentle creatures with exquisite architecture.  Most of her dream experiences were like that, surprisingly pleasant, proving to her over and over how appearance meant nothing, that judging people was an enormous waste of one’s time.  She had also learned more concrete skills like bits of languages from other worlds, or that the cure for most of the world’s ailments would be in food.  All of this she knew by dreaming, it had made her the accepting, logical, patient person that she now was and yet she had never told anyone.  Even though it was self-imposed she found herself lonely.
        Her father seemed to understand her more than anyone else.  He often appeared to be in his own world too.  As if he too had an immense secret that separated him from everyone else.  He would spend hours in his workshop building wooden sculptures.  When Persephone and her mother would go shopping for the latest designer bag, Harlow would spend her days with her father in his workshop.  She learned about the different types of wood; that basswood was good for detail work and that butternut could take on an oak color once an oil finish was applied.  She enjoyed the smell of the wood shavings as he worked, and liked that they could go hours without saying a word to one another.  With Persephone or her mother, they always needed to fill the silence, even if it meant not really saying anything.  Harlow remembered countless evenings spent at the dinner table discussing the lives of actresses from their favorite television shows, rather than about their own daily encounters.  Harlow slowly made her way out of the wood shop, feeling the strong desire to see the world that she was meant to be a part of.  As she got older Harlow was able to master “being normal.”  She had friends, participated in school functions and now as a college sophomore she was even contemplating running for student council. The trick was to never tell anyone about the excursions she took in her sleep. 
        As Persephone stood in the doorway to Harlow’s bedroom a look of irritation covered her face.         
        “Morning Persephone.  I didn’t know you were up.”  Harlow closed the drawer just before turning to face Persephone.
        “I just got in.”  Persephone yawned, rubbing her eyes.  Harlow looked at the clock on top of her dresser that read eight-thirty.  Harlow realized she had not looked at the time before smoking the Ester Leaf; she had no idea how long she had been inside the lecture hall with Olaf and Hendrix, not to mention her Music Theory class started at ten-thirty.  “Your phone is ringing.”  Persephone added with a sudden burst of annoyance, as though she had just remembered that was the reason for the conversation.
        “Oh yeah, I was about to get it.”  Harlow reached for her phone that was on top of her bookcase but Persephone had already picked it up.
        “It’s Mom.” Persephone informed Harlow before answering the call.  “Hi Mom, oh yeah Harlow’s here...” Her sister’s voice trailed off as she left Harlow’s room in exchange of her own, leaving Harlow alone.  Harlow took the sock that had the pipe inside and opened her closet door.  Standing on her tiptoes she found one of her purses and placed the sock inside a smaller zipper compartment of one of her bags.  Harlow sat down on her bed and opened the brown leather book.  The pages smelled of must and the edges were frayed.  Harlow flipped through the pages.  The writing on the pages was not typed, but appeared to be written by hand with a fountain pen.  Harlow turned back to the first page. 
        For the eyes of the Human Soothsayer: The interpreter of the future, and the manipulator of dreams.   
        “Harlow, Mom wants to talk to you.”  Persephone’s voice floated in from the hallway. 
        “Of course that’s why she called me.”  Harlow smiled, tucking the book behind her pillow, out of sight.  For a second she considered showing it to Persephone, telling her about all of it; the book, the pipe, her dreams, and Larken.  But what would that do other than arouse paranoia?  Within seconds of Harlow’s confession Persephone would be on the phone with their mother, divulging all.  
        “Oh God Harlow, I just needed to tell her something.”  Persephone rolled her eyes, walking over to Harlow and holding the phone out to her, Harlow took it.
        “Hi Mom.”  Harlow spoke into the phone.  Persephone lingered in her room, no doubt hoping to eavesdrop.  She picked up a pair of Harlow’s earrings and held them up to her ear in the mirror and laid them back down.  Harlow made eye contact with her and Persephone understood that she was not going unnoticed, and made her way out of the room. 
           “Hi Harlow.  How are you?”  The so familiar tone of Harlow’s mother, Gina answered from the other end.  Harlow’s parents lived three hours away in Albuquerque.  Harlow’s mother was an artist and known for two things.  Her desire to declare life choices over breakfast, the most recent of her declarations was developed during the Thanksgiving holiday where Gina stated that when she turned fifty she was getting dreadlocks.  The second thing that Harlow’s mother was known for was her claim to be a lover of all things weird.  This was what she told people when they asked why she named her daughters such unusual names.  “It’s because I love weird things.”  Harlow however, having seen her mother’s face when she first told her about the dream of her deceased grandmother, knew that her mother in fact hated things that even briefly appeared unusual.  She had looked both repulsed and afraid when Harlow had gone into detail of how her grandmother had appeared to her.  She would also run out of the room when Harlow’s father would attempt to cleanse the family house of bad spirits by burning sage.  Harlow asked her mother about this before and Gina did not reply, instead she stormed out of the room, mumbling something about being suddenly inspired and not wanting to lose her vision before she started painting.  
         “I’m fine.”  Harlow leaned back on the pillow that had the book behind it and twisted her hair.
         “Harlow honey, how are you doing, really?”   Harlow wasn’t sure what it was that Gina was referring to and then she remembered.  She had broken up with her boyfriend two nights before.  At the time she had been much more devastated than she felt now.  The cold feeling of rejection had engulfed her; the idea that he could not accept her had crushed her.  However Harlow remembered shortly after first seeing Larken that she had begun to feel much better in regards to her ended relationship.  Compared to the incident with the electricity going out at work, and the tutorial with a talking rabbit that lived at the end of a necklace, the break up had completely slipped her mind.  
        “Really Mom, I’m fine.”  Harlow was distracted; she wondered what the book had meant by Human Soothsayer.  More specifically she wondered if it was her that the book was referring to. 
        “Well actually Harlow you sound good. That’s excellent sweetheart, just move on.  I’m sure you’re thinking, it’s easier said than done, since you dated for almost a year, but truly honey it just wasn’t meant to be. I know you thought you and Chris had a future, but that’s life, c’est la vie!”  Listening to her mother’s words, Harlow couldn’t help but feel silly.  Her mother was right; Harlow had thought that she and Chris had a future.  They had talked about marriage and children.  They spent almost every day together, there was no doubt their relationship had been serious, and she was truly heartbroken when he ended things.  Surely Persephone had called and told their mother how distraught Harlow had been.  Perhaps that’s what Persephone had been doing when she had answered Harlow’s phone, telling her mother to say something nice to cheer her up.  But after meeting Larken and Hendrix, it all seemed so trivial.  Although she wasn’t completely clear of what was expected of her she had an undeniable feeling that it was of the utmost importance.  Everything else in her life paled in comparison, it all felt inconsequential.  How funny life was.  Since her twelfth birthday Harlow had wondered what her dreams meant.  Why could she travel between worlds?  And now finally it seemed she may get an answer.  “You’ll meet someone else; in fact before you know it there will be a new distraction to help take your mind off of your pain.”   Harlow smiled to herself.
        “You’re right Mom, listen I have to get in the shower, start my day, you know?  I love you, and I’ll talk to you later.” 
        “Alright Lo, take care, love you too.”  Harlow laid the phone down, she reached behind her and took out the book from behind her pillow and went down the hall into her bathroom.  She locked the door and walked over to her bathtub and turned the water on.  This way Persephone would believe she was in the shower and not interrupt.  There was no doubt that Persephone would want to pry into the conversation that Harlow had just had with her mother or worse she would want to discuss every detail of the break up again but Harlow’s mind was nowhere near any of that.  Harlow sat down on the edge of the bathtub and began to read.
         There was once a time where there was no need for different worlds.  All of the creatures lived together in one but then some of creatures felt that they could make everything better than it was.  Although no one had complained before, these others began to point out problems.  They began to convince the creatures that there was much wrong with everything, when in fact they were the ones sabotaging their own friends and neighbors for political gain.  Of course when these problems would present themselves these creatures were the only ones with answers and they would be more than happy to provide them, for a price. They painted the picture that their ideas carried more weight than the others and they eventually tried to rule the creatures.  This led to campaigns and elections and soon there were different parties and everything was so very corrupt from the beginning.  The parties that started out as political became more and more exclusive until only people of the same party married.  This division led to the creation of different races, where pretty soon all of the creatures could no longer breed together.  Opportunists jumped on this revelation and began to deem some races inferior and others superior.   Forcing some out of Babylon, and into the outskirts to live.  Thus creating a continuum of “upper” creatures and “lower” creatures.  This prejudice led to extreme discrimination. It reached a point where the lower creatures decided to rise against the elite and that was how the Battle of Babylon began.  Millions of lives were taken during the revolution.  The streets were riddled with dead bodies and the smell of death and decay lingered in the air.  And it went on like this until it seemed that the very earth longed for peace and began to tear itself apart.  With the fighting came hurricanes, earthquakes, drought and fires that were catastrophic.  They literally tore the world apart, creating separate continents.  The races were happy that they were able to live oceans away from one another, but also scared of the power of the earth, and so they retired their swords and lived peacefully separate for hundreds of lifetimes.  Of course, as seems to be the nature of the living, generations later, the creatures began to build ships and fight over who should own the water between the lands and inevitably they began to try to take over one another’s continents as well.  So another battle ensued, with more evolved weaponry.  The death count soared as high as the last battle in a matter of days.  The earth once again longed for peace and a cataclysmic unknown force came and ripped the world apart, creating an infinite number of worlds.  Seeing this revelation the creatures chose to leave their continents and claim a new world for themselves. Those that had once lived as brothers chose to be worlds apart.  Seeing this as an opportunity to have ever-lasting peace the soothsayers from every race, decreed that there was to be no travel between the worlds, as this could lead to provoking one another into another war.  Knowing the nature of the living, the soothsayers did not trust that the creatures would remain in their own worlds, so they created a new being.  A new being that would not be motivated by greed or material things, one that would have abundant strength to fight any type of creature, and that, most importantly, could travel between all of the worlds.  This new being was created to police the edges of the worlds, to make sure that no gates were forged or dare be accessed.  They were named the Archers. 
        Created by the soothsayers the Archers were never born but made of the earth itself.  They were given wings so that they would be faster than any other creature.  They were given bows and arrows so that they could defeat any foe.  Each was also given their very own special skill.  Finally, to make them compassionate and not monsters, they were also given the power of choice.  Though they had the power to defeat any enemy they would have to choose to do so.  Only they were able to pass through the worlds at their disposal.  Even the soothsayers were limited to their own world, unless each one agreed that they had to meet and then and only then would there be travel between the worlds.  This has only happened once since the worlds were created, when the first human soothsayer was born, nineteen years ago.  Only those soothsayers that sit on the council live separate from their brethren. 
        The words ended there, even though there were more blank pages in the book.  Harlow flipped through every page, there were at least fifty pages before the back cover, but they were all blank.  Disappointed, she closed the book and thought about what she had read.  So Hendrix and Larken were Archers and they were created not born.  And she was of the same people that had created them. 
        Harlow was relieved that she was in her bathroom because she felt the strong urge to throw up.  As she fought her nausea she began to reflect on the past week.  Seeing Larken for the first time, the incident in the office, and the tutorial from the rabbit that was actually a charm on a necklace were the most notable experiences of Harlow’s life.  Even though she had always thought of herself as different, if nothing more than more sensitive than most, she felt completely off guard.  Usually she would somehow explain unusual instances with logic.  There was always a logically explanation that soothed her somehow.  Being able to explain human behavior with a theory or answer a difficult question with a formula was always comforting for Harlow.  Now however, with the example of the past five days, she had no reasonable answer for any of it.  The answers that were being provided to her were coming from a book whose pages were mostly blank.  Harlow didn’t know what was going on but she was overcome with curiosity and she knew that she was hooked.