Chapter 1

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They call him schizo, weird, bat-shit crazy, and delusional (his personal favorite), but he is none of these. They call him a good-for-nothing-lazy-ass-get-a-job-you-bum, but he is actually a hyperkinetic bundle of active energy and has a great job. They tug their children and animals away from him as though he was infected with some mysterious blight that would taint them by close contact, but he was free of disease.

They should've been wondering why their children and animals seemed to gravitate towards him. They should've been wondering who he was whispering too when no one was nearby. They should've been wondering why he manipulated his hands this way and that with many twists and turns. They should've been wondering why he always smiled.

Of course, it was that out of the ordinary and strange peculiar smile that made all the theys think not-so-nice things about him. It wasn't a smile per se. It seemed to me to be a cross between the grin of the Cheshire Cat and an over-exaggerated clown. And when, Abernathy Benjamin Nathaniel Carruthers, MIV found you with his eyes, well, you were drawn to him like butterflies to flower.

Except for me.

There's only been fourCarruthers – it's the given name to a Shielder. Nathaniel Rockmier Getteway from New Zealand was the first, then came Benjamin Wade Johnson from Sedona, Arizona in the United States, then finally Abernathy Giles McDonald from Holyhead, Wales. There had been others like me picked by a Shielder to replace them. Only a special kind of person can take the name Carruthers. You were called and had to pass tests, so it was said, though no one knew what these so-called tests were. Many have been called and only four taken on the name. It seemed strangely peculiar to me.

My name is Willoughby Madison de Eresby. I was chosen, invited, guested, called-doesn't matter what name you give it, Abernathy double-blinked me with his soulful eyes as the one. So, here I am watching magic do its thing around him. I'm being trained as the next one. I come from the English Lancolnshire line of de Eresby's. My family lives near the Tor in Glastonbury. And, if you've heard any tales about the Tor and the Chalice Well and them being magical – well, they're all true.

Being a Shielder is usually a male dominated role and only comes from particular families – ones that are connected to the magical ley lines running throughout the world. My family has a long line of magic running through it. Our family's motto is, verité sans peur - truth without fear. In order to become the Shielder I needed to have no fear and be the source of truth. There is no room for failure, as there have been a lot of them. One thousand and one of them to be exact. And, I didn't intend to be one thousand and two.

I know I'm better than the rest who've come before me. I've had to be since I had the mishap of being born a female to a family who has always had males. When Abernathy paid our family a visit a couple of months ago, Father was shocked. He thought for sure our family would be passed over, because of the lie in our family of truths. Father named me Willoughby and told everyone I was a boy even bringing me up that way. I hit puberty and he bought me a breast binder, cut my hair short, and told me to learn to talk deeper. Which I tried, but it was hard, and I became an introvert because of it. I read a lot. I wanted to know the truths of existence, about the lines, the portals, the magic, and the world far beneath and above the everyday norm, the place of things. Some of us had even traveled to the Fringe in our disposable youthful minds.

Our families never told the ones that had been called directly about the Shielders and the Fringe, but we all soon learned. You hear the whispers of those around you, see their pointed fingers, and feel the taciturn stares of those uncalled. The wind whispers your name in the wee hours of the morn and you wake, gasping because an icy, invisible touch crawls up your skin. Out of the corner of your eyes you see things that make your blood run cold and your heart skip a beat. This...this "thing" that we have that makes us chosen, most call it magic or being touched, but it goes far beyond that. I know this. I've read the begotten journals and the books of magic. I've sat and allowed "them" around me; to touch, cajole, and beg me to be one of them. The power - I could have it if I want it, but I always sat frog-legged style for hours and said nothing.

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