The Otherworld was an eerie place, if only to the few mortals who have ever seen it. Like the forests of the United Kingdom, the trees were tall and lush and whispered to each other in a language too ancient for any human to understand. Faint ghost lights glowed here and there, floating about as they pleased. A fog sometimes rolled around, opaque and disorienting, depending on the mood of the Otherworld’s sovereign.
There was no sun in the Otherworld. Everything—the trees, the rocks, the water, the intricate network of towers and platforms that made up a wall-less castle—could be seen only by the light of the four green moons that constantly rotated in the sky.
The Otherworld was a green land of perpetual night, uncomfortable for anyone to be in except the spirits who called it home. Still, when one Ishtar Evans regained consciousness and found herself there, she couldn’t help but be impressed by the seemingly endless forest and the green moons that lit it up.
The circumstances that led to Ishtar waking up in the Otherworld were some entirely outside her control.
On the morning of August 11th 2017, she was woken by her ringing doorbell.
Ishtar had slept as well as anyone can when slumped over their computer desk. Her brain throbbed when she sharply lifted her head, startled by the bell, and she pressed her fingers to her temple to abate it.
After taking a quick glance at her phone, she stood, snatched her glasses up, and grumbled, “Whoever you are, you’d better have a good reason for waking me up at seven in the fucking morning or I’m gonna be drinking blood with my coffee.”
The unwelcome guest turned out to be the postman.
Either oblivious or indifferent to Ishtar’s undisguised irritation, he politely said, “’Morning, Miss. Got a package for Ishtar Evans from Holly Jones. Can you sign for it?”
Ishtar grunted at him, signed the screen of his tablet, and mumbled, “You too,” when he wished her a good day.
What he handed her was an apparently normal bubble-lined envelope.
“Three weeks of no contact and now she’s sending me shit?” Ishtar muttered to herself.
More out of frustration than curiosity, she ripped the top of the envelope off with excessive force. It’s only contents were a note written by Holly’s hand and a necklace.
Ishtar examined the necklace as she walked toward the kitchen. It was very simple—a leather cord with a circular wooden pendant. The wood was probably some kind of oak and appeared to be quite literally bloodstained. Both sides were engraved with a pattern Ishtar recognized as a sigil—the sigil of the Sixth Spirit King, Amaymon.
Ishtar knew immediately that this was not something she should have. She also knew that Holly wouldn’t have sent it to her for no reason, so instead of hastily discarding it, she read the note.
Hello, most precious Ishtar of all precious Ishtars to ever be precious!
I know, it’s been a while. Sorry! I hope you’re remembering to eat and to sleep in your bed. Anyway, I sent you this necklace because—don’t be mad—I may have gotten myself mixed up in a teensy bit of trouble with some jerks and you might get caught in the backlash. Put the necklace on and keep it on at all times, even when you’re showering.
Ishtar did so immediately before reading the rest.
I took precautions to prevent anyone from connecting you to me, but just to be safe, I’ve decided to assign you something like a bodyguard. Her name is Raven. She’s a total grumplepuss, but she’ll protect you. I estimate you’ll meet her around the day you receive this or shortly afterward. Just to warn you, like most birds, she likes pretty and shiny things and tends to just kind of take them when she sees them.
Oh, and Ishtar, unless you absolutely have to, please PLEASE don’t tell your mother! She’ll want to strangle me!
“If anyone’s going to strangle you, it’s going to be me you errant flake!” Ishtar snapped at the paper.
One last thing: I can’t say I’d blame you if you never forgive me for this, but believe me when I say I’m doing the right thing, and no matter what, remember that I love you. More than anything else in all the layers of the universe, I love you.
It would have been reasonable for Ishtar to find this disconcerting, perhaps even worrisome, but all she felt was more irritation. Holly often disappeared for days at a time and got herself mixed up in trouble with some spirit or fae or whatever. She’d never sent Ishtar anything like the sigil of her guardian spirit—a protection charm of some kind, obviously—but this was all well within the spectrum of Holly’s “normal,” so Ishtar felt she could safely roll her eyes and get on with her day.
She flicked the card onto the kitchen counter and started muttering to herself.
“Okay, time for coffee. What did I need to do today? Groceries, post office, recycling…”
She was so absorbed with making sure she didn’t forget anything that she didn’t notice the small creature watching her through the kitchen window from a tree beyond her lawn. She continued to be oblivious to this creature all the way to the bus stop.