I don’t know what amount of time it required for me to understand that the shuttle train never halted, however it was presumably around the time I understood that individuals who had loaded up with me were no longer there. The train should run from Grand Central to Times Square in one stop and something like five minutes. Yet, how since a long time ago had it been… how since a long time ago had it been? I don’t know, I was reading my book. I have a bad habit of daydreaming. As indicated by family legend, I dozed directly through an oddity twister that ripped off our rooftop. The pale blue bright lights on the train, in any case, glinted out with a murmur, and when they returned on, I understood something wasn’t right. The underground darkness had turned the windows into mirrors, and in them was a face with a mischievous grin, complemented by a rakish light in the eyes and a tumble of curly brown hair. Bowie, the deceiver.

He showed up from the window. “We haven’t seen each other in quite a while.”

“I can’t say I’ve missed you much, Bowie,” I admitted, sighing and putting down my book. In response, he burst out laughing.

“All of these marvels I’ve shown you, and you don’t even have a smile for me?” He talked with a ridiculing tone of offense in his voice. “I guess I’ll need to designate this little experience to another person.”

“All right, go ahead. “Don’t worry, I won’t mind.”

He smiled even wider now. “I’m kidding, it’s got to be you.”


“You’re the only one who’s ever done it, and let’s just say I need you to survive.”

He meant that I was the only mortal who had traveled to the realm of the gods and returned both alive and mortal. I did it when I was a girl; it was a complicated situation that I won’t go into now, but Bowie was also involved. He came perilously close to killing me.

“This time, Bowie, I don’t need anything from you. And I’m no longer a child. “Why would I take this chance?”

Bowie evaluated me. “You are no longer a child.” He cocked his head to the side and cupped his fingers around his eyes like a camera lens. “She’s a lovely young lady, I must say.” “Are you looking for a companion?”

“No,” I said flatly.

“OK,” he said with a smile. “I’m not being testy; I’m simply asking.” Anyway, I really want you to recover something taken from me.”

“Go get it for yourself.”

“Oh no, I won’t be able to appear there.” However, you’d be able to sneak in and out without being noticed.”

“Surely there’s another mortal out there longing for experience or needing your help.” “I don’t require anything.” When I looked down at my phone to check the time, the screen displayed Bowie’s sly grin in profile.

Bowie gave me a serious look, as if calculating something, as he always did. “How’s your sister doing, Stella?” “She’s got to be twenty-seven now, am I right?”

I lost all of my breath. What did he intend to do to her?

He narrowed his eyes and formed a playful grin in one corner of his mouth. “Don’t be concerned, love. Your sister is in good health. “I held up my end of the bargain.”

“And I paid a high price for it.” We’re on equal footing.”

He knelt in front of me. I could see the glow of his skin and smell his hair up close; unearthly and unfathomable.

“I can restore your magic.” Stella and you.”

I froze, afraid to breathe. In exchange for Stella’s life, Bowie took our magic. We’d been without it for over a decade. Sometimes I wonder if I had it in my dreams: a memory of fire dancing on my fingertips or chasing Stella across the surface of a lake; ephemeral, slipping away like water in a palm. In me, a gnawing, gaping longing emerged.

“Ah,” Bowie smiled as he stood up. “You’ve lost your magic.” “Sometimes I wonder how any mortal can bear life without it.”

“Magic attracts gods, and all mortals would be better off without it.”

Bowie clutched his chest. “Oh, my poor heart. Come on in and let me show you something.”

He motioned for me to move to the front of the train. It had come to a halt. The front of the train melted away with a dramatic swipe of his hand, revealing the damp entrance to a long tunnel.

“I need you to track down the goddess Badha and recover the emerald she’s guarding.” She is deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafeningly deafening “You’ll be able to go without being noticed,” he said, looking down at me from the corner of his eye.

I gave him a hard stare. “Is it the underworld?” The heavenly gods were present the last time. I’m not going to make it out of the realm of the dead. They won’t let me return to the living.”

“If you reveal your secret name to the guardian, he will allow you to pass alive.”  And if you give me the emerald, I’ll restore your magic to you and your sister.”

“However, my secret name is for my journey into the afterlife.” I can’t say it more than once.”

“That’s nothing but superstition.” Mind you, encouraged by the gods, because your secret name has power, and the gods are aware of it. You can, however, say it more than once. “You have my word on it.”

I turned to face him and stared defiantly into his eyes. “No, I’m sorry. I don’t need the magic, and Stella doesn’t either. Find another person.”

Bowie burst out in laughing. “Phoebe, I had hoped you’d come around on your own. However, in the absence of that, “I landed on my face in the rock and mud after he shoved me through the front of the train. He smiled at me and waved his arm, disappearing himself and the train above my head before I could stand up.

I tried hard to bang on the now-closed wall where Bowie had thrown me, but it didn’t work. If I was going to get out of there, I knew I had to go down this tunnel to find out what was going on. I took out my phone. Dead. In the magical realms, technology didn’t really work. The gods are terrified of it; Google can read our minds better than they can. My eyes needed some time to adjust to the darkness, but once they did, I noticed tiny dots of light embedded in the rock. I landed on the occasional tree root that hung from the tunnel’s roof.

I’m not sure how long I walked, but I knew I’d have to cross a dried up river bed at some point, whether it was minutes, hours, or days later. Water is a powerful element, and its absence can be used to set a trap by a sorcerer or a god. I knelt and placed my ear to the ground. My ears were filled with the whoosh of running water. It’s some sort of underground river. When I pressed my finger into a patch of soft mud beneath a rock, a pearly liquid that resembled a cross between clouded water and honey appeared. The River of No Name, which runs through the center of the earth, was familiar to Stella and me from old stories my grandmother told us. I assumed it would demand payment of some kind. Every enchanted crossing did. But I didn’t have anything on me. I was completely unprepared. I tried my phone because it was the most expensive item I owned. I placed it carefully on the rocks, but the phone launched itself back at me moments later. That was never going to work. I pondered for a few moments before realizing that the river would want my name. I leaned over and whispered, “Phoebe,” but the rocks let out an agitated hiss and rumbled. I cursed Bowie as I wiped my hands on my jeans. The river wanted to know what my secret name was. I was forced to believe Bowie’s claim that my secret name would not lose its power if I said it more than once. I bowed my head even lower this time and said, as quietly as I could, the name spoken to me by my mother the day I was born and written on my heart, Efweth.

Water flowed through the rocks, gold and white and delightful. When it was only a few inches high, it leveled off and drew itself to either side, allowing me to pass over the rocks. I eventually arrived at the tunnel’s end, which was a large, circular cavern with walls made of rocks and mud. The light in the rocks was brighter here, so I could see better. I appeared to be alone. I walked around the room, my hand on the walls, looking for an exit or a hidden door, but I couldn’t find any. I looked up, but whatever was above me was either too high or too dark for me to see.

“All right, Bowie. What exactly am I doing here? “Could you please assist me?”

Just then, a twenty-foot-tall woman with a tangled mass of hair falling over her shoulders descended from the ceiling. She appeared to be old, as old as the earth, but also ageless. When I noticed something that indicated her age, like a wrinkle or grey hair, it would fade away before I could be sure it was there. It’s got to be Badha.

“Bowie? Are you here, you nefarious little imp? I told you I’d rip you to shreds if I saw you again, and it’d take you three millennia to stitch yourself back together.”

I pushed myself up against the wall and held my breath, trying not to make a sound. The goddess took a few steps forward and back, causing the cavern to shake.

“It can’t possibly be Bowie.” He couldn’t possibly be… But who mentioned your name? “Why would anyone bring you up here?”

She moved her arm around the cavern to get a feel for it. I pushed myself even harder against the wall.

“Whoever you are, make yourself known. Another ineffective goblin? Go away, goblin. “I don’t have anything for you here.”

I looked all over her for any sign of an emerald, but there was nothing on her neck, fingers, or hair. She poured herself a drink and sat down, her long legs stretched out in front of her. I was standing next to her massive calf, and if I had wanted to, I could have reached across and grabbed it. She took a sip from her cup and paused, her ear up like a curious dog. She sipped some more and got down on all fours. I had to sprint toward the cavern’s entrance to avoid her as she shifted positions. She then knelt up and placed her ear to the ground.

“I know you’re here, Mortal.”

Bowie, you’re a jerk.

“Tell me, mortal, why you’re here.”

I didn’t say anything or even move an eyelid.

“The river let me know I was mortal.” If you don’t react, I’ll uncover your mystery name. “I don’t completely accept that you need that.”

I wasn’t sure what the ramifications would be; should I call her bluff or respond to her? Everyone in my culture is given a secret name at birth, which our mothers whisper in their left ears at the time of birth. We are not to say anything about it until we die. We were told to keep it safe at all times because the name carries great power that could be used to harm us or someone else.

“Did Bowie dispatch you?”

“Yes,” I mumbled. I was extremely thirsty.

She laughed quietly at first, then loudly enough to shake the walls.

“Tell me, mortal, what he said you ought to get?”

“It’s an emerald.”

She laughed again, wiping her tears from her cheeks.

“My dear Bowie, you know I don’t have that emerald.” “What exactly did he promise you?”

My stomach sank. What had he planned for me?

“Perpetual youth?” Love? Please inform me.” She was still laughing and occasionally coughing.

“He promised to return my magic.”

She had to stop laughing. “Who did it?”

“Bowie, he did.”


“In return for my sister’s life.”

“And you believed him when he promised to return your magic?”

“I’m not sure. I turned him down. When I refused, he threw me here.”

She brought her hand to her chin, as if she was deeply contemplating something.

“I’m apprehensive I don’t have the emerald, dear.” Bowie knows about this.”

“All right, then, I’ll just get out of your hair.”

She laughed. “You’ve entered the realm of the dead.” You are unable to return. You must be aware of this.”

“Bowie stated…”

“Bowie lied,” she said, wiping her blank eyes with tears of laughter. “You are unable to return. And I’m hungry, so come on over.” She swung her arms out again, this time narrowly missing me.

I dashed back to the cavern’s entrance and was about to flee when a tree root ripped from the floor and drew me back. “I told you there’d be no coming back for you, mortal. Bowie nearly killed you. I’m not sure what you did to irritate him.”

I didn’t have any weapons. There is no magic. There is no way out. I shut my eyes and prepared myself for what was to come. I imagined what it would be like to die in the underworld. Then I had a thought. Tree roots lined the cavern’s walls and up into the ceiling, and they were the ones that drew me back in when I tried to escape. I ran away from the root that was holding me, but another root shot out and chased me. I ran back and forth around the cavern, avoiding the roots as I went.

Badha was laughing the entire time. “Mortals generally contend energetically.” It’s such a lot of fun. So, when you’re dead, I’ll be back in a minute.” She stood up, but immediately fell back down as the roots drew her back down. I’d imprisoned her in them. She yanked and yanked on them, breaking a few of them, but they held. I knew they weren’t going to last long, so I made one last move. I jumped up onto the roots, the tips of new ones chasing me, and ran headfirst into her chest, dodging out of the way at the last second. The root didn’t track down me, yet it tracked down Badha’s chest and shot straight through it, out the opposite side.

She screamed and choked. “No, no, no.” This won’t occur.” She yanked at the root in her chest, however at that point she started to break down into the soil underneath her, her tissue, hair, and garments falling into a dust storm.

I was taken aback. I expected to paralyze her rather than kill her. I had no idea what the tree was made of that it could kill a goddess, but I ran out of there as fast as my feet could carry me. The River of No Name parted for me; it had no expectation of receiving a second payment. I climbed back up the tunnel as quickly as I could, falling and tripping along the way. I got to the end of the tunnel, which was still closed.

“Bowie! “Please let me out of here.” I could see the tunnel beginning to crumble as well. The ground beneath my feet would soon be gone. “Let me out, you feckless bastard!”


“”Damn it,” I grumbled, realizing that this was the Guardian and that I needed to tell it my name or I’d fall into the creeping oblivion below. “Efweth,” I said quietly as my adrenaline permitted.

I boarded the shuttle train once more. Bowie sat across from me, legs crossed, smiling as if he could hear a good tune in the distance. My only proof that anything had happened was that I was covered in dirt.

“I’m going to KILL you,” I yelled as I ran over to him and began punching him in the face with my fists. “I’ll kill you. There wasn’t an emerald in sight.”

He smiled as he easily restrained me. “I understand. I needed her dead. “I realized you’d have the option to make it happen.”

My mouth dropped open. “Why? “Why didn’t you just murder her?”

“This is the issue with every one of you supernatural humans who decided to coordinate into society. You missed each and every one of your classes. Heavenly divine beings are not allowed to enter the hidden world. Just people are able. Assuming I went down there, I’d quickly evaporate.”

“Why me?” I asked, My eyes were welling up with tears. “Why? Anybody might have made it happen.”

He shook his head. “No one,” says the narrator. He sat down again in the seat. “It must be an individual of your type.”

“I have no talents,” I sobbed. My shoulders were trembling. “I was just trying to get by.”

“However, most people would not. Most children would not have survived what you went through. No, it had to be you; my apologies.”

He stood up and walked to the train’s door, which I noticed was moving again.

“Here,” he said, reaching into a pocket on his slacks. “Your enchantment.”

“No! “No, please,” I pleaded. “I don’t require it. “Please keep it.”

He smiled again, bigger this time. “I need it from you.”Efweth, I am not yet finished with you.”

“Stand clear of the closing doors, please,” the loudspeaker said, and he snapped his fingers in my direction, stepped out, and vanished into the crowd.

People filed into the train as I wiped my tears away and tucked my hair behind my ears, but even though I was covered in mud and dust, people avoided sitting next to me. I raised my left hand, cupping it around my right forefinger as if to shield it from the wind, and emitted a dancing blue flame from the tip of my finger.

I couldn’t keep myself from grinning.