Halfling- Chapter Five

“So it is,” Gareth said, snapping his fingers and the tent disappeared.

Jasmine felt the energy waves as his shield collapsed around them with a shimmering wave, Gareth flinging the energy back out to the universe. She wished she could channel that kind of power, she could feel it resonating in the air. But, his magic wasn’t the only thing she felt in the air.

“Storm’s coming,” she said, shivering. It was going to be a powerful one; she could feel it in her bones. The air was pressed in around them, heavy. The sweat forming on their skin made their clothes stick uncomfortably. She could see the clouds covering the stars in the distance, and knew it wouldn’t be long before it reached them.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a strong one,” Gareth muttered, glancing at the sky and frowning. “We should get going.” He started walking at a quick pace and Jasmine followed. The forest started getting a little less dense, with fewer leaves blocking the expansive sky. She could sense the clouds racing upon them and knew it was only a matter of time before the storm caught up to them. After a bit, she started hearing thunder in the distance and seeing the sparks of lightning.

She felt a single rain drop fall upon her head just before the rain came pouring down, as though someone threw a bucket of water on her. She screeched at the feeling, and was immediately drenched. The wind blew with the force of a hurricane and she had trouble walking. Lightning struck not too far away from them and thunder constantly boomed all around.

“We should set up the tent and wait this out!” Gareth shouted to be heard as lightning struck all around them, relentless flashes lighting up their faces. “It’s dangerous out here!”

Jasmine was looking ahead of them at a steady glow of light. It was yellow, not the white of lightning. “I think there’s a cottage up there!”

Gareth narrowed his eyes to try and see through the rain barraging them and looked to the distance. He seemed to hesitate, and Jasmine could understand why. After all, they had been attacked once already, who knew if whoever was in the cottage could be trusted? She felt a little trepidation in her gut at the thought that it could be someone who wanted to harm them, but she knew Gareth could protect them. He grabbed her hand and all of a sudden they were running through the forest, the wind and rain at their backs, towards the light.

It never seemed to get closer. They ran for a long time, and finally stopped for a moment, catching their breath. Jasmine’s legs felt like jelly, threatening to give out. She felt exhausted after walking for the last few nights and the run they had just endured. Gareth was used to it, she wasn’t. She rested a hand on a tree trunk and leaned over a little, the rain pelting on her back. Her hair and her dress felt heavy with the wetness.

“Are you okay?” Gareth shouted into her ear, the thunder crackling above their heads and echoing off the trees.

Jasmine slowly shook her head, feeling sick to her stomach and dizzy from the run. She put her other arm across her stomach, as though trying to force the sick feeling away. She tried straightening up, but the world went black and she saw nothing more.

 

Gareth sighed as Jasmine fainted. He easily caught her and swept her up into his arms, placing her head against his chest to shield as much of the rain as possible. He started walking towards the light again, wondering why it had never gotten closer. After walking for about twenty minutes, he realized that now, the light was indeed closer. He squinted his eyes and shifted her a little in his arms, finally beginning to feel a little weary. Thankfully, the cottage didn’t seem that far away now. As he approached, he saw that it was made of stones with a straw roof, but the rain never touched the building. There was a circle around it, the rain falling on top and sliding down.

He stopped and stood just outside the shield and felt the wildness of the magic. He knew it wasn’t halfling magic, and it wasn’t like any magic he had ever felt before. The shield shimmered a dark blue, indigo color. He wasn’t sure if this unknown energy would harm them or not. As he contemplated it and assessed the danger of such unpredictable magic, the shield fell. The wild magic went back into several places and he paused before cautiously stepping over the threshold. The shield went back up and he walked towards the door, made of wooden planks. It opened as he approached. Again, he hesitated. He didn’t know who or what this was, but he could feel warmth radiating from inside and smelled fire. He prepared himself to defend the both of them if whatever lay inside were to harm.

He carefully walked through the doorway, making sure he didn’t bump Jasmine into anything. He stopped just inside and looked around, sensing no immediate danger, surprised. Instead of a traditional fae dwelling, it was much more modern inside, reminiscent of human settings.

The floor was made of oak planks and there were paintings of wildlife on the walls. There was a brown leather couch that was worn yet beautiful with its age, and two large leather chairs facing a fireplace made of brick, with a fire blazing. In front of the fireplace there was a rug with many colors. On the back of the couch a white blanket was hung, looking soft and warm. There was a bookcase along one wall, holding rows and rows of leather bound books, some more worn than others.

On the other side of the room, a staircase with no banister went upstairs to a second level, and a kitchen in front of it. There were counters on three sides, the fourth left open to walk in and out. In the center of the kitchen, an island with a large caldron sat upon the counter, a few of the more worn books lay open surrounding it. There were several jars full of various dried herbs and flowers, and fresh herbs were drying from the ceiling, hanging upside down. Some of these jars were also near the caldron. The kitchen was decorated in hues of green, mostly a mint green. There was a table on the other side of the counter was a round oak table with four chairs. In the center of the table sat a vase of salmon colored roses.

He didn’t see anyone occupying the house, but he knew someone was there. As the thought consciously came to his mind, a musical, feminine voice rang out, “I’ve been waiting for you.”

He nearly dropped Jasmine, startled.

“What took you so long?” He looked around, but didn’t see anyone. The voice seemed as though it were coming from everywhere. He looked left, then right, sweeping the room.

“You can put her on the couch.” The voice came from directly in front of him, and all of a sudden she was there. He took a step back, furrowing his eyebrows. Where had she come from? He nearly sent out a wave of energy at her, but stopped himself. After all, no harm had been threatened upon himself or Jasmine, and he was in this stranger’s home.

The woman that stood before him had waist length hair that was blonde, streaked with grey. Her eyes were bright blue, nearly electrified. They shone with magic, probably from keeping her shield up. Her skin was fair and her face a little round. Although she had grey in her hair, she appeared young, with only wrinkles at the creases of her eyes. She was a bit short, and curvy. She held her delicate hands in front of her, clasped together. She wore a maroon dress with the sleeves belling out has they reached her hands, the skirts just barely whispering upon the floor. She unclasped her hands and gestured towards the couch.

Still unsure of this woman, Gareth walked over to the couch and carefully laid Jasmine down, folding her arms at her stomach. The wetness of her dress made it seem black instead of the violet it was. He swept up her hair and laid it over the arm of the couch to dry. Making sure Jasmine looked comfortable, he turned back to the woman at the doorway, but she was gone. He looked all around him, but didn’t see her. He frowned. He didn’t like these tricks. He tensed up, preparing for defense. “Hello?”

“Over here, dear,” he heard from the other end of the room. He looked again and saw her sitting at the table. She had her arms on the table, her hands clasped in front of her. He walked to the table and sat across from her. He mirrored her position. She cocked her head and gazed at him, as though studying him.

“Who are you? What kind of creature are you?” Gareth asked, but his questions were met with silence. She said nothing, just looking at him. “What is your name?” A loud boom of thunder sounded just above the house and Gareth jumped, the strange woman staying still, speaking of his unease. An uncomfortable feeling spread throughout his body, and he again wondered if it was a good idea to be in the cottage.

He suddenly felt her intruding on his psyche. He tried forcing her out, but she was persistent and he felt like he had no power. Panicked, he nearly jumped out of the chair, but found that he couldn’t move. He sensed her feeling his magic and capabilities. He felt her reaching into his spirit and examining its contents. He suddenly knew what it was like for Jasmine to feel so intruded upon, and felt a little guilty, even though he knew it was a necessity.

The woman smiled then, and left him. He took a deep breath as power returned to him. “My name is Marianna. And I’ve brought you here.”

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Halfling- Chapter Four

Gareth saw the tears as Jasmine lowered her head a little. Quietly pushing himself off the bed, he silently crept out of the tent. He walked to the edge of the shimmering shield, and stood there with his feet slightly spread and his arms crossed over his chest, watching the remaining minutes of the sunset. He knew she needed a minute to gather her thoughts and emotions. It wasn’t as hard to keep from taking her negative energy as he made it seem. He barely felt it, but he still needed her to think that it was dangerous around him. He didn’t want any other halfling to track her from her powerful emotions. He was already worried enough because of the attack earlier. He wondered how they had found them. Were they still on his tail? He hoped they had walked far enough from the attack.

He thought about his words to a dying man. I promise to protect her, always. It had become increasingly difficult to protect her, especially since Jasmine had come to be on the queen’s radar. He wasn’t sure how it had happened yet, but as soon as he knew, the leak would be destroyed. Gareth had always known where Jasmine had settled and created a home, but the queen didn’t know that. If she ever found out, about that and so much more, the entire world would be in trouble. He just needed time.

He hoped his tactic of making her feel at ease with him was working. He needed her to trust him, everything depended on it. He was frustrated at not being able to tell her anything, but he needed to keep his secrets for now. He needed the queen to know that he was on her side. He took a deep breath as he thought about how complicated it was becoming. But, he had known that it would. He had always known, ever since he had joined the Resistance and made a pact with a dying man about keeping his very special daughter safe. Jasmine was unaware of the full potential of her powers, and she needed to stay oblivious for a while longer.

Gareth flexed his magical muscle, testing his shield, prodding it for weakness. He gazed at the emerging stars and reached out to feel their power. It was quite heady, but he’d practiced channeling it for decades. He centered his chi and became one with the universe; feeling bits of himself spiderweb out and come back as one. He felt stronger, rejuvenated from the attack the previous night. He saw everything as he released the magic out into the universe again, even the stars that nearly anyone else couldn’t see. He quietly contemplated his plan, pinning all his hopes on whether or not Jasmine would trust him at the end. He would have to do some things that seemed like he wasn’t on her side, and he hoped that she would see past that, knowing he had no choice.

The Resistance had started when generations of full blooded halflings bred with full blooded fae, creating a race of mixed blood. With each generation, the halflings were less inclined to feed off of negative energy, and more inclined to give energy back as they manipulated it. They also weren’t as evil or twisted, and Gareth was fifth generation mixed. His father was part fae part halfling, and his mother had been full-blooded fae. The fact that he could pull energy from the universe was unique; there was only one other who could. This was why Jasmine was to be protected at all costs, even his own life.

Jasmine’s father, Brock, had joined the Resistance, an assortment of mixed blood and full blooded fae working together to plan an attack against the queen and the other full blooded halflings at her side, when he found out just how special his daughter was. He had repeatedly warned Jasmine that she could never let anyone know how powerful her magic was and had started working with her. Brock and Gareth had gotten quite close during their work with the Resistance, as Gareth had been telling Brock how to train his daughter. The queen had found out about Jasmine though, and he had never been able to find out who the traitor was. She had dispatched a team to murder everyone in the village but Jasmine.

The queen knew of Gareth’s powers, and frequently used him to her advantage. He was her number one. He had let this happen, strategically letting himself get close to her. He shivered at the atrocities he’d had to commit over the long years. Thinking about that night, he had been terrified that someone else would get to Brock and his family before he could. He had sighed in relief when he felt the field in place around the home. He kept an eye on the house as he attacked the others in the village. When it finally went down, he knew that Brock was dying, and too weak to keep it up. He’d shouted that he had this house, and ran inside.

Brock’s wife and other daughter had screamed, but Brock had reached out with a hand, looking old and lying on the floor. He’d whispered in Gareth’s ear. “Keep Gabriella and Aria safe. Take them through the trap door and bring them to the Resistance. They don’t know anything, you must tell them. You have to gain their trust.”

His heart in his throat, Gareth dared ask, “And Jasmine?”

“She’s safe, out of the village, through the trap door. You have to protect her. Do whatever you must, but she has to stay safe,” Brock had said fiercely, gripping Gareth’s hand tight. He could feel the older man fading. He made his promise just before Brock had died, and squeezed his hand. Brock had bowed his head over the clasped hands for just a moment, mourning his dear friend, but he knew he didn’t have time. He’d told the women that they could trust him, and he led them to the trap door and whisked them away to the Resistance, leaving them, in safe hands. He doubled back and tracked Jasmine, his senses taking more in than others could.

With his mixed blood, he could perform both light and dark magic, and he kept himself surrounded in darkness so she never knew she was being followed. He had been able to feel her fear and he mourned for her, and for himself. He knew that she wouldn’t be able to keep working on her magic to bring it to its full potential, so she thought all she knew was all that she had. He followed her until she was a safe distance away and she had set up a house. He went back to the queen, reporting that the trail had fallen cold. For decades, he checked in on her every once in a while. He had been plotting how to get Jasmine to the Resistance when the queen had summoned him, to follow a lead on where she was in hiding, and to bring the girl to her if she was in fact there.

Gareth had worked furiously for months, on a plan to get Jasmine to the queen first, and then to get her to the Resistance. The last six months, he’d watched her, making sure no one else claimed the bounty on her head, to bring her to the queen alive. He had staved off a few attacks without her knowledge. He was also working on trying to figure out who had betrayed Jasmine’s location. He didn’t think it was just by chance someone had stumbled upon her. The Resistance kept growing in numbers, and there was a healthy number who knew about Jasmine and her power because it was so important to the cause. He didn’t think the queen knew about the Resistance, but one could never be certain just what she knew.

He ran a hand through his shoulder length black hair, placing his hands on his hips. There were more stars out now, and Gareth just looked at them, thinking about the woman in the tent, crying over her perceived loss of her mother and sister. He wanted to tell her that they were okay, but he couldn’t, he could only hint that there were some that are okay. The less she knew right now the better. He felt her loss as his own, and he hoped he could keep his feelings for her at bay when he had to do necessary evil. Over the years, he had grown so fond of her, and attached, but only from a distance. He could only hope that this didn’t cloud his judgment.

Yes, everything was certainly complicated when he thought about his feelings for Jasmine, never mind the fact that he had to give her to the queen and then get her back. It was only one more wrench to throw into the cogs, he sighed. Gareth felt her poking his energy, and knew that she realized he was no longer in the tent, giving her privacy. He had needed this time as well, to reflect and remember, and think. He looked out at the limitless sky, wishing his choices weren’t so limited. He wished he could take Jasmine straight to the Resistance, but he needed the queen to still think that he was on her side. The stars were shining and the moon was glowing; he could feel the power, always tugging on his consciousness.

He shifted when he heard the rustle of the tent flap, as her heard her bare feet slowly walk to where he stood. He didn’t turn to look at her, not knowing what kind of emotion would be on her beautiful face. He could feel a little sadness coming from her, but he also felt strength, and he didn’t know what he would see. She stopped beside him at the edge of the force field, looking at the same sky. They were silent, both contemplating the universe and everything it held. He wanted to tell her everything in that moment, but he held back and held onto his silence. It almost seemed like a magical moment between them, and he hated to break it.

He heard her sigh, and wondered what she was thinking. She didn’t speak, and he almost wished she would, if only to tell him what was on her mind. They stood for a while longer before Jasmine spoke first.

“It’s night.”

Halfling- Chapter Three

Jasmine woke and stretched the sleep from her body, curling her toes and stretching her arms over her head. Without even opening her eyes, she knew that Gareth was watching her. She felt safe in this tent with him. It was so strange to be comfortable in the presence of a halfling.

She didn’t open her eyes as she asked, “Why are you so different from other halflings?”

Gareth chuckled a little. “I can’t tell you that yet.”

Jasmine growled in frustration and he laughed. “Well, can you tell me how you pull energy from the universe?”

He was quiet a moment. “No, I can’t tell you that either. I will, but not yet.”

She pursed her lips in annoyance, both at the non-answers, but also at the fact that he was amused by her frustration.

“Your lips look better when you’re smiling,” he interrupted her thoughts.

“You haven’t seen me smile!” She exclaimed, her eyes flying open to look at him. She had been anything but happy on this trip through the woods. His eyes glowed a little, and she saw a moment of that hunger again.

“Yes, I have. You smiled in your sleep,” he grinned, a couple of dimples showing in the corners of his mouth.

Jasmine knew he watched her, but once again she felt violated that he had been watching her sleep. She gasped, mouth hanging open. She narrowed her eyes at him, and she sensed a habit forming in the action.

“Ah, I could get used to your mouth being like that too. Just a little more closed…” Gareth said, letting the sentence wander off, watching her with lazy eyes.

She closed her mouth and pursed her lips. She wondered why he was coming onto her. The halflings had, after all, started a war with the fae. There was hate on one side of the table, and fear on the other, two feelings that didn’t mesh well. However, Gareth was definitely different from others of his kind, and she didn’t fear him. Still, it wasn’t a good idea to carry on flirtations with her captor.

Gareth chuckled again, letting his eyes wander over her body. She blushed at his gaze, and wished she could escape it. “What are you doing?” She finally burst out, wanting him to stop his advances and looks.

“Just appreciating the view,” he said with a wolfish grin.

“Well, I don’t appreciate your appreciation, or you watching me sleep,” Jasmine bit out, irritated. This wasn’t what she had in mind when she had agreed to go along.

“Well, we have a little while until the sun goes down,” he said.

“I hate that we have to travel at night,” she pouted.

“What do you mean? You went on a walk every night.”

“How do you know that?” She was outraged that he knew so much about her.

“Calm down. And because I’ve been watching you for a long time,” Gareth said.

“How long, exactly?” She was miffed at this confession, not liking the feeling of unease spreading in her gut. How long had the queen had surveillance on her? Why was she so interested in her? Jasmine didn’t think she was anything special, or that her magic was that out of the ordinary.

“About six months,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders. “And don’t get mad,” he warned.

She only gaped at him. Six months? How could she have ever felt relaxed with this creature? She shifted uncomfortably in her ankle-length, deep purple gown and rearranged her skirts. It was light as air the way it barely grazed her skin. She carefully reigned in her emotions, taking a deep breath in and breathing out through her nose. The ache she felt within her to practice magic kept growing, and she felt an emptiness settle in around her.

Gareth frowned at her. “I know that you want to rearrange energy and use your magic, but I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.”

Jasmine frowned as well, her brow furrowing. “I know,” she whispered, looking down at her hands. She just wanted to be able to feel the vibrations in the earth again, like all fae could. Feel the magic dance inside as she redirected it, and the glow from releasing it. She sighed and bit her lip, wondering how the captured the fae taken after the war dealt with the feeling. She voiced the question to Gareth.

“They…went mad. The hollowness was too much for them to take. Some lasted longer than others, of course, but, all the same,” he seemed uncomfortable answering, taking his eyes off hers.

“What happened to them? Are they still prisoners?”

Gareth shifted, coughing, his black clothing faintly rustling. “They were executed,” his voice took a hard edge, as though steeling even himself to saying it out loud.

Jasmine gasped. “All of them?” She mourned, wondering if there was any of her friends or family left in hiding, somewhere. The memories were still so painful, she hardly ever let herself remember.

“All of the fae that were seized, yes. But, I’m sure there’s plenty of them left out there, in hiding,” Gareth said, seeming to read her mind again, nearly comforting her.

She remembered that night, and a physical pain gripped her, wracking her heart. A few tears spilled from her eyes. She could smell the village burning, the homes of everyone she loved on fire. Her father had put up a force field that had been weakened, she could feel it. With every hit from the halflings, the shield was weakening, her father along with it, as he poured more and more energy into the shield. She heard the screams, fae yelling for help, defenseless as the invading halflings sucked their energy and magic away. She heard the clangs of swords as they tried to fight their way out, but they were surrounded. Jasmine never dared to look out the window, the glow from the flames and shouts, the absence of fae magic enough to tell her all she needed to know. Her mother was crying as her younger sister tried to console her. They all knew it was only matter of time, and their own home was silent, save for the sobbing. They listened to the fight for many hours, until her father pulled her aside.

“Jasmine,” he had whispered urgently. “You must leave this place. You are too important to stay here and be slain like us. Your magic is too great to wither away like myself. You have to leave us, and I can’t hold on much longer.” Jasmine had been able to feel her father’s weakening magic and spirit, and had felt great sorrow as her father’s energy and being was withering away before her.

“I can’t leave you! Any of you!” She had exclaimed, her body shaking with fear, grabbing ahold of her father’s arms, falling to her knees. The thought had felt like it was more than she could ever bear, leaving her family behind to surely die.

He had pulled her up, shaking her a few times. “Jasmine, listen to me! You must!”

She had bowed her head. “But how? We are surrounded.”

“There is a trap door under your bed. Move it, and you will see. Take the tunnel out to the woods, and run. Run like you’ve never run before,” her father had said. “Never stop running, there is no place far enough to be safe from these monsters.”

Tears had fallen down her cheeks, clouding her vision. Her father had gently wiped them away. With a great sigh, she gazed at her mother and sister, comforting each other, for a few moments before turning back to her father. She’d embraced him, never wanting to let go. She could smell his magic as she had held on tight.

He had forced her away from him. “Go! Now!” She turned and ran to her bedroom, moving her bed, and saw a trap door she had never seen before. She quickly opened it and jumped down into darkness. She’d heard the scraping of the bed as her father had moved the bed back into position. She had stood there for a few minutes, breathless. She had been afraid, pausing to let the terror claw at her until there was nothing left. If she didn’t move, she had known the halflings would find her, just under the trap door, from the resonance of fear itself. She took a moment to mentally say goodbye to her family, and everyone she cared about, more tears running down her cheeks. Taking a deep breath and clearing her mind, she had then run as fast as her feet would take her, her eyes adjusting to the darkness, the beating of her heart threatening to burst right out of her chest. She hadn’t allowed any more tears to fall as she ran, her skirts flapping behind her.

Jasmine shook herself, taking a deep breath and forcing the awful memory from her present mind. She touched her face and felt wetness on her cheeks. She wiped them away. “Is it night yet?” She sniffled. When she didn’t hear an answer, she looked towards Gareth, only to find that he wasn’t in the tent with her. She reached out, and knew he was close. She more thoroughly wiped the tears from her face as she took a deep breath. The hole in her chest was a little wider as she remembered her family and all that she had lost that night. She had been pretty young, only 50 years old. She had just been coming into her power, and her father had been working with her on them, as was tradition with the fae, who lived to be very old, usually 500 years or more.

She knew that Gareth had given her some semblance of privacy as she became emotional, and she silently thanked him. She didn’t want to break down in front of him, or anyone else. She steeled herself and forced everything from her mind except for her current predicament. Gareth seemed trustworthy enough, but she knew that once she was in the presence of the queen, everything was over. She tried thinking of ways she could reclaim her magic from the halfling outside, and escape.

Halfling- Chapter Two

Jasmine slowly came to her surroundings as she awoke. She opened her eyes to see Gareth watching at her. Alarmed, she tried to pull energy from around her as an instant defensive action. She quickly realized that she couldn’t and stopped trying. The look on his tan face was a little odd, she thought. It almost looked as though he was amused.

“Why are you staring at me?” She felt invaded again, a sensation that she was getting used to having around him.

“Making sure you don’t do anything stupid,” he replied in a lazy voice, still gazing at her with his piercing hazel eyes. She thought he looked nearly attractive, for a halfling. He was very masculine with short dirty blonde hair and his face was clearly defined with angles. She looked away before he thought she was staring at him.

She glanced around the tent. “Where are the other two?”

“They are gone,” he said dismissively.

“Where?”

“I no longer need them. I only needed them in case you gave me trouble. You came along willingly. Besides, I’m not having any trouble controlling your magic,” he said simply.

Jasmine hissed, narrowing her eyes. She knew her magic was strong, how could he possibly keep control over it? Gareth breathed in, tasting her anger, but not taking it, a smile of satisfaction spread across his face.

“Settle yourself, little woman,” he said calmly. How could he have such control over himself? Halflings were not creatures that had the ability to harness their control over their need to eat the negative emotions within others. A shiver of apprehension came over her as she realized that this halfling was different. He could indeed control her magic if he could control the urges he must feel within himself.

He felt her energy shift but he didn’t take any. Jasmine pursed her lips, trying to calm her thudding heart. There was nothing she could do to get out of this situation. She certainly could never overpower him, he stood a foot taller than her five foot frame, and his large chest and arms spoke of his physical strength. Without her magic, she was powerless. She had gone with willingly, but still, she felt defeated.

“It’s almost night,” Gareth whispered, closing his eyes. She could tell that he could feel the encroaching darkness within him, just as she felt the earth. She could understand, a little bit. She felt light, he felt dark. It was opposite, but the same. She could feel the night coming too, but not like he could. They walked out of the tent to twilight and the tent disappeared with a snap of Gareth’s fingers, disappearing into the darkness. Jasmine shivered at the energy waves in the atmosphere.

She glanced wistfully around her. She craved practicing her own magic, taking and giving back. The other difference between fae and halflings was that halflings don’t give back what they take. She absentmindedly shook her head. An abomination to the fae race. She felt sadness at what was lost.

“I have an immense amount of self-control, but you must stop changing your emotions,” Gareth growled.

Jasmine immediately started controlling herself. After all, she didn’t know this creature or just how much control he had before he would start draining her energy.

“That’s better. Let’s go,” he said, and started walking through the forest. The scenery started changing as they walked in silence. There was a little less life than in her forest, and Jasmine grieved a little for the loss. She knew the closer they got to the castle, the less life there would be, until everything was dead. The concentration of halflings drained the life out of the surrounding areas.

There were a few dead trees here and there, the bark turned black. She felt the absence of magic in these dead things, and a small ache panged her chest. The leaves were smaller on the living trees, and a little less green. The heavy heat of the night made her sweat and she gathered her hair into a knot at the top of her head. She caught Gareth gaze at her from the corner of his eye when she did this.

“What?” She snapped, the heat making her cranky.

“Nothing. Just that for a fae, you’re attractive,” he smirked.

Jasmine scoffed on the outside, but wondered if he had caught her looking at him earlier. What kind of thing was that to say anyway? Halflings were an abomination, things that were dark and twisted. Jasmine had to admit though, that Gareth didn’t seem as dark and twisted as other halflings. She wondered why he was so different. She could sense a little lightness in him, but it wasn’t much.

“Stop reaching out to my energy,” he said a little gruffly.

Jasmine abruptly stopped reading him, embarrassed. It was intrusive to read someone’s energy, and she sheepishly apologized. She thought she saw the corner of his lips briefly tug upwards, trying not to smile. They trudged along in the dying forest. Through the branches of the dead trees she could glance up and see the stars. She wondered what was out there, if this was all there was in the universe.

Gareth stopped. She was about to ask why when he held a finger to his lips. The question died on her lips. He opened his arms to the air and turned his palms to the sky. He pulled energy from the universe in a way that Jasmine had never felt before. She gasped as he put up a force field around them that glimmered dark purple. She felt vibrations in the earth as it sensed the foreign power. She took a small step away as she saw the raw power emitting from him. He glowed from it. Even with this amazing show of magic, he maintained his control over hers without mixing them with what he was doing now. She wondered why he had put up this force field, but she was answered not long after when she eyes glowing in the darkness.

She gasped, now wanting to be closer to this halfling. Instinctively, she knew that he would protect her. This is why he had brought up the field. One of the eyes stepped forward and revealed himself.

“Give us the fae,” the creature rasped.

“I have claimed her, and I am taking her to the queen,” Gareth responded. “Leave us, or you will face the consequences.” His voice had changed, it was now harsh.

“We will have her! She will belong to us!” The halfling pulled the darkness into itself and shoved the energy into the field surrounding Jasmine and Gareth. It was a hard hit, and Jasmine felt the vibrations echo off of the field. She hoped it wouldn’t break, and it seemed like eons until the attack of energy finally wore itself off and stopped. She breathed a sigh of relief. Gareth’s field was strong, created by the stars above, rather than the darkness. She marveled at the power, and hoped to ask him about it once they were out of danger. She questioned why they wanted her. It seemed like everyone was after her.

Gareth pulled from the darkness this time, and stored a massive amount of power in his body, letting it build. Jasmine could feel it without trying. While he was building his magic, another attack hit the shining violet bubble they were in. She felt confident in it now, knowing that she would be safe. Even with the number of eyes peering at her from the darkness, she knew that Gareth’s power surpassed theirs. Maybe that’s why they had attacked with so many of them; they needed the combined power to stand up to him.

He finally released the power he had allowed to build within himself, and she was shocked at its brutality, even though she had felt it. She heard the shrieks of the halflings shrouded in the dark as the attack hit them. Even though he had just released the attack, he started gathering energy again. She was stunned at this. Wasn’t he getting tired? He let go of the second attack, and she could see them retreating. There was only one pair of glowing eyes left.

“We will be back,” the creature hissed, before running off into the night.

Gareth didn’t take down the field. Instead, he stood there, with his hands clenched. She knew this was not the time to ask questions or even speak. She stood there silently, watching his chest heave with his breathlessness. It seemed like a long time before some sense of normality returned to him. Jasmine felt like hours had passed. He snapped out of his trance.

“Are you okay?” She heard the weary note in his tone, understanding that he was more tired than he showed.

“Yes,” she said in her soft voice. With trepidation, she asked, “Why did they want me? If the queen had already sent for me, and you’re here, why are they after me?”

Gareth looked into her eyes, and she could see the faint glow of some remaining energy in his eyes. They looked wildly attractive to her, but she stopped that thought in its tracks. Why was she thinking this?

“It’s not something we are going to discuss right now, but I will tell you, given time.” He took down the field, and she felt the rush of power go back out to the universe. She gasped. He had given it back! He smirked at her and raised an eyebrow, as though challenging her to speak her thoughts. She narrowed her eyes and he laughed. It was odd hearing a halfling laugh. From what she remembered, they didn’t have any kind of sense of humor. This creature was proving to be something that wasn’t expected. His laugh was actually pleasant sounding. Then Jasmine frowned, displeased at where her thoughts were going.

“Let’s go, we’re behind schedule now,” he said, looking amused. He turned on his heel and she followed, wanting to complain of weariness. She couldn’t help but notice how different he was from even the halflings that had just attacked them. They were cold, and she felt a bit of warmth coming from Gareth. She frowned to herself as she realized she was actually starting to like this creature. She knew she should feel disgusted, but somehow she wasn’t. She warned herself to be careful around him, even though she trusted him with her life now.

Gareth was a man of few words as they walked. It had been so long that Jasmine had conversed, mostly only with Sampson. She felt a pang of sadness for her poor beast, slain in the grass, by the cottage she knew she would never see again. She knew though, that if she started conversing with this halfling, she would like him even more. She felt that fact in her bones.

Jasmine felt dawn coming on, as did Gareth. With a snap of his fingers, the tent appeared once again. She felt him pull from the heavens again as he created the same violet force field around them. She shivered at his power and he grinned at her reaction. She turned on her heel and entered the tent, sitting on one of the beds with her arms folded across her chest as she fumed at him. Not only for showing off, but also for controlling her magic so tightly. The longer she went without it, the bigger the ache within her grew. She felt in emptiness inside, one that she had been avoiding trying to feel.

“I’m sorry,” the sentiment rattled her from her thoughts. She hadn’t realized he was inside, watching her. “I wish I could let you use a little bit, but I can’t. I hope you understand that. You came with me willingly.”

“I know,” Jasmine sighed, lying back on the bed. “That doesn’t make me feel any better about it. I didn’t have a choice.”

She heard him breathe in, as though he was going to say something, but he paused. “I….can’t really tell you anything, right now. For that I apologize. But, for now, you’re just going to have to trust me.”

She pondered his words for a moment. “Okay,” she acquiesced. “But it had better be soon you speak up, because this secrecy is killing me.”

Gareth laughed. Jasmine gazed up at him. He was looking at her with a sort of hunger, but it was just barely on the surface. He didn’t let it show for long, but it had been there. She bit her lip, wondering what was happening.

“I promise, you will know. But I think you do trust me, because I could see it when you let me protect you tonight.”

Jasmine said nothing, only nodded once and turned to her side, trying to fall asleep, knowing his eyes were on her.

Halfling- Chapter One

The night was warm and a bit stuffy, but that didn’t stop Jasmine from her walk. It was dangerous walking through the forest at night, but that didn’t stop her either. It never had, and it never would. Hearing the trees softly whisper to each other and seeing the animals carefully creep about was more than worth it. She knew the dangerous creatures that roamed the night, but she was unafraid.

She made her way around the well-trodden path, occasionally dipping her head for low-laying branches. The air was thick and she reveled in it. A slight breeze raised as the trees greeted her, making her shiver at the current on her hot skin. She smiled in return and lightly grazed some leaves as she passed by, her own greeting. Her fingertips left a light green glowing path, slowly fading away after a few moments.

Jasmine’s peridot eyes glimmered in the darkness. She knew she was easily spotted, but she was confident. She got to her destination and simply stood there for a moment, closing her eyes, tuning in with everything around her. She felt the vibrations in the earth beneath her feet, heard the light crunch of leaves as foxes and mice scurried about, smelled the bark of the trees. She held her hands out, welcoming every sensation to her tingling fingertips. A smile crossed her full lips as she tilted her heart-shaped face to the sky, her waist-length fire red hair dangling in waves. She spun in a couple of circles before she let her arms fall at her sides and tilted her head back.

She felt the power building deep within herself, a warm tickling spreading throughout her sinews and filling every crevice of her being. She drew from the resources around her, taking energy. She opened her eyes, and they glowed even brighter. They saw everything; the veins on the leaves of a tree a hundred yards away, a single hair on a fox, a drop of water falling from the sky. She let the power completely fill her, and held it for a few minutes, harnessing. Her pale skin shone from the magic within her.

She closed her eyes again, and prepared herself. With a great thrust of her mind, she shoved all of the energy she had taken back into the earth. A glorious shower of light rain started falling from the sky. It felt so refreshing Jasmine danced a little in the rain and jumped up and down, clapping her hands, ecstatic with her show of magic. She took a seat on the log she frequented every night, and just let the rain pour down on her. It was cool and refreshing, changing the night air from heavy to light. She smiled, embracing the water soaking her midnight blue gown and wetting her hair.

She sat in the rain for quite some time, unaware of the piercing hazel eyes following her every move, shrouded in darkness. He kept his invisibility so she couldn’t see him or feel his presence. When she finally got up and walked away from her celebrated spot in the forest, the cloaked figure followed her.

Jasmine traced paths with her fingers, leaving glowing trails where she touched leaves and the bark of trees. This was her forest, and she was unafraid to leave her mark. She was also confident in her powers to keep an attack at bay and escape. They could never catch her. She lazily wandered back to her house at the edge of the trees. It was made of mud and sticks, and had worked perfectly fine for nearly a century. She didn’t bother looking around her before tracing a pattern in the air to release the force field surrounding her home. She felt the energy waves as the field dropped. She stepped over the circle and retraced the air, putting the field into place once more.

She opened the door made of bark and greeted Sampson, her faithful pet dog, a large huskie with bright blue eyes. She knew the heat of the air had taken a toll on him as she saw his empty water dish. She placed the bowl outside to catch some fresh rain for him and rubbed his head as he lapped up the water. Jasmine yawned, a bit tired after all of her energy work in the forest. She climbed into her bed made of branches and leaves, much like a birds nest. She curled up on her side, her hand under her chin. After a bit, Sampson joined her, resting his head on her hip. She fell asleep and dreamed of the rain.

Jasmine jerked awake, certain something was wrong. She couldn’t feel Sampson’s presence anywhere. She panicked and reached out to test her force field, gasping when it was gone. The door was open and she smelled death. She quickly rose to her feet, reaching out for energy. She couldn’t feel it and she started shaking with fear. The halflings had weakened her defenses and she was powerless. They were sucking the energy from her home. She would hold her head high, she would not be weak. Her palms flat at her sides, her back straight, and her head held high, she started walking out of her house.

A small tremor of dread racked her body as she stopped in front of three cloaked halflings before she could help herself. She knew she could do nothing against these creatures of death and destruction, just as she hadn’t been able to a century and a half ago. She was their prisoner. Jasmine had foolishly thought herself safe, thinking that they hadn’t tracked her. She didn’t think that they would want to.

“We’ve been searching for you, fae,” the middle halfling said, his deep voice making her shudder. It was the voice of evil. Strangely enough, the hazel eyes didn’t look evil like other halflings. Still, Jasmine began to feel afraid.

“Why? The war has been over for decades,” Jasmine said, trying to keep her soft voice strong.

“That is not for us to say,” he replied. “You must talk to the queen.”

Jasmine felt a rush of fear stab her heart, rushing through her body. The queen was the last creature on earth she would ever want to see. The horror of being taken to the queen of halflings made her dread what was to come. She knew it was a mistake to feel afraid when the two halflings on the ends hissed. She felt them draining her energy, drinking in her fear, which made her panic even more.

“Enough,” the middle one said firmly. “We are not to drain her.”

The two stopped feeding off her but she could tell they wanted more. The middle halfling had more control, she felt him resisting taking her energy. Gathering all the strength she could muster, Jasmine said, “I will go with you willingly.” She didn’t have a choice, but going willingly would make it easier on her.

“Good. My name is Gareth. I will escort you,” the middle halfling said, gesturing for her to join him. She took a deep breath and fell into step next to him, the other two walking behind her. Her eyes filled with tears as she saw Sampson, lifeless, on the red-stained grass.

“A necessity,” Gareth stated no remorse in his voice. Jasmine said nothing in reply, knowing Sampson would have defended her to his last breath. She only walked on, crossing the threshold of her circle, desperately wanting to trace her pattern in the air, reinforcing it, but she knew she had no power with these halflings.

As they walked through the forest, Jasmine contemplated the past, longing to trace the leaves as she passed. It was an ache deep within her to refrain. All life was deathly still as they marched through, waiting for the group to pass. Not even the leaves stirred and Jasmine mourned.

She thought of the creation of the halflings, the gravest mistake the fae had ever made. They had wanted to create the perfect blend of fae and human, but created something terrible instead. The good of the fae mixed with the human had made for the worst sort of creature, a creature of pure evil and darkness, with all the power of the fae, twisting it into something dark and perverse. They had turned on the fae, and decimated them. The war was quick and brutal, with many dying. All other fae had fled, going into hiding. It had been so long, Jasmine had figured she was safe. Another tear rolled down her cheek the more she realized how much that wasn’t true for herself, or any other fae. Were the halflings finding others? She had been isolated for so long she didn’t know.

Jasmine tried to calm her pounding heart, knowing they could feel it. She knew they wanted to feed. She wasn’t sure Gareth could protect her from the other two, since he seemed intent on obeying orders to deliver her with no harm. She trudged along in the forest, despondent. She felt defeated. She only wondered what the queen wanted from her. Why not just kill her like they had with so many others?

She desperately wanted to reach out to her native earth magic to calm herself, but she knew she couldn’t. They walked all through the night, the air once again heavy. She wished she could take the energy of the earth and send it back out to cool off. She sighed.

“What is it, fae,” Gareth asked, his deep voice startling her.

“Nothing. It’s just hot,” she muttered.

“Nothing we can do about that,” Gareth said.

“I could,” she said under her breath.

“I know,” he smirked. “I saw you earlier.”

Jasmine felt invaded. Her interactions with the earth and her inhabitants were private, as they had been even when she had been living among other fae. Her mother had told her that her powers were more than others had, so she had been very secretive of what she could do. She shook with rage.

“Calm yourself,” Gareth whispered to her. She at once understood. He was trying to protect her from the other halflings behind her. She took a few deep breaths and calmed her anger. “Good girl.”

They walked on through the forest. Jasmine wondered how long it would be, how far they had to travel. As though reading her thoughts, Gareth said, “It’s about a week on foot. But daylight is coming, we must rest.”

Jasmine felt the energy of the sun coming and allowed herself to smile. Halflings couldn’t stand to be in the sunlight. They were night creatures, shrouding themselves with the blackness, pulling it in around them. They stopped walking as the two halflings set up camp, building a large tent with the darkness, manipulating it. They stepped inside and Jasmine immediately fell upon one of the beds, exhausted from walking all night. She fell into a quick sleep, now assured that Gareth would protect her from the other two.

*Note* This is something that I plan on working on, more than just this one chapter. I hope everyone enjoyed, let me know what you think!!

A Lil Bit O Mischief

Christopher knew that he shouldn’t go against his mother’s wishes, but he just couldn’t help himself. He had to, and he needed supplies. He walked into the kitchens, warm with the preparations of supper. He knew there would be scones somewhere, there always were.

“O! What ye doin’ in ‘ere, ‘ittle lad!” The cook exclaimed. The cook had a soft spot for the little lad, only 8, with his golden curls and bright blue eyes. She always gave him some scones. Christopher just grinned slyly for a few moments before the cook wiped her hands on her dirty apron and walked to a table to grab three scones. “’Ere, now be off with ye!” She exclaimed heartily, giving his bottom a little slap.

He scampered off, wrapping them carefully in linen and just barely shoved them into the pocket of his trousers when he ran into Mother. “Christopher, what were you doing in the kitchens?” She narrowed her eyes at him, sensing mischief.

“Nothing Mum, just asking after supper,” he fibbed, beaming up at her. No one could resist.

“Okay, little one. Make sure you complete your studies,” she smiled, smoothing her full emerald shaded skirts. “Freshen up for supper,” she called after him after he ran up the stairs. She only shook her head at his endearing childishness.

Christopher got to the top of the stairs and glanced around him, making sure no one was watching. Breathless with excitement, he ran down the hallway. Once again, he looked around, and turned left down the corridor he wasn’t allowed. His heart pounding in his ears, he slowed to a walk. This area of the estate was not well kempt, dark and filled with cobwebs. He took a candle and lit it, with only the small flame lighting his way. The walls were paneled with dark mahogany wood, and long-forgotten portraits of angry looking men lined the halls. Christopher started to feel a little spooked, but puffed out his chest and kept walking on.

He got to the end of the hall and stood before the door. The glass handle stared at him. The door begged to be opened. He looked behind him, and seeing no one, turned the handle. The door resisted at first, but opened, the creaking deafening in his ears. Part of the excitement was the chance of getting caught. He lifted his candle to see stairs in front of him. He walked slowly up them, the flickering flame throwing off little light. The steps groaned beneath his feet. When Christopher finally reached the top there was another door. He opened it and, he stopped in awe at what he saw. Toys! They were dusty and dirty, but there were tons of them!

The dusty windows let in some light so he blew out his candle. He wandered around, touching various toys. A ball, porcelain dolls, a wooden train, a wooden sword. He reached the window and wanted to see what was happening in the gardens below. He knew they were preparing for some kind of big feast for that evening. He was to eat his supper early and retire to his rooms. He couldn’t see, but there was a white chair a foot away. If only he could drag it over, he would be able to peer out the window.

Christopher grabbed its arms and pulled, but nothing happened. He dug his little feet in and grunted, but the chair still wouldn’t move. He pulled again, as hard as he could, but lost his grip and fell backwards onto his rump. He stood and stomped his foot in frustration, crossing his arms over his chest. But, the chair was just at the window; maybe he could stand on it and lean to see outside.

He got up on the white chair, and stood on the very edge, placing his hands on the windowsill. He leaned his whole body, but he could barely peer over the edge. He could only see the roof of the stables and the blue sky. Dejected, he hopped off the chair and sat down, placing his fist under his chin, resting his elbow on his knee. He supposed he had to go outside to see what they were doing. He perked up, intent on a new adventure.

Before Christopher could stand up, the room started spinning, faster and faster. He gripped the arms of the chair, scared and dizzy. Everything became a blur, and then there was blackness.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that it was still daylight. Christopher scoffed at himself, wondering how and why he could have fallen asleep up here. Excited to see what was going on outside, he skittered out the door and down the stairs, and reaching the hallway, saw something very curious. There were no longer any portraits of angry men on the walls, and there were scone shaped things emitting light in the hallway. He wondered if someone were playing a trick on him. He couldn’t have been gone that long! And he was sure no one had followed him or known where he was!

He ran down the hallway and stopped when he saw a man he had never seen before. Christopher gasped, looking up at the tall, livery man. “What, may I ask, are you doing in here, little urchin?”

“I..I live here,” Christopher stammered.

“I do not think so,” the man stated, reaching for the boy. Christopher ran back the way he had come, breathless with fear. What was this? He got to the door and opened it, closing it behind him. He ran up the stairs and sopped. His little chest heaved, and he didn’t see any of the toys. The room was completely empty, except for the white chair near the window. What had happened to all the toys! His tummy rumbled, and he thought this was a good time for a snack. Taking the linen out of his pocket, he unwrapped it to reveal three still warm scones. He was so confused, he wasn’t sure what was going on. Grabbing one, he wolfed it down in a few bites. He wrapped the two left back up and shoved them into his pocket once again.

He knew he wouldn’t be able to see outside, so he just sat in the chair again, and kicked his feet a few times. The door opened to the room just as the room started spinning again. Christopher thought he was going to be sick with the scone he had just eaten. He fainted again.

This time when he awoke, it was dark. Frightened now, he just sat there. After a few minutes, he heard screaming. He jumped up, not knowing what to do. A flash of light came from outside, blinding him. There was more screaming and shouting. There was a light now, shining in, but it flickered, as if from fire. As he thought it, he could smell fire. He looked around the room, and saw that there were all kinds of fine furniture and china stacked up around him. He heard footsteps rushing up the stairs. He scampered to hide under one of the tables.

The door burst open and he heard scuffling footsteps.

“Oh, Charles, please. Let us hurry!” The woman exclaimed, fear in her voice. “The manor is on fire!”

“Hush Victoria, I know. We must be strong,” the man whispered fiercely. “I know Wesley hid the jewels in here months ago when we found out Germany was invading. I wish he had told me where!”

“Oh!” The woman sobbed. “I miss my poor brother!”

“I know,” the man consoled, rummaging through drawers of desks. “I found them!”

Christopher heard what must have been the clanking of jewels in a bag. “Oh thank god!” The woman exclaimed. “Let us leave this place of death!” The two ran out the door, not even bothering to close it behind them as they ran down the stairs. Christopher was very frightened. The house was on fire? What was he going to do? He was afraid of the chair, but he went to it anyway. He studied it in the light of the fire blazing outside the window. It looked harmless enough, for it was only a simple white chair.

He heard feet running up the stairs, and he was too far away to dive under the table that had been his hiding place. Just as the feet reached the top, Christopher sat down in the chair. The room started spinning very fast, until everything was just a blur of fire and blackness.

This time when Christopher opened his eyes, it was daylight. Wearily, he stood from the chair. It looked like the same furniture was here, but it was all destroyed. Broken legs of chairs and fainting couches lay all around him. Broken glass from the china lay scattered on the floor. What had happened? Slowly, he crept down the stairs, and down the hallway. Everything was dirty and dusty, as though it hadn’t been cleaned in a very long time. He went down to the kitchens, and he didn’t see anyone. The kitchens looked different, and Christopher was very puzzled.

He walked outside and stopped. The stables were no longer there, a pile of burnt rubble. Part of the manor was burned, with only the brick standing. He heard the crunching of feet on gravel and scrambled to hide behind a large oak tree.

“If I must say, it will take quite a bit of capital to rebuild this estate,” a man with a deep voice intoned.

“Yes, but well worth the effort,” another man answered.

“Well, I think it’s simply divine,” a woman said, clapping her hands.

“Haha now, my lovely young wife loves the place!” The first man said excitedly.

Christopher heard them coming closer. He stood still as they passed, and was about to go around the tree when the woman turned around and saw him. “Oh!” She exclaimed.

The two men turned around. One of them was tall and thin, the other short and portly. All three of them were dressed curiously, with the two men wearing strange looking suits and the woman wearing a short pink skirt that ended at her knees and some sort of top with an odd little hat perched at an angle upon her head.

“I do say! Where on Earth did you come from, young man?” The portly man asked.

The woman came closer, her auburn hair shining in the sun. Her kind blue eyes met his. “Where are your parents?” She asked softly.

“I..I don’t know,” Christopher said softly. He wished he did know. A tear escaped from his eye, followed by another, until soon he was sobbing.

“Oh!” The lady exclaimed again, taking him in her arms. “Oh, Stewart, we simply must adopt him!”

The taller man looked adoringly at the woman holding the small child. “If we can’t find his parents, of course we can,” the man said, going to his wife, holding his arms around the two of them.

Off Kilter

Marianna looked into the mirror. She didn’t smile. The black eye shadow made her big brown eyes appear black. The eyeliner was heavy and black. She lifted her thin hand and put a finger on her pouty, red-painted lips. She kept it there for a moment, as though shushing someone from telling a secret. She pressed down and swiped her finger, smearing the bright red lipstick. The tears started rolling down her brown face, smearing her mascara. Click. She took a photo of the pain in the mirror.

She sighed and wiped her face clean from the day. Only here was she allowed to break down. Out there, she smiled. She dragged her feet to bed and couldn’t wait for tomorrow. She was getting together with a friend from high school to go shopping. Her tears were forgotten as she snuggled under the covers, thinking about all the things she wanted to buy. Marianna hadn’t seen Eliza in a couple of years, so it would be great to see her.

As she lay there for longer, the memories came creeping up on her. It was the same every night. She would toss and turn, trying not to think of them. The way she had screamed that night, and no one heard her. The way they had laughed and told her she was asking for it. The feel of them on and in her, their hot breath on her face as she screamed. The feel of the gravel underneath her, digging into her skin. She still bore the scars. The feel of their hands holding down her wrists so she couldn’t move. The way she had laid there, long after they had left here there by the train track, bleeding.

Marianna reached to her nightstand with a shaky hand and grabbed the two bottles sitting there. She opened them and took a pill from each, swallowing them. Her racing heart wouldn’t calm for about 20 minutes, and neither would the sick feeling in her stomach. She wished she could turn her thoughts off, erase those memories. Erase those feelings. They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but Marianna scoffed at that. She failed to see how being gang raped would help her be stronger. She was completely broken on the inside. Finally, the sleeping pill worked its magic, and she was comatose.

When she got out of the shower the next day, she chose to wear her makeup light, shorts, and a tank. It was going to be hot, and she didn’t want to be walking around the outdoor mall in jeans. She saw her camera sitting on the vanity in the bathroom, and remembered the photos she had taken last night. She turned it on and looked at them dispassionately. She made a mental note to add them to her photo gallery on an online forum later.

Her cell rang, and she saw it was Eliza. “Hey girl!” She forced the cheeriness into her voice. She had gotten pretty good at it.

“Hey! I’m downstairs!” Marianna turned the lights off in her tiny apartment as she left, locking the door. When she saw Eliza, she opened her arms into a hug.

“You’ve cut your hair!” Eliza exclaimed.

“Yeah, a few months ago,” Marianna replied, not explaining why. They had pulled on her waist length hair. Now her black hair was chin length in the front and short and spiky in the back.

“You haven’t changed your Facebook picture,” she chided, leading the way to her car.

Marianna laughed, forcing a smile on her face, making her eyes match the façade. That way, no one could tell. “Yeah, I’ve been really busy with work and everything. A lot of overtime, I haven’t had time to do anything else but eat, sleep, and breathe.” The lies came easily now. At first, she had a hard time fooling anyone.

They chatted about what had been going on in their lives for the last couple of years, and she found herself actually enjoying the time she was spending with her old high school friend. They got to the mall and started window shopping until they saw a store they found interesting. It was brand new, Off Kilter. They walked in and metal music was playing. “Hey,” Eliza said, “you still go see to Splice when they’re playing?”

“Naw, not for a while now,” Marianna replied, in answer about a local metal band. She still listened to them, but didn’t go to the shows anymore.

“I heard they’re playing at Viva tonight, if you wanna go,” Eliza said as they browsed. It was a store reminiscent of Hot Topic, but with more style and variety. They even had full Victorian dresses. Marianna checked out the price tag of a beautiful gown that was black with dark red lace at the neckline and chiffon in the full skirt. She winced when she saw $300. It had a built in corset, which would come in handy for her curvy and busty body.

“Yeah, that would be awesome,” she agreed, thinking that she did need to get out more.

“That dress would look great on you,” Eliza admired.

“It’s $300,” Marianna sighed wistfully.

“Ouch! Well, let’s find something a bit more affordable to wear tonight!”

After much admiring, browsing, and trying clothes on, they finally decided on a black, pleated mini skirt and a hot pink corset for Marianna and a dark purple skirt and black tank top for Eliza. Clothing in hand, Eliza noticed a makeup section. “Oo!” she exclaimed.

Marianna didn’t need any more makeup, but a tube of blue glitter eye liner caught her attention. Her eyes got big when she saw it and decided she must have it. She added it to the pile of clothes she had purchased. Both deciding they had spent enough money, they agreed to only browse from now on.

When Eliza dropped her off at her apartment, she said she would pick Marianna up at about 10. She started getting ready for the evening around 8, carefully spiking her hair in the back and straightening the front pieces. She applied black eye shadow again, but winging her eyeliner out from her eyes this time. Red lipstick went on last, and she studied herself in the mirror. She thought something was missing, but she didn’t know what it was. She clipped a bright blue hair extension in her hair. It looked better, but she still didn’t feel right.

She put on fishnets and donned her skirt and corset. She usually didn’t dress like this anymore, and she hadn’t been to a metal show in what felt like forever. It was her, and yet it wasn’t. She spent the next half hour putting on her knee high boots. She had to zip up the side a little, then tighten the laces. Zip, tighten the laces. And repeat.

She finished just as she got a text from Eliza saying that she was there. She glanced at herself one last time and shook her head. Something was missing, but she couldn’t put her finger on it. She transferred a few things into a small clutch she could secure to her wrist, including the blue eyeliner she had bought. Maybe that was it. She would have to wait and put it on at the club.

She clunked down the stairs in her tall boots, and twirled for Eliza when she got downstairs. Eliza whistled. “Sex-ay momma!!”

“You don’t look so bad yourself,” she stuck her tongue out at her. Eliza had done her eyes in purples and black, with a dark plum lipstick. And, she glittered. “I want some glitter!!”

“Go for it,” Eliza grinned as she handed it over, backing out of the parking spot and zipping out.

They listened to metal the whole way to the club and Marianna forgot about the blue eyeliner. The line was long, so they played “remember when” about things from high school. Once again, Marianna found herself enjoying her time. She decided to get out of the apartment more often. When they finally got into the club, the first band was playing, she didn’t know who the band was, they must have been new. They made their way to the janky bathroom with blue floors and creaky stall doors. At the mirror, Marianna opened her purse and re-apply lipstick and saw the blue eyeliner. She opened the tube and leaned into the mirror, jostling for elbow space.

She carefully applied the liner over the black lines, making sure the liner matched the black perfectly. She leaned back and checked herself out. She felt complete. It was the blue liner that had been missing. She smiled. But the good feeling didn’t last for long.

As she looked into the mirror, she saw herself change. She saw nothing in her own eyes. They were empty and void. They were all black. She had a weird birth mark in the middle of her forehead. Her skin was glowing. She gasped and looked away from the mirror. And gasped again.

The woman standing next to her had green skin. And six arms, with a third eye on her forehead. Marianna looked at another woman. She had luminescent skin with bright pink eyes. Marianna couldn’t breathe. She kept seeing these monsters everywhere she turned. Purple skin, four arms, three eyes. She felt like she was going insane. She ran out of the bathroom, unable to catch her breath. Everywhere she looked, no one looked human. She kept turning in circles, and she got dizzy.

Suddenly a hand grabbed her arm, she looked and saw a monster that was 7 feet tall with blue skin that was glowing. “Come with me,” it demanded, and not waiting for an answer, he dragged her towards the door. She screamed, but no one could hear her because of the band playing. Oh god, it was just like that night. She was screaming and no one could hear her. She nearly passed out, and sensing her weakness, the creature picked her up in his arms and walked out the door of the club. Through hazy eyes she saw that the bouncer was a 7 foot tall monster with skin black as night and four arms, one set of which was folded across his bold chest. She passed out.

When Marianna awoke, she was lying on a couch and classical music was playing. She panicked and quickly sat up. She looked around and saw a man sitting in a chair, carefully watching her. For a moment she was so terrified she lost her voice, but then she found it again.

“Who are you?” She shouted. “Why did you bring me here?! Did you drug me? I saw things!” She was hysterical now, shouting at the top of her lungs. “Have you raped me?” She sobbed.

He only pointed to the oak coffee table, where one item sat. Her blue eyeliner. “Where did you get that?” He asked softly.

“What?!” Confusion settled in her mind. He had brought her here to question her about her eyeliner?

“Where did you get it.” It was not a question. His tone demanded an answer.

“I..I got it at a store called Off Kilter.”

“Put it on,” he said, again not a suggestion.

“I need a mirror,” Marianna whispered.

He pointed behind her, where she turned and saw a mirror hanging on the wall. On shaky legs, she got up and grabbed the eyeliner, walked to the mirror. She sighed with relief when she saw she looked normal. No birthmarks, no glowing skin, and no black shadow. She noticed that her face had been wiped clean of makeup. She traced the blue liner onto her eyes, and turned to him. “Happy?” And then she screamed.

She saw a very large, blue creature sitting on the chair where the man had been. She whipped around to the mirror and saw all the same things she did before. She screamed again.

“Will you calm down!” the creature exclaimed. “Sit down!”

On even shakier legs, she walked to the couch and sat on the edge, not able to breathe.

“There is a reason you’re seeing people as you are,” he began. “We are not humans, as you think we are.”

“Wh-what?”

“The thing is, this planet Earth is filled with all kinds of aliens. This is a refuge for those of us who are displaced, for whatever reason. Many creatures do not get along. So when they get here, they are given a chip in their brain. It makes them think they are this ‘race’ called ‘human,’ so there is no war between creatures. ‘Humans’ do not exist. The wars that we see between peoples and countries are not actually between different races of aliens. The earlier versions of the chips were faulty, causing some to become violent. The chip finds a way to rationalize this violence. They just came out with a brand new chip, however, and this design flaw has finally been fixed. Nice, huh?”

Marianna only looked at this thing with her mouth hanging open. This was crazy. She could say nothing.

“This eyeliner you’ve found disrupts the chip in your brain, causing you to see us as we are. However, it doesn’t seem to affect you in any other way. Your mind is not computing these facts I have just told you. I wonder, would lipstick cause you to speak in your native tongue?” The creature mused.

Marianna felt dizzy. She didn’t understand any of it. She felt her consciousness slipping away, and once again welcomed the darkness.