Halfling- Chapter Ten

When Gareth awoke, he saw Jasmine sitting on the couch, looking at him with her arms crossed over her chest. Her peridot eyes glared and he knew she was angry. Neither of them spoke for a moment.

“How are you feeling?” He ventured cautiously. He was afraid of an outburst of energy, because he thought she must have figured out that he had been keeping things from her and he felt a twinge of guilt.

“I have a headache and my entire body hurts,” she replied curtly. “Who owns this cottage?”

Gareth sighed and was about to reply, when Marianna appeared in front of them.

“I do,” she replied, her hands clasped in front of her as they normally were. “I’m sure you have a lot of questions, so why don’t I just tell you some things, and then you can ask questions if you have them, hmm?” Marianna started telling Jasmine about her visions and why she had created so much chaos and Gareth let her. Hopefully she changed the direction of her irritation. When Marianna finished, Jasmine asked, “So, did you know I had this power? The whole time?” Her eyes pierced his, shrewd. Obviously, she was still mad at him.

Gareth didn’t answer for a moment. “Yes,” he finally sighed. He didn’t get a chance to say another word when a burst of energy knocked the wind out of him.

“How could you?!” She shouted, as she kept attacking and she ran out the door. When he was finally able to breathe, he started chasing after her. She didn’t know how dangerous it was to have this power and he had to stop her. He had to protect her at all costs, and he hoped her body was sore enough from the energy work earlier that she couldn’t run so fast. His heart panged when he realized she might never forgive him for keeping these secrets from her, but it had been for the best. Or, so he had thought.

 

Jasmine ran as fast as her aching legs could take her. Her lungs burned as her arms pumped at her sides. She had made a promise to him, she knew, but she was angry at him. For some reason, she was hurt that he had kept this from her. How could he? She had thought they might have had some kind of connection, but she had been wrong. He had only been using her, for whatever reason. She felt betrayed by this, especially since he had shown interest in her. She berated herself for being so stupid and trusting a halfling. She pushed her legs harder through the trees, some dead and some alive. It was all a blur to her as she raced past them.

Besides, she could protect herself now that she had her magic back, and the fact that she could use energy from the universe was even more of a reason to run from him. She feared the queen, and would do anything to not have to be in her presence. She jumped over logs and dodged branches in her haste. She reached a large meadow and stopped a moment to glance over her shoulder. She saw Gareth running behind her and she started running across the meadow, the tall grass catching at her skirts, slowing her down. He tackled her and they landed hard on the ground.

She struggled underneath him as he rolled her over so she was facing him. Both of them breathless, Jasmine tried getting out from under him but couldn’t. She pounded at him with her fists until he grabbed them and pinned them on the ground. Her chest heaved as she stopped struggling, knowing she just could not physically beat him. She stared up at him balefully, wanting to scratch his eyes out. All the times she had asked, and he never mentioned that she could do the same as him in magic. Although she had been his prisoner, she felt betrayal within her heart. The intensity of it somewhat surprised her. Had her feelings for him been that deep, without her knowing?

“Will you listen to me!” Gareth exclaimed. “There’s a lot you don’t know, and I didn’t tell you to protect you. Yes, I was going to bring you to the queen, but we were going to get you out. I don’t have time to explain it to you right now, we have to leave this place, and we have to get you to safety.”

“Anywhere away from you is a safe place,” Jasmine spit out.

“I don’t think you believe that. Would you rather be captured and brought to the queen?” The question frightened her, but that still didn’t make her want to be anywhere in his presence.

“You were going to bring me to the queen anyway! And, I can protect myself!” Jasmine was finally able to catch her breath, and realized that he was still pinning her wrists down.

“Well, I can’t do that anymore. I didn’t want you to be aware that you could use the energy from the universe when you were with Awen. It would be too dangerous. She would use you is ways you don’t even want to imagine. Besides that, you need training on how to control it and use it. You can’t protect yourself until you can safely spindle the power, and I am the only one that can help you with that,” Gareth said, gazing down at her.

The anger slowly drained from her as she realized that he was telling her the truth; she could see it in his eyes. They stayed as they were for a while, Jasmine thinking about everything she could do with this awesome power. Now that it had been awakened, she could feel the universe in her spirit. She could feel the violence of stars creating from gases in the galaxies and the peace of empty space. Her awareness had so increased that it was a little overwhelming. She couldn’t wait to be able to manipulate it, but did she really have to receive the training from him? His betrayal still stung, and she didn’t even know why.

She really just wanted to get away from Gareth, away from this place, and away from the queen. Why couldn’t they have left her alone? She was in such a mess, as she comprehended the fact that he was right. What she had felt, it was so incredibly powerful, and she had felt near death throughout the entire ordeal. The atoms from the stars had wanted to rip her body apart and she had nearly died trying to rearrange and release that magic. She sighed. How many others were there that had this power? Maybe she could find someone else to help her with it, someone who would be more honest with her. But, she knew that he was being honest with her know, earnest showing on his face. Maybe he cared about her, she wasn’t sure. He had seemed so adamant when he’d said that he had a plan to get her away from Awen, that he truly wanted to protect her.

 

Gareth stayed on top of her, watching her think. Her brows were ever so slightly creased in the middle, tiny wrinkles appearing on her forehead. He could feel her relax underneath him, and he never wanted to move. He hoped that it was a sign that she was acquiescing, yielding to the thought that he truly wanted to help her. After watching her so long in secret, he knew her every mannerism, even crinkling her brows toward each other and down when she was thinking. The way she unconsciously touched her hair when she was content, running her fingers through it. How many times had he wanted to be the one running his fingers through the shocking red waves?

His gaze fixated on her mouth, lips full and no longer pursed now that she wasn’t quite so mad at him. He looked to her eyes and they were wide and bright as she became aware of his attentions. Her lips parted slightly and he could feel her welcoming him, even though she may not have even been conscious that she was. He leaned down slowly, not wanting to frighten her. He knew he shouldn’t, that they had to leave this place, but all reason abandoned him, and all he wanted was to touch her soft skin, to make her his. He had wanted this for so long, and the moment seemed so perfect, surrounded in a beautiful meadow. His heart thrummed with the possibilities of the moment, enrapturing him and holding him hostage.

 

Jasmine knew that something had shifted, but she wasn’t exactly sure what it was. She only knew that he had a certain look in his eyes that made her breath hitch in her chest and her insides danced around, something knocking around inside her creating a stir. Just that look was enough to undo her, and she didn’t even know what the look meant. It was full of things she didn’t know, but excited her. The feeling started in her stomach, and reached ever lower until her womanhood pulsed with a need she had never known existed. She suddenly wanted things she didn’t have names for. She wasn’t sure what exactly she wanted, but she just…wanted.

Gareth started leaning down, and she knew he was going to kiss her. She had some feelings for him, but she had tried to bury them as soon as they had developed. It wasn’t right for a fae to mate with a halfling. But, at this very moment, she wasn’t sure that she cared. She was losing control of her thoughts as he leaned closer and closer to her and only felt this very moment. When his lips finally touched hers, it was like an explosion in space. His kiss was gentle, but the intensity of his skin on hers felt like the collision of matter and antimatter, which was fitting as she was light and he was dark. After a few moments, he lifted his lips from hers.

“What was that?” He asked hoarsely, looking down at her with his hazel eyes glowing.

“I don’t know, but I think we should try it again,” Jasmine replied breathlessly, ecstatic that he had felt it too.

Gareth dipped his head down to hers and kissed her a little more firmly, the same feeling capturing them both once again. He slid his hands up a little from around her wrists to her hands, intertwining their fingers in the soft grass. Jasmine clasped onto his hands as he shifted from sitting on her to lying on top of her. She felt his tongue running along her lips and she obediently opened her own lips at the prodding. His tongue claimed her mouth, pushing against hers. Her pulse sped up and she could no longer think, only feel.

He broke the kiss to press his lips to her jawline, kissing his way down to her neck. He licked it and then softly grazed his teeth over Jasmine’s sensitive skin. She gasped and shivered, the feeling of teeth on her such a new sensation that felt absolutely wonderful. Her insides pulled tight and longing and need dominated any other thought she might have had. He kissed his way down to her cleavage, alternating his tongue and teeth, leaving a wet trail that felt cool in the breeze, making her shiver again.

Gareth’s hands left hers as he worked on removing her dress, his fingers unzipping the tiny zipper on the side. She slid her arms out of the sleeves and he slowly pushed the soft, violet fabric down, revealing her creamy mounds and she heard his intake of breath at the fullness of her breasts, seeing the rosy buds at the center, hardening in the breeze. He pushed the rest of the dress down, removing it and her panties, tossing the garments aside. He stood to remove his own clothing and Jasmine felt shy, lying there with nothing on. She blushed and looked away at his appreciative scrutiny of her body.

He finally came back to her and the feeling of more contact of his skin on hers made her gasp, currents running through her body like electric shocks, not at all unpleasant. She felt his hardness against her, and suddenly she knew what it was she had been wanting. She wanted him inside of her, filling, stretching, making her his. He bent his head at her breast, taking it inside his mouth, his hand kneading the other, his thumb softly caressing her nipple. She placed one hand at the back of his head, keeping him there, and placed the other on his back as his tongue played with the nipple in her mouth. She moaned at the vibrations she felt inside her body and on the surface of her skin, created by his attention to her breasts. He gently tugged at her nipple with his teeth before moving his mouth to the other breast, making her moan and squirm under him.

Gareth moved one hand down between her legs, caressing her soft inner thighs. His fingertips so close to her womanhood made her gasp and quiver, aching for him. He made his way to her warm center, his thumb gently pressing the swollen bud of her clit, exerting pressure. Jasmine threw her head back, moaning his name. Over and over his thumb softly caressed, pressing a bit harder, and her breath came in pants. Her arms wrapped around him as the orgasm shook her, her cries endless in the moment. He slipped a couple of fingers inside of her wetness at the crest of her orgasm.

“I want you,” she whispered hoarsely, “please.” He removed his fingers and she shivered as he replaced them with his hardness, slowly sliding in to the tightness of her womanhood. The feeling was exquisite and she sucked breath though her teeth as she arched her hips up to meet his and he pushed downward. She wrapped her arms and legs around him and gravity pushed them closer as he thrust in and out of her. The first thrusts found pain and she bit her lip, crying out at the mixture of pain and pleasure, until it was only pleasure, a fullness inside of her that made her feel complete. Gareth buried his head in her hair, allowing hers to be at his neck. She licked and bit his neck, making him cry out.

“I want to try something with you,” he whispered in her ear, nipping at her lobe.

“Okay,” she whispered back, thinking that this moment couldn’t get any more perfect than it already was. With a thrust into her, she felt him pulling energy down from the universe. She gasped at the power she felt from him, as he balanced his chi with the incoming energy. He drew a little away from her, and she could see into his glowing eyes. His entire body was glowing with magic and she ran a hand across his bare chest. As she did, he shifted the universe from himself to her, still gathering from the galaxies and stars to fill his own chi.

The power he gave her filled her up inside and he kept thrusting. She knew she was glowing, and he said, “Keep your balance with me.” She felt the strange power swirling inside of her as he kept transferring more and more energy to her. Jasmine thought she was going to explode, both from the universal energy and from his thrusts. She moaned and closed her eyes, focusing on both feelings, overwhelming as worlds collided inside. He shoved himself into her a bit harder and she cried out, grasping his hair with her hands.

“Look at me,” he ordered, and she opened her eyes again, shocked at what she saw. She gazed in wonderment into his eyes, seeing the vast galaxies in them, stars swirling in the depths. She saw planets and stardust, colors brilliant as gases exploded out into the universe in brilliant nebulas. She could see everything in his eyes, everything that was, everything that had been, and everything that could ever be. She could see infinity. She knew he could see the same in hers, when he touched her face with amazement, softly running his fingertips along her cheek, cupping her face, and she leaned her face into his hand, closing her eyes. The power they shared grew in intensity until Jasmine couldn’t take it anymore. With a loud moan, she clenched down around him as pure ecstasy tore through her body, shaking her to the very core, and he came inside her. She held onto him as waves of pleasure claimed her, and together they released the stored energy they had shared, throwing it back with such force she could barely breathe.

Breathless, Gareth collapsed on top of her, his head again buried in her hair. He rolled off her but stayed close, and she rested her head on his chest, listening to his wildly beating heart. They were both still glowing with magic as they stared into each other’s bright eyes, neither knowing what the future brought, but completely content in the moment.

They stayed that way for a while before they got up to dress and continue on their journey. Jasmine rose first and looked around the meadow in which they had come to rest, her jaw dropping open in shock. “Gareth? What happened here?” When he didn’t answer, she looked down at him to see him openly staring at her body. Her eyebrows creased in admonishment. “Will you look at this?” He stood and looked around him, and he had no words for what lay before them.

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Halfling- Chapter Nine

After two days of the storm, Jasmine felt like she was going crazy. She spent long periods of time simply staring off into nothing, her eyes glazed over. Her thoughts became jumbled, and she was losing her mind. She barely spoke to Gareth, who continuously paced the length of the first floor, muttering to himself. She was angry at him for letting her feel this way. And the wicked storm, it showed no signs of letting up or even weakening.

“I have to…” she said softly, letting the sentence trail off. Where had she been going with that thought? She wasn’t even sure, and that frightened her. What did she have to do? She had spoken so softly that Gareth hadn’t heard her over his own mumbling. She didn’t know what he was saying to himself, but she wouldn’t be able to focus on it anyway. She had been eating, but she still didn’t even have the energy to move her limbs. What was happening to her? She vaguely recalled Gareth saying that the captured fae had lost their minds and gone mad without their magic.

Was that what was happening to her? She struggled to think, everything was mush in her mind. How long had it taken them to go mad? Was it really this fast? How long had it been since Gareth had taken her from her home? She didn’t know. She stood on shaky legs. She felt like she was at sea, wobbling around on deck. She found that funny, and threw her head back to laugh. In her zealous and manic state, she lost her balance when she tossed her head and fell onto the couch. This was even funnier to her, and she couldn’t stop laughing. Was this what it was like to go mad? The thought made her giggle even more.

Marianna watched from the corner of the room, worry making her wring her hands. She had to intervene. She knew she shouldn’t, but she could see that Gareth wasn’t paying any attention to Jasmine’s hysterics. He only paced with his head down, talking to himself, no doubt trying to figure out whether or not he should let Jasmine get rid of the powerful storm. With the herbal work she had used to start it, she had made sure that Jasmine was the only one who could use magic to make it go away. Either Jasmine used her power, or they left the cottage walking through the dangerous lightning show.

She walked into the kitchen, looking around her. What could she do? She tried looking for an herb she never used or had an abundant supply of. She perused her stocks. Marianna grabbed a jar of oregano and threw it upon the ground, making a loud crash as the glass broke. She looked at Gareth. Nothing. He was still pacing. She looked at Jasmine. She was laughing. Sighing, Marinna leaned her hip against the counter, folding her arms across her chest. Gareth walked from the chair, onto the huge rug that spread across the dining room and under the table, and to the other side of the room. A smile lit her face. The rug! She rushed over, and flipped a large chunk of the carpet up and stepped back.

Gareth rubbed his hand over his face and closed his eyes, still walking. He felt exhausted. Barely any sleep had been gotten with all of the racket outside. He was walking, and then all of a sudden he was airborne. He landed on his stomach on the rug with the air going out of his lungs. He turned over on his back and looked back to see what he had tripped on. The carpet was folded over. He frowned. How had that happened? Then he heard laughing. Irritated, he looked at Jasmine. “That’s not funny.” She kept laughing and he got up from the floor in a huff.

He walked over to her to yell at her, but he stopped, his eyes widening. She was lying at a funny angle on the couch, and she had a strange look on her face. Horror filled him as he realized she wasn’t aware of anything around her. She looked like she had gone mad.

“Jasmine!” She turned her head to look at him and stopped laughing, but a bizarre smile remained on her face. He knelt down beside the couch and looked at her a little closer. He felt her forehead as he looked into her eyes. Sighing with relief, he saw that a part of her was still in there. He had to make a decision now. To hell with his original plans, her well-being was more important. He would have to figure something else out.

Gareth took her head in his hands, placing his palms softly on her cheeks. “Jasmine,” he said again. “Do you remember when you said you wanted to get rid of this storm? Using magic?”

She looked at him, confused. “I think so.”

“I’m going to give you your power back, so you can use your magic to make it go away. But, you have to promise me something.”

“What?” Her eyes still looked a little glazed, but they had gotten better since he had been forcing her to focus.

“I need you to trust me. To trust me, and not attack me and run away. Can you do that?” Gareth looked deeply into her eyes, trying to see truth in them.

Jasmine slowly nodded her head yes, and he removed his hands, standing up. He closed his eyes, and found her power, nestled down in a spot in his chi. He focused on it, feeling it release from his body and into hers. He took a deep breath when he was done, and opened his eyes.

Jasmine felt the rush of power coming back into her, and she gasped. It knocked the wind out of her, and at first it felt weird having magic inside of her again. It took her a few moments to balance it out. She could think with clarity, and she flexed her magical muscle, reaching out to feel the intensity of what was happening outside. She frowned at how wild it felt.

She looked to Gareth, who was watching her like a hawk. She bit her lip a little, knowing she had just promised him she wouldn’t use magic against him. Should she? She didn’t know if she could protect herself from the other halflings out there, wanting her head on a stake, thinking about the attack that Gareth had deflected. She sighed and walked to the door of the cottage. She opened it to the howling wind and went outside into the rage. She was instantly soaked as she closed her eyes and tilted her head to the sky, feeling the fat raindrops fall on her face. She opened up her arms and put her palms to the clouds, so dark and dense they were nearly black.

She gathered the storm into herself, feeling the violence of it within her own core. She felt wild magic, the force that was controlling it. She frowned as the magic warred with her own. With a start, she realized that someone had created this storm with a strange combination of different magics, and the magic came from so many different places. Trying to undo someone else’s magic was hard enough, but the power of this was even more overwhelming after not having her magic for so long. She wondered if she even had the power to overtake it, she felt weak. She wished she had the power of the universe, as Gareth had.

Jasmine felt another power enter her then, and she fell to her knees. It was so strong, she felt like she couldn’t control it. It was coming into her body at such an incredible speed she felt like she was being ripped apart. The sound of her screams blended with the thunder and they couldn’t be heard. The only thing she was aware of was the foreign energy within her, filling her and overpowering her chi. She had no balance. Jasmine could only stay on her knees, face to the sky and arms stretched out. She couldn’t move, and would collapse even if she could. She felt frozen in time as the energy kept rushing into her. She felt hot, like she was going to explode. Atoms that didn’t belong here moved inside her body at incredible speeds, and she screamed.

With one last thought, she knew she had to stop this. It was all she could do to stop the energy from pouring in, but she did. Screaming, she flung everything back out into the clouds, the rain, the thunder and lightning. She kept releasing it, finally gaining control of her chi in exhaustion. Gasping, she fell onto the wet earth, collapsing.

Gareth watched her walk out the door and followed her to lean against the door frame, his arms crossed over his chest. She struggled to find the balance with her magic and the magic of the storm. He frowned when he thought it might be too much for her. Suddenly, he felt her pulling magic from the universe. He shouted no, but it was lost to the sound of thunder and wind. He tried running to her, but found he was frozen to the ground; his feet would not move. He felt another power controlling him, and he whipped his head around.

Marinna stood at his back, her hands pointed at him. “I’m afraid I can’t let you interfere. The process has started. If you go to her now, it will be ruined. This is how it works with someone who can pull from the universe. This is how it starts, and the process must be completed. When it’s finished, she will either parish, or she will survive. The choice is hers to make. She either accepts it or she lets it consume her.”

Gareth turned his head back to Jasmine in frustration, thinking back to the day he had discovered his gift. Was Marianna right? Was this the way it had to happen? He felt helpless as he saw Jasmine in a silent scream, falling to her knees. He wanted to rush out there and help her, but he was being held hostage. He could only wait.

Finally, he felt her release the energy, and he sighed with relief. As Marianna’s energy and the energy from the cosmos was let out of Jasmine’s body, the rain stopped, the wind abated, and the lightning ceased its endless strikes upon the earth. The clouds cleared to reveal the sun, bright in its glory. Everything was dripping and wet as the birds started chirping from their nests in the trees.

As the last of the energy left her, she collapsed. Finally letting him move, Marianna stepped back into the cottage. Gareth ran to Jasmine’s side, pushing wet hair from her face. She was pale and her breath was shallow. He gathered her in his arms for the second time in as many days, and carried her limp body inside. He laid her on the couch, knowing she was going to be okay. Marinna was once again gone. He sighed and sat on one of the chairs to watch over Jasmine until she woke up, thinking he should rest as well.

He wasn’t sure what to do now. He couldn’t take her power away from her again. He couldn’t take her to the queen while she had possession of her power. Maybe he could take her straight to the Resistance. Maybe he could join the rightful side now, maybe they had enough information that he didn’t need to be a spy anymore. He splayed his legs out in front of him, stretching and yawning. He could figure it out later.

Halfling- Chapter Eight

Gareth noticed Jasmine’s attention wander, and he sat back in the chair as she ate her food. He was still thinking about what Marianna had said. He had a choice, and one that wasn’t easy to make. He still wasn’t sure what he was going to do. Pulling energy from the universe and channeling it was far more powerful then manipulating earth energy. Energy from the earth was more grounded and stable, where the energy from universe was infinite, and one had to know how much they could take, or risk taking too much and dying.

His mother, a fae, had raised him under the protection of the Resistance, while his father pretended to work for the queen Awen, while gathering intelligence for the Resistance. He had died in a battle when Gareth was twenty. When he was ready, his mother, Rhea, had taught him how to gather magic. She taught him how to manipulate the darkness, like she had seen her husband do so many times. She taught him the fae ways, and the halfling ways. She had known that one day, it would be his mission to do as his father had, and get close to the queen, and he needed to be prepared.

One day when he was in the forest within the confines of the Resistance, he had discovered that he had a rare gift. He had been shifting energy from the earth’s core to some flowers, making the buds open up to colors of violet, red, pink, and sky blue. It had been an accident. He looked up to the sky, and wondered what exactly was beyond the borders of what could be seen from earth. He had felt a rush of energy through him, foreign atoms rushing in and through his body, and he felt like he was being torn apart. He didn’t know what to do with the strange energy spilling into his body like a flood, like he was the black hole that the stars were falling into. He had passed out when it got to be too much, which hadn’t been too long after it happened. He had still been trying to control earth energy, which is why he had been practicing.

When he had awoken inside his home, he had a damp cloth over his eyes, but he could hear his mother and a male whispering in the next room. He couldn’t make out the words, but his mother’s tone sounded fearful. He sat up slowly, his head pounding and his body aching. He wasn’t sure what had happened. His vision was a lot sharper, more so than when he had just completed some magic work with the earth. He could see the cracks on the floor in the corner, all the way across the room.

Gareth had slowly padded his way out of his bedroom, coming into the living room. There was a simple sofa and a couple of chairs and a table. A book shelf lined the wall on one side, heavy with volumes written by fae and humans alike. His mother sat on the sofa with a man, and they stopped talking when he entered the room, slowly shuffling along.

Rhea had jumped up, “Gareth! You shouldn’t be walking around!” She ran over and grabbed his elbow, guiding him to one of the chairs, easing him down into it. He wondered if he was really so fragile, but he accepted the help, wincing as his stiff muscles protested the movement.

His mother had sat back down, nervously clearing her throat before saying, “We need to talk to you. This is Sage.” The man only nodded to him, studying Gareth intensely for a few moments. The man’s eyes were dark brown pools that reflected the world around him, and his hair was black as a raven’s feather. It was streaked with grey, but barely so. He wore a long black robe with sleeves that covered his arms and hands.

“You have a special gift,” Sage had said. “A rare gift. However a gift it is, it is dangerous if you don’t wield it properly.” Gareth had only been more confused, the man was speaking so vaguely.

“You have the power to draw down the energy of the universe. Almost all fae and halflings can only use energy from the planet Earth. But you, you can pull energy from our galaxy, and everything beyond. The vastness of this power is immense. Dangerous. If you don’t use it correctly, you can die. You are lucky to be alive, young man.”

Gareth’s mother interjected. “Sage has agreed to help you learn this power. It is far beyond my capabilities, I’m afraid.”

“Yes, I will help you,” Sage had said. True to his word, the very next day they started, although Gareth was still sore from the currents of energy that had bolted through his system the day before. Sage had taught him everything he knew. It took decades for him to feel comfortable with the strange magic from the cosmos, and they had many close calls. Gareth had passed out many times, only to go back to it the next day. Sage had been a ruthless teacher, wearing him out to the point of exhaustion many days. His mother had shaken her head many a night when Gareth dragged his worn body through the door at night, worried about him and the toll the energy work had been taking. But they continued on the brutal process of learning. It wasn’t easy to get used to the feeling of his body wanting to be ripped apart by the atoms swirling around and through his insides, and learning how to manipulate it was even harder.

One day when Gareth was well used to his power, Sage had come to him. “There is one who has the power that you do. I am old, and by the time she reaches the age to wield her magic, I will be gone. You must help her.” With that, he had met Brock. Jasmine had still been a young girl, playing in the dirt and trees with other children from her village. Sage had passed, and then he had only seen her from a distance later, watching as Brock worked with her, teaching her what Gareth instructed him to. He had told him to be very careful about opening any opportunities for the universe’s energy to enter her body. He had felt proud of her progress, as though he had been training her himself.

There were many times throughout his own training that Sage had shared tales of fae dying from too much energy from the cosmos to reinforce the danger in it, as though Gareth couldn’t feel it himself as he worked with it. “Danger sometimes comes when you least expect it,” Sage had warned. “If you find yourself consuming too much, it’s nearly impossible to right the balance in your body. You must always keep your chi centered, always know exactly how much magic you’re spindling and what your limits are. Anything more, and you will go out of balance and the power will consume you. The atoms will tear your insides apart, and you will be no more.” Gareth always heeded these warnings with sincerity, considering he had nearly died the first time it had happened as an accident.

The more Gareth thought about it, the more he realized it wasn’t right keeping Jasmine’s magic from her, especially her special power from the universe, but he just didn’t know if he could trust her. It was frustrating, when all he wanted to do was teach her. He knew she could handle learning about the universe. He didn’t know what it felt like to have his magic withheld, but he knew it couldn’t feel good. He didn’t feel right without his connection to the earth and limitless sky.

Jasmine’s voice interrupted his thoughts when she said that she needed to get rid of the storm. Of course, he knew what she was implying. He only sat for a moment, and then pursed his lips. “No,” he said firmly. “I’m afraid I can’t let you do that.” She made a noise of frustration, her own lips pursing at his answer.

“Don’t you realize? We are going to be stuck here forever!” She pounded her small fist on the table, wincing when she hurt her own hand.

Gareth almost smiled at that, but he let it go. “I’m sorry, I just can’t let you have your magic,” it pained him to say it, but he still didn’t wholly trust her. He got up from the table and walked to the kitchen, glancing at the books that lay open on the counter near the caldron. The pages were old and yellowed, with neat handwriting upon the pages. He couldn’t read the language and frowned. There were some drawings of herbs on the pages, and he looked at the jars that were also on the counter. The herbs within them looked like the drawings. He flipped back a couple pages and stopped when he saw a drawing of a storm. It was an incantation for creating a storm! Damn Marianna and her tricks. Her wild magic had only fueled the fire started by some herbal magic. He slammed the books closed and Jasmine jumped.

“What is your problem?” She bit out angrily.

“Nothing,” he replied curtly. Their moods swirled around the room, suffocating each other, their anger only growing. He didn’t know how much longer he could be in this room with her like this. He needed to breathe, to think, to clear his head. He couldn’t do that with her watching his every move, seething in her contempt. It pained him that she hated him so for this. He thought maybe he might cave, but he didn’t know when. If this storm didn’t let up soon, it might only be a matter of time. He didn’t want to appear weak, and could only hope the storm abated.

 

Marianna sat on the couch, invisible to them both. She wondered if Gareth had forgotten about her. She felt disappointment in his answer, but it wasn’t over yet. There was still time, if only he realized what he must do. She felt the heavy emotions in the room, both of them simmering in response to each other’s misery. She kept her hands clasped in her lap, watching the show. She winced when he slammed her precious books closed, obviously angry at her meddling. She probably should have put the books away, but she hadn’t thought of it.

The future was not set in stone, and she hoped he made the right choice in the end. She knew it was a heavy burden to bear, but he had to know the full consequences of each choice. She wondered what he was thinking, what direction he was leaning. Well, she wouldn’t know until there was some kind of action, not just words. Until then, she was content to just listen and watch just a while longer.

Halfling- Chapter Seven

When Jasmine awoke, her stomach rumbled and she grasped it, hunger gripping her. She heard the storm and opened her eyes, taking in unfamiliar surroundings. Where was she? She panicked when she couldn’t feel her magic, the ache spreading throughout her body, worse than the physical hunger. It was a psychological hunger, one that pervaded her mind and thought. She felt so empty inside.

She sat up slowly, and glanced around her. There was a fire that was dying in the fireplace. She looked at the other end of the room and saw Gareth sitting at a table, his head in his hands. She furrowed her eyebrows. She saw vulnerability in him, something she had never seen before. She bit her lip, wondering what was wrong. The storm was raging outside; seemingly worse than when they had been running in it. They had apparently made it to the cottage, but she saw no one other than Gareth. Were they alone here?

She stood and silently walked over to the table, sitting down next to him. Startled, he lifted his head, looking at her.

“How are you? Are you hungry?” Not giving her a chance to answer, he got up and walked into the kitchen, looking around as though lost. She just drummed her fingers on the table, hoping the storm let up soon. Her head hurt from the noise it was creating, pounding upon the windows and stone.

“Was there anyone here?” Jasmine asked, seeing the stairs.

Gareth hesitated, taking in a deep breath. “Yes,” he murmured, looking as though he didn’t want to answer her question.

“Who? Where are they?” Jasmine was confused. Did the owner of the cottage go out into the storm?

“She had to leave,” he said, bringing her a plate. She grabbed the dried meat and took a bite, chewing quickly and swallowing to ease her rumbling stomach.

“But where did she go? Isn’t it dangerous to go out in this storm?” She asked in between mouthfuls. The hungry feeling was finally leaving her, and she slowed down, chewing slowly to enjoy the explosion of taste on her tongue.

“I’m not sure, she didn’t say,” Gareth replied, looking uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure what his problem was, and it seemed strange, how he was acting.

Jasmine looked out the window, the rain pelting it so hard she was surprised it didn’t break. “Shouldn’t it be letting up by now?” Gareth didn’t say anything and she sighed, hoping his mood improved soon. She still thought about using the opportunity to escape whenever she could, whenever it presented itself. The thought of the queen made her shudder.

Before she had ran, she’d heard stories of the queen and her atrocities from travelers that had passed through her village. The things they had witnessed were horrors that no one should have to suffer through. She remembered one story in particular that raised the hair on the back of her neck.

An old man had come upon her village, worn, and dirty. His clothing had been singed in places, blood staining parts of his ragged shirt. His grey hair was dirty, as was every inch of his skin. He had collapsed on the dirt, gasping for breath. Jasmine had thought for sure he was going to die. The healer, Ruby, rushed in, and asked a couple of the villagers to carry the man to her home. They lay him on one of the cots for the sick and removed the old man’s shirt, a wound to the stomach festering and oozing pus on his stomach. Ruby started bustling about, taking various herbs and making a poultice that stank nearly as bad as the infection. Jasmine had hung around the background, wondering what had happened to him.

Ruby had grabbed a wooden bucket with fresh rain water and a sponge, carefully cleaning the wound. The man had passed out, his breathing deep and even. She’d wiped the dirt from around the wound, wringing the sponge out many times. She finally applied the thick green goop on and around it, wrapping some gauze around it with the help of the fae who had brought him inside. Everyone left, talking amongst themselves in whispers about him, speculating whether or not he would live, where he came from, and what had happened to him. Jasmine was the last to leave when Ruby scooted her out the door, closing it firmly behind her.

For the next three days, Jasmine thought about the old fae. No one had heard anything about him, and Ruby had been shut in there the whole time, coming out for nothing. Rumors flew around the village, tongues wagging. Jasmine didn’t make any judgments, because no one really knew anything.

On the third night, there was a great campfire built in the middle of the village and everyone prepared food for a great feast. They ate until their bellies were beyond full, stretching out before the fire, stories and laughter ringing throughout the dark. The children played a little ways away as the adults enjoyed the stories. The crowd suddenly hushed, and fierce whispers started going around. Jasmine had looked behind her, surprised to see Ruby leading the old fae man to the fire. He was limping, but he was clean, wearing a clean white tunic and pants. The dancing flames created shadows in the creases of his face, his long grey hair shimmering in the light. His eyes were a grey blue that reflected the fire, and they looked sad. Jasmine could sense that this man had seen much; it was reflected in those eyes.

The crowd hushed even their whispers as the two got closer. He sat on a log and had stared into the fire for a few moments as everyone else stared at him. No one spoke, and only the crackles of the fire could be heard. He had lifted his face to the sky, and stretched out his arms, palms to the sky. The fire rose to a magnificent height, sparks of fire zooming out from the blaze to meet the night sky. When he lowered his hands, the fire died down, barely anything more than glowing embers. Jasmine had felt the push and pull of energy, heady in its power.

“I’ve been running for a couple of weeks now,” he started, his voice paper dry, mixing with the sizzling of burning wood. “As fast and as far as I can, every day. Barely pausing to take a breath. I ran from the dark halfing queen and her evil.” Jasmine hung on every word that he spoke, watching the way his eyes had grown with fear. He’d waited for a moment before continuing on.

“I had been living on the edge of the forest at the castle that Awen had stolen from our queen, Tiana. The fighting with magic burned the forest. The fighting with sword stained the ground with blood. Fae and halflings littered the ground, dead. There wasn’t time to bury them. When we could we waded through the stench of rot and death to gather our own and burn them on pyres, fires reaching high into the sky. So much death, so much destruction.” He slowly shook his head with this, pausing again before continuing.

“I was captured, a year ago. The halflings invaded the little camp I was inhabiting along with a few other fae. They took us, and locked us in the dungeon. I could feel the air through the open windows, but it smelled of death. The cold stone became my companion as I waited for my own death, the cries of the forsaken echoing through the chambers of our prison. Sometimes we heard the screams of the tortured. Time passed, inconsequential.”
“Finally, someone came for me. A halfling with red eyes and black hair, hunched over with rotting teeth. I was certain it was my time to die. He handcuffed me with iron and shuffled me up the winding stairs. I was passed along to another guard, this one cleaner. He led me through the castle, and we were headed to the ballroom. We entered, and Awen sat upon the throne, guards at her sides and all along the blood red carpet. I was led to stand before her. When I refused to kneel, I was hit behind the knees, forcing me down. I bowed my head, lest some other injury came to me for refusing orders.”

“’Where is Tiana?’ She had demanded. I replied that I didn’t know. She called me a liar and asked me again. When I said I didn’t know once again, she said, ‘You were once Tiana’s right hand. Do not think you can fool me into thinking you do not know where she is, along with her family. And her daughter, Zaria. You know where they hide. Tell me.’ I told her I didn’t know, and Awen nodded to a guard, who drew his sword and stabbed me in the stomach. She said, ‘You will die if you do not tell me where they are.’”

“It was all the strength I had to pull energy in a moment of weakness from them and burst fire into the room, setting some of the guards on fire. They screamed, and I ran. I didn’t look back at whom or what was chasing me, but I felt energy attacks at my back. Some fire hit me and I rolled onto the ground, getting up and once again running. I nearly died a few times, but I knew I must go on. I had to get away from the wretched, stinking place. I knew I was dying when I came upon this village.”

The old man finished his tale and everyone sat in silence. The fire had burned low as we stared into it, the heaviness of the story sinking in as we imagined a castle on fire, stinking of dying flesh and bone. At once, the war had become very real to the villagers, who thought they were far removed from the fighting and death and lived their lives under the sun. It was uncomfortable in the silence that followed, as everyone remembered how it used to be, and how life had changed; wondering about distant family and friends and how they fared in the fight.

The old man had finished his story and stared directly at Jasmine, his gaze intense and unwavering. After a minute, her father had gotten up and he and the man went off, talking in voices too low for anyone else to hear. Jasmine had sat on her log, her mother’s arm around her, gripping her tightly to her, pulling her head to her chest. Jasmine had sat there for a long time, watching the fire die, and wondered when it would be her time to do the same, talk of war and rotting corpses forcing mortality upon her.

The next morning, the old man had left without a trace, and neither her mother nor her father spoke of him, and pretended nothing had happened the night before. That there had been no man, no story, no gaze from an old fae man that had been dying. Two weeks later, their village was attacked, and Jasmine had run, as her father told her to do.

Now staring out at the rain falling outside the cottage, she realized there was a connection between the queen Awen, the old man, and the attack on her village. She didn’t know what it was, but she intended on finding out. She looked at Gareth, who was lost in his own thoughts. An idea started forming in her mind, and she wondered if she would be able to pull it off. Indeed, it would be a risky move, especially if she didn’t succeed. There wasn’t much time, she knew, and she had to get away.

“Gareth,” Jasmine said, rousing him from his own mind. “You need to let me get rid of this storm. There’s no way it’s letting up soon.”

Halfling- Chapter Six

Gareth just stared at Marianna for a moment. “What do you mean?”

“I created this storm,” she laughed. “I led you and Jasmine here to my cottage. I have some important information to tell you. Good thing Jasmine is passed out on the couch, because this is only for you to know.” She stood. “Would you like something to eat? You must be famished, running through the rain then carrying your charge.”

“How did you know we ran? And how did you create this storm? Your magic is unlike anything I’ve ever known.” Gareth was confused, and he had so many questions. He didn’t like not knowing things; information was his forte, his niche.

He followed her with his eyes as she moved about the kitchen, grabbing various jars. Nothing was labeled and so much of it looked the same. How did she know what anything was? She grabbed a plate and placed various things from the jars on it and put it in front of him. He saw some dried meat seasoned with various herbs, lettuce, carrots, and radishes.

“Rabbit,” Marianna said, sitting down opposite him again. He nodded and bit into the meat, flavors he’d never experienced before exploding on his tongue. It was sweet with hints of spicy, and the meat was soft, not tough. He nodded his approval and kept eating, his questions forgotten for the moment.

“I have a lot to tell you, Gareth,” Marianna began. “You’re never seen magic like mine, have you?”

He shook his head no, wondering how she knew his name. It was so strange how she knew so much. He thought she might be a witch, judging from the herbs and the caldron. He had thought, though, that witches were a myth.

“I am half human, half fae,” she smiled, and tilted her head to the side again, gauging his reaction.

He stopped chewing and stared. He nearly dropped his jaw and stared open-mouthed at her, but he had chewed rabbit meat in his mouth. How was that even possible? He had never heard of the fae mating with humans.

“Yes, it’s very rare. A natural mating of humans and fae has a very different result than that of a genetically created mix. A person with a mixed race such as me has wild and unpredictable magic, but we can learn how to control it over time. I am nearly 400 years old and I’m just starting to age,” Marianna said, once again clasping her hands together.

Gareth swallowed his food. “Why isn’t your race known?”

“We’ve had to stay secret because our magic is so wild it could be considered dangerous. We keep ourselves hidden from the world, making ourselves nearly invisible. As far as my own power, I can manipulate certain weather patterns, I have a way of reading thoughts, I can make myself go invisible, and various other things. One power I have is to lead people to their destiny. I can see the future; I know what’s going to happen.” Marianna paused, letting the information sink in.

“What do you mean? We choose our own path,” Gareth said, snapping a carrot in his teeth.

“Do we? I have never been wrong, and you would do well to listen,” she said firmly, raising an eyebrow. “Everything I have seen, has come to pass. Jasmine has a very important role to play, and you must protect her.”

“What role is that?” Gareth was suspicious. How would she know of his plans to get Jasmine to the Resistance and use her against the queen?

“I can’t tell you exactly what will happen, but she must come into her full power, and soon. The window is closing. You have to help her, train her to control it, to help her realize her full potential. She will come to do great things, but the process has to be started.”

“I can’t help her yet, I need the queen to think she’s not that powerful.”

Marianna shook her head. “No, it needs to happen sooner than that. You don’t have much time left.”

“What do you mean, why not?” Gareth asked, licking his fingers, his stomach full. He was still unsure. Telling Jasmine how to gather energy from the universe would ruin his plans. He didn’t think it was a good idea.

“She can do more than you think she can. She can do more than anyone could ever imagine,” Marianna whispered. “But, none of that will come to pass if you don’t help her soon. Her powers will shrivel and die. You must release it back to her, she needs to have her own magic dancing inside of her. She needs to feel it.”

Gareth sat back and crossed his arms over his chest. “I can’t do that. I don’t know if I can trust her yet. Besides, I have to bring her to the queen first. That would ruin my plans.” But, hearing that Jasmine’s powers would shrivel and die, he was second guessing the plans he had worked so hard to put in place. Could that really happen to her?

“Your plans, are they set in stone? Are you so ready to throw everything away? Everything you’ve been working for? Because you won’t be able to use her at all if you don’t give her powers back to her,” Marianna stated, staring hard at him.

Gareth said nothing for a while, thinking about what she was saying. She seemed so certain. He didn’t know if he could trust her, they had just met. He barely knew anything about the woman sitting across from him. She was convincing, he could give her that. He rubbed his hands over his face and sighed.

“I thought you said you push people into their destinies, that you can see the future,” he said. “How is it that you’re now telling me I need to make a choice? I have a choice, and if I make the wrong one, you’re saying that what you’ve seen will not come to pass. Doesn’t that mean that we do choose our own path?”

“Ah,” Marianna smiled. “Yes, there are choices that need to be made. I am pushing you to your destiny, right now, trying to convince you to make the correct choice. The future is fluid,” she delicately shrugged her shoulders, holding her hands in the air. “My visions change as decisions change. For the good of the world, you need to do as I say, and give Jasmine her powers back before you had planned.”

Gareth sat in silence, contemplating this. This was all on him and the decision he made. He wasn’t sure if he could trust Jasmine to have her powers to herself. What if she turned on him and attacked him? He was, after all, supposed to bring her to the queen. She had only agreed to go with him because she had been powerless. If she had her magic, she might use it against him then run. What was the risk involved? What was the benefit?

He knew from experience that the fae went mad when their magic was kept from them. They needed to feel the connection to the earth to feel whole. Without it, their conscious minds disintegrated. He wondered how long it would take Jasmine to go insane from that missing piece, if she was already feeling it. He could tell that she was having difficulty, but he didn’t know how much it was affecting her.

Gareth sighed, looking up from studying the grains in the table. Marianna was intensely watching him, her eyes glowing. He knew she was waiting for him to make a decision. He wasn’t going to make one at the moment. He was going to watch Jasmine and see how she was doing before making any decisions. He was going to ask her how she feels without her magic. He hadn’t noticed any hints of madness in her, but sometimes it started out subtly. He was going to pay more attention.

Marianna sighed. “Is that what you’re going to do?” She shook her head. She unclasped her hands and made a gesture to the window. He felt the shield drop. There was constant thunder now, booming directly over their heads. He saw multiple flashes of lightning right outside and frowned. The rain pelted the window, sharp cracks sounding as hail pounded the stone house. The wind howled, angry at being roused.

Gareth opened his mouth to speak, but when he turned to face her, she was gone. He was starting to get angry with her disappearing tricks. “Marianna!” He shouted, trying to be heard over the awful racket that was now invading the house. It was a wonder Jasmine hadn’t awoken over the terrible noise. He slammed his fist down on the table, knocking over the vase with the roses. He scowled and picked it up, seeing a crack. Sighing, he replaced the roses, not bothering to refill the water. Where had that witchy woman gone?

 

Marianna watched the scene from the second floor of her cottage. She frowned, tilting her head and clasping her hands. It was a wonder they were still as soft and delicate as they were. She had to keep them together most of the time or she could inadvertently rearrange energy in a manner she did not intend. She could feel the magic she was pulling for the storm within her, channeling the energy from so many sources a full-blooded fae would be overwhelmed from it.

She hoped it wouldn’t be long before Gareth made a decision about giving Jasmine her magic back. She quaked with fear. No, he had to make the right choice. She only hoped her storm was enough. It was right powerful and wild magic, but she still wasn’t certain. If Jasmine didn’t pull energy from the universe soon, it would be too late, and the world would be doomed, for Marianna had seen both endings. So, she sat. And she waited, watching, invisible to the world, as always.