Chapter Twenty-Nine

Zaria watched the progress with the army. She shuddered at the thought that it was essentially her army. Thirsten had told her as much the day before. She looked at it with new eyes. She hadn’t really considered it her army until Thirsten had said it in the meeting at the enchanted table and everyone present had acquiesced. She didn’t know how she felt about it. Rishtah joined her at the balcony.

They stood in silence for a while before Rishtah said, “It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?”

Zaria didn’t say anything for a minute before revealing her true feelings. Rishtah had become a best friend, a confidante. “I don’t want it,” she shook her head, turning to her friend.

Rishtah cocked her head to the side. “Don’t you want to save your loved ones she has taken?”

Zaria contemplated her answer. “Of course I want them back. I want nothing more in this world.” She paused. “But to be in charge of this much death and destruction- it’s too much for my heart to handle. It seems evil.”

“Zaria, listen to me.” Rishtah said, taking Zaria’s hand. “Awen is evil. She will not stop. She will destroy everyone and everything in her own path of self-destruction. She already has, and she will continue. We need to stop her.”

Tears started falling from Zaria’s eyes. She didn’t want this responsibility. The idea of so much blood on her hands was too much for her. She knew people were going to die and it hurt her. She knew some of the people she sat next to and trained next to weren’t going to make it.

“This needs to be done,” Rishtah said softly, taking Zaria in her arms. They stood there for a while as Zaria cried. “How about we take a short break for a while? I found this place that might be relaxing to you.”

Zaria nodded and dried her eyes. Rishtah led her underground and they came to a hidden grotto with springs. “Is that a mud bath?”

Rishtah laughed. “It is, and it feels wonderful.” There was a small mud bath with dark brown muddy clay next to a small waterfall surrounded by exotic looking ferns. It was amazing to her that there could be such opposite ends of the spectrum, with this heated sauna of a room with a tropical feel and snowy cliffs several hundred feet above her head. It looked like the waterfall was a place to rinse off the mud. Stone steps led upwards and Rishtah told her a natural hot spring was up there. The hot air suddenly made sense.

“Thirsten told me that this used to be an active volcano. It has been dormant for many thousands of years, but the magma is close enough to the surface in the cave to make it feel so warm,” Rishtah explained as they disrobed and climbed into the mud bath. They pinned their hair on top of their heads and rubbed the mud into the skin on their arms and faces. They sat there for a while quietly, listening to the waterfall. Zaria really didn’t want things like this to be destroyed because of Awen, or the people. It was something she turned over and over in her mind, especially ever since Thirsten had brought her up to the snow. Eventually, she would do whatever it took to get her family back, even though she hated what she had to do in order to get them back. After all, she had a wedding to attend. Her own.

Tears slipped past her mud mask, making small tracks down the now hardened plaster. Rishtah had her eyes closed so she cried quietly. She missed Gareth so much it hurt. She missed her sister. She just wanted everything together and whole again. She could feel the broken pieces of the universe within her.

“When are we going to be ready to move out?” Zaria asked suddenly, an edge to her voice.

Rishtah opened her eyes and looked at her for a moment. “Probably just a few days. The branch leaders are in the process of telling their troops exactly where they are going. They are also being informed of the terrain and any challenges they will face, since many of them are not from here. We’ll have a final meeting the day before we leave to make sure from the leaders that everyone understands what they are to do.”

“Okay,” Zaria absently said. She frowned. She wanted to leave sooner, but it couldn’t be helped. “I’m ready,” she said, steel in her voice. She would be strong. She would not back down or back away.

Rishtah was nodding. “Good. Let’s rinse off and jump in the spring.”

Zaria smiled, excited for this natural hot spring. They got out and walked to the waterfall, rinsing the mud from their bodies. It felt glorious, and Zaria could already feel how soft her skin was from the clays and minerals. She felt refreshed and ready to relax even more before the big day.

 

When Awen had run out of Gabriella’s room, she had forgotten to lock the door, or even close it. It was wide open. She stood there staring at it. She could go rescue her daughter and Aria’s fiancé, Gareth, and her husband. Or she could run after Awen. She felt sick with indecision. Awen’s freaking out meant there was still love there. She thought about what would happen if she got everyone out. Nothing would end. All of this destruction would continue and nothing would change. Or she could go after Awen, talk some sense into her, and save everyone. But she could fail, too. Maybe Awen was too far gone. Tears of frustration fell and she angrily wiped them away. Maybe her desire to go after Awen was because she was weak, and had nothing to do with saving anyone.

She walked to the doorway. She could turn right. Or she could turn left. Her body was shaking as she took another step forward. Her heels were flush with the doorway. Another step. She was in the hallway. In front of her was the curved stone wall of the turret. She was somewhere on a middle level. Awen was at the top. She remembered which way she came from when they brought her up here, so she knew which way was down and how she could get to the dungeons. She stopped and looked both ways.

And then her foot moved on its own it seemed. Her body turned and she took a left. She paused and took a deep breath, then continued on. The stairs were endless and she started counting them. She lost count but kept going. She finally reached the end of the stairs. The corridor was short and the door stood open.

Gabriella could smell the coppery tang of blood and her mouth fell open at the destruction before her. Broken glass was everywhere and tables were overturned. The blood red fabric that had lined the walls was torn down in shreds. Gabriella carefully shuffled on the floor instead of walking so she didn’t walk on the glass. Her slippers mostly pushed the glass out of her way. She found Awen at the foot of her bed, naked and covered in blood. A corpse lay at her feet. Awen saw her and covered her breasts with her arms, her head falling and her hair covering her face. Gabriella made her way over and cleared a place for her to sit. She put a finger under Awen’s chin and saw that she was…crying.

Awen tore her head away from her and kept crying. “I don’t want you to see me like this,” she whispered.

Gabriella looked at the corpse and her stomach turned. She looked away from it and put her arm around Awen’s shoulder. “It’s okay,” she whispered back. “I love you still, and I always have. I’m so very sorry everything has happened as it has. There’s nothing I can ever do to take anything back. All I can do is be here now.” At first Awen stiffened in her arms, then slowly relaxed into the embrace. They sat like that for a while before Gabriella said that they should get cleaned up.

They got up and walked to Awen’s bathroom. It was black marble with veins of white everywhere. Blood red decorations and towels completed the dark look. The giant tub sat atop a few stairs that Awen sat on as Garbiella started the water. She chose a lavender and chamomile milk bath. Gabriella lit some beeswax candles, then guided Awen into the bath. The water turned pink as the blood mixed with the milky water. They sat facing each other, and she dipped a small towel into the water to wet it. She rubbed a bar of soap in the wet cloth to get some lather and took Awen’s arm. She didn’t say anything, just let Gabriella do as she wanted.

Gabriella softly washed Awen’s arms. Awen tensed a little when the cloth was rubbed gently over her breasts but didn’t move or say anything. She relaxed when Gabriella moved away from that area. She felt kind of awkward. She didn’t know what to say and Awen wasn’t speaking. She decided to let the silence continue. If she didn’t know what to say, she wasn’t going to force herself to and probably say the wrong thing.

When they got out of the bath, Awen let her dry her off. They put on robes and stepped their way through the mess. Gabriella led her back to her room. Awen stopped a guard on the way and ordered him to clean her bedchamber. They settled into Gabriella’s bed facing each other. Awen was letting her in, in a way, and she didn’t want to ruin it.

“Are you happy here?” Awen asked after a while.

“Yes, I just wish I had been with you the entire time,” she answered, longing to reach out and touch her. But she wanted Awen to make the first move.

Awen was quiet for a long time. Then she asked, “Then why did you leave me?” so softly that Gabriella thought she had imagined it. Her heart broke as she looked at her lover’s face. It broke into a million pieces all over again.

“I didn’t want to do it, I swear to you,” she said brokenly as tears ran down her face. “My father, he made me. He threatened me when he found out. He threatened us, and he threatened you. He-“ Gabriella couldn’t continue. She put her hand to her mouth and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath before opening her eyes and saying, “If I didn’t comply, he told me he was going to torture you and make me watch. He said that he would kill you in front of my eyes. I thought—I thought it would be better if we never spoke again. At least then you wouldn’t be dead.” She could barely bear to remember that day. It had been the worst day of her life.

“Yes, I suppose so. But look at who I became,” Awen said sadly.

“If I could change things, I would have ran away with you. I just didn’t see a way out,” she thickly said, trying to stop the tears. “I would have found a way.”

Awen didn’t respond right away. “Ever since—you’ve been back, I—I’ve been questioning who I am,” said haltingly. “I never really thought about it. I just did things. I took this castle because I thought you would be here and we could be together again. And then I thought you were dead so nothing mattered at all.” Awen paused, looking away. “Now—I feel like there’s a light in the darkness. But I don’t want to open up to you, I don’t want to release that light. If I do, I’m terrified of what would happen. It would be too much for me to bear, everything I’ve done.”

“I’ll help you through it,” Gabriella told her, wanting to convince her to stop all of this killing and death.

“I don’t think it would be enough. I think I would lose my mind. What’s left of it, anyway,” her mouth twisted up in a sardonic smile. “I paced your room every night for so many nights, wondering if I should let you in or not.”

“You’re letting me in right now,” Gabriella pointed out.

“I suppose so. In a way. But I can’t allow for you to be my light. I can’t let myself get that close to you again.”

Gabriella swallowed thickly. She didn’t know what to say to that. “I’ll take what I can get, I guess,” she finally murmured, smiling sadly and closing her eyes. Everything had made her feel exhausted. In her hazy sleep, she felt Awen gently stroking her hair.

 

Awen waited until Gabriella was sleeping to touch her soft hair. She could already feel her heart breaking. Feelings had started oozing back into her life, and she didn’t know what to do. Anger and hatred were easier. Not only her heart, but her mind was falling apart too. “What do you do to me?” She whispered, wanting to cuddle but not wanting to disturb her.

Chapter Twenty-Six

Panob1

 

Zaria had spent the last several weeks recovering, and slowly training until she was fully healed. Her alone time had been spent practicing the work outs that her and Gareth had worked on together. It seemed like such a long time ago now that she had discovered her love for him, and accepted it. She constantly felt the sting of her mother’s betrayal, no matter how much she tried to get past it. She moved to do some yoga, to hopefully clear her mind. The fighting poses were making her angry. Maybe she needed the anger to be able to beat Awen. But she didn’t want to use anger. She didn’t want to end up like the evil fae that had destroyed so many lives.

She was in downward dog pose on the mat with her eyes closed, breathing into the pose when she heard footsteps enter the courtyard she was in. She opened her eyes and saw Thirsten from in between her legs, walking up to her. She took a breath and eased out of the pose, turning to look at him. She took a sip of water and smiled at him.

“How are you doing?” His deep timbre reminded her of her father. Once she met him, she had a slight recollection of him from her childhood. His hair was more grey now, his black beard peppered with it. His eyes were still the same greyish blue, but with more wrinkles around them. Thirsten had been her father’s chief of war when Brock had been king and Zaria was training with him now. He didn’t know how to pull from the universe like she did, but he had valuable advice on fighting that she had needed. With his guidance, she was holding more power than she ever had before, and channeling it more effectively. Gareth had taught her a lot, but Thirsten’s training was honing in, like a finely tuned instrument.

“Good. Stretching out with some yoga. I feel amazing and strong,” she replied as she took another swig of water. It was dehydrating and demanding work and she needed to replenish frequently.

“But you aren’t impenetrable. Never forget that. No one is infallible. Once you start thinking you are, you will fail in the worst sort of way,” he said as lightly as he could, given that his words were heavy with dangerous implications.

Zaria nodded, a hand on her hip. “I understand.”

“Good. Let’s get to work.”

He created a giant protective bubble that encompassed nearly the entire courtyard, which was large, several hundred yards. The bubble’s purpose was to absorb shocks and attacks. It was a method of training that had been used for millennia. Thirsten would feel the power and force behind the attacks but they wouldn’t hurt him. The bubble shimmered an aqua color as Zaria pulled more and more atoms into her chi. She held herself loosely with her eyes closed, concentrating on how the power was rushing into her. She stopped when she thought she was going to break apart, and opened her eyes.

Thirsten took the cue that she was ready and commanded, “Show me what you’ve got,” with his arms crossed.

She nodded once and with control flung her arm upwards, sending everything she had at the bubble, hitting with a show of purple. As she sent the attack, she pulled in new power. She attacked over and over again in quick succession as she released power and pulled it in. This was something she hadn’t done before, and it was draining. He kept her going for three hours without a break. “You don’t get a break on the battlefield,” were his favorite words to her, even when she could barely stand anymore from exhaustion. It was hard, preparing for war. She didn’t know if she was going to make it. He let her take a short break before getting her going again.

He finally called it quits a little before dinner. She was shaking and weak, and greatly needed the sustenance. He helped her get back to her room in the compound, and she promptly collapsed on the bed. Her sweat was starting to dry and she knew she had to take a shower before eating. She lay there for a few minutes and then moved off the bed with a grunt. She drank more water and grabbed some clothes and a towel and headed to one of the more private bathrooms used by the leaders of the community and resistance. The compound was chock full as groups had been flocking from all over to join the war. They were all agreeable once they found out that the princess lived and wanted to take back the throne. There were so many fairies that they had started setting up camp outside the small compound.

Zaria closed the door to the simple but gorgeous bathroom and started removing her sticky tunic and pants, gathering her hair up in a clip. The bathroom was white and silver, with ribbons of black. The white tiles had thin black swirls painted upon them and the taps were silver. She ran the water and stepped under, sighing in relief as the hot water splashed on her skin. She slowly washed the sweat off with a honey and oatmeal bar of soap, a gift from one of the fairies here. She had received many gifts, having been discovered as the long lost princess. She still had trouble with the title, and didn’t know if she wanted it. She was only doing this because evil like Awen couldn’t be allowed to exist, and she wanted the people she loved to be safe.

She washed her hair with a similar honey shampoo and conditioner before turning the tap off and drying her body. She donned a silken jade colored dress with a moderate neckline and long sleeves that got wider towards her hands. The skirt swirled around her legs and she put on a pair of matching slippers, her hair entwined in the bath towel to dry. She went back to her room and flopped back on the bed as she waited for dinner time. She hated being alone. It was in times like these she missed Gareth so much her heart hurt, and wondered how he was. If he was here with her, they would have been cuddling and talking until they ate, their fingers locked together and bodies pressed as close as possible. They would talk about the training they had just done, how they could improve and what they had done well. She tried socializing with the other people here and had grown close to Rishtah and Thirsten, but it wasn’t the same.

Zaria sighed and got up from the bed, removing the towel and running her fingers through her damp locks. She had been moved from the initial room she had been kept in, which had been in the sick bay in the circular compound with part of a side built into a mountain. Now she was on the upper floor, with a bedroom and closet to herself. Most of the other fairies here were sharing rooms and every room was full. Her room was grey, silver, and jade. The bedspread was the beautiful green with silver painted wood as the bed frame, footboard, and headboard. The room was full of gifts she had been given, cluttered everywhere.

She left the room behind and walked to the large dining hall. It was jam packed almost all of the time and the kitchen help was constantly cooking as fairies moved in and out of the room and consumed a large amount of food every day. Thankfully new groups brought in more food to share. She got to jump in line, and sat at a reserved table with Rishtah, Thirsten, and some others. She didn’t pay much attention to the conversation as she ate the roast beef with cooked carrots, mashed potatoes, and raw bell peppers. It was flavorful and she relished it. Every time she ate a meal here she thought it was the best tasting meal she had ever had. She let the conversation flow around her. They had a meeting later that night anyway. She was more interested in talking about business rather than pleasantries. They politely let her be in her own world rather than a part of theirs for the moment, knowing she had the most on her mind. The people at the table were aware of her mother’s transgression.

After eating, Zaria and the others adjourned to the war room. It was a large room with an oak table at the center. There were spells of protection engraved deep into the wood. The spells made it so that only those sitting at the table could hear the conversation. The repercussions for repeating anything talked about unless there was explicit permission were dangerous and horrible, depending on the severity of the betrayal. Thirsten had told of someone who had starved to death after backstabbing one of his farmers no matter how much he had eaten.

Thirsten was seated at the head of the table, with Rishtah to his left and Zaria to his right. The leaders of the other groups that had come in were around the table as well. Zaria was having trouble remembering their names. She was preoccupied with other thoughts. Thirsten turned to her and said, “I’ve seen a lot of improvement from you in the last couple of weeks. I am so proud of you, and I know your father would be too.”

Zaria blinked back tears at his comment. She missed her father dearly. “Thank you so much for that.” She cleared her throat. “When do you think the other groups are going to be here?”

“We received word that it will be another couple of weeks until they are here from other former kingdoms. We will let them rest after their journey before we leave for the queen’s castle.” Thirsten paused a moment. “Your castle,” he amended, reaching to put his hand over hers, as though that was a comfort. She hadn’t told anyone her thoughts on not wanting to rule. No one other than Gareth.

She nodded. “So I have another couple of weeks to train?” She felt stronger than ever, but wondered if she would ever be ready. She hated fighting and violence.

“Yes. You will be fine. You’re a quick learner and you’ve picked up on what I’ve been showing you exceedingly well. I believe we will win.” Thirsten appeared so confident but all she could think about was how to keep the people she loved safe. That’s all she wanted. She didn’t want to be the princess. She didn’t want to be in the middle of a war.

Zaria tuned in and out for the rest of the meeting. She had heard these plans a million times. They were going to wait for the rest of the fairies to gather from other areas, and then march to the castle. It was about three days from this spot. They were going to tell the new leaders coming in the plan. They were going to surround the queen’s castle and the encampment and attack all at once. They would be about 100,000 strong. It didn’t seem like much, but they would have the element of surprise on their side. Zaria would sneak in throughout all of the confusion and find her family, freeing them, before her and Gareth attacked the queen and took her out once and for all. She was nervous. She didn’t know the castle, but Thirsten would be at her side. In only five weeks she had come to trust him like her own family. He told her stories about her dad, which was bittersweet for her.

Thirsten touched her elbow and she jumped, realizing with a start that the table was empty. “I’m sorry,” she said, with a small, embarrassed smile.

“I understand,” he said gently, laying his hand on hers. It was a fatherly gesture that she appreciated. “I know that you’re distracted by thinking about the safety of your family. You weren’t around when this all started, but we were all effected in similar ways. Families were split up, sometimes permanently. My child died, and I haven’t seen my wife in over 100 years. I still don’t know if she died, or if she’s still alive somewhere. I used to have the same problem you do right now. I couldn’t think straight, I was inconsolable, and I couldn’t pay attention to anyone or anything around me. The good thing is, this is almost over.” Thirsten squeezed her hand, continuing on. “I know you can do this. I’ve seen the strength in you, just like everyone has. Like Gareth has. He’s still alive, and so is your sister, and your mother. Awen won’t kill them right now. She needs them to draw you in.”

“I don’t care much about my mother at the moment.” Thirsten nodded as she took a deep breath. “But she could harm my sister and Gareth. Bring them to the brink of death, torture them. She’s good at that,” Zaria muttered, tears threatening to spill over.

“I understand about your mother, and that very well could be. We just don’t know right now. I know it’s hard, maybe it seems impossible, but try not to think about that right now.”

Zaria got caught up with the rest of what he said in her mind, and said in a delayed response, “I’m really sorry about your wife and child. I hope your wife is okay, somewhere.”

Thirsten looked at her for a moment. “I tell you what, I want to take you somewhere. I think it will help you get your mind off of everything for a little while. It might put your mind in perspective,” he said, standing, offering his hand.

Zaria took it and they walked in an easy silence, each to their own thoughts. They walked through a little passage that Zaria thought looked like it wasn’t traveled by many people very often. It was just clean enough that someone did come through the passage on occasion. It was lit by softly glowing orbs in a blue hue. “These are interesting. What are they?”

“We used to use these lights in the castle. It’s just a little bit of energy that we put in them and it lasts for a long time. Most people who worked at the castle don’t even remember them. It was special to the castle. Everyone wondered about them, but no one outside knew how they worked or where we got them from,” he answered softly.

They walked for a while longer before they got to a door that led outside. Zaria figured they must have been gone through part of the mountain, and it had felt like they had been walking at a steady but slight incline, and they walked out into a paradise on the side of the mountain. They were high enough and far enough away that the glow from the camps around Thirsten’s home didn’t affect the stars too much. She could see thousands of them. They were standing side by side and she put an arm around him, drawing him close for a moment before letting him go. Tears pricked at her eyes. In addition to the clear night sky, they had gone far enough up that there was snow. It wasn’t too cold, but the air had a chilly bite. There was a waterfall next to them, partially frozen with some water still trickling out in a steady stream.

It was beautiful. She saw a snow fox dashing in and out of the snow, and a little further off in the fir trees there was a doe, its watchful eyes assessing threats, its little tail swishing. She felt the pull of nature all around her, strengthened by the powerful fairy next to her. Thirsten pulled a little magic and shrouded them in a bit of warmth so they could stand there longer. She watched the stars and the nature around her, and she did feel her perspective changing. This is what she was trying to save. Being within the compound directly after trauma had changed her and she had forgotten. Forgotten what it was to be one with nature, one with the magic she used every day.

They stood there silently, just observing. A tiny mouse popped up from under the snow, its whiskers tasting the air, and then was scooped up by a snowy owl. The magic was all around her, the atoms and molecules moving around and she felt it all as she closed her eyes, drawing in more of the energy. She expanded her chi and she could feel it whirling inside of her. “Thank you,” she said quietly.

“You’re welcome. I come here any time I need to clear my head. If I’m thinking too much or something is bothering me. If I need an answer about something I come here. We are connected to nature on a deep level, us fairies. We need it, or else we go mad. Awen-she’s destroying us. Somehow she feeds off of destruction. She didn’t used to be that way. Her father used to be my mentor. He didn’t talk about her very often, but when he did, he talked about what a sweet girl she used to be. But she is who she is now, and if she wins, this will all be gone.”

She didn’t answer immediately, but eventually said, “I know. I just hope that what I have is enough. I don’t want my world to die.” He squeezed her shoulder before leaving her alone in the chilly air, and Zaria pulled some warmth around her. Once Thirsten left, a fluffy white bunny came up to her. She picked him up and he sniffed her face before letting her pet his thick, soft fur. She could feel his rapid heartbeat, and she wondered how she could let all of this beautiful life die. Animals started coming up to her as though sensing her distress. She had forgotten what it was like to have animals being drawn to her when she was in nature, alone. She pet each of them before turning around and going back through the tunnel. She felt grateful to Thirsten for bringing her here.

She got back to the room she was staying in and quietly shut the door. She prepared for bed and climbed in between the sheets, gazing out of the window at the stars she had forgotten about. How senseless was it to take power from them and forget to respect them? Was that the path to becoming like Awen? She fell asleep to their soft glow and dreamed about their power.

Halfling- Chapter Nineteen

Gareth wondered at the new found determination he saw in Zaria. She seemed fragile at the same time, almost ready to shatter. She kept it together and pushed herself further with each exercise. It had taken a toll on her. She had fallen into bed after they had eaten, and now lightly snoring. He didn’t want to wake her, as she needed her rest. He felt comforted by being near her, touching her. He wrapped his arm around her, lightly stroking her hair with his other hand. He felt like they were in a mess. They were taking the fight to the queen as soon as Zaria was ready. Would they ever be ready? How does one prepare for war? His heart tightened as he thought about it. He had to protect her, at all costs. She was the most precious being in the entire universe. He didn’t know what he would do if he lost her.

He fell into a fitful sleep, dreaming of magic and destruction, only to be awoken by the absence of Zaria. He could hear her moving in the kitchen and smelled food. She had to be starving after all of the energy work they had done yesterday in training. He had something else planned for this day, though. He slipped behind her and hugged her from behind in the kitchen, her small sigh of contentment enough to make him grin. They had been growing closer because of all the time they spent together. He thought she was trusting him again, even more so now than before. He wanted to be her rock.

They dressed for the day in loose tunics that flowed in the breeze. The sun reflected off the white of them as they walked hand in hand to the clearing. He had seen how hard Zaria had been working for the past day, and wondered how much she could take before she broke. She worked even harder in the morning, sweat soaking her tunic until it clung to her and she panted. Only when she nearly collapsed from exhaustion did she take a break.

“You should take it a little slower darling,” he said softly as they sat with their backs to a giant willow tree. They shared some water and walnuts and fruit as the sun rose up to straight above them. The bees droned on and a couple of hummingbirds flitted from flower to flower, almost too fast for a normal human eye to see.

Zaria choked back a sob. She didn’t want to see this beauty destroyed. Her heart hurt, and she told Gareth about her conversation with Rishtah.

“She didn’t say who the betrayers were?” He thought about this, and frowned. He didn’t like there being the reality that there were people they couldn’t trust in their camp. Their village. This place that he had helped shape and mold. The Elders had a heavy hand in it as well, but Gareth had done a lot of work on the ground, helping people find the place and helping them adjust, as well as other plans. He had helped carve some of the protection spells around the village. Her revelations changed his plans about what they were going to do for the rest of the day. He had wanted to do some stretching and relaxations for their afternoon, some things that his mentor had taught him. Maybe it could wait, just a little while. He could sense that although she was exhausted, she wanted to continue training, and he would indulge her for a day or two.

“No, she didn’t. The only thing she assured me of was that you can be trusted. Other than that, I don’t know who I can trust,” tears threatened to spill over again, but she held them back. Gareth caressing her back with one hand made it harder to not cry. She almost wanted to pull away from him. After a couple minutes of silence, she gave up and curled up next to him, her head in his lap as her hand lightly ran over the soft grass. She could take this comfort from him. She had to. He ran his hand over her hair, calming. “What are we going to do?” She whispered.

He stayed silent for a while. Then he said the only thing he could; “survive,” and kissed her head. “We will be okay. Whoever betrays us will have to answer for it in some way. It will hurt. But we will survive, because it’s what we do. We’ve been running and hiding for a long time. It needs to end, one way or another.” They stayed like that for a while, quietly talking about what they would like to see in a new world.

“I want it to look like this. A paradise, with beautiful plants and animals. People acting peacefully towards one another. I don’t want to see anyone die,” Zaria said, smiling softly.

“Me too,” he replied, running his thumb up and down her arm.

“We are going to win. We’re going to beat them,” a quiet but hard determination in her voice.

“We will sweetheart. I think, though, that we need to choose our places carefully where we can speak freely from now on,” he said sadly. “Here is one of them. We can trust Rishtah as well.”

“I agree,” Zaria replied, standing to stretch. His rubbing and massaging had made her aching muscles feel better, after she had been working so hard the last day and a half. She toned it down just a little for the afternoon, just enough so she wouldn’t completely wear herself out. Gareth helped her until twilight, and they stood together with a glowing ball of amber energy between them. It was beautiful against the setting sun and night sky, filled with hope and promise as they released the massive amount of energy into the stars and beyond.

Manuel was tortured. He was withdrawn from Aria. He had no idea what to do as he looked down at his hands. His wedding was only a couple weeks away. That damn bird was always around, and the queen would know if he tried to contact someone. He had to try. He just had to. Evil would not win this time, and he was done hiding. He just had to play both sides for as long as he could. His hands and his arms shaped the metal, first swinging down with the hammer, then twisting pieces, manipulating. His mind wondered.

He made a locket. Polished silver with emeralds. The filigree made a spell. It could only be opened by one person. He made sure the blue bird wasn’t in his shop. He wrote a quick note and put it inside. Closing the locket, he finished the charm keeping it closed. His heart was pounding and he wiped sweat from his brow. He was shaking on the inside. It had to work. It had to. He was choosing a side, and he refused to be on the wrong one again. Manuel loved Aria. He loved everyone here.

He gave the locket to a trusted messenger to get it to the right person. He knew he was doing the right thing, but it still made him nervous. He made another piece to sell at the market before closing up the shop for the day. He saw the bird in a tree a block away from his house and he stifled a shiver. He hated the queen Awen. He couldn’t let her win. He kissed Aria when he got in, holding her close. If anything happened to her, he wouldn’t be able to forgive himself.

“You’re just in time for dinner,” she said sweetly, smiling up at him.

“What are we having?”

“Rabbit roast with potatoes and a spinach salad,” she said, following him into the kitchen where he washed his hands again. “Are you okay? You seem really tense.”

“No, lovely, just worried about the wedding. Not worried, I guess, just nervous. I want everything to be perfect for you,” he lied, kissing the top of her head. He supposed it wasn’t exactly a lie, just not the whole truth. He did want everything to be perfect for her. He knew it wouldn’t be so, though. He was frustrated that he couldn’t do more for her. He didn’t want her to know what was going to happen. There would be a war. He needed to find a way to hide her until it was all over. He tried to listen as Aria talked about wedding plans. The china was being bought from the finest maker in the market, and the glasses had beautiful etchings of birds in them. He wondered if he could trade some of the costs.

That night, their lovemaking was oddly rough but tender. He kissed the curve in her lower back as he pulled her hair, just before biting her smooth skin. He ran his hands over her softly, even as he scratched and pinched in all the right places. He drove her to the precipice and pulled her back just before she went over. She was left begging before he ever entered her, nearly sobbing his name with her pleas. He held her down as he bit her under the breast and she writhed in his grip. He nipped his way down her navel, her snow white skin in stark contrast to his darkness. It was already starting to bruise and he was pleased. He teased her by kissing the inside of her thighs, licking the areas all around except where she was wet. Her voice was becoming raw from her pleading, and he finally gave in and gave her what she wanted.

He slowly licked her clit, and she came already, shuddering and moaning. He continued, determined to make her cum multiple times. He made her turn over so he could spank her ass raw, alternating between spanking and kissing between her thighs. She was becoming weak and he let her rest for a moment before he unclothed and entered her from behind. He slid his length until he disappeared inside of her and she shuddered, her sensitivity heightened from all the stimulation already. After only a couple of slow strokes she came, her screams muffled by the pillow. He didn’t wait for her to stop as he continued pumping into her, the wetness making it hard to control himself. He wanted to let himself go in the deliciousness of her, but he forced himself not to. He was denying himself so she could have more.

He commanded she get up on her knees and he rammed into her hard, over and over, and it wasn’t long until she came again. She whimpered, clutching at their twisted bedding. He slapped her ass hard and pulled her hair, giving all that she could take. Gutteral sounds came from her throat, completely animalistic that drove him crazy. He grunted from the effort, and reached down to squeeze her full breast in his hand, tweaking the nipple with his rough fingers. She came again as he moved down to massage her clit with his finger. He had to finally let go himself when he couldn’t contain it anymore. He came with his seed inside of her. He clutched at her, unwilling to let go as he moaned and shook. His nails left marks in her and they collapsed, finally spent. He was still inside of her for a few moments and when he pulled out, her body trembled. He kissed the back of her neck and caressed her. He held her for an eternity. He never wanted to let go.

She slept in his arms, and he watched her sleep. He would do anything to protect her. He wondered if the recipient of the locket had read his note. If not, he had to find some way to get the word out that they were going to be attacked. He slept fitfully, dreaming about fire and death, and a sense of danger and doom that no one would survive this.

Halfling- Chapter Eighteen

Aria bounced on her feet. The wedding was only a couple of weeks away, and she was bound with nervous and excited energy. She could barely hold onto it, and nearly caused a ruckus with it. The plans were coming along just fine, but she couldn’t help her nerves. Adding to the kerfuffle, Manuel had been acting very strange. He was distant, barely giving her any attention at all. It wasn’t like him, and it was driving her nuts.

“I mean, do you think he’s cheating or something?” Aria despaired at Zaria.

“No, I think he’s just nervous about the wedding,” Zaria soothed.

“Yes, but he’s locked himself away in his shop, day and night. He’s never home!”

“He’s probably just dealing with the nerves in his own way, by working through it. Everything will be okay,” Zaria pat her sister on her head, and led her to the leather sofa where they sat down. She smiled and held her hands to transfer some calming energy to her sister. She didn’t normally manipulate someone else’s energy, but she thought it would be for the best. Just this one time.

“You’re right. He’s probably just stressed and nervous about the wedding. I just can’t wait! The decorations are coming along and will be amazing. I am so lucky to have such talented friends working on them!”

Zaria welcomed the change in subject, but kept Aria’s remarks about Manuel in the back of her mind. She didn’t know him too well, but he really didn’t seem like the cheating type. She thought there must be something else going on there. But what? She would need to ponder this a little bit longer. “So I see you let the bird stick around.”

“Oh, yes! Buster is wonderful! We’ve just been letting him fly in and out whenever he wants. He seems to like flying around the village. We make a plate for him at the dinner table sometimes.” Aria looked a little embarrassed to say it, but she seemed to really enjoy Buster’s company.

“There’s nothing wrong with treating pets like little fae. It’s good practice for when you have little people of your own.”

Aria flushed, embarrassed. She looked down for a moment and folded her hands in her lap, then smoothing the light blue silk dress she wore. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. It’s funny, we haven’t even talked about children.” She drew her eyebrows together. “I’m sure Manuel will want them, though. He always smiles when the village children run around playing.”

Zaria patted her sister’s knee. “You’ll be a great mother, I know it,” she comforted. “Remember when we were kids and we built that tree house?” She smiled at the memory.

Aria giggled. “It was a castle, that was. We even had turrets. And no boys allowed! Remember our palm fronds we fanned ourselves with?”

Zaria laughed with her sister, feeling good about reminiscing, and effectively changing the subject. When was the last time she had felt so carefree? Having her own cottage in the woods seemed like forever and an age ago. They talked about the adventures they had had, running around in the castle they had made, and zipping through the forest.

On her way back to the clearing to meet Gareth, she thought about her father. He had died protecting his family, handing it off to Gareth. He had made good on his promise to the dying man. She felt safe, but she knew that hard times were coming. There was a war to fight. She had to regain the throne. Would her mother reign? They just had to get rid of Awen. It was vital. She had no idea how to do it though. Zaria was almost to the edge of the clearing when she heard someone call her name.

“Zaria!” She heard again, and turned around, seeing a woman with short black and grey hair waving at her. She squinted, and recognized her from when she had first arrived at the village. She was one of the Elders. She still didn’t know much about them, so she was wary.

“Hello,” she greeted, as she made her way to the older fae. “How are you?”

“I’m doing just fine. How are you, my dear? That’s the more important question. Why don’t you just come over for some tea?”

Zaria nodded her acquiescence at the subtle command and the older lady grabbed her arm, hooking her own through. “Has Gareth been teaching you how to focus your power?”

Zaria opted for caution. “Yes, it’s a work in progress though. I just have so much to learn. I don’t know if I’ll ever get through it all. I have to protect my family when the time comes. I just need to try harder.”

“Yes, that is very important. I’m not worried about your abilities. What we felt was very powerful. Did you know that I’m the one who introduced Sage and Rhea? Sage had been a very old friend of mine. When we heard about Gareth and his near death experience, Sage was the only that could help.” The way that Rishtah sighed, Zaria could tell that she and Sage had been more than friends.

“What was your relationship with him?” Zaria asked.

“Oh, he was a close friend. I had known him since we were kids. We grew up together. I remember when we found out he had the gift for opening up his chi to the universe,” Rishtah said as they approached a lovely house made of cherry oak. They went up the porch stairs and Zaria admired the wood work. It was beautifully carved into various protection spells, and she could feel it when she ran a finger across the wood railing. The energy sang out to her and she smiled, sighing. The more time she spent attuned to the universe, the more comfortable she felt. She was starting to keep a small amount of energy spindled in her mind.

They chattered about nonsensical things as Rishtah prepared the tea. It was a raspberry pomegranate green tea and it smelled wonderful as it steeped in the hot water. The tea pot was a beautiful cream colored ceramic, hand painted with symbols of healing. It had been so long since Zaria had seen symbols of magic created by hand that she didn’t remember what they all meant. Her face reddened as she flushed with embarrassment. Rishtah carefully poured the tea into matching tea cups. Zaria blew on the liquid before putting it to her lips, closing her eyes in bliss as she tasted it. She ran her finger over the healing spell and her tight muscles relaxed.

“So. Zaria.” Zaria was instantly alert at the serious tone of Rishtah’s voice. “How invested are you in our cause?”

Zaria was puzzled. Shouldn’t the answer to this be obvious? “I’m loyal to the Resistance. The queen is evil. I don’t want her to rule my people.”

Rishtah stared intently into Zaria’s eyes for a few moments. “I believe you,” she said finally, leaning back into her chair. “There are some here, who are traitors.”

The image of Gareth’s head popped into her mind, and she pushed it away. Icy cold fear gripped her though, and she shivered before she could stop herself, frowning, her eyebrows furrowing. His trustworthiness had been called into question before, and one mustn’t forget how they met in the first place. She gripped the tea cup and took a sip to try and warm herself up.

“It’s not Gareth,” Rishtah interrupted her thoughts, as though seeing where they had been going. Zaria lifted her head and stared at her, trying to remain poised. She barely knew this woman, and felt like she had to reign in her emotions from showing on her face. Rishtah was watching her carefully, but Zaria didn’t ask who. She felt like she was still being tested.

The standoff ended when Rishtah took a sip of the tea she had sweetened with a lump of sugar and then said, “But it is someone you know. I can’t tell you who it is. When you find out who it is, you will be hurt. There are others who used to work for the queen, and are trying to get away from her shadow. Time will tell if they will be successful.” She poured more tea into Zaria’s cup to warm it, but Zaria’s head was buzzing with these words.

“I’m one of the few people you can absolutely trust. Gareth is another person. You can trust both of us with your life. You’re going to need us. This will not be easy, and failure is a very real possibility. We need to be prepared for it. We need to be prepared for betrayal.”

Zaria remained quiet, processing this. How could Rishtah know who was doing what? She asked, the first time she had spoken in a while.

“I can tell when people are lying. This is an ability I’ve kept from everyone. Very few people know I can do this,” Rishtah answered. “You must not tell anyone, because if the wrong people found out, I would be assassinated. I don’t want to die yet.”

They remained quiet for quite some time, sipping their tea. Zaria looked around the bright and sunshine filled kitchen, wondering if all this would ever end. Why was evil allowed to prevail? The universe, she didn’t care who won. She was passive, but Zaria and Gareth could manipulate her. But, the more she thought about it, the more she thought the queen had an awful secret. Otherwise, how had she won in the first place? Rishtah suddenly leaned forward, grasping Zaria’s hand in both of hers, her gaze intense.

“We need you, Zaria. We need you dearly. You will have people protecting you throughout the battle, but you are the one who can save us. The only one,” Zaria was more than a little afraid, ice slipping into her veins. Not so long ago, she had been living a peaceful life in a little cottage in the woods, with a dog and a garden. Though, it felt like a lifetime ago. She sighed as she stood.

“I’ll try my best,” Zaria whispered, shaking the hand of the older woman. She felt the barrier of the protection spell around the house as she stepped off the porch into the sunlight, knowing now that the spells were very powerful, and the reason Rishtah had wanted her inside. It was protected and away from the prying ears of the village. She warily glanced back towards it before stepping towards the clearing. She couldn’t trust any of them, with their laughter and pleasant smiles. She felt cold, even in the rays of the sun. She hurried towards Gareth’s protection bubble, worried.

Gareth was already there, and she had to stop herself from rushing into his arms. She had to be strong. She steeled herself as they fell into warm up poses. Her legs were spread out, one in front and one behind, as she raised her arms up toward the sky, palms pressed together. She slowly opened her arms up to the universe, and allowed the energy to flow into her mind. She almost screamed with the power, but she gritted her teeth. She forced herself to breathe, the power making her feel light headed. She had to do this. She swallowed the power and energy until she could feel it in every cell, in every atom of her being. The energy was hot and wild, bouncing around inside of her, looking for a release. She felt like she could create planets, born from the nebula she carried inside her. Slamming her palms back together, she released the energy back out to the stars with a shove. She fell to her knees as tears flowed from her eyes. How could anyone use this for evil? It was beautiful, and it was pure. She felt Gareth’s arms around her, but she didn’t hear what he was saying. It was almost too much. Everything was almost too much for her to handle. She wondered if she would be able to handle this. What would happen to her when this was all over?

“I’m fine,” she breathed to Gareth, and wiped her eyes. She would be fine, she had to be. She had to make sure her people would be fine. Better than fine. The fae had to thrive. She was sick of seeing the world destroyed. She took a breath and resumed a different pose, this time with her feet shoulder width apart, her palms held together. She imagined a mass of energy in her hands, and she grew it as her hands drew apart. Zaria shrunk it by pressing her palms slowly together again, spindling more and more energy into her head. She could hear Gareth’s careful coaching in the background, but she almost felt like she knew what she was doing without him. It seemed to come naturally to her, as though she were truly one with the universe. She knew, though, that Gareth would have to pick up the pieces that would become her once this was all over. This was going to break her.

Halfling – Chapter Seventeen

Awen clapped with childlike glee, a nefarious smile curving her lips. After weeks, she had finally gotten her way in to the village. She saw what her bird saw, heard what he heard. She had made the right decision in calling back the halflings she had sent to the location. They had been there a month and she thought better of it, keeping her bird out there. She knew they had to come out at some point, and that stupid picnic was the perfect opportunity. She listened to the ditzy sister drone on about her wedding, Awen bored with the entire thing. She was thrilled when she was finally seeing the inside of the traitor camp, but then astonished at how many half breeds had betrayed her. She felt anger boiling inside, and wasn’t sure what to do with it.

A thunderstorm brewed above the castle, thunder loud and menacing, echoing. No rain fell, only electricity lit the sky and the scent of ozone reached her nostrils. She fed off the energy and consumed it until she glowed a faint black around her skin. Darkness swirled inside of her and she pulled the energy from a star into her core. She kept it there, the power nearly ripping her apart. She let it out with a scream, the sky blazing with electricity. It struck trees and stone all at once until the sky was white with it. Charred bark and smoke filled her lungs, but her anger was satiated. For the time being.

 

Aria nuzzled Buster. His feathers were soft and she stroked his neck. He was doing much better, learning how to fly again. He flew short distances within her house, but stopped to rest often. She smiled at how well he was doing with his wing. She knew it was healed because of her sister, but she was ginger with it nonetheless. Manuel was humming and cooking dinner in the next room. The smell of rabbit and potatoes in the stew was welcoming and charming.

She left Buster to set the table for them, white and blue bowls on matching plates with blue place settings. Silver napkin rings engraved with roses slid over periwinkle napkins. Crystal wine glasses in front of the plates and real silver utensils adorned the table. She set a vase of lilacs in the middle of the table, the fragrant petals making her smile.

“I think I should take Buster to work with me tomorrow,” Manuel said. Aria frowned.

“Are you sure he should be out in the open yet? I’m a little worried about him.”

“Yeah, I think he’ll be fine. He needs some fresh air sweetpea.” He chucked her under the chin and smiled down at her. His smile still got to her and made her melt. She just couldn’t say no.

She smiled back, “I suppose that’s okay, sure. Just be careful with him.” Manuel leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

“Of course I will.” Aria felt comfort in her confidence of his abilities to take care of Buster. She put some rabbit on a plate for him and he ate from the table. The wine in their glasses disappeared and reappeared, only to disappear again. Feeling lightheaded, Aria and Manuel left the dishes on the table. Walking upstairs to their bedroom and giggling, she tingled even more when Manuel touched her, running his palms up and down her arms. He grasped a handful of hair and tipped her head back, exposing her long neck. He glowed with magic as he bit her, teeth digging in. He felt the warmth of blood flowing into his mouth, and she didn’t even whimper. She could hide these marks with a scarf. It felt so deliciously good that she didn’t stop him. Aria giggled when she thought about how everyone thinks she’s a prim and proper twit, not realizing she had a dark side.

Manuel shoved her down on the bed, removing his belt. She felt herself getting wet already, wine making her giddy. She slid down onto the floor and crawled to him, feeling over his bulge. She looked up at him, pulling his trousers down, his thick member popping free. She looked at it hungrily and opened her mouth, slowly bringing him in, the silky smooth skin running over her tongue. He grabbed her hair with his hands, pushing himself deeper, until she felt him at the back of her throat.

He grabbed her head and forced himself in and out of her mouth, not gently. Her jaw hurt after a couple of minutes but he was relentless. He finally stopped and let her rest as he worked on disrobing her. He nearly tore the light blue dress from her frame, and impatiently yanked at the cording to her corset.

Manuel took the belt in his hands before bending her over their bed and she tensed her body, waiting for the strike. When it came, she screamed when the lines blurred between pain and pleasure and she wasn’t sure anymore what it was. Nothing less than what she wanted. She whimpered when he stopped, her bottom sore and no doubt red. He gently touched the skin, and kissed her there. Aria was almost crying, but held back. After a few moments of gentleness, he shoved himself inside of her, grabbing her hair and pulling back on it until her head couldn’t tip back anymore. He was so rough and hard that it hurt, but it was a wonderful pain.

She clutched at the bedspread, grabbing fistfuls. When he stopped, she had to catch her breath, and heard him doing the same. As he pulled out, she writhed and cried out with the orgasm, trembling. He stood her up and told her to get on her knees again. Then he was inside her mouth again, and she could taste herself on him. He fucked her mouth again, this time he came, holding her head so he tickled the back of her throat, and she swallowed, savoring the taste of him. His cum was sweet from the food he ate, and she loved it. Nearly every inch of her was sore, and they showered together.

Manuel gently washed her, taking care over her especially sore parts. She embraced him, the water hitting the back of her head as her head rested on his chest. “I love you,” she said, nearly crying with the words. He was perfect for her, and she let him know it whenever she could. She didn’t think she would feel complete without him in her life. It had been a hard life, losing Zaria at such a young age, and her father in that horrible night. She would never forget it, nor forget how Manuel had saved her and her mother along with Gareth.

He toweled her off as they got out of the shower, and she put on a silk nightgown, the material sliding nicely against her bruised skin. She fell asleep in her soon to be husband’s arms. When she awoke in the morning, he was gone, and so was Buster. She always felt bereft when he wasn’t with her. She concentrated on the wedding plans, making sure everything would be perfect.

 

Manuel walked with the bird, whistling. He was trying to appear calm, when he felt anything but. He was scared. Terrified. He was going to lose everything, and his chest was tightening with the horrible thought. He found a private part of the compound, in a corner surrounded by trees. He sat the bird on a tree stump and started talking to it.

“What are you doing here?” His voice trembled, and he hated himself for it.

The bird cackled, a horrifying sound that grated on his ears. “Do you forget your place?” The bird hissed, unnatural from its beak.

“I apologize, Your Majesty. I was just wondering how you had found this place.”

“Are you scared at having been discovered, you insect? How dare you betray me and live among these wretched things!” The bird squawked, angrily ruffling its feathers.

“I-I’m sorry My Lady,” Manuel stuttered, wondering how he could possibly get out of this mess.

“You must prove your loyalty to me all over again, you bastard of a halfling.” How did she want him to do that? His blood ran ice cold. “You need to kill your fiancé’s family. While she watches. Then torture her to death. On your wedding day. But. Keep the bitch Zaria alive. She’s mine. Just keep her on the edge of living and death.”

Manuel’s heart raced. He felt like he was going to pass out, but kept a poised face. “Yes Ma’am.” She flew off, to a higher tree to see more of the compound. He let a few tears run down his face. That night, when he had seen his leader defecting, he had thought to bring him to the Queen for punishment, possibly death. But when he had captured Gareth, Gareth had talked sense into him, and together they helped the princess Aria and Gabrielle to safety. From then on, he was a supporter of the Resistance. He was thankful to Gareth for saving him. He now abhorred the Queen Awen and loved Aria. How could he do this? His heart was broken. He made his way to his shop, where he took his grief out on silver. He shaped and pounded the metal into place. By the time he was done, he had a piece in the shape of a twisted heart, garnets flashing in the metal. He sobbed. He couldn’t do this.

 

Awen was angry with the ingrate, and wasn’t sure how this would play out. Would he prove his loyalty? Or betray her again? She made the bird fly to the center of the place, scoping out the layout. It looked so perfect it made her sick. She wanted to destroy it. All in due time. The wedding was only in a couple of weeks. She was bored with everything else going on here, until she saw Gareth and that bitch walking hand in hand in the square, laughing. She seethed. She had no outlet for her anger, so she watched them through narrowed eyes. Soon, she thought to herself, soon. She just needed to hold on and be patient.

Detached

She put her head in her arms on the table as the salt water hit the skin of her arm before rolling down to the wood table and even the alcohol wasn’t enough to numb the pain. She could feel the darkness creeping in around her soul searching wandering etching its way in. Grabbing hold of anything it could invading creeping sucking the life from her. She didn’t have the strength to push it out away banish it from within. It took control until she couldn’t breathe sucking in air but it went nowhere because the darkness found its way into her lungs and it was nothing but a deep void of nothingness there and what happened when she tried to breathe oh god it hurt please make it go away. She felt the urge to cut cut cut cut some more until she was nothing but a mass of bleeding mess all over the wood table blood getting into the grains of the wood table. Her heart hurt and was beating out of control the only thing left fighting for its life within her fragile frame. She could feel her body shutting down down down into nothing and she almost panicked as she could feel herself floating away and she was no longer in her own body. It was only the alcohol making her feel light and fuzzy and heavy all at the same time as the weight of the world and gravity fell onto her until it was impossible to move but just sob and cry and feel the emptiness in her soul as it was enveloped by the darkness. Wearily she lifted her head from the table and saw the half empty whiskey bottle and the shot glass tipped over beside it but it was hazy and her eyes couldn’t focus. The alcohol didn’t numb the pain and she hurt why was it so painful. She slumped down again and welcomed the darkness and the quiet that came with it.

Halfling – Chapter Sixteen

Zaria awoke before Gareth did. Emotions swirled inside as she stretched her body in some yoga poses. She took another dip in the spring and watched him sleep. She needed to be more cautious about what she said to him. She had weaknesses around him, and didn’t know how to handle it. She let things slip that she didn’t mean to. She walked out the water, grateful for its warmth on her sore muscles. Being a fae one with the universe and magic didn’t make her infallible to soreness, but she still had an abundance of energy.

She dressed and sat on a log to wait for him. He finally stirred and looked around for her in a panic. Zaria was amused at his reaction that she wasn’t at his side. He sat up and saw her there. Relief spread across his face. She raised an eyebrow at him. “Are you ready?”

Gareth rubbed the sleep out of his eyes before replying in the affirmative. He put on his trousers and left his chest bare. Zaria tried to not let herself be distracted by the morning light shining on his darker chest. “I’ll be back in a few minutes. I’m going to grab you some more comfortable clothes to move around in. I love that dress on you, but we need free movement to train.”

“Okay,” she smiled. The dress was travel worn and fraying at the hems. Not suitable for a princess. She shook her head. It was difficult to imagine herself a princess. She didn’t feel like one. What did princesses do? She wasn’t sure of the answers. She plucked some flowers and started weaving them together to create a crown. She placed the colorful headpiece over her hair and wondered how it looked. The birds chirped to her and the butterflies kissed her arms as she waited. She closed her eyes and opened herself up to the nature in this space. It was so peaceful to become one with every creature, every creation, every atom. She reached out to feel the souls surrounding her, touching them with her energy. The spider web of connections grew with each spirit she felt. Even the atoms that seemed chaotic found order in their fervor of collusion. She felt it all. At first it had seemed overwhelming. But now, she felt like she had some semblance of control. She knew she didn’t have complete control, and she wondered what Gareth could teach her.

 

Gareth walked back into his shield and stopped short. The light sack he carried fell to the ground. Zaria sat there on the grass, surrounded by butterflies. A golden glow emitted from her body, a concentration of the power and magic she was using. He barely felt the tremors in the universe. Indeed, she was special, and she didn’t even realize it. He didn’t want to interrupt. He stood there, but she must have sensed him, because she smiled and opened her eyes. The golden glow disappeared from her as she carefully released the atoms from her control. She still held an incredible amount of energy inside of her, and he wondered how she wasn’t going insane.

She stood and walked towards him, stopping just in front of him. Whenever Zaria was around, he felt like he couldn’t breathe properly. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt you. I brought you an outfit in here,” he said, bending down to pick up the drawstring sack. He pulled out a loose tunic and trousers and handed them to her, lingering magic in her touch when her finger brushed against his. She quickly disrobed and pulled on the white, loose fitting clothes. He nodded his approval at the freedom with which she could now move.

“First, I want to work with you on some movements that will help you with your spell casting. They can also be doubled as self-defense with close proximity to your opponent. Obviously, the point is to keep your enemies at bay before it gets to that point, but it never hurts to learn.”

 

Zaria bit her lip as she concentrated on mimicking his movements. He stood with his legs spread apart, bent at the knees, his torso twisted to the left. He held his arms straight in front of his torso, palms faced outward so his wrists were bent 90 degrees. He moved only at his waist, swiveling from left to right; slowly sweeping back and forth. He started moving other parts, blocking with an arm and sweeping a leg outward. Even though their movements were slow, they were labor intensive and Zaria’s muscles soon ached. They kept working until the sun was directly above them and Gareth’s bare, sweaty chest was a distraction.

They ate berries and nuts for sustenance. It was a wonderful handpicked meal and Gareth laughed when she had juice running down her chin from a ripe raspberry, barely missing the tunic she wore. The soft cotton rubbed against her skin in the light breeze that cooled their sweat under the shade giving tree. Zaria loved the way a raspberry tasted on her tongue, and only wished she had some white chocolate to go with it.

She got up and stretched her muscles, sore after sitting for a while to eat. They worked to stretch their muscles together, and went back to working on her movements. Zaria lifted her with her hands in a prayer pose, holding them high above her head, maintaining tightness in her core. She slowly brought her leg up so her toes were pointing towards the sky, concentrating her power on balancing on one foot. She was mirroring Gareth’s movements. They held the stretch for a few minutes before slowly bringing the leg down to touch upon the earth and brought the other leg up to repeat the process. She was sweating in the heat and power. She could smell his masculinity oozing from his pores.

Stretching these muscles felt great and would come in handy once Gareth started showing her movements to flow with power. The power that came from both mind and body, when manipulating such energy had been unimaginable for her in the past. As the days moved forward, she felt her strength growing. It became easier to control her power and energy as time went on. Zaria found herself trusting Gareth more every day that he opened his soul to her. He shared his entire history, including the loss he felt when his mentor had died. He had taken it really hard and had gone astray for a time, angry.

He’d taken a few years to find himself again, after becoming antagonistic and starting fights, alienating those close to him. He had lost friendships, and had to work on rebuilding those once he found himself again. Even his mother had been affected from his raging. He had cried at this part of his story, Zaria had wrapped her arms around him and held him for a while. She didn’t bare her soul, and was careful about sharing too much. She felt like he knew she was holding back from him, but didn’t pry and seemed content whenever she shared a part of herself. She started sleeping in his house with him instead of with her mother.

It had been a couple of months since Zaria and Gareth started working together. Most of the time, no one went outside the bubble that was their small village unless it was for reconnaissance. Jasmine felt confident in her powers thus far, and Gareth was pleased with her progress. They practiced spindling magic together and sharing energy and the amount they could hold was enormous. They hadn’t heard any whispers of halflings finding their encampment, so they decided a nice walk through the woods would be a nice affair.

Aria, Zaria’s sister, Gabriella, Gareth, and his mother prepared a picnic lunch. It was a beautiful day with a warm, light breeze and sunshine. The leaves whispered to each other as the group walked through the trees talking and laughing, unaware their movements were being tracked through watchful and beady eyes. They found a small clearing to lay down their blankets and spread out. Aria spoke about her wedding with excitement, though slightly disappointed her fiancé, Manuel, couldn’t make it to the picnic.

“He had a business meeting with his silver supplier. He said the quality of the silver has been lacking lately, and he’s not very pleased,” she lamented, pulling small tufts of grass up from the earth. She played with the blades, manipulating them to create a small nest, placing it off the edge of the blanket. Zaria sported the garnet necklace that Gareth had bought her, made from Manuel’s hands. She was very happy with the quality of the jewelry, and wanted more even though she wasn’t even too keen on jewelry.

“He’s very good at what he does,” Zaria complimented, fingering the necklace. Gareth smiled and kissed the top of her head.

“When are YOU two going to get married?” Gabriella asked, making Zaria gasp and turn red.

“Mom!”

Gabriella had the grace to look embarrassed, while Gareth’s mom, Rhea, giggled and covered her mouth with the back of her hand. “You two do look glorious together,” Rhea said, still smiling.

Zaria pursed her lips, annoyed. She was trusting Gareth more now, but she was still careful. She didn’t want to be hurt by him again. She wasn’t sure what it would take for her to feel comfortable. He hadn’t mentioned love again, but she could feel its presence. They were physically close, and Zaria felt herself losing her heart to him. She was frustrated by it, but he hadn’t shown anything that would make her doubt him. She settled against his solid chest as she ate strawberries and blueberries. He kissed the top of her head, making her smile.

Aria smiled and shook her head. “You guys are totally smitten. I’m sure it won’t be long before there’s a marriage in the works. But, mine is first! The arches are nearly finished being carved. I checked in with Nivaro yesterday and it’s exactly what I want.” Zaria was content to listen to her sister babble on about wedding plans. Manuel and Aria looked perfect with each other, her red hair setting against his dark hair nicely. Zaria liked Manuel well enough, from what she knew about him, which admittedly wasn’t much.

Gareth rubbed his thumbs on her bare arms, and she sighed at the small feeling of intimacy. She got lost in the feeling of nature and company until the sun was at an angle in the sky. “We should probably get back,” Zaria whispered to him.

“Yep, I think you’re right.” They packed up the blankets and once again set out to walk through the woods. They had been without incident, but no one saw the bright blue bird above their heads run into a tree trunk on purpose, clipping its wing.

Ahead on the path, Aria cried out. “Oh no!!” Zaria panicked and ran ahead to her, prepared for a battle. Aria was kneeling in the dirt, petting something blue. Zaria took a deep breath when she realized it was just a bird, laying in a crumpled heap. It belatedly chirped, and she knew it was injured. Aria took the bird carefully in her hands, her eyes worried. “It’s got a broken wing! I have to nurse this beautiful thing back to health!” Zaria felt compassion in her heart for the poor thing, and nodded her head yes.

“You should,” she said, drawing a small amount of energy to mend the broken wing, but thought her sister should still care for it at least a little while. They walked the rest of the way slowly, the sun nearly setting before they reached the shield again. It slightly shimmered as they walked through, and they went their separate ways after saying goodbyes, agreeing it had been a wonderful day. Aria walked off, cradling the bird in her arms. She had named him Buster. Zaria chuckled at the name.