The moon was high in the sky on Midsummer’s Eve and the people of the town were celebrating the plentiful harvest this year but not I whom has never set foot in the outside world. I sit locked in my room hidden from prying eyes that may look for one of the last magical creatures of the island Abiscondus. So I sit staring glumly out my window watching the humans dance and sing, drink rum and chase after the dogs sneaking up to the tables to steal a bite to eat.
“Aleca?” called Alexandra my younger sister, “What are you doing?”
“Watching the fireworks sister.” I called back slightly annoyed.
All of my siblings were allowed to leave the safety of the large oak to go and wander in the forests and towns as long as they stayed hidden. I wasn’t allowed to leave because even though I was the oldest I was the smallest among us. Standing only a mere 5.5in tall I was by far the smallest and most fragile of my kind. Not to mention I was the crown princess of the wood sprites.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” she asked.
“No,” I replied icily.
“Hey, don’t get mad at me just because mom thinks you’re not ready to leave your room.”
“But, you know that’s not the real reason Alexandra.” I sighed, “The reason she doesn’t want me to leave my room is because I’m to small and because of that, I’ll get hurt or the men who are interested in courting me will not want to because I will not be good for bearing children.”
“Aleca,” Alexandra said trying to be comforting but not quite making it because she sounded slightly smug.
“Just leave,” I said a hint of acid leaking into my voice.
“All right. Bye.”
She exited gracefully; flying to the doorway, exiting, and locking the door behind her. “Why is she so smug,” I thought that night as I lay in bed. Little did I know I would find out in the morning.

I awoke to brilliant sunshine streaming through my window. Today was my 17th birthday but unknown to me it would be the beginning of the worst day of my life. Getting dressed and making my bed in a blur I readied myself for my first visit outside.

We wound our way through the castle corridors never meeting a soul then we stepped out into a sunlit garden surrounded by 3 10inch high walls and the castle on the fourth side. My mother came up beside me with a levitating trunk beside her. She had 1 hand behind her back and said,” I have a surprise for you.”
”Mom,” I sighed, “You promised that you wouldn’t give me any presents because you were taking me outside.”
“Well you know me.” she said. Then with wild eyes and unimaginable speed she brought up her hand and I was able to glimpse a small silver dagger before she brought it down and pierced my heart. Tears stung my eyes as I looked upon the ones I loved while they smiled at my pain then I choked on my last breath and closed my eyes forever.

“It’s a girl,” cried the nurse-maid as she held up the delicate figure of the queens 1st born daughter. “She’s beautiful,” the exhausted queen said as she looked at the fine features. The babe’s rose pink lips opened into a perfect “O” as if to be surprised to be out the womb, and her big bright beautiful eyes were not of one color, the outside was rimmed in sky blue, the middle was a deep sea green, and around the pupil her eyes were the color of fresh, warm honey in the spring. Then the strangest thing of all was that on her ankle there was a birth-mark that looked as though the vines and flowers themselves were living in her skin. There were rose buds, tiger lilies, and a green vine. They all stood out in vivid color on her ankle.

Seventeen years later I was racing my father down the trail on Onyx my Friesian. “Yes, my dear.” I breathed, “Faster, we’ve almost got him.” Seconds later we passed over the bridge. I reined him in threw up my hands and whooped.
“You really ought to act like a lady Aleca.” My father called.
“Why should I?” I challenged, “Ladies have to act like glass vases and stand silently in the background as though they are only decorations while men can do as they please. They can be as loud as they want and are not questioned when they decide to go out for an evening ride. Anyway I’d like to have a share in the action I do not want to stand around all day sewing dresses and gossiping.” My little rant seemed to leave my father shell-shocked, but he quickly composed his face.
“Aleca you know that women have their duties and men have theirs.” He said.
“I know,” I sighed, “but what about freedom? Why should women do as they are commanded even if they are not slaves? Why should we sit back and watch as the men race and fight for our country? If you have some reasons please enlighten me.”
“Here is the one reason I will give you women aren’t strong enough to do such things.” He stated.
“Ah. So you think that women are made out of glass after all? Or is it that you think women aren’t as clever, and are inferior to men in every way.”
“Aleca,” I didn’t stay to hear what he was going to say. I just dug my heels into Onyx and ran into the forest past where my father had set the limit all the way to the cliffs beside the ocean. Onyx and I were both breathing hard and we stayed there looking out over the ocean. The sun was starting to set when I decided to turn Onyx around and go back to the castle, but I decided to walk along the cliffs and go around the forest so that I didn’t run into to a search party. As Onyx and I walked along the old hunting trail up towards the castle, out of the blue a couple of people appeared among the trees, not wanting to alert them of my presence I steered Onyx off into the trees. I quietly dismounted, led Onyx deeper under the cover of the trees, and tethered him.
“This is our chance.” The taller man whispered excitedly. The dark-haired man’s reply was almost inaudible,” Don’t act so keyed-up they might suspect us for what we are.” Then so quickly it startled me the blonde man jumped 20 feet in the air caught a sparrow and wolfed it down raw before I could even cry out.
I forced down a scream as I watched them slowly change from human to squat little creatures that were swamp green with leathery wings and feathered legs. They had the tail of a lion and the same heads they had before the transformation except that their eyes were black but not just black. They were flat black and blacker than the sky on a cloudy and moonless night. And instead of teeth they had sharp pieces of rock and steel.
It was a horrid sight but I was too terrified to look away. I was rooted to the spot my eyes frozen wide with fright, then without warning they took off and flew out of sight. After they disappeared I realized that I had been holding my breath and silently swore I would tell no one of what I had seen. I mounted Onyx and continued on to the castle hoping to come back to the norm.

It was 2 hours past nightfall when I arrived at the castle. “It’s the princess. It’s the princess!” called one of the guards when he recognized who I was, “Lower the bridge, lower the bridge at once!” I rode across the bridge and thanked the guards for responding so swiftly. This caused the guards to blush and mumble something I couldn’t hear. I rode into the stables and dismounted. “Princess, I will take Onyx and groom him for you.” Said the head groom as I started to untack him.
“No need to worry. I know how to groom and untack him properly.” I replied.
“But, princess,” he started.
I cut him off, “Edmund, I know what I am doing and do not give me any crap about how my parents are worried about me okay?” He mumbled something unintelligible.
After I had finished taking care of Onyx, I put him in his pen and headed into the castle through the servants quarters. When I arrived at my solar my mother was there pacing back and forth in front of the worn wooden door that led to my quarters.
“Aleca,” she cried when she saw me, “where have you been.”
“The cliffs.” I replied, stepping around her and opening the heavy door. My mothers face was full of fury before she composed it into a stern mask.
“Aleca Alexandria Freheart. You know that you’re forbidden to wander that far.”
“So?” I say icily, “There is nothing dangerous there as long as you are careful of the cliff’s edge.” I realized this was the wrong thing to say when the words left my mouth. My mother’s anger turned into fury.
“You are no longer to leave the grounds without a guide and a ten guard escort.”
This just caused my temper to flair even more powerfully than hers. “I shall do no such thing and if need be I will easily evade them once we are clear of the castle gates.” Then after saying this I closed the door behind me and locked it from the inside.
Then to my surprise as I turned around I came face to face with the last person on earth I wanted to see. James. “Ah. A little family squabble I see. Did you really want to be alone with me that much?” He asked me silkily.
“Get the hell out of my solar you bloody moron!” I screeched as he reached out to rap his arm around my waist.
He pulled me close to him and whispered in my ear, “Now that wasn’t very kind of you. You should apologize.” As he said this he lifted me off the ground and cradled me in his arms like a baby.
James used to be my best friend until he told my parents about how I snuck out every night and went to taverns to watch the singers and actors perform. “I’ll apologize to you after hell freezes over.” I said letting as much venom leak into my voice as possible.
This just seemed to amuse him. “You know you miss me just as much as I miss you.” He murmured.
“Sure,” I said laying the sarcasm on real thick, “and I’m a wood sprite.”
He just chuckled. “Aleca,” He almost sang my name, “you are absolutely ridiculous.”
“Like, I haven’t heard that before.” I sighed, “Please, leave James.”
“All right,” he agreed, “I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Goodbye, James.” Then after setting me gently in the chair by the fire he sauntered over to the door unlocked it and left.
My mom came walking in “Aleca, I’m sorry it’s just that when you disappear like that you make us all worry and you don’t know what could lurk in the forest after dark.” This reminded me of the creatures I had seen.
“Oh yes, before I forget. Mother what kind of creature is short with leathery wings, feathered legs, a lion tail, and human heads with sharp rocks and steel instead of teeth?” My mother was caught off guard by my odd question.
“Why would you want to know about that?” she asked looking puzzled.
“I heard some girls from the mythology department talking about a creature like that.” I lied smoothly, I had also just noticed that my mother was white as a sheet but did not bring it up.
“Well, if that’s it… A creature like that does not have a proper name. All I know of them is that their sire is a goblin and their dam is a sphinx. Also, they can shape shift into humans except they keep their teeth so they never smile. But, they can steel the teeth of another human so that they can appear more normal.”
I pondered this new information for a minute or two and asked, “Do they have any exceptional abilities?” This time she looked thoughtful and put her index finger to her chin.
“Hmmm… they do have a couple of abilities,” I waited for her to go on. “They can incapacitate their victims by looking them in the eyes, when they kiss women they feed off the woman’s memories until she has no memory whatsoever and then they use her as a source of food for their offspring to feed.”
“Thank you for answering my questions mother. See you in the morning.” I said.
“Good night, Aleca.” My mother called over her shoulder as she left the room.
“Good night.” I murmured as I slipped on my nightgown. As I fell asleep I thought about how much I missed my best friend James and how much more handsome he had become over the last 6 years.

I woke up to a warm bedroom bathed in buttery sunshine. Instead of getting up right away I watched the dust motes swirl and dance in the bright rays of the sun. Then thinking I couldn’t delay anymore, I got up with a huff and went to my closet to get dressed.
In the midst of my choosing Nadia my nurse maid came bustling in looking flustered, then stopping to take a breath she said, “Little one none of these dresses will do. There is a ball tonight and we need to take you to Madam Rosa’s Dress Shoppe to get a new and most flattering gown to get your suitors in a huff over who’s going to dance with you.” Nadia was speaking so quickly and excitedly that I knew Rupert, Nadia’s husband, was going to be there.
“Nadia,” I said trying to sound calm and aloof, “Why didn’t you just tell me Rupert is going to be there. Do you not know that I do understand?” With that statement Nadia blushed scarlet.
“Now let’s get going!” I cried, excited now that I knew my nursemaid would be able to see the love of her life.
We decided that I should just wear my riding shift because I would need to be able to change out of it quickly. Then Nadia ran down the stairs with me on her heels, but when we reached the ground floor where my parents and many other people were residing we slowed to a brisk walk. Everyone stared curiously at our flushed faces as we exited the castle.
Once we were in the carriage we burst into delighted peels of laughter over the looks on the men’s faces as we ran by.
“Did you see James?” I gasped in between fits of giggles.
“Yes,” Nadia crowed,” He looked as though he had swallowed a watermelon when you flounced by. He looked at all of the other men and was hoping none noticed how beautiful you are.”
“Oh stop it Nadia, you know I’m not really beautiful. I’m so plain I’m almost homely.”
“Homely!?” She cried,” Don’t you ever describe yourself as homely. You look like one the wood sprites, who have chosen the likeness of a goddess.”
“Fine, fine,” I sighed in defeat.
We entered Madam Rosa’s Dress Shoppe through the beautifully carved front door. It swung open silently on oiled hinges but the bell announced their arrival by ringing.
“Your majesty,” gushed Miss Rosa, “I am so glad you decided to come to my shoppe to choose your dress for your first courting ball.”
“You know that I love your dress designs Miss Rosa. They are absolutely amazing.”
I tried on dress after dress but could not find the right one then Miss Rosa came out with a dress so beautiful I gasped and stared in wonder. The dress was a silvery shade of metallic pink; accented with silver lace and an exceptionally low neck line that I was afraid I’d be to self conscious to wear it.
“This, princess was designed exactly for you.” Miss Rosa murmured.
“May I try it on, Miss Rosa?”
“Of course princess.” I tried on the dress, being careful to not wrinkle it.
The dress set on me like only silk could. I stepped timidly out of the dressing room to the mirrors to take a look. I couldn’t help noticing how every person who saw me gaped or sighed with envy. I looked in the mirror and froze; the dress clung to my body just right accentuating my curves as though it was part of my skin. The neck line plunged down to the middle of my chest showing just enough, but not too much.
“It-it’s gorgeous.” Nadia was finally able to splutter. There were murmurs of agreement among the others in the store.
“Rosa,” I said, snapping her out of her awed reverie, “I would like to by this dress for the ball.”
“Yes, Princess.” She said sounding a little breathless.

Nadia was combing my hair when I confessed my worries. “Nadia, what if none of the suitors show up or what if---“
“Goodness child!” Nadia cried, “Don’t worry. No man in his right mind would ever want to miss their chance to woo you.”
She helped me plait my hair and pile it on top of my head in a mass of curls that was so elegant it did not need a crown to decorate. My mother came in and presented me with a circlet that was both grand and elegant so it could work at any occasion. It was silver with emeralds, sapphires, and amber to match my eyes. “Thank you, mother,” I finally choked out through my emotion.
Standing just outside the grand doors to the ballroom, I waited for my cue to walk in. “… and now the moment we’ve all been waiting for, the arrival of our very own princess!” The doors swung open and light flooded over me like an ocean tide. There was applause and once I stepped into the light there was a great intake of breath as I walked forward. The bands music stuttered momentarily and then continued along on their beautiful melody. I walked up to my parents and asked, “What’s all the commotion about?” My mother looked at me as though I was crazy.
“Aleca,” she said, “you are what the commotion is about. You look as though you were bourn of starlight and pink roses then sprinkled with moonbeams.”
Then the suitors descended and asked for dance after dance. I stayed all night and well into the morning before the final suitors had gone. Well, all except for one. “James, you should go now.” I said wearily, knowing it would do no good. James was determined to do a tango with me as his partner.
“Not until you tango with me.” He said defiantly.
“Fine.” I replied, to tired to refuse.
We swung around the dance-floor faster and closer than we had been in a long time. When he finally let me go I was dizzy with fatigue and exhaustion so when he tried to kiss me; instead of stepping back and smacking him I collapsed in a heap quivering from the effort of the last dance.
“Aleca,” he said panicked.
“I’m fine really,” I said to everyone who had come to help me, “I just need some sleep. I am absolutely wiped out.”
My reassurances fell on deaf ears. Everyone was fussing over me so I stood up and stomped up to me solar without looking back. That was my mistake because when I turned around to close my door James was standing there eyes full of worry. “James, I’m fine but that last tango took my last reserves of energy and I need to sleep before I faint.”
Then I shut the door on him got ready for bed and slept.

I was making my bed and was really excited but I didn’t know why. A woman and a girl both immensely taller than me led me through wooden castle corridors then suddenly we stepped out into the sunlight. I looked around in wonder to see a walled garden then the woman I realized was my mom she had one hand behind her back holding something I couldn’t see. “I have a surprise for you,” she said excitedly.
“Mom,” I replied, “You promised that you wouldn’t give me any presents because you were taking me outside.” I realized then that I had never been outside before.
“Well, you know me,” She said. Then I realized her eyes were full of some kind of lust that I didn’t recognize. Then faster than I thought possible she brought up her hand revealing a silver dagger and plunged it into my heart.

I awoke with a start; my heart was spluttering franticly in my chest trying to escape I thought. What a strange dream. There was a feeling inside me that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Betrayal that was it. But it’s just a dream, I thought to myself. No, no it wasn’t; this has happened to me before but I don’t know when. My goodness, I thought I was a wood sprite in my last life. Incredible.
I looked out my window to see what time it was. The sun was rising. Unbelievable; I’ve slept for a day and a night. I had better get ready for the day. Today is Monday so I need to wear my midnight blue riding dress for the hunt.
“Goodness child, we thought you would never wake,” Cried Nadia when she saw me climb out of the bed.
“Nadia how soon are they leaving for the hunt?” I asked while yawning simultaneously.
“In two hours, so if you want to go you’ll have to start getting ready.”
So, we set to work on brushing all the tangles out of my curly hair, bathing, and getting dressed. While Nadia was French braiding my hair I asked, “Are any of my suitors going on the hunt?”
“Yes, Ally, James is going of course but there’s also Henry, Derrick, Jarrod, Donald, Eric, and Alexander.” Nadia replied.
“Who are Henry and Derrick?” I asked.
Nadia ignored my question and booted me out the door. I went down to the stables and saddled Onyx for the hunt. Then leaving Onyx with the stable hands I went to my father to retrieve my bow.
When father saw me his eyes lit up. “Ally, you looked wonderful the other night. You made all of the men there weak at the knees.”
“Father,” I sighed, “it was no big deal and what’s with everyone and all the hyperboles? Is there a conspiracy or something?” He just shook his head and handed me my bow.
“Doesn’t know she’s beautiful and has brains on top of it.” He muttered.
I strapped on my quiver and strung my bow. I mounted Onyx and rode to the edge of the courtyard to join the others in the hunting party. I heard some of the men muttering about how women shouldn’t be allowed to hunt but once I rode near enough the men broke off and stared at me in wonder.
“What’s wrong?” I asked as they continued to stare.
“Princess,” one of them started,” Ally,” I corrected. “Ally, you look enchanting.” He finished, it was Jarrod.
“Thank you,” I said blankly thinking about how plain the dress I was wearing is.
Then I caught sight of a reflection of myself. I was unable to believe I had changed so much in a month. My eyes were bright with awareness and curiosity and I was walking gracefully and confidently and it looked as though I was gliding. Then I noticed two men watching me intently and stifled a gasp. The short dark haired man and the tall blonde man were both watching me with so much intensity I had to look away. They were the creatures I had seen in the woods a couple of days ago.
“Princess,” the tall dark haired one said, “Ally.” I corrected automatically. “Ally,” he said with a dark smile that revealed two rows of snowy milk teeth,” Would you care to walk with me a moment?”
“All right,” I said cautiously. We walked out to the gardens and talked of politics and my duties as crown princess.
“You don’t know what you are.” He said under his breath.
“And what am I?” I said in return even though I wasn’t meant to hear it. He looked at me slightly stunned then said, “You’re changing all ready.”
“What do you mean?”
“You were a wood sprite in another life.”
“And you’re not a human.” This slipped out involuntarily and when I said it he looked at me quizzically and asked, “What am I then?”
“Humans have no name for your kind but, you are amazingly strong and agile, swamp green, with leathery wings, feathered legs, and a human head.”
“Good girl,” he purred, “then you should know that, that is not our true form.”
“Uhhh, no.”
“Hmmm. Well I’ll tell you, that is not my true form. My true form is the one you see here but, the one you saw is the form we take when we fly because that breed is even faster than a dragon in flight. What I am is a wizard with shape-shifting powers which run in my family.”
I weighed his words and decided he was telling the truth then I asked,” What does this have to do with me and why do think I was a wood sprite in another life?”
“Princess, have you not noticed that you seem to glow faintly and you smell of sweet wildflowers and the earth after it rains? Have you not noticed that every man who sees you is ensnared by your beauty?” then his voice became hushed and mysterious,” Have you not noticed that the air around you hums with the energy of magic?”
“Now, you’re talking crazy.” I said a little scared.
“Let me prove it to you,” he said while bending to pick up a bird that had fallen out of its nest and had a large gash through its chest. “Hold this bird.”
I gently took the poor fledgling and cradled it in my arms wishing I could heal it then to my surprise the gash started glowing and knitted itself back together again. Then I don’t know why but, I kissed the top of the fledglings head and threw it into the air. The fledgling didn’t only just start flying but it grew to its full size and flew away.
I looked at the man awestruck and realized I didn’t know his name. “What’s your name?” This question seemed to surprise him.
“My name is Derric.”
“Aleca,” my father called to me,” the hunt is about to begin.” And with that I mounted Onyx, shook the disturbing thoughts from my mind, and started the hunt.
We rode into the forest following the hounds then when they found the scent we were off riding at breakneck speed into the forest after them. Since Onyx and I were in the best of shape we quickly left the others behind then when I caught sight of the boar I took my bow off my shoulder, took an arrow out of my quiver, and shot it. The beast came down with the first shot. I reigned in Onyx and hopped of with bow and arrow ready in case it was still alive. The boar was dead so I continued walking forward and retrieved my arrow from its side.
Then the men caught up, saw the boar and looked at me in awe. I proceeded to skin, gut and clean the beast because I had downed it only a few paces from a stream. The men all just sat and stared and me in amazement. Then one of them asked, “How’d you down it so quickly?”
“I shot it through the heart.” And that was that. I cured and salted some of the meat and then leaving the waste we brought the meat and the pelt back to the castle.
That night at the castle we had flame roasted chicken, with spit roasted boar, and salad as the main course.

“Princess, wake up it’s time for your bath.” I awoke slow and bleary eyed then something startled me, my skin was glowing faintly not just healthy but shining. I got up and walked to the washing basin by the fire and got in. The surface of the water was covered in bubbles and rose petals. I laid back and relaxed for a moment in the hot water. I closed my eyes then I heard the door open. My eyes flew open and I slid farther into the basin to hide my body. Then I looked over to the door and none other than Derric is standing there staring at me with mild interest on his face.
“Get out,” I cried in distress.
“What’s the matter Ally, you don’t want to be seen.” His eyes glinted with amusement and he smiled darkly at me.
“Nadia!” I called even more worried.
“Nadia, help,” This time she heard me and came bustling into the room muttering something about being old enough to wash myself.
“Nadia, please get him to leave.” I said. This caused her to look up and when she saw Derric she hurriedly ran over, shooed him out, then shut and locked the door.
“For Christ’s sake Ally why don’t you have enough sense as to lock the door?” she asked.
“I’ve never had to worry about it before, Nadia. Nobody has ever dared to come in here except for James.”
“Ally, you’re a beautiful and very desirable young woman now, men are going to chase you to ends of the earth.”
“Well now you’re just being silly.” But she just shook her head and went back to her room to sew. I finished washing quickly and dried myself. I went to my wardrobe and tried to figure out what to wear. Today there is going to be a parade and I’m going to ride Onyx in his white tack so I will wear something that is gold and shimmery.
I looked at my riding gowns and picked out one made of satin that fit the description. It had a low neck, white lace, and white accents. I was dressing when I noticed my birth-mark; a green vine with rose buds and tiger lilies. It looked as though somebody had painted it there.
Then I noticed that my dress was a little to loose so just to see if it worked I willed it to be snug to my curves but not too tight or too loose. Within seconds the dress fit me perfectly and the other thing I noticed is that my birthmark glowed and the vines wreathed on my ankle.
“Aleca,” I heard my mother call.
“Coming,” I hollered over my shoulder at her. I slipped on my dressy tan slippers and ran out to see my mother. When she saw me she looked relieved.
“Ally, the parade is about to begin and Onyx is already tacked up.”
“Thank you, mother,” and with that I set off for the stables to retrieve Onyx but when I arrived I did not suspect that Derric would have the nerve to be the one to give me my horse.
“What do you want, Derric?” I asked my voice full of venom.
“To be able to hold you in my arms.” He replied dreamily.
“Maybe when my heart stops beating.” Then I realized something. Derric isn’t a shape-shifting wizard he’s exactly what I saw. He saw the realization dawn on my face and then before I could defend myself he lunged but instead of attacking me he kissed me. I tried to pull away but he was stronger than the dragon’s of the mountains. Then my memories started to rush from my mind through my connection to him and he fed off of them. He started to breathe hard and his face became flushed then…
When the man released me my mind was blank and I was confused.
“Who are you?” I asked puzzled.
“What’s happening?” Then a horrible realization dawned on me.
“Who am I?” I looked at the man but he just smiled darkly.
“You are Aleca Alexandria Freheart my servant.”

Derric, my master helped me mount the horse I was to take but I must say he was pretty grand. He was a midnight black Friesian named Onyx. “Master,” I said, “where are we going?”
“To my home,” he replied sounding a little smug.
We rode for four days and nights with no rest and no slowing down. When he finally ordered me to stop I was hungry and thirsty and above all else exhausted.
“Aleca, you will set up camp,” he said.
“Yes master.” I replied but it came out slurred and garbled.
So then he had me set up his tent and told me to picket the horse on a nearby log. When I finally lay down to sleep the moon was half way through its course.
Then when I was almost asleep someone picked me up and pretending to still be asleep though I wondered why; I watched the route the person took up to the side of the mountain. Higher and higher we climbed until we reached a trench. It was so deep and wide that I couldn’t see the bottom or the other side.
The person holding me jumped off the side of the cliff and glided. After about ten minutes we reached the far wall and then he (I think it was a he.) descended to about a quarter of a mile lower to the bottom of the ravine and entered a small cave (At least I think it was a small cave because it sounded muffled inside and I couldn’t see). He walked to the other side of the cave and set me down then he turned and left.
After I was sure he was gone I sat up and looked around the cave but it was pitch black then for some reason I decided to will a light into being and then suddenly I had a small fire suspended just above my open palm. I didn’t realize it until then that I was freezing. So I decided to will a warm beaver skin coat into being. Then holding my little flame aloft I started to explore.
I looked around and noticed that there were three other women in skimpy summer dresses sleeping on straw pallets under slim blankets. One of the women had a shocking head of tomato red hair then there was a girl with platinum blonde hair. Then the last girl was the most peculiar. She had gold-blonde hair but her skin was black and no not the black you expect in Africans but she was black like the night and black as pitch.
Then at the very back of the cave I saw a small opening just large enough for me to fit through. I squeezed through it into a very large cavern that was lit in the middle by something on a pedestal that was pulsing and glowing blue. I advanced slowly stopping every few steps to scan the cavern for guards or other wanderers like me.
When I was right beside the pedestal I was able to see what it was. It was a flower. It was long and slender with a bud that opened and showed an image of something I couldn’t make out and when I looked at it I felt my birthmark writhe. Then all of a sudden the image became clear and I saw myself in it but, I was talking to someone and I had wings then a rush of memories hit me.
Betrayal. Death. Sadness. Rebirth. Princess. Free will. I was no servant I am Aleca Alexandria Freheart, princess of the island of Abisondus and former princess of the Wood Sprite Fairy Court. I reached out and plucked the flower off the pedestal.
It started moving then it became a dress that was identical to my own but was blue. It seemed to be telling me that I should wear it. So I stripped off my white dress and put on the blue one. The flower dress slid across my skin like water over stones and was lighter than air. My anger at Derric for kidnapping me made my skin glow red and illuminate the whole cave with a shimmering light.
I decided to find out what I could before the sun rose and they came for me. I started to feel along the wall then to my surprise opposite of where I entered there was small flap. I opened it but then decided to stay in the cave I was in for a minute more.
I created an identical version of the flower and placed it on the pedestal. Then I charmed it to look the way I saw it first.
I returned to the flap and opened it. It took all of my strength not to start sobbing. Sitting there in the back of a small room was a pallet and curled up on it were two emaciated children. I recognized them as the little girls who I would sometimes read stories to.
Then one of the brunette heads looked up at me. She looked afraid but when she recognized me she turned and roused her sister. “Enna, Enna wake up its Ally.” said Hailee as she shook Enna awake. When she sat up and looked at me she jumped to her feet and ran to me.
“Ally,” she cried weeping into my magical dress,” Ally, I knew you’d come to save us.”
“Hush,” I admonished,” the goblin spawn don’t know I still have a memory and if they find out they will kill me for sure so keep it a secret that we know each other all right?” They nodded mutely. “Let’s get some food into your little tummies.” And with that I turned my back so they wouldn’t see and willed roast sparrow, fruits, piping hot mashed potatoes and gravy, and spiced cider into being.
When I turned back to them with my arms full of delicious smelling foods the girls didn’t ask where I got it from they just piled heaping helpings onto the plates I produced from a bag I willed into being on my back. Then they started eating like ravenous wolves and it made my heart sink to think of what their rations were.
After the children had polished off the last of the spiced cider; I created some warm honey-cakes and ice cold milk to finish the meal. They ate these and after every crumb was gone and the last drops of their milk consumed; Enna and Hailee dropped off into a deep sleep.
After I had charmed a blanket to give off enough heat to keep the girls warm according to however cold it got I tiptoed out into the cavern. I walked as quickly and as quietly as I could to the small crevice I had first entered.
I went over to where I was deposited by whoever that was and created a little cubbyhole that would only open if my skin touched it. Just as I was snuffing out the fire I had conjured, the first rays of light started to stretch across the sky.
I quickly lay down in the exact place where I was left and in the same position I closed my eyes and tried to drift off to sleep.

I awoke quickly but kept my eyes closed and my breathing even. I heard people whispering, I couldn’t quite understand them so I listened harder.
“Who is she?” someone said with a strange accent.
I heard someone gasp. Then I decided to get up.
“Hello.” I said and smiled. Then something occurred to me they don’t have memories.
“Hello.” They all said simultaneously.
“My name is Aleca Alexandria Freheart. What’re yours?”
“My name is Cecilia,” said the red haired girl.
“Emily,” said the white skinned blonde.
“Olicia,” said the blonde girl whose skin was black like pitch.
Before we could become more acquainted I heard footsteps outside the entrance to the cave. A couple of seconds later the rest of the girls heard and silenced their chatter. I saw a shadow before I saw anything else, then a tall form stepped through cave entrance and stared at us all with a calculating look. As he met the eyes of each of the girls they instantly looked down as if they were suddenly very interested in the patterns on their skirts. When his penetrating gaze reached me I returned his look with a stony glare. At this he raised an eyebrow but I continued to stare back refusing to be intimidated by those cold, dead eyes. He smiled at me, or more likely bared his white teeth; in response my glare became as cold, and reptilian as a snake.
Then he did something I did not expect; he started to laugh. I grunted annoyance and started to plait my hair. The silence in the cavern stretched on for what seemed like an eternity. Then he spoke, “Miss Freheart, you would do well to understand that you are the servant here.”
“I know, sir.” I replied to him. I rolled my eyes and went back to making graceful spirals out of my hair.
“Miss Freheart, today you are to cook for a great feast that is to take place at noon,” Said the reptilian man. I nodded at the man then realizing something I asked, “Sir what’s your name?”
That seemed to catch him off guard. “My name is none of your concern.”
“You don’t remember do you?” I asked. His looked shocked. I smirked and went back to plaiting my hair and said, “Sir, could you show me where the kitchen and the pantry are.” He gave me a hard look and then motioned for me to follow him.
We stepped out of the dimness of the cave into brilliant sunshine and I had to blink until my eyes adjusted. When I could see I looked down and saw a deep ravine. I sucked in a quick breath of air and looked around for the man I needed to follow. He was staring at me looking smug so I tossed my plaited hair behind my shoulder; in doing so all of the plaits came undone and my hair whipped around me like living creatures. To throw him off I tilted my chin down and looked up from under lashes.
The man’s eyes became huge and he took a step back. In response I looked back up and smirked, saying, “You were showing me to the kitchen?” The pitch of my voice tilted up at the end of what I was saying so it sounded like a question. He shook himself and set off down the narrow little trail running along the side of the wall of the ravine then I had more time to study him. He was broad shouldered and seemed to be about six and a half feet tall. He actually was quite handsome when he wasn’t sneering, all reptilian like.
He stopped outside of a large open cave; it was about one hundred feet tall and had a few small wholes where chimneys exited out into the open air. His voice startled me out of my quiet reverie. “The pantry is through that opening at the far end of the kitchen. No one is allowed to help you because this is a test to see if you’re worth keeping… or not.” This time it was his turn to smirk.
I blew my bangs out of my face and got to work.

It turns out that I had to serve the food as well. Jeesh, talk about exhausting. The second that I had everything cleaned up I was just about to run back to the small cave I shared with the other maids when I heard the butler who helped me serve the food and told me that the Great Duke Deric wanted to see me. (Great Duke, ugh)
I walked briskly into the room refusing to show how tired I am and held my head high. “You called my liege?” I asked in clipped tones. He raised one blonde brow at me. I stifled the action of rolling my eyes at him.
“Walk with me,” he commanded. I so wanted say hell no and flip him off but I held my tongue and fisted my hands at my sides. When we in the hall away from everyone else he asked, “Will you accompany me to my room?” I heard a question but I knew it was a command that he wanted an answer to.
“I will walk you to your room,” I said carefully that way he didn’t know I knew what he was doing. We walked up a winding staircase and met an ornate door with a sign over the top dubbing it the “Room of Stars”. (Gag, barf)
He opened the door for me and mustering all of the puzzlement I could I said, “I thought you just wanted me to walk you to your room.” And for maximum effect I deflated like a balloon and showed him how utterly exhausted I was. He noticed how tired I looked. This caused his face to brighten. Great, just what I needed. 1: I have been kidnapped by evil beings which have no name. 2: The guy who kidnapped me wants more than for me just to clean his room. 3: I am absolutely exhausted and he thinks because I am he can take advantage of me.
“Please come inside,” he said and pouted. Seriously he was actually pouting. Grrrrrr.
“No,” I said firmly, “I need to get some sleep so if you wouldn’t mind I am going to go back to the cave with the girls. Thank you it was nice walking and talking with you but I have no intention of entering your room right now so, later,” so with that I turned my back and strode back down, the stairs through the hall, out into the night, and back to the cave.
Before I lay down to sleep I went through the hole in the wall and found Enna and Hailee. They were sitting their room leaning against the wall staring at the ceiling. I went into the middle of the room without them noticing and left a good dinner for them with a note from me.
When I was back in the maid cave I lay down and the second my head hit the warm fur I was laying on I was out.

I woke up before dawn to see the other girls in the cavern stirring. “Good morning,” I said while yawning simultaneously. They murmured their good mornings back to me then reptile man entered the cavern.
“Cecilia, Emily, Olicia. Come with me girls.” They followed him without a word but I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“Don’t go,” I shouted at them with my mind. They all stopped and looked startled then they looked at me. I pleaded with them with my eyes.
“We have to go,” Olicia said to me. I looked from her to reptile man then had an idea. I started plucking his brain so that I could figure out what he was taking them to. What I discovered was awful. I saw an image in his mind of the strange creatures hatching out of eggs and eating the girls alive. I jumped to my feet.
“Don’t you dare lead them to their deaths you monster,” I yelled at the top of my lungs. His eyes opened so wide eye thought they were going to pop out and roll across the cavern floor. “Pass out,” I commanded. In less than a second after saying it he crumpled into a heap on the floor.
“Follow me,” I said. Then without bothering to look over my shoulder I walked to the small opening, crouched, and went through. On the other side I walked to the pedestal in the middle of the room. Still without turning around I snatched the false flower I had placed on the pedestal and broke it into a million glittering turquoise shards. I used some wind currents to gather them up and then let them swirl all around the three girls behind me.
Then I turned to look at their shocked faces. Their eyes had glazed over and they looked as though they were carved from stone. Then slowly, ever so slowly they began to thaw and start to move again. When they finally looked at me they blinked very slowly as though they had just woken up and then they all started babbling.
“Shut up,” I thundered over the din. They instantly stilled and became silent. “Thank you. Now, you three follow me silently,” I emphasized the word drawing out every syllable, “and help carry Hailee and Enna, the two little girls who have been captured to be used as feed for the goblin spawn like ya’ll were to be.” They all nodded mutely and followed me into the girls’ room. What we found was too awful to believe. There were broken, eggs in the corner of the room with trails of slime leading all over the place.
The room stank of death. There was blood coating every exposed surface and----. I shuddered unable to register any more than I needed. There were two crumpled bodies in the middle of the room. I walked over to Enna’s body and confirmed what I already believed then I started to hear again. Hailee was breathing in small, shallow pants that rattled with the sound of death, but she was still alive. The girls in the back of the room were gagging at the stench and then faintly, I heard the quiet footfalls of someone entering the cavern with the pedestal.
“Take her,” I ordered them and sprang to my feet. I would have taken Enna’s body for a true burial but we couldn’t carry her body and move quickly at the same time. I skulked to the entrance of the girls’ small cave and peeked out of the leather flap. Deric was standing in the middle of the room with his head cocked listening. I willed all of the girls into silence, then speaking into their minds I said,” Keep to the shadows and you will make it to the ledge. Once you are there use this,” and I held up a small leaf,” to get to the bottom. Just say grow and it’ll become large enough for everyone to sit in it then it will float to the ground. Be swift.”
Then taking a deep breath I exited the small room and entered the cavern. Derric looked at me unsurprised. My face no doubt looked grim and sad. “You have seen the children.” It was a statement, not a question and he seemed to be slightly amused.
“What’s left of them,” I said. Then to my surprise, he smiled. He actually smiled. My stomach dropped out from under me. This smile was not warm and dark like I’d seen him smile before but this smile was cold and black. This smile was blacker than the deepest pit in the bowels of hell. I wanted to scream and cry and run away all at the same time but I couldn’t.
“Aleca,” he purred,” come here.” I walked so that I was just out of lunging distance of him. “Come, closer.” He said. Omigod. Omigod. I think I’m going to scream. I swallowed down the lump in my throat and walked until I was close enough to touch him with my outstretched arm. Please don’t touch me. Please don’t touch me. My silent plea was ignored; he wrapped his arms around my waist, pulled me close, and whispered in my ear.
“Aleca, do you remember what you were before I kissed you?” My body already stiff with fear went rigid in complete and utter terror. I am so bad at hiding what I’m feeling. He laughed against my neck and I shivered. His breath was like ice. “Hmmm…” he murmured as he tightened his grip on me. “Ally, Ally, Ally.” He said silkily, “You aren’t fooling anyone. If you hadn’t had your memories you would have joined me last night without a clue of what I was doing.” He lifted one hand and traced my collar bone. I jerked away from him and backed against the far wall.
His eyes were hungry black orbs. “Don’t you ever, ever, touch me,” I said. My voice was husky and deep from sleep. He threw back his head and howled with laughter.
“This will be fun,” he croaked as he transformed into his true shape. “Oh, and Ally, I forgot to tell you,” his voice sounded like that of demonic decent, “I really am not what you think I am. The human form you usually see me in is that of Deric’s but it doesn’t belong to him anymore. My name is Skotino. In your language that means darkness,” He, it, whatever it was chuckled.
Then I did the only sensible thing a girl could do in this situation. I ran. I ran like the devil himself was going to steal my soul. When I reached the ledge outside of the cave I didn’t even pause I jumped into the air and was freefalling like a maniac. I fell for what seemed like an eternity and then when I saw the ground approaching I jerked so my feet were beneath me and absorbed the impact of the fall with the balls of my feet. I looked up into the air for any signs of pursuit and was disappointed to see a swamp green swarm writhing through the air like an eel through water. I heard a sigh of relief and saw the girls hiding in the shade of the ravine.
“We need to move, now!” I cried urgently. They followed my gaze to the cloud of demons and whimpered in terror. “Follow me.” I grabbed Hailee and cradled her in my arms. She was barely breathing and her heart beat slow and uneven. I reached out with my mind and called a small herd of centaurs for aid.
Within seconds we heard the centaur’s hoof beats echoing around the base of the ravine. “Come,” said a large male who seemed to be the leader. He grabbed Enna from me and a young male with a liver chestnut body and a blonde mane and tail lifted me onto his back.
A few female centaurs did the same with the girls. Then seeing the swarm in the sky the leader said, “You must really keep bad company if they’re after you.” I just stared at him solemnly.
Then they ran. I swear that they ran faster than a dragon flies and we were deep in the forest before the demons could even think about flying to the bottom of the ravine. I moved woodenly and robotically. My mind would not process what I saw. I willed some warm wool dresses into being and gave them to the girls. Then I set about taking care of Hailee. I took her to a private spot behind a large oak tree and cut her gown off of her wounds. There was a hot spring not five yards from wear I was sitting with Hailee. So I gathered her up and walked right into it.
The water hissed when it hit her wounds and I realized that Hailee was so cold that she should be dead. I put my hand on her shoulder and let heat seep through her body. Then she opened her eyes and gasped in pain. Hailee thrashed and writhed so I grabbed her and held her tight.
“Shhh,” I murmured over and over again as she fought with the little strength she had left. Then I started humming a lullaby. This seemed to pull her consciousness to the present, but before she could do any more than focus her eyes on my face she drifted off into unconsciousness once more. I submerged all of Hailee’s wounds and then I set her on the bank and healed her.
All I had to do to was barely brush my fingers over the deep cuts and bites then the tissue would knit together as though someone had taken a ripped gown and sewed it back together again. I replaced her torn (that’s a bit of an understatement the dress was in shreds barely hanging on to her small frame) dress with a warm cushy robe and laid her down to sleep on a bed of leaves.
I lay down close to her and it seemed like hours later fell asleep.

I woke up to the sun shining brightly on the horizon and thought how could the sun shine so happily and brightly when there are no reasons to smile? I sat up and checked on Hailee she was breathing normally and she didn’t have a fever but her scars stood out in stark relief against her pail skin. I wish that I could have acted sooner than I had because if I had Enna would be alive and neither of them would have had to go through so much pain. I finally let a few tears slip out of my eyes and down my face in the morning light.
“There’s nothing you could have done for Enna,” said an unfamiliar voice behind me.
I was too tired to turn and counter the person’s words so I just hung my head and asked,” How’d you know what I was thinking?” There was no answer other than the quiet steps of the person as he lowered himself the ground next to me. I finally mustered the energy to look up and when I saw him in normal circumstances I would have been stunned and would have lost my train of thought but now at this moment the only thing his beauty did to me was to make my tired mind note the beauty but not think about it further.
“How’d you know what I was thinking?” I persisted. When I still didn’t get an answer I gave up. Why waste energy when I needed it all to take care of Hailee? So I ignored him and went to her side she had woken up while I was staring at the horizon. Without a word I handed her a fresh warm wool gown and returned to staring at the horizon.
“I am Robin,” he said after a while. I jumped at the sound of his voice because he was so quiet that I forgot he was there. His voice was rich and sweet but smooth like silk all at the same time. I wanted to drown in his voice. I laughed at myself and my absurd thoughts. When I looked at him he raised one perfect eyebrow inquisitively and smirked.
“If you knew what I’ve been through you wouldn’t be looking at me like that Sir Robin,” I said a little more icily than I meant to. His face went from mocking to regretful in the blink of an eye. “It’s all right,” I sighed slightly ashamed of my behavior.
I heard rustling so I looked behind me, approaching us through the deep woods was the leader of the centaurs. His rich, black hide still shone even in the shade of the canopy.
“Hello,” I tried to call pleasantly but my came out dry and brittle. He returned my greeting but his eyes were troubled. I’ve never been one who was good at dropping hints so blunt and straightforward I asked, “What’s wrong?”
He looked pained when he asked, “My wife is in labor and she’s having difficulty,” he grimaced and looked down,” Could you help her?” When I was about to answer I heard a blood-curdling scream. Without any hesitation I ran toward the source of the sound and what I saw caused a chill to slither up my spine that had nothing to do with the temperature. Three demons from Skotino’s pack were advancing on a female chestnut centaur giving birth. Omigod, Omigod. I closed my eyes and tried to breath. These people are possessed so I just had to figure out how to separate the spirits. I reached out with every fiber of my being and felt for the grip of the demons in the people’s bodies. It was like they were sewn into the human’s consciousness so with my index finger I popped the, seems and pulled out the stitches.
I opened my eyes and saw three men standing in front of me looking confused, a female centaur sweating in labor, and three inky, black shadows frozen in silent screams of agony and anger melt into the ground. Then without further adieu I fainted in exhaustion.

I awoke in a warm feather bed with sunlight streaming through a high window. I sat up slowly and stretched, and then I noticed I was dressed only in my undergarments. Somebody must’ve taken off my dress while I was unconscious. This thought made my face hot while I cringed. Then I remembered the dress was the magic flower I had found. I was about to start hyperventilating when I saw it draped over a table not far away. I slid my feet out from under the warm blanket that I was under and onto the floor. My bare feet turned to ice on the already freezing hard wood floor. I walked the dress and was about to pick it up when it shimmered and in its place was a necklace with a silver chain and a large blue stone dangling at the end. Tiny silver vines and leaves wrapped around the stone. The stone was about the size of a newborn baby’s closed fist. The silver vines and leaves were so detailed that they looked real, and deep in the middle of the stone was a white-fairy like figure that when I listened hard enough seemed to be speaking.
The necklace seemed to be calling to me so I grabbed it, put it around my neck, and dropped it beneath my under gown so it was hidden. I was so lost in thought about it that I jumped when there was a knock at the door. But I quickly regained my composure.
“Come in,” I called. Hailee peeked around the corner and when she saw me she rushed in and hugged me tightly.
“How are you?” I asked. She gave me a thumb’s up but didn’t stop hugging me and didn’t speak.
“Hailee, where are we?” I asked with a little more concern. She stepped back and ran over to a desk in the far corner of the room. Then she grabbed a quill, dipped it in ink, and started to write.
“Can you speak?” I asked worried. She shook her head and continued writing. I strode over to her and when I was about to peek at what she was writing she turned and handed the piece of paper to me. It said this: We are at Prince Robin Aster’s castle on the island of Zeus just 3 days journey by boat from Abiscondus. I cannot speak because when the demon children attacked me they ate my voice box.
I shuddered internally at the pain she must have gone through. Then I asked her what I was supposed to wear. She turned and wrote that there was to be a banquet for the holiday. I asked what holiday it was and she wrote that she wasn’t sure because the holidays in this place were as many as the stars. Hailee ran over to the large wardrobe and opened it. There were so many dress gowns I just about fell over. (I myself only have 10 gowns including my everyday gowns and my riding shifts)
I shooed Hailee out of the room so that I could get dressed. After shutting the door and turning the key in the lock. (I am never changing in a room without locking the door after what happened with Derric) I ran over to the wardrobe and grabbed the first thing my hands touched. It was a bright red gown with an exceptionally low neckline that even though I wasn’t wearing it made me blush so I replaced it and pulled out a rich purple gown with just the smallest embroidery.
The purple gown had a scoop neck that only went to an inch and a half below my collarbone. There were small slits that surrounded the neckline with black silk beneath them and more slits with black silk on the upper arm. I set the gown on the bed and warmed some water for a bath. I filled the large tub and while I let the water cool down enough for me to bathe in it I took my hair out of its neat plaits I had made while staring at the horizon waiting for Hailee to wake up.
I looked in the mirror as I brushed my hair. I saw my reflection but it wasn’t mine it was like looking at a familiar stranger. My eyes were too bright and my hair was six inches longer even though it has only been about a week since I’d been kidnapped. I had purplish looking bruises beneath my eyes and my skin was pale as the moon.
I tore my eyes away from the mirror and bathed. The warm water and scented oils helped me relax and when I was finished I shivered in the cool late summer air. I got dressed and left the room I was in.
When I entered the hallway I was surprised to see that there were no paintings hung on the walls. This was because the walls were painted with beautiful murals that flowed into each other like a never ending tide. Their beauty was breathtaking.
There were murals of hunts, forest scenes with creatures I had never before seen, the list went on and on. I finally ended up in a large circular room that was a mural of the see but not just above but below to. I was staring in wonder when I heard footsteps enter from the opposite direction that I had come.
I whirled around and saw Robin striding toward me. Now that I am fully awake I examined him carefully. He had blonde hair cut short and broad shoulders. He had amber eyes that looked almost like honey and he was at least six feet tall. (Although compared to my five feet four inches he could be a little under)
“Hello,” I said pleasantly, trying not to stare at him like a dumb fool.
“Hello,” he replied. I marveled again at how sweet and melodic his voice was. Then he continued, “Would you like me to show you to the dining hall?”
I smiled thankfully. I was glad that I wouldn’t be wandering around like an idiot. I tried to avert my gaze so that I wouldn’t be dazzled by his beauty again. We walked in companionable silence. I hadn’t put up my hair so my brunette hair was curling gracefully and spilling over my shoulders. (It reached all the way down to my thighs) This made it safe for me to peek at him without his knowledge. Every time I looked at him he was staring at me with a slightly frustrated expression.
“Is there something wrong?” I finally asked. He looked down at me surprised.
“No, there’s nothing wrong.”
“Oh,” was my brilliant response.
We walked again wrapped in a totally and completely awkward silence. When I peeked sideways at him through my screen of hair I saw that he was now watching me with a look so intent that I blushed and turned my head to the opposite wall. I studied the paintings on the wall as though I was deeply fascinated by them.
Then without thinking I blurted out, “Who brought me to the room I was in?”
“I did,” he replied with a bit of amusement in his voice. I promised myself not to look at his face otherwise I would lose my train of thought and would probably stutter like an idiot. I didn’t dare ask him if he was the one who had taken off my gown for me otherwise I would probably die of embarrassment either way he answered.
Then he caught me off guard by asking, “Why did you choose the dress you’re wearing?” I peeked up at him then wondering why he would ask such a question. The expression in his eyes was seriously interested so I answered him honestly.
“I was too tired to think much so I grabbed the first gown my hands touched but I put it away because it was to showy for me and chose something that was more my style.” I blushed again at the memory of how low the neckline was for red dress I had grabbed first.
“Why are you blushing?” he asked with laughter in his voice.
“I’m not going to tell you.” I said embarrassed. My answer seemed to pique his curiosity.
“Please tell me.” He tried again, “you seem embarrassed about it and I promise I won’t laugh if you tell me.”
I looked into his amber eyes and was dazzled into telling the truth, “The neckline sunk so low on the dress that just looking at it made me blush.” He grinned and tried to hide a laugh with a cough but was unsuccessful. “You promised you wouldn’t laugh.” I accused to cover my embarrassment.
“Where would the neckline have ended up if you had worn the dress you grabbed first?” he asked instead of reacting to my accusation.
“There is no way on earth you are going to get me to tell you,” I said.
“Please,” he pleaded. I denied telling him over and over then he threatened to let me wander the castle with no idea where to go if I didn’t tell him. I stopped and chewed my lip.
Looking down I pointed a spot just an inch above my belly button and grimace with embarrassment. When he didn’t respond I looked up at his expression. His face was torn between amusement and embarrassment. I was mortified.
“Lead the way,” I said deliberately changing the topic. He seemed grateful. As we wound our way through the graceful hallways of Rosalind (the king who had this palace built named it for his wife Queen Rosalind) Robin told about his childhood, the history of his kingdom, and even some fairy tales from when he was a child. When he had finished I talked of my family and my home but I didn’t mention the things that had transpired over the last week.
Before I knew it we were descending a large spiral staircase then without warning we stepped out onto a large dais with more stairs leading down to a large hall filled with long tables, people, and music. The dais has four thrones on it; two large thrones for the king and queen and two small thrones for the prince and princess or the king’s general and the queen’s lady’s maid.
When we entered the noise level decreased a little bit but not much. Some people waved or nodded in greeting to the prince but most just stared at me inquisitively. Robin sat at the head of the table while I continued to about halfway down the table to where my friends Emily, Cecilia, and Olicia were sitting.
“Hi,” I said with a smile. When they looked up relief was plain on their faces.
“How are you?” Olicia asked.
“I’m okay. How have you three been doing?” Then I saw the three, gentleman seated across from them and smiled a secret smile. “Never mind don’t answer that.” Then I leaned in close and whispered so that only they could hear. “You three better dish about the three hotties over there.”
They all blushed scarlet except for Olicia who skin was as black as the sky without any stars or the moon who giggled embarrassed. Then I walked over to where Hailee was sitting at the farthest table from the front and ate the feast.

Without saying goodnight to anyone I departed for my room. When I reached the room with the ocean scene of above and below the waves a slight uneasiness crept through me. The sun had long been set since I was last in here. All of the torches except for one were doused because many people had already gone to bed. When I had left the dining hall there had only been about ten or fifteen people.
I went to a depiction of a see turtle and started to run my hand over the smooth stones of the wall. When I reached the window I gripped the edge of the sill tightly. I looked out at the dark waters of the Forbidden Sea as they crashed against the cliff that Rosalind’s Palace perched upon.
Then my mind was assaulted with images of a great and terrible creature beneath the waves that was so horrible that there is nothing terrible enough on this earth to compare it to. It lays in wait at the bottom of a deep trench. It is the form of all of Skotino’s demon offspring and himself combined into their true form. All those demons really are is an extension of Skotino’s mind made flesh. That horrifying creature is Skotino’s true form.
“I know where you are.” Skotino’s voice echoed in the deepest recesses of my mind. “I will take everything you hold close to your heart and crush before your very eyes.”
Then as quickly as the vision came it was gone leaving me feeling cold and helpless. I don’t know how long I stood there staring blankly at the fogged up glass of the window but I notice that my body was trembling so I turned and—
“Oof,” I ran into Robin’s broad, muscular chest.
“What are you doing?” I asked annoyed as he steadied me on my feet. I noticed I was still shaking so I fisted my hands and crossed them over my chest. I also noticed that my voice sounded weak and breezy.
“Are you all right?” he asked concerned and totally ignoring my question.
“I answer that if you tell me what you’re doing and how long you’ve been standing here.” I said with a little more ice than needed.
“All right,” he replied, “I finished up in the dining hall and was heading to my room when I saw you standing at the window shaking like a leaf in a wind storm and I have been standing here a total of a millisecond before you turned around and ran right into my chest. Now, are you all right?”
“Yes, I’m all right.” I lied. The false note in my voice was so obvious that he didn’t even bother to ask again and he just raised an eyebrow.
“No, I’m not all right.” He waited for a further explanation but I didn’t give one.
After standing there I was assaulted with another vision. I saw the beast’s face then I was looking out of its eyes. The scene I saw made me so nauseated that I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to keep down the food I had eaten.
The beast’s head was out of the water and staring up at a black obsidian castle. There was a window at a rounded edge of the black palace and standing in front of that window was a girl with long, curly, chocolate brown hair in a purple dress and a blonde man in a loose white shirt and tan pants.
It seemed that I heard a quiet keening from far away and a voice saying my name. Then as I snapped back to reality I realized that I was the one who was keening and that Robin was the one saying name.
I opened my eyes and saw Robin’s beautiful face and because of me he and everyone in his kingdom are going to die. I couldn’t stand being near him for a minute longer so I wrenched myself from his gentle hold on my arms and ran. I flashed by door after door until I saw two large adorned mahogany doors that I was certain led outside.
I wrenched one of the doors open and stumbled down a few stairs into a large garden. About two miles away I saw a dense forest so I ran as hard and fast as my body could go. In less than a second I was standing beneath a large oak tree whose foliage was a deep rich emerald green. The sky was turning gray and in the predawn light I saw that my skin was an odd shade of blue. I moved deeper into the cover of the trees and saw that my finger-nails were as purple as the gown I was wearing.
I decided that these details were unimportant until I was well away from the palace. So I ran again, not caring where I was headed just as long as it was away from here. I ran for what seemed like hours and when I finally couldn’t take it any more I stopped, fell to my knees, and sobbed.
When I could finally regain my composure I looked at my surroundings. I was sitting beside a small pond with cattails and lily pads all over. The trees were old and tall so their branches nearly came together over the pond but not quite. I looked up and saw that the clouds were seething and a steady rain was coming down and plopping into the middle of the pond. Where I sat under the canopy there was no water reaching me because the trees were so tall and grew so close together that barely any water could reach the ground beneath them.
I sat back and let my breathing slow. I was in the deep woods and even though I was here sitting in plain view the animals went along with their business as though I belonged here. I heard little animals rustling through the undergrowth and saw a doe with her fawn drink from the stream that ran out of the pond.
When memories of the faces of the people I cared about threatened to invade my mind I stood in one lithe movement. The animals looked at me then went back to there lives. I looked behind me and the way I had come. All I saw were trees, bushes, et cetera but I noticed that I had left a very small trail. Then I realized that the only reason I could see my trail is because my eyesight is so keen that I could see ants crawling on a leaf from five hundred yards away.
I went to the base of a large willow tree and set to work making myself a place to stay. I made a bedlike nest on a large bow high up in its branches so that I wouldn’t be seen even if the person came right up to the tree and looked up at the limb I was resting on. Then I fashioned myself a dress that would be easy to hunt and run in. I spun leaves into thread using my magic and made the dress so that came down to about mid-thigh that way I could run in it with being hindered by heavy skirts.
For some reason the chill of the air doesn’t bother me so I didn’t bother with giving my dress long sleeves. I had worn my all weather leather boots so I didn’t need to worry about making boots. Then I made a bow.
Not far from my willow tree I found a hot spring with hundreds of different kinds of rock lining it. I selected a large piece of ebony and with my magic shaped it into a bow. And also with my magic I gave the ebony the supple elasticity of wood but it remained as tough and durable as the ebony stone itself. Then because I had nothing more to do I took diamonds, rubies, and emeralds and mad an intricate swirling design that any fairy would be proud of.
When I had done the finishing touches on my bow I strung it with fibers I had created from a quarts stone that stood among the thousands of stones that went along the cliff that stood right behind the hot spring. I made my arrows out of wood because I didn’t want to waste perfectly good stones on things that would be lost and easily broken.
Then I went hunting.

Three months later I was examining my skin. A few days after first setting up my home in the willow tree I found out that my skin only turned blue when I wanted it to and when I did that it would change to match my surroundings so that you could be standing right in front me and never know I was there.
I whipped around into a defensive crouch. I turned my skin and instantly became part of my surroundings. I walked on all fours moving as though that was how I had been born to walk. I crawled quickly and gracefully around a tree and was so shocked I almost dropped my glamour. A man was standing in the middle of the clearing I had discovered three months before but what shocked me is that it was Deric.
When I say Deric I mean possessed by Skotino, Deric. He sniffed the air and smiled. Then he turned and walked over to the willow tree that was now my home. Without pause he climbed up to the branch where I have slept in almost every night since the day I ran away from all of those I loved.
His face was disappointed when he looked down at the empty bed/nest. Then to my surprise he started to speak loudly, “Ally, if you don’t show yourself I’ll have to torture that poor girl, Hailee. And I might finish off that prince. What’s his name again?”
He was about to answer his own question when I said, “Robin.” Skotino looked startled when I dropped my glamour. I stood up straight and looked him right in the eye. “Take me, but you have to swear to let them go without any damage at all done to them.” My voice was dry and scratchy from disuse so it didn’t sound as strong and confident as I would have liked.
Skotino just smiled with Deric’s mouth and said, “I’m afraid I can’t do that.” Before he finished speaking fifty men stepped out from the trees. I curse under my breath. These are the men being controlled by Skotino’s mind. I remembered how I had broken his hold before. I don’t think I could break his gold on the m without killing myself. The last time I broke his hold there were only three of them and I was unconscious for at least three days.
I didn’t want him to know what I was capable of so I just tried to run away. He jumped gracefully to the ground right in front of me. Before, I could stop myself I growled like some exotic, feral creature. The only thing I can compare my growl to is the rumbling aggression of a tiger. My hand flew to my mouth in horror. I could tell Skotino thought I didn’t know I was capable of such blasphemy but the real reason is that I didn’t want him to know how powerful I really am.
“Don’t worry sweetheart,” Skotino purred, “I won’t hurt you.”
“You’re a mother fucking liar,” I snapped in response.
“No, it’s true,” he said fiercely, “ You are the one legend tells of that is destined to marry Deric. When you marry him, his powers will be unleashed and with you at hi side you’ll be impossible to stop.” Skotino’s breathing was shallow and his eyes were wild.
“I choose my own destiny,” I said quietly. Skotino’s expression darkened.
“I want the powers that come with this body and I will have them; whether you are willing or not.”
I realized then that Skotino truly wasn’t very powerful. All he is, is a parasite. All of the powers I believed he possessed are actually Deric’s and the only reason he believes I am the one who is foretold in the legend is because he knows I can use magic. That’s just peachy, I thought sarcastically.
I sighed. I knew what I had to do to save those I cared about and I know what I have to do to save those countless people who will suffer if Deric’s powers are released under Skotino’s influence. I closed my eyes and felt for the seams of Skotino’s hold on all of the men here. I took a steadying breath then popped the seams. I felt my energy drain and the merciful black oblivion of death hovering at the edge of my consciousness. Ignoring the fatigue that had entered all of my limbs I opened my eyes to find a black fog hovering over everything. I felt the malice, anger, and pain that emanated from the great cloud. I watched as the fog separated into fifty-one small black shadows that I could tell were screaming but I didn’t hear a sound.
Then the shadows melted into the ground and I watched as fifty-one confused men looked at their surroundings brows furrowed in confusion. There was a roaring in my ears and with resigned acceptance I sank into the merciful darkness that was struggling to envelop me.

“Aleca….Aleca,” a faint voice called pulling me back from the blessed darkness.
Leave me alone, I thought with annoyance.
“Why would you want me to leave you alone?” asked the voice again sounding slightly amused. His question shocked me. Had I really spoken aloud?
“So that I can die in peace,” I replied sadly. So that’s where my lips were. Slowly I started to become aware of my body and where it is. I opened my eyes to find Deric and several of his followers staring down at me. When I recognized them I hissed through my teeth before I could realize what I was doing my back was against a tree and my eyes were darting around the clearing looking into the faces of fifty men.
I shifted into a hunting crouch and growled loudly. The men nearest me hastily retreated. My eyes sought Deric’s face and I finally found his face about seventy yards away from me. Every one of Deric’s men eyed me warily; all except for Deric. I noticed then that Deric seemed to be trying to hold back his laughter. I glowered at him in response.
Then when I blinked a memory replayed on the back of my eyelids. I instantly straightened into a posture of such poise that only a princess can muster and blushed furiously. I hunched my shoulders and looked at the outrageously green grass beneath my feet.
“Sorry,” I mumbled just loud enough for everyone to hear. Then since I was on the fine line between embarrassed and mortified I decided I might as well go all the way. I looked out through my screen of brown hair and said with as much dignity as I could muster, “I sort of forgot what happened.” I then returned to staring down at my feet wishing the ground would open up and swallow me whole. That’s when Deric couldn’t take it anymore he bust up laughing and when he started laughing it was infectious all of his comrades joined in. The only person who didn’t laugh was me and I just slumped my shoulders more and tried to be as small as possible while I watched Deric through the safety of my hair.
When he had finished laughing Deric’s face softened and that’s when I realized Deric was handsome. Not handsome like how Robin looked like a fallen angel with his breathtakingly perfect beauty. Deric looked like all of the guilty pleasures in the world all combined into the most darkly handsome package that could ever be made.
I forgot I was wearing a dress that exposed my whole leg up to midthigh. I just about keeled over dead again then and there in embarrassment. No not embarrassment, mortification. With one thought I turned the shift into a floor length gown with long sleeves.
Every man in the clearing blushed scarlet. I bowed my head once again unable to meet the gazes I felt on me. I heard Derric walk over but didn’t look up when he stopped in front of me.
Shit!!!!!! I thought. I was still stuck on the fact that fifty-one men had seen my bare legs. Oh the humiliation!!!!!!!!!! WHY???!!! Did I choose a dress that showed NOT just my ankle but my whole damn leg.
“Ally,” Deric’s voice was like cool water on a hot summer day. He snapped me out of my mortification induced hysterics. I looked up and was stunned that he was so close.
“Hmmm,” was all I could manage because he was so close I could see the gold flecks in his black eyes. I couldn’t breathe because his mere presence seemed to make me dizzy and light-headed. I shook myself and took a step back.
I looked back at Deric and saw disappointment and frustration written on his face. I realized then that Deric was a player. If he wanted a girl he got her no question’s asked. A stud. With that thought I burst into a fit of Earth-shaking, thigh-slapping, roll-around-on-the-floor, laughter.
I laughed for what seemed like hours then when I realized I was supposed to be dead I sobered immediately and frowned slightly.
“How am I not dead?” I asked in a voice so quiet I was surprised he heard, but when I looked up Deric looked startled.
“My liege,” called a kind looking man decked out in leather everything,” I believe it would be wise to tell her the truth about what saved her.” Deric looked at the man and nodded once almost imperceptibly.
“Aleca, I kissed you and in doing so gave you some of my life energy.”
I almost choked then glared at him with such ferocity that he stumbled back in alarm.
“You didn’t want me to save you.” His answer to my expression was a statement not a question.
“Wrong again.” I snorted causing him to look even more surprised, “How could you! You’re weak and tired and sick all because of me!” I cried appalled taking in the tired expression on his face and the grayish tint of his skin. Deric looked crest-fallen, his daring little rescue was not being greeted in the way he thought it would.
“You block-headed idiot! How dare you hurt yourself to help me. I’m not worth suffering pain for.” I shoved his chest and felt guilty when he stumbled.
“I’m a selfish, conceded bitch who abandoned the people I cared about when they needed me most.” I was fighting back tears by the end of this.
I almost went over the edge when I heard Deric chuckle. “Aleca, you saved everyone in this country. Your running away saved Robin, Hailee, and those girls from the caves. Aleca, you’re a hero.”
“A hero, my ass,” I mumbled angrily. I put my hands on my hips and continued my glowering. Then a thought occurred to me so I put away my pissed off persona and smiled sweetly at Derric. I slathered some sweet sugary honey on my voice and said, “Derric could I talk to you alone for a moment please.” When I said the word please I dropped my voice to what I hoped was a husky purr.
Derric shook his head a little it but followed me into the trees just the same. Once we were far enough that I was positive Derric’s men couldn’t see or hear us I turned on my heel and launched myself at Derric. He reacted faster than I expected but I was still able to get a good grip around his neck. Because of my momentum we both stumbled until he hit a tree and stopped. I let the energy that burns inside of me like a sun pour over Derric as I held tight. When he realized what I was doing he growled and tried to shove me off but I held on tight.
I realized that no normal human is strong enough to make me work so hard to hold on but while I was distracted with that thought my grip loosened and suddenly I was airborne flying backwards through the trees. On instinct I grabbed a branch from above my head and swung myself up so that I was crouching on top of it and hissed at Derric.
I shoved my rational mind to the back of my head and became the hunter that I had been for the last few months. As I did this my skin turned sapphire blue then blend into my surroundings rendering me almost invisible. I watched Derric through slitted eyes as he looked for me. When I was sure he hadn’t seen me I slowly crept up behind him. Derric stood in front of the large oak tree I had tackled him into and I couldn’t help but think that he looked like some avenging angel that fell from the heavens. My rational mind had come back I bit back a growl and shoved it farther back and locked it in a teeny tiny box.
My teeth grew into wickedly sharp fangs and I lunged for his neck but in one almost blinding movement that was fast even with my inhuman speed and strength. Derric pinned my hands over my head against the tree. Because my rational mind was still padlocked in that box I snapped him a couple of times but then the box exploded and I was me again and not the hunter. I turned back to my natural color and felt nauseated at what I had almost done. My cheeks burned with shame and I looked at the ground.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered but my voice was bleak because I did not expect him to ever forgive me.
“It’s alright everyone loses themselves sometimes,” He said softly against my ear. His breath on my neck made me shiver and I pulled away. He let go and allowed me to slip away but he groaned. “God, woman you’re killing me.”
“You do realize I have a name,” I said not sure whether I should be offended or flattered that he considered me a woman. He looked at me with a mixture of amusement and confusion.
“I don’t get you,” He said,” You change direction so fast that I’m starting to get whiplash.”
“Well, hold on tighter maybe you’ll figure it out.” I snapped back at him but I had replenished his health so I headed back to where his men waited. “Come on pretty-boy you coming or what,” I tossed over my shoulder then continued without looking to see if he was following or not.

It turns out that when I had run from Robin’s castle I had gone over seventy miles but since everyone in Derric’s party had magic we were able to travel pretty quickly. When we showed up at the castle there was a tearful and totally corny reunion (doesn’t mean I still didn’t cry) but now I’m sitting with Hailee, Olicia, Cecilia, and Emily in my room.
“Tell us, Ally, come on,” Emily pleads, “what was it like?”
“I don’t want to talk about it and anyway most of it I don’t remember it’s just a blur of images that some are brighter than others I lived like an animal.” I said quickly and sadly. When she saw my expression she dropped the subject and picked up another one I didn’t like it much better.
“So, tell us did you have a little fun with Mr. Tall, Blonde, and Gorgeous.”
“Uh, which one?”
“Derric,” her tone added the of course.
“No, I didn’t and I think if I did I would be eternally kicking myself for being an idiot. He is such—he’s just so--- he’s majorly full of himself.” I spluttered trying not to sound like a whiny lovesick child.
None of them bothered to say anything else they already could tell then Olicia said,” Girl you’ve got it bad.”
“I know,” I sighed. I didn’t want to admit it but denying it would just make it harder in the future so I embraced it, not with open arms of course but embraced it just the same. Then I let loose with a soul deep sigh that seemed too reverberated throughout the castle even though it was almost inaudible to my own ears.
Then I smelled him my cheeks flamed in embarrassment as I hollered,” Derric, get your eavesdropping ass over here.” When I didn’t get an answer I yelled again, “You stupid—Goddammit!!!” He seemed to appear out of thin air right behind me. “HOLYMOTHERFUCKINGSHIT!!!!!!!!” I jumped to my feet and skittered to the opposite side of the room.
“How come you’re so surprised to see me even though you knew I was here?” He asked trying and failing to keep a straight face.
I ignored his question and asked,” So?”
“So what?” he asked confused.
“What all did you hear?” I asked trying my very best to keep from breaking down in hysterics.
“Well I heard something about you having it bad for me. What is this that you have anyway?” Derric asked genuinely puzzled. My legs nearly buckled with the relief I felt but I burst into a fit of giggles. Wow he is totally oblivious.
Then I saw Cecilia grin wickedly and open her mouth but before she could even form the words I had my hand over her mouth and whispered in her ear. “Don’t make me turn you into an illiterate mute.”
Cecilia’s face reddened and she narrowed her eyes at me but she nodded and I let her go. Whew. That was close. I was about to shoo Derric out the door when he asked, “Ally, can I talk with you for a minute?” I shrugged and followed him while all the girls behind me literally tittered like a bunch of quail.
“Oh dear gawd,” I muttered under my breath as I closed the door behind me. Derric chuckled softly and led me out into the moonlit gardens of the outer courtyard. I hesitated a moment when he started to lead me into a copse of trees where from the castle we couldn’t be seen. Derric turned and looked at me quizzically so I mentally shook myself and followed him under the cover of the thick boughs.
I let out a breath of relief when I felt the boughs hiding me, caring for me. I didn’t realize how much the peace of the forest had started to mean to me. I listened to the animals sleeping as I followed Derric into the middle of the garden.
Derric came to such an abrupt halt that I nearly ran into his back then when I tried to step back I tripped and fell flat on my ass. Boy, do I have talent or what? I thought sarcasticly.
Derric turned and looked at me trying his hardest not to laugh (the bastard) and asked, "Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I just decided to make myself more comfortable," I said in a pathetic attempt to keep my microscopic pride from being squished mercilessly. Which didn't work because he snorted derisively the second the words were out of my mouth. Oh, why couldn't I be graceful when I wanted to. It just seems that God tries to foil my every attempt at trying to be awe inspiring or in this case just normal.
I sighed heavily and stood then asked, "So, what is it you wanted to talk about?" Just as he opened his mouth Robin appeared out of thin air.
"Why hello Ally, don't you look just ravishing this fine evening." As Robin said all this he stared daggers at Derric and tried to intimidate him. Too bad Derric was three inches taller than him.
After the initial greeting a great battle of wills ensued. Neither one of the two golden and gorgeous guys would look away first. I was almost expecting them to start banging their fists on their chests like a couple of gorilla's when I sensed more than heard the girls coming to watch the male face off.
I groaned then said, "When you two start acting like gentleman we can continue this conversation." Then before either of them could protest I stalked back to my room, muttering about how males are complete idiots, and without changing into a night gown I slept until dawn.
When I awoke the sunlight stung my eyes and groaning I rolled on my side trying to go back to sleep but my stomach was having none of that. It snarled angrily and clawed at the walls of it's fleshy cage. With a muttered oath I lurched out of bed and nearly did a face-plant when the room pitched and rolled around me. I grabbed at the bedpost to steady myself but when nothing changed in my vision I started to feel nauseous. I weaved drunkenly to the chamber pot and vomitted blood.
"Lovely," I thought sarcasticly. Then trying not to start balling like a baby I stumbled to the drapes and pulled them closed, shutting out the sunlight that seemed to claw at my eyes. That used all of my strength so I just slid to the floor were I was and pressed my pounding head to the cool stone floor. I sighed sadly and was just drifting off to sleep when I heard a knock at the door.
"Aleca," Olicia called softly, "are you awake?"
"No," I croaked just loud enough for her to hear," and please leave me be."
"Why?" she asked concerned.
"Because, lifes a bitch that's why," I said bitterly. I didn't get sick often but when I did I hated people seeing me so weak. Olicia walked in with Cecilia and Emily in tow. They took in my grayish complection and the blood around my mouth and they all went into a tizzy at once. Before I even had the chance to protest I was tucked back in bed, my face was cleaned with a damp cloth, and a remedy was being cooked up by Emily.


Publication Date: 06-02-2010

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