The days drifted one into another, each passing without much fanfare or pause. She lived with the ghoul, underground in a cave-like dwelling. They shared stories and discussed books they had readLeadbury was surprisingly well read knowing more about Aristotle and Plato than she. He never pried into her past and occasionally she gave him vague details of what had transpired in the lonely depths of the Ágend family castle. That part of her life was past her and she refused to be a victim of circumstance. She recognized that she had made several keys decisions that lead to her misfortune. How could one night of carelessness lead to such tragedy? Never again would she act without reason or out of her better judgment. Never again would she act out of loneliness or from an attempt to fit in. All the philosophers she had ever admired advised against the exact lifestyle she had tried to pursue.
Living in the forest with Leadbury had been a great healing to her broken soul. She had begun to love the feel of dirt between her toes. The nutrients in the soil nourished the plants. These nutrients were the life givers to the forest and they perpetuated a continual cycle of life and death; birth and passing. The sun rose and fell each day, instigating this process. She raised her hands to the sky and opened her hands, begging for the life source that the plants soaked in. If only she were a gargantuan tree like a Douglas fir, or even an Apple tree or a Willow. She could soak in the rays of the sun and live wise and ageless.
Leadbury was kind and gentle. For whatever reason, he chose not to eat her, whether it be out of some conviction as he had spoken before or not she did not care. He protected her. Now, he said he could not eat her even if she didn't want him too. He claimed he enjoyed her company far too much to be rid of her.
When the leaves changed color and fell from the trees, he taught her to knit so she could stay warm. All she had with her the night they met was that devastating blackbird costume. Yes, it was beautiful but she couldn't help but look at it with distaste. The dress was dark and haunting, crafted perfectly, but it represented so much evil in her life. She burnt it, one night, under the full moon. Leadbury stood beside her, watching the flames as they ate the fabric. It was empowering to see something so malevolent conquered so easily. Nature was a powerful force.
The air grew cold and the ground became hard. The leaves turned dead-brown and coated the forest floor. The creatures that scampered through the forest went into hibernation and all was quiet. Leadbury and she too, prepared to retreat into the ground. They had been collecting food since she had come for winter, preserving it. Never before had she thought could she survive in the elements and thrive. Leadbury was showing her a whole new life, one of self-sufficiency and reliance. She could provide everything she needed from the forest.
The day the snow came, Elle made her final rise to the surface. She wanted to feel the sun on her face one more time. Spring was several months away and there were no windows in their home underground.
She could see her breath. White pockets of hot air, dissipating in the frigid air. "Come on, Leadbury. The sunlight isn't out for very long."
"Ghouls are quite hairless. Our hard exterior does not entirely keep out the cold. Sorry if I am less than enthusiastic."
She spun in circles, her arms out, palms facing the sky. The sun shone on her face. She smiled, soaking in the glory of the sun. Snowflakes drifted down, melting into the ground.
A twig cracked. She froze in place, eyes locking with Leadbury. Leadbury frowned. "Maybe you should go inside
"Twigs crack all the time. There is nothing to necessarily be worried of."
Elle spun around once again. Mouth agape stood a stag, he was tall and strong with chestnut brown hair and green eyes. He looked so familiar.
The stag crept forward. "Elle, it's me, Abernos."
Leadbury jumped in front of her, crouching low and barring teeth. "Leave her be," he hissed.
She put her hand on Leadbury. "Wait, it's ok. I know this Stag. He saved me once."
"Are you alright? We all thought you were dead." Concern showed on Abernos's face.
She nodded, glancing back to Leadbury. "Leadbury, it's ok. He is a friend. Not everyone I met was terrible to me."
Leadbury reluctantly stood at her side, tensed.
She ran up to Abernos and hugged him. "It's good to see you safe and well. How is your brother?"
Abernos felt warm against her. She pulled away and tilted her head back to look up into his eyes.
"You do realize you are with a ghoul? That they eat people?"
"Don't worry about Leadbury. If he wanted to eat me, he would have long ago, when I asked him too."
"Leadbury meet Abernos. Abernos meet Leadbury."
"Elle, you mean to tell me that
She glared at Abernos. Abernos sighed. "Nice to meet you, Leadbury."
"The pleasure is all mine."
Abernos scrunched his face. Abernos grabbed her arm and pulled her aside, leaning into her ear. "If you are here against your will you can tell me. Blink twice if you can't audibly say anything."
She pulled away from Abernos. "I am here of my own free will. Now, if you will excuse us. We are preparing for journeying underground for the rest of winter."
"What? No! You can't go underground with
"With?" She put her hands on her hips, staring at Abernos biting her lips to keep quiet.
"You can't go underground, period!"
Abernos looked at the ground, pawing at it gently. He looked back up, locking eyes with her. "It's been a disaster since you disappeared. Ærworuld is in trouble. Elias has become unstoppable. He has the King of Ærworuld and Mias. Both are necessary to defeat him. The King of Ærworuld was going to unite with the Stag Lords of the Forest. Mias understood how to work the portal and called upon its power to attack Elias after he learned you died. Now, we have no way into the castle to rescue the King or Mias. We can't stop Elias and I'm pretty sure any day now he is going to start enslaving creatures and people alike. He's gathering his forces. Our forces are pitiable and morale is low. You have to come back."
"I don't know."
Silence passed for a moment. "You could unite everyone again. You could save Mias and the King. You could save us all."
Elle felt slightly overwhelmed. The world around her began to spin. Slowly, she sat down on the ground, staring at the dead leaves and dirt. She couldn't really save everyone, could she? She didn't know most of these people, how could she unite them? She did know quite a bit about the portal and knew a lot about the castle and all the different ways to get in and out. She had spent much of her time at the castle fantasizing all the different ways she could escape.
"Everyone believes that I'm dead?"
Abernos nodded. "Yes. Mias, Berenos, I, and my team of Stags saw you ride off on the back of a ghoul. We assumed the worst, especially Mias. He took it quite poorly. Nothing has gone right since."
"I think. I think I would rather be believed dead than return." She hugged her knees.
"You can't honestly believe that. I know we haven't known each other long. Nor do we know much of each other. But the last time we spoke, I saw what you did. How you acted. The things you believed. A few months with a ghoul and a few months imprisoned with Mias could not have changed that."
"Maybe it has. Maybe I just want to live my life in obscurity. Maybe I just want to be free, from all of this." She rose onto her feet and her feet pounded into the ground as she stormed to their underground dwelling.
"Did you not say that you did not want to live life as a victim? Well, this is your chance to prove it." Leadbury spoke calmly and plainly.
She stopped, sighing. She wiped a few tears from her eyes as they mixed with the snowflakes falling from the sky. Decidedly, she turned to Abernos. "What do you need me to do?"
Abernos smiled brightly, his teeth flashing.
"But first, some ground rules."
His smile lessened. "No
"Yes, or I spend the rest of winter underground."
Abernos sighed, rolling his eyes back. "Fine."
"Glad we are agreed, Leadbury comes with us."
"So long as he doesn't eat you or any of the rest of us."
Elle smiled, genuinely for the first time in months. She wrapped her arms around Leadbury.
Leadbury smiled, his terrifying teeth flashing. "Of course."
"Now, that everyone is on board. What do we need to do?"
Leadbury interjected, "First we need to go inside and get warm, pack and discuss everything that has happened."
She and Abernos agreed. They descended down into their home. Elle felt excited, giddy almost. She would have Leadbury at her side; she would make things right with the world. With any luck, she would go home too.
Elias paced back and forth across from the cell that held his elder brother. This was ridiculous, he required this information. All that laid between his assured victory was his brother, once again. It was plain infuriating and somewhat humiliatingto always be thwarted by the schemes and plots of his brother!
"Damn it. I know you control the portal." Elias stared into the cell, where his brother sat as if he were comfortable in such conditions. Elias's hands shook, slightly enraged.
"I want to control it. I need to." He grabbed the bars, feeling the cold overcome the warmth of his hands.
"Need? That I highly doubt."
"You are always so limited in your thoughts. Just because you have not fully realized the potential of the portal, does not mean I have not."
Mias raised a hand flippantly, shrugging off Elias's declaration, his back leaning against the wall of his cell. "Because I am not hell-bent on destroying the mortal world does not mean I have not 'fully realized' it's potential. I want to rule this world, sure, but not the other. Have you even seen the mortal world? It's in shambles. Not worth ruling. I do not clean up other people's messes. If you had control of the portal, you would come to believe the same."
"You lack the necessary motivation to conquer any world. You are too obsessed with your carnal desires." Elias practically spat his words.
"I am not obsessed with my 'carnal desires'."
Elias raised an eyebrow. "What of the girl?"
"What of her?" Mias narrowed his eyes.
"If that world really was in shambles, why even bother seeking out women from it? Surely they left something to be desired."
"I desired her, I took her, and that is the end of it. Now, are you going to torture me for control of the portal or not?"
"You do realize Duncan has little effect on me. I am the first person you sunk his teeth into."
Mias made eye contact with Elias, for the first time in quite some time. Anger resurged through Elias, he gripped the cell bars tightly.
"That 'twas but the games of children."
"This is different?"
Abernos watched Elle and the ghoul, still untrusting of the ghoul. He had never heard of a ghoul living with a human or a ghoul nurturing anyone, especially a human. And, the ghoul claimed not to be a vegetarian. Abernos did his best to watch over Elle and to protect her. She did not know this world and had undergone quite an ordeal.
"Abernos, stop staring. Leadbury is not going to eat me. Let it go."
"Sorry," he turned his eyes off of her.
The ghoul approached him. "Leave her be. She does not need any entanglements."
"You don't think I already know that?"
"From the way you have been staring would prove otherwise."
"What about the way you stare at her, ghoul? Don't think you're fooling anybody."
The ghoul hissed before he crawled off, doing what Abernos could only guess. A shudder rippled down his back. As much as he hated to believe it, the ghoul was right. He did need to control himself better. She did not need any unwanted attentions or otherwise. She needed to continue to heal. Elias had hurt her deeply, Mias too. She needed life free of the drama of men and love. He would wait for her and help her heal. Above all, he would try not to push his romantic intentions upon her.
Elle. She whisked past him. Her golden locks shimmering in the bright morning light. She smelt of sunlight and glowed like the moon. She was beautiful inside and out, and he would be damned if harm ever came to her again.
"Hey, where you off to?" Abernos watched her busily cross the camp.
"To get Mias." Elle kept walking, determinedly preparing for something.
"What?" Abernos felt his jaw drop open. He must have looked like a fool.
"You said you needed him and the King to defeat Elias. Well, I am going to get them both."
He rushed forward to keep pace with her. "Wait. No!"
Elle turned to him stubbornly, hands on her gently rounded hips. "You need to stop coddling me. I am a grown woman. I have endured far worse than you could possibly imagine. Now, let me do what I came here to do."
"Let me come with you!"
Elle sighed deeply, looking over him, thinking. "I might need two of you."
Always cold, always wet.
Bright blinding light.
Loud sound, hurt ears.
Hands grabbing, reaching. Pulling.
Must get away. Away.
Light. Hide. Escape. Hands, no.
Teeth. Pain. Hurt. Blood. Beat.
Darkness. Hide. Shiver. Cold.
Away. Must away. Cold. Dark. Wet. Cold. No.
Light. Teeth. Hurt. Blood. Pain. No away. No away.
Light. Cower. Away.
No teeth. No pain.
Voices. Angel. Golden light. Beautiful.
Mias? Angel? No.
Hands. Warm hands. Soft hands.
"Mias, it's me. It's Elle."
Elle. Angel? Ghost?
Mouth open. No sound. Angel? Angel! Elle. Sadness.
Bright blue eyes. Beautiful eyes. Beautiful mouth. Warm hands, hold. "Elle."
Loud sound. Cower.
No pain. Soft. Hands. Elle. Angel. Golden.
Rise. Stand. Walk. Away. Must get away. Must get away with Elle, the angel. The angel with soft hands and golden light. Bright light, cannot see. Sunlight? Sun.
I am free.
"Mias, it's me, Elle. Do you remember?" She laid a blanket over him. The weather had only gotten increasingly colder and the snow had only begun to pile higher. They had went through all this trouble to rescue them, they did not need for either Mias or the King to die of hypothermia while they transported them to the camp.
Elle sighed. She figured this would be the state of him. She had something to offer Elias without giving up any important information, not that she really knew anything at the time. Mias would be too stubborn to give anything up. She was sure that while he did not give up any information, Mias broke in another way. And the poor king, he was just a victim of circumstance.
"Elle, you're wasting your time with him. He's cracked!"
Abernos seemed a bit more jittery than normal during this rescue. "Hush. I know what this is like. Leave him be. Just let's grab him and go. Berenos got the king?"
"Yea. He looks just as bad as Mias." At least Berenos was calm.
But neither of them really understood, did they?
"They've been under constant torture for months now. It's amazing they are even alive. Come on, we need to go. Now. Before Elias's guards catch us."
Elle, Mias, the King, Abernos, and Berenos slipped into the forest. They would first pass through the forest and confuse their paths, then return to the rebel camp. An army had begun to form since she had returned. Now, with Mias and the King they would have a fighting chance against Elias. Especially if they were able to divulge into any information that Elias would have given.
She only could hope that this would work. That their efforts would not prove fruitless. She needed this cause more than anyone. Mias, Abernos, the King, Berenos, and all them might have their own vendettas they were fighting for, but she would destroy Eliaseven if it killed her.
Of many things, she was still uncertain, but one. Elias Ágend would meet his final demise and so long as she had breath in her body, this statement would be true.
Elle turned back to the castle, the anger she had felt was surprisingly, but not entirely unexpected. It almost killed her to leave without trying to at least capture the bugger. But she knew now was not the time. Her time would come. If anything else she was determined, possibly more determined than the lot of them.