Not again, she grumbled."Muuuunnngghhh."
She ruffled her brow. Dear god, please let this all have been a bad dream. Please. I'm just going to open my eyes and
Elle peeked at her surroundings. Slowly she raised her head and hoped that her 10x11 dorm room would greet her with its faded paint and dingy light.
Was there always this much green in our dorm? Maybe we have a mold problem. Please, be a mold problem. Please be a
As her eyes began to focus, it became more and more apparent to Elle that she was not in her dorm room. One-hundred foot tall trees towered over her. Leaves, dirt, moss, were everywhere she turned. Elle blinked. Was she in a forest?
Elle massaged her head. Well, a forest is much better than being trapped with that sex-crazed kidnapper.
"Oh good, you're awake." A tenor voice called out to her.
Elle stiffened. Would this nightmare never end? I thought I escaped!
Hesitantly, Elle turned her head. Two bright green eyes stared at her. Light brown hair flopped into the onlookers eyes and, shockingly, on top of their hair antlers extended forth with two deer ears jutting out on the sides of the head.
Elle eyes widened as her heart began to pound.
The deer-man reached out a hand? Elle shook her head back and forth. That cannot exist, her mind screamed.
The deer-man shushed her. He spoke fast, Elle could barely keep up. "I am not going to hurt you. Please, don't scream again. I promise. I'm just half-man and half-stag. Have you ever heard of a deer attacking anyone? No! Then could I really be that bad? Just please, don't scream."
His eyes were wide with fear. Elle calmed herself, she concentrated on her breathing. In. Out. In. Out.
He can't be that bad if he is just as scared of me, as I am of him. Elle decided: half-deer half-stag-man was safe, for now.
"Are you good now?" The deer-man looked at her questioningly, concern etched in his face.
Nodding, she closed her eyes, breathing in again. She opened her eyes. Elle took in his form. He had the torso of a mana very well defined torso at thatwith fur on his sides, he wore a green loin cloth over what she assumed were other intrinsically male features, and just below his knees fur exploded over his shins and instead of feet he had hooves.
"I don't bite or kick or anything to that effect." The deer-man spoke.
Elle smiled. "A legitimate concern if you truly are half-deer," Elle extended her hand. "My name is Elle."
The deer-man looked at her hand skeptically. He reached out his hand-hoof, not grabbing her hand. "My name is Abernos, Stag Lord of this Forest."
Elle looked at his hand and sighed, dropping her own hand. Handshakes must not be a Stag-man greeting.
"Stag Lord?" Elle raised an eyebrow. What on earth is a Stag Lord?
Abernos drooped his shoulders. "Well, I'm not really a Stag Lord. But my brother and I were planning on becoming Stag Lords of this forest."
Elle felt the pressure in her head increase. She scrunched her eyebrows together and raised her hand to her head. "How does one become a 'Stag Lord'?"
"I can help with that!" Abernos declared cheerfully, changing subjects. He raised a hand-hoof to her head.
Elle backed away swiftly. "What are you doing?"
Abernos grunted with annoyance. "Just stay still." He placed his hand-hoof on her head and as with early this morning, the pain in her head faded rapidly.
"How are you people able to get rid of headaches so swiftly?"
Abernos cocked his head to the side. "You're not from around here, are you?"
Elle felt helpless. "No, I don't even know where here is."
"Oh! Now it all makes sense! No wonder why you are so odd You must be from the outside world." Abernos seemed proud of this revelation.
Elle ignored the insult. "And what world am I inside?"
"We call this land Ærworuld. Many things long forsaken by your world exist her, like magic and hybridslike myselfand other creatures deemed as mythology from times past. There is so much to do and see here. I can show you the most..."
Elle interrupted Abernos's spiel, "I'm sure it is. While this place sounds great, I'd like to get out of here and go home."
Abernos ruffled his brow in confusion, "Why? You must have come here for a reason."
"I was kidnapped and taken here against my will. I have a life in the outside world. People are going to be worried about me and wondering where I've gone "
Tiffany would be pretty annoyed if Elle left her alone to clean the dorm room.
"Who kidnapped you?"
"He went by the name Mias."
Abernos nodded. "He is one of the eight brothers from the Ágend familyone of the most powerful and dangerous family's in all Ærworuld. I believe he is the oldest. I don't know much about that family. All I know is that they are to be feared. You were right to be running away from that man."
"No kidding." A moment of silence passed. Elle was lucky to have escaped, of that she was certain. Who knew what that man, Mias, had intended for her? Whatever it was, it would have been against her wishes. She was sure of it. But she knew she was not safe from his intentions so long as she remained in this place.
Elle spoke again, "So, how does one leave Ærworuld?"
"I have no idea. I had read that the portal between our world and yours had long been closed, sealed forever. The human portal to our world is still open you probably stumbled into the portal by accident and were subsequently found and taken. This does happen from time to time "
"Maybe," Elle raised her hands to her lips, thinking back on last night. She was pretty wasted; it was plausible that she might have stumbled through this "portal". Who knew a magical portal to another world existed inside the Peacock?
Stupid vodka, Elle cursed in her head. She might forever stay away from liquor because of this. Why did she down three shots?
A violent shock ripped through her as a memory resurfaced.
He had dark eyes and hair. There was this ominous look about him. Was that eye shadow around his eyes, Elle questioned? He looked like the kind of man who shanked frat boys at a hard metal concert rather than bartend for them. He looked dangerous and exhilarating.
She stared up at him with bright blue eyes, daring him. "The hardest thing you got."
The bartender stared at her as he poured her a shot of vodka. She took the glass and chugged it down, slamming it back on the table. "More."
Her throat felt on fire. Their eyes locked again. Electricity surged through her.
The bartender! Mias was the bartender! He had those same dark eyes with the eye shadow around them. Dear god, she was in this mess because she flirted with the wrong bartender.
Elle groaned. "No. I didn't stumble through the portal. I was taken. I saw Mias in the outside world before I woke up here."
Elle looked to Abernos. He stared mouth open in silence. "This news is terrifying."
"Why?" Elle questioned.
"Mias's family has my brother. And if they have the power to travel between worlds, then my hopes for rescuing him are greatly diminished."
A cold terror gripped Elle. Poor creature, Elle could relate all too easily to his plight. "Why did they take him?"
"Berenos and I were exploring new forests, trying to find one to claim as ours: to look over, to care after. Berenos wandered too close to the family's land. He didn't realize they owned parts of this forest, neither did I. I didn't know what had happened until he had been captured. Who knows what his punishment will be? I feel awful. I should have been with him. It should be me, instead of him. I fear I won't be able to rescue him. He is the warrior, not I."
"I understand perfectly. I am not what you'd call a warrior either. I much prefer my books to fighting," Elle admitted.
Abernos nodded his head sadly, "As do I."
They sat in silence for a moment longer. This time Abernos broke the silence. "At dawn, I am leaving for the Ágend Castle. Feel free to stay with me, here, for the night. This place is safe. I have often camped here at night."
The place did appear to be safe. Trees surrounded the area, concealing their presence to any outsiders. The moss and dirt and pine needles made the ground soft. As far as Elle was concerned, any place was better than being trapped in that castle.
Elle blurted out, "Can I come with you? I want to help you free your brother."
Abernos looked at her in question. "Why would you do that?"
Elle smiled meekly, "The short answer: I know how it feels to be taken against your will. The long answer: no one deserves to be locked away, their life dependent on the whims and wills of others. This I cannot stand. No one's humanity should be so denied."
A grin spread across Abernos's face. "You've read Kant?"
Elle's mouth dropped open. "Yes. And you?"
Abernos smiled wide: dimples and teeth consuming his face, "Of course."
Excitement bubbled up in Elle. She matched his smile with one of her own. "Well, then, Mr. Abernos, what do you think of "
They spent the night huddled around a warm fire, debating and laughing over philosophical arguments of the great philosophers. In some small way Elle felt at home, more so than she had ever before. Maybe being ripped from her home and existence was not so terrible, not if there were people like Abernos in this archaic world.
Frustration simmered in Mias. How could she enjoy the company of a Stag over mine?
Mias felt his nails tear into the skin of his clenched fists as he watched her through the trees.
"Do we have the Stag's brother?" Mias barked in a whisper. He watched the twit laugh all night and lean in close to the Stag. Unfaithful wretch, he would teach her.
One of his soldiers shuffled forward. "Yes, sire. They arrived ten minutes ago. When would you like to send the raiding party in?"
Mias smoothed his hair back, trying to regain his cool. "Five minutes."
"Yes, sire." The soldier left to relay Mias's orders to the rest of his soldiers.
How he had feared for the twit. Monsters lurked in these forests, giant man-eating creatures around every corner. He rarely entreated these forests and she had run willing into them. Then there he found her, having a merry old time with Abernos.
Mias took a deep breath, trying to squelch his fury. She preferred creatures over a full-blooded male? Oh yes, he would show her the error of her ways.
"Are you ready, sire?" A soldier beseeched.
"Yes." Mias spoke, his voice deadly cold.
A deep sleep settled over Elle. Her day had been exhausting and with Abernos she felt safe, though she had not known him long. He shared her philosopher's spirit and her love of knowledge and books. She couldn't help but trust him.
"Wake up, twit." A deep voice spoke.
Chills shuddered down her back as every atom in her body tensed. That voice
Her eyes shot open.
Two dark eyes glared at her, "Miss me?" Mias.
Before she had a chance to scream, she was bound and gagged. Elle found herself shaking, despite herself. Hands clenched around her arms. She felt the bruising of fingers deepen into her muscle. She struggled against her captor. Should could only think: no no no no no no no no no.
After she realized her scuffle only was tiring her, she searched for Abernos, hoping he had escaped her fate.
Her eyes locked with his bright green eyes, he was similarly bound and gagged. Guilt wracked through her. It's all my fault, if I had left him be, he wouldn't be caught up in this mess with me.
Tears filled Elle's eyes.
Mias charged toward Abernos, with a satisfied smile on his face. "Abernos, I have a proposition for you."
Elle sniffled, questions raced through her. She watched Mias with skepticism, what could he possibly want with Abernos?
"I know all about your scheme to free your brother. Now, I know if I take the twit you will feel inclined to try and rescue her. I am willing to return your brother to you, unharmed, if you and he leave this forest to never return and never try to come back for the twit." Mias motioned to one of his soldiers to come forward. The soldier, held a Stag-man similar to Abernos, just with darker hair and harder features. Elle's eyes widened, that must be Berenos.
Mias continued, "In order to ensure you do not attempt to steal her from me, I have placed a spell on your brother so that if you or he comes within ten miles of my castle, he will die."
For emphasis, the soldier held a knife to Berenos's throat. "If you choose to accept my offer, I will have you and your brother escorted to the edge of the forest. You must never return. Do you understand my stipulations, Stag?"
Mias looked positively thrilled with himself. Elle felt disgusted. What kind of man would exploit someone's brother to his advantage? A terrible man, Elle narrowed her eyes and lifted her lip in a sneer.
Elle looked to Abernos. His eyes darted between her and Berenos. Elle nodded fervently. Dear god, he was considering the alternative to Mias's offer. Take your brother and save yourself, Elle screamed in her mind, wishing Abernos could hear her.
If her capture meant that another could go free, then she could live her life in some sort of peace, knowing that good came out of these awful circumstances.
A pained look crossed Abernos's face. He nodded. The gag was removed from him and his brother. Two soldiers grabbed each of their arms.
Abernos turned to Elle, "I'm so sorry, Elle." He dropped his head in defeat. They were escorted away into the dark forest.
Mias turned his attention onto Elle. "So that's your name, Elle. Not a bad name... You've been very naughty Elle, you have caused a great deal of trouble for me."
Mias removed her gag. She spat in his face. "You disgust me."
Mias slowly wiped the spit from his face. His face turned red. "You will soon learn your place, wretch." Suddenly distracted, he looked over her form. "Are you wearing my clothes?"
Elle rolled her eyes. "It was this or the bed sheet."
"I would have preferred the bed sheet." Mias smirked.
Confusion swept over Mias's face, "Why do you resist me so? Do you not feel the intensity between us?"
Elle certainly did. He stood far too close than what she was comfortable with. This fervor she felt around him was unnerving and infuriated her further.
"I am more than a body."
Mias stared at her blankly. His mouth opened and then closed. Was he unsure of how to respond?
Elle narrowed her eyes. Did he not understand the idea? That people possess humanity? That they were more than a means to an end? More than a tool to use? From his reaction, she assumed not. How could someone be devoid of such a basic concept?
"Forgive me, twit. But you have given me no choice." Mias spoke in a surprisingly gentle tone.
Elle's heart hardened against him. Forgive him? When hell freezes over!
Mias grabbed her jaw and kissed her squarely on the mouth. As he possessed her mouth, she felt her body melt into his. His arms wrapped around her and she did not resist. The fire she had felt before, when he kissed her, sprung to the surface. Like a wild fire it was uncontainable and uncontrollable. She burned for him and hated him more because of it.
He released her mouth and growled, "I want you." His eyes were clouded with desire. It would seem the same fire that burned her had burned him. Shivers ran down Elle's spine, his passion she feared most.
"You will not escape me again." Mias spoke definitively. He pulled away from her, taking several steps back. Mias raised his hands and made strange motions as a dark glow formed in his hands.
Elle stared in confusion until suddenly it hit her, the force of his blow slammed into her. She crumpled to the ground. She felt herself collapsing. She watched as her clothes became increasingly large and the bindings around her hands slide off. Her arms grew hair and her hands formed into paws. The pain was incapacitating
Elle screamed and as she cried out, her voice changed. She laid in a heap of clothing. An enormous hand reached for her, lifting her up thousands of feet in the air. Two dark eyes stared at her. "You cannot escape now."
The hand placed her in a wooden box of hay, she faltered into the hay. A giant roof closed her in. Only small holes of moonlight shined through. Elle whimpered as she lay in the dark, feeling an ache in her joints. Afraid of the transformation that had occurred and unsure of what form she now possessed.