Into the Woods

Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
Posting Speed
1-3 posts per week, One post per week, Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
Male, Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Lackluster as the explanation was, that was the best way that Bella could think to explain what had happened. She knew nothing of magic, other than that it was considered a disreputable area of study and that the wares of supposed witches or wizards were not to be trusted. There was no way she could better describe it, as she had no idea how it had even come about. Whether it was the result of her proximity to the scrolls and the crystal, a result of the curse upon the forest and the castle, or a nightmare of her mind's own creation, she didn't have the knowledge to determine. Alas, all she could do was guess. Each possibility seemed just as plausible as the next, especially because there was magic involved. She didn't want to mention the sorceress or the nightmare of the massacre or waking up in the forest. The timing wasn't right.

There was no expectation on the forge house maiden's part that anything would be done to remedy the less-than-magical experience she more or less just suffered through. It was the result of her own stubborn, and she supposed foolishly brazen, resolve to locate the Prince regardless of what she might find behind the hidden door. It was certainly an avoidable event, as she was given fair warning to abandon the endeavor. She could have stopped, too, when she found the door to be locked, rather than go so far as to steal the key from the Prince's desk. No, she chose to ignore the disembodied foreshadowing in favor of her own peace of mind. If the Prince had asked, she would have told him as much. That was not to say that Bella regretted it; however, for the Prince was in front of her now, though she had no idea what to do now that he was.

Her eyes stayed locked on him far longer than she would have dared before, even as he turned away from her. The firelight brought living color to his pale skin as he faced the hearth, deepening the already dark shadows in his atrous hair and the red hue of his irises. The visible change in his complexion to that sickly pallor when he faced her again might have shocked her if he hadn't already demonstrated it before. As well, the apparent anger on his face might have given her pause if she weren't accustomed at least a little bit to being on its receiving end. Bella's golden gaze narrowed, half-lidded; and the angst melted away as if by the warm light dancing on her face, replaced by a similarly detached expression as that which she had given Amarinda three mornings ago. The expression was one she practiced and rehearsed many times, a facade she put on in order to steel herself. If the Prince wanted to lash out, very well then, she would let him. She wouldn't fight with him; at most, she would rebuke whatever scathing remarks he threw at her, a dance she learned to deal with city folks. She only ever broke from it once to pour a pot of hot tea over the lap of Elizabeth Marchand-Beauchene. Breaking from it once for the Prince made twice, with the result being their petty squabble four nights back.

Yet the verbal lashing Bella expected the Prince to unleash upon her did not come. The anger fizzled away as his face and body visibly relaxed, as if he were too exhausted to entertain it. The redhead blinked, stumped, but said nothing, opting only to nod. She was grateful to not be yelled at as she was for Henry's presence breaking the stifling atmosphere of the den. A small smile flashed briefly across her face at the man's greeting; although, it was obvious enough that it was strained. As such, Bella didn't trust herself to reply and turned her face towards the fire, not that the Prince or Henry left room for her to get a word in edgewise anyhow. He was gone almost as suddenly as he arrived.

"Migraines?" The Prince's answer wasn't too far off currently as her headache could certainly pass for one. Some part of her hoped that Henry would return with wine, not in any hopes that it would help the headache, but it would certainly calm her nerves. Bella glanced sidelong at the door until Henry disappeared around the corner of its frame, then returned her stare finally to the Prince. He looked about as ragged as she felt, the way he slumped back into the grand armchair.

"You look like you could use a drink yourself." The words didn't sound as casual as Bella tried to make them, and she grimaced at the careful inflection that sounded more like she was talking a child down from a tantrum. Somehow she managed to close the distance between them without her body language betraying her. She unbuttoned the cuff of her sleeve, pushed the crisp fabric up her arm, and extended her arm towards him. It was clear enough that she didn't wish to beat around the bush, her smile more certain than her words had been. If he would rather fuss with extracting it, then she wouldn't say nay; there simply didn't seem to be a point in it at that moment.

"Please, go ahead, your Highness."
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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moth
Jaron instantly felt his gut lurch forward from where it slumped against the armchairs cushions. The staggering lunge was so abrupt, for a second he was sure his stomach had shot itself out onto the floor. Bella! Please! Button up your sleeve!” Jaron couldn’t help but shout, more so out of desperation than anything, he even cringed as he shut his eyes at the sight of Bella’s blue veins which could be distinguished from her pale skin, or so the Prince must have imagined. To make them out in the scarce dim light would be no easy feat. Perhaps Jaron’s withdrawals had caused him to hallucinate the veins on her arm, or maybe the blood in someone's veins was easy for a vampire to notice in the dark, so as to make the task of biting into them that much easier.

Jaron gripped the arms of his chair as his heart raced laps in record time. He was ready to disappear any second now. Still, the Prince remained there with Bella in the den, albeit eyes shut tight as he kept his head turned away from her. How humiliating it was that a Prince must shut his eyes to prevent himself from being mortified further in his own castle, his home! Jaron’s eyes quickly shot open despite an ample amount of time for Bella to button her sleeve back up having yet to pass. He refused to let her presence and everything that came with it bully him any longer and held a steady piercing glare at the maiden, putting forth no effort to hide the repugnant contortions of his cheeks and brow in the hopes that she would be too intimidated to object. Jaron didn’t enjoy being so assertive, at least not anymore. He could not expect Bella to correctly assume his feelings towards blood drinking, even if it was primarily the foundation of their relationship, or lack thereof. Although, given the behavior he exhibited three days prior, it was not so bold to assume Bella could see it was not something to be taken lightly.

“Just, sit down. Don’t move so much. You shouldn’t be losing blood right now, anyways.” the Prince bowed his head and gently closed his eyes as opposed to having just squeezed them shut just moments ago. He gripped the bridge of his nose with his index finger and thumb in an attempt to massage and relax himself, emitting a sigh that could only faintly be discerned from a grunt. He did not wish to be angry with Bella anymore or even in general, such was a conscious reflection that could not have been possible without the epiphany Bella produced within him, something he was still trying to wrap his head around. Clearly feeding into instincts of rage and destruction was a path that only lead to suffering, for him and everyone involved. Unless he wished for himself, everyone and everything he cherished to dreadfully fade out of existence, some change or another would have to be made. Perhaps cherished was not the most accurate description to the Prince’s credit, more so the integrity he was born to uphold. Clearly, then, there was a foundation of ground rules that need to be laid out clear.

“Listen, Bella,” the Prince began in the most gentle tone he could muster, “I’m sorry I never…” “Thanked you?” Jaron wondered at the possible ways he could explain himself. The words ‘Thank you’ hardly felt appropriate. “I’m sorry you had to see all that the other day. I appreciate what you’re doing, but don’t for one second think I actually enjoy…” Jaron paused and nearly began to gag halfway through his sentence, drinking your blood. The reality is, well, part of me actually does… and that part of me is something I would like to be rid of for as long as I live.” He finally began to raise his head, hesitant to lay his eyes anywhere near Bella’s forearm, as if the sight of it traumatized him. He hardly had the flair for the dramatic within him, yet his hesitance was as evident as it was genuine. If the Prince could have known every detail of what he had just relayed to Bella the first time he laid eyes on her, he might have just left her in the dungeon if only just to avoid discussing the whole ordeal.


Bella drew her arm back as Jaron shouted, apparently surprised and bemused by his outburst. Her hand searched blindly for the cuff of her sleeve, her eyes focused on his face. His expression took her back to three mornings ago, when he became flesh and blood and pain and anguish in her arms. Her fingers curled around the fine linen and jerked the sleeve back down before fumbling to find and fasten the button. How could she have been so thoughtless? The Prince’s already fragile temperament was probably still in too vulnerable a state given the recent events, yet she hadn’t stopped to consider the affect her gesture might have on him. She thought only how pale and pinched he looked and that he needed to drink, not whether or not he wanted to yet or much less from her.

Long it seemed she stood by his chair, gazing down at him as he returned an angry glare. She wasn’t intimidated, but rather felt as though she had just done something shameful. With an apologetic smile, Bella returned to the sofa. She supposed the least she could do was mind for once and try not to test his patience any further. The cushion depressed with a sigh that could have accurately described the atmosphere of the room. Much like she had been when she came to, Bella leaned against its padded arm and propped her elbow upon it. Her head, which rested in the palm of her hand, snapped back up.

Was that-- Did she hear that right? An apology? The Prince was full of more surprises than she ever could have thought possible. He was taking the conclusion she’d drawn about him and turning it upside down over and over again, until she hardly knew what to think of him. Guilt greeted the redhead like an old friend and pulled her into its tight embrace. She was compelled to say that he needn’t apologize, after all, he was the Prince and she was but a trifle; however, doing so would be rude, especially since he put aside his pride to do so. The many different possible responses weighed heavily in her mind. What could she say that wouldn’t come off as dismissive? After a moment spent considering this, she shook her head.

“I’m sorry that you had to go through that. No one should ever be made to feel that way.” Bella murmured, her sad eyes downcast as Jaron looked up. Another apology sat on the tip of her tongue. “I’m sorry I can’t do more, that I don’t know how to fix this like Liza seems to think.” “I never thought that.” She frowned at the idea that anyone with scant humanity could enjoy something so grotesque as drinking blood. The fact that Jaron didn’t only spoke to his. “That’s a good thing, though, isn’t it? It shows that you’re still human inside, and that’s… hope.”

Jaron mused at the concept of being referred to as human. The idea never came without a sense of melancholy trailing behind it and reminded him why he had grown to prefer seeing himself as nothing more than an abomination. Now Bella was beginning to sound like Henry, Imogen and the tall bluehead woman. If she only knew just what it meant for someone in his position to have hope, she might see just how desperate they all seemed as they coddled and indulged the forge house maiden, as if Bella would simply choose to be their savior after some grand hospitality. Maybe the Prince did have some inkling of hope during his first years shackled to Inverness, maybe even in his third and fourth year. By half a decade, any traces of the idea had vanished along with any conceptions that he would ever be anything more than a monster.

All notions of hope and humanity were, at their best, almost amusing in some twisted condescending fashion that could only be likened to a snotty and entitled King or aristocrat enjoying the performance of his court jesters as they humiliated themselves whilst throwing pies at one another's faces. Or so it was, at least, to the Prince. “So you’re saying, there is much to be desired on the outside then?” Jaron teased Bella as his sickly red eyes began to glaze over her. The idea of hope was so laughable it had even managed to snap Jaron out of the embarrassment he felt, although given the circumstances this was likely a telltale trait that hope had caused him to descend into madness long ago. “How could you have known? We hardly know the first thing about one another.” He boldly pointed out before slumping back into the armchair, breathing a sigh of relief, although he was not quite sure what had begun to relieve him.

After giving it a moment of thought, what began to alleviate the Prince in that moment became clear as the forbidden day. There was a time when he did find solace in being considered human by the likes of Henry and the others, despite everything. After having grown numb to that idea for so long, Bella managing to rekindle that spark was the answer he ironically enough was secretly hoping for. There was not so much more she could do or say to prove how committed she was to their suffering, even if it meant understanding the inner workings of Jaron’s psyche. That was the case and what more, really, could someone, especially a vampire, ask of such a selfless maiden?


There was not one instance where Bella ever thought of the Prince as a monster; although, her initial opinion of him being akin to an unfeeling statue probably wasn’t much better by comparison. To say that she understood exactly how the Prince felt would be a stretch, for she didn’t have nearly a decade of pain and loneliness hanging over her head as he did. She had some inkling, or so she thought, of what it was to feel less than. Growing up in the city, there was no shortage of people with higher social status, wealth, or better-ranking titles to look down upon the other well-to-do’s from their pedestals of self-righteousness. If they could be bothered to see past their own airs of superiority for longer than it took their small minds to judge another’s worth at first glance, they would do so in a patronizing way that served to elevate them in the eyes of their betters and implied to the recipients that they had no more inherent value than carriage horses regardless of their birth.

For as long as she could remember, Bella had been on the receiving end of the all-too-familiar sneer, forced to hear as her father was made the subject of ridicule for not having been born to the wealth he earned over a long career as a merchant. So few had been the genuinely kind, like her mother. Briefly, she wondered whether Jaron had ever been shown genuine kindness, and not just the politeness and respect that was demonstrated to him as the Prince. Perhaps that was what made even just her presence at Inverness so trying to absorb.

“I, er, I..” Her cheeks flushed to a hue almost as bright as the Prince’s irises, her eyes searching panicked for a new spot to focus on that was far away from his countenance. She kept her head down as the heat spread to her ears. The question reminded her of the one Sophie posed to her in the dressing room, the difference between them being that Sophie’s question was innocent. It was arguable whether Jaron asked in jest or he actually expected her to answer. She took an inconspicuous breath and cleared her throat. “Of course. There’s a bee for every flower, sometimes it just takes the bee a while to find the right flower.” Bella relaxed, feeling yet again as though she narrowly avoided a disaster. “True enough, but perhaps we can amend that.” She offered a genuine smile. She wouldn’t force him to go along with the idea, but it was out there and she was open to trying.

If not for Bella’s complexion that betrayed her efforts to seem composed, Jaron would not have been able to put two and two together along with her bees and flower analogy. As he began to realize how very easily Bella had mistaken the intended purpose behind his use of the word desirable, he found himself shying away from Bella’s countenance, his own composure too being slightly betrayed for a moment as well, especially by his sickly pallor. Her smile left him bewildered, he needn’t wonder if there was any end to her kindness, judging by the last exchange that had occured between them in the study. Certainly her soft hearted nature knew no bounds, but for Bella to be so open and intimate with the Prince just a short while after the fury he exhibited was almost unsettling.

“Perhaps.” Jaron nearly muttered, finally taking his gaze away from Bella. He was so exhausted by the vast range of emotions he experienced in just the short duration of time he spent there in the den with Bella and would have preferred if they just agreed to be more friendly and left it at that. He hoped she would be keen enough to tell and not assume he felt so in spite of the trouble that came with getting along, even if that might have slightly been the case. Jaron simply preferred to sit in the silence of Bella’s company, he felt it was a lot more appealing than them stumbling over themselves and one another and trying to force some kind of connection that wasn’t there. Having just been humiliated by Bella’s good intentions also made the awkward silence that followed that much more appealing, too.

Even Henry could feel a shift in the energy of the den as he returned with a silver tray in his hands. Atop the tray was a bowl filled with what could easily have been mistaken for a green tea. He set the dish and platter upon the short table at arms length of both the sofa and armchairs, “You won’t feel the affects instantly, but you should notice a gradual difference.” Henry and Jaron curiously observed Bella as she ingested the mysterious liquid that left a funny yet tolerable aftertaste that could not be likened to anything anyone knew of; occasionally it was attributed to lemons, although that was often a conflicting claim for those who referred to the flavor as being more similar to green apples that were not yet ripe for harvest. “Can we get you anything else?” Jaron asked. The sooner Bella had recovered, the sooner she would come to her senses and depart, he thought. The Prince had little faith there was much about him worth knowing, let alone dedicating one's life to, even if it meant there were other innocent people shackled to his fate.

Feeling as though she’d reached the point where words began to fail, Bella was grateful for the pensive silence. It was far better than further embarrassing herself trying to find something to say, much less trying to make conversation with someone who apparently preferred not to. Even so, it felt odd. At home, she and her family would chat a little while they did small handy tasks around the fire in the evening. Back in Valford, they would take tea in the parlor and someone, usually Bella, read aloud from an agreed-upon book. So rarely was there a perfect silence between her and her family as there was now, between her and the Prince. The only noise in the den was the crackling of the logs in the fireplace.

As such, the copper-haired maiden offered no response to the Prince; it didn’t seem necessary. Only did she speak again when Henry returned with the bowl of strange liquid that was disappointingly not wine of any kind. Gingerly, Bella lifted the bowl from the silver tray, staring into it a moment before bringing it to her lips to sip it. It had an interesting flavor, which she likened to the tea that her governess made whenever someone caught a cold; however, the taste that lingered in the mouth after was far better, reminiscent of citrus. Bella paid little mind to the two men’s stares, noticing the almost preternatural placidity that gradually washed over her. The almost sleepy calm replaced the headache, accompanied by a light clear-headedness. She set the bowl down empty on the tray.

“Oh, no, thank you. I’m alright.” Bella very well could have laid across the sofa and fallen easily asleep. Such a thing would have been useful during the past month when she had trouble sleeping; although, she doubted it would have helped with the dreams or kept the forest from whispering to her. Luckily, she didn’t seem to have such troubles here, though her nightmares of the massacre and what happened in the woods those nights ago were trouble enough. She leaned back against the arm of the couch, cheek in palm, recalling that she was supposed to just be still, and closed her eyes.

Later that evening, possibly just moments before the effects of the curse would begin to drain Inverness’s residents of their vitality until there was no trace of life left within them, Jaron would drink no more than the required amount of blood necessary to restore the effervescence of his soul. He would do so in the dark, alone in his chambers, where he would spend the majority of the following fortnight. According to the others, the Prince hasn’t been known to spend so much time in his room since the first few years after the curse was inflicted upon them. It used to be the last place you could find him and rarely would you there. Now he only came downstairs for dinner. Although, who’s to say really if that was the case? After a few days, Henry gave him his privacy and stopped checking on him, he wasn’t a child after all.

You could ask Jaron and he'd tell you, a fortnight had not gone by so fast since he were a child. The atmosphere of the castle had shifted to a repose the likes of which it had not experienced in almost a decade. It was, after all, dictated by its residents who had even noticed an unspoken language between them, consisting mostly of newfound temperaments. Small details, such as offering one another a good morning (in some cases, simply smiling was courteous enough given the circumstances) the children being more attentive and thought provoking during their studies and less prone to petty arguments amongst themselves, a tremendous feat in itself.

Landon, simply exhilarated to finally have someone to entertain, cannot seem to resist delving into his experiences serving royalty, as they were a great segway into long and deep drawn out conversations about life in general that always left a sense of wonder in the air. Henry seemed to be taking his former title as Captain less seriously now that the Prince hardly showed his face, only sporting his armor during the evenings just before dinner and well into the night as he patrolled the grounds. Even Imogen had managed to warm up to and become more familiar with Bella, although only after she was certain the Prince wouldn’t be pulling anymore fatal stunts.

Nevertheless, the most drastic change of all came in the early mornings of Inverness when Sophia, after copious amounts of desperate begging and even genuine tears, was permitted to sit with Bella during meals. The stipulation demands she ceases to steal from the pantry, attends all of her classes and sits with her brother and cousins in the grand dining hall during dinnertime. Lunch was presently still debatable, upon request. Henry, Landon and Imogen made it abundantly clear how strict these stipulations would be upheld and how there was no room for negligence. As far as upholding the requisite circumstances, Sophia passed with flying colors. However, not long after she was taken hold by a new obsession did the begging recur.



“Oh, please! Oh, please! Oh, please!” Sophia insisted, arms wrapped tightly around Landon’s right leg as he stood before the stove. He towered over her as she hunched over, her knees to the floor. By this point, Landon seemed checked out and found it best to just ignore the redhead. He did not feel guilty in doing so whatsoever, in fact he pitied the girl for being cursed with that overly active spirit found in children, especially at her age. With no outlet to exhaust herself, it’s no wonder the girl would become addicted to sugary sweets.

“Oh come now, just one! Please-please-please-please-PLEASE,” Landon couldn’t help to prevent a heavy sigh from escaping chest as he finally looked down to acknowledge the redhead clinging to his leg.. There were not many things that could dissipate Landon’s cheerful, animated demeanor. Nevertheless, Sophia’s exuberant vim in comparison could make Landon seem lame to anyone who wasn’t mature enough to understand his vivacity stemmed from sheer principle and discipline, not a sugar coma. “Goodness, Sophia, please, I already said you could have some cookies from the pantry.”

Anyone entering the kitchen at that instant might think Landon had just stabbed Sophia in the heart with a knife the way she groaned at the mention of cookies. “But I don’t want cookies! I want a cinnamon bun!” she pleaded with the passion of a shepherd in love with the local merchants daughter. “Well, you’re out of luck,” Landon rebuked, I don’t know the recipe. Now, don’t you even think of asking Bella. If you think I’m going to have her make one cinnamon bun just for you, you’ve lost your mind, dear.” The chef gave his spatulas neck a few extra taps on the edge of his pan than needed, making no effort to keep hidden just how bothered he was by implementing his authoritative tone in the kitchen, something he never liked to do. As he pulled his leg away and turned around, he might have snapped at Sophie, but his eyes were pulled to the kitchen door and he appeared slightly amused as a grin curved up his cheek.




“Well, someone woke up on the wrong side of the kings mattress.” Liza jested, leaning against the doorway, arms crossed. Despite her attempt to humor Landon, she seemed more perplexed and curious than jolly. Perhaps it might have something to do with the wine that seemed to pool in her eyes and her ghostly appearance that made it difficult to discern exactly where her hair hung upon her skin. “Yeah, she’s a little over three and a half feet tall and she’s about to start eating breakfast with her cousins again.” Landon retorted, implying it was in fact Sophia who had woken up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

“Again? Oh, but a Princess must break bread with her kin.” Liza declared, her eyes narrowing at Sophia, concentrated intensely as if Liza were a cheetah stalking a gazelle. “Where on Earth did Sophia discover a cinnamon bun?” she inquisitively wondered aloud.

Landon pounced on the question without hesitation, “Our Bella pulled them out from her sleeve, right passed the bite marks, courtesy of the Prince.” Liza raised an eyebrow only by the mention of bite marks and Jaron, gingerly turning to Bella, “Ah, the Prince did? You let him? I knew you were full of surprises. How is he, by the way?” Sophia pulled herself up off her knees, wiping the subtle tears off her cheeks as she briskly approached Liza, “You knew about cinnamon buns too!? Wouldn’t it be so great if we could have some, Liza, don’t you think so?” Liza mused at the idea, feigning a tenacious demeanor that made her seem as if she were more inclined to disagree, doing well to hide just how entertaining she found Sophia’s desperate ardor over something as trivial as sticky pastries.

She could only feign her indifference for so long before giving into a smile, “I suppose you’re right. I can’t say I remember the last time I had a cinnamon bun.” Sophia’s eyes lit up and she spun around in an instant, beaming at Landon who, perturbed but not surprised by Liza’s enabling, scoffed, glancing solemnly at Bella for just a second, “Look what you’ve done.” He rolled his eyes before returning his attention to the stove. “Good grief,” he sighed, pulling an oven mitt over his right hand before reaching into the oven for the smoked salmon he had placed inside fifteen minutes ago. “Bella, can you give me a hand?” he called out, firmly dismissing all talk of the aforementioned warm sticky buns. The chef waited until the copperhead was beside him before bestowing his instructions, “I just need this salmon portioned. Plated if you can manage, please, thank youuu.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
Posting Speed
1-3 posts per week, One post per week, Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
Male, Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Never before had two weeks passed so quickly with so little to do. Sitting idly with nothing to occupy her mind or hands didn't sit well with Bella and was not a factor considered when she thought of staying at the castle the month prior to that fateful morning with the Prince. She would have brought things from home, like the few books she was allowed to keep or that sewing project that she had scarcely any time to work on since her family left the city and sat untouched in the little cabinet in her attic room. If not for the afternoons spent playing charades in one of the many dens, Bella might have died of boredom, and she looked forward to it each and every day. There were still many hours left empty, which drove her in search of other things she could do to fill the time she now had too much of.

With the vast expanse of property, there was no shortage of rooms to be explored; however, many of them remained locked. It was in the unlocked rooms that the copper-haired maiden searched for reading material. It mattered little what the subject matter was; if she managed to find a book or two on a shelf or table in a bedroom or den, she seized it with delight. The only problem with that was the fact that she finished them quickly and would take to looking again for something new. In the span of the fortnight, she read about the different species of birds that had been identified across Carthya and the land's ancient philosophies and the scholars who thought of them. Once she found a volume of poetry, the one book she didn't put back where she found it after she finished seeing as she enjoyed it so much.

In her exhausted pursuit of suitable dresses, which she hadn't truly given up on entirely but had more or less by the end of the two weeks, she found stuffed in a wardrobe here and there several bolts of fabric. One was a fine linen the color of the morning sky after rain and from it she fashioned a simple dress meant to be worn for activity. While the fabric was still more luxuriant than she might have liked for its intended use, linen was far easier to clean, thus she had fewer qualms about it possibly getting dirty than she did about the gorgeous dresses she had been wearing. Having a dress made to suit her also meant that she didn't have to borrow from Imogen to help out with work around the castle, though she did have to employ the housekeeper's help when fitting it properly. It was this dress she wore, with her work-worn boots, standing in the kitchen after having just come in from the garden.

Bella stood, leaning over the counter, head in hands, watching the spectacle Sophie was making over the sweet buns with an amused smile twitching on her lips. There was a little bit of guilt in it for Landon's troubles. It was his leg the child clung to despite that it was Bella who made the sticky treats; then again, it was his kitchen and his word was law there. The only one who could really override Landon's say was the Prince, an unlikely thing to happen too unless Sophie pestered him enough. Surely, she knew better than that.

"I've created a monster." She thought, shaking her head over the little girl's antics as she followed Landon's eyes. "Liza." The young woman's name sounded more like a question though the redhead was still happy to see her, smiling in greeting. "Um.. well.." The problem came in answering Liza's straightforward questions. Why ask her when she could go see for herself how the Prince was? "I haven't seen him today. I've really just been trying to stay out of his way." Bella brushed her fingers through her hair. While it seemed that she and the Prince were on better terms, it still felt like he was avoiding her. She didn't force conversations when she saw him or go looking for him when he didn't come about; it would only serve to make things uncomfortable. It was better to let him be or so she told herself.

Bella offered the chef an apologetic smile. How could she have known that Sophie would love the cinnamon buns so much? Regardless, she supposed it was up to her to fix it. She moved to crouch in front of the child, swiping the remnants of tears from her face with a finger. "Sophie, I'm glad you love the cinnamon buns so much, but they're a special treat. Loretta only ever made them on special occasions, like birthdays, holidays, anniversaries.. The day I made them was a special one." She caressed the side of Sophie's face. The governess who taught her how to make the treat hadn't been mentioned since Bella first brought the buns to the girl's attention. "So, on the next occasion that comes up, I'll make some. Try to behave yourself, okay?" With a sympathetic pat of Sophie's head, Bella slid into the spot Landon had just occupied, dividing the salmon into equal portions and transferring them to plates. Truthfully, she had little hope that the princess would be satisfied with that, especially with Liza to enable her.

"So, what brings you by, Liza?" Bella asked, mostly in order to direct the subject away from the cinnamon buns. That wasn't to say that she wasn't curious. From what she gathered, Liza's visits were few and far between. Deep down, she had a suspicion as to the reason for her unexpectedly dropping in; although, she hoped that that wasn't the case.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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Liza.png "Mmm, of course. Always the prudent thinker." Liza remarked as Bella began to console their gravely sugar withdrawn princess. Sophia uttered a reluctant, trembling "Okay..." and made for the kitchen table only once Bella had averted her amber eyes elsewhere; onto the days breakfast. She climbed onto the pine varnished bench, sulking with her back to everybody else in an angsty spite. Bella divulging the origin of the delicious buns seemed to soothe the girl at least enough to snap her out of the tantrum. As amusing it may have been, there was nothing to gain from agitating Sophia further. The princess would undeniably be plagued by the sugar dashed temptations of her addiction for sweets well throughout her studies. She could only hope the withdrawals would wear off by the time they were all to meet in the den for charades, if she hoped not to cave for the sake of ever sitting beside Bella during breakfast again. If Landon could manage to move passed the grandiose fuss Sophia had displayed, she might be joining Bella for lunch as well before the weeks end at this rate, so long as every delicacy in the pantry is accounted for.

"Ah, I'm glad you asked. I was halfway to the capital when our mutual friend sent word of a ferret problem." Liza allowed the tone in her words to linger just long enough for Bella to decipher them, dissecting every motion in her body language for that exact moment. Bella was rather quick-witted and as expected, caught on sharply to her riddle. If the matter at hand were already lingering in the back of the forge house maidens mind, she did well to conceal it. Liza continued coyly before Bella could say "Oops...did I say 'problem?' that's rather harsh. It's more of a ferret...situation, or dilemma I suppose." the neoteric vampire retired from her place against the open corridor of the kitchen hallway to the island in the center of the room; every step of her white heeled knee-high full grain leather boots as calculated as it were precise, doing well to stay out of Bella's way as she plucked a portion of salmon off its place upon the ceramic plate, although not before removing the equally white glove from her hand.

"We like our ferret." Liza confessed, capable only of communicating in odd brain-teasers, it seemed. She kept Bella in the corner of her eye as she gingerly sampled the salmon. You'd think Liza's wine red eyes were in sync with the pupils surrounded by Bella's amber irises with the way she met their gaze the instant they fell upon the woman, who's place among Inverness remained just as mysterious as the Monarch and the magic that kept everyone bound to it.
"Oh, right." Landon began whilst attending to several omelettes on each of their respective pans. He found speaking in riddles to be just as amusing as Liza did, "Our ferret. Likes to poke about the place. Now just what is that pesky rat looking for?" One could infer Landon was taking his frustration from earlier out on this ferret by his callous remark. "Who knows? We'll see." Liza added, "If curiosity killed the cat, I'd say this ferret is on thin ice. They don't have nearly as many lives."

Another day, another Prince-less morning. No matter how vehemently Amarinda demanded they open the curtains in the Prince's absence, she could not in a million years shake Henry, who refused lest the Prince decide to join them out of the blue. Seeing as Liza joined Bella, Sophia, Landon and Imogen for breakfast and wasn't being ushered to the grand dining hall by anyone, it became evident that she didn't descend from the royal bloodline, unless there was some unspoken exception to a break in etiquette. With Imogen having dragged Sophia to her studies and Landon guilt tripping Bella into doing all the dishes so he could finally quit for the garden and forget all about cinnamon buns, Bella was left alone in Liza's company, who didn't bother to offer a hand with cleaning and instead fancied resting head in hands against the counter, watching Bella just as she had watched Sophia not more than an hour earlier.

Liza maintained a vague demeanor and seemed to feel a lot more comfortable in her skin than she did just over a couple of weeks ago, the day after she turned. This was made evident by the consistency of her coy tone. After a long ten minutes had passed, it seemed as if Liza were waiting for something. If Bella questioned her, she left no hints as to what that something might be and continued to maintain an aura of modest mystery in every response and rebuttal. After thirteen minutes, she finally spoke up first, "So, staying out of the Prince's way, are we?" if Liza could peer into Bella's thoughts and memories, surely at that point she would have seen the Prince's sleeping face as he sat upright resting against the castles western wall, as relaxed as she had ever seen. "I wonder, who is to benefit the most from such behavior?" Liza lay her hand atop the counter, shifting the weight of her upper body onto the other hand she used to rest her cheek, "Him, or you?"

The nature of Liza's question was so delicate, she half-expected Bella to shatter like glass just considering it. There was no use embarrassing the young lady in front of everyone. Liza wanted, no,
needed to know how Bella truly felt regarding the matter of the Prince and his nature. Little did the copperhead know just how pivotal her answer would be, for everyone's sake. This didn't just extend to those within Inverness, the Montagne family or the town of Esterwell. The force surrounding Bella's perception of the Prince; her genuine feelings toward him could very well reach the edges of the world. They had to, in fact. "You don't really think he was actually doing anything up there in that study of his, do you? During all those trips back and forth from home? All those scrolls, all that writing, a waste of time, honestly. That's all he does here, waste time. It's all he can do." Liza stood up straight, placing her other hand atop the counter, not taking her eyes off of Bella, perhaps even unable to at that. She slowly exhaled out her nose, breathing for the first time in fourteen minutes and doing so not essentially, but out of reverence. "That's the bloody curse, you know. It might serve him well for you to be in the way, actually." she boldly declared.
 
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Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Ferret? From the tone of her voice, it was obvious enough to the copper-haired maiden that her suspicion as to Liza's reason for visiting was correct: it was because of her; and she dreaded it with every fiber of her being. The dashing young woman, whose newly red eyes suited the air of mystery she wore like a shroud, seemed to know more than she let on when she mentioned a mutual friend. The only friend she could mean was the Monarch, which Bella hardly considered a friend at all. The magical conjuring of a beautiful, albeit revealing, dress did not make up for everything else the orange menace had wrought. The very idea that it was referred to as such brought an obvious look of distaste as she shot a sidelong eye at Liza where she lingered in the kitchen doorway.

Her amber gaze narrowed as the distance between them closed enough for Liza to pick at a plate of salmon; and it became arguable whether their hollow coldness was truly directed at the butterfly. If she had been there that night two weeks ago, to see the exchange of callous words had with the Prince in his study, Liza might have recognized the glare she was receiving. Mayhap she simply hadn't thought before she spoke or could it have been that she meant it when she said "problem?" Whatever the case, despite that she had corrected herself, the silver-haired vampire had thrown the proverbial salt in the wound - a wound Bella still had yet to even acknowledge. For all her mustered bravado and her bold declaration that the Prince's words had meant nothing to her, they stung more than she was willing to admit. It didn't help either that Landon joined in, adding kindling to the fire.

"Looking for something to do, most likely. Ferrets aren't known for being idle creatures. Without something to occupy them, they tend to get into trouble." Each syllable was sharp, the words bitten off with a subtle hostility. Bella would hardly have called searching for books to read or suitable dresses "poking about." The last real snooping she had done was discovering the secret room of magic hidden behind the wardrobe in the study. She had not been back to the east wing in the past two weeks, though the reason why was arguable. On the one hand, she wanted to avoid the study altogether, lest she come across some horrible phantom-scream-inducing magic object yet again. On the other, the east wing was largely where the Prince stayed and she was decidedly keeping her distance, as she already explained. If anyone was bothered by her meanderings as Landon implied, well, they hadn't said anything to her about it.

That was the last Bella said before breakfast was laid on the table. If she spoke during the meal, it was a brusque or impertinent word only in response to conversation directed at her; and she kept her eyes downcast on her plate, which she barely touched, having lost her appetite. There was little convincing or guilt required in getting her to do the dishes, as she agreed readily if just so Landon would leave. Some part of her wished Liza would have gone, too, rather than stand there staring at her in what seemed to her to be awkward silence. In those agonizingly long minutes, Bella cast a couple of annoyed glances over her shoulder, wondering if she was expected to speak first. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, Liza took the initiative.

"Who's to say? I'm just doing my best not to cause any more problems." Bella didn't bother to even try and hide the savage bitterness in her voice. In a way, she did shatter, but not from the embarrassment that ought to have been displayed. What happened was more akin to a violin's strings being pulled too tight by the continuous winding back of the pegs, until they snapped with a pained twang. Each pan and plate and utensil she dried, she set down with unnecessary force so that the kitchen was filled with their clattering, drowning out the irritated grinding of her clenched teeth. The dishes and cleaning of the kitchen didn't last nearly long enough to outlast Liza, dashing any hopes of her getting bored and moving on. Bella fidgeted with the towel in her hands.


"What business is it of mine what he spends his day doing in his study? If the Prince wants company so humble as mine, he'll call upon me. I'm not going to force him to endure it when he apparently spends so much effort avoiding me." While it likely wasn't the answer Liza was looking for, it said enough about what Bella felt; although, it wasn't the whole story. If she could have seen what the redhead was thinking, Liza would have seen the animosity that Bella and Jaron spat at each other. She would have seen the Prince's pale tear-stained face, sad and vulnerable like a young boy's, and Bella overcome with sympathy for his loneliness and pain. As well, she might have seen just how puzzling Bella found the Prince to be.

"I promised to stay because it felt like the right thing, but other than that, I don't know what you expect I can actually do for him." Bella whirled round to face Liza, throwing the towel down on the counter. She opened her mouth to speak again but cut herself off, swallowing the lump developing in her throat.
It did no one any good to be angry, especially not in this situation, not that such a feeble thought would have any real bearing over the flaring of tempers. Speaking in heat was no good either, usually leading to saying things one didn't mean. What right did she have to feel this way? Whatever it was that Bella was going to say left her, released as a sigh of resignation as her glare softened and she finally averted her eyes. She moved to the table where she sank onto the bench so that her back pressed against the table's edge like the back of a chair.

"I mean, I want to help, but I don't know how. I-I don't want to pester him any more than I already have." Her cheeks flushed with just enough color that Liza would notice it as she recalled the incident two weeks ago in the den. Now, that was probably the answer she was looking for right there.
 
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Liza.png
Only once Landon and Liza struck her nerve did Bella's usual meek demure drastically shift into its brazen polar opposite. As Sophia mourned her efforts to conjure the delicious buns into existence once more, Bella was left outnumbered to their verbal jabs, although was not so easily outmatched. Only when Imogen arrived did they cease to antagonize her, at least directly. When Imogen greeted the vampire in a similar manner as Bella had, inquiring as to what had brought her back so soon, Liza spared her the cryptic quips. "Oh, just passing through." she replied nonchalantly.

Now with their company having dismissed themselves from the kitchen along with any further interjections, the gloves were off and Bella was ready and raring to unleash every scathing blow she could think of regarding their sudden debate over her correlations with the Prince courtesy of Liza. She raised an eyebrow as Bella briskly turned to face her, those curt remarks began to escalate and were on the brink of malign degradation. Like a whistling tea kettle lifted off its respective place above the flames, Bella's nerves gradually declined in their intensity as her wisdom got the better of her and she sank onto the dining table bench. Finally Liza ceased her piercing gaze on Bella and briefly could not bring herself to observe her countenance, preferring instead to look out the window at the garden, sunlight bathing upon her as Bella admitted she was at a loss as to what could be done for the Prince.

Liza didn't enjoy toying with the girls emotions, but she deemed it necessary. She could have returned Bella's cordial civility. There was no reason for the young maiden, who clearly had their best interests at heart, to lie about her feelings. However, if there was even an inkling of affection residing in her towards the Prince, she had to know. Bella could not lie about her feelings for the Prince if she were not asked about them directly, which Liza could not do, for doing so would detract from the Prince's mystique, or perhaps lack thereof. Such idle chit-chat would paint him more as a peripheral bachelor and less as the powerful heir that he was. Then there was the matter of that power as well, which would theoretically enthrall any maiden so long as Jaron's temper remain at bay, but it was quite possible for a woman to see passed that if it meant all the finest riches in all the lands. These maidens were a dime a dozen and yet, of all them, it was the one who seemed to treasure fine literature and musing around the fireplace with her family above all else.

Liza crossed to the bench, carefully taking a place beside Bella. She remained there in pensive silence, continuing to avoid the sight of Bella. Little did Bella know just how much Liza knew about her, where she was from, who she used to be, everything from her fathers old business clients and how many rooms their house in Valford contained to the fabrics and linens that sat untouched in the forge house attic cabinet to the color of the bed sheets Celine and Robby slept on. Theoretically, she was the perfect candidate to fall in love with the Prince. Now that she was right there under their noses, it seemed she would turn up dead from old age first at the current rate of things. She could not place all the fault on Bella just for being herself, given the circumstances and the Prince, who was far from a Casanova. But from the look of things, all Bella seemed to feel towards the Prince was sympathy and as amazing and kind it was for her to act so selflessly on their behalf, heavenly morals would not set them free alone.

Liza gathered all of these thoughts in the short span of fifteen seconds before finally averting her eyes to Bella's pale dainty hands that lay above her knees upon the white apron of her utility dress, just able to make out the teeth marks on her wrist. One thing Liza could admire and appreciate about their winsome maiden, if she chose to, was her resolve to ensure everyone in Inverness could at the very least live to see another day. It's also no secret that the Prince's temper hasn't flared up once since she promised to remain there with them, albeit the fact he only comes down from his room once for dinner every other day. Liza figured if Bella did fancy him, she would not take kindly to her belittling his day to day affairs, but they seem to her no more than a simply entity.

"Listen, I'm sorry to get you all riled up. I know you're doing your best. I'm just doing my job." Liza began, crossing one leg over the other, "We all want to help the Prince and we're just as stumped as you are." Assuming her apology had been accepted, Liza finally turned to face Bella, sporting an impish grin, "But you're a kind, beautiful young lady. We've all pretty much exhausted our usefulness here, lord knows he can't stand me, that's for sure. It might not seem like it, but he'll learn to enjoy your company. Nobody wants to be alone all the time. Don't let him scare you away, capeesh?" The silver hair stood up, convinced she had reached the extent of her slick tongue and began to stretch, "In the meantime, I'll do my best to get us all out of this mess. After all, I am immortal now." She faced Bella once more, offering a wink as she placed her hands against her hips and raised an eyebrow, "Now, you're not gonna make me peruse the garden by myself, are you? I imagine you've been keeping busy out there, in a pretty dress like that."
 
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
The subtle pink that stained Bella’s pale cheeks faded even as her thoughts lingered on that moment in the den when, if for just a second, Jaron had again become vulnerable. In spite of the anger that flashed over his face, he hadn’t blown up. Come to think of it, though she’d largely been trying to give the Prince the space she presumed he desired, she couldn’t recall any instance of his ill temper in the past couple of weeks. Was that her doing? Could it be that she had done some good, after all, by promising to stay? If that was indeed the case, it certainly made the promise and the steep price that came with it a little easier to cope with.

Amber eyes shifted from the smears of dirt on the apron that had been pristine white that morning to Liza’s head of silver hair, which seemed to glisten in the warm rays flooding through the kitchen window. How odd that she could withstand the sunlight whereas the Prince could not. Was this some sub-clause to the curse similar to that which bound the lives of everyone at the castle to the Prince’s life? Bella recalled that Liza had been in the room with her, the morning after she turned, and almost sparkled. She was about to inquire about this; however Liza brought up another curious point: her job. Her words led Bella to believe that she might have been employed by the royal family, though it was just as plausible that her job revolved around the curse itself and only thus.

“If I may ask, what exactly is your job? Were you in service to the Prince?” The question carried an air of caution. The redhead would have guessed that perhaps Liza was a guard of some sort similarly to Henry from her dexterity with weapons demonstrated that fateful night in the forest. Then again, she didn’t wear armor.

Oh? But he was so upset when, well, you know…” Bella found it hard to believe that the Prince couldn’t stand Liza. Why would he get so emotional over someone like that? If she hadn’t still been guided by her misconception of him, she might have guessed that the Prince liked Liza. At least now she could be sure that she wasn’t staring at another woman’s man.

“Trying to. It certainly takes time to tend all the flower beds, not that I don’t like playing in the dirt.” Apology accepted, she stood from the bench and walked with the grinning new vampire out into the garden with a smile. She shot a curious glance at her. “So.. the sun doesn’t bother you?”



“Hey, I don’t waltz into your kitchen in the morning and inquire about your line of work.” Liza spared no second in her retort, not shying away from the fact that she seemed to have even expected the question, obviously not aloof to Bella’s naivety. She rocked her head side to side whilst pondering a simple answer, “Goodness, no. Quite the opposite, really. Well..that’s not entirely correct. Let’s just call it…...quality assurance? It’s a long story and I’m tired, I’ve had a long ride. I’d like some fresh air.” As they followed the cobblestone path in tandem, Liza’s skin began to glisten once more, just as it had the morning after the Prince granted her immortality. Unlike Bella’s previous question, Liza seemed more inclined to indulge herself with a more satisfying answer, “See these?” As they walked side by side, she used her wrists to lift the long silver strands that covered her chest, shifting her slightly revealing upper body towards Bella to reveal intrinsic markings embedded beneath the skin, running down from the middle of her neck to her chest.

The shape of their outlines suggested they were meant to convey some type of design, likely a foreign insignia of some nature. As Liza flung each wrist over her shoulders in a successful effort to toss her hair behind her back, she shifted forward towards the cobblestone path, yet the markings on her skin remained visible, nearly demanding attention as they faintly sparkled whilst reflecting the sunlight, “Let’s just say I work for some pretty impressive people. Slay enough ugly monsters for them, they grant you some pretty useful perks.” She remarked coyly. “I can’t really tell you much more than that or I’ll get in a lot of trouble, so keep it between you and me, yeah?”

Liza intended to follow Bella throughout the garden for as long as her legs and the summer heat would allow her. “If you even think of asking me to pull one bloody weed, I’ll knock you out cold.” She remarked bluntly, coming off as completely serious without a twinge of jest lingering in her tone, which she found to be more amusing than the joke itself, if her comment even was such a thing. She did well to prolong their tour as long as possible, making note of the various assortment of the exotic flora especially, relaying how often and to an extent where she comes across each flower, pointing out the meager health benefits parts of the garden produced and how some of the seeds from which they grew spanned several generations of royalty.


She especially made sure to take the time to stop and convey her love for every unique detail in each flower and agonize over their respected beauty. “You know, this place suits you.” Liza proclaimed as she crouched beside Bella before a row of Asiatic lily bulbs. The way she shifted her solemn gaze towards Bella’s that were just a few shades lighter than the lilies, it was quite evident she were not addressing them, although that much was already obvious.

By the time they reached the stables, Liza could hardly stand to keep her eyelids open any longer, emitting an exaggerated yawn whilst clasping her hands together, stretching her arms upward as far as possible, heels briefly lifting off the ground. Well, that’s enough sunlight for my afternoon.” Without offering so much as a “What about you?” or, “See you later,” a wave goodbye, smile or even a simple second of eye contact, she turned and began her way back to the castle, as if she had just spoken out loud to herself. Whether or not she had been was unclear.


The conversation was over before it started. In the time it took Bella to conjure a list of questions to put to Liza about the magic symbol she sported on her decolletage, she shut her down with a vow of secrecy. Her explanation, or lack thereof, only served to fuel Bella’s curiosity. What kind of people were they if not relatives of the royal family? Were they even actually people? With palpable disappointment, the redhead wordlessly agreed to keep the increasingly mysterious Liza’s secret. Just one more to add to the ever-growing list. At this rate, she’d never learn anything that would be helpful in breaking the curse.

“‘Suits me?’” It took effort to fight the urge to scoff indignantly. “Cities don’t suit me, small towns don’t suit me, but castles in the middle of cursed forests suit me?” Bella averted her narrowed eyes from where Liza crouched in front of the blooms, unable to help the color returning to her face in spite of herself. A part of her wanted to rebuke the erroneous - what she guessed was supposed to be a compliment. The last place befitting of one such as she was that so grand as a castle. She didn’t belong there in any capacity, either.

It was this that she mulled over, standing still in the stables long after Liza had departed for the dim, fire-lit shade and coolness of the castle. Bella visited with the horses until the sun climbed high enough to see through the skylight, having always found solace in their gentle company. She might have stayed if not for the new afternoon tradition of charades, which she did truly look forward to; and she didn’t want to keep everyone waiting.

“How about you go first?” Taking a seat on a sofa that had been moved aside to make room for their game, Bella ushered Sophia forward with an encouraging pat on the shoulder. The long walk and alternating jog had taken more out of her than it might if not for the summer heat and the last thing she wanted to do at that moment was stand. She sank into the cushions and very well could have closed her eyes for a light doze.


“Sorry for calling you a pesky rat earlier.” Landon approached Bella from beside the sofa and placed his hand upon her shoulder as gently as he possible. He seemed visibly struck by a sullen air before her for the first time since they met in the Princess’ bedroom that fateful day she arrived, “It wasn’t very nice. I’m not sure what came over me.” He struggled to lift his cheeks up into a grin, but managed to hold the expression just so Bella would not have to endure the sight of his unbidden gloom. As Sophia began as the days first participant, Landon took a place beside Bella on the sofa. All but one of Inverness’ residents and guests occupied one of the many dens included amongst the west wings second floor, the particular one in mention having officially been deemed to be the den in which they would all meet during the afternoons.

With all due respect, their games would not be so easily enjoyed without a certain degree of intuition and familiarity between one another, with Imogen and the children being the most unwavering contenders in regards to their success, despite no one having ever officially kept score. Some were more inclined to keep track than others and they were easily distinguished by their method of fun; derived from participation or victory, respectively. Sophia fell under the latter and although her displays were elaborate, they fell prey to more guileful minds at play.

She made several attempts to establish the word moon for Tobias in an effort to secure their team a point by using her arms to resemble clock hands and imitating the act of sleep. After having spent more ample time than she thought necessary drawing circles and crescents in the air, Liza cried out moon as if she were shouting “Eureka!” bringing upon Sophie’s face as she shot a stern look at her teammate. She only needed to begin waltzing with an invisible partner for a second. “Dancing on The Moon.” Amarinda nearly muttered, her nonchalant display augmented by her lack of attention, having only noticed Sophia’s dance out the corner of her eye without taking her focus off the book in her hands, “We read the same volumes of literature, you know.”

Sophia’s graceful waltz went up in flames faster than she could cry out ducks. “Oh, ducks!” Sophie stomped to her previous place on the sofa where Landon now occupied; it seemed unlikely that such ornate and refined pantomiming could come from such a sour pout, “I was sitting there.” She said, glowering at Landon. “Sophia, respect your elders.” Imogen ordered, “Simply sit somewhere else. You don’t have to be next to Bella all the time.” Sophia complied, albeit not without folding her arms and offering a rebuttal. As she stepped out from in front of Bella, a lamented unfamiliar to the afternoon charades party could be seen just beyond the doorway, barely out of range from direct sunlight rays; pale skin glowing in contrast to the dark tones of the walls behind him, lingering in the hallways shade.

Jaron almost looked to be lost as he stood there observing the den. He was more likely intrigued and judging from how he didn’t shy away from direct eye contact, might have been vying for attention. Even though Landon and Sophia were also the only others seated facing the door, the specific angle Jaron peered in from could not be noticed by anyone on the sofa besides Bella. From there he could see Henry’s back turned to him from the armchair, Landon’s arm and less than half of the blonde’s head. His face felt warm standing so close to the sunrays, as if a large bonfire was blocking the doorway.

“Au contraire, Miss Imogen, I do. She’s my sister.” Sophia declared. Amarinda scoffed, “Oh, brother.”


All Bella could manage was a nod in response to Landon’s apology. She might have offered a smile, but it would have faltered very much like his own; and she didn’t trust herself in that moment to speak, with the emotions from earlier rising from the pit of her stomach to knot in her throat. Instead, she chewed the inside of her bottom lip and forced herself to focus on Sophie. That didn’t make it any easier to concentrate, especially with her conversation with Liza hanging over her head, which took a great deal of the enjoyment out of the game.

“Don’t be mean, Sophie. Besides, you can always steal the spot back when it’s Landon’s turn.” The redhead scolded gently, giving the cook a playful nudge with her elbow. “This is supposed to be fun, so let’s keep it that way, okay?” She leaned forward to place a caressing hand on top of Sophie’s head before she moved to an empty seat. It was supposed to be, yet today’s game wasn’t as entertaining somehow. Of course, Liza and Landon were forgiven; however, something about that morning still lingered in a sour pall.

Something else lingered, too, or rather someone else. As Bella rested back against the cushion, she glimpsed the Prince’s pale face peering from the shadowed corridor just outside the sunlit doorway. Neither Landon nor Sophie apparently noticed his presence; perhaps he didn’t want them to. Since Amarinda called the correct answer, it was her turn to go - or the turn of whomever on the opposing team would go instead, as she seemed more interested in her book than the game. Bella took that opportunity to excuse herself, taking the long way around the furniture grouped ideally to suit their game rather than cut across the middle of their playing space.

“Your Highness.” She greeted with a bob of her head, pulling the door a little behind her. The bright beams pouring in the wall-height windows glanced off her hair, paling it to match her eyes. The shadow he stood in deepened with the door cracked and her standing between him and it. “How nice to see you before dinner.” It was a question more than a pleasantry, albeit it was no less sincerely meant even if she didn’t see him at the evening meal because she ate in the kitchen. Her curiosity was evident enough, though. “Would you like to join us in the den? You don’t have to play, unless you want to. I can go close the drapes.” It was a stretch, really, and highly unlikely to boot; although Bella couldn’t help asking, considering what Liza said earlier. Was she truly keeping her promise if she left him alone all the time?

“What am I thinking? Of course he doesn’t…” Bella spared a thoughtful glance over her shoulder, then pulled the doors completely shut behind her. “How about some tea?” She suggested with a timid smile, remembering the peaceful silence they shared in the den those days ago. Tea and quiet sounded very appealing.
 
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Jaron sideways glanced down the long west wing corridor, feeling compelled to appear as if he wasn’t just peering into the den and was just standing there by himself. “Sure.” Was all he muttered in reply to Bella’s proposal. Over the course of the fortnight, Liza was the first to mention the habitual game of charades everyone participated in to the Prince. “I was looking for Elizabeth but I suppose that can wait.” He mentioned, more than glad to put off speaking with her, as she never did spare him any slack and always found some way to peeve him, now more than ever since Bella had first arrived to Esterwell.

Liza’s head snapped to the door in the middle of her pantomiming the instant Bella closed it shut. She continued to imitate a ship captain turning the helm in the midst of sailing. Just as their time was nearly up, Henry secured the point by guessing the word steer. Liza figured the round had her bide in the den long enough to assume Bella was not immediately returning to the game and excused herself.

Daylight pooled a few inches outward from the small crevice beneath the kitchen door. The Prince leered at it for a few seconds longer than necessary in the hopes Bella would take the initiative, saving him the embarrassment of asking her to shut the curtains, especially after she had just offered to do so outside the den.

Jaron entered the kitchen and didn’t spare a second, immediately tossing a bundle of firewood into the compartment beneath the stove before wrapping charcoal soaked cloth around a small piece of flint and proceeding to strike down on it only a few times with steel that could be fitted on the knuckle. Whilst blowing on the small embers he could hardly recall the last time he prepared a batch of tea but was certain he had never done so since coming of age or moving to Inverness and being granted so many servants at his disposal, dedicated to ensuring a life of convenient luxury.

Liza walked in just as Jaron set a large watering can upon the stove, “Sneaking off for tea, are we? In the middle of my first game with everyone? So audacious.” As always The Prince found Liza’s frolicsome attitude unamusing, “Does everything have to be about you all the time?” Taking Jaron’s question to heart, Liza crossed over to Bella and spun the jar of tea leaves halfway counter-clockwise as it sat on the island, “Do tell what continent these leaves are from? They always look the same. Uchey, I imagine.” She wrapped her hands firmly around the jar whilst beaming towards Bella, “His Highness only accepts the absolute best.”

Despite always feeling certain Liza always managed to blur the line between playful and presumptuous as she spoke of him in the third person from across the room, he couldn’t help but to think she was acting somewhat strange by holding him verbally hostage in a discussion he could not bring himself to care for, “Certainly not, but if you’re so curious, you can go ask Landon. Maybe do so now?”

As sarcastic she came off, Liza did appear genuinely offended by her frowned expression and began to unscrew the lid from its jar, “I meant no disrespect, your Majesty,” She solemnly admitted, scooping a few spoonfuls of leaves from the jar, dropping one after the other into a shiny silver teapot that looked to be the most expensive thing in the kitchen, “I was only trying to make conversation.” The instant Liza spoke her last word down to the final syllable, an aluminum pot flung off of its place upon the shelf above the stove, crashing onto the floor, a loud clang reverberating through the kitchen on impact.

A split-second pause outside the double doors of the kitchen was all it took to register the light that shone faintly in the crack between them and from underneath. In the distraction that Liza caused that morning, Bella completely forgot to close the curtains before leaving. She opened the door only enough to slip through it, pulling it shut again behind her, and quickly closed the curtains. Her hand was still closed around the corner of the last fabric shade when Jaron entered and she promptly dropped it.

Before Bella could protest that she hadn’t meant to make him do any of the work that came with brewing tea, the Prince was lighting the fire under the stove. It was surprising that he knew how, honestly, considering his rich upbringing. Surely there was always someone who did that for him. Indeed she would have been very much the same if she hadn’t been so well-acquainted with her sister’s beau that she hung around his work at her father’s shipyard and pestered him for knowledge. Then, it was something she would have learned anyway, what with having moved to the country to live a humble life without servants.

“I wouldn’t call it sneaking off.” An amused smile played on her lips, albeit a rueful one. So much for the quiet tea time. How curious too that Liza would depart the den for their awkward company after what she said earlier. “Um..” Her copper brows rose at the jar and the strange air the silver-haired vampire seemed to be putting on. The atmosphere in the kitchen was beginning to feel thick like freshly churned butter. Bella reached across the island to pull a leaf from the jar.
“Black tea, so Uchey, yes. Most black tea comes from there, but the type depends on the country in particular.” The leaf was dark and dry and very wrinkled, like the shriveled leaves that still clung to the mostly baron trees as autumn gave way to winter. It crumbled easily with just the slightest touch and smelled rich with a hint of spice. “I’d go so far as to guess that it’s from Inapur, specifically, just from its smell. They produce very fine tea with spicy undertones.” She let the leaf, now broken, fall from her hand back into the jar, which she very nearly knocked over with her startled jerk. Her first guess would have been that the teapot had been knocked to the floor; however, it still stood finely crafted and shining in the dim light where Liza had set it.

“Oh no..” The pot rang with its impact on the floor, a pained echo of its crash into the wall. It could only mean that the Prince was upset.

Jaron picked the pot off the floor, examining it thoroughly, unsure what to make of its descent. “I’m sure Landon ought to know why his kitchenware was teetering on the edge of the shelf? Such carelessness is beyond him.” Liza mused just as the watering can began to whistle whilst blowing steam from its spout.

The silver haired conundrum refrained from inquiring if there were perhaps a ghost lingering inside the many halls of Inverness, judging by the number of lives that had been taken within nearly a decade ago, including the likes of Jaron’s parents. By that account, it was not such an outlandish theory, although ironically enough any paranormal occurrences were more often than not the machinations of those who resided in the living spectrum of reality. After breakfast, Henry would extinguish the many candles lit in the grand dining hall if the days weather were in the favor sunlight wise. The afternoon summer rays did well to illuminate the hall despite the efforts of all the thick heavy drapes hanging just below the ceiling. Liza hadn’t said a word since they entered.

The table assumed a guise of affable quality for the Prince, who knew that even if he were to feel truly comfortable around Liza and Bella, such a pleasantry could be measured by every drop of tea in his cup, thus turning null upon total depletion, or the rise in Liza’s notorious quips. Albeit short lived, the Prince could still appreciate the privilege of such luxuries even in the midst of everything else. They were, if anything, essential to daily living, if he was not planning to undertake the lifestyle of a monk in constant mediation. All things considered, such a lifestyle might suit Jaron given the circumstances, but a Prince was raised to uphold a status of integrity and valor. Such spiritually convoluted efforts were beyond him and had not once been considered.

“I trust you’ve been keeping well?” the Prince finally posed a question to Bella, looking halfway towards the maiden as he sat beside her after another pensive silence; the signature mark of aimless Inverness living. He seemed to have been staring at the empty space behind Liza, possibly even right through her. She sat across the two, gazing back and forth between all the fine drapes hanging on the wall and the sunlight that creeped passed them.

The Prince’s question was more of a formality than a curious effort. He sat straight upright and eerily still, only seeming unlike a statue as he brought the tea cup from the table up to his mouth. The behavior suggested he might have actually been quite familiar with meditation, albeit involuntarily. He didn’t seem to notice Bella’s handmade dress, despite its appearance looking unlike anything that Imogen might have stowed away anywhere, even the lesser folk that resided in the castle maintained a degree representing the royal status they served.

As Jaron lifted his tea cup from off the table once more, his statue esque stillness altered to that of an elderly woman in a rocking chair as he tottered aimlessly in a circular motion. Whilst abruptly rising from his chair, swaying this way and that, his grip on the tea cup failed and the ceramic shattered as it hit the floor. Liza rose from her seat with the Prince and leaped over the table, approaching him cautiously, “Are you all right, Jaron?” The blank expression on her face betrayed the concern in her tone. Jaron attempted to speak but could only stammer incoherently before his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he fell into Liza’s arms.


Bella placed a hand over her heart, a sigh of relief escaping as she visibly relaxed. To either or both the Prince and Liza, it likely came off as her simply being startled; although, that was only half true. Whatever exactly it was that happened did so while she was inspecting the tea leaf; she hadn’t seen whether it had been thrown in a rage or simply fallen, though it had gone quite a distance for gravity to be the cause. At least it was not the former and the Prince was not angry as she feared in the moment.

“Oh, but I did the dishes this morning. Perhaps I put it too close to the edge?” The words carried a dubious note. Had she indeed washed the pot? As she recalled, there were only pans that morning, from the salmon and omelettes. Even if she hadn’t, that was the explanation she would rather go with. Ghosts were as equally unpleasant an idea as the Prince’s dour temper. The cursed forest teaming with putrescent monsters was more than enough of the undead and supernatural for one castle without poltergeists throwing dishware. No one was really sure, so no more was said about it.

This was the first time Bella sat in the grand dining hall and was only a number of the handful of times she had been in it, with most of those having just been passing through as a shortcut. If not for the tea, she would have felt a great deal more anxious sitting at that inordinate table with the Prince. Liza’s presence was of little comfort, if any, as it felt more like she was a spectator of Bella’s lamentable floundering around the opposite sex than friendly company. Yet she felt at that moment similarly to how she felt in the den after having consumed the strange elixir Henry brought, like there was an eerie sleepy calm cast over her.

“Yes, thank you.” Her eyes didn’t separate from the contents of her cup as she fidgeted with the hem of her blue dress. Of course, it was the same insincere idle chit-chat she had grown up with, but she would answer as Loretta always told her to. She sipped the tea for lack of anything else to say, not that she wanted to force conversation; however, it felt like an excuse not to speak more, so she sipped it to the dregs. The hand holding the cup dropped gradually until the cup sat on her lap, her eyelids drooping. Her head bobbed forward drowsily only to snap back up at the sound of the porcelain shattering.

Bella gazed wide-eyed at Jaron, who pitched as though he were on a boat on stormy seas. She might have asked if he was alright if her somnolent brain could even have managed to stagger over the idea. That state of alert was brief; she sagged forward in her chair, eyes closing, until her head thumped audibly on the table accompanied by the soft clatter of her spoon on the saucer and the heaving breaths of sleep.


tower.png
The tingling began inside the stomach, gradually spreading like wildfire up to the chest, reminiscent of the pins and needles sensation that sensitive, sleeping limbs provided but not entirely the same albeit not much like anything else. Maybe they would be more similar if each pin and needle had a flat dull end. It could best be likened to having an octopus trapped inside your belly with a few extra arms, each limb grazing the interior of the stomach, curling in and out inconsistently aggressive, remaining docile yet palpable still for brief periods at a time. That was the tingling that came with entering an Ezinime induced dream.

People say it's near impossible to discern whether it came before, after or was interchangeable with the free-falling sensation that accompanied the noodle-y gut lurching. Free-falling was, however, certainly not the same experience. It's also worth mentioning how at times one might feel roots protruding from their soles and finger tips, down to the very center of the earth and both ends of the universe. It became quite clear and indeed obvious at that point how there were no ups and downs, only surfaces and emptiness. Objectively, the free-falling came first, shooting Bella into emptiness until an ethereal pink gash could be made out in the distance, enveloping everything as she passed through it. The tingling came next, then the protruding roots.

By now, there must have been a string shooting out the back of Bella's mind, pulling the floor upwards until she was finally grounded. The pink ethereal hue coated everything from the walls, bed and bookshelves to the sky outside. The room was decorated and furnished with plain simple taste, indicating there was some type of humanity lurking around despite the intense, vivid abstract experience that had just occurred. There was no mistaking some kind of sorcery was at play, but the state of the room from the carpets and paintings to the soft bed sheets tucked neatly into the mattress made it clear that at least at some point someone, hopefully human, had been around at some point; likely anthropomorphic at least.

The only window in the room remained agape, blocked by a varnished desk and chair, riddled with paintings in the style of impressionism depicting the room itself. They included everything from the pink sky squared in the window to the colors of the walls, carpet and bed sheets to the paintings themselves scattered on the desk. The most eerie feature in all of the paintings was the inclusion of Bella herself, albeit younger and with shorter hair, gazing at the paintings. Everything from the color of her dress to the length of her hair remained a thorough depiction representing her as she was there in the room at that instant. None of the books on the desk or any of the shelves were written in a comprehensible language. If not for having already come across the writings in the study's secret room, they could have easily been passed off as inane scrabbles that someone binded and placed in leather covers as some type of joke.

From the center of the room, all that could be seen outside the window was a single swaying tree branch adorned with a scarce amount of leaves. At a certain height one might be able to make out the forests on the horizon. The room had all the accommodations of tranquil country living. It was only missing one thing; a door.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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1-3 posts per week, One post per week, Slow As Molasses
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Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
There was only darkness at first, the not-quite-perfectly black darkness that came with closing one's eyes. Gradually, it became perfect, so completely devoid of light that it was almost certainly the void between space and time. It felt all at once to Bella as though she were falling through it and simply flying without any sense of direction. The fact that this was a dream did nothing to prevent the queasy lurching of her stomach, only adding to the disorienting and unpleasant sensation of endlessly falling. Still she found herself unable to think clearly as the glowing pink rift like a wound in the universe grew nearer. Bella ought to have been frightened, a reasonable reaction for anyone of sound mind; yet she gazed fascinated while she passed through it and the eerie hue enveloped everything in its entirety.

Finally, the falling or flying ceased, leaving Bella sprawled on the smooth panels of wood floor. She groaned, fighting the pins and needles that tingled over her every inch and extremity to move her limbs, which simultaneously felt as one with the floor. With some effort, she pushed herself up to sit back on her heels, taking in the room around her while she waited for her head to stop reeling. It had an aesthetic that matched her own, one of humble and tasteful simplicity; although, everything was cast in a rose-colored light. There was the vague hint of someone having lived there, perhaps they had just left before she arrived. The only problem with that idea was that there didn't appear to be a door anywhere that someone might leave from; the only possible exit was the open window.

"Hm?" Bella made her way towards the window, stopping at the desk in front of it. How odd that she couldn't see out. The desk too was taller than it ought to have been, though not so tall that she couldn't see the paintings strewn across it. They were incredibly detailed, being made up of small thin brush strokes, depicting the very room she stood in. There was a particularly alarming depiction in them, one she knew only from having grown up with a looking glass in her bedroom. "Eh?! Is that-- no, it can't be!" The girl in the paintings was smaller than she, younger and with lighter hair; but there was no mistaking that she was looking at herself roughly ten years ago. Only then did the apparent change in her height send icy cold panic down her back. She half ran to the mirror across the room and a scream tore from her throat. Looking back at her in the glass was her younger self.


"What manner of fresh hell is this?" She breathed, reaching up to touch her face. The youthful roundness had returned to her cheeks, framed by hair of pale gold with strawberry undertones that no longer brushed the tops of her shoulders, but barely touched nape of her neck. Her eyes were blue around the outside of the iris with amber blazing out from her pupils like tendrils of flame, eating it away. The blue dress she had worked so hard on altered to fit her childish frame, now sporting a white yoke with blue and black trim; her apron was clean and had a ruffled hem. Her hands traced down, fingers grazing her neck and collar bone, and came to rest on her chest where her breasts ought to have been. In spite of the uncanny change and the magic obviously at work, Bella felt oddly comfortable in her younger skin.

"I don't know what's happening here, but I have to find a way back out of this. I have to make sure Jaron's okay." That's right. Something was wrong, sitting there in the dining hall. Right before Bella closed her eyes, she saw him collapse into Liza's arms. That couldn't mean anything good. Did it have something to do with her passing out? What a coincidence to have two isolated incidents of fainting one after another like that, if not. Could it have something to do with the tea? After a moment spent pacing the room and muttering to herself, Bella began her fruitless search for a way out. Alas, her entrapment was complete. There were no panels hidden in the walls or under the floor that might be an exit. She even moved and upturned all the furniture that she could lift and pulled books off of shelves in hopes that some secret door would open; however, none did. There was only the window framing that pink sky. She scowled and released a growl of vexation. Unlike the furniture, she took great care to move the paintings off the desk before climbing on top of it to look out.

"Hellooooooo! Is anyone out there? I need help!" Bella called down the ivy-covered stone wall of what she realized was a tower. It was much too high to jump from safely and there was no ladder or rope to climb down with. Taking in as big a breath as her small chest could hold, she hollered to anyone who might be within earshot, "Somebody get me down from here!"
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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moth
Jaron didn't enjoy the fall anymore than the Ezinime's next victim, he was just a lot less confused by the symptoms. Plateaued there on a meadow of red cotton-balls stuck to their protruding blue stems, his limbs sprawled out upon the cotton flowers; which offered quite the comfortable napping grounds, observing the clouds folded into the shape of roses as they breezed along the pink sky, the boy began to understand why Ezinime would be used in a recreational manner. That wasn't the initial judgement he passed on it either upon having studied it, although he never did entertain the idea of experimenting with the Ezinia, nor did he expect to be put under by it.

What mostly garnered his attention was the sun, which would have been the most normal thing about if it weren't pink. Even in this pseudo existence, to bask in the sun without consequence was the nourishment for emotions so sensitive, he might as well have woken up to that very winter evening everything changed, for eternity in his eyes. That was just to say that the sun, as pink it were, looked to be as surreal as the emotion he felt while its rays grazed his skin. He had easily forgotten just how livid he was at Liza in its abstraction.

Jaron could have easily laid out on the prairie for as long as the Ezinime would let him if not for the cries of help that could be heard not too far off in the distance, pulling him from the trance induced by the sun and sky as he sat up to better determine their direction. The sight of his limbs being several sizes smaller than usual was as obvious to the boy as it would have been if they were missing altogether, his hands even more so, they had spent the passed nine years sitting in the corner of his eye whilst he stared mindlessly at the dens fireplace, sometimes he even stared at them for hours on end in his study. "Of course." Jaron thought out loud. The pitch and strength of his voice only confirmed that he did indeed appear to be a child. There was no way to tell exactly what the boy looked like so he didn't bother to pay the idea any more mind and began following the call for aid.

The tower could have easily gone unnoticed, especially in the pink hue that coated everything and offered less contrast that could make the details in the environment better distinguished from each other. Jaron only managed to make out the roof by following what began to sound more and more like a young girls voice. If she had not persisted to call for help, the boy would have found himself jogging in circles through the bundles of trees and branches. The tower stood in clearing, surrounded by a perfect circle of hedges. Jaron knew well not to assume it had been meticulously placed there by anyone and how it was, in fact, not really there, just like everything else. Even so, if he had any hope of waking up, his only choice was to play along with whatever the Ezinime sent his way. He pushed through the wall of shrubbery leaving behind an outline of his body in the bushes. Finally, he stood at the base of the tower.


"Who's up there?" Jaron asked, shouting up at the tower window, barely able to make out the girls face, especially through the rose hue as she were. He began to wonder what purpose trapping an imaginary girl in a tower could serve and was hesitant to approach the tower. The reports on the Ezinia recalled vague recollections of nonsensical and sometimes even asinine occurrences among many other things. He wondered at the tower and the girl being one such an instance, not yet certain that helping the girl was a wise choice, or if she was even real. Yet, after just a handful of seconds, something felt quite familiar about the girl. The sound of her cries for help reminded him of his kid sister. It was not so unlikely she had somehow gotten roped into all of this as well. Just one more thing to worry about as always, he thought.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
Original poster
Posting Speed
1-3 posts per week, One post per week, Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
Male, Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
The world outside the tower was just as strange as the room inside. For as far as the eye could see, there was a field of what appeared to be cotton; although, its colors were entirely wrong, what with the red buds and the blue stems. The sun and the sky it hung in were pink, as if it were the source of the vibrant hue that obscured the natural colors of this strange dream world, and the clouds around it bloomed as roses. There was nothing on the horizon but trees, no peaks that might have been the rooftops of houses or any other signs of civilization or people. The tower's isolation was complete, demonstrated by the circle of hedges that surrounded it. Bella might have screamed in vexation; however, something moving on the ground caught her eye, a humanoid shape that revealed itself to be a boy as it drew closer. She could only be sure of the head of black hair, with distance obscuring his features and the pink atmosphere staining his clothes.

"This is hardly an appropriate time for introductions!" Oh, that childish voice! Those shrill notes were enough to make the maiden cringe as they reverberated in her ears and through her skull. That prepubescent annoyance was perhaps the one thing she didn't miss about her childhood in the slightest. Bella leaned farther out the window, hands gripping the wooden sill. Her hair, even in the pink veil, was much too light to have been the rich auburn hair of Carthya's young princess; Sophia's hair would likely have appeared purple. Not to mention, Bella's hair was much too short. It was even shorter than it was when Bella had been this age, for at that time it was nearly down to her waist and still held onto the remnants of curls at the ends. It couldn't be said what the discrepancy was now, only that it was the result of the dream.

Something niggled at the back of her mind as she stared down at the top of the boy's head, something familiar that she couldn't quite pinpoint. There was no telling why he felt so to her; then again, this was a dream and she might dream anything. She only knew two men with black hair, her brother-in-law and the Prince, neither of which were as young as the boy or herself for that matter. Of course, if she was a child in her dream, why then could either one of them not be a child, too? "Don't be foolish. It's a dream. He's a figment of your imagination... and apparently your only ticket out of this damn tower. Play along to get along."

"I'm Bella!" The child called down following an aggravated sigh, not waiting for the boy to give his name in return. "Is there a ladder or a rope anywhere? I've looked but there's no door up here!" Briefly, she considered using the ivy clinging to the stone wall to climb down, but its integrity was far too questionable. If that was the last resort, then so be it. For now, she would exhaust every available resource. "I really don't want to jump." Bella muttered to herself, nearly sick with anxiety from looking down for so long. She could almost feel that falling sensation all over again, causing her to pull away from the window so as not to get dizzy and plummet from her perch. "There's got to be something! Anything!" There was a vast depth of pleading in her voice that would ring clear all the way across the meadow.

"Wait, this is a dream. Maybe if I try hard enough, I can dream some wings and fly out of here! Better yet, I could dream myself on the ground. Erm, but I have no practice in lucid dreaming." While this was a dream, deep down Bella couldn't help but think that she was in denial as she sat atop the desk trying to manifest herself onto the ground below. It was more likely that she would pop a blood vessel than be able to force the dream to change. Only did she give up when she manifested herself a headache. The boy was her only hope.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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The girls quick rebuke conveyed a surreal sense of humanity. Between her distant cries for help, shrill temperament and especially the wittiness of her remark, it did feel like Jaron was talking to somebody, someone real, separate from the fabricated anomaly they both embodied. Even though it was to be expected, Jaron still found the girl to be startling. To make someone seem so real brought upon foreboding contingencies, especially considering the stipulations in dabbling with the magic intertwined within the veins, leaves and petals of the Ezinia. The enchanted dream entailed there were conditions that had to be met if you ever wanted to see the real world again. Anyone ignorant of the magic or gullible enough to be tricked by it were easy pickings for the Ezinia. Even if you were keen enough, those faint of heart or lacking an aptitude for critical thinking were just as subject to meet their doom in their sleep. Among all the hindrances in their way, the most fatal factor they had to face was time.

If one is ill or injured, they could be put to sleep for weeks with Ezinime. They would, in fact, sleep indefinitely, being practically left in a coma if the appropriate remedy was not administered, that was the base effect. If one were to add the essentially deft techniques of an enchanting master, they could tap into the Ezinime's essence, unlocking its dormant potential; crafting the dream, or nightmare as one see's fit, for a particular purpose. Finding closure in speaking with a deceased loved one for the last time, reliving old memories, achieving ones wildest wishes and desires. How skewed these machinations were experienced was up to the skill and focus of the enchanter, but an absolutely perfect depiction of reality was not possible. Only a complete fool would try to tap into the magic without the proper knowledge and accommodations, as doing so could have disastrous consequences that the most vile mind in the world could not conjure. If all goes well, the enchantment is successful and the flower is ingested, then the countdown begins; with the enchanters abstract sine qua non established, the dream will persist only five days before it begins self-destructing. The reports emphasized how nobody under Ezinime had met their sixth day with a beating heart.

All things considered, there was no time to waste saving little girls from towers as long as white roses still splotched the sky, no matter how clever or real they seemed to be. Jaron could not deny he was partially expecting the girl to call herself Bella. After all, what better way was there to keep him distracted? Jaron didn't like it, but he deemed it vital to believe nothing he can see and only half of what he can hear. He felt a twinge of guilt, especially on account of how very real Bella seemed to be. She was also right beside him when he fell unconscious, undoubtedly from Liza having spiked their tea. If that was the case, it wasn't unlikely Bella would be there with him in the dream as well, although he could not recall ever hearing or reading anything of two dreams in sync with one another.

Even so, the whole thing stunk of Liza, but there was still nothing presently Jaron could even do to help Bella if he wanted to. It wouldn't hurt to give her the benefit of the doubt for now, while she was apparently at a distance, "Don't jump!" the boy bellowed, funneling his hands around his mouth, "There's nothing around. Just wait here, I'll look for help." was all he said to the girl before starting back through the hedges and out of sight. She was probably safer up there anyways for now, he figured. The space Jaron had just occupied at the base of the tower remained empty, the boy had left as fast as he had arrived.

Just as Bella had given up in her attempt to manifest an escape by her sheer will alone, a voice evidently echoed between her ears, "That's the spirit!" The small interior of the tower didn't leave much if any room for someone to hide. The words were spoken so lightly yet could be heard so close, like they were being spoken directly from behind the back of Bella's head. At first glance Bella was alone in the room, nobody was under the desk or behind the bed, the only two spaces anyone could hide if they were to. All that could be found underneath the bed were dust bunnies. "Listen, I'm over here. Not there, here!"

The mysterious speaker, who's voice easily resembled a small child, failed to provide any effective directions or indications that could make finding her any easier, offering instead to say
here repeatedly as if the four letter word alone was all Bella needed to hear and would make the mystery girls exact location abundantly clear. She ignored any questions that deviated from the task of searching for her at hand and would remain stubbornly persistent in the idea that Bella should find her first. Eventually she began using no, no and yes, yes depending where Bella stood in the room before opting to play hot and cold instead. "No, no, cold! Cold! Brrrrr! No, freezing!.....aha! Yes, yes! Warmer, warmer! Yes! HOT! HOT! HOT! Right there!" The voice still echoed between Bella's ears as the mystery girls directions lead her to the bookshelf, still no apparent sign of the girl anywhere. "I'm down here! Look!" There on the second row of books from the bottom up, a pair of pleading blue eyes the size of bird seeds stared back at Bella, attached to the head of what appeared to be a girl with blonde hair that was long for her size and a pair of translucent white wings. She stepped out from behind a book, waving her arms frantically to catch Bella's attention and might have been slightly taller than the average mouse, but that was a bold claim and anyone familiar with mice would quickly disagree.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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1-3 posts per week, One post per week, Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
Male, Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
"Oh, don't worry. I'm not going anywhere." A tart quip young Bella grumbled to herself as the boy turned right back around and disappeared through the hedges the way he had come. Despite her saying such, she looked down the curving expanse of stone and ivy that made up the tower, tempted to try and climb down. Perhaps she ought to have tried it while the boy was still there? At least then, there would have been someone to catch her if she fell. The idea was even less appealing now than it was only moments ago when he'd been standing below. The child released a growl of vexation that sounded more like a noise a cat might make if stepped on due to the unsteady pitch of her young voice. The lack of being able to change the dream by sheer will alone or force herself to wake up, too, generated yet more of such reactions.

"Who's there?" The sound of a small voice from somewhere behind her prompted the girl to whirl around in search of the source. Of course, there was no one there that she could see and there were no places that someone might effectively hide. "Oh, great. More disembodied voices." She thought to herself, ruefully rolling her hazel-blue eyes. The last time she heard one, she found trouble in the Prince's hidden magic room; although, that had been her own fault. That didn't change the fact that she was none so keen to listen to this one, lest she find herself in trouble again. Even so, Bella indulged in the frustrating game of hot and cold with this voice, whose words led her to believe that there was a physical body to go with it somewhere in that forsaken room. She moved this way and that, doing her best to play it by ear, but more often than not getting led astray by the poor directions. What followed was many exasperated exclamations of "where?!" and "why don't you come here?!" before she finally located the source near the bottom of the bookcase.

Bella's eyes lit up at the sight of the tiny fairy girl. As could only be expected of a fairy, she was beautiful, with blonde hair almost as long as she was tall. Its color resembled that of her sister's hair when she was about this age; her eyes would have been green by then, though, rather than blue. Taking a few careful steps, she closed the distance between her and the fairy and knelt down to get a closer look. Some part of her, the child at heart she supposed, wanted to believe in what she was seeing. The part that knew it was nothing more than a dream left her feeling doubtful that anything would come of it, just as she couldn't quite bring herself to believe the boy was coming back with help.

"Who are you? Do you know how to get out of here?" Extending her petite hand, Bella offered for the fairy to climb onto her palm. There was little else she could do but hope that the fairy could help. "I really need to get back, er, to wake up. There's something important I have to do. Can you help me? Somehow I don't think that boy is coming back." Bella went back with the fairy to the desk, where she clambered up to look out the window again out of some naive hope that he would be there, perhaps with a ladder. Alas, it was not to be. There was no one and nothing. That hope generated another idea. "Ooh! Are you magic? Can you make a ladder or a rope to climb down with?"
 
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As eager the fairy was for Bella to find her, she did posses a rational sentience that provoked her anxiety which, in her defense, should accompany being looked down on from the gigantic nine year old that was Bella's medium, only revealing herself to the redhead as she was apparently in distress and dire need need of assistance. As Bella extended her enormous hand towards her the fairy offered a daunting frown in return, thinking she mine as well clip her wings and jump into a volcano, "Um, no thanks! We only just met." She whizzed up to eye level of the redhead, translucent wings fluttering, reminiscent of the Monarch. "It's kinda funny, my name's Bell. Oh, don't give me that look, I'm serious, that's my name!" It was clear now, despite her facial expressions mirroring the emotions intertwined in each word, Bell's mouth remained shut, yet the words bounced back and forth in Bella's cranium. She was not speaking so much as she was communicating by means of some magic or another. She was, after all, a part of the dream itself.

Bell was hesitant to take her eyes off Bella, making sure to keep the redhead in her sights as she peered out the window alongside her. "Eh, boys, who needs em? They never get anything done." She remarked spitefully, eyes narrowing as she recalled some personal grievance. "Am I magic?" Bell repeated the question, attempting to wrap her head around Bella's naivety, her seed-sized pupils a thin crevice, concentrated on Bella, a gateway to her soul, as it seemed to be. "Um, well, I can't do that, but.." Bell whizzed passed Bella out into the open air just beyond the towers window. "I can get you down, sure." She asserted, ignoring Bella's desperate hankering for waking up as she put it, assuming the little girl was full blown off her rocker.

"But, you have to really believe in yourself. You have to believe you can fly...you might think you do, but if you did, you would be over here, with me, in the air." It wasn't the most appealing solution by a long shot, but it was all the fairy had to offer. "If you don't believe in yourself, the magic won't work." Bell remained outside just beyond the window, fluttering in the air, almost as if to tease Bella. Bell whizzed towards Bella right up until she was just inches before the bridge of her pint-sized nose, hands against hips, frowning at any trace of doubt that might be lingering behind those glistening hazel blue eyes. "Come on, you can do it! You got to! Believe in yourself!"

Despite any and all efforts Bella might muster, it was all to no avail. Still, Bell remained a pencils length away from the little girls forehead, cheering her efforts on incessantly. "Squeeze those eyes shut, clench those fists, grind those teeth! You got this!" Bell refused to hear any objections and doubts, only determined to encourage the redheads efforts in lifting off from the floorboards. It was only until Bella strained herself just as hard as she had moments ago did Bell give in to herself and begin cackling like a hyena, bobbing up and down in the air as she struggled to maintain a steady hover. The fairy floated belly up like a dead fish bobbing in the water, clenching her stomach, wiping a tear from her eye as she began to settle and catch her breath. "Oh, I'm sorry, I couldn't help it, you should see yourself!" She declared, bursting into laughter once more on second thought as she pondered whether the sight of Bella straining herself was as funny as she claimed it to be. It apparently was.

"Right then," Bell hastily whizzed above Bella, partly in an effort to avoid any well deserved chastising and drew a wand as thin as a pine needle and white as her dress, swaying it in a circular motion until bright golden glitter rained on top of Bella, surrounding her person and lifting her into the air, just as she had been moments after succumbing to sleep, albeit without the free falling sensation, although it was likely anyone would feel their stomach lurch upon their first flight. Now Bell did her best to genuinely encourage Bella as the little girl adjusted to her new ability. "You're doing great, really! It's pretty easy, from what I heard, but you might want to practice before you try going outside." The fairy insisted cautiously with a smile.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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The young maiden's annoyance must have showed clear as day upon her face when the fairy introduced herself as "Bell," for she immediately defended it. It could only be guessed that this was a result of Bella's memories of her mother, whose nickname was such. The fairy also very much resembled the descriptions given by her mother when she would tell Bella and her sister stories of fairies and magic when they were children. Then again, this could very well be little more than a coincidence and a result of the tainted tea she drank with the Prince right before falling asleep. Of course, she wouldn't think of that, for she had no knowledge that there was anything wrong with the tea, only a vague idea that all of this had something to do with it. Brushing that aside, she shrugged.

"Well, mother said that fairies are magic." There was an undertone of impatience in Bella's retort. "She also said that they could be mischievous sometimes." She rolled her eyes, wondering whether Bell's seemingly giving her the run-around was just her or if the fairy was doing it on purpose. Her two-toned eyes lit up with hope when Bell confirmed she could get her out of the tower. Each instruction was met with immediate compliance and an eager smile. Despite that and all the faith she could muster, Bella did not move from where she sat on top of the desk. All she managed was another headache. Hope was displaced by vexation at the fairy's laughter; and in her mind's eye, Bella could see herself clapping her hands on either side of the tiny winged girl like she would to squish a fly. If Bell hadn't pulled out her wand, Bella might have done it.

"Whoa!" Her heart skipped a beat as she floated off the desk, the skirt of her dress ballooning around her. She hastily pushed it back down over her bloomers, blushing profusely. Bell's encouragement soothed her, enabling Bella to let go of any apprehensions related to flying and push away from the desk. She drifted slowly out into the open space that was the middle of the room. First she tried kicking her legs, very much as she would if she were swimming, in order to propel herself; then tried waving her arms. Some trial and error and turning head over heels in the air later, she got the hang of it enough to move freely about the tower. It helped if she focused on where she wanted to go and how quickly. That didn't quite help with the thought of flying outside of the tower; however, this was a dream, so what was there to be afraid of?

"Okay.. here goes nothing." Bella gulped down the lump in her throat, gripping the window frame in both hands. With a deep breath, she let go. "This isn't so bad." She managed a smile, surveying the ground she glided over. The boy was nowhere that she could see in that vast field of cotton. Perhaps he'd gone into the trees? This thought propelled her into the trees and she soon found herself surrounded by them, very much like the woods behind the forge house. Not unlike those woods, the canopy of trees was much too thick for flying. Forgetting to focus on where exactly she was going, Bella crashed amongst the leafy branches, caught by a convenient fork formed near the trunk. Wearing a dress did not lend any ease to climbing down; her skirt and apron snagged on every twig the tree bore.

"I never did like climbing trees." The child grumbled over the leaves and twigs that crunched softly beneath her feet as she jumped from the lowest branch. The lack of a response prompted her to glance around. "Bell?" The little blonde fairy was nowhere to be seen. She probably wouldn't know how to navigate the forest anyhow, granted it seemed she never left the tower. Brushing dirt and leaves from her dress, Bella trekked into the sea of trees, calling out every now and again, half expecting that she might run into the boy.
 
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Every inch of land remained ethereal, even in the shaded woods. If not for the vibrant hues that coated every tree and blade of grass, they could be likened as one and the same to the woods beside the forge house, the way they seemed to span infinitely. Then, there was only so much ground one person could cover in such a short amount of time, a child no less. Bella may have thought the same as she did before, with the same memories she had less than an hour ago. She certainly didn't look the same and if you could hear her call out from between the endless gaps of bark and branch, you could instantly tell the cries reaching into the air through the wilderness breeze came from a young set of pipes. Among the many differences in the two forests were gushing rivers, face rocks and golden leaves that fell from their glowing bundles attached to their velvet tree homes. There happened to be roaming fauna, as well, since there was no accursed prince lingering nearby with a hankering for blood.

Besides the faint brushing of bushes, likely due to squirrels or mice and the whistling breeze that came and went, the woods remained almost as still and tranquil as the room in the tower. One could almost feel the pangs of hunger in the wolf’s sudden cry as it began howling into the woods, sending the surrounding wildlife into a full sprint in the opposite direction, leaving Bella isolated. Perhaps that wasn't the answer she was in search of as she trekked along, calling aimlessly into the empty spaces between every tree.

The air took on an ominous tenacity as whistling winds shoved Bella one way and pulled her another, as if the nearby wolf cried out a storm. Somehow, the abrupt silence and utter stillness in the air that followed was far more eerie than the strongest winds that had now just passed. Amidst the sudden silence, a man could now be seen perched atop a small cliff, across the thin creek. He appeared immune to the vibrant red hues that painted the woods, contrasting the dark tones of his hair and clothing, his grey fur cloak being the exception. He stood up straight, the corners of his mouth curling upwards in delight.

“Hello, little girl!” he bellowed, speaking in a surprisingly deep tone. “You know, I think you’re just what I’ve been looking for!” He declared before turning round, taking steps opposite of Bella’s direction. He walked into the woods, away from Bella, as if he had been speaking into the air to no one, or had forgotten she was there, perhaps he suddenly remembered more pressing matters that required his attention. Then the man was barreling towards the cliffs edge at full sprint and suspended mid air halfway across the creek faster than Bella could implore him to take a small detour instead.

The man flew over Bella’s head and came to a sliding halt on the patch of grass behind her. The feat left him bent over on one knee, but seemingly unscathed. He savored the act of turning round to face Bella, now that he was nearly at arms length away from her. It was rather evident by the way the man smiled at her. There was something about his smile; the way his mouth remained slightly agape. He seemed to be restraining himself, lest he scare Bella away with his fangs, albeit it was not her first encounter with a pair. The man gradually closed the distance between himself and Bella in stride,
"Good tidings." Although he appeared absolutely delighted for one reason or another, maybe even ecstatic, the mans wide round eyes conveyed a sense of alertness, remaining as open as he could make them, his pupils dilated with Bella in their reflection. He didn't blink, either. "I don't think I've seen you around these parts." he asserted, hesitating to continue greeting Bella for a brief second as he studied her, reading her body language, all the while not taking his eyes off of hers.
 
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Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
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Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
Apparently, whatever powers that controlled this dream were hellbent on maintaining its surrealism. Between the trees furnished with more velvet than the entirety of the castle and the golden glowing leaves and the polished rocks with faces - not facets like gemstones, but faces with eyes and noses and mouths; this forest held very little likeness to the one Bella lived beside, or more accurately now, within. The animals she came across seemed normal enough, though obscured by the lambent amaranthine hue. There were no living things that she was aware of in the woods she traversed, a fact that she had become so strangely accustomed to, that seeing woodland animals in a forest felt as dreamlike as the pink sun must have to the Prince. They weren't there for long before the daunting howl of a wolf resounded in the trees much the same way as Bella's calls.

The child shielded herself as it seemed from the whirlwinds that came with summer storms, usually accompanied by torrents of rain. It was all she could do to stay upright, stumbling this way and that, pushed about by the errant blustering gales. Her arms covered her head and face, but served little to protect her from the slaps of the wind. The black ribbon that adorned her head was whisked away to catch on a low-hanging tree branch, allowing the short red-gold locks to sweep into her face. When she was sure the gusts had ceased, Bella brushed her wild hair from her face and straightened her dress, tutting and muttering to herself in annoyance. It was arguable whether she preferred the fearsome nightmares of the past month and a half or this wayward fever dream.

A deep voice raised the hairs on her arms and the back of her neck, prompting her to search for the source. The source she assumed was the young man atop the cliff, separated from where she stood only by a narrow trickle of a creek. His coloration was all wrong, or rather, it wasn't; he somehow was unaffected by the rosy veil, causing him to stand out against the otherwise low contrast gradations of pink. While something was definitely off about him, Bella couldn't help the desperate hope that he would be able to help her.

"'Little girl?' I'm nothing of the sort! And what do you mean to be looking for little girls?!" Bella placed her hands on her hips, finding she rather agreed with Bell's earlier sentiment on the opposite sex. He couldn't have possibly not heard her call aloud to him, yet he disappeared from view without acknowledging her. "Hmph! Rude!" A blur flew over her head and a breeze tossed her hair. Instinctively, she followed it with her eyes, pivoting one-hundred-eighty degrees round to where it must have landed. To see the young man from atop the cliff was surprising enough; however, most astonishing was the pair of ears atop his head. When separated by the cliff, they blended well enough into his hair and, well, she couldn't see the top of his head from below. She took a tentative step towards him, gaze transfixed upon the fluffy triangles, giving no thought to his fangs or the hungry look in his cyaneous eyes.


"Those ears... I think I want to.. touch them." Her hazel-blue eyes widened as he drew closer, the light flush of her cheeks indiscernible in the monochromatic atmosphere. She looked away from his visage only long enough to scout out a convenient rock and in three steps she stood on top of it, the top of her head level with his. She reached up, gingerly grasping his ears between her index and middle fingers and thumbs and rubbing them in a fashion similar to that which one might use to determine the value of fabric. This went on for what must have been at least ten seconds until finally she withdrew her hands and hopped down from her stony perch.

"Whew! Now that that's out of my system.." Bella sighed and turned to face the young man, "Oh, right. I'm not from around here. Do you know the way out?" She asked as if she hadn't blatantly manhandled his ears without regard for personal space or formality. "Better yet, have you by any chance seen a boy come this way? He was supposed to find me some help, but I'm not trapped in a tower anymore." Like Bell, the wolf probably thought she was insane. That was honestly a fair guess and Bella might have agreed with him if he called her out on it. Surely only one who lost her mind would dream something like this. More so, she had to be crazy to linger in the presence of a strange man prowling for young girls whatever his reason may be.

"I should at least tell him so he doesn't waste his time. I'm not really sure why it feels so important, though." Perhaps the girl really had lost her mind to even for a moment forget that this was a dream, a mere figment of her imagination. Why should she be concerned whether or not a dream boy wasted his time? Her only concern at that moment ought to have been getting away from this suspicious situation.
 
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"My lucky day..." Lupo thought to himself. It was true, there was nothing more pleasant to him than the sight of children. The wolf man could go on about how it wasn't the taste that he craved, but their naivety that lead them all alone into the woods. How innocent and credulous they were, denoting their most scrumptious feature; their impotence. Even if a child were to attempt brandishing a weapon in self defense they lacked the dexterity and aptitude to use them effectively. Yes, a wolf was ever so lucky to stumble upon most children.

How tragic it was, really, that Lupo could not foresee Bella being the exception to the delightful palette that evolved from living off wayfaring children. Had he known she would inadvertently trigger one of his most debilitating weaknesses, he would have lunged towards the rock she stood upon and began to dig in. It wasn't ideal to do so then and there. The downside of the simplicity and ease that came with hunting children was the lack of fulfillment they provided, as small they were, they were really just enough food for a few days. Kids were too readily apt to enthuse in detail over anything after being asked just once. One could so easily divulge the whereabouts of someone sickly or old and just as helpless to be reluctantly eaten. Only the most cunning of wolves could truly master the art of the hunt.

Then, had Lupo known that even the most cunning and vicious wolves were all just as susceptible to the caressing twiddle of nimble fingers ripe to hold thimbles on the little edges of their indexes, he would rather die than give Bella the chance. The irony of becoming so helpless to such helpless little fingers was surely some form of poetic justice, thanks to the tragedy of Lupo's tail wagging against his will as Bella groped his ears. However pale his skin wasn't or was before, it was white now, likely from the blood in his veins turning as frozen and stiff as he was. Only then was his semblance quite perfectly matched to Jaron's, whence that cold, hungry, dead white could be seen. Anyone would undoubtedly suffer the same if their dinner reached out towards them and started groping their ears. Everything Bella said at that point passed one ear and went out through the other as Lupo put up the greatest fight of all time between himself and a wolf's primal instinct to wag his tail, despite being the figment of imagination.


Lupo brushed it off as best he could. He did feel a bit of a flair for the dramatic though, likely because he was now plagued by a feeling of obligated loyalty towards Bella that filled him with vivacious vigor he could not ignore or deny. He was, however, still a wolf living in the wild and would have to eat sooner or later, although he was now very reluctant to swindle anymore children being aware of this newfound curse that enslaved him to human service after just a little petting. Lupo wasn't any less cunning now though than he was before and could still find Bella to be useful, it seemed they could help each other. Perhaps only by helping her would he be free of this undeniable loyalty he felt towards her. He might still call it a day, perhaps with a belly full of the red hooded girl he had been stalking a few days prior. Then he and Bella could part ways and he could be done with it all, though he will always continue to love and miss her whenever she crosses his mind, that much is certain.

Having regained composure, Lupo crossed his arms. He would just have to learn to deal with enjoying pets and seemed like an entirely different man than he did just a short moment ago. "I'll help you, little girl, but first you'll have to do something for me." He turned away from Bella as he spoke, but broke his sidelong posture and faced her directly, brows furrowed with what little pride he had left as he jammed his thumb onto his chest. "I'm Lupo and these woods are my home," he declared, taking his hand away from his chest and waving it as he spoke, "You know, I wouldn't just walk up to people like you did around these parts. This isn't the safest place for little girls," he informed Bella, unaware he had been blushing in spite of himself. He made a point not to ask her name, assuming she would sooner be forgotten from his mind if it wasn't lingering within it.

Lupo's nostrils began to flare just as suddenly as he leaped forward over the rock Bella stood upon and began to sprint at high speed on all fours. He seemed about to run head first into a tree but instead leaped onto it, digging the claws of his fingers into the bark before placing both feet at the trunk. In nearly an instant Lupo was using the momentum of his sudden dash to run up the side of the tree towards the sky, only to turn and dash adjacent to the ground upon the nearest branch. He appeared to bite something off the tree before making the wide leap back to the ground, using the momentum to roll forward onto the dirt and back onto his feet with grace, jogging a bit further before walking casually up to Bella with her black ribbon in hand. "This is yours," he seemed reluctant to admit as he looked away from her while offering it. Retrieving it did make him feel better about the whole unwilling loyalty he now felt.

"You want it, don't you?" she couldn't have taken it out of his hands fast enough. "Listen here, girl. I'm going to be getting pretty hungry soon, so if you want my help out of these woods then you're going to have to find me some food. Look, I'm not like these other rock head wolves around here. I hunt with my brain, not my legs, so don't expect me to go chasing down any deer. It's just not my style." Lupo made himself comfortable on the rock Bella stood upon to molest him and cut to the chase, "You want me to spell it out for you? I prefer eating kids, the sick, or the elderly. They put up a whole less of a fight than other people and move like molasses...." The wolf closed his eyes and crossed his arms once again. He couldn't bring himself to be so assertive and look Bella in her beautiful hazel-blue eyes at the same time, he loved her too much. "....so you can help me or take a hike. Stick around any longer, I might eat you instead. Clocks ticking."
 
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Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Writing Levels
Adept, Advanced, Adaptable
Preferred Character Gender
Male, Female
Genres
Action-adventure, adult characters, alternate universe, anime, crime drama, cyberpunk, darker themes, drama, dystopia, eastern, edo, epic quest, fairy tale, fantasy, feudal, futuristic, grimdark, heian, high fantasy, low fantasy, magic, modern, modern fantasy, modern scifi, paranormal, psychological, romance, scifi, supernatural, urban fantasy.
The visible change in Lupo's face might have been startling to Bella if she hadn't been at least somewhat accustomed to seeing the living color drain from the Prince's face. What was startling was that, if for a moment, she could have sworn she was looking at him rather than the young wolfman. The fancy faded just as quickly as it came, for each man's hair was a different degree of darkness and their eyes were starkly different hues of blue, with Lupo's being brighter. Lupo's eyes, too, were sharper in a manner distinct from the Prince's. That was not to say that the similarities weren't there, but they weren't mistakable. Then again, that begrudging attitude and sidelong body language was enough to convince her that the fluffy-eared boy was supposed to be an imitation of the Prince conjured by the dream for no other purpose than to annoy her. A poor rendition it was, too!

"What? You approached me first." The half-sized redhead retorted indignantly, refusing to acknowledge the fact that indeed she was the one who closed the distance between herself and the young wolfman completely. She crossed her arms over her chest and blew, her bottom lip extended slightly outward to push the exhale up, stirring her hair away from her eyes. "What is it that you-- Oh! Um, thank you." Bella began when Lupo didn't divulge quickly enough what exactly he expected her to do in return for his assistance, only to have the ribbon she lost thrust towards her for her to claim. The long, silky black strip was forgotten as soon as it flew from her hair. Such a thing hadn't been worn in her hair since she was about this age; with short hair, ribbons weren't necessary. That being the case, there was much fumbling and muttering under her breath while Bella tried to figure out exactly how she had even been wearing it.

"I don't miss the days of hair ribbons." Bella lamented, finally tying the flimsy curse upon her head. Her hair had been longer then, which served to make tying it back all the more difficult with only one pair of hands. It made her all the more grateful to Blesse for the happy accident that caused Bella to cut her hair. Turning to the wolf, she gazed blankly at his face though he refused to look her in the eye. "Y-you want me to.. help you find a person to eat?! I can't do that! If I do that, I'd be an abomination!" Her pale brows furrowed in an expression of horror and deepening disgust. No amount of rationalization about this being a dream would make her sacrifice another person to save herself from being eaten. There had to be another way, there just had to be!

"I'll help you find something to eat, though I can't say what. Maybe I can make you something? Eh, but I need a kitchen, or at the very least a fire. Do you like stew?" A foolish question, really. Whereabouts was she to get the ingredients to make stew, let alone find a place to cook it? Despite the voice of reason telling her to just leave, the child waved Lupo along and started into the trees more or less in the direction she had initially been headed. "We can find something together! You said you don't like to chase your food, so, do you know how to make traps? You could catch a lot of rabbits. No chasing required."

There was no telling what she would find if she kept heading that way. It likely would have been better to simply let Lupo lead, yet the youngster pressed on with hardly an idea of what exactly she planned to substitute for a child or an elderly person on the wolf's diet. It was doubtful he would like stew better than his usual choices or that it would even be filling enough for a wolf. She ought to have taught him how to set traps for rabbits instead.
 
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Lupo refused to acknowledge young Bella anymore, his eye lids just as stubbornly shut as his bottom was stuck upon the rock Bella had perched herself atop of. He would undoubtedly refuse to provide any further cooperation with Bella, apparently until she fed him somebody or could lead him to someone he could feed on. So he was of no more use to her, unless she could somehow provide the equivalent serving of a human being, if she wanted to avoid leading on some unlucky soul, despite being the manifestation of unfamiliar powers; thusly soulless, no more alive than the bodies of Carthya’s most decrepit catacombs.

Yet Bella still seemed determined against such a grotesque resort, surely humans were better off staying out of the food chain, dream or not. Seeing as they earned the right, she’d rather not strip someone of that privilege. At least the young girl donned in her red cloak was lucky enough to have been involved in Bella’s dream, as opposed to someone with less moral ambiguity, who would not think twice about leaving her hoodwinked and digested.

There was a rhythm to the brushing of dirt with each step of her black leather cuffed boots, one heel in sync with the other as they made their way along the dirt path through the forest that stretched on forever. They were not so ladylike, but she would not be caught in the rain with her shiny black polished low block heel shoes on again. She moved briskly along the path with a purpose, brows furrowed, pupils locked on the path ahead, determined not to stray. In fact, there was little effort involved in maintaining such haste. There was nothing more calling her into the woods besides her obligation as a young girl to ensure her kin were taken care of. Everything was trivial in lieu of such responsibility.

The red cloak concealed much of her figure, it was all that could be seen trekking down the path from a distance besides a pair of black boots that blended in with the black leggings that carried each heel off the ground passed the other in tandem.

“There’s more than one way to hunt, you know. You don’t have to hunt like a ‘rock head wolf.’ I mean, you have all these trees and rocks. You could make a bow and arrows and hunt that way. You really could hunt deer, then. I don’t think you can trap those. Too big. Are we even going the right way? Er, Lupo?” The conspicuous lack of a fluffy-eared wolfman did not occur to the young redhead as soon as it might have if she wasn’t talking. That natural vigor and volume of the new youth she spoke with drowned out the sounds of her passage through the forest. Her shoulders drooped at the realization that he stayed behind. A part of her was disappointed that she wouldn’t get to touch his ears again; another part told her that she had better get moving, lest he come along to eat her instead.

“He could have at least given me a general direction to go in. Men!” Bella lamented, forcing her way through bushes and around trees in what she guessed was the same direction. With no one to prattle on to, she could hear what was surely footsteps crunching in the underbrush. Hazel-blue eyes wide, she scanned the surrounding trees, listening intently like a rabbit preparing to depart its den in search of food.

“Lupo?” She called to the wolf again to no avail. If it was him, he was either purposely ignoring her or he was stalking her. Bella sincerely hoped it wasn’t the latter. That didn’t stop a tremor of timidity entering her voice. “H-hello? Anybody there?” Her face scrunched almost painfully as her voice cracked. Oh, what was that? There was something red in the distance, she was sure, but it quickly disappeared behind a cluster of trees. A moment of anxious anticipation later, it reappeared. It seemed to be a cloak. With little consideration spent for Lupo’s criticism of her approaching a stranger in the woods, Bella picked up her pace to catch up to the blur of red.

“Excuse me! Sorry, but could you help me? I’m lost and trying to get out of these woods.” Deep down, Bella hoped that the cloaked figure was indeed a person and not a monster in disguise. Thus far, nothing horrible had happened; however, this was a dream and could change for the worse at any time. Hopefully, if it was a monster, Lupo would come help if she called.

The red hood jerked sideways in search of Bella’s plea, distorted slightly by the forests cool breeze that sifted itself between the endless rows of trees, swaying the hem and strings of the cloak back and forth. An anxious looking young girl turned round to face Bella, hesitantly revealing herself, white knuckles gripping the wicker basket in her hands ever so tightly as her red-ribbon tied pigtails and bangs undulated by the winds will. She only appeared slightly relieved to see it was a young girl calling out to her, apparently in need of direction. The decision to help young Bella was conflicting; she could not dismiss her to the woods in good conscious, but there were pressing matters that relied on her not being spread too thin this afternoon. “If only I was heading back.” she reluctantly thought.

“You’re lost?” asked the red hooded girl, not willing to take more than a couple steps opposite the direction she was meant to be headed. “Where are your parents, why have you come all the way out here all alone?” she asked, despite being no more than just a handful of years older than Bella, or rather the appearance Bella currently assumed since entering the tower. The hooded girls questions were pointless, the child was clearly lost to no avail or was pulling some kind of ruse, although something about her hazel blue eyes convinced her the latter was not likely the case. If left to her own devices, she could surely end up deeper in the woods, or worse. “I have somewhere I need to be, somewhere very important. If you want my help, you’ll have to come along. We musn’t dawdle, hurry now!” The young girl didn’t waste a second assuming control and walked right up to young Bella, taking her by the hand and accepting responsibility over her, along with the authority she felt was necessary. Still, she would not compensate for young Bella’s lack of height and agency and continued her brisk pace down the dirt path with young Bella in tow, unwilling to falter, even if it meant dragging Bella through the dirt.



Relief washed over Bella when the red-cloaked figure turned out not to be a monster, but a girl little older than herself as she was in this dream. She might have wondered about the apparent worry written on her pale face; however there wasn’t the time. This girl was in a hurry and the redhead hardly had the opportunity to answer her questions before she was dragged along, willing and yet unwilling company.

“But I’m not--” Bella started to object at the older girl’s mention of her parents that she was indeed not a child as she had to a certain wolf not long ago. Reasoning with Lupo turned out to be as fruitful as a dead tree and she guessed that it would be as such with this girl, too. How strange that this dream seemed to have a mind truly of its own. “Nevermind. Whatever gets me out of these woods.” She sighed with resignation. It was better to take a detour and still find a way out than to keep wandering aimlessly through the forest.

“Say, have you seen a boy come this way by any chance?” While the girl in red didn’t strike her as a conversationalist, it couldn’t hurt to ask. Anything was better than anxious silence, especially when it felt as though it might go on forever. It simultaneously felt like hardly an hour had passed and like it should already have been days, yet the pink sun hadn’t moved from its position at the peak of the equally pink sky. Well, not that Bella could tell.

If not for the brushing of dirt and rocks underfoot, the pair would’ve walked in silence for the most part until young Bella finally spoke up in regards to the boy from the tower, “A boy? In these woods? No, nothing of the sort. If he had any sense, I would’ve seen him walking along the path.” The girl didn’t bother to explain things in detail, having assumed young Bella had little common sense to be getting lost within the woods and any particularly useful information would only serve to confuse her. She hoped young Bella was not surveying the wilderness in search of some boy, maybe she could understand if they were related. If that was the case, they were better off leaving such a laborious task in more capable hands, assuming the boy in question had people who were looking out for him; the red hooded girl could only hope.

Upon reaching a fork in the road clearly dividing two separate paths, red hood guided young Bella down the left, less discernible route. The divide was less of a fork in the road and more so one vaguely etched path in the dirt that branched off the main road. The makeshift path was mostly hidden beneath the forests pink hued shrubbery, indicating this particular road did not experience as much frequent traffic than the one young Bella found the red hooded girl trekking upon. The surrounding trees became gradually more dense as well, to the point where the barely discernible path beneath the shrubbery and grass curved around them in an almost perfect S shaped pattern.

Evidently enough, the young girl hidden beneath her red hood must have been the one who carved the makeshift path through the woods. Between the meticulous shifts of the young girls direction down the S shaped path, in which her determination to traverse could be felt, alongside the rustling of her cloak, not to mention the palm of her hand gripping young Bella’s with equal purpose, how easily one could forget they were dreaming. Better yet, they might assume this was no dream but another world entirely. “There, my grandmother’s house, just ahead.”

The makeshift path they traveled lead up to a white picket fence in-between two walls of hedges blending into the pouring pink sunlight. With each passing step they could make out a velvet chimney protruding from the roof of a quaint, modest house behind the hedges in the distance. “My Frida, there you are, oh you’ve found my Frida!” Lupo revealed himself to have been hidden behind a particularly wide, robust tree just beyond the hedge walls. The wolf had a rather dramatic expression about himself, his arms stretched out in search of a tight hug and his eyes were as wide saucers, such as they were upon meeting young Bella. The girl’s entire body in her hood jumped at the abrupt sighting of the wolf as she shrieked, pulling young Bella away from him and gripping her wicker basket even tighter.

Now, the hooded girl was not as concerned with young Bella as she was in reaching her Grandmother’s house. She had only met little short-haired Bella earlier, just a ways on the road, so she was not so hesitant in releasing her to Lupo, who seemed quite friendly and happy to see her, as far as the hooded girl could tell. “Oh, my Frida!” Lupo exclaimed, reaching out to lift little short-haired Bella into his arms, making sure to wrap around hers so as to prevent anymore ear massages.

Despite her new short stature, Bella didn’t have any trouble keeping up with the girl who couldn’t have been too much older than the age of her own restored youth. The red hood’s face, which the child likened to that of a porcelain doll’s in much the same fashion as she had compared the Prince to a marble statue, had the propensity to be misleading. This girl could be anywhere from just one year older or as many as five Bella speculated; and it helped not at all that her manner was mature. Of course, this detail wasn’t important, but mulling it over was at least something to do in the meantime while they swerved this way along the winding path. She decidedly forbore to mention the boy again, for he must only have been a figment of this dream, as was the girl whose hand that felt very real clenched her own.

“Oh! Red hood, grandmother’s house.. This is like that story.” A dumbstruck Bella shook her head in awe of her own mindlessness as they came upon the white picket fence in the hedge that bordered the little house. How could she not have drawn the parallel when she met her only moments ago? So Lupo must have been the wolf who wanted to eat the red-hooded girl from the tale. Now, his statement about eating children and the elderly made sense. That did not make it any less macabre or unpleasant and would still not convince Bella to help the wolf consume a human.

A squeal tore from the redhead’s throat in tandem with the hooded girl’s. She was just as surprised to see Lupo, who she was sure she had left sitting on a rock by the creek. That was not to say that she was frightened as she probably ought to have been, considering her realization and his sudden change in temperament. Bella made no move away from the wolf as did the hooded girl, surprised yet again as he lifted her off her feet. Her light-colored brows furrowed in obvious confusion.

“‘Frida?’ Who the hell is Frida? You can’t mean me!” Between the two of them, who could Lupo actually be referring to? Bella never did tell him her name. The thought never crossed her mind between needing to get out of the woods and her refusal to help Lupo indulge his unsavory diet. She looked up, blowing the fur of his collar from her face, and squirmed uselessly to unpin her arms. “So, do you want stew, after all?”
 
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