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.
“What-what’s this then? Who are you now?” Red hood wondered aloud, somewhat concerned as young Bella cursed the strange man. She was more worried they might wake her Grandmother, should she be asleep. “Oh Frida, please, no more games. It’s time to go home.” Lupo pleaded, smiling innocently at red hood as he shot her a sideways glance. “What big ears you have….that’s your child, then?” She asked, all common sense having suddenly departed from the young girl, though to be fair Lupo did appear at least significantly older than young Bella and herself. However she didn’t bother to question why he was hiding behind the tree, right outside of her grandmother’s house no less. All she could focus on was tending to her grandmother, it seemed. She was, after all, just a young girl in a red hood.

“Sorry if she gave you any trouble, we’ll be on our way now!” Lupo didn’t bid much of a farewell to the young girl, but it mine as well have been more than enough seeing as she simply continued with her business, passed the white picket fence and up to her grandmother’s door while the wolf carried little short-haired Bella away, ignoring anymore vulgarities she might have to offer. He waited to set her down until they were well out of range from the young girls vision. “I had such high hopes for you, but you might turn out to be a boon in my side after all.” The shaggy, hairy, fluffy eared man confessed. He then proceeded to adopt a genuinely gleeful, toothy and rather unusually ear to ear length grin, revealing a thick set of sharp teeth from top to bottom. Despite Lupo’s teeth, his smile was one that wouldn’t have been so unsettling on its own until given proper context, therein a gruesome cue could be manifested. What genuine joy young Bella could perceive without such context. “Following you has been most fruitful. I’ll just be a few minutes or so. Please, wait here, I wouldn’t want to be around me when I’m hungry.”

With that Lupo dropped to all fours and began dashing in-between the thick sea of trees back to the little house tucked away in the woods, hidden beneath its misty pink hue and hedges.



“Well, see, my name is Bel-” The young Bella scowled, her explanation interrupted by Lupo’s insistence on calling her the wrong name. It was about as annoying as being called “Belle” all those years by those who knew her mother; although, they at least knew her actual name whereas the wolf did not. More frustrating still was that the red-hooded girl accepted Lupo’s words without so much as the bat of an eye. What exactly would make her think that the red-gold-haired child was at all related to the dark-haired wolf-eared Lupo? Before she could begin to object, Bella was being carried off and Red Hood was making her way to her grandmother’s house.

“Lupo!?” Surely no name had ever been made to sound so accusatory as the wolf’s was in that instant. Bella’s cheeks puffed with her pout and she stomped her foot, hands balled into fists at her sides. “You’re a wolf man! You can’t eat people!” Her argument was pointless, of course. Part man or not, the wolf’s instinct would not be overridden. “No, you can’t! Lupo! Ah- what do you say to dogs? H-heel! Lupo, sit!” It was too late; the wolf had disappeared into the pink like a fog.

“I hate this!” Bella squeezed her eyes shut, hot angry tears stinging in them. What could she do as but a child against a full grown man of a wolf? What could she do even if she wasn’t a child? “I can’t do anything like this! Not that I could before.” Sorrow and regret washed over her as she recalled her inability to help the Prince. All she could do was sit idly by, powerless to change anything. A sob or two escaped with a few tears, which she swiped away on one of her long blue sleeves. Turning, she trudged in the opposite direction, from which Red Hood had come down the established path. Surely, at the end of it, she would find a town or something. Regardless of child-eating wolves, towers, and fairies; Bella needed to find her way out of this forest and this dream.

Yet, the girl found herself stopped, staring back over her shoulder. Perhaps she was simply truly too nice for her own good; however, she couldn’t let someone be eaten if there was any possibility that she might stop it no matter how minuscule. As fast as her little legs would carry her, Bella followed the path she’d only just taken back to the house where she burst through the fence and subsequently the door without thought for courtesies like knocking.

“Bad boy, Lupo! You can’t eat them!” She wasn’t sure what good addressing a wolf like a naughty dog would do, but she could only try. It was the only idea she had. “No, Lupo!”


A fluffy tail and patch of fur were all that could be seen above the kitchen table from the front door across the house, the sight of which was followed sequentially by the sound of low growling, especially upon closer examination. The tail and fur, however, were much darker than that which could be found protruding from Lupo’s bottom and wrapped around his shoulders and back, even darker than his ears, which were partially black. The tail and fur were a stark pitch black, in fact. The idea that what remained hunched over behind the kitchen table was perhaps not quite the Lupo young Bella was familiar with only aggravated the menacing knot in your stomach, once the reality of the dream kicks in.

Steadily, the wolf stood up straight on its front and hind legs, creeping its head over the table, Lupo’s aqua blue eyes shining towards little short-haired Bella, albeit whether he was still behind them was terribly unclear. His lower jaw and teeth dripped saliva and shook incessantly whilst his snout remained snarling and upturned, the guttural growl maintaining a low but menacing capacity in volume. The wolf gently made his way around the kitchen table, lowering his stance as he curved round the hickory hardwood legs, ready to pounce upon young Bella should she provoke him to. He could easily sense any timid trepidation in his prey, his wolf instinct evoking a violent reaction as a predator, further aggravating his snout and growling and the baring of his thick, sharp teeth.

As likely as it may have been the hunched over wolf before young Bella was Lupo, the fluffy ear man she ran into in the woods just a short time ago, it was unclear whether he maintained any semblance of free will in his primal form. As hostile the wolf made himself out to be, he didn’t seem to be about to attack young Bella after having halted its approach towards her after rounding the kitchen table, choosing to stand his ground instead for the time being. Whether this was a conscious decision on Lupo’s part or simply fortuitous mercy-more likely indifference on the wolf’s behalf was purely mystery. All things considered, neither of these two personalities were likely fond of the idea that they should be made to stand there pooling saliva below them for any extended length of time when they could be helping themselves to the residents of the woods.


“L-Lupo? Is that you?” An understandably startled Bella stammered at the beast in front of her. Before he revealed himself from around the table, when only a little dark fur was visible, she would have had no doubt that it was he. Now, the only resemblance there appeared to be between the Lupo she met and this salivating canine was the color of his eyes. She held her gaze fast, locked onto his. If he was still in there, he wasn’t making himself known to her. The fact that he hadn’t immediately jumped at her throat might have warranted a breath of relief if he hadn’t taken to snarling at her.

“Please, Lupo, be a good boy. Don’t eat them. W-what if you could compromise?” Little Bella leaned sideways, trying to look around the table and see if Red Hood or her grandmother was there. “I don’t see where a home-cooked meal would be such a difficulty to provide as long as you’re friendly. I offered to cook for you, remember?” She hoped that the girl and her grandmother wouldn’t be so disagreeable about giving Lupo food as he had been about eating anything but children and the elderly; although, she guessed that trying to reason with them would only result in an impasse. Gingerly, she extended a hand towards the wolf.


As his eyes settled on little Bella’s tiny hand, the wolf’s snout smoothed and the skin around his teeth relaxed, though he insisted a low growl and it didn’t seem like he could help all the saliva. Little Bella might have been as happy to see the wolf’s tail wagging as he was to wag it, though it did remain naturally frazzled and poofy. A high pitched cry finally escaped out from the wolf’s throat as he tilted his head to the side, reminiscing over little Bella’s dainty, nimble fingers, causing his tail to wag even faster. The wolf maintained his low stance as he approached Bella, slowly straightening up as his nostrils curiously absorbed every fragment of the scent upon her fingertips before proceeding to gingerly lick them.

In just a short handful of seconds the palm of Bella’s hand was almost drenched in saliva as the wolf began to fervently slobber on it with his tongue. Naturally, he circled around to Bella’s side and began sniffing her face, tempted to start licking her nose and mouth, but his appetite got the best of him. After realizing who Bella was, the wolf’s tail stopped wagging and his pupils dilated as he stared at her in the eyes, ceasing his panting for a brief moment before abruptly barking directly in her face. His teeth weren’t bared and his snout remained relaxed, yet the wolf continued to bark in Bella’s face in rapid succession, following her every movement with his undivided attention.


The uncertainty written on Bella’s youthfully round face eased as Lupo’s bushy tail wagged, prompting an albeit wary smile. They were all safe if only for the moment, though perhaps it could be longer if she could only find something to feed the wolf. Scrunching her face, the little redhead held in a giggle at the ticklish sensation on her palm, hardly worried about it being covered in slobber. She wiped it off on the slightly dirty ruffled apron tied around her waist. If not for the barking, she might have scratched behind his ear.

“Aw, don’t be upset. I’ll get you something to eat.” That was perhaps easier said than done. There was no obvious source of food like an icebox or pantry and she checked the cabinets nearest to her. Keeping an eye on Lupo, Bella inched around the table to check the other cabinets; however she found something much better: the basket the red-hooded girl had been carrying. Beside it, the girl herself was sprawled on the floor. She knelt with the intent to shake the girl awake, pausing with her hand poised over her shoulder. It was probably best not to, considering it might aggravate Lupo and reinvigorate his appetite for young girl. Instead, Bella grabbed the basket and moved back, away from Red to where the wolf stood watching.

“Here we go. Let’s see.. We’ve got.. Oh! A ham!” There was a surprising lot in the basket, which didn’t look like it could carry a picnic. She took the ham by the protruding bone and offered it to Lupo. “There’s some bread, too. Eat up!” Once the meat was consumed, she would give him chunks of bread off the baguette loaf. Hopefully, this would be enough to satiate him, so he would forget about the girl and her grandmother.


Once the wolf’s tongue touched the glazed ham, he sprawled his chest and belly onto the floor, making himself comfortable as he bit chunks off down to the bone, even proceeding to gnaw on the bone itself for a little bit. He could tell right away the chunks of bread were no smoked ham and seemed hardly worth a sniff, so he walked a few paces towards the carpet in front of the door, circling it a few times before plopping down onto it, resting his chin on its soft wool, blowing a heavy sigh of relief out his nostrils. The wolf's eyelids felt like they had tripled in weight and began drooping over his aqua pupils. All was right with the sated beast.


Bella relaxed as the ham left her hand, the underlying angst leaving her smile genuinely pleased. With Lupo taken care of, she could turn her attention to Red. She placed the bread that the wolf wasn’t interested in back in the basket, which she set atop the table on her way back around it. Again, she knelt beside the unconscious girl, this time giving her a gentle shake.

“Are you alright?” Her voice was barely above a whisper, for she didn’t want to alert the wolf who had just relaxed in front of the door. She held a finger up to her lips, hoping that the girl wouldn’t scream or panic. “Sorry, but I gave him your ham. He’s calm now, though; you should be okay.” Bella shot a glance towards Lupo, who she could just see part of under the hem of the table cloth. “You should go check on your grandmother. I’ll see if I can get him to show me out of this forest.” Pushing herself to her feet, the young redhead offered a hand to help the hooded girl up; then she approached the wolf.

Amusement bubbled up inside her chest at the sight of him. He really was like a big dog. Crouching beside him, she scratched behind his ear, down his cheek and under his chin.

“Could I bother you to help me out of these woods, Lupo?”


Red’s eyes glazed over as she opened them, opening wide-eyed and petrified as she gathered her bearings or lack thereof. As straightforward Bella was, she could not alleviate Red from the confusion and macabre that agitated her, amplified by her head knocking against the floor with a hard thud, leaving her fuzzy and disoriented. As oblivious she was watching Lupo carry Bella away, she at least had the common sense now not to panic and alert the wolf. Still she found herself rightfully suspicious of little Bella, who she gathered must be in cahoots with the wolf in some way or another. Whatever the case may have been, she helped herself up, eyeing Bella and the wolf cautiously as she retreated upstairs from the kitchen, leaving her wicker basket upon the table.

Lupo’s eyes shot wide open as he sensed Bella crouching beside him. The muscles in his face seemed naturally contorted in a manner that made him appear indefinitely malefic and hostile, ready and raring to rip anyone or anything apart at a moments notice; even as relaxed as he was after having a whole ham to himself, the flaps of skin around his teeth were still partially receded, leaving the sharp set exposed. Ironically, his tail wagged with exuberant joy. Lupo stood up straight and cautiously moved to bite the center of Bella’s dress covering her stomach, gripping the fabric with his teeth.

He pulled her towards him, only to lower himself onto the floor once more, nudging Bella with his snout and jerking his head to the right. Assuming he had failed to communicate his intentions to Bella, he rose to his paws and circled around her, lowering his stance as he inserted his head between Bella’s legs from behind and lifted her onto his neck with the top of his head, making sure to balance himself as he lifted Bella off the ground.

Lupo treaded carefully along the floorboards to the woods, maintaining a balanced gait into the woods with Bella mounted on his back. It was up to her to keep a tight hold of the wolf while he gradually increased the pace of his gait a light jog until finally adjusting to a decent enough pace for their hasty retreat to town, cutting through the dense forest. They managed to make good time since Bella was so light and did not hinder Lupo’s form much, so long as she didn’t pull on his fur too hard or wrap around his neck too tightly. After a quick ten minutes had passed the number of surrounding trees began diminishing. They came upon a clearing in the woods, with one smooth, solid round rock sitting at the center; a lonesome woman sat atop it, donning a brides dress upon closer examination, the skirt of her dress splitting at the waist exposing her legs and hanging off each side of the rock. Her head hung forward, shielding her closed eyes and the sullen expression on her face. Her left hand gripped onto a bouquet of roses as pink as her pastel colored hair.

"Whoa!" Perhaps Bella didn't move quickly enough for Lupo's liking, for she was on his back before she could figure out how exactly she would climb up without possibly hurting him. She instinctively clung to the fur on his scruff as she might Farren's mane until she settled comfortably behind his shoulders. Her hands stayed there, prepared to hold on if necessary; however, she largely stayed put with her knees gently pressing against Lupo's sides as she would a horse when riding with no saddle.

"This doesn't look like civilization." The redhead commented to herself as they entered the clearing. It certainly couldn't have been far off, as the woods had thinned out. She scanned the trees for some semblance of a town, even just another house; her eyes fell upon a young woman. Who was she and why was she dressed for a wedding only to be sitting on a lone rock in the middle of nowhere? Bella's eyes dropped to glare between the wolf's ears, as if by doing so intensely enough, she could see what he was thinking. Of course, it wasn't Lupo who was responsible, but the dream. She heaved a sigh and cleared her throat.

"Um, excuse me? Are you okay? What are you doing out here all alone?"
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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"Ah! Ohhh!" the woman shifted frantically on the rock, pressing her free hand against her chest. "Oh, I'm sorry...I didn't see you there," she confessed, unfazed at the sight of the hulking wolf before her. Lupo spread out his front legs and laid on the ground, nearly shoving Bella off as he adjusted himself onto his side, panting heavily. Only when he ceased to gallop through the woods with Bella on his back did the exhaustion of the quick but distant trip catch up to the wolf. The woman shied away from eye contact, taking in her surroundings. She gazed at the dirt below her and the nearby trees as if she were seeing them for the first time, or perhaps was looking well beyond them, searching for something, maybe something within herself. "I'm....."

Her eyes finally landed on Bella's and held her gaze fast. It was clear the woman had been sitting there crying for quite some time, her eyes were red and swollen, her cheeks smeared with runny eye liner. The most startling aspect lied therein the fact Bella could have been staring directly into a mirror, if she weren't trapped in the body of her younger self. Oddly enough, the woman appeared to look more like Bella than the real Bella did, who just a short while ago was enjoying a cup of tea in the grand dining hall with the Prince.

However, her hair was a few shades lighter, its pink undertones highlighted by the suns pink rays. Surely the real Bella had a much more conservative taste for dresses as well. More importantly, who could have ever expected to find her in a wedding dress by any means, let alone sulking alone in the woods wearing such garments! If the woman truly was Bella, or at the very least was meant to represent her, then she ought to be aware of how easily the real Bella could take the sight of her as some kind of symbol or omen for her own future love-life, if she had any of the real Bella's sense, the way she analyzed things too much and agonized over little details that would otherwise be looked over and forgotten. Surely, if the woman truly was Bella, or at the very least was meant to represent her, she would at least recognize her younger self?


"I'm.....lost," she finally confessed after what must have been an eternity. The woman broke her gaze, gathering her surroundings once more. She seemed to be miles and miles away from where she sat upon the rock, either in time or space, she would not tell. "I'm...searching for my beloved. He's a gallant man, we're to be married this evening. I can't find him anywhere," the more she spoke, the more her voice began to crack under the strain of her remoteness from marriage and her fiancé, which only made distinguishing her voice from the real Bella's voice more difficult. "I promised....I said I would stay, but....I can't stay here. Not without my beloved." A high pitch cry escaped Lupo's throat as he lay on his side, catching his breath. He hastened to his feet and approached the bride to be, holding himself up to her eye level by climbing onto the rock she sat upon with his two front paws. It was quite odd, watching something that looked so menacing bear such sympathy for someone else, especially what ought to have been a stranger to the wolf. He tilted his head and wagged his tail, but it seemed nothing could dry the brides tears, if it were not her beloved gallant husband to be.
 
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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.
As the woman brought her gaze to meet her own hazel-blue eyes, young Bella nearly shrieked, barely managing to bite back the cry of surprise and vexation. This was no random woman, but a reflection of herself as she ought to have been. There were notable differences, the most obvious being that her hair was paler than Bella's even as it was obscured by the all-encompassing pink hue. Not to mention that dress! It was far too revealing and Bella herself would never be caught dead in such a frock, let alone a wedding dress. What's more, the flawed impersonation didn't apparently recognize what ought to have been a younger version of herself. Okay, so her hair was a bit different than it truly had been at that age, but the face was the giveaway. This Bella wasn't her at all; she was little more than a poor copy. She scrambled off of the wolf's back.

"Just what the hell is this?!" The child's face burned with anger until her cheeks and ears turned red. Was this some kind of sick joke? Surely it was not meant to imply that Bella herself would ever get married? It was impossible, especially now that she was bound by her own word to stay at the castle. Any chance she might have had to find love and make a life with someone who loved her had flown out the window like bats out of a sunlit cave. Pain clawed her chest as she drew a sharp breath in and she instinctively placed her hand over her heart. "Love was never something I thought I needed, not when I have my family. So, why, then does this hurt so much?" Bella's eyes slowly dropped away from her doppelganger's. Why did the powers that be feel the need to tease her so? How much more asinine could this dream possibly be? Then it hit her.

"Whoa, whoa! Wait. I'm not engaged to anyone, so who asked you?" Bella blurted, her brows furrowing with growing concern. It simply couldn't be! She refused to believe it! Yet the imitation's mention of the promise made it sound equally impossible for the groom to be anyone else. "What are you about?" She shot a sidelong glare at Lupo, whose apparent sympathy for the fake Bella was arguably the most annoying thing about this. "Fine, I'll help you find your groom." The words dragged out of her throat with an unpleasant sound that might have been a growl of annoyance, or perhaps she was congested. Only she could tell and she clearly wasn't keen on doing so from the way she rolled her eyes.

"I've got it from here. Be a good boy, Lupo." The little redhead gave the wolf a wan smile, reaching out to scratch behind his ear. A brief moment passed that she stared into his bright, cyan eyes before she threw her arms around his fluffy neck and buried her face in his dark fur. It was strange to feel as she did, considering that she originally thought him to be little more than a copy of the Prince when they first met at the creek; however, she was overcome by the sort of sadness that came with saying "good-bye" to a friend. "I'll never forget you." She murmured and drew back, gesturing for the gown-clad doppelganger to follow. Without looking back, she headed into the thinning trees in more or less the direction Lupo had been running.

The trees grew more sparse still as the two walked, though not so sparse that they didn't obscure the distance. There was a sudden glimmer of something in the shadows, but it disappeared just as quickly. Then it came again and Bella knew that it was light from a house. She said nothing, only waved the not-Bella on after her as she picked up her pace. Finally they came to a clearing where there sat a very familiar dun-colored house. Hope fluttered in the girl's stomach, which she promptly swallowed, reminding herself that it only looked like home; it was a dream. That did not mean that she wouldn't simply charge through the kitchen door like she owned the place because she did exactly that.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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moth
Like everything else in the woods, what appeared to be the Montagne house stood draped in its soft pink hue courtesy of the sun well into its descent towards the distant horizon. The bride to be finally and reluctantly departed from her seat upon the lonesome stone rock centered in the forests meager clearing. She hesitantly gazed at her bouquet of pink roses, batting her sadly somber eyes to them before deciding to release her grip on its stems, letting the flowers fall to the ground. The petals remained intact, brushing helplessly against the dirt as their owner relinquished her ownership of them, who felt she had no better choice, thinking the emotional weight they carried would only slow her down and cause her to lose sight of the flustered little girl who wasn't shy about losing her temper and seemed jealous of the brides engagement as she was.

Bella's sentimental goodbye only served to befuddle Lupo, his loyalty causing him to remain seated there near the edge of the woods. It was hard to tell he was so confused, looking the way he did with his upper lip raised, nostrils widened and teeth slightly bared. He watched Bella and the bride to be walk off whilst scratching behind his ear with his hind paw. The wolf succumbed to a full days work and began yawning heavily whilst all the structures between his jawline, shoulders and entire anatomy shifted their proportions to each other in unison until he was man once more, sitting on the ground, hands laid flat on the dirt, most of the fur covering his body receding into human skin or his rugged makeshift outfit. He fell to his back, stretching as he folded his hands and pressed them against the back of his head.
"I'm a lady killer, what can I say?" He said aloud to no one, unable to help himself from taking on a toothy grin.

Maybe it was the
suns pink hue that made the Montagne kitchen seem more still than usual, how oppressive a feeling ones own home could evoke that it could seem so outlandish. Perhaps the furniture, sink, cabinets and décor would not seem so stark draped in their pink hue to such a seasoned contender against the abnormal Bella found herself to be such as she was; flying out of towers with fairies, stroking the fluffy ears of wolf men and therein befriending savage predators for Red Hood and her grandmother's sakes. Then, perhaps the equal stillness that Robby and Hugh cast upon the parlor in their respective sofa's would do the trick. Whatever powers that sent Bella's appearance back in time had spared them as they appeared to be just as Bella left them before riding into the woods yet to return. They made no gesture towards one another as the kitchen door swung open and were rather content with staring vacantly into the fireplace, its logs of wood and their flaming hairs burning for eternity, it seemed.

Celine was no exception to this otherworldly stillness that possessed the rest of Bella's kin. She stood just before the stink staring absent-minded out the kitchen window with her hands resting gently upon the counter, apparently just as oblivious as Hugh and Robby were to little Bella's arrival. The Montagne family appeared completely identical to the real one, save for some slight differences such as the color of their hair being a few shades paler, the vibrant contrasting colors outlining the irises of their eyes and their usual clothes appearing to have been dyed in a bizarre fashion. Other than the shifted palette of tints and tones, Bella mine as well have been home. To make matters worse, she seemed to be approaching the kitchen door clad in a brides dress.


"Celine," she called out in a trembling voice standing at the doorway. Despite a brief delay, Celine did finally turn to face the bride albeit slow as molasses and looking over little Bella to meet her sisters runny eyes. Celine's face contorted, melting into bewilderment, shock and joy, "Bella!" she brushed passed little Bella, gently moving to hold the brides cheeks in the palms of her hands. "Bella?" Robby called out from the parlor, springing to action from the sofa, "Huh-what!" Hugh had brief trouble processing the pronouncement of his youngest daughters name, "Bella? She's home?" in the blink of an eye, the Montagne family stood in the kitchen, greeting their lost lamb and ever heedless to little Bella's presence, brushing right passed her.


"Oh, what happened, what are you doing here? On Plovanst Day of all days!" Celine exclaimed. "It's Plovanst Day, she's a married woman now, of course!" Robby happily declared, "We should celebrate!" the young blacksmith began scrounging through the cabinets aimlessly. "Oh, Bella, I see, you're just so overwhelmed with joy! Oh!" Celine stepped back from the bride bursting with euphoria, clapping and nearly jumping up and down uncontrollably. Tears of her own began swelling in her eyes. "What a day, what a blessed day! Look, she's already brought me a granddaughter!" A terribly animated Hugh reached his hands out to little Bella, gingerly squeezing and pinching each of her cheeks with each of his roughly calloused palms, grinning ear to ear as he gawked over her. "Oh, they grow up so fast." The bride to be began whimpering helplessly standing there in the doorway. Either she couldn't bring herself to foil the celebration or she was simply too overwhelmed by the sorrow of having lost her so called beloved groom.
 
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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 fact of which Bella had only just reasserted to herself, that this was but a dream and that this house was only a figment of her own imagination, was quickly abandoned as she entered through the kitchen door. Everything was as it ought to have been in spite of being cast in pink, save for some details similar to that of her doppelganger's. Her family looked different, not like they had been touched by the passing of time, but their coloration was altered and their clothes were wrong. It was striking and ought to have snapped Bella back to the reality that this was indeed a dream. Yet, that didn't prevent her from watching with a mix of disgust and horror and jealousy as her sister, father, and brother-in-law all moved towards her look-alike as though she herself wasn't even there. Her heart skipped a beat, gripped again by pain.

What was this? Why didn't they recognize her? Why didn't they even notice her? It made Bella's stomach churn sickeningly to watch them fawn over the young woman who stole her identity as though she were the real her. She wasn't gone so long that they would have abandoned her for someone else, so why? Her mouth dropped open and shut, like a fish out of water, her throat tightening to strangle into silence any sound that she might make. Her hazel-blue eyes burned with a glare that could have set the house ablaze. The initial shock passed, leaving only disgust and righteous fury in its wake.

"Ce-Celine!?" The young girl objected, her face hot with anger. "That's not me! I'm Bella! Don't you recognize your own sister?" If she had had a fuse, the flame would have been burning dangerously close to an explosion. "What the hell is the matter with you all?" Her foot stomped the kitchen floor in much the manner akin to a child having a tantrum might, her fists clenched at her sides and jaw set. "And what's Provo- Plabi- whatever-you-just-said day?" They seemed far too occupied with the fake-Bella to pay her any mind, which was bad enough on its own. It was all the worse when her father finally acknowledged her presence incorrectly. She jerked her head violently away from his hands with a noise of outrage that was somewhere between a shriek and a growl. "I'm not your granddaughter; I'm your daughter! I'm not married! And there is no groom!" As if her copycat's whimpering was the last straw, Bella barked at her, "Stop being so wishy-washy!" She heaved an exhale through her nose, slowly diffusing.


"We'll look around here. He's got to be here somewhere." A few deep breaths calmed Bella enough to push this atrocity aside for a moment and tell the girl who looked like Bella ought to have to find her groom, as they had come here to do. He wasn't in either the kitchen or the parlor. Bella started up the stairs, prepared to check the bedrooms. That was the only other place he could be, else he wasn't there at all. Perhaps he was in town? Had there even been a town? She hadn't paid enough attention when approaching the house to notice if there was or not. "Hello? Anyone up here?" She called aloud with obvious indifference, clearing the top of the stairs. At that point, she couldn't have cared less whether they found the groom or not. She didn't want to do any favors for some impostor who would steal her family from her.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
On the second floor of the Montagne house, precisely at the edge of the familiar hallway where space gave way to the house's staircase leading its residents to and from the parlor, the drywall seamlessly and mysteriously (perhaps rather deplorably if you asked little Bella) curved into a marble wall on each side of the hallway. A set of white double doors crafted from the most robust trees the earth could offer and adorned with scrumptiously elaborate golden ornamental trimmings and handles stood perfectly aligned and fortified at the center of the marble at the end of the hall. The Montagne houses foreseeable doors and windows on its upper floor vanished as Bella removed them from her visions range and out of her peripheral; its drywall turning into marble until Bella found herself cornered in an empty hallway with nowhere to go except for whatever was waiting beyond the lavish doors. As the doors and windows vanished, so did Bella's source of soft pink light. With no candles, lamps or lanterns nearby the hallway grew quite dark, until eventually a golden light seeping in from between the small gap outlining the white-gold doors, where the doors split and between the doors and the wood plank floor was the hallways only source of illumination.

Fortunately or not, she would not have to brave through them since the bride to be came barging into the hallway from behind the set of white-gold double doors, still clad in her wedding dress. The powers of this otherworldly place must have found Bella's patience a ripe source for entertainment the way they tested it. If the bride was startled by Bella as she sat upon the forests lonesome rock, she was full blown astonished to see her now, surely in the most dreadful way.
"Jaron!" she exclaimed, the muscles in her face curving and tightening into ecstasy as her mouth fell agape forming her stupidly fallacious expression. It was true the bride was just in the same room as little Bella just moments ago, but in all fairness she was quite distracted and hadn't been paying much attention. Initially she seemed to have been staring right through little Bella in the forest, but now it was more likely than anything that was the case and little Bella had stumbled upon a victim of delirium.

"Jaron, I was looking for you!" she confessed to little Bella, inching towards her with each step of her glass shoes, "We waited, oh we waited so long, but you never came." she appeared confused as quickly as she had become elated, "Where were you? Did something happen? Don't you.....don't you want to marry me? Jaron, why are you moving away from me?" the bride would not cease her approach and despite being under the impression she was talking to the Prince, who was obviously taller than Bella, she fell to her knees to meet little Bella's eyes and moved to hold her cheeks in her palms, tears causing her eyes to glisten even in such little lighting. Her face relaxed, mixed emotions lingering on the surface as she peered directly into little Bella's eyes.

The bride gently slid her hands down to little Bella's shoulders. Her chest jumped and her brows furrowed as she stood up and stepped away from little Bella, suddenly confused and taken aback by her face,
"Y-You're not Jaron....it's, it's you! Ohhh, I'm, I'm sorry, I thought you were my fiancé." After such a rush of various emotions, the bride was wearily embarrassed and could hardly look little Bella in the eye. She held her chest with both hands and pressed her back against the marble wall, sliding down to the floor, the realization of her dire mistake enveloping the empty, Jaron-less space around her that was the source of her quavering voice, "Oh forgive me, I must be going mad. This was meant to be the happiest day of my life." she confessed. By now she hadn't a single teardrop left.

Beyond the double doors was a dining hall that could almost compete with Inverness as far as opulence went. The diaphanous suns pink hue had vanished, the hallway was showered by the golden light of the dining halls chandelier hanging from the ceiling and the difference was clear as day. Had little Bella woken up there in the hallway, the environment would pose no bizarre indication that magic was at play and would only appear enchanting to the extent of unique impressions. The thick double doors did well to block the sound of Bella's family in concert at the dining table, oblivious to Bella's pain and misery she suffered sitting on the hallway floor. as they sang merrily. Considering what it was they meant to be celebrating, the whole charade was quite obnoxious. Besides that, Hugh, Celine and Robby seemed to be a wonderful addition to any tea party, so long as the soiree was justified and without reckless abandon.
 
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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.
What should have been a narrow hallway with two doors, one on either side, and a short staircase at the end leading up to the door to the attic was gone. The home as Bella knew it was gone. Replacing the dimly lit hall of wooden floorboards and aged-white walls with rich oak trim was a corridor of white and gold and marble as might have belonged in a castle. There was a single set of double doors at the end of the illustrious stretch, set in what might have been a small alcove. Perhaps most notably, the pink hue no longer radiated over everything; all the colors were as they should appear, unobscured, though dim in the little light that seeped from behind the doors. The young'un turned round to retreat down the stairs; however, there was nowhere to go, only a solid white wall where the corridor ended. With no other options, she faced the doors again and sauntered closer, scared of what she might find on the other side.

Whatever power that conjured this dream must really have enjoyed mocking the redhead for it brought before her yet again the impostor she was so eager to dispense with. Her mouth was agape as well, her expression the polar opposite. A shriek erupted from her throat and she drew back from the wannabe-bride with a flailing of her arms. Bella's face drained of color and she gawked in wall-eyed horror at the doppelganger. Jaron?! Jaron was her groom? Her words of apology didn't register in young Bella's ears. She stumbled backward until her back pressed against the wall, which she braced herself against for support. What kind of sick joke was this? She was going to be ill; she had to get out of there. Flinging herself off the wall, Bella blew past the bride through the open doors. The spectacle that was her family singing jauntily at the ridiculously large dining table drew only a glance from her as she sped around its length to the doors on the opposite side of the room.

For all her urgency, Bella skidded to an abrupt halt once she burst through those doors. What she saw and what she expected to see were vastly different, though she honestly hadn't the faintest clue what she expected at all at that point. The doors led to a ballroom, a grand pilastered hall of sky blue and white trimmed in gold. There were thick, tasseled golden drapes of crushed velvet set in arched niches along the walls with candelabras blazing between them. The gilt moldings ran vertical and horizontal along the walls and formed the transition into the vaulted ceiling from which there hung many a twinkling chandelier; their light reflected on the white marble floor, veined with gold. Music filled the room; although, there was no apparent source such as musicians in a gallery. It came from everywhere and nowhere. The room was full of people, more than it looked like it could hold, all richly dressed and donning strange masks. Those who were close turned their heads to stare at Bella, never missing a beat as they danced.

"Oh, no." The young woman in a child's body groaned. Pointless as it seemed, she glanced over her shoulder to see if the doors were still there; and indeed, it was pointless. They were gone, replaced by an arch filled from one side of the frame to the other with curtains. She pushed the curtains aside a bit to see behind them, but there was only a wall. Her gaze shifted then to the rustling of fabric and she found that her blue dress was now a ballgown. Its bodice was a warm white, almost ivory silk, with long puffed sleeves in generous amounts of satin. The straight neckline came to just below her collarbone and the sleeves sat a little off her shoulders. The waist drew in and might have accentuated her womanly figure if she still had it, tied around with a satin ribbon. From it extended the bustling blend of silk and satin skirts which trailed the floor behind her. In the flickering candlelight of the chandeliers, there was a faint color-shift from ivory to pink and blue, like an opal. Her hair was pinned back to her head. Unlike the other guests, she wore no mask.

Bella huffed and rolled her eyes. It was a beautiful riot of a dress; however, she still felt ridiculous wearing it. She couldn't stay here either. While she could barely see over the heads of the much taller dancers, Bella thought she saw a door on the far end of the room. Determination surged through her small body and she pushed her way into the crowd. Everyone had stopped dancing when the music ceased, waiting for the next song. Some switched partners and stole a brief chat with their fellows. Then there came a sound like a music box being wound up and tinkling mechanical
notes began to play. Bella tried to hurry, but the dancing started again and the twirling, sweeping movements of the masked strangers prevented her from making it very far. It was uncomfortable to say the least to be trapped on the floor without a partner amidst all the dancing. In the city, this would have been considered a social tragedy. Bella could feel the stares and hear the snickers. Her cheeks flushed pink and she cast her own stare downward.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
"I'm running out of time," was all Jaron could think when looking down to see his shorts had transformed into a velvet white-maroon ornate jabot collar tailcoat suit under his nose, in spite of having evaded that madwoman for so long. He had to sacrifice his sweater to her and spent the rest of his time in the manor shirtless when she managed to grab hold of him, stubbornly insisting she should dress him like he were a member of some condemned, controversial circus act. He could tell already time was running out when the closet he had thoroughly inspected before hiding in became a hallway unbeknownst to him while he wasn't looking, leaving the Prince no choice other than to pass through shirtless when the closet door and all its clothes vanished altogether as well. He couldn't deny how the ball was a nice change of pace as opposed to being chased around a manor by a madwoman, however it just brought with it more problems for the child Prince to ruminate over, such as the environment beginning to not so subtly change.

Now the very clothes on his back were transforming too and he was none the wiser as it happened. He felt it was great cause for concern and assumed any minute now he could look down to see that he had turned into a slimy frog from the neck down. The silver-lining lied in the assumption that if the Ezinime was pushing him towards the ballroom, perhaps it had also placed the conditions for his escape in there as well. At least the madwoman hadn't managed to catch and force him into stockings and a skirt.


The Prince wasn't so naive to think simply keeping his back against the corner of the ballroom and looking strictly straightforward would prevent the dream from altering its current state any further. Even with four pairs of eyes, danger remained lurking in the not too distant future, waiting for him. He didn't expect the dream to be shy about killing him or worse. At any rate the corner of the ballroom was the best place to assess the situation and determine a plan of action. Jaron scanned the immediate area, trying his best to figure out why the Ezinime lead him to a ballroom. He did notice an exit but had spent so much time running fruitlessly through the woods and the manor before arriving to the ballroom, so he felt it was safe to assume there was nothing to gain from exploring further.

No, the answer was obviously somewhere in the ballroom. As unhinged, unpredictable and unforgiving these dreams could be, they weren't random. Confusing and maddening, sure, but it was always rooted in purpose. Always stemming from something, some motive. This place, this dream, its anatomy was akin to an orchard, albeit its trees would bear memories instead of fruits. It did well to maintain the illusion of being its own expansive universe, but there were only finite paths you could choose to traverse its columns of trees and encounter the manifestations of any particular subconscious that was linked to the magic and ripe for picking. The dream wasn't randomly meticulous indeed and if Jaron couldn't dig to its roots fast enough, the ballroom might be his grave, or worse. Maybe he would be doomed to an eternity of being dressed in girls clothes, puerile music box tunes and switching back and forth from one dance partner to the next. The Prince shuddered at the idea, never in a thousand years did he imagine Inverness would be a preferable alternative to anything.

Then, finally, after having managed to escape the grasp of a cannibalistic witch and her tantalizing gingerbread house before encountering the hysterical ravings of some nameless housekeeper and the numerous hallways and bedrooms she governed, what must have been the first semblance of a clue appeared in the middle of the dance floor. Of course it had to be a young girl in a ballgown, she stuck out like a red rose in a field of white lilies being the only one at the ball without a mask, a partner and she was the only other child Jaron had seen since he found that girl high up in her tower when he first woke up. He barely noticed her amidst the sea of masks and ballroom dancing. His chest began to rise pondering the idea that girl in the tower might be right there sulking on the dance floor. He was excited actually, in a place like this consistency had to be a good sign. If something was consistent, such as seeing that girl for a second time, then it was likely accordant and thusly in line with an ultimate motive. The Prince couldn't shake the idea that lonesome girl on the dance floor was his ticket out of there, but it was hard to tell if it was the same girl from the tower. "Wait!!" realization hit the Prince like a wet rag across the face in his sleep.

"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. "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?"

So Bella was here, taking the appearance of a child as well, the only other child seen thus far. Jaron was walking towards the dance floor before he knew it. He waited for her, downcast as she was, to notice him standing in front of her. Her hair wasn't absolutely convincing, it wasn't as red as Bella's as he knew it and he wasn't wise enough to consider the accuracy of her child self being the case. He knew about as much as a wooden stick did regarding girls hair, or just hair in general. The Prince waited there, hoping to see Bella's amber colored irises looking back at him. He wasn't very disappointed when a pair of hazel-blue eyes found him in their place. Her eyes may have been bigger and her cheeks may have been rounder and her hair and eyes may have been different colors, but the expression on her face was almost identical to the one from that rainy day looking up at him from behind the cold metal bars of his dungeon.


"It's rude to stare." Jaron thought as he shifted his stance the way he was taught whilst holding his left palm up, keeping his hand clad in its white glove properly adjacent to Bella's right hand as he should. "May I take your hand in this dance?" He asked her, as if his request wasn't clear enough already, albeit there may not be a more essential occasion for following etiquette than the dance floor.
 
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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.
Unreasonable as it was for Bella to be so embarrassed, considering that this situation was no more than a sleepy conjuring from imagination and memory, it was years of conditioning and growing up in high society that dictated her feelings. To be alone on the dance floor was call for gossip and potential social ruin in Valford, and likely anywhere else where there was a bustling wealthy class with nothing better to do than attend parties. Standing amidst the dancing masquerade, she recalled unwillingly the parties she attended with her family, as well as the ones they had hosted. So rarely did she dance at the gatherings; usually she stood aside along the wall and watched, her girlish admiration for the scene tainted with a jealousy that she refused to acknowledge. The only dance she would have would be with her father, who so hated to see her sitting out of the fun and festivities though it was her way. Celine, as gifted socially as she was in beauty and grace, never had these troubles for she had men lining up to dance with her.

Bella bit the inside of her lip, her dainty ungloved hands clenching into her flowing skirts. The toes of shoes appeared on the edge of her sight, prompting her eyes upward to follow the legs and the body until they landed upon the face of a boy dressed in finery. He appeared no older than she, with black hair and serious blue eyes that ought to have been set among the chiseled features of a grown man rather than the round youth of a child. Her gaze, a blue sky being eaten away by an amber sun, first held uncertainty. His visage was confusing; she knew him from someplace yet she hadn’t seen him before. The only conclusion she could come to, albeit tentative, was that he was the boy she had looked down upon from the tower window. Her head tilted slightly sideways, as if the change in visual angle was all she needed to answer the question of his identity. Then a mystified realization painted across her face. Jaron? Could it really be? He had been at the table with her in the dining hall when she passed out. Perhaps he was roped into the same dream as she?

With a practiced curtsy, young Bella lifted the hem of her skirt in her right hand, catching the little loop underneath on her finger, and placed her hand in his. For a moment, whether he was only part of the dream or not didn’t matter. Her form was that of a seasoned dancer, as could only be expected of an aristocrat, former or no. She followed his lead, their steps melding to match the other dancers' like clockwork.



The dance floor was, with respect, reserved for a sedulous breed who could find the time to excel their abilities and enchant themselves and each other with just a bit of coordination and harmony. Anyone paying attention would notice the waltz pattern that Jaron, Bella and the rest of the ball displayed, whether or not they were familiar with the waltz. Only one keen enough could notice how the dance was composed of six meticulous steps drawing a box shape pattern on the dance floor. Nothing prevented the dancers from experimenting with their style and tempo, but straying outside the box could spell disaster and send the pair colliding into an unsuspecting couple.

Jaron warily placed his right hand on Bella’s shoulder blade as she accepted his request, placing her right hand in his left. He never cared for parties or waltzing, but his mother demanded he not only learn how to behave during both, but that he should master the dance as if his life depended on it. She didn’t doubt the word of the world-class instructors, who she handpicked herself from the audience, regarding her son's dance floor worthiness. Still, the Queen took it upon herself to be the judge of such an intimate art she felt was essential to a Prince’s repertoire and accepted nothing shy of perfection and magic. The waltz was as simple as an afternoon walk through the garden for the Prince. Bella’s motions were in agreement with his; she communicated with him not through words but by her steps and form and from that he knew she was cut from a certain fabric. Gold and influence were the essence of the waltz and a prospective dancer wouldn’t get very far without either. The Prince recalled the day Henry informed him of Bella’s ability with one of the castle's many pianos. How delightful the idea was of returning to one of his dozen dens and hearing her propensity for music himself.

“I saw you.” Jaron began mid-step, “Up high in that tower. In the woods. That was you, right?” How maddening this place was! He just wanted to be absolutely certain he was looking at something real, a real person! How could anyone tell! All of the Prince’s senses convinced him everything was as real as reality. The attention to detail was an absolute marvel, they were surrounded by some of the most powerful magic the world had to offer. Jaron hesitated to ask the girl if she was indeed Bella, he had to expect she would claim to be so. He supposed if he asked her to jump too, she would ask him how high. All bets were on the little ballroom girl, at the very least she could just be the key to his survival. She complimented the dance floor well and Jaron wondered if the real Bella was just as capable.



If this was not indeed the real prince, the powers in control of this fever dream were trying quite hard with their new incarnation. He looked young, yet so did Bella, which made it only all the more convincing that her partner could be the real deal. Then, it wasn’t his appearance that was so important as the way he made her feel. Just looking into his eyes, as maintaining eye contact with her partner seemed only proper, they evoked the same presence. He was so real in that instant that everything else in the dream became vague shadows of what they were meant to represent.

“Oh, um, yes.” Jaron’s voice broke the trance Bella placed herself in. “So, that was you. I wondered where you had gotten off too. Have you been partying this whole time?” She recovered quickly, a hint of a smile suggesting that she was only joking. This was not to last.

When the waltz made them a full rotation, a golden shimmering like sunlight on the surface of a fast-moving river rained over them from some point overhead. It had no physical form, for no sort of dust settled on their clothes or skin and hair; it was tiny dazzling specks of light that instead faded out where they would have made contact. It was like looking through a mirage, and once it dwindled, the magic it worked was obvious. Bella found herself staring into the prince’s face as he ought to have appeared, as he was in the castle having tea. She too had returned to her rightful age. Her hair shifted from the somewhat blonde coloration to its natural pale copper and her eyes were completely amber. The dress grew and altered to fit her. The conservative neckline dropped to reveal the flat of her chest; the sleeves were a great deal fuller and came to points at the base of each middle finger. The next time the light sparkled around them, they would return to being children. It repeated in a vexing cycle.

“What?” Bella’s face dropped. Was this meant to mock her, too? Was her crazy dream family about to come out of the crowd wishing them a happy marriage? A knot formed in her throat. “Why am I being teased like this?” She forced herself to look away from Jaron, her eyes hot. That familiar jealousy burned in her heart, all those years watching her sister enjoy moments that Bella secretly wished she could have, seeing a version of herself waiting for the love of her life. It reminded her what she had given up - nay, forfeit, when she made that promise to Jaron. “I don’t have anyone, not even my family. It could be months, years even, before the curse is broken.. I’ll never…” Loneliness washed over Bella in lapping waves. Even as she looked up at Jaron again, she couldn’t bring herself to resent him for it.



It was true Jaron had not seen a friendly face in quite some time since arriving at the ball, but Bella could not have been further from the truth regarding the time they spent apart from each other and he could hardly reciprocate her paltry grin. Even if he had not been scrambling for his life up until that point, the Prince could hardly spare a second for humor, he was more concerned that Bella didn’t fully grasp the gravity of their situation. The bright specks of light showering upon her only aggravated Jaron’s concern, he almost relinquished his hold of little Bella, assuming some pernicious fate awaited her and they had exhausted what time they had left. Mesmerized, he could not dare to let go when she assumed her original appearance and form.

“A ballroom dance….is that it?” To see little Bella return to her true self in such a grandiose display seemed a positive sight, the Prince wondered if they would wake up now any second. “No….? If not this, then what!” He condemned himself for being so foolish to think Liza and company would drug them for a petty ballroom dance, but he condemned them even more intensely for roping Bella into the whole mess. Did they really expect them to fall head over heels for each other after everything that has happened, not to mention the horrors that transpired in this nightmare? “Hasn’t she sacrificed enough as it is?!” Every day the Prince’s indentured servants provided his majesty with vials of her blood since she returned so valiantly to keep them from death's grasp, he could only resent himself, having nearly abandoned the honor of his legacy that had ultimately cursed them all.

Now Bella, who chose to return and save the afflicted, unforgiving and perhaps unworthy prince of her own volition, would be cursed to remember her last moments in this sick sham of a merry gathering. Jaron felt as helpless as he looked, a child with no merit worthy enough to save the two of them. Even if he could convince Bella they should marry, assuming that was what the dream seemed to be asking of them, there was no priest, there were no rings and he hadn’t any vows prepared for such a sacred act. Above all else, they were just children dancing at a ball! To say he was at a quandary would be an understatement, there didn’t seem to be any sense that could be made. The boy was utterly hopeless.

He wondered if Bella might have been feeling the same way as she desperately avoided his gaze. “I’m sorry, Bella,” Jaron began, recalling the night she divulged to him the details of her family and the safety of her home in a desperate attempt to see them again. She didn’t deserve to be trapped there in the Ezinime’s magic with him, he should be made to die there, as alone as he had been all those years. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, bringing their dance to a halt, feeling it made no difference, “If I knew you would end up here, trapped with me. In this horrible place. I never would have kept you from your family. You don’t deserve this.” Even though he moved to cease their waltz, Jaron didn’t think twice about releasing his grasp on Bella’s hand or her shoulder, truthfully he felt much safer holding onto her.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
In short, Bella had no idea just how dire their situation actually was. The time she spent in the dream was a confusing blend of awareness that she was dreaming and forgetting so. Now, in the ballroom, she knew she had been and still was only dreaming; however, her consciousness to the magical nature of the dream was vague at best. She only had an idea that it was an other-worldly dream, based purely on speculation and her belief that Liza had something to do with it. As for the consequences, she wasn’t aware there were any. Why would there be? Aside from the dreams influenced by the whispering of the woods that led her closer to them night by night, no dream she ever had held any conditions or clauses or negative side-effects. The only clue she had that something was off was Jaron’s reaction to her attempt at humor, which honestly didn’t seem all that strange considering their interactions thus far.

If she hadn’t been so lost in the depths of self-pity, she might have picked up on it. Instead, some part of her heart clung vainly, feebly to the loss of something she never had in the first place. It felt wrong; it all did. The only thing that felt right at all was the prince. Her hand clenched against his shoulder, gripping the velvet panel. She might have realized sooner, or rather remembered, as she did when she looked finally into Jaron’s eyes again, why she made the promise in the first place. Her eyes, shining like glass with tears, widened and her expression was stricken.

“The prince is lonely, too.” Bella caught her lip with her teeth in a hard, sobering bite. How could she have been so selfish? She blinked hard, a few tears squeezing past her lashes to splash on her skirts, and shook her head.

“Why are you sorry? You don’t need to apologize; I do. It seems I’m not very good at keeping promises.” She made no move to wipe the wet tracks from her face, tightening her grip on his hand though they were no longer dancing. “I promised you wouldn’t have to be alone and yet I’ve left you alone. I made the promise because it felt like the right thing, and it still does. I still believe it is! And I don’t regret it, not even a little!” Young Bella paused, swallowing her tears despite her throat felt drier than scorched earth. “It might feel lonely sometimes, but I know I’m not alone and neither are you. Even trapped in this dream, we have each other, even though I’m not much help.”

Around them, the dancing had stopped and the tinkling music box notes no longer resounded overhead. The orange flames lighting the chandeliers lifted from their melted wax pedestals to drift down around them. As they drew closer, it became evident that they were not flames at all but orange butterflies emanating translucent glowing auras. One fluttered close enough that Bella could have reached out to touch it. Its light was surprisingly cold for all its warm color.


The prince mumbled Bella’s name as she went on justifying the imminent demise they were bound to share. “Bella,” he repeated, her heartfelt expression of words fading to the back of Jaron’s mind. He sensed the passion radiating from her watery eyes and in the sound of her voice and wanted nothing more than to give her his full, undivided attention. “Bella!” Jaron exclaimed, nearly shaking the poor girl out of her dialogue. The prince had taken his eyes off of her as she spoke, he hoped Bella would not notice how petrified he was and panic, albeit not in an effort to remain unnoticed. No, it seemed like they had the entire ball’s attention.

The music notes lingering in the air had vanished abruptly and everyone on the dance floor behind their strange masks stood frozen in place. Every pair of dancers appeared identical to the next, especially in the way that all of them stared shamelessly at Jaron and Bella. Jaron looked to his right first, then behind him, confirming that the entire ball was indeed staring at the two of them. They stood perfectly in the middle of the dance floor, the nearest pair of dancers no more than a handful of feet from arms reach.

Jaron could feel his heart beat rapidly in his chest, the sweat building on the palm of his hand locked in Bella’s. The prince didn’t want to assume Bella was as terrified as he by the gawking masks vastly outnumbering the two of them, so he simply pulled her closer, releasing her hand and keeping his arm wrapped around the back of her waist, “Just, don’t make any sudden movements.” he guided her into the crowd of partygoers as they followed the two of them with the eyes behind their masks. They nearly brushed shoulders against every pair in their path and occasionally Jaron had no choice but to squeeze in-between some of the balls vacant husks for guests, making sure to shield Bella with his body so she made as little contact with them as possible. When the sobbing began, Jaron froze in place with Bella in tow, frantically searching the dance floor with his eyes for the source.

When he finally mustered the courage to press onward for the exit, they inadvertently drew closer to the sound of a woman sobbing, her wailing becoming steadily more severe by each passing second. Jaron stopped again when he could finally make out the sight of a copper haired woman in a white dress on her hands and knees, her back to them. It seemed like she could sense the prince’s eyes landing on her the way she suddenly pulled her upper body up, pointing her chest to the ceiling as her awful sobbing became a horrendous rhythm of gasps for air and vehement exhaling. Jaron couldn’t help the childlike yelp that escaped his throat as the weeping lady bellowed one last deep gasp for breath before instantly changing her tune to a raucous cackling, all whilst black began to run from the top of her head down her hair, consuming its copper red color and extending the length of her mane. Once her white dress combusted into black flames, Jaron threw all caution to the wind, “Run!” he exclaimed, nearly yanking on Bella’s arm as he shoved one lifeless body after the other out of their way. Panic intensified as he realized the weeping woman sat between the two of them and the door.

Bella blinked, any more words she could have said dwindling away on a soft startled noise in her throat. She looked first at Jaron, then past him and all around them. Her eyes grew to the size of saucers, her body turning to lead. As if it wasn’t bad enough to have the dancers closest to them watching, every single person in the vast expanse of the ballroom now stood still as the morning on a deathbed, unblinking eyes fixed upon the two behind their masks. A shiver ran up Bella’s spine and she visibly shuddered, trying her best to hide it lest it aggravate the many watchers.


“W-what’s wrong with them?” She murmured barely over a shaky whisper, darting anxious glances as they squeezed between the empty vessels that crowded them. With the butterflies casting their light so low, it was easier to see that their eyes didn’t catch the light like those of a living being; they were more like the glass eyes of porcelain dolls. It was not just this quality that made it feel like their eyes were following the children. In her peripheral vision, Bella could see the masqueraders they passed turn their bodies and heads, stares unbroken. They moved closer, the path she and Jaron forged slowly disappearing.

“Jaron?” Bella breathed, unable to keep from looking over her shoulder in frantic desperation. The sobbing wasn’t especially concerning before they neared its source; and if she hadn’t had fear turning her blood to ice in her veins, the redhead would have been cross at once upon the sight. It was undoubtedly her doppelganger, albeit her coloration was more or less correct now whereas it was paler in the pink atmosphere outside. Fortunately, she did not turn to see and seize upon young Jaron as she had Bella in her delirium in the marble corridor. Unfortunately, she was consumed by, what was that, ink? Liquid darkness?

The butterflies flickered like flames in a harsh gust of air, their wings bleeding black; their orange glow darkened to purple and appeared more like smoke. They descended on the crowd, spilling over the heads and bodies like paint, covering them too in black. Bella shrieked, clinging tightly to Jaron’s arm, and squeezed her eyes shut. Surely, they would be fine if they just stayed together, right? Strangely, she thought of Lupo and Bell, wishing for anyone or anything that might come and rescue them.

Black, slimy inky muck splotches began dotting the vacant sea of catalysts that had just moments prior made up the ballrooms guests and dancers. The muck spread itself upon them, feeding on their spurious flesh and in doing so realizing the full potential of their amalgamated form; the Dark Wraiths. Shadowy husks with long bony fingers and disfigured arms, stiffened and bent like the joints and muscles of a corpse undergoing rigor mortis. Their behavior came off as techy, their bodies or lack thereof would shake constantly and erratically like someone caught in a blizzard with little protection against the cold.

In close proximity a ghastly whimpering emitted from their immediate surroundings among quick raspy breaths. As the butterfly muck consumed more dancers, that ghastly whimper resounded in greater volume by the second with each new wraith that formed from the sea of vacant bodies. The ballroom had been filled with a cacophony of gentle agony; unsettling sobs and trembling wheezes. The dark wraiths appeared to have no legs to speak of, or they were hidden beneath what looked similar to a priests soutane robe albeit tight on their figure, however when they moved they seemed to hover just above the floor as opposed to placing one leg in front of the other. Their surface was smooth and besides the misty vapor radiating from their form, they appeared solid black on the outside, despite their eyes that glowed like the moon, the only distinguishable attribute of their faces. Worst yet, the wraiths chose not to mindlessly stare at Jaron and Bella but close the gap inch by inch between each shadowy figure and the two purported children.


Jaron had the luxury of not yet noticing the wraiths and assuming the sea of vacant bodies would continue to remain still gawking at him and Bella, he made for the far end of the ballroom, as far from the weeping lady as he could get, who was not so weepy anymore. Between the cacophony of the wraiths and the cackling of the lady in her black flames, Jaron was practically made to shout to ensure Bella could understand him, "We'll head for the door," he commanded, "Stay close and don't let go of me!" Had he turned round to survey the situation, Jaron might have noticed the weeping lady's black hair had extended so far down her back in length it had become inky tendrils curving passed the sea of bodies and wraiths on the floor, sliding passed them like snakes, following the unlucky couple. Jaron had his eyes locked onto Bella's explaining their plan as more than a handful had already begun to wrap around his legs, upper body and arms until he felt their cold slime upon his neck. All at once they tightened against his body, constraining his limbs until his entire body was as stiff and upright as a mummy in a coffin; it wasn't necessarily painful but Jaron bellowed as if he had been stabbed in the back, the volume of his wailing gradually declining to Bella as the tendrils whisked him into the air, pulling him towards the cackling lady in her black flames, forcing Jaron to follower her as she departed the ballroom through the set of thick ornate double doors.

As the finite number of wraiths grew in tandem with their nightmarish cacophony, only the few surrounding dancers at the far end of the ballroom were left to be consumed by butterfly muck. As the dancers closest to Bella had just about let themselves become wraiths, a hand shot out from one of their smooth black chests, brandishing claws for fingernails. Another hand shot forth from its chest and the claws gripped the ends of the manhole it created, spreading the ends out until the wraith finally ripped in half, bursting into a plume of smoke that dissipated into the air. A shaggy haired ballroom dancer who sported fur on his coat rather than crushed velvet linings appeared from behind the plume, ripping his mask off to reveal a pair of vibrant cyan eyes.

"Smells awful, like burnt hair." Lupo confessed through flustered teeth regarding the dark evaporated plume, having to yell over the discordant noises the wraiths emitted for Bella to hear him. The man proceeded to cut down the surrounding wraiths who were rather helpless to being shredded like swiss cheese, doing well to make them seem less oppressively frightening. At this point it seemed like Bella could tie one up and keep it as a pet if she could manage it. Once they had some breathing room Lupo approached little Bella, albeit now the entire ballroom was comprised of wraiths rather than lavishly dressed party folk and their dreadful cacophony still resounded in the air. "I'd say this party is a bust, we should go. This isn't really my scene anyway."

The man spoke to soon and within moments cold, purple hued butterflies rained down from the chandeliers flames, splattering onto Lupo in greater number than they had upon the party folk. Lupo grimaced and grunted, falling to his knees, unable to resist as the muck spread fast until he was covered in it from the neck down, his body assuming the form of a dark wraith. The muck stretched over his mouth and the back of his head, conjoining around his cyan eyes until they were covered in black altogether. As its white glowing eyes appeared, the wraiths upper body and face contorted, its entire structure shifting and stretching. It became bloated and the wolf finally erupted from its figure, the wraith evaporating into a plume. The wolf snarled aggressively, saliva pooling in his vicious gums, dripping from his chin; butterflies and their muck dispersed into dark mist as they made contact with the wolf's fur. He shot a glance at Bella and barked a couple times before pouncing towards her, shifting his stance beside her so he faced the door the lady in black flames had pulled Jaron through.
 
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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 icy breath of impending doom sent a familiar terror coursing over Bella. It was very much like the night she woke up in the woods with the deformed and decaying remnants of people crowding around her, their throaty croaking filling her being. If she hadn't already been asleep, she might have fainted as she nearly did then if it hadn't been for Liza. The urge was there, lingering like a sneeze waiting to blow but that simply wouldn't come. Of course, it was for the better; to succumb to a spell at such an inopportune time would only prove disastrous for the children. While Liza wasn't there to save them from these creatures, Bella at least felt a little better having Jaron there than she would if she had been alone. Just his presence was a reassurance, a grounding in reality. With as strong a grip as she could muster, she held onto him, intent to not let go even if a portal to hell opened beneath her feet to suck her in.

"Jaron!" Bella barely managed to keep her hold at all once the inky black tendrils pulled the prince away. Smooth, polished marble did not make for secure footing, especially not in heeled shoes of any variety. It only took a small flex of the cackling woman's appendages for the redhead to relinquish her grasp. "JARON!" She cried, snatching after him even as he was drawn farther out of reach. The lengthy, bustling skirts floating around her caught under her feet in her haste and Bella sprawled across the floor where Jaron was just standing. Her heart dropped, the moans and whimpers of agony closing in around her. What could she do? Unless there was an axe around, she had little hope of fighting him free of the now distorted doppelganger. She pushed herself up, staring through the open doors the way it had gone. Anger shot through her with burning intensity.

"She can't have him!" Her hand hit the floor with a resounding smack and Bella pushed herself to her feet. She tripped again on her skirts, though kept her footing. "Damn this dress!" Taking the satin and silk by the handfuls, she ripped them free from the bodice until all that was left was the silk underskirt, which reached only to her ankles. The sleeves were torn off, too, being too restricting of the full range of arm movement that she would surely need to rescue the prince. The luxuriant materials sat in a gorgeous gleaming heap around her feet, the last little bit of light remaining in the dark ballroom. She kicked off the shoes in two different directions and they disappeared under the blackening garments of the nearest masquerade dancers.

Only then did her attention return to the crowd of increasing Wraiths. The butterflies had covered nearly all of them. Like an answered prayer, help arrived by the way of the young wolfman, relieving the child's fears if for just a moment. She might have run to him, thrown her arms around him in pure joy; however, the butterflies nearly took him, too. Any hope Bella had of catching up to the absconded monstrosity and the kidnapped Jaron was nearly dashed. The transformative nature of the black butterflies couldn't taint the wolf. She threw her arms around his fluffy neck.

"Oh, Lupo, thank you!" The words were little more than a whisper, yet no less full of gratitude than if she sang his praises. Placing her hands on his back, Bella heaved herself up, swinging one leg over as naturally as she would with Farren. "That way! Hurry! Follow them!" She indicated the doors with a point of her index finger. Lupo's ears pricked forward, and with something between a snort and a bark of what she guessed was enthusiasm, he took off, his claws clicking audibly despite the figured runners covering the tile floor. Bella stayed low to the wolf's shoulders enough that she wouldn't create any drag and slow him down without also hindering his movement. Her hands stayed gently clutched in his soft scruff.

With every stretch of corridor they crossed, the child grew more certain that she knew this place. She ought to have, for she grew up there. The walls appeared made of panels, one wide panel framed by two thinner panels, separated by pilasters. The upper part of each panel was a pale blue with a rectangle of elaborate trim framing an embossed wallpaper of a similar and even paler hue. The bottom third of each panel was taken up by a pristine white wainscoting with a pattern of rectangles, separated from the other two thirds by a thick piece of carved molding. Picking out the sculpted details of the wood was a little bit of gilt, highlighting sharp edges or raised details, the majority of which were on the crown molding and beveled ceilings. Every few panels, the wide panel in the middle would be replaced by a window adorned with blue curtains, flooding the corridors with light. Each room had a white door set in its own niche, bearing the same pattern of trim as the wainscot. The hallways were not so glamorous as the ballroom had been, but they were grand in their own right and clearly made to match.

"Home." The thought was tinged with the ache of longing. The longing was not felt for the lifestyle Bella and her family used to live, but for the memories and happiness they shared in their former chateau. It was where she was born, where she had grown up. It was part of her earliest memories as well as the few she had of her mother. Oh, how she wanted to see her family! It didn't matter that they lived a humbler life so long as they were together and happy. If she ever wanted to see them again at all, she first had to save the prince and get out of this dream.

"But how? I don't know how to fight, let alone fight monsters. I don't even have a weapon!" Bella muttered pensively, biting her lip. It was hard to hear over the air roaring past her ears, but there came a faint sound. There was no particular direction; however, it seemed to be growing louder the farther she and Lupo went. It led them around corners and up a flight of stairs before falling silent. "Stop!" Grabbing the wolf's fur like reins, Bella pulled him to a halt. There was no mistaking it. She slid down with a "wait here" and quietly closed the distance to the double doors at the end of the landing by the stairs they just ascended. Lupo sat back on his haunches to watch, his bottom teeth catching his upper lip. Her hand rested hesitantly on the golden door handle, palm sweating. The humming, now muffled, was definitely on the other side. She pushed the handle down and opened the door.


A burst of white light flooded her vision like stepping out into sunlight after a long time in the dark, fading to reveal a bedroom Bella knew well. To the right of the room was a four-poster bed draped in red curtains. A table stood on each side, a pair unlike any other to be found in the entire house carved specially to match the bed frame. At the foot of the bed was a chaise, over which was thrown a quilted dressing gown. A fire burned in the hearth on the opposite wall; and to the left of the room was a large vanity where there sat a young woman still in a nightgown. Her blonde hair was set loose around her thin frame, nearly concealing her from the waist up. Her hands, pale from a lack of sunlight, nimbly navigated her long locks and secured them with pins.
"Mama!" A child burst through the doors, running to where her mother sat. She hadn't run past Bella or even through her, it was more like she came out of thin air just inside the room. She was equally as unmistakable as the woman or the chateau as belonging to Bella's memory, because she was Bella. She couldn't have been older than four with a head of shoulder-length blonde curls and blue eyes that hadn't yet begun to change. The much younger Bella scrambled onto the padded bench that served as the vanity seat, using her head for leverage. Her mother smiled, her blue eyes tired. "Mama, are you not in bed today? Will you play with me?" The child beamed, bouncing eagerly on the seat. "I'm not as tired today; so we'll see." Isabelle continued to pin her hair up, glancing bemusedly at her daughter who busied herself with playing with a glass trinket. Bella put it aside, her childishly-large eyes fixing upon a pink box painted with hummingbirds and flowers.
"Music box!" She reached a hand out to grab it, but couldn't quite reach. Isabelle picked it up, wound the key on the back, and opened it. A tune jingled from inside it. "Does the song have words, mama?" Isabelle grinned and leaned down conspiratorially to whisper, "Yes. In fact, it has magic words." Bella's eyes widened, if that was even possible. "Magic?" She exchanged an awed glance between the music box and her mother. "The words are like a magic spell. Whenever you're afraid, you sing them, and they will chase away whatever you're afraid of. And the more you sing them, the stronger the magic grows. Shall I tell them to you?" Isabelle wound the music box again. She recited the words to the tune, Bella stumbling over them in her attempts to repeat them. "Mama, can I have the music box?" Bella asked without taking her eyes off of it. Isabelle smiled, though her eyes were sad. "One day, dear."
Bella blinked, finding herself no longer in her parents' bedroom but standing in front of the closed doors. Turning back to Lupo, she hummed the song to herself once, then spoke the words like reading aloud from a book. She bit her lip. How much time had she lost in her search for Jaron? How was she even supposed to find him? It was only a whim, but perhaps it could work? Taking a breath, she sang the magic words.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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moth
A devastatingly disturbed Jaron had not ceased his wailing as the warped bride continued whisking him through the elaborately designed corridors of the manor. By then her hair tendrils were more like tentacles, they grew thick ropes and wrapped tightly around Jaron's body, leaving him helpless to watch from mid air as the carpet and walls continued to zoom passed him. His entire body remained stiff, he could not even control his quivering lips or twitching brow and maintained a disconcerted composure, all he could do really was shriek desperately. Then the initial shock faded as quickly as he had been lifted into the air.

"This isn't real. This isn't happening." Jaron finally shut his pipes, though his mouth remained momentarily agape afterward. He squinted at the warped bride, then looked up to scan the horizon. Maybe there wasn't such thing as a bride with black tentacle ropes for hair but the danger Jaron faced was quite real and he wondered where she was taking him. He could see they were just about to exit the corridor into what appeared to be the manors entrance hall, with a spiraling staircase to the second floor.

The bride did manage to startle Jaron, he could almost feel his guts convulse as she lifted them into the air. However it was specifically that sensation he found horrifying and its initial surprise quickly faded, so far she had not really harmed a hair on his adolescent head. Knowing full well it was all made up, the prince would not let the dream toy with his emotions and frighten him so easily, what truly scared him was being separated from Bella again, possibly dooming them both. That and the brides preferred method of movement, he could not have imagined the sight of it in his own wildest imagination. She used her inky hair tentacles for support and lifted herself into the air as well. The both of them gradually floated down the corridor, her long thick ropes of hair attached themselves to the walls like the legs of a spider, leaving behind inky splotches of black muck as the tentacle like hair relinquished its uncanny grip upon its surface.

As eldritch a sight it was, the bride and her tentacle hair did appear to obey the laws of physics, albeit in their own supernatural way. She only used one rope of hair to constrain Jaron and carry him through the air and Blesse bellowed a bloody battle cry as she severed that thick strand from the brides head with a butchers knife. The housekeeper leaped at the rope as the bride passed through the corridors open doorway leading into the manors front hall. The thick inky hair dispersed into a plume and Jaron landed on his hands, feet and butt with a slight thud. Blesse passive aggressively addressed the bride who grimaced and groaned as she turned round by adjusting each of her inky hair tentacles, "M'lady, I think a trim is in your best interest." the bride bellowed a hellish shriek in response as Blesse unsheathed a kitchen knife from her bodice, now brandishing blades in each hand.

Jaron neglected to decide who was the most terrifying in the room and scurried to his feet, backing into the hallway and pulling the white double doors shut just as the bride lashed at Blesse with her hair tentacles. How convenient it might have been to blockade the doors with nearby furniture, unfortunately there were no wardrobes or hutches, chairs or benches in sight, so Jaron booked it back the way they had came. Despair grew with each passing second Bella was nowhere to be seen and evolved into full blown anguish as Jaron realized he was running straight towards a mass of wraiths as far as the eye could see, spilling into the hallway from the ballroom. Tears swelled and fell by the spoonful as the prince approached the horde, ready to throw himself headfirst into the crowd. "No, Bella." Jaron halted as a tide of wraiths and their cacophony drew closer inch by inch; he fell to his knees, bowing his head in sniveling defeat.

"Jaron. Where are you? I'm waiting. I'm waiting for you. Please come to me."

A gut-wrenching sensation possessed Jaron, consuming his misery. "That voice!" It felt like his stomach had plummeted to the center of the earth as he sat there in the hallway on his knees, listening to the sound of a womans faint voice from behind the white ornate door a little further down the hallway on his left. As faint it was, he recognized who the voice belonged to instantly, or rather who the dream meant for it to be. The boy did hesitate to move, but eventually sprang to his feet and made for the door, yanking it open and hesitating even further as he looked upon Inverness - the real Inverness, in the natural state it had been before the curse altered everything from the drapes and rugs to the very forest surrounding it.

He was staring into its grand hall and the vibrant golden glow it emitted, there was hardly anything in the castle that wasn't coated in a layer of it. Slowly, a teary eyed prince stepped through the door and the wraiths cacophony came to an abrupt, still silence once every inch of Jaron's being had passed through. The manor and ballroom were gone, all that was left of it being the white ornate door Jaron stepped through. It stood upright without the support of the manors walls upon the grand halls golden carpet that stretched splendidly from the front doors to the stairs at the far end and endlessly throughout the marvel Inverness in its prime. Jaron turned to face the white ornate door, it lost its utility and stuck out from everything else like a sore thumb, a grisly reminder to the prince that he was still far from home.

The sound of silence was utterly magnified by Jaron in his apprehensive state, the voice that lured him into the grand hall had vanished, yet he knew exactly where to look for it and made for the stairs. As he turned towards the east wing, he caught the muck out the corner of his right eye. It tediously stretched outward in tendrils from the white door he had come through, the open space of the doorway like a portal to eternal darkness. It spread slow, or rather not so fast that it would consume the whole castle in a matter of minutes and Jaron didn't think to sit around counting every second. He ran as fast as his little legs would let him.

The doors to the prince's study swung open, slamming against the wall with reckless abandon. He felt his gut fall off the earth, not just from the sight of the womans hair but the odious stench surrounding her as well, like rain and iron, the latter being the dominant scent. She sat at the prince's desk, the back of his chair facing him. He knew who she was before her wine red eyes landed on him and his legs gave out from under him. "It was all your work, wasn't it?" he asked her behind streams of salty tears and shaking limbs. "What's the point of all this!" Jaron asked, slamming his fists onto the floor precisely as he pronounced the last syllable, he posed the question to her, to himself and to no one all at once. "Ten years of my life - just to throw it away like this?!" The boy trembled as he spoke, his words shaky and slurred. She simply stared at the boy, as vacant as the lifeless bodies that had made up the ball. Only when Jaron emitted a hair raising gasp and moved to cover his ears did she smile smugly at him with timidly curved lips. The boy covered his ears to no avail, the voice mine as well have been echoing off the interior surface of his skull.

"I can't say who it might have been, but they're a wonderful artist. I see this robin quite often, they have orange faces, white bodies and brown wings."

"It's rude to stare, Jaron. Why don't you ask for her name?"

"Aren't you a little old for those kind of stories? Okay well, I only have time for one. What would you like to hear?"

"Oh Jaron, he just wants you to be strong like he is. Of course I do honey, but it's not me you have to worry about, now come over here so I can clean your face. Oh, Jaron, haven't I told you not to wipe your nose on your shirt?"


He shut his eyes, but flashes from the past haunted his vision. When the haunting finally ceased he sprung to his feet and shot around the desk to her, gripping the woman by her sleeves, "Won't you just end this already? Why don't you just kill me?!" She kept her red eyes planted on the boy and held her smug grin fast as the boy shook her back and forth, shouting his pleas for the death penalty until he finally collapsed to the floor once again, burying his face in the fabric of her dress. He brought his gaze up but couldn't bring himself to look her in the eye, "Please, just do it already. Let me be with her." The woman said nothing but managed to speak volumes to the boy, afflicting visions and auditory sensations of his mother upon him from the very memories embedded in his most heartfelt soul.


"You know I was just making up that 'believing' stuff right? Your singing is pretty cute though. Not as cute as me, of course. But it reminds me of somebody I used to know." Bell teased the copper haired forge house maiden. Her voice reached Bella telepathically and she was nowhere to be seen, quite similar to when the fairy had first reached out. Lupo sat with his chest puffed out before Bella, obediently waiting his next command as she wholeheartedly sung her swan song. In the wink of an eye a gentle white light took the shape of a familiar set of wings and was swiftly accompanied by the tiny body they belonged to and a bountiful head of hair. Lupo's ears pricked up, he closed his mouth and tilted his head bemused by the sight of a fairy. The light upon her faded as the eyes adjusted to it, as if opening the blinds on a cool summers day, revealing a pointy eared blonde hair blue eyed girl of no discernible age, yet her size or lack thereof was abundantly clear as her fluttering wings kept her suspended mid air between Bella and Lupo.

Bell's dazzling arrival was short lived and the harrowing song of a hordes worth of wraiths was upon them. They were heard long before they came into view and caused Lupo to bark anxiously. He held an aggressive stance at the top of the stairs, barking down them towards any nearby opening, growing more eager with each passing second the wraiths and their song grew closer. As the horde finally came within view, Lupo would interpose a high pitched cry among his constant woofing, a sign of his distress at the sight of the muck that accompanied the horde, spreading itself upon every inch of the wall and floor the wraiths passed. The room began growing dark and fast.

Bell turned round to observe the ruckus, brows furrowed, "Geez, what a mess! You really got yourself into some trouble here," she remarked, visibly taken aback at the sight, even the wisecracking fairy couldn't think to speak in jest. Bella's parents bedroom doors swung open off of their hinges, revealing the bride, her body dangling in the air, suspended there by the support of her inky tentacle hairs that each stuck to the bedroom ceiling, excluding one that had an incapacitated Blesse in its possession. The bride capered and bellowed another manic laugh as she shot forth a rope of her inky black tentacle hair off the ceiling towards Bella, wrapping the little girl in a vice grip. Every dark hair on Lupo's body puffed up from head to tail and he bolted towards the bride, lunging at her neck like it were the glaziest ham that had ever existed and sinking his fangs into it with such a zest appetite.

Blesse crumpled to the floor as the bride released her grip on Bella and the housekeeper and continued to writhe on the floor in perpetual agony whilst Lupo used his fangs to yank her head and neck back and forth indefinitely with vicious abandon. A wide eyed Bell flew up high, twirling and twisting her wand with splendor before aiming the tip straight towards the ceiling; a glowing white sphere shot from her wand and a hole in the ceiling appeared upon impact, revealing the sky. The manor was enveloped by a much dimmer and less vibrant rosy pink hue, there was hardly any daylight left outside. Bell then zipped down until she was about half a dozen inches from the tip of Bella's nose as the first of the wraiths and their muck had reached the bottom of the staircase, "Bella, I don't know who you are, but I think it's time for you to go. Have you got everything? Shoes, purse, your prince boyfriend?"
 
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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.
Young Bella stood with hazel-blue eyes closed, shutting out all but the song that filled and radiated from her being with the friendly warmth of the summer sun. Her hands overlapped one another, held over her heart where the warm feeling was the strongest. Her fear had faded a great deal; however, she was still distressed to see that nothing had changed when her eyes opened. That was not to say that she thought the magic of the song would change the dream much, but she hoped that it would do something. Perhaps present her with a way out or with the prince himself?

“Bell?” She called aloud, surprised by the fairy’s voice. Like a ray of sunshine breaking through storm clouds, the little blonde appeared. Bella was so glad to see her that she couldn’t find it in herself to be annoyed at her remark and, if she had been child-sized, Bella might have hugged her. The short-lived joy was quickly replaced by hair-raising tingles of dread as the sounds of the wraiths filled the vaulted space.

“It’s not like I made the mess.” Bella chided, able to find some bite after all. Her small frame turned, enabling her to shoot anxious glances down the stairs behind her. The muck-covered husks were slowly closing in; there wasn’t much time left. Strangely, the only thought that crossed her mind as the doors swung open to reveal the demented bride and the unconscious Blesse was not how the lively young maid even came to be there in the dream, but rather who exactly Bell was reminded of. The child didn’t get to ask the question for all that left her mouth was a scream when the thick black tendril wrapped around her.

“Lupo!” She pushed herself up off the floor, face wrought with concern for the wolf as she scrambled off the floor. She didn’t want to leave him, but she had to find Jaron before she ran out of time. “No, I don’t have everything! I need to find Jaron!” Bella responded with rising panic, recalling with a bump that the prince was supposed to be with the inky bride. Why wasn’t he, now? Had he gotten away? Had she done something to him? The redhead clenched her fists over her heart. “I can’t leave him alone. I promised. I-I promised. The words left off on a strangled note, her throat tightening.


Every one of the brides nerves from head to toe insisted she should caterwaul incessantly and only as loud as she could muster; they felt it was ideal to stop for a second and catch her agonizing breath should her shrill wailing falter and be any less shrill and waily than it could. You might think she was happy to oblige or hoped to impress, she never took more than a second to catch her breath and start screaming again and when she screamed, she screamed loud and she screamed long after Bella and Bell were gone, flying overhead across the evening sky. “Oh brother, that will just have to wait!” Bell exclaimed. The fairy zipped towards Bella, poked the middle of the girls chest with her wand and sent little Bella careening through Bell’s hole in the ceiling. She had to have been ten stories high at least before she stopped ascending.

Little Bella’s situation didn’t seem to be any less bleak outdoors. The sun had already descended below the horizon, its rosy pink radiance a faint memory. No, the farther she could see, the worse things seemed. The ballroom chandeliers, whence the butterflies spawned bringing their black muck had long since began to discharge a black fog. It already seeped through the manors doors and windows, spreading in all directions from the ballroom chandeliers to the outside and the surrounding woods, having nearly obscured most of the manor from the ground up. It would begin pouring out of the ceiling hole Bell shot out of in only a matter of moments. Bell made spiraling traces of golden glitter as she chased after Bella, they trailed the fairy as she flew skyward and steadily fell upon the manor like breezing winter snowflakes. As far as the eye could see, black fog appeared to ooze from particular points among the surrounding forest in no discernible pattern. In every direction of the distant horizon, a wall of black fog towered above the forest like a desert sandstorm, with each passing mile it ate the land and the air. With each passing mile, the land and air and everything in between was gone forever.

Bell fluttered at the comfortable distance of half a dozen inches adjacent from the tip of Bella’s dainty nose. Without Bell’s wand and its glowing tip, Bella might not have been able to see her in such dim light. She hoped not to waste any time arguing with the girl, a hope she bared influenced by an inexplicable impulse to ensure Bella’s safety and bestow the fairies undivided attention upon the little girl, one such impulse she did not care to contemplate. “I won’t let you fly until you know where we’re going.” She declared firmly. It was true, Bell had not bestowed the magic of flight upon Bella as she had done when the little girl was trapped in the tower, she simply sent the copper haired forge house girl hurtling into the air for her own good and kept her suspended a dozen stories high, albeit without constraining her limbs as the bride did to Jaron with her thick ropes of hair.


Though the young redhead knew not the severity of the situation that she only had a sneaking suspicion of, it became quickly and abundantly clear once she rose above the open ceiling and rooftop of the manor that it was dire. The pall that loomed up from the horizon and swallowed the world around her cast over her the feeling of impending doom, an icy breath down the back of her neck. She sucked in a ragged breath. Finding Jaron, whether he was a figment of this dream or not, became increasingly vital.

“How can it wait? He’s there and the place is being consumed by darkness!” Bella barked at the fairy, sounding on the verge of tears. It was too dark to see anything except Bell’s wand now; and if she hadn’t been so close to the girl’s face, even that would have been impossible to make out. Bella clenched her eyes shut, finding it made practically no difference to have them open due to how dark it was now that the pink sun had gone. It likewise seemed to her to make no difference whether they stayed at the manor or not. Where was there to even go that would be remotely safe? Perhaps there was one place, the place from which she began this dream.

“I, er, the tower? But what good will that do?” The pitch of her words danced up and down on the edge of despair. Jaron wasn’t likely to be there and Bella refused to leave him. She had to fulfill her promise; how could she possibly live with herself if she didn’t? She wanted to beg and plead with the fairy to take her back, to let her look for the prince, but the knot in her throat strangled her into silence. How was she even supposed to get out of the dream if she went back to the tower? There wasn’t a door there in the first place.


As the light of Bell’s bright wand flickered on her fluttering wings and she remained suspended there above the manor with Bella, the tiny fairy hadn’t an ounce of fear within her in the face of bleak brewing dark. However, there was a somber heaviness about her, too subtle upon her tiny face to be noticeable, especially by the likes of panicky Bella. The fairy had no doubts about the likes of her own agency and knew it was well within her power to get Bella to safety. Perhaps she was only fearful of not having the pleasant luxury of a moment to bid the little girl farewell and good luck.

“If you hope to find this Jaron, then you need to start moving!” The tiny fairy commanded. With one quick flick of the wrist, as if she meant to tap the ever reaching night sky with the tip of her wand, Bell shot forth a solid ball of pure light overhead Bella and herself. “I see the tower,” Bell said, twirling to face Bella and tapping the empty space in front of her with the tip of her wand, showering Bella in golden glitter once more. The tiny fairy directed her wand back towards the sky, keeping it trained at an upward angle. The orb of light she summoned hung overhead like a tiny moon, smooth, without craters and no bigger than a wagon wheel in diameter, emitting a sphere of light that illuminated the top of the trees below and the empty sky that surrounded them.

Bell fired her own beam of light at the tiny moon, causing it to duplicate itself and send a second tiny moon shooting out further down the way from the first. Bell refused to spare another second barking orders at Bella, trusting in the hope she would fly in pursuit of the path of light that was laid out for her. Bell fired a beam of light from her wand into every tiny moon she passed and from each moon a duplicate shot forth until there was a fully formed path of light leading from the manor to the tower. Bell made sure to gradually decline their distance from the ground as the path formed along the way so they would not miss the tower being so high up. With their vision so inhibited by the dark, they would not see the tower until they were nearly on top of it. Bell moved so fast, she nearly crashed into its cobblestone exterior and might have if she hadn’t maneuvered for the window that remained open after so much time.

“One more ought to do it.” Bell remarked to herself, summoning one more tiny moon to hang from the ceiling like a chandelier. The tiny fairy made for the window sill, standing atop it as she scanned the outside. “Hmm,” each of Bell’s light orbs still lingered in the air, lighting a path in the sky to the manor from which they came. Judging by the glowing horizon, there was still some time to spare and she could guess just about how much time was left by measuring the distance of the remaining orbs yet to be swallowed by what she could only think to describe then as the end of the world; not a drop of fear still yet resided in the tiny fairy as she turned to Bella, “Well, it was nice to meet ya. See ya later, have a safe trip, say hi to whatsherface for me! Sayonara! BYE! Get out of here already!”


Despite that there would undoubtedly be no Jaron to find in the tower, Bella sulkily flew after the blonde fairy. She could only hope that Bell would be able to work some sort of magic to bring him there somehow. He was all she could think about, sparing no awe or wonder for the moon-like orbs that bathed their flight path in soft light. Denial had her scanning the tower room as she touched down on top of the desk, a naive hope that the prince had appeared with the sphere of light. When the room was devoid of what she sought, as only it would have been, the child turned to Bell with a huff.

“Did you forget already? I’m not leaving without him!” Bella stomped her foot on the desk in indignation. For lack of space to do so, she clambered down to the floor to pace back and forth, racking her brain for ideas. “Can’t you do something?” Appealing to the fairy, she finally sank on the floor in the center of the room, in relatively the same spot she’d arrived. Fear fluttered in her stomach, not for herself but for Jaron. What would happen to him if she left him here? Was he even really here with her at all? It seemed likely, granted he didn’t pop up out of nowhere like everything else. She sucked in a breath and bit her trembling lip.

“When the light is running low, and the shadows start to grow..” The words to the song were hardly more than a thin warble, as if she couldn’t muster enough spirit with which to sing them properly. There wasn’t any real hope that the song would help or make any magic, rather she was grasping at the sense of comfort the song gave her when she often listened to the music box at home. Bella desperately wanted that safety and security she remembered as she watched her mother teaching her the words. It didn’t come and she knew at once that it could only be found one way: with Jaron. Her eyes squeezed shut, hand clenching the bodice of the ballgown over her heart. Her heart ached for the prince and she wondered if he felt the same.
 
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Vampire Queen
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The first of the orbs to be eaten away by the dense world eating fog marked their last line of defense against it, or so Bell thought. “Oh, brother,” Bell repeated, bowing her head slightly, gesturing a facepalm. “You’re really putting it all on the line for this kid? Wherever he is, I hope he finds a good fashion sense.” Not wanting to fan the flames, Bell muttered the last part to herself, pacing back and forth along the window sill parallel to the little girl. She quit her pacing and simply stared back at Bella in disbelief as she pleaded for the boy to return, safe and sound. As passionately Bell believed Bella to be a stubborn, naive little girl in that moment, she couldn’t bring herself to disappoint her just the same way she couldn’t help being desensitized to any notions of fear.

“It was cute the first time, but this is getting a little played out.” Bell telepathically whispered to herself, hunched over with squinting eyes fixed on Bella’s plump face as the little girl convened every wishful bone in her body towards her heart. That heavy somberness found Bell again like water finding its path down a swale; she felt impelled to gaze once more at the world eating fog impinging the forest and wondered how anyone could look upon such a sight and choose to continue lingering in its path. As there wasn’t anyone or thing she felt was more special or important than herself, Bell figured Jaron must have been quite an exception, or perhaps Bella governed herself by a twisted set of principles. Nevertheless, with each rising note Bella sang, the fairy knew her only hope of seeing the little girl return safe and sound was to do so with the boy by her side.

After writhing on the floor and having lost track of the time he had spent doing so whilst sobbing and wailing and whimpering, Jaron laid still on his back in the center of his study, similar to the position he awoke midday, plateaued upon a meadow of cotton balls. The first turbulent wave of sorrow had passed and Jaron found himself floating along gentle bodies of agony, mind wise. He could not bring himself to wander back through the halls and down the stairs in an effort to throw himself into the inky muck that began to contaminate the castle, for it meant traversing Inverness in its pure state and he could not bear to bring himself upon the sight of his home as he once knew it. Surely the walls, floor and very air would be laced with the pain that was endured between them on that wet fateful night.

To lay comfortably in perpetual agony was a luxury, the prince decided, not that he had the courage to kill himself anymore either way. Not since Bella saved him, he felt. Jaron hesitated to bring the young maiden with her amber eyes and fiery hair to mind; to do so would be to summon that suicidal courage all over again, the very same she had sacrificed so much to do away with. He could only pray she felt no pain in her last moments and as he did so whilst laying on the floor so miserably, the door appeared on his left at the far end of the study as if on cue.

It materialized just as Bell did before Bella, in a dazzling flash of light, fading as the light adjusted to reveal a door, or rather a portal in the shape of a single door, outlined by glowing margins that could bend time and space and make impossible seem like just a word; syllables and not any more or any less than such. The sight of the door would not have been half as staggering if Bella were not on the other side. A bewildered little Jaron with wide eyes stuck on the dazzling light sat up wearily. As his eyes adjusted to the light and focused on young Bella, his deeply traumatized brain could not begin to process any emotions beyond shock and awe and he wondered what such torturous magic had in store for him next; he seemed to be looking straight through her eyes, peering numbly into what he surmised to be a void taking the form of young Bella.


If not for the flash of light that briefly filled the singular room of the tower as the door burst into being like a star near where Bella sat, she would not have known it was there. Her eyes weren’t even open, but she could see the shift in brightness and color through her heavy lids. The girl lifted her head, blinking and staring incredulously through tears that had not yet fallen. The door, if it could even be called that, was set in the rectangular floor-length mirror. It was more like a hole had opened in time and space the way it was framed by light. More baffling than that, she could see the prince’s study through it and an equally bewildered young Jaron too sitting on the floor. The song stopped, the words stuck in her throat.

“J-Jaron?” Bella croaked out, slowly and carefully, as if she wasn’t quite sure she was really seeing him there. Pushing herself to her feet, she closed the distance of a few steps to the mirror’s frame; and outstretching a timid hand, stuck it through what ought to have been glass but was an empty space. Her other hand shot up to cover her mouth in shock. How could this even be? Was it the song, her longing, Bell? The redhead shot a glance at the fairy, eyes full of gratitude. With a shaky drawn breath, she stepped through.

For all her insistence that she wouldn’t leave without him, Bella hesitated, taking a split-second to observe the prince before her. He looked rather like he had been languishing as much as she if not more. His clothes were the same as the Jaron she danced with and his coloration remained correct. Most importantly, looking into his eyes, the feeling was the same. A smile trembled on Bella’s lips and, in another second, she was on her knees in front of him, throwing her arms around his shoulders.

“Thank God.” She whispered, relief flowing over her, and sat back on her heels. “We don’t have much time left. The sky is getting dark. We need to go.”


Bella’s gratitude towards the fairy was met with a reticent smile, one she forced upon her tiny face as if anchors hung off her mouth chained to each end of her tiny mouths crevice. The little gown clad girl couldn’t have made her way through the mirror fast enough, leaving Bell riddled with worry as she hoped the boy really was worth all the trouble. Even the immense gratitude radiating off of her would not reassure the fairy, perhaps Bell might have trusted her judgement more if she knew how much older and wiser Bella truly was to that of a little girl; that it was not naive infatuation pulling Bella towards the boy but something much more special and unique. As fantastic her powers were that they could bend space and time, Bella had managed to reach the extent of the fairies powers, there was not much else Bell could do for her besides leaving her in the boys hands and trusting he would keep her best interest at heart.

Jaron’s red, swollen eyes had not moved and remained focused on the now empty space Bella had occupied in the impossible doorway connecting Inverness and the tower. Bella could not have appeared more surreal to Jaron had he not become so disoriented by haunting visions that sent him back to a time when he must have looked about the same as he did sitting there on the floor with Bella’s arms wrapped around him. The sound of her voice, reminiscent as it was of their ballroom dance, accelerated the time it would have taken to fully process her presence, “The sky? There’s nowhere to go,” he admitted bitterly. Not wanting to worry Bella lingering on the fact, he solemnly changed the subject, “If I could take you somewhere safe, I would do so in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t wish my worst enemy to suffer this place, let alone the likes of you.” Jaron pulled himself up to his feet, offering Bella a hand, “I don’t know how you did it, but thanks for finding me. You’re a good friend.”

Jaron could see the light outlining the egress connecting the study to the tower begin to fade out the corner of his eye. He glanced towards the light as it dissipated into a mere speck of its former self, following the speck with his eyes as it floated in no hurry towards him until it hovered in the space between Bella and himself, just below their necks, where it remained comfortably suspended. Jaron was none the wiser to the departed sun or the world eating pall or the castles impossible lighting seemingly emitted by the vast amount of gold laced among nearly every aspect of it, despite the endless sconces and chandeliers to be found. The speck of light hovering between Bella and himself allowed the boy to ponder Bella’s peculiar choice of words, the way she mentioned the sky as if to emphasize it.

Jaron would not turn round to confirm or see for himself how the outside was now indeed pitch black. Just as the idea came to mind the study finally began to grow dark; its golden glimmer growing dim as the speck of light from Bell’s magic grew brighter, unaffected by the dark that began to consume any and all other lumination that could be found. Jaron hesitated to take his eyes off of the shimmering light speck and only did so to find Bella’s own, not expecting to find any sort of solution to their dire straits, he simply stared into them in search of any dose of solace that could be found therein and was so satisfied with how much they offered he managed to relax, if only slightly. Jaron supposed if there could ever be a perfect death, for him it would be that particular moment, staring into her eyes as they were, illuminated by the light speck whilst everything surrounding them grew darker with each passing second.


In the dimming light of the study, one could only be sure of the stricken expression on Bella’s round young face as she accepted the Prince’s offered hand. Never, even in her wildest dreams, did she ever expect to hear him call her a friend. Her cheeks flushed, her heart aflutter as Bell’s translucent wings. It was amazing just how something that was usually considered so small as being called a friend could become everything. In that moment, the torment inflicted by this fever dream was worth all of the suffering. What she could only describe as joy and gratitude swelled in her small frame, overflowing into a smile and a single tear. If only for a moment, nothing else mattered, not even the growing darkness.

“It’s funny; even though this dream is falling apart, I feel safe, being with you.” Bella’s eyes followed the glowing speck to where it settled between them, finding warmth in its brightening light. “I don’t really know how to describe it. It’s kind of like the feeling of being home; I just know that, somehow, we’ll be okay as long as we’re together.” As she spoke, her gaze rose to meet Jaron’s, eyes gold as the gilt around them was before the room lost its vibrant colors to the dark. His serious blue eyes only affirmed the feeling she just described to him. She took his hand in both of hers, giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Thank you.” She breathed to the shimmering speck, not taking her eyes away from Jaron’s. There was no telling what drove her to do so, but Bella released the prince’s hand to instead put her arms around him. Perhaps she only wanted to offer him the same comfort his presence gave her? Perhaps she was so overcome by the moment that she didn’t know what else to do? Whatever the case, it felt right. It felt natural. It was simultaneously reminiscent of her promise and a reiteration of it. “Whatever happens, I’ll be with you.”


Jaron stirred, his eyes greeting the top of a princely canopy bed; its red sumptuous fabric like a belt the way it draped down the roof from corner to corner, enveloping the top of each smooth smoky pine comprised post beneath each swath of silk. Instantly he recognized that familiar foggy post sleep feeling. He sprung upright in bed, his eyes wide, his breathing a brief tremulous gasp. With his hands, Jaron first groped his head and face, focusing on the softness of his hair and skin, squeezing the ridge of his nose with one hand as he fumbled about the back of his head with the other.

After proceeding down to his chest and at last the bedding, he somehow concluded he was indeed in shock judging by how insufficiently real the surrounding textures were in that moment. If Jaron was ever sure of anything, he could never deny his presence being comprised of Inverness and its endless opulence, one such he had grown to disdain in the time passed. That was undoubtedly the case and he expected some ghastly apparition or another to break down his door any second and drag him back to the reality that was the otherworld and its surreal rosy pink hue. Alone in his chambers, the prince pushed himself up and out of bed. His memories of the tower, manor and ballroom already appeared hazy as he tried to recollect them, reduced to the vague sensations of a crisp breeze and a range of frantic emotions.

All that remained as fresh and clear as it did in its time were the moments leading to Jaron's wake, save for the beautifully kind words Bella shared that already managed to escape his memory for the most part, yet the comfort they evoked lingered still as a fuzzy knot in the prince's stomach. She moved to embrace the prince and the next thing he knew, all he could see was bright white before his astral counterpart relinquished control and stirred himself awake. "Whatever happens, I'll be with you." He clung to her last words for dear life so as not to forget them at least and could still feel her arms around him. How demanding a fate that such beauty should follow a darkness so wicked and foul as the sorceress afflicting young little Jaron with haunting visions of a better time. In his state of shock, Jaron neglected to realize, among the numerous conclusions that could be made over having finally waken, a matter he instantly decided was of most importance as his mind conjured it; whether or not Bella truly was trapped there with him all that time and if so, whether or not she was okay, or worse, such a terrible thought it was to imagine she might not have woken at all and never would.

Inverness's working class residents slept in shifts to ensure Bella had company every hour of the day and night so as to constantly monitor her vitality or in case she were to wake up. Liza voluntarily assumed Imogen's shifts, allowing the housekeeping governess to continue her chores and maintain Amarinda and Tobias's studies. Without Jaron around to have the last word, no one, not even Henry, who agreed with the princess and her feelings about the grave circumstances Jaron and Bella found themselves intertwined within, had the heart to pull Sophia away from Bella. She remained right beside Bella every day and night since the forge house maiden had succumbed to indefinite slumber. Sophia slept restlessly, her arm limp across Bella's stomach on that particular morning the prince awakened.

The sun had yet to breach the treelike horizon of Inverness's surrounding forest; it showered all the lands in genuine light, free of any hellish rosy pink hue. After breakfast was served, Landon would head straight to Bella's room, leaving Henry to retire until the following night, when he would relieve Liza from her shift. The kings last line of defense sat on the couch beside Bella still. As usual he somehow looked bigger without his clunky armor on and slept a little more soundly than Sophia, chest upright, head bowed and arms firmly crossed.
 
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Ashi

Cat Lady of Questionable Sanity
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Posting Speed
1-3 posts per week, One post per week, Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
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.
Amber eyes fluttered open onto the dim, cool light of approaching dawn stretching slowly across the ceiling. Long she lay, watching the morning fingering its way along the gray panels, lingering on the edge of wakefulness, before her thoughts caught up to her slowly and piecemeal. Something was off; although, she couldn't say what exactly that was while her sense of self yet drifted in a world beyond. It felt like a great deal had happened, but she couldn't remember any of it. All she could say for sure was that she was not in bed a moment ago and it wasn't early in the morning. It had been dark, was it night? The sun went down; however, that didn't seem an accurate description of the pervasive blackness that invaded her mind's eye.

"Oh, right. I was dancing... er, no. I was.. in the study. With Jaron. But there was dancing?" Bella's brow furrowed as she struggled to recall the details of the dream. The pictures were murky, like trying to see seashells through the sand stirred off the bottom in shallow surf. There were faint glimmers, but nothing clear enough to be certain. Closing her eyes a moment, she relaxed into the soft bed. Behind her lids, she could make out twinkling chandeliers and the sparkling of a dress; she could feel a hand in hers. Then she was standing in the study, her arms around Jaron, right before everything faded into light. A jolt like the feeling of falling caused Bella to raise her head off the pillows.

"What.. in the world?" The redhead released a shaky breath, scanning the room. What happened? Wasn't she just in the dining hall having tea? When had she fallen asleep? Questions replaced the quiet of the room in her mind as her eyes fell on Henry and Sophia, whose arm was wrapped around her. The growing light suggested she had slept through the afternoon and night, but why would those two be there with her unless something happened? Her head flopped back against the pillow, her hand finding Sophie's bright auburn hair to stroke. Those questions aside, there was a far more important one to answer: Was it really just a dream? It felt so real; Jaron felt real. So was that really him?

Hunger panged in her stomach, a hunger Bella was sure she never felt before. She didn't have the heart to wake Sophie, though; and it was doubtful that breakfast was even done yet. Instead, she hummed the song that replayed in her memory with the tinkling of a music box, the song she could still feel herself swaying to in a grand ballroom she couldn't quite picture. For every measure, one picture did become clear, the face of the boy she danced with. Somehow, it seemed impossible for Jaron to have been in the dream with her, to have danced with her; and somehow, her heart told her that he was. She simply had to know.
 
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Vampire Queen
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Sophia's eyes, roused by Bella's caressing of her hair and her humming's vibrations, shot wide open and she seemed instantly mortified; her brows furrowed and the muscles in her face contorted apprehensively as she lay still, her face buried in Bella's side. The gentle touch of fingers interweaving themselves among her long strands of hair could not easily be mistaken for anything else, if not for the princess's discountenance of Bella's passing days in slumber, Sophia might have thought she had woken up from a bad dream that had gone on far too long and was in bed with her mother, laying beside her, with her small face buried in her side and her arm draped over the queen's stomach. However, the little girl knew all too well who she lay beside, for she hardly quit her company in the passed days and if she did, would immediately return; again that same guilt crept upon Sophia, overwhelming her as it did since the day Bella had arrived to Inverness.

Ever since Bella chose to stay, that guilt gradually depleted as things seemed to be changing for the better. With a vengeance it would return tenfold, punishing the princess for ever having felt otherwise. She accepted all of the responsibility for Bella's misfortunes and it ate away at the princess, every day Bella remain asleep being worse than the last, Sophia was sure she had killed her and would never step foot in the woods again. When she sprung up in bed and looked apprehensively into Bella's unsleeping amber eyes, the girl groaned abruptly, rousing Henry from his sleep, his disfigured face shot up in surprise.
"Bella?" He thought aloud, moving to grip the armrest of the couch as if to brace himself for Bella's confounding wake. "Bella, you're awake!" He exclaimed, affirming the well enough forge house maiden Sophia beheld, her face melting into a horrified mien. It was as if the sight of Bella awake brought out all of the despair of the passed days she slept, it all came bearing down on Sophia all at once.

She almost couldn't fight the urge to hit Bella for scaring her so badly and was convinced she was actually a horrible person with a sick sense of humor, that it was all some disgusting prank, for it was all the sense she could make of her peril. It helped her to cope with the intense guilt, too. Not Liza nor Henry nor anyone could make her understand what was keeping Bella still and her eyes shut for so long. Sophia couldn't sleep without first exhausting herself by throwing a tantrum in bed, "You're sick, you're awful, I hate you! I wish we never met!" She would always say to Bella when she wouldn't wake up, no matter how loud she yelled in her face or how hard she would shake her sleeping body.

All Sophia had to do was finally look into her amber eyes, in them she saw the truth and instantly her own began to flood and burst as she started crying intensely, mouth agape and face strained. Gradually, her wailing grew louder and would only cease as she gathered her breath, inhaling sharply and wailing harder after each time she did. "Sophia..." Henry called, focusing now on the princess. There was much to do and explain, yet still Henry sat patiently, giving Sophia time to cleanse herself from grief; there was no reason to feel guilty or sad or scared anymore, but that was too great an idea to accept so quickly. Having lost control, Sophia could not move from where she sat upright in bed beside Bella and the touch of her sister would only perturb her further, but she would not fight her embrace and would allow it to impassion her. "I thought you were dead." She managed to admit albeit through sniveling tears and snot.


"You've been in a coma. For five days." Henry explained as Sophia finally grew calm and quiet behind driveling mucus, face hot and cheeks tear stained. "Liza can explain everything, but rest assured, you should be safe now. You must be starving. We'll have you fed and bathed immediately, whatever you need." He sat back, unable to help his curiosity, "What did you see? Do you remember anything?" The Captain remembered the teapot sitting on the end table beside the bed and was quick to spring into action, pouring out an odd concoction into a teacup, similar to what they served Bella after she passed out in the secret room, albeit the taste was far more bitter, quite discernible from any pleasant flavor of fruit.

Henry steadily held the teacup to Bella with both hands, its contents gold, thick and sticky like honey.
"This should help you think, trust me. It's very important you remember what happened. Don't be so quick to get out of bed just yet, I'll be right back.....I have to check on the prince now, he should be awake already as well." The Captain instructed, hesitant to share the last part.
 
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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 vague feeling of peace that hung over the room like a pall was swiftly and violently dispelled before Bella could even greet the little girl, the "good morning" poised on her lips lost to the gasp that she sucked in through a pained grimace. What had she done to set the princess off that she would cry so passionately? Bella sat upright, face fraught with horror and sympathy, and pulled the child into a hug which only seemed to make her condition worse. Unsure of what to do, she cast her uncertain eyes upon Henry, appealing to him wordlessly for some sort of aid or explanation. Her hand rubbed the small space between Sophie's shoulders in attempt to offer her comfort and perhaps an apology for whatever wrong she may have inflicted upon her.

"Sophie?" The young redhead's name was a hoarse croak in Bella's dry throat. Visibly confused, she tried to swallow and clear it, which had about as much effect as swallowing a mouthful of ground cinnamon without water. "Dead? It's only been--" "a day" She almost said, appalled by Sophie's tearful exclamation; however Henry's explanation shocked her into silence. "Five...days?" Bella stumbled over the captain's words, almost unable to process them. Her eyes widened, seeing not but the empty space between them reeling like the shapes in a kaleidoscope. That explained her hoarseness and her indescribable hunger, but why did she sleep so long? Reaching for the cup, Bella recalled with a bump upon the mention of her name that she suspected Liza of having had a hand in this. Indeed, it was she who prepared the tea and she was there when Bella had fallen asleep.


"Not really. It's all a blur." Bella murmured, bringing the cup to her lips. Her face contorted as she sipped the golden liquid in a similar way as it might if she bit into a lemon. It was terribly bitter, like the inside of a pecan's shell, and had no identifiable pleasant flavor whatsoever. If it was tea, it was by far the worst tea she ever tasted, so much so that she had to force herself to swallow it. "Do I have to drink it?" She coughed, holding the cup away from herself with the convincing revulsion of touching something slimy or long dead and decomposed. It at least wet her whistle enough that her voice came out clearer. She briefly considered setting it aside when Henry left the room, instead opting to hold her nose and gulp it down all at once. Awful as it was, her desire for clarity outweighed her dislike of the liquid. With the same intensity that her heart demanded answers to the dream, so too did she long to remember it despite the dark feeling that lingered still around it. The idea that the Prince had been asleep as well only made her more curious and fueled that need.

"Hey, don't cry. I'm sorry I worried you." Turning to another pressing matter, the maiden reached out her hands to swipe the tears from Sophie's cheeks. "I won't die, not for a long time; and I would never leave you without saying 'good-bye' first. I promise you that." Bella smiled, using the sleeve of her nightgown to wipe the princess's nose. Pulling her into another embrace, she kissed the top of her bright hair. Her mind wandered to the opposite wing of the castle, to the Prince. Was he alright? She wanted to jump out of bed and go see for herself; she wanted to know if he was truly there in the dream. Though she held Sophie, she could still feel the young Prince's body in her arms; and while she was only dimly aware of it, she wanted to feel that again.

"I hope Henry returns quickly. I don't think I can stay in this bed another minute. I'm starving." Bella smiled playfully down at Sophie, trying to assure the child that she was indeed okay.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
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moth
Liza rounded the corner of the west wing's second floor. She stepped nimble yet brisk like through the corridors, full of energy despite having slept little through the night. Henry made use of the woman's resilience to long, deep sleep, allowing her to bring him peace of mind by patrolling the castle and surrounding grounds in his place. As convenient it was to have her around, the Captain did not gravitate to the idea of trusting Liza easily, considering how she may or may not have poisoned Bella and the Prince, whether or not it was for the greater good. As disinclined he was to let the woman walk freely still throughout Inverness shrouded in her mystery and riddled with impropriety as she was, Henry did see her on the brink of death with his own eyes and if not for her sacrifice, Bella would have been dead already or worse. "I'll leave it to his majesty to decide your punishment, after he's waken up." He would tell her, it was his way of saying he trusted her without betraying his loyalty to his highness.

In all their years together, Henry witnessed Jaron rage, lash out and disappear for days, but eventually he always returned in the morning, walking in stride to his seat at the grand dining table for Landon's breakfast. One thing he hadn't seemed to lose over the years was his princely appetite, until that fateful night Bella had arrived drenched in Liza's blood. Surely he would deny it, but Henry knew more than anyone that Jaron held hope for the future, if only a sliver even, but it was enough that Henry could catch it. If the young man was angry or enraged, it only meant things were out of control and he wanted the authority and order that was his birth right.

No, the Prince who locked himself in his chambers for the passed fortnight and only came down to dinner for just enough food to hold him off until tomorrow's evening was not the Jaron that Henry knew. It seemed it would only be a matter of time until his next grisly incident and there was no telling whether or not Bella could manage to save them again next time around. Henry couldn't blame Liza for drugging them if he wanted to, Jaron was long overdue for a wake up call. Had a little birdy not informed Liza of Jaron's wake, she likely would have been elsewhere.

Instead she found herself before Bella's bedroom door, her gloved hand wrapped around its handle. She could only imagine how Jaron might be feeling and would not put it passed him to deduce where the ezinime came from. What transpired in their dream was beyond Liza, but she knew damn well what she might expect to happen if they weren't eaten alive or met some other forgetful demise or another first. It was good news to hear they were awake. Seeing as Bella would likely be inclined to hear an explanation, she made for the maidens room first. Uncertain how Jaron would handle the situation, the vampire fighter couldn't say she knew what to expect but could guess she wasn't likely to find herself any closer to being in the Prince's good graces.

Liza kept her hand wrapped around the handle, hesitant to open the door. Her ears and nose twitched, feeling a shift in the air. She could feel vibrations in the marble floor stabbing at the soles of her boots. Her razor-sharp senses screamed the Prince's name and told her he was near before he had even rounded the corner and stepped foot into the corridor, but a sixth sense told her to expect trouble. It was not as if the perpetual stillness of Inverness was unlike the calm before a storm, that ominous tranquility already hung thick in the air, perhaps a symptom of the wickedness that had transpired. Or perhaps only Liza could feel it.

She turned and greeted Jaron's serious simmering eyes with a smile as he moved briskly to close the distance between them; her fingers sliding off the door handle, she made slow quiet steps in his direction. It seemed like they both hoped to crash into each other the way neither ceased their approach until they were face to face. "How convenient I should find you tiptoeing around Bella's room as soon as I'm awake." Jaron claimed in his usual deeply heavy heated tone he used when losing his temper that always reverberated through the room and the mind of those on the receiving end. It was the timeless sound of a king, inherited over the course of many generations, its majestic merit often perverted by the oppressive tendencies of madness that plagued Jaron.

However, surely Jaron's anger towards Liza was righteously justified this time around for Bella's sake, who he felt Liza was to blame for having experienced an ordeal that almost cost the maiden her life. At best, it was debatable. "Oh?" Liza's smile fell, assuming a timid grin. She crossed her arms, displaying her indifference and betraying her demure composure, "I hope I can help, your majesty."

"You can drop the act, I know you poisoned our tea!"
Jaron waited for whatever deplorable excuse Liza could come up with, but the woman wasn't shy about her lack of respect for his highness and simply stared at him without a word. Jaron could feel the muscles tightening around his throat, he could not bear the tension and bellowed before striking the wall with his fist, denting its smooth slab exterior as bits of stone crumbled off the small crater to the floor.

"Bella nearly died because of you!" Jaron exclaimed, Liza couldn't help herself and laughed condescendingly at him, "Ahh, funny how you're so concerned for Bella all of a sudden! If you really cared about her, you wouldn't spend all day and night sulking in your room while she sits around worried about you. Grow a damn spine you fool, didn't your mother teach you how to talk to women?" With that Jaron reached for Liza, grabbing the neck of her top and rearing his fist to strike her. "YOU INSOLENT-" As soon as he laid hands on her, Liza gripped tightly onto his wrist with both hands.

She stepped forward and swung underneath Jaron's extended arm, using her weight as momentum and pivoting around him whilst twisting his arm out of shape until she was positioned behind him and they faced the same direction. Jaron grimaced and groaned as Liza applied pressure on the back of his left bicep with her right hand whilst pulling on his wrist with her left hand, breaking his forearm if she pulled hard enough. Struggling to break free only caused more pain. With Jaron utterly under her control, Liza pressed her heel onto the shallow depression behind Jaron's knee and proceeded to push forward until he was lying facedown on the floor. With her knee pressing down on his shoulder, she gripped his wrist again with both hands and began pulling only hard enough to keep him hollering in pain and under her control. Liza only need to yank Jaron's wrist back at full strength to pull the arm from its socket and could hardly find a reason not to, her smile returning alongside the idea.
 
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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.
With nothing but the subtle changes of light pouring through the leaded window panes to indicate the passing of time, the time Bella spent sitting in bed tripled. If not for the company of Sophie to break the tedious silence that would otherwise have been stifling, the copper-haired maiden might well have lost her mind. The vile liquid was certainly doing its job, slowly but surely bringing a preternatural clarity to the blurry memories of the five-day-long dream. Most vividly, she recalled the last moments of the dream before waking, her embracing a young Jaron and assuring him that she would be there. The longer she concentrated on it, the more details she could pick out, from the feeling of Jaron's velvet coat beneath her cheek to the shining gilt around them. The little conversation the two girls made served not at all to relieve the dizzying swirl of confounded questions that multiplied in number with each passing moment. Regardless of Sophia's presence, Bella was not shy about displaying her displeasure with sighs and groans and anxious glances at the large double doors.

"What's taking him?" She muttered, wincing at the hunger churning in her stomach. Her head, which had come to rest atop her arms crossed over her knees, rose at the sound of voices from the corridor. Muffled as it was by stone walls and heavy doors, there was no mistaking that deep, resonating thunder as belonging to anyone but the prince. There was no mistaking, too, that particular tone of voice meant he was in a foul mood. Bella strained her ears to listen over her pulse pounding increasingly in them, only able to pick out one word in particular through the architectural obstructions: her name. Each pained bellow resulted in the pile of blankets being pushed back farther until at last she shot up in bed, bounded the two fumbling steps across it onto the floor, and threw open the bedroom door to thrust her head out.

"Liza?! What are you doing?!" Bella's eyes widened, glistening gold with horror at the sight only a short walk down the corridor. What happened that she would go so far as to pin the prince to the floor so? What could she do? She turned, shooting a look to Sophia to tell her to stay put, when impulse kicked in. As such, Bella didn't spend any time considering what she was about to do or whether or not she should do it at all. Her body acted on its own, fueled by her desire to help the prince. Scrambling back to the bed, she snatched a pillow, unfurling the bed curtains on that side in the process. Before it registered what her plan was, she found herself closing the distance between where her bedroom doors stood framed in the wall and where the silver-haired vampire was shoving her knee into the prince's shoulder.

Muscle memory pulled her arms and the pillow up over her head and down again with the force and precision required to wield axe against wood. The dense sack of feathers exploded with the impact to Liza's head, sending its contents flying like the pappi of a dandelion on errant summer breezes. The mostly-empty casing slid out of the decorative pillow cover, which Bella let fall from her hand in a heap on the red runner. Her chest heaved a couple of shaky breaths, adrenaline fading, as the realization of what she had just done hit her about as hard as she just hit Liza. Horror and guilt spread across her face, the guilt wavering in the recollection that the cheeky young woman had wrought the dream upon them in the first place. Still, it was hard not to feel some sympathy for the woman who saved her life, even if her trust was now fragile. The goal was only to make her stop hurting Jaron.

Abandoning her internal conflict over whether or not Liza reaped what she sowed, Bella was on her knees beside Jaron. Feathers clung to her hair and nightgown, which she hadn't thought to cover in her haste. The low light deepened the red tones of her short locks as they slid over her neck and shoulders. "Are you alright?" The words were soft, caressing, like those she spoke to him right before waking. Her hand timidly touched his right shoulder. She spared a brief, dubious glance to Liza, one that told her she ought to be making a break for it lest she find herself in an even deeper hole.
 
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Vampire Queen
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The sound of Jaron crying in pain dilated Liza's pupils, they grew excitedly in tandem with the gratification coursing through her veins, a symptom only a trained killer or a sadist could experience, if the two weren't one and the same. The silver-haired vampire's smile dissolved as her mouth fell agape, her moral ambiguity conflicting with her mysterious obligation to Carthya's greater good, her quarrel influenced by her unspoken disdain for the lack of willpower and courage that only put everybody in danger of eternal damnation. "You're a disgrace." She finally told him directly through clenched teeth, sensing whether or not he kept his arm would make no difference to anyone except Liza, who would not feel the satisfaction of tearing it off, therein it would only be wrong not to. When a pillow dense with feathers slugged the back of her head, Bella truly had ejected the idea from her mind as her head snapped forward and out of her bloodlust.

"Ah, what the hell?!" Jaron's arm slid out of Liza's hands. Rubbing the back of her head, she might have guessed a wooden plank had struck her if not for the feathers that fell like snowflakes, she pushed herself off of Jaron and stepped back, giving him and Bella their space. "Damn..." As surprised Liza was to think a pillow could pack such a punch, she found it quite humorous, that coupled with all the raining feathers. It was all Bella could muster with what was available to her and perhaps it was less than what Liza deserved, seeing as Jaron's groaning would not let up still even as Bella sought to comfort him, but regardless it did get the job done and saved Jaron from further injury.

"Fair enough..." she thought to herself, shaking off the hit that nagged at the back of her head whilst tittering under a short breath. "Hmph." She greeted Bella's glare likewise with narrowed eye lids and started down the hall, keeping her eyes on the maiden as she passed them. All Liza could think of was how she was still breaking the ice between Jaron and Bella after all the effort she went through to bring them ezinime. Perhaps if she had ever been under the magic herself she would not feel so inclined think they should be a little more grateful of her meddling.

Jaron could only respond to Bella by forcing his cries of pain to cease, but he could not help to pull a face. His arm winced back from Bella's hand despite only having lightly grazed it, a traumatic reflex of the pain. It was severe enough to distract Jaron from Bella, even after the tremendous ordeal they had just experienced, as blurry still it was. He sat up, exhaling deeply and could have pulled the carpet off the floor the way he inhaled air through gritting teeth. The pain heightened his senses and as soon as he was sitting up they painted a surreal grainy gilt; he could swear the hall's dim candlelight seemed to glimmer that gilt just a bit stronger. If not for Bella resting on her knees beside Jaron, his distant recollection of their last moments in the ezinime study could not have juxta positioned itself so easily amidst the dim hall. The pain he experienced now may have been physical, but it provoked a severe reaction similar to what the witch had influenced that left little Jaron writhing on the floor of the study where Bella found and comforted him, just as she did there in the hall, or tried to at least.

Hearing Henry call out put Jaron at ease, he knew the Captain was qualified if not well enough acquainted with the likes of treating any battle wound that didn't involve a delicate surgery. Fixing the Prince's dislocated shoulder would not be as simple as inflicting the injury, but was simple enough so long as the burly man was precise and knew when and where to apply pressure to Jaron's arm. "Just do it!" Jaron barked at Henry, likely trying to puff himself, as brute force was the last thing he needed and could only serve to injure him further. Once Henry was kneeling behind him and began to push down on his shoulder whilst pulling his arm back into its socket, Jaron felt his neck clenching tightly as he locked his jaw in place, stubbornly straining himself not to holler as he had been moments ago. "Here," Without warning, Henry tugged on Bella's wrist, gesturing to Jaron's injured shoulder with his eyes, where he needed her help, "You have to keep his shoulder steady, when I give the order, apply pressure here," The Captain shot Bella a commanding glare, they'd have to trade places, with her positioned behind Jaron, "You'll need to use all your strength." He added, not giving her wood chopping muscles the benefit of the doubt.

"Now, start pushing," Henry ordered, in a calm yet firm tone. He needed Bella to keep Jaron still while he pushed his arm back into the socket. The Prince could feel his bones returning to their rightful place and despite the pain, he was at ease knowing he'd need to endure for only a handful of seconds more. As the bone popped into place he breathed a deep sigh of relief. Not wanting to waste a second, he used his surge of relief and stood up, turning round to offer Bella a hand, much like he had done in their last moments within the ezinime study, without all the surrealism; as the pain faded, something about his quarrel with Liza felt far too real to be the machinations of an ancient magic. Only the unforgiving reality of the Prince's real life could have brought Liza down with her knee on top of him, she had been a bane to his peace of mind since he was damned to Inverness. It was a waste to pay her treason any mind, so long as she would make like the wind and be carried away. He knew that as soon as his eyes fell upon Bella's and their salient gilt; all that mattered now was his debt to her. In an effort to repay it sooner than later, Jaron figured a good place to start would be to return her favor by hunching over as needed and wrap his arms around her.

"Thank you," he said firmly, "I'm in your debt. You'll never think to regret this, I promise." It was quite daunting to think he was able to repay her for bringing him from the depths of hell twice now. She deserved every ounce of gold, jewelry and gems he had to offer tenfold and he would not stand to let her settle for less if it meant stripping the earth of every ore and ingot.
 
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