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.
There was little more consideration spared for Liza once Bella's eyes left her and the sounds of her footsteps faded down the corridor. Whatever befell the silver-haired vampire now, if anything did, was only the consequences of her treasonous actions. Some part of the maiden felt that the prince's fury was justified and that even she herself ought to be angry; Liza poisoned them both. Still her rational faculty told her that it was better for everyone to just let Liza go, that there must have been a reason for doing so whatever it may be. Surely, if she had meant to harm the prince or Bella, Liza would have done so already. It wasn't like she didn't have plenty of opportunity. Then nothing could warrant physically harming the prince in such a manner as the redhead witnessed, whether there was more to the story or not. Her heart still wanted to believe in the dashing young woman, but found it difficult. Once her attention was focused on Jaron, she noticed nothing else.

"I-" Despite that the prince bit back the sounds of his agony, Bella could still hear his bellowing from moments ago echoing in her ears. Her hand recoiled from his shoulder, hovering frozen in the air, with the convincing horror that she had struck him regardless of the fact that she barely touched him at all. As such, her first instinct was to apologize, and her mouth hung agape though only the one trembling syllable escaped. Henry's voice drew her panicked gaze, causing alarm to tingle like the pricking of thousands of needles over her skin. Of course, anyone with a basic understanding of fighting could understand that it was not she who had injured the prince. For all the wood cutting and axe swinging she had done, Bella wasn't strong enough on her own to pose any real opposition if the two ever got it in their minds to engage in a physical altercation. To say the least, her panic was irrational and there was no need of her acting like a child caught in the act of wrongdoing.

His large hand on her wrist caused her to flinch; however that split-second of dread subsided as he instructed her on what to do. It invoked a sense of duty, enabling Bella to remember why she charged out into the corridor in the first place, to help Jaron. She was on her knees, hands placed on his shoulder one on top of the other, applying her weight judiciously to keep his shoulder steady. The grinding of his bones sliding back into their proper place sent shivers down her spine and was honestly mildly sickening for someone who had never heard it before. Bella exhaled her own sigh of relief, sitting back on her heels as the prince stood. If only for a moment, she was back in that grand dream study, with a young Jaron offering her his hand.

The redhead stood in shocked silence in the young man's embrace. He was cool to the touch, even through the few layers of fabric they wore, something she hadn't noticed granted their physical contact was limited. It was like the first kiss of approaching winter, when the grass was crunchy underfoot with frost. Even so, she wasn't cold; on the contrary, her body was flushed with warmth. Her arms wrapped around him, eyes half-lidded with blissful catharsis. The feeling was the same as it had been in the dream, embracing him as the darkness was replaced by light. It was safe; it was home. It was everything she didn't know she wanted.

"I'm just glad you're okay." When finally they separated, Bella's hands lingered cursorily on Jaron's shoulders. She pulled them away with a faint pink tint on her cheeks and smiled. Her gaze slid away from him, stole back to his face. She reached up, timidly plucking a gray feather from his hair.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
If only for a moment, in one fell swoop, Bella's warmth dispelled the harrowing tension of which seemed to build in a handful of hours, yet had accumulated over the course of the past five days, within Jaron. His shock subsided and despite having returned to the woeful abode that was Inverness, it must have felt more like taking that first step into a delightful new home for the first time. Even Jaron's arm, which burned quite like it were being stung by a horde of bees, couldn't bother him even slightly; surely with Bella, he was invincible. His hands slipped down the back of her forearms as she stepped back. He felt obliged to cup her elbows in his palms so long as her hands remained on his frame, as if she were testing him to see who would let go of whom first. He wouldn't dare to greet her eyes with his now, he couldn't bear it, not with her hands on him.

Only when she finally pulled them away did he pull his and look at her directly, albeit the knot in his chest did tighten and he braced himself as she reached for his head, relaxing as his brows furrowed and he followed the feather between her dainty fingers with puzzled eyes. "A feather?" Jaron asked, truly aloof where it came from. Somehow he missed the few hackles clinging to Bella's head and only needed to inspect the area for a second to realize they were riddled all over the floor. There were more than a few to choose from Bella's person, Jaron settled on the one clinging to her nightgown, just above her belly where it hung closer to her right arm. He plucked it off from there without so much as laying a finger on her and brought it towards his face for further inspection, studying its fleecy texture intently.

"This belonged to a goose?"
The Prince thought out loud, posing the question quite seriously, albeit not directed towards Bella. Yet, as he fixed his serious gaze on her eyes, they somehow relayed an answer; not one he asked for, but one he needed, that being just how ridiculous of a concept it was for such a question to conjure itself, all the more out loud and in someone else's presence. Bella had caught the prince with his guard down, that alone being no shy feat and the fact made itself apparent by curling his lips up into a smile, one that remarkably gave way to a reserved chuckle before Jaron let loose an unabashed and hardy laughter as he gave all the surrounding feathers another once over.

Henry watched in disbelief as Jaron embraced Bella but was quick to avert his eyes and make himself scarce out of respect. Stepping aside, he stood up straight in the typical uniform manner expected, albeit with clenched fists and turning his head slightly to gaze down the corridor in search of nothing. He only wanted to give Jaron and Bella as much privacy as he could whilst remaining at their side, ready to serve them in earnest, even successfully willing himself not to eavesdrop on the intimate words they shared with one another. However, the sound of Jaron's laughter was undeniable and even caused Henry to loosen up and unclench his fists, as if seeing the young man standing on his own wasn't already a miracle in itself, to hear him laughing was a spectacle in its own right. He secretly felt the sight of the star crossed pair embracing one another in good health was all Liza's doing, that she was to thank for it. Could he have peered into their dream himself and witnessed firsthand what transpired therein, he might have given Bella more credit.

"How do you feel?" Jaron asked curiously, he was nearly beaming directly at Bella's irises. It was a drab question but was all he could think to ask her now that they were settled back into themselves, their real selves. "Your highness," Henry intervened, finally turning to face the pair, "Perhaps Bella would like to get dressed first? You could catch up after breakfast." As good it was to see them, Henry was beginning to feel like a fly on the wall. Maybe the captain was speaking out of place, but it was more so in their best interest. Bella could hardly speak clearly earlier and the remedy he insisted she sipped to the dregs would take time to rejuvenate her body and jog her memory. Besides, if what Liza said was true, they had the rest of their lives now to catch up.

"Huh? Oh - right." Jaron stammered, put off by Henry's intrusion. Obviously the Captain meant well, however Jaron couldn't help but feel like the man had spoiled everything. The Prince tore his gaze from Henry's disfigured face, albeit he was now impelled not to look at Bella and it made his left eye twitch and his bottom lip quiver, he seemed quite disconcerted suddenly, being made as if he should avert his eyes away from Bella. She was all he wanted to see; she was fresh, she made the place glow. Henry was wrong, she would be with him no matter what, she said so herself and yet, it was such a sudden claim with no terms laid out for such semantics, granted she hadn't the chance to make any clear. No, there were no terms. She said what she said and in all his misery, Jaron believed her.

The thoughts fell on Jaron like a ton of bricks, he grew visibly weary and only wanted to hold Bella in his arms again, it was a frustrating thing not to. Instead, the prince turned and made his way in the opposite direction, down the corridor where Liza came from, roughly brushing off any straggling feathers from his person.
 
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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.
A bright, clear laugh erupted from Bella's chest comparable to the ring of a crystal glass tapped to announce a toast. It started as a giggle, bubbling up only to be muffled by her lips which she pursed to hold it in, prompted by the prince's question. The whole situation seemed ridiculous somehow, like it was straight out of a comedy or even a dream. Her amusement was clear in that brief moment of eye contact, try as she might to save face. She might have been able to if the prince hadn't smiled, much less started laughing; but once his laughter started, she could no longer suppress her own. There wasn't time for her to be surprised that the prince's composed façade cracked or for her to consider that it was her doing. The corridor was filled with the sound until the pervasive silence that loomed over the castle and all its gloomy opulence couldn't stifle it.

It was impossible to recall a time when Bella had laughed so hard that her stomach ached; then again, the ache she felt could arguably be attributed to hunger. As she met Jaron's gaze, it felt simultaneously like a weight had been lifted and like it was all a dream. Her copper brows furrowed as she contemplated how to answer his question, to articulate the ambiguous feeling to him; however, Henry interrupted her already jumbled train of thought, his words a taw thrown into a circle of marbles, scattering them. Bella's face fell, a soft barely-audible breath escaping her lips. Her eyes found a spot on the floor to stare at while her cheeks reddened at the first thought spared for the fact that she was in only a nightgown in front of His Highness. She dared not look at him again until his back was turned and he stalked back down the corridor in his usual doleful way.

A few minutes passed that the redhead lingered there, distant eyes locked on the corner after Jaron cleared it. Her arms crossed over her chest, hands grazing where his had touched. The light, dreamy sensation that characterized their interaction was gone, replaced by that familiar unnatural tranquility. Finally, she sauntered back to the bedroom, a few feathers wafting off of her hair and shoulders. The subsequent bath and splendid breakfast did little to lift her spirits. While Bella made a point to smile and engage as always to the best of her ability, she couldn't shake the anxiety that fluttered in her stomach. It was the sense that she wouldn't see Jaron again for some time, like in the days after she made her promise. He hid himself away for two weeks. What if he did so again or for longer? Bella was sure she wouldn't survive that long without answers to the dream.

The day was largely spent in the company of the children, around their studies of course. During that time Bella, visited the horses in search of solace. Nothing she tried could provide her with any ease, especially not as the details of the dream became clearer. She couldn't help but linger on the dance they shared, on the song that jingled like bells in the air around them. Since the day's game of charades was forgone due to exigent circumstances, they played chess instead. Bella could hardly focus on the game for worrying, or on anything else for that matter. All day, she resisted the urge to ask after the prince, only daring to inquire to Henry once before dinner. She supposed Jaron wasn't likely to come down, not that she would see him anyway, eating in the kitchen; although, it might have been some comfort to know he hadn't disappeared completely.

After dinner, the copper-haired maiden sat at the kitchen table, head in one hand while the other tapped the thick wooden slab like piano keys. Perhaps she could find relief if she could just get the song out of her head? She stood, looked round at everyone, and with a sheepish shrug offered, "How about some music?" Not even Bella herself could have said what possessed her to invite the others along to the den to listen to her playing now, granted she never had before. It was arguably due to life in the city, but she didn't particularly care to have an audience when she played. If they wanted to stop in and listen, that was fine; purposefully inviting them to was something else entirely. It was like being made to attend or be the guest of honor at a party. This time was different in a way she couldn't describe.

"I don't have a name for this song. It.. came from a dream." Bella explained, adjusting the skirt of her dress as she sat in front of the grand instrument. She placed her fingers on the keys, drew her hands back, and replaced them on different keys. The first few measures were tentative, transitioning into a soft slow
song. If only for its duration, that dreamy feeling returned.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
What the escritoire lacked in its size and opulence compared to the grand desk in Jaron's study, it made up for with the utility it possessed having not yet been demolished by the prince, magnified tenfold by the prince's compulsive urge to write, he felt. As expected the escritoire's craftsmanship was exquisite still, characterized by the delicate grooves of the edges, ornamental carvings spiraling up its legs and the matching fauteuil with upholstery so soft it could keep its occupant comfortable for hours on end. Despite having the rare distinctive quality of not being laced in gold, perhaps a trait of all the furniture within Inverness's so called cloud annex holding therein the highest floors of the castle, the escritoire spared no luxury. Sitting there, it was the first time Jaron could remember setting ink to paper outside of the exalted study he reduced to debris and rubbish. He had yet to step foot inside since Bella fainted after a severe reaction to an aggressive magic.

Jaron could not bring the fragmented pieces of his desk, chairs and cabinets to mind without subsequently thinking of Bella, usually followed by ruminations of the petty exchange they shared precedent of the maiden departing with no intentions of arduously hauling Farren into the accursed woods again. Already it felt like a lifetime lingered between that day and the present afternoon. How fortunate, the prince felt all of a sudden, that she would not only return but stay, as long as it would take at that. Surely until her skin dried up and her bones withered to dust, it seemed she would remain. With cause to rejoice, Jaron found himself pulled to the escritoire with ink and quill pen at the ready, near the castles peak, as if he could not help to ascend as close to the heavens as his body would let him, albeit surely Bella's embrace had already elevated his soul into the realm of clouds where wind, heat and water dictated the sky.

In his blooming disposition, the words wrote themselves upon the paper as if governed by their own will, reducing the prince to a medium.


Thy endless daze of endless days and all the ways to take them
In stride, they loop, another loop on the other side
I circled through them one hundred thousand times
I've written down everything, things I would tell nobody
Things I won't admit stay trapped in my mind as I sleep on my back
My body waking up before me, I was eager then
For nothing to end, in hopes that phantom eyes
would not find me again, such a bother these ghosts
Just mirrors that reflect
myself, an idea
waiting for everything to begin
Already dead by the time we met
Thy endless daze of endless days
Found song and grace drenched, the rainwater
could not smother her flames, how eyes could burn like the sun
in such dread, I wonder. Let nothing set her blaze asunder
from this place, my home, bathed in new radiant colors
I must have walked through it alive for the first time; let it burn me to death
That my soul might find the space where life begins, wherever yours went

This is what I would do to show you it's special now

Quite conveniently, unlike the west and east wings, the cloud annex sat right in-between, thusly sparing the writing room from being bathed in direct sunlight during the summer. As the sun rose from the east and fell below the west horizon, the writing room remained shielded from the god rays bathing the land in vibrancy, having only one window to boot. It overlooked the entirety of the rose garden, even the stables could be seen in the distance at the elevation, albeit only barely. Jaron sat there in the writing room, agonizing over the words he penned and paying attention to the feelings that evoked them as long as his body would allow him. He peculiarly likened the sensation of writing to that of having his dislocated shoulder pop back into its socket; that strong wave of relief followed by setting his feelings onto their proper place upon the paper where they could remain and be forgotten. His euphoria became too great, too unstable; he was flying so high the sun set his wings ablaze.

Clueless of how long he sat at the desk, Jaron finally hid behind the curtains of the rooms only window, shying away from the light as he peered outside. As if there to taunt him, he could see a head of red hair making its way through the garden. He watched Bella until she disappeared in the distance, refusing to look away from where he saw her last until she finally made her way back from the stables. "You're just too damn nice." Jaron thought, spying on the maiden as she made her way back to the castle. Will she really be there, no matter what? That was the question lingering in Jaron's mind, a question he was too afraid to ask himself. And how could he ask Bella? To question the legitimacy of Bella's promise would be to assert that he did not trust her, that her word meant nothing to him. Besides, she was right there, wasn't she? Somehow, despite seeing her flesh and blood walk through the halls of Inverness with his own eyes, the prince didn't believe so.

No, he didn't
want to believe so. He didn't want anything to do with her, with the curse, with the castle. He simply wanted to be free, for everything to start from scratch, fair and square. Watching Bella in concert with the piano, listening to the somber notes as they reverberated through the den, was bittersweet. "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." Liza's words rang back and forth in Jaron's head until he had grown deaf to anything else. He decided to face Bella headstrong, despite every one of his nerves and muscles screaming, begging to turn around and walk the other way. He needed to know, was she really worried about him, did she really care? More importantly, did he feel the same about her? Regardless, she brought him more comfort than he had ever experienced in his whole life, for that he had a debt to repay.

"That was kind of a sad song, don't you think?" The Prince professed as the songs final key dwindled into silence. His footsteps into the den were quiet, masked by dancing piano keys. Everybody gawked at the prince as he crossed the space between the door and the piano, save for Imogen, who shut her eyes to better absorb the notes Bella played. The housekeeper was so enchanted by the music, her eyes shot open and she shrieked at the sight of Jaron standing there suddenly beside Bella. "Excuse me!" Filled to the brim with embarrassment, she was the first to quit everyone's company, nearly dashing out of the room. The Prince stood there prim and proper, having dressed accordingly for his confrontation with the forge house maiden and her supple fiery hair. Despite having her blood to thank for his reinvigorated condition, he seemed like a blooming rose as he stood there, that is to say, he looked more alive than ever, perhaps more than he ever would.

The kindling, cackling firewood in the hearth burned pleasantly, the flames glowing upon Jaron's pale complexion, adding color to it slightly. He took his seat at the piano beside Bella,
"Must have been a bad dream." He added, hesitant to return her gaze in fear that doing so might prompt a verbal response from the maiden. She had played an objectively gloomy tune, albeit that was not to say Jaron did not enjoy it, or that her performance was disappointing. "Henry tells me, you're actually quite talented with the piano." He continued, not taking his eyes off the keys. The Prince spoke slowly, not sparing ample time in-between his sentences for Bella to form a response, not because he assumed Bella was slow, but so that she might linger on the words longer rather than anxiously ponder his intentions behind them. They had only been apart from each other for an afternoon and most of the evening and already the prince could feel the awkward tension between them resurface.

He wanted her to be genuine and cordial with him; to speak not because she felt pressured to by etiquette but only when she felt there was really something for her to say. As far as the prince cared, Inverness was her home and he was simply living in it. "Perhaps we could play something more...spirited?" He suggested, finally locking onto her gaze. Then, he figured, much like they did on the ezinime ballroom, that they might better understand each other if they communicated by a different means and simply began to
play the keys.
 
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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.
Evening light gold-edged the rich red drapes, turning the velvet it touched to a ruddy hue. It dared stretch no farther than the luxuriant folds that muffled its vibrant colors, leaving the den in a cast of purple shadow, which the fire burning in the hearth caused to deepen and shiver and quake across each surface its light didn't flicker over. Bella's back was to the chocolate leather-upholstered sofa and chairs, one reason she chose this particular room as compared to the numerous others that had pianos and not least because it was such a room that she could actually remember where it was off the top of her head. The furniture wasn't oriented to give a direct view of her playing, either, a small added comfort to the awkward situation that was having an audience which she made herself in the first place. In some recess of her memory, tucked away so deeply it might have been covered in dust and cobwebs, was the recollection of her tutor declaring that music was meant to be shared wherever the opportunity presented itself.

Bella was not thinking back to lessons or the drawings on of her tutor, though she was in the blue and gold ballroom of her family's chateau in a sense. Her eyes were closed to the den and the piano beneath her fingers, opening every now and again to peek at the keys. What she saw was the distortedly large ballroom from her dream, the glorious gowns of the dancers around her reduced to blurred, slow sweeps of color as her eyes focused forward on the serious blue irises of a young man set in a child's face. The song flowing from her memory out of her fingertips kept time. She could feel her bustling skirts sway in the guided direction of each box step as she followed a young Jaron's lead; she could feel the velvet panel of his coat under her left hand and his gloved hand under her right. If only for the duration of the song, she could relive that feeling that she so longed after all day.

The ballroom faded as the final notes died, the toe of Bella's shoe releasing the sostenuto pedal that prolonged them as her fingers released the keys. Movement in her peripheral vision pulled her eyes away from the gleaming ivory and she half expected to see one of the children standing by her. The prince's voice registered before his person. Despite the hearth was behind her, the fire still found her eyes to set alight, perhaps due to the fact that they grew so wide at the sight of him. He was painted with living color, siphoning the cold marble from his being until all that remained of it was his striking features. He absorbed her, so much that Bella didn't even notice that Imogen fled the den, so much that all she could manage to do was shift sideways to allow him more room beside her on the padded bench. All day she worried that she wouldn't see him, that she wouldn't get to ask about the dream, that she wouldn't get to experience that feeling again. Now that he was there, she couldn't find any words with which to tell him so.

Perhaps words weren't necessary? The anxious tension was palpable, it was so thick. Then, it was possible that it was only Bella feeling that way and this was the culmination of her long day of worrying. Only did her expression change when the prince mentioned Henry, albeit only from one shade of surprise to another. Her initial shock was replaced with bemusement. In the first days she spent at the castle, she seemed to recall accidentally eavesdropping on a conversation the two men had about her whereas the piano was mentioned. Did he expect her to put Henry's money where his mouth was? That hardly struck her as his intention, especially when his gaze finally connected with her own.

"We?" Bella wondered distantly at the word. She didn't need to ask or even really think about what he meant in order to understand. She didn't need to look away from him. Her fingers adjusted themselves on the keys they never left and began to play of their own accord. When she finally peeled her eyes from Jaron, a smile crept its way onto her lips. They were dancing a different sort of waltz, one that made her heart flutter. At one point, she extended her reach to his side of the piano, her arm crossed over top of his. While uplifting, the song was slow. What better way to liven up a song than a little improvisation? Between the changes of tempo and watching Jaron's playing, Bella was beaming. She was comfortable, happy even. It was safe to say that she was in her element.

As the sun that was their song set, even the den felt bright and warm like a sunny afternoon. Bella found Jaron in the corner of her eye before turning her head to face him. She wanted to reach out and touch him, to see if she was in fact awake and not somehow dreaming again. Could something like this even happen outside of a dream? Well, why not? They embraced that morning - she could still feel his cool touch on her skin. Jaron smiled and laughed, too! Perhaps she ought to pinch herself to make sure the whole day hadn't been a dream? Her lips parted only to close again as she couldn't decide exactly what she wanted to say to him, her tongue twisted behind them with the thousand words that rushed to its tip.

"It wasn't... a bad dream." The redhead said finally. The atmosphere in the den was the same as it had been in the corridor; the rest of the room and its occupants seemed far away, like it was only the two of them. Her smile was without pretense or formality, genuine and congenial. "Even if it was, it was worth it."
 
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Vampire Queen
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Jaron's hands, having taken a life of their own upon the keys, finally retracted, bending to his idle will such as they typically would. "Good, I'm glad." He replied. The meager four letter word he professed to be his feeling in Bella's regard did little justice for the range of emotions flooding the prince at that given moment when he turned to face the fiery redhead only as she began speaking to him. Truthfully, he was disoriented, quite as if there was indeed a flood of water, with fierce currents that made him their reluctant passenger, helpless to their power. It was all too similar. He could not breathe easy, he could not know for certain where he was being lead and above all else, it was a dangerous thing; to abandon the solid ground that was lonely seclusion and dive headfirst into the roaring waters that was Bella's company. No, certainly the meager four letter word brought no justice to the experience that was looking back into her eyes. Nevertheless, that was Jaron's secret. Maybe someday he could share it with her.

For now, the music and the joy it evoked from the two spoke for both of them, he felt. As the notes faded into the perpetual gloom of tranquil silence comprised of every square foot and inch of Inverness, the prince would have been content to sit there on the piano bench, staring at the black and white keys all night and would not have blamed Bella if she were to excuse herself without a word and carried on with the rest of her night without him, than to say another word to Bella, thusly dampening the aura of their song that now coated the den. Or so he thought, until Bella finally broke the silence between them and yet, the prince was not evidently hesitant to address the elephant in the room. Just as he returned to sporting the sharp jacket, smooth fabrics and cozy cravats typically expected of him, so to did that indifferent demeanor return and realize itself upon him, masking the merciless storm raging behind Jaron's statue-esque expression. Bella's words almost seemed to pass through one of his ears and out the other, finding little consideration in-between.

To tell the truth of it, Jaron was terrified. The way he found her, the way she looked at him, spoke to him, what she said, it wasn't simply perfect but better than anything he anticipated whilst spending all day building the courage to face her. The prince must have just as well been dreaming again, he too felt and after already having been convinced otherwise. At that, he turned to shoot Henry a dubious glance, eyebrow raised. The captain had not taken his eyes off of the prince since he sat down. When the young man turned to face him, he could almost feel the wind being knocked out of his stomach. Even Henry couldn't help to become enchanted by the sight of Jaron and Bella playing together and conversing, albeit timidly but just as friendly it seemed. The prince's glare carried such intensity, it was like the two had exchanged a thousand words in the blink of an eye. Henry sprung up from the couch instantly,
"Let's go!" he exclaimed, glaring at Amarinda, Tobias and Sophia as he spoke. "Bravo, bravo!" Landon cheered exuberantly whilst clapping a firm and fervent round of applause for Jaron and Bella's star crossed performance at the piano. Chuckling, the blonde stood up and placed a hand on Sophia's shoulder, "Come on little one, how about some hot chocolate and marshmallows?"

Bemused, Sophia's eyes instinctively shot at Henry, then back to Landon, assuming they had sprung some sort of test of discipline on her out of the blue. Landon simply beamed at the girl as he stood beside her, so she held Henry's gaze fast, brows furrowed. "Let's go." The captain insisted, gesturing to the door.

As Henry herded the kids out of the den, Landon couldn't help but double take at the star crossed couple or the hardy chuckle that escaped him as he looked away, ushering Sophia towards the door, his arm wrapped lovingly around the princess's back as he cupped her shoulder in his palm. Sophia kept her eyes trained on Bella until she stepped through the door. Jaron waited, seated still on the padded bench, until everyone disappeared from his peripheral, before he focused again on Bella, his back to the door still. His eyebrow fell, face assuming the façade of its previous disposition; blank and indifferent.
"You're not going to join them?" He asked her, albeit he posed his pronunciation of the words more so matter-of-factly, rather than as if he were asking a question. The prince eyed the ruddy velvet drapes as she spoke, then fell back upon the fiery maiden, taking her in, only averting his gaze to take note of the time on the gold pocket watch he pulled from his coat pocket. Not realizing he was forgetting to breathe, but otherwise seemingly composed, the prince took in a deep breath whilst sliding his watch back into his coat before setting his eyes on Bella's, "The sun should be setting by now." He asserted, "Let's go for a walk."
 
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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.
A pensive silence fell over the den between Bella's words and Henry herding the children out of the room. It lent a thickness like honey to the air and filled the redhead's ears until the brief bustle of her audience sounded as though she had a pillow pressed over them. It was peaceful and the sense of comfort awarded by the song and the prince's company remained, yet that preternatural tranquility lacked something that she couldn't quite put a name to. Perhaps she oughtn't have spoken at all; although, she had hoped it would spark answers to the questions that circled over her head and made each hour stretch dreadfully long. Bella turned on the bench, swinging her legs round the side, to watch Henry and Landon usher a reluctant Sophia out the door with the promise of hot chocolate, offering the little girl a smile and a small wave. Jaron's voice registered clear and deep like the open ocean, unaffected by the muffled cotton quality of the atmosphere, drawing her attention.

"I don't really like cocoa." Bella murmured, a sheepish shrug pulling her bare shoulders towards her ears and deepening the hollows of her neck. It wasn't the reason she decidedly stayed put, as surely if she tagged along to the kitchen, she could easily make herself some tea; however, it was an honest response and the only one she could conjure. Her eyes followed the movement of the prince's hand, spying the golden watch before it slipped completely into his pocket. The last time she saw it, which also happened to be the first, just so happened to be the first and last time the prince suggested they take a walk. It was different then; there might as well have been a wall between them. Now, it seemed whatever barrier existed then no longer remained. Something changed. The strange, momentary reluctance to meet his gaze subsided as instantly as it had come, allowing her to return it as unabashedly as she had that morning and in the dream. A simple nod was the only response necessary.

The sun receded beyond the tops of the farthest trees, casting over the forest and Inverness a veil of shadow. Only the highest tower of the castle still caught what little light endured, setting its cool gray stones on fire. The sky overhead was already dark, a mix of bluish-black and deep purple dotted with stars. The clouds were an array of vibrant orange, pink, and lavender; the sky on the horizon was nearly the same hue as Bella's eyes. It was cool for a summer night and mostly cloudless, perfect for a walk in the garden and for stargazing. Bella walked beside the prince, head back to stare up into infinity. Her steps made little noise on the paved stone path despite the short heels on her shoes. The waxing moon watched them knowingly.

"It's a summer sky, but the night is autumn. Summer will be over in just a few weeks." Bella thought aloud to no one in particular, not looking away from the sky even long enough to watch where she was going. She clasped her hands behind her, nearly hidden in the pale turquoise skirts of her summer dress that the moonlight turned a pale mint green. "I'll have been here.. two months?" Her eyes shifted down to glance sidelong at the golden chain of Jaron's watch, glimmering yellow against his jacket. Time was something she generally didn't think about since she began her stay. It was easier to take things day by day and to look no further than tomorrow. She looked up again at the stars, fancying she could imagine herself among them if she squinted.

"Oh! A shooting star!" Gasping, Bella grasped Jaron's sleeve in one hand and pointed with the other. The star itself was already gone and its tail zipped to catch up to it. There was only a small window of opportunity. "Quick, make a wish!" She clasped her hands together over her lips, fingers interlaced and eyes clamped shut. A few seconds passed before she opened them again, her heart beating fast, and found Jaron's eyes. What was it that made them so calming and yet so enthralling to stare into? They simultaneously answered her questions and made her question everything. If he was thinking the same thing, she would never know it.
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
Safe from searing agony, the prince crossed the length of grass between the edge of the castle and the rose garden in stride, his eyes fixed on their path upon the smooth paved stone. He walked closely beside Bella, looking out for the both of them, stealing glances at her face in the meantime as she star gazed. She became like a mirror when she spoke, or better yet the ocean; the prince was at the mercy of her vast profound, still and reflective as it was. He could see in her remarks of the seasons that he was so unacquainted with her, just as she was with him. Jaron pondered how the differences between them were so at play to draw her closer to him and intertwine their lives. That was to say that Bella's whole life lead her to him, yet he could only be certain that what set them apart was bringing them closer together, perhaps making them more alike than he knew. In his current state, the prince felt there was not much about him worth getting to know and yet, wouldn't she feel the same, he wondered.

Jaron's eyes widened at the tug of his sleeve. He instantly assumed that Bella could hear his thoughts, half-expecting her to turn to him and say she didn't feel she was worth knowing about either. Following her eyes, Jaron thought he might have caught a glimpse of the raging stars tail end, unsure whether he had imagined it since Bella was so adamant that he should bear witness. He could not have reacted quickly enough, the prince seemed nearly horrified, albeit only briefly and that had fortunately subsided when Bella opened her eyes. Meeting her gaze, he averted his eyes to the sky for the second time since stepping foot outside, finally appreciating the pretty scenery Bella had refused to take her eyes off of. "I have too many wishes. I can hardly choose one." he admitted blankly, returning to Bella's picturesque face, "Should I close my eyes, too?" he asked just as blankly in an effort to please her, not terribly unfamiliar with the concept of wishing on stars.

It was reminiscent of his days before Inverness, albeit he could only recall how he wasn't meant to tell the wish out loud, lest he should hope for it not to come true. Jaron was quick to dismiss the notion of relying on magic stars to get things done, which he deemed superstitious to himself in that second. "Bella, if you ever need something, or want something, you tell me." He declared in his firmly resounding tone so seriously all of a sudden. He wanted to tell her to just go home, there wasn't a doubt in his mind she wanted to, he would be her shooting star then and send her off. Yet, he couldn't bring himself to push her away anymore, it seemed with the passing of time she was making it harder for him to do so. To make her feel unwanted and unwelcomed was such a dreadful idea now. "No matter what it could be, do you understand? Whatever it is, if you want it, I'll do everything within my power to make it happen." He said to her in a manner that made his authority appear quite clear, pressing a finger firmly against the center of his chest. Perhaps the prince was boldly beginning to bite off more than he could chew with his claiming to make Bella's every wish come true, he did consider that before opening his mouth, as he typically did when saying anything. However, if Bella were to reveal her truest desires, then the prince might understand her better as a person. Furthermore, it could make her intentions, her feelings, more clear. Simply put, he just wanted to know if he could make her happy.

"There must be something." He added as softly as he could, his expression unraveling its own stern tension. Jaron might have wished upon the star to know Bella's truest desires, if he cared to. Wasn't it more convenient for both of them to be straightforward and ask her directly? Granted, he might have demanded to know but he was at least confident she was not so extravagant that a prince could not satisfy her needs and desires. Or perhaps she was, the prince wondered, if so she certainly had him fooled. He could only hope it was not in her heart of hearts to travel, see the world and all its wondrous and far off lands and even if that was the case, he would like to know. She seemed to have made herself comfortable, at least well enough so in the time since she decided not to leave Inverness, especially with everyone showering her in warm amity, respect and admiration, like she were some perfect angel that could do no wrong. In all fairness, she did seem that way to the prince. Too kind, too selfless. Yet she dressed so quaintly still than what might be expected of a young lady from the city, especially one so familiar with music and dancing, and with access to what was arguably some of the finest clothes and jewelry in the kingdom, yet her body remained divested of such luxuries; she was clearly worth quite more than such ordinary fashion.

Jaron sensed Bella might not feel so comfortable confessing her deepest secrets then and there with him glaring her down like she were a tart. Musing upon her, he thought back to the only time he could remember Bella ever asking anything of him, at least since she had begged him to let her return home. Not wanting to upset her, he reluctantly changed the subject by reaching into his coat pocket. "To tell you the truth, I stole this." Jaron confessed as the gold chain of his watch dangled amid the dimly twilight dusk. With the click of a pocket-sized button, the round golden plate flipped open much like that of an ornamental locket holding precious memories therein, revealing numerals and clock hands pressed against a pristine white framework. With each passing second, the longer hand gradually ascended clockwise to the next minute. The time appeared to be eight-thirty four after midday. "You asked if my watch was a gift." He began, not taking his softened eyes off the hour hand, "The truth is, I stole this from a man living in the city. I don't know who he was, and I never paid him for it." Balling his hand into a fist, the golden casing closed shut. Jaron fiddled with the watch so that it sat in-between his fingers and thumb and Bella could see the workmanship clearly, "Judging by the engravings, I assumed he was a merchant." At a certain angle, when the shadows danced just right, she could make out the image of a ship at sea decorating the golden plate.

Jaron hardly let Bella notice the ship for herself before closing his hand into a fist again, hiding the watch beneath his fingers. He unhooked the chain from his coat with the other hand and proceeded to reach his arm outwards until his hand was nearly brushing Bella's chest before opening his palm and revealing the watch again, this time where she could see it more clearly, as it was nearly right under her nose.
"You want it? It's yours." He said, insisting the bold claim he made just moments ago. "You could have the clothes on my back, if you wish." He added, perhaps without the second thought he typically considered before speaking, "Just say the word."
 
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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.
Long it seemed Bella gazed at Jaron over the tops of her hands, her lips working behind them. How easy it was to forget that he was a prince, when if for a moment, he divulged to her something about himself that only made him more relatable. Too many wishes could be said of anyone; although, it was reeling to think that a prince, someone who ought to want for nothing, had too many wishes. Yet the realization didn't return him to princedom in her mind's eye. It made him more human still and evoked a wave of sympathy; in retropsect, guessing what he might wish for was simple enough considering the massacre and his current situation. Perhaps he wished he could go back in time to stop it or even that it never happened? In truth, Bella's own wishes were arguably similar, albeit hardly realistic. Perhaps one day, the wish she made upon that star would come true. Pushing that aside, Bella let her hands drop with a smile, and shook her head.

"I don't suppose so. I've always done it that way, but I don't think closing your eyes is required to make a wish." Her gaze returned to the sky, watching the spot where the star had vanished. The moon lit her eyes from the rich body of a Vin Santo to a light Sauternes, lending them a fey quality that was not their own. "I have it on good authority that there are two things in the world that can grant wishes: shooting stars and butterflies. It has to be a heartfelt wish, though, or so I've heard." Mild humor twitched on the corner of her lips and there was a wry undercurrent to her words. Both her mother and governess had told her such stories, usually at the child's behest, after which she would go search for things to wish upon and daydream. Falling stars were few and far between, and as such, so were wishes upon them. Wishing upon butterflies wasn't something the maiden had done since she was a child, when they were abundant in the Montagnes' city chateau garden eight months out of the year. The garden here was strangely lacking in butterflies as it was in squirrels and other small animals that inhabited gardens everywhere else.

"Of course, the only butterfly I've seen around here grants trouble, not wishes." Bella thought, peeling her longing heavenward stare away to focus it on Jaron. They widened, clearly reflecting how taken aback she was by not only his sudden display of authority, but the words with which he implemented it as well. How convenient the night came to be in that moment, and Bella was glad for it, for surely Jaron couldn't tell that she was blushing even in the pale light of the moon and stars. Her head dipped downward, chin nearly pressed to her collarbone, until her copper fringe slid from where it was swept to the side and obscured any direct eye contact. He had become a prince again in an instant, leaving her scrambling for a response. If he had asked her before what such things she wished for, she would have told him, despite that fact she didn't think her wants or wishes were worth troubling oneself over. The only person who ever asked her what she wanted without limitation was her father, who would ask his daughters if there was anything he could bring them when he travelled for business. Hugh knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't care for jewels or dresses as her sister would; her tastes were more obscure for a girl. She favored books and the occasional bit and bauble or artisan piece. Before she was old enough to ride, he had brought her a carved wooden horse that she often played with. Those were not necessarily the types of things she still wished for however pleasing she found them.

"Something I want? What do I want? What do I like?" Her mind was blank. Her mouth opened and shut, her throat tight. She wanted to tell him that he needn't concern himself about her needs or wants, they were but trivial matters for a prince. Then she realized that there was his honor and pride as a prince to be considered, not to mention he was making a genuine gesture. It was unexpected to say the least, but no less appreciated. She only wanted to be helpful. "Oh, right! I should start with.." "Thank you." Bella brushed her hair from her eyes with the back of her index finger. It was all she could manage as she swallowed her self-induced panic. Still trying not to overthink it, the redhead might have missed what Jaron was talking about if he hadn't clarified. Her brain seized upon the golden trinket, more than happy to abandon the arduous task of second-guessing and trying to ascertain the philosophical meanings of "need" and "want" in favor of changing the subject.

"What a naughty thing to do. But who am I to speak? I was a pastry thief, myself." Bella raised an eyebrow at the prince's confession, amusement playing across her face. She bent forward to take a better look at the watch, barely managing to glimpse the engraving before Jaron's hand closed over it. For a second, she guessed that he was protective of it; however, he held it out so closely that Bella found herself leaning backward. She stole a brief glance between Jaron and the watch then gingerly took it between her index fingers and thumbs. Up close, she could better make out the image engraved on the front of the casing. "Oh, I think that's a cutter." She squinted over the boat. It was a small ship with a single mast and four billowing sails, three of which were small enough that they could have fit inside the fourth. The bow was tipped up by a large wave, its thin lines seemed to churn like stormy seas. The bowsprit reached all the way to the rounded edge of the casing where it broke into the pattern of interlocked swirls that framed the vessel. She turned the watch sideways, looking all around it and then on the back and even on the inside of the cover.

"Huh.. No initials. Usually a piece like this would be monogramed, as it's custom-made, either with the initials of the owner or the artisan. Papa's is, on the inside. The craftsman ship is very fine." The calculating look of a merchant's daughter left Bella as she placed the watch in Jaron's hand and closed his fingers around it. She smiled with not just her lips but her eyes. "Thank you, but.." She leaned in conspiratorially, her hand still holding his, and whispered, "I don't think they'll fit." Their eyes met as she leaned back, laughter gleaming in them like a twinkling star. Perhaps he ought to have thought better of that statement. "Really, I do appreciate it. More than I can say." Bella's hand slid away and she turned, observing the path in front of them. "I guess if, if there was something I would ask for this very moment, it- it would be.. answers." She nudged the toe of her shoe against the stone, hesitant to ask. So desperately did she want answers, but she would hate to bring it up only to have been wrong and to thusly look foolish. "I had the most insane dream. I kept forgetting that I was dreaming and yet.. I was sure that, well, that you were real. Then, so much of it seemed real sometimes, and--" Bella stumbled over what she wanted to say, unsure of how exactly to say it. She was evading Jaron's eyes, blushing profusely; however, by some miracle, managed to force herself to look at him. "Did I dream truly?"
 
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Marceline

Vampire Queen
Genres
moth
Talk of such petty theft only brought Jaron back again to the city; its labyrinth of alleyways and bountiful life, bustling sidewalks and richly established market squares. It may not have been so rich with culture as the citadel capital or perhaps Carthya's more distinguished coastal avenues such as Valford, bringing in foreign trade via ports and possibly more than his city had to offer, but to Jaron the idea was nothing more than semantics glossing over what really mattered. If being free to walk through the streets among his people was the important thing, then maybe the prince would wish for that freedom.

But the nostalgia Bella evoked in him made it feel like he was remembering the city, almost as if he were walking through it, for the first time. It was a dreamy feeling and like a breath of fresh air when he remembered it. If Jaron had to describe what being in Bella's presence felt like, he would feel it in the same way, too. The way she spoke enchanted the prince and he could barely focus on exactly what she was saying, like he were drifting in and out of a dream before Bella could finish her sentence.

She painted the city in the same vivid colors as it were to a young prince, like a doorway to the past, and in an instant deterred him from walking through it lest he should find himself distracted from her. Suddenly and somehow freedom was the least of Jaron's worries and he couldn't even realize the fact he had never shared the story of his watch with anyone before, having kept it secret up until the very moment. He could not help returning her smile albeit slightly as she restored his childhood treasure, perhaps not to its rightful place. Then his smile was almost as full as hers. As Bella's eyes left Jaron, he was nearly beaming at her. By the time they had returned, the prince met her amber gaze with somber despondence. She terrified him again, being so reserved about the answers she sought for, and Jaron realized for the second time that he could describe Bella's presence in a myriad of ways depicting sorrow and solace, likely in that order. He hoped she would be the first to ask, he wanted to see her reaction to the memory of them, to have her affirm that something special had indeed transpired between the both of them. As much as he hated to admit it, he was thankful for it. Surely she felt the same, she must have just said so to his face moments ago, after their song.


"I remember the long puffed sleeves of your ballgown - and our dance." Jaron began, turning away from Bella, luring her deeper through the garden towards its rosy arbor. He was avoiding her now with his eyes, lest he should lose his train of thought upon her. The prince's cold, indifferent façade melted away and he was as vulnerable as he was close to Bella; he walked so closely beside her they were nearly brushing arms. "I must have looked about as old as I was when I stole my watch, and you must have looked about as old as you were when you were stealing eclairs, or am I mistaken?" Jaron tried his best to tread upon the subject of the ezinime warily and hesitated to say anything more. Before he knew it, his legs were suddenly attached to the smooth stone paving beneath him and he could not move forward one more step. His eyes grew weary, fell low and his chin became heavy as he gazed down at Bella's shoes. "I love you, Bella." The words clawed at the prince's throat, begging to be free. His chest was pounding as pins and needles stabbed at the young mans fingertips. Yet Jaron would not dare show his hand and speak the feeling into existence. Maybe Bella felt the same and would return the gesture. Nevertheless it would be a selfish and rude thing to do and their ethereal evening would be spoiled by his own desires he felt were not worthy of her attention. This night was hers, as was every single one that would come after, as long as Inverness was her home. Jaron thought she deserved more than an empty castle and a forgotten prince.

"You're a fine dancer." He solemnly confessed whilst shoe gazing, still avoiding Bella's soft moonlit hair and her golden eyes "I hoped for the chance to tell you, when everything was back to normal. Now I have, and I'm thankful for it." And he was. Finally, Jaron realized Bella's company was priceless. The more he lingered on the fact, the sadder it made him. He was afraid he could never make Bella as happy as she deserved 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.
Panic could not begin to describe the sensation that swept over Bella as she rotated her body in order to follow Jaron with her eyes more fully. It was as though the cool night slipped under her skin and into her blood and chilled her. Anxiety did the feeling little justice; however, it was not so overwhelming and grievous as dread. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Bella recognized the fear. The trouble was that she had no way to justify it. What was she afraid of? Her heart beat very much faster as the prince turned away, her body subtly shivering until her stomach drew painfully tight. In truth, she was scared of what he would say, of finding out the truth about the dream was not what she thought it was. She was scared that the moments she and the prince had shared were little more than a product of the dream, a figment of imagination. Just the possibility was saddening and made her heart ache in a way that she couldn't understand. Bella was only partially aware of this as she trudged along beside Jaron, unable to look his way.

If not for his deep intonation, the prince's words likely wouldn't have made it past the pounding of the girl's heartbeat in her ears. Her eyes, which she kept trained on the wall of roses on her other side, widened and stole a timid sidelong peek at him. The fear faded, leaving in its wake a warm tingling; and she released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, the weight lifted from her chest. So the dream had been true! It was relieving, uplifting. The quivering in Bella's stomach was replaced all at once with a fluttering, albeit somewhat dissimilar to the usual butterflies. It was warm, comparable only to the feeling of reuniting with someone after a long time separated and embracing them. As though to make sure this was real, she reached out to graze the tip of a finger against an exposed thorny rose stem. The sharp protrusions pricked her skin without breaking it. "What is wrong with me? I need to calm down." The thought came with the unpleasant memory of her wishy-washy doppelganger, who she vehemently denied was anything like her.

"Not at all. Spot on, actually." Bella half-smiled ruefully down at her shoes. "Were you very accurate, then? Oddly enough, I was not. At that age, my hair was much longer. It hasn't been that short since I first cut it." It hadn't occurred to her to think that accuracy wasn't the point of her much younger appearance in the dream, much less that it had some obscure meaning behind it. She took a couple of steps before she realized that Jaron's shoes were no longer in her line of sight and paused, turning on her heels to face him. The turquoise shoes, which were a few shades darker than her dress and adorned with swaths of pink, swished softly on the stone. His compliment flushed her cheeks to very nearly the same hue. "I'm glad. I remembered the song before I remembered anything else. It was lovely, the dance, at least until - well.." The redhead rambled, not wanting to recall the details of the harrowing events after the music stopped. She could almost feel the weight of those ridiculous puffed sleeves on her arms.

"I'm just glad I was able to find you." The words were barely above a murmur, spoken with the relief and contentment of a sigh. The moon found the gentle curiosity in her face to limn in blue as she picked her head up and lifted her eyes. "Where did you go, after you found me in the tower? I half expected to find you in the woods, but all I found was a wolf-man and Red Riding Hood." A pale brow arched upward, her hair sliding as her head tilted a few degrees to the right. Being that Bella had experienced an absurd caper, it stood to reason that Jaron ought to have had quite the experience himself. Of course, mention of a wolf-man begged explanation, which she provided without apprehension. From finding Bell in the tower to meeting Lupo and the red-hooded girl, from meeting a mockery of herself and her family to the ballroom dance, and to the subsequent run through her childhood home Bella divulged every detail she could recall to the prince. If not for the awful tea that Henry gave her that morning, she likely wouldn't have remembered any of it. Some things were still fuzzy, for instance the reason she was so distraught while the two danced and the memory of her mother. The only inkling she had of the latter was the words to the song and she might not have even remembered that if she hadn't sang them with such hope that they would lead her to Jaron.

The tale they spun over the past five days lasted until they passed through the gate at the end of the garden and made their way across the expanse of green. In what might have been a moment of silence between them, Bella hummed the tune of the music box song that she didn't know had words before, as if committing the lyrics to memory. The notes dropped off on a wistful sigh with an undercurrent of longing. "I kind of wish I had my music box. I remembered, in the dream, my mother teaching me the words to the song. Heh! If I'd been tall enough to reach it, I probably would have stolen that, too; but it was already long mine by then. It's one of few things I really treasure."
 
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