Chapter Two

Lynn’s heart was still pounding, but she was willing to accept Marlow’s story, however wild it was. She didn’t feel like herself today. That dream last night, and the zaps she got from touching Stanley this morning made her think that something supernatural was going on. Even now, with his arm around her shoulders, Lynn felt odd. She felt safe, even in the presence of these strange men, as if Stanley’s arm were enough to truly protect her if one of them attacked.
Marlow’s eyebrows arched in surprise as Stanley demanded he prove what he was saying. He looked uncertainly back at Spiro and they shared a shrug. He stepped back and studied Lynn. He reached out hesitantly and poked her in the arm. She flinched back, rubbing the spot he’d touched. His fingertips were sharp.
“Ouch!” she said. “Why’d you do that?”
“You must’ve only just put the ring on,” He said to Stanley. “The female shouldn’t be able to touch others at all. She’ll feel pain if she does.”
Lynn sucked in a shocked breath, thinking of this morning again. It was as if Marlow had read her mind. “Pain?”
“Yes,” Marlow nodded. “Even from her partner, if he doesn’t give her previous permission to touch him.”
“Like a zap…” Lynn trailed off, looking sheepishly at Stanley, who’s eyes were wide with disbelief.
Marlow hesitated before nodding again. “It turns into a burning later on, you’ll notice.”
Lynn hugged herself. Stanley continued to glare disbelievingly. Marlow saw this and said, “You need more proof? You’ll see in days to come. I’ve never heard of the bond being used on humans before--even behind the dark border. By now you should have a fair amount of control over her. Go ahead and try that if you want your proof.”
“You’re crazy,” Stanley accused.
“Tell her to do something,” Marlow returned impatiently.
Lynn’s eyes were wide. She looked up at Stanley fearfully. Her mind couldn’t handle this anymore. What other explanation was there for what happened today? What Marlow was saying had to be true. There was something strange going on, if not in Stanley, then certainly inside of Lynn.
“Go ahead,” she told him.
. . .
Stanley sighed in irritation. This Marlow wasn’t safe to be around. They needed to leave.
“This is ridiculous. I’m not listening to this crap anymore. Come on Lynn,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Lynn turned with Stanley and walked quickly away from Marlow. She glanced back, seeing that Marlow held a smug expression on his face. Stanley kept his arm around her, looking back at Marlow too and frowning as he saw what Lynn had seen. He looked to Lynn and, to his shock, she was crying. Big rolling tears dribbled down her cheeks and dripped off her chin. She looked at Stanley as they walked, her eyes full of sadness and fear.
“What’s wrong?” he demanded in a whisper.
“I don’t think we should leave,” she told him, wiping her eyes.
“But why are you crying?”
“You told me to leave,” she said.
“What?” he stopped walking, but she kept going, walking away from him.
“Lynn!” he called.
She kept going, turning back to look at him fearfully.
“Stanley--make it stop--”
Stanley stood watching Lynn fight with herself, his body numb. There was no way any of this was real. Maybe he never actually got out of bed this morning, and this was just a long dream. Lynn’s face was crumbling, and she was getting farther and farther away.
“Stop!” Stanley shouted, jolting himself to reacting. He stumbled back a few steps and she stopped walking. The woods were suddenly completely silent. Lynn was sobbing into her hands. Stanley was terrified and confused. He looked at Marlow, who remained silent and still where they’d left him. Spiro was still just shaking his head.
“Call her back now!” Spiro advised nervously. “Please, we want to get this all resolved before anyone else becomes involved.”
“Do you believe me now?” Marlow asked them solemnly.
Lynn nodded furiously, her face still hidden. Stanley stood frozen. He didn’t understand. What just happened?
Marlow reached into the pocket of his jeans, taking out a vile the length of his hand--filled with red liquid. He beckoned them over to him. Stanley hesitated, but then made himself walk over. He turned around, confused when Lynn didn’t follow.
“Order her to do as she wills until you say otherwise,” Marlow murmured, ashamedly uncorking the vile and not looking at Stanley.
For a moment Stanley didn’t say anything. This was a load of crap. But Lynn was seriously crying. “Uh…Lynn?” Stanley said slowly. “Do what you want until…I tell you not to.”
Lynn relaxed her stiff and frightened stance and looked up at him, her hands rubbing away her tears. Her eyes searched his for an answer that he couldn’t give her. He waved her over to him and she ran, reaching for him and then drawing back at the last second--afraid of getting shocked again. Stanley frowned at her, not wanting to believe that anything strange would happen if they touched each other. She grabbed a handful of his t-shirt, her eyes wide and afraid, waiting for him to speak. He looked away from her, trying to keep his thoughts from flying all over the place.
“You’ll need to drink this,” Marlow said, holding out the vile. “It will transport you to our world.”
Spiro took another vile from his pocket, looking warily at Marlow. “Both of them?” he asked.
“I fear another brawl coming on if we leave this male behind,” Marlow said, giving Stanley a toothy smile, as if Stanley were an angry, brainless animal. Stanley swelled, glaring.
“How do we know you won’t just knock us out with that stuff and kill us?” Stanley asked him angrily. His throat was dry. He couldn’t believe this was happening. He was really buying this.
“The ring is what I need,” Marlow answered. “This Lynn female will be safe until the last few days of summer. By then the ring will have realized that she isn’t an elf. Elvin skin changes with the seasons. As summer ends--when the rings realizes what Lynn is--it will spread a poison through her body. To kill her so that it can be taken off of her and given to another elf or destroyed.”
“But summer is over in two weeks,” Stanley heard fall out of his mouth. He looked at Marlow, wondering if he knew how short two weeks could fly by. “Two weeks,” he repeated.
“Marlow, you’re telling them too much,” Spiro said quietly behind his brother. “Stop.”
“I disagree,” Marlow countered irritably. “The more they know, the more silent and cooperative they’ll be. If they act out while we’re…” the brother’s shared a wide eyed look that obviously meant they both knew where they’d be. “They’ll blow our cover and we’ll all end up dead.”
“What?” Stanley cut in, panic in his voice. “What did you say?”
Marlow looked at Stanley guiltily. “The bond will progress--affect you in ways much stronger than a human could ever be able to feel naturally.” he told him. “By the end of it you’ll be so closely bonded that when she dies--” he corrected himself quickly as he caught the horrified look on Lynn’s face. “If--if she dies, then you will die with her.”
“How should that make us trust you any more?” Stanley demanded, too afraid and confused to work any malice into his tone.
“Well,” Marlow answered weakly. “With any luck this will only take one day, so you don’t need to worry. I’m meant to meet Katrina tonight. You three can hide in the shadows, and I’ll ask her to bond with me and…” he thought about it. “The ring should simply fall off of Lynn and I can then subtly give it to Katrina without her noticing. It should work out fine. Then you can go home.”
“Your emotional states will affect your actions.” Spiro cut in. “And if your emotional states are well and content, you will act as needed to get this journey finished as quickly as possible.”
“So what you’re saying is that you won’t hurt us because you want us to behave?” Lynn asked, her voice strained.
Marlow chuckled. “That, and we make it our business to leave humans alone if we can help it. The light side of our world is like that--we don’t muddle in the affairs of humans on purpose. The dark side is the one you need to watch out for.”
“Why?” Stanley asked bitterly.
“They enjoy the torture and death of humans--they won’t hesitate to harm you if they find you in our world. Or to harm us, if we’re found on their side.”
“The ring will protect us though, won’t it?” Lynn asked anxiously.
“No. Being bonded does not make you any less susceptible to harm.”
“Why did the ring fall into our world in the first place?” Stanley spat angrily.
Marlow rolled his eyes, “You ask so many questions! You need not to know any more than what the situation calls for! And after this is all over and done with, you have to make a magical pact not to speak of it. We don’t need humans snooping around our boundaries. For their own safety.”
He held out the vile, an impatient and meaningful look on his face. Lynn took a deep breath and reached for it, but Stanley flinched forward to stop her. They met eyes for a moment, and Stanley felt his heart aching. He lost himself in her gaze. Something about her suddenly drew him in, and it made him so angry he wanted to kill someone. He didn’t want to believe any of this, but weird things kept happening. He felt his breath leaving his body as he looked at her, afraid for her safety in a way he had never feared for her safety before. Something new was growing inside of him, and Marlow seemed to know all about it. But Stanley couldn’t deal with this. He didn’t trust Marlow.
Marlow cleared his throat. “You’ll only need a small sip of it,” he told Lynn. “If you drink it all, then we won’t all be able to return.”
Lynn’s hand shook as she took the vile from Marlow, unable to break eye contact with Stanley. Stanley struggled to let go of his anger while he watched Lynn lift the vile to her lips. She inhaled it’s fumes before drinking, and she smiled at Stanley anxiously.
“It smells like candy,” she told him.
Stanley couldn’t smile back at her. He was too afraid. He stepped forward, touching her elbow. She froze as she tilted the vile up, and Stanley felt a strange electrical current pass between them. She was trembling visibly as she looked at him, and he closed his hand completely around her arm, worried for her.
Marlow made no comment to the strangeness that passed between them. He waited patiently.
.. .. ..
Lynn quickly threw the vile back and poured half its contents down her throat. It floated over her tongue like a cotton candy cloud, releasing sweet flavored gas as it went down. She inhaled it with a gasp, and it filled her body--making her numb and happy. As she exhaled, pink smoke drifted out of her lungs. She barely felt or heard Stanley as he panicked and threw his arms out to catch her. She felt her body falling asleep and she smiled, sinking into him and letting herself fall down into a dreamy place where no one could harm her and the world was at peace.
.. .. ..
Marlow was back in his own world, sitting by a fire he’d made in the middle of the forest, not far from Katrina’s. Spiro sat across from him, puffing so much blue smoke he almost wasn’t visible. Neither of them spoke. They’d put the sleeping humans in their own tent close by, with the door flap open in case they woke up before it was time. Marlow sat feeling overwhelmed with worry and guilt. How could he have let this happen?
It wasn’t yet time to meet Katrina, the moon wasn’t directly above them in the sky. They had about another hour, but Marlow glanced skyward so often his neck was starting to hurt. He didn’t know what to do. He was so nervous his stomach ached. He’d never imagined the situation could get so out of hand. He looked at the humans. The male was grunting in his sleep, and the sound of it made Marlow lean closer to listen. Unlike the affect the transportation potion had on elves, it put the humans into a deep sleep they couldn’t be roused from until it wore off. Stanley and the female, Lynn, shared a blanket but made no contact with one another. Stanley seemed to be dreaming of her though. He was muttering something, and when Marlow leaned to hear, he found that it was the female’s name.
Bristling with embarrassment, Marlow scooted back out of hearing range. It was not his business to witness such things.
The humans slept long after the time had come for Marlow to meet Katrina. The moon was in position, and he and Spiro stamped out the fire to hide themselves. Spiro stayed by the humans’ tent, where he would stay until Marlow returned to retrieve the ring.
“You’re absolutely sure you want to go through with this?” Spiro asked his brother seriously, a hand on his shoulder.
Marlow took a deep breath, feeling jittery and excited, and also sickeningly nervous. “Of course I do,” he answered. “I love her. Besides, I don’t have much choice now anyway.” He forced a laugh and jerked his head in the direction of the humans. Spiro nodded, looking concerned.
“Alright,” he told Marlow. “Take a puff of this, it’ll calm you right down.”
“I doubt--” Marlow started, but Spiro was already shoving the pipe in his mouth. He inhaled in surprise, and felt himself relax. Leave it to Spiro to slip him some pipe before his big move. He exhaled, coughing pink and blue smoke.
“There you go, brother” Spiro patted him on the back. “Better take another puff, there. Make all that smoke love. Exhale the worry, it’ll do you good.”
Marlow took another puff, and this time, feeling nauseous, coughed green and pink smoke.
“Oops,” Spiro said innocently, slapping Marlow’s back again and putting the pipe away. “You’ll do fine, get up there. I’ll be waiting with the ring when you get back.”
Marlow, feeling lightheaded but ready for action, grinned at his brother and made his way towards Katrina’s.
She wasn’t waiting for him underneath the tree when he got there, so he supposed she might be up in the house. He felt around for the ladder, climbing somewhat clumsily to the deck. Once up there, he took the time to smooth his hair a bit and straighten his clothes, then he entered through the door. The house was empty.
He stood for several long moments, his light headedness fading as anxiety set in again. This wasn’t right. Katrina was never one to be late. She’d said she’d be back this evening late, which always meant when the moon was high. He went back outside and peered between the swaying branches. There was the moon, big and bright. Perhaps this was a one time thing, Marlow tried to calm himself. He went back inside to wait on her bed for her.
Hours passed and she never came. Finally, as dawn arrived, Marlow made his way back down the tree and into the woods where Spiro was waiting for him. His eyes were bloodshot tired and every part of him ached from how tensely he’d sat, all night long, waiting for her. Images of her being killed by light side dwellers patrolling at night passed through his mind, along with images of her being imprisoned or trapped on the dark side by her family. He didn’t know what to do.
Spiro appeared to have stayed awake all night too, and sat smoking his pipe by the empty fire pit, looking as exhausted as Marlow felt. As Marlow came through the brush, Spiro leapt to his feet, looking angry.
“Where have you been?” he demanded of Marlow. “It’s DAWN.”
Marlow said nothing. He walked calmly towards his brother and snatched the pipe out of his hand, inhaling long and hard from it as he paced back and forth. He exhaled black and white smoke, thick with pain and fear. Spiro dropped his anger at once.
“Marlow,” he said. “What happened?”
Marlow shook his head, at a loss for words. Spiro watched him pace a few more times, and then stuck his arm out to stop him.
“Did she reject you?” he asked seriously. “Are you hurt?”
Marlow shook his head again.
“Well?” Spiro pressed.
Marlow opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. He took another long breath from the pipe, and on exhale he said, “She wasn’t there.”
Spiro frowned. “Not there? And you waited the entire night?”
Marlow nodded, staring into space. “She’s never not been there before,” he said softly. “She’s never even been late. I don’t…” He stopped, unable to go on. He closed his eyes, and, after hours of holding them in, let his tears flow free. Spiro put an arm around his shoulders and squeezed.
“You must just have misunderstood her meaning,” he assured Marlow gently. “She might have meant tomorrow.”
Marlow shook his head. “That’s not possible. We’re always very clear.”
` Spiro frowned. “Well, where do you think she is?”
Marlow let out a strangled sob and put his forehead in his hand, giving Spiro his answer. Spiro nodded, patting his back lightly. “It’s possible, brother…I’m so sorry.”
Marlow closed his eyes, fighting to regain control over himself. He and Katrina had a love that was so powerful, it was almost as if they were already bonded. He didn’t believe that she had died, but he felt, deep within, that she was in danger. He had to find her. He lifted his head to look at Spiro, stepping away.
“We have to look for her,” he said, clearing his throat and regaining control.
Spiro’s eyes widened, and he took his pipe back from Marlow, putting it in his mouth. “We can’t.”
Marlow glared at him, daring him to go on.
“It’s just…” Spiro said carefully, holding up a hand to stop Marlow from exploding. “We can’t just go around asking if a certain dark side dweller has been seen recently. That’s beyond suspicious. I won’t lose my head over this, Marlow. There has to be some other way.”
Marlow thought about it, frowning at the ground. Spiro sighed.
“You must have a decent connection set up with her by now, even without a bond.” he told Marlow. “Try to see where she is.”
Marlow felt himself blush darkly. He hadn’t thought of using his gift to locate her. How stupid of him. It embarrassed him to think of Spiro seeing him though. Spiro sensed this in his brother’s thoughts, and rolled his eyes.
“Alright,” he said. “I’ll turn away.”
Marlow took a deep breath, turning and walking a ways away from Spiro to sit on the ground. Once he’d made sure Spiro’s back was turned, he relaxed and closed his eyes, focusing his thoughts on Katrina. It was painful to think of her, after the night he’d been through, but he had to try. He had to see if he could locate her. He put his hands over his eyes to block the sun, which was rising quickly over the tops of the trees. He thought of her face, her smooth skin and glowing blue eyes. He thought of her hair in his hands, of her warmth, her scent.
There was silence, broken by nothing but the sound of his own heart beating. He listened, straining his ears inward, to hear his mind tell him where she was. All outside sounds were silenced. Suddenly, a second heartbeat joined his, and he thrilled. It was hers, she was alive. He strained harder, searching with his eyes. A vision swam in front of him, and he pushed to make it clear. There she was, sitting in a dark room, crying. She looked scared. He knew she was on the dark side. She was trapped there.
Quick as it came, it faded away. The sound of her heart was silenced, and his eyes saw nothing but the darkness behind his hands. He removed them, feeling dazed, and turned to face Spiro.
“Spiro!” he called, finding himself too weak yet to stand.
Spiro turned, looking at him with raised eyebrows.
“She’s on the dark side,” said Marlow urgently. “She’s being held there. We have to rescue her.”
“Rescue her,” Spiro repeated flatly, as if he were at the end of his rope. He took his pipe out and lit it, puffing over and over until his head was completely engulfed with the white smoke of fear and the deep, red smoke of anger. Marlow didn’t move, waiting for an answer.
“We could die,” Spiro’s voice said finally. “We probably will.”
“Would you let the humans die?” Marlow asked him. “Because if we don’t find Katrina soon, they will.”
Anxious blue smoke joined the mix around Spiro’s head, and there was a long pause. “Nobody has ever purposefully gone over the dark border to rescue someone,” he went on, voice still flat.
“Right,” Marlow agreed, still waiting.
There was a heavy sigh, which Marlow took as a yes.
“Thank you, Spiro. Thank you.”
“We’ll need to travel by day only, and keep a fire going all night for protection. We should go home and get supplies.” Spiro’s voice was gaining emotion, and Marlow assumed the pipe was working it’s magic on him. The smoke was clearing as Spiro calmed down, turning a soft, soothing yellow.
“Alright!” said Marlow, getting to his feet. “That potion should be worn off by now. Let’s wake the humans.”
. . .
Deep in the unnatural sleep, Stanley dreamed. He was in an orange room. An oversized bed filled most of it. There were peach curtains drawn around the bed, but through a break in them he could see two open doors that led out to a terrace. Lynn stood on it, leaning and looking out into the night. Mesmerized by the sight of her, he quietly climbed off of the bed and stood behind her.
She sighed as she absorbed the view. He was distracted only by her though. Her normally conservatively dressed body was draped in transparent orange and red fabrics--all wrapped around her slim frame to make an elaborate dress. She wore nothing under it. No shoes. No socks. No extras. Her hair was swept up in a jumbled pile on top of her head. Her skin was beautiful in the moonlight, her hands gripping the fence of the terrace tightly. Stanley reached for her, and she drew in a quick breath, shivering as he touched her.
He found his hands on her shoulders, sliding down her arms. He pressed himself against the back of her, afraid and not knowing why he was letting himself do this. But it didn’t matter, because he was leaning down and kissing her neck, and her skin tasted so sweet, and she made the most amazing sound. He breathed her in, turning her around to face him. She was so close, and as he leaned down she lifted her chin, her lips brushing his before he was ready. Soft and warm, a powerful mixture of surprise and relief washed over him. He needed this kiss. He needed her. His body reacted without his mind, and he lifted her off the ground, kissing her deeply. Lynn clung to him, her small hands gripping his hair for dear life.
.. .. ..
Someone was shaking Stanley’s shoulder. Stanley groggily pushed them off.
“Leave me alone,” he grumbled, turning on his side and hiding his face in his hands.
“You’ll want to calm yourself before she wakes,” Marlow warned him, poking his shoulder again.
Stanley stiffened at the sound of the voice. No. He opened his eyes and looked around himself, horrified. It hadn’t been a dream. He had no idea where he was. Lynn was next to him, wrapped in a green blanket, just barely not in contact with him. Marlow was leaning in through the gap of their tent, waiting to see if he was awake. Stanley glared. “Where are we?” he demanded.
Marlow backed out of the tent and disappeared behind the door flap, which fell closed. Stanley quickly followed, careful to leave Lynn sleeping.
It was early morning in a strange new world. Stanley’s jaw dropped as he took it all in. They were in a forest clearing, completely surrounded by tall, red barked trees. The sky was deep turquoise, fading to red and pink as the sun rose. The trees reached so high Stanley had to squint to make out the tops, and they gave off a strong, sweet, unnamable scent that made Stanley feel calm. It was a moment before he realized that the scent was actually coming from Spiro, who sat close by the tent, smoking his pipe. Stanley was shocked to see that with each exhale, a different colored smoke appeared. White, blue, yellow. He wondered what the colors meant, and if they were making him high. He covered his mouth and nose with his hand, glaring.
“What are you trying to do with that?” he snapped at Spiro. “Keep it away from me.”
Spiro looked surprised, glancing from his pipe to Stanley. “I apologize,” he said, putting it away. “It keeps me calm.”
Stanley took his hand away from his face, still glaring.
Marlow stood, waiting for Stanley to fully come out of the tent.
“Wake the female as well, please.” he told Stanley. “It’s time for us to go.”
“Go where?” asked Stanley. “I thought you said this would only take one day.”
“The circumstances have changed,” said Marlow, his face tight. “Please, wake her and I will explain.”
Stanley sighed, going back into the tent and sitting down. The door flap fell closed again, giving him momentary privacy. He felt foggy. He ran his hands over his face, breathing deeply and trying to forget what he’d dreamed so he could focus on the situation. It was hard. Images passed behind his eyes as if he were still asleep. He uncovered his face and looked at Lynn. She lay with one hand tucked under her cheek, and even sleeping, looked beautiful. Her hair was a mess, her cheeks flushed from the heat. He pulled the blanket off of her, and immediately regretted it. Her shirt had hiked it’s way up in her sleep, and revealed the smooth skin of her stomach. Stanley felt his face get hot, and quickly threw the blanket back over her.
“Lynn,” he said gently. “Get up.”
This all seemed like a big joke; a bad dream. He wondered if he’d ever truly wake up.

The End

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