Chapter 1Mature

Once upon a time, there
was girl called Ruby. She lived in a cottage, tucked away within the
deepest, darkest corners of Adder Woods. The trees there were thin,
dry, and bendy. They swayed with even the coldest, crawling night
breeze, causing their trunks to creak and groan. The mist rose like
ghosts from the dark, spindly bushes, weaving up through the
branches, and catching in the swaying canopy. No-one but Ruby, the
fifteen year old girl that lived there in the solitary, haunted
house, dared to walk those woods. There was an old story that said
that two little girls decided to play in Adder Woods on a bright,
sunny day, and they never returned. Another story said that one of
them was Ruby, and she had crawled away after tripping down a bank
and hurting herself in the sharp, toothy creek. But that, that was
just a story.

Ruby found no reason to be scared of these
woods. Afterall, it is not the wood itself, but what you find there.
And the only things she had seen, were dormice scuttling under the
leaflitter, and bluejays singing in the trees. So beyond fear, and
even pure curiousity, Ruby had never been so awed by a forest before.
Something had roped her legs with heavy stones, and she couldn't bare
to leave her new safe place. But in the end, she did.

Well,
she had to school. That was law. But it didn't mean her life of
mystery ended there, either. Being a person who enjoyed her space,
she spent most of her school hours sketching these blood-chilling
monsters, much to her delight, and she kept her grades high as to not
be noticed as easily as someone who slacked off. During breaktime she
seeked the privacy of the field, and that is where the real magic was
worked.

Ruby slung her bag over her shoulder and let it thump
gently against her upperback with each stride she took of her long,
thin legs. She followed the narrow trail carved through the
undergrowth, trampled by decades of wildlife following the dirt path
to water, and towards the hole that let in light from the outside
world.

The wood was lit by an eerie light, which seemed to
come from no gaps or holes in the weaved canopy above, but streams of
silver sunshine still filtered down and pooled like foaming mist on
the forest floor. Ruby slipped through the dappling , squinting
through the brightness, then ducked for cover in the deeper shadows.
A smarter person might of stuck to the lighter trail, but she knew
the woods like that back of her hand, and she had drawn her hands
many times and knew exactly what it looked like.

As
she neared the thinning end of the woods, she could hear cars darting
back and forth on the busy roads beyond. She strained her hearing as
she brushed back the curtain of mossy branches, then burst from the
dim and into the daylight. The city was just as gray, with big,
water-heavy rainclouds sagging above, and giant stone buildings
cramming every corner, but with all the streetlights, car headlights,
and even trafficlights, Ruby felt like a bat, and she wanted to back
into the darkness again. But this was all in days work, she
guessed.

She followed the old cobblestone path, which had
cobbles and stones missings in places, up and out of the slope and
onto the white-washed pavement. A car sped up to chase the yellow
light, then as it sped through the intersection, it swerved into the
gutter and slashed Ruby with a spray of oily, dirty street water
around her feet. She dug in her toes, making a squelching noise in
her shoes, then she pressed the button by the crossing, and waited on
the curb as the traffic droned by.

Another student joined her
in the wait, and after meekly greeting them with the flick of her
gaze, she returned to staring blankly at the flashes of dim colour.
Dup, dup, dup.
The first drops of rain tapped her forehead like a finger asking for
attention. And again, louder.
Dup,
dup, dup.
This time
it was the bell for the crossing, and she marched across the zebra
stripes painted into the street, and over onto the other side.

Quick
to escape the oncoming rain, she slid in front of a shop sensor, and
melted like liquid through a seive through the automatic doors. The
shop smelt like greasy paper and salt. Ruby could hear a deep fryer
hiss somewhere behind the counter.

“Hello, and welcome to
Burger Munchies, how may I help you?” The woman at the counter
mumbled in a tone that stressed the fact that she had said it many
times previous.

Ruby blinked, then stared at the menu,
stuffing her hands in her jacket pockets. The hunger hiding deep in
the pit of her stomach began to stir, and she felt it grind against
her sides. “One chicken burger...” She felt around in the left
pocket for a crumpled ten dollar note, then she dropped it on the red
counter.

She kept her hand on it for a long while, met the
cashier's frown, then withdrew her arm. Pain shivered through her
head, clawing at the back of her eyes and making them water. She
rubbed her face and staggered backwards, then slumped into a chair as
she waited for her order. The girl that had waited for her at the
trafficlights gasped and pivoted on one foot to look at her.

“Are
you okay?” She asked, holding out a hand to steady her.

Ruby
lurched to the side and she rested her cheek on the cold dining
table. The other customers began to gather around her. “I'm...
fine.” She clutched her ribs, mind whirling crazily.

The
girl knelt down and stared up into Ruby's face. “My name's Lilli.
We are in the same English class, can you hear me?”

The
answer was yes. But now her lips were so numb and blue that she
couldn't make any intelligible noises except a whine. Lilli gripped
her shoulders, and her eyelids flickered.

It
hurts first time on, doesn't it?

Ruby wasn't sure if those words were from her own thoughts, or
something more.
Lilli's voice broke the feeling of a blender in
her head. “Ruby?”

Everyone
autonomously blocks new minds entering their owns. Don't fight it,
and the pain will subside.

Ruby
sat bolt up straight and she stuck out her legs stiff as a board to
press on the pole holding up the table. She slowly looked up into
Lilli's freckled, round face. The girl scratched her head with
confusion, then straightened and dismissed the growing crowd of
onlookers with a flick of her hand.

“Feeling all right
there?” She said, rubbing her hands together, a trace of amusement
in her voice.

The
tingling sensation of something touching her conciousness still
remained as the minutes passed by. “Uh, yeah, sure.”

Lilli
smiled. “Let me walk you back across the road, we don't want you
fainting in front of cars, do we now?”

Ruby blinked
thankfully and stood, turning in her knees to they touched to keep
her balance. She leaned on Lilli's shoulder, and the two highschool
girls walked slowly out and into the drizzle. A sheet of moisture
flicked up into her face as they made for the exit. She rubbed her
eyes, scanning the depths of her thoughts again for the voice. It was
gone.

Before she knew it, she was back across the road. A
strong hand pressed on her shoulder, and she wheeled to look at Lilli
again. The girl nodded and put her cap on sideways, her eyes hidden
under the shadow it cast over her cheek and ear.

“You
should go home, school could only make things worse.” She said, her
gaze flicking from Ruby to the distance and back again.

Ruby
followed her line of sight, and saw two other girls crouching in the
rain back across the street, one was tall, the other short. One
waved. “Oh, okay. Thank you Lilli.”

“No problamo.”
Lilli grinned.

Test
her worthiness.

Ruby clenched her teeth to resist a wince, but her next words were
not of her own creation. “Hey, do you like dragons?”

Lilli
raised an eyebrow, but her smile didn't faulter. “Not... really.
Why?”

Why
did you do that?

Ruby shot back venomously. “No reason.”


I needed to know. I know who she is, and you were right to meet her
today, destined perhaps.


Then
Lilli was gone, the back of her raincoat fading into the smog as she
walked across the road, not looking left and right for traffic, or
back over her shoulder at Ruby.
If
you say so.

The End

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