Chapter 2

I blinked once, twice. Again, just to be sure.

Nothing disappeared, nothing changed. I was still standing in a forest. The sun was warm on my arms and a light breeze ruffled my hair. God, it felt so real.

The air was crisp, and when another wind stirred the leaves across the forest floor, I could smell the musty fragrance of autumn. It was the scent of rotting leaves and cold air, mingled with the aroma of pine.

If this was a dream, it was more vivid than any I had experienced. Perhaps this was some sort of stress-related hallucination, a figment of my strained imagination, coping with the trauma of my situation, but everything seemed to teem with energy. It was at the edge of my senses, so close I could almost touch it, so real I could almost see it.

This couldn't be normal. It was nothing like any of my dreams, which were usually filled with impossible oddities. They never seemed so real.

But if this was reality, then I was in very real trouble.

He was still there, the dark stranger who carried me here. If this were a dream, he wouldn't be here. Or if he were, he wouldn't be standing so close to me. The wind settled around us, and he stepped away, almost as if he could read my mind. Perhaps it was a dream.

An autumn breeze swept through the forest, and I could feel something in the air. I looked, really looked for the first time at the world around me. The trees were painted red and yellow and orange, captured in the colors of fall.

Overwhelmed by wonder and surprise, I could only stare.

One moment, I was in the middle of my run-down apartment at the center of one of the largest cities on Earth. And now, I was standing in a forest, surrounded by towering trees that stretched to the sky, which burned with the golden hues of sunset.

It was still light outside, I realized. But I had watched the sun set an hour ago.

There wasn't any trash in this forest. All the national parks I've been to—even the nicest, cleanest ones—all had some garbage lining the trails. But this place was pristine. There was no denying it. We had moved. How did he do it?

"Come," the man hissed, grabbing my arm roughly. His fingernails brushed over my burning arm, and I winced at the sharp sting.

I pulled my arm roughly from his grip.

"No! What have you done? What—where the hell am I?" I demanded. Despite my anger, my voice was still a little shaky, even to my own ears. The tears were still drying across my face.

He rolled his eyes and gave me a patronizing look.

"Sweetheart, there will be plenty of time for questions later. In the meantime, we need to be moving along," he ordered, like I was some petulant child. "The sun will be setting soon, and we do not want to be caught unawares in this forest."

I glanced warily at the trees, and abruptly, his expression became a smile. But it was a sarcastic smile, and I wasn't comforted.

He grabbed my wrists firmly and tugged me toward the forest. I tried to dig my heels into the leaves littering the floor, but my boots couldn't find a purchase. To avoid being dragged along, I took a few quick steps to catch up.

Under the cover of the trees, it was darker. The slanting light from the setting sun did not reach us here, and a chill settled around me. I pulled my jacket closer, ignoring the way the forest seemed alive around me.

"Where are we going?"

He didn't answer but walked faster. I tried to shift my wrist, but he didn't loosen his grip.

We walked for quite some time until the sky above had at last darkened to a fading blue. He stopped at the entrance to a small clearing in the trees. He let my wrist go, and I rubbed it soothingly, glaring at him. But I didn't try to run. I didn't trust the forest, and I risked more trying to run from him than braving what he planned for me—for tonight.

I brushed the bangs from my eyes and watched him. He walked along the edge of the clearing, picking up sticks and old logs. We clearly were not the first traveler to stop here. At the center of the clearing were the charred remains of a long-dead fire.

"Where are we?" I asked.

He ignored me, building a pile of wood. When it was arranged to his liking, he placed his hands over the sticks and logs. He stayed like that for a moment, poised in concentration. I jumped when a small light grew at the base of the pile. It was a small flame. Which was impossible of course, my mind insisted.

"How did you do that?" I pressed.

He sank to the ground without a word.

"You can't ignore me forever," I warned him, my anger leaking into my voice.

His eyes met mine over the young fire, and I flinched. The way he watched me was meaningful, sinister. I was afraid, but beneath that, there were other indeterminate feelings, a dark thoughtfulness and anticipation, mingled with malice. But those emotions did not belong to me. His eyes narrowed, and the vague sensation disappeared.

He looked away, fiddling with the buttons of his wool coat. He was dressed in a black pea coat, dark-wash jeans, and black Converse. He looked so normal. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. He lit one and stuck it in his mouth, balancing it between his teeth.

I sank down on the ground opposite him, pulling at the flattened blades of grass beneath the leaves. I didn't want to look at him again.

I could feel his eyes on me, staring at me across the fire. It crackled and swayed between us, but it could not hide me from the weight of his gaze.

The fire seemed almost alive, dancing against the deep night. As I stared, letting it burn against my eyes, I could almost feel the way the flames moved. A wave of heat swept across me. Through the air, the flames seemed to take shape, like I could touch them, move them.

"I wonder what it must feel like for you," he said.

I looked at him sharply.

"What do you mean?" I demanded, suspicious.

"You can feel it, can't you? You just don't know it. Concentrate," he said, staring at me.

"I don't—"

But then I did. Something was touching me. I whirled around, searching for it in the shadows of the grass. Nothing was there. Something warm wrapped around my wrist. I panicked and pulled away, and the phantom sensation disappeared. A warm breeze stirred, swirling around me and ruffling my hair. As quickly as it came, it died, leaving only the silent night and the snapping fire.

But it was like it was still there, the presence. It was heavy in the air, and it twisted itself among the fire. It curled and danced in the open air, and the flames grew larger, reaching for the branches high above us. Then, it surrounded me, coaxing and running over my skin. I flinched then tried to ignore it.

Despite the heat, I shivered. I folded my arms and looked away into the forest.

"W-what are you d-doing?"

"It's odd that you can do that," he mused. "Perhaps that was why I didn't sense it until I touched you. It withdraws so completely, I can't feel it even now, even with the connection."

In the dim light, I could see the long cut across the inside of my arm, still smeared with our mingled blood. I was disgusted by the sight of it, and my mind's repulsion was not tied to a concern for hygiene. Whatever he had done, it meant something here. Whatever he had done, it was wrong.

"I thought you had questions," he said quietly.

"What did you do to me?" I asked him, choking. "What's happening to me?"

"You would call it magic."

I stared. Of course—first, I'm transported to another world. Now, I discover that magic exists. Now I just need to find my prince charming and save the whole damn world, and it'll be a storybook fairy tale.

"But what does that have to do with me?"

He didn't answer. "And what did it mean when you—when you—"

I didn't want to give a name to what he had done to me.

He pursed his lips. I couldn't tell, but it almost looked like he was fighting a smile. It put me on edge to see that.

"When I mixed your blood with mine?" he finished. I nodded, staring into the fire.

"It's a blood bond," he stated simply.

I had no idea what that meant, but the implications seemed dire. I had no desire to be connected to him, no desire to be bound to him by any means, especially one over which I had no control. My head was swimming, and my stomach spiraled with a sense of dread. I wanted so desperately wanted to be calm and rational.

"And what does that mean?" I whispered.

"It means I have plans for you, sweetheart, and I don't want you wandering away," he said. He ran a hand through his long, tousled black hair. It fell in strands around his face, so that the longer locks almost reached his chin. I cursed myself for even thinking he was attractive.

"I'll fight you every step of the way," I warned him.

He shrugged, clearly unconcerned by my empty threat. "You won't be going anywhere tonight. After all, you don't even know what lurks in this forest," he said. He took a long drag from his cigarette. "You wouldn't last long against lurkers and the nymphs."

He gave me an appraising look, his eyes trailing over my form. I pulled my coat tighter around me and pulled my knees against my chest. He smirked.

"Wouldn't last long at all," he said again. "What's your name, sweetheart?"

I frowned. He didn't even know my name, the bastard.

"Anna Garrett."

"Pretty name, Anna," he said with a smile. He was teasing me, and I felt my irritation rising inside of me. Some emotion swelled in my chest.

"And what should I call you?" I asked.

"My name is Malachi, but you can call me whatever you like, babe," he said. He winked at me across the fire, and the flames reflected in the dark pools of his eyes. I wanted to wipe that sneer from his face. I wanted to run far away from this place.

I wanted to go home.

"Bastard," I cursed under my breath. I didn't know if he heard me, but he smirked.

"Don't try to escape. Even if you manage to stay alive in the forest, I'll find you. Blood calls to blood, you know."

My fingernails were digging in the palms of my hand, and when I pulled away I could see a little blood left behind. It seemed like long ago that I was working on my paper, like a worry of a forgotten life. Did time pass differently here? It seemed so important at the time, and I'd been spirited away to a different world. No one even knew I was missing. I looked up at the sky to hide my emotions.

High above, I noticed two pale moons in the sky. And I felt cold and very, very alone.

"If you'd like, we could sleep close to one another for warmth," he said.

I glared at him, and a strong wind whipped around the camp. I glanced around, surprised, and the wind quickly died away. He watched me curiously, and then snuffed his cigarette against the side of his shoe.

"Very impressive," he said with a smile. "Go to sleep, darling. We've got a long day ahead of us."

He lay down on the ground, facing the fire, and closed his eyes. I stretched out on the ground, but the hard ground was not comfortable and my mind would not let me rest. Lying there, I realized that it was me that had created the wind. My anger had brought it, and my fear returned.

When at last I drifted into a restless sleep, I dreamed I was being chased through a dark forest by a monster without a face and an evil I didn't understand.

Updated 5/5/2013