Chapter 2

The Land of Lugn


    Mirain woke up to the sound of footsteps. As she opened her eyes, she saw Sam sleeping in front of her, lying on a white cot. She sat up, rubbed her eyes and when she looked around she saw 28 strangers. Each of them were lying on the same kind of cots, lined up as if they were in a hospital. As she looked more closely at them, a feeling of deja vu occupied her mind – they weren’t strangers. In fact, she felt like she knew them. She scanned each of them briefly, and began to realize that she knew some of their names, though couldn’t recall as to how she knew them, or even when she had met them.

As her groggy eyes adjusted to her surroundings she began to take in the details of the room they were in. The floors and walls were made out of a dark paneled wood, vines growing along and in between the panels. She could hear birds chirping from behind her, and when she turned around she saw that an entire wall was missing. It looked like it had been blown out, exposing a green landscape filled with trees and vines resembling a jungle. ‘Where are we?’ she thought, looking at the grass and plants that were invading the building. As she looked around, the missing wall wasn’t the only aberrant aspect of the space that captured her attention. She scanned the area, noticing the scattered furniture: a Cherrywood armoire lying on its back in the middle of the room, a singed dresser diagonally resting behind Sam’s cot, and copious amounts of different styled wooden chairs in disarray. Her focus glided to the walls, which were garnished with lopsided paintings and sporadic holes. The ceiling was vaulted and was home to countless cobwebs. A giant dusty glass chandelier hung in the center, yellowed with age. The room looked like a warzone.

Her attention quickly turned back to Sam. She placed her hand on his shoulder and she began to gently shake his body. “Sam,” she whispered, “Sam, wake up.”

“I do say, I don’t believe you will be able to wake him,” a light voice came from behind her. Mirain turned around and saw a middle aged woman with a bucket of steaming water in her hands. She was wearing a baby blue dress with an black apron tied around her waist. Her dark brown hair hung against her face in a wavy bob; her makeup, applied with finesse. The woman walked over and sat down next to Mirain. She took out a steaming wet rag and placed it over Sam’s forehead. Her hand gently touched his face, feeling for a fever. When she was done, she rested her hands in her lap and focused on Mirain. “All of you have been asleep for a few weeks,” she smiled warmly, “You’re the first one to wake.” Mirain just looked at her, as a peculiar silence sat in between them – one of them unsure what to say, the other knowing exactly what to say but rather remained indecisive on how to ask. The woman looked into Mirain’s eyes. “May I ask you something?” she asked.

Mirain nodded, “Sure,” she said timidly.

The woman inched closer to her, looking at her intently. “Where did you all come from?”

Mirain gave her a muddled look, “Come from?” she asked.

The woman nodded. “Why yes, my dear, where did you come from?” Mirain remained quiet. The woman gave her a concerned look, “We found the lot of you lying in the sand in front of one of the mountains.” Mirain just looked at her, silent. She proceeded to grab Mirain’s hands, “My,” she said in a staggered tone, raising her eyebrows, “a spot of amnesia, is it?” Her face inched closer to Mirain’s, “I do say, do you even know your name?”

Mirain’s posture straightened, “Yes,” she said firmly. “My name is Mirain Hasley.”

“Mirain!” the woman said cheerfully, “What a lovely name. Well, it is a pleasure, isn’t it?” Mirain looked at her with warm eyes. She was undeniably kind and reminded Mirain of her mother. Though, there was an air of tension between them. “My name is Angeline,” she said with a large smile. As the two looked at each other, Angeline’s chipper disposition faded, and was replaced with a more serious one. Her hands lifted in front of Mirain’s face, causing her to back up. “May I,” Angeline said gently. Mirain looked at her cautiously for a moment and followed her caution with a careful nod. Angeline brought her hands to Mirain’s neck, and guided her head slightly to the left. She took hold of Mirain’s long hair, and gently lifted it – exposing the back of her neck. Angeline exhaled, looking at her bare, untouched skin. “Thank goodness,” she said. Mirain could feel the tension break, as Angeline gave her a welcoming gaze, “– you’re not a Belle.”

“A Belle?” Mirain asked.

“Nothing you need worry about at this moment, my dear,” Angeline spoke softly. Promptly, Angeline took ahold of one of Mirain’s hands. “Come,” she said in an excited tone, “let us get you out of this ensemble and into something a little more,” she looked Mirain up and down, “suitable.” She helped Mirain stand up, and the two walked over to the back of the room. In the back right corner there was a doorway that led into a deep, bright hallway lit by ornate hanging candles. The walls were covered in black and white floral wallpaper. Along the walls hung portraits of courtly dignified looking men and women. Many of whom, oddly enough, had a similar striking dark burgundy colored hair, which caught Mirain’s attention.

“Who are these people?” Mirain asked.

“Those?” Angeline said smoothly, “Those are portraits of the Hilfern family,” She looked proud. “They have been the head of the Nomenlinder colonies for generations! My husband, Mick, is their heir.”

“Oh,” Mirain said, looking more closely at the portraits. “So, which one is your husband?”

“Oh dear,” Angeline began to laugh, “He won’t get a portrait until he passes!”

Mirain’s eyebrows rose, “Oh,” she paused. “Well then, hopefully he won’t get one for a very long time!”

Angeline looked at her warmly. “My goodness, child,” she said tenderly, “you have such a warm soul.” The two exchanged a smile, and continued to walk down the hallway.

When they reached the end, Mirain looked into the room to her right. It was a very large, empty kitchen. “Where is everyone?”

“Everyone has gone out to find food for dinner tonight!” Angeline replied. To the left of them was a staircase. “Come now,” she said as she began the ascent. When they reached the top of the stairs, Angeline unlocked a door which opened to a small room. Like the ground floor, this room had a wall that was missing, displaying an incredible view. In the distance she could see dark brown mountains with specks of blue covering them. She could also see the stark difference between the landscape. The area she was in was covered with a plethora of green trees and vines, though she could see the abrupt change through the trees where the landscape turned into pure red sand. Tops of trees invaded the room, and while it was very strange to her, Mirain thought it seemed magical.

“Are we in the middle of a jungle?” Mirain asked.

Angeline laughed, “Heavens, no,” she said loudly, “This is a Patch.”

“What’s a Patch?” Mirain asked.

“It’s an artificially created plot of land that allows plant life to grow in it. Trees cover most of the patch so it can protect and hide those inside. Most of Lugn is encompassed by desert sand and surrounded by mountains, so it’s nearly impossible to grow anything outside of the Patches! They also let us grow many things, like plants, flowers, and food. Our Patch stretches about two miles in every direction from this building,” she spoke very quickly, almost as if this should have been obvious information to Mirain.

“Lugn?” Mirain asked.

Angeline gave her a puzzled look, “Why yes, my dear,” she hesitated, “Lugn.” She waited for Mirain to connect the dots, but was met with her growing confusion. “Don’t you know where you are?” Mirain shook her head. Angeline looked her up and down. “My goodness, with this amnesia you’re going through, this must all be very complicated to you.” Angeline hesitated, looking at her with gentle eyes. “Come,” she said patting a small chair, “sit, sit! Let us find you a nice dress to wear,” she said firmly, heading towards a small closet in the corner of the room.

As Angeline dug through the closet, Mirain looked around the room. The sun was shining in, giving the space a warm glow. On the left side of the room, where she was sitting, sat a writer's desk. Under her feet was an antique hand–sewn rug embellished with plant life, a sun, two moons, and what looked to be 14 peacocks, though they had four legs instead of two. On the right was a beautiful olive green and cream colored changing room divider, that was painted with designs of beautiful blue flowers. The flowers resemble lilies; though the closer Mirain got to them she noticed something odd about the painting. The artist had painted the petals unattached to its stigma, and the pollen was floating outside of the center.

“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Angeline asked, poking her head out of the closet.

Mirain nodded, “Odd way to paint it though.”

Angeline squinted at her and gave her a grin, “I must apologize, I don’t understand.”

Mirain looked at her and then back to the painting. She pointed at the flowers, “Well, the petals aren’t connected,” she shrugged, “just a little odd to paint it like that, I guess.”

Angeline stared at Mirain for a moment. “My,” she said quietly, “this amnesia of yours just astounds me.” Mirain looked confused. “My dear, those are Berulian Mountain Nemphrils.” They made eye contact and Angeline gave her a dazed expression, “Still unfamiliar?”

“I think I might remember those,” Mirain played along, knowing full well that she was completely lost.

Angeline began to laugh, “Come on now, my dear, they are some of the most famous flowers in all of Lugn.” She continued to focus on the inside of her closet “The Berulian Mountain,” she peeked her head out of the closet again and pointed past the trees, “–is that way.” She pulled out a simple pearl colored dress, and started walking towards Mirain. “Do you see that mountain over there, with tiny hints of blue on it?” Mirain nodded. “Those are the Berulian Mountains. The mountains are so tall that the petals around these flowers separate and float.” She handed the dress to Mirain. “Put this on!”

Mirain wavered, “A–Are you sure?”

“Oh yes, dear,” Angeline said loudly, “I insist!”  Mirain smiled at her and went behind the divider. Angeline sat down on the stool in front of the desk. “I mean, of course,” she continued, “if you were to bring the flower down the mountain, the petals would eventually fall. Though, their existence is quite the miracle. No one can really explain how they grow, or how they stay alive like that. Oh, but trust me,” she enthused, “it is quite the site. You really should see them for yourself in person if you haven’t already. They’re quite lovely.”

As Mirain was stepping into the dress behind the divider, she looked at her legs. She had bruising on her calves. ‘How did I get these’ she thought to herself. She touched her calves, and her eyes glided down to the dress that rested around her ankles. She touched the fabric – silk. Only moments later, she felt herself beginning to black out, her vision quickly faltering.

“Mirain, my dear,” Angeline said out of the silence, “are you alright?”

Mirain shook her head, regaining her focus “Oh, no – yes,” she said quickly, starting to slip the dress on. “I’m fine,” she said in a hushed tone, “sorry.”

When Mirain walked out from behind the divider, Angeline gasped. “My,” she exhaled, “You are simply stunning!” she squealed. The dress was a simple, off the shoulder gown, though the fabric was strangely flexible and lightweight, allowing her to move around with ease – completely different from any other dress that she had worn previously.

Mirain smiled at her and let out a small laugh, “Thank you,” she said gently.

“So, Mirain,” Angeline began, “let me ask you, do you have any memory, whatsoever?”

“Uh–” Mirain shook her head trying to think of everything she could remember. “My name is Mirain, which you know. I’m 23–years–old. I’m from Connecticut, United States.”

“Huh,” Angeline hummed. She squinted at Mirain, “Connecticut, did you say?” Mirain nodded. “I don’t believe such a place exists in Lugn.” They both looked at each other, and the tension from before returned to their conversation. “How did you get here?” Angeline inquired.

Mirain began to feel overwhelmed, “Honestly,” she said in a hushed tone, “I don’t really know.”

Angeline gave her a concerned look, “Well, never mind that then,” she patted her knees and stood up. “Let us go make a cup of tea, shall we?” she said cheerfully. Mirain nodded and they both went downstairs.

As they reached the bottom floor, Mirain heard voices slipping out from the other room. She looked at Angeline and over into the open space. “Mind if I go check that out?” she asked.

Angeline nodded, “Of course dear, I will be in here making a pot of tea,” she motioned to the kitchen. Mirain returned the gesture and headed over to the room she woke up in.

As she entered the room, she saw many people standing up and moving. She looked around the room, and made eye contact with Sam. She ran up to him and gave him a hug. “Sam!” she shouted.

“Meerkat, where have you been?” he asked, glancing at her up and down. “Wow,” he said softly, “You look really good.”

She gave him a teasing grin, “I know!” she said gleefully, “Much better than you!”

He smiled at her and rolled his eyes, “Yeah, yeah, whatever loser.” The two shared a laugh.
    “So, Sam,” she began, looking around the room, “do you know how we got here?”

Sam shook his head, “I have no clue. I remember being home with Ryan, watching TV, and I don’t remember anything after that!”

Mirain looked at him, “Yeah,” she said quietly, “I don’t remember much either.” She continued to look around the room, glancing at everyone else. She stepped on a chair that was resting next to her, and addressed the group. “Hi, everyone,” she said loudly, “I just have a quick question for you guys,” she looked around at the familiar faces. “Does anyone remember how we got here?” People began to shake their heads, though no one responded. “Okay, well,” she said, beginning to nod her head, “I guess, we will try to figure that out.” She got off the chair and looked at Sam.

“So,” he began, “where did you run off to?”

“Oh!” Mirain exclaimed, “Come with me,” she grabbed his hand and tugged, leading him near the entrance to the hallway, “there’s someone I want you to meet!”

“Okay, okay,” he said, continuing to smile.

Mirain led him down the hallway and into the kitchen. Inside was Angeline, and a rather large man with dark skin and the same striking dark burgundy hair Mirain saw in the portraits earlier. He was wearing high waisted pants, dress shoes, and a brown vest ornamented with a cream colored pocket square and a black ascot necktie. She pointed at him, “Mick,” she said confidently.

He gave her a smile and produced a belly–laugh that felt like it could shake the entire building. “That I am,” he said proudly. His voice was deep and brash, yet had an oddly comforting air to it. “–And who might you be?”

“My name is Mirain,” she said.

Angeline looked over at her, “Who is this with you?” she asked.

Mirain pushed Sam slightly forward. “This is my best friend, Sam!”

“Hello,” Sam said, raising his hand.

“My, you are just a handsome, young thing, aren’t you?!” Angeline said warmly. Mirain could see Sam’s cheeks become flushed.

He lifted his hand up behind his neck and rubbed it, letting out a nervous laugh. “Heh– thank you.”

Mirain smiled and turned her attention to Mick. “You’re very tall,” she said quickly. Tall was an understatement – he towered over her.

He let out another laugh, and she could feel the vibrations run through her chest. “–And you,” he began, “are very small. Like a little duck!” he chimed.

The two shared a smile with each other. “Mirain,” Angeline said softly.

“Yes?” Mirain hummed.

Angeline extended out a cup of tea, “Here! For you, my dear.”

Mirain in return offered a warm expression, “Thank you very much.”

Mick took a deep breath, “So, I hear many of you don’t remember much,” he said looking at the both of them.

“Yeah,” Sam said with a confused expression. “It’s odd–” he began, “I mean for me, I remember sitting at home one minute, and the next – I’m waking up here!”

Mick nodded staring at him, “–And you?” his gaze transferred Mirain.

She shook her head, “Same thing with me. One minute I’m home, and the next I’m here!” she paused, “–But you know, something does seem familiar to me about the people in the next room!” She looked around at everyone in the room. “I’m not sure why though.” Sam nodded in agreement.

Mick took another deep breath in, “Well,” he started, “why don’t you both go on ahead back into the room with the others, and I will come get you in a moment to show you around Lugn,” he said.

“Okay!” Mirain nodded quickly. She took ahold of Sam and walked out of the room. On their way out she stopped to show Sam the portraits of Mick’s family. “Look at their hair color,” she said in a fascinated tone. “Have you seen anything like it?” she asked.

“No, I haven’t,” Sam said, shaking his head. As they were looking at the paintings Mirain realized she could hear what Angeline and Mick were saying in the other room.

“She mentioned a place called Connecticut,” Angeline whispered. “Have you heard of any place like that in Lugn?”

“No, I haven’t,” Mick said quickly. He could see how bothered she was. “Listen Ange,” he said in a hushed tone, trying to calm his wife down. “I don’t get the feeling they’re doing anything mischievous–”

“No, of course not!” Angeline interrupted. “That Mirain girl is just lovely,” she said softly. “I’m just worried,” she whispered. “A group of 30 of them just randomly appear out of thin air. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”

“Of course it does,” Mick said immediately, “but there’s nothing we can do about it.” Mirain could hear him breathe. “–And I mean as long as they abide by Nomenlinder policy and don’t involve themselves in the fighting, I think they’ll be okay here.”

“You’re right,” Angeline said softly.

Mirain looked at Sam and grabbed onto his hand. “Come on,” she whispered, “Let’s go see the others.” As they walked back into the open space, another booming voice was filling the room.

“I’m saying–” the voice thundered, and cars began colliding in Mirain’s mind. ‘Jack,’ she thought to herself. “This – Place – Isn’t – Normal!” he projected. “I just walked out into that forest! Right out there,” he pointed to the opening in the wall, “to take a leak, and what I thought was a hummingbird flew in front of my face!”

“So?” Hadley blurted out of the group.

So?” Jack boomed, “So, it wasn’t a damn hummingbird! It was some weird, green alien bird!” he shouted. “It had four wings instead of two! A–And its tail was huge and see through.” He waved his hands in the air, “And as it was flying around me, it changed color! From green to purple to pink and back to green!”

“I think you need some water,” the elderly woman spoke.

“I think you need to shut the hell up!” Jack responded. The woman gave him a shocked expression. “Why won’t anyone listen to me!” he shouted.

“Jack,” Mirain said, walking towards him.

He gave Mirain a baffled expression, and pointed at her, “I know you,” he balked. “Why do I know who you are?” he said, raising his voice. “I don’t know you! Why do I feel like I know you?”

Mirain lifted her hands and approached him cautiously, “Listen, Jack,” she began, “I think you just need to settle down. You’re beginning to freak people out.”

“Freak people out?” he shouted, “They should be freaked out! I was just attacked by some alien bird!”

Hadley rolled his eyes, “Oh, grow up you big baby, it did not attack you!” A couple of people in the group began to laugh.

“Shut up, kid” Jack snapped.

“Listen,” Mirain started, “I know you’re freaked out, but you really need to calm down a little bit,” she said inching closer to him. “Just, sit down, and take a few deep breaths.” He looked at her, and slowly sat down. He rested his head in between his hands, covering his eyes, and started to pay attention to his breathing. “Good,” Mirain said softly. “Thank you, just stay like that for a while.”

“There really is a green alien bird out there,” Jack said in between his fingers.

“Sure there is buddy,” Hadley said. He and Mirain quickly exchanged glances, and she walked over to him.

She crouched down next to him, “Hadley, right?” she asked.

He smiled at her. “Yeah!” he said cheerfully, “–And it’s Mirain, yeah?”

She nodded. “Don’t remember anything, I assume?” she asked.

“Nah,” he dismissed the idea, “you?”

She shook her head. “–And you’re from Greece?” she recalled.

He smiled and nodded. The two were silent for a minute. “You know,” he said breaking the silence, “I don’t remember meeting you,” he said. They looked at each other. “– But I know you, I feel like I know you,” he hesitated, “is that weird?”

She shook her head, “No, I feel the same way.”

From across the room, Jack boomed in again. “So, is everyone going to think I’m crazy, or is someone going to go into the forest and look for that damn bird?”

Mirain stood up, “Well,” she sighed, “that’s my cue.” She walked over, and passed Jack. “I will go find this bird for you,” she called out, waving her hand in the air on her way out.

“Wait Mirain,” Sam shouted, “let me come with you!”

Mirain slowed down to let him catch up with her, and the two walked into the forest together, looking around at the trees. They were all covered in red specks. As they walked deeper into the forest, the ground became a lush utopia for plantlife. Vines grew alongside the trunks of trees, and a variety of different flowers filled their view.

“Sam,” Mirain called over to him, “come look at this!” She leaned forward as he came up behind her. There was a dark purple flower that looked like a sack hanging from a vine. It was rather large, about the size of a small dog, and was oval shaped. At the bottom of it, was the opening of the flower which was seeping a sticky blue fluid. “Look at it,” she pointed. She looked over at Sam who looked disgusted, “Don’t flowers normally open towards the sun?”

“Normally,”  he said, trying not to look too grossed out.

Mirain bent down looking up into the flower. The inside of it was mainly hollow, though the stigma that was attached to the center resembled a human tongue. “Oh my God,” Mirain exclaimed, “Sam look at this,” she stuck her finger out and into the flower.

“Mirain, stop!” Sam warned, “You don’t know what that is!”

Mirain rolled her eyes, “It’s a flower, dummy!” Her finger made contact with the tongue–like–stigma and as she touched it, it flapped out of its flower, like a tongue out of its mouth. Mirain’s eyes widened, and she looked back at Sam. The two filled the space with their laughter. “Come on,” she said, catching her breath, “let’s go check this place out!”

They continued to walk deeper into the forest. There was no sign of the building behind them, and as they looked forward they found the same – nothing but plants. “Mirain,” Sam said softly, “maybe we should turn back soon.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” she sighed. They turned around, and as they started to walk, Mirain began to hear birds. Her head perked up like a dog hearing a doorbell, and she looked over at the direction she heard the noise. She looked over at Sam, who gave her a ‘Don’t You Dare’ look.

“No,” he said firmly.

“Oh, come on,” she said grabbing his hand, “stop being such a Debbie–Downer.”

He laughed, “Why are you like this?”

“Like what? The funnest person you know?” she said quickly, with her eyes wide open, skipping deeper into the forest. A smile grew across her face, and she started to laugh.

He caught up to her again and nudged her shoulder, “You’re so stupid,” he teased. As they got closer to the birds, the chirping stopped. They both looked around. “See?” Sam said. “Nothing.”

Mirian pouted. “But they were right here!” They stood there for a few minutes looking around.

“Okay,” Sam said, giving up, “seriously now, Meerkat, let’s start heading back!”

“Fine–” Mirain groaned. The two started to walk back when, almost as if to say thank you for waiting, a flock of  nine little birds flew in front of, and around them. They were each about the size of a coffee mug, and were bright lime green. Mirain and Sam looked at each other briefly and back at the birds. They all had four wings, like what you would see on a monarch butterfly, but each flapping at a different pace. As they moved through the air, the sunlight hit them, and their feathers became fluorescent – shimmering with different hues of purple and pink. Their tails were three times the size of their body, and flowed elegantly in the wind. “Sam,” Mirain said in awe, “look at their tails,” she said.

“I can’t believe this,” he looked around unable to shake the smile from his face.

Mirain couldn’t look away. “Their tails look like they're made out of a sheer fabric, or something!” she squealed.

“I can’t believe this,” Sam exhaled. The birds flew all around them, unafraid, like they had never seen humans before.

“This is magical,” Mirain whispered. Quickly after, the flock of birds flew away, leaving Sam and Mirain in a state of awe that the two had never experienced before.

“I can’t believe that just happened,” he let out a small laugh.

“That was amazing,” she said softly to him. She squeezed his upper arm, and the two shared a moment with each other before starting to walk back through the woods.

They were still a ways away from the building, when a glimpse of something shimmering caught Sam’s attention. “Hey Meerkat,” he said in a hushed tone, “I wanna go check what this is.”

Mirain stopped in her tracks and turned around, watching him go off gallivanting into the forest. She began to grin and hiked after him, shouting “For someone who is so against my random moments of dawdling, you sure like to do it, too!”

“Yeah,” he said, becoming more distracted by the flickering light, “–But unlike you, I’m not a 12–year–old, that likes to touch things that could be poisonous.”

“You dick,” Mirain snickered.

Sam smiled, getting closer to the shimmering. When he approached the source of the light, he saw that it was a dark blue frog – freckled with spots of something that looked like gold paper imbedded into its skin. “Mirain,” he whispered, leaning down, “would you look at this,” he said, raising his hand.

“You asshole!” she exclaimed, beginning to laugh. “You just said a minute ago that I was the 12–year–old that likes to touch things, and you literally were just about to pet your little friend, there!”

He stood up and continued to smirk toward her, “It’s a frog,” he said in a matter–of–fact tone.

She gave him an impish sour face, “It was a flower,” she returned the favor.

His attention returned to the frog, and he lifted his hand.

 

I suggest that you lick a Torkle Berry Leaf, instead, old–chap!” a voice came from nowhere. Sam and Mirain both looked around, but couldn’t find where the voice was coming from. “I mean – if you’re looking to die a slow, and painful death, you will want to grab that. Though if you’re looking for a quick, but still somewhat painful death, you will lick a Torkle Berry Leaf. But alas, taking one's own life seems so trivial when there is so much to live for!”  

Sam and Mirain looked at each other. “Do you know where that voice is coming from?” asked Sam. Mirain shook her head.

“Up here,” the voice replied. They both looked up and saw a man lying in the tree above them. He was sprawled out over the branches like a panther. Mirain looked at him, and noticed that he was wearing a similar outfit to Mick. He was a tall and lean man. Dressed in high–waisted black pants, black dress shoes, and a white button up shirt. He wore a dark purple vest that had black floral designs running through the fabric accompanied with a black pocket square and a black ascot necktie. His skin was tanned, and his eyebrows were thick. He had teeth that even a dentist would envy. The man sat up, and she could see his dark black, slicked back hair.

“My goodness,” he cheered from the tree, “The Belles have nothing on you, darling. You are simply stunning!” he shouted at Mirain. Sam leered at him.

“Who are you?” Mirain called out.

“The name is Samuel, my lady,” he shouted again, “–and I am here to be your knight in shining armor!”

Sam glowered at him, “The hell you are, buddy!” he blurted defensively. “Why don’t you come down here and say that?”

Samuel groaned as he used the tree trunk to help himself up, “Ah, the perils of growing old – 26 never felt so sentencing! Whatever did I do to deserve this punishment?” he took a deep breath in, “Ah, never the matter,” he stood up straight and seemed to pull a top hat out of thin air. He flipped it with his fingers and rested it on his head. “Do you really plan to harm an old man, such as myself?”

“26 isn’t old,” Sam shouted back at him.

“Old–Spirited, I am, my friend,” he scoffed at Sam. “Unlike you, sir, who are just mean–spirited. I can smell your foul stench from here, you heathen!”

Mirain let out a small laugh. Sam looked over to her, “Are you kidding?” he whispered.

She smiled at him and shrugged, “Sorry, it was kind of funny!” Her attention turned to the man in the tree. “What are you doing up there?” she shouted.

“With the skin of a roach, an idiot shall approach!” he shouted back, looking in the distance.

Mirain and Sam looked at each other, clearly confused. “What is he talking about?” Sam whispered. Mirain shrugged.

“By George, Samuel,” another voice came from behind a tree. A man stepped out, very similar looking to Samuel, almost identical, except he had dirty blonde hair. “Did you just call me an Idiot?”

Samuel gave him a questioning expression, “Ah my dearest brother! Robert, I must ask, who is this George you speak of?”

Robert pondered the question for a moment, “You know,” he said loudly, “I haven’t the slightest idea!” They both released boisterous laughs, filling the open forest. Mirain and Sam looked at each other, unsure of what to say or do.

“Wait one moment,” Robert began, “You bumbling meater, you appointed me stupid! I bite my tongue at you, sir!” Robert shouted.

“Good,” Samuel exclaimed, “Your silence will bring peace upon us both!”

Robert walked towards Sam and Mirain. He was dressed similarly to Samuel as well, except his vest was dark blue with white floral designs running through it. He wore a white ascot necktie, with a white pocket square. He inched closer to them and gave Mirain a smile. He had the same perfect white teeth as Samuel. “My, oh my,” he said softly, “The Belles will be at a loss for what to do with you, my dear.”

Sam stood in front of her, blocking Robert from her. “Back up, pal” he said harshly.

Robert scoffed at him, flapping his hand in front of Sam’s face. Robert altered his posture, leaning back on his heels and applying his weight to one of his legs, extending his hip. “I have no interest in bringing you harm, boy. Move aside.”

Sam looked at him suspiciously, “Yeah, I don’t think so buddy.”

“Your skin is radiant!” A loud voice came from behind another tree to their right. A third man walked out with light brown hair. Like the other two, he looked strangely similar. Though, his vest was dark green with cream floral designs embedded into its fabric. He finished his outfit with a gold accented pocket square and an ascot necktie.

“Oh my God!” Sam shouted angrily, pulling Mirain closer to him. “Are you kidding me? There’s more of you?”

“ ‘More of you?’ ” the man said in an irritated tone, “I am me, he is him, and he is him. We may be three, but we are separate!” he shouted, “Conjoined we are not!”

Sam gave him a dirty look, “Either way, stay away from her.”

“My dear boy,” Samuel said from the treetop, sitting down on a branch. “I think you’ve got it all wrong. My brother, William, is no more a menace than a fly!” he shouted.

Robert groaned at Samuel, “By George, my good man, and you call me the Idiot! Flies are menacing.”

Samuel pondered this for a moment, “Ah – yes, I guess you’re correct!” The three brothers laughed.

“Who are you guys?” Mirain bellowed at them.

“Goodness, the female sex is so demanding these days,” William said quickly, “Wouldn’t you say boys?” Nods were passed around among the three brothers. “Alright,” William continued, “I am here now, my dear chaps, what have I missed?”

Robert walked closer to Sam, “This blubbering fool thinks I mean him harm!” he shouted.

William gasped, “You? Why, you are no more a menace than a fly!” he shouted. The three of them laughed again, as William walked closer to Mirain and Sam. “Samuel, my dearest brother,” he looked up. “Why do you find yourself in a tree?”

“You know,” Samuel began, “I fell asleep an hour ago, and woke up in this tree!”

“Sleep walking again?” Robert chimed in.

“Perhaps,” Samuel yawned. “Or maybe, I have brought us here by Fate!” he exclaimed.

“Ah– Fate! What a lovely woman!” William said.

“What a woman!” they all shouted in unison.

Mirain and Sam looked at each other. “What do we do?” Mirain whispered.

“What do you do?” William asked astonished, overhearing Mirain. “Answer me this,” he began. “If you trust in Red, you’ll find yourselves Dead. And if you turn into Blue, you lose what you Knew. If you glance over at Green, you forget what you’ve Seen. And if you dye your skin Pink, you’ll do nothing but Think. Which is the right way to live?”

“What?” Mirain couldn’t help but laugh at how ridiculous these men were.

William rolled his eyes, “The incompetence!” he shouted. “Could you not keep up, love?”

Mirain gave him an irritated expression, “I understand what you said,” she said harshly, “It just didn’t make any sense.”

“My,” Robert said out of the bunch, inching closer to them, “aren’t you a feisty one,”

“Brothers, did you hear how she spoke to me,” William pouted.

“You know, darling,” Samuel chimed in from the treetops, “it isn’t polite for a young lady, such as yourself, to act so aggressively!”

“Yes,” William poked, “You wouldn’t want people to think you’re a Belle now, would you?”

Robert laughed. “Her? A Belle? Please,” he scoffed, “she looks fully matured to me! She would be a Belle–Mother at best!”

Mirain gave them an odd look, “What is a Belle?”

William cringed, “Were you not listening, love?” he looked in her eyes, “If you trust in Red, you’ll find yourself Dead!”

Mirain’s face scrunched up, “What does that even mean?” she questioned.

“Samuel, come down from there and assist!” William shouted. Samuel climbed down from the tree and walked over to them. The boys began to circle Sam and Mirain like a wake of vultures.

“Have you ever heard of the Belles?” Samuel asked in a haunting tone.

“Briefly,” Mirain said softly.

William squinted at her, “But have you really heard about them?” Mirain looked at him for a moment and shook her head. He let out a chuckle.
 

“They walk with a Drive, forming their Hive,” Robert said quickly.

“A Belle is a Bee, poke their nest and you’ll see!” Samuel replied.

“Together they glide, the Ten never hide,” William spoke.

“Strong, violent women they are!” Robert said softly.

“Beautiful, radiant women they are!” Samuel said softly.

“Talented, ruthless women they are!” William said softly.
 

“The Belles are not ones you should associate yourselves with,” Samuel said. He stuck his finger out and poked Sam in the chest, “Especially you, boy. Do not let a Belle narrow her sights on you,” he turned his gaze to Mirain. “They’d give you a chance though,” he looked her up and down “to be faithful to your sex.”

What the hell does that mean?’ she thought to herself.

“The Belles are like bees,” Robert said.

William let out a small laugh, “They’re more like wasps.

“They walk in their hive, and protect their Queen,” Samuel announced to the ground.

“Ah– The Radiant Queen,” they all shouted together, looking into the sky; stopping in their paths around them, “Long May She Live! Prosperity to the Hive!”

They all focused their attention back to Mirain and Sam. Then, Robert looked at his two brothers. “Did either of you two see what Ethel did to one of Val’s men the other day?” he asked eagerly.

Samuel began to laugh, “Oh my, that was such a stimulating sight. She really, stuck it to him, didn’t she lads?” The three giggled together while still closing Sam and Mirain in.

“Oh goodness, that is rich!” William exclaimed, wiping his eyes as if he was crying. “Anyhow,” William looked at Sam and Mirain. “Ah–” he said, analyzing their body language. “You have no idea who that is, do you?” He turned to his brothers and let out a chuckle, “Boys, they don’t know who Ethel is!” They all laughed to each other again.

“Ethel is one fiery woman!” Robert shouted.

“Yes, she’s Constance’s right hand!” Samuel included.

William looked at the two of them. “Constance is their Queen,” he smiled.

Robert lifted his arm, looking at his bare wrist. “By George, boys!” he shouted, “we must be heading out –  the sun is almost at the center of the sky!”

“Oh, shoot,” Samuel pouted.

“Wait, where are you going?” Sam asked.

“Mind not, boy,” Robert responded, “curiosity will only win you undesirable attention.”

“We, The Fendelton Brothers, shall return to you soon, my sweet, sweet Crestle Blown Flower!” Samuel professed to Mirain, picking up her hand and kissing it. He skipped merrily into the forest and disappeared behind a tree.

William looked at both of them, “On a more sober note,” he looked into their eyes. “My cautionary riddle means more than you think! If you trust in Red, you’ll find yourselves Dead–” he lingered, “That bloody color brings more trouble than you think! Though, Purple isn’t much better I’d say, so who really knows!” He patted her head and walked behind a tree, disappearing into the woods like Samuel.

Robert stood next to Sam and Mirain giving them a wicked smile. “Don’t forget about me now,” he leaned down towards them, “We’ve got your backs!” he said softly. He looked Mirain in the eyes and tilted his head. “Oh, I see, you’ve got a strong one,” he released a sigh and gave her a wink. “Well, keep up the good work,” he said to to her, walking towards a tree. “Give those nasty Belles a run for their money!” He teased, stepping behind a tree.

Sam ran over and looked behind the tree – nothing. He looked over at Mirain, “What the hell was that?!”

Mirain’s eyes were wide, “I have no clue,” she whispered to herself, laughing.

“Where the hell did they go?” Sam was bewildered. “It’s like they just vanished in thin air! I, am so confused,” he said aloud to himself.

They gave themselves a moment to process meeting the Fendelton Brothers. As soon as they were ready, they headed back at the building. When they arrived, they joined up with the rest of the group who had changed, and been given tea and other refreshments. Jack stood up. “Are you kidding me?” he shouted. “It’s been 3 hours!” he walked towards them. “I sent you after a green alien bird thing, and you go missing for three hours!” he looked like his eyes were going to pop out of his skull. “I thought it ate you!” he bursted.

Mirain rolled her eyes, “Those ‘alien birds’ you were freaking out about,” she walked passed him, “are some of the most amazing creatures I’ve ever seen.”

Hadley grew a puzzled look, “Wait, what?” he added. “They’re real?”

Mirain looked at him. “Yes,” she squealed, “–and they’re beautiful! Majestic, really! No, they’re–”

“Alright, everyone!” Mick said loudly, walking into the room. He looked at Mirain and Sam, “Oh good,” he shouted, “you’re back!” He was holding a large piece of paper, and as he stumbled his way over to the group – a circle naturally formed around him. He kneeled down, and laid the paper out across the wooden floor. “This, is a map of Lugn,” he explained.

Everyone inched slightly forward. The map showed both an Outer and Inner Ring of Mountains. In between the Inner and Outer rings were illustrations of clouds. “Beyond the Outer Ring is nothing,” Angeline said, walking into the room. Everyone turned around to see her, and then looked back at the map. “Beyond the Inner ring is dangerous ground. No one who has walked into the Middle Ring has ever come back,” she looked at everyone, “So please, do not attempt to go in.”

Mick pointed at the Inner Ring. “Imagine, if you will, the Inner ring like a clock!” he explained. “Directly in the center of this clock is my Speakeasy. It’s called Mick’s Middle Ground,” he looked around the group, “if you ever find yourselves in trouble, go there. It is my policy that no fighting will take place on Nomenlinder grounds. The Territory for Mick’s Middle Ground is 10 miles in every direction from the center. It has been signed by the Head of each colony in Lugn,” he paused, “so it is Law.” He looked back down at the map.

“Before you continue Mick,” Angeline interjected, “let me explain the colony system.” Mick nodded at her. She smiled at everyone and began. “Let us begin by explaining that most colonies in Lugn are separated by Patches. Each Patch you see is another colony. Patches are artificial strips of land, that allow plant life to grow! Patches primarily provide a space to grow food, in addition to being a safety zone. The Patch we live on, can be found near 4 o’clock, and stretches to around two miles in every direction from this building. This building is located in the center of the Nomenlinder Patch.” She cleared her throat and looked around. “Lugn is then split into different colonies. There is the Nomenlinder colony, which is where we are! We have a total residence of around 1,648 people. Most of us live in housing units underground beneath Mick’s Middle Ground, to ensure our safety.” She paused. “To be a Nomenlinder,” she continued, “means that you do not engage in physical altercations,” she looked around the group. “It is a colony of Peace.”

“Lugn has a vicious history,” Mick chimed in. “This land has been cursed with the deaths of many, and to this day continues to bare its jagged teeth.”

Angeline had a somber look on her face. “After that,” she continued, “We know of five Tribalman colonies. These are colonies that belong to the Native People of Lugn. As far as we know, one Tribe has around 225 people.”

“This Patch can be found near 10 o’clock,” Mick explained.

“Another Tribe has around 175 people,” she nodded over to Mick, “Again, 10 o’clock.”

“Around 8 o’clock,” Mick thundered in, “We have a very large patch, about 8 miles out from the center in every direction,” he looked around, “This is Belle Territory.”

Angeline put her hands together, “Please,” she pleaded, “Please do us, and yourselves a favor, and stay away from Belle Territory. It is a miracle when any of those women, actually act like ladies. They don’t look like it, but they are very dangerous. So please, stay safe, and stay away.” The group started to look around at each other. Mirain noticed Nicholas rolling his eyes.

“Let’s continue,” Mick shouted. “On 6 o’clock, directly below Mick’s Middle Ground, we have another Tribalman colony. This colony has around 30 people. Their patch runs about a mile in every direction from the center.” He continued, “The small Patches hardly cause any issues, so don’t worry so much about them.”

“Next to them,” Angeline said quickly, “is another Tribalman colony of around 40 people. They can be located in between 6 o’clock, and 5 o’clock,” she looked around the group. “Are you all keeping up?” The group nodded. “Okay, then, let’s keep going. Around 2 o’clock we have the largest Tribalman Colony. This Tribe is led by a man named Cyril. Typically, they don’t bother anyone.”

“Though,” Mick interrupted, “They have a residence of around 558 people. Meaning if they wanted to have a big impact – they probably could.” He said sternly. “Okay now, listen carefully. This one is important.” He pointed his finger at a row of houses under 12 o’clock. “Here, is Val’s Army Housing. Val is a general, and while this area is technically not located inside of a patch, it spans up to 9 miles in length,” he looked around the group. “Now Val, is a cocky fellow, with a parish pick–axe.” Mirain looked over at Angeline. They made eye contact and Angeline smiled at her, mouthing the phrase ‘Big Nose,’ using hand gestures. Mirain smiled. “He doesn’t hide his housing units in a Patch,” Mick continued, “because he believes his presence will intimidate the Belles. Who knows if that really works.”

Angeline waved to get everyone’s attention. “Outside of these Patches is a barren land made up of Sand. Though, there are random spots of what we call Isles. These are small patches, we assume to be around the size of a small house – maybe a little bigger, maybe smaller. These are sporadically located through the sand.”

“But–” Mick began, “What you must know now is that those Patches, while they may provide great cover, are fair game,” he looked around the group. “Currently, we are located in the Nomenlinder Patch. Mick’s Middle Ground is another Nomenlinder Patch. These are two locations in which you will be safe from harm if you are ever in any danger. Though, while there is a treaty promising safety in these territories – this does not include the Mini–Patches or anything outside of the Nomenlinder Patches. When crossing the sand to get from the Nomenlinder Patch to Mick’s Middle Ground, be wary of your surroundings. We cannot protect you out there.”

“Does everyone understand?” Angeline asked. Most people around the group nodded. “Fantastic,” she said adamantly. “Now then, if you’re all ready, let us make our way to Mick’s Middle Ground where it will be safest for you to spend the night.”

Mick stood up, grabbing the map from the ground. “Okay, let’s go!” He shouted.

“Uh–” Jack hesitated, “Did you not just get done saying that it’s dangerous to go out of the Nomenlinder Patch?”

Mick extruded a belly–laugh that shook everyone to their core. “Of course it is,” he chuckled more, “but it’s not impossible!” he paused. “If you’re smart.” He winked at Jack, who in response just looked irritated. “We can use the Mini–Patches as cover to get to the Middle Ground,” he looked around the group. “Meaning, pack your stuff up! We’re headed out in five minutes!” he shouted. He walked through the hallway with Angeline, and when they came out they each had a bag, about half their size attached to their backs.

“Oh God,” Jack blurted.

“Alright,” Mick boomed, “Let’s head out, the sun should be going down in a few hours or so, and we should really be at the Middle Ground before that happens.” He gathered the group together, and they began to journey towards the edge of the Patch.

As they reached the edge of the Patch, Angeline looked into the open space. “Oh, goodness,” she said to herself. She looked around the group, “Everyone, I forgot to mention something to you about the Patches,” she pointed towards a large patch in the distance. “Another way to indicate, which Patch is which, is by color. Each Colony was given a different colored Patch Seed to plant. These seeds are what give each Patch a unique coloring. For example, if you would look behind you,” she pointed to the trees behind them. “These trees have red specks on them. From a distance, the Nomenlinder Patch looks Maroon.”

The group nodded. “Okay,” Hadley interjected, “So if the Nomenlinder Patch is maroon, what color are the other Patches?”

“Good question!” Mick shouted, “The Belles’ Patch is purple. Once again, Val doesn’t have a Patch, but if he did it would be Brown. The five Tribalman colonies are as follows: The one on 6 o’clock is yellow, the one next to that is orange. The two that are on 10 o’clock are Blue and Pink. And finally, the largest Tribalman colony, located at 2 o’clock is White,” Mick looked around the group. “Does everyone understand?” Nods were passed along. “Fantastic!” he exclaimed. “Let’s continue!” he shouted, marching through the sand on his way to a Mini–Patch.

The group walked for a little over a half an hour, with two of Lugn’s suns hanging above them. They were able to successfully cross over one Mini–Patch by the time they reached an hour. When they came up to the second Patch, they had been walking for 2 hours. As they were approaching the Isle, Mick began to hear soft chattering in front of them. He looked around, and then at the Middle Ground. It was only a few hundred yards away. Mick’s face quickly grew very stiff. He gathered the group together. “Everyone,” he said in a very stern, hushed tone, “you must listen to me very carefully.”

“What the hell is going on?” Jack said loudly.

Mick shoved his hand over Jack’s mouth pressing it firmly against his face. “If you do not shut your belligerent sauce–box I will sew it up for you,” he looked him in the eyes. “Do. Not. Speak.” he said strictly. He looked around the rest of the group, and looked at the Mini–Patch in front of them. “Everyone, get in the Patch, and hide behind the shrubbery” he said, frantically trying to get everyone moving. Luckily, the Patch they found themselves in was large enough to fit, and hide all of them. Mick looked around the group and quietly said, “If you value your lives, you will not make any noise.” The group laid on the soft grass in the Patch. The light chatter was coming closer to them.

Through the shrubbery, they could see faint silhouettes of women walking. The 30 could hear the voices of women talking to each other. Mirain’s eyes widened and she scanned the Patch for Sam. They saw each other from across the Patch. Sam motioned to her, suggesting that he could crawl over to her. She shook her head, and then noticed Jack was sitting next to her. She rolled her eyes. Nicholas looked through the shrubbery and saw a group of ten women walking together. Three on the left, four in the middle, and three on the right. He squinted at them through the shrubs, “They’re just a bunch of girls,” he whispered to Mick.

“Shhh,” Mick hummed, trying to silence him.

Nicholas rolled his eyes at him, “They’re girls, why are you acting so scared?”

Mirain looked over at Nicholas. “Hey, seriously,” she pleaded in a hushed tone, “shut up.”

Nicholas gave her a condescending look. “You guys are idiots,” he scoffed. “I’m not scared of a group of girls,” He looked back at the group of women through the bush, “They’re in dresses,” he laughed to himself. “Are you kidding me? What the hell are they gonna do? Twirl for me?” Nicholas stood up from the bushes.

“Nicholas,” Travis exhaled, “dude? Stop.”

Mick’s eyes widened, “What the hell do you think you’re doing? Those are Belles!” He whispered harshly.

“I’m not afraid of some chicks, man,” he scoffed and walked forward.

Jack moved his body as if he was going to get up. Mirain grabbed his arm and pulled him down. “Please,” she looked at him, “don’t.” Jack looked at her, and sat down. The entire group began watching in silence – none prepared for what was about to happen.

The group of women stopped when they noticed Nicholas approaching them, like a hawk sighting its prey. “Hey ladies,” he said proudly, “Listen, I’m not too familiar with this place, but–” he began.

The group of women all turned to face him in synchronization, and watched as he approached them. They were all stunning, wearing extravagant different colored Victorian–style dresses. They adorned themselves with lace and jewels. One of the dresses was made entirely out of metal. They were all wearing dark makeup. The color of their hair was different depending on the woman, but they were all styled in a solid, beautifully wrapped, tall beehive, embellished with lavish combs, silk ribbon and jeweled backs. They decorated their necks with shimmering jewelry. Descending down their arms were golden bands, varying in different shapes and sizes.

“Heavens,” Angeline said out of the silence. “It’s them,” the group looked over to her, their eyes beginning to widen. They all turned back to see Nicholas, as the group of women began to move toward him, inching closer and closer with every passing second. Mirain looked at their body movements. They walked in a cluster, moving as one, like a snake right before striking. Each of them mimicked the other: One arm was bent at the side, with her forearm rising, palm face up towards the sky. The other arm was used to fan themselves with intricately designed fans. They shifted back and forth in the sand creating a dooming pathway. If silence had a color – it would be black, and it would be seeping from between their dresses like a heavy fog covering a pond. In a way, they were all connected with each other, truly giving the impression of having one body. Each dress formed a hexagon with its caged crinoline, fitting with each other at the bottom. If you were to look at the women from above, you would see that the dresses formed a structure, similar to that of a honeycomb. Nicholas noticed their dresses, each one a different, dark color. Each similarly styled, holding true to the Victorian look, but designed with completely different fabric – giving them all unique looks. Most of the dresses were off shoulder, except for one, whose dress climbed up her back and circled around her throat – crowned with a protruding collar that rose to the nape of her neck. As they took their final steps towards him, Nicholas could feel the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and knew that something wasn’t right.

“Ladies,” one of them said softly, “you may disperse,” and the women separated. She slowly walked out of the group. She had dark black hair, and as she walked forward, she exposed her dress. It was beautifully designed, and like her hair, was completely black. As she stepped forward and allowed the sun to reflect on it, the dress began to shine like silver. Her collar was made out of lace, matching the trimmings of her dress. She walked with grace and dignity, fanning herself, making her own path toward Nicholas.

“Oh my God,” Mirain whispered. No one looking through the bush could look away. ‘Constance,’ Mirain thought to herself.

Constance continued to fan herself as she slithered her way to Nicholas. As she stepped closer, she began to hum – her voice was soft, but it had an eerie impact. It carried itself across the skin, and you could feel it searching for something to tear apart. She gave him a wicked smile, inching closer, continuing to fan herself. Her lips were a dark shade of red. When she reached him, she was taller than he had expected. She, like Mick, towered above him. She kneeled down slightly and grabbed his cheeks, squeezing them together. She inched down towards his face, and the ladies behind her were whispering and giggling. She took her sharp nails and slowly slid them down his face, cutting his skin. She took ahold of his jaw, and squeezed his cheeks again. In what seemed like a moment, she took her other hand and pushed the top of his head with a tremendous force while simultaneously yanking down his jaw, ripping it from his mouth completely.

Nicholas began to scream, blood spilling from his face. He fell to the ground, and almost instantly his stomach started to turn sour. He coughed profusely, and began to puke. Everyone watching this event unfold were unable to look away. Their mouths gaping open, some beginning to softly cry. Constance took her heel and stomped on his hand, breaking it upon impact.

Nicholas screamed in agony from his hand. He laid on the ground coughing for a moment. When he finally caught his breath, he could feel that his stomach was empty, and just as he thought the pain was over, his throat began to close. He clawed at his neck, slowly becoming unable to breathe. “Oh my,” one of the women said sheepishly, “she wore her dipped nails today.” Nicholas rolled onto his back as the walls of his throat came together, looking up at Constance as she stood above him, her nails dripping some kind of dark green liquid. His body began to shake uncontrollably as his lungs reacted to the lack of oxygen.

Upon seeing this, Travis stood up. “Nicholas!” He screamed, running over to him. Constance looked over, seeing another young man running over to the boy. She rolled her eyes, turned around, took a deep breath and flapped her wrist over at the two as she began to walk away. Like clockwork, one of the girls perked up –  Ethel.

Ethel wore a dark red gown with black accents. Black lines seeped down her dress, like a drop of ink finding its shape in a body of water. As she glided, the lines moved with her, shifting its appearance with every movement. Buttons stretched down the entire front of her dress. She had light brown hair, and was the only one with two simple combs in her beehive, one placed on each side. Her lip twitched, and she pulled down on the middle of her dress – instantly separating the buttons from their sockets. Under her dress she was wearing black army like pants, a Dark red corset, and high heels. As Travis looked closer, he noticed something was different about her shoes. Her high heels were dark red and were designed with two large fine–tipped daggers, replacing the actual heels. Ethel locked eyes with Travis. He stood up, and started to run towards Mick’s Middle Ground. He began to scream, “Help me,” running as fast as he could. Ethel charged him like a bull and he was her matador. She ran behind him, and as she got close, she jumped in the air after him. Her shoes made contact, and she implanted her heels into his hips. He fell to his knees as Ethel grabbed the two combs in her hair. She pulled them out, taking with them two dark red ribbons. She continued to pull, and on the other side of these ribbons were two more daggers. She took ahold of them, and embedded them into Travis’ skull. Upon doing this, she took the heels out of his sides. Travis’ eyes opened wide, and slowly emptied of himself. She pushed his body forward, and began to walk back to the ladies. When she reached them, she buttoned her dress back up, and began to fan herself.

Constance stood there, continuing to hum, staring vacantly at the two bodies lying on the ground. They all stood there for a moment, fanning themselves and scanning the grounds for anyone else. “Ladies,” Constance hummed softly, “the Hive,” she called out to them. One by one, each went back into the lines of three, four, and three with Constance in her protected position in the middle. “Let us return to our Belle–To–Be’s,” her haunting voice carried through the bushes and left Mirain’s group at a loss for words. The ladies began to chat to each other and giggle as if nothing had just happened, fanning themselves as they walked away.

The rest of the 28 were immobile. Most didn’t know how to react, and some began to cry once the Belles were out of range. Jack stood up and grabbed onto Mick’s shirt. “Just who in the hell were they?!” he demanded.

Mick gave him a hollowed look, “Those were the Beastly Belles.”