the First

The Dark One

The next few days are spent drifting in and out of consciousness. I think the stress has finally caught up with me, I feel listless and depressed. Nibs wakes me up to feed me some broth every once in a while, and Peter comes in to check on me. My leg doesn't hurt very much at all anymore, I just feel so tired. Finally, on the fourth day of my comatose state, I stay awake for a little longer than usual. Peter comes in for his daily visit and finds me awake. He looks really stressed and kind of pissed, but puts on a taut smile and comes to sit next to me.

"How are you feeling?" he asks.

"Better." I reply. It's true.

"That's good."

"What about you?"

"I'm okay." he says, but I can tell he's lying.

"Peter, you can tell me."

He sighs, "It's Terence. I'm having some troubles."

"Who's Terence again?"

He rolls his eyes at me, as if I should know this already. He's definitely in a bad mood.

"He's the prince of the pixies, next in line for the throne. He's upset for some reason, and I don't know why. I went to Pixie Hollow to see where he disappeared to the other day, and his guard informed me he wasn't seeing any visitors. I don't know what's wrong."

A thought pops into my head, "What about Tinker Bell?"

He looks confused, "Tinker Bell?"

"You know, your best friend? She's a pixie too, and you guys go on tons of adventures all over Neverland."

"Where did you hear that?"

"I saw it in a movie." I mumble sheepishly.

He stands, "You do realize that not everything they say in the stories isn't true, right? Am I wearing a leaf costume?"

I feel a blush creeping up my cheeks. Of course Tinker Bell doesn't exist.

"R-Right." I stutter.

He sighs and runs a hand through his tousled locks before walking out of the room. Wow. He's pissed. A few minutes later, Nibs comes in to feed me my dinner of broth. He props me up against the pillows. I gulp it down, feeling better by the second. I think those few days of rest did me some good. My leg feels like it's back to normal, except for the nasty scars I refuse to look at, and I'm feeling well rested. I'm just worried about Peter. He seems really upset.

I finish my bowl of broth and wipe my mouth with the back of my hand, "Thank you, Nibs."

He smiles, those soft blue eyes sparkling, and he exits. All of a sudden, it hits me why Nibs looks so familiar. He reminds me of Henry. Those watery eyes, the wise smile, the gentle hands. I wonder if they're related. How could that be possible? I set the thought aside. Too much deep thinking will give me a headache. I lay awake until the sun sets and Bunny enters the room to light my lantern on the wall.

"Hi, Relia."

"Hi, Bunny."

He crosses to the wall and lights a match, opening my lantern and setting the wick ablaze. He shuts the door and then comes to curl up beside me.

"Are you okay?"

"Of course I am. I'm just a little tired."

"I heard you crying a few days ago, and Peter seemed really worried when he came back out of your room that night."

Peter was worried about me?

"I'm fine. I was just having a bad day."

There is no way in hell I'm telling him about my bullet wound. It's over now, and he doesn't need to know it ever happened.

"Oh," he responds, quiet for a moment, "have a good sleep."

"You too, Bunny."

He pulls himself off of my bed and darts out of the room. A feeling of claustrophobia comes over me, I feel like I want to get out of the hideout right now. Maybe I could help with the Terence problem. Maybe I could go see Kai and Marina. Maybe I could find out if the mermaid queen really is my mom. Maybe I could see Hook again…

I lay in bed for another half hour until the hideout falls silent. The boys and Peter are asleep, that itching feeling of being too confined is crawling over my skin. I heave a sigh and haul myself out of the bed, happy that my leg isn't hurting at all. Maybe it has to do with the cream Nibs gave me. Or, didn't Henry say that I have some sort of "quick healing powers"? I think back to when I healed Peter with that single touch. Maybe, maybe, maybe. Too many for my taste.

I slip on my leather boots. Grabbing my lantern from the wall, I slowly creep out of my room. The main room is deserted, and the lanterns have been extinguished. The boys and Peter must be asleep. I glance towards Peter's room, but I look away before I can think about anything else. Nope. He doesn't want to talk to me right now, so I won't bother him. I climb the stairs and push open the trap door. The night is warm and humid, the crickets, cicadas, and other animals are forming their chorus of evening sounds. I take a deep breath and try to gather my bearings, knowing full well that I am most likely in some sort of remote part of the forest. Didn't Slightly say the hideout moves each night? I could be anywhere. But he also said that the longer you're on the island, the better developed your sense of direction becomes. I've been here for how long now? I try to count the days in my head. If I'm right, I've been here for thirteen days. Tomorrow will be my fourteenth, two weeks in Neverland.

I start walking in a direction I hope is correct, pushing my way through the forest with one hand, and holding the lantern above my head. I can't see much with the dull light of the almost-gone candle, but it does help me approximately two seconds before I run face-first into a tree. An odd feeling creeps up my spine, those watchful eyes. I can feel them on me, staring me down. The forest falls eerily quiet, just as it did on the bluff with Peter. Hot breath travels down my neck. The cracking of bushes and branches fills the air as something big crashes towards me. I turn and scan the trees behind me, but I can't see very far. The moon is being blocked by clouds tonight, making it very hard to see. Whatever was coming for me has stopped moving. Not more than three seconds later, the same crackling comes from behind me, in the original direction I was going in. I quickly turn away from both sides, and run. Some branches scratch my face as I go by, the light of my lantern seems to be dying by the second. My clumsy stumbling through the forest is louder than I intend, I briefly wonder where Aleksander is tonight. This sounds too large to be a wolf. But I can feel that monstrous presence behind me still, coming closer and closer. I can't outrun it, as hard as I try. Panic makes a pit in my stomach.

The forest floor turns to sand beneath my feet, I've emerged onto the beach. The village is off to my right, only a few lights in the windows are still lit. The ocean is a few yards away, if I run fast enough I can get away. Hook's ship is still docked, but the portholes are dark. A part of me wants to run there, he'll keep me safe. Right?

Suddenly, that familiar pain explodes through me, flames lick up my insides. My knees buckle underneath me, I collapse onto the sand. I can't get away now. I curl in on myself, trying to staunch the fire. I squeeze my eyes shut tight. I start to sob uncontrollably, I can't control myself. A prickling sensation crawls up my arms and legs, I open my eyes to find that the sand has turned into many, tiny ants. They crawl up into my nose and mouth, making it hard to breathe. The night sky has turned bright orange with the fire consuming the forest behind me. The smoke and the ants fill my lungs, soon enough I lose consciousness.

I slowly open my eyes, blinking into the sunlight streaming through the trees. I'm laying on the forest floor, alone. The chirping of birds accompanies the faint sound of waves crashing onto the beach. I sit up, a very painful headache comes on. I reach out and grasp a tree next to me, pulling myself to my feet. Spots cloud my vision for a moment, but I shake my head to make them go away. I'm a little sore, and I'm very tired.

That presence makes itself known behind me, that hot breath puffs down the back of my neck. I whip around to find a horse. Black as night and monstrous, with a long mane and tail. Its dark eyes regard me cooly, seemingly calculating my next move. The thing that strikes me is the white, spiral horn protruding from its forehead. A unicorn. I think back to the figurine I found in the hideout. That cruel unicorn that struck me as looking like Knight. Could this huge horse be him? It's possible. Slowly, cautiously, I reach out a hand, palm out. Without a moments hesitation, he presses his nose onto my palm. It's him. I know it. I rush forward and wrap him in a hug, he bends his head around my shoulders just like back at home. A few happy tears escape my eyes.

"I missed you." I whisper into his silky coat, reveling in the added height Neverland has given him.

He hugs me tighter, almost as if he understands me. A little piece of home has been brought to me. I'm not alone. We stand like that for what seems like forever, until I pull away to take him in.

"Wow, buddy. You've grown, huh?"

He tosses his head, his milk white horn glinting in the sunlight.

I laugh, "Yes, your horn is beautiful too."

He snorts and lifts his head into the air, showing off his height and strength. Knight comes to me and knocks me with his nose, making me stumble back a bit.

I giggle, "What do you want?"

He turns, displaying his profile to me.

"You want me to get on?" I whisper softly.

He nickers, his way of saying duh.

I've only ridden him bareback a few times, that was when he wasn't as massive, and we were safe in the arena. But he wants me to get on, he must have a purpose. I sigh and glance at my surroundings, noticing a boulder about three feet off the ground. Perfect. I walk over to it and Knight follows, I climb on to the top of it and stand. Now I'm a little taller than him. He turns away from me, allowing me easy access to his back. I throw my leg over and climb on, his back is even wider than before. He shifts beneath me, ready to get moving. I lean forward and wind my fingers into his mane, gripping his sides with my legs. He's off like a shot, galloping at full speed through the forest. The trees and branches whip past my face, I can't raise my head or I'll get hit by one. I can only close my eyes and hold on tight as his powerful legs propel us through the forest like lightning. We travel for what only seems like seconds before he begins to slow to a canter. We emerge from the forest and arrive in a place I never expected to see again. We're at the cove where I was captured by Hook. There's the rock that Kai kissed me on. A rush of emotions swirl through my stomach. Knight rears and dumps me onto the sand, I land with a thud.

"What was that for?" I glare up at him.

I stand and smack him lightly. I turn my attention back to the glistening water of the cove. Knight comes up behind me and nudges me forwards until the waters lap against my boots.

"You want me to get in?"

He bobs his head, almost as if he's nodding yes.

I sigh and pull off my boots, pants, shirt, sash, and bikini bottoms. I neatly fold the clothes and place them out of the way of the tide. I turn back to Knight.

"Are you sure?"

He nudges me into the water as his answer. I sigh and stand up on my toes to give him a kiss on the nose. I turn and wade into the warm, salty water. When I'm waist deep, I turn back to Knight.

"I'm trusting you!"

He neighs and rears into the air, pawing at the sky, before turning and galloping into the trees. I dive into the water, allowing my change to come. Soon, I can breathe just fine. My silvery tail glitters with a rainbow of colors along the rocks of the cove. I swim deeper into the water, the sun casting shadows onto the plants along the rocky bottom. Why did Knight want me to come here? Did he want me to make up with Kai? Maybe I can go find the queen and see if it really is my mom. But what if she isn't? But what if she is? The queen seems like the lesser of two evils, I don't think I can face Kai yet. I should try and find the palace. Movement by a rocky outcrop catches my eye, I glance over to see my little yellow fish. He darts towards me, swirling around my tail and through my hair.

"Can you show me where the palace is?"

He zips towards a rocky outcrop to my right, and I follow. He rounds the corner quickly, so fast I can't keep up. I come around the corner, but he's gone. I turn in a full circle, but it seems he's disappeared. As if materializing out of the waters, two mermen approach me. They are both wearing matching silver chest plates, and are brandishing sharp looking spears. One is a more middle aged looking man, with deep green eyes and light brown hair streaked with gray. His tail matches his eyes perfectly. The other is younger, about my age, with dark brown eyes and black hair. His tail is a dark golden yellow color. The older man's eyes are hard and unyielding, the younger one looks like he's trying his best to look mean. These are the city's guards.

"Who are you and what are you doing here?" the older one demands.

All too soon, I remember the cover story Marina gave me back in Kai's house. I'm a visiting diplomat from another portion of the sea, here to visit the queen. I have to be rude, or they won't let me through.

"I am here to see the queen for diplomatic reasons." I say, mustering up my inner bitch.

"Why don't you have an escort?" he asks, still not quite buying into my story.

I sniff and stare down my nose at him, "I am coming for a private meeting for Selene. I see no need for an escort when I have two right here."

They glance at each other, and back at me. They won't turn away their queen's guests.

"Come with us, your Highness."

That's more like it. The guards come forward and stand on either side of me, the younger one to the right, and the older one to the left. They begin to swim back in the direction they came from, escorting me to the palace. We come around the corner of the rocky outcrop and emerge at the city's gates. There are more guards, armed with spears, that allow us to pass without a word. I notice them staring at my tail.

We head into the marketplace. The "shops" are small caves that have been carved into the rock. Some are selling live fish in cages, and others are selling clothes or weapons. Most townspeople nudge each other and point at me, whispering to themselves. Their stares are a mix of curiosity and admiration, which I suppose is a good thing. A little mermaid tugs on her mother's shirt, and points at me. Her eyes are lit up with excitement. I smile at her and she grins back, excited to be noticed by "royalty". We exit the marketplace and turn a corner, passing through an ornate silver gate. As before, the guards stationed there don't try to stop us. Suddenly, the palace looms into view. It is built into the rock, the height of a twenty story building. It is encrusted with pearls and sparkling gemstones, and surrounded by gardens of colorful marine plants. It's beautiful.

My two guards lead me through the courtyard to the ten foot tall front door. They pull on the well carved silver handles, and the doors glide open. A massive front hall is revealed, beautifully carved banisters and stairs all made of rock. Everything shimmers in the light, making the palace take on a mirage-like quality. As if at any moment, it could disappear. Mermaids and mermen alike bustle around the palace, cleaning or taking something somewhere. One pushes a cart laden with sweets and fish, another carries a tall stack of sheets. They appear and disappear through the many doors that lead to another part of the palace.

"This way." the middle aged guard says, pulling my attention away from the hectic chores.

They lead me through another door to the right of us, attended to by a guard. He lets us through with a nod, his eyes lingering on my tail. We swim through hallway after hallway, I soon lose track of where we are going. Before long, they stop at a massive door.

"Wait here." the older man says.

He knocks twice on the door and enters, closing it tightly behind him.

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