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Author's Chapter Notes:
Here's a short one. The next passage after this was kind of long so I decided just to break them into two separate chapters. This one's dedicated to starbeamz2, who gave me a review on the last chapter, yay! :3


Günter sat in a grand chair set on a dais in one of the castle towers, staring idly at a bright tapestry. The design woven into the wall hanging was alive and moving, and it showed a young man walking through the woods, hunched over slightly as he held the hand of a young child. Hearing a sound of movement on the floor, Günter turned his colorless eyes away from the tapestry and looked down at the foot of his chair, where a cage was set beyond his dais on the flagstones, its bars glowing with a magic light.

Lene was finally beginning to awaken from their last encounter, and Günter tisked at her, "Lene, I am very displeased with your interference. It's an interesting bit of magic you used there, but do you honestly think you can protect him as a five-year-old?"

The expression on her face was sleepy and confused, and she blinked at him, trying to get her bearings. Lene struggled to a standing position and recoiled as her arms came in contact with the magical bars that confined her.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" Günter commented blithely. "Thanks to that cage, your magic won't be quite as effective as you intended. I'm afraid it will hamper the link between you and your other self, making communication between you and your younger version nearly impossible."

Her golden eyes widened and she spoke at last. "It doesn't matter. You underestimate my magic, Günter. It's stronger than you think, and I won't be five forever. Nick will make it out of Other World, you'll see. I won't let you have him."

"Strong words coming from a prisoner. I can strike you down with the snap of my fingers," he reminded her.

"Then why don't you?" she raised her chin defiantly.

Günter barked a short, guttural laugh. "Finally starting to get a backbone, my sweet, simpering Lene? I like it. Don't worry, I'm not going to kill you… until I get rid of Nick. I've decided that I want you to see him die."

Standing, he stepped down from the dais and went over to the moving tapestry on the wall. Günter put his hand to the woven fabric, which began to glow beneath his hand. "There," he said definitively. "You may not have to wait long."

Nick was just cleaning up the remains of their lunch, keeping one eye on Lene as she played among the roots of a giant tree. He stooped to pick up an empty juice box and when he straightened up again, she rounded the tree and disappeared out of sight. "Lene? Hey, Lene, come back here. Stay where I can see you…" Nick said, but she didn't come back.

He slung the backpack over his shoulder and quickly followed after her. On the other side of the big tree trunk there was a break in the path that he hadn't noticed before, with a smaller trail disappearing into a dense copse of ivy. Nick was just in time to see the skirt of Lene's dress vanish around a turn in the smaller trail and he walked more quickly lest he lose track of her.

"You'd think it would be easy to keep up with a five-year-old," Nick muttered to himself. "Lene, wait for me," he called out loud. The curve in the path opened out onto a small but deep clearing. The plants grew thickly here and high overhead, barely allowing the sun to filter through except in one area up ahead where the light trickled through, casting a patch of dappled sunlight into the gloomy thicket.

Nick walked deeper into the copse and found Lene there in that patch of sunlight with two other girls her age. The strange girls were dressed in long, flowing white dresses and had crowns of ivy set on their heads with ribbons flowing from the crowns into their hair. They giggled and took Lene's hands, leading her in a game of "Ring around the Rosie" within the circle of light.

"Ring around the rosie…" the two girls began, dancing.

"Lene?" Nick called out to her. "Who are your friends?" Where had these girls come from? What were they doing here?

The five-year-old looked over at him, but the other girls pulled her attention back to them with a tug of their hands and continued on with their song. "A pocket full of posies…"

"Hey, who are you kids? …And where are your parents?" he added lamely.

They ignored him. "Ashes…"

Nick didn't like the feeling of the situation. On the surface it seemed innocent, and yet he sensed something sinister lurking beneath it all. Nick couldn't explain why, but he knew that he had to get Lene – and himself – away from these girls and their eerie vibes.


He didn't know what else to do, so he charged up to the circle of girls and lifted Lene into his arms, out of their grasp. "Time for us to go," he said. "Sorry, kids, you'll have to find another playmate." He turned away from them but two sets of hands grabbed onto his shirt in protest, and Nick looked back to see the little girls holding onto him, except that they were no longer little girls anymore. Their flesh had wasted away, leaving behind gaunt, skeletal figures with empty black holes for eyes.

"We all fall down…" they sang in hollow voices, their grips on him tightening.

Nick's breath caught in his chest. "Don't look, Lene," he told her, pressing her head against his shoulder so she couldn't see what was going on.

"Let go of me, you two," he ordered, trying to shake off the boney girls. He headed back the way they came in, but the skeletons clung on to Nick and were dragged along as he tried to escape. Just as he approached the edge of the clearing, a roaring sound began somewhere from beneath his feet and the ground began to rumble. Nick stopped to regain his balance and suddenly the earth cracked and split. White boney hands reached out of the soil and grabbed at his feet, trying to take a hold of his legs and ankles.

Yelling, Nick kicked the hands away and pulled free from the two "girls" clinging to his shirt, which gave way with a ripping sound. Nick ran as fast as his legs could carry him and made it back to the safety of the main trail. The skeletons did not follow him out of the copse, and when he was clear of it, the entire structure wavered and then collapsed to the ground. Dust and leaves rose into the air, obscuring Nick's vision. But when the dust finally cleared, it revealed a plot of aged gravestones, crumbling and heavily overgrown with ivy.

Nick looked down at Lene who was staring at the graveyard with wide eyes. "I told you not to look," he said, turning and taking them further away from what had – just a few minutes ago – been a copse. "What were you doing in there, anyway?"

"I wanted to play," she said, holding onto him now as tightly as the skeletons had. "They said they had a fun game for me…" The little girl shivered. "That wasn't fun, Nick. I don't like those girls."

"Me, neither, kid," Nick agreed. "Me, neither…"