I am incredibly sorry it took this long. Won't happen again.


I was waking very slowly.

And was that a waking. I was sore. SO sore… all over…

That was about my first thoughts, then they started clearing up, though still slowly. I tried opening eyes, what – to my surprise – went easily. I blinked a few times to make sure I was awake and took in my surroundings. Dim light… grass… green and brown everywhere.

I was in the forest. Why was I for God's sake in the forest? Did I fall asleep?!

I tried moving and another thing surprised me – I couldn't. Something held me down, something a bit heavy wrapped around one of my sides and resting on my back.

What was I lying on again?

Now I snapped into consciousness quickly, all the fog gone from my mind and I turned head to rest chin on it, discovering it was a paw. Ater's paw. On my bare back.

,,I told you it would hurt. I told you that you'd have bruises and whatnot, but do you ever listen to me? DO YOU EVER LISTEN?!" he shouted into my ear, at what I jumped.

I was still a bit dazed, so when I sat up, the amount of pain really took me by total surprise.

I knew I was sore, but this was incredible. There was not a single place on my body that wouldn't ache or burn, even my hair felt heavy and stinging.

But the worst was the lower parts. Legs were alright, just some bruises on the sides, but… oh god, the ache in between. I had to check if I'm whole, try to touch, and even when I saw and felt I was, I couldn't exactly believe it. It was like something tore me up and I couldn't see it, it drove me MAD. Ad it was sticky and wet and weird, more so than my days.

I inspected on. Some more bruises on my wrists, it kinda stung but they weren't seen clearly. My breasts seemed slightly swollen too, and sensitive…My stomach had scratches… and one bitemark on the side. When did that happen?

I couldn't see my back, but there were probably some more scratches there. One across the whole surface, a few smaller ones under my shoulder blades, some unseen on my butt.

When I looked around and saw blood, I literally froze, panic rising – then I remembered there was SUPPOSED to be blood, it was fine, just that ache was bigger than it should have been… my back didn't bleed, I suppose, at least not anymore.

We were lying on his cloak, a patch of color the same as the spilled blood thrown on the grass of a otherwise brown and green and grey, looking very alien there.

,,Can you stand?" he then mumbled, face hidden in paws, stings lying half-hard. He looked so small without his cloak – and sort of thin…

I tried it, and discovered that while I was a bit shaky, I could walk, I just had to be careful. I probably couldn't sit properly, but oh well. Mom said it would go away, that ache, I asked.

,,Does my back bleed?" I blurted out. That was the one thing I needed to know.

,,No- for God's sake, why did you do that? WHY DID YOU DO IT?! I could have killed you!"

I froze again, staring on him. That option hasn't occurred to me before… sure, I knew it wouldn't be very soft (which was still a understatement), but… kill me?

I knew he was capable of it, but not when he controlled himself, and- oh God, he COULD HAVE.

I drew in a breath, suddenly feeling cold inside. Was THAT why he objected as much?

How could have I been so STUPID?! Poor Ater. If he killed a human, he'd have hell on Earth, and what about my parents? What of the Truce?

,,I'm… sorry," I whined, hating my voice.

He didn't respond, he only sat there, folded up, and looked so much like a child- like the pup he once was. But he wasn't. He proved it.

,,I hope you're happy," he then said. ,,I nearly tore you up."

Yes, I remembered that.

This was NOT a particularly nice night for me, not the start. I did expect it to hurt, and huh, did it. I remember I nearly hysterically cried the first few minutes, who wouldn't? I clung for dear life to the grass and the cloak, and just wished I'd die on the spot to run away from it- a thought once crossing my mind that Hell wouldn't be much worse.

Then there happened… something. I don't know exactly, when and what, but the pain subsided, leaving something entirely different which I have NEVER felt before, and that got a grip of me.

I didn't even know I could feel that, that I had nerves for that, that there WERE any, but it felt that I woke up at that moment, and everything just… made sense. I don't even remember, what did I think of, I probably didn't, I just tried to grasp, what was happening, then gave up on it and swam in a ocean of pleasure.

Everytime I think of it, I blush.

Though that haze I didn't even feel any pain, scratches-bruises or not, I didn't care.

But now it all came on me, hard. Although – it's a bit strange, really – I felt very satisfied.

Then I looked at him and the high spirits dropped.

,,I didn't want to cause you…"

Ater lifted head, two black holes looking at me. I couldn't read his expression.

,,What?" I asked.

,,That." He quickly looked away. ,,Does it hurt much?"

Should I tell the truth? I didn't want to worry him more than he was already. Guilt practically dripped off him.

,,It looks worse than it is, really… just the middle… it's, uh, really sore, but that's a natural thing, I guess."

,,It is?" he asked slowly, looking on me shyly.

,,Well, mom told me she was a bit sore after her first, uh, time…" Now I because embarrassed too.

,,Did you like it at least a BIT?" he barked out, which surprised me. ,,Because I did. I damn well did and you're not ever going to get rid of me now."

I smiled shyly. ,,I wouldn't want that."

He huffed, crossing arms. ,,Okay. So- did you?"

,,That's a bit too blunt question, Ater…"

,,YOU were the one being blunt yesterday!" Okay, point taken.

,,YES, damnit! After the crying I started to," I snapped, blushing. ,,are you happy?"


I woulnd't expect a awkward silence after something like this, but there was one. We just sat there, and I thought of how long did it-

Oh damn.

,,Ater, for how long have we been here?" I asked immediately, looking around for my clothes.

No chance.

They were in shreds. Every single piece was unwearable now, from the bodice to shirt ending with the skirt and petticoat; the only piece just fine were my shoes and my own cloak, the yellow one.

What was I supposed to do now?

,,For-" he looked around, looking unconcerned. ,,Three hour-" His eyes widened, looking at the rising sun. I heard him mutter a curse under his breath and get up, motioning for me to stand too, panic in eyes.

,,It's nearly half past six!"

I cursed too now, getting up a bit too quickly and hissing after.

,,I- I don't think I can run…" I was NOT in the condition to run…

He looked me over – for maybe longer than necessary – then he took his own cloak, threw it over him, cape up – and swept me off my feet and threw me over his shoulder along with the remains of my clothes, and without a word ran.

I knew he was fast, he said so. He was one of the rabbit hunters, one of the most agile of his pack, and I saw how he was compared to his comrades too, but this… I didn't expect hearing the wind swish when he ran!

I couldn't tell, how long did it take to get to the edge of the forest, but it was at least half shorter than the usual trip, if not more.

Although I have to say, by the time we were there he was panting, barely holding me up. He practically threw me down and we both went at our own pace to my window, which I left opened.

God, I hope nobody saw me…

He helped me in, jumped there himself, threw my things down and just prepared to leave when I caught one of his stings and pulled him back.


,,Just have a nice day," I snorted, kissing him.

Thus one was different, very much so than before. And I liked it.

,,Jeez, Gwen…" he smiled, staring on me for a while, then without a word turned and was gone.

There was a knock on the door.

I nearly panicked and I swear, it took me five seconds at total to ruffle my hair, get on a nightgown, get in the bed, hide the remains of the clothing and start to pretend I'm sleeping.

,,Gwen? Come on, sleepyhead, the sun is up already. Don't worry, we're not out very much today, precautionary measures by the Elders. But you won't believe your eyes when you come to the kitchen! Come on!" she knocked again cheerfully.

,,Gwen! You have to see this, come on!" brother literally rammed at my door.

Curiosity got the better of me. After getting dressed (careful to pick something to hide most of my scratches and bruises) I ran out, trying to wake up properly.

,,Look! Look, Gwen, it's a bunny!"

And indeed it was, and if only as a prey. In the corner there a live rabbit was crouched, breathing rapidly and looking around for a escape, but in front of him Scarlet sat proudly and wouldn't let him go.

,,Where has THIS come from?" father's eyes almost fell out at the sight. ,,Rabbit's don't usually come this close…"

,,Maybe he was chased by a fox and somehow got in here," I suggested. ,,we ARE at the edge of the forest."

,,Is he going to be made into a meal today?" brother asked.

,,Like Hell he is!" father responded, earning him a stern glare from mother. ,,We're keeping him for now. Imagine! If this was a female, we could go to old Jack for breeding!"

That sounded like a good idea. Jack had a few old rabbits, he was good in laying traps at the edge of the forest to catch them alive and then either give them to someone or keep them for a meal, but he never managed to catch a female before. Why was that, well we didn't know. But if this WAS a female, then we're on a good road to have a nice winter.

Ten minutes of cooperation, a good amount of sweating and several scratches later father had the rabbit in arms, wrapped in a cloth, and motioned for mother to come check it. She stared at it intensely for a while, then, with a huge smile, said;


Joyful squees, shouts, laughter and congratulations to each other erupted in the house, brother jumped up and down to see the bunny, Scarlet went around us and mewled and it all was such a perfect moment I was on the edge of crying.

Ater's gift was wonderful. How did he know THIS would make us so happy?! I had to thank him so much later! It was incredible!

,,Well, off to Jack then!" mother laughed and we all went out with the rabbit to go to the west edge of the village.

Our joy, however, didn't last long.

Half the way there we saw a crowd of people in shocked silence and gasps, the wall of bodies was so thick we couldn't see, what's happening.

,,What? What's there?!" I shouted, and what mother frowned and shook head. She couldn't see either.

,,Theodor?" someone shouted from the inside circle. ,,Ya' better come see this."

Father frowned, handled the rabbit over to mother and pushed past the crowd who, seeing him, stepped out of the way immediately. Nobody spoke a word, so I ran after him.

What I saw made my blood freeze.

On the ground lied my aunt, seemingly unconscious, and people were already trying to resurrect her somehow with water, but a few paces from her…

I knew the dog. It was her dog once, I remembered him from the last time we were hiding.

He lay dead, sprawled across the ground, and the most terrifying were the words scratched across his torso, bleeding;


I heard mother gasp silently, but not saying a word either. Father was frozen on the spot too, staring without blinking on the corpse, then kneeling to his sister to shake her.

,,Who did it?!"

The question was sort of… needless. Nobody from the village would do this. It was Them. It was clear as day, even the small kids knew this. They did it…


,,Them," aunt spoke almost unaudibly. ,,it was Them from the woods… I- I saw them going away…"

,,But what is the meaning of this?! What in the Hell is theirs here that we shouldn't touch?!"

Father was screaming, but nobody really blamed him. And the fact we didn't know what happened was only making it worse.

It wasn't me. It COULDN'T be me. They knew I was friends with Aterulmen, he told them the whole story, so why… They wouldn't tell that about one of Them! They'd interfere far earlier if it was that!

,,Maybe it was just a warning," someone piped up helplessly.

Be…be rational, Gwen. It can't be you. It had to be… someone else went into the forest, that had to be it, that…

I broke down in hysterical weeping, scared like I never was before.

,,It was HER!" someone frok the crowd screamed, and I suddenly found everyone looking at me trhough hazed eyes.

,,Don't be ridiculous! What would they want to do with my daughter?!"

,,She has the forbidden color on her!" one of my former classmates, a thin girl, yelled. ,,You can't hide it forever! They saw it, and they want her!"

,,WHY WOULD THEY WANT ME!" I screamed at her, half in rage and half in horror. ,,IT'S ONLY MY DAMNED HAIR! I CAN'T DO ANYTHING ABOUT MY HAIR! DON'T BLAME ME!"

,,Who knows if it IS your daughter?" someone mused. ,,Nobody from the family has red hair among you."

Mother sucked in a breath, father stiffened.

,,Are you saying I cheated on my husband?!" she blurted out.

,,I am saying that maybe you didn't KNOW of it! They are the Fey, maybe it's theyr own child that's among us now!"

,,Yes, maybe she's a changeling!"

No. No. It didn't work that way, they didn't ever look human. And yet… who knew of that but me? Nobody else. NOBODY has ever seen their children. And the panic was rising, the people would find ANY excuse to explain this, if it was wise or not, bullshit or not, they needed a explanation


My voice got high to levels I didn't even know I was capable of.

,,Of course not! I KNOW who I gave birth to!" mother yelled now, wrapping a arm around my shoulders possessively. ,,She IS my daughter my any means! She had red hair since she was born…" she added weakly, looking down on the top of my head.

,,Well then, maybe one of Them snuck into your bedroom instead of your husband, eh?"

,,I WILL HAVE NO MORE OF THIS NONSENSE!" Father stood up. ,,I hear one more word blaming my daughter and I will go to the Elders!"

,,They'll know of this anyway…"

He wrapped a hand around my shoulders as well and pushed me out roughly.

,,Come on, let's go home." He then added in a very quiet tone; ,,I have something to explain…"