Arianna has spent her entire life being called a dreamer, an artist who created a world no one else can see. And for her entire life, she has taken the medication that keeps that world – and the one who brought her there – at bay.
Now an adult, Arianna reawakens that part of herself kept locked away in the darkest corners of her mind. When she hides her medicine from her fiancé’s ever-watchful eye, he returns – the shadow in the night who collects her for an adventure known only in her fantasies.
But something is different about this world called The Never. It is no longer the cheerful place filled with light and laughter that she knew as a child. Now, the sea creatures drag their visitors into the depths of murky waters. The natives battle to the death against the tribe of children. And the pirates, led by the feared captain called The Hunter, seek out Arianna for their own sinister plans.
As Arianna goes deeper into The Never, she discovers just what her connection to the land means – and must choose between her life rooted in reality, and the world where anything is possible.
They say that in time, we all must grow up.
Keep your feet on the ground. Get your head out of the clouds. You dream too big. Such words force us out of childhood, out of our dreams, and into reality - if we let them. While our bodies may grow up and our minds may mature, our imaginations transcend the meaning of time.
To say that I grew up would be the truth. To say that I stopped dreaming would be a lie. My love for writing was born out of dreams, both waking and sleeping, that took me to worlds everyone else said could never exist. Perhaps this life is too limited in its possibilities, or maybe it is our lack of sight that keeps us from truly seeing.
You might even say that writing was, for me, an act of rebellion. Mermaids aren’t real? People can’t fly? Luck dragons are made-up creatures? Well, let me prove the many ways in which you are wrong. In books, there is no such thing as “impossible” - and that is what I love most.
The Never took hold in my mind many years ago, a story of what happens after we grow up, but cannot forget our dreams. Some of you may recognize its origin, the long-ago told tale of magic, or you may have heard my endless chatter about the boy who never says good-bye. The Never is not a story of what happens next, but rather, what happens when one woman decides to stop believing in the limitations around her and instead believes in herself - what she can do, what she can see, and what she can dream.
It is an unfortunate reality that we all must grow up. But, The Never has allowed me the rare opportunity to step back into a childhood that was all too short and be among the stories that keep my dreams alive, even during those pestering waking hours.
Even now, I am the one who stays on shore for fear of sea monsters. I am the one who looks for faeries in the flowers. I am the one who is terrified by the thought of being possessed, yet still hopes to meet a ghost or alien. I am the one who lives in The Never, if only in my dreams.
I hope you too enjoy the trip into the impossibly possible, and in the end, let your dreams take flight.
Prologue - A Child Dreams
The child sat with her arms crossed, green eyes staring vacantly at the woman before her, mind and imagination in a world not of this realm. The woman, frustrated and bored, watched the girl carefully, tired of this game.
A clock ticked in the background, a steady tick, tick, tick of time that did not exist for the child, but drove the adult to her last frayed nerve. Not even the tranquility of her office, purposely decorated to best set every heart at ease with soft colors and peaceful seascapes, could ease the tension in her shoulders.
“Arianna, we have been through this,” the woman said, speaking the first words of the day. Her voice sounded too high-pitched and nervous, betraying the stern expression her face had settled into. “You cannot keep lying to people. People don’t like lies.”
Those green eyes shifted ever so slightly, latching on to her in an eerie, unsettling way. The woman’s breath caught in her throat, making her next question sound almost frightened. “Can you tell me why you make up these stories?”
The girl hardly moved when she answered. “I don’t tell stories. I tell memories.”
The answer only annoyed the woman more. “Memories of what?”
“Of the land I dream of.”
“And where is this land?” At that, the girl unfolded her arms and slowly raised a hand, curling her fingers until just one was pointing toward the ceiling. “Up? Where is up? Heaven?” The girl only lowered her arm and narrowed her eyes in a way that told the woman exactly what she thought of her. “And who showed you this place?”
“Does this friend have a name?” The child didn’t answer. “Is he nice to you? Or does he tell you to do bad things?” Another blank stare. “Are you afraid of him?”
“I’m not afraid of my friends.”
“If he is a friend, why does no one else know him?”
“No one else can see him.”
The woman smiled softly, gently touching the girl’s arm. “Because he does not exist.”
“Because they have forgotten how to see,” the child retorted, bitterness in her voice. “He only comes to those who still believe in magic.”
“I see. And who told you to say that?”
“I think for myself.”
The woman sighed, rising to her feet and gesturing to the girl to do the same. “Magic is for children who cannot think for themselves, Arianna. It is time to grow up, and forget these stories. Then you won’t have to see me anymore.” The green eyes locked on her once again, sending a chill down the woman’s back.
“I see you always. But you never see me.”
The girl allowed her mother to tuck her in that night, obeying the soft commands to brush her teeth, put on her pajamas, and slip beneath the sheet. Bedtime was the best time for her, the time when dreams came, when she was visited by memories.
Her mother, a beautiful lady in every sense of the word, pulled up the comforter, smiling down at her daughter. “Tomorrow is a new day, sweetheart,” she said, kissing her on the cheek. She held out her hand. “Here, take this.”
The child looked down at the small blue pill, taking it in her slender fingers. “What is it?”
“To help you sleep,” her mother replied, handing her a glass of water. Not a trace of anger or deception filled her words, as she was a good mother, one who knew what was best for her only child and refused to show distress. “So you won’t have to visit your doctor anymore.” As expected, the oath had her daughter eagerly swallowing the pill, never knowing what truths would come of the broken promises.
“Will I sleep better now?” the girl asked, settling down against her pillows.
“You will sleep like an angel, my beautiful little Arianna, with silk wings and a long, flowing white dress.”
“Will I dream?”
“Of all the most wonderful things in this world.” Her mother leaned over and kissed her daughter on the forehead. “Sweet dreams, my love.”
But on that night, the little girl didn’t dream at all.
Sample Chapter 3:
3 - A Dream Awakened
The emptiness followed her home, a shadow trailing behind her every step, seeping into her dreams until she could no longer find peace or restfulness in her slumber. Arianna slipped out of bed, careful not to disturb her fiancé, and retreated to her studio, where her paints waited impatiently.
The hours passed slowly as she mixed reds with grays, greens with blues, painting color across canvas in gliding brushstrokes. Frustration built when the colors wouldn’t mix just right, blending beautifully but not creating the replica she envisioned. She wanted another painting like the one she sold. An exact copy, not a poor man’s version that lacked the passion, emotion, and mysticism of the original.
Arianna threw the brush down in frustration, burying her head in her hands. “It’s pointless,” she muttered, rubbing her fingers over her face, not noticing that she smeared spots of grays and greens over her cheeks. Her hair caught on her engagement ring, tangling it even more than it already was.
With a sigh, she rose from the chair and cast a baleful glance at the easel and canvas, the remnants of what could have been the rebirth of a memory now long forgotten. Needing to get away from the failure, she stepped out the back door and lowered herself onto the stairs, staring out at the midnight sky.
The night was peaceful, a warm breeze traveling through the trees, which spanned up to a twinkling sky with nary a cloud in sight. She loved nights like these, surrounded by the sounds of nature - the gentle rustling of leaves, the chirp of crickets in the distance, Mother Nature settling herself down to rest. Midnight was always her most tranquil time, the hour between night and morning when she could almost feel the world rejuvenating itself, recharging in preparation for a new day filled with light and life and laughter.
Arianna sighed again, knowing what those thoughts meant. She resigned herself to the fact that another trip to the doctor was likely in order to up the meds that were no longer working as well as they used to, and pulled a blue pill from her pocket. A few loose pills were always kept on hand for moments such as these, just in case she had what her mother so lovingly referred to as “episodes,” those times when reality and daydream merged together and she couldn’t distinguish the two in her mind. Lately she was finding it harder to make that differentiation, even on the days when she remembered to take her medication on time.
She knew from years of begrudging experience that it would take a few minutes for her thoughts to clear, so she allowed herself a moment to simply sit and enjoy the night before retreating to the bedroom. Arianna leaned her head against the railing post, eyes tracing a pathway in the sky between the stars. Exploring them, imagining life among them, sparkling and glimmering, watching over the world below. A smile formed when one of those stars twinkled just a bit brighter than others, as though just for her.
“They remember you,” a voice said from the shadows, deep and accented with the lilt of a foreign land, “just as you remember them.”
Arianna’s smile widened, her gaze never leaving the sky though exhilaration singed her nerves. She knew this voice; somewhere within her soul she knew this voice, had heard it before. As a child, she was, at first, terrified of the people who spoke to her in her fantasies. They told her to come away with them, to fight with them, to never go home. But the more she learned to control her dreams, her episodes, the more comfortable she was hearing the one who spoke to her most often.
That voice had changed over the years, aging with her, maturing from a child’s curious tone to one that tingled down to her core. But try as she might, after her mind and body matured, she was never able to match the voice to a face, especially when her medication had kept the voice at bay for over a decade.
“The stars are far too important to remember just one person,” she answered softly.
“You are not just one person. You are Arianna of the Stars.” She heard a rustling in front of her, saw a shadow forming in the trees. She blinked, but the shadow remained in place, not moving closer, but not moving away either. “You are lover, creator, dreamer.”
“I am but a person, who dreams of the stars.”
“And what of him? Does he dream of the stars with you?”
The shadow didn’t move, but Arianna swore she felt a brush of fingertips against her left hand. “The one who shares your bed. The one you call…fiancé.”
The word sounded like a curse, one that sent shivers down her spine. “He…enjoys stories of my dreams, but doesn’t often look at the stars.” When the shadow didn’t answer, she frowned and peered into the night. “He is a businessman, not a dreamer.”
“And how does a dreamer fall in love with a businessman?”
Her thoughts drifted back to her teenage years, that time between growing up and longing to still be a child. “I met him in high school,” she answered, her voice light and nostalgic. “He offered me a ride home from school after I missed the bus…stayed too late in art class. He made me laugh, and I felt safe with him. He didn’t care that I was…different.”
John had taught her how to trust, how to feel secure. “He asked me to marry him before I left for art school, and it seemed perfect at the time. Naturally, I said yes.” John’s request for her hand in marriage still made her smile, the sweetness of the gesture, the hopeful innocence when he lowered himself to one knee. “But you know all of this. You have always been here, somewhere, in the forgotten parts of my mind.”
“I have seen what you have seen,” the stranger agreed, voice still soft and mysterious, yet with the slightest hint of anger. Or perhaps something else, she wondered. Regret, or even frustration. “But not felt what you have felt, or what you feel now. Tell me, Arianna of the Stars, do you love him?”
Slightly taken aback, Arianna lifted her head and scanned the trees, searching. “Who are you to ask me such a thing?”
But there was no answer. The figure was gone, the dream awakened. Shaking her head at her own foolishness in arguing with a delusion, Arianna rose from the steps and walked back inside, back to the man she had promised to love until death do her part.
When she awoke the next morning, John was gone. Next to her, laying on the pillow, was a note that read, Work called, be back soon. Have a surprise for my talented artist.
Arianna smiled and traced a finger across the words, imagining her fiancé as he tried to quickly yet quietly write the note before slipping out the door. He often left early in the morning, pulled away from a weekend rest to take care of business demands. She didn’t pretend to fully understand everything he did for his job, but could appreciate the fact that he worked hard and rarely complained.
Lifting herself from the bed, Arianna pulled on a thin, light-green sundress that hung just above her knees. It was a warm morning, which meant a hot afternoon was in order. Those days were her favorite, when she could explore the great outdoors without being bundled up, feeling the breeze against her skin, the grass beneath her feet. That’s where she belonged, tucked away in her own little world where nothing could touch her but the sounds and scents of nature.
Arianna slipped outside, relishing the morning time. The woods stretched out before her, surrounding the cabin in greens and golds. It was rare to find this kind of paradise anymore, she knew, a forest haven that found a way to escape the growing masses of steel structures and bipedal traffic.
Sunlight filtered across her path as she walked, flickering in with the wind, creating images in the dirt and grass that inspired visions of elves and fairies. Thoughts of fantasy creatures brought her attention back to the previous night. It had been a long time, too long a time, since the phantom figure had come to visit her. Years, in fact. There were moments when she almost thought she could sense him there in the background, waiting to be addressed, begging to be seen. Arianna felt a pang of guilt each time she took that little blue pill, as though she were forcing him into hiding, exiling him from an existence in the light, punishing him for a crime he did not commit. But her doctors, and her mother, had made it clear that speaking to the phantom would not be tolerated - not if she hoped to live her life outside of padded walls.
John gave her hope that what the others said wasn’t true. He didn’t look at her with pity, like she was something broken and discarded. He knew about her past, the voices she heard as a child, the places she claimed to have seen. But he didn’t care. He loved her despite her faults, and encouraged her to simply be herself, the artist who dreamed. She tried to see his daily medication reminders as acts of love rather than an annoyance, helping her to be a better person.
Was it a kind of infidelity, then, to be seeking out the voice in her dreams, the one who came back to her after so many years of silence?
Arianna pondered that as she walked, circling the cabin slowly, hands grazing across rough tree bark, feet crunching over fallen leaves. She loved her fiancé; there was no doubt about that. But she was also fascinated by the voice, the figure in the shadows. She no longer remembered his face, but how he made her feel, that she recognized even when not in his presence.
Whole. She felt whole, after a lifetime of existing merely in pieces.
The man at the gallery, James, gave her a similar feeling. There was something about the way those bright eyes stared through her, something about the roughness of his voice, that called to her. She had never met him, neither in this life nor her dreams, but he was familiar in way she could not explain. Arianna supposed that was why let her painting go, though she still felt the loss of it deep in her heart.
With a sigh, Arianna finished her walk, disappointed to be alone. She was about to head back inside when she heard the crunch of footsteps over twigs behind her. She froze in place, not daring to look over her shoulder.
“Are…are you here?” she asked, her question nearly a whisper. A hand touched her shoulder, caressing it.
“Of course I’m here.”
It wasn’t the voice she expected, but it was one she recognized. Arianna turned, facing John with a wobbly smile. “You startled me.”
“Expecting someone else?”
“Of course not. You just–” Her voice cut off when she saw the bundle in his arms, the wriggling, furry ball of golden fur. She looked up at John, who was grinning down at her. “He’s for me?”
“She.” John handed her the puppy, an eight-week-old mutt mix of lab and shepherd. “I know how much you hate the business trips I have to take this time of year, so I thought I’d get you a friend.”
Arianna scooped up the puppy, burying her face in the soft fur. The puppy responded by licking her forehead. “Oh, John, she’s such a darling. I love her.”
John scratched the puppy behind the ears. “She needs a name.”
Arianna held out the puppy, eyeing it with a tender gaze. Wide yellow eyes stared back at her, filled with unconditional love. “Lily,” she decided, nodding to herself. The name surfaced in the forefront of her mind from some unknown place, feeling like the name of an old friend or perhaps a close family member. “Her name is Lily.”
“It’s a good name.”
The hesitation in his voice had her frowning. She drew Lily to her chest again and looked up at John. “Is something wrong?” When he cast a glance down at the dog, she knew. “You’re leaving.”
“I’m sorry, Ari. I know it’s sooner than expected, but the boss needs me on a plane tonight. It’s just for a week, and I figured since you got such a big price for your painting, that you’d be fine here for a few days.”
Arianna sighed. She hated when he traveled, leaving her alone while he saw the world. Part of her distaste was purely out of jealousy, though the other, larger part was that she simply preferred his company over being by herself. Except this time, she’d at least have Lily. “Well…I guess I’ll help you pack, then.”
Sample Chapter 6:
6 - Remember Thyself
It was exhilarating. It was terrifying. It was natural.
Arianna clung to him, to the familiar stranger who smelled of the sky and sea, as they soared toward the clouds. She heard his laughter in her ears, laughter mixed with the roar of the wind. He was so carefree in his flight that she forgot her fear, allowing herself the joy of looking around and over his shoulder in wonder.
They climbed higher and higher until the trees were but green specks, until white clouds became mist that embraced them, until blue sky was their only existence. Arianna chuckled when they passed a flock of geese, which scattered at their sudden arrival and watched in shock at the strange creatures orbiting into the dark unknown above. Her laugh cut short when she felt pressure building against her chest, and fear began to set in again at the sensation of soaring into potential nothingness. She was just about to cry out when she saw the change in color, blue sky giving way to reds and purples that distracted her enough to ease the tension in her limbs.
They had left when the afternoon sun just began to rise, but now they were traveling into twilight. Arianna didn’t understand how they passed through one time dimension to the next and started to wonder about her sanity, but when she felt his arms tighten around her, his fast heartbeat matching her own, she didn’t care. She simply watched as the world around them transformed, twinkling stars flickering around a bright moon, blue-gray clouds set against a cobalt sky.
It wasn’t a sky she was used to seeing in her daily life. Only in memories she didn’t quite trust did she recall witnessing the magnificent sight of white moon next to dimmed yellow sun, both of which seemed to smile as they passed, neither of which outshone the other. They were content as friends side by side, surrounded by blazing stars that called out energetic greetings as the wingless travelers flew past. Arianna lifted a hand and waved to one of those stars, greeting what felt like an old friend, never feeling the foolishness one may have sensed in talking to a star.
Music erupted from all around them, little bells and flutes and windchimes singing their arrival. She felt them slowing down then, almost floating instead of soaring but fast enough to keep her pressed against her pilot in this incredible flight. There was no other being in this sky-within-a-sky, only their own beating hearts and exhilarated breaths.
“Where are we?” Arianna asked, her voice a shout in the silence. “Where are we going?”
In response, he only pointed ahead of them.
She saw then where he was taking her, a sight that she remembered from a dream many years ago. They rocketed toward their destination, entering the atmosphere with a blinding flashing light that exploded all around them. Arianna could no nothing but squeeze her eyes shut and hold on tight, trusting her guide to lead them to safety.
When the brightness faded, it took a moment for her eyes to adjust. At first she saw only gray. Gray clouds, gray mist, gray trees. Then the gray gave way to white, and a pale mix of color. Everything was subdued, as though she were looking through a tinted glass.
Arianna clutched at his shoulder as he flew her closer, toward what looked like a forest canopy breaking through the mist. One tree grew taller than the rest, jutting out in grandeur, sprawling above its neighbors with limbs wide enough for at least three to walk side-by-side. He set them both down on one of those limbs, waiting until Arianna had balanced herself to release her. She felt the draw of his hands across her back, then on her arm as his fingers trailed down her forearm and took her hand.
“Come,” he whispered, gently pulling her out on the branch.
“Are you insane?” She tugged against his grip, casting a glance down. They may have been standing on an enormous limb, but that limb was stretched over an entire forest – and it was a long way down.
He only smiled. “I won’t let you fall.”
Arianna took in a deep breath, gathering her courage. She had never been afraid of heights, but walking out on a branch over a forest canopy with no safety net other than a man able to fly…it made her a little nervous.
Finally she took a step out and allowed him to lead her the rest of the way. She ignored the rush to her head that made her feel as though the entire world was dropping out from under her and instead held on to his hand and looked out.
The gray was starting to fade ever so slightly, giving way to a soft pink that lit up the clouds. In the distance, she could see the faintest of outlines forming high above the land, curious curves and summits peeking out from far below the sky. The mountains matched those she saw in her dream, but these were defined, real, able to touch and be touched.
When the sound of creaking tree limbs, rushing water, and a jumble of voices drifted in on a light breeze, Arianna turned to the man at her side. He was staring out at the vastness before them, a small, satisfied smile playing at the corners of his mouth. His eyes were an intense green, dark and determined, waiting for something to happen.
“What’s going on?” Arianna asked when he shifted slightly, almost anxiously. He drew them both down to their knees to watch.
“It’s waking up.”
“The Never.” He turned those steely eyes to her now, and she felt the gaze penetrate her, wrap her in a tight embrace. “It wakes for me, always for me. It wakes for you, for your return. It wakes for us, and our reunion.”
He spoke of the land as its own being, and the more he did, the more that land responded. It stirred with his words, stretching and breathing, coming alive in the joy of his presence. Trees arched, the earth rolled, colors in the sky deepening before softening back into their pale hues.
“Do you remember this place?” he asked, gesturing with his free hand. He pointed to the right, where an open meadow gave way to an ice-peaked mountain range. “There, the Starlight Range. We used to play games in the meadow, and race each other through the mountains until the sun could no longer light our paths. And there, the Gilded River, where we chased fish and built rafts that lasted but moments on the rapids. And over there, the lagoon that the sea creatures call home.”
“Misty Marsh,” Arianna whispered, creeping closer to the edge of the limb as the land came more into view. “Its name defies its very being, neither marsh nor misty, for the land where the sea creatures dwell is for those who see only in the darkest of clear waters.”
Her wild-haired companion smiled, eyes shining in the rising sun. “You remember.”
“Some of it.” Memories were coming back in pieces, snippets of places she once knew, people she once cherished, before others intruded in her fantasies to tell her what was real, what wasn’t. “I don’t…I can’t remember everything. It’s like viewing the land through a veil, with so much still hidden from me.”
Arianna didn’t notice when he rose to his feet, shaken from her trance only when he pulled her to her feet. “Come,” he whispered, gently pulling her out on the branch.
“Where? Out there? I can’t.”
“I won’t let you fall,” he promised again. “I will always catch you.”
“How?” Arianna kept to the center of the limb as they walked farther out. “How are you doing this? How is this possible?”
“I am The Never. The Never is me.”
The repeated riddle failed to satisfy her curiosity. She kept her eyes on the landscape slowly revealing itself as she said, “You share the same name. That could get confusing.”
“Then give me a name.”
Arianna did turn her attention at that. “You don’t have a name?”
“I did once, a long time ago.”
“What happened to it?”
“It was forgotten, as was I.” He stared out at the vastness before them. “Now you must give me a new one.”
A curious smile crossed her face. “Any name?”
He moved closer to her, so close that she could smell the ocean on his skin. “The name that calls to you, that you call to.”
There was something hungry in his response, and yet, playful enough that she grinned. “I’ll think about it, and let you know.”
The man to be named took hold of her arm and twirled her into him, pressing her against his chest. “You think, Arianna of the Stars. I’ll fly.”
Tipping them both sideways, he sent them tumbling over the edge.
The fall was fast, controlled, until they landed softly at the base of a tree. Finding her balance after detaching herself from her companion, Arianna craned her neck upwards, taking in the gnarled limbs and knotted wood, the trunk so wide it would take at least ten of her to wrap her arms around its base. Her fingers traced over images carved into the tree, dogs and birds and creatures she didn’t recognize, along with names - Kiddo, Snaps, Jimbo, Jokesy - that tugged at the corners of her mind.
She walked slowly around the tree, taking in the carvings, feeling the smooth, dark green leaves brush against her shoulders. The wind carried with it the scents of the land, jasmine and grass, innocence and youth, the smell of a land full of life. There was playfulness in the branches, she noted as she looked up. Small animals leapt from branch to branch, chittering to one another excitedly. Some dared to crawl down just out of arm’s reach, observing the woman curiously. Arianna only stared right back, offering her new woodland friends a smile before moving on. The ground was soft beneath her bare feet, grass that felt like mashed potatoes, dirt cool like a fall morning, flowers that swept past her ankles like clouds.
Her airborne guide hung back and watched Arianna take it all in – the sights, the smells, the surroundings. He waited while she remembered, allowing her the time she needed to reconnect, rediscover who she was. When she had reached her starting point at the base of the tree, he stepped forward.
“You know where we are.” It wasn’t a question, and the subtle command to recall this place, this tree, had Arianna frowning.
“I…I do,” she affirmed, reaching out and placing her palm on the trunk, her hand fitting over a carving that fit her own hand perfectly. She pressed down. “This is—”
She didn’t get to finish her sentence. The wood moved beneath her hand, the trunk opening up, the ground shifting enough to throw her off-balance. He grabbed for her before she could fall but reached out too late, succeeding only in sending them both sliding downward into darkness. The passageway closed behind them, taking away any light to guide them in their fall, which, Arianna discovered as she bit back a scream, wasn’t a fall at all.
They were sliding, taking twists and turns around what she could only guess were roots. In the darkness she saw only blurs of clay walls, though she slid on smooth wood arcing down at a steep angle. She couldn’t gage how fast she was falling, but after a while, she started to enjoy the ride and laughed.
Arianna saw a dim light up ahead, but didn’t have time to process her surroundings before the wooden slide dropped out from under her and she fell to the ground. She felt strong arms wrap around her in the air, cushioning her fall as he landed on his back, her strong and ever-present guardian keeping her form harm.
For a moment she simply lay in place, catching her breath. Only then did she notice that she was lying on top of him, his arms wrapped around her. He was staring up at her with a glint of humor in his eyes, dark auburn hair framing his face in a fiery halo.
“What…you can fly,” Arianna breathed out, realizing that her hands were gripping his finely toned arms and not letting go. “Why did you fall?”
He lifted a brow. “I liked the landing.” When she merely snorted, he lifted his head so that his forehead was nearly touching her own. “Give me a name, Arianna of the Stars.”
Arianna took in a breath, feeling his body mold to her own as she did so. Her mind clouded, thoughts retreating into the corners of her mind as her skin tingled. A name, she managed to think, closing her eyes to get away from that piercing gaze. A name...a name.
Her eyes flashed open then and she rose, turning away from him to free herself from his embrace. “John.” She said it quietly to herself, but the grimace on his face told her that he’d heard.
“I don’t think that name suits me. Besides, another has already claimed it.”
“I know. I just, I…I need to think a minute.”
He watched her from the ground, eyes never leaving her as she paced. “Think of the earth, and the home we made in it. Think of the days we spent here, playing our games, believing in magic.”
“What? No. I was thinking about…” her voice trailed off when she looked around and realized what he was saying. A home within the earth, the place where they once played their games. She felt another shift in her mind, a memory clicking into place. Boys settling down after a day of energetic outings, telling bedtime stories to the little ones and singing songs to those too wound up to rest.
“You slept over there.” She pointed above her head, where a hammock made of rope and vine swung from between two exposed roots. The hammock was old and fragile, not having been used in years. “I slept over there.” She pointed again at a groove carved out of the earth where a mattress rested. “And the others…Where are they?”
He rose to his feet at the question, one fluid movement. “They have gone away. Others have taken their place. They wait for you.”
“Where?” Her brow furrowed when he extended his hand. Arianna looked down to see a dagger in his palm, the blade as long as her forearm, the sheath and belt a menacing red. “What is that for?”
“Much has changed since you last dreamed in The Never. Much has stayed the same. Just as I vowed to always keep you safe when we were children, so too do I promise now.” He reached out and wrapped the belt around her waist so that the knife rested against her hip. “So that you are always armed, and always ready to face what dangers lurk in the shadows.” His face brightened then, a drastic shift in expressions. “But for now, we play.”
The whirlwind of thoughts and emotions confused her, unsettled her. Arianna planted her feet when he attempted to drag her off again, needing a moment to collect herself. “No,” she stated, pleased that her voice didn’t waver. “You have taken me from place to place, messing up my mind with all your flying acrobats and words with hidden meanings and references to memories that I’m supposed to have. You want me to play? Tell me what I want to know.”
He let go of her hand but stepped closer, not allowing her an escape. Arianna set her jaw and held her head high, staring him down when he gave her that captivating look. He didn’t touch her, but she felt the heat of his presence burning against her skin. “And what do you wish to know?”
“Where are we?”
“The Never. The land we dreamed of as children.”
“What does that mean?”
“You know what it means.” He lifted a hand, pressed a finger against her forehead ever so gently. “You know who you are, where you are. You need only look inside yourself.”
She brushed his hand aside. “You were young. You were a child, always a child. You said…” She struggled to remember those days, his visits at night, their adventures. “You said our youth was our savior. What happened?”
His eyes darkened, but in anger or sadness Arianna couldn’t tell. “Some stories are not yet ready to be told, Arianna. Ours is only beginning.”
Arianna stepped back again. “One more question. Why do you need me to give you a name?”
He smiled at that, almost a leer. “You are my creator, my destroyer. You are my everything and my nothing. You are my heart, and the arrow that pierces it. Only you can give a name to that which you desire.”
“Maybe I don’t desire you.” His sudden laugh surprised her, challenged her, intrigued her. “You think you’re smooth, and dark, and mysterious. Prove it.”
He locked an arm around her waist. “I will prove nothing to you. But I will show you who you used to be. I will teach you to fly, and to live. I will awaken that which now slumbers. And then, you will remember my name.”
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