The first time that Laelia had met Jesse, she'd been ten years old, lost in the school. She'd wandered down a corridor, becoming more confused and hopelessly lost with every miserable step. In a last ditch attempt to find her way back to her room, she'd gone through a door and into what she thought was an empty classroom.
The floor had given way beneath her, crumbling as she tumbled into the unknown darkness below.
Back then, of course, the catacombs were dark and damp from years of being unused, and their sole inhabitant was one seventeen year old boy in a grey robe who she found sitting cross legged on the stone floor. He'd greeted her with as warm a smile as he could muster, and Laelia's heart soared at the thought of not being alone in this horrible, dark maze.
"Hello," he'd said, in an accent that Laelia had never been able to pin point. "Are you the girl I was told about?"
Little ten year old Laelia had stared at him then, perplexed by why he'd been told about her, and who she was, and why either of them were there. But somehow, it wasn't scary - the boy sounded nice, and beneath his grey hood he had a warm smile. "I don't know," she'd said. "Who's the girl you were told about?"
"I was told her name was Gwendoline Lealia Claudia Theresa Richards. It's kind of a mouthful, actually, so if that is you then I'd appreciate if you told me just one thing to call you by, I'd hate to have to constantly be repeating that name."
She'd giggled, thinking how funny this boy was. "Just call me Laelia," she'd told him. "That's what my friends all call me."
Jesse had grinned. "Hey, Laelia. How do you fancy being part of a magic organisation that currently only has one member, which is me?"
She thought for a moment. "Do I get fairy wings?"
"If you like, yes."
Laelia watched now, as Jesse asked Rune the same questions. Unlike she had, Rune did not ask for fairy wings, which Laelia thought was a real shame, considering how badass hers looked on her last Halloween. Instead, she simply agreed, smiling at Jesse, who Laelia noticed had lost a lot of weight over the summer, his face gaunt and tired.
"Good," he choked out. "Because I need you guys here on Saturday night. Quite desperately."
"Why?" Laelia asked, worry etched in her face. "What's happening on Saturday night?"
A smile graced Jesse's lips. "I'll tell you then, Laelia. But don't worry, it'll all be fine in the end. It'll all be fine." He wring his hands together, and Laelia couldn't help but notice the light in his eyes, like a dying star still burning, clinging onto the irrational hope that it would still hang in the sky after tumbling through the darkness. "Now, take Rune here back up to the school, you all have classes tomorrow and I won't be responsible for you failing your exams, especially you, Laelia. I know you've been struggling."
Anger blazed suddenly inside of her. "Jesse!" she hissed. "Shut up!"
He just laughed, though it sounded slightly fake to Laelia. "I'm sorry, Laelia, I'm sorry. But I'm serious. Go on, get to sleep."
"Come on," Avery said, as Suzanne tugged Laelia back the way that they had came. Avery muttered something to Rune, and she laughed, but Laelia couldn't make out what it was that he'd said.
In a huff, she stomped back to her room once they'd gotten back to the school, rolling her eyes. Stupid Jesse, she thought. He could never hold his tongue long enough to avoid annoying her.
Entering her room, she slammed the door behind her, causing the other two girls in the room to jump, staring at her. "You alright, Gwendoline?" the first one asked mockingly, twiddling her dark hair.
"Shut up, Lacy," Laelia growled at the sound of her first name.
"There's no need to be so rude," said the second girl, Stacy, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. The two were twins, and identical in all but looks, which Laelia thought was a great inconvenience, as there looks were about the only things going for them. "Lacy was just being nice."
"Just get off my bed," Laelia huffed. "I'm tired, and I really can't be bothered dealings with your crap."
Rolling her eyes, Stacy obliged, skipping over to her own bed next to Lacy's.
Quickly, Laelia got changed and ready for bed, flopping down on top of her sheets and curling up. She knew she shouldn't be so mad at Jesse - her friends probably wouldn't even care about her schoolwork, and it wasn't like her exams would matter much anyway - but still. He still shouldn't have embarrassed her like that, whether that was his intention or not.
"Don't you have homework or something?" Lacy asked, but Laelia ignored her. She couldn't be bothered with homework right now, even the English essay for the next day. It was nearly finished anyway, she was sure it'd be fine.
And in any case, she was tired.
That night, she dreamt of figures, monsters, lurking in the shadows, shifting and changing to fit the mould of the universe as it saw fit. Their lips were as scarlet red as the blood staining the floor beneath them, and they were grinning wickedly.
"Hello there, Laelia,'' they sang in a perfect harmony, voice soft, a shroud of the finest silk wrapping around Laelia's eyes, nose, lips. "Are you feeling happy tonight?"
Her stomach twisted. There was blood coating her hands like a thick covering of lies, and it made her feel dizzy looking at it, though her fingers were numb as she tried to move them; she was locked to the spot with invisible strings, like a puppet. She would do what they wanted her to do. She had to.
She smiled. The strings pulled her eyes to look at the figures.
Their faces were changing; long nose, thin mouth, pale face, small ears. But the light of the figure's eyes still remained a constant. staring at her, watching, waiting. The other figure disappeared, waltzing back into the shadows from which it had been born. She was alone.
"Gwendoline Lealia Claudia Theresa Richards," it whispered, voice cold and tongue viper like, venomous. "I have something to tell you. Is that alright?"
"I-" she paused, her gaze flickering to the figure for a moment, then back down to her scarlet soaked hands. "I-"
She couldn't speak. Her tongue was twisting, desperation tearing out her heart, her eyes staring into the figure's as she tried to speak. "That's not- ah!"
Pain blazed across her arm, and she collapsed to the floor, turning her pleading eyes to the figure. It looked bored. Its arms were crossed, smile lazy and syrupy. This was the figure's fault, she knew. All that pain.
"Answer me," it hissed.
"Yes," she said. "Of course."
"Good. Good. You're learning." The figure stepped closer to her, each step causing the thudding in her heart to become louder. "Now, do you know what I want to tell you?"
"No." Her voice quavered, and the figure narrowed its eyes.
"No." It came out sharper this time, and the figure smiled it's warped, twisted kind of smile that could only mean he was crazy. Laelia tried to scream for help, but it seemed her mouth had been sewn closed. "I don't know."
"Would you like me to tell you?" The figure crooned, laying a cold finger on her shoulder.
"As you wish." It sucked in a breath, stealing away the precious oxygen. The strings pulled Laelia to her feet, and she lurched forwards. "Gwendoline Laelia Claudia Theresa Richards. You go only by Laelia don't you?"
She was forced to nod.
"I prefer Gwendoline. Now, Gwendoline, there is a story about you, I don't think you will have heard you. It's not the kind of thing that really makes for happy reading. See, you and your friends are causing a little bit of trouble for some... People. Some people would prefer for you to just disappear, just ever so neatly into the air. Poof. Gone, Gwendoline, just like that. Your other friends... They're protected a bit, your newest especially. But you... No, you're perfect, Gwendoline. It would be so easy to kill you. You're already dying, after all."
"What the - "
Her mouth was clamped shut, and she was pulled towards the figure, who cackled with glee, every sound grating on her like a knife cutting deep into her skin. "Don't question me again," the figure snapped. "Say you're sorry." She kept her mouth shut firmly, shaking her head with a snarl. "Say you're sorry, Gwendoline. Say it!"
"I - I'm -" She tried to keep the words inside of her, but they burst forth, ripping from her soul. "I'm sorry."
"Good." The figure pulled a knife from the shadows, and it gleamed silver. "Because you know what I said. You're not protected."
The figure twiddled it in its hands, smile growing on its face. It dropped the knife, and it clattered onto the ground, skidding across the floor.
Laelia lunged for it suddenly, her arm barely an inch away as she stumbled to her knees. "What are you trying to do now?" the figure laughed, and Laelia tried to crawl away from it, but the strings held her in place, wrapping themselves even tighter around her wrists, her ankles, her thighs. It appeared that she was amusing the figure, like a zoo animal being paraded around for the sole purpose of the figure's entertainment.
"Stop!" The sound ripped out from her with all her strength, like her very heart was being torn out of its safe spot nestled between her lungs, as they seemed to collapse and she struggled for air.
"Now, now," the figure crooned. "Don't be naughty, Gwendoline. Mummy and Daddy would be very disappointed to hear you being rude."
"Shut - "
The figure smacked into her, sending her soaring into the shadows, ripping through the air before she could even scream. Her head throbbed in pain, and only one thought swirled in the depths of her mind.
The magic. Use the magic.
She lay her hand down on the ground, struggling to keep it there as the strings tugged and pulled and tried to drag her away. No, no, no.
There was a sharp sound, as the ground began to split and crack open, causing a jagged line to rip through the room, straight to the quickly approaching figure. It was smiling still, not seeming to care about the ground trying to swallow it whole.
"Be a good girl, Gwendoline," it laughed.
"My name -" she fought the words out. "Is - " A hand slapped her across the face. "Laelia."
The figure waved a hand, shaking its head. "Goodbye."
The strings pulled her away from the ground and into the white expanse above.