Your Own Massive Nightmare

(Goomba)


Living life goes by every person’s goggles to how they picture it. Whether one has the desire to accomplish their dreams could be reformed to imaginations only depending on the lenses. Ovals, squares, not one kept a stable form. Time and experience warp the colors and shapes to sights never before seen by the wearers, and actions speak to the newly formed beings endlessly. Mind, body, and spirit adapt different, all up to the eyes peeking through the lenses. Nobody could completely understand as the goggles only fit perfectly over the ones they were made for, not once would they know sights to the original wearer. Everyone had a pair fit for only them, and they wore them every day.

Being an exchange student really modifies the perspectives of the world around you.

In terms of being a kid, Marius was rather tame. He had a good family with a mother and father that cared for him and a decent sized house to boot. The small town he lived in was nearly perfect for someone of his age, not too much going on but not too little either, leaving him with much free time on his hands. There was collecting various trading cards to playing near the town’s playground, there was no shortage of activities for the ten year old. He especially liked a certain kid with a lisp that tended to hang around the swing sets, he made him laugh when they met up. He often lost track of the time when the sun took its cozy nap, a problem that often made him cross paths with the rock solid trolls on occasion. The common fact around town was to not bother them if they came near, then hopefully they don’t bother you back, which provided nothing more than window dressing so others won’t panic. This meant there were a couple of times where Marius had to run for his life from an angry troll which weren’t pleasant experiences. Still, he had it easy with his life in the small town like any good kid would.

Too bad his parents had other plans.

Education was what Marius majorly lacked in, and his parents weren’t pleased in that category. Contributing factors were failing grades, shaky homework assignments, and incomplete projects among others. It wasn’t always his fault according to his parents, as some class assignments sounded like topics one would find higher up in middle schools. While he was on the verge of getting into middle school, just to be on the safe side they made him part of an exchange program to put him in another school out of town for a grade until that particular school year ended, something he wasn’t too keen on but his parents insisted. This consequently meant he had to move in with a couple specialized in handling young kids that took part in the program, with Marius not being their first, and they lived all the way in the east in a city called Trolberg. This was nearly devastating to hear; his town, his friends, his parents, all of it would be in his memories until half a year later. He had no choice in the matter, his parents held all of the power and what they said goes. Tears dripped down his eyes in the days leading up to the big move, he couldn’t handle it.

He sat in the back of the bus on the big day, suitcases stacked of his clothes and all of the other objects he wanted to bring with him, remaining silent the entire duration of the trip. He couldn’t believe his parents would willingly throw him away to parts unknown. They gave their goodbyes before he left, but the emotional scars were already there. He forced himself to hold back tears until he arrived in Trolberg, even the thoughts of his parents were saddening in his young eyes, so he wouldn’t set an example to the others in their seats. An old crusty man with a twitchy eye sat in front of him after all, and he didn’t want the unwanted attention.

When the gates opened, the bus set its wheels into the city of Trolberg. Marius glanced out of the windows to see his new temporary home, and he would be lying to say that he wasn’t impressed. Dozens of buildings at various sizes, people walking down the sidewalks, the plants on each of the windowsills; it was nothing like his small town. There were even some groups of kids at one points playing hopscotch on a sidewalk near an intersection, which got him smiling a little to see others so happy and carefree. He wished he could be like them, up in spirits instead of depressing gloom, as much as a kid could be. Too bad he was driven to this city by parents not thinking how he would feel. The bus turned left at an intersection as other cars steered clear around it, showing more of the decorative houses crowding the streets. From old ladies to young boys, they were everywhere as the bus drove through the streets. He swore he saw a kid wave at him, but he was a bit too miserable to pay attention. They had no idea what he was going through.

The street where his new home was inevitably came up, and at first glance it didn’t appear to be anything special. It had a robust red color on the outside and a few windows with flowers along the sills, which would have impressed him if the other houses didn’t blend in with it. It took a little while to get every suitcase out of the bus, but once it happened the bus drove away. It drew the attention of his new parents who helped to get his belongings into the house, who seemed friendly at first. Clearly they knew how these sort of procedures worked out considering they were a couple meant to look over transferred kids. The young boy shook and shivered, he didn’t know how to act to some new strangers, but he was going to have to get used to them until the school year ended.

The next couple of days consisted of Marius getting used to his new abode, especially his new bedroom. Not too big and not too small either, while the bed was big enough to support him and his awkward night tendencies. He didn’t want to think too much on those and focus more on the house, while especially getting to know the couple looking out for him. They were okay in his eyes, not overbearingly mean but with a sense of care and happiness, although they couldn’t compare to his real parents. The wife even had a nice knack for cooking, making sure each meal didn’t taste like sandpaper. The place didn’t have a wave of inequity and felt up to standard with homes Marius was used to seeing, which brought somewhat of a relief to his sorrowful situation.

The days went by until the third when it was time for Marius to get to his new school. The couple drove him in their own car for support on his first day, while also giving him another look at the neighborhood around him. The observations from when he was in the bus mirrored back to his sight, nothing too special in the short drive. Once the couple set their car in the parking lot Marius took a deep breath before pushing open the car door. The certainty of socialization teetered left and right as his new life in Trolberg truly begun.

“Okay then, we’ll pick you up at three when the bell rings. Are you alright with that?” the husband asked.

“Ummm, that would be nice.” Marius answered with a bit of a stutter.

“You’re going to be okay Marius, the students attending here are very friendly to everyone. I’m certain someone will be friends with you.” the wife said. “Have a good first day, honey!”

She closed the door behind her before the two back the car up and drove off. They weren’t his real parents, but they sure acted like it. Marius gazed down at his attire for the day just in case he missed anything, he could be pretty forgetful at times after all. White sneakers with socks to match checked out as well as his navy blue pants, and his gray shirt with a decal of the city’s Great Raven stuck out nicely. His new parents picked the shirt out so he would fit in better with the other kids, and he had to admit it had a really cool outlook. He was told tales about the annual festival that honored the legendary bird, and even if he never attended one it was a surprise to know such an amazing sight came to the city every year. If given the chance he would love to see the Great Raven for himself, although it sounded far fetched for a being like that to single him out over everyone else. Even so, he wanted to see it.

He pulled out a personal mirror from his pocket to better see his face, even if he didn’t usually carry one. First impressions can detail someone in a heartbeat, at least that’s what his true parents told him, so while he didn’t care much on how he looked for today he wanted to at least appear like a good person. The Caucasian white reflected into his blue eyes beautifully while his black normal styled hair moved through the slight breeze. He chuckled upon seeing himself, he really had the appearance of a pure young boy as his dad would say. He was always getting the notion from adults that he had the face of an infant, and while he didn’t agree with the complement it was funny to be reminded. He personally thought he looked normal to other kids around him, and it was that idea he was banking on to blend in with everyone. If he was lucky he could make some new friends in the process, but for now he wanted to lay low and let things sink around him. It was only his first day after all, he didn’t need to cram ideas into his head for now.

Everything now in check, it was now time for his first day. He kept his presence known to a minimum as he walked through the front door with the rest of the students. The classroom he was meant to be in was a few turns to the right of the front doors, nothing too complex. He came upon it rather quickly and watched as the students headed inside. His chest clamped as he slowly made his way inside, catching the eyes of some kids sitting in their seats. If he gave them his attention he didn’t want to find out what they thought of him, especially since he never set foot in the school until now, but with all of the seats taken a loose spotlight kept a shine over his head.

He almost jumped up feeling someone across his back, making some onlookers giggle under their breath. His head swiftly turned only to see the teacher gazing at him. He had insight into the school from the couple caring for him in the few days leading up to today, and she appeared to be just like the pictures: a middle aged woman with brown hair and a nice attitude to match.

“You must be the new exchange student. I was informed you were coming today.”

“Err, yeah, that’s me. I’m, umm, Marius.”

“Ah, that’s a good name. Why don’t you stand right here and let me introduce you to the class?”

He didn’t respond back with words, but he sluggishly nodded in agreement. Butterflies flew swarms in his stomach, a common feeling for a first day. The confrontation was soon followed up with the teacher walking behind her desk before doing roll call of the students. None were absent, which left only Marius’ introduction before the schedule could start. This put him in the spotlight again as he stood in front of the class and explained a bit about himself. Some of the butterflies cleared up when he got some words off of his chest, and the students were generally intrigued by someone very unique. This didn’t mean he would get off easy with assignments, he was just as capable as everyone else.

He pulled out a desk in the back next to a couple of boys and girls and sat there for today’s lesson.

The day continued normally in school until the midday lunch period. Marius packed a sandwich filled with lunch meat and mayonnaise along with some grape juice that his new mother made earlier. He heard that she worked as a waitress as her main job, so he wasn’t too surprised that she had a specialty in making food. The tables in the cafeteria were long enough for dozens of students to sit at each, so it wasn’t difficult to find a decent spot. He pulled a chair out and set himself on it comfortably before getting his lunch bag out. No worries for now, just a time to relax and wonder what will be coming up next.

…at least that would be the case if he was the only one at the table. Marius soon found himself sitting next to a stout chubby kid with a big nose, and he was just as relaxed to get out of class. While he was nervous earlier, he appreciated the extra company when there wasn’t too many others around him. The kid appeared to be content with him being here, as he pulled out a lunch bag of his own and picked out a shiny red apple inside. Marius stayed quiet at first, getting in a couple of bites into his sandwich, and he contemplated how his day was going.

“So you’re the new exchange student right?”

His train of thought was interrupted by the chubby kid speaking to him. It was a kind gesture for him to hear, especially since he wasn’t sure if he would be noticed, but he didn’t want to be rude and pass the opportunity to make friends in the new city.

“Ummm, yeah, I am.” Marius answered. “I just arrived here a few days ago.”

“Whoa, really? That’s crazy considering you just came to this school.” the kid said.

“Well, it’s not a bad thing. It could be much worse.” Marius said. He drank a bit of his juice as the other kid gave his two cents.

“True, that’s very true. You do know that this city has crazy incidents under the hood as well?”

“It’s kind of hard to forget. I was informed before I came here.”

“Ah, you did your research. I shouldn’t be too surprised, it is pretty common knowledge I guess.”

The two boys continued with their conversations while finishing their lunches, making Marius feel more welcome to Trolberg than he initially thought. The people were nice and willing to get together, something that felt like home to him. It was a bigger community, but there was happiness under the rug to the ones searching for it. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing staying for an entire school year in this particular city, for everyone else adapted so he should as well. He kept the reminders in his head until he got back to his temporary home; his new life was going to start.

He was almost done with his sandwich as he scanned the cafeteria to see everyone crowding around the tables. Not everyone was in the same grade, but they seemed to compensate for each other nicely with no roughhousing or foul play. The community kept close and calm, a soothing waft to ease the nerves and keep others happy. He felt good as his eyes were curious of everyone until they set on three young kids, two girls and one boy, and he couldn’t help but keep stuck to them. They seemed to socialize nicely, something he lacked in certain areas, and they each had unique appearances.

“Hey…who are those three?” Marius asked. The chubby kid took another bite from his apple before speaking up.

“Oh, them? They’re a young group of friends that attend the Sparrow Scout program. They have their own agendas on occasion, not sure why, but I don’t want to find out.”

“Really? How so? They look fine to me.”

“Looks can be deceiving, and in this city nearly anything is possible.”

The kid instructed Marius to the one boy of the three at the table.

“That’s David, the shy and skittish one. He opens up if you give him the chance, a nice guy once you get to know him. It may seem a bit weird considering he’s the only boy of the three, but the two girls treat him nicely and give him the courage to move forward. He’s also know to have bugs on his body from time to time, almost like he slathers himself in honey, which tends to get noticed at points. I once heard they found a large rhino beetle on his back, freaking everyone out in the room!”

“Sheesh, aren’t those hard to find? How could a rare beetle like that find itself there?”

“No one knows, all I know is that it apparently happened. Don’t bring it up when he’s around, it wasn’t a proud moment.”

Marius silently nodded before the kid instructed to the dark skinned girl with matching black hair.

“She’s Frida, the know it all and perfectionist. The kid practically follows everything by the book to a T, never leaving one stray instruction out of the picture. She strives to make sure everything goes to plan and thinks thoroughly before acting. She won’t take anything under one hundred percent, but it’s kept somewhat in check by her friends. I can’t stand to think on how to keep my sanity if I went by the same rules. I would probably be screaming in my pillow on a daily basis just to get the pressure out.”

“Ummm…okay.” Marius replied with a bit of confusion. He was last directed to the girl with the blue hair and friendly smile.

He cocked his eyebrow at the anomaly, but decided to not bring it up.

“And who’s that one? She looks nice.”

“Oh her? That’s Hilda, pretty much the bold and brash one. She moved here from the wilderness and has been adjusting to the life around here while going to every single strange occurrence to see for herself. I’ve heard she can get a bit crazy at times, such as speaking to herself and exclaiming outbursts in the classroom, so I would be pretty cautious around her. She’s energetic, I’ll give her that, but I wouldn’t want to know what goes through her head every day.”

“Ooh, that sounds rough.” Marius replied. Looking at her again, none of the attributes the kid explained rubbed off on him. She didn’t have the appearance of a gruff woods person, just a young girl with a knack for seeing everything in her own eyes. In some ways she reminded him of what he was going through, they both moved to Trolberg for reasons only known to them and thought things differently, although she did look younger than him. If what he heard was true, she must have seen more of the city’s strangeness than most of the common people around here, which would be fascinating experiences to the ones following her, although the kid could just be lying through his teeth and getting his brain working for nothing. Whatever the case, it was a deep thought.

The bell rang through the halls indicating the period was over. Marius thankfully finished most of his lunch even with the chitchat, so he put the remainders into his brown bag and prepared to throw it away. The kid next to him proceeded with the same ordeal.

“Well, thanks for the insight. It’s nice to get information when you just moved here.”

“Heh, no problem! Everyone needs some assistance every now and then, and you sound like a nice guy under the hood. Feel free to hit me up…I realized I never got your name.”

“It’s Marius.”

“Well it was nice to meet you Marius. I’m Nigel, so feel free to call on me when you need to.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

The boys parted ways as they threw their lunch bags into the trash. He saw Hilda and the others follow through the doors before him, probably to their own classes, but Marius’ class was in a different direction so he headed that way instead.

The rest of the day stayed pretty average even after school. Marius had History homework which was due in a day, so he had to stick a pin in it until later, but other than that he was free to do whatever. He would have gone out if he still didn’t have some extra clothes and belongings to unpack, so he made that a priority before anything else. For dinner, his new mother whipped up a bowl of noodles mixed with cheese where he didn’t waste any time to dig into. He tasted great meals before, but what he tasted from her screamed to the heavens. His new dad even commented positively on her cooking, which caused her to slightly blush. She wasn’t a chef, but she could easily pass off for one with dedication.

All days come to an end however, and when the sun took its nap the stars come out to play. He thought the day went pretty well for his first time in school, even making a new friend in the process. Everything started with the first step, and Marius passed his swimmingly despite the incredible nervousness. His bed kept nice and tidy for his good night sleep, no doubt thanks to his new mother, with not a single wrinkle in the blanket.

He appreciated the attention to the small details.

“You did well Marius, a great start to your second life.” Marius said to himself as his eyelids drooped. He echoed one large yawn before getting into his bed and under the covers. Once he set his head against the pillow he drifted off to sleep.

Halfway through the night the confines of his head clamped together into a stricken migraine. The pain woke him up as he sat up in his bed and rubbed his forehead. He felt no extra heat so he didn’t catch something, could have been the stress of his first school day. He didn’t feel a chill in his room this terribly before, like it was the middle of winter, so he got up out of his bed to see if he left the window open. Oddly, it was closed tight. His mind was too drowsy to think on it, he would just have to deal with the cold for tonight, so he turned back around to get back in bed.

He wasn’t a bodybuilder, but the instant he set foot in it the bed split down the center and collapsed.

“What the…” Marius said. There it was, his only bed wrecked to shambles, giving him nowhere to sleep. Did the house have termites that the couple refused to tell him? Whatever just happened, he was going to have to wake them up and tell them the bad news. It wouldn’t go down nicely, but it was frigid in his room and he had nothing but the floor. He shook his head with disappointment as he walked over to his bedroom door. He turned the doorknob, but it wouldn’t budge so he tried pulling. Again, it failed on him. He began to panic as he pulled at the door again and again, each time with no results. Out of options, he put his fists against the surface and pounded against it. He got an answer this time, but not what he expected. For some reason the door tilted back and forth like a domino before it leaned forward. He had a split second to react as the door fell toward the ground, making him dive out of the way as the door hit the floorboards and shattered to a million pieces. Where the door was however, showed nothing but a wall, no large hole at all. He started to freak out, this had to be a sick joke.

“Did you seriously think I was crazy?”

Marius zipped around before he could comprehend the shattered door and stared face to face with the blue haired girl he saw back at school, not looking happy. For some reason she stood at the same height as him, although he recalled her being a bit shorter on account of their different ages, and her eyes glowed an eerie sickly green. He didn’t know how she got into his room at this time of night, especially with his room falling apart before him, and he was already freaking out.

She said it again.

“Answer me! Did you think I was crazy back at school?”

“Er, ummmm, not exactly…you seemed like a nice-”

“You’re utterly lying to me, it’s written all over your face!” Hilda interrupted. She immediately pinned him against the wall and held him tightly, making Marius more worried than ever.

“I don’t take kindly to others talking insults behind my back, you don’t deserve to stay in this city when I’m here! I’m going to put you in your place so you NEVER COME BACK.”

“No, please, I didn’t mean it like that! I’ve never seen you before and met you up close, so how was I supposed to know that my assumptions were wrong?! I don’t deserve this, please!”

Hilda bashed him against the wall for a second time.

“You’re too late with that, it’s over for you. Your suffering will be my joy…”

Marius cried out as Hilda tightened her grip with a wicked smile. His breath escaped him, this would be his funeral and nobody would know who killed him. He prepared for the worst, but he was met with a more horrifying sight. Hilda’s pupils shrunk before him until her eyes were nothing but white voids, he mouth suddenly going limp as drool dripped down. The blank color of her eyes dipped darker and darker until they were pitch black, and then a torrent of monstrous bile erupted from her maw straight at Marius. Despite her corpse outlook, her grip still kept him in place as the boy was covered in head to toe in puke, too scared for his life to say anything. His room around him slowly deteriorated like a liquid mass melting, the floorboards and ruins of his bed liquefying down to his feet.

Hilda’s lifeless husk emitted a voice that could only be described as from heaven’s flip side.

YOU…ARE…MINE.

As the words escaped her dead lips, Hilda’s body slowly started to melt away dragging Marius with her. Even with the liquefying body before him, the grip on him was too strong to break out, and when Hilda formed into nothing but a formless puddle the helpless kid was dragged into it. No matter how much he tried to pull out, the goop sucked him in. His sight was filled with darkness all around as deep laughter echoed through his eardrums, something inhuman with a dark sense of endless pain. The black of nothing lit up with a ring of fire around him, catching his feet in sizzling burns, when bright green eyes glowed near the front. Marius’ feet burned greater making him yelp and cry before it materialized into bright fervent lava with cinders filling the air. His bottom half was soon replaced by charred bones as the fiery encompass kept devouring his abdomen with him screaming overhead. The green eyes drew in closer with more dark laughter, the lava nearly up to his shoulders.

Then it drew in too close.

How his body concluded on such an act was beyond him, but it happened. His eyes were closed from the intense fear as one big whoosh sound filled his hearing followed by a loud yelp in a completely different voice. The noise got him to pry his eyelids open, with the expectation that he got consumed and his life ended. Those were slapped down as the sights settled to familiar territory. His heart raced as his body dripped with nervous sweat all over, nothing more but the illusions of sleep. For once he felt a blanket of relief as he slowed his breathing to try and calm down, for he was safe while nothing bad actually happened.

Too bad it just started.

Something wriggled next to the bedroom door in one of the corners. It took a moment for it to get on its feet and come into view before him. He was shocked to see it immediately take flight and zip up to him, showing itself in full. There was no monster, instead the figure of a middle aged girl that appeared to be a teenager, and she sported the same bright green eyes he saw in his dream although he could see her pupils under the glow. Her hair was distinctly white with a pinch of peach and had two long pigtails on both the left and right side, but they stuck upward and flowed in the air for some reason. A pink scarf surrounded her neck to complement her dark brown shirt, although it appeared to be a bit bigger than she could handle as the long sleeves kept her hands hidden. The socks covering her legs were pretty long and also sported pink, but her sneakers had a light brown coloring instead. There was a sense of normality to the unwelcome teenager, but the fact that she had some obvious unnatural traits indicated that she wasn’t what she seemed.

The teenage girl gritted her teeth and pointed her green glowing eyes straight at Marius.

“So is this how you treat all girls you meet?! I’m more than just someone innocent you know and you would be stupid to think I would just brush this off!”

Her voice had an echoing undertone to it as she stared at him with a lethal sting. As worried as Marius was, one look at her face told him everything. Right in the middle of her face on her forehead was one of the biggest red marks he had ever seen. To think that came from him sounded unheard of, but from the noises he heard earlier there was no other plausibility.

She floated up to his nervous face with one of the meanest glares possible.

“Well, speak up you loser! What do you have to say for putting a fist into my face?! ANSWER ME!”

“I…I’m really sorry!” Marius stuttered. “I was having a nightmare and I kind of have a tendency to act out in my-”

“Don’t tell me things that I already know!” the girl interjected. “I was enjoying seeing you cower to everything I put in that hollow head of yours, and what do I get? A SWIFT PUNCH TO THE FACE!”

“What…so you were the one…giving me that nightmare?” Marius stuttered. Of all the weird happenings to occur in Trolberg, the first he had to come across was something that could inflict terrible dreams and nightmares, a spot on the roulette he would never go for. To think it took the appearance of a teenage girl made it even more creepy than usual, he couldn’t trust anything these days at this rate.

“Well, DUUUUHH, of course it was me!” the girl replied with a sarcastic undertone. “Kids that first move in to this city have some of the best fears to work with, and you interested me the moment I saw your bus pull up.”

Marius got even more terrified. Turns out she was watching him ever since he moved in earlier for the perfect nightly scare, but how she did so was beyond him. One small detail did pop up in his head as he recalled what happened during the last few days. There was a white dot in the corner of his eye near one of the streetlamps on the sidewalk he stepped on to reach his new home, but he never turned his head to get a better look since it appeared unimportant. Then as he was getting used to the house over the next couple of days he swore he saw the same white circle at the edge of his sight but didn’t think much of it. For school however, the images were clear. As he was dropped off by the couple, he remembered seeing a particular teenage girl near the school gates leaning against it while looking in a makeup compact, and from what he remembered she had similar features to this mysterious girl. The smoking gun was during lunchtime though, for one of the girls in the cafeteria as he was scanning the area appeared distinctly taller while also gazing at herself in a makeup compact. The girl there had the very same features.

“Those moments…you were stalking me the whole time…”

“I just said that loser, you don’t need to reiterate.” the girl replied. “I did have to dig up some juicy tidbits about you, and from what I heard you were the perfect target…too bad that progress was RUINED by your grave mistake!”

She got up close to his face enough so that he could only see her bright green eyes.

“You better listen up moron, no one messes with a Marra like me. You may have got your lucky shot, but I always have the upper hand. The next time you fall asleep tomorrow I’ll make you experience the grittiest and bloodiest nightmare that you will never wake up from just to pay you back for your cheap shot. GOT IT?!”

Marius wasted no time shaking his head up and down in agreement just so she would leave him alone. The girl, apparently a being called a Marra, still had the darkest of expressions as she kept her demon eyes locked to him while she floated to the door. She took her time to see him shiver and cower from the mere sight of her, which while she was still massively angry and vengeful she got a little bit of joy seeing someone scared for their life in her presence. She wasn’t going to let an incident like this go by without dire recompenses, especially to a newcomer that didn’t comprehend the “situations” of Trolberg yet.

For Marius, he thought he heard choirs of the angels seeing her go to the door. The last few moments were some of the most heated minutes of his life with one side clearly over the other. He wanted nothing more of the city’s strangeness for now, since the Marra clearly stated her dominance over him and promised to make his new life worse. The quicker she left the sooner he could get back to bed and forget this ever happened.

She stopped at the door and prepared to make her exit, a relieving sight to the boy greatly affected by the nightly scare. Her head turned toward the door as she reached for the doorknob, with just a few turns for her to leave and for Marius to get back to sleep. He expected her to leave immediately considering how angry she was earlier only to see her suddenly stop and stand straight. It gave him shivering chills as the anticipation for her leaving was reaching the boiling point and eating him alive on the inside. He dared himself to stay silent until she made her leave, he didn’t want any more trouble than what he was in now.

The Marra put her hand back down to the side and kept her back to Marius.

“…actually, I could go for something more amusing. It’s a one time use, but you ticked me off to no end with a sock to my face…”

The darkness crept into his body again. They brought their amusement to the forefront as Marius could feel his heart stop. He wanted to believe that the suffering was over, he couldn’t experience another wave of pain from a monstrous girl like the Marra. He kept feeding himself the happy thoughts for any sort of calmness to the fires igniting, but they were eliminated once the Marra turned her head back, revealing a darkly amused smile, before her entire body turned back to him.

She wasn’t through with him.

Marius’ body went into a panicked overdrive as the Marra creepily cracked her neck before getting on all fours and proceeding to crawl to him like a predatory spider. He wanted out, he wanted to get out and never come back to this. His head zipped back and forth for any sort of exit before making a break for the door past the Marra. He didn’t get far as the Marra was one step ahead, quickly catching and pinning the helpless boy to the ground. No matter how hard he struggled, her taller teenager body kept hold of his under powered ten year old self with no issues at all.

“Where do you think you’re going? I’m nowhere near finished with you yet…”

Her words leaked toxicity into his adrenaline filled body as she kept his body incapacitated.

“No, you already had your way with me, I learned my lesson! I don’t need anymore, PLEASE LET ME GO!”

The Marra kept her phantom green eyes on him with a mean gaze.

“You’re not going anywhere until you pay. I just so happen to know something special to make sure you understand the darkness of your action…and I’m going to enjoy seeing you squirm and cower to the perspectives!”

Something about those last few words irked Marius in a way he couldn’t understand, but before he could think further the Marra planted her right hand over his forehead as the green of her eyes engulfed her pupils completely. Her body was still too much to push off as she started with an inaudible whisper before her voice turned up in volume, her words combining in a language he couldn’t comprehend. He wanted to try and push her off again, but soon after her words came out his arms and legs went stiff in a deadly paralysis. His heart raced as he didn’t know what was happening, only able to see the Marra’s dark haunting face as she said words in some other language with her chilling voice, and then his felt his mouth start to foam like rabies. His skin went clammy, his face lost color, he had never experienced an underworld presence until she came in. Her words took up all of his hearing, unable to get them out of his head, but the final signs came up as an astounding shock. Before he even knew it his sight went dead, only seeing a bright light as the Marra’s words kept coming, and his body started getting weird feelings. Being unable to see he didn’t know what was happening to him, all he could do was feel it happen and it was painful. There were some undulations through his torso at first before it turned in on itself…and then the compression occurred. He wanted to scream, the feelings through his body spiked his pain in more ways than one, but the paralysis made him stagnant as he still couldn’t see the damage being dealt. He could be getting crammed into a very tight crate with millions of splinters inside and he wouldn’t know the difference. The Marra’s haunting words, the bright lights, the endless paralysis, all senses were suffering over a terrible accident in the worst ways imaginable.

It lasted around a minute when suddenly…everything ceased. The pain stranglehold released the young boy as he felt his senses working again, although his eyes were closed from the bright lights. His lungs inhaled gasps of air, making him choke on his own breath a few times, but the operation finally ended.

“Open your eyes, I’ve finished.”

The Marra’s voice didn’t change, but the volume was much louder than before. He cringed, for he didn’t know what he just went through but he had to find out at some point. He would be prolonging the inevitable, so, with no other choice, he slowly creaked his eyes open.

He screamed to the skies above from the sight.

The Marra, the ghastly teenage girl who loved to inflict nightmares, had a face the size of a mountain. It appeared to be that at first, but after some readjusting he discovered that it wasn’t just her face, her entire body was gigantic as well. That was when his head zipped back and forth everywhere, and when more familiar sights, like his bed, came into view the dreaded reality hit like a truck.

The Marra didn’t grow, he was just incredibly tiny.

He fell to his back in complete fear and started to walk backward as the Marra’s wicked joyous laughter rang through his ears. It couldn’t be real, there was no way a heartless monster like the Marra had the power to do it and inflict a curse on him. He couldn’t hold in the fact that he was reduced in size by a nightmare spirit, it had to be a bad dream.

Too bad that wasn’t the case.

“Hahahahah, that reaction was SO priceless!” the Marra exclaimed. “Young kids are so easy to scare! Hahahahah!”

Marius was stone cold.

“What did you just-”

He immediately clamped his mouth shut, making the Marra laugh even more upon hearing him. The voice that came out wasn’t his own, it was someone like him but on pumps of helium. To think that the curse inflicted had such side effect was the cherry on top to what the Marra put on him.

The nightmare spirit floated up close to the tiny boy, giving him a full view of her huge face, after her small laughing fit.

“Okay, now I’m really glad I put the spell on you! Not only are you the size of a bug, but you speak like one too! Hahahahah!”

Her cackling sounded completely insidious. She had no remorse for what she did, and Marius was at the center of all of it. He took another gaze around his now massive room, everything towering over him like mountain ranges, and just the sight of it was damaging. He couldn’t do anything, he was crippled beyond recognition, and the one who inflicted it didn’t care at all for his well being.

He curled up and buried his head into his knees, which didn’t go unnoticed.

“Aww, did I just break your feelings? From hero to zero in one quick hex, I love seeing misery unfold before me. You’re nothing, you’re pathetic, you lost everything…and I want to see your worthless expression up close.”

It didn’t take millions of brain cells to know what she wanted to do next. Marius’ head bolted up upon hearing her as the ghoul reached for him. He tried to make another run for it, but at his new size he wouldn’t be going anywhere fast. He wouldn’t get far until the Marra’s titanic fingers coiled around his body and incapacitated him. Her grip kept him tight as only his head could be seen, his vision forced to the Marra’s gigantic face.

“Look at you, so helpless and useless…your fate was sealed from the beginning. With one flip of the size switch I hold all of the power to end you in one simple action. Get used to being ant food, you deserve every single consequence coming your way.”

“But…you already…got your revenge on me…” Marius squeaked from her grip. “I don’t need…any more!”

The Marra held back her laughter hearing his new squeaky voice before she continued.

“Oh no my little bug, this is just the beginning. Your time with me has just started, so say goodbye to your normal life as you won’t be seeing it…FOR A LONG TIME!”

The Marra cackled as she held him before some small green waves of aura disappeared behind her. Marius continued as worried and scared for his life, his life literally in the hands of the Marra, until he realized that she was pulling him into her long sleeved shirt. Trying to wiggle and break out didn’t do anything, and before long his vision went black to the inside of her shirt.

The last thing he remembered was the Marra’s insidious cackling ringing through his ears before he went limp.

Marius gasped for breath as he came to. His heart slowed from the panic attack earlier but he also had a large headache. He held his head as he recollected what happened, for him to ache from all over had to have been something deadly. The details started hazy, he moved in with a couple thanks to the exchange program, there was a few days of relaxation to get used to the city, his drive to school, a new friendship at lunchtime, and then concluding with a good night sleep. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the start of a new life in a big city.

The wires connected as his brain booted up.

His eyes shot open and his body bolted to life. There was the grave meetup with the nightmarish Marra, and she put a curse on him after he accidentally punched her in his sleep. Being reminded of the incident made his wake up call much worse, eventually making him back up until he hit something on his back. His body twirled around in an instant, and he was met with a large wall of brown in front of him. Upon closer inspection, it didn’t appear to be a wall but felt wooden. Gazing upward gave him the answer; it was the biggest tree he had ever seen.

“What the…where the heck am I?!” Marius thought in slight panic. He turned at every corner to see his surroundings, desperate to determine where he ended up after last night. There was dirt for ground under him, but there was also long streaks of green sticking out around him, many longer than others. Wherever he was, it was no building.

He stayed close to the giant tree to be on the safe side, not knowing how he would survive this new place. He wasn’t a survivalist, just a ten year old kid, and he wanted out. Too bad it wasn’t long until he felt loud booms in the ground, sending him into the air for a quick moment each time. He cowered closer to the tree as if it was his guardian, something was coming and he was completely defenseless. However, as soon as it began, it stopped. It didn’t make things any better for him, everything was out to get him and he didn’t know what to do.

He slowly turned his head around left and right for anything suspicious, but it wasn’t long until he turned to his right and locked eyes with a behemoth.

“…boo.”

The young boy yelped and rushed behind the huge tree. Laughter echoed through his ears before he peeked around the corner scared out of his mind. His breathing came out erratically as he tried to process what visuals he was taking in.

He couldn’t have been any unluckier to see the same Marra gaze at him with a mischievous smile, as titanic as she was last night.

She got herself closer to the ground for a greater scare when he saw her, much to her delight and joy. She still had the same outfit, the brown shoes and shirt along with the pink scarf and everything else, but her pigtails were now set back down and not floating along with the glowing green in her eyes not showing up. They were minor changes, but it was enough to make her appear like a normal teenager, although from Marius’ perspective she had the height of a million colossi. She would even tower over the common forest giants from his angle, she was that huge.

Marius was too stunned and scared by her sheer scope that he didn’t realize she was reaching down until her massive fingers wrapped around him. She held his tiny body up to her smug face with only the tiny boy’s head sticking out as usual.

“No, no…this can’t be real. I have to still be dreaming or-”

“Oh no my tiny captive, this is real all right.” the Marra interjected while still having a smug smile. “I shrunk you down good and now we’re going to have some VERY interesting fun together…considering you’re only one centimeter big!”

Marius’ heart skipped a beat. That was a measurement he never thought would come across his hearing when it came to size, and it was pretty rare where he came from. The common measures usually consisted of feet, yards, inches, and miles at certain times, but centimeters usually never came out. Being smaller than an inch meant that even one of the mythical elves of the forest would stand taller than him, with even the thought making him cringe. The Marra crippled him more than imaginable, he couldn’t do anything at the size he was at.

“You…you made me smaller than everything…” Marius said in disbelief.

“That’s what you get for messing with a Marra.” the Marra answered. “Now get used to seeing a lot of forest, because that’s where we hang out. Maybe another would like her hand on you…”

“No, no, I’ve already been handled by you, I don’t need any more!” Marius retorted. He didn’t need any more Marras to get tangled up in, and even then he couldn’t trust anything anymore. One mistake from someone bigger could end him instantly, practically making him out of glass. At least the forest around him gave off a soothing wave of relaxation. The sea of leaves above them shrouded the sun from peeking through, a detail Marras may enjoy more than usual, while the trunks sat firm and tall. At some angles the trees appeared to be holding the torrents of green with their branches, iron clad and ready to tank anything. It was far from the truth, but it felt nice to think outside of the box every once in a while. The grass spread across the ground in a green ocean, reaching the gates to the city behind them. The attempts of their invasion gave Marius the sight that lowered his worry only ever so slightly, for over those gates easily had to be Trolberg. He weren’t far from the city after all, but there was still his “little” issue he had to get through.

The Marra uttered a small laugh in her wicked way as she gazed at the shrunken boy in her grasp.

“Hahahah, just hearing you try to weasel your way out of this gets me! You’re staying with me as small as you are until you learned your lesson! Now what should I have you go through first?”

She pulled up her other arm, with it still in her long sleeve, and used the tip of it to tap her chin as she looked up all innocent like she was truly thinking. Marius was still trapped and bound in her other, and he didn’t like the feeling of what she expressed. It had a wave of cheesiness to it, but he was afraid to speak up on it or else she might give her something to bite back with.

“Hmmm, what to do with my new tiny toy…grind him against the trees, stick his head into the dirt, so many options…”

Marius started to sweat to those options until the Marra turned back to him with her snarky smile.

“Ah yes, now I know what to do. How does being at the other end of my shoe sound?”

“That’s dangerous, I could die from that!” Marius replied. “I have a family and a whole life ahead of me! I DON’T DESERVE THIS!”

She went straight for the neck with her idea and it was grim for Marius. He could shatter all over the floor with one small poke and nobody would know, almost like getting stabbed and killed with an icicle during the hot season. It was true that he was sent to Trolberg temporarily for educational reasons, but he didn’t get to truly start a new life in the city yet, and even then his parents still cared for him to put him through it. The Marra had no sense of humanity and would kill to get a point across in his eyes.

In some ways he wished he never spoke up in retaliation, for it could be used as ammunition for more suffering if she wanted, so he expected her to put him through something harmful to get the point across. That astonishingly never happened, as the boy witnessed her eyes open in full and her mouth going straight.

“You know what? You’re completely right.”

Marius’ heart began to slow as his nervousness calmed down somewhat.

“R…really? You’re actually listening to me?”

“I’ve been listening to you ever since I came across you, we have ears too you know, and it wasn’t until now that I’ve come to understand your plights. Being so tiny must have put a lot on you, and I’m truly ashamed to have put you through it.”

Were his ears feeding him sweet candy? She was actually going to let him go just like that? He couldn’t believe what he was hearing, even after the torture he was put through last night. Maybe she did have feelings after all, she just needed to find them first. Either way, the news was music to his ears.

“Oh, wow…I can’t believe it. You’re going to let me go just like that?”

“You’re as good as gone from me. Here, let me put you down.”

The Marra got on her knees and set her hand against the ground so Marius could get off. His body stood shocked for a moment before it sprang back to life, walking off the Marra’s hand and to the ground below. The streaks of grass around him covered the visuals ahead of him, but there was a glimmer in him that he could find his way back if diligent enough. The trees stood just as daunting as the grass, but on a higher scale as the appeared to reach the heavens from his angle. If he had a profession in exploring it would go by much quicker, but since he was only a young ten year old boy, a shrunken one to boot, the way back wouldn’t go quietly. It wouldn’t be a trip, but a trial.

He took one more look behind him to the towering Marra still gazing down at his near microscopic self.

“Go on, you have a life to get back to remember?”

He trembled in her wake, it was her fault in the first place that he was a centimeter tall. If she didn’t get triggered by such an accident he would be waking up to get back to school and meet his new friend by now, but now he had to earn such a privilege or lose all of it. He left it to the side so the downsides wouldn’t weigh him down, for being positive can entice people to move forward.

He took his first few strides forward and pushed a few blades of grass out of the way. Long trips start with the first steps and Marius had thousands of miles ahead of him, intimidating but required. Too bad those first steps would be the only ones he would take until he felt a large mass over his back, completely with a loud boom through his ears, sending him to the dirt below. The front of his body got a good mud bath, especially his completely covered face, as more pressure fell on him. He tried picking up his face, but whatever held him down made it nearly impossible to do so.

The offender gave off her familiar cackles.

“Hahahah, you actually fell for that act?! You have to be one of the most gullible people on the planet to think I would let you off that easily! You really are a stupid loser!”

His senses deceived him, she played him like he lacked a brain. He couldn’t come to terms with himself that he actually fell for one of the oldest tricks in the book, and for doing so the Marra got to put him at the bottom of her brown shoe like she wanted. It wasn’t a light press either, she pressed down on his miniature body with a force of a truck, showing her merciless attitude. Marius couldn’t even cry out with his body being squished into the dirt, it was very painful. He honestly thought she would end him right then and there, with him being nothing but a stain against one of her brown shoes, and he had no doubts that she would pull the trigger. Only ten years old and didn’t get to see life unfold enough, he had it rough.

His body was on the brink of giving out when the pressure started to alleviate off him. He almost lost his breathing when the bottom of her shoe lifted off him, making him gasp for air and choke a couple of times. He wasn’t completely crushed after all, but before he could comprehend what sort of mercy he got the Marra’s giant fingers came forth and bound him once more. His body was too run over to even attempt to get away, with dirt and mud covering him everywhere to boot, and before long the Marra held him in front of her smug and amused face with hints of malice.

“That expression you had…SO PRICELESS! I’m enjoying myself just from watching you flail and wiggle to all of the near death experiences! I don’t even need to inflict you with a nightmare to get what I want, you’re scared of everything already! Hahahahah!”

“I…I actually…trusted you…” Marius sputtered out on the verge of breaking down. The Marra didn’t feel the pain he was going through, and even then she wouldn’t care.

“Stop with the sobbing stuff and get over it, it won’t work on me. This is all on you, and I’m only getting started.”

He couldn’t trust her anymore, she would do anything to see a sliver of a tear fall down his cheek. Hearing her berate and insult his tiny self hammered in the fact that she felt nothing and thought of him as nothing but her prisoner. He was shattered to come to a sorrowful conclusion, but she made her point clear the moment she captured him. She was a Marra and they only cared for themselves.

The Marra would have enjoyed seeing him cry in her presence if she didn’t realize what time it was. She looked into the sky for a moment before glaring back at the boy she was holding.

“As much as I would love to keep messing with you, I have to scout out more potential victims in town. I would adore having more young kids to shrink and play with, but I already used my one time spell on your helpless body. This doesn’t mean I’ll forget about you, but if you speak up while I do my rounds I’ll crank up your torture. Got it midget?!”

Her eyes glowed a faint green at him, which sent her message clearly as Marius hastily nodded his head, all wet from crying earlier. The color faded before the Marra put on her snarky smile and dropped him into one of her shirt pockets near the bottom. He was shaken, but not greatly hurt.

Even though he wasn’t allowed to say anything or risk punishment, Marius didn’t want to be left in the dark to the world around him. He silently climbed up near the top of the pocket and poked his little head out as the Marra made her strides toward a specific location. Gazing up showed just how minuscule he was to the devious Marra, like a titan to a child. She could hold an entire city in one of her hands from his perspective, a fact she would covet if she heard, and destroy it with a single swipe of her fingers. In some ways being shrunken instead of her growing would have been a more beneficial, as she would be harassing possibly thousands over only him. It brought a kindle to him knowing that nobody else would be suffering like him, but he also had to pay attention to himself. If he wanted any chance of survival the best he could do was endure until she eventually let him go. Not easy, but his best bet.

The Marra finally reached the gate that dictated an entrance into Trolberg. While unsure at first as to how she would get through, he got the answer when the Marra formed into a green wisp and phased through the lock to the other side. It tingled from all over as he was taken along with her through the gate, although she probably had familiarity with the technique and didn’t worry too much or care at all. The Marra were nightmare spirits after all, so it came as no exception that she inherited some abilities from ghosts.

Her face stayed as stagnant as always while she gazed back and forth for any witnesses. Seeing nobody, she steadily walked her way into the bustling city with her tiny toy in tow. As usual for spirits like her, she expressed nothing and kept herself flat only averting her sight to any potential victims for a future nightmare. It couldn’t have been a greater flip side to Marius, for although he only arrived a few days ago he couldn’t get enough of the sights. So many people walking by and dozens of structures to see, Trolberg seemed to have everything set for a great lively city. His shrunken size did change the perspective a bit, but he couldn’t ignore how gorgeous the city appeared. Kids played at the city’s playground, birds flocked the skies above, cars occupied the streets, all of it signified a city with rich culture.

That’s when his eyes caught the sight of some kids across the street, and he was surprised to see  them as none other than the kids he saw during lunchtime yesterday. They wore some sort of outfit he couldn’t recognize at first until he reminded himself that they also were part of the Sparrow Scouts program. The boy of the three, named David if he could recall, wheeled around a red wagon behind him with boxes on top while the two girls stopped at the front doors and did most of the talking. He may not be part of the program, but even he knew what activity they were tasked with, the ever-so common cookie door to door selling. He could see them with smiles over their faces handling each door, a sign of a deep friendship, even if they couldn’t make a sale. While he was happy for them, it cast a grim black cloud over his head. Unawareness can bring ire to the ones watching, and it brought the shrunken kid down knowing that was the case. The three kids, along with everyone else, had no idea someone like him was being held prisoner by a dark spirit and miniaturized to make things harder. Fortune gleamed to everyone but him, where a mirror shined it away.

If what he heard was true, Hilda could probably get out of his predicament in a heartbeat.

The Marra continued averting her sight back and forth while walking down the sidewalk, nothing of interest striking her. She kept going until she saw a familiar person ahead of her, and like Marius’ initial meetup something about her irked him is a way he couldn’t describe. Her expression was the same as the Marra’s, blank and uninterested, while she stared at a particular necklace near the front of a store window. She had her hair flow down pretty long with the sun shining on the blonde color, something most girls would die for, while she wore a pink laden shirt with a decal of a white star near her chest area. Unlike the Marra, a pair of light blue pants covered her legs, matching her pink sneakers while complementing her shirt. She appeared to be a standard city girl, nothing too out of the ordinary at a first glance, but he wouldn’t be surprised if she was asked out by a couple of boys her age.

The Marra walked up to the girl, making Marius hide deeper in her pocket to avoid getting seen, and got a closer look at the necklace in the window. Beads colored in rose pink topped off with a small bed sheet ghost emblem near the front; pretty stylish at a glance.

“Pretty interested in that necklace Kelly?”

The girl averted her sight over to the Marra while Marius secretly listened in.

“Not too much. I just can’t believe kids grovel over stuff like this.”

“One nasty image can immediately turn that interest around.” the Marra answered with a visible smirk. Kelly smirked back.

“Heheh, you got that right. Kids collapse so easy. I’ll have to keep that in mind.”

“Consider it Easy Scaring 101, that’s how I remember.”

From what he was hearing, the girl couldn’t have been anyone else but another Marra judging from her responses and similar expressions. Just what he didn’t need, another nightmare spirit. He kept himself silent as the two girls continued chatting, which didn’t catch his attention much since it was about more scare tactics and previous “meetings” whatever they were, but he didn’t have much else to do inside the Marra’s pocket. He glanced down at his shirt, the one that pictured The Great Raven, and was nearly heartbroken. When he was planted into the dirt and mud by the Marra’s gigantic shoe it not only made him filthy but smudged the decal, mangling it beyond recognition. He really liked that shirt, as he wanted to see The Great Raven for himself during his stay at Trolberg, and now it didn’t appear to be anything special. At least some of the shiny sparkles around the decal stayed intact, meant to represent the bolts of lightning that form around the bird when it appeared, with some even still sparkling when the sun reflected on it. He accidentally turned them up and was blinded for a few seconds before he had to turn the sparkles away, saving his eyes and not giving himself away to the girl the Marra was talking to. He didn’t need two giant teenage ghosts torturing him when he could barely hang on with one.

While he tuned out through most of it, when the conversation hit a certain point his ears perked.

“...then I hear that this new kid was moving here for a few months. Too bad he disappeared all of a sudden, I wanted to give him a nightly ‘welcome gift’ for his troubles.”

“Oh really?” the Marra said. “You had your sights set on him at one point?”

“Not at first.” Kelly answered. “Didn’t sound like someone interesting until after I thought more about it. I dug up some secrets on him for the perfect nightmare, even planned on doing it a few days from now when he settled in, but then he whisked away like a chicken. Not cool, not cool at all.”

“Ah, that’s unfortunate.” the Marra answered. “I bet his parents are crawling everywhere to find his sorry hide. You know we’ll be all over that.”

“Don’t get me started, ever since the police report earlier today I’ve been hearing NOTHING but that stupid kid again and again.” Kelly said. “As much as I love misery the case of this kid is giving me a headache. I’m trying to tune it out for the sake of tonight’s meeting.”

“Always have a backup story just in case a night doesn’t go your way.” the Marra said. “Thankfully I have dozens, but I don’t need one for tonight.”

“Oh, you gave an amusing nightmare? Color me interested.” Kelly replied. “Make sure to leave a  spot for me, I have one that I’m sure everyone would love to hear.”

“Duly noted. See you tonight.”

The two girls nodded before Kelly turned and walked the other way down the sidewalk, expressionless and blank looking as a Marra could get. It was only for a minute or so, but Marius had a lot to take from the snippets of conversation he heard. For one, it was incredibly relieving to hear that he wasn’t forgotten and are searches for him going on. If his real parents were here instead of the temporary ones it would probably be more hectic as it would be a mad scramble nonstop. To hear that he was cared for by the community, even if it he didn’t stay for long yet, made him feel more welcome to the city around him. He wanted so badly to tell everyone that he heard their pleas and would find a way out, but because he was shrunken it didn’t seem likely for now. On the other hand he didn’t like the fact that he had more eyes on him when he arrived. To think another Marra sought his bounty sounded awful, like he had a secret double life as a punching bag. Hearing how cold the two talked about him gave him more signs that the Marra really didn’t care for what he felt, only themselves and the misery they cause. The good news and the bad news, he heard them both.

The Marra keeping him hidden in her pocket did a quick glance down at his tiny self, which was met with Marius doing a motion indicating that he was keeping his mouth shut. She made it clear to him  to never make her angry, and he harshly payed the price. Upon seeing the signs she smugly smiled before getting back to her typical walking cycle.

It wouldn’t be long though until Marius’ stomach growled as he hadn’t eaten anything since he woke up. He would have ignored it the best he could, but it cried out and rumbled to make itself known. He needed nourishment now, but he was ordered not to speak or face severe punishment from the Marra holding him captive. She made it clear to always follow her orders as long as she has him and he will need her permission for any sort of food his way. It was a gamble, and the dice had to go his way.

Because he was forbidden to speak up, he needed another way to get her attention. With nothing else in her pocket to work with it lead to only one option. He turned to face a particular side of the pocket before he pushed at it with all of his might. It wasn’t hurtful, but he hoped the Marra would feel the pressure against her body and take notice. Knowing her attitude, it could turn deadly in an instant and go in a completely different direction. He poked a bear and didn’t want it to attack in a grumpy rage.

His attempt didn’t go in vain, as when he looked up he saw the Marra with her eyes set right on him. While at first unsure if she would give him some time, she averted her attention back up before taking a few steps in a different direction. Her head turned back and forth for a moment as one of her huge hands reached in and picked him up, showing that she secluded herself into an abandoned alleyway for their talk. Now holding her tiny occupant, she brought him to her face appearing a bit upset. Not as angry as before, but still pretty much so.

“You got my attention for five minutes at best. Make it quick.”

She came out stern and demanding in one fell swoop, a polar opposite to what she expressed to the other Marra named Kelly. With her short attention span, Marius had to make haste with his request.

“I know…you only care about yourself, but…I haven’t eaten anything today. So if you could…”

The Marra held back some insidious laughter hearing her shrunken prisoner ask for such, making her faintly smile.

“You brought me out of my target searching to ask me for FOOD?! I’m a ghost you idiot, I don’t need to eat! You must be really gearing for another play session, aren’t you?!”

“No, no, not that!” Marius responded in a fluster. “I mean…as a living person I need food to survive. You can ignore it, but I can’t.”

“And what makes you think I would go out of my way to do something? I’m the one in charge, so I get what I want and you deliver on everything. Get used to it.” the Marra answered.

He shouldn’t have let his actions do the talking before his brain booted up. He was basically asking a serial killer to get him a pot of roses with not a leg to stand on. He was only a kid after all, he didn’t reach the point yet of figuring out complications, but he had to determine how to get the Marra to cooperate for possibly the only moment he would get. Not only that but the Marra also didn’t think highly of him, especially as a helpless tiny kid. He had to come up with a reason to get the bigger one to help him out even with her hatred toward him.

Luckily he had just enough brainpower to figure something out.

“Well…you wouldn’t want me to die this early when you have plans for me.”

The Marra didn’t seem to flinch, giving Marius uncertainty that he got through to her. His stomach still yearned for food, but it was up to the giant nightmare spirit to deliver if she wanted. He rolled the dice betting on the high numbers, cup still over and covering the numbers. If he rolled low…

The Marra turned her attention to beyond the alleyway, her sight catching a particular object near one of the walls. She sluggishly made her way over to it, Marius still in her hand, and flipped open the lid much to her dismay. Leave it to fate for her to walk into an alleyway behind a particular building, and under the lid still had some that was only just tossed in still fresh. Reaching in a little bit, she eventually pulled out a small bread crumb, about the same size as Marius, and handed it over.

“I’m not acting out of generosity, I still have some business to deal with you.” the Marra said. “Now stay quiet for the rest of the day or I might change my mind!”

“Got it…” Marius answered. She put the shrunken boy back in her pocket while he stared at the bread crumb he was given. It came from the garbage, but it appeared perfectly clean, no mold or staleness anywhere. Given the fact that it was thrown out he hesitated at first, but it felt like it was just put in a few seconds ago. Besides, it was highly unlikely the Marra would have given him something better, but at least it was big enough to last the entire day. Unappetizing, but it was still food.

He swore he saw a black streak from the pocket’s opening in the sky as he munched down.

The Marra forced Marius into silence for the rest of the day as she wandered around Trolberg. This left the kid with almost nothing to do other than to occasionally peek out and watch the environment around him. An unfortunate circumstance, but nothing he could do under the power of the giant nightmare spirit. The bread crumb did its job and filled him up for the day, even if it did come out of the garbage, but if he dared to speak up he worried for his life with his ruthless captor. She had a wicked outburst of emotions when she only had him, but around everyone at daytime she mellowed out and never expressed much. He would go mad if he were in her shoes, being unable to emote and convey your feelings to others. There were people out there with the same set of skills, goths popped up in his mind for example, but he wouldn’t join their ranks with his constant expressions. The terror of his kidnapping all hid behind a teenage ghost and her blank face, and everyone didn’t even consider her as an option.

When the light in the sky waned to the shimmering pearl, the Marra’s true self broke forth. The meeting discussed earlier was to start late under the stars, and the Marra knew right where to go. This left Marius yawning while his eyes dozed and sank, but the huge nightmare ghost prohibited him from tuckering out for the meeting. Whatever the event was, it had to be pretty important.

“Stay still in my pocket until I say so.” the Marra said.

“Whatever you say.” Marius answered with a pinch of nervousness in his tone. She put on her recognizable dark grin as her eyes glowed green for a second. With a quick teleport through the gate, which Marius felt queasy about, she set herself back into the woods around the city. Under the guise of the night, the trees and stillness in the air brought a certain sense of ire to anyone treading through. It spooked Marius, but the Marra wasn’t letting it pull the wool over her eyes. She walked among the trees  perfectly fine ignoring the shivers of her tiny captive. Marius hoped she knew where she was going, he didn’t want any aimless walking with a dark environment like the woods at night. He made a note for himself to stay indoors at night in Trolberg from now on.

The Marra abruptly stopped at a certain point, catching Marius’ attention. He poked his head out of her shirt pocket, and while he couldn’t see much in the presence of the shadows a distinct structure sat on the ground in front of the Marra. Features couldn’t be made out, but before he could try to get a better angle a set of bright green lights appeared before him. Recognizing what they were almost instantly, he sank himself further into the Marra’s pocket while still having sight of what was happening.

For the Marra however, it stood out as nothing but routine.

More pairs of green lights shined around them as the structure on the ground slowly went dim. It soon ignited into a full blown green fire that lit up the surrounding area like a campfire. As he suspected, the green lights in the darkness were none other than more Marras, which he counted seven of them, including the blonde haired Kelly girl from before. The Marras, including the one hiding her shrunken toy, each took a seat on one of the logs around the green fire with the common Marra creepy smile.

“Oh boy, do I have some glorious nightmares to share!” the Marra with glasses said.

“I don’t want to spoil much, but I’m pretty sure I got a kid to wet his bed!” the Marra with a lock of hair covering one of her eyes said. “Heeheehee, SO priceless!”

“Not now girls, you know we take turns sharing our stories.” Kelly responded. “We don’t want to unintentionally skip out on some LUSH details, and for someone like me I want everyone to listen in.”

“But what are we going to do about the new kid?” the Marra with her hair covering both eyes asked.

The particular Marra pointed to the spot next to her which lead everyone else to it. Sitting on a log with the other Marras was another girl, and the others had to admit she got the appearance checked out. Around the same height as the other Marras, the girl had long wavy brown hair with a small pink flower hair clip near her forehead. Because she stylized her hair in that fashion the hair chip almost appeared to fall off at times which she hastily fixed up at times. Her face blended in with the other Marras, her sky blue eyes piercing the gaze of the others, while her expression matched the wickedness of the spirits during the night. To match her choice of hairpiece, her shirt mixed a tropical twist as an amalgamation of warm colors and the dazzling decals of orchids caught the eyes of many. Her pants on the others hand kept the normal navy blue, but her snazzy peach sneakers put markings of flashy man-o-wars up front like the big screens. Her clothing choices almost made her appear like she had no relations with the nightmare spirits, just a fashionable teenager with a knack for hanging out near the beaches and tanning near the ocean waves.

The suspicions went away the moment her eyes turned green as she turned to the Marra next to her, clearly upset.

“Is that how you are seriously going to introduce me?”

“Easy there, no need to bite on one of us.” the Marra hiding Marius said. “I do enjoy the enthusiasm you have. Got a name?”

“It’s Silica.” the new Marra replied. “I came wandering here after it got boring where I came from. Not enough people to scare, uninteresting targets, you know, THAT sort of drought.”

“So you’re a wandering spirit? Can’t say I’m surprised.” Kelly said. “You realize what we do here though right?”

Silica snickered.

“Oh, I didn’t come here empty handed. I have boatloads of stories to tell and nightmares to explain, I’m certain everyone would enjoy what I brought to the table.”

“Oh really?” the Marra hiding Marius answered. “You better have a nightmare to match those lips.”

“I already have one ready to go. First impressions go a long way after all, so how about one where I scare the daylights out of someone special, let’s say, hmmmm…a mature adult?”

Marius swore he saw the other Marras’ eyes go wide for a split second. He only heard snippets from the Marra holding him captive, but from what he heard they always talked about going after kids and young ones for inflicting their nightmares, never adults. He wasn’t a Marra so he didn’t know the true answer as to why that was the case, and with his shrunken status he didn’t want to ask. Whatever the case, it got the other Marras talking.

“Really? You actually went after an adult?” the Marra with glasses said. “How did you even crack them?”

“I came in with the right amount of fears at the ready.” Silica stated. “You want me to tell you about the nightmare I gave him?”

“Ooh, please do.” Kelly answered with intrigue. All of the other Marras had their eyes set on Silica as the green fire in the center erupted, ready to bring eerie visuals to help crank up the creepiness. Marius set his eyes on her too, but made sure to keep himself hidden so the Marra keeping him wouldn’t punish him greater after everything passed. The first nightmare story was about to unfold.

Silica made her move.

“Okay, so I did some digging on this guy beforehand, eavesdropping at its finest I might add, and figured out that he had a dream of becoming an astronaut. Pretty standard future expectation in my book, nothing too interesting in itself, but then certain visuals popped in my head. I mean, there’s some pretty grim features when it comes to that profession, ones that I could exploit to get the results I wanted. I heard he’s been studying the requirements and the possible downsides, and the latter got me hooked. I had to unfortunately study a LITTLE on what it takes to be an astronaut, but it was required when he inevitably fell asleep for the night. Let me tell you…it played out perfectly.”

The other Marras kept watching her for the colorful details.

“I started off easy as I set the nightmare inside a space station with him already a pro astronaut. I let him mess around with the many, many extras to make everything more believable. From panels to knowledgeable computers, I filled the place to the brim with stuff considered ‘common’ for the setting. This made it more hilarious when I had to pull the plug and ruin his self esteem, for those eyes…those eyes had me bawling out over the floor. First I made it so all of the machines immediately shut down and kill the lights, making it nearly impossible for him to see, before I sent a monstrous alien after him. He ran everywhere trying to avoid it, which I purposefully made slow just for the moment, before trying to hide under a desk. He really thought he lost the alien, oh how naive and stupid, but it was the moment I waited for. He couldn’t see it from the front, but when he turned behind…THE ALIEN SCREAMED AT HIM LIKE A BANSHEE!”

Silica cackled as the other Marras joined in, setting the green fire ablaze high and tall, completely amused with the story told. This brought the eavesdropping Marius down a peg, for a nightmare like what was told must have been pretty harsh for the man affected. The fact that the Marras yearned for deep dark nightmare stories and actually enjoyed them just made the situation seem much worse than it was. The frightfulness in the air stung that the Marras couldn’t feel.

“Hahahah, that’s a good one!” the Marra with a bun in her hair said. “You came here swinging and I like it!”

“Thanks, I told you I came prepared.” Silica answered.

“A word of advice though. Try to keep the details simple, then we don’t have to think too hard.” the Marra with covered eyes said.

“Duly noted.” Silica answered. “Now that my introduction is out of the way, I’m eager to hear what someone else has in store. Surely someone could match me.”

“I’ve been preparing for my time in the spotlight since the start. I’ll go next.” Kelly said.

The attention transferred over to Kelly. The other Marras appeared more intent to listen in on her than Silica, either it was because they knew her better or her stories were good. From what she stated earlier in the day, she planned this for quite a while and seemed eager to tell. The green fire flared up in preparation of giving the creepy visuals, getting the Marras excited. Kelly’s story would be a treat for their ears.

She didn’t delay and went straight for it.

“So I haunted this little kid with a serious fear of cockroaches, so I gave him the scare of his life with this. He started in his bedroom as he just woke up and headed downstairs for breakfast, but he never noticed that each step he gave formed ripples on the floor made of the squeamish critters. His mom was at work so he had to fetch the cereal and milk himself, a grave mistake. He opened the fridge first and got the milk out first, nothing out of the ordinary at first, before he went to the cupboard and got his cereal. Too bad that would be the last normal sight, for the instant he poured it into the bowl…a swarm of roaches came out!”

The other Marras would have laughed of enjoyment if Kelly didn’t hold up a hand to say that she wasn’t finished.

“The kid screamed as usual while the roaches consumed the kitchen table before moving to the fridge. He tried to head for the door, but a wall of roaches kept him in his place. They formed around the kid’s legs as he tried kicking them off, only for his attempts to go futile. They struck him with bites before his body fell to the floor helpless. With one look at himself he found…that he turned into a giant cockroach!”

The dark laughter from the other Marras echoed around the area from the story, the fire in the center igniting further as the stories continued. In a display Marius didn’t know about, green wisps of a sort flew out of the fire before rushing straight into the mouths of each Marra, including the one hiding him. Their eyes lit bright green as they were fed from the fire, and from watching it he wanted to not dig into it. A can of worms can leave an implant into curious kids after all.

The process was kept short as the fire formed back to normal and the Marra’s eyes did so as well. They acted as if it never happened.

“That was a bit gross, but worth it for that ending!” the Marra with a lock of hair covering one of her eyes said. “You still got it Kelly!”

“I’ve always had it.” Kelly answered before going to another topic. “Let’s keep things rolling. Who is next?”

One of the Marras immediately raised her hand up with a wicked smile.

“I believe my turn should be next. I’ve prepped something REALLY good for tonight!”

Turning to the source, it was none other than the one Marra secretly hiding Marius among them. This forced Marius to go out of sight so the others wouldn’t see him.

“There’s no way I would forget you Jaeden.” Kelly said with an equal expression. “Go ahead, it’s all yours.”

Jaeden? So she had a name the entire time, although Marius should have expected it earlier with Kelly and Silica, even if he never mustered up to ask. Considering all of the deadly scenarios she put him though, he felt justified in not asking just to keep his life intact. She practically thrust the divine gates in front of him every time she came up with something to do with him, which while entertaining to her flipped the upside for her shrunken captive. The dread kept him in check as she could make something on the spot to possibly end him, a grave consequence if Marius slipped up at any point.

She wasted no time getting to the good stuff with the fire combusting before her.

“So I went after this kid that had the standard fears, nothing too interesting, so I had a lot to work with. I made him think that everything was okay as he went to bed, only for him to suffer a headache in the middle of the night…”

Marius didn’t need basic math to come to a conclusion on what she was talking about. Just hearing about the experience put images into his head that clouded his thoughts. Shaking, shivering, everything came forth. He tucked himself in the corner of Jaeden’s pocket, not wanting reminders about his current nightmare in this malformed reality.

“So he gets up and sees that his window was opened before going back to his bed…and it splits in front of him! It wouldn’t be long after that until this crazy girl run up to him and puts him into submission against the wall. The kid freaks out before the girl melts in front of him and DRAGS him into the burning depths. With searing burns over his body as he shrieked to the skies, clinging to life by a thread…he let one action loose.”

Most of the Marras tilted their heads in confusion at what Jaeden tried to convey. Marius knew, that’s how all of his tragedy and misery started, but before he could think further he witnessed Jaeden’s huge hand reach inside for him. He had nowhere else to go as the titanic hand wrapped around his body with Jaeden talking overhead.

“That set everything into motion, he put up his own grave for a never-ending nightmare. He got hit hard by one of the greatest punishments imaginable, in fact…”

His entire vision immediately came forth with Jaeden showing no remorse and pulling him out into the eyes of the other Marras.

“…he’s still going through it RIGHT NOW!”

There he was, bound tight into Jaeden’s fist with a group of Marras gazing straight at him. The circle of demons overlooking a boy not even the size of their fingers, Marius had it hard that no one else could fathom in his time among the ghosts. Some even sat motionless with nothing but their green eyes set on him, terribly unnerving for the kid. If they truly craved for everyone’s misery, they would be able to determine what he went through by the signs all over his face. Handling one Marra brought him consequences he couldn’t handle, but multiples would end him with no chance of escape. Older and larger, they had the qualities to power over him in any way possible as long as they kept him small.

He didn’t see one of the Marras next to him until her face was only inches next to him.

“Scared much?”

Marius yelped as his heart skipped a beat to Kelly’s ginormous face. His sank into Jaeden’s fist, trembling all over with wide eyes, before she couldn’t help it and cackled. The other Marras joined in with the laughter, including Jaeden, making the fire burn high with loose cinders crackling and extinguishing before them. Any sort of scare he displayed was nothing but a humorous riot to the ghastly ghosts, almost like a sugar rush through a candy store.

Too bad they stuffed their faces with sugar already.

“In all my time inflicting nightmares on innocent kids, I have never seen results this crazy.” Kelly said with a smug smile. “How did you manage to pull this off?”

“Sorry, that’s a matter only I can comprehend.” Jaeden answered. “I want to keep the numbers to a minimum to, you know, stay hidden?”

“Point taken.” Kelly said. She put one of her fingers forward and gave Marius a strong flick across the face, which not only hurt but made him even more afraid.

Kelly chuckled.

“Heheheh, can’t say I’m enjoying appearing like someone who downed a growth potion. So little guy, can’t stand being around Marras a million times bigger than you?”

He couldn’t speak, the tiny experiences among extreme dangers paralyzed his mouth from moving. Kelly’s menacing glare along with the other Marras didn’t help his mood either, the burning depths excreting pressure beyond what he could handle. They weren’t angry forest giants, they were massive demonic Marras.

If he wasn’t going to speak up, Jaeden would force him to. She increased her crushing grip over his body, constricting him further.

“Speak up midget. You’re in no position to go to your happy place with us around, so ANSWER NOW.”

Marius had to hold back tears before he did as she wished.

“…okay…okay…I am very afraid…no more please…”

Jaeden smirked slightly before loosening her fingers around him. Her display of power amused Kelly, making her chuckle smugly a bit more, before the other Marras got more curious and leaned in for a better view, putting Marius in the spotlight of six more pairs of glowing green eyes and unnerving him even more.

“Wow, just looking at his terrified face is entertaining! I’m feeling so much fear pouring out of him!” the Marra with a bun in her hair said.

“I know, I can’t get enough if it!” Silica chimed in. “Maybe we could mess with him and see how much that gives us! Let’s milk him dry!”

The other Marras glanced over to Silica for a moment.

“That’s not actually a bad idea.” Kelly said. “He’s shivering in his pants already just from seeing how gigantic we are compared to him. Are you alright with that Jaeden?”

Jaeden smiled with the other Marras.

“I was convinced when I heard ‘milk him dry.’”

His body went hollow, they had no mercy. They really wanted to see him go under and stay there all for their amusement while he couldn’t do anything but let it happen. The one hex put on him was pretty much a death sentence without going that far, and he didn’t even get to being a teenager himself like the Marras portrayed themselves as. His life was in their hands, literally, and they could do anything to him at his pain.

“I say we go for something special.” Kelly said. “How about we see if he has acrophobia?”

“Ooh, that sounds devious.” Jaeden replied. “Lets spread out and we’ll toss him over the fire. If we’re lucky…he might scream!”

The other Marras chimed in and agreed with no arguments. With Marius still in Jaeden’s grasp, completely stilted in shock and fear, the group of Marras spread out a little, still in a circle with the green fire in the middle, and prepared themselves to catch the tiny kid with anxious expressions. Kelly positioned herself on the other end for maximum distance while Silica stood to the left side. The other spots were filled by the other Marras, and they were just as eager to get the terrified boy sailing through the air.

A hard reality check came his way when Jaeden let him loose with a long throw into the air. Suddenly finding himself in the air, Marius felt his heart race as the air pounded against his face. He never went skydiving before, but after this punishing experience he may never want to. He almost felt the heat of the green fire when his body flailed over it, a few cinders cracking only millimeters next to him at point. Third degree burns don’t heal easily, but with the Marras messing around the possibility could rear its ugly head with infernal consequences. As soon as he found himself ascending, the descent followed after. This time he did scream, the threat of hitting the ground hard proved too much to the little guy. He shut his eyes so he wouldn’t see the end…only to land in the center of Kelly’s hands.

When he opened his eyes, he saw Kelly gazing down at his shrunken body with a smug grin.

“Looks like we didn’t need to wait long for him to lose it.” Kelly said. “Your face gave off so much fear that I could get filled for weeks on that alone…heheheh, I love it!”

Marius was getting the daylights scared out of him from every angle from the Marras and he couldn’t do anything but let it happen. He curled up and shivered for some sort of method to regain his sanity, but he was interrupted when Kelly poked his belly with one of her fingers.

“So delicate, yet so amusing with the intense fear…you’re everything a Marra could ask for. How does it feel knowing I could crush you and no one would ever be aware of what happened? Looking death in the eyes…as your soul fades away? How about I squeeze you until your eyes pop out?”

“Eep!” Marius squealed as he curled up. Kelly’s laughter filled the air with the other Marras following suite, igniting the fire once more.

“Hahahah, I can feel him leaking fear even from all the way from over here!” Silica said. “This kid is a gold mine and I can’t get enough!”

“Hey Kelly, toss him over here!” the Marra with glasses said while slightly waving her arms. Marius’ head hastily popped up straight before he shook it back and forth in denial, but Kelly had no compassion for him in any way. Encasing the tiny kid in her fist, she reeled back before sending him directly into the air once one, complete with his terrified screaming that drove the Marras to wicked joy. Like before, he went through a high ascent before spiraling into a nosedive, something some rookie skydivers wouldn’t go for without practice. Marius didn’t have the profession to safely do the maneuvers, and even then he lacked the required age and had no interest in the art, but the Marras forced him into it anyway. The fire always giving the heat under him taunted for a burning landing making it more ruthless for him. Skydiving to the depths below had lethal consequences and Marius had all of the doors put in front for him to unexpectedly fall through.

He rocketed into the particular Marra’s hands as she caught him with no injuries.

“Woo, I got him good!” the Marra with glasses said. “I’m really liking this!”

“Don’t be selfish, I want my fair share!” the Marra with a bun in her hair chimed in.

This continued for a decent amount of time, with Marius shrieking his lungs out every time he was tossed into another Marra’s grasp. The Marras were practically being put in a joyride with the reactions the tiny boy expressed during his time in the air, taking in his grim emotions like candy. Some even attempted to get better screams out of him with certain tosses, which only fed his paranoia through the air, but the Marras gulped the sugar over their heads again and again. No nightmares required, only the yells and shrieks from a boy who got put into scared overdrive from a vengeful spirit.

After the humorous tossing of the shrunken kid between the other Marras, the spirits went back to their regular routines of telling haunting nightmares they inflicted to unsuspecting people, with Jaeden getting hold of her toy Marius. While some were pretty gritty with the details, Silica in particular got some good ones to share. One that caught the other Marras’ attention specifically was when she gave a deep and brutal nightmare to a teen with purple boots and a specialty in music making. It went pretty dark with the details, from instruments going crazy and monstrous to folk music ringing through the girl’s ears, but the Marras enjoyed all of it especially to the one telling the story. The final straw that broke the camel’s back for the teenager ended up being when a special friend of hers outright stated that she had more interest in practicing opera singing, something the teen tended to shove aside and ignore, and couldn’t let the opportunity down. The Marras erupted with their laughter when Silica finished, nothing but pure entertainment for the sinister ghosts, burning the fire in the center. Marius himself couldn’t concentrate on the stories told as he stayed silent to try and regain some lost sanity in his brain. The night inflicted burns only one truly understood.

When everything concluded the Marras went their separate ways, with Jaeden taking her shrunken kid with her. She held Marius tightly as she leaned on a specific tree near a hill before her eyes glared at the tiny boy, still trying to calm himself. He was met with a slap across his face from one of her huge fingers.

“Get back to reality stupid, you’re not recovering with me around.”

Marius’ eyes locked with Jaeden’s, which glowed green as usual, as he went speechless. His entire figure had nothing of his character left. His body had dirt and mud in every spot, especially his Great Raven Shirt which appeared more like a black blob in a garbage dump, as his face lacked the expressive emotion one could make. Red marks streamed under his eyes from the excessive crying with a couple of wrinkles for good measure. His arms and legs dangled in the wind and swayed like wet noodles and drips from a faucet. A different kid took his place as his twin strayed into the wilderness somewhere else, a husk of what once stood a troubled kid adapting to the city around him. Null and void, nothing but dead in spirit.

“So you’re completely dead on the inside, no feelings left standing?” Jaeden said. “How about I change that with some eye candy, hmmm?”

Marius was so out of it that he lacked the will to respond. It didn’t go unnoticed by Jaeden though, so she shifted her fingers around to turn the shell of a kid around to the scenery behind him.

There was a small flame in his chest as he took in the picture.

The countless buildings shined in tune with the sprawling stars, the lampposts along the streets glowed to the bustling cars a deep orange, his eyes showered glitter from all angles and he loved it. Distance changes perspective and wherever Jaeden set herself gave off a stunning angle of Trolberg. Back in the village where he initially lived this would never come to anyone’s conclusion, there wasn’t enough elevation for anything to give off their visions of beauty. Granted it never came across his mind for relaxation, he wanted to enjoy his childhood while it lasted, but seeing the city in a new light gave him ideas for the future. If only his parents could see something as spectacular as the colorful city with him, the moment could be absolutely stunning. He wanted to cry, but he already gave out most of his tears for the day. For once he forgot his troubles, everything stood to a standstill among the framed drawing.

“Stunning isn’t it? I wouldn’t be surprised it that was the case. I want you to take in as much as you can…as you won’t be seeing anyone in the face ever again.”

She drove a stake through his heart.

“Wh…what? You…did you just…”

He couldn’t get the words out, the dread pushed him back. Jaeden shifted her fingers to turn him back toward her face.

“Yes I did, you’re never going to live normally again. Did you really think I would keep a promise to a jerk like you? I take vengeance very seriously and my grudges never go away, this has all been on you since the start. Besides, I’m really enjoying messing with how helpless and small you are, I could get my share of entertainment just from you instead of inflicting nightmares. Say goodbye to ever becoming normal again, you’re staying that size and being my forever toy for the rest of your sorry life.”

Marius’ color drained from his face as he tried to deny the facts set for him. She said it herself that he would be released when she felt he learned his lesson to not mess with her, but a harsh reminder hit him when he remembered how she pulled the rug from under him and put him at the other end of her shoe in the process. She couldn’t do it again for something as massively harsh as shrinking him and giving the implication that all of it would be over after a while…

It sounded like a violent crash.

“No, no, you can’t keep me like this forever! I have a life to look forward to and I’m not even a teenager yet! You can’t hold the one accident over my head, I never meant to-”

Jaeden shut up his complaining with another crushing grip, making him yelp in pain as she held in cackles.

“You can deny all you want, but your reality is with me now. Everything was lost when you smacked me in the face, you ended your normal life in one grave motion. You took a cheap shot, SO I TOOK YOUR LIFE.”

She brought the terrified kid up close to her face.

“…and there’s no way I’m ever going to restore you to normal.”

Her eyes lit up in its creepy ghastly green very brightly before she uttered one more chilling word.

“Never.”


Never had Marius wept as hard as he did the night after Jaeden revealed her true intentions. It prevented him from sleeping fully with the tears doing waterfalls and his nose stuffing up, not to mention multiple headaches. His life pulled away by a devious spirit when she shrunk and kidnapped him who showed no ounce of empathy to her actions, all over a relatively minor incident. He would never look anyone in the eyes ever again, now having to bend his back just to see what they appeared like. Even naturally small creatures had a noticeable increase over him. He had some fear looming in the back over what one of the mythical elves would comment on him, if he could see one in the first place. Appearing as a bug to creatures known for being tiny? It sounded brutal, VERY brutal to the young kid. As a dark footnote, Jaeden would always have him and never let him go, only for him to be her new plaything during the day. He didn’t get life in prison, he got the death sentence.

His thoughts stayed in his head when the giant ghost above called him out.

“Get up midget, it’s a new day. You’re mine, so GET UP.”

Marius couldn’t muster the strength to do so, he was too distraught.

“I’m not asking for charity, I’m demanding! GET UP NOW OR I’LL MAKE YOU!”

The threat of more torture finally got the tiny boy up. He trudged up the pocket of the dark spirit before popping his head out into the sunlight. Even though mornings had a certain beauty to them, he couldn’t admire it under his new life as a Marra’s toy. His emotions pulled the curtains to the shining window, nothing but a shell of an energetic kid. Everyone else woke up while thinking of what might happen today, Marius had his set in stone. Dangerous activities, servant work, everything but satisfaction set before him. All Jaeden needed to do was pick one out and he would be at the end of it, further exemplifying his status as helpless and weak to her titanic figure.

He never got to think further until he was plucked from the pocket by Jaeden’s massive hand and into her grasp. She held him before her angry face as her eyes glowed ominously green like the Marra she was.

“When I ask for something you better deliver. I don’t care if you’re recovering from a sob story, you’re with me for the rest of your sorry life and what I say goes. Deal with it.”

Marius didn’t answer, he couldn’t. She not only destroyed the outlook of his life before him but also eliminated a portion of his being. Emotions died the moment they started, personality meant nothing, and yet showed no injury. The average way would be to kill the outer coat, but little did many know that the squishy underbelly had the susceptibility to suffer just as hard. Jaeden may have put the physical pain up front, but the side effects took center stage for the shrunken kid.

The fact that Marius stayed silent upset Jaeden enough to make her put a crushing grip over his body, making him yelp to her delight.

“That’s the noise I like to hear.” Jaeden said. “It’s great to know that I always have someone to inflict fear to when I want it. How about I get our activity started to force that misery out?”

Marius hastily shook his head in denial, but Jaeden wouldn’t listen to her new inferior toy. Just seeing him try to go against the ghost’s idea amused her, making her form a small smirk as she reached into another one of her pockets. After a bit of rummaging she felt a particular object before pulling it out in front of the tiny kid. It had the appearance of a small glass bottle, obviously bigger than Marius though, with a black sort of fluid sealed inside by a cap, which seemed to stretch into the liquid from inside the bottle with a thin stick. Somehow mysterious, but natural at the same time.

“I’ll give you three guesses to figure out what this is. Maybe I’ll ease a bit of your suffering with a correct guess, hmmm?”

Normally others would shove that sort of detail aside, but for someone like Marius he didn’t have a choice. Any sort of tactic for less pain sounded like creaking from the pearly gates, no other option but to play her sick game. He had to keep in mind that this wasn’t a teenager, nothing but a nightmare spirit yearning to hear all of the negatives and pick at it for his sadness.

“Ummmm…filthy water?”

He was met with a solid slap across his miniature face from one of the Marra’s huge fingers.

“Not even close. Guess again.”

Marius shook his head around in an attempt to recover from the blow. He never realized until now how brutal such simple actions from the others bigger than him could be against someone extremely tiny. One twitch of a finger could prove devastating to him and a simple step forward had the potential to end him across the ground. Jaeden obviously used the downside to her advantage and he suffered because of it, magnifying the damage dealt. The slap he took may have only made his nose stuffed up along with a few red marks, but it could easily get much worse if she wanted.

He took a gander at the bottle again while Jaeden glared at him with a green glow in her eyes.

“Errrr, ummmm…oil?”

He didn’t see the next one coming. Before he could comprehend it, Jaeden slapped him again across the face, but this time used her entire hand. With Marius only a centimeter tall, this fired up his nerve cells ten fold over the previous slap. It compared to tanking a minivan at first before a loaded truck followed after. If it went a bit off he could have been sent to the citadel in the sky instantly, but he didn’t perish. If anything Jaeden held some of her strength back so that outcome wouldn’t occur, she didn’t want him dead after all, but it did leave the shrunken kid with a face full of more red marks and a bloody nose. Even as the red poured out Jaeden kept her grip on him, with Marius battered up on the verge of breaking down. Some tears fell down his cheeks, but the giant nightmare spirit didn’t care in the slightest. His suffering was music to her ears.

“Nope, still completely wrong. One more chance…”

Her voice shifted a couple of times in a sarcastic and childish manner, putting more of an insult upon him and his status. Marius sputtered feeling the blood drip down his mouth, grotesque for a sight. He would had tried to plug it up until it stopped if Jaeden didn’t bind his arms with her massive fingers, and even then if the blood dripped onto her hand she never flinched. If anything it amused her, as it reminded Marius that he was her plaything and that he would never get back to having a normal life.

He let loose his final guess after spitting some loose blood from his mouth.

“…ummmmm…how about…mucky tar?”

The nasty Marra leaned her face up closer until it took up his entire vision, her snarky and smug smile seething under his skin and infecting them with the darkness of her attitude. He had seen it multiple times already, but her ghastly glowing green eyes illustrated her lack of humility and how selfish she truly thought of herself. Up close and personal, she had no bounds for her actions.

She spoke one sick remark with venom from every angle as her breath wafted around his face.

“……nope.”

What she went for next almost felt inhuman. Her answer unleashed the grim tension over Marius as he nearly felt his heart stop, but it didn’t get that far until a shadow covered over him. With one swift motion, Jaeden slammed a fist right over the boy’s sorry head. It wasn’t a truck this time, it was a jet plane and it burst the pain from all over. Never had Marius felt so much infliction in a few quick seconds, and he screamed to the heavens above. If she didn’t use the dull end of the guillotine when it drove down it would have certainly ended him, nothing but ruthless pain and torture from a ghost bent on making him miserable.

The giant spirit lifted her fist off of the shrunken kid to see the damage done, and she couldn’t have been more amused. She dealt more damage to him in that one action that he almost didn’t appear the same as she found him. His cheeks swelled and had bruises all over along with his right eye appearing black. His nose still spouted blood while he could barely open his eyes, while his teeth surprisingly stayed intact. Some could say that a guardian angel kept him alive, but he knew that wasn’t the case. Even with the mortal action Jaeden just did, he could tell she held back so the dire outcome wouldn’t come to be. She treated him like a toy, and it wouldn’t be fun to her if he broke.

The boy coughed as some tears dripped down his face.

“…please, no more…I can’t take it…”

“I can’t do that, you know I own you now.” Jaeden answered with a creepy tone. “You sealed your fate when you messed with me, and I’m REALLY enjoying having you as my personal ‘misery on the shelf.’ You want to know what that bottle is for?”

Marius didn’t respond, he was too beaten up. Even if he spoke up, it was likely she would ignore anyway considering what she thought of him. She picked up the bottle anyway and held it in front of him with a large smirk.

“It’s nail polish idiot, I can’t believe you never guessed that. Oh well, it’s not like I would have actually went easy on you if you got it right. Either way, I stole this from a girl’s home after giving her the scare of her life with a nightmare, and while I usually wouldn’t pay attention to this kind of stuff I do have to look the part during the day. I may be a Marra but I’m also a girl, so a nice coat of black would be a nice way to start.”

Marius coughed a little, as pummeled as he was, before he dared to speak.

“So…you’re painting your fingernails?”

“Oh no my little toy, I’m not going to do that.” Jaeden said. “I don’t want to leave you out of what could be a mundane activity, so I want YOU to do it!”

Before Marius could reply back, Jaeden sat on the ground and set the bottle in front of her. She put Marius on the ground next to the bottle before she adjusted herself to sit on her stomach, legs swinging in the air like summer occurred. Marius ached from all over almost in a struggle to keep standing, she beat him down and didn’t regard for anything. He never went to public school before, but after this he didn’t want to experience it on his life. The stereotypical bullies beat younger kids up for their lunch money, which sounded bad enough, but when you had someone a million times bigger go against you…don’t resist and let them take it. He could do nothing but let Jaeden have her way with him, for she shrunk him to nothing and her colossal size meant she held all of the cards.

She set her fingers in front of him, fingernails bared, before getting the brush out of the polish and putting it next to him.

“Don’t leave me waiting, get going now.” Jaeden sternly said. He needed a little more time to recover, but with her demanding tone he had no choice or risk more punishments. From his first glances a lot of ground needed to be covered, and to see her fingernails of all things stand higher than him proved how much reduction he took from her dastardly hex. He could probably stand on each one and still have extra space to move, that small of a size compared to anything. While she could easily get the job done in a couple of minutes regularly, having a shrunken ten year old handle it wouldn’t go by quickly. To further add to it, the kid hurt all over from his beating earlier, not a pleasant sight. It wouldn’t go easily for Marius, just another makeshift torture session to go through.

He staggered over to the brush while holding his thigh. With his head dashing back and forth between Jaeden and the brush, his mind got stumped. He was no professor, so concluding on an answer  almost sounded unfeasible, and while greatly injured to boot. Dawdling too long would easily result in more torture, so he had to think of something quick. With only himself and nothing else, the brush obviously too large to handle, only one way stuck its flag up. It sounded brainless and might make him look stupid, but wasting time meant dire punishments and Jaeden considered him an idiot anyway.

Holding his breath and puffing up his chest, Marius leaped forward into the brush enduring as much flaring up against his skin as possible. He could hear Jaeden snickering from the sight before he pulled himself out, drenching him in a coat of black nail polish from all over. His body blared sirens to let off the actions even though he couldn’t, but it didn’t delay him as he went over to the first of Jaeden’s fingernails. Her right hand was first, so Marius started his procedure there. Ignoring more warning signs from his body, he walked up against the large fingernail and rubbed his entire body against it. Combined with how bruised he was, it felt like rubbing against sandpaper.

His actions didn’t go unnoticed with Jaeden looming over him, and it seemed to entertain her as she grimly laughed over him.

“Hahahahah, so that’s how you’re handling things down there? You must have been dropped multiple times in your youth. Keep going idiot, I’m still waiting.”

He continued rubbing his covered body against the fingernail for a few more minutes, with Jaeden angling her finger at times since he couldn’t reach near the top parts, until he coated it in black completely. How he went through so quickly he couldn’t determine, but he didn’t care. Not a single bare spot anywhere, almost like an expert stylist, although he still had a lot of excess black over his body.

He never got a single second to relax when the giant Marra flicked him across the face with another finger, injuring him again.

“You’re not done. Now paint the rest, and after that I might need…a second coat.”

Marius nearly fell to his knees as Jaeden enjoyed watching him struggle near her hands. Painting fingernails with his many handicaps brought many troubles, but having to do them again stewed pandemonium. He didn’t get a degree or diploma on the matter, he was only ten years old and clearly didn’t have the talents to keep moving forward. If he got appointed doing the sort of job for a couple of years he would drop it instantly and never think about it again. He didn’t deserve that sort of treatment especially for his age.

Almost on the verge of breaking down, Marius trudged over to the giant brush for a second time as it dripped a puddle, to him at least, of black under it. He remembered in science class that in the time of the dinosaurs, sticky black tar dragged any prehistoric animal clueless to come into contact with it under its murky depths until they suffocate. It only made him more depressed as certain reminders came up.

He’s been stuck in the tar for days.

Marius collapsed after the last fingernail was finished. He didn’t know how long he spent coating himself then rubbing up against each one to near perfect, feeling like a millennia. To think he did so while massively injured sounded like suicide, but it happened. As he progressed on each one, Jaeden sent some entertained and snarky remarks his way, most of them insults toward how small she shrunk him and how useless he was overall. To say she had amusement appearing as someone greatly titanic would be an understatement, she adored it. Marras exist for distress and pain when imposing nightmares on unsuspecting people, but doing it to someone no less than a centimeter tall brought a whole new experience at the expense of the kid. She now always had the one tiny kid to go through, enough so that she didn’t even need to give him nightmares for her fix of misery. She would still always inflict nightmares when evening arrived, but she had Marius to mess around with in her free time, much to his unruly suffering.

The kid slowly lifted his head up from the dirt as Jaeden glanced at his work while towering over him as usual. He recoiled in his black covering, hoping to the heavens above that he did his job correctly. Any mistake could prove fatal in Jaeden’s presence, her methods showed no mercy even when made of glass at his size.

Her head turned to him with her usual smug expression.

“Heh, not bad for a midget. I can almost see myself in the black polish, very shiny…”

For once since she shrunk him he felt a wave of relief upon hearing those words. He practically threw himself to the ground working on those surfaces, it didn’t go by easily at his size. She gave him a complement after all, something he thought would never escape the lips from a demon like her.

All good thoughts cleared immediately as Marius tried to get to his feet only for one of Jaeden’s giant brown sneakers to lightly kick him back to the ground, which at his size smacked his entire body like concrete. Yet suffering another injury from the massive Marra, he hit the ground hard as he heard light cackles from the ghost before his sight filled with Jaeden standing directly over him with slightly cross eyebrows. With his back to the ground and the Marra standing at her full height mere centimeters from his body, the perspective skewed to a much monstrous outlook. Her shoes could cover entire cities, her legs stretched further than mountain ranges, and her whole body had the potential to reach the ozone. When he heard others say they gazed at the clouds while lying on their back it brought tranquility and imagination to the audience, but they never expected demise to ruin the visuals. Marius couldn’t imagine or relax, all he could see was a dark ceiling of spikes.

Jaeden’s voice boomed above him.

“Too bad your work wasn’t perfect. I even had the faintest idea to give you some relaxation time, but you went far below my expectations. I never believed you in the slightest that you would do a good job, but seeing you willingly mess yourself up…I felt your desperation and loved it. For your stupid and meaningless effort, I’m going to have to punish you.”

His heartbeat exploded into acceleration. Trying to move any of his limbs or head spiked the pain and made it only move a minuscule amount. Before he go for something different, Jaeden’s hand came down and bound him everywhere, putting her in control as she brought him to her face. He didn’t want to find out what she had in mind, it could turn out fatal in an instant.

“But…I acted like you want! You don’t need to-”

The ghost smacked him with one of her fingers before he could finish.

“Shut up loser, you lack everything to speak against me.” Jaeden interjected. “What I say goes, and as my toy you ALWAYS have to follow through on my activities to perfection. You didn’t fit my standards, so I’ll have to put a dire consequence on your squishy body.”

“No, please…no more.” Marius pleaded. He honestly couldn’t fathom surviving any more of her sick activities, but all he was met with was an intimidating glare from Jaeden’s eyes as she grimly smiled.

“Aww, leaking fear already? Nothing but sweet melody to my ears, and I always have you to go to when I want it. I desire more, much more, from your mind of emotions, and I think I know how to crank it up…”

She brought the terrified kid closer to her face.

“…as I always wanted to know what young boys taste like.”

That was all it took to set him off. His body went into a panicked overdrive, which only made him go through more pain as Jaeden had him wrapped tightly in her fingers. He didn’t want it, he NEVER wanted that sort of outcome to befall him.

“No, you don’t need to do this! You said it yourself you don’t eat, PLEASE DON’T EAT ME!”

“I said I didn’t NEED to eat, that doesn’t mean I can.” Jaeden answered, smiling darkly from Marius’ fear. “With you eating bread crumbs from the garbage I also need my daily snack, and you fit the description of Marra food flawlessly. Besides, having you in my pocket when I do my daily rounds is too generous, you require being somewhere much more heinous, the bottom of my stomach. Say goodbye to seeing the sunlight today…because I’m keeping you there all day!”

Marius immediately lost it as his body went haywire trying to break loose from Jaeden, only for it to go futile from her intense grip. He cried out for any sort of mercy, which unfortunately fell on deaf ears, as the giant spirit added some fuel to the fire by blatantly licking her lips in front of him. She drew him in closer, with the shrunken boy panicking even more, before her mouth slowly opened, her breath exhaling all over Marius’ face. He never thought the gates to the underworld would be as ire and unrelenting as the dimension itself, even if it was a snippet and preview of the suffering ahead.

“I’ll enjoy feeling you clamber to get out…as it’s snack time.”

Jaeden didn’t wait any longer before tossing the shrunken boy straight into her mouth. Marius got instantly coated in buckets of saliva before the light escaped, the Marra sealing him inside. Trying for any attempt to get out, Marius got his footing straight before the slimy saliva slipped him back on her tongue as it bucked up and down. He wanted to stay anywhere but the back, so he held onto the tongue for dear life while in the presence of darkness everywhere. It didn’t make things any easier as it forcefully swung everywhere, even into the roof of the mouth and the side cheeks. It flared up Marius’ pain even more, and that combined with the slippery saliva forced the kid off the tongue over to a rigid surface. He never got the chance to try and comprehend where he ended up before a hard ceiling fell atop him. It didn’t take massive brainpower to figure out Jaeden’s tongue set him right on one of her flat teeth, and she was attempting to chew on him. He expected something fatal to occur to him as one of the large molars clashed atop him, and when it did the pain spiked again. It didn’t feel like she was biting down hard at all, but combined with the other injuries she imposed it still easily hurt. Marius cried out again expecting a broken bone, only for Jaeden to bite on him again at the same force. It made him shriek before the gravity shifted forward with the saliva everywhere sliding him down. Knowing where head was heading, Marius flipped back over and struggled to grasp any solid surface for any sort of life saver. He never got an answer as he lost his grip and felt himself falling backward. His back hit a soft and slimy surface as a faint image dangled above with a dreaded noise filling his hearing.

“No, please, DON’T DO IT!”

Nobody heard his outcry as he slid down into the dreadful path ahead, all muddied and grossed up like the treat he was to the Marra consuming him. His body got smothered from head to toe as the burly muscles forced him further and further down all while he tried to push himself up to no avail. His minuscule self couldn’t match with Jaeden’s harsh digestive system, wherever it wanted him it will force him to against his pleas. Bound and immobile, all he could do was wait for his demise.

It wouldn’t be long until the muscles of her esophagus finally let go of the boy’s body, putting him into a free fall until he planted into a squishy mass. He was almost too miserable to lift his face, he knew where he sat now. He didn’t need visuals, for biology class reared its ugly head in his direction. His body completely engulfed in saliva and bodily fluids, it was obvious what came next. He expected it to happen any moment, so he slowly curled himself up and wept sorrowfully in the darkness. It was over, Jaeden got her wish.

“Hey midget, arrive on schedule yet?”

Her voice rang from all over, frightening him for a moment and forced him to stop sobbing. He almost didn’t feel the need to reply, it would be over for him soon after all.

He tried to keep himself situated in one spot even if the fluids surrounding the walls had other plans.

“I think I can feel you but I can’t hear you! Speak up you dumb kid!”

He croaked under his breath from the experience before moderately answering, still very uneasy and shattered.

“I…uhhhhh, yeah…I…did I think…”

“I expected as much.” Jaeden’s voice boomed around him. “The screams and wails of your struggle gave me the signs that you’re still alive…much to my delight. If I can say anything about my surprise snack…you were very delicious.”

Her cackling echoed throughout his hearing before he quickly found himself sliding down, making him panic. Efforts to climb back up were fruitless until he hit the bottom of the stomach, the walls too slippery to climb back up. He would have shouted back up to Jaeden to let him out if her voice didn’t quickly ring through again.

“You’re staying there while I do my rounds for today, live it and weep all you want. As much as I love seeing and hearing you wallow to the horrors I put you through, you won’t be getting digested at any time. I’m a ghost so I don’t need to eat, but you better not hurt me at any moment or I might extend your period in there. Be quiet and shut up like the toy you are.”

The main horror Marius dreaded now got its answer, but it did rise a few questions that he hastily shut down. The less he thought about the anatomy of a Marra the better, as he may probe something he didn’t mean to. He stayed curled up in his tiny misery as he felt the motions Jaeden went through due to being in her gastric innards. Shrouded in total darkness meant he couldn’t grace his eyes to the city around him, and his hearing plugged with interference of intestinal utterances despite Jaeden not needing food. Nothing but himself sat in the dark, with only his thoughts to bring entertainment.

He went dizzy for a moment feeling Jaeden form through the gates to Trolberg, telling him she arrived in the vast city. With his new location the city stood as unknown as where he sat in Jaeden’s belly, his sight useless to him. Through the bodily noises of the Marra’s innards he could hear the world outside, with cars honking and people bustling, only bringing him more ire that he would never be normal again. His body tilted with his head falling to the sticky flooring, too saddened to lift it back up, thinking about time since he went missing. He only just arrived, so there settled a chance that nobody even knew of his existence when the reports arrived. He didn’t stand to be the most popular or noticeable kid in the vicinity, always being near the back as he started getting used to his new surroundings, and he only had a single day of school until the horrible accident. Nothing noteworthy he went through sparked interest in anyone, so it stood to him as an example of nobody caring. As much as he wanted to get away from Jaeden back to his normal life, would anyone care? His young mind couldn’t comprehend the negative imaginations enveloping his cranium.

He sat down along Jaeden’s stomach walls longer than he expected. He had some leftover bread crumbs from yesterday so he didn’t need to bother the Marra again, even if it felt unconventional to be eating inside a Marra’s stomach. Jaeden could be throwing him off course and purposefully keeping him inside for much longer than she initially said she would, although he didn’t have the keenest insight into keeping track of the time. It could be nighttime already and he wouldn’t know.

“Oh, it’s just you. Doing your rounds I guess?”

The voice went through the intestinal noises to the confined Marius, but it didn’t sound like Jaeden’s voice. He heard it before though, and after thinking on it for a moment he concluded that it belonged to Silica, one of the Marras from last night. Jaeden must have come across her while walking around, making Marius unintentionally eavesdrop on their conversation.

“As usual as always. Let’s chat in the alleyway just in case.”

That voice easily went to Jaeden. He bounced up and down for a bit as he knew Jaeden started walking again, but it didn’t last long before it went to a standstill. The alley must have been pretty close by.

Jaeden’s voice came up first.

“First off, what’s with the book? I didn’t take you being into that sort of subject.”

“I’m not doing this out of enjoyment, you know others’ misery brings me joy. I’m skimming the lines and pictures after I picked out my target for tonight; a young kid with a great fear of birds. Got to accumulate the perfect nightmare for the young kid.”

“You know you could just go for simplicity right? Spiders, bats, zombies, and the like usually do the trick, you don’t need the complicated stuff.”

“That’s your way of thinking, but I like to go differently. I want to plant a long lasting effect so the nightmare wouldn’t be forgotten so quickly, for the longer they get reminded the more depressing their life gets. You inflict in spurts, but I aim for the nuke.”

“Ah, I see where you’re getting at. I won’t stop you then, not one method becomes definitive after all, but I would like to reiterate what one of the others said last night. Take the advice, don’t over-complicate your nightmares and keep it simple in detail. We want to enjoy the stories as much as you do after all.”

“I’ve always kept that in mind, but it’s nice to get a reminder every now and then. I tend to forget things easily when drifting.”

He should have known that the topic of nightmares would come up between the two Marras. Nothing but harsh reminders of how he got forced into their dark tendencies, much to Jaeden’s joy. He would have tuned them out further if a specific topic wasn’t brought up with Jaeden speaking first.

“I take it you stole that book when scaring someone, didn’t you? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case.”

“Well, not exactly. I have my own methods to get what I want.”

“Oh really? How so?”

“That’s for me to know and nobody else. I’ve only just started in this city, and even then if I say anything the others may not like it.”

“We’re dark and nasty spirits Silica, if it’s dangerous and ripe for scaring we clamor over it. I’m sure the others can handle one small insight into what you have been through before seeing us.”

Normally it wouldn’t have sparked his interest, but something about the way Silica’s voice sounded tipped him off. Uneasiness and tension, two feelings that go hand in hand when times get tough, and they charged through her voice. For better hearing, since Jaeden’s bodily noises could obscure what the Marras said, he trudged across the stomach’s flooring completely blind in the dark with his hands out for safety. Even with the insurance, he ended up hitting the stomach wall face first, which made him more disgusted than angry, covering his head in slimy fluids. He shook off as much as he could before putting an ear as close to the wall without actually touching it, allowing him to hear Jaeden and Silica much more clearly.

The conversation paused for a few seconds before he heard Silica’s voice in a lower volume.

“……the Behemoth of Flies.”

“Excuse me?” Jaeden’s voice asked. Silica’s voice chimed in after.

“Yeah, I know, I didn’t believe it either until I brought it up for myself. Only shows up if you combine the right amount of garbage in just the right spot. The requirements vary, but I got lucky one time and managed to summon it before me. It then asks what you desire most at the moment, and whatever you answer it will bring it to you the next day before disappearing. Apparently it steals from places beyond Trolberg just for your one desire, almost like some sort of crooked genie or djinn, and while I would have loved to go for something different I couldn’t think of anything but my current target so, yeah, I stupidly asked for this book.”

“Interesting, I never knew such a being existed. I might just have to attempt to being it up if what I heard doesn’t prove false.”

“Heh, good luck on trying different pieces of garbage then. It can get pretty picky, what worked for me might not work for you. It basically boils down to luck whether the stack of garbage you formed makes it appear. Don’t go on the wild goose chase unless you’re sure you culminated the percentages in your favor, and even then there’s the possibility of failure. I haven’t managed to make it appear since that one day, it’s that elusive.”

“Doesn’t hurt to at least chance it once. I’m probably going to force my stupid midget to make the garbage piles for me, since I don’t have to put in much of the heavy duty stuff.”

“Oh right, I almost forgot you had that runt with you. Still have him tucked safely in your pocket?”

“Oh no, not that generous place. I put him somewhere much worse today…”

Marius’ eardrums cranked up a couple of notches when some light impact noises emitted from the stomach wall he stood by, knocking him off his balance to the mucky ground with a headache. He sat dizzy for a moment when Silica’s voice spoke up after.

“No way…you really…”

“Yes I did. It’s not like he could have fought back anyway, he’s mine after all.”

“Ooh, you’re making me wish to know how you shrunk him in the first place. So how about it? I told you my insight.”

“Nope, that’s something only I have to keep to myself.”

A groan came from the other end, most likely Silica.

“Ugh, you’re not making it easy are you? Oh well, maybe some other time. I have to get back to…reading this bird junk.”

“I’m sure you’ll find something in there.”

Jaeden’s motions came forth again, with Marius bouncing up and down as the stomach moved. His head bonked against the ground multiple times before he rolled to what seemed to be the center. It hurt a bit, but nothing compared to what Jaeden did to him earlier. She must have got done talking with Silica and went back to her rounds for the day. He didn’t dare to speak up unless he risked another punishment, giving him more alone time to think about things and wallow over his troubles.

The Behemoth of Flies though…he made note of it just in case.

He didn’t know how long he stayed in there, but it felt like an eternity. Nothing but pure darkness and mucky noises from Jaeden’s innards clouded his head, which impacted him harshly in ways nobody else could understand. He wished it could progress quicker, for even the reminders that the Marra swallowed him pounded all over his body. At least the last time Jaeden walked around Trolberg he could silently gaze at the visuals around, now he didn’t have that luxury to any degree. Nothing but another damaging game for the Marra to make sure his feelings drove downward to oblivion, and with how Marius proved how vulnerable she made him she could do anything to make him squirm at any point.

The boy sat curled up in the center of her stomach, all depressed and worried for himself on survival, before he heard a low rumble echo throughout the walls. He didn’t think much of it until the ground under him lightly shook with the noise. It worried him some, but then the rumbling got more intense and the noises louder. The expectations hit the kid hard, all the signs lined up to one conclusion and it only got him more riled up. Jaeden had to have lied to him again about Marras not needing food just so this moment could occur. He shut his eyes so he wouldn’t see himself melt away when the acids came, it would only scar him further than he was.

Expectations go both ways however.

Another rumble hit his ears as the floor moved with it, but for a moment he felt the ground disappear under him. He kept his eyes shut in case of red herrings, but then the sensation fell over him again with a safe landing. Unsure what was happening, Marius opened his eyes as another rumble occurred, and even though the darkness shrouded everywhere he could make out the floor around his feet very faintly. He saw no red herrings, but the floor sent him into the air with each rumble like he speculated. Having no clue what’s occurring around him, the next rumble sent him higher into the air before settling, with a less than ideal landing. The frequency jacked up soon after, and with the next rumble his small body bounced higher and higher. With each launch into the air the thrust of the trampoline got tighter, nearly doubling the launch power at the expense of safety for the kid, which Marius got the message when his head hit the ceiling from another bounce. He got sent so high up that he reached the top of the stomach before getting sent back down, which didn’t hurt too much except for the less than average landing. The last bounce made it count as it launched Marius even higher, where Marius awaited to hit the ceiling harder, except fate had other plans. He knew he couldn’t see anything but a ceiling usually dictated the topmost part of an inside area, so when he felt the rushing air stream farther than usual something obviously didn’t feel right.

If going vertical put his outlook to the side, immediately getting blown horizontal never crossed his mind. Getting sent high into the air for a moment, the winds abruptly blew him forward. A mess of colors entered his sight before he made impact, falling with a thud on his back. As much as it hurt, concern for his head came first as a two ton weight spun around driving his eyes in wheels. He put a hand to his forehead and held it as his headache died down, not knowing what sort of ride he was sent through.

“Get up midget, you’re out. I can’t have you waltzing in my belly while I do my nightmares. I’ll always have the idea in the back of my head though in case you go against me, so don’t think I’m letting you off easy.”

With his head clearing up, Marius’s eyes quickly adapted to the world around him. He couldn’t have been any more ecstatic to see the buildings of Trolberg around him, meaning Jaeden finally spat him out into reality once again. He got released from the belly of the beast, his mind nearly lost hope that it would happen with the Marra keeping him there forever as her eternal snack. It didn’t mean his time in her stomach lasted short however, as the shadows set their blankets over the city when Marius set his eyes on the surroundings. Not as beautiful as the top of the hill from yesterday, but still gorgeous. With him only a centimeter tall nearly everything obscured his sight to some degree, but even then he could see that Jaeden heaved him out in an abandoned alleyway, where Marras tend to go for privacy in his eyes. A dumpster to his right leaked some loose garbage, with his size only a fraction of the monster container, although he couldn’t get a good angle to find out if something sat in it or it was just from being completely full. Some empty open cans sprawled along the floors, with a select few having their bottoms opened up. He heard of tall tales where miniature people would use them as boats or houses, which while creative wouldn’t be ideal for him. It sounded too risky as a single action from someone bigger could prove disastrous, and Marius had at least some sort of common sense in certain areas. While they appeared nothing more but trash and a container, one change in perspective shed a different surge of cerebration to ones that paid attention even to ones usually uncomprehending due to age.

All of the positive feelings fell dead when he turned around to see the gruesome Jaeden, as massive as ever to his miniature status, glaring her glowing green eyes straight at him with a nasty smile.

“Too bad I have to be the killjoy here and ruin your short life…oh wait, I’m not sorry at all to jerks like you. Now get closer so I can better look at you.”

The Marra walked up to his tiny self, making booms across the ground to Marius in the process,  before reaching down. He may have previously tried to run away from her when given the chance, but her psychological tortures forced him to go stagnant. If a person beat on someone long enough they inevitably succumb to what the abuser wants, strong will or not, and Jaeden crafted Marius in the few days she had him to bend to her instantly. It stood as cruel, but she molded him into what she wanted all along; nothing but a worthless toy.

Her fingers coiled around him as she brought the kid to her face, messed up and blanketed in slobber and fluids. From the time she shrunk him to this moment, Marius appeared not how he used to. He may have stood out as a young boy going with a decent outlook of life, but he now had been set as nothing more than someone living off the side of the street. His hair stood and spiked in positions unnatural to see while his face colored red all over whether by the constant slapping across the face by Jaeden or the nosebleed from earlier. His shirt tore and ripped in various spot with the Great Raven decal almost unrecognizable from a first glace. His pants and shoes hung soaked and wet and appeared like they just got picked out from a dump, all from the mud and nail polish coverings alongside the fluids in Jaeden’s stomach. He now set himself as an example to what wretched activities Marras could do; all for their pleasure and satisfaction.

His face expressed nearly nothing as the Marra set her glowing green eyes on him.

“You’re acting just how I want you, my personal toy. Nothing but a husk awaiting what I have in store, this is why you never try to one up any of us, especially to me. Let me offer you a free shot, try to retaliate against me. Any choice words to say?”

Marius’ head limped down, his self esteem completely in the gutter from everything he endured from her.

“I expected as such, all shattered with nothing left. Your family won’t comfort you ever again since I own you now, so get your endless sobbing out of the way and accept your meaningless future with me. Now stay in my pocket while I get to my target for tonight, I had to settle for someone not as enjoyable since I couldn’t pick out anyone when the sun was up.”

The boy felt too miserable to move or speak back, something Jaeden aimed for when she kidnapped him. Hope fell into the abyss never to return, awaiting a soul to fill into his skin and become whole once again. Jaeden had him at all times and could play with him when she wasn’t terrorizing unsuspecting people that weren’t insomniacs, and even then everyone he knew and loved lived outside of Trolberg in another town. Nobody to go to, nothing to live for in life, death opened its doors for his answer. His brain lost most of its power as Jaeden’s sick games forced them into chains and padlocks, which would probably take months to recover from if he were to get out alive. Even then, he had nothing to look forward to, only pain and suffering stood before him as he sat in a bed of spikes, and he didn’t even get to say his goodbyes to his parents. The couple that took him in for the few months he was forced to stay would be left in the cold of his whereabouts, never ceasing their searches for him in the chance luck would give them good wishes, while everyone else would shy away from ever looking. It wasn’t as if he stayed in the city for long anyway, nothing would change with him out of the picture. Trolberg Elementary never had a chance with him, he stood out as someone others would forget in two seconds anyway, leaving them with one less student to work with. The fat kid he even met at lunchtime didn’t even get the chance to hang out…

The final ounce of brainpower broke free of its shackles for one last saving grace.

Whether it came via conk in the head or early spark of puberty, it didn’t matter at all. A throwaway description the Nigel kid told him held the only possible light at the end of the tunnel, and even then it sounded outrageous. If the kid didn’t have two fingers crossed behind his back his description of the one blue haired girl, Hilda if he could recall, informed him on how she had a knack for the strange and weird happenings around the city. She probably handled many situations like what he was going through and handled it easily, a trait that provided a saving grace to him, so if he could get away from Jaeden for a minute or two he could hopefully convince her to help him out of the demonic games of the Marra. The odds swayed in the other direction, but he didn’t have any other information on anyone else since he arrived in Trolberg, and the police obviously couldn’t grasp the supernatural occurrences to the greatest of ability. If anyone could get him out of Jaeden’s sick games and back to normal size Hilda would be his best bet based on what he heard, but there was still one issue. He needed a way to actually reach her while in the eyes of Jaeden, and the Marra made it very clear that she always had her sight on him, but the ounce of brainpower came with a cherry on top of the cake. In all of the stories he heard from the Marras at night, he heard how they curve dreams into nightmares; they force themselves into their targets’ minds. If Jaeden wanted to impose a nightmare to an innocent sleeper while also wanting to keep watch of him, she would have no choice but to bring him along for the ride. It didn’t sound ideal, but since she had the power to shrink him in the first place the possibilities stretched further than others thought. It would come at the expense of giving Hilda a nightmare, but he needed to get the message out. One chance, that’s all he had and he didn’t want to lose it.

Jaeden set her hand near her shirt to put Marius away when he took the risk.

“…wait…how about…someone different?”

The Marra paused for a moment before bringing the shrunken kid back to her face.

“Did you just speak when I explicitly stated to never talk against my decisions? You have no power to go against me, you dumb midget. Maybe another crushing stomp would get the message into your pea sized brain.”

“No, no…not that…” Marius answered, his negative emotions from Jaeden’s games impacting his speech. “If you don’t like…your target…maybe you should find a new one?”

He hoped for a high number, he didn’t want to roll low. His heart clenched as he went all in, Jaeden’s glowing green eyes not giving any signs. However, it wouldn’t take long before the results appeared.

“I didn’t see anyone of interest today, and you certainly sat unaware seeing nothing in my belly. Who do you possibly know that could prove interesting to me?”

He rolled again.

“Well, uhhhh…there’s this young blue haired girl who-”

Jaeden stopped him with another slap across the face with one of her huge fingers.

“Already know who that is. Gave that young Hilda girl a good one after she stuck up for one of her friends. After that I moved on, for it’s not as hilarious to give nightmares to those willingly asking for them.”

Darn, he got a low number. He still had some money left, so he went for it again.

“Are you sure…she’s still not afraid? You haven’t…haunted her for a while…maybe she’s still vulnerable…and laughing behind your back.”

“Excuse me?!” Jaeden retorted, her glowing green eyes staring into his soul. Just the gaze from the demonic spheres gave Marius the chills. While everything appearing at a much bigger scale stood as damaging enough, the Marra’s intimidating stare from the other side added to the scare tactics in more ways than one. It exemplified Jaeden perfectly, a soulless spirit with no holds barred for bringing misery to others.

His fortune turned a one eighty with a high number. He could win big if a few more high rolls showed up.

“I mean…you haunt others multiple times…but if you only went after….her once…maybe she got over you…and forgot you…in an instant…she must have been pretty…hard to crack-”

He could feel Jaeden’s anger rising as her grip on him slowly started to get stronger and stronger, enough so that the crushing pain spiked up again and made it harder to breathe, interrupting him prematurely. He wouldn’t have wanted this earlier, but this time he did with another high roll showing up. If the rolls continued in his favor while also staying on the table the potluck would be received.

“You think I can’t repeat history with that girl? You must really be the stupidest person in this city to say that in front of me! I’ve done repeated castings on the same person dozens of times, especially to young kids, and that Hilda girl is no different. I’ve made her scream once, I can always make her do it again.”

Another high roll. One more…

“Then…prove it…since I’ve never…seen you do nightmares yet…as your one toy…”

Jaeden gave the tiny kid one of the meanest glares imaginable, with the dice bouncing on the table before setting.

“Oh, I’ll make you wish those words never escaped those tiny lips. I’ll give Hilda a nightmare all right, and when I’m done I’ll rub it in by grinding you under my shoe in the dirt. Your bark is worse than you bite, tiny toy.”

Jackpot, he won the game. It came at the expense of more torture, but if he successfully sends the message to Hilda and she delivers it would be completely worth it. He still had only one chance to pull it off, but actually getting it was a blessing in disguise.

With everything set, Jaeden put Marius in her pocket before slowly heading off in the direction where Hilda’s house was.

It didn’t take too much walking to reach the house of the young girl, although Jaeden wasn’t interested in the front side. The building appeared average at first glance, a square shape while having the height of the houses next to it, but Marius liked the color choices. They split around the middle, the bottom appearing white with the top having a bright red, with the red half showing off its three windows in a straight row. The triangular roof stood out as given with one other window to boot, almost looking like a flower sat on the sill. From the features at first it gave off a nice apartment vibe, which didn’t strike him as hospitable to someone like him. From the people he heard that lived in those sort of places they described it as cramped and bare, which he accepted since he lacked the knowledge of living spaces. In some ways he had a sense of happiness to be living in an actual house instead, having small living spaces sounded terrible to him.

The grim Marra took her shrunken captive around the back of the buildings through an alleyway next to it, revealing a section he came to expect from a large city like Trolberg. From where they stood to a window up top stretched a grated stairway, a common structure used for fire escape routes. The village he came from lacked the numbers of populated areas so most of the houses there didn’t have them, including his, although he understood why other places required their use. Large buildings needed a safe route down, and long staircases only to be used for emergencies did the job nicely.

To save herself the trouble, Jaeden floated to the top by becoming a green wisp before transforming back, giving Marius a dizzying spell as usual, as she came across a large window where the exit started. Due to how large the window stood at, it gave the two a clear view of the room inside. From where they stood behind the window a wooden stand set on the other side overlooking the outside, which would provide some stunning sights if anyone gazed from the inside, while the room itself appeared decently sized. Marius didn’t have the keenest in senses of length, but it may have stretched to around fifteen feet, although it stood as a very rough guess, but what he could appreciate was the red walls in combination with the wood flooring. Near the end of the other side of the room to the left positioned a cabinet of some kind followed by a door next to it, probably to a hallway of some kind. Two shelves hung from the wall on the northern wall holding books on their tops, although what appeared to be a birdhouse set on the lower one that Marius didn’t see as practical. The right wall stood out as the most interesting, with a window situated near the top right casting its shine on the small bed under it, and Marius recognized the girl sleeping in it almost immediately. He only saw her once in the one school day before the Marra took him, but he could recognize the blue and long hair almost instantly. There she was, the so called bold and brash one by the one chubby kid, the adventurous Hilda counting sheep in her sleep.

She didn’t keep the room to herself though. It slept on the floor next to the bed, but to Marius it looked like some sort of white dog with some short branches on its head. He even saw some hooves for feet as it shifted its legs in its sleep. Nearly dumbfounded as to what his eyes gave him, he didn’t want to see it up close for the sake of safety. He would need to avoid it at all costs if he were to get to Hilda and tell her everything, he didn’t want to be a splatter on the ground.

Jaeden had her own observations, and when Hilda pulled her blanket to the side in her sleep the Marra frowned.

“Drat, that girl is wearing a leather belt. Can’t put a nightmare on her wearing that.”

Marius would have asked on why that was the case, but he didn’t want to anger Jaeden more than he already made her. I didn’t matter though as the Marra picked the boy up from her pocket and gave a strong grip to flush the feelings out, which obviously hurt the kid.

“Not…so…much…please…” Marius squeaked while holding in his pain. The Marra stared at the shrunken kid as he writhed in pain, his moans giving her some form of joy to the predicament. It wouldn’t be long after until something came up.

“Hey, stupid toy, get your ears unplugged and listen up. You’re going to get that belt off of that Hilda girl so I can go in and give her the nightmare she deserves.”

“Why…me?” Marius stammered.

“Because Marras can’t deal with those at any point. We aren’t perfect, we have weaknesses, you idiot. Learn and drill it into that empty space of yours, for I’m not going to delay any longer.”

Marius didn’t have any time to react as Jaeden quickly formed into a green wisp and squeezed herself under the minuscule crack under the window, taking her toy with her. She silently hovered closer to Hilda until she positioned herself right above the girl without any noise. With her tiny toy somewhere in her wispy form, a voice went through his hearing.

“Don’t even think about waking her or anyone else up, for I’ll always be watching you and will know if you make a break for it. Do anything out of line and I’ll make you pay, maybe even make you my next meal. Now get going before I grow more impatient!”

Marius listened as the green haze clouded his vision, but before he could comprehend what she would do, the haze parted which revealed that Jaeden set him in the air above the sleeping Hilda. He only had a split second before he careened into a nosedive downward. He would have screamed on the way down, he didn’t have a profession in sky diving after all, but Jaeden’s torture stood out as much worse and she prohibited him from waking anyone up. She reiterated multiple times that what she said goes, she had full control over him and knew where it hurt the most.

As he fell closer to Hilda’s sleeping body, he paid attention to the possible landing areas. He swayed back and forth in the air until the wind push him north, where he didn’t like the area the new angle brought. Hilda silently snored under him, almost inaudibly, which meant her mouth opened each time, and the rushing wind pushed him right in front of it. Marius’ heart accelerated, he just experienced going inside someone’s guts so he didn’t want to go through it again. He crazily attempted to flap his arms like a bird for some method to get away, but all it did was make him look stupid. He held back the massive urge to scream and release his worries, he wouldn’t be getting out of Hilda’s belly anytime soon if he fell in. All it would provide would be an accidental midnight snack for the girl at his expense, a very brutal way for him to go. He closed in on Hilda’s snoring mouth with more panic until a last minute change in wind blew him south, barely missing the dark abyss as he bounced off her bottom lip and down her chin, tumbling all the way. Compounded with his injuries the impacts hurt more than usual, but it didn’t last long until he came to a stop and landed on his front. Professionals would call it a failure, but Marius took it as a successful scrape of death.

“Wow, uhhhhhh…that was too close for comfort.” Marius thought as he tried to calm himself down. He took a few deep breaths before turning around to see where he landed. His breathing hastily went erratic again upon seeing Hilda’s giant face fast asleep, the sheer scope of it giving him chills. It sat at the size of a mountain from his angle, far beyond what he saw when he stood normal sized, giving more unruly reminders where he set on the height scale. The ground he stood on undulated slowly from her slow breathing, almost in a hypnotic rhythm, giving him the impression that he landed somewhere on her chest. She had a shorter elevation than Jaeden, but even then all it took would be one flick of a finger to ruin a city or two from the tiny boy’s point of view. To make it more worrisome to him, she was younger in age and yet she towered over him effortlessly. The perspective changes really got to Marius in many ways than one, and all of them brought negativity and ire.

Because he landed somewhere near her chest area, Marius headed downward toward her covered legs. Considering his current size he knew it might take a while until he reached her abdomen, and once there he could unhinge the belt and allow Jaeden into her dreams. He trudged carefully across so he wouldn’t fall off and get in the way if she moved to the side in her sleep. He wouldn’t survive if she accidentally moved over with him unprotected on her bed sheets, another grim sentence that hovered over his head whispering in his ear. Safety put the glasses over his eyes and kept him from risking anything, something he couldn’t thank for enough.

After a bit he nearly reached the covers. A wave of relief fell over him as he prepared to head under the covers, but it wouldn’t go that easily. The gravity slowly started to tilt to the right from under him, which meant one of the scenarios he wanted to avoid had shown up; Hilda shifting sides in her sleep. To avoid as much as he could Marius ran in the opposite direction, but distance went a long way as small as he was, so as much running as he did only covered a fraction of space until he lost traction and found himself falling. Dreading the unavoidable crushing from her gigantic body, Marius lost all sense of thought and didn’t know what to do, but it would only be a short fall until an unlikely situation happened. Right when he thought all hope was lost, something immediately caught and bound him tightly. He had to wake himself from the experience until he cleared his head and looked up to see what happened. His body lay stunned when his eyes painted the picture, for a rainbow had to have formed above his head from the stroke of circumstances that formed together. There she set, the gigantic young blue haired girl named Hilda, sleeping on her side with a shrunken kid safe in her grasp against her chest, saved from possibly getting crushed under her body. To think all of it happened while she stayed sleeping, it sounded like something a psychic would do, not an adventurous young girl. Luck gleamed his way for once and it saved his life.

With Hilda now holding him against her chest, Marius struggled at first to get free. He lacked strength at his size, but he hoped to have at least enough to get out. After one strong pull, he plopped back down since Hilda’s fingers coiled around him pretty tightly, but it would only be for a moment to relax as Jaeden didn’t want any wasted time. He took a moment to catch his breath, only to feel a warming sensation over his body. A wave of obliviousness filled his head until the signs popped up. He experienced nothing but pain ever since Jaeden shrunk and kidnapped him, which while it only lasted a day or so felt like forever, so this new sensation almost shaded unknowns over his eyes. A young child snuggling with her favorite toy, a hug from a close family member…all brought similarities. Hilda had such calming breathing, and she kept most of her strength back when gripping him even in her sleep. It overwhelmed the shrunken kid, all of the negatives he went through took a back seat for once since falling victim to the Marras. Small tears dripped down his face, but they stood out among previous ones, and a faint smile formed on his face. He never wanted this moment to end, the emotions of being cared for were too much.

“Thanks for the unintentional reminders Hilda. I have to get out of this mess, and hopefully you can help out.” Marius thought before he looked up and saw Jaeden’s dark glowing glare stare daggers down at him. His mood died instantly, Jaeden hammering the reminders all over, snapping him back to his current mission. With one more tug upward, which took a lot out of him, Marius finally freed himself from Hilda’s sleeping grasp. Holding in most of his deep breaths, Marius gazed up and knew what had to happen next. He frowned but he needed to do it, so he gripped the sleeve around Hilda’s arms and carefully climbed his way up. Combined with his injuries and his case of acrophobia, the climb wouldn’t go by nicely. He experienced the tiring games and activities of gym classes, whether by his original town’s school or Trolberg’s, but not with certain handicaps. Climbing ropes stood out as the worst, although he did get a kick out of seeing chubby kids attempt to get to the top. The moments helped somewhat with his climbing, even if he stood out as less than decent.

Once he reached the top of her side, with another moment to rest, he proceeded the trip down until he reached the blanket. He cringed for a second, for fumbling in complete darkness had the potential to go sour in an instant, but it stood out as the only way to the belt. With a pull, Marius lifted the blanket up and headed inside. The lack of visibility hindered his stability to stay on top of Hilda, and once misstep would be all it took to potentially get crushed if she rolled over, so he played it safe until his body hit something different. With nothing else in front, it informed him that he got to the leather belt. Now the next hard hurdle zoomed in; unbuckling it, and at his size it almost seemed like an impossibility. He set foot on the belt cautiously, but with Hilda lying on her side the buckle went with her. No other option but to slide down until he hit it, which he did at a sluggish pace for safety. His legs hit the buckle with a light echo, which thankfully didn’t alert anyone in the room, as he estimated where the center lay and crawled his way over. He nearly slipped off of the metal at one point until the stick holding the belt together caught him. He had to be hoarding right-side up horseshoes to get the kind of luck up to this point.

“The home stretch Marius, you’re on the home stretch…” Marius thought as he felt under him for the belt’s stick. He could still feel Hilda breathing next to him, moving the belt along with it, which while soothing provided extra difficulty for the belt removal. First off, the strap the stick went through needed immediate removal, so Marius felt around the base until he found it. If he could remove himself from Hilda’s grip he could handle a bit more, so after moving to the other side of the strap he pushed with all of his might, with his legs of all things, until he felt the strap slide off the tip of the stick. With the belt loosened, all that remained was dislodging the buckle. He prepared himself by positioning himself near the top strap, and with another big push, attempted to slide the belt off. Hilda must have gotten a weak belt, for one single push was enough to slide it off her midsection, going down to her legs before stopping. The belt was off, she was now vulnerable.

He felt relief, it had to be over. All he needed now was for Jaeden to get him, but too bad his expectations fell through. The ground under him rumbled as he heard Hilda utter a low moan, bringing more panic to the forefront for the tiny kid. Before he knew it, the gravity started to shift to the right as Hilda turned again, taking Marius with her. He had to act fast, he dealt with this earlier but clearly lost the fight, so there stood no chance for him to survive without assistance. The darkness under the blanket blinded him and with his short legs he couldn’t outrun the shifts, but it also presented one of the only opportunities to possibly survive. The blanket above his head didn’t have too high of an elevation, about a peg or two from it, so in a sheer act of survival Marius jumped up and grabbed the top of the blanket. Not having the greatest grip, his hands slipped some but gave him enough stability to stay in the one spot while his legs grazed Hilda’s clothing as she turned. It almost acted out like he took hold of a hang glider or zip line, with the blanket holding his position as the ground changed under him. Another desperation tactic saved his life again, a record to put a pin into.

An impact against the bedroom’s floor hit his eardrums, almost metal sounding. It didn’t take too long for him to figure out it was the belt falling off, but he also heard some low groans next to the bed. Considering what he saw earlier, he stayed completely still hoping that the creature wouldn’t notice. Once they ceased he knew he was in the clear, so he carefully made his way out of the blanket and into to moonlight once more. Seeing the belt on the floor indicated that Hilda moved around in her sleep to get the rest of the belt off, making his job slightly easier.

The green eyes watching from the window faded as a green wisp slid under it. It floated next to Marius before it formed into the Marra that Marius feared. She grinned seeing the belt on the floor before he reached down and picked the kid off from the sleeping Hilda. If anything he expected some form of thanks for removing the protection, but Jaeden pretty much ignored saying anything positive. After all of the hassle she forced him to go through, she didn’t give a single ounce of thanks and only focused on what she wanted, more reminders that she lacked humility to anyone other than herself. She eerily glared at the sleeping girl, giving Marius a different angle to see her. She sounded so peaceful under the covers, nothing but innocence in her posture and slow breathing, which only gave Marius red flags to what had to happen next. She likely had a joyous dream flowing, with all of the positives in her life coming forth, and knowing that Jaeden would make it go sour the moment she went in there brought malice into his mind. He had no other choice though, the nightmare needed to happen so he could contact her.

“Watch and eat your heart out midget, my nightmare game is deadly.” Jaeden whispered. “You’re coming with me inside.”

“Is…is that possible?” Marius asked.

“Only if Marras willingly do so.” Jaeden answered. “I can’t let you escape me while I’m occupied somewhere else, and besides, I want to prove to you that I still got it. Hold on tight, you might lose a limb if you don’t…”

Marius cringed as the Marra drew in close to Hilda’s unaware body. Jaeden’s eyes glowed their sickly green as she went face to face with the sleeping girl before she set a hand on Hilda’s forehead. Her eyes glowed brighter, completely enveloping Marius’ sight, before the intense light blacked him out.

 The kid awakened to the sound of clapping. His head zipped up startled, not knowing initially what he just went through. He took the moment to hold his head and tone down a small headache he got, he had to have accumulated or witnessed something heavy.

“Ugh, whatever just happened hit me pretty hard…” Marius thought. His vision slowly adapted to the area around him, which missed the mark at first until his brain booted back up. He coughed under his breath as the wires crossed, and then he remembered all of it. The unhinging of the belt, Jaeden coming in, then the bright light…

He vigorously turned his head in every way to see his surroundings, expecting the Marra to already be infecting the dream. From his first observations, everything surprisingly stayed adequate, down to even the visuals showing up as nothing to worry about. The place stood out as some sort of lodge made of log walls, with a ceiling having a nice cabin feel to it. Having concealed sight in some areas due to his size, he could barely make out some windows on the left and right log walls but he could easily recognize the shiny wood flooring. What obscured his sight the most was the rows of chairs set all along the room, the legs around the size of redwoods for his perspective, with nearly all of them filled with at least one person. Jaeden clearly didn’t want Marius to feel normal anytime soon, for each person stood at a normal height while he still had the harsh height of one centimeter tall, making him the tiny one as always. She had to have placed him under one of the chairs when they traveled inside Hilda’s dream, which made it difficult to see behind him but didn’t hinder him viewing forward, and once he saw what stood before him he could see why.

Right in front of the rows of chairs set a large wooden stage, almost like in school plays and dramas, and a small group of kids stood in a line next to a podium where a middle aged woman set herself. He effortlessly picked out Hilda’s two friends from the bunch, even if he only saw them once, along with Hilda herself in the back. They each had eager smiles as they walked closer to the woman up front, who appeared to be giving out patches of some kind to each kid that walked up. If this wasn’t some sort of Sparrow Scout initiative he didn’t know what else, but it did form a dark cloud in the back of his mind. Her dream seemed to progress fine for now, but whatever Jaeden had in mind to bring it down meant this was the calm before the storm. He didn’t see her yet, and he felt that she meant for it to go that way considering the nightmare she gave him.

“Congratulations David, here’s your Trash Collector badge. You’ve earned it.”

Hilda’s friend smiled as he was given the badge and the audience applauded to show appreciation. He just so happened to be second to last in line, with Hilda bringing up the rear, which meant the true horrors would likely begin very soon. Marius cowered under the chair, avoiding a pair of legs in the process, as David walked off leaving Hilda the only one left.

The energetic young girl held out her hands to accept her badge, and the woman almost handed it to her until suddenly reeling it back.

“Oh, I’m sorry Hilda, but I’ve been informed that you missed some crucial steps to earning any more badges. I’m afraid you’re not eligible for more.”

The match lit.

“What? What do you mean? I don’t quite understand.”

The woman looked at Hilda with a straight face.

“It’s nothing much, just a side effect of you joining after moving in from the woods. Every scout had to take a test on life in the big city before they could get accepted, and I’m afraid you missed out on that. Until you pass that test Hilda…you’re badges will remain null and void while you will be prohibited from earning more.”

So that was how Jaeden would get through to Hilda; exploiting her lack of city knowledge. Granted Marius had some small insight into cities since he lived in a planned community before Trolberg, but from what he heard about the blue haired girl she lacked any sort of the privilege before moving. Marius had no clue on how much she knew, he just arrived to Trolberg himself, but it didn’t seem like she experienced too much.

Rumblings could be heard among the audience, including Frida, David, and the other Sparrow Scouts, as the match increased in temperature.

“What?! I’ve never heard of such a crazy restriction!” Hilda said in slight panic. “Can’t I just take the test and stay?!”

“Well…technically speaking the test can be taken at any point.” the woman said with a finger on her chin. “I must warn you though, any answers taken incorrectly…can be binding.”

The woman’s last few words gave off an undertone from the dark depths below, giving Marius shivers, but Hilda seemed to not pay attention to the details as her face appeared determined.

“I’ll take it. Whatever questions I’m given, I’ll answer with what I know. When do I start?”

The woman formed a small smirk as her eyes had a faint green glow under them.

“You’ll be taking the quiz…NOW.”

The lights fell to the wayside as Marius’ sight turned off in the process. It didn’t take long though, as a spotlight shined on the stage over to the woman behind the podium. Everything else, including the audience and Sparrow Scouts on the stage, went nonexistent except for Marius who now stood in the black. One more spotlight suddenly came up, but it was this one where the boy went grew increasingly worried. Hilda still was on stage all right, but she sat bound in a chair with two iron cuffs over her arms to prevent escape. The instant she noticed she appeared stunned and confused as she tried to break out unsuccessfully, but the mere sight of the chair stood out to Marius in fatal memories. He’s heard rumblings from other kids and adults about what governments do to criminals given the death penalty, and it fit the descriptions flawlessly. Jaeden didn’t just want Hilda to suffer lightly, she went straight for the darkest subjects immediately for her to form something as heavyhearted to a little girl.

“Wha…what’s going on?!” Hilda said, clearly in scared bewilderment.

“It’s nothing Hilda, just a requirement for the quiz. Everyone else had to go through the same thing.” the creepy woman said. “Answer the questions correctly and you’ll be back on your feet in no time.”

Hilda intelligibly retorted back.

“What does putting me in cuffs have to do with the test?! I don’t need to be impounded in-”

“First question, what is a subway and how do they work?”

The woman ignored Hilda’s pleas and went straight to the questions. Marius could tell that Hilda was more stunned and confused with a hint of fear, and if what he heard truly described her there was no way she could handle any of the questions. He couldn’t go up to help her out either, for he needed the right moment to show her his existence when Jaeden wasn’t paying attention. It stood out as cringe worthy in every degree, and Marius had a front row seat.

He saw Hilda not understand what the woman talked about.

“Ummmm…I think…some sort of sandwich?”

The wooden floor under her chair rippled like water before the legs began to sink. It didn’t go unnoticed by Hilda and Marius, with Hilda starting to slightly panic at the sight of something so unorthodox. This was the caveat to getting answers wrong, and Marius knew where Jaeden got the idea to do so. His crushing and pummeling experience from this morning reflected over to Hilda, and he was seeing the same outcome repeat itself.

“Wrong. Any further incorrect answers will not be tolerated in this hall.”

“What sort of punishment is this?!” Hilda exclaimed. Like before, her pleas fell on deaf ears as the woman stated the next question.

“What’s the name of the moving staircases that are placed in large buildings?”

“What?! I’ve never heard of such a structure! How should I know something like that?!”

The sinking intensified. Low bubbling with a pinch of air pocket noises rumbled through Hilda’s and Marius’ hearing as the chair sunk further down. Hilda lightly shrieked seeing her legs and body envelop into the ground like mucky quicksand, the cuffs around the chair prohibiting her from getting off. It almost looked too painful for Marius to watch, seeing a little girl cry out for any help as her body disappeared under her, and he had hunches to what circulated through her mind at the moment. A demon set his claws into the world above with Hilda as the one to take with it.

Her perils into the wooden ground continued until there stood nothing left but her head sticking out. She must have had erratic breathing and an intense heart rate at the moment, all signs of a start to a full blown panic attack. He almost felt the need to close his eyes, it got to him hard.

“Wrong again. One more failure like that and I’ll have to dismiss you. Is that clear?”

“What’s so clear about what I’m going through?!” Hilda exclaimed. Yet again her words went nowhere, all that stood between her and certain doom was one final question. Marius sorrowfully tilted his head down, it knew her attempts only brought more futility and delayed Jaeden’s enjoyment.

“Final question…I’m thinking of a number between one and one million. What’s your answer?”

“That has nothing to do with the city!” Hilda exclaimed. “This is unfair!”

The woman’s head creaked like an old machine over to the suffering Hilda before her eyes glowed green with a wicked smile forming afterward.

“Strike three, you failed. You are not fit to be a Sparrow Scout with your idiot mind on city life. Time to take out the trash.”

Hilda yelled as the floor went for the finishing suction. She shrieked one final time before her head disappeared into the floor, no trace of her left. The sight ate a chunk of Marius on the inside, the nightmare occurring in her mind because he needed to get his message to her, and to see her suffering because of him brought a weight to his emotions. He wished he could inform her sooner, but Jaeden still had her eyes on Hilda and he didn’t want to risk it yet. The dark of the night for Hilda made the match burn hotter with cinders cracking near the top.

The image of the woman and stage faded away from Marius’ sight while Hilda’s screaming still rang through his head. Before long, another appeared before him, and it was none other than the agonizing girl falling with the void around her, yelling through the rushing air. The shrunken kid didn’t get the “luxury” of such an action, leaving him to only stand in the black and watch the girl get scared from all angles. Jaeden pretty much built a personal movie theater just for him with the horror movie of the year playing on the big screen. He wanted to find an opening soon so he wouldn’t see Hilda endure any more of Jaeden’s tactics for the night, it stood out as painful to him as it did to her.

Hilda landed with a thud against the black. Slowly picking herself up, she stood completely oblivious to what happened to her, as worried for her life as ever, and all Marius could do was watch as the details unraveled. Nothing but herself in an empty void, toneless with no echo.

“Umm, hello?! Is anyone here?!” Hilda exclaimed. He fought back the urge to speak up, for it didn’t stand out as the best time to reveal himself. Not that he would get the chance to do so at the moment, for just as she finished a speeding car shot out of the black and whizzed past her just inches from making impact. Marius almost felt his heart stop, and he was pretty sure Hilda felt the same way, but it only got much worse. As quick as a simple flip of a light switch, the blackness surrounding Marius and Hilda suddenly turned on to reveal their location, and it had danger all over. For a Marra like Jaeden that yearned for perfection of reality to fool the target she got the details of Trolberg down to the cracks in the sidewalk. From singular bricks on buildings to the colors of the lampposts, all of it displayed complete mimicry of a distinct city. He should have expected the sort of mastery considered the visuals to what Jaeden put on him, and for Hilda the mirror showed the same picture. For where Jaeden placed her however, she had no care for Hilda’s safety set in the middle of a busy intersection with cars bustling the four directions. Each time Hilda had a split second to get out of the way before she smacked into a windshield, and even as she tried to run back to the sidewalk a wall of cars sped through and blocked the path. She shrieked a few times avoiding the automobiles as Marius watched from the sidewalk, unable to do anything. He remembered hearing about certain buildings that hosted video games in large cabinets, although he never been to one, and one of his friends back where he came from talked about some sort of one where you avoided traffic as long as possible. Hilda literally acted as the embodiment of what he heard about the game, but there were no extra lives, continues, or credits to save outside of the circuits.

Hilda would get a Game Over in only a few seconds.

“I can’t…get out of this! What’s happening?!” Hilda cried out. She struggled for a few more minutes, with more cars and even trucks zipping up to mow her down. There was even a moment where Hilda ducked and covered between a car’s tires from its sheer speed, making it one of her closest calls with the grim reaper. It continued until the traffic began to slow down, making a gap to one of the sidewalks just big enough to squeeze through. Hilda took the chance and ran forward before diving into it, missing another car by inches but got her out of the streets. She breathed heavily while Marius had equal feelings, she avoided getting mowed down, but with Marius knowing Jaeden she wouldn’t want to end a nightmare that abruptly. He hoped Hilda’s outdoor experiences gave her enough to adapt to perilous situations, but with Jaeden in control the outcomes looked bleak.

“Hey missy, what the devil were you doing in the middle of an intersection?!”

Hilda turned after catching her breath to see a middle aged man as a murky silhouette with a green underlining glow in his eyes. Details were hazy, but Hilda and Marius could barely make out a flap of a vest, likely for a crossing guard, near the legs. Everything else stayed hidden under the single color, but Marius knew it wouldn’t follow through well.

“I…I…I don’t know! I sort of found myself there after-”

The man interrupted her with a lethal sting in his tone.

“You should know better than to just waltz into traffic like you have a death wish! Do you even KNOW how to live in a city this big? It’s all basic knowledge…EvErYoNe KnOwS iT.

His voice shifted to a pitch of the netherworld and wavered in a charring fashion in the last few words, but at the same time the black revealed the shape underneath the shroud. Hilda yelped while Marius recoiled back and covered his eyes for a moment, their eyes fed them almost true horror. The legs set their bent and lanky knees back and forth while the vest shook itself of the muddy splotches and red marks, with scratches and rips to soak all of it in. The branches for arms coated in veins seemed to hang on the verge of falling off with the long sausages for hands and fingers extending like exoskeletons. The face told the two everything of the true nature of Jaeden’s sick ways of horror. The eyes basically acted like two white slugs hanging from a tree hollow begging for water with the streaks of the capillaries sinking into the slugs as they sucked the life out of them, pulsating from their bloody meal. Marius particularly found the teeth hanging from the hole of a mouth, with some ever still hanging from veins, to have a scarring effect on his brain along with the drops of skin winding down the cheeks. One ear hung nearly forty five degrees from the regular position with the remains for hair appearing like a large portion got charred to the ground. One of the most grotesque sights the kids have ever seen, there stood not a man but a monster of one.

A low pitched laugh echoed through the area as Hilda ran in the opposite direction to get away from the man while she freaked out. Once she got a good distance away she attempted to stop and take a break for a moment, but her feet didn’t cooperate as she found herself sliding forward. She looked down while Marius also gazed from across the street, immediately seeing that she no longer had her recognizable shoes. In its place situated two hard rigid purple types of the sort, which had stiff outer shells with some laces near the top, but the main attraction had its place on the underside. A set of three thin black wheels, appearing like hard plastic, rolled the shoes forward with no brakes in sight. Both her and Marius had no idea what sort of crazy objects set on Hilda’s feet, almost like a mix of bikes and shoes with no sense of normality. Marius may have lived in a small town before, but even he had no clue as to what he was seeing. Whatever it stood out to be, it put its target on Hilda and didn’t appear to want to stop at any point.

The road creepily morphed and curved downward as the weird roller shoes let gravity take its courses, forcing Hilda with it. She yelled as she rolled down the curving streets, with Marius unable to do anything but watch, the shoes in complete control of her legs. Dipping and ascending at random points sent Hilda careening into the air, with her screaming more in the process, before the shoes stuck the landing and continued forward. Menacing green eyes zipped by Hilda from all objects around her as more insidious laughter filled her ears, the shoes acting like cement blocks she couldn’t remove at any point. Nothing but a fiery ride for the dark and disgusting, but Hilda wasn’t any of those and yet she was forced to attend.

“Augh, please…help…help!” Hilda exclaimed to the hearing of nobody except for the shrunken one watching. She suddenly hit wind when a wooden ramp popped in front of her, making her sail through the air and over a wooden fence. When she landed the “wheel shoes” kept her going forward along dirt when more obstructions came into view. A large wrecking ball came within inches of her face when it swung down before a large steamroller pulled up in front of her, large dangerous wheels pointed in her direction. The young girl screamed as the wheels steered her toward it, like in an attempt to get her crushed, almost making her want to close her eyes.

“No, please!” she cried out. It seemed inevitable that her life would be over in one fell direction, but it soon diverted when a long steel girder fell in front of the steamroller, driving the shoes off of it and driving Hilda into the air once more. She avoided the steamroller, but she couldn’t ignore the landing into a puddle of wet cement face first. It didn’t appear to hurt her that much, but it made her filthy all over. The weird shoes also went dormant in the process, but they immediately were replaced with Hilda’s normal shoes, likely another nightmare trick by Jaeden, as the young girl’s freaked out expression picked itself out of the mush.

But she would never be out of the woods that easily.

The cement around her rippled and pulsated lightly until some low rumbling was heard. Hilda quickly backed up and attempted to get out, but something grabbed her by the legs and pulled her back in. Turning out, she sat mortified as a morbid humanoid with holes for a face, cement oozing everywhere, had its sights on her as it hunched like a predatory beast. Wet cement dripped from all over its body as large chunks fell to the ground as if it were a bad store mannequin. It lacked features, but it stood just as horrifically as the others.

It moaned with its two mucky arms keeping hold of Hilda’s legs as she tried to wrestle them away as she breathed in spurts.

You…don’t…belong here…GET OUT!

The humanoid screeched at Hilda as the girl finally pulled her legs free from the ghoul. She made a quick retreat as the humanoid collapsed back into the cement, liquefying to nothing. If that didn’t scare her enough, she had to be on the brink of breaking completely from everything Jaeden threw at her. For Marius, he still didn’t get his opening yet, for he only got a single attempt and couldn’t whiff it. It had to be perfect, and Jaeden had to divert her attention somewhere else long enough for him to give Hilda the message.

Hilda kept her eyes on the messy creature intensely in case of funny business, which unfortunately had the side effect of her losing sight of what set ahead. With her eyes off somewhere else, Hilda never saw the other side of the wooden fence until her body pressed against it. In a comical sort of way, she stayed attached to the post as it twirled around vertically like a reverse revolving door before it smacked her against the sidewalk, letting her go in the process. Looking at the display made Marius flinch, knowing full well how much she must have felt upon impact. Jaeden nearly crushed him before under her boot, and her situation acted similar in concept to that one terrible moment. Even so, he knew Jaeden wasn’t through with Hilda yet, as from the experiences he got forced into he learned she loved to drag things out as much as possible. The longer things went, the more activities she thought up to bring misery to anyone unlucky enough to come across her.

“Hey Hilda, what are you doing looking like that?”

The blue haired girl got to her feet before setting her eyes to the front. Marius could see her smile once she saw her friends Frida and David now with her. It gave him red flags everywhere, although Hilda didn’t seem to care especially with wet cement splotched all over her.

Hilda stuttered for a moment before answering Frida.

“Oh, uhhhh, it was nothing much. I’ve handled much worse than what I just went through.”

“That’s good. We stick together when we can after all…even when I allow you to go first.” David said with a pinch of nervousness. Frida put on a lighthearted smile and rolled her eyes playfully.

“You’re such a gentleman.” Frida replied in light sarcasm before getting back to Hilda. “Anyway, school’s coming up soon and my parents gave us enough money to ride the taxi there. You know what a taxi is, right Hilda?”

“Ummm…not completely.” Hilda answered as she embarrassingly rubbed the back of her head with an equal expression.

“It’s like a transport system to get places quickly…at least I think that’s what they aim for.” David explained. “Trust us, it’s not that bad once you get on it.”

The statement got Marius eyebrows raised. Since he previously lived in a small town, he only heard snippets of what happened in the city, mostly from adults and kids that went there once. From the rumblings of those types of people, one statement explained some sort of car called a taxi. It apparently drove people around when someone didn’t have their own car available to them, something his own town didn’t need on account of it lacking the size cities usually went for. Some had a fare on a daily basis while some charged by distance traveled, but all of them did the same thing. If what he heard had some truth, it made him pretty curious to try one out himself…if he could handle the fare at least.

It didn’t take long until the taxi inevitably pulled in next to the kids. For a car Marius never saw before, he had to admit that it contained a certain personality to it. The nice rubber tires helped keep it stable and its speed up while the body kept its size around normal cars for efficiency. The colors stood out as something Marius really admired, the yellow gold paint job with a checkered black and white pattern thinly wrapping below the headlights and rim made his eyes sparkle with a dazzling twinkle. To top it off, a small sign displaying the word “TAXI” on its roof only exemplified the boy’s fascination with the vehicle. Some would never give the vehicle a chance of showing off, but for Marius he wouldn’t hesitate to give it a runway to drive down.

The back door opened as Frida and David walked inside, motioning for Hilda to follow. Not wanting to ignore her friends, the blue haired girl went in after. It still didn’t stick out for Marius to reveal himself to her just yet, something didn’t stick right for him about the situation. Even so, with Jaeden purposefully keeping him a decent distance away while also zooming him close to see the action, the chance still hovered around him waiting to shine.

Once the door shut the taxi’s tires revved up, with steam exhausting and rubber burning, before it bolted forward. While Hilda had her seat belt on, the taxi jerked and turned wildly like the world’s wildest roller coaster, forcing her to grip her seat as her heart accelerated.

“Wha…what’s going on?!” Hilda said, the speed of the car grounding her into her seat.

“It’s nothing Hilda, this is just how taxis function.” Frida answered. “You should know this by now since you moved here.”

“It’s basic city knowledge, better get used to it.” David spoke up. She continued gripping the seat as the taxi took more steep turns and increased speed, leaving Marius to do nothing but watch.  While he couldn’t see most of the trouble inside, he had his guesses to what coursed through Hilda’s head at the time. The vibes one goes through during grave dangers with a life on the line have a tendency to hunger for more, so they eat at other emotions to sustain itself. It becomes a feeding frenzy until nothing but a hollow husk houses its desires, then it strikes the only spot left. To the deadliness, it’s the juiciest and tastiest of one’s soul, and when it eats the final area…existence ceases. The emotions in Hilda’s mind had to be getting hungry and started munching on her other emotions already. If they finish and go to the last edible piece…

Marius turned away and shed a tear, hoping Jaeden’s nightmare would end soon for Hilda.

The taxi dug its wheels into the street while reaching speeds near one hundred miles per hour, making hard turns with each one sending a side of the car into the air before it planted back down. On the verge of completely losing it, Hilda could do nothing but hope for the best and cool off from the heat. At first she thought it came from a heater of sorts, but when it blew from next to her another red flag stuck up. She turned to the side to see both Frida and David, only for her pupils to nearly disappear into the white sclera void. Their bodies sat encompassed in a fiery inferno, charred black all over, but their expressions stayed normal as if everything was fine.

Hilda held her mouth to prohibit herself from screaming as her two friends gazed their black spheres into her being.

“You should know this happens in the city Hilda. Don’t you know how the city functions?” David said with fire over his face.

“You need to know these Hilda…we ALL HAD TO.” Frida replied with a dip in pitch. Hilda backed up as much as she could against the locked door on her side as David and Frida formed devious wide smiles from ear to ear. Before any act could be taken, a large pillar of fire speared through David and Frida’s bodies, turning up the heat in the taxi and charring their bodies even further. The fire drove through their midsections and burst through their mouths, but the intense ignition showed the signs on the two immediately. Their skins sagged as the bones showed their burning whites and their tufts of hair disappeared in the blaze, all while they never screamed or emitted any sound as if they accepted their fates. Hilda really held back her screams as the skin completely burned off, bones collapsing in a pile before her, until their bodies succumbed to the heat. The bones and everything underneath ignited further until no trace of their beings sat next to the terrified girl, the fire enveloping them disappearing in the process. Not only did Hilda get a scare of her life, but tears drove down her face from the horrible sights. Marius could feel himself tearing up with her, nothing drove someone down more than a close one’s life getting taken away. He couldn’t believe Jaeden to act like a northern chill for the sake of terror, she had an evil sense of humor and didn’t care who it hurt or ended in the process.

He thought it couldn’t get any worse than that, with Hilda’s two close friends perishing it one of the most painful ways possible, but Jaeden put herself one step ahead and proved him wrong. Hilda had her attention glued so much to her friends that she failed to account for the driver of the demon taxi, and when he turned his attention to Hilda she screamed. His body looked normal, but his face told her everything…as it appeared to be nothing but a sizzling skull coated in burning fire expelling sweltering heat.

“You fail to comprehend the essentials of living in the big city. There’s only one way we get rid of stupid woods kids like you…”

The flaming skull cackled before it suffered the same fate as Frida and David, burning to nothing but a pile of ashes. Hilda panicked ever greater as she tried to pull her seat belt off, but it stuck firm with no chance of coming off. As she tried again and again, a low echoed pounding rang through her hearing, drawing her attention to the front window. She couldn’t hold in her fear any further, she shrieked to the heavens upon seeing the surrounding area. Nothing but piles of junk and scrap metal stretched for miles, giving off an intense stink, but some piles sat burning to the ground with fire stretching over the horizon. Cinders and embers cracked in the air as the smell of smoke drove through her nostrils, signs of demise among the lost lives of the planet. It stood out as only window dressing to Hilda though, as the main point echoed its pounding fatalities ahead of her. The taxi Hilda sat incapacitated in set on a progressing conveyor belt, all grounded and tarnished beyond recognition, riding along with other piles of useless garbage to one of the grimmest representations of the gates to the underworld she ever thought of. It appeared as nothing more but a lethal contraption with one large cement block dictating the entrance by zipping up and down obliterating anything doomed enough to roll under it. The trash piles disappeared under the block with nothing remaining, the noises grinding into Hilda’s mind like sledgehammers. Her end was only a short distance away, practically an iron maiden with grinders instead of spikes, and it almost seemed set in stone.

The desperation on Hilda’s face couldn’t have been any higher, her hands tugging at the seat belt again and again in hopes that it would release her to no avail. Marius had equal feelings, as just seeing her face reflected the emotions over to him in somewhat of a greater scale. The reality of the situation also cast a looming shadow over him; this would be his last chance to make his presence known. The nightmare could only progress a finite amount until the sun rose or they wake prematurely, and chances were that Hilda would wake up immediately when the crushing happened. Hardly any time left, Jaeden nowhere in sight, he had to do it now. He only got one shot to pull it off, and he couldn’t miss.

In one of most critical Fight of Flight moments, Marius nearly lost it as his legs hastily moved forward, with Jaeden’s nightmarish hold over him breaking instantly, making it over to the moving conveyor. He ran up to where the ruined taxi sat, still on the conveyor’s move, before he went all crazy and gripped the edge of the back tire. His brain took a back seat amazed at how his body acted, completely dumbfounded that it had the capabilities to pull off the indescribable. Kids could be nothing but balls of energy that tire after only a few minutes, but he never thought he ever had it in him. The will to live and endure put his survival skills on overdrive, the hidden athlete in him coming forth to lend a hand, for it couldn’t be over for him yet. He deserved to get his life back from Jaeden.

He scrambled up the tire as quickly as possible, wearing out at points, as his muscles cranked in over one hundred ten percent. He almost broke down completely when he reached the top, only to realize he had to make it up to the window next. He couldn’t comprehend how he pulled it off, but after much more climbing he made it to the bottom around the framework of the car window. His eyes set on Hilda in a frightened overdrive as she tugged at the seat belt for any chance of getting away from the crusher. It hurt seeing her devolve into a scared mess, but he only had moments to alert her.

He banged against the window for her attention, something he wasn’t sure would happen on account of her panic along with how small he stood at compared to her. As much as Hilda desperately wanted to get out, Marius felt the same but for a different reason. He needed her to notice him now, and the taxi was almost on the fringe of meeting its demolition. It almost seemed hopeless, and he even began to shout in conjunction with the banging, and in the last few moments it carried into his mind. His banging slowed down, voice going quiet, and tears dripped down his face. The light started to fade from the tunnel as he began to close his eyes…

His signs got the light to show up once more.

The shrunken boy was brought to his knees as his head drooped before he looked up one final time. The panic had a hole driven through with the eyes of the young girl locked to the boy on the verge of hopelessness. It occurred as only a single moment, but it set as if the deity that ruled and covered all stopped the flow for the two kids. Marius didn’t know what to think, it was the first time Hilda ever took notice of him, but he saw an image in her eyes. Nothing but pure and complete terror with a shell waiting to be whole again, mangled beyond recognition. A young kid that went through a fiery experience gazed back at him, and he recognized what it was.

He saw the mirror image of himself.

The conveyor belt under them moved again, cement block now looming over them for obliteration. Not much time left, so he rushed out as much as he could.

“Hilda, please listen! My name is Marius and I just moved here a few days ago, but I’ve been taken captive by a devious nightmare spirit! If what I heard about you is true, you are the only one experienced enough to get me out of this! I’m not part of this nightmare, but I needed to contact you for your help! Please Hilda, I can’t suffer being tortured any longer, you’re my only hope left! I NEED YOUR HELP HILDA, PLEASE GET ME AWAY FROM THIS MARRA!”

The cement block brought down its guillotine upon the taxi, eliminating everything under it.

“Get up…GET UP NOW.”

His body compressed from everywhere, forcing Marius awake with a gasp for air. The air rushed into his lungs before he hastily darted his head around. His heart rate slowed upon seeing familiar territory, one of Trolberg’s abandoned alleyways, concluding that he survived the nightmare with odds stacked against him. The stillness of the night echoed through the skies, meaning Jaeden must have bolted the moment the nightmare ended. Of course the message to Hilda stood out as the main goal, and while he did get the word out all he could do now was hope she could come to her senses and understand that he really meant it. Jaeden had her sick ways of bringing misery and ire to the nightmares inflicted, but to know he survived it lit up a crack of light even if the Marra crafted it for Hilda.

The moment didn’t last long until his sight took notice in the front. His tiny body bound into Jaeden’s huge fist as usual, but her expression told him something much more terrible. He couldn’t recall seeing the Marra so implacably angry since the grave accident, and even that almost appeared to be planted in its place by the demon holding him. Her eyes lacked the pupils from the bright green glow, rivaling lanterns, with a frown striking daggers to pin him in his place. She glared and set for the kill, wanting to leave no extra meat for the wolves.

She went for the head immediately.

“You tried to play me for an idiot, didn’t you?”

Marius shivered, not getting good vibes from her.

“Errr, uhhhh…what do you mean?”

His answer was met with a death defying grip all over, making him yelp in pain, from the angry Jaeden.

“You know what I’m talking about, midget. That little stunt you pulled back there…do you REALIZE that I ALWAYS have my watch on you? I may not be around you inside the nightmare, but I ALWAYS know what’s going on and progressing. My nightmare, my little world where I’m aware of everything, and you don’t know how much DAMAGE you’ve inflicted on yourself.”

The shadows in his mind took hold as Jaeden went for a second bullet. He whimpered slightly while he asked, with a tread of caution, for more confirmation.

“Umm…what exactly?”

She immediately put her glowing green eyes up close to the sorry boy in her fist.

“Don’t play dumb with me, I saw you try and alert Hilda of what I’m putting you through. You got me to put a nightmare on that stupid girl just so you could get the message out, so I had to end the nightmare early once I figured out what your sorry butt aimed for. As much as I loved getting two birds with one stone, the fact you tried to take advantage of me for an ATTEMPT to get back to your normal life…you played the wrong ghost, my tiny toy…”

Her tone struck him with lethal syringes into his skin and coursed through his body. She didn’t need a bulldozer to run him over when she could easily do it herself, which stood out as much worse for Marius. With her knowing what he did she could hold nothing back and increase the pressure to satisfy her requirement for punishment. He wanted to avoid her, he wanted to never see her that upset ever again, but as a crooked and devious spirit she could unleash nearly anything and get away with it. Nothing but another consequence for being a shrunken prisoner to a deathly Marra.

He nearly felt the impulse to cry, but Jaeden stopped it prematurely with another coiling grip from her massive fingers, forcing Marius to scream for a second. As much as she loved hearing his pain, the boy knew she had different plans for his rebellious action.

“Don’t ever try and go against me again, I control you and you are mine, and I know the perfect way to engrave the thought into the hollow head of yours. Forget about sleeping tonight, you won’t feel the need to where you’re going to end up…”

She set her scope for between his eyes as the young boy trembled all over. He had no idea what his giant captor planned for him next, but knowing Jaeden it would always come at his expense. All he could do was watch and see, and the signs pointed down south when he saw her go for one of her shoes and untie it. Her foot slid out as a big white sock before she cocked and loaded one final time.

“To show how much you damaged yourself with that stunt, you get to spend the night among the fumes inside my shoe with a roommate eager to crush you in the form of my foot. I doubt you will be able to sleep tonight, but you deserve all of it.”

She shot at point blank range making Marius’ heart race. He went into a full blown panic upon hearing what she planned next, there was no way he could survive even a few minutes somewhere as atrocious as inside her shoe while her foot toppled over his glass body. He flailed everywhere but Jaeden’s fingers kept him from going anywhere as she hovered him over the opening to her footwear.

“I won’t do it again, I won’t do it again, I WON’T DO IT AGAIN!” Marius pleaded for any sort of way out. Jaeden didn’t budge in the slightest.

“You can cry out all you want, it only makes me enjoy having you even more. Say your goodbyes my tiny slave…it’s time for your crushing sleepover.”

Jaeden released her hold on the shrunken kid and sent him into a short free fall. He only got to scream for a moment before he hit the ground with a thud face first, filling his face with string and dirt. When he pulled his face up he spat out torrents of the gross stuff before coughing, almost like licking filthy gym socks, as his limbs wobbled from the impact. It took a few seconds to get stable footing, and his legs still stood a bit flimsy, but at least he didn’t take too much other than his face getting filled with leftover sock. He shook himself awake before he witnessed the cave of Jaeden’s shoe ahead of him, the hot fumes nearly making sweat fall off his forehead. It could probably fit a large mansion from his perspective if he had his normal size, a harsh intimidation factor to his suffering miniature state. He at least had some knowledge to never consider terrible locations for households to a degree, and he had to be pretty unlucky if he ever resorted to settling into something stinky and sweaty like someone’s shoe, let alone one from a dark nightmare spirit. Maybe it could work for some, but not to a young ten year old kid still learning the necessities of life himself even if it echoed the spacious nature of caves and catacombs.

The moment wouldn’t last long until some low leveled rumbling put his eardrums into high alert. The instant he looked up he nearly lost his pupils while his body flushed everything out to become a husk. Nothing but a gigantic mass of white coming toward him with Jaeden gazing overhead while her devious and sadistic grin rubbed salt in the open gash. The white threads of her sock hovered over the lip of her shoe, stinging his nostrils with the incessant stench in a sample of what would come. To think a normal body part had the privilege to strike fear into a young kid sounded like a light prank, but it set into a completely different tier to someone shrunken smaller than common objects.

“I don’t need this, I DON’T NEED THIS!” Marius pleaded one last time.

“Too bad stupid midget, what I say goes.” Jaeden replied as her foot slithered into the shoe. With it completely blocking the way out, Marius was given no other option but to move back. It eventually got up close enough to continuously push him further near the shoe’s tip, making Marius nothing but helpless. The intense stink only added to the terrible fate Jaeden sentenced the boy to, driving the facts deep into the kid’s skull. He eventually ran out of space near the tip and expected it to be where Jaeden wanted him to stay, but the Marra had a twisted outcome he never wanted to go through. Right as her socked toes pushed him against the last small space available, they speedily bopped him square in the face and brought his tiny head under the plump digits. There was no contest to who had higher strength when the toes pinned him painfully to the floor of the shoe until they slowly began to drag his weak body beyond them to the underside of the foot. Marius couldn’t shriek or shout due to the lack of air, only getting out a few worthless coughs, as Jaeden’s socked foot set the pressure over his back, the sheer size completely enveloping his body. Like the other grievous games she put on him, she held back enough so she wouldn’t unintentionally kill him, but that didn’t make it any less awful for the young kid.

“Sleep tight my little toy…not like you have a choice! Hahahahah!”

Her dark and evil laughter exemplified her choice of actions against the kid. She left him with nothing but her large socked foot atop his body, its size rivaling a horde of whales, which applied force compared to a personal yacht against him. He wanted to cry, he didn’t deserve the type of torture, but the constant weight of Jaeden’s huge foot drew all of his attention to it. His lungs fell flat while his sight proved hopeless in the darkness of her shoe, making him sputter with constant coughs against the floor, as the white string of the sock coated his back. The intense crush against his body did just what Jaeden wanted, with the nerves throughout Marius’ body blaring sirens preventing him from falling asleep, while also introducing some more dire side effects. In a panic, Marius tried to wriggle out from Jaeden’s crushing foot only for his legs to not respond. That’s when a harsh reality spelled out in front of him.

His body was starting to shut down.

This got the tiny boy to panic even more so than before. The worst case scenario detailed out to him in the form of a creaky wheelchair, something he felt was too early for him to experience. His legs set out of commission as Jaeden applied more pressure, about only a few precious minutes left until his end, numbing them to nearly nothing. He scrambled with his upper body to no avail against the crushing force on him, keeping him in place as a trophy, and before long his abdomen lost all feeling to the numbness of pressure. His arms fell next followed by his neck, leaving nothing but the blood to his head as he wallowed in the sweat of Jaeden’s foot. His consciousness faded in and out as the last ounces of life clung close…

The final switch in his body shut off.

His body went inanimate for the whole rest of the night, with the giant foot for a roommate unleashing the suppressing weight the entire time. Some people would conclude on their souls leaving the world from the scenario, and that answer provided a highly likely circumstance to Marius’ troubles. As a kid he lacked the development of a fully grown adult and had vulnerabilities much grander than someone more mature. From weaker bones to less necessities of life, children had greater susceptibilities to damage physically and mentally. The demonic Marra didn’t care though, all she saw was a tiny young boy to play with at all times, something Marius went through day one. The probability of survival from staying in Jaeden’s shoe under her foot appeared bleak, odds turning to the great citadel in the sky. Compressed to nothing but a human pancake with a stagnant body, the signs pointed in the wrong direction for possessing the will to live.

When the hills revealed the bright daytime star, the pressure slightly lifted from the young boy’s body before the giant sock withdrew from the shoe, leaving only a husk of someone put through too much torture. It lay on the floor of the shoes indented into the leather, due to the pressure against him, but no “raspberry jam” in sight, unusual for someone physically crushed. The chances swayed rapidly, but one side claimed the outcome.

A small cough came from the body as it stirred to an aching awakening.

He still felt some leftover pressure all over his body, but in what could be described as a heavenly miracle, Marius’ soul stayed mortal even with the odds stacked against him. His head creaked up before he hurled out some gross cotton balls, an action cats can easily catch on to. Looking over to the sides of his body, he saw no signs of busted skin or gashes of any kind. In a final conformation, he felt the fluids drive through his circulatory system like nothing ever went wrong. If Jaeden truly kept some strength back to avoid his demise she did a pretty good job at it. A single tear fell down his cheek, he got to live another day.

“…to whoever cared for me, thank you so much…” Marius thought. He would have thought further if the gravity didn’t immediately shift from under him. The ground he stood on went vertical, making him fall a short distance until he landed on the back end of the shoe. Near the opening of the footwear glared the intense glow of Jaeden’s phantom eyes with a devious smile to boot, still giving Marius creeps since he first saw them. She pinched the back of his shirt with two of her black fingernails and lifted him up to her face, leaving the young boy dangling before her.

“Well my little toy, sleep tight like I wanted?” Jaeden asked. Marius still had some gross shoe cotton in his mouth and couldn’t speak at the moment, but Jaeden wouldn’t take that for an answer. She swung his powerless body back and forth like a wind chime in a thunderstorm, forcing him to spit out the rest of the cotton while dealing with a dizzying headache.

“Errggg…uhhhhhh, yes I did…” Marius replied nearly sick to his stomach. The mood quickly shifted as the giant Marra reeled her other hand back and slapped him nearly full force across his entire body, almost like the day before. It left him with another bloody nose and multiple bruises to the side.

“To drill the idea back into your thin skull, don’t ever go against me again. You don’t control anyone, I control you. Do a stunt like that again and I’ll make the rest of your life even worse.”

The injured kid hastily nodded to his nightmare spirit overlord, much to Jaeden’s delight. She put so much on him he would practically go to his knees to not see her get angry. He didn’t know any better for his age after all, just an innocent young kid turned servant by a teenage ghost. The scars across his body spoke volumes to the beatings and manipulations he took after all, and no kid in Trolberg could comprehend what the Marra put him through. Nobody deserved the activities he went through, even if the Marras didn’t care.

Jaeden spoke up again to the miniature kid between her two fingers.

“Our daily activities will have to wait for a bit until I get done with a certain errand, but that doesn’t mean I’m through with you. Even though I would love to have you as my early appetizer to shut you up I’m going to need you for this, so stay silent in my pocket or maybe I WILL eat you later. Don’t upset me, you tiny idiot.”

Marius rapidly nodded again, not saying a word, as the gigantic Marra lowered her hand down and dropped the shrunken kid straight into her shirt pocket. He landed near the bottom before he felt Jaeden walk through the woods. While she forbidden him to speak even a single word, he didn’t want to be left to see nothing. He still ached from all over due to the pressure from her foot and the brutal slap across his body, so the climb took a bit longer than usual. Once he reached the top he peeked his tiny head over the edge as Jaeden reached the edge of the woods to the gate leading to Trolberg. She phased through the barricade by transforming into a wisp like usual, making Marius dizzy, before changing back and making her way into the city. He expected her to go along the sidewalks like she usually did, but this time she took a detour to the right along streets and sidewalks he lacked in memory.

It wouldn’t be long until the sights almost completely changed. Perspectives flipped as the shades of blue littered the coast before them, ships sailing in and out from sturdy docks. He never thought in his entire life that a city like Trolberg could hold such a spectacle, only hearing stories from locals back at his village as to the whereabouts of such a serene seascape of hearty people. Seagulls glided the updrafts as they scanned the surface of the water for food, although some took refuge on a few buoys beyond the coast. The sailors pulling into the docks had to scare them off from thieving their catches, with nets hoarding dozens of seafood, while the weather stayed sunny for a good fishing trip. The water rippled from the curious sea life trying to nab a bite from the surface which got them snatched by some seagulls along with a couple of pelicans. Near the far end of the waters he could barely make out some sort of hybrid snake mixed with…dog? He couldn’t make out the full details from the distance given, but he visibly witnessed the creatures skimming along the surface of the water in long humps before they dived back under the water elegantly. He couldn’t form a description for everything around him, his eyes provided enough to give him a small warmth in his heart. He may still be a prisoner to a teenage ghost, but sights like Trolberg’s lively harbor almost made him forget his troubles and relax.

The sights brought him happiness until his nostrils took in a very fetid stench, and it wasn’t from the dead captured fish. He looked ahead and got his answer, and Jaeden didn’t seem perturbed at all. Nothing ahead but a very large opening to depths unknown, with no light to speak of to cast a picture. Due to Jaeden’s influential stranglehold over everything he did, Marius stayed quiet as the Marra set foot inside. His eyes put on a blind cover with nothing but the horrid smell and Jaeden’s movements occupying his senses. He caught the occasional green glow of the Marra’s eyes as she moved forward, still giving him the creeps every time. Whatever Jaeden had in mind in a smelly sewer area like this, he didn’t like the vibes of the whole thing.

She instantly stopped once she reached a point where a light shined above from the surface through some sort of grate, showing the room around them. Her feet bathed in a pool of shallow water, something Marius concluded to be sewage water which made him more grossed out, while the room itself contained a large hollow pipe in the ceiling that sometimes dumped a downpour of mucky water to the shallow amount covering the floor. Two pipes around the same size embedded into the left wall side by side pouring more water into the room in the form of two smelly waterfalls, which at first he thought would fill the room if he didn’t notice a drain, covered by a grate, on the right side doing its built in job. Despite all of the gross sights, Jaeden maintained her flat composure Marras go for when in the daylight, making him unsure if she had annoyance or grossed out factors under the mask. Considering how much she imposed on his tiny body since she abducted him, he chose not to question it. The last thing he needed was an immoral Marra pushing more terrible activities on him in a foul-smelling sewer.

He wondered what Jaeden had in mind when a series of voices pretty much answered for him.

“Ah yes, a visitor…”

They came out at various pitches with an undertone of singularity, like a sort of individual minded amalgamation bound in a pack. Dozens of red little eyes appeared in the darkness before a large mass rolled forward and into view. From a mess of tails, whiskers, and twitchy noses, what appeared to be a massive mound of stinky and writhing rats bright its visuals to Jaeden and the hiding Marius. Seeing one rat can make a person scream, but when a large horde shows up extermination may be the only choice, and for the boy he would waste no time to doing so. Even the sight of their smelly fur got his skin crawling, for they didn’t stand out as a colony of innocent bees or colony of ants to him. At least with bees and ants they didn’t go on the offensive unless disturbed, rats were the ugly poster child of disease and garbage. To see a huge mound of them living in the sewers of Trolberg gave insight into never coming down into the place ever again. Horrid and gross already, the huge hill of rats asserted dominance to Marius and sent a message that they were in control of everything among the sewage line.

Jaeden set her eyes on the mound of rats as the multiple voices came forth again.

“Jaeden, good to see you again. Got any secrets to trade today?”

“You know that I always do.” Jaeden replied. “I assume you obtained the information I’m looking for?”

The mound of rats jiggled up and down for a moment while giving off small different pitched laughs.

“…maybe we do, for the right price.”

Jaeden grinned before she walked forward closer to the rats. Marius sunk himself lower into Jaeden’s pocket, not liking the direction things were heading, as the rats leaned in closer to the Marra. She glanced back and forth for a second before cupping her hands and delivering a series of whispers to the monstrosity. The rats mumbled and muttered some inaudible words as they listened in, giving the tiny boy more creeps across his back. It had to be pretty private if Jaeden purposefully kept something out of his line of hearing when she thought inconsequential of his status as her toy, and considering what she willingly put him through it could go by as a blessing in disguise.

The rats mused to themselves for a bit longer until they pulled back, many having smiles on their faces.

“Ooh, marvelous! We’re tingling just thinking about it! A very juicy secret indeed!”

Marius continued staying hidden in Jaeden’s pocket until she used a finger to pull the opening a bit wider, giving the rats full view of the boy inside. He curled himself near the far corner with the dozens of eyes glaring at him, but it didn’t last long as Jaeden smirked and nodded at the rats while the rats did the same back.

“You delivered well.” the rats answered. “Boy, do we have a secret for you!”

The mound of rats leaned close to Jaeden while Marius got out of the corner while keeping his distance. It couldn’t hurt if Jaeden didn’t know he listened in, whatever the rats had in mind.

They spoke a bit louder than Jaeden’s whispering, giving the prime opportunity for Marius to eavesdrop.

“The location you are looking for lies near the tide pools…where the waves stand still.”

“That’s exactly what I hoped for.” Jaeden responded. “Good job on confirming the spot.”

The mound of rats giggled and laughed, jiggling up and down in the process, before it rolled away to the left and back into the darkness. Marius heard some mumbling from them about “treating themselves” but couldn’t confirm anything else before the noises ceased. Something bounced around inside his head about the whole secret the rats gave, but he shooed it away for now as he didn’t think it showed itself as too important. At least he got another scare for his life…while also reminding himself to never trek into Trolberg’s sewers ever again.

The giant Marra glared down at him with the ominous green glow in her eyes.

“You heard nothing. Got it?!”

He didn’t need any reminders, he instantaneously nodded hastily. It made Jaeden smirk before she headed back in the direction she came from, her shrunken toy tucked tight in her shirt pocket. Despite her demand, the words the rats muttered to her stuck in Marius’ head in ways he couldn’t understand. If he thought too much of it though Jaeden might catch on and torture him further, something he wanted to avoid as much as possible. Even then, she had unpredictability written all over her due to the ghost she was, much to the ire of Marius.

He slumped down near the edge of her pocket, skimming the surface of the mucky water while laying pity on himself, before something flat wafted under the surface. It had a troubled visibility, but it would only take a few more seconds until the boy determined what flowed through the sewers. He gasped as the muscles around his limbs went limp, making him slide back down to the bottom of the pocket, while his eyes became nothing but slates. It speared him and wiped the final amount of brightness before throwing it into the garbage. They truly had their minds somewhere else while the real situation glossed over their heads, something he never comprehended fully until now. If nobody really knew the genuine truth, he couldn’t conclude that he would ever escape the grasp of the nightmare spirit. The supernatural was at work which nobody could truly handle, he had nothing but a lost cause.

He curled up inside Jaeden’s pocket and wept bitterly to himself, leaving the piece of a flier with the dreaded seven letter word containing a picture of him grinning near the bottom to flow into the drain to parts unknown.


Marius spent the rest of the day sobbing to himself, with Jaeden having no empathy to pay attention. Everyone around him walked along normally blissfully unaware that the teenage girl walking by them had a young kid bound to her at all times, shrunken smaller than nearly everything. They truly didn’t have any assumptions that anything crooked or dark occurred in the city of Trolberg at the moment, hammering the moments through Marius’ body. He could see everyone go around doing their daily activities while they lacked the visibility to see him in return. In some ways it shrouded his mind in doubt that Hilda even paid attention as he screamed his lungs out during her nightmare, she didn’t have a long enough age for some everlasting memories in his eyes after all. Jaeden’s insults over how stupid he was as tiny as she made him hovered the confirmations through him, giving him thoughts that only made him cry harder. No people cared, Hilda completely ignored him; he stood out as nothing more but a torture victim, a tiny torture victim for a nightmarish Marra bent on keeping him forever.

Jaeden eventually couldn’t take any more of his crying games and shut him up in an instant…by swallowing him again. Since she didn’t need to eat she could put him in her belly any time to make Marius quiet, much to the boy’s suffering. She swished him in her mouth for a bit like last time before gulping him down with the boy crying out in the process. Once he dropped into her stomach for a second time he almost felt too miserable to pick himself up. Nobody cared that he existed anyway, he had no one to turn to for any sort of help. Hilda was his last glimmer of hope, but seeing the poster in the sewer splattered him to nothing with everything lost. Only a young kid and he never experienced the qualities of getting older, a harsh consequence to ticking off an angry ghost.

The Marra kept him there for the rest of the day while she did her rounds through the city, keeping Marius miserable as much as possible. He wallowed in his unhappiness while completely unaware to how long he actually stayed as Jaeden’s snack. He got temporarily jarred out of his mind when an eerie stillness echoed outside. He couldn’t see the outside for obvious reasons, but something about the feeling brought a knife to his neck. Jaeden would have a field day along the disastrous areas, so it didn’t come to his surprise if she waltzed over to a graveyard or somewhere similar. No other clues rang through his hearing, practically leaving him in the dark to where she now situated. Of course he also stood in the dark of Jaeden’s stomach with the intestinal and gastric noises getting to him in more ways than one, a terrible fate constantly brought upon him that the giant ghost loved to enjoy to herself. Wherever the Marra put herself now, the handicaps blinded him to submission.

A few minutes later, through the noises of Jaeden’s innards, more signs broke through the stomach walls. A loud crack almost broke his hearing before lesser ones followed after, shaking him up. However, once some other noises rang through the pictures painted itself, putting him more on edge.

“I’m back with more boatloads of stories to tell!”

“Same here! I got some good ones from the last couple of days!”

“You should have seen the look on this one kid’s face from the nightmare I gave him!”

Just what Marius needed; another night of storytelling in the circle of Marras. He frowned slightly upon hearing the various voices, with the Marras chatting over how good their inflicted nightmares would bring to the table. Because he only encountered a majority of the group during the one night, he still didn’t have a complete grasp over which voice belonged to who. He only greatly recognized three of the voices, Jaeden’s, Kelly’s, and Silica’s, since he encountered them more than once, but he wouldn’t call that a trait. If anything, he wished he could forget them and get back to his regular life, but Jaeden’s hold over everything prohibited the outcome from ever coming to fruition. They were immoral and relentless, with him in the center of their games.

The voices went silent as Jaeden’s voice spoke through.

“Okay everyone, time for another night of some very ghastly nightmare stories. As much as I want to go first, I’ll be a nice Marra and let someone else speak up. Any takers?”

The choice words Jaeden said couldn’t have rolled any more eyes her way. From what they forced him through, Marras were anything but sympathetic and respectable.

“I think we should address the elephant in the room first.” Kelly’s voice rang. A moment of silence wafted over his ears, putting Marius into the dark, until the recognizable voice of Silica chimed in.

“What? Aren’t we not supposed to give opinions based on looks?”

“Not with that appearance.” an unknown voice of a Marra replied. “Did you just scuffle with a Black Hound or something?”

“It’s nothing much, okay?! Can we get going with stories already and not give judgments on me?” Silica’s voice answered with a hint of annoyance.

“Come on, you stick out over all of us with that quality of a mess.” Kelly’s voice said. “You better explain.”

A deep and disgruntled sigh from Silica came from the outside. While he couldn’t see her, for the other Marras to delay their stories it had to be pretty unappealing. Either way, he listened in.

“Okay, okay, I was on my way here when I noticed that I was being followed by some little kids. While I would have liked to know why they were up this late at night, when they continued after me I knew I had to ditch them. I managed to lose them around one of the cemeteries, but I got tangled in some trees soon after. It wasn’t pretty…and it hurt like heck.”

Another moment of silence wafted through before Kelly’s voice spoke up again.

“Wait, was one of them a particular girl with blue hair?”

The last few words perked Marius up in more ways than one. Could she possibly…

“Now that you mention it, I do remember one of the kids having something of the sort. Is something wrong with that?” Silica’s voice asked.

Her statement followed up by many multiple groans from the other Marras. It included Jaeden, although some could be attributed to her stomach.

“We might have to cut this meet up short if SHE is coming.” Jaeden’s voice said. “Here’s a heads up Silica. That girl is a massive killjoy and when she arrives everything falls into disarray for us. She may look young, but she gets in the way every time.”

His ears couldn’t have hit the right notes of a blessing in disguise. His eyes opened wide as he found his legs shaking and his heart throbbing excessively, eventually losing all feeling in his legs before he fell to the stomach ground, completely shaken up from all over. He almost didn’t want to move any of his limbs, which eventually made him collapse to the floor on his back, covering him all over in bodily fluids. He lacked the appropriate emotions at the moment to worry about his current condition, for his efforts didn’t go in vain. She listened, she really listened to his pleas. The blocked tunnel at the end of the road cracked a shine in his direction, a possibility that Hilda might open fully. He felt tears drip from his eyes, but for the first time since the he encountered the Marras they missed any sort of sadness, and a slow smile formed on his face even if he couldn’t see it. Negatives pounded him all across his shrunken body, but positives will show themselves if needed most.

Silica’s voice pierced through his happy moment.

“Sheesh, critical much? I know anything can be possible but one little girl? Doesn’t sound important to me.”

“Trust us, she’s bad news.” Kelly’s voice stated before shifting in tone. “Okay, let’s make this quick then. Who wants to tell something first?”

“I say we should get Jaeden’s midget out first.” Silica’s voice said. “If anything we can mess with him in our free time.”

“Good idea. Thanks to his size we can do anything to make him shriek.” Jaeden’s voice replied.

His happy moment ended as reality gave him a harsh smack. He didn’t know what would happen next until he felt rumbling all around him. The signs pointed him in the direction he took last time when Jaeden engulfed him, and before long the buoyancy cranked up with him going airborne once more. His face slammed against the floor of Jaeden’s stomach, covering him in more gastric fluids, when the entire  area rumbled again. His body launched upward again with higher vertical momentum then crashed into the stomach floor. He coughed from the impacts as the trampoline under him rocketed him up, with each passing bounce going higher than the last. He hit the ceiling a couple of times, which hurt a bit, until he quickly found himself going much higher than the ceiling allowed. Knowing immediately what came next, Marius shut his eyes as the sudden winds blew him forward. He tumbled as his eyes turned on once again, landing with a grind into some dirt below. He didn’t need brain cells to figure out that Jaeden finally hurled him out back to reality, much better than the bottom of her belly.

“Urgh…that hurt…” Marius mumbled as he shook himself off. Taking in the visuals around him, he immediately noticed the large streaks of grass and the humongous green fire in front of him, the landmark of a typical Marra hangout. While difficult to visualize at first, Marius made out each of the Marras from last time through the blades of grass, each having glowing green eyes that made him cringe. Jaeden stood behind him, appearing as monstrous as ever with an ominous smile, while Kelly stood next to her. Silica stood at the other side of the fire, and in one quick gaze he could tell what gave her away to the other Marras. From a mess of branches in her hair to some red marks over her face, she really did have the appearance of someone who just got attacked by a ferocious animal, something she didn’t appear too incisive about. His chain of activities with Jaeden brought him back to the circle of Marras, whether he wanted to or not.

He didn’t get too much time on the ground until Jaeden reached down and grasped him into her hand, not caring at all about the fluids completely covering him. The other Marras had their eyes set on both him and Jaeden, although Silica had her own agenda and didn’t care that much.

Kelly especially had her interests.

“You…you actually ate him?”

“I did it to shut him up during the day.” Jaeden answered. “Besides, we don’t need to eat like normal people anyway.”

“Okay, now that’s crazy even for me.” the Marra with glasses said. “It does give me some ideas for future nightmares though. Heeheehee!”

“Speaking of which, we still have stories to tell.” the Marra with a bun in her hair said. “I’m all ears, so who’s going first again?”

Kelly turned to face the other Marra.

“You’re right, we can’t keep delaying over inconsequential mishaps. I’ll go first since Jaeden wanted me to.”

Jaeden kept Marius encased in her hand as the rest of the Marras sat down eager to tell their tales. The green fire burned with the anticipation of the nightmare spirits, making Marius shudder. If what he heard when inside Jaeden wasn’t nonsense, with crossed fingers behind their back, hope had the potential to gleam in his direction. The endurance test lay before him, he just needed to wait a little longer.

Kelly started her nightmare story with no delays, with the fire giving eerie visuals among the embers.

“The dream starts with the kid at a carnival having a fun time and all of that other jazz. He has a major crush on this one girl so he wins all of the carnival games for her, getting all of the big prizes just for her. To kick things off, I manipulated the dream’s direction to focus on the stereotypical Tunnel of Love, which progressed easily for the unaware kid. He seated in with his girlfriend as the boat sailed down into the depths of the tunnel, and soon the darkness shrouded everywhere with the colorful animatronics singing from the depths of love and care. It didn’t take too much to manipulate everything downhill for here on out. First I cut the lights all around him before exemplifying the mechanical noises of the animatronics, which already got the boy fearing for his life, but I kicked it up a notch. With one single spotlight, a monstrous form of one of the robots screeched in his face, all without the outer shell as wires dangled from their maws, making the boy scream as more spotlights appeared around it, revealing more of its metal brethren with the same appearance. He tried to turn to his girlfriend for safety, but she had something much different…for she was completely inside out!”

The Marras cackled and laughed from the brutal story, blazing the fire higher and hotter until it settled down. More misery only brought the ghosts joy, which they yearned for on a daily basis at the expense of the targets. Marius kept quiet as the cinders of the green fire flew out and into the mouths of each Marra, lighting up their eyes creepily. It only lasted a few seconds, but he didn’t want to know what it meant in the long run.

“Hahahahah, that was a good one!” Silica said. “You really got these stories down good Kelly.”

“I’m experienced in the craft and know what I’m doing.” Kelly answered. “Anyone else got something good?”

“Umm, I think we should try and attempt something different…”

Everyone around the fire glanced in the direction of the voice, revealing it to be the Marra with the long lock of hair covering one of her eyes. She appeared fidgety and twiddled her thumbs while looking downward.

“Excuse me? What did you just say?” Jaeden said with a hint of ire in her tone while her eyes glowed green. Marius got bad vibes coming from the other Marra, something about her irked him in ways he didn’t like.

“Oh no, I’m not talking about giving up bringing misery! Far from it!” the Marra replied. “I just think we’re missing a big opportunity with what we currently have at the table.”

“And that would be?” Kelly asked. The other Marras had equally confused expressions when the initial one lifted her arm and pointed at one particular person among them. The dark and grim senses coursed through Marius as he tried to calm down to no success. The endurance test curved in another direction off course.

“I want to hear Jaeden’s tiny kid scream to the heavens once more. He really got my ears hearing a chorus the last time we messed with him, and I don’t want to make him feel uninvited…”

She sniped him in the chest. His breathing went incomprehensibly short, cutting circulation from his brain, as the sweat trickled down his face. His body had an underlying wave of heat that turned up the severity in his head, forming thoughts in his mind beyond deadly. Control waved its goodbyes when the poison took a choke hold and drove to oblivion, the red burns smiling its fangs. Grimace pulled in for its time with the Marras.

The Marra with glasses chimed in.

“I was actually thinking through the same thing. I have to admit I couldn’t get his hilarious screams out of my head since last time.”

“That sounds like a really interesting idea.” Silica said. “I’m in, and from the look on his face he’s basically begging for us to mess with him again.”

Marius hastily clammed up and shook his head, which only got all of the Marras to laugh insidiously. Kelly even came up for a closer look at him, her face bigger than most planets.

“Well lookie here, all frightened up and ripe for the picking. It must be such a sight seeing us bigger than anything else. I’m still waiting to squeeze your eyes out of their sockets through my sinewy fingers…”

“No, no, please don’t!” Marius blurted out of nowhere. He shut his mouth in an instant, for the words came speeding out, although it only made the Marras cackle even more at his misfortune.

“The more you display your fear only makes us want to play with you even more…and I love it.” Jaeden said. “I’m sure someone here has a game idea.”

“I say we throw him to the ground and stomp him out!” the Marra with a bun in her hair eagerly exclaimed. The other Marras gazed over to her for a moment until Kelly spoke up.

“I really like that idea. Acting out like a crazed forest giant bent on destroying someone…I bet the midget would like that too…”

Marius shook his head vigorously for some attempt at denial, but it only cemented the thought to the Marras, including Jaeden. The rest of the spirits nodded their heads in agreement, ready to compress as much fear and misery out of the shrunken boy as possible. He never even got to comprehend what they wanted to do when he found himself driving down below, with Jaeden harshly tossing him downward. His face and body were buried in the dirt and mud, with divots showing the damage dealt, and it hurt all over. It took a few seconds for him to pull himself out, but when he did his front slathered with minerals from the ground. He coughed for second before he tried to wipe the mud from his eyes when he turned around, only having a split second before something forced and planted him back into the dirt. His eyes cleared from the obstructions, only to see the massive form of Jaeden sporting her gritty Marra smile while pressing him deep against the ground with one of her hands.

“Aww, I think my hand slipped.” Jaeden playfully said. Marius yelped from the immense pressure as the other Marras watched with grim glee. While she didn’t care in the slightest, the strength of her hand nearly crushed the boy and put him on the brink of something shattering. Any attempts to pull himself out only resulted in more pain, which Jaeden aimed for, and with his shrunken state they called all of the shots. She even smacked him at one point with one of her black fingernails just to rub in how unfortunate his current handicaps hindered him. Suffice to say, being greatly tiny to a nightmare spirit was a terrible fate.

As quick as it started, Jaeden’s massive hand lifted off of the tiny boy’s body. He gasped of breath as he squirmed to get up, amazed that none of his bones broke. He ached all over from the impact, but he knew it would get much worse if he didn’t get out while he could. With no time to spare, as muddy and filthy as Jaeden made him, Marius took off through the blades of grass and small gravel rocks. He wanted to get away and never see another Marra again, survival instincts driving him forward. Some big booms echoed above him, hovering like small demons prodding his brain for insecurities. Desperation drives never ending thoughts from the graveyard to the core of one’s mind, something Marius went through ever since he crossed paths with the Marras, and it practically made him go insane.

Another boom reverberated overhead, making Marius more worried, until his path hit an end when a wall of brown slammed in front of him. He bopped against it head first, recoiling him backward, only to see it as a large brown boot. The Marra wearing it, a tall one with a lock of hair covering an eyes, wickedly smiled down at him while she shifted her foot.

“Keep running little boy, I’m really enjoying this.” she boomed down to him. With that direction barred from him, he ran to the right for any sort of mercy. He never got any as more giant shoes from the Marras slammed down in his path, some merely inches from his body, creating shock waves that brought him off of his feet. Tears dripped down his face as he wanted to get away from becoming a pancake, the situation demanding more from his young self, and he worried for his life. The Marras had no holds barred when it came to torturing and scaring the daylights out of him, and he got nothing but experiences beyond typical bully tactics.

Jaeden’s shoe pounded along with another Marra’s, throwing Marius into the air for a second before he crashed back down. Before he had the chance to get back to his feet, he found himself hard pressed against the ground for something heavy. It pumped against his chest as it forced him to the ground, and when he looked up he saw what happened. There stood Kelly, a Marra larger than life, with her droned out eyes and smug smile staring at his helpless self while she kept him in place in the dirt and mud using one of her huge pink sneakers.

He flailed his arms for some way out while Kelly cast her glowing green eyes upon him.

“Looks like I win little guy. You can’t escape us when we enjoy having you.” Kelly said to him. The other Marras had near equal expressions as Marius suffered, incapable of getting away from Kelly’s shoe. Her words struck slashes over his mind and body, giving the emotions of the shadows a place to call home. Any sort of struggle only made the pain worse, devastating for the young kid, and the other Marras felt and enjoyed every single moment. He coughed while attempting to pull himself out, but Kelly made it worse by pressing harder and grinding her shoe which made him yelp. It was music to the Marras’ ears.

“So worthless and powerless…you really know how to give a Marra what she wants.” Kelly creepily said. “I could do this all day and get my misery just from you. How about I make you a splatter against the ground? I always wanted to know how squishy you are, or maybe I can even eat you like a tasty dessert…”

“No, please no!” Marius exclaimed. It only made the Marras laugh darkly, his pain brought them joy. Kelly kept her shoe planted on the boy’s unfortunate body, the display of power amusing her, until she reached down and plucked him into her grasp. Seeing her face from afar had bad implications, but up close painted them as bright as day. The green eyes glowing in the dark combined with the nasty smile gave Marius all of the signs to stay away from the nasty ghosts, but he didn’t have the chance. Nothing but a young shrunken toy, that’s all he was to the Marras.

The Marra with her eyes covered by her bangs expressed her ghastly thoughts.

“Hahahahah, I almost broke down seeing him suffer! Let’s mess with him every meeting!”

“I like the way you think.” the Marra with a bun in her hair replied. “It could be a nice way to…bring more dark tendencies to the circle.”

“Ooh, I like the sound of that.” Silica answered. “I’m in for it as long as I can hear that cowardly scream. I swear it gets to me every time.”

“Great minds think alike.” Jaeden said. “So is everyone else on board with the idea? I wouldn’t mind bringing him…and he’s mine after all.”

All of the other Marras, including Kelly, chimed in and gave their approvals. They cackled insidiously upon their agreements, with even the green fire giving heat as it burst high into a long pillar of flames before settling down. It may have excited the Marras, but for Marius it couldn’t have been any further opposite. He nearly blanked out and collapsed on his behind, he wouldn’t be getting any breaks from the torment and anguish of the Marras with the new plans in place. Their satisfaction had no bounds to the horrors of others, and with him always accessible they could go to him whenever for their fix. When the days occur for inflicting nightmares Jaeden had her time with him, and when the meetings happened everyone else would have their share. A never ending cycle of harassment and pain pictured itself before him, and it all happened because of the Marras.

His eyes couldn’t produce the tears, he expired most of them from the Marras’ deadly games. He lost the will to move from Kelly’s hand as he sat to a desolate future. It wouldn’t be too much later though until some rustling occurred in the bushes close to the circle, immediately making each Marra turn in its direction in an instant. Jaeden grabbed the distraught Marius from Kelly as all of the Marras’ eyes glowed brightly green before each of them phased away as a green wisp, at the same time extinguishing the green fire along with them.

He lost so much focus that he failed to notice a lock of blue hair before he vanished with Jaeden.

Marius remained nearly out of it the entire rest of the night. The wheel or torment hovered around his head reminding him of the true darkness moving forward, all to the pleasure of Jaeden and the other Marras. His eyes had a distinct dryness as he tried to fall asleep in Jaeden’s pocket, the only mercy given so the Marra could have more fun messing with him during the day, lying in a shattered wasteland of nothing. Nobody cared, nobody knew, and he stood out as nobody. The lethal injection leered close for a possible early dose, his future setting to a lifetime of broken glass and poundings, but it never appeared in his mind. Certain comprehensions develop over time, and it stood as one that Marius didn’t fully understand yet. For once his young age served as a blessing in disguise, but it ignored his imprisonment to the nightmare spirit above. A toy for a teenage ghost, his life stretched to nothing but beds of spikes while Jaeden ridiculed from the sidelines.

He silently snored to the mildness in the air, as he inevitable fell asleep, when the sun donned its light to the beings below. He yawned as he drowsily opened his eyes, temporarily forgetting his predicament. Hitting the snooze button wouldn’t do anything with that sort of shine, an annoying wake up call most would want to forget. Before he could slowly get himself up, a large mass shot itself inside the pocket and took its grip around his waste, forcing most of his senses to spring awake with a pinch of fear, and pulled him out prematurely. It almost felt like something clamped his midsection, but when the light shone in his eyes he quickly discovered what happened. The depression hit him hard seeing the particular Marra’s face with a cross expression, and she took hold of him by pinching him between two fingers. Her black fingernails cast a shine from the sun, but it didn’t matter in the long run. Jaeden had to be pretty eager to mess with him to bring him out that early.

Her dark Marra smile pierced through him as her eyes glowed green.

“Get up midget, you’re not going to sleep any further after you caused that interruption.”

“Wha…what?” Marius answered, still a little drowsy. He got his painful answer when Jaeden slapped him across the face viciously with the end of one of her black fingernails.

“Don’t ever play dumb with me, you know what you did inside that nightmare. That one stunt you did in there, well, we don’t like the extra attention. However, you practically painted the billboards…big mistake.”

Her voice reverberated a little.

“You forced us to end out meeting early, and I sure as heck knew who to blame for sticking a pin in our location. Nobody messes with our meetings, and your stupid actions put all of it in jeopardy to one crazy kid. I’m not going to let her be your knight in shining armor, my tiny shrunken toy, for I own you for life and will never let you go.”

Marius had no idea what Jaeden talked about with messing with the meeting from last night, but he sure knew about the actions inside the nightmare. He only thought it alerted Jaeden and did nothing else, but apparently something else occurred. He blanked out near the end after learning about the cycle or torture for the rest of his life, so he had no clue of anything after that. Either way, he didn’t have a say in any decisions Jaeden came up with, as she was in control of everything he did.

He stuttered in her presence.

“W-w-what did I do? I don’t think anything bad hap-”

“Shut up midget, I have already made my decision.” Jaeden interjected. “You deserve another punishment for your actions.”

He tensed up, which Jaeden felt and enjoyed behind the mask. A bullet point the Marra crammed into his head reared its brandished teeth in his direction. Evading such a consequence always stood out as priority number one and he missed it throughout his tactics to stay alive. It put him even more on edge when Jaeden reached inside her other pocket for something. She kept her green eyes on Marius as the boy felt his heart sink, worried for his life. When she eventually found what she was looking for, she pulled it out in full view for the tiny kid. He expected the worst, but when his sight caught the object he had more confusion than anything. The oval shaped lid that shuttered like a clam, the mirror on the inside with a powder on the underside; it didn’t strike him at first. Some would say it solidified itself as a girl’s best friend, not as a weapon of destruction. He worried for himself before, but why Jaeden pulled it out for him was beyond his knowledge.

She boomed her voice at him before he could speak.

“Before you ask, I explained this before as while I may be a Marra I’m also still a girl, so I always carry this around just in case. Anyway, I’m suffering from a slight breakout and carry coverup just for the occasion, standard girl affair you know.”

Something about the way she spoke unnerved Marius, but with all of the fatal activities she put him through it almost came as an expected circumstance. With her hold still over Marius, she set the compact down before getting out a small brush, like the one she forced upon him when painting her fingernails. First impressions told him the situation might progress similarly to then, but knowing Jaeden anything could be possible for a sick game.

“So…you want me to…apply that over your face?” Marius quivered. “I…don’t think I can…handle that…”

“You don’t have a choice, what I say goes.” Jaeden answered with a pinch of vigor. “Besides, this won’t be like the fingernails activity from before. You didn’t perform to my perfect expectations, so you won’t be doing the work this time…you’re part of the coverup!”

Marius barely had time to think when Jaeden dipped the brush into the coverup before thrusting his tiny back right into the bristles. Whatever stuck to the brush beforehand had to be pretty sticky, for his back stuck right into it with no chance of breaking free at his size. He suddenly found himself taking a nosedive into the coverup alongside the brush as Jaeden went for a second dip, which encompassed him in thick colored fluids. It nearly acted like an underwater dive as he found it hard to find pockets of air in the brief moments, but then he immediately drove back up with the brush before Jaeden forced him back in. When he eventually came back up after Jaeden dipped in a few more times his entire front had no unique color distinctions other than the one reserved for the common skin. Some of the coverup got in his mouth, forcing him to sputter some out, as Jaeden glared at the covered boy with her typical Marra smile.

“You’ll be a great addition to cover my face.”

“Please don’t…you have been torturing me enough!” Marius exclaimed in a slight panic. It only made Jaeden snicker.

“Heheheheh, you still get to me every time you try to beg your way out. Keep doing it, I love the sound of wails and screams in the morning, especially to someone smaller than my fingernails. Enjoy the sight of my face, tiny toy!”

She acted immediately as she brought the brush closer to her face with Marius still at the end. His sights quickly caught wind of the uneven skin in front of him, the brush looming over a large bump with a slight reddish tint. He didn’t need to be told twice about what blemish set before him, but he never got the chance to comprehend anything until Jaeden pressed the brush over it. The combination of skin and makeup shut and mushed Marius like a compactor with buckets of sludge flying everywhere, forcing him to close his mouth and consequently making him unable to yell from the pressure across his body. The bristles stroked back and forth as it spread the coverup over the big bump, giving him smack after smack across Jaeden’s skin with intense rubbing in between. It muddied him all over, and even though it only took a few seconds, the process felt like an eternity.

Too bad she had many more bumps to go over.

The massive Marra took the brush and dunked it back into the coverup. For Marius it felt like an ancient torture tactic or some sort of school prank with the makeup smothering all over him leaving almost no room to breathe. With his vision obscured with every dunk, he could do nothing but feel each slam to his body from the brush, eventually getting some of the substance into his mouth. He atrociously hurled it out but couldn’t wring out his tongue due to his arms hanging back into the brush’s bristles like a messed up scarecrow. It wouldn’t be long after until Jaeden pulled the brush back, aiming for another spot on her face for her shrunken toy to go through. Once he saw the brush loom toward a reddish bump near her right cheek he knew the Marra picked her next target, and in one quick motion it swooped down and made contact with her skin. Like before it crunched and drove him into Jaeden’s skin while skidding around in circular motions, injuring him all over. While cute kisses on the cheek normally only set in one spot if they rubbed off somewhere else it would stand as nothing but awkward in Marius’ mind, but with Jaeden’s new torturous session he practically was going through the situation in full. Skin on skin, paints of coverup all over him and surrounding area, the activity was nothing but painful graffiti painting against a jagged brick wall.

What should have progressed as an ordinary activity that would only take a few minutes dragged on longer than it usually went for. From Marius getting intake after intake of coverup all over his body to wedging between skin and brush, it spiked him in more ways than one. While Jaeden was a ghost and didn’t require certain substances regular people needed daily she still had the body of a teenager, which meant she acquired some tendencies they usually go through like breakouts. Marius didn’t hit that point of puberty yet, but he obtained a sample when the Marra drove him through the makeup. She didn’t have just one bump on her face though, a closer look would reveal many more across her skin. The coverup did its job for most of them, but when she needed a reapplication she forced her shrunken victim along for the ride, a very agonizing one.

After what seemed like an eternity, although she could have stretched the length for more screams, Jaeden finally pulled the brush away and gave Marius some breathing time. He appeared like he went through a washing machine set on high…if its contents filled with paste. Not a single other color than skin tone showed its presence, and he felt dizzy and ached all over. He awaited the moment when the stickiness would pull him loose, but it proved to function somewhat differently at least in his eyes. It would have given him the chance to possible get away if he didn’t worry about taking a long free fall from her face, and even then she always had him on lock down. She kept her menacing eyes on him all the time; she wouldn’t lose her sight over her shrunken plaything at any point.

His body stayed stuck to the brush as Jaeden brought up her compact in her other hand. She glanced at herself in the mirror for a few moment before stashing in away and getting back to her toy.

“Well, I’ve prepped myself nicely with no abnormalities across every inch of my face…with a pinch of tiny kid spicing it up.” Jaeden said. “Your fear and pain added a nice sense to all of it, so I know who to go to when I need another touch up.”

She really wanted to wring him out of all fear and panic for her amusement. He stayed silent so he wouldn’t provoke certain subjects, but another underlying fact leered at him from behind. With her massive demand to stay silent until she said so, and considering her other beatings and tortures if he disobeyed, he had no choice but to do anything to appease her anger and not ignite it. Any of the sort could prove fatal if he stepped out of line.

The giant Marra picked her tiny victim off the brush before she put the object away, keeping him between two fingers, while appearing content at first. It provided Marius with a small sense of accomplishment until she she slapped him across the face with another one of her fingers, making him yelp.

“Although I missed out on listening to you scream. The session would have gone perfectly if I heard your lungs empty to the misery and pain of the process. You never delivered, and do you know what I do to disobedient midgets like you?”

The shrunken kid felt the two fingers holding him dig in with the pressure. It started off somewhat harmless until it reached a certain level, going into his chest and back. He lacked any sort of reaction but to shriek, her gigantic black fingernails plowing into his front and back like a serious lab experiment. His spine and ribs circled the rings of immobilization while his organs wanted to puke out but couldn’t, the trash compactor compressing for the trip to the dump. The only part unaffected appeared to be his skin, but it only showed to be a small caveat compared to the destruction the rest of his body torched through. It displayed abuse, it displayed MORTAL abuse.

Around half a minute later Jaeden’s grip on him suddenly loosened, but that didn’t ease off what she put him through. He inhaled buckets of air before choking and coughing a few times, immediately astonished that nothing shattered in him during the operation. Sweat trickled down his forehead before the Marra’s planet sized eyes loomed over him.

“That was just a sampler, I’ll turn it up if I don’t get what I want from you. Even so, I still want to hear those screams escape that tiny mouth of yours. I still have some time before heading to the city, so let’s do one more activity to force out all of that misery.”

His body shuddered all over. Jaeden wasn’t truly done with him for now, she usually went for one activity before going to Trolberg, but she threw him a curve ball today. The dread homed in and sunk its claws into his young self, waiting for the inevitable freak out. The leering presence of Jaeden yearned for the sort of any capacity, raring for more.

She extended her arm out with Marius still between her fingers, her dark smile burning imprints into his mind. He barely caught sight of her right foot stretching under, giving signs of seething pain in dozens of ways. It didn’t sit right for him, but whatever she had in mind would never go down as any blessing, but a curse.

He dared to not speak to her in case he would ignite something, but she responded back anyway.

“If there’s anything to force a scream out of my tiny toy, it’s aerial antics. Normally others send sports balls into the air with a few motions, but since I’m not like most people I’ll be sending something else airborne…in one swift smack!”

His heart sank to the netherworld. She couldn’t be serious for what she aimed to do…

“But…but I could die from that! You can’t go doing a sick game with me at the-”

“Shut up toy, you are mine for the rest of your tiny life.” Jaeden interrupted. “Maybe a fast spank across your behind will smash the message into your cranium!”

Without any moment to waste, Jaeden immediately released him, sending him tumbling through the air. While Marius freaked out already, it only stood out as the start as her looming show sat underneath his tumbling state. He never challenged himself to playing a certain sport before, but after the game the giant Marra planned he may never think of it the same way ever again. The wind rushed through his eyes as her huge brown shoe bucked back, rearing for a go. His heart raced, nothing would come out of that alive with their parts suffering obliteration to dust. His corneas vanished under the eyelid as the imminence approached quickly. What followed after could only be summarized as a giant freight train knocking a balloon past the ozone, and the shrieks proved it. Jaeden laughed as he sailed through the air, countless sores flaring up all over, while his worthless limbs flailed about through the air. The striking of nerve cells forced open his eyes, witnessing the distance he careened into the air. The strike drove his lightweight self high above the trees, a distance most players of the certain sport dream of, even giving him a clear view of Trolberg in the distance.

As quickly as he found himself in the air he suddenly went into a nosedive. He screamed again, his body crunched and folded, and Jaeden stood under him rearing up with a wicked grin.

“Heads up midget…”

When he came in range she beat him again, rocketing him upward with more pain. His body now covered in red marks and bruises, he had the appearance of a human punching bag. He sputtered through the gusting winds as one of his eyes only stayed half open, a slight black over the eyelid. No regard for his safety, the lack of human decency to anyone but herself, Jaeden lacked everything that gave a soul purpose. Standing out as nothing but an unruly dictator piling bodies for her amusement, with her shrunken kid being the main focal point. With all of the abuse she shoved down his throat, screaming almost fell to the wayside. The meaning showed no promise no matter how much he put forth, it only made Jaeden more entertained by his negativity. Nobody cared and nobody knew, it stood out as the true future of Marius being prisoner to Jaeden and the other Marras.

When he dove back to reality, Jaeden always stood ready for another kick. Like a makeshift football, he went airborne with every hit and the pain blared its sirens all over. Combined with an incredible dizziness from the movements upwards and downwards, it viewed to him as a pinnacle of pain. He lost track of how long the game lasted, as some of Jaeden’s kicks knocked straight into his head, but it felt like it would never stop. He couldn’t shriek out, fight back, nothing at all. His purpose hollowed, not even a parasite to take his place. It lacked everything but still walked among the living on demand from an evil entity.

His entire body became a rag doll as his limbs went limp after more kicks from Jaeden. His brain turned to mush with clangs ringing under his skull. Nothing but clear skies followed by patches of green and brown with each passing cycle, a routine with tortuous results. Matter spilled out of his nose when the black blotted his sight. Turbulence shifted as the green and brown ran off to give time for the palette behind them. His body stayed numb, a vortex tunneled his vision to the abstract painting, and the hurricane warped reality around him.

All he could hear was the angriest exclamation from Jaeden ringing through his eardrums.

“No...NOOOOOOOOO!

His mind fell into space of various colors with his limbs dangling downward in a weird acid trip. The pearly gates may have opened prematurely to let his sorry body squeak by, with his soul making the trip up. He envisioned the time traveling to the citadel in the sky to be much calmer, not like the tunnel of love if a roller coaster went through it. His eyes failed to catch anything beyond the void of palettes, streamlining through warm and cold, with his body losing all feeling. If the angel of death payed him a visit, at least he knew Jaeden wouldn’t be getting her hands on him anymore. In a somewhat better twist, his size would be restored to what it should be. No more bending back to look others in the eyes and bowing down to anyone bigger, he could finally have the chance to live as a kid again. He could do nothing now but embrace it and hope for the best, wherever he headed next.

The dangling met its end when his weight took over. He hit the ground hard before skidding forward and hitting some sort of wall. It hurt for sure, but it only performed as child’s play to anything Jaeden put him through. The blood in his head coursed back into his body as it slowly recovered from the trip, although he did hold his head for a moment for his senses to clear. Holding back his lunch as best as he could the landscape came into view. If he truly reached heaven he sure didn’t expect hard concrete flooring with gray concrete walls, including some sort of smokestack in one of the corners. The ceiling was nonexistent as the same peach skies with fluffy cumulus clouds marked its domain, which even to this day had a relaxing wave of calmness with each passing view. A pack of Woffs and their plushy faces happily zipped around their flossy white friends even if they couldn’t physically touch. The area stood as stiff and stern but had the visuals to make his eyes pop.

However, nothing could compare to the creature before him. It had the color of a crow but the height bigger than a griffin, making the beasts appear like mice compared to it. The beak shrouded among the black with two large eyes, something he never heard of with creatures of the sort, while the feathers displayed the sleek and dark of the underground and nightly worlds. The particular color intrigued the tiny boy, especially at certain angles when the sunlight shined off them just right. If the creature came out at night a well trained eye can easily skip over it and never notice, beneficial to most predators. He had his doubts though when he eyes set on the small twigs for legs, but if there was anything he learned since he arrived at Trolberg it was to expect the unexpected. It could make him into a splatter on the ground like everything else.

The massive black bird tilted its head down to Marius, forcing him to back up and hastily crawl backward until he hit a corner. His breathing erratically went everywhere as the bird got up closer until its eyes basically set in front of him. The smoothness of the feathers fell to the sidelines as fear spurred through his head, making him close and cover his eyes. Birds weren’t like people after all, and if instinct displayed the green light they go for it without hesitation.

“Wow, I haven’t seen something shiny like this before.”

The voice caught him by surprise. He stayed in the corner as he creaked open one of his eyes, but only the bird occupied his vision with no other being in sight.

He got the confirmation when the bird backed off and held its head in one of its wings.

“Ugh, I really have to control those stupid urges. I may still be a bird but I’m clearly better than this. Therapy maybe? Nah, that’s too much…”

While he still had fear plastered over him, of all things to come across a talking bird wouldn’t be on his to do list. Clearly Trolberg had more lying under the hood, almost seeming like an impossibility to witness all of it. He leaned on a sort of fifty fifty with the scenario, for while he now knew the bird could talk it could still strike back at him at any point, putting him more on edge than he would have liked. His legs trembled, but he wanted to get away for safety. Although it appeared that the bird was preoccupied with itself, once the boy took a few steps away from his spot a large wing suddenly stopped in front of him, worrying him even more.

“Hey, hey, hey, you’re not wandering off while I try to cope with what I just went through…wait, wandering off?”

The bird tilted its head back down to the shrunken boy before squinting to get a better look. Marius stayed silent, not wanting to upset it while fearing for his life, before the bird reeled back.

“Holy crap, I think I’m seeing tiny humans here! Elves I can understand, but humans at that size?! I’m really getting my dose of weirdness quickly that’s for sure!”

Marius backed up ever so slightly, but he didn’t get far until the bird got back to him.

“Say, you look pretty young for a…whatever you are. Can you speak?”

He trembled before the it. Not only did he not know where he was brought to, but he had his hands full with a giant talking bird curious to know who he was. If he taught himself anything from his tortures from Jaeden, he couldn’t trust anyone. She pulled the wool over his eyes just for an easy shot at getting to him on many occasions, leaving him to doubt everything he came across. No jumping to conclusions, anyone could call him a friend to back stab him later. He wanted to shut up and keep his feelings to himself, but another lesson rang through his head. Size meant everything, and in his current state he couldn’t retort or answer back without major risk. Compliance resulted in life with death only a few insults away. With the bird having the advantage, he had no choice but to answer through the clam holding him tight.

“…ummm…yeah…I can…”

“Ah, that’s good. As much as reading minds would be, I can’t do that.” the bird replied. “At least I’m glad I’m not hallucinating all of this.”

“Am…am I…dead?” Marius asked through more stuttering. The bird looked down and cocked an eyebrow.

“Uhhhh, if you’re walking around and talking like that I obviously don’t think so. Maybe you’re still a bit hazy after I accidentally took you out of the sky.”

The bird immediately shot down the theory of him being dead, but it brought up another question.

“A…accidentally?”

“Yeah, call it a bird’s habit.” the bird answered. “I saw a shine in the middle of the air and automatically went for it. Call it an Achilles’ Heel for birds like me, I may have knowledge over most birds but still can’t escape the odd instinct now and then.”

The statement perked up the kid in more ways than one. The instinct may have bothered the talking bird, but it actually got him away from Jaeden and her painful games. He wanted to smile, he never thought to hear the day that a stroke of luck would get him away from the ghastly Marra, but one major issue held him back. He needed his regular size, and since he stood in new territory it shackled his emotions. He also had no other deep knowledge of anyone else that could help, only the unsuccessful Hilda, and the new talking bird didn’t have the bullet points filled out to trust it yet.

His clothes had dirt and grime all over, but for some reason the sparkles around his shirt remained unscathed. He gazed down at it and inadvertently got the shines into his eyes in a flash, catching the bird’s attention. It set its eyes on the pattern when a realization hit.

“Wait a minute, I recognize that light. Weren’t you that…thing playing around with the girl?”

Marius’ head shot up.

“Errrrr, well…I guess you could…call it like that. How did you know?”

“Well, I sort of saw something off the corner of my eye.” the bird explained. “I just so happened to be flying around the city once and took a break on one of the rooftops. I relaxed for a bit when this small light got in my eyes, directing me to a pair of two girls on the street. As much as I didn’t want to snoop, I kind of still have a…knack for shiny stuff if you heard me earlier.”

The day the bird talked about stuck out to him like a bright red stop sign. He never forgot the moment when he overheard Jaeden talking to another Marra, the one named Kelly, and the different perspectives hiding in her pocket. A throwaway moment during that time actually caught the attention of someone else despite the fact that Jaeden forced him to stay unseen, with the brief look down at his Great Raven shirt and the sparkles around the decal. It basically had no more form left after all of the sick games of the Marra, but to think the sparkles did something other than dazzle sights seemed like a miracle.

“So after I saw the shine from one of the girls, once she separated I carefully kept my watch. That was when she went into an alleyway and pulled out…something shiny. I couldn’t make out what it was from the distance I set myself, but when she fished something out from the dumpster I saw the object move. I was already getting pretty weirded out, so shortly after I saved my sanity and flew off. To think I would end up crossing paths with that thing again…what a strange coincidence!”

“Wow, so you…were that black streak…I witnessed from the corner…of my eye.” Marius stuttered, not believing his ears.

“Yeah, I booked it. I’m not into barging through peoples’ privacy.” the bird answered. “Again, I’m truly sorry for swiping you out of the sky like that. I can take you back to your girl if you want-”

“NO, DON’T EVER BRING ME BACK TO THAT MONSTER!”

His outburst immediately followed by his mouth going shut while curling his body. His pupils opened wide as the bird continued eyeing him, startled somewhat by the sudden action. It stood out as yet another action he didn’t know why it happened, with the first one punishing him harshly. If Jaeden vengefully reduced him to a miniature size, the dread for what the bird could do filled his mind. It clearly had more brainpower than most of its species, and with everything that occurred in Trolberg anything was practically possible. Everything depended on the bird’s reaction and what it would go for.

The first signs came forth when the bird cocked an eyebrow before it got close and scanned his figure for a moment. After a couple of seconds it backed off with a visible frown.

“Gee, after what I just heard and all of the injuries I see over you something definitely went down between you and that girl. You almost look like someone who drove through a wood chipper on the edge of death!”

“Uhhhh…something like that…” Marius replied. He didn’t know if the bird truly cared for his being, but from its genuine concerns it got Marius to creak open his shell just a little bit.

Then the bird spoke up a compromise.

“Okay, I may not know the full story behind what happened between you and that girl, but if it’s that serious, especially since I’ve never seen a kid like you smaller than…nearly everything, I know someone that could possibly help you out. She’s always into the weird and strange happenings around the city after all, especially with other creatures. I can take you to her if you want, for you seem to really need the help you can get from the first impressions alone.”

The details sailed past his head a first, but after a few seconds he perked up higher than usual. If the bird wasn’t fibbing, it could possibly be talking about…

“Ummmm, is her name…Hilda by any chance?”

The bird cocked a hearty grin.

“Ah, so you do know her! That eliminates the need for introductions then.”

“No…well, it’s just…I tried to contact her at points…but got nothing…I really need her assistance…”

“Well you came across the right bird for the job. I know her personally, and I can take you to her in a jiffy. Just get on my back and I’ll do the rest!”

The light dawned on him as the bird set a wing down to let Marius come aboard. Of all things to come across he never thought of a talking bird who knew the one person that could possibly get him back to normal, almost making him cry at points. While he didn’t have full commitment, from the way the bird spoke with him it opened him up enough to let it take him for a spin in the air. If it truly knew Hilda, the possibilities sprouted back up. His first moments away from Jaeden suffered no punishments or pain of any sort, only a shine providing him what he really deserved.

He shook at first, since he didn’t have full relaxation from sailing through the air over a dozen times, but the bird’s helpful expression gifted him enough to trust it to a degree. With a few short steps and normal stride, he eventually made it up to the bird’s wing while keeping his sight on it’s friendly eyes. It slowly lifted him up before setting him on its back with a grin.

“Hold on tight, for while I may take things easy for you I don’t want you to get blown off.”

The boy silently nodded before the bird understood and nodded back. Gripping a couple of feathers around him, Marius sat down like his body filled with concrete as he watched the bird take a few steps back. Before he knew it, the bird went for a mad dash as it spread its wings and let the wind take it. It instantaneously surged into the air with a gust of wind, which blew all around Marius like a typhoon. He dared himself to keep his eyes shut at first so he could take the situation easily, but even then the winds gave him signals of the bird’s ascent. He never considered having a pilot’s license, and after something akin to riding in a jet plane he probably would pass on obtaining one in a heartbeat.

The gusts winded their pressure at a slow pace until they eventually settled into a light breeze. He almost wanted to keep his eyes shut until after the flight, with the duration of the winds detailing the height among the clouds in his mind. With the dire activities the Marras forced him through he had experience with climbing into the air in some of the worst ways possible. A trip up high set out to be a spelunking trip through a chasm of blades from his experiences, nothing to complement about. Images of horrid recollections wafted around him with no drops of hope sprinkled about, chaining him to the grass and dirt. If the choice brought its glittering visions to him, land and sea smiled to the sky’s stubborn pout.

That is, if a light breeze didn’t push him in the other direction.

It started off as an inconspicuous matter, but picked up in force after some time. It missed the power of burly blusters, but it had enough to direct his body to the side. He held on to the bird’s feathers for safety, but then he opened his eyes in case he got blown off course or some other trouble.

He never completely understood the phrase “birds eye view” until that fateful moment.

Everything displayed under the bird’s wings fed Marius sweet honey. From buildings, people, and vehicles of all kinds, he could never get enough. Trolberg always had the atmosphere to stun and amaze any onlookers willing to dig deep into the details, but new angles and perspectives told different tales. People bustled about around the streets while taking an occasional pit stop in a building, wheels rotating the automobiles over the pavement, and the energetic kids rolling around and playing nice at the park; all details that brought the city to life. From the tall height the bird flew at, everything almost cast a fish eye lens over his eyes. Nothing but mere specks hiding their true details under their mysterious guise. He wondered if anyone saw him that way from his reduced size, missing out some critical details to his abuse from Jaeden. Anyone listening would have to take his word for it, crafting a balance between truth and lies, and leaving the listener to determine for themselves. When he got to Hilda everything would come out for he needed to tell her everything. While a beautiful landscape sat under him, he couldn’t enjoy it fully unless he was regular size again.

“So, I noticed a familiar pattern on that shirt of yours. You’re a fan of the Great Raven, huh?”

The bird’s speaking jogged him back to reality. With the ubiquity of free time until they reached Hilda the bird probably wanted to pass the time with a friendly conversation, drawing attention to his shirt. With the nice complement, the young boy took a gander down while still holding tight to the feathers. As he sadly expected, the few days with the Marras took its toll on the once dazzling shirt, appearing nothing more but a messy blob in the center of glittery streaks. Even he couldn’t make out what each part stood for anymore, but with the bird determining what it stood for it must have had better eyesight or something else he couldn’t determine.

He didn’t want to leave the bird with no answer, even if his mood situated itself to be less than manageable.

“Well, uhhhhh…yeah, it’s been…a nice inspiration since I moved here. Something big and strong…zipping around with large wings…it really makes me envious for someone like that. It must be such a great achievement to be one of the most powerful creatures in existence…and every kids’ dream is to grow up and become the best they can be. Ever since I learned of the Great Raven...I’ve dedicated myself to bring out my full potential when the time comes. It hadn’t shown up yet…but I’ll know when it’s time, and maybe one day I can see the Great Raven with my own eyes. It really means a lot to me.”

The boy weirdly witnessed the bird snicker for a moment before getting back to him.

“Heheheh, that’s a pretty deep connection kid. If he really means a lot to you I’m sure you’ll come across that big deity at some point. I heard he’s a nice fellow!”

“Ummm, thanks for the support…Mr. Bird, I think?” Marius wondered out loud. “Sorry, I don’t know if you have a name or not.”

“I do, and it’s a bit ironic considering your interests.” the bird answered. “You can call me Raven if I meet up with you again. What’s yours?”

“Marius.” the boy replied.

“Ooh, that’s a name I don’t hear often.” Raven answered. “Has a nice punch to it, I may need to stick it in my noggin for later.”

“Umm…thanks.” Marius muttered. Raven chuckled at the friendly response before it went back to flying. Considering its voice had a certain pitch, Marius concluded that the bird had to be male before pounding himself in his mind for not determining it sooner. Such a simple detail whizzed over his head until that moment, yet another sense of certain immaturity he lacked in comparison to other kids.

After that certain incident, he thought back to Raven and the sense of heartiness that almost creaked open more of his shell. The sliver of spunk mixed with care brought a unique personality to the creature, something Marius didn’t see that often. In some ways he appreciated it, reminding him of some of his friends back at his village and how they loved to boast over everyone. Perhaps that’s why he creaked his shell a bit open, and the bird showed its appreciation in return. To think that it also looked up to the Great Raven had a nice charm to it, even sharing a similar name to it. In some ways he reminded him of how everyone looked up to the giant bird while it always watched over them in return, a face of a true protector. A small grin formed in the very corner of his mind for how similar Raven appeared compared to the deity on fliers and merchandise, and even though it was easily nothing more than a huge coincidence the reminders brought a kindle to his heart. The abuse from the few days with Jaeden restricted his emotions into shackles, but from the few creaks that Raven put him through there stood a chance for them to break out and he could tell Raven knew it too.

The winds pushed against them for a few more minutes until Raven quickly spoke up.

“Hey Marius, I think I see them down below!”

The kid shivered for a moment from the winds around him before carefully shifting to the side. With his hands still clasping a few of Raven’s feathers, Marius gazed down at the new visuals along the ground. He smiled for a second once his eyes took everything in. Raven wasn’t fibbing in the slightest, he truly saw three kids occupying a space near the outskirts of the city, with more details showing up the closer they got. He first noticed the long orange canvas stretched into a triangular structure held up by something underneath, a typical shape of a standard camping tent, with one of the three kids, initially determining it to be David, making sure it stood to be sturdy enough for the environmental effects. Tales of ill conceived tents spread around the village where he originally came from, scaring him enough to never consider camping without supervision beyond the normal standard. At most he required a sturdy motor home with an inflexible covering to withstand conditions of any kind, almost akin to a military tank. The sort of reality riddled the impossibility and he knew it clearly, but positives existed despite the repercussions. It wasn’t for him, but to others the luxury spread its arms.

Near the tent stood another kid, possibly Frida, as its head dipped into the contents of a few bags filled with various supplies. Only a small glimpse could be viewed from his angle, everything else in the bags had the off limits stamp plastered in his mind. Another staple of an organized camping trip, never forget the essentials and accidentally leave them behind…at least that’s what he heard on certain occasions. Acting out as scatterbrained or absentminded always hung over his head in a makeshift pendulum, it’s why his parents sent him to Trolberg temporarily in the first place, getting him to understand the need to go one hundred ten percent. If what he heard about Hilda stood out as true, then Frida acting out as the smart and organized of the group had some truth behind it as well. He still had the same thoughts about her during his one day at the school and first impressions from the campsite down below exemplified the facts deep. He wouldn’t mind meeting her as long as she didn’t constantly scold him for imperfection, almost like his mother, while acting egotistical.

The last landmark set near the front of the tent as a pile of small twigs and branches. It couldn’t truly be a camping spot without a place for a cozy campfire warming up others when the environment switched its temperatures, but it was the person around the area that caught the boy’s eye. The hair color, the red boots, the happy expression; all of the traits described factors of the young girl named Hilda. With Jaeden out of the picture, he could now safely get her attention without risking possible beatings. He never felt great joy since the Marra shrunk him, but it lit up deep in his heart. His only shot of getting his normal size back all relied on the one girl, nobody else had the qualities and perseverance to form the possibility in his state of mind.

Raven descended closer while Marius held tight. While he sat safe and sound up to that moment, something slowly came to light through the passing winds. It started inconspicuous, with his grip holding the feathers tightly, but when the bottoms slipped up over time a little red flag popped in. Whatever Raven was going through with some of his feathers he failed to inform Marius about, and it crunched back hard.. The spurring winds eventually took its toll, and the feathers instantly popped out. The force pushed against his whole body and sent him tumbling freely through the air off Raven’s back. He yelled for Raven to catch him, but by then it was too late. As soon as the fall started his body smacked right into a cushy surface, front side first.

He coughed for a second as he tried to get to his feet while the ground shook, but it only made him sink into it until he hit another surface. Large clumps of something light filled his mouth in the process, forcing him to spit it out.

“Blech! As if I needed more troubles to run into…” Marius thought to himself. “I need to get through to Hilda and…oh my…”

Only then did he see the surrounding area where he landed. Dirt usually didn’t have a certain sturdiness to it, but the ground sure had the same color. It only stood out as window dressing though, for the main points were placed all around him, obscuring his vision from all angles. Long black streaks shot from the ground to the heavens, filling nearly all available walking spaces with their presence. He never recalled seeing any sort of hazardous grass from anywhere, and from what his eyes brought to the table it almost made them appear to be leering down and insulting him for how short he appeared to them. Poisonous plant life did exist, and if an assumption in the back proved true he could succumb to infectious rashes and get itchy skin from all over. He really hoped that wasn’t the case, although the possibilities were almost endless in Trolberg.

Voices erupted from overhead, and from his size the decibels equaled common car horns.

“Hilda, you’ve been fiddling with that wood pile longer than expected. It usually only takes a few seconds and time is of the essence.”

“I know about that…I just have a lot on my mind is all.”

“Still thinking about that nightmare, huh? I know you love to set your mind to one particular subject, but can you please focus on the task for now? I can’t possibly fathom losing this particular badge. Please Hilda?”

A loud set of bangs and clashes erupted next, which didn’t take long until another voice came up, and from the tone it sounded like a young boy. It was more than likely David.

“Oops, sorry. It slipped through my fingers.”

“It’s just a minor mess up, easily fixable.”

The ground under him shook as booms echoed everywhere, making him almost lose his footing, which forced him to hold one of the strands for dear life. A miniature earthquake sounded like the most plausible solution if he stood at normal size, with news stations reporting and detailing the situation. Too bad normality didn’t have a care for Marius at the moment, nearly anything could pose at a threat when he only stood at a fraction of everyone else. He had no idea what was going on, but he didn’t like it at all.

The quakes only lasted for a second or so before some other unknown noises rang through.

“Heheheh, I guess I still need some practice.”

“Tents can get a bit finicky David. I almost got my leg tangled once, but thankfully I knew some other Sparrow Scout techniques to catch it before it happened.”

“I…I guess I may need to read up on that later.”

“We don’t have enough time when there’s a badge to earn! I really need to get this one!”

A low audible groan emitted over his head before more quakes erupted under him. One of the three really cared for badges in the Sparrow Scout program, and he already had his assumptions. It didn’t interest him too much, but he understood why some would enjoy handling wildlife and hanging outdoors in the fresh air. From the words he heard above him, one in particular took Sparrow Scouts very seriously, almost having vague vibes of a military general in certain cases. For once he felt glad to stay away from a program if that sort of strict nature wafted through everyone that attended, although he knew not everyone acted the same. Either way, everyone had their preferences when it came to subjects and Marius was no different.

Too bad he didn’t have a clue where he landed, including all forms of sight being blocked in the form of long black strands. He only had his ears for any sort of recompense, but it didn’t provide anything useful other than Hilda talking about a nightmare.

His entire figure paused when the thought about the nightmare rang for attention.

“Ergh, why am I so itchy?”

The voiced pierced him through the head, but it covered in doses of painkillers. For some reason Marius didn’t like that sentence, but when a shadow shed its darkness over his body the signs popped in. The apocalypse took form in many minds, and when the boy turned around and gazed through the many strands upward it came forth to him. It took one glance at it to finally determine where his skydive planted him, and it appeared innocent but deadly under a magnifying glass.

Frida’s titanic fingers were about to dig into the living itch on her scalp.

The rapid pace of Marius’ heartbeat pumped through and spelled out the solution like lightning. His tiny legs ran like in a marathon when the digits plowed into the spot right where he once stood, fingernails digging into the skin for good measure. His entire self cranked up in panic as he backed up into a long strand, now knowing it to be a hair, eyes stuck straight at the fingers scratching the spot with his eyelids fully opening and lungs inhaling mountains of air. It could have been the end, his life gone in the blink of an eye, and Frida would have no idea what she did. So innocent, yet deadly for someone shrunken like him.

His back against the hair drew unwanted attention. He tried to catch his breath and calm down when Frida lifted her fingers off the one spot and hovered them over the tiny kid for a second. He held back shrieking as much as possible before he made a break for it, missing the fingers again while bushwhacking more hairs out of his way. They dug into the skin for a second time before they seemed to trail his every movement, Frida wasting no time wanting to get the itch out of her hair. It quickly turned into a mad dash for Marius to get out as soon as possible, human versus steamroller, with him having the short end of the stick. One slip up would be the end of him, and with all of the hairs obstructing his path everywhere it only made things harder. No time to dawdle, just run, with the end only a few steps behind him.

A few hairs appeared out of nowhere a couple of times, but his body was overloaded with surges that pressed him forward. Frida’s fingers scratched the path after him while Marius ran blindly in one direction, out of his mind in panic and fear. As he kept going the ground under him slowly curved down that he failed to notice. It didn’t matter at first, but after plowing through dozens of hairs it became more apparent. He wouldn’t take too much of a notice until the hairs started to peter out, but with Frida’s fingers digging after him he couldn’t stop to focus. It came as a massive consequence when the light suddenly shined on him and the obstructions vanished…

…which included the ground.

His limbs flailed about as his body caught air immediately for a second time. Thankfully it didn’t last long and he landed pretty quickly, but it didn’t make it less painful. He would have red marks all over his body for weeks at the rate he kept getting injured, although he wasn’t thinking about it at the time. His priorities coursed through his brain from the massive panic attack, spiraling into corners like a sugar rush and giving a big headache while he looked around to see where he landed this time. A small twitch of relief fell over him upon seeing the camp area, but then he glanced up for more confirmations and the feeling immediately shot down.

He fell right onto Frida’s right shoulder.

“Okay, everything looks good! Not a single push further, please!” Frida said to Hilda and David. The other two heard and seemingly knew what to do next as they walked up to their friend while David reached into the bag and pulled out a camera.

“The camera’s all set!” David said.

“I knew that ahead of time, but thanks for the reminder.” Frida replied as David handed her the device.

Marius stayed quiet while Frida prepped the camera, hoping to stay out of sight for now until he got to better ground while he tried to calm himself down. Too bad he heard a giggle next to him that caught Frida’s attention, which turned out to be David…and he was staring right at him.

“And what’s happening with you?” Frida asked with a pinch of intolerance. David held himself back by a little, but he couldn’t stop with the small smile.

“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s just…nice to see that I’m not the only one always having bugs on me, heheheh…”

Frida cocked an eyebrow before she gazed down to where David’s eyes set themselves. The planets for eyes stared right at the helpless boy nearly a fraction of her size, and they reflected the depths of the underworld back at him. He couldn’t calm down, not as the reaper’s cold breath circled around him. Everything through his body went clammy, sweat poured from all of his pores, while his face petrified like a stone troll at daytime. No greater intimidation surged through Marius than that moment, which paralyzed the will to shriek. Even the dark glares from Jaeden didn’t drench him in toxicity like Frida. At least with the Marra her intentions painted before him, but Frida was completely unaware to who he really was and the possible outcomes. She could turn serial killer and she would never know it, making him nothing but illegible history.

“Ugh, I am not going to let an incessant bug ruin my image.”

Marius could only watch in horror as Frida moved her other hand right over to him, just as gigantic as everything around him. Even if she aimed to only brush him off the other grim possibilities overtook his thoughts, breaking the mold over his body. Her fingers were right about to push him off when he couldn’t hold it in any longer, unleashing his bottled fear through a scream. He stuck his head flat face down while putting his hands over his scalp, terrified out of his mind as he awaited his demise. The end placed the door in front of him as he cried his eyes out.

But then he heard Hilda’s booming voice.

“What the…did anyone hear that?”

The sudden words alerted the boy and made him take a peek upward from his panic. In a turn of amazement, Frida’s hand stopped mere hairs away from flicking him off, sparing him from another tumble to the ground. Hilda stood in front of Frida while David watched from the side.

Frida looked at Hilda slightly confused.

“What are you talking about Hilda?”

“Didn’t you just hear a low screaming noise from somewhere?”

“Maybe that nightmare you keep talking about is getting to you in more ways than one. I mean, you did go through that one nightmare with-”

“No, I know it’s not that. I swear I heard someone screaming.” Hilda interjected. “You heard something like that, right?”

“Well, Frida was about to brush that bug off of her shoulder.” David chimed in before some sort of realization. “Wow…I never thought those words would escape my mouth. It sounds a bit off…is this how you feel when addressing me?”

“Wait…the bug?” Hilda wondered. She walked up close to Frida’s shoulder leaned in for a closer look. He still got the scare of his life, but something about Hilda drifted through in an attempt to calm him down. Her innocent appearing planets for eyes, her tone of voice; whatever it was it prodded at him. She didn’t appear to want any harm, only curiosity driving her forward.

Marius shivered and cringed as her huge gaze scanned him only for her to slightly reel back.

“Guys, it’s not a bug…it’s a boy!”

“What?!” Frida and David exclaimed in surprise. Marius still stayed petrified to Frida’s shoulder, too worried for his life even after Hilda revealed the true picture. His size made his body frail and practically made of glass, even a simple touch would shatter him in an instant. Even then, all of the incidents from the last couple of days piled on him and weighed down his emotions, making happiness seem like a fever dream.

He stayed worried out of his mind, not knowing what would happen next, when the young giant wilderness girl held out one of her massive hands and set it flat before him.

“It’s okay little guy, we won’t hurt you. We’re all friends here.”

His muscles struck stiff as his emotions cuffed him to the wall. His will to stay alive screamed at him to stay put, but the friendly gestures from Hilda implied him to go forth. The goal stood right there, his mission would complete if he walked over, but the other side weighed him down. His mind sat in a stalemate, instinct against risk, both side loaded and ready. When the horns blew, one side tipped the balance in their favor, winning in one fell swoop.

He made his decision.

He took one small step forward before shuddering immensely, then he slowly went for another. The safety precautions continued shouting to move back, but it only made them sore losers as Marius trudged forward. Hilda’s fingers dipped down a little bit so he wouldn’t need to climb them right as the boy reached the tips. One more step and his decision would be final. He shook more than ever, eyes squinting while his muscles tensed, he had to cut the ribbon and seal the deal. Nothing so mundane couldn’t have given the boy any more tension than accepting someone a million times bigger to lend his trust.

His next journey of a thousand miles started with the next step.

He set both of his feet at the edge of Hilda’s fingertips, barely creaking his emotions out to muster up the will to do so. He soon settled, after forcing himself out more and more, in the center of Hilda’s palm before the gravity shifted, quickly finding himself near Hilda’s huge face. Her smile and expression had as much friendliness and compassion he never knew existed, making his feelings in the deep depths cheer in support. As worrisome as the situation rumbled through his head, the weird traits the blue haired girl showed kept him from breaking down completely.

He slowly sat down to relieve his stuttered and shivering legs, the negatives taking hold of everything in him, as Hilda looked down at him with a light smile.

“See? You have nothing to worry about. No matter the size, I would never harm anyone. How about you introduce yourself?”

Marius didn’t budge. Everything that lead up to this point kept his mouth shut and emotions imprisoned. He did make Frida and David curious, so the two came in for a closer look.

“No way…I can’t believe it. That really is a tiny kid…literally so!” Frida said. “I haven’t seen anything else reach that form of miniaturization!”

“I’m…getting a bit worried just looking at him.” David said. “I don’t think I could ever survive at a size like that. It’s very chilling to think about…”

“I’m curious as to why he’s so small in the first place. If anything it could not be natural and bring out some crazy conspiracies to look forward to!” Hilda said, with Frida chuckling under her breath from the statement. “Come on little guy, you’re among friends. You can tell us what’s going on.”

Even with her kind words, Marius didn’t budge. David looked closer at him and frowned.

“Oh no, it’s worse…MUCH worse. Whatever happened to him, his emotions are long gone.”

“How exactly do you know that?” Frida asked. David averted his gaze to her, but it didn’t change his expression as he explained.

“I’ve went through something much similar. You know I’m not exactly the…brave type, and in those times I’ve seen and experienced some very horrible images and activities. Getting a one time fright is one thing, but to get them consecutively over a certain period…utterly saps everything. Remember the nightmare situation I said that occurred for a full week? I may have been normal at during daylight, but that was only because I got some breathing room from the scares in that time. If I kept getting nightmares at all times I probably wouldn’t be feeling anything other than immense fear for the rest of my life. There were moments privately where I kept getting horrible images in my head constantly for days and even then I almost felt drained of everything, but for that tiny kid…he looks a thousand times worse.”

His expression soon reflected to both Hilda and Frida before the two loomed over Marius for more confirmation. They sadly concluded with the same idea while the shrunken boy found himself on his side in a fetal position. He lost control of his body from the surge of black coursing through him, keeping him bound to one emotion with no chance of the others showing up.

It didn’t go unnoticed by the three giant kids.

“Something definitely happened to make him like this, devastating even.” Hilda said. “Let’s take him back to my house and maybe we can convince him to tell us everything. He doesn’t look so good.”

“Let me take the photo of our campsite first. We can’t ignore the potential badges after all.” Frida said. With Hilda still having Marius in the palm of her hand, Frida quickly got out the camera and aimed for a good shot. Her finger almost pressed the trigger when a black blur zipped around the three kids. It didn’t take long for it to slow down though, forming a familiar sight of a certain bird variety.

“Where is he?! Where’s that kid?!” Raven panicked with some flustered attitude. He flew around all three of them and peeked in every corner for any ounce of his accidental drop.

“Hey, watch the hair!” Frida exclaimed. “What are you looking for exactly?”

“A kid, but not just any kid, a REALLY tiny kid.” Raven answered. “His name is Marius and he wanted to see Hilda to get some help or-”

“Oh, you mean this kid?” Hilda asked. The bird diverted his attention over to her as she held out her hand with the husk of a kid in the center. Immediately upon seeing him, Raven smiled.

“Phew, that’s him. Glad I didn’t lose track. I found him by accident when he-”

“Wait, did you say his name was Marius?” Hilda asked. He clearly stood irritated by the constant interruptions, but since it was Hilda he let it slide.

“Uhhhh, yeah I did. Seemed pretty innocent to me. What about it?”

“That’s the same name I heard in my nightmare!” Hilda stated. “I knew it couldn’t have been a coincidence! Now I really need to know what happened with him!”

The name also struck someone else quite harshly.

“I think it may be more dire than you think.”

Everyone, except the out of it Marius, turned toward the source only to see David appearing very grave. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wrinkled up clump of paper before stretching it out. It still had wrinkles, but at least the others could read it.

“These fliers were placed all over town along with some broadcasts over the news. I’ve heard it from all over since then, because that Marius kid…went missing a few days ago.”

Frida’s and Hilda’s eyes went wide before David handed Hilda the piece of paper. To their slight horror, from what David explained it spelled out to them completely. He gave nothing more but a missing person poster with the dreaded seven letter word written in large bold letters near the top and a picture of his smiling personal under it. The details set near the bottom of the flier with the common phone numbers and addresses of the ones to contact along with the possible rewards, something most adults could get in to. The picture alone told how much changed, even making Hilda switch between it and the tiny kid multiple times to comprehend things. The kid had more importance than they thought and needed immediate attention.

“…something isn’t right.” Hilda said.

The trio made a beeline to Hilda’s house with Marius in tow. He still sat in Hilda’s grasp completely unresponsive from the full house of emotions in his head, but it didn’t make the situation any better. Raven tagged along behind them out of worry for the kid while explaining what occurred since he found him. He didn’t provide much, but it opened a glimpse into the horrid activities the ghosts put him through. They always kept their eyes on his tiny body in case he suddenly stirred back up, but he never budged in his mortified position. The answers needed to come out, but it would require the cooperation from Marius.

With a few flights of stairs under their belts, they reached Hilda’s apartment. He only saw a small glimpse from the nightmare session with Jaeden, but now he could see everything in full. His body bound to the throttlehold of his intense panic and fear even if his eyes functioned fully. Even from his angle, the immediate sights were the fact that the main room had more width than he ever seen, easily equal to two room combined. In fact, that was the second fact he had to take in for it actually set itself as two rooms in one. The right had the appearance of a typical kitchen with a table near the side’s center surrounded by chairs, followed by the walls covered in a long counter supporting dozens of cupboards over it. A fridge and window set their stances in the back, but the latter displayed pretty tall for a lonesome slate of glass. The usual kitchen tile set as the flooring, all white with plated squares, and not a single ounce of the invasive dust bunnies stained the marvelous reflections. It only covered its side of the huge room though, as it split right in the middle from its clash with the beige rug on the other side. The opposition had its own style of showing off, as it sported a living room outlook in contrast to the other side. Upon the nicely grounded carpeting stood a long family couch with cushions comfy to sit on, but it also overlooked a customary television plastered near the back wall. That would normally be the end of that side if some sort of desk didn’t cover the left wall next to the TV. It even had a little lamp near its top, which gave the impression that it was used quite often and had a job he didn’t know about. Whatever the desk was meant for, he wouldn’t know unless he asked. The last detail showed as a small corridor in the huge room’s lower left corner which sported a few doors, which from his previous visit to Hilda’s house had to contain at least the young girl’s room. Other than that the room mixed pretty uniquely between the two styles, something many wouldn’t expect from someone like Hilda.

Right near the table next to one of the chairs lay the particular white dog thing he saw in Hilda’s room the one night. It sat curled up with its eyes closed until the others walked through the door, which perked its ears up and drew its attention. It couldn’t react fully at first as the others had their attention on the tiny kid, with Hilda swiftly going to the table and setting him carefully on top. With his safety secured, Hilda finally addressed the creature as Frida and David took a seat.

“Sorry Twig, it’s a bit of an emergency at the moment.”

The creature, which Hilda called Twig, tilted its head as Hilda took a seat near Marius. It slowly jumped up on an extra seat before it got on the table itself, immediately taking notice of the downed miniature kid. It silently grumbled innocently to itself with its eyes locked to Marius curiously.

“Easy Twig, he’s injured pretty badly.” Hilda said to the creature. Twig gazed at him for another moment before it started whining with a sympathetic expression, eventually lying down with its long tail under its head.

“I’m sure Twig understands just from the visuals alone.” Frida said. “He can be pretty smart at times.”

“That’s very true.” Hilda replied. “Even so, we need to know what happened to Marius before we can truly help him out. However, whatever he went through did a number on him…and he doesn’t seem to be in the mood to talk.”

“I didn’t think he would appear so tiny though.” David said. “Maybe he’s just one of many at that size?”

“I had the same train of thought.” Raven added. “Of course his choice of clothing threw me off a bit.”

“That’s what’s got me stumped a little.” Frida said. “I remember seeing those same types of clothes with the identical Great Raven decal at Trolberg’s supermarket, but I never thought they made those at his size. It seems odd…”

“They don’t.”

The source of the voice came from off of the table down by the floor, which Marius couldn’t see from his angle. The others turned toward there feet before they realized who it was.

“Oh, Alfur! How long have you been there?” Hilda asked.

“Not so long ago actually.” the voice replied. “I was just writing a usual report as always. From the look of your face I can already determine that something strange happened. Can’t let a single occurrence pass by without your consent, a common attribute for someone like you.”

“Yeah, we encountered something all right.” Hilda replied. “And, well…I think you should see for yourself.”

She bent over to pick up the respective Alfur, causing her to disappear a little off of Marius’ sight, but when she popped back in he didn’t fully understand. Her hand set like she had something in it, but yet she acted like she practiced pantomiming behind his back. He heard Hilda as a bit wonky, but not like street performers and their tricks. She could have a twisted way of messing with him even if she showed sympathy earlier, although a certain part of his mind told him otherwise. Imaginary friend? Possibly. He didn’t know the true nature of girls at that age, so her trains of thought possibly wandering in sections he never fathomed before. Ghosts brought up as the secondary answer and especially since Hilda had the smarts with the strange and weird the numbers potentially added up. He dismissed it immediately and hoped that wasn’t the case, as it only reminded him of Jaeden and her Marra friends. His constant barrage of petrified fear locked most of his thoughts behind solid concrete, which prevented any further expectations. Whatever she brought up, the lack of visibility entertained the harassment in his head.

His eardrums picked up some impacts against the table, which were not as harsh as the booms from a majority of beings bigger than him, before the sounds went dormant before him. It only added fuel to his frights as his eyes played tricks on him which tormented him to their liking.

He grew increasingly startled when the same voice came up closer than last time.

“Oh dear…is that a kid?! He’s smaller than nearly everything!”

Marius curled up tighter and hid his face, everything overwhelming his body with dark patches.

“Easy now, you’re scaring him.” Hilda said. “From what Raven explained he went through a lot before meeting us.”

“Well I can determine that quite nicely.” the voice answered. “Combined with his inability to see me…oh right…”

“Yeah, you should probably get those forms out.” Frida said. Marius’ heart raced as he sat unaware of what was truly happening but before he could get back to diving into the corners of his mind a few large sheets of paper fell down in front of him. The fact they immediately appeared stuck the caution signs all around him, like the dread leading up to a big scare, giving him doubts that Hilda really wanted to help him out and wanted a tiny toy for herself like Jaeden. Ghosts now seemed more possible than the other outcomes.

“Okay, ummmm, little kid, just fill out these forms so our procedures can continue. It’s not too much really.”

A pen much larger than him popped out of nowhere next to the papers after the voice concluded. From the sudden appearing visuals like nasty apparitions, his will stayed stagnant to the wallowing confines. To the gazes of all the younger kids a million times larger than him, it turned him to stone with next to no chance of compliance.

“Please Marius, we need your cooperation.” Hilda said. “We can’t help you if we don’t know what we’re dealing with. Whatever tribulations you went through before meeting us, you’re now safe.”

Her choice of words got Marius to turn his head up from his chest. It shivered and shook as it slowly creaked to the friendly looking Hilda gazing overhead, her eyes gazing at him while also having a happy smile. The sincerity almost hurt him in a way, his body so used to the beatings from the Marras the reactions almost went silent but deadly. He never experienced any sort of kindness since the moment he shrunk, like an alien feeling, and yet Hilda and her friends willingly accepted him without any sort of pummeling. In some ways, it reminded him of the one time back at home…

The rapid images played out in his cerebral theater.

The mildness in the air spread through the village under the blanket of stars. The few cars in the streets lay their tires on the pavement until they drove to their respective garages, not a single one out of place. The lamps illuminated the calm light as the people made their way home to their loved ones, many with families. The police always stood their ground in case any stray trolls wandered about, for the last thing they needed were casualties, but even they were under observation of the white disc in the sky. The neighborhoods took their evening sleep as everyone counted their forty winks, all to the sounds of light chirping crickets. The calmness of life set its home to the small community and offered itself in return.

One such house had a different agenda however. Up the stairs to the second floor held a room that many would consider to stand out as every kid’s dream. The colorful letters on the front of the door that spelled out the young kid’s name only provided a taste of what set inside. The room wasn’t too big, around fifteen feet or so, with only a single window in the back to, but it never brought down the kid in the slightest. His bed stood in the left corner and extended a bit longer than his usual height, the white legs supporting the lumpy mattress when he slept under the covers, with his special fluffy pillow shaped like a snugly Woff counting the sheep. His best cuddly companion, a large plush in the shape of a gray blob like creature with angry eyes straight out a cartoon and two flaps for a mouth named “Moti-chan”, sat near the wall to make sure his pillow stayed fluffy when he arrived, something the kid really appreciated. A wooden rack for books lay on the opposite side of the bed which also contained binders full of various trading cards of certain anomalies. He really treasured the one displaying a group of radish appearing Vittra cradling underground, which he thought was very cute so he kept it near the back of the particular binder. Below the rack next to the door contained his closet of clothes covered by blue transparent curtain while a large cabinet stood on the opposite side, which held many special books he thought didn’t deserve to be put of the rack. Some other objects stockpiled inside were multiple plush animals and some building blocks, some of which even had markers plastered over them from his play sessions. The only other living creature he kept in his room was a small goldfish named Lolly, who swam in a fishbowl in the top right corner on a shelf. He required assistance from his parents every time he fed her so he didn’t give too much food, but other than that he couldn’t take his eyes off her at times as she made her way in every space of the bowl. Nothing but a room fit for a kid, which he took very nicely.

As for the kid who owned the room, he wasn’t exactly in the greatest of moods. In fact, he was yelling from the huge pains in his abdomen and shattered leg, which caught the attention of his mother as she bolted the door open.

“What’s happening Marius?! Is it your leg again?!”

“It hurts, IT HURTS SO MUCH!”

She raced over to him in his bed and pulled the covers off in case anything happened. Thankfully everything stayed intact, but it didn’t mean the pain lessened in the slightest.

“I know it hurts sweetie, but that’s just what happens after an operation like that. You’re going to be okay, I’m right here.”

“But it hurts BAAAAAAD! MAKE IT STOP!” Marius exclaimed. Tears poured down his face before soaking into the mattress, for he felt like his whole body gave in to an iron maiden. It wasn’t even his fault, it resulted from nothing but a freak accident under the veil of darkness. A game of “flashlight tag” during the night always was a favorite pastime for him and his friends and never resulted in anything so grave until one specific time. His friends tagged him with a flashlight so he went off to go for someone else, but he never knew a certain monstrosity wandered close to the village until he stared in horror at the two furious beads with thick stone skin to boot. His entire body stiffened to a crawl before he fell to his back and the beast uttered a roar so powerful that it still resonated through his head.

After that everything fell to a blank as only the sounds of sirens and flashing lights remained of that incident. It became the harshest attack upon a minor in village history and many residents to that day still refrain from speaking about it. It left Marius with an almost shattered right side of his body, including his leg, and badly damaged a kidney. The organ unfortunately required removal before his entire leg side shrouded itself in casts. It stood out as a very traumatic experience especially to a young kid like Marius, and even after it still spiked in pain.

His mother stayed firm though. She set a hand on his left shoulder and directed his sight toward her face. While concealed through his tears at first, once it cleared a little the noise faltered down. The positives in life and love united into a concoction of display to soothe the nerves of the wailing child. Care ignited with burning results, but slowed progression so he wouldn’t require indulging in one sitting. It almost felt like instinct, the natural urge to help ones in need, with emotions lending a hand for comfort. The conscience of the two cooperated to always keep each other in check.

“Shh, shhhh, it’s going to be okay. You went through a lot, but the worst is over now.” his mother cooed. Marius sniffed with his nosed stuffed while red marks dotted around his face from the crying.

“But…but…if I saw the baby off to the side…this would have never happened…now look at me…and it still hurts!”

“No, no, sweetie, it was never your fault.” his mother replied. “You played around that spot countless times with no problems, so if anything the law enforcement should have been more attentive to know that two trolls wandered into town. At least you’re still with us, that’s always a blessing.”

“But I was nowhere…near that baby troll…”

“The big one just overreacted seeing you in the vicinity of its child, even if you didn’t see or hear it. Nothing was your fault sweetie, but sometimes we go through situations like this. I had to go in to bring you into this world, remember?”

Marius sniffed again as he kept his eyes locked with his mother’s. Through all of the tribulations she went through with him as her child and yet she had her positive attitude. Could he also be someone strong willed as his mother? So much haze filled his head and he couldn’t find out what sat behind it.

His mother whispered one final saying before he fell asleep.

“I’ll always be with you son, even when I’m far away. I do everything for you out of love, never for gain.”

The memory stuck into his head for ages, even if it didn’t show major significance. While it didn’t last long, the moment proved that life wasn’t all sunshine and lollipops. Stuff always happened that everyone had to deal with, whether positive or negative, and how they reacted depended on the affected one’s character. The moment Jaeden shrunk him he went through fiery incident after incident, but his mother’s words brought up another point. Not everything set out to kill him at his size despite what the Marras fed him, some willing to even help out. Hilda and her friends showed no ounce of anger and malice the moment they were filled in on his existence, with Hilda herself acting more dedicated than the others, and even with the strange occurrences surrounding them they never seemed to bother them. It almost acted like a routine for them they acted so calm, his predicament was nothing different, but it didn’t mean they should slack off. His situation was just as serious and they acted accordingly, while they kept a level head and showed their kindness to calm him down.

His eyes scanned the paper in front of him again, wanting a final confirmation that everything stood in check. Various words like “clause” and “thorough acceptance” plagued the countless paragraphs and almost brought a headache to the young kid. If he reached that point in life when the prospect arose to gain understanding of such language, he will take it easy to avoid cramming everything in. Whatever form presented itself, the bold straight lines stood out and grabbed his attention more than the other details. From what he heard from Hilda and the voice, signing along those lines had some significance even if he didn’t know what. His cowardice held him back, but the encouragement from the huge kids meant he had to go for it.

He scooted his nearly incapacitated body up to the huge paper before he set his eyes on the large pen. He cringed for a moment as he broke his arms out of their stasis while he slowly gripped the writing utensil. The pen had to have feathers wedged between the ink for him to suddenly lift it upright, even surprising the others watching.

“He’s…he’s finally moving!” David said.

“Easy David, we don’t want to scare him again.” Frida answered. “From the details I’ve seen over him…it wasn’t an everyday occurrence.”

“Let’s wait until we get his signatures first. I’m certain his intense worry will settle more smoothly when the paperwork gets filled out.” the loose voice said.

It got his body shaking once he heard the unseen being again but he continued signing his name to the best of his ability with his handicaps. The tree trunk of a pen wavered back and forth as certain letters formed at the tip, with some excess ink dripping to the wayside. Writing almost took not effort at higher levels, with each of the roman letters requiring only a couple of instantaneous stroke to fully form to their respective shapes, but at a lesser size the perspectives couldn’t have flipped a one eighty any further than he experienced. In some ways he felt lucky to have a pen with a low weight despite the long length at his size, but it didn’t make the situation any better.

It proved tiresome, but after nearly breaking his back from all the back and forth the lines finished with his first and last name printed above them. It didn’t have the greatest of finesse thanks to his size, but the legibility was good enough to determine the letters. Marius got on a knee for some wave of relaxation when the voice chimed in again.

“Ah, you finally acknowledged the permissions of your actions. It’s such a thrilling sentiment to know you’re now one with us. Why don’t you turn around to witness what you just signed up for, hmm?”

Even after all of the signing the voice kept its jolly insightful attitude, something Marius had a little interest in. Not wanting to reject the words thrown at him, the boy turned around as the voice wished. He never concluded on such magic acts before, but what originally had no initial form now painted a different picture. It stood over him with two long lines for legs and a squarish red for a body, features he never seen before now. It could almost pass off as a crate with legs if it didn’t have a round white head with beady eyes and pointy ears, giving an impression that some would consider cute. A large tuft of hair hovered near his forehead under a triangular red hat, similar to objects like lawn gnomes, but for some reason it lacked a nose over its face. He swore that he heard about certain animals in science class that also lacked noses even if he couldn’t recall any at the moment, which stood out to him as a weird feature to exclude. Even so, the creature’s arms also matched the legs with two bold black lines, which lacked any sort of hands and fingers near the tips. This brought up so many questions in his head, especially with the “gripping things” aspect, but he was too nervous to ask. It almost displayed like a character from a Sunday comic strip in a positive light, something he heard from his parents on occasion. The appearance was unique, and he couldn’t help but be surprised under all of his negativity.

Once the first few seconds upon seeing the creature out of nowhere passed the young boy gasped and nearly fell to his back. He only stood up to a fraction of its line legs, sticking more pins in him, but it didn’t appear to want any harm. In fact, it warmly smiled down at him.

“See? I’m not so monstrous looking now that I’m visible to you. We elves don’t strive for frightening statistics much, granted we usually don’t stoop to those thoughts, but it’s going to be much easier to communicate between us now that you can see me.”

He didn’t show it up front, but behind the scenes the curtains pulled apart to a sight curiosity that kept nagging him. The stories his ears picked up over the years about the invisible elves opened to reveal the answers behind the golden doors, and from what he saw…it diverted him into a different direction. Certain aspects burned to the ground as expectations shot dead, but not in a negative light. If anything, his early thoughts to how he pictured them could have matched up to stone trolls in terms of intimidating. One draft early on even had a canine snout and a dorsal fin, a highly unconventional set of appendages, which he was glad didn’t turn out to be true. Still, the real appearance of elves relived him of those mangled amalgamations he imagined elves were in his childhood.

Especially the one with a lockjaw and eyes flashing colors from an acid trip.

“I know it’s nice to get acquainted to others and all, but we kind of have a more pressing matter…considering how damaged the tiny kid looks.” Frida said.

“Oh right, almost let my train of thought wander for a moment, heh.” the elf, named Alfur from the introduction earlier, said. “Okay, about the fact on his clothes, they don’t make them at the size he’s at. You sure his size is natural? I never recalled any document or record in the archives detailing a phenomenon like him.”

“Wait, how exactly do you know about clothes sizes? I never thought you had an interest in the craft.” David asked.

“I don’t. Hilda’s mum sometimes brings home some catalogs and, well…I tend to sneak a peek every now and then.”

Raven held back the pressure to laugh from Alfur’s disclosure, which forced him to hold his beak shut while his cheeks puffed up. Twig saw the signs and silently groaned while rolling his eyes.

“So something else forced him to stay at that size?” Hilda said. “That sounds awful! We have to find a way to reverse the process!”

Alfur gazed up at Hilda with a straight face, which caught her attention.

“Oh, no offense to you Alfur. Sorry about that.”

Her answer made Alfur chuckle a little to himself.

“It’s perfectly fine Hilda, even I need a bit of humor every now and then. Even so, while I’m perfectly fine acting to the best of my small size I’m completely dumbfounded as to how that tiny kid managed to reach us. You have no idea how much a change in size can morph the perspectives around you, and with him being a fraction of someone like me…oh dear, I’m forming grave thoughts.”

“Maybe he could finally explain what happened to him up to this point? He’s pretty friendly when you settle in easy.” Raven explained.

All eyes fell to the boy on the table. Having a spotlight put on him never stood out as a moment he wanted to go through and yet he couldn’t ignore the glares of the watchers. In a more awkward twist, everything stood at a greater height to pile on the intimidation tactics. However, everything lead up to the this moment; his story needed to be told. Hilda and her friends were the key to getting him back to normal and he required their support.

“Can…can you speak little guy, errrr, Marius?” Frida asked.

Their gazes expressed no spite, making him more comfortable somewhat. For the first time in front of the huge kids, he let the words out.

“…ummm, yeah…I can…”

He didn’t need headlights to alert him about all of them holding in spurts of laughter, including the weird dog creature Twig sitting behind him. Clearly his high pitched voice from Jaeden’s curse tickled their funny bones, even making Raven puff up a bit despite hearing his voice earlier. Too bad his voice situated as the cherry on top, for everything else inflicted on his was much worse.

Alfur was the first to calm down and speak up.

“Okay, wow, heheheheh, someone ingested an entire container of helium it seems. Heheheheh, just hearing that made my skin stick up.”

“I’m still trying to live it down from earlier.” Raven mumbled with some smiling laughs hidden in his beak.

“Okay, okay, he may have a humorous…voice to work with, but we still need to learn what happened with him.” Hilda said while holding in a laugh for herself. “Go on Marius, we’re all listening.”

Her young smile perked up some of his grim demeanor. Even when she heard him she kept her friendly attitude, a trait most would consider great for making friends. She was truly the right girl for obtaining the help he needed, for everything he heard about her appeared to stiffen into facts. From living in the wilderness alone with only her mother, her expertise on the strange and weird, and her diligence to handle any issue brought forth a young girl unique to many others. Not many could consider themselves fitted to handle anomalies with some experience under their belt, but Hilda was just one of those odd ones out. She didn’t care if the one in need didn’t reach the size of her fingernails, she worried for each problem equally and handled them as best as she could.

With her encouragement backing him up, he told the kids everything. No details were skipped, EVERYTHING escaped his lips. From the moment he met with Jaeden to his meetup with the kids, he explained everything down to the grueling details. He almost felt himself cry during certain parts, for they displayed a certain amount of pain he never wanted to revisit, which the others could tell just from the quivers in his voice. David in particular seemed to take his words with a certain ire that unnerved him more than usual as the details painted a dark picture, and everyone else couldn’t blame him from the words thrown his way. It almost sounded like he suffered from an abusive babysitter but cranked up even higher, for his abuser wasn’t human in the slightest, which Hilda listened in more attentively than the others. Her choice of expression displayed a warming sympathy in conjunction with the determination of a hard worker, which didn’t sound out of place from the details Marius was given about her. It didn’t mean she didn’t care for what he went through, if anything she worried for him more than the others, but it made her stand out to him. There was just something about her that no other girl even showed to him before, but it threw a haze around him. Everyone had their own reactions to Marius’ words, but one thing stood out as certain. His situation had greater consequences.

The sun started to set as Marius wrapped everything up. His mouth almost felt like a vast desert from the amount told, but he made sure to speak about all of the details. Right as he finished, the others stood speechless for a moment. He wasn’t sure if he completely got through to them, but just from their lack of words the signs pointed in the right direction.

Frida broke the silence first.

“I…I can’t believe it. All of that happened…and you’re still standing? That sounds horrifying!”

“Yes, it’s…all true.” Marius replied with a stutter. “To survive all of those sick games and activities…please don’t make me go through…something like that…”

“Oh no, we would never put you into any more of those terrible situations!” Hilda answered. “You’re very brave to finally reach us for help after those beatings. Didn’t you say you also tried to reach out to me from a nightmare?”

Marius quickly grew nervous and looked down while twiddling his fingers.

“Ummmm…yeah, that was me. I coaxed Jaeden into giving you a nightmare…so I could try and communicate to you while under her watchful eye. It…didn’t greatly work out for me in the end.”

“Ah, so it was you!” Hilda replied with a smile. “I knew I didn’t just imagine that detail, for I’ve actually been pondering on your message ever since I received that nightmare.”

Marius perked up.

“Really?”

“She had her mind set to determining what it meant since then.” David answered. “We even decided to take a glance at the Marra’s nightly meeting yesterday only to see them bolt the instant we got in close.”

“And from what you told us, well, I now understand why they acted so skittish.” Frida said. “I guess they didn’t want to let you go after you alerted Hilda.”

“And that’s when I came in to the rescue!” Raven said with a wide grin. “Can’t say I’m surprised to see me pull off something heroic for once!”

“Umm, I thought Marius detailed that you acted on instinct when you rescued him.” Alfur stated. Immediately Raven leered at the elf for a quick second, which confused Alfur for a moment, before he got back to the others.

“Well, I guess everything has been explained in order. What an interesting narrative for an exquisite report!” Alfur stated as he got out a spare piece of paper and pen. He hastily wrote down the start of Marius’ experience along with the tidbits from Hilda and the others, which he unfortunately failed to do when words were getting thrown around.

“We still have some unanswered questions though.” Frida said. “For starters, if Marras had the ability to shrink others than why didn’t they go around and do it sooner? I don’t recall the book at the library explaining such a quality.”

“Maybe we skipped a few pages?” David asked.

“Possibly. We may need to double check that book at some point.” Hilda answered.

“Ummmm…I kind of overheard something…from my time with those ghosts…”

All eyes set on the shrunken Marius once more, which put more nervousness on him.

“Well…when I was held prisoner by Jaeden…she said multiple times on occasion that the spell only worked one time. For some reason…the other Marras had no idea how she shrunk me…and she refused to tell anyone the process.”

“So no other Marra but her knows how to shrink people?” Hilda said. “Now we really need to go over that book again for details. I’ll be going there first thing tomorrow, for I want answers.”

“I’m just as dedicated as you, so I’ll tag along.” Frida said. “I can’t leave a shrunken kid in the hands of a Marra.”

“I’ll come too…even if I’m still a bit queasy with another Marra situation.” David said.

“We still have an issue with the kid though.” Raven chimed in. The others glanced at the bird in slight confusion.

“Really? How so?” Alfur asked.

“It’s about the possible tenacity of those ghost girls.” Raven replied. “With the kid now separated from them, especially to that one I took him from, I’m willing to bet that they would scour every inch of this city for even a shred of a clue to his whereabouts. He shouldn’t stay in the open, especially if they show their true colors at night, for we may never get another chance to have him to ourselves for a chance to change him back.”

“That’s a pretty crucial point.” Frida said. “We can’t take our eyes off of him, but it will be troublesome at night. Any ideas?”

It didn’t take long for Hilda to come up with one.

“I’m pretty sure we already have someone to lend his living space until Marius gets back to normal…and I’m certain he listened out the moment we got here.”

The others stood confused to what Hilda meant until an omnipresent breeze drifted around them. Before long, a pink circular hole formed in the middle of the large couch which only took milliseconds for something to jump out. It landed next to the girl and made its presence known among the others. Of everyone else, only Marius lacked the insight into what just popped out. Because of his hindrance he had to move himself near the edge of the table for a closer look and it really stood out in his eyes. The first major point of interest was the large round nose that stuck out from a large ball of hair for a head, which looked like someone stuck their face into a pile of cotton candy. The head alone could easily pass for an appealing Halloween costume, something Marius didn’t have the greatest creativity for. Most of the time his parents picked out a costume resembling a forest giant or stone troll, which while appealing in itself failed to stick out among the countless others. Unfortunately he didn’t know too many other creatures to dress up as, although he did try acting out a stereotypical bed sheet ghost one time. It meant little in the long run, as he still obtained the standard bag full of candy each year. The creature could just have his ball of hair for a head and it would pass off as a valid costume, but it had more to it.

Its main body didn’t disappoint. What displayed as a long orange shirt, maybe a sweater, covered its midsection while it stood on two round appendages for legs. The arms didn’t even reach all the way out as the sleeves took over at the ends, which put reminders in his head that Jaeden had the same attribute. He didn’t muse on it for too long as a detail almost zipped by his line of sight. Right out of the corner of his eye, an extra appendage stuck out of the creature’s backside and with a few seconds of focus he concluded that it was nothing but a small tail with some brown fluff near the top. He only thought certain types of dogs had such a feature, but clearly he missed out on much more. In some ways it looked kind of cute, almost like a canine wagging one from its surge of emotions, but it could have a different purpose for the creature before him. It had a weird sight for a creature, but nearly everything was practically unrestricted when it came to Trolberg.

It quickly spoke up once it appeared.

“Okay, yeah, you got me there. I listened out since the start, but don’t judge me for snooping! We Nisse require some entertainment once in a while.”

“You’re going to bunk him with Tontu?” David asked.

“It’s the safest place I can think of.” Hilda explained. “Nisses are the only ones that can travel through their special holes unless they bring someone with them, and Tontu set his nest in my house after that Black Hound incident. With this Marius can stay close and the Marra will be unable to get to him at night, at least until we can grow him back to normal size.”

“Sounds…complicated somewhat.” Raven said.

“Trust me, it will work out.” Hilda answered. “You think you can work with this for now Tontu?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with trying it out.” Tontu said. “By the way, where is that kid anyway? I want to at least get a good glance at him.”

“He’s right on the table.” Frida replied. Marius pulled back once he saw Tontu stand on the tips of his feet and his bulbous head loom over him. He still have a wave of nervousness over him when the Nisse tilted down toward him even if he showed no ill mannered harm.

“Wow, you guys weren’t kidding about how small he is. I’m not surprised you want to help him out, for he sure looks interesting…if he didn’t have so much damage on him. That’s rough.”

“That’s basically how most of us feel right now.” Alfur answered. “Is the kid up to this sort of plan though?”

All attention centered around Marius once more. As unnerved to all of the large faces around him despite the friendliness, he nearly saw his goal over the horizon. Hilda and her friends now knew his  terrible predicament, now they required a plan of action. He had no idea about any sort of Nisse, but Hilda appeared to trust Tontu. Apparently he also had some sort of hole in Hilda’s house that no one else could break into without their consent, definitely a safe haven during the night when the Marras break out. They would probably check on Hilda as one of their first targets from his disappearance, but the safe haven of a Nisse nest could prove crucial to hiding him.

“Well, ummm…that would work…I can work with that…” Marius mumbled.

“Good, so everything is set then.” Frida said. “We’ll meet up first thing tomorrow to get to the library. Too bad it’s getting late out or else we could have done it now.”

“Yeah, that’s unfortunate.” David responded. “We should probably get going before it gets too dark.”

“I was thinking the same thing.” Frida said. “Are you ready to become the next large babysitter Hilda?”

The blue haired girl chuckled at Frida’s sense of humor.

“I’m pretty sure I can handle someone like Marius. He seems not too bad.”

“Considering what you always get into, anything is a possibility.” David responded with a half smile. The two kids made their way to the door before waving goodbye to Hilda, who also did so in return. Since he never heard a honk of a car horn or any squeaking tires outside, they had to know where they were going to get back home even if the city contained dozens of blocks around the streets. He had to hand it to them for having the smarts, but then again he practically did so back in his home village even if its size couldn’t compare to Trolberg’s.

Once he watched the two walk out of the door it left him alone with Hilda and her creatures. He lacked the will to speak back up, but he didn’t need to when Raven spoke up.

“Yeah, I better head off too. Considering what I heard about those girls, I don’t want to be at the tail end of an endless shadow. I’ll do some last minute rounds to make sure none of those girls fall in close as I’m leaving, but I also care for the kid too. I’ll check in when you get to the library, and hopefully this mess can be sorted out.”

With the few flaps of his wings, Raven took off into the air and flew out one of the nearby windows with a cheerful wink. Only Marius, Hilda, and her creature friends now sat left at the table, although Alfur had his attention on something else.

“So…I guess everything is set then. I’m still missing some crucial details in the report, so Marius, if you could explain some more extras it wouldn’t go unheard of.”

“You really can’t stick your nose out of a written paper, huh?” Tontu asked.

“Hey, elves live for these sort of reports. Besides, you’re asking me that question with a schnoz like yours?”

“At least I have one…no offense.” Tontu responded. While it could have spilled into a full fledged argument, the two appeared to know each other well to not devolve to the sort. It didn’t make Marius any less worried, but it caught the attention of the huge young girl.

“Hey Marius, you don’t have to act nervous around anyone here.”

Marius kept his face locked downward as the nervousness practically dripped off his face. The dark patch in his head prohibited him from fully trusting anyone even if they expressed their condolences and mercy. To draw his attention, Hilda carefully extended a finger and lifted his miniature chin so he saw her caring face, his head now set on her fingernail.

“I know you still feel awful and uncooperative, but you can fully trust me. I can make friends with nearly anyone, including you, and any of my friends’ problems are my problems as well. We’ll get you back to normal size, for I’m fully dedicated to helping you out.”

Her words pierced him as nonlethal as possible. His breathing fell to the hollow emptiness ready for the night time REM cycle and his muscles injected the soothing waft. Something told him she lacked the fibs required to put him into the darkness further. For once his fear went secondary, with Hilda giving the expressions and words to make him smile a bit. For her to force the darkness away, she had to have something special going on with her and he didn’t want to know what it was.

The door immediately swung open shortly after, which forced everyone’s attention to the source. Once everyone but Marius realized who set foot in the house, they relaxed and tensed down. She carried multiple bags in her arms as she walked into the kitchen area and set them on the counter, which gave Marius a good look at her. Her appearance suggested she still had a long life ahead of her as a woman maybe in her thirties, and her appealing brown hair helped to conclude on such an answer. Other than that she didn’t have too many noteworthy attributes at first glance other than her red shirt and navy blue pants, but the young boy knew looks could be deceiving. If anything she could know something he would appreciate, as personalities sprinkle over everyone to reveal who they truly were.

The woman huffed from the large load in the bags before turning to Hilda and the others.

“Phew, sorry I’m late! It was packed at the checkout line and I almost lost my patience when-”

Her words reached a pause once she saw the shrunken boy at the table. A circuit of stillness blew around everyone as the darkness shrouded Marius’ consciousness once more, forcing him to nervousness. Twig whimpered as Hilda quickly realized what was going on and made a statement.

“Mum……I have to explain some things.”

His efforts were rewarded.

Hilda’s mom had to get up to date on Marius’ condition, but after that the relief couldn’t have flowed greater than ever before. No punishments, no torture, no games at his expense; he actually got the care he needed after his days of beatings from Jaeden. While Johanna, the name of Hilda’s mother, felt mortified upon hearing all of the grim outcomes Marius had to go through by force, she also agreed with her daughter to not show him in public until the matter sorted out. As much as she wanted to inform Marius’ temporary parents about his existence the risk of the information spilling out had many high stakes. It could prove as an ire and cruel decision, but the unwanted attention, especially from the media, had harsh consequences. It felt unwarranted for Marius, but the necessity to keep the weird and strange occurrence out of the public eye seemed reasonable especially if Hilda got herself into more experiences before he arrived in Trolberg. His safety until he regained his size stuck out as a top priority to the family, and he appreciated their decision as long as he got away from the devious Marras.

It also marked the first time Marius ate an actual dinner in days. Johanna really had a knack for cooking, for what he ate trickled all over his taste buds. She whipped up a common type of pasta with ribbon shaped noodles coated in the typical sauce, a marvelous feast for a torture victim,  although his size prevented him from accessing everything it had to offer. Instead he handled only a few crumbs covered in the sauce and it knocked his previous meals into the stratosphere. The common stale bread crumbs from the dumpsters Jaeden fetched him would never drive into his mouth again, signaling the newfound care he yearned for since the grim experiences started. He almost couldn’t have enough, the famished nature from the brittle bread crumbs drove into him hard, but he had plenty to go for as the food towered over him. For once being shrunken so tiny didn’t seem all too bad as he could easily stay full from chowing down on gigantic food, he couldn’t have enough. While Hilda and her mother had their own share of dinner, they let Marius have his moment as he acted like a gluttonous pig. He had it hard the past couple of days and never had a single moment to act like a kid, just a miniature punching bag. He even made Hilda giggle a little as he wolfed everything down. Under the coat of black ice was an incredibly damaged kid, and she hoped to melt the covering and free the tiny boy within.

Marius was sent to the bathroom after to wash off the days of torment. He couldn’t use the bathtub on account of it having the capacity to hold freighters from his size, so he used the sink instead. Because absolutely nothing could fit him other than the clothes he shrunk with, they appeared as his only option. Johanna place a washcloth next to the sink so he could cover himself when taking his clothes off even if it obviously was too heavy to carry normally. Once the sink filled he uneasily took his clothes off behind the washcloth which Johanna clasped in two fingers. With the articles of clothing so minuscule it wouldn’t take too long, but it didn’t hurt to go through the regular procedures. Once Johanna made her way out, Marius settled into the sink’s water easily. He especially appreciated the locked drain so he would take a trip into the plumbing system. With dabs of soap and shampoo placed near the washcloth it served as enough to get the job done. After coating himself in the substances he scrubbed every inch of his body while he waded in the warm water.

He was taken by surprise when the door suddenly opened, which made him huddle into one of the round walls of the sink. His feelings eased once he heard the humming of a certain girl, but it brought up another issue. Even though the walls of the sink encompassed him high enough so he couldn’t pull himself or peek over, he had no clue if she knew he was bathing in the sink at the time. He couldn’t see her over the rim, but she could easily see him. He cringed, the scenarios flashed by in countless ways, but once he heard the shower turn on he eased up again. Some flapping of clothes hit the floor until after a good minute or so when some splashing came in after. He concluded that she finally made it into the tub and now both of them were bathing. As a huge boon, neither him or her could see each other. He would never forgive himself if he witnessed anything…wrong for his age.

“So Marius…are you handling things nicer now?”

Hilda’s voice echoed into his head, but it wasn’t aggressive like he went through with Jaeden. Even so, he stuttered to speak up. The emotional restrictions bound him in an unwinnable deadlock to fully break free of the shackles despite his actions earlier.

“Again, you don’t need to restrict yourself when you’re with me. I won’t ever hurt you unlike the Marra.”

She pierced him in the sweet spot again. Her friendly tone had such an infectious nature that he almost opened up immediately, but he barely had enough to hold back.

“Ummm…errrr…yeah, you could say that…”

“Ah, that’s good to hear. After all of those punishments you told me you needed some care more than ever.” Hilda’s voice answered. “I can’t imagine how you must feel seeing everything so massive, including me. Heehee, imagine me as tall as a forest giant, what a reversal that would be.”

“Yeah…that’s funny I guess…” Marius said, his emotions still in the gutter.

“How’s your experience being smaller than even elves?”

His heart tensed up.

“Uhhhhh……what?” Marius squeaked. Whether or not Hilda could catch on to his feelings because he couldn’t see her he lacked the ability to pinpoint it.

“I want to know what you must be going through with everything so massive around you. I’ve asked Alfur about it one time and while he has his own thoughts, considering what happened with the Marras you also have your own opinions. So how about it, what’s your perception?”

It almost zoomed in out of the blue for him. While he had his forced moments with the Marras about his thoughts, they never asked what he thought about being as small as Jaeden made him. They only saw him as a soulless toy they could always go to when they needed the entertainment especially when the sun shined. Nothing but a girl’s plaything, that was all they made him out to be and it utterly mangled him to scrap.

He had some choice words to say.

“I…I can’t fathom the true horrors Jaeden’s hex inflicted on me. Sure, it seemed harmless at first…but you have no idea how many things can outright kill you with no repercussions. Ever since she shrunk me the world diverted its attention to see me pulled apart. I can’t do anything but sit and let anyone bigger have their way with me, all while they think everything will progress swimmingly at my suffering. I never even once thought of barking back in that whole process, because everything can end me and one false move will prove fatal. Many call it a blessing, as the benefits of eating much larger foods can entice others, but I can never fall to that crowd not after what I’ve went through with the Marras. I didn’t catch a heavenly blessing, only a bloody curse.”

He held back a couple of tears as the words came out, for the reminders of everything the Marras toyed him with proved almost too much. The room went silent for a couple of seconds, other than some bubbling and splashing, before Hilda’s voice rang through again.

“Wow…I’m so sorry you feel that way. You never deserved that sort of torture just because the Marra made you like that. If I would have been alerted sooner I could have attempted to get you out before it happened…but at least you finally got to me.”

“Yeah…I suppose.” Marius replied with a dip in tone. His head swayed as the water rippled around him, which reflected the ceiling upon it. It stood so high up, far higher than anyone could imagine, and it wouldn’t appear like that at his regular size. While Hilda insured she would solve the problem, a doubt formed in him that she never had the chance. She may not even have the power to change him back and he would be stuck gazing at everyone like titans forever. It would prove disastrous, especially to someone who worked so hard to get to her in the first place…

His body wrinkled up all over from the water, and after he firmly scrubbed everywhere he now set himself as squeaky clean. After wading over to the large washcloth he grabbed a light end and covered his lower midsection. Just when he almost got his footing to climb out he heard some louder splashes in conjunction with some loose droplets hitting the water behind him. With that he immediately halted as he calculated that Hilda just got out at the same time so to save his sight and sanity he delayed himself to let the young girl out first. Until he heard Hilda finish putting her clothes on he wouldn’t climb out of the sink.

Thankfully for him it didn’t take long. A few more noises alerted and painted the picture out of view, but he stayed in the sink for extra security. He even witnessed Alfur appear and approach him by the edge of the sink, while he clasped his newly cleaned and washed out clothes in his stick for arms. As soon as Alfur showed up some more booms erupted from the floor before the large face of Hilda took up his vision, all snug in some young girl pajamas.

“Well, I’m all settled for the night. Are you done?” Hilda asked.

“Ummm…mostly, if you couldn’t tell.” Marius replied. “I still…need to put my clothes on.”

“I figured.” Hilda answered. “Don’t worry, I’ll look away.”

Her face turned in the opposite direction, which showed off her wet blue hair from the bath, to give the shrunken kid some time to dress. Once the elf set his clothes on the sink’s rim, he also took Hilda’s initiative and turned in the same direction. With the time now to himself, Marius crawled out of the wet sink with a bit of difficulty, especially since he had injuries all over, but once he made it out he wiped himself dry with the washcloth before hastily getting into his newly cleansed clothes.

“Ummm…you can look now.”

Upon hearing his squeaky voice, Hilda and Alfur turned back around to see the miniature boy fully clothed with a wet head of hair.

“Well, you’re looking spiffy after a nice clean wash.” Alfur said. “I assume your sense of adaptation to the house has run its course?”

“…maybe?” Marius replied with a pinch of confusion.

“He’s doing fine for now. The fact that the Marras don’t have him anymore must have calmed him down a bit.” Hilda said. “So Alfur, how does it feel to know you are not the smallest one here for now?”

The elf glanced down at the tiny kid around his lines for legs before he addressed Hilda.

“I guess it stands as a bit awkward actually. The familiarity of always looking up to strike a conversation almost seemed standard to elves like me, and now I have to strike a glance down…it turns the wheels in my head for such a simple task!”

“Heheh, I can understand.” Hilda chuckled. “Has Tontu finished the preparations yet?”

“The last I heard he still had some touches to fix up. I’m sure he finished by now.” Alfur replied.

“Ah, that’s wonderful.” Hilda answered before addressing the tiny boy. “Come on Marius, let me give you hand, heheh, quite literally.”

The young girl set a hand in front of Marius so he could climb on. He shivered at first, but soon enough trudged slowly near Hilda’s fingertips and set foot on them. Once he made it to her palm she withdrew him close to her face, which had the infectious smile as always. No force applied on him, she held him like an actual being with a soul, unlike everything the Marras did.

“We’ll have more time to spend together tomorrow when the sun rises. I’m sure I can raise your spirits and make you comfortable around everyone again.”

“H…hopefully…” Marius stuttered. She then turned her attention to Alfur.

“Still need to handle some things?”

“Yeah, but nothing much. Got to keep a good hygiene before bedtime.”

“I expected so.” Hilda responded. With Marius in hand she walked out of the bathroom and shut the door, leaving the elf to his activities. Looking to the side revealed Hilda’s mother finishing some final clean ups in the kitchen with the recognizable Nisse on the couch finishing a cold glass of water. When he finished he walked up and set the glass in the sink for later dish washing.

He turned around to see Hilda by the bathroom door.

“I take it you have Marius with you?” Tontu asked.

“Yup, he’s right here.” Hilda replied before showing the tiny kid in her hand. Marius stood tepid as he waved to Tontu nervously.

“I can tell he’s still unnerved about everything.” Tontu said.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure we can bring his mood back up over the next few days.” Hilda answered. “I still have some preparations left to finish before bedtime, so if you could get him used to your nest right now then maybe-”

“You don’t need to finish, I completely understand.” Tontu interjected. “Hand him over and I’ll be on my way.”

“Thanks Tontu.” Hilda said. She tilted her hands and let Marius slide into Tontu’s grasp before heading off into her room with Twig following after. The Nisse’s bulbous head tilted down as the kid in his hands still had tension in him.

“Well, I guess it’s time to show you where you’ll be sleeping tonight. Trust me, it’s not as bad as you think.”

“I sure hope you’re right on that front” Marius replied. He kept his weight centered as Tontu made way over to the cushy couch in the living room. Nothing popped to Marius as somewhere comfortable unless Tontu spoke about sleeping on top of the cushions. It could have appeared as a luxury, but for Marius it had the amusement of sleeping inside a foot locker.

“Ummm…are we sleeping on the couch or something?”

Tontu giggled under his breath and snorted slightly from his round nose.

“Heeheehee, of course not. I prefer somewhere much more spacious, but you may want to hold on tight on our trip down.”

“What do you mean by-”

He never got to finish his sentence as Tontu leaped upward toward a small crease between the cushions. Marius thought the Nisse was going crazy with some abstract blemishes in his head, but what happened after flipped his perspective. His body started to pack together like luggage, which made his breathing spurt in small bursts like he flattened under a truck’s tire. It only lasted a few seconds until his entire body sucked straight into the crease with Tontu, and soon enough his eyes caught the sight of a long round pink tunnel around him with a bottomless pit under. He yelled in fear at first, certain that his death was only one splat on the ground away, but then his lungs gave out and left only his eyes to function. The weird pink rings surrounding the tunnel had a psychedelic echo that repeated like a mesmerizing scent, although he missed the discoloration one would experience. As the wind blew across his face he had no idea what would come next.

After what seemed like a dream sequence to depths unknown, the winds immediately ceased. The constant motions poured weights into Marius’ head when Tontu stopped.

“Okay Marius, we’ve arrived.” Tontu said as he set the boy to the ground. It took a moment for his head to clear the infestations before it winded back to normal functionality. He coughed once as he glanced up, but he clearly never expected something of a spacious mansion. The ceiling reached the skies and curved to the stadium that supported it, which even had dozens of large skylights shining to the floor where he stood. For some bizarre reason the skylights circulated on the walls and floor while also displaying light, which showed them off as perilous pitfalls more than anything. The stare of white nearly emptied his head to a single misstep into their ominous abyss below, but the will in the back held back with all of its might to forbid him from the temptation. If anything he could land in a pool of magma in one swift motion, a horrible fate to end in. While the hollow holes were one thing, everything else had a more lasting appeal. Piles of what appeared as unused and old objects heaped into abridged mountains with specifics hard to distinguish individually unless they fell off separate near the bases. He heard of others not picking up their clothes to drop down the laundry chute, but clearly Tontu kept his stored in his nest. A pack rat? Maybe. The thought of throwing away something that could prove dear to you…it didn’t feel right to him. Stuffed and filled to the brim but also broad at the same time, that’s how he would describe Tontu’s nest.

“Wow, uhhhh…looks crowded.” Marius stated. “Is that I coffee machine in that one corner?”

“Yeah, that’s one all right.” Tontu replied. “Dozens of objects fall into Nisse holes every day and we usually have to deal with it. I don’t mind it too much even if it can get a bit annoying.”

“Then I guess I have to pick out a spot to sleep?” Marius asked. Tontu shook his head.

“Don’t worry about that, I’ve set a certain spot just for you. It might not be too ideal, but it will do for now.”

The circular haired Nisse pointed at the base of one of the piles, and while it was hard to expose at first among the piles around it the object revealed itself. The two boards of wood on both ends, the wooden railing around the left and right, and the curved legs for ideal small motions; Marius saw nothing but a young baby cradle suited for dolls. A part of him shaded disgust from the sight, as he was no doll, but then again it easily beat out sleeping on the floor. He didn’t like it, but it will do until he grew back to normal.

He walked over to the massive cradle, from his angle at least, before Tontu provided some assistance by lifting him into it so he wouldn’t have to climb. As an added bonus, the cradle already had a short pillow and blanket well suited for his size, although the pillow was a bit larger than he expected.

He still had one more question for Tontu.

“Ummm, Tontu…are you sure nothing can barge in here and take me?”

Tontu chuckled under his breath.

“Trust me, no one other than other Nisses can enter nests like these. Unless they take someone with them as they head inside, you won’t see anyone come in uninvited.”

“Thanks for the reassurance then.” Marius said. Even though a slight ire in the back told him Tontu may be slightly lying to him, he crawled over to check his pillow and blanket for any abnormalities. Nothing out of the ordinary, and even felt comfy too.

“If anything comes up feel free to alert me. A friend of Hilda’s is a friend of mine after all.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Marius replied. He pulled the covers over his body while leaving his head on the pillow as Tontu walked off to his own place to sleep. Soon after the lights turned off and the vague echoes throughout the spacious nest exemplified the calmness in the air.

“Good night Marius.” Tontu’s voice said.

“You too Tontu.” Marius responded as he got comfy in his sheets. His head now rested against the pillow as a blanket provided the warmth and cozy atmosphere, typical for someone of his age. The darkness shrouded his eyes but he didn’t need them to know something kept hitting his pillow under him. No freak outs were required, he had his hunches, as the action didn’t stem from negativity. For the first time they dripped something positive, and it was obvious why.

Mission accomplished.

“…thank you so much Hilda. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”


His first full day with Hilda had begun.

He may have slept in a baby cradle meant for large dolls, but for a supposed prop he could replace it with a cushy cloud and would never know the difference. He almost didn’t want to wake up, and no gigantic Marras would stand around and forcefully do so. Even so, humans don’t require great forms of hibernation and he caught enough winks in his sleep. His eyes fluttered for a moment as his body slowed stirred into the daylight. He never slept so soundly and calmly since before his shrinkage, which almost made him forget about the fact. He also never had a dream ring around his head as Jaeden would often force him up early for insidious activities at his expense. In such a rare occurrence since then, he dreamed about his outstanding courageous self defending a swirling castle from an evil stone troll dragon, all while he stood his ground in shining armor. Just the imagination alone proved that courage and valor stooped somewhere it the cranium of his, but finding it compared to searching out an arctic polar bear blinking in a blizzard. Hilda set herself to fix his mangled personality ever since the Marras’ torture session and reverse the spell Jaeden cast on him, something he couldn’t thank Hilda enough for. Her determination established itself as greatly beneficial and it already showed signs of rubbing the pain away.

He picked his head off of the fluffy pillow before he rubbed a minor headache away from his forehead. There were a few wet spots near the front of the pillow where his face lay but it lacked any sort of pain. If anything they built up over the last few days and when he finally escaped all of it poured out in one sitting. The negativity started to flush out as the first signs of an emotional recovery. With his wake up call also provided a much clearer look to the Nisse cave around him, which eventually settled on the one that owned all of it. While he had no idea how he missed a large red lounge chair in the nest he also saw Tontu have his sight glued into a newspaper. Amusingly, a steaming cup sat on the left armrest that he picked up and took a sip on occasion despite his facial features hidden behind a coat of circular hair. Marius had no idea how Tontu could pull off certain actions with a thick coat all over his face, but he put a pin in it for later.

After he finished another sip from his cup, Tontu looked up from the paper and turned his head to Marius.

“Ah, you’re awake. You slept in a little later than I expected.”

“Well, I guess I never slept so well since I became like…this.” Marius replied before he dipped in tone upon realizing his grim reminders.

“Aww, it’s going to be okay Marius. Hilda said it herself that she would find a way to bring you back to normal size.” Tontu said. “Just hang in there until everything gets figured out, okay?”

“I’ll try my best.” Marius answered. The Nisse set his paper down on the other armrest before he picked up his hot cup and got off the chair. He positioned a small plate under the cup and walked over to the small boy in the cradle. Some drops of the drink fell down some of the many hairs on his face, something Marius kept to himself, as his head tilted down for a better look.

“You may not have the clear view, but I’m smiling under all of this.” Tontu said. “You sleep well?”

“As snug as I will ever be.” Marius stated. “Thanks for letting me bunk here.”

“Anytime Marius.” Tontu responded. “I’m certain this won’t be the last time considering your condition, so you can always sleep safely here without those ghost ladies getting to you.”

“I kind of concluded on the same thought.” Marius said. With one hand supporting his cup, Tontu laid his other hand next to the shrunken kid for better leverage. Not wanting to deny him, Marius walked on it before Tontu hoisted him close. From the kid’s angle Tontu’s ball-shaped head had the appearance of a brown planet with a white mountain penetrating the atmosphere. The sea of hairs could provide canopies for the lush jungles underneath and the wildlife that would live there. It made him wonder just what type of creatures would live in such an eldritch jungle if such a planet existed. He only heard musings and teachings about those certain environments, obviously missing the experience, so it limited his imagination. Even then, he stuck some ideas under a bed in his cranium for the sake of amusing himself.

“So…I never thought you read the newspaper.” Marius stated.

“Not thoroughly.” Tontu explained. “I mostly skimp through the articles to get to the good stuff. I get a good chuckle or two out of the comic strips while really enjoying the Sunday ones. Call it a guilty pleasure of mine.”

“Heheheh, I would probably do the same thing.” Marius answered. Tontu nodded in agreement before he walked over to an open hole in his large cavernous nest. Light shone out of it and gave Marius some good vibes.

“If I remember correctly this should lead back to the kitchen. You ready for the trip back?”

“I’m up to it when you are.” Marius responded. He kept himself tight as Tontu took a few steps forward where the hole already had some inhaling winds around the rims. The sight alone sounded daunting and the winds were the cherry on top although he only had a quick second to himself until Tontu performed his leap of faith. He gusts immediately pushed him inside with Marius brought along for the ride, spiraling them through the hurricane around them. He failed to notice the detail at first but with the second attempt he had a clear view of Tontu’s hairy face among the gales with many of fluttering about. For some reason none of his hairs blew off and stayed stagnant, but the kid’s hair wavered all over the place like it just came to life and had a contagious dancing craze. It could have stood out as a fact about Nisses that he lacked the knowledge of or something else entirely. Either way, he had no idea how it occurred and added another future question to ask Tontu about later if given the chance.

Like before, the trip didn’t last long. Once the rapid images ceased Marius’ head cleared and revealed the recognizable room around him. He saw that Tontu exited out of the couch where they entered yesterday, which didn’t drive his interest as much as the fragrant aroma in the air. His nose received multiple kisses from the scents all over, which forced his head to turn instantaneously in their direction. The bundle of energy and adventure that was Hilda sat in one of the chairs around the kitchen table with her eyes glued to the round plate in front of her as she stared down the scrumptious breakfast before her. With a fork in hand she took her time to eat the individual pieces, smiling with each successful bite. Even with small mundane activities she attempted to always keep her mood up and positive, something Marius needed after all of the abuse he took. She said it herself that she would get his emotions back on track after all, and with a joyous attitude like that the possibility made itself known.

Her mother stood, back turned, to the stove in the back of the kitchen with a barely visible frying pan in one of her hands. Just from the fumes alone he could tell what sizzled on that stove, although he got a clearer picture from Hilda’s open plate. His mouth watered, he needed a taste immediately.

His appearance didn’t go unnoticed as the young girl’s head rotated in his direction.

“I see the two of you finally woke up. Did he sleep well Tontu?”

“He never uttered a single snore in his sleep.” Tontu replied. Marius silently nodded in agreement.

“That’s good. It’s a nice first step to recovery.” Hilda said. The weird dog antler creature Twig sat near her legs and perked up upon hearing the conversation. Once he saw Tontu and Marius a low cry uttered from him before he picked himself up and trotted over to the two. With Tontu near the same size he didn’t need to bend over much for the friendly animal, which also included the shrunken kid in his grasp. The presence of the others kept Marius from freaking out too much as Twig eyed his tiny self and nuzzled his nose all over him, which tickled him on many fronts. His hair was already messed up enough by the trip through the tunnel and Twig only ruffled it further, but Marius didn’t care. Hilda’s pet only wanted to show its affection and support to the boy.

“Heheheh, thanks for your support Twig.” Marius said while holding in giggles. Twig lowly sounded off before it showed its happy eyes. It made Hilda giggle a bit.

“I’m sure Twig has already warmed up to you.” Hilda said before diverting to something else. “Why don’t you stand on the table so I can better look at you?”

“I’m on it.” Tontu stated. It only took a few steps to reach the table, and once there Tontu had to get on a chair first before he could set Marius on the table. He may stand taller than the tiny kid, but he also required extra footwork when a height problem displayed.

“As much as I would like to stay and chat, I’m currently on a very enticing section of the newspaper and would appreciate finishing it. Since my nest is nice and quiet…I think you get the picture.”

Hilda, Marius, and Twig watched as Tontu pulled himself off of the chair before he made his way back to the large couch. In one swift jump he disappeared inside the cushions. Even after going through it once he never quite understood how exactly it functioned…only to dismiss it later after reminding himself about Trolberg and everything surrounding it.

With Tontu now gone it only left the two kids at the table with one clearly having a much greater height. With the visuals greatly improved it provided Marius the full picture to what Hilda’s mother made for breakfast. Atop Hilda’s plate with the size of a sprawling iceberg sat nothing but a colossal buttery pancake, a meal fit for kings. He had to give his heart out to attempt chowing on something of that magnitude, but it would be worth it.

His jaw practically hit the floor with Hilda easily noticing. She formed her signature friendly grin as she stared at him.

“Heheh, I see your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

Her words got Marius to snap out of it. His face quickly lit up, which only made Hilda giggle more to herself.

“Oh, well, I…I guess…I haven’t eaten anything yet…and, well…”

“Easy there, I know you mean well.” Hilda said. “Here, I’m sure this will work.”

She set her fork down for the moment before carefully pinching out a very small part of her pancake. Marius watched as Hilda’s colossal fingers hovered over his tiny figure but stopped right before him. He took a few steps back just in case and then Hilda released her hold on the crumb, which caused it to land right in front of him with no major impacts to speak of. While he could have riled up over another crushing instance, none of it mattered when his eyes lay astonished to the crumb of a pancake.

“It might not appear like much to me, but for you I’m sure it could fill you up for the rest of the day.” Hilda said. Her words couldn’t have more truth in them than someone with a good conscience. The mere sight of the delicious anomaly made Marius shiver with delight all over. Without thinking for even a second, Marius’ hands plunged into the giant pancake crumb in an instant. The warmth and fluffiness coursed over his fingertips in sensations he once thought left him when he shrunk. The sheer size failed to intimidate him and he couldn’t thank Hilda enough for the generosity but he didn’t want to delay the inevitable. Once he pulled a portion of the pancake out his arms nearly soaked in butter with a pinch of syrup which while messy wasn’t on his mind at the moment. As if on a deep instinct, he shoved the two portions he pulled out into his mouth and immediately tasted the outcome. While not a full pancake, far from it, the parts of the crumbs exploded delight everywhere along his tongue. Johanna could contend for a cooking contest and provide serious competition from the two times he experienced her works, although she did remind him of the temporary mother from before who also provided scrumptious cuisines. Between the two he couldn’t determine a definite winner, but he didn’t need to. His taste buds couldn’t have begged for more.

He caught a few glimpses of Hilda staring down at him as he ate to the best of his size.

“I can tell just from looking at you that you needed something of that magnitude.” Hilda said. “Considering what you were fed when the Marra took you captive…did she really feed you nothing but stale bread crumbs from the garbage?”

Just the mere mention of the terrible times before irked Marius and shot some of the happiness out even with his face stuffed to the brim. He swallowed his batch before answering.

“…yes, yes she did.”

A part of Marius’ grim expression rubbed off to Hilda as her smile died down a little.

“Wow, she really never let up with her torture on you. Still, you got away from her and finally have the help you wanted all this time. I promise I’ll find a way to make you normal size again.”

Her bundle of happiness sparked back up and copied over to Marius. No matter how much he thought of worse things Hilda always brought him back to reality ever since she found him. Her experiences probably had something to always have an optimistic view of the world everywhere, which was a trait he easily missed. The chance floated above his reach and baited him to go for it even if it appeared hopeless.

Not wanting to delay himself further, he delved into the giant pancake crumb for a second time while a smack of a pan hit his hearing. Drawing his attention, the boy’s head zipped to the side only to witness Hilda’s mother stuffing her cooking pan back into the cupboard of utensils. He didn’t need to ponder what she intended next when she picked up a plate containing some pancakes for herself along with some silverware. She sat next to Hilda with a similar joyful expression while she didn’t ignore the shrunken kid on the table.

“You two are acquainting nicely I see.” Johanna said as she cut into her pancakes.

“It’s just a start and I’m really getting to know him.” Hilda replied. “I think there’s a good chance I can get him out of the abusive mindset that was implanted in him.”

“Don’t be too hasty Hilda, mental recovery can take quite a while.” Johanna said. “I’m just as eager to fix Marius as you are, but patience is a virtue and from what I heard about him it might take more than just a couple of days.”

“I’ve kept that in mind since the start.” Hilda answered. “Still, it’s nice to get reminders every now and then.”

Marius continued to stuff his face with the pancake crumb as Hilda and her mother talked above him. While he had some experience with the Marras it didn’t change his perspective that it appeared like two titans were speaking to each other. Everything could cast an intimidating shadow over his eyes at his current size and could end him with no signs left. Hilda may reiterate again and again that she wouldn’t harm him, but accidents happen. Even her friends and family weren’t exempt from such a possibility. One slip up and he was done for, even from a friendly giant girl like Hilda.

He stayed low and let the two speak to each other for a bit while he continued chowing on his pancake crumb. His belly practically inflated while his cheeks stuffed up like he was hording for the winter, and when he looked up he realized he never stood a chance at taking the excess part in one sitting. It almost didn’t even show that he ate parts of it from his breakfast. Hilda may have given him more than he could chew, which was a decent possibility considering she just met him and didn’t know his ideal limits from his shrunken handicaps yet.

His legs just about gave out and made him fall to his back, his belly too full to pull his muscles up. At least he collapsed out of eating too much instead of aftermath of a dark game from an evil ghost.

“All filled up Marius? You really look bloated.”

His full stomach pinned him against the ground and prohibited movement, but he could barely see Hilda and Johanna with their eyes on him. Hilda had a face that appeared like she kept holding back a burst of laughter and he couldn’t blame her from the sight of a boy that imitated a Christmas dinner. Her face spelled out as something almost priceless and he would have mirrored her expression if he didn’t feel so tight. Sometimes even in the face of turmoil like a forceful shrinkage humor shows up at the strangest of moments.

He didn’t want to leave Johanna’s question loose though.

“I…I underestimated the scope of such foods…the size of large boulders…” Marius squeaked over the bulge on his stomach.

“You have the appetite of a large troll I’d say.” Johanna responded. “You should probably settle down for a bit until it dies down. Maybe I can put you on an arm of the couch so-”

“Wait mum, I think I can do something with Marius to pass the time.” Hilda interjected. “Besides, I need him to warm up to me so he knows I’m truly on his side.”

The mention of playing a game with Hilda got Marius’ heart pumping in a spark. Every activity that he took part in always resulted in nearly ringing the grim reaper’s doorbell and also brought some intense bodily harm all over his spongy body. From a steamroller of a shoe plowing over his back, getting swallowed alive, spending the night with a massive foot for a roommate, to running away from huge fingers atop a scalp, he helpless self cried out to never go through any heinous and fatal activities ever again. Jaeden continuously showed that she never cared for him and adored all of his pain, so he drew the worst possible outcome when Hilda offered to do something with him. He had to get away to save his skin.

Any attempts to pull himself up ended in failure as his bulging belly held him back. His breathing pumped hurriedly and cut some circulation to his brain but none of it mattered with his life on the line. He rolled to the side and tried again to get to his feet only for a massive finger to slip under him. It assisted him and pushed his back fully up only for his sight to come across Hilda’s globes for eyes. His puny strength meant nothing as Hilda’s size provided the advantage.

“Marius…please trust me.”

Once again her voice carried no knives or daggers. To have such an impact against him in only a few words accomplished so much in his mind. From a tone of innocence, kindness, and friendliness, all of it united to truly touch without hands or fingers. He wanted to run up and spread his arms out for a warming hug to express his thousands of thanks upon her, but the grave black patches encompassed him to restrict any outlandish actions. Hilda had her way of making friends and helping others out, and Marius couldn’t have picked a greater girl to help him out.

He wobbled from the sheer scope of the swarms his emotions corralled into his head which almost made him fail to pick up the sight of Hilda setting her hand in front of him to hop on. As her words rang through his head, Marius trembled at first before he scooted onto Hilda’s fingertips. The young girl lifted him up close to her smiling face while the boy stood clueless to what she had in mind.

He got his answer when Hilda isolated and wrung some strands of her hair before she set them in front him.

“Here Marius, climb on.”

It took a quick second for the wires to connect and conclude to what she came up with. Her mother stayed silent for some reason while only provided him with more unnerving tension. The difficulties pictured front and center and showed every single terrible outcome if anything went wrong, but Hilda’s kind motions fought back. Everything she expressed to him provided support and understanding, and they stuck out so they wouldn’t go ignored. A small light cracked through the barricade in a first step to barge out.

“Ummm…well, okay…”

With his two outstretched hands he gripped the long blue hairs and held on for his life. His bulbous belly from eating earlier hindered his weight a little but other than that he stayed glued to the girl. His eyes caught a brief glimpse of Hilda’s hand as it disappeared under him, which combined with his acrophobia didn’t sit well with him. He began to sweat nervously with the table seemingly a million yards under him and one slip up would end in disaster. First impressions were important, but that didn’t mean it always ended in sweet candy.

His grip tightened while he closed his eyes in fear, unsure what devious activity Hilda thought of. The gravity around him suddenly shifted back and forth like a common pendulum, which he attributed to his mind going haywire at first, until it kept going and stirred his curiosity. His left eyes peeped open with expectations that Hilda was dangling him over the floor from the chair while she held in a wicked grin.

He strayed from the truth far off the path.

The feelings all over his body went hollow with shock. Hilda’s friendly expression watched overhead while she used one of her fingers to gently sway Marius as he held on to her locks of blue hair.

“See Marius? It’s not so bad. I know exactly how to handle you, heehee, and you’re even tickling me.”

Cogs stiffened to a halt with eyes opened wide. Jaeden’s ideas always inflicted suffering and terror deep so he wouldn’t forget, but despite the odds stacked all over the place the light shined on Hilda and provided something that didn’t stir the reality displayed before him. The slight breeze with each passing swing, the friendly smiles of Hilda and Johanna, the pristine lights that exemplified the constructive possibilities, all of it reminded Marius that not everything displayed as awful under the size perspectives. He may have no expertise when swinging through the trees, but he didn’t need it to understand the calming effect it had on him. Hilda’s blue hair extended long enough to supply plenty of space to hang and swing, and from what he heard the young giant girl rather enjoyed it as well. Her mother stayed quiet and let her daughter have her way with him, but from her facial expression alone she also enjoyed the tiny kid as he swayed back and forth like a stereotypical primate. The joy slowly began to break out and forced some small tears from his eyes, but he held back so the others wouldn’t see. It was a happy moment after all, tears would only downplay his feelings to the others in his mind. In the end the young girl managed to crack at him again. The emotional journey started strong with Hilda at the wheel.

After a few more minutes of swinging from Hilda’s hair the movements ceased. Marius still gripped the hairs tightly until he noticed the girl’s huge hand come out under him. With the newfound safety net below him Marius loosened up before he let go and landed among Hilda’s fingers. She drew her hand away and brought him back into the eyes of both her and her mother, just as grateful as ever. He had to admit to himself that what he went through was…fun in a sense.

“I can see the signs of a smile under all of that damage.” Johanna said. “You’re already making progress Hilda. How about you Marius?”

“Yeah…I think something sparked for a moment.” Marius answered.

“That’s really good to hear.” Hilda said. “You think you could relax a bit longer until we get to the library? We still need to go over that book for any indications of your condition.”

“As long as there is still the possibility of getting my normal size back…I’ll go for it.” Marius said.

“That’s just the enthusiasm I wanted to hear.” Hilda responded before she turned to her mother. “Can you drive us over and pick up David and Frida please?”

Her answer came in the form of Johanna immediately pulling out the car keys.

“I’ll start up the car right away.”

While a bit of traffic stood in the way at first, eventually the family arrived at David’s and Frida’s doorsteps to pick them up. David required a bit of extra time to prepare himself while Frida had herself up and running the mere moments the car pulled in. With everyone in tow, the red flag now swayed above the library as their next destination. Initially considering to use the interconnected Nisse nests for transporting Marius around undetected from the lingering Marras, Hilda decided against it just so they don’t accidentally lose him in the maze of tunnels. It was risky, especially since some of the Marras knew Hilda and would scour over every inch of her for their tiny toy, but she needed Marius by her side in case they required reiterations of what he experienced with the spirits. He also had some insights into certain subjects thanks to some unintended eavesdropping among the Marras which could prove useful. Everyone had some sort of duty to fix Marius, including himself, and they couldn’t forget it.

It only took a few minutes to reach the library since it didn’t strive too far off from some of the city’s landmarks. Hilda took extra caution at first by turning around at every angle for any Marras she may recognize. Luckily her eyes caught none, so she made her way out of the car first followed by Twig, Frida, and David. Frida held onto a typical brown lunch bag which contained some spare “cucumber sandwiches” Hilda’s mother made just in case they got hungry. The name on its own already gave Marius signs to not eat it but Hilda insured that she loved the particular delicacy. She even made sure to break off a crumb for the shrunken boy to eat later which while very kind of her didn’t make Marius any better. With everything set in motion, all they needed now was to step inside.

“I’ll pick all of you up after work, okay?” Johanna said from the car.

“Okay mum!” Hilda answered with Marius hidden in her pocket. Her mother waved goodbye before she drove off in her car. With that settled, the kids along with Hilda’s pet turned to face the doors of the library which already had people walking in and out by the minute. For Marius, it was his first time seeing the establishment in Trolberg up close. It already gave off a very strong first impression to him with how undeniably gigantic the building sat, which almost looked to be around the size of highly official supreme courtrooms. A flight of cement stairs lead up to the huge building before a row of long white columns straight from ancient ruins lead up to a round brown roof. He didn’t quite understand why there were so many square windows on the front of the building, especially since it lacked a luxurious appearance, but he liked the professional round yellow doors with a red sign spelling “LIBRARY” above it. Two large red cylinder areas set themselves on both sides of the building, which he couldn’t determine what housed in them from his angle, that defined some unorthodox vibes in his head. Whatever the case, he didn’t ponder on it too long before he picked out the red decal of a book atop two of the long columns that also held up a brown triangular roof. The certain roof could have been deliberately stylized that way so it gave off the appearance of a folded book, although a coincidence also seemed likely. High atop the round roof, which situated behind the triangular one, appeared to be a miniature hideaway type structure akin to a small house. With a similar triangular brown roof and small round windows it almost looked fit for a young kid that wanted a home away from home. The inside could prove him otherwise, but it formed thoughts in his head. The admiration that came from him was astounding and he couldn’t wait for Hilda to set foot inside.

With a tread up the stairs to the doors, the kids stood at the entrance to the rich haven of pages. Marius kept his mouth shut as Hilda pushed open the doors and headed inside with her friends behind her. If the outside didn’t seem massive enough, the inside clearly reiterated and backed up those claims. Rows and rows of tall brown bookcases stretched to the left and right sides in the sea of knowledge and recollection that held books of all shapes and size. There were so many books that occupied the shelves that singling out one particular novel wouldn’t be such an easy feat especially if they didn’t known the ordering system. The ceiling seemed to extend for miles but matched the length seen outside, and Marius couldn’t see the back of the building for a definite answer in width. Even with the limitation the initial room formed as something of a royal court, but that only described the ground floor. While the outer rims obstructed a majority of the visuals, he could make out a staircase near the middle of the ground floor that lead up to somewhere just as interesting. More giant bookcases showed their appeal instantaneously as the most obvious inclusion but some additional mobile ladders set near their sides in case something was placed out of reach. From there the ground floor could be seen from the massive opening if so desired, something he heard most popular malls had but never expected to see one here. He loved all of it and it turned his mind into a guinea pig that had to take a peek through every nook and cranny for anything he might miss.

He kept his head down to avoid unwanted attention from anyone other than Hilda and her friends but for those certain three it painted neon lights over him.

“I can tell by those big eyes of yours that you’re really interested in this place.” Hilda said to the boy in her pocket.

He reacted by retreating a bit downwards with a slight blush.

“Ummm, maybe just a little bit…”

“Don’t worry too much, it’s not that big of a deal.” Frida answered. “If I were you I’d probably act the same way. This is your first time here after all, right?”

“Yeah, it kind of is.” Marius said with a bit of a stutter. Frida warmly smiled to him.

“Then you’re in for a treat. If we had more time I would quickly divert you to some of my favorite novels but considering your status…”

“I have to agree.” David said. “I think he’s already had his fair share of standing around the perspective changes.”

“I’m still wrapping my head around him surviving all of those incidents.” Hilda said. The trio with the shrunken kid made their way over to the right side of the first floor while they paid attention to the signs on the sides of each shelf to deduce which section they were in. Once they reached a certain part the headed between the shelves where a typical library table and some chair lay near the center. As an added bonus nobody else was in the row with them.

“Here’s where we came across the book before.” Hilda said. “I’ll take the right side while you two take the left. We should find it pretty quickly in that case.”

“Sounds fine to me.” David answered. “Do you think we should get one of those ladders though?”

“Good thinking, although we should only use one so we don’t crowd ourselves.” Frida replied. With everything said, the three split up to specific sections of the bookcases. Frida immediately ran out to the right and came back in wheeling in a ladder while David spread out to the left and started work at the bottom left corner. Twig ended up accompanying him for the extra support since Frida and Hilda had the other side.

“I think you should have the ladder since if I remember correctly the librarian dropped the book from your side.”

“Thanks Frida.” Hilda said. Frida then made her way over to her side as Hilda looked down one more time at the boy in her pocket.

“Please stay quiet so nobody notices you. We’ll find that book soon, don’t worry.”

Marius softly nodded in agreement before he felt Hilda take her first steps on the ladder. She chose to go the opposite route others would normally follow by checking the rows near the top before she would make her way down. The difference in height had no visible impact on her, but for the tiny kid that accompanied her it riled him up somewhat. People advise to not look down when the ground stretched miles apart from the accompanied sky, but when someone hangs in the air from someone else  holding them the motions alone display the temptations. With the appearance of a seagull carrying a grocery bag in its beak the scare tactics piled on Marius as he sagged to the bottom of the plastic. Granted Hilda’s pocket had greater durability but it didn’t change the fact that Marius could never trifle with the needles of acrophobia.

To try and keep his mind off of the fears down below, Marius lifted his head up as he watched Hilda in silence. Her eyes darted left and right as her fingers skipped over the spines of each book, which while he refused to gaze back to his fear gave implications that Frida and David had reflected forms of expression. They took all turns from the inside with no wasted milliseconds, something most race car drivers still practiced on a daily basis, and the seriousness dripped all over their bodies. She told no lies, his restoration truly placed on the top of her list with no chance to slack off. He wanted to run up and give her the greatest warmhearted hug for all she set herself for him but yet he couldn’t, not for now anyway. His situation still stood and the future could hold anything.

Some low scratching noises rumbled in the far reaches of his hearing, almost at voiceless levels. Ire and dread gleamed over his body when he drew his attention to the source. It instantly pumped and sliced daggers into him by virtue of its multiple black ovals aimed in his direction while they imposed some nasty side effects. The strength to cry out and alert his new giant friends sapped to the end of reality and blinded him from the easy common sense. With each passing pace from a hairy leg the more he stood out as an easy snack with his size posing next to nothing to ward it off. For once an everyday common sight had its chance to sink its fangs into what was once never an option, and Marius knew it too well.

The beast reached the edge of the shelf and stuck its legs right into Hilda’s dress, the girl too dedicated to finding the one book to notice the possible travesty below, which triggered Marius into another life or death moment. Every survival tactic whizzed by in a crowded panic but he required one to save his life. The hesitation counted down as the creature practically drooled its paralyzing venom before everything rushed into the fallout shelter and left one single feeling in the line of fire. His body acted on its own as primal instinct held the reigns. Right as the black ovals peeked over the lip of Hilda’s pocket he sprang up and planted his feet on its back. As the creature, clearly irritated, tried to back up and drive him off his legs pumped again and released a stunning leap straight onto the bookshelf. While no video game hero, he sure acted like someone hit the button twice in succession. He took a moment to try and recollect what he just went through but he wouldn’t get long until he heard the same low audible scratching noises behind him.

The trouble only started.

The being crawled its way off of Hilda’s body and back to the shelf while it eyed its newfound prey. While at times Marius wished he had the body of an Olympic athlete now was the most appropriate. He let loose and peeled out which forced his pursuer after him. With more than two legs it put up a dangerous chase and like something out of a war movie the path ahead was obstructed by dozens of giant hard covered books that served as nothing but obstacles to weave around. He couldn’t dawdle and had to let his legs do the talking which would flush the calories right out if he ran on a daily basis. For any sort of exercise program the recommendation to undergo his current situation never had the chance to become the norm. Lives lacked do-overs so he kept going to his fullest to get away and never turn back to the problem ever again.

The dust over the wooden shelves posed as a minor spike in difficulty as it acted like winter arrived early. Traction drove up in priority next to speed, as much as Marius didn’t like it, which forced him to slow down enough to stay ahead of the beast but focus simultaneously. In combination with the gargantuan novels the winder tundra suddenly pulled in its ice rink plastered with boulders. If he looked back even for a second to see how his chaser dealt with the troubles it would take his eyes off of his front, and if anything something could pop in to ruin everything. The risk posed too much for him so his eyes locked ahead but he constantly looked for any escape route. As if fortune smiled on him, he eventually saw a large book lying on its side ahead of him which didn’t appear important at first glance but a closer inspection revealed something possibly crucial. One of the colossal books ahead ended up misplaced with its side against the dusty wood, but that didn’t stand out as the kicker. Between the cover and backside in the puddle of pages was a gap just big enough to squeeze through while the carnivorous creature couldn’t. His only ticket to freedom was a nosedive away, but too bad he didn’t have the expertise.

“Crap, this is going to be close!” Marius thought as his legs homed in on the gap. Right as his legs felt exhausted he made his move. He took air and pounced straight toward the opening in a desperate attempt to stay alive. The percentages swerved in both directions until it settled on one specific outcome. With one brief swish, Marius’ sight quickly went dark but he didn’t have the emotions of death. The pages over and under him sandwiched and pressed against him like a compactor, but he didn’t care. The legs of the monster reached into the hole followed by its disgusting ovals and fangs only to not extend far enough. As he predicted, its body proved too large to fit into the same hole which gave the boy a much needed breather. Eventually its attempts continued to prove futile, so it backed off with no Marius dinner tonight. It didn’t get a load off that easily, as Marius witnessed the shadow above him fall from light and dark constantly which drew his attention. His heart pierced when he gazed up and his eyes stared at the teetering book next to both him and the beast. Not needing an encyclopedia to inform what would occur after, the boy turned around hastily in a speedy crawl to the other side of the book around him. No announcements of falling vertical logs were required, his sight painted the picture for him.

Marius held his hands over his head in an attempt to brace for impact. A few seconds after, what could equivalent to an atomic bomb quaked instantly behind him with a bang strong enough to shatter windows of an entire city. The might and power of an apocalyptic impact struck the wood with an omnipotent fury all within a split second, which nuked anyone in its wake. For the boy and his makeshift fallout shelter they were spared from the nuke, a moment Marius couldn’t believe at first. He caught a glimpse of the aftermath behind him and cringed, as one of the beast’s stray hairy legs was all that existed left. Nothing could survive something that severe, not even an arachnid.

“Oh thank heavens…I actually made it…” Marius thought as his heart rate slowed to regular intervals. With the trouble now solved, he proceeded to make his way out from between the pages. He was just about to lay a foot to the wood below when his eyes noticed yet another terrible sight. While they cited to never take their sight off of him, Hilda and her friends sure knew how to form a hasty retreat. It almost seemed like they never set foot in the aisle of the library or even arrived in the first place. The reality of abandonment crept in to make itself at home, but an opposition repelled it to other confines. Hilda and her friends showed nothing but remorse and care since they discovered him, so for them to switch gears so speedily lacked a thorough display to him. He failed to come up a worthwhile explanation in favor of the facade of acting, so he could only conclude that they left him back by mistake. Considering how hidden he was in Hilda’s pocket, a slip of the mind had more plausibility behind it.

With his “babysitters” temporarily out of the picture, all he could do now was stay hidden until they realize his absence. He took cover back between the pages of the book as it provided some semblance of a hiding spot but not long after some squeaking sounds rang through. In case of Hilda returning, Marius stuck his head out and looked down below the shelf. He frowned once the assumptions fell to nothing, for someone else showed its presence. She stood at a pretty normal height for most adults while her appearance poked vibes that most would associate with the mysterious and dark. Her short hair uniquely mixed between black near the top with light purple near the ends alongside her cheeks. Some would claim them as some stylish choices if the other features didn’t contrast to what they possibly meant. Near the bottom of her two lower eyelids formed some sharp shadows that stood out to the watchful eye, which made Marius cringe for some reason. Just the first few details he picked out stuck warning signs all over.

While some women usually strayed away from standing out, when they wore a long black appearing cape they obviously asked for it. He almost gazed at it at points completely dumbfounded as to why someone like her would possibly wear one as if today was a normal occurrence. He understood why certain superheroes donned the piece but everyday citizens wearing one…it only bewildered him. He almost failed to notice the other details that showed the woman thought things differently, and he saw the next part as some sort of gray shirt with white sleeves underneath the cape. He couldn’t pick out the rest of its features as the estranged cape covered everything else but he clearly had the sight to take note of the black miniskirt around her waist. He concluded his observation with a pair of gray leggings and black formal shoes one would expect for grim tendencies. Everything about her screamed that she had her own outlooks of life far beyond one could consider normal and he didn’t like it. When some animals are colored black it’s to display warning signs to not approach them, and the woman clearly fit that sort of tactic. Marius already wanted to get away and never come across her, which wouldn’t be too common for him if he never shrunk in the first place. Her reasons were beyond him and if he yearned to find out he could regret everything if he snooped where it didn’t belong.

She pushed along some sort of mobile cart that housed two small steel bookshelves with a row of various books on each one. The shrunken boy never seen anything of the sort, but he didn’t get to ponder on it too much when the woman pulled up the ladder Hilda used earlier. He ducked between the pages that made up his hiding spot as the small crack of an opening revealed a shadow where the light once shone. From there he heard a deep breathing sigh above him before a large mass of a book slammed only a few feet away from him positioned upright properly. More proceeded after which shortened his breathing room before some more slamming came up behind him. If he had a shred of claustrophobia he would freak out instantly, but it delayed for the action after. Another sigh formed above him before his sight went completely black and the gravity started to shift. He held on for dear life before the gravity turned off for a brief moment followed by a loud slam. Marius ricocheted against the two pages for a second before he fell to a complete stop, all shaken up. While uninjured, he grew worried when the opening lit up again. He made out a row of book in front of him centered between two long steel walls. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where he ended up, but even with the setback attempting to break for it would be suicide. Whoever the woman was, he now sat in her domain.

He heard some more shifty noises followed by some creaking. Not long after he felt a strong movement forward as a range of colors displayed from the crack in front of him. The cart was now on the move with an unwanted visitor along for the ride. All he could do was stay quiet until an opening to get away revealed itself, but he had no idea where he would end up or even if he could find Hilda in such a huge building. Would he ever see her again? The thoughts clouded his mind in every corner.

After a few more minutes everything ceased and inertia almost threw him out. Before he could comprehend what happened some more noises came from the outside. This time curiosity drove him forward enough to stick his head out only to see the giant woman grab some books next him and place them on a different shelf than the last one. From the observations he took of her she either had a job as some sort of organizer or some sort of librarian, although the assumptions could have been completely off considering his less than stellar knowledge. All books she placed on the shelf stood upright and went in order of the labels placed at the bottom of their spines, which Marius didn’t understand completely from first glances. Whether by some complicated code or symbols he never got to think on it too much as the woman turned in his direction, forcing him to withdraw or risk the shine of the spotlight. Nervousness crawled all over him when the woman’s huge digits placed right before him as she gripped the book next to him and pulled it away. If he panicked for too long he would get taken next, but he never came across a decent opening to floor it. The woman had her work set on the cart of books and provided no glimpses away from the subject.

“Come on Marius, you’ve dealt with MANY grave situations before this while smaller than everything.” the boy thought to himself. “Just wait for the right time and hopefully find Hilda. Considering she’s now aware of me, she might-”

Some low rumbling shook him out of his train of thought. Gravity shifted for a second time, but now the tunnel around him started to shift vertically. His hands and feet started to slip as the hole of light behind him awaited his descent. Any attempts to grip the paper slipped through his fingers before he decided on a last resort and stuck his arms and legs to the side in a stiff motions. As hard as he tried it also was a lost cause as his limbs eventually failed him into a free fall downward. The light hit his eyes as he hit the ground with a thud face first, which stood out as yet another unsuccessful landing to the many times his helpless self careened into the air. He would fail as “Athlete of the Year” in an instant at this rate.

He begrudgingly picked his head up and fluttered his his eyes in an attempt to figure out where he landed. A wave of familiarity wafted around as the steel walls and gargantuan books showed their presence again, so he didn’t land on the ground much to his relief. Since he knew he now stood back atop the cart of books it sounded like a good time to get away and find Hilda, but as he turned around to make a run for it…

…the gigantic book woman towered over him with her sight aimed right at him. With yet another panic attack under his belt, Marius bolted from his spot for some exit to the situation. His overwhelming emotions managed to skip out on a major detail in such a hurry; when you’re smaller than just about everything distance traveled also reduces next to nothing to anyone that watched. Because of that fact, he never got far when he found himself pinched from the front and behind by two of the woman’s citadel sized digits. His feet lost their footing as he took off into the air until he sight pictured nothing but the woman’s face that could fit entire galaxies. While he may have some relaxation when it came to Hilda, for anyone else he lacked knowledge of it was basically a free for all.

His mouth clamped shut as the woman’s dreary eyes scanned all over him. He never felt so much of a panic since Jaeden’s final games before Raven bailed him out.

“Interesting…seeing you up close makes me much more fascinated. Are you okay, little guy?”

Marius stopped cringing and creaked open one of his eyes upon hearing her words.

“Errrrr, ummm…I’m okay. Just please put me down…I’m looking for someone.”

“You won’t be getting around easily under such reduction. Someone shrunk you, didn’t they?”

She never danced around the questions and drove straight for the information. While it surprised Marius in its own right, the fact that she nailed his main problem head on amazed him even more. He didn’t even explain himself yet, so for her to get it right first guess brought up many more question. Stroke of luck? Mind reading? In Trolberg anything had prospects to act out the impossible, which boiled down some of his ideas. While she appeared creepy to him, she drew a blank for everything else.

“Wow, that’s…exactly right.” Marius answered. “Are you some sort…of librarian?”

“Yes, I run this place. I’m not surprised you figured that out.” the woman said. “It can get confusing sometimes when it’s your first time here.”

She struck at him again with another correct prediction. Now the woman really began to freak him out.

“Ummm…okay then.” Marius replied. “If you could put me down so I can-”

“I’m not through with you yet. There’s something I need to find out first from you.” the librarian interrupted. “Besides, I require some enjoyment from standing around this place all day.”

With such few words she threw punches at him everywhere. She spelled out everything with no extra fluff when she turned, she pounced straight to the details in some very condensed statements. He couldn’t help but express the confusion and fear all over his face as the librarian held all of the cards, and even him, between her fingers. No expressions and no choice words combined with her selection of attire gifted nothing to crack the impenetrable safe around her, but it did unnerve the shrunken kid in her grasp.

His breathing wheezed all over the place as the librarian drew him in closer to her face. If he guessed correctly it would crank his feelings into overdrive. He witnessed the digestive system first hand and never wanted his eyes to curse themselves from the sights again. His body wiggled and trembled into jelly, and since she didn’t show any signs everything still was up in the air with the giant librarian.

He prepared for the worst, but the travesties never arrived. Instead he abruptly found himself standing on her right shoulder after she released her grip on him. The librarian’s planet eyes still blankly stared his way with no signs from anywhere.

“Slide down.”

Marius had no idea what that meant until she extended her arm and tilted it at a descending angle. Her hand flipped so her palm faced up, which marked the end, but it didn’t make him any less uneasy. Water slides contained twists and turns, some even shaped as a half pipe so the sun shined and graced its light, so the trip down granted a burst of excitement to the ones that took the plunge. What stood before him was an interpretation and knock off model from someone who only heard how they functioned, so if he ended up with splinters in his buttocks it wouldn’t be his fault. Besides, anyone bigger than him held all of the power to force him to their bidding, especially to others he had no knowledge of.

He held back on retorting to the librarian, especially with the warning signs plastered everywhere, but the height from where he stationed and the floor under him appeared as a death sentence. Too bad if he stalled for too long he would most likely get it from the huge librarian. He held his breath for a few seconds before he lifted one of his legs over the angle below only to suddenly gain reminders that the slide down had no safety rails or anything to hold him back from a grave impact. The librarian’s eyes prevented him from any attempts to break for it so he had to go for it. With his life on the line for the millionth time while the traffic light turned green, gravity took over in the thrust forward. It didn’t stand as too much friction to burn his butt cheeks, as he had some pretty nasty experiences with playground slides, but it had enough loose controls so it acted like certain water rides. He refused to take a single glance down so he could continuously keep a calming mind, for the last thing he needed was another panic attack. It also prevented him from taking any sort of glance backward to possibly see the librarian’s reactions, although from what he saw earlier it probably wouldn’t account for much. Nowhere to go but down, and with the absent safety harnesses one would usually expect some points of concentration were required. Even with the extra precautions as the moments passed the intense worry slowly faded away as replacements showed themselves. He almost mistook the activity as another careless game around the playground equipment until reality stuck a flag in him. Hilda earlier showed him the same feeling when she played with him, but his brain went hollow when it tried to determine the cause. Somehow the librarian brought up the emotions again, but he necessitated more time to think on it.

As soon as it started Marius ended at the librarian’s palm. As the dust settled Marius took his time picking himself up while he tried to recollect what he just went through before he felt gravity shift once again back to the blank stare he wanted to wipe from his memory. He stayed quiet as the librarian used her other hand to pinch a portion of her right arm and feel for something Marius couldn’t see. She rubbed her two fingers and stared at them for a moment until she got back to the boy in her other hand.

“Well, that was not so bad. You did well, and I have to admit I kind of enjoyed watching you.” the librarian said.

“Ummm…thanks miss.” Marius responded. He thought she would have nothing left for him, and from what she put him through it formed the possibilities, but he never expected one final, albeit minor, activity in her to do list. He stood silent when the librarian poked him all over his body with her fingers, all while she still had her stagnant expression. He held back the urge to reel backward for some sort of space while the librarian did her prodding over him. She lightly clasped his arms between two fingers and poked his back and belly with a fingernail before she quickly ended whatever she had in mind.

Marius drew a blank again as the librarian rubbed her index finger and thumb together while she stared at the spot. She clearly kept the thoughts to herself which painted an enigma for the boy who watched.

“Hmmm, I expected as such.” the librarian mumbled before her attention drew back to Marius. “Listen little guy, if you are planning to restore yourself you will need this bit of info.”

She reeled him in close to her face before she uttered the words.

“Page fifty seven, section four, underneath the third footnote.”

“Ummm…that’s not a complete-”

Before he even knew what happened, the librarian hastily set him down on a nearby table then quietly disappeared in the blink of an eye. It took a few seconds before his brain caught up with the times and made him shake his head awake. Nothing provided any evidence to her encounter with him, almost like she never saw Marius in the first place. Something occurred but also never happened simultaneously.

“Wha…what the heck did I just go through?!” Marius thought. He suffered from so much bewilderment over the whole ordeal that he almost forgot about his current objective to find Hilda. After shaking himself out of it, his next course of action had to be determined. With his current stature on the table the first step needed a solution to safely get off of it to the ground below without anyone catching him in their sight. He waltzed near the table’s edge when he heard some footsteps around the corner. With nowhere to hide his decision required immediate attention and brainpower, and in his haste the wheel stopped on one specific option. Thankfully it didn’t drive himself to actually dive off as the giant figure coming near revealed itself.

He never had such a relieving smile when he saw it as none other than the friendly Hilda. Her eyes zipped around for a moment until they settled on the table.

“Marius, you’re still here! I almost thought I permanently lost you for good!”

“Thankfully that…didn’t happen.” Marius stuttered. “I nearly had the feeling that you forgot.”

“After all we went through in preparation to help you out? I could never slip my mind on that!” Hilda answered. “I said it countless times that I promised to restore you and I’m set to see it through. Besides, it’s what friends do.”

A warm feeling rose in his heart when her words touched him. The calmness and friendliness from his experiences with her before washed all of the panic away. He had to give it to Hilda, for she would pass off as a kind spirited cheerleader with no effort whatsoever. With his emotions back above the line, he stood atop the table as Hilda waled over to him and lightly wrapped her tree trunks for fingers around his body and lifted him into her grasp. Her next action took him by surprise, for she slowly brought him close to her chest before she pushed him against it in a lighthearted hug. This also threw him a reminder of the night Jaeden forced him to undo the belt around her waist for the nightmare purpose, as Hilda unintentionally grabbed him in her sleep near her chest. Unlike that one time though Hilda was fully aware of what she was doing to Marius and knew his limits, which put the boy into a more comfortable position. Even though he absolutely adored Hilda’s comforting with a hug, somehow he felt it didn’t fully work to its fullest without his correct size behind him. He wanted to show his affection to Hilda’s help on his end, but he couldn’t equal hers without his correct size back.

After the moment of showing her care, Hilda pulled Marius back before she hastily placed him back inside her pocket. Back in the safety of the blue haired girl, Marius stayed quiet as Hilda made her way around a few corners and up the stairs to the second floor. He initially had no idea where she aimed for until he noticed Frida and David join up near the back of the floor along with Twig. Someone else also accompanied the group, and while he didn’t see him on the way inside the library he appreciated the extra company especially to the one that rescued him in the first place.

“So…any sight of him?” Frida asked while almost out of breath.

“Nowhere I could…come up with.” David answered, equally as tired. “How about you Hilda?”

The girl answered with another one of her warming smiles before she lightly opened her pocket and showed Marius inside. The shrunken boy silently waved back to the two.

“Ah, you found him! I nearly feared the worst once the news hit me.” Frida said. “What happened back there?”

“To make a long story short, the building could use some bug spray.” Marius answered. “I also see Raven decided to join up.”

“Hey, I would have been here sooner if a flock of geese didn’t instantaneously decide to pull a hard right into my path.” Raven answered. “I really had to hold back on charring those sacks of feathers with lightning and then they kept turning up the volume of their obnoxious honking at every angle…”

“I think we get the point.” Hilda said. “Did you hold on to the book?”

“Yup. Still cozy under my arm.” David responded. He brought up the aforementioned novel and held it before everyone to show he had it. While bland and nondescript in Marius’ eyes, he could well make out the bold title of “Tales of the Marra” right on the front cover. It drummed up his curiosity by a peg if a title like that contained all of the information about the nightmare spirits, although some information didn’t need repeats on account of his first hand moments with them, especially with Jaeden. Hopefully one of them could pick out something useful in the pages to reverse the hex planted on him.

Although something about Raven’s words also nagged him in the back of his head.

With everyone now up to speed, Hilda rotated to face the bookshelves beside her to the left. While most of the group stood set and content, Marius didn’t fall under the same sensitivities. If anything he had no idea what the young girl had in mind, but all it took was a few more seconds to blow his mind. She took hold of the crease between the two bookshelves with both hands and pushed with all of her might, which normally would result in nothing being accomplished.

But Trolberg was no ordinary city.

Right as he thought her actions weren’t going anywhere, the shelf shifted to the right. As the astonishment started Hilda pushed again and revealed more behind. Eventually the bookcase completely slid over and its treasure revealed for the world to see. Nothing but a large rectangular hole sat in its place, which ominously cast a darkness like networks of caves.

Hilda set foot inside first followed by the others, and from what Marius observed she apparently knew what she was doing. She turned to the right and with a quick flip of a finger the area flooded with darkness illuminated and disclosed the contents within. One could consider that libraries stayed condensed to contain only small communities and support low numbers, for the last thing they needed was crowds waiting at their doors, but from the hidden room alone the theory stood no ground. From his perspective the entire room sized around standard small condominiums, and even then it sounded too generous. If he never saw the sea of books plastered over the walls atop the endless shelves he probably would have mistaken the room for somewhere else completely. An entire lounge could fit inside with extra space still available, and whoever owned the area certainly had the idea in mind. The entrance only situated near the top of the room with a few flights of stairs serving as the path down. Out of the corner of his eye another furniture piece showed its colors, as a small desk with a lamp and a few books set atop it while a regal appearing reading chair stood alongside it. If anyone took a seat in such a magnificent spot they could probably stay for hours and finish reading dozens of novels without paying attention to time. Either that or they could unintentionally fall asleep from the coziness, a trait he succumbed to on occasion. The owner really showed professionalism in craft and literature in one single room, although he had no idea who that person was.

Hilda and the others, besides Marius since she had him snuggled in her pocket, carefully walked down the flights of stairs before they settled near the desk and chair.

“You have a better keen eye Frida, so how about you follow through with the details?” Hilda asked.

“I’d be much obliged.” Frida answered as she sat in the chair. David handed her the book before Hilda picked Marius out of her pocket and set him on her right shoulder. Everyone stood quiet as the young prodigy flipped open and book and skimmed over the topics. Apparently Raven had a short attention span as he took off to another section of the room and hovered around another section of books near the opposite corner. The others didn’t pay too much attention to the ignorance and continued to listen in on Frida. For Marius the brief facts about the Marras Frida skimmed over got him shivering, as the mere mention of those spirits reminded him of the terrible times before Hilda found him. He held together as best as he could in case she came across any useful information.

After a few minutes of skimming, Frida scanned the words one final time before she cocked an eyebrow and gazed up to the others.

“I…I don’t understand. This book doesn’t say anything about Marras knowing any shrinking spells.”

“Are you sure you read between the lines for anything?” David asked.

“David, I’m always thorough with my reading.” Frida answered. “I didn’t see any phrases detailing a Marra exclusive shrinking spell.”

“So the Marra somehow learned it on her own?” Hilda wondered. “So if we consider Marius’ explanation that no other Marra knew of it and the fact that we encountered her before when she haunted David-”

“I’m not too surprised Jaeden ended up running into them before.” Marius thought as Hilda spoke.

“-I have a hunch as to how she possibly learned about that spell. Remember that one specific statement she said when we caught her with a leather belt?”

“You mean about how she knows the Rat King?” Frida asked. Hilda nodded.

“Okay, so we know about how she learned the spell, but how do we undo the damage?” David asked.

“I may have what you’re looking for.”

Everyone set their sights above them to see Raven flying above a certain bookshelf. With his talons clutching the spine, the bird pulled out a certain book that Frida and Hilda almost recognized immediately.

“Oh, it’s that special spellbook! Good thinking there!” Frida said. Raven’s eyes went straight and rotated to the side.

“Actually I got bored of your lectures and scanned the place to keep my mind running. Can’t suddenly act like someone who has a case of LSD.”

While his statement irked Frida a little bit, he descended upon the kids and handed Hilda the aforementioned book with a cheeky grin. She handed Marius to Frida before she flipped the covers and started to turn pages. After around half a minute her eyes caught the target.

“Hey, I think I found it! Let’s see, it’s labeled How to Render Thy Opposition Ineffectual to Your Endeavors, a colorful choice of words, and it directly references miniaturizing anything to put you into control of a situation. It also included instructions to pull it off…ooh, that isn’t good.”

“Something wrong Hilda?” Marius asked from Frida’s grasp. Hilda flipped a few more pages before she got back to him.

“The book states that because of the intense power inflicted to compress the target the user can only cast it once. Any further attempts will yield no extra results, a sign that the soul was harmlessly marked to prevent further manipulation.”

“So it’s basically a one way trip to reduction?” David asked.

“No, there is a way to undo the spell, but…” Hilda stammered before she shakily finished reading. “Due to the quality of the spell…only the enchanter can relinquish the one affected by stating the chant backwards.”

If the shrunken kid’s state of mind settled normally the acceptance would never arrive. With no cure available to anyone unless the one who imposed the curse granted the privilege, he would essentially never get his regular size back. Jaeden relished the fact that she had someone she could bind in her hands and do what she wanted, so it would never cross her mind to undo the amount of reduction she placed on him. Besides, she explicitly described how she intended to keep Marius as small as she made him for the rest of his life, which not only revealed how cruel she thought of him but forced his mind into a negative spiral. The grimness waited for the misstep into tragedy.

However, something about the words he heard before encompassed his sanity from the cliff below.

“Page fifty seven, section four, underneath the third footnote.”

“Did you say something Marius?”

Reality wrangled him back as David’s words reminded him of the real world. He shook himself and noticed all of the giant kids plus Raven and Twig gazing back at him. His brain booted back up as he realized what he just said.

“Oh, uhhhhh…I zoned out for a second there. Hilda, can I ask you to turn to that specific section in the book?”

“Sure, even though I don’t know why you would request that.” the young girl replied. Like before, it only took a few seconds for Hilda to reach where Marius indicated. Both of her eyebrows raised upon seeing the words.

“Whoa, this completely turns the problem around!”

“I assume you came across something useful?” Raven asked.

“Oh, definitely!” Hilda answered before she proceeded to read the section out loud. “In case of extreme circumstances, any stricken targets can render their hexes void by a received blessing from the mystic beast. While extremely evasive and highly sought after, one could be granted access to come across one if given the key to its appearance by…something called a Cavite.”

“So there’s a creature that can refresh a spell out of someone’s system regardless of how to normally undo it?” Frida said. “That sounds like the perfect ticket to cure Marius! Does it say anything else?”

“Well, not too much.” Hilda responded. “There’s nothing else about the so called ‘mystic beast’ but it does describe stuff about the Cavites. It says that legends call them ‘nature’s musicians’ or the ‘songs of greenery’ and they tend to hang out in forests or lush areas while invisible to the naked eye. While their songs only pass by as whispers in the winds, one could obtain a piece of their scent to hear them in full and make them seeable to the holder. It’s quite a description for them, but unfortunately doesn’t actually provide any pictures to what they look like.”

“Sounds like we need to find one of those Cavites to bestow us the key to that mystic beast…whatever it is.” Marius replied. “What piece of their scent do we need?”

“It says we need a piece of its shed skin. Apparently they’re hard to come by, as the beings only shed their skin every five hundred years. If that’s the case finding one here in Trolberg would be next to impossible as it’s not exactly ‘nature’ if you know what I mean.”

“If it takes that long to find one single piece I’m pretty sure there isn’t any floating around nearby either, even in the woods over the walls.” David said. “We need another way to get hold of one without traveling millions of miles somewhere else.”

While the opportunity to change back to normal size arose from the ashes, the method provided didn’t sound easy. From what he gathered the Cavites seemed to act as followers or minions of the mythical magic undoing beast, but like the beast they follow they won’t show themselves with a drop of a hat. Even so, they needed the ability to pierce through their invisibility first but a sample of its shed skin had to be in their possession to get rid of the protection. If one truly existed somewhere far off from Trolberg that wouldn’t pass as a worthwhile solution, they required another tactic. If only there was something with the fascinating trait of being able to bring in anything upon a simple desire…

That specific Marra’s words proved useful after all.

“Guys, there’s something I heard when imprisoned that might solve our issue, but luck has to be on our side.”

For the rest of the day the kids made ways around every corner, including their own houses, to gather as much rancid items and trash into plastic bags. They only had one shot to try and force out the crooked djinn with the stinkiest and smelliest forms of trash available to them. Marius stayed with Hilda the entire process because she wanted to keep an eye on him at all times while everyone else split up to their own areas. Frida in particular dreaded setting her digits on any germ ridden leftover of something nasty so she provided the least amount, but that didn’t mean she never put in the effort. She wanted Marius back to normal as much as the other two while she also wanted to make up for almost ending the miniaturized kid while trapped in her hair. Of everyone in the group, Raven had the easiest time since he could fly. He couldn’t pick up as much as the others but he made up for it in distance. From all the way to the docks to the walls that encompassed the city he could get there in the blink of an eye, which also came with the benefit of having a literal birds eye view to keep watch of any Marras that might still be after Marius. From the brief moments before he was captured Jaeden clearly had quite a temper, but other than that one detail everything else fell to black. It didn’t matter too much at the time everyone put in their work to find the perfect garbage for the job. Hilda even set him aside before she dove into a full dumpster at one time, which showed her true dedication. He wished he could help but Hilda stated he always gave her the moral support to keep going with his dilemma. She handled everything for him like her life depended on it, which astounded Marius and brightened him a little to know he found the right girl to solve his “little” problem.

Everyone hoarded their humongous bags of garbage into the back of one of Trolberg’s many alleyways. Despite the amount, with only one shot to summon the Behemoth of Flies, they decided to gather trash one more time tomorrow before their single attempt. The group went their separate ways for the night while Hilda had Marius and Twig. The tiny boy rode on Hilda’s shoulder and closely avoided touching most of her body since she literally went dumpster diving for him.

Once they arrived back at home another aroma hit their nostrils. A mix of spices and some light steam had their stomachs rumbling, and when they gazed over to the kitchen area they smiled to see Johanna at the stove. Hilda walked over to the table and let Marius onto the table from her shoulder as she still had muck and grime all over her.

Johanna turned around while she had a similar smile to the others.

“Oh, you arrived just in time for dinner. I’ve prepared something-”

Her statement never finished as a gust of wind fluttered about and in only a single blink Hilda vanished. It quickly became obvious where she went as the door to the bathroom swayed back and forth before settling. Johanna chuckled while Marius took his place on the table.

“She got smothered again, didn’t she?” Johanna asked.

“You nailed that right on the head.” Marius answered. “I want to forget some piles she jumped into because…ewwww.”

Marius shuddered upon remembering the dozens of dumpster dives.

“Well that’s Hilda for you. She always wants to explore every inch of the world like a true explorer.” Johanna said. “Where have you two been this time?”

“Honestly I think you’re better off not knowing so you don’t lose your appetite. It’s pretty nasty.”

“Really? How so?”

“It involves trash, and I mean A LOT of it.”

Hilda’s mother looked at Marius with a cocked eyebrow.

“Why exactly would she trudge around that?”

“Because we possibly found a way to change me back, but it requires a specific rare object. To get it we need to summon something called…the Behemoth of Flies.”

The woman’s smile slightly faded before she shook a bit, a response Marius didn’t expect. She hastily rotated back around toward the stove but she stirred the shrunken boy enough to catch his interest.

“Is everything okay over there? It almost appeared like I spooked you for a second.”

He witnessed Johanna shake for a second time before her head tilted down followed by a deep sigh. She couldn’t ignore him since Hilda sought to keep him hidden in their house until his terrible ordeal was dealt with and even then she also wanted to fix his attitude from all of the beatings he took.

“I guess…I’m just a little worried is all.” Johanna answered.

“How so?” Marius asked. The stove gave off some audible beeps before Johanna turned around with a visible small frown. She slowly walked over to the table where Marius stood and pulled up a chair for better communication. Her eyes stared directly at his tiny self but showed sorrow more than anger.

“You see, I’ve heard stories around Trolberg the last couple of days. Many had some really interesting topics and I love to hear about others’ experiences, but there was this one story that provided a wave of dread to me. It’s a pretty recent tale too and I can’t help but feel worried for myself.”

Her words lead to Twig perking his ears up from the floor. He trotted over next to Johanna’s chair and gave off some rather curious whines as if he knew where things were going.

“It’s about the creature we’re after, isn’t it?” Marius asked. Johanna grimly nodded.

“Apparently sightings of the creature only started occurring, and to those that ended up crossing paths with it…didn’t end so well. Sure, a free wish always works wonders, but most of people that encountered it never seem to know about the nasty downside which results in something awful happening to them.”

“It’s about how the monster pulls the desired object from somewhere else, right?”

“Oh, you already know that?” Johanna asked.

“A particular nightmare spirit spoke about it while one kept me ensnared…somewhere incredibly grotesque.”

“I guess I don’t need to reiterate that point then.” Johanna said before she continued. “Anyway, I heard from one parent about a man lucky enough to form a garbage dump that made the beast appear. When it asked for what he deeply desired, he foolishly asked for incredible wealth and power. The creature granted his wish the next day with near endless piles of gold around his house, which went great for him at first until the police arrived. They were lead in on an investigation after a bank one town over had its entire revenue suddenly vanish without a trace, which lead to him as the prime suspect until eventually…”

“…they locked him up.” Marius finished. Johanna nodded again and soon her expression rubbed off to him.

“Did he try to explain his case?”

“He did, but everyone thought he was crazy.” Johanna explained. “That was just one incident I heard about with that Behemoth of Flies creature. It may have a certain rarity to it, but all cases I heard never ended in harmony. I know you and Hilda intend to summon it for yourselves, but if you end up successful…I just want you to plan everything out in advance. The last thing I need is ambiguity forcing our downfall.”

Her words hit him with a small sting. He never thought of that side of the coin when it came to that creature, and for Johanna to hear reports that dire meant words had more impact to grant what he wanted. The phenomenon may have started with the Behemoth of Flies only showing itself recently to a few lucky people, but he also had to remind himself that it acted like a crooked djinn when it granted wishes. He could wish for something very rare only for the creature to smuggle it away from a collector of sorts, and it posed a great risk.

“Well…we’re aiming for something that hasn’t shown up in five hundred years. All I can do is hope the beast picks it off somewhere free while in nobody’s possession. If it’s that powerful of a being it must have the ability to grant all wishes involving every object in existence. We have to take that risk.”

“Then what would happen if things didn’t go your way?”

His body nearly went hollow.

“Wha…what did you say?”

“I asked what would happen if you fail to bring up the creature. I mean, I’m only being optimistic since you kept saying how much your size depends on it.  You think you’re prepared…to live like that for the rest of your life?”

If the last statement brought a sting, this one unleashed the swarm. She ripped the scab right off him and struck right where it hurt. He went through so much up to this point and for it to fall to nothing would result in the coming of the apocalypse to him. To live as a speck to everything around him as he would require assistance for every activity he did practically acted as a death sentence without the actual humanity bits. Jaeden made sure that everything at his size played out as a fiery experience until Hilda came along, but even she never truly knew the acts of punishment put on him. Just one simple question piled the end of everything on him and it hurt.

He just about fell to his knees before he knew what was going on with him as his face expressed like he witnessed someone’s tragic end. Johanna immediately caught on to her mistake and tried to withdraw with her hands waving like someone innocent.

“Oh no, I didn’t mean to put so much pressure on you! I know you’re going to find a way back to normal, I never meant it like that! Please calm down!”

Her sincere apologies never got through to him, his body still felt on the verge of collapse. Thankfully she wasn’t the only one listening in, as upon hearing his current trouble Twig hastily jumped onto one of the chairs and table before he eyed Marius down. He set his head to the counter with a silent whine and nuzzled his nose against the shrunken boy’s body. The friendly gesture chipped some off of Marius’ paralysis, enough to provide the ability to turn his head. With a second nuzzle to turn him around, Twig successfully got the kid to look him straight in the eyes. The boy’s limbs trembled while stuck like they were petrified, but the signs pointed in his head that Hilda’s pet wanted to tell him something.

“Wh…what do you want…Twig?” Marius stammered. The pet nuzzled him again before he set his nose and head to the table, mumbling in the process. It took a few seconds for Marius to put two and two together while Johanna watched from the sidelines, and once it formed another underlying nervousness crept under his skin. It usually took some form of training, but with none of the sort behind him he would go in completely blind.

Not wanting to deny Twig, Marius slowly made his way over up to his black nose. When he set a hand on it he felt wet through his digits, a common trait some animals carry. Considering he had no idea what kind of animal Twig was, it helped with the mental calculations. Twig set his nose down further, which gave the boy more indications to climb on, so Marius slowly raised one of his feet and put in on some solid ground on Twig. The pet didn’t seem to mind so Marius set his other foot on Twig, and once his footing reached stability the gravity shifted. Twig raised him up into the air, but even the boy knew the animal wanted more. Twig’s eyes turned up, which gave more indications where he wanted Marius situated, so Marius obeyed the commands and carefully walked across Twig’s nose. The animal sure had the smarts to understand the tiny kid’s limitations, as he probably wouldn’t want Marius to go through a somewhat perilous activity if he knew the impossibilities.

After his slight trek Marius reached the top of Twig’s head, his fur covered coats over the boy’s body. His weird branches on his head compared to redwood trees from his angle which covered canopies thanks to their leaves. For the sake of his footing the boy took hold of some of Twig’s white fur while he kept tight enough to not injure him from accidental pulls. At least the fur didn’t stand high enough to completely conceal his vision.

“Okay, ummmm, Twig…please try and go about this gently so I don’t-YAAAAAAAA!”

While Twig could have listened to what Marius was going to say, clearly he didn’t have the patience and immediately let loose with the running around. The miniature kid straight off had the wind pound against his face with his footing not far behind. It made his cheeks flap and his teeth take front stage as the roller coaster or rodeo show only started for the one along for the ride. Twig brought his hooves to the couch and gave Marius a bumpy ride until he got on the floor again, but it was short lived until Twig dashed under the table. He could see Johanna through the blusters as she watched in surprise, and when Twig dashed under the furniture he bolted straight through the legs of her chair. Marius ducked even if his small stature meant it had no chance of hitting him and he even heard a slight giggle above him as the animal went about his active business. He would have chuckled in response if the creature under him didn’t want the extreme circumstances to literally blow through his hair. Twig never stood a chance at working at some professional carnivals if this was all he showed for, and for Marius it only made him wish he brought a doggy bag.

Marius’ wild ride proceeded a while longer until inertia took its course with Twig hitting the brakes. Luckily his grip over some of Twig’s fur made sure he stood right where he wanted, but it didn’t help the immense dizziness and lurches from his stomach.

“That…that was quite a ride there Twig.”

When his head stopped seeing stars his vision cleared to reveal Twig stopped right in front of the table where he once stood as if the incident never happened. Johanna still had her eyes on him as Twig got on the table and brought the kid back to reality as he set him back on it.

“I have to admit that was quite something.” Johanna said. “You okay?”

“A bit uneven but…I’m fine.” Marius replied as he held in his lunch. To any person with a sense of humanity a ride like what Twig proceeded with could have brought harsh implications as the safety nets never showed up to bounce back when needed. For Marius though, it was just the emotional ride he needed to force the blackness to spill into oblivion. The rush, the atmosphere, the action…

He turned to Twig with some choice words.

“Twig…you rode my exhilaration through the roof with what you did. If I ever feel the negativity again you can always get me out of it if you want to.”

Twig emitted some cheery mutters before he nuzzled his nose against the boy’s entire body.

“Aww, thanks for the support you…dog creature you.”

The animal withdrew and appeared puzzled to Marius for the moment. Twig then shook his head which made Marius the confused one.

“Umm, did I say something wrong?”

Johanna decided to chime in.

“No, it’s not too bad. Have you ever seen a deerfox before?”

“Wait, so that’s what Twig is?” Marius said. “I never heard of or seen something like that. I kept getting these mixed receptions all over and had really astray assumptions.”

“Well now you know.” Johanna answered. “You aren’t the only one to never see something like Twig if it makes you feel better. Everyone gets confused from time to time.”

“That’s one assumption I can fall back on.” Marius answered with a slight smile. Twig muttered again and perked up to Marius’ response, almost like he was glad the boy didn’t get mixed up. When he gazed at Twig again he noticed more signs that pointed him to what Johanna spoke about. The antlers were obviously dead giveaways that Marius skipped over, but to miss the hooves for feet only pointed out that he had a blind eye to many details. With so many animals that displayed unique appearances, for one to act like it fused with something else sounded like something from deep novels. Some had beaks with furry hides while others donned displays that acted as disguises to fool the naked eye, but he never imagined something like a common deer and fox to form an exceptional specimen. There was so much he lacked about the world around him, but to see something like Twig brought a true kindle to his self.

He petted the deerfox nicely on its nose when Hilda finally came out of the bathroom, all clean from her fresh bath, although her hair seemed to still have a damp appearance.

“Got some more friendly time in my absence?” Hilda asked.

“Pretty much.” Marius replied. “Your mother and Twig helped.”

When it came for tonight’s dinner, Hilda’s mother already had it handled. She almost forgot about it when she struck her conversation with Marius, which he heard was typical for her at points, but when she revealed her dish the audience around her poured gallons of drool from their mouths. Nothing but the benefits of a well cooked stew could soothe many to submission from the senses alone, and Johanna certainly provided the great ability. Alfur even showed up with his own elf proportioned bowl for the scrumptious dinner, although Marius had his doubts that he only came just to watch over him for another exquisite report on his “shrunken” phenomenon. Twig ate from his bowl on the floor, containing animal food obviously, but it left Marius as the odd one out. He had no bowl to eat from with even Alfur’s one standing over him, so Johanna settled on a different approach. She picked out a small sized piece of beef from the stew and placed it right before him instead, which while not as proper as the others gave him some form of food to chow on. He certainly got messy all over, but he couldn’t deny that even just a piece of the stew was absolutely delectable. She seemed to always know what types of of spices and seasonings to ring up someone’s taste buds into happiness.

Like the night before, Hilda made Marius bunk in with Tontu for the sake of safety which the Nisse didn’t seem to mind at all. If anything he appreciated the company a roommate like the boy gave him, as he could find himself lonely at times. Thanks to all of the Nisse holes over the house he already had knowledge of what Hilda and Marius wanted to accomplish, and he had a contribution for the pile of garbage just in case. While dozens of objects fall into the holes every day, Tontu possessed something completely rancid that he left alone in one corner of his nest that he planned to throw out the next day. Even as he arrived at Tontu’s nest the fumes lingered ever so slightly, which didn’t have the immediate punch and lacked the intensity. While Marius could live with something of a weak smell when it came to the stronger ones he almost felt cursed for having a nose. He had an example of what could bury his nose when he sat in Jaeden’s belly after she heartlessly swallowed him…twice. Still, if Tontu had something putrid that could potentially spark the interest for the beast to appear it was heavily appreciated.

When the sun hit the skies next morning he woke up with the others with a small crack in his back. Other than that though the early day progressed as usual with Hilda even sharing a bit of her cereal with Marius, in plainly small crumbs thanks to his size, but after that the routine took a ninety degree turn in Marius’ eyes. Immediately after breakfast, with no extra delays, Hilda got up to migrate all of the trash she and her friends collected yesterday to an open area for their summoning attempt. She didn’t even try to relax and get Marius up to speed, she coiled him in her fingers and explained to her mother what she wanted to do. Johanna apparently thought about it in foresight, as she reached into the fridge and pulled out a paper bag filled with Hilda’s favorite cucumber sandwiches. While Marius wasn’t too into wanting to taste one, he knew not even a gherkin sandwich would have the size necessary to make it “normal” to him. With a wish of good luck from her mother and the bag in her other hand, Hilda took off to find David and Frida while she made sure to always pay attention to Marius. Twig followed close behind which only made Marius more grateful to come across Hilda for help. She showed true dedication to solving his problem.

Frida and David arrived soon after nearly as dedicated as Hilda although Frida held a bag full of personal extras to make sure she would still be in top form after the hoarding. She even humorously wore a doctor’s mask on the way to their garbage pile which she insisted was necessary. In the time since they stockpiled garbage to themselves thankfully nobody took notice and threw it into a garbage truck, but that only started as the first step. Now that the trash evaded everyone’s eyes they required movement to another open space, preferably somewhere nobody would take notice, to form all of it together for a successful summon. When that point hit it put Marius slightly down since he couldn’t help as efficiently, but Hilda insured it was completely fine. Still, his conscience nagged him hard as the minutes flowed by and the three huge kids contained each black bag in their grasp. To make sure he wouldn’t get in the way but still have an eye on him, Hilda placed him on Twig’s head which the deerfox didn’t mind at all. The next part proceeded just as planned with nearly nothing left in the original hiding spot.

He never expected the procedure to last most of the day though.

Hilda and her friends must have piled on a bit too much of the grime as by the time they were almost finished the sun almost disappeared over the horizon. They had their food breaks in between, but other than those few moments the rest of the day consisted of going into the stink. It almost got him to shed a tear or two, they wanted to pull through and raise their chances. They required a bit of luck in the end for the appearance but they had everything set in stone once the last bag hit the pile. While the sight might have made them want to beat their noses off of their faces the sense of accomplishment coursed through them. They followed up on the achievement by an immediate rush home to shower off every bit of the stuff stuck to their bodies, especially to someone like Frida. Twig stayed while the kids quickly ran back but he wasn’t alone with Marius on his head. They kept their distance so the urges to hurl into some bushes would never come to fruition, but other than that they enjoyed each other’s company. One step remained, but it relied on a slim dice roll.

When Hilda and the others arrived back the pile of garbage still stood firm. Since she was clean now Hilda took Marius back into her care and into her hands, all for the sake of safety. All eyes set on the garbage pile for the supposed beast to show up and they required its aid to find a Cavite in a physical form. Everyone sat a decent distance away from the trash as the night settled in, and while it attracted dozens of normal flies none of them appeared as the behemoth. A few maggots also sat dormant in the garbage, some in very “festive” colors, which the watchers steered clear of in their sights. Seconds turned to minutes then minutes ended up as an entire hour, but nothing of the crooked creature showed up, only dozens of normal flies with more joining in as the time passed.

“Well we stayed for an hour and nothing showed up.” Frida said. “I can safely say we didn’t get lucky.”

“I was practically thinking the same thing…as unfortunate the circumstances got.” Marius said. “Considering how the stories went I’m not too surprised it didn’t work.”

“Well…it’s not too bad I guess.” Hilda said. “We’ll find another way to obtain that shed skin, maybe something much easier and less luck dependent.”

“I’m probably going to hurl when we have to put all of this garbage back.” David said. Everyone shuttered from the thought before they turned back to leave. Some of the gathering flies buzzed around their heads, which didn’t bother anyone too much but proved dangerous for Marius. With the size of the bugs rivaling the biggest of buildings from his position he had to pay attention in case one got too curious and carried him off. He probably wouldn’t see Hilda again in that case, and consequently his last chance to change back to normal.

One of the flies drew in a bit close and forced Marius to move back while Twig swatted it away, which provided another gaze back to the pile of garbage Hilda and the others formed throughout the day. His heart almost stopped.

“Guh…guh…guh…guys, something’s happening back here!”

His voice successfully reached the others and made them turn back in curiosity. Hilda and Frida were taken aback by the sight while David appeared worried for his life. Marius wouldn’t blame him if he bolted into a corner to try and calm down as the bugs swarmed in. Flies had a tendency to hang around the stinky and smelly, especially decomposing carcasses, and because of instinct they lacked preferences and usually went for anything they came across. If the fact remained then the others must have united something absolutely delectable for more flies to swarm in by the second. What may have situated as rotten meat had nothing left to show as the dots took it over, and leftover fruit vanished under the dark black cloak. The seconds passed further and the common insects continued to pour in, eager to have a taste of the delectable garbage. The colors saturated and fell to the dots around it until flies took hold. Marius never saw so many flies in one spot before, and he was pretty glad it never came to be until this point. The sight of one fly brought an example of the gross and ugly of the world due to their appearance and tendencies and to stack them into greater examples only brought them into the spotlight. If he never experienced more dark and putrid sights since he shrunk he would easily take the emotions further than what he experienced at the moment.

The flies completely enveloped the pile and not a single color other than black remained. The cringe factor cranked to eleven and more flies continued to join in on the action. A large hump formed near the top that started small but got bigger as the time passed. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal, but then other symptoms drove up their warning signs. The bulge at the top oscillated almost in a hypnotic manner before it struck up like someone pushing through plastic. Hilda never hoarded anything  but rotten garbage around the city, nothing live, but to see something like it tried to force itself out made them think otherwise. Before long, it wasn’t the only one of its kind. Near the bottom of the pile a portion of the flies formed another bulge that stretched further than the last and it curved in a serpentine motion and wriggled creepily. Another showed up in its mirrored location and brought sickening feelings from looking at it, which almost covered up two more bulges near the back. Ridges shaped around them followed by curves and points at various positions as the flies struggled to maintain order at first. The front stiffened to a flat surface while the very back elongated into something very thick before one final horrifying change. Each individual portion of the helpless bugs suddenly locked in place to the ones around it until their will died instantly, which left them as nothing but specks atop an ever moving surface. The bumps’ features solidified closer to something more tangible with each passing second and process sped up rapidly the more complete the form under the insects changed into.

The entire process seemed near its end as certain aspects revealed more familiarity. The swarms of flies around the four huge bumps near the bottom jutted outward and extended into three long black points, each longer than an average adult, with another near the back. There were placed flat on the ground, black points faced outward, as the stubs stood straight up and thickened with more flies. The large mass of the black insects hovered above them as the stubs extended into heights compared to large trees. If the previously situated stubs had anything to go by the mass they supported easily brought much more to the table. It vibrated eerily like a heartbeat as it grew larger and larger, while thousands of flies whizzed into it like drones. It became plump and round as what could be determined as squarish slates defined on the back with a little bit of a hump sticking out for each one. An unfortunate section of the fly ridden mass stretched even further than any of the others all the way in the back and smacked right to the ground like a dead tentacle. It attached to the mass and wriggled about at times. Near the front above the four stubs swelled into a bulbous orb until it sized around half of the entire mass. A thin space cut around the center and sliced all around it before the two displayed oval shaped openings. Without warning the holes split open into a wide maw with dozens of long bristles on the edges that faced inward. Carnivorous plants immediately came to minds of the others upon the sight, but for some reason it lacked a throat in the back. Dozens of the insects fell from the spaces in between each bristle like sickly drool while more of them settled into medium sized appendages that stuck out of the gaping hole that waved about in the air slowly. While difficult to see, some swarms that made up the top parted both ways until six large cracks, three on each side, revealed themselves and lightly vacillated which streamed out hundreds of flies with each of the motions. The sheer scope of the monstrosity couldn’t be underestimated either. If it were compared to a forest giant it could appear as a large dog. Not like they would be interested in taking it as its entire body made up of of hideous flies with an intense stink. Whatever the creature was, its appearance exerted its immense presence.

“Yesssssss, the air has graced my appearance once more. Heheheh, it’s such a pleasure to know I’m still needed…”

The voice provided a sense of power and malice all in one with a pinch of a sinister bane. The large stiff jaws never inched a bit but the others still heard the voice. Some of the loose flies that it gave off buzzed around them which, while more annoying, drew more signs in their head to proceed with caution.

David took a few steps back in small terror while Hilda stood her ground with a hint of valor.

“Are you the Behemoth of Flies?”

The two jaws made of flies dipped down to the girl by its titanic trunks for legs. Marius worried himself close to Hilda’s face as the creature made a few steps closer, causing some small quakes against the ground.

“I’m most commonly referred to as such.” the creature answered with a dark cleverness undertone. “To think you already are aware of my existence proves you deliberately sought me out, although I shouldn’t be too surprised to know you eventually wanted me…Hilda.”

“You…you know my name?” Hilda stuttered a little. The jaws loomed closer to her until it settled right in front of her face, cracks bared as flies continued buzzing out of them. Now Frida started to get second thoughts as she backed away a bit with David, but Hilda stayed with Marius near her neck and Twig by her side.

“All flies that infest around the world have their deep thoughts and instincts, whether short or long lasting, but they always fall into the deepest depths of nothingness. Some would call it worthless, but I always fish them back up and gather all of the unknowing memories from the insects as I’m called in. Every fly shares their unique perspectives…and many of them came across you multiple times for some interesting tidbits.”

This struck Marius in more ways than one. He knew of the facts Hilda told him about with how plagues of rats get their tails tangled together to form the Rat King and their knowledge of secrets they overhear from humans. While very similar, with the Behemoth of Flies it put that into the equation and multiplied it by a million fold. Rats and flies go hand in hand on many occasions but the bugs had a much better mode of transportation in his eyes, and with such a great privilege came more widespread areas to settle in. Rats could go to many places, but he would have a lesser aged brain to know that flies potentially could travel even further.

“Do you know us then?” Frida asked with a small undertone of worry. The jaws loomed over Frida and David before they drew in close, which unnerved David more than anyone else.

“How could I forget the ever clean companion and the one always worried for his short life? Flies occupy everywhere even when you least expect it.”

“That’s a…nice word of advice I guess…” David stammered. Countless flies hovered around the two and Marius could tell David felt afraid for his life when the behemoth’s massive maw rubbed off on him like it a softening before a meal. All of the signs pointed to choose their words wisely if they wanted the monster’s assistance.

The Behemoth of Flies took a few steps back, which created more quakes in the process, before it spoke the inevitable the others banked on.

“To think a massive spirit like me would find itself under the control of such young innocence…how very interesting. To whom shall I bestow the blessing upon to grant their greatest desire?”

The kids glanced at each other for a quick moment. It never crossed their minds who would be the one to explain the wish they agreed on, but even from a quick moment the consensus pointed to the one that arguably glued the group together.

“Me. I’ll speak our wish.” Hilda answered as she stood up for the others. A low audible chuckle hit their ears before some low cracks followed after. The large monster’s body fizzled profusely for a second as the flies that made up it moved about to a certain point. While unnoticed at first, once it became more apparent it brought more surprise to the kids. The legs might have appeared as large podiums before but their height dwindled as the seconds passed, and when the eyes set on the main body the found out why. The mass of a body the behemoth had yearned for more and if it had to ingest its own legs it never cared in the slightest. The flies that made up the legs quickly joined in with the main body which shortened the leg but thickened the main body. The grouped reeled back as the main body fell closer and closer to the ground as the behemoth’s legs faltered to nothing, a very disturbing sight that would scar some. Soon the legs became part of the body, with all of the flies that made them up now part of it, as the Behemoth of Flies took another appearance. No longer bound to the confines of legwork, it worked from its front and slithered on it to move as its long appendage on its behind followed behind. It was no serpent, but a dark deity that awaited Hilda’s next move.

The newly serpentine behemoth circled around the group and bound them in the center without laying a single fly on them.

“State your desire, the flies are ruffling for answers. Be quick though, as impatience isn’t a virtue…”

David’s teeth chattered while Frida tried to keep her cool to her best alongside the invasive bugs. Only Hilda had the calm demeanor to stay level headed which amazed Marius to an extent.

“Behemoth of Flies…I wish for a loose piece of a Cavite’s shed skin!”

Stillness drifted through the air for a moment. The flies even fell silent and the behemoth went still upon Hilda’s words. Johanna’s words echoed through his cranium which made him unsure whether Hilda said something that might bite them back with their wish. Specifics had to nail the details down exactly or trouble would come their way.

The dark chimera slid its large jaws close to Hilda’s face.

“So a young girl desires such a rare item almost never seen in recent years? An interesting requisite…I like it.”

“So you’ll grant our wish?” Frida asked. The jaws turned to the other girl.

“I always deliver to whatever is desired. Whether or not they luck out, heheheheh, remained to be seen...”

The creature released its entrapment over the kids and slithered back in front of them with its menacing appearance.

“You wish will be granted soon young kids, so you may want to watch for anything in the morning. If you desire for anything else…you know how to find me…”

It followed up by low sounding laughter before a portion of it’s body spontaneously burst into a geyser of flies. The laughter soon turned into full blown cackling as more of its body part exploded into flies. It almost seemed like a bomb going off in every way and yet the monster continued to laugh in every way. The appendage near its back incinerated to nothing while its main body fell next. The chimera uttered one strong heckling cackle before it completely shattered into nothing but loose flies all over. The insects that made up its body buzzed away and fizzled out to parts unknown, which left nothing of the encounter to fall back on. The pile the group made was all gone with not a trace of it left, but it didn’t matter in the end. They successfully had their wish submitted.

“Well…I don’t think I’ll be scrubbing that out anytime soon.” David said. “At least we actually pulled it off with the odds stacked against us.”

“I guess all that’s left is the waiting game then.” Marius said. “I think all of you deserve it after all of the footwork you put in.”

“Don’t remind me. I had to scrub under my fingernails thoroughly to get the stink out!” Frida said. “I assume we’ll meet up again when the shed skin arrives?”

“I’ll alert both of you when we get it.” Hilda stated. “We’re one step closer to undoing Marius’ curse.”

Everyone practically collapsed immediately when they got back home. Just the hoarding of trash alone knocked the wind out of everyone, which did put Marius a bit down for his inability to help. Handicaps chained many abilities behind walls that wailed for their freedom and he heard those cries every day. Even so, Hilda insisted he already did his job to alert her about his predicament in the first place. When everyone went their separate ways back to their houses, Hilda fell atop of her bed in a massive wave of exhaustion which left Marius to explain to Johanna what they went through. She was astounded at first before the relief hit which Marius heard typically happened with certain parents. They succeeded with the Behemoth of Flies, now they just needed to wait until morning to see if their wish came true.

While Hilda barely had enough energy to eat the chicken her mother cooked up for dinner, once she finished she headed to bed in an instant. Marius stayed up for a bit longer since he never got the chance to help earlier, which meant more for Johanna and the others. Twig eagerly awaited first as his tail wagged in excitement which didn’t require too much on the boy’s end to figure out what the deerfox wanted. Once Hilda’s mother placed him atop the animal’s head he gripped one of Twig’s antlers tightly before he gave the all go. Those motions were all Twig needed to suddenly take off around the room, just as he acted the day before. The second coming of the deerfox roller coaster provided Marius more preparation time as he knew what to expect now but it didn’t lower his happiness down at all. If anything, it only reflected Twig’s positive emotions upon him and made him want more which the animal accepted in a heartbeat. For something with a lack of canine qualities it sure had the mindset of one when it appeared, but it only provided a greater definitive personality for the lovable creature. Since his stay with Hilda Marius really got to understand Twig more and learn of his quirks that specified him into a unique individual.

After his ride, Alfur popped in for a few extra reports to write on about Marius’ condition. While he expressed his sympathy for the kid he had to admit he appreciated the change in view contrary to how elves normally view most other beings. As somewhat of a highly sophisticated species almost all forms of paperwork served as a primary communication method of choice, and from what Marius listened in on about elves they adored every sort of written report even if it contained nothing about a common topic. Apparently the topic on his shrinkage proved a popular talking point to the elves back at the valley, enough to keep Alfur’s interest in him on point for multiple reports. Written documents on the same subject also was a common custom among elves, although Alfur never spoke a word to how many reports he submitted on him at the time. If anything he more than wanted some extra reiterations and missed details for his next submission, although he did have an interest in Marius’ point of view when the deadly encounter with the crooked djinn occurred. The boy explained with the best of his ability to the knowledgeable elf when the questions came up, much to Alfur’s delight. The elf may have, for probably the first time ever, the height advantage but still yearned for the details and words as a form of expression with Marius as the centerpiece.

The sun took its nap behind the horizon with the moon taking its place. Everyone prepared themselves for a good night sleep and also meant Marius had to bunk in with Tontu again. He didn’t mind though as the Nisse liked the extra company, although he heard a couple of chuckles his way a few moments after he placed him into the doll cradle. With a roll of the eyes behind his back Marius tucked himself under the covers while Tontu did the same in a different corner. He certainly didn’t fib about the fact that no other creature can set foot in a Nisse nest without their permission as he never noted any of the nightmare spirits when the lights went out. If anything it certainly functioned as a cozy bunker to hide out in. His mind wandered about until he slowly dozed off to sleep in the knowledge that progress was made to solve his size issue.

The sheep bounced over his head until around the tail end of the night. While the cradle supported a snug blanket fit for someone like him an underlying chill still managed to sneak under and stir his skin. He tried to pull up the blanket for some protection but his digits clasped nothing but the air. With a drowsy expression and the creaks of his eyes, Marius’ eyes shuttered open. He grumbled a little and looked down to figure out what happened when the real visuals kicked in.

Or more accurately, the lack of them.

His skin crawled to the ominous color, as it signaled for underlying actions of malice and evil. The mysteries that lied beyond the curtain had the potential to turn out as something beyond expectations, which forced the phobias of millions upon its presence. While Marius didn’t have too much fear of the dark, the unknown bared its grinding teeth with the single witness. Already he wanted out of wherever he stood as the daggers pointed in his direction.

He held back on uttering a noise when a glimmer floated to his side. While he ignored it at first, once it started hovering around him it drew red flags. He heard a low moan which put him more on edge, but for some reason its voice had a recognizable delivery.

“Oh Mariussssssssssss…”

The voice rang through him again with a slightly higher pitch.

“Mariussssssss, you can’t escape meeeeeeeee…”

He heard it again more solidly. His mind tried to catch up to try and determine the culprit until the glimmer around him stopped right in front of him. It bubbled and stretched for a moment until it extended further upward. Before long, the true distinct presence began to take form. Two long stretches formed out of the back before a long mass burst downward followed by similar smaller appendages. All of the parts expanded to staggering heights which forced Marius to back up a few, but then all of it clicked into place. The long flowing pigtails, the snarky and malicious gaze, the slender but deadly body…

“No, no, NOOOOOO!”

“Oh yes, my little toy…”

The glimmer finally settled down as a new form took its place. She coursed the sick feelings through him as she changed herself into the gigantic size she appeared in proportion to Marius’ shrunken state. Her smile displayed its wickedness as devious as he remembered while she laid down on her front side with her head rested against her wrists. The boy only stood a head’s length away from the nightmare spirit and even with her height cut down she still had the capacity to collapse entire cities in one swipe from one of her hands.

She spat toxicity rapidly in a playful manner.

“Surprised to see me again, little toy? Did you miss me?”

He wheezed for a second. The mere sight of the dreamy colossus sent the boy into sheer shock. The evasive precautions Hilda and the others made him go through fell to complete nothingness as the one being he never desired to grace his eyes across defied all odds to find him again. He wanted out, he couldn’t stand the underworld’s leering state as it frightened the sanity out of him. His legs acted on their own and turned back before they acted into a full on mad dash for freedom only for a loud boom to crash in front of him. The deadly Marra set her massive right hand in his path before he could attempt at an escape, which forced Marius to collide into it.

“That’s no way to treat the one who owns youuuuuuuu…” her voice deadly cooed. With no way to push forward past it, Marius could only watch as Jaeden pulled him in closer and closer to her dark expression. The more her face took up his sight the more desperate he got, but all attempts to get away failed when she is put in charge of his sorry self. Sure, he managed to get away initially but he couldn’t admit it to anything but a stroke of luck. Now she had him again and there was no telling what she would do now.

She stopped when she placed him up close and personal, enough so that the boy could feel her breath as she spoke.

“Please, whatever you do, know that I never got away on my own terms! I had no idea a bird would come across-”

“Shut up bug, you don’t speak against me unless I say so.” Jaeden interjected, while she smacked the boy in the face with a large finger. “Do I need to force the thought into your stupid skull that you brought this onto yourself? You forked over you LIFE.”

Her head tilted down until her forehead came into view, and then the grave reality shot back at him. The redness, that warm color spread over the spirit’s skin, leered at him hard from the consequences that resulted of such an act. Everything started from the one action that night, and Marius couldn’t have regretted so much from that horrid accident.

“You belong to me, you have ALWAYS been mine since then.” Jaeden stated with stern authority. “Get used to being with me again, as I won’t let you out of my sight ever again. How about some stress relief to get things started?”

He stood stiff with such fear from the Marra’s gaze that he never noticed Jaeden’s palm sneak from behind and snag him from it was too late. Her gigantic fingers wrapped around him tightly and prohibited movement from all fronts, which only fed to the boy’s paranoia and gave Jaeden what she wanted most out of him.

“Let’s see how durable you really are against me…if you survive! HAHAHAHAHAH!”

Marius never got the time to take it in as Jaeden immediately inflicted the pressure. If someone thought a trash compactor applied a massive amount of force they haven’t felt Jaeden’s grip. Bodybuilders stood no chance to the giant ghost’s immense strength and to have a kid as the centerpiece only proved much worse. He wanted to puke and let all of his air escape him which barred to the digits of the Marra. It wasn’t the beefiest anaconda going for a kill, it was Jaeden.

“At least I’m going out with someone who knows me! AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!

His scream took up most of his hearing as he sat back up with his eyes shot open. His entire body nearly hollowed to nothing and sweat dripped across his sides. He couldn’t comprehend at first what he went through as his mind scrambled for answers.

“Marius? Marius?! What happened?!”

His breathing spurted all over with only enough courage to tilt his head up. While he didn’t strive to act as a second Hilda, Marius would take Tontu over Jaeden in a flash. The inability to determine Tontu’s feelings from looking at his face didn’t deter too much as the tone in his voice indicated the sense of worry.

“I think…just a horrific nightmare…” Marius replied. “Are you sure…nothing else can come in here?”

Tontu understood what Marius meant immediately.

“Trust me Marius, only Nisses can arrive in these sort of nests unless they willingly bring someone in with them. You are one hundred percent safe from those ghosts in here.”

“Thanks…for the reassurance.” Marius responded. So he only went through a natural nightmare the entire time, but even then it really put a strain on him. Nearly all of his skin soaked in deep sweat while his pulse raced crazily all over the place. While he didn’t sink too low to wet the bed from sheer fright his weight almost hovered into the air. He couldn’t sit completely still like Trolberg’s winter arrived early and frosted his bones into brittle toffee. The symptoms seemed like a tragic aftermath, but he knew it could have went much worse. If anything, at least the nightmare formed naturally and not from a Marra. If Jaeden held the reigns her tendencies would have prolonged the nightmare to lengths longer than normal and she wouldn’t want it to stop. She already explained that she enjoyed messing with him enough to only focus on his sorry mind and nobody else, so the longer he stayed away from her nasty mug the sooner his sanity could recover back to what a normal kid’s should be. Her mental bind on his way of thinking inflicted damage he could never express in full, but it only set itself as another step Hilda had to fully put him back in working order.

Tontu performed an extra precaution and leaned in closer before he used a finger to lift the boy’s head up to him.

“Wow, must have been pretty wicked to shake you up that much.” Tontu said. “You okay?”

“Yeah…not too horrific…compared to the Marras” Marius replied. “I’ve had much worse with Jaeden and her sick ideas.”

“She mentally messed you up that hard, huh?” Tontu asked. Marius slowly nodded to the Nisse before he shook himself further awake.

“You think some breakfast would cheer you up? I’m certain Hilda is up by now and maybe your wish was granted during the night. How about it?”

“Oh right, the wish for the Cavite’s shed skin…that almost slipped my mind.” Marius stated. With the boy’s agreement, Tontu nodded before he picked Marius up and set him on his shoulder. He waled over to one of the holes back to the apartment while Marius tried to set himself comfortably for the trip there. Even though he practically goes through the process every night, he could never fully get used to it. While unsure as to why, he always prepared himself just in case.

Once the boy tucked himself up Tontu immediately went for the hole and jumped into it. The swirls of colors and rapid movement zoomed across Marius eyes as the comprehension bounced all over the place. His thoughts raced to one conclusion over the other like an animal sent into space which forced him to close his eyes at points. In some ways he felt that Tontu had some sort of a crazy side to always go through these sort of psychedelic experiences, maybe in a mad scientist sort of vibe. Of course with the coat of hair over his face reading emotions stood out as a near impossibility without other signs. Hilda trusted him though, so if she could do it than he could follow in her footsteps…literally at points considering how shrunken he was.

With a quick swoosh through his hair, the light hit his eyes as the familiar living room came into view. The thrill ride now behind him, Marius shook himself up and gazed off to his right toward the kitchen area. He smiled as he saw Johanna fixing something on the stove and the fragrant aroma told tales about something tasty. He expected Hilda to also be around the area but couldn’t see her anywhere. When he considered what she pulled through yesterday it quickly came together into a certain hypothesis but he would ask her mother about it just in case. Another day, another quiet morning for the small family.

He observed Johanna turn her head a bit before she set her eyes on him.

“Ah, it’s you two. Well rested after your encounter yesterday?” she asked.

“Ummmm…kind of.” Marius responded. “I couldn’t exactly help much considering, well…”

“I wouldn’t worry too much. At least you actually managed to encounter it despite the low odds.” Johanna said. “Hilda told me everything after all…during her moments awake after her near exhaustion.”

“Is that why she isn’t here now?” Marius asked.

“Yup. Out cold just like that.” Johanna answered. “She really wants to help you out to her fullest.”

“It’s a blessing that’s for sure.” Marius said. Johanna seemed to agree on that front as she turned to Marius with a slight smile, which made the boy smile back. The two appreciated everything Hilda lived for while still having a positive attitude. Even though he only got to stay around for a few days since he contacted her, it was like he already got to know her from all angles. Sure he didn’t know everything, but from what he learned Hilda was a friendly girl that knew how to act in so many situations.

“While I don’t want to leave so early…I kind of have a coffee waiting for me…plus a newspaper.” Tontu stuttered a bit. “Don’t judge, I have my reasons!”

With that said the Nisse set the tiny boy up on the kitchen table, the usual place he stayed when morning hit, before he walked back over to the living room couch and jumped back between the cushions to his nest. Right as the happened the door to Hilda’s room opened, which revealed a tired mess of a girl. Marius thought he saw some small bags under her eyes while her hair had tufts littered all over. He understood she needed some immense sleep after yesterday, but clearly she might have required much more than he initially thought.

Twig followed up after and slowly made his way to the table while Hilda trudged behind.

“Wow, uhhhhh…now you’re really forcing the guilt on me.” Marius said. “I couldn’t help hoard garbage thanks to my stupid shrinkage and now…I exhausted the heck out of you.”

“Don’t worry Marius…I know your limitations prevent…extra help…” Hilda replied after a small yawn. “This is…the least of the trials ahead…”

Even as she stood fading in and out she set her sights to Marius first. He almost made him think she might be pushing too hard to go through all through the hoops and hurdles just for him even when she told him not to worry. Her body took its toll for him and she never minded about it one bit. She took a seat next to the kitchen table as her mother appeared to have breakfast cooking already, but not even she could predict the sudden impact against one of the nearby windows. Marius also stepped back a few while Johanna looked to her left toward the window. Familiarity blew around them as everyone easily recognized the one covered in black colored feathers and sense of sass.

He appeared to have his head in one of his wings as Hilda walked over and opened the window.

“Ouch…that must have hurt.” Hilda said whiling yawning. “Are you okay?”

“Not too bad, but I’m writing down that Woff’s number in case he shows his face around me again.” Raven said as he rubbed his head. “Dang animal clipped me right at the worst possible moment.”

“You should make yourself at home then while it settles.” Johanna responded. “I’ve got eggs coming right up.”

“Ooh, count me in.” Raven stated with a smile before he carefully flew into the apartment and set himself on the couch. Marius held back on chuckling too loud for the others to hear as Raven really knew how to make an entrance. From his choice of words along with his tone it painted a picture of someone who wouldn’t usually want to cross into problems but does worthwhile attempts when they do. Of course Raven also showed how boastful he acted on occasion especially when it came to his explanation to how he plucked him out of Jaeden’s clutches. Even so, Marius appreciated his company ever since, almost like he hovered around the kids as a voice of reason so Hilda would have some semblance of reality checks when needed. He could have his views completely off somewhere else, but that’s how he got his views from the friendly bird.

Raven ruffled his feathers for a second to get himself comfortable before he turned to the others in the kitchen and eventually settled on Marius’ tiny body.

“I see the kid is still handling things nicely. How have you been Marius?”

“Oh, a bit so and so I would say.” Marius replied from the kichen table. “Although I do feel a bit of guilt to not have helped out yesterday with the trash hoarding. It’s yet another handicap after that evil curse from Jaeden.”

“Yeah, I kind of understand those types of turmoils.” Raven answered. “I assume you and the others actually met up with that beast then?”

“Despite the very low odds, they pulled through and encountered it.” Marius said. “Hilda spoke our wish for the shed skin. Speaking of which, I never saw you arrive to assist with the garbage. Why’s that?”

Now Raven had the nervous face displayed all over him. He turned away for a second and twiddled some of his feathers together which caught Hilda’s attention.

“Raven…why didn’t you come to help us out? You said it before that you wanted to help out in any way you can…why not last night?”

“Wh…why are you suddenly invested into my personal life all of a sudden?” Raven stammered while slightly flustered. “I have a life outside of this you know.”

“Come on Raven, you’re one of the most valorous creatures I have ever had the chance to meet. What happened that day?” Hilda asked again.

She may have some sleepy eyes but Hilda still went straight to the point. Her choice of words obviously indicated she went through situations before the boy got to them, and while he wanted to know the details Hilda never got the chance especially with how much she pulled all for him. While she explained most of her adventures to him after he expressed everything he went through to get to her some of her stories fell to the wayside when the chances arose to cure her tiny friend. Her encounters with Raven just so happened to fall under that boat that Marius wanted to learn later, but it wasn’t as if time was strict. When the time came she could tell him without any serious interruptions.

It took a couple seconds of silence from the bird, but eventually Raven confessed truthfully.

“…you really want to know? Well…I…I was scared, okay? I was worried for my life and prohibited  myself from meeting with you.”

“Really? You were scared?” Hilda asked. “But those incidents with your memory loss and the weather spirits-”

“Sorry Hilda, but those were different.” Raven interrupted before he explained further. “At least with those incidents I knew what I was getting in to, well, not so much on the memory loss at least. I’ve been around for hundreds of years and in that time I’ve learned about everything around me and the countless creatures just in case. It wasn’t easy, but I got the gist of how they worked over time. Then the stories about that Behemoth of Flies started cropping up recently and, well…”

Marius and Hilda tilted their heads in curiosity.

“…it almost felt like a harsh slap across the face. I thought I already had the knowledge of everything around here, the mystical beasts, the weird and strange, you name it, but once I heard the possibility of something never heard of that only started to show itself…I drew a blank. Do you know how harsh perceptions can skew just from the act of nothing? I already started drawing conclusions from name alone and I couldn’t help myself. I bailed out to save me the trouble of accepting what the creature could be.”

From the bird’s short statement Marius already understood what Raven talked about. After all of his torture sessions with Jaeden she always threw him off with something else he would never expect. All of the “colorful” activities she forced him through and never once did he conclude to a single session. Just reminiscing about her made Marius nearly puke, as she was ruthless with her actions and missed any sort of humanity in her soul, if she ever had one to begin with. She pulled the curtains over his eyes every single time with her ideas to force the scared reactions out then went in for the kill. From being crushed under her shoe, swallowed alive, and to getting used as a kickball, her poker face prevented conclusive info to what she had in mind at all times.

He watched Hilda show her sympathy, even in a drowsy state.

“Wow Raven, I never thought you had that side of your personality. You know you would have had us by your side the entire time as we’re all in this situation together. Have you thought about that?”

“It slipped my mind in the intense worry.” Raven responded. “Even so, I can’t dwell on that misstep now. I wanted to make up for the…cowardice, when something connected in me and I immediately remembered something crucial that will greatly help us out.”

“And that would be?” Marius asked.

“I know where we might find one of those elusive Cavites. I actually met one a while back.”

Both Marius and Hilda looked at Raven in astonishment.

“You really met one of those creatures?” Hilda asked with slightly wider eyes than usual.

“It didn’t last too long, but yes, I met with one face to face.” Raven answered. “I was flying around minding my own business after Trolberg’s successful Great Raven festival when I started to wind down a bit. I perched on a particular oak tree to relax when something light fell on my face. At first I didn’t pay too much attention until I started hearing some absolutely beautiful melodies above me. With the piece tucked under my wing I took a gaze up and witnessed the harmonious creature in all of its glory.”

“You had the shed skin piece fall on you?” Marius asked.

“Yeah, it fell on me. Weird coincidence and all.” Raven said. “Anyways, and while the memory of what it looked like faded over time, I do remember how calm and collected it acted. I was startled at first until the music hit me again. I had so many questions to ask that spirit, but I nailed it down to only a few. We chatted for a bit while it replied with a relaxing tone, such as how the shed skin I acquired allowed me to see and hear it in full, before it left calmly. I learned that its melodies, while absolutely beautiful, are completely incomprehensible to everyone but itself. It’s something to do with how it plays its music or some other minute detail, but its shed skin apparently masquerades the holder as another of its kind, which explained why only someone with a piece of its shed skin can see and hear them.”

“That’s very intriguing.” Hilda said. “And you said you still remember where it took place? Do you still have that shed skin piece?”

“First off, yup, never forgot that small detail.” Raven said. “Of course we need the piece first before we head there. As for the latter, unfortunately I discarded it because I didn’t think it was important. I guess it never crossed my mind that I would ever come across one again.”

The conversation hit an abrupt end when they heard some scratching against the front door. When they turned to see the culprit their eyebrows cocked when their eyes spotted Twig rubbing his hooves against the door.

“Hilda, can you get the door? I’m still busy at the stove.” Johanna said. With a nod of agreement, Hilda got off of her feet and walked up to the table for her shrunken companion. As she set down her hand for him to get one, Marius wasted no time and did so. She smiled for a moment before she set him on her shoulder and headed for the door, which also caught Raven’s interest. He flew over to the others as Hilda glanced down at Twig for a moment before she grabbed the handle and opened the door.

While they didn’t notice anything at first, once they looked down it soon became clear. The stretch of a mass the size of a small lizard laid flat against the floor in front of Hilda’s feet, almost like sandpaper. As a couple of flies buzzed around it, they knew what had happened.

“Looks like we have our chance to locate a Cavite.” Marius stated.

The group couldn’t leave on a trek without some preparation first. Obviously breakfast came as a given, especially to Hilda and how run down she appeared when she woke up, which Raven was also invited in on. Johanna had eggs on the stove for everyone, although Marius only got a fraction of Hilda’s due to his size. He found in kind of ironic that someone like Raven would willingly have one to eat even if it didn’t seem like much, but he quickly forgot the moment he dug into his piece. He thought of it before and he will think it again; Johanna had her way with making scrumptious dishes. It made him recollect about his temporary mother and her knack for cooking in the brief time before Jaeden shrunk him, which while harsh only brought up determination to undo the damage inflicted. The fluffiness of the fried goo around the egg could bolt up anyone wide awake from the taste; Johanna really knew how certain foods functioned. Breakfast zoomed in and out in an instant, but that was only the first step.

With a sincere good luck from her mother, Hilda set off to get the other two while she hid Marius under the brush of her blue hair. Twig followed close behind while Raven flew overhead, now set to make up for his blunder last night. Johanna packed a couple of cucumber sandwiches just in case which Hilda held in a brown lunch bag. Since she already had insight to where their houses were Hilda had no problem getting to them, and one she arrived Frida and David already had everything ready with warming smiles. Hilda performed a quick double take to make sure she didn’t lose Marius before the next step. Once she showed the delivered shed skin from their granted wish she carefully split it into six pieces for everyone to hold as everyone needed to see and hear the Cavite, not just one of them. While most had no problems holding them, for Marius it didn’t seem likely. As a quick fix, Hilda taped the shred of the shed skin to his back which kind of solved the issue but made the shrunken boy’s back itch greater. Now they only required a safe travel out of the city without any potential Marras noticing them, as ever since Jaeden lost Marius Hilda potentially stood out as one of the first to look out for. While it seemed not too bad, they chose their routes carefully just in case until they reached the gates around one of the graveyards. Luckily the groundskeeper kept the gates open during the day, which left only Raven’s directions to lead them forward. As for potential Marras showing up, they didn’t worry too much since during the day they walk around the sidewalks as teenagers on the lookout for likely victims.

The kids kept their eyes open as Raven pointed them in the directions he remembered.

“Okay, just a bit further and we should reach the spot.” the bird explained.

“That’s good. The trek didn’t take too long.” Frida said. “Everyone have their shed skin tucked in tightly?”

The others raised their hands, except for Raven, although Marius still had his itchy back from his piece. The kids walked a bit further as instructed when some low audible noises hit their ears. With curiosity as the fuel, they quickened the pace until they eventually reached a rather open clearing. The grass reached to their ankles before they glanced up and saw the opening that pierced the trees, which bathed sunshine to the plant life below. While small, it exemplified the purest form of nature to anyone lucky enough to witness its beauty.

The noises rang again, but this time they heard it in full. They could only stand immobilized as the harmony hit every sense in their bodies. Raven’s recollection reinstated into their minds as the perfect description; not a single complement defined such notes in a way comprehensible to regulars. To many they may as well have an impairment of hearing to never listen to such music. Never had the kids yearned for such music before them, and thanks to the shed skin they had the ability to hear it in full that no one else could.

The candy to their ears averted Hilda’s attention up to an open tree near the back of the clearing, and once it caught her eye she gasped. The others likewise followed and gasped themselves. It sat right against the large truck atop a firm branch in its own world, and the kids could tell that they already dripped with fascination as their eyes locked. The sleek light green scales that reflected the elegant shine from the sun hit all the right angles and complemented the calm demeanor of the one globe above. With characteristics that determined something reptilian the roundness before the globe related to common people and mirrored younger kids. A large mass of a silky blob, almost in the shape of a jellyfish, covered above the globe as one part dipped next to it. One could conclude that it covered one so a pair couldn’t be determined but with the blob as the color of a fluffy cushy cloud it almost excused that certain deduction. A long thin structure fell behind the blob and extended to a length around half of its body. It reminded Marius of particular veils used for brides during marriages, something he would never expect to come from such an anomaly, even if they usually came at shorter lengths than what he heard. With such a spectacle for an upper portion, what appeared below only matched the quality. The special scales everyone could see above matched the ones the other way. They surrounded the white belly and seemed to combine perfectly for some sort of weird reptile. While the arms and legs had a certain slimness that one could mistake for human, including the round fingers, they could barely make out some small hooks at each end. The main presentation to the kids however completely astounded them in the form of the appendage between the legs. What should have showed as a typical long tail curved inward and held up multiple long thin streaks that reflected the sunlight spectacularly and connected to the white belly. The tip even got a display of its own with a bulblike end and some scratchy patterns to a certain degree. Each flick of one of the streaks provided a sound that combined into a piece as the digits flicked the notes. To know such a masterpiece of a creature existed warmed the hearts of the kids from the sidelines with its compositions as works of wonders.

“Wow, those notes…” Frida said in awe. “Raven was right, I can’t describe it in just one word.”

“I almost forgot all of my worries for a second…” Marius said with a few astounded jitters.

“Truly a work of magic.” Hilda said with a warm smile. The creature, apparently a Cavite they were looking for, stopped playing the strings for a moment before it gazed up to the sky.

“To one blind but a sense of cacophony, one wanders to paradise but yields to hollow. A tale to end the celestial shadow, no singleton allowed. Honey sleeps to the separated and wakes upon the culmination.”

The others stood dumbfounded for a moment until they heard it sigh peacefully.

“Ahhh, nature tells such great poems. While brief to the ears they whisper such classics, and I live for the relationship of such wonders. Such magnificence…”

Its voice spoke like a fascinated girl while calm and collected, a polar opposite to the beastly chimera from the day before. In some ways it almost felt like Hilda speaking, although the blue haired girl had much different traits and ways of thinking than the Cavite.

“Errrr, excuse me.” David stammered for a second. “We kind of need your help with something.”

The Cavite sat against the tree trunk motionless as its one revealed eye pointed down toward them from its perch. Even as David interrupted its train of thought its expression remained calm and relaxed, which lifted some weights off of the kids.

“Hmm? Did one acknowledge what can’t be seen? Nature bears murmurs like common folk at times.”

“Yes, we’re talking to you Cavite.” Raven responded. He flew up to the respective branch while keeping space as the creature eyed him face to face. Surprisingly, it formed a small smile.

“Ah, I understand now. You possess the necessary requirement to break the veil around me; a magnificent feat indeed. The leftovers of our maturity fade into obscurity these days, so to find one from the depths of the globe must have been quite an accomplishment.”

“It…kind of worked like that I guess.” Marius said. “But we didn’t go through all of it for nothing. We need something from you.”

The Cavite drew its attention back to the kids.

“In due time, little one. As a one to listen to the greens and world around, their becks and calls serve as an importance to us all. One must listen to what cannot be heard.”

The scratchy bulb at the end of its tail drew close to the creature’s mouth. Before the group could comprehend what it had planned the Cavite planted its lips on the tip and blew into it. With dozens of Woffs overhead in the sky, a sweet melody dispersed all over the woods akin to a grass whistle. Despite what its tail appeared as, it played more like a wind instrument than anything even if strings under it served something differently. The greenery everywhere around it rustled and waved in the breeze while the others could only listen in awe for a second time. It only played for a short while as the Cavite performed the notes, but it lifted the spirits of the ones who listened. It almost felt like a crime that only ones with a piece of its shed skin had the blessing to hear it as it truly played like no other musician. Nature adored its performances and flowed peacefully to the compositions of a Cavite.

The Woffs flew off to somewhere else and the plants settled down when the Cavite finished the last few notes. Its back stuck to the tree as it slowly closed its eyes.

“Listen to the lovely cheers. It’s such a joy to know we depend on each other. To soothe the forests and always keep the melodies flowing…we truly exist for those purposes. Nature emotes like no other, so to truly understand we always stand by their side. Heavy winds and thunderstorms falter when two close forces of nature push forward.”

“Okay, now I’m more confused than ever.” Raven said. The others seemed to follow suite.

“Can we please just get permission to come across the mythical enchantment undoing creature? We need to fix our friend here.” Frida said while referring to Marius. The Cavite once again remained collected to itself for the moment.

“You set yourself so urgently and the scale tipped to one side deeply. Let me witness your dedication up close.”

Raven backed off as the Cavite picked itself off of the trunk. With the utter confusion the group kept hearing, they had no idea what to expect next. At first a few cracks rang through their ears, which they disregarded at first until they watched the Cavite again. Its head bobbed left and right as it leaned forward while it kept its calm expression. It dipped deeper downward before its head turned again as more cracks hit everyone’s hearing, but what happened next served as something one would see out of a horror movie. Before they knew it, the Cavite’s head completely twisted to the flip side as its fingers swerved to face the other direction. Frida and David already felt uneasy while the others settled a bit easier but not by much. Even if it the trait acted as a staple for dozens of animals like night watching owls the situation didn’t make it any less creepy to anyone that might watch. The head twist only stood out as one disgusting trait the Cavite had as its limbs could do it as well, which only provoked more disgust from the group. With its head and limbs now turned the other way, the Cavite gripped the sides of the tree trunk using its small hooks before it carefully made its way down. Its tail that it used as an instrument stretched back as the white streaks that connected it to its belly withdrew into the tail, which formed small white dots to where they initially started. It white belly now became its back, but everything else stayed the same. It almost made Cavites appear as some sort of tree climbing lizard…one that could do a complete one eighty with its limbs and head.

Once the Cavite reached the ground it stood up on two legs and walked over to the group. It gazed at them for a second before it spoke up.

“You worked yourself too much. Standing tense with the alerts surging through clogs the mind to suffocation. If you relax and loosen up your body you will achieve equality.”

“Ummm, okay?” Hilda answered in slight confusion. “Does that mean you will give us the permissions then?”

“Not now. Your body calls for easiness to rectify the intense stress.” the Cavite said. “Follow me, the perfect spot awaits.”

As its words wafted around the group the Cavite slowly turned around and walked in the direction past the trees ahead of it. They were at a loss for words, but since they still required the creature’s permission they did as it wished and followed after it. Raven already had his patience wane thin as the Cavite danced around their request like it had a superior ego, and the others certainly had similar thoughts. For some it almost seemed like the exact opposite and the Cavite truly had no idea what they wanted, but if they really were the followers of the mythical beast as said in the book they had to have some sort of quirk to get bestowed such a privilege. Marius’ state of mind had some belief that the Cavite hid away a mischievous heart so it could pull an elaborate prank on all of them even if it spoke in such a weird way. It could just be a ruse to let their guard down though. Still, the Cavite left the group on edge a bit as they followed after it.

“Sheesh, I forgot how annoying those things act.” Raven said. “I almost felt the need to rip some of my feathers out!”

“I have no idea what that Cavite meant in the slightest…except for the last statement.” David said. “I don’t think I’ll even get over its limbs and head…you know.”

“You aren’t alone on that front.” Frida answered. “At least we’re close to our current goal…I think. Hard to make out what it wants us for.”

“Something about calming down, maybe?” Marius said. “I’m just as clueless as everyone else.”

“Let’s just keep following the Cavite and see what it wants.” Hilda said. “Just because it speaks weird doesn’t mean it’s not taking us seriously. We need its permission and we’re not leaving without it.”

The intense commitment couldn’t be underestimated. Hilda may drive everyone forward but the others ran at an equal pace. They pushed themselves this far and if they gave up now they would never get the chance again. Each of them valued the others as an integral cog to the mighty machine, even Hilda’s pet Twig, and if one went missing the contraption would collapse to scrap. No amount of weird sentence structure would force them off track, they came too close to turn back now.

The Cavite suddenly stopped after it passed a couple of trees.

“We have reached the resting area.”

The others pulled forward next to the creature to see for themselves. While they expected somewhere quiet, they didn’t conclude on one with a massive scale. A sprawling sea of grass stretched dozens of yards ahead and reached up to the kids’ ankles harmlessly with no trees in sight. If some trees did set their homes across the grass some could easily mistake it for a tropical savanna, although they were pretty sure they lived nowhere near somewhere of that caliber. Hilda’s eyes nearly shined at such a magnificent sight and Marius couldn’t blame her with the wilderness experience in her. He could imagine her back against the ground waving her arms and legs like an attempt at a snow angel, all while Twig accompanied her. As adorable as it sounded it only elaborated further about how much he missed out when he stood smaller than nearly everything. With only a few glances it would probably take most of his life to completely cross the grassy plains ahead and he didn’t even factor in the possible wildlife always out to get him. He would never get a chance to himself and feel nothing but the alarming pressure of any incident ending him in an instant. Hilda may have no trouble, but for someone like Marius he practically had a minefield ahead if he didn’t have someone bigger watching out for him at all times.

He failed to notice it at first, especially since the grass almost completely covered the ground below, but upon further inspection some other plants hid under all of the green. It started normal at first, although the stem wore out its green near the top in favorite of a clear white, but near the top displayed something much different. Dozens of sky blue petals formed an open cup like a coffee mug as it swayed in the gentle breeze, but two more open cups laid open a peg down the stiff stem. They gave off not a single smell for some reason, but some very light whistles emitted from it when the wind wafted over it. Upon further inspection, some of the plants had their stigmas shaped like a regal treble clef that waved in the wind. The group never seen or heard of such a flower in their lives, which drew a bit of curiosity out.

The Cavite took a deep breath and calmly smiled.

“The stillness in the air welcomes all to its encompass. While they bare no cheers, their comfy abode eagerly awaits the backsides of the friendly. Come, we must not leave them waiting.”

Not wanting to give up that easily, the group followed behind the strange Cavite as the grass brushed against their feet. Twig sneezed a couple of times as it trotted next to Hilda while it made sure to avoid groups of the weird flowers. Everyone else had no problems, but the fact that no one else other than them had their presence known worried Marius to a degree. Usually when someone stands alone with no one else around they tend to succumb to the short end of the stick no matter the cost. He learned that from watching some of his favorite movies even if points tend to get exaggerated at certain points. He absolutely adored the one where a giant monstrous troll raged against the elite military and left nothing in its wake, which he considered an all time classic. Even so, he didn’t want to end up alone with nothing but a monster ahead of him, but he had Hilda and her friends to keep him company. Besides, the Cavite didn’t seem keen on ending all of their lives even if it spoke weirdly. It’s always worth it to travel as a group at times for extra precaution even if a fifty foot troll attacked in a grumpy rage.

The Cavite stopped once again when everyone reached the center of the field.

“Let yourself fall into the open arms of the earth. It welcomes all to its rest below.”

“Can someone stick a translator on that thing? I’m completely lost here.” Raven said.

“I think it wants us to sit on our backs and relax for a bit.” Hilda said.

“I concluded on that exact hunch.” Frida said. “Besides, we kind of exhausted ourselves these last couple of days with Marius.”

Everyone else seemed to agree on that front. They spread out a little bit to get some extra room while Hilda picked Marius off of her shoulder and set him a decent distance away while not too close. The Cavite even joined in and put its back against the ground in a calm demeanor.

“Let your mind and spirit flow across the wind as everything unhinges. You are carefree and loose, so let the wind carry you away to paradise…”

The more the Cavite spoke the more confused everyone got, but they didn’t want to completely ignore it. Following the example before them, everyone else took a seat into the grass and set their backs to the ground. Marius had it a bit differently due to having a height lower than all of the blades of grass. While everyone else had a clear view of the sky he got the clear blue obstructed by dozens of stalks, almost like full grown trees. Either way, the Cavite wanted everyone to relax and if they wanted its assistance they better do as it said.

As the sky hovered above him and the stalks of grass seemingly holding it up, it was time to let himself go. He took a few deep breaths and gazed up. The clouds drifted into the distance as a few Woffs flew overhead with their tails fluttering behind them. As a creature with no wings he always wondered how something like them cruised through the air with no issues but he always shoved it aside. He could imagine their fluffy bodies bouncing around the cotton in the sky to their heart’s content as freewheeling as possible. In some ways they had their luxuries while the ones down below wished they could go through the same. Hilda told him about a couple of times she strapped herself to the back of a Woff and enjoyed the beautiful sky view, which would have gotten him jealous if he never experienced something similar when Raven rescued him. He enjoyed the view of everyone appearing like they were smaller than him and almost made him forget the terrible fate the Marras cast on him. The air rushed around him and his weight lifted at the time, it truly had a touch of magic that provided an outlook to life he desired for.

When a cloud covered the sun he got a brief break from the shine. At first he kept the relaxation to himself until his ears picked up some mischievous murmurs. His mind thought Hilda or someone else of the group, but then it hit a certain pitch that he dreaded to hear again. The cloud turned to black as the familiar green eyes stared back at his soul yearning to snack on him again. She imprinted on him deeper than ever with only a couple days of torture and skewed his personality in her favor, which left him as a husk and nothing more. The cloud showered black rain on him as the murmurs got louder which made him cringe and shiver. He sat helpless to her sick ways of forcing multiple screams out of him as his fear fueled her ambitions to keep him forever. All of it piled on him and she lacked the humanity to let up even a little bit.

His life suddenly shifted when Hilda came across him.

The cloud recoiled and fluctuated. Ever since he encountered Hilda the weights over his shoulders silently lightened. From her sympathetic demeanor in combination with her friends that always had her back the signs were apparent. She never acted like he had no value and never treated him so maliciously all while she gave it everything she had to find some way to reverse the hex inflicted. For once he actually felt like he had a chance to change back to his normal size with the constant reassurance from everyone in his support that his handicap would dispel with their effort. His constant beatings would never occur again as the blue haired girl backed him up, and clearly the black cloud didn’t approve of it. It reeled and bobbed back again as he heard some small moans before it ascended back into the sky, and before long the black color waned into a gray. The fact that he didn’t see it go pure white miffed him a little, but it could easily change in the future.

The content coursed through him so much he almost missed some low echoing chimes ring in his ears. His mind had no control over it this time, so his eyes crawled open while his head turned. While indistinguishable at first, once his hearing settled in the signs pointed to the side. His sight set on one of the weird flowers as the noise soothed his soul, but not a stir of wind blew in its direction. He could sit on hearing the flower chime all day, but soon after that more calming chimes followed after almost in a chorus. He almost felt a tear fall down his cheek, he loved every second of the strange flowers blessing their instruments upon him.

He stood so enamored from all of it that he almost failed to see a shadow loom over him followed by Hilda’s voice.

“Marius…you have to see this.”

The girl set her hand against the ground for Marius to climb on, which the boy did with no questions asked. Once she stood back up to her full height the boy finally saw what the hubbub was all about, but not before the others who also sat with their backs against the grass slowly came to as well. Frida held her head for a moment while David and Raven winched a little.

“Wha…what’s going on?” Frida said. “I started hearing these magnificent chimes when…”

Her words drifted as everyone else already caught wind of the fascinations occurring. From each of the gorgeous flowers sounded a chime more distinct than the others, but if it only worked solo everyone else wouldn’t have as much astonishment. From the flower next to it came a similar chime followed by one near it, then the next one, then the next one, and so on. When all of the flowers in the field united they burst into a harmony that greatly treated the ears. Their weird appearance now made sense to the kids, but it didn’t explain why they suddenly started with their melodies.

But then another set of notes added to the music.

After a nearly unhearable series of small cracks, the set of notes indescribable blessed its music upon the field. The kids turned to the source only to see the ever calming Cavite, now with its limbs rotated to their positions earlier, wriggling its tiny hooks over its white streaks once more. What once appeared as tiny white dots shot and stretched long white streaks that stuck to its now white belly to form its elegant strings. It didn’t matter how they formed though, it didn’t tamper its music in conjunction with the ringing flowers. The notes it provided however seemed like an approval from the deities high above, and the flowers provided the amazing backup. Most musicians would probably die to hear such a melody from both the Cavite and flowers but never get that chance, so for the kids they practically hit the lottery. They truly felt something special when the saw and heard the Cavite, and they would always keep the moment in their minds.

Once the Cavite drew its fingers away from the streaks the flowers ceased their noises with it. The creature smiled and gazed at the kids before it spoke up.

“…and with that all of you check out. Congrats, you proved yourself.”

“Wait, what?” Marius asked. “I thought you wanted us to relax.”

The Cavite nodded.

“I did, and you passed with flying colors. I may think differently than most other creatures around here, but I was always listening the moment you arrived. Of course I can’t just grant you the privilege to see the mystic one, only when you achieve balance can one find permission.”

“Balance? What do you mean by that?” Hilda asked.

“Desperation and relaxation, little one.” the Cavite answered. “To those that accomplish the first trial of visibility they tend to dip down to the rashness of greed to witness the mystic one. It fails to grant its presence if one falls under the scale, so one must achieve equality and take in the sense of calmness to stiffen the scale to neutral. With your willingness to set upon the green you proved that you have equality between the two; an ability one must keep to witness the mystic one.”

“A balance between going full out and holding back…I guess that makes some sense.” David said. “Still a bit confusing though.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever comprehend what that nutso truly wants.” Raven said. The Cavite then took a step forward, tail curled forward, before it spoke again.

“Step forward.”

Its tranquil voice enticed the group to do so. They had no idea what the creature would make them do next, especially as its confusing speech drew all sort of lines, but thankfully it didn’t take too long. With their eyes all on the creature, the Cavite reeled the tip of its tail close to its mouth and blew into it. Just like before an indescribable melody hit everyone’s hearing in a positive manner. Marius almost felt weightless from such a tune, he didn’t want it to stop and would sit around to hear it in full. Musicians had nothing when it came to the mystical music from the songs of life.

The Cavite only played for a few seconds before he looked back everyone.

“All of you are permitted to meet the mythical beast. You may not feel it, but you have the permissions granted. As to how you can call one up…I’m afraid I can’t bestow you the knowledge, but I will however utter its name to you. They call them…the Nimas.”

Something about that name indicated provided power and magic all in one, so for something of that magnitude it didn’t seem easy to come across one. Even so, with the Cavite’s permissions under their belt, it was one step further to reverse the process on him. They couldn’t turn back now.

“So now we need to find a beast called a Nima…something is definitely in store for us at these stakes.” Hilda said.


To be continued...