Chapter One

The fall blew through the trees, rusting the dying leaves so peacefully it was almost meditative music to the young woman's ears as she walked through the trees. While she wandered, her mind clearly lost in thought, the sighs of the breeze ran its bitter breath through her brown and copper hair, as if mistaking it for the canopy.

It was the second time she had visited the forest in a week and it was the place that she, Tayten, felt truly safe. In fact, it was difficult for her to keep herself from the steadfast company of the young forest. Those trees remained faithful while her friends and her family turned away from her as if she was nothing but an etch, drawn in the sand. She had even spent her eighteenth birthday under the shadows of the leaves, the caws of crows the only celebratory music to be played for her.

There was only one person in her life who seemed to notice her presence. Her boyfriend, Jeran, not only saw that she was there, but he demanded that she was. He took every advantage to tell her that he was the one by her side, that her friends had all left her and her parents ignored her. It was his way of saying he loved her.

Tayten ran over the rough bark of a tree growing a little too close to the path and she sighed, enjoying the peace that this place brought her, daydreaming of escaping to a world of fantasy, or at least to a life different from the one the world had given her.

The calmness and illusions of wonder shattered in her mind when her phone buzzed in her pocket with a text message. Biting a pierced lip, she looked at the display and suppressed the fear the fizzled inside her. Jeran was at her house, wondering where she was, and why she was keeping him waiting. She let out a sigh, put her phone back in her pocket, and started to job out of the forest.

Her mind raced ahead of her as she jumped off the curb of a parking lot that separated society from the 'nature' they paid so dearly to live next to and she slipped into a disgusting little sporty car her parents had bought her in an attempt to bribe her affection. Taking a deep breath, she calmed herself down so she would be presentable when she pulled into her driveway, not four minutes away from her forest.

As she glided into the driveway, she pulled leaves from her hair while two figures strode into her garage. One had the body of a star athlete, toned and god-like with perfectly fitting clothes that hugged him in all the proper places to make people turn and stare. It was Jeran, and his green eyes twinkled as he moved, knowing he was the image of male perfection. Beside him was his friend, Dustin, who was clearly second best in everything that his friend did. Where Jeran was toned from working hours in the gym and training, Dustin simply thought being on the sports teams was good enough.

Tayten got out of the car, her lip ring still clicking with nervousness against her teeth.

"Hey Jeran." She greeted, discomfort in every syllable.

Jeran did not say anything to her, he just pushed her against her car, his mouth attacking hers, and his hands too tight around her wrists.

Panic fluttered in the pit of her stomach but it eased when his kisses turned gentle and he lovingly ran his hand through her hair. She knew she had upset him, she just did not know how to prevent herself from doing so in the future.

"Where have you been, sweetheart?" He asked while he nipped at her neck while Dustin went into the house.

"Just out for a walk." Tayten muttered, slipping past him and into the house.

A smile that did not meet his eyes crossed Jeran's face as his followed her into the house, his hands tucked casually in his pockets.

Tayten put her keys on a hook by the door, aware of Dustin rummaging through her fridge to grab a beer. She didn't worry about her parents yelling at her about a missing beer, her parents did not yell at her for anything these days.

"Why do you always go out for walks?" Jeran asked as he went to lean against the arm of a couch while Dusting grabbed a kitchen chair. "Why don't you go to the mall, like normal girls, or hang out with me?"

Dustin smiled as he sipped her parents' beer. Tayten looked between them, aware that something was off about them today.

Pushing himself off the couch, Jeran put his hands on her waist, manipulating her against the wall.

"You could have called me when you woke up." He whispered in her ear, his fingers slipping under her shirt.

"I wanted some time alone…to think-"

Jeran snarled and clenched his fists, his fingers digging into her hips.

"You liar. I bet you take men to that little forest of yours. I bet you become their little forest nymph." His hands climbed up her body, his fingers tracing around her bra while his teeth nipped at her neck. "It's my turn Tayten, and you are out of excuses."

"Please don't do this Jeran." She whimpered, struggling against him while he unzipped his pants. "Dustin is here."

"He won't interfere."

In fact, Dustin smiled, continuing to take drags out of his bottle.

That spark of fear burst into a violent flame.

"Jeran, seriously, don't do this." She struggled against him, getting free for a moment, only to be thrown back into the wall as his body slammed against her.

"I will do whatever I want, Tayten." Jeran sneered as he literally tore her shirt off her. "You have been saying 'no' for too long. I'm tired of waiting for you to get over yourself."

"Stop!" Tayten cried desperately as she felt him start to undo her pants as well.

Somehow, she managed to flail away, only this time, Jeran let out a roar of rage, grabbed her arm, swung her around, and punched her in the face, sending her flying to the ground.

Silence echoed in the room, save for the heavy breathing from Jeran.

It seemed like forever before any of them realized what just happened.

"Tayten?" Jeran whispered, reaching for her with the hand he had just hit her with; seeing it made her want to scream.

"Get out of my house, Jeran." She whispered, still in shock.

"What?"

"Get. Out. Of my house."

Anger flashed through him again and he grabbed her, shoving her against a counter in the kitchen.

"Don't you dare tell me what to do you little bitch." He snarled, his hands starting to travel down this time.

In a blind panic, Tayten's hands scrambled for anything she could use to pull herself out of his grasp. Her fingered wrapped around the first object they found and a knife was suddenly between the two of them

"I said, get out of my house." Her voice didn't quiver now, the knife giving her courage.

He looked down at the point of the blade between them.

"Tayten?"

"GET THE FUCKING HELL OUT OF MY HOUSE YOU FUCKING SON OF A WHORE!" She screamed.

Her sudden outburst had both Jeran and Dustin running for the door, worried about the knife in her hands. At the door, Jeran hesitated and turned to look at her. Before he could say anything, she slammed the door in his face, locking it the moment it was shut.

She stood, staring at the door for a long time, trying to comprehend what had just happened here. It was not the first time he had been rough with her, but it had been the first time he was actually going to force her to do what he wanted. It was also the first time he had raised his hand and followed through with hitting her. She felt sick to her stomach that it had gotten this far.

Her phone buzzed with another text message. When she looked at it, she screamed and threw it against the wall, shattering it. Jeran could apologize all he wanted, but it would not work this time. When she stepped away from the door, she could feel herself trembling, the adrenaline coursing through her and her body trying desperately to keep herself from crying.

Trying to pull herself together she ran through and locked all the doors to her house, scared he would try to come back. Next she grabbed the phone and dialed her mother, still trying to calm her stuttering breath while it rang.

"Hello?" Her mother answered.

"Mom! Thank you for picking up. Can you come home, I really need-"

"Oh no, honey, I'm sorry. Your father and I have a late dinner tonight and won't be home."

"No, mom, please, you don't understand." A sob broke through and her voice shook, a whole new set of fears boiling through Tayten. "I really need you right now."

"I'm sorry honey, but you're a grown-up. You are just going to have to fix it yourself."

Without another word, her mother hung up.

Tayten stared at the phone in disbelief. The one person who should have been there for her, the one person who should have come running at the sound of her sobs, just hung up on her. Reality crashed down on her. She was alone. Her friends abandoned her, her boyfriend abused her, and her parents stepped out of her life the moment she learned to use a microwave.

Personal instincts took over and she ran for the garage, grabbing her car keys, and completely forgetting her shoes. As fast she could go, she drove to the edge of the forest. Once she reached the parking lot, she slammed the car into park, and raced out, leaving the keys in the ignition and the doors wide open. Blindly, she ran into the cover of the trees, finally letting tears flow down her cheeks.

The further into the forest she ran, the safer she felt, and the safer she felt to cry. Once she tripped and stayed down, curling herself into a pile of leaves, letting nature blanket her in its constant and comforting arms. There she laid, letting herself cry and drift in and out of sleep. In her conscious times she realized she should have seen this coming, and that this was simply where things had brought her. The realization made her cry all the harder until the sun fell and exhaustion finally pulled her into a deeper, slightly more restful slumber.

At one point in time of the night, she was woken by something warm and hard pressing against her hand.

She opened her grey-blue eyes, her breath catching at what she saw. Caught in a dream, she saw a large, light blue lizard in front of her, a lizard that was the size of a small collie and had large, awkward wings. It was her favorite dream, where reality and fantasy where one in the same.

"H-hello…" The small dragon greeted, his voice timid and uncertain.

"Hi." She returned, interested to see how this dream played out.

The dragon seemed to get more confident with her response. He moved his small, disproportioned and obviously young body until he was wrapped in Tayten's arms.

"I was watching you." He said. "You looked cold, and you looked hurt." His wings brushed bruises that were starting to develop on her back while his nose touched the welt that was swelling on her face.

"Yeah…" She said, ignoring the slight pain she felt when he touched the wounds. "I was…attacked."

The creature bristled and hissed, a sound that would one day be mighty.

"It's ok, he is gone now."

"Good." The dragon growled, settling himself into her arms. "No one will hurt you." He looked up at her with blue eyes as dark as a dust sky. "What is your name?"

"Tayten." She answered her voice stronger in this dream than it could ever have been while she was awake.

The dragon nodded. "Tayten. I'm Kijorn." He looked deep into her eyes. "I promise you, no one will hurt you. Not with me by your side."

Tayten smiled and stroked his head, comforted by his presence and so pleased with this dream that she did not notice as she fell back asleep, a true smile gracing her lips for the first time in so long.