Chapter 1:

There's nothing pretty about EVIL, but I carry it with me

IT started off with half a wit, a single strange word, an irritable premonition, and a clumsy girl. That is all it takes. Added in was a douse of pure dazzling kerosene color, so strong it could melt your flesh off, probably. It was the special kind of kerosene.

That girl? She was me, covered in spirited paint of the green variety up to my wrists, looking over my shoulder. I was constantly making a "hush" noise so the young man with demonic bad boy looks and a killer smile behind me looked affronted. I had had a crush on him last year…and then Janson had found out and messed with his mind so pretty boy remembered us being best friends since middle school and was totally into me. I couldn't go out with him-the man I'd loved had ceased to exist. There was no hunt to be had, no awkwardness. Only his bias to my true nature. Which kind of left Tommy on the side lines of his supposed best friend's life. Yeah, I needed to fix his head…somehow.

"Shhhh!" I hissed over my shoulder.

Now he looked at me, expression worried. Was it him? Was he making the noise? Those sparkling emeralds seamed apologetic. I held back an adoring smile-I was not going to encourage him. Let him try to tempt me. It would not work. No, he was not the source of my accusations. I didn't have it that good. My problems didn't come in the looks-good-enough-to-date genre.

I dipped my paintbrush in the cup, doing everything not to grip my arms. I could feel the burning of the country of Avalon all over my arms.

I pulled my brush in a painstaking spiral of sweet orange and bent my nose. Hiding my sleeve over my nose I bent over my creation. To observe the instance of my painting. The colors had a peculiar way. If I gave them half the chance they would get away. They would "if" before you could spare a double blink.

Sweet orange, my favorite color -leukemia's color- faded in a dismal way into the dark creature that had been identified as my painting. The painting sucked bright orange up, destroyed it, like an ink stain that was never there the canvas drank it in deliciously. It never came back out. It was as if I were a magical being and had somehow managed to paint nothing-color all over my dismal board.

With trembling hands I wiped the sweat off my face. The sweat was running down my face. It was on my lips, my tear ducts, and neck. I felt hot. The sensation of sweat sparked my memories.

For a second the inside of my brain was nothing but searing tongues of white hot flame. Startlingly, heart wrenching, I was reeled back into the agony of the girl standing on Avalon's mountain who had been so tortured by Grey all she could do was laugh until her voice aged hoarse. Until her cracked lips bled. Because there was nothing left in her but pain so gaping she couldn't even express it. Of course no one had been there for me-just like the old fortune teller had said-and I had had to escape by splitting myself into two different people. No one knew that-especially not my closest friends.

Frustrated, I scratched the edge of my jaw, reminding myself that I was not that girl. Slowly the memories receded back to her side of the fence and off of mine. I took a deep breath. Calmed myself. And…back to the painting. Let's try another experiment. But…it was hopeless.

I knew what I'd painted. It was a sign that I'd seen in my sleep, a voice I'd been hearing from underneath the ground, a feeling every time I looked over my shoulder. Since I could no longer ignore it because it was starring right at me, the manifestation of all the cause that had come out of me as a painting. Of course that couldn't stop me from attempting to change it.

But since I had changed my mind after I had painted it that thing refused to be changed. Painting had become so much harder after last summer's trip.

However it was done, there was, in truth, not a stroke my heart would allow to be changed. I hated it. But this painting was the truth in all its negative glory. Animosity was un-perceived at the end-mark of the painting, though, for me. IT, all of it's jungle of complexity, was a myth, fable, an evil which I stretched from. Yet, still did I not believe it.

The picture, that I had been attempting to haplessly cheer and richen, had faded to a swollen black again. I reached forward rubbing my hand against the paper. What was it that made that knot keep growing?

I rubbed frustrated at the speared glowing arrow on my neck and proclaimed calmly, "That painting has a mind of it's own. I don't even know who's painting it."

In my vision, something moved.

"Shamash." A lazy needy voice drawled, a bent claw nicking my elbow. Actually, right past the lovely red glows fabric, sort of ripping it quietly.

Ruined shirt! No. Dang it!

"Shah." I hissed, my arm and paintbrush jamming into the air in such haste that sticky, gummy pastels flicked 'Ellie' Pattern on her perfectas nose. She wrinkled her brow and flipped her bouncy unreal bronze hair left-shoulder giving me an irritated recognizing glance.

oh, she said, why, it's you.

I gaped at her like an idiot somewhat offended.

"Ellie."

Me and Ellie Pattern's head's both turned simultaneously.

The Art teacher.

Green rusted hands crawled up my elbow, making my skin itch, like the hands were burning brands on me. I winced, momentarily distracted.

"Ellie!" The teacher scolded.

"Shamash." The creature beside me whined.

"What?" I deadpanned.

The teacher looked at me patiently, her brown maternal eyes disapproving but sympathetic: she was watching her best student. I suppose she wondered something like this: what could she possibly be doing, flailing her brush like that? Is she high? I seriously wouldn't be surprised if that was what she'd just thought.

"What are you doing?"

"Shamash!" The voice was no longer lazy but desperate.

I narrowed my eyes.

There was havoc about, dark. It would not deny me audience. But I ignored it for the moment. First things first: take care of the mundane facets of life.

I stepped forward slowly, prying the creatures grasp off my skirt, my hands smoking with the contact. Surreptitiously pressing my hands inside pockets, I bit my tongue, under the gaze of the teacher and fellow students.

My life would change in tens after that.

Halfway to Mrs. Harsh I gestured at the painting behind me where I had just been standing.

"Sorry, but... my elbow was nicked...I was going call you over..." I said quietly.

The dozens of clutches of students who had realized their works in front of them again seamed to be straining their ears?

"Ah, I see." Was what she said starring past me.

I turned at what I knew she was looking at. My painting.

It's outline was purple velvet I had coaxed out of the prickly school brushes with hard won impatience. It was not beautiful or even a creation I'd made up. Rather a memory. Because the painting's center, after ribbons of overlaying purple, stood a grim tree that seamed to be grinning its faceless grin.

It had been bugging me for weeks, but I had finally changed something so the trapping layers of orange leaves-no other color-resembled a patchwork of undesirable thorns. The middle held a faceless face. Scourging around it was a whisper of tearing leaves. In the picture there was no sun. The panel of the wood only covered so much space but I had solved that by darkening the lonely corners to a New York sky gray. The middle was a tad lighter as if there was something behind it, but no sun shone. No sun shone, but there was existence in the picture of a sun by itself.

There you have it: a tree, fallen leaves, no grass, darkness yet the instance of obscure light.

Mrs. Harsh walked over to it and I followed her, glancing nervously at the clock. It's commonly known Mrs. Harsh lets her students skive off class if they completed the project. Would she keep her promise? Probably.

She rubbed the blue-white swirl of the upper middle with a long fingernail. I fidgeted.

"This surrounding is very dark." She said, pointing at the soft wormy earth which appeared like a bunch of dark browns had sprinkled themselves all over. Nothing connected. In fact, the soil looked as if it where about to be broken apart and fall down. A detail nobody had taken notice of.

"It's meant to be." I said starring at it annoyed.

"And the tree is very creepy." She raised her eyebrows.

"Yeah. Leave me alone about it." I snapped. "Can I go now?"

She didn't respond, brushing her hand on the rectangular surface as if she could feel the tree.

"I asked you to paint me what you think your life would symbolize. You paint me this? It's horrible." She scowled.

I starred at her blankly, with an expression like if she were to tell me the world was ending it'd be no bother, hands in my pockets. The color of red shame creeped slowly up my neck.

"..."

"You may go."

I handed her the paper and talked quickly, practically stalking the clock and being aware of every second of precious freedom ticking-like a bouncing flee- away. "This is my theory on the painting I have created, but I couldn't find anything similar about it I could compare with other paintings. I have no comparison." I bowed my head admittedly, embarrassed. That was half of the paper. Did she think I was being bold suggesting there were no similarities?

She took it, smiling with her narrowed eyes.

"With you I'll make an exception. It isn't like anything I've seen before." She scowled. "And I hope it stays that way."

"What freedom awaits?" Her tone mocking, she took me for any other teenager ready to get out of class.

I smiled.

Those words will still haunt, dreadfully, shaking the inner cores of my 'self' until my stomach can no longer stand it. She didn't know how right the words she spoke. If she did she'd realize how cruel she was to tell me what she saw in my painting and me.

The scratching and splashing of vibrant luxuriant colors echoed in the quiet room as I made my way to the door. I took to a cold metal handled door like a late Christmas shopper and swung it. Since the observation of my piece my classmates had retained a warm rhythm of more scratching and clawing to bring their paint spatters to life. They were working hard. I would have stopped and admired had a green fiend friend called Ito not been stammering on my heels so close the fabric on my black wavy skirt singed.

With commendable cleverness I had made sure of packing a few extra changes in my locker, just in case of moments like these.

I barely made it out the door without igniting.

Now that the eyewitnesses were separated from me with a two inch think wall I wiped around, arms up as if I were about to scratch the daylights out from his eyes.

My 'friend' was a 4 foot high goblin of a the greenish tinge. They were similar to the spring leaves. Absolutely normal eyes so lackluster people tended to forget looking into them. Ito's eyes were designed with that intention, anyway. He had saw fingernails-and that was what they felt like. These were made, complete and total, of copper that submerged from his skin. Goblin. Nasty hateful goblin.

Respectfully, being referred to as Blinks suited this race more. Too many witch stories that fitted their description on some level bothered them. Normal Blinks were bald but this guy favored a little-league hat. It was probably older than me.

Blink were also strong. They were hot. They could walk around on Christmas with T-shirts and the like complaining about how hot it is. Global warming probably was caused by them.

"Shamash." He demanded swiftly and grabbed my hands.

It was my name in his fluent language, just as unbeautiful as his race.

He was trying to communicate. Because I didn't understand. I hadn't bothered to pick up his form of speak yet. In fact, not at all, actually. Something I instantly regretted.

So when he grabbed my hands with his gentle saw fingernail-grip I shook my head wildly, eyes round, fearful.

I mouthed "No".

He put my fingers palm first up in his tinnier ones like they would cup clear rainwater. I gritted my teeth pulled away but it was useless and too late.

My eyes were almost as hot as his hands as they burned a hole through his sockets in anger.

The burn was immensely painful. It dug a nimble hole in my own skin right between the index finger and the thumb. The part that stretches out.

I had choice in it, of course. Ito would never get the message across if it was up to me. I was chicken. But then who wanted to have barbecue hands? I also had no part in the control of my own body. If I had I would have gladly screamed my head off and twenty some class mates would come running out to see me standing there by myself with my hands blood covered.

But I just sat there and -soon- the pain ebbed as it always does.

My eyes turned iris. They became round, brimming, and locked on their destination: the circle formed in my palms. And as my eyes turned my palms became suddenly full of the substance of clearest water. There were images inside it. A red blooming light in them beaming out and shinning the outside of Mrs. Hirsh's classroom in brilliant fearless red. In the water images began to appear.

My eyes were wrapped up in it like a starving man with a stabbed steak on a plate. There was a flurry of movement and the green wing of Nein, my dragon, appeared in the flaming water. Heat was wavering around the air so she must have been imbedded in the depths of Core, the hottest place.

Nein paused looking unsure of herself, rising gigantic green yellow-lined wings that could knock out a bus, moving her trim head of scales sideways. She was panicking. I could tell by the flowering fire dripping from her mouth and nose. A horde of ice clear men were throwing their blaming rope across her empty neck and unleashing their Daltons. My eyes filled with worry.

The scene changed. Shots of melting earth and blowing decayed leafs, a tunnel hidden in the darkness. The Five Miles were decaying. Whispers of Tran going through the strange golden siege even now he was named after. Alaskan was falling. To a new kingdom? Or the city had become tired. Maybe. My thoughts were all running amok I couldn't concentrate clearly.

Ito released me.

I jerked my hands back looking sour. Ito have me a understanding look, but little notice more. He had no pity-it came with his territory.

"So?" I snapped like a small child, sulky. "They dumped my guardian abilities a long time ago and laid me at the back door of their high heights. I was an orphan! I'm not even allowed to have contact with them, it's outlawed! Do you even know how much trouble I and Tran go through just to keep up with each other? Why should I bother to care if Alaskan crumbles to a clod and nothing's left?" I turned away crossing my arms as my mind, full-steam, already began to race.

What could I do? What was wrong? I had no way to survive in Core because they had taken my abilities. I might be able to get past the guards if I was lucky and risked my neck and chanced it with the height rocks.

Not again! Not that! A part of me screamed. I pushed the deep crawling fear aside.

I kept talking, yelling at him. Not bothering to care if the students heard me while they were painting.

Of course my mouth spoke dead pages of approximately nothing. My mind, however, spoke the worst-the reality of it-which was ever margining. Complain all I wanted in Ito's face and be shipped off to a country that had denied me as one of it's orphan's anyway-I'd get what out of it, exactly? We both knew he'd force me there himself, he was just waiting for me to be done with my rant. And I was already at a disadvantage.

I needed Alaskan to survive. Because number 1. it would kill my friend. I'd never see him again. 2. I would lose a homeland I had loved. 3. Ito, his people, more importantly the dragons, and all ferocity that made up Alaskan's clumped together sieges would dissipate and turn to a sum of nothing.

Of course there was the "light would go out of the melted treasures gifted from king Allan's own hands" to consider. They would be useless trinkets of Grow's countryside. And the visiting not born to endure Alaskan's fiercest elements would burn up. My friend was one of them-even linked by blood theoretically-who leaned more heavily on Allan's gifs than me. One I myself held in my possession that kept me from turning to dust whenever Ito touched me or made my hands in a pool-shape container. Where did I keep it? This might be a stupid thing to say but I swallowed it-accidentally-and grew relieved when it was still working. Apparently trinkets of the grow kind are hard to digest. It'd stick with me for years. Oh well.

I turned around but Ito was vanished.

A bell on the intercom rang pleasantly and students came busting out of the door in hoards. Pulled by the body ocean I dragged my feet to my locker and picked out a math book stuffed with assignments. Then, not bothering to think about it much, I walked out the cool shady indoors and traded it for a hot afternoon.

The first thing I saw was the black sky. Students had been talking about it all hours. I turned my head to the sun and grimly cursed. That meant Frit was out. And he lacked nothing better to do but bother me these past years. Idly I wondered what had gotten into him and smoothed the strap on my shoulder self-consciously. Frit was horrible.

"Hey Ellie, what're you doing, just standing there like that? You could get mugged." A voice yelled seriously.

"Why would anyone want to mug me?" I asked suspiciously. Did she know who I was? Did she know what kind of enemies I'd made myself?

A blond haired girl with hard honey-colored eyes looked me up and down. Seeing my spoilt favorite canvas jeans and un-cool snoopy shirt. My hair was braided back in an untying half-attempt braid. It was the only thing I had to change in to.

She raised a sly eyebrow. "You're right. What was I thinking?"

"Ahaha," I laughed at her, relieved, and waved good-bye.

I stopped and examined my hands, looking for the painful won prints of Ito's when he'd sent himself to deliver that message. All evidence had gone except a slight residue of pink that flickered irritated through my skin. It slightly stung, that's it. Studying the pink skin I was suddenly infuriated and spent. Why were scars so easy to hide-so easy to walk away from…and yet…always, always there? I tossed my frustration and pain away. It was no good depressing and reminding myself. Oblivion was the best medicine.

I set my mouth and straightened the backpack strap. The worth in the lesson-as Tyro had taught me-was more than the scratch caused to bring it. I wondered if it was the strange gold or my allegiance that kept the scars at bay. I closed my eyes for a moment and listened to the agony screeching in my heart. Part of me would have never revisited Alaskan's disrupted surface -ever- if I had the choice. I closed my eyes and a blistery tear slipped down my face.