All at once, the dust flew up into my mouth and nose, before I could stop it. I exhaled, trying to get it out, but I felt it burning all the way down my throat. There was nothing to do but keep breathing it in.

Behind me, I heard a sort of screech. Two shadowy figures came tearing out of the green room, screaming like creatures from a horror film. Leaping to my feet, I ran for the passageway in the wall as fat as I could.

Stupid! I thought to myself. Why did you go and touch that thing? Now look what you've gotten yourself into!

Every part of my body burned, working its way from my throat and chest down to my legs and my feet. The air around me warped, making everything blue and shiny before switching quickly back to normal. Staggering, I kept going. The things behind me weren't slowing down.

Where was the entrance to this place? Surely it couldn't have been this far! But as I cast swift glances around the maze-like walls and knew I was lost, and possibly might be for a very long time. I started to reach for my phone, but realized I'd dropped it back in the colored rooms.

"Maria!" I screamed, hoping maybe she would hear me and call out. But I heard nothing except the echoes of my own voice.

Looking back over my shoulder at the two creatures following me, I very much wished I hadn't. They had long, shadowy bodies covered in long fur, and wolf-like faces that positively bristled with teeth. Their long claws tore through the air and stone like it was paper, and I shuddered to think what they'd do to me if they caught me.

I'd really fallen down the rabbit hole now.

Running hurriedly around a corner, I thought to myself over and over, I need to find the way out. I need to find the way out. My vision flickered again, and this time it stayed blue. Stumbling slightly, I caught myself on the wall. It shimmered neon blue beneath my fingers. Behind me came the snarling of the two creatures as they rounded the corner, and I knew I had no more time to rest.

I set off sprinting again, as my vision remained distorted. But as I kept trying to run towards what I thought was the exit, I'd catch something in the corner of my vision. A glittering trail, dancing through the air like the blue dust I'd accidentally inhaled. Deciding it was better than nothing, I quickly shifted directions and followed it.

My legs felt like jelly. My arms, tired from pumping, wanted to hang limply at my sides. And my breathing sounded like I was a steamroller hard at work. I wanted to stop running so badly, I thought maybe it wouldn't be so bad to be eaten by demon dogs. I need to find the way out, I thought defiantly, and as if in response, the trail in front of me glowed brighter.

Bright light shone from the hole in the wall, where I'd entered. The trail disappeared when it came in contact with the light, and my vision returned to normal like a camera sliding into focus. With the finish line in sight, I ran as hard as I possibly could.

Outside, the sun was beginning to sink. How long had I been in there? Maria was nowhere to be found, even as I twisted desperately around and called her name. There was no reply, only my voice echoing off the huge building behind me.

There was a low snarl from inside the building, and I saw the two shadowy creatures lurking at the edge of the sunlight, their yellow eyes glowing maliciously. I backed away from them, too tired to run another step. Thinking I might be safe, I pushed back against the cornfields, my hands brushing their flat leaves.

A shadow passed over the sun. What could it possibly be now? I thought wearily, ready to make a break for it despite my exhaustion. Whatever it was passed lower and lower, until it touched down a few feet away from me.

My jaw dropped. It was a horse, and a big one at that, coal-black and elegant. It tossed its huge head and snorted, not bothering to fold up its massive black wings. I simply stared as it whickered again, this time more urgently, pushing its nose against its back.

"You want me to get on?" I asked stupidly. The horse, to my eternal amazement, bobbed its head in an unmistakable nod. "Well, then," I said, but I still couldn't move. This was getting crazier and crazier. I wanted to tell myself it was a dream, but the horrible burning sensation in my stomach told me that it wasn't. My vision shifted as I stood there, trying to decide.

The horse snorted, his back legs skittering as he gestured again for me to climb onto his back. This time, I didn't hesitate.

I pushed myself up, swinging a leg over the horse's back, settling behind his wings. As soon as it felt me sit, the horse leapt into the sky, beating its wings for altitude. Clinging onto the horse's neck, I tried not to fall off as the ground grew smaller beneath me.

After a few ragged breaths, I found that I could see color again, and that my brain was able to function properly. Everything about today had been so weird, so bizarre, I didn't even know what to think. Ever since I'd dropped that crystal, my instincts had taken over, like I'd magically been switched to survival mode when I wasn't paying attention.

But there was one thing I knew for sure. "My mom's gonna kill me," I moaned, leaning into the horse's wiry black mane. "She doesn't even know that I'm gone!" There was no chance of me calling her; I'd dropped my phone a long time ago, in the warehouse. No, there'd be no contact with sanity for a very long time, I could tell.

The two of us flew over patches of farmland, nestled together like squares on a quilt. Since the horse appeared to be able to understand me, I asked, "Where are we going?" above the noise of the wind.

The horse only snorted and gave another powerful flap of his wings. Turning to look behind me, I saw little black specks rising up from the ground. Maybe they were just birds, but after everything that had happened, I couldn't assume anything.

When I told the horse, it immediately tucked its wings and dove straight for the ground, and the cover of the forest that took over the farmland. Clutching for his neck, I held on tight and waited for it to be over. I'd never really been a fan of heights, and this was the worst part.

We ducked between the trees, which clawed and scraped at me like they were trying to bring me down. The horse's hooves touched down, and he took only a second to pull in his wings before taking off across the mossy ground. By this time I could breathe again, and I lifted my head to see the trees rushing past.

Bushes reached out and ran their barbs across my arms and face, leaving traces of dirt and blood, but I didn't ask the horse to slow down. I'd come to the conclusion that he knew what those creatures were, and didn't want to be around them any more than I did.

Up ahead, the trees were thinning. The horse slowed down, eventually coming to a sliding halt. It dropped to its knees, indicating that I was to dismount. I did so, fighting off stiffness in my legs. Then I watched as the horse began to change.

Within seconds there was a person standing before me. He looked to be in his late teens, with blond hair and dark eyes. Wait, my horse was actually a guy? Biting my lip to keep from screaming or crying, I wondered if today could get any worse.

Before I could say anything, the boy reached out and grabbed my arm, hard. "I don't know what you've done, human girl, but the Queen's soldiers are coming after you, and that's never a good sign," he said, pulling me into the cover of the trees.

"There was the warehouse," I gasped, trying to keep up with his pace, "And the colored crystal, and then it broke-ˮ

I was abruptly cut off my words by the flickering of my vision, making me stumble and nearly bringing my shape-shifting companion down with me. Gasping as that horrible burning spread through me again, I saw something pass overhead. At first I thought it must be another winged horse, but its face was too angular, its wingspan too small.

"What is that?" I croaked, just before the boy clamped a hand over my mouth.

"Shh," he hissed, glancing furtively up at the sky. Another one flew above us, and this time I caught a better look. It was golden-brown, with a head like an eagle, a feather-covered body, and legs tipped with talons. A gryphon.

Slowly he released his hold on me, convinced I wouldn't say anything else. He helped me to my feet, as quietly as I possibly could. Gesturing with one hand, he made for me to follow him through the trees.

"It's not far," he whispered, the barest breath in my ear. I nodded and tried to avoid branches beneath my feet. As we made our slow but steady way through the trees, I realized I was shaking.

If I had known I would be running through a warehouse and creeping through the forest, I would have worn different clothes. Definitely not flip-flops, a purple tank top, and fabric shorts. After all, I thought I'd be going to a party and then coming home. But then I suppose fate decided to whack me over the head with this bizarre chain of events, and I wasn't sure I was ever going to recover.

A gryphon's screech pierced the silence. "Run!" the boy cried. "Just keep moving!"

I had stopped trying to be silent and ran as fast as I could for the second time today. My muscles screamed in protest, but there was nothing else I could do, unless I wanted to be shredded by those fearsome talons.

The two of us charged through the forest. I would have fallen multiple times if not for his iron-hard grip on my forearm. At last we made it to a clearing, with high grasses that sparkled in the sun. Since I knew deep in my gut that this was where I needed to be, I wondered why the shape-shifting boy had stopped.

I peered around his shoulder at the soldiers lining the clearing. Each held a long spear-like weapon and wore the crest of a glittering golden crown. There was no mistaking it: these were the Queen's men.

But behind them was something that caught my attention faster than the armor-clad men. Like an archway plucked straight from a McDonald's display was a yellow beam of shimmering energy. The feeling of belonging thrummed deeply in my chest, and I barely heard the sound of metal on metal as the horse boy drew a sword.

"Get the girl," the captain of the soldiers said. Startled, I realized it was a woman speaking. She lower her spear at us. "Bind the shifter."

They came at us, clearly advanced fighters. My shape-shifting rescuer pushed me back into the trees behind him, clearly telling me to run. Stumbling, I pushed my way back into the shade of the forest.

I hadn't gotten very far when I felt something clamp down on my shoulders. I could hear the sound of heavy wing beats, and then my feet lifted up off the ground. I screamed, clawing at the gryphon that held me, but it was no use. Once we were back over the clearing I was dropped, much to my displeasure.

"Got you," the captain said gruffly, as I smashed into her arms. Wrapping her strong arms around me, she turned and ran straight for the archway. "Once he's bound, bring him through the portal!" she shouted over her shoulder at her soldiers. "He's a spy for the rebels!"

I had no time to think about what she'd just said before we plunged through the empty golden archway. As soon as we did, the captain's arms loosened, and I was lost in a torrential yellow storm.