Author's Note/ warning: The following chapter sets of a series of events that get progressively darker and may contain triggers for those that have dealt with violence and suicide. Chapters 3-5 will be posted in their entirety, but I am not yet sure about chapter 6. I will add a note to each chapter about what triggers are contained and, if edited, a summary at the bottom you can skip to. Thank you for your interest in my writing and I would love to hear from you in whichever way you are comfortable.

*~*~* Chapter 3: Magic *~*~*

It had been two months since she had first arrived and Eva seemed no closer to returning home than she had been that first day. Though she still missed her children, she worked with Sirah and Mila and was enjoying her time there. Eva had never learned much housekeeping skills beyond simple cleaning so was learning a variety of skills and tricks from the two women she worked the closest with including making and altering garments and foraging for edible foods in the forest.

The morning air was still crisp, but the scent of an early spring was in the air. Eva and Mila each had a cloak tied around their shoulders and a basket hanging from one arm. Their goal for the day was to fill the baskets with the last of the edible winter plants. As they wandered around the forest, Mila pointed out the differences between the plants that were safe to eat and those that were not.

"I remember seeing this the day I was wandering through the forest. If only I had known, I would have been just fine!" Eva chuckled as she added some chickweed to her basket that Mila had told her about.

Around midday, the two spread a blanket they had brought with them on the ground next to the babbling stream they had been following to sit and eat a small lunch of cheese, nuts, and some of the food they had gathered. As they sat and talked, Mila thought she had seen some movement in the distance, but brushed it off as an animal when she focused but didn't see anything.

A few minutes later, four dirty, grinning men stepped out from behind the trees around the girls. "What do we have?" One man stepped closer than the others, "What are two pretty girls doing all the way out here? Come to bring us food…and fun?" They all laughed.

Eva and Mila both stood up, backs together. Without a word, they simultaneously bolted in opposite directions and screamed as loud as they could. Unfortunately, their best dodging and diving was not enough and they were both easily grabbed.

"Shut up and stop your struggling!" The one that appeared to be the leader of the men yelled at the girls. Both girls stopped their struggling and screaming rather than find out what the implied consequences would be. Having come upon the girls by chance, the men did not have any way of restraining them so just pushed them across the stream and through the forest to their camp.

Once they reached the men's camp, a small clearing with a simple fire pit with three crude tents around it, they threw Eva and Mila on the ground next to a large tree. The leader picked up a branch and drew a circle on the ground around the girls and the tree, chanting under his breath as he did so. "Now just stay there until we are ready for you." The men then went about their afternoon, building up their fire and cooking a couple rabbits they had caught.

*~*~* Break

"Have you ever seen anything like this barrier?" Eva whispered to Mila when no one was looking.

"Lord Edan has done something similar to prevent anyone from disturbing him while he is working," Mila replied. "It's impossible to get through."

"Lord Edan's might be impossible to get through, but I don't have as much faith in this guy's magic." Eva moved to the edge of the circle, her eyes glued to the man that had set the spell. Just a few centimeters above the ground, Eva moved her hand over the line on the ground. It felt as if there was some sort of thick, jelly like substance in the way of her hand, but she was able to push through. She quietly waved Mila over so the younger girl could see and try for herself. Mila was unable to push her hand past the line though, so Eva attempted, unsuccessfully to wipe part of the line away to break the barrier.

"When you have a chance, you make a break for it and bring Lord Edan back here." Mila whispered.

"But I don't know the way back! I'll get lost!" Eva protested. "And I can't leave you here alone with them. Who knows what they would do you!"

"But I can't leave this circle, you can! You are our only chance," Mila insisted. "You have to at least try!"

Hesitantly, Eva agreed and waited until all the men were sitting around the fire eating. The sun was just touching the horizon as she squeezed around the back of the tree, pushed her way out of the barrier, and ran. Within moments of Eva leaving the circle, the leader dropped his food and stormed over to Mila.

"Where is the other one?" He demanded.

"S-she is r-relieving herself. O-on the other s-side." Mila stammered and pointed around the tree.

He darted around the tree and saw Eva already in the distance, running back towards where they had been grabbed. "Oh no you don't!" He roared as he ran after her.

'FUCK!' Eva thought when she heard the man start after her. Then, as her skirt got tangled in her legs, 'God-damned skirt!' Her heart pounded and the cold air burned her chest as she ran as hard as she could, but he was still faster and caught up to her within minutes and tackled her to the ground. With no energy left to fight, Eva could only protest weakly when he picked her up and threw her over his shoulder.

The man walked back to camp, taking his time to catch his breath and think of what he was going to do with the girl he was carrying.

*~*~* Break

Eva and Mila had left shortly after breakfast that morning. Sirah had expected them to return by mid-afternoon, or suppertime at the latest. The sun was just starting to set, however, and there was still no sign of the girls.

"What's wrong, Sirah?" Lord Edan asked when he saw Sirah looking anxiously out the window towards the forest.

"My Lord." Sirah turned to Edan, "Eva and Mila have not returned from the forest and the sun has started to set. They should have been back a few hours ago, I'm worried."

Edan disappeared down the hall and returned with his cloak around his shoulders and a sword at his hip, "Is Alik out in the stables still?"

"Yes." Sirah replied as he nearly ran out the door and down the path to the stables.

"Alik! Saddles!" Edan called when he was close enough, "You are coming with me – we need to find the girls!"

Without a word, Alik quickly produced two saddles and prepared one horse while Edan prepared the other. As the last rays of the sun disappeared, the two men were heading down the path Eva and Mila had taken that morning. The girls' path was easy to follow as they had pretty much followed the river upstream, meandering around to find food to forage so it only took the two men on horseback about half an hour to find where the girls had sat for lunch.

Jumping off the horse, Alik looked around the area and easily found the four sets of boot prints that belonged to the men that took Eva and Mila. "My Lord, it looks like they were taken by four men. They all went this way," Alik pointed in the direction across the river that the prints led. Alik returned to his horse and they rode off, following the track that was left behind.

It was not much longer before they saw the light of the campfire and heard the men talking and laughing together. They stopped the horses far enough from the camp that they wouldn't be seen or heard and made their way on foot the rest of the way. Peaking around trees, Edan saw Mila huddled against the base of a tree, a magical barrier around her and the tree. Three men were sitting around the fire, joking with each other about what they were going to do when they got their turn with the little magic girl.

Ignoring the men except to make sure he wasn't seen, Edan crept next to where Mila was confined. Using his magic to ensure his whisper didn't carry too far, he asked Mila what happened and where Eva was.

"Eva is in there," Mila concluded a brief recap of the day and pointed to the tent the leader had taken Eva into. "And they keep talking about a girl with magic and how the mage likes to do…things to anyone with magic!"

With a better idea of what he faced, Edan retreated back to where Alik was still hiding and filled the younger man in on what they faced. Not wanting to wait any longer, Edan instructed Alik to stay with the horses, ready to go while he silently made his way back to the edge of the camp. Edan darted out and, in one smooth motion, drew his sword and slid it into the back of the biggest of the men, finding the man's heart.

As the sword passed through him, the man's mouth gaped, showing a mouth full of decaying or missing teeth. His long dirty hair fell over his face in clumps as he slowly hunched over and fell forward. In complete shock, his companions just sat there and watched before jumping up and running. One man ran out towards the forest, not caring about the others while the other charged at Edan, hoping to take out the intruder before he could free his sword.

Edan quickly shook his sword free, dodged the man's lunge and sliced him across the back as he passed. With a roar, the man turned and charged again. Edan moved out of the way, slicing the man's hamstrings, bringing him to the ground while another slice to his throat before he fell completely left him gurgling as his blood soaked the ground.

Just as Edan had finished his fight with the second man, the leader stormed out of the tent. "What is going on?" When he saw Edan standing over his two dead companions, he threw a ball of fire at Edan. The deflected attack exploded against one of the nearby trees, engulfing it in flames.

Edan charged the other mage behind a volley of magical daggers, his sword in his hand, ready for another taste of blood. However, once Edan closed in on the man standing in front of him, he discovered it was just an illusion. Once the man had realized he was up against a much stronger mage, he used an illusion to run while he appeared to be standing there.

Frustrated and angry that he had lost the dangerous mage, Edan called out, "Get back here, you coward!" When there was no response or reappearance, Edan burst into the tent, expecting to find Eva and another girl, but only finding Eva tied between two branches hammered into the ground.

Her arms were tied to one branch above her head while her ankles were secured to another. Her shirt was torn open, revealing several cuts across her torso while several spots of blood on her sleeves showed that her arms had not been spared the attack.

"EVA!" Edan cut her free and sat her up gently. As he held her, a soft glow enveloped her and the wounds stopped their bleeding and began to close up. "The men that attacked you are gone. Sit here for a minute while I put out the fire and get Mila."

Eva simply nodded.

Leaving the tent, Edan first went to Mila and broke the barrier the other mage had placed around her. Sending her to sit with Eva, he then turned his attention to the fire spreading to new trees. Closing his eyes, he reached out to the river and pulled the water to rain down on the fire until the only evidence of it was the burned out tree and a few branches from neighboring trees reaching into the sky.

Before returning to the tent with the two girls, Edan checked the other two tents for the other girl he expected to find. When he was not able to find anyone else, he knelt next to Eva. "Eva, is there anyone else here? Those men were talking about a girl with magic, do you know where she could be?"

She looked at him with wide eyes showing confusion and shock. "He…kept saying," Eva's voice shook, "I had magic. And he was…going to," she couldn't finish.

Edan led the two girls to where Alik waited with the horses. Mila climbed up and rode in front of Alik while Edan kept Eva with him. As they traveled back, Edan tried unsuccessfully to get more details about what had happened in the tent from Eva. When they arrived home, Sirah met them at the door and took charge of the two girls while Edan and Alik took the horses back to the stables.