TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN 1

Feature Writer: Timewaitsfornone

Feature Title: TO HELL AND BACK AGAIN 1

Published: 04.10.2019

Story Codes: Erotic Horror

Synopsis: Hell hath no fury…

 

To Hell and Back Again 1

“Where am I?”

He looked out at tall trees and knee-high grass of emerald green. Birds trilled in the high branches. A summer sun blazed golden in a pale, blue sky.

Another thought followed. One that left a cold drip of fear to trickle down his spine.

“Who am I?”

A long moment of deep silence passed as he explored the blank areas of his mind. Something very close to panic began to boil in his chest. What happened? What was wrong with him? What if…

“Logan. Logan Proud Bear.” The name, his name, burst from his lips. All else was fog but he had his name. It wasn’t much, but at least it was a beginning; a life jacket he could cling to in unknown waters. Something to build from.

“Ok.” Logan breathed. “Now what?”

When in doubt, start from the beginning.

The words bubbled up from the dark recesses of his memory. Where had he heard those words before? A man’s voice, deep, paternal, and…

Nothing. Logan felt his hands ball into white-knuckled fists. So frustrating!

Still, it was wise advice.

“Breathe, Logan.” He told himself. “Just breathe. One step at a time. Figure it out.”

A slow look around revealed that he was standing in a clearing that appeared to be in the middle of a thick, old-growth forest. A small, grassy hill jutted up from the forest floor to his right. Just behind him, two, man-sized, rectangular stones stone stood on end. A third stone lay across the top forming an archway. Ancient looking pictographs of humans, animals, and mythical creatures were etched into the rock.

“Find a game trail. Follow it to a source of fresh water. Follow the flow of water.” Logan told himself.

Again, he had no idea how he knew this, but he knew it as sure as his name. The thought had the weight of experience. It still wasn’t much of a plan but better than standing around. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” He muttered and walked toward the dappled shadows of the forest.

The moment his foot stepped beyond the clearing and between two trees Logan knew, with sudden and absolute clarity, that he was not alone. A powerful sense of presence washed across the clearing. The hill to his right shuddered. Dirt and grass fell away as something enormous slowly rose from the soil. It shook itself, revealing thick fur, a broad snout, and deep, black eyes.

Grizzly bear! That was the immediate thought that came to mind but this was like no bear Logan had ever seen or heard of. Dawning terror threatened to turn his guts to water as the creature gave a ponderous heave, standing up, up, onto its hind legs until it towered almost thirty feet tall!

“Greetings, cousin.” Its voice rumbled like distant thunder.

Logan’s mouth fell open. He stood there and stared dumb-struck, like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. This can’t be real. This can’t be happening. This is just a dream. Yet, the sun warming his face felt real enough as did the scent of the giant bear; warm fur and fresh-turned soil. Logan pinched his arm and felt the sharp sting of pain.

“I… how… what…” Logan stammered.

The bear fell back down to all four paws. Logan felt the impact through his boots, heard the low boom of a multi-ton apex predator settling its weight on the ground. It took all the willpower he could muster not to piss himself in terror.

“I am the eternal guardian of this gateway.” The bear rumbled. “Too long it has been since one of the blood last walked the path. Too long have I slumbered in the dreamless sleep.”

Slowly, the fear of imminent death began to fade and rational thought returned. Something about this giant creature seemed strangely familiar to Logan. And very, very, old. He thought.

Some quality in the bears deep, ageless, eyes hinted at secrets long lost and the slow crawl of many centuries come and gone. Beneath that gaze, Logan felt like a newborn child instead of a twenty-nine-year-old man. He blinked in surprise as another piece of memory clicked into place. I am twenty-nine years old. He searched for something more but the only additional memory tickling his brain was something about this magnificent creature…

“Are you… Grandfather Bear?” He asked.

The great head nodded. “So your people named me long ago.”

The great bear spirit. Logan realized. The totem animal of… of… For a moment there was only gray fog, then quite suddenly he had it. The totem animal of my family! My father was Apache!

“Am I dreaming?”

“Perhaps.” The bear rumbled. “Dreaming or no, you have stepped through the veil and onto the trodden path, as your ancestors did long ago. The only way now is forward.”

His massive head turned and looked back into the forest. Logan looked and saw a path winding through the trees. A path that had not been there before.

“What will I find on this path?” he asked.

“Only what you carry inside you.” The bear replied. “But be warned, cousin. Eat nothing. Drink nothing. Ask for nothing, give not thanks and give not your true name. This I offer to you out of respect for the ancient traditions of your people. Heed me well.”

“Well, Th…” Logan caught himself before he could say “thank you”. “That’s kind of you.” He offered instead.

Grandfather Bear winked at him and smiled. “Good. You are learning.”

Logan smiled back. Now that he knew it was just a dream, this was starting to be fun. “Let’s do this then. Goodbye, Grandfather.”

Logan stepped out of the clearing and onto the winding path. Ahead, it twisted through the trees and vanished into the foliage. One last look back showed Grandfather Bear slowly settling back down into the grass. His ageless eyes slowly shut. His voice, heavy and sleepy, drifted to Logan on the wind.

“Go now, cousin. Destiny calls.”

*****

The forest seemed endless. Without landmarks or a watch, Logan had no idea how long he walked the trail. It was hard to judge the movement of the sun through the thick foliage above but it hardly seemed to have moved at all and yet, it felt like hours had passed. Plus, he was getting tired, which seemed odd. He couldn’t recall ever feeling weary in any dreams before now. Of course, no other dream had ever felt as strangely real as this one did…

The only change he did notice was the temperature. Bit by bit, the air was beginning to cool off. Eventually, he began to see his own breath. Then leaves began to glisten beneath a light coat of frost.

His journey through the forest finally ended, rather abruptly, at an oval-shaped hole in an ancient-looking stone wall. A sheet of weeping ice blocked the opening. He could see a reflection on its shining surface of a broad-shouldered, dark-haired man in faded jeans and a black t-shirt. The man reflected in the ice had his mother’s green eyes and the burnished skin tone of his father’s people.

Molly Flynn. That was his mother’s name and his father was… John. John Proud Bear.

Logan reached out to feel the cold, wet surface. As his fingers touched the ice, he heard a sharp crack and watched as ragged fissures shot through the ice. Small spiderweb cracks rapidly spread, popping and snapping in jagged lines until the entire sheet of ice suddenly collapsed in a splash of frozen shards. He watched in amazement as the chunks of ice quickly melted into water and seeped into the ground.

Cautiously, he ducked and stepped through the opening. On the other side was what appeared to be a moment frozen in time. Creatures of all sizes, both magical and mundane, sat against trees, lay on the grass, or curled up on each other. Badgers and birds; tiny, winged faeries; and fat, ugly gnomes were scattered on the ground beneath a cathedral-like arching roof of tree limbs. The tree trunks were perfectly aligned across the clearing in pairs, just as columns would be in an old church or the great hall of a castle.

And everything was covered in a thin, crystal-clear rime of ice. The entire glade sparkled with cold, blue-white beauty. Logan could see their frozen faces. All eyes were closed. Whether in death or dreams, he could not say.

As he stepped in for a closer look, the frozen grass beneath his foot cracked. Another step. Another pop of broken ice. Looking back at his footprint, he saw ice falling away from healthy, green grass.

Logan looked around in awe at all the little details his imagination was creating. Peering closer at one of the little, gnome-like creatures, Logan could see the wrinkles on its swarthy face and all the little gray and black hairs in its eyebrows.

What a crazy dream!

It was then that he noticed the throne at the far end of the hall and the woman sitting there. The ice around her was clear as glass. Logan’s breath caught in his throat.

“Beautiful” was an inadequate word. Unlike every other creature in the hall, her eyes were open beneath the ice. Long, silky hair the color of the night sky framed her oval-shaped face. Skin the color of fresh milk. Perfect, cupid bow lips were the pink of a young girl’s blush. A gown hung from naked shoulders to drape her body in folds of what looked like glittering, blue, smoke. Across her brow was a crown of gold, shaped into vines. Sunlight glittered off of leaves made of pure amethyst and berries of polished ruby.

Logan stepped closer. Ice popped and cracked. He did not notice.

Three stone steps led up to her throne. Logan stopped with one foot on the bottom step. It felt… wrong to get any closer.

Crack. Pop. Fissures spread out through the ice beneath his foot and up the stairs, spreading and reaching and growing until the first jagged break touched her slippered foot.

Logan flinched and covered his eyes as the entire hall exploded in a glittering shower of shattered ice. The hall rang like a bell as countless frozen particles rained down around him. A thousand cold kisses landed on his arms and in his hair.

When he dared to look up, it was into swirling eyes of midnight blue. Eyes that were now looking back at him. Her lips curled into a faint smile. Her hair now moved around her bare shoulders as if caught in a gentle breeze. One long, perfectly manicured fingernail slowly rose to point at his chest.

“Who has woken Maeve, queen of the Twilight Court?”

Logan swallowed a gasp of surprise and fell back to stand on the grass. He could almost feel the rich contralto of her voice like a breath against his skin. “My name is Logan…” Grandfather Bear’s warning sprang to mind. A moment of panic bubbled in his gut before a name rose out of the fog of his memory. His mother’s maiden name. “…Flynn.” Because it seemed appropriate, he offered a clumsy attempt at a bow. “Logan Flynn, Your Majesty.”

The queen slowly rose to her feet with the effortless grace of a swimmer gliding through water. She practically floated down the stairs. Her scent wafted over him; night-blooming Jasmine.

All around Logan, the entire court was now moving about as well. All of them sank down to kneel or bow before her. Not a trace of ice remained. Even the chill in the air was fading.

“Very good.” She purred. “Let us have a better look at you, mortal spirit.”

Logan was surprised to see how tall she was. At six-foot, two inches, Logan was used to seeing the tops of people’s heads. Not so the queen. They were nearly eye-to-eye.

And what eyes! This close, Logan could see the color changing and swirling through every shade of blue like a slow whirlpool. It was hypnotic. Logan had to look away to shake off the sensation of falling.

Her laughter sounded like crystal chimes dancing in the wind. “You have woken us from our long sleep and for that, we are grateful. How have you done this, spirit?”

Something in the tone of her voice caught Logan’s attention. Beneath the queen’s honeyed words, behind her breathtaking allure, was the subtle, but unmistakable, sound of speaking to someone of lesser status. He had heard it before.

Vague memories bubbled up to the surface. A lovely girl with an evil heart in high school. The dismissive voice of a higher-ranked officer. A stranger calling him “half-breed”. That subtle tone of inherent superiority sent cracks through the glamour she had woven around him, like thin ice cracking beneath his boot.

Logan straightened his shoulders, looked into her hypnotic eyes, and smiled. Her ethereal beauty was still breathtaking but he was no schoolboy to act the fool over a pretty girl. Respect and polite consideration, he was happy to give. Fawning devotion, not so much, especially in his own damned dream!

“As to how I cannot say… Your Majesty, though I am happy to have helped. The only thing I can say for certain is that I am no spirit.”

Surprise flickered across her perfect face. Queen Maeve took a step back and gave Logan a long, appraising look, from his feet to the top of his head. Her hand rose, palm out toward him. “Yes, it has been a very long time but I sense it now. Twice blooded. Twice blessed. I feel it from the heat of your skin. The beating of your heart. The blood pumping through your…” Her eyes glanced downward. “…body.”

Logan wasn’t certain how he felt about being viewed like a slab of meat but if that’s the way it was going to be… Two can play that game. He thought.

Delicate looking, blue silk slippers encased the royal feet. Her gown of glittering, blue smoke was a wonder, revealing nothing but hinting at everything. Behind that gauzy shield were long legs, a narrow waist, and an hourglass figure. The swell of high, firm breasts was plainly visible against the fabric, as were the subtle outline of her nipples. Nipples which, it seemed, grew more pronounced the longer he gazed at them.

“You are a bold one.”

Logan tore his gaze away to look into her eyes. He couldn’t tell if it was anger or amusement he was seeing. Some vague sense of warning tickled at the back of his neck but he dismissed it. There was no danger in dreams.

“I have heard that about myself.” He replied.

She took another careful step back and raised her arms away from her sides. Her smile held both promise and challenge. “And do you like what you see? Do you desire to see more?”

Easy Logan. It’s just a dream. Wise advice and yet, his heart was pounding. Her scent drifted on the air like an aphrodisiac. The queen’s voice was all he could hear; each gentle word sending vibrations through his bones and into his core.

It was then he realized her voice really was all he could hear. The clearing was empty! Not a single creature remained. He and the queen were completely, utterly, alone and there was a look in her swirling eyes, a raw hunger, that was both exciting and a bit daunting.

“Yes.” He admitted.

“Then show us, mortal. Dance for our pleasure.”

There it was again, that tone. “I don’t dance.”

She frowned. “Then disrobe.”

“Ladies first.”

For a moment, her eyes flashed with something very much like rage. The queen’s raven hair coiled as if caught in a high wind. The trees shook around them and Logan was reminded that she wasn’t quite human and that this was only a dream. That any sense of danger tickling the hairs on the back of his neck was only his imagination.

Just as suddenly, quicksilver laughter burst from her plump lips and the trees grew still. Her fury was gone as if it had never been. “You amuse us, mortal, as none have in an age. Thus, we will overlook your insolence and grant you your desire.”

Apparently, her gown was made of smoke after all. A faint breeze whispered through the glade carrying flower petals and the smell of new winter. Logan’s breath caught in his chest as the fabric also drifted away on the air until she wore nothing except the silken waterfall of midnight hair and a wicked smile of invitation.

His eyes devoured every curve of her perfect body. The Faerie Queen’s breasts were round and firm. Her nipples were pale, a faint blush of pink against the fresh cream color of her flawless skin. Between the soft curve of her thighs was a delicate brush of midnight pubic hair.

“Fuck.” Logan muttered in awe.

“I intend to.” The queen waved her hand. It was a casual gesture as if shooing away a fly.

Logan felt the breeze touch him in surprising places. He looked down. Instead of clothes, he saw only his own sparse hair chest and, lower still, his large erection pointing the way.

He chuckled. What a crazy dream. Logan looked back up at the naked wonder of the Faerie queen. Not that I am complaining.

Logan shrugged. “Alright, beautiful. Let’s do this.” Two long steps closed the distance between them. He swept her into his embrace and into a kiss, even as his cock slapped against the slim plane of her belly.

Cold! Logan nearly jumped out of his skin. Her flesh was at least twenty degrees cooler than his own body temperature. She felt it as well.

“Ah.” She groaned as she snuggled in, pressing as much of her wonderfully, soft flesh to his as she could manage. “The heat of mortal flesh… how I have missed it! Give me more. Warm me.” The cool touch of her soft tongue and sharp teeth brushed against Logan’s shoulder. “Fill me.”

Logan’s hands circled around her waist and down, cupping and squeezing both cheeks of the Queen’s delicious ass. She brushed her lips against his, moaned into his mouth, and swayed her hips in silent encouragement. Her own hands trailed across the muscles in his shoulder and back, even as she rubbed her belly against the hot length of his shaft caught between them.

The kissing grew more fevered. Tongues danced together. As their mutual lust grew stronger, his body heat warmed her flesh, driving the last vestiges of ice and cold from her body.

“Allow me to warm the rest of you.” Logan grinned and gently turned her around. His cock lay snug between the cheeks of her soft bum as he nibbled on her ear and neck. Logan’s hands began to explore the Fairy Queen’s flawless breasts. Teasing her nipples with soft strokes. Tracing the sensitive under curve with the tips of his fingers.

The queen hissed her pleasure and squirmed beneath his touch. The plump silkiness of her butt cheeks squeezed and rubbed up and down his cock. Her fingernails trailed across his thighs.

Logan raised the stakes by taking a nipple in each hand and giving them a light pinch. She gasped, then responded in kind by reaching under to scratch her nails along the curve of his sac. Electric jolts of pleasure raced through him as she traced lines of sweet fire over his sensitive, and vulnerable, flesh.

She turned in his embrace. Their lips met. The tip of her tongue traced up the curve of his neck, even as Logan breathed in the subtle perfume of her hair and explored the curves of her waist, the swell of her hips, and the gentle curve of her back.

Then they were falling backward like feathers, slowly floating down into the grass. Legs spread; her sleight weight settled onto his hips. The rigid length of his cock lay between their bodies. A roll of her hips kissed his length with the first touch of her sex, warm and wet. Like completing a circuit, electric current sizzled through him. The queen felt it too, judging by the shiver that rippled across the taut muscles beneath the cream-colored perfection of her belly.

Logan watched her hands glide over perfect breasts as they rose and fell with her quickening breath. Perfect, pink, lips formed a silent “O” of pleasure as she touched herself. He reached for her. The queen’s fingers intertwined with his, keeping his greedy hands at bay. The slow roll of her hips increased until the soft swell of her pussy lips was a constant wet fire along his shaft.

The queen’s beauty and raw sensuality enchanted him, stripped all thought and need away but the need for her. The roar of his pulse in his ears was deafening. His heart hammered in his chest as the agony of anticipation grew unbearable.

The queen’s perfect, white teeth flashed in a predatory smile. The heat of her pussy pulsed against his shaft. “Ask and I shall give you what you so desire, mortal.”

Logan looked up at the writhing, naked, hungry, perfection of all that a man could desire. Whatever she wanted, he wanted to give. It was on his lips to ask, even to beg if that’s what it took. Whatever would allow him to be inside her perfect body.

Ask for nothing.

The memory of Grandfather Bear’s warning pierced the lust choked fog in his mind. Clarity returned and with it, a sliver of anger. She was doing it again. He could hear it in the seductive purr of her voice. It wasn’t just sex she desired. Queen Maeve wanted his submission, his obedience. They were not just fucking, he realized. This was a battle of wills.

“No.” He replied.

Surprise stilled the sensual movements of her body. “What?” She growled.

As surprise quickly gave way to outrage on her beautiful features, Logan made his move. Shifting her weight left and his hips right sent her tumbling. Logan’s hand against her back ensured a gentle landing. A breath later and he was between her legs. The queen’s mouth fell open in protest, but whatever she meant to say was cut short by eight inches of cock sliding into her body.

“Ah! Damn you, mortal!” She gasped and snarled, even as her legs rose and locked behind him at the ankles, pulling him in deeper. “Curse your insolence!”

Logan rolled his hips forward until he was buried balls deep in, dragging another gasp from her. “I love your pillow talk.” He growled in her ear. She responded by dragging nails down his back in angry, red lines.

They thrashed together in the soft sway of tall grass. Moans, gasps, and the occasional curse floated on the breeze. One, then the other would roll to the top, only to be toppled again.

Logan’s world shrank to a singular focus on the sexual supernova in his arms and on his cock; this proverbial tiger by the tail. The queen, regal and elegant, was gone, stripped away in the howling winds of pride and lust. The sweat-slicked wildcat writhing against his flesh bore little resemblance to that creature. Whether they were dueling with sex or fucking with violence, Logan had no idea. But in his bones was a quiet voice of warning.

A challenge had been issued. It had been accepted. And defeat, whatever that meant, would have consequences.

“You are fortunate, manling.” She groaned into and nipped at his ear. “I have been too long asleep, too long since last I fed. In better days, my touch would have driven you mad with desire and enslaved you to my touch.”

Logan rose to his knees, to grasp her hips for deeper penetration, and to escape the sultry touch of her breath on his ear. She responded by squeezing her thighs together in a velvet vice of heat and motion. Attack and withdraw.

“Lucky for me I like older women.” He growled back.

Her strange, swirling eyes flew open and seemed to stare through Logan. There was a pale glow in them like a winter’s dawn. “Old?” She repeated.

Oh shit. He thought. Poor choice of words.

“You go too far, mortal, even in love play. Behold your folly.”

Logan, balls deep in her magnificent body, did not comprehend, at first. There was only the tight, wet, union of joined flesh and blissful movement. Then, quite suddenly, the silken pleasure of her pussy seemed to double in intensity. The sudden, sharp jolt of sexual pleasure took his breath away. Then it doubled again.

It crashed over him; a tsunami of sexual bliss. Pleasure so sharp, it cut. The folly of his self-assurance was stripped bare in an instance. Like a man standing in the surf and laughing at the soft pull of the current – sudden, shifting tides and unimaginable strength pulled him under to thrash and tumble helplessly beneath its power.

She was the bottomless ocean and Logan began to drown in her. He came, emptying his balls, blasting burst after burst into her depths until there was nothing left to give.

“More.” She demanded.

He would have laughed if not for the numb feeling in his face, and in his feet, and everywhere in between. It was impossible, of course. Like a fucking vampire, she had drained him dry.

“Uh… no.” He gasped.

The queen rolled him over and slid down his body. She smiled up at him with a snap of her perfect, white teeth. “Yes.”

Her delicate pink tongue darted out to tickle and tease, up and down the soft length of his spent cock. Pink lips pressed soft kisses into his flesh. One hand stroked him around the base as the other scratched gently at his balls with long, sharp nails.

And everywhere her mouth touched, Logan could feel the heat rising. Desire being coaxed to life. The resurrection of the dead could not have surprised him more.

Logan could only watch in disbelief as she rose over him, lowered herself down, and claimed his revived cock. Any protest he might have imagined was shredded by a fresh storm of unfiltered pleasure. He watched, mesmerized, as the queen writhed above him, tracing her long fingers around her own stiff, pale pink, nipples, watched as her hair slid across flawless skin, ebony silk on an ivory palette.

Despite it all, that whisper of caution remained. The soldier and survivor in him could sense the cold shadow of danger in her insatiable eyes. Blissful waters threatened to close in over his head again; a thought both incredibly attractive and terrifying. That could not happen. His sanity would not survive it.

Somewhere, somehow, Logan found a hidden reserve of desperate strength. To think. To move. To act.

Distract her.

He willed his hands to rise and slowly caress up the perfect curve of her widespread thighs. The queen purred encouragement and redoubled her efforts. Tides of pleasure whispered sweet, silent, encouragement to give in and give up.

Logan’s thumbs slid into the cleft of her legs. A delicate carpet of dark pubes brushed against his knuckles. The lips of her pussy were spread wide around his girth, swallowing him whole, again and again. On the downstroke, his thumbs closed on her clit and gently pinched.

Those bottomless, blue eyes flew wide as she cried out. Her rhythm faltered. For a moment, the tide drew back.

In a flash, he grabbed her around the waist, lifted, and twisted. Their bodies made a soft, wet, sound as they pulled apart. More wrestler than a lover, Logan lunged out from beneath and up to his own knees behind.

“What…?”

Logan drove into her without pause or mercy. To his relief, she could no more resist the raging lust between them than he could and began grunting and thrusting her ass back against him.

What had begun could not be stopped now. That was all too clear. Regardless of what or why it was happening, this could only end in the little death of orgasm.

Logan’s hope, his only hope in this beautiful madness, was avoiding her eyes. Somehow, whatever spell she had cast on him, it seemed to originate in those bottomless, swirling pools of blue.

One hand circled around her taut waist. The other curled into the silken strands of her long hair. Logan thrust into the most incredible pussy he had ever imagined and, quite literally, held on for dear life.

Pressure mounted as pleasure multiplied. White light. Thunder without sound.

Darkness.

xxxxx
Logan awoke to the soft murmur of music and conversation. Sitting up, he could see that the clearing was occupied again. Creatures of all sizes, both magical and mundane, strolled among the trees, danced on the grass, or gathered in small groups. Badgers barked. Birds trilled. Faeries buzzed around, laughing in high, fluted voices. Gnomes stood about, talking and scowling. All of them chattering beneath the cathedral-like arching roof of tree limbs. None were paying him any attention.

If I am awake, how can I still be in my dream? An answer seemed to float at the edge of his mind but he didn’t like the shape of it and tried to push it away. It was like shoving water.

On the far side, the queen sat on her throne, just as he had first seen her under the ice, clothed and crowned.

No, not quite the same. He realized.

There was a… vibrancy around her that had not been there before. The queen’s flawless complexion was not quite so milk pale. There was a touch of pink to her skin now. Her lips were richer, almost rose-colored.

Though apparently deep in conversation with a rust-colored fox in a green jacket, she seemed to notice his attention. Her swirling blue eyes turned his direction. “Ah, our guest has awoken.”

A sudden silence fell over the clearing. All eyes seemed to notice Logan laying naked in the grass, as if for the first time. Summoning what dignity he could, he stood.

Or tried to. His muscles felt like jelly. He finally rose to his feet like a man learning to walk again. Standing there, nude, in the profound silence of the clearing, before the assembled spectators, Logan stared back.

He offered a slight bow.

The queen smiled. The crowd burst into soft titters of amusement and approval. All gathered seemed to take his gesture as a graceful and gallant acknowledgment of the queen’s attention.

They were all wrong.

Logan bowed because it was the only response he could manage as the truth of his situation became shockingly clear and left him speechless. I am awake. This is not a dream!

Faeries and talking animals were impossible. They didn’t exist and yet… here they were. Everywhere he looked was something no rational person would believe. His mind reeled like a drunken sailor on a storm-tossed deck. Was this what it felt like to go insane? Was he, even now, locked up in some rubber room, hallucinating all of this?

“We are pleased with your efforts.” The queen spoke. “And we are feeling generous. How may we show you our appreciation, mortal man?”

Logan looked down. Bad idea. It made his head swim. “Where are my clothes?”

He heard the snap of fingers. Suddenly, impossibly, he was dressed again. Some small part of his mind crawled into the fetal position and began to giggle.

No. He told himself. It took an immense effort of will but he quashed the fear taking root. That way lay only the certainty of madness.

Logan realized that this was not so different from the battlefield. War was also a kind of madness and one that he understood. In the shrouded landscape of his memory, he saw innocent civilians gunned down, friends shredded into bloody meat by grenades and a hundred other atrocities.

Another piece of his missing identity clicked into place. I am… or was… a soldier.

War, blood, and death… he had survived it all with his sanity whole. He could survive this. Logan took a deep breath, looked up at the beautiful, alien, faerie queen and considered her words.

How may we show our appreciation? It seemed a casual enough question, a simple offer of gratitude but he knew better. Nothing Queen Maeve did was simple or casual. He could see it in the way all the fantastical creatures in this place were staring at him, breathless and silent as if his answer were the most important things in the world. What did they know that he did not?

Danger. His instincts warned. Tread carefully.

This place wasn’t a dream or a hallucination. It was all too real. He knew that now. And if it was real, then it would seem the queen’s offer was also authentic. Like a genie in a bottle, she offered to make dreams come true. Vast wealth and power seemed to be his for the asking. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that only a fool would turn away from.

A fool, or the spirit of a moldy, old, giant, grizzly bear.

Ask for nothing. Give no thanks. Grandfather Bear’s warning echoed in his thoughts.

“Your Majesty is too kind.” Logan spoke carefully. “And has already gifted me with pleasures I could never have imagined, and more than any mortal man deserves. I could ask for nothing more.”

Logan looked at the queen as he spoke but it was the crowd he watched in his peripheral vision. He watched them murmur to themselves, arguing the merits of his reply in a way that seemed very familiar. Almost like a contest, like…

A tennis match. He thought. They are all behaving like spectators at a tennis match as if I had just sent the ball back across the net. What the hell is going on?

She smiled, unreadable and lovely. “Honeyed words well spoken. Still, a mortal heart yearns for much and more. Ambitions burn ever bright among your kind. What do you desire?”

Well… shit. Logan thought. For reasons he could not begin to understand, the queen was not going to take no for an answer. After nearly fucking him to death, she was all but demanding that he accept some kind of reward by doing exactly what Grandfather Bear had warned him not to do.

Think fast, old son. He told himself. Think, think, think!

“How could I possibly desire anything from this day onward? I have already experienced perfection. Anything else can only fail to compare.”

Logan would not have seen it; had he not been watching closely. The queen’s perfect, cupid bow, lips twitched in the faintest hint of irritation. The crowd’s reaction was his only hint as to why. Wide-eyed and whispering, they gave the impression that this game of cat-and-mouse, of “thanks but no thanks”, was beginning to push the boundaries of polite interaction.

What would happen when he refused one too many times? Logan didn’t know, and he didn’t want to know. As beautiful and sexy as the queen was, she was also decidedly not human and possessed of unimaginable power. Making her angry seemed a very, very, bad idea.

He knew there were human societies that behaved in much the same way. Japanese culture required that a gift be refused three times as a show of modesty, but that was not all. There was something else about gift-giving in Japan, something that seemed very important if he could only remember…

It hit him like a brick. Obligation. Receiving a gift places an obligation on the one receiving, to gift a gift of equal value in return!

Was that the game they were playing? Everything that had happened to him since awakening in this bizarre place flashed through Logan’s mind. Grandfather Bear’s warning of “ask for nothing” and “give no thanks”, both implied an obligation. Him walking into, and shattering the ice, covering the queen’s court. Her hunger for his body heat, and his seed. The new color blooming in her cheeks.

It all made sense! Everything that had happened was because of him stumbling into her clearing. He had done this.

Which meant… She owes me an obligation and I don’t think she likes that one little bit.

Logan finally felt like he was beginning to understand the crazy rules of this place. Unfortunately, he had no clue how that was supposed to help him out of this current predicament. The only thing he now knew for certain was that time was running out and if he handled this wrong, it was likely to end ugly.

“You are wise to understand this truth.” The queen replied. Was that a touch of anger in her voice? “Any mortal woman will forever be a poor reflection of what you have experienced here in our realm. It is the price that must be paid to bask in our glory. Now, one last time, I ask what desire you would have in return?”

Answer or refuse. The queen or the bear. Whatever he did, or said, next would determine his fate. The crowd leaned in, anxious and intent, like sharks smelling blood in the water.

Backpedaling had failed. Trying to dodge the question had failed. She had backed him into a corner. He had to commit to an answer.

Logan blinked. A memory bubbled up into his awareness, of his parents, and of better days. Molly Flynn and John Proud Bear, lost souls from two different worlds, who found meaning and hope in the most unlikely of places; each other. It brought a smile to his face and an idea to mind.

Mortal woman. Mortal man. That was how the queen referred to humans. In other words, not immortal, and less than. He had heard that tone of superiority in her voice more than once, because, for all her beauty, she thought herself better than human. Which meant she could never truly understand what it meant to be human. Which meant she could not grant what she could not comprehend.

Or so Logan hoped. It was time to go all-in and bet it all.

Logan nodded. “I am a soldier, beautiful queen; a warrior. I have bled, and I have killed. Death is an old companion and we have walked long roads together, but he is poor company. What I desire above all else? What my parents had, Your Majesty. Someone to share my life with. To make it a life worth living. Someone to raise children with, to share hopes and fears with. Someone to comfort when life is hard, and to laugh with when times are good. A woman who is my lover and my best friend. The keeper of all my secret fears and hopes.”

“You speak of love.” She replied. “That is the one thing that is not in my power to give.”

Logan nodded. “No one can. That’s why it is so very rare and valuable.”

“Clever little fool.” The queen slowly stood. Her eyes seemed to glow with an eerie, blue light. Behind her, a faint spray of glittering frost began to crawl across and down her throne. Cold air and swirling mist began to boil up from her feet. Creatures standing nearby flinched, cried out, and hurried to move away. “You know not what you have done. Name another desire quickly!”

“No.” The deep voice that spoke was not Logan’s. He looked over and up, and up, at the ageless, black eyes of Grandfather Bear looking at them over the garden wall. “This one has passed the test. While the debt stands, he is not yours to enthrall, oh queen.”

“Enthralled?” Logan muttered. Then louder to the great bear. “Wait, you mean like… enslaved?”

Grandfather Bear nodded. “She hungers still and would feed on your life essence for eternity or until you were dead, whichever came first. But you woke her from the long slumber and that is a debt owed…” He looked at the queen. “… and unpaid. She can do you no harm while it stands.”

“You would experience a thousand pleasures.” The queen ran her hands down her perfect body. “And die in bliss.”

“Holy shit.” Enslaved for eternity? Logan felt a chill run down his spine at just how close he had come to that point of no return.

The queen glared at Logan. “Choose another desire, mortal.”

“No.” Logan started walking toward the round entrance in the garden wall. The sooner he was out of there, the better.

“I command it!” She said.

“Not a chance in hell.” Was his reply. The door was just ahead. If he was able to trace his steps back to the clearing where he first woke, Logan thought he might be able to find his way back home. It was worth a shot. Anything was better than sticking around here.

“Hell?” The queen tasted the word. “Ah yes, hell. The human realm of damnation and punishment. I remember now.”

Her laughter caused Logan to spin around and crouch, certain some threat was hurtling his way. He was more correct than he knew.

“You will free me from this obligation, mortal. One way or another. Perhaps you simply require… motivation.”

The last thing Logan Proud Bear saw was the Faerie Queen raising one, manicured, hand in his direction. Winds howled. The ground shook. An ancient bear roared like thunder. Darkness picked Logan up and shook him like dice.

xxxxx

The wind still howled, now a steady, furnace blast of air, rock, and dust that bit at any exposed skin. Logan looked up at dark storm clouds boiling across an angry sky of red and orange. Barren, rolling hills of rust-colored rock poked out of yellow sand like the bones of dead animals.

On that wind, Logan heard the queen’s voice, faint as if far away. “When you are ready to complete our business, you have only to say my name.”

“Ah hell.” Logan muttered.

“Yes.” The voice laughed. And then he was very much alone.

THE END OF CHAPTER ONE