Chapter 1: Childhood

Since Layla Amelia Bartek was a little girl, she knew she was different, she knew the life she was living was not part of the norm.

She wasn't allowed outside much, only to play in the yard, with her mother watching her carefully. Every once in a while Layla would try to go a little further into the woods, causing her mother to worry.

"Layla, honey, don't go there!" her mother shouted as Layla wandered to the edge of the woods.

The little girl had her jet black hair in pigtails, tied in blue ribbons. It was cooler out in Oregon, her wearing a navy blue pea coat, black tights, and blue ballet flats. Her electric blue eyes looked out into the woods with longing, she wanted to see other people.

"Mommy… why can't I go there?" Layla asked, her voice small sounding and high pitched. The girl could be no older than three years old.

Her mother pulled her close. "No… the world is terrible… one day Daddy is going to fix it, then you will be able to go out," her mother insisted.

Annabeth Lyle had the same jet black hair as her young daughter, her eyes a dark blue. She had tan looking skin, possibly a mix in her nationality, but it was slowly paling from not being in the sun as much. She wore similar attire to her daughter, except she wore black rain boots and her pea coat was a dark red.

Layla gives a pout. "But, Mommy, I want to play with other kids…" she begs.

"No, sweetie, they are bad people." Annabeth insisted, her voice wavering in panic. "One day Daddy will fix it…" she says again. Her right eye twitches, her smile forced. She then takes her daughter's hand and they go into the small house they had in the woods.

Once inside Layla immediately takes off her coat and gives it to her mother, her taking off her shoes. Layla was wearing a long sleeved blue shirt that had been hidden by her coat. The little girl runs into the kitchen, her stopping by the door that lead downstairs. She was waiting for her father to come up from the basement.

The small girl looks at her left hand, seeing that her thumb and pinky finger was missing. It wasn't totally missing, her thumb and her pinky just weren't fully formed, just being little nubs on her hand.


In a way she was lucky, her condition wasn't as bad as it could've been. Layla was a little too smart for her own good, her being cooped up in a house all the time. She had went through her father's medical textbooks and read about her condition, her mother teaching her how to read a few months prior. She may not understand all the words, or how to pronounce them, but seeing the pictures in the textbooks saw how much more her body could've been deformed.

The young Layla stood in front of the door, silently waiting for it to open. Her electric blue eyes were open wide with curiosity. She has never set one foot through that door, but she knew her father, Dr. Bartholomew Bartek, was working hard on his research. The young girl bounces from foot to foot, eager for it to open so she could see her father.

Soon, the door creaked open and a tall man stepped through. The man had pale blonde hair and hazel eyes, his skin pale to almost a stark white. He was wearing a white lab coat, black pants, black dress shoes, a dark blue dress shirt, and a solid black tie. The man muttered something unrecognizable as he had almost stumbled over the young girl.

"Daddy!" the girl cried out joyously, her immediately hugging his pant leg. There was a soft pat to her head. "Did you do good today, Daddy?" the little girl's voice pierced excitedly. She loved it when her father told her some of his research.

The man gives a grim look. "Um, Layla, sweetie, not right now, Daddy is tired…" he mumbled as he brushed her off. He stalked over to the fridge and opened it, it creaking with age. He goes in and takes out a beer bottle and used a bottle opener to pop it open. He takes a long swig of it before disappearing into the living room.

Layla's eyes glanced down to the wooden floor with shame. She felt as if she had done something wrong. Her mother was at the counter, ready to start dinner, and the little girl waddles over and tugs at the woman's pant leg.

"Mommy," Layla whined, her voice getting high pitched, causing the woman to grimace slightly. "Is Daddy mad at me?" Layla then asked.

Annabeth gives her a look of sympathy. "No, sweetheart," she assured warmly. "Daddy just has a lot on his mind right now… he's worried about his work."

Layla gives a pout and rips from her mother's pant leg. The little girl rushes to the living room, her eyes immediately going to her father on the couch. He was drinking his beer and peering over his notes, him giving grunts of annoyance one in a while.

The young girl stands in the doorway, her eyes wide. She observed her father with curiosity. She knew better than to approach him while he had that kind of drink in his hand, there was more than one occasion of her getting a slap to her face for annoying him. He didn't mean it… she knew that, she was just bugging him. Hazel eyes snapped up to her quivering form in the doorway, causing her to flinch and run away.

Layla went back into the kitchen and said in the wooden chair close to the window. Her electric blue gaze looked into the woods, seeing the trees sway gently in the wind. The little girl wanted to go outside and play, but she wasn't allowed. Sometimes she saw strange things while staring out the window… like at that moment she was seeing a tiny bearded man with a tall red hat vomiting rainbows.

"Mommy… a tiny man is outside again…" Layla whined.

"Honey, I told you that I didn't like it when you made up stories," her mother sternly replied.

Suddenly rough footsteps came into the kitchen. The fridge was violently opened and Dr. Bartek took out another beer and slammed it in about two swigs. His face was red with anger and frustration. He honestly looked as if he was going to blow off his top.

"What the hell is she blabbing about!?" he demanded drunkenly to his wife.

Annabeth flinched at the sudden raise and tone of his voice. "Nothing dear," she assured nervously. "She just has an overactive imagination-" She yelps as her face was suddenly grabbed by his left hand, free of the alcohol. "I'm sorry, I will speak with her."

"I assure you that you will, or I will talk to her," the scientist threatened. He the releases her and stalks back into the living room.

Annabeth takes in a startled breath. Her blue gaze goes back to her toddler. "Layla Amelia…" she softly said. "You know you can't make up stories."

"I am not!" Layla defensively cried out.

"Layla, honey, please…" Annabeth begged, her voice sounding tired. "How about we go put you down for a nap…?" She then walks over and picks up the toddler, who struggled to get free. She went through the living room as quietly as she could and went down the western hallway to go to the first door on the left. She then sets the little girl in the bed.

"Mommy, I don't wanna nap!" Layla cried out furiously.

"Well, sweetie, you must." Annabeth sighed. "Daddy is a little upset, so please, just take a little nap."

Layla was forced onto the bed, her mother struggling to keep her in there as she was kicking her legs out everywhere. When blankets were thrown on top of the small girl, she took them off furiously.

"Layla Amelia… please, sweetheart I am begging you…" Annabeth pleaded. "Please just take a little nap… how about I sing you that lullaby you like?"

That made Layla stop thrashing immediately. She loved that song. She never had heard it before her mother, and she could tell her mother made that song just for her. Layla gets under the covers and gives a brilliant smile.

Her mother began to sing, it sounded soft and scared, but her words were clear.

"A star that shines as clear as day, made me wish I can go out and play, but remember the night holds a strange magic air, and this warning to you is to be fair.

"In the shadows there are people who are not what they seem, they'll want to take you down the deathly black water stream, don't take their hand within yours, or forever you'll be put behind the deathly doors.

"A star that shines as clear as day, oh how it made me wish to go out and play, so I took the hand of a shadow that called and beckoned me, and now I feel my soul become free.

"However I could not return in the morn, the sun bright as the star as my family mourn, now I become the shadow that uses the star as bright as day, would you like to take my hand and come play?

"A star that shines as bright as day, it made me go out and play, now do you wish to take that risk of the star, and take my hand to go far?

"I promise that I will bring you back home in the morn, that way no one will cry over you and mourn. But am I what I seem, or will I too take you down the deathly black water stream?

"You can trust me as I am your shadow friend, I promise to let you have fun to no end, I promise I won't take you that far, just to the star that is bright as day so we can pay our devoir.

"A star that shines as bright as day, how I wish I did not go out to play, for the devil shadow had grasped my hand, the devil shadow pulled my soul and it was at his command.

"So heed my warning young soul, please heed it with thole, and do not shake the devil shadow's hand, or forever your young soul shall be damned.

"A star that shined as bright as day, now dim with the shadows I have helped taken with the devil shadow's command that are a dark grey, remember how the night holds a strange magic air, and how even something as bright as a star can take you to the devil shadow's lair."

Layla barely heard the last word of the song as her head tilted to the side and she fell asleep.

A pale light draped over the young girl's face, her electric blue eyes blinking against the sleep that filled her eyes.

She took far more than a simple nap, she had slept through the entire day and night. Layla gives a yawn and hops out of bed, her small feet hitting the wooden floorboards with a soft thud. Iciness clung to her skin as the air around her was cold, but not from a draft in the walls or a fan.

Something felt wrong.

"Mommy?" she called out, her voice wavering.

There was no reply.

Layla opens the door of her room with a soft creak, her eyes darting around. The hallway was silent, but the iciness lingered there as well. She steps out, her tiny arms wrapped around herself to shield her from this odd cold. The living room was empty when she entered, and so was the kitchen. The girl even went to her parents' room and saw that bed had no signs of life sleeping in it previously.

The little toddler enters the kitchen once again, but then she saw a bright blue light underneath the door that led to the basement. Her heart thudded in her chest, so much she thought it was going to burst. Her small, pale hand reached up at the doorknob and grasped the dull bronze and turned it, hearing the click of it being open.

Daddy never leaves it unlocked…

He opens the door wide, seeing nothing but an inky blackness before her. The top of the stairs looked rickety and old, and it made her think she was in a haunted house. She takes a step forward onto the step, hearing a tiny creak as her weight pressed against the step. When she felt assured it wasn't going to break, she continued going downstairs. At the bottom she saw the blue light again and hid behind a large crate. She peers around it and sees her father shaking hands with what looked like a floating, yellow triangle with a top hat and bow tie with one large eye in the center with a slit pupil.

"Pleasure doing business with ya, Barty ol' pal!" the triangle cheered gleefully, its voice sounding male and extremely shrill.

"You can just call me 'Dr. Bartek', Bill." Her father's voice… he didn't sound surprised or scared that a floating shape was around. In fact, he had sounded annoyed. "Now, remember our deal-"

"Yeah, yeah, I got it," the shrill voice interrupted rudely. "Now… you want some better ability to do your experiments right? Well… start building that portal and I'll help you right out…"

Layla was too frightened to stay any longer and she rushes back up the stairs. "Mommy!" she had shouted once she entered the kitchen. "Mommy, where are you!?" Tears brimmed her big, electric blue eyes. The little girl then rushes out the house, thinking that maybe her mother was outside for air.

Once outside the air was chilly and the sky was a dark navy. The small girl huffed and puffed in the early morning as she ran further and further away from the only place she had ever known. Tears stung her eyes as she ran, her tripping over a rock and causing her body to tumble onto the hard rocky, ground, causing her arms to become scrapped and cut. She cried loudly as she scrambled herself up, the lopsided ribbons that held her black hair up coming undone and falling behind her.

Soon she found herself near tall mountains. Her chest ached painfully as she frantically glanced around, seeing nothing familiar. Defeated, she sat down on the ground and put her knees to her chest, her sobbing loudly that she was lost, her black hair pasting to her tear streaked face and matted on her head form sweat.

Owls hooted as she sat there and cried, trembling from being alone. She has never wandered this far from her home before, usually her mother would've escorted her back to the yard. When she heard a growl from a nearby bush Layla jumps up and starts running again, fear filling her veins. She kept running, not daring to look back, her breaths coming in wheezing pants. A scream rips from her throat as she tripped over something, her arms and face scraping against the dirt and stones.

Layla lets out a cry of pain as she sat up wincing from the pain from her face. She slowly puts a hand to her left cheek, feeling something wet. The smell of something rusty hits her nostrils, and when she removed her hand from her face she sat her blood illuminated palely from the dim light of the moon before dawn. Layla looks behind her to see what she tripped over, and a piercing scream of horror fills the early morning air, her throat going raw.

What she had tripped over was her mother's dead body.

Annabeth's body was tossed in the road like a ragdoll. Her black hair was ripped from various areas and her blue eyes looked like a pale gray from lack of life. Her pale skin was a sickly gray color, looking cold and stony. But those were just the least graphic of what the three-year-old saw…

The woman's limbs looked as if they were torn from her body, like some rabid animal decided to maliciously torture her. Her left arm was ripped from its socket, bones splintered and jagged. The right arm was torn from the bend of the elbow, the skin on the edges shredded with the humerus sticking out. The legs were nonexistent, as if something dragged off with it.

Layla screams loudly, her small voice piercing through the air. She screamed until her face turned red, until what seemed like all the oxygen left her body, her vision blurring in the edges. Something then covers her mouth and a strange, tired sensation came over her. With a snuffled groan, she passed out.

Layla blinks open her eyes, them darting around frantically, wondering where she was.

She was back in her bedroom, the purple blankets covering her. The sunlight was beaming into the room through her purple curtains, casting the room in a violet shadow. She sits up and notices she was in her pink flannel pajamas. Confusion enveloped her as she got out of her bed, slowly walking towards her door. Hesitantly, her hand hovered over the doorknob, the toddler shaking from her nightmare.

But was it a nightmare?

She opens the door and standing in the doorway was her father.

"Daddy?" Layla cries out. She lunges to his leg and desperately hugs it. "I had a scary dream… Mommy was – where's Mommy!?"

Her father had a blank look on his face, as if he didn't register what she had asked. He lowers himself down to her level.

"Mommy left," he says simply, as if it sounded practiced. Of course, as smart as the three year old girl was she didn't understand that. "She got too frustrated with you and she left."

Layla remembered the night before. She wasn't listening to her mother. The girl was talking about the weird things in the woods like unicorns and gnomes all the time. She wasn't obeying orders when she was told to go to bed.

"Did… did Mommy hate me?" Layla cried, tears falling down her pale cheeks. Her cheek stung, the saltiness from her tears stinging a cut she doesn't remember receiving.

Dr. Bartek gives a grim look. "What do you think?" he asks calmly.

Layla once again remembered the night before. "She hated me…" she sobbed as she threw herself on the floor, feeling her body tremble.

"Then that's how it is," Dr. Bartek sighed as he stood up. He then extended his hand. "Come along dear, I need to run some tests for you."

Layla knew what it meant. Injections in her hand, or many blood draws. Sometimes a skin sample. She took her father's hand with her left, feeling his much larger one enclose around hers.

"You may be seeing a friend of mine, so you must behave," her father sternly told her.

Layla nods frantically. She didn't want him to leave her like her mother did. "Yes, Daddy," she promises.

The two walked down the hall and through the living room to get to the kitchen. The door that led to the basement was wide open, something the toddler has never really seen. Her small feet went down the stairs along with her father, her heartbeat increasing as she descended into darkness.

But what she didn't know, and wouldn't know for years to come, that it was the beginning of the worst years of her life.

A/N: So... a story about Layla Bartek specifically. Obviously as she gets older it's going to get darker.

I'm sorry this took a bit to write and get started, I had this idea since writing "Beyond the Portal" in its early chapters, but with everything that has been going on it has been tough to get into writing.

This story will be fully completed before "After Cipher's Reign: Short Stories" becomes completed, as it helps tie into the final short story that will lead up to another completely new story altogether.

Thank you for reading as always!

~Skye Hendersen~