In the world of Fae, one elf will rise above the rest to become the Lady's Chosen Warrior.
|A chilling scream broke the still silence of the morning, rousing a small elven girl from her slumber. Before she had the chance to even rub her eyes or sit up, rough hands grabbed her around her middle and set her unceremoniously on her feet, shoving her through the nearest doorway. "Fiera! Run! Don't look back, sweetheart!" her father's panicked voice shouted to her. Brushing her long silver hair out of her eyes, Fiera looked up at her father in confusion.
"But-" she began, but her father hushed her and shoved his little girl still harder out the back exit of the hollow Oak tree.
"RUN!" he shouted more forcefully. Frightened, Fiera did as she was told. Scampering as fast as she could through the trees, she could see large looming shadows overhead and the sound of many beating wings met her long, pointed ears along with deafening roars of ferocity.
"Dragons..." Fiera breathed, her fear turning into blind panic. The elven child crashed through the dense thickets, desperately trying to put as much distance between her and those fire-breathing monsters as possible. As she ran, the terrified screams of the villagers she had left behind pierced the air like a rose thorn piercing soft skin. Smoke billowed forebodingly from beyond the trees where Fiera's village was located. Panting hard from bolting full-speed for so long, Fiera skidded into a clearing. Finally stopping to rest, the small girl put both hands on her knees and sucked in large lungfuls of luscious air, her chest heavily heaving in and out.
This clearing had a small brook that caused a faint mist to rise from the rushing water, cooling the sweat on Fiera's face. She fell to her knees on the brook's soft muddy bank and cupped her pale hands together to scoop up handfuls of fresh clear water which she gulped down gratefully.
With a small sigh, she stood up, snagging her white cotton nightgown on a thorny branch. A quick look around revealed to Fiera that there were two large, rather flat stone slabs wedged beside each other, with a small crevice in the middle just big enough for a young elf to crouch in. She could not remain out in the open, the dragons would spot her and not hesitate to kill her as well as everyone back in the village. Fiera wriggled her way into the stone crevice, waiting... for what, she was not certain.
As Fiera had expected, the massive shadows of half a dozen dragons shrouded the entire clearing in darkness as it flew overhead and the little girl huddled between two slabs of rock began to shiver in fright. Her parents had told her tales of dragons since before she could remember. They were heartless, vile creatures who took pleasure in killing and devastation, often leaving both in their wakes. Fiera knew the horrible, frightening stories and therefore she knew her family was in the Realm of the Dead. This realization struck her harder than anything she had experienced before in her short sixty year life and that was when Fiera cried, her tears streaming hot down her pale cheeks and blurring her vision.
As if mourning along with the newly orphaned child, the clouds opened up and released a torrent of steady droplets from the sky. Soon, Fiera's tears ebbed away as the eyelids of her large, almond shaped eyes close, enveloping the young elf in a wave of exhaustion. Slowly, her awareness faded and Fiera quietly drifted away into the Realm of Dreams, the ever-steady sound of the rain pounding onto the ground and the stones covering her lulling her softly into deep sleep.
Fiera's eyelids wearily flickered open, her long silver eyelashes gleaming brightly with leftover tears. Weakly lifting her head and looking up at the sky, she discovered that it had stopped raining. The clearing looked different after a storm. The ground was soft and looked as though it could swallow a full-grown elf without so much as a whisper of protest. Indeed, Fiera's ankles sank into the soft earth and the little elf sighed, enjoying the cool feel of the mud on her feet, in the same manner a swine would enjoy rolling in a muddy puddle to keep herself cool on a hot summer's day.
Looking around, Fiera saw that the trees around her glimmered with moisture and the brook was now flooded, its soothing water lapping up past the dirt bank Fiera had sat for hours before. The wind carried a burnt, smoky scent to Fiera's sensitive nose and she sneezed from the sharpness of the smell. Snapping her head in the direction of the wind's message, she could just barely make out the soft grey tendril of smoke rising up in the distance. It was not nearly as black and large as it had been several hours before.
Her father had warned her to run. Run and never look back, but Fiera's heart ached and she longed to go back home, despite the logical knowledge that there would be no home waiting for her upon her return. Still, the elven girl was drawn to the remains of her village. Slowly unsticking her bare feet from the devouring earth with a squelching noise, Fiera began her walk towards whatever was left of her old life. She held a slow but steady gait as she drew nearer, her small journey lasting from midday to dusk.
As she feared, the home Fiera had once known existed no longer, replaced by a deadened grey abyss where time itself seemed to stop for fear of disturbing its mournful solitude. Everything was ash and dust, the bodies of the dead disintegrated with only their blackened bones to show that they were ever present. Eyes wide with shock and fear, Fiera numbly and gingerly stepped over charred bodies and blackened greenery, trying desperately to identify her own family amidst the devastation. It was impossible, for nothing identifiable remained. Now that she thought of it, Fiera had not even seen or heard her mother that morning when she had been dragged her out of her warm mossy bed and been told to run away. Had she been killed before Fiera even opened her eyes? Her lovely, gentle and graceful mother with her soft smile and sparkling misty eyes... Fresh, hot tears trickled down Fiera’s cheeks, splattering the ashen ground as a last offering of her grief.
She could not merely leave and go on her way without somehow honouring her family and friends. They deserved a proper Farewell Ceremony, with lights and farewell speeches and mourners, but this Fiera could not give them. She was the only mourner present at this particular ceremony. Kneeling down to scoop up a handful of ash, Fiera gently leaned forward and blew until the dark powder had been lifted by the Spirits of the Air and carried away to the Realm of the Dead.
"There is no death... only a change of worlds..." Fiera whispered softly, the wind snatching the little girl's wise words and whisking them off along with the ashes. It was a common saying among her people, meant to bring solace and comfort to those who had lost someone dear to them. Fiera wished with every fibre of her being that these words were true; that her parents, friends and neighbours lived on in a different realm, waiting patiently to welcome her home when it was her time to depart from this life.
This place, once so full of life, laughter and love, held nothing for her now. There was no point in remaining in the dark shadow of happiness and hope, for it would never be the same again, nor could Fiera pretend that it ever would be. Only the bitter-sweet memories remained, and one cannot rebuild a home on nothing save for memories.
Slowly rising to her feet, Fiera heeded her father's advice for the second time that horrific day... Run! Don't look back, sweetheart! his voice echoed in Fiera's mind. Crying softly, the young elf ran as the darkness of the chill night swept over her, blanketing the girl in shadow and whispers of sorrow and fear. She ran as far away as she could from the life she had once known, not at all sure of where she was headed or what she would do when she got there.
"I won't... I won't look back, Father!" she panted as she fled for the unknown, leaving behind the shattered remnants of her childhood. Indeed, Fiera never did look back, nor did she ever return to her old village.
Fiera's light footsteps made no sound on the hard earth of the woodland floor. It had been fifteen years since the dragons destroyed her village and killed her parents. In those fifteen years, Fiera had become a wild elf of the forest, living off the land and fending for herself. No longer the small, frightened girl of mere sixty years, Fiera had grown into a young adolescent of seventy-five. Muscled and strong from her self-upbringing, she was sharper and more keen than most elven girls her age. She had no knowledge of how far she had come from her old childhood home. For all she knew, she could have travelled to the other side of her realm or merely a few settlements away. She did not care. Fiera had let go of all her memories from before the dragons' attack long ago.
A faint rustling in the trees behind her made the young teenager jump and turn around faster than lightning. Her self-fashioned bow of pine bark and unicorn tail hair was drawn menacingly, complete with a sharpened stick that served as her arrow. Her weapon came face to face with gleaming white unicorn sporting a golden mane and tail reaching down to its sparkling hooves. A clear, crystal horn protruded from its forehead, easily the length of Fiera's entire arm and glinted magnificently in the strong midday sunlight. Its shimmering amber eyes looked at Fiera hauntingly for a moment before throwing back its head and chuckling good-naturedly, the sound heard only within the minds of the two.
Fiera, you would not wish to shoot me using the very bow my tail hair helped create, would you? the smooth male voice spoke pleasantly to Fiera's mind. Breathing a sigh of relief, Fiera lowered her weapon and gave a small twinge from the corner of her mouth, which for her, passed as a radiant smile.
Oh, it's you, Zanzibar. she sighed. I thought you may have been another human. They're vicious but nothing I cannot handle. she bragged slightly, fingering Zanzibar's tail hair on her bow. Zanzibar inclined his head, softly pawing the earth.
Hmm... Indeed. he replied. There have been more of them than usual roaming about as of late. Perhaps another dragon raid upon the Mystic Forest? he asked, tossing his incredibly long mane out of his delicate face. Fiera rolled her large, almond eyes and scoffed, crossing her arms in exasperation.
Oh Zanzibar... not this foolish talk of the Mystic Forest again. she insisted, quite tired of hearing the unicorn's fanciful tales of the place. It is merely a children's faerie tale, nothing more. How on this realm you could believe such ludicrous nonsense is beyond my imaginings. she scolded her friend. Zanzibar merely gave Fiera a knowing stare.
You seem so certain that it does not exist, yet the tales speak of an ongoing battle with the dragons and a world where elves and humans live side by side in peace. The Mystic Forest is said to be located near this very stretch of wood as the realm between realms... the world of Fae and the Material Plane. It would explain all of the wandering humans scattered about our realm. he told her softly. Fiera's already cold and emotionless eyes grew ever colder.
You are a fool to believe such tales, Zanzibar. she told the unicorn icily. Humans and elves living together peacefully... it would take madness to believe such utter nonsense. I have more important endeavours to busy my time with than daydreaming about some non-existent realm, like finding food for instance. she said, picking up her bow and strapping it to her back.
Ah, Fiera... you are still merely a child yourself and yet you speak the sad, unbelieving words of a bitter old woman. Zanzibar sighed as Fiera's face turned frighteningly penetrating.
I was stripped of my childhood fifteen years ago, Zanzibar. I am not bitter, only wise. she said, not truly believing her own words. The shimmering white and gold unicorn's liquid amber eyes filled with a deep sorrow as he looked upon the hardened teenager. Why, she would only be twelve or thirteen years of age at the most if she were a human.
Yes, not only the loss of your parents but of your innocence as well. What that cruel human did to you- he began, but Fiera cut him off.
Don't! she hissed. I will not speak of it! her heart hammering very hard against her chest. How dare he remind her of the damage done to her mind and body as a child on her own with no one to protect her? She had vowed that she would never allow herself to be brutally taken advantage of again. She had trained herself to become stronger and more resentful than any other being who tried to violate her and in doing so, hardened herself into a near-indestructible, emotionless warrior... all at the tender age of only seventy-five. Zanzibar lowered his head in a gesture of respect.
I have gone too far. I apologize. he said simply. The furious elf did not reply but slung the rest of her provisions and weaponry over her back and continued on her way in search of food, that didn't involve slaughtering a helpless animal.
Those fifteen years were the darkest of Fiera's life.
There were even more of them... the humans. Over the next five years, their numbers in the World of Fae increased slowly so that someone unaware may have overlooked it without a second thought, but Fiera was a very aware elf and she took notice. It disturbed her. There was supposed to be a very thick boundary between the Astral and Material Planes. Occasionally, a few humans broke through to the Astral Plane and there were even a few small settlements of humans here, but for the most part humans and Fae-like races stayed away from each other. This many humans roaming about on her realm unnerved Fiera and, the Lady forbid, she would ever admit it, frightened her. Something isn't right here, Zanzibar. Fiera told her unicorn friend late one night with an anxious sigh.
Indeed, the growing human population has been troubling me as well. he replied, a note of worry edging into his telepathic voice. There are boundaries between our realms for good reason. If the humans continue to break through to the World of Fae, it could upset the tender balance of all the worlds. Fiera stared into the small, crackling fire which cast a dim glow upon the eighty year old elf's smooth, youthful face. Zanzibar was right. What was happening here?
Something is causing them to leave wherever they came from. What do you suppose it could be? she asked him, laying down on her back to look up at the billions of glowing stars pinpricking the black night sky. Zanzibar too, rested his slender muzzle upon the ground by his fore hooves before responding.
Well, if the stories are true... he said slowly, only to receive a dark scowl from Fiera.
Zanzibar, I have had it with your delusional Mystic Forest talk! she snapped, propping her head up on her palm and leaving her long silver hair which now reached down to her calves to trail upon the rough forest ground in a single braid beginning at the nape of her neck. They are nothing more than stories! It does not exist! Zanzibar eyed the indignant elf heavily with an irritatingly patient stare.
Can you think of a more plausible explanation, then? he asked and Fiera actually laughed. It was a very dry, sarcastic laugh but a laugh all the same.
I can think of a thousand more plausible explanations! she argued in a tone of outburst. Their food supply on their realm may be dwindling, they may simply be breeding too quickly or-
Or dragons have driven them out of the Mystic Forest. Zanzibar argued straight back. Utterly exasperated, Fiera sat up and gave the unicorn a penetrating glare that would frighten even the strongest, bravest warrior.
Very well, even if your fantastical tales were true and you were correct, why are there not more faeries and elves as well? What of the pixies and nymphs? The tales of the Mystic Forest claim that all of these races dwell there alongside humans. she retorted, sure that she had won this argument once and for all and that she would no longer have to listen to her friend's ridiculous fantasies but of course, Zanzibar was just as stubborn as Fiera.
Fae-like races are quite common on our realm. This is their natural home. Besides, you know as well as I that Fae-like races do not flee as easily as humans. A human's first instinct when threatened is to run away, while races of the Astral Plane will stay and fight at all costs. he told her matter-of-factly, but what Zanzibar had said stirred up Fiera's dark memories. She was taken back to that day when she herself had fled, rather than aid her parents in protecting her village on the day the dragons attacked. She had acted as a human and the thought and realization of this made her ill. Humans were weak, lust-filled creatures who would not bat an eyelash at cruelly using a little girl to satisfy their own selfish needs. Fiera? Are you well? You're trembling. Zanzibar's voice broke through her mind, filled with concern. Fiera snapped back into reality and shook her head slightly to gather her thoughts.
Yes. she replied. I am merely weary of all this ludicrous talk. Rest well, Zanzibar. she said in a voice of finality, clearly implying that the conversation was over. As she laid her head down on the hard-packed earth, a shout echoed among the trees. Both Fiera and Zanzibar were on their feet in seconds, looking around intently for the source of the noise. A haggard-looking elderly man stumbled out from the dense woods and collapsed at Fiera's feet.
Another human. Zanzibar observed. Indeed, the man was a human. Fear and mistrust bubbled up inside of Fiera once more towards the human sprawled at her feet, but she forced herself to remain in control of the situation. After all, it was what she did quite well. Without lowering her bow and arrow, Fiera nudged the old man in his shoulder, which he returned with a groan.
"You, human. Why are you in the World of Fae?" she asked rather harshly. Fiera did not know how to show tenderness and it was usually an emotion she preferred to keep in check. The man gasped with pain, clutching a deep wound in his side. Upon closer inspection, Fiera saw that he was badly burned and bleeding profusely from several deep gashes. The human spoke in a foreign tongue Fiera did not understand. She had picked up enough bits and pieces of other languages besides her native Elven to know that the language he spoke was called English and that it was a common language in the Material Plane. However, she could only make out fragmented words and phrases from him. The man fell onto his side and choked out one thing Fiera could understand, though she had not the faintest clue as to why she understood this phrase and nothing else.
"...Mystic Forest..." he whispered. Eyes wide and forgetting her lingering fear of humans for that moment, she grasped his shoulders and looked intensely into the dying man's face.
"What is it? What about the Mystic Forest? Speak, old man!" she demanded desperately, but without another word, his murky brown eyes glazed over and his body was still. His soul had departed to rest in the Realm of the Dead; not that Fiera believed such grotesque, cruel creatures were capable of having souls. Slowly letting go of the man's shoulders, Fiera fingered her long braid and heaved a disheartened sigh. Zanzibar trotted up and gently nudged his friend's shoulder with his elegant horn.
Do you believe now? he asked her simply. The question was not an attempt to gloat or to seek assurance that he had been right all along. It was merely a necessary inquiry that required an answer in order for them to move onward. Her eyes scanning over the charred, bloodied shell of what had once been a person lying in front of her, it all suddenly made sense to Fiera. She nodded numbly, her expression unfocused and unreadable.
Yes... she whispered.
As Fiera crouched beside the blooming white lily bed where the ashes of her beloved Zanzibar lay thirty years after that night when the human died at her feet, soft drops of rain began to spatter the grassy earth. It nourished the dry blades of green just as the once magnificently glorious unicorn's ashes nourished the lily flowers. Thirty years had seemed to slip by her so quickly that she felt as though she had blinked and missed it all. However, time seemed to come to a halt completely whenever Fiera was here in this rolling meadow among the wildflowers and tall grasses that swayed in the wind. The Spirits of the Air enjoyed playing their amusing games and tricks upon unsuspecting mortals here.
Humans had not only been responsible for the brutality done to Fiera so very long ago, but for the death of the lovely Zanzibar as well, although this had been a fateful accident. Fiera closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, remembering the painful shriek of her friend that had brought her running on wind's very swiftness and grace, and the sight of her beloved companion on the ground with a bloodied arrow protruding grotesquely from his graceful neck, the grass beneath him turning a slow, steady silver as was the colour of unicorn's blood. She had caught a fleeting glimpse of a male human with his bow drawn, quickly fleeing as humans always did. She had taken Zanzibar's lovely elegant head in her arms and wept over him bitterly as the last signs of life drained from his once vibrantly energetic body.
That night, Fiera had set things right, at least in her eyes at the time. Expertly tracking the human deep into the forestry lining the very meadow in which she now sat, she had waited for her moment to settle the score. Despite his pathetic excuses that he had thought the unicorn had been a deer and that he had been driven out of his home by dragons and he was starving, Fiera's hatred welled up inside her like a putrid poison and the quick, clean line of dark red where she had slit his throat dripped warm and sticky over her hands. Realization that she had taken life in cold blood dawned on her. She clapped a crimson-stained hand to her mouth and a strangled sob of self-loathing escaped her "Dear Lady, what have I done?" she whispered, horrified at her own actions. She was no better than them now, and this made Fiera so ill that she vomited, the contents of her stomach spilling out of her along with her grief in the form of hot, salty tears assaulting the ground where she knelt.
A bird somewhere within the trees sang out peaceably and Fiera gasped, coming back to the present. Touching her fingers to her face, she realized that she had begun to cry and sternly scolded herself for doing so. Zanzibar had died ten years ago, but ten years to an elf is little more than thirteen moons. The emotional wound blistered painfully in her heart still, but Fiera had come to learn to stop these emotions from getting out of hand. What a strong, fearsome adult Fiera had grown into. Just becoming of womanhood at one hundred and ten years, Fiera was only vaguely identifiable as the young girl she once was. She had gained even more muscle, but still weighed a mere seventy pounds, typical of an elf her age and looked quite beautifully figured. Her long hair which gleamed a bright silver in the sun remained in its restrictive braid down her back, ending at the tip of her calves and her steely cold eyes were now so sharp and foreboding that to look into them made one feel as if they were being sliced with a blade.
Fiera had not come to Zanzibar's final resting place simply to grieve. She felt as though she needed to do something for him to honour his memory and fulfill something he had wanted dearly but never achieved. Delicately fingering a lily petal that had been shirked from its former home as a trick of the Wind Spirits, Fiera blew softly, allowing the forlorn petal to be caught and carried by the breeze just as she had done with the ashes of her home so very, very long ago. Sighing, Fiera leaned close as though afraid the playful Spirits may steal what she was about to say to her long departed friend as well. "I know the Mystic Forest is real. I will find it, regardless of how long it takes or how much it hurts me along the way. It is what you wanted, and you shall have it, dear friend." she whispered solemnly as the songbird in the trees cried out a fitting melody of sorrow.