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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1397756-Fieras-Beginning---Part-2
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Fantasy · #1397756
In the world of Fae, one elf will rise above the rest to become the Lady's Chosen Warrior.
Thunder clapped overhead, sending a low rumble rippling through the ground and causing Fiera to jump in alarm before letting out a small sigh to calm herself and admonishing her childish, foolish ways. The truth was, she was frightened. She had spent the past year trying to find the Mystic Forest and all the clues had led her to this tiny human settlement. Fiera greatly mistrusted humans. The creatures had brutalized her and murdered Zanzibar. For all their intelligence, they acted no better than a pack of wild wolves. After all, what kind of race waged war on their own kind? It was incomprehensible to Fiera.

Sighing and hoisting her travel pack higher on her shoulder, she trudged onwards through the torrential rain, the heavy droplets plastering her silver hair to her long narrow face. Coming onto the single dirt path which consisted of the entire village, Fiera spotted one building slightly larger than the others with candlelight glowing through the windows. It looked like nothing more than a slightly oversized wooden shack and perhaps a half a dozen voices or so were wafting through the slightly ajar door. Here we go... Fiera thought to herself as she strode up to the entrance and walked inside.

It became clear that this run-down building was a pub from one glance around the shabby place. There were a few round wooden tables scattered around the cramped middle area with four rickety chairs to each table. At the back, there was a small wooden counter with a barman who looked close to the end of his days, rubbing a grimy glass with a dirty rag. At the sight of this strange elven woman stepping into the pub, seven pairs of eyes directed themselves towards her immediately.

Catching her breath at the shocking reek of ale and sweat assaulting her nostrils, Fiera cleared her throat and spoke. "I'm looking for information on the Mystic Forest. I've been told I'll be able to find my answers here." she announced bluntly. Six of the seven men in the vicinity stared, shocked for a moment, then roared with laughter, their drunken states enhancing their rowdiness.

"The wench is crazy!" one man said.

"I always said elves 'ave got their heads in the clouds!" another roared.

"Hay, darlin'! Come 'ere an' show us old men a good time then, eh?" a third drunk called out to her.

Fiera immediately reached for her spear. She would show these humans who was stronger and who held the power now. The barman, who had remained silent throughout all of the commotion, suddenly slammed his fist down onto the oily counter, silencing the drunkards. "Alright, that's enough o' that! You bums just go back to yer drinkin'!" he yelled in a stronger voice than he appeared capable of. As Fiera nodded her thanks curtly, he beckoned her to the counter and Fiera cautiously walked forward, her hand still resting on her spear, ready to pull it out in a single second should the smallest hint of danger surface. With a furtive look, he leaned closer to her and whispered hastily. "How do ya know 'bout the Mystic Forest?" he demanded, eyeing her suspiciously.

"I have my sources." Fiera replied coldly, her steely grey eyes seeming to lower the temperature in the room. She wasn't about to divulge her life story to this untrustworthy human. The barman huffed, seemingly unimpressed by her response. He chewed his lower lip for a moment before nodding as if he had just assured himself of something and motioned for her to sit with him behind the counter. He gave her a penetrating stare before speaking. "What's yer name?" he asked.

"Fiera." she answered. That much at least, was safe to reveal.

"Hmm... I'm Gaunt, just so ya know. Now, Fiera, why are ya lookin' fer the Mystic Forest?" he asked. Fiera herself wasn't quite sure of the answer, other than an impulsive promise she had made out of grief. She came up with the closest thing to the truth she could think of.

"I have heard tales of its existence. I am curious as to whether they are true or not." she said simply, her piercing grey eyes giving away absolutely nothing. Gaunt's thick bushy eyebrows knit together in suspicion, but his eyes looked almost glorious. Breaking out in a gummy, toothless smile, he leaned closer to her and replied in a hushed whisper.

"There is a legend associated with the Mystic Forest. The legend goes that the Forest is in terrible peril and that a hero, a valiant warrior, is destined to appear an' save the Forest in its darkest hour." he told her in a barely audible voice. Something didn't seem quite right to Fiera, however.

"How do you know so much about the Mystic Forest?" she asked coldly. "It is supposedly an old wise tale, nothing more." Gaunt chuckled with a knowing grin and leaned back in his seat, chewing the inside of his cheek with a sickening squelching sound, making Fiera's stomach clench in disgust. Humans truly were vile creatures.

"A wise tale, eh? Well Fiera, what if I told ya that the Mystic Forest wasn't no wise tale?" This of course, Fiera already knew but she feigned amusement all the same.

"I'm intrigued. Go on." she said with a faint grin. Mistaking her grin for interest rather than hidden knowledge, Gaunt continued.

"This here town lies jus' outside o' the Mystic Forest's magickal bound'ries." he revealed, truly enjoying having the undivided attention of a beautiful elven woman for so long. "The stories o' the Mystic Forest bein' under attack by dragons is true. The dragons are slowly destroyin' everythin' and the Forest is in a dire situation. The legend also tells of a destined hero who is meant to lead the Forest to victory and restore it to its former glory. A hero hand-chosen by the Lady Herself." he finished. Fiera had known about the legends of a losing war between the Forest and dragons, but the story of a chosen hero sent by the Goddess of all life and existence was new to her. After some thought, she could only come up with a single question.

"Why are you telling me all of this? If the Forest is so well protected from outsiders, surely its existence is meant to stay a secret? Why would you reveal the secrets of this guarded Forest to a stranger such as myself?" she asked. For the first time since Fiera had begun talking with this elderly human, Gaunt gave a genuinely kind smile that defied Fiera's previous notions of humans and confused her.

"Because," he said bluntly. "I believe yer the chosen hero the legends speak of." Fiera bit her lower lip hard to stop herself from succumbing to a fit of laughter. This crazy old coot didn't have a clue what he was saying. They were the utter mad ramblings of an elderly man with an overactive imagination. After she had composed herself, Fiera stood up and nodded curtly.

"I think you're senile and a bit cracked, but thank you for your information." she told him, turning to leave the stinking, dirty pub. Gaunt's face displayed a look of panic as he hurriedly jumped up, shaking his head frantically, blocking her exit.

"No! Please! This town was formed from the humans who who chose to flee from the Forest to protect their fam'lies from the dragons! My great-great grandfather was among the firs' gen'ration to leave. It has been my pers'nal fantasy to return to the home of my ancest'rs, and yer the Blessed Lady's sign! Yer the miracle we have been waitin' fer! Follow the path into the woods behind this very pub an' I am certain the Lady will give you Her sign." Thoroughly annoyed, Fiera used her superior elf's strength to push Gaunt out of her way and leave, ignoring the catcalls and vulgar requests of the drunken men around her, without even taking a glance behind her at Gaunt.

Well, she had found out what she needed to know. Despite the old man's craziness, he had told her the location of the Mystic Forest, which is exactly what she had wanted for so long. Here we are, Zanzibar. There's no turning back now... she thought. Somehow, as Fiera pushed her way through the dark and overgrown path and the downpour soaked through her clothes, chilling her bones, she knew he had heard her and was proud of her, wherever his spirit roamed.

***

The dark woods were so overgrown that Fiera had to struggle to make her way along the path that Gaunt had told her about. It was only due to her experience of living in forests her entire life tat she was able to discern any such path at all. Conjuring a small ball of light within her open palm, Fiera made use of her natural magick she possessed but rarely used (preferring her physical strength) to light her way through the blackness. All around her were the rustles and small noises of the animals around her, and if it weren’t for these sounds, the thick silence of the night would have surrounded Fiera and suffocated her.

I hope you’re happy, Zanzibar! Fiera huffed, annoyed at this wild goose chase he had sent her on. I don’t even know if that raving lunatic was telling the truth! For all I know, he could be leading me into a trap! Of course, nothing answered her. She hadn’t expected Zanzibar’s disembodied voice to miraculously resound throughout the forest. Perhaps years of isolation had caused her to lose her mind. In any case, she could not turn back. She had come too far to back out and forget about this legend.

Now that she thought of it, Fiera was struck with the profound realization that she had spent the better part of a century, nearly her entire life, looking for the Mystic Forest. It had become the purpose for her being, the quest that had given her life a meaning and Fiera had the strangest feeling that if she were to fail in fulfilling that purpose, the meaning her life held as she now knew it would come to an end. This thought chilled Fiera’s very heart and taking a deep, steadying breath, she pressed on.

Hours passed in much the same manner, Fiera becoming more and more overwhelmed by the very thoughts attacking her own mind. Despite her incredible physical endurance, trekking through the dense woods all night was taking its toll upon her. Her movements were becoming slower and more lethargic, her vision becoming less sharp. Her own mind became her worst enemy last night. Her lack of sleep diminished her magick and she was now stumbling along weakly through the dark, the thoughts in her head turning into voices, becoming louder and louder until Fiera had to cover her ears and cry out in an unsuccessful effort to drown them out.

Fiera! Run, sweetheart! her father’s voice echoed in her mind.

“Father! Father, where are you?” she shrieked, not understanding that the voice she was hearing was only in her head. It sounded as real to her as if her father were standing merely a few feet away, just out of her grasp. “Father, I’m not leaving you this time!” she wept, crashing blindly through the darkness.

Fiera? Fiera, come to me, dear friend... There was no mistaking the calm, soothing tone of this voice and the elegant fluidity of the words spoken. It was Zanzibar calling out to her. Fiera’s heart ached with grief and she fell to her knees weeping and screaming at the voices to stop their torment.

“YOU’RE DEAD!” she screamed. “YOU’RE ALL DEAD! YOU CAN’T BE TALKING TO ME!” No matter how many times she screamed this the voices would not cease and only became louder and more insistent until they were a deafening, thunderous roar.

As the dawn began to peak over the tip of the woods, Fiera’s consciousness began to fade. Her throat swelled and shut itself, and the air supply to her lungs diminished. Collapsing into a convulsive heap, her pain slowly began to fade away, until the voices gradually became less discernable as though their owners were moving away from her.

Looking down at her abdomen, which unexpectedly sent a searing pain throughout her body, she saw a large thorn protruding from the flesh, covered with a filmy, acidic substance. Venom. She had gotten careless in her weakened state and must have come into contact with a poisonous plant without realizing what had happened. There was only one thing that could surely kill an elf within minutes, and that one thing was poison. Elves feared it more than almost anything, because it was their only crippling weakness. Even the smallest scratch of venom or a single glass of overly-strong liquor would send an elf into a hallucinating, feverish state and close off their airways, which was exactly what was happening to Fiera.

All her years of searching had come to this end. The dragon attack, her rape, Zanzibar’s death... it had not lead her to the Mystic Forest but had only brought her to her own demise. She was terribly afraid. She was to die alone.

Not so, Fiera. the same fluid voice of Zanzibar echoed, but rather than only hearing the voice, Zanzibar was there kneeling beside her as solid and as real as he was in life. His kind eyes looked deeply into her frightened ones and he brushed his snow white muzzle against her damp cheek.

Zanzibar... she thought weakly.

I’m here. he told her gently. She weakly lifted a shaking hand and rested it on his gleaming golden mane, stroking it softly. To be able to touch him and feel his beautiful mane beneath her fingers after so many decades bathed her heart in a bitter-sweet jubilation. Fresh tears cascaded freely down her cheeks.

I miss you so much. she whispered faintly. She knew she was dying and that was why Zanzibar was with her now. Her spirit was about to make its final passage to the Realm of the Dead. Fiera accepted this. She would have accepted an eternity of perpetual torture to be with her dearest friend again... her only friend. She wanted to stay with him even if it meant cutting her Astral life short.

No, Fiera. I am not here to take you with me. You have a truly great destiny and you must fulfill it... I must go now, but always remember that I love you, dear friend... he spoke to her as his solidity melted away into nothingness and Fiera screamed out in her anguish.

Now she truly was going to die alone here, and she wasn’t sure whether she would see Zanzibar again. In one last desperate plea to everyone and yet no one simultaneously, Fiera mustered up the last remaining strand of life in her body to choke out two words. “Help me...” she moaned, her voice fading away to a sigh.

The sweetest laugh Fiera had ever heard resounded throughout the forest and a milky white finger gently turned her chin so that she was staring into the face of an astoundingly beautiful human, even surpassing Fiera’s own elven beauty which was quite impossible. The Woman’s skin was a creamy white and seemed to glow in the darkness as Her waist-length, ebony black strands of hair fell elegantly around Her shoulders, artfully covering most of Her body which was completely bare. Her eyes were a sparkling emerald green and held all the secrets of the Realms. Her only adornment was a circlet of blooming vines woven intricately into Her shining hair.

I was beginning to worry that you would never ask. She said in a voice indescribable by such crude things as words and languages. It was a song and yet not a song at all. It filled Fiera’s body with strength and sharpened her mind. It filled her screaming lungs with fresh cool air and rid her body of all sickness. This was the Lady. The eternal Goddess of all life and existence. Fiera found she was able to sit up and could only gape in awe at the absolute perfection of Her. Even though She had appeared in a human form, She was still perfect in every way imaginable. Fiera did not dare try to touch a Being so pure.

“Why?” was all she could whisper. Why had the Lady Herself come to Fiera’s aid? Why had She chosen to save her? Why had She appeared to her?

Fiera, I chose you. From the moment you were conceived, I chose you. She replied simply.

“Chose me for what?” Fiera demanded, becoming angry at the lack of answers she was receiving. The Lady smiled and shook Her head.

You will know. She said as she stood up and walked away from whence She came, the morning wind blowing Her hair and revealing Her perfect form, fitting of a Goddess.

Although some of Fiera’s strength had returned, it was only enough to keep her a comfortable length away from death, because she could not stand up. “How brilliant!” she growled through gritted teeth. A wave of dizziness washed over her and she gasped, placing a hand to her forehead. She could hear voices coming from the trees that surrounded her on all sides, but these were most definitely voices belonging to physically existent people, because she could also hear them walking through the woods towards her. Fiera desperately tried to scramble to her feet and grab her weapon to protect herself but only cried out in pain and collapsed once more. Before she had a chance to catch her breath, a broad, muscular man came into view, seemingly alarmed at the sight of Fiera. It wasn’t until he helped her to her feet that Fiera noticed his fluttering wings protruding from the hollow of his back. He must be a faerie.

“‘Vess! ‘Vess, come here!” he shouted, supporting Fiera. A female voice answered him as another faerie stepped into view.

“Pierce, for the last time, DO NOT call me that! It’s Duvessa!” she snarled moodily but became curious as her eyes rested upon Fiera. “An outsider? We haven’t had one for centuries! How did she get past the barriers?” The faerie named Pierce shrugged.

“I haven’t the faintest notion, but she’s injured.” he replied. Fiera had had enough. She would not allow these two strangers to talk about her as if she were a pet or drag her around like a sack of grain. She was a person, not a plaything!

“I am well enough, thank you very much and if you don’t unhand me, I will slit your throats and bathe in your blood!” she hissed murderously as Duvessa laughed with amusement.

“I like her!” she exclaimed to Pierce. Pierce released Fiera, sending her to her knees once again as he sighed and shook his head.

“Of course you do.” he told her, rolling his eyes. “Help me get her to Granny Oak.”

***

"Where am I?" Fiera demanded angrily, once she was lying in carved wooden bed covered in freshly spun sheets. She had been so exhausted, she hadn’t taken in her surroundings the previous morning as Pierce and Duvessa had helped bring her to this Granny Oak that Pierce had spoken of. The moment she had felt her body being laid on something soft, she had immediately fallen into a deep slumber despite her best efforts to stay alert.

She had slept for twenty hours straight but now she was wide awake and extremely aware of what was around her. She wanted answers! As she looked around, she realized she was inside a massive hollow tree. The tree had herbs and bandages lining the walls on the shelves with a spell book here and there amongst the remedies. Duvessa was the one to step forward and speak.

"You’re in the Mystic Forest. The Healing Tree, to be exact." she told her as casually as if she were describing the weather. Fiera suddenly felt dizzy. She was in the Mystic Forest? She had found it after all her years of searching? After all she had been through, everything she had suffered, the Lady had led her straight here. "No outsider has been able to penetrate our barriers in centuries... you must be the one She sent." Duvessa breathed as Pierce poked her hard in the shoulder, his wings fluttering in aggravation.

"‘Vess! Keep quiet! You don’t know that!" he snapped. For all their bickering, it was clear to Fiera that these two faeries were very close with each other. They fought as though they were siblings.

"Who is She? Why do you think She has sent me?" Fiera demanded, her heartbeat quickening. Could it be who she thought it could be?

“Here we go..." Pierce muttered, running a hand through his hair, shaking his head in exasperation. Duvessa frowned and pinched him.

“Oh hush, Pierce!" she scolded. Sitting on the edge of Fiera’s bed, her eyes glimmered with excitement and passion. "The Lady told us She would send help to the Forest. A brave warrior She had hand-chosen Herself from conception. That was well over a century ago and we had begun to lose our hope... but then you came to us, the first outsider in hundreds of years and I’m certain you are the one She has sent to us." Duvessa whispered dramatically, gripping the edge of Fiera’s bed with white knuckles to keep herself seated. Fiera was beginning to feel dizzy again.

“She has appeared to you? The Lady?" Fiera gasped in wonder. Both Duvessa and Pierce exchanged knowing grins and this time, it was Pierce who spoke.

“Duvessa and I are two of the seven Guardians of the Mystic Forest." he explained. "Our duties are largely political. We keep disputes to a minimum, try to rule fairly and generally keep peace... however, we are also bound to this Forest by our very hearts which enables us to speak to the Lady. She councils and advises us and at times, Her aid is difficult to understand but that is Her way." Pierce finished reverently, making the Goddess’ circle on his chest as Duvessa imitated him just as sombrely.

“She has appeared to me!" Fiera blurted out. "She spoke to me and told me that She had chosen me, but for what, She would not say. She was the perfect Being..." Fiera’s voice drifted away in remembrance of Her. Pierce and Duvessa exchanged shocked looks before smiling radiantly and Duvessa looked as though Yule had arrived early that year.

"You see? She is the chosen warrior, Pierce! The Lady has not abandoned us!" She exclaimed. For the first time that Fiera had witnessed, Pierce was nodding in agreement with Duvessa.

"It would appear so." he said thoughtfully. "What is your name, Chosen Warrior?" he asked.

"Fiera." she immediately answered. "Although Chosen Warrior does have a certain ring of appeal to it." she added with a twitch of her lips which was the closest thing her face ever made to a smile. Not used to Fiera’s seemingly cold personality and dry, sarcastic humour, which was fleeting at best, Pierce stared, not sure whether she had made a joke or not. Duvessa however, burst into peels of laughter and nodded to Pierce.

"I really like her." she told him as he rolled his eyes once again.

"Of course you do..." he repeated, reluctantly chuckling.

Fiera was about to interject with another comment when a deafening roar echoed throughout the Forest, followed by terrified screams from outside the Healing Tree. Duvessa’s and Pierce’s glowing faces immediately fell to fear and Duvessa ran off and took flight into the air once she was in the open. Fiera would never forget those roars. They were dragons and many of them.

"Come quickly! There is a safe place for you!" Pierce shouted, practically dragging her into an underground chamber beneath the Healing Tree. It was nothing more than a dark hole dug into the earth with the roots of the Healing Tree crisscrossing above their heads, but they were in a damp place where they could not be seen which meant they were safe. Soon, an old woman who seemed to be part tree herself, most definitely a nymph, shuffled into the hollow, looking quite frazzled. Fiera assumed this was the Granny Oak Pierce had spoken of the previous day.

"Blessed Lady, there are more of them this time!" she gasped, her grey hair flying out in whisps from her bun at the top of her head. "All the poor children..." she wept bitterly as Pierce led her beside Fiera and sat her down gently.

"We can only hope they will pass quickly." Pierce told her anxiously. "I must aid the other Guardians." he announced, leaving the hollow. Granny Oak muttered a prayer to the Lady to keep him and all the others safe under her breath.

"We can only hope..." Fiera muttered to herself. Something was confusing to her. Her head snapped towards Granny Oak with an intense stare. "You don’t have an army?" she asked incredulously. Granny Oak sniffed and shook her head.

"No." she answered. "At least... not an organized army. We gather the strongest-looking villagers to fight if an attack occurs." she explained, her voice wobbling dangerously. Fiera’s jaw dropped in disbelief! They were being attacked by dragons on a regular basis and yet they didn’t have an army? No wonder the Mystic Forest was being destroyed so easily! No one was fighting back!

"Who is your Commander?" Fiera demanded. Surely such an ineffective leader would have been stripped of her or his position by now?

"We do not have one." Granny Oak sighed, and Fiera slapped a hand to her forehead in aggravation. Her infamous temper was beginning to bubble and boil within her until she was on her feet, despite Granny Oak’s protests about her health, she had thrown the sheets off of her and was on her feet and dressed in less than a minute, throwing her hands in the air and yelling.

"And you wonder why you are being defeated so easily? You are allowing yourselves to be destroyed! How do you expect the Lady to aid you if you are not willing to stand up and take your own action? Where is your pride? Your passion? Your fire? Where is your fight?" she yelled, causing Granny Oak to shrink backwards in intimidation.

Overhead, the screams of the Forest’s inhabitants echoed louder into the still morning and the beating of reptilian wings intensified. Fiera knew what she had to do. She spun around, her steely grey eyes blazing with passion and fire. "Where is my bow? I need arrows." she demanded. Too frightened of the infuriated youth to object, Granny Oak hastily grabbed her bow with Zanzibar’s tail hair as the string and placed it in Fiera’s hands, along with her quiver which still had a plentiful supply of stone-tipped arrows. With only a nod of thanks to the wise nymph, Fiera bolted up the narrow stairway cut into the dirt of their shelter. Granny Oak called after her.

"Where on the Astral Plane are you going, child?" she asked, her eyes wide and fearful. Fiera whirled around, her steely grey eyes as cold and deadly as ever. There was no hint of doubt on her face.

"If you are not willing to stand up and defend your home, then I must do it!" she snarled. With that, she was up the stairway and outside the Healing Tree, surveying her surroundings, scanning for the best strategy of defence. She observed civilians of all races running and screaming for their loved ones amongst the chaos. There was a small cluster of able-bodied people, about evenly split between males and females holding frail-looking weapons and looking unsure of themselves. Dear Lady, they’re useless... Fiera thought to herself in exasperation, running to a spot of open field to deter the dragons from fighting in the villages and destroying them.

She had allowed her home to be destroyed by the vile creatures nearly a century before. She would not run away this time. If this was the Lady’s purpose for her, then she would rise to the call. She began shouting for the warriors to follow her. "Come! Spell casters take cover under a fighter! Flying races take flight and loose your weapons! Archers follow me!" she ordered. The people stood and gaped, not believing this stranger who was barking orders at them as though she owned the Forest. Who did she think she was, anyway? It wasn’t until Duvessa and Pierce flew over that they got themselves in gear.

"LISTEN TO HER! DO WHATEVER SHE TELLS YOU TO DO! SHE HAS BEEN SENT BY THE LADY! TRUST HER!" they both bellowed furiously. The warriors were not about to outwardly defy two of the Forest’s sacred Guardians, so they followed Fiera and her instructions.

"Listen! I want all of you to make your way to the field, and take the positions I told you!" Fiera shouted amongst the devastation. People were already dying. She had to finish this battle as quickly as possible to spare as many lives as she could. It took the untrained, weapon-carrying civilians some time to organize themselves but Fiera could not worry about that right now. She needed to work with their lack of skill for the present moment.

A fearsome dragon, blue in colour with gleaming black eyes gave a mighty roar and took Fiera’s bait. It was following her and the other warriors to the open field to fight. Fiera swallowed her upsurge of fear as she remembered the last time she had come in contact with dragons and replaced it with fury. If they wanted a fight, they would most certainly get one! As its enormous shadow darkened the entire field in an eclipse-like effect, her soldiers began to tremble in fear. Well, she would fix that. "ATTACK NOW!" she screamed, making half of them jump, but nevertheless they obeyed, loosing arrows, spears and damaging spells alike. Fiera’s own expertly aimed arrow managed to find itself firmly embedded within the dragon’s eye, spewing blood all over her and those around her. It screeched in agony and lost course in the air, zig-zagging wildly. Fiera had always had an uncanny knack for predicting the exact movements of another at any given time and she used this ability to warn her troops to duck as the dragon lashed out with a blanket of fire. Some were not quick enough and quickly perished, but most managed to survive with only moderate wounds.

In the distance, Fiera could hear the weeping of mourning parents, children and spouses along with the pillaging of the other dragons coming from the villages. Everything would be destroyed if she did not end this now. Taking in a deep breath, she made one last order. "CEASE YOUR ATTACKS!" she yelled! "DO NOT FIRE A SINGLE WEAPON!" All eyes looked at her incredulously! Don’t attack? Did she want them all to die? What was she thinking? However, it was still an order and they could not disobey. Reluctantly, every warrior stopped their attacks which had exactly the effect Fiera wanted. The dragon stopped in midair, looking around in confusion. It could not understand why the Forest dwellers had suddenly stopped fighting. Perhaps they had surrendered?

"Excellent..." Fiera breathed, using that split second of hesitation from the monster to fire her last arrow. Again, her aim was flawless and her arrow hit its target: the beast’s jugular. With a screaming roar fit to kill the living and wake the dead, the hideous demon plummeted from the air. "LOOK OUT!" Fiera screamed to those who were in the way of its descent, but of course many of them were so untrained and slow that her warning could not help them.

The beast was dead, its many wounds turning the grass around it a bright scarlet. Unfortunately, many of her fighters were dead as well and even though this stung her heart, Fiera knew that she had helped save so many more.

Overhead, the other dragons seemed to realize one of their numbers had been defeated and were retreating back to their lair in surrender. The soldiers that were left milled around quietly, unsure of where to go from here. Some were weeping for a lost friend. They were waiting for Fiera’s direction. "We’ve won." she announced. "Rejoice, for no one here died in vain today." They were weak words of comfort, and yet profoundly true. This was the first battle in which the Mystic Forest had triumphed in centuries. "Go home to your families and be proud of what you’ve accomplished." she finished, yet her tone was sombre.

Walking back to the villages with a slight limp from a minor injury she had not noticed during the battle, Duvessa and Pierce were the first to come to her. "You’re covered in blood!" Pierce gasped in concern, but Fiera merely waved it off with a shake of her head. It was not her blood. It was unimportant. Duvessa was smiling, though her leaf green eyes were filled with a certain bitter-sweetness Fiera could not put her finger on at the moment.

"We won, didn’t we?" she asked as a rhetorical question. Of course they had won. The dragons had left and the Forest was still somewhat intact. Fiera nodded numbly as the faerie’s eyes brimmed with moisture that did not escape the confines of her lids. Instead, she caught Fiera completely by surprise with a fierce hug, leaving Fiera wide-eyed and at a loss for words. "Thank you." she whispered. "You’re our miracle." With that, she walked away to spread the good news to the rest of the Forest. Pierce looked just as stunned as Fiera.

"She actually hugged you and said something sentimental..." he mumbled, not quite believing it. "She must be losing it." he grinned, shaking his head.

"Why do you say that?" Fiera asked, stomping the mud out of her left boot. Pierce just chuckled and crossed his arms with an amused smile tugging at the corners of his lips.

"Duvessa isn’t exactly what you’d call a sentimental person. The two of you would get along, I think." he winked, going to catch up with his friend, leaving Fiera standing alone, lost in her own whirling thoughts.

From somewhere near her, she thought she heard a soft, tinkling laugh coming from the trees surrounding her, but she couldn’t be sure.

***

"Fiera? Are you ready?" Duvessa asked quietly a moon after that fateful and yet victorious battle. Fiera closed her eyes, took a deep breath and nodded. This was a very important day. It marked the beginning of the rest of her Astral life. Both women were dressed for the occasion, in glittering sweeping robes encrusted with jewels and elaborate upswept ornate coils kept in place with silk ribbons. Of course, this was not Fiera’s preferred way of dress, but today was a special exception.

"Yes." she replied, but the knots in her stomach told her otherwise. Was she really ready for this? Could she live up to the promise she was about to make to every living thing within the Mystic Forest? Was she really the Chosen Warrior? These questions and more swirled through her head as she bravely turned around and took in another large breath. "I’m ready." she announced, the pixie dust glittering elegantly on her cheekbones and eyelids. Fiera felt rather foolish being dressed up like a children’s favourite doll, but she did look astoundingly beautiful and prepared for the title which was about to be bestowed upon her. Duvessa smiled, nodding.

"Good." she replied. "Follow me." As Fiera passed her, the faerie held out a hand and placed it on her shoulder reassuringly. "Doubt is natural, but you will be fine." she said. Fiera just nodded, although her heart was hammering against her rib cage so rapidly she felt as though it might burst out of her chest and start rapping itself against her head.

The two friends walked solemnly and swiftly into the open battlefield where the entire Mystic Forest had gathered to watch and bear witness to this possibly once-in-a-lifetime event. No sound was made save for the slow trumpeting of the tiny pixies flying overhead on their musical instruments made of sandalwood and adorned with holly sprigs. The six remaining Guardians were lined on a large hill in the middle of the battlefield, looking composed and resolute. Fiera bit back an overwhelming sense of doubt and strode purposefully behind Duvessa as the large sea of every race parted themselves to let them pass up onto the hill in graceful motions. To Fiera, it seemed as though eternity were passing at the speed of light and would soon run out before she reached her destination but suddenly, she was there standing in front of the six Guardians and Duvessa who had stood and taken the empty space in the middle of their lineup.

Duvessa stepped forward to face Fiera as all eyes reverted to her. Fiera’s face was the picture of calm and confidence, despite the nervous turmoil within her. "Fiera, Chosen Warrior hand-picked by the Lady, you are here in the presence of the Mystic Forest, of the Guardians and of the Lady to make a promise, is that correct?" Duvessa asked solemnly, going through the very same political procedure she had rehearsed with Fiera for weeks beforehand. Fiera gave a curt nod and replied as expected.

"That is correct." she said solidly. Pierce now stood forward as Duvessa stepped back into the line and addressed Fiera.

"What is this promise you are to make before all these witnesses and before the Guardians and the Lady?" he asked. Fiera bowed her head for only a moment in respect before lifting her chin again and looking Pierce straight in his vibrant blue eyes.

"The promise I make is to fight for this Forest and protect all dwellers within it. I vow to fight and lay down my life for every race which dwells within the Mystic Forest and every animal, plant and stone. I vow to do this with my military skill, my leadership, but also with my compassion and love for life and every source of life within the Mystic Forest. I vow this upon my Astral life." she finished, bowing her head once more. All seven Guardians nodded their approval and a third faerie called Jarlath stepped forward as Pierce retook his original standing position.

"On behalf of the Guardians, of the Mystic Forest and of the Lady, we accept your promise and bind you to it. Should you break this vow without the Lady’s blessing, it is your fate to end your Astral life and begin a new one within the Realm of the Dead to learn new lessons and to grow in spirit from your mistake. Do you agree to these terms?" he asked.

"I do." Fiera answered solemnly. Nodding, each Guardian took a position in a circle around Fiera and held up their right hand to touch her. Murmuring a soft chant among themselves, a certain friction ran through Fiera’s body and she knew that this was the binding spell they were attaching to her with her permission. It only took a few moments and they stepped away, reforming in a line in front of her.

"Fiera, Chosen Warrior, you are now bound to your promise." every Guardian stated in unison.

"As a gesture of appreciation and confidence in your unwavering devotion to the Mystic Forest we bestow upon you the deeply honourable title of Commander of the Mystic Forest. Do you accept this title?" Duvessa stated.

"I accept this title." Fiera stated and for a reason she could not explain, tears silently ran down the glittering cheeks of her perfectly composed face though only the Guardians were close enough to her to see this. As if comforting the new Commander and reassuring her, a breeze suddenly picked up, blowing into Fiera’s face and drying her tears. She smiled ever so softly and closed her eyes. The Lady was here with her as She always had been, in every spark of life around her. Fiera realized this now. It had all been for a purpose. Every bad thing that had happened in her life had led to something far greater, and taught Fiera a new lesson which helped her grow. Nothing had been meaningless, and this was a comfort Fiera was able to always take with her from that day forth and remember in her times of despair.

So lost in this profound realization was Fiera that she was unaware of the sudden tumultuous roar of the dwellers of the Mystic Forest. Thousands upon thousands of cheers and applause seemed to shake the balance of the day and send a ripple through the ground. Smiling, Duvessa placed her right hand on Fiera’s forehead and announced the last sealing ritual.

"Let this gift be forever a symbol of your duty to the Mystic Forest and of your new title as Commander, and seal the proceedings of this day." she smiled graciously. A white hot pain seared through Fiera’s forehead but she merely grimaced and bit her lip for a moment until the fleeting second of agony passed. Slowly raising a long slender hand to her forehead, her fingers came into contact with a glimmering, emerald green jewel embedded firmly into the bone of her skull, glittering beautifully in the sunlight reflecting off of it.

“I thank you." Fiera said honestly, bowing her head. Duvessa took Fiera by the arm and turned to address the already jubilant crowd.

"Mystic Forest, the Guardians are proud to present to you... Commander Fiera." she announced. If Fiera thought the roar of cheers had been deafening before, it was now a wave of confidence washing over Fiera as all the fear and anxiety she had felt moments before were lifted off of her and carried away with the wave of noise. She felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and turned to see Duvessa, still smiling radiantly.

"Come." she said quietly and Fiera followed her friend away from the large celebration and to a quiet spot near the Guardian’s Tree. Once there, Duvessa turned around to face Fiera looking very proud.

"Congratulations, Commander." she said simply. Fiera chuckled softly and nodded.

"Thank you." she replied as Duvessa’s face turned serious.

"Enjoy this, for you deserve it, but I want you to remember that this does not mean happily ever after. There will be more hardships, and more sadness along the way as well as great happiness." she warned and Fiera nodded in full understanding. She had not expected anything else. There would be more battles and more death but Fiera would be there to save many more lives.

"I know." she replied. "I do not expect anything else. The Lady does not give us more than we can bear." Fiera said wisely, knowing this to be true from her own experiences in life. Duvessa laughed.

"Indeed." she agreed. "I am glad the Lady led you to us. Go and make yourself known among the citizens. They look up to you now." Duvessa said quietly and with one last smile, she was out of sight.

Before Fiera left to do as Duvessa asked, she took one last moment to kneel before the Guardian’s Tree in prayer. Thank you... for my new beginning... she hushed silently.
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