The following piece was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event – A Night of Fantasy. Please enjoy.
Daylight seeped through the cracks of the rock wall. Outside, the rain had stopped, but not before overcoming the wildfire that had destroyed much of the surrounding field. Sage coughed herself awake, still choking on the smoke. She lay curled on her side, in the same position she landed in when she hurled herself into this shelter.
A massive drop of water fell from the ceiling and crashed near her, leaving a shallow crater in the soft earth of the cave. She was too exhausted to flinch. After a time, thirst urged action. Her hands sank into the mud as she slowly pushed herself up. With great effort, she crawled over to the clear pool in the center of the cave but paused when she saw her sooty face reflected. She pushed her dark, overgrown hair away and looked into her own magenta eyes staring back, sharing her disbelief.
She had several fresh wounds that would permanently scar her face, but it was the other changes that unnerved her. Her delicate features had been typical of the brush faeries, but now her face was sharper, her jaw strong, her cheekbones more pronounced. But the most obvious changes were her ears; they protruded from her hair, almost three times their original length and had grown jagged along the outer edge. She had been away from her safe and comfortable village for too long. She was becoming feral. She had suspected this, as she had seen the nails on her long slender fingers and toes becoming more claw like, but not being able to recognize her own face made it real. Feral… they’d never let her come back now.
She continued her examination. The armor the villagers had fashioned for her using spider’s silk and tiny, layered leaves was almost completely burned away, leaving a few chared stems as her only protection. But her wings… oh her wings… she had felt them burning. She couldn’t feel them anymore but every time she moved, she heard a sound like dry autumn leaves. A sob escaped. Then she broke her reflection with her cupped hands and drank deeply, almost fiercely, of the water.
The water began to glow as she drank, but her eyes were shut tight. The violet colored light grew stronger, until even her skin could not keep it out. She lurched back, eyes wide with fear. The light continued to gather in the center of the lake, and when it dimmed, a large faery, clothed with bloom covered vines was floating over the middle of the spring without moving her ethereal, ornate wings. Her voice echoed in the cave and in Sage’s mind.
“Rest little one. Fear nothing whilst you are here. This is my domain.”
Sage stared up at the peaceful face, still afraid. “W… Who are you?” She asked. She felt like she knew this being, but she didn’t know why.
“I am the one called Lunmeren.”
“The eternal mother…” Sage whispered to herself, awestruck. She was speaking with a godess.
“You have traveled far and survived many trials. Now, you must go on our behalf, back to the beginning. You are needed.”
Sage couldn’t imagine moving another muscle. She pleaded, “Kind Lunmeren, my quest was to come and find you. I was sent to fulfill a prophecy that would keep the village prosperous and I have not yet completed my mission!” Tears welled up. Her voice broke and she hung her head. “And.. I’m so very tired! What good can I be now that my body is broken and torn?” She said gesturing to her bruised body and burnt wings.
Lunmeren smiled gently.
“The trials you have undergone have only made us more pleased with you. We would not have come to you as you had once been. You had grown too tame. Only now can we see you as one of our own. I give you respite.”
At these last words, Sage began to glow softly. She felt a delicious coolness eminating from her forehead, torso, arms and legs. Energy surged through her and the pains of the brusing dissolved away. She took a deep breath and found that the smoke in her lungs had been cleared. As the light disappeared, she eagerly looked over her shoulder at her wings, but they remained blackened and shriveled. She gently touched the edge of one, and a tiny piece disintegrated into the air. She looked at the godess, feeling grateful yet heart-sore. “I thank you, Good Lunmeren, but why have you chosen not to heal my wings?”
“Go now. You have everything that you need.”
Lunmeren faded away.
“… I don’t know what to do.” Sage finished quietly. Her body was healed, but without armor to protect her or wings to help her on her way, she would never make it back. She took a deep breath and sighed, then through her despair and uncertainty, she felt a growing compulsion to return to her village, no matter what. Overcome, she ran out of the cave.
At the entrance, she was confronted with a smoldering forest of dead plants. It broke her heart. At best, she could use her magic to help the roots survive the fire’s damage. She placed a hand against a nearby stem and with an unexpected, powerful burst of magic, it was instantly lush and green. She recoiled in shock; she had never heard of power like this! A wall of light swept over the dead field, returning the blackened scene to its verdant colors.
A blossom budded and bloomed high above on the stalk she had touched. She smiled up at it, until she saw two large, bulging eyes looking down at her. Her heart raced as the creature began to climb easily down the stalk with it’s curved, dagger like legs, champing it’s large jaws as it approached her. Its long body was white with pink edges, mimicing the flower it had come from. It was closer now, and she could see its forelimbs adorned with jagged, tooth-like spikes. Her scream caught in her throat as she continued to back away.
It jumped to the ground and began delicately preening its antenae. She cowered near the cave entrance, not daring to blink. When it was done, it looked at her again, turned it’s back to her and lowered itself. It was as if it was waiting!
This time, Sage fought hard against this new compulsion that went against her common sense. This was a Faery Hunter, often spoken of as companions of the feral in the old tales. But the urgency to get home took control of her body, and she reluctantly reached out and touched the monster. Suddenly, her mind was filled with images of the creature’s intentions and she knew that she would be safe. Sage climbed onto the behemoth, holding on to the the edge of huge scales on its back. It opened it’s magnificent wings, transparent and edged with the same hue of violet she had seen with the godess. In a blink, it launched them into the sky and flew at speeds she had never dreamed of. Clinging on tightly, she kept repeating her thoughts. “Back home. I need to get back home!” The Hunter understood. Soon she could see the flowering village as an ever growing speck in the distance. What had taken her an eternity to traverse alone was now only a few moments away.
A chill tightened around her heart; she could sense the danger but had no idea what it could be. All she knew was that they needed her. Not just the villagers, the plants, or the creatures, but the very land… needed her.