A/N: The title is a working title, any and all suggestions for titles are welcome! Concrit is also extremely helpful!
The sun was low in the sky, and Hara watched the colors of the sunset from the bench where she sat.
She clutched the small, crystal pendant she always wore around her neck with one hand, and placed the other on the bench, feeling the warm, cracked stone beneath her fingers.
Her ( )other, Calen, paced around their resting place, a clearing sandwiched in between the dense trees of the forest and the ruins of an ancient building. Hara watched as he walked back and forth, only stopping to push his hair out of his eyes.
Hara pursed her lips and looked at him. He seemed to be deep in thought, but about what? She could never tell these days. In his childhood, he had been so different. He had always been willing to play with her, to laugh and dance with her. But ever since the death of their parents, something had changed. He had turned into a completely different person. Now he was overprotective, and never talked to her about his feelings. It was always, “Are you alright?” or “Let me help you.” Any time Hara asked the same questions, she was ( )ushed away.
"Is something wrong?" Her question ( )oke the silence, and she instantly regretted her choice of words. It wasn’t like he would answer. Sure enough, he said nothing in return, but stopped and glared at her. Then, after a few moments, he spoke.
"Hara, I’m fine."
"No, you’re not." Hara gave him a pained look. "I’ve known you since you were born, I can tell when something’s upset you."
"I don’t want to talk about it, okay?" He raised his voice and stood up. Hara sighed and got up to walk around a bit, looking at the shadows that were slowly swallowing the nearby ruins.
"It’s getting dark…we should find somewhere to stay for the night."
"We’re in the middle of nowhere." Calen retorted, gesturing towards the edge of the forest.
"Which is exactly why we need shelter. Who knows what creatures are in there? Can’t we stay in the ruins? Just for tonight?"
Calen rolled his eyes. “I told you, with the rumors going around, we have to be careful. What if there’s some sort of monster inside? I’ll make us a shelter. You go and get some firewood…and try to find some food. I’m sure you must be starving.”
"Alright…see you soon, then." Hara said, gathering up her skirts and heading into the woods.
As the sun set, nocturnal creatures began to wake. Owls hooted, their soft calls echoing in the twilight. Fireflies blinked and glittered, scattered in little flocks among the trees. Hara kept a watchful eye as she bent to gather some sticks. It wasn’t the best fuel for the fire, but it was enough.
Something glittered in the corner of her eye, and she turned her head to see what it was. To her surprise, a glowing ball of light hovered next to a group of fireflies, making them seem like specks of glittering dust in comparison.
"What is that?" She mused, watching it float in dizzy circles around a bush. Not wanting to find out if it was friendly without anything to defend herself, she decided to hurry back to the makeshift campsite to get Calen. Maybe he would know what it was.
"You heard me, a big glowing orb!"
"It was probably just a firefly." Calen dismissed her with a wave of the hand.
"But it was huge!" Hara exclaimed. "It was about the size of my head!"
"You sure you didn’t eat something…disagreeable?"
"I’m not lying!" She puffed out her cheeks, then grabbed him by the arm. "Here, I’ll show you."
She dragged him back to the spot where she had seen the thing, but, to her dismay and Calen’s smug triumph, there was nothing there. Even the fireflies had flown away to some new location.
"What did you eat?"
"I didn’t eat anything! I wasn’t hallucinating! It was there, I saw it!" Hara said, stomping her foot and blushing.
"Look, you’re most likely just really tired." Calen softened a little, and he slipped a hand around her waist to lead her back. Her blush grew ( )ighter, but she made no protest as they began walking back to camp.
"Are you sure this is the way out?" Calen asked a few minutes later. "I don’t recall it taking this long to come here."
"I…I don’t recognize this area at all." Hara shivered, glancing at the trees, which had become mere silhouettes in the advancing darkness. "We must’ve gone in the wrong direction."
"I see some sort of light up ahead, maybe someone is out here." Calen pointed to a distant glow. "Let’s check it out."
Cautiously, they advanced through the dark, stumbling over rocks and bushes. Hara’s gown caught on a ( )amble, and she let out a yelp as it tore, disturbing the still quiet of the night. Crickets began to sing, and cicadas buzzed, drowning out most other noises.
"It looks like it’s moving." Hara said, watching the light dance among the foliage.
"Then it’s probably a lantern." Calen replied. "Let’s hurry."
His companion nodded, and they both picked up the pace. When they had finally caught up with the source of the light, Hara gave a gasp of excitement.
"I told you it was real!"
“I don’t believe it.” Calen muttered, rubbing his temples. The glowing ball was lazily making its way through the forest, and by good fortune, the two youths had managed to stumble into its path.
“Do you know what it is? You know about all sorts of rumors and myths, so I thought—“
“I don’t know everything, you know!” He snapped, still staring at the sparkling orb. It began to pulsate, which made Hara emit another gasp.
“What’s it doing?”
“I have no idea.” Calen started to back away, just to be safe.
Out of the blue, the orb burst into a blinding light with a cracking sound. The shape of a woman unfolded from the center, and then all was silent.
The lady stood before them, her kind but stern gaze sweeping over them like a beacon. Long auburn hair tumbled down her back in waves, stopping just past the small of her waist. Her gown was silvery white, with golden em( )oidery encircling the hemline. She made an imposing figure, a queen standing proud among the trees.
“Thank you.” She said, clasping her hands to her chest and dipping her head low, still looking them in the eyes.
Calen looked like he was about to faint, while Hara held her ( )eath, almost bursting with excitement.
“Are you a fairy? I’ve never seen one before, but I’ve heard stories!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Hara.” Calen said, scoffing. “Fairies have unnatural skin tones…and funny ears.”
The lady let out a sad laugh, and examined her surroundings. “No, she’s right. I am a fairy…at least somewhat.”
“How can you somewhat be a fairy?” Calen asked, blinking. The strange fairy woman ignored his question.
“I’ve been trapped in that ball for ages, restricted to the confines of this forest. I was told that after two hundred years, contact with your kind would set me free. Two centuries later, here you two are.”
“It was an accident.” Calen said, rolling his eyes.
“Our kind? You mean humans?” Hara asked.
“I think my superiors meant anyone living in Cendaea, human or otherwise.”
“Why were you trapped in the first place?”
“I overheard things I wasn’t meant to.” The woman said, lowering her gaze. She looked at Calen, a questioning look spread across her fair face. “What are your names?”
“I’m Calen. That’s Hara. And you are?”
“Call me Perysta.” She appeared to be deep in thought for a moment. “Oh! You could help me!”
“What? Help you? With what?” Calen raised an eye( )ow.
“Well…to put it bluntly…Cendaea is in danger. Can we get to a village? It’d be easier to explain when we all are properly fed and rested. Now, where’s the closest inn?”
“The nearest village is an hour away.” Hara said with a small sigh. “And who would be awake at this time of night?”
“I see. Well, we should at least get out of this forest, then.” Perysta began to walk forward.
“We’re…um…kind of…lost.” Hara’s voice lowered to a squeak.
“I wonder why?” Calen shot her a poisonous look.
“Don’t worry. I’ve been in this forest for two hundred years, give or take. Long enough to know the ins and outs of this place. It’s fascinating to watch the woods grow and die, you know.”
“Yeah, yeah. Can we get out of here?” Calen made a dismissing gesture with one hand and stepped over a log. “Our camp’s near some ruins, if that helps.”
“Most definitely! Do you remember anything else about them? Any…remarkable features?” Perysta asked, avoiding a patch of ( )ambles.
“Oh! There was an old tapestry. It had some sort of symbol on it. I think it was a gem of some sort?” Hara piped up.
Perysta gasped. “How did you find that?”
“It was the best landmark we could find.”
“It sure helped a lot.” Calen said.
“Let’s start heading there. We’re wasting time ” Perysta veered off to the right, and the two youths nearly tripped over one another trying to follow her sudden change in direction.
The moon was halfway across the sky before they reached the ruins. The beginnings of Calen’s campfire sat a little ways away, still only a small pile of sticks.
“This,” Perysta said, gesturing to the ruins. “is an old fairy castle. I don’t know how you managed to stumble across it, but what I really want to know is why you didn’t seek shelter inside it. Even though it’s crumbling to bits, it still could offer shelter from the elements.”
“We didn’t know if anyone…or anything was still in there. There have been rumors, you know, of monstrous creatures that look human, but disfigured beyond recognition.” Calen’s voice lowered. “Some say the creatures are connected to the mass kidnapping that took place in the village of Raven’s Beak. At least twenty youths were taken.”
“Despicable…” Hara’s blood ran cold, and she shivered. But whether it was from fear or the chills of night, she didn’t know.
Perysta spent a minute in quiet thought. “Well, I doubt there’s anything in there now, so it should be alright.”
“Alright.” Somewhat reassured, Hara started to follow the lovely woman, but Calen stopped her and whispered.
“Why are we trusting her? Are we going to trust any stranger who pops out of a bubble?”
“She’s been fine so far. Why are you asking me this now?” Hara pursed her lips, a few lines creasing her ( )ow. When no retort was issued from her companion, she walked into the ruins.
Perysta sat on an ancient chair carved from some sort of reddish wood that had darker streaks woven through it, giving it a tiger-like appearance.
“Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s survived for all these years…gives me a sense of nostalgia.” The lady ran a graceful finger over the wood. Nearby, a delicate stained glass window allowed the moonlight to filter through, and it caressed Perysta with a cool, purple glow. Hara wondered how someone could be so beautiful. She felt small and plain in comparison.
“I’m going to try and find a bedroom.” Calen said, yawning.
“It would be good for us all to get some sleep.” Perysta said.
“What about the supposed danger Cendaea is in?” Hara asked.
“Can that wait ‘til morning?” Calen let out a groan and sat down.
“Let’s get some rest now.” Perysta agreed, getting to her feet. “Here, let me help you find a room.”
“Oh, alright.” Hara blew a strand of hair out of her face.
Perysta lead them up a flight of crumbling stairs and through a long hallway. There were grand archways lining either side, with large, rotting wood doors that still had bits of mahogany paint hanging onto them sitting under each arch. The tiled stone floor was cracked, but they could still see different fluted designs decorating the individual tiles. Tapestries the color of dried roses decorated the walls, with varying gemstone appliqués gracing the center.
Perysta peeked into a few different doors before emitting a satisfied “Ah!” and opening a particularly large one.
“This is where the laerd, lady, and young heir of this castle would’ve slept.”
The room was furnished with one large bed and one small one, as well as a table with four chairs around it. The two beds’ coverlets were crumbling away, ( )ittle from years of exposure to the elements. The room’s single window was shattered, although the lead used to hold the glass panes in place was still intact.
“I’m taking the little bed.” Calen flopped onto the bed, which let out a loud creak of protest as he transferred his weight onto it. Hara and Perysta exchanged awkward smiles, and then proceeded to try and make themselves comfortable in the larger bed.
Amidst the song of what felt like a hundred crickets and frogs, the group fell asleep.