A short free story by Melissa Vazquez
This short story was featured in The Second Realm Short Story Collection: 2014
Of all the places to be lost, the Feynid Forest was surely the worst.
Archibald Samuels was completely and utterly lost. He wasn’t sure how he had fallen away from the party he was traveling with. Sure, he had been trying to find wild game for tonight’s dinner, but he hadn’t gone that far from his friends’ campsite. At least, that’s what he had thought.
Now Archie was lost in a tangled stretch of land. Ancient trees took root deep in the earth, reaching up to the sky with their thick, gnarled branches. Archie was no explorer. He managed to trip over every fallen branch, every root and dip in the ground. His five-foot-seven frame stumbled around clumsily.
This was ridiculous. He was a well-read mage, not some explorer mapping new land. He belonged in his study, amidst his floor-to-ceiling bookshelves of text. He hadn’t even wanted to leave his comfy stone home, but he had been convinced to go on a hunting trip by the woman he had been trying to win the affections of. How could he have said no?
He certainly wished he had, now. The Feynid Forest was not welcome territory. He had heard the stories of those who had wandered into this forest, of the people who had met the territory’s natives. None of them were friendly stories. The stories made him want to retreat back into the safety of his spell books. The spell books he owned were safe, formulaic methods for an earth mage such as himself. They told of how to use the earth to its greatest advantage. Nowhere in those textbooks did anyone ever mention the vicious natives this forest contained.
He wanted to call out for his companions, but he knew that was a bad idea. The natives of this forest would hear. They’d get into his mind. They would–
No. He wouldn’t think about that. He stood up to his full height and brushed broken twigs off of his worn leather jacket. He didn’t even want to think of the state the rest of him was in. Twigs, dirt and what he feared were spiderwebs adorned his chestnut brown hair. He was itching for a warm bath back in his safe, stone brick house. Until he found his party, he would have to make do with the state he was in…not that he favored it much.
Archie tried to remember the way he had come, when he had originally stumbled into the forest. He had been searching for wild game. Despite his lady friend Alena’s warning not to head too far out, he had followed a rabbit to this cursed place. The rabbit had been the biggest rabbit that he had ever seen and as hungry as he was, he had convinced himself that it would make the perfect meal. He hadn’t have expected it to run straight here, or lead him into this cursed tangle of wood and undergrowth.
He moved slowly now, his boots picking a careful path among the gnarled roots and tangled underbrush. He crushed small plants and twigs under his leather boots, using the branches of trees to give himself balance as he fought the forest floor. It was as if the forest floor was doing this on purpose, making him trip with every step he took. If the forest had a voice, it would be laughing at him.
Speaking of laughing…
He stopped trying to fight the underbrush as the gentle sound of laughter met his ears. That was no imaginary mocking laugh he had thought of for the forest. That was a real laugh. Beautiful, feminine – Alena?
Impossible. It was impossible that she would be this deep into the forest. Last time he had seen her, she had been talking about the elf colony near this forest and how she was trying to avoid them. He had known she was an elf, that much was obvious with her, but he hadn’t realized the home she had run away from when she had been a teenager was so close to them now. That was why she only wanted to stay near the colony overnight, and for as short as possible, before they began the journey back home.
So why was she all the way out here?
He shook his head. Tricks of the forest, that’s what it had to be. He remembered her warning, “This forest will get into your mind and play tricks on you. It’s best if we avoided it completely.”
Archie had no idea of what tricks a forest could play on someone, but he had heeded her warning, up until when he accidentally wandered in. The sound of her laughter had to be a trick of the forest. After what she knew about it, she wouldn’t just wander in, especially with such happy candor.
With a resolve to get out of the forest, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes. His elemental mage powers might not have been strong for combat, as most elemental mages trained their skills to be used for; but he certainly knew how to use them. As he closed his eyes and focused his powers, he felt a surge of warmth flood through him. The earth granted him gratuitous use of its power, using him as a channel to spread magic through. In his mind, an image rose up. The forest around him formed, individual shapes of trees and bushes obscured. Instead, what he saw were bursts of green, in various shades. The bursts of green represented life. Tall beams of green energy took the place of the trees. Below him, the same green energy snaked into the ground in the form of the gnarled, tangled roots.
The forest was full of life, around him…except for a trail at his feet that shone a strange brown color. This was dying energy. The brown energy was a dying entity that was giving its energy back to the earth before it died completely. In his bumbling around, he had crushed various bushes and twigs. The plant life that had been crushed under his weight and could no longer support itself was draining its energy into the earth…the plants he had stepped on and crushed would die at some point.
It was a shame. He couldn’t stand hurting insects, much less the plants he drew energy off of. A dull pain hit him in the chest, as if the plants were capable of feeling physical pain and were crying out. He re-focused his power on the path of brown. His destructive pathway was clear. He would be able to find his way out–
He almost tripped over himself, pausing in mid-step as he had heard his name called. That was Alena he was hearing! Was she nearby? He turned, using his power to look for other forms of life. As he re-focused his powers, more colors started to pop into his vision. While plant life shone green, creatures shone in various hues of yellow, orange and red. Sometimes their health problems would make other, darker colors blot their auras up, but for the most part, living creatures were hot, bright colors. The green trees were dotted with tiny yellow dots that he took for birds. Nowhere around him was any hot color that suggested a living creature–
Well, hello there.
He saw a stretch of red in the distance. From where he was, it was hard to tell if it was in fact Alena. At this distance he couldn’t tell the height or weight of who he was looking at. If that was in fact Alena in the distance, he would be stupid to not meet up with her.
He took in a deep breath and again closed his eyes. The exhale that followed let his vision return to normal, as he stopped drawing from his elemental powers. The forest returned in all wild shapes and colors, the trees back to their normal form. He glanced back at where he had seen the brown path of dying energy and saw there was a crushed path that marked his trail. Why hadn’t he seen it before?
“Come over to me, Archie. I’m waiting…”
Something about her voice made him shiver. His green eyes closed for a moment. Was it possible for her voice to have so much power that he heard it in his mind instead of physically? Her voice was naught more than a whisper, yet he heard it clearly, as if she had whispered it into his ear.
“Wait up, Alena,” he called out to her.
Instead of following the pathway he had found, he turned away from it and began making a new one, towards where he had seen Alena’s red hot energy. Once more he tripped over roots and undergrowth. He cursed violently as he ran into a tree trunk. This was ridiculous. There was no way that he could gracefully make his way through the forest.
Taking in a deep breath once more, he drew back on his earth-based magic. When he opened his eyes, they were glowing bright green. He held out his hand towards the bushes and shrubs that tangled up the forest floor. The plant life glowed the same green as his eyes, before they began growing rapidly, moving to form a neat pathway in front of him. The plants cleared a small section of land for him, scooting aside like pets that had gotten into their masters’ way. With a clear path, Archie took off at a run, continuing to clear a pathway as he made his way to her.
He came to a stop only about a minute later, panting. It wasn’t that running was hard, but his magic was draining. He was out of shape, magically. Reading dozens of textbooks might have strengthened his mind but it did nothing for that magical skill of his.
As he straightened again, he realized he had come into a clearing. Trees circled overhead but he was on flat land dusted only by grass and some wildflowers. In the center of the clearing stood Alena. Her tanned skin accented that golden hair of hers beautifully. She was wearing a white dress that flowed with the wind. It was odd. She had been wearing a plain linen shirt and leather breeches the last time he had seen her – at her insistence that she didn’t want complicated clothing getting in her way. Why was she all dressed up now?
She only smiled at him, gesturing to him with a finger that he step in closer. Her smile made Archie’s heart speed up. It was nothing like the Alena he knew and witnessed on a near daily basis. She said she had the body of a woman but a mind closer to a man’s. She hunted with her fellow male friends, she sparred with them, drank ale with them, cursed and insulted like the best of them. The woman in front of him was distinctly feminine, from the dress she wore to the gentle smile that curved her lips upward. And…the look in her eyes. That was not the tomboyish friend he knew. That was the gaze of a lover, someone who wanted more than a casual punch on the shoulder and a hardy laugh.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. He followed her lead and stepped in closer. “How did you find me?”
Wordlessly, she pressed a finger to his lips and shook her head. Mischief lit up her gaze now, stretching her smile into something more amused and lively. The look was at least more familiar now, as he had seen it when she was up to playing pranks on the men she had adopted as brothers.
“Come to me, my dear Archie…”
His eyes widened as she spoke. She didn’t even speak, really. Her mouth had not moved, nor had any physical sound come from her lips, but again her voice was in his head. When did she call him my dear? It didn’t make sense. The way she was acting wasn’t adding up to the Alena he knew. Maybe this was one of the tricks she spoke about; something the forest had conjured up to confuse him–
When she reached out to put a hand on his arm, a mild electric shock went through him. It was one in the same when she touched him for real, to shake him out of his books or give him a nudge. It was the same kind of shock that went through him as he wished that her touch would linger longer, that she would hold onto him as more than a friend. There was no way that was a trick of the forest. That shock was all too familiar and all too real to be a trick.
However, Alena’s strange behavior still continued. With a look that was again too feminine for the competitive tomboy, she approached him, giving him a stare that meant that she wanted more than the friendship he had.
She leaned into him, pressing her lips to his. Another electric shock went through him, this one paralyzing him in place, rendering him unable to move or talk. He stood there, still as a tree trunk, as she drew back from him. She had…kissed him! She had kissed him!
“I’ve been waiting to do that for so long,” whispered her voice in his mind.
Her words unfroze him. Without realizing what he was doing, he pulled her back to him, his lips crashing into hers in a clumsy, graceless kiss. The shock registered on her face for a moment, before she kissed him back, her lips molding into his, guiding him on how she wanted to be kissed by him. The movement…oh the movement of their lips together was something beyond his comprehension. His body felt as though it would simply float away, had she not been holding onto him so tightly.
There was no way that this was a trick of the forest. Every caress of her lips was real. The warmth and the softness of her lips was real. There was no way that this could be an illusion. The kiss continued and he explored her lips and mouth with wanton abandon, of pent up years of waiting for this one moment. His thoughts raced ahead of him, plotting what to do next, deciding on what something like this could mean for the two of them…and what would happen after.
Confusion registered in his mind as he heard Alena calling his name…while he was kissing her?
He separated himself from her for the slightest moment, even as she protested against him, her lips pressing to his throat in a way that was much too practiced, much too enticing.
“Archie…what on earth are you doing?”
That was Alena’s voice, in its normal candor. This time, however, it was spoken aloud instead of inside his mind. What was going on?
He glanced down at her. The woman in his arms was very much the wanton sex kitten, not the confused voice he had just heard.
“Over here, genius.”
His head whipped around. “What the hell?”
Alena was at the edge of the clearing, still in her leather breeches and linen shirt. Her arms were outstretched, holding her sleekly carved wooden bow and the deadly poison-tipped arrow she preferred using. The bow and arrow pointed right at him…no, not him, but the one he held onto. She was giving him a disapproving look, as though he had been caught doing something he wasn’t supposed to be doing.
Wasn’t she in his arms? He glanced down to see the same woman in his arms. The one in his arms was still in that strange white dress, eying him as though he were the most attractive man she had ever seen. He looked back up at the edge of the clearing to see the same woman, dressed in leather breeches. Two of them?
“What’s going on!” he cried as he released his hold on the woman he had been kissing.
The Alena in the leather breeches looked as though she was ready to throttle him. Despite her apparent anger, her hands held the bow steady, ready to fire at her notice. “I told you not to wander into this forest, Archie. It plays tricks on you. The faeries who live here play tricks on you.”
Faeries. The mention of the Feynid Forest natives made him shiver. All at once, his mind went back to his studies about the Feynid faeries. Their magic was wild, natural magic, not like the controlled, studied magic he contained and could build up slowly. Their magic was instinct, more animal than not. They had the ability to peer into one’s mind, searching for people held dear to their victim. They then transformed into a copy of that dear one, albeit one who couldn’t speak physically–
His stomach turned as he thought back on the strange voice in his mind. He thought it had been Alena’s. The faeries were not capable of human speech, vocally, physically. What he had heard was faerie magic, warping his mind to believe that the woman he had kissed was his beloved Alena; when in fact the real Alena stood before him.
“She is the trickster!” spoke the strange voice in his mind. Although the voice sounded like Alena’s, he knew better than to believe it, now. He had heard Alena when she was angry. The copycat voice in his mind was just that, a hollow imitation of her and her anger. It captured none of her normal angry passion. Instead, that strange voice in his mind was wild, hot anger.
“Alena, I’m afraid I’ve done something horribly wrong,” Archie said, hurriedly. “I thought this was…was…”
He couldn’t bring himself to say that he thought she had been the one kissing him. He had never voiced his real desire for her. It would be most inappropriate to bring it up now, of all times.
“Get behind me,” the real Alena growled.
No need to tell him twice. The earth mage practically flung himself away from the faerie as he ran for his real friend. True to his graceful fashion, that included tripping over every possible thing in his path. He practically fell on top of Alena as he tripped.
She only nudged him back upright, her hands never wavering from the deadly pose she held with her weapon. As she re-calibrated her aim, she spoke louder, to the lone figure in front of them.
“Leave us, faerie, or face the deadly sting of poison!”
The creature who took on Alena’s form didn’t appreciate losing her prey. Archie recoiled in horror as the faerie dropped the facade it had been trying to play. Alena’s mirror image faded. In its place was a creature that could only have been four feet tall. A skinny humanoid figure with green skin and slitted, gold cat’s eyes howled at them, revealing a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. Tangled hair in varying shades of green and brown reflected the forest around them. The faerie looked as though she were a piece of the forest come to life, as if one of the trees had decided to take on a new form.
What scared Archie the most wasn’t the horrible fact that he had kissed such a grotesque creature; it was the raw, unfiltered anger that practically made the faerie glow. She howled at them again, her slitted cat’s eyes wild, her hands forming awful claws ready to rake an opponent to shreds.
While Archie considered hiding in the shrubbery, Alena stood tall. She hadn’t even flinched as the creature before her howled. She held the bow taut, arrow ready to fire at any second.
“Last chance, faerie. Walk away now, or die.”
The faerie loosed an unearthly, horrifying scream. The unholy noise echoed through the trees, silencing the birds. An eerie silence followed, before she screamed again and started to charge forward.
Alena let her arrow fly. The tip sank right into the faerie’s chest but the creature didn’t slow down. Quicker than Archie could track, Alena had pulled another arrow from the quiver at her back. He didn’t think she had even paused to aim her arrow – she just notched it and let it fly. A second arrow made a new home in the faerie’s chest.
“Look out!” Archie shoved Alena out of the way with all the strength he had in him. The faerie took him down to the ground instead of the woman he cared about. Above him, the tiny creature was nothing but raw anger and pure muscle. It took all of his strength to keep her at a reasonable distance from him. He shoved at her, pushing those razor teeth away from his throat.
An earth mage at heart, he wasn’t even aware that he was calling upon his magic. His magic ran on pure fight-or-flight instinct, choosing to fight the creature on top of him. The shrubbery and vines that only tangled around his boots wove themselves around the creature trying to kill him. Vines snapped around her wrists and waist, pulling her off of him. Her weight was hefted off of him as the vines snapped her back and kept her from lunging forward. She thrashed against her bonds, snapping several twigs and lesser vines, but she was unable to escape her earthly prison.
Archie stood up and could only stare at the faerie. The poison in the arrows was now taking effect. The thrashing slowed down and the creature let out pitiful noises as her life drained away. Despite the danger he had been in, he couldn’t help feeling sorry for it.
“Don’t waste your pity on that thing,” Alena snapped at him, as if able to read his mind. “She’s not the only one around. We have to get out of here now, before her sisters show up.”
With that, she took his hand into hers and pulled him into a run.
The escape from the Feynid Forest was a lot more chaotic than his journey in. He tripped over everything like usual, but Alena was as well. They fought the forest, following a pathway Alena had made. She had marked the trunks of trees with the dagger she also carried on her. A small letter A had been carved into the trees, marking her pathway. She pulled him through the brush, desperate to get out of the forest.
“How did you know I was here,” he gasped as he struggled to keep up with him.
“You disappeared on us. Plus, you dropped your notebook at the edge of the forest.”
His notebook. It was a pocket-sized binding of paper that he scribbled notes and random thoughts into. He hadn’t even noticed it was gone.
“Thank you…for saving me.”
He hoped he sounded more grateful than his panting, exhausted voice suggested. She paused only for a moment to look at him, then stood still.
“Who did the faerie transform into?” she asked, catching her breath.
He hesitated, unable to tell her that he thought the faerie had been her. How exactly was he supposed to express that to her without revealing his desire for her?
“It was me, wasn’t it?”
His head snapped up to look at her. The shock must have been obvious on his face, because a smile broke through her solemn face.
Instead of being angry with him, she only leaned in to give him a small kiss on the cheek. “Let’s get out of here. After we’re back with the others, I can show you the difference between what you had with that faerie and what’s real.”
The offer held careful suggestion in it. He almost wanted to pinch himself to make sure he was awake and this was real. Instead, he only grinned at her, nodding. He took her hand back into his and gave it a slight squeeze.
Her eyes glimmered with mischief as an unspoken agreement passed between them. Then they took off at a run, determined to make it out of the forest alive…and with each other.
Feynid is a short story piece I wrote in the spring of 2013. This encounter is similar to Marco’s encounter in Shadow Assassins. Why not check out Marco’s story?