Exploring worlds of my own creation

Category: Freewrite

Coming Home

When he returned to the tree, he called up to her. “I have food!” he shouted. “Toss down the rope!” As he left, he had thrown the rope back up over the branch. Now, he bounced on the balls of his feet while he waited for her to send it falling to him. It did not come. Craning his neck, he cursed – she had fallen asleep.

He tucked the leaves into the pockets of her coat and laid the berries carefully at the base of the tree. Then, he ran at the tree and jumped. He did not make it high enough for the branch, but he was able to push off and grab it, barely, with the ends of his fingers. Letting himself drop, he touched a crystal in his wrist guards and did it again. This time, the added strength allowed him to hoist himself up.

Straddling the tree, he eased his way toward her. “Sira?” he asked, reaching out. He shook her gently, getting no response. He shook harder, spoke louder, but still she did not rouse.

This was not good. Her skin was still patchy and hot to the touch, sickness burning in her. He felt for her pulse and found it racing. He was no doctor, nor was he a healer, but he knew she needed some kind of attention. He thought of Darrowmere, but realized the mercenaries would still be stalking the woods. If he ran into them with an unconscious woman in tow, there would be no escape, and who knew what they would do to her.

Signaling for help was equally inadvisable.

There were the feywild paths…

He shook his head to clear the thought from his mind. That was crazy. They wanted nothing to do with humanity, only desiring to be alone. But…

Sira moaned in her sleep. What other choice did he have?

He looked at his dwindling supply of crystals. There was nothing else for falling, and strength would do little to help, though he activated it anyway. He untied the knot, gathering the rope up impatiently and throwing it over his shoulder, then pinched another crystal from its setting and crushed it between his fingers. He sprinkled this over his feet. Gathering Sira into his arms, he jumped.

The landing shook him, but not as badly as it ought to have. Magic to enhance jumping enhanced landings as well. Knocking his boots together, he shook off the remaining dust and started walking back the way they had come.

The bluebells grew not far from their resting place. He eyed the path, gripping Sira closer to him, and took his first, hesitant step onto the feywild. The path was like all the rest, at first. Tiny blue flowers grew along its edge, but there was nothing else special about it. He trudged along slowly, in part because he was carrying the dead weight (bad phrase, Ice…) of a woman and in part because he did not want to do this. Every part of him did not want to do this. He had fled this place – one like it – a decade ago…

Flowers started appearing with greater frequency. The underbrush became greener, the dirt underfoot becoming a squishy moss that gave, gently, with each of his footsteps. A breeze drifted past him, and he felt a compulsion to freeze in place that he pushed through with determination.

“I call for sanctuary and aid!” he said as he walked, raising his voice without shouting. Sira shifted in his arms. “I seek the hospitality of the fae for myself and my companion.”

A twitter of laughter sounded all around him. “Why,” came a voice that seemed to echo from all directions, “would we help you? You, who smell of smoke and iron and civilization. We do not offer our hospitality to humans.”

He swallowed his first response. The fae offered hospitality when it suited them, but arguing with them would not help his case right now. Ignoring the voice, he strode forward, pulling Sira closer toward him. In the distance, he saw what he knew were the thatched rooves of cottages, though they blended into the woods and would be difficult to spot if he hadn’t known what to look for.

A gust this time, and a man stood before him. James scanned him briefly as he stopped; he looked human, with dark brown hair and pale skin, vivid green eyes the color of the leaves, a head taller than James was. With a moment of study, he found the man’s tell: ears that tapered to a subtle point. Elfin fae, then. He sighed as the man leveled a rapier at his face.

“Our hospitality is not yours,” the elf intoned, looking at him with narrowed eyes. “Humanity is no friend of ours, not any longer.”

“I imagine you remember those days, friend,” James said softly. The elf snorted. “My hands are full, but if you will lift the goggles from my head, I believe you would find something interesting.” The elf tilted his head to one side, studying him with narrowed eyes. In her sleep, Sira moaned, a low and painfilled sound. “Please. My friend is ill.”

With a flick of his wrist, the elf snagged his goggles with his rapier and pulled them from James’ head. That James did not feel the parting of the magic was telling; still, his magic was shut off from him. Damned mercenaries and their damned poisons. When he made it home, he would have to speak with the Tripower about their contracted crews.

The elf’s eyebrows rose, and he sheathed his rapier. He bent and retrieved the goggles from the ground, studying them for a moment. “You are fae,” he announced. “My apologies for the affront.”

“Half-fae,” James corrected him, “but don’t worry about it. Please. My friend.”

“Is she also fae?” he asked.

“Not that I am aware of, but she is under my protection.” It was not quite true, but they were more likely to help Sira if they felt there was some obligation to do so.

“Come.” The elf spun on heel and walked deeper into the woods. James followed, glancing over his shoulder to look for other watchers. He was certain there were more, but none of them were willing to reveal themselves just yet.

Stepping between a pair of trees, he watched the air shimmer briefly as he stepped through the glamour. Where he once saw just a few thatched rooves, now a bustling town came into being. Cottages, some stacked two high, were scattered around a thinning of the trees. Glancing up, treehouses sat in the air built around thick trunks, rope bridges criss-crossing between many of them. Everywhere, there was color – flowers of all colors and all seasons growing together, dyed tapestries, and many colorful people. The crowd of fae was thick in the evening; a fire was lit in the middle of a wide circle, and many sat singing and laughing around it. Others were on their feet, dancing in singles and pairs. Some were sitting overhead, feet dangling down and waving freely in the air.

James hated that a part of him felt like he was coming home.

Introvert

Frozen.

The day before, I had so much optimism. Hope. I was going to go, find a tribe, and meet new people. Make new friends. I could close my eyes and envision that, by lunch, I would have found a few people that I could eat and talk and connect with.

Then I arrived.

The room was full of people. New people. Unknown people. A sea of faces that all meshed together into an image that made my heart pound. Every face was friendly and terrifying. I could imagine myself going over, saying hello and asking to sit, but I could not make my feet move.

Tears burned behind my eyes at the thought.

I was frozen.

I was burning.

I could never.

My breathing sped up, shallow and quick. In, out, in, out, inoutinoutinout. How do people do this? How do they meet new people? All of my friends came from places and groups – built in friends. I feel like some extrovert always adopted me, and I can’t rely on that.

Move. Just say hi. What’s the worst that could happen? I told myself over and over that I just had to take the step.

I was frozen.

The day slid by, and I slid out at the end. Alone. Unknown.

My heart a tattered shambles.

A Debt is Owed

He’s coming.

The thought ripped through her, making it hard to breathe. Turning the knob, she eased the door shut, careful not to wake the children who slept peacefully on the other side. Once it was closed, she spun on heel and raced to the stairs. She leapt down them two at a time, grabbing the railing to spin herself down the last few steps and into the hallway beyond.

She flew through the kitchen, the last of the coals still glowing in the stove, and burst into the back yard.

A shadow shifted in front of her.

“You’re late.” His voice dripped with annoyance as the shadows manifested into a tall figure in a black cloak. She could only see his mouth and jaw beneath the hood, pale as moonlight.

She shrugged. “Nightmare,” she said in way of explanation, nodding up toward the twins’ bedroom. His thin lips curled into a smile.

“Of course,” he crooned. “Ever the devoted mother. Have you decided?” He stepped even closer to her, standing so close she could feel his breath ruffle the hair on her head. She took a quick step backward, putting her hands on her hips.

“I refuse.” She spat the words, thrusting her jaw forward and hoping her fear didn’t slip out. Red flashed under the hood of his cloak, his eyes glinting.

“You understand, of course, what this means,” he growled. “A debt is owed.”

“And it will be paid,” she assured him, “but not by my family. Find another way.”

His hand lifted from his side slightly, and she felt invisible fingers brush her hair behind her ear. The shadows swirled around her, blocking out the light until she could see nothing but shades of black and grey.

“Oh,” he whispered into her ear, “I have a way. Two ways, in fact.”

Her heart froze. On instinct, she reached up to grab at his throat, but the darkness scattered around her, leaving only her moonlit yard. He was gone.

“Oh gods,” she whispered, looking up at the bedroom window where her two children lay fast asleep. “What have I done?”

Pathway

A break in the wooden fence opened to a single pathway that led from the main thoroughfare. Grey, uniform stone covered in mottled shadow that shifted with the gentle breeze. On either side, trees had been planted so that their canopies arced overhead, just out of reach. Branches tangled together, various shades of green and brown that wove together intricately. It was impossible to tell where one tree ended and another began.

Stepping into the shadow was like stepping into a different world. The light dimmed, softly playing on the brush that covered the ground on either side of the path. Bushes and grasses grew wild, sharp points and broad leaves mixing together to block any view of the dirt below. They were full of life, thriving in the shade and saved from the harsh summer heat by the canopy of branches above.

She could stay here forever, if not for the rushing water of the fountains up ahead.

Eleven

He laughs with his whole body.

Sitting on the couch, he pulls his lanky legs up to his chin and stares at me with bright blue eyes. His knees are knobby, his arms gangly, the first glimpse of puberty found in his awkwardly long limbs. A scattering of freckles dusts the lean cheeks that once were full of baby fat and dimples. This is eleven, and it is a door through which I can glimpse just a hint of the man he will become.

“Moooooom!” The word is full of dismay and joy in equal parts, torn between embarrassment at my antics and the joy that bubbles up from within. He locks his attention on me and waits with barely contained patience. I make him wait just a little longer, and his keen eyes flash.

“Bed for time,” I tell him in a serious tone. His body shakes again as the laughter comes. His face cracks open in a grin, his arms flail just a little, and he jumps from the couch to place his hands on his slender hips. His body is thin and long, his height suddenly towering.

“You said it wrong!”

I did, son. I did. And the gift of your laughter, your joy, will have me saying it wrong again and again – even if you should have been in bed long ago.

These moments are everything.

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