Free Fiction Friday: The Locket
Happy Friday! I love this day, don't you? It's the end of the work week, the beginning of the weekend, and full of promise!
Today we're dipping into a bit of fantasy for you Free Fiction Friday enjoyment. The idea for this story came to me as I was making swag for WonderCon. I always love it when inspiration strikes!
I hope you enjoy The Locket ~
The forest remained silent.
For three days she’d heard nothing. No twittering, nor crunching of leaves, no breaking of branches, nor howling of wolves. All around her was a still hush that left her vulnerable and exposed, in spite of being surrounded by thick tree trunks and sprawling vegetation.
A soft breeze, or possibly her own breath, lifted the hair at her neck, bringing a chill to her sensitive skin. Each and every nerve ending danced with possibility. If she could find the source of air, she could find a way out. And then she could get back home.
Aerlyn moved slowly, her soft boots making no sound with each step she set upon the ground. Her mind spun, retracing her steps to how she’d ended up here. The last she could recall, she’d been at the Horse and Crown. Tug was there, as were his merry men, and Sal, too. She’d played darts with some trolls—who soundly walloped her even though she was considered the best dart player in the area. Who knew trolls had that kind of control and dexterity? Not her, that’s for damn sure.
She gripped her sword and stretched her fingers, allowing for some flexibility in her grasp. For three days she’d seen neither man nor beast. Just the endless expanse of forest. And not any forest she recognized, either. This one smelled of loam and fauna, but with a distinct odor she couldn’t quite name. Off-putting, it was. Acrid, or astringent. Yes, astringent, like a cleaning solvent, which made no sense at all.
Aerlyn stepped around a circle of tall mushrooms, careful not to disturb the faerie sleeping within. Wait. A faerie?
Three days of nothing, then suddenly this? What. The. Actual. Fuck.
She bent low and examined the tiny thing. From the clothing, she guessed the faerie to be female, but it didn’t move when prodded. Skin coloring was light, as if life still flowed through her veins, yet she stayed curled in a tight ball. Faeries were known to sleep for months, but Aerlyn had never witnessed a faerie this deep in sleep. Without antagonizing the poor thing further, she moved on, noting the surroundings. Once she found a way out, she’d come back for the wee thing.
Had there been faeries at the pub? She scrubbed a hand over her face, trying to recall. Yes, two. Or three, she couldn’t be certain. Again, she retraced her steps of that night, from the dart playing to singing a rousing edition of ‘Give Yer Goats to Mam for Milking,’ always a crowd pleaser, and then what? After that, everything became fuzzy.
Her stomach gave a vicious pinch, reminding her she’d not eaten since the pub. With no wildlife to hunt, and potentially poisonous berries, she’d had to forgo meals. Another loud rumble.
She’d have to do something soon or starve.
Trees rose up all around her, their leafy canopy making it impossible to tell if it was day or night. The light varied with inconsistencies that made her nervous. This was no sun and moon cycle she understood. Without stars to guide her, or a regular sunup or sundown, she couldn’t even be sure if it was three days she’d been here. She was basing the time on when she slept and woke, but really, it could’ve been a day or a year.
Panic welled in the empty pit of her gut and she struggled to smooth it into submission. Now was not the time for losing her mind. She would find a way out of the forest. She would find a way back home. She would survive.
She had to.
A thick trunk lay across her path and she shimmied over it, doing her best not to use too much energy in the process. She didn’t recognize the fallen tree, which meant surely she was not walking in circles, a fear she’d been denying since she woke up in this strange place.
Relief poured through her. At least she wasn’t lost. But she was. So very lost in a forest she didn’t recognize without any sense of time or direction. It was enough to drive a girl mad. Stop.
Thinking like this won’t help. She couldn't lose hope. She clung to the word like a life preserver on the open sea. There was always hope.
Even so, she couldn’t keep traipsing along, wishing for a path to lead her out of the forest. As much as she hated drawing attention to herself, she needed to know if, besides the sleeping faerie, she was alone.
“Hello?” She called out, her voice scratchy and foreign sounding to her ears. She stood atop the fallen trunk and peered upwards into a thick patch of leaves. “Anyone here?”
Her words disappeared into the woods, as lost and desolate as she. “I could stay here and make a home in this log. Or perhaps eat some of those mushrooms and sleep like the dead. Like that faerie.” A shudder ran through her.
No, she wouldn’t give in to the despair that threatened to overtake her senses. There had to be a way out of the forest.
The word curdled in her empty stomach, pinching against her pride. She’d never been lost in her life, ever. In fact, she was known not only for her dart skills, but as an accomplished tracker. A nagging sense of the hunter now being hunted taunted her every thought, slid over her despair and hope, her hunger and confidence.
If someone or something was watching, biding their time until she made a mistake, she’d just have to keep alert. Stay sharp to stay alive.
On the trunk of a nearby tree she spotted what looked like a patch of moss. On closer inspection it was lichen, but no variety she’d ever seen. She pinched off a small bite and tasted it. Not bad. A bit wooden, like dried parchment, but it didn’t immediately make her vomit. Relief crowded out the myriad of emotions pulling at her. Food. Nourishment. It was a start.
She tucked a handful of lichen into her pocket. If only she could find some water, but thus far, there had been no sign of anything resembling a stream or pond. Only dried waterbeds made of strange rock. Nothing about this forest made sense. Not the moss, the trees, the lack of water, and especially not the continued silence.
The heavy air choked her as she jumped from the fallen log and landed on a pile of leaves. Small pebbles bit into her boots and she kicked the leaves aside to investigate. Granular, like sand, but bigger, they covered this part of the forest, but not where she’d just come from. Curious, she followed a path of sorts until the stones ended abruptly.
Weird, but then, what about this forest wasn’t? Moss grew all along the sides of the trail, up trunks of trees like everywhere else she’d explored, but the stones ended just there. She walked a circle around the area, not finding any clues why there would be pebbles here and not anywhere else. She cut her way through a bramble of bushes and searched beneath fallen leaves, but couldn’t find more stones. Giving up, she returned to the path she’d been walking and started forward when she was hit by an invisible wall. A soft thunk sounded when her head bounced off the nothingness.
Aerlyn’s heart rammed in her chest, panic now a fully blossomed rose complete with thorny vines that crept from her gut all along her spine.
What was happening here? Why couldn’t she pass?
Then she saw it—there, on the other side of the barrier, were people. Not just any people, but giants. They trundled to and fro, some with packs slung over their backs, others in festive clothing like they were attending a party. Where was this place? Where were they all going?
“Hello!” Aerlyn screamed, but no one heard her. She pounded her fists upon the barrier, but nothing happened. They couldn’t see or hear her.
She sat with a huff and stared at the other side of the wall. Over there, no trees grew. At least, none she could see. Her view was limited to huge torsos coming at her or ginormous backsides hulking away. She leaned her head against the barrier, tears stinging the backs of her eyes. Crying would solve nothing, but she was tired, and hungry, and missed her friends. Her sword slipped from her grip and hit the invisible wall with a curious clink.
Aerlyn stood so fast she nearly tripped over her own two feet. Gripping the hilt of her sword with every ounce of her failing strength, she tapped it against the wall. Another clink. Again, but harder produced a satisfying glunk. A wild idea wiggled into her thoughts and she took a step back, then raised her sword above her head. With a mighty swing, she brought it down to the wall. Her arms quivered when the blade hit the barrier, her body shook with the effort, but it was well worth it.
A tiny crack formed.
She peered at the thing, then pressed her thumb against it. More cracks splintered from the first. Relief, raw and pure spread through her. This wall was made of glass.
The hows and whys continued to dog her, questions of what next and what the fucks, kept a continuous stream, but she ignored them. Instead, she focused on that one little crack and gripped her sword hilt hard, aiming the pommel as if it were the last dart in a championship round. Once, twice, three times she pounded the wall with her sword. Each time, the crack grew larger.
She kicked at the wall, hoping to shatter the thing, but those efforts were useless. The crack was too high and her strength too low.
Just then, a face filled her view. She fell backward, surprised by the sudden image of her friend Tug’s ugly mug. When did he get so big? Aerlyn pound against the wall, yelling his name. His brows drew to a deep V on his forehead, his eyes lit with surprise. Her fist came down on the crack and a deafening roar filled her ears.
Smells overpowered her, light blinded her, and sound, so many sounds flooded her mind.
“Aerlyn?” Tug’s voice drew her attention and she gazed up to see her friend staring at her as if she were stark naked and dancing a jig on the bar at the Horse and Crown. She patted herself just to make sure she was, indeed, still clothed.
“Where are we?”
Before he could answer, she caught a movement from the corner of her eye and turned to see a woman slinking away. Without thinking, Aerlyn held her sword to stop her. The woman’s deep brown eyes regarded her with undisguised mistrust. Aerlyn’s gaze swept the tent and there, row upon row, on shelves from the ground to the ceiling, were glass vials. Each made into a pendant, each containing a tiny forest inside.
On the table in front of her was a round little vial, its side cracked and broken.
Her stomach roiled and bile rose in her throat.
“Release them.” She said to the woman. “Every single one. Do it now, or so help me I’ll cut your throat.”
Fear skittered across the woman’s features. Behind her, Aerlyn heard the scrape of Tug’s sword as he drew it from its scabbard. Good ole Tug. He had no idea what Aerlyn’s beef was with this woman, yet he’d offered his help no questions asked. She just might have to marry the man.
But first, if her instincts were correct, she had to rescue the others from their prisons.
The woman sneered at Aerlyn, twisting her face from something sort of pretty into a gnarled, ugly mass. In fact, she resembled an ancient tree that might’ve been burned once upon a time.
“Release them yourself, fool.”
“Tug, bind her hands.” Her friend did as asked, even going so far as to secure her wrists and ankles to the tent post.
“What are these?” Aerlyn inspected the closest vials.
“She calls them lockets.” A darkly sultry voice said behind Aerlyn. She hadn't heard anyone approach. Either she was losing her touch, or he’d meant to surprise them.
“Lockets.” Aerlyn lifted one of the silver chains. “People wear these?”
“I’m afraid so. Rowena,” he indicated the bound woman, “drugs her victims, such as yourself, and traps them in these bottles.” He gingerly picked up the broken vial Aerlyn had been in.
“Some never wake from the deep sleep. Those that do—some are never the same again.”
Aerlyn remembered the faerie she saw sleeping in the mushroom circle. “Can we save them?”
“We can and we shall. But it must be done with care.”
“Who are you?” He didn’t dress like a local, and his accent wasn’t one she recognized.
“Therron. I’ve been tracking Rowena for five years. It was dumb luck I happened to be here when you broke free. I’d been told she was in another village a hundred leagues to the west.”
“Five years.” Aerlyn took in all the vials, tried to calculate how many lockets Rowena might have sold in that time. If she hadn’t broken free, her fate might’ve been the same as the faerie. “We have to find them. All of them.”
Rowena’s guttural laugh cut Aerlyn to the quick. “You’ll never find them all. It took you this long to catch me,” her laughter cut off the rest of her words.
“Shut up.” Aerlyn commanded, but the witch ignored her, spewing taunts and what might’ve been spells at the trio. Aerlyn grabbed a bit of cloth and shoved it into the woman’s mouth.
Her glare turned to surprise, then horror before finally her eyes drooped and her body hung limp from the tent post.
“Did I kill her?”
Therron inspected the cloth, even going so far as to rub it between his fingers and taste them. “I think you drugged her. I can’t be certain what she used, but I have a friend who will know. For now, keep that gag in her mouth until we decide what to do with her.”
But Aerlyn already had a plan.
A pouch of silver glitter and an empty vial sat on a table. Supplies for making an artificial forest were strewn across the rough wood planks. Aerlyn took the pouch and emptied a good amount over Rowena’s head. With a poof and pop, the witch disappeared.
Only, she hadn’t.
“What have ye done, Aerlyn?” Tug’s bewilderment clear in his tone and expression.
“She’s done to Rowena what the witch did to her.” Therron bent low, searching the ground until he found the woman at the base of the tent post. No bigger than an ant, she lay curled like the faerie Aerlyn saw in the mushroom ring.
“Put her in here,” Aerlyn handed the vial to Therron. At his questioning glance, she insisted,
“Think of how many innocent folk she imprisoned. It’s only fair.”
Therron placed Rowena in the tiny bottle and secured the cork stopper.
“What now?” Tug asked.
“Now, we see about setting things right.”
They gathered all the precious lockets and took them to Aerlyn’s cottage where they had more space and privacy. One by one they uncorked the bottles, allowing fresh air to fill the tiny space. Then, ever so carefully, they cracked open the glass. Each time a man or woman or troll or faerie appeared, at their full height, blinking against the sudden sound and light, Aerlyn’s heart swelled a fraction larger.
Finally, after hours of meticulous work, all but one locket was emptied of its prisoner. The last was the one Aerlyn herself had been kept in. The faerie had yet to waken, despite there being an opening in the glass, and fresh air flowing through the fake forest.
Therron took the vial from Aerlyn’s grasp and held it cupped in his palms. His whispered words tickled the hairs on the back of her neck, and made her stomach feel funny like that time she’d drunk too much and walked a tightrope across the trees. Yup, exactly like that. It wasn’t a pleasant feeling, to be sure.
After an eternity of waiting, which was really only about half a minute, Therron blew on the glass. A tiny maelstrom started within the vial, elongating out the unstoppered top, then grew to the size of a child and settled on the floor of her cottage. The three of them stared at the little faerie, her huge blue eyes blinking against the light, her iridescent wings unfurling at a lazy pace. She stretched and yawned, her pink lips making an ‘O’. Her gaze took in their faces, a look of confusion settling on her sweet features.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Aerlyn, this is Tug, and he is Therron.”
“Where am I?”
“You’re in Aerlyn’s home,” Tug said with a hint of dreamy lovesickness in his voice. Aerlyn rolled her eyes. Poor Tug, he was forever falling in love.
“What am I doing here?” She tapped a finger to her lips, a question in her eyes. “I don’t have any memory of this place.”
“Of course you don’t,” Therron explained, “you’ve been locked inside a locket for quite some time.”
“A locket?” Her gaze drifted to the broken glass in Therron’s hands. “I was lost, and cold, and hungry.” Tears slid down her pale cheeks. “And terribly frightened.”
“You’re safe now,” Aerlyn assured her. “We’ll help you find your folk.”
They were all safe now. At least from Rowena’s treachery. Aerlyn took the glass from Therron and placed it inside a small wooden box, beside the vial that held the sleeping witch. She never wanted to forget what it was like to be trapped, used for someone else’s folly. Still, she couldn’t help but wonder how many other lockets there were with people just like her trapped inside of them.
She vowed to find them all and free the prisoners. If it took her a lifetime, she would find every last one of Rowena’s lockets.
Did you guess what king of swag I was making? Yes! tiny little glass bottles full of moss and crystals, or dragons, or glitter. I kept wondering what it would be like to be trapped in one (because my mind thinks like that, apparently), and the story took shape.
I hope Aerlyn and Therron visit again with more tales of their adventures, don't you?
Stop in again next week for more Free Fiction! I have a semi-horrorish tale for you…
Until then, be dazzling!