Jen Air: Prologue (v2)
A while ago I posted the first draft of a prologue for an orginal fic I’m writing. Having gotten further along with it and developed the plot and characters more, I’ve written a new one. It’s quite long for a prologue maybe, but it sets up everything for the main story (I didn’t want to rely on a flashback later on). The first half has been touched up, but there’s a second half to it now as well.
I am EL James’ing it a little, as in taking stuff I had originally written as fanfiction and adapting it for my own nefarious ends. But, what the hell – they’re my ideas. Plus, I really like ‘Ten‘ as a nickname.
So anyway, this:
The Little Queen
Long ago, when days were long and the world was young, there were two girls. Their names were Kaya and Jennifer and they danced, round and round in the fairy circle, Kaya holding a guitar in one hand as she swung her friend around with the other, until twilight engulfed them. Their hands then slipped from each other’s grasp and they fell, for a while staring up breathlessly and blinking at the sky as the stars twinkled back.
Fair haired Jennifer sighed, “you’re looking at the past…”
Kaya’s young face wrinkled, until eventually she asked, “huh?”
“I read that the stars are so far away that even the light from them can take thousands or more years to reach us. So when we see them, we’re seeing them as they were a long time ago.”
“Oh,” Kaya nodded, not really understanding, at least not for another minute. “So… you could, like, see dinosaurs?”
“I suppose,” Jen didn’t seem entirely sure. “Maybe if you could get far away fast enough and had a really big telescope…”
“Cool!” The little brunette beamed, kicking her legs to some beat only she could hear. “Dinosaurs are cool. What are those ones with the trumpets on their heads called?”
“Right. Wonder if that’s where cavemen got the idea for Glenn Miller from?”
“I…” Jen’s mouth opened and closed several times, just not sure where to begin correcting everything wrong with that hypothesis. “I doubt it.”
Another sigh, and then raised her arm to look at her wristwatch. “We should get home,” she said. They both of course already they were hours past the time they had been told to return. “Dad’ll probably have people out looking for us.”
Kaya groaned then whined, “do we have to?”
The blonde rolled over, standing to hold a hand out for her friend. “I think we do.”
Reluctantly the brown haired girl allowed herself to be pulled up, put her guitar in its case which she then slung over her back. Both girls pushed their bicycles out of the circle onto the dirt path, mounting as they approached the road and then clattering down the hill, cool night air brushing over them. Kaya was out in front when suddenly she turned and skidded sideways. Jen pushed her breaks, just narrowly avoiding a crash.
“Why have you stopped?” The blonde asked, rather flustered and confused.
Kaya gave a slight nod, her eyes fixated on a spot a short way from the road. It was a cottage that many may have come along this road and never known was there. With its blackened walls overgrown by thick green moss and a screen of old gnarled trees, even in daylight it would have been hard to see, unless you were actually looking for it. “It’s the witch’s house,” Kaya whispered.
Jen shook her head. “I don’t think it is.”
“What you talking about?”
“I don’t think she’s a witch. She’s just a strange woman. At least, that’s what dad says.”
“You shouldn’t believe everything your dad says,” Kaya insisted. “Sarah said she heard screams from there, and she saw the woman turn into a cat!”
“Right,” the blonde rolled her eyes, “we shouldn’t believe my dad, but we should believe a girl who eats playdough…”
“Look, you dragged me out to that field to look for crop circles,” Kaya reminded her friend. “Just thought maybe you’d be curious about this as well…”
“This is different, Kay. This is someone’s house! And it’s late. We should get home.”
Kaya hadn’t been too keen on that idea before, and now she just shrugged, “I’m in no hurry.”
The brown haired girl abandoned her bike and started creeping around the rotten fence that surrounded the cottage fence, and seeming resigned to her fate the blonde followed. On the other side of the fence was a small incline which Kaya slid down kicking up leaves and dirt, but suddenly she let out a pained yelp, then gasped and covered her mouth. Jen slid beside her and the two sat silently close to each other, eyes raptly held in the direction of the cottage. After a moment it seemed nothing inside had been alerted to their presence, and so they could breathe again.
The blonde asked, “are you okay?”
“Yeah,” Kaya answered, wincing as she pulled something from her palm. “It’s just a stone.”
Jen took the object, scrutinizing it closely. It did seem to be a thin, sharp and flat slither of stone. “I think it’s an elf-arrow.”
“What does it sound like? Arrows used by elves. Anyway,” the blonde smiled and passed it back, “you should hold onto it. I read that people used to wear them to protect themselves from witches.”
“Really? Cool!” Kaya grinned and pocketed it, pleased by her good fortune. Although Jen then reminded her that she would need to get a plaster for the bleeding palm. Luckily again the blonde was prepared and had some in her backpack.
Shortly thereafter the pair crept onwards under hanging, skeletal branches and dead shrubbery, up to the side of the cottage. There was a small window, and each girl silently dared the other to peer inside, until they finally agreed to go together. Crossing the broken path they gazed into the aperture that was covered in dust and all kinds of other muck, but they could see well enough the dimly lit room beyond. It seemed Sarah might have been telling the truth, at least in part. The screams she heard may have come from that crib.
Sure enough, as if sensing them, the baby started to cry out. They should perhaps have slipped away then, but they remained. Something struck the girl’s as odd about the scene, although they couldn’t quite articulate what even in their heads. Perhaps it was fact that although the room had some furniture, like a table and a set of drawers, it was lacking most of the usual baby paraphernalia they were used to, like cuddly toys or pink wallpaper.
After a moment, the door on the other side of the room was flung and there was the witch, pinching the bridge of her nose to try and stay awake. She wasn’t nearly as old as children typically imagined witches to be, but she did look tired, messy, and not overly pleased to have been summoned.
“What is it now?” The woman whined and muttered, “you just never shut up do you…” She grumpily approached the crib and sniffed and looked all around to try and ascertain the problem.
After the baby rejected the pacifier, the woman seemed about to give up, but then an idea struck her. She picked up a wooden box from an end table and placed it inside the crib. After unhooking the lid, the baby’s howling subsided as she became entranced by a small light blue fairy dancing and twirling round to the gentle chimes. Seeming satisfied, the woman turned away.
Kaya and Jennifer took that as their cue to leave as well, but as Kaya turned her hand brushed against a small pot that had been rested on the window sill. The girl made an effort to catch it but her hand missed and all they could do was watch as it struck the ground and shattered, spreading shards and dirt and bugs scattering in all directions. This time, they weren’t so fortunate.
The woman turned and peered outside, her face suddenly contorting to resemble that of an angry dog. “What the hell?!” She growled, storming for the door.
“W-we’d better go,” Jen suggested, and her friend was inclined to agree.
They didn’t bother with stealth as they left. They just sprinted up the drive, barely making it to the end when the woman burst out her front door swinging a broom and hurling all kinds of expletives that girl’s knew that most grown-ups would rather not know that they knew. They made it to their bikes, Jen just managing to dodge being knocked off hers by a massive swing, and sped away. They thought the woman might have given up at that point, but she kept chasing and wailing after them.
Both girls pushed harder on their pedals, not daring to look back. Kaya caught the headlights just in time, calling out to her friend as she sharply turned off the road, crashing through some bushes into a field then hitting the breaks. Jennifer followed her friend’s actions, but something must come loose during the flight as her breaks didn’t slow her down. Her feet slipped and slided along the grass in an effort to stop herself, but she couldn’t do so in time to prevent her front wheel hitting a rock.
She was flung forward, seeing the ground rush up toward her. Then it opened up and swallowed her. She found herself sliding down a dark tunnel, which might have been fun had it not taken her completely by surprise. Soon she was spat out, and then everything was black.
The blonde lay stunned and still for a moment, until a seemingly distant voice reached her ears. “Jen?” It called out. “Are you okay?” Jen stirred, shaking her head but not answering. “Jen Air!”
Her full name was Jennifer Willow Airhart. She never used her middle name, and friends – well, Kaya anyway – often called her Jen Air. It was good that she remembered that. Hopefully nothing else had been dislodged. She crawled to her elbows and fumbled around for her backpack.
“I’m okay,” she called up, finding the pack and then searching for the torch she always carried.
“What happened?” Kaya asked from up above.
“What does it look like? I fell down a hole.”
Jen managed to get the torch lit when she heard some rustling and noticed several clumps of dirt fall down from the tunnel she’d gone into. Desperately, she tried to cry out, “no, wait!” But it was too late. Kaya fell feet first out of the hole.
“Whee!” She cheered, bouncing beside her friend. “That was fun!”
Jen blinked her blue eyes in astonishment. “What are you doing?”
“What do you mean? I’m here to help you get out of here… wherever here is.”
The blonde glared, pointing back up the tunnel, “suppose that’s the only way out?”
“Well, I…” the brown haired girl paused a moment, until her brain had caught up with her. The tunnel seemed just a bit too steep and too loose for them to climb. “Ah…”
“Idiot!” Jen declared, slapped the aforementioned idiot several times before being pushed back.
“Alright, alright! Look, we’ll figure something out. We always do,” Kaya confidently assured while brushing herself off. “Besides, you wouldn’t want to have been left alone down here, would you?”
“I… guess not,” the blonde sighed. She looked around with her torch. Obviously they were in cave. Deep, dark, and rather cold… they would have to go deeper to find another way out. She would be glad to have company. “Suppose we’ll just have to look around.”
So they explored. Some of the tunnels became quite narrow, but as the children were small it didn’t hinder them too much. It was not long before they came upon a wider cavern and there Jen found that, although they were no closer to finding an exit, she no longer needed the flashlight.
An eerie blue and purple glow engulfed them and its source was these large stools that covered most of the ground and the walls around them.
Wide eyed Kaya gasped, “what are they?”
Jen shook her head. “I… some kind of mushrooms.” Some of them were as wide as the children were tall and all had a strange effervescent glow.
“You ever read about mushrooms like this?”
“No…” There were other structures as well. Hanging from the ceiling were tendrils and vines with bright bulbs attached to them and between it all what looked like fireflies fluttered to and fro. “Maybe we’re in another world…”
“Well, I don’t think so really, but… this is definitely strange.”
Kaya cocked her head, staring down one of the other tunnels leading out of here. “You hear something?”
“No…” but then Jen did. A sudden roar and jet of flame shot out, leaping from stool to stool melting and turning them into blackened husks. The children’s minds were rife with speculation on what kind of monster could be making the fire, but were clear that they should get out before whatever it was saw them.
There were a few tunnels behind them. They avoided the one they had came down as they were still in search of another exit. But they hit a wall. Well, actually, a man. At least they hoped it was a man. He was glad in silver with a reflective mask over his face. The girl’s fell and crawled backwards as it turned toward them.
The silver man made a fist and held up his arm, calling out, “hold! We’ve got kids here!”
The children were guided out, back up into the real world where they were greeted by several white vans and trucks with more silver men hopping out of them carrying flamethrowers. Before they could take it all in and attempt to make sense out of any of it, they were hurried into a tent where a doctor and nurse looked over them. They seemed quite concerned about the cut on Kaya’s hand. One of them stuck a needle in her arm, then walked out leaving the two girls sat side by side on a foldable table.
“Ouch,” Kaya groaned, rubbing the place where she had been stabbed. “Did they inject me with something?”
Jen was still a bit dazed by all this, and seeing that the syringe had been empty when they’d stuck it in didn’t really improve things. “They… took something out.”
“And I didn’t even get a lolly?” She glared at the flappy door. “Arseholes…”
There was little either of them could do about the situation. Jen had been told her father had been called, so she had resolved to wait. Unfortunately he arrived before she had figured out how she was going to explain everything.
“Jennifer!” He exclaimed, rushing to and putting his arms around her. Jen’s father was a middle-aged man with glasses and curly brown hair. “I was worried sick about you.”
“I-I’m okay,” she assured him. Next to her Kaya regarded them both jealously for a second before looking away.
Her dad stepped back, but kept his hands on Jen’s shoulders as he spoke. “You were supposed to have been home hours ago. Where were you?”
Jen stammered, struggling to find an answer. It was Kaya who piped up first. “We were chased by a witch!”
Jen’s father raised an eyebrow. “A witch?”
“W-well,” the little blonde girl stuttered nervously, “she… she had a broom…”
“And a wand!” Kay insisted
“She didn’t have a wand.”
“She did! I saw her casting a spell with it!”
“When?!” Jen demanded, flustered. Her friend didn’t seem to understand that while it was fine to exaggerate stories sometimes, at other times, like this one, it was best to make things they’d done seem less bad than they were.
“When we were running away. I looked back over my shoulder.”
“You were running away faster than I was.”
“Well, yeah,” Kaya shrugged. “Because I am faster than you…”
“That…!” the blonde paused, taking a breath. “That is not the point. The point is I could see you in front of me and you never looked back…”
“Girls,” Jen’s dad held up his arms, peacefully, “none of this matters now. What matters is that I keep telling you to be home before sunset and not to wander outside the neighbourhood by yourselves, and you keep disobeying me. I may have to consider grounding you.”
Jennifer gasped, “you wouldn’t!”
“Oh, I would,” he assured her, removing and rubbing his tired eye. “The real question is whether I could. Please just… don’t scare me like that again.”
The blonde girl sagged and uttered, “I’m sorry, dad.” Although she wasn’t sure if she was sorry for worrying him, or sorry that she couldn’t promise not to ever do so again. Probably both. But she remembered she had questions of her own. “What is going on here?”
“It’s nothing, honey.”
“All these people work for the Stag Corporation. I saw their badges and the header on the doctor’s clipboard. Why are they all out here?”
He regarded his daughter for a moment, before with a resigned sigh he explained, “it seems there was a small breach in containment at the lab. They’re here to fix it.”
“What do you mean?” Jen bolted up to her feet. “Are we safe?”
“Yes… you’re fine sweetheart. You’re both fine. Everything is under control. Now we should just get home and leave these people to do their jobs.”
Hours passed. Jen’s dad had prepared them some tea, which was of course cold by the time they all got home. They warmed it up and after tea the children made merry for a while, until it was time to sleep.
But one of them couldn’t. Each time Jennifer closed her eyes and attempted willing herself to the land of nod, she instead found herself in a forest. She knew she was running away from something, but not what it was. There were voices… whispers in the wind, all around. And she knew no matter how fast or how far she ran, they would always be around, watching and waiting in every shadow. They always caught up to her and she was violently returned to the waking world, until eventually she could take it no more and decided to just stay here.
She grabbed her torch from under her bed but then quickly found the light switch. She hoped by expelling every hiding place, every shadow, from her room she would feel at ease. Kaya was fast asleep and snoring, but then wrinkled her nose as the light seemed to tickle her. Although the thought of heading out into the dark corridor chilled her, Jen decided it was better that than allow her silliness to cause her friend to lose sleep as well. Besides, she just had to get downstairs, to the one place she always felt safe.
She jumped and snatched breath at just about every creak and shadow she encountered as she crept, but eventually she made it to the study and nothing had jumped out.
Her father was, as he was most nights until well into the morning, next to the window poring over textbooks and folders and crumpled pages of notes under lamplight. Jen padded through the sliding door, eyes red and wet. He lifted his head and hurried to her.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” He said, lifting and carrying her back to his seat.
“Bad dreams?” Jennifer nodded and proceeded to choke out about the forest and never being able to run fast enough. He shushed her. “It was just a nightmare, honey.”
She knew that of course. Didn’t make it any less unsettling, but she found else to concentrate on. Shifting on her father’s knee so her back was to the window, she looked the heading on the papers and recalled that she hadn’t gotten a complete explanation for what had been happening earlier. “What are you doing?” She asked.
“Nothing,” he sighed. “Nothing as important as you in any case. Just looking over some research notes.”
He’d avoided her again. She nodded, deciding to try a slightly different tact. “Okay… what does the Stag Corporation do?”
“Ah,” he chuckled, “how to explain…” There was an old bronze statuette on the desk in the shape of an eagle catching a fish. Jen’s father held it up for her to examine. “You see, once, long ago, people looked up to the birds in the sky and dreamt of what it would be like to soar above the world like them. It took a long time but eventually we learnt to build airplanes and rockets and soar higher than any bird ever could. And that’s what we do – try to turn things that were once just dreams and fantasy into reality. At least, that was the vision…”
The girl took the eagle statue by its base, turning it slowly round as her head rested on her father’s shoulder. She whispered, “some dreams are scary.”
“I know,” her father said, holding her close while he looked out into the inky blackness outside their window and for a moment he felt that something was looking back. “I know…”
More time passed. Hours ran into days, days into months, summer into autumn, and then ten more summers passed. Ten was coincidently the name of another small girl. More formally, Tenley Tych.
It was a rather ragtag audience that had assembled to see her this night. Forms of all different shapes and sizes sat in rows, although not all of their eyes were focused on the event they were about to witness. Some of them had eyes hanging out. Some had no eyes at all, or were missing other parts of their anatomy. Some were ponies. One was a bear who had fallen on his side.
A small pair of hands lifted him and admonished, “don’t slouch, Timothy!” After some effort Tenley finally got him to stay upright in his tiny beech chair.
Tych was a pretty girl with a bob of jet black hair and the darkest eyes, although no one had ever told her she was pretty. No one ever came to the house. They were all too afraid of her mother, the witch. These toys were her only playmates, and even they weren’t safe. Mother would be furious at her for taking them all out of their boxes. But then, mother wasn’t here. And really what was the point of having all this stuff if no one ever played with it.
She stepped back from her crowd, draping a silk scarf around herself, and with a small cough she started to announce, “Ladies and Gentlemen, and Ponies and… Bear. I am pleased to announce that due to popular demand, internationally famous actress, singer, soccer star and eleven time world wrestling champion, Tenley Tych, will perform for you live the dance of…” she should have probably come up with a title sooner. She glanced about desperately, and fortuitously spotted a poster on the far wall. “The Dance of the Bees!” Ten bowed, sure that no one had noticed her little mistake. “That will of course be followed by a rendition of her greatest hits… and I’m not just talking about the time I knocked out Wendy for the title.” A little joke to make a connection with her audience. Wendy, the beat-up ragdoll at the back, seemed unfazed. It was all in good fun.
Now Ten had to wind up the box and release the fairy and her music. And then the fairy twirled, and she twirled and swayed gently as the chimes swept through her like gentle waves. Serene and calm, she almost felt like she was being rocked to sleep… but then like a rock thrown into the pool, she heard the front door open. Mother was home, and far sooner than she had expected.
There was time to put away all this. She would just have to try and stop the old woman from seeing it until she could. If the old woman was already drunk that at least would be easy, since she rarely risked the stairs in such a state. Tenley rushed down them, turning out all the lights as she went. At the bottom of the staircase she clamped her hands behind her back and stood attentively, watching her mother as she unravelled a black scarf from about herself and hung it up with her coat in the hall.
Mother deigned to glance at her and ask, “did you reset the traps?”
The mouse traps. Tenley was sure there had to be better ways of discouraging the creatures, but the old woman seemed to like hearing them go off. “Yes, mother,” the girl affirmed.
“Polished all the boots?”
“Do all your exercises?”
“Put out a rope for me to hang you with?”
“Yes m…” Tenley paused, cocking her head as the words actually reached her brain. “What?”
Her mother snorted, “well, let’s see how far you’ve come.”
They went down into the cellar, where mother kept locked up in cupboards a stock of just about every implement ever designed by humans to kill other humans. Tenley was made to change into dark pants and a vest and remove her shoes and socks. Her mother did likewise, revealing the tattoo of a mighty kraken bringing down an old sailing ship on her left arm.
Moments after that, Tenley screamed as her own foot spun round and up above her head colliding with and shaking the vinyl bag hanging in front of her.
“Again!” Her mother insisted loudly. And then, “again!” And again, and again, and again… each time Ten’s leg got sorer and heavier and her breaths deeper. Imagining it was her mother’s face she was hitting kept her going for a while, but eventually even that wasn’t enough to overcome her body just reaching its limit. What started as a mad flurry of kicks and punches was reduced to really just patting, and after the last blow it was Tenley that stumbled back away from the bag, arms hanging uselessly at her side as her small shoulders heaved.
“Is that all you have?” Mother chided. “You are weak. Useless. Like your father.”
The woman pushed the bag aside and knelt so that she was almost eye to eye with her daughter. Ten was still panting, her head low but her eyes forward. Mother cocked her head slightly, saying, “you have his eyes, you know…” At that, Tenley rolled her head, fixing the woman with a stony gaze. Mother snorted, “go ahead.”
Snarling, Tenley summoned up every ounce of energy she could find and her fist shot forward. Mother blocked and shoved it aside easily. The counter blow, although not as powerful as it could have been, was not exactly playful and was enough to knock the girl on her back.
The woman stood up while regarding the girl sprawled on the floor pitifully. “Pathetic,” she sneered.
Tenley managed to get up to one elbow as she tearlessly spluttered, “I’m sorry…”
“Yes you are,” Mother said, walking away. “I’d blame the parents, but…”
“I’ll do better…”
Although she hadn’t been the one to break a sweat, the woman, with her back turned, took a towel and began to ring it. Tenley stayed where she was, as she hadn’t been told to move nor had she any desire or energy left to do so.
There was a rapping and tapping that came from above them. Mother tilted her head up, eyes narrowed as she seemed vexed by the disturbance. She waited a moment, but then they knocked again, so she grabbed a nightstick from the table in front of her and told her daughter to “stay down here” as she ascended the stairs.
The girl did as instructed, but only until her mother was out of sight. Now, she was curious. People rarely came to the cottage and mother had clearly not been expecting any guests. Maybe someone had gotten lost out in the woods or a car had broken down… in any case, it was a welcome break from constant training and cracking her knuckles. Tenley padded silently up the stairs, remembering to step over the places where they creaked. She heard muffled voices, her mother and some men, as she approached the top and put her eye up to a crack in the door where she could see out into the hall.
There were five men, all broad shouldered and square jawed, stood around her mother. She was arguing with them, telling them to leave, but they were refusing. One of them who had a scar across his right cheek actually laughed. Mother didn’t like that. The eruption of violence that followed was brief but shocking, even to Tenley.
Mother thrust an elbow into the face of one of the men who had circled behind her, splitting his nose open, then side stepped and countered a jab from in front of her with her nightstick. It seemed certain that the men would be leaving the building soon, but in the narrow confines of the hall the one with the scarred face was able to tackle her, pushing her back against the wall scattering some ornaments and paintings. Mother kneed him several times and two fell and rolled across the floor… and then they stopped suddenly. Scarface was over her, standing back up, while mother lay in back, her eyes wide in surprise as she looked down to her chest, to where the knife had gone into her heart.
Everyone else stopped, just as shocked as she was, but none more so than Tenley. She felt… that she wasn’t there. Like maybe she was watching a TV show, distant and detached from the events she was witnessing. Her mother’s head slumped on its side, seeming to look straight at Tenley as she breathed out and then… stopped.
One of the men crouched, wrapping his arms around his head as he rocked himself and muttered, “ohshitohshitohshit…”
Another approached Scarface, “This wasn’t the plan Pope…”
Scarface snapped back, “It’s done!” He slapped a palm on his forehead, grinding his teeth as he pushed his hair back. “We should check the rest of the house. You two go upstairs, you in there…”
At that point, as Scarface was approaching, some instinct kicked inside Tenley. She didn’t know if the men knew the house had a cellar, but it obviously wouldn’t be long until they found out about it. She backed away from the door, and rushed as quietly as she could back down the steps. There was a secret place, a small alcove hidden behind one of the cabinets. She’d hidden from her mother there before… Tenley had just pulled the cabinet back into the place when she heard the cellar door open and heavy booted steps descend. She obviously couldn’t see what was happening out there, but she had a moment of terror as she realised they would find her clothes, and her room upstairs with all her toys, and it would hardly take a genius to realize none of that belonged to the woman they had just murdered. But there was nothing she could do about that now. She had to stay quiet, control her breathing, and hope they’d think the house was empty.
Eventually she heard one of them say that no one was here. She continued to listen to their footsteps, until finally there was complete silence. With no way of tracking it she wasn’t sure how much time had passed, or how long she waited after that just to be sure the men were all gone. It felt like a long time. She emerged feeling dazed, not really sure if this was a dream. She was drawn up the stairs, to the hall, where she slumped to her knees. Slowly she turned her head. She’d never really noticed how green mother’s eyes were.
Of course she couldn’t really be dead. That was impossible. Mother was strong. She was practically indestructible… practically…
She would want this place tidied. Wouldn’t want her daughter to cry. She hated tears.
A window had been left open in the kitchen. Tenley went to close it when there was a gust, although she hadn’t felt it. Cupboards and curtains rustled behind her and there were whispers like running water. She couldn’t make out any distinct words or voices but she felt an urge to follow them, back out into the hall where the back door creaked open by itself.
Outside, in the garden, she continued to follow the whispers out of the moonlight and under branches into the inky blackness of the woods. She came upon a pond, still and silver, and then silence. The whispers stopped. She looked around and saw nothing at first. Just trees and leaves and a large old stone bench overgrown with vines. And then two women.
She didn’t hear them at all. They just emerged from the shadows, their skins white as snow, one blonde and one with long red hair, and hardly dressed for being outside at night with just shirt tunics. Of course, neither was Tenley. She was still barefooted and wearing her exercise clothes.
The two women stood at the water’s edge mirroring each other, remaining perfectly still like mannequins while behind them the water started to ripple. Little flecks of moonlight danced across the surface and in the middle of it all another woman appeared. Not pausing to take a breath she stepped forward, slowly rising above the surface. Like the other two her skin seemed white, her face angular and beautiful. But this new dark haired was larger, more powerful. As she reached land, she held out her arms. The other women knelt down and lifted up a robe to wrap around her as she continued moving forward, her dark eyes scrutinizing the girl that stood in front of her.
Finally she spoke as she strolled toward the stone seat. “You are welcome here, child.”
Tenley was, understandably, a little confused by all of this. She asked the first question that came to mind. “Who are you?”
“I wasn’t sure at first,” the woman said, gently parting some of the vines. “For years I wandered, remained hidden, trying to understand my purpose. But now it has all become clear.” She turned and sat back on the stone bench, her hands clasping its arms as she grinned, “I’m the Queen. You need not tell me who you are, Tenley Tych.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Oh, my children, like Lily and Ella here, are all around. They whisper things to me, from time to time. I am sorry, for your loss.”
Tenley wasn’t sure if she believed the woman or not. And to be honest, she didn’t care. She didn’t want pity. Didn’t want to be sorry. She wanted… she clenched her fist tightly, taking a deep breath before asking, “why are you here?”
“To help you,” the Queen leant forward, “it is regrettable that we did not arrive in time to prevent what happened. I can help you find those men, but more than that, I can make you stronger, faster… powerful. Is that something you would like, my dear?”
The girl nodded, the answer obvious. “It is. But… why? What do you want?”
Now she leant back. “Well, you see, a ruler needs an heir. And I would like that to be you.”
“What are you the ruler of? The forest?”
The Queen leant back further, the tips of her fingers coming together as a wide smile spread on her face. “To start with, yes…”