The Little Queen – Prologue, Part One
Here is the whole part one of the prologue for the new version of The Little Queen (below the read more tag). There are basically three parts; this, then Jen’s dad explains one of the themes for the story and series, then we meet Tenley for the first time. I might post the other two parts as well, then later I’ll make the whole story available for beta reading via Google docs or something. In any case, I might take a week or two away from Asterion just to work on this.
Reviewing the original confirmed to me that it needed another draft. Also I think I’m getting more comfortable writing in more own voice rather than just stating what’s happening, which makes everything more… better. Aside from revising all of the prose and dialogue, the main thing I changed from the original is I cut out the bit where they go to the witch’s house, as it was rather pointless. It did introduce Tenley’s music box and it being the signal for her to go to sleep, but we can do that a few pages later instead. I think I was also playing around with the idea that later on Kaya would hear rumours about another witch and that would lead her to find Jennifer, which may be what happens now anyway. There will be many changes throughout the story, many small and some big.
Anyway, here is what I promised:
Prologue, Part One
Long ago, when days were long and the world was young, there were two girls. Both were dreamers. Jennifer dreamed of the night sky and of traveling everywhere covered by its shroud to uncover whatever mysteries sparkled there. Kaya’s dreams were filled with music and harmony, of waves of sound splitting a dark ocean to both shield and guide her to a better life. Jennifer was blonde and Kaya’s hair was brown, and one wore blue and the other wore red. But despite these trivial differences, the two of them were together, clasping hands and spinning each other round and round the fairy circle under a twilight that seemed to last forever. Until they slipped and both fell on their backs, sucking air and blinking as the first stars twinkled above.
After a few moments Jennifer said, “you’re looking at the past.”
Kaya’s young nose wrinkled. “Why do you say weird stuff like that?”
“It’s not weird!” Jennifer declared, wounded and indignant. “It’s science! The stars are so far away that it takes years and years even for their light to reach us. So what we see is actually how they were a long time ago.”
“But light is light. You flip a switch and everything lights up right away.”
“Light has a speed. You know, the speed of light?”
“But it’s really fast.”
“And the stars are really, really far away.”
Kaya was still struggling, her whole face wrinkled as she started kicking her legs. Jennifer waited patiently, knowing that her friend was able to work these things out whenever she bothered to really think about them. Sure enough a bulb seemed to suddenly switch itself on in Kaya. “I get it… so, if we were far enough away, we’d be able to see dinosaurs and stuff?”
“I suppose,” Jen thought, not entirely sure. “You’d need a huge telescope, but maybe.”
“Cool,” Kaya looked satisfied and continued kicking her leg rhythmically.
Jennifer laid back, also happy. But the sun had dipped under the horizon about eight minutes ago, and soon what little was left of it’s light would disappear as well. They were out a few hours past the time they’d been told to return, and a couple of miles from where they were told they could roam. They were high in the hills surrounded by deep, dark woods, with the town of Irongate brightening the valley below. It was likely her father had already called the police and in the midst of organizing a search party for them.
“We should get back,” she sighed, cranking herself up with her elbows.
Kaya groaned, “do we have to?” She didn’t want to go. She never wanted to go home. Jennifer couldn’t blame her – the time now was just right. Night was falling, but it wasn’t cold, and even the busy town seemed peaceful from up here. But yes, they had go, and Jennifer knew Kaya understood that perfectly well.
Jen made it to her feet so turned to extend a hand for her friend. “Come on.”
Kaya squeezed in one corner of her lips as she squinted as if Jennifer were a peculiar, white and shimmering and unable to be focused on. “You look like a fairy,” she said as she took the hand.
Jennifer didn’t know how to take that. Did it mean she was pretty, or strange, or both? People could be liked or hated for either of those things. She believed that Kaya liked her, although there were some times she wasn’t sure. But she must do – they’d been playing together since they were five, half their lifetimes ago.
She didn’t and couldn’t ask for clarification as Kaya was already on her way to pick up her guitar and coat. And who knew – maybe Jen was a fairy. Maybe that was why she’d spent so long looking for them, because somehow she knew they were the the answer to why she was so odd, at least to most humans. Except Kay, with whom she shared all the stories that were in the book that she retrieved from the ground now. It told many stories of the hidden people – the elves and fae. It had told them that being in the fairy circle at twilight would allow one a glimpse of them. But they hadn’t seen, and as Jen sped through the footage recorded by the camera they had set up nearby, it didn’t seem like it had either. Maybe they were too fast, but Jen doubted it. The camera didn’t record a million frames per second, but even if it did, she doubted they would see any fairies. She had started to suspect that they just weren’t there.
But that didn’t make her sad. She had suspected it for some time now, and as far as mysteries go little people with wings really wasn’t very imaginative. Out there, in the sky above and world below, were creatures and mysteries the shape of which no one could ever imagine.
Maybe she was actually an alien…
Kaya rolled over on her green bicycle. “Anything?” She asked, to which Jen shook her head. “Just as well, isn’t it? The book said they blind people who look at them. Or make them dance until they drop dead,” Kaya reminded Jen with a certain amount of glee. It was true, too. At least according to the book the fairies really did not like invasions of their privacy. But the book was also filled with lots of other details about the folk and their realm.
“They can’t be that mean to everyone,” Jennifer reasoned, “or how would people know so much about them?” Indeed, if they were intelligent creatures it should be possible to reason with them. That was what Jen believed, if the stories were true.
“Witches, maybe?” Kaya shrugged. “All I know is that if those little shits tried any of that crap on me I’d have squished them.”
Jennifer frowned. “You shouldn’t swear.”
“Why not?” She shrugged again. “It’s only words.”
Jennifer knew that. But they were words Kaya got from her dad, who wasn’t always nice to her. She didn’t understand why Kaya would want to sound like him. “You can use different words,” she insisted.
Kaya rolled her eyes and huffed, “fine…”
Nearby was another bicycle, which was pink, and a backpack into which Jen had to stuff the book and camera. A gust, and suddenly her dress felt heavy as it blew around her, like it was trying to drag her with it into the woods. The wind was also carrying something else – she thought she heard it whisper her name:
A i r h a r t
The night wasn’t cold, so why did she feel this chill? There were bumps on her skin and a lump in her throat as she searched in the direction she judged the wind had been trying to take her. Some branches met over a gap in the undergrowth making an archway big enough for her to walk in, but beyond it she saw nothing. It was just a black portal leading to who knows where. She guessed probably woods, but what was in them?
Jennifer steeled herself. She wasn’t about to run from a breeze, and if something out there was trying to toy with her that meant there was an intelligence behind it, and it needed to be made to see that these games were silly. She dug into the backpack for her torch then slung the pack on her pack as her beam punched through the portal. Sure enough there were woods. Things moved in them, scurrying and hiding from the light, but she couldn’t be sure if they were animals or just shadows. She had to get a closer look.
Kaya had been waiting patiently for Jennifer, expecting them to be riding back together. Instead she looked back and saw her friend stomping toward the woods. Kay’s brow furrowed and her mouth formed a square. “What are you doing?” She asked, hopping off the bicycle. “I thought you wanted to go back?”
Jen stood by the portal, peering inside. “Didn’t you hear it?”
“It said my name.”
“I don’t know.”
Kaya’s frustration was palpable. “It was probably just the wind.”
“Maybe,” Jen admitted, ducking under the arch and through the portal. “I’m just going to have a quick look. You can stay here if you want.”
“Well I can’t just stay here, can I?” Kay groaned. “You’d lose a fight with a cotton mouse so you’ll need my help if you get into trouble.”
Jennifer, already inside, spun about to huff and stamp her foot. It wasn’t that Kaya was wrong, as such – she definitely did better than Jen at every sport. But she didn’t have to make Jen sound like a paper doll. She might not be able to beat Kay, but the only way she would lose to a cotton mouse was if the mouse had rabies or something.
The ground cracked. Jen wondered if maybe she’d underestimated her own strength. Kay was stepping through the portal, but Jennifer thrust out one of her palms to make her stay back. Kaya was confused for a second, but then she must have felt the ground shift under her feet too. She lunged to try and grab Jen’s hand, but it was too late – the earth opened and swallowed her whole.
Jennifer thought she was falling, but in fact she was sliding. She desperately clawed at the earthen walls rushing by her but all it did was graze her skin. Her hands stinging, she continued to slip with dirt tumbling around her, the spotlight from her torch bouncing all over. She glimpsed the end of the tunnel but there was little she could do to slow down before she collided with solid ground. That was the last thing she felt before she rolled on her side a few times and faded out.
Then she was running through a forest, the shadows chasing her, lunging from the corners of her eyes. She dodged and ran and ran, although her body ached and lungs were bursting. She could see no end, no way out. The whispers in the wind told her she would suffer less if she just gave in and let them take her. A black fog descended, choking and burning her skin. She tripped, landing jaw first among scattered leaves as the before her coalesced into the shape of a woman who seemed to be calling her name…
“Jen!” She heard. The woman and the forest all vanished. Her hands stun, her head throbbed, but otherwise she was fine. With the minor caveat that she was stuck underground. “Jen Air!” A voice pleaded from above.
Jennifer crawled across the dirt and stone to retrieve the torch. She was in cave, obviously, with one passage leading away in addition to the tunnel she’d fallen down. Now her knees were sore as well, but she needed to let Kaya know she was okay and to go find help, so she scrambled to the tunnel exit and called up, “I’m fine.”
“What did it look like? I fell down a hole,” Jen sighed. Why did people always ask silly questions? “Maybe it’s an old mine, or…” she swept the torch round again, but all she saw was dirt, stone and the odd root sticking out.
“Hold on!” Kaya called down.
Jen sat down under the shaft and relaxed, assuming that Kay was going to find some adults. She should have known better. A trickle of mud fell on her shoulder, her blue eyes bulging as she realized in disbelief what was happening. “N-no!” She scrambled and turned desperately. “Wait!” But it was too late. She jumped out of the way of Kaya’s feet as she came out of the slide.
“Whee!” Kaya bounced. “That was fun!”
Jennifer blinked in astonishment, which quickly turned to barely contained rage. “What are you doing?!” She trembled.
“What d’ya mean?” Kay stretched like she was warming up for a race. “I’m here to help you get out of here.”
Jen took the torch and swept the beam between her friend and the shaft. “Suppose that’s the only way out?”
“I… hmmm,” Kaya scrunched her face, putting a balled hand against her chin as she regarded the shaft. It was too steep and the sides too loose for them to easily climb out of. “Yeah, that’s a problem.”
“Idiot!” Jennifer’s rage burst and she started to slap Kaya. Why did she never think about anything she did? Although as angry as she was, Kay seemed to just shrug off the assault as well.
“Relax!” Kaya finally pushed back, just enough so that Jen was out of slapping range. “You’ll think of something. You always do. Besides, I couldn’t leave you. You’d just be sad and lonely without me.”
Jennifer took a breath to settle herself down. It was reassuring that her friend wouldn’t abandon her, although she considered being lonely for a while preferable to the two of them starving down here. And if they did end up having to eat each other, well – face it, Kaya would win that fight as well. She supposed that just gave her more incentive to find a way out. At least there was the passage, and therefore hope.
It was narrow in places. So narrow that even they had a hard time squeezing through. They walked for ten minutes, but it was hard to say how far they’d gone due to the irregular terrain and having no visual cues. Jen led the way for no other reason than that she had the flashlight and she knew that the path sloped downward slightly, leading them deeper into the earth. Then hope took the form of them needing it less.
There was light ahead, so the girls picked up their pace until they were running for the end of the passage. Far more quickly their momentum stopped, grinding to a halt accompanied by a sharp intake of breath from both as their eyes sparkled, bedazzled by the sight they saw.
“Yeah,” Kaya said. “This ain’t Irongate.”
It was a cavern. You could have a fit a small village within it, if you cleared out all the toadstools. That was the source of the luminescence – brightly glowing mushrooms in various shades of pink, blue, purple, and red. All different sizes as well, from some no bigger than ends of their little fingers, to some they could have slept on.
“Maybe the fairy circle worked,” Kaya suggested. “Maybe we’re in another world…”
Jennifer’s eyebrows squeezed together. She didn’t know if the circle had worked or not. There were other possible explanations for all this as well, even though she didn’t know what they all were right now. But she knew it was wrong to jump to conclusions. They should investigate first, if they could, and it didn’t change their situation.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “We have to go through them.”
A somewhat steep slope was before them. They tackled it the same they tackled stairs when they were even younger, bouncing down it on their butt cheeks until arriving at the edge of the strange, effervescent forest. Kaya made it down first, of course, but then she yelped, causing a sudden tingle in Jen’s chest as Kay snatched her hand close to hers.
Jen slid beside her asking, “what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“Fine,” Kaya winced, shaking her hand as if trying to flick the pain off it. “I just cut my hand on this stupid stone.”
Ever prepared, Jen had plasters in her backpack, and a tiny bit of disinfectant she’d stolen from where her mom kept it hidden in the kitchen at home. She had to remove the fairy book to get at them, but quickly Kaya was patched. Jen turned her attention to the little stone that had caused her friend grief. A slim, sharp slither roughly triangular in shape.
“An elf arrow,” she said. They’d read about those in the book as well – arrows that fell from the sky and were used by the fae to hunt. Although, sometimes, they hunted people, striking them with all kinds of ailments.
Kaya was understandably concerned. “Don’t they make you sick?”
“Sometimes,” Jen said. “But, the book also says that if you wear one, it protects from evil magic as well. Here,” she handed it over to Kay. “You found it, so you should be the one it keeps safe.”
Kaya grasped the object, regarding it like an awesome, sacred thing she’d been entrusted with. Then she said, “cool,” and Jen was happy that her friend was happy. Really, she thought it was just a stone.
Their quest continued. Jennifer fastened her backpack’s straps, but she kept the book in her hands. As they carefully picked their way through the mushroom forest, she occasionally stopped and panned around, comparing the illustrations to the even weirder world surrounding her. There were fairies playing around red and white toadstools in the book, but they weren’t as bright or curious as all this.
“Hey!” Kaya cried. “Look at this!”
Jennifer put down the book on a chair sized mushroom and hurried over to her friend who was pointing her toward another fungoid. Jen didn’t see what made this one stand out from the others at first, but then something crawled over the top of it. It was like a glittery spider made of glass. It came and sat on the stool reaching toward the girls with its pedipalps, feeling the air like it was blind but could sense there was something there. Jen leaned in for a closer look, only to be yanked back by Kaya.
“It might have poison,” Kay explained. She was right, of course. For once she was the one thinking sensibly as Jen’s curiosity had got the better of her. But if she had a jar and something to catch the glass spider with…
Such thoughts were interrupted by something she found far more curious – the wind. Not only could she not see where it had come from, but it felt the same as the wind she’d felt outside before starting this adventure, with the same goosebumps and same strong feeling that there was something else beside the glass spider and mushrooms here with them. Something intelligent that wanted her to follow it.
But there was something here besides that. It seemed there were passages in and out of this cavern other than the one they’d arrived from. They hadn’t seen any, but one of them became unmistakable as a roar and stream of white hot flames erupted out of it instantly melting the mushrooms it touched.
The girls had no idea what kind of creature this could be and no amount of curiosity made them want to stay and find out. They ran, Jennifer only pausing momentarily to retrieve the book, but… “Where is the book?!” She gasped.
The flames erupted again, closer than the first time, and Kaya was very eager to get further away before a third time. “What?!”
“The book! I-I left it right there…”
“Forget about it!” Kaya grabbed Jen’s hand and ran, dragging her friend. When the flame did erupt a third time, Jennifer saw her friend’s wisdom and ran too. They obviously didn’t know where they were running – just away. They ended up at a wall so just ran along it hoping there would be an escape tunnel somewhere. It seemed they were in luck, but as soon as they turned into the passage they screamed and fell back out.
There were men there. Some of them might have been women – it was impossible to tell behind the silver spacesuits they wore and the glare of the flamethrower. A voice crackled from one of the helmets, “stop! We’ve got kids in here!”