She woke to the soft chirping of birds only to have her senses overwhelmed by the forest’s sounds and smells a moment later. Her muscles were stiff and ached with a need to move, but when she attempted to flex them she realized she was bound tightly. Her bonds were strong and covered with small barbs that pierced her skin as she moved, threatening to shred her if she struggled to get free. Light flowed from above, filtering down through the leaves to blanket the grassy clearing before her with a peaceful, warm glow.
Then something blocked her view: a very small person with ultramarine skin and a pair of colorful wings, like those of a butterfly, beating rapidly to keep it aloft. The person was tiny, perhaps as tall as a hand from wrist to fingertips, but this close to her face the wings were enough to block the view of the clearing with ease.
Focusing on the person she realized that it was a girl, but with sharper features than humans. She was dressed simply in leaves, leaves that were as green as if they had still been on the trees, and with every motion of her wings, a small cloud of purplish glitter was sent swirling about. Glitter made up of tiny grains of sparkling dust, she realized as it started to get stuck in her eyelashes.
Then she remembered how she had woken in the wilderness, only to be sprinkled with dust from a blue girl so that she fell asleep again. “You!” she said as she recognized the girl, who was busy making faces at the tied up woman. Startled by the realization that the woman was awake, the little girl yelped and flew off to hide behind the trees beyond the clearing.
“You big bully you! You’re supposed to be asleep! Meanie!” She knew the girl had not spoken in her language, but she could still understand her. Yet she could not say what language it was, or even what language she spoke herself.
A familiar voice, she thought to herself, recalling it to belong to the leader of the group that had found her and… someone else, someone important. Who was it? Why couldn’t she recall their face?
Turning her head this way and that, she took a better look at her situation, hoping to find them nearby.
Her bonds were made out of barbed vines that were wrapped tightly around her. She was held up by vines hanging down from the trees flanking her, wrapping around her torso and her outstretched arms, leaving her feet dangling far off the ground. Her gaze followed the vines, curious as to their source, only to find them extending from tangles tightly hugging a pair of trees flanking her.
The clearing below was surrounded by thick bushes bristling with thorns and interspersed with trees at uneven intervals, almost like towers along the walls of a keep. The clearing itself was very round, almost unnaturally so, and maybe fifteen feet across. The occasional fragrant flower broke through the soft emerald carpet of grass in small bursts of vivid color. A small pile of equipment lay heaped near the middle of it, topped by a blade she recognized as her own.
“So…” The word drifted softly, almost musically, through the suddenly silent forest. As the word faded the briers opposite her parted as if on their own to reveal a graceful, tall, and slender figure draped in a beautiful slim gown. The dress looked to be made of velvet dyed in hues ranging from a deep forest green to a bright, almost emerald, shade. It hugged its owner close, yet seemed not to hinder for the figure moved with a natural flow that seemed almost like water, gently flowing forth.
Entering into the light of the glade was one of the most beautiful women she had ever seen. The frail and angular features of her face gave her an air of mystique, while the long and thick, quill-like strands of her lavender hair cascaded down her back and lent her a look of animal ferocity in contrast to that frailty. She was tall, almost as tall as… As who?
The woman’s piercing emerald eyes gazed back calmly for several moments, taking in her prisoner’s expression before locking her gaze and holding it for what seemed like an eternity but could not have been more than a few moments.
“I am Imaerla, and I have but one simple question for you.” She came to a halt near the center of the clearing. “Why do you defile our lands, human?” Again that unearthly voice, flowing now from the woman below, who was exuding an air of arrogance and authority as she gestured with her right hand in the air, almost at random. The woman had spoken in the tongue of humans, unlike the small faerie girl earlier, yet still the name of either language remained elusive.
“Yeah! Why are you here?” the small creature chimed in, fluttering down from the trees to land in the woman’s abundant hair. “You’re just looking to spy on us and kill the trees and steal the animals and-“
“Enough, Lyara,” the woman said, speaking calmly and without taking her eyes off the prisoner.
“I- I don’t know…” she stammered after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. “There was darkness… Next thing I know I was lying in the grass with someone on top of me and with something moving around us. Then that one blew dust in my face after this big thing called Uragh had tossed me onto its shoulder. And then I was here. Whe-”
“Yeah, I dusted you ‘cause you wouldn’t stay asleep after Lyn did! That’s not playing fair!” The small creature, apparently named Lyara, pointed accusingly at her.
“I am well aware of the events following your discovery in our domain, human. Lady Lleamiil here and Master Oakblood have both told me of them. But why were you here?” The woman had switched to the same language as Lyara, apparently finding it preferable since her prisoner seemed to understand it. “What was your goal?” Again those eyes locked their unnerving gaze with hers, letting her know beyond doubt that lies were not only foolish but also dangerous.
“I was… I was following someone… The one in the forest. Where is she!?” Her features hardened as her expression grew determined, her mind using the memory to break free of the commanding stare of the woman below.
“If you’re speaking of the dark one we found with you, she’s gone!” Lyara said, holding her tongue out in a sort of childish defiant gesture toward the prisoner.
“Gone?” She looked at them incredulously, wondering if that meant missing or…
“The fae speaks the truth, she has disappeared. We thought her dead, and so placed her aside last evening to be taken care of in the morning. However, when dawn came she was gone without a trace. It is only a matter of time before she is caught,” the woman said plainly, as though the entire matter was already determined. “That is, if she does not fall prey to the forest while seeking to escape. The question now is what we should do with you.”
There was a creaking of wood and the snapping of branches as something moved toward the clearing from the same place the woman had come from. Moments later a hulking beast broke through the bushes, with gnarled grayish hide for skin and draped in the remains of a bear’s hide. Vicious claws adorned its muscled arms, and its face was one of nightmares. If it cared in the least about the numerous cuts it had received from the thorns, it did not reveal it.
“Rend and tear, grind and crush,” it growled, looking at the prisoner with hunger burning in its eyes. A wide grin spread on its face, revealing nasty fangs that were unmistakably those of a carnivore.
“Uragh! You’re sooo gross! Why do you wanna eat a human, anyway? I bet they taste awful!” Lyara said, looking at the monster that towered behind the woman.
“I doubt a troll would find any form of fresh flesh unappealing to eat, but there are plenty more questions that I want answered. And if the lady answers them honestly, I am inclined to let her go,” the woman said calmly, for the first time taking her eyes off the prisoner in order to examine the pile of equipment at her feet.