Purple sparks flew from the fairy in front of me. That meant “Yes.”
I took a step forward and held my breath. I had followed the path all the way out here, in hopes of finding the ancient book that would save the village. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I stood on the edge of the Raven Forest, I questioned if this was the right choice for a skinny teenager. There were legends of dragons, and trolls, and monsters so unique we didn’t have a name for them. I pulled my cloak tighter around my arms and took another step forward.
I had heard the stories before, and I had my doubts. It was probably older kids just messing with their younger siblings. Yeah, that must be it. My dad goes hunting out here all the time. Of course, they’re in a group, of burly men, with fearsome beards. And weapons. All I’ve got is my cloak, our family fairy, and my scrawny hands, which are now shaking as I inch closer to the tree line.
The deep green pines swallow me hole, and I can hardly see our fairy through the thickness of the dark. I look back one more time, to our village on a hill. Old Lady Gwyneth’s house near the gate, with smoke curling out of the chimney. What I wouldn’t give to be inside, snacking on her freshly-baked bread and reminiscing about that time I broke her window. I’d wrap myself up in a blanket by the roaring fire, and she’d talk about how old she was getting. I used to hate talking to her, but I’d give anything to be in the comfort of her house instead of standing here, about to descend into the depths of the forest.
I shake it off and my next footstep sounds silent, stepping on fallen pine needles. Their scent used to make me happy, but now it just rocks my nerves. Another soft step and I’m officially inside the forest. Our fairy came back to check on me, her purple wings flittering faster than my eyes can see. She darts around my face, before heading down the path again.
Fairies are brave, and I am not. They also have wings, which probably helps. Although not as eager as her to continue my trek down the trail, I know it must be done, and her sense of urgency is immediate. The sooner we find this book, the sooner we can get out of here. I’m not prepared to stay past dark, but in here, it’s all relative anyway.
I’m able to build up the courage enough to find a fairly steady pace, until the purple streaks in front of me lead me off the path. I knew it was coming, I just didn’t know when. I had walked maybe a few hundred feet on the trail, so I suppose it was about time. The fairy slowed, and hovered where I could see her. I don’t know how she found out where the book was, but she had, and ever since it was a made dash to find it. I was the only one to volunteer, and I’m still not sure why I did. My father tried to stop me. He said he’d take my place, but ever since the hunting incident, he couldn’t walk. Everyone else in the village was either younger than me, more crippled, or wasn’t stupid enough to volunteer. I thought I’d try to act like a hero, seeing as how I had just turned 18. Part of me thought that’s what was expected. Either way, I was here now, stepping off the path and further into the deep recesses of the mysterious Raven Forest.
My steps were louder here, off the path. I crunched twigs and sticks and leaves. A stream ran close by that bubbled every so often. Even the wind seemed to howl against the tops of the trees and send the noise to the forest floor. It had gotten darker, and the glow from the fairy was the only thing that led me anymore. I pushed branches out of the way, climbed over fallen trees, and jumped over the winding stream at a few turns. We had been hiking for what seemed like hours. As the darkness continued to settle in, I wondered if we’d be able to find our way home, but I had to trust the fairy.
When we finally reached the clearing, my legs were throbbing from the pain. An ache ran through the bottom of my foot, and a chill down my spine. I was distracted though, by the book on the ground. It was almost glowing, seemingly floating on top of the mossy-covered ground. I sprint for it, but the fairy stopped me.
“This is what we’re here for, isn’t it?”
The fairy flitted around, inspecting the book, then flew up high, leaving me in darkness, before coming back down. She circled the opening once more before finally stopping just above the book. Purple sparks flew upward. I leaned over and picked up the pick. The leather cover was worn and battered. Tears ran through the edges of the pages, which were curled and shriveled. I flipped it open and inspected it briefly. The words were legible, which was all that mattered. I slammed it shut and tucked it under my arm.
Before I could say anything to the fairy, a bone-chilling sound came from somewhere. A howl. A howl unlike anything I’ve heard before. It wasn’t a wolf, it couldn’t be a bear, and it wasn’t a dragon. The glow of the fairy wings darkened before she skittered under my cloak.
“What do we do?” I whispered.
She tugged at my cloak, so I knelt on the moss floor. A cricket jumped past me. My heart skipped a beat. The wind kicked up dirt. I held my breath.
I don’t know how long we waited. I followed the fairy’s guidance. Eventually, she came out from under my cloak and surveyed the area. When she seemed satisfied, she approached me.
“Can we leave?”
Sparks shot out, and we walked back toward the path.
I tried to be as quiet as I could, but nature made it difficult. In an odd coincidence, the stream seemed to have stopped running, as if it were afraid of the creature we had heard and decided to simply be quiet itself. Of course, this amplified the sound of my feet raking against the forest floor. On one particularly tricky maneuver, my foot slipped, and, in an effort to catch myself from falling, I grabbed a branch that snapped in half and sent me plummeting to the ground. I didn’t even react to the pain; I was watching the fairy. She covered herself with a nearby leaf as best she could, but her glow was still present. I checked to make sure I still had the book, which I did. I began to stand up, when I heard a growling sound from behind me. It wasn’t close, but it wasn’t far. The fairy leaped out from the leaf and vibrated in front of me. It meant “Run!”
I ran as fast as my miniscule legs could carry me. I crept through the branches, over the stream, and tried to keep up with the fairy. I didn’t look back. I kept my eyes focused on the purple glow and kept running. I pumped my legs and swung my arms and made sure I always had a grip on the book. If I lost the book, our effort would be for nothing. I wouldn’t be the village hero; I would be the scared kid who ran away out of fear. The forest eventually opened up, and the path was just off in the distance. I found extra energy from somewhere, and pushed myself even harder to reach the trail. I couldn’t slow down in time and ricocheted off a tree, but kept running, reaching the path and flinging myself in the direction the fairy had gone. I kept running, as hard as before, and I’m not sure where I got the energy. I was genuinely worried about my legs falling off, but I supposed it was better than being ripped off by a mysterious creature. So I kept running, and following the fairy, until I could see the trailhead. Not long after, Old Lady Gwyneth’s house appeared off in the horizon, the glow of her candles lighting my way. I didn’t stop until I reached the village gate.