Ariel walked the beaten path alone, flanked by the ancient oak trees of Shadowbane forest. She wiped her tired eyes, weary from a day’s work. Her long crimson hair flowed freely over her shoulders, and she adorned the uniform of a waitress. It was almost midnight. Darkness had taken over and the moon bathed the world in a dim grey light. She relied on a barely functioning flashlight to navigate her way home. Ariel had done this every night for the past two years. It was a necessary journey, but one that she enjoyed immensely. She enjoyed the deathly silence. The way the tree’s danced in the soft breeze beneath the countless stars. She enjoyed the silhouetted beauty that could be found in the dark. But this night was different. A certain taint in the air left her vigilant. She rushed her steps as unease began to settle beneath her skin.

Through flickering torchlight, Ariel peered side to side. She knew the tales of Shadowbane forest but had never believed them. She had passed through the forest countless times before and had only experienced the serenity and beauty of the ancient land. They were tales of magic. Of monsters. Of creatures that disappeared long ago. True, people used to go missing in the woods sometimes, but Ariel always thought of it as mundane cause. Maybe she was about to discover a different truth.

She felt a presence in the treeline beside her that kept pace with every step she made. She prepared to burst into a sprint but was soon stopped dead in her stride. The silhouette of a small creature fluttered into view and centred itself in her path. It looked like a dragonfly at first. It had a slender body and hovered at face height with large wings. As Ariel’s eyesight began to adjust to the creature, she could see that it appeared human. A small human, about the size of a hand, but a human none the less. The only other thing that denied its humanity was two long ears that ended in points and its wings that moved in a translucent blur on its back. In her shock, Ariel forgot the flashlight in her hand. Raising it to better see the hovering creature before her, it flickered and dulled before the light died completely.

“What the f…” Ariel began, but her voice caught in her throat.

“You shouldn’t be here on this night. You are in great danger.” The creature said. From it’s shrill but sweet voice, Ariel could tell that it was female. “The shadows feast.” She finished in a foreboding tone.

“What are you?”

“I’m a fairy, silly. The veil is thin tonight, but I know a safe place.” The fairy promised. “We must go now. Follow me, I’ll show you the way.”

The fairy burst into a ball of light. It was like a star had fallen and suspended itself before Ariel. The creature’s radiance turned the night around it into day. She made her way to the treeline, banishing the shadow as she went. Ariel was hesitant to follow at first, but something about the creature was soothing. It was almost as if she could do nothing but follow.

Following the sphere of light into the darkness, Ariel made her way to safety. But safety from what, she wasn’t quite sure. The fairy remained silent as she led the way. Ariel waded through thick undergrowth as the crack of fallen twigs resounded beneath her feet. There was something odd about the forest. An oddness that worsened the deeper they went. The trees in this part were skeletal remains of there former selves, decaying and coated with parasitic moss. A haze of mist clouded vision, obscuring the light that the fairy emanated.

“Hey, wait up!” Ariel called out as the creature began to create further distance between them.

The fairy stopped at the sound of Ariel’s voice, her light barely visible. Ariel hastened her pace to catch up. As she got closer, the mist seemed to part as if to create a pathway. It led her to a clearing. A perfect circle of fetid soil, surrounded by dead vegetation. The fairy hovered in the centre, silent and waiting. The ground crunched as Ariel approached, but it was no longer twigs beneath her feet. It was bone. She wanted to scream at the realisation, but nothing came out. Ariel’s feet carried her forward without command. She was transfixed by the unlikely creature before her.

“We’re here, human. It’s safe.” The fairy said it’s sweet tone soothing. But with its next words, came a mocking snarl.  “You have no need to fear now.”

That was when Ariel realised that it was no Fairy. It was something ancient, yes, but it embodied something far more sinister and evil. Where once the creature radiated a white glow, it now bled a dark red aura. From within the aura, Ariel could now see that the thing’s human façade had warped. Its fingers had grown into long talons and from its mouth emerged fangs. And furthermore, the creature was not alone. From the crevices of the surrounding dead trees, emerged several more of the creatures. The mere presence of evil brought Ariel’s knees to the bone-littered soil. She couldn’t move. They compelled her to stillness and silence.

Ariel felt helpless as the creatures approached. She was trapped in her own mind as her body would not move. She watched as the grinning things fluttered closer and closer on crooked wings. They were an ancient malevolence that could not be quelled, and they hungered for flesh.

“It will be over soon.” The creatures giggled as one between licking their lips with pointed tongue. “We are the shadow that fea…” Their words were interrupted by a high-pitched ringing that came from beyond the treeline.

A bright light burst from beyond, illuminating the forsaken circle that the creatures called home. Shadows of the surrounding trees danced and writhed in the radiance. Ariel felt the grip that the creatures had over her lift. They had lost concentration on their victim. A smouldering ember within her burst into flame as her survival instinct took control of her body. In a single motion, Ariel rose to her feet and delivered a backhand to the closest creature. It lost control of flight and crashed to the ground with a sickening thud. Ariel burst into a run and left the scene behind her. Trees blurred and lashed at her as she passed. She put up her arms in defence, leaving them cut and torn. But Ariel did not relent. She would survive this night.

It felt like hours had passed when she slowed to a jog. Exhausted and weary, she took in her surroundings once more. The dead trees of where she was led were now alive with green. Ariel stopped in her stride as lights appeared before her. But this time, a smile came to her face as she heard the roar of an engine. She was close to the road. A road that led home. Ariel had returned to the mundane and escaped the unknown.

Ariel continued her journey home, on heavy legs and with a mind full of wonder. She pondered the implications of the night’s events. She now knew of a hidden strength within her and a world beyond the mundane. She decided that she would never speak of what happened… they wouldn’t believe her anyway.  One question that continued to return was… what saved her, and why? She would probably never know. But there was one thing that she was certain of… her life would never be the same again.

*****

Hey everyone! Thank you all for reading. I hope you all enjoyed that short piece of fiction. It was originally written as a guest post, but was recently taken down. It’s probably one of my favourite pieces that I have written, so I thought I’d share it with you all here.

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