In a world darkened by the Faepocalypse, a young woman has to betray her kin for one final act of love.
Sara held her rifle close to her chest – at any moment something could jump put of the shadows. The blade of her flashlight cast the straight shapes of the trees out of the darkness, but that was pretty much all she could see. There used to be a time when their armors had night-vision capabilities, but that got lost when the last industrial towns were obliterated. Nowadays they had to get by with 20th-Century equipment, and even that if they were lucky enough.
At least, she had an inkling on where to go and what to do – nothing more than that, but it was as if thin threads pulled her forward. She had heard stories about certain people developing so-called magical powers in the wake of the Faepocalypse, but she had never given them much credit. Even now, she wrote it off more to the bond with her father than anything else.
Or maybe, just maybe, the Queen of Thorns was feeling generous tonight – and that scared her more than anything.
She proceeded. The only sound was the faint crunching of leaves beneath her boots; no howls, no growls.
Then her flashlight caught a faint golden sheen between the mist.
Sara covered her mouth and fumbled with her armor, setting her filter up over her face. She turned the oxygen valve on and kept walking, though the presence of the vapor tingled around the surface of her armor with the occasional hungry spark.
“Please let me through,” she prayed. Nobody answered, and maybe it was better than way.
The invisible threads pulled her through a thicket of trees, and she scraped her body against their bark, but her body armor did not rip. As she passed through a series of mangled faced welcomed her.
She let out a brief shriek, rising her gun at the closest one.
The bloodied eyes did not blink – and the face just snarled, letting out thin ribbons of breath, showing thin fangs like needles. It black, chitinous skin tensed over misshapen bones, the gaunt creature slowly lowered its head.
Sara panted heavily behind her mask.
The strange ones. The creatures that charged without fear of death or pain. The remnants of the human population, twisted and changed into nature’s mockery.
She was walking in a corridor made out of Eerie.
The Queen had decided to grant her request.
What was she supposed to do? She did not have any experience with this sort of stuff.
Trembling, she decided to at least show a bit of goodwill. She set her rifle back against her side, and walked with her torch pointed at the grass, between the pines and the occasional splotch of red sap as it ran down from the changed trees, the blade of light turned yellow by the noxious fumes.
This was not her realm anymore.
The Eerie snarled, hissed and some even leaned forward a bit to sniff at her, but they did not attack. They were like attack dogs, calmly held back by chains she couldn’t see, but that were a million times harder than steel.
Less Eerie than those surrounding her had been enough to overwhelm the last town she and Dad took refuge in. Her stomach twisted like a worm on a hook at the thought of being allowed safe passage through them.
Just because… she had something to do. Which meant her request had been accepted.
Her flashlight stopped to rest on a lonely figure laying against a tree. The golden fumes did not touch it, and stayed a couple meters back, so the body was still intact and recognizably human.
She reached it and the moment she stepped out of the golden mist she felt a lot better. The surrounding Eerie did not move and stopped making any sound.
“Is this allowed, then? Can I do my thing? I- I am not going back on my word, I promise.”
No answer come. None is necessary.
“A-Alright, then. Thank you. Thank you so much.”
The people at the outpost will hate her. They will think her a traitor, a betrayer, but she has to do this. Besides, she has only known them for a couple months. Dad is… was… Dad is Dad.
She moves her gloved hands to his face. He’s pristine, perfectly-maintained, like the embalmed specimen she saw together with him at a museum, back when she was a little girl and the world still made sense, back when Mankind believed to the be sole ruler.
“I’m here Dad. Look. I have what you asked for.”
Sara did not believe in the new gods, and less so in the old ones – they did not move a finger to save them from the Forest, after all, but Dad had been a believer until his last breath, so he would have wanted that.
She was not sure she was doing this the right way, but she had spoken with Christians at the camp. Was she even allowed to do it? Whatever. She was doing this for Dad, not for any god he believed in. It would have to be enough.
She crouched next to him, taking his wizened hands in her own. His skin felt clammy beneath her fingers, but not too cold or rigid.
One could wonder how the corpse was still so fresh after weeks.
Unless the Queen knew she would-
Not going there.
She emptied her pouch, revealing a vial of holy oil and water, and a thin black book.
She opened it and began to read through the prayers, fighting back the sobs that threatened to take over her creaking voice.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy Name…”
As she read, she traced the cross on his forehead, his lips and his chest. She kept reading half-remembered formulas that she might have heard once or twice back when Dad brought her at Mass, but had almost completely forgotten since.
She hated herself for being such a stupid kid and not paying more attention.
She would have had more memories to share with him now.
“…and grant our brother eternal life.” She finished the list of prayers and a sluggish smile tugged at her lips. She did not want to let go.
But she had been granted a boon, and now she would have to pay for it.
“I love you Dad,” she whispered. Put one last kiss on his forehead and hugged his body, their armors creaking against each other. “I love you. Thank you for everything,” she choked between sobs.
Then she let go.
The dark earth shook beneath him. It swallowed him bit by bit, until he completely disappeared beneath the tree. From the bark grew a low branch, twisting itself in the vague shape of a cross.
I am not extremely familiar with this particular belief, said a woman’s voice behind her ear. Sara started at the voice. It was smoky and seemed to echo inside her head. I hope it is somewhat similar to what he would have hoped.
“It’s-“ another sob. She bit on her lip behind her mask. “It’s good. It’s what he would have wanted. Thanks.”
A soft pressure on her shoulder, as if a hand had just touched her shoulder.
It is time.
“Y-Yes,” Sara accepted. “I know. I-I-I have received my boon. It’s now my time to give you my payment.”
A soft chuckle.
I appreciate you standing up for your part of the bargain.
Sara shivered as it started. A strange feeling, blooming inside her heart. She gasped as her bones bent – cracked and reformed – no pain, but… a Will was growing inside her flesh, turning it into something else, into something… more useful.
She let out a strangled scream that turned into a panicked yowl as her legs ripped through the armor. Her back widened with a resounding snap and her sack, the remains on her human life, fell off her shoulders. Something grew at the sides of her neck and her skin darkened until it was charcoal-black. Her eyes got used to the night.
She could see – see the smells, even. The forest lit up, showing her every single life, the tiny ones inside the sap and the others, hiding between the trees – lit up like dancing flames.
Sara – or the thing that used to be Sara – took out her helmet. It was uncomfortable for the new, elongated shape of her skull.
Her six-digited hand brushed against the lonely cross that signaled the final resting place of her father.
The swirling mist came to reach her and she could breathe just as well inside it. Her skin did not blister and fell off her bones. She did not die amidst unbearable pain only to be turned into sluggish goo.
It smelled sweet, in fact.
With a faint hint of too-ripe peaches.
Come now, the Queen compelled her. She felt a phantom arm reach for her shoulder and she followed the Will deeper down inside the forest, inside her new home. There is much labor to do.
Pic by Its Ryan Boi