To summarize it...well, it features a magical race of people called faie (based on fairies, but I've taken many liberties), and the story is about the conflict that arises when they clash with humans due to a mysterious blight. Quite vague, I know, but I don't want to spoil the chapter. ^^;
Chapter 2 will be posted on September 9. It's actually already finished, but I'd like to stay at least one chapter ahead of schedule so I'll have plenty of time to edit and write future chapters. Ideally, I'll be posting a new chapter every other week.
Any comments/critiques would be appreciated!! >.<
Chapter 1: The Golden Apple
She knew it was reckless, but she saw no other option.
Amber sat high in a tree, her gold eyes, auburn hair, and dark red dress blending perfectly with the blazing autumn foliage around her. She peeked through the leaves at the forest clearing ahead, and immediately saw what she was looking for. A log cabin, and growing beside it, a single apple tree, its branches heavy with fruit.
So what her sister said was true. There were golden apples here.
While the apples themselves were scarlet-skinned, they each emanated a glowing aura of gold, rich as honey. It took her breath away, they were so beautiful.
It had been years since any were last seen back home, before the strange blight began ravaging their orchards. To think, there were so many right here, and in of all places, right next to a human dwelling...
And there lay the problem.
Amber was a faie.
Nowadays faie lived in their own separate realms, secret sanctuaries invisible to humans, and seldom ever stepped out. A few roamed, but in most cases they were exiles, banished from their homes. Sometimes, faie children would flirt with danger by sneaking into the human realm, and sometimes, this would end in tragedy, for humans liked to hunt faie children.
Usually, a human would be no match for an adult faie; indeed, when humans wandered into the faie realms, they rarely escaped unscathed. Children, however, had yet to develop their acquired magic, and were thus vulnerable.
But Amber needed one of those apples. Just one would do. One, so she could at least be even with her twin sister, Robin.
Amber and Robin were princesses, heirs to the matriarchal throne of the Golden Wood of Perpetual Autumn. But by law, only one could be the Crown Princess.
Their competition began the moment they were born. Robin was the elder sister by a mere 5 minutes, and this already gave her an advantage. In most people’s eyes, she held the most claim to the throne, and it was only because their mother decided to let them prove themselves first that Amber had any chance at all.
Robin was elegant and outgoing, able to charm all around her with ease. In contrast, Amber was notoriously temperamental, preferring to spend all day climbing trees than engaging in mindless chatter.
There were only two things she could be proud of, that made her stand out. One was her talent in dance. Robin had never been one for athletics, so it was only through dance that Amber managed to outdo her sister in grace, consequently earning her jealous glares during every festival. Her other source of pride was that of her elder brother Davin. Though he never admitted it, everyone knew that between his two sisters, it was Amber to whom he was the closest. He was her best friend, her confidant, and Amber treasured him more than any number of cheap admirers.
Now only one day remained before their sixteenth birthday, when they would both come of age, and the Crown Princess would finally be chosen. With time running out, the competition between the two sisters heightened in the past weeks, as they sought any measure to raise themselves above the other. As always, Robin got a head start; her acquired magic developed early, while Amber’s had yet to manifest itself.
The final straw came yesterday, when Robin suddenly appeared holding a golden apple. Golden apples had long been a symbol of the Golden Wood, and it used to be tradition that a princess would present one at her crowning. Now that they were so rare, finding one was as good as winning the crown.
Immediately, Robin was surrounded by a large group of friends, and Amber spied from a tree as she boasted her find.
“Wow, Robin! I can’t believe it! Where did you find it??”
“Oh, it was quite easy, really. Do you know that human dwelling a few miles from here, beyond the stream?”
They nodded. Despite the warnings, all of them had explored the area outside the Golden Wood before, at least as far as they could go without being missed.
“Well, I found a tree there that was full of these golden apples.” Robin held it up high so they could all see clearly.
“...Robin, you really went up there?” said a girl in an awed gasp.
“The human was gone, out hunting probably. Though it wouldn’t have stopped me even if he wasn’t.” Robin smiled, a little smugly. “I think it was worth it.”
Amber spent the rest of the night stewing in jealousy. She knew that no matter how beautifully she danced at the crowning ceremony, it would stand no chance against a real golden apple. By morning, desperation encroached upon her, and she snuck away, determined to get one for herself. It didn’t sound too difficult. She only had to pick an apple without being found.
But now that she was actually here, she couldn’t help but hesitate.
Smoke rose from the cabin’s chimney. The human was likely still inside.
The wisest thing to do would be to wait for him to leave. But if what Robin said was true, and the human had just gone hunting yesterday, who knew how long it would be before he went out again? The crowning was tomorrow. Amber didn’t have time to wait.
Yet, she hesitated. Though it was rare for humans to live so close to faie territory, this human was clearly well-prepared.
The clearing was strewn with cold iron, the ghastly shapes of metal objects rising out of the grass and fallen leaves. She could spot tools and horse shoes and various scrap machine parts she couldn’t identify. Even the branches of the apple tree were strung with bits of iron, glinting in the sun like tinsel.
Besides that, there was also a dog-- an old hound-- sleeping on the porch. Amber was barefoot. If she were to make a misstep and burn herself on one of the metal objects, she could waken the dog, which would no doubt attack her and alert the human inside.
Stupid human. He probably didn’t even know what treasures he had growing next to his house. After all, humans couldn’t see auras. Brutal, soulless savages. It simply made no sense that golden apples would grow here and not in the Golden Wood.
But the facts were facts. She had to make a move.
Amber took a deep breath, gathering her courage.
A hush swept through the clearing, breeze whispering in the trees.
She dropped from the tree and landed soft in the grass, quiet as a bird.
If the dog woke up, she’d make a run for the trees, she decided. And hopefully, it wouldn’t have to come to that. Stealth was one of the innate magics, after all.
She began tiptoeing around the metal objects, gingerly pushing aside piles of leaves with her feet as she went, to avoid stepping on them. But by doing this, she quickly realized that making a run for it would have its own dangers. There were iron nuts, bolts and screws hidden under the leaves. If she weren’t being careful, she would be unable to avoid stepping on them, and the pain could very well cause her to trip onto any number of sharp objects.
For a moment, she froze, as her eyes caught the blade of a nearby axe, crusted with red. Blood...? No; looking closer, it was only rust.
Amber swallowed hard and glanced at the dog again. Still asleep.
Maybe she underestimated this human.
Ahead, the apples shimmered in the afternoon sun. She could already smell their sweet nectar.
She shook her head. No. She couldn’t turn back now. If Robin could do it, so could she.
Carefully, patiently, she made her way closer, hardly making a sound. At last, one of the branches came within reach. Amber held out her hand, touched the smooth skin of an apple with her fingers. Almost there.
She glanced at the dog one last time, then took another step forward. Now.
She grasped the apple in her hand and gave it a slight tug. It fell away instantly. But that slight tug caused some kind of chain reaction; she heard a thrashing in the upper branches and a groan of metal.
Amber had only a split second to take cover. She crouched to the ground with her arms over her head as something came crashing down from above. Something large.
The metal reverberated in her ears. But Amber was unhurt. She peeked her eyes open. And saw bars.
The dog began barking right then. She heard the sound of a door slamming open.
“No! No, no, no!”
Instinctively, she grabbed at the bars, then immediately let go. “AH!” She looked at her hands. They were covered in red blisters, hissing where they made contact with the iron.
She was caught in a cage, a cold metal cage, and the running footsteps of both dog and human approached rapidly. When she looked up again, they were already there, and she found herself staring down the length of a crossbow into the green eyes of the human staring into her own.
Until that moment, Amber had never seen a human in person.
Oh, she’d heard descriptions, of course. She recalled one night when she was twelve, she had sat with her father as the men told stories of their encounters over cider. At the time, she’d frowned, skeptical. “You’re only trying to scare me. How could something not have an aura? Even rocks have auras.”
Her uncle Crevan smiled then, ruffling her hair. “Oh, but it’s true. I tell you, every human I’ve seen had no aura.” His smile had a bitter tinge. “They’re monsters, all of them.”
And now, she could see that he was right. This human was, by every definition, a monster.
“I caught one...I finally caught one...” the human said in stunned amazement, as if he couldn’t believe it himself.
He had an oafish look to him, his features grotesque, with shaggy brown hair falling into putrid green eyes. From his voice, he sounded rather young, but Amber couldn’t tell otherwise; she could barely stand to look at him as it was. But worst of all was his lack of aura. If the absence of light was darkness, then this human was surrounded by it.
Her heart beat wildly in terror. The apple lay in the grass beside her, but it was the least of her worries now. Would she even be able to return alive, let alone attend the crowning ceremony?
But the human didn’t seem intent to kill her right away. With one hand still on the trigger of the crossbow, he took out a length of rope from his jacket pocket. “Turn around,” he ordered.
Amber couldn’t move. This would be a perfect time for her acquired magic to kick in, she thought. She’d take anything; it didn’t even have to be offensive, as long as it would help her escape. But nothing happened.
“I said turn around.”
The dog growled at her for good measure, its wet nose poking through the bars of the cage.
Amber grit her teeth. She decided then, that no matter what happened, she would not allow herself to appear weak. If a strong bluff was her only defense, then so be it. She might be powerless, but the human didn’t need to know that.
She lunged forward, stopping just short of touching the cage, and snarled, “Make me, human!”
Startled, both dog and human took a step back. Then the human scowled, and kicked the bars of the cage with the sole of his boot, driving her back again. Still, she made no move to turn around, so he told the dog, “Connor, watch over her,” and moved to the back of the cage himself.
Amber allowed herself a smirk over the small victory, but then she felt the human grab her hands from behind, and she shuddered. He began tying her wrists together with the rope. She tried to struggle loose, but he dragged her back against the cage, and she shuddered again, her dress the only thing shielding her skin from the cold bars.
Finally, he gave the rope a tug to secure the tight knot.
“Ow!” she protested.
“Be glad I’m not tying them with chains,” the human said, his breath sending the hairs on the back of her neck standing straight. He smelled of wood and metal and it repulsed her.
Next, the human stood and lifted the cage off of her. Anger flared up inside Amber as she saw how effortlessly he handled the metal, while her own blistered hands still stung.
He took hold of her tied wrists and pulled her to her feet. “Get up.” He shoved her toward the porch. “Move.”
For a second, she hesitated. Maybe she could still try making a run for it. But that thought was quickly extinguished by a low growl around her knees and the sharp point of the crossbow’s bolt pressing between her shoulder blades. She began to walk.
Dread welled up inside her with every step. What was he going to do to her in there? Skin her? Mutilate her? Chop her into pieces and cook her for dinner?
What she saw when he opened the door only confirmed her fears. Inside, it was dark but for the fire, sending flickering shadows along the walls adorned with antlers and animals skins. Her eyes immediately went to the stone fireplace and its fine array of iron pokers, and then to a chopping block in the corner, with a large knife stuck in it.
The hound dog trotted into the house and the human shoved her in after it. Amber choked down a whimper.
“Y-you won’t get away with this,” she said, still trying to sound defiant. “I didn’t come here alone! They’ll rescue me! You’ll be sorry then!”
The human paused in the doorway. “How many?”
“At least a dozen. My brother, my sister, all her friends...”
At first, this threat seemed to work. He stiffened, and glanced back outside. But then he frowned, turning to face her again. “I don’t believe you.” He closed the door behind them. “You never called for help.”
Amber let out a groan. How could she be so stupid? Of course she knew that no one would be coming for her-- she didn’t tell anyone where she was going, not even Davin-- so she didn’t think to call for help that wasn’t there. So much for bluffing.
He threw her to the floor. Amber quickly tried to explain herself. “I just wanted one of those apples! I swear, I wasn’t going to do anything else-- I only wanted one, then I would have never come back again--”
“I don’t care why you’re here,” he interrupted. “All that matters is that now you’re mine.”
She managed to right herself, and looked up at him, hair in her face.
“...Are you going to kill me?”
“Not if you give me what I want.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want...” Some of the hardness left his face, and he took a deep breath. “I want one of your eyes.”
The human went to a table and picked up a book. Flipping to a certain page, he came back and shoved it in her face. “What it says here...is it true?”
She frowned. “I can’t read that.”
He pulled her up to a sitting position and showed it to her again.
“I told you, I can’t read.”
He blinked. “Faie can’t read?” He looked back down at the book. “They never mentioned that...”
“Look, I don’t know what that book says, or what you think you might know about faie, but would you just get to the point?”
He scowled again. Jabbing a finger at the page, he explained. “This says that faie have the power to trade their eyes with other people. If that’s true, then I want you to trade one of your eyes with mine.”
Amber froze. She knew what he was talking about now: Switch Eyes magic, one of the innate magics.
It was said that ages ago, an infant was born completely blind, and his mother wished for a way to help her son see. As if in response to her prayers, the mother developed an acquired magic that allowed her to trade one of her own eyes with her son’s, and henceforth, that magic was passed down through the generations as an innate magic.
Amber knew little of how to use this magic. It wasn’t used very often. She wasn’t sure if it would even work with a human. But she did know that the result would be permanent. A traded eye could never be traded again.
She gulped. “What do you want with the eye of a faie?”
The human took another deep breath. “Four years ago, I accidentally entered faie territory. I left something behind there. I couldn’t see anything, so I don’t know where I left it. I need one of your eyes to find my way back.”
“I...I can’t just give you my eye! That would put my people in danger!”
“I only need to get back what I left behind. After that, I’ll never enter your domain again. I promise.”
“No!” She shook her head. “Kill me if you want to, but I won’t!”
He shrugged. “Fine. Then I’ll just catch another faie. I don’t care if it takes years; I’ll wait as long as I have to until I get what I want.” The human looked serious. After all, he’d already waited four years before he was able to catch her.
“...And if I do give you my eye, what then?”
“Then I won’t hurt you. I’ll let you go. Believe me, I don’t want a faie in my house for any longer than that.”
Amber bit her lip. So if she refused, then not only would she die, but another unsuspecting faie would have to go through the same thing. But if she agreed, and the human kept his word, then this nightmare would be over...
She glared at the human, trying to find any hint of deception in his face. But hideous as he was, he still managed to look sincere.
...What other choice did she have?