When Alena awoke she found herself in a cyprus forest, still donning the same black silken robes that she had been wearing at her mother’s funeral; petals from the lilac wreath that had adorned her head that afternoon still clung to the waves of blonde hair that cascaded down around her sunkissed shoulders. Alena looked up to see the pale moon peeking between the limbs far overhead as she picked herself up from the cold hard ground, and wondered where she was. The sharp bitter wind that blew through the ancient trees seemed to pierce her to the core, but it was the glimpse of something unseen that fleeted past the corner of her eye that sent the chills up her spine.
Terrified, and frozen in fear; Alena tried in vain to spot the shadowy figure amongst the impenatrable darkness cast by the trees, but the crushing silence of the night yeilded nothing. Barely able to breathe she called out into the blackness in a voice barely above a whisper, “Hello…is someone there?”, as she waited for the response that she prayed would never come something whisked by behind her; flipping her hair playfully as it passed. Alena spun around, but only in time to see a lone cyprus branch slightly swaying in the distance, and as the limb went still, so did the night again.
Lost and afraid Alena stood on trembeling knees, barely able to keep herself from collapsing back to the ground. Alone among the twisted and gnarled trees, she waited for whatever terror lurked in the forest to come rushing out and devour her. It was the sound of the tree branch breaking behind her that caused Alena to start running.
The sharp crack of the limb snapping under something’s foot rang out through the night like an unexpected clap of thunder. Aleana did not look back as she ran to see what was chasing after her, not at the first sound that sent her running, not as she heard the bushes exploding behind her, and not as the guttoral scream continued its pursuit. Alena no longer noticed the coldness of the night, but instead felt the burning in her legs and lungs growing as fear drove her forward.
Alena grew up on the island of Adamas in the Mediteranian, she knew most of its many forests, none of them with trees this ancient, knotted and twisting about themselves, so tall they looked as if they reached up amongst the very homes of the gods.
Alena had not run like this since she was a child and a wild dog chased her through her uncle’s olive orchard. That time she ran for her mother’s out stretched arms, as the woman watched in terror at her daughter being chased by a black, mangy beast that was foaming at the mouth. Her uncle notched an arrow into his bow and let loose a shoot that sailed within an inch of Alena’s face as it dropped the half wolf mongral as it made its final lunge for the girl. Now her mother was dead, and there was no uncle to save her from the dark presence that felt like it was quickly about to overtake her. The spirit of some long dead beast, come to finish what it started all those years ago.
The ground under her feet dropped away several feet as Alena came bursting out of the forrest and into a clearing that laid before the beach, she tumbled headlong and sprawled out into the coarse sand. Alena rolled onto her back just in time to see the bushes she had just run out of explode.
It was no black hearted beast though, that bore down upon her, but a man. This man was dressed in the armor of a hoplite, and could have passed for one of the guards from the palace on Adamas; except his armor was not the polished bronze she was used to seeing, but was black as night, and his shield did not bear the pegasus, the seal of the island, but instead had that of a viper showing its fangs.
The man bound onto the shore and stood over Alena, the point of his black spear touching the soft skin of her throat just below her chin. Alena was frozen by her fear, desimated by the loss of her mother, unaware of where she was, and unsure if she even wanted to go on.
The warrior’s breathing was heavy, and the fierceness of his eyes shown out from under his helmet as he snarled at her, “Disguise yourself as whatever you want, but tonight we find out if a fury can bleed.”
A tear ran down the side of Alena’s face as she closed her eyes, and waited for the blow that would end her life. She felt the spear leave her neck, and heard the man let out a ferocious roar; but she did not hear the ping that came right before the spear thudded deep into the beach next to her head, and sent sand flying over her face.
Alena wiped away the debris as she opened her eyes and saw the soldier now standing to her left; his attention no longer on herself, but instead he looked at something off to her other side. Alena looked to her right, past the spear still embeded in the ground, and an arrow that now laid next to it, and saw a woman emerging from the trees to join them on the beach. Alena took the opportunity to scamper back a few feet as the man in black armor unseathed an equally black sword, that somehow still gleamed in the moonlight.
“You missed your chance.” the man growled. “Now you’ll die for your trespasses girl.”
“I missed nothing.” the girl replied calmly, as she continued to walk forward pushing the hood of her cloak back to reveal her dark hair and brilliantly green eyes, she was not much older than Alena, and her skin looked milky white under the night sky. Alena had never seen anyone dressed liked her before; she wore a vest, skirt, and boots made of dark brown leather over a linen dress, and a dark grey hooded cloak, that was held in place by a jade leaf connected by two leaves made of silver.
She stopped several paces to the right of Alena, “Now leave the girl be, or I’ll put the next one through your eye.”
The warrior snortted in amusement at the threat, and spit on the ground between them where Alena had just been laying, “And why do you protect this demon of the night? She is a fury, and will rip us both apart, or drive us mad for her amusement, if we give her the chance.”
“Do you really think a fury would cower from a lone soldier?”
The warrior looked down at Alena where she remained on the ground. He saw the fear in her eyes, and the trembeling of her lower lip as she tried to maintain some semblance of composure. “She’s deceitful. It’s all part of her game. We are better to kill her and be safe.”
“So you would kill an innocent girl?”
“If she is an innocent girl.”
“And what makes you think she isn’t?”
“She’s still alive on this island.”
“So are you.”
“Yes, but none of my men are. They were all driven to madness after our ship ran aground here five days ago. These were battle hardened men, and after a few days on this island they turned on each other, until no one was left alive.”
“Except you.” the girl confronted him, still not willing to lower her bow.
“I am Helios, brother of Neoptolemus, and son of Achilles. I have battled the cyclops that live in the land of Polyphemus, and I have slain the hyrda that dwell in the swamps of Lerna. I am not so easily killed.” Helios extends his arm, leveling the point of his sword with the girl aiming an arrow at him. “Now, who are you? and how do you come to be in this place?”
The girl lowers her bow, but does not un-notch the arrow, “My name is Keira, I am a shieldmadien from Avalon. I was but one of a band of warriors sent by Morgan le Fay to investiage the rumors that a jotun was in the high mountains, preparing to attack the castle. But there was no frost giant. The queen had been tricked by Loki, and he set a blizzard on us so thick, and with winds howling so loud, we could neither see nor hear each other. When the storm finally broke I found myself here. That was three days ago.”
Helios lowers his sword, and looks to Alena who is still seated on the ground. “And what about you, if you are not some demon trying to trick us, then how did you come to be in this wretched place?”
“I don’t know.” Alena offers meekly.
“Convenient.” Helios retorts as he slides his sword back into its seath and steps forward to pull his spear from the ground before turning to face Alena.
The emotional overload of the day was finally too much for Alena as she released the first sob, and the tears that had been filling her eyes finally spilled over and ran down her cheeks. “I was at my mother’s funeral.” she managed to get out in a voice that cracked under the weight of what she had been through. “I was standing alone at her funeral pyre, staring into the flames, and then I woke up here in the forest.” With that Alena fully broke down, pulling her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them, and burying her face.
“That’s enough.” Kieara told Helios as she kneeled beside Alena.
In a huff Helios turned and went to inspect the treeline, not satisfied that they weren’t being watched by something.
“Dry your eyes child.” Kieara spoke softly to Alena, “Save your tears, they’ll do you no good here. We are all lost together.” Alena stops crying, and looks at Helios as he peers back into the forest. Kiera continues,”Ignore him, he is exhausted from battle, and no longer has his wits about him. I will not let him harm you.”