The peal of the village church bells just managed to catch Phoebe’s hearing. She paused on the rough track as she heard them, counting out the rings for five in the afternoon. She had one foot still in the sunlight, one just inside the shadow of the forest. She waited as the pealing faintly permeated throughout the valley — bouncing off the stone walls, echoing off the sheep, before being absorbed whole into the massive oaks that made up the forest. They sucked up the ringing, forced it down into the soil, and gave none of it back. Phoebe looked up at the nearest tree, watching it for the slightest sign that it recognised the calling out of the church below. It stood, guarding the entrance to the forest, impassive to the world. It failed to stir.
Phoebe took that as a sign. Or maybe a lack of a sign. Maybe both. She’d been looking for signs in everything the last few days. The rooster crowing at dawn, that was a sign. A predictable one for sure, but a sign nonetheless. The next door neighbours cow facing in the opposite direction to most of the other cows in the village. That was a sign. An inscrutable sign that one. But again, a sign. It didn’t particularly matter what the signs were, they were all pointing in favour of Phoebe’s plan.
She took a quick swig of water, readjusted her pack, and stepped fully into the shadow of the forest. The path here was fairly even, well trod by gatherers and the occasional hunter as it began to weave its way through the trunks. Any sounds of the village were filtered out as the forest soaked it all up. She could hear her breathing as she went, the odd trill of birds up high in the canopy, her footfalls on the path, but that was all. She continued on.
The light in the forest slowly went from a bright jade through to a deep emerald as she went, the path slowly getting worse as she reached the limits of where the hunters and the the gatherers normally went. Phoebe followed the path as it narrowed and thinned until it became barely a thread of a track, marked only by stones placed carefully. The green around her slowly faded away as she continued on, the sun having set and the full moon now rising above the forest. The trilling had stopped and had been replaced by other noises, scurrying in the undergrowth, a growl here and there. Phoebe wasn’t concerned. The creatures of the forest had long learnt to steer clear of anyone walking this path this deep in the forest.
Phoebe reached the rock shaped humorously like a turnip and stopped. She looked carefully around her. From here she needed to take the alternate path, not the one marked by her ancestors, but the other path; the one the forest had marked out. She shaded her eyes from the light of the moon and before long she could see the line of glowing mushrooms leading off to her left, deeper into the forest. A quick swig and a readjustment, and she followed the mushrooms deeper in.
The trail of mushrooms took Phoebe around a small hillock before bringing her out into a clearing ringed with the glowing mushrooms. She sat on a tree stump just outside the ring and rummaged through her pack. Munching on an apple she found in there, she pulled out what she would need next – a thin rope and an axe.
The apple core was tossed out of the clearing and she set to work. Tying one end of the rope to the stump that she had been sitting on, Phoebe tossed the other end over a thin tree and bent it down to her. She tied a knot there, part way along the rope, and taking the free end of the rope and her axe, made her way into the centre of the clearing. She gave the rope a quick pull and her knots held. She took this as a sign. A sign the she could tie knots well. Phoebe looked up to the moon and waited, listening carefully, ignoring the sounds of the forest around her, and as the moon reached its highest point in the night sky, she heard it.
Phoebe could just make the voice out from under the earth. It was expected. She stood still and silent and waited.
“Join us over here.”
Phoebe could hear footsteps now, just beneath where she stood. She could hear them walking in circles, trying to find her, pausing now and then as they quietly called out to her.
“Join us. Join her.”
Phoebe finished tying a small noose in the end of the rope and waited, listening to the footsteps as they closed in on her. She felt them as the stopped just below her, boot to boot. Phoebe waited. She could her the rustle of clothing, that fine rustle of silk, as the creature beneath her crouched down. She could hear the dirt begin to move as a hand began to push its way though the earth beneath.
As the creatures fingertips broke the surface, Phoebe pounced. She shifted her footings and plunged her hands and the noose through the earth, dropping to her knees to force them through. Slipping the noose over the creatures feet from below, she stood up again to bring her hands back into her world, making the noose tight as she did. Phoebe sprinted toward the tree stump she tied the rope to before, pulling the axe from her belt as she did. The tree that the rope and been thrown over shook violently as the rope whipped and pulled. Phoebe took that as a sign that she had caught the bastard and brought her axe down hard on the tree stump, severing the rope.
The bent tree straightened up, causing an explosion of earth from the centre of the mushroom ring as it pulled her into the world the creature from beneath. Phoebe looked at the creature dangling now from the tree, her knots holding fast as it struggled, its fine blue and gold silken robes whipping around as it tried to free itself, its gossamer wings beating out a hurricane as it tried to get them clear, the creature screaming threats to shred the one that did this.
Phoebe stalked up the fairy with her axe and held the iron blade just shy of its face.
“Don’t move, or I’ll push this iron through you slowly. Where. is. my. sister?”