Laughing Lights

This is my entry for last week’s flash fiction challenge over at Terrible Minds, 1000 words based on a randomly selected title.

I’m 8 words over and extremely rusty but here we go!

………………………………

The moonlight was just strong enough to stop her from running straight in to a tree as she pelted through the forest.

She knew it was too late, everything had been too late. She’d set off too late, taken the forest road too late in the day, realised too late that she’d stopped following the path and started following the lights. She would be missed far too late. Still she ran.

She couldn’t hear the laughing any more, first her breathing had drowned it out and now that was lost under the panting, animalistic noises she was making. It felt like she was fighting her lungs for air, fighting her legs for movement, fighting the whole damn forest for freedom.

The moonlight came at her suddenly from the forest floor and she jumped with burning legs to avoid the pool of water. Her leg buckled as she landed on the other side and her hands pushed deep in to the soft ground as she shoved herself back to her feet. She was heading towards the marsh then, nowhere near the path. It didn’t matter anymore. There was only one direction that mattered, away from the lights. Dammit, she’d thought she was safe here.

She stumbled trying to jump over the next pool and sloshed through the one after that and by the time she got to the other side she wasn’t running any more, not really. It felt like the marshy land was pulling her feet back as hard as she pushed it away.

Another pool of water appeared and she stumbled to a halt in front of it and doubled over. On solid ground she might have outrun her pursuer but in the marsh this race was over. As her breathing started to quiet she heard the laughter behind her. High pitched, soulless and getting closer.

Meredith pulled herself upright. She stopped herself from checking her pockets, she knew there was nothing in them. She scanned the ground around her and saw grass, mud and water. Nothing her hands could properly grasp, let alone wield. Even if she wanted to try and take the noble way out the only thing available was the pools and she wouldn’t drown in time.

Fuck.

Her failure seemed to pull her down like the mud under her feet. Everything she’d run from, everything she’d kept hidden away would go to the lights now. All of her stupid power and potential. No one would manipulate her for it now, no one would try to use it for good or bad and she’d never work out how to thwart them. She’d just be another light where there should be darkness, another lost laugh on the wind. Her ancestors had battled dragons, led armies, ridden storms to their deaths. Her only rebellion had been wanting to die in her bed aged 90 and instead she’d taken the scenic route to the pub through a wood, stepped off the path and she was going to be killed in a fucking bog by a fucking Will ‘O the Wisp aged 30. Her useless power would sustain it for centuries.

Well, at least she could deny it some.

As the laughter began to surround her she closed her eyes. There would be lights everywhere now. Instead she focused deep inside herself to the place she never went, the place she’d fled along with her home. The power sprang up instantly, warm and forgiving in her mind.

Wind began to buffet her body, distracting her. She fell to her knees rather than focus on keeping her footing and sent her mind back inwards.

She was worse than a novice really but there was one spell she remembered, the one that everyone learned, practicing in solemn rows with their candles. She found the form of it in her mind and pushed.

She opened her eyes to a pillar of flame.

Beneath her knees the ground became solid and then cracked as the heat drove the water from the bog. She felt a joyous surge of power. If the lights were still there they couldn’t compete with this. Then the wind slammed in to her with renewed force and the laughter drowned out the roar of the flames.

She felt the teeth of the wind began to bite. She looked down to see the blood flowing down her arms. So that was how they killed you then. No one had ever really known. She poured everything she had in to the inferno around her.

She’d spent her whole life holding back for fear of what she could do and now she was going to die giving her all without making the slightest bit of difference.

There was a sudden impact to her side which sent her sprawling across the baked ground. The flame cut out abruptly. Meredith looked down and even though she’d been ready to die a moment ago felt her first real surge of fear. Wrapping around her arms and waist were the knotted cords weighted with rune stones of a binding. The laughter was still loud in her ears and the wind stung where it buffeted her skin. She arched her head back, exposing her throat, hoping the Wisp would take her in time. Instead there was a shout, a word of power she didn’t know and the laughter stopped instantly.

With the wind gone the only sound was her panting breath as she struggled against the binding. Then she heard footsteps on the newly dried ground.

The footsteps stopped behind her and a male voice spoke another word she didn’t recognise. Magic washed over her and she felt the bleeding cuts that covered her heal.

The man walked around her head and crouched down in front of her face.

From what she could see in the moonlight he was around her age, tall and broad and looming. She couldn’t read his expression as he stared at her.

“I’m going to take you home now Princess.”

Meredith closed her eyes and wished she’d run towards the lights.