Chapter 1: Helia the Slayer
Helia was a slayer. She came from a long line of slayers in her family, but presently she was the only one in the trade. Her father had grown too old and had been injured too many times by the profession to continue so she had taken up the mantle. Though her mother had not been pleased with her choice of vocation, due to its dangerous, wandering nature, her father had supported her decision and even seemed prideful that she’d followed him.
Helia was the eldest daughter in a family with no sons. She had thick, long, wavy red hair that flashed like copper penny in the sun and striking blue eyes to compliment. Standing at 5′11 she was tall for her gender with a lean body muscled and fit; a must in her profession of killing monsters. She had a classic beauty in her features but did nothing to flaunt it. Makeup and other frivolities were unknown to her. Women in the position of slayer were unheard of, but Helia had a killer’s edge and huntress’s instinct that would’ve honored the goddess of the hunt herself.
Despite only being twenty-three she had slain a number of monsters: werebeasts of many varieties, huge horse-sized spiders, cannibalistic giants, and packs of bloodthirsty trolls to name a few. In her home of Tegath she had earned quite the name for herself, but unfortunately she’d helped to slay most of the monsters of her country and run herself out of work there. So, she had to travel to find work. Her travels had taken her to a vast kingdom, one thrice the size of Tegath, known as Rumstead.
When she’d arrived, she’d talked to a few locals and soldiers about her trade and what jobs she would be able to find. Many laughed at her, shaking their heads, balking at the very idea a woman could be a slayer. However, the more observant noted the numerous troll tusks adorning her belt or the coarse shaggy werebeast furs that lined her boots and shoulder pads or even that two of her blades were made from the nearly indestructible fangs of a giant queen spider. Those who spotted these had no doubt of her success in the trade and began to tell stories.
One beast was named many times over, the Gray Shadow, the Giant of the North Woods. Helia listened to their stories, taking them with a grain of salt since people tended to embellish and inflate monsters to a point that fact and fiction were indistinguishable from one another.
“They call him the Gray Shadow because you never hear him coming and his shadow is the last thing you ever see.”
“He stands one hundred feet high!” They would say.
“He can stomp a mountain flat as a field!” Others would conjecture.
“He can swallow ten men whole!” Ominous warnings.
All Helia could gather for certain was that there was a giant in the forest to the north that ate humans and it needed to be slain. She’d killed eight giants back in Tegath and she’d heard similar stories of their enormity and power. However, they were far from what the stories purported. A hundred feet ended up being fifteen or twenty. Their strength, while often exaggerated to god-like status, could not to be taken lightly. Luckily they were brutish and not very smart which made outwitting them relatively easy.
Giants were not easy to kill though. They could take devastating wounds and still have the strength to tear a person in half like paper. She’d once witnessed a man get his head popped off like a doll by a giant that was all but disemboweled. Many slayers took on giants in large groups and used ropes and crossbows, but Helia’s preferred method had been to sever their Achilles tendons with her sword, drop them to their knees, and then slash open their thick necks for a quick kill. It worked each time and she knew it would work for this Gray Shadow.
Before long, her interest in the job had brought her before the king of Rumstead who pretty much discredited her ability to kill the giant. But her stolid confidence had brought forth an offer: kill the giant and half the kingdom, plus five chests filled with gold would be hers. The price was astronomical. Rumstead was the largest and one of the most prosperous kingdoms known and even owning half of it would make her the richest woman in history. But Helia suspected the bounty was made so rich because the king and the others didn’t believe for a second that a mere woman could slay such a legendary beast. She intended to prove them wrong and silence their derisive laughter.
After gathering her needed supplies and receiving the necessary information on the giant’s alleged home range, Helia was off to complete her job. It would take her almost four days to reach the giant’s dwelling by horse, though many said merely trespassing in the North Woods would be enough to bring him to her.
The North Woods were a vast swath of untouched forest with towering trees and pristine wilderness. It was said that rare, valuable creatures and natural treasures were cached away in the forest and its mountains. None but the greediest and bravest dared to try and take these riches for fear of the Gray Shadow. Anyone who went into the North Woods never returned alive.
As Helia approached the forest, many signs warned of doom and death ahead. Helia ignored them all, vowing to rid the need for such signs.
Her first two days of travel were uneventful and she got far without so much as seeing a single person. It was the third day when that changed. Helia had finished her lunch and had ridden into midday when she heard a woman’s voice somewhere nearby. She sounded in distress. Normally Helia only focused on her job but she was indeed curious as to whom it might be considering she hadn’t seen any humans since the start of this trip. She turned her horse and directed it toward the sound. As she rounded a few trees the sound of tree branches shaking made her look up.
Her eyes went wide. There, hanging like a fly wrapped in a spider’s webbing, was a mint green-skinned...something...entangled in a gnarly looking net at least twenty feet off the ground. Helia blinked, not believing what she was seeing. Her skin color was indeed strange but she also had large transparent wings sprouting from her back that looked like a cross between a dragonfly and a butterfly. Helia almost thought “fairy” but she wasn’t tiny, she was human-sized.
The winged female struggled against the net, bucking her body. But she was hopelessly entangled and couldn’t free herself. She was crying and seemed to slump after her fight. Quite suddenly her eyes, which were the color of purple orchids, went wide when she looked down and saw Helia dismount her horse.
“No...NO!” she cried out with terror, struggling even more to no avail. “KENDRICK!”
Helia looked up at her, “Are you ok?”
The winged creature didn’t seem to hear her as it fought desperately above.
“Hey! Hey!” Helia said loudly and firmly, “Take it easy. You’re going to hurt yourself if you struggle like that.”
“NO! Let me go you poacher!” she suddenly screamed with panic, though her voice sounded weak from shouting so much, “KENDRICK!”
Helia shook her red locks, “Calm down! I’m not a poacher.”
The beautiful eyes directed at her, “This-This isn’t your trap?”
“No. But I can free you if you just calm down. Ok?”
The winged girl seemed doubtful but eventually nodded. Helia’s eyes scanned the device; a simple but effective snare net set high in the trees. It was meant to catch birds but it seemed adept at catching flying humanoids as well. Helia could see the spots where it was tied down and went to her horse for her crossbow. She selected a special arrow with a wide, sideways blade for a head. It was something of her own design meant to be fired and cut the descending webs of giant spiders. Rather effective in getting them on the ground to be hacked to pieces since they clearly held the advantage in their webs. She nocked an arrow and sighted the rope just above the winged girl.
“What are you doing?” she asked fearfully.
“It’s ok. I’m going to shoot the rope and catch you.” She assured, “I’ve done this before.”
Suddenly, the arrow loosed and severed the rope. The winged girl screamed as she fell but Helia tossed aside her crossbow and caught her in a cradle position. The slayer was surprised and relieved to find the girl weighed very little. A gasp of surprise escaped the winged female.
Helia carefully lowered her to the ground. The net was fine and tightly bound up the wings jutting from her back.
“Are you ok?” Helia asked.
She nodded but then seemed to wince with pain, “S-something’s burning me...on my wings.”
Helia gave a puzzled look and peeked around the girl’s wings. There were darker marks near the base of her wings as if something was indeed burning her. Experimentally, Helia touched the net but nothing felt hot. The only thing she noticed were some iron weights wrapped around some of the net strings. Surprisingly, the burns seemed to match the shape of the weights.
“All right. Let’s get you out of this.” Helia concluded, drawing her dagger.
The girl flinched notably seeing the blade.
“Easy. Just gonna cut these nets...not you. But let me know if I’m hurting you ok?” Helia reassured. “And...don’t do anything to me once I let you out.”
“Do anything?” the female inquired.
Helia had a serious look on her face, “I don’t know what you are. You could be something dangerous.”
“I-I’m not dangerous.”
Helia flipped her blade warningly, “I’m just letting you know if you plan on doing something evil to me I’ll dispatch you quicker than a thought. I don’t hurt you; you don’t hurt me. Fair?”
Again, she nodded.
The redhead set to work cutting each strand. It took a bit of time, especially around the wings but Helia managed to free the winged being without incident. There was some darkening around the places where the net was tightest, which Helia could only assume was bruising but nothing seemed cut or broken.
“There we go. How does that feel?” Helia asked as she peeled the last bit of net off.
The winged girl sat up cautiously. She was so petite, like a human bird. Her face was delicate and angelically beautiful, almost too beautiful to be real. The hair on her head was short but swept elegantly across her head in a fitting pixie style and was a transparent blue color as if it too were made from the wings of dragonflies. Both of her ears were long thin and pointed. She wore a short, fitted dress that looked like it was made with yellow flowers sewn into a fine material. There were no shoes on her little feet.
Quite abruptly she flickered her wings with a loud buzzing thrum which made Helia flinch a bit. The winged girl winced slightly.
“My wings are sore.”
“Well you might not want to fly then...you can fly right?”
Helia turned her head, “Are you a fairy?”
“No. I’m...a fae.”
Only in story books had Helia even heard of the fae folk; magical, immortal beings with wings. Even with all the fantastical monsters she’d slain the idea of such beings was still far-fetched. Yet...here was one in a net. And now the burns made sense. Fae were supposed to be susceptible to iron. It hurt them, it weakened them. At least that’s what the stories told.
“A fae? Truly?”
The fae nodded.
“Well...you sure do look like one now that you mention it.” She looked at her crystal-like wings unabashedly, “I never in my life thought I’d see a fae. I just thought they were stories.”
“You’re not the only one. Um...th-thank you for saving me.”
Helia shrugged tucking her dagger away, “It wasn’t a big deal.”
The fae’s eyes became serious, “It was to me. I might’ve been found by whoever set this net and they would’ve chopped me up and sold me for potions and charms. You saved my life...what’s your name?”
The fae slowly stood up and Helia did the same. Standing she was the size of a young teen and much shorter than Helia’s Amazonian-type stature.
“Helia, I must repay you.”
The woman shook her head, “No need.”
“Yes. There is a need. As a fae I must owe you my life. Please, hold out your hand.”
Helia’s blue eyes narrowed with suspicion as she fingered her dagger hilt.
Twillow explained, “I owe you a life debt. I must draw the symbol of it on your hand so it’s official.”
Still paranoid, Helia offered her left hand, not taking her other off her dagger hilt. She always expected something bad just so she wouldn’t be shocked when it happened. Undeterred and with delicate fingers, Twillow gently took the woman’s hand and began drawing something invisible on her palm. The fae’s green skin seemed to glow brighter for a brief moment but then it faded. Once complete, she closed the woman’s fingers over her palm and pushed it to her chest.
Nothing strange happened afterward so Helia merely nodded, guessing it was a symbolic ritual of some kind.
“Ok... You’re going to be all right? You were calling someone before I freed you...Kendrick? Is that your mate?” Helia asked, glancing around.
A blush seemed to come over the fae as she shook her head, “No. He’s...my friend. I guess he’s too far away to hear me. But I’ll be fine.” A concerned look seemed to invade the pretty face of the fae, “Why are you out here anyway? You...you must know it’s not safe for you to be in this forest?”
Helia stood up, knowing she was about to hear the ‘abandon hope all ye who enter here’ speech. She didn’t have the time or patience to hear such things again.
“Yes I do. Goodbye Twillow. Take care of yourself.” she said curtly but with politeness.
Twillow grabbed her hand, her violet eyes still pouring concern, “You should leave this forest Helia...I’m serious!”
The slayer pulled her hand away, “Thank you for your concern Twillow but I’ve got to get going.”
Twillow followed her to her horse as she mounted it in a jump, “I-I should go with you! At least until you’re out of this forest.”
“Not going to happen, Twillow. Take care. Ya!” she urged her horse and it ran ahead, leaving the fae behind.
Behind her Twillow tried to flap her wings and take flight after her but they sputtered painfully and she dropped to the ground.
Helia only heard her last desperate shout before she was out of earshot, “If he finds you he’ll KILL YOU!”