Twilight filtered through the trees in the forest. No leaves swayed nor did any animals jump from branch to branch. No living thing ventured where the stillness dominated.
This region known as the Twilight Forest was a place suspended in time. Gargantuan trees covered the surface of the globe, one world among a countless number. Each had a trunk so thick it would have taken days to map their diameter. If there had been a distinction between day and night in that part of the forest which there was not. These trunks stretched seeming infinite into the blackness of the forest’s canopy.
It was still but not silent. There was the slightest rustle of fabric. And the barest hint of breath.
Time was everything and nothing for her as the distinction between day and night did not exist in her prison. At the moment which the forest had been frozen, the moment when she had been brought to her glade, it had been dusk. The light reaching the forest floor cast the violet hue which often proceeds a starless night.
The Lady Crimson’s prison cell was a grove at the heart of the ancient forest. The trees themselves possessed their own magic. They stank of it.
Cloudy light glinted off of her woman’s hair and the highlights danced like flames. The tresses were bound and twisted. Beads strung on strands of thread were woven through it. The glass surfaces of each bead shimmered as it illuminated from within. These were sewn onto the woman’s gown. Its color was a green so verdant that the cloth could have been a leaf shaped to sheathe her form. Its skirts gathered about her calves and mingled with the soft grasses cushioning her bare feet.
And she sang as she waited.
Her title lacked the power of her true name which had been stripped from her intended as an insult. The mantle bathed her in the blood of the ones they said were her victims. Her name had been forgotten as those who knew what she was had used it, first, as a curse, and, then, not at all. The knowledge that it had ceased to exist and there was little hope of retrieving it burned within her. It became a festering rage, a bitterness like a physical infection.
The song soothed though its magic was barred from her. It was a dirge, a requiem for her lost freedom, centuries removed from her. It made her nostalgic though not homesick in the usual way, and stirred her desire for vengeance.
The Wardens of Pathway, her jailers, communicated with the forest through their magic. At their behest, a section of the sentient trees had rearranged themselves into an ever changing maze. These shifts on their massive roots were so slow and subtle to be hardly noticeable. None but her jailers, the Wardens of Pathway were able to navigate the wood using a code. She had never left the grove since her internment, but she could have broken it easily when she was free. She estimated it had been hundreds of years, since the last of forest’s Wardens had undertaken the journey.
And she waited.
She was not the only inhabitant of the forest. Their howls came to her sometimes, a chorus floating on a nonexistent breeze. What existence could one expect to have in such a place? Never changing, never dying.
She was not immune to the madness infecting them. It courted her, a persistent suitor, unwelcome and yet tempting.
Her song quieted.
“What would you say, my lady Caerwyn, Steward of the White City?” The Lady Crimson asked of the figure standing at the edge of the grove. She used her visitor’s title not in deference but in mocking.
Caerwyn was last Warden standing guard over The Lady Crimson’s prison. She was not the only Warden. The others had moved on to duties deemed more pressing, more prominent. Her campaign to capture and hold the red lady was her greatest achievement and disgrace.
She did not mistake her prisoner’s meaning. The Warden’s pride would not let her simply leave. She trained her face to stillness as she answered the question with one of her own, “What do I say to what?”
“I was just musing on the designs of my prison. Its unforeseen...consequences,” The Lady Crimson replied.
Caerwyn betrayed herself in her stance and expression. The echo of a cruel smile alighted The Lady Crimson’s lips. The other woman might as well been wailing her despair. Before Caerwyn could form a response, The Lady Crimson twisted the knife.
“I was thinking about how the poor souls trapped in here with us are not truly alive at all. That they share my domain is evident. I hear their screams, you know? They echo through the trees. I cannot imagine how you must feel as you tend your city of the dead. Do their cries reach you in your tower, my lady?”
The barb struck home. It showed in the stiffness of Caerwyn’s movements as she took a step into the grove. It was clear that she wanted to appear determined, formidable. Her gown was the color of vermilion, well-made with simple but flattering lines. It had the gossamer texture of a butterfly’s wings but lacked the fragility. It contrasted with the silver of her hair. That, at least, was in a sensible plait down her back. Her singular decoration were her wings. They were the purest white like fresh, clean snow, except for the tips which looked as through they were dusted in sky-blue powder. Her silver eyes were flinty as she replied, “I did not come here to discuss the lost ones with you.”
“But I am so bored, and I get so few visitors,” The Lady Crimson lamented.
“Nor is this a social visit. I suspect you know why I am here,” Caerwyn disregarded the complaint.
The Lady Crimson did not know what dragged the Warden from behind the safety of her ivory walls, but her interest was piqued.
“And what is this new charge you are leveling at me?”
“Nothing as of yet, not that it matters, because you never will leave here. Your sentence will never be ended. Not for the rest of your long life,” the other woman replied.
“I have escaped before, haven’t I? Another of your oversights, if I am not mistaken,” The Lady Crimson retorted.
“It won’t happen again,” she said pretending to ignore the jab.
“As you say.”
“I’m not here discuss my failings with you. They are well known to me.”
The Lady Crimson shifted her legs. When she did the tiny vines which had twined about her gown at her feet and calves snapped like firecrackers. She crossed the clearing to where Caerwyn stood. The broken vines littered The Lady Crimson’s passing and clung to the fine fabric of her clothing. She was of a height with her visitor, and took full advantage of it. Her eyes of carmine pierced The Steward of the White City with their malicious glint. She smiled, “Then, are you here to add to them? I doubt you’d need any help with that.”
“The Tome of Ithiro’s has surfaced,” she snapped using the force of it to free her proximity.
The Lady Crimson set her game aside, “It was found?”
“No. The power is bleeding out...from somewhere. It is only a matter of time before we find where you have hidden it.”
The red woman laughed, “No, you won’t. If you can detect its magic, then, you are much too late.”
Could it be the plan she had set in motion so long ago was about to come to fruition? She kept an amused expression on her face.
Caerwyn offered no reaction.
“Ah, I see you were hoping I would tell you a secret. A hint to find it before more ragged refugees stumble up to your gates. That’s why you came to see me. I do not hate to disappoint you, my lady steward, but I cannot tell you where to find something I hid even from myself.”
Her waiting was at an end.