********Author's Note: This is a story that I started working on a long time ago, that I rather like the beginning of. Not sure where it's going to go, but I will dabble away at it when I feel inspired. Let me know what you think!
She ran blindly through the woods, ignoring the grasping branches and thorny undergrowth. Her short jean skirt was torn, her white top covered in dirt and caught with leaves. Her arms and legs were quickly accumulating a coating of dirt and blood from the onslaught of the hostile forest.
Her bare feet made little sound, though her breathing was harsh and loud with panic. She didn't dare look behind her for fear of tripping. She just listened. Run harder. Faster. Dodge, duck. But quietly. As quietly as you can. Hurry!
She skidded down a steep, muddy embankment into a shallow, sluggish stream. The smooth, cold stones felt good on her torn, abused skin. She splashed through and pulled herself up onto the other side. Her foot slipped and she nearly fell back in, but she grabbed a tree root and regained her balance. That was close. Hurry up!
It had to have been hours, she thought. How long had she been running? Her chest hurt, almost as much as her unfortunate feet. She suddenly felt the chill as she staggered on through the trees. The water dripping down her legs felt like it had turned to ice. She had no idea where she was. There was a highway somewhere past these woods, but she could have gotten turned around, could be going in the completely wrong direction. A part of her, the part that was completely overcome by the nightmare of it all, was sure that at any moment, she would break through the trees and find herself back at that house, back with them.
She just had to hope. She needed to get away. There was no other option. She had to escape.
Then there was the distant sound of cars rushing past. The highway. Or at least a road of some kind. She was almost there. You can do it, Kyla. Just a little farther. Just a little –
She heard a sound like someone screaming – or singing – and a shocking gust of wind hit her from behind. She tripped, falling forward. She put her hands out, bracing for impact, her eyes squeezed shut in an instinctive flinch. She fell…and fell and fell. The fall kept going. Kyla opened her eyes and gasped, too shocked to even scream. She was falling through a cold, white-gray mist, like fog. It was strangely bright. The wind whipped around her and she felt her hair being dragged up above her by the sharp air rushing past.
Pain, like someone had driven knives through her back. Kyla tried to scream, but the scream was simply snatched away into the air. The sharp pain ended almost instantly. Her shoulders burned. She was falling still, but something was tugging at her back, catching at the wind and trying to slow her down.
But she was still falling fast. Like a child using a bed sheet and jumping off the roof, whatever it was attached to her back was not making much of a difference. The mist gave way and Kyla let out a yelp of terror. Below her was a sparkling, brilliant, seemingly endless expanse of water. An ocean. The waves peaked and fell, reflecting the intense sunlight that burst through the clouds that Kyla had just come through. Sunlight. As in daylight. But it was nighttime! Her panicked brain latched onto this oddity, ignoring the other more compelling anomalies, such as the fact that she'd tripped in the woods and was now falling through the sky towards an ocean. The wind continued to buffet her, somehow shoving her up or sideways instead of just letting her fall straight down.
Despite the strange updrafts, the ocean approached much more quickly than she liked to think about. She was going to hit it and it was going to hurt. Kyla closed her eyes, twisting in the air until she was curled into a little ball, and tucked her head into her arms. She braced herself for impact.
Raphael shielded his eyes against the sudden reappearance of the sun. It had been a very cloudy day, but the clouds had opened up in an instant, revealing blue sky and sunlight. It was an impressive sight, but that's not what caught Raphael's attention. He leaned against the side of the ship and squinted towards the west.
"Caele, look! Do you see that?"
The captain of the ship came immediately to Raphael's side. "What is it, Rafe? A ship? If we've finally run down that Temeran battleship –"
"No, look up. Under the sunburst." He pointed and Caele saw what his friend and first mate was pointing at. Something was falling out of the sky. Or rather, he realized as he looked harder with his sharp eyes, someone was falling out of the sky.
"Tell Jace to turn the ship and head for that sunburst. Whoever that is is going to need our help."
Rafe shouted orders and everyone on the ship swarmed across the rigging and along the deck, redirecting the ship. Caele watched as the figure fell, swirling and jerking up and around like a leaf. As they came closer, he saw what was making him or her fall so oddly and he frowned. Raphael watched the captain's expression go from curious to very grim and turned his attention back to the ocean to watch whoever it was hit the water with a hard, painful smack.
Kyla swallowed seawater, gagging as she flailed in confusion. She had blacked out when she hit the water – which was probably a good thing since it must have hurt a lot – but now she was in a haze of confusion. What was up? What was down? Her skin burned and her body ached. She kept getting dragged down. She wasn't the greatest swimmer and the water was very choppy. A wave swooped over her and she went under again. First, that nightmare at the house, then she fell through the woods into the sky, and now she was going to drown.
Worst. Day. Ever.
When she came up, she saw the ship. A sailing ship, like in the old pirate movies. She raised her hands and waved. This promptly sent her back under the water. She kicked hard and broke the surface, gasping for air.
"Help! Please!" Water sloshed into her mouth and she gagged.
Someone was standing on the side of the ship waving back at her. She heard him call out, "Wait there! Don't move!"
Don't move? Kyla spluttered. Why shouldn't she move? She was going to swim towards that ship if it was the last thing she ever did. Hopefully, it wouldn't be the last thing she ever did.
Then something bumped her. She saw a sleek, dark shape slide past her. It was big. Very, very big. And it was circling her, lazily, contemplatively, as if deciding which part of her to start on first. She screamed.
"Hold still, damn it! Don't move!" a different voice commanded her.
"There's something out here!" she yelled. "I'm pretty sure it wants to eat me so… hurry, please?" Her voice cracked in panic. Another wave sent her under… under with that thing. She kicked wildly. Like hell was she going to stay calm and not move when she was sharing space with that.
"I'm coming out to you! Just hold your arms up in the air and try not to kick your legs too hard. Stay still."
"Hold my arms up?" she repeated. Was he going to throw her a rope or something? The ship was too far away. But she raised up her hands like he said to. Anything to get out of the water before she became some big monster's meal.
The sea creature brushed against her again and this time she saw its head, the big vacant eyes and, more importantly, the massive mouth that bristled with teeth. It bumped her again, more aggressively, and she couldn't help crying out. Another shape swam past. And another. There were at least three now. Her heart throbbed with fear and she prayed hard as she reached towards the sky.
She felt hands grab hers and tug. Suddenly she was rising out of the water. She looked down, watching one of the massive beasts take a few angry snaps at her feet. It wasn't a shark. Or not one she'd ever seen. It was a massive sea serpent, with a broad, flat head made to accommodate all of its fangs and long, frond-like fins running along either side of its trunk of a body. One of the other sea beasts rammed it and they began attacking each other, churning the water. She counted. There were five of them.
It suddenly occurred to her that the swift, jerky movements that were lifting her up and away from the monsters were not those of someone in a ship or at the end of a rope. She looked up and gasped again. Her rescuer was flying. Flying. With wings. He had huge, black wings and he was carrying her over to the ship. He lowered her down and she staggered as she hit the deck. He landed lightly, easily beside her, shaking out the two massive, black appendages once and then folding them neatly behind him.
Kyla coughed, retching on seawater. She was shaking, as much from the cold wind on her wet skin as from the sea monster attacks. She took a few deep breaths before looking up at her rescuers.
Five figures stood in front of her, studying her as curiously as she studied them. Three of the five looked like regular people, Kyla thought, but the other two…. They were not human. One of them, a woman, was a stunningly tall, slender, beautiful creature with ink black skin. Her hair was a vibrant emerald green that matched her large, luminous eyes. Multiple long braids were caught up together in one ponytail on her head. She held herself with graceful, lethal confidence, but her look seemed friendly.
The other was the one who had rescued her from the monsters. He was incredibly handsome with sleek, black hair and amazing turquoise eyes. He was gratifyingly and distractingly muscular, as she couldn't help noticing, since he wasn't wearing a shirt. All in all, he looked like your average handsome action movie star. But then there were the wings. They were feathered, huge and black, like some sort of fallen angel's, except the feathers seemed harder, almost like long, textured scales rather than actual feathers. The massive wings moved ever so slightly as he shifted on the swaying deck of the ship. They were as natural to him as his arms or legs. She blinked and focused on his eyes. He was looking at her with an expression of mild curiosity and some amusement. At what, she didn't know. Falling into a sea monster infested ocean wasn't the least bit funny as far as she was concerned.
"Thank you," she finally said, her voice shaky but at least audible. "I was definitely about to be chewed on by at least five of those things."
"This is not the sort of place you want to go swimming," the woman agreed with a dry smile. Her voice was smooth as glass, lilting in a way that made Kyla think of several exotic accents all together, but she couldn't pin it down to one.
"Trust me, I did not want to go swimming at all. Unfortunately, I really didn't have a choice seeing as how I was falling."
"Why were you up there?" the winged one asked.
"Why was I up in the sky?" she clarified. "Um, that's a really good question. I was in the woods a minute ago. Running through the woods. And it was the middle of the night. And I tripped. And then I just kept falling and ended up in the ocean. Weird, right?" Kyla rubbed her eyes and climbed slowly to her feet. She stumbled a little as she tried to find her balance. The ship moved under her feet and she felt odd, like she couldn't trust herself to stand properly. "So…. Where am I, exactly?"
"The Fasting Sea just north of Temer," one of the other men said. "The closest land is probably the White Islands, wouldn't you say, Rafe?"
One of the other normal looking ones nodded in agreement. Kyla stared at them all. One part of her was insisting that she was still in the woods and she must've hit her head on a rock. The other part told her that she did not want that to be true, so she might as well accept this as reality. She had somehow fallen into another world.
"It's like a really, really bad movie," she said, shaking her head. They looked confused. She smiled. "I'm pretty sure I fell out of my world and into yours. Like another dimension. Because in my world, there is no Temer or White Islands or whatever. Not that I know of. And there aren't people like… you." She gestured toward the winged one. He looked suddenly angry at that, as if he were personally offended by her remark. She hurried to explain.
"I'm sorry. It's not that I think… Well, it's just that in my world everyone is pretty much the same. Two arms, two legs. No one has wings."
At this, everyone was silent and they looked utterly baffled. The winged one opened his mouth, then shut it again, regarding her curiously. Then he said, "No one has wings? Or just no black ones like mine?"
"No wings at all. Black, brown, or purple. Last I checked, anyway." She smiled, but they were still staring at her as if she'd just told them she wanted to jump back into the ocean to have a picnic with the sea serpents.
"Then, were you… different from your people?" the woman asked.
"We're just wondering what your… your world thought of your wings."
"My what?" Kyla stared at her.
The winged one raised a dark brow and stepped toward her. She resisted the urge to take a step back. He reached past her shoulder and tapped on something behind her. She turned and saw feathers. Lots of feathers. Each feather started out dark silver in the middle and gradually lightened to white around the edges. They were very pretty.
And they were, apparently, attached to her back. Kyla yelped and began turning, reaching behind her to tug at them. And she felt them. Suddenly, she was aware of them – aware of the tug at her back, aware of the wind rustling through them, aware of how they moved and reacted to her movement.
"Holy shit…" And in a totally understandable reaction to a series of overwhelming events, Kyla promptly passed out.