By Emma Kushnirsky (‘22)

The world was ready to die. And so it did. It stopped fighting, and from its death sprang forth beauty unrivaled by any before. A world that the old ‘uns would’ve killed for. They did.

As always, gory death cycled into glorious birth. A round world. Magic, something that had been sorely lacking in the previous world. Trees and rivers and lakes and seas and cliffs and living, thriving things, everything that had been done right. But cities, those human polluters, and much else, dead and more than buried.

Magic ran like a steady, strong current through it all. The creatures of lore scurried through forests and waterways. Townspeople lived in their one town, utterly surrounded by the vastness of nature that they did not even attempt to encroach on.

It was a certain kind of perfection.

Faina skimmed across the water on faerie-feet. She could go far like this. As far as she liked, really. The world, at this moment, she felt, was a personal gift to her. Quiet, solemn beauty on the surface, but if one were to dive below, or even dip a toe below the surface, they would find it teeming with all sorts of creatures.

She danced on the water, like a ballerina of old. It was early evening. The trees were stark silhouettes against a vibrant grey sky. It was going to rain. She loved the rain.

Faina stopped in the middle of the lake and lay down. She was waiting for the rain to arrive. It came. A single droplet that trickled down her forehead. Another. Another. Slowly at first, a rhythm of pit-pat, pit-pat. It grew in speed, and began pelting her with water. She wouldn’t have described it that way, though, because this was not an angry rain. Its beat was quick, but gentle. The sky’s symphony.

Faina remained perfectly still until she was soaked through. Her white linen dress, now a bit translucent, clung to her skin, and her wispy cobweb-colored  hair was plastered to her forehead and neck. She sprang up onto her tiptoes, the picture of quiet grace, twin of the world around her, and leapt into the oncoming rain. She balanced on the raindrops, dancing upwards as far as she could until her footwork couldn’t surpass the drops any longer. A solitary game that she played.  

Faina then plunged into the lake, arms and legs tight at her sides, straight as an arrow. She broke the skin of the water, then went deeper. Down, down, into the soft, velvety darkness of the water that felt to her almost like a lover’s embrace. Water. She loved the cool, sweet trickle of it down her throat. She loved the word on her lips. Wawterr. However she said it, the beauty of even the word itself was clear.

She let her limbs splay out and settled to the bottom of the lake, allowing the dress to float up, up away over her head and become a cloud of shifting fabric. Suspended in the water, her hair wasn’t plastered to her head any longer. It framed her face, moving silkily with the water, though no one who cared about that sort of thing was there to witness it. Only her and the creatures that lived in the lake.

She couldn’t handle the nothingness of existence on the Bottom for too long, the complete lack of acknowledgement, and made her way back to the surface. She gripped the edge of the water and pulled herself up. She walked slowly back to the shore. The water was flat and silky under her feet.

Then she entered the forest once again. It was thickly wooded, and only thin streaks of sunlight penetrated its canopy. Today was not a day to savor the living, breathing energy of these woods, or to flit through the trees, flirt with the crows, chasing the unknown.

Faina craved home, feeling suddenly more human than she had in a long while. Her mind slammed into her body with a jolt, and she lost the tingly mindfulness of a water-creature as quickly as it had come.

Grounded in her body, she did not enjoy the solitude as much as she previously had. That did not mean that she did not enjoy it at all. Paper-thin leaves crumbled to bits under her feet. She inhaled, and it was a smell rich, full, almost meaty. It wasn’t as intoxicating as the water, as ethereal or separate from the life she lived among other people. It was as she was at the moment–grounded and of the earth. She imagined that it was how Hildegarde felt always. Hilde ran through the forest here, with the boars. Her golden-honey eyes sparkled and she seemed to block out all else. Hilde fit in with the boars. Like them, she was all muscle and quick movements. Sparkle-eyed intelligence.

Grounded, but lost in thought still. Faina shook her head to clear it. She wanted to get home, but she first needed something to bring to their table.

She dropped to all fours and crawled, searching, but with no avail. If something were to be easy to find, it would make itself known to her quickly. That she knew from experience. Crap. She needed something. She cursed again, under her breath, the first thing that she said aloud all day. She was going to have to dig, with bare hands until she found something.

With the side of her palm, Faina gently scraped aside the top layer of leaves, falling back to sit cross-legged. An uncomfortable position considering her nakedness, but worth it for the convenience. She would have liked to have that thin linen dress between her and the ground now. From a nearby bush she plucked a large leaf that would serve as a pouch for whatever she gathered. Grubs probably. Or something else that even the best cooks could not do much to improve upon the texture of. Faina plunged her hand into the black, fertile soil just below the layer of decomposing leaves that she had put to the side. A fat, pink earthworm wriggled there. Lucky in some ways. Did she have a choice? No, she decided. She plucked it from its resting place and placed it on her leaf.

“Hello, friend,” she whispered to it.

“Hullo,” they returned, in a voice that was a poor imitation of an accent from some long-forgotten place. They continued. “Out late today, aren’t you, missy?”

“Yes,” she said vaguely, not intending to elaborate. She could tell that they were a chatty one. She didn’t have the time for a chat, and far preferred to talk to the fishes. Worms tended to be more temperamental. To avoid offending one required carefully crafted sentences. Formalities. Politeness. Not her strong points. She didn’t like to skip around what she was trying to say, circling closer and closer to it until she finally hit the mark. That was not only a waste of time, but also oppressive and limiting. It didn’t leave for many options.

“Alrighty,” they said. Not as chatty as she had assumed, maybe. “Get to the point, then,” they drawled. “Why’d you pluck me from my moist, earthy home? I was just eatin’ my dirt, and bomp, domp, doom, you came along. Why, though?”

She winced. “I would appreciate your aid,” Faina said carefully, “in procuring something to bring to our table.”

“In return for my most esteemed services, what will you give to me? I can’t possibly, possibly imagine what you would have that could possibly, possibly tempt me to become your devoted servant for a minute or two rather than eatin’ my dirt. They had no eyes, but their voice was dripping with eye-gleaming desire.

Liar. She could tell that they knew exactly what they wanted. Yet for some reason, they had to do this strange little dance anyway. She remained silent and straight-backed.

“Blood,” the worm whispered, voice raw with emotion, further words not necessary. Their whole body undulated with joy. Blood. An overpayment for the small service that she required. She would do it.

“Go on then,” they said. Faina sighed, picking up the nearest rock and taking it to her thumb, using the sharp edge to push through her skin and draw blood. Pain shot through her hand and she flinched. Pain was something she was unused to. Tears rolled down her face and she gasped. The blood burbled out, like the water at the source of the stream, scarlet. She picked up the worm and allowed them to latch onto her thumb. It was a strange feeling, as the worm sucked softly, drawing more blood outside of her body. She stared in wonder. She had never bled for someone else before.

After a short period of time, the worm dropped off of her thumb, their little body swollen red with blood. They did not speak, but wriggled down into the dark earth, to earn the blood that they had taken. They would speak to creatures of the ground, the earth, and the places in between.

They would find the food that she needed, swiftly. She smiled and the rain stopped and she was cold and the worm returned.

They pushed up through the soil, breaking its skin. No blood came out, only this bloodworm.

She grinned and sucked on her own thumb. Her hatred for worms dissipated. This one seemed so very kind.

They spoke to her now. “A willing stag stands by your pools. They will wait on legs steady for you to remove their air.”

Faina removed her thumb from her mouth and stood, small wisp-thin, and newly powerful. She was dimly aware of her new purpose. Killer.