Welcome to the first fanfiction I've written in years! I'm very happy you're here. This is my first Pretty Little Liars fanfiction. I've got a bit of it planned out and in process, so it should update fairly regularly. I hope you don't find high fantasy too odd as a choice of genre for a PLL fic! I'm a fantasy writer by nature, I suppose. In any case, while the idea of it may be odd up front, I actually think it works quite well and that the characters - especially Ms. McCullers - lend themselves well to it.
Anyway, that's enough talking from me. Enjoy!
[A Meeting by Stone]
Silhouetted by flowers, Emily slept. The blooms reached up to the spring sun, yearning for its light. It obliged, pouring warmth down over the field, covering the waiting petals and the napping girl with its radiance. A cool breeze swept across the expanse and the ground shimmered as the blades of grass swayed in its pull.
The wind tugged a prickly piece of grass closer and closer to Emily's cheek. As the scratchy stalk scraped her skin, her eyelids fluttered open, then dove closed again as the full effect of the sun hit the brown eyes behind them. She raised a tanned hand to shade them and sat up, pulling her knees in close. She opened her mouth in a wide yawn.
She was alone in the sea of blossoms. Rising to her feet, she stretched her arms up to the sky, letting the stiffness in her joints and muscles melt away. As she relaxed, she began to walk, her long strides carrying her across the field towards her hometown.
It sat a little ways in the distance, a brown patch against the dark green-black of the Wood behind it. The Wood - the Rosewood - seemed to stretch on forever, its hulking shape crouched on the horizon as far as her eye could see. Beyond that lay the mountains, so distant and pale that they might be ghosts or merely a creation of her mind, conjured to reassure her that the Wood did not, could not, stretch on forever. She shuddered, as she did each time she looked at it.
Glancing over her shoulder, she regarded the world behind her. It stretched on, flat all the way to the horizon, a green sea out as far as the eye could see. The grass ended, she knew, off in the distance. If she walked that way for days, she would find its edge. The ground would grow hard and coarse beneath her feet. The grass would become thinner and thinner until only a few stray tufts could be found. Then she would find herself at the edge of the world, with nothing but rock and desert ahead of her. And if she should walk further, into eternity, eventually she would come full circle, and the grass would grow thick and dense around her ankles, and she would see the Rosewood ahead of her once again. It was the center of all things.
She focused her eyes again on the town, and with each step that brought her closer, it became easier and easier to force the ominous Wood from her thoughts. The closer she came, the clearer the town became, and before long she could make out the shapes closest to her.
The tombstones stood, flat and gray, a few jagged teeth rising from mottled gums. It was not a large graveyard; she could walk around it, if she so chose. Yet her path wound between the worn markers, her arms wrapped around herself as a chill slithered up her spine. Her eyes fell on the names carved into the flat stones without reading them. She could feel the skin pull tight around her temples.
Every time she came this way, she found herself in the same place, alone in front of the same grave. This time was no different, and without active thought she arrived, that particular grave rising up in front of her as it always did.
This time, however, she was not alone.
She couldn't see the face of the other person. She stepped closer. Her eyes scanned across the leather armor, the sword worn ready at the waist, the hair pulled into a long braid. Her footsteps soft, she drew closer, swinging wide around the figure until she could catch a glimpse of a face.
As she came around, she saw that the stranger was a woman, about her age and size. The scowl on her face matched her aggressive pose. Emily regarded her for a while, wondering if she should speak, when the thought struck her that she had seen this woman before. As she racked her mind for the stranger's identity, the person in question noticed her.
Her hand flashed to the sword at her side as her body turned and dropped into a fighting position. As Emily threw up her hands and took a step back, ready to protest, the woman's face morphed first from suspicion into puzzlement, and then from puzzlement into recognition.
"Em-" She stumbled, tried again. "Fields?"
Emily lowered her hands, the confusion on her face mirroring the look that had crossed the stranger's face just a moment before. She searched the other woman's oval face, meeting the dark brown eyes she found there with her own, and the answer came to her.
"Paige? Paige McCullers?"
Paige hooked her thumbs into her waistband as she sank into a relaxed pose. "You got it." She smirked.
Emily returned the smile, tucking a wayward strand of hair behind her ear. "When did you get back into town?"
Paige shrugged. "Just now," she said. "How, er, how have you been?"
"Good, good." Emily shifted her weight from one foot to the other. She cleared her throat. "You're a ranger now… right?"
The other girl smiled, a genuine one this time. "Yep. It's good work." Her eyes shone and her body language was animated as she spoke. "Actually, it's better than good work. It's exciting and it's, well, it's beyond anything I ever imagined. The Wood holds so many secrets. I still haven't learned them all."
"I don't remember you being this talkative," said Emily with a chuckle.
Paige beamed and glanced down at the ground. Soon, however, the smile faded from her face. She glanced up at Emily from under furrowed brows. "The things I used to say weren't pleasant."
Emily crossed her arms over her chest, rubbing at her upper arms as a chill crossed her skin and raised gooseflesh in its path. "It's all right."
"It's not. I was horrible."
"She was horrible. Especially to you. I don't blame you for the way you acted."
"You're too forgiving," said Paige.
Silence fell between them as they both found their eyes wandering to the grave beside them. Paige's face darkened again, taking on the same look it had had when Emily found her. "When did it happen?"
Their eyes met again and Emily pursed her lips before answering. "One year ago." She lowered her eyes again, eyelids falling heavy as she read the name on the tombstone - Alison. She took a step towards it, reaching out her fingers to trace the letters hewn into the rock. Paige stood beside her, brows diving into an ever-deeper frown. She cleared her throat. "Well, I should get going." The statement was barely more than a low growl.
Emily turned to look at the other girl once more. "It really is all right, you know."
Paige raised her eyes to Emily's again and tried to speak, but just as the words were leaving her lips, Emily doubled over, one hand on her temple and the other reaching out towards Paige.
"Fields? Emily!" Paige closed the gap between them, catching Emily as the girl's legs collapsed beneath her. She wrapped one arm about Emily's shoulders and supported the body against her own. She called Emily's name, the pitch of her voice rising with every call.
Emily could not hear her; her world had gone dark. The only sounds were high and shrill, ringing in her ears and slicing through her skull. She squeezed her eyes and ground her teeth, but the pain and the noise refused to leave her alone. As the tearing screech built to a critical point, it stopped with a snap. She opened her eyes but the world remained dark. Cold sweat beaded on her forehead as she looked around, searching for any speck of light, whipping her head about as she searched.
Paige brushed a loose lock of hair away from Emily's face as the other girl seemed to relax. The tension melted out of her visage, brows sinking back and jaw falling open. "Em," Paige whispered. She began to call Emily's name one more time when the body in her arms stiffened. Emily's eyes shot wide open, though they seemed unfocused, staring off into the sky. Paige grimaced, tightening her hold as she wrapped herself around the other girl and waited for her to return.
A light appeared in front of Emily, dim and hazy. She squinted her eyes as she watched it grow brighter and larger. As it grew, its shape became clearer until it took on the form of a person. It was a woman's figure, shorter than Emily; she was dressed in a flowing black dress and a black veil obscured her face.
The woman giggled. "Looks like I've found a live one." She reached out a black-gloved hand and touched the side of Emily's face. Emily stumbled backward, jerking her head away from the touch.
"Wh- who are you? What's going on?"
The woman giggled again. "You don't need to know that." She tipped her head back, gazing up above her; Emily followed her gaze but the space overhead held nothing but darkness. She lowered her head again, studying the stranger as the stranger studied the blackness.
After a few moments, the woman leveled her gaze to Emily again, or so Emily supposed, for the veil hid all details of the woman's face. "Excellent. Thank you, Emily, my dear." She curtsied, inclining her head in a nod, then turned and began to walk away.
"How do you know my name? Wait!" Emily ran after her, but her steps brought her no closer; the woman became smaller and more indistinct with every step. As the shape vanished into a tiny pinprick of light in the distance, the world around them grew lighter, the black fading into gray and the gray fading into white. Just before the whiteness burned everything away, she caught a glimpse, fuzzy and indistinct, of a large stone room and a figure moving towards her. But the light grew brighter and brighter and she had to shut her eyes to block it out. She raised her hands to her ears as the screeching whine returned and the pain shot through her head and jaw and it felt as though her teeth might shatter in her mouth in resonance.
Then it faded, seeping out of her and away into nothingness.
Paige let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding as Emily's body relaxed in her arms, her wide eyes fluttering closed. She let Emily sink down until her head was resting in her lap, then she raised a hand to her forehead and wiped away the sheen that had formed there. As Emily stirred again, she leaned over her, watching her, waiting for her to wake.
Emily's eyes slid open. She flinched as she saw Paige's face hanging above her, but the tension melted away as she remembered where she was. She sat up; Paige scooted away from her though she kept a hand on Emily's back, rubbing it up and down as the other girl gulped down air like she'd never be able to breathe again.
"Are you all right?" Paige asked after Emily had composed herself. Emily nodded, then tried to stand. Her legs wobbled, and though she managed to get herself onto her knees, no amount of struggling could get her any further. Paige bolted upright, scrambling to her feet. "Here," she said, bending down and offering Emily both of her hands. Emily gripped Paige's wrists and the other woman pulled her to her feet, steadying her as she swayed. "Don't worry." Paige looped an arm around Emily's waist as she pulled one of Emily's arms over her shoulders.
"Thanks." Emily steadied herself, letting Paige bear some of her weight while she put as much force on her legs as she dared. They swayed in place for a moment, as they sought some kind of equilibrium. When they seemed to reach a point of balance, they set out for the town.
"Want me to take you home?" Paige's voice was strained as she supported the other girl.
"Oh, I think I'll be fine in just a minute," said Emily, but as she spoke she stumbled, her knees buckling beneath her.
Paige stopped, sucking breath in through her teeth, and hauled Emily back upright. "I don't think so, Fields."
They walked on, their shuffling pace quickening as the strength seeped back into Emily's legs. By the time they reached Emily's house, she could walk on her own, though Paige insisted on walking beside her, palm resting between her shoulders. Paige opened the door and walked her inside, helping her into a chair.
"Thank you, again, so much," said Emily, reaching out to give Paige's hand a squeeze. Paige shook her head as she pulled her hand away. "It was nothing." She took a look around the room, then at Emily again. "Has that ever happened before?"
It was Emily's turn to shake her head. "Never." She leaned forward, propping her elbows on her knees and wringing her hands. "I have no idea what happened."
Paige leaned back, propping herself up against the table with her palms. She stared hard at the floor, glancing over at Emily every now and then. Emily lifted her own head to look up at Paige, her brows knitting together as she watched the other's furtive glances. "What is it?"
The armored girl crossed her arms. "This is probably going to sound weird, but did you… see anything?"
Emily rocked back in her seat, her eyes widening and her eyebrows jumping towards her hairline. "How did you know that?"
Paige locked eyes with Emily. "Did you see a woman?"
The breath caught in Emily's throat. "Yes. A woman in black."
A look of pain flitted across Paige's face and her mouth hung slightly agape as she looked away from Emily again. Emily rose from her chair to stand in front of Paige, moving herself into the other girl's line of sight. "What?" The question creaked from her throat, forced out only through a herculean effort, and it sounded flat and curt. Paige skittered away, breaking Emily's eye contact.
The silence hung in the air, thick and heavy. As Emily sucked in another breath in preparation for another question, the other spoke.
"I think you're a messenger." Paige turned about as Emily processed the statement. "I probably need to explain," she said with a half-smile as she saw Emily's face screwed up in confusion.
"Please," said Emily, waving her hand to another chair as she retook her own seat. Paige sighed and sat down opposite her, clasping her hands together in her lap.
"You remember, I said that the Wood had its secrets?" Paige began. Emily nodded. "I haven't learned most of them. I haven't learned many at all, actually. But I know some. There are some that are more important than others. The messengers are one of those."
She paused, taking a deep breath. Emily waited, slouching in her chair.
"The messengers are… well, they have powers. Abilities. They're children of the Wood. Not that we aren't all children of the Wood; we all get to live because it exists. Without it we'd be nothing, nowhere. But the messengers are special. Touched. They can communicate with other messengers - across any distance - as long as they're within the Wood's influence. They were meant to be guardians of the Wood, in tune with the Wood itself.
"But years ago, I don't know how many, one of the messengers took things into her own hands. She severed the messengers' connections with each other and drew them all to herself. She cast aside her old identity and became a witch, known only as 'A'."
Emily jumped in. "But I thought those were just ghost stories. I thought she was made-up."
Paige shook her head. "She's completely real. And she's worse than the stories make her out to be. Messengers communicate through their senses. When one messenger connects with another, she can send her experiences - what she sees, what she hears, and so on - to the other. So when A co-opted the messengers for herself, they became another set of eyes for her. The messengers became spies. Completely unwilling, of course." She stopped, inclining her head toward Emily. "There's no way to tell if someone is a messenger until she uses them for the first time. She doesn't even know. But every so often she calls out, and sometimes she finds someone. Today she found you."
"So what do I do? Can she do that again?"
"Now that she knows where you are? Yes, and she's probably sent her goons on their way here already."
"What? Why? How?" Emily shot up from her slouch. Her eyes were wide and the color had drained from her face. Her questions spilled out of her in quick succession, her voice tinny as it squeezed through her tightening throat.
Paige shook her head. "I told you, she sees what you see. When you fell you were looking straight up at the sky. I should have covered your eyes. I'm so stupid!" Paige pounded a fist on the table, twice. She raised her other hand to her forehead, massaging her temple with a thumb.
"Paige! What are you talking about?"
"The sky, Fields! If she can see the sky, she can figure out where you are. She can't just leave a messenger wandering about. What good would that do her? When she finds messengers, she takes them. She makes them her own." She stood up, pacing away. Her eyes were riveted on the ground as she spoke. "You need to get out of here. You need to get into the Wood."
"Are you crazy? I wouldn't last a day in there."
"You don't have a choice. If you stay here, she'll find you. And the only other place to go is the Wood. Besides, I'm a ranger, remember? My job is to know the Wood."
Emily watched Paige pace. "You mean you'd go with me?" Paige paused a moment, met Emily's eyes, and nodded. Emily took a deep breath and opened her mouth to speak, before releasing a sigh and shaking her head. "Now I'm the crazy one. No, McCullers, I can't go. This is just too much. This is insane."
"No! Please, please just leave me alone."
Paige screwed up her face, opened and closed her mouth like a fish out of water, then let out a huff, turned on her heel and stormed out of the house.
Emily watched her leave. She sank back into her chair and looked up at the ceiling. She closed her eyes, and the image of the woman in black - A - rose in her mind. A figment of her imagination, this time. Perhaps that was what it had been before. Yes, that made sense. She stood and crossed to the pantry to look for something to eat. She just needed a little sustenance. She'd spent too much time lying in the sun. That must be it.
But Paige's words still rattled around in her head. A messenger, she had said. Messages, A, the Rosewood… no, it was over now. And once Paige went back into the Wood, she need never think about A, or the secrets of the Wood, or even Paige McCullers herself ever again.
So, there you have it. Chapter One of what could be a fairly lengthy tale. I hope you've enjoyed it. If you're feeling generous, of course, I welcome criticism and comments.
And since I forgot to mention above, and I'm not sure what the actual requirements are, but it seems to be standard practice: Disclaimer: I don't own Pretty Little Liars or any of its characters represented herein, and accordingly this work was created for no profit. Etc., etc.