This story is one of the April Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
Her hand shook as she brought the key nearer to the lock. The entire world was at stake, and she could not even do one simple thing. From behind her, she heard the raucous growls of her pursuers growing ever closer. A tear streaked down her cheek as she fought against her unsteady hands.
It was too late. It had always been too late.
And she was a fool.
The sky was aflame, and below, chaos ran rampant, relishing in the sweet nectar that was their fear. She fled, jostling in the midst of everyone else as they entered the forest and scattered. Her eyes were shut tightly, even as she hit countless tree branches, acquiring dozens of scratches all over her body.
The pain, however, was unable to touch her through the fog of her desperate hope. A faint feeling, but a better guide than she or anyone else had, so she saw no harm in following it. It seemed to her that hours had gone by when she staggered to a halt, breathless as she opened her eyes.
Before her raged the Great River of the world, the core that kept life turning through time. Floating near the bank, she was barely able to make out an oblong bundle. Though she did not know why, she was drawn to it; leaning down, she cradled it in her hands as gently as if it were a newborn child. Her heart in her throat, she unwound the silken scarf until it revealed an ornate silver key, roughly the length of her arm, a scroll tied to its tip.
Unbeknownst to her, as her finger brushed the key as she untied the scroll, her eyes pulsed with a brilliant, frosty aura. Carefully, she unrolled the scroll, wincing every time the paper rustled, only to drop it entirely when she saw what was written upon it.
And when all the world seems lost,
Trust in the depths of the Great River,
Find the lock within the key,
And unto death, remember life,
Have faith, and let go.
Beneath the razing sky, she dove into the Great River, the key tight against her chest. On the riverbank laid a wet scarf, and a scroll fluttered down to join it in rest.
She was a fool.
It had never been too late.
Just as her pursuers rounded the corner, running haphazardly into her view, she turned to face them, her back to the lock, her hands steadier than they had ever been.
Find the lock within the key.
She gripped the key as if it were a sword, leveling it at the beasts advancing upon her.
And unto death, remember life.
Her eyes disappeared beneath the intensity of their glacial glow. Her hands burned with a frosted fire which spread rapidly to envelop the key.
They were almost upon her, yet she moved not an inch. A final breath, at the apex of which she lingered a moment, savoring the taste of fear.
And let go.
And so she let go, crystalline flames eclipsed her sight, till the world evanesced in an explosion of white.
And so she let go, for it was never too late.