Faerie Wars I: The Six Kingdoms - Part Four
That night, neither sister could sleep. Uriele had returned to their tent, feeling foolish for her behavior over the past year. She glanced over at her sister, then lowered her lids. "I'm sorry, Nezzie," she murmured.
Nereza's heart lifted at the sound of her special name. She reached her arm out to touch her sister's shoulder. "You and I are all each other has," she said. "When we lost Mother... I lost you, too. It has been difficult, and lonely."
"I understand. I have been a fool." She looked up at her sister cautiously. "Do you really mean to avenge Mother? Is that truly necessary?"
The dark faerie thought about it for a moment, then sighed deeply. "I have lost sleep over thinking," she answered. "You must realize this is not a plan born out of anger. I merely seek justice."
"Justice without mercy is no justice at all," countered Uriele. "It is evil."
Nereza glanced at her sister. Their eyes met. "What do you suggest, then?" she asked.
"We journey to their location. We find them and explain that we come in peace and wish them no harm. We let them know that they caused great suffering to us, and we demand recompense. Some form of sacrifice—anything will do; food, most likely. Perhaps an exchange of knowledge."
"Ellie... you cannot believe that that will work—"
"It can, for it must," Uriele said sharply. "We will be sensible about this."
"Food and knowledge cannot replace our mother."
"Neither can the loss of one of theirs."
The sisters stared at each other, until finally Nereza relented. "Very well. You are right. That is fair."
"Good. We shall take our leave in the morning."
Nereza blinked. "In the morning? But we know not where they are."
"Oh, I have long known where they are," the light faerie replied, settling herself into her blankets. "They have been following us. They are not five days' walk away."
Her sister was stunned, and also a little offended. Why had Uriele been privy to this information, but not she? Had Morwen not found her suitable for it? Were her ideas of revenge worth withholding information that might spur her into action? She did not ask her sister, for she could not help but feel that such was indeed the case. This angered her, and she felt once again that Morwen did not respect her as she respected Uriele.
"Will the fyora approve of our quest?" she asked darkly.
Uriele shrugged. "She'll have to. We are going, and that is that." She let out a yawn, snuggling deeper into her blankets. "Sleep well, Nezzie. We will need our strength."
Still a little bewildered, Nereza nevertheless lay back onto her blankets and pulled them over herself. Exhaustion fell over her like a curtain, and without another thought she succumbed to the darkness.
Nearby, at the Faratha Tribe
The night was still. So still, in fact, that it made the faeries' skins crawl. They lit fires all round and huddled close, hoping to chase away the darkness and bring themselves comfort. For once, the dancing flames did not offer them comfort, but instead inspired more fear; for the shadows they cast upon the ground, on the tents, and on each faerie's face skipped and twirled with an almost sinister flair. The shadows did things they had never done before: they took faces that twisted into silent laughs.
The faeries wondered if they were all imagining it, and the fyora, Farath, demanded the fires be extinguished at once. She had felt the evil behind the shadows, and it frightened her more than she would care to admit.
"Quickly, while we still can," she declared. "We must go now and flee this place. Take only what is absolutely necessary. Keep your inner fire about you, but light none."
As the seventeen tribe members flitted about as speedily as they could, the fyora stared into the darkness beyond the tribe's northern edge, her heart pounding wildly. She saw what she was looking for—the farthest trees she could see were beginning to wilt. Goosebumps bloomed across her arms and the back of her neck. They had time yet, but there was no way to tell how much.
"Hurry," she told everyone as she passed them, heading into her own tent. She grabbed a few choice items she knew they could not leave behind, and put them in a bag which she then hung over her shoulder. She was about to leave when the first scream broke through the night air.
Morwen had not been pleased to hear of her apprentices' quest, but had approved of the obvious maturation the girls had obtained during the night. "There may be hope for you two yet," she had said, and then sent them on their way.
They had left just before dawn, and carried little. Morwen had cast a protection spell on them to hide them from wraiths, but warned it would not last forever, so they should do their best to make haste. Uriele had not voiced her opinion regarding the wraiths, though it had not changed, and she still felt they were only scary tales. Nereza's only explanation for her sister's insistence on the nonexistence of the wraiths was that she was so frightened by the prospect of their reality, she could only cope by pretending they were not real. Such an explanation would also cover Uriele's lack of mourning for their mother.
During the first part of their journey, Uriele enlightened Nereza on her knowledge of the whereabouts of the Faratha tribe. "We have been watching them ever since the attack," she admitted matter-of-factly. "Or, at least, Morwen was. She didn't tell me until about a month or two ago. She was able to tap into the energy of their insignia and use it to scry for them. She showed me where they were. They're northwest of us, obviously, since we had been traveling southeast."
"Why have they been following us?" Nereza demanded.
Uriele shrugged. "Who can say? They are our enemies. It would make sense for them to watch us as we watch them."
Nereza did not know what to make of that, so she said nothing.
They were making good time, rarely stopping and walking quickly. They came on the second day upon a very wide river, which they had passed before, and they flew over it. Upon touching ground again on the other side, Nereza wondered aloud at the purpose of their wings.
"Do you ever wonder why we have them? We live on the ground."
"Have you never learned the stories, dear sister?" Uriele asked, grinning. "The ancient faeries made their home among the clouds. They discovered the ground below one day, and decided to explore. Some stayed, and fell in love with different parts of the land, separating over time into types. The air faeries kept to the clouds, while the earth faeries made their homes in forest dens, fire faeries in the heart of volcanoes and deserts, the light faeries in the open and sunny fields, the dark faeries in caves and under the ground, and the water faeries in the oceans."
"I am still not wholly convinced water faeries are truly faeries," said Nereza, only half serious. "Why, then, have they lost their wings, if your charming little story is true?"
Uriele laughed. "Silly sister. What need has one for wings when the sea brings one to the top, rather than the bottom? No, they have their tails instead, so they can fly through their own upside-down sky."
Nereza smiled. Her sister took more stock in old faerie tales than she did, but she enjoyed hearing them. "And what did these faeries look like," she asked, "before they separated into types?"
"Oh, that was always my favorite part." Uriele looked dreamily up at the clouds. "They were purple! So very pretty, I imagine..."
"Purple?" Nereza raised an eyebrow. "Like a dark faerie?"
Uriele shook her head. "No, more like a pinkish purple. Very soft... very regal."
The dark faerie glanced at her sister, who was smiling thoughtfully. Suddenly Nereza became uncomfortable, though she couldn't for the life of her say why. "And why did the faeries rejoin?" she inquired, feigning a tone of disinterest. "Into tribes, and such? I am betting it was because—"
"Yes," her sister interrupted, a shadow cast over her eyes. "Yes... because the wraiths came. They drained the land of its life and turned faeries grey and Neopets to stone."
Nereza eyed her sister sharply. Turned to stone...?
"The faeries were forced to live in small groups," Uriele continued, failing to notice her sister's glance. "Always on the move, on the run. The six faerie types had mingled freely, but now they stayed with their tribe, suspicious of everyone and everything else." She paused. "Anyway... they're gone now, if they ever existed at all."
"Ellie..." began Nereza, but she stopped. It was clear that Uriele was finished talking.
The rest of the journey was fairly uneventful, but the same could not be said for their arrival. The tribe's tents had come into view on the horizon when the sisters came across the greyed grass and wilted flora. They froze at the sight.
"It isn't moving," the dark faerie pointed out breathlessly, after several moments of silence. "So... we can deduce that they're no longer... here..."
Uriele looked as if she might faint.
"Ellie, we have to hurry. There might be someone left here who will need our help."
The light faerie nodded, though her eyes were wide with fear.
The sisters ran the rest of the way, and found all the tents eerily intact. The place looked undisturbed, except that there was no grass at all here anymore. The ground looked scorched as if from fire, though Nereza knew that was not the case.
"Hello?" she called out. "Is anyone here?"
Through the thin, low-lying fog, she could see several dark shapes. As she and Uriele approached, the shapes became more clearly defined. Uriele muttered a spell under her breath and made a sweeping gesture with her arms, causing the fog to dissipate. She gasped at what she saw and stopped in her tracks.
"Who are you?" asked one of the faeries.
"We are Nereza and Uriele from the Morwena tribe," answered Nereza. "We are not here to harm you—"
"Certainly not. What more harm can be done?"
Nereza moved forward into the crowd of faeries. Uriele remained rooted to the spot. These were fire faeries no longer; their flaming wings had been extinguished, and all that was left were pitiful, weeping remains. The red and orange color had been drained from their hair and eyes.
"Grey faeries," she whispered to herself. Never before had she seen one. She had almost thought they weren't real.
"What has happened here?" Nereza asked, though she knew perfectly well. "Why did you not escape?"
The grey faerie who had spoken for her tribe sighed. "We were not quick enough," she admitted. "They came upon us with only a few moments' warning." Her eyes grew dark. "We tried to fight them off, but... we did not expect it. Our wings greyed and fell apart, and we are what you see now."
Nereza swallowed hard. "How... how did they do it?"
Sighs flew throughout the tribe. The sound made Uriele's prickle. She wanted to shut her ears, to close her eyes and believe none of this was real... but she couldn't move.
The faerie leader looked directly into Nereza's eyes, and frowned. "Your eyes are red," she said, somewhat stunned. "Like the lining of your wings. Don't dark faeries generally have purple eyes? And purple hair? Yours is black and blue."
Nereza scowled. "I do not see how my appearance is suddenly important at a time like this," she said crossly.
"Pardon me," she said, "it's just that you look almost like..." She paused, and then shook her head. "Never mind."
"How did the wraiths turn you grey?" the dark faerie demanded.
The grey faerie smiled lopsidedly. It looked frighteningly out of place.
"Why... they erased our names."
To be continued...