A Faerie Tale
If we are to take a lesson from one of Neopia’s bravest (and most endearing) heroines, Gilly, it becomes rather obvious that the Haunted Woods is no place for little girls (or little Faeries, in Magpie’s case) to be wandering about alone. However, it was this simple fact that drew Magpie toward them; like a moth to the flame of the lantern in her hand, which was now swinging to and fro with a calm (yet eerie) skwik, skwik. She looked just like a moth, too, whenever she tried to fly: erratic, graceless flapping coupled with a tendency to spin out of control. She was not very good yet... not good at all. What a shame, to have such lovely, soft, verdant wings, greener than any other Earth Faerie she had ever seen, and be unable to use them. Perhaps she would practise more if the fear of hurtling to the ground were not so great. “Everyone has to learn sometime,” her mother advised with a stern look. But Magpie just procrastinated.
A warm breath of air taunted the autumn leaves strewn across the ground, pulling them up in droves only to drop them all moments later. The wind is so fickle, she thought, making idle chatter with herself to ward off the anxiety burrowing its way into her heart. She had heard the stories; there were monsters in these woods, beasts fit to gobble up little Faeries like herself... yet she was being called there, somehow, and it was quite worth sneaking out of bed. One minute, she was dreaming quite peacefully; the next, she was wide awake, filled with the knowledge that she must follow a certain barely visible path into the heart of the forest. Before Magpie could change her mind, she was slipping gently from her windowsill, sacrificing a cosy place beneath her quilt for one beneath night’s swarthy cloak. The moon was full (ah, what a surprise) and she watched it, all the time imagining it was adorned with the face of a Kougra, maybe, or could it be a Gelert? Ah, nevermind. She could not see it, now, as she entered the thickest piece of the woods, gnarled branches and prickling thorns brushing against her face as she went.
Have you ever, perhaps, played hide-and-go-seek, and hid in a closet all alone in an upstairs room, the room on the highest level of the house, where all reminders of cheerful talk, or your parents’ piano, or the squeals of your companions as they seek you out are reduced to nothing more than murmurs and your pulse is the loudest thing you hear? And you barricade the slit of light from beneath the door with shoes, or an old ugly dress, because you will go to any lengths to keep your friends from finding you? You are in the furthest corner of your hiding spot, and it seems worlds away from where you came in. You may have brought a flashlight; you may see a Spyder dangling near you and count him in as company. You may, though you are in a closet, safe in either your own house or your friend’s, be afraid. That was how Magpie felt. She lived in the Haunted Woods; but now that she was alone, in the dark, far from the warmth of her bed... things felt different. Intensely different. This was not like hide-and-go-seek at all. No one was looking for her, because no one knew she was missing. She was in a place where you could never shake the notion that you were being watched, grounded by a pair of wings which she could not control. But this Faerie had a peculiar notion indeed, that she simply needed to continue on, no matter how many *meeps* or screeches she heard from the shadows. She knew she was looking for something, but what? Why would she leave home in the dead of night to seek out something she was not even certain was there?
She went down on one knee. This wasn’t the best place to tie one’s shoe, but she had to, or else she might—wait... what was that? She had definitely heard something stir in a patch of brush to her right. It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s just nerves, Magpie thought, attempting to calm herself a bit. Her hands quivered as she finished knotting her sneaker and stood up. Well—she would have stood up—but something brushed against her arm.
“Aegh!” It was a momentary touch, but it was enough to elicit a cry of terror and cause the lantern she had gripped so tightly to go crashing to the ground. Her precious light evaporated. The lamp was in pieces. “Leave it to Faeries to design such delicate lanterns,” she sighed, struggling to regain her composure. A Meowclops hissed and darted by her, its dainty feet perfectly silent as it scampered off.
“Oh,” Magpie cooed in dismay. “It was only a little Meowclops, after all...”
Now she was truly on her own. You will find, if ever you are surrounded by darkness, that as long as you carry even a tea-light candle, you will be filled with hope, and feel you have at least one friend beside you. Quash that beacon, and your courage may waver. Magpie’s did. She stumbled forward, her footing unsure, grasping at the trees which had once seemed so menacing in order to find her way. “I do wish I had never listened to that horrid ‘feeling’ I had,” she lamented, fighting the hot tears which threatened to pour from her brown eyes.
There is no cure for preventing tears quite like being frightened. Magpie gave a little jump backward as sounds of someone thrashing about in the trees ahead came rushing to her ears. She could see nothing; but she could hear everything. Twigs being bent and snapped, leaves crumpling beneath strong feet, even violent growls. It was a wild, ceaseless sound, too, as if someone were tossing about on the forest floor. She very nearly turned tail and flew (of course not in the literal sense) back through the trees, not caring a bit whether she would gain some cuts and bruises in the process. But she did not run away. For once, she did not allow her fear to get the better of her. She actually walked forward. Closer to the thrashing and snarling. There was a clearing straight ahead, and the canopy was broken up enough there for a few stray trickles of moonlight to squeeze their way through. Magpie gasped.
A Lupe... an enormous, no, a gigantic Lupe was gnashing his teeth and clawing at the convoluted net which bound him to the forest floor. He was hopelessly entangled, and no amount of tossing or turning could free him now. The little Faerie stood in shock. People always said that the Lupes who lived in the Haunted Woods were dangerous, not to be trusted; but she could feel nothing but pity for the pained creature before her. Suddenly, he gave up the fight, and lay panting beneath the mass of knotted net. His heaving body shone powder blue in the moonlight.
“Sir,” Magpie began, utterly polite and unsure of how to address him, “are you all right?” She knew he was probably not... but how else to being such a bizarre conversation?
“Yes, I adore being trapped. I think I’ll have a bit of tea while I’m down here; I’ll make a permanent thing of it. Quite a lovely view.” His golden eyes were burning with sarcasm. Magpie had not expected such a calm, articulate answer from someone who was alleged to be quite barbaric.
“Please, can I help you? Will you eat me?”
“If you don’t get me out of this mess, I will.”
Ignoring the nonsensical nature of his threat, the Faerie stooped over and examined the predicament closely. “There is no way I could ever undo these knots... I have nothing to cut through this rope... if your fangs could not do it, how could I?” The same tears from before came rushing back to her.
“Pull yourself together, girl; you’re a Faerie, aren’t you?” the Lupe growled, flicking his tail to call her back to the present.
She nodded somberly, transfixed by the power and might of the captive lying at her feet.
“Look up. Into the boughs of the tree above us.”
“I don’t see anything,” the Faerie murmured, squinting skyward. “Nothing but branches and leaves.”
“Then you are not looking closely enough. Fix your eyes upon the tallest branch. Do you notice something glimmering very slightly?”
“No... Yes... Wait, no, no... No, yes! I see it now! Yes, I see something shiny!” Magpie grinned, having located the sparkle the Lupe mentioned. She loved games.
“That is a dagger, resting precariously between two branches. Perhaps it was left behind by a hunter, or an explorer; I cannot say. I do know, however, that with nimble fingers like your own, and the help of that dagger, you could make short work of this devilish net. I have been watching it for hours. Just float right up and grab it, will you?”
Magpie blushed, but the Lupe did not notice; it was too dark. He doesn’t realise I can’t fly, she pondered anxiously, working out an alternate route to the top of the tree. She placed her hands on one of the lower branches and hoisted herself up. Climbing might work; she was a fine climber. But it was a long, long, long way down, should she make it far at all...
“Stop your fooling around,” the Lupe barked in annoyance. “Please, fly up and retrieve the dagger. This is becoming increasingly uncomfortable.”
“You’ve got that one right,” she muttered, hopping back down and standing awkwardly with her gaze fixed on the shiny treasure above.
“What ever is the matter?”
The Faerie coughed as a prelude to the difficult confession she was obliged to make. She had wanted to help the Lupe so badly...
“I can’t fly,” she said, barely audible.
For a moment, the Lupe looked very worried. His only hope had been dashed.
“Well,” he began softly, in a tone of defeat, “can’t you try?”
The little Faerie bowed her head in shame and stole discreet glances at the stranger. He lay limp, motionless. He only opened his mouth to pant every now and again; it seemed they remained like that for years, waiting in uneasy silence, listening to the mélange of creatures chirping and cooing in the background. The Lupe gave a small howl. Who knew how long he had been stranded there?
What am I doing? Magpie demanded of herself, fluttering her emerald wings in preparation. I can’t just leave him here because I am a Faerie who’s too afraid to fly! She inhaled deeply, easing just a few inches into the air. She hovered in this way for a few moments, then wobbled back to the ground.
“You can do it. You’re a Faerie, after all. You have to learn sometime.” The Lupe winked at her.
With a newfound sense of confidence, she nodded in agreement. This time, Magpie managed to flutter a couple of feet, and descended more gracefully. On the third try, she shifted all of her weight onto one leg, pushed off, and—was flying? Clumsily, to be sure, and at times grabbing hold of branches to steady herself—but still flying! She zoomed skyward, freedom intoxicating her every nerve, her technique improving with each beat of her wings. “I’m flying!” she declared, her cry of victory scattering some Ghost Whoots from their places in the boughs. The shimmering hilt of the dagger was an arm’s length away, and snatching it was almost rewarding as flying itself. She spun toward the forest floor, a glorious up-rush of cool air running under her wings and through her hair. She landed with a thud, stumbling forward. She was not quite perfect yet, but it was a start.
“I have the dagger!” she squealed, dancing in circles. All fear of the Haunted Woods had vanished, and it seemed almost silly to have been worried in the first place.
“You said you couldn’t fly!” the Lupe said gruffly, holding back a smile.
Magpie fell to her knees and began working away at the net with utmost haste. “I didn’t think I could!” she gasped, beaming. I bet he’s the reason I came out here tonight. I saved his life, and he showed me I could fly.
“Say, what’s your name?” the Faerie inquired, slicing busily through the Lupe’s bonds.
“Hesperus. And you?”
“Hesperus! That’s a beautiful name. Mine is Magpie.”
“It suits you. There, that’s enough. I can do the rest myself.” Hesperus growled viciously and snapped the rest of the net to bits as he stood and leapt out of his prison. He sprang into the air and landed beside the Faerie, shaking out his coat as if he had recently gone for a swim. “It. Feels. So good to be out of that thing. A few more days and I might have started to feel afraid.”
She gave him a skeptical smile. “Because you weren’t afraid already?”
“Nah, I was just putting it on, so you would find your inner strength.”
“Say, you helped me out. Why don’t I do the same for you? I’ll walk you home. Protect you from harm. These woods can be pretty dodgy at night.”
Though Magpie felt the Lupe had helped her a great deal already, she agreed. Hesperus proved to be excellent company, and they bantered freely about their lives in the Haunted Woods: how Magpie did tend to be somewhat reclusive, making it difficult for her to find many friends, and how she had been petrified that she might never learn to fly. Hesperus was a bit more mysterious concerning his past, but did speak of the eerie peace in the woods at night, and what it was like to fall asleep alone beneath the equally solitary moon. Occasionally, you meet someone whom you need not take much time to grow friendly with; you simply begin that way. This was true for Magpie and Hesperus, who, although both naturally shy and taciturn, were joking warmly by the time they reached Magpie’s home.
“So the Brain Tree’s all like ‘Tell me when this one guy died,’ and I’m all like ‘Dude you’re a giant brain, figure it out yourself.’”
The Faerie laughed, and realised suddenly that they had arrived—her window burnt brightly against the black silhouette of the old cottage. She must have forgotten to turn out the light. Hesperus’ ears fell, and he stared at the leaves on the ground.
“Thank you for rescuing me,” he growled quietly, turning and making his way back into the forest. He moved very, very slowly, dragging his paws, as if waiting for something.
Of course Magpie would not let her friend meander off, as if they had never met. She was called to him for a reason.
“Hesperus, wouldn’t you like to stay with us? I’m sure my mother won’t mind, and if she does, well... I’ll just tell her you taught me how to fly. That will convince her for sure!”
The Lupe wagged his tail furiously and followed her with stalwart strides. Lupes thrive on loyalty, and after so many years of living without a friend to be loyal to, he was ready to accept the role. Magpie clambered over the sill, just as she had earlier that night (it felt ages longer than just one night!) while Hesperus cleared it in one jump. Exhausted, she flopped onto her bed and was asleep within a minute. Perhaps it was rude of her not to bid the newest member of her family good night, but Hesperus did not mind. He merely yawned, stretched himself out at the foot of the bed, and wondered what her mother would think when she found a creature of such monstrous proportions dozing comfortably in her daughter’s room.