The sunlight streamed through the leaves of the Haunted
Woods. Rows of neatly attired young Earth Faeries stood attentively listening
to an older, slightly plump Earth Faerie lecture them on how wonderful Fyora was
to give them this learning opportunity.
In another part of the Haunted Woods entirely,
laughter rang out between the trees. Three or four of the boldest faeries had
snuck off when the speech got too boring, and they were now playing an energetic
game of tag among the glowering (literally) trees. Their uniforms were now rumpled
and smeared with mud in places, but their faces were flushed with excitement.
One of them sat against one of the trees, holding
a thick book bound in green leather. She tapped the edges of a page with her
Earth Faerie Pen, and scribbled into the margins a quick note to herself.
"Aliyana!" another one called. "Here, watch
this!" 'This' was standing on a branch fifty feet up in the air, apparently.
The young Earth Faerie grinned and waved, then jumped off the branch without
spreading her wings. Aliyana's eyes widened.
Next moment, a vine sprouted up from the soil
and caught the other Faerie, bringing her to a safe landing on the grass a few
feet from Aliyana.
Aliyana smiled back and closed her book, sliding
her pen in as a bookmark. She applauded her friend. "That was great, Misha!"
Misha performed an elaborate bow, then stalked
over in a swirl of green cloth and hair to pick up Aliyana's book. "You're reading
'The Life and Times of 53 Recent Famous Earth Faeries' for fun?" Her eyes, heavily
made-up with eyeliner and eyeshadow, widened; a skeptical eyebrow rose. "Fyora's
grace, my girl, you've fallen low indeed."
Aliyana laughed and took the book back. "It's
not fun, silly. It's for school. You know I need it," she added. She'd just
only gotten her grades back up from the incident with the thistlebush and the
principal's chair it had grown on.
"So do we all," Misha said, rolling her eyes.
"But it's more fun to have fun," she added, springing onto the branch of a nearby
"True," Aliyana said, and nonetheless settled
back down beside the tree.
"Ali!" Misha gestured, and a small vine tapped
Aliyana's shoulder. She turned, and another vine popped out of the ground, grabbed
the book, and tossed it to Misha. "You're becoming too studious, girl. We need
to have fun."
Aliyana grinned and shook her hair back behind
pointed ears. "Like what?" she laughed. "The thistle? I knew that was you,"
she added, climbing into the tree she had been sitting next to. "So what's the
idea this time?"
"How about a thornbush?" Misha asked, and jumped
over to Aliyana's tree. "No, what I have in mind is a game of Sprouts."
Sprouts was a game the two had made up last
year. You found a tree or plant, innocently growing, and you tried to grow the
most outlandish blossom, spike, vine, fruit, or whatever out of it or around
it. "Sure," Aliyana said, shrugging. "Sprouts is fine." It didn't really involve
magical talent at all; it was thinking up what to make it grow that was the
challenge. And it was always hilarious when other people saw an oak tree in
Meridell covered in giant orange blossoms with purple polkadots.
"I'm not talking about a regular game of Sprouts,"
Misha informed her friend. "I'm talking about a game of Sprouts with the Brain
It took a moment to sink in. Then-"You're crazy,
"At midnight we'll all be back safe in our Faerie
beds, Misha. No thanks." Aliyana tucked her book under her arm and stood, summoning
up a vine to carry her back to her classmates.
"Well, I guess if you're too scared..." Misha
let the end of the sentence dangle purposely, glancing out of the corners of
her eyes at her friend's reaction.
Aliyana dropped the vine. "No, I'm not!"
"Prove it, then."
Several hours later, the rest of the class of
Earth Faeries left the Haunted Woods. Misha and Aliyana, however, were hiding
behind an abandoned carnival. They shivered as the sun went down and Kreludor
started to make its way across the sky. Both of them were very tired, cold,
and hungry (not to mention bored) before midnight, but only a glance at the
other one renewed their determination to stay until midnight.
"I bet you won't go through with it," Misha
had said as they watched the rest of their class fly across the sky.
"You don't, do you?" Aliyana shrugged. "How
do I know you're going to stay and watch me?"
As staying was not a part of Misha's plans,
she simply shrugged back. " Swear."
"I swear by Fyora that I will stay until midnight,"
Aliyana rattled off, putting hand to heart and closing her eyes. She opened
them. "There, happy?"
"Yes," Misha said, and they'd spent the rest
of the time in companionable silence. To Misha's relief, Aliyana seemed to have
forgotten about asking her for a vow.
Now Aliyana opened her eyes. "It's midnight,"
"How do you know that?" Misha demanded.
"Because the ghosts are leaving." They'd come
out at dusk; it was all the two could do to ignore them.
The young Faeries scrambled up to a vantage
point where they could overlook the Haunted Woods. In the center stood the Brain
Tree; its eyes were closed, as if in slumber. Aliyana nodded at her friend and
slid closer. Misha stayed where she was, peering over the edge of a hill at
the Brain Tree and the spot of green cloth that was Aliyana, creeping closer
and still closer.
Aliyana looked up at the Brain Tree's closed
eyes and branches. She shivered and placed a small hand on its trunk, closing
her own eyes to begin the incantation that would beckon a large flower to grow
on the branch of the tree.
Three things happened at once.
A hand snapped down on Misha's shoulder. "Foolish
Aliyana spoke the first words.
And the Brain Tree's eyes snapped open.
Aliyana's own eyes widened. She took a step back,
but the Brain Tree's voice followed her, booming. "I have been disturbed from
my slumber! You have wakened me from long-deserved sleep." Roots rustled in
the ground, and it moved closer to Aliyana.
"Or children," continued the person who had set
their hand on Misha. The hand was taken away, and Fyora strode past her, into
the clearing of the Haunted Woods. "She is with me," the Faerie Queen said.
Misha's eyes were still wide with alarm as she beckoned frantically to Aliyana.
Fyora was speaking to the Brain Tree, gesturing as she did, pale violet in the
darkness of midnight.
Aliyana scuttled back up the hill, glancing back
to make sure no one had seen her. She fell next to Misha. "Now what?"
"Now we run." Almost before she'd finished giving
this advice, she followed it. The Earth Faerie eased herself up, peered over
the rim of the hill, and then ran. Aliyana followed suit.
They ran straight into a line of purple fire.
It stretched through the woods for as far as either of them could see.
It didn't look like they were going to be able
to get out any time soon. Aliyana sat on a boulder and moaned. "This was all
your fault, you know."
"Who was it who went up to the Brain Tree and
tried to grow a flower on it?" Misha asked indignantly.
"Who persuaded me to do it?" Aliyana countered.
Soon they were both standing, yelling in each other's faces. Fyora, coming back
from dealing with the Brain Tree, chuckled as she separated them.
"That was a very foolish thing to do. But I think
you've learned your lesson," she added, marching away from the troublemakers
and through her line of fire. She took it up again with a snap of her hand.
"And so I will let the headmistress of your school decide your punishment."
Fyora laughed inwardly at the identical looks of disappointment on the two's
"Oh, okay," they moaned.
"Are you going to tell her everything?" Aliyana
couldn't help asking pleadingly.
Fyora glanced back. "Since when I was young I
did something very similar-let's just say you two went for a walk in the swamp
and got lost, shall we?" She smiled at them, and they smiled back.