Twilight: A Faerie's Fall
Though she was only a few weeks old, Lumina loved to watch the stars at twilight.
Like most of her kind, the little Faerie had come into being at the centre of Faerieland, on a beautiful summer's night. And like her playmates, she was, of course, without an element, and without any magic to command. That was why, in the gentle warmth of the late summer evening, Lumina was being kept safely indoors, with faerie-dust lamps to light her playroom, and the gentlest of Petpets to be her companions.
Now, she sat beneath the tinted glass window of the enchanted tower, watching the first stars come out to light the darkened sky. She loved the way they sparkled, silver-blue and bright, and she reached out two small hands as if to touch them.
"Lumina," chided Mayrelle gently. The kindly Air Faerie had left the curtains open so that her little charge could see the sky. "You know you can't have the stars for your own. They're far away, up in the sky."
"She'll be going with her Mother Guardian in a couple of days." Mayrelle's assistant, a JubJub named Pierley, looked a little regretful at the thought. "Then she'll be taking off into the sky soon enough."
"It makes me wish I didn't have to let her go," Mayrelle sighed. "But a little Faerie needs to learn the world. I can't keep the next generation of Neopian enchantresses here with me for the sake of their company."
"Her Guardian's to be Shinneira," Pierley added, as if to comfort her. Mayrelle nodded. Though she didn't choose the Faeries who would look after her newly-born charges, she could hardly think of a better choice than calm, gentle Shinneira, a Light Faerie with plenty of experience in casting spells of healing and guidance.
"They grow up so fast, Pierley. I hope the world will be kind to this one."
The stars shone like jewels in the sky as Lumina laughed playfully.
"Lumina? Where have you got to?"
Shinneira sighed, glancing around her to see if the little girl might be hiding behind a nearby cloud. The sunlight had turned to a rich amber glow, and she wanted to finish her daily walk with her daughter before night began to fall.
"Lumina? Lumina!" With a slight frown, the beautiful Light Faerie took off, her graceful wings lifting her high above the clouds. "Where are you?"
A burst of yellow light from a high-up wisp of cloud provided her answer. The small, dark-haired girl was playing with a stray Cirrus, using her power to turn the patient Petpet varying shades and colours, laughing so hard she could barely sit up.
"Here you are!" Shinneira scooped up her daughter in her arms. "Don't make Mummy worry like that, Lumina. You know you should always tell me where you're going."
"Sorry, Mummy." The nickname was one they'd picked up from Neopia; it didn't really have much bearing on the relationship between a Faerie and her elemental guardian, but it was easier for Lumina's small tongue to pronounce than the complicated syllables of "Shinneira".
"Never mind." The Light Faerie hugged her daughter. "Now come along, quickly. I'm going to make you pancakes for your tea, would you like that?"
"Pancakes!" Nothing could have enraptured the little Faerie more. "Come on, Mummy!"
Lumina's little wings were not yet used to flying, and although Shinneira could have carried her, the two of them found it easier to walk. The two of them passed by the flight school, a delicate, floating globe as light as a sycamore seed. Inside, young Faeries and small Neopets were practising flying with one another, the soft silken walls of the flight school cushioning them if they happened to fall. When Lumina had practised a little more, she would start her lessons at the school. Already she talked about it, making little excited leaps off the ground and dreaming of the time when she could soar like her older friends. For now, the two of them simply passed by. The day had passed without a single breath of wind, and the rope that normally anchored the school to Fyora's tower had been loosed, letting the magical building drift freely on the gentle currents to make the flight practice a little more realistic for the pupils.
"Come on, Lumina." Shinneira frowned as she felt a chill in the air. "Let's get home."
Together, they walked across the cloudscape. Her eyes on Lumina, anxious not to let her run away again, the Light Faerie didn't notice the clouds turn to a darkened grey beneath her feet. It took the first crackle of thunder, far below them, to alert her.
"My goodness," Shinneira gasped. "A storm!"
The next minute, the wind began to pick up. Lumina gave a little gasp as the clouds on Faerieland's edges, free of the enchantment that bound the city's foundations together, separated and parted into wisps that scattered before the wind. Shinneira's delicate blonde hair whipped against her face. And still the wind continued to grow, whistling and murmuring across Neopia as it built into a full-blown gale.
"Lumina, let's go." Shinneira looked afraid. "I don't want anything to--" She stopped, clapping a hand to her mouth. "Sweet Fyora... the flying school! What's going to happen to them?"
Although Lumina didn't understand what was happening, the sound of the wind scared her. She clutched at her mother's skirts, frightened.
"Oh, my. Oh, no." Shinneira glanced across the cloudbank, trying to make out the shape of the flying school amongst the storm. "They didn't tie the anchor-rope. Oh, my..."
Kneeling down, she hugged her daughter tightly. "Lumina. Mummy wants you to be a very brave girl. Can you do that?"
Lumina nodded proudly. "I'm a big girl. I can be brave."
"That's my Lumina." Shinneira fastened her hair back, spreading her wings. "Mummy wants you to hold onto this cloudbank with both your hands, and wait for her here until she comes back. It shouldn't be long."
With a flutter of bright wings, she took off, circling higher and higher, fighting against the storm as it grew even more powerful. Lumina watched the dot of light until she could no longer see it. Then, sitting down on the cloudbank, she waited.
It wouldn't be long. Mummy had said it wouldn't.
In the distance, lightning flashed at the dark heart of the storm.
"In the presence of Queen Fyora, Ruler of Neopia and Monarch of Faerieland, this court is brought to order."
The stern Elephante with the gold-tipped cane sat down, to Lumina's disappointment; she had liked the sound of his pompous speech. The smile he had brought to her face had taken her mind off the confusion that surrounded her, the fact that she didn't understand what was going on, and yet she knew somehow she was a part of it all.
"Thank you, Bryers." Fyora nodded. "Very well. Faeries of the kingdom, I'm sure you know why I've brought you all here today."
Every head but one in the room nodded wisely, and several pairs of eyes turned to look at Lumina. The little girl shifted restlessly in her seat, wondering how long it would be before she could go and play with Pierley, who'd promised to bring her barley sugar and a slide for her hair.
"As you know, we're currently dealing with the aftermath of a terrible loss," Fyora went on. "Shinneira Averine was not only one of the most gifted healers of her generation, but the Mother Guardian of the child we've brought with us today, Lumina. It's about this little one that I need to address the court."
"Your Majesty, I'd be happy to take care of her." Mayrelle, the Air Faerie from the children's tower, had raised her hand. "Lumina was one of my charges before she left with Shinneira, and she's spent a lot of time around me. I'm sure she would feel at home."
As she spoke, she glanced across at Lumina, who returned a hesitant smile. Mayrelle was kind, but looking at her reminded Lumina of that strange night a few days ago, when she'd been carried back to the Air Faerie's tower and given hot milk to drink. Pierley the JubJub's worried murmurs, the feel of the china mug in her clenched fingers. The way that Mayrelle had wrapped her up in a soft blanket, and spoken the words that had turned Lumina's world into such a cold and confusing place.
"Lumina, I'm sorry. You won't be able to see your mother any more."
"Mayrelle, I know you have the best of intentions." Fyora looked down at her books and gave the slightest sigh. "But the Faerie law laid down by our ancestors says that, in the case of an event such as this one, the orphaned Faerie must be looked after by her Guardian's relatives, if there are any."
"Are there any?" A Fire Faerie in the gallery raised her hand to speak. "Shinneira... she never mentioned a family."
"It appears that Shinneira did not get on well with her sister," Fyora explained, glancing at the notes she had brought. "She preferred to act as if the two of them were one-time friends from the magical academy. However, they were sisters. Born in the same summer, with the same crest, and cared for by the same Mother Guardian. Therefore, I ask this court to witness the fact that..." Fyora's words caught in her throat for a moment, and Mayrelle wondered if there might still be hope. But the Faerie Queen took a sip from a glass of water, and recovered her breath. "The fact that I am placing Lumina in the care of Janina Averine of the Haunted Woods."
"Fyora, be serious." There was a buzz of protest. "Sending a little girl like that to the Haunted Woods? Will she be all right out there?"
"Are you saying that you mistrust the intentions of Shinneira's own sister?" Fyora clapped her hands, and the Queen's imposing presence silenced the doubters. "I have spoken to Janina today with the help of a projection spell. She did not know I had enclosed a truth-detection charm. I asked her whether she was truly willing to care for the little girl, and she said that she was. Do you really want to contradict the proven truth?"
In the hush that followed, Fyora recovered her composure. "This court is concluded. If you have anything to add, see me afterwards. Mayrelle, Lumina is in your charge until she leaves Faerieland. Pack her things, and make sure she is warmly dressed."
"Ahem. Court concluded. Disperse!" Bryers felt a need to bark the order, bringing a weak smile to Lumina's tired face as Mayrelle led her out of the room.
The branches of the Haunted Woods stood black and forbidding against the cool evening sky. Somewhere amongst them, Petpets were calling, not the sweet, gentle creatures that had roamed the clouds of Faerieland, but strange monsters, shadows in the twilight.
Somewhere beyond the lanterns of the village, beside a single, huge tree that twisted its gnarled branches towards the fading light, the small carriage drew to a halt. The four Alabriss that had travelled the long distance twitched and whimpered, uneasy.
From inside the carriage, the small, dark-haired girl stared at her surroundings. Clutching the Wand of Nova she carried, a parting gift from Mayrelle, she took one hesitant step down from her seat. "This..." The word caught on her lips. "Is this it?"
"I can see you're impressed." A voice startled her. What she had taken for a simple tree was nothing less than a roost, an imposing castle of dark, twisting wood, and a tall figure stood in its doorway. "Yes, this is it, Lumina. Your cousins have made up a room for you. Now, are you going to dismiss the carriage?"
With her few belongings held tightly in her small hands, Lumina moved towards the doorway of the Faerie roost, step by step. She was half afraid to leave the carriage with its green and white Alabriss, the last link to the life she had known.
The Faerie ushering her inside, certainly, had nothing about her that hushed the little girl's fearful thoughts. Shinneira's sister... Lumina, in the childish world of her dreams, had imagined a twin for her mother, a gentle, star-golden woman who would fly with her, far above the unknown world of the Haunted Woods. In reality, Janina Averine bore more resemblance to an elegant statue than to her lost sister. From the violet-tinted wings that flared at her back to the black hair that coiled around her shoulders, she was a formidable figure and an unfamiliar shadow.
"I'll have you signed up for magical instruction at once," Janina was saying, her voice sounding far off as Lumina tried to take in everything around her at once. "Don't let me forget to find you a Petpet to keep you safe out in the forest. A nice Zomutt would be a good guard-pet for you, I think."
"Couldn't I have a Cirrus instead?" Lumina recalled the games she'd played with the stray Petpets, far up among the clouds. "I like them."
"Don't be so silly." Janina shook her head. "This isn't a place for Cirruses. We'll take you to the Petpet shop tomorrow. Now come inside."
"Hey, is that the new one?" A teenage Dark Faerie was hovering a short distance above the stairs, gazing at the two of them. "Looks a bit of a sissy girl, doesn't she? Like a little Nimmo tadpole, with those big eyes."
"Vaneria, stop it. I didn't ask you to stay home so you could call your cousin a tadpole. Now wipe that silly grin off your face and help me move her things into her room."
The door closed behind them, and Lumina heard the hooves of the Alabriss retreating into the night.
She wondered if she would ever see her home again.
"Lumina? I'm coming in."
By the glow of a lantern, a teenage Faerie sat on her bed, apparently absorbed in a heavy book. The arrival of her aunt seemed to be insufficient reason for her to leave her study of luck and fortune spells.
"Put that book down. I know you're worried that you're not as good as your cousins, but seriously, you don't need to be working so late in the evening."
Reluctantly, Lumina laid the book on one side.
"Is it true what your cousins say, Lumina?" Janina looked at her niece in puzzlement. "You don't want to come to the Shadow Dance?"
"No. Why would I?" The young Faerie returned an equally baffled glance. "What would I do at the Shadow Dance, Aunt Janina?"
"Now, we'll have none of that." With a flick of Janina's wrist, Lumina was pulled away from her books and onto her feet. "You must come. I haven't been to a decent Shadow Dance since you were nothing but a newborn, and as for you..." She smiled. "You may not be too powerful yet, but you'd be a pretty thing with a few glamour enchantments. I'll find you a dress to wear and you can ride in the carriage with your cousins."
"Yes, Aunt Janina," Lumina said meekly. It was clear that she wasn't about to get her way.
The coach that carried Lumina and her family to the Shadow Dance could hardly have been more different from the beautiful carriages of Faerieland. Janina stepped down from between the rusted metal wheels, resplendent in a marvellous violet dress. Her three daughters followed, each determined to look as perfect as their mother.
"Raevyn, is that you?" Janina smiled winningly. "I haven't seen you since twenty Neopoints meant dinner for three. You're looking radiant."
"As are you. These girls are your daughters, then?"
"Not the little one." Janina's smile slipped just a little, but she recovered. "You can surely tell she's not quite the same as the others. She's my niece, and frankly, she just hasn't got the same natural gifts as my side of the family. But I'm doing my best to help her, aren't I, Lumina?"
Vaneria nudged Lumina, and she nodded silently. The atmosphere of the Shadow Dance was doing nothing to help her natural shyness.
The festivities continued long after midnight. There were drinks of dubious provenance to be tasted, and a spell competition; Nericia, Janina's youngest daughter, won second prize, an elixir that was guaranteed to turn any Neopet into a Mortog for two hours. Lumina couldn't imagine why any pet would want to turn into a Mortog, but Nericia seemed very pleased with the prize.
"So, you're Janina Averine's little protégée?"
Lumina turned to see a Dark Faerie more than twice her height. Startled, she took a step back, making the stranger laugh.
"Look at her! Child, I'm not going to eat you. I was looking at your wings. No wonder Janina thinks you're underdeveloped."
The words hurt. It was true; Lumina's filmy wings were little more than a few folds on her shoulderblades, and even her aunt's best glamour charms had done little to disguise them.
"Now, I've spoken to her," the older Faerie went on, "and I think I might have just the thing. I specialise in charms of appearance, you know, and this one is tried and tested. A few months of wearing it and a bit of intensive work for your poor Aunt Janina--" To Lumina's shock, the Faerie actually laughed at her own words. "And I guarantee you'll be the image of a beautiful Faerie. Mustn't let the side down, must we?"
Reaching over Lumina's shoulder, she placed a small gemstone at the tip of each wing.
"There now. You've nothing more to worry about."
As she touched the unfamiliar jewels, Lumina began to smile. If she did grow wings of her own, wide, beautiful wings... she'd be just like her mother. What she'd always wished to be.
"Lumina!" Nericia and Vaneria ran over. "Is this where you've got to? You're always in the wrong place. We looked everywhere."
"I'm sorry," Lumina said shyly, and hurried after them.
"Sorry?" The elderly Faerie was left to stare at Lumina as she disappeared, shaking her head. "What kind of a word is sorry for one of us? Ah, Janina, you still have a lot to do..."
Sipping her cocktail, she returned to the party.
The small clearing in the Haunted Forest would have been insignificant to any passer-by. The grassy circle with its still, reed-bordered pool and the bone-white lilies that grew nearby was a peaceful place, though, and Lumina had chosen it as a haven. Safe from her cousins' constant teasing and her aunt's expectations, she could sit and study her books of magic on her own, dreaming of the day when she would be known throughout Faerieland as Shinneira's true successor.
Protection charms require a large amount of concentration on the part of the user if they are not to evaporate unexpectedly. The aura that emerges from the user's wand or staff should be golden or blue, and under no circumstances green; the latter indicates clouded feelings or--
Lumina lifted her head.
On the edge of the clearing, two little pets were walking, the Kyrii resting on the Purple Nimmo's linked arm. Though they hadn't seen her, she clearly felt the tug at her heart that came whenever she saw another Neopian suffering. Putting down the copy of Shields and Wards of Enchantment, she held out her lantern at arm's length.
"Is something wrong?" she called, trying to be gentle in order not to startle the night wanderers. Both pets jumped, and two pairs of wide, childlike eyes turned on her.
"Don't go near her, Kaleron," the Nimmo whispered, ushering her brother behind her. "Let's just go. It's a long way back to Neopia Central."
"But, Milsie, she might make my paw better..." Kaleron whimpered, reluctant to leave the glow of Lumina's lantern. "I don't want to walk any more..."
Lumina got to her feet, a smile on her face. Healing magic was one of the enchantments most revered by other Neopians, but it was actually one of the simplest techniques to learn. She could easily fix this child's hurt paw.
"Come here," she called, reaching out a hand to touch the Kyrii's tangled fur. "I'll make you feel better. It'll be all right. Just come to me."
Kaleron took a few hesitant steps, but his sister was quicker. Darting out in front of him, she leapt from the ground, her powerful leg delivering a sharp kick to Lumina's face.
"Shame on you!" she yelled, snatching the little Kyrii into her arms. "Trying to charm my baby brother! Get away from me, you... you demon!"
Holding him tightly, she disappeared into the forest, her quick steps fading from earshot.
Lumina was left alone where she had fallen, her hand clutched to her cheek where the Nimmo's foot had bruised it. She raised herself onto one knee, still holding the lantern in one outstretched hand.
The clearing was scattered with droplets of water. In her hurry to leave, Milsie had run through a deep woodland pool. With a sigh, Lumina knelt down to restore the water plants to their rightful positions, brushing the leaves with a gentle touch.
In the water's depths, a little freshwater Slugawoo was wriggling happily. At the sight of Lumina's elegant hand reaching below the surface, it gave a squeak of fright and swam back towards its muddy den.
"Wait, little one." Lumina was taken aback. "What...?"
Slowly, she withdrew her hand from the water. The ripples subsided, leaving the pool still and clear in the moonlight.
There had never been any reason to look into the mirror in Janina's roost. But now, Lumina stared at her reflection.
Her dark brown hair pinned back by clips made from the poisonous flowers of the Haunted Woods, the only flowers that grew near her home. Her deep eyes, and the black lace dress she had been given by her cousins. And, behind her, the delicate shape of her wings, the blessing of the Shadow Dance charm now fully complete. They sparkled and shimmered, skeleton leaves etched in violet and deep blue against the darkness of the night.
Janina had done her best work. Lumina Averine had grown into the image of a beautiful Faerie.
A beautiful Dark Faerie.
It didn't matter that her magic was the magic of kindness and benevolence, or that her heart ached for those in distress. A Faerie needed more than magical talent to help those in distress. First and foremost, she needed their trust.
That trust would never be hers.
And the twilight stars glittered like fallen tears as Lumina cried.
To be continued...