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The Question of Light and Dark


by string_theorist

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Nico really and truly wished she had a neopoint for every time she got one of those looks. She placed her hand on the counter and leaned closer to the pale Kacheek, who looked as if he spent a little too much time inside eating his wares.

      "Is there a problem?" she asked in a steely voice.

      "You're a light faerie," the Kacheek stated, his eyes flitting to the pair of softly glowing wings unfurled behind Nico.

      "Nicely spotted," she replied. "Care to guess my gender since you're on such a roll?"

      "And you have black hair?" His face twisted up. "Why isn't it blond?"

      Of course.

      "Perhaps you're happening to think that Lira Cloudtop is some kind of model for all light faeries." Nico straightened and swiftly clunked two hundred and eighty neopoints on the counter. "How 'bought we lower that price on the cranberry muffins." The baker didn't even look down at the money but continued his scrutiny of Nico's ebony locks.

      "Who's Lira Cloudtop?"

      Nico took a deep breath, just as the counselor back at the academy had told her to.

      "Lira. The Quest Light Faerie who asks for cards from you guys. Models for anything requiring a light faerie on the cover. Happens to be shallower than the Rainbow Pool was that day everyone got Christmas paint brushes." Nico glanced impatiently at the sun, now peeping brightly far off in the horizon. "Okay, how about two hundred eighty five."

      "Wait, that's all one faerie?" The Kacheek's eyes widened. "But... Siyana and the Wheel of Excitement faerie are blonds too."

      "Yes, well, that's their unlucky fate." Nico rubbed at her temples. "Listen, I've got someone waiting for me. Two hundred and ninety sound good for the cranberry muffins?" The Kacheek seemed to be ignoring her.

      "You sure your hair's not dyed?"

      Nico stared at him. "No. I'll just serve myself, shall I? Sorry, but your bakery lacks in customer service worse than the Esophagor." The young faerie snatched up the muffins and stalked out of the bakery sourly. Really, she wondered sometimes if the Council of Elders got screwed up and really meant for her to be a fire faerie, because she certainly had the necessary temper. Her skin glowed as it quietly began to absorb the dawning sun's light energy, but Nico had little attention for the once fascinating phenomenon. She tucked the muffins into her satchel and jumped into the air. Her wings flapped madly for a moment before they carried her into the sky. Nico's hair, indeed quite black, snuck into her mouth as she turned to analyze her positioning. The Bazaar situated below, Faerieland to the southeast. She rocketed forward to her destination.

     ***

     Energy is everywhere.

     Yes.

     It powers everything; it is present in all things. There is no end to the supply of energy, available in various different forms.

     Fine.

     Magic is the act of obtaining energy and manipulating or changing it to perform a specific function.

     Great. Super. Whoop-de-do. Can we actually do magic now? The young faerie tapped her pencil impatiently, then suddenly froze as her book flipped shut on its own accord and stared at her with simmering red eyes.

     "What a tasty little child," it remarked before it sprouted a pair of dark faerie wings and lunged forward. The faerie screamed as the book's fangs closed in on her skin.

     Danielle's eyes snapped open as she unconsciously twitched herself awake.

     There was a split second of blissful confusion.

     Followed by the sensation of a brick, no, a bucket of bricks, crashing into her as she remembered the state of her real life, not a stupid nightmare. Danielle stared at the vaulted dorm ceiling, the sounds of her roommates still soft and sleep-like. The young faerie lay perfectly still, as if not moving would let her disappear into the mattress and out of this living nightmare.

     It didn't work.

     Danielle tried to sigh, but it came out more like a sob that echoed much too loudly. She bit her mouth shut, but tears had already begun leaking out of the corners of her eyes. She thought for sure that she had cried herself out from the night before. It seemed bizarre; yesterday at this exact same time, it was her sixteenth birthday; her day to present herself before the Council of Elders and learn what energy; earth, water, fire, dark, light, or air, she could call her own. And now...

     "Dani?" a sleepy voice drifted from below. "Dani, you alright?" A head of short, dark brown hair popped up near her bed, followed by a pair of even darker brown eyes. The second faerie clambered onto the mattress and sat on her knees at Danielle's feet. "You all right?" she asked softly. Danielle sat slowly up and wiped at her eyes with the palm of her hand. She was sick of this incessant crying.

     "Did I wake you, Hannah?" she croaked. Her friend smiled and shrugged.

     "I was basically awake anyway." The small faerie scrutinized Danielle's face, who turned away quickly.

     "You must think I'm such a spoiled brat for crying over this," she muttered.

     "No," Hannah declared solidly, "Plenty of faeries get upset. Remember Jeanne nearly had a nervous breakdown when the council said she couldn't be a fire faerie?"

      "The Council of Elders didn't declare her as a... a..." Danielle's throat seemed to close on its own accord. "A dark faerie," she finally rasped. She could almost hear her friend's mind working furiously to come up with a reason as to why Danielle's life wasn't falling apart.

      "Maybe you can go back and ask for a redo," she finally said after much too long a pause, "Maybe they messed up."

      "Hannah, you can't just go to a council of ancient spirits and ask them to redo." Danielle felt a flare of impatience. "You turn sixteen and poof, your fate is sealed. I'd run away, but I can't because the academy is on a stinking cloud that I can't get off of secretly because I don't have my wings yet which I don't want because they're dark wings which is why I want to run away in the first place!"

      "Maybe your sister can get you out of the academy without the running away part," Hannah suggested with her mouth twisted into a poorly suppressed smile.

      "Nico would be the last one to help me; she's a light faerie," Danielle mumbled. Her deep feeling of despair returned with the thought of her big sister's reaction to having a dark faerie in the family. "I'll probably be disowned." She blinked as tears pricked at her eyes again.

      "If there's one thing I doubt, it's that." Hannah smiled wryly. "Nico's always been a bit... rebellious, if you ask me."

     ***

      Nico veered to the side as a sparkling chariot rumbled past, pulled by two madly flapping faerie Eyries. "Yeah, sorry to get in your way!" she yelled behind her, then turned just in time to yelp and dive out of the path of a Uni. She flapped frantically to pull herself out of her freefall. Once the light faerie had strained her entire back getting level again, her head spun in an unhealthy, dizzy fashion. She seriously needed to find a better route past the main city's entryway. The clouds rolled cheerfully past her, nearly all sporting a building or garden or magical pasture on which several cute fluffy creatures gamboled about happily.

      Nico needed to take a page out of Ilere's book and spend more time in the Haunted Woods.

      "Hey!" someone yelled from behind her, "Why do'you have black hair?" Nico whirled around, light energy already gathering and concentrating in her clenched fists. A group of sniggering pets lolled on a cloud. Her fists flashed a dangerous white, receiving loud jeers from the small group.

      "Eh, she won't dare," a small yet stringy looking Gnorbu flipped his mane in an admittedly bizarre fashion, "Light faeries aren't allowed to do bad stuff."

      "Actually," Nico said flatly as she sent a concentrated beam of light energy towards the cloud, "I can do whatever the heck I want." She turned and pushed herself forward, not even bothering to watch the little cloud whiz away with a host of screaming pets on its back. She looked down at her much less luminous skin and sighed.

      Yes, most light faeries had the idea that they were meant to be all-knowing protectors of the weak and defenders from the evil darkness or whatever. But somehow it didn't click for Nico. Why does dark magic make someone evil? Sure, dark faeries got energy from negative emotions like light faeries received energy from positive emotions, but what did that prove? Heck, some of the best art in Neopia came from people wracked with sadness or doubt or anger. Most dark faeries just decided to follow a dubious calling in life because that was all society ever expected them to do. And the light faeries were somehow anticipated to remain perfect little angels. How was that expected to happen?

      Still... she shouldn't have lost her temper. Light faerie, earth faerie, or lint faerie, it just wasn't right to send a cloud of rude pets careening through the sky. Nico dropped her hands and looked up. The sun was definitely up by now, making sharp distinctions between shadows and light on the clouds. All of a sudden, her heart jumped slightly and her worries seemed to drift away as a beautifully familiar tower came spearing out of a nearby cloud. Nico dropped in altitude until she was skimming the cloud top and landed lightly on the front step, furling her wings against her back. She checked to be sure the muffins had survived the trip, straightened her jeans and shirt, ran a hand through her dark hair, read the little plaque stating Keandra Academy for Young Faeries with a shot of fondness, and rang the door bell.

     ***

      Danielle couldn’t so much see them as feel them. Her roommates, friends, watching her slow movements as she made herself halfway presentable for the school day. Were the usual shrieks, laughter, and chatter really softer this morning or was it just her? Did more eyes wander towards the dark faerie to be? Danielle sighed inaudibly and ran her fingers through her mousy brown hair in a halfhearted way. She grabbed her bag and swung it onto her shoulder before shuffling as fast as she could out of the dorm room. Hannah had already run out to grab breakfast, and was waiting for her just outside the door.

      "Toast." She smiled and held out a small slice. Danielle grabbed one, only just realizing that she had skipped both lunch and dinner yesterday.

      "Thanks." She found herself breaking a grin around a mouthful of toast.

      "We'd better get going to first class," Hannah stated. "You know how Ms. Opedia is." Danielle paused, the toast still halfway into her mouth.

      "She's a light faerie," she stated blankly after moving the food away from her mouth. Hannah shot her a look.

      "And she knows nothing. No one but the headmistress and you and me know about the council's decision, and Mrs. Keandra's not about to tell the entire staff, is she?"

      "Guess not." Danielle shrugged and let her arm drop; she'd lost her appetite.

      "Let's go." Hannah gripped her friends' arm and pulled her along with surprising strength considering her small stature, "We don't get our wings until the end of the month of hunting, and math's at the top of the second tower." Danielle stumbled after Hannah down a few halls and up several flights of stairs before they finally reached the classroom. Ms. Opedia, her skin glowing softly, glanced up as the two faeries came in. Danielle knew that Hannah's reasoning had to be true, but that still didn't stop her from dropping her gaze to the floor rather than meet her teachers' gray eyes.

      "Hey, Dani, Hannah." A tall, lanky, towheaded faerie perked up at her desk, a second faerie next to her with dark red hair looking up and smiling as well.

      "Hi, Amelia." Danielle gladly turned towards the distraction. "Hey, Joyce."

     "So Dani, what's your energy? What'd the council say?" Amelia leaned forward eagerly "Water? It's water, right? You did that bubble spell so well last week."

      Danielle smiled blankly, her mind racing at a ridiculous pace.

      "Well, you know," Hannah interjected, "you're supposed to wait a fortnight to meditate on the council of elder's decision before you tell anyone." Danielle sighed with relief. Good 'ol Hannah.

      "Yeah, but it's just a nicety really." Amelia cocked her head and smiled. "No one actually does it."

      "Well, I kind of want to." Danielle spoke in what she hoped was a calm and self-assured tone of voice. "I'd rather come to my own conclusions about the council's than let everyone else do that." Amelia and Joyce looked at her.

      "Deep," Amelia finally stated. "Alright. Fine... are you sure it's not water?"

      "Amelia just wants to know because she's got a bet with me." Joyce laughed at Danielle's expression. "Leave Dani alone, Amelia."

      "Oh come on." The lanky faerie slumped in her seat and put on a fake pout. "I have to wait two more months 'till I'm sixteen; I'm soaking up what I can."

      "Everyone knows you'll get air." Hannah poked her friend teasingly. "You're got enough of it in your head."

      "Hey!" Amelia laughed. "Didn't you see my columns of flame? I'm so gonna be a fire faerie."

      "My cousin's a fire faerie and she says you ruin a lot of clothes," Joyce piped up. The three girls fell into an argument about whether or not fire was the best energy, Danielle half listening from her perch on a desk. The class filled swiftly, and before long Ms. Opedia was standing at the front of the classroom, calling for attention. Danielle got into her seat and opened her math notebook as Ms. Opedia waved her hand and the day's lesson appeared in letters of pure light. The class of young faeries groaned as the word "Parabolas" slowly spelled itself out.

      The next half hour was not unusual, and Danielle was almost able to think that it was before her sixteenth birthday and she still had no clue she'd become a dark faerie. There was something freeing about struggling to understand what Ms. Opedia was saying and scribbling down notes on vertexes and formulas to find intercepts. It was what she'd been doing for the last six years, ever since she'd been enrolled in the academy. It felt right.

      That feeling of rightness vanished in a puff of smoke as the door opened. Heads turned towards the new distraction, and Mrs. Opedia paused, her hand in mid wave. The faerie Wocky smiled apologetically.

      "I'm here to retrieve Danielle," she stated brightly. Danielle's heart dropped as she stood and began to makes her way towards the door. "Ah, you'll want to bring your things," the Wocky interjected. "I don't believe you'll be back until well after first hour is over."

      Danielle stopped, turned, and took what seemed to be the longest most awkward seconds of her life to stuff her pencils and books inside her bag and hurry back towards the Wocky. She could feel a classroom full of curious eyes, Hannah's worried, watch her every move, burning a hole in her back. Danielle was relieved beyond feeling when the door finally closed behind her and Ms. Opedia's voice started up again. She followed the Wocky as she started in a sprightly manner down the hall.

      "Excuse me, ma'am," she finally said softly after they had been walking a little while. "Where exactly are we going."

      "Why, to the headmistress' office, dearie, didn't I say? I suppose not. But yes, apparently you've got a visitor." This didn't help Danielle's nerves. Not one single bit.

     ***

      "So what does this do?" Nico pointed to a filmy pewter ball, splashes of color spreading in rippling waves from seemingly nowhere, as if some invisible person was dropping pebbles in a pond. The headmistress, an elderly looking earth faerie, glanced up amusedly.

      "That is my terrameter. It senses specific patterns of vibrations in the earth."

      "Like earthquakes?" Nico tucked a strand of ebony hair away and looked at her former headmistress eagerly.

      "Not quite." Keandra smiled. "It can feel and locate the footsteps of anyone in the academy; including young faeries sneaking about the halls after hours." Keandra looked back down at her papers with a smile pulling at her mouth as Nico blushed a brilliant red.

      "And actually," Keandra looked back up after Nico had gotten her composure, "if you'll see those vibrations right there," she gestured towards two brightly hued spots producing giant waves of color, "I'd say there's two visitors right outside the door." Nico turned and sure enough, a faerie Wocky came trotting in, followed by a young faerie with mousy brown hair and a strange expression on her face.

      "Dani!" Nico cried as she rushed over to sweep her little sister up in a hug. Danielle felt herself hug Nico right back, feeling a sense of relief despite her underlying dread. Headmistress Keandra stood and looked to the Wocky.

      "Eana, I do believe I'm in the mood for a nice tour of what the music department is up to. Care to join me?"

      "Oh, I'm sorry, Keandra. We'll find somewhere else to talk-" Nico started.

      "No, no, no." The earth faerie held up a hand, "You two catch up with each other right here. And Miss Danielle..." Danielle looked with trepidation at her headmistress. "You're very lucky young faerie, you know." Danielle's mind was still racing as Keandra and Eana left the room.

      "So, how was your birthday?" Nico asked as she put herself in one of the squashy armchairs. Danielle sat down as well, her eyes to the floor.

      "Good," she said automatically, even though nothing could have been farther from the truth.

      "I got you a birthday present," Nico said, her eyes flashing with worry as her hand dove into her bag. She knew her little sister. Something... something had happened. She hadn't gotten the energy she wanted? Maybe. Nico withdrew a small unwrapped box with a battered bow perched on top.

      "Nice decoration," Danielle found herself smiling; Nico never had been one for these kinds of things. The light faerie had the grace to look abashed.

      "Open it," she ordered, "Oh, and I got you some muffins." Danielle watched as a package of cranberry muffins was set on the arm of the couch. "You wouldn't believe the Kacheek at the bakery; he never even did anything but make comments on my hair." Danielle glanced at the offending mop of dark hair. It was so pretty and thick compared to her own thin hair; Danielle didn't think she'd mind comments. It'd fit for a dark faerie anyway. She felt the abject terror she'd been holding at bay for some time finally some rushing in at full force.

      "Well? Aren't you going to open it?" Nico asked. Her sister's voice seemed far away, her own fingers felt like someone else's as Danielle bent over to open the package. She opened it to find a silver necklace, a single pendent with a star and moon hanging from it.

      "Isn't this yours?" Danielle asked in spite of herself. Nico nodded.

      "But now it's yours," she stated, "Put it on." Danielle clasped the necklace together behind her neck and looked down. It was a pretty little bit of jewelry.

      "Thanks, Nico." She smiled. Nico watched her sister's expression and her worry intensified. Danielle's mouth was smiling but her eyes were... frightened. There was no other word for it. A thought snuck up in Nico's mind.

      "You didn't get the energy you wanted yesterday, did you," she stated more than asked. Danielle's heart raced.

      "N-no," she heard herself say. "Not really."

      "So what'd the council say?" Danielle had always thought it was strange when she read about people being "frozen with fear" but at that moment she knew what they meant all too well.

      "I... I..." Danielle swallowed. Nico frowned and the thought swelled up.

      "Dani. Did the council suggest the dark energy?" she asked softly. Danielle felt her insides tear. Why did Nico have to know her so well? She looked down at her lap and nodded, the tears already seeping out of her eyes. There was silence, roaring silence, then arms were wrapping around her shoulders. Danielle looked up into Nico's face.

      "Are you going to disown me?" she asked shakily. Then Nico did something Danielle never would have expected in a million years. Nico laughed.

      "No," she snorted.

      "But... don't light and dark faeries have to hate each other?"

      "No way. We can do what ever the heck we want," Nico stated, a suddenly forceful tone in her voice.

     "But I'm not even good at dark magic," Danielle cried. "I don't enjoy people's misery; I don't like the dark. I needed a night-light until I was seven! What dark faerie sleeps with a night light?! I can't be a dark faerie!"

      "You know, Dani, the Council of Elders can only suggest your energy. You get to decide in the end."

      Danielle looked at Nico with something akin to shock on her face. "But... everyone goes with what the council says. They know best, right?"

      "That wasn't what it sounded like just a second ago."

      "But you went with the council's decision."

      Nico's face hardened. "And that was probably one of the worse mistakes I've made so far. I thought that I had to do what the council says. But I never felt completely comfortable being a light faerie. You know what I really thought?"

      "What?"

      "Before I went before the council, I really and truly thought they'd pronounce me a dark faerie. I wasn't especially kind, I broke the rules, I never did that well in light magic and was quite talented at dark magic."

      Danielle stared at Nico. "Wow."

      "Yeah. When the council made its decision I thought there'd been a mistake. But I went with it," Nico shrugged, "and I wonder sometimes if I should have made my own decisions."

      Danielle looked into her lap, unsure of the emotions she was feeling at the moment. Relief, yes. Some doubt perhaps. Hope definitely. And a strange one; disappointment. She glanced up at her sister.

      "I don't know," she said softly. "I don't know what I want."

      "I don't think many know completely what they want," Nico said slowly, "but I think most of us know what feels right." Silence draped itself over the two sisters as they mulled over the situation. Suddenly, the door opened and Nico and Danielle looked up to see the headmistress.

      "I'm sorry," she apologized, "but it would make me a terrible hostess and headmistress not to alert to you both that lunch is being carried out downstairs."

      "No thanks," Nico and Danielle said at the same time, glanced at each other amusedly.

      "I've got muffins," Nico gestured towards the package, a smile still wide on her face.

      "Is everything in order then?" The earth faerie looked at the sisters meaningfully with her deep brown gaze.

     "We're fine," Nico stated. "Or are we?" She found herself looking at Danielle.

      Danielle glanced back and forth between Keandra and Nico. She still had no clue what her decision might be, but she began to realize that these people, Nico and Hannah and Headmistress Keandra, would be there to support and guide her all the way through whatever her path may be. And right then Danielle felt as if a giant burden, one she never even realized had been piling up, was lifted off of her shoulders in one instant, replaced by a deep impenetrable calm.

      "Yes." She smiled at Nico and Keandra. "We're fine. Just fine."

The End

 
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