Tatterwings: Part One
A Scamander scampered through the rocky wasteland between the Haunted Woods and the Lost Desert. It was late – it knew that it had to head back to its burrow before the night hunters came out.
Day was safe. The hunters slept during the day, and few Neopians traveled through this land. While the Scamander hadn’t understood them, it vaguely remembered a few of the words it had heard whispered by caravan guards. Ghosts... curses... spells... monsters...
It didn’t know what those words meant. All it knew was that when the shadow beings swept across the rocky ground and the patches of sheltering grass, they were to be avoided. The shadow things brought death.
It crawled up the hillside to its burrow, and looked out to be sure that the coast was clear. That was when it saw something unusual – a flickering light coming from a cave in a nearby slope!
Lights meant danger. Difference meant danger. The Scamander quickly disappeared into its safe home.
Ioni the Grey Faerie looked out of the mouth of the cave into the setting sun. Behind her, the firelight flickered. She sat, unmoving, not noticing anything about her surroundings until a shadow fell over her.
A big Tyrannian Lupe sat down next to her. He held two small wooden bowls with spoons – he gave one to the Faerie, and kept the other for himself. “I managed to find some root vegetables, and I still had some of those spices we picked up in Qasala. It tastes okay. Hopefully we’ll be able to find something better when we get to the Haunted Woods. I hear Neovian food is good.”
Ioni smiled slightly. “You always think about food, Rafe.”
Rafe grinned. “Food and fighting. Those are my jobs, after all – you decide where we’re going, and I get us there in one piece.” Then he set a broad hand on her shoulder. “You’re upset about something, Ioni. You know I can tell.”
Ioni nodded. “Yes... five years of travelling together has that effect.”
“And you’re dodging. Tell me what’s going on.”
She sighed. “Not enough plants here... I get lonely without them. Then I try to look on the bright side – if I were still an Earth Faerie, I would be even worse off. And then I get sad again about not being an Earth Faerie anymore. I know I shouldn’t let myself be melancholy, but...”
Rafe finished her sentence. “It’s hard. And I know it’s hard for you. I can’t imagine how hard it must be. But you know why we’re here... in the only place on the surface of Neopia more ugly than the Tyrannian plateau.”
As if he had to say it! She couldn’t go an hour without thinking about it.
They had heard a rumor while they were in Qasala... a rumor of two Grey Faeries sighted in the southern Haunted Woods.
And if there are other Grey Faeries out there...
For the first decade or so, she had wallowed in misery over losing her wings. She was almost ashamed to admit it now – just how pathetic she had been. After, she had resigned herself to stoicism, trying to cope with the daily life of being a wingless, powerless Faerie. She’d kept on the move, living in the wilds and avoiding people. For wherever a Grey Faerie went, she was met with shock, horror and pity from the good-hearted people and taunting from the malicious. She could still hear the jeers of “Tatterwings! Tatterwings!” in her ears sometimes.
Then she’d rescued Rafe from bandits in the Tyrannian jungles, and, like the warrior he was, he had pledged his service to her. And he’d asked the simple question, “Why don’t you find a way back?”
“Back to what?” she remembered asking.
“Back to the way you were before. Anything that can be done can be undone.”
And that had started her quest.
They had been all over Neopia, following stories, rumors, and odd bits of knowledge. But the facts of how to turn a Grey Faerie back remained elusive. Just recently, they’d heard the tale of other Grey Faeries.
So here they were, on the trail again.
Rafe chided, “Eat the soup before it cools, Ioni. I don’t go to all this trouble so you can eat cold mush. There’s nasty terrain here in the borderlands, and I don’t like all the stories about ghosts. You’re going to need your strength.”
She started eating slowly. Rafe had already almost finished. He went to the wall where they had set their packs and pulled out his old bone flute and her small silver harp. “And a little music will cheer you up. From what I heard in Qasala, the fire will keep us safe for the night, so we needn’t worry about making noise.”
The idea of a little music did sound nice – she ate a little faster, and then drank the broth before taking up her harp. “Nothing too sad... how about ‘King Skarl’s Oldest Squire’?”
Rafe nodded and put the flute to his lips, and the Lupe and Faerie played until the sun had fully sunk below the horizon.
In the middle of the night, they were both woken up by an eerie howling floating on the wind. Rafe said, “It’s too high-pitched to be of the Lupe kin.”
Ioni shuddered. “You know – those stories about ghosts?”
Rafe said quietly, “Come over here – put the fire between yourself and the entry. Ghosts don’t like fire, I’ve been told.”
Holding her blanket tightly around herself, she crawled around the campfire to Rafe’s side. The two friends huddled close to each other as the high wailing went on and on, joined by other cries. Sometimes, Ioni wasn’t sure whether she saw shadowy figured outside the safety of the cave, or whether it was just the firelight.
“R-Rafe? Is that...”
“I don’t know – it’s better not to talk about them. Please.” His eyes were wide, and his voice sounded forced... Ioni couldn’t remember the last time she’d seen him this scared. He likes enemies he can fight... not ghosts that he isn’t sure are really there.
She had to do her best to reassure him. “It’ll be okay, Rafe. We have the fire, and we have your sword and my knife. We haven’t seen anything unnatural during the daytime... come morning, it’ll be fine.”
But even after the noises and odd shadows ceased and they both lay down again, Ioni didn’t think Rafe slept.
She knew for sure that she didn’t.
The next morning, they resumed their wearying trek across the broken ground. The treacherous terrain made Ioni grateful that she had long ago gotten used to walking. Even still, she began to think almost fondly of the hot, shifting sands of the desert. She clutched her staff tightly as she used it to help herself along. They had to move fast, even though they were both tired – Ioni didn’t want to spend another night in the forsaken land.
Rafe pulled out the compass he had acquired when they went to Krawk Island. “We’re heading as close to due north as we can... so far, so good.”
Ioni pulled out the map of Neopia and turned the page to the borderlands. She started calculating in her head based on the landmarks and their pace. “We can probably be at the fringe before the sun sets tonight. The southern Haunted Woods is rather marshy... if we’re lucky, there won’t be too many Dark Faeries about, and we can steer clear of them. They generally don’t like chill or wet.”
Rafe sighed. “I don’t like chill or wet either.”
“But, hopefully, most of the ghosts and villains who roam the Haunted Woods won’t realize that I don’t have any powers, and they’ll steer clear of us.”
At that moment, a shadow passed over them. Rafe immediately drew his sword, and Ioni knelt to the ground and thrust her long knife upward. But the beings weren’t close... they flew overhead. The Grey Faerie looked up and realized that they were nothing but shadow, and felt a chill that had nothing to do with the day.
Rafe’s hand was trembling as he looked in the direction where the shadows had gone. Ioni placed her hands on his shoulders, trying to calm him. “It’s okay. They went in a different direction. We’re fine.”
He sheathed his sword and shook his head, as if to clear it. “Let’s keep going. It’s the haunts that may wait ahead, or the haunts that we’re sure are a-roaming here. Better to press on.”
Shortly after noon, they were climbing a hill when the disembodied shadows flew over again, this time keening their high cries. And as soon as they had started breathing normally again, they heard a very mortal cry. “HELP! HELP US!”
Ioni saw the change in Rafe instantly. He straightened, drew his sword, and howled his battle cry as he charged ahead. She followed close on his heels, knife ready – not that she thought it could do much against a spirit, but it was always worth a try.
In the valley below the hill, she saw three figures, cloaked against the sun, under attack from four shadow beings. The shadows were focusing their efforts on one of them only, though, as the rest tried to provide backup. She called, “We’re coming! We’re coming!”
The three figures turned as the shadows paused briefly, and Ioni could see their faces. One was a Kyrii. The other two were Faeries – faeries with dull skin, lank colorless hair, and no sign of wings.
The other Grey Faeries!
But she had no time to think about it as she followed Rafe into the fray.
To be continued...
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