Tatterwings: Part Two
One of the Grey Faeries was tall with a thin face, and the other was shorter, with rounder cheeks and eyes that would be large even if they weren’t wide with terror as shadows tried to drag her away.
Ioni noticed the bare minimum as she tried her best to stab at the creature – but how did one stab a shadow? It didn’t seem to have any effect at all! She asked the gaunt Faerie, “What’s your name? And do you know what to do?”
“I am Lucine. Hold on to Baelia – try to keep the minions from dragging her away!”
Minions? Of whom? But Ioni grabbed Baelia’s arm and dug her feet into the ground. Rafe grabbed Ioni’s waist, further steadying her. The Kyrii kept trying to hit the shadow creatures with her staff, but it didn’t work against the immaterial beings – she only hit the ground below them, causing clouds of dust to obscure vision and make the fight even harder.
Then a voice called, “I’m coming! I’m coming!”
Lucine’s face brightened. “Tolya!”
A beam of light hit one of the shadows, causing it to cringe back and let go of Baelia. Ioni, Rafe, and the other Faerie tumbled backwards as Ioni risked a glance to see who had rescued them.
It was a Faerie Ruki, holding a mage’s staff. She aimed it again, and an even brighter light flowed out of it. The shadows howled. It almost looked as if they were dimming around the edges – shrinking...
Ioni had an idea. With her free hand, she held up her knife so it reflected the sun and aimed it straight at the closest shadow. Rafe saw what she was doing and used his sword as a mirror as well.
It was working! The shadows were drawing back! With the mage, the other two mortals, and three Faeries aiming beams of light at the shadows, they soon fled over the hills.
As they all slumped from relief, Rafe asked, “What in Fyora’s name was that?”
Lucine said, “Minions of Jennumara the Dark Faerie.”
Ioni had heard the name before. “The Shadow Lady.”
Rafe had, as well. “The Nightmare Queen.”
Baelia nodded. “The one who took my wings. Once my powers were hers, she locked me in a cage. If it weren’t for Tavi, I would still be imprisoned on a lonely mountain.”
The Kyrii – Tavi – added, “She’s still hunting us – and if you hadn’t come along just in time, she might have taken us.
The Ruki said indignantly, “I was the one who thought to use light to repel them! You would have been fine.”
Ioni thought that that was a little out of line. Lucine shook her head. “Peace, Tolya. We were in dire trouble... these two bought us the moments we needed until you returned from foraging.”
Tolya looked quite a bit older than Tavi, who seemed to be barely more than a child – though admittedly Ioni was out of practice at judging the ages of mortals. The little Kyrii asked, obviously trying to change the subject, “What are your names?”
“I’m Ioni. This is my friend Rafe.”
Rafe said, “We’re travelling together.”
Lucine nodded. “Much the same as Tolya and I, and Tavi and Baelia.”
Baelia looked around, large eyes wide and scared. Even standing straight with no one around, she seemed always about to cringe. “We should take shelter before talking more... the minions may come back.”
Rafe nodded emphatically. “I’m with her on that one. Let’s get away from here, then make some lunch and talk over food.”
Lunch was soup again... Rafe had supplemented their meager provisions with food from the other four travelers, so it was actually fairly good. Once they had started eating, Ioni said, “Rafe and I have been searching for these last several years for a way to give Grey Faeries their powers and their wings back.”
Baelia had been staring blankly into the fire. She immediately perked up. “Oh, what have you found? All I know is that you have to take a new name – I’ve wanted to learn more, but we haven’t had time to search.”
Tavi nodded. “Whenever we try to find scholars, Jennumara finds us.”
Lucine said, “But we have actually traveled to the Haunted Woods for this very purpose – we came in the hold of a ship from Kiko Lake. The Haunted Woods has a way of holding onto knowledge that is destroyed in other parts of Neopia – the dark denizens of that place won’t give up their secrets for any king or conqueror who tries to force them. While it will be dangerous travelling there, there is also a chance of finding the information we seek.”
Baelia added, “And we should be fairly safe from Jennumara while under the trees. She keeps her fortress south of Shenkuu, at the edge of the mountains. She has no woodcraft, and so her shadows won’t be able to follow us here.”
Tavi offered, “If you’d like to join us, we’d be glad to have you.”
Tolya glared at the Kyrii, but Ioni had already realized that the Ruki wasn’t very friendly. Ioni said, “Rafe and I will join you – there’ll be safety in numbers in the Haunted Woods.”
Tolya snorted, and Rafe growled slightly, curling his lip to emphasize his pointed tusks. Ioni said quietly, “Rafe, she doesn’t mean any harm. Cool it.”
He muttered to his friend later as she packed up, “I don’t like that stuck-up Ruki – I’m not that sure that I trust her. Tavi and the other Grey Faeries seem safe, though. Keep your wits about you, Ioni.”
She whispered back, “I don’t think it’s as bad as you think. And with all the danger we’ll face in the Haunted Woods, we need to be united in our party. Will you please try to get along with everyone?”
Rafe sighed. “I’ll do it – only because you’re my best friend, though.”
Ioni repeated, “It’ll be okay. And it seems to me that we might finally be able to get our answers! I may have my wings back before spring comes again!”
Her Lupe friend grinned. “I can’t wait to see you flying, Ioni. Flying around and magicking all the flowers to bloom and the trees to grow...”
It was a daydream that Ioni often had. She let herself be lost in it for a precious moment or two before they started on the trek again... the long, grey trek toward the black, blighted forest already appearing as a stain on the horizon.
But that horrible place held their only hope.
Far away, a figure concealed in a black mantle looked into a mirror. Her figure was somehow hazy and indistinct... she almost blended into the deep shadows that fell in the top of her tower. “No! The shadows are useless now. I shall have to find a mortal to bring the tatterwings back to me. And she has two new companions... why, why, why?”
Maybe now the Sisters will listen to me... know that they must keep their workings under their control. And this new one... she has the mark of the Darkest on her. I will contact them once this work is done. They have to help me now! We can’t let these have-been Faeries regain their powers. Powerful faeries with scores to settle could destroy everything I’ve worked for!
She had to find a mortal who couldn’t be scared off by little rays of light. A mortal who would know the Haunted Woods far better than the three little tatterwings and their three helpers. A mortal who could muster enough forces to capture three Faeries with a mortal mage on their side.
Jennumara hated it, but she knew she only had one option.
She looked into the mirror again to find the one she needed.
In the northern wilds of the Haunted Woods, Archos the Skeith sat in the center of his camp. His fighters sprawled around him, sleeping, fighting, or roasting food over the campfires.
He needed to get them off their tails and working again. The Rabble would not be fearsome for long if they all continued growing soft and lazy.
That was when the voice sounded in the green Skeith’s head. It is I, Lady Jennumara. I need you to serve me again. Set a bowl of water in front of you, and I will show you what you need to do.
Archos roared for a bowl of water, and then asked, “What are your terms, Lady?”
I can give you no aid – your quarry has learned to foil my minions. Because of this, I will give you three chests of my midnight sapphires when you have handed these Faeries over to me. One for you, the other two to be split among your men as you see fit.
That sounded good. But Faeries?
Jennumara sensed his unease. Grey faeries, Archos. Little powerless tatterwings. There are three of them travelling together.
An image appeared in the bowl of water that his servant had set before him. The short one, with the wide eyes – her name is Baelia. I MUST have her alive. The other two – the gaunt one and the one with long hair – I would like them as well, if possible. They should not be hard to capture.
Archos asked, “And the mortals, Lady?”
The Ruki is a mage, the Lupe a seasoned fighter. The Kyrii is of less consequence than the Faeries. The first two will be your only challenges in fighting these six. But I need no mortals. Dispose of them. They are in the south of your woods now. Go quickly.
The presence in his head disappeared. Narrowing his red eyes, Archos turned and threw three daggers lightning-fast at a nearby tree.
All three hit the bulls-eye in the center of the target that had been nailed there.
The Skeith warlord smiled in satisfaction. “Gear up, warriors!” he yelled. “We’re moving out first thing in the morning!”
To be continued...