My mistress the Dark Faerie beckons. I enter the room, sweeping my skirts into a deep curtsey.
"Rise, dear. No need to be so formal," the Dark Faerie says gently. I slowly rise. I've learned not to trust her silky tones many years ago.
"What can I do for you, miss?" I ask quietly. Even now, my hollow voice still surprises me.
I flinch away as she reaches out to brush my hair from my face. Even before, I could never keep my long hair under control. And now I can't even see myself in the mirror to correct it. I look down at my skirts. I can see the dark wooden floor through my glowing skin.
"I want you to find something for me," the Dark Faerie says, after looking at me for the better part of a minute.
My shoulders tense. That order never ends in anything good.
"And what would that be?" My hollow voice echoes off the walls once more. My composure must always be kept.
"I want you to find me a girl."
I let out a small sigh. It would not end well for the girl in question. At least there was a chance of her living. When she wanted boys, she wanted them to drain their life force. When she wanted girls, occasionally it was because she wanted another servant.
I would know. It was how Infeli the aristocrat's daughter became Infeli the Dark Faerie's favorite handmaiden.
My long tail curls around my shins. There were worse things than being a ghost Xweetok, worse things than being the personal servant of a perpetually hungry being of darkness. But it doesn't change the fact that my position fills me with near-constant guilt.
I glance up into her glinting eyes, up at her mouth twisted into a malevolent half-smile. I consider saying no for a fraction of a second. Doing so would surely bring about my destruction. She would consume me with only the slightest hint of regret, only because good servants are so hard to find.
I curtsey again. "As you wish," I murmur. I am a coward.
And with that, I am on my way.
I had snatched a worn dark violet cloak from a dusty coat rack on my way out, anticipating that the cold wind. It ruffles my fur and blows my long bangs from my face. I pull the hood further over my head to contain the wayward strands. I almost hope that no fools are wandering in the forest. It's happened before, that I haven't been able to fulfill a mission. But then I'm sent out again and again, sometimes even in the daylight.
Not like much daylight can leak through the thick canopy of the twisted branches of the Haunted Woods, but the prospect still frightens me. The light would burn my ghostly flesh.
A large gust of wind blows me back slightly, and I dig my feet into the dirt and wrap my cloak ever tighter around my thin frame. Being lighter is one of the many blessings and curses of being dead.
I turn my head toward the sky, drinking in the pale moonlight as it passes through me and illuminates the ground below. The grass rustles. I prick my ears and quickly turn my head to gaze into the shadows. And then I'm off, running as fast as the wind that tries to carry me away.
A green Acara sits on a smooth flat stone, quietly weaving a crown out of flowers. Her long yellow skirt billows in the cool night wind as she lets out a contented sigh. I wonder to myself what she might be doing there. She doesn't look like a Dark Faerie's servant, what on earth is she doing in the forest at night?
Then I notice the basket of plants at her feet. Perhaps a witch? Or gathering herbs for an Earth Faerie? The Acara hums, her gentle voice almost drowned out by the wind and the sound of the rustling grass.
I silently step closer, gazing at her curiously. Her sweet, soft voice sounds so different from my quiet hollow one. Perhaps that comes with living. Yet another thing I forgot I had taken for granted. She's older than I am. Older than I was when I was captured by my mistress, anyway.
She doesn't notice me until I'm less than three feet from her. She looks at me, surprised. "H-Hello," she says as if she's not quite sure what else there is to say.
I stumble backwards, wrapping the cloak even tighter. Perhaps if I'm wrapped tight enough, she won't notice that I'm transparent.
"Hey!" she says, getting to her feet. "I'm not going to hurt you. Are you lost?"
I only nod wordlessly. If I can play on her sympathies, I can get her back to my mistress with little to no trouble. I look up at her with wide eyes.
She smiles reassuringly and reaches to take my paw. I take it, and she frowns. "You're so cold."
"Pardon me, miss, but I've been out here quite a long time."
"You must have been," she murmurs, not seeming to notice my old-fashioned speech.
I sniff, looking around. "It's so dark here. I went out this afternoon to go to the store for my mother, but I saw some flowers that I wanted to pick for her! I've been lost all day."
The Acara gently sets the flowered circlet on my head. The hood of the cloak falls further over my eyes.
"Don't worry," she says. "I'll help you find your way home."
"But mother will be mad at me!"
"I'll explain to her. She won't be too mad."
I can't help but recall my own capturing. Lost in the woods after angrily running away from my sister. In my mid teens, but very small and frail for my age. A tall Lupe girl in a dark violet cloak. Taking my paw and leading me to the mansion.
It occurs to me that I'm most likely wrapped in the very cloak that the Lupe girl was when she took me. The thought makes me shudder. It would explain why it's so long on me.
The Acara mistakes my shiver for being caused by cold, and she wraps me in a warm hug as the cloak billows out like wings behind me.
"What's your name?" the Acara asks gently.
"Infeli," I answer quietly.
She's slightly startled by the hollowness in my voice, but quickly shrugs it off. "Where do you live, Infeli darling?"
"There's a big house in the middle of the forest. I live there with Mother."
The Acara smiles. "I know there's a big house somewhere in here. Let me see if I can help you find it."
We start walking. I make sure to remain close to her, like a scared child.
She hums to soothe me, her voice caught up by the wind and carried wherever wind goes when it's about to meet its end.
We finally reach the mansion, its shadow looming over us, trying to drown us in its darkness. The Acara marches right up to the door, and knocks.
The door opens.
She looks somewhat spooked, but firmly takes me by the paw and walks inside. The grand dusty foyer seems to unfold in front of us, the boarded up windows casting slivers of moonlight like needles on the old hardwood floor.
The door closes behind us, causing the Acara to jump.
"Infeli dear," my mistress calls. "Is that you?"
I walk into the parlor, the Dark Faerie sitting in a plush armchair.
"Mistress," I murmur, releasing the Acara's hand and sweeping into a deep curtsey.
The Acara just stands there in shock.
The Dark Faerie eyes her and smiles. "Well done, Infeli."
I rise from my curtsey, keeping my eyes on my feet. "Thank you, mistress."
The Dark Faerie stands, advancing toward the Acara.
She shrinks back in fear, hands clasped at her chest.
"Infeli, dear, you are dismissed."
I quickly curtsey again and leave the room, going back into the foyer and up the ornate staircase to my room in the attic. It's begun to rain, now. The wind and the rain case a scraggly old tree limb to gently bump against my cracked window as I sit on a tiny bed with a threadbare quilt. I can hear my mistress draining the life from the Acara girl, but not too much. Apparently she will be a new servant, after all.
In some ways, that's worse than if she had drained it all. Sometimes I wish that would have happened to me. At least this way I get to see the stars.
I curl up on my bed, wrapping the violet cloak around me as tight as it will go. Downstairs is silent, save for the soft, terrified weeping of the Acara.
She'll hate me for weeks, months, perhaps years. That's the way it was for the Lupe girl and me. She left before I learned her name. I'm fairly sure she ran away, even though mistress says she was sent on a very long mission.
Her name may have been Prima.