Dark Faerie Dreams: Part Five
I had mixed feelings about returning to the Haunted Woods. On the one hand, I was determined to find out what Balthazar had done to me so as to poison the faeries. On the other hand I was terrified that I could end up helplessly trapped in one of his bottles yet again.
I did my best not to let my fears show. Despite them I knew I had to do whatever it took to find a cure for Fyora and the other faeries and to prove both my innocence and the innocence of all the rest of the dark faeries who were being held responsible for Balthazar's wickedness.
Having the company of both Viggo and Sparky – the fire Eyrie and fire werhond who had joined me on my travels and proved themselves faithful companions – made it much easier to ignore my fears and I almost enjoyed the trip.
It took us a full day of flying to reach the little shack in the Woods that we'd stopped at before. Neither of us knew the way to Balthazar's cottage but Viggo had suggested that an old-timer from the Thieves Guild was likely to know. Our progress might have been faster if Viggo wasn't constantly fighting off the effects of whatever poison it seemed I carried. The healing waters he had stolen from the Healing Springs helped, but still we had to be careful so that he did not fall ill as he had before.
The shack was as dark and gloomy as it had been the last time I'd seen it. Sparky trotted inside the moment Viggo opened the door and began sniffing the floor inch by inch. I fluttered after him, landing on a stool and smiling at the shadow Gelert behind the counter.
"Well, well, the odd travelling companions have returned! Welcome back!"
"Thank you!" I replied cheerfully, trying not to giggle as Sparky found a bit of food stuck between the floor boards and began attempting to dig his way down to it.
"Did your journey end already or are you travelling in circles?"
At his question my smile faltered. "Our journey isn't over yet," Viggo clarified. "We need to find Balthazar."
"Balthazar?" The Gelert looked oddly at Viggo for a moment and then turned to stare at me. "I too think the news is bad, but that's no reason to just go and give yourself up to the enemy, little lady!"
"News? What news?"
"Don't you know? Just this morning Fyora ordered all dark faeries banished from Faerieland. It seems there's been a terrible sickness spreading around Faerieland for some time. It was not until it reached the faerie Queen herself that they realized who was causing the plague. Balthazar will be pleased as punch, no doubt of it. They're turning dark faeries away by the hundreds and most are fleeing here." The Gelert chuckled. "I can only imagine the fight Jhudora must be putting up; I do not envy the faerie who had to deliver the news to her!"
My knees felt weak and I sat down, staring at the uneven wood of the stool without really seeing it. Fyora had banished the dark faeries. Faerieland had been my only hope for escaping the Haunted Woods and now it seemed I would never be able to go back. It was all I could do not to burst into tears while Viggo bartered for supplies and a bone which he gave to Sparky.
When Viggo held out a paw I climbed onto it and let him carry me from the shack. I did not try to fly; I could not muster any enthusiasm for it. "Sunrise?" Viggo's tone was worried, almost anxious. "Are you alright?"
"How could I be?" I whispered back. "I'll never be able to leave again. I'll have to stay here, all of us will, living with the knowledge that at any time we could be back in a bottle, stuck there for who knows how long without any air and any room to move and jostled about and-"
I stopped only because I ran out of air and when I finally took a breath the tears that I had been trying to blink out of my eyes finally slipped disobediently down my cheeks. "This is all my fault. I wanted to warn Fyora, to stop her from being harmed. Now she's sick and so are many other faeries and every dark faerie is to be punished for my mistake."
To my surprise Viggo put his paw under my chin, tilting my head up so that I was looking into his compassionate grey eyes. "So you made a mistake. Trust me, I do it all the time." His beak curved into an amused, sideways smile that lifted my spirits. "You just find a way to make it better, that's all." He glanced away thoughtfully. "If we can find out what Balthazar was doing, if we can prove that he was responsible for making the faeries sick, won't Fyora have to admit she made a mistake and let the dark faeries back in?"
Fyora didn't have to do anything, I knew that. But I had always been partial to the optimistic approach. "You're right. If only we had proof." I suddenly realized I'd not paid any attention to the rest of the conversation with the shadow Gelert. "Did you find out where Balthazar is?"
Viggo nodded and produced a map, pointing to the X marked at the edge of some of the worst swamps in the Haunted Woods. "His cabin is there."
"I suppose we'd better get going then."
I had not seen Balthazar's cabin from the outside before but it was every bit as creepy as the inside. The dilapidated building sat at the very edge of a swamp. The swamp itself was disturbing enough; it bubbled and gurgled and let off a faintly green, putrid mist that rose into the surrounding woods and made everything look even spookier than it already was. The cabin was slightly lopsided, boarded up in all sorts of odd ways so that it looked like an injured creature, barely supporting its weight upon old crutches. Even the windows had been boarded up, as if Balthazar wanted to be sure that not even the faintest ray of sunlight would ever penetrate his cruel little kingdom.
Neither Viggo nor I had planned exactly what we would do when we reached the cabin. At a loss for a better plan the both of us stood there, staring at the rundown structure, wondering what to do. The faintest of glows from between the boards told us that there was a light on inside and the occasional noise confirmed it. Balthazar was home.
Sparky seemed to suddenly take it upon himself to rid us of our dilemma. When the clouds above passed aside, revealing the full moon, the werhond threw back his head and began to howl.
Viggo was quick to throw a paw over Sparky's muzzle but he was too late to keep Balthazar from hearing the noise. No sooner had Sparky been silenced than the door to the shack was thrown open. I ducked behind a dead leaf, tucking my wings tightly against my back, hoping the green mist would conceal their purple glow.
"Who goes there?" Balthazar demanded.
To my surprise Viggo slipped Sparky behind him and released the werhond before stepping forward, his fiery wings making him look like a beacon in the mist. "I've come for the next delivery," he said, his voice so sure and confidant that if I hadn't known better I might have believed he really was working for the evil Lupe.
Balthazar considered him thoughtfully for a moment and then nodded, moving back into the cabin and beckoning Viggo to follow. He did, and they both vanished from sight as the door was shut firmly behind them.
I scrambled immediately out from behind my leaf and flew to one of the boarded up windows, trying to get a peek inside.
The sound of a thump made my breath catch in my throat and my heart skipped a beat when it was followed by a second, heavier sound, as though someone had fallen to the floor. "If you'd really come for the next delivery you'd know my plan has already worked and there are no more deliveries to be gotten."
There was no answer to Balthazar's harsh words. Terrified of what he'd done to Viggo I flew about, searching until, finally, I found a knot in one of the boards through which I could look.
Viggo lay unconscious on the floor, the beginnings of a nasty bump already visible upon the back of his head. Balthazar was bent over him, tying his paws together with a leather belt. Then, as if Viggo were no more than a sack of potatoes, Balthazar hauled him into a corner and dumped him there. "In the morning we'll find out who you really are."
I heard panting and turned to see Sparky standing below me, his tongue hanging out, his tail wagging. The poor werhond had no idea what trouble he'd caused. I flew down to him and put my arms around his muzzle. "Come on, let's go find a place to sleep."
But I could not sleep. I stayed with Sparky until I was sure he was asleep and would not give me away as he had done to Viggo. Then I slipped from his side and returned to the cabin. It was dark now and I assumed Balthazar was asleep.
I was much too small to be able to open the cabin door – which I assumed was locked anyway – but to my delight there was just enough space under the door for me to squeeze through. An oversight on Balthazar's part, I was sure, and one I was glad of.
I went immediately to the corner where Viggo lay, finding him wide awake and struggling as quietly as possible against his bonds. I couldn't see where Balthazar was but I could hear his heavy breathing and I stayed silent, not daring to wake him. Landing beside Viggo's face I put a finger to my lips, counting on the glow from my wings illuminating the gesture enough for Viggo to see it.
He must have understood for he stopped struggling and lay still, nodding his head to me. I moved to his paws and examined the belt that bound them. It didn't look as though it would be terribly hard to undo. I grabbed onto the leather strap, yanking back on it to pull it free of the clasp.
Viggo's sudden shout made me jump and drop the belt. "Behind you!"
A horrible pain shot through my wings and I was yanked upward at an alarming speed, unable to withhold a frightened scream. I glanced over my shoulder to see Balthazar, my silvery, gossamer wings pinched between two of his claws.
"You're the only faerie who's ever come back here by choice," he said, lifting me up to his face and chuckling at me, his horrid breath wafting around me. "You must really like my bottles."
"What did you do to me?" I demanded, suddenly filled with rage even though I was completely helpless. "How come Fyora and the others got sick?"
"So you're the one who made Fyora sick?" Balthazar started laughing, the deep sound echoing through the tiny cabin. "I figured it would take a long time before my sickness spread as far as Fyora but you carried it right to her for me! I really owe you a debt of gratitude."
"What did you do to me?" I asked again.
"Haven't you already guessed? I developed a special sickness, a disease to which dark faeries alone are immune. I infected only the bottles which I put the dark faeries in. Then I had my dark faeries sold exclusively in Faerieland, where they were sure to start infecting faeries as soon as they were released." Balthazar seemed eager to share his brilliant plan with us, and neither Viggo nor I made any attempt to stop him, not that we could have.
"Faerieland has been the only place where I could not go. But I knew that the dark faeries would eventually be blamed for the sickness, and when they were they would be forced from Faerieland, leaving them all vulnerable to me."
"But why? Why the dark faeries?"
"Don't you know? Don't you know what your kind did to me?" I shook my head, honestly confused. I did not know.
"Of course they would not tell you," he sneered. "Did you know I was abandoned here when I was just a young Lupe? I had nothing, no food, no water, no home. I tried to find someone who would help me. I found a group of dark faeries and I begged them for help. I was so little I figured even they would have compassion upon me. But do you know what they did?"
My heart sank. I knew what dark faeries were inclined to do.
"They laughed at me! They laughed and threw stones and sticks and drove me away, deeper into the forest."
"I'm sorry," I whispered, meaning the words with all my heart. He hated the dark faeries for the same reason I could no longer stand to live among them, and for that I could hardly blame him. I couldn't even begin to imagine how it must have felt for a child to be treated so cruelly.
Instead of accepting my apology Balthazar shook me angrily, his claws nearly tearing through my tiny wings. "Sorry?!"
A shout of fright escaped me as I found myself suddenly dropped into a bottle, a cork shoved down above me. "No!"
"Yes! Oh yes! Now that no dark faerie can hide in Faerieland every single one of you will be mine. I'm going to hunt you down, all of you, every last one. I won't sell you, oh no, I'll bottle you all and keep you right here where I can make you regret what you did to me!
"You," he finished smugly, lifting my bottle and setting it upon an empty shelf, "are only the first."
I tried to focus on thinking of some way to keep him talking but all I could think about was how hard it was to breathe. I fell to my knees gasping, pounding desperately on the glass. Balthazar watched me with a wide grin. "As good a time as any to catch a few more, I think." He grabbed the net and bag that hung by the door and left, chuckling as he went.
I couldn't help it, I started to cry. I felt silly but I couldn't stop. Viggo was trying to say something to me, I could hear his voice, but I couldn't focus enough on it to make out the words. All I could think about was the glass bottle around me, closing in on me, choking me. If Balthazar had his way soon every dark faerie would be suffering the same fate. I thought of Misty and the other dark faeries who lived in the clearing that had once been my home. Perhaps I didn't fit in with them but none of them deserved what Balthazar had planned.
A howl managed to break through even my miserable thoughts. I rubbed my eyes and glanced up to see the door shaking slightly. Curious despite myself, I watched as the howl sounded again and the door rattled a little harder. Then it suddenly popped open, revealing Sparky who trotted in and promptly began sniffing the floor, his nose leading him to Viggo. He barked happily and licked the Eyrie's beak.
Viggo laughed and managed to stroke Sparky with his bound paws. "Hey boy, think you can help me out? Want to play a game?" He started waving his paws back and forth, meaning for the strap of the belt that bound them to catch Sparky's attention, I guessed. It did. With a growl Sparky latched onto the end of the belt and began to tug, his tail wagging so fast it was almost a blur. Viggo tugged back, twisting his wrists so that Sparky's tugging finally pulled the belt loose of the silver clasp. Viggo immediately loosened the belt and tossed it aside. Sparky was all too eager to race after it and bring it back, wanting to continue the game.
"Viggo!" I cried, pounding again on the glass.
The Eyrie scrambled to his paws and hurried over, pulling down my bottle and yanking the cork out of the top. I flew out immediately and landed on his shoulder, burying my face in his mane.
"It's okay," he soothed, his paw stroking my wings comfortingly.
I lifted my head suddenly and looked around. "The bottles," I said. "The bottles that were meant for the dark faeries. If we take them back to Faerieland it will prove that Balthazar infected the dark faeries. Maybe they'll be able to make a cure."
Viggo looked around and then spotted Sparky chewing on the edge of a burlap sack. He snatched it up, much to Sparky's disappointment, and looked around for empty jars. There was a large pile of them in a wooden box but it was the few sitting on a shelf over the desk that caught his attention. He filled the sack with those bottles, along with a couple from the wooden box, just to be safe. "Let's get out of here before Balthazar gets back," he suggested wisely, and I nodded in eager agreement.
I couldn't help but to be nervous as I was brought before Fyora. Marina had indeed managed to use the poison found in some of the faerie bottles to concoct a cure for the sick faeries. Though there was little Fyora could do to have Balthazar punished, I knew she had ordered a great supply of the cure to be made and given to every faerie that could be reached so as to prevent his poison from ever being a real threat again. What I did not know was what she intended to do about the dark faeries.
Two battle faeries escorted me up to Fyora's throne. Viggo had and I had both been captured attempting to bring the stolen faerie bottles to Fyora and since then neither of us had been out of the dungeons. Viggo waited between two fire faeries at the entrance to the throne room while I stepped up to Fyora and bowed.
"It seems your dreams were right after all," Fyora said.
I nodded mutely.
"As I understand it you and the rest of the dark faeries who bore the illness were all unwilling participants in Balthazar's plot. Is that correct?"
Truthfully, we'd been the victims of the plot. But I nodded with continued silence.
"Then it seems I have little choice but to pardon all of the dark faeries and invite those who wish it to return to Faerieland."
My heart soared with gratitude. "Thank you."
"And you, Sunrise, you and your companion took a great risk in going to Balthazar's home and then returning here to help us find a cure when you knew you would not be welcomed."
She seemed this time as though she were waiting for a response. "We weren't going to sit by and let Balthazar win," I finally admitted truthfully. I saw the corner of her mouth twitch up in a smile. Encouraged by this I smiled in return. "Besides, it's not only us you have to thank, we couldn't have done it at all if it hadn't of been for Sparky."
"The fire werhond who came with us."
Fyora gazed about the room. "Where is he now?" she demanded of one of the battle faeries who stood guarding me.
"Still in the dungeons, your highness."
"Well, fetch him!"
The faerie rushed off to do as she'd been told and Fyora returned her attention to me. "I do think such bravery as yours deserves to be commended and rewarded." I started to say that no reward was necessary but she was no longer looking at me. "Viggo, I'm willing to pardon all of your past transgressions here in Faerieland."
I glanced curiously over my shoulder at Viggo, wondering just what things he'd done. He saw me looking and cast me a sideways smile, shrugging a single shoulder. I struggled to hide a laugh and decided I didn't really care.
"And as for you, Sunrise..." I looked back at Fyora. "You've demonstrated the will and bravery of a faerie much older than yourself. I think it only fitting that be aptly reflected, don't you?" I had no idea what she was talking about until she waved a hand at me, murmuring the words to a blessing I had not heard before.
All at once the ground was rushing away from me at an alarming rate. It took me a minute to realize it was not the ground that was moving, but me. I continued to rise, further and further, as everything around me shrunk until, finally, I was eye to eye with Fyora. I could hardly believe it. "Welcome to Faerieland, dream faerie."
I nearly trembled with delight. I spun around, fluttering my large wings, dazzled by how they could now catch the sunlight that came in through the stained glass windows. I was finally full size. I gazed about at the other faeries in the room, amazed to see them looking normal instead of gigantic. Everything that had moments before looked gigantic suddenly seemed of average proportions. With a shout of joy I ran to Viggo and threw my arms around him, engulfing the Eyrie in a hug. "We did it!" I laughed, not caring how silly I probably looked. Viggo hugged me back without a word of complaint.
At that moment the battle faerie returned and set Sparky down. He started towards me and then froze, his eyes widening with a yelp. For a moment I thought he might growl at me. Then he ran forward and started sniffing diligently around my ankles, making me giggle as his wet nose tickled me. I knelt down and stroked both of his ears at the same time, slightly startled by how big my hands seemed. "It's still me," I assured him softly. In response Sparky let out a happy bark and licked my fingers. I picked him up and cuddled him close, turning back to Fyora. "I have permission to stay then?" I asked hopefully.
Fyora nodded. "Of course, you both do."
Viggo and I left the castle and stood on the front steps, staring out over Faerie City. For me and my new perspective it was like seeing it for the first time all over again. There was so much to see that I hardly knew where to look. It was the dark faeries that finally drew my attention. They were returning to their homes, some hugging each other, others greeting their neighbours with joy.
"Well, dream faerie," Viggo teased. "What's next?"
I grinned. "I don't know, I guess I'll have to wait until my dreams tell me."