Unbreakable: Part One
Arielle darted playfully through the trees, calling out to the wild petpets that scampered around her.
The young earth faerie was enjoying the sunny afternoon in the same way she always did: by exploring the forest just beyond the western border of Faerieland's current resting place. She enjoyed the area for its relative solitude – this part of the forest was technically Haunted Woods territory, so most Faerielanders weren't too keen on wandering through.
Arielle scoffed at their apprehension, though. After all, Glory Hollow, the clearing where Faerieland now stood, was technically part of the Haunted Woods as well. This area was at the very eastern edge of the Woods, far past where most of its residents lived and virtually devoid of its cursed, eerie atmosphere.
Arielle began to slow her pace, panting and laughing to herself as she ducked through the underbrush. Wings folded against her back, she twisted under a group of thick, low-hanging branches before stumbling out into a small clearing.
The laughter died on her lips.
A Draik stood not three feet from where the young faerie had emerged, watching her. Mutant in colour, he stood taller than most members of his species and sported the dark, slightly worn clothing of a Haunted Woodsman. But this wasn't what concerned her, and neither was the heavy-looking sword sheathed against his waist.
No, it was the menacing and almost hungry glint in the Draik's eyes that made Arielle's instincts scream at her to flee from this place. She whirled around as soon as she had recovered from the shock of running into the stranger, but before she could spread her wings and take to the sky he reached out and wrapped his scaly fingers around her arm.
"Faerielander?" the Draik growled. Arielle, speechless, could only nod in reply.
The Draik's eyes narrowed. "Good. Run along home now, but when you get there, tell your queen that I have a message for her..."
* * * * *
Brynn tugged absently at her Unitail as she fiddled with the paper in her hand.
If there was one part of being the captain of the Faerieland guard that she could do without, it would most definitely have to be the paperwork. Slippery criminals and rampaging monsters she could handle; long hours patrolling quiet streets she could focus on. Strategizing with the Battle Faerie and the vice captains could be frustrating at times, but it also provided a refreshing sort of challenge.
The same could not be said for the guard job applications, criminal records and border reports that it was her responsibility to peruse on a near-daily basis.
It wasn't as bad as it could have been, she supposed. She'd had to adjust to her new home's methods of handling things when she'd first made the decision to transfer here, but had been lucky enough to find that the Faerieland guard operated more or less in the same way as that of Brightvale. Dreary paperwork may not have sat well with the knight's preferred lifestyle, but at the very least it was familiar to her.
A sharp rap on the door made her glance up from the report she was reading. The Kougra straightened up in her seat as she called out, "Come in."
The door creaked open, and a dark faerie knight shepherded in a quartet of troublemakers. Brynn recognized them at once: the fire faerie, purple Eyrie and faerie Bori were among the younger members of the Faerieland guard. Hanso was the last to be dragged through the doorway.
"I caught them trying to sneak into the Hidden Tower," the knight explained. "Figured you'd want to take care of them, Captain."
Brynn nodded as she stood up. "I will. Thank you."
As the knight left, Brynn turned a hard glare on the foursome still in her office. The three guards withered under her gaze, while Hanso attempted a weak wave.
"Hey sweetheart, how's it going?"
Brynn sighed in exasperation. "Out!" she barked, grabbing the Ixi roughly by the arm and dragging him back towards the door.
Hanso blinked. "Huh?"
"I have to deal with my guards right now," Brynn hissed as she shoved him unceremoniously out of the room. "We'll talk about this later."
As the Kougra shut her office door and turned her attention back to the other three, the Eyrie found the courage to speak up. "We weren't trying to steal nothin'! We just wanted to find a way in and look around is all."
"That doesn't matter!" Brynn scolded. "The Hidden Tower is strictly off-limits to anyone who isn't invited in or assigned to work there. What would you have done if a gang of thugs snuck in behind you and made off with Queen Fyora's most powerful weapons? And while you're on duty, too!"
The Eyrie looked down at the uniform he still wore and glanced back up with a sheepish grin.
Brynn sighed and rubbed her forehead. "I'm going to take a wild guess here," she said, "and say that Hanso put you all up to this?"
The looks on the younger guards' faces were all she needed to confirm that suspicion. After a moment, the Bori cleared her throat and said, "Well, it's not like that makes it any worse than what we were doing in the first place! He only wanted a look, too – you're the one who's always telling us that he isn't a career criminal anymore."
Brynn shook her head. For the briefest moment, a note of worry crept into her voice as she spoke. "That's exactly what makes it worse! Hanso has more responsibilities now, but he's still a thief at heart; he doesn't need the temptation, or to be the butt of any bad rumours. Neither do any of you, for that matter."
Another loud knock on the door interrupted her lecture. She growled slightly and called out, "In a minute, Hanso!"
"Captain Brynn, I have an urgent message!" cried an unfamiliar voice on the other side of the door.
Brynn froze, and the wayward guards exchanged curious looks. Turning back to the door, the Kougra wrenched it open to find a faerie Lenny in the uniform of a royal messenger. Hanso, who had clearly stuck around to listen in on the conversation in Brynn's office, offered her a weak smile and another tentative wave before sparing the messenger a sidelong glance and a shrug to mean 'I have no idea what all this is about.'
"Captain Brynn, Queen Fyora has called together an emergency meeting of the Faerieland council," the Lenny reported in a clipped and slightly edgy tone. "She insists that you be present, along with the Battle Faerie and Lieutenant Rallon."
Brynn's eyes went wide and she took a step back. There were only a few cases in which all three heads of combat be required to attend a council meeting, and none of them were good. Sucking in a breath, she looked back to address the younger guards one last time.
"We'll discuss your punishment later. Get back to your stations and don't start spreading any rumours until I find out what's going on."
* * * * *
Brynn entered the meeting hall of Fyora's grand palace to find most of the Faerieland council already present.
The council members were gathered around a meeting table that took up most of the room. Though simple in appearance, the table was enchanted to lengthen and shorten according to the number of people meant to occupy it at the time. Brynn observed, with little surprise given the current situation, that it was currently at its maximum size. Sunlight poured through the high windows set into the outer wall of the chamber, and the walls at each end of the room were hung with two very different depictions of Faerieland. One, displayed proudly behind the gilded chair where Queen Fyora sat, was an artistic rendering of Faerie City's spiralling towers, nestled in the enchanted lavender clouds that had supported the city at the time the painting had been made. The other had a more practical use – it was a map of the modern Faerieland, with every major building, road, and city entrance clearly labelled.
In truth, the "new" Faerieland was really not very different from before. Fyora's realm was still the same proud kingdom it had always been, and while the faeries had become more connected with the rest of the world in the past two years, the land still very much retained its cultural identity. Even so, Faerieland had changed in more ways than location and state of repair; its most prominent addition was the high, sturdy wall that now shielded the main city.
Brynn took a seat closer to Queen Fyora's end of the table, across from Aethia and beside Lieutenant Rallon. The Battle Faerie flashed her a brief welcoming smile before turning her attention back to the queen, who was silently surveying the room as she waited for the last of the council members to settle themselves. Rallon, a starry Uni who was both the head of the Faerieland cavalry and Brynn's own steed, turned to her with an anxious flick of the ear.
"Do you know what this is about?" he asked in a low voice.
Brynn shook her head with a murmured "no." Rallon scowled and cast a glance out the windows, toward the outskirts of Faerie City and the forest beyond its borders.
"Well, I suppose we'll be finding out about it soon enough," he said.
At that moment, Queen Fyora rose to address the council. All conversation in the hall immediately ceased, and every eye turned on her.
"My most trusted subjects," she began, "I have just received some very distressing news. I trust you all recall Hirok, the self-appointed general from the Haunted Woods?"
A general murmur of confirmation rose from the assembly. Fyora took a deep breath and continued.
"Well, Hirok has recently sent me a message. Reports have confirmed that he is returning to Faerieland... And he is bringing an army."
To be continued...