Bottled Faeries Inc.: Part Three
I had never found the dark scary as a young child. I had never trembled in bed at night, conjuring up imaginary monsters that purportedly lurked beneath my bed, behind my dresser, and inside my closet. But after the Kougra thrust my bottle into the depths of his backpack, I felt a jolt of fear unlike anything I had ever experienced before. My skin felt cold and clammy. My eyes widened in panic, pupils dilating as they yearned for a speck of light. And my heart pounded in my chest as fast a bunch of Whinnies sprinting across an open field.
“What’s going on?” I gasped, panicking as my arms stretched out in front of me. I couldn’t tell where I was in the bottle. Where was my bed? Where were the glass walls? Had I fallen into a dark void?
“Leah,” Marty hissed from somewhere behind me. The Bartamus was clearly annoyed. “You’re a light faerie. Conjure some light.”
My cheeks warmed. “Right, right. Sorry. Panicking right now.” I closed my eyes—which didn’t really do much since everything was already pitch black—and murmured the first ancient chant I had learned as a young child. I felt my hands warm, and when I opened my eyes, a ball of light, the size of a cue ball, was hovering in front of me. The bottle I was in was lit with a soft glow, similar to that of candlelight but without the constant flickering. I scanned my surroundings. Everything in the bottle appeared to be all right. My bed was still there, as was the rug and the bookshelf. Marty was sitting on the bed; the Bartamus’s wings were folded behind his back.
I peered out the glass bottle. We were clearly in the depths of a backpack. I could make out various objects pressed against us: pencils, a crumpled up map, and two other bottles with faeries inside of them. One was the water faerie from the shop, but the other was a dark faerie. She was reclining on her bed with her eyes trained upwards, locked on the cork sticking into her bottle.
“You feel better now?” Marty asked, waving a wing.
I nodded. “Yeah. Somewhat.” The ground beneath me was moving up and down, left and right; clearly the Kougra was taking us somewhere. “Why didn’t he release us? Where are we going?”
Marty shrugged. “Who knows? Not everyone wants the stats boost. Maybe he’s a collector and he wants to shove us in his safety deposit box? Or maybe we’ll be put in a gallery.”
“I do not want to be put on display,” I muttered under my breath. “I want to travel and I want to be released.”
“Calm down,” Marty said. “Remember what Balthazar said. You can leave the bottle anytime; just don’t expect to get paid.”
“I need the money though!” I grumbled. I was not going to give up so easily.
I sat on the bed next to Marty, rubbing at my elbows. “I wish I could see where we’re going.”
“I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough,” Marty said. He nudged me with a wing, and rubbed his head against my arm. “Now come on. Grab one of those books off the shelf and read me a story.”* * *
Marty was very wrong, unfortunately. We were in the bottom of the bag for a very long time. Without the constant hourly announcements, there was no way we could tell the passage of time. Sometimes we would peer at the other faeries in their bottles to see if we could gauge their reactions, but they never glanced our way. They kept to themselves, waiting patiently. I wondered how long they had been working for Bottled Faeries Inc. Maybe I was freaking out for no reason. After all, I was a newbie to this line of work. Maybe this happened all the time?
Yet, I continued to be anxious.
After an indeterminate amount of time—I would guess three days, judging from how often the other faeries slept—a stream of sunlight poked its way through the top of the bag and down into my bottle.
I blinked, tossing the book of Faerie Crosswords I had been working on for the past several hours onto the ground.
“The liiight…” Marty drawled, slamming his large green eyes shut. “It buuuuurns.”
“Where do you think we are?” I asked, scrambling off the bed. The strong beams of sunlight kissed my skin, revitalizing my sluggish light magic. My poor magical sphere had been fading in the past few hours, its light growing dimmer and dimmer from my lack of energy.
“Considering that all I can see is a sky, the only place I’m ruling out is Moltara.”
We kept our eyes trained upwards, hoping to catch a glimpse of something to place our location as the backpack continued to jostle its way. For a long time, all we saw was clear blue sky and a round warm sun. But soon, other things came into view. Tree branches, full of lush green leaves, punctured our pure view of the sky. A Quetzal was curled up around one of the branches, its orange body a beautiful contrast to the blue. A fat Rainblug feasted on a leaf nearby, and I heard a loud caw, most likely the cry of a Tuceet.
I was beginning to pinpoint our location when I saw something that confirmed my suspicions. Looming above us, grand and tall, was a giant volcano with a large Techo carved into its rocky face: Mount Techo. We had traveled all the way from Altador to Mystery Island.
“Mystery Island,” Marty murmured. “Not bad, not bad. Maybe not as culturally stimulating as Altador, but it will do. I have been meaning to work on my tan.” He glanced down at his stubby body. “Now be honest, Leah. Have I been looking a little less plum and a little more violet recently?”
I rolled my eyes. “You look fine Marty.”
“‘Fine’ is a lackluster answer. You’re clearly lying to protect my self-esteem.” He puffed out his chest. “Don’t worry, I can take it.”
I laughed, feeling a wave of relief for the first time in several days. Now we would finally be released. Now we could get in some quick sightseeing before getting our reward. Now the adventure would start.
And that it did. Rather abruptly, in fact.
A red hand suddenly reached down into the bag, and our bottle was removed with a quick yank. The other two bottles joined us in the hands of our new owner, the hyperactive orange Kougra.
I peered out the window, pressing my face to the glass. I had been to Mystery Island once before, when I was a young faerie, but I didn’t remember too much of the visit. My mother had taken me to the beach for a short family vacation. I mostly remembered building a rather crummy sand castle before some devious Jetsam had kicked it into smithereens.
Now that I was older, I was able to appreciate the scenery much more. We were surrounded by dense jungles of dark green plants, moss-covered tree trunks, and large tropical flowers flocked by humming Dragonfly Nymphs. In the distance, I could see moai, great stone statues carved into the shapes of heads, and to my left were the darkened huts of the abandoned city of Geraptiku. But we ignored the dim city and continued north, where plumes of pink and orange steam spiraled upwards into the sky.
“What’s with the colored smoke show?” Marty asked, alighting on my shoulder.
My skin prickled, and it wasn’t from the humidity. “Magic.”
Marty raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything.
As we drew closer, I soon made out the large green cauldron expelling the plumes of smoke. There was a beautiful faerie with dark skin and curly hair near the pot, stirring the contents intently. Every so often, she would reach behind her, grab an ingredient from a small table, and throw it into the pot. The liquid inside bubbled merrily, feeding on the magic she fed it through her wooden spoon.
“Miss Jhuidah!” the Kougra said, rushing over to the faerie. “Miss Jhuidah! I heard about the new blessings from the Battle Faerie.” He brandished all three bottled faeries, thrusting us forward; I nearly fell. “Please, take these, so I can get a blessing!”
My nose wrinkled as Jhuidah stared down at us intensely. “What is going on?” I whispered. “Since when did Jhuidah start giving out blessings?”
Marty for once seemed unable to speak. “I… don’t know.”
“She would never let him put us into that pot…” I said, eyeing the boiling liquid while trying to rationalize away the unease building in my stomach.
“Exactly,” Marty said, but he didn’t sound too convinced. “The Kougra is clearly crazy. They’d never put us… I mean, putting faeries in a pot… It’s never been done…”
“It’s unethical!” I added, staring up at Jhuidah’s giant face. Her forehead was marked with lines of white paint, and her light brown eyes gazed at us compassionately. “And she’s a faerie herself. She’d never allow thi—”
“Okay child.” Jhuidah’s voice sailed sweetly through the air. “Add the three faeries to the pot.”
My heart standing pounding in my chest. This couldn’t be happening. No one in their right mind would throw three live faeries into a magical cooking pot. But the Kougra had already begun extending his hands, ready to release us into the bubbling brew.
And Jhuidah was not stopping him.
I glanced at the other faeries in their bottles. They seemed oblivious to the danger, reclining on their beds, reading magazines from their personal bookshelves.
“Leah!” Marty yelled, flapping his wings frantically as he eyed the pot getting nearer. “Leah, what do we do?”
The pot grew closer. Steam bathed our bottle, making it hard to see the outside world, and condensation dripped down from the sides in large drops. I tugged at the neck of my shirt, panicking as the boiling liquid grew closer and closer.
“Leah!” Marty screamed.
I could see the Kougra’s grip on our bottle, his large orange fingers pressed against us. As if in slow motion, he began to slacken his hold, his fingers peeling away from the sides of the glass one by one.
“LEAH!” Marty screamed louder.
Marty’s cry of terror was the last straw. “LET’S GET OUT OF HERE!” I cried in response. I waved my arms in a complicated pattern and shouted a spell just as the Kougra let go of the glass.
Marty and I poofed out of the bottle and immediately grew to our normal sizes. The sudden change in altitude brought with it a familiar rush of dizziness and nausea, but I did my best to keep it together. I landed shakily, grabbing onto a tree trunk to regain my balance.
Jhuidah and the Kougra stared at us in shock. “Wh-wha…?” the boy mouthed dumbly. The other two bottled faeries were still cradled in his arms.
I clapped my hands together and feigned a large grin as Marty dug his talons into my shoulder. “Wow! Thank you so much, little boy, for setting me free!”
“But I… I didn’t…”
I ignored his protest. “Please take this as a sign of gratitude!” I waved my arms over him; his fur glowed for a moment as I gave him the gift of Flash.
“But… but I thought... “ he started, but I didn’t give him a chance to finish. I waved at him merrily and then sprinted away from the cooking pot as fast as I could, leaving a confused-looking Kougra and the Island Faerie in my wake.
To be continued…