Before the Fall: A Dark Faerie Story
“Aethia, please see me after class.”
My heart thudded unevenly as I slunk down a little further in my seat. I was surely in trouble, and not academically. Yesterday I’d had my fourth fight of the week… and it was only Wednesday. I jumped along with my classmates as a buzzing sound abruptly filled the hallways. Whatever clever air faerie found a way to make that sound echo from the halls at just the right time….
“Dismissed.” Our Meditations and History teacher, Shyvara, was a rather young light faerie of few words. Seeing as my class was full of dark faeries, she always seemed a bit on edge.
When the last student had zipped out of the classroom, I got up, slinging my bag over a shoulder.
“What did you want to see me for, Miss?” I asked, trying to keep the impatience out of my voice.
“Aethia,” Shyvara turned to me with a hint of a smile on her usually stern face. “My, my… after I heard about the fourth fight this week, I took a peek at your schedule and grades. Very good grades, very advanced classes, and quite the odd combination, especially for a dark faerie with your spellworking talent.”
“I know what I’m good at,” I said simply, wincing internally at my schedule. Between the Battle Training and Magical Blacksmithing, anyone with half a brain would be able to tell what I aspired for, and Miss Shyvara certainly had more than half a brain.
“Did you know that we usually have two separate classes for Meditation and History?” Her smile was gone, her face searching mine, eyebrows high on her delicate face.
“It seemed a little odd to combine them, seeing as they aren’t really related,” I muttered “But no, I didn’t know that.”
“You know that the school is almost half dark faeries this year. And your class alone is over two-thirds dark.”
“And?” My voice was harder. Everyone gave dark faeries a bad rep. Sure, there was the whole ‘Darkest Faerie’ and ‘Dark Faerie Sisters’ and Jhudora and… well… I guess the bad rep wasn’t without good cause, but it was still frustrating to be stereotyped. It wasn’t as though every dark faerie was—
“Ambitious, proud, and destructive.” Shyvara said, her eyes looking past me. “Not all dark faeries are like this. So many of them, however, fall prey to the role we assume they will take. I’m not accusing you of anything. Just… remember that you don’t have anything to prove.”
I nodded curtly and stalked out of the room. Some tiny, reasonable part of me knew that she meant well, but most of me was silently fuming at her suggestion. I was ambitious, sure, but I had a legacy to fulfill… family honor to uphold. It wasn’t my fault that I was so good at… fighting.
“Hey, Aethia!” I didn’t bother turning at the familiar voice. Another dark faerie flew up and linked arms with me cheerily.
“Hey, Jen,” I sighed at her enthusiasm. The girl had more energy than a sugar-crazed light faerie in summer.
“Why are you so glum?” She asked, continuing without giving me a chance to answer. “I know you’re excited for ‘smithing today, we finally get to work with power gems!”
I perked up slightly and let Jennumara eagerly pull me to class.…
“Mom, I’m home!” I called out. No one responded, so I assumed she was busy and proceeded to throw my school bag down on the floor at random and float down the hall to the office I used for school. I snuggled into the soft armchair and picked up the photo album I’d been searching through for the umpteenth time earlier in the day.
There she was. Valeane. The first battle faerie. I smiled as I flipped through her pictures at Faerieland Academy. We looked quite alike, except for her dyed green hair. What kind of dark faerie dyes her hair green? Although, to be fair, what kind of dark faerie loses her dark identity to become the battle faerie?
I flipped a few more pages until I saw Valeane and another dark faerie hugging at their graduation. I had seen the picture probably hundreds of times, but this time, I paused at it. I slid the photo out of the album and stared at it. I’d never even thought to figure out who the other dark faerie was. I had been too young to ask who it was the first time I’d seen the picture, and since then I’d just glossed over it in a haze of admiration for my aunt.
The wings of the unknown faerie had an odd pattern to it, with leaves made up of small dots adorning the outer edge. I’d never seen a faerie with those dots before, and certainly couldn’t think of any faerie or faerie family we knew who had anything even remotely similar. I flipped the picture over and searched for a name. Valeane and Fiona on graduation day.
I jumped about a foot into the air, wings flipping out to catch me, when the door slammed, announcing my mother’s return.
The door slammed, announcing my mother’s return, and I jumped about a foot in the air. My wing flipped out to catch me as I tossed the album onto the desk, and as I floated out of the office and down the hall, I slid the photo into my pocket for safekeeping.
“Hi mom!” I yelled.
“Hey, honey.” She greeted me smiling, a bag with what smelled like faerie bubbles and faerie cookies clutched in her hand. “How was school? Come sit down and let’s have some dinner.”
As I dug into the first couple of faerie bubbles, I gave her the rundown of school, excluding my talk with Shyvara for my own preservation as well as hers. My mother hated the dark faerie stereotype even more than I did.
“Hey, mom, uh,” I had no idea if I should be asking, but I figured it was my best first place to look for information. “Who is Fiona?”
My mom only stiffened for a moment. If I hadn’t been watching carefully for her reaction, I wouldn’t have even noticed it. “She was an old family friend. Left Faerieland years ago… with my sister.”
“She went to the Haunted Woods with Valeane?” My voice was higher than I liked, but I’d never even known that Valeane had a companion on her journey. She’d left Faerieland to deal with some issues of darker-than-usual monsters lurking the woods, but had never returned. The swords of flame and ice, a blacksmithing legend crafted with help from Tyran Far and Taelia, imbued with power from Fyora herself, were lost with Valeane. The swords were crafted for protecting Faerieland, but in the wrong hands…
“Does anyone know what happened to Fiona?”
“As much as they know what happened to my sister.” My mother said, her tone indicating that I should stop asking painful questions and make myself scarce.
I grabbed my bag, threw on a coat and boots, yelled that I was going to the library, and floated out into the evening. …
As much as I’d like to say that Faerieland’s library was a wealth of information, it was shockingly unhelpful in my search for more about Valeane and Fiona. I managed to track down Fiona’s name in an old yearbook dated back when my mother and Valeane were at the Faerie Academy. I stared at the wing patterns on the picture labeled Fiona Debeau, carefully pulling the photo from our album out of my pocket. They matched perfectly.
“We’re closing in ten minutes, Aethia!” The Library faerie called out. Usually she wouldn’t yell, but it was chilly out and getting dark so I was the only customer. I snatched up a couple of books on dark faerie genealogy, and piled them on top of the yearbook. I added my go-to book on Valeane, Flight of the Battle Faerie, at the last minute, just to be safe.
“Research project?” The pretty purple-winged faerie asked as she checked out my books.
“Something like that.” I flashed her my most innocent smile, slid the books into my bookbag, and zipped out into the night.
“Hey, Aethia, I was looking for you!”
I turned to Jennumara, eyebrows raised. She sounded worried, which was rare for the ever-confident dark faerie. I felt a flicker of fear.
“What’s up Jen?” I asked slowly.
“Your mom passed by our place on her way back to work… something about an emergency and something else about her sister, I didn’t hear very well. She just told me to bring you the spare house key, you left it behind.” Jen tossed our spare key at me, but I was too shocked by her news to catch it. It clattered to the ground.
“An emergency, about Valeane?”
“Unless she has another sister, yeah.” Jen was back to her usual confident self. “See ya Aethia!”
I picked up my house key and weighed it gently in my hand. I could go home, read more about Valeane and Fiona, and probably discover nothing. I could go after my mom at work, have her get irritated at me and find out even less, or…
I hefted my bookbag over my shoulder, pocketed my key, and flew towards the Faerie City gates.…
“Come on, Psellia, I’m not even past curfew. I really need to head down into the rest of Neopia.” I begged the pretty air faerie on duty at the Faerieland Elevator System.
“Aethia, you gotta stop being out so late.” Psellia sighed. Though she was only a couple years older than me, she was more than a little condescending. To be fair, I guess I would be condescending too if I’d gotten a job working the Elevators straight out of the Faerie Academy.
“Hurry up!” Psellia’s irritated tone snapped me out of my thoughts. I flew onto the perfectly circular cloud and sat down, pulling my books out of my bag.
“Ready. Thanks again Psellia.” I smiled gratefully.
“Don’t do it again.” She warned. With a flick of her hands, I slowly started descending on top of the cloud.
As I floated down to Neopia, I flipped through the genealogies. Apparently the Debeaus had been in Faerieland for centuries, and were actually related to Jhudora. I slid Flight of the Battle Faerie closer to me, poring over the last chapters once more to make sure I hadn’t missed any details.
Valeane had traveled to the Haunted Woods to deal with some monsters there that had been terrorizing the spooky citizens. Presumably, Fiona had gone with her. They’d arrived at the carnival grounds, gathered information from the locals, and then headed into the forest. No one had ever seen Valeane again, although some say that they heard screams. I grabbed the yearbook, wincing as I ripped out the picture of Fiona. The library faerie was not going to be pleased when I returned it… if I made it home.
I tried to put such thoughts out of my head by checking over the books one more time, to make sure that I hadn’t missed something. I couldn’t find anything before the cloud gently bumped down onto the landing pad in the haunted woods. I scrambled to put my books in my bag, giving an apologetic little wave to the air faerie on duty by the Elevators, and flew into town as quickly as my wings would take me.…
After a good hour of flying around asking local shopkeepers about the night Valeane disappeared, I had gotten two packs of ghost marshmallows, a bruised knee from an overzealous Test your Strength contestant, a pie to the face, and exactly one piece of useful information – where I could get more information. Apparently, there was a ‘Brain Tree’ that was good with questions. At least, that’s what I was told by the Bagatelle booth manager before the stray pie hit my face and sent him into a fit of laughter.
I went in the direction the still-chuckling lupe pointed out to me, a little nervous. He’d said something about ‘paying a price’ before I would get my information, and I wasn’t entirely sure what that would entail.
I reached the Brain Tree’s clearing and paused awkwardly.
“Hello?” I half-shouted, unsure if the tree could actually speak or if I was just being silly.
“Hello, child. Are you interested in helping me quench my thirst for knowledge?”
“Ah, well, yes and no,” I stammered. I pulled my books out of my bag and offered them to him. “I can certainly give you these books, but I’m afraid I don’t have time for the traditional question-and-answer quest.”
“Oh?” I couldn’t tell if he was irritated or curious, but I guessed it was probably a bit of both.
“I’m trying to find out what happened to my grandmother, Valeane.” His branches became stiff in the wind, thrashing around instead of flowing with it. “She was a dark faerie who came here years ago to help stop some particularly powerful monsters—“
“Monster. Just one.” The Brain Tree corrected me. I felt my eyes widen in surprise. Only one? What terrible creature by itself warranted the Battle Faerie and her incredible swords coming to stop it?
“Ah, well, I recently learned that there was another faerie with her, I think, Fiona?”
The brain tree was silent for a minute. When he spoke, his voice was somber. “She was young, and ambitious, and she held a power she could not bear. Her heart was not corrupt, but neither was it pure.”
“What did she do?” I asked. “Is she still alive?”
“No, child. She could not harm a friend, but the other one…” His voice grew harder, growling with a rage that surprised me. “She did anything and everything she could for power.”
“What!? Valeane wasn’t like that!” I shouted. “She was brave and noble and an inspiration to dark faeries. We aren’t always evil, you know!” I turned and flew off before he could respond.…
After a few minutes, once I had cooled off, I felt pretty silly. Not only for yelling like a child when someone disagreed with my opinion, but also for flying into a strange, dark, scary wood at night with no clue where I was going. I figured my best bet was to turn straight around and fly back, hopefully to the clearing or the town. As I turned, I thought I saw a shadow flash behind me, but I dismissed it as my eyes playing tricks on me. It was late, and dark, and the trees looked terrifying.
I was going decently fast, but I started getting spooked and sped up my wings, trying to get out of the wood as quickly as possible. I had the bright idea to try flying above it, but as I started to ascend, something reached out and grabbed my leg.
“Hi, pretty. Come to play?” A harsh voice asked. I tried to make out my captor, but in the dark, my only clue was the sound of wing beats. Another faerie?
“Get off of me!” I yelled, kicking furiously. She held on, slapping something cold and hard onto my right wing. It bit in sharply and I screamed.
“Alright, sweetie, I just wanted to make sure you wouldn’t fly off.” She let me go and I fell to the ground, winded. “Now, I’m feeling like a bit of excitement, so I’ll give you some time to run. Go on now, little bird.”
I spit at her feet as I struggled onto my own. I started running as fast as my legs could take me, which was, unfortunately, not that fast. I worked out my wings, not my legs.
After a minute of painfully slow running through the trees, I thought I saw a faint glow. I headed towards it, hoping that light meant people, or at least a path, an easier place to run away from the freak faerie after me. When I reached the light, I realized it was from a beautiful, flaming sword, and the reflections it made off of its icy counterpart.
The swords of flame and ice…
I looked up from the swords, trying to see the face of the faerie who wielded them, but it was shadowed.
“Valeane? Aunt Valeane?” I asked.
She dipped her head so that I could her face, the one I’d seen in hundreds of pictures. “Hello, Aethia. Tell me, why are you here?”
“I wanted to find out what happened to you, and to the swords, and… if you were really gone.”
“Not quite yet, but soon I will go,” She tilted her head, staring at me. I tried to meet her gaze. “Tell me, why were these swords made?”
“They are to protect Faerieland, and ultimately Neopia too, I guess. I mean, that’s why you came here, right?”
“Yes, yes, good,” She looked behind me, distracted. “Who are you here for, Aethia?”
“Who I’m here for…?” I wasn’t here for my mother, not really. She still grieved her sister, but she went on with her life. I wasn’t here to save faerieland or some noble nonsense like that. Yet ,I also wasn’t here for myself. Not just to satisfy my own curiosity.
“I’m here for you.”
“For me?” She smiled. “Truly an answer I’d expect from my niece. Please, take these. Right the wrong I brought to this place.”
She handed me the swords. I held them gingerly, almost afraid to be touching them. What was she doing?
As I contemplated these things, staring at the swords in my hands, I felt something fly by my ear, something dark and cold and terrifying. I looked up at Valeane, as her lips turned up in one final smile, and she crumpled to the ground. I turned around, and there she was, the faerie that had grabbed me earlier. I screamed and felt the tears begin pouring from my eyes, my mind barely able too comprehend what had just happened.
“Hello, Aethia. I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced. Fiona, lovely to meet you.” It was then my eyes sought out her wings, and saw the leaf-dot pattern. It was her, the same faerie in the graduation photo, the same faerie who had hunted me, and the faerie who had now ended Valeane’s life.
I turned and lunged, swinging with the swords, but Fiona skipped neatly out of the way.
“Oooh, I don’t think I explained the rules to you, see, I’m the one who gets to live. I need those lovely little swords, you see. I’ve been waiting for years to get them.”
Waiting for years? Was it really all that important, having these two swords? Even as I thought it, I could feel the power of the swords humming in my hands. They were almost like living things, with their own will to fight. I lunged once more at Fiona, letting the swords guide my movements, but she dodged again.
“Hmm, well, this isn’t such a bad game, I supposed I can play it for a while.” She mused, smiling madly at me. “Winner gets the swords, though!”
Winner gets the swords… I felt a bolt of panic in my heart. In her hands they would create chaos. These two beautiful blades, made to protect, to defend, to bring justice – in the hands of this insane, desperate woman… they would create a world without peace. I put more effort into my swings. More was at stake here than just my life, than me avenging my aunt. The whole fate of Neopia could tip based on if I won or lost.
We kept up our dance, me lunging and slicing, focused and fierce. She dodged around and kept up the condescending banter, until she slipped over a tree root and fell on her back. A branch wrapped around her, keeping her still.
“This is the one who is too ambitious. This is the one for whom I have spent a decade in agony. This is the one who ruined my LIFE!”
“Too tight!” She squealed, squirming. She slapped her hand against the bark and it slowly withered, the branch dying from end to trunk. I heard the Brain Tree’s cry of agony and jumped up, slicing with the sword of ice, cutting off the dying part before overtaking the main trunk of the tree.
“ENOUGH!” I yelled, facing Fiona. “You’ve ruined enough lives… caused enough pain.”
“But darling,” she purred, “That’s what I do. I am, after all, a dark faerie.”
I felt my anger flare up, and I was about to rush her again, as if somehow this time I would actually hit her. The swords became heavy in my hands, like they were trying to stop me. As if they didn’t want me to strike out of rage. I finally started to understand what the Brain Tree had said about not being ready for the responsibility. Wielding the swords was about delivering justice, not hate or spite.
I swung one last time, and like all the other times, I didn’t hit Fiona. The sword of flame pinned her dress to the ground, while the sword of ice stuck the ground between her feet. I watched as ice crept from the sword, spreading across the ground and snaking its way up her ankles, flash-freezing the burns she was getting from the flaming sword. She screeched and hissed, glaring at me.
“Why?” I asked her, watching as she was entombed. “Why did you do it?”
“I had a family legacy to fulfill, or hadn’t you heard? I’m related to Jhudora.” She was now up to her waist in her icy tomb, and the sword of flame was beginning to melt the ground around her, making her sink into the earth. “In my family, if you don’t have power or you’re not causing chaos, you are NOTHING. Besides, everyone expects a dark faerie to have a dark heart. Why not just be what they think you are?”
“Because you can be more than that.” I muttered. I looked down as the ice reached her face and she sank chest-deep into the ground, not wanting to see any more. I stared at the swords. They were still glowing with power from creating the icy tomb. I reached down, grabbed their hilts, and claimed my new identity.