Fall From Grace
"Good morning, Xandra," said the Library Faerie to the speckled Xweetok who’d just walked through the doors of the royal libraries of Faerieland. The brown-haired, bespectacled Faerie placed one last book on the volumes she was sorting and then smiled over at the young witch.
"Good morning, Sybella," Xandra said, returning her smile as the Xweetok adjusted her own spectacles. Her arms were full of books, as usual. "I’ve come to return these and check out more."
Sybella’s eyes widened. "More? But you just checked those out last week!"
"I read too quickly," Xandra said with a joking sigh as she placed the books on the front desk.
The faerie laughed. Turning to Xandra, she placed a hand on the stack of returned books and stared at it for a moment.
"Why do you perform that spell every time?" Xandra asked her. "You know I always bring the books back in the same condition they were checked out."
"I know, dear," Sybella said, "but it is library policy."
Xandra frowned. "Don’t you trust me?"
"Of course I trust you, Xandra," Sybella said. "But it’s the rules. Please don’t take it the wrong way." She removed her hand from the books and placed them on an enchanted flying cart to await re-shelving. There were spells that could automatically shelve books, but Sybella said once that she derived greater enjoyment from doing it herself.
Xandra couldn’t quite get herself to smile again as she watched. Faeries had so many rules—rules about what you could and couldn’t do with magic, rules about how Magic Academy assignments were to be carried out, rules that restricted certain areas of Faerieland to those with the proper clearance… Xandra loved the academy and she adored her faerie teachers and mentors, but all of these rules seemed excessive and arbitrary to an enlightened seeker of knowledge such as herself.
"Anyway, what brings you in today?" Sybella asked. "More light reading between assignments?"
Blinking out of her thoughts, Xandra looked at the faerie and chuckled. "Sort of. I’ve got a history paper this week. The professor said we could choose any topic from the history of magic in Neopia."
"How fun!" Sybella said. "We’ve got a wonderful magical history section right over there," she said, pointing to another hall in the massive complex full of towering shelves, "and we’ve just got some new publications in about the development of magic in Shenkuu!"
"Actually," Xandra said, "I was thinking of writing my report on the history of faeries. It sounds like none of my other classmates picked that topic."
"We’ve got plenty of books on that subject as well," Sybella said. "You’ll find them on shelves E through J. Good luck!"
"Thank you," Xandra said as she turned toward the history hall.
The libraries of Faerieland were legendary for containing one of nearly every book in the world. They housed rare and one-of-a-kind volumes as well as publications from presses around Neopia—and even from the stars beyond. It was the ultimate haven for scholars, surpassing even the newly-returned Brightvale. Of course, Brightvale, having been lost centuries in the past, had a lot of catching up to do.
As she passed through the archway that separated one grand room from another, Xandra breathed in the wonderful scent of books. Besides the rows of tremendously tall bookcases and the magical lifts that allowed non-flying Neopets to access their upper shelves, there were also tables covered in piles of books, where Neopets and faeries sat studying.
"Hello, Xandra!" an air faerie said. "How’s Fyora’s star pupil today?"
Xandra grinned. "Ready to get to work on a history project," she said. Everyone loved her here. Her classmates were in awe of her intellect and work ethic, and all of the faeries practically doted on her. Xandra felt that her life was perfect.
Stepping onto a lift, with a wave of her paw Xandra willed the enchanted object to carry her to the top shelf of row E. "Air Faeries of Neopia… Faerie Architecture… no, no, I’ve read all of these before…" In a flurry of faerie dust, she swished away to row F. "Never Ending Faerie Tales… that one got boring fast…"
As she perused the shelves and became more and more dissatisfied, Xandra realised that there was something specific she was looking for and not finding. Grabbing a few books that would illustrate her point, she dashed back to the front desk.
"Excuse me, Sybella," she said as she set the books on the desk rather firmly. "But where is your ancient faerie history?"
An odd look came over Sybella’s face—a sort of thoughtfulness mixed with a worry that shouldn’t have been there. "What do you mean?" she asked, picking up the topmost book. "A New Day—that’s the account of Fyora’s inauguration a few thousand years ago."
"But that’s just it," Xandra said. "I’ve read A New Day before and I’ve just now noticed—parts seem to be redacted. Sometimes later entries mention something that seems to be a reference to an earlier entry, but when I went back and checked, I couldn’t find it anywhere. And it strikes me as odd that Fyora never writes much about faerie culture at the time, or about the reign of her predecessor."
Sybella paused. "Well… that is Fyora’s personal journal," she said slowly. "She did quite a bit of editing before she was ready to release it to the public, to protect her privacy."
Xandra frowned. "So she altered the truth to withhold information?"
"Xandra." Sybella’s voice took a sudden stern tone. "Information is not the most important thing in Neopia. It’s also important to respect others’ feelings."
Frustration rippled down Xandra’s spine. Sybella was treating her like an ignorant child instead of the magical prodigy the Xweetok was. She hadn’t come to the Library Faerie for a lecture—she came for the truth. And bother with feelings—Fyora had a responsibility as ruler of the faeries to be transparent.
Frowning, Xandra picked up another book. "And here, in Songs of the Faeries—number 104, ‘Quiet Call the Willows’, verse three: ‘My sisters, lost in the wars, will I ever see you again? The willows whisper your names so I will not forget them…’ and then it devolves into a bunch of sentimental rubbish, but what’s this about sisters lost in wars? What wars?" Xandra leaned over the desk, sticking her snout nearly in Sybella’s face.
Sybella narrowed her eyes. Placing a firm hand on the witch’s shoulder, she gently nudged Xandra away. "Young lady," the faerie said, "perhaps it is best if you focus on your assignment."
"There’s something you’re not telling me," Xandra said. "And if you won’t tell me, I know who will."
"Fyora!" Xandra called as she ran up the steps of the Hidden Tower. "Fyora, are you in here?"
"Xandra?" Fyora replied from around the bend. "Whatever’s the matter?" A moment later the purple-winged Faerie Queen appeared, gliding down the steps to welcome her favourite pupil with open arms.
Xandra stopped short in front of her, leaning against the wall to catch her breath. Running up a long flight of spiral stairs while carrying books was much harder than it needed to be. She thrust the books toward her teacher. "I demand answers," Xandra said. "Something’s been taken out of the Neopian histories. I can’t find any clear reference to faeries in Neopia before your reign. I don’t think it was done on accident."
For a long moment, Fyora searched the Xweetok’s face with her deep purple eyes. Xandra wondered what secrets had lurked there for millennia. "What happened among the faeries before my reign is none of your concern, Xandra," Fyora said, kindly but firmly. "Your thirst for knowledge is admirable, but there are some subjects that should not be breached."
Xandra ground her teeth. "Why don’t you trust me?" she asked.
Fyora tilted her head. "Why don’t you trust me?"
"Because—because you’re holding out on me!" Xandra said.
"Yes, I am," Fyora said, "and it is for a good reason. Please, Xandra. I know you are a highly intelligent and accomplished witch already, but you do not need to know everything right now. Why don’t you go relax in the gardens for a bit to clear your mind?"
"Maybe," Xandra grunted. Fyora held out her arms for a hug, but Xandra ignored the gesture and turned away, sweeping back down the stairs.
Halfway down, the thought struck her that this was the first time she and Fyora had ever not gotten along. The Xweetok swallowed a lump in her throat. Fyora had been so kind to her ever since Xandra arrived at the academy. The Faerie Queen had always been anything but aloof to the young witch, encouraging her magical talents and even giving her personal tutoring sessions. It was no secret that Fyora saw quite a bit of potential in Xandra.
And yet Fyora was withholding information from her. Xandra could not forgive that. The Faerie Queen, of all people, should know better.
Xandra didn’t go to the gardens. Her hunger for knowledge still burned in her soul. She would get to the bottom of this.
As she stepped back into the library, Sybella was busy helping another student, so Xandra crept past the front desk without announcing her presence. She returned to the history wing, then passed through another doorway to the magic wing. There, at the back of the cavernous hall, was her target: a small set of pearlescent doors with a simple sign next to them: RESTRICTED ACCESS.
One of the first rules of Faerieland Academy was to stay away from the restricted area of the library. And, of course, to enforce that rule, powerful wards had been set on the doors. But this had always eaten at Xandra. She longed to know what sort of amazing secrets lay behind those doors.
Looking around to make sure no one was watching, the Xweetok held her paws up to the doors and cast a muffling antispell before whispering every unlocking incantation she knew. She guessed that the wards included magical alarms that would activate once they sensed someone trying to use magic on them, but this anti-spell would nullify their effects. From there, it was just a matter of teasing away at the mana structures until she found something that worked. Xandra smirked to herself. She really was too smart for her own good.
A very long five minutes later, the lock in the door clicked. Xandra let out a deep breath and flicked a paw to dispel the last of the magic surrounding the doors. Then, she placed her fingertips on one of the doors and pushed.
It swung soundlessly open to reveal another large room, more dimly lit than the public-access halls of the library, although still filled with bookcases and enchanted lifts. A powerful draft of air blew out of the room, smelling like old paper and old magic.
Xandra cracked a grin and stepped inside, closing the door behind her. Chills pricked at her neck and shoulders at all of the power contained in this room, like a thick fog that she waded through as she studied the spines of the volumes contained here. Many were in unfamiliar languages, and they looked positively ancient, not to mention she could sense them crawling with odd magic. Some of them were even locked from cover to cover, or bound tightly as though their contents had to be contained.
Others had titles in languages she could read—and their names made her eyes widen. "Lost Spells of Neopia…" she breathed. "Harmful Faerie Artefacts… Curses from the Deep... Xandra, my girl, looks like we’ve hit the jackpot." Elation filled her. It was like someone had compiled this room just for her. There was so much knowledge contained here that, it seemed, she wasn’t going to learn in her classes.
Pressing a paw against a row of books, Xandra smiled. She was just going to have to teach herself, then.
But first things first. These books were organized according to subject, just like in the main library, so Xandra located the history books easily.
It only took a moment of scanning the shelves before one looked promising. "The Great Record of Fae," Xandra read aloud from the cover as she pulled the heavy tome into her arms. Carefully, she lugged the book over to the nearest table and sat down with it. Unlike many of the more forbidding-seeming books here, this one was bound with a simple leather cover and did not seem to have any enchantments on it.
Xandra flipped it open and began to read. Only a few paragraphs in, she realised this was not the ancient Neopian history she was being taught at the academy. Her classes only talked about things like the Great Empire and the founding of Altador—nothing about faeries. This book, on the other hand, contained everything about faeries.
According to The Great Record of Fae, it seemed that ever since the birth of Neopia, the different types of faeries had not gotten along. As beings of magic with volatile emotions, they often attempted to overpower one another magically, not caring about the destruction they left in their wake. Gradually they organised into loose coalitions based on their elemental alignment, and that was when the faerie wars began in earnest.
Thousands of faeries waged dreadful battles against one another with enchanted armour and weapons, all across Neopia, sky, land, and sea. The immense amounts of magic involved in these battles absolutely decimated Neopia, not to mention grievously affecting any Neopets who happened to be living in the area. And the faeries still didn’t care.
As a matter of fact, over time they did begin to finally notice Neopets—and many faeries happened upon the idea of luring Neopets to fight for them, promising them great rewards. Neopets started to fight one another for the sake of their fae benefactors, but all of these battles would end in ruin for both sides, as the capricious faeries cared more for outdoing their sisters than the well-being of those who fought for them. Sometimes, Neopets rose up against faeries, trying to rid Neopia of these heartless forces of destruction, but Neopets’ knowledge of magic was rudimentary and they simply lacked the power to come out victorious.
These convoluted wars would last for decades, until the faeries, their numbers worn thin and magically exhausted, retreated back to the clouds to recover and regroup. This took centuries, sometimes a millennium or two, but inevitably the spark of anger would once again kindle and the war forges in the sky sung anew with hammers pounding on enchanted steel.
As Xandra read these things, her stomach knotted. It might have been partly because lunchtime had come and gone, but this shattered her world. Faeries were really quite awful beings, she thought. And yet they had the gall to act so authoritatively in modern Neopia—and Neopets pandered to them, running errands for them in return for trivial rewards, seeing them as sources of wisdom.
The Xweetok’s snout wrinkled. It was all a terrible sham. And she had fallen for it along with everyone else.
But what had happened to end it? Certainly Neopia was not filled with warring faeries today. She flipped to a further chapter. Evidently, several thousand years ago, Princess Fyora had risen to influence and gained a loyal following of faeries. Unlike most of her sisters, the princess wished to spread peace and unity, as well as goodwill toward Neopets, and this philosophy caught on with more and more faeries.
Eventually, Fyora’s following grew enough that she was able to challenge the old queen for her throne, and won. Upon her coronation, she declared that the history of the fae wars should not be spoken of any longer, and a few centuries afterward emended this to legislation that outright discouraged teaching pre-Fyoran faerie history. Her reasoning was that she wanted to mend the rift between faeries and Neopets, and felt that continuing to dredge up past mistakes would simply lead to a festering of old hurts, when both types of beings should be focusing more on creating a peaceful present and a brighter tomorrow.
Xandra sat back and took off her spectacles to rub her face with her paw. That explained so much. Fyora really was holding out on her, and on everyone else. The faeries were lying, keeping secrets from poor unsuspecting Neopets about a dark past.
It was unfair, she decided. These faeries had been such poor stewards of Neopia in the past, and now they continued to exert control over this world by manipulation. They didn’t deserve their elevated position, Xandra thought. Neopia belonged to the Neopets.
She stared down at the book and slowly closed it. Yes, that was it. Neopets were the ones who truly deserved the power here. Faeries could not be trusted.
Faintly, Sybella’s voice from earlier came back to memory. "Don’t take it the wrong way," the Library Faerie had said.
Xandra stood up and leaned her paws on the table, staring at the book that had changed her entire life. Was she taking this the wrong way? She remembered Fyora reaching out to hug her, like a mother to her child.
Then she thought about how intelligent and gifted she was, and Xandra scowled. She was tired of being treated like a child. All of these faeries were jealous of her, that was it, right? They were trying to keep her under their thumb so she wouldn’t realise her true potential.
Well, it was too late for that, Xandra thought with a bit of glee as she put the book back on the shelf and stole away toward the doors. She knew the truth now. She wouldn’t tell anyone about this little escapade, of course, but now she had a new goal to work toward at the academy. Someday, she would challenge the faeries for their power and overthrow millennia of tyranny disguised as kindness.
When she returned to her dormitory, there was a note on her desk from Fyora, along with a tin of Air Faerie Cookie Sandwiches—Xandra’s favourite. "I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings earlier," the note read. "Please accept my apologies. I hope you are feeling better, and if you need to talk more, I will always make time for you. Sincerely, Fyora."
Xandra crumpled up the note and tossed the cookies in the wastebasket. She refused to parley with faeries who lied.