Now with 50% more useless text Circulation: 197,560,623 Issue: 989 | 11th day of Hiding, Y25
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Bargain with a Dark Faerie


by puzzlepets

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Part 1: The Knight

     “Hurry up, Hú!" Elwien called playfully as she pranced across the wooden floor towards her friend's cot. Her long, flaxen hair danced around as she tapped her feet on the dusty planks, following the familiar rhythm that pulsed through the air. She waved a small, hand-crafted tambourine in the air and gave it a light shake. "The jousters are about to begin!"

     A slim foot and the tip of a tail poked out from under a woollen blanket before shrinking underneath the cover. The cot groaned under the weight of the body as it turned away from the excited girl. Finally, a response emitted from underneath the blanket. "Go away, Elwien."

     “Hú! Don't be so boring! Get up and let's go!" The Ixi teased as she tugged playfully at the slightly exposed toes. "I know jousting isn't your favourite, but you know I must see Aerin's match!" She paused for a deep breath, her heart fluttering in her chest. "He's going to win again, I just know it. He's unstoppable!" The figure under the blanket did not move.

     “Alright, this is getting old. Let's go!" Elwein ripped the covering off the bed, revealing its drowsy occupant: a young Lupe with unkempt hair.

     “Alright, Elwein! I'm getting up!" Hú groaned, blinking weakly at the sunlight streaming in. "As if the noise from the festival wasn't enough.. I was going to get up eventually."

     Elwein laughed heartily, tossing the blanket aside and moving across the room to pick up a comb. "Right. And I'm the queen of Meridell. Here," she tossed the comb to Hú, who fumbled to catch it, "make that scruff look presentable." Hú responded with an eye roll but used the brush slowly.

     “You know, I think today's the day that Aerin will finally notice me!" Elwein's voice sounded a bit more sentimental as she continued. "I know he's being knighted soon and he'll leave here, but I can't help but think about being a knight's wife." Her eyes fluttered as her daydreams ran wild.

     “Well, that sounds awful to me," Hú muttered. "Waiting around all day and having no idea what your husband is doing? If he's even alive? That sounds like a waste of time."

     Elwein pouted, "Aw, come on! You're no fun! It's so romantic to be the loyal wife, waiting by the window for her lover to return from battle! It's every girl's dream, especially if the man is as fine as Aerin."

     Between Elwein's swoons, Hú finished grooming and slipped on a loose linen shirt and brown pants. "That's what you're wearing?" She asked, a twinge of judgment in her voice.

     “Yes. I'm not boy-crazy like you. Besides," Hú motioned at Elwein's flashy gown and long, gossamer sleeves, "It's hot outside. You'll sweat to death in that getup." It was Elwein's turn to roll her eyes as Hú slipped on a pair of brown leather sandals and grabbed a small waist pouch sitting on the wooden table by the door. "Anyway, let's go. Aerin is waiting, right?" Elwein grinned and followed Hú out of the door.

     ----------------------

     “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the annual Discovery of Meridell festival!" The announcer's voice boomed as Elwein and Hú wove through the crowded field. "Look at everyone who's here! It's wild!" Elwein shouted over the clamour, barely able to hide the excitement in her voice. She grabbed Hú's hand, tugging it along as she ducked past a couple of Draiks who were looking at a merchant's wares. The two finally made it to their destination: the jousting area. Horses whinnied and stamped at the group as their riders stood nearby and waved at the crowd.

     Ahh!! There he is! It's Aerin!" Elwein cried, practically melting into a puddle. "Oh Fyora, I swear he just looked at me and we actually made eye contact!"

     Hú laughed softly, holding up a hand to block the glaring sun. "I'm sure he did, El. When is this match starting, anyways?" the Lupe asked, scanning the bustling crowd.

     No idea. Soon, I think? The horses look so strong! Oh, I just know Aerin is going to win!" Elwein was in full fan-girl mode as the trumpet sounded on cue. "Here we go!" the Ixi cried, giddy with excitement.

     The knights mounted their horses and got into position. Aerin, a handsome young Draik with brand-new silver armour, held his lance firmly and flashed a grin at the crowd. His competitor was another popular knight, a Gelert called Lockhart who had long, braided hair sticking out from under his helmet. As the competitors took their positions opposite each other, the referee held up his hand.

     “Knights at the ready?" Aerin clenched his lance in his fist. His horse snorted, seemingly sharing the knight's desire for victory. "Go!" The horses shot out of their positions as their riders pointed their lances towards each other. Aerin's lance crashed into Lockhart's shield, nearly knocking him off his mount. The Gelert's lance flew from his hand due to the contact and the crowd went wild.

     “See! I told you he would do it!" Elwein cried, jumping up and down and hugging an unsuspecting Hú.

     “There are still 3 more rounds," Hú laughed goodnaturedly, putting a calming hand on the Ixi's back. "That was a good hit, though."

     The knights returned to their marks as the referee signalled to the scorekeeper that Aerin had won the first round. The referee called for the second round to begin and the horses took off once again, barreling down the lane. Again, Aerin's lance found its target with almost inhuman speed and the Gelert grabbed at his horse's reins to avoid falling off. The audience roared in approval as the favourite competitor waved graciously at his fans.

     Elwein was practically vibrating with energy. "Only one more round and he's won it! He's amazing! He's a god!" Her final remark earned another scoff from Hú, who clearly didn't share the sentiment. The Lupe did have a small smile, seemingly enjoying the competitive air.

     “Knights at the ready?" The referee called once again and the crowd fell silent. The knights faced each other. Lockhart was visibly shaken, having almost been knocked from his horse twice in a row. Aerin was as confident as ever, his horse pawing at the ground in anticipation. "Go!"

     Aerin held his lance strong as his horse barreled towards the Gelert. With a clang, the Draik's lance made contact and flung the Gelert from his mount with a blast of intense energy. The crowd gasped collectively as the knight crumpled to the ground with a blood-curdling scream. His horse whinnied and reared up, waving its head around excitedly. Aerin threw his lance to the ground and pumped his fist in the air to celebrate his victory, but the crowd was focused on Lockhart, who was still twisted into a crumpled mass. The referee climbed down from the platform where he'd been observing and rushed over to the fallen knight. With bated breath, everyone watched as the referee checked the unmoving body. With a sharp inhale, the referee took a step back.

     "Clear the crowd." His voice wavered at first, but then came more firmly. "Clear the crowd- NOW."

     The audience members began to panic as speculations rippled through.

     “What happened?"

     “Is he okay?"

     “Aerin would never!"

     “Who would have thought Lockhart would lose this badly?"

     Elwein's face was ghastly pale as she gripped Hú's hand and the two marched along with the exiting crowd. "W-what was that?" she breathed, staring blankly ahead. "It was almost like... I don't know."

     Hú pulled her aside once they'd returned to the main fairgrounds. "I don't know what that was, but it didn't look right. Did you see that ripple as Aerin's lance made contact?" the Lupe said, holding Elwein steady.

     “I-" Elwein's eyes stayed trained on the ground, her ears twitching as the people around her continued to gossip. "I don't know what I saw."

     “That didn't seem of this world, El. You know the local rumours. Maybe Aerin has gotten involved with-"

     The Ixi cut Hú off with a sharp response: "No. He would never. He's not stupid."

     Hú sighed incredulously. "You don't even know him. You don't know what he's capable of." Elwein fell silent. She still wasn't looking Hú in the eyes, and the Lupe knew why. "There are many reasons why a young knight like Aerin might make a deal with them. For power-"

     Elwein finally jerked her chin up, her eyes glistening with fear. "NO. I can't believe that. I refuse!" She shook her head, squeezing her eyes closed to shutter away the tears. Finally, she took breathed deeply. "I'm going to prove it to you. I'll get to the bottom of this myself." Before Hú could stop her, Elwein tore off through the crowd, headed in the direction of the jousting field. Hú's chest tightened, remembering Elwein's stubbornness all too well. The Lupe followed silently, hoping to stop her from getting involved in something she couldn't get out of…

To be continued…

 
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