Alena rolled over onto her back. A jab into her shoulders stopped her quickly though. She rolled back onto her stomach and cautiously reached behind her to feel what the jabbing came from. Her hands jumped when they first felt it. It was smooth and soft. Not quite like feathers, but almost. Their curves wound down past her straight waist. Alena bit her lip and tried to not start giggling, but she couldn’t help it. She jumped up and turned around in several circles as she tried to see the whole of the wings flitting joyously on her back. The first rays of dawn’s light peaked over the horizon, making the translucent wings look like fire rippled through them, matching her deep red hair that flowed around them.
The sunlight unfolded the scene around her, confirming what Alena already knew. She was back. It had taken months for her to dream of this place again, but she finally was back in the fairy land. She curled her toes into the rich moss under her feet and breathed in the cool crisp air of the morning. It was summer back home, which meant an unbearable smothering heat. Here though, it was always pleasant. Wherever here really was. Sometimes, she felt like it was a real place somewhere, in some country far away. Other times, she remembered she had wings here and had just fallen asleep. She was even still in her blue and white checkered pajamas. Thus, none of this could possibly be real. Probably.
She was ten, and, with a few exceptions, all her friends had stopped reading about or believing anything resembling fairy tales. That was for little kids, and people who refused to grow up. Of course, being ten, becoming a grown up was the main goal at the moment. This was in large part due to the very wrong assumption that grown ups got to do whatever they pleased, whenever they pleased, and answered to no one, which meant having no responsibilities. She loved her friends and was certainly fine with their plans to get older, but growing up was another story. Growing up meant not coming here anymore. And here is where her best friend was. Not that she could, or would, tell anyone else that. For one, he was a boy. And for two, she still wasn’t sure if he, like the rest of this place, was really real.
Looking around some more, she realized she was on a ledge on the side of a tall hill. There was only enough room to pace a few steps. Climbing down would take forever, and while time certainly passed differently here, she didn’t want to waste any of it with just walking. She usually liked to practice with her wings for a little while before using them, but there wasn’t the room here. Alena looked down. She was near the top of the hill. The edge of the ledge led to a sheer drop until the tree line started several feet down. She crinkled her nose. There was nothing for it really, but she still felt nervous.
Concentrating as hard as she could, Alena began to flap her wings. Her feet slowly lifted off the ground. Hovering was one thing. Flying was another. Flying required wind, and wind required jumping off the ledge. She lowered herself back to the earth and took another look over the ledge. She had heard that if you died in a dream, you die in real life too. Of course, if you were dead, you couldn’t say what you had dreamt about, so she reasoned it was fairly safe, even if she did land in the trees. Alena took a deep breath in, closed her eyes, and stepped off the ledge.
“Woohoo!” she cried as the air rushed past her face and spread over the wings that beat enthusiastically behind her. Alena must’ve been several hundred feet in the air. The wind almost felt alive here, lifting itself up under her wings, supporting her in the her downward journey. She grinned and let out a loud laugh. As scared as she was to step off the edge, flying felt as natural as breathing to her. Landing, not so much. The ground came into view sooner than Alena anticipated. She spread her arms out in a feeble attempt at slowing herself down. It didn’t work, resulting in skinned knees and scraped elbows as she tumbled to the ground.
Alena quickly reached back to check her wings. They were fine. Whatever they were made of, it was sturdy stuff. There was hardly a time there that she didn’t fall while landing, yet they were never damaged. They again, it was all a dream anyways, she reminded herself. And just like a dream, she had landed precisely where she wanted to. This was where she had last seen her friend, Gabe. The first time they’d met, they agreed to meet again wherever they last parted ways. This time, it was a small circular hollow stretching about thirty feet across. Gabe told her it was called a fairy fort, where fairies supposedly lived a long time ago. Alena had asked him if she was a fairy since she had wings. Gabe said he wasn’t really sure what she was, but he’d ask his grandma. All the other fairies there were tiny creatures, with wings much more like butterflies’. She was very much human sized and her wings, while they flapped like a butterfly’s, were more narrow and shorter.
Several trees spotted the hollow. Alena spied Gabe leaning against one of them, his eyes closed and arms folded. He was skinny, and his brown hair half covered his eyes. He wore blue jeans and a plain t-shirt. His accent wasn’t like any of the ones here, or hers. Between that and the clothes, she sometimes wondered if he wasn’t real like her. Every time she asked him, he said of course he was real, but a dream would say that. She sneaked around behind him and gently blew on his face. He jumped up, startled, and as he did, floated into the air.
“Alena! Don’t do that!” Gabe spun his arms around trying to steady himself, but only managed to push himself into a series of somersaults. “You could at least help steady me so I don’t throw up,” he said to Alena, who was in a fit of laughter on the ground.
Alena stood up, still trying to suppress a few giggles, and pushed herself into the air. “Sorry, couldn’t help myself,” she said, grabbing hold of Gabe’s hands. She helped him upright himself in the air. When they were face to face, Alena noticed his face was red. “You ok? You don’t look so good.”
“Uh, yeah, fine,” said Gabe, his face deepening a little more.
“Good. Don’t need you getting sick on me in the middle of flying. Ready?”
Gabe grinned. “Yep.” He moved himself alongside Alena and put his arm through hers. Alena’s grin matched his as she propelled them both further into the sky. She didn’t have any fairy dust, but one of the gnomes told her that if she concentrated hard enough, and blew really gently, she could make some people fly. When she learned that, she spent the remainder of the day making random things float in the air, but mostly Gabe when he wasn’t paying attention. Her magic, as she called it despite not technically being magic, only lasted five or so minutes at a time, and Gabe still needed her help to maneuver, so they always flew together.
“Do you want to go to the waterfall?” asked Gabe.
“I think I’d rather see the brownies first, if that’s ok,” said Alena.
“Sure. It’s been awhile since we’ve seen them anyways.”
The brownies were small creatures, many only as tall as a hand is long. They lived simply, but had magic of a sort, so that they never wanted for food or had bad weather. Other than their pointed noses, ears, and teeth, and diminutive size, they looked much like anyone else. Alena led her and Gabe to the small glen where the brownies lived. The ground was covered with thick moss. Little stones formed simple little houses all lined up in two long rows. Oftentimes, the dozens of brownies who lived there would all run out of their homes when Alena and Gabe would arrive. But this time none were to be found.
Gabe wrapped his arm around Alena’s waist, keeping them steady so as to not fall. They both did a running skip onto the ground as they landed. Flying with Gabe always had the perk of Alena not falling down.
“Ixi! Gilly!” Alena called out. No one responded. “Dena?”
“Maybe they’ve moved? Or they’re all out?” said Gabe.
“All of them?”
Alena bent down and peered into one of the houses. “Hellooo?”
One of the brownies, Silva, peeped out of a house across from where Alena was. “Shh! It isn’t safe!” he said sharply.
“What isn’t safe?” said Gabe.
Silva huffed and beckoned them both to come closer.
Alena laid down on the ground with her elbows propping her up. “Where is everyone?” she whispered.
“Taken! It isn’t safe here though, not even to talk. I only came back quickly to get a few things,” said Silva.
“But everywhere here is always safe,” said Gabe, lowering his voice to a whisper when Silva glared and shook a finger at him.
“It was until they came,” said Silva, his eyes shifting back and forth as if looking for some invisible menace.
“Who are they?” said Alena.
Silva’s little purple eyes widened. He let out a chirp. “Them,” he said in a trembling voice.
Gabe sighed. “Are all their names pronouns?”
Alena jabbed him with her elbow. When she did, she caught of glimpse behind them of three figures. “Gabe,” her voice even lower than a whisper.
“Sorry,” he said to Silva.
Gabe glanced at Alena. Her face was pale. She was sitting up, leaning back on her arms that were locked straight. He gulped when he took in the looming people? creatures? he couldn’t be sure. They looked like centaurs, but with six legs instead of four. Wings spread across their backs. The upper half of their bodies was human, but black helmets covered their faces. It wasn’t until they took a menacing step forward in unison that any of them noticed their swords.
“Sil, climb onto Gabe,” whispered Alena. Once Silva had tightly wound his limbs around Gabe’s right arm, Alena grabbed his other and blew on his face. The three creatures had approached them slowly and rhythmically, almost mechanically, until then. Now the two on the sides leaped towards them, grabbing for their ankles and feet that dangled in the air. The other swung wildly at them.
Alena flapped her wings as hard as she could and kicked madly at the hand that held her foot. “Gabe, I can’t!”
Suddenly, Silva jumped over onto Alena and climbed down her leg. One of the creatures yelled loudly as Silva’s teeth chomped down on his hand. His grip didn’t release completely, but it did enough for Alena to give a good last kick for her freedom. She flew above the treetops and towards the waterfall in the center of the land.
“No, not there!” squealed Silva when he saw where they were headed.
“Let me guess, it’s not safe,” said Gabe.
“That’s where they are,” said Silva.
“Where should we go then?” said Alena.
Silva began whimpering again. “I don’t know! They’re everywhere!”
“Let’s go back to the fairy fort then. I was there for awhile and didn’t see anyone,” suggested Gabe.
Silva didn’t object, so Alena veered to the east.
“Now, can you tell us what’s going on?” said Alena when they landed.
Silva stayed firmly attached to Gabe’s arm. “They came just a few weeks ago,” he began hurriedly, as if still afraid the strange entities would appear out of nowhere. “At first, they would just stand or walk around the forest, not disturbing anything or talking to anyone. Just observing. We’ve had strangers pass through before, and you know we don’t mind foreigners, so we let them be. Then she came.”
Gabe let out a sigh. “She? Do they not talk or have they no names?”
Alena gave Gabe a disapproving look as she pried Silva off of him and put him on her own shoulder. She noticed Gabe’s face turn red again, and this time it made her stomach feel like it had wings. She decided not to mention anything about it.
“No, they don’t talk, and anyone who has talked to her hasn’t left her palace,” continued Silva.
“How do they communicate then?” mused Alena.
“Tam knocked on of their helmets off when it tried to attack us the first time. That seemed to stop it.”
“Where is this palace of hers?” said Gabe.
“Where the waterfall was.”
“Was?” said Alena.
“She has a few giants with her. They took up the cliffside by the waterfall, and then she used some sort of magic to turn it into a palace. It’s beautiful, for certain, but there’s no more waterfall.”
Alena’s shoulders slumped. This dream was starting to feel more like a nightmare. She wondered if she could wake herself up.
“Where are the other brownies?” said Gabe.
Silva twiddled his thumbs for a moment before bursting into tears. “They took them. They took them all.”
Alena could feel the tears forming in her eyes too. She wanted to wake up now please. Maybe if she woke up for just a second and then fell back to sleep, everything would be alright in the dream. She shut her eyes as hard as she could. She bit her lip and dug her nails into her hands. Slowly, she opened one eye a little to see if she was awake yet. Gabe was still in front of her, now giving her a funny look.
“You alright?” he asked.
“Yeah, I just…” She shook her head. “Forget it.” She’d just have to try again later. But for now, Silva was creating a puddle of tears on her shoulder.
“It’ll be alright,” said Gabe. He gently pet Silva on the head. “We’ll get them back safe and sound. Don’t worry.”
Yes, of course we will, thought Alena. Except “Wait, what? How?” was what came out of her mouth.
Silva’s crying had started to dry up, but her comment made it begin afresh. Now it was Gabe’s turn to give Alena a stern look. He took Silva back, cupping his hands together for the brownie to sit in comfortably.
Alena noticed that Gabe’s hands were much bigger than they were last time she saw him. He was taller too. “I mean, we will, we just have to figure out how first. We need a plan,” she said.
Silva wiped his eyes. “You can’t,” he said through sniffles.
“There has to be some way,” said Gabe.
“Her guards don’t sleep. You two can’t fight them all on your own,” said Silva.
Alena rubbed her teeth over her bottom lip. “No, we can’t, not alone at least. But what about the other people here? Have any of them been taken?”
“Some, yes, but we were the first hit. It did give most of the others time to hide. I’ve been staying with them.”
“Well, let’s go there then. Maybe we can figure out some sort of plan,” said Gabe.
“Nooo, I can’t let you do that,” said Silva.
“You have to. You said yourself that we can’t do this alone. We’ll need everyone’s help,” said Alena.
“We’ll protect you, Sil,” said Gabe.
Silva squirmed in Gabe’s hands. “Well, you see, the problem is that…well, she is like you. She’s human. And you two are the only other humans any of us have seen. And she has wings like you, Alena.”
Gabe sighed. “And you think we might really be on her side, is that it?”
Alena’s shoulders slumped and her face fell. “That’s awful, Sil. You know we would never hurt anyone here.”
“I know that, but the others here don’t know you like us brownies do.” Silva rubbed on Gabe’s hand reassuringly. “I trust you both.”
“So how do we do this?” said Gabe.
Alena began to pace. She made her way around each tree, swinging her arms as she thought.
“How many are there who can fight?” Gabe asked Silva.
Silva looked at Gabe in shock. “Fight? None!”
“But how else can we stop them? They’re fighting. We fight back,” said Gabe.
“It is not our way, even if we were physically able to,” said Silva.
“Do they know that?” said Alena, making her way back over to them.
“I’m not sure. How would that help?” said Silva.
Gabe shook his head. “I don’t think I like where this is going.”
Alena grinned. “Well, if they don’t know, then we could act like you’ll all fight, and father everyone up, and it’ll scare them into surrendering.”
“Where did you get that idea?” said Gabe.
Alena shrugged. “Book, I think.”
Silva bounced in Gabe’s hand. “I like this plan! I can help!”
“You’ll have to,” said Alena. “We’ll need you to convince the others to help and get them there.”
“Except there’s still not enough of them to even pretend to fight,” said Gabe.
Alena let out a loud sigh. “Soo…we…”
“Pixies!” said Gabe suddenly.
Alena jumped up and clapped her hands. “Duh!”
Silva looked at them both with an inquisitive eagerness.
“If we do this at night and have everyone holding torches, and then the pixies shine as bright as they can, but stay hidden in the forest, it’ll look like there’s a thousand of you!” explained Gabe.
“Oooh, I like that, Gabe,” said Silva.
“When is dusk?” asked Alena. The time was much different there from her own, and she guessed it was getting on into the afternoon at that point.
“Three, four hours?” said Silva.
“Then meet us by their palace at dusk,” said Alena.
“Do you think you can do this, Silva? It’s a pretty big task,” said Gabe.
Silva nodded hesitantly. “At least, I know I can try. There’s not much other choice.”
“Let me take you as close to your camp as I can then,” said Alena.
“But what will you and Gabe do?” said Silva.
Alena looked at Gabe. “Don’t worry. I’ve got a plan.”
“Definitely not going to like this.” Gabe shook his head, but he was smiling.
“Let’s get going then,” said Alena. Silva reattached himself to Gabe’s arm. Alena flew them as quickly as she could to where Silva directed. It wasn’t an area she had often gone. Silva said most of them were now at the centaur camp where they could get at least some protection. Mermaids were the only other large creatures there, besides the centaurs, and they obviously afforded little protection to land dwellers. Water sprites were safe so long as they stayed secluded. The brownies, fairies, and pixies were small though, and largely defenseless. There had never been a need to defend themselves until now.
Once they dropped Silva off, Gabe linked his arm through Alena’s and took her hand. “So where to?”
“Her,” said Alena confidently.
“Figured as much. Got a plan for after that?”
“Try to find the brownies? See if we can get them out on our own?”
Gabe shrugged. “Good a plan as any, I guess.”
Alena flew them as close to the waterfall as she felt safe to. Not that any of this felt very safe. The further into the dream she got, the more real it felt. Yet she didn’t try to wake herself up now. Real or not, she didn’t think she’d ever forgive herself if she didn’t help her friends.
As they approached the waterfall, they could see the palace. It was huge and marvelous. Silver towers on its corners led down to frosted white walls. A single tower rose out of the center of it all. Encircling it were more of the strange soldiers, two deep, and going all around the palace until they reached the stone backing where the waterfall had once cascaded down.
Alena landed in the thickest part of the forest by the waterfall. “Let’s hope those guys all stay there and don’t come out here.”
“Alright, what now? Waltz up and demand to speak to her? There’s no way we can get through them,” said Gabe.
Alena put her hands on her hips and swung them side to side while she thought.
“No clue either?” said Gabe after a minute.
“Thinking!” Alena stuck her tongue out at him.
Gabe began to walk around, encircling each tree a couple times before moving to the next. After the second tree, he started to hum. Alena tucked her elbows into her sides and wrapped her arms around each other. It was late afternoon and an unusual chill was settling in. She watched Gabe, his steps keeping time with the tune, like a little kid playing hopscotch. He wasn’t a kid anymore though. She had hardly noticed it until now, but in the months that’d past since their last meeting, Gabe had begun to grow up. He was a couple years older than her, but it only showed now. He had gotten taller and even skinnier. His shoulders were widening out. But his face was the same, and he hadn’t gotten rude like all the other older kids she knew.
“What song is that?” asked Alena as Gabe began the same one for the second time, occasionally slipping in the words.
“Huh?” He blushed again, as if he forgot anyone could hear him.
“You’re humming a song. It’s really pretty,” said Alena.
“Oh, uh, it’s just some old Irish thing. my dad is always singing. Guess I picked it up from him.” Gabe continued his walk around the trees silently.
“Why does your dad go around singing Irish songs?”
Gabe laughed a little. “Because we’re Irish?”
“Right.” Alena furrowed her eyebrows.
Gabe stopped and looked straight at Alena. “I told you, Alena, I’m real. I came through the wishing well that’s sometimes just a well, and sometimes it goes to here.”
Alena nodded and sighed. “Yeah, I know.” There was no way this could be real real for him and dream real for her. And she knew she was real, so Gabe couldn’t be. Except she didn’t like that thought at all.
“So do you have any ideas yet?” asked Gabe.
Alena shrugged. “Waltz up to her front door and demand to talk to her or we’ll unleash our very angry army? Maybe since I’ve got wings like her she’ll listen to me?”
“I have a feeling if she’s kidnapping helpless, peaceful creatures, she’s not going to listen to anyone,” said Gabe.
Alena threw her hands up in the air. “We’ve gotta try something!”
“I know, I know. I’m just saying that this could go real bad, real fast.”
Alena nodded. “Doesn’t mean we don’t do it though.”
Gabe sighed. “So, fly or walk?”
“Fly. I can land us inside, and I don’t want to come near those swords again,” said Alena.
“Yeah, me neither, but they’ll likely be more inside.”
“True. Maybe they’ll have really high ceilings and I can fly us over them all.”
Gabe laughed a bit. “I like this plan!”
Alena looked up at the sky. “It’s almost dusk.”
“We should get going then.” Gabe took Alena’s hand. This time she felt a chill run through her and her cheeks turn hot.
“Yep,” she said as she blew gently on the side of Gabe’s face. She pushed herself into the air and let her wings draw her and Gabe higher into the sky. Alena took them back to the palace, but this time she approached from behind it. There were none of the soldiers on the top of the rock, as anyone trying to reach the palace that way without wings would’ve been met with a treacherous drop onto either stone floors or spiked towers.
Alena went to what looked like a window sill. She hovered outside it, peering in to make sure it was unoccupied. Once she was satisfied, Gabe kicked at it a few times. Surprisingly, it gave way fairly easily. The room’s interior was set up like what Alena imagined a boardroom at some large company would look like, but perhaps an old medieval company. A long table went down the centre. Chairs with high backs lined it. Everything, from the mantelpiece over the dead fire to the floor boards, was adorned with intricate engravings. It all looked lifeless and cold though, as it was made from the same material as the palace itself. A substance like opaque glass. It reminded Alena of her wings, but it didn’t shimmer in the light or turn colors into a kaleidoscope like her wings did. Instead, it just sat there, dull as brick.
They walked around the table, taking in the room for only a minute. Gabe nodded towards the door. “Ready to explore a bit more?” he said quietly.
Alena only nodded in reply. The palace didn’t frighten her exactly, but it was imposing. The fewer words spoken and noises made, the better. She pressed her ear against the door, listening for any signs of people outside. She nodded at Gabe, who gingerly turned the door knob. To the right, the hall ended after only a few yards. To the left, it stretched on and seemed to lead past several more doors. The two of them took this way, trying to stay as quiet as possible.
However, their attempt was pointless, because as soon as they rounded the first corner two soldiers were walking down the hall. These had normal legs instead of being like centaurs. They were just as unpleasant as the others though. Gabe and Alena had no sooner turned their heels than the soldiers’ swords were drawn. They were running after them, proving far swifter than the two children.
Alena’s hand was almost on the doorknob when she heard Gabe yell out. She turned to see Gabe trying to dodge one of their swords. The other soldier grabbed Alena by shoulders, trying to wrestle her into a tighter hold. At the same time, Gabe managed to wrench the helmet off the soldier fighting him. Its arms and head went limp. Gabe pulled its sword out and swung it around, clanging it into the head of the soldier holding Alena.
Immediately, the soldier dropped her. He caught Gabe’s next blow and easily pulled the sword out of the boy’s hands. Just as he was about to throw his own, Alena threw a vase at him, knocking him off enough for her to grab the sword out of his hand. He growled at Alena, but then turned his focus back onto Gabe. Grabbing him by the neck, he flung Gabe across the hall. He smashed against the wall and slumped to the ground. Alena could see red streaming down the white.
“Gabe?” she said shakily. He didn’t respond. The soldier took a step towards her, his arms outstretched, his intent to take her again clear. She took two steps back and lifted the sword up. She knew she’d be lucky to get even one hit in, but she had to try. Alena lifted the sword over her head and was about to bear down upon the soldier’s, when she felt her body freeze. Someone was behind her, their hand pressed firmly on her back. She tried to turn around, or cry out, or do anything, but she was immobilized.
The person behind her now moved in front. Alena knew instantly that it was her. She was not much taller than Alena, though she was tall for her age. It did not make the woman before her any less frightening. She matched the rest of the palace with her white-blonde hair and her short white dress. Alena was surprised that her uncovered arms and legs were not white as well. On her back were wings, like Alena’s but once again with an ugly dullness to them.
The woman waved her hand at the soldier. “You know what to do,” she said. The soldier put the helmet back on his comrade. When he was alert again, the two each took hold of one of Gabe’s hands and dragged him away.
Alena struggled to move, to fight against whatever spell was holding her in place. Tears stuck in her throat as she only felt her paralysis strengthen. The woman’s focus had returned to her now, and she waved her hand in front of Alena’s face. A debilitating fatigue crept over her. She heard the sword clang loudly as it fell to the ground. She felt her hands hanging at her side. As Alena’s eyes closed, she felt the woman’s arms pull around her waist and lower her to the floor.
It was well into dusk when Alena awoke, meaning not much time had passed, but enough that it could mess up their plans considerably. Then Alena remembered what else had happened that could prove disastrous to their plan. Gabe was injured and who knows where, and she was captured with the woman. A noise in the room told her she wasn’t alone. She closed her eyes quickly, but it was too late.
“Good to see you woke up so quickly,” said the woman.
Alena rolled over. She sat up, and suddenly realized that she was no longer in the boardroom. Now she was sitting comfortably on a couch in what looked to be a bedroom, and a very fancy one at that. She crossed her arms and gave her best glare to the other occupant.
“Where’s Gabe?” said Alena.
“Safe, for now. He’ll stay that way so long as you cooperate.” The woman sat down in a chair opposite Alena, sipping tea. “My name is Mela.”
Alena continued her glaring until Mela cleared her throat pointedly. “It is considered polite to introduce yourself,” she said.
Alena let out a loud sigh. “Alena.”
Mela set aside her tea and smiled. “Now see, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
“Why did you kidnap the brownies?” said Alena.
Mela’s eyebrows went up. “Well, you certainly are a bold little girl.”
Alena’s glare was turning into a rather good scowl. She knew she didn’t have much time, and this woman seemed keen on taking as much as she wanted. “Why,” Alena repeated.
Mela smoothed out the skirt of her dress. “You’ve heard stories of wonderful places and extraordinary people, yes?”
Alena nodded. She wondered if Mela knew that Alena was from a place where everything surrounding her right now was wonderful and extraordinary.
“And some of your people have gone to great lengths to find such people, yes? Like your friend, Gabe?” she continued.
Alena shrugged. “I guess so.”
“Oh, but you must know so. The brownies spoke of you two. They said Gabe came through like everyone else does, through the wishing well, but you…you’re special. You’re the only one anyone has heard of who can dream themselves here.” Mela moved over by Alena and took her hands in hers. “He comes here for the same reason I’ve traveled away from my home in the north to find this place.”
“Why is that?” Alena’s voice felt empty. She asked, but she didn’t want to know the answer. She wanted to run as fast as she could out of there and away from this increasingly creepy woman.
“To find a marvelous creature not heard of in a thousand years. You. You’re a fairy girl.” Mela wound one of Alena’s auburn locks through her fingers. “I remember seeing the last one. She was younger than you, and her hair was such a pretty blonde. Don’t worry, I think yours is just as lovely.”
Alena pulled her hands away from Mela and looked at her with disgust. “You kidnapped all those brownies, and destroyed the waterfall, and hurt Gabe, all because you wanted to meet me?”
Mela let out a slight laugh, but did not seem amused. “Some people would be flattered to be in the audience of a queen.”
“Queen? Queen of who? There are no rulers here,” Alena tried to scoot away without Mela noticing.
“Not here, but there are in the north. We have lived there long before the sprites and centaurs and all your other little friends settled in this land,” said Mela.
“But just because you’re a queen somewhere else doesn’t mean you get to just go to other people’s homes and do whatever you like.” Alena stood up now, her hands clenched into fists.
Mela stood up too. Her demeanor had turned very stern and foreboding. “No. My abilities do though. That is why I needed to find you. My powers are getting weak, and fairy girls are the strongest, you see. They last the longest.”
Alena took a hesitant step back. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t care. But you’d better let my friends go right now, or else you’ll have a whole lot of problems right outside your door real soon.”
As the words left her mouth, a horn blared outside. Alena glanced out the window to see it was nearly night, but it was far from dark. The whole forest outside was alight with torches and pixies. “And by real soon, I mean right now.”
Mela sneered and lunged towards Alena. She was able to dodge the assault, but just barely, tripping and landing clumsily on the floor. She tried to remember some of the martial arts moves her older brother had taught her. Alena swept her leg under Mela, bringing her to the floor. When she did, cracks splintered through her wings. More disturbingly, cracks formed all through her body, or the shell of it at least. Her insides were revealed, but it was nothing like what Alena expected to see. Underneath the delicate exterior was a creature made of wrinkled, black, and red skin. Part of Mela’s face had come off, showing long fangs protruding from her mouth. Mela hissed and looked about ready to jump again, but Alena grabbed another vase from the nearby mantle and smashed it over Mela’s head, knocking her unconscious for at least a little while.
Alena ran to the door, but walked out of it as calmly as she could. The soldiers posted outside did not move or show any sign of interest in her. She wondered if there was anything in those skulls of theirs, or if they could only act on some order. Alena realized quickly that she was just one hall down from where they were before. Blood streaked the floor where the soldiers had pulled Gabe along. Following it led down a few staircases, the last one quite narrow. When she reached its bottom, she saw five different cells. One held Gabe, and the others held the brownies.
Alena knew that Mela wanted her for something, and probably alive. Even if the guards caught her, they couldn’t hurt her much. This made her feel bolder, and she knew she would need all the boldness she could get. Alena strode down the hall towards the two guards in front of Gabe’s cell. She was thankful they had normal legs and not several. She tried to stand as straight as she could in an attempt to make herself look taller and more commanding. “Queen Mela has instructed me to bring the prisoner to her,” she said as calmly as she could.
The guards looked at each other but did not speak, at least not verbally. Alena decided she couldn’t risk them getting suspicious. “Could I ask you a question?” she said to one of them. He looked down at her. She motioned for the guard to bend down to her level. Once he did so, she grabbed his helmet off his head. The other unsheathed his sword, but it fell to the ground. Behind him, Alena saw Gabe standing on the small bed he had pushed against the door. Alena took the keys off the guard’s belt and unlocked Gabe’s cell.
Gabe nearly tackled her with a hug. “Are you ok? I thought for sure I’d lost you.”
“I’m fine. Are you?” Alena pulled back and looked at Gabe’s head.
“I’ll be fine,” he said.
“Alright. I met the queen, Gabe. She’s awful. We’ve got to get everyone out of here right now,” she said hurriedly, already trying to unlock the other cells. The brownies streamed out, giving as loud of exaltations as they felt safe to do. To everyone’s surprise, one of the doors completely disintegrated when it closed. Gabe and Alena looked at each other.
“Any ideas?” said Gabe.
Alena nodded. “Mela said something about her powers getting weak. Maybe she can’t keep the palace together any longer.”
“Mela?” said Din, one of the brownies.
“Yeah, she said she was a queen in some north country,” said Alena.
A frightening murmur raced through the brownies.
“I thought Melas were just a story,” said Ixi.
“Why? What’s a Melas?” said Gabe.
“A vampire,” Din whispered.
Alena gulped. “I think this vampire might have a taste for fairy girls,” she said weakly.
“It’s said they can take someone’s youth and appearance from them,” said Ixi.
“Then we’d better get out of here.” Gabe took her hand and led them all up the stairs. Most of the brownies clung around various parts of Alena and Gabe. Their grips got even tighter once they reached the top of the stairs to find a dozen soldiers down the hall and heading for them.
“Run!” said Alena. They all bolted to the end of the corridor, sped down a flight of stairs, and came to another hallway. They all burst into the first unlocked room. It looked similar to the boardroom from earlier, except a balcony extended out from it instead of windows. Gabe started to move as many objects over the door as he could to barricade them in, while Alena herded the brownies out onto the balcony. When he joined them, they were all already waving at the others at the forest’s edge. A few fairies, who were slightly larger than the brownies, flew over. Alena quickly explained the situation to them, and they began to carry the brownies over to the forest, returning with several more fairies to help speed up the process. Behind them in the room, the door was beginning to open. Arms grasped through the opening, trying to push the tables and chairs away.
“Alright, Gabe, your turn for ideas,” said Alena. She fidgeted with her hands nervously, trying to think of one herself.
Gabe bit on his lip. He raised an eyebrow at Alena, turned around, and kicked at the balcony door. It shattered, but not into pieces, but into water. He spun around and looked at Alena, a smirk on his face. “If I can do that with just a kick, do you think we could bring this place down with the centaurs help?”
“We can for sure do some damage. And the others can get rocks or something to throw at it,” said Alena. “Ixi, get that message to everyone when you go over, ok?” she said to the tiny brownie still holding on to Alena’s ankle.
“Gotcha, missy,” said Ixi, springing onto the next fairy that came up to them. The last of the brownies went over in that group, leaving Alena and Gabe on the balcony.
“Fly with me?” Alena asked.
“Of course,” said Gabe.
Alena got them both into the air just as the soldiers broke through the room. Instead of flying up, she flew down to the room directly below them. “This might go badly,” she said.
“How badly?” said Gabe anxiously.
“Very? You kick the ceiling until it starts to break, and I’ll make sure we get out before it falls down on us,” said Alena.
“Yeah, this could go badly,” said Gabe as he kicked in the window to the room. Alena took them to the far end of the room’s ceiling, where Gabe began to furiously kick at the glass. The room shuddered. The ceiling splintered. All at once, cracks spread like cobwebs along the ceiling.
“Alena, go!” shouted Gabe as water began to trickle down onto him. Alena flew them out as quick as she could, water and soldiers tumbling down from above them as she did. The weight of so many falling took out most of that quarter of the palace. Alena and Gabe hovered a safe ways off before heading towards another section. They flew by the same room Alena had left Mela in, but she was no longer unconscious on the floor. Now, she was standing outside its balcony, shaking with rage. Her shell, as it could hardly be called a body at this point, still halfway clung to her in parts. Her arms were purple, while the rest of her was a mingling of a tattered white dress over hideous red skin so dark it was nearly black. She screeched as Alena flew past and pointed a tall wooden staff at her. They both only just missed the bolt of magic that came from it.
“I will have you, fairy girl!” screamed Mela. She sent forth a few more blasts from her staff, each having better aim than the last.
“Hold on, Gabe. I’ve got another idea,” said Alena. Gabe pulled himself in towards her while she flew them high above Mela. Her shots continued, but this time they were hitting the palace walls. “We’ve just got to get the angle right,” said Alena. Finally, Alena flew in front of a tower that was directly over where Mela stood. She lingered just long enough for Mela to aim a shot. It hit the tower, turning it to water. But the tower was so large, that the water it made cascaded down with such force that it the palace began to collapse from the top down. Water grew on water, billowing towards the earth. In less than a minute, it was on top of Mela. She jumped from off the balcony, but her wings were too damaged and her magic too weak. She screamed at Alena before falling onto one of the palace walls, turning it back to the water it was made of. Her screams ceased with her breath in a deep whirlpool.
Alena and Gabe stayed in the air until the whole thing was demolished. The palace fell apart into a large pool. The remains of Mela’s bizarre creatures floated in it, but there was no sign of Mela herself.
Alena found herself pressing her face into Gabe’s chest. “Did we do it?” she said.
“I think so…somehow…” said Gabe. He gave her a quick kiss on her forehead.
Alena tried not to blush. “Let’s get out of here then.”
Gabe agreed, and they landed at the edge of the forest. They walked a little bit further in to where everyone else was. When they got there, it appeared as if a large party was going on. Everyone, but particularly the brownies, shouted and raised their hands up when they saw the two of them approaching. They both smiled awkwardly. Silva ran up to them and climbed onto Alena’s shoulder.
“This is all thanks to Alena and Gabe!” shouted Silva.
“Alena and Gabe!” came the shouts of all present.
“We’re just glad we could help,” said Alena.
“None of this would’ve worked without you, Sil, or the rest of you either!” said Gabe.
“You must stay for the rest of the celebrations. Today, for the first time in a long time, we are all gathered together: centaurs, pixies, brownies, and fairies! The sprites tell us they and the mermaids are forever grateful for the return of their water too, even if it’s not quite a waterfall again yet.”
Alena patted Silva on the head. “You are all very welcome. I cannot stay long though. You know I wake up eventually,” she said.
Silva jutted out his lip in a fake pout. “So long as you come back soon.”
“I’ll do my best. For now though, I was hoping Gabe would show me this wishing well?” said Alena reluctantly. She had to know if this was all real or not, though she wasn’t sure which option scared her most. She had never asked before, but she had to know now, for some reason.
“Alright, if you like,” said Gabe. They said a few greetings to some of the dearer creatures there, and then Gabe led them both through an area Alena had never seen before. She had walked this way before, she knew, but it did not look like this. Usually it was a thick forest, but now it had changed to a meadow. After a short time, the meadow culminated in a tall hill, at the bottom of which was a dark opening.
“It’s a cave,” she said coolly.
“Well, yeah. I mean, it’s not like I crawled up through the well. The well is on my end of things. Sometimes, you can go down it and find this place. When you do, the bucket lowers into this cave,” said Gabe.
Alena slid her arm through Gabe’s and pulled him towards her. “I don’t like caves,” she said emphatically.
Gabe laughed. “Don’t worry, no crazy vampires or anything scary in here.” He put his hand over hers and marched towards the cave’s entrance. Almost as soon as they entered, there was a large chamber. No other passages led in or out of it. It was dark except for a beam of light coming out of its ceiling. Because of the hill above them though, any hole inside of here could not possibly lead out into the fairy land.
“Gabriel! Gabe, come on!” and other variations came from a handful of voices from outside. Gabe sighed. “It’s my friends. Do you…do you want to meet them?” Gabe looked at her expectantly.
Alena nodded enthusiastically. “I’d love to. Can they come down here, or do I have to go up?”
Gabe scrunched his face. “Um, let’s have them come down here. Otherwise, they’re never going to believe this place is real.”
Gabe stepped into the bucket and began to pull himself up, following the light up towards the well’s entrance. “Don’t worry, I’ll come back for you,” he called out when he reached the top.
Alena could hear him calling out after his friends, until his voice faded as he ran through the trees. Suddenly, Alena heard yelling. It was faint, as if far away. “Gabe? Gabe!” She pressed her hands over her ears. Except it wasn’t coming from outside. It was in her own head. It pounded back and forth within her skull until she couldn’t stand it any longer. She tried to concentrate on something, anything, to get keep the pain of the shouts at bay.
“Gabe!” she screamed out. She could feel herself fading from that world.
“Coming!” Gabe burst through the line of trees. “Alena? Alena!” The light from above began to dim. Alena sunk to her knees and started to cry, unable to withstand the cacophony in her head any longer. She couldn’t hear Gabe calling her name or see him scrambling to get inside the bucket and come down, only to find the bottom of a simple wishing well. Instead, she awoke to a loud knocking and more yelling, no longer inside her head.
“Alena Anna! Wake up! Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean you get to sleep all day!” came the yelling outside her door.
Alena rolled over to look at her clock. It was 10:30. Why did she feel so tired though if she had slept so long? She let out a wide yawn and a “K, mom”. Rolling back over, she pressed her face into her pillow. Suddenly, she bolted upright. Did I dream something?
Another knock came on the door before it opened. “You up yet?” It was her older brother, Isaac. Alena stared at him blankly until he made a face at her. “What’s your glitch, weirdo?” he said.
“Huh?” Alena rubbed her hands over her eyes and found they were wet. She held out her hands in front of her and stared at them. They hardly looked real to her. They didn’t feel real either. In fact, the only thing that did was the aching in her heart, except she didn’t know why.
Isaac walked over and poked her on the cheek. “Are you on drugs? Mom! Lena’s on drugs!”
Alena scowled at him. “Shut up! I am not! I just…had a weird dream. I think.”
“Did you eat mushrooms in it?”
“There was a boy, and we went on adventures, and I could fly, and we saved the world, and I think he…” She shook her head.
“Yeah, it’s called Peter Pan. Now come on. We’re supposed to start a baseball game in twenty. Boys against girls. So hurry up, weirdo.” He jabbed her in the arm and sprinted out of the room before she could sway back at him.
Alena buried her face in her hands and sighed. “Right. Peter Pan. Must’ve been a dream. Watched Hook too many times is all,” she told herself aloud, yet silently her heart told her otherwise. Her mother downstairs was not so silent. Alena quickly threw on some clothes, ran through the kitchen, grabbed a waffle, and sped out of the door.
What she remembered of the dream lingered in her head the rest of the day, but after another night, and another, and another, it slipped away, only to be resurrected at random times over the years when her heart decided it needed a little bit of extra hope or some extra magic.