The Beginning of the End
The Sylver Forest, Kingdom of Ario, three point six million light years from Earth.
A hundred phases ago.
Primula dropped her wings and ducked as a nut-sized something whistled through the air. There was a sharp crack and with a wail a less vigilant faerie collapsed unconscious amongst a sea or primroses.
A dark shadow from above turned the butter-yellow flowers a sombre grey. Hunkering down behind a pile of acorns, Primula pressed one hand to her chest to quieten her pounding hearts and clamped the other over her mouth.
A warrior of the Virikai armoured in iron-grey swooped to the ground, kicked the fallen faerie and snorted in disgust. “Pathetic bee-lover,” the warrior growled before stooping to search beneath her feet. With a grunt of satisfaction she held up a blood-slick stone and popped it into her mouth. She rolled it around, spat it out into her catapult’s leather cup and cast her gaze across the woodland glade. A malicious grin spread her thin lips and with a guttural laugh she bent her knees, spread wide her shining wings and soared into the cloud-peppered sky.
Primula’s hand fell and her breath was released in a puff of relieved air. Settling back on her haunches she stuck out her tongue, clamped it between her pointy teeth and rocked back and forth. Today is most certainly an utter disaster. Throughout the glade, her glade, fighting raged where only moments before there’d been singing and dancing. Admittedly some of the singing had been off-key and many of the dances had left a lot to be desired, but everyone’s enthusiasm had more than made up for a lack of skill. Now the glade echoed to the sound of screaming as the faeries flitted about in a final deathly dance.
Nibbling at the edge of a petal, she watched in morbid fascination as a farmer-faerie sunk her teeth into the thigh of a tall magic-wielder. She flinched as the larger of the two spoke a word of power and a blast of violet energy smacked the farmer into a tree, the tiny form crumpling silently to the ground in a heap of broken wings and limbs.
The sight of the shattered faerie forced a despairing wail to escape from Primula’s lips; if she didn’t do something soon there’d be no faeries left alive. On impulse she stood and waved her arms in the air. “Umm…hello, coo-ee!” she shouted. “It would be zuper-nice if we could chat about theez over zome nectar tea?” In answer an arrow flew so close to her head it parted her hair. “Okay,” she yelled. “Guezz not, thankz anyway!”
She ducked back down, grabbed an acorn cup and rammed it on her head. There had to be something she could do. Her face screwed up in concentration, but every time an idea began to form it fizzled away. What she needed was someplace quiet to do some proper thinking, someplace far away from the fighting. She looked to the sky and nodded—that would be perfect.
Her silver-veined wings flicked outwards and she launched into the warm evening air. A maker-faerie immediately flew after her, firing bolt after lethal bolt from a wrist-mounted crossbow. In response Primula dodged like a pigeon evading a hawk, but the maker kept doggedly on her tail. In desperation she clasped her arms to her sides, clamped her legs together and pushed every bit of energy she could find into her wings. Thankfully she’d consumed so many pollen cakes that day and drunk so much fermented nectar juice that she had an excess of sugar bubbling in her veins. It poured into her tummy where it ignited and with a sonic boom she rose at eye-watering speed into the sky, leaving the maker far behind.
Reaching the underside of a gloomy cloud, she wrenched her wings forward and with a crack blew a fae-sized corridor into the cloud’s grey interior. She ducked inside and hovered deep within the comforting mist. Nothing could be seen and the sound of the fighting far below didn’t penetrate the cloud’s murky depths—it was the perfect place for a really good think.
It was the day of the annual fair and everybody had been so happy. Faeries from every corner of Ario had come at the call of their queen the Elfaeleen. A learned maker (funnily enough, the same one that had just tried to skewer her with a crossbow) had told Primula during lunch that almost two thousand families were in attendance. Primula hadn’t known how many that was, or indeed what the word ‘attendance’ meant, she’d been much more concerned with seeing how many pollen cakes she could stuff in her mouth at the same time—she’d got to four and had been wondering if pushing half a one up each nostril counted. The maker had politely ignored Primula’s behaviour while assuring her that two thousand meant a lot more than nine.
Primula sighed as water droplets began to form on her skin, skin that turned a sombre grey to match the cloud. The day had been perfect. Since dawn broke in the eastern sky, the glade had been a hive of activity: the warriors competing in acts of strength and weaponry; the wielders showing off their magic arts (much to the delight of the faelings who all wanted to be a wielder when they grew up); the makers amazing everyone with their bizarre inventions; while the farmers had produced the most scrumptious food that any in Ario had ever tasted.
A sudden and most unwelcome thought flashed in Primula’s head—the Elfaeleen had been eating just before she collapsed; the food may have caused her death! The Elfaeleen had been sat on an outcrop of ash-grey rock watching her subjects with the glow of a proud mother. Her beauty was so unsurpassed that many had dared not look at her too closely in case their hearts exploded with wonder, but Primula had known that to be silly. Throughout the day her eyes had strayed to the Elfaeleen, but her hearts had continued to patter away in her chest (she had however been a bit disappointed that no-one else’s hearts had exploded, as she thought it might be quite exciting to see such a thing).
She’d been thrilled when the Elfaeleen had finally spoken to her, although the one word she’d said was rather confusing-remember. Primula had had no idea what it was she was supposed to remember, but then she’d become distracted by a maker who was moaning about a lack of food.
When disaster had struck, Primula had been inside her tree getting some more pollen cakes. A terrible cry had gone up from those outside. Swallowing down a sense of foreboding, she’d rushed from her home and flown to a growing cluster of faeries. In their centre, draped over the rock like a discarded cloak had been the Elfaeleen. Primula had dropped to the ground and clambered up the smooth stone until she crouched barely a hand’s breadth away from the queen’s face.
The Elfaeleen had stared back at her as if in surprise, but the eyes that had sparkled mere moments before had begun to fade as a mist crept across their surface. Primula had leant forwards until her tiny upturned nose touched the lips of her queen. She’d sniffed in a long deep breath and released it back out as a despairing sigh, an overpowering smell of death coating her throat like oversweet honey. A single drop of blood had fallen from the Elfaeleen’s mouth. Primula had dipped her finger into the bead and put it to her mouth. It had tasted of honey, buttercups and iron.
When she’d looked to her fellow fae, she was bewildered to see that their faces didn’t mirror her own confusion and despair.
Primula’s brow furrowed as beads of cloud water began to drip from her fringe—for a moment she thought it came from her eyes. That was even sillier than not being brave enough to look at the queen—faeries didn’t cry. She blinked as one of the drops fell into her eye.
If the faeries’ indifference hadn’t been shocking enough, what followed had been mortifying. The Elfaeleen’s death seemed to lift a veil from her sisters eyes. A few had simply flown off into the surrounding woods or up into the overcast sky, but the majority remained and bickered about who was responsible for their queen’s death. Snide comments had rapidly radiated outwards, until every faerie apart from Primula was screaming incoherently at the rest. The accusations had quickly developed into pinches, slaps and bites, which became increasingly violent. Primula couldn’t remember the first launch of a missile, but once it had been thrown the glade turned into deadly chaos.
Her skin ran with rivulets of icy cloud-water, but she didn’t feel the cold. She blinked in the hope she could dislodge from her mind the sight of her sisters’ bodies littering the flower-strewn ground. It didn’t work—they stubbornly remained in her head like the tingleberry pie stains on her hands.
She slowed the beating of her wings and dropped until she hung just below the cloud. The carnage far below continued unabated, aqua-blue waves of wielder magic mingled with the orange flashes of the maker’s firearms and white sparks as warriors clashed with swords drawn. An occasional red flare marked the point where a farmer performed a faericane.
There was nothing Primula could do. In despair she turned away, but as she did so a puff of lavender drifted over her like a summer breeze. She paused at the familiar smell, but there was no-one there. After turning full circle she frowned. “Hello?” she shouted.
Come, whispered a disembodied voice.
Primula’s caramel eyes widened; she hadn’t expected a reply, and especially not one from her.
A darkness has been born, but all is not lost…
Primula shook her head. It couldn’t be her! She rammed a finger into each ear and gave them a good wiggle. Popping them back out, she peered at her fingertips before wiping them clean on her hair.
You must hurry, for all of Ario is under threat.
“It impozzible, you dead!” Primula squeaked. She’d smelt the queen’s death, could still taste the foulness coating her tongue.
Impossible is merely a possible waiting to happen. Everything relies on you, Primula. If you do not act, all will be lost.
“Why Primula?” Primula cried. “Primula no-one!” That wasn’t exactly true; she was in fact everyone as far she was concerned, but compared to the other faeries she was pretty useless.
A sweet smell of honey wafted past her nose. You are more important than all the creatures that have ever breathed upon these lands—you alone will be the catalyst that saves us all.
Primula didn’t want to be any kind of cat, so she told the voice just what she thought of the whole idea. She used some very inventive words.
A soft chuckle whispered in her ears. I’ll be sure to stick it where you suggest, but first you must listen to me very carefully. In a hundred phases a stranger will come who bears your likeness. She can save Ario, but to find her way in this world and succeed in her quest she will need your help. This you will remember—all other memories will be lost to you and your kin when you pass through your re-hatching; you will not remember this day, or even recall your name.
“But…but...” Primula stuttered. She didn’t want to forget everything, and she loved her name!
No buts my child. It is a dark curse that’s been cast against the fae this day. The bleakest of times are just beginning and it’s a long and dangerous journey to their end. You must be ready to fight against the evil to come. There was a tangible pause. Please…stop doing that.
Primula pulled her finger from out of her nose and licked it clean; it tasted of pollen cakes. This all sounded depressingly like an adventure. She hated adventures. “What Primula fight with?” she grumbled. She had a bug spear, but beyond that she was utterly useless at any kind of fighting—defence of the hive was left to her bees.
With your hearts and your mind, but do not fret for you will not enter the fray alone. The human will bestow a quartet of kisses, and they will bring you help.
“Kizzez?” Primula spluttered. “How can ztupid kizzez from ztinky humeen help?”
One day you’ll see. Now fly like your life and all of Ario depends on it!
“Fly where?” No answer came. Primula’s wings slumped and she fell a small distance before recovering herself—it was proving to be a most awful day. “Zchnatt bizzle,” she mumbled. “Remember this, fly there, Primula haz to do everything.” It was unfair and made her crosser than a snargle’s whatsit. Her skin turned cherry-red, the beads of cloud-water clinging to her body fizzling into tiny puffs of steam. The veins in her wings turned ebony and long curved nails extended from her fingers and toes; miniscule flames flickering at their tips. She was about as cross as a faerie could get, and that was really cross.
She began to fly in a tight circle, slowly at first and then faster and faster, until her skin glowed as if the very suns ignited her slim frame. Her eyes turned to jet-black slits and her lips curled revealing two rows of razor-sharp teeth. She transfixed her gaze on the point where her queen had fallen—that was where she’d fly.
The queen’s body couldn’t be seen, but that was to be expected for a faerie’s form dissolved a little while after death. Instead, in the queen’s place, an egg glowed with a violet light so bright that even at distance it burned into Primula’s eyes. With a long, tortuous wail she released the energy in her wings and flew like a molten arrow shot by the goddess herself. Just before she hit the ground she snapped out her wings to their fullest extent and screamed in anger and fear.
Her flight levelled so low that the tips of the primroses flicked against her bare skin. Such was the speed of her passing that it cast aside those with whom she’d shared food and laughter. A silver spear thrown by a jet-haired warrior managed to clip her thigh, but the stinging pain didn’t make Primula falter. She snatched up the queen’s egg and the staff that leant against it, before performing a wide curve to the right. She glanced at the sacred objects clutched to her chest. The quick look almost cost her life, but her queen’s voice returned and snapped out a command.
Without thinking Primula bent the angle of her wings until the agony of her shoulder muscles forced a scream from her lips. She barely missed colliding with a white-haired maker who stood mute amongst the primroses, a row of small purple crabs sitting on her shoulder. As Primula zipped past one waved at her with a tiny claw. The maker was not so welcoming; she fired a huge brass shotgun and a spray of tiny pellets peppered Primula’s wings.
With gritted teeth Primula veered right. Such was the angle of her manoeuvre that she ended up flying upside down. The action probably saved her life; a flame-haired wielder who’d been about to cast a spell was shocked into inaction, rather than incantation. Primula stuck out her tongue as she sped past.
She shot into the sky and straight into a brooding storm cloud. As she entered it spat a bolt of violet lightning which smashed into the glade. The tree at its centre burst into flame as thunder made the very air tremble.
The storm’s sudden fury bought the faeries to their senses; they ceased their fighting. They stood or hovered in silence and cast one another hate-filled looks, before simply turning away and leaving, each with loathing smouldering in her hearts. Those whose wings were broken, limped or crawled into the surrounding forest where they’d likely fall prey to the creatures lurking in the shadows.
As the last faerie dragged her body into the trees, a lilac sheet of lightning cast the glade in its ghostly glow. A sudden, howling wind accompanied a deafening hiss of rain, the deluge washing the blood from the flowers.
Like a sodden dandelion seed a solitary figure drifted down from the storm, and alighted on the rocky outcrop where earlier the Elfaeleen had sat. Primula spread her wings and held up the egg to the thunderous sky.
She screamed a long wailing cry until her throat was dry and ragged.
The Elfaeleen was dead.
Long live the Elfaeleen.