The wind brushes against the trees, and with delicate fingers caress the grass as it whispers by. It lifts the silver threaded wings of one loner and carries her past spring's fragrant blossoms to the edge of her world. She hovers as the wind moves on, sifting through her pale blue hair, bidding farewell.
"I long to flow with you, old friend, and leave this familiar place," she whispers through rose-colored lips. She raises a hand, touching the shield holding her in. It ripples like a disturbed pool, marring her view of the outside. Saddened, she removes her hand and turns away, startled to see the pixie child Maisie watching.
"Why do you long so for the outside, Pax?" Maisie's red curls bob as she flutters about.
"Because it is different."
"From everything familiar."
"How do you know?"
"The wind tells stories," Pax responds, smiling warmly.
"You really are one of those listening to tales from the winds. I didn't know," Maisie says with a mix of awe and sadness. Only seven percent of all the Faere ones are able to hear and speak with the winds. Those few are considered strange to others because of a chosen isolation that stems from conversing with the winds.
"Maisie, you already knew I was strange."
"True." Maisie's tinkling laughter fills the air. "You're silly too!"
Pax joins her laughter. "So, little one, who has given you cause to follow a loner to the shield?"
Maisie flushes to the tip of her button nose and sets herself down on the plush grass. "I almost forgot. Master Medus wishes to see you."
"Well then, lets not keep him waiting." Pax flies windingly through the still trees, slowing for Maisie's younger wings. "Has Medus found your calling?"
"I get to paint," Maisie bubbles excitedly. "I was going to be a singer to animals, but I like painting better."
"That is quite a calling. Your training will be extensive to learn the colors of every new growth," Pax replies, happy she was called to a small variety of simple things. She doesn't envy the years of training Maisie would go through, nor the boredom of one calling.
Years before Pax tried painting and the result sent the Masters fluttering to repair. She didn't want to paint the grass just shades of green but a rainbow of colors, and that was not the correct way. After several more incidents they moved her on to something with less rules.
Maisie dips her hand in one of several river fed pools as the fly over, scattering the colorful inhabitants. "I do not mind the long training as long as I don't have to worry about another calling."
"Painting will be enough for you. It is guaranteed busy work, however confining. Not all must have several callings as I to keep their busy mind from boredom."
"Master Medus says your mind revolves around innocent mischief. I think he speaks from experience," Maisie says truthfully.
Pax laughs. "Too much experience, little one."
"I've heard stories. They do so make us laugh. It is a wonder you are a loner."
"It isn't as though I don't enjoy company, but I do so love being caught up in my own thoughts. There are days I just prefer solitude," she explains. They fly into a hilly part of the forest. The difference shows in the lusher and more colorful plants. Small caves dot the hillside making the Faere one's homes and training quarters.
They fly to the western side and land before a cave with a multi-colored path of stones leading to the entrance. Pax follows Maisie inside where a small light created from the stone of the cave wall illuminates the main room. An older male with cropped silver hair mumbles over painter's wands. The wands lay dull upon the worktable, broken.
"It wasn't me this time, Medus," Pax says with a toothy grin.
He turns with a ready smile, pushing his golden spectacles up his hooked nose. "One can hardly believe there would be another like you, but the proof lies in these dead wands. Welcome back to my abode, Pax, just don't get too comfortable."
"Afraid I'll bring the cave down?" Pax asks laughing.
He joins her laughter then says to Maisie in dismissal, "Your reward for finding her quickly is to learn flowers first as you so desired."
"Oh, thank you, Master Medus!" Maisie leaves them happily, her gold spotted wings trembling.
Pax locates a cedar twig chair and takes a seat. "Well, Medus, you have me wondering why you've invited me into your home."
"You shall have to wonder a while longer, at least until Adara joins us."
"You're really trying to drive my curiosity mad, aren't you?" Pax asks. I wonder why councilor Adara needs to be here.
"Not at all." He winks at her.
A silver-streaked, raven-haired woman waltzes in and seats herself next to Pax. She adjusts her cream colored dress over her legs. "Still the loner, dear Pax?"
"Ever so, Adara," Pax replies, smiling.
"But you still can handle yourself socially, yes?" Adara asks.
Pax raises her eyebrow. "Naturally. What is it you're leading to, Adara?"
Medus moves to stand in front of her. "You recall when Treffen left, don't you?"
"Yes. Has something happened to him?" Pax asks worriedly. Treffen had been nearing the end of his training in journeying when she had joined the group. She studied with him many times and learned much from his quiet knowledge.
Medus looks to Adara and she nods. "He has gone missing."
"What do you mean? Can't the wind find him?" Pax asks with trepidation.
"Not the winds, birds or our wizard friends. He has become as invisible as death," Adara says.
"But he is not dead! His cave lights burn still," Pax replies. All the Faere ones create the small rocks of light for their quarters. The magic that ignites them is continuously fed by its living connection with the creator. When a journeyer leaves the lights are watched by loved ones.
"Correct, Pax. It's nice to know that at least one of my lessons stuck," Medus jokes. Pax gives him a sour look and he looks apologetic. "Sorry. We called you here because we want you to go outside the shield."
"To look for Treffen?"
"No," Adara answers. "Your specialty is not tracking, but in exploring. We want you to continue on where Treffen left off."
"You want me to do what?" Pax asks hurt and disappointed. "He is my friend! How can you ask me to do that?"
"Pax, we have sent a tracker out. You knew you're time as a Journeyer would come. Don't let guilt ruin this for you!" Adara says patting her hand.
"I know you're right, but I can't help feeling guilty," Pax replies looking down at the dirt packed floor. She looks up into Medus' sympathetic blue eyes. "Very well, I will continue in Treffen's stead."
"A wise decision," Adara says nodding. "Go take care of what you need, then meet us in the circle."
Pax nods, rises and slowly walks out. She falls into a daze as she goes about the motions of preparing to leave. Not even half an hour passes before she is flying to the circle of plain, tall rocks just beyond the caves.
Adara and Medus are waiting outside the circle with two others she doesn't know to open the gate. Adara smiles slightly when Pax lands in the center of the circle.
"The gate will open a few miles south of Thera city in an old mining system," Medus quickly says as a tingling sensation fills her.
Pax closes her eyes and is overtaken by dizziness. Sparks fly behind her eyelids and she squeezes them tighter. Then the sparks and sensations disappear abruptly. The dripping of water on rocks awakens her to the realization that she's arrived.
She opens her eyes to the rock walls of a hall in the mine. Water drips from the roof and forms a winding stream that passes near her leaf shoed feet. Pax dips her hand in and sips the cool spring water. A sudden high pitched screaming from many fills the hall causing her to drop the water and cover her ears. The screaming stops just as suddenly as it began and small whimpering takes its place.
Pax considers walking away, but the fear in that whimpering calls to her. I must help them. With a thought for self-preservation, she turns invisible. She flutters through the meandering hall till she comes to a fork. Listening carefully, she decides to take the right. After a short way it forms into an immense room. Pax stays near the wall as she circles the room.
She nearly gags on the smell of decayed flesh and stale air. The whimpering slowly quiets as Pax makes her way round to a large pit. It is as deep as an oak and as wide as the trunks of six maples. Cowering on the floor of the pit is over a dozen human children. They're just dirt and rags. Pax can't even distinguish between boys and girls.
Her eyes dart around the room thinking, what could have put them there? A puff of dust floats up into the air across the room. A creature unlike any she's ever seen lies camouflaged against the cave walls. It has long arms and legs with sharp claws, wax-like wings and a snout hiding what Pax imagines to be very sharp teeth.
Pax recalls reading about unnatural animals created by wizards long ago to destroy other wizards. Those creatures are said to be dead, but here is proof to suggest otherwise. She watches the creature's breathing even out as it slowly falls asleep and Pax sighs in relief.
She stares down at the huddled children. What do I do about them? Humans are said to despise and fear Faere ones, she thinks. How do I get around that?
Pax floats down to the bottom of the pit, folding her legs under her and resting her chin against her palm, leaning on her knee. She stares blankly at the children. One child separates from the group and sits down in front of her, mimicking her pose. Pax's jaw drops in surprise as she realizes that he somehow sees her in her invisible state.
The boy's stares down at her with brown eyes full of hope. Have you come to help us?
Pax's heart stops at the strange child voice filling her head. She stares hard at the boy. Are you mindspeaking?
Before he can reply someone whispers loudly, "There's a horrible faery here!"
Whispers and foul looks follow his words and her little friend stares at her sadly. Pax has only heard of such prejudices from humans. Surely they wouldn't be so hateful to refuse her help!
How does that child even know I'm here? Pax wonders.
She isn't too startled when her little friend answers. All of us have some sort of magic. I have mind magic.
Pax stares past his grubby face to the others, blocking her thoughts. Was it possible that this creature remained alive by feeding off Mages? But why these children, when they haven't even reached their full potentials in magic?
What is you name? The boy asks, interrupting her thoughts. My name is Wray.
Mine is Pax, she replies. Tell me, Wray, how did all of you come to be trapped here?
Instead of telling her, he pulls her into his memories. Through his eyes she is playing in a field of wild flowers. Other children are laughing around her as they throw a ball back and forth. Pax can feel the innocent joy of the moment that quickly turns to terror as a winged beast flies out of nowhere grabbing up the children as they run. She nearly screams with Wray's memory as the claw wraps around him.
Pax plunges out of his memories and back to reality in an instant. Her heart is beating like mad, still caught in the terror of the moment. The feeling of the creature's sour breath in Wray's memory sends shivers up her arms. She breathes slowly to calm down.
We were too far from the school to get help from one of the Mages, he says.
Were all of you taken from the same group? Pax asks.
No, several different schools. We're a collection of magic.
Pax can only guess about this creature's needs since it's magic is different. All Faere ones are magical, but it is a base, natural magic. Humans are blessed with more arcane powers that only a select few of Faere ones are given.
Time is wasting and she is still unsure of what to do. Wray, how many Mages would it take to destroy this creature?
Wray looks thoughtful, and she is sure he is asking another. Eight, two for each of the four elements.
Pax considers her options. I can leave to find help or stay and work on coming up with something. If I leave, another child might be lost. If I stay, I may become a victim as well. If only I knew if there were Mages nearby!
Wray pops into her head, I have farsight too.
Pax smiles. Wonderful! I need to know if there are any Mages nearby, how many and in what direction.
Wray closes his eyes and relaxes. Pax's wings flutter with impatience as she waits. He tenses up then opens his eyes. There is a search party of four Mages about five miles to the east. Then there is also a group of ten Mages twenty miles to the south, but heading away from us.
Can four at least hold the creature?
Wray looks thoughtful. Yes.
Wray, I'm gonna leave, but I promise I will return, Pax tells him.
You promise? He stares at her with big puppy dog eyes.
Yes. She hears dragging feet above and feels panic rise within.
Wray's eyes widen in fear as he stares up and backs up against the wall with the others. They all stare up with similar looks of fear. Dirt falls into the pit as the creature stops at the edge.
Pax stares up in horror as a claw reaches in toward the children. Intent on keeping the children from harm, she becomes visible and illuminates her magic. It glows around her, brighter than all the children.
The creature's bloody eyes widen and its claw stops short of the children to swing at her. She darts out of reach and out of the pit, enticing the creature by flitting around it. Claws grasp and miss as Pax ducks, flying towards the one exit. The creature follows intent on having her magic. She flies out into open air and turns east. I hope those Mages are closer than five miles!
The creature bursts out, taking some of the entrance wall with it. It flaps its enormous wings, gaining on her. She flies into the trees, weaving to avoid those deadly claws.
I wish I were a long distance flyer! Pax thinks as she pushes on. I'd give anything for a break.
She puffs on, aware of a large shadow steadily moving over her. Pax gasps and beats her wings harder. Her strength begins to lag and finally gives out in a daisy filled clearing. The ground comes up to meet her and she quickly cuts off the illumination of magic.
The creature hovers, searching and she becomes as still as death. It lands and begins sniffing the ground. Pax's fingers shake in fear so she clutches her hands together to still them. Suddenly she is pinched up between two digits of a claw and the creature screams in triumph.
Why couldn't I fly faster? She wonders staring at the piercing teeth dripping with saliva.
Because that is not your gift, Journeyer, the tinkling voice of a Faere one replies in mindspeech. Without warning Pax falls from the creature's clutches and into a pair of safe human hands. Above her the creature stands helpless in the power of four Mages, and through her faery sight she can see five Faere ones helping. They are invisible and as such cannot be seen in farsight. That explains why Wray hadn't seen them. These Mages are the only humans that will accept Faere ones in their company.
The creature deforms and begins melting before her eyes. Pax glances away as the skin dribbles down to the ground. She hears bones crack as they turn to dust. When she looks back, the wind is carrying the remains away. Pax sighs in relief.
"There are children in an old mine three miles away that need your help," Pax says staring up into wise blue eyes, crinkled at the corners. She twitches her wings and cries in pain.
"Your wing is torn, lady. We will fix you up as soon as we return to the school," the mage holding her replies in a deep voice.
On the way back to the cave, she tells them all that happened since her arrival. They praise her foolish bravery and listen carefully to her observations. It is concluded from her account that the creature was in fact stealing the children and eating them to live off their magic.
The Faere ones remain impassive and become visible, but only the Mages speak to her. Are they purposely snubbing me?
No, we're not. We must be introduced as protocol dictates, the same tinkling male voice says in her head.
From her perch on the Mage's hand, Pax can't even tell of the three males, which one spoke to her. They all are similar with forest colored clothing and dark hair. Compared to my own clan, they are rather drab.
One male shoots her a dirty look and she knows he is the mindspeaker.
Weren't you ever taught it is impolite to listen in on another's thoughts? Pax is disappointed when he doesn't respond. She relaxes in the Mage's herb smelling hand as they trek quickly to the mine. They walk through the halls and into the creature's silent den. The children cheer when they see the Mages staring down on them.
The Mages use their power to lift and float them out of the pit to safety. Wray rushes to her side as soon as his feet touch the ground. "Wow, Pax, that was so great how you saved us! And you came back!"
"I promised I would, didn't I?" She asks and he nods.
"Master Roland, can I carry Pax?"
"That's up to Pax, Wray." Master Roland stares down at her.
Pax smiles. "Of course you can carry me."
Wray takes her gently and they wait. The other children come over to thank her and she lights up with joy. The children turn away to watch the Faere ones create a circle of rocks to gate everyone back to the school.
The children step into it first, then the Mages and Faere ones. Pax feels the familiar tingle and dizzying sensation, then nothing as they arrive. She opens her eyes to white stone walls and a checkered marble floor. A white double-door leads out and to a waiting healer for her wing.
The green-clad, smiling healer takes her from Wray, down a plain corridor and into an herb smelling room. Mair, the healer, has Pax sniff a foul smelling concoction to knock her out. She awakens groggy in a pale yellow room and in a faery-sized bed. Her wings feel numb and her head feels big. She grumbles.
"You're awake," Wray whispers peering over her. "How do you feel?"
"Terrible," she croaks with a thick tongue.
"I'm sorry," he says, smelling of soap. His hair is dirt free and blond, and his skin is tinged red from a fierce scrubbing.
"Don't worry about me. A day of bed rest and I'll be fine." She sniffs the air. "What is that? Flowers?"
"I picked some wild-flowers that Mair said would help in your recovery." He shows her the colorful flowers in his hand. She sneezes. "Are you allergic?"
"Oh, no, I just have an acute sense of smell," Pax replies.
"I brought a vase for them. I'll just set them on the dresser." He sets them in a vase with water on a shiny wooden dresser. "Oh yeah, I almost forgot. The faeries that came with us have been asking to see you."
"Have they really?" she asks with surprise.
"Yep. You're in my room so they have to ask permission from me. I told them that when you woke, you'd decide," he responds skipping back to her side.
"How long have I been out?" She asks looking around her. The faery bed sits on another piece of wooden furniture, possibly a nightstand. Wray's small bed sits next to it.
"You've been out for a couple of days. I was worried, but Mair said it was normal."
I've been here three days and have yet to send a message to Adara and Medus, she thinks. They must be so irritated with me! "Wray, could you take me outside?"
"Are you sure you're up for that?" he asks.
"Yes," she says.
He picks her up gently, setting her in his palm. They leave Wray's bright room and walk through yet another bare corridor, down two flights of stairs and out a side door. Pax lifts her head to the vibrant sun, taking in its warmth. The wild grass swallows his feet as he takes her to a worn stone bench.
"Could you leave me here alone for a couple minutes?" she asks. He looks ready to deny her, so she says, "I promise I'll be fine."
He nods and sets her down on the bench, then wanders off. Pax watches him leave and when he's a good distance away, she calls the wind.
I thought you were supposed to be resting, the familiar faery voice says in mindspeech.
Pax clicks her tongue in annoyance. "I have messages to send."
He hovers for a moment then sets down next to her. She stares in amazement at his vibrant blue silk robes. You didn't really think I always dressed so drab, did you?
His dry tone grates on her nerves. "I thought it was against protocol to speak to me."
I wanted to ask if I might accompany you when you leave here.
"You can speak to me aloud, and no you can't come with me," she replies looking away from him. Pax watches Wray still some distance away throwing rocks.
"Very well," the faery replies. "Ask your councilors, Journeyer. Only they can grant or deny me permission to accompany you."
Pax grinds her teeth at his arrogance. The wind picks up swirling her blue hair and snapping it at him. She closes her eyes and gives the wind her message. The wind leaves and she says coldly, "It is done. You will have an answer tomorrow."
He nods and flies away. She calls to Wray in mindspeech and he comes running. "Ready to go in?"
"Yes," she answers wearily. He picks her up and takes her back inside. "Wray, would it be alright to leave your window open tonight?"
"Sure," he says setting her down on the faery bed.
She falls asleep to Wray strumming on the lute. In her dreams, she relives her capture. The warm, foul breath blowing upon her, glistening teeth and red eyes of the creature are enhanced in the nightmare. A cool breeze awakens her sweat-drenched form with a reply from Adara. She sighs in distaste at the news before falling back to sleep and into peaceful dreams.
Pax awakens with the rising sun and Wray tiptoeing around the room. She yawns. "I am awake, Wray. You need not try to be quiet now."
"I'm sorry if I woke you," he says softly. "Did you need me to get you anything?"
"A bowl of warm water and a chip of soap would be wonderful," she replies with a laugh.
He laughs too. He fetches a bowl and a bit of food. She thanks him and Wray leaves to catch breakfast. Hardly thirty minutes later, he comes flying back in to the room bubbling with excitement. "The high Mage Jokin wishes an introduction to you. I'm to present you to him and the faery Mages."
"How exciting, a proper introduction. You will need to know my clan name, correct?" she asks sitting on the edge of the nightstand in a piece of white linen.
"Pax de Ail."
"What does it mean?" He sits down on the bed next to her.
"It means, Pax from the stony place. My home is a bit rocky in parts," she informs him with a smile. "I suppose I must wear something befitting the occasion."
"One of the faeries picked this up from the clearing. It must have fallen when the creature grabbed you," Wray says reaching into a drawer in the nightstand and pulling out a tiny pack.
"Oh, I was wondering what happened to it!" Pax exclaims digging in it. She pulls out a silver tunic and pants.
In a very short while they are waiting on a bench in an ornate anteroom. Pax taps her nails on the frame while Wray pops his fingers. The dark blue doors open and a young scholar motions them in. They stop in front of a large but clean desk. Behind the desk sits a man of questionable age. His eyes speak of many more years than an average human, but his face is that of a thirty-year-old, unwrinkled.
"Master Jokin, may I present Pax de Ail," Wray says formally. Pax flutters up from Wray's hand, using her newly healed wings and bows in midair.
"A pleasure," Jokin says with a silky voice. He gestures to the side. "May I introduce you to the Faere Mages."
Pax's head swivels to the right. The five Faere ones stand on a side table before French doors.
Jokin continues, "This is Darcy de Ingemar."
A female with sharp features and blue robes nods her head at Pax. She returns the nod.
"Neese and Calum de Kiarr."
Another female with a long face nods and her male clan member with a lopsided smile nods. Both wear red robes. Pax nods.
"And Iden and Moryn de Lunt."
Both males are in black robes, the former scrutinizes her with steely eyes and the latter winks at her with familiarity.
So Moryn is my arrogant mindspeaker. I suppose that square jaw would be handsome to some, but that attitude ruins what looks he might've had, Pax thinks to herself, but says, "A pleasure to finally meet all of you."
"The Faere ones were on their way here when they met up with our Mages searching for the missing children. Whenever we have a new year of students our friends send representatives to teach tolerance of other cultures," Jokin explains. "It is a difficult task to say the least especially with the changing times. Each year it seems as though humans become more prejudiced to other cultures. I remember when meeting a Faere one was a joy to experience.
"By helping our and several other school's children, you've made this year much easier. The children pass on these things to the others and thus it spreads to everyone. A Mage must know acceptance, tolerance at least, to be wise in magic.
"For your heroism, we have placed a plaque in our central garden so that every student may know the truth of your deeds," Jokin finishes smiling.
"I don't know what to say," Pax says with wide eyes. "Thank you so much!"
"Also, you are welcome here anytime," he adds. "Now, Wray, why don't you show Pax her plaque."
"Yes, sir!" Wray says leading her out. She follows behind him lost in a feeling of pride in her deeds.
The central garden consists of benches, trees and blooming flowers. A large fountain with a mythical dragon spout dominates the center and a stone walkway circles it. Outside the walkway stands a stone podium with her plaque melded in the top. Pax sets down on its shiny service reading the carved words. I wish my clan could see this.
Now don't let this go to your head, Pax de Ail, the annoying voice of Moryn says setting down next to her. Wray leaves to talk to several students by the fountain.
Why is it my fate to be continually pestered by this guy? Pax wonders.
You know why I'm here. If I annoyed you, I'm glad, he says.
Very well, Moryn de Lunt. You are allowed to accompany me, however you are not to interfere unless I ask it. Understood?
Got it, he replies. When do we leave?
Tomorrow, she answers. He nods and flies away.
Wray comes back over. "Did I hear correct? You're leaving tomorrow?"
"Yes," Pax says softly.
"You can't stay longer?"
"It would be best for me to leave now before I become comfortable and never want to leave." She smiles. "You know, this plaque really belongs to you. If you hadn't spoken to me, I never would have found out anything to help."
"I never saw a faery before you. I thought they would be monstrous, not beautiful, magical little creatures like you. If I'd known, I might not have talked to you. When I did know, I continued talking because you were so nice to me. No monster could be that nice," he says solemnly.
"You gave me a good opinion of humans," she says with a laugh. "You are my first human too."
"Will I ever see you again?"
"Of course, you're my friend. But until I come back this way I hope messages from me will do."
"How will you send them?" Wray asks.
"Whenever a dove comes to you, it'll carry something from me. And you can send things back to me with the same bird," Pax tells him.
"Wow, a messenger bird!" he says excitedly then turns sad. "But I still don't want you to leave."
Before sunrise, she kisses his nose and whispers, "Goodbye, my little friend."