I am restless, and my legs burn with tension. Adrenaline pulses through my veins. Though I have been crouched here for hours now, all of my senses are alert, watching for danger. I cannot afford a moment of laziness. I draw my cloak tighter, and my fingers fidget nervously with the silky lining. I must not be seen. I know I have bent the shadows well, yet I shiver at being so close to the humans.
One of their young toddles around near the pot I am hidden in. It takes skill to bend shadows in full sunlight, but I have trained for years. I took the wisp of grey silhouette from under each of the basil leaves looming above me and delicately wrapped them around me like a blanket, blurring the lines and bending the grey tones until I was completely invisible to the human eye. But the young are different. Some of them can gaze beyond the web of illusion I weave, and that can be dangerous. Children believe too much and are harder to deceive.
If we were ever to be discovered, the consequences would be great. Even one captured faerie puts their entire colony at risk for exposure. When I was small, the Elders would tell stories of faeries who were discovered and imprisoned by the humans. They were meant to frighten us into obedience, I suspect. But when I was young and wide-eyed, I was terrified of being caught. Faeries were said to be tortured, tested, and analyzed. I used to have nightmares about being trapped in a glass jar, humans pressed all around me, studying me like I was an insect. The tales taught me to stay safely tucked away in our Colony in the treetops. If just one faerie were to be discovered, it would put our entire civilization at risk for exposure. No one is supposed to stray from the safety of the Colony. I am playing with fate by daring to come so near to the human house.
But the danger is worth it. Tonight The Guild meets, for the first time since the disappearance of Aibreann. Her loss hit the colony heavily, but it only proves how dangerous it is to continue to live here. Our civilization of Dark faeries like myself have lived in the shadows for countless generations. Just out of reach of human grasp, we scurry from place to place and live our lives in fear. The Council of Elders refuses to do anything to escape our pathetic existence, sitting high and mighty on their thrones. How can they not understand that faeries are dying? No one is safe here.
Among our colony, there are faeries who call for change. Aibreann was our beloved leader. She created The Guild, a quiet voice rising up against the tyranny of the Elders. Her voice lit a fire in our hearts, and the flash of her eyes made us shout for a better life. Without her, we are just a group of powerless rebels who meet in the shadows to discuss plans in whispered voices. We are nothing.
Her loss is a mystery, just as all of the other disappearances for the past year have been. While we don't want to give up on her, with each day that she is gone we find it harder to believe she will return to us.
The first to vanish was an old man, back in May. At first, we thought that he had been attacked and killed by a wild animal. It wasn’t a common occurrence, but he was elderly and might not have been able to battle the creature. We didn’t question his death, but then in August, a little faerie child disappeared, my dear brother Arlen. I miss his bright smile every day.
After that, a whole family vanished. We have lost over twenty faeries now, and no one knows what could have happened to them. Yet rather than taking action, the Elders lie around gorging themselves and waving off the sobbing loved ones of those who have been Lost.
I bite my lip until it throbs, refusing to let myself cry. I promised myself I wouldn’t wallow in self-pity. There is every chance that more and more of our kind will be Lost until there are none of us left. I cannot let that happen.
Slowly, I rise to my feet and my legs groan with protest. It may be risky, but I need to make it across the clearing and into the woods. I have tarried long enough, and the humans show no sign of leaving.
I run my fingers along the coarse rope which hangs at my side. Time to make a move. I unhook the brooch from my cloak and fasten it to the end of the rope. After securing it on the edge of the flower pot, I start my descent, careful to stay on the side facing away from the human children who play nearby. My toes touch the earth, and with a sharp flick of my wrist, the brooch breaks free from above and the rope falls in a messy coil at my feet.
I gather my supplies and before I can stop to talk myself out of it, set off at a run out of the garden and lift into the air. I fly low around the perimeter of the yard, grazing the dew-tipped grass and trying to grab wisps of shadow to cover me as I zip along. If the humans were to spot me, they might see a bird or merely an unfocused blur. Hopefully, my hasty Shadow Bending will be enough.
The forbidding line of trees grows nearer, seventy feet away, now sixty. I am so close. So close to safety. Suddenly, a flash of red catches at the edge of my sight, and I react, swerving away as the human boots crash down just inches from my wings.
My heart is pounding from my close call when I reach the edge of the woods. I land heavily and pull my hood over my flaming red hair. I glance back one last time at the humans, who continue to romp about, completely oblivious to my presence.
Keeping my head low, I move quickly along the forest floor, my cape billowing behind me. True, I have avoided the humans, but it wouldn't do to be caught by a guard so far from the Colony.
A sharp crack resounds from somewhere behind me, and I whirl around, my hand flying to my dagger.
A tall figure emerges from the trees, his hands up, eyebrows raised. I relax. “Bailintin.”
“Brigit,” he replies, dipping his head.
He falls into step with me, his great wings dragging on the ground behind him.
“Do you know who will be taking over for Aibreann?” I ask as we walk.
“The rumor is that there will be a Wanderer at the Guild Meeting,” he replies simply. My eyes widen. Wanderers are the faeries that choose not to belong to a colony and live on their own, always moving from place to place. There hasn’t been a Wanderer in the area since I was a child.
I glance at the stoic figure beside me, waiting for more information, but he offers none. Bailintin is a man of few words. He has been with The Guild since the beginning and was a good friend of Aibreann’s. He would be a good leader, yet I sometimes wonder what thoughts lie beyond his serious brown eyes.
We continue in silence until we reach the entrance to our meeting place. The ancient oak tree where we choose to gather has long been forgotten by the Elders. The once-great tree is hollow and dead, making it an ideal headquarters for The Guild.
Bailintin steps forward and pulls an electric blue stone from beneath his tunic. These crystals are the sign of our Guild and are made to fit perfectly into a knot at the base of the tree. As he turns it, the veins of the tree light up, and the knot slowly unwinds until a gaping hole is visible.
Many of the Guild members have already arrived when we enter the small space. It is only after I am seated that I notice a figure sitting at the edge of the room, who at first seems to be merely a shadow. Their hood is pulled down low, concealing their face.
Even after the meeting commences, my eyes drift back to the stranger. Could it be the Wanderer?
Aislin stands up to speak, the dim lighting framing her golden hair and haughty features. “ Since the disappearance of our dear Aibreann, we have been unsure how to proceed. She was our leader and the soul of The Guild.” There is a general murmuring of agreement before Aislin continues. “But her loss only makes it clearer why we must fight!” Her voice resonates throughout the chamber with stirring ferocity. “We must form a plan for all the noble faeries who have been Lost. Brigit will speak to us on the topic of rebellion. ” Aislin gestures to me as she sits down.
I rise from my chair and raise my voice. “Aislin is right,” I shout “ too many lives have been lost! We can no longer sit in the shadows and talk. It is time for action! We must overthrow the elders and lead our Society far away from this place! Join me!” My words are met with applause from many, but there are some Guild members who shake their heads. "We don't know that the Lost ones are dead!" someone in the back calls.
"Yes," another yells, "why give up on them so soon?"
An older faerie called Brennan gets angrily to his feet and shoots back, “ We cannot just lash out! True, the Elders do nothing to stop these disappearances, but overthrowing them will be difficult and could cost us. Even if we do succeed and are able to migrate our entire civilization, we have no idea what we are up against. Whatever is taking Faeries is dangerous, and we would be foolish to think that we could defeat it. You cannot beat something you can’t see! We must wait, bide our time, and gain information about those who have been lost. There is a Wanderer with us today, who claims to have information which would be very valuable to us. I suggest we listen up.”
Though my blood boils, I do not argue with Brennan. I might disagree with him, but I am curious to hear what the Wanderer has to say. The attention in the room shifts to the hooded figure.
The Wanderer remains silent, and faeries begin to shift uncomfortably in their seats. Then, the figure rises to their feet.
Slowly, the gloved hands reach up, and with one dramatic movement, the hood falls. A gasp runs through the room as the shadows part and the visitor's fair face is revealed.