She watched, awaiting the fox’s return. A cardinal flitted to land on a branch near her, chirping. To anyone else, the girl tilting her head would have been musing upon the birdsong drifting through the air, but birdsong was the last thing on the girl’s mind.
“Drisk is returning now, just a few more moments,” the bird was saying.
“He better have a good reason for being late. He was due back hours ago, and the northern front is losing ground,” growled the girl, nervously tugging at the braid over her shoulder. Her hair was dirty, frizzy, and only those who knew her long ago knew how beautiful her brown hair had once been, back when it wasn’t streaked with mud, twigs tangled in it, so covered in grease that it looked almost black. Her face was similarly dirty, dirt covering her face, heavier in some spots than others, her natural skin tone barely visible under the brown. There were a few marks on her face, visible even under the dirt, stark white scars, one at her hairline on the left side of her forehead, one slashed along her left cheekbone, what looked like claw marks against her chin, and one stretching from the right of her eyebrow, all the way to her jawline and down along it, before dipping down to travel down along her throat.
A crashing noise from behind her caused the girl to whirl around, raising a dagger in her left hand, ready to defend herself, but the only thing before her was a deer, with massive antlers, each prong sharpened and honed to knife point ends. The girl lowered her dagger, relaxing her muscles slightly.
“General, the news?” she asked, wasting no time in pretenses, as the stag bowed to the ground.
“I’m sorry, Your Majesty, the faeries have taken the northern front,” the general said, and now that the shock of his sudden appearance had worn off, the young queen could see deep slashes along his flank that she had not noticed before.
“You did your best, General Brock. Go to the healers at once,” commanded the queen. “I’m awaiting Drisk as we speak. I’ll send General Rainheart out to the north to recover all that he can.”
“You don’t understand,” stammered General Brock, his head drooping slightly over the effort of remaining standing. “There is nothing to recover. It’s all over on the northern front, we lost there, now all we can do is hope to win to the east and west, then use a pincer strategy on the faeries.” Unable to remain any longer, he staggered away, heading, presumably, in the direction of the healers’ tent.
Her shoulders slumping, the queen looked put out, despairing. The faeries. She had never expected to beat them, but she had hoped that her troops would be able to hold them off until Drisk had done his duty. Unfortunately, now, even if Drisk had achieved what was needed, they were running low on time.
The cardinal fluttered back to his earlier branch, though the queen had not noticed his absence. “Drisk approaches, Your Highness.”
Gathering herself, hoping for the best, the queen peered through the trees, looking for any sign of her most trusted advisor. Finally, she saw a flash of ginger fur, but something wasn’t right, Drisk was moving far too slowly, and there was no sign of anyone with him, which was what she had been hoping for. Finally moving into sight, Drisk collapsed in the clearing, unable to go any farther.
“Drisk! What happened?” screamed the queen, all regal façade abandoned at the sight of her oldest friend, missing a leg, bleeding into the dirt beneath him.
“I’m so sorry, Azura,” whimpered Drisk, clearly fighting to focus on Queen Azura in front of him. “I got there with the gifts you sent me to give them, and they accepted them, and I thought everything was going well when Fao said ‘That was good, but we’re still hungry, and the meat around is fox.’ I barely escaped with my life.”
“It’s okay, Drisk, I was a fool for sending you back in the first place, I was just so desperate. Jeremy!” The cardinal snapped to attention on the branch above them. “Get Spiris, Decesses, and Arcanis!” Jeremy flew off through the trees.
“Azura, no, you can’t waste anything on me. You need all of the power you can get for the northern front, now that we won’t have the power of the wolves,” murmured Drisk, struggling to maintain consciousness.
“It doesn’t matter anymore, Drisk, Brock returned right before you did. We lost the north; the faeries have taken it.” Drisk stilled beneath her.
“The faeries have gone out? How much did I miss when I was gone?”
“The faeries joined the fight the day after you left, we weren’t expecting it, I was just hoping that you could bring reinforcements before they overwhelmed us.”
The faeries of Estia weren’t like those of the Oshea Wood. The Oshean faeries were primarily healers, and were just what one would espect faeries to look like. They had wings, beautiful, butterfly shaped wings that left dappled patterns on the ground when the sun hit them just right. The Estian faeries had wings too, though theirs were solely for travel purposes, and their wings were solid black and were shaped like the wings of dragonfly. The Oshean faeries had picturesque smiles and silky hair that, when given to someone by a faery, could be worn in any way as a sort of defensive spell. The Estian faeries had fangs for teeth, with rumors that they were filed and shaped that way from birth, and their scalps were routinely shaved, with only a few faeries keeping their hair. No one knew what Estian fairy hair did, as it had never been given to anyone in the Oshea Wood. Where the Oshean faeries were soft and made for nurturing, the Estian faeries were designed to be weapons. Queen Azura had never seen an Estian faery, as she had never been allowed anywhere near danger as a child, and now that she was queen, she couldn’t risk endangering herself.
Just then, three Oshean faeries came dashing into the clearing, one with white wings, one with black wings, though not the wings of the Estian faeries, and the last with wings that didn’t visibly change color, but you just never could quite decipher what color they were.
“Oh, Queen Azura, this is terrible! What happened?” cried the faery with the white wings.
“He was attacked by Fao and his pack, Spiris and Decesses, I need you to figure out how much healing he requires. Please,” Azura added as an afterthought, not wanting her subjects the think her cruel, especially not when they were her cousins.
Spiris, the faery with the white wings, was a life faery, Decesses, her twin brother, a death faery. Neither were the most powerful, Decesses couldn’t kill anything more than bugs and the occasional mouse, while Spiris couldn’t bring anything back to life at all, but they were the most trusted of their divisions by Azura, and they had the power she needed right now: Decesses could tell how close to death someone was, while Spiris could find where in someone’s body the life was weaker. Spiris could tell someone if they were developing a lung disease, while Decesses told them whether they would survive it or not.
Turning to Drisk, both faeries closed their eyes and focused their energy. Azura didn’t know quite how their powers worked, she was never the most attentive student, especially when her education was cut short when she had to step up as queen. After a moment however, Spiris opened her eyes and whispered, so as not to disrupt Decesses, “His leg is the only bad spot, it hasn’t spread, which means it is not yet infected.”
Decesses nodded in agreement, opening his eyes, he said, “He should be alright, a healer could heal his leg, and he will be fine, Spiris might even be able to generate enough tissue to heal the leg right here-“
“No,” snapped Azura. “I had Arcanis summoned for a reason, he can replace Drisk’s leg. He can grow the whole thing back.”
Arcanis was a magic faery. All faeries had powers, but magic faeries had skill no one else did. They were very rare, and if there were more of them, the northern front would be theirs in seconds. Unfortunately, Arcanis was one of three, with Allura and Enigmus on the east and west fronts, holding back the dwarves and the elves. Arcanis could have helped hold off the faeries to the north, but the safety that came with having a magic faery at camp was far more convincing.
“No, Azura, I’ll be fine, don’t waste the magic on me.” Drisk was barely conscious now, but Azura was less concerned than she had previously been, she knew that even if he lost consciousness, her cousins and Arcanis would be able to help him. Drisk did make a good argument though. When a faery used too much magic, they took time to recharge. Azura didn’t know how much magic would be required to regrow Drisk’s leg, and if Arcanis was recharging and the Estian faeries were to attack, they wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Fine. Spiris, heal the wound, when all this is over, Arcanis can regrow it.” Azura spotted her daily scouts arriving to report on the situation on the east and west fronts, and, saying her goodbyes to Drisk and the faeries, rose to go meet them.
“Augus, Tem, what’s the news?” she inquired of the eagle and the hawk that perched before her.
“The dwarves on the east are making headway, we lost a little more ground today, if we lose much more, we may lose the east,” reported the hawk, Tem.
“The news on the west is far more optimistic! We’ve taken out dozens of elves today, and if we continue at the same rate, we should have the western front within a week!” was the eagle, Augus’s, report.
Azura didn’t know what to do with this information, just as she never knew what to do. Should she send reinforcements to the east, so that they didn’t lose on two fronts? Or to the west, so that they could win there? Or should she do nothing, and wait for further developments before making a decision?
“Thank you both. Wait here for your next orders, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Sheturned and walked deeper into camp, where there were tents pitched and the bustle of faeries and various woodland creatures created a cacophony of noise that didn’t help Azura as she tried to locate her brothers.
“Excuse me, Fara, have you seen Azuris and Aquis?” she inquired of a lightning faery, with brilliantly bright yellow and white wings.
“Yes, I saw Azuris visiting General Brock with General Rainheart, they were discussing the possibilities on the northern front. Aquis is probably off with-” She broke off awkwardly, clearly knowing she had said something she shouldn’t have.
“Fara? Who is Aquis with?” Azura knew that Aquis was a bit of a player, it wouldn’t surprise her if he was on a date with someone new, but she wouldn’t care about his love life, unless he was with… “Fara, you don’t mean to say that he’s with Veilios, do you?” The blush that spread across Fara’s face was all the reply Azura needed. Stomping to the healers tent, she found her brother listening intently as Brock and Rainheart discussed the best next move, now that the situation on the northern front had made the war so much more bleak.
“Azuris!” Azura snapped at her twin. “Did you know about Aquis and Veilios?”
“Of course I knew, Zure. Your policy on Veilios not dating is ridiculous,especially when he’s not even a part of the fighting right now. You can break up him and our brother when you send him off to whatever front, but you and I both know that Aquis will probably end it before you can. He’s not one to commit and settle down, especially not with Veilios.”
Azuris made a rather good point. Queen Azure supposed that she could wait before she made any rash decisions that would have Aquis not speaking to her for a month.
“Alright, well, go find him, I need to talk to you all, I need council on today’s report.”
“Why, when the answer is right here?” came a smooth voice from behind her, and spinning around, she found Aquis and Veilios behind her, with an Estian faery and a wolf from Fao’s pack standing between them.
“Veilios,” said Azura, addressing the shadow faery who had spoken. “What is this? This isn’t a coup or something, is it?” She didn’t think it would be, Veilios was set to move up to general at the rate he was going, possibly even be asked to join her council, but she certainly wouldn’t trust him if he tried to kill her.
“No, Your Majesty, never. We found these two on the edge of our Wood, they requested to see you,” explained Veilios.
“So you just brought them here? To the heart of our camp? What if they’re spies, what if you were followed? What’s one of Fao’s wolves doing with an Estian faery anyways? The wolves and the Estians haven’t teamed up, have they?” Azura was beginning to panic, if yes was the answer to even one of her questions, the Osheans would have to retreat immediately and surrender.
“I’ll just let Draven here explain,” said Veilios.
Stepping forward, the Estian faery had clearly been away from Estia for a while. His hair was starting to grow back, and his wings were battered looking, as though he had flown through a storm.
“I left. I didn’t agree with what my- uh, the Shadowwalker family was telling us. They claimed that you were all monsters, that you had stolen the magic from Estia’s faeries for yourselves, but when I looked into it, I couldn’t find any mention of Estia ever having magic. In fact, it seems that Estia had no faeries until a couple thousand years ago, when the Oshea Wood first started showing up in our books. It seems that we used to have no wings and we all just walked everywhere, until Oshea showed up in the books, then it started mentioning ‘abominables’, terrible creatures that were born with wings, and there were more being born every year. Then, suddenly, there’s a century long gap in all of our records, and everyone has wings, and there’s no more wingless beings. ‘Humans’, they called themselves. I think… I think we might have wiped them out. I think that the faeries and the humans started having children, and that they became us. The human side must have taken almost all the magic away. We only have a little left, and it’s all in our hair. That’s why the Shadowwalker family forces us to be hairless, so that we can’t have you guys taking our magic.” Draven looked up at Azura, who was slowly forming an idea in her mind.
“We’ll get back to you. Wolf. What about you, why would you leave Fao’s pack?” She was ready to take the wolf prisoner if it admitted to having hurt Drisk.
“I saw what they did to the fox, for no reason! I couldn’t stay. I was the weakest of the pack, what if they did the same to me? I met Draven a couple days after I left, we made our way to where the shadow faery and water faery found us.”
Azura definitely had a plan now. Fao’s pack were larger than other wolves by far. In fact, they were larger than General Rainheart behind her, who was a horse. If they could convince the wolf, who had still not introduced himself, and Draven to fight on their side, they could quickly win the western front and then go win the east. Draven was definitely hiding something, but no matter, Azura would get it out of him sooner or later. And once the Estians weren’t pushing three of their borders, Azura could exact her revenge against Fao’s pack for what they had done to Drisk. And once she had done all of that, then she could finally focus on doing what her mother had never gotten to do, building a palace, and what her father had wanted, expanding the borders of their country.
“Right,” she said slowly. “Right, hopefully Drisk is conscious, I need to summon the council so we can make a plan for what we’re doing next. We’ll meet in here, since General Brock is currently incapacitated.”
Azura smiled, fluttering her pale yellow wings. Air faeries had more power than anyone else in the kingdom, given that there was only one in every generation, and only in the royal family. Had one of her brothers been an air faery, she would be a princess still, but she was the lucky one. Especially lucky given that air faeries could level forests, tame seas. And now that the war was finally going to start going her way, she would be able to go out there and finally wreak the havoc on Estia that she had wanted to submit them to since their leader had killed her father.