Shad and Saura: Black Fire - Part One
Art by ssjelitegirl
She was squatting in the shade of a tower, leaning against its smooth yellowish side, her legs almost disappearing in the soft clouds she was sitting on.
There was an old tome open in her lap, almost fully hiding her thin legs. It was hard to tell her exact age, with her being a Faerie, but it was clear that she was very young. Her hair was long and dark, black at first sight but dark brown where the rays of the afternoon sun fell on it. It hung from her skinny shoulders like a curtain, partly covering the tome as she read it.
The little Faerie raised her head. The silky hair fell back, and as her jagged semi-transparent wings rose higher, indicating mild annoyance, the sky seemed dark orange through them. She was a Fire Faerie.
“Yeah, you. Reading dusty old books again?” Another young Fire Faerie stepped closer. Whether she was older than the one sitting by the tower or simply seemed older because she wasn’t as thin and fragile, it was hard to tell.
“I can read if I want, can’t I?” said the little Faerie by the tower, lowering her head and wings again.
“But you are – or supposed to be, at least – a Fire Faerie!” The other one placed her hands on her hips, half sneering, half surprised. “None of our kind read dusty old books. We’re meant to be happy and playful, not boring like the Library Faerie.”
The little Faerie shrugged very slightly, already lost in the book. The newcomer huffed angrily, seeing that she was being ignored.
“And that’s what we should do with boring old books!” she blurted, pointing with her finger that shot out a tiny flame. The flame hit the book and the paper caught fire at once. The Faerie turned around and marched off, shouting a final “Weirdo!” over her shoulder.
As she left, the little Faerie brushed the flames on the book off as if they were rubble, and they indeed faded at once. A page was scorched, but she’d already read it.
To get her mind off the incident, she turned the pages until she found a roughly sketched map that accompanied the chapter she’d been reading. The map was more of an illustration than a decent map but it pointed her to a general direction in Neopia, and that was all she really needed. She bowed closer. It looked plausible, all right.
Maybe she should really move? Faerieland with its smug inhabitants was clearly not her place...
Years passed. Many, many years. Faeries grow up fast and remain grown up for a long time. They learn constantly while they live and Fire Faeries have more important things to bear in mind than little weirdoes they encountered in their childhood. So after a while nobody really remembered the thin little Fire Faerie who once spent her afternoons squatting in the shade and reading old books. But she was still out there, and read old books, and continued her quest for knowledge, whatever it was she actually sought. In time her new homeland was discovered and became a rather beloved tourist attraction, but it didn’t matter. Nobody ever disturbed her peace voluntarily. However, word about her still spread in that little land high in the mountains, and sometimes the locals would whisper about things they didn’t understand, things they’d heard about from their great grandparents and that now got brought up again as rumors about the Faerie’s work reached them.
“We’re going to go to where?” Shad the shadow Lupe looked up from the shade of the hedge of blackberries where he had lain for the last few hours, panting and grumbling about the hot sun of Mystery Island. Now the apathy vanished and he was his usual self again, with eager yellow eyes and a wide grin that shone as brightly as the studs in his black collar.
“Shenkuu,” said his brother with a grin to match. “Well, you don’t have to come if you don’t want to but it’ll be a long and boring way, and Shenkuu is pretty cool, and we’ve barely been there before, and none of the others are interested.”
Shad nodded, getting to his feet. He enjoyed adventuring, unlike most of his siblings. Saura the spotted Zafara, his stepbrother by definition, wasn’t much of an adventurer himself, but every once in a while he set off to this or that corner of Neopia to look for some rare ingredient for some gourmet accomplishment, or a cure or two, or simply an interesting item he’d heard of.
“How many neopoints do you think we’ll need?” asked the Lupe, his tail waving from side to side. “Shenkuu isn’t all that expensive as I’ve heard, but you never know, and it’s good to have some to spare, and... do they even have hotels? It’s all mountains and little huts, from what I’ve heard.”
“Mystery Island is all palm trees and little huts, from what most people have heard,” said the Zafara, striding back to the house. “I don’t think they have a Neolodge, though. If it turns out that they have no local inns or anything, then we’ll just have to wing it.”
Winging it is always harder in practice than in theory, so a few hours later the sun setting behind the Shenkese mountains found the brothers standing pitifully in front of a bamboo house that had been the fifth one to decline their request for bed and breakfast. Always the same story: “Sorry, the house is full, tourist season, no Neolodges here, I’m truly very sorry, have a nice day.”
“Suggestions?” Saura asked.
Shad squinted at the sun. It was a magnificent sight, the hazy sphere behind the clouds that made the steep mountains glisten and turned the fog in the valleys golden. It would’ve been even more magnificent if it hadn’t indicated the upcoming night and their lack of shelter.
“Next house?” whimpered the Lupe. Saura sighed and turned to look at the next house, a big masterpiece of dark wood. Its windows were open and the murmur of many people chatting inside was easy to hear.
The chubby Tonu who had just turned them down hesitated on her doorstep. “Well, if you’re not picky...”
“We’re not,” the brothers assured at once, their ears perking.
“It’s not likely that she’ll let you in,” the Tonu said thoughtfully, “but if you ask nicely, she might make an exception for you. There are never visitors at her place; it’s not like she’s not nice or anything, but, well, people just never go there. She’s a little... strange; a lovely girl and all,” she added quickly, “but a little strange.”
“We’re okay with that, I suppose,” said Saura, as Shad nodded in agreement. “Who exactly is ‘she’?”
The directions took them to a small house that stood right next to the side of a mountain, barred from all the neighboring houses with thickets of bamboo and numerous herbs. The garden was unkempt; the owner of the house apparently didn’t care about keeping it intact. They made their way to the front door, which was made of old wood and had strange symbols painted on it.
“Magical symbols,” Saura whispered as he knocked. “Meant to keep bad spirits away.”
“They’re not much more intimidating than the house itself,” muttered Shad as slow footsteps neared the door, sounding as though the person nearing the door was unsure whether they’d actually heard anything. Then the door opened.
The two brothers looked into the dark brown eyes of a Faerie.
She was short, a bit taller than Saura but nevertheless short for a Faerie. She was wearing a beautiful, if somewhat old-fashioned dress, made of dark red silk. Her long thin hair, raven in the dim light, hung from her shoulders like wet fabric.
“What-” she began, unsure whether to form the sentence as a question or a protest.
Shad blinked, his gleaming eyes widening. “I had no idea that there were Faeries in Shen-” Saura whacked him over the head and turned to look at the Faerie.
“Sorry to disturb you,” he said, “but we’re looking for a place to stay and all the local houses are full, and it’s getting dark, and...”
The Faerie’s eyes darted back and forth on them, narrowing. “Go away.”
“But...” began Shad.
“Go away,” the Faerie repeated dryly and reached out to close the door. The shadow Lupe stepped forward, into the light that emerged from the house, and said again, in a voice that was beginning to lose hope:
The Faerie glanced back at him over her shoulder, still hesitating, then squatted and looked into Shad’s yellow eyes. For a moment they both stood still, the Faerie looking inquisitive, the Lupe confused.
“You got fire in you,” the Faerie finally said.
Shad blinked curiously. “Don’t we all?”
She smiled vaguely, standing up again. “Well said. But most people are unable to channel it well, and those who can often lack the fire. Fine then, come on in.”
The house was small and obviously meant for one person only, consisting of a single room and a small kitchen, but it was warm and felt homely. The Faerie opened a closet to drag out a few tatami mats. The brothers looked around in the meantime.
“Wow,” said Shad. “What do you do in here?”
The place was filled with books, numerous glass phials and jars, some empty, some filled with colorful liquids, and many strange items, half of which the brothers had never seen before. Most of the books looked old, were lying open at one point or another, and the margins of their pages were filled with handwritten notes.
“Testing,” the Faerie said curtly, arranging the mats. “Experimenting. Learning. Nothing that would be of your concern.” Her orange wings, jagged like the fins of a Koi, moved back and forth as she worked.
“My name’s Shad,” said the Lupe. “And this is Saura.” The spotted Zafara nodded.
The little Fire Faerie nodded back. “I’m Incendia.”
Silence fell for a short moment, then Shad reached out his muzzle and sniffed a phial. It wobbled uneasily and the Faerie darted forward at once to grab it.
“If you want to stay here,” she hissed, “then you’ll break nothing, got it?”
The Lupe backed off, affronted, and looked around. “What are you trying to achieve with all this?” he pointed at the items and jars.
“None of your business,” Incendia snapped and left the room. Silence fell again. Shad and Saura exchanged glances.
“Not your average Fire Faerie,” muttered Shad. “Those are usually nicer.”
“Well, beggars can’t be choosers,” said Saura and would’ve added something if the little Faerie hadn’t returned to toss a few sheets and pillows on the mats.
“There,” she said and sat behind the desk where she had apparently been reading when the brothers knocked. She pulled a thick tome closer on the desk and concentrated on it, her whole posture radiating a don’t-talk-to-me message. The brothers’ ears drooped as they looked at each other, then they curled up on the mats, somewhat confused by the sudden turn of events but grateful to at least have a roof above their heads.
Shad’s eyes opened an unknown amount of time later. It was completely dark outside and the room itself was dim; only one gas lamp lit the desk behind which Incendia sat. She wasn’t reading anymore, but sitting there, head leaned on hands, and staring out of the window, at the full moon.
The shadow Lupe sat up.
“Incendia,” he said. The Faerie didn’t respond, but her jagged wings twitched slightly, an indication that she had heard him.
Shad crept up to the desk, his tail moving from side to side. He could hear Saura sit up too – the Zafara had extremely good ears.
“Get back to sleep,” grunted the Faerie.
“Something’s bothering you,” said the Lupe. “The thing you’re reading about, I’d think.”
The house fell quiet. Shad sat down next to the desk. He wasn’t usually patient but he was able to tell when it was smart to shut up and wait. Saura waited too, still sitting on his mat. Then Incendia sighed, turning a little to look at the two brothers.
“I’m trying to find black fire.”
To be continued...