Making a Name for Herself
"Where are you from?" Jennumara asked the dark faerie in front of her.
The two of them stood on a rocky ledge that protruded from a mountain slope. Below them, a column of black smoke still rose from the charred remains of an inn. Long before she became known as the tormentor of Baelia the grey faerie, Jennumara had selected that small inn for her weekly target practice. She had enjoyed a warm meal there, camouflaged by an illusion spell. Just as she was preparing to play her tricks on the diners, she had felt another dark magic user cast a spell from a few yards away. A flambe dish had mysteriously flared up and chaos had erupted in the dining room, complete with shadowy monsters and nightmarish creatures bursting from the flames. None of the fleeing guests had noticed the two dark figures at the center of the pandemonium.
Jennumara had flown straight after the other faerie, intrigued by her impressive fire magic. Expecting an older dark faerie, she had been surprised to find one just as young and fresh as herself, unremarkable except for the strange bluish hue of her skin and the blue streaks in her black hair. Instead of concealing that difference, she even seemed to highlight it by wearing a blue robe.
Jennumara felt a lot more respectable with her long jet-black hair and dress. They fluttered in the wind like thin wisps of shadow, standing out against her pallid skin.
"I live further west," said the blue-skinned one. "I am only passing through this region on my way home."
Jennumara's hands relaxed imperceptibly. A visit from a dark faerie was never good news, even to another one.
"So you're travelling on the road to the West. You look familiar. Aren't you the one who went down to Altador?" She couldn't stop her lips from curling as she said that. The rumor of a failed dark faerie living among do-gooders in that dump of a town had become a widespread joke.
The other faerie remained serene. "Yes, that is I. They sent me on a diplomatic mission to a desert town, and I stopped here for a quick party."
"The happy little settlers sent a dark faerie as their ambassador?"
"I can be remarkably persuasive."
They both smirked knowingly at those words.
"And who are you?"
"Jennumara. These mountains are my domain."
"Ah, I remember you; I saw you at the gathering last year. I've heard about your mother. Such a pity. Are you carrying on with her research?"
"I'm doing far more than that. Why, are you interested?"
The blue one shrugged.
"Then I offer you hospitality within my territory. You can come and see for yourself."
They took off towards the top of the mountain, two shadows with leathery wings beating in the cool air of dusk. Jennumara led the way, pleased to find herself in a dominant role. She flew into a mountain cave, cast a few spells to undo her barriers, guided her guest past a pit full of growling minions and a collection of ominous spiked implements. The newcomer made little effort to show interest in this conventional decor, but Jennumara kept walking down the tunnel until she reached a tall set of double doors.
The doors swung open with a series of metallic clangs. The blue-skinned faerie's eyes widened. Beyond the doorway, dozens of bright, paper-thin objects carefully arranged on shelves filled the stone chamber with a low thrumming sound and dim sparkles. Some were badly torn and lay in piles of glittering shreds; others were intact and drooped in their glass cases like giant wilting blossoms.
"I have to admit," said the newcomer, "that is the most impressive collection of wings I have ever laid my eyes upon." She took a few steps into the room to gaze at a pair of particularly bright fire faerie wings. "However did you acquire so many?"
"Oh, they just piled up over the years," replied a smug Jennumara.
"But you don't use them?"
"No. These are far too dangerous. I've almost worked out a new spell, though. As soon as it's functional, I will be able to harvest new wings and use them properly."
"All that power..." whispered the other, her eyes fixed on the wing cases. She had probably never seen anything quite as powerful in Altador. Jennumara could practically feel waves of envy flowing from her.
"It's really not that difficult. A faerie's magic essence resides mainly in her wings. Stealing another's power is a terrible thing, worthy of cosmic punishment and all." She rolled her eyes. "Faerie wings never forget their true owner. That's why stolen wings are dangerous to use and to harvest. They can and will drive you insane, especially if they're of a different element than yours. But there is a loophole." Jennumara paused for effect. The other listened, captivated.
"The curse will only affect you if the magic actually belongs to another faerie. If you delete that faerie's identity, if you make her lose control, her power will not recognise her as its owner anymore. You will be free to take it. Now, what is it that gives a faerie her identity?"
The other slowly turned to face Jennumara. "Her true name."
"Exactly." She pulled a pendant shaped like a padlock from inside her collar. "As soon as the poor little thing's name is stuck in this lock, all I have to do is pluck her wings. They'll come to me without a fight."
"That lock can contain a faerie's name."
"Well, this one is a prototype. It still needs a bit of tweaking."
"Perhaps I could speed up the process."
Jennumara nearly raised her fist in victory. A foreign dark faerie, weak, but with skill in fire magic, was exactly the helper she needed to smelt the new locket. "By all means, do! There's plenty of room for you to stay here a week or two. In return, once it's complete, you can use it to harvest a pair for yourself."
She offered a dainty clawed hand and the other immediately stepped forward to shake it.
Few things are more confusing than an alliance between two dark faeries. One wonders who will strike first. When will the inevitable betrayal happen? Will the two cancel each other out? Will anything happen at all?
Jennumara's collaboration with her new partner was still most pleasant a few nights later. At the darkest hour of the night, she stepped outside the cave to find the blue-skinned faerie lounging on a deck chair, soaking in the rays of the new moon.
"Puppyblew tears?" she said, offering her guest a flute of clear liquid.
"Yes, thank you." The other accepted the glass, took a sip and smacked her lips in appreciation. "Mmm. Delectable."
They gazed serenely at the night sky. Pitch darkness was so pure, so full of unlimited possibilities. Anything could be conjured from those impenetrable shadows, just as anything could leap out of the unknown; ghosts of things past, things that existed elsewhere, things that did not exist yet, or even things that would never exist.
"The night is so beautiful up here. I don't know how you can stand living in Altador, doing everything under the sun."
The blue one chuckled. "They call me the Sleeper, because they think that's what I do during the day."
"That is priceless! Shall I call you Sleepy, then?"
"I don't know," the other replied with a smile. "Do you think you should call me Sleepy?" Her fiery eyes bore right into Jennumara.
She changed the subject. "You're surprisingly useful, for someone who's crossed over to the light side. It can't be easy to keep your dark powers with all those heroes and their bright ideas seeping into your head."
"Haven't you heard? They say that the brightest lights cast the darkest shadows," the other explained patiently, swirling the leftover tears in her glass. "You'd be surprised by how well those heroes get along with me, despite their legendary virtue. Marak and Torakor enjoy battling far more than they care to admit. Jerdana the wanderer still can't trust the others. Sasha was never quite right in the head, poor child. Florin's secret collection of plant extracts is interesting, to say the least. There's a good reason Fauna can tame the most ferocious beasts. On her bad days, Psellia would like nothing better than to fly back up to her cloud and destroy everything below. Even Siyana envies us for our ability to conceal. Only Gordos and Kelland are hopelessly down-to-earth."
Jennumara's jaw dropped, then she giggled. "So you do have interesting folks over there. I guess that makes up for the strait-laced king."
"The king?" The other burst out laughing. "Oh, Jenny."
"It's Jennumara," she corrected automatically.
"You should have seen him on the day we met," the other continued, her lips slowly curling into a smile. "After surviving as a nomad for all those years, he wasn't exactly a sweet lad. On that day, I had just managed to charm a huge beast into attacking another. I was waiting for the outcome of the battle, ready to claim the most vicious monster as my pet. I never expected a young Lupe to appear and dispatch the second creature. In the end, I chose the hunter over the beasts."
"Are you really talking about the same Altador that founded a city in the West?"
"Oh yes." A curious mixture of cruelty and fondness burned in the blue one's eyes. "All you have to do is give him a prey, and the ruthless warrior comes out. He's a hunter through and through."
"I'm actually tempted to visit that city. You seem to know all the skeletons in their closets."
"Of course! Who better to vent at than their dark faerie pal? They spill all their darkest feelings to me, then they shuffle away awkwardly, begging me not to tell the others about that little outburst."
Jennumara giggled again. "That is just too funny!"
"Funny? I think it's sad. They're denying the most powerful parts of themselves. They could be great conquerors, and yet they choose to stifle themselves with limits and restrictions, following rigid ideals that will be forgotten by the next generation of rulers. Such a waste of potential."
The other faerie set her glass down, rose from her chair and stretched, her leathery wings fluttering around her body in the darkness. She shrugged back into her work robes.
"Well then, I have some work to finish." She strolled back to the workbench inside the cave. Infernal reddish lights soon began to flicker in the night, followed by echoes of clanging metal. Jennumara stayed outside, listening. She still had a smile on her face from from hearing those tales of Altador. She was going to miss that faerie after the end of their collaboration.
They finished just in time to test the locket on the last day of the new moon. Jennumara had poured some of her magic into each piece of hot metal, so that the locket would answer only to her. A brand new implement had been added to it, like a pair of wicked-looking clippers. Jennumara would need to trick a faerie into giving her name.
"I'm so sorry I let that light faerie escape," said Jennumara as she led the way to a smooth plateau. "They're becoming too cautious. Are you sure you're fine with being the test subject?"
"Of course, Jenny -"
"I really want our contraption to work."
"I'll test the spell, and then I will release your name without launching the clippers at you. All you'll need to do is say your name loudly towards the locket."
They each drew one side of a wide ritual circle on the ground. The eastern sky had already taken the particular shade of blue that appears right before nightfall, like plumes of ink dissolving in water. Jennumara noted that it was exactly the same hue as the blue-skinned Faerie's robes.
"Are you ready?" asked Jennumara.
"Yes." The other stood facing the sunset, tall and straight, determination in her blazing eyes. "Tonight, we take another step for darkness." She walked slowly to the center of the circle, her wild dark hair blowing in the wind.
They had already designed the plans for a magical cage that would imprison the victim as soon as her name was spoken, but the charcoal circle would have to do for the test run. Jennumara took her locket out of her collar and held it in front of her, tapping it with her finger and saying a few magic key words to activate it.
The other said her name.
Immediately, a violet light burst out of her mouth and rushed into Jennumara's locket. Clouds of black powder rose from the circle and formed a dome of smoke around her.
The blue one's body shook violently and she fell to her knees.
It had worked. Jennumara held a faerie's name in her hands. It pulsed faintly, like a tiny metallic heart. With a grin, she squeezed the locket tighter; her fingernails scraped against it. She pressed a clasp to free the clippers, which began to hover in front of her, snipping at the air like a pair of metallic wings.
"Excellent," breathed the other faerie. "Now can you move on to phase two?" She was in fairly bad shape already, her limp wings trailing on the ground beside her.
Jennumara glanced down at her partner through the smoke barrier. "Wait... you were actually serious about that?"
Jennumara had promised herself that she wouldn't laugh evilly, but the sight of another dark faerie in her trap was simply hilarious. The fool has spent nearly a week in Jennumara's lair without suspecting a thing. She couldn't hold back any longer and burst into gleeful cackling.
"How pathetic! You spent so much time training your pets in Altador that you've forgotten how to be a dark faerie. I knew you had gone soft. Don't worry, I will put your wings to a better use."
The other snarled feebly and muttered curses under her breath. She had slumped lower and lower on the ground, struggling to keep her eyes open. Her wings' crimson membrane looked a lot less bright.
"See? You're already losing color. Soon you will be all grey and I will have full control over your power. But first..." Jennumara made the clippers fly left and right, taking her time to aim them at the other's wing joints.
"And what next? You're no conqueror. You'll keep experimenting until something backfires, just like your mumma."
"Enjoy your mind while you still have it," Jennumara snapped. "I have no more use for you."
"You can steal all the magic you want." The other had straightened up, propped on her trembling arms. She met Jennumara's eyes with a cold, fearless stare. "It's a pity you don't have anything to do with it, Jenny."
"It's Jennumara!" she roared, then stopped short, for the blue faerie had just pulled a small object from her sleeve. Jennumara felt an invisible noose tighten around her torso. Her legs buckled under her and she nearly retched from the pressure. A violet flash lit up the item in the other's hand: it was the older, prototype locket, and Jennumara had just given it her own name.
"Your toys are easy to control..." The blue-skinned faerie sent the clippers flying straight at Jennumara, who shrieked and covered her face. The magical blades bit her wing joint. It was the wide part, fortunately, not sharp enough to cut her wings, but strong enough to twist her joint until she screamed again.
"Well, well. I control your power, but you control mine, Jenny. Clearly, you have the upper hand," sneered the other faerie.
"You must do something for me first. It shouldn't be difficult, with my fire magic."
"What? Tell me what!"
With a sigh of impatience, the other leaned against the barrier that still imprisoned her. "It's very simple. Destroy your locket."
Jennumara was jolted back to awareness. "Destroy it? But your name is still in there, you lunatic!"
"I can't erase it myself, obviously. No faerie can harm a part of herself. What are you waiting for? Do you need me to tighten those clippers?"
"No." Jennumara took deep breaths, gritting her teeth to ignore the throbbing in her wing. It was her moment, her clever trap. She couldn't let a failure, a servant of Altador steal her spotlight. "No, I won't destroy my work. I'll watch you rot in your trap."
The other hissed in annoyance and threw a bolt of dark purple magic through the barrier. By the time it reached Jennumara, it had shrunk into a harmless spark.
"How can you even use magic right now?" cried Jennumara. "You should be turning grey! You should be grovelling and begging!" As if her position wasn't humiliating enough, she began to sob. She could already see grey streaks in the strands of hair that stuck to her face. The loss of her name was tugging at her like a black hole; she didn't understand how the other faerie could bear that torture.
"Enough of your whining! Do I have to do everything myself?" The other focused her power, frowning in concentration, and Jennumara's locket was suddenly yanked into the air. It flew left and right, tugging at its chain like an angry Gruslen, but it couldn't escape.
Jennumara let out a wheezy laugh, because she knew she was a step ahead. "That won't work. Don't think I didn't take my precautions! The locket won't leave my neck unless I remove it willingly. Go on, keep playing in your little cage!"
"It won't leave your neck?"
Jennumara shook her head smugly.
The other's lip curled into a mirthless smile. "Such a pity..."
The locket was still hovering in front of Jennumara, tethered to its chain. Suddenly, it flipped over. The chain twisted and locked around Jennumara's throat. Her eyes widened and she tried to pry it off, but the locket leapt higher and higher into the air until she was standing on tiptoe, gasping for breath and wincing as she accidentally tried to flap her bound wings.
"Come on... I don't have all night." With a few flicks of her hand, the other made the locket drag its owner over the ground.
Jennumara tried to speak, but only a few strangled sounds came out of her throat. Foam was forming at the corners of her mouth. The other met her pleading eyes with a cold stare.
At last, Jennumara gave up and let the blue-skinned faerie's magic gather in her hands. A brilliant bolt of fire slashed through the locket, blowing it to pieces. Jennumara fell in a crumpled heap at the other's feet, retching.
The blue one staggered back and was engulfed in pitch black fire.
Jennumara watched, aghast, as a pair of gleaming red eyes opened in the inky blue darkness. The circle burst into flames and the blue-skinned faerie stepped through them easily.
"How..." was the only thing Jennumara could rasp.
"I have been preparing this for years," said the other, calmly inspecting the palms of her hands. "Why else would I stop in your little lair? I trained myself to resist the grey curse, to replenish my magic instead of wilting away. I even stored some in here, just in case." She stroked the fiery gem that hung from her neck.
"But a faerie can't live without a name..."
The other stooped and grabbed Jennumara's chin, making her shudder. "I am so much more than a faerie," she whispered in a strange, deep voice. "Few dark faeries are still connected to the primal darkness. Few of us remember that we are both the beginning and the end of time. Of course I didn't expect you to understand. Now that I have shed my name, there is no limit to the power I can draw from our element!"
As she loomed over Jennumara, she suddenly seemed too powerful, a force far too great to be contained in any faerie's body. With a savage grin, she raised her free hand towards the sky. A vortex of spectral flames swirled higher and higher around them. Jennumara tried to scramble away, but the other's sharp nails dug into her cheeks.
They were yanked through space and slammed into the sand of a desert, under a crushing midday sun. The bulbous spires of an ancient city shone in the distance. The blue faerie straightened up and looked around at the scenery, her mouth half-open in exhilaration. "Nothing can stop me now, not the rules of faerie magic, not the limits of my body... not even space!" She raised her hands as if to push against the sky.
Jennumara felt an invisible force rush towards them, threatening to crush her right into the ground. Her head spun; the pressure pushed against her eardrums as if she was deep underwater.
"Not... even... time," grunted the other, her fingers curling into claws from the effort. Then the blinding blue sky revolved until it fell beneath the ground, and darkness spread from horizon to horizon in a matter of seconds. The faerie's mad laugh echoed in the night. Jennumara looked up at the sky in awe. The other gazed at the darkness proudly, as an equal.
"Who needs to be limited by an identity?" she asked softly.
"Who are you?" whispered Jennumara, transfixed.
"I am dark."
"What are you?"
"I am dark." It was no longer a person who glared with those infernal eyes. It was a force of nature. Her aura of power was too bright, too vast, expanding out of her figure. She had grown no taller, and yet she towered above Jennumara.
She released her hold on nature and the daytime sky returned, snapping back into place like a gigantic rubber band. She abruptly warped them back to the plateau.
Jennumara had curled up in a shivering bundle. The locket clattered on the ground next to her and clicked open. The pressure immediately disappeared from her chest and she took deep gulps of fresh air. She pushed her hair out of her face with trembling hands, relieved to see her normal black and white colors. She let out a groan when the clippers finally released her aching wings.
"Aren't you going to clip my wings?" she asked in a tiny voice.
The other burst out laughing. "I have gone beyond all of Faeriekind. I think I can do without your pathetic little powers." Her eyes focused on Jennumara for the first time since their experiment. "Nevertheless, you were a rather useful tool. How does it feel to know that you contributed to the end? When it's almost over, when the queen and her maids decide to resort to drastic measures... they won't find any name by which to bind me! Oh, how can you turn a nameless faerie grey?" She let out a giggle, delighted.
Jennumara automatically thought back to her first meeting with the blue-skinned faerie. Try as she might, she simply couldn't remember the name. It had been erased from her memory.
The other seemed to have followed her thought. "Harmless as you are, I don't like to leave any loose ends. They irk me. I can't let you remember any of this... not before I've taken over. You'll need a long time to return from where I'm sending you."
She began to form another vortex, aiming her open palm carefully at Jennumara. "Darkness will return. See you later, Jenny... much later." Before she could say another word, Jennumara was blasted away, with the lock that would one day imprison Baelia the grey faerie. The whirling blue flames closed on a pair of blazing red eyes.
Special thanks to parody_ham for her help, and to all who contributed to the Ode to Villains!