Of Shades of Grey
You might have heard about it, that Faeries are born with their soulmate’s first words to them written on their skin.
Soulmates do not necessarily mean romantic partners, as many Neopian might imagine, but rather, for the Faeries, soulmates are their other half, someone who could make a significant impact in their lives. Soulmates are the one other being who could accept you for who you are— all the good and bad— even if the whole world doesn’t.
Take Illusen and Jhudora, for example, their hatred for each other is well known, and they throw as many insults as curses at each other on a daily basis. But deep down, the both of them know each other better than any others, know each other’s most inner thoughts; each other’s darkest secrets.
However, this story is not about them, not at all— it is about a Dark Faerie by the name of Shade.
Shade is born from the malicious darkness of Neopia, her appearance typical of any Dark Faeries. Just like any Dark Faeries, her first years are accompanied by another Dark mentor, who would teach her the duties and responsibilities of a Dark.
“We’re different from the other elements,” her mentor stated gruffly as she begins her first lesson, “we don’t have time to waste on trivial things unlike them, and we don’t belong under the sun. Know that, and remember that, young Darkling.”
Shade nods, absorbing every word like a sponge.
But she never really does comprehend the words until she has experienced it herself, because even though Dark Faeries are just another element along with the other Faeries, the treatment towards them is evidently very different.
(“Hey, isn’t that a Faer—”
“Shh, she’ll hear you! My mother’s told me, approach any Faerie but the Darks! They’re dangerous!”
“But, we’ve been lost for so many hours! I’m tired and scared!”
“Shush! Anything would be better than a Dark Faerie! Who knows? Maybe a Light Faerie would be nearby?”)
They are merely minor stings, a prickling in her heart that Shade learns to endure. We don’t belong under the sun, she recalls, and follows after her mentor for their night patrols.
And of course, there is the problem of soulmates.
For Dark Faeries, soulmates are tricky things.
While most other Faeries embraces the idea of soulmates, it is not rare for a Dark Faerie to remain without a partner for life. Her mentor, Shade realises, is one of them.
“What do you expect?” her mentor has scoffed in disdain, mouth twisting in a mocking sneer, “we’re Dark. I’d sooner see a Light Faerie scratch off her soul mark than accept any Dark soulmates. You’ll just have to hope that your soulmate will be Dark.”
Her mentor’s soul mark have been the words that a Light Faerie has uttered. Shade has not heard the full story, but she knows enough— knows that her mentor’s soul mark is exactly where her burn scar is— and she does not want to think about the implication of that.
(Faeries are elemental beings, and can only be truly hurt by other Faeries or they themselves. Till now, when her mentor believes no one is watching, she still reaches up to her scarred cheek, trying to ease a phantom pain that reminds her of what she has lost.)
Then, Shade pulls up her left sleeve and examines the big, loopy words but you’re Dark! inked upon the light purple skin of her inner wrist, and decides that it would be for the best for the both of them, her soulmate and her, to not come across each other forever.
Time passes, and soon Shade leaves her mentor to become a full-fledged Dark Faerie. She patrols nights and crafts spells and carefully weighs countless lives upon her judgement. It is a heavy responsibility that she shoulders, but she does so without a single complaint despite no one (maybe save Queen Fyora) ever recognising and acknowledging her for what she has done.
She is doing well, she dares say, serving Neopia every single day because Neopia needs her. She falls into a routine, one that she assumes would be how she would live by for the rest of her life, until one day—
Dusk. The sky a liquid golden at where day meets night, where light meets dark. The time where Light Faeries return to their homes while Dark Faeries wakes. The time where Shade comes across her Soulmate for the first time.
She feels a tug before she even catches the sight of the other Faerie. The tug, which only a Dark Faerie can feel— being creatures so heavily interlinked with Souls. The tug, which guides her to her soulmate.
And Shade’s soulmate is a Light Faerie.
It is not surprising, Shade muses as she regards the despicable words tattooed on her wrists. She should have left, should have flown away, but instead, she tucks in her wings and cautiously peers through the thick shrubbery.
Her soulmate is chatting animatedly with a Neopian, her eyes twinkling with joy and voice full of life. There is a lull in the conversation before the Light Faerie steps back, and her entire figure shines.
Oh, Shade realises, a beat after. It’s a Blessing.
Light Blessings are very different from the ones Shade remembers her own kind would give out. It is like the millions of wonderful things Shade admires from afar but can never truly get close enough to touch, to taint them. It ensnares her, as if trapping her in a hypnotising spell.
“Thank you so much, Baelia!”
The excited cry of the Neopian startles Shade out of her daze. Baelia, she thinks fiercely, as she leaves the scene. My Soulmate, Baelia.
It is so very wrong, to know and understand logically but still continue to come back to see Baelia day after day. Shade prides herself in her ability to judge without ever having emotions hindering her decision, but each time, she could not help the desperate calling that is embedded in her instinct.
It is, perhaps, how Shade is the first to notice Baelia’s disappearance.
“Please,” Shade pleads, and she hates herself for that, hates the weakness in her voice and her inability to do anything about the situation.
“Queen Fyora is a busy Faerie,” the Light Faerie before her scorns. “She’s not going to see any pesky Darks like you. Run along! You Darks always slack off your duties, unlike us who always have work to do!”
Shade bites her tongue and clenches her hands into fists before she accidentally starts a fight. Taking a breath to calm herself, she returns coolly, “Queen Fyora won’t be too happy to hear you saying that about us.”
The guard only laughs shrilly, the sound cutting painfully into her ears. “Don’t worry, Queen Fyora knows nothing!”
“What is it that I do not know?” A voice interrupts, and the Light Faerie turns to see the Queen standing right behind her.
“Queen Fyora,” Shade breathes, relieved, while the Light Faerie pales in comparison.
“Maybe you should take a few days to rest,” the Faerie Queen suggests to her door guard, although everyone can tell that it is less of a suggestion and more of a command.
“Q-Queen—” The guard starts, but the Queen dismisses her with a sharp smile, before beckoning Shade inside, turning her back to the sputtering Faerie.
The Queen leads her down corridors and into a spacious room, taking a seat while gesturing for her to do the same on the opposite side.
Shade bows deeply. “Shade,” she introduces simply before sitting down.
Queen Fyora smiles softly. “For what have you travel here for, young Darkling?”
“A Faerie I know of has disappeared for quite some time,” Shade explains, not a hint of emotions in her words. “A week, to be exact.”
Queen Fyora’s lips press into a thin line. “That is troubling.” She sighs. “This… is not the first case.”
Shade stifles the burning questions that are on the tip of her tongue, and waits patiently for her Queen to elaborate.
“There has been a rumour, that a Faerie has been stealing the wings of others.”
This time, Shade is unable to hold back the gasp. “Wings?” she hissed, instantly taking the hint.
“Yes,” Queen Fyora confirms tiredly. “I am unable to intervene directly, but,” she holds a hand to still Shade’s incoming protests, “you, on the other hand, can always encourage Neopians to explore.”
Shade feels her eyes widen, and immediately stands up to bow at her waist. Plans upon plans formulate in her mind, and now, she has the approval of her Queen.
Whispers of a Grey Faerie reaches Shade, and even while knowing how difficult it must have been for Baelia, Shade is selfishly glad that finally, they can meet.
Shade treads gingerly around Baelia, balancing when to nudge her out of her shell just a bit more and when to back off. Gradually, her effort has allowed Baelia to relax around her, to show her emotions a bit more freely, and Shade thinks, baby steps.
When Shade finds out that Baelia does not have a place to stay, she offers Baelia a room in her humble abode. Surprisingly, Baelia nods once, meekly, but it is undeniable that she has taken up on her offer all the same.
“You have her eyes,” Baelia confesses one night, hands gripping the cup of hot chocolate Shade has prepared for her for occasions like this.
Shade merely hums by the window, eyes trained on the glinting stars outside. The moon wanes.
“I was… scared,” Baelia says at last, and her voice cracks. “I’m… really scared.”
And Baelia reaches for Shade, and Shade can hardly refuse as she closes her eyes, listening to her soulmate’s choking sobs and feeling her (has she been so small, so fragile, all these while?) terrified quivers.
Shade is a Faerie made of darkness. Baelia is once Light and now broken.
For Baelia, for her soulmate, Shade will pick up the pieces, and rebuild them back piece by piece, no matter how long it will take.