The story so far:
Goldrang shuffled silently through the ancient labyrinth beneath the Fairy Castle of the Jewel Guardians. The darkness there remembered him well and embraced him lovingly with its chilly tentacles of desolate abandon. It had been nearly a century since his last visit and he was pleased to find that nothing had changed since the last territorial dispute between the fairies and nymphs.
Silly, superstitious creatures, he mused. Always afraid of the dark and yet equally afraid of the light. Always concerned about the right and yet incapable of surviving without the wrong. Good and evil. Heaven and Hell. Fairies and Nymphs and Elves. All born of the same blood and yet forever destined to be mortal enemies. And why? Because of the madness and cravings of those half-breed, silly looking human creatures? Not to mention the greedy goblins who simply can’t help themselves from meddling in everyone else’s business.
A high pitched squeal of musical laughter escaped his tiny lips and the way it echoed off the moldy caverns around him caused him to fall into an even deeper fit of joviality.
His time had finally come!
And it had all been worth it.
The staged war against the Crimson King. The very real battle that he and that old rogue Gandalf waged against Sauron. All those years leaping from universe to universe, searching for the Dark Tower. Falling in love with an Aes Sedai, slaying the False Dragon and breaking the world!
All in an effort to deliver him to where he now was. To become the top wizard in any universe south of the gates of Heaven.
It was he, Goldrang, The mighty Arch Mage. And once he had the essence of fairy royalty, the journey would finally be complete.
He certainly wouldn’t miss spending time pretending to be in service to that half human, half Goblin, full idiot, King Sklaborn!
Now that the prophecies of the Jewels was finally in full swing, he didn’t need the King any longer. No need to check out. Let the diseased wretch find out just like every one else in the universe. When he’s brought to his bony human knees.
Goldrang had to marvel at the whole of it. Truth was, he hadn’t expected the prophecies of the Jewels to begin for at least another century. The fact that he had miscalculated was a bit disconcerting. No doubt a result of becoming somewhat lethargic in the Kings service for the past thousand years or so.
He wouldn’t let that happen again.
He had actually underestimated the inherent greed of the fairy. The fact that this derelict prince Ras had the mind to usurp his own lineage, and then the courage, if it could be considered that, to approach the underworld King of Goblins and offer a proposition…well, it was preposterous! The last war had rendered the fairies practically useless in their meandering uncertainty. Goldrang had calculated it would take millennia before they would be prepared to once again revolt and lay claim to what was once theirs. The fairy realm. The human realm. Damnation! Practically half of the imp universe was rightfully theirs. But it was not to be. Goldrang would see to that.
Ras was an idiot, for certain. But he was Goldrangs idiot!
He felt a tiny shudder of guilt tickle his insides. After all, he was once their protector. They were once, his fairies. He was once considered…‘good.’ But that was long ago. And the truth was, everything had a price. Especially eternity.
In the distant, powerful darkness, he heard the unmistakable wing flaps of fairies. Instantly his apprehension was sucked into the singularity of the super massive black hole his heart had become.
Control. That’s what it was all about. Control of others. But more importantly, control of yourself. One had to bury the urges that propelled them to goodness. One had to embrace the urges that brought them everlasting life.
It was a constant struggle. And meandering fairies always provided the perfect test of his worthiness.
He closed his eyes and transported himself directly into the shadows that surrounded the fairies that had been brave, and stupid enough to venture out into the labyrinth.
Hidden, he observed.
Two of them. Guardians!
Each had a zenith sword in their grip and hearts pure and true.
Goldrang pondered their brave ignorance. What did they think they were going to achieve? Only two of them, wandering side by side in the savage void of the abyss. It was fool heartedness! Something that only one of those soft-brained humans would do.
Again, Goldrang felt a pocket of guilty bile clinging to the inside of his throat. Poor creatures. Forced to spend so many years disguised as those illogical and fanciful humans. It was inevitable that their tiny fairy brains would eventually become infected.
Goldrang almost laughed again. Brave fools. He did so love them.
Within seconds he had clipped both their wings, pierced their chests and removed their beating hearts.
As their bodies lay motionless on the ground, Goldrang devoured their life vessels and absorbed all that they were.
Two Guardians down. Six to go.
When the feast was over Goldrang continued on his way through the labyrinth, toward the secret entrance to the Queens chambers. It was there, hidden within the intricate stone worked walls, that he would recover the Sacred Emerald Jewel of Amarillia. It was the Jewel of transportation and communication. The Jewel that assured that every being that moved between the realms of fairy and human entered and exited at the exact coordinates that were established centuries ago by the gluttonous elven elders.
That was where the fairy apprentice would be found. That was where Goldrang’s communication was headed.
With the Jewel of Amarilia, he would summon all the lost Goblin souls of the ages. The lost souls that now spent their time flapping their tiny, disease infested wings and shitting all over the land that the ignorant humans called Austin. He would command this disgusting, beastly army to locate the diamond and its precious cargo and to deliver it back across the realm of humanity.
Right into his waiting claws.
Maggie rounded on General Trine, her face a perfect portrait of anguish.
“Guard Damn it! Now she’s gone too and it’s all your fault!”
The words were harsh. Much too harsh. No one was allowed to speak to General Trine like that except Zane, and he would never do it in front of others. But Maggie was a special Guardian. She had the metallic green wings of a golden fairy warrior princess and the wide, amulet shaped eyes that no matter where she was, always reflected the majestic tranquility of the South Harmonic Ocean. Her entire aura was radiant. Her beauty was only eclipsed by her short fuse and unruly temperament. Everyone loved her and everyone feared her. To be in her presence and not fawn over her was a challenge that even the most seasoned guardians often failed.
Digby moved forward and rested his battle scarred hand on her shoulder. “Easy my child. We are all a little on edge this day.”
Maggie shrugged his hand off but made no further gesture. She knew Digby was right. She was worked up. They were all worked up.
First the Queen was captured. Then Zane rushed off to the human realm to save her. Then Roland and Hasby disappeared into the mazes to fight in the dark. And now Chelise! Betraying direct orders to chase after her lover!
“Whose next Trine? Who will be the next to disappear when we turn our wings? Who will be the next fairy martyr?” Maggie’s words no longer carried malice. They were soft and disturbed.
“She is right General. We are the Guardians! We need to stand together or we shall all fall alone!” Loriant stepped forward gripping his Zenith with white knuckles. His purple wings stood out erect on either side of his lithe frame.
The general moved to the window and peered out over the dark courtyard. Since the initial attack the elves and goblins had retreated back into the shadows. But he knew it was only a matter of time before they struck again. The word was out. The queen was bonded. And by her own brother. The Fairy kingdom was in disarray and the Guardians were shamed. He had allowed his elite team of eight to dwindle down to four. They were no longer following his orders. He had lost control.
“I am…sorry.” He offered into the darkness, knowing that he was showing weakness in their greatest time of need. But he couldn’t help it. He had been slipping for the past few years and only remained as General due to the insistence of his number two in command, and eldest son, Zane. It was Zane who made the decisions. Even though he refused to take credit, for years, it had been Zane who was the true ruler. And without him there now, by his side, the General knew that he had to take drastic measures. Before all was lost. It may already be too late.
Sensing his indecisiveness and despair, Maggie leapt up onto the round table and sent her wings into a frenzied sing-song. It was the challenge of power. The sound echoed through the chamber of Guardians and all three men instinctively jumped to attention toward her. The fire in the corner sizzled and cracked.
“We can no longer hover here waiting to die. Chelise had the right idea, even though it was for the wrong reasons. We must recover the queen. We must act promptly and bravely. The fairies of our realm depend on us! Perhaps the entire universe depends on us. We must spread our wings and we must fly!” Her eyes washed over them like mighty tsunami waves full of courage and fury.
Despite his agitation General Trine couldn’t help but smile. He was so proud of her. Maggie had always been his favorite. He had hoped one day Zane would fall in love with her. But his son only had wings for Chelise. Young, reckless, brutally loyal Chelise. As powerful and passionate as any Guardian had ever been. Nothing could have stopped her from going after Zane.
General Trine moved forward and laid his golden scepter upon the table at Maggie’s feet.
Digby and Loriant exchanged a knowing glance and then in unison, folded their wings back, dropped to their knees and raised their hands toward Maggie.
“Maggie el’Derruvian, as the General of the Jewel Guardians, in the absence of Commander Zane, I pass the scepter of decision making power to you. May you serve your Queen and your Kingdom well.”
With a slight smile, Maggie buzzed down from the table and immediately moved toward the door.
“Trine and Digby, remain here and protect what you can of the sacred Jewels. Loriant, your with me.”
“But…where are you going?” Digby asked with a touch of envy. He hated to be left out of any mission.
Maggie turned her vast stare upon them and declared, “We are going to pay a visit to a dirty, half-Human, half-Goblin underworld King. And we are going to make him a proposition he will be unable to refuse,”
Zane was doing his best to appear as human as possible. He stretched his arms out wide over his head and opened his mouth in a yawn. This seemed to be a frequent exercise for humans. He also collected saliva in his mouth and then forced it out in a spray to the ground. He wasn’t certain what purpose this served but he observed many humans doing it so he followed suit. So far, no one seemed to pay him any attention at all. It always amazed him how unobservant the human race was.
He sat casually on a metal bench and pretended to stare off into the large body of water in front of him. In reality, he was watching a dwelling in his peripheral vision. Beyond his left shoulder, across a paved path that the humans traveled their metal vehicles over, the dwelling was situated like many others, in a long row, encased by some sort of rock tiled walkway.
Zane deducted that it was a home unit, built out of wood and metal components, however he was surprised to find that it was not fortified. At first he had been alarmed, as he knew that Layla’s trail ended there and so she must be inside. But it didn’t take long for Zane to recognize that the dwelling was also surrounded by a thin fairy aura.
So there were fairies living there and he believed he knew exactly who they were.
He remembered many moons ago when two fairies sought approval from the Guardians in order to cross into the human realm and study its nature. Of particular interest to them seemed to be an animal that flew, much like a fairy, however did not posses an equal intellect, not even to humans. The council had been perplexed but voted unanimously to allow them to carry out their research. It was of great importance that all Fairies be able to live their lives in the manner in which they see fit.
Zane had always suspected that the research in question had something to do with the Prophecies of the Jewels. Now he knew it to be true.
He had met the male fairy before they left and recalled his name was Jonas. A kind Fairy with Emerald eyes. It was comforting to know that for the moment, Layla was safely with those of her own kind.
Zane wanted to rush to her side, to retrieve the diamond and his Queen, however he sensed Goblins in the area and had to assume that they were watching his every move. The last thing he wanted to do was lead them directly to her. It would mean the end for all of them.
So he waited. It pained him deeply. But he sensed it was the right thing to do. Just wait. And let the Prophecies guide him.
Less than a hundred yards away from where Zane waited, adequately camouflaged inside the shadows of a low hanging bridge, Ras sat gritting his tiny teeth together in anguish.
He was so close. He could sense it. The diamond was near. But the electric waves that pulsed through the human realm rendered his fairy intuition inept. He fondled the onyx in his pocket but refrained from calling upon its evil essence. It was there if he really needed it. But he had to admit, each time he called it out, he felt like a little more of his own mind was being destroyed. His hands shook. His wings vibrated with an uncontrollable pulse. Almost as if the stone was calling to him instead of the other way around. It was unnerving. And he didn’t need unnerving. He needed patience.
He just had to wait for Zane to make his move. Then he would attack.
And he knew that Zane would eventually make his move.
Ras hadn’t even needed to track Zane, which was a blessing because the stenches of the human realm made him feel weak and unbalanced. No sooner had Ras transported over into the human realm when he felt the unmistakable wave of a Fairy protect shield come vibrating upon the thick human air.
Sure enough, the Fairy fool had used his powers right out in the open and had caused quite a scene. Naturally the humans were not quick, or intelligent enough to catch him and so after an hour or so, everything had eventually returned to normal on the streets. Ras had then followed Zane to where he now sat, staring out into the water.
‘Idiot!’ Ras thought. ‘He’s probably having some fanciful daydream about how he is going to rescue the Queen!’
Ras tasted blood in his mouth and realized he had bit his own tongue.
Instinctively he reached into his pocket and fingered the black onyx stone. He felt the comforting essence of power course up his arm, through his wings, into his mind. And he relaxed. Then he tensed again as he recalled the situation.
He just needed to relax. He didn’t need the stone for that.
Yes, all would be fine. He just had to be patient. Eventually, Zane would make his move.
Chelise was an expert tracker. Top of her class. Of course, she had been top of her class in nearly every skill. As the youngest Guardian of all Fairy time, she had a tremendous amount of power in her wings. And what she lacked in experience she more than made up for in swordsmanship and determination. And right now, she was determined.
It had been a difficult decision, betraying the direct orders of General Trine. Leaving the fairy realm while there was the imminent threat of elf and goblin attack. But she simply had to follow Zane and bring him back safe. ‘Queen or no Queen, Guard Damn it!’ She had declared.
She loved him, with all her wings, and Guard be damned if she was going to let him run off and get himself killed.
This wasn’t Chelise’s first time in the human realm. Her parents used to sneak her in when she was just a wee little fairy. Before her wings had developed she could easily pass as a human without even changing form. At the time it didn’t strike her as odd. But as the years passed and she realized that she was not like other Fairies, her mother had finally revealed the truth. She was half human.
However instead of letting it flap her down, she used her uniqueness to excel. She found that the combination of Fairy and Human allowed her to achieve things that other Fairies were unable too. And so she joined the Guardian academy and ascended through its ranks quicker than any Fairy in the history of Guardianship.
One of the benefits of her unique make-up was that unlike other fairies she had no difficulty concentrating in the human realm, despite the constant electric humming in the thick, chalky air.
She had picked up on Zane’s spoor immediately, as well as the foolish little apprentice fairy that carried the diamond with the Queen bonded inside.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t all she picked up.
Apparently Ras and a clan of his mindless goblins were also on the hunt. She smiled at the thought of having Ras bonded. Or better yet, clipping his wings.
It hadn’t taken her long to reach the open grassy area where she found Zane sitting on a metal seat. He seemed to be…relaxing? Chelise was about to move toward him when suddenly she realized that there was a rush of humans around her. They were flushed. She sensed their excitement. She moved with them for a while and then ducked out of sight into an alley between two colorful human dwellings. From that vantage point she could still see Zane.
The humans had all moved past him, down to the water. They were lining up along the bank, many of them pointing off into the distance. Chelise saw Zane get to his feet. He was peering off into the distance like the humans were. She tensed, ready to drop the human disguise and spread her powerful wings if Zane was in danger. She scanned the area looking for any sign of Ras or the stinking goblins. But it seemed clear.
When she turned her attention back to Zane, she finally saw what everyone was looking at. And for the first time in her young life, Chelise was afraid.
Jayde had just finished pinning back Layla’s mane of pure white locks when the day, quite abruptly, turned into night.
She had a difficult time convincing the sweet young Fairy to even allow her access to her hair, something that is generally only done by ones mother, but eventually Layla had submitted. It was obvious the child was in anguish. And for good reason, Jayde thought. In her care she held the Queen of Fairies. The fate of the realms. It was a torturous responsibility for one so young.
But Jayde was also impressed with Layla’s power. Her wings were strong and she carried her sense of duty very seriously.
Jayde had taken her glimmering hair clip, the one Layla begged her to please be gentle with, and laid it on the table. She intended to put it back in once she had completed the child’s braid. But then as she placed the final pin in her hair…
Jayde spun on her heels and looked out the kitchen window just as she heard the first human scream rip from someone’s throat. She looked up to the sky and it was gone. In its place was an undulating black blanket of screeching beasts.
Twenty years of genetic research had prepared her for this day. That, and a lifetime of studying the Prophecies of the Jewels. She knew a day like this would come. A day when all the lost goblin souls would revolt. It was so written. And now she knew why.
“Come Layla.” She moved quickly toward the back of the house. To the back cabinet. Behind the hidden board. She retrieved the silent echo cloak. When she turned to place the garment on Layla the girl was not there.
“For Guard’s sake girl, get your wings in gear and get over here!”
Layla dropped her human form and within seconds stood before Jayde, her youthful, iridescent wings shimmering with fear.
‘What’s happening Jayde?’ Ran through her mind.
As Jayde fitted the echo cloak over Layla’s wings she explained, “ The Arch Mage has retrieved the Jewel of Amarilia. He’s controlling the lost goblin souls. There’s no time for further explanation. You must…”
At the other end of the house the front door exploded.
Jayde was able to catch a fleeting glimpse of Jonas, swinging his mini-Zenith, then he was completely engulfed in a black furry madness.
She opened the back door and shoved Layla through it.
“Keep the cloak on girl. It’s your only protection. And fly! For Guards Sake, FLY!”
By the time Zane fought his way through the thundering mass of rabid flying beasts and made it into the Fairy dwelling, there was nothing left but dust. The bats had forced their way in and obliterated the place.
Zane sighed deep. That meant that they knew exactly what they were after. They somehow had a collective reasoning. Or they were being guided.
A terrible thought occurred to him…somehow, had someone or something, made it through the Guards, into the royal chamber and seized the Jewel of Amarilian?
He had to hold out hope that that wasn’t the case.
Just inside the front door he found what was left of the Fairy he had once known as Jonas. His emerald eyes were now dull and lifeless. His wings crumpled and bent.
“May the Guards be with you Jonas.”
He prayed silently that he wouldn’t find Layla in the same state. His favorite little apprentice. She showed so much promise. He couldn’t bear to see her that way. But even worse would be the loss of the Diamond and his Queen. That would mean the end of all.
Near the back of the dwelling, he found another emerald-eyed Fairy. This one had long, flowing dark honey hair. Her wings were ripped from her back and strewn about the area with careless fury. His heart was heavy. But he would have to mourn for them later. All he could do now was thank his lucky Guards that there was no trace yet of Layla.
Perhaps all was not lost. Perhaps she had found a way to escape. She was a brilliant little imp. But even as he thought it, and a surge of hope bristled through his wings, he spotted something glowing under the table. Something familiar.
He picked it up and knew right away that it was Layla’s hair clip. It was precious to her. The only thing she had that had belonged to her mother. She would never leave it behind. And if it was here, then that could only mean that…
Rage overtook him and Zane exploded out of his human form. His golden eyes blazed like two massive stars exploding in the abyss. His fiery orange wings spread wide and he let out a roar that shook the souls of the damned.
There was only one thing left to do. One Fairy left to face.
“RAS!” He bellowed. “I’M COMING FOR YOU!”
Anthony flipped his phone shut and took another long look out his windshield toward the sky. It was once again dark blue, just as an early evening Austin sky should be.
It had been a crazy, scary hour. He had been loading up the last of the boxes he was scheduled to deliver to a buyer in Dallas, when suddenly he heard multiple screams. Screams of terror. Before he had time to consider it, the sky had turned black with bats. He had just made it into the cab of his truck when they came whooshing by. Thousands of them. Hundreds of thousands. Beady little eyes. Mouths open, exposing tiny sharp teeth. It was horrifying.
Anthony had grown up in the mid-west, but he had been in Austin long enough to know all about the millions of Mexican free tail bats that migrated up every year. However they had never posed any real threat, other than scaring the **** out of a little girl now and then or dropping guano on a head or two. They were harmless really. They ate insects, not humans. They weren’t Vampire bats or anything creepy like that.
Still, he had never seen or heard of anything like he had just witnessed. It almost seemed like they were intelligent. Like they had finally grown tired of bugs and wanted to give human flesh a try. It made Anthony shudder.
Even after the last one had passed he stayed locked in the cab of his truck for a good thirty minutes. He wasn’t taking any chances. Eventually, the reception had returned on his phone and on the radio and the report was that the bats had disappeared somewhere to the south. Maybe the flying rats were headed back to good old Mexico.
At any rate, the whole ordeal had set him back considerably. Now he was going to be seriously late on his last delivery. The ride to Cockrell Hills in Dallas was a good three hours away. He sighed and drained the last drop of his energy drink.
He slowly got out of the truck, looking in all directions, and moved around to the back where he closed and locked the swinging doors.
He jumped back in the cab and fired up the engine.
As he pulled out unto 35 he turned on the radio and began absently singing the words to an old Travis Tritt song. It was going to be a long night.
In the back, sandwiched between two large cardboard boxes, huddled two very worried Fairies.
One, with a Zenith mini-sword clutched in her skilful grip. The other, with the fate of the entire universe in her pocket.