The sky had passed beyond the cool pink of sunset and begun the quick descent into night when Tillianianita emerged from the wood-hollow. The warmth of the passing day was giving way to the cool chill of evening, and she shivered involuntarily in the whispering breeze. Summer had definitely fled, she thought, and the night would soon grow much colder.
Lowering her head, she began to sing softly, her tiny voice drifting out on the autumn winds. Around her, the quiet park began to respond with its own sounds. Trees creaked and sighed, and chirping birds added to her strange, otherworldly melody. She did not sing in words, but with emotion and feeling, music drawn straight from the heart. It was a song of change, of the end of one season and transition to the next. The cycle turned, and the world would soon know the sleep of winter once again. Her song was of sadness for this, but it was only natural. In her sorrow hung a recognition of what must be.
As she sang, Tillianianita’s hands moved in an intricate pattern around herself. Like fine gauze, a spun garment began to cover her graceful, three-inch-high body, providing protection from the cold wind. Within a few moments she was clad from top to bottom in a suit of thin, white fibers similar to spider-silk, but not at all sticky. It was form-fitting, but comfortable and warm, and left only her head, hands and wings exposed to the chill air.
She ended her song as the last of it covered her feet, satisfied at the luxurious sensation of its touch on her skin. Even though wearing clothing was unnatural for faerie, she had always enjoyed the feeling. Whenever she spun a body-cloak, she knew why it was that humans clothed themselves most of the time. It was something none of the rest of her people had ever discovered, so far as she knew.
Stretching, Tillianianita stepped out onto the tree branch and flexed her shoulders. Behind her, two paper-thin, translucent wings folded and unfolded themselves in the cool evening air. She tested them, and they responded with a quick vibration, lifting her tiny body off the branch effortlessly. She hovered there, bobbing in the breeze, then dropped back down to the rough bark and rested. The wings were ready, she realized. They had finally grown back.
It was time, then. She would set out again, once more pursuing her futile quest.
Once, the faerie had been everywhere throughout the world, timeless guardians of nature’s balance. It was said they had sprung from Gaia’s tears during the Age of Fire. They had sheltered the world’s fragile life through each of the Tests of Ice, protecting the plants and animals until the balance could be restored. But these trials had spawned another, more insidious threat in the form of Man.
Man was not like the other animals. The crucible of Fire and the ordeals of Ice had tempered him like fine steel, teaching him to control his environment rather than be controlled by it. He alone sought to bend the world to his will, and for the most part had succeeded. Mighty rivers had been dammed, and the very mountains themselves had been rent open by his machines. Entire lakes had been drained at his whim, and where once verdant forests stood, Man had created deserts.
Here, on what had once been a thriving, peaceful island, Man had constructed one of his proudest cities. The faerie who had protected the land since time immemorial had been driven inward as the trees were cleared and buildings erected. For reasons none of them knew or understood, a tiny fraction of the forest had been spared from annihilation, surrounded by towers of wood and metal that grew ever higher as the years passed. Soon all that was left was a lonely strip of woods in the midst of a metropolis of metal and plastic.
The faerie had tried in vain to stem the tide, but Man did not heed their cries. Over time he ceased to see the faerie, or even believe in them. They passed into legend, and perhaps that was for the best.
Tillianianita was the last of her people in the park. She had spent the three decades since her birth watching her kind steadily depart, one after another flying out into the forest of metal and glass, never to return. They had all hoped and believed that, somewhere beyond the walls of their prison, there were places in the world where the faerie were still needed. Whether they were right, she did not know.
Still, Tillianianita had refused to leave. Among all the faerie she had been the only one with any curiosity about Man. To her people, he was a destroyer, a demon force that nothing could withstand. This he had proven on the rare occasions where faerie had been captured by humans.
Twenty-five times as large as any of them, a man was capable of endless cruelties against their frail and fragile bodies. The faerie still had magic, it was true, but the destruction of the land had weakened their power tremendously. Only if Man slept, or submitted willingly, could it affect him, and captured faerie usually suffered greatly before either of these came to pass. Two months ago, Tillianianita herself had been caught by a human child, and her wings ripped from her body in a painful reminder of this truth.
Still, she had hope. Tillianianita had observed Man’s actions often, from the secret hiding places in the park. To her, he was a great mystery. The city was his home, for he had built it and it served his every need; yet still he spent many hours within the trees and paths of her small slice of forest, for what purpose she did not know. It was as though he needed the park to remind himself of something he had forgotten or lost.
Tillianianita did not believe, like the rest of her kind, that man was a demon bent on the destruction of the world. She had always thought he, too, was simply another animal like the squirrel or pigeon, a part of the cycle of life that was--or had once been--Gaia. Perhaps in his mastery of the world he had forgotten this fact. The forest he had preserved cried out this message to him, but he could no longer hear it.
So long as she believed this was true, Tillianianita held out hope for herself and Man. Her life, such as it was, was now focused on learning what she could about humans. She had set out into the city several times, trying to find out what drove him, why he was the way he was.
So far, she had learned nothing, only found greater and greater mysteries. During her forays, she had been caught three times, escaping only with the aid of her magic after her captors slept. On each occasion, she had been treated cruelly, held prisoner in bottles or cages, and even taped to a table’s surface. Each time, the men who held her had seemed more interested in her tiny body than the fact that she was of the faerie.
After each of these escapes it had been weeks before she could summon up the courage to go out again. However, it was the latest incident that filled her with the most trepidation. The human child who had caught her in the bushes had shown not the slightest bit of compassion as he ripped her delicate wings from her back. Were all men raised to be so heartless? She could not believe it was so. There must be some good among them, or they would never have spared the park.
With time, her wings had regrown, and her memory of the torture had faded. Tonight, it was time to try again. She would go out into the city and watch from the shadows. She would learn what she could about Man, no matter what the risk.
After all, there was little else she could do.
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