The fairy court was both overwhelming and underwhelming in its presentation when Rina was brought before it. She was awed by the craftsmanship of the houses woven together by filaments of silk, leaves and selected twigs, decorated by small flowering vines and silver and gold ornamentation, but the entire core of the court was no larger than her bedroom. Not only that, but she had to climb the tree it was nestled in to actually reach their domain; a feat she wasn't exactly thrilled over. For a few moments, she stared up at the distance she was going to have to traverse with Flower zipping back and forth in front of her and then sighed in resignation. There was no way around it…
More than ever, she was grateful for her penchant in wearing shoes as opposed to flip flops for she never would have made it otherwise. Her only saving grace was that it had plenty of offshoot limbs to use at foot and hand holds. Flower flew ahead to announce their coming and then came back down to give encouragement to the floundering Rina.
"Have you ever done this before?" the fairy asked, fluttering just behind Rina.
"A few times," she responded through gritted teeth, hauling herself up with another grunt.
"The last Walker was a lot faster," she added unhelpfully.
"Good for them," Rina muttered, taking another step. The court wasn't that much further ahead and she'd made good progress so far, though the ground was getting kind of far away. She was infinitely glad she wasn't afraid of heights…
"Why are you changing colors?" Flower asked, fluttering directly in front of Rina's face, staring at the flush coming across her nose and cheeks.
The remark only served to deepen her flush as Rina glared at the fairy. "Because I do that," she explained in annoyance. Part of being fair skinned in her family meant a rather blatantly obvious reaction to anger, embarrassment, exertions or being in the sun too long. Apparently that wasn't a condition that afflicted the fairies of Sedram…
"Oh… Why?" Flower asked, settling on her shoulder.
"I'd imagine it's genetic," the human replied, grinning when she saw how close the court was now. Just a few more branches.
"What's genetic?" the fairy questioned, wings tickling Rina's neck lightly.
Rina paused to scratch, flailing slightly when her balance shifted, and clung to the tree trunk firmly while she waited for her pulse to slow down just a little bit before resuming her climb. "It means I get it from my parents. Or at least someone in my family at any rate."
"I would rather imagine wings are a condition of being a fairy," Rina replied, looking at the fairy with a raised brow.
"Well my ma and da have different wings and so does my sister," Flower tapped her lip in thought.
Rina would have said something else but her hand brushed the bottom of one of the houses and she heard a surprised squeak from inside it. "Sorry," she cringed in apology, paying more attention to where her hands were going. That became rather inconsequential when she looked up and came face to face with the glittering splendor that was the fairy court.
Everywhere she looked, light danced off the myriad ornaments dangling from all the homes, reflecting off shiny metal, glass and gems alike. Even with the bright decorations, the homes themselves were wonderfully hidden into the tree, looking to be little more than clumps of leaves in the foliage or growing on additional branches but all of them were linked together by vines and silken thread. Occasionally she could see a fairy peek through a window, or push away hanging vines to peer out at her. Fluttering slowly around the structure were numerous fairies, all brilliantly garbed with different hair styles and colors and all manner of wings.
Flying slowly towards her, coming from a home nestled in the center of the court and looking larger and more finely decorated than the rest, were two elegant fairies; likely Queen Nightshade and King Briar if the coronets were any indication. Only slightly taller than Flower, they were still a sight to behold.
Clothed in royal blue robes, the tan hued King Briar floated forward with black feathered wings, piercing amber eyes regarding her calmly, accented by short golden hair that poked out from his head in small tufts. "Greetings Walker," he bowed at the waist slightly. "Welcome to the fairy court." His smile was polite if not altogether friendly. "I am King Briar and this is my lady, Queen Nightshade," he confirmed without Rina having to ask.
On gossamer wings more reminiscent of fins she'd seen on particularly elegant fish, Queen Nightshade floated forward, her dark purple gown hanging slightly longer than her feet. Long silver hair complemented her ebony skin while her perceptive emerald eyes smiled at the human. "Long has it been since we've seen a Walker," she curtseyed politely.
Rina glanced over at Flower who had said she'd seen two Walkers but she didn't look much older than herself. The fairy waved at her excitedly, glancing nervously at the King and Queen and then settled down to listen. Rina pursed her lips and then focused on the King and Queen again, "Please. My name is Rina. And what exactly is a Walker?" she asked, shifting her grip on the branches she clung to since her hands were starting to get tired.
King Briar nodded and gestured with his hands, "They are portents of great change."
"For good or ill has yet to be determined," the Queen added, still regarding Rina with interest.
Rina blinked in surprise, trying to wrap her head around what she had been told. "I'm just a high schooler," she stated. "I can't do anything." She had a hard enough time maintaining her grades in school much less doing anything truly spectacular. Her Dungeons and Dragons group was hit and miss at best and she played a rather crappy rogue since she usually couldn't attack anything successfully. Admittedly, her successes, when she had them, were rather spectacular, but they were few and far between.
"That is irrelevant," King Briar dismissed her concerns with a wave of his hand.
"But it's what I am," Rina affirmed again.
"And what you are must be enough," Nightshade explained, her tiny elegant hands clasped in front of her. "Change will happen by your hands, one way or another," she explained softly, her expression still interested but also troubled.
Rina adjusted her footing and threaded a nonexistent strand of hair behind her ear. "I just want to go home," she murmured uncertainly. This was far and above beyond her and belonged to something she would see in one of her books, games or movies. She felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland but that was no rabbit hole she had fallen through.
"And so you shall," Briar nodded knowingly.
"Sedram is filled with doorways back to your realm," Nightshade explained, "but it is up to you, the Walker, to find them."
"But why can't you just tell me how to go home?" Rina demanded as panic threatened to fill her.
"Even with fairy sight, we cannot see them," Flower piped up finally, hiding behind Rina's head again when the King and Queen looked at her with interest.
"Flower is correct," King Briar agreed. "Only the Walker, who stepped through such an opening to reach here, may see the doorways back."
"But Lizzie saw them too! She didn't come thru with me," the Walker yelled, chagrined when the fairies flinched away from the sound of her voice. Those fluttering in the background darted out of sight and she murmured, "Sorry."
"We don't know what makes a Walker or why they are able to come to Sedram," Nightshade admitted, regaining her composure quickly. "We can only suggest you seek those answers from the Ancient Ones." At Rina's confused expression, she smiled in understanding and tried to elaborate further, "The Ancient Ones are the greatest of our races. They reside within Mount Ymorem far to the south."
The Queen pointed past their home and while Rina couldn't see the mountain for the tree, she doubted she'd have been able to see it at all. She groaned quietly and rested her forehead against the tree branch. "Is that what the other Walkers did before me?" she asked, picking her head back up and regarding the fairies again.
Briar and Nightshade looked between each other uncertainly. "It is a Walker's choice to do what they wish. We can only offer guidance and suggestions," Briar spoke, appearing hesitant in his explanation.
"Well that's helpful…" Rina murmured with a sigh. Ever practical, when she needed to be, she took a deep breath and glanced down. "Well. I guess I better start looking then."
Flower flew off her shoulder when she started to make her way down the tree again. "But where are you going?" she asked, buzzing around her head curiously while King Briar and Queen Nightshade watched her depart.
"I don't know," Rina responded distractedly, focusing on her downward path. "I guess I'll start looking." This whole experience felt like one massive dream anyway. Sooner or later, she was bound to wake up. No sooner had the thought formed in her mind before the branch beneath her foot gave under her weight with a startling crack. Rina shrieked while her hands slipped from the trunk and her other foot slid off the supporting branch she had been perched on, sending her crashing through the foliage.
"You can't fly!" she heard Flower yell down at her. Absurdly, she thought it a rather silly thing to say to someone who had just fallen out of a tree before darkness claimed her.
"Rina! Rina! Hey, Rina!" A frantic slap on her cheek startled her into consciousness and her hazel eyes fluttered open, wincing at the light that pierced her vision. "Thank goodness," the voice went on again.
"Lizzie?" Rina asked quietly, reaching a hand up to wipe her eyes and then touch at the tender spot on the back of her head.
"Of course it's me," Lizzie huffed, caught between trying to figure out if she was going to laugh or cry. Tears brimmed her lashes regardless and when Rina looked beyond here, there seemed to be a small crowd of onlookers, though Marcus was not in the immediate vicinity.
Rina groaned as she struggled to sit up, feeling muscles in her back complain at the action. "What happened?" she asked, stretching carefully in place.
"You just sort of fell over," Lizzie sniffed, putting on a brave smile for her. "I was following you into the crystal cave," she pointed at the darkened entrance immediately in front of them, "and then you just fell backwards."
A perplexed expression crossed Rina's face. "Huh?" She had never fainted in her life and from the way Lizzie was talking, only a few seconds had gone by before they had stepped into the cave. "So I've only been out for a couple minutes?" she confirmed slowly, feeling unaccountably achy all over.
"Yeah," Lizzie nodded, grabbing one of Rina's hands in hers and holding it close. "Are you sure you're alright? Mr. Marcus went to call an ambulance so they should be here any minute."
"What? No. I'm fine. I don't need an ambulance," Rina grimaced, feeling a knot starting to form on the back of her head. She touched at it gingerly and hissed.
"But you're hurt," Lizzie whined, giving her friend a very concerned look.
Rina rolled her eyes and patted Lizzie's hand comfortingly. "I just bumped my head. I'm okay. If you give me a hand up, we can go visit the Fire and Furnace too before we get out of here."
"But-" Lizzie started to say until they were distracted by Marcus.
"Shoo. Go on. What are you staring at?" he asked a reluctant customer who was still watching the pair. Considering the adolescent boy's gaze was resting at Lizzie's knees, where her dress had slid up to reveal part of her legs, he wasn't exactly concerned about their welfare. Caught blatantly staring, the boy froze, looking at Marcus with a wide-eyed expression and quickly fled, face flushing bright red. The owner shook his head and reached down to offer a hand to Rina. "The phone lines were acting up when I called," he explained in apology. "I can try again in a few moments if you'd like."
"Yes," Lizzie nodded, still clinging to Rina's hand protectively.
"No," Rina said at the same time, giving her friend a reassuring smile instead. "Sorry to cause you trouble, Mr. Reath," she bowed slightly, wincing when the action pulled several tense muscles in her back.
"No need to apologize. I'm just glad you're alright," he assured her warmly, gently propelling them towards the front of the store.
Feeling no small amount embarrassed by the fuss she had caused, Rina was more than happy to step out. The store would be here later anyway and she had a lot to think about. She wanted to tell Lizzie what she'd seen but she wasn't sure even her best friend would believe her or think she really had gone crazy. "I'm fine, Liz. Let's just go by your store and then we can get a bite to eat and head home. Alright?" she asked, giving her another forced smile.
"You promise you're alright?" Lizzie asked, looking at her from under worried brows.
"I promise," Rina nodded slightly, tugging the shorter girl after her. "Sorry again, Mr. Reath. We'll be back though," Rina assured him with a small wave. Lizzie wasn't really paying attention, focused as she was on her friend, so she missed when Marcus winked at the departing pair, eyes following Rina until they both moved out of sight. Mildly unnerved by the reaction, Rina hurried along faster, pulling Lizzie with her and ignoring the pain in her legs. Why did everything hurt from her fainting?
Normally, they could spend hours in the stores in the mall, but with Lizzie being distracted and Rina in a decent amount of discomfort, neither was prone to stay long this time. She bought one figurine for Warhammer, one of the new Blood Angels, and they both agreed to get a bite in the food court. Rina opted for Chinese and Lizzie went straight for Sbarro's for a piece of supreme pizza. They ate quickly with Lizzie filling the silence with talk about her new figurine. Apparently Astorath the Grim was a very powerful character she'd been looking forward to purchasing for a while. Rina let her talk for a while, picking at her food until her friend finally wound down.
"So I take it you're excited to face Gavin this weekend then?" she asked, aware that Lizzie usually played a Warhammer game on the weekends at the Fire and Furnace. Gavin, who played with Space Marines, opted to play against her as often as possible. He still maintained he was going to win one of these days.
"Yes!" Lizzie grinned, packing her figurine up carefully. "He won't know what hit him," she winked, taking a second to look at Rina's face again. She still seemed a bit on the pale side but appeared otherwise unharmed. "So, ready to get out of here?"
Rina nodded once and stood up, dropping the rest of her food in the trash and waiting for Lizzie to follow along. She didn't know how to bring up what she had to have dreamt about. It was still baffling how that was even possible… Shouldn't she have been asleep for longer than a couple moments to have that much happen? And she wouldn't have thought she'd be this sore from simply falling backwards.
When they got to the truck, she turned it on but just let it idle in park and stared at the steering wheel. When Lizzie turned the music on, she reached over and clicked it off, fixing her friend with a nervous gaze. "Would you think I was crazy if I told you that I think I was in another world when we were in the Dragon's Hoard?"
Lizzie blinked at her in understandable confusion. "I don't know," she shrugged. "I mean you did hit your head and all that…" she finished uncomfortably.
"I know, but I really mean another place." She took a deep breath, feeling like she was condemning herself to the loony bin, "I swear when I walked through the crystal cave, I stepped out into another realm. I actually talked with the fairies there," she muttered, looking away from Lizzie's stunned expression.
Her friend reached out one hand and placed it against her forehead, pursing her lips as she did so. "Well, you're not running a fever. And you're not normally crazy but you seriously just fell down when you stepped inside that doorway. You weren't out of my sight for more than a couple seconds," she murmured, shaking her head.
Rina forced a laugh and waved her hands dismissively. "I must have just had some crazy dreams then. Forget about it," she urged, reaching out to turn on the cd player before putting the truck in reverse and backing out. She felt Lizzie's eyes on her several times while she drove her home, but Rina pretended everything was fine, singing along poorly to the Japanese song that popped up, making her friend laugh.
When Lizzie stepped out at her place, she leaned into the open door and waved. "Make sure you text me or something when you get home. Are you sure you're going to be alright, Rina?" she asked worriedly again.
"I'm fine Liz. Go get ready for your game tomorrow. I'll let you know when I get home," Rina assured her quickly, putting the truck in drive but keeping her foot on the break until the other girl had closed the door. She waved energetically until she lost sight of her and then turned off the music to finish her drive home. Even if Lizzie thought it was nothing more than a dream and impossible to boot, Rina wasn't so sure.
It was still early afternoon when she got home and Josh was gone, apparently hanging out with a few of his friends according to her mom. Her dad was taking a nap in her parent's room and her mother was watching TV in the living room so that left Rina to her own devices, a reality she was quite content with. Once inside her room, she closed her door, opened her laptop and madly began to type down what she remembered from this morning. Some things were startlingly clear and others a bit on the fuzzy side but she remembered terms such as Walker, Sedram and the names of the fairies Flower, Briar and Nightshade. Why were they all named after plants? She'd have to ask them about it the next time she was there. Wait a minute…
That was impossible right? It had been a one-time fluke that she'd been there at all. She couldn't possibly get there again could she? What if she went back to the Dragon's Hoard and tried to walk through the crystal cave again? Would it take her back to Sedram? Rina leaned back in bed and tapped her lip in thought. But what was the point of going? So far all she'd managed to do was fall out of a tree… Not an experience she wanted to repeat by any means. She still wasn't satisfied with Nightshade's explanation of a Walker though. "I guess I'll be going back tomorrow," she mused quietly, sitting up again and groaning at the pain in her back again. "Right…"
Rina took a long, hot bath to help ease the tension she felt and killed enough time after browsing through her games and books for anything that might help spill light on her recent foray into Sedram. None of it was familiar but she combed every scrap of anything that had to do with fairies; to no avail. Her mother called her down for dinner and she had to sit through another family meal where her brother dominated the conversation with his activities and upcoming plans. When her father asked about her day, she admitted the new store in the mall was cool and laughed about Lizzie's find.
Her mother just shook her head in reluctant acceptance. She knew her daughter's penchant for fantasy but it wasn't what she would have preferred her to be interested in. Since Rina paid for all of her finds now with funds she earned at her part-time job at Kohl's Creamery, she didn't complain but that never stopped her from sighing.
Eager to be away from the table, Rina dropped her plate off in the sink and practically flew up the stairs. It was early yet for her, but she was content to pop a movie in and drift off to sleep. She made it about halfway through The Voyage of the Unicorn before heavy lids closed over her eyes. Had she not been mostly asleep in her bed at home with a movie playing in the background, she could have sworn that she heard the sound of fairies laughing and the wind rustling through the trees.