Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Believe in Faeries

"Be more careful, Azuraz! Damn you!" She had flown headlong past one of the many treacherous beasts that stalked the paths between the fields we had been exploring, narrowly avoiding a collision with the angry looking face of the thing. A stampede of these monstrous aberrations rushed by, each one following closely behind the one in front of it with eyes that blazed white hot and illuminated the path before them- I know not what they were chasing, or worse yet, what even larger, more terrifying thing they could be running from. I was brimming with unadulterated horror.

Each of the terrible savage things seemed to carry with it its own flavor of nefarious dread. Some were smaller compared to their brethren, the babies of the pack I supposed and some trailed on for an impossibly long time before clearing the space before me. In apparent opposition to their destructive power, they were painted with all the colors of spring: sunflowers, succulent fruits and blues that sparkled in jewel tones like when the sun first tickled a watery surface to break the morning's chill.

We Faerie-kin may be small in stature by comparison, but we are wise and we are raised to know that the most violent predators in nature will draw you in with alluring colors. They will captivate you with their fascinating kaleidoscope of inconceivable hues because they are the Queens of their habitat. They have nothing to fear in this domain. No reason to hide. Everything to gain from drawing you into the web of their beauty and catching you in their complexion's enchantments.

Even knowing this as I did, I am ashamed to admit that there were times when I was swallowed by their mesmerism. One of them growled past me, snapping me from the fixated trance. It spit noxious fumes up into the air from its ill-placed nostrils as it raced just behind Azuraz, blurring in the space between us for a second until the monster's breath finally dissipated into the air, cut and dispersed in a whirl by the next of its pack. The vibrations shook every part of my body and I could feel the enormous weight of the behemoths trudging through air so quickly that they forcefully displaced any molecules that dared stand in their way, sending them elsewhere in a hurry, bashing against my body and tossing me haphazardly in corkscrews along my trajectory as I struggled to catch her. I have never felt so small in all my life.

I dashed forward to catch Azuraz out of cowardice that I might be left behind and not for any bravery to which I wish I could lay claim. I could taste the copper trail of the one I darted behind as I raced frantically to escape being in the path of the one that followed. This close, I could see the furious heat pouring off the front of them in blurry waves like a gaseous exhalation. They appeared to have trampled the ground beneath them into near perfect flatness. The dust particles that they spewed were the closest connection to something of our relative size and they paid us an equal share of attention. We were too small to be worth their time. They would not go out of their way to attack us, but they would neither bother changing course in the slightest to avoid us. Buzzes and blurs and blips are all that stand out to me, but the memories that did stick seared their way into my psyche, clear as though I am still trapped in the wild river procession of their herd even now.

I do recall begging Azuraz to let us find an alternate route. She argued, correctly of course, that we could not see the boundaries of this rushing expanse. There was no telling how much time would be wasted if we waited or scouted an alternate route. She didn't even let me raise any one of the objections that fought to claw their way up my throat before she disappeared into the thicket of violence and I gave chase.

I was terrified, if I'm honest. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was frightened for myself. I had always been raised to believe in the selflessness of our kind's existence. Every choice I made to this point in my meaningless life had been made from the perspective of what action best served the Faerie-kin tribe. Even the choices that were in violation of our customs- I made them with the betterment of our colony at the forefront of my mind- until that point. I was so enveloped by survival and self-preservation that I could not see the vantage point from our Kingdom. I was truly lost inside of a world that I did not belong, was not bred to take part in.

Every maneuver that she made was skillful, poetic even. I watched as she danced past danger and I trailed behind clumsily; every major and minor crisis she avoided spelling out my inadequacies as I imagined myself failing to execute her graceful avoidance of death in every single scenario displayed. Splat! Splat! Splat! I pictured myself spread in a thin paste across the hard skin of every beast that past in front of or behind me. I died a million deaths and yet somehow, I was coming into existence again- remembering that I was alive- and as I did, I found myself safely on the other side.

I watched the stampede as we rested on the limb of an old tree. I was comforted by its connection to the Earth. After being confronted with the enormity of these unnatural titans, it helped to acclimate to nature and the familiarity of the world I knew.

Azuraz didn't need to rest, but either born of pity or as a reward for making it through the gauntlet that I suspect neither of us imagined I would survive, she stood alert beside me. She could have carried on and left me behind. She should have. I shouldn't have been there anyways. I had no business chasing after her. I was so lost inside of myself that I don't know how long I'd been frozen on the branch before she imperceptibly moved towards me. She gently reached her antennae out to touch mine. She rubbed it gently, scraping particles of each other into the fabric of each other's being and leaving tiny molecules of ourselves for the other to carry. The old Fairie-kin ritual... It was shared with soldiers, explorers. Lovers. It was meant to quite literally connect us to one another as it forms a scent trail that our kind is genetically attuned to recognizing as a means of solidifying a bond. This comforting gesture was a way for her to let me know that I now held her particular bouquet close to my heart. I could find her anywhere. We would not be lost or separated so easily as my fears ran wild and forced me to imagine.

The panic, which was in part instigated by the comparison of her grace to my lacking, was also subsided by another example of her singular elegance. "Vez," she said to me in a gentle hum. "We have to bring news back to the Kingdom. Our people need to know what we have found on the other edge of the horizon. It could mean the salvation of tens of thousands of the Faerie-kin." She waited for the words to reach me through the palpable anxiety that still enveloped me. Once Azuraz saw recognition in my eyes, she continued, "I do not race homeward to place us in danger, but for the opposite. You are at a disadvantage because this is not a world that you were meant for-" I was offended, but knew that she was right. "Out here, you will need to trust my instincts. I need to know that you will follow me precisely, without hesitation. The dangers here are many, but I feel we have outlived the worst of them." Stuck on the notion that she was built for a different world than I was, I studied her wings. Physically, they weren't that dissimilar from my own, but as she slowly flap-stretched them twice in preparation for flight, there was a rainbow sparkle that moved across their surface, a kind of living color. I noticed something similar in Azuraz's eyes. Like the rest of our kind, her eyes lived subtly in the space between blue and purple- which means that I had seen the exact same collection of pigments in the faces of everyone I had ever known. Yet, somehow hers had grown bolder and seemed lit from behind with an intensity and strength that I have never known. She waited again for the words to catch up with my understanding of them, then concluded, "We must go now."

I lowered my head to Azuraz without speaking a word, letting her know that I understood the severity of our mission. If I'm being truthful now though, I was less invested with following her home to spread the news to the rest of the Kingdom and more devoted to the notion of following her... just to follow her.

She needed no more sign of compliance from me. She took to the sky and raced towards the Kingdom of the Faerie-kin. I chased after her, flying low to the ground and letting the energy of our flight invigorate me. She spun off path, weaving back and forth along some thread of space that seemed both fanciful and predetermined. It was probably all in my head, but I thought for a moment that she was flirting with me, trying to liven things up and celebrate the occasion of our return as she carved through a course in the night air that seemed to be clearing a path for the two of us. She banked hard left and flipped about several times before balancing upright again and swaying gently into the straight path I'd been following in front of me, taunting and teasing me to dance with her. Begging me to lighten up.

An amateur at having fun, I lifted my path and extended the distance between my body and the grass below, looking down at Azuraz for a moment and then dive bombing back towards the grass at full speed, vanishing into the blades for half a second before pulling up and clumsily bouncing left and right and back again, searching in a momentary panic for the path that I was meant to be following. Once I found it, there was a rush of life that filled me then as the sound of Azuraz's laughter buzzed in harmony with the rushing of space around me. I had wings all my life, of course, but there was something new about flight in that moment.

It was why I had left the Kingdom against your wishes in the first place- whether I knew it or not. I felt trapped in the palace and all of its rich golden walls and brilliantly gilded floors. Each of the perfectly replicated rooms that line the walls of your dominion and house everyone inside with systematic stability, nestled in security defined by the illusion of order- after a time, I felt assaulted by the very virtue of their perfection. After all, how can there be a perfect flower, a perfect spring, a perfect life, unless we fool ourselves into believing that it is so? Without a comparison to be made, perfection can be nothing more than the best you know- the pinnacle of what you have allowed yourself exposure to. And by allowing myself to stay confined within the role to which I was born into, I was reenacting a self-fulfilling prophecy that had been played out a million times before by all of my ancestors and the ancestors of anyone of our kind who had come before, all of which reached its culmination with the same impeccably replicated result. It is the literal definition of insanity and try as I might, I could not narrow the scope of my focus and convince myself that this precision was synonymous with perfection. My faith in the hive mentality was rattled and like opening Pandora's Box, I could not un-see what my newborn imagination stirred within me.

I was tormented by isolation as these thoughts ate away at the me that I had always been, carving a space inside that would make room for the me who I might be.

None of my brothers seemed to mind that this was all they would know from birth until death. Life without danger, where everything was either taken care of for them or it wasn't. The fact that food was scarce did not bother them in the least. The threat of the Southern Forest Colonies invading our lands posed little consequence to the merits of their livelihood. There would be feasts or there would be famines, there would be peace or there would be war. When the winter came and we could not sustain our Kingdom's capacity any longer, some of my brethren would be exiled into the cold to perish and fight on their own for the first time in their lives and they would march willingly without argument towards a certain death sentence because that was our way. Others among the Faerie-kin males might be chosen to breed children who would be born in Spring or Summer when food would be less scarce and we would make another go at survival, spin the wheel for another season. But each year we came back with less force, each Rebirthing Season saw less of the noble Faerie-kin roaming the Earth, and each Fall we were forced to exile more and more of our kind to the harshness of Winter so that a handful of us might survive long enough to see another renewal.

I feared death. Or even more accurately, I fear death. I did not want to face the Winter. I could not stand to let my fate be decided by randomness. I did not want to wait and have my destiny told to me, to either die in the cold or bring in a new generation who would repeat the cycle until there weren't enough of us left to keep the engine of life turning.

I didn't know it at the time, but I've since come to realize that I was searching for the answers to questions that I hadn't learned enough to start asking. "What makes one fit to wear the crown and others fit to soldier for that crown upon the threat of doom and death? What is the defining trait that is used when callously casting out half our house to the freeze of Winter's Chill, ending their lineage for eternity, while the other half are picked to carry on their genetic line?"

And so, defiant and treasonous though I knew it would be deemed, I followed Azuraz on her quest. I overheard your command that she search out a new land, ripe for bearing life in the coming cycle. I know it was a betrayal, My Queen, but it was your words to her that spurred me- stolen by mine interloping ears as they were. I was on my way to seek your counsel, hoping that in your wisdom you would snuff the doubts that rose within and bring me back to the peace of a life ignorant to these fancies, and you spoke those words to Azuraz as if they were an answer to the questions that I had meant to ask.

I told myself at the time that if I followed her, if I could help in some small way, that perhaps I will have a part in ushering in a stronger generation for our kind- where at the very least, fewer of us were forced to take the Frozen Flight than years passed. I could be the start of something new, rather than returning to the sterility that made me numb to the electric magnetism that coursed through the veins of our rich Earth. I would not be oblivious to the rotation of the world any longer, holding so tightly to one place with such a strength in hubris that I believed I could make the spinning stop if I grabbed tightly enough to my one little part of the planet and stayed so very still.

Flying as if it were my first time, diving across the fields, zipping back and forth to chase Azuraz, I knew that this feeling was what I was really after. I wasn't looking for a way to slow the tides of death that swept over our people every year with the churning of the seasons, I was looking for a reason to live- despite the inevitability of death's approach.

There was a moment of euphoria that burned away that cocoon of anxieties that I'd wrapped myself in. That anxiousness that was like a security blanket that I'd been weaving since birth and adding to it, sewing in each new insecurity and every fear I'd ever had and then gripping it tight, drawing those negative feelings closer, clutching desperately to the very feelings that I wanted to be chased away and foolishly expecting them to bring me solace.

Her voice echoed in my head, vibrating the cells of my entire body and charging them with electric life. I'm certain now that it was a warning, but any words she sent in my direction were coated in honey and I would drink them hungrily for hours, gorging on every word before fully digesting their meaning.

I bounced off the hard ground, struck by something in midair that swatted me down. The world spun and ached, my vision throbbed and my left antennae screamed a blitzkrieg of painful lightning pulses that ran paths spreading in every direction across the nerves in my head. I couldn't see straight enough at first to figure out what was happening, but the smell of Azuraz in motion shook me from my stupor and brought focus back into my sight.

"Vezzzz!" I could hear her screaming towards me. I flipped onto my feet and tried to shake the pain from my wings. They were caked in dirt and I could hardly move them. I tried flapping them clean, but the injury tormented my senses, assailing every stitch of muscle, even those that I had taken for granted since birth, called upon to do their job and never paid any meaningful attention to. It was as if the servants of my limbs saw how badly I needed them now and were in revolt against my frenzied call to action. I was acutely aware of my entire body now. Aware but without control. Helpless.

I looked up at Azuraz as she raced down to meet me, and I smiled stupidly at the obvious concern for me in her eyes that rapidly flickered between purple and blue. Violet and cerulean. Orchid and ocean.

I saw something moving behind her, impossibly fast for its size. I tried to shout warning to her, but I could not find the right thoughts to send to my nerves that would wrest them from their paralytic state. As I strained to make sound, she dove into a spiral that traced circles around the object that meant to smash her down towards me. The elation I felt for her survival cured my nerves and released my senses from captivity, marking their freedom with a shriek that surprised even myself.

The monstrosity lurched back to try and catch her in flight. It was like a living branch with animated sticks that curled at their ends and balled up into rocks that were flung through the air. I traced the branch of this creature to its trunk and saw that it was covered in some thin armor, with only the branches and one other fleshy protrusion sticking out of the top. I knew at once that this was the human-kind species of the Kingdom of Man and that our mission was in danger of ending here. That Azuraz was in danger of ending here.

I found a strength that I wouldn't have been capable of summoning a day sooner and I flapped the debris from my wings, preparing to take flight. The hideous and enraged face of our predator took notice of my movement and I watched as it lifted one of its mammoth legs towards me, threatening to come down and close the space between ground and sky. The man's intent was clear: to do me in.

With the impending danger to myself and the human's animosity turned fully onto me, we both lost track of Azuraz. I could not see her, but I felt her aromatic presence lifting away from me and believed that she must have been securing her escape to conclude our mission. I was happy at that thought. Through all of the pain and terror that seized me, I was at peace. The death I spent my whole life fearing was finally here, but Azuraz was safe and would be regaled as a hero among our fellow Faerie-kin. She may even be selected for Queen of this future Kingdom. My imagination spread like wild-fire and for the first time since its conception, it burned with the musings of a future that seemed worthy of having played my part in its becoming.

Then I saw a streak of yellow and black, like a tiny dart being flung into the massive fleshy canvas of the man-fiend's neck. The devil recoiled and planted his foot back onto the ground just in front of me and lunged its open paw against the place where Azuraz had struck, cementing the finality of her last heroic act as a soldier to our Kingdom, smashed between his neck and open palm. The human ran from the scene to tend his wound and blared an audible manifestation of his injury. It was so loud that the Earth convulsed in spasms around me. I smelled the fragments of her scent that he discharged being splashed across the land like pollen dust.

"Mortified, I succumbed to instinct. I scarcely recall the rest of my journey. But I can still smell her on my antennae, your Majesty. Her sacrifice haunts me. I know we are all born into service for the sake of the hive, but there was something special in her that I cannot let go of, and like the self-made blanket I once held of all my anxieties and fears, I equally wish to clutch these small molecular remnants of her to my breast as much as I want to burn them from my skin."

"Vez, I think that I shall give you both of these wishes that you seek- I will see to it that her memory is both held close and burned away. First, I would ask that you plant your seed in my nest. Let your memories and instincts, lessons, love and loss mingle with my progeny to serve this hive in future generations. If you truly hold Azuraz so closely that she is a part of you, I trust that the molecules that haunt you with their specter smells will take root in the hearts of future generations."

Kneeling before my Queen, I agreed. I may have changed much over the last day, but there was no part of me that was capable of denying this request. Selection was her right, to choose who lives on in rebirth and who dies in the Freeze. Her reasons were her own and I could only comply.

"And for your second unspoken wish, Vez... I would see you sent beyond the golden walls of our hive. Winter is upon us, and though I do not wish to see you harmed in the grasp of their chill, you have done our people a great service. We will colonize in this new location and spring forth anew, rest assured and comfort yourself with the imaginings of their glory. But this is not a Rebirthing that you are meant to see. It is apparent in the purple and blue pulsing of your eyes that you have more pressing matters before you succumb to the chill that will some day swallow us all. The men among our hive are not equipped with the Bringer of Twofold Deaths- the Stinger, but our colony is stronger today because of your bravery and I insist that you relieve me of my own. Take it with you and find your peace before the approach of Winter cools the flames that burn within you now. Follow the phantom smell that is laced within your antennae and retrace your way to Azuraz's final stand. Plunge the Queen's blade deep into the foolhardy man who took Perfection from you."

And so after I had secured my lineage as one against a basket of innumerable other eggs that were selected for thousands of other reasons that will never be known to me, I prepared for my final flight. As I left, the Queen buzzed gently after me with the same serene vibrations that Azuraz had used to change my life forever, "If you do find the chance to exact your reprisal, Vez, might I suggest you plant your vengeance in the human's eye? They seem to value them greatly for how infrequently they are used to see."

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