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Excerpt for Faris and the Monoceros by , available in its entirety at Smashwords







Faris and the Monoceros – An Elemental Story


Copyright © 2007 by Melanie Cusick-Jones

First published 2018


The moral right of the author has been asserted.


All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the author, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover.


www.melcj.com

www.cusick-jones.com


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Cover Art by Moose & Bear Design





Other books in the Faris series


Faris and Jack


Faris and the Monoceros





Coming soon…


Faris and Filip


Faris and the Bloodstone







This story is dedicated to Evie, my little writing pal.

Prologue


“Master?”

Kobold bowed low on his squat legs at the entrance to his Master’s chamber. His Goblin voice was scratchy and uncertain as he addressed the silent room. He was grovelling, of course, because you always grovelled in front of the Master unless you were very, very, stupid.

Kobold’s head was so near to the ground that his long, hooked nose touched the stone floor. It was cold and made the tip of his nose tickle, like he might sneeze. He stayed like this for a few moments, fighting the urge to sneeze and waiting for his Master to respond. When no answer came he cautiously lifted his gaze from the ground and looked around the room with his swampy-grey eyes.

“Master?” he asked the empty-looking room again. “You…er…rang for me?”

Kobold could not understand why his Master would have rung the service bell to call him to his private office and then disappeared – his Master hated being disturbed in here. Looking around the room again Kobold noticed something strange. A large tapestry, depicting a victory of the Dark War, that normally hung along the back wall of the office was pulled aside to reveal a small doorway and stairs beyond leading downwards. Just as Kobold was wondering what was down there he heard a shout from below.

“STOP HER!!!”

Kobold recognised the screech as his Master’s voice and he spun around on the spot trying to work out where the shout had come from. “Where are you Master?” He called back, not apparently smart enough to work out that his Master might be somewhere down the secret staircase he had just been considering. Some Goblins are smart, but not all and certainly not Kobold.

“DOWN HERE!” the voice screamed back at him. “Get down here NOW! She - ” His Master’s voice cut-off mid-yell.

Kobold did not need telling twice. He had experienced the pain his Master inflicted when he was in a rage, enough times to know that his little Goblin body would suffer badly if he did not act quickly on the orders being shouted at him. He bolted towards the dark doorway that had been hidden behind the tapestry and he charged down the spiral stairs. As he ran, his flat, feet flip-flopping over one another, Kobold wondered what his Master would keep hidden in a secret room beneath his private chambers.

Kobold froze when he reached the bottom of the stairs and found himself in a large dungeon-like room: there were no doors and no windows, just bleak, grey stone everywhere. It was not the room itself that made Kobold pause, but the spectacle before him. What he saw was so bizarre – so unexpected – that the Goblin almost fainted in shock.

His Master, Nagwort the witch lord, was floating several inches above the grey stone floor. But, this was not the part that Kobold found odd – no – the strange thing was that a tiny, human-looking creature with pale skin and dirty golden hair appeared to be the one that was holding Nagwort in the air.

This minuscule person was controlling his Master? Kobold could not believe it! He could not believe that something so small and, well, cute (he hated cute things) had outdone the most powerful creature in Eclivity. Kobold shook his head and blinked his swampy eyes rapidly. It didn’t help: no amount of blinking or shaking changed what was happening in front of him.

Nagwort looked odd, as though he were asleep but with his eyes open: his flat, black gaze glazed and unfocused. And he was rolling in circles as he floated above the floor, his long black robes flapping around his invisible feet.

“Ah…eh…ah…” was all Kobold managed to stutter as he tried to think of something – anything – to do that would save his Master from this strange situation and therefore protect his own skin. Unfortunately, whatever brains he did have had been left behind at the top of the stairs and so Kobold could think of nothing.

“Oh,” said the tiny creature when she noticed Kobold standing there. She sounded disappointed.

Kolbold flapped his mouth open a couple of times, like a gasping fish, but still had no words.

“I wondered who would come when he rang that bell.” She nodded her head towards the red cord pull that was hanging against the wall. “But, it wasn’t an army – just you.”

Before Kobold could complain about being judged as inferior by the tiny creature, there was a bright red flash and a ball of light blasted into his chest. His body flipped over and over as he flew backwards through the air and slammed into the wall with a bone-cracking thud. Just as he was about to pass out a horrible thought went through Kobold’s mind: the pain he was feeling now would probably be a lot milder than the pain he would feel when Nagwort punished him for not stopping the tiny creature. Then darkness came and Kobold knew no more.

“Well Nagwort, it looks like this is goodbye.” The tiny creature spoke calmly and quietly, her voice echoing around the large room. “Thank you for the wonderful accommodation you have provided me with for the past few centuries, I would love to hang around to chat but I must be going now.”

As though waking from his trance Nagwort began to struggle against the invisible cords that held him in the air. His ugly, thin face twisted in anger and his lips drew back from his teeth in an evil sneer as he writhed uselessly against his captor’s spell.

“I have no idea how you are doing this faerie but do not think I won’t find out! No Figlia has this power!” Nagwort’s raspy voice spat his angry words at the tiny creature.

“Whatever you say…” The faerie answered, sounding half-bored with the whole conversation. “I tell you what: I will give you another ten minutes or so hanging around to think about this whilst I get out of here!” She grinned patronisingly at him, before turning on her heel and fleeing from the chamber.

Flapping her tiny wings, the faerie rose from the ground and flew up the spiral stone stairs that Kobold had run down only minutes before. Despite the confidence in her voice a moment ago, she was scared and when she looked down at her hands she saw they were trembling. Controlling Nagwort had taken virtually all of her own magic and all the additional magical help she had had too. In her heart she knew that if she did not make it to The Surface quickly she would not be able to get there at all and everything would be lost. Tucking her chin to her chest, she gritted her teeth and beat her wings harder and faster. She was going to make it. She had to.



Chapter 1 – Another Strange Beginning


The moon’s ghostly face peered between the thick black clouds that were drifting through the night sky. It cast a pale glow over the dark forests and steep slopes of the sleeping planet below. These were the eerie Garbergau Mountains that nestled between the eastern edges of Europe and western Asia. Stories of the mountains told of unseen evil dwelling deep within the dark lands, tales of strange creatures that were neither animals nor human, but something completely other. The local people called them Creatura – The Creatures. It was the name that had been given to them by the soldiers of the Roman army who had tried to pass through the forests once, as they marched their empire northwards. The army never conquered the mountains and they never returned.

The Garbergau Mountains were cold, even on the brightest summer days, and were filled with strange caves and patches of darkness that people ventured into occasionally, but from which few ever returned. Accidents the newspapers called them: the unfortunate climbing groups lost in the snow or on the mountainside, never seen again and no trace of them left behind. The locals knew better than that: no one from the surrounding villages ventured close to the dim forests that covered the lowest slopes of the mountains, where shadows lurked between the trees and where mysterious creatures screeched and screamed in the night. They knew that these mountains held evil secrets.

In the darkness, the snow-covered mountains stretched their jagged fingers into the air as though they hated the light so much they were trying to reach up to pull the moon down from the sky. At the centre of this gloomy landscape the tallest mountain towered over everything else. The forests around it stretched in every direction, it’s white peaks floating above a sea of trees, separate and different from the surrounding hills. In the unnatural silence of this shadowy place a faint flapping sound began in the deepest, darkest bowels of that mountain and echoed up to the night sky.

There was a long, thin crack on the northern face of this high mountain that stretched right to the summit. Despite its length, the crevice was barely noticeable among the other cracks and shadows that littered its peak. The flapping noise was coming from within this crack and growing louder every second. Suddenly from the depths of the mountain a tiny creature burst from inside and flew out into the cold night air, gasping for breath. In the moonlight the creature looked human, with pale skin, blue eyes and long blonde hair. But she was no human: small silver wings grew from her back and she was no taller than a pencil. She was a Figlia faerie.

The faerie glanced around the dark world, before lifting her head to peer at the moon and stars above.

Come on, come on – where are you?

Her icy-blue eyes searched the sky, seeking out the stars that could direct her to where she needed to go.

There!

The faerie had found what she had been looking for: a constellation of three stars shaped like an arrowhead and at the point of the arrow shone the brightest of all the stars in the sky.

“The Point of Magic,” she breathed, the words rising as a frosty cloud from her mouth. There was no time to waste. She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her filthy clothes and fumbled through them. After several seconds of searching she pulled out her hand and a fine silvery powder fell through her fingers, glittering in the darkness. She threw the powder into the air, but instead of falling to the ground as you would expect, the powder hovered there, making lazy circles as it drifted around the small body of the faerie.

“Show me the way home,” the faerie whispered to the cloud of silver mist. As she spoke these words the sparkling powder began to rise in the air, moving higher and higher flying up towards the stars. It had drifted out of sight before another light appeared at the tip of the Point of Magic, it shone brightly for a few seconds and then shot forwards, moving quickly across the sky lighting the night as it went – it was a shooting star. Seeing the light, the faerie flew swiftly after it, down the south side of the mountain, following the path of the star as it moved. It was leading her towards the magical core of her world.


≈ Ω ≈


The Figlia faerie had been flying for hours, maybe even days. She didn’t have the energy – or magic to spare – to shape-shift and so had no choice but to stay in her faerie form and do her best. But it was hard, she was so small and faerie wings were not made for long distance journeys. Her wings were tired and her head bobbed sleepily as she zigzagged through the air, trying to follow the path of the shooting star that was leading her onwards.

“Keep your eyes open!” The faerie instructed herself fiercely, even though her eyelids were drooping again.

So tired…just so... She closed her eyes just for one second.

BANG!

The faerie rolled over, every movement slow and painful, her whole body was aching. She had fallen asleep as she was flying and landed (very heavily) on something hard and metal. She didn’t know what it was, but the handrail of a bridge had just stopped her from falling onto the motorway below when she dropped from the sky.

She looked down onto a dim, orangey world. An occasional car zipped beneath the bridge and the bright headlights of these unfamiliar monsters blinded her tired eyes.

What are those things?

She closed her eyes again. She couldn’t remember fireflies being that big before. But, she had been gone from The Surface for a long while. Her tired brain reminded her that anything could have happened in that time.

How long was I trapped inside those caves?

She had no idea. Just that it had been a very, long time.

The faerie lay on the bridge handrail, jumbled thoughts swirling through her head and mingling with the aches and pains that filled every part of her body. She just needed a few minutes to rest and then she would continue. Just a few minutes…

What will happen if I fail her?

The thought slid through the faerie’s mind for the hundredth time since she’d escaped from the mountain. She shook her head slowly from side to side. She couldn’t fail Nori!

But she was tired, so tired.

Without meaning to, but unable to stop it happening, the faerie slipped into unconsciousness and thought no more.


≈ Ω ≈


A creature sat nearby in a tree, invisible in the darkness that lay beyond the motorway bridge. They sat and watched from the shadows as the Figlia faerie dropped from the sky and landed on the bridge.

The creature wondered where the faerie had come from. It knew that she was a Figlia faerie, which was a strange enough sight in itself as Figlia were a very rare breed of faerie folk. But, what the watching creature found even stranger, was that the faerie was flying in her natural faerie form and not in a disguise to protect herself from unwanted eyes. Figlia faeries are very good at disguising themselves so that they can’t be seen – they have powers to turn themselves into various animals so that they can blend in with any environment – you certainly would not expect to find Figlia faeries dropping out of the sky.

The feathered creature shook itself from its watchful post and unfurling dark wings stepped off its perch and flapped silently towards the fallen faerie. Picking up the small body in its large brown claws it carried the faerie away into the night. A red car zipped along the motorway below the bridge, its occupants completely unaware of the important discovery that had just been made above them by a very unusual owl.


Chapter 2 – The Core


The first shades of pink were seeping through the night sky as the owl reached the edge of an endless seeming forest. Its wide wings carried it onwards until there was nothing below except dark treetops. The trees spread in every direction like a green ocean, as far as the owl’s sharp eyes could see.

Swivelling its head from left to right the owl found what it was looking for and dropped out of the sky, swooping into a clearing in the trees below. Landing precisely on a flat stone, set in the centre of a pool of water, the owl stared around before letting the small bundle it had been carrying drop from its claws. The stone was as large as a tabletop and the owl looked rather small now, standing in the middle of it with the little package at its feet.

Anyone watching the owl might have been curious to see that the creature it dropped onto the stone wasn’t a mole or rat about to become an early breakfast. But, there was no one watching from the depths of the forest and so no one saw or wondered about the unconscious pale-skinned faerie, dressed in dirty rags. Nor did they wonder about the owl that had brought it to this isolated place.

With a soft hissing sound and a bright flash of light the brown owl disappeared. In its place, next to the faerie, now stood another tiny human-looking figure – it was another Figlia faerie. This faerie also had long golden hair, but her skin was darker and she had golden brown wings instead of silver ones. This faerie was Holly-Hob, the most powerful Figlia faerie on The Surface and protector of the King of Horses.

Holly-Hob busied herself with gathering together odd items from the clearing. She flew to the nearby shore and took a handful of soil, fluttering back to drop it onto the stone next to the unconscious faerie. Then she dipped her hands into the pool, scooping up a handful of cool, clear water, which she poured over the mound of soil. Standing back she looked at the muddy pile and clapped her hands together. In the palm of her right hand a tiny flame of golden fire appeared which she lowered gently onto the mud. The fire burned brightly as Holly knelt down between the other faerie and strange mound.

Holly-Hob sat for a moment looking at the grubby faerie lying beside her. She hoped that this was the right thing to do. In her heart, it felt right – that was all Holly had to go on right now. She was sure that she would sense something if it was a trick or a disguise of some kind… And what were the chances of Holly being the one to find her if it was a trick?

Holly shook her head, answering her own question. It could only be the Figlia protective charm that bound Figlia faeries when they were on The Surface that had drawn her to this unknown faerie, she was sure of it. Last night Holly had felt a clear pull towards the place she found the other faerie and she was sure there was no dark magic that could replicate that.

Taking hold of the smaller faerie’s hand in her own Holly leaned forward and blew lightly on the flame that was burning on the pile of dirt and water. Under her breath she whispered the magical command: “Earth, air, fire, water – elements combine to enter.”

An explosion of red light brightened the clearing for a split second, before both the faeries and the small fire disappeared from the stone. The clearing was left as empty and still as it had been before they arrived.


≈ Ω ≈


Even though the faeries had disappeared from sight they had not disappeared completely: they had simply moved from The Surface – the non-magic world of humans – to a protected place beneath the ground. Now, deep below The Surface of the earth where they had stood only seconds before, Holly-Hob and the other faerie were speeding through a magical network of pipes. The pipes connected together the portal points from different magical areas of a place called The Core, which was where Holly-Hob lived. It was hidden below the ground to keep the magical creatures of the old world safe.

Holly-Hob breathed deeply and tried to relax as she rushed through the tunnel with the other faerie grasped tightly in her arms. Normally, coming back to the safety of The Core from the outside world was a welcome break for her. The protections and magic that the Seers had put into building the haven were visible all around her, and the fact that very few people knew about The Core and even fewer knew how to get to it – or inside – made Holly feel safer still. But, she did not feel that way today.

Holly shivered. Thinking about why she felt safe now only reminded her of why they didn’t live on The Surface anymore. The Dark War of the magical creatures had nearly destroyed them all and the humans that lived amongst them – no wonder those of them that survived still hid. Holly remembered the years after the end of the War, when people had tried to return to their old lives: the humans hadn’t wanted them any more and she couldn’t entirely blame them.

For a long time after coming to The Core, Holly-Hob and the others just stayed there: they might have moved between the different plains, but they didn’t venture to The Surface. There had been no point. Over time, the earth – The Surface – became too dangerous for anyone different, anything magical: the humans that remained didn’t trust the powers that had once protected them. The power wielded by a few had devastated the magical and non-magical alike – everyone had suffered the consequences.

Holly-Hob sighed. Secrecy and separation was the best thing for everyone.

Today, the only way in and out of The Core was through the portal in the stone that Holly-Hob had come through. There were many different spells and incantations that could be used to open the magical door and travel to places inside The Core. Blending fire with an incantation alone would take you to the desert plains, while water and dirt would take you to the forest villages of the upper plains. But, Holly was heading for somewhere different this morning – she needed help and that could only come from one very special place.

The two faeries were flying at top speed through a long stretch of The Core’s tunnel system, racing deeper and deeper towards the centre of the earth. As they blasted past the outer plains, Holly only saw flashes of blue, green or expanses of yellow, which gave her a clue as to what part of The Core they were passing: aquatic worlds, great forests or scorching sand dunes.

She always marvelled at the power the Seers had, to be able to create such a place and keep it hidden. There were dozens of plains that made up the different levels of The Core and the different plains – like floors inside a building – kept the different environments separate from one another. And, they were home to the hundreds of thousands of creatures and people that dwelled deep beneath the ground.

One of Holly’s favourite things was that even though The Core was under the ground it had sunlight and normal days, just like on The Surface above. It was an ancient and powerful magic that enabled all of this to happen – an elemental magic, which was hidden from the people on The Surface, but still ran through every living thing in their world. Occasionally, some were a little more aware of it than others.

Ouch!

Holly-Hob bumped against the side of the pipe again, hitting her head. The pipes were wide – big enough to fit an elephant through – but that didn’t help her, being weighed down as she was with the other faerie. Without full control to fly and keep herself balanced as Holly usually would have done, the tiny faeries bounced around inside the tubes, making the journey much more uncomfortable than normal.

Holly did the best she could and held on tightly to the smaller faerie, who surprisingly remained unconscious through the whole noisy, bumpy journey. At last they began to slow down and as they did Holly-Hob saw the plains outside more clearly: a bright flash of white snow as they flew past an ice plain or the golden glare of the sun rising over a desert plain.

Not far now.

With a final jolt and a burst of stars the two faeries were flung from the pipe and landed on a large stone marker, set inside a circle of soft grass. Holly-Hob stood and looked around before she jumped down from the stone, pulling the smaller faerie with her.

The markers were like magical bus stops in The Core. They looked like normal stones to the non-magical people who lived there, but to anyone with powers they would glow with a white light, so that they could tell them apart. If you needed to go somewhere in The Core you went to a marker, stepped onto it and told it where you needed to go. Although it sounds simple it wasn’t always: The Core is a huge place and with so many plains, you had to be very careful that you knew exactly where you were going. It didn’t take much to get lost and people in the past had taken a wrong turn in the pipes and not been able to get back home for years!

The marker Holly-Hob had arrived at was at the centre of a clearing of trees. Several other markers were dotted in the grass around the one where she stood, but they were empty at the moment. The clearing was normally one of the busiest marker exchanges in The Core, but Holly was not surprised to see it quiet at this time of day – it was still very early in the morning and virtually no one moved around by marker at night, it was too easy to get lost.

This particular marker exchange was at the deepest and most secret part of The Core – the Seers plain. The Seers were the most important and powerful people in this magical world: they were the ones who had created The Core and now protected it. Holly knew that they were the only people who could help her tonight.

“We’re here,” Holly murmured to her silent companion.

At the heart of the plain, just a short distance away from where Holly stood, was the Citadel of the Seers. The Citadel was both the home of the Seers that lived inside The Core and the archive of all knowledge and history for their people. Holly-Hob knew from looking at the faerie beside her that she would need their help to heal her and then to find out who she was and where she had come from.

Holly-Hob was a very, very old faerie and she knew all the Figlia faeries that still existed in the world: there were only twenty of them, including herself, between The Surface and The Core. The strange thing was that this faerie was definitely Figlia and Holly definitely had no idea who she was. And the faerie was small, smaller even than Holly, which would suggest that she was powerful – it was an unusual trend with Figlia faeries that the smaller they were, the more powerful they were.

Waving a hand over the body of the smaller faerie Holly-Hob muttered some Figlish words under her breath and three white lights appeared beneath the other faerie. The lights lifted her body from the floor so that it floated into the air next to Holly. As she walked away towards the edge of the clearing she paused, a small frown crinkling her forehead. With a flick of her wrist the lights floating beneath the other faerie drifted towards Holly and began to follow her. She shook her head and picked up her pace, there was definitely something strange happening and Holly-Hob was worried.

Chapter 3 – The Chamber of Direction


Holly-Hob and the floating faerie made their way down the hill that led from the marker exchange towards the Citadel of the Seers. The Citadel building glistened a brilliant white, even in the pale early morning light, and stretched high above them into the turning sky. Holly glanced upwards as she walked towards it, barely able to see the tops of the immense towers that sat either side of the main entrance gate. The two tiny figures passed silently through the huge gates and approached the Chamber of Direction.

The Chamber of Direction was immediately inside the main gate of the Citadel and was the sole entrance to the inside of the building. It was the only route to the Seers. On most days the queue to enter the Chamber curled all the way around the outside wall of the Citadel and back up to the marker exchange. The queue would be filled with an interesting mix of creatures seeking magical assistance, training or other such things from the Seers.

As Holly-Hob and her floating companion entered the Chamber in the early hours of the morning there was no one there. Well, not no one exactly: a single Apprentice Seer was on duty, sat at a desk half way down the Chamber of Direction.

Along two wide walls of the Chamber several dozen desks were arranged, facing into the centre of the room. On the top of each desk were a number of different coloured stones. During the day an Apprentice Seer would sit at each desk, wearing the standard blue robes of an apprentice, and they would use the stones to direct the various magical people that visited the Citadel to the correct place or person for assistance. Right now, only one desk was in use.

Holly-Hob made her way down the centre of the long Chamber to the desk where the Apprentice Seer sat. Figlia faeries are very small and light and the Apprentice did not see her until she jumped right up onto the top of his desk, with a brisk flap of her wings. Holly wasn’t completely sure, but she thought the Apprentice might have been dozing until she woke him by landing firmly on the desk.

“A-hem!” The Apprentice Seer coughed a startled cough and straightened himself in his chair, blinking his eyes rapidly.

“Hello!” Holly-Hob said brightly.

He had definitely been snoozing!

“I’m here to see – ” she began, but the Apprentice held up his hand to stop her.

Closing his eyes, as if in deep concentration, the Apprentice held his hands above the coloured stones on the desk and did not speak for several more seconds. Holly thought he might have gone back to sleep for a moment, until he suddenly spoke.

“I See that you are here for…” the Apprentice paused dramatically, “magical assistance.” He finished, opening his eyes and picking up a pink stone with a flourish.

“Kind of,” Holly said. “But I really need to – ” The Apprentice cut her off again, his hand appearing in her face. Holly frowned, but stayed silent.

“I See…that you have a question to ask?” He picked up a yellow stone this time.

A question and magical assistance…? It hardly required the power of the Seers to work that out, Holly thought. She had flown a long way, been bounced and bumped around in pipes and had had no sleep for two days – she certainly didn’t have time to waste while the Apprentice second-guessed what she needed.

“Of course I have a question!” Holly snapped, flapping her wings to bring herself level with the Apprentice’s nose. “Why would I be here in the early hours of the morning if I did not need help?”

“Well…I…er…” The Apprentice could only stammer at the angry faerie, flapping an inch away from his face. Apparently he had nothing more to offer than well…I…er…

“I need a Seer and I need one now!” Holly-Hob demanded, poking him on the end of his nose, just for good measure.

“Fine,” the Apprentice murmured and picked up a white stone from the table.

A moment later a tall figure, robed in white appeared next to the Apprentice’s desk. It was a Seer.

“Hello Holly-Hob,” the Seer’s voice was calm and carried clearly through the emptiness of the Chamber. “What can we do for you at this hour?

“Hi Sarlo,” Holly-Hob looked up, recognising him at once.

Holly had not seen Sarlo for several years now, but he looked the same as ever with his friendly face, always quick to smile. He had aged very little over the hundreds of years Holly had known him. Like herself he was an immortal: his hair remained the same sandy, golden brown colour and there was only the tiniest hint of smile lines crinkling the corners of his eyes and mouth.

All Seers looked exactly the same as they did on the day they graduated from being an Apprentice – no matter how old or young they were on that day, they would be frozen in time physically from the moment they accepted the power of the Seers. Sarlo was still seen as a young one, having qualified much faster than was usual, but that did not stop him from being one of the most powerful Seers that had ever lived.

Holly always thought that the only feature to reveal his true age was his eyes, because even though they sparkled as brightly and green as ever, the wisdom you could glimpse in the depths of them was as old as The Core itself.

“It is not like you to travel by marker at night.”

“It is a bit early,” Holly agreed glancing at the large hourglass on the wall of the chamber, which showed the passing time in pure white sand. “But, I think we may have a problem.”

“A problem?” Sarlo echoed uncertainly. His voice remained calm, but a new flash of worry entered his eyes as he looked at the small golden brown faerie floating in front of him. “Is it Jack?”

“No, no! Jack’s fine.” Holly replied, quick to assure him that her magical charge was not in any danger. “He’s with Faris here in The Core. I’ve been on the Surface the last few days.”

“Looking for more of the horses returning?” Sarlo guessed.

Holly nodded. “I know we’ve probably found all of them that are going to make it here, but it makes sense to keep checking.”

“It does,” Sarlo agreed. “So, what brings you here this morning, if it isn’t horse business?”

Holly pointed towards the floating faerie that was hovering above the floor next to the Apprentice’s desk. “It would appear that I’m not the only Figlia keeping unusual hours today.”

Sarlo peered around the end of the table, gasping softly when he saw the faerie. Just like Holly, he knew all of the remaining Figlia. And he knew that this faerie, with her pale skin and blonde hair was not one of the faeries he knew.

“We’ll go to my chambers,” Sarlo told Holly in Figlish. The Apprentice Seer looked at Sarlo with confusion. He had obviously been listening to their conversation and had not been able to understand the last part – very few people were able to speak Figlish, even most of the other Seers could not.

Holly-Hob nodded in agreement and fluttered up to sit on Sarlo’s shoulder. She knew Sarlo would not want the appearance of a strange Figlia faerie to be common knowledge throughout the Citadel, which is what would probably happen if the Apprentice knew what was going on. The special powers that Figlia faeries have came in very useful in their jobs as guardians of important magical creatures. The appearance of a strange Figlia all alone, was very odd and Holly did not think it was likely to be a good sign.

Sarlo gestured towards the floating faerie and the lights carried her up and set her gently into his open hand.

“Thank you for your help this evening, Arthur.” Sarlo said to the Apprentice.

Arthur nodded absently, seemingly surprised at the appearance of another faerie from beneath his table.

Emo,” Sarlo said and the three of them disappeared from the Chamber of Direction, leaving the Apprentice alone again.

Arthur quickly checked around to make sure that were no more faeries hiding out of sight beneath his desk. Satisfied that he was alone again he sat quietly for a few minutes, wondering about what had just happened. Strange faerie business, he supposed, shrugging his shoulders as he settled back in his chair and closed his eyes again.

Chapter 4 – School Days


Far away from the Citadel of the Seers on another plain of The Core, a young boy named Faris was sleeping in his bed. As he slept, his restless arms and legs jerked around beneath the bed-sheets as though he was fighting against some unseen monster…and he was! Deep inside his dream Faris was trapped in a maze of trees, running through an endless dark wood. Between each step he heard the patter of tiny Spriggan feet chasing after him, but whenever he turned to search the shadows for them, he could see nothing but the trees. He knew they wanted something from him – that’s why they chased and watched and grabbed at him – but he didn’t know what it was.

He tried to run faster, but Faris’s feet were heavy and clumsy, as though they were being dragged down and sticking him to the ground, instead of pushing him forwards and away from the danger at his heels. Branches clawed at him like hungry animals as he smashed through the trees. He brushed them off, flailing his arms as he ran to pull him away from the tugging thorns and tried to find a path to safety.

Where’s Jack?

Faris glanced left then right between the trees searching for his friend, but he couldn’t see him. Faris couldn’t see anyone, anywhere. All he heard were the Spriggans chasing him and his heart thumping loudly in his chest. Then he heard a different sound. There was something else following him, something bigger and heavier than a Spriggan. Faris pushed himself to run faster.

The woods shifted around him: the trees darkened and the shadows between them stretched forward, reaching out their shady talons towards Faris. His feet stumbled over something he couldn’t see through the blackness and just as he was about to fall completely a dark hand reached out and grabbed his arm.

As he forced down the scream rising inside his chest Faris was pulled around to face whatever it was that had caught him. Don’t show fear, he told himself firmly – he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. Holding his gaze steady, his eyes focused on the creature clutching him and he realised that it wasn’t a Spriggan. In fact, when Faris listened he couldn’t hear the pattering feet of the Spriggans at all now.

The figure holding Faris towered over him, its whole body wrapped in a dark cloak that swirled around them both as it caught in the strange wind that was blowing through Faris’s dream world. The creature leaned towards him as Faris struggled to pull his arm away from its clawing hand. Inside its dark hood it drew a grating breath, then spoke.

“Give me the Monoceros,” it rasped with stinking breath.

“No! No! NEVER!” Faris shouted as he pulled hard on his arm and fell away from the monster.

BANG!

Faris fell out of his bed and landed with a loud thud.

“Owww…” He groaned, rolling over on the stone floor of his bedroom. He gently touched the back of his head with his fingers. “OW!” He said again, feeling the large lump already forming on his head where he had hit it on the hard floor. “Stupid dreams,” he muttered, pulling himself back onto the bed he had just fallen out of. The bed sheets were still wrapped tightly around his legs.

I must have been running in my sleep again.

He unpeeled the blankets and flopped backwards. Faris bumped his already sore head against the wall next to his bed. “OWWW!”

“Someone sounds grumpy this morning.”

A familiar, friendly voice interrupted Faris’s irritated muttering.

“Hey Jack,” Faris mumbled in response, as he stayed on his back not bothering to open his eyes. “It’s not my day today.”

Jack, Faris’s best friend, had his head poked through the bedroom window and was grinning down at him. Faris lived in a small wooden cottage on the Afil plain of The Core. His house had just two rooms and shutters on the windows, but no glass and so Jack would pop his head through the window most mornings.

“It’s definitely not your day today mate,” Jack agreed.

“Yeah?” Faris yawned.

“Yep,” Jack’s large black head bobbed up and down as he answered. “You’ve overslept again – you’ll be late for your last day of school if you don’t get a move on.”

“WHAT?!” Faris exclaimed. His eyes flew open and he bounced up from the bed. “What time is it Jack?”

“About ten minutes to nine.”

“Oh no!” Faris muttered as he ran from the bedroom. “Oh no, oh no…”

Two minutes later Faris reappeared with wet hair and bright pink cheeks. He looked as though he had just dunked his head into the well outside the house. Pulling on the nearest trousers he could see and a t-shirt that he found crumpled over his chair, Faris raced out of the house.

It was a bright and sunny day on the Afil plain and the people of the small village of Dorf were going about their usual business in the warmth of the summer morning as Faris raced past them. Jack trotted along next to him as though they were on a leisurely stroll.

Dorf’s tiny school sat on the edge of the village. It was a small building, made of dark wood with bright red shutters on the windows and a green roof. A field surrounded the school and was where the children played when the weather was nice, which was most days on the sunny Afil plain. The school had three teachers and three tiny classrooms, which catered easily for the fifteen children from the village who went there.

Faris rushed into the smallest classroom, where four pupils already sat at wooden desks facing the chalkboard. He dropped into a seat next to the window just as the teacher walked into the room.

“Nice to see you could make it Faris.”

The teacher closed the door behind her and took her seat at the front of the classroom. Faris smiled apologetically and she smiled back.

Phew! That was close. Faris definitely didn’t want to miss the last day of school. He glanced out of the window and saw Jack stood at the gate. Jack nodded his head and Faris waved back. Then Jack turned to walk back towards the village. He’d be back to meet Faris at the end of the day.

The day went quickly. In the morning they did an easy lesson outside, looking at the different types of trees around the school and drawing them. At lunchtime Faris played out on the fields with his friends, but it was a scorching day and they ended up spending most of the time lying on the warm grass, feeling it prickle and poke at them through their thin clothes, too hot to do anything else.

Faris was sat next to the window again for the last lesson of the day. The sunlight bounced off his dark hair wavy hair and his brown eyes were screwed up tight against the brightness of the sun shining through the glass pane. When he next looked out of the window he saw Jack waiting for him at the school gates. Faris gave him a small wave before turning to look at the clock above the chalkboard.

Only five minutes to go until the summer holidays!

Faris was looking forward to the holidays but he would also miss being at school; even though he was eleven years old this had been the first year in his life that Faris had been allowed to go to school. It had also been his first year living in The Core.

Virtually everyone else who lived in The Core had been born there and lived below The Surface all their lives, but Faris hadn’t: he was different. When Faris was a year old he had been left on the doorstep of the Grimbaldi Foundation for the Potentially Lacking, along with the morning paper and a few pints of milk. The orphaned boys who lived at the Foundation were half starved and worked their fingers to the bone for the mean owner, Mister Grimbaldi. They certainly did not go to school.

Faris had lived at the Foundation for nine years and he had spent those years working hard, eating very little and waiting. He had been waiting for something to happen for as long as he could remember. Then quite suddenly last year something very unexpected had happened: Faris had escaped from the Foundation. The strangest part about it was that he had escaped with the assistance of a pigeon, who was following a plan masterminded by a horse!

There is something important you need to know about Faris, something that he had only found out himself when he left the Foundation. Faris is a perfectly normal boy - except for one very interesting talent that explains why his best friend, Jack, is not a person but a large black horse…

Faris was born with a magical gift, which allows him to talk to animals. It’s not all animals though; Faris’s particular talent is talking to horses and other animals with hoofed feet. He can talk to sheep, and cows, and deer, and goats, as well as lots of other animals. In the magical world of The Core Faris was known as a Hoofer. In his old world he had only been known as an orphan, or more often you boy, because Mister Grimbaldi never bothered to learn any of the boys names.

Anyway, that was how Faris had met his best friend Jack, who was the horse who had rescued him. You may be wondering how a horse could possibly do all these things, but that is not the most important question. Why a horse would do this is the question that really matters. Obviously, Faris being a Hoofer and able to talk to horses is one reason Jack came to help him, but it was not the only one. Hoofers have their powers specifically so that they can help and protect the animals they can talk to. When Jack rescued Faris, he knew that Faris would be helping them as much they helped him.

In fact, it wasn’t long after his rescue that Faris had needed to use his newly discovered powers to help Jack and his horse family. A band of professional faerie thieves had horse-napped seven special horses, which belonged to one of the ancient horse families of the old world. They had been travelling back to The Core from when they were attacked by a band of Spriggans and separated from the herd.

Spriggans are mean, ugly little critters that have a talent for stealing and kidnapping. With Faris’s help his new friends had been able to rescue the horses from the Spriggans and then they had all made the long journey to The Core together.

When they arrived, The Seers had given Faris a new home and the chance to go to school. It was an amazing change for a boy from the Grimbaldi Foundation and Jack had stayed with him on Afil for most of the year too. Best friends forever.


≈ Ω ≈


“…So you can see, from what we have learned in today’s lesson, that the powers of The People are as important today for us here in The Core, as they were over sixteen thousand years ago in the old world.”

The teacher’s voice cut through the hopeful silence of the small room. Faris stared at the clock above the chalkboard, willing the time to move faster. Finally, the bell rang and Faris was running for the door with his classmates.

“Thank you for your attention today, I will see you after the summer holidays!” The teacher called out to the disappearing backs of the children, smiling to herself as the classroom door banged shut for the last time that term.

Faris and his school friends raced down the steps towards the freedom of the gate and the summer holidays that waited for them on the other side. There was no more school for the next eight weeks!

“Y’all right mate?”

Jack was waiting for him at the gate – as always. Faris bounded up, his school bag swinging around his shoulders. “I’m great!” Faris replied, a little breathless from running. “Start of the holidays today!” He patted his friend’s solid black neck in greeting.

“Oh yes, The Holidays…” Jack emphasised the words with a great sense of occasion. “You know I’d nearly forgotten about them… You’ve only mentioned it every five minutes for the past three weeks.” Jack grinned, his big horsey teeth blinking in the sunlight.

“See you after the summer!” A boy from Faris’s class shouted to him, as he ran past.

“See you!” Faris yelled back.

The boy paused for a second to wave at Faris and the large black horse stood next to him, before turning to run down the main street and into the village. The people in Dorf knew that Faris had some form of magical power; that was why he was allowed to live in his own house, even though he was only eleven years old. The only other person Faris had met in the village with powers was Jago, the village elder. But, Jago’s powers were limited to healing spells and basic protection charms. Of course there was Jack too, but no one else could talk to horses and so they just thought that Jack was Faris’s clever horse!

“So,” Faris turned to Jack as they started walking away from the school. “What are we going to do with the summer then?”

“Well…have you got any homework to do?” Jack asked, a mischievous glint in his eye. He knew full well that Faris would not want to spend the first week of his first ever summer holidays doing homework.

In reply Faris swung his bag at Jack.

“Oooof!” Jack grunted as the bag hit one of his shins. “I was only kidding – there was no need for that!”

“Soz, Jack,” Faris grinned apologetically.

“Well, I was thinking – as you’ve just finished your first year of school – maybe it’s time that you learned some more practical skills…”

“Practical skills? You mean Hoofer stuff?”

That would be amazing! Since he’d settled down into the comfortable life on Afil, Faris had barely used (or thought about) his Hoofer abilities, aside from talking to Jack and the odd sheep here and there, when Jack wasn’t looking.

“Yes, Hoofer stuff – and someone else agrees with me.” Jack’s eyes were twinkling with excitement for his friend. “We’re going to go to a different plain tomorrow.”

“A different plain – really?” Faris asked, his eyes widening in anticipation.

He’d only ever been on the Afil plain in The Core and had spent most of his time there in the little village of Dorf. It looked like the summer holidays were going to be fun in ways he hadn’t even hoped for!

Chapter 5 – The Archives of the Seers


When Sarlo took Holly-Hob and the unknown faerie from the Chamber of Direction, they travelled high up into the towers of the citadel. His personal chambers were tucked away into one of the turrets that were barely visible from the ground outside. After making sure the unconscious faerie was comfortable, Sarlo left Holly watching over her while he went to search the records, kept in the Seers’ Archives, to see if he could find out anything about the unidentified creature.

The hallway to the Archives was lit only by lanterns, which appeared sporadically on the walls of the corridor, casting long shadows into the empty spots between them. Every surface was constructed of the same dark marble, making the floor merge into the walls and the walls into the ceiling. All of this gave an uncomfortable feeling that the hallway was closing in on you as you walked down it. Sarlo did not mind or notice any of this: he was accustomed to it having spent many years of his life pouring over the stories, records, and maps that made up the records in the Seers’ Archives. He knew more about the People of the Core and the history of the Dark War than any of the other Seers, and even then he would still spend most of his days in the archives surrounded by stacks of books absorbing even more information. He absorbed knowledge like most people breathed air.

As Sarlo hurried down the corridor to the Seers’ Archive room his mind played out the numerous unpleasant circumstances that could have led a Figlia faerie to appear in full faerie form and without her magical charge on The Surface. Not just a faerie, he reminded himself…an unknown Figlia faerie!

Of all the thoughts crashing together in his head, there was only one thing that gave Sarlo hope: a small scroll, held deep in the vaults of the citadel with the most sacred of all the documents. He had found it hundreds of years ago and in the months after making the discovery he had spent every second pouring over the unusual symbolic writing, which resembled a strange combination of both Figlish and an old hoofer dialect, trying to translate the contents of the parchment. Try as he might Sarlo had never been able to decipher anything from the scroll and finally he had to admit defeat. But it was not the unidentified script he was interested in today, it was the image of a small faerie that appeared as the only picture on the whole scroll. A small faerie who – if his memory was serving him well that night – was beginning to look very familiar now.


≈ Ω ≈


A long way from the Seers’ Archives, at the top of the tallest tower in the citadel, the two faeries were resting in Sarlo’s chamber. The room was mainly constructed from a bright, white marble, which glistened in the morning light that was pouring through high, arched windows in two of the walls. At one end of the long rectangular space there was a raised platform and a table.

A strange box sat on the table: it had three sides and a bottom but no lid. Without looking closely, you might never have guessed that it housed a faerie sized room. It was here – resting inside the room, in perfectly proportioned faerie furniture – that Holly-Hob and the unconscious faerie were waiting. Holly dozed quietly in a chair, which she’d pulled close to the tiny bed where the unknown faerie lay asleep. It had been a long night and she was tired from the lengthy flight she had made from the motorway bridge back to The Core, even in her owl form it had taken a lot out of her.

Sighing deeply the small faerie rolled over in the bed and opened her eyes. It took a few seconds for her sleepy eyes to adjust to the bright light of the room. When the room came into focus the first thing she saw was Holly asleep in the chair. Sheer exhaustion from her long journey was the only thing that stopped the faerie from jumping up and down in joy at the sight of her.

Another Figlia faerie! The blue-eyed faerie couldn’t believe it. She studied the Figlish features of the other faerie certain that she wasn’t mistaken. I made it…

With a sigh of relief the unknown faerie fell back against the soft pillow and closed her eyes again. She had made it home – how she had made it she did not know – but the sight of another Figlia faerie told her that she was definitely back with her own people.

As though sensing that the other faerie was finally conscious Holly-Hob opened her own eyes and quickly sat up from the slouched position she had fallen into as she dozed.

“You’re awake!” Holly stated, rather obviously, to the unknown faerie.

Large blue eyes stared back at her from the pale face. It was the first time the faerie had heard the Figlish language spoken in thousands of years. For a moment she could not remember a single word to answer the other faerie and the pain of this knowledge almost broke her heart. Tears welled up at the edges of her eyes making them look like deep pools of water.

“It’s OK,” Holly reached forwards, taking the smaller faerie’s hand in her own as she saw the tears in her eyes. “You’re safe,” she told her, squeezing her hand gently. “And you’re home now, there’s nothing to worry about.”

“I…I’m so-rry.” The faerie said in halting Figlish as she brushed away the tears from her eyes. She could understand most of what Holly had said, although she thought that some of the words were different to those she remembered.

“There’s no need to be sorry.”

Holly smiled softly, concern for the other faerie clear in her eyes. Who knows how she had come to be flying alone in the dark on The Surface…?

“You must have been through an awful experience,” Holly suggested. The other faerie nodded but said nothing. “Where have you been? What I mean is – where did you come from last night?”

Just at that moment, before the faerie had chance to answer, Sarlo appeared in the doorway of the chamber. Holly looked over to him from the miniature-sized room she was sat in. At once she could see he had news, but she couldn’t tell whether it was good or bad.

“I’ll be back in one minute,” Holly told the faerie. “Just wait here and rest a little longer.”

The faerie nodded in response and closed her eyes once more.

Getting up from her chair, Holly flew across the room to the large door Sarlo had come through. As she drew closer to him he gestured for her to follow him out of the room.


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