The world was quiet.
There were sounds, but they were muted, tinny. Morpho tried to sit up, but her head was still swimming. A wave of nausea swept over her. Whatever poison had taken her down was still in her system. She tried standing again; this time she managed to get to her knees before she once again was overwhelmed by waves of nausea. This time she wasn’t able to hold down her last meal.
After several minutes of lying on the cool, smooth floor, she was able to stand to her full height. She surveyed her surroundings. She couldn’t believe it at first, but she appeared to be in a glass beaker, held in a rack with several others.
She stretched her limbs, twisted her neck until it cracked, and then slowly beat her wings. The beaker was large, more than twice her ten inch height, with a neck slender enough to prevent her from flying out, though it wasn’t stoppered. The fairy balled her little fists in frustration. Morpho continued to scan the room, trying to get some bearings on where she was, on who might have kidnapped her.
She pressed her face to the glass wall that surrounded her, looking over the room. Burners and glass vessels lined wooden tables. Open faced cabinets were filled with jars upon jars of powders, liquids and dead creatures floating in alcohol. Some wizard or alchemist had captured her. But to what end?
She moved to another part of the beaker, and then pressed her face against the glass again. She saw the beaker in the rack next to her own. It was filled with a bright green liquid. Something was floating in it. Morpho blinked a few times, and then looked harder. What she saw almost caused her to vomit again.
Suspended in the green liquid was another fairy. Her face was locked in a silent scream of terror, her arms and wings floating out from her body, held by the liquid. Worst of all, she had been slashed across her midsection and her organs were drifting about the beaker in a grotesque line from the cut. Morpho fought back tears. The face of the dead fairy was familiar, but she didn’t dwell on it. She steeled herself against the despair welling up inside her. So this would be her fate if she didn’t find a way out.
She turned away from the other beaker, taking care not to look at any of the others. Her dizziness was fast fading, quickly being replaced by a powerful rage. She reached deep within herself, finding her center and tapping into the magic inherent in all of her diminutive race. She focused the magic welling inside to her right palm and placed it on the floor of the beaker. Within seconds her hand was glowing bright red, and less than a minute after that, so was the glass. She continued to focus, to direct the heat of her magic and her anger to her palm.
She felt no pain; the magic directed outward, but the glass was fast becoming liquid. In no time, she was able to push her hand through the softened glass, pulling it to one side, and then pushing the rest the other way. She tucked her wings in close and dropped through the hole. Immediately her wings began beating and she fluttered down to the table top. She walked over to a polished metal cylinder to take a look at herself. Everything seemed in place. Her wings were stiff, but that was to be expected after being unconscious for so long.
They were still the brilliant blue of the Morpho butterfly she’d been named after. Her eyes were the same color, and her waist length hair was a lustrous black, in stark contrast to her pale skin. She was still dressed in her light dress, which hardly seemed appropriate considering her current situation. Morpho leapt into the air and flitted around the room, taking care not to peer to closely at anything that looked like it housed anything that was once living, not wanting to see any more mutilated fairies. She was off balance and any more trauma might make her lose her will. She kept her eyes opened for something to better protect herself.
Morpho checked several of the open faced cabinets to no avail. She happened upon a chest at the back of the room. She was barely able to lift the lid, but managed to crack it open far enough to climb in. What she found was a treasure trove of fairy equipment. Her sensitive eyes were able to see in the blackness of the chest, and she picked over the pile. She discarded her light, delicate dress in favor of a soft leather pair of britches and a tight silk shirt. She could smell her sisters on the clothes; someone had murdered or stolen from many of her clan. Every piece of equipment was known to her. Someone would pay dearly for this violation.
Her eyes brightened considerably when she found some weapons in the back corner of the chest. Morpho strapped a pair of sword belts over her hips, one on each side. She drew both tiny blades at once, each one no more than a few inches long a piece, but wickedly sharp. Morpho put both blades through some quick routines, making sure she was comfortable with their weight and balance then snapped them back into their sheaths.
Now she was better clothed, and armed. Whoever had kidnapped her and her kin had erred greatly. While fairies had a reputation for sipping dew and dancing by the moonlight, they were also known to defend their homes viciously, and had a standing militia to accomplish the task.
Fairy warriors were rare, powerful creatures, and among their ranks, Morpho was elite. She had a knack for offensive spells, and could weave blades as well as the finest elven sword masters. She began fluttering her wings at a rapid pace, rivaling that of a hummingbird, then stretched her arms upward, palms flat and leapt straight up, shoving the chest lid back open.
She had to find a way out, but before she left, she would gather what clues she could to identify those who had, in her mind at least, declared war on the fairies. She scanned notebooks for leading words, a name perhaps, or information about what this person could possibly want with her and her people; for there was no doubting that the other shadows in other beakers were fairies, and the vague recognition she felt upon seeing her neighbor in the green-filled beaker left her little doubt that her people had been massacred.
She paused to take in the room more fully. It was dimly lit by a low fire in the hearth, and grey light from a rainy day drifted in through the windows. A net filled with various skulls hung from a hook in the ceiling, and skeletons of small creatures sat on display all about the room. Everything from a rat, to an imp, to more exotic creatures was represented.
Morpho flew over to an over-sized wooden desk tucked into a cubby at the far end of the room and flipped through several pages of a book that was resting in a stand. After reading a few lines of a spell, she paused, a cold feeling creeping into her limbs. She turned and viewed the room in a new light. Skeletons, skulls, an overwhelming feeling of abundant death permeated the room. And the lines of the spell she had just read implicated the binding of a soul to an inanimate object.
She focused on the emanations of the book; the inscriptions of a spell were enough to convey its type to magic-sensitive creatures, like fairies. Morpho opened her eyes, her fears confirmed; whoever had kidnapped her and killed her clan, so she assumed, was a necromancer. Her mind swam with the awful implications therein. Whoever this was, he or she was resourceful or powerful enough to capture and kill fairies, no small feat. What designs could one who lived surrounded by death have for beings that represented nature and life?
Morpho turned and headed to the windows, hoping she could open one and fly away without alerting anyone. Luck was not on her side, for when she passed the room’s door, it creaked open, and a short, thick man waddled in. Morpho froze the instant he came into view, for his soul had the distinct reek of death magic. He stopped short, obviously surprised to see the sapphire-winged fairy fluttering directly in front of his face. He started to say something, but before a single syllable could escape his lips, the fairy reacted.
Both blades flashed out of their sheaths and snapped out, catching the surprised man on either side of his open mouth, widening it by several inches on either side. Morpho darted off, the man shrieking as he fell to the floor, clutching his slashed face. She barreled straight toward one of the windows, rolling her left shoulder forward to absorb the impact, hoping to force it open. There was a loud clink! as she collided with the glass pane, and a small spider web of cracks emanated from where she impacted with it, but the glass held and the window didn’t move; it was simply too heavy for her slight form to budge.
She shook off the stun of the collision, and frantically looked around for another exit. She heard the man slurring some words through his torn face, barely recognizing the words as names. Her mind screamed for her to find an exit, and quickly, for she recognized the names as belonging to fairies.
There was a slight buzzing sound that came from outside the door, and then two small, slender figures darted into the room. Both were Morpho’s height and build, one male and one female. They wore black outfits which matched their eyes and hair, and both carried long (for fairies) blades, gripped tightly with both hands. Morpho scowled deeply when she viewed the two. So that was how they had been captured. Dark fairies had a terrible knack for impersonating their lighter cousins, though it was rare indeed that a light fairy could be duped by their ruse.
However, with the aid of a necromancer…
The two looked over the room quickly, and then their faces cracked into evil smiles as they viewed Morpho. Their dragonfly-like wings hummed evilly as they darted after their lighter cousin, teasing her as they commenced the chase.
“Methin, it looks as if our light cousin wants to play.” Purred the female. Methin laughed back “Oh, Vessa, I do so love to play with fairies… especially their organs!”
Morpho shuddered at the enthusiasm in the male’s voice. She lead them on dazzling chase, darting through metal racks, under tables and between jars. When she had the opportunity, Morpho knocked over fragile looking components and anything glass she could get close enough to. Fairies, even good ones were known for their vindictiveness.
She feinted heading for the open doorway, over the man who was just then getting to his feet, his robes covered in blood. At the last second, she darted behind a large book that had been set up on end. Methin cried out in rage “Don’t be leaving us yet, my dear! I’ve yet to open you up!” he flew with all speed toward the open door, not seeing Morpho’s trap until the last second. As he blew by, she snapped one of her swords straight out in front of him. He tried to dodge, but she was too quick, and the move was far too unexpected.
The light fairy’s sword neatly severed his arm just below the elbow, and sheared off two thirds of his right wing. The evil sprite plummeted from the air to slam face first into the wall opposite the open door. He did not move when he came to a stop on the floor. Morpho flitted out from behind the book, ready to meet the other fairy on even terms.
Vessa eyed her with unbridled hatred. “You will pay for that.” Morpho laughed in her face. “Perhaps, but you will pay a thousand times over for my kin.” She slid out her second blade. Vessa twirled her blade once, slowly, then grabbed it tight in both hands and charged toward the hated blue-winged fairy. Metal rang out as their blades collided, sounding much louder than the tiny blades should have. Vessa came in fast and aggressive, but Morpho was a trained warrior, and her two swords easily defeated the single blade of her foe. They continued on for several moments, Vessa angrily slamming her sword in, and Morpho easily defeating each attack. She was biding her time, allowing the other’s rage to play out and tire her, allowing Morpho to strike with impunity.
Garbled chanting from behind changed the situation instantly. Morpho could hear the man she felled preparing a spell. Though she could not tell what it would be, anything a necromancer who kept company with dark fairies threw her way could not be good. She allowed Vessa a few more strikes before she reversed the momentum of the fight, suddenly switching from defensive blocks to strikes. She swung in from the outside, hard, simultaneously striking from the left and right at once, forcing the dark one to parry one and dodge the other. Vessa kept moving back as Morpho pressed in. Then the light fairy feinted with a left hand swing, a wild, overbalanced chop, which Vessa easily defeated.
And left herself open to a strike from the right. Morpho’s right hand came straight in, the handle of the sword lending strength and weight to the blow, and smashed the dark fairy right in the cheek bone. Vessa swooned under the force; this light fairy was too strong. Her grip on her blade weakened, and she was vaguely aware of the sound as it clattered to the floor.
Oremorag finished his spell at that second, sending a line of black light directly at the pair. He missed though, for as soon as Morpho had connected with Vessa’s face, she snapped her swords into their sheaths, and in the same movement, slammed her forehead into the dazed dark fairy’s face, knocking her further from consciousness.
Morpho grabbed the dazed sprite and flew toward the window again, Orem’s bolt striking the wooden ceiling above her, instantly turning a large section of the wood black, which promptly crumbled under its own weight.
Vessa became vaguely aware that she was somehow still flying as she began to come to. She noted curiously that the window already had a crack in it as she sped toward it. Then there was a blinding white pain as her head slammed into it at full speed.
Morpho let go of the dark fairy, whose legs dangled limply from the hole in the heavy glass window she had just been smashed through. She was far beyond consciousness at that point, and didn’t feel the glass bite into the backs of her legs as she was pushed through the rest of the way. Morpho looked nervously at the sharp edges of the glass, fearing the damage she would do to her delicate wings if she tried to crawl through the small opening.
She needn’t have worried, for her musing was shattered a second before the glass pane as the enraged Oremorag hurled a skull at her with a scream of frustration. He wailed in agony as the scream brought fires of pain through his torn face. Morpho smiled grimly, and offered him a half hearted salute of thanks for opening the window for her, then flew off as fast as her wings would carry her.
She dared a glance over her shoulder as she flew off into the rain, and her heart sank even further. Truly, her clan was gone. It had to be, for the building she was fast leaving behind was Willowbough Keep, and the only way someone as foul as a necromancer could have stepped foot in that magnificent building was if Lady Shandrelle was dead. When she was a safe distance away, Morpho settled down on the branch of a large oak, and allowed herself to cry for all she had suddenly lost. Her tiny shoulders bobbed up and down as she was overwhelmed with loss and grief. The eviscerated fairy was one of her closest friends, Danaus. They’d been through centuries of conflict but also of joy and celebration. Now she was dead in a jar of fluid to be experimented on by some twisted master of death.
Morpho allowed herself to feel, knowing that it was good for her body and spirit to purge it of the grief. Revenge was poison that clouded the mind. She was a warrior, and purity of mind and body was required to maintain her level of skill. So the tears flowed until she was exhausted and laying limp on the tree branch, staring off into the fog that defined the banks of the Misty River regardless of time of year or prevailing weather.
She might have passed out at some point, she couldn’t really tell. The tears were no longer flowing, and the burden on her heart had lifted some. She rubbed her bloodshot eyes, wiped her mouth and nose with her sleeve and stood up. The grief was somewhat dulled, and in it’s place was a sense of burning purpose. She ran her fingers through her hair and straightened her back. Morpho drew her swords, spun them purposefully, then slid them back into their scabbards.
She would find out who this necromancer was, and then she would destroy him. Justice would be served and he would die for what he did to her clan. Now all she needed was some allies.
Ehrvis stared out the broken window of Orem’s lab into the mist-covered field below. Low grey clouds hung overhead threatening rain, but he was unconcerned. he hadn’t stepped foot outside of the keep in weeks as his every need was currently attended to. He wasn’t worried, but he was slightly concerned about the escape of the fairy that had assaulted his friend. He stepped away to look back at the glass beaker she’d been trapped inside. The thick bottom had been heated and melted open, then she’d maimed Orem’s face and crippled two of his valuable Thamfaer allies.
The understandably furious dark fairies refused to use any of their healing magic on Orem, blaming him for the maiming of Methin and the headwound Vessa had suffered. Instead they’d sedated the man with a spell and were dutifully sewing his cheeks shut. Unfortunately there was little that Ehrvis could do to help. He focused all of his energy on studying death, so attending to the wounds of the living was not within his realm of power. Across the room Oremorag burbled and drooled bloody spit down the front of his robes his glassy eyes staring off into space.
The necromancer’s main worry with the escaped fairie was that she would inform the surrounding countryside of what he was doing. For the time being, he needed secrecy. At the same time, the sprites were not known for going out of their way to interact with superstitious farmer folk, so it was likely his secret was safe, at least for as long as he needed it to be.
His mind drifted back to the book Orem had given him. Ehrvis had been so inspired by the process detailed in the book, he’d already dispatched some soldiers to a nearby farm for bodies. he needed fresh bodies, so it was going to be a massacre. The book contained instructions for building a composite bod out of several corpses to create a single large, obedient colossal walking corpse that the creator controls completely. His goal was to create a single undead beast so large, no one would contest him for any reason.
The fairies were almost finished with the stitches. Orem continued to drool blood stained spittle, but his mouth no longer hung open farther than it should. Orem deserved his gratitude, and he would show the man proper thanks. Once his face healed.
Morpho decided her first course of action was to find out who was occupying Willowbough Keep. She’d been distant friends with the Duchess and knew that for anyone to displace the powerful, crafty woman, then they would have to be clever indeed. She watched the window she’d broken intently for a while and saw a grey haired man stare out it for a while. She recognized him vaguely. Could he have been the man Lady Willowbough had married?
If so, was he the necromancer? It started to make sense. Death wizards had many dark, creative ways to dupe even the most powerful mages. This one had managed to insinuate himself into the home of one of the most powerful enchantresses she’d ever witnessed. That would explain his close connection to dark fairies. Those disgusting monsters would only associate with the most vile and skilled people.
Morpho drifted over the family land to see if she could find any further clues when something tugged at her. It wasn’t a physical sensation so much as a feeling. Morpho knew better than to ignore her instincts, so she followed the feeling. It brought her to the family graveyard of Willowbough Keep. A cold fear closed in on her. “Oh no…” she whispered. She looked around until her gaze settled on a new headstone. Next to that of her late husband was Shandrelle Willowbough. The fairy warrior dropped to her knees.
Something terrible was on the horizon. Not only had the necromancer managed to insinuate himself into this brilliant woman’s family, he’d clearly done away with her in the process. The sheer callousness of using and throwing away someone who had do so much for others made her feel empty and sick. Then she felt a moment of panic. Where was Lady Willowbough’s daughter? Morpho flew over the graveyard but did not find a grave for the girl with the elven name.
Good, she thought. Maybe she’d escaped. Maybe Morpho could make contact and they could rally the surrounding duchies into action. If not, she’d find a way to do it herself. one way or another, the death wizard would pay.
She heard the sound of soft footsteps in the distance, so she went to investigate,. Whoever it was, if they weren’t friendly, they were about to feel the wrath of an angry sprite.