The faerie I was looking for was named Imena, but most people called her the Dinsmore Faerie. She did not reside in Dinsmore, per se, but they had claimed her as something of a representative. She frequently allowed travellers to gaze upon her beauty and even granted some of their wishes. As such, she was one of the more commonly known faeries.
I suppose I could have asked any number of locals for a more accurate map than the one given me, but I wanted to challenge my detection of directions. The consensus was that the faerie was northwest of Dinsmore. I would travel in that direction until the terrain became mountainous. The faerie’s cave would be to the west.
I followed the old man’s directions and nearly circled the mountain without finding a cave. I persuaded myself that, perhaps I had arrived too far west when I had original sighted the mountain. So I began travelling east. An hour stretched by and I still had found nothing to indicate the faerie’s presence.
Imena was supposed to be well known! There were signposts leading to her cave further back. I had to face the ugly truth that my direction sense had not improved.
I collapsed onto the grass, groaning at my failure. I stretched out, peering to see the mountain peak. Then it occurred to me, what if the cave was not at ground level? I’d never been to a mountain before, so I had never even thought about climbing one. I retraced my steps to the west, watching the formations above my head. Sure enough, a giant stone faerie pointed upward somewhere above my head.
I looked for a path up the mountainside but found none. Instead, there were handholds cut into the stone. I put my hand into one of the narrow clefts and moved my feet up a step. I looked up and cringed at the heights I would have to climb in this manner. It may have only been thirty or forty steps up, but they were agonizing on the hands. Muscles I did not even know existed began to complain as I ascended. My fingers grew weary and though I tried to keep my weight on my legs, I ached in my arms.
About halfway up, I nearly decided to quit. It was not as if I was guaranteed information once I reached the top. But I’d already come this far, I might as well go that little bit further. I passed the stone faerie, envious of her perch. At last, my arms reached into the cave and began hauling my torso into it. I rested in the entrance to Imena’s fountain for a good ten minutes before I could consider entering.
I had read about faerie fountains before, but no words could ever prepare me for the sight of Imena’s cavern. The cave itself was so vast that I could have been under the sky. But no sunset could ever display the vivid colours of Imena’s sky. They were an aurora of shifting hues, which, apparently, could support the growth of vegetation. Alongside the pool grew great pillars of trees. Their branches were frosted with softly hued leaves: green, pink, purple, and blue.
The entire decor, however, seemed dull in comparison to its master. I approached the great fountain with trepidation. The pool’s depth was, at its deepest point, no more than fifteen centimeters. As I approached, the water began to stir. Ripples formed at the center of the pool and gravitated out. A wave formed, moving in a cyclical fashion; it was soon paired by another, spinning in the opposite direction. They shot into the air like a geyser and then rained down. As the water cleared, Imena became visible. She was at least three times the size of me and infinitely more beautiful. Her gossamer wings beat rhythmically, holding her perfectly still in the air above me. She leaned forward to see me, her long hair draping almost to her feet.
Now that I was before her, I knew not what to say. How did a lowly creature such as myself address someone so magnificent?
“You are weary,” the faerie said in a voice that was simultaneously soft but powerful. “I will restore you.”
From the center of the pool arose a dozen faerie sprites, little creatures that were so brightly garbed they seemed radiant. They encircled me rising up and down in a set of twin streams, imitating Imena’s geyser. As they flew around me, I felt strength welling in me like never before. It was as if I had woken from a week’s slumber. I felt more alert than I ever had.
I was going to thank her, but she spoke first. “You seek something from me – knowledge of the monster who is slaying your kind.” I was stunned back into silence at her foresight. “I know this fiend well,” Imena continued gravely, “She is my sister.”
The monster was a faerie? I would never have supposed it possible. Faeries aided travellers; they did not destroy settlements.
“Alas,” Imena sighed, “You cannot slay her yourself. She cannot be killed by your kind. But, if you are courageous you may discover the secret to her defeat,” I nodded – a promise to do just that. I was not certain if Imena could read thoughts, but if she did, she would have heard my unspoken resolve.
I, of course, wanted to respond in words. But, somehow, my voice seemed unnecessary and I could not summon it. The faerie concluded our conversation saying, “If you are weary, return to me and I shall grant you rest.” Then the great faerie disappeared. She simply faded from view.
I would have liked to linger in Imena’s cavern, but it seemed too hallowed a place to lounge about. Also, I felt unbelievably invigorated. Even the climb down the mountainside seemed a small task after the faerie’s gift.
As I left the cave, I felt something obstructing my step. I looked down to see a rather large roll of something in my pocket. I pulled it out and inspected the contents. It was a map of the region south of Keegan Heights. On it were notations that looked like faerie sprites. I supposed this was another gift from the great Imena: a map of her faerie sisters. I located Imena on the map, her faerie sprite nestled in the mountains northwest of what I assumed was Dinsmore. There were two other faeries north of my position, not including the one who dwelt in Keegan Heights. I assumed that faerie to be my monster.
But how was I to stop a faerie? Imena said I could not kill her, so that eliminated combat. I was rather thankful of that, for I doubted I had much talent as a warrior no matter what any delivery drivers thought.
I decided to make the two other northern faerie springs my next destinations. Perhaps the other faeries would be less enigmatic about the monster’s destruction.
With faerie magic fueling my journey, I felt I could jog the next distance with ease. So, I did just that. According to my map, the next faerie lay to the northeast. I set out in that direction, heedless of anything but the ground under my feet.
By nightfall, I remained energetic, though the faerie magic was wearing off. I continued travelling until nearly the end of twilight. An interesting result of the faerie magic was the ability to see shapes in the darkness. I supposed I could have continued travelling into the night, but I had no idea when the spell would wear off. I would hate to be caught in the wind and without firewood when the inevitable happened. So I ceased my progress and hunted for the fuel required to light a fire.
I had grown cleverer about choosing spots for nightly rest than when I had first set out. I considered the wind now – and where I could avoid it. If I was to start a fire, I searched for somewhere to form a pit, either in soft dirt or creating one with stones. When I had ample wood collected and selected a spot for sleeping, I split a spark seed and started a blaze.
As I settled in for the night, wrapping my cloak around my body like a blanket, I realised I had not eaten since dinner. I was not yet hungry, but assumed it was healthier to eat nevertheless. A single biscuit was ample fare.
I fancied myself quite the adventurer at that point. I felt ready to take on any challenge. After all, I had made it thus far. I had even earned five gold pieces as a traveller. I’d seen a faerie and somehow managed to evade the greatest huntsman my father had ever met. Yes, I was finding a new purpose and life and I was succeeding.
That was, alas, until I heard the dire wolf.