Note: Inspired by Siyana's story in the Book of Ages.
Siyana massaged her neck, sighing.
The muscles there were sore, even tender, from the afternoon's work, but the light faerie made herself resume her task. She glanced at the horizon as her hand dropped, noting the vivid rose-gold and indigo above the field, and barely kept herself from sighing a second time. It was getting late, and she would have to stop for good all too soon.
At least the colours are kind of pretty, Siyana thought. Frowning slightly, she shifted and appraised the golden-brown shade of the wheat in front of her. Good. Perfect, in fact. Satisfied, she squeezed one head between thumb and forefinger to confirm its ripeness, and nodded.
She took up her sickle, a curved, handheld blade, and cut the closest stalks with care, remembering what she'd learned over the past month. It was important, Siyana knew, to harvest the crops before they hardened and became less able to withstand the wind and rain. Tying the stalks together, she placed the new bundle in her basket with some of the other sheaves that she'd reaped.
The faerie paused to dart a look to where several forms knelt nearby, sickles in paw, and the closest villager returned Siyana's instinctive smile with one of her own. The Poogle peered past Siyana a second later, and rocked back.
"Ah! It's late," the strawberry Neopet announced, putting Siyana's earlier thought into words. "We'd best return to the village." They needed to make their way to the mill by sundown, where the crops would be stored until morning and dried out before being ground.
Oh, pineapples. The pet, Arell, was greeted by a chorus of soft, murmured agreements, and Siyana echoed their sentiment with some reluctance. "Alright." There never seemed to be enough time in the day to accomplish all that she wanted to achieve. Such was life, she supposed.
The Poogle flashed her a fresh grin as the group packed their tools into the belts they always wore. "Thank you for your help, girlie. You've done a lot for us today." Arell's eyes crinkled at the corners as her grin widened, and Siyana shook her blonde head.
"Not at all," she told the villager with a small laugh. Arell and the other Neopets who lived in Applebury, a farming town in the Neopian countryside, had let her stay with them in recent weeks, and be apart of their close-knit community. Siyana didn't know how else to express her gratitude other than by helping out where she could.
She shrugged casually. Siyana was a light faerie, and gifted with the magical capacity to create and control daylight. It was this ability that allowed her to be of particular use to the village that had taken her in.
The sound of bright chatter filled the air as some of the others approached, and her gladness increased as she looked from face to face, deriving pleasure from how content and companionable the atmosphere seemed.
"Good work, guys!" she told the group.
One villager, a spotted Techo, stepped forward, and gestured for Siyana to hand him her basket. "Here. I'll take it to the mill for you." He did this every day, but she hesitated all the same.
"We'll take care of the sheaves. Go on," Arell said, waving at Siyana.
In a sense Siyana's day wasn't quite over yet, and she felt her lips quirk as she looked into the sunset. During the evening it was her responsibility to go from field to field, and ensure that none of the village's crops would be destroyed by the frosts that took hold of the area at night. She shivered even as she smiled, feeling a coldness in the breeze that told her that tonight would be especially chilly.
"Thank you. You're an absolute gem." Siyana clapped her hands together softly as she looked between Arell and the Techo. This was what she loved about Applebury, namely the feeling that the village, with its good, hard-working folk, was a family. Those who lived there took care of each other.
This was only confirmed when Arell chuckled, and rifled through her belongings. "Oh! Take this and keep warm," she bid Siyana, holding out a blanket. Siyana accepted the thick, dark material gratefully, and wrapped it around her shoulders.
The Neopets began to move, and the light faerie could see figures moving, too, in the distance from where other produce was grown. When she squinted, she recognised one, a Kacheek named Florin, walking between two rows of radishes. Florin must've been whistling, as was his habit, because his companions were skipping along in his wake.
Siyana started to whistle too as she set out in their direction.
-☼- ☼ -☼-
Smiling, Siyana closed her eyes, and reached for the light magic that lived within her body. The powers that responded were central to her very being, and she felt them stir before she felt them rush through her at her summons.
She opened her eyes to see sunbursts cupped in either palm, warm and dazzling, and chanted an incantation under her breath. The energy in Siyana's grasp grew hot, and she released it with quick, deft hands to create a wall of brilliant sunlight. As she watched, it expanded and transformed into a dome that stretched over the field she stood in.
"There." The faerie regarded her handiwork with glee, beaming. What Siyana had just created would serve to protect the wheat from the night's wintry conditions by keeping the temperature from dropping too low. This was the critical task with which she'd been entrusted.
It was a process that she'd repeat several times over the next hour. Moving to the next field, Siyana nodded to each villager that she crossed paths with on their way home, and exchanged a few brief comments with them in passing.
"It's getting cold out, Siyana. Be as quick as you can," Florin, for one, advised her. She winked at him in reply, but shrugged on the inside. Siyana didn't resent having to stay out in the fields at sunset, although she did find herself pulling her blanket tighter by the minute.
"It is rather cold," she agreed. "Anyone else still working?"
"Actually, yes. I think I saw someone out by the turnips," the blue Neopet remarked, shaking his head. "Crazy."
Siyana chuckled. "Have a good night, Florin."
"Same to you."
What Siyana didn't like, admittedly, was how tired she felt. Her eyelids began to close of their own accord as the hour passed, and she had to force them open with a series of rapid, obstinate blinks.
Evenings weren't exactly when she felt most awake, and the faerie often felt drained by the time she reached the turnip patches, the crops furthest from the village. Not even the golden glow of the spells she cast were enough to keep her from feeling sleepy.
-☼- ☼ -☼-
Siyana wasn't sure what jolted her from her half-daze. It could have been the near-arctic coolness in the air, or it could have been the rustle of the crops in the breeze that filtered through the field. She didn't know.
In any case, what Siyana was first aware of was that her surroundings had changed and were now ink-black. Evening had slipped away, and its multi-hued ruby, golds and violets had been replaced by the comparative darkness of night. The second thing that Siyana noticed was that she wasn't alone.
There was movement in her periphery that caused the faerie to frown, rubbing the sleep from her eyes slowly as she squinted into the night. Had she imagined it? She might've dismissed the noise as a stray Petpet, but the movement had been too sizeable.
She glanced behind her. The outline of Applebury Village, with its tall triangular roofs, was just visible to her tired eyes in the moonlight, and she felt her frown deepen. None of the lights were on, indicating that it was late enough now for everyone there, Arell and Florin included, to have retired to bed.
True, Florin had told her that she hadn't been the only one out at sunset. However, no one remained in the fields this late as far as the faerie knew – no one, at least, from the village. Huh. What's going on? Who's out there?
She'd almost convinced herself that she'd imagined the activity when a sound reached Siyana's ears as clear as day. It seemed to come from the bushes that fringed the closest rows of crops, and her gaze narrowed as the sound was followed by the unmistakeable crackle of leaves crunching underfoot. Now that can't be a good sign.
There was someone in the trees nearby.
Siyana's mind spun. It was unusual that there had been someone else out in the fields at sunset, and she questioned now if the 'someone' that Florin had seen had truly been a villager.
Suspicion raced through Siyana's thoughts as she recalled, with a flash of anger, tell she'd heard of late about a village that wasn't so very unlike Applebury. To the west lay a small town that had been subject to a series of raids in recent weeks, and she wondered if the bandits that had terrorised its inhabitants had now shifted their focus elsewhere.
Immediately, she knew that she couldn't let that happen if she was correct. Memories, long suppressed, of her birthplace rushed to the fore of her mind, and she balled her hands into fists. Talador, too, had been brought to its knees by an influx of thieves, and she'd never thought of bandits since without a sense of fierce resentment.
Banishing the recollection, Siyana looked again at the village, and forced herself back into the present. Her breaths came in short, sharp bursts as she mulled her suspicions over. Am I overthinking this?, she asked herself. But, even if she was, she owed it to both Talador and her villager friends to find out for sure.
Her breathing sped further as, in the space of a half-second, Siyana made the snap decision to investigate. Unlike Talador, Applebury Village wouldn't be going down in flames, she promised herself and, to ensure that, she would determine what was out there.
Pulling her blanket tight, the faerie found her footing and crept forward before her wings hummed to life. True, it wouldn't be easy to fly with the heavy material wrapped around her but her light would draw attention if she were to leave the blanket behind. She doubted that whoever – or whatever – it was out there had seen her as she dozed, and she wasn't going to relinquish the advantage that gave her.
Tree after bush slid by as Siyana flew through the woods, neatly veering past Blazing Frooble Shrubs, and swerving around Furry Autumn Bushes. Where were they?
Her flight hastened when she scanned ahead and saw, to her grim gratification, a dark form disappear around a copse of Autumn Blushes. Siyana's instincts had been right and, whisper-quiet, she followed the silhouette deeper into the trees.
I'm going to find out what you're up to.
-☼- ☼ -☼-
With every beat of her wings, the light faerie became more and more certain that the Neopet she trailed – an Ixi? – would lead her to something awful. The adrenaline that had first carried her into the trees still pulsed through her veins, but Siyana now battled with the worry that her time, perhaps, might be better spent in returning to the village to warn its residents.
Even as her thoughts warred, a sudden gasp whistled from Siyana's lips when a light appeared between the treetops. The woods soon after gave way to a clearing and, in that clearing, she saw a group of figures clustered around a campfire.
The spotted Ixi that she followed strode up to the congregation, and gave a salute to a tall Neopet, a red Grarrl, that rose in greeting. This, Siyana surmised, was the leader of the bunch.
Flying carefully, she approached, and found a perch on a high branch that overlooked the group. It wasn't by any means the closest she could've found, but it was the closest she had daring enough to listen from. Any closer and they might see me, Siyana thought. She'd been so cautious when she'd trailed the Ixi through the woods, and couldn't afford to have them notice her before she knew their plan.
Siyana couldn't hear the first muffled words the bandits exchanged, but she heard the Ixi's hoarse, triumphant tones when he said, "Now is a good time to attack, sir." The sentence brought a chill to the faerie's spine, and the coldness soon stole its way to her heart.
"Well done," the leader grunted in reply, baring his jagged teeth in a ferocious grin that the scout returned. "Soon," he went on, "that village will be ours!"
It was exactly as she'd feared. The villagers' faces flashed through Siyana's mind's eye, and she thought of Arell, Florin and the rest of Applebury with horror. She couldn't let this attack go ahead without giving them warning. She couldn't.
Dropping her blanket, the faerie spun, and made to flee the campsite as swiftly as she could. One of the bandits must've noticed her light because, a moment later, she heard a yell and felt the hot spark of pain in her left wing before tumbling to the ground. She'd been hit by an arrow, and behind her came the roar of a great, terrible clamour.
Her shoulder bore the brunt of her fall, and she struggled to pick herself up. Idiot, Siyana chastised herself, wiping dirt and leaves from her face as she scanned for signs of pursuit.
There were none but she was sure the bandits were coming. Breathing hard, Siyana wrenched the arrow from her injured wing, and half-jogged, half-ran in the direction of the village. I have to warn my friends.
Siyana could run even if she could no longer fly and, if she was careful, she might be able to beat her pursuers to the village. The uneven, twig-strewn ground lurched up at her sickeningly as she pushed her way past hedge and bough but she kept on going. Just focus on one step after another. You can do this, Siyana.
It was the thought of Applebury that kept Siyana from fixating on the thunder of feet at her back. The bandits were charging through the trees in her wake, their strides bold and footsteps loud. Really, the only thing more ear-splitting than their pursuit and yelled taunts was the frantic pounding of Siyana's heart.
"We know you're out there, faerie. We're coming for you!" a gruff voice threatened, shockingly close by, and Siyana had to stifle her urge to scream as she accelerated. It belonged to the Ixi that she'd tracked, and was as menacing a speech as she'd ever heard.
But... don't underestimate a girl on a mission. Minutes later, Siyana broke through the trees and into the fields. She cut a diagonal path towards the village, and had reached the lane that led into the village square when she fell to her knees, out of breath.
Pain scissored through her, made all the worse by her panic, but she didn't have the voice to cry out. Looking from house to house, she noted the closed doors and shuttered windows, and felt the pangs of despair. There was no way that Siyana had the strength to call out loudly enough to wake the villagers from where she was, and even less chance that she'd have the stamina to go from door to door.
I won't accept this, Siyana resolved fiercely. I didn't run all this way only to fail here, at the last moment. There had to be another way to warn them. She could wake the closest villager, and let them take things from there, perhaps. Or...
A switch flicked, and the stubborn, impulsive decision that Siyana reached startled her. Siyana's light faerie powers were independent of her physical stamina and, if she could summon enough magical energy, she could use them to wake the villagers from their sleep.
Concentrating, Siyana focused on drawing her powers from within, and thereafter on lighting up as brightly as they would allow. Siyana always emitted a glow of sorts – it was why she'd needed the blanket earlier – but, if she'd glowed before, the faerie was beyond luminescent now.
Sunbeams spilled from her every pore, and the faerie had to shield her own eyes from her light. Swaying, Siyana ignored her sudden headache, and urged herself on. Keep going!, she ordered herself.
The clatter of footsteps made the faerie look up, despite her spinning head, and her light flickered before fading with the movement. Were the bandits here already? Had she failed?
A door swung open, and out stepped the Techo that had helped Siyana in the fields. "Good grief. Siyana?" the pet asked, dark eyes perplexed as he hurried towards her. "I thought that the sun had risen!" He scratched his head.
His words were echoed all around them, and Siyana heard the village wake up with an intense thrill. Windows cracked open and doors soon followed, accompanied by the hum of talk.
"Siyana?" Arell appeared next to the faerie and Siyana seized her arm, needing to tell her friend about the impending raid. "What's happened?" the Poogle asked, face alarmed, and several Neopets drew close with the same question in their gazes.
In response, Siyana pointed. She pointed to where the crops lay and where, more specifically, the turnips were grown. To where the fields met the woods beyond and where a steady stream of figures were charging, weapons aloft, towards the village that had – until a minute ago – been slumbering unawares.
Arell's jaw slackened and the Techo gasped, "A raid?"
"We must prepare," another pet said, stunned. He raised his voice and a frantic note entered his accents. "Bandits coming! Arm yourselves!"
Siyana blacked out.
-☼- ☼ -☼-
This time, the faerie woke to the clash of metal on metal as hoe and pitchfork rang out against sword and dagger. It was such an unusual sound in Applebury Village that for a moment Siyana wondered if she were back home in Talador. But that's impossible as there's no longer anything there.
Shapes swam in and out of focus when she turned to the left and it took her eyes a moment to adjust to the pre-dawn light. Battle raged all around her. The villagers were fighting against the bandits in defence of their town and, though they didn't have the costly steel that their opponents wielded, they each had their farming tools and spirit enough to try to drive the intruders out.
Watching, a sense of pride took root in Siyana's chest as she noted how bravely her friends had risen to the occasion. Four Neopets she knew and respected were holding their own against a trio of bandits and, even as the latter whipped their blades about, the villagers danced out of their reach with a determination that astounded her. I hadn't realised it but they're fighters, all of them.
"They're doing well," a voice noted, all too close by, and Siyana stiffened before she recognised its owner. Blinking, she became conscious that there was a face in front of hers and that a familiar Neopet, a Kacheek, was bending over her.
"Florin!" she half-exclaimed, half-puffed with mingled shock and relief. It seemed that she was still exhausted and her voice came out at a pitch barely above a whisper.
"It's me," the blue Neopet answered, smiling, and she gave him a weak laugh.
He put pressure on Siyana's shoulder and she realised that Florin was tending to her injuries, winding a bandage around the joint. Although it throbbed still, the pain she felt there was noticeably less and she gave him a grateful look.
Peering past him, Siyana sucked in a sharp breath. Arell was wrestling with a dark, bulky figure that she recognised as the Ixi bandit's and concern filled her at the sight. She remembered how sinister he had seemed when he had conversed with the other raiders and couldn't help but be afraid for her friend.
The spotted Neopet grinned at her toothily over Florin's head, and she bit out a cry when he forced her friend to the ground. Arell, however, struck out with a neat kick and sent the Ixi flying.
"She'll be okay," Florin told Siyana, having followed her line of vision, and the faerie looked into his open, calm face. "Arell's made of some pretty tough stuff."
Right on cue, the strawberry Neopet broke into a run, and launched herself, nails first, at her opponent. The Ixi struggled, attempting to rise, and Arell reached into her pocket, drawing out a Jump Rope that she used to bind the bandit's front legs.
The wider confrontation, it seemed, was almost over. Several of the Ixi's accomplices had taken to the fields, and were disappearing one by one into the woods beyond. They hadn't expected a fight, Siyana surmised, and it was clearly more trouble than it was worth for them to persist in their raid.
Only a few remained though horror again took hold of Siyana's heart when she saw another Neopet appear just behind Arell. It was a Grarrl, the bandits' leader, and he sent Arell spinning with a flick of his almighty tail. With a roar, he locked his gaze to Siyana's.
"He's heading this way," Florin realised, tone dismayed, and Siyana swallowed. Her Techo friend appeared in the Grarrl's path, but he, too, was swept to the side. From the scabbard at his side, the bandit drew a Dark Longblade Axe, and Siyana almost stopped breathing when she sensed his intent.
She didn't stop to think. Standing, the faerie ushered Florin behind her before she sent several bolts of sunlight sizzling through the air. Sparks flew as the magic hit the Neopet's scaly chest, and the Grarrl stiffened.
"Don't ever," Siyana hissed at the bandit, "mess with my friends."
With a groan, the Grarrl crumpled to the ground and the entire village square froze. The morale visibly seeped from the remaining thieves and, as their confidence collapsed, they stumbled.
-☼- ☼ -☼-
Humming, Siyana stared into the sunrise. A hundred shades of pale gold and amber had taken hold of the lightening skies, and the faintest touch of blue was visible along the horizon. Last night is truly over, she thought to herself.
Around her were clustered the inhabitants of Applebury Village. They'd spent much of the night celebrating their victory, but had settled down to watch day break with a hushed kind of camaraderie.
"Beautiful, isn't it? It makes me feel such... peace and hope." Florin came to sit by the faerie, and she nodded. "Thank you for your heroic efforts last night," he went on quietly, and several others, Arell included, chimed in with thanks of their own. "If you hadn't warned us, I don't know where we'd be right now."
Glancing at him, Siyana offered her friend a small smile, and shrugged. She'd told the villagers about Talador when she'd first arrived in Applebury, and knew that Florin understood how much she hated destruction and conflict.
The Kacheek's expression grew thoughtful. "You know," he said, "I have a friend who's seeking Neopians of a noble sort to join a cause of his. His name is Altador, and I think that you should meet."