Katelyn opened her eyes, and she felt the pain cross her whole body. It was like the pins and needles feeling she got when her arm or leg had fallen asleep. But it was everywhere. The sensation subsided and her vision returned little by little. She was alone in what looked like an abandoned apartment building. She was lying on a musty old couch that reeked of piss. Broken furniture and glass littered the room. A sheet of plywood covered the only window, but one corner was missing, allowing a beam of light to enter. One of them was standing in the corner with their back turned to Katelyn.
“Hey!” Katelyn called out to the elf, or whatever they were. “Where the fuck am I?”
The being turned around, a female, she thought. “You are in a structure we acquired. We are keeping you here temporarily.”
“Temporarily? Where are you taking us after that?”
The being stared at Katelyn. After an uncomfortably long silence, she returned to what she was doing before Katelyn interrupted. A black backpack sat on a table in the corner, and the being rummaged through it, throwing the contents on the floor after inspecting them. Some of the contents were familiar to Katelyn. Then the woman pulled out a large bag of weed.
“Hey!” Katelyn shouted at the being when she saw the bag. “Get your hands off my shit!” Katelyn jumped off the couch, took two steps, and fell over. She laid on the filthy wooden floor of the apartment, as the room spun in circles. She looked up, and the being had her head buried in the bag of weed.
“Ah, lusanta,” she said, satisfied, as she closed the plastic bag and put it on the table.
“Lu-lusanta?” Katelyn said as she picked herself up off the floor. “Is that your word for weed? Marijuana?”
“Yes,” she said, looking at Katelyn with the same intense stare. “It was a plant that our people gifted to yours long ago. We provided it to humans so they could commune with us.” She stared at the being, stunned, before asking, “W-wait a second. You gave us weed. To commune with you?”
“Yes. But that was long ago, and your people have forgotten us, and the Covenant. What do you do with it now?”
“Smoke it and forget how shitty our lives are, mostly,” Katelyn said, brushing dirt off of the legs of her sweatpants. “Who are you?”
“I am Kataru,” the being said.
“I’m Katelyn, but you can call me Kay, I guess. Where did you come from?”
“My people and I are from a realm called Elfame.”
Katelyn didn’t know what to think. This elf, Kataru, is from a magical realm named Elfame? And her people gave us to weed so we could talk to them? Not to mention whatever she said about us forgetting them. And breaking the Covenant. Katelyn wondered if this was even real. Maybe she was in a coma, and these were the last bit of brain activity before she died. But, if that were the case, would she even be able to think that?
“So,” Katelyn started, unsure of what to ask next. “What are you? You look like you got some Lord of the Rings shit going on.”
“I am of the Fae.”
“The Fae? Like a fairy?”
“Yes, that is what your people sometimes refer to us as.” Kataru pulled another object out of Katelyn’s backpack. She held it up for Katelyn to see. “What is this?”
“A phone. It lets you talk to someone who’s far away.”
“Ah, yes. Our elders spoke of such devices. The machines imbued with strange magics that allow communication across vast distances.”
“Um, it’s not magic,” Katelyn responded, puzzled. “Magic isn’t a thing,” she said before adding, “At least not for us.”
“Magic is not a thing?” Kataru said, looking at Katelyn, the intensity of her gaze unwavering. “Do you mean to say that humans do not think magic is real?”
“I mean, yeah,” she stammered. The way Kataru had asked that question, she might as well have asked if the moon really wasn’t made of cheese. “But, I guess for you, it’s different. How do you guys do the thing with the wings and the pointing at shit and blowing it up, anyway?” Kataru contemplated the question for a moment, then answered. “We simply draw upon the energy of the Wellspring of Life. Your people once possessed that power, as well.”
Katelyn gaped. Did she just say that humans once had magical powers? “Holy shit,” she muttered to herself. “So, why don’t we anymore? Why don’t humans have powers?”
“Long ago, humanity requested to have free will over their existence. In exchange, your people foreswore channeling the Wellspring’s power.”
“The Covenant,” she muttered. Katelyn felt the pieces falling into place. But if the Covenant was humans agreeing to give up magic, then that would mean…
“So, when you said that you’re here because humans broke the Covenant, are you saying that the Fae think we’re doing magic?”
“We do not think it. We know it to be true. The elders have told us so.”
Katelyn laughed, “What magic do you think we’re using? I mean, look at this shit hole. This city. Don’t you think if we had magic that we would use it to fix some of this?” Katelyn thought about all the things she would do if she had magical powers. She definitely wouldn’t be in her current predicament. Her mom wouldn’t be on her deathbed.
“You make a fair point,” Kataru hesitated. “This place does appear to be in quite a bit of disarray. But that does not explain the mechanical beasts that your people use for conveyance. The ones that travel on land and the others that soar through the air like birds.”
Katelyn laughed, partially because she was actually amused, but mostly because she was in disbelief. “Dude, that shit’s not magic. That’s technology!” Katelyn was almost yelling now. She paused and took a deep breath. It probably wasn’t smart to yell at someone who could probably disintegrate her with a flick of her wrist.
“Technology?” Kataru asked, puzzled.
“Yeah, technology.” Katelyn struggled to explain it. How much is she going to have to explain before that just so she could describe technology? “Ok, so there are these people, called scientists…”
Kataru and Katelyn talked for hours, each teaching the other about their respective worlds. Katelyn explained what she knew about science and technology, eventually convincing Kataru that the things created from them weren’t magic. Kataru marveled at how the humans had persevered in the eons since they gave up using the Wellspring’s powers. How they could use their minds to dream of such wondrous machines and study the forces of nature to bring them into reality.
Kataru told Katelyn a somewhat abbreviated history of the fae’s relationship with humans, adding more pieces to the outline she provided earlier. How the humans were originally were once just a different faction of the fae. And thousands of years ago, the descendants of humans wished to live free to do as they wished, outside of the embrace of the Wellspring. But to do so came with a price, their ability to use magic. The humans agreed, and the elders partitioned off a portion of Elfame to make the world of the humans, where they lived in blissful ignorance for thousands of years. However, Kataru left out one critical part. She was not sure if that was by accident or design.
Afterward, the two talked about their lives. And that was when Kataru heard the other side of humanity, a darker side where success is measured by the accumulation of valueless paper, called money, used to trade for things and services. Some of these services were frivolous, while others were necessary for life. Kataru was repulsed by the idea that society expected humans to spend the majority of their lives toiling to collect this money and use it to trade for food and shelter. Things which the fae gave freely to each other. Kataru listened in rapt attention as Katelyn told her how her mother was dying from some type of wasting disease. Katelyn had to provide immense sums of money to a healer to care for her mother. Yet, the healer was unsuccessful in purging the sickness from her mother, and she was about to perish. Now, the healer still expected Katelyn’s mother to for their services, despite their failure. And about how the death of Katelyn’s mother would not necessarily absolve her of the debt. But, despite whether or not Katelyn would have to shoulder the debt, she had no other means to live. She had discontinued her training as a scholar to trade lusanta to the ruling class to gain enough money to survive.
The two talked long into the evening until another fae came to relieve Kataru of her post. During that time, Kataru and Katelyn forged an unlikely friendship. While humans were not perfect, they were not the master manipulators the elders made them out to be. They were not unnaturally subverting the will of the elders to siphon the power of the Wellspring for their own gain. They did not deserve the fate that would be thrust upon them by the fae.
Kataru sat upright in her bed, which was a cushion in the corner of a room in the fae’s structure. This was not right. None of this was right. She could not let the fae continue their conquest of the human realm. She could not allow the elders to continue with the Nemesis. She had to act. Kataru crept out of the darkened room, careful not to wake the others sleeping in there. The corridor outside of the room was quiet. There would not be any warriors stationed here, since they did not imprison any humans in this part of the structure. She walked to the stairs at the end of the hall and down them to the first floor, cringing with every creak and groan of the old unkept steps. The building the fae had confiscated comprised two separate towers, connected by a common area on the ground level. However, warriors guarded the path to the other tower, where they housed the humans. She needed to find a way in without alerting suspicions. She remembered a door at the rear of the common area when she first arrived at the building. Maybe that would allow her to exit without alerting suspicions.
Kataru lurked in the shadows, edging towards the rear door. She reached it and tried to open it. It wouldn’t budge. Kataru inspected the door and saw that the mechanism used to unlatch it was corroded. Kataru pushed harder on the bar, but it would not move. She looked down the corridor behind her and did not see or hear any movement. Kataru placed her hand on the latch. She concentrated, drawing energy from the Wellspring which imbued the latch. It became warm, progressing to hot, then finally melted, allowing the door to swing open. Kataru slipped out of the door into the chilly night air, closing the door and using a rock to keep it shut.
The night was clear, and the moon cast enough light for her to see where she was going through the area between the buildings. The area used to be some sort of plaza, judging by the paving stones in the area. Now, most of the stones had buckled and crumbled. Brown grass and dead plants grew through the gaps. Kataru kept to the shadow of the building and maneuvered to a spot with the least light. Then she dashed across the gap, coming to a skidding stop in front of the other building. Kataru crept around the area, getting her bearings. When she was satisfied she was on the side of the building where Katelyn was being kept, she jumped. As she reached the top of her jump, shimmery wings made of the green light of the Wellspring sprouted from her back. They flapped, generating lift, and carried her up three levels until she was outside of Katelyn’s chamber window.
A sheet of wood covered the window. The glass had long since broken, joining shards of its brethren on the ground below. One corner of the sheet had broken off and Kataru looked in. Katelyn was sitting on the floor, with her back up against a wall, looking at the contraption she used for communicating across distances. A phone she called it. Kataru tapped on the frame with one of her long, silvery fingernails. Katelyn looked up directly at the window. Kataru tapped again. Katelyn stood, still somewhat shaky from the energy which had incapacitated her. She shoved her phone into her pocket as she walked to the window.
“Kataru?” Katelyn said, puzzled. “What are you doing here?”
“I am here to free you from your imprisonment,” Kataru said in a matter-of-fact tone. Kataru wedged her fingernails between the wood and the window frame, ripping it from the nails which had fixed it in place. She threw the wooden sheet to the ground below. “Give me your hands,” Kataru said, holding her own out to her. Katelyn grabbed them and Kataru pulled her out of the window. Kataru darted across the sky above the grassy area, headed for the roof of a shorter building just beyond the tower where the other fae slept. Kataru strained at the effort, feeling the energy escaping from her body. She was almost at the roof of the building. With one last burst of effort, she threw Katelyn to the roof just as her wings dissipated. Kataru fell like a stone, but she was close enough to grab a rusted railing with her right hand. Kataru tried to grab the railing with her left, but the effort of flying while carrying Katelyn had left her weak.
Her hand slipped from the railing, but a tugging on the straps of her breastplate kept her from falling. She looked up, and Katelyn was hanging over the ledge, hauling her up to the roof. With her help, Kataru could muster just enough energy to pull herself up over the ledge. The two collapsed onto the roof in exhaustion.
“Thank you,” Katelyn said, looking at Kataru with tears in her eyes. “Why did you do it?” she asked, gasping from the effort of pulling Kataru up. “Why did you help me escape?”
“I cannot let the elders go through with the Nemesis,” Kataru said, standing. She brushed some dirt off of the knees of her pants.
“The Nemesis? What the fuck is that?”
Kataru looked into Katelyn’s eyes. Within them, she saw a mix of gratitude and fear. And longing, maybe for her mother? At that moment, Kataru knew she had made the right decision, despite the doubts plaguing her mind once she started her ill-planned rescue attempt.
“The fae will capture all the humans and bring them back to Elfame. Then,” she paused, struggling to find the words to convey the concept. “Then the elders will raise your realm asunder.”
Katelyn gasped, “What will happen to us? The humans?”
“The elders will return your essence to the Wellspring of life, and you will be reborn as fae. As you once were.” Kataru sighed, sensing the pain and fear radiating from Katelyn. “Your existence here will be as if it never had occurred.”
Katelyn stared at Kataru with disbelief in her eyes. She sank to the gravel covering the roof, resting on her knees. She stared at her hands, motionless. Silent. Kataru knelt beside her and put her hand on Katelyn’s back. “Katelyn, do not grieve. I will not let this occur.”
Katelyn laughed, yet there was not one hint of amusement in her tone. “What can you do? You’re just one fae. There’s a whole fucking army of them out there. Rounding us up like cattle.” She waved her arm toward the vista of the city. Flames were still burning in the streets below, giving off an acrid smoke that made the air stink.
“While I am just one of my kind, my words have a certain amount of weight. I can convince others of my kind to see the errors of their ways.”
Katelyn looked up, a glimmer of hope returning to her eyes. “You can? How?”
“I am the queen’s sister, after all,” Kataru said. She extended a hand to Katelyn. “Come, I know of someone who can help your mother and assist us in our endeavors.”
Katelyn took Kataru’s hand in hers, rising to her feet. The two made their way to the door, allowing them access to the stairwell, bruised, battered, and exhausted. But they were not defeated. Not yet.