Nadja’s Note: This report and image were found half-buried in the ground in front of one of the gates in Ardessa. The degree of wear and tear on the pages suggests that it has been left in the elements for several days, if not a week. Its author appears to be nowhere in sight, but search and rescue efforts will continue.
Dear readers, I thank you for bearing with me as I finally make my way to the Faire. Something strange has come over me. I was barely able to make it out of my bed this morning, even though today is the day that I tour the Pools of Ethuil. It must have something to do with that strange augury I had several days ago and the resulting bump on the nape of my neck…
In any case, I owe the deepest gratitude to Vedika for getting into the Fairelands first and sending me her report on Aetherea. Without her, Team B’Nansa wouldn’t even be on the map, in a manner of speaking! Ha, yes!
Well, I should be happy that Vedika is out there rallying for the cause, should I not? Just because it was not I who first set foot on the Fairelands should make no difference, should it? It’s not as if I’m trying to prove anything to anyone or hoping to see my name written in the skies by cheering masses of Unweaver survivors.
No, that would be silly, not to mention incredibly vain! I can’t believe it even crossed my mind. Curse that Kratz for even suggesting that I joined this relay for life only to restore the B’Nansa name!
We are rallying for the cause. That’s all there is to it. We. The Cause.
And we, Adair, are going to see legendary Elven territory today.
With that settled, I unwrap my Scroll of Teleportation and mutter the coordinates for the Pools of Ethuil.
In a flash of white heat, the teleportation spell drops me before the finest piece of Elven architecture I’ve ever seen. To call it a “piece” is an understatement. It’s a masterpiece, carved of the most elegant cedar, emerald, and gold I have ever laid eyes upon. The structure gracefully tapers into the skies like a volcano about to erupt praises into the heavens. Hovering over the tip of the structure is a brilliant ruby held only by gold prongs. The ruby slowly bobs up and down, reflecting sun onto every corner of the region.
It must be a shrine, or what some people call a “church.” What else than spiritual devotion could spark its maker into building such a wonder? Signs posted outside the building indicate that its name is Roawenwood. What a fitting name for such a noble monument.
I step into the shrine and am met with purple altars displaying various goods for the home and garden: dreamcatchers, miniature memorial boats, purple grass, and even the same verdant trees that adorn this Elven retreat. Indeed this is a shrine—but a shrine to The Purple Braid!
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” says someone behind me, voice as high and sweet as that of a canary.
I turn around to find myself in the presence of a beautiful human woman clad in robes of purest white. She tilts her head at me and smiles like a child.
“Absolutely breathtaking,” I respond, offering a hand to her in greeting. “You must be a priestess of this shrine.”
“Oh no,” she giggles. “I just love the view here. The powers that be placed me here to guide wandering Fairelanders, but I usually rest in the shade of those oak trees over by the pools.”
“My apologies,” I say, bowing. “Thank you so much for your service to the Fairelands.”
“My, no need to be so formal! It’s nothing, really. Speaking of service, though, I really should be heading back to my tree. The powers that be warned me not to wander about, lest questers not be able to find me.”
My ears perk up. Did she say questers? I had yet to introduce myself to the Bard Queen and officially begin the quest this year, but if this pleasant woman were somehow tied to the quest, then I might as well start now. No need to wait for Vedika, Kratz, and Frighe to catch up. I am their leader, after all.
“Please allow me to escort you,” I say, gesturing toward the exit with the signature B’Nansa flourish. “I’m quite the fighter, if I say so myself, and one never knows where that dreadful Unweaver might be lurking.”
The elegant lady smiles wanly, eyeing my sword with what I can only interpret as mild distaste. I can’t fathom why; I spent almost an hour polishing it before I departed for the Fairelands.
“I wish people didn’t have to resort to violence,” she murmurs. “It’s very peaceful here. But I appreciate the kind gesture.”
Ah, so this woman is a pacifist! I should have known; she seems almost childishly naive. But I suppose such is the nature of humans; they live such short lives.
With a nod, she exits the shrine and begins walking in the direction of the pools. I quickly follow behind her. Outside, the intoxicating fragrance of lavender wafts by, and a gentle breeze rustles at our skirts. Glowing particles lazily drift through the air—Elven magic, I presume—and shed light in the cozy midday shadows.
As we descend the staircase, the pools can be heard—the gentle lapping of water against stone, waters that must have circulated all the way from the Junction and around the Fairelands. If there’s one thing that my home lacks, it’s this. A small creek runs by my loft, but it pales in comparison to these azure waters.
Hypnotized by the sound of the pools, I almost tread on the hem of the fair lady’s dress and deftly roll sideways to avoid dirtying it. She turns around, bemused.
“That was a close one there,” I mutter. “I almost muddied your dress, er… Sorry, miss, I didn’t catch your name?”
“Oh, it’s Desdemona,” she smiles.
“What a lovely name. It suits such a lovely woman as yourself.”
She flushes scarlet and flutters her eyes coquettishly at me. I would deign to say that she is flirting with me! Perhaps she has a special attraction to Elves? The Pools of Ethuil are Elven territory, after all. Alas, what a shame that I cannot return her affections; this mantle of battling the Unweaver allows me no respite.
“Th-thank you,” she manages to say. “And what might yours be?”
“B’Nansa, Adair B’Nansa, Miss Desdemona. Perhaps you’ve heard of my clan?”
“I’m afraid not.”
How naive indeed! If I didn’t know better, I would say she were rezzed here just yesterday.
“We’re a noble lot. Some say the history of the B’Nansa clan traces back to before the advent of The Grid itself. Tragically, however, we’ve lost our next king, my brother. He was kidnapped, you see, and ever since then the B’Nansa name has fallen in rank.”
“I’m so sorry to hear that!” Desdemona cries. “Is that why you’ve come to the Fairelands, then?”
I nearly choke. Is she insinuating what I think she’s insinuating? And here I thought she was type to see the good in everyone, a wearer of rose-tinted glasses, as it were! Now Kratz—I can understand why he thought I had some sort of ulterior motive coming to the Faire; his mind is drenched in Drow filth! (I’m not racist, I promise; it’s simply fact that Drow live underground.) But Desdemona? How dare she?
“Wh-what on The Grid do you mean by that?” I sputter.
“Oh, your face is turning purple!”
“I’ve come here to do battle with the Unweaver and save the Bard Queen once again! That’s all!”
“You don’t need to shout…”
“This has nothing to do with restoring my family name!”
“I never said it did…”
“Then what did you mean when you asked me why I came to the Fairelands?”
She waves her hands wildly in front of her as if they could shield her from my indignation. “You mentioned your missing brother, so I thought you came here to look for him! Please, please, don’t be upset!”
It is then that I notice we’ve stopped underneath a giant oak tree. Desdemona turns around and reaches her hand into one of the hollows of the tree and produces a small parcel.
“Please, I’m sorry,” she says, on the verge of tears. “There must be some sort of misunderstanding. You’re here for the House of Garland quest, right? I don’t see Cheer with you, but I’ll make an exception. Please take this.”
She presses the parcel into my arms. Still annoyed by her accusation—or what I thought was an accusation—I tear off the wrapping paper. Inside is a miniature model of the shrine I entered when I first arrived here, enclosed in a display case carved from the finest oak wood. It even has a tiny ruby floating over the shrine.
The urge to cry stabs my rib cage. No, I must be strong! I mustn’t embarrass myself any further in front of this woman! Will she tell the Bard Queen of what transpired here? Oh, I pray to Brunhilda that she does not!
Clutching the model to my chest, I bow deeply to Desdemona in apology.
“Please forgive me; I misunderstood. It’s just such a sensitive topic, you know—my brother missing and all the infighting in the clan. Oh…please do not think ill of me, Desdemona.”
“Not at all,” she says weakly.
“Truly, thank you so much for this generous gift. I don’t believe I deserve it.”
“Don’t say that, Adair. You have the best intentions, I’m sure. And besides, a quester who came by earlier refused to take it. She said she had no need for worldly possessions.”
“Who would refuse such a beautiful present?”
“It was a woman, a woman with brown wings and the feet of a bird. Her name started with a V. Was it Vivian? No. Veronica? Um…”
No, it couldn’t be…
“Yes, that’s it! Quite an impressive woman, that one. She had such a sense of calm and determination about her. So wise. Is she your friend?”
The words calm, determination, and wise pierce me like poisoned arrows. No one has ever called me any of those things. Desdemona looks so gleeful as she talks about Vedika. She jabbers on, completely oblivious to my pain.
“What wonderful company you keep! While asking about Francis Garland, she even offered to bring me some daisies so I could weave my love a crown.”
“Up she flew and into the wildflower patches, snatching up daisies faster than the earth could push them. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“I’ll wager she was cheating,” I mumble.
“You know, using an Area Search spell or something of that nature…”
“‘Area Search’? I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Nothing. Never mind.”
Desdemona frowns, looking far more perturbed than someone of her mental age should. Suddenly, I’m overtaken by the urge to punch her in the face.
…What in Brunhilda’s name is wrong with me?
I back away before my fist begins to ball up and summon every bit of willpower in my body to not draw my sword.
“Er, thank you again for the kind gift, Desdemona! I must be off now. Have to catch up with Vedika and whatnot. There’s an Unweaver to slay…”
I don’t wait for her to reply. Instead, I dash off toward the cluster of marble cottages that house merchants’ wares. I don’t stop until there are a good 32 meters or so between us, and only then do I notice that I’ve been holding my breath.
I slowly release my breath, and my entire body threatens to sink into the cool stone beneath my feet.
Something is wrong with me. My mind won’t stop running, even though my body has. Over and over, I think of Vedika soaring through the Pools of Ethuil, picking up daisies and dropping them in Desdemona’s lap, and all the while, crowds of Fairelanders clapping and chanting Vedika’s name.
“Who needs Adair?” the imaginary Fairelanders in my mind yell. “Vedika’s the real hero of this story! Three cheers for Vedika! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip—”
No. I must think of something else. Anything else. I’ve got to keep my mind busy.
Wooden shrines. Marble cottages. Miniature gondolas with candles in them. The lick of the water against stone. Blue skies. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts, happy thoughts.
Death to the B’Nansa clan. Death to Adair. Brunhilda has forsaken her. She is a pox upon The Grid, a useless, arrogant wretch who is a barbarian in conduct only. She couldn’t even make it to the Faire on time. Ban her from all Faires!
These words are spoken in my own voice, but I never even opened my mouth. I can’t stop them. They run on a loop, and I can’t run away. No matter how I turn my head, no matter how I flail my body, they won’t stop.
You’re a failure, Adair. You’ll never finish this quest. The Purple Braid doesn’t need you. The Purple Braid doesn’t even want you.
No! I’ll show them! I’ll show those jeering hordes!
My body carries me into the marble cottages and into the fine houses with the stained-glass windows. Lindens slip through my fingers and onto the purple altars like sand. More. More. I need more stuff. I need more to silence the voices. I’ll spend, I’ll feed The Purple Braid until it can’t take anymore, until it acknowledges that it needs me, until it recognizes me as the real hero of this story.
I barely register what I’m purchasing, but I put it all on anyway as if I’m racing against my thoughts, as if they’re chasing me and the only way I can outrun them is by getting dressed.
A purple dress and a necklace set from Plastik. A crown from Belle Epoque. Wings from Les Encantades. A tiara from Lyrical Bizarre Templates. Bracelets from Bite & Claw. Starry face paint from Impulse Control. A hairstyle from Wasabi. Valkyrie wings from Bliensen + MaiTai.
I look at my reflection in the water. I look beautiful, like a queen. The Queen of the Faire. I look powerful, like an Aarakocra. Vedika the Aarakocra.
I’m trembling. I stop at the top of the bridge to take a deep breath, and I rest my arms against the railing.
I’m so tired. But I can’t stop. I can’t let my thoughts catch up to me.
I look to the horizon for something to distract me. Anything. A bird, a wandering Fairelander, perhaps the Fairechylde. I would even look at the sun and let it blind me were it not for the fact that it was hiding behind the clouds.
My eyes fall upon a cluster of floating temples in the distance. Their elegant peaks please my eyes, and the lights from what I gather to be incense bowls comfort my frenzied mind. The temples are mirror images of each other, attached at the foundation of the structures.
Mirror images. Why is that so familiar? What am I looking at, exactly?
And then it hits me. I’m looking at Aetherea. The very same Aetherea about which Vedika wrote her report.
And like that, my thoughts catch up to me, grabbing at me like the shadowy hands of the Unweaver, tearing at my hair and pressing down on the crown of my head until I sink to the grass.
The pressure. I can’t take the pressure.
Your wings are fake. Your crown is a lie. Who are you fooling, Adair?
Before I can stop myself, I grab my wings and wrench them off my back. The voice is right. They’re fake. I’m no Vedika. I’ll never fly.
And the wings on my head? They’re false, too. I’m no Valkyrie. I’ll never go to Valhalla.
And the crown. The crown is the biggest falsehood of them all. I’m no queen. I’ll never restore the B’Nansa name.
Yes, that’s right. You’re a fraud.
“I’m a fraud,” I repeat aloud. In so doing, I realize they’re the truest words I’ve said all day.
Yes, that’s it. Give up. Give up to me.
Sinking into the nearest bench, I nod. The lump on the back of my neck pulsates harder than ever before. But I don’t care because I’m not the hero.
And this is no longer my story.
This post features Fantasy Faire exclusives from Belle Epoque, Bite & Claw, Bliensen + MaiTai, Impulse Control, Les Encantades, Lyrical Bizarre Templates, Plastik and Storybook, and Wasabi. For detailed credits and more pictures, please refer to Nadjanator’s blog.