Sylvia ex Merinita, a young maga with her first apprentice, decided to take the girl, Agatha, on long walks through a nearby wood with a low faerie aura, hoping to fully awaken the girl’s Gift. The faeries in the wood recognized Sylvia and had for several years enjoyed her company, so they left the pair alone, for the most part, at first. Sylvia would tell Agatha stories during their walks, and the faeries would follow along, enjoying the stories. As the walks continued, the faeries became more bold, and started taking on the images of the characters from the stories and acting out scenes, to Sylvia’s surprise and delight. Agatha had seen magical creatures before, but only the small grass and stone sprites that lived on the edges of the fields her family worked. They were simple creatures who played harmless tricks on Agatha, and hid her from the other children who made fun of the girl for being different. But these walks in the woods were very different, with antlered rabbits, deer with near-human features, and birds with unearthly voices following at the edge of vision and shimmering into the shapes of witches, peasant girls, and perfectly white cows as the maga’s stories unfolded. Agatha watched and listened, in awe of her new mistress’ abilities and fascinated by the images they seemed to evoke.
As their walks continued and the moon shrank and disappeared, the faeries grew ever bolder, rearranging the landscape to match the stories. Sylvia instructed Agatha to hold tight to her hand, no matter what happened, and Agatha was eager to comply. Sylvia began increasing the tension levels of the stories she told, and the faeries correspondingly increased the sense of danger in the wood. Agatha held ever more tightly to her mistress’ hand, and often emerged from the wood at the end of the stories with tears streaking down her face. After one particularly hair-raising walk in which the dead seemed to rise from the earth and chase the pair, Agatha collapsed into unconsciousness upon leaving the wood.
Sylvia instructed Agatha the next day that the girl must now tell the stories. Excited and a little scared by the idea, Agatha did not sleep thinking about the story she would tell. When they re-enterd the wood, Agatha earnestly told the story of a brave knight, a fierce dragon, and a helpless princess, but her words did not evoke any reaction from the faeries, who merely followed behind again, sighing with the wind. For many days, Agatha tried to tell exciting stories, with ogres and other fearsome creatures, practicing over and over at night in her bed, only to have the wood remain dull and lifeless as she relayed the words she had so carefully rehearsed. Sylvia encouraged her to keep trying, and continued to walk with her in the wood daily. Agatha would often leave the wood crying again, not from fear or excitement but from frustration at not being able to evoke more than a whisper or light fog from the faeries.
One day, she was quiet and spoke not a word as she walked with Sylvia, and remained so for several days. At night, she practiced and refined her original story about the knight and the dragon into a brilliant tale. Sylvia listened to the girl rehearsing, repeating sections over and over while she lay awake night after night, looking more wan and still silent during the days. Finally, Agatha thought she was ready to present her story to the faeries, and began the tale the moment they entered the wood. The words flowed from her pale lips, their cadence perfect, the phrasing beautiful, and Agatha’s dark ringed eyes shown with the fervor of her performance. But the faeries remained quiet. As Agatha reached the climax of the story in which the knight would slay the dragon and rescue the princess from a fiery death, tears streamed down the girl’s face, and her entire body shook with the realization that she had failed, finally, to rouse the faeries. Even cruel Alan and that beast Jack from her village had never ignored her so completely as the faeries seemed to do.
Agatha stopped short, just before the knight could strike the fatal blow to the dragon, and shrieked, “I hate you all! You think I’m invisible, but I’m not! I’m real and I’m right here!” She stared at the wood around her with sleepless, bruised eyes, lips tight in frustration and anger. The faeries were meaner than Alan or Jack, but they didn’t know what she could do. Perhaps they would like to hear that story; then they would know they shouldn’t be mean to her.
“Once upon a time,” she began in a sharp, edged whisper, “there were two boys who believed they were better than anyone else. But they only way they could prove their worth was to tease, threaten, beat, and ignore a lonely girl.” She went on in the same tight voice to tell of the abuses Alan and Jack had heaped upon her, and how she would elude them by hiding in the small wood at the edge of the fields. Engrossed in her memories, Agatha did not notice that part of the forest brightened and became a tilled field, with two boys, one sharp and rat-faced, the other with crooked teeth and large hands stalking through the brush, beating at the weeds with sticks. “But one day, they found her hiding place, and followed her into the wood. The girl knew that if they found her, they would call her night-stained and beat her with sticks and worse.” The woods turned darker, and the boys features grew to monstrous caricatures as they approached with their sticks raised and mouths open in anticipation of catching their prey. “But the girl knew the name of every blade of grass, of every pebble and stone, of each biting insect in her wood, and she called on them to protect her.” The grass around her grew long and writhed, grasping toward the invaders. The stones rose from their rest on the ground and swirled through the air, swarming as if they were the grasshoppers and bees, while those usually harmless creatures rose up against the larger boy-man-creature, stinging his face, hands and body until he cried out and fell to the ground twitching. The smaller but sharper of the two, fangs bared, claws reaching with club raised, fought through the shield of grass and stones and tore at the girl, ripping her dress. Agatha shrieked in fear and anger, and raised a rock heavy with moss and age from its mouldy rest. The beast pulled her close, its breath hot on her neck, and her arm swung around, bring a rock too larger for her hands. Her dress tore beneath the beast’s claws and and it raised its head in a howl of triumph. The sound suddenly cut short as the sharp edges of the rock buried themselves in the base of its skull. Saliva dripping in anticipation became a stream of blood as the beast fell over the girl, twitching with a last breath.
The forest suddenly calm, Sylvia released a breath she had been holding, and moved to quickly brush away the leaves into which the beast’s body had melted, the faerie glamour dissipating. “So that is what happened,” she muttered, finally understanding the circumstanced that had led the farmer to allow her to take his daughter away. She began speaking the words of a spell to delve the girl’s body for signs of trauma, when Agatha rose from the pile of debris. She looked around, her eyes wide and bright. “I saw them, Mistress,” she blinked, “and I see them still.” Sylvia brushed dirt from the girl’s face and smoothed back a lock of hair that now shown white in the forest light. “And I’m not afraid, not anymore.”