The only way to achieve Peace is to become Peace.
Not a day had gone by during Ayla's childhood years when she had not been told the tales of The Reviled, tales which were meant to frighten her into absolute vigilance; to always be wary of the darkness where the Reviled could lie in wait. She learned how they came in the hours of the night to steal away the innocent or to ruin the pure. Takers of the Innocent, Child Wraiths, Corruptors of the Beloved, Dark Ones; the Reviled had many names and she knew them all because she was different, set apart from other Fey by her innate abilities, which were given, it was said, by the Wisest of the Wise. She would be a light for her people, a Guardian of Cherubs. Her course was set from her earliest years.
It had not taken long for her parents and attendants to determine that she had remarkable talents, unlike those of other Fey children. She could distinguish truth from lies as a falcon sees its prey in the long grasses. She could look into the eyes and see the soul, discerning beyond all the complications of guise. Empathy ran so deep within her that she could, under circumstances of extreme duress, take on the pain of another and ease their suffering. These gifts first drew attention to her, but they also set her apart and isolated her from the others.
Even from her nursery years, the tears or hurts of any of her playmates would draw her to them like a moth to flame. She would sit quietly by and their crying would subside or she would hold their hand and their pains would diminish. These first indications of her extraordinary capabilities brought her under the scrutiny of many, but ultimately led her toward the Temple.
AylaYna, the only daughter of AyannaDvnna and Bryndan, grew up in the village of Hwyndarin, an artisan's sanctuary set deep in the primordial forests of Jyndari, Land of the Fey. Here the breathtaking handcrafts of hundreds of Jyndari's finest artisans accompanied her throughout her childing years, but those who both loved and also secretly feared her. As a childfey she was guided by scholars who filled her mind with images of Good and Evil, black and white, Darkness and Light; there were no gray areas, no middle grounds. She knew only truth. While her friends sat in cheery classrooms and learned the skills that would set their lives into balance and equanimity, she learned about the secret arts, about incantations and magic, which were hidden from all but a privileged few.
She learned how to battle evil with the words of the Ancients using intonations in her own language as well as in Dlalth, the desecrated language of the Reviled. She practiced her growing skills in daily sessions that would leave her both mentally and physically exhausted, but her ability with incantations could not be left to chance; they were a matter of life or death. Day after long day, she honed her skill with artful words as well as her talents of healing through empathy by visiting the sick and the aged, and she discovered that the use of this gift would drain her own energy by an equal proportion to that which she intended to ease or cure. As a result, she also learned how to protect herself from her own empathic inclinations, how to use this particular gift with deliberate caution so she would not endanger herself and in the quiet hours of twilight, she delved into the forbidden world of Seeing.
Her closest friend, Nayina, learned to sew fine silks and embroider with gossamer threads that mimicked sunlight; she was taught to play the flute and the magical Fey instrument of mind and emotion called the Hudarin; she learned to weave the magic of grace and serenity into the embodiment of happiness, which would give her life purpose and stability. But AylaYna was sent off on daily treks to the Temple to learn about the banished and the lost. She was taught no other trade or skills and she lived each day with the shadow of fear.
As a youth, images of Dark Fey, those who were lost by the consequences of their own foul deeds, haunted her dreams. She slept little during these frightening years and read often. She read the ancient texts about the Fallen who could not love, could not create joy or light or bring peace and harmony, could not admire beauty or talent without avarice, could not feel compassion for another and could not bring life into the world in the form of innocence. In order to reproduce themselves in any fashion, they came in the shadows to secret-away unattended childfey to their dark realm and those childings, once taken, were condemned and lost as surely as their abductors.
The Dark Ones lived in the realm of eternal darkness, The Uunglarda, and could only enter into the realm of Light, into Jyndari, through portals in the unlighted shadows of nightfall. They had many portals of entrance. Any deep shadow could conceal a Dark One and the Fey of the Light were vigilant in setting lamps, torches and candles so no corner stood in obscurity. Mirrors in darkness, unlighted wells, the dying embers of a fire that stood unguarded or the very rare faerie ring that no longer flowered gave the Fallen a place to cross. They came in darkness, they brought darkness with them, and they were the epitome of everything that was not light, bright, and beautiful.
During Ayla's middling years, those years between innocent childhood and responsible adulthood, she was given a tenuous measure of freedom. With the majority of her education completed, she was required to attend her lessons in the Temple less frequently and could embark upon those more immediate concerns of laughter, flirtation and youthful love. She was given the happy task of guarding the childfey during their play hours and was even called upon during special occasions to watch over the young ones of different families while the adults were away. It was her gifts which set her apart and which led her to become a Guardian, it was her education and knowledge of the Dark Fey which empowered her to take up such an important task at so young an age, and it was her own joy in being with the beautifully innocent and uncomplicated that made her not mind such a loss to her own social affairs.
The afternoon was warm and full of birdsong. The childfey she guarded were playing contentedly among themselves in the gamesyard and Ayla, along with her friend Nayina, were resting in the shade of a broad archway of flowering Wisteria. The bordering forest encircling the gamesyard of the nursery on all but one side was quiet on the unusually warm day, as if all its myriad inhabitants lay resting during the heat of the day. Its dark canopy spread invitingly cool, green shadows upon the ground at its feet, enticing even the most wary to step into its shadowed depths. Ayla and her friend sipped refreshing mint tea, fanned themselves absently with their translucent wings, and spoke of unimportant matters. The day was calm and quiet, filled with burbling giggles and warmth; yet, unexpectedly, a fleeting shadow caught Ayla's glimmering amber eyes.
Turning her head sharply in the direction of the forest, she could not disguise her distraction as she sought the elusive image at the border of the woodland. Nayina paused as well and turned to watch her friend with curiosity, fully aware of her gift of sight and the fact that she saw far more than the average Fey. When she looked, Nayina could see nothing except green shadow and shaggy undergrowth, but Ayla's eyes were fixed on something and her mouth fell open in a gape.
“What do you see Ay?” Nayina inquired softly. Her friend shook herself and turned back to face her with a shrug and a smirk.
“Nothing, I guess.” She replied offhandedly, taking her glass in hand once more and bringing the cool beverage to her lips.
“A shadow, a flutter, probably nothing more than a deer.” She offered more obligingly as she turned back to look once again upon the playing younglings. Nayina accepted this explanation of her odd behavior, but she did not fail to notice her friend's repeatedly furtive glances toward the same direction of woodland where she had previously gazed so intently and she did not fail to see the puzzlement present in her expressive amber eyes.
She said nothing more about it, but Ayla found it difficult to keep her thoughts on those whom she guarded. As the afternoon waned and parents came to collect their wee cherubs, Ayla and her friend bid each other good eventide and went toward their separate homes, yet even as she traversed the sparkling alley of cedars, which led from the daylight nursery where she spent much of her time, and the diminutive cottage she called home on the borders of the village, she saw and heard little. Her thoughts were turned inward as she mulled over what she had seen or, at least, what she thought she had seen.
A Dark One.
Shaking her head, she scoffed aloud. It could not have been, for the Dark Ones could not enter the realm of Jyndari during daylight, it was impossible; even if what she had seen had been immersed in the green shadows of the forest, protected from the rays of the sun by the duskiness of the woods. Regardless of that fact, she had never heard of a Dark One being seen during the day tide, so it certainly could not have been one of the Reviled. She argued with her own thoughts, turning the possibilities over and over in her mind, shifting her opinion first in one direction and then another.
What she had seen, what she thought she saw, had been everything she ever imagined a Dark One to be: dreadful in appearance, menacing in action, demon-like, drawing shadows unto itself like smoke filling a room, but she had only seen a fleeting shadow for a moment, lingering in the darkness of the undergrowth like a wolf, slinking secretly along its way. It could have been anything. Shuddering involuntarily, she shook her head again. Certainly it had been a wolf or a deer. Surely her fearful mind, filled with years of dark imagery and whispers of dread, had seen only the fleeting shadow of an animal in the dim light beneath the trees and had invented the remainder.
She spent her eventide alone, making certain to light candles in every room and out in her small garden, as well. She sat in silence and studied the writings contained within an aged, little book: the Dark Texts, wherein were contained the collected warnings about, signs of, and protections from the Reviled. Many times during her solitary read, her head snapped up at an unexpected sound or suspected movement, but each time it was only her fear that haunted her and at last, soothed by her research and her repeated self-assurances of her own silliness, she went to bed.
The balm of early summer advanced and Ayla kept her regular schedule of morning practices and learning at the Temple, luncheons with her closest and, in truth, her only friend, Nayina, and afternoons filled by the giggles and coos of her precious, entrusted ones. After those responsibilities were discharged, she would often attempt to join in the revelry of other youthful Fey who were closest to her in age, joining small gatherings or buoyant parties during the coolth of eventide, but very often she would return home afterward disappointed by her own inabilities to connect with or even understand the complexities of youthful jocularity and flirtation and ever more often she felt doomed to a life alone with her fears and suspicions.
* * *
“I promise, you will like him.” Nayina coaxed her one steamy afternoon in the variable shade of their now green and flowerless Wisteria arch near the gamesyard. “He is just your age and he is quiet, like you.” Ayla listened to her friend's optimistic enticements, but grimaced.
“Perfect. We shall spend the evening staring at our feet in utter silence.” Her friend sighed impatiently at her cynical remark, but Ayla conceded.
“I shall go. I must make a greater effort, I am completely aware of it. Besides, I have never actually been to Summerfest before. Must I dress in anything special or bring anything?” Nayina could scarce contain her excitement, for it was not very often her sheltered friend agreed to join in during celebration time, especially if it also meant entertaining the attentions of someone of the opposite sex.
“It is not a masque, just a party; an excuse to go out under the twilight, dance and make merry. If you want to bring something, bring some of your honey mead you are always drinking in private. It is made for sharing, after all.” Ayla leaned closer and drew a secretive, diaphanous wing around them.
“What is he like?” She queried with open interest. She had precious little experience with malefey, few found her odd upbringing appealing and even fewer found her quiet, reserved nature tempting. Nayina smiled, because, although Ayla was a beautiful young Fey, she had never had a proper suitor and her friend felt this unfair and unjustified. Ayla was extremely intelligent and interesting to talk to and she was as inclined to mirth and joviality as any youth. One simply had to gain her trust.
“Oh, he is so very nice, Ay, not conceited or arrogant in any way. He is a book-learner, like you. His parents sent him off to the Temple to study the Ceremonies of the Shifting Seasons and the Rites of Entrance and such as that. They dedicated him to be a Celebrant.” Ayla listened intently, her thoughts fascinated by the possibilities this young Fey presented. Perhaps he would be the one to finally understand her.