Blooming trees rimmed the shores of a secluded woodland
lake. Lakai sat on a grassy knoll at its banks, watching the
ripples made by vivacious undines engaged in their aquatic games.
They waved to him enticingly as they swam by. A content unicorn
lay by his side, lapping up the sparkling water, its golden horn
and hooves glistening in the open daylight. Lakai ran his fingers
through its white mane absently, deep in thought.
tiny sprites zipped across the lake.
with us!” Starbright squeaked in a high-pitched voice, pulling
play! Come play!” Moonflower echoed, tugging on his sleeve.
don’t want to play right now,” Lakai mumbled most
uncharacteristically. They whizzed around him playfully.
not now,” teased Starbright.
surely you will when we get back to Acrela!” Moonflower finished
began to circle him faster. The unicorn looked up, neighing at
shook his head and smiled. “I think I will go back to Acrela,
but not to play.”
sprites exchanged puzzled glances, “What is there to do besides
going to talk to the Queen!” he grinned haughtily.
Ginzandi?” Starbright sniggered.
do you want to talk with her about?” Moonflower asked.
see,” Lakai got up and started walking towards the faery city.
Acrela was the capital of the East Forest, but an outsider
would easily mistake it for just another part of the woods. This
city consisted of the oldest trees in the forest. The denizens of
the faery realm lived in their hollows, at their roots, and in
their leafy bowers. Those with the gift of faery sight would see
spectacular astral structures branching out from the bark,
intertwining with each other in beautiful patterns that served as
scenic boulevards, spacious plazas, and ordinary roads. All paths
led to the central grove where the Faery Queen Ginzandi made her
walked briskly between the ancient trees. Starbright, Moonflower,
and an accumulating number of curious faeries tagged along behind.
He reverently entered Ginzandi’s sacred grove and bowed to her
in admiration. She sat swinging in a garland of primroses
suspended from the lofty branches.
be, mother,” he smiled at her.
be, my child,” she smiled back.
crowd of faeries fluttered about the grove, seating themselves in
the foliage and shining from within the leaves in twinkling
have been doing a lot of thinking lately,” Lakai sighed.
know that I live in Faeryland as one of you,” he went on, “And
yet at the same time I know that I am not one of you. Your kind is
born when a seed first sinks its roots into the ground, you exist
where the moonbeams dance upon the waters, and you emerge from
I was traveling with Lynn… When we…” Lakai caught himself,
recalling that the Acora told him to not talk about it, “I know
that I have parents. I appreciate everything you all have done for
me, and am sure that it is more than my real parents ever could
have. But still I must know, who are my parents?”
onlooker faeries whispered to each other quietly.
Ginzandi frowned in thought, then shook her head. “We don’t
know anything about your human parents, dear,” she told him,
“You were given to us as a gift from the faeries of the
Enchanted Forest. If anybody knows anything about your blood
parents it would be them.”
nodded in acknowledgement, “Then I must go ask them.”
hushed whispering turned to an outburst of astounded chatter.
you do not leave today, you will leave tomorrow, who would stop
you?” the Queen smiled sympathetically, “The Enchanted Forest
is not a place we know much about, for we rarely go there. It is
said that there is constant war there between the faeries and the
tricksters, the Seelie and the Unseelie Courts.
you choose to go, the only advice I can give you is this: remember
to always stay on the faery paths – those that shine silver by
starlight. They will take you to the Underworld city of Elfame,
realm of the Sidhe, and home to the Faery Queen Erunei. Do not
stray off these paths, for danger lurks in the woods even for the
with my blessings, child,” Ginzandi traced the glowing design of
a seven-pointed star on his forehead and watched it fade away,
kneeled, kissing her hand courteously, then got up and stepped out
of the grove. He passed under the towering treetops and fantastic
etheric metropolis of Acrela, savoring what little time he had
left to enjoy the comforts of his home. Saying goodbye to his
friends, he packed a pouch of food, trusting in the woodland
faeries to provide him with more if he needed it.
several days Lakai walked blithely across the sun-dappled floor of
the East Forest, his knapsack tossed over his shoulder and
bouncing behind him. It was a leisurely pace, bolstered by the
chirping of songbirds from high in the canopy. Trees spoke to him
through the rustling of leaves and he heard the whisperings of the
airy sylphs on the breeze. Many a unipeg or unicorn would gladly
give him a ride to the South Forest, but he preferred to go on
foot, soaking in the scenery as he went.
left behind the last remnants of familiar woodland on the seventh
day, passing into the primordial jungle of the South Forest. It
was a vibrant place, perpetually damp with fresh rain due to its
position on a thin strip of land bordered by the ocean on either
side. Multicolored birds flew overhead, and the distant grunts of
forest dragons were audible to the perceptive ear. The capital of
this forest was Callibra, a city overrun by jungle and home to the
lesser dragons – the tamunid, a mysterious humanoid race that
could alter its skin tone to match its surroundings. Lakai did not
encounter any of them along the way, but he knew they vigilantly
monitored his every move from the underbrush.
South Forest merged smoothly into the Enchanted Forest, for the
tip of the Earth Dragon’s tail overlapped with the Lossi
mainland at this very spot. Lakai entered the Enchanted Forest by
day, feeling the change in energy fields as definitely as one
wading into water from dry land. Physically, the tropical flora
had turned notably more temperate.
quickly detected the glint of silver in the grass that he knew to
signify a faery path and followed the trail, surveying his
surroundings in wonder at their unearthly beauty. Though
Caldora’s landscape was cozier, this was more elegant and
downright teeming with magic. Truly the forest lived up to its
name. It beckoned for him to come and explore its captivating
depths. Soon he could not resist the temptation any longer and,
telling himself that he can always find the way back before
nightfall, carelessly strayed off the path.
by an insatiable curiosity, Lakai wandered deeper and deeper into
the wilderness. He existed in the present moment, living only for
the knowledge of what lay beyond the next copse of trees. While
this kind of behavior was typical and encouraged in the East
Forest – indeed characteristic of any healthy living being –
it was utterly dangerous in the Haunted Forest. He did not notice
the sky growing darker.
Lakai finally realized it was twilight, he scampered about the
woods in panic until it became too dim to see his own hands. The
darkness of the forest was blacker than pitch and so thick that he
could almost feel it closing in around him. His gift of faery
sight did not give him the benefits of night vision, and though he
hoped his eyes would eventually adjust, they never did.
found it impossible to sleep, feeling like a blind rabbit in a
forest of wolves. Eerie noises resounded from the gloom, some
distinguishable as the sounds of wild animals while others were
clearly not. Fantasizing about their source made his stomach turn,
and he did his best to keep from hallucinating.
heard a faint hissing around him before a pair of shining yellow
eyes lit up in the darkness. Two other pairs slid down from above.
He believed himself to be imagining them until he felt a stiff,
bony hand latch onto his wrist. Instinctively he tried to tear
away, frantically kicking and scraping at the creature, but more
hands closed about his arms and legs to hold him in place – more
hands than three creatures normally had. The waves of cold chills
that Lakai felt flowing through his body seized him in a grip of
have we here?” one of the creatures said, its dripping saliva
burning into his shirt like acid.
human child!” another grinned eagerly, its pointy fangs
illuminated by its glowing orbs.
tasty human child,” the third whispered from behind, its
icy breath brushing against his neck. Lakai shut his eyes, trying
to block out their presence with the sound of his own racing
are you?” he asked through the paralysis spell.
are the Spider Sisters,” they answered in unison.
you know what we do to pretty faery pets like you?” one
wrap you in our web and slowly drink you dry, letting our children
eat the flesh off your bones until you are no more than a polished
don’t kill me,” Lakai sniffled pitifully, frost forming on his
eyelashes in place of tears.
Spider Hags laughed cynically in his face, “Kill you? What would
be the fun in that? We slowly eat you alive bit by bit. You’ll
be begging for death before we’re through!”
shivered and closed his eyes tighter.
we’ll give you a sporting chance,” they sneered, “If you can
outrun us and hide so we don’t find you, we’ll leave you
their metallic grips came free and Lakai collapsed to the forest
floor. He hastily scrambled up and dashed the other way, promptly
crashing into a tree. Staggering away from the tree, he barely
evaded the swipe of a readied talon. Ecstatic cackling infused the
air as he stumbled blindly through the darkness, narrowly avoiding
the nails that clawed at him from all sides while being repeatedly
cut by low branches. Tripping over a rock, he tumbled down the
incline of a hill and landed face-first in the earth.
did not have the courage to move, knowing his doom to be close at
hand. He waited for a while, but nothing happened. Cautiously
raising his head, he saw that he was laying in a circle of
silvery-blue fire which he instantly recognized to be a faery
ring. The elvenstar shone brightly on his brow. Still dazed, he
wiped the blood from his cheek and stared blankly at the smeared
crimson stains on his hands. In the soft light, Lakai saw the
deformed silhouettes of the Spider Hags hissing at him from the
forest shadows, their limbs twitching hungrily but not daring to
luminous faery being hovered above him, smiling. “My name is
Fearn,” she introduced herself, “And I am here to take you to
Elfame.” With the wave of her hand, a shimmering gossamer road
etched into the ground, illuminating the woods with otherworldly
things you will see all around, but pay no heed and stay on the
path,” Fearn motioned for him to follow. Lakai went after the
faery, and though he heard ghastly noises coming from beyond the
trail, he never took his eyes off her.
walked and walked, he did not know for how long, but the forest
was getting brighter. The faery path joined with a major faery
road, and the horrors of the deep woods were left to the wilds.
air was filled with scents of wildflowers mingling with sounds of
spirited panpipes. Stars twinkled in the night sky. Shafts of
moonlight filtered through the foliage, coating each leaf, branch,
and blade of grass in silver.
they were nearing a magnificent faery mound encircled by a crystal
fence – the Surfaceworld entrance to Elfame. The ornate
double-door gates opened to a delicate harp-strung melody played
by two imperial sentries. Lakai climbed with Fearn down to the
underground, through dazzling crystalline caverns that led to a
vast opening lit by the brilliant Underworld sun.
majestic city of Elfame spread out before him, above him, and
around him. Ethereal architecture grew out of the cave walls,
floor, and ceiling, glowing with faery fire. Countless faery
beings flew in the midst of the buildings. Fearn gestured for
Lakai to follow her through the main street, to the iridescent
faery palace at the heart of the metropolis.
entering the castle, he felt an intense nostalgia engulf him,
recalling the carefree days he spent in these luminous halls,
pampered in the lap of the Faery Queen herself. As they approached
her regal throne and he saw her radiant visage, he was overcome
with joy and couldn’t help running into her arms. She enfolded
him in a warm embrace that made Lakai forget his purpose here,
certain that he had already found his true mother. Erunei healed
his scratches and eased his worries.
bowed to her Queen and exited the palace.
he whispered into her flower-adorned hair.
darling,” she cooed tenderly, “As much as I would love it to
be otherwise I am not your blood mother.”
blinked and leaned a bit away. “Erunei,” he smiled, then took
a step back and bowed, “Beautiful Queen Erunei. You were the
first mother that I can remember, and a wonderful one at that.”
you were always my favorite human,” she returned his smile and
raised him to his feet, “I won’t have you bowing to me, child!
Know that as long as you live you are always welcome in these
halls, and shall be treated with the highest regard by all the
Seelie Court. But if you came here solely to find your human
parents, then you have come in vain.”
looked to her inquisitively.
did not wind up in Faeryland by chance,” Erunei elaborated,
“Your human parents had been banished to the Enchanted Forest by
Queen Onedia. When they realized they were doomed, your mother
prayed with all her heart for you to be saved. Kirune, one of my
patrolling faeries, heard her plea. She stole you away to
Faeryland while your parents were lured to their deaths by
were they banished?” Lakai swallowed, “Did they do something
child,” she told him, “All they did was speak the truth.”
hesitated, “Then… Then why–?”
Onedia is not who she proclaims to be,” Erunei explained, “She
is the Mistress of Illusions, both terrible and beautiful. Though
she is a powerful goddess, something has clouded her mind and
twisted her heart. She has cursed this forest and it now serves as
a dungeon for all who disobey her. Your father tried to expose
her, but Onedia’s grip over her subjects was so strong that they
refused to listen to facts and supported her verdict.”
paused in thought. He knew he should have been sad or outraged,
but he didn’t know his parents long enough to have such poignant
reactions. He didn’t even remember their names. But that very
guilt about his ignorance made him feel all the more determined to
avenge them. Lakai knew Onedia was Aloquin’s ally, and weakening
her authority would also help his Caldorian friends. “Then I
must go to the Forestside Kingdom and finish what my parents
started. I owe them my life and existence, this would be the least
I can do to honor their memory.”
that is your wish,” the Queen conceded, “But half the
challenge is getting out of the Haunted Forest itself. Onedia’s
curse allows only those born or reborn here to leave.”
determination became notably deflated.
you are not born here, you still can be reborn,” she went on,
“Laurel, the Lady of the Forest, has been so twisted by
Onedia’s spell that she has forgotten her divinity and now lives
in an old cottage in the eastern part of the woods. She invites
weary travelers inside and feeds them an enchanted stew that
transforms them into wild beasts befitting their character.
stew has two magical ingredients: one which carries the essence of
beast, and another which functions as a catalyst for
transformation. Here in Faeryland we grow foxglove that is an
antidote to the essence of beast. Though it is poisonous to
mortals when taken by itself, essence of beast negates its harmful
hung on her every word.
the faery paths to the east and find Laurel’s cottage,” Erunei
conjured up a pouch of foxglove and offered it to Lakai, “Accept
her invitation and consume this herb while she is not looking.
Once inside, eat the stew she gives you. When she seems impatient
for you to turn into some feral creature, claim to be a powerful sorcerer who
is furious that she would dare try cast such a petty spell on you.
Tell her that you will not harm her if she lets you leave in
peace. If that works, keep to the faery paths and go south to get
out of the forest.”
nodded and accepted the foxglove, fingering it tentatively in his
is the plan,” she concluded, “But Laurel is a powerful
Enchantress and not to be underestimated or anticipated. We will
not be able to help you if something goes wrong, for we still
revere her as the Lady of the Forest and abide by her will.”
stared at the pouch ambivalently; the thought of going back into
the Haunted Forest filled him with sheer dread.
I had it my way, you would never leave my side,” Erunei prompted
him, “You are one of us! There is no place for you outside of
Faeryland. Stay here in happiness and peace, where there is no
aging or death. Leave mortal cares behind and become one with the
Sidhe. Let the rest of the world worry about their own
between what he wanted and what he should do, Lakai sensed tears
welling up from within. “I want to,” he looked up at her
bleary-eyed, “And I will come back! But first I need to make
amends to my mortal family and friends.”
well,” she sighed, “But do spend the rest of the night here,
where it is safe. I had a bed prepared for you – stuffed with
flowers and herbs, and softened with pixie dust. Sweet dreams, my
child. Maybe you will change your mind in the morning.”
did not reconsider his decision the next day. For the first time
in his life he felt a sense of purpose more potent than faery
glamour. Queen Erunei tried tempting him with delicious faery
foods and encouraged him to join in the nighttime revels, but he
refused, knowing he would be charmed into never wanting to leave.
She sadly bid him farewell as he set upon a faery path in the
began his trek eastwards at the first light of dawn. Though the
forest still held many dangers, its nocturnal hazards have
subsided considerably, and those protected by the Sidhe could
tread the faery roads without fear. Birds sang sweetly in the
trees and the fragrant aroma of herbs wafted on the breeze. He
walked warily through the greenery, it was well past noon and he
knew that evening was fast approaching.
one point he noticed well-tended wildflowers and grasses growing
on the borders of the trail. Walking further, he saw the figure of
a blond, middle-aged woman dressed in a simple earth-colored gown
crouched amid the shrubbery, picking the herbs to create a lovely
bouquet. Clutching the pouch of foxglove tensely in his fist,
Lakai gathered the courage to come near her.
peeked out at him from behind stalks of lavender and rosemary.
“Why hello, traveler,” her lips spread into a mysterious
smile, “Welcome to my gardens.” She stood up and looked him
over, “How tired you must be! Come spend the night in my humble
cottage. I may not have much, but I can offer you some good food
and a warm bed.”
are too kind, ma’am,” Lakai smiled back meekly.
come!” the woman stretched her free hand out to him and he
timidly took it.
followed Laurel outside the safety of the faery path, into a
clearing. The sun was setting beyond the treetops and the glade
was aglow with softening hues of twilight. The odd thing was that
there were two scaly chicken legs positioned right in the middle.
Following their length up, Lakai saw a rickety hut resting on top
of them. Laurel stepped forward and shouted:
on chicken legs,
your back to the forest,
your front to me!
The chicken legs came alive to the sound of her voice,
stomping in place and rotating so that the front of the hut faced
its owner. A wooden ladder grew magically out of the door’s
base, down to the ground. Laurel put her foot on a rung and
beckoned for Lakai to follow.
perfectly safe,” she assured him before climbing higher.
took a deep breath and placed his hands on the railings. Taking
care not to drop his pouch, he climbed after her. Looking down,
Lakai observed that though it was not terribly high, a fall from
such an altitude was potentially fatal. They easily reached the
top, and the ladder disappeared behind them as they stepped across
come!” Laurel pulled back a chair, “Make yourself comfortable,
sit! I’ll go to the back and cook us some food.”
you,” Lakai said shyly as he sat down, “I really appreciate
the hospitality.” But she giddily scurried into the kitchen
before he finished the sentence. Taking advantage of her absence,
he quickly stuffed the powdered foxglove into his mouth, and
instantly cringed in revulsion. It tasted dry and bitter, but he
forced himself to swallow.
he hoped the stew would wash out the acrid taste, for now all he
could do was look around the room. The inside of the house was
rather cozy, lit by several candles and decked with wreaths and
festoons of flowers. Appetizing smells drifted in from the
returned shortly with a bowl of soup in each hand, setting one
dish next to Lakai. Taking a seat in the chair opposite him, she
placed the second dish in front of herself.
stew made from hand-picked forest herbs!” she got a spoon out of
her apron pocket and handed it to him, “Here.”
having eaten for the entire day, he grabbed the spoon and dug into
the soup, gulping it down in large portions. Laurel smiled and
stirred her own stew, sipping it periodically. Upon scouring the
bowl clean, Lakai asked for seconds and she was more than happy to
what brings you to this part of the woods?” Laurel asked after
he had finished.
Lakai laughed, leaning back in the chair, “I’m just passing
through.” He wanted to get on with the rest of Erunei’s plan,
but something was amiss. He had expected Laurel to stare at him
intently, look about restlessly, or at least show some sign of
anticipation. But instead, she was casually engaging him in small
through?” Laurel smirked, still stirring the stew, “Then you
have a long road ahead of you. This is no ordinary forest.”
guessing so,” Lakai nodded, sensing a headache coming on.
things you will see in these woods after sundown,” Laurel went
on, “Many creatures lie in wait for hapless travelers in the
dark; fantastic monstrosities both real and imagined. Terrible
beings who delight in the sadistic slaughter of their victims. The
forest is cloaked in illusions, and nothing is as it seems.”
was certain something went wrong when he began to feel sickeningly
nauseous. His vision blurred and objects in the room turned tints
of yellow, then green. He hunched over as the nausea in his
stomach changed into sharp, burning pain.
best spend the night in my cottage,” she grinned, believing he
was reacting to her words.
probably should…” Lakai heard himself say before collapsing
senseless on the floor.
was all over him in moments, checking for vital signs and
searching for any previously unseen wounds. She unclasped his hand
and found the empty pouch in his palm.
she whispered, smelling it. Laurel threw Lakai’s hand over her
shoulder and raised him up. Not willing to attempt hauling him
down the ladder, she bid the cottage to descend to the forest
floor. The chicken legs responded by stooping down in a low
crouch, and she easily stepped to the ground with him.
hastened through the dark woods as fast as she could, the
creatures of the night letting their Goddess pass undisturbed. She
hurried to a cabin not too far from her own – that of her
daughter’s. It was an isolated cabin, located in the shade of
several ancient trees and framed by a cultivated herbal garden.
Wind chimes tinkled softly by the door, and the warm light of the
hearthfire shone through the windows.
Laurel stormed through the door and dropped Lakai to her feet.
woman by the fire stared at her, startled.
him!” Laurel pointed down.
one?” Saillie blinked in confusion.
mother marched over and handed her the pouch, “I think he ate
sniffed at the bag and shook her head somberly, “This is not
just foxglove, this is faery foxglove, they’re different.” She
walked over to Lakai to check his pulse, noting that it was rather
slow and uneven, “Normal foxglove is often not fatal because you
usually vomit it before it can do serious damage.
faery foxglove is more potent,” Saillie moved back to the
cauldron over the fire, “It is more concentrated, it acts
quicker, it is not thrown up.” She almost mentioned that it is
also used as a remedy for essence of beast, but restrained
herself, throwing some herbs into the cauldron instead, “Though
it is a delicacy among the Sidhe, it is very lethal to
mortals. It only grows in faery territory – he must have
trespassed and was given it as a curse.”
are you going to do?” Laurel watched her daughter bustle about
the room gathering various herbs.
tossed some more herbs in, “I am going to make him vomit it.”
won’t that flush out my spell?” her mother asked fidgeting her
Saillie sighed, whishing it did, “Your spell has already taken
effect,” she turned to Laurel, “Go home, and come back in the
morning. I should have him cured by then.”
glared at her contemptuously, annoyed that her daughter would have
the nerve to give her orders, but left quietly.
the door shut, Saillie dipped a cup into the cauldron and scooped
up some of the herbal liquid. Glancing back at Lakai, she
hesitated, wondering if it would be better to let the poison kill
him. But then she supposed he would want to live. After all, he
came prepared with an antidote from the Sidhe themselves – who
don’t grant their favors lightly. Pity it was for the wrong
spell. And besides, Saillie blushed, she couldn’t let such a
pretty thing die.
knelt down and set him in her lap. Tilting his head back, she
carefully poured the contents of the cup into his throat. Saillie
stayed with him all night while he retched and gagged as the
potion took effect, forcing the poison back out of his system. He
spat and vomited the foxglove, mixed with soup, into a bucket she
Lakai perceived through his hazy consciousness was the angelic
face of an indigo-haired girl gazing down at him from above, a
waxing crescent moon shining brightly on her brow. After the last
of the foxglove was expelled, she gently rocked him to sleep to
the sound of a soothing lullaby.
stirred, feeling at the mossy ground under him and sensing the
warmth of the sun against his body. Slowly, he opened his eyes,
squinting reflexively from the glare of light flooding through the
open canopy. A shadow moved into view overhead, obstructing the
daylight. He peered at the form and recognized it to be a woman.
She smiled, brushing away the hair from his face and raising him
to a sitting position. It took a few minutes for Lakai’s
traumatized eyes to fully adjust to his surroundings. He was
sitting by a tree, on the grassy floor of a picturesque clearing.
However, he did not remember where he was, why he was here, or
much of anything for that matter.
are you?” he inquired of the woman.
am Laurel,” she replied, “Lady of the Forest.”
are in the Enchanted Forest,” Laurel told him.
looked around the clearing once more. “Who am I?” he asked
after a long pause.
are Pan,” her smile widened into a complacent grin, “Lord of