I'd like to start this story out with "Once upon a time." I'd also like to call it a fairytale. It's not, though, and so I can't.
It takes place on a planet far from here, only a few years ago. In fact, it starts out in 1327 PD (Post Diaspora), or Year 263 here, when I was a little girl. Since I don't feel as old as all that, you'll have to forgive me for not starting out my fantastic tale in the usual manner.
Nevertheless, it has all the earmarks of an old Earth fairytale. There is a handsome prince, a beautiful princess, a fairy godmother, and an evil witch. You could even say there is magic in our tale, if you accept the definition of magic as technology we do not yet understand.
The evil witch isn't exactly evil, though. I'm not entirely sure she's really a witch, either. The fairy godmother, as with all the fairies in this story, isn't exactly a fairy. They're aliens. Or, rather, they're the natives on the planet and we were the aliens. I was never really a princess, no matter what my father said.
The prince, however, was really a prince.
And he really did fall in love with the princess.
One last point I'd like to make, before I begin our story, is my final objection to beginning with "Once upon a time." You see, it became traditional to end stories that began that way with another familiar cliché. "And they lived happily ever after."
This story harkens to older times, and darker tales, where horrible things happened before an end was reached. Tales of girls who sliced their own feet to fit into a glass slipper. Tales of a man who ripped himself in two in a fit of rage. Tales of dancing shoes that would not stop until the one who wore them dropped down dead. Tales of horrors happening to those who strayed from whatever path it was the storyteller thought was moral.
For the moral and just, the stories sometimes ended with "Happily ever after."
Sometimes they did not.
This is not a fairy tale.
This story does not begin with "Once upon a time."
This story will not end with "And they lived happily ever after."
* * *
It begins when I was eight years old. I was raised in a fairy palace, by the king and queen, as if I were their own. I was told that my birth parents were descendants of the first human immigrants to enter the kingdom, and were well loved and respected among the people. My ancestors were the ones who first called the natives fairies, and this was the kingdom of Sprites. I suppose this speaks of a whimsical turn of mind, which I like to think I inherited.
My parents, the king and queen of Sprites, made sure I was raised around other humans so I would not feel completely alienated or alone. They called me princess and told me about my dead parents, and they taught me what they knew of Earth history alongside what I thought of as my own country's history. I knew I was different, but I also knew I was loved. I was the bridge between two races, and sometimes I was even called a miracle child, though none would explain to me why.
One of the humans, my father's best friend, told me of a game they would play on Earth once a year, called Halloween. Perhaps you've heard of it. They would dress up to hide who they were, wearing masks and costumes, and throw a great ball where people from all over would exchange their favorite candies and have contests to tell the scariest stories to celebrate the end of harvest. It sounded like the best sort of party for a young princess like me to have, and my parents indulged my wishes. Royalty from all over the world attended my first Halloween ball, out of curiosity, and that is the first time I met him.
My prince charming.
You know what humans look like, obviously. You might not know what the fairies of Khirassa look like, though, if you have never been there. They are much like us in appearance. It seems like a popular design in the universe. Either that, or in our arrogance we simply haven't been able to recognize intelligence by a different design.
Khirassa is further from their sun than Earth, respectively. It is colder there, and the light is not as bright, and their gravity is about half that of Earth, or so I am told. Fairies reflect those differences, having huge eyes and lighter pigmentation and more slender builds than we do. Their hands and arms are also adapted to allow them to "swim" through the atmosphere. It is not so much flying as jumping very far and landing very slowly. I've heard the term "gliding" used, but when I've said that to anyone not from Khirassa, they seem to envision something different from what the fairies do.
Some humans find them to be freakishly alien, like all other races from other planets, but I've always found them to be more beautiful than humans. As soon as I met my prince, I wanted no one else. He was the most beautiful person I could imagine. He was perfect.
No one could tell me he was less than perfect.
Not even him.
* * *
I grabbed him by the hand at the ball. "Will you marry me?"
Yes, that is how we officially met.
He smiled at me. "Yes, Princess Jewel, if our parents allow it."
I pulled him with me, his feet touching the ground only one in five steps that I made, and I was quite unaware of the bruise I was causing. "Queen Mommy! When we grow up, I'm going to marry him!"
She smiled indulgently and told me to go dance, and to be more careful. The prince was looking at me with wide and shocked eyes, holding his hand.
"I'm sorry," I said, and I kissed his hand better.
"You want to marry me that much?"
"Yes. What's your name?"
He laughed, and I joined him. We spent the rest of the night talking about our families, our tutors, our friends, and other things that royal children talk about. Neither of us was in love, but I think we both felt relieved more than anything that we knew who we would be with, if we were given a choice.
My parents were simply so indulgent, I was sure I would get my way. I was vaguely aware of a treaty being drawn up with the Kingdom of Elves, and I was almost sure that Prince Anhren was from that kingdom, but mostly I was unaware of the politics involved in granting us our childhood fancies. I saw him every year, when I had my Halloween, until I was sixteen years old.
For the first time, humans were invited to my ball. It was something I hadn't thought about until then, but in retrospect it seemed strange that I'd never done it. I didn't realize how much I'd viewed them as outsiders, as the fairies did. I'd made very close friends with a few of them, though, and we walked into the hall holding hands, in matching costumes.
Many of the visiting royalty couldn't tell us apart, even though Micah was a boy, and Lini was a girl who had more curves that the humans found so attractive. With our masks on, they saw only humans, and treated us all as royalty, just in case. It was great fun, and even Prince Anhren was confused for a minute before I lifted my mask.
"I'd thought you'd become three, for a moment," he laughed as he bowed, then embraced me.
"How would I be able to do that?" I asked with a grin as I returned his hug carefully.
"Humans are mysterious beings," he replied solemnly, and then returned my grin in equal measure.
I nodded, agreeing completely. "Still, hopefully not that mysterious. I'd hate to find that there are things I could have done but never knew, all this time. It was shock enough, when I found out I'd never be able to fly."
He smiled and whispered in my ear. "For now, perhaps."
I couldn't ask him to explain, because there was a call for everyone's attention. My parents and his parents announced our upcoming wedding. My mind was spinning. It was finally happening, just like I'd always wanted.
It was the best day of my life.
* * *
Things after that were pure chaos. Lini and Micah were trained along with me in what was expected in a fairy wedding. As my best friends, they would be the ones to present me to my parents, to hand over to the new kingdom. They would speak for me, answering in my stead, while Prince Anhren's friends did the same.
I saw very little of my prince, until the ceremony. I think I spent more time with my human friends in that time, too, than I ever had before. We laughed, we fought, we cried, and we made promises that were not meant to be kept. I wanted them to be by my side forever, not knowing that it would be impossible.
The ceremony itself was long and formal. Ten of us were in the room, and that was all. Prince Ahnren and I sat in the center, back to back, blindfolded and tied to each other. I think I fell asleep at one point, since I hadn't been able to sleep the night before, and when the ceremony was finished Lini's voice was raw and scratchy. Micah fared better, but I could still hear the weariness in his voice. They untied the blindfolds, kissed me on the cheek one at a time, and whispered impossible promises to me again.
They were escorted from the room.
My mother, the queen, smiled as she helped to untie us. "Your friends are so much like your birth parents were when I was married. I'm glad you chose them."
The words warmed me at the time, as much as they would chill me later. I would never forget that moment.
We were then left alone in that room for an hour, and what happened in that time will come as no surprise to anyone else that has been married, and has no bearing on the story except that it happened.
Afterward, there was a feast, and dancing, and it made my pretty little Halloween seem like a child's game. He gave me a gift, a pair of wings that the humans had adapted for flight in this world, and I laughed and hugged him, and loved him more and more.
Everything was wonderful, until that point.
Now, enter the Wicked Witch.
I was handed a glass, with a deep red liquid that sparkled in the light. It tasted salty and bitter.
"It tastes so strange. Unlike anything I have ever had."
The girl who handed it to me smiled. "It is a delicacy, served only at weddings, and only among the elite."
"How wonderful," I said, though without much enthusiasm as I continued to drink. It would have been rude not to.
The girl's smile grew wicked though, and she watched me closely. "Are you always so trusting?"
I tried to answer, her, to ask what she meant, but I managed only to open my mouth and let out a low belch. I didn't even have the presence of mind to beg her forgiveness for being so rude. I was like a puppet, and she had the strings.
"Much better," she murmured. "Now, come with me."
I had no choice. I walked behind her as she led the way through corridors that were suddenly unfamiliar. We walked into a room, and she stripped me without ceremony, replacing my ornate gown with the costume I had worn at the last Halloween ball. She then led me to the kitchen and directed me to lay down on a long table.
"If you move, the scynthers will eat you."
I didn't know if there were even any on the table, but in my mind I was suddenly covered with a blanket of the clear and deadly spiders-like creatures, poised and waiting for me move. I barely dared to breathe.
"Good girl," she purred, patting me on the arm. She finally added the mask to the costume, and smiled. "No one will even know it is you, until too late."
I was moved to another room, and through the eyeholes of the mask I saw the ceiling pass me with an ever increasing urge to blink. Fear and panic began to grow in me as the urge grew stronger. If I blinked, I'd die. I was sure of it.
If I blinked I'd die.
I heard curtains being drawn, and the light changed. I couldn't even wince, though my eyes watered. I heard murmurs and applause, and the music came to an end.
"Why are there five?" I heard my prince demand.
"There were only four in the room with us. Did some other human come in and misunderstand?" It was Ahnren's mother, this time. She laughed lightly, sparking a ripple of laughter through the rest of the room.
"Where is Princess Jewel? She'll miss the flight."
I wanted to scream that I was here, but all I could manage was a low moan. I could not move my lips, for fear of death. Tears were streaming down my face at this point, but no one could see them or hear me because of the mask and the noise of the guests.
"I handed her a drink and she looked ill," the girl who had handed me the cup said. "You cannot wait, brother. The flurflurs won't take flight if you don't do it now."
"She's right," his mother answered brusquely. "You'll just have to do it without her, and accept half a blessing on the marriage since she can't be bothered to participate." She said a few other unkind words, clearly displeased with my disappearance.
I'm here, though, I wanted to cry out. If only the scynthers wouldn't eat me if I told her.
If only I could blink.
My eyes were burning now, and out of the corner of my eye I saw my groom walking past, lifting a sword above him. I heard it fall somewhere to my right, and there was an explosion of tiny flurflurs in the air, like butterflies of earth with great black and green wings. The sword fell again, and again, and each time was accompanied by another wave of the beautiful creatures.
Black and green. Death and rebirth. Would they be carrying my soul with them soon? The scynthers would kill me, surely, before too long. They were skittish creatures, who could smell fear.
A flurflur came up beside my mask, hitting the eyehole, and I blinked and flinched despite myself. It was inevitable.
I sat up and screamed as I felt the first bite and then a thousand more. They were everywhere, and I was going to die.
The sword clattered to the floor, and Ahnren grabbed me, lifting me from the table with more strength than I thought he had.
"Scynthers," I gasped, filling my lungs for another scream. My knees were weak, my head was spinning, but he was holding me like I was made of nothing. He ripped the mask off of me and kissed me, telling me I would be okay, but it was too late. I was dying. I was being eaten alive. The world was going black around me as I screamed again, crying and holding him with the last of my strength.
My mother rushed to my side, looking into my eyes. "She's been drugged."
Of course I'd been drugged. But that didn't stop the scynthers, and I couldn't understand why no one was--
In an instant the biting feeling was gone. I gasped for breath again, this time for the sheer joy of breathing. "Mother!"
She held me and stroked my back. I wasn't going to die. Everything was fine. Everything would be fine.
"You forgot one, Prince Ahnren."
The words were snide and mocking. The girl held the sword before her, as if to offer it.
"No, it's too late. Don't--"
She hefted it, swinging downward onto the table beside me. My eyes followed the swing of the blade to where it landed on the corpse I hadn't known I was next to.
Beside him was Lini, already split in two and hollowed out. On the other side of her were Ahnren's friends from the wedding.
I screamed again, staring at the first three tables, filled with more horror than I had never known. Our best friends, dead and desecrated and presented as "blessings" for our union. This was horrific enough, but Micah's was worse.
The flurflurs inside him had been left too long, and instead of taking flight, they had turned on each other. Wings were bitten off and scattered everywhere, and it looked like a mass of black worms writhing inside the chest of one of my best friends.
I wasn't the only one to scream at the sight. More delicate fairy ladies fainted, and others muttered darkly about what sort of portent that meant.
"They'll never rule a kingdom, now."
I didn't care.
"It's better to kill them both. Kinder."
I didn't care.
People gathered around us, hands grabbed at me, and I didn't care. They'd killed my best friends as a gift. I wanted to scream again, and again, but it just wasn't enough. It couldn't express enough. The emotion was choked inside. I couldn't breathe.
I couldn't breathe.
And I didn't care.
I'd promised to be friends with them forever. We'd promised to stay together.
My fairy godmother nodded.
This was how they'd died, and I saw it in her eyes.
She cried for them now, seeing my tears. But how could she have done this?
This whole planet was insane, or I was.
I welcomed the darkness that met me now, as I fainted in her arms.
* * *
When I awoke, my love was already dead. My prince, my promised husband…
If this were a fairy tale, he'd have lived. But I awoke to him draped over me, bleeding on my bunk, cold as the dead of space.
It was such a pitiful, reedy wail that I didn't recognize it as my voice, nor the keening that followed.
We were in a starship. Great and glorious and the height of luxury, meant for royalty by every design.
I pulled Ahnren onto my bunk carefully, arranging his limbs, closing his eyes, draping a blanket over him. I didn't want to believe it was real, but the more I handled him, cared for him, arranged his body…he was dead.
There was nothing I could do but cry.
There were many more corpses outside the door. I recognized them all, and had no idea which was friend or foe.
Which one of them had struck the killing blow on my love?
That thought made me want to kill them all, over again.
A human on a murderous rampage.
But, that did not happen. I found my father on the bridge, staring. We had servants and guards around us, but he looked so alone.
We were, each of us, alone.
"Prince Ahnren is dead." It's all I could think of to say.
"So is your mother," he replied, in the same lifeless, hopeless tone.
If this were a fairy tale…there'd be some lesson, some moral, some happy or at least just ending.
But this is no fairy tale, and we can never go home.