Celeste's eyes rose and she collapsed against a singed root. Her fingers scrambled over the bark, tugging, testing, and she ducked under the first loose panel. Another fireball whumped pathetically against the root and smoldered into nothing. The root interior was dim and humid. Celeste could feel the dew steeped tree fibers lighting warmly across her shoulders. She stood, tensed, as her eyes adjusted to the darkness.


The fairy started, springing forward in an awkward hop.

"A problem, miss?" the thing beamed at her. It had teeth like mottled bark and a wide, flat tongue flicked ponderously across their surface. Eyes wide and wet as river stones blinked up at her.

Celeste smiled diplomatically. "No, excuse me," she stumbled momentarily over its gender, "madam. I didn't mean to intrude."

The thing shook its bald, walnut dark head. "You airy fairy types. Shouldn'a be down here. Never know what'd happen to a pretty thing like you." It grinned and ran its knobbled fingers over Celeste's arm.

"I'm sorry," she twitched away, "would you happen to be of the Earth clan, by any chance?"

The thing peered at her. "Mhum-hum. And y'know what else?"

It cracked her across the skull.

"... of this? We are a neutral people. What you have done is a manifest statement of war."

Celeste's eyes fluttered and she blinked around at the milky forms of the room.

"We are not to become involved in the above conflict. Each is a cancel of the other and they shall extinguish themselves."

Her vision cleared and she rolled her skull towards the speaking voice. The world was tipped and it occured to Celeste how very odd it was to hold court on the ceiling. She attempted to straighten herself by sliding up against the damp wall.

"It wakens."

Several figures strode towards her and scooped her up by the elbows. They drug her forward. She collapsed at the feet of the speaker.

"Stand, if you can manage." The voice was warm and smooth. It seemed to polish the command into a gleam of authority. Celeste rose and very nearly stumbled again at the sight before her. The Earth Queen, for surely it was she, was lean and long as a spring sapling and a deep coffee chocolate. Her head, as the other fairy's, was bare and when she stood the pale fabric of her drapery petalled across her hips. "Air fairy," she said, "you have been the victim of gross misconduct, and for this allow me to apologize."

Celeste swallowed thickly. The Queen bobbed her head and continued, "However, it would be imprudent of me to allow this... opportunity to go unrealized." Something sparked in her flat eyes. "We of the earth are a benevolent people. In the above conflict we have remained as neutral as possible, allowing each of our brother and sister clans to benefit equally from our generous hearts. But the war has only made our bleeding hearts hemorrhage and bleed away into oblivion. We are running dry on life, supply, and patience, Air fairy."

"But we - the Air clan - have been trying to regain peace, Madam Queen," Celeste asserted.

The Queen tilted her head, "Oh? And what have you achieved? Your pacts and your talks of disarmament? We can all see the progress you have made. Even now the war burns over our heads."

The Air fairy trembled. It was true. For all their talk, the negotiations had done little to slow the war. If anything, their attempts had aggravated them - had peeled off the newly healing scabs and dabbed caustic liquid in the wound. Celeste bit her lip. "And what does this have to do with me, Madam?" she asked.

"Quite simply, if it isn't too much of a bother," the Queen smiled, "we would like you to end the war for us."

The End

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