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~ Devourer ~


Cracking open a single eye, Willow sighed of pleasure as the sounds of another day beginning drifted through the open window. For the morning held the promise of a hunt filled with adventure, a hunt that Willow would led into a cavern not far off, where they would search for gems most precious.
   Fluttering from the bed, Willow quickly dressed, putting on the ringmail armor that all faeries wore. Then darted down the stairs to grab some breakfast. A fresh bowl of fire fruit rested on the kitchen table and she grabbed two, one for now and the second for later. Then she darted from the house and headed towards the gathering spot.
   Flying over the city felt good, for up here the whole of the cavern could be seen. The lava river glowed brightly as it ran through the village, and the road that paralleled this held many wingless creatures. All coming from far to trade and also share tales, stretched beyond the truth, of grand deeds most brave. But today these travelers interested her not.
   Arriving at the spot they all were to gather at, Willow sighed, for no others had arrived yet. So she settled down by a large rock and waited, eating the last of her fire fruit. Then Hyilon arrived, another fine young female faery with just a bit too much of the jester inside. Willow had always had to keep one eye on Hyilon, for the girl tended to sneak in a prank at every opportunity.
   “The others aren't here?” Hiyilon wielded a most disappointed look that could only mean a prank had been devised.
   “What are you up to?”
   “Me? Why, Willow! Why would you think I'm up to anything?" she giggled, a devilish twinkle in her eye.
   Willow sighed, frowned slightly, then flew over to Hyilon and poked her lightly in the chest, “You, my little dear, are way to well known to get away with much these days. And pulling anything this morning might just get you left behind. I suggest you shelf, right now, whatever it is you have planned.”
   Hyilon cocked her head to one side, offered up a weak smile and shrugged, “You're probably right, perhaps I should play innocent for a week or two. Besides, the break will give me a chance to come up some most devious tricks to play.”
   “Perhaps, I should start keeping both eyes on you?”
   “Willow! I though you knew by now that I won't do anything to you again!”
   Willow shook her head, not sure if Hyilon's words could be trusted, “It's only been a few months, and with every passing day, I suspect the plot will unfold.”
   “Who, me? Plot against you?”
   Willow wanted nothing more than for someone else to arrive. For this would give Hyilon someone else to tease with nonexistent threats, “It is when you play innocent that I worry the most, what are up to?”
   “Absolutely nothing!”
   “Maybe I should skip this day, I have feeling it's not going to be just fun and games.”
   “No, Willow! I'm serious! I'm not going to do anything to you. I promise! Please don't go!”
   Willow cocked her head to one side and eyed Hyilon with suspicion, "If you do, then I won't ever talk to you again! That's a promise!”
   “You have my word!”
   “Now, care to share what you do have planned?”
   “I told you, nothing.”
   At that moment, Gretxul, Erilpior, and Tylima all arrived. Each landed, assessed the situation, and each frowned at Hyilon's innocent look.
   “Is she up to something?” Gretxul asked.
   “I honestly don't know,” Willow said.
   Gretxul eyed Hyilon for a moment more and then turned to face Willow, “Yeah, right. So is anyone else coming?”
   Gretxul perked up a good bit upon hearing Owilmia's name. For he had a crush on the girl and would enjoy any opportunity to impress himself upon her, “Oh, okay.”
   “Get yourself ready, Gretxul, for here she comes,” Willow glared at the boy, a bit upset that he'd taken to that snobbish bitch. But his fancy drifted from time to time and would eventually, hopefully, fall upon her.
   “Everyone ready?” Owilmia chirped as she landed, eager to get moving.
   Willow looked everyone over and then checked that the other fire fruit remained safe under her shirt, “So this is it? Just the six of us?”
   Everyone nodded in agreement, and Willow lifted from the ground. She could hear the others following, but glanced back just to be sure. Their safety rested on her shoulders this day and she would not skirt the responsibility. She would have to keep a careful eye on the crevices they would soon pass over, for rumor told of times when devourers would squirm deep into a crevice and wait for an unwary faery to pass overhead.
   However, her concerns faded and as they reached the safety of the cavern known to sprout gems of many colors. And everyone immediately set about cracking open rocks in the hopes of discovering a treasure that all young faeries desired. But Willow had missed spotting the hidden devourer, did not see it move in closer. The creature crept through the crevices so silently that not even a dragon could have heard.
   “I found one!” Tylima cried out, holding a red rough gem high in air.
   Everyone gathered around the newly discovered gem, and each of them twinkled with envy at what Tylima had found.
   “Let me see it!” Gretxul reached for the gem.
   Tylima quickly tucked it away under her shirt, “I think not! Go find your own!”
   Gretxul scorned her with a hateful look and darted off to a pile of rocks a few feet away.
   Pleased, but also saddened at not being the first to claim a treasure, Willow moved to another unattended pile and began smashing through them. And it was at that moment that the devourer struck. None of them saw it coming, none of them dared to think, and they all cowered as Owilmia fell to the creature's jaws. Having claimed one, the devourer let loose her body and snapped at Eryilpior next, catching the young faery off guard. She cried briefly as teeth ripped into her flesh, but then she fell silent.
   “Flee! Find the guard!” Willow raced high up into the air, hoping to fly above the monster's reach. Then she looked about to see if the others had cleared the nightmare. Gretxul hovered nearby while Erilpior keep flying straight up, her hands covering her face. Whirling around, Willow spotted Hyilon racing for the village, a trail of tears falling towards the ground behind her. But Tylima could not be seen anywhere, “Where's Tylima?”
   Gretxul darted briefly towards the ground, but the devourer eyed him with anticipation. Gretxul stopped, looked about, and then turned to Willow, “I don't see her anywhere.”
   “Make sure Erilpior is okay, she's up there somewhere,” Willow pointed up and then turned to summon the guard. She raced high above the crevices below, fearing that another devourer might be hiding there. But nothing struck out and Willow reached the village in mere moments. Then she headed right for the Queen's castle.
   Hyilon had already arrived, and in a frantic panic, tried to explain what had happened. But the guard could not get enough coherent information out of her. Willow raced up and hugged the frightened girl.
   “Willow! Good! Might you explain what has terrified this child so?”
   She looked up the guard, tears not welling up in her own eyes, “A devourer, on the far side of the village. Eryilpior and Owilmia are dead, and maybe Tylima, too. Not sure, I couldn't find her.”
   The guard glared at Willow for a moment and then bellowed the call to arms. Within a few minutes a hundred soldiers had arrived, “lead the way Willow, you know where this beast lurks!”
   She took flight, an unstoppable flow of tears continued to rain sorrow, and led them to where the horror had taken place. Hovering some distance above the devourer, Willow could see that he not yet consumed the two lives so far claimed, and she did know if this meant the beast had filled its belly on Tylima or waited for some other devious reason.
   It did not matter, for the soldiers descended upon the devourer, filling the creature with bolts from crossbows, and slashing it with blades most sharp. But even so, it managed to take the lives of three more faeries. But when the creature fell, dead and no longer a threat, Willow descended to see if her friends might yet live.
   They both rested beside each other and neither moved. Willow landed, bent over them, and checked each for life. But they did not live; she had failed them, failed to ensure the safety of her friends, a stain that would forever mar her soul.
   Then the Queen arrived, and Willow cowered as the Queen loomed overhead, “Willow, what have you done here this day?”
   Keeping her head low, Willow did not know what to say. So she said nothing.
   “Silence will not save you from the punishment you will soon face. But it may ease that punishment, speak child. And tell of what transpired here.”
   Taking in a slow deep breath, Willow dared to glance up at the Queen, and though her words faltered at first, she did manage to tell of the morning's events. Everyone listened, and everyone sighed with Willow's last word. And then everyone waited for what the Queen would say.
   “You neglected your duties in making sure of everyone's safety. But only slightly so, this can not go unpunished, but the punishment will be less than it could have been. For I believe that which you suffer now may very well be punishment enough. Go now, and wait for my call.”
   Willow bowed and then took flight, heading for home. Then Gretxul few up beside her and reached out to grab her hand, “It's not your fault, Willow, I don't think you did anything wrong.”
   “Yes I did, the Queen is right, I failed.”
   “No, we all failed. We all got so engrossed in finding those worthless gems that we lost sight of all around us. And it is for that reason that Erilpior and…,” he trailed off at that point, the reality of Owilmia's loss taking hold. And without another word he let go her hand and angled away.
   No, she couldn't blame him for feeling that way. And she wouldn't blame him if he never talked to her again. And Willow felt that it would take a long time before she'd be willing to talk to anyone. Yes, she understood how he felt.
   Reaching her home, she entered to find the place empty. At least Willow would not have to face her parents so soon, and hopefully not for a good while. So she darted up the steps, into her room, and then dove into her bed, where she cried the rest of the day and well into the night.

To Be Continued

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