“What do you think of my architectural skills? I’ll be a pro soon, you’ll see Gemma.” Tate stated happily. She had long blonde hair and wore green cargo pants and a white shirt. Upon her back were purple butterfly wings. She confidently placed her hand on the fence she constructed out of Popsicle sticks and wood glue. The fact that it surrounded her whole pickle jar she lived in with her mother was a source of pride to her. Faeries had to get innovative with their architecture, usually scavenging from humans. The jar had an umbrella above it, to block out the sun and rain, and was filled with doll furniture. Inside her mother was sewing together spider silk to make rope and armor, which she sold to the faerie’s military.
“Tate, the only thing you’ve built is a fence. Don’t you think you’re getting ahead of yourself?” Gemma said. Her hair was short and light blue, and she wore purple shorts and a white button-down shirt. Her wings were orange. She was Tate’s best friend and lived close by.
“Look at it! It’s sturdy and professional. I bet it’ll last for years!” Tate boasted.
“But if you leave for the city to be an architect, won’t you be too far from your mom on the farm?” Gemma pointed out.
“Well, you see, I find the spider farm a little creepy. Mom harvests their silk, which is useful and all. But look at all this open space! I could dig a river, make some houses, and put a theme park here to encourage tourists…” Tate said.
“Tourists aren’t going to come here. Haven’t you heard the rumors about the antlered people that have been attacking faeries?” Gemma’s expression turned worried at the thought of them.
“I thought that was just a scary story to entertain kids. There hasn’t been anything in the paper about it.” Tate said.
“I don’t think so. When I asked my mom she got really secretive about it. She acts the same way when I ask her about her new job. She goes on about population control, but she doesn’t say what she’s controlling. I mean we’re in the desert, do you think it has to do with snakes? Sometimes I worry she’s into something illegal.” Gemma’s expression turned distant. Tate put an arm around Gemma’s shoulders.
“Really, what makes you say that?” Tate said, concern plain in her voice.
“Well, yesterday I was cleaning the attic, mainly seeking out some charcoal so I could draw some more. But then I found this huge cleaver with dried blood on the handle. It was old, but not dusty, like someone had been using it.” Gemma ran her hands though her hair nervously.
“Do you think she’s hurting people?” Tate asked. Gemma shook her head.
“Hey, don’t say that! Maybe she lent the cleaver to my mom to cut spider silk? Maybe she accidentally got a cut?” Tate suggested, forcing cheer into her voice.
“But why hide it in the attic? Without cleaning it?” Gemma asked, growing more worried.
“I don’t know.” Tate replied woodenly.
“Come on Gemma, let’s go inside, the heat is too harsh out here anyway, you’ll feel better after some ice cream.” Tate threw her arm around Gemma and led her to towards her house, when Tate caught sight of some movement over her shoulder.
A girl with curly orange hair approached them, two intricate antlers sticking out of her head. She wore denim pants and a jacket missing some of the metal buttons. Sand covered most of her as if she’d been slinking underneath it, lying in wait for them. Gemma recognized the antlers from stories her mom had told her as a child.
“A Carthical! Fly away!” Gemma exclaimed, her heart pounding. She grabbed Tate by the hand and dragged her along.
“A what?” Tate said in confusion, though she was startled by Gemma’s fear and numbly followed her lead. The two of them took to the air, flapping their wings as fast as they could, their swift movements kicking up sand as they sped through the barren landscape.
“Is she following us?” Gemma asked, too afraid to look back.
“Yes!” Tate yelped as the Carthical grabbed her by the foot. In a rush of fear, Tate kicked the Carthical in the face, but it held tight.
“Just give up, I only want your wings.” The Carthical yelled angrily, her voice scratchy from disuse. Tate grabbed Gemma by the hand and pulled. The Carthical crawled up Gemma’s leg and clawed up her back, snatching one of her wings with both hands.
“Help!” Gemma screamed.
“Hey! Let go!” Tate said as she took off her shoe and threw it in the Carthical’s face. Gemma squirmed free and Tate pulled her away from the girl.
“I can’t believe that worked!” Tate said with surprise. The two of them flew until they could land on the roof of Gemma’s house. They sat next to each other, clinging to the roof to keep themselves in place. Gemma’s house was constructed out of a wooden crate with a small door and a pointed green roof made from sticks, pasted together with mud.
“What is this Carthical thing that’s after us?” Tate asked, eager for information.
“Like faeries are humanoid butterflies, Carthical are humanoid reindeer.” Gemma said. “They can shape shift into deer too. My mom warned me to stay away from them, but they usually reside in the forest!” Tate nodded and glanced at the Carthical, who started climbing the slats of the wooden crate to get to them. As the Carthical pulled itself onto the roof, Tate took to the air and Gemma followed her. They hovered high above the roof, staring down at the Carthical who was hissing at them, revealing a row of sharp teeth. Tate winced at the sight of them.
“We can’t go inside, the Carthical would get us at the door.” Tate stated bitterly. Why did her mother move her to the desert she was young? She remembered the forest, she must have been six when they’d left. But the memories were fuzzy by now. She figured it would be safer in the forest, then she could hide from the Carthical, instead of being in plain sight as she was now. The Carthical jumped up and down, swiping its claws in the faerie’s direction. Suddenly, Tate heard movement in the sand.
“Hey, Gemma, there’s your mom!” Tate said with relief. Gemma’s mother, Vita, had yellow eyes, dark blue hair that flowed down her back in a long braid, well-built arm muscles and yellow butterfly wings. She wore a casual, magenta button-down shirt and brown capris.
“Mom!” Gemma called out to her, but her voice faded on her lips when she saw her mom was holding the cleaver she’d seen in the attic. Vita flew to the roof and raised the cleaver without hesitation, slashing the Carthical across the face. But the monster drew away in time, leaving only a shallow cut. The Carthical dug its claws into her wrist and pushed back the cleaver with her hand until it was bloody. Pulling away, Vita crouched swiftly and swung the cleaver into the Carthical’s leg, causing it to fall backwards off the roof and land in the sand below.
“Gemma, Tate, go inside the house. I’ll burry the Carthical.” Vita said, flying off the roof and landing beside her foe. In a daze, Tate and Gemma walked inside the house and sat on the couch. The walls in the living room were light blue and the large couch in the center of the room was flanked by two book shelves, which were full of tiny books which were hand written by faeries using very small ink quill pens. The furnishings and the house itself were all meant to be used for a doll’s house, but with the strength of many faeries, they’d been able to move the dollhouse furniture to this secluded place from the landfill where it had been originally. It had been thoroughly cleaned since then, and being so small and slightly damaged, if ever humans passed by it in cars or planes, they tended to dismiss it as garbage. Tate stared at the bookshelf, then worriedly at Gemma, unsure how she’d handle the news of her mother’s surprising skills. Luckily she didn’t need to fill the silence, and Vita sat down next to them on the couch a moment later. She placed the cleaver on the coffee table. She’d cleaned it since its last use. Her hands were clasped tensely in her lap, and her face had a bandage on it. She took a deep breath.
“So, I’m sure you’re curious about the battle.” She said, worry creeping in her voice.
“Yes.” Gemma said with worry.
“You remember the forest a little, don’t you Gemma?” Gemma nodded, unsure where this was going. Vita continued. “You see, most faeries live in a place called Techtopia. But when I was a child, I lived in the forest. It was pleasant, much easier to get food and water there, and the tall trees shielded us from discovery by humans, though we were always in danger from the animals. Maybe you two don’t recall, but you both lived there when you were very young. Tate, your mom and I were neighbors, that’s how we knew each other, and decided to leave the forest together. Strength in numbers, you know. There was one creature in the forest who hunted only faeries. It was the Carthical. Not much is known about them. We know they started out as deer and can shape shift into a diminutive, human-like form.” Vita said, pausing to check if Gemma and Tate had calmed down yet.
“But how?” Tate asked, curiosity overriding her former fear.
“By eating faerie wings. Apparently they hold some magic within them. I’m not sure if faeries can access this magic for themselves. I’ve never had any special powers. I think the first deer to unlock this power must have done it by accident, perhaps mistaking a sleeping faerie’s wings for flower petals? Whatever the case, we call the deer shifters Carthical, though I’m not sure why that word came into use.” Vita said.
“But how did you come to fight them? And why was the cleaver in the attic bloody recently?” Gemma pressed, concern on her face.
“When I was young, we had to flee from the Carthical often, flying to the treetops to avoid them. But they would pass through the forest quickly in deer-form, trampling our villages and taking us by surprise, then eating any faerie wings that were left exposed after the event. In one such brush with danger, my mother pushed me and some other kids into a hole in a tree, so we’d be safe. After the damage from the deer’s rampage was done, I crept out of the tree to find a Carthical biting off the wings from my mother. She told me to fly away, but I attacked the creature with my bare hands and fought it off. It shifted back into a deer while I was punching it, and it sped away, far too big for me to deal with anyway. After that, I got the idea to train and fight against the Carthical. I made this hatchet from a pocket knife I pulled out of a junkyard. My mother couldn’t fly anywhere for six months, so it was much harder to get her to safety when the deer or wolves trampled our territory. In that time, I protected her with my hatchet. I got better at wielding it, and since then, from time to time I still go and fight them, protecting other faeries when they call for me.” Vita said, casting worried glances from time to time at Gemma, worried how she’d take the news.
“So you’re a Carthical exterminator?” Gemma asked.
“Yes.” Vita said. “It seems the faerie wings only let the Carthical shape shift for a few dozen times before they have to eat more faerie wings to maintain a humanoid form. So there’s no shortage of Carthical who want to attack faeries. But in exchange for the fighting, I can barter with other faeries for things like food and books.”
“But mom, I don’t like that you’re in danger, and why didn’t you tell me you’re an assassin?” Gemma said angrily.
“I didn’t want you to worry! Since the Carthical moved into the forests, we moved to this sandbox to avoid them. I figured my profession needn’t come up. I’m sorry I led you to think I was a chef…surely you noticed my cooking skills aren’t exactly professional grade?” Vita said with embarrassment.
“I guess…but now that I know what you do, you’re right, I don’t want you to get hurt!” Gemma said sorrowfully.
“Oh, don’t worry dear. I’ll be fine.” Vita hugged Gemma. Gemma pulled away first.
“You said sandbox? I thought this was the desert?” Vita shook her head.
“Nope. Just a much larger sandbox than we’ve been in before. But I think it’d be best to move to Techtopia. Security is higher there. Just fly north for an hour, you’ll see the rainbow light glinting off the CD’s, you can’t miss it. I have to stay and help Tate’s mom move her spiders, but we’ll join you soon. I love you both: be careful on your trip.” Vita embraced Gemma and Tate. Then she reached for the coffee table, picking up her weapon. “Oh, and take this cleaver. It’s unlikely a Carthical will show up, but just in case, take this to protect yourselves.” Gemma gingerly took the cleaver and held it limply at her side. She and Tate left the house and went to Tate’s place to say goodbye to her parents before heading to the train to Techtopia.
“Tate, aren’t you going to tell your mom you’re leaving?” Gemma said. The two faeries walked side by side on their way to the train station. The train, like many things the faeries used, was once a toy train taken from the humans. The wobbly plastic train tracks were hard to maintain in the desert, where they melted in places and had to be repaired often. But it did offer protection from the harsh sunlight and wind. Their secluded homes in the desert were frequented by brave faerie tourists who wanted to catch a glimpse of a Carthical, though this was mostly done by faeries who lived in villages far from any danger. Because of this, the train schedules were rather frequent. Tate and Gemma boarded the train and took their seats. It was a cramped cabin with plastic seats that faced each other, covered in a cloth for comfort, and large windows where they could observe the expansive desert. There were seven other faeries in the cabin, mostly families. Behind Tate was a boy about 15, like her, and his hair was turquoise. He peered over the back of his seat and looked down at her. He wore a tall top hat, though he tipped it ever so slightly to reveal he had a single antler underneath. Tate flinched, but the boy held up a hand to plead with her to hold her judgement.
“I won’t hurt you, little faeries. I’m just a messenger.” The boy said softly. Gemma and Tate looked at each other worriedly.
“What’s your message?” Tate said curtly.
“Vita killed Cara, though you might only remember her as a Carthical with orange hair. If you think we take that lightly, then you’re mistaken. I’m a detective who was sent to find out what happened to her. Her family knew she was lost in the desert, they just didn’t know where. I tracked you and saw your mother burry her.” Gemma glared at him.
“You were spying on us?” Gemma said. The boy shrugged.
“Not spying on you. Spying on Cara. I wasn’t expecting to witness a crime.” The boy said sadly. Gemma threw up her hands.
“She’s the one who attacked us first! And for no reason!” The boy looked at her with a world-weary expression, recalling something painful.
“Your mother has killed dozens of us over the years, and Cara was just taking revenge for her brother who was killed. When I was young, Vita was especially feared, she was the first faerie to fight back against the Carthical, and brutally so.” Gemma felt a stab of pain at the thought of her own mother being a subject of fear to a whole group of people, but she rationalized that it must have been out of a need to protect herself.
“She was fighting to keep you from eating faerie wings! Do you think we should just stand around and let Carthical attack us? That’s not right!” Gemma said.
“Most Carthical are taking magic supplements so that they don’t have to eat faerie wings anymore. I do, and have all my life. It’s catching on. I’m Netro, and personally, I’ve never eaten faerie wings. Those in my generation find the practice barbaric.” Tate and Gemma exchanged a glance, both surprised by this information.
“Oh.” Tate said. “Well Netro, good for you. But why are you telling us this? Do you want more information so you can close Cara’s case? Was she your friend?” Netro’s face grew red and he pushed a tear out of his eye with the heel of his hand.
“I wanted to close the case, just not like this. I wanted to bring her home to her family. Cara was trying the magic supplement diet, and she just couldn’t stick to it. Maybe she seemed vicious to you, but Cara was fun and kind when you got to know her. It’s just…that temper of hers. Cara’s mother told me to find Cara, it hurts that I have to report back to her that now, Vita took both of her children from her.” Netro looked out the window sadly. Gemma’s heart clenched in pain. “That’s why I sought you out.” Netro continued, brushing his face with his sleeve. “Gemma, just tell your mom she hurt us. I’ll report back to Cara’s family.” The train stopped at Techtopia and Netro got off without another word. Gemma was stunned.
“Wow. I wasn’t expecting that.” Tate put her hand on Gemma’s shoulder.
“That was…heavy. Are you okay?” Gemma nodded.
“I think so. It’s hard to think of my mom as someone whose hurt people.” Tate hugged Gemma.
“Hey, it’s going to be okay. Come on, this is our stop.”
Tate and Gemma got off the train and stared out into their new surroundings. It looked less like a fully-realized village and more like an area completely under construction. Several computers were steadily being disassembled by the faeries, with construction workers milling about and the sound of hammering filling the air. The ground was comprised of a green motherboard that was lying flat against the ground, presumably as the groundwork for streets to come, and a way to level out the sand. CD’s stood upright, melted in various places to bind them together into some kind of makeshift tent, Tate assumed. Though some stood upright, merely melted to the ground, presumably to buffer the wind. Wires had been taken out of a computer and were strung between tower-like structures, Tate figured they were making some kind of canopy for shade.
Tate was fascinated by the construction, since she hadn’t seen anything like it. But her thoughts immediately flew to plans for sturdier and more attractive designs. Surely the CD tents could be replaced by a house more practical for the desert weather. Wouldn’t the CD’s melt in the hot sun eventually? She wondered if they would be interested adobe homes, which were cooler in warm weather. She hadn’t made one herself, but wanted to learn.
“Tate, snap out of it, you’ve been staring for ten minutes.” Gemma said, a look of concern on her face.
“Sorry buddy! I just look at this land and see all the potential for what I could build! So much work to be done.” Tate looked longingly at her surroundings. Gemma sighed.
“Yes, that’s all well and good. Let’s get out of this heat though.” Gemma said. The two of them stood under the wire canopy, which provided plenty of shade.
“I wonder if there’s a hotel we can wait at until our moms arrive.” Tate said, looking around. Then over the horizon Tate saw a red haired girl with a top hat on. She noticed she didn’t have any wings, and became worried. “Gemma, that doesn’t look like a faerie. We should hide.” Tate looked around for shelter, but the little CD tents didn’t have doors yet, and the faeries who were once milling about had silently disappeared all of the sudden. Tate and Gemma started to take to the air, when three Carthical appeared over a hill and charged at them.
“Look! Lunch!” A Carthical with red hair and a horn on the left side of her head said. She was wearing a casual sundress and had sharp teeth. The three Carthical raced down the hill.
“I thought this place was supposed to be safe?” Gemma said, flapping her wings frantically.
“Do you think all the faeries who were here knew the Carthical were coming and flew away?” Tate said, also taking flight. “Mom’s coming here with the spiders, and I want it to be safe when she gets here. We can’t fly forever. Let’s fight!” The Carthical charged at Tate and she lifted up her arms to shield her face. Gemma opened her suitcase, so that all her clothes fell out, but she grabbed the hatchet her mom had given her and tossed it to Tate, who caught it handily and used it’s blade to hold off the Carthical’s claws. The Carthical seethed at her, using her other hand to grab Tate by the hair. Gemma looked on with worry, distracted by her friend’s distress, she didn’t notice another Carthical come up behind her, one with purple hair and a horn with spikes, and it grabbed her by the neck and pulled her to him. He grabbed her left wing and moved to bite it, but Netro appeared and kicked him in the ribs, sending him crashing to the ground. Gemma fell backwards and landed on her elbows.
“Netro, you protected me! Why?” Gemma was shocked.
“Well, if you get killed by a Carthical, your mom will want revenge, and I sure don’t want to face her wrath.” Netro said, still haunted.
“I don’t’ know what to say…thank you.” Gemma said, genuinely touched.
“The generation before ours didn’t get along. But that doesn’t mean we have to be like them.” Netro said with conviction.
“Right!” Gemma agreed, and they shook hands. Netro and Gemma turned their attention to the battle again, standing side by side and looking at Tate as she slashed an incoming Carthical with long blue hair across the arm with her hatchet.
“By the way, your friend sure is violent. It’s kind of scary.” Netro said, partly in fear and partly in admiration.
“I guess all the building she does made her strong? I hope she doesn’t get hurt.” Gemma said, surprise mixing with her worry. Two Carthical advanced towards Tate.
“Purple wings? I wonder if they’re grape flavored?” A Carthical with red hair and a pointed, turning-fork shaped horn approached her, claws up. Beside him was another Carthical with long pink hair in a ponytail and a spiked horn. Tate held up her hatchet, her hands trembling. She was sweating from the fight and the heat, and her arms felt heavy. Her heart beat fast, and she trembled, lifting the hatchet. The Carthical swiftly restrained her, one distracting her by grabbing her wrist and the other looping an arm around her neck. She lost her balance and fell backward, then kicked her legs in the air, trying to push them back and off of her. But it was no use.
Then Tate heard a loud “thud”. She wasn’t sure what had happened, but the pink haired Carthical’s arms loosened and she fell down. Then Tate thrust the handle of her hatchet into the neck of the Carthical behind her and he went down as well, choking for breath. Tate looked up to see that Gemma had hit her foe in the face with her suitcase.
“Gemma, thank you!” Tate said, hugging Gemma while looking down at the dazed Carthical. The three Carthical helped each other up and ran out of Techtopia without a word.
“And don’t come back!” Tate yelled. Netro pointed towards the sky.
“Hey, I found the faeries.” Netro cowered behind Gemma, afraid of the newcomers. Gemma was surprised but squeezed his hand to give him support.
“Well, that was convenient.” A faerie with long lavender hair and blue wings flew down from the sky. Her wings were frayed, as though they’d been bitten.
“These three got rid of the Carthical who were attacking us. I’m glad we stayed out of it.” A second faerie said, her orange hair and purple dress flowing in the wind.
“They spared a Carthical. I wonder why?” A red haired faerie said, his light blue wings also frayed.
“This Carthical is named Netro. He didn’t attack us.” Gemma said.
“Oh, that’s great. My name is Lavender. Who are you two?” Lavender’s voice was a little shaken, having seen the fight, but she was eager to meet two new faeries.
“I’m Tate and this is Gemma.” Tate said.
“How do you do?” Gemma said. Lavender beamed.
“Oh, quite well, now that those mean Carthical are gone. Now we can continue with construction of our new home! Is there anything we can do to repay you for your help?” Tate smiled.
“Our families are coming to live here, would you mind if I built some houses for us?” Tate said eagerly.
“Sure! Go ahead, the more the merrier. Especially if you’re going to build your own house!” Just then, Gemma and Tate’s mothers arrived with the spiders. Tate’s mother got out of the toy car and hugged her daughter.
“Hello sweetie! Isn’t it nice to know you’ll be safe in your new home?” Tate cringed, flashing back to the Carthical who got her in a headlock.
“Yeah…safe…” She said unenthusiastically.
“About that…” Gemma said as her mom hugged her as well. She was unsure where to start explaining. Instead the faeries busied themselves with building their new home. Lavender taught Tate how they used the lighter they found to melt the CD’s enough to form two tents. Tate looked upon her work.
“I built my first house! Thanks for teaching me Lavender!” Tate said. Lavender nodded.
“Hey, no problem. I’m happy we have someone interested in construction here.” Lavender smiled at Tate. Tate smiled back.
“I’ve always dreamed of this moment when I could make my own house! My dreams didn’t include discarded CD’s, but I’ll take what I can get!” Tate said happily. Lavender laughed.
“I like your eagerness. Please say you’ll join me in helping to build this village into something great.” Lavender said.
“Oh I would love to!” Tate replied. Nearby Gemma and Netro held hands.
“Thanks for sticking up for me when the faeries came in. I was worried they’d think I was one of the attacking forces.” Netro said.
“Hey, I wasn’t about to leave you at their mercy or anything. Do you live around here?” Gemma asked.
“Just over the hill a ways. There’s some nice caves, me and my parents have lots of water and we’re safe from the sandstorms. You should come visit sometime.” Gemma smiled.
“That sounds lovely.” Netro said.
“So is Cara’s family okay?” Gemma asked grimly.
“They’ll heal in time.” Netro said. “At least they got closure, and know what happened to Cara. Despite that, I don’t know if I could face Vita if I saw her.”
“It’s okay, she’s in the tent now. And you don’t have to be worried about her, she’s a nice person, I promise.” Gemma patted Netro’s shoulder, he smiled sadly at her.
At night Gemma and Vita and Tate and her mother had furnished their melted CD tents, each large enough to house two people, two beds, and the framework for a bath and bookshelf.
“Well, they need a little work, but at least you’ll be out of the wind and rain.” Lavender said.
“It was so nice to have your help.” Tate said to Lavender.
“I’m sure we’ll have an effective construction partnership.” Lavender said back.
Tate and Gemma stood by their new houses and looked out at the stars.
“I think it’ll work out after all, living here, I mean. It’s nice.” Tate said. Gemma nodded.
“Yeah, it’s a nice place.” The two of them looked up towards the stars, gazing and thinking well of the future.