Kelly woke up in a great deal of pain, but that was nothing new. After five days of training, her body was no more willing to take a beating than it had been the first day. She observed her hands, the palms of which were brown with dirt and the backs of which could only be described as horrendous. Red and raw, her knuckles were basically open wounds, wounds that she reopened daily during the punches workout. Around her knuckles were bruises that were so vivid in color that they looked like they were pained on her skin. Her feet, still bare, were covered in a mixture of mud and grass stains. The bottoms were both scratched and bruised. The scratches were compliments of random objects in the forest, such as rocks and twigs that she occasionally stepped on and the bruises were from kicking workouts much like the punching routine. Both her hands and feet throbbed constantly. Bruises were dotted across her arms and legs from being hit with her shirt, ranging in color from pale yellow to dark brown, depending on how long she’d had them. Though she couldn’t see them, she knew that her back was covered in bruises as well, compliments of the beating she took with her shirt and the fact that she slept on the bare ground. Knowing that she had no choice but to endure the pain and continue to work, she rolled over, careful not to put too much weight on any one bruise, and pulled herself into a sitting position.
“You get a break today,” her teacher told her. “We’re going to talk about what you need to know when it comes to the fairies.”
“What about them?” she asked, stretching into a more comfortable position. Her body was going to be thankful for the rest.
“First off, they are not our allies.”
Kelly gave him a curious look. “Don’t they fight for Xamalie?”
“Some of them do. But make no mistake about it; their interest in this war is not the same as the human interest in the war.”
She struggled with that statement. Why would the humans be allied with the fairies if they had different interests?
Seeing that she was confused by what he had said, he elaborated, “This war was started by the fairies, Kelly. While you may be tempted to think that this war is a man’s war, it is not. This war is about nothing more than land – land for the fairies. They feed off of the energy of the forests. Currently, each fairy court is confined to the territories of their respective forests – the Unseelie Court resides in the Penad Forest of Temoragu and the Seelie Court in the Breen Forest of Xamalie. Each court wants control of the other’s land. However, direct battle for it would prove futile because of the way the fairy courts are structured.
“Fairies, like humans, are born with varying abilities; some are very powerful, others have little more magical ability than the average human. However, the total amount of power held by the courts, that is, the sum of the power of all the fairies in each court, is equal. When all of the fairies are considered, neither court is more powerful than the other. If a fairy dies, its power must remain with the court. It gets redistributed to the other fairies. Sometimes it redistributes equally and sometimes it only goes to one or two fairies. Before the war was started, the fairies were killing each other so quickly that they might have become extinct if it weren’t for Olivia and Sedalia.”
Kelly pricked up. “Who were they?”
“They were the Heads of the Unseelie and Seelie Courts when the war in Viger started. Before the war broke out, the two courts were fighting each other directly. When Xamalie’s king, Jarrod Samra sent an attack on a village in Temoragu, the fairies got their opening. They aligned themselves with the warring countries with the understanding that when the was ended, the winning side would get to keep the land and kill the members of the other court.”
“They’re fighting over land with the understanding that if they lose the other court will kill them?” Kelly demanded, sitting up suddenly, all concern with pain gone from her mind.
Her teacher nodded and she stared incredulously at him.
“Technically speaking, Ella is your ally,” he said, “but be wary of her, Kelly. The fairies are self-interested creatures; they care about one thing and one thing only: winning the war. They don’t care ho lives or dies, what is gained or, more likely, what is lost, as long as they can say in the end that they are victorious.”
Kelly only shook her head. “How can that be all they care about? What are they? Sociopaths?”
Considering that statement for a minute, he finally said, “Yes, actually. That is a very good way to think about them. They are smart and manipulative. The less you see of them, the better off you are.”
“You said there were two fairy courts, right?”
“Yes. The Unseelie Court aligned itself with Temoragu. Currently, the Head of the Unseelie Court is Adrianna. The other two fairies that make up the Head Triumvirate are Rowan and Layla. Our side is allied with the Seelie Court. Ella is the Head of Selie Court and the other two in the Head Triumvirate are Sebille and Cy.”
“I’ve seen them before,” she told her teacher. “They were at the castle when King Samra was deciding what to do with my cousin and me.”
“Yes, that would make sense.”
“What about the north?” Kelly asked, her voice uncertain, as though she wasn’t sure if she should be asking her teacher that question. “How did they get involved with the war?”
“They got involved when Xamalie and Temoragu saw their land as being more important than they first thought it to be,” her teacher said, appearing not to notice the quiver of interest in Kelly’s voice. “They held off the armies of the two countries for a couple of years, but ultimately, they fell to Temoragu.”
For a moment Kelly sat in silence, before she said softly, “You know, my mom was from the north.”
Then something showed on her teacher’s face. The emotion appeared so quickly that she was taken aback by its presence. After regaining control of himself once the moment had passed, he said quietly, “I know.”
That response surprised her. She hadn’t known that her teacher had known her mom was from the north. She wanted to find out what else he knew about her, but she didn’t get the chance. He stood up before she could press him on the matter and said, “We’re just going to run for about two miles. Then, you can have the rest of the day off.”
And with that, he took off at a brisk pace that she had no choice but to follow.