In the rare moments when he wasn’t accomplishing trivial tasks for the enjoyment of the faeries, the human boy was allowed to roam through the convoluted tunnels that made up the burgh. On just such an afternoon, he found himself in the southern corridors. The tunnel walls were rough and hard as stone, though made only of compact dirt. Pinpricks of pale blue light shone from the walls, illuminating the path. The boy’s quiet footsteps were the only sound to be heard in the tunnel under the earth. Sometimes he hated it, the endless silence in lonely corridors. But at least it was constant.
With a frown he recalled how unpredictable and cruel the faeries could be. He could hear the echoes of their shrill calls, beckoning him to come and work for them.
“Starling, come carry this meat for me. It’s awfully heavy and I can’t possibly be asked to ruin my coat with the blood.” A smile lit his face.
“Of course.” The boy replied tonelessly.
“Of course, Sir!” The faerie corrected sharply.
“Of course… sir.” He repeated.
Hours torturously endured under the weight of the meat. Head and shoulders soaked with blood. Blood dripping into his hair and eyes until he could no longer see the path ahead of him. The sting of the whip every time he stumbled.
Touching his hand to the hard earthen wall, he recalled himself back to the present. He could feel the shiftings and grindings of the earth. He stood still for a moment, his eyes closed. The plates beneath the earth moved ever so slowly, but their power was unmatched. They melted rock and drew it, erupting back to the surface. When they met they crunched against each other and caused devastation miles above, or collided and made great mountains. They were cold and unforgiving, merciless and cheerless.
Yet there was life in the earth. It seethed and writhed and tunneled and made the earth fertile. It was a strange mystery to the boy that the earth could need the air above in order to function under the surface, but it appeared the earth needed to breath just as much as the animals living in it. For a moment, he imagined the great bright expanse in the air. He took a breath and pretended to drink in the air he had felt in the other world. The startlingly musty, wet, and earthy smell prevented any illusion to be successful. He tensed a moment in frustration, but then walked on.
A small, lonely song called across the stale air. The notes echoed, alternatively climbing and falling. It touched the boy’s ears, barely caressing them and slowly claiming his attention. Every note was in perfect harmony with the one preceding and following. It seemed to be in harmony with the earth itself. It called him further into the tunnel.
As he followed, the music grew in volume, but ever so slightly. It seemed to vibrate through the air, creating its own breeze along the stale corridor, whispering soft words and enticing him in. He didn’t count his steps as he walked, he didn’t even count how many doors he passed, nor did he fully see them. He saw only the music and the image it produced in his head. Forgiving green fields glowed behind his eyes. A bright light shone overhead and cast its warm embrace on all the land below. A smile touched the boy’s lips. It felt foreign and out of place.
Outside his delusions the tunnel was darkening. The pinpricks of light in the walls were less frequent and the path was nearly obscured in darkness. He did not need his vision, though, the music led him on. Finally, he took a left and entered a large room. When he stepped inside, something within him awoke and brought him, in a moment back, into reality.
The room was dimly lit, but he couldn’t tell how. He supposed maybe the light emanated from the walls, but when he looked closely at them he saw it was clearly not the case. The walls were made of slick, black rock. The boy had never seen their like before. Millions of tiny faces looked out at him from the rock. He started. The faces in the rock started. He stopped. The faces in the rock stopped. He took a step closer. The faces grew. With a sigh of relief, he realized the faces were only reflections of his own. He took three steps forward and inspected his reflection.
His hair fell over his eyes sloppily. He hadn’t realized his face was so covered in dirt. He stared for a while at the boy in the reflection. His eyes were as dark as his hair, so dark, in fact, that he could barely distinguish the black center from the black ring of color around it. He put a hand to his pale cheeks. He hadn’t known his white complexion stood out so starkly against his black hair. True, his cheeks were as pale as any faerie could wish, but his chin was thinner and his eyes were sharper than any faerie he had ever seen.
Perhaps this was why they treated him so cruelly. He was different from them in almost every way. Maybe they abused him because they could not stand his face. Ashamed, he looked away.
For the first time he noticed a figure standing in the center of the room. The figure was draped in a large black cloak. His long hair hung about his face in off-white sheets, bangs obscuring his eyes. The boy jumped back, startled at the seemingly sudden appearance.
“Who- who are you?!” He stammered.
The faerie laughed, a sound so familiar to the boy and so related to suffering that he nearly winced. “Who am I? That is not important. Who are you? That is important.”
“I’m… my name is Starling.”
A wide grin spread across the faerie’s thin face. Pale scars traced across his nose and cheek and down his neck. “That is only your name, and not even your proper one. Who are you?”
The boy was at a loss of how to answer the question. He stayed silent for a long moment. He wasn’t ready to admit that he didn’t know; furthermore that he didn’t know what he didn’t know. “I’m a-“ The boy began. He was swiftly cut off when the faerie raised one eyebrow.
“Who are you?” The faerie repeated. “Be careful not to take another’s identity for yourself.” As he spoke he took a step closer. His eyes were still obscured under his long bangs.
Uncomfortable, the boy looked away from him. He met his reflection again in the glossy obsidian wall. There he held his own gaze for a moment. Fear resided there in his drawn eyes and trembling lips.
“Who are you?” The question lilted across the air and into the boy’s ears.
“Who… who am I?” The words slipped from his lips in a low whisper. His eyes fell to the ground. He expected to hear laughter at his moment of weakness, perhaps the crack of a whip on his back, or the swift sting of a slap to the face. He refused to look up at the faerie. If he looked up, the whipping or the slap were harder and swifter.
Instead, the faerie’s grin only widened. “Learn to look for the truth, boy, before the lies consume you.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Color rose to the boy’s cheeks. “What is the truth?”
“It is not my purpose to tell you. I am here only to ask the right questions. Ask the right questions, child, and the truth will find you.”
The boy took a step forward. “So you’re not going to tell me anything?” His voice rose indignantly.
The faerie stood his ground, looking down at him from under his long bangs. Violet irises glowed daringly at him through thick, dark lashes. “I’ve told you enough.”
The boy’s dark eyes glared up into the violet ringed *****. “You’ve told me nowhere near enough! I still know nothing!”
“But you hold the keys to knowing much.”
“That doesn’t count for anything.” The boy spat.
“You lack patience. You let your emotions control you too easily. Do not give up your difference. Remember what I said about taking another’s identity.”
“You crazy old bat! None of this makes any sense.” The boy protested fierily. The room trembled as his anger rose. The boy didn’t notice.
Darkness enveloped them as if a wind had blown and extinguished the light like a candle. Two red eyes glowed in the darkness, heavy with anger and sadness. The eyes seemed to close weightily in a great sigh and the room was plunged into complete blackness.
The boy awoke in his room. The door was closed and the lantern was lit. He sat up. He looked around. Had it all been a dream? He paused as a disturbing thought struck him: did it matter whether it was a dream or not? Then, another possibly more disturbing thought occurred to him: he never lit the lantern before falling asleep.