• Firebird: Meta (Introduction)

    In the world of Meta, humans are not alone as the intelligent species of the world. Magical creatures also roam the planet; imps, nixies, fay, fairies, and the like. At the time of the world’s creation, neither group was more powerful than the other, and neither group came first – they were simply there, and since then they have tried their hardest to coexist peacefully. But naturally, with such different beings, conflicts are going to arise. When it looked as if man and beast were going to war, a few people stepped in to help. Four of Meta’s greatest human magicians, along with four of Meta’s wisest magical races, gathered to enact their plan for peace. This plan involved the creation of mediators – ones who were neither creature nor human, but could live in both worlds, and pass between the two cultures to solve any problems they may have with each other. Using their magic, four eggs were created, and inside the eggs, four mediators. Each of these mediators was half human, and half of one of Meta’s four wisest and most powerful beasts, the ones that had helped to create them. Faust, the phoenix mediator, Dina, the nymph mediator, Lucas, the dragon mediator, and the leader, Serene, the unicorn. Together they make the Gem, and their order helps along the interactions between humans and creatures. They hold power over all beings, but there is no pact or law in place that demands the subject’s obedience – in fact, legally, the Gem has no power at all. But it is out of respect for the old ways, tradition, and knowing this is the way it has always been that the groups listen to the Gem. They are beneath royalty, but monarchs take cues from them, and they are above commoners, but live and mingle among them every day.

    The four members are very different, but each in their own way kind and fair. They were made with conflicting personalities and opinions so that when an issue of morality arises, each party can have a voice. As any group is bound to do, the four may argue, but they know to put the lives of the people above their petty squabbles, and always keep their minds on the job at hand. Serene is referred to as the Key Mediator, ruling over the other three as not their Queen, but their advisor, guiding them with wisdom and her own power. She organizes the group, and they oblige, knowing that without a leader they would fall apart, and the rest of the world holds her in reverence even above monarchs and the other members of the Gem. But this story isn’t about Serene. This story is about Faust – the Phoenix.


    Firebird: Chapter One

    A ray of morning light sneaks its way through the heavy layer of foliage that covers the forest. It crawls past thick, green leaves, burrows, and animal homes, trying desperately to reach the ground below. Every time it hits a surface it leaves behind its mark, but continues its journey, getting smaller and smaller until it’s only a shred of its former self. And finally, the light stops – landing on the cheek of a girl. She groans as the warmth hits the skin beneath her eye, resting on a small black mark in the shape of a feather. But the feather flares outward, as if on fire. This is her Symbol – the sign of the Phoenix. The proof she is one of the Gem. Faust tries to fall back asleep, rolling around in her nest of twigs and stray fabric. Were it anyone else it would have appeared odd, a young woman resting in a ramshackle bird’s nest. But the inhabitants of the forest had gotten used to her, even in her humanoid form, and learned to ignore how misplaced she looked.

    The speck of light was persistent. No matter where she squirmed to in the nest, it seemed to keep finding a patch of skin, and the heat disturbed her. Then finally, she surrendered, and sat up in her “bed”. She looked at the light in distaste, but sighed – she had to get up at some point. As usual, there was work to be done. The woman stretched out her arms before her, smiling at the satisfying cracks she heard from her shoulders. Warily, she stood up, rocking back and forth on her heels and surveying the forest around her. Her nest, which she had proudly built herself at the age of fifteen, was thirty off the ground, perched on a selection of sturdy branches she had weaved into a sort of wooden quilt. But besides that, it appeared to be a regular bird’s nest of mud and sticks, though there were some more human elements there, like blankets and small areas dug out of the bottom for food storage. From the outside, it would look as if it belonged to a regular old bird, if a big one at that. And that’s what Faust was – well, mostly was.

    After sufficiently stretching, she brushed the dirt off her clothing – her usual dusty brown shirt and pants ensemble - and began to climb down, knowing the way by heart. She sighed happily, eyes closed, as she heard the thick thump of her own feet against the grassy forest floor. She had heard it a million times before, but every day repeated to herself that it was such a lovely sound. Earthy, thick, and deep. Without time to reminisce, she looked up at the sky, seeing where the sun lay through a skylight forged in the leafy canopy. It was still early morning. Better get headed, she thought and began to walk out of the grove. For any other girl her age, before leaving the house they would most likely check their appearance or primp for the coming day. But Faust knew that any efforts she put in would be pointless – her hair refused to stay in the same place. Red and orange, it moved like a fire, reflecting her many moods. When she was angry, it flared, a roaring fireplace. When she was sad, it drooped in front of her eyes. This she was thankful for. Goddess forbid anyone see Faust cry. Her body she needn’t worry about either. It was thin and wispy as her hair, and tight from exercise. Weight was not an issue. Being a bird, her bones were light, and activity kept her fit and healthy. So any kind of morning routine was lost. The girl always just got up and got to business. And for every morning, her business was the same.

    The way from her nest to the Den was engraved in her brain, and had been since she took up residence there. She barely needed to think as she walked there, and let her mind wander to the surroundings. It was late summer, and she could already feel the chill of early autumn setting in on the land. Most of her avian friends had migrated south, to the desert areas, and other creatures like brownies and niggywhils were getting ready to stay inside all winter. She thought of this as she passed a family of the small, elven folk, riding their niggywhils like horses. Niggywhils were creatures native to the forest, resembling what humans would call chinchillas, but each had large ears that hung below their feet and were used as reigns by the brownies. It was an odd contrast, the earthy brown imps and their brightly colored mounts, a parade of pink and pastel blues. Each brownie carried a pack on his back, and the niggywhils bringing up the rear pulled a small sled piled high with nuts and berries. They were stockpiling the food and bringing it into their home, most likely in a tree or underground. This family and many other fay would spend the snowy months partying and reveling in the success of the years scavenging. Faust always thought this was an interesting process. After a minute of watching, she waved to the family and moved on. Everybody is getting ready for winter, she thought and picked up the pace, noticing how the sun had moved on the horizon. Which means the Den will need its usual preparations as well. Just as she thought this, the girl stopped. She had reached her destination.
    The Den was the meeting place of the members of the Gem. The entrance was formed from a fallen tree near a river, which had been hollowed out and cut in half. It resembled a large, wooden pillar, and stretched up a good fifteen feet. At the top was a small, white flag with a black diamond on its left side. This was to show any approaching it was a peaceful place, and that all may enter. But the tree, though being an important beacon, was only the entrance. In front of it lie a stone staircase dug into the dirt, and once you descended it you saw the real base of operations. The original eight, the creators of the Gem, had hollowed out the space under the tree, lying beneath the stream, and surrounded the area with a thick layer of fluorite crystals. The stone cascaded everywhere in intricate patterns, and hand-made stalactites in strategically placed positions dripped running water from above. The water falls into small silver pots placed beneath them with holes in the bottom, and then runs through a plumping system that funnels it outside. The original founders put the stalactites in purely for decorative purposes, but the floor kept getting wet and the air was unbearably humid, especially for Faust. So the plumbing system was created. But if you weren’t careful, you were bound to run into one of the continuous streams of water.

    The place is furnished with silver – the main table, sitting, of course, in the center of the room, is shaped like a diamond. On each side there is a chair carved out of the fluorite, and the marks of each member of the Gem is cut out of the back. This is where they hold their meetings. Farther back is a more leisurely area, meant to be a housing unit for any sick or wounded that come seeking refuge. But since it had been years since anyone came, it had been turned into more of a living room for the four mediators, sporting two comfortable grey couches and a fireplace – the chimney a tunnel to the surface through which smoke can escape. This place had been the second home to the mediators, and they had been congregating there every day for as long as they could remember. Many memories had been made sitting around the table or around the fireplace, and it held a special meaning to most of them. They would be devastated if it were gone. But they hardly thought about this every day, and treated the place as normal, sometimes even forgetting to clean.

    She noticed, by the smoke billowing out of the hole in the ground behind the tree, that someone had lit the fireplace below. Which means that at least one of the other members had already arrived. Faust walked up to the staircase and looked down at it. There had been rain the day before – which was bad enough for the fiery girl – and she worried the cold, stone steps would be wet. It hardly mattered, since she would be going down anyway. But before she could even take the first step, she froze, hearing a splashing sound behind her.

    “Hey, Fausty.” The woman heard a voice behind her. It was smooth and lilting, but warm. Faust smiled and turned to face her friend.

    “Mornin’, Dina.”

    Dina, the Nymph mediator, stepped out of the water. She was in her human form – though she traveled faster as a nymph, she always said that her human body needed the exercise too, and made it a point to swim to the Den every day as a human. As she walked away from the stream, she flipped her thick, black hair over her shoulder, and wrung it out, pulling at it with her delicate hands. The woman was rather short, though she was the same age as Faust, but curvy as well. She liked to describe herself as being “juicy”, saying that the curves on her body were just liquid left behind from the water hanging on her body. Today she wore her usual outfit, a slinky blue dress she pulled off remarkably well despite her lack of height. She was rather tan, which only made her piercing blue eyes stand out more against the sharp face. Beneath her right eye, in the same place as the rest of her companions, was her Symbol – a black drop of water with three spikes at its base, resembling a fin. Everything about her was elegant and refined. However, her appearance completely betrayed her personality. Though she came off as ladylike, the girl was bold and boisterous, and always loved a good joke. She laughed like a donkey, but Faust loved to hear her when she did – it meant she was happy. Carefree and patient, the girl you‘d always go to for advice even though she’s horrible at giving it – that was the Gem’s little Nymph. Dina was also the most outgoing of the group, and often burst into situations without thinking them through. In every way, she and Faust were opposites. So how was it they were best friends? If you saw them standing side by side, you’d hardly believe they even knew each other. Yet somehow, one was never without the other in a time of peril.
    As Dina walked up to the girl, she waved a bit and gave her a bright smile. “Sleep well, Firebird?”
    Faust rolled her eyes. Firebird was the Gem’s nickname for her, considering that’s pretty much what she was. They found it funny how she was so unlike the rest of her species, and constantly reminded her of it through the moniker. She didn’t mind it that much, but thought it was stupid. It was like calling an elf “Elf” or a dog “Dog”. It was just what she was, and she found it annoying that they got so much humor from it.

    “Sure did, Fish.” She said and smirked at the girl.

    Dina smiled back, completely untouched. “And you think our nicknames are bad.”

    Faust laughed and flicked Dina on the side of the head, then descended after her into the Den.

    “How much you want to bet they’re snuggling again?” The nymph asked her companion, looking behind her as they walked down the stairs. The surrounding fluorite gave their faces a blue glow, reflecting off the light that was pouring in from the entrance to the cave. Dina looked even more like the water she so often inhabited and gave a Cheshire smile, white standing out against the blue.

    Faust held back her breath for a moment. She was glad that with the light at her back, Dina couldn’t see her frown. Her friend had been referring to the other two members of the Gem – Lucas, the Dragon, and their leader, Serene. None of them objected to her leadership. After all, it was only natural. She was the smartest and strongest of them all, and Unicorns were legendary for their magical abilities. The girl was more respected than most everyone else in the land. Faust admired her, and considered her a friend. The only thing that troubled her was Lucas. Or more specifically, Serene’s relationship with Lucas.

    It was like a law of nature. Every day, the sun will shine, birds will chirp, and Lucas and Serene will be in love. Though it was unnoticeable in the earlier years of their lives, something had always connected the two. They’d only recently made it “official”, but the Dragon and the Unicorn had practically been lovers from birth. Those outside the Gem would call it fate – Dina calls it gross. And Faust, when asked about the relationship, stays silent. Because she knows that if she speaks, it will only tear her apart. When she first noticed it, she tried to rationalize with herself – it was bound to happen, him being the only male member of the Gem. It wasn’t unnatural she would feel attracted to him. But to mistake her fondness for him as love, that would be just stupid. He was one of her best friends! And so, therefore, was Serene. They’re perfect for each other. And I am not a home wrecker. She would tell herself these things over and over. Yet every time the two showed their affection, a sharp pain in her chest would send reason packing. She doesn’t understand herself, and doesn’t want to, because she’s afraid that when she comes to terms with it she’ll have to act. And acting on her feelings would just break everything apart. No one besides her knew, and no one had to – if they did, she was afraid of the outcome. Faust concluded that she didn’t need love, and especially didn’t need Lucas to like her back. She just needed to be near him… If she could spend time with him, as a friend, she was happy.

    “I... I don’t know.” She responded to Dina, keeping her voice at a monotone.

    The girl laughed. “Well, we’re about to find out.”

    They reached the bottom of the stairs, and immediately glimpsed the warm light of a fire, even from the entrance. Dina headed to the back, skipping along the way.
    “Hello, you two!” She said, dropping her voice low, teasing their affection. Faust still stood at the doorway, and the girl gestured for her to come over. The Phoenix gulped – she could tell from the way her friend spoke that her guess from earlier had been right. Reluctantly, the girl made her way to the back, and stood behind Dina. Sure enough, lying on the couch parallel to the fireplace, were the Gem’s golden pair. Serene was sitting in her lover’s lap, her head nestled comfortably on his shoulder. He had one arm around her waist. It was absolutely adorable – Faust thought she might throw up.

    Once they saw they had company, the two immediately separated themselves, and the cheeks of both gained an identical blush.

    “Oh! Hey guys, you’re here.” Serene said hurriedly, trying to be casual, and stood up. “You’re a little late, you know.” She said and fidgeted, crossing her arms.

    Serene was, inevitably, the most beautiful of the Gem. Her hair was long, silky, and white, and flowed down to her feet. Strands splayed everywhere, but it didn’t look messy, just wispy and cute, like a charming little fairy. Her skin was light, but glowed like the moon, and not a flaw could be seen anywhere on her body. She was of average height, but possessed sculpted curves that matched her shape so well even Dina was jealous. Her eyes were large and round, shining bright pink. Even among humans, this didn’t look odd at all – she resembled a bunny, and was just as cute. Her symbol was a horn, and looked to be an adorable tattoo when combined with the rest of her face. And as usual, she was dressed to perfection, wearing a long, flowing white dress. Faust was always amazed how she managed to keep it clean. You might think such a girl was weak, or stupid. But Serene was neither. Being the leader of the group, of course she was wise, strong, and learned in the magical arts, but she was also an ordinary girl – and if she were a human, she would certainly be a popular one. Though she carries the heavy burden of leadership within her group of friends, it hasn’t altered her sweet personality a bit. Kind and gentle to all who know her, she’s revered not just for her power in the world, but for how purely loveable she is, though at times involving hard decisions she is cold and serious. Everybody is jealous of Serene. It’s just a fact. Faust is glad she is this girl’s friend, and not only because it would be horrible to be her enemy. That’s why her boyfriend is a problem…

    “She’s right. We should have started ten minutes ago.” Lucas said and got up from the couch, then nodded hello to Dina and Faust with a smile. Dina smiled back, but Faust’s face remained blank, and she looked away from the boy, trying to mask her face. But her eyes couldn’t help but wander back for a look.

    Like Dina and Faust, Lucas and Serene were almost complete opposites. Whereas Serene was cute and light, her partner was tall, dark, and of course, handsome. He towered over all of the girls, though he only out-measured Faust by two inches. His figure was long and lean, taught from exercise, with small muscles outlining his arms and legs. His skin was sun-kissed, a coppery brown that looked as if he was exuding heat. Faust often wondered how he became so tan yet kept his hair so dark – it was a thick midnight black, and hung around his face, flying around at impossible angles. His clothes were sleek and functional, form fitting but loose enough for easy movement, and all the same shade of black. He was opposite to the rest of the Gem in one aspect – what you see is what you get when it comes to the Dragon. While the others have personalities conflicting to their appearances, Lucas is pretty much who he seems to be. Elegant, serious, and honorable, he holds everyone in high regard and speaks rather formally, and always strives to be eloquent. When it comes to diplomacy, he is second only to Serene, and unlike her his talents come without practice. Honest and true, yet somehow mysterious – the only ones he feels truly comfortable around are the Gem. Which is why Faust is always so thankful she’s one of them.

    Dina snapped the Phoenix out of her mini-inspection by sighing and shrugging her arms. “I’m sorry. I can’t speak for Firebird, here, but there was a bit of traffic in the river today.” She said, faking regret, then nudged Faust with her elbow.

    “Um… I slept late.” She responded uneasily, unsure what she should say. Dina rolled her eyes, but the other two didn’t seem to notice, or for that matter, care.

    Serene smiled lightly at the two before her, then shrugged as Dina had. “Well, can’t help it. We’d better get to work, though. Lot’s to talk about today.” She said, then seemed to drop off, her eyes becoming serious and her smile fading. When it came to work, their leader was always ready, and always on her toes.

    Faust and Dina nodded simultaneously. Lucas nodded once, then led the way to the table, followed by Serene, then Dina.

    As the three walked, Faust hung back for a moment and looked at them. Dina skipped happily, probably excited for the day’s work. Lucas walked with a stiff back. And Serene… She watched as the girl slid her hand into her partners, and he accepted the gesture, walking along side with her, fingers entwined.

    Another pain in her chest. The phoenix looked down for a moment. In that instant, she reminded herself of her duty – to help the citizens of Meta. To be a mediator. She didn’t have time for her own stupidity. Faust looked back up, and then ran to catch up with her friends. Now she was ready to work.