Scaling a mountain was not the most ideal morning activity.
Betina put some complicated thoughts into this adage while walking along the rocky passage. Not much actual climbing was involved as of yet, but she wasn't about to discard the chance of such. It's already been about an hour since she first stepped upon this pathway, heading towards a destination likely no lower than the top. Although she wasn't against the idea of such a challenging excursion, she usually preferred them once the sun had risen. And even then, she would have needed a good reason.
Then again, the decidedly feline-featured fairy leading a few steps ahead was a very good reason.
"We're almost there." Ly turned back for a moment, smiling at her.
The enthusiasm was enough to pour some strength back into her legs. Even in the semi-darkness of the approaching dawn, it would have been hard to miss the sight of her, contrasting heavily against the gray-white rocks as the vegetation grew sparse. Betina adjusted the strap of her bag and followed along, making sure not to fall behind.
The pathway hadn't been too dangerous, already abraded from the many that must have visited this area in the past. Ly's ease at navigating also suggested she had been here before, though Betina couldn't quite guess the reason behind it. The fairy was a being of the woods and that fact would always become apparent as soon as she was out of her element. The fact that she was leading with such enthusiasm only made her even more curious.
Upon parting the day before, Ly asked her to wake early, with the promise of a surprise. Sure enough, she followed along the fairy's wishes, getting up in the early hours of the morning, so she could depart on time. Traversing the Council at night was as oddly relaxing as during the daytime, magical lights guiding her straight to the entrance.
There weren't many to greet the day as early as she was, but the few Teensies she came across welcomed her all the same. Even after the time she had spent on this world, it was still surprising to see how easily she had been accepted as part of the Glade. She wondered about it even as she met Ly outside, who assured this would just be a quick walk.
She knew that last part was a fib the moment Ly had pointed to their destination.
A couple of rocks loosened upon her next step while she was wrapped in her thoughts. Regaining her balance was a simple matter, but Ly still looked back to check if everything was alright. Even if the road wasn't too perilous, falling would have led to some nasty bruises. Betina waved to signal everything was fine and they kept going, guided not only by the fairy, but also the first rays of the rising sun.
Their goal became visible soon enough afterwards. As the pathway finally straightened out, Betina prepared to crack a joke about the 'short' walk, but the words got stuck in her throat. Ly smirked, and allowed her to pass by and take in what she had promised.
Her surprise was the world. Not all of it, not even the majority of it, but a world nonetheless larger than she had known for some time now. The rising sun cast its light upon the lands both close and far, illuminating the many fantastical landscapes Polokus had dreamed into being. Mountains, meadows, lakes, hills, deserts, giant bodies of water on the horizon and so much more. The Fairy Glade itself was nothing to scoff at, but only now did she truly understand how vast this planet was.
She only flinched for a moment as Ly touched her shoulder. Betina wasn't sure what kind of expression had taken root on her face, but it certainly made the young fairy giggle. She pointed out into the distance, settling upon a set of mountains that climbed much higher into the heavens, than the comparably meager one they just managed to climb.
"That's Mystical Pique. The snow never stops and its peaks are so high, they say you can touch the stars from the top. You can always hear the humming of sages trying to commune with Polokus' dreams. If you ever get lost, you need only to follow their voice to find shelter."
She paused, letting Betina linger on the distant mountains a little more before continuing.
"Those are the Marshes of Awakening. A strange and murky bog, full of huge fishes with sharp teeth." she took a moment to show her own fangs, undoubtedly less dangerous, but no less unnerving the first time she had accidentally noticed them. "It's also home to witches and hags. You have to tread lightly, lest one of them turn you into a toad."
Betina wanted to argue how that was likely just a fairytale, but seeing as she was being half-embraced by an actual fairy, she saw no point in trying. The region she pointed out next seemed strange, as she could almost swear there was a very faint metallic sheen to it.
"Band Land, a place born of melodies. It's a land of living instruments, forever composing new songs and welcoming strangers wishing to share their joy. There is a song waiting for everyone there, so long as you're willing to find it. Beyond that are the lands of the desert nymph, Holly Luya, who guards the old, forgotten parts of Band Land and works to maintain the most ancient songs therein."
Betina's head was swimming from just trying to take everything in. One by one, Ly continued to show everything she could name, even as she lost track after a while. It was just so much, to see exactly how much lay before her, all the different places that she could just go to at any time. It was staggering to see the world as open as it always should have been, to her and to everyone else.
"Rayman talked about some of these places..." she mumbled, still in awe over the sheer scope. "But I never imagined..."
"You said you've been to many planets, but couldn't ever see what they were like." the fairy spoke up again, smiling. "That it was always just the tent, or the apartment of that detective, once you've escaped."
She reached out, waving her arm over the horizon.
"So, just once, I wanted you to really see what another world is like. One, where you can go wherever you like, whenever you like. Where there are no cages to hold you back."
There were a few more words she wanted to say, but she never managed to utter them. Betina caught her in a powerful embrace, silently thanking the fairy the gesture. For someone who had lost the sense of freedom for too long, such a present was worth more than anything one could put in a box. It was a feeling, a realization and a promise.
As she continued to hold the fairy, she soon noticed tremors under her fingers. Even with her warm embrace, Ly was shivering and it wasn't hard to realize why. Neither of them had truly felt it while climbing, but the air was still chilly all the same. While she could withstand it better after many cold nights in the past, she wasn't about to let the fairy share that kind of experience.
She reached into her bag and pulled out a sizable, neatly-folded and surprisingly heavy blanket. It was a recent present from Uglette, who also insisted she take it with her just in case. They weren't entirely out of the cold season just yet, she said. Maybe she knew about Ly's plan, or just predicted their combined recklessness in the face of unpleasant weather. It was hard to tell with someone so caring, but also so deviously clever. Either way, they quickly huddled up to keep the cold air out, content with just gazing at the world of boundless wonders before them.
The gift of a home.
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