Fin clung to the mole, Talpi, as the animal burrowed through the dirt. The protective mask he wore kept dirt from getting into his eyes and mouth, but he knew the rest of him wouldn’t fair as well.
It was a small sacrifice to pay. In the months since he’d held the cliff up until help arrived, he’d been working hard as an Earth Reader. His magic and skills were growing, and he tried to help wherever he could, although he wished for more time just to flutter about and play with his friends. Even now, several he knew were going swimming for the afternoon, and he definitely would rather have gone with them right now. However, he knew it was better that he was where he needed to be than where he wanted to be, which was why he was now underground with Talpi.
Fin’s friend Coty was a Species Ambassador and had brought Talpi to Fin because the mole’s tunnels were unexplainably collapsing. Fin had agreed to see what the earth told him about the situation, but to do so meant going underground to the burrows.
It seemed like they were going deeper and deeper into the dark earth, and Fin was glad that tight spaces didn’t bother him; although he was a little freaked out by the utter darkness of his surroundings. Once Talpi got him to the tunnels, Fin knew he could initiate a fairy glow, but until then he had to deal with the dark.
Finally, quite a while later, Talpi stopped and did a little wiggle, urging Fin off his back and letting him know there were at their destination. Fin immediately created a deliberate fairy glow, starting with his wings and letting it spread until his entire body exuded enough light for him to see by.
The tunnel appeared solid at first glance, but looks weren’t everything. Fin ran his hands gently along the tunnel walls, feeling and automatically recognizing each differing type of earth that he touched.
When nothing stood out to him as a problem, he knelt in the tunnel, facing one of the walls, and gently dug his hands into the packed dirt. He felt the coolness of the earth and mild dampness lingering in its depths from recent rains. Closing his eyes, he focused on what he could feel and hear, and then spoke quiet words to the earth around him.
“I’m here to help. You’re struggling to maintain your walls and be a safe home to your animal friends. Are you ill? What do you need? Let me help.”
He continued to murmur quietly and soothingly, and then paused as a sound only a trained Earth Reader would detect graced his ears. A moment later he felt a sensation on one of his hands. He pressed into the dirt a little deeper and got a better feel and understanding of what the soil was telling him.
“Thank you for letting me know,” he uttered. “We’re going to help.”
Keeping his arms buried in the dirt, Fin addressed the waiting mole. “Talpi, I’m going to need your help.”
The mole scurried closer, his snuffling nose tickling Fin’s leg. Fin couldn’t help giggling a little at the sensation before explaining what he needed Talpi to do. “Talpi, I need you to return to the surface and get Coty. Tell Coty that I need him to come meet me here in your tunnel, and to bring Mio and my father with him.”
His father was a Cultivator, and his friend, Mio, was a Nature Nurturer. Considering the situation, Fin thought it would be best to have both of them on hand for what needed to be done. He didn’t explain the details of what the earth revealed to him to Talpi. Moles were simple creatures and wouldn’t understand the whole situation. They just trusted the fairies to help them when needed.
It took longer than Fin liked to Talpi and the others to return. He’d had to stop glowing to save energy, and sitting in the dark tunnel by himself wasn’t the most fun he’d ever had. He amused himself by making up limericks to pass the time.
“In the dark I let my mind wander.
Fun thoughts I never will squander.
In the light of the day
I will go out and play.
While my clothes my mother will launder.”
Truthfully, he knew his mother would probably make him scrub his own clothes, but he could hope she’d do it for him.
He then thought of his friends out playing while he was working.
“I would swim with my friends if I could,
But instead I’m told I have to be good.
A good fairy goes
To help those he knows.
But I don’t always like to do what I should.”
He sighed, thinking of the many lectures he’d had about being responsible.
“There once was a fairy named Fin.
Who decided he just couldn’t win.
He wants to help others
But responsibility smothers.
Can he play and leave work to his kin?”
He knew the answer to his own question. He did have to help Talpi and the earth around him. He truly wanted to as well; he just hoped that there might be time to swim later. For now, he focused back on the tunnels, and took advantage of the quiet to continue listening to the earth and making a plan for when the others arrived.
Eventually, the scuffling sound of Talpi scurrying through his tunnels reached Fin’s ears, and a few minutes later Coty, Mio, and Fin’s father, Emre, were hopping off Talpi’s back and starting to glow.
“Fin? Talpi said you needed us. Do you know why his tunnels are collapsing?” Coty asked, the anxiety he felt for his animal friend clear in his voice.
Fin nodded as he resumed his own glow. “From what I can tell, it’s an issue of too much demand being put on the earth Talpi’s home is in. The soil is tired and weak because it’s being used so hard.”
“Who is using it besides Talpi?” Fin’s father questioned.
Fin knelt down and scooped a bit of earth into his hands. “Focus on what you can smell, and then scent this,” he directed.
Coty, Mio, and Emre each took a deep breath of the dirt. Mio recognized the scent first.
“I smell birch trees…young ones.”
Fin nodded. “A new generation of birch has started, but there are too many growing close to each other. They will have no space to fully grow, and there are so many that their roots are burrowing into the ground and taking extra nutrients that the soil can’t spare for them all. It is growing weak, and Talpi’s tunnels are collapsing because of it.”
Emre’s look to his son was serious. “You believe we need to move some of the young trees, don’t you?”
Fin nodded, his expression just as serious. “At least a dozen of the saplings need relocated, maybe more. That’s what I need your help for. Coty, I need you to explain to Talpi and ask him to refrain from his tunnels for a little while. Mio, I need you to soothe the saplings and the parent trees about the move, as well as guide me to the best location for them. And Dad, we’ll all need your help keeping our relationship with the trees and soil good during the transition.”
“Yes,” Emre agreed. “It could easily be traumatic on all if we’re not careful. Mio, do you know of a safe and healthy place for the birch saplings to go?”
Mio thought out loud as he contemplated the best location for the trees. “Their root systems are shallow and they need somewhere cool and moist to grow to their maturity.”
After another moment’s thought, he snapped his fingers. “We can take them to the grassy area by the rock arch. There are other birch there, and there’s enough space to plant them to grow freely. Plus, the arch provides shade, which will keep the ground cool and moist for them.”
Fin nodded and addressed his little group of fairies. “Sounds like a good location, and thankfully it’s not too far. Now we need to return to the surface and work with the trees. Coty, Dad, could you explain things to Talpi?”
The two fairies together sat with the mole for a few minutes, carefully and slowly explaining the situation and asking Talpi to take his family and to shelter elsewhere for the next day or so.
The large mole responded with grunts and whines, but eventually Coty brought his attention back to Fin while Emre continued to talk consoling to the animal.
“Talpi understands what we’re going to do. He’ll take his family to explore some of the forest’s eastern grounds for the next couple days. I assured him the earth would welcome him back to his tunnels when he returns.”
“Thanks, Coty. Is he okay with taking us back to the surface first?”
Before his friend could answer, Talpi ambled over and grunted in friendship at Fin’s ear and nuzzled against him. Fin grinned. “I’m guessing that’s a yes. Climb on everyone. We need to get this done as quickly as possible.”
When they reached the surface, things got a little more complicated. The birch tree parents questioned the need to move some of their young trees, and the young saplings began to droop and wilt depressingly. Fin’s father had his hands full keeping the copse of birch from uprooting themselves with anxiety, and Mio practically talked himself hoarse with promises to both the young and old trees that he would personally take care that none of them were hurt in anyway.
Finally, with the understanding that the soil and space they were growing in would not be able to continue supporting them, the birches worked with Mio and Fin to choose which ones would be relocated.
“This relocation is going to take quite a while to accomplish,” Fin’s father stated as they began to gently loosen the soil around the saplings.
“I know,” Fin agreed. “I wish there was a way to move them all at once. It would be easier, and less traumatic for them all.”
“Hey, you’re right!” Mio said with a snap of his fingers. “And you just reminded me of something.”
“What?” Fin and Emre asked in unison.
“When I went to visit Jac a couple months ago, he showed me something he and Crill had worked out.”
Fin’s ears perked up at the mention of Jac. He hadn’t seen the other boy since he’d come out of his fairy sleep, and that had been ages ago. Fin’s own eighteenth birthday was coming up in four months’ time, and the closer he got to it, the more he wanted to know what the Bond Guard had said to Jac. The secrecy of it drove Fin to distraction sometimes. He’d had other friends who had turned eighteen in the last year and been to see the Bond Guard, but they’d all shared what she had told them with him. One had been told she hadn’t met her mate yet, but would before her next birthday. Another had his mate’s first name revealed, but not when they would meet. A third was told to find joy in his singleness, because that was what was best for him.
Fin had felt sorry for that friend, but that hadn’t lasted long. His buddy had said he hadn’t really wanted a mate. He enjoyed being with friends, but didn’t relish the thought of sharing his living space and everyday choices with someone on a permanent basis. Fin found it hard to fully understand that explanation, but he was relieved that his friend wasn’t upset by the Bond Guard’s words to him.
With an internal sigh, Fin turned his attention back to Mio, who was looking around the area, apparently seeking out something, and then motioned everyone to follow him. Fin, Coty and Emre flew with him expertly around the trees until Mio landed on some thick moss. “This is what we need,” he stated, pointed to the ground.
“Moss?” Fin asked.
Mio nodded. “Yep. It’s perfect. If we roll it up gently from here and take it to the saplings, we can unroll it there, put the young trees on it, and guide them to temporarily root themselves in it. Then we each take a corner, lift it, and fly the trees over to the arch. It will be much faster, and we’ll be able to reroot the saplings quicker. It’s less traumatic on them that way.”
“And then I can help settle the moss back here in its home,” Fin added thoughtfully, silently contemplating that who might still get some play time in. “I think this could work. Dad, what do you think?”
Emre seemed to be a bit less enthusiastic to the idea. “Well, I prefer not to traumatize the young trees either, but we’re also asking a lot of the moss. We need to make sure no damage comes to it as well.” He looked to his son. “You’re an Earth Reader, Fin. Don’t run too far ahead with this idea until you listen to what nature is telling you.”
Fin took a breath, knowing his dad was right. He needed to make sure this was the right thing to do for all involved. He knelt down on the soft peat, feeling the moisture in it sink through the spun-cotton pants he wore. His hands rubbed gently over the moss, caressing it as a friend and assuring it he was no one who wanted to cause harm. He knew he had the attention of this unique earth-plant when it grew and spread a little at his touch.
“Can we ask for your assistance?” he whispered. “Your fellow-earth nearby grows weak in trying to support too many. Do you have the willingness and strength to help us move the young trees? I promise to bring you back here to your home.”
The mat of green underneath him became very still, and then it shifted slightly, just enough to loosen the shallow roots it kept, and Fin understood it had agreed to help.
“Thank you,” he said sincerely, and then quietly spoke to his companions. “Gently roll from that end. It will help us.”
The four of them together rolled the moss up like a scroll, and then flew it gently to where the birch saplings still waited to be moved. Then, as tenderly and efficiently as possible, they loosed the baby trees from their first home and set them on the now unfurled moss. Mio guided the trees into setting their young roots down into the moss, just enough to maintain a safe grip, and then the four of them each took a corner and lifted the babies smoothly into the air.
At a much slower flight than normal, they transported their load to the rock arch. It wasn’t an easy task. While, like an ant, fairies can carry several times their body weight, balancing and transporting a dozen saplings was a heavy and muscle-straining job.
When they did arrive at rock arch, they set their bundle down carefully. Emre immediately began flying to the grown trees already deeply rooted in this ground, explaining why they’d brought the young trees, and asking that they be welcomed.
That was easily accomplished, as the grown birch trees were delighted to see young saplings joining their home. As each tree was replanted, they were openly adopted by those already there, and a few of the saplings sprouted several inches up or grew new branches in the first few minutes there, as the rich soil and friendly welcome immediately improved their health.
Fin had just finished planting one of the trees and flew to grab one of the last two when an unfamiliar voice, barely loud enough to be heard, spoke to him.
“What are you doing?”
Fin looked over his shoulder, his body freezing and his eyes latching on a lovely young fairy half hiding behind a fallen leaf. Pale pink hair topped a heart-shaped face with violet eyes, which peered at him with a mix of curiosity and shyness. She was a lovely.
“H…hi,” he choked out after a minute of staring back at her.
“Hi,” she replied just barely loud enough for him to hear. “What are you doing?”
Fin realized that was the second time she’d asked that question. “Oh, um, we’re replanting these saplings. The earth they were in couldn’t support them all, so we had to move them,” he explained.
“Oh, ok,” she said, and then looked about to fly away, but Fin didn’t want that at all.
“Wait,” he called out as she started to turn away. “Would you like to help? We can plant these last two near each other over there.” He pointed to an area of damp earth big enough for two trees to grow side by side.
The pink-haired fairy took a step forward, looking a little unsure. “Can you show me how?” she asked.
“Sure,” Fin agreed happily. He looked quickly toward his father and friends. No one else seemed to have noticed the new girl, but he thought that was okay. She seemed skittish and he didn’t want to scare her away. He picked up both saplings and approached her in friendship, handing her the tree in his right hand. “Follow me. I’ll show you, it’s not hard.”
She came willingly and then knelt next to him as he went to the ground and dug out an area of earth that would fit his sapling. “It needs to be deep enough for the roots to dig in and make a home, but not so deep that new branches can’t develop.”
She watched him closely as he planted the tree, and then packed the earth back around it. The sapling gave a little shudder of pleasure as it settled into the ground. Fin smiled. “It likes it here. We’ll plant this one just over there. They’ll have each other to grow up with then.”
The girl nodded silently and started to hand him her sapling, but he gently pushed it back into her hands. “You plant it. I’ll guide you.”
She bit her lower lip, but nodded, and then followed his directions precisely as she helped the young tree into its new home. A smile lit her lips when the newly planted baby grew a couple inches as soon as the earth was packed around it.
“Good job,” Fin praised, and then felt like time stood still as he and the girl shared a look between them that made Fin’s stomach jump with pleasure. “What’s your name?” he finally asked.
She looked away. “Luna,” she answered timidly.
“Like the daughter of the moon,” Fin commented with happy surprise, referring to a fairy fable he’d loved as a child.
Luna looked back and smiled at him. Her lips moved enticingly as she softly quoted from that story, “The moon’s daughter explores in the dawn of the day….”
“But at night returns home to her father to stay,” Fin finished the quote.
A sweet laugh bubbled out of her when he did that, but then she again bit her lip nervously as she looked past him. Fin glanced quickly where she did, seeing that they’d caught the attention of his father, who was watching but letting them be. When Fin turned back to Luna, her cheeks blushed and she stepped away.
“Bye,” she whispered, and then turned and fluttered away so quickly he didn’t have time to blink.
He felt his stomach drop in disappointment, but a moment later his father’s presence was at his side.
“New friend, son?” he asked, the touch of amusement in his tone revealed he’d seen the effect the girl had had on Fin.
Fin tried not to seem so affected, but he knew he wasn’t fooling his dad. “Her name is Luna,” he told the older fairy.
“Luna?” Emre repeated, surprise in his voice.
Fin looked his father in the face. “You know her?”
“Well, I’m not sure,” his dad replied. “I knew a fairy couple several years ago who asked me to help cultivate their marriage. It was struggling, and because of that they hadn’t been able to gain a child. You know that our kind must have a special kind of love between them before the blessing of a fairy-babe.”
Fin nodded, knowing that children were only bestowed to couples whose love was trusted and safe.
“I stayed several weeks with that couple, even though you had only been gifted to your mother and I a few weeks prior.” His father looked proudly at him. “It was hard to leave you, but I couldn’t not help other fairies try to have the same joy given to your mother and me. The couple showed a lot of progress and promise by the time I left, and a few months later I was invited back to visit and meet their new infant. They’d named her Luna.”
“Do you think that was her?” Fin asked.
Emre shrugged. “I have no way of knowing, but she looked about the right age. However,” his tone grew more serious. “If that was the Luna I met all those years ago, then you should know that she had the mark of a Dream Catcher on her brow.”
Fin blinked in surprise. Fairies born as Dream Catchers were rare. The mark was there when they were born, but faded by the time of their first birthday. They were also known to be exceedingly shy and mostly night-abiders—fairies who slept during the day and fulfilled their Dream Catcher natures at night. They were also very rarely seen socializing with other fairies once they entered their teen years.
Fin looked in the direction the girl had flown off to. The temptation he had to follow must have been clear on his face.
“Son,” Emre said to him. “She’s gone, and it’s best you don’t chase her.”
Emre shook his head. “She chose to leave and you need to let her. You still have a job to finish.”Reminded of the very reason he was there, Fin looked around at all the newly planted trees. His father was right. His job wasn’t done. He had to return the moss to its home, and then he needed to go back to where Talpi’s tunnels and the trees had been. The soil would need his skills and nurturing as an Earth Reader to return to a healthy state. With a sigh, he fluttered his wings and resumed his work.