Night falls, and they arrive. They are not welcome, not invited per se, but they arrive regardless, sweeping across the darkening countryside on silent, membranous wings.
These are not the kind faeries of the day, the ones that (it is rumored) set the sun on its course. These are not the kind faeries of the sky, who bring the gentle rains of spring and the nurturing snow of winter. Nor are they the faeries of the earth and wild who urge the plants from the soil and grow crystals in geodes far beneath the earth.
Watch them fly, moving with the line of night…
…eventually falling upon a tiny farm on the rim of a deep, dark forest. Watch them scatter, wordlessly, across the buildings and fields, a pack of wolves moving into position. Each knows she has a job to do, and each job is done without shame.
There are brave ones among the faeries, and there are the timid ones. The timid gather around the farm’s compost heap, dutifully masticating the melon rinds and the discarded apple cores. Sprays of white and black fungus grow at the touch of their fangs. You will find the young one here, where it is safe, under the watchful eye of their nurturing caregivers. Some gnaw at the boards and shingles of the old barn, just a little every night, eating away at the wood and peeling the paint. It will take fifty years or more for them to reduce the structure to rubble, and a good repair job will set them back decades.
They do not mind. They have the time. And what’s more, they have purpose. The end does not matter so much to them as the means.
The braver ones of them venture into the forest. Here, they find the tiny corpse of a hen that escaped her enclosure a few days ago. Nothing survives long in the forest. There are dark things there that kill for spite and territory, not food. The hen, who once had a name, ran afoul of one. The faeries who flock around her mortal remains do not judge; they have a job, and judgment is not it.
It is quiet and tender what they do. They do not rip her to bits like a fox; they are more civilized than that. Each day they take a thousand tiny bites across her form, sinking their fangs into her stone-cold flesh, removing bit by bit from the inside out. Tonight, one pierces an eye. It is the first eye she has pierced (though brave, she is still quite young) and she steps back, startled, at how fast the humour drains out, how much collapse results from her tiny act of damage. These are slow, patient creatures, and are not used to swift changes. She is comforted by her fellows; there always comes a tipping point, they say. Your tiny act of decay is no different today than it was yesterday, and no different than it will be tomorrow. Aphorisms about straw and the backs of camels are bandied about, and it makes her feel a bit better about herself.
She had been worried, she says, of being rude.
Deep in the heart of the forest, bat-winged forms hunch in stream beds and over fallen logs, masticating gravel into sand, chewing fallen trees to pulp. They sing as they work, and their song is like the howling of winter wind in trees. It is a song that celebrates the sacred trust they all share. In a world full of things literally born and begging to create, they push the balance back to level. They do their jobs well.
They do not like the cold. Only the bravest venture into the icy lands of the north, for example. They are not fond of the smell of cedar or peat, and they hate mercury with a passion. Hot weather, however, is their joy. They love the jungle. It makes them feel alive.
Here in the middle latitudes, they do their best. They are a sturdy people, inevitable, and while they complain about the cold, they bond with each other over their distaste for it. Their camaraderie makes them work all the harder.
In the wood-furnace-warmed farmhouse, the elderly matriarch of the farm family stirs fitfully in her sleep as red-eyed forms rise all about her bed. Tenderly, they gnaw at her skin, suck one more hair follicle dry of color, sink their impossibly sharp teeth deep into her hip–piercing her wrinkled flesh with not so much as a mark–and chip one more tiny hole in the already-porous bone.
“Soon,” one whispers. Soon, she will be theirs entirely. It may be ten years, it may be twenty. To the fae, everything is “soon.” They are in this business for ever, until the literal end of everything. What is ten or twenty years to them?
“Soon,” she whispers.
There is no menace in it. Only joy.
She can scarcely wait for the day they welcome her home.