Genre: Fantasy (Fairy Tale Retellings)
Age Group: All-Ages
Imagine a world where fantastical creatures of myth of legend not only thrive but communicate and cooperate with one other. Where a mermaid bartering a pearl necklace for 2 coconut waters from a jinn is a common everyday occurrence. In the mountains of this land, where the evergreen and bamboo trees grow as far as the eye can see, was a small log cabin. Making their home there was an elderly Tengu couple. They resembled everyday folk with the black feathers and beaks of crows. The male had worked the area to provide for his wife for at least 300 years. However throughout all this time, they weren’t able to rear any chicks to raise a family.
One day, the husband flew down to the valley while carrying a load of cut timber with him on his back. There were merchants from across the world who came together in one great big bazaar to trade their goods. From this marketplace he was able to acquire fish, silk, clay, and a crate of peaches. Since he had to carry it all by himself, by the time he brought it all back home, he was out of breath and rested on his hammock. His wife took out the peaches to wash them in a nearby stream. On one of the peaches however, she found something more peculiar than a typical bug.
It was a creature of a pale shade of beige, with a small head, an even tinier body and four rolled up wings on its back. It was a baby Faye, a sprite, clinging to the fuzz of the peach with its stubby arms and legs as it rested with its eyes closed. She brought over the sleeping sprite to her husband. The husband had seen Faye often in the marketplace, but he never knew they could have started out this puny. The adults resembled people who sported brilliant wings that mirrored butterflies and dragonflies, and though they rarely grew past four feet, it was amazing that one could be smaller than their thumbs. He decided that they should quickly get to the market to find who lost the child.
No matter how many fairies they talked to, none claimed the child as their own. One of the Faye they talked to mentioned that their women, nymphs, would often birth multiple children and that the poor would have to abandon them in crowded places. He also gave them a jar of milk formula so that they could feed the child in the meantime.
The couple returned to their woodland cabin with the abandoned fairy in their hands. The elderly tengu woman fed the child with the milk through a dew leaf while stroking her head of blond curls. She convinced her husband that they should raise the Faye girl as their own, for they had no other children. The elderly husband called her Azelda, for he heard of the name when a Faye in the marketplace told a tale of a legendary warrior nymph who disguised herself as male until her efforts allowed females in combat.
A week later, Azelda was able to open her eyes when she was awake and her new parents saw her blue-green eyes for the first time. She also unfurled her four brilliantly scaled green and orange butterfly-like wings. She enjoyed crawling around their home as she learned how to flutter around with wings larger than she was. Although the tengu couple were old, they came to care for and love their adopted fairy daughter. The old man would sculpt very small toys of timber and bamboo for her to play and chew on. The old woman would feed her and make her tunics and dresses out of bamboo fibers and silk when her husband was able to bring some home.
By the time she was able to talk to them, her once blond curly hair had become much more reddish over time, along with her complexion taking on a more golden hue. She still had most of her baby fat but she was at least half an inch taller.
From then on, her mother taught her how to sow her clothing together and help to cook meals with the family. Her father began to train her body in the ways of gathering the life-force within her as chi to strengthen her tiny body through martial arts known to many Tengu in order to defend herself and family. Despite the child only being four inches tall of height, he trained her body with daily exercises and shared with her his many techniques through sparring practice. He also began to teach her the art of wood cutting and carpentry so that she could help him at the market. Within a month she was able to carry a long branch with her down to the valley, a year later she could support an entire log with merely her strength alone.
In the summertime, the strawberry blonde sprite would often help her old father gather millet and bamboo near the valley. Back home she would help him craft the bamboo into furniture and help her mother make millet dumplings for supper. On one such evening, they heard loud barking from outside. Azelda went outside to locate the noise and found it coming from a dog nearby. She took a defensive stance until she noticed that the dog was drooling. She gave it one of her dumplings and it thanked her for the food by letting her stroke it head. From there, Azelda decided to bring it home as the family pet and guard dog.
Another time at the bazaar with her father, Azelda heard tales of Oni bandits from various merchants. She asked around to found out where it was happening. To her surprise, it was from a red Oni woman on the east side of the market. She told of a gang of Oni that were stealing from every one on Onigiri Island off the coast: Giants, Fairies, Merfolk, even the other Oni. After hearing the story she went over to her father and said, “Papa! I want to stop those bandits on Onigiri Island. They’re ruining lives and spreading fear to everyone there.” The old tengu was surprised by Azelda’s remarks but convinced her to wait until they talk it over with her mother. Back home she shared her story with the old woman and begged them both to let her punish the bandits of Oni Island.
The tengu couple were seriously worried but Azelda insisted so earnestly that they finally gave in to her plea. Her father crafted her a wooden staff and fashioned a small steel blade for her to tie on to make a great spear. Her mother used hemp to weave her a martial gi, like that of her father when he was once a monk at the monastery. “Well, I didn’t need a lot of material” she said. Together they both prepared some millet dumplings and smoked fish jerky for Azelda to eat on her journey and saw their five inch tall daughter off.
As she left the house, their dog quietly walked behind her until she spotted it following her. “Boy, you shouldn’t be here, go back home where it’s safe”, she told her pet. But once her canine started to whimper and give her the sad eyes, there was no way Azelda could say no to that. She gave her doggy the biggest hug she could give, along with a millet dumpling and some jerky as a treat. In return, the dog let the Faye ride on his back and he agreed to be her faithful companion to fend off the ogres. Near the coastline they met a pheasant staring off to Island in the distance. The two met the bird and it replied, “One evening when I went off to get food for my mate and our chicks, the Oni bandits came through our territory. By the time I came a huge blue-gray Oni had killed them all. Even though I couldn’t take on the crew, I managed to track him down to that island off shore.” After the bird finished his story, Azelda wiped a few tears from her eyes. With her destination in sight and a fire inside lit by the pheasant’s tragic plight she told him that if it joined them, they would defeat all the Oni bandits.
With the pheasant joining their quest, she gave him a dumpling, picked up her dog, and they all flew over to the island. Onigiri was covered in palm trees are far as the eye could see. Passing through, they met a monkey climbing through the trees. The curious simian followed them as it asked where they were going with those tasty looking dumplings. Azelda told the monkey that she would give him one if he helped them on the mission, which he gladly accepted.
When Azelda’s party finally reached the Oni’s hideout, they found a large gate blocking their way. The pheasant flew over it and unlocked it from inside. The group passed through and were met by a strange spectacle. The ogres were in the midst of merrymaking, dancing with fine jewelry and partaking of sake. “We’ve come to punish you for plaguing your own countrymen!” shouted Azelda and she charged towards the drunken ogres with her three animal friends.
Azelda lunged toward one of the oni with a dive kick toward his head with both of her legs. The attacked ogre grabbed his head as he yelled to the others, “Ah! She kicks like a wild donkey!” Three of the oni circled around the tiny girl and they told her that she couldn’t take them all at once. Just then the pheasant pecked the ogres all over, the monkey pounced and scratched them, and the dog bit their arms and legs. Azelda took out her homemade spear as she flew to the ground and bounced off it towards the various Oni to land key slashes and kicks to their bellies and faces. Thanks to having eaten the best millet dumplings in the main land, Azelda’s party had more than enough strength to send the ogres running for their lives.
Hearing the commotion, what came towards them was a large blue Oni almost the size of the giants they pillaged. “Are you lot getting trounced by wild vermin and a bug smaller than my pinkie toe?” The leader bellowed. “Time to remind everyone why confronting the Oni bandits will only lead to a foolish death.” With this the leader clapped his hands, causing a shock-wave that caused everyone in Azelda’s group to fall to the ground. As his sent his fist toward the pheasant at full speed he suddenly stopped it midflight. “Let me ask you sir, what is like to be weaker than a bug?”
Azelda was smiling as she held back the ogre’s fist by simply pushing it back. “Why you little pest!” He grunted but before he could act, the faye slipped down to his belly and landed a flurry of punches that stunned it in his tracks. She then followed up a literal flying roundhouse kick under his chin to knock him flat on his back and finished by landing on one of his eyes with great force. His scream of agony rang throughout the island until he fell limp and quiet.
With the defeat of their leader, the other Oni begged to be speared of the same fate. Bowing down on one knee and tears streaming down his face a green one said, “I promise we will never trouble the beings of the island again, and we will return all the treasures we have ever taken from the villages. But please spare our lives! I beseech you!” Azelda spent the rest of the day giving back the stolen loot to the merfolk, faye, giant, and Oni villages on the Island. Surprised by their savior, they were extremely grateful and rewarded her with exotic foods, clothing, materials, and precious metals. Thereupon, Azelda loaded the treasures onto a boat and joined by her small yet larger than her, party headed back home with it in triumph.
Early sketches of Azelda