The
Wing Thief

Samantha Atkins

The wing thief by samantha atkins: book cover

Let me ask you a question. It's a pretty straight forward question, but one that you shouldn't rush to answer. Do you believe in magic?

Vista wanted two things: adventure and freedom. But nothing could prepare her for the fall that would change everything. In a single moment, Vista's comfortable life in the Home Tree is over and she must find a way to survive in the forest alone. She soon learns that not everyone can be trusted and must now race to save the family she left behind.

In a forest filled with magic and trickery, just how far can a flightless fairy go?

About the Author

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Samantha Atkins

Samantha Atkins launched her debut novel with The Wing Thief. She currently lives in Wales with her partner, their two children and two dogs; Stella and Lexi.

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Excerpt

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Prologue

 

He pushed his way forward through the darkness, trying to ignore the pain in his feet and the ache in his legs. 

It’ll all be worth it, he thought.

His heels cut against the sharp rocks and the cold bit into his cheeks, but still he kept moving. His hand wrapped tightly around the prize he’d fought so hard to get. Calloused fingers twisted over its edge as he gripped harder, briefly allowing his gaze to drift behind him, hoping to make out their shape as he dragged them through the dark.

It was surprising how many winged creatures there were. It had never been more than a fleeting thought until the day came that he’d needed wings. He knew the truth, though he would never admit it to himself. He knew the types of wings he needed to enact his curse were impossible for him to get. They remained somewhere he could not go.

This pesky ingredient made his revenge so much more difficult. In desperation, he’d decided to compromise. Perhaps different wings could work? 

With the precision of a maddening mind, he considered every creature with the gift of flight. Picturing all those wings made his insides churn, hatred burning his throat. If he could, he’d destroy them all. He clicked his fingers and bright, red sparks shot out of the tips. He pictured the wings with every click, thought of how it would feel to finally hold them, to finally win.

He had stolen so many wings over time, it became impossible to count. Some had been harder to obtain than others. His favourites were the ones taken while they were sleeping. He’d simply creep in and, with the help of a little magic, whip them off with a swish of his fingers. Others had not been so fortunate. There had been a creature or two that, no matter how persuasive he’d tried to be, would not part with their precious wings. He’d had to get rather firm in those cases. Birds in particular had always been a pain – there was one type that had jewelled feathers all over its body and had been incredibly stubborn. That had been a fight he didn’t care to dwell on. As he thought of that time, his fingers briefly touched his right arm, feeling for the scar beneath his clothes.

It seemed a shame - not that he felt much shame - but deep down he’d known with every wing he stole that it wouldn’t work.

It had to be a fairy.

But he kept on trying, refusing to admit defeat. Revenge was the only thing that kept him going these days.

A dip in the path brought him back to reality as he stumbled and tripped, all the while trying to protect the wings in his wretched hand.

‘Ahhh!’ he cried as he fell. ‘Can’t you give me a little help?’ he screamed to the trees.

‘You know they won’t help you,’ he spoke out loud to himself and spat on a trunk in response, absentmindedly waving his free hand over his face to rid it of the buzzing critters.

‘I’ve always hated trees,’ he snarled, loud enough to ensure that every tree around him heard.

Looking ahead, he was relieved to see he was nearly there. He didn’t want to take the wings back to his home, he was always worried an angry creature might follow him and he couldn’t have word getting out about where he lived. There were just too many important things kept there.

No, instead he hid what he needed for the test nearby, buried in a small ditch. As he approached, recognising the shapes through the dark, he carefully placed the wings against a nearby rock and then clicked his fingers, allowing light to form between them.

He kneeled cautiously down on the ground, darting his eyes in every direction to ensure he was completely alone. Warily, he pulled his hood tighter over his horrid face and began to claw through the dirt like an animal. Feeling for his things, his hand curled around a small vial and pulled it out of the earth, showing more tenderness towards it than he had for any living creature.

He looked upon the vial and smiled, displaying a mouth full of yellowed teeth – the vial was full and he merely needed to place it against the wings to know whether it would work. 

He turned to face the wings, ‘time to shine!’ he smiled, trying to hide his desperation – deep down he already knew how this would go.

Carefully opening the vial, he placed it next to the wings and allowed their scent to mix with the fumes. Magic can always recognise itself, and wings in particular have a certain magical smell. 

Fairies probably smell like vomit, he grimaced.

Nothing happened for a moment. He crouched there with the vial and the wings and waited. He let out a frustrated groan as the fumes leaving the vial changed from transparent to white.

‘ARGH!’ he screamed, the sound making the trees shake. ‘You’re supposed to be red! Why aren’t you red?’

Holding his calm long enough to place the lid back on the vial, he stood up. Pocketing it, he stared at the wings, thinking them the most hideous things he had ever seen.

‘You’re pathetic,’ he spat at them, ‘you can’t even do this right, what’s the matter with you?’

Head spinning, he began to pace, angrily glaring at the wings balancing innocently against the rock.

Another failure. Maybe it won’t ever work.

He shook his head to rid it of his doubts. He reminded himself that it would work - it had to work. If he didn’t have his revenge, he had nothing.

Hatred oozed through him - hatred at the wings for wasting his time, at the forest for making things so difficult, and at himself for failing again.

‘I NEED A FAIRY!’ he hollered, loud enough to rouse every sleeping creature.

He lunged forwards, grabbing at the wings. His fingers tore through them, ripping each feather off one by one. He plucked and pulled, twisting them until they were unrecognisable. Stopping for a moment, he stared at his work – scattered feathers lay everywhere. As he lit up the scene with his fingers, he mused over how depressing they now looked – such vivid shades of blues and purples nestled against the muddy floor.

He glanced towards his pocket that held the vial, ‘You think this is bad, just you wait. Just wait and see what happens when I get hold of the fairies.’ He brushed his filthy hands against his trousers and patted his pocket. Whistling a tune, trying to ignore the anger inside, he turned from the wings and walked home, not once glancing back over the carnage he’d caused.



 

Chapter 1. 

The Home Tree

 

There is a land, much like our own, that houses a particularly varied amount of magical and mysterious creatures. These creatures have stayed safe and secret all this time for one very good reason: the land has willed it so. Despite being within the human world, it is so guarded that no mortal could ever accidentally stumble upon it without first seeking it out. Since no human would ever know what they were looking for, its secrets have remained hidden to outsiders for longer than most could care to remember. This land is known as Letherea.

Of all the Letherean creatures, none are quite so proud of their home as a gnome called Grecko and a young fairy named Vista. 

When it comes to gnomes, please don’t be fooled and imagine them looking the way you have been brought up to think they look. As with everything, fairytales have turned these creatures into something very different indeed. Now, gnomes are not known for their beauty, that much is certainly true. But they are also not known for wearing pointy hats and having long beards. 

A true gnome would be difficult to miss, as they are much taller than the majority of Letherean creatures. In the human world their size would be similar to a very tall adult man – this may not seem overly large but, in comparison to fairies and other small creatures, it is very tall indeed. Their limbs tend to be fairly out of proportion with the rest of their body and their arms are likely to drag along the ground as they walk. When matching this with a pair of overly large feet, they can have some problems when it comes to running at any reasonable speed.

Yet a gnome’s face, whilst it may not be considered handsome in any way, is a kind and gentle one. They have eyes that can make any creature feel completely safe and secure, and their softly spoken voices are perfect for soothing lost or lonely souls. They have, on many occasions, been described as carers of the forest - looking after whatever needs it most. 

Fairies, on the other hand, look very similar to the way humans imagine them to be. They are indeed small (about the size of a child's hand) and exclusively female, with glittering wings that carry them from place to place. This doesn’t mean to say that fairies can’t walk - they can - it’s just that flying is their preferred means of travel. The main difference between true fairies and the fairies that humans typically envision is that true fairies do not possess any real magic of their own. They have magic in their wings that enables them to fly, of course - but that is where their magic ends. 

A fairy is also not born possessing wings. They need a few months after entering the world, to develop the strength and courage they need to take that first leap from the Home Tree. A typical fairy is only about the size of a child’s hand when her flying day arrives, so as you can imagine, it must be quite a nerve-wracking experience. When the day came for Vista to take her jump she was just four months old. 

I should point out that fairies do not age the same way as humans do and at four months Vista was now considered a young adult in her own right. 

On the morning of her flight, Vista awoke much earlier than usual. Gingerly, she propped herself up into a seated position, careful not to wake the sleeping fairies around her. She cast her eyes over the room, feeling the urge to take in her surroundings for what felt like the very first time. The Home Tree housed enough beds to hold up to twenty fairies; each bed was carved into the walls, creating small grooves in which they could sleep. The centre of the room was large and spacious, the floor and walls shining a beautiful golden brown. Vista reached out a slender hand and gently stroked one of the many grooves that made up her bed. 

For her comfort she had a small, fluffed up pillow and blanket made from the feathers of a wishing bird, so-called due to its rather marvellous knack of granting wishes. These birds are decorated with every colour imaginable so that when they fly across the sky they twinkle with all the colours of the rainbow. Legend tells that if someone were lucky enough to have one perch upon their shoulder, then it had deemed them worthy and would bestow upon them one wish. Vista often dreamed of how this would feel - to be chosen, the fact that her shoulders were much too small for any creature to perch upon hadn’t even occurred to her.

She lifted her arms and stretched, her mind a flurry of questions. Vista had always dreamed of the day she would take flight and finally get her wings. She wanted to know everything: how it would feel when the wings were attached, if she would still be able to sleep comfortably, if they would be as magical as she’d always dreamt they would be. She wriggled her back against the blanket, soaking in the feeling of a bare back – after this morning, she’d never know that feeling again.

Smiling to herself, she quietly rose and tiptoed away to the sound of blissful snores. 

As she walked towards the kitchen, it was dawning on Vista how she’d spent so long waiting to leave the Home Tree that she had never stopped to fully appreciate the beauty within it. The golden glow of the walls continued as Vista moved away from the bedroom. Each wall shone as though it had just been polished with the finest flower pollen - which it probably had been. It was never surprising to see one or two fairy younglings miserably polishing away after getting into trouble for one reason or another. To the side of the kitchen was the living area, again it was spacious and was the most commonly used room within the Home Tree (fairies taking their lessons and generally congregating within it). 

The room had perches carved into the side of it and the floor, rather than being bare like the bedroom, was decorated with a rug made entirely of petals – each petal selected from a different fairy flower. Their entire world existed inside the large tree. 

The Home Tree had been around for as long as the forest itself. Its trunk was stronger and more powerful than any other tree to exist – although that could simply be a popular fairy opinion, of course. It belonged to the fairies and existed solely to protect them until they were ready to take flight. Providing them with shelter, warmth and security. 

It was a known fact that once a fairy takes her first flight, she does not return regularly to the Home Tree. Fairies are expected to remain nearby, in small communities, and never venture out of their part of the forest; the reason for this is unknown to most, but a fairy knew well to follow the rules and never question the reasons – a trait that Vista seemed to be lacking. She shook her head slightly, not wanting to spend her morning fretting.

The kitchen was empty as she entered, just as she’d expected it to be this early in the morning, but the warm, sweet smell it carried was there. Vista closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, grateful for a rare moment of peace and quiet. Breezing her way over to the hand-crafted shelves she selected what was, in her opinion, the finest looking apple and honeysuckle scone she could find.

Excited by the thought of eating her scone without nineteen other excitable fairies around her, she settled herself down quietly into one of the large perches and stared dreamily out of the window into the forest.

From her position in the Home Tree (it being one of the tallest in the forest) she could see acres of large trees spread out before her, some almost appearing to touch the clouds. They left Vista wondering if it might be possible to climb and touch, or maybe even collect a piece of cloud for her very own. Of course, in Letherea anything was possible.

The trees before her shone a mixture of rich greens and vivid yellows. Fragments of colour came and went, swerving through the leaves – evidence of passing birds gliding through the branches, flurries of colour speckling their every movement. The sun bounced off the treetops but, unlike in the human world, it left behind a trace of glitter – decorating the scenery with flecks of golden dust. A gentle breeze drifted upwards, sending wafts of heavenly flowery scents in Vista’s direction, a teasing taste of the beauty that lay beneath her.  

The ground of the forest was also something of intrigue; it wasn’t like the ground an outsider from our world would understand, solid and unwavering. No, the ground of Letherea seemed almost to have a mind of its own. For example, if you were someone whose intentions were good and true, someone on a quest of some sort perhaps, then the ground would have the ability to assist you on your travels. Now obviously it wouldn’t do the travelling for you, but it would do its part to aid you in your walking. Whether that was by making the path easier to find or offering up sweet flower nectar for you to drink - any way it could think of to help ease your tired and weary legs. 

However, if you were the type of person whose intentions were not so good (or even downright bad), then you could indeed have a very difficult road ahead of you. The path could seem to stretch until it was all you could see. You could become blinded to everything except your own sorrow, and the weariness of endless walking could be enough to end the journey for some of even the most determined creatures. 

A loud thud startled Vista and, with slight disappointment, she realised that her quiet, relaxing morning was over with the arrival of another fairy in the kitchen. Not one to forget her manners, Vista turned to face her company with a smile. 

She was greeted by Mila, an overly keen, yet clumsy fairy who was also flying today. The thud Vista had heard had been a pan Mila knocked over during her attempt to sneak in.

Mila was a tiny little thing, the smallest of all the fairies in the tree. Her bed was situated just above Vista’s; this in itself seemed like a bit of a design flaw – to have a fairy as clumsy as Mila sleeping on a bed that wasn’t directly attached to the ground.

She was probably what humans would describe as the ‘typical fairy’. Her skin was pale and her hair was yellow - not blonde as most would assume – but yellow, as if it had been painted. She had a small, dainty frame and wore a dress made from the petals of a luck flower; each fairy wore an outfit made from a certain type of flower. Vista had always envied Mila’s luck flower dress, it was so bright, full of vibrant reds and greens, she could be spotted from a mile away. This would no doubt come in handy when she was finally up in the air!

Privately, Vista dreaded the thought of Mila flying; the poor thing could barely walk without tripping over something, so just imagine what it would be like with her up in the sky. There would be branches to avoid and rogue birds to dodge (usually birds made quite good flying companions for fairies, but a fairy with Mila’s clumsiness could have a difficult time avoiding their feathery wings). Another worry would be all the fairies at risk of a bump or two if Mila were close by.

Vista’s dress was a bit plainer than Mila’s. It was more of a sea-blue colour; made from the petals of a water flower, and although it did have a nice way of twinkling and catching certain lights when she moved, she had always secretly wished for something a little brighter. It did, however, compliment her hair quite nicely. She had dark hair, the colour of tree bark. This made her feel like a proper nature fairy, as if the trees themselves had created her.

'Oh gosh Vista, I’m so sorry, I was trying my best to be quiet. Heaven knows how I’ll manage to fly today if I can’t even walk properly!' Mila squeaked. You didn’t have to be a genius to spot that Mila was looking for some reassurance that she wasn’t going to fall straight from the tree and splat onto the ground when taking her first flight that morning. Vista felt an obligation to offer some sort of hope - even if that hope might be false. 

'Don’t worry, flying surely must be more straightforward to us than walking,' Vista offered a reassuring smile.

'Are you nervous about today?' Mila asked, sitting down next to her.

'A little I suppose,' Vista admitted, 'but I’ve been waiting for this day for so long, I just can’t wait to get started.'

Mila considered her answer for a moment. 'What do you think it’s like out there? I can’t really imagine anything outside the Home Tree,' she wondered as her eyes glazed and drifted towards the window.

Vista smiled briefly, and with only a slight hesitation, indulged Mila with her fantasies about life outside.

'You know, I’ve heard whispers of just how vast Letherea actually is, but I can’t wait to find out for myself. I don’t have much intention of finding a home just yet. My plan is to get out of this tree and see as much as I possibly can,' she paused trying to suss out Mila’s reaction, which wasn’t giving much away. 'I’ve heard there are rivers filled with fish that not only swim under the water, but can actually fly above it just like us! There are witches and trolls and real magic! One thing I know for sure is that the forest is so much bigger than just our Home Tree. I can’t wait to get out there and finally be a part of it!' Vista’s pulse quickened, the way it often did when she dreamt of adventure. Her grin threatened to split her face in two and she bit down on her lip in a conscious effort to calm herself. 

Focusing on Mila again, Vista was slightly surprised to find that Mila wasn’t sharing in her excitement at all. Her face looked puzzled and she’d scrunched up her forehead as though trying to figure out the most confusing riddle. 

'Surely you can’t really mean all that? We mustn't leave our part of the forest, you know that. That’s the way it’s always been, we’re safer here.'

'But why has it always been that way? Just because fairies don’t break the rules? We’re not trapped in this part of the forest, you know. This may be our home, but it should be our choice whether to stay or go.' Vista crossed her arms defiantly, angered by the doubt in her plan. 

Why is Mila telling me what to do? She has no right! 

Vista’s heartbeat thumped in her ears and she willed it away, the feeling of betrayal oozing through her. All Mila had done was make Vista even more determined to do things her way and prove everyone wrong - starting with getting far away from the Home Tree. She was determined to show them all just how far a fairy could go if she just believed in herself. 

After some long, awkward moments of silence and uncomfortable looks, the kitchen began to fill with chattering, excitable fairies all eager and ready for the day ahead. Her disappointing conversation with Mila, however, made Vista decide not to indulge anyone else with her plans for after the flight. For that matter, neither did Mila.

As the others hugged and gave their best wishes, Vista returned to pondering the world outside the window, trying to distract herself from her restless legs.

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