Grievm's army was closer than they thought. They heard
it approaching as the Acara picked the lock into the library for the second
time that night. Anry took to the air to look, then landed a couple minutes
later with a breathless report that there had to be at least twenty pets. They
were vastly outnumbered.
"Everyone behind me!" Payne ordered, "Anry,
Mia, take the rear. We're going to fight a running battle here, all the way
to the top."
And with a rattle the lock came open and the
group burst into the library, shedding cloaks and jackets to free up movement
and drawing weapons as they made for the stairs, Payne in the lead with a blunt
sword in her hand.
To the top. That was the only thought that was
driving Payne now. Summon the wind and end this madness, save the school and
save her strange assortment of friends. Behind her she could hear the cries
of the pets chasing them but it was merely a distant buzz, a minor factor in
her brain. To the top. She burst through the doors to the stairs, taking them
two at a time, her paws flying like the wind she was going to summon, the rest
clattering behind her in a tumbled blur of strain and panicked breathing.
A cry of "Go on!" reached her and she numbly
identified the voice as Anry, that and the ring of metal on metal, of swears
and exclamation as a battle broke out. Engagement number one of the rush. And
it was quickly lost behind her as she made her way up the stairs. Third floor
now - four more to go. She had a stitch in her side and a thought arose in her
"Mia!" she cried back, "To me!"
The group reformed, a couple people dropping
back to stem the tide once more, since Anry had apparently fallen. One of those
was his friend Deft, the soot washed away from the constant rain outside. Mia
appeared by Payne's side and for a moment the sister's eyes met.
"I can fight," Mia wheezed.
"Rain Gray and Mist Gray," Payne replied, "I'll
need you for the top."
And still they ran. Sixth floor. The combat
was dying away behind them, Payne's legs were screaming in protest from the
strain, her breath coming harsh. A couple more of the League dropped back, too
exhausted and deciding to make a stand of it. A risked glance behind her revealed
that Maria and BlazeFast were still with her, the small Ixi's chest heaving,
Maria's face flushed with effort.
"Almost there," Payne murmured, "almost there."
Eighth floor. One more to go. She burst through
another door with a white nine painted on it. There. Now to the roof. She slammed
up against the door, reaching for the handle.
"Locked!" she cried in dismay. "Where's that
"Fell behind," Maria wheezed.
Payne fell silent, straining to hear what was
behind them. Shouts, unfamiliar voices.
"Move aside!" BlazeFast cried, shoving up to
the last step and turning around, "It's about time I made myself useful. Maria,
The two reared up on their forelegs and kicked
with the hind, the wood around the doorknob splintering with the force and throwing
the Ixi off balance and to the ground, rolling down some stairs before Mia grabbed
her hind leg and stopped her fall. The door knob hung half-off and Payne opened
it with a gentle push. They were out onto the roof, into the night air and the
rain that sleeted down to greet them.
"Barricade the door," someone ordered, slamming
it behind them and leaning against it, "someone help me."
Maria and BlazeFast added their weight to it
while Payne glanced about them. A lightning rod in the direct center of the
roof, a two foot high ledge about the edge of the building itself. Other then
that and the doorway leading back down into the library, nothing.
"What do I do?" Payne asked, holding the sword
at her side with one hand.
"I don't know!"
There was a flash of feathers and a Uni and
an Eyrie landed before them, both carrying Sinsis swords.
"You hand over that sword," the Uni snickered,
"that's what you do."
"Flyers," Mia muttered in disgust, "that's cheating.
You should have taken the long route up like we did."
"Ahh, poor ickle Gelert," the Eyrie retorted,
"step aside brat before you get hurt."
Mia snarled and bared her fangs at them.
"Before I get hurt? Listen to the big featherbrain
talk. Com'n -- I've trained my whole life for this moment. I'm not letting you
She leaped for them, the WereLupe's claw catching
in the light. Power grew and swelled around her as she landed on top of the
Uni, clawing and biting. The Uni in turn lashed out with the sword before it
was knocked from his grip by Mia's hind leg.
"Payne!" Maria called. "The rain! Your friends
are with you, your sister is protecting you. Summon the wind!"
Payne took a deep breath and shot one last glance
at the battle which had dissolved into a brawl, Mia somehow holding her own
against both pets at once. The wind. It had to come.
"I've never felt the wind here," she whispered,
"but I want to. Summon the wind. How do I summon the wind?"
The snatches of an old rhyme ran through her
head. An old rhyme, first taught to her by her family, then picked up and thrown
in her face as a taunt.
"But that's who I am," she announced, striding
forwards to stand staring up at the rain, "a Gray. Payne Rain Gray."
She knew what to do. Exulting in this, in who
she was, what she was, she raised the sword above her head with both hands.
She was Payne Gray, she would summon the wind. Her paws seemed to tingle and
the air seemed to crackle with unspent power.
"Painted in shades of black and gray, rainy
day, rain gray Payne," she chanted singsong. "Painted in shades of black and
gray for those rainy days!"
The last line she shouted out as a challenge
to shake the heavens. Laws of nature could be forgotten. She was a Gray, she
defied the rain, she summoned the wind.
It answered. It tugged at her ears first, sending
them dancing into the night, lifting it off her face, the rain slowly dying
away, the patter sliding away into the triumphant cry of the wind. She laughed
out loud, the sword still raised in her hands, the power surging through her
as the wind rushed across the campus, wrapping about her, promising her everything.
She was Payne Rain Gray and the wind was hers to control.
The battle with Mia had stopped, the Uni laying
unconscious and the Eyrie limping off, thankful to be in one piece. Mia was
panting, her face alight with triumph. And slowly Maria and the rest moved away
from the door. The battle was won. The wind was here, the rain was relinquishing
its grasp. Behind them burst the Grievm's hired pets, weapons raised and ready
for a fight. Payne simply lowered her sword and stared at them, the wind billowing
about her and lifting her ears up like angelic wings. The pets stopped still,
stared, and saw something. And whatever it was, it frightened them. They turned
and slowly slunk back into the stairwell, away and out of sight. Slowly, Maria,
BlazeFast, and the three others that had made it to the top gathered about her.
She met their eyes in turn and no one held her gaze.
"What is it?" she whispered as Mia returned
to her rightful place by Payne's side.
"You are bearer of the Sword of Wind and Rain,"
Maria said in a hushed voice. "The wind is yours."
"But I am still Payne. Look at me Maria. Nothing
has changed. I'm the same Payne you've always known."
Maria locked eyes with her friend and mutely
shook her head.
"No. I wish you could see yourself now -- you
have changed. That timid little girl that I met on the first day is gone. You're
Payne, yes, you are. But you're a Payne that isn't afraid anymore and who is
willing to challenge anything."
"The moon," BlazeFast said, gazing up, "Look."
Slowly, everyone turned to stare in the direction
he was looking. The wind whipped about them, whistling and calling to them,
to Payne and her sword. And above them, the clouds were thinning out, gently
blowing away in the roar that blanketed campus.
"Is it always like this?" Payne asked, watching
as the night sky unfolded, the first time she had seen it since arriving here.
"Yes," one of the League members replied, "this
is the campus wind. Sometimes it's so strong you can barely open the door."
No one spoke after that, just stared up at the
sky. The moon was visible, a thin sliver of pale silver, gleaming as brightly
as Payne's sword. A lone star managed to fight through the rapidly dispersing
clouds, glinting directly parallel to the bowl of the moon, cradled in its two
points. The only heavenly features visible. And to Payne it seemed that this
was her and Mia, together, protecting one another, etched into the night sky.
In a bit other stars would join the moon and these would be her friends, Maria
and BlazeFast, and now Jessica, VerdeVer, Anry, Deft, Eric, and all the rest.
What a strange world that her enemies would become her friends.
In a couple hours the sun would rise and it would
be the most glorious sunrise to ever break across Neopia, a reprieve after the
heavy days of rain, the rainy days that threatened to wash everything away and
dissolve all ties between the students of campus. Later, she would have to deal
with Eric, and Mia would have to come to terms with VerdeVer. But that was still
a couple hours away. For now, the campus slumbered on, perhaps a couple people
were wakened by the shift in the ambient sounds, the transition from rain to
wind. For now, the night was their own, the moon and the star their own, just
Mia and her alone in the sky, ready to face anything that fate threw at them.
Even those Rainy Days.