Catching Up: Part Two
Two weeks later, as golden September turned to October and chill winds took hold of Faerieland for the day, the students arrived at class one day to see that thirty-four of the racers had disappeared. Their teacher stood, smiling pleasantly, by the two that remained.
Evea took a brisk count of her students; by now she'd adjusted somewhat to the shock of having seven Dark Faeries, but she counted them at the beginning of each lesson nevertheless.
"Right," she said when she was done, "Lianar." Though various Faeries had had to relinquish their carriages for Patricia to be able to participate throughout the past weeks, Evea still harbored some guilt for making Lianar be the first.
The other Light Faeries made room for the girl to step forward.
"And..." Evea consulted a list fastened to a clipboard. "And... Arielle," she said at last. The pert Air Faerie stood at the front of her column, and took a pace forward, glancing around and tucking a wisp of hair behind her ear. She was, at the least, three inches taller than Lianar, with lighter blonde hair and bluish Air Faerie wings.
The two stood--not quite next to each other--in front of their classmates, and looked at their teacher.
Evea grinned wryly. "Come on, then," she said, gesturing to the two carriages.
Flicking just the slightest of glances at the other, Lianar and Arielle took their places in the racers. Their teacher showed them how to start the carriages, and how to start the mechanism that laid down a trail of purple smoke behind them, and waved Arielle to the other side of the field.
With some difficulty managing the controls, the Air Faerie attained it and turned her carriage.
Her opponent faced her defiantly; always before, the Light Faerie's wispy locks had fallen in front of her eyes, but now--in anticipation of the coming trial--she had shaken her hair back, and the difference was astounding.
Lianar had been a classmate, a potential friend before; now she was a rival.
Evea's voice rang out, instructing Arielle and Lianar on how they would know when to begin, but they weren't paying very much attention to her. They stared across the field at the blurs of pale flesh that were each other's faces, and tried to not be too nervous.
She gave them a moment to prepare, and then a flame burst into being a thousand feet above the clouds, burning as brightly as if it was in the grate of a fireplace in Meridell.
But Lianar and Arielle were in no position to be admiring it; they skimmed across the field at each other, eyes narrowed in concentration, hair whipping behind them in the wind created by their passage. Despite not listening to Evea's instructions, they both knew that that had to have been the signal.
At the last moment, Arielle twitched her controls; they were slow to respond, and Lianar's carriage slammed into hers.
Together the racers slid across the clouds for a few feet, until the energy from the collision wore away.
Lianar sat up hesitantly, blinking a few times to get her bearings. In the other carriage, Arielle did the same; they glanced at each other, then away with nervous smiles.
"Bring 'em back!" Evea shouted. With the grins of those who have survived the first in a long series of trials, they took hold of their controls and guided the racers slowly back.
That class went faster, for the students, than any other had. Evea even found herself momentarily surprised when she checked the time and found that there were only five minutes left in the allotted lesson span.
"Time's up!" she called, and the Fire and Dark Faerie who were racing across the field crashed, too surprised by the sound of their teacher's voice to react before they hit each other.
Evea motioned for the Faeries to fly back without the racers; they did so quickly, arriving just as she began to speak.
"Class hereafter will consist mainly of more practice with the carriages, though some theory will also be discussed," she said. "If you wish, you can sign up for additional classes after school. These may also be required for those of you who are having trouble keeping up with the others. As you know, at the end of term you may drop this course or continue as you wish. Class dismissed," she added, as the chime announcing the change of classes rang throughout the school grounds.
Most of the Faeries left immediately, wandering back up to the building in groups of two or three, but a few hung back, warily watching the others. Among them were Lianar and the Dark Faerie who'd been racing at the last, whose name was Patricia.
Evea glanced between them all, and sighed. She dealt with the other three students first: an Air Faerie who had dropped a hairclasp on the playing field and wanted to make sure it was found, a Fire Faerie who wanted to sign up for the extracurricular classes, and an Earth Faerie who asked why the Faerie Cloud Races were held on clouds, not in forests.
She sorted out the first two easily enough; the Earth Faerie, still complaining, trailed behind her as she went over to Patricia and Lianar.
The two weren't exactly standing next to each other, much as Lianar and Arielle had been earlier in the class, but kept flicking glances at each other.
"Lianar?" Evea asked.
The Light Faerie turned, clearly startled at being addressed by her teacher. "Oh! Um..." She bit at her lip. "It's nothing, I was just wondering--I've heard that later on we're sorted into groups, and I wanted to ask if, if we get to pick them or if you do."
Evea had explained during the week of lecturing that the Faerie Cloud Racers did not merely race around; each Racer was in a group of six Faeries, one of each element, that trained together and often would perform for audiences of other Faeries by flying intricate patterns that, when viewed from above before the trails faded, represented some image: a Harris, or the Faerie Queen's face. She had been expecting this question at some point, though she hadn't thought it would be this early on.
She nodded and turned to Patricia, who wore an odd expression. "And you?"
"Same question," the Dark Faerie said, with a wry half-smile. "And when, I suppose."
The Fire Faerie paused to consider, then came to a decision. She gave the two a grin, and turned to wave the still-protesting Earth Faerie away. Shooting a glare at her teacher, the student drifted up the slope towards the school itself.
"Well, you two, I'm glad you asked that," she said. Inquisitive looks from both; Evea nearly grinned, but managed to control her expression with an effort.
"You see," she said by way of explanation, "nearly, oh, it has to have been nearly thirty years ago now, I stayed after class to ask my own instructor that same question."
"And?" Lianar asked, clearly intrigued.
"And she invited me to form a group of my own, and I did," Evea said, letting herself grin.
"And... what happened?" Patricia asked, when it was clear that neither of the others were going to speak.
"We stayed together," the Fire Faerie said with a shrug. "Through the Academy, that is. After that, our Dark Faerie went off somewhere, and so did our Earth. Well--" She paused, and then went on, "Anyway, the rest of us tried out for the official Racers, and three of us made it in--me, and the Light Faerie, her name was Sira, and our Water as well, Clocia. Sira's still in, I think, but Clocia dropped out after a little bit. She decided she wanted to focus on healing instead."
There was a pause; after a moment, Lianar said, "So..."
Evea smiled. "So, I'm letting you two form a group. Provided, of course, that you are each other's Dark and Light."
The two students glanced at each other, and then, imploringly, at Evea.
She laughed. "No complaints," she said. "After all, I could've not let you form a group at all. And you won't have to work together at all until you've found yourselves Air, Water, Fire and Earth."
Lianar and Patricia nodded reluctantly.
"Come to me after class one day when you've gotten your group together," Evea said after a moment. "I'll give you some special tutoring." She gave them a wide grin and a brisk nod, and turned to head off towards the school herself.
The two Faeries were left standing side by side; after a moment Lianar sighed.
"Right," she said, turning to the other; "I'm Lianar."
"I'd gathered that," Patricia said with dark humor.
"And you're Patricia."
"Indeed." The Dark Faerie gave her a wry smile. "Do you really think this is going to work? The only option for Dark and Light Faeries to interact is to be rivals."
"So we'll be rivals," Lianar said, shrugging. "At least we get to form a group."
Patricia shook her head. "Your optimism is infecting," she muttered, but when Lianar hooked her arm through the Dark Faerie's and pulled her towards the school, Patricia didn't resist.
To be continued...