Catching Up: Part Twelve
Four double-loaded Racers, and two that just carried one Faerie each, settled down on the lawn of Faerie Academy half an hour later, scattered around the grass.
Clocia was standing just outside the doors waiting for them, a bemused smile on her face.
"Clocia!" Sira vaulted out of the Racer she had shared with Lianar and ran to meet her. Jhudora shook her head, half turning in her own Racer to watch them embrace.
"Next thing you know, they'll be crying over how they haven't seen each other in so long," she muttered, and pulled herself up out of the seat. "Thanks for the ride. Patricia, is it?"
The Dark Faerie nodded.
"All right. Treasure your leader, Patricia," Jhudora said. "Too often we don't." She grinned and headed towards the others, waving.
Gwendolyn spoke briefly with Arielle before she got out; Evea just nodded her thanks to Therisa and climbed out.
"Well, shall we?" Evea asked, approaching her friends. "Illusen's still down in Meridell without us. We can have all the reunion we want while we're there, but the longer we stay here, the greater the odds get that our young friends will have to go back to class."
"We wouldn't want that, now would we," Sira said, smiling. "All right. Do we double up again, or do you have more?"
"Faerie Academy hasn't changed that much in the past years," Evea told her friend. "We have more."
"We go first," Lianar repeated, "and then you follow." She nodded. "Okay. We're headed for Illusen's Grove, down in Meridell?"
Evea nodded back to her student. "That's the plan. We may overtake you in the air--well, it'll take a little longer for the rest of them to get used to the Racers again. I don't think any of them has so much as touched one since school, or since our leagues days, at least."
"All right." The Light Faerie smiled. "Sounds good." She strode quickly back to her Racer, beckoning the others around her. They came quickly, leaving their own engines running at a smooth idle, and clustered around her to hear.
"They're a good group," Jhudora said, from behind Evea. The Fire Faerie nodded.
"They are a good group. They need practice--in the air, I mean, as a team. They picked up the basics instinctively, though. Even today, when I let them go for the first time, they showed signs of becoming a unit. Not six Faeries flying together, but one Faerie who just happens to be in six parts, riding six different Racers."
Jhudora smiled. "We had a bit of that, before Illusen left."
"We did." Evea sighed and turned to look at her. "And now we're going to find it again. You ready?"
"Are we going to be a team again afterwards, then?" Jhudora asked, instead of answering the question.
The Fire Faerie hesitated, and then shrugged. "Who knows. But we won't be alienated like we have been since Illusen left. It depends on what she wants, I suppose, and what everyone else wants. I mean, I'd be delighted--teaching is all right, but it's not Racing. But all of you have other jobs, other lives..."
Jhudora nodded. "I suppose we do."
The younger group broke up then, each Faerie going to their own Racer. Evea glanced up at Jhudora and smiled.
"Well, here we go again. You remember how to pilot one of these things?"
Jhudora grinned. "I don't forget that easily, Evea. I was the one who invited you onto this team in the first place, remember."
"Oh, so we're a team again now." The Fire Faerie grinned back, climbing up into her Racer. "Go on and get ready. We'll be taking off soon."
Patricia started her engine with the others, or just a moment behind. There wasn't quite the click of rightness this time that there had been before, but they were still a team. Nothing could change that.
She caught Lianar's glance from the corner of her eye and nodded back, setting her palms on the controls. Lianar grinned brightly at all of them and took off, soaring up into the wind.
Patricia and Arielle took second flank positions this time. No one had to yell over the engine noise to decide who flew where: they all knew. That was part of being a group.
The others followed, and they were off. Cut free of even the smallest bonds of gravity, they soared.
As Faeries, they usually had some measure of freedom. They had wings; they could fly. They lived on clouds. But even that grew too much sometimes, and being in a Racer changed all that. With no effort at all, they could soar. They could swoop. They could be in the sky.
Lianar banked into a turn, and they matched her. She banked back again a moment later, led them up and down, around in dizzyingly quick spirals. They laughed with the pure joy of flying, their laughter flitting away from them on the winds.
Behind them, beneath them, Evea glanced around to make sure everyone was ready. In Illusen's absence she seemed to have become the leader of the group, the Fire Faerie noted, and smiled. Illusen was the true leader, though. When she was back, everyone would know that they needed her.
The rest of the team members were nodding back. Evea nodded sharply, once, and throttled out. Jhudora and Evea had always been second rank for them: the Dark Faerie's Racer moved up an instant later, followed closely by Sira's. Clocia and Gwendolyn followed.
Five was a more awkward number than six, Evea thought dimly, swooping to one side and then the other and feeling--hearing--sensing the others follow her. Unlike the younger Faeries, they didn't laugh at first. Their concentration was on their controls, strange after so many years of not practicing, not even looking at a Racer.
Slowly, though, they loosened up and followed her with more ease and precision. Evea soared easily past Lianar, and saw the Light Faerie's laughter in the way she sat in her seat. The Fire Faerie tipped her a salute and turned again, taking the lead, angling down and away from Faerie City.
Past Faerie City was Faerieland, the whole wide spread of it, watchtowers and cloud-fields, Faeries doing every job imaginable. A few glanced up as the eleven Racers sped overhead; those that noticed them, waved.
Sooner than seemed possible, they had reached the edge of Faerieland, the thick cloud cover fading away into mere sketches and wisps of clouds. Evea closed her eyes as they soared past the edge. She had always hated that moment, where solid ground went away and was replaced by thin air.
After a moment, of course, it was all right again, and the Fire Faerie opened her eyes again and let all her breath out in a whoosh. They were skimming high above the ocean, and the waves were just a blur beneath them.
At this rate, they would fly right past Meridell without noticing it. Evea angled her Racer down and away from the others, slowing down a little. Her group followed her, matched her. The other group thundered overhead, but Lianar had just delayed her reaction a little: a moment later their group mimicked them, and soon they were again on a level with each other, and Lianar's group was in front again.
Even at the reduced speed, Meridell came up quickly. They slowed down even more, and soon they were skimming across the tops of the trees, close enough to reach out and touch the leaves of the trees if they wanted to.
Lianar sped over a clearing halfway through, peered down for long enough to make sure that it was Illusen's Grove, and then slowed down further still, banking into a turn around the glade.
Thus forewarned, Evea decelerated before hitting the open space, and angled down into it instead of going around, followed by the others. One, two, three, four, and then all of them were spiraling down between the trees.
Lianar circled the grove again, keeping one eye on their progress. An Earth Faerie stood in the center of the clearing looking up at them as if she didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Evea's Racer had already landed; as Lianar watched, Sira landed, and then Jhudora, Gwendolyn, Clocia. Lianar nodded and spiraled down herself, concentrating on not hitting the trees or any of the Faeries or their Racers.
When Lianar had landed and the dust settled around her, she let herself relax and take note of the conversation already in full spate among the older Faeries.
"Gwendolyn--Clocia--Evea, you brought the whole group!" Illusen was saying. "Oh, Fyora, it's been so long."
Evea smiled. "I didn't bring them; they came on their own." Jhudora raised dark eyebrows at her. "Well, all right," the Fire Faerie allowed, "I might've suggested it a little--"
"And who are these girls?" Illusen asked, turning to look at Lianar's group. "A full group, too. From Faerie Academy?"
"I teach Faerie Cloud Racers there, these days," Evea said, sheepishly. "They helped me realize that we hadn't really grown apart, we'd just been idiots about a couple of things, so I thought they deserved to at least come and meet you."
"All right," Illusen said, smiling. "Good to meet you, then. If Evea's your teacher, I'm sure you're excellent."
"They are," Evea told her. "This is Lianar--she leads--and Arielle, Patricia, Emm, Therisa, Lillian."
"Welcome," the older Earth Faerie said to them. "Evea has always been a bit stingy with her praise, so you must be exceptional. Would you just go out and turn the sign around to closed for me?"
Lianar hesitated, and then nodded, beckoning the others to follow her.
"I'm afraid," Illusen added ruefully, turning to look at her friends, "we have rather a lot of catching up to do."