Being Grey: Part Five
Also by psychopsam
Laeren blinked, baffled by Mierelle’s deduction. “Uh, no,” she began apologetically. “But there’s no way we’re sisters.”
“Why not?” she challenged. “You’re grey, you have no family, you’re the right age, and –”
“But my name!” Laeren protested, her only remaining argument. Stupid logic.
Mierelle shrugged. “Names change,” she said dismissively, waving away all doubt just like that.
Laeren stared at Mierelle, gaping slightly. Part of her might have known right from the start. The only thing that had kept her from seeing it was herself. It was just too strange, too hard to accept that, after so long, after so many years of knowing she was alone... that she wasn’t. The idea of even just someone who wouldn’t beat her up or send her to Fyora was impossible, and now, all of a sudden, she had a friend, she had family, she had a sister.
She whispered the word quietly to herself. “Sister.” It gave her a strange thrill to say it in relation to someone she actually knew. The word rolled around in her mouth, falling off her tongue, strange and new but completely and utterly fitting. Laeren smiled at the water faerie. Most of her previous anger at Mierelle had completely gone once she’d heard the story behind her actions; now all of it had evaporated into nothingness next the light and warmth that filled her.
In all her life, Laeren had never dreamed that life could be so... perfect.
But it wasn’t perfect. They had a mother. Laeren had a mother. And her mother was in big trouble. The pain and anger on Mierelle’s face had been so pure and torturous, and... even though she didn’t know Baelia in person, the thought of losing anyone in the family she’d just gotten back was just unthinkable. She knew what Mierelle thought and felt, and she hated life for being so cruel.
Her mother was going to die.
“Life’s not perfect,” she whispered.
Mierelle nodded. “No,” she agreed with a slight frown. “It’s not.”
“Regardless of the fact that I’m your... your sister, your mom – I mean, my mom – I mean, Mom... we’ve got to go help her. We can’t just leave her with Jennumara, and not try to save her, or whatever!” Laeren burst out. She knew she was being irrational, in a way. Why risk everything, for someone she didn’t know?
But then again – everything she had was really just nothing. And she was willing to put that ‘nothing’ on the line if it meant getting something – a mother, a more complete family – in return. And even if she lost, it wouldn’t be that bad, because she would only lose nothing.
They just had to – had to – save her.
“It’s impossible,” Mierelle said dully, sighing heavily. “We’d have to sneak into the room Mom’s in. And there are about twenty million different protective curses and spells around the door alone. Jennumara’s strong. Even with me, and with your powers, there is absolutely no way we can get past all of them.”
Laeren frowned, thinking. “We wouldn’t need to get past them if we could just deactivate them.”
Her sister snorted softly. “And how would we do that?”
The grey faerie shrugged. “You’ve got ten years of magic over me; shouldn’t you have some sort of idea?”
Mierelle racked through all of her past knowledge. “Well, normally, with long-term faerie spells,” she began slowly, “once the caster dies, the spells just stop working. But I don’t see how you plan to kill Jennumara, either. Did I mention she was strong?”
Laeren bit the inside of her cheek. “What about if the faerie were to lose her powers? Would all the long-term spells she created go down as if she were dead?”
“It’s easier to just decapitate her,” Mierelle pointed out. “Then you wouldn’t need to worry about her escaping or getting her powers back or whatever. And there’s no way I’m saying the incantation, either. I’ve forgotten it.”
“But would that work?”
Mierelle considered it. “Probably,” she admitted with some reluctance. “But I’m not risking Mom’s life over a hunch.”
“Mierelle, that’s just the thing. A hunch is all we’ve got. It’s our best chance. If we wait around until we’re both strong enough, or until Jennumara’s weak enough, or until we get an extremely favorable ‘Something Has Happened,’ then we’ll be waiting forever. We’ll always be saying we could be better prepared, and we’ll never do anything – and it’s not even like we have forever, either.” Behind her, the grandfather clock let out eleven slow chimes.
“Point taken,” the water faerie said anxiously, speaking very fast. “But we still have to find a way to get rid of her –”
“No, wait,” Laeren interrupted. “We don’t need to find a way to do that. You said that it took a long time after you took my powers for you to get yours back. And because you aren’t a grey faerie, you couldn’t use them, and Jennumara’s not a grey faerie either, so...”
Mierelle looked about twelve shades of skeptical. “But what if she knows a way to get around that? Then what? And besides. Are you sure you want to go through that again?”
Laeren shrugged. “It’s to help save Mom, right? If you look at it the right way, that alone justifies everything. And I can lose my powers. I’m used to not having them; I’m used to not using them. You can’t miss what you don’t have. And I came out of the first time fine.”
“You didn’t address my first point. What if Jennumara knows how to activate grey faerie powers?”
Laeren gave a tight frown. “It’s still our best shot. So that’s just a risk we’re going to have to take.”
“I can’t believe you conned me into this,” Mierelle hissed as she dragged Laeren through the halls of Mini-Faerie School.
“I can’t believe you wouldn’t let me,” Laeren fired back.
“It’s our last chance.”
Mierelle shook her head in disbelief. Maybe grey faeries were crazy, after all. “Look,” she whispered furiously. “You’re my sister, okay?”
“Baelia’s your mother,” Laeren pointed out dryly.
“I lost you to Jennumara once, all right? I just got you back. You have no idea how hard it was the first time – and so there’s no way I’m going to let that happen again.”
“Whatever,” Laeren said, pushing through the heavy wooden doors. The chamber was long, and cold. It was dark too, because, like the front hall, the lights had long stopped working. A few floating, ghostly blue spheres lined up against the wall every few feet only added additional shadows, leering down menacingly. But in that dim light, Laeren thought she recognized where they were. A slashed poster of Fyora hung opposite of one displaying the alphabet in cheery rainbow colors.
“Mierelle,” a voice said, hard and cutting. Laeren turned from her inspection of the wall. She thought she saw a tall shadow at the other end rise.
“How very... nice... to see you,” the voice continued. “There were some of us here who thought you wouldn’t make it.”
Laeren shivered. She didn’t like the way any of the words had been said. Mierelle looked like she was about to glare daggers in the dark faerie’s direction.
No. She made a small side-to-side movement of her head. Mierelle had to keep up the servant-of-Jennumara attitude, at least for another few minutes. Glaring at her wasn’t going to help with that.
The water faerie took in a deep breath, cooling her temper. “Of course I came,” she said, looking down. “And I brought you a grey faerie, too.”
Laeren couldn’t be sure, but it looked like Jennumara was smiling.
“Excellent,” she crooned. “You didn’t fail me like last time, Mierelle.”
Mierelle stiffened, but nodded. Laeren admired the amount of self-control it must have taken to limit her reaction to that.
“And you,” Jennumara said, a long shadowy finger beckoning Laeren. “Come here.”
She took a step forward, but it turned out she didn’t need to have bothered. Like she was being pulled on by a rope, Laeren felt herself being dragged harshly and inexorably forward.
“I would have walked,” she muttered, hating being controlled without her will.
Jennumara sniffed haughtily. Laeren could finally see her features, and shivered. She supposed she could have been seen as beautiful, but she looked cold and mean, too. Angles a little too sharp, chin raised a little too high, eyes a little too dark and black and glinting with cruelty.
“Of course you would have,” the dark faerie laughed, a sound like glass on glass. Laeren winced as her ears throbbed. Thick black bands of some sort of dark vine wrapped around Laeren’s arms and legs, pinioning her. A couple more loops bound her tattered stubs of wings into place.
Laeren rolled her eyes at such theatrics. As if she would run. As if she could fly.
Then again, she still would rather prefer being free.
“My nose itches,” she complained to Jennumara, wiggling it.
“Tough,” the faerie snapped, flinging another piece of vine into Laeren’s mouth. “We can do this fast and painless, or long and drawn-out. I would go for the second one, you pathetic weakling, but I won’t. You should thank me.”
Laeren raised an eyebrow. She knew it was only the ‘fast’ part in the first option that had saved her from nothing less than torture. Not a very comforting thought.
And then she gasped through the gag, feeling like a hole had exploded inside her. Everything was streaming out, like sand through an hourglass. She felt the silvery glitter that was her magic fall into the hole, and come out of her in a marvelous column of light, spiraling up towards the grinning dark faerie.
Laeren gasped again as she realized how much of it was leaving her. How much they’d been a part of her, even though she hadn’t known it; how much she needed them to feel right. Her gasp was loud enough that, for a moment, she’d drowned out Jennumara’s concentrated mutterings.
Falling to her knees, the world blinking and swimming treacherously before her eyes, Laeren watched as the stream of silver got thinner and thinner. The last of that batch of magic was leaving her. She just had to keep holding on, so it could go into Jennumara, and –
The sneeze exploded out of Laeren, ripping out of her nose, going so fast it stung. It had a magnificent echo as it bounced around the spacious chamber. Mierelle let out a soft, “Whoa,” from the other end. Jennumara stepped back in surprise, her chanting stopping, the spell left unfinished. Her eyes narrowed dangerously, a faint glow growing around her fingertips.
Not enough of grey faerie magic had gone into Jennumara to cancel out her powers.
This was not good at all.
Or, maybe it was.
Jennumara stared at her hand in bewilderment, watching as the glow got weaker and weaker, before fading altogether. She flexed it and tried again. Nothing happened. A storm danced across her forehead as she muttered all sorts of chants, finding that none of them worked. Not a flicker, not a flash of response.
The patter of Mierelle’s footsteps got closer. Laeren let out a sigh of relief. It had worked. Everything. The vines binding her instantly vanished into smoke, and she assumed the barriers in front of her mother’s room had too.
“You!” Jennumara cried, suddenly lashing out with her long, sharp fingernails at Mierelle. “You!” The scything rows went around in a fast, wide circle. Mierelle neatly ducked them all, but one of them nicked Laeren. She was surprised to find that they hurt more than a vicious manicure had the right to.
“You!” Jennumara continued to shriek. “You’re the one behind this, you’re the one who – who – argh!” Her face was a bright, infuriated red. Cold fire flared in her eyes. Hate and menace crackled out of her every orifice. She completely lost it. “You took away my chance! I was so close, and you took it away from me again!” She let out a scream that was more Haunted Woods beast than Faerieland noble, reaching into her robe for something silver that glinted brightly.
Laeren’s relief instantly fell away. Her eyes widened as Jennumara pulled out a short knife. She heard someone’s scream reverberate around the room – hers? – as the dark faerie lunged forward, towards Mierelle, the blade of the dagger thrust outward. A bubble of water burst into existence around Mierelle, but the knife must have been enchanted; it cut right through the shield like it was warm butter.
As cliché as it sounded, it seemed as everything was moving in slow motion. Laeren watched as the tip of the knife drew closer and closer to her friend, her sister.
No... no... no...
Sister... friend... everything she’d wanted, everything she’d ever wished she’d had...
Not her, not her, anyone but Mierelle...
She found herself diving in front of Mierelle, screaming something. Her hands flew up, her eyes flared. The knife kept coming closer, closer. And then...
Then she felt it. Magic. A new colony of silvery sparks exploded out of somewhere inside her, tingling fiercely. The sheer power of them burned. They flew through her, fast and furious, a thick roiling mass of light. Building up behind her fingertips, pushing, ready to burst outward at the right moment.
The knife inched forward.
The sparkling magic continued to flow. And then fade, until the build up was reduced to one lazy spark at a time.
As the last silver bit drifted up to join its kind, the knife made a final push forward.
A thick orb of silvery light burst into existence around Laeren and Mierelle, catching the knife it its place in the air. Most of it was outside the protective sphere, but the tiniest bit of the tip protruded through on the inside. Laeren gently brushed it with a finger, watching it crack and break off. Through her shield, she smirked at the stunned face of Jennumara.
“Bye-bye,” she whispered, and the radius of light widened, glowing brighter until it hurt to look at. Jennumara whimpered, recoiling from the advancing wall. She turned, ready to fly, ready to run, when the edge of her wing brushed against Laeren’s magic.
Like a firework exploding, the orb started to expand with astonishing speed and power. Anything outside the tiny little circle in which Laeren and Mierelle had been standing in was thrown outwards, against the unforgiving walls.
Jennumara, of course, included.
And for a brief second, and for the first time in ten years, room 32 in the Mini-Faerie School was filled with light, looking as if it were ready and waiting for Ms. Gouda to come and begin teaching the alphabet.
And then the light was gone.
“Wow,” Mierelle squeaked in amazement. “Wow. That was amazing. That was awesome. That was the coolest display of magic I’ve ever seen, hands down. That was just – just – like, astronomical. Yeah, astronomical.” She continued babbling about how amazing Laeren had been, a glazed look in her eyes, utterly shocked.
“Er, right,” Laeren said half heartedly, brushing off the millionth compliment Mierelle had sent her way. She was still a little stunned with herself too, but still. “Do you think you can tie Jennumara up?” she asked, motioning towards the shadowy heap in the corner of the room.
“ – that was the best thing since – huh?” Mierelle shook her head, the glazed look vanishing somewhat. “Uh, yeah. I think I’m okay – better – now. I’ll go do that.” She tottered a little unsteadily towards her former employer.
“Right,” Laeren said, watching her go. “And I’ll go get Mom,” she whispered quietly. Her pathetic stubs of wings fluttered in anticipation as she approached the door at the end of the hall. Her hand reached out for the knob, heart thumping faster.
With an old, rusty creak, the door swung open. A frail form seemed to stir, sitting up, but in the shadows, it was hard to tell.
“...Mierelle?” she rasped faintly.
Laeren felt a pang inside her. “No, Mom,” she whispered, letting a few silver sparkles fly out to brighten the room. And because she had no idea what Baelia knew her as, she just said, “It’s me.”
And that was enough.