Sanity is forbidden Circulation: 124,888,518 Issue: 252 | 11th day of Hiding, Y8
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Racing to Glory: Part One


by ee365

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The small, black sky-vehicle was trapped.

     Solid faerie-smoke surrounded it on three sides. It was heading straight for a solid wall on the fourth. Raising a purple-gloved hand, the rider shook a fist at her opponent, whose own yellow vehicle spiraled neatly down for a landing on the polished floor.

     Lydia the light faerie grinned as she stepped from her Faerie Cloud Racer. It had been a good day at the Lady Fyora Cloud Racing Arena. This was the third time today she had bested her rival, Esmé the dark faerie, and this time it had taken her only twelve seconds to send the black racer crashing out of the sky.

     "Had enough, Esmé?" Lydia taunted as her smooth gait carried her to where the dark faerie stood beside her crashed racer, already magically repairing itself. Esmé's only response was a snarl. Lydia grinned mockingly. "As you wish, milady," she replied, her voice laden with barely-concealed laughter as she addressed her long-time rival.

     The dark faerie frowned. Her black aviatrix's helmet had slid from her short-cropped purple hair to hang from her shoulder, leaving said hair in a tangled mess. Her tight black dress was wrinkled in a thousand places, and her hooked, fleshy, bat-like wings were bent. She looked defeated.

     And Lydia - aside from the cocky smirk, there were millions of things about the light faerie's appearance that irked Esmé. First, though she'd removed her own helmet, not a golden hair was out of place on Lydia's head. Her yellow racing dress was smooth, and her delicate butterfly's wings were perfectly straight.

     "You may have bested me this time, Lydia - but Skorda Midnight Halifax will hear about this, you cocky girl!" Among dark faeries who practiced cloud racing, this was as good as a curse. Skorda Midnight Halifax was the greatest cloud racer in the world. It was rumored not even Fyora could beat the tall dark faerie.

     "Poppycock. Skorda Midnight Halifax probably doesn't even know you exist," Lydia shot back. She knew how lowly-ranked of a dark faerie Esmé was (the dark faerie often complained about it,) and how much Esmé detested having that fact rubbed into her face.

     As Lydia left, laughing gaily, to join those pathetic... friends... of hers who had been watching the entire time, Esmé snarled under her breath. "We'll see about that... Lydia."

     ***

     "Wow, Lydia, that was totally cool! Did you see the look on little Esmé's face? It was priceless!" Spark the fire faerie grinned. Judi the earth faerie nodded, the straps of her green helmet knocking against her pointed chin with each bob of her head.

     "You could like... be a champion. I bet you could beat Fyora!" Spark continued. "Don't you think, Judi? Don't you think she could beat Fyora? Or maybe Skorda Midnight Halifax?" The short fire faerie, bounced up and down like a small child, the spiky red hair under her flame-orange helmet streaked with sweat from the day's racing. Tiny tongues of flame shot from her fingers to surround her orange dress, showing her intense excitement.

     Judi, a normally somber earth faerie with a long bark-colored braid and leafy wings, frowned instantly. "Spark! Don't speak that way!" Few Cloud Racer fans outside of the dark faeries usually mentioned Skorda Midnight Halifax's name. They did not like the existence of the dark faerie champion who bested their own superstars, and often pretended she was just a legend.

     "Oh... sorry, Judi. Didn't mean to mention... er... that faerie." Spark frowned, running an orange glove through her red hair as she usually did when agitated.

     "It's all right, Spark. Lydia really did do great today. You're right about her probably having the makings of a champion." Judi bestowed a rare smile on her light faerie friend as she removed her leafy green gloves.

     Lydia beamed. "Thanks, guys. But I doubt I'm ready for any championships yet... unless they're against Esmé. After today, though, I don't think she'll race me again for a while - even though she loves challenging me, always deluding herself into thinking she can win. Her temper right now is probably hotter than Spark's home fireplace." This snide remark sent the friends, even Judi, into gales of laughter, which almost prevented them from becoming airborne and flying home.

     ***

     Esmé frowned as she sped through the streets of Air Faerie Heights. She glowered at the sparkling homes of Water Faerie Rivers. She growled as she passed Light Faerie Lane. Her anger smoldered within her all the way to Stormcloud, the district of Faerieland inhabited by the Dark Faeries. By the time she passed the twin Darigan Eyrie guards at the entrance of the forbidding black mansion she called home, she was ready to pummel Lydia into the ground.

     But no. Her anger must be controlled. She had a better plan.

     She skulked through the shadowy halls of the mansion, past her bedroom, the dungeon, the kennels full of the Mutant Lupes they used as guard dogs, and the eerily silent guest quarters until she reached her mother's office. The faerie didn't usually like being disturbed... but Esmé had important news.

     "Come in," a husky voice called from within the shadowy room.

     Esmé entered, spread her fleshy wings, and flew the length of the purple-carpeted chamber until she stood before the tall, thin, imposing, black-cloaked figure sitting in a huge black armchair at the front of the room.

     "Mother..." the younger dark faerie began, "I have... important news."

     "How went the racing, Esmé?" her mother questioned, "Tell, tell all... I must know what you have to say."

     "A threat, Mother," she replied, her voice barely above a whisper, "A light faerie, with a racer the shape of a giant golden beetle. She has raced me many times, and I have always known she is good - but today was different. Today, she bested me three times, each in under fifteen seconds, and the last in twelve. She is the best racer I have seen since I started - she is a threat to your position as champion."

     Skorda Midnight Halifax rose from the chair in front of her daughter. "A light faerie? A low, measly light faerie, without status or fame-great enough to challenge me? How can it be so, Esmé, and why was I not told before today?"

     "I have been racing her many times, Mother... she is cocky, and consistently challenges me... but it was only recently she started exhibiting great skill, and only today I was certain she had the makings of a champion. Mother, you must rid the racing world of Lydia the light faerie before she becomes better than you."

     "Lydia..." Skorda Midnight Halifax frowned as she repeated the name to herself. "Lydia... Lydia..." She paused for an instant, then seemed to regain her composure. "Well, then, Esmé, we will indeed dispose of this Lydia soon. Call up Xenia, daughter, and tell her I plan to make a challenge."

     "A challenge? But, Mother, you have not formally challenged any faerie since you bested Queen Fyora! Are you... certain you can beat Lydia?"

     "Certain? CERTAIN? Esmé, dear, there have simply been no faeries worth wasting a formal challenge on since that pitiful queen! Yet before, before when I was still gaining my legacy, remember you how many faeries I raced and bested. The names are countless: Siyana of Talador, the Space Faerie, the Battle Faerie, Illusen... even the Nameless One, the Darkest Faerie, who claims to lead all of the Dark Faeries, knows she cannot outrace me! This Lydia is but a minor threat!"

     "Y... yes, Mother," Esmé stuttered, looking into the mask of anger that was the face of Skorda Midnight Halifax. "I will... call Xenia immediately."

     "That's my devious daughter." The champion dark faerie racer smiled thinly. "The threat of this... light faerie... will soon be taken care of."

     Esmé's purple eyes flashed brilliant red for a moment. "I can't wait, Mother. I truly can't wait to see the look on her face... "

     With that, Esmé Halifax turned from the room, her helmet dangling from one elbow, to fetch her mother's secretary. Lowly dark faerie, eh, Lydia? she thought with a smirk. We'll see about that.

     ***

     Lydia's usually rosy face was as white as sheet.

     "Lady Fyora! I... never..." Her mouth hung open as the somber blue Shoyru who served as Lydia's personal maid shrugged her shoulders. She had just delivered Lydia a letter that had unsettled her quite.

     "Well, Lydia... you are a wonderful racer. You knew someone famous would challenge you someday," Alora, the Shoyru maid, reminded her.

     "Yes, 'Lora, I know, but... Skorda Midnight Halifax just challenged me! The Dark Faerie racer that beat Fyora herself! Formally, on legal stationary and everything! There's no way... I'll be humiliated in front of everyone who means something in Faerieland..." Suddenly she paused. "Esmé!"

     "Your rival, Lydia? What has she to do with any of this?" 'Lora inquired.

     "You know the other day, when I beat her all those times?"

     'Lora nodded.

     "Well, she told me Skorda Midnight Halifax would hear about that. I thought she was just angry, but... maybe she got in contact with the champion somehow."

     'Lora frowned. "Either way, turning down the challenge because you're afraid is even more dishonorable, Lydia. You'll be even more greatly humiliated if you don't try."

     "Yeah... I guess you're right, 'Lora," she said wistfully, looking at her bedroom wall, decorated with over twenty Cloud Racer medals and trophies. "But... how to beat Skorda? I mean, even Light Faerie racers admit Skorda Midnight Halifax is the best."

     ***

     "Train."

     Judi frowned at her best friend before she clarified her earlier statement. "Train. I've read several documentaries on champions, and I've noticed one thing... they don't. Champions like Skorda Midnight Halifax are cocky. Just train diligently - you've got three weeks until the big race, after all - and you'll wipe the smirk right off Skorda Midnight Halifax's face."

     Spark nodded vigorously, too nervous to speak. She chewed on the ends of her orange helmet straps as she glanced from Lydia to Judi and back again. The fire faerie was convinced that this was all her fault, because she'd brought up Skorda's name in their discussion the day Lydia routed Esmé.

     "And," Judi continued, "keep your racer safe when you're not practicing. Try not to race any dark faeries... even Esmé, no matter how great the temptation may be. Better yet, race only people you know and trust, like Spark or me. Honor and integrity is a long-standing tradition in Faerie Cloud Racing - and if any faerie was to break that tradition by cheating even once, in one race, it would be a dark faerie. Specifically, it would be Halifax."

     Lydia nodded. "But... I still don't think I can beat Skorda Midnight Halifax. Even if I take all these steps... she's still beaten Fyora."

     "So? We believe in you, Lydia. So does everyone. I bet even Fyora believes you can win this." Judi tried to smile encouragingly at her friend. Although the smile was a bit tight, Lydia felt better all the same. At least she had supporters...

     ***

     Skorda Midnight Halifax was pacing.

     She glowered down at the short dark faerie that was her secretary, Xenia. "So? Did Miss Lydia respond to my challenge?"

     "Y... yes... m'... ma'am..." Xenia stuttered. "She... accepts."

     "And have you found any information other than what my daughter was able to provide for us, secretary?" the dark faerie racer enquired.

     Xenia nodded. "But it's not good, milady. Lydia's times aren't the fastest we've ever seen, but they're close. She's definitely better than Fyora... not as good as you, but there's a risk, a big risk. One wrong turn on your part could be your loss..."

     "And the end of my reputation and fame, I know," Skorda Midnight Halifax replied impatiently, "So, we do what we knew all along we would have to do. Didn't we know what we would have to do, Esmé?"

     A look of puzzlement was on Esmé's face. "Er... train harder?"

     Her mother shook her head. "No, stupid daughter! Cheat!"

     Both Xenia and Esmé looked puzzled, but it was Xenia that spoke up. "The... the... card g-game Ch-cheat, milady?"

     Frustrated, Skorda Midnight Halifax looked condescendingly upon her dim-witted secretary. "No, idjit! Cheat as in make the race unfair! What we've always done! Remember? How I beat Illusen by using magically-altered smoke that was thicker than normal Cloud Racer smoke? How I trounced the Space Faerie by magically causing her engine to rust in midair? How I routed Siyana by shortening one of her racer's wings so it couldn't turn without crashing? Did you seriously think I achieved my legacy by skill??? No, Xenia, I cheated! Cheated just as I shall cheat this Lydia! With the most devious trick of them all, one that wasn't even good enough to use on Fyora! With a secret I've kept hidden since the beginning of my career, I shall ensure victory for the Dark Faerie Champion!!"

     "A... and... what is t-that, m-Milady?" Xenia stammered, terrified by her mistress's tirade.

     Skorda Midnight Halifax grinned evilly. "It is a secret that shall not leave this room... is that understood?" she asked, her voice icily dangerous. Xenia nodded dumbly. Esmé, forgotten in her corner, moved not a muscle. She wouldn't promise...

     Satisfied with Xenia's reply, the tall faerie went on. "The heart of how a Cloud Racer works is not the engine, as several Cloud Racing 'experts' believe, no indeed! It is a small cog, crafted with the intent of channeling the magic energy that makes the racer go into the engine. Remove this cog, or stop it from performing its designated function, and the racer combusts. Not instantly - but after the engine runs for about thirty seconds. This gives Lydia the time to get far up in the air before she comes crashing down to earth."

     Xenia nodded, smiling. "Diabolical, Milady. Perfect. Exactly the kind of brilliance I would expect from a champion such as yourself."

     Skorda grinned evilly. "Yes, Xenia, I know. Now, Esmé - I will myself be unable to get close to Lydia's racer. You, on the other hand, are her rival. She probably still does not realize that you are my daughter. You are the one who will be able to get - personal - with Miss Lydia's racer on a regular basis. So, naturally, you will be the one implanting the trick. Here is what you must do: open the hatch at the back of her vehicle, find the glowing copper sphere. Sprinkle it liberally with this powder I will be entrusting you, which will cause it to cease functioning on the day of the race. Clear? Good. Here is the powder; go and make sure you are not caught." With that, Skorda Midnight Halifax handed her daughter a small white pouch filled with the strange mud-colored powder and shooed Esmé out of the room.

To be continued...

 
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