Catching Up: Part Eight
After the rest of Evea's students had left the next day, giggling and happy with the excitement of only a few minimal crashes, the Fire Faerie glanced at the group of Faeries that were left and smiled.
"I thought we'd try something new today," she said, and watched amusedly as they looked up, grinning. "For the gala show, I'm allowed to have four teams perform short routines. I have the more advanced classes working on those," she added quickly, so that they didn't get too excited about possibilities, "but I thought that your group might have a small role in the show, too."
"What sort of part?" Lianar asked, sitting up straight with excitement.
Evea smiled at Lianar. "Good question. Well, there are a few options. One of them, I was thinking, was to have you fly across the field as fast as you can at the beginning, and then have the first group follow you out and start their pattern. You could also have small parts in other groups' routines--one of you at a time, moving around independently and adding the flourishes to the design. Or you could be hovering underneath field while the last group is working, and then dart up through holes in it to be the grand finale. Something like that."
The Fire Faerie paused to shrug. "We don't have to decide right now, but I thought we should try flying as a group today. Pick your racers--" She stopped, smiling, as Lianar let out a yell of happiness and several of the others, including Lillian, grinned widely. "Pick a racer," she repeated, "and meet me at the middle of the field. We won't use the smoke today; you're not experienced enough for that yet, but we might get there by gala time."
Even Patricia seemed excited to start training as a group for real. She stood up with her usual languor and eased herself into the nearest racer, but she was smiling. Evea didn't spare too much time to watch her. She jumped into her own racer and started the engine, throttling out to hover it in the middle of the field, where she turned to watch the activity on the lawn.
Everyone was running around, picking one racer and then another. Lillian was the first to make up her mind and ease her racer out of its place and into the air. Emm followed quickly, and then Therisa, Lianar, Arielle, Patricia.
Evea frowned at that last one. Patricia had picked her racer right away, but she had sat in it and watched until the others were ready, too. Maybe she was learning how to be a part of the team after all, but the Fire Faerie doubted it.
In any case, the whole group was out with her now, hovering in a loose semicircle. Evea smiled.
"Right," she said, shouting over the hum of the engines, "just fly anywhere! Try not to crash into each other."
She revved her own racer as an example and wheeled away and up, stopping in a hover some yards above the main level of the Racing field and turning again to watch their progress. The natural patterns that emerged from a group's free practice could be valuable in determining which routines they would fit into most easily.
Lianar darted off at once, in zigzagging patterns that looked like a lightning bug's progress across the field: here and then there, and then somewhere entirely different. Arielle followed her as best as she could, staying in straight lines that occasionally drifted into faint angles. After a few false starts, Emm got into it, too: she swooped around the field easily soon enough, but stayed on the opposite end from Lianar and Arielle, balancing out the pattern in some measure.
Lillian was still hovering where she had been. Her pale fingers tightened and then relaxed on the controls, and she moved forward a little, and then a little more. She shrugged, letting her hair fall back into the wind, and flew straight ahead, curving around in short jerks to join Emm on her side of the field. Her hands looked rigid and tense on the steering, Evea thought, and frowned. When the Water Faerie came around again, though, she could see Lillian's bright smile.
Ah, well, the Fire Faerie thought. Helping her relax in the racer could wait. As long as she was enjoying herself, it would be fine, and it didn't look likely that anyone would crash.
She frowned then, glancing around to count the Faerie racers fluttering around the field. Five. Where was Patricia?
A dark shape hovered a few feet below the rest of the racers, and a pale face turned upward to watch them. It was a dangerous position to be in. If anyone let their racer drift downward, they could hit Patricia without even knowing she was there. Lillian was closest.
Evea winced and dove downward, her hands moving on the controls without her mind being involved at all. "Patricia, get out of there!" she yelled across the wind and the racers' engine noises.
Patricia heard her. The face turned abruptly to face her, and the racer planed upwards. Lillian turned her head too, letting her racer drift to a slower pace as she tried to hear Evea's words.
Evea let out her breath as she saw the Dark Faerie rising, and then took it in again, harshly. "Lillian--!"
It was too late. Patricia's racer slammed into Lillian's, and the Water Faerie was knocked sideways in her seat. Lillian stopped moving a moment later. Her head must have hit the edge of the racer, Evea thought, her mind whirling. Lillian's racer drifted, the body interlocked with Patricia's. The Dark Faerie stared up at Evea, wide-eyed.
No time to feel sorry for herself. Evea had been trained to think on her feet--or her wings. She dove again, pulling her racer up next to Lillian's and locking it into a hover.
"Stay there," she instructed Patricia, her voice hoarse. "Hover." All of the other Faeries had stopped moving by now, looking around to watch them. Lianar was moving towards them, but Evea waved her away and climbed into Lillian's racer, shifting the Water Faerie over on the seat to make room.
"Leave my racer here," she told Patricia. "I'll try to pull apart. When I'm out, get the rest of them to come in. Don't let anyone in the racers while I'm gone."
The Dark Faerie nodded. Evea nearly smiled, through all the rest of it. Patricia was having to taste responsibility after all.
She put her hands on the controls and brought the racer out of its drift, putting it into reverse. It moved backwards, pulled free of Patricia's racer. Evea backed up further to make sure she was clear of her own racer, and then turned and headed for the Academy, flying up past the field and across the lawn, skimming the top of the great building and then diving for the courtyard onto which the healers' office opened.
Patricia sat where Evea had left her, staring down at her hands on the controls. She didn't quite believe what had happened, and she had to look over at Evea's empty, hovering racer and then at the slowly-moving overladen Racer heading toward the Academy to convince herself that she wasn't imagining things.
She turned her own racer, being careful not to hit the empty one, and throttled out to meet Lianar.
"Bring them in," she said, slowing as she slipped past the Light Faerie's Racer. "Ms. Evea said no one's to get in a Racer while she's gone."
Lianar nodded, her face solemn for once. She waited until Patricia had glided on past her, and then turned and beckoned the others in towards them. Once she was sure they'd gotten the signal, she turned again, putting her racer's nose toward the Academy and solid ground.
No one quite wanted to leave, even after they had all landed and gotten out. Patricia was one of the last to land, and she got out of her Racer slowly, her feet fumbling onto the ground.
The others stood around, not meeting each other's eyes. Patricia glanced at them, and then away. She didn't blame them for not wanting to look at her. She didn't want to look at herself either.
"We should go up to the infirmary and see how Lillian's doing," Lianar said after a few moments of silence. Emm and Arielle nodded. Therisa flicked a glance at Patricia and then nodded as well, starting up the lawn towards the Academy. Arielle and Emm followed.
Lianar looked at Patricia. "None of us blame you," she said, for once unsure of herself. Patricia laughed.
"Sure. It's okay," she added. "I don't mind. I'd blame me, too." She looked up at where the others had paused, looking back at them. "They're waiting for us." Without waiting for an answer, the Dark Faerie started towards them.
The Light Faerie hesitated, and then followed her, running lightly to catch up. "Hey, wait for us!" she called ahead to the others.
To be continued...