Being Grey: Part Four
Also by psychopsam
Where was Laeren?
Mierelle paced in the main hall, back and forth, back and forth. Her arms were tightly folded behind her back, and a frown slashed through her laughing features. Dust and cobweb remnants flew up whenever she bumped against something half hidden in the shadows.
Still no Laeren.
The water faerie bit her lip, did a few more laps, and looked up anxiously at the ominously looming grandfather clock. The frown turned into a scowl.
Was it possible Laeren hadn’t found her note? Or maybe she had – and was too angry at her to come? Or maybe Laeren had been on her way, but someone had decided to go out of their way to terrorize a grey faerie?
In any case, this was not good.
Midnight, that was all she had. And then she would have to go out into the dark and treacherous streets of Faerieland to find Laeren herself, or else –
No. That must never happen.
Mierelle glanced up at the clock face again. Laeren, hurry up!
Laeren gave the clouds an upward glance and frowned. She had to hurry. The sky looked dusky red around the edges, clouds glowing orange, and the shadows were much longer, fingers reaching out to grab, to trap, to...
She shook her head and told her rather wordy subconscious to shut up. Night was coming, and that meant that if she didn’t get off the streets soon, she’d be nothing more than a pathetic pile of broken faerie.
And just might hurt. With the added insult of not being able to get her answers.
Of course, maybe she could buy herself a little more time, if only she could use – her – powers –
Had they been Doglefoxes, the silvery sparks would have raised and cocked their heads in a curious stare. They rose and moved forward sluggishly, lacking a sense of purpose and strength. A feeble light flicked at the end of her fingertips. It went out so quickly, though, it was gone before it had even started.
So that was out. She’d have to run. Some powers.
The long walk had calmed Laeren and dried up any threat of a waterworks display or a nervous meltdown. An edge of bitterness over everything that had happened to her was still there, but it was drowned out by something far more important, far more overwhelming. She had a purpose now: get answers. And she was resolving not to make any more rash judgments – or, at least to try not to make any – until she heard through whatever Mierelle had to say. All of the sappy emotion had long since been turned into cold, hard determination and reluctant acceptance that, yes, this was her life, and yes, it fairly stank.
A streetlight came to life on her left. It was a little early for that, but Laeren was glad it was on anyway. A shiver had passed through her the moment she turned on to the abandoned, dusty road. It used to be so rich and green and bright, she knew, she remembered. But then something happened... an ‘accident’... and it all fell to darkness and ruins. This place in the day made the rest of Faerieland at night look like a ride on the Roo Island Merry-Go-Round. So, if light made things even the tiniest bit safer, Laeren was sticking near it.
She kept on walking down the cracked sidewalk. Treacherous piles of rubble threatened to trip her, and rogue plants grew everywhere, waiting to snare an unwitting ankle. Up and down the street, there was nothing. No one. Laeren was alone.
Just like she’d always been. Just like she’d always be. Just like –
Laeren shook her head to dispel those negative thoughts. They were so depressing. It was really no wonder she was grey, if that was all she thought, all day.
The sun gave one last, feeble sort of flicker, then disappeared beneath the horizon. The grey faerie tilted her head back, looking up at the sky. Darkness. Fear. Danger.
A dry leaf rustled in the frigid wind. Was it her imagination, or did a twig crack? Was that a faerie, silhouetted against the bush? She turned, watching as the treacherous lighting and her imagination created millions of unfriendly signs around her.
So she did what she did best: Laeren ran.
She jumped over the piles of stone, ignoring the loud clatters that sometimes accompanied them when they fell. Creeping vines and weeds reached out too slow, too late. Her feet pounded on the pavement, springing her forward, faster and faster.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw chilling remnants of the happy neighborhood that used to exist here. A swing set, chains rusted beyond all recognition; a candy store, windows broken, ancient sweets spilling onto the street; a building, somehow still intact, heralded by a sign in faded, peeling gold paint.
Laeren stopped. She reached out a finger, tracing the last remnants of color on the sign. Most of the letters and words had been weathered away by wind and time, but she could still make out what it they originally been intended to say.
She was here.
The door creaked.
Mierelle turned and looked up from her pacing. She stared through the dim lighting – the sconces on the walls stopped working ages ago – at the two great wooden doors, standing solidly side by side.
The knob turned. Someone was coming. Please let it not be the Master, not her, not yet. Laeren still had a few more hours. The grey faerie would come, she just had to.
“Mierelle?” a bewildered-sounding voice called from the end of the hall. “Mierelle, what in the name of Fyora’s great aunt is going on?”
The water faerie sighed in relief. “Oh, thank goodness,” she mumbled. “You came.”
Laeren’s eyes narrowed as she made out Mierelle’s dark shadow in the gloom. “Duh.”
“Just for the answers?”
“And then you’ll leave, leaving me to deal with my problems?” Mierelle asked, feeling stung.
The grey faerie gave a half-guilty shrug. “You didn’t really expect...”
Mierelle grimaced. She thought she hadn’t been, but... “Well, a faerie can wish,” she said wryly.
Laeren raised an eyebrow. “Do wishes ever come true?” she asked, maybe a little harsher than she’d meant it.
The water faerie shook her head. “Maybe. I really do need your help, you know.”
“I really do need my answers, too.”
“So is that a yes?”
“It depends. Were you asking anything in the first place?”
Mierelle offered a tight-lipped smile. “Answers in exchange for help?”
Laeren thought about it. “Only if I get my end first.” This way, she figured, she could still bail if whatever she had to do turned out too dangerous, or if Mierelle turned out not to have a very good excuse, or... or whatever.
Laeren was silent, waiting.
“Do you really want to know?”
“Don’t interrupt,” Mierelle instructed. “It’s hard for me, you’ve got to know, just like it’s hard for you. You aren’t the only one who’s lost everything. And once I start, I think I have to keep going, ‘else I’d never be able to get it out again.” She paused.
The grey faerie stared at her, frowning in impatience.
Mierelle took in a deep breath. You can’t keep delaying this, anyway, she told herself sternly. Sooner or later, you’d have had to tell someone.
“You remember how, ten years ago, you asked me why grey faeries were supposed to be evil?”
Laeren, mildly surprised at the question, nodded.
“You remember me telling you that Fyora ripped the wings off faeries? Criminals? And they all became grey?”
“Technically, it was only one faerie,” Mierelle mumbled. “And she wasn’t – wasn’t a criminal. She didn’t deserve what she got, from my view, and from Fyora’s. It was a bit of an experiment, really. An... advisor... suggested to the queen that ripping off wings would be a nice form of punishment. So when they got the ‘criminal’ the same advisor suggested now would be a good time to put that method to trial, and – well, now I’m rambling. This is making absolutely no sense for you.” She rubbed her nose in concentration, trying to place the jumbled mess in her head into an order that had some semblance of sense.
“Look,” she said finally, after several long minutes of silence. “Maybe it’ll make more sense this way. The faerie’s name was Baelia.”
Laeren’s eyes widened in recognition. As cut off from society as she’d been, she still knew that name.
“She was... she was also... also, um...” Mierelle blinked, shuddering slightly. “Also... she was my... my...”
The words wouldn’t come out. They choked to a stop right inside her mouth. She blinked again, hoping the darkness would conceal the solitary tear that glistened down her cheek.
“She was my mom,” Mierelle spluttered out with a shiver. “And – and after they cut off her – her wings, she... she turned grey, and... oh, I just can’t say it.” She buried her face in her hands. What was wrong with her, all of a sudden? She had to calm down, be rational. Laeren was waiting.
“So... so after she had her wings cut off, she turned grey,” Mierelle resumed after a moment or two. “And then she discovered she had new powers, like you. The – the thing was, she wasn’t the only one who knew.” Mierelle’s voice trembled a little, but she quickly regained her composure. “See, I told you that my mom didn’t deserve the punishment she got. That was because it was all a frame-up. She was framed by the same advisor who suggested the new method of punishment. You’ve probably heard of her – Jennumara, right? It was her sick, sick way of trying to get more power.
“She’d been studying faerie magic for a while. And when she hit upon some ancient text that mentioned ‘broken wings but power strong,’ she decided she ought to try it out. My mom was her maid, her test case.” Mierelle’s voice was thick with anger. “And after everything was done, when Mom reported back to her of the powers – Jennumara was so close to getting her goal, and it all could have been over for you, for me, for everyone.
“But then, because faeries just aren’t supposed to be grey, Mom got really sick. Really weak. The thing was, Jennumara had been just about to cut off her own wings, but when she saw what that would have gotten her, she decided to explore new ways to become a grey faerie. She kept my mom alive, of course – but just as an incentive to get me and my little sister into her plot.” Her emotions were in check this time. Her voice shuddered, her eyes watered, but she didn’t have a complete breakdown.
“Jennumara is really powerful; she knew a bunch of darker incantations, and by combining a couple of them with one she found in her research, she made this spell to turn... to turn someone into a grey faerie, but without the nasty wing-cutting, and hopefully without the illness. She used it on my sister. Only, she escaped right after, which was pretty amazing, considering she was still in diapers and high chairs at the time. She was so young, I don’t even think she knew my name.” There was a fierce mixture of sadness and hate on Mierelle’s face.
“Of course, Jennumara wasn’t about to risk the same thing happening to me. She had me go scout out other grey faeries. There had to be others, she said. I was instructed to take their powers and give them to her, anyway I could. Lying, deception, whatever. S’long as I could get the powers, I didn’t care how low I had to stoop.
“And then... you know what happened here. Maybe I was a little mean with my words – er, a lot mean – half of them were straight out untruths. Something in me wanted to see you suffer, because you were blessed with everything my mom, my sister had. I hated you for that, the fact you were alive and well and – not really happy, but nevertheless, better than anyone I knew with your same case.
“Anyway, after I, uh, took your powers, I couldn’t figure out how to start them up to give to Jennumara. I mean – I knew they were there, but they were just kind of dormant, kind of responseless. Because I’m not a grey faerie, I think. Anyway, Jennumara was really quite angry – she’s got this terrible temper. She gave me ten years to make it up to her – because it took a long time for your powers to fade away in me enough so mine could come back – or else she said she’d make sure Mom would...” Mierelle shook her head.
“Anyway, I think you know the whole sad story now,” she said briskly. “And the deadline is kind of, well, at midnight?”
“You want me to turn myself in so I can get blasted to pieces by Jennumara?” Laeren asked incredulously.
Mierelle shook her head, saying, “Actually, no. Not really.”
“No? But – but what about your mom, and –”
“Maybe that was originally my purpose. But now – no.”
Laeren was beyond confused now. “But – why?”
Mierelle sighed. “Because,” she said slowly, wondering if she really had been wrong, and fiercely hoping she wasn’t. “Because I only just realized. I think you’re my sister.”
To be continued...