Samantha Lee’s Picture Choice:
Fi refused to move. She stood on the bottom step, one hand pressed against the cold, damp stone wall, and watched as the rest of us swept through the dungeons, taking stock. Her brother, Fiachra, stood on the step above her, and absently played with her hair, braiding and unbraiding it. He wasn't there to supervise our mission; he was there for Fi, to keep her grounded, to keep her present, and couldn't care less about the rest of us and what we were doing.
Well, trying to do and failing would be a more apt description; forty-five minutes and we'd found nothing.
"Fi, we're coming up dry," Jester called out. He was searching at the far end of the room with Khary, Sparrow, and Wolf. It was a tendency of wraiths to keep their distance from the rest of the Fae; the fact they were essentially corpses ressurrected and maintained by Fi's power made them something of an outcast group. Lepers were more welcome among mortals, to put it mildly. Fi loved them and so they were tolerated, but held apart by their own volition and rest of our prejudices. Fortunately, Jester had once been a Bard and so his voice carried easily over the din and across the distance.
Fi blinked. Fiachra bent over her shoulder to murmur something in her ear. She blinked again and took a deep breath. "He's here, Jes. Somewhere...somewhere here, that's where he is. Find him."
"I'm looking, Fi, we all are, but we're not finding him. You may need to..."
Taking a step back, Fi joined Fiachra on his step and pressed against his side, her free hand clutching his in a visibly tight grip. She shook her head, her breath coming in rapid pants, and closed her eyes. "No, no, no, not me, not here. I can't, Jes, can't, can't, can't, can't..."
Fiachra said something, his voice kept too low for anyone besides Fi to hear. It reminded me of the stablehands I'd seen calming agitated horses. Fi took another deep breath and nodded, opening her eyes. "Jes, I sense him. I...I can feel him. He's here. Please...please find him."
Jes sighed but said nothing more, just nodded and went back to searching.
"They're trying, Cat," Fiachra told her, rubbing her back comfortingly.
"I know, Rav, I know. It's...it's just...I saw him. He was with me and I saw him. I touched him, hugged him...I ruffled his hair and teased him. He was with me...and then I sent him out again, sent him away, and he didn't come home. I...Rav, I need him home and he's here. I know he's here. He's here."
"Shh, Cat, I know he's here; I believe you."
"But there is...more than one way for him to be here."
Fi shook her head. "He's my family, Rav, just like you. I only have the two of you left..."
"Family's not just blood, Cat. You've your cats, yout wraiths, your Knights, your friends; you're far from alone."
"There's more than one way to be alone, Rav. My cats, my wraiths, my Knights, hell, even my friends, they're all Bound and tied to me. It's...it's like forty-year old mortals who claim their mom as their only friend!"
Fiachra chuckled. "And family's any different, your majesty?"
If there was one thing Fi could do well, it was glare. I used to tell her that she put her whole heart in her eyes; one stare, one glance and everything she was feeling was as plain as day for the whole world to see, an open book. She would respond each and everytime by glaring at me and claiming it wasn't true, by telling me she was a mystery, through and through, thank me very much, and by laughing and scrunching up her nose and tossing her hair over her shoulder like a primadonna. When we were five, when we were fifty, when we were five hundred, it didn't matter, it was always the same answer, the same manner. It was one of the few things Fi was predictable about.
Right then, she unleashed a particularly unpleasant glare on her brother and swatted his arm. "Oh, shut up. You know what I'm saying. Family...family's safe. You and he...you accept me as I am, not because of my magic or my power or my crown or my pedigree, but just because you KNOW me, have always known me, and you love me in spite of it all and I'm not willing to let either of your go."
Fiachra snorted. "You still have me, Cat, no matter what."
Fi turned her head and for the first time I saw her tears. It felt like a punch to my stomach; Fi wasn't supposed to cry. She hadn't, in fact, cried since her father died. I mean, sure, she faked the tears now and then when she knew they were called for and people expected them, but true tears? The kind brought on by sorrow and heartache and the sort of pain that had your whole soul screaming for a release? Those she hadn't shed in centuries. Until now. Dammit.
"I'm selfish, Rav; I want you both. I NEED you both. He has to be here. Alive."
Fiachra sighed. "I'd best take a hand in the search then," he declared. "Or we'll never leave and, gasp, I'll miss supper."
But Fi shook her head, her face getting that stubborn look I'd long ago come to recognize as a precursor to big trouble. She was about to do something and it was not going to be a good something, no siree. Fiachra recognized the look too; he sighed and tipped his head back, resigned but wary. Smart man.
"What are you planning, Cat?" He actually managed to ask the question without groaning. Impressive.
"I'm tired of waiting, tired of being told he can't be found when I know he's here. Can you...can you find where he was last?"
"Don't need to find it," Fiachra announced, shrugging as if it was no small matter. "Mum was almost as bad as you with the organizing; the more important the prisoner was to her plans, the further down she placed them. He would have been beyond important; ergo, he would've been in the last cell on the left."
Jester suddenly appeared at the foot of the stairs, the other three wraiths popping up behind him in the next instant, their expressions grim. "You didn't think that was something to mention six hours ago?"
"You were searching down there anyway so I didn't see that it mattered."
The wraith glared. He wasn't quite of Fi's calibre, but it wasn't too shabby by comparison either. Good for him. "It mattered."
"Enough." Fi stepped away from Fiachra and hopped down the stairs. "You five wait here." Without another word, she walked off towards the far end of the dungeon.
The wraiths and Fiachra watched, saying nothing until they were certain she was out of hearing range. "What's she doing?" Jester asked.
"It's cute you think she shared." Fiachra didn't snap, but it was a near thing. He did roll his eyes, mind you, but I decided to let that go. It wasn't entirely his fault he was an asshole; his mother had been a real piece of crazy and had done quite the number on him. Besides, Fi loved him so it gave him some leeway, some allowances. Which, of course, he was only too happy to exploit but, well, hey, no one's perfect. "Whatever she's about to do, I doubt it's going to be pleasant."
"She's handling being here better than I expected," Jester observed quietly. "You know, considering..."
Fiachra shook his head. "Jester, when you died, Cat walked into my mother's ballroom a week later and calmly ripped the soul out of every Fae in attendance and condemned their spirits to wander the world forevermore. She's really good at the slow boil."
Jester sighed. "So we should be worried. Wonderful."
"Worried? Oh, no, we should be terrified."
Fi's power suddenly swept through the dungeon like a strong, chilling wind. It twisted and spiraled, slashed and whipped, its bite sharp and cold. Faster and faster and faster it spun, gathering speed, generating energy, growing strong with each turn.
Fiachra sighed. "Yes, this is going to end well."
The wraiths' eyes suddenly lit up, glowing with gold-tinged sunlight I recognized as Fi's reflected solar energy, a side effect, if you will, of her being a sun elf. Well, part sun elf but apparently it was close enough to count. Usually it meant Fi was drawing on some serious power. When Fiachra's eyes and those of the other Fae in the room also began to glow, I decided "serious" didn't begin to cover what Fi was drawing on.
Suddenly, the power shifted, twisting back in on itself in a tight spiral. It was like a swirling vacuum or a spinning drain, all that power, all that energy, circling back towards Fi to be reabsorbed. It was an idiotic thing for her to be doing; the energy she'd originally released had grown exponetially more powerful and she...she wasn't strong enough to be taking all that energy into herself.
I took off running to the last cell on the left. Fi was standing with her back to the far wall, the energy a maelstrom coiling tighter and tighter around her. She watched idly as it weaved around her, her gaze distant, and I wondered briefly what she was seeing, what she was feeling.
And then I knew. I saw the energy as a spectrum of light and colour, watched as it came like a million threads to wrap around her limbs and torso. I felt the energy in a hundred thousand different ways - the brutal sting of electricity, the ripping bite of fangs, the slashing tear of claws, the searing burn of ice, the flaring heat of flames, the ravaging strike of the lash...all at once, one after the other, on and on. I felt her emotions - her fear, her rage, her love, her wrath, and, unquestionably strongest of all, her all consuming loneliness. I felt her power, like cool water on a hot day, like snowflakes dancing on a crisp wind, like ice cream slipping down a sore throat, but strong and rushing like a river after the dam breaks. When she let go, she exploded and the universe cracked, shattering like glass before a sledge hammer, a brilliant white light swallowing everything.
I blinked and it was over. I was lying on the floor, my body feeling like one giant ache. Fiachra was leaning over me, his expression a mixture of relief and concern.
I groaned. "What happened?"
"Fi brought you back."
Fiachra knew what I was asking and shook his head. "No, if I understand correctly, she ripped the universe apart, reached in, plucked you out of time just as Mum killed you, brought you here still mid-death throes, and then healed you. And, before you ask, she’s fine. Mostly. The wraiths have taken her home; she’s unconscious and paying the price for her tantrum but should be okay sooner or later. Probably later given her track record.."
"It was a moronic thing for her to do." I growled, then groaned as I sat up, ruining the effect.
Fiachra shrugged. "Fi's always been a spoiled brat. Why should this be any different?"
He had a point.
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