A guest fiction by author Dana Fraedrich
The earth was quiet, still sleeping under a blanket of indigo and berry, dappled with faint stars on their way to bed. If midnight was the witching hour, this was the time of the fae. All manner of small, gossamer-winged beings were rising to go about their work, whether it was to drop dew into flower-wells to make nectar or to conduct songbirds in their morning chorus.
Two glimmering lights crested the emerald hills in the distance and whirled their way down the slope. In their wake shone a trail of pixie dust that hovered for only a moment before evaporating. When they reached the lowest point of the small valley, one of the lights spoke.
“Okay, Ceil, this far enough?” asked the voice, which tinkled like tiny silver bells.
“Yup, this looks good.” This one resembled the crackling of logs on a fire. “You bring the checklist?”
“Of course I brought the checklist,” tittered Pru. “Though I wonder how the academy expects us to remember to bring the checklist if there’s no reminder for it in the first place.”
Ceil lowered his brows at his partner. “A checklist for the checklist?”
“Just saying.” Pru handed the minute bark-chip clipboard to him.
Ceil’s mouth ticked upward despite his earlier objection. He pulled a downy white quill from a holster on his belt and scratched his antennae with the end.
Up close, the fairies looked like miniature humans, save for their twinkling starlight eyes, antennae, and boysenberry colored hair. Oh yes, and the diaphanous wings of course.
“Professor Mei will be here to check on our progress at precisely sunrise,” Ceil read aloud. “Powdered ice?”
Pru slung her maple leaf rucksack onto a blade of grass and opened it. She lifted a bag from within.
“Excellent,” Ceil said, ticking the first box off in the list. “Sifters?”
Pru brandished two of them above her head. “Check!”
“Foot operated distribution devices?”
“Also known as shoes.”
“Yes, they’re here.” She swatted Ceil’s bare foot with a pair of the silky white slippers.
Ceil, in response, flicked her antennae, making her nose wrinkle.
“Ergh! Don’t! You know that makes me want to sneeze.”
“I know,” Ceil said with a smile, not looking up again from his work.
Pru stuck her tongue out at him and smiled back. They finished going through their inventory and then prepared their equipment. After they’d donned protective gloves and shoes, Pru measured and distributed powdered ice into small, loosely woven pouches. She attached one each to her and Ceil’s ankles and wrists, and Ceil checked off the last box with a cheeky waggle of his quill.
“Okay, let’s crush this!” he said.
“No need. The ice is pre-crushed,” Pru replied with a grin.
Ceil rolled his eyes and let out something between a groan and a laugh. “Our final exam, silly centipede.”
He reached over and flicked Pru’s antennae again. She had just been about to close the bag containing the leftover powdered ice.
With the force of her sneeze, ice dust flew from the bag in a great foof! It coated Pru’s face and crystallized instantly.
“Ceil…” she said, barely keeping her frigid teeth from chattering.
“Oh, bumbles!” he exclaimed.
He knelt down and rubbed Pru’s face with his hands. The rime layer wasn’t quite solid, making it difficult but not impossible for Pru to move her face. It was, however, stubbornly clinging to its new home despite Pru’s body heat.
“It’s okay. This is okay,” Ceil babbled. “We’ll just melt it off in the sun once it rises.”
“P-p-professor Mei…” Pru shivered.
Ceil moaned, letting his jaw hang. One eye was wide in a gaze of barely repressed fear. “Solutions, um…”
Despite herself, Pru giggled at Ceil’s expression of horror. “Come on. W-w-w-we need the grades.” Pru winced as she forced her frozen lips to make the words. “We can st-still…do this. It’s not like I need my f-f-face to dance, right?”
Ceil hesitated. “Are you going to be warm enough to fly?”
For a moment, fear flashed in Pru’s eyes as bright and cold as an icicle, but she grinned, covering it. “Isn’t th-that why we have each other? To catch each-ch…us?”
“Yeah,” Ceil said with a determined bob of his head. “That’s right, partner.”
Ceil felt more weight in Pru’s hands than usual as they ascended a few inches—feet to them—above the minuscule jungle of jagged green blades.
Now it was Pru’s turn to hesitate. “P-p-please…don’t let me fall.”
In response, he gripped her hand a little tighter.
Each extended their free hand, wings fluttering behind them so quickly they resembled threads of spider’s silk glinting in the fae-light beginning to glow from Pru and Ceil’s bodies. The unclasped hands drew slowly back towards one another. As they did, flakes of powdered ice slowly flitted down from the pouches attached to their wrists and onto the grass below. And so began their dance.
The fairies flitted back and forth, sweeping their arms and legs up and around, spinning and stopping, coating the ground beneath them in shimmering diamond dust.
One two three, turn back, two two three, twirl snap, Ceil recited silently to himself as he performed his practiced maneuvers.
He watched Pru from the corners of his eyes and noticed her mouth moving. He recognized the same rhythm in her lips as the one running through his head. This was new for her, and he suspected she was trying to keep her face from getting any colder. The idea did nothing to comfort him.
Every twist, arc, and leap had been carefully planned to ice the entire valley right down to the last dandelion puff seed. The signs of their passage would be scrutinized and scored. Points would be taken off for inconsistencies in the hoarfrost’s thickness and inelegant dispersal.
Ceil saw Pru flagging, losing altitude as even the fervent beating of her wings failed to drive away the cold sapping her strength. He knew Pru wouldn’t want him to risk their final exam unless it was absolutely necessary, but how was he to know? Their program was prestigious and competitive, but it wasn’t worth her safety. A vision of her falling while he was too far away to keep his promise performed its own dance in his head. Disturbingly, it followed the same melody he did.
“Dada dum dum dum dum, da da da, da da da, da da da, da da da da dum,” Ceil sang in an attempt to drive away the thought.
“Dum dum daaa dum, dum dum daaa dum,” came the unexpected answer several moments later.
Ceil picked the tune back up and sang with his partner, creating words for the notes they both knew by heart. Pru’s voice still shook behind its frozen mask, but it grew a little stronger. That gave Ceil hope. Their silly words blended with their aerial ballet, and Ceil found himself smiling. They were over three quarters of the way done. They were going to make it!
“Ah ah ah aaaaaaaaaaah,” they sang together. “Ah ah ah ah aaaaaaaaah! Ooh ah ah—”
Ceil was zooming in Pru’s direction before he even realized he had turned. He barely avoided grabbing Pru by a delicate wing as his hands grasped to catch her. He tried again and caught her wrist. The cold of the powdered ice pressed through his gloves and against his palm. From the way Pru gasped, he guessed where the pouch was smashed against her wrist didn’t feel much better. Her descent slowed under the combined power of their wings, and Ceil’s heart crawled from his throat and back down into his chest. Pru’s eyes flicked to something behind him, and her head snapped up to face him.
“Spin!” she hissed, opening her free arm.
Ceil recognized the minute preemptive movement in her shoulder just before she drew her arm back in, and he rushed to comply. He beat his wings so hard he thought they might fly off without him, pushing against the air currents and spinning with Pru as she took the same stance she would have if she were pirouetting. Together they spun—albeit a little awkwardly—descending slowly. Pru’s toes touched down onto a boulder, followed closely by Ceil. The sound of a single pair of hands clapping resounded behind them.
“That was very dramatic indeed,” came the familiar voice of Professor Mei. “Good heavens, Miss Prunella. Whatever has happened to your face?”
“Just a slight…wardrobe malfunction,” Pru lied, giving her most charming smile. The ice mask turned it into an awkward grimace.
“Indeed. Well, the sun should be rising very soon, so that should melt away in the next few minutes. Excellent job carrying on with your performance despite technical difficulties. Very professional.”
“You saw the entire thing?” Ceil asked carefully.
“All but the very beginning.” Professor Mei scribbled onto a clipboard as she spoke. “I’m afraid I was somewhat delayed.”
“I th-thought you weren’t supposed to arrive until sunrise,” Pru asked as cold settled back into her face.
Professor Mei smiled impishly. “Yes, that’s a little white lie we tell students so they don’t get stage fright. Of course we want to see your performance as well as the results. Speaking of which, that ending, while exciting, was a bit rough. And the singing is entirely unnecessary.”
Pru and Ceil cut their eyes to one another.
“Of course. Thank you, Professor,” Ceil said. “Any, um, other thoughts?”
The Professor’s smile grew warmer as she said, “I think you two will be ready for sugaring plums and sifting joy into dreams soon.”
Just then, the first rays of sunlight peeked over the hilltop and came flowing into the valley like a golden river.
“Go, Miss Prunella. Wash off your face. Grades will be posted by the end of tomorrow.”
“Thank you, Professor,” Ceil and Pru chorused.
Professor Mei nodded once and took off to inspect the rest of their work. Pru beat her wings, testing them, and managed to flit into the sun’s path. As she drenched herself in light and cold water began to trickle down her neck, Ceil alighted somewhere behind her.
“Fancy some hot nectar? On me?”
“This cannot happen fast enough,” Pru laughed.
A few minutes later, with sun-warmed wings and a damp uniform, she flew up into the air with Ceil and raced him back to the academy to celebrate.
Meet the Author:
Dana Fraedrich is the author of the steampunk fantasy series Broken Gears, which includes the latest release Into the Fire and the Amazon bestseller, Out of the Shadows. She is an independent author, blogger, dog lover, and self-professed geek. Even from a young age, she enjoyed writing down the stories that she imagined in her mind.
Born and raised in Virginia, she earned her BFA from Roanoke College and is now carving out her own happily ever after in Nashville, TN with her husband and two dogs. Dana is always writing; more books are on the way!
Connect with Dana Fraedrich:
Check out Fraedrich’s website, WordsByDana, for book reviews, articles on the indie author life, and author interviews.
You can also connect with her on your favorite social media platform:
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- Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6494889.Dana_Fraedrich
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Don’t forget to check out Out of the Shadows, the first in the steampunk fantasy series Broken Gears!
When the Allens rescue Lenore from certain torment, she’s offered a new life, a life that can save her from the underworld of crime in which she’s forced to live. The universe is keeping score, however, and Lenore isn’t the only one caught in this web of debt. Can she truly escape her past when it comes to find her or will she be drawn back into the darkness?
Homeless, orphaned, living in secret as a thief–Lenore Crowley just wants to survive, but the city of Springhaven has no sympathy for cases such as hers. She chose her path, and the consequences are hers alone. Being caught would mean certain death; her odds of survival are beginning to look bleak. When she meets the Allens, she’s offered a new life. In a world where debts and oaths carry very real weight, however, this second chance comes at a price. Lives entangle, and Lenore soon finds that her secrets aren’t so secret. Someone is looking for her, someone who knows who she really is. One wrong move and everything around her might fall.
Fans of the Parasol Protectorate and The Finishing School series by Gail Carriger, Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen by Garth Nix, and A Natural History of Dragons and the rest of the Lady Trent Memoirs series by Marie Brennan will delight as this new Victorian era reminiscent world unfolds for them. A multi-layered steampunk fantasy realm of history, subterfuge, colorful characters, potential, and lost magic and technology promises to entrance readers of all ages.
Photo by Christian Søgaard Moen on Unsplash