Icicles shot up from the wet snow as Tabor let out a frustrated growl. He glared at the frozen spiderweb clinging to the pine tree, its chittering music filling the forest clearing, mocking his pain. He scraped his hands down his face and through his shimmering silver hair.
He had weeks; weeks to get his first contribution for the Water Festival to work. Fists planted on hips and he took a few deep breaths. Kiel would have had the whole forest sparkling by now, but then Water Song had come more naturally to his best friend. Everything came more naturally to Kiel. Tabor’s chest squeezed as he remembered the Fire Fae explosion that had killed him three years ago. The anger and bitterness still gnawed at him.
Tabor had to get this right. For Kiel’s sake.
He took another steadying breath as he picked out a new patch of pine tree to practice on. He paused, then whistled out the Water Song command for the hundredth time. Nothing happened. His flexed arms crossed. Then delicate drops of dew began to collect on the needles, dripping down and connecting to form a watery imitation of a spiderweb.
“Yes!” He pumped a fist in the air in victory. With a quiet crack the spiderweb froze. His arm fell. His lips pinched. With a roar he stomped around the clearing smashing every infernal frozen spiderweb he’d made that afternoon. More icicles shot up in his wake, obeying his rumbling commands.
“Looks like winter likes you.”
He stumbled, then spun around the clearing until he spotted a wisp of red Fire Fae hair peeking out from behind a tree. His eyes narrowed.
“What would you know about it? Spark?”
She flinched at the slur and the wisp disappeared. He smirked. Fire Fae didn’t belong in the snow anyway.
“I just noticed the snow tends to follow you.”
Tabor frowned. Sure enough, it had started to snow again. He hadn’t heard the flakes’ tinkling melody over the booming of the icicles.
“Wait, have you been following me?”
After a moment, the wisp reappeared. “The Water Fae fascinate me.”
Tabor’s hands curled into fists and he marched across the clearing. The scrawny Fire Fae girl cringed when he came around the tree. She couldn’t have been more than eight or nine, with so much bushy red hair he could hardly see her face. Had she even gone through metamorphosis yet?
“And what exactly do you find so fascinating about us?”
Two piercing blue eyes bored into him through a curtain of curls.
“What? I think I deserve to know why you’re watching me.” He swiped a hand at the annoying flakes swirling around his head. A smirk flashed behind the red fluff. He glared and it disappeared.
“All I know of Water Fae is what I’ve heard. I wanted to know if it’s all true.”
His glare softened with concern. Had the Fire Fae been blaming Kiel for the explosion?
“What have you heard?”
The girl crossed her arms and jutted her chin out. “No better than what you’ve heard of us.”
The twitchy smile growing on his lips froze. “What would you know about it? Have you even morphed yet?”
“What does my metamorphosis have to do with it?”
Tabor looked her up and down. “Not a thing.” With a growling purr, he sang icicles up from the snow to pin the girl’s clothes to the tree behind her. She tugged at them as panic widened her eyes. She was trapped and at his mercy. “Some of us don’t need to hear things to know what Sparks are like.”
She flinched at the term again. “My name is Felicity.”
“I don’t care, Spark. See some of us have first hand experience of the damage your kind cause.”
She sneered. “And I thought some of you might be understanding.”
“Oh, I understand plenty.”
“Yeah? And what is it you understand?”
He growled again and a new spike rumbled up to point at her middle. “I understand that a Spark killed my best friend.”
She stared through red curls, then smiled wearily. His chest squeezed. Why did he feel like he’d just lost?
“So it was you,” she whispered.
“What was me?”
“You’re the one who convinced the Guerri to punish the Fire Faerie.”
Tabor crossed his arms. “Of course they punished him. He needed to be brought to justice.”
Her chin fell. As her face disappeared behind red curls, he again felt the twinge of an argument he’d lost.
“I take it no one told you what happened after he was exiled.”
How did a pre-morph kid know so much about all this? He waited for her to continue. After a long pause, blue eyes reappeared through all that red.
“The day after we left the village, I found my father in a creek, impaled on a spike of ice. It was the middle of summer. I was five years old.”
Tabor’s stomach clenched.
“Apparently someone didn’t think exile was enough punishment for an accident.”
Tabor swallowed the bile rising in his throat a few times. For three years he’d shut out everything but the mourning. For three years he’d allowed his heart to freeze over. For three years he’d thought of nothing but his own anger. Only now did it occur to him to see it from another point of view. With a quiet purr the spikes melted away, setting the girl more firmly back on her feet.
“I, uh …”
She tugged on her now damp shirt, digging her toe into the snow. “Yeah.”
The snow hushed its tinkling. The nearby creek paused its low warble. Even the trees, whose Earth Song he could sense but not hear, seemed to hold their breath. But how could he just let go of three years of anger and hate? His prejudice may have been proven unwarranted, but his best friend was still dead.
“Who was it? Who killed your father?”
She swept a hand through her curls and for the first time Tabor saw her face clearly. Sunken cheeks, clenched jaw, and blazing blue eyes reflected all his hurt and bitterness.
“I don’t know. I’m only eight. Who’s gonna believe an eight year old spark?”
Her glare seared his skin, burning away the edge of his anger. He growled a melody and swiped at the flakes collecting in his hair. The snow between them compacted with cracks and rumbles until a tiny flame made of ice sat at the girl’s feet.
“I believe you. Felicity.”
After a tense moment, she bent and lifted the sculpture in her small hands. She blinked a few times. The tiny smile that stretched her lips softened the harsh light in her eyes. He found himself smiling back.
“I guess the Water Fae aren’t all bad.” She winked.
He chuckled. “You’re not so bad yourself.”
They nodded their goodbyes and he watched her disappear into the forest, vowing to ensure her family was cared for. It’s what Kiel would have done.
As he returned to the clearing and the one frozen spiderweb he hadn’t smashed, he sighed. The world had made a lot more sense when he’d first made it. Water Fae were good, Fire Fae were bad. Now he was wiser, but more confused. He blew out another sigh and closed his eyes to refocus on making spiderwebs. At least those were still simple.
Felicity’s soft smile floated up in his mind and he whistled out the command one last time. The dew and snow surrounding him answered, but he kept his eyes shut and continued whistling. The music grew and grew, melodies and themes layering on top of each other until the whole clearing crescendoed and Tabor ran out of breath. The music continued, though a bit subdued and he took a nervous breath before opening his eyes. His jaw dropped.
The entire clearing sparkled and shone with so many watery spiderwebs, Tabor had no hope of counting them all.