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Second Star to the Right

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Chapter One

 

Slaine Troyard is very, very busy fairy.

Then again, with The Molt coming up, every fairy has their hands full with preparations for the big event. However, Slaine is used to this. Being a storm-talent fairy, his days are always spent making sure that the weather is just right for the fairies. Whether it’s keeping the skies clear, or delivering a light rain just when the gardens need it, it’s all part of his job. More than that, it’s his passion.

Beyond the feeling of satisfaction from knowing that what he does helps others, it’s the sensation of lightning dancing in his hands, and the wild abandon of the wind around him. He loves knowing that at any time he can reach out and grasp it, fling it far away from here, that he can do what he wants with this force of nature. The skies over Pixie Hollow are his, and the rest of his talent, to guard and control.

The night of The Molt is an important night. Once every year, Mother Dove sheds her feathers so that they can be ground up to make pixie dust. The fairies have taken the opportunity to turn it into an extravagant celebration of sorts, with a marvellous light show put on by the light-talent fairies, and other creations unveiled by various talents. It goes to say that it cannot rain on that night, not even a tiny drizzle. If something were to go wrong, they will have a lot more on their hands than just wet wings and disappointment. That is why Slaine absolutely has to get this job done perfectly.

He prides himself on being one of the stronger storm-talent fairies. Some put it down to natural talent, but Slaine knows that it’s not that. His confidence in his talent is rooted in the late nights spent on his balcony, listening to the crack of lightning and feeling the harsh drops of rain on his face. By now, the roll of thunder across the sky is as familiar to him as his own heartbeat, and he can fly the pathways of the winds with no fear, always knowing where he’ll end up. When Slaine guides the winds away, it’s not by sheer talent nor power, it’s by a different kind of power born from familiarity.

And perhaps it is because of this familiarity that he’s the first to feel uneasy.

It starts out in the morning, when he’s directing the winds away and scattering the rainclouds above the Hollow. At first, he thinks that he’s imagining it, and that maybe he stayed up a bit too late the previous night, but there is no mistaking the way the wind slips around his attempts to direct it somewhere else. It shies from his hand like a fish from a net, and all he grasps is empty air. Frustrated, Slaine tries again, but he might as well have been running his hand through water. He looks around to see if he’s the only one with this problem, but the rest of his talent are breaking up the clouds or pushing them away. None of them have noticed anything strange with the wind.

What is this feeling he feels in the air? It lingers in every breeze and leaves a bad taste at the back of his throat. It makes him feel like the weight of the sky is bearing down on him, pushing him down and forcing him away from its-

“Slaine!”

A voice tears his attention away from his thoughts, and Slaine quickly searches below to find the source. His eyes land on a familiar fairy, and he flies down to meet them halfway.

“Harklight,” Slaine says, mildly surprised, “I thought you’d still be at the mill.”

“I came to get you, the new fairy’s just arrived.” Harklight replies, not blinking an eye when Slaine takes a few moments to remember. It’s not unusual for Slaine to be caught up in his work, to the extent that he’s much more attuned to the changes in the wind than those of the fairies. To be honest, he admires that side of Slaine; the fierce dedication and devotion to his talent, so much so that he doesn’t mind having to remind him of things that others usually remember. Being a dust talent fairy, it’s definitely not unusual for him to see Slaine every day when giving out their portions, so he uses that time to remind him of all the things that are going on. (“The Harvest Moon is tonight, don’t forget to turn up for the ceremony,” Or, “spring cleaning is tomorrow, you’ve gotten all your old things sorted out, right?”)

“I didn’t realise that it’d be today,” Slaine shrugs, but he knows that it’s his fault for not paying more attention. There’s a crowd outside the Home Tree by the time they reach, and the new fairy’s so short that he can barely see them over the others. Finally, he and Harklight settles for a perch on a lower branch. “I wonder what talent he is.”

Harklight shrugs. “We’ll have to wait and see.”

Slaine turns his attention back to the ground, where the new fairy stands. There’s something about him that seems off, something that he can’t seem to put his finger on. It feels a lot like déjà vu, but of what? “Actually, is he incomplete?”

“What do you mean?” His friend asks, staring hard at the fairy. “I mean, he is a little short but-”

“Nothing,” Slaine cuts him off, shaking his head. Incomplete fairies are rare, but not unheard of. They happen when a bit of the baby’s laugh gets left behind, or if a bit of the baby sticks to the laugh. Sometimes the defects are obvious, like their wings are half formed, or maybe they have rounded ears instead of pointed, but occasionally there are other things. They’ll have to wait and get to know the fairy better before actually determining if the fairy is incomplete or not. “Actually, why hasn’t he said anything yet?” New fairies always make The Announcement once they arrive, so the others know what talent they’re in. It’s something every fairy just knows when they’re born, like how they know that they are a Never Fairy, or that hawks are dangerous. So why isn’t he saying anything?

---

Inaho is so confused. He stands in the centre of a courtyard, right in front of the Home Tree, surrounded by fairies. They’re all looking on expectantly at him, but what are they waiting for? One of them approaches him, holding a cup in her hand, and Inaho instinctively knows what that is. Fairy dust, one cup a day, no more no less. He bows his head slightly as the fairy tips the cup over him, letting the golden dust settle on his person.

The change that comes over is nothing short of marvellous. His body feels much lighter, and his wings are more responsive. He feels like he can fly a whole ocean. Inaho wants to go test that out right now, to explore more of this place, but something stops him.

“What’s your talent?” The fairy asks, and there is something in her expression and tone that makes Inaho slightly uneasy. What is it? He realises that it’s the same look that everyone else has: Anticipation. 

“Talent?”

Immediately her smile drops into a blank look of shock. “You don’t know what your talent is?”

Is he supposed to know? Judging by the reactions around him, he guesses that yes, he is supposed to know. Carefully making sure that his expression doesn’t give anything away, he says, “No, no, I do know.” The first thing in the waiting masses that catches his eye is a silver lightning pattern on a maroon shirt, and he quickly stitches together a decent lie. “I’m a storm-talent fairy.”

It feels like the fairies collectively let out a sigh of relief, and the strange tension in the air abates. Noise seeps back into the courtyard as fairies start to chatter again, leaving their branches and spots. Some more fairies are coming forward to greet him, shaking his hands and giving names and introductions. He has no trouble remembering, but he really just wants to get away to see more of this strange place by himself. The dust-talent fairy from earlier seems to have taken on the role of his mentor as well, telling him about the festival that’s going to take place later, and the things that everyone is doing. Inaho is happy to let her go on, until she grabs his wrist and suddenly drags him in one direction.

“Slaine!” She yells, pulling him towards the very same fairy that he’d seen with the lightning clothes. “You can show him around, since he’s your talent! I gotta go prepare for The Molt later, so I’ll leave you here Inaho, bye!”

And Inaho is left alone with the fairy named Slaine. He studies the fairy carefully, noting how tense his shoulders seem to be, and the tight lipped expression on his face. Those bright teal eyes stare at him accusingly, fierce and unrelenting, and Inaho stares right back.

It seems that Slaine is very, very angry, and he is the cause.

Chapter Text

Inaho doesn’t know what to make of this. Or anything at all, really. He’s only been here for what, a total of ten minutes at most? And apparently he’s already made one of them mad. That must be some kind of record.  He sizes up the other fairy, Slaine, and thinks that he should probably at least make the first move. “Pleased to meet you, my name is Inaho.”

“Fairies don’t say that,” Slaine says, eyebrows twitching into a small frown. “We say, ‘Fly with you’.”

“Oh, fly with you, then.” Inaho replies. He wonders if there’s anything else that might be different from what he knows, but decides to not to ask just yet. His earlier mistake has already drawn attention to his oddness, and there is no reason to make himself seem ignorant or slow on top of that. Inaho knows that he'll be able to pick things up as he goes, and work from there.

"I'll show you around quickly then, but after that we need to get back to the preparations for The Molt." Slaine sighs and turns around, indicating with a sharp jerk of his head that Inaho should follow him. "You do know what that is, right?"

"Of course I do," Inaho answers, quickening his pace so that he's flying beside the storm fairy. They head first for the Home Tree's entrance, a knothole door that's just the right size for fairies to pass through. It's not too big that it makes him feel small, but he doesn't have to crouch either. Inaho decides that he likes it; it's welcoming, in a way. A quick glance around the well-kept lobby plants a small feeling of satisfaction in his gut, and he can't tell if it's from the immaculately polished walls, or the gleaming brass directory that hangs just beside the door.

Noticing the line of his gaze, Slaine alters his direction so that Inaho can take a closer look at it. "This directory lists every fairy there is, what their talent is, where their room is, and a workshop if they one." He points at his name, somewhere in the middle, "This one's mine, and yours will be up in about an hour once the decor-talent fairies are done with your room."

"That's fast," Inaho remarks, trying to sound impressed, but going by the sceptic glance that he receives from Slaine, the latter isn't very convinced.

"It's their job to be fast," Slaine adds, before turning away from the board. "I'll show you the tea-room next."

As they enter the tea-room, Inaho feels like he's stepped into a completely different tree altogether. After the grand display of the lobby, the tea-room feels more gentle and muted. The sunlight that filters through the lace curtains is tinged green by the pirate glass windows, matching the pale-grass wallpaper. Here, the noise of busy fairies passing by dims down to strains of pleasant conversation, sparsely interspersed by the clinking of cutlery and glasses. Inaho realises that just by being in this room, some of the tension that he'd apparently been feeling has left his shoulders.

"We come here for meals," Slaine gestures to a table in the corner, "and all the storm-talent fairies sit there."

Inaho can't help but notice that Slaine used 'storm-talent fairies', instead of 'we', or 'our talent'. Does he already know of his deception? Was that why he had been so angry just now?  If he knows, why hasn't he called him out on it by now? Maybe he's overthinking it, but what other explanation does Inaho have? If maybe it does get out that he doesn't really know his talent, he'll have to sit alone. The possibility doesn't seem to bother him as much as it probably should, but that would make him stand out from the others, wouldn't it?

Not noticing Inaho’s pause, Slaine continues on towards a door at the back of the room. “This leads to the kitchen, you can take a quick look inside.”

The door opens, and a wave of warm air blasts out at them. Inaho can smell the faint scent of baking rolls, and something else, and it makes his mouth water. As if in response, a quiet growl comes from his stomach.

“Hungry?” Slaine raises an eyebrow.

Something about that expression rubs Inaho the wrong way, and he replies with a “No.”

Slaine gives him an odd look, “Suit yourself.”

Before Inaho can reply, a cry from the other side of the kitchen cuts him off.

“Slaine, is that you? Can you come here for a second?” Upon hearing the voice, something crosses his eyes, and Slaine immediately heads in that direction. Inaho, who has nothing else to do, follows. However, he doesn’t see the other fairy coming in from the side, and the next thing he knows, he’s walked straight into a bag of flour.

“Sorry,” Inaho apologises, looking down at the white powder that’s settled on every available surface nearby like dust. “Let me-”

“Nobody says sorry,” The fairy mutters, slightly annoyed as he waves Inaho on. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of this.”

What do we say then? He brushes himself off and hurries forward to join Slaine.

 

He finds him standing beside a tub, awkwardly hugging a sobbing fairy who’s standing with one foot inside the tub, and one foot outside, dress dripping water onto the floor. If Inaho isn’t mistaken, and the light isn’t playing tricks on him, he swears that he can see a faint blush on Slaine’s cheeks, rather obvious against his pale skin.

“It cracked,” The fairy sobs, drawing back to wipe away some tears with the back of her hand. “I moved and it cracked!”

“What cracked?” Inaho can’t help but ask, already eyeing the strange, flaking substance that coats her wings. He wagers a guess that that’s the cause of her distress, but why?

She looks up, eyes widening, and immediately steps out of the tub. “Oh, I didn’t see you there. You’re the new fairy, right? Fly with you, my name’s Asseylum.”

“Fly with you,” Inaho greets, his gaze flicking between her teary smile and her wings. “What-”

“-did I do to my wings?” Asseylum hiccups, and pauses to blow her nose on a blue handkerchief first before explaining. “I’ve always wanted to swim, because I’m a water-talent fairy, so today I got a baking-talent fairy to coat my wings in beaten egg.”

Slaine mutters a name under his breath, but it’s too low for Inaho to catch it.

Asseylum, however, doesn’t notice and continues on, “I waited until it was dry and then sat down, and it worked! But then I moved my wings and then the coating cracked.”

“You’ll have to wash them then,” Slaine sighs, “they’ll be wet for tonight’s celebration. At least it turned out better than the balloon.”

The mention of a balloon makes Asseylum laugh, “I’ll never try to swim with a balloon again.”

Inaho wants to ask what happened then, but all too soon Slaine is already saying goodbye to Asseylum, saying that he’ll see her at The Molt later on. He has no choice but to follow him out of the kitchen and back into the lobby.

“Your room should be done by now,” Slaine pauses at the directory, eyeing the newest addition to its long lists of fairies. “If you want, you can go take a look before you come join the rest of the storm-talent fairies.”

“I’ll do that then, thanks.” Inaho replies, “I’ll see you later?”

Slaine nods, finally having run out of things to say. “Yeah, just ask any fairy where we are. They’ll show you the way.”


 It is only when he’s left the Home Tree does Slaine relax for a bit. He flies upwards, climbing the winds that only get stronger the higher he goes, and lets all the tension leave him in one long exhale. His uneasiness towards the new fairy is surprising- usually he’d be happy to get someone new in his talent. What exactly is it about Inaho that puts him on edge? Is it the way he looks at everything, and at him? He doesn’t seem to look happy, or excited about anything, which is unusual considering that their talents are supposed to bring them joy. Instead, he just looks. The very thought of it sets Slaine on edge. “Maybe he really is incomplete,” He mutters, flipping over so that he’s facing the sky. There is no way a normal fairy could make him feel like this.

Whatever it is, Slaine sets it aside as he drifts lower to join some of his talent in clearing away the clouds. There’s no point in mulling over a question when there’s no certainty in getting an answer, and the time can be spent on more useful things. A couple of them, Okisuke and Inko, have already done away with a sizeable chunk during the time that he was showing Inaho around, and they turn to him as he approaches.

“Where’s the new fairy?” Inko asks, “I thought he was with you.”

“I left Inaho at the Home Tree so that he could see his room.” Slaine answers quickly, earning strange looks from them.

“I thought he’d have joined us first before seeing his room,” Okisuke adds, kicking away a tuft of stray cloud. “If I were him, I’d jump at the chance to test out my talent.”

“Oh, you jumped alright,” Inko laughs, nudging him with an elbow. “I remember when you first came, you got too enthusiastic and got blown away by the South wind.”

Okisuke shoves her away, cracking a reluctant grin at the memory. “Cut me some slack, I thought we agreed never to bring that up again!”

“Did we?” Slaine joins in, raising an eyebrow, “I don’t remember.”

“That’s a lie,” Okisuke retorts, “We know that your memory is great.”

Slaine shrugs, smiling innocently because he knows that it’ll only annoy Okisuke even further. Teasing him is a usual past time for them, especially since the good-natured fairy takes it in good humour. Their easy banter continues as they work, trading light digs and half-hearted insults over the clouds, until the sky is clear and the stronger winds flow smoothly around Pixie Hollow.  

Hovering slightly over the square, Slaine feels a small rush of satisfaction looking at it all. The light fairies have strung up small lanterns along branches and in flowers, and the glow bounces off the stage that they’ve constructed just for The Molt. The best of the pastries have been painstakingly arranged on pirate glass stands at the side, and they’re piled as high as the large bowl of mulberry punch. Everything’s in place, and all that’s left to do is to wait for the sun to completely set so that the show can start. 

But why does he feel like he’s forgetting something?

His wings flutter in agitation as he dips even lower, carefully looking over everything. No, there isn’t even a light out of place. Slaine shakes his head, confused, and heads upwards to check the weather, but there’s nothing except for a gentle breeze. So what is it? What is this cold unease that has settled in his gut, making his hands clammy and his ears ring?

And then, in one moment, the nervous mess in his head settles and he realises what it is.

It must have been hours since he left Inaho to his own devices. Shouldn’t he have found him by now? Slaine consoles himself with the fact that one stray fairy won’t be able to cause much trouble anyway, and heads back towards the Home Tree to find him. Even so, he can’t help but feel annoyed by the newer fairy’s absence. Has he been helping out somewhere else? But no, most of the storm-talent fairies had been in that one area, so there was no way he could have been anywhere else. Perhaps Inaho skipped the preparations, but that doesn’t make much sense either, so he discards the possibility. However, that leaves Slaine with no plausible explanations for why the fairy hadn’t turned up. This has never happened before, and honestly it makes him feel like someone’s snuck nettle into his pants. By the time he reaches Inaho’s door, he’s too perplexed and vexed to even knock. Instead, he just swings it open and sticks his head in, asking Inaho where he’s been.

But there is no answer, because the room is empty.

“Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”