3. On Thin Ice

Finding What's Needed

“My grandchildren?” Flora replies in Linphean, looking at Ishandra with surprise. She shakes her head. “No, I disagree. A member of the Sect may be responsible, but I am not related to her.”

The Ice Witch gestures at Silvermist. “Your girl seems to think so.”

“Silvermist is a Water Talent, and they tend to be very emotional,” answers Flora.

“I see,” nods Ishandra, “Silvermist, you said? Pretty name.”

Ishandra switches back to Hollowese. “Well, I’m going to take a break while you settle this.” She stands up and heads for the main doors.

“Where are you going?” asks Bloom.

“Out,” smirks the Witch, and takes her leave.

“Everyone,” says Flora in a loud voice, “Please, do not tell anyone about my status. I am not ready, and it could cause trouble and delay in dealing with the blocked shafts by distracting people. We can talk about it after. Will you do that for me? Please?”

There is murmuring among the Pixie Hollow Faeries, but they all nod to her. “Yes, Oracle, we will obey.”

Flora winces, but lets it go. “Darcy? Leffi?”

The two Trix look at each other. Last night while they were alone, Ishandra had asserted her leadership again, and emphasized they would honor the bargain. Flora had a point, and there was nothing they could do but agree, or face their sister’s wrath again.

“We agree, Flora,” says Darcy, “We will keep your secret.”

The Flower Faerie gave a sigh of relief. “Thank you.”

“Fine, but we will be talking about it,” Stella warns her.

Once away from the library, Ishandra stretches and takes several deep breaths. “The cold feels good,” she thinks. Then she pauses, taking several more deep breaths. “This is familiar… there’s a certain ambience to the air that I recognize. But what could it be? I’ll have to think on it. But for now, let’s give these wings a real test!”

It takes her a moment to remember how to unfurl her wings from the sacs, but they snap into position as they should.

She takes off without any destination in mind, just to look around. She varies her speed, seeing how much of a turn radius she needs, and weaves between trees and rocks to test her maneuverability. These are the same practice exercises she used at Cloud Tower while learning to fly.

She spots clusters of Winter Faeries at their tasks, and a few wave at her. She deigns to return the gesture, remembering that a good impression is important.

“I have to admit these wings are impressive! I’ve never flown so well or so fast with the Witch Levitation Spell,” she thinks. “They are not so bad after all!”

She gains altitude until she is not far above the highest peaks and hovers for a few seconds. Then she takes off in a straight line toward the horizon. The ground below blurs as she picks up speed, and she realizes she is still nowhere near her limit. She flies faster and the wind whips against her, making her short hair wave. “Okay, now I understand the hair. Too much drag otherwise.”

Suddenly the blurry landscape below changes from gray and white to green, and after a few minutes to blue. Curious, Ishandra slows to a stop to find herself over the Never Seas. Looking back the way she came reveals Never Land as a distant island.

“Wow! I am fast!” she says aloud.

Rather than risk getting lost at sea, she turns back and takes off toward Never Land, this time determined to reach top speed.

As the blue turns to green, she feels her wings and muscles are nearing their limit. “Good enough for now,” she thinks, and slows down when she crosses the border of the Winter Woods.

Reaching a familiar spot, she resumes testing herself. She notes that, even after that workout, her new wings and wing muscles are not fatigued. She feels she could go for hours.

After some time her Witch’s instinct kicks in. “I’m being followed,” she thinks. “Okay, let’s see who it is.”

She flies low in a clear space between woods that branches in three directions ahead. Speeding up she turns right and slips into the woods, hiding behind a large oak at the intersection. She takes a moment to prepare her Ice Coffin spell.

She is surprised when Gliss appears from the way she came and stops at the intersection. The Faerie flies a short distance down each way, then returns and lands, sitting down on a rock in the open.

“She’s waiting for me, but not hiding,” thinks Ishandra, letting the spell go. “She must want something.”

The Ice Witch steps from behind the oak and walks toward the Frost Faerie. “Gliss? What are you doing here?”

“Oh! Lady Ishandra! There you are!” says the startled girl, standing up. “I’ve been looking for you.”

“Why?” asks the Witch, “Has something happened?”

“No, Lady; Duchess Tecna asked me to bring this to you. She said you would know what it is.” Gliss reaches into a pocket and brings out a palmtop computer.

“Yes, this will help,” says Ishandra, taking it. She slips it into a pocket. “Anything else?”

“Well, I just thought… maybe… I could be of use to you,” Gliss turns red and folds her hands together.

Suspicious, Ishandra raises an elegant eyebrow. “Of use to me how?”

“I can be a guide, or answer questions, or fetch something you need, or take a message to someone,” she ticks off points on her fingers.

Shocked, Ishandra realizes Gliss wants to serve her! Every other servant she’s ever had did so only because they were spelled or were afraid of her. But Gliss is neither! Then she sits down and gestures for the other girl to do the same.

“Gliss, are you saying you want to serve me? Don’t get me wrong; you were very helpful in the library, but beyond that, I don’t think you understand. I’m not a Faerie, I’m a Witch. I have done very bad things to Faeries; ask the Winx if you doubt it. You would probably hate me if you knew the details.”

“No, Lady, I disagree.” replies Gliss, “What you were in the other world is not what you are now. I was drawn to you the moment I saw you, and I still feel that way.”

“But for all you know I could be very cruel to you,” says the Ice Witch. “I might punish you harshly for any failure or infraction of my rules.”

“That would be against our laws,” says Gliss, “My job is to put frost on things on the Mainland, but I am volunteering to serve you. If I am abused I will withdraw my service.”

Ishandra sees that Gliss will not be put off easily. “Why do you want to serve me?”

“I think it’s a shame a lady as beautiful and regal as you has no one to attend her. It was fun helping you in the library, and I want to keep doing it,” is the answer.

Then she slips from the rock to her knees in the snow. “I promise to obey you, to help you, and to protect you. Will you accept me and my service?”

Ishandra cannot answer; she is too numbed. Since her mother was killed, she has been admired, hated, feared, and envied, but never loved. And this Faerie is offering love, herself and her service freely.

Rosetta had started the process, Queen Clarion continued it, and now she feels the ice around her heart, the ice she had built up layer by layer, year after year, and made so cold not even the Omega Dimension could affect it, crack further. The ice shatters, and the Witch takes her next steps back to the Light.

Ishandra reaches out and gathers Gliss into her arms. “Yes, Gliss, yes. I accept you and your service. Thank you!” She hugs the girl tightly. “I promise never to abuse you, or ask more than you can give. I will protect you, and listen to your advice, and show my gratitude.”

In the cold snow of the Winter Woods a Frost Faerie and a transformed Witch hold to each other. Each drinks in the presence of the other, and they know something missing from their lives has been found.

Finally they part. “There is something we need to do. Come with me,” says Ishandra.

Ishandra flies up above the trees, followed closely by Gliss. She retrieves the palmtop and opens it, pulling up the map of the shafts. An annotation had been added showing which ones had stopped. Out of the fifty shafts, twelve were no longer functioning.

“Do you know which one Flora was talking about? The one with rounded stone?” she asks.

“Oh! Yes, I do! I was part of the group that checked which ones had failed.” Gliss studies the map, then points at a marker, poking her finger through the hologram. She yanks her finger back, then points again, more cautiously. “This one. I remember because I could see past the border of the Woods to where it was green.”

“We are going there and get those books.” With that Ishandra puts away the computer and slips behind Gliss. She puts her arms around her waist and brings her close. “Pull your wings in as close as you can.”

“Lady?” questions the Frost Faerie, looking at her over her shoulder.

“Do you trust me, Gliss?” asks Ishandra.

“Yes, Lady,” nods the Faerie.

“Then be ready!” and she takes off in the direction of the shaft at Fast Flyer speeds, much to Gliss’s delight. “Yaho!” she whoops long and loud, the wind ruffling her hair.

Ishandra smiles to herself. Gliss is innocent and fun to have around. Maybe she can even learn something from her.

Even at a speed far beyond what Gliss could manage, she still recognizes the landscape and directs Ishandra to the shaft. Even though this shaft was broken, cold from farther above flowed down the mountain, keeping it cold enough for the Frost Faerie.

Ishandra looks at the blue stone. The azurite around the shaft has been cut and rounded unlike that at any of the others.

“This is it.” The Witch looks around. “It’s getting late. I need to reflect some light down the shaft so I can see what I’m doing. Maybe a panel of ice to reflect the sun…”

“Oh! Oh! Oh! Use this!” Gliss hands her the light crystal from the library Dewey had given her.

Ishandra looks it over. “This will do. Stay here, I should be back in a few minutes.”

She flies down the shaft, and notes the crystal is putting out plenty of light. The walls are a uniform white, made yellow by the crystal. There are no breaks or cracks to be seen. “Very well built,” she thinks.

Finally at a point where the shaft’s top is just a small hole far above, Ishandra finds a square section that has azurite embedded around it. Holding the light crystal close, she sees an inscription in both ancient Linphean and Old Hollowese. It is somewhat worn from millennia of wind blowing over it, but still readable.

Following the instructions she presses against the stone, hears a metal click, and the stone opens out on a hinge. Inside are a couple of books and a scroll, which she removes and closes the vault.

At the top she raises them in triumph. “Got them!”

“Wonderful, Lady! Shall we go back to the library?” Gliss holds out her hands to take them from her, and Ishandra hesitates for just a moment before giving them over, as well as the light crystal.

Together, they head back toward the library at normal speeds, mission accomplished, and the Frost Faerie holding the materials carefully.

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