It’s raining again, even worse than last night. Rain pours down, hitting the roof, a steady, loud drumming sound. I sit in Madame Shadow’s office, still numb from shock. Dustin is sitting on the old tattered couch next to me. He’s still crying, clinging to me for comfort. Kristina is in the corner, trying to stop Ruby’s wailing. After dragging us back inside, Madame Shadow had brought us here and told us to wait whilst she took care of a few things.
“Hush,” Says Kristina, rocking Ruby back and forth in her arms.
“Here,” I hold out my arms. “I’ll take her.”
Kristina places Ruby back into my arms. Despite my state, I manage to smile.
“Hey sis,” I say. “Shh… It’s okay… I’ve got you now.” It’s what Mum used to say whenever Dustin or I had nightmares.
“Rose, sing the song,” Dustin sniffed, and wiped his eyes on his sleeve. “The one Mum used to sing.”
There was a song, a song Mum said she had gotten from her family a long time ago, that she sang to us as a lullaby sometimes, when we couldn’t get to sleep. Mum had a beautiful voice. She said it ran in her family.
“Not now Dustin,” I tell him. “Maybe another time.”
“Please? She might like it.” Dustin points to Ruby, who’s still bawling.
He has a point.
Hesitantly, I sing the first few lines, my voice shaking.
Dustin joins in.
Ruby’s cries begin to cease. Outside, the rain seems to ease a little. Dustin and I begin to sing a little louder, and Kristina starts tapping her foot in time.
Madame Shadow returns, and we stop abruptly. She scowls at Kristina, who bows her head.
“Thank you, Kristina, your services are no longer needed in here. Go prepare the beds in room seven. The other children are aware of the newcomers.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Kristina curtseys to Madame Shadow and leaves the room.
She’s silent for a moment before she speaks to us. “Rose, Dustin, I am Madame Paprika Iceshadow.”
“We know-” Begins Dustin, but Madame Shadow interrupts him.
“Silence!” She hisses. “When you address me, boy, you look me in the eye. You are only to address me as ‘Ma’am’ or ‘Miss Shadow’. I will not tolerate rude children that interrupt me in this household. Understand?” She glares at Dustin. “Well, boy?”
Dustin jumps. “Y-yes Ma’am,” He says, his voice wobbling. I take his hand and give it a squeeze. Be brave, I try to make it say. Dustin squeezes my hand back. He understood.
“Good.” She sits down at her desk. “Now, you will be sharing a room with two other children, and eating meals in the mess hall. Kristina will organise your education at the local school in the forest. You are not to fight or quarrel with the other children at any time. There is no using magic, except for in the allocated classes at school. You are not allowed to fly indoors. You cannot leave this building unless you are accompanied by Kristina with my permission or by myself. Is that all clear?”
Dustin and I nod. “Yes Ma’am,” We chorus.
“As Ruby is an infant, it’s up to the eldest to primarily look after her.” She looks at me. “That means that you, Rose, are to oversee taking care of your sister. Kristina will only help with meals and bathing.”
“Yes Ma’am,” I say.
There’s a knock on the door.
“Enter,” Says Madame Shadow.
Kristina walks in. “The room’s ready Ma’am,” She says.
“Very well. Take them down.”
Kristina curtseys again. “Of course, Ma’am.” She begins to usher us out of the room. “Come on you two.”
Once we’re out of Madame Shadow’s office, Kristina offers to hold Ruby again. I shake my head. Madame Shadow told me it was my responsibility to look after her, so I will.
Kristina leads us downstairs to a door with a large silver ‘7’ nailed onto the front.
“This is where you’ll be staying,” She tells us. “My room’s right down the hall, next to the kitchen, so feel free to come get me if you have any problems.” When neither of us respond, she bends down to give us a hug. “Oh, I’m sorry, you two. This must be awful for you, losing both your parents at the same time.”
“It’s not your fault.” Says Dustin. “Dad’s the one who left us.” He sounds angry.
I do my best to hug her back without dropping or squishing Ruby. “Thank you. For being so nice.”
Kristina chuckles. “You’re very most welcome. Come on, let’s introduce you to your roommates.” She stands up again, straightening her apron. Then she knocks on the door.
The door opens, and a sandy haired sparrowboy with blue eyes sticks his head out. He looks about Dustin’s age, maybe a few years older and he wears a grey shirt and faded leaf pants. His eyes land on my brother and I, and the baby in my arms.
“That’s them?” He doesn’t sound impressed.
“Now Sage, remember what I said,” Kristina chastises. “They’ve just lost their mother. Be nice to them.”
“Hmph.” The sparrowboy I now know as Sage grunts and opens the door so we can walk in.
The room is cramped, with two bunk beds and matching grey sheets. The wooden walls are covered in peeling paint. The floors are also wood, with no rug to cover it. In one corner, a cradle has been crammed in for Ruby. In the other, there’s a door leading to a small bathroom. There’s a window on one wall looking out into the forest, with a set of wobbly old shelves above it. The top shelf is weighed down with books, and the bottom one has a collection of mismatched objects such as a small telescope, and a pile of rolled up leaf papers.
There’s a girl on one of the top bunks, reading a book. Her hair is a deep red with orange end and so frizzy that it makes her look like it’s on fire. She looks up when we walk in.
“So, you’re out new roommates?” She grins. “Finally, another girl!”
“Thank Neverland,” Mutters Sage. “Maybe you’ll finally stop forcing me to discuss your stupid romance books.”
“Sage, there’s no need for that kind of language,” Kristina scolds.
“Sorry,” He mumbles.
“It’s alright.” She beckons for the girl to come down. “Rose, Dustin, this is Sage and Willow. Sage, Willow, this is Dustin, Rose and their baby sister, Ruby.”
Willow climbs down from her bed and waves. “Fly with you! You’re all Water Talents?”
Dustin and I nod. Now she’s closer, I can see she has bright green eyes and freckles covering her face. She’s also wearing a faded grey dress and knee high socks that are too big for her, and keep falling down around her ankles. “Your wings are pink,” I say slowly, “So you’re… a Garden fairy?”
Mum once explained to us how the Talents work. She said that some pixies are born like Dustin and I, and have parents, but most are born from a Clumsy’s very first laugh. A Clumsy is like a fairy, only a lot bigger, and they don’t have wings. They live in a place called the Mainland, far away from here. When a baby Clumsy laughs for the first time, the laugh is carried on the wind here, to Pixie Hollow. Everyone gathers together to celebrate this at what Mum called an ‘Arrival ceremony’. Mum said that’s where they get their name and choose their Talent.
“What do you mean, choose a Talent?” I asked.
“Every fairy has a Talent,” Mum explained. “There are hundreds of them, each with unique skills, and once their Talent is decided, their wings will change from clear to slightly coloured.”
“What colour?” I said, intrigued.
“That depends on the Talent,” She replied.
“You said they choose a Talent. Does that mean new Arrivals get to choose the Talent they like best?” Asked Dustin.
“No darling, the Talent chooses them.” Mum said mysteriously.
“Mum,” I began, “Do we have to go to a ceremony to get our Talent?”
Mum shook her head. “Only fairies born of laughter have an Arrival ceremony,” She said. “You and your brother were born with your Talents.”
“So what’s our Talent, Mum?” Dustin tugged on the hem of Mum’s skirt.
“Your Talent is Water, like your father and I,” She said. “That’s why our family all have blue wings – we’re all Water Talents.”
“So… I can control water?” I said in amazement.
Mum smiled. “Not yet, your Talent hasn’t awakened so far. But one day it will, and then, yes, you will be able to control Water.” She scooped Dustin and I up in her arms. “And I think you two will be some of the best Water Talents around.”
Mum also said wing colour was a good way to figure out a fairy’s Talent. She gave us the colours of the five most common Talents: Light fairies have yellow wings; Tinkers, green; Animal Talents, orange; Garden Talents, pink and Water Talents, blue.
Willow grins. “Yep! Mum was a Baking fairy, but I ended up getting my dad’s Garden Talent genes.”
“You’re still pretty good at making strawberry muffins though,” Says Sage. “It’s probably the only thing that makes you tolerable.”
“I sometimes help Kristina out in the kitchen,” Explains Willow. “In fact, I made some strawberry muffins just this morning.”
“Those were made by you?” Dustin says in awe. “They were delicious.”
Willow beams. “Thanks!”
Kristina smiles. “Well, I’ll leave you three to settle in. Lunch will be in a couple of hours in the mess hall. Willow and Sage will help you find it.”
“Thank you, Kristina.” Says Dustin, running up and giving her a hug.
Kristina chuckles. “It’s my pleasure. I’ll see you soon.”
Dustin lets her go and she leaves the room, shutting the door behind her.
Sage glares at Dustin and I. “The top bunk on the left is mine. Don’t touch it, or any of my things. And keep the baby away from me. I don’t like babies.”
For a moment, I’m not quite sure what to say. “Um… Okay then,” I say. “We’ll do our best.”
“Hmph,” Sage grunts again, and climbs onto his bed. I take the chance to check his wing colour. Yellow. That means he’s a Light Talent.
“Don’t mind Sage,” Says Willow. “He’s always like this.”
“Why is he so…” I lower my voice; I don’t want to upset him more. “Grumpy?”
“Sage lost his parents when he was little,” Explains Willow. “The Never Council found out they were hiding him. They took them away and brought him here.”
“That’s terrible!” I say.
“I can hear you guys,” Calls Sage from his bed. I jump and, to my horror, almost drop Ruby.
“I better put her down,” I nod at my sister in my arms. “I don’t want to hurt her.”
I move to the other side of the room and place Ruby in the cradle. She’s gurgles happily, even though I almost dropped her.
“Sorry,” I whisper to her. “I didn’t mean to. Sage scared me.”
From across the room, Sage let’s out a sigh. “The baby can’t understand you, you know.”
“Sa-age,” Willow whines. “Kristina said to be nice.”
Sage dramatically falls back onto his pillow. “Whatever.”
Willow rolls her eyes. “Anyway, Sage and I are already using the top bunks, so you and your brother will have to take the bottom ones,” She smiles apologetically. “Sorry.”
I shrug. “It’s okay.”
“We’ll have to make room on the shelves too – oh, there’s so much to do!” She says excitedly.
Dustin looks a little stunned by Willow’s nature. I am too – why is someone so happy in such a sad place?
Willow must notice our faces and smiles sheepishly. “Sorry. We haven’t gotten new roommates in forever.”
“The last two got adopted.” Sage says from the top bunk.
“Adopted?” I ask.
“Yeah – twins, a fairy and sparrowman, both Art Talents. They used to get in all sorts of trouble because they kept trying to decorate the room – painting the walls, hanging stuff from the ceiling…” Willow giggled. “The worst was when they dyed the bedsheets different colours. Madame Shadow made them scrub the halls for a week.”
I frown. “But Willow… What does ‘adopted’ mean?”
Willow blinks. “You don’t know what…?”
Sage sighs again. “Willow, they’re new, remember?”
“Oh, right!” Willow laughs. “Like I said, it’s been so long since we’ve had anyone new and-”
“For frogs’ sake, Willow,” Sage says, rolling his eyes. “Just explain to them what adoption is already.”
Willow blushes. “Sorry, of course,” She pauses for a moment, as if she’s trying to work out the best way to explain whatever ‘adoption’ is to us.
“You see,” She begins, “Sometimes, older fairies will come here and choose to take someone home with them. They then look after that pixie as if they’re their own child, until they’re old enough to live on their own.”
“So…” Says Dustin slowly, “Mum’s and Dad’s without children come here to find one?”
“That doesn’t even make sen-”
Willow glares at Sage. “Yes Dustin, that’s the rough idea of it.”
“But what if Rose gets picked and I don’t?” Dustin bites his lower lip. “I don’t want to stay here by myself.”
“That won’t happen,” I reassure him. “I won’t go with them unless they’re also taking you and Ruby. Promise.”
“Besides,” Says Willow, “Adoption doesn’t happen that often, only a few times a year. There’s nothing to worry about. Now, come on! Let’s get you moved in!”
We spend the next hour making the beds and helping Willow rearrange things on the shelf so there’s room for Dustin and I to put our stuff, but we don’t really need it right now. Dustin puts his teddy bear on his bed, and Willow helps me stick the photo of Dustin and I with Mum up on the wall next to mine. Sage is still complaining he has no room for all his stuff now when there’s a ringing sound coming from the hallway.
“By the Second Star, finally!” Exclaims Sage. “I’m starving!”
Dustin and I exchange glances, feeling confused. “What’s going on?” I ask Willow.
“Lunch time,” She explains. “We better go quickly or we’ll be last in line – come on!”
Note – this story is ongoing and should be updated regularly.