"Gran!" Rhianna cried. She caught Pippa as she fell. Blood welled in a thick pool around the dagger, and dripped strange patterns onto the sandy. "Please don't leave me."
In front of her, the darkling stone hissed and smoked where blood had scattered across it.
Gran clutched onto Rhianna's hand, but her grip was weak and slick with blood. "Get away...run." She gasped, every word taking gargantuan effort.
"No, I won't leave you!" Rhianna cradled her in her lap, squeezing tight, amazed at how small and frail the old woman felt.
Teasel was by her side, tugging at her arm. "Come!"
The stone burst into flame, burning with white hot fury. Darklings scattered, mewling with fear, and still stuck in their true form.
"No! Where were you, brownie?" The part of her that was always holding back—always unwilling to risk hurting others with her own hurt was buried under grief. Her feelings came to her tongue full of venom and spite. "You are a failure to your kind. Where were you when I needed protecting? It should be you with a knife in your heart!"
"Shhh-hhh." Gran's barely audible voice hissed shakily. She tried to raise her hand to her face. Rhianna had to grab it and press it to her cheek. The blade, buried to the hilt in bloody flannel, had turned from black to blinding white, like the fire on the stone.
"What is this, Teasel?" she asked, her tone softer, as the glow spread out to Gran's body. She dared to hope. "Is there some magic healing her?"
Teasel shook his head. "The blessing is leaving her. She is dying."
Rhianna moaned and smoothed back her grandmothers hair, the way she'd wished someone would do for her just once. This couldn't be happening. They were just starting to get to know each other. She hadn't even really given Gran a chance to know her, always keeping her feelings bottled up.
"It's not fair! I'm so sorry, Gran. I've been afraid all this time. Afraid to end up crazy, like mom. Afraid of being stuck in one place for too long. I finally had a place. If you go, they'll take me away. I'll have nothing. I'll go crazy, I know I will. I need you Gran!" She choked on her final words. "I love you."
The stone became a pillar of flame, and the light around Gran dwindled to almost nothing. Her lips moved, though no sound came out. The words were clear enough. "Love you. Grand daughter."
Gran's eyes closed and a small sigh escaped her lips. The pillar of flame extinguished abruptly, taking the last of Gran's light with it.
Teasel laid his hand on her shoulder as a small whimper escaped her lips. A hundred things she needed to say suddenly crowded her mind. She became aware of the tangy stench of blood and the cold sting of the breeze blowing on her tear stained cheeks. The brownie tugged her arm again.
The darklings were starting to come to their senses.
"I can't just leave her. I'm afraid."
She felt the sting again, stronger this time. She reached up to her face and felt the mask there. Scrabbling at the edges with her fingers, she started to cry. It was loose, but wouldn't quite come off.
Her hands fell and she laughed weakly. "I actually want all of this to be in my head. Some crazy fantasy world that I have dreamt up. The real me is still back in the real world having some kind of delusion. The real Gran is still alive and thinking up new chores to keep me busy. I would do a million dishes if it could make that come true."
She looked down at Gran's ashen face, in case her promise to do chores could bring her back to life. The mask slipped a little.
"Fairy takes care of its own, even on this forsaken shore." Teasel nodded his head.
Rhianna followed his gaze and saw sprouts poking up out of the sand at Gran's feet and anywhere her blood had fallen. They were growing rapidly and some had begun to bloom with flame red poppies. A larger vine began to twine around Gran's ankles.
She reluctantly eased her self up, laying Gran's head gently in the sand. As she stepped back the growth of the magical plants sped up. Vines and shoots consumed her, like an herbal bonfire. In the center an oak tree spiraled upward and a little brown song sparrow flitted into its branches, puffing its speckled breast, and singing an uplifting melody.
Fresh tears burst from Rhianna's eyes as she wondered if the sparrow was Gran's spirit trying to cheer her up.
She turned to Teasel. "I don't want to be alone."
The mask slipped completely from her face and fell to the ground with a thud, as though it carried the weight of the entire world. Rhianna gasped, feeling her face as though it was the first time she'd felt her own skin.
Teasel looked at the mask lying in the sand and smiled. "You will never be alone Rhianna. But we need to get Jenny and get off this beach. The darklings are regaining their power."
She picked up the mask, staring at its black surface fractured by veins of purple. She didn't understand why it had come off, but it was a good thing. She knew it in her soul. Her face felt warm, and her vision was clear again, like a veil had been lifted.
"You'd better take that with you." Teasel grimaced.
She wasn't sure she wanted it, but she also knew it was powerful and she didn't want to leave anything powerful in the hands of the darklings.
The twisted creatures scattering the beach were beginning to rise and some flickered between horse and horror. Rhianna couldn't believe she had considered becoming one of them, even for a second. Would she have ended up deformed and blackened like that?
Grayson picked himself from beside the burnt scar, which was all that was left of his stone. His eyes flew to her, full of rage. But then he saw her face, and his eyes flicked down to the mask.
"Seize them you cretins," he shouted, kicking sand at the nearest darklings to him. A few of them stumbled to their feet, holding horse form, but walking on shaking legs like new born foals.
He leapt across the blackened sand, not waiting for any of his creatures to respond to his commands.
"Rhianna come!" Teasel's eyes are pleading.
The way he walked past Gran's grave, without even a passing glance, infuriated her. How dare he! The other darklings turned toward her, advancing. A single poppy which had grown tall at the edge of the mound and then flopped over onto the beach was crushed under a hoof.
"How dare you!" A scream erupted her chest, up her throat and out of her mouth, raw and primal. Her fist shoved deep in her pocket and before she realized what she was doing, she pulled out Gretch's bells. She drew a breath and screamed again, unleashing the tinkle of the bells as she did.
Only the bells didn't tinkle, they pealed out in unison with her scream like a hundred church bells ringing at once. The nearest darklings fell again, those who were further away turned and fled. Grayson fell face first into the sand clamping his hands over his ears.
She rang the bells harder, watching him squirm. Lightning cracked the sky with each ring and the ground started to shake. But she kept ringing until the bells grew hot and burned her hands. She flung them to the sand where they turned into a molten puddle.
Teasel gasped behind her, writhing on the ground like every other Fae creature within earshot.
"Oh no. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to. Wake up." The brownie did not respond. Sweat poured from his brow. She ran to the lake and scooped up some inky water in her hands, not sure if it was safe, but with nothing better coming to mind. When she got back to his side most of the water had dribbled away, but she gently slapped his face with her cold wet hands.
He gasped and opened his eyes weakly.
"You're ok!" She hugged him.
"I...will...recover." His voice scraped his throat like a shovel through gravel. "Take Jenny back. She is not safe."
"You can." He squeezed her hand. "I am sorry I failed you. It's your turn. Don't fail Jenny."
A/N - Sorry if I made you cry :(
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Rhianna and the Magic HorseFantasy
**Updates every Sunday** Rhianna was a free spirit on the road with her mother, until something changed. Something that left her abandoned on a farm in the middle of nowhere, with a stranger she is supposed to call Grandmother. Grounded. Now Rhianna...