Carriel felt like a cloud of gloom hovering over a parade. The morning sun cast the snow into piles of glitter. Excited, bubbly people swarmed around her sister, Lionye’s golden child, winner of the Emberithshire Skating Championship, Junior Division. Bree laughed and chatted with friends, rivals, and fans.
Even Garray looked excited. Well, of course he did. Their grasping brother had set up this race to give himself another reason to gamble. He’d be thrilled all day, unless their little sister lost.
A whisper, like a sudden gust of wind, ran through the crowd. She turned, following the ripple. The crowd shifted, allowing a woman and a girl about Bree’s size to cross the park to the pond. She shielded her eyes against the glare of the sun on the snow, but even standing on tiptoes, she couldn’t catch more than a glimpse of the competition’s knit cap through the press.
Whistles sounded. Cheers erupted. Her sister flashed an elated grin. The head of the Lionye’s Skating Commission stepped away from the judges’ table and raised a megaphone to his lips.
“Welcome to today’s special event race. We’re pitting our very own Bree, the Winter Wind, against Tayla of the Peolline district of Feballiase.”
The crowd roared. Bree waved to her cheering fans. Tayla turned at her name and gave a tentative smile. Carriel blinked. What?
“Ladies, please take your places at the starting line.”
Snapping out of her shock, she grabbed her sister’s arm before she could hobble more than a couple of steps towards the starting line.
“What?” A bemused smile on her face, Bree turned. She clearly expected wishes of luck or advice. The usual before a race.
“She’s not human.”
“Huh?” Her sister glanced at the starting line.
“She’s some sort of winter Fae. I think she’s an ice sprite.”
Wild excitement filled her sister’s face. “Really?”
She gritted her teeth. “I know what I see.”
“Bree of Lionye, please join us at the starting line.” The ice sprite already stood there. She smiled, too innocently to be believed, when they looked at her.
“I’ve got to go.”
“So she’s an ice sprite. It’s just a race.”
“It’ll be a laugh. Tell Stacia.”
“You cannot hope to win.”
Her smirk turned mischievous. “Tell my coach. Let the word spread. Think about it. Racing an ice sprite? Sure I can’t win, but depending on how close I come? How fast and famous does that make me?”
The officials called for Bree again. Laughing, she spun and hobbled quickly to the ice sprite.
Carriel dashed over to her sister’s coach. Stacia cursed at the news and ran to the alert the head of Lionye’s Skating Commission. Blood drained from his face. Stacia continued to talk for a few minutes. The Commission Head turned and raised his whistle to his lips. One bleat.
Ice sprayed from their skates. The crowd roared. Neck and neck as they neared the first curve.
Carriel’s heart pounded. This wasn’t right. She shouldn’t have allowed this.
The ice sprite pulled ahead on the first curve. On the opposite side of the pond, the ice sprite lengthened her lead. The crowd screamed for their Winter Wind to speed up.
A determined frown creased Bree’s face. Carriel had watched her sister skate enough times to pick up the minute increase in speed. She skated as fast as she could, perhaps faster than her fastest time. They wouldn’t know for sure on that until she crossed the finish line.
Which she did a good forty-five seconds after the ice sprite.
A crack echoed across the park.
Bree flashed out of existence.
The ice sprite pivoted. The glee on her face twisted into a good facsimile of shock.