Chapter Thirty Four - Sunshine
Walking back to the couch, she flopped down onto it as she looked at the dragons and asked, “So, are they not landing on you because they’re scared of you or something?”
Briar scoffed, and Vivi whined as she chirped back, “Please, we don’t have to try. Most of them just know we’re dangerous and stay away.” Hmmm. Okay. So it wasn’t like they were radiating some danger aura, which made sense, because otherwise Briar wouldn’t have been able to help her transform the queens. She still couldn’t believe crystals just grew around them.
Jade blinked. If crystals were already natural sources of mana, just you know, fairly muted, could she use them as a power source? Pulling out a fist sized crystal still in her inventory, she closed her eyes, opening herself to all magic just so she could look at the world. She wanted to see how her rings were pulling in magic.
And then she was frowning. Most of her other creations pulled in ambient magic from the air, but this was the first time she realized she was powering her rings herself. Sure, they were pulling in ambient mana, and the closest source happened to be...her skin. How had she not noticed that before? Now that she was looking, it was a constant, tiny drain to maintain. They must’ve started pulling from elsewhere when she drained herself, or...maybe that was another part of her recovery. It was an interesting realization.
It also kiboshed her idea of making an accessory as a mana recharge battery. It didn’t do her much good if it was draining her. Granted, in video games most of the mana recharge accessories had to be personally charged with your own mana before you could use them, sooo… She was already cheating by using sunlight. She would start with that, then. Concentrating on the crystal, she tried to do her coding magic to make it absorb sunlight. When she thought she had it right, she found the dragons observing her curiously. “Another experiment?”
Nodding to Briar, she popped up, walking over to the window and leaving the crystal in a pool of sunshine there, where it started to suck in the light weakly for a few inches instead of creating true darkness like she did. “Yup, just wanted to test something.” Hopping happily back to the couch, she bounced on it for a bit as she pondered what else to do. With all the fellacai in the air, practicing most magic was out. She watched them for a bit, noting their playful patterns and the way they were attacking what juice had been left out. They’d even nibbled on a bunch of the food at the side of the room, and she realized that it had basically all just become butterfly food.
She was also just studying how these fellacai were different. They were fully wild, a bit more nervous and fluttery than her swarm back in Abala, and she wondered if it was because they hadn’t lived in captivity for a while. That flock had been so happy just to get out of their cage for a while. This flock seemed a bit more anxious about their new queens, and she figured that was a side effect of having the old ones murdered. The flocks seemed to keep trauma in their memories, which, considering the tiny size of their brains, was impressive, even if it did make sense. Most of the non-queens were much less developed, which is why she’d had them choose only the best so she had the easiest starting point. She had to wonder if it was something like the Beanne’s insight into patterns, however. A genetic memory. How did that even work? Did it transfer from one swarm to another? Would the Abala swarm start being more protective when Jade’s and Ren’s little ones interacted with them?
As she was pondering, she felt the fluttering of wings as two fellacai queenlets fluttered in front of her face. They were each mostly mint green, one with silver and black markings, and the other with white and beige. She recognized them as the two spiritual queens and cooed softly at them, “Well hello lovelies, what can I do for...you…”
It was then that she realized. They were spiritual magic fellacai. They could probably see… A few squeaks and she felt Lilith translating, “Mommy, they say your spirit is hurt.”
Holding out a hand for the little ones, she watched them as they landed, still chirping at Lilith, who’d settled on her shoulder. She gave them a sad smile as she told them gently, “I know, little ones. I just don’t know how to fix it.” More squeaks, and she could feel Lilith preparing to interpret when it all went wrong.
The physical pain was secondary to the spiritual backlash as she felt the fellacai die around her droves. As she felt seven of her own bonded let out one last feeling of agony before they were gone. Her eyes were blind, her eardrums blown out by the explosion that came from the window. No, it wasn’t an attack, and it wasn’t just from the window...it was from the crystal that lay in scattered, smoking pieces. Some of them were piercing her flesh, telling the story of too much power for it to handle. She could feel the bones protruding from her face, half her flesh melted. The agony of dying dragons as their lives were being cut short by something they didn’t understand, only so much pain.
They were gone, gone forever, because she’d made a stupid, simple mistake. They weren’t coming back. Would she be alone again? She could vaguely smell the scent of burned blood, not knowing if it was her own organs that were protesting or the bloody ribbons of tiny bodies and scattered scales. Her blind eyes sought out the world around her, gaining a brief glimpse of a room painted red and dripping with the remains of her loved ones, her own wounds plastered with bits of her babies.
“NO!” The scream of agony tore from her throat, raw and unsteady as she wrenched at the world with her magic. No. She couldn’t… And then her vision cleared. The world was normal, no more bodies, no more blood, though she could still feel her muscles twitch in pain. She was holding her hand out for the spiritual fellacai to land. It took half a second of realization, and then she flew out of her seat, the door to the balcony shoved open with wind magic as she used the last bit of her energy to grab the crystal and send it flying as high into the sky as she could...and then it detonated again, this time far, far above the city.
Sinking to her knees, she began to sob uncontrollably, gasping in huge gulps of air. “Jade, what just...are you okay?” Briar’s voice was hesitant, and she wondered what he knew. But then she felt them. Her babies, reaching out to her in concern. They seemed surprised and uncertain, and all ten of them were fluttering anxiously in front of her until she could reach out with shaking hands to stroke each and every one of their wings, unable to respond to Briar or to stop her tears. “Where...why are you drained? You were fine a moment ago, and I thought I felt…” Confusion and uncertainty filled his words, and she knew she would have to explain...eventually.
For now, she would cry to her heart’s content. There was an urgent knocking at the door before guards burst in when no one answered, looking around at the swirling fellacai in fear before they focused in on the girl huddling in the sunshine. “She’s here!” They stopped, not coming in further when they saw Briar’s fierce look, obviously waiting for more important backup, but they had done their job of confirming that she was, physically at least, safe.
Her ring was buzzing again and she leaned over, slumping onto the warm stone as she curled up. With the last dregs of her energy, she pulled out all her mirrors into a big pile on the ground next to her so they would stop annoying her and draining her magic. Briar took one look at her, then picked up the mirrors that were making tiny magical hums as he sat there next to her, one hand on her head, stroking her hair as he answered the mirrors with the other. She felt Vivi, Zuzu, and Devon curling up around her, offering comfort as her little ones shivered against her clammy skin.
A good chunk of the fellacai swarm flew out above her head, flitting around the garden in front of them in their anxiety to be outside, away from the room that seemed to hold a fear they didn’t understand. A few of them were huddling in the corners of the room. An aura of fear seemed to pervade the room, starting with Jade. “She’s--Jade, you need to absorb sunlight. You need energy.”
Briar’s voice, which had been a pleasant rumble in the background of her mind, focused a tiny bit when he said her name. She flinched when he said she needed to absorb the sunlight, opting instead to pull out a bowl of soup, set the straw near her face, and slurp at it aimlessly without moving. She could hear Briar go back to whatever conversation he was having, but she just wanted to lay there, trying to convince herself the sunshine wasn’t the problem. The sunshine was fine. She liked the sunshine. No. She wasn’t going to be scared of the sunshine.
Steeling herself mentally, she stuck one hand out away from her babies, letting a small black circle appear around it as she started slow, then sighed when nothing went wrong. It wasn’t like this was the first time a crystal exploded on her when she tried to shove energy into it. She apparently hadn’t learned her lesson the first time. Limits. Things needed limits and shut off points. Or else they exploded. Apparently. Fun. Her fingers moved to the baby dragons, stroking down their spines as she remembered their pain. They were taking it better than the fellacai, offering her comfort too, but there was still an instinct there, that something had gone terribly wrong, that they had been on the verge of death.
She could feel Briar’s hand messing up her braid as he tried to pet the top of her head. It was both soothing and annoying that he was ratting her hair with his ministrations, petting her like she was petting the others. It was like she could feel her mental fortitude kicking in, giving her space from the...incident. Closing her eyes, she considered just taking a nap. She could be a sun kitty, but there was a part of her that was kicking her conscience. She needed to deal with things. They were important. Like a garden full of terrified fellacai. Yeah, that was actually kinda important.
Groaning and feeling like her every joint was creaking as she slowly pushed herself back upright while making sure none of the littles were jostled, she sighed as she sat and stared out at the garden. Briar had paused whatever conversation he was holding to look at her, alerted by movement. Sighing again, she glanced back at him and asked in a raw, scratchy voice, “Can we just leave them in the garden for a bit?” Looking back at the suite that had been allotted to her, she frowned and asked, “Actually, can I just move to the garden for a while? I kinda want to...never be in this room again.”
It had seemed so pretty, so perfect for her purposes, and now she would forever associate it with feeling like her soul got ripped out and death, even if she’d managed to do...something...to reverse it. Time magic, her conscience whispered. Cool. Note: time magic was really freaking draining. She had to wonder if it had just straight up stolen the elasticity of her muscles. What price had she paid to go back? Or was she just suffering phantom pain from the stuff that happened?
Whatever price it was, it had been worth it. Gingerly lifting her little ones up, she kissed each of them in turn, breathing out softly, “I love you. It’s going to be okay.” She repeated her gesture for the little dragons, and they nudged her cheeks, licking her face in comfort.
It was okay. They were still alive. She’d fixed her mistake. This time. They would all move forward. They had to.
A little sunshine never hurt anyone, right?