Getting there had been half the battle. A wrenching, sucking pull worse than any storm I've danced with, colder than any whirl of ice, darker than any night. Strangled by the vacuum, in fear for my life, terrorized by the ride, I could only be pulled along until spat out the other side into the welcoming forest.
The trip back is even worse, because this time I know what to expect.
Eternity seems to tick by, heartbeat by heartbeat in the whirlwind.
Being thrust out of the spaces between is a relief that makes me dizzy.
"Dee!" Janen shrieks in fear as we spin towards the ground below, totally out of control. Fighting dizziness and nausea, I dig deep for control, remembering endless lessons under Mimi's hard eye. Her hard-to-please whetstone to my unhoned will of steel made me into a blade of magical talent the likes of which will change Oz.
After all, it already has.
Growling with the effort, I spread my arms, grab control of the elements around me and slow the wild plunge with barely a moment to spare. As it is, the landing is bone-rattling, leaving me winded and hurting.
"Any landing," Janen giggles breathlessly and I grunt in half-humored response. As much as I ache all over, I'll bet something, or several somethings, are broken.
Groaning, sobbing from the pain radiating along my nerves, all I can do is lie there and burn with it. Then, a shadow falls over me, and breath snuffles at my hair. "Dee?" A welcome and familiar voice says in astonishment. "What in the name of Oz happened to you? Lie still."
It takes me a moment to recognize Chackle's voice. Since the Cheetah has been my family doctor since my conception, it alarms me at how slow my brain is working. Footsteps approach fast and my sobs turn to relief. I'd know that heavy tread anywhere.
"I've got it, Doc," Mimi soothes and begins to chant softly, warm heat flooding my agonized body. Then, another familiar energy spikes Mimi's power and I know that Mama has joined her in knitting together the damage I have dealt myself. Some time passes as they pass their power on to me, chasing back the pain, before I can roll onto my back and blink at them.
It was the darkest night of winter when I left them, young, hopeful and ready for their future. As I sprawl here in the grass of our summer house at the edges of the Gillikin Forest, I stare into the faces so much more familiar to me. Age has changed them somewhat, fine lines appearing from their smiles and frowns. Mimi's slenderness is not so angular now and Mama is no longer quite so baby-faced and soft. These women are my mothers, my heroes, my home and my heart.
"It worked, Fae," Mimi smiles and gathers my battered and exhausted body to her, Mama wrapping herself around us both.
"It worked, my darling," Mama hums against my scalp. "My brave darling."
Clinging to them both, sobbing now with the deepest relief that I have ever felt, I know that I am home.
To whom it may concern,
The character of Delia was so aptly named by my dearest pal and studly beta, AJ (ariestess). Only later did we realize that she had made a completely unintentional tip of the hat to yet another fascinating corner of the Oz-verse. I refer to, of course, to Azkadelia. If you have not seen Tin Man, it was released days ago on DVD. Don't walk, run. It's fabulous.