The Sun Spinners

Arrin peered over the wall, spun from mist, at the land far, far below. All he could see was a barren wasteland, littered with crumbling shacks, which stretched toward the distant Avaron Sea. The sun, high overhead, brushed against his skin with a touch like warm silk. The many stars that were visible during the day prickled the sky like specks of crystal.

Arrin fingered the glass spindle, his tool for shaping moonlight and starlight into tangible threads and creating objects from them, but he didn't feel like spinning. A faint sundog glimmered low on the horizon, above the smooth gray-blue line of sea, some Light Spinner's feeble attempt to fashion a full rainbow.

Janea had been the best at that. Tears touched his eyes as he thought of his twin sister. Her hair and eyes were the lustrous gold of newly minted coins, a contrast to dark Arrin. Their parents used to say that Janea was the light for his shadow. Still, their differences went beyond the physical, Arrin recalled. Janea was energetic, never able to sit still for very long, while Arrin was quiet and liked to think. His sister had a voice like music while he could not hum a simple tune. Janea loved to swim in the waters of the Avaron Sea while Arrin preferred to explore the hills that banked Raddyn, the village where they had been raised as children.

Both were gifted Light Spinners but Janea excelled at sun spinning; Arrin, like most, was more comfortable with moonlight and starlight. Since Janea possessed the rare ability to separate the colors hidden in the sun's rays and spin them into prism-threads that shimmered in a spectrum of color, she was one of the highest honored. Arrin had envied his sister's ability: he had spent hours combing and separating the gleaming sun-strands into filaments of purple, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red but only succeeded in stinging his eyes and burning his fingertips.

Only last year, Janea had been riding a flying cloud-fleece to hang one of her rainbow creations in the sky, where it would be admired by the common people who dwelled in the valley, when she tumbled off and fell several feet, dashing her head against a rock. For days her survival had seemed doubtful but she eventually did awaken. She was left with the mind of a child and could no longer spin with light.

Against Arrin's wishes, Janea was banished from Luminaris, this mountain village where only the world's Light Spinners dwelled, and sent back to Raddyn to live with their parents, neither of whom were Light Spinners. But only weeks ago, Arrin received word that their parents had died when their cottage caught on fire and Janea had disappeared. He had traveled around on his fleece looking for her but had been unable to find her. It was believed that she was most likely dead too.

So many bad things had been happening in the lands below that it had become a common belief that the Nymm, those ephemeral beings of light who inspired the Light Spinners, protected the world and held the secrets of the universe, had vanished. Arrin, who had at first fought this feeling in spite of his quenched desire to spin, now was certain that the Nymm had deserted them. Why would they have stood by and allowed Janea to fall and their parents to die so tragically? Nothing else made any sense.

And the land below was suffering. The Light Spinners had always been the ones to shape the seeds for the incandescent flora and fauna that used to flourish below as well as the clouds that produced the nourishing rains. And now that Janea was gone, there were no more rainbows. Others had tried to replace her but she had been the best.

Arrin's grief deepened, clenching his chest like a fist, as the distant sundog faded away.

"Who needs the Nymm?" said a voice behind him. "We can restore the world on our own."

Arrin whirled. A girl he had never seen before crept toward him. She was so small that, at first glance, he thought she was a child. But after he studied her for a moment, his gaze lingering momentarily on the slight curves beneath her fleecy cloud-thread tunic, he realized that she was closer to his age. Her face was delicately heart-shaped and dominated by enormous fire-blue eyes that slightly tilted up at the corners. Those eyes, along with her silvery-pale hair that was cropped into sloppy layers, created a brilliant contrast against her nut-brown skin. A pair of pointed ears poked through her wild hair.

What part of the world was she from? Arrin wondered as he continued to study her, his gaze slipping to the glass spindle that dangled around her neck. She was a new Light Spinner apparently, since he'd never seen her here in Luminaris before. A faint hope started to swell within him. Perhaps the Nymm hadn't deserted them; maybe this odd-looking girl was their gift.

"You don't have to stare," she said in a voice tinged with annoyance. A flush crept to her face and her eyes blazed brighter. "I know I look funny. That's what happens when you're part fairy."

"Part fairy?" Arrin blinked. He had heard of such creatures but they were as elusive as the Nymm.

The girl nodded. "That's where I got my hair and eyes and ears. But the rest of me is human." Sadness rippled across her delicate features like a cloud. Her tiny hand crept to her spindle and clutched it tightly. "The human part is all that matters. I no longer belong to the fairy clan." She pulled her spindle from around her neck. "Who needs the Nymm? We can continue to create on our own, can't we?"

Arrin nodded. "I'm Arrin, by the way," he said as he also removed his spindle, prepared to work. "What's your name?"

The girl was silent for a long while. She passed her spindle from one hand to the other and stared downward as if she was inwardly debating whether or not to use her true name or invent a false one. "Brennia," she said at last, a low whisper. "My name's Brennia."

Brennia held her spindle up toward the sunlight. It sparked off tiny colored flecks.

"You can spin with sunlight?" asked Arrin, feeling an emotion that was a mixture of grief for Janea and hope.

Brennia shook her head. "Not very well. I'm better with starlight. But I figured that if we worked together we might create something."

Arrin gathered reams of sunlight onto his spindle while Brennia unraveled the threads onto hers, separating them into shining, colorful filaments. She sang as they worked, painfully reminding him of Janea. His twin, too, had had a beautiful voice, unlike he; he kept his lips tightly clenched. Brennia's voice had the eerie tingle of something otherworldly. That must be from her fairy side, Arrin thought.

Perspiration prickled his forehead and his breath was rapid from the work once they were finished. That was what he enjoyed the most about spinning: he never realized what an effort it was until he was through with a certain task. And with Brennia's help, he had succeeded in creating his first rainbow.

It was a slender misshapen oval but it shimmered against the sunlight in a spectrum of dazzling colors.

"We did it!" he exclaimed, reaching out to embrace Brennia. She backed away, much to his disappointment, and clutched the silken rainbow to her chest. "I know it's not perfect, and not even the right shape, but I'm proud of it. I'll go get my fleece and together we can hang it in the sky. There haven't been rainbows since—" He choked on the final works as his thoughts turned toward Janea. His momentary excitement in their victory was dampened.

Brennia shook her head. A flush added a reddish tinge to her dusky skin. "This is the best I've been able to do. Let's keep working. I want to try again…and keep trying until I have twelve perfect wings. Together we can accomplish this." Her eyes took on an eerie glow.

"Sure," said Arrin, "once I've had a few minutes to rest." He paused for moment, his mind chewing over what Brennia had just said. "Wings? I thought we were spinning rainbows to hang in the sky. Why do you need wings? We have flying fleeces, which can carry you to any part of the world in an eye blink since they are made of light. I'll spin you one of those out of moonlight if you like. They're much easier than creating rainbows."

Brennia shook her head. "No. I want to have wings." She looked down at the deformed rainbow they had just created. It drooped over her hands like a gauze rag and tore when she moved it. Already its colors were fading, leaving it the dull gray of a cobweb. Brennia angrily flung the shreds to the ground and stomped on them.

"It's useless. Everything I create is useless but still I refuse to give up. The fairies were right. I am cursed. I—"

"Brennia, calm down," said Arrin, placing his hands firmly on her narrow shoulders and gazing down at her. He felt a longing, an urge to help her. She obviously wanted these wings badly. But why?

Brennia sighed. "I'm sorry." She leaned against the wall and stared off into the distance. She grasped her spindle with both hands. "I suppose I can't forget my fairy heritage, no matter how hard I try. My mother was a snow-fairy from the Northern Wilds. Have you heard of snow-fairies?"

"Only a little," said Arrin, thinking about how his early schooling had touched briefly on the existence of intelligent, non-human races. But the focus had been mainly on the protective Nymm.

"They dislike humans, even Light Spinners, since they feel that humans were the ones who drove away the Nymm." A sharp bitterness chilled her voice, made Arrin shiver. "My mother was raped by a human man and I was the result. Me, the half-human freak. They blamed me for the disappearance of the Nymm since I was conceived through evil, not love." Tears spilled from her eyes.

"Brennia…" Arrin said as he gently pried her hands away from her spindle, fearful that she might break it. His mind groped for something to say.

She turned from him, as if embarrassed to have been ensnared into such a weak moment, and rubbed a fist across her face.

"I was able to bear the ridicule but my lack of wings was too painful. All snow-fairies have twelve oval wings that are as iridescent as crystals. I couldn't stand not having my own wings. I eventually ran away and lived on the streets in human towns, using my Light Spinning skills—which I must have inherited from my human side—to get by, until I was discovered by the Oracles and brought here. But I vowed to someday spin myself some wings. Then I'll fly back to the Northern Wilds and show the fairies that I can be both human and fairy."

A warmth like the touch of sunlight filled Arrin. He reached out to Brennia and pulled her into a firm embrace. She didn't resist but melted against him.

"You belong here in Luminaris, not the Northern Wilds," he said. "But I will help you create your wings, if you like."

Brennia smiled up at him, something that made her face impossibly beautiful.

Arrin gradually released her and returned his gaze to the valley below.

"What is it, Arrin?" she asked. "There is sadness in your eyes. You look as if you have lost something."

"Someone," said Arrin with a nod and went on to explain, in a heavy tone, about Janea and his parents. He fought the tears that swelled in his eyes.

"I'm sorry," Brennia whispered, placing a tiny hand on his shoulder. "You were lucky to have had people who cared so much for you. It must have been very difficult to lose them."

He nodded, his throat too tight to pass words.

"Maybe they aren't really dead," she said after a pause.

A queer feeling stabbed Arrin's chest as he turned to look at her. She had climbed up onto the wall with such a lithe grace that he hadn't even noticed, and sat with her legs crossed. A light breeze whipped shimmering strands of hair across her face. "What did you say?" he asked.

"The fairies can control their souls after death. Their bodies crumble to dust and their souls either reincarnate as other creatures or are reborn as fairies. None of them have ever wanted to become human, though." The last words were hissed out with bitterness. "Maybe the human dead can do the same but they choose to keep it a secret."

A tingle that was a conundrum of warmth and chill pulsed through Arrin. "Perhaps," he said, fighting a doubt that clotted his chest. "My parents are dead but I refuse to believe that Janea is as well. I must find her. She is out there alone somewhere, unable to take care of herself. I don't care what the Oracles say. Once I find her, she is staying with me."

Brennia leaned close to him and took one of his hands into both of hers. Her skin was soft, her fingers felt thin and fragile. Arrin's heart quickened its pulse. "I will help you search. Especially since you are helping me weave my wings." She grinned.

During the next several days, Arrin helped Brennia spin with sunlight to make her wings and she rode with him on his flying fleece to search for Janea. They made slow progress with the wings since their attempts were as misshapen as the first but each try produced a stronger fabric. Janea, however, could not be found.

They even traveled to the Northern Wilds where the fairy folk lived on the icy branches of the tallest pines, in crystalline edifices shaped of snow and ice. The fairies themselves were the size of small children and as spindly as twigs. Their skin and hair matched the snowy slopes and their wings, when they weren't spread in flight, draped their tiny bodies like gauzy cloaks.

"It's the half-human freak," some taunted in echoing voices that tinkled like glass chimes. "And she's brought one of those cursed humans."

"Leave our lands, evil seed! And take the human as well. You are not welcome here."

Rage trembled through Arrin. He longed to snap the fairies' fragile bones, to tightly bind them in threads spun from sunlight. But before he could even open his mouth to protest their abuse of Brennia, she was already asking if they had seen a golden-haired human girl.

"We haven't seen such a beast in our territory. Now go away or we shall use our magic to conjure a blizzard."

"We will keep searching," Brennia assured a disheartened Arrin after they had returned to Luminaris. "I didn't think that the fairy folk would be much help but at least we tried. But even if they had seen Janea, they would have banished her. They'd sooner let a human starve than try to help. But there are still plenty more places to search."

Arrin was starting to doubt that he would ever be able to find his sister but he admired Brennia's determination. What if Janea vanished with the Nymm, disappeared past the stars?

One morning, before their daily tasks, Arrin went over to Brennia's to join her for breakfast, as he usually did. Her cottage, a cone-shaped hut spun of mist and moonlight, stood at the far edge of town. It glowed within the deep shadows of willows and was fringed by silken flowers that Brennia had created from the varying hues of several sunsets.

She didn't answer the door. Concerned, Arrin walked around to the backyard and found Brennia sitting on a rock in her small garden. She was staring at nothing and had her spindle tightly clasped in one hand.

"What's the matter?" Arrin asked softly. Was she meditating or simply thinking? He could sense that something was wrong.

Brennia looked up but remained silent for several moments. Arrin ran his gaze across every detail of her face: dark skin drawn tight across fragile cheekbones; vast almond eyes that burned like cerulean stars; hair mussed into drifts of unruly silk-frost.

"A young woman visited me last night," she said at last in a voice that was soft and strained. "She awoke me from my sleep and pressed what appeared to be an opaque spindle against my forehead. She…she quizzed me about my life among the fairies. This brought out all of the anger and resentment that I've always held within me, including my desire for wings and my anger at the Nymm for not having given me my own.

"The girl whispered bad things into my ear. Words like 'big ugly child' and 'half-human freak.' All the things the fairy folk used to call me. I tried to tell her to leave but I could neither move nor speak. All of these memories and feelings flowed from me in black, cloudy reams. The girl wrapped them around her spindle and spun them into coarse, jagged threads. She thanked me and vanished."

Chills tingled Arrin's skin. "Are you sure it wasn't a dream?"

Brennia shook her head. "I had thought that at first but I found this on the floor when I awoke this morning."

She held up a prickly black thread that was almost as thick as her fingers.

Arrin touched it. It was viscous and edged with splintery bristles; it jabbed his fingertip with tiny points. Contact with it filled him with nasty feelings. He quickly released it.

"But that's not all," Brennia said, pinning Arrin with her brilliant gaze. "This visitor. She…she had golden hair and golden eyes." The gooseflesh upon Arrin's skin jabbed him like the pinpoints of those thread-bristles. "She looked like how you described your sister, Janea. But it couldn't be her, could it?"

Arrin shook his head but a nagging doubt remained. "No. My sister is…I don't know. But she has the mind of a child and can no longer spin. Not with light or anything else. I will keep looking for her. I don't know who this other woman is but perhaps we ought to watch out for her. Maybe she holds the key to the missing Nymm."

Arrin searched again for his sister, even harder than ever. What if Brennia was right? Could Janea be healed? How? Maybe the Nymm hadn't vanished after all. Could they merely be hiding? But, if that was Janea, why did she elicit such disturbing thoughts from Brennia? That didn't make any sense.

Brennia was also so distracted that she singed her fingers with sunlight while they were working on her wings. Arrin helped bandage her hand. He could practically smell her self-anger and disappointment. After weeks of trying, they had only managed to form two perfect wings. There were still ten more to go and hours of work. It would be a few days before her hand was healed enough for her to spin again.

"I'm not a patient person," she grumbled but promised Arrin that she wouldn't attempt to spin until her hand was feeling better.

"That's good," he said. "After all, we have plenty of time to complete your wings. I don't know much about the snow-fairies but I believe that they live longer than humans. Maybe you inherited that longevity."

"The oldest fairy I know of was over three-hundred," said Brennia with a rare laugh that brought a comforting tingle to Arrin's skin. "We have to be careful. I may still look as I do today when you're an old man."

Arrin couldn't pry his gaze away from her eyes. So blue…he could drown in their depths, perhaps even spin with their amazing color. "I'll take that chance," he whispered as he pulled her close. Her small, slender body felt so fragile, so breakable but he tightened his grasp nevertheless. He bent down toward her and brushed his lips against hers. Her body stiffened slightly but she didn't resist. Fuzzy warmth, like the tickle of starlight, filled Arrin.

They made love that evening and fell asleep in each other's arms.

Arrin felt someone shaking him awake. He opened his eyes certain it was Brennia.

The form, silhouetted against the window, was tall—too tall for Brennia—and slender. He looked down. Brennia was still asleep beside him, her unruly hair spread over her pillow.

"Hello, dear brother," said a familiar voice.

An urgent hope burst in Arrin's chest. He grabbed a ball of silk that lay on his nightstand and unraveled it into a banner, spun of moonthreads, which gave him enough light to see by.

"I heard that you have been searching for me."

It was Janea! But how? Her speech was clear and articulate, not the muddied babble she had adopted since her accident. She tossed her silky, waist-length tresses over her shoulder and settled at the edge of the bed. Her eyes gleamed, silver upon gold, against the light of Arrin's moonbanner. There was something about those eyes that disturbed him. They used to, even after her accident, glow with a vitality that had filled him with warmth every time he looked into them. But now they were dull and vacant, as if a thin film of ice coated them.

Arrin's gaze slid to the spindle she wore around her neck. Was that her old spindle? he wondered. It was tangled with black thorny threads, similar to the one Brennia had showed him. She was draped in a loose robe of grayish silk that made him think of layers of cobwebs.

"I can tell that you are surprised to see me. It has been a long time. You have been searching for me, so I'd heard, but obviously not hard enough."

Arrin nodded. His mouth twitched as his mind fumbled for words.

"The Nymm haven't vanished. One mended my mind." A faint joy sparked within Arrin but it was overshadowed by something else, something he couldn't explain. "Her name is Creela. I work for her now, a position that is a greater honor than being a Light Spinner. Creela taught me how to spin with shadow and dark thoughts instead of light."

"Shadow," Arrin gasped, finding, at last, the ability to speak. Despair trickled through him like icy well water. "That wasn't where your talents lay." He placed his hands on her shoulders and stared into her eyes, attempting to pry out the childlike sparkle that he knew was buried beneath those fogged depths. "Your gift was sunlight and rainbows. You—"

"Childish things." Janea pulled back and rose to her feet. "Darkness is stronger. It is ubiquitous. Not only in the night shadows but in people as well. Your little friend proved that. These threads were pulled from her mind." Janea tapped her filament-entangled spindle and nodded at sleeping Brennia. "And she was born of that darkness."

"What has become of you?" Arrin felt a twisting in his chest, a desperate wish for the person his sister used to be…even for the childish persona she had become after her fateful fall. Anything was better than this ranting, golden-haired sprite that paced before the moon-bright window…this minion of a dark Nymm named Creela.

"My mind has been cleared, dear brother," she said, ruffling his hair. "I have been riding around the world on a fleece of shadow, gathering filaments of disturbing thoughts and deeds from the minds of sleeping villagers."

Arrin shook his head and lightly pinched himself, hoping to awaken. "Is this what happened to you after Mother and Father died?"

"After I killed them, yes." Her tone was calm, matter-of-fact, as if she was merely commenting on the weather. "After I smothered them in their sleep and burned down their house."

A cold nausea pierced Arrin's stomach. This wasn't his sister but some succubus who had taken on her form. He felt Brennia stir beside him.

"Creela had restored my mind by this time but she promised to return my gift of spinning if I committed that act. Mother and Father had become nuisances in my life, always coddling me, protecting me." Janea's voice held a tinge of mockery. "So it was a relief to erase them from existence. And I did." She laughed, a musical sound that was reminiscent of the Janea he used to know. "My peccadillo, among other human mishaps, was what banished the light Nymm. It also created, for me, reams upon reams of shadow-threads. If I collect enough, we can tip the world deeper into darkness. The balance will never be restored and that means that the light Nymm, which are hidden, not lost, will be banished forever."

The gooseflesh tingling along Arrin's skin and at the base of his neck was painful. He stared at Janea, not knowing what to do. He wanted to throttle her—this monster that had murdered their parents and felt it to be a worthy act—yet, at the same time, take her into his arms and heal her.

"I didn't come just to talk but to challenge you."

"Challenge me?" Arrin was confused.

Janea nodded. "To a spinning duel. If you win, Creela will release the Nymm she has hidden." Arrin felt a flicker of happiness in the midst of his conflicting emotions. "And you will have peace of mind in knowing that I am safe and my brain whole. But if you lose, Creela will take over and send the other Nymm away, permanently. Don't forget: due to deeds like mine, she has gained quite a bit of power."

Arrin clenched his fists. So much depended on him. He grabbed his spindle off the nightstand and clutched it to his chest. "Why me?"

"Why not?" Janea tossed her head, a graceful gesture that billowed her hair like reams of silk. Arrin briefly noticed something black and spidery clinging to the back of her neck. "After I left, you were the best Light Spinner in Luminaris. You and that little friend of yours," she added with contempt.

"That's right," Brennia said, glaring up at Janea through narrow eyes. "We are the best. We will defeat you faster than a flying fleece travels." She clutched at her spindle with her bandaged hand and grimaced.

Janea laughed. "Of course. But you are injured and cannot help. You can referee, make sure that none of us cheats."

"Fine," Brennia sighed as she pulled on her shimmering star-silk robe. "But I know that Arrin will still win."

Nerves tingled Arrin's stomach as they crept as quietly as they could down a cobblestone path to the walled courtyard where he had first met Brennia. It was a chill night, the air tinged with sea and pine. But the moon was full and the stars scattered the sky like shattered pieces of the sun. This heavenlight brushed against Arrin's skin like wisps of damp velvet.

"Each of us is to spin our own creatures," said Janea. "Yours out of moonlight and starlight, mine from the surrounding shadows and dark thread-thoughts. Whoever's spun image defeats the other is the victor."

Arrin nodded. He glanced to Brennia who smiled and flashed him a gesture of encouragement. His stomach was in knots as he raised his crystal spindle to the sky and allowed the moonlight to spill into it. As he slowly turned the spindle, the light thickened into damp, tangible threads.

He tried to ignore Janea, who was unraveling the black filaments from her spindle, and imagined himself as a magical loom, a technique his tutors had taught him, with the crystal spindle playing its part, his mind and hands acting as the warp and weft. Still, image-memories of young Janea splashing in the reefs and laughing, the sunlight glinting against her fallow hair, barged into his mind. He knotted the final thread to free his creation from the spindle.

It was a jackal, as silvery-white as moonlight but lopsided, its left legs several inches longer than its right.

Janea laughed. "Is that the best you could do?" She pointed to her creation, a black dragon that stretched several feet into the air, like an elongated shadow, blotting out the stars behind it. Arrin inwardly quailed.

"I'll give you a chance," she said, tilting her spindle. The dragon lumbered backward, clumsy upon thick legs. "I won't send it after your pathetic beast just yet. That would be an unfair fight, don't you think? I'll give you a chance to create something better. You always were the weaker Spinner."

Rage blotted out Brennia's shouts to ignore his sister and concentrate on the game. He breathed deeply in an effort to gain control and held up his spindle with a shaky hand in an effort to gather more light.

But he noticed that Janea's dragon wasn't standing still. It was lumbering toward Brennia, its vast wings outstretched. "Janea!" she shouted, more enraged than afraid.

Arrin, forgetting about his jackal, started toward his friend. She thrashed at the dragon's snout with a fist, severing it, before Arrin could reach her. "You should lose points for cheating."

"She's right," said Arrin. He was no longer in the mood for this challenge. Not if it was going to endanger Brennia.

"Sorry," Janea called flippantly as she twisted her spindle again, forcing the dragon to turn away.

Arrin was relieved. He was about to tell Brennia to go back to bed when the dragon flashed its pronged tail at her. She flew against the wall, smacking its side, and then lay there limp.

"Brennia!" Arrin shrieked, dropping his spindle. His heart was lodged in his throat. He heard his spindle shatter against the stones as he dashed to Brennia's side.

Was she dead? Fear numbed him. Brennia's face was a mass of blood; silvery wisps of hair clung to it. Her eyes were closed, her head lolled back on a broken neck. She wasn't breathing. Arrin pressed his fingers against her thin wrist, fumbling for her pulse. Nothing.

"She's dead, isn't it obvious?" mocked Janea, standing over him. "Ironic, isn't it? She was killed by a creation that was spun from her own dark thoughts."

Arrin ignored her. A hate he had never before experienced swelled his chest, almost overpowered his grief…almost. Tears burned his eyes. He allowed them to spill unheeded, and wept openly, as he had when he had learned about their parents. He blotted out Janea's heartless taunts.

This woman is no longer my sister, he thought. He felt something odd happening to Brennia's body. It stiffened, and then crumbled into dust. Only her robe was left in tack. He remembered something that she had said when they first met: the bodies of the snow-fairies fell to dust upon death. This was yet another aspect of her fairy heritage.

We never finished her wings. This thought jabbed him with a sudden pain. "I'm so sorry," he whispered, taking some of the dust into his hand and running it through his fingers. It was soft, suppler than ash.

"It looks like I've won this contest," Janea laughed. Arrin couldn't even look at her. "But I'm not yet finished. You can sit there, wallowing in the death-dust of your freak friend. Your grief merely gives me more to work with. Creela needs me to create an army of dark Nymm. They will replace the ones of light. And you, dear brother, will help me."

"No, I won't—" he started to say but Janea continued talking.

"I can clearly see your thoughts. Shadow-skeletons dwell within their depths, just as they did with her." She glanced toward Brennia's dust-pile. "Bring these out. I need them for my creations. Your feelings of loss for this halfling creature, our parents, and…yes." Her icy eyes widened with delight. "Even for me."

She placed her spindle on top of Arrin's head. The sensation felt as if someone had stabbed him in the head and was twisting the knife. He forced himself not to cry out. The spindle seemed to grasp onto to something. Janea pulled forth a coil that was black and gauzy. She swirled it from her spindle, forming what appeared to be dark cloud-drifts that quickly separated and, mixing with her dragon, congealed into images that seemed to be the shadows of skeletons. The moon-jackal had long since melted into a dim puddle of light. Arrin felt numb, empty, his mind drained.

"You did very well," Janea said with a tinge of pride. "It will take a while for these bodies to mold. My work is finished; all I have to do now is wait."

Arrin huddled against the wall. His tears chilled his face. All was lost. His spindle had shattered. The light Nymm had been replaced by the shadow ones. And Brennia was dead.

He noticed something glinting against Brennia's dust, something that shimmered with a brilliant rainbow light. What was that?

He pulled it out. It was her spindle, aglow with an array of impossible colors. It tingled in his hand. A queer feeling swelled in his chest. What was going on?

He felt a sudden urge to look up. Beyond Janea, who was busy admiring her molding shadow-skeletons, he could see the sun rising, searing the sky with smudges of gold and pink. Use its light and make something from the rainbows it contains, urged an inner voice.

"I can't," Arrin found himself answering aloud. "I never could master rainbow spinning. Not without Brennia. And even then our creations came out flawed." A renewed pain at the thought of her unfinished wings sliced through him.

Just try.

He rose to his feet and held up Brennia's spindle. Just pretend you are spinning with Brennia, forming her wings, but shape something bigger, he thought. Something that could swallow Janea's creations.

Arrin gathered thick skeins of sunlight onto the spindle, wrapped them around the shaft and twirled the rod. With his other hand, he separated them into filaments of colored light. The heat tingled against his fingertips but didn't burn. His practice with Brennia's wings had given him an ease that he had never known he possessed when it came to sun spinning. The threads swirled up, up into a massive serpent that was as brilliantly colorful as the light that now filled Brennia's spindle. It was thicker than the pillars that fringed the courtyard and it arced across the horizon like an enormous, undulating rainbow.

Arrin gaped, awed by this: I created that? Although terrifying, this creature was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

"No!" Janea gasped.

With a flick of his wrist, Arrin was able to command his creation to coil around her shadow-skeletons.

He watched in a daze as the serpent did so, wrapping its lissome, silky body around the shadowy mass and squeezing until the spindly army vanished into blackened smoke. Janea collapsed onto the ground, unconscious.

A stunned faintness overcame Arrin. He had won. He twirled the spindle in the opposite direction, unraveling the serpent: the threads loosened, floating through the air in feathery rainbow sparkles.

There was something strange about these sparkles. They were slender, pellucid forms that looked human but glowed like moonlight. Their garments were light and airy, finer than any fabric the Light Spinners have ever created.

An intense joy poured through him. The lost Nymm! They had been hidden in the dawn's light all along and he had released them.

The shimmer within Brennia's spindle freed itself, joining them. When it drew close to him, he saw that it was yet another diaphanous being of incandescence. But there was something different about this one. A dozen colorful wings, like those of the fairy folk, undulated around her slight body like the stirring petals of an exotic flower.

"Brennia?" he whispered, his mind whirling. He looked into her face, at almond eyes that were bluer than blue, at tousled hair that was blowing in all directions in the faint zephyr.

"Yes," came her response, an inner voice that tingled like distant chimes. "I have chosen to become one of the Nymm. And I was finally able to obtain my own wings." She smiled.

Joy mixed with grief filled Arrin. Brennia was not dead. But would she…?

"I cannot stay," she continued, as if sensing his thoughts. Perhaps she was. "I no longer physically belong to this world. I don't feel right being here on solid ground. I want to be flying through the eternity of space, chasing comets and dashing through the hot, hot surfaces of stars. I don't know how I know about these things. Suddenly I just do." She reached toward Arrin but her transparent hand merely passed through him with the faintest tingle of warmth. He blinked back stinging tears.

Brennia floated over to Janea, who was still unconscious, and pointed to the black thing that clung to the back of her neck. So I hadn't imagined that, thought Arrin.

The thing dislodged itself and stretched, like a shadow at dusk, into the form of a grayish, gauzy mist-woman. Creela? "No matter," she said with a flippant manner that reminded Arrin of Janea. "If I can't be a guardian for this world, there is another similar one that is accumulating its share of dark Nymm. It's situated at the far end of the galaxy, away from the brilliant light that fills our skies. It is a perfect place for us to fester and grow." She vanished.

A choking sensation filled Arrin. There is another world, similar to ours, which will also be in trouble?

"I've decided to go there as well," said Brennia, hovering close to him. "Along with some of my companions." Arrin realized that she could probably communicate with her fellow Nymm faster than thought. "I have an idea for the dominating species, which we will help create. They will be human, like you…like half of what I was.

"But before I leave I would like to ask you something. We can heal Janea, make her mind whole again." A flicker of hope fluttered within Arrin's chest. "But she will retain the memory of what she had done."

Arrin paced. He looked down at his sister who was still asleep on the grass. Now freed from Creela's grasp, she sighed and smiled, apparently lost in some pleasant dream.

"No." He shook his head. His grief deepened. "I don't want her to remember any of that."

Brennia embraced Arrin with intangible warmth before she and a few of the other Nymm faded away, slipping toward that distant new world. The ones remaining floated up to the sky, mingling with the stars that still gleamed brilliantly against the blue sky.

Janea awoke. She sat up and blinked several times, bemused. She grinned broadly when she saw Arrin. "Brother," she gasped, stretching out her arms. He knelt beside her and held her close. "Pretty here. Very pretty," she whispered.

I made the right decision, he thought, feeling her heart pulse against his chest.

When he released her, she scrambled to her feet and dashed through the gardens that banked the courtyard. She laughed as she sniffed flowers and touched leaves. Arrin watched her. He thought of Brennia and his parents. Yes. It was best that she didn't remember anything.

Janea couldn't understand loss the way he did.

The End