Oboe ran as fast as she could to keep up with her brother. They sped past the beautiful celadon homes of the Titled, through the gardens of hanging amaranth, and up the marble walkways into the palace. It was hard to keep moving. The Inner Circle was prettier than Oboe ever imagined. She wanted so bad to explore, but there was no way she was going miss the Tournament of Titles.
The stadium seats were packed with all kinds of funny looking creatures. Every fairy in the valley must’ve come, and some from other circles too.
“Hurry up!” Fife shouted. “We’re never going to find seats if you keep gawking!”
Oboe spotted a place to sit across the aisle. She waded into the bleachers, climbing over laps and shoulders to get to a row that only had an old sylph sitting there. He was a weird bug guy, with four arms, four eyes, and big grumpy frown.
“Hi!” Oboe said. “Can me and my brother sit here?”
He rolled his eyes. “None of my business.”
Oboe plopped down next to him, kicking her legs. “My name’s Oboe! Who are you?”
“Thistle,” he said. He cradled his head in his palm, staring at the arena with disinterest. Fife caught up to them, out of breath.
“Has the round started yet?”
Thistle grunted. “Not even. It’s all speeches and posturing right now. Not that it matters. Whole tournament is a bunch of unicorn shit, if you ask me. Conceited blowhards showing off and fighting so other bigger blowhards can say who deserves to look down on everybody else.” He spat. “Don’t know why I bother coming anymore.”
Fife wasn’t listening. He leaned over the seats to watch the show. “Oboe! Look!” He pointed at the field. “There’s your grandmother!”
Oboe stood on her seat to see better. She gasped. It really was her, just like the pictures. She was as tall as house, with silky gray fur, and the biggest antlers she’d ever seen. Her fine, golden mantle shimmered. She was beautiful and strong and the whole stadium roared with applause to see her.
“She’s gonna judge the contestants and decide who gets to be Titled,” Fife said, as if Oboe didn’t know anything.
“I hope she likes me,” Oboe said. Fife laughed at her.
“Why would the Fair Lady want anything to do with you?” He said. “You’re a useless little crybaby with bad magic!”
“You’re just jealous!” Oboe said, scrunching her snout. “She’s going to love me and we’re going to be best friends. You’ll see.”
“Yeah right!” Fife said. “Dad says she’s got so many kids she can’t even count them all! Why would you matter?”
Oboe folded her arms but didn’t say anything. What if he was right? Mom told her charming grandmother was the most important thing, but Oboe couldn’t even turn into anything cool.
“Oh! They’re starting!” Fife said. He prodded her in the shoulder. “Sis, you see that pooka down there?”
She glared at him, wishing his head would explode. “Yeah?”
“I’ve heard about her. You should root for her! She’s a shape shifter like you.”
Oboe watched. The pooka didn’t seem like much. Just a little black rabbit thing person. She jumped out of the way of the lightning bolts the much cooler nymph was throwing. She was probably going to die any second now. But she didn’t. She was too fast. Oboe stared as the pooka weaved closer and closer between lightning cracks, and then with a pop the pooka turned into a great big elephant. She lashed the stupid nymph with her trunk and knocked her to the ground. She took her big elephant feet and stomped and stomped until there wasn’t anything left.
Oboe jumped out of her seat and cheered. The crowds whooped and hollered in excitement.
“Did you see that?! That was so cool!!” Oboe said. “I wish I was born with that much magic!”
“Ha!” Thistle scoffed at her. “You think any of these blustering hotshots was born this strong? Hardly. They got like that by gathering Fates. Same as anyone else.”
Oboe turned to the old sylph. “But she’s a shape shifter! We’re not supposed to enchant humans.”
“Like anyone in the Fairy Court cares about the law,” Thistle said. “They’re all liars and sneaks. They don’t care who they hurt if it gets them a power boost. That’s what it takes to get noticed in this dung heap.”
Was that how it was?
Grandmother crossed the arena to give the pooka a new golden mantle. The whole stadium, the whole Whirlwood Circle, stood to applaud the victory. From now on, that Pooka would live in the Inner Circle alongside grandmother and the Titled fey. Everyone loved her. Oboe looked on, imagining herself standing there, and realized what she needed to do.