“You know,” Mira said as she held up a navy blue shirt, “I was expecting something, I don’t know, evil and demonic.”
Shy had done a good job guessing Mira’s sizes. Both the shirt and the pants included in the pack fit, though the pair of soft leather boots were a size too big. It meant not stepping on any more rocks or branches though, so Mira wasn’t complaining. A loose strip of cloth about ten feet long and four inches wide was rolled up and stuffed inside one boot. Mira wasn’t sure what that was meant to be.
At the very bottom was a meal made of unidentified meat, dark greyish-brown bread, and some type of hide canteen filled with a sweet, syrupy liquid. None of it was the bacon cheeseburger she craved, but it was satisfying and filling, and that was something she hadn’t felt in the last week.
She spent the rest of the day foraging for food and mulling over what Shy had told her. Her own experience with the fairies supported the idea that they had indeed fed on her emotions, but only the negative ones. It wouldn’t be a huge leap to take the rest too.
The problem was Mira didn’t really know what that meant for her. If she lost the ability to generate those emotions, she might spend the rest of her life doing her best Spock impression. Or it might be a temporary thing, and not really that big a deal, especially if it meant getting back home.
In the end, it came down to who she trusted. Shy had helped her, but she’d flat out admitted she was doing it because a demon had ordered her too. That whole knife-turned-snake thing hadn’t exactly flagged her as on the side of the angels either. The way she talked, Mira thought Shy might be a demon herself.
The fairies, on the other hand, were obviously not human, but they hadn’t hurt her in any way, or frightened her. They’d promised to help with the one thing that really mattered. That was more than she’d gotten from anyone else.
Shortly after Mira had finished stuffing the pack with some sort of wild crab apple she’d found growing in an overrun grove, she spotted a curl of smoke in the open sky. She didn’t think much of it at first, but within an hour, smoke had started to go up in great billows.
From the crown of a maple that poked over the tops of the forest’s many pines, Mira watched a great creature force its way through the trees. Smoke trailed behind it, not that Mira needed it to mark its passage. The swaying boughs of trees being forced aside as the creature pushed its bulk between them was enough to keep track of its location.
Whatever it was, Mira never got a good look. The size and the fire had her picturing a dragon working its way through the forest, but she had no idea if the giant winged lizard of her imagination would be anything like the real thing, or even if dragons were a real thing in this world.
As dusk fell, she made her way back to the fairy glade. Soon enough, the fairy lights were all around here again, even thicker than last night. “You came back!” Pip shouted at he landed on her outstretched finger. Twenty or thirty other fairies landed next to him, so many that it was hard to keep track of his individual light.
“Well, yes. Your Queen told me to,” Mira said. “She’s supposed to help me find a way back home.”
“That must be why she wants to see you. We’re supposed to take you to her right away.”
Hope fluttered in Mira’s chest. It the Queen wanted to talk to her right away, that probably meant she’d found something. There was no reason to expect it to be good news though. For all Mira knew, the Queen’s answer might be that there was no solution.
The fairy lights around her faded a bit. Mira blinked at them, trying to determine if they were darker, or if they’d brightened and then dimmed back to their normal color. Shy’s warning came to her mind. She had to wonder if that surge of hope had really been tempered by cautiousness, or if the fairies had eaten that just like they’d taken her misery away the night before.
Fear twisted inside her gut, but only for a moment. That disappeared too, maybe eaten by the fairies, maybe not. Mira didn’t care either way. She straightened up and nodded to herself. “Ok, let’s go then.”
As before, Mira lost herself in a wall of fairy lights. When her head finally cleared, the glade had been replaced again by that world of soft glowing grass and leaves. The smell of lingering smoke in the air vanished. Mira took a deep breath, reminded herself what was at stake, and strode off to find the fairy Queen’s tree.
The Queen was waiting for her. She flew up in a graceful arc that ended with her hovering at face level. “You have returned,” she said, her voice melodic. “This is good. I have many things to share with you.”
Mira’s breath caught. “You found out how I can get home?”
“I did,” the Queen said. Before Mira could speak, she held up one of her small, delicate hands. “It is both good news and bad, and more bad than good, I’m afraid.”
“Why?” Mira asked.
“Simply put, your world is beyond my powers to reach. I can not help you travel there. The only one I know of who can is the one who brought you here. He is a powerful shadow demon named Jorath who works directly under the Demon King.”
Mira knew that already, more or less. She slumped down, dejected. The Queen reached out to caress her cheek and whispered, “I do have something that will help you escape the world you’ve found yourself stranded on though.”
“You do? But you just said…”
“No, it won’t get you back to your home, I’m afraid,” the Queen told her. “Come, follow me.”
She led Mira to a field of wild flowers. Even in the weird, glowing twilight of the fairy glade, Mira could see every color she had a name for and a hundred more she didn’t among those flowers. Some were long, slender stalks that came to her waist. Others were in clumps that barely touched her ankles.
Mira hesitated at the edge of the field, but the Queen beckoned her on. She did her best not to crush any of them as she walked to the center of the flowers. Once she was there, she gave the queen a questioning glance.
“Just lay down here. This won’t take long,” the fairy said.
“Um… ok. What are you doing, exactly?”
The Queen landed on Mira’s stomach. “We’re going to help you. You’ve had a traumatic week, and from the feel of it, not much has gone right in your life before these last few days either. Just relax. We’ll ease your suffering.”
“What does that mean?” Mira asked. Her eyelids were getting heavy all the sudden. It was hard to focus, hard to even stay awake. “Who is we, anyway?”
“The fairies, child. All of us.”
Through blurred vision, Mira saw lights descend down from the trees. They matched the hundreds of colors of flowers all around her, too many for her to even guess at. The fairies landed on her by the thousands. Their weight, slight that it was, pushed her down flat against the cool earth.
“What are you doing to me?” Mira asked. The onset of panic lent her awareness, but the Queen’s hypnotic spell threatened to put her back down.
“Taking it all away. All of your suffering and your pain will disappear.”
“What about my happiness? What about love and empathy and joy?”
“All of it,” the Queen said.
Mira fought to sit up, but the fairies had her pinned. It wasn’t their weight, though that was unbelievable considering how they were little more than puffs of light and glitter. It was their magic, their feeding, that held her immobile. The desire to fight back was literally being drained out of her.
“You’ll lay here for a time,” the Queen said. “Humans always do. No joy, but no sorrow either. Apathy will be your existence until you wither away and your body feeds our garden. I’m sorry, child, but this is the way it has to be. You have my thanks, and the thanks of all my many, many children, for returning to us tonight. It’s rare my entire family gets to feed at the same time.”
Mira knew she should fight back. She wanted to fight back. But she didn’t. Instead, she laid there and stared up at the unfamiliar sky full of stars that made constellations she didn’t recognize. In a way, the fairy Queen was right. There wasn’t really any point to anything. It wasn’t like she was going to somehow survive demons and whatever else lived on this strange new world.
Then the sky rippled. Flowers quivered and fairies were tossed into the air by the thousands. The Queen herself fluttered straight up and looked around. Anger surged into Mira. With a snarl, she stretched her hands out and started tearing flowers out of the ground. Great handfuls came free of the dirt, either broken at the stem or ripped out by the roots, and were flung into the air.
A chorus of fairies cried out and lights fell from the air to snuff out amidst the grass. Mira heaved herself into a sitting position and swatted the Queen out of the air. She didn’t stop after that to look back. With no idea where she was going or how she was going to escape, the only thing Mira had in mind was getting out of that field of flowers.
Fairies clung to her as she ran, but another ripple went through the world. Whatever that meant, Mira was grateful for them. Each time it happened, the fairies cried out in pain, and that was sweet music to her. Leaves shook and fell from the trees, and the glowing faded out a little bit.
Mira reached the Queen’s hollow and was just about past it when she caught something green out of the corner of her eye. The Queen hit the side of her face full on and sent Mira stumbling down to a knee.
“You!” the Queen screeched. “What have you done? Stop this before everything falls apart!”
Mira couldn’t help herself. The sight of a seven inch tall woman, face contorted in rage and naked but for the puffs of sparking light wrapped around her, was too much. She started laughing. “What makes you think I know anything about this? Obviously I don’t know anything or I would never have trusted you to begin with.”
“If not you, then what?”
Mira shrugged. “Beats me.”
“I wouldn’t be so casual about it, were I you,” the Queen spat out. “If our world dies, you’ll die here with it.”
“You were going to kill me anyway. At least this way, you’ll go with me.”
Hot pain blossomed across Mira’s face like she’d been slapped. Her head snapped to the side, first in one direction, then the other. “Wake up!” a voice called out to her from nowhere. “Damn you, stupid girl, wake up!”
Mira’s eyes snapped open to see Shy straddling her, one hand raised and ready to strike her again. When she saw Mira looking up at her, she lowered it and released her grip on the collar of Mira’s shirt.
“Thank the Dark Father. You idiot. I warned you about the fairies.”
“What did you do?” Mira asked, still dazed.
“I didn’t do anything except take advantage on Elerak’s passing. He must have stomped through a fairy grove and burned it down.”
“No time now, you stupid, stupid girl. The fairies are coming for you.”
Shy seized Mira’s arm and jerked her to her feet. The two of them fled the glade into the darkness, Mira stumbling over roots and slapped by branches. If Shy ever misstepped, Mira didn’t see it. She didn’t know how long they ran, only that not once did Shy ever relax her grip.
When they did finally stop, Mira’s breathing was ragged and it felt like someone had stabbed a knife into her side. She was sure she’d find new bruises from running without a sports bra, even though she only had a modest chest. Shy, on the other hand, wasn’t even breathing hard, and Mira noted with some spite that her breasts probably weren’t large enough to be a problem anyway.
“Do you think you can stay out of trouble for a single day without me holding your hand?” Shy snapped.
Mira wanted to snap back at Shy, but the simple truth was that she’d fucked up. She’d been warned about the fairies, and she’d went with them willingly, lured by their promises. In a way, the fairy Queen had even delivered, though the answer hadn’t been helpful. Certainly it wasn’t worth what she’d almost had to pay for it.
“I’m tired of wandering around in the dark,” Mira said quietly. “I didn’t ask for any of this. But I’m here. I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know who to trust. I know that I don’t trust you. Why should I? You show up out of nowhere with these freaky magic powers, offer up cryptic remarks and warn me off of everyone, but who the hell are you? Why are you here? It’s not that I’m not grateful for the save, twice, but what’s in it for you?”
“It’s not a mystery,” Shy said. “I owed Jorath a favor. He’s collecting. He wants you alive and unharmed, for now. I don’t know what his future plans for you are, and I don’t care. I’m not your friend. I’m your babysitter. I do not care about you at all beyond you being alive and in one piece when he comes to get you.”
“So that’s it then? No ulterior motives?”
“Is there anything I could say or do to convince you? Believe me, if I wanted you dead, you’d be dead. You’re too ignorant of your own abilities to make even a token attempt at stopping me. I’m not here to hurt you though, unless Jorath decides to dispose of you. For now, I’m just stopping you from killing yourself with stupid decisions.”
“And when that changes?”
Shy shrugged. “Then you won’t be my problem. I’ll have paid back Jorath, and I’ll move on with my life. How many different ways do I have to say that you’re nothing but an obligation to me?”
“I just wanted to make sure I understood.” Mira’s voice was cold. “Now we’re clear. So, what do I do?”