Recruiter

There are two kinds of ghosts in the world. It’s a fact I know as well as I know my own name, and a fact I know far better than the hallways of the old house I was trudging through. Somewhere in here there was a prospective student for Sycamore Hill Academy, but only if I got to her before they did. And as usual, the darker side of things had a head start on me.

The briefings for prospective student meetups are surprisingly well-prepared, all things considered. Most of our incoming students don’t exactly have the most thorough records. I had a short file on the girl. Seven years old, name Sara or Sarah, likely to hide from strangers but she likes dolls.

The stairwell ahead was dark but I could hear small feet running on the next floor up. She had to be running from something. Picking up my pace, I barrelled up the stairs and fished blindly in my bag for one of the pre-made sachets. If what I thought was here was up there, I would need it. When I reached the top of the stairs, I turned and darted into the hallway. It was like my sense left me. Something caught me in the shins and I fell forward, arms pinwheeling madly while the floor came rushing up to meet me.

I must have hit my head because the next thing I knew, a teenager had a hand over my mouth and was examining the cloth ball I’d held. Looking him over, I frowned, trying to place what seemed off. Then I had it.

“You’re not dead.”

“And thanks to me, neither are you.” He crouched by my head, staring down at me with brown eyes that oddly reminded me of dark citrines. “What are you doing here?”

“Doesn’t matter. What are you doing here?”

He smiled slowly.

“I live here.”

That set me back on my heels and I reexamined him.

“Okay, let’s try this again. I’m a recruiter and I’m looking for the little girl. Do you know where I can find her?”

He stood and offered me a hand up.

“Yeah, but you’re going to have to convince me first. I take care of her.”

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Missing: The Wrong Twin

Marcella stood frozen in the doorway, hand still raised from knocking. She’d expected Kate, not her twin brother. But the one standing in front of her was undoubtedly Cliff, despite the very strong resemblance.

“Marcy… I was about to call you.”

“Where’s Kate? Not that it’s not great to see you, but…”

“But I live 2 hours away and this is my sister’s house. But she never lets anyone but her answer the door. Yeah, I know. I called her, no answer. Repeatedly. Tried her cell. Nada. So I drove down. She’s not here, Marcy.”

Marcy stepped inside as Cliff moved aside. He looked almost…defeated. Like he was assuming the worst and blaming himself.

“She might just…be out? You know Kate. Maybe she lost her phone again… Or…”

But it was just hopeful thinking. That sort of ‘if wishes were horses’ sort of thing. Right now, between the desperate hope and downright nightmarish self-blame, they were fit to open a stable. Taking a place on the couch, Marcy looked up at Cliff.

“Has anything weird happened lately? Anything at all.”

He shrugged noncommittally.

“It’s sort of hard to gauge weird with our bunch, Marcy. You know that.”

“Point.” She leaned back and looked up towards the ceiling. “Well, we’re in luck. Your sister decided to start listening to me.”

“What are you-? Oh… Oh no.”

Understanding dawned on Cliff’s face and he took a half-step back.

“Honestly, I don’t understand why you’re scared of them. They’re harmless and helpful. And this little fellow is barely full grown.”

Standing on the couch with a silent apology to Kate for putting her sneakers on the cushions, Marcy reached for the spider sitting in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. The tiny creature eagerly moved to her hand, letting her move back to sitting. Cliff perched on the arm of one of the two matching plush armchairs, doing his level best not to panic entirely as he watched a sight which really should have been normal to him by now. Marcy raised the spider up so she could look directly into his eyes.

“I’m dreadfully sorry for bothering you, but I need to ask you some questions. My name is Marcy. What’s yours?”

Cliff could see the little legs moving as the spider danced back and forth and Marcy spoke softly to it.

“I’m…gonna go make a pot of coffee and grab my pack from the car. Lemme know if your friend there says anything interesting.”

Marcy nodded and waved Cliff away with her free hand. By the time he returned with two steaming mugs, she looked like she was either going to cry or murder someone and Cliff really hoped she was being particular about who she murdered. He set the mug down on a coaster, smiling slightly that it was one of the lunar phase set he’d gotten for his twin for their birthday a few years back. Marcy took the coffee and stared into it, the spider back up on his perch.

“Well?”

“They thought she was you.”

“They? They who? What?”

“The Midnight Court. They thought that… Well, alright. They didn’t think Kate was you so much as they thought that…um…”

“They thought Kate was Alycia.”

He said the name like it was a brand scorching his flesh, like even something so simple as uttering it would undo years, decades of training and adjusting and medical procedures and Faerie glamour. Cliff scrubbed at his face, looking very much like a man staring down his own death.

“But…why would they want… I mean, they knew! They helped me change!”

“And they never saw the end result. Or, at least, they never saw adult Cliff. Just awkward, gangly Cliff. You also said they never remember you don’t glamour yourself to look like that anymore.”

“And now they have my sister… Who is very not me. Did they say anything about where?”

“The little one, I named him Archie, by the way. Archie said they talked about their web. That’s basically spider-speak for home.”

Cliff sagged into the chair.

“My sister has been kidnapped by Faeries who think she’s pre-op me and you named her living room spider…Archie. Glad to know nothing around here ever changes. So…” He leaned forward, suddenly shifting gears. “How are we doing this? I’m pretty well kitted out for a rogue troll here and there, but you’re talking about storming the Moonless Palace.”

“Yeah…and they have our only real magic user. So frontal assault is out.”

“We could play it like that time in Boston.”

“The time you got drunk and forgot to round your ears and we had to convince people you were a Trekkie?”

“No! The time we charmed our way into the knitting show with your silk and then busted the goblins-”

“-Who were trading in unicorn tail hair. I remember now.” Marcy paused. “You want to impress your way into…a Fae stronghold…in the Otherworld…with silk?”

Cliff shrugged.

“It’s the best plan I’ve got. My other-other idea involves really thick gloves and you loading my clips.”

“We are NOT taking bog iron rounds into the Otherworld! Do you remember last time? You’re lucky you lived!”

The grin that crossed Cliff’s face was not nice, comforting or human.

“Well then, we’d best figure out how to charm our way in before they realize they didn’t get the right toy.”

The Dragon Who Wanted a Princess

Once upon a time, there was a mighty dragon. She lived on her towering hoard of precious, shiny things in a cavern deep below the ground. But there was one thing she didn’t have: a princess. She knew all about princesses from books, so she knew that all the very best dragons have a princess to call their own. So, one day she went out into the city to find herself a princess.


She walked through a neighborhood of houses that stood side-by-side and heard a voice shouting “Princess! Come here, Princess!”

“Well, that was easy!”

She ran towards the voice and found a woman feeding a cat.

“That’s not a princess, that’s a cat.”

She tried some of the kitty kibble and then went back on the search.


She walked down to the wharf and heard a voice saying “The Princess is almost ready to go.”

“Well, that was easy!”

She ran towards the voice and found a sailor getting a ship ready to travel.

“That’s not a princess, that’s a ship.”

She tried to stowaway, just in case, but ended up getting all wet.


She walked through the market and heard a voice saying, “That’s right, Princess.”

“This one has to be a princess.”

She ran towards the voice and found a man with a horse-drawn carriage.

“That’s not a princess, that’s a horse.”

She tried to get a ride, but she scared the horses.


Exhausted, she walked to the park and sat on a bright blue bench.

“I’ll never find a real princess.”

Three little girls heard her sad words and came over to see if they could help.

“Why are you looking for a princess, little dragon?”

“Because without a princess, I can’t be a real dragon.”

The girls whispered to each other for a minute and then held out a little sparkly purple tiara.

“Now you’re a princess. A dragon princess!”


So the little dragon thanked the girls very much and took her new tiara back home to her hoard in her cavern deep under the city. Now she was even greater than those other dragons. They only caught princesses. She had become one.

Called Home

Jennifer took a deep breath, then another. Her mind was reeling as she tried to process everything that was happening, at the words the woman standing in front of her was saying. Finally, she haltingly managed to say something, anything.
“You…you have pointy ears.”
The other woman, Aislinn was it? She brushed a curl of auburn hair back behind her ears.
“Yes, I do. And so will you, when I take the glamours off of you, your Highness.”
Jenny winced just slightly at the title and hugged her books a little tighter against her chest.
“Yeah, right. Uh…cool. But I need to get to class. Like, now.”
Aislinn reached out to grab her arm.
“Did you not hear me? We must return to the Otherworld so you can take up your rightful mantle and rule beside your mother. The war is over.”
Pulling away, Jenny laughed nervously.
“Right, sure. Whatever you say. This is the most intense invite to a D&D game I think I’ve ever gotten. And thanks, but I’ve already got a campaign I’m in so…”
There was an odd feeling in the air for just a moment and Aislinn sighed.
“So be it, but if you wish to change your mind, I shall be around.”
Jenny turned away then and ran to class, laughing to herself. She didn’t notice the smile on Aislinn’s face, didn’t notice the other students look at her oddly now, didn’t notice that the rounded tips of her ears came to a perceptible point now.


Aislinn watched as her princess ran off and smiled, reaching into her pocket for the spell stone that would allow her to call home.
“The princess resists for now, but she will be home soon, your Majesty. Of that, I am quite certain.”

Princess

A tower rose up through the gloom and haze that was the normal state of Hell. A lone female watched through the bars on the windows as small shadows were herded together into a pen beneath her tower. She hated this time of year, the time when she was reminded that not only she paid for her imprisonment among these creatures, these denizens of Hell. Tears coursed down her cheeks as she watched the pitiful little parade. Those poor mortal children, cursed to live a short painful life at the hands of the demons of Hell. Those poor parents, never knowing where their children had gone, or even never knowing that their children were gone, assuming her people used their magical arts. Cursing loudly, the woman turned and grabbed a vase that sat on a small table nearby and flung it at the stone wall. The pieces shattered everywhere and pain coursed through her body.

“Now, now, Princess Linette, you should really know better than to have these little outbursts by now.” The voice that spoke in her mind was harsh, but also welcome and familiar. It was the sign that she was still alive, still a prisoner, still where she had been for the last untold centuries.

Linette began to cry in earnest now. She knew full well that she was the reason these children suffered and died and the reason that their parents would mourn their loss, whether they realized it or not. At the same time though, she had come to know this place, to belong here, to need to be here. She was afraid that she would find a way to escape and return to Faerie Land. She was afraid that she was no longer the gentle, beautiful princess that had been stolen away. She didn’t even know if she was still in her natural form. She barely remembered those days, eons ago, when she had frolicked in the fields of Faerie and led her people in joyous revels. A scream tore through the air and she sighed. She was not in Faerie, she was in Hell. So far gone was she, that the scream didn’t do anything but remind her where she was. She had long since become immune to the screams and torment of adults, but never to the screams of children.

Disguise

Lady Niamh smiled down at the bundle in her arms as she walked into her husband’s study. Lord Tellys sat at his crystalline desk studying maps and ledgers. She could see the frustration evident in his form as he studied one list in particular. With a growled curse, he crumpled up the parchment and flung it across the room.

“Why?” He raged, slamming his fist on the desk. “Why must we continue this foolishness? And why does the King refuse to tell us the reasons?”

The shouting stirred the little boy and he awoke with a start. As the little human began to cry, the elven man at the desk turned, eyes wide, to gaze upon his wife.

“My dear lord Tellys, I have returned from a walk in mortal country. I took one of the marks and left a Fetch in his place.” She gently rocked the little boy until his crying abated. “His name is Hayden, and he is to be our son and no part of this foolishness, as you called it.”

Tellys smiled broadly, some of the stress on his face easing. He stood and embraced his wife and new foundling son. He took the little boy into his arms and looked him over. Nodding his approval, he passed a hand over the boy’s head and placed a strong magic on him to disguise his nature. His round little ears came to a point and his eyes sharpened to become slightly more feline. His little fingers became slightly longer and some of his baby fat thinned out. His rough homespun was replaced with fine silk and his little feet were in warm, soft slippers. All in all, he was a proper little elf. Then Tellys put his hand over the boy’s eyes and spoke a short word that just about crackled with power.

“There, Niamh. Now no one will ever know that our son is, in fact, a mortal child and no one will ever try and take him away from us. I also saw to it that he will see through Glamour, though most mortals are unable. I think though, that you should go a find him a proper nursemaid. And I shall correct the reports to his majesty to reflect the fact that his capture was not successful.”

There was an open smile on her face, so pleased was Niamh with this subtle rebellion against the horridness that was the Tithe. She cooed to the child softly, holding him against her breast as she strode from the room. Tellys smiled broadly as he sunk back into his chair and gaze at the records, maps, and lists before him. They all seemed inconsequential at this precious moment when he had beaten the Tithe.

Abduction

The morning air was chilled and dew rested on the grass. A sound broke the tableau, accompanied by a smattering of lights. It was the sound of a giggling child crossing the green, shadowed expanse. The boy-child tottered unevenly, holding the hand of what appeared to be a tiny little grandfather. They were an unusual looking pair to be sure, and the boy tugged on the diminutive old man’s hand, trying to pull him towards the little lights that danced and swirled around before them. Out of the forest ahead of them, stepped a shadowy figure. As the light of morning slowly began to dawn, her features coalesced. She was beautiful, a tall and lithe figure that moved like a dancer. Her every motion seemed to have been planned out ahead of time by some great artist to ensure that in any position, she was the perfect model for his art. Her raven black hair was tied up in a braid and she wore an elegant dress of pale green silk tied with a white sash around her trim waist.

“Very good, Brody, very good. Let me see the child.” The lady’s voice was as elegant as she was, nearly a lilting song as she spoke.

The tiny little man bowed, his knees knocking together, and thrust the child forward to his mistress. She scooped the toddler into her arms and examined him. His hair was a dark mass atop his head and his pale, green eyes gazed up at her with no fear what so ever.

“Yes…very well done indeed, Brody. I think that I shall keep him. Prepare the Fetch to replace him.” She braced the boy on her hip and began to walk back into the forest. “Has he a name he answers to?”

“He does, Lady Niamh. The lad is known as Hayden.”

The little man bowed again, trotting over to a cloth-wrapped package with far more alacrity than his wrinkled and knock-kneed form should allow him. As the lady stepped fully into the forest, Brody unwrapped the package to reveal what appeared to be the body of a child. He smeared a vile smelling oil on the forehead of the little body and it shook for a moment, then lay still again. Brody cursed softly and then began to move his hands in a complex pattern. Lights swirled out from his hands, encompassing the little body until it shaped into the form of Hayden and stood.

“Go back to your bed, Hayden. You saw nothing on this night and nothing is out of the ordinary.”

The little Fetch tottered back towards the village while the real Hayden fell asleep in the arms of the Lady Niamh and passed into Faerie Land without ever seeing the changeover.