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.”

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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.

The Tidemaster

The waves pounded against the shore and the sounds of laughter echoed from within the rocks. Peony was giggling with two other girls her age as I dropped down between the rocks. The trio looked up, every inch children caught with hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

“Uh…hi, Mouse.”

I just gave them a smile.

“Don’t mind me. I’m here to talk to the Tide Master.”

One of the seal-girls gasped and the other girl’s eyes went huge.

“The Tide Master? Really? Well, he’s in his cave…but…”

I gave the poor girl another smile and tousled her hair.

“Don’t worry, he’s expecting me. And Peony, stay out of trouble and don’t go farther out than you can swim by yourself.”

“Yes, Mouse!”

As I climbed further down into the cliff, following the secret roads, I hoped that Peony really would listen to me. Mistress would be angry if we lost the changeling girl to the Sea Fae. Selkies were notorious for that kind of thing. I could hear the waves still and knew that soon the water outside the rocks would be well over my head. This cave was only intended as a meeting place between those of us from the land and those from the sea. Descending the last few feet, I stepped into the great receiving cavern and found myself gazing at the great bulk of the Tide Master.

Red Eyes

I held the bag tight against my chest and moved through the forest in silence. Drawing attention to myself at this point would be worse than suicidal. I could hear the movement further out in the darkness, just beyond the light of the path. Most Fae avoided the paths. Paths are bad, dangerous, mortal. As a Changeling, the paths are safety for me…except against one thing. The Red Eyes hunt the paths. I can almost feel them watching me as I move. Lords and Ladies, I hope I get home soon. There were rules for this, of course. Not that the Red Eyes follow rules, but instead Faerie Land would enforce the rules for me. If I didn’t think I could get back to our holding, I could take the next turn and hide in the standing stones. No one could harm another in there. Mistress had said they were dangerous for other reasons though, only to hide there if I had no other choice. Whirling around at the sound of footsteps, I nearly dropped the bag, which would have been a mistake unto itself. A younger Changeling I knew was barreling towards me like a bat out of hell. His eyes were huge and wild and his tail coursed behind him like a pennant in a wind. He was one of the ones who had changed their shape as soon as they could, becoming far more a raccoon than a human.

“Coop?”

“Mouse! Run! Hunters!”

He didn’t have to say it twice. I grabbed his arm as he would have gone past the stones and pulled him down that path instead. As soon as we were a few feet down that path, I moved to let go, confident he would follow. He grabbed at my arm, clinging fiercely. Poor guy must be terrified. I thought, just as I passed through the stones and came to a sudden jerky stop. Turning, I was surprised to see that Coop still held my arm and was on the outside of the stones.

“Come on! What are you waiting for?”

“I can’t. It must be the old magic. Come on, let’s keep running. There must be somewhere else that’s safe.”

I tried to shake off his grip, suddenly wary.

“Coop, come on, don’t be silly. As long as you’re not going to hurt anyone, you can come in here.”

Listening for a moment, I realized I couldn’t hear any other footsteps. Just the sound of our heavy breathing. Then I felt his fingers tighten even more on my arm. That’s when it hit me.

“Oh…oh no. Coop. No…no…no…no…You didn’t. No. There’s no way…”

He let go and flung himself at the space between the standing stones, falling to the ground in a pile of fur and snarls. There it was, on the back of his neck. The Red Eye. There were tears pouring down my face as I curled up in the middle of the circle. Mistress would find me later, I knew. But until then, I could wait here and mourn for my friend.

The Home for Forgotten Monsters

Mrs. Tipton smiled sadly at her newest boarder when she opened the door of the lodging house.
“Oh, my dear, I never thought you’d be joining us.”
The old woman at the door slumped her shoulders and pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders.
“No one lasts for ever. Not anymore.”
Mrs. Tipton nodded slowly, sadly, and stepped aside.
“I’ve set aside a room for you on the top floor. It’s only been Annis up there for years and I think she could use the company.”
Together, they climbed the rickety old stairs through the lodging house. They could hear the sounds of the other boarders in their rooms. Annis was singing, her windows wide and her voice like the wind on the moors. Jenny’s door was thrown open and the smell of a stew simmering wafted into the corridors. One woman stood in her doorway in a gown that had fit once, had been considered elegant once. Now, it was tattered and her looks had long since faded. She smiled distantly at the pair as they passed by.
“I’ve heard, Mrs. Tipton, that there’s to be a play staged in my honor this evening. At the Globe, no less. Another of William’s bits of brilliance, I’m certain.”
Mrs. Tipton returned her smile and patted the woman’s hand reassuringly.
“That’s right, Titania, dear. I’m sure it will be just delightful.”
They left the Faerie Queen humming to herself and dancing through a glade that existed now only in her mind. Soon, they reached the top floor and the vacancy.
“This would be your room. Let me know if you need anything and if you’ve any questions about the rules, I’m sure Annis would be happy to help.”
The old woman looked at the tidy bed with its clean sheets.
“Once, I slept on an oven, you know.”
“I know, dearie.”
Mrs. Tipton watched as the woman went to the window.
“I never thought it would come to this. I thought if I could last through that wretched Stalin, I could last through anything. Even when they were afraid of the atom, they remembered to be afraid of me.”
Black Annis stood in the doorway, a sorrowful expression on her monstrous visage.
“Humans don’t need us monsters anymore, Baba Yaga. They’ve made worse than we could ever be out of themselves.”