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.
“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?”
“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.”