Candles are How We Keep Fire as a Pet

The mage sat behind her desk, a notebook open while she scribbled notes down. Her partner was somewhere behind her, humming to himself while he worked on a dissection. She tilted her head to the side, catching the strains of the song. Recognizing it, she smiled to herself and picked up the tune. A candle sat on the desk opposite her but it was unlit. Extending one hand, she touched the wick and watched the flame spring to life. Fire was dangerous, unpredictable, beautiful, and magical. Maybe that was why she’d always been so good with fire. It was like her.

The humming behind her stopped and was exchanged for the sound of the taps turning on. Was that man singing the goddamn lab safety song they’d learned in junior high under his breath? She smothered her laugh and turned around to watch him. His instruments were all in the sanitizer and he was washing his hands. Gods, she loved him.

“All done, babe?”

“Yeah. You?”

She gestured towards her workspace and the diagrams spread out across it.

“I’ll be done for real sometime next millennium. But if you’re done, then I’m officially calling it lunch time.”

He chuckled quietly and swapped out his protective lab glasses for his normal ones before hanging up his smock on the peg by his workspace. She leaned forward to blow out her candle and stopped. Instead, she shaped a spell around it to keep the flames from spreading. She would have to watch it in case the flames decided to test her spellwork, but she wanted to keep this one for now.

“Ready?”

He had one hand on the light switch and was watching her with curiosity.

“Yeah, sure.”

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Playing Catch-Up

Marcy was starting to wonder if this guy’s scowl was a permanent feature or if she had just managed to piss him off that much.

“You have yet to explain how you came to this world, Weaver of Silken Words.”

That last part sounded more like an insult and she barely suppressed the urge to make a retort. Play by the rules. Play their game.

“Ah, but I did. As I said, I wove my way between the worlds.”

He took one step to close the distance between them, glaring emerald daggers down at her.

“I grant that you have the smell of the wild spirits about you, but you are mortal. Mortals do not walk the worlds unaided and you cannot lie to me. I am not some mewling whelp of a Faerie kitten, I am the Prince of Thorns and Knives. Now tell me who brought you here and why, in truth, before I decided to flay the flesh from your bones.”

She started to open her mouth and the air shimmered just to her side.

“If you touch my friend, blood-brother, I shall be so very vexed with you.”

The Prince turned, his dark curls bouncing just slightly.

“So do you claim this mortal, Cliff?” Then he paused. “You did not have her when you were here earlier. Is she your pet or have you forgotten my sister?”

Cliff’s voice was soft, tender even.

“I could never forget her. You know that.”

The Prince had the grace to look embarrassed.

“You have my apologies, my brother. But, how do you come to look so very different from when Mother’s servants went to your mortal world to fetch you?” He gestured at Cliff’s hair, shaved on the sides and let grow some on top. “Your hair was much longer and you have never been a one for frequent glamouring. There is too much of truth in you.”

Chewing his lower lip for a moment, Cliff made a rapid decision. Obviously the Prince had seen Kate and might know where she was.

“That wasn’t me. They took my twin sister.”

The Prince grabbed Cliff by the shoulders, Marcy entirely forgotten now. Alarms showed in his eyes.

“A pageboy took your sister to begin the quest meant for you. The quest given by the High Queen.”

“Oh shit.”

“My sentiments entirely, brother.”

“Tell me where to find her. You must know.”

The Prince nodded quickly.

“Come, both of you. We will need to travel quickly.”

The Past

The ink on the letter glistened ominously as she read the address at the top.
“Regina.”
No one called her that anymore…except for her father. Groaning, Reggie unrolled the letter, grumbling to herself.
“Email, Dad, it’s not hard. Seriously…” But then she began to actually process the words on the page.

“My darling Regina,
You must be aware by now that dark doings are afoot in our world. Your one-time classmates have been vanishing one by one, all save for Andarien, who I am certain you must remember. He has managed to secure for himself a position on the High Council and I fear that perhaps there is a connection between Andarien and these disappearances. For your own safety, watch the shadows.
I love you always,
Father”

With a sigh, she rolled the letter back up and jammed it into a drawer with the others. She didn’t have time for her dad’s crazy conspiracy theories, or for the magical world she’d left behind. Curtain call was at seven tonight and maybe if she impressed this crowd, she’d get a better gig next time. Pausing to lean against the counter, she closed her eyes. Yeah, she could remember Andarien alright. She would never forget him, or the look in his eyes when he’d held his wand with its tip pressed just under her chin and told her never to challenge him ever again. It wasn’t all that surprising he’d gone down the path of the dark arts and still managed to worm his way onto the Council. With a frustrated groan, she moved away from the counter. None of that mattered. She wasn’t going to be waving around a real wand anytime soon. And she had a magic show to put on.

Come Out, Come out, Wherever You Are

Jack took a breath and looked the human teenager over. He was hugging a book to his chest and staring at her through his too-large glasses with a respectable mix of fear and awe. That was a problem. He could see her. That definitely was not supposed to happen. The Reaper took another breath and lowered her scythe.

“Okay, you’re problem two on my list for today. But I need to go catch the first one before I can deal with you.”

He pulled himself to his feet and adjusted his glasses.

“The…the shadow, right? That’s what you need to catch?”

Jack scrubbed at her face.

“Of course, you can see that too. Of course. Okay, what’s your name, human? Clearly, I’m going to have to drag you with me until I catch my jailbird.”

He took a moment, shoving the book into a backpack.

“I’m Travis. Jailbird? Was that thing a prisoner?”

Jack didn’t answer. She was looking at the ground near the gate. There were indentations there, almost claw marks. That didn’t bode well for the human population near here. That meant this particular denizen of the afterlife had managed to regain a corporeal state already. Anything that could pull it off this quickly was going to manage quite a few other exceedingly more dangerous tricks, and fast.

“Yeah. And I’m the one that got the bounty. So, come on, nerd boy. You’re going to help me make sure it comes home with me and not too many humans have to die in the process.”

The Hidden Princess

“Hey! Ellie!”

The dark haired girl turned, grinning broadly. Two of the girls from her sorority were walking towards her waving a flier excitedly.

“Carmen, Lex, what’s going on?”

“Party up at ZOT tonight. They’re putting a cover to raise money for the animal shelter. How sweet is that?”

Carmen was practically cooing. Lex beamed proudly.

“It was John’s idea. He’s just so smart and he knows how much I love animals.”

Ellie smiled at them both, really smiled. It was so refreshing living among mortals. There was so much more honesty, and even then, the backbiting was nothing compared to what the Peers of the Seven Halls got up to when the High Queen wasn’t looking.

“Sounds great. Spread the word, alright? I’m gonna go call Tanya. There is no way I’m letting my Little miss this one.”

“Come on, Lexy. We’re girls with a mission now.”

Ellie laugh as they joking saluted her and marched off. She turned slightly to pull her phone out of her handbag. Just as her fingers brushed the plastic of the case, she froze. Had those shadows moved? She started to reach instead for a bronze figurine, a sword and shield crafted in the likeness of the ones she’d trained with as a child. Her eyes didn’t waver from that shadow until she was quite convinced it had just been her eyes playing tricks. There was no way anyone could have followed her, could have found her here. Her mother would surely have done something to prevent just that. Wouldn’t she? Taking a few breaths, Ellie tried to relax. She would just enact a sending to her brother later. Felix would know if there was anything going on at home that she would worry about. Punching the call button, she let the tension ease out of her shoulders.

“Hey Tanya, wanna grab lunch? We have got so much to talk about.”

As the Princess of Shooting Stars and Falling Leaves walked off towards the student center, two sets of eyes opened in the shadows and followed her progress down the street.

Trust

He took a deep breath.

“Do you trust me?”

I looked this man over, knowing that I was still shaking and covered in blood.

“Do… What?”

He stepped a little closer, holding out one hand.

“Do you trust me?”

“Look, I don’t even know who you are and-”

He cut me off, closing the distance between us. His hands went to my shoulders.

“You have to trust me, or else you’re going to end up in a lot of trouble. Do you think people are going to believe you if you say he was a vampire? I don’t. Now come on.”

Reluctantly, I followed him towards the truck he’d left at the mouth of the alley. He was probably right and that was the problem. No one else would believe me and I did have to trust him.

“Where are we going?”

I asked it as I slid into the passenger’s seat.

“Somewhere where you’ll be safe while you get some training. The fact that you survived that means you’re good enough to learn to hunt those things.” He grinned a little and tossed me a jacket. “Throw that on so everyone we pass can’t tell you’re covered in blood. We’ll get you clean clothes on the road.”

The Trap

The temptation to set up a magical way to slow the boy down was rising. The location wasn’t far, he’d said. It was in a static location, he’d said. What he hadn’t said was that it was only accessible by passing through the gods only knew how much moorland and swamp. Kate certainly wasn’t fastidious, but she would have murdered for a pair of wellies in that moment. She was trying to extricate her cloak from a particularly clingy thornbush when Gawain stopped.

“We arrive, Sir.”

She gave one more tug and caught up with him. Before them lay a perfect circle of destruction. It looked like the whole of the area had been sliced off with a hot knife. Only the bare, burnt, barren patch remained.

“This…this is horrible. And no one knows what happened?”

Gawain shook his head, keeping well back.

“No one, Sir. A sprite passing through reported it, else we may have never found it.”

Looking again at the circle, Kate knew one thing for absolute truth. This had been formed by magic, and not the kind she had seen her brother using. Faerie Glamour could do a great many things, even shape a seeming of what she was looking at. But it certainly did not feel like this. This magic made her skin crawl and the closer she got, the more she wanted a long, hot shower to scrub and scrub until she finally felt clean again. This was mortal, pure and simple. Well, not pure. Unless it was pure destruction. A smile slowly crossed her face, despite the carnage. At least this was something within her bailiwick. She turned to look at Gawain, arms crossed over her chest.

“First thing’s first. I’m not Cliff. I’m Kate, his twin. Second, you’re lucky I’m not Cliff. He’s shit with mortal magic and that’s what this is. Any questions?”

His eyes were huge and he was looking her over in confusion.

“But..you…”

“Identical twins. He’s my brother. I need you to send word to someone in charge. Whoever makes sense. Let them know this is mortal work and…” She stopped, kneeling to look more closely at the bare, scorched earth. “And quarantine anyone who’s touched it, entered it. Anything like that. You got me?”

“Wh-what?”

Kate rubbed her temples, standing.

“Where’d I lose you?”
“Got you?”

“Did you understand the rest?”

“Oh!” He bowed quickly. “Yes, Si- Um. Lady. I will go quickly. Do you intend to stay here?”

He gave her a look that screamed as loud as if it was lit up in neon and thirty feet high ‘please say no.’ She just sighed.

“There are things I can do to figure out just what happened here. So, yes.”

He hesitated then.

“Lady, if I may?”

Eventually, she decided, she would figure out how to get him to call her Kate.

“Yes?”

He fidgeted nervously, bouncing on the balls of his feet and looking more like a nervous teenager than she’d seen him thus far.

“Why… If we were mistaken, why did you not correct our perception of your identity?”

That hit her. Why hadn’t she? She could have just said ‘oops! I’m his sister, take me home!’ and everything would have been fine. Why had that not occurred to her? She took a breath, trying to find the answer.

“Because… I felt I had to.” She looked at the blighted soil and then back at Gawain. “And I was right, so don’t argue and don’t tell anyone. But if Cliff does show up looking for me-”

“Then I shall endeavour to bring him hence, Lady. Subtly.”

“Oh good. Th-” Again she stopped herself. “Take care.”

As he jogged off, she turned back to the circle and frowned. This was a hitherto unknown level of worrying. She could almost feel the bog iron and salt. And she was purely human.

“Gods…” she muttered, kneeling down once more to check the edges. “Geometrically perfect, or as close as makes no difference and strong enough to kill a Changeling like Cliff… But why?”