Wend Your Way to the Willow (Part of the “Fae Horizons” universe)

Phoenix K. Scriven

Wend Your Way to the Willow (Part of the “Fae Horizons” universe)

16th March 2018 · Fiction, Issue 1

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Trigger warnings

The sound of rustling willow leaves in the night was not unique, but it was one with which Maxine was intimately familiar.

Her feelings on the sound, of course, were mixed.

“You know,” Helena said, slipping down from her perch in the boughs to sit neatly on the roots. “There are other places to go on nights like these.”

Maxine closed her eyes and breathed in, and was relieved to find that the breath in question was only a little shaky.

A heavy arm, cold and slender, wrapped around her shoulders. “You should go.”

“I don’t want to,” Maxine said. “I just… I just want to stay here.”

“They’ll be looking for you.”

“I don’t care.”

Helena sighed, and her head leaned to the side until it rested on Maxine’s shoulder. Hair almost as pale a brown as the bark of the tree they sat on spilled over into Maxine’s lap, just as long and as fine as the leaves that hung about them. Maxine waited a moment, and then let her own head rest on Helena’s.

“You should go,” Helena repeated. “It’s not… it isn’t safe for you. Not here.”

“I’m safer with you than I am with them.”

“The second you step beyond the leaves, you aren’t,” Helena said, gesturing to the thin curtain walling them off from the rest of the forest. Her voice hardened. “I may be safer than your home, but the path between is worse than both combined.”

“I have my iron,” Maxine said. “My salt and silver and enchantments. I can take care of myself.”
Cold hands played with Maxine’s fingers, rubbing at the callouses from the forge and the scars from poorly handled blades. She had no marks from code she strung together at computers in the day, but hobbies had always had more impact than work on her. She programmed tools in the day, when reality was too close to accept anything else, and hammered at steel until it shone to make tools for the night, where the silver, wrought into handles and pretty jewelry, sunk into her soul and let her see what she shouldn’t.

Maxine had often played it safe, but the fairy woods called to even the staidest of minds, if they took half a chance to look.

“Your hair is stabbing me,” Helena said, after a long silence.

“Sorry,” Maxine apologized, and tried to move so the fuzz at the side of her head wouldn’t be in contact anymore.

“No, no,” Helena told her, pulling away and shaking her head. “It’s… this isn’t right.”

“Please,” Maxine immediately begged. “I know what you mean, but–”

“Go home,” Helena whispered, and pressed her lips to Maxine’s.

Maxine kissed back, eyes closing automatically as she tried to convey, with this if nothing else, how much she understood and didn’t care about the danger of visiting.

The pressure on her mouth disappeared, and when Maxine’s eyes blinked back open, no one was there.
Helena was gone.

#

“Nguyen,” Mr. Travorić said, waving a tablet in her face. “What the hell is this?”

Maxine took a look at program and winced. “That’s… um…”

The man raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, I don’t have a good excuse,” she admitted. “I was rushing to hit the deadline and kinda stopped following the rules.”

“You have until tomorrow at three to fix it,” he told her. “I’m flexible on mistakes, but this is toeing the line.”

“Yes, sir,” Maxine mumbled, taking a look at the new code on her screen and groaning. Sure, she could fix the code from last week by the new deadline; he’d definitely given her enough time for that. But working on the old code was going to push down the time she had for the new code, and that was just… not going to be fun. She buried her face in her hands and then drooped until her fingers dug into what was left of her hair. “Shit.”

#

Coffee shops tended to be busy, but there was something to be said about warmth, ambient noise, and reliable taste.

“You know,” Caroline said, plopping down in the seat across from Maxine with an ominous thunk as her bag hit the ground. “That is the sparkliest pencil case I’ve seen in ages.”

Maxine glanced down at the pencil case in question, then up again. She shrugged.

It was her business if she wanted rainbows and unicorns and glitter on her personal pencil cases, nobody else’s.

“How many shots is that?” Caroline asked, nodding towards the drink.

“About… five,” Maxine answered with a lazy smile. “Also a lot of flavored syrups.”
Caroline pointed at her accusingly, “You are going to give yourself cavities and a caffeine-induced heart attack.”

“Didn’t sleep enough last night.”

“Still,” Caroline huffed, though the indulgent smile on her face was obvious.

“Anyway…” Maxine said, turning around her laptop. “I finished it a few nights ago. Wanted to wait until you were actually here to show it off. Good enough?”

Caroline’s face lit up as she leaned in with a wide grin. “Oh my god, she’s perfect.”

“You are the only person I’ve met in real life that actually chose a spider for her fursona,” Maxine said, leaning back and laughing.

“Eeeeeh, this is technically anthro,” Caroline muttered, her eyes still roving the image. “Especially since I asked for spider-based centaur stuff.”
Maxine blinked, considering the lengthy description. “Is there a word for that? I know scalies are a thing.”

“You know, for someone who’s so good at drawing this type of stuff, you’re surprisingly lacking in knowledge on the subject,” Caroline told her, shaking her head with a tsk-tsk noise.

“Listen, I just art,” Maxine groaned, sprawling dramatically in her chair and throwing her head back. “I don’t… I don’t words. I can code, I can forge, I can draw… but please don’t ask me to do words.”
Caroline snorted. “Right. In any case, I love it.”

“Great,” Maxine sighed. “That’s definitely a relief. There’s a special kind of anxiety that comes with doing commissions for your best friend.”

“Awwww, you had nothing to worry about. I know you’re good.” Caroline teased. “By the way, half now that you’re done, right? I’ll send it to your account off my phone and we can actually chat like we planned.”

“By which you mean you’re going to tell me more about spider furries.”

“I mean… if you want,” Caroline said. “Or, and this is just a suggestion, you could tell me about the beau you’ve been mentioning.”

Maxine made a face.

“That bad?” Caroline asked, expression full of sympathy.

“Not bad, just… complicated,” Maxine said, not meeting Caroline’s eyes.

“Considering you don’t want to tell me even the gender? Yeah, I figured,” Caroline said. “Relationships don’t get that kind of secrecy unless something’s complicated.”

“I’m going again tonight,” Maxine told her. A moment’s hesitation, and then she took the plunge. “To see her. It’s…”

“It’s?” Caroline prompted.

“Dangerous,” Maxine admitted. “Visiting her is dangerous. She isn’t, but her neighbors are… they’re… people go missing, sometimes. Don’t show up again for ages, if they come back at all.”

“Need me on standby? I can’t do much from the city, but I can lend an ear if you need it,” Caroline offered, worry in her eyes. “Or call the cops.”

“I’ll text you when I get home safe,” Maxine agreed with a wan grin. “But I appreciate it.”

“There isn’t anywhere you could meet her that’s safer?” Caroline asked. “A library, the forge, a café?”

“No,” Maxine said shortly. “She’s… limited, I guess. She can’t leave home, and probably wouldn’t be comfortable if she did. She’s mentioned a few places that she’d maybe be okay in, but without a way for her to get there…”

Maxine shook her head. “It’s just not an option, Caroline. Either I go to her, or I don’t see her at all.”

“If you’re sure,” Caroline said, doubt and worry coloring her tone.
Maxine pushed her own doubt deep down where she could forget about it for a few hours, and tried to smile. “Now tell me about those spiders you love so much.”

#

“Helena?”

Maxine pushed back the hanging leaves, stepping into the shadows beneath that were barely touched by the lights of the party just meters away. Fae always knew how to party, and the ones that took that farthest were the ones that posed as college students until they could absorb all the knowledge humans had to offer.

(“All the knowledge humans had to offer” included things like photography and microbiology and accounting, yes, but college itself was the place to meet the kinds of humans where that knowledge included “how to rave.”)

Maxine waited a few long moments, and then sighed and sat down between two large roots, pressing herself back against the bark and closing her eyes. The thermos in her hands didn’t let off much heat, but the soup inside was still warm when she brought it to her lips to take a few sips.

“You’re back.”

Helena’s sudden appearances had stopped scaring Maxine months ago, but it still startled her enough to choke on her soup.

Green eyes, faintly grey in the darkness, met Maxine’s when she stopped coughing.

“I know, I know,” Maxine sighed after Helena didn’t continue. “You think I should go back.”

“I think it’s dangerous for you to be here,” Helena confirmed, sitting down so her bare toes touched the tips of Maxine’s solid, black leather boots. Bony, pale arms wrapped around legs that were covered only by the thin grey fabric of her dress. Helena rested her chin on her knees to watch Maxine, close enough that her freckles, faint and a far sight paler than her bark, were visible even in the low light.
Maxine reached out, hesitant and a little timid, to take Helena’s hands in her own. She ran her thumbs, the skin rough and thick with callouses, over the backs of Helena’s knuckles. The other girl watched quietly, unmoving, until Maxine let her knees fall apart and her feet slide along the leaf-strewn ground between the roots. She settled into the cross-legged position for only a moment, and then leaned forward to press a kiss to the palm of one of Helena’s hands.

Then the other.

Maxine pressed those cool, soft hands to the sides of her face, looking up at Helena through her lashes with a plea in her eyes.

Maxine leaned back against the tree bark, holding Helena’s hands to her face just softly enough for her to break away if she really wanted to. Helena followed Maxine’s movements, rocking forward to her knees and then leaning until she hovered just inches from Maxine’s face, her hands settling on the tree bark to hold her up as she stared down into dark, dark eyes.
Maxine held her breath, hands dropping to her sides and then moving, inch by inch, as they stared into each other’s eyes and felt their breath mingle, to hold Helena’s waist.

“Your move,” Maxine whispered, and tried to pretend she didn’t see the conflict and shattered hopes in Helena’s eyes.

“I want to,” Helena said. “But…”

“Do you love me?” Maxine asked, even though she already knew the answer.

“That’s not the point,” Helena snapped, eyes shining a little in light as they grew wet with unshed tears. Maxine moved to wipe them, but Helena moved sharply out of the way before she could. She sat on Maxine’s lap, back to chest, pulling on Maxine’s arms to wrap around her torso and glaring at the ground to the side. “That’s not the problem.”

“I know,” Maxine said quietly, closing her eyes and letting her head fall back against the wood. “I know.”

She fell asleep with Helena curled against her chest, and woke to a blanket of leaves and the chill of early morning air just in time for work.

#

“–and I’m just like, why is a parade even necessary, you know?”

Maxine focused on the screen in front of her, trying to pull together the strings of words that took so much more time and effort than code did, the bits and bobs and turns of phrase that would turn chunks of thought into a proper thesis. Maxine focused on the screen in front of her, and did her best to ignore the conversation at her back.

“Hey, hey, Maxine,” her roommate poked in the back. “What do you think?”

“About what?” Maxine asked, hoping her bored tone would do something to dissuade any further interaction.

“What’s the point of a Pride parade, right?”

Maxine closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She spoke slowly, putting together the sentence as carefully as she could to make sense, be interesting, and not out herself. “Celebrating continued survival in the face of a world that only wants to kill qu–to kill LGBTQ people and to promote interests of the minority in question in a safer and more supportive environment than many, I imagine.”

“Okay but like… they got marriage, right?” Jenna scoffed. “What else do they need?”

“Protection at work?” Maxine suggested, not a touch sarcastically. “Legal protection in case of, I dunno, physical attack or murder? ‘Trans panic’ is still a legal defense in a murder trial in most states, and that’s definitely not okay.”

“Oh my god, you’re such a buzzkill,” Vivienne groaned. “C’mon, let’s go. She’s just gonna complain that we’re distracting her again anyway.”

“It’s my thesis,” Maxine defended, finally turning around to glare at her roommates. “Does that mean nothing to you?”

She wasn’t surprised when all she got in response was a pair of eyerolls.

#

Silver and iron.

Iron and silver.

Enough, enough, enough.

Maxine stepped outside of the forge, leaving behind the stuffy air that made her lungs itch with the smoke that wafted around and around until it found its way out. Goosebumps crawled their way up her arms as she strode towards the large, empty area reserved for testing creations, and pulled the glaive to her side.

The Phác Đao was what she’d called glaives as a child, and even now the word came to mind first. Most would know this kind better as a podao, since that was the name it carried in China, but the weapon type was common across East Asia, and was one that Maxine had spent several months trying to replicate. She didn’t know much about how to use them, true, but she knew enough to see if the balance was right and the build correct.

Maxine liked to imagine that she looked impressive as she moved through the forms she’d looked up, here in the twilight with smoke wafting from the forge where she spent her weekends. She liked to imagine that the blade glinted in the light from the windows and what dying shine there was from the sky, that the chin-length strands of what remained of her hair swung about dramatically when she turned, that her feet kicked up dust in a spray that would fly into a camera just so.

Maxine, unfortunately, knew that this wasn’t what she looked like. Her movements were clumsy and unsure, that of a woman who knew more about the construction of a blade than the use of it. Her hair was sticky with sweat after the heat of the indoors, so even the angled parts of her bob that hadn’t gotten chopped off when she shaved the side of her head looked more sloppy than severe. The blade shone, true, but it wasn’t polished yet, and was still a dull grey. But… well. This was life, not a movie, and there were no camera angles to make Maxine look anything other than clumsy.

The balance was good, though, and that meant that at the end of the night, when she’d polished the blade and sharpened it, when she’d swung and stabbed until pumpkin guts covered the shiny, scary metal, there was still a pleased smirk on her face.

She’d done it, after all. Who needed to look good wielding a blade when they could make it?

#

Maxine kept her head down and her hoodie up as she headed for the willow. She could feel eyes on her, but the iron on her wrist and the leather bag of ashes tied around her neck dissuaded most from approaching her. She was skilled, sure, but she played with dangerous metals, wrote for systems that faltered in the presence of magic, and for all that she was an artist, she wasn’t a performer. Had she been a singer, or a dancer, or played an instrument, the danger would have been far more, but she wasn’t. The fair folk enjoyed entertainers far more than craftswomen, and Maxine was the latter.
The party went on without her, wines as old as the woods themselves scenting the air almost as often as vodka made just this year did.

(There were places, she’d heard, in cities steeped in magic just as much as they were in technology, where the danger was lesser. Hidden entrances to underground magical bazaars that catered to more than just humans, entire communities warded against the uninitiated where disguises weren’t as necessary, schools that taught astrophysics as much as they did spellcraft.)

(Yet Helena couldn’t leave her tree, and Maxine hadn’t had reason to interest herself in urban magic beyond what might have helped Helena.)

(And so, to the faerie forest she returned.)

She pushed the curtain of leaves out of her way and slipped the bracelet off her wrist as she entered Helena’s domain. She headed for the trunk with heavy steps that crushed the debris at her feet under the weight of her boots, slipping the bracelet into her bag and the hood off of her head. The area was small, but…

Maxine closed her eyes and smiled as a presence made itself known at her back, pale arms dotted with freckles wrapping around her waist. She huffed out a laugh as cool lips pressed to her neck, and tilted her head to give Helena better access.

“You’re torturing me,” Helena muttered. “I told you not to come.”

“Then tell me you want me to leave.”

“You should.”

“But you don’t want me to,” Maxine sighed, good mood ruined as she turned to face Helena directly, hands on the smaller woman’s hips. “Tell me you genuinely want me to leave, and I will.”

“I…” Helena’s eyes darted across Maxine’s face, her own expression flipping through something devastated and wanting and frustrated in turn. “You know I can’t do that.”
Maxine smiled, feeling a pressure building in her throat and a tightness in the muscles under her eyes, and leaned forward to kiss Helena’s forehead. “Let’s take it a night at a time.”

“One night is all it takes,” Helena grumbled, but let Maxine pull her into a hug, pressing her face into Maxine’s neck. “Just one mistake…”

“You worry too much,” Maxine muttered, smoothing down the hair at the back of Helena’s head with one hand, however little her hair actually needed it. “I’ve got iron, and the ashes from the hair and leaves you gave me. They know that I’m yours, that I’m protected. Isn’t that enough?”

“I’m too young for that,” Helena said quietly. “It helps, but I’m… I’m just a willow. The mundane ones live only as long as humans do. I’m… I’m better than mundane, but I’m still young. I won’t live past two hundred, probably, and the fae outside are…”

“Old?” Maxine said, trying to keep her voice from going dry and flat. “I know. But we’re not exactly in the UK, you know. Most of these ones are only as old as the history of white settlements in North America; you told me yourself that only the youngest left with the first immigrants, and a fae of a few centuries isn’t quite the same as the thousands-year-old peeps back in England and all that, yeah?”

“There were fae that followed the Vikings,” Helena argued. “Riding the longships and waiting for a new land to sink their pretty claws into.”

“…don’t they live way further into the mountains?” Maxine asked, brow furrowing as she pulled back to look at Helena properly. At the guilty look on her girlfriend’s face, she forced herself to relax. “Misdirection, huh.”

“They do,” Helena admitted, avoiding the question no matter how obvious it was. She’d already been caught out, after all. “But… even the young ones that came, the ones that follow modernity enough to choose to live this close to a university, they’re centuries older than me. I’m an adult, M–”
Helena cut herself off, and then took a deep breath and started over before the panic in Maxine’s chest had a chance to solidify. No names, not here. “I’m an adult, yes, but I’m a child in their eyes. I’m weak. I’m… I’m not fae, not fully. There’s too much dryad in me to be their style of trickster, and I’m too deep in faerie territory, and in my ancestry I am too steeped in their blood, for the Greek trees to come to my aide if I call. I can’t go more than a few feet from the furthest reaches of my leaves and roots yet. I… I can’t keep you safe, no matter how much I want to.”

Maxine waited for her to continue, but when no more words came, she leaned down to press her lips to Helena’s again, soft and chaste and made of reassurance more than passion. When she pulled away, Helena’s eyes were closed, with the anxiety in her face lessened, even if the desperation was back.

“I made you something,” Maxine said, pulling her backpack off and sitting on the ground, her back once more to Helena’s trunk. She dug through the backpack that sat between her legs, all too aware of Helena’s movements as she settled at her side and draped herself over Maxine’s shoulder to watch.

Maxine’s fingers brushed velvet in the darkness, and she pulled out the white box with a flourish. It was a little dirty, having sat around inside the backpack, and on a worktable in the forge when she’d been doing finishing touches and cleaning up the metal itself, but Maxine figured that probably wasn’t going to bother Helena too much. Given what was inside, the state of the box itself was probably the least of their problems.

“I, um…” Maxine fiddled with the box for a moment before thrusting it abruptly into Helena’s hands. “Here.”

Helena looked at her for a long moment, and then down at the box. “A gift?”

“Yeah,” Maxine said, and then bumped her shoulder into Helena’s with a grin. “Freely given and all that nonsense.”

A small laugh, light and practically tinkling, met that line, and Helena opened the box.

“It’s, um, silver,” Maxine said, pulling her knees to her chest and hugging them, looking away just in case Helena didn’t like it. “I knew anything with iron was a no-go, and you said silver holds power well, and you look good in it, so… I figured that would work.”

“It’s a willow frond,” Helena whispered, and Maxine snuck a look back at her. The dryad was holding the necklace up in to the low light, watching the pendant reflect what little glow it could catch. “How long…”

“I mean, I didn’t make the actual necklace, just the pendant,” Maxine admitted, as if the thin leather cord didn’t tell Helena that easily enough. “But, uh… a few weeks, really. Just afternoons here and there. I had other projects, but I wanted to make this for you. Do you… do you like it?”

“Of course,” Helena breathed out. “It’s beautiful. Help me put it on?”

So Maxine did just that, taking the thin black leather in her hands and clipping the silver ends together at the nape of Helena’s neck. She pressed a kiss there, just above the joining, and then pulled away to dig a compact out of her backpack. She held it in front of Helena, letting the smaller woman angle it properly from where she was cradled in Maxine’s arms, and felt a giddy warmth in her stomach at the flush that rose to Helena’s cheeks at the sight of her reflection.

“It’s gorgeous,” Helena told her, twisting to loop her arms around Maxine’s neck and pull herself closer. “Just like you.”

“Well, I had a pretty good muse, didn’t I?” Maxine asked, putting down the compact so she could bring a hand up to brush her thumb along the rise of Helena’s cheekbone. She hesitated, well aware of the tension that had been building between them for ages, but pulled Helena in anyway.
Their lips pressed together, soft at first but slowly gaining pressure, and when Helena’s fingers dug into Maxine’s hair as her head tilted to deepen the kiss further, when Helena slid forward and swung her legs up and over so she could wrap them around Maxine’s waist, when Helena’s reaction to Maxine’s hand slipping under her dress was to yank upwards at Maxine’s tank top until it came off…

When that happened, Maxine knew she’d done it right.

#

They lay together afterwards, Helena curled up to Maxine’s chest as she lay on her back to watch the unfamiliar stars twist overhead through the gaps between the leaves.

(The faerie world had constellations she’d never seen before, and she had taken joy in tracing out the images on many nights while Helena whispered their stories into her ear, moving her branches out of the way so they’d have a clearer view.)

“I wish you could stay forever,” Helena whispered, the tips of her fingers tracing idle patterns onto Maxine’s stomach. “I want you to stay.”

“But,” Maxine said, and the word broke her heart, but she knew.

“But you have to go,” Helena whispered, ducking her head down so Maxine couldn’t see her face, even as she felt the hot wetness of tears on her chest. “You need to go. It’s not safe for you here, and as much as I wish you could stay…”

“Helena, please.”

“You can’t!” Helena shouted, pushing herself up until she hovered over Maxine. “I love you, but you can’t stay here. You have a life back on Earth, and I don’t even have the power to leave my tree, let alone protect you.”

“I can protect myself!”

“You’re human,” Helena insisted, sitting up straight and leaning away. “You’re human and breakable and I love you too much to let it all happen. I can’t even say your name here without worrying someone will take advantage of it.”

“Helena, I–”

“Go,” Helena said, closing her eyes and shaking her head. The tear tracks glittered. “Just… just go. And don’t come back.”

“And if I find a way to stay safe?” Maxine asked quietly, pulling her pants back on and trying not to regret every step that had led her to here.

“…then we’ll see,” Helena said, and disappeared in a burst of willow leaves.
Maxine finished pulling her clothing back on, dragged her backpack onto her shoulder, and pushed aside the willow leaves as she stepped onto the faerie paths once more. She fiddled with the dirty velvet box that had held the necklace, choking on an angry sob when she saw the paper inside. Months, and now, of all times…

No. She’d dwell later.

Her phone said it was just past ten in the evening, but the sky was already beginning to lighten, if barely, with the slow crawl of dawn.

She headed for the mushroom ring, and that light disappeared as she stepped through into the darkness of Rockefeller State Park.

Maxine went home.

#

Saying that the world ended and that the days were grey was dramatic, and not something Maxine was interested in indulging. She was sad, yes. She was angry, yes. She wanted to cry in her bed and eat ice cream and complain to a friend, absolutely.

But it was a break-up, not Armageddon.

“I know you’re trying to move on as fast as possible,” Caroline said, propping her hand up on one fist and drumming the fingers of her other hand on the table as she watched Maxine sip her warm apple cider. “But like… you start getting all pouty and teary every time you see something that reminds you of her.”

“I can move on,” Maxine grumbled. “I can. I just… need some distractions.”

“Gay bar?” Caroline suggested.

Maxine shot her a glare.

“Hey, you’re allowed to be cut up about getting dumped,” Caroline reminded her, reaching across the table to put her hand over Maxine’s. “I mean, I never met the girl, but she clearly meant a lot to you.”
Maxine made a face. “She did, but… I don’t like feeling like this. It sucks, and it makes me feel weak, like… like there’s no point to feeling this negative. I’m just wasting emotions.”

“Dude. It’s a breakup. The majority of the population has at least a few shitty days or weeks after they go through one. Getting dumped sucks. That’s just… how it is.” Caroline kicked lightly at Maxine’s shin under the table. “Sometimes you just have to wait the emotions out.”
Maxine stared down at her apple cider, warm and sweet and just the slightest hint of spicy. “She did… she did leave me one thing. Um.”

“Yeah?” Caroline prompted, tilting her head in such a sharp motion that the mass of large, burnt orange curls that her headband wasn’t keeping out of her face fluffed up into the air for a moment.

“She… okay, so the thing is that Helena wasn’t… normal,” Maxine finally decided on. “And I don’t know what you are or aren’t willing to believe in, but the point is that she left me an address and a passcode, and… if I’m going to check it out, I want you to come with me.”

“That sounds like a recipe for getting shot,” Caroline said, sounding flippant even if the look in her eyes was as serious as she was capable of. “Seriously shady, dude.”

“It’s not like that,” Maxine muttered. “More like… I don’t know. More like speakeasies than organized crime home bases, you know? Hidden subcultures, not gangs or mobs or whatever.”

“Weren’t speakeasies usually–”

“In any case,” Maxine interrupted, knowing full well where this was going. “Come with me?”

“Well… I guess if you need someone to keep you out of trouble,” Caroline sighed dramatically. She did grin, though. “I’m free tonight. Let’s do this.”

#

It was like something out of a movie. It was a rundown door in upper Manhattan. It was a wizened old woman playing doorkeeper, a gnarled cane topped in a glistening purple agate in her hand. It was thumping heartbeats and tight throats and sweat, anxiety in every step.

It was–

“Magic,” Maxine breathed out.

“Holy smokes,” Caroline said, as they entered the underground bazaar, populated by people and creatures so far from human that it couldn’t have been just sleight of hand or costumes. Not with how colors shifted under scaled skin, and antlers sprouted from human heads with too-large eyes, and men’s torsos faded seamlessly into horse’s bodies, and whatever the woman with the translucent skin and swishing tail was. “This is–”

“Magic,” Maxine repeated. “It’s magic. Helena was a dryad-fae, and… yeah.”

They got jostled out of the way as another patron made their way in, getting strange looks and stranger double-takes from passersby.

“So,” Caroline said, something strange and excited in her voice. Her dark hand, wrist covered in bangles and weightless peach sleeves, grabbed Maxine’s. “Where do we start?”

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About the Author

Phoenix K. Scriven

Phoenix has been writing for over a decade, but this is her first time publishing in print. She has long been a fan of queer, fantasy, and science fiction, and is eager to mix the three and begin forming her own expanded universe, "Fae Horizons." .

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