As dates went, a trip to a magical fairy land sounded lot nicer than it turned out to be.
“Which direction are we heading now?” Cynthia asked, grabbing onto the nearest undulating vine. “I lost track of where gravity is about a mile ago.”
Tam spent a moment considering her answer. Given that she was dangling from Cynthia’s left ankle above a void that dropped into a whirlpool of rainbows, there was a decent chance that coming up with the wrong answer would have unpleasant consequences.
“If you can swing me towards the hill that’s floating over there like a cloud, I think we’ll be a little closer to an island of stability.”
The problem with fairy lands was that they tended to be a less of a ‘land’ and a lot more ‘fairy’. Tam didn’t know the name of the one she’d been called too – which was in itself a problem – but she was somewhat familiar with its type. It had some similar aspects to her Earth, important ones like ‘breathable air’ and ‘survivable temperatures’, but beyond that the physical laws she was used to where apparent more reminds of the rules the fairy land was breaking.
Grassy hillocks, for example, didn’t typically possess the proper density to float through the sky. Nor was the sky close enough that it showed marks of the paint brushes used to add in extra stars and other details.
“Are you sure there are any stable spots?” Cynthia asked, shifting her weight to begin swinging Tam towards the hill below them. “It feels like we’ve been looking for one for hours now”
“We probably have been,” Tam said. “Time runs pretty weird in places like this. It’s anchored to Earth though, so there are some limits to how weird it can get. And there’s got to be more stable spots. If it was just connected to the path that we walked down, the connection would be too weak for things like that to have lingered here.”
She pointed to a flock of flying creatures that was swirling around the outer rim of the rainbow vortex. Rather than birds, or even fish, the creatures were an amalgamation of metal and glowing plant life in the shape of Penny Farthing bicycles.
“I can’t even guess what those things are,” Cynthia said. Her eyes went unfocused and she shook her head. Tam knew exactly what she was going through. There were sight lines that induced a major case of vertigo if you looked in their direction for too long.
“Something unique to this place I’m sure, but the important part is that they resemble something from our history. That should mean that this place has been around since Penny Farthings were popular, which means more than one tiny little jogging path as its anchor to our world.”
“Ok, so there’s hope still. Good. You ready to jump?”
“Not really, but waiting’s not going to make it easier.”
On a count of three Tam let go. The fall scrambled her inner ear spectacularly and she landed in a lump, avoiding injury largely thanks to the training in falls she’d picked up as part of her recently sparring sessions with Connie.
For a moment the world spun around her and the concept of ‘down’ became nothing more a polite suggestion which everything around her was ignoring. As severe as the dizziness had been though, its departure was just as profound. One moment she might as well have been in a tumble dryer and the next she was solid and fine, the ground below her, the sky above, and nothing moving in any direction other than the one it should.
Nothing except for Cynthia.
Where everything else was falling down towards the ground Tam stood on, Cynthia’s flight, after releasing her grip on the vine she’d been clinging to, was closer to a balloon’s which had sprung an unexpected leak.
She swooped down towards the rainbow vortex and Tam screamed, gathering light into her hands from all the stars around them. Before she could form the power into a spell though, Cynthia ricocheted backwards, buzzing low enough across the ground that Tam was able to bring her to rest via the expedient of a flying tackle that left them both prone on the soft and sweetly scented grass.
“Ok. I didn’t puke. And everything is surprisingly ok,” Cynthia said, picking herself up and looking around the expanse of waving grass that surrounded them. “I’m not eager for a repeat trip, but that was kind of neat.”
Tam took Cynthia’s offered hand climbed to her feet as well. The light she’d gathered into her hands had burst into a thousand fireflies which danced around them like puffs of dandelion in a summer breeze.
For a moment the image of Cynthia’s smiling face, softly lit against a rainbow strewn sky took Tam’s breath away. She wanted to ask how she’d gotten so lucky. She wanted spend forever enjoying the moment. In the end though a different emotion rose to the forefront of her mind, driving by the changing illumination from the sky above.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I didn’t think this trip would be quite as ‘out there’ as all this.”
“It’s ok,” Cynthia said, reaching out and taking hold of Tam’s hands. “I signed up for a magical mystery tour, and that’s what we’re getting.”
“Yeah, but this is a lot more dangerous than you should have to deal with.” Tam looked down. The tableau was beautiful but one of the first rules she’d learned about fairy realms was that the prettier it looked, the more deadly it was likely to be.
“You get that my whole job is dealing with dangerous stuff right?” Cynthia stepped closer and put her hands on Tam’s shoulders.
“This is different though.” Tam looked up and met Cynthia’s gaze. “Fire fighting is dangerous stuff that you know the rules for staying safe from. With this though? Here the only rules are that the rules always change and there’s no path that’s ever even close to safe.”
“Didn’t stop you from heading in to check things out as soon as you heard the call though,” Cynthia said.
“It’s my job,” Tam said, knowing how weak a justification that was.
“Is it?” Cynthia asked. “I know you take care of a lot of supernatural things for the Club, but are you expected to deal with every problem everyone’s having?”
“No, of course not,” Tam said. “But when something seeks me out, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to it before whatever’s happening gets worse.”
“That’s reasonable,” Cynthia said. “But so is bringing backup right? Or am I not reliable enough? Would you prefer Val? Or Anna? Would they be better here?”
Tam sighed and smiled.
“No, and yes.” Words tangled up in her brain for a moment as the colors in the sky shifted to a sequence of darker hues. Cynthia could have interrupted but instead she gave Tam a moment to sort her thoughts out. “I thought this would just be a bit of fun, but it’s more serious than that.”
“And your afraid I’ll get hurt?” Cynthia asked.
“No. I mean yes, I don’t want you to get hurt, obviously, but I…” Tam drew a deep breath. “Everyone has a limit on how much they can take. There’s a point beyond which the unusual becomes the weird, and then the weird becomes the disturbing. I think I’m used to being that to people.”
“Well, weirder than they can take. At least long term.” Too many memories rose up to support that. Each failed relationship leaving tracks on the sand with steps that grew more unsteady the closer they got together, until the other one saw Tam for who she really was, then came the sudden and yet inevitable parting.
She knew she was filtering those memories though. Not all of her relationships had ended poorly. She was still friends with some of her ex’s. Under the swiftly darkening sky of the fairy land, Tam’s thoughts couldn’t help but follow a similar downward trend.
“But I don’t think you’re weird,” Cynthia said, holding Tam tighter without seeming to be aware of it.
“Within 24 hours of when we met, I saw you casting spells and saving people on a sinking boat,” Cynthia said. “I didn’t run away then. Heck it’s part of why I moved in with you! Why are you worried about it now?”
“I know! It’s stupid!” Tam said, feeling like she was being irrational for worrying about the long term prospects of a relationship that was still fairly new. Despite her growing certainty that her mind was being influenced by outside forces she couldn’t help hearing a frightened and experienced voice within telling her that, whether it was rational or not, whether it was externally influence or not, there was nothing to suggest she was wrong to worry.
“No, it’s not stupid,” Cynthia said, her frown matching the concern in her eyes. “It’s something you’ve been hurt by before isn’t it?”
“I guess…yeah, it has been. I feel like I balance being normal and being myself a lot. Like stage magic was the easiest thing for me because I have so much practice putting on a show for people.”
“You’re not alone in that. Not even a little.”
Tam laughed and hugged Cynthia. The warm contact was reassuring but her heart still felt like it was being held in a vice.
They should be moving. Standing in one place letting fairies play mind games wasn’t a recipe for either success or continued sanity. She could do that. She could call up a bunch of different spells. Protect herself and Cynthia.
Instead she just held on.
“I’m not going to tell you not to put on a show for me,” Cynthia said, running one hand through Tam’s hair while the other returned Tam’s hug. “I can’t demand that, and I don’t want you feeling bad for the defense mechanisms you’ve spent a lifetime learning.”
“Even when they suck?” Tam asked through tears that had sprung up without her notice. A flicker of anger shot through her at the thought that the fairy land was making her cry, but Cynthia’s words washed the spark of rage away.
“They brought you to me,” Cynthia said. “If what you’ve shown me so far is only part of who you are because of them, then it means I get to look forward to seeing even more of you than I have. Not today, but when you’re ready. Bit by bit even.”
Tam looked up again and saw the darkening whirlpool in the sky reflected in Cynthia’s eyes. In the reflection the colors shifted back to their brighter hues. With a long, slow breath, Tam let herself get lost in those brighter colors.
“What we have now is pretty great, I think,” Cynthia said. “Relationships take time though. I know we kind of skipped ahead on the sleeping together part, and that’s great too, but it feels like each day there’s a bit more real intimacy. We know each better. We trust each other more. That kind of stuff can’t be rushed, it’s always going to take time.”
Tam chuckled with real joy.
“I’m pretty lucky,” she said, and breathed in deeply again, letting the bright colors in Cynthia’s eyes fill her up. “The fairies however. Their luck just ran out.”
She breathed once more, feeling her emotional center regain its stability. Gravity wasn’t the only thing out of control in the fairy land it seemed. With a smile, she started drawing in the fireflies of light again.
“I would appreciate it if you didn’t harm the Illuminids,” a young boy said from a few feet away to Tam’s left. He was several feet farther away and on her left the next time he spoke. “They didn’t mean any harm, they’re just cautious of spellbearers.”
“This is the one who was calling you, isn’t it?” Cynthia asked, without taking her eyes off Tam.
“I am,” the boy said. “There is a problem you must know of, and, alas, I cannot write letters.” He was behind Tam when he finished speaking.
Tam turned, her hands sparkling with collected power. The boy wasn’t a threat though. If he ever had been, it had ended when his gossamer wings were clipped in half and his eyes were scorched blind.