5 – Kayla (3/3)

“The night of the big blackout, a lot of fae who normally don’t spend any time around humans went wandering. One came home talking about the nice young people she’d met, some of them faelings, and how she’d given them her blessing, which basically involves using that aether energy. Her great-grand-daughter has some idea just what kind of havoc she could have started, so she asked my family to help. For those of us who are human, the results of a fae blessing can be strange, upsetting, awkward, but generally they can be dealt with and sometimes it can be beneficial in the end. A fae blessing on a dormant faeling, however, tends to create all kinds of weirdness.”

“Why would they bless anyone?” Kayla asked, picking at a splinter on the table, already certain of the answer.

“The most common reason is that you’ve done something kind. Like the fairy tales—the hero who stops to help out the poor old lady or share his last food, or sets the fox free or puts the fish back in the water.”

“I should never have let her in the gate,” Kayla snarled, both hands clenching into white-knuckled fists.

“What happened?”

“During the blackout, we had a barbecue. Old lady showed up, looked extremely poor, asked for water. We had a ton of food we cooked that would’ve spoiled, so we invited her in and fed her and gave her leftovers to take—we figured she hadn’t eaten and might not the next day without help. The five I know for sure are missing grew up together and were there. And two others we haven’t been able to contact.”

“Did she say anything strange?” Riley asked gently.

“Be who you really are? Something like that. Be who and what you truly are, that’s it.”

“That would certainly have the potential to stir things up. And that sounds like a very typical scenario, charity to an old woman in need being rewarded.”

“This is not a reward! And how the hell does it explain them disappearing?”

“I suspect,” Riley said, “she had some reason to believe that at least one person present is not happy with their life and has the potential to be much more—possibly more than one. It sounds like something intended to help someone find the aspects of themselves they can’t currently see or accept. In other words, to get closer to being who they are and therefore happier. It would have a subtle effect on you and anyone else not a faeling.”

“I’ve been through that particular battle,” Kayla said shortly.

“Then quite possibly little or no effect. But on dormant faelings, it could trigger some very dramatic effects. While you’re being mad at yourself, though, think how bad her curse could have been if she was angry or offended instead.”

Kayla paused to consider that. “Fine. I still wish she’d gone somewhere else, but I suppose pissing her off could have been worse. Maybe. Right now it’s hard to imagine how.”

“Believe me, I can.”

“Okay, seriously, reality check. When you tell people stuff like this, magic and fairies and blessings and stuff, do they normally actually believe you?”

“Well, it helps if they’ve just tripped into what feels like the Twilight Zone and they’re already looking for answers to things they wish they could pretend weren’t real,” Riley admitted. “Doing this more or less cold isn’t my first choice. At least you haven’t thrown me out yet. As long as we’re still talking, I still have a chance.”

“Yeah, well, camo-mouse there and the tree things are fairly hard to dismiss, and you know some things.” Kayla ran both hands through her hair, and paused halfway to let her arms take the weight of her aching head. “Fuck. I haven’t had enough sleep or enough coffee to deal with this shit.” How much of this could she believe? How much did she want to believe just because it was an answer, however improbable, for the currently inexplicable? Even though she still had no actual reason for the disappearance of her friends.

This had to be a con of some sort, and Riley wanted something.

Yet Kayla’s people-sense had yet to flash a single red light, or even a yellow one. Every instinct insisted that Riley was being honest and sincere. Which was insane.

Of course, so was the disappearance of five-to-seven people without a trace on an ordinary Friday night.

Riley reached into her bag again. “I can’t promise this will work for you, but it might. I do need to give you a warning, though. If it does work, it’s going to mess up your sleep patterns for several days and probably give you spectacularly bizarre and possibly disturbing dreams. And occasionally it works too well if someone’s extremely sensitive, which you might be. But if it works, it will trick your body into believing it’s had eight hours of decent sound sleep.” She opened her palm to show a small colourless plastic container with a screw-on top; inside was a smooth translucent white egg. “Physically it’s just quartz, you only have to hold it. Which will use up that charge, and they are a royal pain to recharge. But I need your help if we’re going to find your friends, so it’s worth a try.”

Kayla looked up enough to regard it sceptically, but finally reached out to take it. “Magic speed?”

“I suppose you could see it that way, but generally safer, despite the side-effects.”

“Just hold it?”

“Take it out of the container, hold it in your hands, and just give it, oh, it can take one to two minutes for the average person, faster for some.”

Kayla unscrewed the top, and spilled the stone into her palm—at the longest point, it was no more than a couple of centimetres.

“It feels… cold. And sort of tingly.”

“Then probably you’re fairly sensitive. Some people are. Drop it if it gets uncomfortable.”

“It’s not uncomfortable, just… odd.” She cupped it between her hands and closed her eyes, trying to analyze the peculiar sensation. Sort of like static, if static had a temperature.

Between one breath and the next, her nagging low-grade headache from fatigue and stress melted away.

Over the course of the next few, the exhaustion of dealing with a crisis on only a couple of hours of sleep followed.

Behind that crept a gentle, almost imperceptible energy that flowed from her hands towards her spine and radiated from there to everywhere, a soft warmth that drove back the cold of weariness and fear and replaced it with alertness. No giddiness or mania, no sense of intoxication, just the clarity that normally came with being well-rested.

Kayla opened her eyes, and parted her hands to look down at the stone egg. “What the hell…?”

Riley chuckled. “Probably just as well it’s tricky to do. It could get awfully easy to overuse those, although the long-term effects of regular use are not good. Feel better?”

“Um, yeah, by about a million times. How does a chunk of rock do something like that?”

“Resonances and vibrations, stored energy, it would take a while to explain and I actually don’t know all the details any more than I know exactly how aspirin does its thing.” She retrieved the stone egg, put it back in the container and closed it, and returned it to her bag.

“Okay. So. You’re planning to find my friends.”

“I was hired to come here and figure out what the effects of that blessing are on the people involved and minimize the damage as much as possible. Since your friends going missing is almost certainly a direct effect, then yes, I intend to find them and help them and their loved ones adjust.”

What did she have to lose? If Riley was crazy—although the balance of evidence suggested that there was something going on that was beyond Kayla’s own experience or understanding of the world—well, all she’d lose was time, and she was out of useful ways to spend that. If there was malice under it, despite her instincts all insisting otherwise, she was sure she’d spot it eventually, and she wanted Riley where she could see her. And if Riley was telling the truth and this was all for real, then she might very well be Kayla’s only hope of getting Theo and the others home safely.

“Adjust to what, exactly? You mentioned that before.” And Kayla had been too foggy-headed to pick up on it. “Where’s Theo and how does this fae thing relate to him and some of his classmates being gone without a trace?”

“I’m never sure how to put this part gently.”

“Then do it ungently. I’ll survive.”

“Fae aren’t human.” Riley gestured towards first the maple, then the apple as illustration. “Dormant faelings effectively are, unless and until their fae genes are activated, and at that point they start a transition period that leads to being in many ways strongly fae—the line between from-birth fae and fully active faelings is a hard one to find sometimes, so much so that there’s a sometimes heated argument over whether to just call at least some of them fae, and honestly, I usually do. Hob is a regular mouse whose fae genes are active, which makes her, not a fae mouse, but a mouse with fae traits. Mice are vastly simpler than people, though. They never find the process scary and disorienting, for example, or question their own identity, but some people do. That said, there are some powerful biological and instinctive mechanisms that kick in pretty rapidly to help them adjust. They never become anything incompatible with who they are, because bits of their fae nature bleed through all their lives to help make them who they are. Actually, they usually become much more intensely themselves, by the time that transition ends. In itself, it’s not normally all that hard to help someone get through. However, individuals vary, and I’ve encountered and heard of faelings whose first response was to hide from anyone they know. The first visible step normally occurs just about ten days after the initial trigger, in this case the blessing.”

“Which should be tonight.”

“It does vary a little, and potentially with a close-knit group, one changing could set the others off.”

“So you’re telling me that Theo and his classmates are not only out there somewhere, but they don’t look like them and they’re possibly not in a good place mentally or entirely rational.”

“Quite possibly, yes.”

Kayla rubbed her forehead and sighed. Every answer she got gave her a million more questions. However, she couldn’t sit around here grilling Riley while Theo was in trouble. If there was action she could take, then she needed to take it now, and gather info on the fly and after the immediate crisis. It wouldn’t be the first time she’d groped her way through unfamiliar territory, though unquestionably the most bizarre.

“I’ve got all the basics now, right?”

“More or less, in an extremely simplified and stripped-down form.”

“So how do we find them?”

“The first step would be for you to fill me in on exactly what you’ve done so far. Also, collecting my more heavy-duty divination gear from my van and bringing it here.”

Divination. Right. Why not?

“Which is where?”

“About seven or eight blocks from here, by a little park on Mackenzie Street.”

“Then scoop up the mouse and let’s go. We can talk on the way.” Kayla grabbed her phone and typed a text to Max on the go.

«Not sure, possible lead, weird but maybe. Stay with Heather, sleep if you can. Will let you know ASAP. Love you.»

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