Dawn in San Francisco

What's Important

He’d been working for hours – and that’s just counting today. As always, perfection eluded him, and perfection had never mattered as much as it did now. It had to be perfect.

So he worked on. He poured, he shaped, he reheated, he reshaped… he swore and started over.
Wendy didn’t know. She didn’t even suspect, as far as he could tell. At least not how close he was to completion.
When she asked what he was working on that was taking so much of his time and attention he would just say it was Morpheus, and she would immediately lose interest. It also upset her a little, which Kevin hated himself for, but it was the way it had to be. She couldn’t know the full truth of it yet, because… well, because she can’t. It’s, like, a rule or something. She can’t know until it’s ready.

Kevin inspected his most recent attempt. This one seemed promising. It just needs a few minor alterations and adjustments, and… is that a damn dent? He retrieved a magnifying glass from a drawer, and looked closer. Yep, that’s a dent. It’s small, but it’s there. Unacceptable. He threw it with the other rejects, a steadily growing pile.

Why is this so hard? He needed this to be perfect, and there wasn’t much time, not with the ever increasingly impending doom.
He had been planning, and working on, this particular project for some time before he got into this mess, but the return of Mr Devil had made him decide to redouble his efforts.
It was strange – and perhaps somewhat cliché – but the prospect of the world coming to an untimely end had really made him re-evaluate what mattered to him, and what he needed to have done before dying.

Come to think of it, he was no longer happy with the current design. Kevin sighed heavily. He took off his heavy-duty goggles, gloves, and blacksmith’s apron. He wiped the sweat from his forehead. Looked at the time – there was still about an hour that he could spend on this today. If he could come up with a new, better design reasonably quickly he could even get a couple of more attempts done.

In truth, he would much rather leave now, and spend more time with Wendy. But he forced himself to stay. It is for Wendy that I am doing this. It will all be worth it when it is done, when she sees it. She will be amazed…
…hopefully.

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Shadows

He sat with Buddy and Marco, trying to brainstorm ideas for how to calibrate the rod properly.
They weren’t having much luck thus far.

Frustrated with the lack of progress, his mind shifted gears for a while, and his thoughts turned to Wendy.
On a hunch, she had decided to further investigate the “Devil” guy. Kevin really hoped she was wrong – any being powerful and evil enough to earn that moniker was seriously bad news – but Wendy’s hunches were almost never wrong. She always saw the truth of things.

If Wendy was right, then they were likely in deeper shit than ever before. Whether it was the Judeo-christian Devil, one of the multiple polytheistic varieties, or an altogether different Old, Hateful, Horned and Incredibly Powerful being, the awakening of him/her/it could only be bad.

All the more reason for for them to learn shadow magic, Kevin figured. It was dark magic, sure – powerful and potentially evil and all that – and in any other situation Willow would be absolutely right to hide it from the world. But the deeper they got into this mess, the more Kevin was convinced that they Needed it. There were precious few ways to defend against shadow magic, and the most effective one was shadow magic itself. So if shadow magic was what they were going up against – and they obviously were, Willow’s excuse about probabilities was denial or flat-out bullshit – then that was what they needed to protect themselves.

Marco and Buddy and Hazel were talking about something, presumably the rod. Kevin wasn’t paying attention at all at this point. He had expected Wendy to have joined up with them at this point – the fact that she hadn’t implied that she had found something in her research. It seemed she was right again. Shit.
Now he was really starting to worry. Not for his own sake, really – being in life-threatening situations always worried him far less than it rationally ought to. However, he did worry for Wendy. The thought of losing her was far more terrifying to him. It was unbearable.

He wished she was here. He wished he could just hold her, kiss her, and just forget about this mess for a moment. Or a bunch of moments.
Even better, forget about it for good. Walk out. Move to New Zealand – there were probably a lot less apocalypses there, and the queens pretty much never came to the southern hemisphere – Settle down, get married, and live happily ever after.

He did not know how the queens had gotten so messed up that the fate of the world was less important to them than keeping secrets, but he was damned if was going to let that jeopardise Wendy’s life. Just as the queens had their priorities, so did he have his – Wendy was infinitely more important than they were. Hell, she was more important than the world. She was his world.
So if the queens wanted them to fight some great evil for them, without proper protection, they could rot.

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Willow's library

Wendy flipped the small book open, half-reading the pages again. Hopefully the ‘Devil’ really was just a myth like Willow had said, or at worst some ancient douche who had earned Devil as a nickname. She had met an eshu in Spain that people called ‘Diablo’, but that was because when he was drunk he could burp fire.

She sat curled up on the floor at the entrance to Willow’s private collection, waiting for the queen to return. Once a part of her would have been tempted to go into the collection and just read everything, or look for secret compartments. But now…

She had a strange sense of foreboding. Something bad was coming, something big and powerful. She didn’t know what to do. She hadn’t been able to focus in the library when they had begun their research, and she couldn’t focus now that they knew a little more about what they were up against. She didn’t understand this shadow magic, didn’t know how to track it or stop it or protect herself and those she loved from it. And Kevin wanted to know how to use it! She had been relieved when the queen had said no. Kevin always had a certain fascination with the darkness – she sometimes wondered if he would have been winter court, had things been different. She had indulged his tinkering with the horrible machine, because he wasn’t having any real success and a part of her hoped in vain that he would give up. But now he wanted to delve into dark and dangerous magics, ostensibly with good intentions to protect, but in reality….
She just felt afraid, and a little angry at him. Sure, a person might accept dangerous powers to protect those they loved, believing they could control it or give it up when they were done. But it never really worked out like that. Darkness left a mark on a person, one not easily erased and always corrupting. Was what they had worth so little?

Wendy didn’t like being helpless. Things had been going so well for so long. Now it all seemed to suddenly be crumbing again. Damn the queens! Why couldn’t they look after their own, solve their problems? Why hadn’t there been endless wards around the mantle, and guards in the room protecting something so vital? Was the fairy court really so full of power-hungry backstabbers that the only people they could turn to in their time of need were her friends? Sure, Marco was part of things now, what with his relationship with Hazel. But it made no sense that they would trust him with the fate of Arcadia and not trust him to choose decorations for a party.

She stretched out her legs, frowning. The others had been gone for a long time. She had found time to read a few texts, go back to the ballroom, find the residue and come back here. Where were they? Had something gone wrong? Maybe they had come back, found she was gone and tried to find her. She got up, then stopped. Kevin had the means to find her, if that had been the problem. Besides, she had asked the queen for a favour, it would be rude to just walk off. She might have done it as a teenager, but she was a bit more mature now. But what was taking so long? They had just gone to talk to Hazel.

Wendy dithered, uncertain about what to do. She wanted to visit the grandmothers – that was why she had come back and called for Willow’s help. But she didn’t want to go alone. Even though she was secretly cross with Kevin for the shadow magic thing, she still needed him there to hold her hand in the face of the bad things. She needed Marco and Buddy, with their smiles and cheery dispositions to tell her it would be OK. She needed everyone’s support, to be with people she trusted to think of the things she might miss and help sort out this problem before it was too late, before whatever looming menace she felt breathing down her neck caught up with them.

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Adventure Time!

They were back in the library. It was just like the good old times, except this time they had been given access to Willow’s super-secret special collection – and even though that in and of itself implied that the situation was really really dire, Kevin couldn’t help being excited.
It was an adventure! Investigations and mysteries and secret magics and stuff!
He had missed this – more than he had wanted to admit, to himself and especially to Wendy.

Wendy did not think fondly of their previous quests – understandable, considering they had all nearly died on several occasions and pretty definitely been traumatised and scarred for life.
In fact, Kevin wasn’t too sure why he wasn’t feeling the horror and dread Wendy and Marco were. Only Buddy seemed as happy with it as Kevin – but Buddy hadn’t been on any royal quests before, and besides, Kevin didn’t think Buddy was physically capable of worrying.

He wondered to himself if he might have some kind of Stockholm syndrome or repression thing going, or maybe the queens had magically manipulated him? Nah, they wouldn’t do that… or actually they totally would, but they probably haven’t…
Note to self – look into magical tinfoil hats.

Regardless of why, Kevin was having fun. Where Marco and Buddy were reading solemnly, and Wendy found a magazine that looked like a shadier (heh) version of Cosmo that she flipped through for the duration of the session, Kevin went through books and shelves like he was on a treasure hunt.
It didn’t really matter why he was so excited, he concluded – either it would remain a fun adventure, in which case he was right; or it would get very serious soon – in which case he might as well savour the feeling while it lasted.

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A New Task

Well the Ball had gone well. To start with at least. The Baron of pompousville had been more polite than usual. The decorations had hardly been mentioned. There was one guy who Marco had heard complaining about how the vines climbing up the wall were obviously done in a rush and the person who did it must have been sloppy. It had taken all of Marcos strength not to march up to him and tell him how it had taken an hour to get those particular vines in place because they had not looked quite right in the end and, even though they may not seem perfect to him, they are, in fact, in their prime position. But Marco had manages to keep his lips sealed most of the night. Even during the meal when he called Hazel honey and someone scoffed. That had taken every ounce of self-control Marco had. He just wanted to shout “I’m not dating a title, I’m dating a person and our personal life is none of your concern!” But that wasn’t true. Apparently it’s understandable for the nobility to be concerned over the lady’s personal lives. And for this reason they’d agreed to keep it quiet that they were living together and to act ridged in front of the people of the court. But it was just so damn hard. Marco had only been able to tell her that she was amazing all night, at that was just because people couldn’t hear then while they were dancing. And then, as usual, disaster had to strike.

Why now? Why when everyone is happy does something have to go wrong? If it wasn’t for Hazels ties with the Queens he’d have said no. Sorry, no help from Marco today, go find someone else. He was happy with his life and quite frankly didn’t really give a damn about who was in power. In fact it would actually be easier if Hazel wasn’t going to be Queen one day. But if the power has been stolen, and the man behind it might hold a grudge against the queen, then what’s to stop him going after their daughters once he’s finished with them? Plus Hazel doesn’t like to see her mother unhappy. So here they were, in Queen Willow’s library. Researching who could have done this and how. If what Kevin had found out was correct then the man who might have done this has magic more powerful than the Queens. And now that their Queenly magic had been taken, could anyone stop him? Hopefully it would just be a less powerful niece or nephew trying to avenge him. It’s probably quite hard to harness the Queens power, right? Marco had never been that afraid to do a quest for a Queen before. In fact it was quite exciting the first time round. The second time had just been depressing, and the third time he’d been too distracted to be scared. This time was different. This time he had someone he would leave behind if he failed. This time he didn’t want to help. This time he was afraid.

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Masquerade

Wendy laughed, swirling and dancing across the floor. She wasn’t an especially great dancer, but she was good enough thanks to a bit of tuition from Hazel. The music was intoxicating, plus somebody had given her a glass of something bubbly when they had come in. Apparently it was flavoured with mint, lime and the evening autumn breeze, and it had made her little lightheaded.

Note to self, be careful with fairy booze.

The decorating had gone well. Hazel had chosen beautifully with the aide of her cohorts, befitting a fairy princess. The rooms dazzled in hues of summer green and yellow gold and autumn reds and oranges. The pumpkin patch was a bit wonky – Buddy had been very meticulous with his placement and he wouldn’t let anyone move it. But things looked different in the light of day at the top of a ladder. Now the room was swirling with strange and wonderful people dressed in even stranger costumes and there were lights dancing at the ceiling. She was fairly sure she saw Buddy following David Bowie, or possibly Buddy was just stalking a stranger in a skin-tight leotard. Hopefully it was a leotard. She was pretty sure Buddy had shot a firework off too.

Kevin was being weirdly possessive tonight. He’d been much more attentive since she’d come back from Europe – something about ‘Marcel’? – but this was still unexpected. She would dance with somebody who asked her, because she was polite and it was fun. A lot of the satyrs were especially friendly- but then when weren’t they? And then Kevin would drag her off into a back corner to… ‘ruffle her costume’. She had to admit she quite liked it. She might have danced with a few more people than necessary.


Well, shit. This put a dampener on the evening.

A part of her had wanted to take Kevin’s bet earlier, just as a joke, but it had seemed like tempting fate. But as soon as she had seen the shadow in the dining room, her mental hackles had gone up. And then they had followed the shadow, and she had seen the broken globe in the preparation room, and now they were here again with the queens asking ‘favours’. Apparently fate was going to happen, regardless of temptation.

They got through the rest of the evening without too much of a hitch. Hopefully the rest of the courts had bought the light show and handover. It was only supposed to be symbolic anyway, right? But the rest of the dinner and dancing wasn’t quite as fun, and Wendy had gone home with a heavy heart. She had hoped that things would just go on being good. She didn’t know why she had thought that would be true. Still, she had her friends, and Kevin. What was one more potentially life-threatening, world-destroying week?

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Extracts from Kevin's Journal

12/8
Wendy left for Europe today. It sounds like a really cool experience, and she will probably have a great time, but I kind of wish she would have stayed here, with me.
It’s only for a year though, it’ll go by before I know it. It’ll feel like I just blinked, and then she’s back again.

13/8
I’ve blinked several times, and the year still hasn’t gone by. It’s not even friday yet, when we agreed to try a cross-continental phone call. Damn you, time.

9/9
Talked to Wendy today. Everything we say is delayed a few seconds so we end up talking over eachother most of the time, but it is good to hear her voice. She is enjoying Europe, and making a lot of friends.
This made me realise, I don’t have a lot of friends. Maybe I should go to Europe.
Nah.

5/10
All my robots are mindless automatons. The secret behind mind and consciousness continues to elude me.
I don’t get why it is so difficult!
I mean, an android is just a human, with wires instead of veins, and oil instead of blood.
I wonder if they dream of electric sheep?

10/10
I think I’ve made some new friends. Their names are Steve and Peter, and they share my fashion sense, which surely is a good sign.

12/10
Steve and Peter are practically dead inside. They have no ambition and no imagination. I told them as much and now we’re not talking anymore.

17/11
I met with Wendy in Arcadia today. We don’t do that often due to the temporal distortions, but but every once in a while we need to actually see each other.
Given the rarity of the situation, I was a bit annoyed when she turned up hungover. I love her, and I don’t judge her life choices, but when she struggles to form sentences, and needs to throw up every 10-20 minutes, it makes for a shitty date.

21/11
I’ve resumed my studies of the evil-hostpital-machine. For the record, I maintain that while the hospital is/was evil, the machine is not. It creeps Wendy the hell out, but she’s an ocean away so she probably wont mind. And besides, I have a lot of time on my hands and am insanely bored.

2/12
The hospital machine is really cool. It needs a better name though. It creates or projects dreams, as best as I can tell. So its nickname shall henceforth be Morpheus

12/1
I’ve often reflected on how few changelings there seem to be at uni. I would think it was sad. Now I’m not so sure.
Elijah, my lab partner, is a changeling. I’ve known this for a while – he is one of my better friends in my class – but he has never discussed his Kith.
Today I found out that the little shit is a redcap. I found out because he literally ATE MY LAB REPORT.
I had to tell the proffessor that “my dog ate my homework.” New low point in life.
On the bright side though, I went on to expain to the proffessor – in front of the entire class – that my dog was “one of those small, yappy, annoying and kind of ugly dogs” and that it was kind of dense and often falls over when it pees… and that it’s name was Elijah.
Elijah didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day, so I think he picked up on my subtle hint.
Yay for small victories.

22/1
I’ve tried replicating the circuitry in Morpheus. I’ve tried connecting a robot directly to Morpheus. Nothing works. There is something I’m doing wrong, something I’m missing.

5/2
I dreamt about Wendy last night. She said that we had grown apart, and that her time in Europe had made her realise she never actually loved me – instead, she loved some French guy named Marcel. She disappeared through a portal and I never saw her again.
It was a stupid dream, based on nothing at all. I know she loves me, she has never given me any reason to doubt that.
And yet, the stupid dream wont go away.

17/9
We’ve been invited to Atumn Equinox Masquerade Ball. I’ve already started working on a mask.
It should be fun, but it is the first time in a while when me, Wendy, and Marco are in the same room as the Queens.
I jokingly bet wendy $10 that the queens would assign us a new apocalyptic quest. She did not think it was funny.

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In 4 years time.

The decorations were definitely at home Marco told himself as he drove back to his apartment. Definitely. Breath. In. Out. And… Relax. The day had seem to go quite well. For his first time flying solo at least. Wendy had stuck to the point mostly, as usual, which was good. Kevin had… I think Kevin had gotten through to them, it was hard to tell with the teenage group. And then Buddy. Buddy had told them to leave? And then told them to stay? Hopefully his group would take his instructions as metaphors. Buddy seemed like a good guy though. His heart was in the right place at least. It was hard to tell what he wanted though. Mim had taught Marco that everyone wanted something. You just had to wait and watch to find out what that something is. But Buddy didn’t really talk about the future or what he wanted. It was a nice change from the people of court. They all wanted something, a lot of them didn’t even bother trying to hide it. And since he was dating the Lady of Autumn, why not get the slow fool of a man to organise a private audience with her?

Marco loved Hazel from the bottom of his heart. And he knew what he would have to do to be with her. But god he hated some of the people of the courts. How they looked down on him. How they tried to trick him into helping them. How they just saw people as a means to an end. Obviously they weren’t all like that, and he had met some generally nice people in court, but a lot of them just want to better themselves. Court wasn’t all bad though. Good can come out of it, the school for example. It had taken a long time, even with Hazel in his corner, for Marco to get permission and funds to start it up, but it came from court, and it helps people. It was proof that court could be used in good ways and if they were lucky other people would follow suit.

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Four years on

Wendy curled up in the front seat of the car, carefully examining the half-built violin. She had realised it was gone, but she hadn’t had a chance to ask anyone about it yet. She wasn’t sure why Buddy had taken it when it wasn’t even finished. He had so much stuff in his bag, what use could this have been?

She didn’t really understand Buddy. He had a very loose idea of ownership – maybe it was a cultural thing. On the one hand this meant he was very generous with what he had, on the other it meant he thought everyone else would be too. There were times when he had taken her stuff and she had resolved to cut him off and refuse to hang out with him anymore. But he was so… friendly, and happy and carefree that she found herself forgetting about the questionable stuff he did. He didn’t ever really hurt anyone, right? Sure, he broke a few rules, but some rules were meant to be broken. Hanging out with him reminded her of her year in Europe. Things had been different when she had been over there, more relaxed and open. She’d made more friends in that one year than in most of her childhood. It had been strange to be with so many other people her age, to meet other changelings and do things young adults were supposed to do. Sometimes she forgot how isolated she had made herself back home.

That wasn’t to say that she didn’t love being home again. She had missed Kevin terribly – trans-continental phone calls were expensive and they had to severely limit time together in Arcadia due to the time imbalance. She had learned how to use email for him, but it wasn’t enough. She’d been a bit concerned at first about some of the arty goth chicks at uni that occasionally made flirty eyes at him, but she wasn’t that worried. Kevin would never cheat on her. And she had missed Marco and Hazel, and her family.

Even so, hanging out in the workshops with professionals in Europe, or visiting the all art museums and historical sites had been amazing. And she’d tried a few new… substances, partially thanks to Buddy, although none of them had really stuck. That was just something you did as student, and they could also drink younger over there so it hadn’t all been questionable. She felt Kevin didn’t really approve, but that was OK. She didn’t really approve of him still fiddling with that awful machine, but she wasn’t going to stop him because he needed to do this. Learning to be apart had given them both an opportunity to grow as people, try new things and come back even stronger.

Being back now, it was great. Wendy was living in a small loft the city with Kevin and doing her work during the day at the university and the professional workshops. It didn’t have a lot of space – one large room with almost everything in and a separate bathroom, but they made it work with room dividers and a few arguments about tidying up. They had their own little rust bucket that Kevin had learned to drive and they could go out of the city together at weekends. She was also helping out with Marco’s new school, because she had the time Friday afternoons and Marco had asked. She didn’t especially mind, although teaching had never been something she was interested in. But the kids were alright for the most part, since they were still young enough to believe, and they seemed interested in what she had to say. The professional staff were friendly to her and it made Marco happy. She let Buddy stay on the couch every so often at their flat – after a few heated discussions with Kevin, they came to an agreement and made sure to put everything valuable away. And she spent time with Hazel, offering relief from court politics. Hazel still wanted to talk about Marco an awful lot, but she’d grown up a lot too and they could talk about all sorts of other things now once Wendy steered the conversation away from Marco. It was a comfortable way to live, chasing youthful dreams with the man she loved and her friends.

She watched Kevin as he drove. He was focused on the road, hands carefully placed on the wheel. She liked his concentration face. He got a little brow wrinkle, deeper than when he was confused but not so deep as when he got cross. She liked going for drives with him. She got to just sit and watch the world go by, or watch him. He glanced across at her for a second, briefly smiling at her when he saw her staring before turning his eyes back to the road. Kevin didn’t smile often, but he always smiled for her.

Right now things were good, after the drama of her late teens. It had been years since she’d had any real contact with the queens, beyond polite acknowledgement at formal functions for the court –she only went for Hazel and Marco. She knew it couldn’t last forever, of course. She had a feeling that the upcoming ball was going to change things somehow, although she didn’t know if it was for the better yet. She hoped it would not be for the worse.

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The Talk

Marco stood at the door to Hazels rooms. All of the challenges inspired little fear compared to what he was feeling now. What if she’d moved on? What if she didn’t care about the challenges? What if she didn’t care about him anymore? Sure they’d spoken since he confessed his unyielding love for her. Before Willow’s trials had stared Macro had visited. But each time their conversation had been stiff, forced even. They had tiptoed around any discussion of them and made small talk about Hazel’s work and the kidnapped fae. It didn’t help that he was late. No doubt she had got word of his triumph as soon as the tasks were complete. That was hours ago. Surely Willow would have had her informed that he’d gone back into the maze. She’d know that he had to go back. That he would come to see her as soon as he could. He knocked on the door.

Hazel slowly pulled the door open. Her face was unreadable. She was much more of a Lady of the court than when they’d met. Marco just stood there. Frozen. ‘Please, come in.’ she said. Her words were warm, friendly. Enough to release his legs but not his lips. So instead of speaking he just nodded and strode into the room. ‘Take a seat.’ She said, closing the door after him. Crap. He didn’t want to choose where to sit. If he sat on the couch she might think that he thought the talk they were about to have is informal and unimportant to him. On the other hand if they sat at the table it would be too formal, like they would be discussing business, not their futures. Marco opted for the couch. He just wanted to get back to the way things were. Hazel sat down in the armchair across from him. ‘So?’

‘So,’ Marco replied, ‘I finished the tasks.’
‘I know.’ Hazel said. ‘Mim informed me you had succeeded a couple of hours ago.’
‘Er yes well, I erm… I had to go back in you see… People were uhm… People were stuck in the maze and I had to go back to get them out. I know I should have come to see you straight away and I know you were probably waiting to see me but I made a promise and I couldn’t just leave them and I’m sorry and I came straight away, I…’
Hazel help up her hand. At first Marco thought it was to make him be quiet. But as he looked at her it seemed like maybe she wanted to ask a question. ‘Yes?’ He asked. She smiled, and then blushed and quickly brought down her hand. ‘I understand.’ She said, her face returned to the blank face of Lady Fall.

She’d dropped the mask. With anyone else Marco wouldn’t have noticed, but this was Hazel. His Hazel. She was acting. That smile. That blush. That was the real Hazel. She’d been keeping her locked up during all their meetings. Each time Hazel had been wearing the mask of Lady Fall. Her face had been blank, her voice warm yet lacking of emotion. The mask was starting to crack now though. She’d hardly said anything since Marco had arrived. Maybe she thought that if she let herself talk too much she wouldn’t be able to stay composed. If things were ever going to be the way they used to be Marco needed to speak with the real Hazel, and he knew just how to get her to come out.

Marco smiled and leaned back onto the couch. He was comfortable now. It was almost perfect.
‘I don’t think I ever told you about the moment I first knew.’ He said. Hazel remained silent, her eyes fixed on him. ‘It was when we first met. When I first met you, you were a suspect. We had made an appointment with you do that we could try to find out about the death of the summer knight. I wanted to shock you. I wanted to catch you off guard to see the kind of person you were. So I put Inkahhhh on your desk. And it worked. You looked shocked and first, but then you seemed happy. Like finally you’d been able to relax. I knew you were different to other people on that day. I know you were kind and beautiful, both outside and in. Every encounter afterwards just reinforced what I already knew. On that very first day we met I knew that I loved you. And I have loved you every day since.’ Her smile spread wide across her face and tears began to leave her eyes. Marco smile followed suit and her stared deep into her eyes as she whispered ‘I love you too.’

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