Dawn in San Francisco

The Zoo

After the second task had been completed they had all needed time to rest before facing the final challenge. The three of them were tired and their glamour seemed to be low. The tasks had taken their toll both physically and mentally. With 36 hours left to be done they had agreed to meet up in 11 hours or so. Marco wracked his brain about what he could do in this time, apart from sleep. I need to be calm, I need to be collected and I need to get rid of this mundaneness that is hanging from me. Well there was one place that would do all these things. The Zoo.

The Zoo always helped Marco relax. Although it wasn’t as fun since the monkey island was damaged a couple of years ago but the elephants were still a favourite of Marcos so he could just sit and watch them. The last task had being dangerous. Neither Marco of Wendy had seen the gun. They had no idea what was going to happen when they put their plan into action. It worked out alright in the end but Wendy had almost got shot. And then Kevin had stayed and fought the politician off. Either one of them could have been hurt, or even killed. And why? Because they wanted to help Marco. Because he’s been stupid over a year ago and now they were helping him make up for his mistake.

Marco really had the best friends he could have asked for. Both of them put their lives in danger so that he could win Hazel back. Wendy almost got shot. Kevin almost lost his love so that Marco could win his back. And now both of them are still helping, still continuing in spite of the dangers to themselves. This third challenge will be completed. It has to be. Not just for Hazel now, but for Marco’s best friends.

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The Kiss

Kevin remembered very little of his past lives – brief flashes, a phrase here and a name there, that was all. Like dream, it always felt distant and blurry and surreal.

This time it was different.

As their lips touched, something in his soul stirred. Like a clock that had been broken for decades before finally being given the right part, the soul of Neth Khadhar’phak awoke, and connected with the mind of Kevin Freemark. For the briefest of instants, all his past lives were visible. Kevin still couldn’t tell any details about any of the separate lives – only the one thing they all had in common:
Her.

The feeling that he had known Wendy forever was more than just a feeling – and not just forever as in ‘since they were kids’, but for literal lifetimes. Unseparable by death and fate, he had always known her. And he had always loved her.

This knowledge, this feeling, came to Kevin in an instant, and although he noticed it, he scarcely acknowledged it. The true meaning and implications of a bond between souls, the glimpse it could offer into the very architecture of the universe, was all lost to him – because at this moment there was something far more important on his mind, something that like an immense crescendo drowned out all other thoughts:
He was kissing Wendy.

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Perfect Moment
Warning! Slush alert!

The conversation between them on the sofa was hesitant, awkward. They talked about important things, but in unimportant terms. Wendy sighed inwardly. It hadn’t been like this before. Once things had been easy, they could talk about anything and nothing for hours. Kevin had always been her best friend. Now all of a sudden this… feelings stuff had gotten in the way, and Kevin didn’t know how to talk to her anymore. She didn’t really know how to talk to him either, not when it was like this. She was trying hard, to make him comfortable and steer things to a place where it would be easy and make sense and he would just say it. But it wasn’t working and she didn’t understand why.

It hadn’t been like this any of the other times they had been together. Wendy could remember earlier versions of herself sometimes, little flashbacks from previous incarnations of her fey soul. She’d always known that she and Kevin were just supposed to be together, because they always had been, even in those other lives when they weren’t called Wendy and Kevin. And it had been easy then, things between them had just worked out, right? It was a little hazy in that part. She didn’t actually remember them getting together in previous times, she mostly just remembered them already being together and it just being… right.

But it wasn’t working this time. They would get close, and then stumble at the last hurdle and have to go back a few steps. How did Marco do it? He’d barely known Hazel for a week, and then suddenly they were together and now he was questing for her love and they were probably going to get married and have millions of babies and die of old age before Kevin ever even said anything.

She looked at Kevin, half listening to the conversation. There was something in his eyes as he talked – a sense of fear and doubt, almost struggling to look at her- that made her sad. Was she so difficult to talk to, to be vulnerable with? Why couldn’t he take the leap? He didn’t remember the other incarnations, she’d asked him about it once. Maybe she was wrong, maybe he didn’t think of her that way this time around…

And then a little voice stirred in the back of her head, a memory from a month ago. Wendy stopped in the middle of the conversation, sitting up straight. Kevin looked at her, a wrinkle of confusion on his brow.

Maybe he’s not the knight? Maybe you are?

Things suddenly became a little clearer. Damn it, why did Hazel have to be right? Sitting and waiting was no use. It hadn’t gotten her anywhere yet, and the way things stood it probably never would. Kevin was either not interested that way, or he was overthinking things and boxing himself into a corner with logic, making himself too confused to ever do anything. There was only one way to find out for sure which was true. Marco had taken the leap, he’d taken the risk and he’d got what he’d been fighting for. What was it she’d told Marco earlier?

Seize the day. You have to be the knight.

She leaned in, grabbed a handful of Kevin’s shirt and kissed him.

She had a brief flash of the other times this had happened in all her other lives. It was exactly the way she remembered. There were no fireworks and rainbows or anything stupid like that, just her and Kevin. OK, there were a few fireworks and rainbows. Tasteful ones though.

When she stopped and pulled back, for a moment her heart clenched in the fear that she had been wrong and he didn’t feel that way after all. What if she’d misjudged, he hadn’t been overly logical about it all and now it had ruined things and they couldn’t be friends anymore?

Then she looked him in the eye, and the smile on his face made all the months of worrying and confusion just… melt away. All that was left was right here and now. And it was perfect.

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Merry-go-round

Kevin closed the door behind him. They had decided to take a longish break before the final task, to recover from the last one.
That would have to wait though. It was good that he was alone, because he was only just keeping it together. He was slowly starting to get desensitised to life-or-death situations – which probably said nothing good about his life choices – but the day’s events had left him pretty shaken.

Kevin had been the first to notice the man, and the gun.
He had chosen to confront the man, hoping that by acknowledging him, the man would also acknowledge them as people, and be less inclined to kill them. Appeal to his humanity and stuff.
If it worked, it worked slowly, but while he remained reluctant to leave them alone, at least he wasn’t being aggressive. Then Wendy and Marco, neither of whom had probably even noticed the gun, moved quickly, which startled the stranger.
It was pure luck that Wendy didn’t get hit.

That was the part of it all that had scared Kevin the most, in fact.
The stranger raising the gun.
Wendy jumping in front of it.
Bang.

It could have ended there. She could have died.

Luckily she hadn’t. The stranger in grey had missed, and he had not fired another shot, though not for lack of trying. Wendy had ran onto the carousel, and although she had urged Kevin to follow, he had refused to do so. He had stayed in front of the stranger, doing whatever he could to keep him occupied. He was all that prevented the man from shooting them… shooting her.

In the end it had all turned out well. Kevin had distracted the man in grey long enough for Marco and Wendy to mostly fix the carousel, and then Marco had hung the guy from a lamp post.

They only had a few hours before the third test. Before then he needed to eat, restore glamour, and probably take a nap too (although he had actually slept last night, they had still gotten up much earlier than he was used to)…
But all he could think about was the gun, and Wendy.

I almost lost you.

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The broken music box

Wendy stood outside Kevin’s basement. She held her music box gently in her hands, lifting the lid to reveal the mechanism. In the end, the springs had given out and the mechanics inside had snapped. At least it had survived long enough for them to help deal with the carousel. Another one to add to the pile of failures, the price of being a nocker.

She wasn’t sure why she was here. Maybe she had hoped Kevin would help her understand what she was doing wrong? He was good with mechanical bits and pieces. She didn’t know why she was so bothered about the music box, that wasn’t even the end goal of this project. She’d been to the luthier at the shop where she got her parts and he’d told her that the box was bust, but he hadn’t been fey. Maybe Kevin had some insight.

Wendy raised a hand to knock on the door, and hesitated. She hadn’t even checked to see if he was home. She had just assumed he would be here, but maybe he had gone out to the car mechanic’s?
She didn’t know why this was so hard all of a sudden.

Well, you do, you just don’t want to admit it.

Cleansing the carousel had been easier than she thought it would be. Marco had done most of the horses, and she had done the main body. She had felt a bit panicked that maybe her actions would make the task invalid, that Marco had to be the one who did the bulk of the carousel. But the queen had been OK with it, so that had been a relief.

She realised her hands were shaking a bit. Why was she shaking still?

She motioned to Marco. Go, get on the carousel. Do what we came here to do. There was a man, a banal man acting really weird – that mayoral candidate she’d seen on the news at her brother’s place. What was he doing out on the pier at this time of night? Kevin had spotted him, and he had engaged him for some reason. She didn’t know he had a gun, when she stepped between Marco and him. She saw him reaching into his jacket as she stepped in front of him. It didn’t seem real as he pulled out the firearm and shot at her. He missed, not expecting her to move and shooting wide. She hadn’t known he had a gun.

Wendy crouched down, leaning against the wall and curling her arms around the music box against her chest. She could feel tears beginning to leak out of the corners of her eyes. A man had shot at her, with intent to kill. That could have been it. She hadn’t said goodbye to her parents. She hadn’t finished her project. She hadn’t spoken to Kevin about all the things that needed to be said. They had been close the other day, when she’d given him the scrying token. She’d seen it in his eyes, but they had both bottled. That could have been it.

And Kevin hadn’t followed her onto the carousel. It had taken her a while to realise – she’d been focussed on trying to make the rainbow globe and stay out of sight of the gunman mayor guy, trying not to think about the man who had just shot at her. She had just assumed that when she had told him to follow her and Marco that he would, he’d get out of the way and not put himself in danger. But he hadn’t. He done… something, she didn’t know what he’d done, but somehow he’d disarmed the mayor – she didn’t think the banana-gun was Marco, or the tangled shoelaces. The streetlight-wedgie was definitely Marco.

Kevin was smart, he found ways to solve dangerous problems – like when he’d gotten the tablet back. But solving them required proximity to the danger, the possibility that he could be hurt or… killed. The tears dribbled out faster. She didn’t understand why he hadn’t followed her. Sure it had worked out OK but… The man had shown no scruples about shooting at her and Marco. He could have killed Kevin.

Wendy spent five minutes silently crying outside Kevin’s room.

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A Purpose.

The first task was over. It had gone… differently to what Marco had expected. At first it had seemed just like the kind of thing the Queen would do, put them in a strange place with weird creatures and a bear that would no doubt attack them, but once they’d figured out what was really going on. The pain that Tommy was feeling and how he was dealing with his guilt poorly, it just wasn’t expected. What was even more unexpected was that he got a great deal of satisfaction out of helping Tommy. Sure he’d been happy that they’d succeeded every time the Queens had given them a task. They’d had to stop people being hurt. But this wasn’t the same. Helping Tommy had felt different. Helping someone to be good was a different feeling to stopping someone from being bad.

Marco couldn’t help but think back to his youth. How he used to isolate himself because he didn’t want people to find out he was different. His best friends had been the animals on the farm. They didn’t care if he saw dancing lights that no one else could. He hadn’t been as upset or angry like Tommy had, but he knew what it was like to feel different, how it felt to be scared that someone would find out that you could see things. That fear often turned to loneliness and anger. If only someone had been there to tell him that his parents weren’t keeping secrets from him, that they didn’t know what was going on. That he wasn’t been punished. Maybe that was something to ask the Queen. If there are people that try help with children who are going through their Chrysalis. Maybe he could join them, or if there aren’t anyone who does this maybe they could set something up? Meetings with children or a summer school or something.

It was nice to have a distraction. Since that day he’d just been wallowing in pain. But now Marco had something to do. He needed to complete the tests within the next two days. He had a purpose again. And then. Well then he would inquire about helping young changelings. There was no way he’d ever be able to make up for what had happened. The Queens couldn’t bring him back so there was obviously no way to do that, but maybe helping other people would in turn help Marco. It already felt like Tommy had done more to help Marco than the other way around. Maybe all wasn’t lost after all.

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Between the tasks

When they arrived back in Marco’s flat, Kevin sat down on the couch, feeling the inevitable crash that must follow allnighers drawing near. He thought about the day’s adventures and how they barely averted the Tyranny of Dread King Tommy. Heh. The weirdness of it all amused Kevin. People always said children were innocent, but give them great power and a bad enough day and they’ll turn wicked as sure as any other person.
But now Tommy wouldn’t. They had seen to that.

Wendy had also sat on the couch, but not as close to Kevin as she used to. Things had been strange between them ever since… ever since they killed Aron Smith.

They were all affected by it, it hung over each of them like a menacing shadow, but nobody seemed to want to talk about it. It was killing Kevin. (no pun intended).

All Tommy had needed was to talk about it with the other involved people, have a healthy dialogue to allow him to process what had transpired ..Why the HELL had he not seen that unsubtle hint until now? Why hadn’t Wendy or Marco? Shit. Someone needs to say something, why was it so hard to say something?

Today was the first time he had seen Wendy since the incident. He had made attempts to go see her, but she had gone and lived with her brother, and only hung out with Hazel and Marco.
So instead Kevin had turned to the strange machine he had taken from the hospital. It was insanely complex in way she could not even begin to grasp yet, but he was making some progress with it.
But it had been a lonely month, and he was happy to hang out with Wendy and Marco again – even during awkward moments like this one.

Out of nowhere, Wendy turned to Kevin with her hand held out.
“Here,” she said. “For you.”
It was a necklace, made out of some sort of cog. It was simple, but in Kevin’s eyes it was amazing.
It was slightly dented, somewhat bent. Had he found it in his workshop, he would have thrown it out as useless. But Wendy, as always, had seen it differently. To her it had still served a purpose, in spite of being broken… or perhaps even because of it.

Kevin realised he had zoned out, and had been staring at the necklace and/or Wendy for a good few seconds.
“That’s really cool, thanks” he said, smiled, and put the necklace around his neck.

They maintained eye contact for a moment longer, and Kevin felt that this was the moment, the right time to finally say all the things he needed to tell her.
Then there was a noise, from the kitchen or from outside – and just like that, the metaphorical spell was broken, and Wendy and Kevin awkwardly turned away to pretend to focus on something else.
So close.

He tried to read for a while, but his mind wasn’t up for it. With no one saying anything else, Kevin’s eyes swiftly got heavy. As he drifted off, his hand reached up and grabbed the cog. Its weight felt strange on his neck, but he didn’t mind. Feeling its weight on his chest made the world seem a little better, as if something – at least this one thing – was unbreakably right. It let Kevin forget the image of Aron Smith’s broken head for a moment as he fell asleep.

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Fairground level

The pier was super creepy at night. It reminded Wendy of a horror game she had watched Kevin play once, although she’d had to leave because it freaked her out. She had a super active imagination, especially when it came to giving herself nightmares. Abandoned buildings and fairgrounds were perfect fodder for weird experiences and horrible monsters.

Wendy had never liked carousels. Even as a child, the gaping mouths and bulging eyes of the horses had scared her, and she had refused to go on them. She knew that it was supposed to be magical and whimsical and full of joy, but… it just wasn’t. Same as clowns really – they were supposed to be something that children found delight in, but they had just made her panicky and upset.

She found herself drawn to the carousel even so. The machine was moving slowly, but not in a ‘creaking in the wind’ way. It was clearly still on, despite the late hour and the dilapidation. The peeling paint, cracking bulbs and slow creak of the turning mechanism sent shivers up her spine. And that music, that … tinkly, off kilter music that was such a horror movie cliché but still made the hairs stand up on the back of her neck. Ugh. The others could feel it too. She could see it in Kevin’s stance and his face. It was weirdly comforting to know she wasn’t the only one who was freaked out. For a moment, she wondered how that game had ended.

Wendy could see something else, something the others hadn’t noticed that made her even more unhappy. The horses on the carousel were moving. Not up and down like they were supposed to, but tossing their heads and stamping their hooves in the air. She didn’t like horses. And these ones looked angry, frothing at the mouth and baying for blood kind of angry. She hoped that the stories she had read about kelpies as a child weren’t true.

Oh god, this is how I die.

But this was obviously the test or at least part of it, and they had to go forward. She had promised to help Marco, and after she had watched him finally tidying up his house she had begun to hope he might be able to move past the.. incident. Even if it took time after this, it was a first step. Maybe they could even talk about it at some point.
She hoped that Willow knew what she was doing, that the queen was trying to help Marco instead of just poking to see if he would break. The last test had been weird in a freaky, trippy way. This was just scary. Clearly Willow wanted to see if she could make Marco crap his pants.

They walked forward together after a brief bicker. The closer they got, the easier it was to see the corruption and the banality. The horses were baring their teeth and rolling their eyes. She hoped against all hope that they wouldn’t have to ride them. Or even touch them. Or that the horses were somehow not attached and it was all a trap.
Wendy discovered that in her moment of fear, she had grabbed Kevin’s hand.

I should probably let go.

She didn’t.

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Before the tests began

Wendy stood in her attic, watching the evening light stream through the windows. She stared at her project, wiping a hand across her forehead and leaving a trail of sawdust across her brow. Things were finally coming together.

It had been almost month since the incident. She had spent most of it alternating between here, working on this new idea, and her brother’s flat in the city. She realised for the first time that she hadn’t seen Kevin in a while. He had been fiddling with that machine that they had stolen from the hospital. It made her uncomfortable, so she had simply stopped hanging out for a bit. Plus he’d been a bit weird about all the time she spent at Marco’s. She had thought he, if anyone, would understand why.

But then, none of them had really talked about it since then. She hadn’t wanted to bring it up with Marco. It was hard enough being around him and seeing the gloom he had sunk into. It was hard forcing him to come with her to art galleries and trade shows, or to just sit in the park and watch the animals that he seemed to attract play. And she wasn’t sure how to talk about it with Kevin. Oddly, the only person who she had been able to talk about it with was Hazel. For all her youthful naivety and sweet heart, Hazel was still a princess of the fey and she understood. Wendy suspected there was more than an element of trying to find out about Marco in their conversations, but she didn’t mind. She wanted to talk about it with someone.

It was getting late. She should get her things, Stephen would be here soon. She would sleep on the couch again and go over to Marco’s in the morning. Wendy stood up, carefully beginning to pack her tools away. She’d gotten tired of furniture after… never mind. Her new driving focus was hard. After the incident, Wendy had decided that she wanted to make something that could in turn make something beautiful. When she had been younger, her parents had made her learn to play the violin. She had hated it at the time, but as she had gotten older she had a new appreciation for it. Music could be beautiful. Her first attempts had been dismal, weedy little music boxes with snapping springs and warped instrument bodies. She was simply juggling too much, what with watching Marco, attending class and the first aid course at college. But it was starting to come together.

She leaned forward to sweep up the delicate shavings on the floor around her work and her cog necklace swung forward and hit her on the nose. She touched it lightly. The cog had come from Kevin’s workshop. It was bent on one side, no longer useful for machinery, so he had given it to her rather than throw it away. It had made a nice simple necklace and she wore it frequently. It had a … special quality, at least to her. She hadn’t seen Kevin in a while, not in person. That wasn’t right.

Gently, Wendy reached behind her head and took the necklace off, putting it in her pocket. Next time she saw Kevin, she’d give it to him. Just to be safe. He didn’t have to wear it, but she kind of hoped he would.

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Monster

Marco sat on the couch. The last few hours were a blur. The Queens had come and had tea? They took the weapons and said thank you? Weapons you used to kill. Wendy and Kevin had stayed though. They didn’t bother Marco though. It was like they weren’t really there anyway. Time seemed to move faster for them, as if Marco was in a bubble which slowed him down and blocked out almost all sound. The flat was now tidy and the kettle was on. Since the Queens left Marco had cleaned up in the other rooms, it had needed doing and there was nothing else to do. The kettle hissed and clicked to indicate that it had finished. No one moved. No one had even wanted a hot drink. The three of them sat in silence as it began to get dark. Wouldn’t their families be worried? Aron had a family. Marco moved to empty the kettle. Who had even put it on?

The night was uneventful. Marco soon found himself laid in bed. This was the point he’s usually go though they day’s events, but instead he just stared at the ceiling. Had Kevin and Wendy stayed or gone home? He couldn’t remember, probably gone home. Why would they stay in a flat with a killer? Sleep did not come. Nightmares did not come. What came was worse. Marco started to remember what had happened as if a voice that wasn’t previously heard had begun to grow louder.

You’re a murder. It had been an accident. Kevin had tricked the old man, you could have left. I didn’t know. He was injured, you had time to flee. I was trying to help people. You didn’t. You just destroyed. Innocent people were being hurt because of him. So you just get choose who is guilty, who dies? That’s not what I meant. His family were innocent. They’ll suffer now. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t mean it. That doesn’t bring him back. I know. I’m sorry. Being sorry doesn’t help. I know. You’ve destroyed lives. I know. You’re a monster. I know.

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