Dawn in San Francisco

While more competent people look

Marco sat at the desk in the study. This room held little information for them but Kevin and Wendy were looking in the other rooms so he had some time to himself. He flicked through some of the documents on the desk. None of them had any new information in. Just stuff they already knew, letters about experiments and research notes. How could someone do these kinds of things? Surely there is good in all people but these notes seemed to be written by a man with no conscience. Even Aurora, in a crazy way, thought she was going the right thing. This man was testing on people for his own personal gain it seemed and his notes never wavered. There was never an indication that he was questioning his methods. Surely this man had known happiness? Surely he had known love? Maybe that was why he was doing it, maybe he’s angry because he lost something important to him and he’ll do anything to get it back. Maybe he wants to protect someone he loves from banality, or maybe he justifies his evil by thinking it’ll help more than it hurts. One thing was sure. The man who wrote these papers was evil, but the bad doesn’t wash out the good, and maybe they could use that good to persuade him to turn himself in. Surely what he has done weighs on him heavily.

Marco raised his head. What was that noise? It came from the top of the stairs, so it was Kevin? Yes, Kevin said he was going to look upstairs. Phew, just a false alarm. Marco really wished he’d hung out with Kevin before the feelings party with Wendy. That way he would have been able to give better advice. He could have told Kevin that he thought Wendy was definitely into him without betraying Wendy’s trust, and then he could have told Wendy that Kevin isn’t the kind of guy to jump into something head first. He could have told her that Kevin tries to be smarter about what he does and wouldn’t want to ruin their friendship and that if she liked him then maybe she’d have to meet him half way. Or maybe she’d have to go 9/10ths of the way and just let him go the other 10th. But Wendy and Kevin are meant to be, everyone knew that, and when people are meant to be together they don’t need Marcos to help them. They’ll find their own way.

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Conversation with the mirror

“So, Wendy, hi… I mean…”
Traditionally the ‘hi’ comes at the start of the conversation.
“Hey, Gwendy – I mean – shit!”
Can’t even get her name right – she’ll love that. Calm down, focus, try again.
“So, Wendy, I’ve been thinking, and the thing is… uhm, that I… that is to say, we… I mean-”
You’re staling. And you sound like an idiot. Start over.
“So we’ve known each other for quite some time now. Like, 13 years or so be be specific-”
She already knows that. This isn’t a presentation for school. Try again.
“Hey Wendy, what’s up? Listen, I need to talk to you about-”
Sounds too ominous. Damnit, why is this so hard?
“So, uh, I uhm… uuuh…”
Aaaaand now we’re not even saying words.
“You’re not helping, brain!”
Dude, I am you. So when you say I’m not helping, you mean you’re not helping. Arguing with your mental voice will only make mom and dad worry about your sanity.
Now come on, let’s try again.
“Wendy, listen, I… I uh… I…”
Three ’I’s in a row. Lost cause.
“Wendy, can I talk to you for a sec? …uhm….”
Okay, excellent start. Let’s hold on to that one. We can’t stop after that though, because we still haven’t actually said anything.
“But what to say? There needs to be a natural progression…”
Does there? Didn’t Marco tell us to just skip the bullshit and get straight to the point?
“Definitely not in those words, and I don’t think that was his point either.”
Really? ’Cause I distinctly remember him saying something about ditching the metaphors.
“I… haven’t used any metaphors today?”
The metaphors are just a symptom of your aversion to directness. You’ve cured the symptom but not the disease.
“Okay, say I am direct. It still can’t come entirely out of nowhere, that would just be confusing for everyone involved.”
Right, that’s what the ‘can I talk to you for a sec’ is for. Anything more than that is at best pointless, at worst actively harmful to our cause.
It’s like jumping into a lake, from a cliff. The longer you stand there looking down, the scarier the jump will seem. You need to not look down, and just take the jump.
“A leap of faith.”
Exactly. Sometimes you have to run…
“…before you can walk”
Okay, let’s try again. We can do this.
“Wendy, can I talk to you for a sec? I… I think I’m in love with you”

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Girl Talk

Wendy curled up on the edge of Hazel’s bed. She always found Hazel’s room a little odd. It was like the girl had tried to have a personal touch to things, but hadn’t quite known what she was doing, and then the maid had come and moved everything away. There were little knick-knacks poking out in corners and a few odd mismatched cushions amid all the silks and upholstery. The dollhouse sat in the corner looking sad and unloved – apparently it was supposed to be decorative rather than played with. Inkaaah lived in it now.

Hazel pottered about the room. Wendy had asked about Marco’s grand gesture a moment ago, and the other girl had gotten flustered and dithery. It was sweet. Wendy knew that Hazel had been getting a lot of training lately about being a better ruler, especially having a blanker poker face. But behind closed doors Hazel was still anxious and socially awkward. She tucked her knees up under her chin.

“So, what was it like? I mean, really.”

Hazel sat down next to her in a big gust of skirts and flushed cheeks.

“I don’t know! It was… unexpected. I thought he was just going to ask for Inkaah back, but it didn’t even come up. He was so… decisive and brave.” She flopped back onto the bed. “It made me so confused, but in a good way.” Wendy laughed at Hazel’s flushed, happy face.

“Was he wearing his purple cape?”

“Yeah. I thought it made him look valiant and heroic, like a knight.” Hazel sighed, an hint of dreaminess in her voice. Wendy inwardly winced. Better not mention they had dyed it black. She hadn’t been sure why Marco wore a cape – maybe it gave him courage? – or why he wanted it to be black. Maybe he was really into comics. She didn’t know much about Marco’s hobbies.

“And he said he would do a quest! To prove that he was worthy of me. Me! Nobody’s ever done anything like that. I didn’t know what to say. And he went to mama too, even though she hates him. He’s just… are all boys like that?” Hazel sat up. “I mean, does Kevin do quests for you?”

“Uh…” Wendy wasn’t sure how to answer. “Not really. I mean…it… isn’t the same?”

“What? Why not?”

“Well, firstly, my parents don’t want to murder Kevin. I think.” She paused. “I’m pretty sure. And I’m not a princess, so questing isn’t really a required part of… courtship. I mean, I guess if he wanted to do a quest, I’d be OK with it, but it would probably be more along the lines of ‘get me some donuts’ rather than ‘slay a mighty beast that is terrorising the kingdom’.”

Hazel sat up, wide-eyed in horror. “You don’t think mama would ask Marco to do that, do you? I mean, I don’t think there are any beasts at the moment, but she could find one! And she might get it to murder him! Mama’s very protective.”

“No, I’m sure it will be something else.” Probably something worse. “And Kevin and I would help out any way we could obviously.” The other girl gave a loud sigh of relief and sank back into the pillows.

“That’s good. I don’t want my true love to die.”

“True love? That’s a bit fast, isn’t it?” Wendy raised an eyebrow. Hazel looked confused.

“Why? Isn’t this how it works? The handsome knight does valiant deeds for his lady, and then they get to be together forever? I mean, he makes me feel funny and special inside, and he makes me laugh and I wouldn’t mind it if he kissed me. That’s how it works, right? Like you and Kevin?”

“I… guess. I don’t really think about it that much.” Wendy frowned a little. Everyone seemed to know. Was it that obvious? Apparently not to Kevin.

“What? Why not? I think about Marco all the time. Especially after he told me he loved me.”

Wendy laughed. “Well, that would probably do it. I just… I have other things to do, I guess. I always figured it will just happen in its own time.” She paused, frowning again. “Things that are supposed to happen, do. Right? I figure he just needs time to get his act together. I can wait.”

Hazel curled up, looking thoughtful. “Maybe… he isn’t the knight? Maybe you are? And you have to do the quest instead. Or whatever normal people do.” Wendy looked at the other girl in surprise. For someone so socially inept, Hazel was sometimes surprisingly insightful.

“Maybe. I don’t really have time for quests at the moment. Things have been a bit hectic lately. I haven’t really had a chance to sit still and take stock. I mean, your mum and her sisters keep pitting us against huge scary things, and it sucks because I can’t really hurt someone, even if they are bad. And I tried to talk to Marco about things, but he just got confused and flustered and he threw some paper at me, so I gave up.”

“Well, why didn’t you talk to Kevin? Not that I’m not happy you’re talking to me, I don’t get a lot of visitors.” Hazel tilted her head. “Although I guess I didn’t talk to Marco, and he hasn’t visited me again.” She sighed. “Being in love is hard.”

“True that.” Wendy uncurled. “Do you have food?”

“Mim put some apples and juice on the table by the sitting area.” Her eyes lit up as Wendy leaned down pulled a bag of cookies from her satchel. “Where did you get those?”

“I hear that chocolate is supposed to be good in situations like these.” Hazel beamed, holding out her hands for the packet. She ripped it open and began happily crunching away.

“So tell me about Marco? You went to visit him? I wish I could visit him.” Wendy smiled. She had heard and read that in this situation, spending time with another girl’s boyfriend was supposed to cause jealousy and issues. But Hazel was either unversed in these texts, or just too nice to be worried. Or she just knew that Wendy was in no way a threat, even after Wendy had talked about the weird dream world where she had dated Marco.

“Yeah. We watched movies and he cried at the sad bits. And some of the happy bits.”

“Hazel sighed. “He’s so sensitive. Not like all the stiff, growly faced knights at court.”

“I guess that’s one way to put it. And we had ice cream and stuff.”

“Ooh! I want to try ice cream.” They had tried to bring some across, but it hadn’t survived the transition well.

“Maybe when you get to come back earthside. But yeah, that was it really. He said he missed you, and he wanted to see you soon.” Hazel smiled and hugged her pillow.

“He’s my special person, I just know it!” She paused. “That was what you called Kevin, wasn’t it? Your person.”

Wendy smiled a little wistfully. She sat back in the pillows, listening as Hazel rambled on. “Yeah. Kevin’s my person.”

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Lost and Found

As soon as they stepped through the portal, Kevin began to worry. Why had Wendy not appeared with himself and Marco? Did she somehow scatter, or was there some kind of security system that they had failed to notice, that had taken her?
It didn’t matter, he supposed. What mattered was finding her, and NOW.
Marco seemed to understand, and didn’t argue when Kevin started searching room after room, despite them being all the same and all irrelevant to their mission.
The mission can wait. Wendy is more important.


They were reunited again. Thankfully, everyone was still alive and unharmed. Okay, back to the mission.
With the world being back to the way it should be again – apart from them being stuck in an evil nazi experiment hospital – he could focus properly on the machine Marco had been carrying around for the past half hour.
Much like the one they had been plugged into on their last visit, it was a strange combination of magic and technology, quite a bit beyond Kevins level of understanding.
Although the appplcation was decidedly horribly evil, the method that went into creating it fascinated Kevin. He would love to study this closer, in a less hostile environment. But he wasn’t too sure there would be an opportunity to get one of these deviced out of here, nor if the queens would approve of him having it.

But, first things first. They needed to find out who was behind all of this.
Wendy suggested they split up, which Kevin thought was the worst idea since exploding bread, but he had to admit that logically it was a good idea: That way, they could cover more ground more quickly, and then get out of there and never return ever again ever. Ever.
Ever.

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Organised Thoughts

It had been almost a day since Marco had last cried. He decided that he needed to be stronger emotionally if he were to get through the task they had been given. He stared blankly at Kevin and Wendy as they looked at the machine he’d been carrying around. If he was to get Hazel back he would have to find who was behind this. Marco was so thankful that Hazel was open to the idea of forgiving him. If she’d said no then he would be lost. This had provided the extra motivation he needed to carry on after what had happened in the dream world. Marco needed to be at his best now. So he started to go over the same thoughts again and again until he could find something useful. If these people had another piece of the tablet then it was possible they didn’t know about Kevin, that they just thought that some teenagers had found the tablet and activated it by accident. No this couldn’t be right, why would Fauner be there? Think Marco think! He decided to put himself into the shoes of these scientists. What would he think if he was looking for a powerful artifact and when he found it it turned out a bunch of kids and a knight had it? His best bet would be that the kids found it and possible activated it without their knowing of what it is, and this woman had come to take it off them and put it into safer hands? Or maybe the knight had stolen it from her superiors and was using the children to find out how much it was worth so that she didn’t get caught with it? Or maybe the Queens had it and rather than spending their own time on saving peoples lived they gave this important task to children?

Honestly Marco had no idea. He wasn’t so good with this whole thinking malarkey. He was much better with feelings, or physical labour. This had never been his strong suit. But he had to do his best, even if it isn’t good enough. As it turned out, this had been nothing like the last task they had accomplished. Last time they had a small pool of suspects, only a few people would have profited and only a few people could have done it. This time it could be anyone. Sure they knew where they are now and they knew a bit about what they were doing, but they still had no idea why or who. Kevin and Wendy looked like they were finished with the machine so Marco would have to stop his thinking. Which he was happy to do. Less thinking and more doing. He had no information floating around in his head that would magically piece the puzzle together, but if they looked around more who knows what they’ll find. At least if these people thought that Marco, Kevin and Wendy were just some stupid kids they might have some sort of surprise advantage in this whole mess.

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Storage cupboard

Wendy sat in the storage cupboard, watching Kevin tinkering with the machine Marco had carried away. She had tried to help – after all, nockers had a natural affinity for machinery – but compared to Kevin she wasn’t particularly useful. Besides, she wasn’t exactly in the best state of mind to be examining detailed machinery right now.

When they had stepped through the gate to the secret hospital, something had gone wrong. Wendy didn’t feel like she had made a mistake – or maybe she didn’t want to admit it. But she had ended up separated from the guys. Whether she had triggered the wrong gate, or set off some sort of security, she didn’t know. Maybe the office she had landed in belonged to a creepy guy who liked to entrap female workers in his office. OK, that probably wasn’t true, or he would have come looking to see who had turned up. But it had been terrifying, to be alone in the place that held the people that had kidnapped them before. It had made her realise how important it was to be able to find her friends, since they seemed to get into situations like this too often. Kevin could do scrying magic, perhaps she should give him something of hers so he could find her. Was that how it worked? She would ask him later.

But somehow they had found her. She wasn’t sure how, although she had deliberately not moved around too much. She remembered that from school. If you were lost, you were supposed to stay still. Part of her wished she hadn’t stayed still in that office, that she had got out immediately instead of spending what felt like hours behind the filing cabinet listening to the scientists. She had wanted to cry, but that would have attracted attention. She still wanted to cry a bit.

But it was OK. Somehow the others had found her, and they hadn’t been caught. Wendy still couldn’t quite believe it. After yesterday, she had expected there to be some sort of security around the place. Maybe there was, and they were being lured somewhere. Or maybe the people simply didn’t expect to be found, didn’t think that anyone would be stupid enough to try and break back into the place that had kidnapped them. She hoped the people they had helped yesterday were OK. She hoped they would be able to help more people. She hoped that Fauner was one of them. They still had Fauner’s hammer. It didn’t look right without the troll, almost lonely.

The group bent heads to discuss how they were going to find their goal. Kevin was very insistent that they not spit up again, although he was a little more understanding once she explained what she had meant. He was too much of a worrier. Still, she was glad they had found her. It was better to be with someone.

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Being Banal

Marco sat up on his bed. He couldn’t sleep at all. There was too much rushing around in his head. Usually he could talk to Inkahhhh about how he was feeling and once it was out he’d be able to sleep. Without Inkahhh he’d just have to go over his thoughts on his own. So where to start? His thoughts about the dreamworld they’d been suck in seemed like a good start. Obviously they were supposed to be banal. Maybe to stop them figuring out where they were? Maybe that was just the kind of experiment that was being done on them.

Experiment. The word stuck in Marco’s head. Someone had been testing on them. Maybe because they knew about Kevin, maybe just because they had been carrying the tablet around. It didn’t really matter why because one thing was certain. The woman who they freed had been one of the missing people. So the people are being kept alive and experimented on. They have to help them. Something dawned on Marco at this moment. “Maybe they knew about Kevin”. If they did then they might come back for him, and if not they might find out and come for him. This is not good. Not good at all. And it couldn’t be happening at a worse possible time. Marco had seen the way Kevin looked at Wendy in the dreamworld, and he’d heard him go back for her while we were leaving the hospital. Kevin will not be taken. Especially not when him and Wendy are so close to realising how they feel.

Marco knew that whoever made that hospital was a horrible person who has to be stopped. He knew that the dream they’d been in was something that shouldn’t be done to people. But still, Marco missed it a bit. That was something he just wouldn’t be able to tell Kevin or Wendy. They’d been robbed of everything there are while in the dream. And yes Marco had lost some of his traits too, he had become more mature, docile, normal, but he’d been happy too. He’d had a wife who he loved and who loved him, he had a nice house, good friends and he enjoyed his work. If whoever put them in the dream had designed it, then well, they must had a soft spot for him. Marco felt a surge of regret at these thoughts. People had been tortured in that place and here he was missing it. It sickened him, however it was still the truth. Marco had been happier in that dream then he had been since he left to “find himself”. He’d been miserable most of the time he’d been away. Sure there had been some good times, but he’d spent most of his “journey” missing home… and Hazel. And then being kidnapped did what months of soul searching couldn’t. Marco realised what he wanted, he wanted Hazel, and he didn’t care about getting a job or a nice house or any of that stuff. He knew who he was. He was Marco, and he loved Hazel.

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Normal

Kevin sat in the couch, next to Wendy. They were watching some decorating show – he didn’t care much for it, but he’d found he was unable to concentrate on the tv anyway. He closed his eyes and attempted to gather his thoughts.
He wasn’t sleepy – for one thing, he had been asleep for what felt like years in that machine in the hospital… and for another, he was still feeling the adrenaline from their narrow escape.
But he was unfocused. He had paid a brief visit to the car mechanic, hoping that watching engines for a while would calm him down and help him center himself, but instead he found that he could barely focus on it – his mind was still thinking about the strange banal dreamworld he had been trapped in.

It had been almost entirely different from his real life. He had been a couple of years older, he had been a police officer-in-training, he had liked sports, he had lived half a city away from Wendy. And in every aspect of himself, he had been normal.
That was point, he believed. Their captors had designed the dream to be as normal and bland and banal as possible, to remove the dreamers from all possible connections to the fae.
And he had believed it. He had swallowed the lies whole, without question.
He had been so certain it was real, so utterly convinced… He could easily have been lost there forever, had it not been for the one mistake his captors made:
Whether is was some form of kindness, a genuine slip-up, or a limitation of the machine, he had still known his family and friends – most importantly, he had still known Wendy.
Wendy had seen right through the illusion. She had a unique way of looking at the world, which allowed her to see things that no one else did. It was one of the things he admired most about her.

Now that he was awake, the dreamworld and its events seemed more distant and unreal with every passing moment. The one exception, the one thing that still haunted him as if it had been real, was the heartache he had felt seeing Wendy have her heart broken again and again.
It wasn’t fair. Someone as amazing as her deserved so much better.

Wendy let out a mild snore, which brought Kevin out of his thoughts. He glanced at the tv – the decorating show had ended, some sports game was on.
Bleh.
He briefly pondered getting up to change channel – he had had enough of sports for several lifetimes; But on the other hand, Wendy was asleep right next to him, with her head on his shoulder.
Sports it is, then.

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After the hospital

Wendy sat in front of the TV in Kevin’s basement, trying hard to keep her eyes open. The bright light of the screen flickered in the edge of her vision. She didn’t want to sleep. She was afraid of falling asleep again and being trapped, or of this life turning out not to be true. Even though she knew that she had been under a spell, a part of her remembered this… other life. And she didn’t want to go back to it, because it hadn’t been very happy. Not dangerous like this current moment seemed to be, but not good either. She remembered the fights with Marco when they had dated, of losing her other best friend to a stupid argument, of hating the things she loved in this reality. It was a scary glimpse into what could have been.

She could feel herself slumping against Kevin’s shoulder. He was still awake, although his eyes were shut. The voices in the background burbled. They had been watching… a cooking programme? Or maybe one of those ones about redecorating houses. She liked those. It had just been something to try and take away the day they had. Part of her hadn’t wanted to, because doing something normal reminded her too much of the dream, but at the same time they had needed to get away from the weird and terrifying shit that came with associating with they queens. She still didn’t know what had happened while they were asleep. She hoped nothing had happened. She hoped that nobody would come back for him.

Maybe the people behind the disappearances and the weird hospital had just attacked them for the tablet. They had lost that during the kidnapping, so perhaps that would be it. Maybe they hadn’t known that Kevin set off the tablet. It might be OK.

She could still remember the other life. It was fading now. She’d had… a lot of boyfriends? But she hadn’t really liked any of them after while. They had all been missing something. She could feel her eyes shutting and she couldn’t stop them any more. Her head drooped on Kevin’s shoulder.

It should have been you, you know.

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An undesireable truth

Wendy turned in horror as the redcaps grabbed Kevin. She reached to the work bench behind her, to grab anything that would get them off him. A wrench? Damn it, she had been hoping for something sharper, or hotter. A screwdriver maybe, or a blowtorch. It would have to do, as she lunged at them.

It proved fruitless. Wendy was by no means weak or unskilled, but the things she usually hit or carved up didn’t tend to fight back. Her aim was clouded by fear and rage and she could only hit ineffectually. They shrugged off her blows. Kevin hung unconscious between their burly arms. She wasn’t sure how it had happened, she hadn’t seen them hit him. And then the world tore as the redcaps opened a portal.

It had been something of a joke at first. They’d been typical teenagers, thoughtless, immature and more than a little culturally insensitive. It was a coping mechanism of sorts, to pretend that the fey queens wouldn’t really need something serious from them. And then they had activated the tablet, and it had burned Kevin and suddenly everything seemed a lot darker and more real. She wouldn’t have minded so much if it had been someone else. But the idea that somebody was hunting Kevin… it made her sick and afraid. They didn’t know what had happened to the missing people, but these things rarely ended well. As long as they could avoid spreading it around and keep Kevin out of sight, he would be safe.

How had they found him? The only people that knew besides the four of them were the wizard, because he had activated the tablet, and Queen Willow because Kevin had a terrible poker face and couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Could they have been betrayed? Or was it just dumb luck on the hunters’ part?

The redcaps dragged the unconscious Kevin through the portal. Wendy saw the huge figure of the troll lunge past her after them. She didn’t even have think about it. They had taken Kevin. Nobody could take Kevin from her.

Wendy plunged through the portal.

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