As soon as I got outside, I dug my phone out of the small pocket on the inside of my shirt and checked the screen out of some very wishful thinking that I might get a signal and be able to call Grandma and Grandpa. No such luck. Of course not.
I cursed silently and looked around in the empty fairy village that still surrounded me like an especially stubborn dream. Rem could be anywhere in the village by now. I knew that Rem could run really fast when he wanted to – and he wanted to very often – and he was usually at home moving among the trees. But here nothing was really home, maybe even less so for Rem, who had apparently been born here to a very selfish mother. I knew I shouldn’t think bad things about the dead, but all of this was just so… gah! I just couldn’t get over it. And I had a feeling Rem wasn’t about to get over it any time soon either.
“Rem!” I raised my voice above the quiet whispers of the curly tree branches, “Where are you? Come on! You were the one who wanted to face this!”
There was no response, save for the unnerving feeling of being watched. Maybe that was some sort of default addition to any enchanted glade. I sighed and walked into the darkness.
I heard the faint buzzing of bees as I passed what was probably a bunch of hives. I saw glimpses of fairy lights among the trees. I’d read enough stories to not follow them. I kept shouting out Rem’s name, not caring if I was waking up some sleeping fair folk. They’d got us into this mess, so they could suffer a night of not getting enough sleep because of us.
I found Rem after some searching. He’d collapsed near an opening where I could see the remains of a large bonfire. I got a very strong sense of déjà vu as I approached my brother’s hunched form. We had to stop going to places that would lead to Rem rushing outside to cry.
“Rem?” I shouted, “You okay?”
The words sounded stupid even as they left my mouth. Of course he wasn’t okay.
When I got closer I noticed that Rem was in fact not crying this time. He was, however, breathing too fast, breath hitching in his throat in a very panicky manner. His hands clutched the grass under him and I could feel the air getting lighter when I approached him. I remembered Villia’s words about stress-induced magic surges and hoped it wasn’t anything really bad.
“Rem? Hey, Rem? It’s me, Lynn. It’s alright.”
I sat down next to him.
“Or, hell, it’s not really alright, I know. But… you know… just breathe. We’ll make this alright. You just need to calm down.”
Rem shook his head, putting his hands over his ears.
“I-I’m trying,” he managed to get out between his hysterical breaths, “I really am… Just…”
I looked around, not really knowing what I was looking for. I had no idea what to do. I tried to calm my mind with the knowledge that usually Rem had just projected this place with his… illusions or whatever they were into his surroundings. So here one could barely tell the difference. Unless… unless now that he’d finally found the source of his maybe-memories, he’d have got subconsciously bored with growing dandelions out of the floor.
I hoped that wasn’t the case. I hoped he’d just stick to the familiar and not to something that would be harder to handle.
I saw a spark behind Rem, and in a few moments there was a flame. And it was growing.
“Oh, hell,” I whispered, “Rem! Stop that now!”
He didn’t stop. The fire grew until I honestly couldn’t tell if it was real or not. I felt the heat on my face and could almost also feel the skin on my scars peeling back. The peeling continued all the way through the flesh, through the bone, and right into my traumatic memories.
“Help!” I shouted, “Someone! Help!”
I faintly saw someone green approaching us. Then I saw and felt a flash, or something like air rushing out of the universe around us. Rem yelped as if he’d been struck, and then the flames were gone.
I blinked away tears I hadn’t noticed had spilled, and saw Rem on the ground, holding his stomach as if feeling really ill. The guard-man… M… Muesli or something, stood above him, his face distorted with anger.
“I knew I should be watching you!” he snapped, “This kind of uncontrollable behaviour is unacceptable here!”
Rem didn’t answer. He didn’t seem to be able to. To my horror, he collapsed on the ground.
I crouched again and saw to my immense relief that he was still breathing. He wasn’t responding, though, and I could only hope that Muesli-man’s whatever-power-he’d-used hadn’t done any serious damage.
“What did you do to him?”
My voice was bordering on hysterical. The uptight guard didn’t seem to notice.
“I suppressed his uncontrollable magic, of course. Do you think that-“
The voice that cut the man off belonged to Villia. She was running down the same slope I had ran just moments ago. Her too-green eyes were blazing with fury.
“What are you doing?” she marched to Mue… I mean Myrsky, with very pointed steps, “If you hurt him, then I swear-!”
“I didn’t hurt him, Villia!” Myrsky snapped back, “I just suppressed his magic. It was going haywire. He reacted much more strongly than I expected, though.”
“Of course he did!” Villia almost shouted, “He has zero experience about this! And he’s a teenager!”
“I was just doing my job!”
“You could have been a bit gentler about it!”
“So I was supposed to just watch and let him fake-burn this entire glade down?”
Villia glared murderously at Myrsky, but then let out a reluctant sigh.
“Whatever,” she muttered, “I guess you did what you had to…”
She crouched next to me and glanced at Rem’s unmoving body. I stiffened and my instincts told me to stay put while my bad memories told me to run. Villia smiled in what she clearly hoped was a reassuring way.
“He’ll be fine once he just sleeps it off,” she said, “Come on, let’s get him to bed so he doesn’t have to be out here in the cold.”
All I could do was give her a shaky nod.
I’d never before had to carry Rem around, but even with Villia helping me I realised that he was much lighter than I’d expected. Not that he looked very heavy to begin with. It was like his bones were hollow or made of a lighter material than they should be. Maybe it too was a fairy thing. I’d always noticed the little oddities in Rem’s physical appearance, but now they looked so obvious I couldn’t ignore them. I noted the pointy ears and how unlikely it was for humans to have them naturally. I noted the facial features that didn’t look like anyone from Patrick’s family – or even what little I’d seen of Donna. I thought about the yellow eyes that were now hidden behind closed lids. What had they been called sometimes? Genetic anomalies? Yeah, maybe with some people, but with Rem, it was just his fair folk showing.
Kielo was waiting for us, and she led us into the house next to the one we’d talked in. Apparently that one belonged to her as well, and it housed her bedroom. A woodland-style canopy bed took up most of the space there, and Villia and I set Rem on it. He curled up, and I hoped it meant he was really asleep instead of unconscious now. Kielo looked worried.
“What happened to him?”
“Myrsky hit him with a suppressor,” Villia said, “He’ll be fine. Physically at least. As for… well, I think these two need a little time to think about this.”
“You think?” I said.
Villia narrowed her eyes.
“There’s no need for sass.”
“Give them a break, Vil,” Kielo said quietly, and then turned to me, “We’re very sorry about all this. Is there anything we can do to help?”
I crossed my arms.
“I think you’ve helped enough,” I said.
“Of course. Sorry. Come on, Vil, let’s go,” Kielo gave me a very Rem-like smile, “Just give us a shout if you need anything.”
Then they were gone, and I was left at my brother’s bedside with way too many questions in my head.
I wouldn’t have thought I’d be able to sleep, but somehow I must have at some point, because when I opened my eyes I was on the floor and looking at unfamiliar furniture for a moment before I remembered where I was. Rem’s bare feet got in my field of vision, and I jumped up as quickly as I could in my groggy state.
“Ugh… hey, you okay?” I managed. Darn, everything ached. Sleeping on the floor wasn’t a good idea at all. Not that it had been an idea to begin with.
Rem slid down from the edge of the bed he’d been sitting on. He looked much better than he had last night. If it weren’t for the conflicted, almost haunted look in his eyes, I could have said he was back to normal.
“I guess I’m fine,” Rem said quietly, “Are you?”
“Me? I’m sure my spine will recover,” I said, “I’m never sleeping on the floor like that again, though.”
“No, I meant… I’m so sorry. I don’t remember much about what happened after… Alvar walked in. But I remember flames. You saw them too, didn’t you?”
I shrugged uncomfortably.
“I didn’t mean to do it.”
“I know,” I said, trying to give him my gentlest smile, “Seriously, don’t worry about me.”
Rem nodded slowly.
“I… Okay,” he sighed, “I’ve been thinking a lot. What are we going to do?”
“Why’re you asking me? This is more about you right now, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but you’re better at solutions than I am.”
I raised a brow.
“Yeah. You’re smart. And you’re not seeing things that confuse you.”
I almost laughed at that.
“Rem, right now everything I see around me confuses me. But, well, I’d say we should at least get out of here soon. I mean, Grandma and Grandpa are probably way too worried about us. And they’ve no doubt told mum and Patrick, and if that’s the case, we’re already on milk cartons or something.”
“So you think we should just leave?” Rem asked almost disbelievingly.
“Well… not without real closure, of course.”
“Right. Closure,” Rem looked uncomfortable, “But… what about Alvar?”
Oh. Right. Damn.
“Yeah, that’s bad… I mean, don’t you think Donna and Patrick deserve the truth?”
Rem bit his lip.
“But we can’t just bring a random guy in front of them and say ‘hi, here’s your real kid’. I mean, what if he doesn’t want to leave? What do you think Donna or dad are supposed to do with all that? What if this all just gets worse? What if… what if I have to leave you?”
“Why would you have to leave us? Rem, you’re much more Patrick’s kid than that Alvar-guy is.”
“I… yeah, but…” Rem sighed, “I have to talk to them, right? I mean, I do want to, but… I’m scared.”
“I know. I’m still scared too,” I touched his shoulder in what I hoped was a comforting manner, “This all is so… weird.”
“Tell me about it.”
We stood in silence for a moment, before we slowly opened the door and greeted the weirdness.
What we saw when we stepped outside was not what I’d been expecting. True, I hadn’t had much time to think about what I’d imagined the fairy town to look like in daylight, but for some reason the image of the two kids from last night and Villia sitting on a clichéd picnic blanket and eating hamburgers would have probably never even crossed my mind. The only boy in the group looked up at us and waved.
“Hey!” he said in a voice that sounded a little bit like a cricket, “They’re awake! Come eat! We made fast food!”
Rem and I exchanged glances and stepped cautiously towards the blanket. Villia chuckled. She looked odd in a torn T-shirt and black capris when I’d got used to seeing her in much more stylish clothes. She was demonstrating impressive flexibility by sitting down in a perfect split, and I honestly couldn’t tell if she was showing off or just doing some morning stretches.
“They wanted you to feel more welcome,” she said, “I doubt these taste the same as the stuff you eat, but I’d say it’s pretty close.”
The little girl who seemed to have berries in her hair looked up at us.
“Sit down! I’m Kuura and this is my brother Halla! Villia told us you’re Lynn and Rem!”
I glanced at Rem again, and Rem flashed the two frosty-eyed siblings a slightly shy smile.
“Yeah, that’s us. I’m Rem. Lynn’s my sister. It’s nice to meet you.”
He sat down, then, just like that. It was such a Rem thing to do that I felt almost relieved even though we were still in very unfamiliar territory.
I sat down next to Rem and took a hot dog that looked much less like plastic than usual human fast food. It reminded me a lot of the organic veggie burgers and tofu hot dogs Patrick made, actually. I’m pretty sure the food was made mostly out of nuts and avocado. Those who’d been taken by the paleo diet craze would love this place.
“You eat a lot of stuff like this at your place?” asked Halla, “We’ve never been that far outside the glade.”
“Mother says it’s dangerous,” said Kuura, “And I guess she’s right. But Villia is always telling so much about the cities!”
“And Kielo keeps fixing human tech-things,” Halla added, “They’re really cool. And your names are a lot of fun too!”
“I wish we could go there,” Kuura said, “To a real city. You know, just to see it. But we have to master our glamour first.”
“And even then mother probably won’t let us go,” Halla sighed.
Villia smiled and flopped down on her back.
“Yeah, I doubt she will. And if you keep dreaming about sneaking into human civilisation, your mother might even forbid me from telling you stories anymore.”
“That’s not fair!” Kuura whined. Then she turned to me, her icy eyes twinkling, “You’re really pretty! When I grow up, I want to look like you!”
I almost coughed up my paleo hot dog.
“Seriously?” I managed, “You need better role models than me!”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” said Rem. He was smiling like crazy, and I couldn’t tell if his cheerfulness was real or just an attempt to hide the turmoil in his head.
“Mother isn’t going to let you dye your hair like that for years,” Halla said, “But hey, you could make your glamour hair like that.”
“I could, couldn’t I?” Kuura said, “Mum isn’t going to like it, though… she’s all proper. But you know, I could just tell her I couldn’t get it any other way!”
“Who’s your mum?” Rem asked.
“Her name’s Lumi,” Kuura said, “She’s our best healer, and the second-in-command here. You know, right next to the matriarch herself. And she’s really busy all the time.”
“Not that the title means that much,” said Halla, “The adults all decide on stuff… but the matriarch and mother just make sure the adults stay civil in the meetings. And sometimes they talk about smart stuff, I guess.”
He shrugged, clearly uninterested in talking about fairy politics.
“So… what do you do for fun in human places? We play in the woods, and do fun stuff with magic. And Kuura paints. Alvar watches the stars a lot. And when Villia’s home we play with her a lot because she’s really nice. What do you guys do?”
“Actually, a lot of the same stuff,” said Rem, “I love painting.”
“Oh, really?” said Kuura, “That’s… awesome! Hey Villia? Can you play with us now? You promised you would?”
“I did, didn’t I? I guess I have no choice. You want to play tag?”
“All right, then you’d better try and catch me!”
I looked in mild confusion when the two kids jumped up and darted after Villia, who moved with flashy grace and put her body through some sort of acrobatic routine, much to the delight of the kids.
“Well, this is… huh…” I said.
“It’s a lovely place, in the end,” Rem said.
“Yeah. That’s a bit scary. I didn’t expect that.”
“They’re not the bad guys.”
“Well, no. I didn’t think they were… Okay, maybe I did a bit, but still… I mean, I didn’t expect evil castles and decorative wall corpses -evil, but… this is too normal, in its own way.”
“Yeah,” Rem said, and then sighed, “You gonna be okay for a while? I want to find Kielo and… Alvar. I need to talk to them. Alone.”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, “How about you? You sure about what you’re about to do?”
Rem looked around in the glade. Kuura, Halla, and Villia’s laughter rang out around us.
“No,” he finally said, “But we’ve been over this so many times already. I have to… I have to do this.”
“Yeah. Good luck. Give me a shout if you need any help.”
When Rem got up and walked to Kielo’s house, I felt apprehension in the pit of my stomach again. For some reason the bright colours of the fairy trees just made it worse. We’d followed the breadcrumbs and then the rabbit hole, and it had just led us to a whole bunch of new problems. We really had a changeling scenario in our hands. And Patrick and Donna’s real kid was alive and well here. Among people who didn’t want to be found. Now that the initial shock had worn off, my brain finally had time to really try to process it all, and it kept reaching this very persistent question I had no answer to yet.
What the hell are we going to do?
I didn’t like the thought of us splitting up in this place, but I had to let Rem have his space when he confronted his so called family. I ended up wandering around the small village square and trying to find signal for my phone to no avail. There were many curious eyes all around me. The two little kids in the neighbourhood were especially interested in me. They even side-tracked me from my signal hunting by taking me to see their house, which was an odd assortment of do-it-yourself shelves and plants.
There was even a fountain that Kuura explained was mostly for practising illusions. Apparently water made it easier – something I didn’t really get. She asked me a lot of questions and was ecstatic to hear that I had a tattoo. Apparently only shamans – which I concluded meant experienced clairvoyants and healers – got tattoos in their culture, and the only shamans they’d had in Kuura’s lifetime were Lumi, and Rem’s mother, and apparently they’d never been big on tattoos. I showed the flowers on my arm to her, and she looked at it in wonder.
She looked just like a normal kid who had just found an older girl to be her role model. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I guess it was nice, in a way. To know that there really weren’t conspiracies or evil powers at work here… probably. There seemed to be just… life. Lives that were maybe broken just like ours and that had broken our lives even more. But in some other way it was… maybe even more infuriating. In a way I would have felt better about it all if there had been someone I could really hate and blame. But here in the bright and colourful and maybe magical but still very normal glade all my hate wanted to just evaporate from my mind and body. The slates and I were being wiped clean of this all. And I didn’t want to be cleansed yet.
After I managed to get Kuura and her brother to leave me alone for a while I wandered back to the riverside where the bonfire was located. I tried not to shudder at the memory of last night’s flames.
They weren’t real. Get over it!
I looked at the familiar swamp across the river. It seemed to be so close, but I knew that the closeness was probably another illusion. We’d walked for hours to get here. Or then we’d just been meandering a lot because Villia had wanted to mess with us. Either way seemed just as likely.
“Hey,” said a voice I’d already learned to recognise.
I sighed. Had I summoned her with my thoughts or something? Sure, I did want to talk to her, but… not now. I didn’t feel like I was ready to be civil with her. Not without Rem holding me back.
Or then I was. Why was everything so confusing?
Because everything’s messed up again. Because we’re in fairyland.
“Hey,” I said coldly.
“Yeah, I still get it,” Villia replied, “Look, Rem is working things out with his family. Maybe I should try to work things out too. I just want to… well, I don’t know what I want. I know you’ll probably never forgive me, and I understand that. I mean, I don’t think I’ll forgive myself either. Even though I was doing what I thought was right.”
“Really?” I scoffed, “Then your idea of ‘right’ is very different from mine.”
“That’s life, kid, get used to it,” Villia said, but then her frown softened, “But you’re right. It really wasn’t a good thing to do. You have to understand that we haven’t needed to do this before. This… changeling business was supposed to be a thing of the past. And then one of my best friends starts messing with it… I just wanted to help Taru. After the whole fiasco with Laketon we left you alone for a time. I had just planned to keep tabs on you, but then you moved and escaped from us.”
“Like that stopped you,” I said, “Or did it?”
“For a time. We have a code of honour. If one of us doesn’t want to be found, they won’t be until they wish it again.”
“But after Taru started stressing about it…” Villia trailed off. It was obvious now that Rem’s mother’s death had hit her hard. I couldn’t imagine what it felt like to lose a friend or a loved one. I mean, to really lose them. Knowing that I’d never see them again… I found myself feeling a little bit sorry for Villia.
Villia cleared her throat.
“After she started fading, even our matriarch asked me to keep looking for Rem. Not that I wouldn’t have anyway. Taru had been our clairvoyant, and so far no one else here has displayed that ability. Not in this generation at least. But Rem has clearly inherited it.”
“The matriarch wants to see him. I told him that we’d go once he’s talked to his family.”
I didn’t know what to say, really. I wanted answers, but the answers probably wouldn’t make sense without a proper history or culture lesson. And I also wanted to go home, but we couldn’t just leave now. I didn’t think the fair folk would let us leave without us seeing this matriarch first. And who knew what she’d want? They kept talking about Rem’s visions being valuable to them, I think. Did they want him to stay? My hands curled into fists. I didn’t care if these people were his flesh and blood. I wouldn’t let them have him. At least not unless Rem really wanted to stay. But he wouldn’t, right? This wasn’t his home, no matter how many dreams he’d had about it.
“Rem’s mum… how did she die?” I asked before I could stop myself.
Villia looked at the river, smiled at its gentle waves as if she could see her friend there.
“She got lost in her visions,” she finally said, “She felt guilty in the end, I think. She kept trying to find Rem.”
I stared at the water without really seeing it. An ominous feeling of nausea started building up in my throat.
“Don’t blame yourselves,” Villia said as if reading my thoughts, “I think that at first she knew what she was getting into, but then… she couldn’t stop looking. She tried to force herself to see. So she fell asleep. Then into a coma.”
“We watched over her. I tried to find you so Taru would stop. I think she did want to stop at some point, but she was so far gone that she couldn’t get back anymore.”
“It was… surprising. Shocking, even. She was so experienced. We didn’t imagine she could get lost.”
Villia fell silent again for a while. I could hear her swallowing what was probably tears.
“That’s also why we wanted to find Rem. To prevent further tragedies like that in our family, no matter how distant he was. He was becoming an adult, so he was at risk of really starting to misuse his powers without proper training. We didn’t want him to become a danger to himself or others.”
She pursed her lips.
“But I shouldn’t try to make us sound all noble. The truth is that… I manipulated you all. I’m rather good at it, so why not, right?” she laughed bitterly, “But I know we were selfish. Most of all we just wanted him back. We wanted everything to go back to normal.”
For a while, the river and the bees were the only sounds I could hear. They felt almost intrusively loud in my ears.
“Then…” I cleared my throat, “Then I guess we have something in common.”
Villia managed a sad smile.
“I suppose we do.”
We stood together on the shore, me and a fairy guide I’d hated for so many years. It was a strange experience. I could only imagine how Rem was doing.
“Oh, wow, you have your own vinyl player? That’s so cool!”
“Yeah. Aunt Kielo fixed it for me. She does stuff like that. She even gave me the camera I’ve taken pictures with. Sometimes she and mum take me to a human town… well, now it’s just Kielo, obviously. And Villia, when she’s around.”
“I… I’m sorry for your loss.”
“I’m sorry too.”
“So… you’ve always known that you’re…”
“A changeling? Yeah. I mean, it’s pretty obvious. We humans don’t have fancy magical disguises like you.”
“And you never considered… finding where your real parents were?”
“Why should I? I had a mum who loved me. And a big family. I’m happy here. I mean, from what I heard, you didn’t want to really find out the truth either.”
“I didn’t know the truth wasn’t what I believed!”
“So you never even doubted it?”
“I… Well, I… yeah, I did.”
“So you don’t want to even meet them?”
“You think that’d be smart? Mum kept saying they didn’t love me.”
“Well, that’s not true. They did. Your biological mum especially… she loved you so much that she… she always knew you were missing.”
“She did? Wow… I… but I can’t just… go, can I?”
“I don’t know. It might be a very good thing… but then again, it might go awfully wrong too.”
“So uh… do you want to talk to Aunt Kielo too?”
“Yeah, that’d be nice.”
I met Rem in front of Kielo and Alvar’s house a few hours later. He was smiling, and there was genuine happiness in his eyes. But I could see that he was still just as confused as ever.
“So?” I asked.
“So we talked. A lot,” said Rem.
“Yeah? And it was a good talk?”
Rem’s smile widened.
“Yeah. Well, it was weird. But it was nice too.”
“Alvar and Kielo are really friendly. They told me about Taru, about how she lived and… died. They told me about their life too.
“In the end it almost really felt like… like maybe one day I could… I don’t know.”
“Be family?” I asked.
“Well, that’s a bit early to say. I mean, I want to believe that… maybe,” he massaged his temples, “This is just still so overwhelming. And now the matriarch wants to talk to us.”
“Yeah. Villia told me. Is she going to take us to her?”
“I’m happy we got here,” he said out of the blue, “But I’m just wondering where it’ll end.”
“Me too,” I said, “I think there’s still plenty of rabbit hole to go.”
I looked at Rem, trying to find some evidence that he too wanted to go home. To our real home. I mean, this was nice, I guess, knowing and all. But mum and Patrick and Grandma and Grandpa were probably beside themselves with worry by now. We might have been in fairyland, but out there, across the fake-short distance, real life was still going on. And it was calling us back.
“What are you going to do?” I asked, “What do you think they want now that you’re here?”
Rem looked almost scared when he said:
“I don’t know.”
Author’s Note: More exposition for you. Yay. Also I have a new computer now. I’m having mixed feelings about that. I mean, it’s definitely good and in many ways better than the old one, and my old one was already pretty… well, old, and it was becoming kind of unusable because of all the malfunctions it had. That said, I’m pretty sure the major things that are broken are the hard drive and the battery, so they are things I could just replace… but it would already be the second time I’d have to get a new hard drive for it, but on the other hand… agh! Spending natural resources and probably supporting the very poor working conditions of computer makers makes me sad! I didn’t throw the old laptop away yet, so maybe I’ll get some use out of it still…
Well, what’s done is done, and at least my TS3 works on the new computer and it actually runs much smoother and the computer doesn’t heat up like crazy when I play. Yay! And because of the new computer my screenshots are going to be IN WIDESRCEEN in the future. I’m still debating whether I want to crop them differently or just use the proportions I automatically get, but I am liking the pics I can take now. Also some of the pics in this one were already taken with the new computer and I cropped them to match the old ones because it would be weird to change randomly in the middle of a chapter. Even if that meant a couple of the pics look a bit weird because of the cropping. But from the next chapter onward there will be slightly different pictures. Just a heads up.
Ugh, I ruined my “use only one word for chapter names” -rule that I had for this story (except for the prologue) for… reasons. I don’t even remember why I had that rule. But hey, I was getting tired of it and my Finnish mind keeps telling me that “rabbit hole” is just one word so whatever.
Also more Finnish names/words in this chapter:
Kuura: Finnish for the physical frost that forms on the windows etc.
Halla: Finnish for the phenomenon when the temperature drops below zero degrees Celsius near the ground but not higher up (the English-speakers call this frost as well).
Lumi: Finnish for snow.