Chapter 29: Grief and Closure

It was weird how tears could sneak up on a person and surprise them. One minute I was fine, and the next my eyes were burning and my breath was hitching. It kept happening even weeks after I’d found Sabine Bellechance dying on her floor. And during the day of her funeral, the tears were definitely still there.

It was difficult to even remember what had happened after my possibly hallucinated meeting with the goddess of death and after Sabine had stopped breathing. I vaguely remember being surrounded by paramedics and people who were asking questions. I again wasn’t sure if I’d managed to answer any of them. Then the paramedics had found the body. I think that had been when Rem and mum had arrived. Rem had rushed straight to me and hugged me.

“She’s gone?” he’d asked quietly, and I’d managed a nod. He’d hugged me tighter, “I’m sorry.”

How long ago had that been? On the funeral day, it had only been a couple of weeks. Back then, the image of Sabine lying on the floor hadn’t yet been completely rinsed out of my retinas even by all the tears.

Sometimes I realise it’s still there, even when it has already faded quite a bit.

I looked in the mirror for the millionth time and adjusted my hair so that it covered my scars even better. My eyes were lined with mascara that would hopefully withstand all the tears that would no doubt fall, and my new black coat felt foreign on me. It was weird; usually I felt very comfortable in black. Then again, usually my friend hadn’t just died.

I suppressed a sob and turned away from the mirror. Patrick was already calling for me, telling me that we had to be going. I sighed and refused to cry in our bathroom. I had a feeling I’d be doing plenty of crying in the chapel anyway.

I stepped out of the bathroom and saw the sad faces of my family – and the rather confusedly glum face of Merrill, who wasn’t quite sure about what was going on. Rem smiled weakly at me, looking somewhat off because he was dressed so neatly and wearing shoes of all things. The last time he’d been wearing a suit had been at Faroffingtons’, where he’d freaked out. That too seemed like such a long time ago.

“Okay, you ready?” mum asked gently, as if I’d break if someone was being too loud.

I nodded, and together we got in the car and towards the final official goodbyes to Sabine.

The funeral chapel was built in modern Peteran style and looked very grey and white. The only spots of colour were the slightly blue-tinted windows and textiles, and the dark red velvet cloth that covered the small table where an urn rested. The place was empty aside from the staff when we arrived. It seemed that nobody besides us cared enough about the witch of Sunset Valley to lay her to rest. I thought about Sabine’s words about her friends and family having passed before her. I thought about Félix, even though I had no idea what he’d been like. I had already known that aside from my visits, Sabine had been lonely. But there, in the chapel, looking at the urn that now housed her cremated body, the weight of her loneliness really crashed down on me.

Mum, as if knowing what I was thinking at that moment, looked at me from her seat.

“You meant a lot to her,” she said quietly, but I heard it anyway.

I couldn’t find my voice, so I just nodded again.

The funeral was a quiet and short, but beautiful ceremony. I cried my eyes out, and so did mum. Merrill cried too, mostly because he was confused that his family was so upset about the metal jar in a strange little house. I remember some sweet words and music, but mostly I just remember the grief. It muddled all the words I heard and made the music laced with tears and empty sorrow. It was the first time I’d had to really face the death of someone I cared about. I didn’t know how to deal with it, I realised. Some part of me had thought that seeing the gunman and Villia die violently – hell, I was the one who had killed the gunman – would have desensitised me enough that I could be as cool and collected as one could be about death. But I’d been wrong. I felt weak and lost and hollow, and like my brain couldn’t really even begin to process Sabine being gone.

She’d been my friend. One minute she’d been there, and then next she was on the floor, looking more like a deflated doll than a human being. And now she was ashes in a box. It was just so… wrong.

The woman in front of us finally closed the book of prayer she had been reading mostly meaningless niceties from and then gently ushered us outside. It was getting dark, and the air was chilly for Sunset Valley standards. I thought about the last time I’d been out in the falling dark and stubborn chill and couldn’t help crying again. Sabine’s future gravestone got my tears all over it, but I was too much of a wreck to care.

“Hey,” said a quiet voice.

I wiped my eyes and turned to look at Min, who stood awkwardly a bit farther away, looking very pretty in her white funeral dress. She looked sadly at the gravestone and then at us.

“Um… sorry I’m late. I… wasn’t sure if I should even come here. I mean, I wasn’t really invited…”

“No one was,” Patrick said quietly, “It’s good to see you.”

Min nodded slowly. I walked over to her and wiped my eyes again. I realised that my mascara wasn’t quite as tearproof as the store had advertised. I smiled at Min and chuckled maybe a bit hysterically through my tears. Mostly because I realised again that Min really had been closer to Sabine than almost anyone else in the town. Just because she had visited her maybe two times in her life.

I must have looked so insensitive and rude, laughing at a funeral. But grief didn’t really play by any logical rules. I hugged Min tightly out of both gratitude and grief.

“Thanks for coming,” I said hoarsely, “I don’t think she’d have wanted to be alone.”

The following days went in a fog. A very empty, heavy fog that tasted like cardboard and loss. I found myself unable to get up in so many mornings. I didn’t want to go to school – or anywhere else for that matter. Mum and Patrick had to practically drag me to therapy. For a while I even stopped writing. Meanwhile, the rest of our family fell into a quiet melancholy.

Patrick found solace in his garden, once again. Mum seemed to be even more obsessed with keeping the house clean than before. Rem painted a series of paintings and went outside for walks. Though often I saw that he had ended up sitting on the swing outside, looking limp and lifeless.

We all tried to find some peace by making sure at least Merrill was happy. Even I was more than glad to have heated arguments concerning bedtime with him. The meeting with Kielo and Alvar was cancelled for now, and the argument with the fairies was left to the background even though I knew it was still bothering us all. I would have been angrier at myself for making my family even more troubled, but back then I couldn’t find the energy for that.

My head just felt so full, yet also so hollow. Sabine was gone. I’d thought I knew that death meant. But now I realised I didn’t know anything. What had happened to her? Was she going to be okay? Was she going to be anymore at all? I wanted to think that she was in a better place. That she’d see her son and all the friends who had gone before her. But I couldn’t know for sure.

One of the worst things was to know how alone she had been. That after all this time of me visiting her, she had still shut me out, denying that she was sick and dying. That in the end, all I could do was watch her go.

When I managed to drag myself to school, I found myself staring blankly at maths problems and even books without really finding the energy to do anything with them. The death of a family member was usually put in a category of events that were called force majeure, a superior force. Circumstances that no one could foresee or avoid, something that made it acceptable not to fulfil a contract – or in this case, show up to school. But apparently they thought Sabine wasn’t close enough to count. And maybe she wasn’t, in the end. Her death weighed me down like a… well, a superior force, something I couldn’t possibly combat, but as the days went by, I could also feel a spark of energy. A death was something that stopped, made life skip a beat. I felt like I had stopped, but I also felt a determination to move. To not let myself freeze completely.

Still, it wasn’t easy. My family, Min and Michel, Bree and Jace tried to help me through it. They talked with me, and sometimes I talked back. But most of the time I wanted to be alone. To sort out my thoughts.

Those were the times when I usually gravitated towards either the graveyard or Sabine’s house.

The week after Sabine’s funeral was a rainy one. It felt like the sky had been saving all its rain for the end of the spring. The rains came and went in quick succession, in harsh yet short showers. The streets were almost flooded, and the sound of on/off rain was constant white noise in our lives. I thought it was poor timing; it would have been better for the rain to fall during the funeral and not afterwards.

I splashed my way to the graveyard, casting a hateful glance at the Grim Reaper statue near the gates. Who put a statue of a Grim Reaper in a graveyard? It was cool, sure, but a graveyard didn’t exactly need any more reminders that death was near.

I stood at Sabine’s grave, trying to hold back tears. I was at a loss about what to do there. Should I talk to her? Talking to a stone with ashes underneath felt stupid and too sentimental. The whole graveyard felt stupid to me, then. This wasn’t where the memories were. This was just culture and habits, lifeless stones and corpses under the ground.

I decided to settle for her house.

It was still unchanged. Apparently Sunset Valley had a really slow and impractical system when it came to dead people’s property if there were no heirs or testaments to be found. I even still had the keys to the house. No one had asked me to give them back, and a part of me wanted to keep them. Just in case… what? I didn’t know.

I checked Sabine’s garden and saw that it was still vibrant and neat. A few weeds were shyly pushing their way among the flower bushes, and I plucked them out. I didn’t know why I bothered, but it just felt right. Or then it was a part of denial.

It was the rain that woke me up again. It got around my umbrella and seeped through my clothes. I shivered and reluctantly left the old house. I glanced at it over my shoulder like I always did when I had to leave. I didn’t imagine Sabine stepping out of the house. I was too reasonable for that. Or at least I wanted to think I was. The house looked much more sinister than it had before.

After getting home I took a hot shower to warm myself up and tried to relax. If I had been smart, I would have started writing again, poured all my thoughts and grief into words. I knew even back then that it would have helped, but I was too tired to really follow through with the idea. So my head just kept buzzing as if some of the rain had snuck into my brain.

“Son of a bitch,” I muttered and swung my legs over the edge of the bed. I was tired, but I needed to move. To do something. I wanted to be alone but I felt like I would go crazy if I was. Before I knew it, my restless feet had taken me to Rem’s room.

He was drawing and looked mostly calm. There was a slight frown on his face, but it could have also been because he was drawing something that frowned. He had the tendency to unconsciously imitate the expressions of the things he drew or painted. Sometimes I found it funny. Now I wished I could.

“Hey,” I said, “Sorry to bother you. I just… wanted to talk.”

About what, I had no idea. At that moment I just hoped that some words – any words – would come.

Rem put his pencils down and straightened his back.

“Sure,” he said, “About Sabine?”

“I… yeah.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about her. Or you, more like,” he said, “How are you holding up?”

Everyone had asked me that at least once a day lately. I sighed.

“I’m… okay.”

“Sure you are. And I’m okay with our issues with the fair folk.”

I rolled my eyes.

“Okay, fine. I feel like I’m stuck.”

“Grief is sticky.”

“That just sounds weird.”

“But it’s true.”

Yeah. It really was. Grief was like tar, sticky and heavy and difficult to wash away. Impossible, really. But maybe it would fade with time. I hoped so. It had worked before that.

“Do you wanna talk about Sabine?” Rem asked, yellow eyes studying me with compassionate sadness.

“I just want… her to be okay,” I said, “And… well, for her to be back would be nice too. But mostly I wish she’s happy.”

“I think she is,” Rem said, “She had you, in the end. And now she maybe has all the people who have gone before her.”

It sounded reassuring, if I would have just let it reassure me. I sighed again.

“I saw her die,” I managed to say, “I was there when… when she went. And it all just… ended.”

“Yeah. I know. I’m sorry.”

“I guess I want… some kind of sign that it really was okay. That we can… that she was really ready to go.”

“She had already lived for long,” Rem said, “I-“

“Hey, what’s going on here?” asked Patrick, and I choked on my breath and tears that were about to fall again. Patrick was carrying Mer, who looked surprisingly calm considering it was his bedtime and he had no doubt would have wanted to play for at least hours more even though he was getting tired.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Patrick went on, “I have to put this little guy to sleep. Do you two want some hot chocolate?”

His eyes lingered on me, and I could feel his worry crash over me. I twisted my mouth into a smile.

“I… yeah. Sure.”

“I want hot chocolate too!” Mer said, and Patrick laughed.

“You already got a cup right before you brushed your teeth. Remember?”

“That was long ago!”

Rem laughed too. For a moment I too felt almost like I was ready to laugh again. To start moving. Almost.

The movement began a few days later. When the grief felt less like a knife and more like a series of needles in my chest. I decided to visit Sabine’s house again. I wasn’t sure why I tortured myself with it. Maybe it was some foolish hope that the pieces would somehow fall into place there. Or maybe it was just basic human masochism that made people seek out places that hurt them.

This time something pulled me inside the house. Maybe it was just the rain that still hadn’t left Sunset Valley alone; I didn’t want to shiver all the way home. And a part of me wanted to know if the house was still intact. If someone had already started emptying it. I put aside my umbrella and turned the key in the lock.

The house was dark and devoid of life. Sabine’s books gathered dust on the cute old shelves, and the fake flowers on her coffee table looked a bit dusty too. I tried not to look at the spot where Sabine had been when she had died. I hurried past it and then upstairs. I could almost hear Sabine playing contrabass, or snoring softly after a long day of battling whatever illness she had had.

I almost ran into the contrabass that stood in the middle of Sabine’s bedroom like an intruder. Sabine’s bed was neatly made and everything seemed to be in order. The place still hadn’t been emptied. I wondered when Sunset Valley’s officials would start with the house.

I sat down and listened to the rain that drummed the old roof. What was I doing here, really? Was I looking for something? Was I really so sentimental or desperate that I was hoping for Sabine to suddenly walk in?

The tears fell again. They were always so sneaky.

I cried for what felt like half an hour. It was like all the older relatives I hadn’t really had in my life had been distilled into Sabine. My biological grandparents who had never been around. Grandma Brandi and Grandma Lórccan, who were awesome but who were back in Twinbrook and would probably also soon get sick and pass on. The thought made me cry even harder.

The rain kept hitting the roof even when I forced myself to get up. I tried to wipe my tears, and my eyes fell on Sabine’s letters that were still neatly piled onto the edge of her desk. They were what had started all this. Well, started my friendship with Sabine. Without them, Sabine would have probably died all alone.

I almost brushed the edge of one of the faded envelopes with my fingertips, but froze when I saw a piece of paper sticking out from behind a stack of wooden, decorative boxes. I frowned, and my curiosity took over.

I took the folded paper into my hand and stared at what was written on it.

To Marilynn Farley

-anyone else: hands off!

I smiled and laughed a teary laugh. I opened the note.

Lynn,

Thank you for sticking with me. You made this old lady smile so much more than she otherwise would have in the last years of her life.

Also if I’m dead when you find this, then get rid of my letters so that the bureaucrats won’t get their hands on them.

Love,

Sabine

I chuckled. Then I laughed. I laughed until my throat was raw and I was smiling from ear to ear. It was a grief-laugh that didn’t make any sense, but it was also a happy one. When I finally got my wits about me again, I took out my phone and made a call.

“Min? I need you here. At Sabine’s.”

Min came running through the rain in ten minutes.

“What the heck is going on here?” she said as soon as she reached me. She was out of breath, so she must have really been sprinting all the way here.

I sat on Sabine’s porch, the pile of letters next to me. I had managed to wipe my tears away, though I still must have looked like a panda bear. I bit my lip and looked at Min.

“Thanks for coming,” I said, “You’re awesome.”

I told her about the note and about Sabine’s last request. I nodded towards the letters.

“So I… I figured you should be there too,” I managed to say even though my voice started to waver again, “You were there when we found these, after all. And I… I don’t want to do this alone.”

Min was quiet for a moment. And then she nodded like the awesome friend she was.

“Okay. Let’s do it. I know just the place. Though we need to wait ‘till the rain stops.”

And that was it; no questions, no “why were you in her house”s. Just Min being there for me. We sat on the porch until the shower was over again and the sky cleared as if nothing had happened. Then we started moving.

Min’s “just the place” was a good one. An empty beach far out of the town centre. There were no swimmers around, and the whole beach looked so empty and clean. Almost like a fresh patch of half-done world that might someday be filled. It was peaceful and bright in the sunlight.

The only thing there to spoil the beach’s natural state was a fire pit and a couple of folding chairs around it. It was perfect.

I was one of those people who always carried around a lighter even though I didn’t smoke. Twinbrook’s wet, chilly winters had been quick to freeze bike locks, so having fire handy was a habit almost everyone there shared. It had stuck even after we had moved to the sunny and warm Valley. I set the letters onto the firewood and lit them. We sat down and watched the paper curling up and blackening. Something in my chest shifted, like my life wanted to really start moving again. The grief-tar was still on my shoulders, but something had changed.

“You know, I’m still curious about what was in those letters,” Min said, snapping me out of my thoughts.

“Well, they’re gone now.”

“Yeah, I know. I wouldn’t have looked anyway.”

Min smiled at me.

“You did a good thing. I’m sure Sabine’s happy, wherever she is.”

I nodded, not trusting my voice.

“Thanks for letting me be there,” Min added, “Are you okay?”

I nodded again.

“I will be,” I whispered, “I think this was just what I needed.”

“You never know where the closure’s hiding. Where the healing starts, I mean,” Min said, “After my mum died, I… I was so broken until I started wearing mum’s hair accessories. I wore them for months before I finally stopped, and I realised that I felt better. It was… it’s impossible to heal from it, but I think it at least started there.”

She smiled.

“And once it starts, it’ll get easier. At least it did for me.”

I felt so pathetic, then. Here I was being so broken about an old lady I had known for a couple of years, while Min had had to deal with much more devastating losses.

She seemed to sense my thoughts, because she poked me in the shoulder.

“Hey, don’t start comparing losses here! This isn’t a competition. Of course you have the right to grieve!”

I managed to smile.

“Thanks, Min. You’re awesome.”

We left the fire to fade and got up. I knew we should be going home before our folks got too worried. Before we left, Min hugged me, and I hugged her back. In that moment, I felt my life getting unstuck again. The pain remained, but I knew it would get easier. And I could believe that – wherever she was – Sabine really was happy.

Author’s Note: So I thought that I’d have plenty of time to write SimLit during Easter Break. Ha. Funny. Yeah, no. I’ve been super busy and I feel like all my schoolwork is again crashing down on me. But at some point I had to take a little break from working so I wouldn’t go insane and wrote a bit. Or in this story’s case, edited an already written chapter. So it’s something, at least.

I hope you guys enjoy and have a lovely spring!

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Chapter 28: Smiles and Tears

I was afraid that we were losing Rem again. He was probably spiralling back towards depression, and we all knew that it was mostly because his mind was in so much turmoil over our complicated family situation. Our parents felt awful about it, I knew, but they also didn’t want to risk letting Rem go back. They didn’t even seem to want to try mending fences with the fairies. Or then they wanted to, but didn’t know how to go about it.

Alvar and Kielo had visited only once after the argument. The visit was brief and tense, with a lot of clipped words and strained smiles. When they left, Alvar was nearly in tears and Rem locked himself in his room. Patrick looked devastated and mum tried her best to support him even as she too fought tears. Merrill was left among depressed and confused people, his eyes wide and going from one person to another until Patrick finally took him in his arms and hugged him tight. We didn’t even try to pretend that things were okay. None of us really knew what to do.

I lay in my bed that night, awake even as the clock struck four a.m. It was going to be a school day tomorrow, and I knew I’d be a zombie if I didn’t get any sleep. But my mind was too full of thoughts and problems to fall asleep. Sometimes I got up to write, but even that didn’t make me feel better. We were a mess. Again. Why couldn’t our lives ever stay fixed?

Maybe that was just how lives went; ups and downs and all that. Some had more downs than ups. I tried to figure out if we were just always going downhill or if we had enough happiness to balance it out. Maybe we did. But that was again one of those moments when I found it hard to see anything in a positive light. Maybe even us staying together as a family and loving each other was bad because that just made us feel like we always had too much to lose.

No, I decided then and would always decide. Us being a family couldn’t be a mistake. Loving and caring for others had to have something good in it. Always. Even when it backfired.

We just had to figure this out. We had to decide whether we could trust the fair folk or not. And we needed to decide what to do about Donna. She had suffered a lot and probably deserved none of it. Sure, she had acted horribly towards Rem back when we’d gone to see her, but I could understand her lashing out. I wasn’t a mum, but I could imagine that being one and then losing one’s child and no one doing anything about it was so awful that I didn’t even have the words for it. And I had a feeling that Donna had even less words for her pain; it was too close and too horrible.

I curled up in my bed, staring at the slivers of starlight that speared my window. The night was too beautiful for depression, I decided, and then frowned at the patch of night sky I could see. Why couldn’t the night be more fitting for the mood? It was an incredibly childish thought, I knew. But sometimes being childish and thinking silly thoughts was all I could do.

I dragged myself over to Sabine’s place the next day after school even though I – just as I’d predicted – felt like a zombie. We made some salad together and I managed to eat it even though I didn’t feel like eating. The salad was tasty and fresh, but it slid down my zombified throat like papier-mâché.

“Well, what’s the matter?” Sabine asked when we had sat down in her living room after dinner, “You look like your gears got stuck.”

I blinked.

“What?”

“Like you have too many things on your mind. Things that don’t fit together.”

I raised a brow.

“Wow. That’s a pretty good way to describe it,” I sighed, “I didn’t get much sleep. Family issues.”

“Ah,” Sabine nodded, “Those usually cut the deepest.”

There was a faraway look in her eyes, and I knew she was thinking about her own family issues. About Félix.

“What would you do if a group of people you want as a part of your family kept doing things that made you question whether they can be trusted or not?” I asked, trying to be vague or at least sound like I wasn’t talking about magical things.

Sabine frowned.

“I think trust is very important. Why would you want untrustworthy people in your family? Are they related by blood?”

“Sort of,” I said, “And they’ve been really helpful and I know they want us to be family too. And thanks to them my brother is dealing with his life much better. But… it’s… complicated.”

“Family matters often are,” Sabine said, “These things these people have done… are they very bad?”

I wanted to say yes. Because they were. But on the other hand, the ones who had made the worst mistakes had been Taru and Villia, and they were both dead. And Kielo… she had wiped Donna’s memories, yes, but I could actually believe that she had done so in self-defence. But the threat of them again doing something harmful was still there. I had come to realise that the stories about the weird morality of fairies had quite a bit of truth in them. Sure, they didn’t seem quite as twisted or fey as the fair folk in a lot of the stories, but there was still something… off about them. I hated thinking like that. It made me feel prejudiced. But the fair folk had sort of brought our doubts upon themselves by doing such awful and stupid things.

“I don’t know,” I finally said, “They’ve mostly just kept things from us. And told lies. But then again, they’ve also been protecting themselves because they’re a bit afraid. And I don’t want to disrespect that, but I also don’t want our family to get in trouble or broken.”

I shook my head.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to dump this all on you.”

“I don’t mind you sharing your worries,” Sabine said, “I feel like I’ve been dumping my fair share of worries on you too.”

She smiled.

“Well, you may not think I’ve said that much, but compared to decades of keeping everything to myself, it’s a lot. As for your problem, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have any readymade answers for you.”

“It’s okay,” I said quickly.

Sabine smiled, the wrinkles at the corners of her eyes and mouth making her face look surprisingly more alive.

“But I can tell you this: if you ever get a feeling that you will regret deciding something, then you should think very hard before you actually decide. And problems usually don’t go away unless you try to solve them. Even if it requires facing things and people that are painful.”

Her smiled became sad and almost bitter.

“I wish I’d have taken that advice so many years ago. Now it’s too late.”

I nodded silently. I didn’t really know what to say.

“So how’s the rest of your family taking this all?” Sabine asked.

“Not that well,” I said, “Rem’s especially pretty depressed. And my mum and dad are also… conflicted. We’re all torn.”

“Then I’d say you should figure things out,” Sabine said. She was sometimes so blunt that she sounded rude, but I really appreciated her direct comments. At least with her I didn’t need to dig out the true meaning behind her words.

“I know,” I said, “Thanks, Sabine.”

“You’re welcome. Giving a bit of advice is the least I can do when you waste all this time helping me.”

“It’s not wasting time if I like it,” I said for the nth time. Sabine let out a short, dry laugh.

“Maybe we shouldn’t start this old argument again.”

I nodded and we fell into a comfortable silence. I let my mind wander and looked out the windows. Spring was already here. It was always so fast in Sunset Valley. Something akin to winter shifting to blooming flowers in the blink of an eye.

“It’s really nice outside,” I said.

“Yes, it is.”

“When was the last time you got out of here?” I had to ask, “Other than to buy groceries?”

Sabine shrugged.

“I don’t remember.”

She looked at me with narrowed eyes.

“What? Are you planning on dragging an old woman out there into the world? Like that would somehow solve something?”

I looked out the window again.

“No. I’m not that idealistic,” I said, “But I might still drag you out someday. Because it would be fun for you too. A little change of pace.”

Sabine smiled and shook her head.

“I’m too old for changes of pace.”

“No one’s too old for that.”

“You just said you’re not that idealistic,” Sabine almost laughed, “Well, I’ll think about it.”

Even though Sabine’s words or almost-smile didn’t make my or my family’s problems disappear, they did make me feel a little better.


I think I managed to keep my mood pretty good for the next few days, by focusing on school and friends and sometimes talking with mum.

At the moment mum was the most level-headed of us about this matter. She was worried and maybe even scared, sure, but she wasn’t as livid as Patrick seemed to be, or as depressed as Rem.

“We just need some time to think,” she kept saying, “But we’re not going to just leave things hanging for too long.”

She glanced towards the yard, where Patrick was tending to his vegetable garden with a very preoccupied look on his face. He didn’t even seem to notice that it was raining.

“I really hope we can get this settled. Patrick wants Alvar to visit again. But it’s… complicated.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Tell me about it.”

Mum smiled.

“You know, I’ve been thinking that maybe we should try to invite them over. To talk to them.”

She frowned a bit.

“And I’ve been thinking about Donna as well… I don’t know her, and from what I’ve heard, she has done and said some unpleasant things to Patrick and Rem. But I understand her a little bit. One’s children being taken… it’s like being ripped apart.”

I nodded silently.

“I’ve been contemplating on calling her after all,” mum said, “Or letting Patrick call her. Maybe it’ll be a disaster, but I do think she deserves to know.”

“Yeah, maybe,” I said, “But Donna was… I can believe she lashed out at Kielo. I… the fair folk may be ambiguous, but I think that a lot of them are trying.”

Mum sighed.

“I think so too. In this world… it’s sometimes difficult to do the right thing.”

She was definitely right about that.


The night after my conversation with mum, I woke up to muffled, distressed noises coming from Rem and Mer’s room. I fumbled for my cell phone in the dark and checked the time. Too early. Way too early. I buried my head into the pillow, but the noises continued. It was like Rem was shouting in fear or pain but trying not to be too loud.

Oh, hell.

Was he having Boogeyman nightmares again? I hoped not. That would probably mean that our lives weren’t getting easier any time soon.

I got up from the bed and walked across the eerily silent corridor to the boys’ room. I cracked the door open and my eyes immediately fell on Rem. He had thrown off in his covers and was tossing and turning in his sleep. His face was twisted up into a grimace and he was muttering unintelligible words and occasionally almost shouting. His hands clutched his pillow almost convulsively.

I sighed. I glanced at Mer, who was sleeping soundly and didn’t seem to be disturbed by his brother’s nightmares. Well, at least that meant that Rem really had got better at keeping some of his powers in check; he kept his dreams to himself now. I sneaked across the room and let my hand hover over Rem’s shoulder. Man, this was awkward. I’d never been natural about shaking people awake.

“Rem?” I whispered, “Rem? Wake up. It’s just a dream.”

No effect. I pressed my mouth into a thin line and then grabbed my brother’s hand and shook him.

All of a sudden we were in a white, empty room that had been decorated by a painter who was really into abstract expressionism. I squeezed my eyes shut so that I wouldn’t scream and wake the others. Rem’s eyes snapped open, and for a moment I could’ve sworn his pupils were gone again. Dark shadows surrounded us, and we both held our breath.

Then Rem finally relaxed, and we were back in Rem and Merrill’s room.

I let go of the hand I had been clutching and slumped onto the floor. Somewhere near me, Rem was breathing heavily, almost choking on air.

It took us several moments to calm down.

I couldn’t believe Merrill was still fast asleep right next to us.

“Wh-what the hell was that?” I finally managed to choke out. I looked up at Rem, whose haunted eyes almost glowed in the dark.

“I…” Rem said quietly, “I don’t know. Vision? They haven’t been this strong since…”

He sighed.

“They pretty much stopped after I started training with Lumi.”

A headache was building up behind my eyeballs. I leaned my back against the ladder of Rem’s bunk bed.

“We really have to take care of this all,” I said, “Maybe your powers are going haywire again when no one’s teaching you. Maybe even because you’re so messed up about that whole argument with the… your other family.”

Rem tucked his knees under his chin, hugging his legs and looking miserable.

“Maybe,” he whispered, “I’m sorry I woke you. And freaked you out.”

“Meh, I’m used to your weirdness.”

Rem managed to almost smile.

“Thanks. And thanks for waking me up.”

“Could you make any sense about your nightmare?”

Rem shrugged.

“Not really. I was just really scared. And I smelled antiseptic. Or dreamed I smelled that. It could’ve also been a flashback of the hospital from after I got shot. Maybe it wasn’t a vision at all.”

“I think I saw shadows when I was pulled into it,” I said, “Didn’t that mean death?”

Rem nodded.

“Yeah. But my visions have all been tangled together lately. I’m trying to sort them out. It’s like… when I get upset, they get more confusing. And now that I know where I come from… the confusion isn’t so… I don’t know…”

“Focused on one thing?” I suggested.

“Yeah.”

I ran a hand over my face. I was suddenly sleepy again. The white room and darkness flashed on my retinas, and I shook my head.

“Can you get back to sleep?” I asked, “Because that would be awesome. It’s way too early to be awake.”

“I can try. Thanks again, Lynn.”

“No problem.”

When I crashed back into my bed, I was worried for a moment that I wouldn’t be able to sleep that night. But I think I was out pretty quickly after settling back under the covers. My dreams were restless and sketchy and had a dark figure stalking someone. I didn’t know whom.

I figured it was Rem’s influence making me see things again. It was worrying and annoying, but I was fairly sure it would pass. It had passed in a few days before. I was prepared for about a week of weird visions at the corner of my eye now that Rem was older and probably more powerful.

I could handle it. A few dark shadows and maybe a messed up dream or two were nothing at this point.

What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was seeing Sabine two days later.

Sure, visiting her had been planned and there was nothing odd about that. I had agreed to help her clean the house again, and she was expecting me after school. I threw my backpack over my shoulder after a rather long school day and was glad I didn’t have homework for tomorrow. I could take my time at Sabine’s place. Clean up the place and maybe have some Sim Cola and a chat with Sabine. I rang the doorbell, and Sabine opened the door.

There was a shadow person standing behind her.

I almost screamed, but then I remembered Rem and the aftereffects of him pulling me into his vision. Sabine frowned.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

I quickly shook my head and smiled. The smile was probably fake as hell but it was the best I could do at the moment.

“Nothing. I just thought I saw something… weird.”

“It’s just my face,” Sabine said, and I had to laugh. I blinked furiously while I laughed, and the dark shadow flickered in and out of existence until I was convinced it wasn’t there. Sabine let me in and I started cleaning. I pretended I scrubbed the shadows out too.

I again thought about Sabine’s fading health and Rem’s ominous words about her and the darkness. Now I saw it too. But Rem had told me he’d just seen sparks on darkness before. Maybe she had got worse. Or maybe I was losing it, overthinking things that could have been just random afterimages that meant nothing. I thought about what Rem had said about the shadows referring to death. To a goddess named Tuonetar, as the fairies called her.

I stayed with Sabine until it was getting dark and Sabine finally ushered me out.

“Your parents will get worried if you get stuck here for too long,” she said.

I stopped at the front door and hesitated for a moment before I said.

“Sabine, are you okay?”

Sabine sighed.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Yes! I am!”

“Right. Sorry.”

I bit my lip.

“Well, um… bye, then. I’ll see you later.”

“Sure.”

When I got home, I almost expected mum to ask where I’d been. I usually didn’t stay at Sabine’s for this long. But mum was talking on the phone and didn’t seem too worried about me.

She just waved her hand when I got inside and nodded at the phone to indicate she couldn’t talk. Then she turned her focus back to whoever was on the other end of the call.

“Yes. That would be great. I’ll see you later.”

She put the phone away. I had made it to the stairs, but mum called me back.

“Lynn.”

I turned. I had celebrated too soon.

“I was at Sabine’s,” I said, “I helped her clean her house.”

“Yeah, you told me you’d go to her after school,” mum said, “That’s not what I wanted to talk about. I just called Kielo.”

I raised a brow.

“Really? Their phone still works?”

“Apparently.”

“Huh, I could have bet that Kielo had taken it apart out of curiosity ages ago. So… what did you say to her?”

“I asked her and Alvar to come visit us again,” mum said, “To talk. They agreed to come in about two weeks. Apparently spring is busy for them… I think they’re maybe avoiding this whole thing too, but at least they didn’t completely say no to talking.”

“Oh. That’s good. Rem’s really messed up because of this.”

“He is,” mum nodded, “And Patrick isn’t doing so well either. He cries sometimes. Cries. That’s not right.”

It definitely wasn’t.

“Do Rem or Patrick know?” I asked.

“Patrick is at a parent-teacher conference. I’ll tell him when he gets back. Rem knows. He’s upstairs, doing homework, I think.”

“Okay,” I smiled, “Let’s hope this goes well.”

Mum nodded.

“However it goes, it’s better than doing nothing.”

“Definitely.”

Maybe things would get better again. Maybe. I hoped so.


I decided that I should do something to make things better too. Our family’s problems felt like something I couldn’t fix on my own, so I turned my attention to Sabine. Sure, I couldn’t fix her problems either, and she didn’t even seem to want my help about some things, but I wanted to do something that would maybe make her less… shadowy. I had asked Rem about Sabine and shadows and he had said that Sabine was indeed sick, but that she was also not doing a whole lot of living either.

“That whole house feels dead,” he said, “Maybe she’s been there for too long so the shadows are even worse than they’d be if she just went out a bit more. Maybe then Tuonetar would leave her alone.”

I wished he’d stop talking about death like it was an actual person. Soon I’d be imagining that too. Then I thought about Sabine for a moment and I had to agree with her house feeling dead.

Sabine’s garden may have looked much neater now, and the house was lovelier inside than it looked from the outside, but it was still a very quiet and sad home. It was beautiful too, but beautiful like frozen, dead flowers were.

I figured it was time to make a plan.

After some contemplation and spending some of my hard-earned cash, my plan was ready and I made my way to Sabine’s house dressed in somewhat presentable clothes. Telling mum about my plan had had the benefit of mum being all too happy to pitch in, so I could afford a really nice-looking vest that went well together with my black, ruffled skirt. I rang Sabine’s doorbell, and she answered quickly enough.

Bonsoir,” I greeted.

“Well, don’t you look fancy,” Sabine replied, “I like the vest.”

“Thanks!” I beamed at her, “You should get dressed up too, because I’ve got tickets to Sunset Valley’s symphony orchestra’s concert.”

Sabine looked at me as if I’d spontaneously sprouted deer horns.

“What?”

I took the tickets out of my skirt’s hidden pocket and waved them at her.

“I’m going to get you out of the house. Idealism or not, the weather’s awesome and you like classical music. I think today they’re actually also playing songs from some film soundtracks.”

Sabine stared at me blankly. All my previous confidence and enthusiasm about my plan started to fade away. I was suddenly sure that Sabine would say no. That she didn’t even want out of her shadow house and her memories. Her safe bubble where people didn’t think of her as a witch.

But then, after a moment of silence, she actually smiled.

“Oh, okay then. Let me go change into something fancier than these old rags.”

I almost let out a whoop of victory, but felt that would have been a bit too uncool.

Around five o’clock we were standing in front of the city hall, where the concert hall was also located. I’d always thought it was a neat way to give a nicer image to a usually very dull building filled with offices and bureaucracy. I smiled at Sabine, who looked much less dead and much more… well, radiant in an old formal dress and with her hair up even more neatly than usually. She was leaning quite heavily on her cane, but she managed to keep her back almost straight. She looked up at the city hall and then shook her head.

“Well, I guess we should go in, then. I can’t believe you talked me into this.”

“You’ll love it,” I assured her, feeling the confidence returning. I helped Sabine up the stairs and we walked into the world of light and music.

Sabine had liked it. I’d sneaked glances at her face during the concert, and her slightly bitter, tough exterior had melted away into smiles. She had closed her eyes at several points, her fingers quietly following some of the melodies as if she was playing some invisible instrument. I was so happy that I almost forgot to follow the concert. But it was good. I wasn’t usually that into symphony orchestras, but I liked good music and seeing people who were skilled at something using their skills. So it was definitely something I could get behind. And Sabine’s excitement kind of got me enthusiastic about it all too. So when the last notes were played, I wanted more.

We walked outside and ended up sitting at a fountain in the central park that was situated across from the city hall. Sabine took several deep breaths as if she had forgotten what fresh air smelled like. She smiled at me.

“Well, you were right,” she said, “It was a very nice change to the old routines.”

“I thought so,” I said.

“I hope you didn’t waste too much money on this. Those tickets aren’t cheap.”

“Hey, it’s my money. I earned it and I do what I want with it.”

Sabine sighed. She stood up and turned her back on me, walked up to one of the small ponds in the park, again breathing in deep.

I followed her to a skinny tree and heard frogs croaking drowsily somewhere near the lily pads in the pond. It was one of those perfectly picturesque Sunset Valley spring nights. The sun had set, but its warm, pink traces were still in the air. Spring flowers smelled sweet and were shining even in the falling dark. A cold breeze ruffled the grass and would have been a bit more pleasant if I’d remembered to pack some kind of jacket. My sleeveless top and vest weren’t doing anything against the cooling night.

But I didn’t care much about the cold at that moment. I was more worried about what I’d said wrong to Sabine now. She seemed tense, leaning to her cane and looking very fragile again despite her elegant clothes and proud air. A queen of a forgotten kingdom, who had spent too much time locked up in a tower.

“Thank you,” Sabine finally said, “For arranging all this. And I’m sorry that I haven’t been very appreciative of everything you’ve done for me.”

I didn’t say anything. I think Sabine knew that I knew that she really did appreciate what I did. And it wasn’t like I was just being altruistic; Sabine was a friend I liked spending time with.

“It’s just… confusing,” Sabine went on, looking into the distance, “To have someone who cares again. I don’t think I’ve had friends in years. Everyone else is already gone.”

“I’m sorry,” I said.

“Oh, don’t be. That’s the natural way of life. We’re here for a while, and then we go… Some too early, and some maybe too late.”

She looked at me and smiled, and it was like years had vanished from her face in that moment.

“But really, Lynn. Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Sabine’s smile lingered in the night even as we started walking back to my car and towards our homes.

I convinced myself then that everything would be alright. Kielo and Alvar would visit soon, and we could talk things through. That would hopefully make Rem and Patrick and everyone happier again. And it would make our family feel less tangled. I visited Sabine and spent some time with my other friends too, and school days went by as we waited for more pieces to fall into place.

It was all going to be alright, I dared to say.

And that was of course when the lingering shadows in my mind made my alarm bells ring one evening.

I couldn’t explain it. I got a bad feeling soon after school and dropped my homework and went to Rem’s room.

“Rem? You know that thing you do that makes you have premonitions?”

“Of course,” Rem said.

“I think the bit you accidentally transferred into me is acting up. I think something’s wrong.”

Rem looked at me with wide eyes.

“With Sabine?” he asked, “You’ve been worried about her, right?”

Pieces did fall into place, then. But not in the way I wanted.

“Oh, shit,” I said, “I have to go.”

I spun around and ran to our car and then sped towards Sabine’s home. As I drove, rain started ominously drumming against the car roof. I had no idea what I was doing, but I knew I had to be there. I thought about the shadows and cursed them in my mind. Sabine was more alive now. She had to be alright! She had to.

I parked the car clumsily when I reached Sabine’s waterlogged house and ran to the front door. No one answered when I rang the doorbell or knocked, and that made me worried. Sabine was never out of the house alone.

She had given me the keys to her place about a year ago, when I’d started helping her more and more. I fumbled with them for a moment before I got the door open with shaky hands.

“Sabine?” I said as soon as I stepped inside, “Are you okay?”

The house was silent except for the TV, where a cheesy cooking show was in full swing. I almost had time to think that I’d been silly and that Sabine was probably just taking a nap.

And that was when I saw her.

She hadn’t even been in good enough condition to change out of her nightgown or put her hair up. It was so weird to see her so… ungroomed. Or it would have been if I hadn’t been too preoccupied with the fact that she was lying face-down on the floor.

“Sabine!”

I froze for a mind-numbing second before I got my body to move. I crouched down next to Sabine’s unmoving form and shook her. She was probably having some kind of stroke. She was still breathing, but her limbs were stiff and her eyes were unfocused.

“Sabine? Sabine? Sabine!”

I realised I was just repeating her name like a mantra, like it would somehow help anything. I mentally shook myself.

Stupid! She needs an ambulance!

I scrambled back to my feet and called the emergency number. My voice was shaking and I was probably whining hysterically for most of the call – I don’t really remember. But the voice on the other end was calm and knew what they were doing, so they must have got the right answers out of me.

“The ambulance will be there shortly. Can you wait there with her?”

“Of course!” I almost shouted, “I’m not going anywhere. Just hurry, please!”

“We will, of course. Thank you for your help. You can now hang up.”

I stared at Sabine’s slack face when I ended the call. Apparently there wasn’t much I could do. Sabine was already on her side, so I just adjusted her a bit so that she was able to breathe for sure. Then I backed against the front door of the small house and slid down. I hugged my knees and tried to take deep breaths.

“It’s okay, Sabine,” I said to her, or maybe more to myself, “Help is on its way. You’ll be on your feet in no time. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”

I pressed my back against the door and tried to listen to the sirens that were no doubt on their way.

You’ll be okay. You have to be.

The calm voice on the phone had told me it would take a few minutes for the ambulance to get there. To me, it felt like eternities. The clock on the wall kept ticking, and Sabine kept breathing too slowly. The seconds seemed to stretch on forever. Shadows were gathering around me again, shaping themselves into people.

Get out, shadows! You’re so not wanted here!

They were the last thing I wanted to see. The echoes of Rem’s power had helped me get to Sabine in time, and that was awesome, but right now I didn’t want to see anything I didn’t need to. All I wanted to see was help arriving right on time.

“It’s fine… it’s just fine…” I whispered to myself, “You’ll be fine, Sabine. You’ll be-“

The shadows moved and solidified.

All of a sudden I realised I was looking at a pair of mismatched trainers and long, skinny legs. The legs were walking towards Sabine. I blinked.

…the hell?

I looked up and saw a woman. She definitely didn’t look like a paramedic.

Besides, the sirens were still in the distance. I could already hear them, but they were still on their way.

“Hey!” I managed to shout, “What the hell are you doing here?”

The woman halted and turned to look at me. My breath caught in my throat when my eyes fell on her pretty but somehow not-quite-right face and her too pale, moonlit eyes.

“Well, this is unexpected,” she said, her voice coming from somewhere far away.

I would have screamed, but I was too scared, too paralyzed to do anything for a moment.

I knew who she was.

“Please, don’t-“ I choked out, but the woman shook her head and turned back towards Sabine.

Then she was gone.

I never did figure out if she had been real. If I’d just been seeing things in my panic or if it was Rem’s powers letting me see what was normally hidden. At that moment, I was sure I’d been imagining her.

But then I forgot all about her for a long while, because I realised that Sabine had stopped breathing.

I had to get away. Nausea and terror and panic drove out all coherent thoughts, and before I knew it I was running.

I didn’t make it farther than the porch. My legs failed me, collapsed like a cheap folding chair. The sirens were closer now, but I already knew they were too late.

I started sobbing uncontrollably.

Author’s Note: I’m sorry guys! It took me way too long to get this out! I’ve been spinning this chapter around and around in my head and trying to make it work because… well, death. It’s tricky and heavy to write. And when I finally started writing this chapter, I was suddenly swarmed by so much schoolwork and other stuff that I barely had any time or energy to really sit down and finish this. So I’ve had to sit on this for days so I can edit it little by little. But it’s here now. It’s done. And I’m super tired.

So yeah… um… well, I hope you enjoyed even though there’s character death. And even though I may not be at my best because I’m really worn out because of all the stress and work. Maybe things’ll get a bit less busy soon. I hope.

Also yes, Tuonetar who may or may not have been there might prove that this story happens in a universe that’s not exactly the same as my Tango -universe, but somewhat close to it? I do think it’s a different universe, because the magic rules are different and there’s not as many supernaturals. Also no, she was totally not needed there but this whole scene was stuck in my head like this for so long that I had to keep it this way.

I’ll see you later and try to get some updates done when I have time and energy. Thanks for your patience, people!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Clash

NEXT Chapter: Grief and Closure

Chapter 27: Clash

Despite the metaphorical keys of life now being in my metaphorical pocket, little changed at first. That was alright, though. I was mostly content with what I had at the moment. I called my friends in Twinbrook regularly, I went to school and met my local friends there. I read and wrote and ran and worked for Sabine, who was again her own, closed-off self. I started cooking for her sometimes. Her fingers had got clumsier with knives, even though they could still glide through contrabass and guitar strings and probably piano keys too without a problem. She complimented me on my average-at-best cooking skills and sometimes gave me tips on how to use spices better or how to make the best fried rice ever.

I tried not to ask about her condition, even as the spring went on and she kept looking frail. I knew she didn’t want me to. Heck, she even kept saying that out loud to me.

“It’s not the job of the young ones to fret about the old,” she said for the millionth time.

I didn’t know what I could’ve said to that that wouldn’t just make her irritated. So once I just asked:

“Could you teach me a few words of French?” instead.

She smiled really brightly then. After that, I started to learn French. Mostly because I could see how happy talking about her roots made Sabine. It was interesting too. I liked it.

When the grass was turning green and the leaves slowly started to show signs of budding on trees again despite the air still being rather chilly for Sunset Valley, Sabine seemed to become more energised. She could go for longer walks again, though still only with her walking stick. She didn’t seem to need so many naps, and she was more talkative again.

The change was more than welcome, and for a while I was happy to stop worrying about her and focus on other things. Like studies and life and our family. But there was still a small voice inside my head that kept reminding me that something was indeed wrong with Sabine. The worry popped into my head at random, when I was reading or cooking or being alone, when I was just relaxed enough to let my mind wander. I tried my best to stop it, to find distractions. At least sometimes it was easy. Like whenever Alvar and Kielo visited again.

They wanted Rem to leave with them again, but they were nice enough to stop for tea and a chat. I saw that Patrick was trying his best to be natural, even though I knew he was still bothered by the whole mess our family was in. By what Rem had said to him about the fair folk maybe wanting Rem away from us.

“So, what do you think will be in store for our son this time?” he asked amicably, but I noticed the way he stressed the “our son” -part. If Kielo noticed it too, she didn’t show it.

“I don’t know the specifics,” she said, “Something about more accurate visions, I think. That’s what Lumi said anyway.”

“I’ll go with him this time,” said Patrick. Kielo frowned.

“I uh… I don’t know if that’s…”

“Why not?” Patrick said sharply.

“I mean…” Kielo stammered, “Oh, sure. You can come. Of course you can.”

Mum frowned.

“Why would it be a problem?” she asked. Kielo shook her head and looked really awkward.

“It’s just… we don’t like outsiders in our place. You know that. But you… I mean, you guys are fine.”

She looked at me.

“How about the rest of you?”

I was about to say no thanks, but then I thought about magic and my lingering worries of Sabine, and about our family, and then I nodded.

“Okay.”

Mum hesitated, but then decided not to protest and instead put a slightly forced smile on her face.

“Alright. Looks like Mer and I will keep the house standing. But do come back soon.”

Kielo smiled.

“We’ll return them all again in time.”

Mum nodded. There was unusual hardness in her eyes. The kind that said “you’d better”. Kielo definitely noticed that. Alvar laughed nervously.

“Well, this is nice,” he said, “We should definitely come here more often.”

I glanced at him warningly. He didn’t look back.

We left for Twinbrook in the next bus, and the ride was tenser than it should have been. There wasn’t much small talk, which was usually fine by me, but this time the silence felt uncomfortable.

At least I wasn’t worrying about Sabine now. And as soon as I thought about that, I started to worry about her again. Of course. I turned to Kielo, who was staring out the window.

“Hey?” I said, “Can I ask you something? I was wondering how you guys heal when you get hurt or sick.”

“Sure,” Kielo said, “It’s not that different from you guys. Just less chemicals and more herbs. And we’re usually more resistant to diseases. Usually, but we have our limits, as you know.”

She looked around us, at the sleepy and bored passengers.

“Maybe we should talk about this later, though,” she said.

The silence returned.

It took us a few hours to get to the fairy forest again. At least now I roughly knew where it was, so the way didn’t feel endless.

The place looked the same as before. There was barely any snow, even though it still stubbornly lingered in Twinbrook. The fairy lights kept the place lit up with their airy glow, and the tree trunk/honey comb houses stretched towards the sky. Patrick looked around in wonder, as he had the previous time he had visited. I couldn’t help a feeling of wonder creeping in either. I wasn’t sure if it was my own feeling or if there was something in the air.

The little fairy kids, Kuura and Halla, came to greet us and wanted to show us their new treehouse. Patrick’s tense expression softened, and he said yes.

“Meanwhile, I’ll go take Rem to Lumi,” Kielo said, “Alvar, you can take care of them, right?”

“Sure,” said Alvar, “C’mon, da- I mean, Patrick, and Lynn.”

“Wait,” said Patrick, turning away from the kids, “Can we see Rem’s lessons?”

Kielo frowned.

“I’ll have to ask Lumi. She usually wants no distractions.”

“It’s fine, dad,” Rem said, “It’s mostly boring to watch. I just meditate and sometimes try to do some magic. And even the magic part isn’t that formidable.”

“I still want to be a part of this, son,” Patrick said, and Rem sighed.

“Okay. Kielo, go ask Lumi. I’ll… I’ll wait here with the others.”

Kielo looked at Patrick for a long while, but then she turned and disappeared among the curly trees and the flower bushes.

Kuura  grabbed my hand.

“Hey, Lynn! It’s great that you’re here!” she chirped, “You wanna see the treehouse? Alvar built it for us!”

“Okay, okay,” I said, “But we have to wait for Kielo first.”

“Nah, Aunt Kielo will find us,” Alvar shrugged, “It’s fine.”

“Oh… well, if you say so.”

Kuura and Halla led us to a large tree where there indeed sat a pretty treehouse. Patrick looked up at it and I saw pride in his eyes when he glanced at Alvar.

“You built this by yourself?”

Alvar shuffled his feet.

“Yeah. Well, most of it. Kuura and Halla and Marras – she’s at her herbalism lesson right now, I think – helped a bit. And Aunt Kielo too. Hey, check this out! This is the coolest thing here!”

He circled around the tree and showed us a heap of junk that actually looked a lot like…

“Wow,” said Rem, “Is that a real radio station?”

“Yup,” Alvar said, “Aunt Kielo found some antennas and started putting this together. She’s been sneaking around among humans a lot to figure out what to do.”

“Is it going to play any stations?” I asked and gave the dials a few experimental twists.

“Probably not really. It could be risky. We know a little bit about radio waves, and Aunt Kielo is worried that someone could track them here.”

He smiled.

“But it looks nice, and as long as she could get it working, it’s enough. Right?”

“We can even play with it!” said Halla, whose head was poking out of one of the treehouse’s windows, “It’s great!”

“Yeah, it sure looks like it!” said Rem, excitement shining in his eyes.

I fiddled with the buttons for a moment longer, but the radio station stayed quiet. Still, it was excitingly surreal to see such a large piece of our technology here in the depths of the technologically very backwards fairy forest.

“Oh, you already showed that,” said Kielo, startling almost all of us by appearing from some of the bushes. She looked at Patrick and then at Rem, smiling. I saw some sort of relief in her eyes and guessed that she hadn’t got herself into trouble by bringing Patrick here.

“Lumi said you can accompany Rem to his lesson,” she said.

“Thank you,” said Patrick. I could see that he was nervous. His shoulders tensed, something they almost never did.

Kielo glanced at me.

“I have to ask Alvar to take care of you, Lynn,” she said and then turned to Alvar, “She was curious about our healthcare. Maybe you can teach her the basics.”

Alvar nodded.

“Sure! I’m sure we’ll be fine!”

Kielo smiled at him and then escorted Rem and Patrick back towards the village centre. Alvar stretched his arms and then put his hands to his hips.

“So, healing, huh? It’s not all that special, really.”

“I’d still like to see what you guys do,” I said. I didn’t know what use it would be for me or Sabine. Because as much as I liked to pretend that I’d let Sabine take care of her own possible illnesses because she so insisted, I still wanted to do something about it. Alvar shrugged.

“Okay. Well, we’d best get to it, then.”

He circled around the tree where Kuura and Halla were playing and looked up, shading his eyes with his hand.

“Hey, Halla! Kuura! You want to go with me and Lynn to check out our gold fruit trees?”

His only response was a muffled giggle, some whispering, and then…

…a bucket of water that was dumped on him. Alvar shrieked and jumped like he’d been assaulted by a swarm of ants.

“HEY!

I clapped my hand over my mouth, mostly to stifle the mix of a shout and laughter that threatened to escape. Alvar wiped his face and then glared at the treehouse.

“Oh yeah, very funny. Ha ha. Okay, fine, I’ll go with Lynn alone, then! You two play nice while I’m gone!”

“We will!” Kuura and Halla said in unison, and Alvar shook his head and rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, right. Come on, Lynn.”

He led me along the river and talked like a tour guide at some kind of health museum while we walked:

“The fair folk is naturally resilient to many illnesses, but sometimes some viruses can strike them really badly. We have our own healers – led by a shaman – who take care of the sick and injured. So I guess it’s kind of like what you guys have. Just with less… sterile white rooms.”

He stopped at one of the particularly large trees. He pointed upwards at its magenta leaves and golden fruit.

“That’s gold fruit. It’s a real superfood. It’s used both in our food and as an ingredient in most of our medicine. It’s really effective with healing most of the fair folk’s ailments. The fair folk used to search for sites where this tree grew and usually built their villages around them. Nowadays they’re more focused on hiding, so they carry some saplings to the appropriate site.”

“Does that miracle fruit heal just fairies?” I asked.

“It’s less effective on humans,” Alvar said, “But we also have our own versions of antibiotics and stuff nowadays.”

“How do they treat you?”

“Pretty much like another fairy,” Alvar said and then paused before adding, “Well, I think our scouts have stolen some medical books from humans after I came here.”

I looked up at the tree.

“So it’s not like in the stories,” I said, feeling more than a little disappointed, “There’s no magical cures that can fix everything.”

“At least not around here,” Alvar said. He frowned, “Is someone you know sick? Is it one of you guys? Is that why father seems so sad?”

“Oh, no… that’s not it,” I said, “He and Rem have been a bit on edge because they’re afraid that the fairies are gonna steal Rem from us.”

I chuckled nervously, trying my best to act optimistically dumb. I couldn’t keep my smile up for long, though.

“But that’s just… they wouldn’t really do that, right?”

“Actually, they might,” Alvar said, “Not without Rem or his family’s consent, of course. They’ve learned their lesson.”

He frowned again.

“Well, at least I hope so. I’m sure Kielo won’t allow it, at least.”

He sighed.

“I hope this doesn’t get out of hand, though. This whole thing. I just… I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I like you guys. I’m not asking to butt into your lives or anything, but… It’s nice, spending time with you.”

He crossed his arms over his soaked sweater. His shoulders tensed too, and I could tell he was sad.

“I’d like us to be family… or at least something close to it. So that… so that we could keep being honest instead of hiding from everyone.”

“I’d like that too,” I said.

Alvar stood silent for a moment, tense and nervous. Then he spoke very haltingly:

“Can you… can you keep a secret?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Kielo and I went to see my real mum after the… after the incident.”

I frowned.

“I thought you said it’s better you didn’t. That she’d probably flip out – which I totally agree with, by the way.”

“Um… yeah. Well, we did go, and…” Alvar shifted nervously, “She flipped out.”

“Ouch.”

“She almost attacked Kielo,” Alvar went on, “I was afraid she was either going to kill her or have some kind of stroke. So we… Kielo wiped her memories of that evening.”

I stared at him.

“Seriously?”

Alvar nodded.

“Neither of us was happy about it, but it had to be done. To protect us.”

Something cold settled into my stomach. I stared at Alvar’s back and thought about them trying to patch things up with Donna and then just magicking away her memories. Sure, Donna had seem a bit unstable and I could imagine her not listening to reason, but… she was Alvar’s mother and they just mind-wiped her like it was nothing?

“So yeah, I really hope this works out with you guys,” Alvar said.

I shuddered. I wanted to say something, to yell at Alvar and call them out on what they had done, but the words got caught in my lungs.

They were still there when I marched through the village to find Kielo, Patrick and Rem. Lumi was with them, and she looked at me angrily when I stomped into view. Alvar caught up with me, looking very worried.

“Lynn? Wait, I-“

“What did you do to Donna?” I hissed, glaring at Kielo.

Kielo blinked at me and then looked at Alvar with a stern frown on her face. Alvar sighed.

“You said you could keep a secret.”

“Not about this!” I snapped, “You wiped Donna’s memories because your meeting with her didn’t go according to your plan?! I thought you guys had got better than this!”

Kielo shook her head.

“It wasn’t like that, Lynn. It was self-defence. She would have tried to take Alvar away from me. She was this close to attacking me when he said no!”

Patrick stared at me, and then at Kielo with a horrified look on his face. Rem was trying to look everywhere except at the others.

“Kielo… you hurt Donna?” Patrick said very quietly.

“She’s perfectly fine!” Kielo snapped, “She just doesn’t remember me or Alvar visiting her!”

“So you erased her memories of her meeting the son she has been missing all this time?” Patrick raised his voice, “Do you know how hard it was for her? Thinking her son was gone? We thought something had snapped in her, but she…”

His eyes suddenly widened.

“Oh, gods… she was right all this time.”

“Dad…” Rem said in a very small voice, “You couldn’t have known. Even I didn’t know, and I’m supposed to see the future… I’m supposed to be these people.”

“You are not staying here, son,” Patrick said, and then glared at Lumi and Kielo, “Or are you going to erase our memories too?”

“You don’t get it, do you?” Lumi said coldly, her icy eyes darkening, “We have to stay hidden. It’s the only way we can be sure we’re safe. We’ve seen what happens if we go out there. We’re also not going to just let people do whatever they want to us! So we don’t go around mind-wiping people without good reasons. What Kielo did was perfectly acceptable in that situation.”

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“But we’d prefer not to harm anyone,” Kielo cut in before Lumi could continue, “And we don’t want you gone or… forgetting us. Rem is free to choose whatever he wants regarding all this.”

She sent a sharp glance Lumi’s way. Lumi ignored it and kept looking coldly at us.

“How bad would it really be if some people found out?” I had to ask, “I mean, sure, people can be ignorant and stupid and they do lots of bad things, but…”

“So do we?” Lumi guessed, “Was that what you were going to say?”

I bit my lip. Yeah, that had been pretty much it, but they didn’t need to know that.

“Calm down, everyone,” a serene voice spoke from behind me, “What is the meaning of this argument in the middle of such a lovely day?”

I spun around to face the peace-and-love-preaching voice and saw Matriarch Milia, who managed to look majestic wherever she went. She was wearing a long lace gown that looked like plants had decided to grow around her into the shape of a designer dress. Her eyes were still too green.

“We are not here to make enemies out of you or rip families apart,” said the matriarch as if she had been listening in on our argument. To be fair it wasn’t that hard considering the volume of our voices and the small size of the village, “But we also wish that you wouldn’t presume to know our situation enough to start thinking you could arrange our lives better than us.”

She looked at Patrick and smiled again.

“Hello, Mr… Patrick Monsoon-Farley, was it? I hear your son is shaping up to be quite a promising shaman.”

“I… thank you,” Patrick muttered, all his previous fight gone. I suppose forest queens who wore design plants would make any treehugger quite impressed.

“We appreciate you staying quiet about us,” said the matriarch, “We like this place, and we wouldn’t want to leave.”

She looked at Rem.

“And in return, we’re doing our best to help Taru’s… and your son.”

“Dad, Lynn… could we maybe talk about this later?” Rem said, clearly super uncomfortable about the whole thing, “I mean… I was about to go meditate, so…”

“I don’t think this is the best time for that,” Lumi sighed, “Maybe we should call it a day. Just go. All of you.”

She looked at us with narrowed eyes and then pushed past us towards the matriarch’s palace/gazebo. Matriarch Milia shook her head and smiled like an amused mother watching her kids do something endearingly dumb.

“Well, I’m sorry about all this… perhaps it’s indeed better that you come back later.”

“But I…” Rem started, but then sighed, “I’m sorry too.”

Matriarch Milia nodded.

“I’m looking forward to seeing more of your progress. And you all.”

She smiled too sweetly at us.

“You’re all welcome here in the future as well.”

I realised that I could only breathe freely when we were out of the village. Patrick shook his head.

“Wow. That was… much less pleasant than before.”

Rem was fuming, though. He clenched and unclenched his fists and his eyes seemed to go from honey-yellow to almost dark brown. Kielo walked us to the edge of the swamp and didn’t say a word. Her eyes had darkened too. I idly noticed again how similar Rem and Kielo’s eyes were, even though Kielo was now in her fairy form.

Kielo almost didn’t want to leave us, but Rem kept apologising until she apologised too and disappeared into the bushes. Then Rem turned to us.

“Why would you do that?” he asked.

“They just confessed they attacked Donna,” Patrick said defensively, “I don’t know if-“

“Well, I’m not happy about that either!” Rem snapped, “But… I believe them when they said they had no choice. They don’t want to be found and Donna… she wasn’t all right in the head.”

“And why do you think that is?” I had to ask, “Maybe because her baby was stolen.”

Rem blanched, and I knew I shouldn’t have said it. Sometimes I could be the most tactless person ever.

“Rem, I-“

“I never said it was a good thing!” Rem shouted, “I hate what they did, and I hate myself for making that happen!”

Patrick and I had frozen in shock. Rem sighed.

“I know they might want me to stay, no matter what they say, but that’s normal, isn’t it? I mean, I’m one of them too! I just… I want us to stay together, no matter what happens. I don’t want us and them being mad at each other.”

There was an awkward silence, because none of us knew what to say. Patrick reached out with his hand, but Rem stepped back, away from him. The silence grew so much heavier in that one movement.

Finally Rem put his hand to his head and sighed again.

“Let’s go home. My feet are freezing.”

To say that the evening was tense would be an understatement. Patrick and Rem tried their best to explain everything to mum without starting to yell at each other. And when mum heard what had happened, she almost flipped out too. At some point Patrick even contemplated calling Donna and asking if she was alright. And then Rem really did start yelling at him. I sat on a vacant couch with Merrill trying to crawl over my shoulder and tried my best to not get too involved in the argument. I had a feeling that my voice would just make things more cacophonic.

“You can’t call her! We can’t tell her about-“

“She deserves to know!” Patrick snapped before Rem could even finish his sentence.

“Maybe, but I believe the fair folk when they said they had no choice! The damage had already been done ages ago!”

“What would you even say to Donna, Patrick?” mum asked, trying to sound calmer than she was, “It could just make things worse.”

“I… I know, but I can’t just… and what about the fairies? Can we just let them keep doing this? They’ve always been so ambiguous, and now…” Patrick sighed, “I don’t know anymore.”

“They’re family,” Rem said quietly, and I imagined he kept repeating that phrase so that he’d eventually believe it, “And Alvar’s there too. I don’t like this either, but I don’t want us to start fighting without at least trying to understand.”

“And I hope you understand that we worry about you,” mum said, “This whole arrangement has been tricky from the start, and now-“

“I know it’s tricky!”

“I don’t think we should contact them in a while. Or let you stay there until we get this sorted out,” Patrick said.

“WHAT? But I want to learn…!”

Merrill looked at me questioningly.

“Why fight?” he asked, his voice almost shaky, “They never fight!”

I nodded and stood up, lifting Merrill up with me.

“I know, Merry,” I said, “Maybe we should go upstairs for a while. I’ll read to you.”

“But why they fight?”

“They’re just a bit upset right now because of some things that Alvar’s family said,” I tried my best to make it sound like a convincing explanation, “It’ll be fine.”

Merrill stared at me still, eyes wide. Mum glanced at me and nodded as if in thanks. I took Mer upstairs and we found his favourite book and sat down to read. I tried my best to close my ears off from the sounds coming from downstairs and tried to immerse myself in the world of Jimmy Sprocket.

I read until my voice was about to give out and Merrill was getting sleepy. I helped him out of his clothes and into his pyjamas and carried him to bed. The arguing downstairs had finally quieted somewhat.

“See?” I said and tried to smile convincingly, “They stopped arguing. It’s fine.”

Merrill gripped my hand.

“Is someone trying to take Rem away?”

I cursed the whole situation in my mind.

“No, Merry,” I said, “We’ll stay together.”

I hoped I was right.

“They said about forgetting,” Mer said, “I never forget my family.”

“I know. Me neither,” I said, “Don’t worry. We’re safe here.”

For now, it was still okay to lie because the lies weren’t too bad.

“Good night,” I said.

“’Night.”

I walked out of Rem and Mer’s room and saw that mum was waiting for me.

“How was it?” I asked, “I tried to keep Merry occupied.”

“You did great,” mum said and smiled. She looked sad even through the smile, “We agreed to sleep on it and think about it more tomorrow.”

She sighed.

”We can’t really jump to conclusions, but we can’t just let this go either.”

“Yeah,” I said, my voice thick.

Mum spread her arms. I hugged her and could almost feel safe.

“We’ll figure things out,” she said, “And no one’s ever going to break us apart.”

I nodded against her shoulder.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I should have showered and gone to bed hours ago, but I just couldn’t. I knew it would be no use anyway. I didn’t know what to think about any of this. A part of me agreed with Patrick that the fair folk was again doing something too questionable to just let go. And maybe our whole arrangement of trying to keep friendly ties to the people who had ruined several human lives out of selfishness really was stupid to begin with, as I’d sometimes already feared. But I also wanted to let Rem have his biological family, his teachers and the abilities and ties that belonged to him.

So far we had just let the fair folk do as they pleased and keep us on our toes, however. They kept saying that they listened to us and that we were free to do what we wanted, but it didn’t feel that way. If they could just easily wipe our memories with magic whenever they wanted, they could basically take Rem away and make us forget. They were stronger than us if they really wanted to be.

I shuddered at the thought. I thought about all the things we’d been through as a family. To think that all that could be just… wiped away was… I couldn’t even properly think it. It just couldn’t happen.

And I wanted to believe that it wouldn’t. Because a part of me really wanted to trust the fair folk, especially Kielo and Alvar and Kuura and Halla. And yet…

I looked at my computer and thought about all the stories I’d written throughout my life. I thought of the notebooks where I’d written my thoughts and even handled some of the events that had happened to us. They were stories that would never be published; stories hidden in notes and hard drives. If I kept backing them up, they would be there to help my memory for years and years to come. Maybe longer than I lived.

I slowly opened my computer.

I wanted to trust them.

But on the other hand, I wanted to be prepared and feel better about all of this.

So I thought about it for a long while and then started typing:

It all started with the wedding. Or maybe much earlier. Maybe it started when mum met Patrick Monsoon. Or maybe it started when my mum and the dad I have no memory of decided they didn’t want to see each other anymore. Heck, maybe it started when my so-called brother was born – even though I didn’t even know him when that happened and I had no way of knowing he would somehow slink into my life…

It was unpolished and probably not very good. But what did it matter? No one besides me would read it anyway.

Author’s Note: Clumsy meta moment ahoy? Or something like that. Hi guys, it’s been a while. I’ve had a lot of schoolwork and I’ve been working on my other stories. I like to keep this one at a leisurely pace because I feel like I need to digest these chapters in my head a lot before I start writing. So bear with me.

Also did you know I started a new story as well?! It’s an Ambrosia Challenge -story done with The Sims 4 and it’s called Forget-Me-Not! If you haven’t checked it out already, then maybe do that if you’re interested. There will be ghosts and revenge and all sorts of stuff going on there! I’ll try to keep my story updates somewhat balanced between all the three stories I have now.

I hope you enjoy and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Eighteen

NEXT Chapter: Smiles and Tears

Chapter 26: Eighteen

*Beep beep beep*

*Beep beep beep*

“Hello?”

“Wait… what? Who is this?”

“Oh? I… Look, doctor, I don’t… I…”

“I… I don’t know. I just… Really?”

“Look, I have to think about this. Uh-huh. Okay, thank you…”

*click*

“Donna, I… hey, what’s wrong?”

“I just… nothing. Just worried. Thinking about… kids.”

“Oh…

“I know I keep doing it and I should already get over it, but I…”

“Hey, hey. Come here.”

“It’ll be alright.”


I was feeling a bit surreal. Not melty-clock surreal, but just… a bit floaty and weird. Tomorrow I’d turn eighteen years old. I’d be an adult. And we’d celebrate this milestone with friends, family, cake and candles. And after that I could visit a local bar and have a drink legally for the first time in my life. It wasn’t something I waited for the most, but it was a rite of passage I wanted to try. It wouldn’t be anything too special, really. I wasn’t expecting to somehow become different overnight. I wouldn’t twirl around and turn more mature or be suddenly taken more seriously… okay, well, I might be taken more seriously by some, but not in a way that would matter. But there was still something almost magical about it all.

Besides, Bree and Jace would visit. That was definitely awesome. They’d promised to arrive soon after my school day ended, and I’d promised to be there to meet them. And so had Min, who had jumped at the chance to see Jace when she’d heard that he was coming to town.

So in the afternoon we stood in the rapidly melting snow – the proper winter days in Sunset Valley didn’t last long, if even that – and watched the yellow bus appear from behind a corner, and we greeted and hugged our Twinbrook friends and Bree teased Jace and Min for letting their hugs and kisses last a bit longer than necessary.

“Get a room, you two,” she said with a playful grin on her face, “Oh, who am I kidding? You guys are adorable!”

“Aaaand there goes the mood,” Jace rolled his eyes, and then smiled at me, “Hey, Lynn! It’s been way too long again!”

He hugged me briefly, maybe a bit too quickly, and I wondered if he was afraid he’d make Min jealous. Or maybe he was just remembering that disastrous kiss from almost two years ago. Bree and Min exchanged quick fist pumps and then the greetings turned into conversation. Mostly about the birthday party.

“This is gonna be great!” Bree gushed, “I love birthdays; they’re a great excuse to travel all the way here to spend time with friends!”

“You don’t need excuses for that,” I said.

“I know. But I’m soooo busy all the time! My violin teacher is determined to bury me under a mountain of sheet music! And I have so much schoolwork it’s crazy!”

She smiled.

“But let’s forget about all that! Now we’ll celebrate and have fun!”

She caught me in a one-armed hug and practically led me, Jace, Min, and a bunch of luggage towards our house.

We had a system for the few times Bree and Jace visited us overnight. Jace got the spare bunk in Rem’s room and Bree put up a sleeping bag in my room. We’d watch films and play video games and eat snacks. Sometimes Rem might join us, but for the most part he let me have my friends. He usually disappeared to either play with Merrill or to draw or paint. Today he and Patrick were in the kitchen, where Patrick was trying to teach him how to bake good cookies for my birthday party. Mum took care of Merrill this time, so Bree, Jace and I could just focus on spending time together. Min came to our place with us too, and we laughed together at some comedy about robots for an hour and a half and then played some fighting games together. We chatted and asked each other how we were doing. You know, typical friend stuff. I let myself relax and stop worrying. If I had to think about the future, I only had to think about how much fun tomorrow would be. I didn’t want to think about studies or family issues, so instead I let myself laugh at Jace’s silly jokes and cheer when Bree beat an especially even fight during our game.

“Oh, come on!” Jace whined after the match, “I would have so beat this one if you guys stopped spamming such cheap moves.”

“Oh, get over it,” Min smacked him lightly in the arm, “Bree was being awesome and you know it.”

Bree smiled with fake smugness.

“Yup. It’s not my fault you suck at this.”

“Okay, that’s it! I demand a rematch!”

“Oh, you’re on!” Bree smirked, “Prepare to be crushed!”

She was indeed being awesome.

The night seemed to come way too quickly that day. Min had to leave before her dad got worried, and mum told us to start getting to bed around eleven o’clock. Usually we could stay up later, but this time we needed to get ready for the guests tomorrow so we couldn’t sleep all the way to noon. So Bree and I trudged upstairs and brushed our teeth. After we’d put on our pyjamas, I flopped onto my bed. Bree sat down onto the floor next to her sleeping bag and smiled up at me.

“You tired yet?” she asked.

“A little bit,” I said, “But not too much. Wanna talk?”

“That’s what sleepovers are for, right?”

I smiled.

“Yeah.”

Bree was quiet for a moment. The faint light coming from my reading lamp accented the pretty curve of her cheek.

“You know,” she said in an oddly sombre tone, “I really wish you’d still be in Twinbrook. It was much more fun with you around.”

“Really?” I asked, “Don’t you have dozens of other friends?”

“Well, yeah, but not friend-friends like you. I mean, there’s Jace, and a couple of others, but still… I’ve been thinking… would it be possible for us to go to university together? I mean, you’re going, right?”

I frowned.

“Really? I mean… yeah. I’m going, but I haven’t thought about the place yet. You know I’d like to write… maybe go to journalism like mum, or just study Simlish and literature.”

“I’ve thought about Sim State University,” Bree said, “I want to study international politics there. Maybe become a researcher or start working in an embassy or something. I checked, and they have awesome literature studies there too. Journalism as well. And it’s not too far away. Just a three-hour drive from here. Two and a half if we take the train. You could still visit this place, and I could visit Twinbrook. Even that’s just a five-hour drive away from Sim State.”

“Five hours is a long time.”

“Not too long, really. It could be way longer, considering how big this country alone is.”

I hummed thoughtfully. It sounded good. Almost too good. I’d love to study with Bree. Maybe Jace or Min could come too. We could maybe put our money together and rent an actual apartment instead of staying in a dorm… I noticed that my mind was already brewing all sorts of ideas and plans.

“That does sound great,” I finally said, “I’d love to study with you.”

“Great! Let’s work on that, then!” Bree smiled, “It’s pretty tough to get in to Sim State, though. So we both have to study a lot. I’ve asked Jace too, and he’s trying to get a scholarship by continuing to be a sports star. And I think you’ll get in without any trouble.”

“My grades are pretty average, really,” I said.

“But you’re smart! I know you can do it.”

I leaned my head on the bed and looked at Bree. I had the sudden urge to reach out and hold her hand. I didn’t, though. I just smiled at her.

“Thanks, Bree,” I said, “You’re awesome.”


The morning of my birthday dawned crisp and with a snowfall that I knew wouldn’t last. During the first years we’d been living in Sunset Valley, the shortness and sometimes an almost complete lack of winter had surprised me, but for a summer person the long summers had quickly become a welcome routine. Still, there was still something odd about my previously winter birthdays becoming spring birthdays. Sometimes I felt like the human mind got caught up in the most trivial things.

I got up early, put on some clothes I really liked and went downstairs only to be greeted with birthday hugs and a present from my family, who’d apparently made a point of getting up even earlier than me.

The guests arrived in the evening. Min and Michel came over, followed soon by Grandma and Grandpa, who gave me a couple of books I’d wanted for a while.

“You sure you still got room in your bookshelf?” Rem asked jokingly, and I rolled my eyes at him.

“I’ll make room.”

“Uh-huh. Soon it’s going to explode.”

Rem suddenly fell silent and his ears twitched, and then the doorbell rang. I walked up to it, wondering who it could be. Everyone that was supposed to be here was already present. I froze when I realised that behind the door stood… Sabine?

She looked tired, but she had actually made it all the way to our house. I was stunned for a moment, but then she smiled her small, almost unnoticeable smile, and I knew she was really there.

“I was invited by Mr. Monsoon-Farley,” Sabine said as an explanation, “I thought coming here would be the least I can do, considering all you’ve done to help me.”

She smiled again.

“So, eighteen years old. That’s a milestone right there. Happy birthday.”

I couldn’t have even guessed beforehand how happy Sabine being there made me. It was an unexpected thing that just seemed to complete the day. In a slightly grumpy, quiet way.

Sabine didn’t take off her winter clothes or start singing any birthday songs and didn’t even try the cake, but she chatted with people, especially with mum and Patrick, and seemed to enjoy herself. She didn’t seem to get too creeped out when Rem at one point stopped to stare at her with wide eyes for almost a whole minute until I punched him in the arm so he would stop.

She even joined the others when they started a semi-joking clapping and cheering session – started by Michel – when I blew out the candles on my cake.

She left way before the others, though, and I knew why. She got tired very easily, and often took naps even when I was visiting her. She grabbed her sleek cane and leaned to it.

“Well, this was nice,” she said, “Thank you for letting an old lady crash your party, and thank your father again for inviting me.”

“I will,” I said, “And I’ll be at your place tomorrow to help with the groceries again.”

Sabine nodded.

“Well, don’t let me keep you from the festivities,” she sighed and looked around, her eyes shining as if seeing something from the past, “It’s been a long time since I’ve been to any kind of party.”

She said it so wistfully. For a moment I thought I could see a bit of the pains and the sadness she kept hidden from everyone. Then the moment was gone and she waved me goodbye and then she was gone too.

“She seems cool. But lonely.”

I started and looked at Bree, who had come to stand behind me. She looked at the door where Sabine had just gone through.

“So, she was your boss, right?”

“Sort of,” I said.

“She’s the town witch,” Michel piped in, “Or so they say. I’ve never really seen her before much, really. She didn’t seem too witchy to me.”

“She’s not a witch,” Rem said, “But she is… never mind.”

I narrowed my eyes. The others looked at Rem oddly, but he was already going back to the living room and left Bree, Michel and I into the hall. I shrugged my shoulders.

“You guys should know by now that he tends to say weird things.”

“I heard that, Lynn!”

“Freedom of speech, little brother,” I said theatrically.

“Mum hates it when people abuse that!”

“Yes, I do,” said mum, who had been sitting at the kitchen table and talking with Grandpa Lórccan, “Even as a joke.”

“Yeah… that was a bad one, wasn’t it?” I sighed, and then laughed. It felt really easy to laugh that day.

I was even smiling when the party was over and Bree and Jace had been escorted to the bus that would take them back to Twinbrook. I was going to bed when I noticed Rem trying to get my attention by creepily standing at the door to his room and waving at me.

“What?” I asked, “If you wanna talk, you can just say so.”

Rem sighed.

“I know… I just… Sabine… she’s sick, isn’t she?”

I shook my head and felt a frown creasing my face.

“I don’t know. She hasn’t told me. Then again, she doesn’t tell me much. She is tired often, though. But she’s old, and that’s what happens when you’re old.”

A thought suddenly occurred to me and made everything feel much more ominous.

“You saw stuff again, didn’t you?”

Rem hesitated for a moment, but then nodded.

“Not much,” he said, “I just know she’s sick. There’s little shadows around her sometimes. Like sparks, but made of darkness. I wish I could make sense of it better.”

I wrapped my arms around myself.

“Go to bed,” I then said, sounding a little harsher than I’d intended, “That’s… not something you should be seeing, or thinking about. She seems fine now.”

“I know,” Rem said apologetically, “I’m sorry.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. All the happiness was gone already.

“It’s okay. I mean, you can’t help it. Besides, maybe I can help her if she really is sick. I’ll ask her tomorrow.”

Rem’s face brightened a little.

“Okay,” he said, sounding awfully young again. He slipped into his room, and I tried my best to get some sleep.


After I’d helped Sabine with her groceries the next day, we sat down again in her living room and watched some rather old film about a growing up and time travel. This one I knew about, and liked quite a lot. I pretended to focus on watching, but I kept turning Rem’s words around and around in my head. Then I kept thinking about Sabine’s frequent naps and the fact that she couldn’t walk long distances properly anymore.

She looked worn, but then again, she’d looked that way for as long as I’d known her. Which to be fair wasn’t for very long. But there was still this… strength about her. Like she was a rock that would get worn but not broken.

Finally, I had to ask:

“Hey, Sabine? Are you feeling alright?”

“Hm?” Sabine looked at me as if she had been way too lost into the world of the film for a moment, “Why do you ask? I feel fine… for my age.”

“It’s just that…” I sighed, “You seem to be more tired than before. And I was just wondering…”

Sabine’s face suddenly gained this deeply sad and weary expression. I’d seen glimpses of it before, but I could only now really see it.

“Lynn,” she said very seriously, “You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Yes, I do!” I snapped, suddenly feeling angry. Sabine looked at me, shocked. I probably hadn’t raised my voice in front of her before. We both fell silent, looking at each other for a long while, the film on TV forgotten. Then Sabine smiled very weakly.

“I’m just old, Lynn,” she said, “I’ve seen a lot and I’ve lived for a long time. I can handle a lot life throws my way.”

She paused, looking into the past.

“But one thing I don’t want to deal with is bad blood with people I care about.”

“There’s no bad blood between us,” I said at once, “I just want to help you.”

Sabine nodded.

“I know. But you’re already helping enough. And I take good care of myself. But thank you, really. For being here, and for putting up with me.”

I frowned, but didn’t know what to say. Sabine sighed as if trying to expel a very persistent sorrow she knew would never go away.

“Those letters you found…” she said slowly, as if each word pained her, “They were from my son.”

I stared at her, my lungs forgetting what they were supposed to do for a moment. I’d almost forgotten about the letters. I didn’t even care about them anymore. But now…

“Your son?” I repeated.

Sabine nodded.

“It was a long time ago. He was a soldier. And we… we argued not long before he left to…”

She trailed off and couldn’t finish the sentence. I could put the pieces together well enough despite that and felt something turn hollow in my stomach.

“I’m so sorry,” was all I could say.

Sabine didn’t say anything. She didn’t even look like she was waiting for me to continue the conversation either. She had just wanted to share that and nothing more. I still had to ask at least an innocent:

“What was his name?”

Sabine looked like she didn’t want to answer even that, but then she smiled fondly at some memory.

“Félix,” she said.

I put my hand on her shoulder for a little while. Sabine smiled again.

“You know what? I think I’d like to play some music now.”

“Oh? I… go ahead.”

I knew it was just her changing the subject, but I let her. I supposed it was her business, after all. We didn’t talk at all for the rest of my visit. I followed her upstairs and listened to her play for almost an hour before she started feeling tired. She went to bed, and in no time she was asleep.

I didn’t want to leave her, but I knew there wasn’t much I could do. So I left. I had promised to meet with Michel at a local pub named The Little Corner for my first proper drink anyway. I made a mental note to visit Sabine even more than before, and then I headed for the pub. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be in the partying mood, though.

I walked to The Little Corner, and Michel was waiting for me there. He grinned and waved and I managed a half-smile back.

“Okay, Lynn. You ready for the rite of passage?”

“I sure am,” I said. Michel frowned at my lack of enthusiasm, but then he ushered me inside.

I had to admit that the feeling of stepping into the building and knowing I was an actual customer was pretty awesome. Sure, I’d been to bars before, but only during the day and mum had been pretty strict about not drinking before eighteen. Sure, I’d tasted beer, but found it didn’t taste anything special, and I’d always been shy and introverted enough to never really get the appeal of partying or gathering together for some secret alcohol-tasting. But now it was different. It was legal and now I was actually curious about it.

The Little Corner was a small pub that tried very hard – and in some ways even succeeded – to be Irish. It smelled like varnish and spilled beer, but it was still pretty welcoming. It had nice green walls and a warm wooden floor, and a friendly young man named Gage Briody behind the bar. Michel led me to the bar and then nodded towards the drink menu on the wall.

“The first one is on me. Happy birthday.”

I looked at the names. They were mostly beer labels followed by some cocktails and some stronger stuff. I thought about it for a while and then ended up ordering a beer from the tap and some kind of mild cherry and lemon flavoured cocktail. Michel ordered a stout in a large glass. He raised his glass and waited until I’d also got a glass in my hand.

“Here’s to being awesome. And not dying yet.”

“Oh, come on. I’m not nearly old enough to start thinking of birthdays as just ‘not dying’,” I said.

Then I thought back to my past. To the fires and the gunshots and thought that maybe I was old enough. Or at least I had seen enough. Sometimes life was twisted that way.

The beer was kind of bitter and I wasn’t a fan of it, but the cherry-lemon drink was delicious. None of it was enough to make me feel anything other than slightly more cheerful and light of feet. Soon Michel and I were laughing and I was jokingly quizzing him on his upcoming entrance exams.

“You’ve got to remember this even when drunk,” I giggled.

“Hey, this isn’t even close to being drunk!” Michel said.

“Well, then you suck because you can’t remember it even when sober!”

“Ouch. Touché.

I laughed again, this time a bit louder. I looked at the half-empty glasses in front of me and thought about how arbitrary a line eighteen was. But the line had to be somewhere, and even though it wasn’t really magical, it still felt different. I was now officially in charge of my life. I knew I wasn’t completely ready for that, but I also felt like I’d now been handed the keys to so many places. In that moment I could imagine that I had power to get through our obstacles and to shape my life into anything I wanted, family problems and future troubles be damned.

“Thank you for agreeing to see me, Mrs. Brooke. I’m Doctor Brian Hillstrandt.”

“Pleased to meet you… though I’m also surprised, as you can guess.”

“Of course. I have been thinking about this a lot. About calling you. After your outburst here at the hospital-“

“I’m sorry about that. That was completely uncalled for. I… I don’t know what came over me.”

“I think you do. I called you here because I think you are onto something.”

“What?”

“I think we should sit down first.”

“You talked about fairies, didn’t you, Mrs. Brooke? Don’t worry; I made sure no one can listen in on us. Well, didn’t you?”

“I… maybe. I don’t remember…”

“Ah, yes. You did spend some time at the psych ward after that… medication can do that, as can the heat of the moment.”

“What is this about, Mr. Hillstrandt? On the phone you said it had something to do with… with my son. Nathaniel.”

“Yes. I am simply trying to make sense of something. A curious incident that happened after a family was brought here after a shootout at the beach.”

“It was in the news. Yes.”

“The family of Monsoon-Farley.”

“I… what? Isn’t that confidential?”

“Yes. It is. And I trust you not to tell anyone. But this could be more important than any of that. I checked the records. I’ve done my research. You were married to Mr. Monsoon, weren’t you?”

“Yes. But-“

“And you blamed the hospital for stealing your firstborn baby soon after the birth.”

“That case was closed ages ago. No one thinks it was true.”

“But you do, don’t you? Someone, or something took your child away from you.”

“I…”

“I called you here because I need your help, Donna. You and I could perhaps uncover this together.”

“How? Even I think it sounds insane.”

“Yes, it does. But I believe you. Because I saw one of them.”

“You did? You saw a fairy?”

“Yes. A woman was killed in the incident I mentioned earlier. Her body was… it wasn’t human. The strange thing was that no one else seemed to remember it at all. There are no records of the woman even being in our morgue or being taken away by the police. I seem to be the only one who remembers anything amiss at all. So imagine my surprise when you walked in… claiming that someone had stolen your child. And when it turned out that you were connected to this family.”

“So what do you say, Donna? Do you want to help me? Who knows, together we could perhaps even find your son, if he’s still alive.”

“I…”

“Yes. I’d love to help you.”

Author’s Note: Well, I’d say there’s at least SOME plot going on… Also I’m trying not to do a retread of the first story arc’s plot even though I feel like I kind of am… Except not. I don’t know.

Also Lynn is growing! I have to age her up for reals soon! I based the drinking age of SimNation to the one we have in Finland (and in many other countries).

What else… uh… well, it’s been a while. I was doing NaNo throughout November (and I won! Yay!), and I was also a part of our university theatre’s scrip writing -team, so I put my SimLit somewhat on hold for that time. As for December… I’ve had a lot of schoolwork and other stuff. But I figured I’d get this out before Christmas so yay?

Also this story will be on Book Club in The Sims Forums from 2- 8 January, so if you feel like discussing it, then drop by there then. 🙂

Freezer Bunny Book Club Selection

I hope you enjoyed and have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: The Princess and the Pixie

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Chapter 25: The Princess and the Pixie

I wasn’t completely sure what was going on inside Rem’s head, but I knew that the shaman-thing was still bothering him a lot. He seemed absent-minded and sombre. He was avoiding Patrick and spending a lot of time alone. I knew he was avoiding dad because he didn’t want to talk to him about what the fairies had suggested. He didn’t want to break our family, and I really appreciated that. But I also didn’t want him to break himself while doing his part in keeping us together.

I tried to talk to him one evening when we were doing homework together. Rem had been mostly quiet and kept frowning at his notebook. He had erased his writing so many times and so violently that there was a hole in the page. That was very unlike him. Usually he treated paper – and anything else that could be drawn on – with almost reverent care.

“Telling Patrick doesn’t mean that it’s somehow decided,” I said after thinking intently on what to say.

Rem chewed his lip and didn’t answer.

“Didn’t we already agree that running away from things and pretending they don’t exist is a terrible idea? You were the one who said that, remember?”

Rem sighed.

“I just have a really bad feeling about all that. And I… in a way I want to help them. But I really don’t want to leave. So I’m afraid that dad will just stop me from going anymore, or then worry himself sick over it all.”

“Oh come on! Patrick wouldn’t make you cut ties to Alvar just like that! He wants to be a part of his life too!”

Rem tapped his pencil against his head, a contemplative expression on his face.

“I was thinking that I’d figure out what I want first, and then talk to dad. But I’m not sure I can do that fast enough.”

“Well, yeah, figuring out one’s future at age fifteen isn’t going to just happen in a few days! That’s why we talk to other people.”

“I get it,” Rem said, “It just isn’t easy.”

“I can imagine,” I said, my voice getting surprisingly gentle, “But… we’re not going to stay here forever. We’re going to get lives of our own. Grow up, you know. And dad knows that too.”

I smiled.

“I mean, you’re not going to disappear right away. Think about it as a career option!”

Okay, so I knew that it wasn’t that simple. But at least my words made Rem laugh – albeit weakly.

“Thanks, Lynn. Really. I’ll talk to dad soon.”

A week passed, and he still hadn’t talked.

I could have said something about it, even rat out the fairies and their shaman plans to mum and Patrick. But I adamantly decided that this was something my stubborn brother had to do on his own. He at least had to man up enough to talk to his own dad for crying out loud! And it seemed like he tried, sometimes, but then he always backed down and settled for sadly observing a moment of our daily lives as if he needed to memorise it as well as he could.

Meanwhile, Patrick seemed to know that something was wrong. Or then he just had his own issues with Rem being so awkward and quiet – which was totally understandable. He slyly tried to get Rem to open up. Usually he was very good at it. He spent time with us like he always did, but now he seemed to use a lot of that time to lead his conversations with Rem to worries and Rem’s other family. He talked about it while teaching Rem how to cook, and he managed to even work it into their idle chatter during the chess matches Patrick had recently got a habit of challenging us into. And Rem always kept his answers vague and smiled and said nothing was wrong.

It was annoying, really.

I guess Rem hadn’t been kidding when he’d said he wanted to get his own thoughts sorted out about it first. He seemed to be seriously thinking what he’d want to be when he grew up, at least. His uncertainty about the future surprised me; I’d always figured that Rem would become an artist. I mean, his lifelong passion for painting certainly made it seem that way. But apparently he didn’t think it was that obvious. So he experimented; he signed up to his school’s afterschool shop class and started bringing home small wooden sculptures and butter knives and other random things he made there. He read lots of books, most of which focused on different fields of science on nature and plants. He went camping again after a long break from it. He even made new friends. It was certainly a healthier way for a teenager to try to find themselves than clandestine underage drinking, I supposed. Maybe that was why mum and Patrick didn’t complain and happily paid any fees Rem’s new activities required.

I guessed I too should just let him try new things and find himself, even though I figured randomly getting new hobbies wasn’t going to be the sure-fire way to self-discovery. At least not in a short enough time. I was getting worried about Patrick; he was so obviously waiting for Rem to talk, even though waiting was making him sick with worry.

I hoped that seeing Alvar would help things, because then Patrick could get closer to his biological son and the life that was trying share Rem with us. And Patrick did seem happy when Alvar and Kielo visited.

He talked with them, asked questions, and even taught Alvar to cook with our stove – Alvar was much better at it than Rem. But after they were gone, Patrick would go back to quiet melancholy he tried his best to mask.

One day I caught snippets of a conversation through the door of my parents’ bedroom. I knew I should have already grown out of eavesdropping, but I really hadn’t. I stopped and heard tears in my stepfather’s voice. Really. Tears. Patrick almost never cried.

“It feels like we’re family with people we know nothing about. My son was taken from me, and now this… this stranger occasionally shows up and I try to connect him to the baby I saw for a few moments before he… how could they take him away back then?”

“They gave you Rem,” said mum’s voice. She sounded so gentle and quiet, as if Patrick had suddenly turned into glass and would break apart if she spoke any louder. I had to strain my ears to hear her.

“I know…” Patrick said, “I’m immensely glad about that. But I… sometimes I almost
wish that this never happened. That we didn’t know about Alvar…”

“Don’t say that. You love him too.”

“Yeah… but I never have time to get to know him before he’s whisked away again. And now Rem’s slipping away too.”

“No, he’s not. The kids are just at that age when they have to find out what they really want. You know that.”

I backed away from the door at that point. It was what I’d been fearing, but also what I hadn’t even considered before.

Maybe we’d been naïve to think that we could invite a pixie family into our lives and expect it to be all sunshine and whimsy. Well, we hadn’t really thought that, actually. We’d known it would be tricky. Because what else could one expect when both of our families were so complicated? Still, a part of me had thought that things would have calmed down by now. That the fair folk would finally play nice. I shook my head at that thought. Sometimes, when I started blaming the fair folk too much, I had to remind myself that they too were grieving so many losses and lamenting so many troubles.

In the end I decided to stop losing sleep over it and to just watch how things would develop. After all, things could be – and had been – much worse and much more confusing. Besides, I had things in my own life I wanted to think about too. Like turning eighteen years old. That magical birthday was just a few weeks away. Soon I’d be an adult in the eyes of SimNation’s law. That meant more freedom, less adults watching me – at least in theory, though I doubted things would really change that radically in just a few weeks – and of course, more responsibility.

What excited me the most about the whole thing was that then I’d be free to get more tattoos in pretty much any tattoo place I wanted. Though the vegan place, Bridgeport CMYK, where I’d got my first tattoo – and the second one, which I’d managed to get about a year ago to cover more of my scars – was good enough to become my regular place. But even the people at CMYK had insisted that I waited until I was eighteen before I got more. I could see their point, really. The flowers on my arm had felt like a good idea back then, and I still mostly liked them, but I also had a feeling that I might want something else once I was a bit more certain about what kind of a person I’d grow up into.

I mean, I’d already grown so much, but sometimes I had moments of clarity when I knew that this wasn’t the final result. That I’d always be building myself. In some ways I was fine with that. There were plenty of things I’d like to change about how I saw the world and myself, but I hadn’t yet found out what I’d like to change them into. But when I thought about the things I actually liked about myself – which weren’t very numerous – I felt afraid. Afraid that I’d change so that those things would be lost or warped. Maybe a few years from now I wouldn’t enjoy writing or books, and I’d be missing a piece of myself. Maybe I wouldn’t be friends with the people I was friends with now. Maybe the silly moments I could sometimes find a special kind of happiness in wouldn’t make me feel anything anymore.

When those thoughts got too bad, I usually talked with Michel. He was going through a transition in his life too. He was already nineteen – almost twenty – and he had graduated from high school almost a year ago. He had spent the past year travelling to other countries, and then sending applications to universities he wanted to attend. He seemed to be so okay with being him despite clearly knowing that his life was about to change so much. It made me feel at ease, most of the time. And he was great company, even though he had somehow managed to rope me into helping him study for his entrance exams. He wanted to earn his money by building cyborgs, so he was applying for bioengineering and robotics programmes all the way in places like La Fiesta Tech, a university I had only vaguely heard of before this. Apparently it was close to Strangetown, a place that was rumoured to be inhabited by hidden aliens.

I chuckled at those rumours, but also realised that I didn’t completely dismiss them. Compared to hidden fairy villages, a hidden alien community was… well, just as likely, really.

Michel’s upcoming exams forced me to read a lot of tiny text that didn’t really make a lot of sense to me because it was about advanced technological things I knew nothing about. But Michel seemed to be okay with that. He kept saying that I was good at quizzing him on the stuff because I was a fast reader and actually understood more than I thought I did. All I knew was that it was nice to help a friend, and nice to get reminders that people could take directions in life.

And it was definitely nice to take a break to play video games after an intense studying session too.

“Man, you’ve had days to practise this game while I’ve been gone and I still keep kicking your ass!”

“Hey, I’ve been studying!” Michel grinned at my friendly barb, “Some people have more important things in their life than video games.”

“Like being a sci-fi geek?” I said, “Because you’re totally trying to get into studying sci-fi stuff that’s just a bit less fi and more sci.”

“I know. Awesome, right? Also I just blew your head up.”

I returned my focus on the screen too late and watched Michel’s character taunt my character’s now headless body.

“Hey! I was distracted.”

“You’re the one who started talking.”

I opened my mouth to fire a sharp retort, but I was interrupted when Michel’s door swung open and Carla walked in. She was dressed even more fancily than usual, in an admittedly pretty Chinese-style dress.

“Michel!” she said in a somewhat whiny voice, “Did you take my phone charger again-“

She suddenly fell silent when she realised her brother wasn’t alone. Her eyes fell on me, and she gaped at me as if I wasn’t a regular guest at her house nowadays.

“Oh, hi,” she said tensely. She had mostly stopped bullying others as the years had passed, but I couldn’t say that we really liked each other yet. She was still kind of a bitch and definitely too much of a snob for my tastes, and I was too much of a loser in her eyes.

“Hi,” I said, and then turned to Michel, “Another match?”

“Sure,” Michel looked at Carla, “I don’t know about your charger. Maybe mum used it and left it at our gym.”

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Carla said, “You know what, enjoy your game. I’ve got to be somewhere.”

“Going on a date?” Michel guessed.

“No!” Carla snapped, “Just out… to eat. With my usual friends.”

She spun around as if she didn’t want to talk about it. I got a distinct feeling she was hiding something from her brother.

“Well, enjoy your murder simulator, I’m off,” she said and hurried out of the room.

“This is a fighting game, you know!” Michel shouted after her.

“Whatever!”

Michel looked at his closing door for a while, and then shrugged.

“She’s so totally going on a date. Who’s she with nowadays anyway? That Mark-guy is ancient history, right? Then was that brief time with that Kevin-fella. But I think she told me she’s single now, like… three weeks ago. You hear any gossip about that?”

“No”, I said, “I don’t really care about that stuff.”

And I would have continued not to care about it if we hadn’t heard Carla and Michel’s mother loudly welcoming a guest, and the guest answering in a voice that was so familiar it made me jump right up from my seat and hurry out of the room to see what was going on.

I made my way across the Faroffingtons’ third floor and then froze at the top of the stairs. In the kitchen below us stood three people. One was Sindy Faroffington, behind whom stood a very nervous-looking Carla.

“Mum, we should really be going already…” she muttered, but her mum was ignoring her.

The third person, the one Sindy was talking to, was-

“Rem?” I managed to cough out.

Rem looked up and waved cheerfully. He was still dressed in his winter clothes, and his cheeks were red from biking through the snow.

“Hey, Lynn! Fancy seeing you here!”

My mouth hung open in shock. Sindy beamed at everyone in the room.

“Okay, Carla, Rem, get in the car. The Bistro is going to be really busy if we wait for too long.”

Michel burst into laughter. Carla buried her face into her hands.

“This is so frickin’ embarrassing!”

I still couldn’t say anything. My brother was going on a date with Carla? Just hearing they were sort of friends was shocking. But dating? There were so many things wrong with that.

First of all, Rem was only fifteen – okay, almost sixteen but still. Secondly, my protective big sister instincts stated that Rem didn’t date. Thirdly, Carla. Fourthly, what the hell was going on?

Michel was still laughing. I realised that Rem, Carla, and Sindy had already left the kitchen and probably the house altogether.

“Oh man, this is so funny! My sis is dating the weird hippie-kid!”

“Hey, that’s my weird hippie brother you’re talking about!” I said, finally getting my vocal cords to work again.

“I know! That’s even weirder!”

I narrowed my eyes.

“Since you find this so amusing, you probably won’t mind helping me.”

Michel managed to calm down, and he cleared his throat.

“Helping you with what?” he frowned.

“Finding out where they’re going.”

Now Michel was completely serious, and I could see disbelief sneaking on his face.

“What? You’re going to stalk them on their date?”

When he put it like that, it all sounded really wrong. But not as wrong as Carla and Rem going on a date. It was just… I could smell a disaster miles away from a setup like that! Sure, Carla wasn’t as bad as she had been when we’d been twelve, but she was still too preoccupied with being perfectly what others expected her to be that she didn’t even want to admit she was friends with Rem. They’d been having talks in secret, as Rem had sometimes told me, and the whole setup bothered Rem to no end, yet he still kept doing it because he was too sweet to stop helping someone talk about their problems. It sounded like a very lousy friendship. So how could this possibly work? I took a deep breath and then answered Michel’s question with a simple:

“Yes.”

By using our detective skills – and mostly by remembering that Sindy had mentioned a Bistro – we figured out that Rem and Carla were going to the Bistro Bretagne. It was located close enough to the Faroffington’s house that we dared to brave the winter cold in our sweaters. At least if we were discovered and had to make a hasty retreat, we didn’t have to stop to grab our coats.

I hadn’t been to the Bistro before. It looked pretty nice from the outside, and the inside wasn’t too bad either. Though the painting of a couple in front of a very Parisian landscape was a bit tacky and ill-placed in my opinion. Michel and I took a table at the corner and tried to be as discreet as possible. The staff wouldn’t let us just sit in the restaurant without ordering anything, so Michel ordered a coffee with some kind of caramel foam and a complicated name. The waiter raised his brows, but didn’t comment on it. Maybe he just didn’t like people using a restaurant as a café.

“Okay, there they are,” Michel said and nodded towards the table where my brother and his sister were talking, “And we’re at the perfect vantage point for your silly soap opera-level scheme.”

“Whoa, whoa, hey!” I raised my arms and sputtered incoherently while trying to think of a witty answer, “I… this… it’s not soap opera -level!”

Okay, so I couldn’t think of a witty anything right now, apparently. Michel’s mouth quirked into a lopsided smile.

“Suuuure. Look, I get you’re being an overprotective big sister, but… seriously?”

I looked at Michel’s annoyingly amused expression. Hey, Rem was too young to date like this, and Carla was too old for him. Not to mention she was still mostly a bitch, and- Okay, sure, I was being overprotective, but considering what our lives had been like so far, it was just rational and sensible, right? I tried reminding myself that Michel didn’t know everything about our lives, but he did know that we’d gone through a lot. I had told him about the fire and my crazy stepdad because that was something that could be found out by reading some old news on the web. But fairies, changelings, fragile psyches and tangled families… he didn’t know about any of that, and I wasn’t about to tell him either. And now that I sat here, I started to think that even all of what had happened really wasn’t enough to warrant this… well, stalking. I started feeling silly, for the most part. But I still had one card that made me feel less stupid, so I played it:

“Carla turns eighteen in like… how many months? And Rem’s still barely sixteen!”

Michel’s face scrunched up.

“Oh yeah, that’s a thing. But seriously, I’m pretty sure this won’t last even that long. Carla switches boyfriends almost as often as she changes shoes.”

He was exaggerating a bit – even I knew that – and his words didn’t make me feel any better.

“Although,” Michel went on, “I’ve got to admit that she seems to be happy now.”

I looked at Carla as well, and I realised that there was something really weird about her. Weird only because I hadn’t associated it with Carla until now.

She was smiling, and it wasn’t the forced, fake, or sarcastic kind of smile I’d seen on her face before. Her smile was… she actually looked pretty.

Okay, so maybe my be-friends-with-everyone -brother could make even our high school’s bitchy princess’s heart melt. Still, it didn’t make it much less iffy.

“I have to talk to him about this,” I muttered.

“Oh, sure, you do. And I’m pretty sure your parents have to too,” Michel leaned to the table, “I’m just surprised you didn’t do it right away. You’re usually smarter than this.”

I frowned at him, but then I got something else to think about when Carla turned her head and saw us.

What the hell are you two doing here?!

Michel was suddenly up.

“Uh-oh. Busted.”

Before I could say anything, Michel was running, and I bolted after him before my mind could catch up with what was going on.

We raced out the door – and I was thankful Michel had paid for his coffee when it had arrived, because otherwise we’d be in so much trouble right now. Still, I couldn’t help thinking about how weird and suspicious we must have looked, sprinting out of a restaurant as fast as we could and without proper winter clothes.

We stopped to catch our breath at the Bistro’s snow-covered terrace. Michel started laughing so hard he almost doubled over.

“Why the hell did we do that?” he managed to wheeze out between frostbitten, breathless bouts of laughter.

“You’re the one who ran!” I said.

“But you’re the one who wanted to come here!”

I was quiet for a moment. Michel grinned.

“But hey, the coffee was good.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

Michel chuckled.

“C’mon, let’s go back to my place and get you some coffee too. We’re freezing out here without our coats.”

I couldn’t help smiling back at him.

I managed to corner Rem the next day after school, when mum and Patrick were still at work and Merrill was in kindergarten. We sat down in the living room, and Rem was talking before I could even really make my case:

“This is about Carla, right?”

I sighed.

“I guess that’s pretty obvious.”

“You were spying on us at the Bistro,” Rem crossed his arms, “That was… weird.”

My cheeks felt warm.

“Okay, so it wasn’t one of my best ideas, but I was worried! Carla’s way too old for you, and you’re-“

“We’re not dating.”

I narrowed my eyes.

“Then what was it?”

It was Rem’s turn to blush. He fidgeted in his seat and twisted his fingers together. I noted the stiffness of his right shoulder. It had sometimes been acting up ever since he’d been shot there. Thankfully he could still paint – I couldn’t possibly imagine Rem without a paintbrush in hand, and I had a feeling he couldn’t either despite claiming he didn’t know what he wanted out of life.

“She asked me out,” he admitted, “She said she liked me… because I’ve been nice to her and listened to her all these years.”

“Oh yeah… so you decided to go from secret friend-dates to secret… date-dates?”

Rem was quiet again. I knew he didn’t really want to talk about this, but I also knew I was probably the only one who could have any chance of getting the truth out of him at the moment. So I waited. And waited. And waited until Rem finally muttered:

“Just to… try it out. Dating, I mean. We weren’t going to… do anything. Just talk, but more officially. I told her… I told her that if she wanted to go out with me, we shouldn’t hide it. She told her mum, so I figured it was alright…”

He fiddled with the hem of his autumn-coloured sweater and then added hastily:

“I did tell her that it would be just a sort of trial run. For the… dating. I wasn’t going to give her the wrong impression.”

I stared at my brother.

“You used Carla Faroffington to ‘try out’ dating and got her to even go out in public with a tree hugger two years younger than her… voluntarily?”

Rem blinked.

“Uh… yeah?”

“Wow, that’s pretty badass.”

“Thanks?”

I smiled, and then switched myself back into serious-mode.

“But really, we have to talk about this. You’re not going to keep this a secret from mum and dad, are you?”

“No! Well… I’m going to tell them eventually. It’s just… a part of trying to figure out what I want.”

“Rem…” I sighed.

Rem closed his eyes.

“Fine, I’ll tell them. And I’ll talk to Carla too. We’ll… get this sorted out.”

It was the best I could get out of him before he claimed he had a lot of homework to do and left me alone in the living room.

I figured I’d give him a few days to “sort it out”. But no more than that.

So I reluctantly let the matter rest.

Unfortunately some other people didn’t.

Apparently someone at our school had found out about Carla and Rem’s short, amicable date at the Bistro, and this being high school during social media age, rumours started to fly almost instantly. It seemed that even Princess Carla wasn’t immune to mean words and gossip if she just gave enough fuel for it.

It was definitely an odd sight: Carla sitting a bit forlorn on the couch in the school’s hallway, with only her eternally devoted supporter Mina Jones for company, and with a group of other students whispering behind their backs.

“Wow,” I said to Min, who was glaring angrily at the rumour mill that was spinning in front of us, “I never thought I’d feel sorry for Carla.”

I paused for a thoughtful moment.

“It does help that they’re also making fun of my brother.”

Min grunted.

“It’s getting nasty pretty fast,” she said, “At least for a stupid little thing like that!”

“That’s high school for you, I guess. Makes you think how boring our lives are when this is something that warrants so much gossip.”

“Should we do something?”

“Like what? Learn hacking so we can destroy their Simbook accounts?”

“We could tell some of the teachers.”

“Oh, yeah. Well, maybe this’ll die down soon so we don’t have to contribute to the drama.”

I could always hope.

It didn’t happen.

A few days later the rumours were still going, and they were getting worse. It was getting pretty systematic, really. I’d thought that this kind of thing had mostly died down at the early years of high school, but here we were; almost adults and dealing with nasty psychological bullying.

At the head of it was Lisa Bunch, who was a bit less influential, but just as much of a bitch as Carla was – maybe even worse now that Carla had mellowed out a bit. I caught her openly making fun of Carla and her “scruffy jailbait fairy -boyfriend” and calling Carla a bunch of really unflattering names.

I didn’t know if it was just my memories of being bullied, or if it was because of Rem or because I just wanted to show Carla that I was a better person than her. Or maybe I even wanted bury the hatchet and maybe take steps to end the nowadays very passive-aggressive not-war between us. Whatever it was, something made me go up to Lisa Bunch and stand up for the person I’d never really liked.

“Hey, cut it out!” I snapped, “Isn’t that getting really frickin’ old?”

Lisa blinked a few times before she realised that the quiet bookworm from Carla’s class was now standing in front of her. She frowned at me.

“Why do you care?” she said.

I crossed my arms.

“Well, first of all, because what you’re going is really pathetic, and second of all, the ‘scruffy jailbait fairy’ is my brother!”

Lisa snorted, her face twisting into an angry scowl. I glanced at Carla, and I wasn’t sure what I‘d expected to see. Probably not the odd mixture of disbelief, worry, and disgust that was on her face right now.

Maybe she was worried that she’d now be labelled as the loser who had been defended by a bigger loser. But hey, it wasn’t really her I was defending, right? I stepped towards Lisa.

“So back off!” I said, “Or I’ll tell everyone you’ve been cyber-bullying and harassing a lot of people in your sad free time.”

“Yeah! And she’s not the only one who’ll tell!” Min yelled from behind me – I could always trust her to have my back, “You want to keep being a bitch? Then get ready to face us!”

Okay, so that was maybe needlessly dramatic. And my threats really weren’t all that impressive. But they seemed to do the job. Or then Lisa just figured she didn’t want to risk getting in too much trouble – because at this point we knew there would be trouble. I could already hear our maths teacher coming through the door to her classroom, asking what was wrong.

Lisa took that moment to flip her hair angrily and storm off the scene, muttering something that I couldn’t make sense of, but that I probably didn’t even want to hear.

Carla looked at me one more time, and then she too walked away a bit too quickly. Mina Jones followed her like a puppy. The rest of the students that had gathered to follow the scene scattered now that the drama was over. Soon only Min and I stood in the hallway, and I heard our maths teacher, Miss Rodrigues, berating Lisa and others in a gently chastising tone as if they were ten-year-olds.

Min let out a whoop of joy.

“Aaw, yeah! We showed her! That was awesome! I didn’t think you’d really do it!”

I managed an unsure smile in return.

“Me neither… I’m not sure it was even worth it.”

“Oh, trust me,” Min gave me one of her amazingly beautiful smiles, “I’m sure it was.”

That afternoon Min and I went outside to wait for the bus despite the snowy, cold weather. Sunset Valley’s winters were usually pretty mild, but this year it had been snowing like crazy. Sure, the snow was usually sticky and soggy because it didn’t get cold enough, but it was still snow. Patrick blamed global warming again.

Min and I chatted together about normal things like afterschool activities and homework when I heard footsteps approaching us through the snow. It was unexpected because no one else usually braved the snowdrifts just so they could sit on the bench outside at this hour. I looked up and saw none other than Carla Faroffington. She was dressed in her winter coat and had an odd expression on her face. Like she was forcing herself to sniff a decaying salmon.

“So…” she said slowly, “I just wanted to say… thanks. For standing up for me.”

I blinked. Many times. Min had to be the one to speak:

“Yeah, sure. No problem. And no hard feelings. You didn’t get in trouble, right? We heard Miss Rodrigues telling you and Lisa off for yelling in the hallways.”

“Whatever,” Carla scoffed, “I land on my feet.”

That was all she said. Then she turned around and swiftly walked back inside. I stared after her for a long, baffled moment.

“Should we somehow take note of this time?” I finally asked, “As the moment Carla was actually genuinely trying to be nice?”

Min chuckled.

“Told you it was worth it.”

I rolled my eyes at her, but she had just crossed her legs and stared nonchalantly into the wintry sky. I smiled.

“Okay, fine. I guess it was.”

I told Rem about the incident after school. He seemed upset.

“I never wanted that to happen,” he said, as if he needed to clarify something like that, “I just… she wanted to go out with me, and I wanted to know if that was what I wanted. I didn’t…”

“That’s high school for you,” I repeated the words I’d said to Min the other day, “At least in the beginning. You should be prepared for it.”

“I’ll try,” Rem frowned at the walls, “It’s stupid. We weren’t even dating. I told Carla that the dinner was nice… She really can be nice too if she just feels safe enough. But I don’t like her that way.”

I hummed.

“You have no idea how much drama you just spared yourself and our family by saying that.”

“I think I do… maybe,” Rem smiled, “Alright, I get it. I’ll tell dad about the shaman-thing, and I’ll try my best to figure myself out in ways that don’t hurt others… even accidentally.”

“Good luck with that,” I said, “So… if you learned something, I’d say it was maybe worth it?”

“I think so too.”

And that night it occurred to me that maybe it had been worth it for Carla too. I remembered her smile at the restaurant, and her genuine gratitude at school, and I figured that even small moments of decency counted for something.

The next evening it was cold enough for mum and Patrick to take us skating at a nearby pond. The ice on it had finally become thick, and we could try to forget our worries while we skated across the ice and the setting sun dyed the sky pink. Merrill giggled when Patrick tossed him around in the snow, and Rem laughed when he asked me to race him across the pond.

It was another moment of decency and clarity in the confusing and uncertain world.

As was the moment afterwards, when we drove home past Sunset Valley’s beach and I watched the lighthouse’s spinning light and realised once again that our hometown was beautiful.

We got home and mum started making hot tea for all of us – well, except for Merrill, who had hot cocoa instead. We sat down around the dining table with our warm mugs, and Merrill excitedly clambered onto the “big boy chair” to drink his cocoa, and we all stopped to enjoy the moment and us as a family. That was when Rem decided to say:

“Dad, there’s something I want to talk about.”

I worried that it would break our family moment. But Patrick just nodded and calmly finished his tea and then climbed upstairs into his and mum’s room to talk with Rem.

“Do you know what that’s about?” mum asked when she was putting our cups away into the dishwasher and I was tasked with keeping Merrill distracted so he wouldn’t want to disturb his dad and big brother’s talk.

I did know, but at that moment I didn’t want to talk about it. I was feeling tired after the skating, and warm after the tea. Too happy and pleasantly sluggish to start thinking about family drama. I pretended I didn’t know anything, made Merrill laugh by tickling his sides and handed him over to mum. I then excused myself, went upstairs and grabbed a book to read.

I didn’t eavesdrop on Rem and Patrick’s father-son talk, as much as I wanted to. I lingered outside our bedrooms and waited for Rem to get back.

The door opened about an hour later, and Rem walked out with a peaceful smile on his face.

“How’d it go?” I asked.

Rem shrugged.

“Dad wasn’t happy I’d kept it a secret.”

He sat down and grabbed a toy robot Merrill had left on the floor. He started pretending the robot was a futuristic pizza delivery boy, and moved it to and fro in front of him.

“But all in all, it went well,” he said, “Dad isn’t that angry. He said he’d do whatever he could to help. He just needs some time to think.”

“See? I told you so.”

“Mm-hmm… I still don’t know what to do, though.”

I watched him play with the robot and thought about how much of a kid he still was. I hoped he didn’t even need to know yet. Not for a few years, at least.

Author’s Note: I realised after doing the school –photoshoot that I’d used Lisa Bunch as an extra in a chapter where Lynn was still a kid, so she shouldn’t be the same age as Lynn. Buuuut I never mentioned her name or showed her face so it was totally another blonde teenager with the same outfit. Yeah. *shifty eyes*

Also yay for long chapters with lots of nothing going on. :/ Except for character development I guess. I hope it’s not too disappointing considering I most likely won’t be updating in November because NaNoWriMo.

I changed the restaurant’s name because why not. Making the interior for it was pretty fun! But man, I don’t know… I should probably actually do something plot-related here. I just keep thinking that the plot I have planned is sort of a rehash of arc 1… but I’ll think of something different.

Anyway, I hope you find something to enjoy about this, and have a lovely time!

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Chapter 24: Family Ties

I’d formed a new routine when winter had started. Every Saturday I woke up so early that the others were still asleep. I quickly shovelled down a hastily made omelette, brushed my teeth, got dressed and tried to fade out my scars with makeup before I headed out. The morning air was frosty and stung my nostrils in that peppery way chilly air tended to do.

I trudged through the freshly fallen snow and got into our car, driving through a by now familiar route towards the local witch’s house. Sabine was of course still not a witch. I mean, that would be silly because the only real magic was fairies who used their powers to hide and switch up babies. In all seriousness, I wouldn’t be surprised anymore if there was a whole world of all sorts of magical creatures out there. But Sabine Bellechance wasn’t one of them. She was just an old woman who had a lot of compassion and wisdom underneath her bitter and aloof shell.

I’d worked on her garden until it was cleaned up, and then proceeded to maintain it. But when the winter rolled in, I of course wasn’t needed. Not until this year, when Sabine had asked me to help with her groceries and cleaning too. I hadn’t needed to think about it much; I’d said yes almost immediately. Not just because it meant more money. I’d done it mostly because I really liked Sabine.

She was getting older. I noticed it from the way her walking had got slower and of course from the fact that she needed a cane to walk long distances now. But despite that, she kept her back as straight as she could and insisted on walking to the store with me. She looked very snazzy in her sleek coat and her awesome purple bowler hat. She didn’t even seem to mind the cold or the people who occasionally stared at her with suspicion because of the witch-rumours.

“Oh, they need to have their gossip,” she said nonchalantly when we were making our way to the EverFresh Delights Supermarket and a couple of people had started whispering when we’d passed by, “It makes life feel more interesting than it really is here.”

“I guess…” I said, “It’s not nice, though.”

“Well, no. It’s not. But then again, I don’t care enough to let it hurt me.”

She kept her head high, and I secretly wished that I too could grow old as gracefully as she did. Sure, she came off as rather cold sometimes, but maybe it was the coldness that had preserved something important in her soul. Maybe. Whatever it was, it seemed to work for her.

But I had a feeling she didn’t think it would work for anyone else. Especially for me. She talked about it several times when we got back to her house and took a moment to sit down and chat. She especially talked about how people shouldn’t be so apathetic and let life pass them by.

“I don’t mean to point fingers, especially at you,” she said today after I’d helped her with cleaning the house and we’d gone outside to sit in the beautiful snowy afternoon, “I mean, I don’t know everything that has happened to you, but from what I’ve heard, you’ve been taking steps to live a life the way you want despite all the hardships.”

She smiled.

“Although, you’re also spending time with an old woman like me.”

“Maybe that’s also a part of the life I want,” I replied, idly poking the frozen plastic daffodils on Sabine’s garden table, “I like talking to you.”

“And I’m glad about that. But I also think I’m not the most uplifting company.”

“I’m not uplifting either.”

“You don’t give yourself enough credit,” Sabine smiled, “You see a lot of beauty in the world. I read the short story you sent to that contest. You know, the one that got published on the web.”

“Really?” I blushed, “You didn’t tell me that.”

“It wasn’t too long ago. I liked it. Dark but beautiful. I especially liked the bit about the two worlds.”

I smiled shyly.

“Thanks.”

Sabine returned my smile with her own.

“Just don’t let life get you down. It did that once, and I never really got over it.”

I pondered her words when I finally started to drive back home. Sometimes I spent the entire day at Sabine’s, and this was one of those days, but I was still almost surprised to see how dark it had got. I wondered if Sabine thought that I spent time with her out of pity. Because it felt like she really had no one in her life other than me now. She at least seemed to think that her presence made my depression worse or something. It didn’t, really. I really felt like we could become good friends once she finally accepted that I did enjoy spending time with her and respected her despite – or partly because – of the slightly sour, mysterious aura that surrounded her.

I tried to remember when the last time I’d thought about the letters we’d dug up with Min had been. I was still way too curious about them, but I knew enough not to pry. It was Sabine’s secret, and a big part of me had already accepted that she didn’t want to talk about it. I convinced myself that after all this wondering, the actual answers would just be anticlimactic anyway.

When I got back home I was met with a happy greeting from Rem. He and Merrill had braved the cold weather – which to be fair had got considerably less cold during the day – and got out to build a snowman. The snow had become just sticky enough once the weather had warmed up a bit, and Rem had already rolled up most of the snowman while Merrill occasionally took a break from eating snow to pat the snowman’s sides where he could reach them.

“You wanna help us?” Rem asked excitedly, “I think we’re going for a traditional touch with this one!”

I thought about wasted time I could instead waste on reading or surfing on the internet. Then I thought about silly cheerful things that made the blanket over my mind thin.

“Sure. Why not.”

“No man snowman!” Merrill sang in response and punched the snowman’s side with his small fist.

“Merry, what have I told about mistreating other people’s work?”

“It’s bad?”

“Exactly. Don’t worry, you can still stick the carrot-nose on no-man-snowman’s face, okay?”

I grinned at my brothers and joined them.

“Kielo and Alvar are going to visit tomorrow,” Rem said once the snowman was done and he had flopped onto his back into the snow.

“Really?” I asked and picked up Merrill, who was starting to complain about the cold, “They got their phones finally working again?”

“Nah. I saw them. I’m really trying to see little things so I can then maybe see the more important things without messing them up.”

Rem moved his arms and legs to make a snow angel – or a snow fairy – and didn’t seem to care that the sticky snow was quickly soaking his jacket.

“Sometimes it’s easy…” he said, “Seeing… but a lot of the times I still don’t get it.”

“Are you going back to Twinbrook again, then?” I asked, “For some more lessons?”

“Probably, yeah. Maybe tomorrow for a quick visit. I asked mum and dad and they said it was fine as long as I was back before the night.”

I remembered a time when mum and Patrick had been really uncertain to let their son go alone to study with fairies, but things had changed. It had taken a lot of visits from Kielo, and she’d even had to show mum and Patrick the forest until they’d been happy. She’d been a bit hesitant to do it, but in the end she had agreed. Now it almost felt like a devastating family secret had become a hobby of sorts. Like evening classes about wonky magic.

“You wanna come with us?” Rem asked, “Kuura especially has been asking about you a lot.”

I shrugged.

“Maybe later. I’ve still got some schoolwork I want to do.”

“I wanna go!” Merril suddenly said.

Rem smiled.

“Sorry, Merry. Not until you’re older.”

Merrill scrunched up his nose and then turned to whisper into my ear:

“Rem is stupidhead.”

“Hey! I heard that!”

I laughed. There really was a lot of sense in not letting life get to me. Sometimes I thought that I already had, but then I found these little moments when I felt light and happy. That was when I knew that I wasn’t a completely lost cause yet.

Sure enough, Kielo managed to call us that night with her cell phone, which she had excitedly figured out about six months ago, but which kept breaking because she tended to experiment with it too eagerly. She and Alvar arrived early in the next morning after they got permission to take Rem away for a day. They looked almost convincing in their winter clothes, though I was pretty sure the clothes had been either scavenged or stolen from somewhere. They kicked their shoes off as soon as they got in, but they didn’t even have time to take off their coats before Patrick was there, hugging his biological son and welcoming them to the house.

“I guess we should visit more often and not just come here to take Rem away every once in a while,” Alvar said, and then seemed to realise how wrong his words sounded in light of what had happened all those years ago, when the fair folk really had just tried to take him away, “…sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Patrick, “But yes, you should visit more often!”

They shed their winter clothes, and then it was time for more hugs. It had become a ritual whenever Alvar visited. Lots of hugs and pleasantries followed by Rem often leaving for the day and then returning at night. This time was no different.

“Hey there, little guy!” Alvar said as soon as he got a hold of Merrill and lifted him high into the air, “You’re growing so fast! I don’t think I’ll be able to toss you around like this much longer. Soon you’ll be wrestling all your siblings to the ground!”

Merrill giggled and flailed his arms wildly. He’d really got attached to his half-brother, and seemed to always remember him even after a longer break from seeing him. That was quite remarkable for a pretty self-absorbed three-year-old. Rem and Alvar had also developed this very natural sort of camaraderie that made me smile. Though I had a feeling it wasn’t without its tensions. They were simply very good at hiding their problems. Or then I was just being pessimistic again.

We traded news about our respective lives, and mum and Patrick asked slightly stern questions about what Rem would be doing among the fair folk this time, like they always did. Usually the anwer was more of the same: practising. Rem had been very eager to learn how to control his fairy magic powers, and he really had made good progress with it during his visits.

“I think Lumi has planned some focus training or something,” Kielo explained this time when Patrick asked her about it, “You know, practising the… doing what you want to do with magic stuff. I’m not really good at the academic terms for magic, you know. I can barely pull off my glamour.”

“I think it looks fine,” I said, “Especially the fauxhawk.”

“The what?” Kielo frowned.

“Your haircut.”

“Oh, is that what you call it? Cool!”

“I just hope there’ll be some time to do stuff together too,” Rem told Alvar, who was trying his best to chat with him while holding a wiggling Merrill, “We can maybe try to finish building that treehouse for the kids.”

“Yeah!” Alvar laughed and then winced when Merrill tugged his dreadlocks a bit too hard, “Kuura, Halla and Marras have been pestering me about getting it done for weeks now!”

“It sounds like things are really going well for you,” I said, “You know, despite the pestering kids.”

Kielo smiled.

“We always pull through.”

“Is the winter rough for you, though?” asked Patrick, “It’s much colder than last year. Don’t you do a lot of gathering and farming?”

“Oh, our winters are always really mild,” Kielo said, “It’s a part of having magic hiding us; it also gives us pretty good shields against the frost and snow.”

“I love the snow here, though,” Alvar said, “I wish we had more of it in the forest. It’s so beautiful.”

“And fun, right?” Rem added, “If it were a bit warmer, we could build snowmen and have snowball fights again!”

“Well, maybe next time.”

“Right…” Rem glanced at the clock on his cell phone, “Hey, I think we should be leaving already. I’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Exactly. Remember to get back in the ten o’clock bus,” mum said for the fifteenth time that weekend. Rem nodded and dashed upstairs to cram his backpack full of essentials like muesli bars, sketchbooks and pens.

They were always gone so quickly. We had a quick chat that didn’t tell anyone much about anything, and then dad was standing on the porch, waving goodbye to an excited Rem and our new-ish relatives. He always smiled after them until they were gone. Then he stood on the porch a bit too long and his expression changed to a forlorn one.

I had a feeling I knew what he was thinking. He was maybe afraid that someday Rem wouldn’t come back. That Rem would want to stay among his people instead of us. I knew that was a totally irrational fear. Rem had chosen us long ago, and I doubted a few visits were going to change that.

Especially considering that the visits were like attending school on weekends. Rem had told us in detail how it all usually played out. It involved quick hellos to the other fairy villagers, and maybe some time to spend with Alvar and Kielo before Rem had to go see the Matriarch’s adviser Lumi, who was the resident magic expert and healer. She always had a magic lesson planned for Rem, and she was stern and demanding.

Usually it began with her leaving Rem to meditate by the river for an hour while she was finishing up her chores for the day. After that came the actual teaching. Sometimes she taught illusions and magic that the fair folk could do. It was apparently essential to survival.

“If you can’t master it, you could be killed, or kill someone else with an ill-timed magic surge!” was what she’d said. Her motivational speeches were usually more on the terrifying side.

Sometimes she tried her best to teach Rem how to control his gift of clairvoyance. Because Rem’s mum had been the only actual clairvoyant in the village, there was no one there who could properly teach him that anymore. But Lumi was apparently doing pretty well with what she knew. She explained the importance of focus and of not getting lost into the visions, which I recalled had been what had killed Rem’s mum. She also told Rem about the most common symbols in visions.

I had thought that Rem’s visions were just personal things, just his way of getting glimpses of something he then usually interpreted through fairytales. But apparently there were some universal details in weird psychic powers too. Rem had once excitedly told me about what some of the things he saw could mean. About how animals often represented people and how a stormy weather in visions usually meant that something bad was about to happen.

I was especially fascinated and horrified by his description of the shadowy, silhouetted figure that was apparently an omen of death. The fair folk, influenced by their matriarchal society, had at some point decided that it was female despite not having enough characteristics to tell for sure. They had named her Tuonetar, who was apparently a benevolent if morbid figure in the fair folk’s mythology. The death goddess or something. Someone who ferried the souls of the dead to the beyond.

It had all been interesting, sure, but all I could think about when I heard the description was the black figure I had seen in my dreams after the fire. Rem had mused that it must have been because he had linked his dreams with mine, and because he had seen death. My near-death, probably. The mere thought made me feel dizzy. I also remembered the shadowy figures we’d sometimes been surrounded with back when we’d been little. Maybe Rem had been seeing them a lot and then just accidentally made me see them too. He had been so close to death when he had been born, after all. It was unnerving to say the least.

I wondered what his lessons would be like today. Maybe more of the same. Or maybe he’d be learning about fairy dreams this time. About how he had been able to link his dreams with me sometimes. Before this, Rem had done all those things mostly without knowing what he’d been doing. Now he had the chance to actually learn it.

It was hard work, definitely, and Rem often returned half-asleep and with a headache that made Patrick regret his decision to let his son go on fairy field trips even more. But the next morning he’d again be happy and jumping around like he always was. And he was always so excited about finally learning how to control the visions and powers that had previously manifested as confusing fairytale-esque metaphors. So I figured it was just good for him.

But while Rem was away, I spent the day mostly writing and doing schoolwork and helping mum and Patrick around the house. And because of that I had plenty of time to catch glimpses of Patrick’s worried face and quiet moments of regret.

In those moments I really hoped that he was worrying for nothing. And I also hoped I could have said something to make him feel better. But I could never come up with anything convincing.

But Rem came back, like he always did. He was tired and went straight to bed, and the next day he was skipping through the snow into the school bus as if nothing weird had happened. And Patrick could sigh in relief and our week could properly start. Happy. Safe. And normal for us.

After school I came home to find Rem outside on our swing set. That wasn’t anything new, really. However, he wasn’t really swinging, but instead just sitting and staring wistfully into space. He was even ignoring the awesome igloo Patrick had built for us while trying to think happy thoughts before Rem came back from Twinbrook.

“Hey, you okay?” I said.

Rem looked up at me and smiled weakly.

“Hi. It was a long day.”

“You were home long before I was.”

“Yeah…” Rem leaned his forehead against one of the swing’s chains, “Yesterday… Lumi told me that I was making a lot progress. That I wasn’t completely hopeless with magic anymore.”

He fell silent for a while, and blinked a few stray snowflakes from his eyelashes. I slowly sat on the other swing and waited.

“She told me that I might be ready to start officially becoming a shaman… their new clairvoyant.”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Really? Already?”

“That’s what I wondered too,” Rem pursed his lips, deep in thought, “She did say it would mean a pretty long process of studying and practise and rituals and all… but… I still don’t know. I think they just want someone who can see the future into their village again. And I think…”

He hesitated, and I dared to finish his sentence with what Patrick was secretly fearing:

“That they want to make you stay?”

Rem nodded.

“I think they want me to feel like I have to,” he said, “They’re being nice about it, though.”

“Well, what do you really want?” I asked, “Would you want to become their shaman? I have to admit it would look awesome on a résumé.”

Rem laughed, but the laugh was clipped and not natural like it usually was.

“I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, really,” he said, “I don’t think I even have to know yet. But I… I do know that I want to stay here. But I want us all to be happy. Them too. My other family, I mean.”

I nodded slowly.

“I think that sounds like a plan. We should be able to work with that somehow. And don’t worry; we’ll all make sure no one will break us apart again. Not even if they’re being nice about it.”

Rem laughed again, this time sounding much more like himself. He kicked the ground with his feet and quickly worked up speed as he swung back and forth, back and forth. His smile lingered in the air amidst the snowflakes.

“You’re right,” he said, “At least I want to think that.”

I watched my brother trying to reach the sky and thought about how far we’d come. I wasn’t sure if I could keep my spontaneous promise of us staying together no matter what. In fact, my pessimistic, usually overpowering side said it was unlikely. But I forced myself to silence it, and closed my eyes and let the lazy snowflakes fall on my face.

Even if it was unlikely, I’d definitely do everything I could to keep us all together and safe.

“No… no…”

“Nathaniel…”

“It was all a lie… You… YOU ALL KEEP LYING TO ME!”

“Please, ma’am. Calm down. What is-?”

“IT WAS REAL! YOU CAN’T CLAIM HE WASN’T HERE! THE FAIRIES TOOK HIM!”

“…They took my son…”

Author’s Note: Yeah, this is another sort of set-up chapter. I could have merged this and the previous one together but ehh… I wanted to get something out sooner so the previous interlude-thing was born. So… setting up possible conflicts and other things and desperately trying to make sense of the very random shadow-people comment in the prologue that really went nowhere because I changed my mind about the nature of the story quite a bit in the beginning. That’s what I get for not planning ahead enough!

But let’s talk about something more positive now… uh… I love how cute everyone looks in their winter hats! Yeah! And winter in general looks gorgeous. I could just take endless screenshots of the snowy scenery!

Also, Tuonetar is a death goddess in old Finnish mythology, though not exactly what I described the fair folk’s version of her being like. I figured that since I’ve used gratuitous Finnish to name every fairy in the story, it stands to reason that their gods/spirit guide-creatures also have Finnish names. I apologise for cramming my native culture down your throats… or then I’m not, because I figure I’ve done it mostly tastefully so far. Feel free to complain if it’s too much.

I’ve been having some trouble with loading some of my Fey saves. I think it’s because the saves are getting too big. I’ve been trying to clean them up and so far I’ve managed to at least get them working. Let’s hope I can keep things functional. So far my TS3 has been very kind to me so we can hope it will keep doing that.

I hope you enjoy! I’ll start working on the next chapter as soon as I have time and energy. Right now I’m pretty busy with school and all. Have a lovely time you all!

PREVIOUS Chapter: One And a Half Years

NEXT Chapter: The Princess and the Pixie

Chapter 23: One And a Half Years

Excerpts from Simbook, one year after what the Monsoon-Farley family has dubbed simply “The Incident”:


Lynn Farley
14 July
Finally getting on a plane towards Shang Simla. It’s been way too much waiting.

Margaret Farley
Remember to be careful!

Rem Monsoon
😀 Mum’s thinking you’ll try to bungee jump off the plane.

 Lynn Farley
😛


Lynn Farley
14 July


The accommodations could definitely be worse. It’s really close to the centre, and the building is super cool! Also the picture I took is proof that we survived the flight, with just some numbed muscles and major jet lag.

Jace Herring
The place is awesome. I’m calling the fancy bunk!

Lynn Farley
Jace, I’m right next to you. You can just turn your head and talk to me. 😛


Lynn Farley
15 July


Went for a walk in the centre. It’s really beautiful. Behind Bree and I you can see the Halls of the Lost Army.

Rem Monsoon
Nice! Can you take lots of pictures on pretty scenery? I wanna paint EVERYTHING there.

Margaret Farley
hi lynaöaflk paskxliw llkasöd.

Margaret Farley
Sorry. Merry wanted to say hi too. He can almost type already!

Lynn Farley
Mum, there are such things as delete and backspace…

Bree Vasquez
😀


Lynn Farley
16 July


Got to visit the famous Scholar’s Garden. It really is as peaceful as the websites claim.

Min Han
Not pictured: Michel falling into the pond.

Michel Faroffington
Hey! 😡

 Jace Herring
lol


Lynn Farley
18 July








Okay, here’s some scenery pics. Shang Simla is amazing.

Rem Monsoon
Yay, thanks!


 Lynn Farley
19 July
The time to get back home is getting closer, but there’s still plenty of time to do stuff. Today was a shopping day, but I’m hoping we’ll get to see the terracotta army later.


Lynn Farley
19 July


Aaaw, yeah!

Rem Monsoon
Did they look like they might wanna come to life and attack people?

Lynn Farley
Stop watching so many movies.

Rem Monsoon
Been raiding your bookshelf, actually. 😛

Lynn Farley
As long as you don’t destroy anything…


Lynn Farley
July 20


One of the last times we visited the centre. I’ll be missing this place later.

Min Han
Me too. It’s been amazing.


It really had been.

I sighed wistfully and logged out from Simbook and from my trip down memory lane. It’d been over half a year since we’d visited China. I’d been wanting to get out, to explore the world, and I’d asked my closest friends to go with me. After some planning and meeting up together several times, Jace, Bree, Michel, and Min had all said yes. And then, a year of working between studies and saving up every Simoleon I made had done it. Barely. To be honest, we couldn’t have gone if it hadn’t been for Michel being rich and helping us all. I hadn’t been a fan of the idea of him paying a bit more than the rest of us, but he didn’t seem to mind. Neither had Mrs. Faroffington, who had volunteered as our chaperone and then stayed out of our way as much as she could to have a holiday of her own. We’d had so much fun, and I felt like it had helped my depression more than a year of therapy and pills could. Not that it had magically cured it; it was still there, a blanket on my mind, but not as suffocating as before.

After that, it had been back to the everyday life. But even that hadn’t felt that bad. Things had changed, and I’d say the changes were for the better.

We’d done some renovating in the house, making the cold white walls a bit warmer with some wood panelling and brown paint. Mum and Patrick had loved fixing up the house, and Rem had always been the first to wake up to paint the walls. I’d loved carrying around the new stone tiles that were then put over the kitchen walls, and just helping things come together. Merrill had loved trying to paint everything in sight until we took the paints away from his reach. Oh boy, had he screamed.

Despite his occasional primadonna antics being mostly unchanged, Merrill had grown. He was talking a lot more, and his walking was much better. He could even draw, write some of the alphabets, and do something resembling very basic maths. And when he played his xylophone, it almost seemed like he knew what he was doing. Not that it made the sounds of him violently pummelling the notes out of the xylophone any less cringe-worthy.

Mum had enrolled on an online university course on computing and media to make her blog better. She had even bought a dorky university shirt and liked to walk around in it like she was the queen of the world. She seemed to worry a bit less too. I liked that. And she liked her studies, especially because studying and working mostly from home meant that she could still spend a lot of time with Merrill. She kept talking about how fast he grew, and how soon they’d all miss these days when Merrill was cute and little instead of cute and slightly less little. I suppose that made sense.

Patrick was… well, Patrick. I don’t know if even the apocalypse could change him. He still liked hugging trees and making responsible consumer choices. He spent most of his free time in the garden, until frost attacked it and he had to let it fall dormant for the rest of the year. Then he moved back indoors to be himself. He still loved teaching and kept his mostly calm, warm nature intact even when paying therapy bills and seeing me sit in my room with a blank expression on my face. But now, when I did the blank staring much less, I noticed that he smiled a little more.

Rem was also still his own, kind of childish and definitely creative self. He’d been shaken by everything that had happened, sure, but he seemed to get over it much better this time. I’m sure that seeing his other family helped a lot too. Sometimes Alvar would visit us, and sometimes Rem would take the bus to Twinbrook and then walk beyond that. It made him less confused, at least, and I think he was slowly finding his identity. I’m sure the doubts about him not being Patrick’s kid had kept it on shaky grounds. Sometimes it was weird how having one’s fears confirmed actually made things easier. But only sometimes.

I could say that I was annoyed or embarrassed by my brother’s childish antics whenever he tried to cheer me up or just felt like being an idiot…

…but I had to admit that I’d learned to love that. Probably way before we’d started to become closer as siblings.

I think that one of the best things about facing all that awfulness in the past was that the smaller hurts felt… well, smaller. I could face difficult things with more bravery because I’d already been so scared and broken and yet managed to get over it. Almost.

Maybe that was why I was having a peaceful nostalgia moment instead of worrying about the upcoming spring that would surely be hell for anyone my age who wanted to have a future.

The pushy society dictated that I should already start to worry about graduating high school, even though this was only my second-to-last year. Not to mention how I was about to become eighteen years old. Almost an adult, legally responsible enough to be held fully responsible for screwing up. And Rem was on his way to high school now. I figured I should at some point start to mentally prepare for studying overloads and shattered dreams.

But not right now. Right now I was happy to just look out the window, at the gentle snowfall that had finally covered Sunset Valley after a too-long, dark autumn. The New Year was upon us, and Snowflake Day was already enough in the past for us to have eaten most of the festive food. I felt like I should go for a jog. I’d been eating way too much in the last few days.

I thought about it for a while, and then called Min and asked her if she wanted to challenge her lungs with the frosty air. She said yes, as long as she could first finish the video call she was having with… someone.

I had a feeling I knew who she was calling, even though she didn’t say it. Even I hadn’t missed the looks Min and Jace had given each other when we’d been in Shang Simla. And Bree had been gushing about the two endlessly after the trip. It was oddly cute, I suppose.

I stood up from my chair and didn’t make it far until Rem almost ran into me.

“Hey, Lynn! I was just practising in my room!” he said excitedly, “Look what I can do now!”

He lifted his hands, and light started to form between them. He scrunched up his forehead, and the light turned into a flower.

“See?” he said, “Look how precise my illusions are now!”

I smiled.

“Yeah, it’s awesome.”

Rem beamed back at me.

“Thanks!”

Then he ran downstairs, probably to either paint or to go outside and frolic in the snow. I realised I was still smiling. Yup, things had definitely turned out for the better in the last year and a half.

I tried my best to ignore the feel of a phantom gun in my hand and walked downstairs after my brother.

Author’s Note: Yay for a short interlude-ish thing that probably shows that I don’t use Facebook or the actual Simbook or anything like that… and it also shows my unwillingness to use chatspeak, since all the characters are surprisingly eloquent in their “Simbook-comments”.

For this story I now have a bunch of events that are out of order and kind of disjointed and I’m trying to weave them together into a logical plot-like thing. So I’m not sure how long it’ll take for this arc to really get going, but I’ll do my best to not leave you hanging for too long.

Have a lovely time!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Rebirth

NEXT Chapter: Family Ties

Chapter 22: Rebirth

I didn’t know how long I sat there in the emptiness. All I saw was blackness broken apart by an occasional flash to dead bodies. My breath was coming out in strangled gasps. After I realised I was still clutching the gun in my hands, I threw it away in frantic disgust, but I could still feel the cold metal like a phantom limb.

I faintly sensed someone moving next to me. First it was Rem, who curled up near me. Then it was Alvar, who scrambled to his feet and ran to Villia. Through the slimy darkness that obscured my vision, I saw him shaking her unmoving body and yelling her name in a heartbreakingly young voice. I barely heard through the loud thud-thud-thud of my heartbeat when Laketon of all people called for help on his phone. My hands were still shaking.

I had to…

I…

I k-

No.

Yes…

He would have killed us!

I…

I had to…

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered, my voice shattering and tears I hadn’t noticed before spilling again. My throat was sore from my scream, but I didn’t care. I deserved all the discomfort I felt.

I’m a…

I k-

No!

I didn’t!

I…

I didn’t want to k-

Kill…

Murder.

I’m a murderer.

When that word finally formed in my mind, I felt my world shattering again.

I had killed someone.

I had…

My hands shook so badly that I had to clench them into fists and smash them into the sand to keep them still. I hit the sand again and again until it hurt. Then I stopped and would have screamed again if I had had a voice anymore. I sunk back into the darkness, let it into my mind and my lungs and my heart. Tears splashed on the sand in front of me.

When the sirens invaded my ears, I didn’t feel anything anymore.

I didn’t know what happened after that, other than that we were surrounded by all sorts of emergency personnel, and then later our parents, who had again had to suffer a shock because of us. They fussed around me after Rem had been carted away into an ambulance. I noted all of that through some kind of thick haze. Even the fact that Alvar sat next to me and cried or the shouts of surprised paramedics that discovered Villia’s body that had by then shed its disguise weren’t snapping me out of it. I was empty, or then I was just so full of shock and emotions that they couldn’t get through anymore. The people tried to ask me questions, but some other people ushered the questioning ones away. I didn’t even register who was asking what.

One of the paramedics gave me something. A pill, or maybe something to drink. Maybe both. I couldn’t remember. The blanket of darkness thickened and wrapped around me, turning from cold and suffocating into warm and almost comfortable. It weighed me down into a dreamless sleep.

I struggled awake in a warm bed and looked up at mum and Patrick’s faces. They were so worried and so relieved at the same time. I blinked up at them and managed to pry my dry mouth open:

“I… Did… What-?”

“Oh, thank goodness!” mum breathed, “Are you okay?”

No. I wasn’t. I struggled to sit up. The room was vaguely familiar. Maybe because hospital rooms always looked basically the same.

“Where…?” I trailed off. I didn’t even know what I was asking. Patrick interpreted it pretty well, though.

“Rem’s in surgery right now,” he said, “The doctors are optimistic about it. Still, he…” he swallowed, “He had a bullet in his shoulder…”

I pressed my mouth into a thin line. Mum gave both Patrick and I one-armed hugs.

“Everything’s going to be just fine,” she said quietly.

I buried my head into my hands and burst into tears.

I couldn’t remember what exactly happened. It all was a haze in my head, partly because of the shock and partly because of the medication they had to occasionally give me to calm me down. I remembered people introducing themselves to me, but their names slipped my mind almost as soon as they got there. I remembered people asking Alvar about Villia and about his family, even though Alvar was in a similar state of shock as I was, I think. I saw his blank face and how he curled up in a ball and couldn’t answer most of the questions directed at him. Sometimes I wanted to open my mouth and tell Patrick: “That’s your son! Go to him! Take care of him!” But I couldn’t. Not now. It definitely wasn’t the time nor the place.

I wasn’t sure how long it took for the worst of the chaos to pass. I wasn’t even sure how long Rem was in the operating theatre. It had to be less than what my mind stretched it into. I was in a fog, or in the same darkness I had tried to leave behind years ago.

I didn’t know if I could do that this time.

I was a murderer, after all.

When I managed to surface from the cold, dark thoughts for the first time to at least get some air, I was sitting on a white, modern chair and breathing in the scent of hospital. Mum, Patrick, and I were waiting outside of the room where Rem was slowly waking up in.

“Lynn?” said mum very quietly, “Are you awake?”

I blinked sleepily, realising that my brain was sluggish and relaxed at the moment. I nodded and watched numbly as Merrill played in a kids’ corner across the hall. He didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Alvar sitting a few doors away from us. His clothes had got soaked with Villia’s blood when he had clung to her, and he was now wearing an old university hoodie and too big jeans from the hospital’s lost-and-found box. He looked so lost that I wanted to hug him. I really hoped someone would come looking for him.

“Lynn?” mum asked again.

“I wish I could be like Merrill,” I answered, although it wasn’t a real answer. I bit my lip, “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t have to be,” said Patrick.

They had told me so many times already that what I’d done had been in self-defence. That all I was going to get for it was some therapy to help me get through it. According to them, Laketon of all people had been quick to tell the police that I was not a murderer. And then he had disappeared from our lives again.

I wondered idly where he was now.

I heard Alvar let out a quiet sob. The fog in me lifted just enough to let my heart ache for him again. Patrick looked at Alvar worriedly.

“Poor kid,” he said, “No one’s been picking him up.”

That’s your son. Go to him.

I stood up and excused myself for a while. I sat next to Alvar. He jumped slightly when he realised I was there.

“Hey,” I said quietly.

Alvar nodded, and then wrung his hands.

“Are you… how are you?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” he said in a monotone, “I… I think they took Aunt Villia away… They shouldn’t see her like that. It’s against the rules.”

The ache in my heart got worse.

“I don’t think that matters right now,” I said.

“It always matters,” Alvar sniffed, “She… I don’t get it! She was always telling us about her adventures and how she got through all the tight spots. And I knew how awesome she was. I just…” his voice broke, “I always thought that she was invincible.”

I thought about her lying on the sand in a pool of blood. It had been so sudden. So… unceremonious that it made me sick. In a way I too had thought of Villia as a mighty force. And she had been that. The Tree Lady. The mystical schemer from the leafy shadows. But now… to be taken out like that… It wasn’t fair. And I couldn’t even imagine how Alvar felt. He’d already lost so much. And on top of that he was sitting right next to his long-lost biological dad and couldn’t even approach him.

“I’m so sorry,” I managed to say. We fell silent. Alvar sniffed a couple of times, and his tears made his eyes shimmer.

“Is… is anyone coming for you?” I asked after a while. Alvar shrugged.

“Aunt Kielo, maybe. I’m sure she’s worried about me, at least.”

He sighed.

“How did it go so wrong?” he asked, and I was sure he was asking that from the universe rather than me. But since universe remained cold and quiet, I answered for it:

“It was bad luck. Terribly, terribly bad luck.”

Alvar nodded.

“Is Rem going to be okay?” he asked.

“I think so.”

Alvar glanced at mum and Patrick again. His eyes lingered on Patrick’s face. His breath hitched, and he shook his head.

“Shit…” he muttered, “This… I don’t know how to deal with this.”

“Neither do I,” I hesitated before adding, “You should talk to him, though.”

“I know. But I… I’ll wait until Rem wakes up.”

I nodded. I saw mum and Patrick look at us worriedly, and stood up. The darkness threatened to push me to the floor.

“Hey,” Alvar said after me, “You’re a hero. Don’t… don’t be too hard on yourself.”

I froze. The darkness wavered, but became suffocating again.

“I… I’m not,” I said, “I’m not… anything.”

I hurried to sit next to mum again. Mum and Patrick looked at me questioningly.

“Have we met him?” Patrick asked, “I mean, it’s of course nice of you to talk to him. But it’s just that he… looks familiar.”

I hesitated before nodding.

“You’ve met him. Don’t be surprised if you don’t remember it properly, though. It was… a long time ago.”

It just made them more confused, but I wasn’t about to say more. We sat in silence, or maybe it was just me who was silent, until we were invited in to see the now awake Rem.

He looked terrible, but at least he was alive. For a while, there were no words. Just us lining up to give him very careful, teary hugs.

The next few days blurred together. I rested a lot, mostly because of the sedatives I’d been given. My waking hours were spent forcing myself to function and getting a lot of hugs that were slowly trying to chip away the blanket of dark around me.

At some point I was taken to a psychiatrist, who had a warmly decorated office and a very naturally friendly smile. I filled some forms and talked about my guilt and about me being a murderer. I don’t remember what I said. All I remember was the feeling of something having got stuck in my brain. Like the gears had slipped out of alignment and were struggling to move. Sometimes it repeated the murderer-mantra on a loop. Sometimes I was so tired I didn’t want to think anymore.

In the end the visits to the therapist did help, a little bit. It was still too early to say anything final about my recovery, but at least the feelings of being stuck let up somewhat already by the third visit. After that the thoughts started flowing again, and there were too many of them.

I cried a lot after that. Again. I cried because of what had happened. I cried for us and for Alvar and Villia. I cried because of secrets and mysteries and deadbeat dads. And then the tears stopped coming for a long while. I was all cried out. Mum was there most of the time, hugging me like I was a little kid – because I was – and I would often hug Merrill, who still probably only had a vague idea of what had happened.

In-between that we visited Rem as much as we could, and when we couldn’t visit him we asked the doctors for some updates on his condition. He was slowly recovering. He was as exhausted and sleepy as I was, and he barely spoke a word even when we were there with him. He looked at me with a very gentle look sometimes, though. As if to say “Stop doing that to yourself.” Alvar visited too sometimes. He looked so lost in his borrowed clothes and with a police officer with him. He was under police protection until someone would pick him up. The police sometimes asked me questions too. I tried to answer in ways that wouldn’t make me break down again.

It was maybe the fourth or the fifth day after the incident when Kielo showed up. She came in with a pair of police officers, who thankfully stayed back and let her bring Alvar to us without asking too many questions.

At first I didn’t recognise her. But then I saw the yellow eyes and the pointy ears and made the connection. She presented herself as Alvar’s aunt named Lilian Fern and wanted to speak to us. Mostly it was just to say: “Thank you.”

When she asked to see Rem, however, Patrick stepped forth.

“I’m sorry, miss,” he said, “But my son’s not feeling very well yet.”

His eyes added: and we don’t know you well enough.

The door to Rem’s room cracked open, however, and Rem peeked through.

“Dad…” he said in a scratchy voice, “They can come in. And… you and mum too.”

He shifted his feet and clung to the door handle.

“I’ve got something I really need to tell you.”

I looked at Rem with raised brows.

“Are you sure you can deal with this now?” I asked.

Rem nodded fiercely.

“It has to be now. Hiding… hiding things has just got us here. I’ll be fine.”

“Rem? What’s going on?” asked mum.

“It’s… it’s fine, mum,” Rem said, “Just… you really need to know this.”

I was left in the hallway with Merrill, then. When Kielo walked into Rem’s room, I noticed the air wavering around her, and I assumed she was doing it so possible outsiders wouldn’t hear what was going to be said in the room.

It didn’t stop people from seeing the doors fly open after half an hour, and Patrick’s quiet, trembling voice ordering Kielo and Alvar out.

Alvar looked blankly at the floor.

“Well, that went about as well as I feared,” managed to say.

Kielo patted him on the shoulder.

“Give him time,” she said, and then she looked up at me and smiled sadly.

“This is really going to take some explaining, isn’t it?” she said. She sighed, “This shouldn’t have gone this way at all…”

“No,” I said, “It shouldn’t have.”

I glanced at Alvar, who looked ready to cry.

“But I’m glad someone came for Alvar.”

Kielo smiled.

“Of course I did! When he didn’t come home, I started looking for him at once.”

She wrapped her arms around Alvar.

“We may be running out of family, but that just means we have to stick together even better.”

“Yeah,” I managed to say through the sorrow that was stuck in my throat, “I’m so sorry about all this.”

“It wasn’t your fault,” Kielo said firmly, “None of it was.”

She had to know about the shooting. I gave her a faint smile. Maybe one day I could believe when people said that.

I wasn’t sure how long Rem, mum, and Patrick spent in the room, talking and explaining and occasionally yelling. It had to be hours. But finally Patrick opened the door again.

This time there were no words anymore. At least not many. Patrick hesitated for a moment, but then his eyes started to shimmer with unshed tears.

“Nathaniel?” he whispered.

Alvar nodded.

“If that’s what you used to call me, then yeah. But… I’m Alvar now.”

Patrick nodded and smiled through his tears.

“Yes. Alvar. Of course.”

Then they hugged. Father and son. For the first time in days I felt something warm in my chest. It was so close to happiness that I felt like we could maybe survive this set of traumas as well.

Together.

In the end, nothing changed.

Well, that wasn’t true. Because almost everything changed. Our perception of the world, to begin with. But in the end, Rem stayed a Monsoon and Alvar stayed an honorary member of the fair folk. What changed on the surface was the link that was probably the first friendly one between humans and the fair folk in centuries.

It was a tentative start, really. I was sure mum and Patrick weren’t yet fully ready to accept the fact that their sons were changelings and that magic and fairies existed. But when a couple of fairies were standing right in front of them, it was pretty hard not to believe it. And I saw some kind of enchantment in their eyes at times. Like they… loved the idea of magic on some yet unrealised level.  They were less thrilled about the being lied to and having a child stolen -side of things. But even with that… it went much smoother than I’d expected. Maybe they figured there had already been enough anger and abuse around us lately.

So they were friendly and ready to listen. And Alvar even got the permission to hold Merrill. He was so amazed, and his large hand curled around Merrill’s small one, and there was maybe a quiet connection between Merrill’s slightly muddled babbling and Alvar’s delighted, one-worded answers.

Even Kielo seemed to be overjoyed, and actually relaxed after that. She somehow managed to wrap all the people in the hospital around her finger during her short stay.

Maybe it was magic, maybe it was her charmingly sarcastic and slightly mischievous personality. Maybe both. All I knew was that the people in the hospital loved her and she made them smile. I think she even affected me a little. Or maybe my head was realising that it really needed some smiles. In the end, Alvar and Kielo left the hospital with a promise to keep contact, and a promise to return once things had calmed down a bit and once it was easier to really talk things through.

I had a feeling that the real reason why they left wasn’t really not wanting to intrude on an already chaotic situation for long. For soon after they had left, Villia’s body disappeared from the hospital’s morgue, and it caused a buzz for about a day until everyone just seemed to forget about her. All that was left were vague images of bodies that weren’t real after all. The only ones who remembered Villia in the hospital after that were Rem and I. Or at least that was what we concluded. Meanwhile, Kielo and Alvar quietly disappeared from Twinbrook as well, possibly walking into the mist of the swamp like a fading dream.

Rem started to recover rather quickly after that. And I kept going to therapy that turned from talks about guilt to talks about the future. I didn’t know what that had to do with the fact that I had just… killed a man… but it made me feel better, at least. I sat on a cream-coloured couch and slowly started to realise how long a journey I had ahead of me. There was a glimpse of the horizon I had always kept in sight and what had recently been obscured by guilt and depression.

The air around me became lighter again, and this time it wasn’t because of fairy magic.

Around the same time when Rem was about to be discharged, the police informed us that the redheaded woman they had arrested on the beach had talked. That they knew which criminal gang she and the other thug worked for. They told us that with the recent events backing them up, they could arrest the higher-ups of the gang in no time. I felt like I was free to breathe again. Like we were all free to breathe.

Rem got properly out of the hospital under police protection about two and a half weeks after the incident. Grandma and Grandpa were waiting for us with pie and some of our old Twinbrook friends. Bree and Jace greeted me with relieved smiles, and we gathered into a group hug. There had been a bit too many hugs in my life lately, but I realised I minded them much less than before.

Jace looked rather embarrassed when he talked to me, though, so I sighed and put my hand on his shoulder.

“Look, Jace,” I said, “I know things went weird between us, but I just shot a guy who tried to kill me and my family, so… let’s agree that an awkward kiss is like nothing and move on.”

Jace burst into a relieved laugh, and Bree beamed at me.

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re taking this all really well.”

She narrowed her eyes after she’d said that, though.

“Well, you aren’t, really. Are you?”

My smile faded.

“I’m getting there,” I said to reassure her. And because I wanted to think that I really was.

We returned to Sunset Valley a couple of days later. Our home was waiting for us, and I realised just now how much I’d missed it. It wasn’t quite the same, of course, but it wasn’t as bad as when we’d gone through trauma before. I knew that we still had to follow the police case of the criminal gang for a while longer, and I knew that I’d still have to go to therapy, but at least it still felt like home.

The rest of the summer went quietly, like it wanted to slip out of our lives as quickly and unnoticed as possible. Given what had happened during it, I couldn’t really blame it.

Towards the end of the summer I received an email that said I’d actually won one of the writing contests I’d spammed my stories with. It was a decent amount of money. A couple of months ago I’d have been ecstatic. Now the darkness that – despite it being less thick than before – had settled in my head just allowed me to smile gently. I saved the money I’d earned and thought about my tattoos. But I also thought about horizons, and an idea tried to break through the darkness. I went to sleep that night with a buzzing in my mind.

“You want to leave,” Rem said one day when we sat on the porch. It had become a good place to talk. It had fresh air and a chance for Rem to trace the smooth, wooden steps with his bare feet.

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“The fact that you want to. Don’t you?”

I thought about the horizons again.

“Just for a little while,” I said, “And not yet. I mean, I’m only just adjusting to taking the depression meds so I think I’ll wait for the worst to pass.”

“I think it’s a good idea.”

“Mm-hmm. I was thinking of saving up some more money and asking some of my friends if they’d want to travel abroad with me. I’ll be going to university or wherever I’m going in just a couple of years. This could be my last chance to actually see the world without too many other things messing it up.”

Rem nodded.

“Before this we were too afraid to go.”

“Yeah.”

Rem studied his hands.

“I was thinking of visiting Alvar and the others soon. I promised, after all. And I really want to learn to use my magic properly. Do you want to come with me?”

“I don’t think mum and dad will let you go yet. Twinbrook’s police is still hunting those criminals.”

Rem nodded quietly and then smiled at the slowly setting sun. It made his hair look like it was catching fire.

“Well, there’s still plenty of time.”

“Yeah,” I said, “Who knows what will happen.”

Who indeed? We sat in a comfortable silence, brother and sister. Because for the first time ever, there was nothing so-called about our bond as siblings.

I had to admit that I liked that.

The horizon turned pink, and I knew that soon it would be red like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Full of promise and mystery and hope. I smiled through the shadows.

“In the end, I think we’ll be alright,” Rem said as if he was reading my thoughts.

“Yeah,” I said, “In the end.”

The sun seemed to agree, or then it was just my imagination. Probably the imagination.

“Are you sure you want to do this, Alvar?”

“…Yes. I’m sure.”

“Alright. Then… I’ll be right behind you.”

“I know.”

“Hello?”

“Hello, I’m sorry to bother you, but are you Donna Brooke?”

“Yes, I am, who… oh my gods!”

“Nathaniel?”

“You… you recognise me?”

“I… of course I do! You’re my son!”

“I’ve… I’ve missed you so much!”

“Mother… I’m sorry.”

“Shhh… It wasn’t your fault! You were just a baby. Those… howwhere have you been?”

“Um…”

“Go on, Alvar, that’s why we’re here, right? Closure.”

“Okay… well, it’s a bit of a long story…”

“Well, that didn’t go nearly as well as with father.”

“I was afraid this would happen. Villia told me that your mother was very obsessed with your loss.”

“I wish we didn’t have to… do all that, though.”

“I hoped so too. But… she… I hoped we could have trusted both of your parents with the truth. Don’t worry. She’ll wake up with no memory of this.”

“I guess… Sorry, mother.”

“Hey, cheer up! At least you have a dad now! And us! We’ll be perfectly okay.”

“Yeah. It’s better to be safe than… pursued by a grieving mother, I guess.”

“Exactly. Now, come on. Let’s go. I really want to get the hang of this cell phone -thing!”

“…Nathaniel…”

Author’s Note: Well, this is what I call the end of the first long story arc. Yay! It just took a bit over a year and over 100 000 words. 😀 But this is not the end of the story. I still have another story arc planned, and I have to tie together those subplots, like Lynn’s work as Sabine’s gardener and stuff. Also I think I should do something about Donna and the fair folk and… yeah, things will still happen. The arc I’ve planned should follow Lynn and Rem to adulthood, or at least young adulthood, but I’m not sure what I’ll do after that. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Thank you all who have stopped by to read, like, comment, or even just given this a passing glance. I really appreciate your support, and you guys are awesome!

Have a lovely time, and I’ll see you after a little break that I’ll take now because I need to plan the next story arc a bit better before I continue. In the meantime, stop by on my other story if you feel like it. I seem to have too many ideas for that too.

PREVIOUS Chapter: Recoil

NEXT Chapter: One And a Half Years

Chapter 21: Recoil

WARNING: This chapter contains violence, guns, and some pixel blood.

My thoughts had got stuck in a huge, tangled knot. Laketon’s cold, light blue eyes burned through my head even though he wasn’t even looking at me. Images of fire and fear went through my head in an endless loop. Next to me, Rem was frozen, and Alvar just looked at us in utter confusion. I faintly noticed that Villia moved to stand in front of us. The air became lighter, and I saw that it started to waver around us. I managed to tear my eyes from my father and looked at Rem questioningly, but he just nodded towards Villia.

“She hid us,” Alvar whispered, “That man shouldn’t be able to realise we’re here.”

I blinked. In a way I was glad that I was probably shielded from my awful dad, but in some other, strange way that I couldn’t fully explain, I wanted him to see me. I wanted to yell at him for hurting our family. But he was much more frightening than Villia, who hadn’t really existed in my mind until pretty recently. Laketon had for so long been very, very real.

But now, his full attention was on Villia, who cocked her head and kept her cool.

“Hello, Laketon,” she said, “Fancy meeting you here.”

Laketon sputtered as if her cold but courteous response was the worst insult in the world. His hands clenched into fists, and he took a very threatening step forward.

Fancy?!” he roared, “Yeah, fancy that! I sat in a cell overnight for no reason because people thought I’d been after those fucking Farley brats again! You ruined my life once already, and now you show up here!”

Villia sighed. The air around us wavered barely noticeably, but it held together. If I hadn’t been so apprehensive about Laketon standing there, I would have been more intrigued by the experience of being inside an illusion. Now I mostly just hoped it really worked. It was clear that Villia’s illusions were much more sophisticated than Rem’s wild and in-your-face ones, at least. So maybe they were also more convincing.

“Well, I’m sorry,” Villia said without sounding very sincere, “Yeah, I lied to you, but you were the one who really screwed it up. And right now I don’t have time for this.”

She turned to leave, but Laketon actually grabbed her shoulder and spun her around. Now I noticed something else in his eyes. Desperation?

“Well, neither do I!” he snapped, “You know why? Because I really needed that money! I’ve got debts I really need to pay!”

Villia pushed Laketon’s hand from her shoulder.

“Look, Laketon. I don’t have any money. Like I said, I’m sorry, but I can’t help you.”

Laketon gritted his teeth. He raised his hand as if to hit Villia, but then he lowered it, and something broke behind his eyes.

“I… I’ve got to get that money!” he stuttered, “If I don’t… Mr. Harris will…” he trailed off, apparently shocked that he’d said too much.

Villia shook her head.

“I really can’t help you.”

Laketon opened his mouth, but then he looked around and his eyes fell on something in the community gardens.

“Shit,” he whispered.

The man who had been loitering in the garden had at some point climbed over the fence and was now standing calmly in front of us. He had a shaved head and a very unnervingly calm look in his eyes. Laketon’s eyes widened so much that they looked more like marbles than eyeballs. I felt a shiver going down my spine. Rem suddenly gripped my arm.

“He’s a bad person,” he whispered.

“No shit,” I managed back.

“He’s worse than…”, Rem’s eyes widened at nothingness, “Laketon’s not the Boogeyman this time.”

The man looked towards us, but didn’t seem to see us. So Villia’s illusion really worked. Hopefully.

“Hello, fancy meeting you here,” he echoed Villia’s words in a much more unpleasant tone, “Laketon. And your… friend here? Is she the one who was supposed to get you the money? It sure sounded like it.”

“She was,” Laketon said, his voice quiet and completely terrified.

“And she totally fooled you,” the man chuckled, “And now you went and told her about Mr. Harris. He’s already been impatient with you, and now you’re really becoming a liability.”

Villia narrowed her eyes.

“Well, you certainly keep good company,” she deadpanned and glanced at Laketon, “I assume this man was waiting for you here all along. Isn’t it in rather poor taste to have shady meetings in the community gardens?”

Laketon shook his head, but the man silenced any words he was about to say with one cold look.

“We were told to keep an eye on you once you were called to Twinbrook. The last time you were here, you got yourself stuck in prison for years, with no way to pay your money back. And you know you’re running out of time. Mr. Harris really wants his money.”

“I’ll get it, I swear!” Laketon said hastily, “Just… give me a chance!”

“You already had it. Way too many times,” the man said, “And we’ve always stressed that this should be kept under the wraps. You certainly blew that this time.”

“I thought she was going to pay-!”

“Give it a rest, Laketon,” Villia said, her eyes hardened into shards of emerald ice, like she had finally really understood the seriousness of the situation, “There’s no way you can talk your way out of this.”

She closed her eyes for a second.

“I think we’ve both screwed up big time.”

The man didn’t speak anymore. He pulled out a flash of metal, but Villia’s eyes snapped open, and she struck with dizzying speed before he could do more.

The man lost his balance, and Villia continued with a knee to his stomach. Then she turned and swept the air with her hand. The man let out a startled scream.

“Go!” she shouted, and I knew the order was meant for us.

I knew I was in some kind of shock, but I managed to turn around and push Rem into moving. The air rippled around us like water, and the illusion dissolved when we started running. Alvar followed us, still looking totally confused. I heard Laketon shout out a startled:

“What the hell?” and I wasn’t sure if it was because he’d seen us or because of Villia’s sudden burst of ninja skills.

We all ran towards the police station as if out of some silent agreement. That included Laketon, whom I saw following us with some kind of wild fear in his eyes. The quiet streets of the too-early morning felt far too long now when one was running away from a clearly murderous criminal. The part of my mind that wasn’t in fight-or-flight – or more like flight-or-flight – mode tried to understand how in the hell this morning had gone downhill so badly. Weren’t people supposed to have some sort of breaks before the next intense thing? Well, no, of course not, my now rather shoddily functioning rational side said. Life didn’t work that way.

My lungs were hurting, but now all I cared about was the relative safety of the police station and the fact that Rem, Alvar, and Villia were still with me. I quickened my steps even further, so glad that I’d spent so many hours jogging for fun. The police station was close to the gardens, but it wasn’t close enough when Laketon suddenly hit his personal brakes and said:

“Wait!”

I didn’t want to wait, but the distress in his voice made me reconsider.

“What’s going on?” Villia asked impatiently. Laketon pointed at the nearby diner and more specifically, a woman who was sitting at the table there.

“That’s got to be one of them.”

“Oh, come on!” Villia snapped, “This has to be a small-time criminal gang at worst, right? They don’t have big-scale operations for insignificant debts!”

“I’m not gonna risk it! I know she looks familiar! Feel free to go past her if you want, but I’m not gonna.”

“We have to keep moving,” said Rem, “Just… we need to get the police. Now.”

“Nobody asked you, mutant brat!” Laketon hissed, “Why are you people even here?!”

I risked a look at the woman at the table. She didn’t seem to have noticed us yet. She had bright red hair and an equally red biker jacket. Her cell phone rang, and she started to dig it out to answer it. Villia sighed.

“Alright,” she said, “We’ll go around.”

At once, Laketon started running to the way that would take him farther from the woman. Which meant he was going towards the beach. I followed, and the rest caught up with us a bit later.

For a second it was just me and my estranged father who didn’t deserve to be called a father. It was a chilling moment. I slowed down my steps just a bit.

“This is a small-time gang, right?” Villia whispered when she caught up with Laketon. For the first time there was slight uncertainty in her voice.

“It’s not a big one, but it’s big enough so that they can take care of mysterious deaths,” Laketon replied, too scared to realise who he was speaking with and how much he hated the company he currently kept.

Villia bit her lip. I wondered why she wouldn’t just hide us, but I supposed it had something to do with the fact that Laketon was with us. He probably wouldn’t take having spells cast on him very well especially after they’d got him in this mess in the first place. Well, no, that wasn’t true. He’d got himself into the mess on his own first.

We reached the beach. During daytime it was full of people, especially around summertime. I remembered our trips there, and the talks about Krakens and thoughts about horizons. Then it was all washed away by the emptiness and fear and by Villia’s shout not to linger there.

“This is way too much in the open,” she said, “We have to get into better cover and to a place with more people!”

“I can see you’re an expert on this,” Laketon managed to snark, and for a moment I felt a strange sliver of kinship with him.

Villia didn’t answer. We headed towards the staircase that led back to the street. The sand was too light and soft under my shoes. My feet kept slipping, but I kept my pace steady. We were already relatively close to the police station. To safety.

We’ll make it.

It’s not that bad.

She didn’t even notice us.

We’ll make it.

We’ll-

Alvar shouted, and I heard a thud. Then there was a loud bang in the air. I let out a yelp and saw Villia stopping and turning around. All of my instincts told me to keep going, but then I realised that Rem and Alvar weren’t with us anymore.

I turned and saw them both on the ground, with Rem’s shoulder staining red with blood.

My own blood froze, and I could barely see the man Villia had downed moments ago standing farther away, with a gun pointed right at us.

Villia cursed unintelligibly again, and moved her hands so quickly I just saw flashes.

“Oh, screw the masquerade,” she muttered, “We’ll so mind-wipe them later!”

The gunman shouted in surprise, and Villia was moving so quickly I could barely see it.

“Keep moving!” she shouted over her shoulder right before she reached the man and kicked him in the stomach with a kick my Sim Fu teacher would have called very sloppy. It was enough to work, however, and Villia continued by grabbing the man’s gun-hand and wrenching it into a very painful looking angle.

I tore my eyes from the mesmerizingly frightening sight of Villia fighting a gunman, and rushed to Rem and Alvar’s side. My knees hit the sand, and I grabbed Rem’s good shoulder.

“Are you okay?” I asked, “Okay, stupid question, but whatever. Can you stand? Crawl? We’ve got to keep moving!”

“He should be fine,” Alvar said in a shaky voice, “I’m sorry I couldn’t push him out of the way faster.”

Rem’s mouth was moving, but no words came out. His thick sweater was absorbing most of the blood, and I could only hope it also slowed down his bleeding in general at least a little bit. I shook him carefully.

“Come on!” I whispered. Next to me, Alvar got to his hands and knees, but froze when another gunshot hit the ground and sent a burst of sand towards us. This time it came from the opposite direction than where the gunman was. I couldn’t help another small scream leaving my throat.

I instinctively hugged Rem, shielding him and cursing myself for being so helpless. A few martial arts lessons meant nothing when faced with guns. Hell, thousands of martial arts lessons would most likely be useless now.

I dared to peek behind me and saw the red-headed woman near the stairs, blocking our other escape route. She too had a gun, but her face had frustrated confusion on it.

“Come on, I know you’re here,” she said, “Where are you?”

I blinked. We were right there, in the open. My morbid side told me that we should be dead by now. Then I noticed the waver in the air.

“Villia’s hiding us again,” Alvar whispered, “But we have to move. She can’t focus on this too much when she’s fighting that… other guy.”

I nodded and tried to get my legs to move. But I was frozen, not trusting the air to hide us. Especially when Laketon was standing in front of us with shaking legs, breathing such panicked, loud breaths that I swore they could have been heard from space.

The woman approached us, her gun trained in our general direction, but she didn’t fire it.

“Where are you?” she yelled, “Don’t think I didn’t see you run here! You haven’t had enough time to get away!”

On the other side of the beach, Villia punched the man so hard he fell, and she immediately jumped on top of him and latched onto his throat.

The woman’s head snapped up at the man’s strangled cry, and she started walking towards the fight.

“Oh, no you don’t, bitch,” she muttered, and there was something very unhinged in her eyes. Then she was only a couple of feet from Laketon, and her eyes focused. Alvar drew in a hissing, panicked breath.

“She’s seeing through it!” he whispered, “Rem… now would be a good time to help Villia with distracting those guys…”

In my arms, Rem nodded, or maybe he just twitched.

“I… I’ll try,” he said in a barely audible voice, “But I… I’m not good at controlling it…”

“I don’t care, just do something!” Alvar snapped.

The woman’s blood red lips twisted into a smile.

“There you are, Laketon”, she said, and aimed her handgun right at Laketon’s chest, “I don’t know how you hid from us, but it’s over now.”

She glanced at us.

“Oh, and so many eyewitnesses,” she sighed, “And this was supposed to be such a smooth taking-out-the-trash -kind of thing.”

Rem closed his eyes, and I saw a spark of a flame out of the corner of my eye. The woman turned to look at the spark for a split-second, which was all it took for Alvar to jump at her like a cornered mongoose. His elbow smashed against her chin, and when her gun left Laketon’s chest, even my no-good deadbeat dad’s survival instincts activated, and he joined the wild teenager in restraining the woman.

We’ll make it.

We’ll make it.

“It’s okay,” I said out loud, “They got her, Rem.”

Rem didn’t look up. His shoulder was worryingly red. The woman hit the ground, and Laketon twisted her arm behind her back. Alvar pushed her gun away from her.

We’ll make it…

*BANG*

*BANG*

I almost choked on my own breath. I didn’t know where the first shot hit, but the second one almost got me in the leg. Rem yelped when I moved, and he tried to drag himself away from the bullets. It had to be the gunman. But hadn’t Villia-

The thought was too terrible to finish.

But when I looked at the man who now knelt next to Villia’s unmoving, bloodied form, I had to finish the thought anyway.

For several seconds, I couldn’t breathe.

“No…” Alvar whispered.

The man wasn’t talking. He was aiming, and his eyes told me that he wasn’t going to miss next time.

Rem drew in a deep breath, and screwed his eyes shut again.

Plants shot out of the sand all around us. Trees, flowers, bushes, weeds… all familiar from both Rem’s dreams and previous illusions, and from the real fairy forests. Laketon yelped, and I heard the woman grunt when he smashed her head against the sand. The gunman gasped, but then he spoke, his voice annoyed more than anything:

“I really don’t know what this voodoo’s supposed to be, but you’re just delaying the inevitable. You should have just paid that money, Laketon!”

I scurried backwards, further into the fake bushes, until my hand hit something cold. A shot rang out, and I forced myself to stay quiet. We couldn’t stay here. Magic trees or no, we had to move. But the second we ran, he’d see us, unless Rem could somehow extend the forest everywhere around us to confuse him. One look at him told me that he couldn’t do that. He was barely conscious. Another bullet flew over my head, and Alvar ducked under it with panic in his eyes.

My hand curled around what was behind me.

“There’s no escape,” the man said, “Just give up now, and maybe I’ll let the kids go!”

Like hell you would.

That was my last coherent thought before the next shots rang out.

I didn’t even hear them. But I heard Rem’s shocked yelp, and felt rather than saw the forest around us dissipate when Rem didn’t have the strength to hold it up anymore.

All I really saw was the plants giving way to the shocked face of the gunman when three dots of red blossomed in his chest and he doubled over before he collapsed on the sand.

He didn’t get up.

I stared at the woman’s gun that was clutched tightly in my hands. It was now lighter, blindly emptied towards the threat. My hands were still shaking from the recoil.

The realisation of what I’d just done made my heart stop. Emptiness flooded my lungs and my stomach, and darkness overtook my vision.

I screamed.

Author’s Note: Well, that just happened. And at least I got this one out quickly. I’ll get to working on the next chapter after a little break. Pay no attention to the sky that changes from morning-ish to night and back. Doing photoshoots during in-game nightfalls/dawns are the worst.

You guys are awesome! Thanks for your support!

PREVIOUS Chapter: Return

NEXT Chapter: Rebirth

Chapter 20: Return

Villia seemed to be in a rather optimistic mood when she led us through the thicket of fairytale plants and real-life weeds. She seemed to think that talking to this matriarch could clear up all possible problems. Or then she was just glad to be back home. It was clear that she spent quite a lot of time among us humans, after all. She kept proudly pointing out little details around us, like the fairy lights – and I had actually been smart for not following them – and what looked like a maypole.

When we got past the thicket and to another larger clearing, Villia gave the scenery a very content smile.

“Well, what do you think?” she asked, “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

I had to admit that yes, it was. There were more tree trunk houses and more spirally trees around us. But there was also a larger building that looked like a mix of a small castle and a gazebo. Villia started walking towards it, and Rem and I followed with much less confident steps. Rem kept looking around in amazement, but he cringed when he met the eyes of some passers-by that stared at him rather angrily.

I wondered what their problem was.

At the entrance to the gazebo-castle stood a white-haired woman, who had to be Kuura and Halla’s mother. Lumi? Yeah, that was her name. Villia walked up to her and started talking. Lumi seemed to be rather apprehensive about all this. They talked in hushed voices, but I could make out phrases like “against the rules”, “very questionable”, and “are you sure you know what you’re doing?”. That didn’t really make me feel very confident. Not that I’d been bursting with confidence before this either. I glanced at Rem again, but he kept his eyes directed at his feet.

Finally Lumi led us inside the gazebo-castle without speaking more than a short, clipped greeting at us. Inside there were stone benches that Villia motioned us to sit on. There was also a simple throne – really, the only way I could tell it was a throne was that it was placed like one – and a statuesque woman who sat on it.

Her eyes were as green as Villia’s, and she was dressed like a proper fairy queen – and that’s what she was, kind of. I felt a pang of envy when I looked at her gorgeous, long red hair. After some patient growing I had come to the conclusion that my hair would never reach past my shoulders again. It was probably because of the fire. I tried to comfort myself with the thought that The Matriarch’s hair could have been an illusion. These people were a bunch of fakes in many ways, after all.

Rem and I sat on the benches – they were much more comfortable than I would have guessed by their appearance – and Villia stood in front of us. She gave a light bow of the head to The Matriarch.

“Honoured Matriarch Milia,” she said formally, “I have finally brought the changeling home.”

The Matriarch nodded.

“Greetings, Villia,” she said, her voice melodious like a pan flute, “You may sit. We have a lot to discuss.”

Villia sat next to me, probably so The Matriarch and Lumi would have a clear view to scrutinise Rem, who looked both impatient and uncomfortable under their gazes.

Finally The Matriarch spoke again:

“I’ve heard that you have been getting reacquainted with your family.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Rem said shyly, “I… it has been good to know. To have answers.”

“Of course. And are you happy here?”

Rem nodded.

“It feels like home, in a way. I’d love to get to know it better.”

“And that you shall,” said The Matriarch, “If you decide to stay, that is.”

Rem blinked. I realised my shoulders were tensing. My Sim Fu teacher, Mr. Nyqvist had always told me not to tense my shoulders. Right now I couldn’t care less about that. The Matriarch smiled her gentle yet somehow too-friendly-to-be-true smile.

“I know this has to be a lot to handle, even after having some time to think about things. But I will be direct, seeing how we haven’t been that with you very much. We want you to return here. Home. You are one of us, despite growing up apart.”

“And despite bringing an outsider here,” Lumi said, her freezing eyes narrowing, “Matriarch, are you sure it’s safe to let her walk around here? Shouldn’t we at least wipe her memory of this little trip?”

“What?” I blurted out.

Villia frowned.

“We are not drugging anyone or fiddling with their memories! We’ve made a mistake, and we have to face the consequences!”

“I heard Kaita doesn’t even want to stay!” Lumi argued “I’d say even he should forget, then! He has already talked to Alvar and tried to convince him to return! What then? His birth parents will no doubt demand him back, or react negatively, or at the very least want to know where he has been! It’s too dangerous to let humans know about us!”

“Lumi, calm down,” said the Matriarch, “We’ll discuss this matter later.”

“No, wait a minute!” I said before I could stop myself, “Go back to the drugs and mind wipes! You’re not really planning on doing that, are you?”

“Of course they aren’t,” Villia said, her voice tense as a bowstring, “Lumi is just being her overly worrying self.”

Someone has to be!” Lumi snapped.

“I should point out,” The Matriarch said slowly and clearly, “That young Rem here hasn’t even given us his answer yet.”

They all turned to stare at Rem again. I did too, even though I noticed that all the stares were making my brother nervous. I noticed I was stressing the brother in my head a bit too much. Was I really worried he’d decide that he wanted to stay? I mean, of course he wouldn’t. Right? I really, really didn’t want to think about how our family would break again if he did. And how I would have to somehow explain it to mum and Patrick.

“I like this place,” Rem said after an agonisingly long silence, “And I’m glad to know where I came from… even though it’s all filled up with sadness and lies.”

He bit his lip.

“But I think you all know I can’t stay here just like that. I have a home, and a family. Just like Alvar does.”

I let out a breath I’d apparently been holding. The Matriarch’s shoulders slumped. I almost scoffed. I mean, what had they been thinking? That Rem would just jump at the chance to abandon the people who’d raised him? Please, Rem wasn’t quite that fickle.

“I feared you would say that,” The Matriarch said, “We are really in need of a new clairvoyant, and according to Villia’s reports you have shown much potential for that. And then there is the matter of both our laws and the safety of you and the people around you. You have noticed your powers are more unpredictable than before, yes?”

Rem nodded reluctantly.

“We could help you with that,” The Matriarch smiled again, “It’s a part of growing up for all of us. You don’t have to be lost anymore.”

Rem fidgeted in his seat. I tried to make eye contact with him and maybe give him a questioning look, but he kept staring at The Matriarch, his face such a mess of emotions that it was totally unreadable to me.

“I… I would like to get help with all that,” he finally said, “And I’d like to help you too. But you have to understand that… our parents are probably already super worried about us, and we should leave.”

“If you wish, we can make sure they won’t think about you,” The Matriarch said. She smiled at Rem’s mortified expression, “But I can see that you don’t. It is a rather difficult and questionable procedure.”

“It definitely wouldn’t be right,” Rem said firmly, “Besides, I want to go home. I… I could visit you if you wanted, though. Would that be okay?”

“Of course,” the Matriarch said.

“Milia, you can’t be serious!” said Lumi, “We can’t just let them walk away! How can we trust them not to spill everything about our village?”

“You brought us here,” said Rem, suddenly so defiant and different from the previous him that I almost thought for a second he’d been replaced with an alien twin, “You all did… by believing my mum. And then by not being clear with us. If you would have just talked properly to begin with, things might have been different.”

“Exactly,” Villia said, “And since it was mostly my fault, I’ll take responsibility for everything that might go wrong.”

“Blaming someone when we get discovered and possibly killed – or worse – isn’t going to help much,” Lumi muttered, but then she sighed, “Fine. But we can’t just leave this be. Kaita… I mean Rem must be taught control if he wants to stay safe.”

“I know,” the Matriarch said, “That’s why I’m proposing a compromise: you can go, but you must keep this a secret. You can only tell your… family, and no one else. And I also propose that you visit us again once you have sorted things out among… humans. You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to. But we do hope that you could keep a link open to us.”

I frowned. That was oddly generous of people who had just talked about mind wipes. I honestly couldn’t tell if the Matriarch was being sincere or if there was something else behind it.

Rem was smiling, and his eyes shone with familiar excitement.

“That… that sounds great!” he said, “It’s like… everything would work out that way.”

“It requires work, of course. Your home is quite a long way away from here. But with your transportation system it doesn’t take that long.”

“Milia, are you sure this is wise?” Lumi asked without much enthusiasm.

“Yes. I am. We have already caused enough damage.”

“Let me at least teach the boy the very basics of controlling magic surges before they go.”

“Of course,” the Matriarch nodded, and then smiled again, “It would be great if you could stay for a couple of more hours. Lumi can help Rem, we can all eat something, and Villia can then guide you back.”

“And no mind wipes?” I asked cautiously.

The Matriarch’s smile widened.

“No mind wipes. I promise.”

Rem finally looked at me. His smile was from ear to ear.

“Isn’t this awesome?” he asked.

I could only nod.

It turned out that some of the fairies had been cooking like crazy while we’d been talking. There was a banquet waiting for us, like straight from some stories that always ended badly for anyone who tried to eat from the fairy buffets. But we were invited, so it should be okay, right? I hoped so. I was starving.

Even the Matriarch joined us for dinner, and we dug in to the wild vegetable salad and what looked like roasted fowl. We chatted, or more like the fairies chatted. Rem and I mostly focused on eating and occasionally looking at each other as if to make sure we were both still in the same state of reality. Rem smiled at me reassuringly, and I smiled back. I think I was finally starting to accept that yes, this was indeed happening.

The food was delicious, and definitely called for. The paleo-picnic felt like it had happened ages ago. I tried my best to just focus on eating and forget about all the apprehension and worries that my surroundings and the thoughts about the future gave me.

I couldn’t stop thinking about my wish that everything would be the same once we returned, though. It didn’t take any clairvoyant powers to know that no, it wouldn’t be the same.

After the dinner I was basically forgotten for a moment again when Rem was led to the shore of the river.

I’m not sure what exactly Lumi did, but it was apparently some kind of ritual most of the fair folk took part in sometime during their teens. While that was going on, the other fair folk busied themselves with what I presumed was their normal evening activities. Kuura and Halla wanted to play with either Villia or I, but were instead ushered out of the “grown-ups’” way. They ended up disappearing into the bushes with a black-haired girl who was apparently named Marras.

So I was left alone in the unfamiliar world again. I leaned against a giant mushroom and waited. As I stood there and watched the evening chores of the fair folk, I started to feel like the village was slowly becoming less unreal. The flowers weren’t quite as bright in the darkening evening, and I was getting used to the faintly glowing, curly trees. Even the occasional, mystical lights didn’t feel so surreal anymore.

“Hey,” said a voice that made me jump.

I spun around and saw Alvar standing behind me. Damn it, why were these barefooted people so sneaky?

“Hey,” I said warily. Alvar smiled uncertainly. He looked almost sheepish when he extended his hand.

“Um… so, it’s nice to meet you. Properly.”

I gave him a tight-lipped smile and shook his hand. Alvar glanced towards the shore of the river, which was barely visible through the flower bush thicket.

“So your brother’s getting his first ritual, huh?” he said, “It’s usually done around the twelfth year, so it’s a bit late.”

“Really,” I said. It wasn’t a question, but just something to keep the silence filled.

“Uh-huh. So hey, can I ask you… stuff?”

“Sure, go ahead.”

Alvar shifted his weight from side to side. Like a very nervous, broken metronome.

“So I’m actually your… brother, right?” he finally asked.

“Stepbrother,” I corrected, “Not blood-related. Your dad and mum both have more kids, though. They’re not together anymore.”

“Right. I did know something about them being separated… So, how’re my parents like? Rem told me something, but it was… I didn’t want to ask too much. It’s much less awkward to talk to you, somehow.”

“Really? Usually I’m the more awkward one of us.”

Alvar chuckled. I managed a slightly more believable smile than before.

“Well, alright” I said, “I’ve only met your real mum once, though. She obviously cared a hell of a lot about you. Your dad’s a teacher, and he’s really into helping the environment and stuff. He’s really nice. He doesn’t want to talk about his ex-wife. But he loves my mum now. And he loves Rem and me and our little brother, Merrill.”

I paused, hesitating for a moment before adding:

“And I’m sure he’d love you too.”

Alvar was quiet for a long time. He chewed his lip, and I only now properly noted the scar near his eye.

“Where did you get that scar, if you don’t mind me asking?” I asked when the silence got awkward again.

Alvar touched the scar automatically.

“I was dumb,” he said, and actually laughed a little, “I was playing in the forest and saw some people… humans, you know? I went to investigate, and they noticed me. I was ten or something. They thought I was lost and wanted to take me to civilisation. I panicked because I’d been told that I should never talk to humans without supervision. That they should never find us. I ran, and I was so scared that I ran right into a tree. Almost got my eye gouged out. Mother was so worried, but Lumi healed me right up. Well, except for the obvious.”

“Oh.”

“So what about you? I can see some scarring on your face too.”

I bit my lip. I smoothed my hair to cover my scars even better.

“Alright… I guess it’s only fair,” I said, “There was a fire, and Rem got trapped. I pulled him out but got burned instead.”

“Wow. So you’re a hero.”

“Not really. I was just a stupid, reckless girl who didn’t want to lose a brother.”

I crossed my arms.

“We’ve never been the closest of siblings,” I said, “But we’re getting there, and we’ve always cared about each other. I’m not going to lose him to you people either.”

I cringed at how callous my words sounded.

“No offence,” I added quickly, “It’s just… these people have been trying to get him back for years. Now they have him. I can’t help but think that… they won’t settle for actually letting him go just like that.”

“Yeah. I know.”

Alvar was quiet again. He had the same, pondering look Patrick often got before he was about to hand out some advice.

“I don’t think they’re going to force him or anything,” he said, “Villia’s been really strict about that ever since she… since things went wrong in your town. That whole mess really hit her hard. And I’m sure Aunt Kielo would be furious if they did anything to hurt either of you. She’s always been the most pro-human person I know.”

He sighed.

“At least Aunt Kielo just wants our family to scrape together what we can, and move on. The rest… I’m not sure.”

“The Matriarch said we could go if we wanted,” I said, “But she wanted Rem to come back.”

Alvar nodded.

“Makes sense. The higher ups really want Rem to stay, so I’m sure they’ll be nice to him in hopes that he wants to do just that. The clairvoyant is an important part of both tradition and our safety. They’ve always helped us hide and stay protected.”

“Why do you want to hide so badly anyway?” I asked.

“All I can tell what I’ve been told,” Alvar shrugged, “Long ago the fair folk didn’t really get along with humans, and their ancestors thought it best to break away from them. I think it had something to do with war and them taking the fair folk’s land and all. You know, what the stories usually say. Aunt Kielo has been insisting that we should at least try to bridge the gap between us and humans again. But… well, she’s told me that by now it has become more of a question of pride than anything else. When things get that far, it can be increasingly difficult to change.”

“Yeah. I guess you’re right,” I mused.

“I wished it wasn’t like that,” Alvar said, “I mean, I don’t think I’ve questioned it before all that much, but now… after everything I knew was turned upside down… I really wish I could just go and see what my real parents are like.”

I looked at Alvar for a long, conflicted moment. Then I smiled at him.

“Well, I can certainly relate to that… bro.”

“Bro?” Alvar frowned, “That sounds odd.”

“Yeah. You’re right. I guess I’ll just stick with ‘Alvar’.”

“That’s okay… uh, Lynn, was it?”

“Yeah.”

“It was nice to meet you.”

“You too. Even if it involved all of… this.”

“I get it,” Alvar laughed, “This has all been pretty rough.”

“Tell me about it.”

When Rem finally returned, he seemed just the same as he had been before. When I asked him if he felt any different, he just shrugged with an unsure expression on his face. The others assured us that it wasn’t anything that was easy to notice, and I asked if we could finally go back. As if on cue, Villia appeared from among the trees, wearing clothing that wouldn’t look out of place among humans, and smiled. It was only mildly creepy.

“Yes. I think it’s time for you to really leave. Lumi made me promise that I make sure you keep your end of the bargain, though.”

“Don’t worry,” Rem said brightly and looked only a little bit nervous at the mention of the stern, sceptical woman with chilling eyes, “I promise I’ll come back when I can.”

When Villia began leading us out of the glade and towards the edge of the village, Alvar followed us. He chatted innocently and brightly, asking questions about our lives and wishing us a good journey back. I could see a hint of something in his eyes, though. He had almost the same look as I probably did when I set my mind on something. Once we had got past the village’s borders and the still rather frowny Myrsky, Villia stopped and turned to Alvar.

“Okay, Alvar, it’s time for you to turn back,” she said, “I’ll take it from here.”

Alvar hesitated and glanced around as if to see if Myrsky or some other guard was within earshot. Then his eyes got steely. Now he reminded me a lot of Donna and her intimidating anger.

“Don’t I deserve some better answers too?” he asked.

Villia massaged her temples.

“Alvar, you know the rules, and you know your mother-“

“Mother lied to me!” Alvar snapped, “Don’t get me wrong; I love her! But I too want to know what’s really going on!”

He pressed his palms together in some kind of parody of a prayer.

“Please, I don’t need to necessarily talk to them, if that’s too bad. I just want to see…”

He trailed off. Now Villia was pinching the bridge of her nose.

“Oh, I’m going to get so much crap for this… Fine! You know, at some point even my guilt is going to run out and you’ll stop getting special rule-breaking enabling from me!”

Alvar jumped up and down. At that moment he looked so much like a little kid on Snowflake Day that it was hard to believe he was already fourteen.

“Thank you so much, Aunt Villia!”

Villia frowned.

“I have a feeling I’m going to be disowned for this or something, so use that title while you can.”

It took us hours to get back. I sensed the light air of the fairy forest shifting into the more humid, chilly air of Twinbrook’s swamp at night. My legs started aching by the time we caught the first glimpses of the ramshackle houses at the edge of the town. They were a most welcome sight. When we passed the first house, I caught a glimpse of Villia’s hair that was again blonde and immaculately curled. When she looked back at us, I saw she was again wearing her human face.

Twinbrook was sleepy, which was no surprise considering it was half past midnight. Some cars passed us by, and I could see some of the townspeople walking either home or towards a bar. The air was chilly, and I shivered. I noticed I was getting dead tired, but I stubbornly refused to walk back to Grandma and Grandpa’s looking cross-eyed and ready to collapse.

I was so happy to see their house. I was a bit less pleased to see that their lights were still on. They had to be worried sick by now. Rem and I shared a look and then turned to Villia and Alvar.

“I think you should stay back a bit,” I said, “I mean… they don’t know either of you, and I think we should only tell Patrick and mum about this at first.”

“Who lives here, then?” Alvar asked.

“My…” Rem trailed off and then cleared his throat, “Or actually your grandparents.”

Alvar’s eyes widened.

“I have those too? Awesome!”

He thought about it for a moment.

“But yeah. Maybe we should talk to them in the morning. Or what do you think, Aunt Villia?”

“I’d say we should definitely lay low until this whole thing is sorted out,” Villia said, “We’ll seek you out tomorrow.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Rem asked worriedly. His eyes stared through emptiness, and he blinked rapidly, “I… I think something’s… something’s about to go wrong. I can see the… blood… I don’t know.”

“We can stay hidden when we want to,” said Villia, “Don’t worry. As for your visions, you’re probably still just getting used to the aftereffects of the ritual. After I got my first ritual done, my hair was changing colour at random for the next three days.”

Rem nodded slowly, but didn’t seem too convinced.

“Just be careful,” he said. He looked worriedly at their retreating backs until they disappeared among the bushes.

After Villia and Alvar were out of sight, we walked up to the front door. Before I had time to ring the bell or knock, the door opened cautiously, almost hopefully.

“Who’s moving out there?” asked a voice I probably should have expected.

My eyes widened.

“Mum?” I asked.

Mum almost screamed in surprise and relief.

The door was thrown open, and Patrick, Grandma and Grandpa poured out as well. Rem and I found ourselves in a sea of relieved hugs.

I knew we were going to be in so much trouble once we’d explained where we’d been – to the extent we even could explain it – so I definitely clung to the love we were surrounded with at the moment. And when we got inside, the commotion woke up Merrill, who had been sleeping and whom mum and Patrick hadn’t apparently dared to leave in the care of a babysitter when they had rushed to Twinbrook.

He was grumpy at first, but Rem quickly and happily picked him up and twirled him around, gushing about how great it was to see his little brother again.

But the happiness had to end soon, because as I’d expected, after the relief and the hugs came the fury.

“Where have you been?!” mum almost shrieked once we had sat down on the couch, “We’ve all been worried sick! We called the police and they’re already looking for you!”

I cringed. I’d been hoping my milk carton scenarios had been an exaggeration. I guess I’d been wrong. Rem and I shared a look again. I realised we’d been doing that a lot lately. This time our look was more like a mutual agreement. Then we turned back to our parents and grandparents and started to lie. Or at least to omit certain things.

We had agreed not to tell about the fair folk or changelings or anything before we had actual proof in the form of Villia and Alvar. And before any proof could be presented, we needed to lay our parents’ worries to rest and get Grandma and Grandpa out of the picture. I knew they could be trusted, but the fair folk certainly didn’t, and they also didn’t seem to want to risk it. Just the permission to talk to our parents had been given very reluctantly. It was best not to push it. I wasn’t still perfectly ready to trust them not to do something messed up again.

So we told them we’d got lost in the swamp after needing a place to talk in private. Rem confessed that we’d gone to see Donna, and that the meeting had caused him to flee for most of the day. Patrick looked shocked at that, and then mumbled that they would talk about it later. I was mostly quiet, only backing up Rem’s story when needed, and watched the family drama stew behind the worried gazes and the quietly sombre questions. I could only imagine what this would turn into once we actually told the rest of the story.

After mum couldn’t stop asking questions – most of which were along the lines of “are you sure you’re alright” – and Patrick had fallen into some kind of silent shock because of the news that Rem had gone to see Donna, Grandma Brandi clapped her hands together.

“Alright, everyone,” she said warmly but in a tone that allowed no arguments, “The kids are obviously exhausted. And so are we! We should let the kids wash up and sleep, and we can call the police and call off the search. Would you do that, Margaret? I’m sure the police will be glad to hear the kids are okay, and no doubt want to see them tomorrow. And I’m sure Laketon will be glad to be let off the hook as well.”

“Laketon?” I repeated, “What’s he got to do with this?”

Mum shifted nervously.

“Well, once we informed the police that you were gone… we of course thought about Laketon. So the police went to talk to him and… apparently he was suspicious enough to be arrested for further questioning.”

“What?” I blurted out, “So he’s here? In town?”

Mum nodded.

“But he’ll be gone very soon. He… he didn’t cross paths with you, right?”

“Of course not!” I snapped, “I would have said if he had!”

“Of course, sorry,” mum mumbled, “I’m just… I’m just so glad to see you’re okay.”

I only now could get a better picture of our parents’ worry. The last time we’d been gone… Oh, wow, and I thought I had overestimated their worry. I let mum hug me and Rem again, and I hugged her back with all my might.

After we’d managed to get our folks to calm down enough to really let us go to sleep, I took a long, warm shower and felt amazing after getting a few days’ worth of gunk off me. By the time I got into my nightshirt, everyone seemed to have calmed down. Mum was sleeping on the couch, and I caught a glimpse of Patrick in yet another sleeping bag in Grandma and Grandpa’s room. Even Merrill had his own tiny bag, or “cocoon”, as he insisted on calling it. I crawled to my resting spot next to Rem, who also looked a bit less haggard after a shower and some late-night herbal tea. He was tossing and turning in his own cocoon, and I closed my eyes and hoped we’d both get some rest despite the troubling thoughts that kept chasing each other in my and no doubt his head too. I fell asleep almost immediately.

I woke up to Rem shaking my shoulder. I blinked furiously and squinted at my brother, who sat agitated in the never-very-dark summer night.

“Rem?” I mumbled sleepily, “Wha-?”

“Shhhh!” Rem hissed, “We can’t wake up mum.”

I looked confusedly at mum’s sleeping form. She shifted, but didn’t wake up. I looked at the time.

“Rem. It’s like… four a.m.”

“I know,” Rem said. I noticed only now that he had already thrown on some proper clothes, “It can’t wait.”

Still confused and more than a little cranky, I sat up. Rem slid my backpack towards me and motioned me to put on some clothes.

“What’s going on?” I whispered.

Rem looked around nervously and then leaned it, his eyes unfocused.

“I saw… I saw Villia and Alvar. They were in trouble.”

“You saw, as in…?”

“Yes.”

“You sure?”

Rem had already stood up. He looked at me very solemnly.

“This is the clearest… vision… premonition… whatever that I’ve had in years. It’s like with the Boogeyman and the Phoenix. I don’t know what it is, but it’s bad. We have to find them and help!”

There was such real distress in Rem’s hushed voice that I finally shook the last of the sleep from my eyes. I’d ignored Rem’s warnings before, and all that had got us was pain and grief.

Things just seemed to refuse to go smoothly for us.

We snuck out into the town. It was early, those dead hours of morning when usually even the hardiest of partiers were at home or passed out or both. We called out for Villia and Alvar a couple of times, but got no response.

“Where do you think they went?” I asked.

Rem looked around almost frantically.

“I don’t know. But I doubt they just hid in the bushes all night.”

“Right. How about places with lots of trees? They seem to like those.”

“Good thinking,” Rem’s eyes brightened, “Let’s go to the community gardens.”

“Right.”

When we reached the community gardens, they were empty. Well, mostly. Some guy was walking towards the gardens and stopped there among the free vegetables. He lit a cigarette that glowed in the dark. We called for Alvar and Villia in quieter voices, and I felt a shiver going through my spine when my voice echoed. The situation was eerie, especially with Rem’s visions or whatever they really were.

“Hey!” I whisper-yelled, “Villia? Alvar? Come out!”

“What’s going on here?”

We spun around, and I let out a sigh of relief. Villia and Alvar stood there by the road, looking perplexed and maybe a little sleepy. Villia crossed her arms.

“I told you we can take care of ourselves,” she said, “What are you doing here? And why are you yelling when there’s people around.”

I glanced at the man farther away. He kept his eyes either on the ground or at the street somewhere behind us and didn’t seem to pay us any notice. Rem looked a bit embarrassed.

“Well, I had a… vision? I thought you guys would be in trouble. I just thought you should know. To be careful.”

He sighed.

“Of course, I can’t really know when these things happen. Sometimes it can take years, so…”

Villia nodded and smiled.

“I’m sure it’ll get better with practise. So… how did your folks take this all?”

I opened my mouth to answer something a bit snarky, but it all got caught in my throat when I saw a figure over Villia’s shoulder. The figure froze when he saw us, and there was a moment of chilling recognition. Villia frowned and turned around, and it was only then when the figure spoke:

“It’s you! You bitch!”

I almost stopped breathing. Rem let out a small squeak, and Villia blurted out a word that sounded something like prkl. Judging by her tone and the situation, the word wasn’t a very friendly one.

For in front of us stood Nils Laketon, rage very apparent on his worn-out face.

Author’s Note: Whew, sorry about the wait, guys! I had a lot of problems with this, mainly the problem of thinking that this story is utter crap (again). And also the problem of pulling the threads of this story arc together. That’s right, we’re nearing the end of what I call the first big arc of the story. Of course some of the subplots are still wide open and all, but the main mystery has been mostly solved and all that. And now things are coming together on Laketon’s end too. So I hammered out this and the next chapter too. All I need to do is edit that and I can get it out, so it shouldn’t take that long. And for now I’m feeling pretty good about this too, so that’s something.

Thank you so much for your patience, and if you feel like telling me what you think, then that would be awesome!

The Finnish names in this one:

Marras: A not often used word for dead/dying person or an omen of death. The Finnish word for November, marraskuu literally translates to “the month (or moon) of death.”

Milia: A more English-friendly form of the Finnish name, Milja. It’s a variant of Emilia, which is a feminine form of Emil (which comes from the Roman name Aemulus – challenger). Can also be from the name Ludmila.

The random frowny teenaged fairy wasn’t named in story (yet), but his name is Aarni.

Aarni: A variant of Arnold, which can mean “ruling like an eagle”. Aarni is also a word in old Finnish mythology that refers to a spirit creature, a guardian of treasures.

Also the word Villia muttered at the end was perkele, which is a Finnish swearword that is nowadays used as yet another name for the biblical devil, but it most likely originally came from Perkūnas, which is the name of an old Baltic thunder god.

Have a lovely time, people!

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