2.14. Spare Changeling, Part One
Dominic stares at the child. She stares back. Their eyes remain locked until Lark speaks.
“Thanks for coming,” Lark says, “I didn’t know who else to call.”
“No problem,” he says absently, “so you found her in Bjorn’s crib?”
Lark nods. “I looked everywhere for him,” her voice cracks as she holds back a sob, “but I can’t find him.” Lark kicks at the floor. Her eyes are puffy and red, her cheeks tear streaked.
“We’ll need to go to Faefall,” he sighs, “that’s the only explanation.” He sits on the couch next to her, leaving a good amount of space between the two of them. A pit grows in Lark’s stomach as she remembers the night before, when she made an absolute fool of herself. But there’s no time for shame right now.
“Faefall?” Lark asks, “the fairy...realm, I guess?” Her words are stilted and awkward, and every syllable out of her mouth makes her feel like an idiot. This sort of language--the silly speech of high fantasy--is reminiscent of how her brother would talk during his loud Dungeons & Dragons games he played during high school. She used to sit outside the door of his bedroom, giggling to herself as he and his friends discussed dwarves, dark elves, sorcery, and the Feywild in serious voices. And now she’s living the most mundane D&D campaign possible.
Dominic nods, “that’s the only place I know of where she could have come from.”
“And that’s where Bjorn could be?”
Dominic hesitates, “yes.”
Her lip quivers. “So there’s a chance he’s not there?”
“He’s most likely there. But I don’t know why a fairy would take a child. There are differing reasons in folklore.”
“Was there anything in the crib other than this girl?”
“What are the reasons, Dom?”
“Like wood, or anything?”
“Dominic, please answer me.”
“There’s a fairy circle in the woods I know about. So we should be able to make--”
“Answer my question, goddamnit!”
Dominic shakes his head, “I don’t like to speculate with such scant information.”
“So what are we supposed to do?”
“I can take the girl to Faefall and ask for their help. Whoever--whatever--took Bjorn likely brought her from Faefall. I don’t think there are any fairies in Simnation outside of Moonlight Falls.”
“When do we leave?”
“I’ll take her tonight, and I’ll be back by morning.”
“No,” Lark shakes her head, “I’m going with you. I need to find Bjorn. We need to find a fairy circle to get there, right?” She remembers that much from her first meeting with Dominic, when he and his father had come to Aurora Skies in search of Dominic’s missing sister. As far as she could tell, there were three steps: 1) Find a fairy circle, or a ring of a mushrooms; 2) ???; 3) arrive at your destination, the place Dominic calls Faefall.
“That’s right. But, um, we’ll need to wait until nightfall. The link between these two particular universes is only strong enough at night.”
She grunts in frustration. “Seriously? There’s nothing you can do? That’s twelve hours from now!” Every minute without Bjorn is agonizing, the worst heartache she’s ever had to endure. Electricity is running through her body, rattling her bones and compelling her to move, to go and find her son immediately.
Dominic looks at his hands and shakes his head, then looks back up at her, shyly meeting Lark’s gaze. “I can cast a sleep spell so the time passes quicker. That’s about all I can do.”
But Lark refuses. And so the hours pass at a snail’s pace. She looks out the window every few minutes, willing the sun to lower, but it remains obstinately above the horizon. Dominic, meanwhile, entertains the fairy girl. Although she was afraid of Lark--crying and asking for her mother--she seems enchanted by Dominic.
“I’m Dom,” he theatrically thumps his chest, “what’s your name?”
The girl laughs and looks down, tucking her face into her shoulder.
Dominic frowns. “Why is she doing that?”
Lark glances at the girl. “She’s flirting. I mean, not literally,” she clarifies, “that’s just what my mom calls it. She’s interested in what you’re doing, but she’s scared to talk to you.”
Lark just nods.
At every one of her birthdays, she had wished for adventure--something exciting to happen in her life, something that would spirit her away to someplace interesting and give her existence some sort of meaning. Something that would make her feel like she can actually affect change in her world. Her relationship with Nikolas, she realizes, was a means of living out that wish. And her attraction to Dominic--something she’s just begun to understand--is based on that same desire.
And now Bjorn’s disappearance could be counted as a result of those silly wishes.
How desperately she wants to take them all back.
Finally the sun sets. Dominic leads the way, carrying the girl. His feet crunch in the snow and he walks hesitantly, the gait of a person who is unaccustomed to such deep snowfall. Lark trudges behind him, silent and seething.
Just outside town, near some abandoned sod houses, is a ring of mushrooms. They’re frozen solid, but remain obstinately in place. The two sims step in the circle of mushrooms, snow billowing around them.
“Faefell,” Dom says. There’s a flash of light, the brightness of which temporarily blinds Lark. Her eyes burn, and she’s stunned by the loss of one of her senses.
Then the smell overtakes. It sweet, sickly sweet, like the over-applied perfume of a pre-teen girl. Lark wrinkles her nose and snorts, trying to expel the scent but it’s all around her. Blinking, her eyes come into focus: she’s standing in a circle of brightly colored trees.
“Are you okay?” Dominic asks, “it’s kind of overwhelming, right? It didn’t used to smell--”
“Master Trémaux,” a booming voice cuts through the air. The source of it--a large, amazonian woman--sits on the bottom step of stone stairs. A white wolf lays at her feet, his flashing yellow eyes carefully sizing them up.
“Lyssa,” Dominic says cautiously.
It’s quiet for a moment. Lyssa and Dominic stare at one another
“The Queen expected your arrival,” her tone is icy, “follow me.”
Dominic grimaces then gestures at Lark to follow. The two walk several paces behind the horned woman and her companion. She walks quickly, her wolf following. He looks back at Dominic and Lark occasionally. Lark shivers.
“Awkward,” Lark mutters to him.
“Very,” Dominic agrees.
“But you know her?”
“We’re acquainted, yes. She doesn’t care for me.”
“Is this because you had her kill that fairy lady?” Lark wishes she could remember her name, “you know--the queen or whatever.”
Dominic’s eyes widen and his face falls, the face of a man who has been caught committing some egregious crime. “How--I didn’t--it was self defense,” he finishes lamely, “how--um, how did you…”
“I had a dream about it,” there’s an implied ‘duh’ a the end of the sentence, an irrational tone on Lark’s part.
Dominic furrows his brow, “a dream?”
Lark blinks. “Yeah. It was...weird.” She’s always wondered what caused that dream. It never seemed quite real, but she also didn’t doubt that the contents of it were true.
Dominic doesn’t respond, though, and the two follow Lyssa in silence.
Lyssa’s pace slows when they near their destination: fading ruins, the dilapidated remains of what was obviously a once magnificent castle. Weeds and brambles grow amongst the toppled walls and columns. The air is heavy, and the sickly sweet smell has dissipated, replaced by the scent of wet grass and stagnant water.
“This way to the throne room,” Lyssa grumbles, obviously displeased with her role as their guide.
“Throne room? There’s nothing here,” Lark points out. Dominic shrugs.
As the continue down their path, the weeds and brambles grow thinner, replaced by twisting wisterias. In a clearing of those wisterias sits single piece of stone, a seat chiselled into it--the throne, and a lackluster one at that. On the right side of the throne stands a white haired man, and on the left stands a goat faced man. And atop the throne is a dark-haired fairy, Bjorn happily perched in her lap.
“Welcome,” the woman’s voice is meek, and hardly carries the short distance to Lark and Dominic, “I was certain you would come for a visit, dear brother. But I hoped--for my sake more than yours--you would have enough sense to counsel Lark to accept my token graciously.”
Lark’s eyebrows twitch. Nothing feels real in this instance--the sounds around her are too clear, the breeze is too gentle, the air too warm and the lights too bright. She shakes her head, trying to regain her senses. “Token?” the voice that comes out of her mouth sounds strange, “What does she--”
“Ali, you can’t be serious,” Dominic sounds disgusted, “you’re the one who kidnapped Bjorn?”
“Master Trémaux,” the white haired man interrupts, “I understand you have a personal relationship to Queen Aletheia but you shall address her properly.”
“Why?” Lark interjects, “she’s not our queen.”
The white haired man locks eyes with her, and she finally notices his face: the right side is pleasant enough, but the left side is burned, droopy, to the point of almost melting off of his skull. His left eye appears to be blind, and his mouth is downturned into a grimace. His good eye narrows at her, and she shudders. “Why don’t you leave this discussion to those of us in the know, Miss Bee?”
“Listen here, you ugly motherfu--”
“Lark,” Dominic interrupts, “just give us a moment to talk, okay? Let cooler heads prevail.”
“‘Cooler heads’? Dominic, she has my son. Excuse me for not giving a flying fuck about politeness.”
But she ignores his pleas and steps towards towards the throne. The wolf snarls and darts in front of her, his hackles raised. She recoils backwards, surprised by the beast’s speed.
“Not yet, Stranger,” Lyssa warns. The wolf stands firm, however, ready to attack should his companion order it.
Aletheia watches the cautiously, then looks to the white haired man. “William?”
“Miss Bee deserves an explanation at the very least.”
“An explanation? I would like my son back, please and thank you,” Lark takes a hesitant step back as Stranger growls at her again.
“Lark, please calm down,” Dominic mutters.
“Do not tell me to calm down,” Lark hisses through her teeth.
“Brute force and harsh language aren’t going to get us Bjorn,” he shoots back, “so just be quiet and let me handle this. Please.”
Lark clenches her jaw and glares at him. He’s right, of course, but she isn’t going to act happy about it.
“Let’s take a seat and discuss this calmly, yes?” Aletheia suggests, gesturing to a long, wood table behind Lark. Lark sits opposite the fairy queen, and Dominic sits by her. William and the goat faced man arrange themselves on her right and left. Lyssa, meanwhile, stands guard over the two toddlers, who play by the throne.
“My reign over Faefall has just begun, as I am sure Dominic has told you--”
“He hasn’t told me anything about you. And frankly I’m not interested.”
Aletheia looks hurt. “Please let me explain myself, Lark.”
Lark rolls her eyes and gestures at the fairy to continue.
“I shall provide the truncated version. Part of my duty of queen, of course, is to produce a suitable heir. I am sure you have heard such stories before in your history books. However, I can reproduce with my intended,” Aletheia looks to the goat faced man, “and so we had to investigate other means for producing an heir.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, so you and Goaty McGoatface took Bjorn as your heir. Nice story. I’ll be taking my son and leaving then.” Goaty snorts in obvious annoyance but remains silent.
“It is much more complicated than that. We could not take any child as our own. While raising a human child is tradition in our culture, we needed a human child who is in some way remarkable.”
“While I tend to agree that Bjorn is the absolute best, I’m not really going to accept this as a reason for kidnapping,” Lark crosses her arms, “besides, he’s just a normal kid.”
“Your grandmother is from the stars, Lark. He is celestial, despite the dilution of that heritage.”
“So what are you going to do, now? I obviously can’t take him back from you,” the realization hits Lark hard: Dominic is right. She can’t just take her son back. She’s never felt more helpless than this very moment.
Aletheia sighs. “Your son is your own, Lark, and I cannot take him from you. My apologies for hurting you and causing you such distress. My advisor recommended another child, one from a family who would not have the means to seek us out. I was the one who made this poor decision. And I wrongfully assumed a changeling would be adequate substitution for your flesh and blood.”
“I agree,” Goaty finally speaks. His voice is low, soothing, the voice of a storyteller. “This was a poor, heartless decision, aided by my silence. Take your child and leave.”
“Wait,” Aletheia says, “Aristeus speaks too quickly. You cannot leave quite yet. We made an oath with the girl’s parents, and we must resolve that oath before our magic will allow you to leave Faefall. I--I may have placed a spell on Bjorn to keep him from returning to the mortal realm as long as my oath with the girl’s parents is in place.”
Lark rolls her eyes. “Fucking magic,” she mutters. Goaty seems equally irked by Aletheia’s confession.
“An oath?” Dominic asks, “what kind of oath?”
“That she would get our troublesome daughter out of our care,” a cold voice speaks from behind Lark. She twists around in her chair to see its speaker: it’s a young woman with dark purple hair and glittering, unearthly eyes. The resemblance between her and the unnamed fairy child is undeniable.A man--presumably the father--stands next to her.
“We had a deal, Your Grace,” the woman’s tone drips venom, “and I will not release you from your oath until you rid me of that child.”
Author's Note: Oof. Okay. This took forever to write, and I'm sorry. The next chapter should be out this weekend (I just need to edit pictures and revise the text). I've decided two things, though: 1) I am never writing fantasy again. Ugh. and 2) I'm never posing more than eight sims again.*
*both of these things will probably happen.