AN: Thanks for the comment, anon. I'm pretty safe where I am - physically speaking. Australia doesn't seem to be doing too badly with the virus, but wherever you are at the moment, hope you're all staying safe out there too.
The next day, the sun was bright and Emily did not regret their choice.
"This was a bad idea," her companion stated suddenly, his voice drifting from somewhere behind her.
"No, it wasn't," Emily idly turned another page of her book.
"I feel ridiculous," Felix grumbled, and Emily heard the sharp crackle of a turning page. "I look ridiculous."
"No, you don't," Emily assured him. To be honest, sitting cross-legged on a sandy beach while wearing something better suited to a day behind a desk was possibly a little ridiculous. The sling holding Felix's arm still added very little to his day-at-the-beach image. (Lingonberry had spent quite some time that morning drawing a water-repelling sigil onto the sling in spite of Felix's protests that he had no intention of going near the water.)
However, given the effort Emily had expended in dragging Felix outside in the first place, she was not about to frighten him off. Emily glanced over her shoulder to look at Felix, who, like her, was sitting crossed-legged on the warm sand with a book clasped in his hands.
"Whose idea was this anyway?"
"Yours," Emily replied quickly, looking back at her book.
There was a small yet very suspicious pause. "I was certain it was yours."
"How certain are you?"
"Well, it was either this or help out Mister Sapodilla at the hotel. I believe that was when you decided to hide up in your room instead."
"I-" Felix spluttered. "I wasn't hiding. Besides, Barker did say I was not to participate in any strenuous work."
"And putting up table settings counts as strenuous work?"
"It is, if you're working for Sapodilla," Felix answered darkly, with a small shudder.
Emily thought back to Sapodilla, a towering barrel-chested man with intimidating eyebrows she'd met yesterday. The man was as old as Lingonberry looked, and nowhere near as harmless-looking. He looked like the sort of man who could go into the woods, hunt down a wild boar with his bare hands and cook it for dinner - enough to feed all his guests at the hotel. (Emily had some… reservations to the origin of their dinner last night.) "I see. Previous bad experience?"
"You could say that."
Felix apparently enjoyed being a man of mystery and Emily left it at that. She didn't want to find out if Felix had any knowledge of hunting, and if it involved Sapodilla. She was perfectly content with being blissfully ignorant in that regard. Emily uncrossed her legs and poked her toes into the sand with a small sigh. "I am making no progress on my book."
"Neither," Felix admitted, and Emily noted that he'd chosen to face the direction Lingonberry and Penny had strolled off in.
"Are you watching for Lingonberry and Penny?" Emily asked, after a moment.
"Yes," Felix replied shortly, and when he did not offer a more detailed explanation, Emily followed up with another question.
Felix glanced at Emily and returned with a question of his own. "Would you trust them to be careful on the beach?"
Emily thought back to how gleefully Lingonberry had skipped off across the beach, leaving a long string of divots in the sand behind him. "No," Emily admitted. "...should we follow them?"
"No need. If we see people running and screaming from that direction, we'll know."
A companionable silence fell over them, broken only by the distant crashes of waves against rock and the wheedling cries of the circling seagulls above. A moment later, before Emily could truly enjoy the atmosphere, a slightly horrifying thought occurred to her. They'd left Lingonberry and Penny unsupervised on a beach. "I wonder what they could be doing."
Felix was less concerned. "As long as it isn't necromancy, I believe I can live with it."
"Necromancy?" Emily dropped her book and scrambled to turn and look at Felix in horror. Were the Magicians in the habit of resurrecting the dead? Emily thought back to the mossy stones in the Brownstone's yard, and of the deception sigils. Was this the dark secret the deception sigil held…?
Felix's reply, however, successfully dashed that notion. "Miss Dreadful was quite attached to Whiskers."
"A cat?" Emily's eyebrows rose. "She brought her dead cat back?"
"No," Felix shook his head and Emily almost sighed in relief before he continued, "Whiskers was a Betta fish. He was quite a lovely shade of purple."
"Oh, why not? Why not name a fish 'Whiskers'?" Emily pinched the bridge of her nose, then shuddered at the notion of a magically-revived fish staring out blankly from a grimy fish tank.
"Do stop worrying," Felix said as he set aside his book and stretched lazily. "Miss Dreadful didn't resurrect her fish."
"She didn't? But you said-?"
"She attempted to. She was, after all, only eight years old and not quite ready to part ways with Whiskers."
"Good grief. I suppose Lingonberry laid some ground rules after that?"
"Yes. I don't believe Miss Dreadful has attempted anything of the sort after she blew up the body of her beloved pet."
Emily gave him a mixed look of horror and reluctant amusement. "Oh, dear. Penny was not too affected by the events, I hope?"
"No," he said simply, and turned away to avoid looking at Emily.
Emily narrowed her eyes. "There's more to that story, isn't there?"
"You are going to laugh if I tell you."
"I promise I won't."
"Miss Dreadful," Felix said pointedly, "was not the one to receive half a slimy-and-dead fish to the face."
Emily made a valiant effort at keeping a straight face. When she was no longer in danger of breaking her promise, she asked, "And where did the other half of poor Whiskers go?"
"Down my shirt."
Emily, struck by the sudden thought of a younger Felix Wallis and Penny Dreadful caught in the horror of being struck by an exploding fish and causing a fish to explode respectively, didn't laugh. She made a strangled little noise that was definitely not a laugh.
"And this is what I get," Felix said in mild betrayal, "for baring my soul to you."
"Stop it," Emily hit him lightly in the arm with her book. "You're being melodramatic."
"I'm melodramatic?" Felix turned until he faced Emily. "I'll have you know that-"
Whatever it was that Felix wanted Emily to know was lost to a sudden noise. More specifically, this noise was screaming. For a second, Emily fought the urge to rub her temples and hoped she wouldn't have to run for her life any time soon. She was on holiday, for pity's sake. Then, the second passed when she realised it hadn't originated in the direction where the other residents of the Brownstone had gone in.
And then, the screams weren't simply noise - they were words.
"Please!" the voice was shrieking. "Someone, help!"
The baby burbled and reached out to grab Emily's wet hair.
Emily, since she was busy preoccupied with the important task of not dropping a baby and attempting to wrap the water-repelling sling more securely around the child, failed to stop the little blond-haired and blue-eyed cherub from gaining a handful of her matted hair and yanking with all the might in his little arms.
Tears sprang into Emily's eyes, and not because the baby was adorable. Felix was in a different sort of pain altogether. He was kneeling on the sand and doubled over, still damp from the impromptu dive into the waves and coughing up what was apparently half the ocean.
From the edge of the waves, a horse was glaring. With a furious stomp of its hooves (and Emily winced, because her ribs were still protesting from being kicked across the beach by said hooves), it shifted, and suddenly Emily found herself looking at an angry-looking human.
"Oi!" the man-who-probably-wasn't-really-a-horse (or a human either, for that matter) yelled, cupping his hands around his mouth to be heard over the waves. "Hand over that baby! We had a deal!"
Felix stopped coughing long enough to make a rude gesture in the man's general direction.
"Wallis!" Emily exclaimed, quite scandalised. There was a pair of young and impressionable eyes in near vicinity, and judging by the horrified gasps behind her, the parents of the baby in question were in objection to this act as well.
"We didn't know," the mother pleaded, talking to the horse-turned-man. "We didn't think-"
Alright, Emily amended her previous notions. Perhaps they're a little more worried by the man in the waves.
"You agreed to the terms," the man continued. "A deal is a deal. Hand over the third-born!"
Felix had finally recovered from his near-drowning in wrestling the baby from the man (who had been a horse at the time and therefore fully capable of stepping on and holding a police inspector underwater for a horribly long time), and staggered to his feet. Felix took one look at the man in the waves, at the water shimmering and rolling off him, and called back, "Then come and get him!"
There was a brief pause, and soon, words filled the air. They were quite hurtful words about Felix's mother. Felix was quite unconcerned and turned to Emily. "Are you alright?"
"Am I-?" the question startled a slightly hysterical laugh out of Emily. "Am I alright? You're the one that nearly drowned!" Emily was taken by the sudden urge to grab Felix and shake some sense into him. In fact, that sounded like an excellent idea.
"Excuse me," Emily said to Felix. She turned to the parents and handed the child over with a sweet smile. "Here's your son. Keep that sling around him or that kelpie will be able to touch him."
Before either the mother or the father could say anything in reply, Emily whirled around to Felix, grasped his lapels and yanked him down to eye level, ignoring his yelp of surprise. "Wallis, what the devil were you thinking?!"
"I would've been fine," Felix protested, covering Emily's hands with his.
"Fine?!" Emily repeated dangerously. "You- That kelpie held you underwater for so long I'd thought you'd-" She stopped, and took a deep breath. Don't think about it. "Wallis, don't do anything remotely resembling that again."
"I-" Felix looked at her in bewilderment. "Are you saying the next time we encounter a child-snatching kelpie we ought to let it take the child?"
"That's not what I- oh, for-" Emily let Felix go in order to direct her ire at the kelpie. "This is all your fault!"
The kelpie's target changed from Felix's mother to Emily's mother. Felix stiffened at the words and started turning towards the kelpie.
"Wallis, no!" Emily latched onto his arm and dug her heels into the sand. "Don't, he's not worth it. Besides, I can't remember my mother anyway."
"That's not the point. He's insulting you-"
The baby cooed, and both Emily and Felix winced. Hesitantly, they turned to the family of three, who'd been watching the entire exchange with wide eyes and rapt attention. Eventually, when it became apparent that no one was going to say anything and that they would have stood there indefinitely in stunned silence, Emily cleared her throat. "Our apologies for that uncouth display. We're not normally like this."
"Miss Greene is usually more professional," Felix added.
"Mister Wallis," Emily continued pointedly, "is usually more polite."
Most people would have turned and fled at this point, but desperation was a magical thing. The mother shared a look with the father and came to an agreement. "We need your help."
"How did you two manage to get into this again?" Penny questioned, swinging her legs as she sat on the railing and watched Emily hang a horseshoe over the doorway.
"Do you want the long version or the short one?"
"Short, if you please."
"We fought a kelpie."
Penny pondered this over. "May I hear the long version instead?"
"Very well. Mister and Missus Miller unwittingly made a deal with a fairy on their farm," Emily climbed back up the step ladder to hammer in another nail. "They wanted children, but could not have any."
"That…" Emily paused, with hammer mid-swing. "That is not important."
Penny narrowed her eyes suspiciously. "Is this one of those things I'll understand when I'm older?"
"Yes," Emily replied, taking her time to climb back down the ladder. "Anway, one of the fairies on their farm heard about their troubles and offered to help them have a child if they handed over the third-born. And so the Millers thought they could avoid handing over any of their children if they had only one child."
"I thought James was their only child?"
"Yes. The deal involved handing over the third-born, not their third-born. They also didn't specify a time frame."
It took a moment, but then Penny understood. She sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose. "What else was born on the farm before James?"
"Apparently there was a hen that had taken a liking to two abandoned duck eggs. James happened to be the third-born of that day."
Admirably, Penny was not particularly bothered by a hen adopting ducklings. "Oh dear. And now they've been hounded by fairies all across the country?"
"Precisely. That is why your grandfather has given the Millers the lecture on why it's a terrible idea to make any sort of deals with the fair folk." Emily hung a wreath of yellow flowers next to the horseshoe, and dusted off her hands. She returned to the porch and stood, her hands on her hips as she studied her handiwork.
"Mr Sapodilla was alright with you making these additions to the Miller's room?" Penny asked as she swung forwards and landed on her feet.
"It's for a good cause." Emily, seemingly satisfied with the horseshoe and wreath, handed a bag of salt to Penny. "Would you mind lining the window sills?"
"Of course," Penny took the bag of salt, then paused at the threshold. "How does the kelpie come into this?"
"The kelpie tried to pull little James from his mother at the seaside," Emily explained patiently. "Wallis and I intervened."
"Emily, you've really developed a knack for understatement, you know that?"
"Thank you," Emily grinned. "I'll go check on Wallis and see what he's done with the scissors and iron nails."
Penny hesitated in the doorway again. "But nails, scissors, salt - these are just temporary measures."
"They are," Emily acknowledged, a little grimly. "That's why your grandfather will also be contacting the local fairies to sort this mess out."
"Well, that explains the bread, cheese and berries," Penny muttered to herself. The results of the food left out overnight would be best observed in the morning. "Oh. But he'll miss the- oh, never mind."
Emily blinked at the aborted sentence. Penny usually didn't have any issues with making her thoughts known. "No, no, do tell. What'll he be missing?"
Felix, in the middle of hanging a pair of scissors on the wall, froze. "You'll be looking for a what?"
"True Love's Kiss," Emily mumbled, looking at anywhere but Felix. "It's a flower, alright? I didn't name it."
Penny came to Emily's rescue. "Grandfather's trying to breed a strain that'll bloom more often than once every three years."
"Three years?!" Felix blurted out, and judging by the similarly horrified expression Emily wore, she had been previously unaware of this fact.
Quite unconcerned, Penny shrugged. "It used to be longer."
"Three years," Emily repeated, a little faintly. "Good heavens."
Felix was more preoccupied with the name. "But why is it called True Love's Kiss?"
"I'm not sure, but I think it has some sort of wakeful effect if it's brewed correctly," Penny shrugged, again. "Grandfather said it used to be called the Flower of Insomnia."
For a moment, all three pondered the flower's old name. There was a silent consensus that 'True Love's Kiss' was a marginally better name. Misleading and prone to misunderstandings perhaps, but still better.
"Alright," Felix broke the silence. "So you'll be climbing the mountain to find the flower that blooms first?"
"It'll be an overnight trip, actually. Since the flower blooms under moonlight only."
The look on Felix's face could only be described as Why is everything always so complicated? The man sighed. "Very well. You will both be spending the night on the mountain, then. Please don't mistake my meaning, but why are you telling me this? Shouldn't you be telling Lingonberry about this?"
"We did," Emily spoke for the two of them. "We… we thought we ought to let you know, since that'll mean if the Millers do ask for further assistance, you'll be the only one available. I fear Lingonberry will be too busy attempting to contact the local fae."
"I see. Well, you needn't worry, I shall be perfectly alright," Felix reassured them, then returned his attention to the wall. He stretched up, and hooked the handle of the scissors onto a nail. Then, gently, "Greene, you don't need my permission."
"I-I know. But- well, I thought..."
"Stop worrying and enjoy your hike, Greene."
"I swear I shall not fight any kelpies while you are gone."
Felix didn't remember falling asleep, but he was woken up by a pair of arguing voices.
"Look, Miss Greene, there's no need to worry."
"I highly doubt that."
"Well, look at it this way - if it's not Felix, then we'll find him. It won't be that hard to track him down."
"Yes, but if it's truly Wallis over there, then that means I clobbered him over the head for no reason!"
"True, but he'll forgive you. You must admit you did find him in suspicious circumstances."
The other voice grumbled something indistinct, and that was when Felix opened his eyes. He was sitting in a chair. 'Sitting' was used rather generously here, since he was held in place only by the ropes binding him to the back of the chair and the ropes tying his arms to the armrests. Without the ropes, he suspected he would have slipped to the floor long ago.
It said something about his life, Felix realised, that his first thoughts were along the lines of oh, not again rather than good heavens, I've been kidnapped. Exactly what was being said, he wasn't sure of, but he was certain it wasn't flattering.
In the seconds before he recognised his suitcase sitting at the foot of the bed directly in front of him, Felix was briefly convinced he had indeed been kidnapped, which elicited nothing but a mild annoyance. (Felix also wondered when he'd become so blase to kidnappings.) When he did recognise his battered old suitcase, a dingy thing that he'd rescued some years ago from Lingonberry's annual spring cleaning campaign (waste not, want not), he came to the conclusion that someone had broken into his hotel room, knocked him out and tied him to a chair. Felix's head throbbed, and he winced.
"Lingonberry? I think he's awake."
That gave Felix sufficient pause to rethink his conclusion. Apparently, Emily and Lingonberry were also in the room, somewhere out of his view. He hadn't recognised their voices in his journey into the land of the awake, but now that he had his wits about him again, he most definitely knew the voices.
"Oh, good. Penny, stay there and observe. Might as well teach you something while we're at it."
Suddenly, Felix was filled with two things, and both were equally unpleasant. One was a sense of foreboding and the other was a slowly growing suspicion that it'd been Lingonberry or Emily that had attacked him and tied him to a chair. The suspicion encountered a growth spurt as Lingonberry finally walked in front of him, and the old man studied Felix carefully.
There was probably a reasonable explanation to all this. Probably.
Oh, please let there be a reasonable explanation, Felix pleaded silently, then spoke out loud. "Why am I tied to a chair?"
"Well, he's definitely awake and lucid," Lingonberry observed. "That's good news."
"Excellent," Emily intoned wryly. "I'm very pleased to see I have yet to commit a murder."
Felix sighed, and repeated his previous question since no one seemed interested in answering it.
"Hm?" The question finally seemed to register with Lingonberry. "Oh, that's because Miss Greene put you there."
For a moment, Felix was about to feel astonished with the fact that Emily managed to not only overpower him but successfully knock him unconscious as well. The moment lasted until he remembered that for Emily, Punch Magical Horrors was as much of a job description as Run From Magical Horrors.
"Speaking of which, Miss Greene, if you would, with the poker?" Lingonberry continued.
The foreboding sense grew. Felix suddenly did not want to know why there was soon to be a poker involved.
"Right," Emily finally walked into view grimly, her knuckles whitening around the poker she held in her hands.
Felix didn't think Emily was capable of taking an iron bar to his kneecaps but he hadn't expected to wake up tied to a chair either, so he supposed anything was possible at this point.
"Greene," he began, and didn't know what else to say. Please-don't-break-my-kneecaps didn't feel like the correct thing to say. The thing was, if one was faced with someone else wielding a poker with kneecap-breaking on the agenda, if things had escalated to that point, apologies were often too late and pleading was usually pointless. In fact, any pleading would likely result in derisive laughter.
Fortunately, Felix wasn't in a habit of desperate pleading and Emily wasn't the sort to laugh at desperate pleading. She raised the poker. "I'm sorry, Wallis."
Felix leaned as far backwards as he could go, which wasn't much because of the chair and braced for incoming pain. He was startled into opening his eyes when the poker was dropped unceremoniously across his lap. He gave it a long look, then turned to Emily, a little annoyed. Not because his kneecaps were still intact, but because Emily had managed to convince him she had been about to pulverise them. "What was that supposed to be?"
"Try bare-skin contact," Lingonberry piped up. "Try his hands."
At this point, Felix had gathered he wasn't about to be nursing broken bones of any sort and relaxed marginally as Emily picked up the poker and rested it hesitantly across the palm he offered her.
The pain was excruciating. It burned, searing deep into his bones, as if Emily had pulled a poker fresh from a lit fireplace and attempted to brand his skin with it. In between his screaming, he was aware of Emily tearing the poker from his flesh and dropping it onto the ground with a pained cry of her own.
By the time he stopped screaming and the burn had faded into something less mind numbing and was only extremely stomach churning at the very most, Lingonberry had Emily's wrist held in a gentle grasp as he uncurled her trembling fingers to look at the red marks on her hand and fingers.
"You'll be alright," Lingonberry was saying. "Just a side effect of the doppelgänger reacting with the iron. I didn't expect it would heat up so much."
The Magician looked over at Felix with pity. "I'm sorry, but you're not who you think you are."
Felix only had one thing to say to that. "I- I don't understand. I'm Felix Wallis."
"I'm afraid not," Lingonberry shook his head. "You're not the real Felix. You might even believe that you are, but I can assure you that you are not."
"Look at the poker, dear boy," Lingonberry said sadly. "It's iron. It burned you. The real Felix is human."
"But I am human-"
"What is the last thing you remember?" Emily finally spoke.
"I-" Felix stopped to think. A moment later, he began again. "I was seeing you and Miss Dreadful off on to the mountain trail. That was just this morning."
"Walli-" Emily broke off mid-word, and looked away. "Look, I- Penny and I left yesterday. We returned today."
"...oh," Not-Felix croaked, mouth suddenly dry. "I… oh."
"What am I?"
"I think you're some sort of doppelgänger," Lingonberry replied, as kindly as he could. "You have all - well, most - of Felix's memories, but none of his free will. Or maybe you could be a part of him - I'm not sure yet."
Not-Felix was suddenly struck by a sense of misery. "All I wanted was a holiday," he said sadly. "Not to be kidnapped and replaced by possibly a doppelganger."
"I know, dear boy," Lingonberry patted his hand sympathetically. "We'll sort this out, don't you worry."
Up Next: Emily Greene and the Minimal Kicking Of Butts in Fairyland Because Manners, or;
Emily Greene Jumps Into A Shallow Pond, or;
Sometimes, being a good neighbour means going to fairyland and rescuing said kidnapped neighbour.