AN: Hey anon, sorry for any confusion, it's probably because of my lack of perspective. I don't really have anyone to show my chapters to as a draft and get some feedback from. Like I do have a bestie who I send chapters to read, but that's more for fun than anything else. (There's a story behind why I started writing Tremor, and it has to do with my bestie's sister, high school English, and a complaint. Might tell it to you guys one day.)
The end result is that my brain goes "This makes perfect sense" and I go and click that post new chapter button. And everyone else goes "This doesn't make a lick of sense", because it probably doesn't make sense to anyone else but me. If that's the case, please, please, please let me know. Feedback will be cherished and I've definitely got room for improvement.
Like I can re-read what I write lots of times but it's still not the same as getting a fresh pair of eyes to read over my work for errors and plot holes and whatnot.
So, am I using you guys as my guinea pigs and/or exploiting you guys as free labour for editing purposes? Why, yes, yes I am.
This brings us, incidentally, to another end of an arc. I know, it's shorter than last time (only three chapters) and the constant mood of writing this arc boils down to this joke I heard from my maths teacher years ago:
Did you hear about the constipated mathematician?
He worked it out with a pencil.
So, yeah. Writing this arc was painful, a little funny and ended with a mild feeling of disgust. Although those feelings could probably be blamed on our current climate as well.
In any case, I'm working on the next lot of chapters. Could be a while before anything gets posted. Until next time.
As Emily stood before the small circle of mushrooms, she supposed it was about time.
Crime scenes, kelpies and fairy deals notwithstanding, it'd been a really nice four days of holidays. Sitting on the beach with Wallis had been nice. Hiking with Penny up to the secluded grove in the nearby mountain to collect a Flower of Insomnia had also been nice, and despite all their efforts, the mosquitoes hadn't ruined the trip. It had all been quite pleasant - too pleasant, apparently.
Things had been going too well, and when she and Penny had returned, it was to chaos. The Millers were frantic, since James had disappeared, apparently plucked out of his bed in the early morning. Mr Sapodilla was attempting to comfort the Millers and keep the hysterics to a minimum with very little success. Felix and Lingonberry were nowhere to be found.
Emily had taken in the scene with very little visible fuss. She left Penny with the Millers, since the girl was much better suited to reassurance than Mr Sapodilla was, and rescued Mr Sapodilla from the Millers' clutches before splitting up to look for the three missing people - little James, Felix and Lingonberry.
Later, Emily found out from Penny that Mr Sapodilla had found Lingonberry coming out of the woods with twigs in his beard and hair (apparently the local fairies had not taken kindly to parmesan cheese) after two fruitless nights of attempting to make contact.
Emily had made more worrying discoveries in the meantime. Fortunately, she'd found James. She'd also found Felix. This was where her fortunes stopped. Unfortunately, she'd found Felix carrying James into the woods with strange determination. He hadn't responded to her calls, and by the time she realised he was walking towards a ring of mushrooms with a blank look in his eyes, Emily decided it was time to intervene.
Not-Felix had then woken up tied to a chair, and it was decided that Actual-Felix was probably wherever the mushroom ring led to.
("I think," Lingonberry had declared after careful examination of Not-Felix, "you might be Felix - partially. I've scanned you and your brainwaves match what I have on record for him."
"What the devil are brainwaves?"
"Not important. The point is, these brainwaves can't be replicated."
Emily had felt painfully hopeful. "What are you trying to say, Mr Lingonberry?"
"Felix is alive somewhere. Whatever's kidnapped him left us with a doppelganger with Felix's mind. They're probably keeping our Felix in some sort of… mental stasis so that Not-Felix here can… well, exist, and not as a mindless puppet."
"Oh, thank goodness," Not-Felix had sighed in relief at this point. "I am real. I really am Felix Wallis - in a way."
"Well, you're really more like Felix's subconscious. You'll cease to exist once the real Felix wakes up."
Not-Felix shrugged. "I can live with that."
Emily was a bit more concerned with the words 'mental stasis', and made her worries known.
"Ah, that," Lingonberry acknowledged with a pained smile. "That… that could be a problem.")
Emily tossed a pebble into the mushroom circle. The pebble disappeared with a sound that resembled a cork being pulled out of a glass bottle. The Magician's Assistant sighed, hefted her satchel more securely against her shoulder, made sure to hold her umbrella properly, and stepped forwards.
Had there been anyone in the clearing to witness this, they would have heard something that sounded like a really large cork being pulled out an equally large bottle.
First of all, Fairy Sparkleshine did not choose her name. No, that could be blamed solely upon her parents who thought that a fairy with abilities such as hers ought to be stuck with such a horrific name for as long as she breathed and lived. She'd forgiven her parents nearly a century ago, but even so, she was occasionally struck with blinding moments of fury whenever a human (or anything else, for that matter) stared in disbelief upon hearing her name. Considering her job as a guard against outsiders in The Woods In Between, this was a more common occurrence than one might expect.
"I am Fairy Sparkleshine, Sentinel of The Woods In Between. State your business."
The mousy-haired human stared, with something approaching pity. "Sparkleshine? Good heavens. I am so sorry."
"I am used to it," Sparkleshine - Sparks, for short - waved a hand dismissively. "Now, what did you come here for?"
"Oh," at that reminder, the mousy-haired human suddenly looked much less timid. The pity left her eyes. "I am looking for my neighbour. Someone from your world kidnapped him - possibly one or two days ago - and left a doppelganger in his place."
"Oh. That one. He started it," Sparks retorted, and ignored how childish she felt. He really had started it first.
"What-? How could he have-" the human shook her head. "Look, I don't particularly care who started it. I just want him back."
"He took what was supposed to be ours!"
"Oh, for-" the human rolled her eyes. "He protected a baby! A human baby!"
"Which by all rights," Sparks growled, "should have been ours. A baby with eyes of cobalt and hair of gold- what?"
The human wrinkled her nose in disgust. "Eyes of cobalt? Hair of gold? Who even speaks like that?"
"It's the proper way of doing things," Sparks sniffed injuriously.
"Why not just say blond and blue-eyed?"
"But… but that's not how it's supposed to be done."
The human spent a few seconds in silence, and Sparks suspected she was trying to keep a grip on her patience.
"Just- just give him back."
"Well, then, what prior claim," Sparks asked, "do you have over him to demand his return?"
The human thought about this carefully. At last, she ventured, "Well, he was my neighbour first, so he can't be yours. I refuse to let him be yours."
"A neighbour?" It was Sparks' turn to be incredulous. "That's the claim you lay?"
At this, the human shrugged. "That's all I have. I can hardly use friendship as a claim, seeing as I have no right to choose his friends for him."
Sparks drummed her fingers against the trunk of the tree she leaned upon. "Do you know what I am, human?"
"Sentinel of The Woods In Between. Apparently."
"What- oh, you were paying attention," Sparks felt oddly chuffed. Most humans were too busy being in awe of the whole stumbling into a mushroom ring and teleporting into a suspiciously misty clearing in the woods thing. "Well, my point is, I am a gatekeeper."
"Good for you," the human said. "I think."
"You don't understand," Sparks waved a hand in dismissal. "The point is, I don't handle kidnappings. Not my department. I am only charged with keeping those with intent to do harm out of the kingdom. You'll have to speak to Human Resources about kidnappings."
"Was that a pun?" the human asked in the sort of voice that managed to convey an unspoken if that is a pun, I will do horrible and uncivilised things to your bureaucracy.
"So," Sparks ventured after a moment, when it appeared the human was not about to commit any violence. "Do you intend to cause any acts of murder, arson, damage to public property, general public endangerment, or all of the above upon the kingdom?"
The human opened her mouth to answer, then thought better of it and closed her mouth. "If my answer is that it'll depend, will you deny me entry?"
"Then, no. I don't intend to."
Sparks squinted suspiciously at the human. There was a reason she took up the job of a lonely sentinel, and it was precisely because she loved being alone due to her hatred of how her brethren loved using ambiguous wording when making statements and deals. At last, she sighed in defeat. "Well, then go right ahead."
The fairy stepped aside, and revealed a pond glimmering in the clearing.
"Just jump right in. It'll take you to the kingdom."
The human nodded her thanks, and jumped.
Strictly speaking, Emily was not supposed to go about jumping into magical ponds. Emily was, however, supposed to do this - she was to meet up with yet another one of Lingonberry's old friends. This friend in particular was apparently unusual, even by Lingonberry's standards. The fairies that the old magician had made contact with (the ones who did not like parmesan) had been persuaded to grudgingly send a message to Sarah, and Emily was to meet Sarah in the fairy kingdom.
("Sarah," Emily had repeated. "That's it? Just Sarah?"
"Yes," Lingonberry nodded, then scratched at his nose. "She's a bit unusual. But you need to see her. It'll be good for you."
"Good for me?" Emily seemed to be doing a lot of repeating. "What on earth is that supposed to mean?"
In lieu of explaining, Lingonberry patted Emily on the shoulder. "You can't solve your problems by running away. You need to face them."
If leaping into magical ponds meant going to the fairy kingdom, meeting Sarah and eventually rescuing Felix, then Emily supposed she would happily jump into magical ponds.
Still, jumping feet first into a magical pond was not one of Emily's brighter ideas. In her defense, she'd expected something neat and tidy, like stepping into the mushroom ring had been. She did not expect one long moment where everything was watery and murky, and then in the next moment, all sense of gravity fled with the gracefulness and tragedy of a pancake flopping out of a frypan. Emily had been left floundering and with the new sensation of panic that came with the realisation that she could not breathe underwater.
It was after several seconds of frantic arm swiping before her fingers met soft mud, and then-
Oh, she thought, and hoped she didn't look as idiotic as she felt as she stood up in suddenly knee-deep water. The water weeds draped over her shoulder and head did little to make her feel better. A muffled snickering from the pond's shoreline informed her that she had not succeeded in holding onto her dignity.
Emily sighed through her nose and mourned the loss of her dignity to a watery grave, then gingerly picked off the water weeds before wading over to pick up her floating umbrella. By the time she'd made her way to the shoreline, she had no patience left, but that was still no reason to be impolite.
"May I trouble you to ask," Emily smiled a very pained smile, "where I might find the Human Resources department?"
The smile dropped off her face when she recognised who she was looking at, and her peanut gallery of three imps stopped snickering when they recognised her.
"You!" Emily's eyes widened. "What on earth-?"
The three imps, because their last memory of Emily involved her being used as a cautionary tale against a life of crime, looked absolutely horrified.
The four may have remained in a standoff of surprise and horror, if it wasn't for the fifth arrival.
"Well now," said the fifth with good humour, "I don't get many visitors in this part of the kingdom."
Emily took a look at the new arrival and stumbled back in fear, sloshing the water around her legs as she went. The new arrival might have looked human, if it weren't for the mossy green growths on their person, and the unnaturally green eyes.
Blight, Emily thought, and then Eleanor whispered, Wait.
"Hello!" the thing standing at the edge of the pond said cheerily. "You must be Emily. We're Sarah. We've been expecting you."
Sarah had said 'we'. Either she had several split personalities, or Emily was facing a hive mind plant. Emily doubted that it was the former.
"You're a hive mind plant."
Emily took a second to digest this. "Mr Lingonberry said you were unusual."
Sarah shrugged. "That's really quite subjective, though, isn't it?"
"You're an unusual hive mind plant."
The usual hive mind plants, Eleanor piped up with the reminder, were in a habit of taking over the world. Perhaps unusual was a good thing.
Emily lowered her umbrella, and took a few tentative steps forward until she reached the edge of the pond. "Did Lingonberry get a chance to fill you in on what I am here for?"
"The message I received was that you were here to rescue a good friend."
"Well, the term I've been using is neighbour but yes, that is essentially why I am here."
Sarah squinted at Emily. "Neighbour?"
"Because I can't choose his friends for him," came the flat reply.
Sarah, very wisely, did not ask for further details. "Very well. I expect they'll be keeping him in the Human Resources department."
Lingonberry had once told Emily that bees could see more colours than humans. Emily had been sceptical, since Lingonberry had made this declaration right after three consecutive cups of coffee and one particularly sugary pastry.
While stopping Lingonberry from his fourth cup of the day, Emily had decided that it wasn't possible for there to be more colours. It was a decision that she would come to rethink now.
The Kingdom was… bright. It was the kindest way to say it. Emily's eyes hurt, and not in the same sort of pain that tended to happen by staring into the sun. Everything was almost poisonously bright, and Emily was starting to gain a headache. She averted her eyes to the ground she walked upon in an attempt to lessen the pain.
The path, she noted sourly, was very well-maintained. The grass had been trimmed, as though someone had gone over each blade with a nail clipper until everything was perfect. It was enough to make Emily nauseous.
"Do you know them?" Emily asked, once the urge to be ill had passed.
"Hm?" Sarah, who'd been strolling along cheerfully, glanced at Emily. "Who?"
"The three imps," Emily clarified, and shielded her eyes with one hand. "Do you know them?"
"Not really. They tend to keep to themselves. They live by the pond."
Emily rubbed at her eyes. It did not help with the bright colours. "Are they… are they criminals?"
"What? No. Mostly they just laugh at any unfortunate soul that comes out of there."
As rude as laughing at half-drowned pond-goers was, it was still better than breaking into research centres, stealing diseases and endangering the general public. There were other, more worthwhile, battles for Emily to fight. Namely, the colours of the Kingdom.
"Why is it so bright in here?"
"You don't wish to know."
"Oh." Emily fell silent. This was worse than her first attempts at making conversation with Felix. "Right, then."
"This is very awkward," Sarah agreed. "We have almost nothing in common with you, save for one thing."
"And what might that be?"
"Lingonberry said you had a run in with a hive mind plant, and that it wasn't very pleasant for you."
Emily considered this for a moment. "He has no subtlety whatsoever. Neither do you, for that matter."
"We find that prevaricating about the issue is neither helpful nor productive," came the calm reply. "So. Do you wish to talk about it?"
Emily's headache suddenly gained another contributing factor. "Good heavens, no. I'm afraid not with you. We've only just met."
"Quite understandable," Sarah nodded wisely. "But will you talk about it with someone you trust?"
Emily wanted to say that she wasn't dreaming about Blight anymore. Her latest worry was more along the lines of rescuing Felix, and then she could go back to fitful nights of rest disturbed by banshees and greedy (deceased) old men, and- oh. Oh dear.
Emily pinched the bridge of her nose, eyes closed, and sighed. "I really ought to."
"Talking is good," Sarah added encouragingly. "Do you have someone you can talk to?"
"Yes," Emily replied wryly. "I am attempting to rescue him as we speak."
"Then we have good news for you," Sarah gestured to the building before them. "We've arrived at Human Resources."
Emily turned to look. In her attempts to block out the awful saccharine brightness of the Kingdom, she'd also succeeded in blocking out the building they had apparently been walking towards. It was also a grey ugly building with no discernable great pieces of architecture. It was dull and boring.
It also looked exactly what she expected Human Resources to look like, if Human Resources was a building.
"It's hideous," Emily observed.
"It's human resources," said Sarah. "It is what it is. Are you ready?"
Emily, who'd reached for the doorknob at the building, stopped. "Ready for what?"
"Well," Sarah drew out the word with the first sign of discomfort Emily had seen in her. "They've got a bit of a dress code."
Emily raised her eyebrows.
"Your clothing is going to… well, change."
Emily did not like the sound of that. "Change as soon as I touch the doorknob, or as soon as I enter?"
"As soon as you enter. We have the feeling you're too practical to like the changes."
Emily really didn't like the sound of that.
Come now, Greene, Eleanor cajoled. You're doing this for Wallis.
"I'm doing this for Wallis," Emily muttered to herself, then reached out for the doorknob.
"What the deuce is wrong with you?" Emily demanded. There was a brief moment when she worried about how terribly rude of a question that was, before she decided that her rudeness was justified. After all, it wasn't every day that one had their neighbour kidnapped by fairies and their perfectly sensible clothes transformed into a green ball gown with matching slippers.
(Emily had to grudgingly admit that the dress was beautiful - it was simply something that she would never consider wearing.)
That, and after she'd made some creative threats against the fairy manning the front desk, she'd finally been led to Felix, and Felix was a gold statue. More specifically, he'd been frozen as if he'd been desperately trying to get away from something, in his last moments of terror. That tended to make anyone a little less mindful of manners. This did not stop Sarah from wincing slightly.
"What did you do to him?" Emily whirled upon the receptionist, hissing with anger.
"Normally, we'd just put him to sleep, but," the fairy, unmindful of Emily's ire, carefully worked at her nails with a file, "he was uncooperative, so we froze him. Standard procedure. He's just sleeping, though he might not look like it."
"Well, wake him up," Emily growled, "or I swear I shall-"
"Not how it works, sweetie," the receptionist drawled. "You've got to do that yourself. You know about the Act of True Love?"
Emily was all too aware. "This is ridiculous. How do you propose I go about waking up a bloody gold statue with an act of true love?"
"If you touch him," the receptionist continued, as if Emily had not spoken, "you'll be pulled into the same spell. You'll see whatever dream he's in. Then you can commit your Act of True Love, and wake him up."
"There's a catch, isn't there."
"Of course there is, who do you think we are?"
Emily opened her mouth to say exactly what she thought of the receptionist and was silenced by a sharp elbow from Sarah.
"You've got to wake him up before you forget who you are."
The receptionist continued to file at her nails. "Or you'll both make very nice lawn ornaments."
Emily debated if it would've been worth the effort to punch the receptionist and possibly get thrown out of Human Resources. She settled for snatching the file out of the fairy's hands and hurling it across the room. It hit the wall with a distant plink.
The receptionist huffed. "That wasn't very nice."
Emily felt momentarily ashamed. "Sorry. My temper-"
"Look," the receptionist sighed, and waved Emily off. "To be honest, your neighbour's been nothing but trouble. If you manage to rescue him, we'll let you walk out of here. We won't bother you again."
Emily narrowed her eyes suspiciously, and before she could speak, Sarah interrupted. "Will you leave the Millers alone as well?"
"We took him in place of the third-born," the receptionist waved a perfectly manicured hand in Felix's direction. "Our business with the Millers concluded when we took your friend."
That was a little less worrying, and Emily squared her shoulders. "Alright. I will attempt to rescue my neighbour."
"Good luck," Sarah found a nearby chair and sat down. "We'll be waiting."
Emily turned to Felix, and reached out to place her hands at his shoulders. Immediately, numbness spread from her fingers at the same time as a layer of gold crept over her skin. Her feet went numb, and Emily glanced down in time to see the gold spread up her legs and over her dress.
This was horrible. It was worse than having Blight hissing and whispering in her brain, and oh, no, Emily couldn't do this, it was awful and-
For Felix, Eleanor reminded Emily gently, and Emily took one last breath.
He stood alone in the ballroom, his back against one of the many columns in the circular room and a glass of… something bubbly in his hand. He knew there was something he ought to be doing - and no, it certainly was not dancing - but he couldn't remember what it was.
Before him, on the dance floor, beings of various shapes, sizes and hues of the rainbow twirled and skipped in time to the music. The music was unlike anything he'd heard before- no, no, he'd heard this before. He'd heard it for his whole life. He belonged here, in the sea of glittering beings.
But he didn't feel as though he belonged. He didn't feel light or glimmery or ethereal like the beings before him. Whereas the others wore their clothing comfortably, like a well-fitted glove, the uncomfortably high and starchy collar of his coat felt restricting. He wasn't one of them, he couldn't have-
Yes, he was. He was one of them, always was and always will be. There was no question about it.
A glittering being of bright blue - the sort one found sparkling from the depths of a clear lake - walked pass and smiled at him with a wink of her equally light blue eyes.
The colour was wrong, he thought. It was supposed to be green.
As quickly as the brief whisper had brushed by, it vanished, and he was left with a distinct feeling of loss. Whatever that flash had been, it was important to him, and he wanted - no, needed to see it again.
And then even that thought was gone, and he was left alone again, standing in front of the column with a glass of something bubbly in his hand. The beings before him continued to twirl and skip and glide-
There was something else making its way across the room, and it stood out like a sore thumb that had been hit, not once, but twice with a mis-aimed hammer. The problem did not lay in its colouring - its grass-green dress fit right in with the rainbows, but yet there was something different about it. It was slow, clumsy and solid, and more human than anything else in the room.
Wait a second, human-
The green something pushed its way past the dancers and stumbled to a halt at the edge of the room. For some reason, it reminded him of a duck, perhaps a mallard of some sort, waddling amongst swans. It was certainly smaller - not in size, but in presence - and not as elegant as its surroundings. But it was likely the sort of mallard who could fight off a bevy of swans without ruffling a feather if they stood in its way.
The thought made a smile - a genuine smile - twitch at his lips.
The green something straightened its skirts with a small huff. "...awful, stupid dress..." it trailed off to adjust its - no, it was a her - her shoes until they fitted more securely on her feet before delving into more grumbling under her breath.
"Excuse me," she began, turning to him, "you're probably just a figment of his imagination but I'm look for-"
She broke off abruptly when she finally managed to get a good look at him. Her jaw dropped into a small 'o' of surprise. Then, she shook her head. "I've been looking everywhere for you! Where the deuce have you been?! You're a very difficult man to find, especially given that this is your dream. Couldn't you have dreamt up something with less people in it?"
As the small female continued to rant at him - in hushed whispers, thank goodness; any louder and they'd be overheard by the entire court - and slowly drag him towards the privacy of a nearby balcony, he found it prudent to say, "I'm afraid you're mistaken. I don't believe we've met."
This was enough to stop her short. Then, "Blast. You don't remember a thing."
"Remember what?" he managed to ask before the green one took the glass out of his hand. He was too surprised to stop her.
"And don't drink that," she fearlessly - without glancing around to make sure she was not watched - dumped the contents of the glass into a nearby plant. She tossed the glass over her shoulder. "You don't know what's in there, and neither do I. This may be a dream, but best to not take any chances."
He was terribly confused. "I don't understand."
"Listen to me," the green one pinned him with a piercing gaze. "We don't have much time, so I shall make this explanation brief. This isn't real."
"I- well, I'm trying my best," the green one protested. "You're in a dream. I'm trying to rescue you. I need to wake you up with an Act of True Love."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "That's not the name of a flower, or something as ridiculous, is it?"
The green one seemed startled at his response, then hope crept over her face. She opened her mouth and spoke.
And he heard nothing but a painful buzzing. "I beg your pardon?"
"You can't hear your name," the green one whispered, eyes widening in horror. "They made it so that- I can't tell you your name."
"Oh, don't be ridiculous," the man rolled his eyes at the green one's theatrics. "Of course I know my name. It's-" he stopped.
He, in fact, did not know his name. He did, however, know some expletives and decided now was the best time to use them.
The green one looked mortified. "...that… that is not your name. I don't care what you might or might not remember, or if you even believe me, but that is definitely not-"
"I know that," the man said hastily. "I merely meant- I don't remember my name."
"I can help you," the green one began hesitantly, "but… well, Act of True Love."
It took a moment for him to process her words. "Oh."
"I," the green one declared, "am going to kiss you."
"Well, alright," said the man. She did not kiss him, and he felt vaguely annoyed. "What are you waiting for?"
"I-" she looked away, pink tinging her cheeks. "I can't do it while you're staring at me!"
"Do you want me to close my eyes?" he offered.
"Well, no," the green one had started to wring her hands. "Just… blink."
Good grief, the man thought. "You want me to blink."
"I don't think you appreciate how difficult this is for me."
"Well," he huffed, "at least you are not faced with a stranger."
"Knowing you makes the whole matter more difficult!"
That gave him pause. "Was I...am I a truly repulsive fellow?"
"No!" the green one protested. "You are not, it's just- oh, it's too difficult to explain."
"If you are not about to attempt an explanation, then I suggest that we get on with it."
"Very well. Don't move."
The man held still obligingly, even as the girl rested her hands against his shoulders and stretched up-
"Your tie is a mess," she blurted out with a surprised laugh. "Even in a dreamworld where your arm is uninjured, your tie is still a mess."
The man's shoulder ached, and it occurred to him that Emily was more than likely stalling for time even as she straightened his tie, but limited his exasperation to a slightly fond, "I thought we agreed I wouldn't require a tie for the beach."
"Yes, well, we-" Emily, who was brushing off his lapels, looked up sharply. "You remember?"
The man started in surprise, and gripped Emily by her upper arms. "Say my name."
"Wallis," Emily whispered and, this time, Felix heard his name.
On a small grassy knoll, where if one sat in a particular direction, one would be able to see a ring of mushrooms at the base of the hill, were two people.
The two people were sitting in quite the opposite direction, so that they did not have to take in the sight of the mushroom ring. Even if they were facing in the right direction, they wouldn't have seen anything due to the fog. For that matter, if it wasn't as foggy as it was, the two would have been safe within their respective rooms by now.
The two were also sitting a safe distance away from each other. Both looked as though they'd just stepped out of a fancy ball. For a long time, both were silent.
"You were going to kiss me," Felix said at last, not quite accusing and not entirely forgiving either.
"I would have," Emily agreed softly. "If it meant getting you back, then yes, I would have."
Felix picked a blade of grass and began to shred it with his fingers. "You… you do care about me, don't you?"
"Of course I do."
"More than you're supposed to," Felix added.
There was another long moment of silence.
"Wallis," Emily began at last, hugging her knees to her chest, "I expect that one day, you'll meet someone who will make you happy, and you'll make her happy and one day you'll get married to her."
Felix considered this. "And who will make you happy, Greene?"
"It can't be you, Wallis. You know that."
Felix knew, and he thought Emily looked rather small and tired, and hunched over as though she was cold. So he offered what comfort he could afford to give. "Thank you for coming after me."
"I wasn't about to leave you as a golden statue forever." Emily paused to shiver. "I'd be a terrible neighbour if I did."
Felix shrugged off his coat, and leaned over to drape it over Emily's shoulders. It pooled around her, tethering her to the ground so that she seemed less likely to drift away with the fog, and for the first time since Felix spoke, Emily looked less ...fragile.
"Wallis, you needn't-" Emily began to protest.
"I am simply refusing to wear this horrible coat for any longer. Might as well put it to good use."
"You are in a ball gown and freezing, no doubt. Just take it."
Emily gave up and huddled under the jacket.
It was then that a start of a thought took seed in Felix. It was more accurate to say that it was a seed that had started to germinate. Had the seed sprouted and grown in that moment, it would have become a thought, and that thought would have been this:
If Felix ever had the chance to meet Keith Gathony, he would very much have liked to punch the man in the nose.
"A deep hole hidden in the woods," Penny suggested. "Or a cave. Or an abandoned well."
"A shallow hole in the gardens, but plant something on top," was Emily's contribution. "Maybe tomatoes."
"Hiding in plain sight," Sapodilla nodded in approval. "Now that's quite diabolical. But wouldn't someone notice if the tomatoes are growing just a bit too well?"
Felix, who was busy digging said deep hole hidden in the woods, stopped mid-shovel and eyed the other three with a hearty helping of annoyance. "It's bad enough that you're making me dig my own grave, you know. I could do without the impromptu discussion on how to hide a body."
"It's not technically your grave," Penny nudged the lifeless body with her foot. It looked remarkably like Felix, except it had turned green and sprouted mushrooms and wasn't alive - on second thought, it didn't look much like Felix anymore. It'd been lifeless ever since Felix was no longer a gold statue. "It's for that. He didn't really act too much like you, you know. He was too nice."
"Penny, don't touch that," Sapodilla admonished. "It's probably infested with some foul fairy magic."
Emily made a faint noise that may have passed unnoticed if she hadn't attempted to pretend it was a cough afterwards.
"Et tu, Greene?" Felix gave Emily a look of betrayal, before addressing the old man frankly. "Sapodilla, you are a horrible influence."
"And you have a grave to dig. Keep digging."
Felix sighed, and continued shovelling. "I don't see why we couldn't have just burned this."
"More respectful this way," Sapodilla poked the body with a stick.
"How is burying my double in a shallow grave in the woods more respectful than a funeral pyre?"
"It isn't." Sapodilla admitted. "I simply have no wish to frighten my customers away by burning a body on the beach."
Felix's shoulder ached, and he gave up. He clambered out of the grave. "There, a shallow hole in the woods instead of a deep one. I hope you all find it satisfactory."
"Good enough," Sapodilla rolled the body into the hole. It landed flat on its face. For a moment, they peered down at the mossy green object lying in the hole. Sapodilla cleared his throat. "Should we say a few words?"
"This was a complete and utter farce," Felix said flatly to the body in the grave and ignored Sapodilla's snickering. "Goodbye. It was awful and I hope I never have to do this again."
It had been a unanimous decision. It was outdoors, convenient, and there was something indescribably cathartic about watching a hated object going up in flames.
They'd gone looking for driftwood - well, Emily looked for driftwood. Penny looked for shells. Emily had been tempted to look for shells too, but the memory of the nauseatingly colourful Kingdom was too fresh, and duty won out over desire. Not to mention there was still that awful green dress she'd worn for the duration of her misadventure. On any other occasion, perhaps she would have appreciated the dress for what it was (as something to be admired from a distance and never worn), but the night had been eventful, to say in the least, and she'd lost a perfectly sensible pair of boots on top of that.
Emily was not happy. Mind you, Emily was perfectly happy to have Felix back. She was simply not happy because of the losses incurred. Perhaps it was petty to be so annoyed, but they had been really comfortable boots - low heels, soft sturdy leather - and now they were replaced, irreversibly, by a pair of grass-green slippers. By all means, yes, they looked nice and matched the green dress perfectly, but function-wise, they had much to be desired.
Even if Emily held some degree of affection for the slippers, Lingonberry had recommended removing any presence of their trip into the fairy world.
By the time she and Penny returned to the firepit, there was already a fire going and the sky was darkening.
Penny went to show her grandfather the fruits of her labour while Emily dropped her bundle of driftwood next to Felix.
Wordlessly, Felix handed her a mug of steaming hot chocolate, and Emily accepted it gratefully before sitting down on the sand next to Felix.
"Am I to understand that you gave up a pair of perfectly sensible boots for me?" Felix began after he'd added more pieces of driftwood to the blaze.
"They were very comfortable," Emily rolled up the green dress into a bundle and tossed it onto the fire. There was a quiet whoosh and the dress went up in flames. Emily frowned. No normal dress would have burned up like that unless it'd been soaked in kerosene first. Perhaps it was a good thing they decided to burn the dress rather than burying it in a hole somewhere. She sipped at her hot chocolate. "How did you know about the boots?"
"Miss Dreadful saw fit to inform me."
Emily swirled the contents of her mug, and did not look at Felix. It'd been something she'd mentioned to Penny in passing. "Did she."
"Yes," Felix found his own mug, and drank from it. "Sounds like something a good friend would do for another."
Emily hadn't even realised she'd been tense until she found herself relaxing. She wrapped her fingers around the mug. "Or a good neighbour."
"I suppose I am indebted to you."
Emily picked up the green slippers, threw them onto the fire and soon the ashes of the shoes mingled with the dress'. "Don't forget me again and I'll consider it even."
"To remembered memories and good neighbours," Felix proposed, raising his mug.
Emily clinked her mug against his. "To Whiskers the Fish. He was a good memory and I'm certain he would have been a good neighbour."
"He was a lovely shade of purple," Felix agreed.
Coming Not-Soon, Probably Whenever I Finish Writing It: No rest for the wicked - or for Emily. AKA Lingonberry plans a robbery and Felix is Not Hearing This At All for the sake of plausible deniability.