Aug 18, 2019 3:09 AM
Emma does not often think this, but she would dearly, dearly like to be back at school at this particular moment.

Her parents brought her to the club to 'socialize', but they're the ones doing all the socializing. And now they've met some business friends of her dad's, and there's some secrecy clause about an upcoming deal, or something? So her mother's at the bar getting a drink with the guys' wives, but Emma's only twenty. So here she is, wandering around on the golf course, enjoying the sunset and trying to kill time until she can go back inside. And really, honestly missing school, where she doesn't have to go through this nonsense.

Finally she decides she's had enough of being outside- however much her mother protests that really, Connecticut is lovely in the fall, it's also chilly- and she starts to make her way back to the clubhouse. She's walking up the golf cart trail through the trees to get across the last hole when suddenly she realizes-

-the clubhouse isn't there any more. There's just more forest.

...what just happened?
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There is forest and there is also a little blue-haired fairy girl with gaudy butterfly wings and about three feet of height if that.

"Oh goodness!" she says. "A lost mortal. What's your name, dear?"

Emma blinks at her. It's still awfully early for Halloween. And what kind of mother lets her kid dye her hair? Well, she supposes it's cute. "Uh, nice to meet you, I'm Emma," she says politely. "Do you know where the clubhouse went, please? I think I'm lost."


"You're very lost," says the fairy. "Follow me, don't talk unless I ask you a question." She takes off with the gaudy butterfly wings and off she goes into the forest.

Emma- follows her and does not talk.

Why is she following, that child is flying, what just happened?

But she can't speak, much less ask questions. So, she'll just be here, following as instructed.
Eventually the fairy gets bored of flying and lands on Emma's shoulder and directs her. "Bear left a bit more. Go faster."

The latter command is repeated a few times.
Emma is not very good at going faster. She trips a couple of times, but her body is forcing her to gogogo and so she just- does. And it's starting to hurt and she's tired and confused and what just happened. She has no idea what's going on, she doesn't know what happened to her parents, she's just- obeying. She can't not.

She wants to go home.

Well, where she gets to go is a little bungalow made of rocks near a riverside. It is not made for someone her size, but the fairy makes her squeeze into it without breaking anything and sit in the corner. Then the fairy makes her sit in a corner, nice and still. The fairy feeds her some sort of weird fruit, by hand, bit by bit, and then leaves her there alone, going into another room with an afterthought, "You can sleep," over her shoulder.

Sleeping is not exactly the first thing on Emma's mind. She tries to get away first, a couple of times, but she can't make herself move. She can't even deal with the scrapes on her arms and the side of her leg, casualties of squeezing herself past rocks not large enough for her to squeeze through. She just sits in the corner, struggling helplessly against nothing at all, unable to move.

This goes on for at least an hour. Not that you could tell by looking at her.

Finally, she just sits and cries. Silently. (She has to be still, she has to be quiet.) But she can cry, wordlessly sobbing.

She wants to go home, what is this place, who even is this not-child that's taken her away-

Eventually, she sleeps.

The fairy wakes her up the next morning. The fairy wants her to make breakfast - the fairy tells her how - and then feed it to her. The fairy then wants her to make her a new dress. She gets an old one to copy and a sewing kit but no instructions. Also, she is supposed to sing while she does it.

Emma does, actually, know how to sew. She's only adequate at it, but it was the sort of thing considered Important Knowledge in school. There are some jokes to be made about a fancy all girl's school teaching girls to sew (and cook, and touch type quickly, and... generally be Good Wives and Secretaries) but right now Emma is mostly appreciative that she can move again.

(There's a small voice in the back of her head screaming that this is awful, she's happy she can move, but there's nothing she can do but cry anyway.)

So. She makes breakfast, as instructed, and feeds it to the fairy. She starts to sew- she's fully aware how bad she is at this and makes it extremely large, so she can just fuss with it later- and she sings.

She has a nice, if untrained, voice. She sticks mostly to hymns, boring but reasonably simple verses in Latin she's known by heart essentially since infancy.

She can't sob- it interferes with the singing, she has to keep singing- but she can keep crying just fine. She tries to do it away from the fairy. She doesn't know this awful creature, she doesn't want it to see her cry. But at a certain point, it's probably obvious.
The fairy doesn't seem to care if she's crying. She wants to be made lunch, and later dinner, and be sung to, and when the dress is done she wants shoes.

Emma is allowed to stop singing when the fairy wants to go to sleep.
Emma has no idea how to make shoes, but her body forces her to start anyway. She can force it, a little- she can make shoes slowly, if she tries- but she has to legitimately be trying to make shoes still.

By the end of the day she's losing her voice, her throat feels like it's on fire, and her eyes are red and itching. But finally, she can sleep.

She cries herself to sleep again. She doesn't know what else to do.

The fairy remembers to feed her the next morning after the fairy has had her own breakfast, and offhand remarks that she may pour herself water from the pitcher if she's very thirsty. The fairy goes out but forgets to say she can stop singing. The fairy comes back with food and wants Emma to put it away and make lunch. The fairy wants Emma to brush and braid her hair, prettily, no pulling. The fairy wants a footrub. The fairy goes out and gets beads and comes back and says they go on the shoes.

The water helps a little. She's not clear on the distinction between 'very thirsty' and 'needs water very badly', but it seems to be closer to the first one. Her throat gets worse.

Emma's very good at pretty braids. She makes three, French braided from the top down, then plaits them together. (When she's braiding, she's not trying- and failing- to make shoes.) She manages to go even slower by being careful- no pulling! Eventually she runs out of delays and returns to the shoes.

She's not artistic. They're just beads. It takes her a good three tries to comes up with something that even comes close to attaching them. She settles for alternating colors, marching in lines around the edge of the shoes. The seams help hide the extra holes she's making when she messes up.

She keeps crying. It's almost necessary, at this point; the faster she's thirsty, the sooner she can soothe her throat. She'll start sounding worse soon, though. She doesn't usually sing, she's never had training, only magic and a misery-induced haze have kept her going this long at all.
Eventually the fairy is annoyed by the scratchy voice and tells her to drink more water. Her next foraging trip sees her home with cream-colored berries that she makes Emma eat; they don't taste very good but they smooth out the audible burrs in her voice. The next time she goes out after that she comes back with a little harp and tells Emma to teach herself to sound decent on that while the fairy isn't around to listen to her practicing.

Occasionally the fairy forgets for a day or two to feed Emma anything but the cream-colored berries.

The fairy wants a book scribed into a blank one. The fairy wants Emma to keep the place clean. The fairy gets Emma to do her hair twice a day
Emma sings. And sings, and sings. She has enough water now, but she keeps crying anyway. She wants to go home. She still doesn't even know what this place is. She just- does what she's told.

She's always been good at that.

(Is that why this happened to her? The thought gives her nightmares, sometimes.)

The book takes a couple of weeks; it's not that long, but she is being careful, look at her fancy Good Housewife/Secretary handwriting. She's mediocre at best at cleaning; she can do dishes and fold clothing but it takes her quite a few tries to convince the dust to go outside, rather than back onto something. She experiments with new braids. (What else has she to do?) Her clothes, while sturdier then they look, are still just Nice Clothes For The Club and get progressively more bedraggled.

And she cries. For her parents, for her friends, for her school, for everything that isn't this.

After a couple of months, the fairy injures a wing and doesn't go out for a few days. And then, while the wing is still healing, she hands Emma a large piece of pretty yellow and orange fabric and tells her to figure out some reasonably pretty way to wear it, and then she sits on Emma's shoulders and makes Emma carry her through the forest (bear right, up the hill, left, through those bushes, don't scrape the fairy against any branches, faster faster).

Yellow and orange are not Emma's colors, but she does her best. She's better at sewing now, at least. But being forced to run, run, run through the woods does nothing for the dress she made- She said pretty, what did She think would happen, pretty means dress, pretty means skirt, it doesn't mean hiking clothes. But except for the hem she looks nice.

Nice skirt, nice top, nice braids.

As long as you don't mind the tears.
The fairy directs her conveyance (who has been told somewhere along the line to quit singing) to a gathering of fairies in a little glen. There are other fairies there. Most of them don't seem to be the same species. They've all got wings, all generally more like insect wings of some kind than like birds' or bats' wings, but not necessarily very like - one has wings like curtains that happen to be able to move, one looks like he's got fish fins attached down his spine in a flying-friendly manner, one's got leaves, one's got a beetle casing on his back. They're mostly shorter than Emma, although the curtains one is an inch taller and the leaf one isn't that much shorter. They look at Emma. They look at the fairy who owns Emma.

"Hello everybody," says the blue-haired fairy sitting on Emma. "Am I very late? I hurt my wing and this useless creature doesn't run very fast."

"You are late," comments leaf-wings.

"Sorry," says the blue-haired fairy.

"You missed the opening remarks. The representative is gone now," says leaf-wings.

"Well, you didn't come to a decision without me, did you?" exclaims blue-hair.

"We did not," says leaf-wings.
Emma stops as ordered when they arrive. She stays put. She isn't crying- she's too tired, too dehydrated, still somehow too shy. But she's clearly exhausted and red eyed and quiet.

Very, very quiet, as ordered.

She has no idea what's going on. She can't really bring herself to care.
"Well, did the representative say anything interesting?" asks blue-hair.

"Nothing substantive," says fishfins.

"Then my position's what it always was, I don't want them here."

"Which you'll enforce how?" wonders leafwings.

"Well - well, you're a sorceress, aren't you?"

"I am."

"I thought you didn't want them here either."

"I didn't make up my mind. And you'd need me on board to keep them out. And then you were late. Why did I not want them here again...?" muses leafwings.

"That makes the vote tied," says beetle-shell. "That's no good. And we need Promise even if it were more against than in favor. Curses, River, you couldn't leave earlier?"

"I didn't know how slow my useless vassal was going to be!" shrieks, apparently, River, kicking Emma hard in the collarbone.

Promise's wings flutter a little. She inspects her fingernails.

"Rain Dice for your vote," River suggests.

Promise snorts derisively.

"What do you want?" shrieks River, kicking Emma again.

"Maybe I just want neighbors."

"You don't want neighbors!"

"He was cute," insinuates Promise, "the representative."

"You're just deliberately antagonizing me. I don't want them here - they'll be upstream, where they want to go!"

"I guess you'd better figure out what I want, then," says Promise, fussing with her hair.

"Just tell me!"

Promise thinks.

Promise peers at Emma.

Promise says, "I'd take your human."
Emma can't curl up into a ball. She was told to stay still. She can just- whimper. Quietly.

(Don't cry, don't cry, don't cry.)

She mostly succeeds.

When Promise requests "your human", it takes her a few minutes to even realize what that means. When she associates it to herself, she just stares at Promise, slightly questioningly. She's not hopeful, exactly. She's been here for months, controlled by a spoiled, selfish creature she doesn't even have a name for. But she supposes it would be nice, to be away from this one.

If the next one's not worse, at least.

(What do you want a human for?)

(Probably not anything good.)
"But - but she's mine! I caught her myself fair and square!" screeches River.

"Well, I'm going to have to do something to occupy myself if I don't ingratiate myself with the cute sorcerer breeder -"

"I wouldn't have figured you for touching breeders," snorts curtains.

"I'm new, I don't know what I like yet," shrugs Promise.

"Maybe you don't think you can keep them out," sneers fishfins.

"I can keep them out. I'm better than he is and it's my turf. Question is whether I'm motivated," says Promise.

"You're just being mean to me," whimpers River.

"You were late."

"Because you've always cared so much about punctuality," sneers beetle-wings.

"I'm new," repeats Promise, "I don't know what I like yet."

"Fine!" says River. "She's useless anyway! I'll give you her name after the others go if you'll keep the breeders away."

"If you don't follow though I'll let them move right in, right upstream from you," Promise warns.

"I know, I'll actually do it."

"And you can't just tell me her name and fight with me over her, either -"

"Free and clear," growls River. She kicks Emma again.

"Fine, then. Breeders will have to find someplace else to settle down," says Promise.

And the fairies except for River disperse.
Emma still has no idea what's going on. She can't decide whether a transfer is good for her, or bad- after a few nightmare scenarios that her brains helpfully invents for her, she focuses on trying to follow the rest of the conversation.

Breeders? What are those? Sorcerers?
"Everybody gone?" says Promise.

Nobody answers.

"Okay. Give."

River grumbles. "At least let me make her take me home first."

"Oh no you don't. You'll just keep inventing excuses until I'm working for free."

River scowls. "Put me on the ground," she tells Emma.
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