A Word of Caution

Welcome to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Feel free to wander and browse, but know that the content you will find here is not for the faint of heart. The visions portrayed are often darkly erotic, even disturbing, and should be traversed only by those with the appropriate character and mental age.

You have been warned.


Tales From the Fae – Unseelie Summer

Chapter 3 – To Market, To Market

Candice was waiting for us by the portal when we arrived. She was wearing a sparkling vest with a number of braided cords hanging strategically, and nothing underneath. I recognized one of the skirts that Cailleach had given her. The outfit was a startling contrast to Ananha and I, but even still, felt right somehow.

“Welcome back, Ran!” She turned and bowed appropriately to the faerie, who nodded in approval. I had to remember I was back in the Seelie Court again and that the lack of formalities the Principality had shown with my mother no longer applied here.

“Hey, Candice. Um, thank you Mistress for the escort,” I said to Ananha. “I was very glad for your company.”

“It was an honor and a pleasure, and you are welcome. I’ll just let you get settled then. You should check in with the Headmaster. I’m sure he’ll want to speak with you about your internship, and… other things.”

“Yes ma’am.”

“So, how did it go with your mom?” asked Candice when we were alone again. I took a clue from the faerie and hovered my bag behind us as we headed for the residency.

“Better than I expected, actually. She’s pretty tough, but the Headmaster had a lot of explaining to do.”

“That’s an understatement.”

“How about you? You couldn’t have been gone for more than an hour… oh wait.”

“Yeah, I hit it early when we were still running at twelve-to-one.”

“Huh? Oh, you mean the time reference of the Academy?”

“Yup. You lucked out and missed the changeover to standard time.” The girl stuck her tongue out in distaste. “Of course, Douglas and Shell thought it was funny watching me toss my cookies.”

I cringed. “And your parents?”

“Well, I opted to let them know ahead of time, so it was just a friendly homecoming. They’re both scientists, and surprisingly square. But all my sister wanted to know about was whether the boys were cute.” She smiled. “I think she might be eligible in another couple years.”

“To come here?” I asked surprised.

She nodded. “Yup. The sprite who contacted me hinted that I wasn’t the only one from my family who had the necessary Fae traits. You want help with anything,” she asked pointing a thumb at my bag.

We had stopped at Tier Four. I knew her place was down the North corridor, as were all those in the North house.

“I’m good. It’s just a few nicknacks mainly.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t think of much to bring either. The Fae is so completely different…”

“…It’s hard to mix worlds,” I finished for her.

She sighed. “Right. Meet you later? I’m supposed to see the Headmaster with you, Douglas and Michelle in about two hours.”

I nodded, then after a slightly awkward pause, I gathered the girl into a hug.

“Hey, everything alright?”

“Yeah,” I said letting her go again. “You’re a good friend, Candice.”

She grinned. “Well the feeling is mutual. Uh…” I followed her gaze and saw Douglas coming out of the residence next to mine.

“Ran,” he said as he recognized me.

“That’s my cue,” said Candice patting me on the shoulder and quickly moving down the stairs.

“Miranda! You’re back,” he exclaimed rather loudly.

“I wasn’t gone that long, was I?”

He jogged up to me. “Three whole days is an eternity to be away from you, love.” His hands wrapped around my waist and I felt a happy tingle in my middle. “We’re neighbors you know.”

“I saw that,” I said with a smile as he lightly kissed my forehead.

“Convenient, if I do say.”

“A bit of a waste,” I replied with mock sadness.

“What? How’s that then?”

“Well,” I answered, my tone dropping to a more sultry level. “Since I intend to keep you busy in my own place, yours just seems… redundant.”

I was urging us down the hall. Douglas’ hands were working slowly under my t-shirt, one sliding up my back, the other moving to my belly and then to the clasp of my belt.

“Busy, eh,” he teased. “And what would you have me busying myself with, hmm?”

I whispered in his ear, telling him exactly how I planned to keep him busy. His eyes were sparkling with mischief by the time we reached my door. I palmed the handle and we all but fell through into Number 7. We never did reach the bed.

The Headmaster’s personal study seemed a bit crowded with all five of us, but that was mostly due to the complete lack of free horizontal surfaces. Every shelf, nook, or open bit of desk space that wasn’t holding a book, was covered with odd metal gizmos, or ancient artifacts of one kind or another. Some I recognized from previous visits, while others seemed new, as though he had boxes and boxes of the mysterious trinkets just waiting for their turn to be on display.

Candice and I sat in the light of the ‘window’, enjoying the warmth of a partly cloudy day. I knew it was an illusion, but it was still nice. Michelle and Douglas were occupying the only other chairs in the room save for the Professor’s. They were deep-backed leather armchairs of the sort that almost forced you to slouch. Comfy, easy to nap in.

Candice was giving us an update on what she was calling her summer “project”. Basically, the Headmaster had tasked her with updating the logistical systems within the Iron Mountain. No small task considering the place had existed just fine for thousands of years.

“Communications was the obvious first step,” she explained. “No offense to the makers, but relying on sprites and faeries to pass around messages just wasn’t going to cut it.”

“Candice has created the equivalent of a modern mail room for physical packages and letters, run and delivered by the sprites,” added Professor Brightly. “We’re still working out the bugs, but the sprites seem quite excited about the endeavor.”

“Yes, sir. They were doing message delivery before, I’ve just added structure and the means to carry physical deliveries. I’m also working on setting up a telecommunications system using the interconnected magical network as a base. I still don’t have a way to easily reach the member of the Fae you’re looking for, but the underlying digital protocols are in place.”

“Digital?” asked Michelle. “I thought you said it was based on the magical networks?”

“It is, but only the backbone. I’m using special spells that convert visual and audible signals into a digital version within a virtual recording medium which can then be sent over the network in an encrypted fashion using a priority IP stack and packet switching.”

“Is she still speaking English?” asked Douglas.

“It’s like a cell phone,” I interjected, “only instead of towers and wires, the ‘network’ is the same one we connect to with our Ob’ilar, yes?”

“Exactly!” she chimed, smiling.

“And you can do this?” asked Douglas, leaning forward with renewed interest.

“Um, not yet. Like I said, I still haven’t figured out a way to positively identify individuals on the network, but I’m working on it.”

“Keep me informed of your progress, Miss Mellions,” said the Headmaster. “Douglas.”


“I wonder if you would be so kind as to show your friends the little trick you used in the games… The one you mentioned to Marly.”

For perhaps the first time since I had met Douglas, he actually looked a bit nervous. Then, he nodded once and got up from his chair, his hands motioning in the air as he worked his Ob’ilar.

“Um… I’m not sure there’s enough room here to demonstrate safely…”

“Do your best,” suggested the man.

“Right. I’ll just bring up a limited version, as small as I can make it.”

“Very well.”

Suddenly, there was a semi-opaque blue rectangle perpendicular to his arm, like a shield. It stood about four feet high and two wide, and appeared to be about an inch thick.

“Whoa,” exclaimed Michelle. “What is that?”

“Well, I was sort of hoping one of you could tell me. It works as a shield or wall, and in its current form will track my arm when I move. It’s not that heavy, and the weight can actually be adjusted, as well as the size and configuration.”

“Hold on,” I interrupted. “Did you just say ‘weight’? You mean, it has mass?”

“It would seem so.”

I was amazed. “It’s not just the illusion of weight?”

He got a puzzled look on his face. “I… I’m not sure I know how to tell the difference, but it certainly has inertia. Right now it weighs maybe two or three pounds.”

Michelle leaned over and touched the surface, rubbing her palm on the lightly glowing box. “It’s smooth, but there is a texture. It’s a little cool.”

“In the arena, we found it to be nearly impervious to any physical attacks, and even pure magic had minimal effect. A few spells were able to eat away at it a little, but it regenerates almost as fast as it could be destroyed.”

“Damn,” commented Candice. “No wonder you made it as far as you did. How did they finally beat it?”

Douglas grinned. “They didn’t. No one was ever able to take down our shields. Finally, they got smart and found ways to go around them though…”

“We believe,” added Professor Brightly, “that something made of this material is what guards the world gates that Cailleach spoke of.

“Is it alive?” asked Candice next to me.

“I don’t think so, at least not in this limited form.”

“Can I try?” asked Michelle.

“Uh, sure, here…” Douglas made a few adjustments to his Ob’ilar and then ‘passed’ the rectangle to our friend. She played with the weight and tried spinning a bit.

“It may have mass, but it’s also fixed. It’s held perpendicular.”

“So it can take rules,” I suggested.

Douglas nodded. “It basically reacts however you want it to as though it were a literal solid material, controllable by magic.”

I got up from the bench and came closer for a better look. I had Michelle turn one of the edges to me.

“Well, if it’s not an actual material, then it’s one hell of an illusion. There’s refraction and optically reflective properties. I’d say the refraction is close to that of water. You say it regenerates?”

Douglas made a quirky smile. “Try it…”

“Uh,” the Headmaster interrupted. “Let’s save that experiment for a more suitable location.”

I continued to watch as Michelle played with the controls Douglas was indicating within her Ob’ilar. She was able to increase the size, cause it to bend, even increase the weight. I had to step back quickly at one point when it suddenly became far too heavy for Michelle to hold in the air with one hand. The magical sheet slammed to the floor with a heavy crunch, embedding itself slightly in the Professor’s throw rug.

The man sighed.


I was trying to lift it using both my arms. I couldn’t budge it.

“Damn, this thing must weigh several hundred pounds. That’s amazing. Hey, is this why you were being so secretive about that old book you had in the Great Hall?”

He nodded. “It’s written in a lost language, so most of it is unreadable. But there were a few sections that had examples in Old Fae, so we were able to deduce that the magic the book talks about was made using a system that is completely different than the Ob’ilar we have now.”

“How were you able to produce this then?” asked Michelle, obviously enjoying the movable wall.

“Scattered through the book are simple examples in our modern form that must have been added almost like footnotes. This wall was one of them. Think of it as a limited translation that probably occurred during the period between the two systems.”

“Obviously, such magic would be invaluable in any battle with the Fomorians,” added the Headmaster. “So I have asked Douglas to put his full attention on the matter.”

I turned to my lover, who smiled.

“I don’t mean to minimize your abilities as an historian, Douglas, but doesn’t the Court have people with more, er… experience?”

I half expected Douglas to get mad at me, but instead his grin just deepened.

“Mr. McBride has already proven himself to be one of the best that this school has produced,” replied the Professor, “but I have other reasons for choosing him for this task.”

The boy waggled his eyebrows at me.

“Historians frequently serve in a more… covert nature for the Seelie Court,” continued the Headmaster. “As such, the more ‘experienced’ an operative, the more ‘known’ they are within the ranks of the Fae. As was proven recently in the case of Miss Lang, being too well known can become an occupational hazard.”

I frowned, quickly putting aside the image that came to mind of my friend and lover bleeding out through a million needles of bone.

“Douglas, why don’t you show your friends what you have found, yes?”

He nodded and then reached for a bag on the floor.

“The four of you,” continued Headmaster Brightly, “coming together as friends was no accident… and before you judge me,” he exclaimed holding up his hand when I turned coldly on him, “know that it wasn’t my doing either. It’s called an Orchestration, and it would seem the Mother herself has put you all together, for reasons she has not made clear. You may all specialize and go in different directions, but you were clearly meant to work together. I have stopped trying to do things my way and have chosen to trust in divine design.” He eyed me specifically.

“What is it exactly that you want us to do?” asked Candice.

He sighed and pointed to a pair of books Douglas had extracted and was holding. “I want you to look at those and tell me what you see.”

Douglas passed one to me and Candice, and the other to Michelle, who cancelled the wall and received the tome as though it were slightly poisonous. Scanning the pages of the one in my lap, I could see why they had so much trouble deciphering it. The language was completely unlike any other I had seen, and entirely unreadable. Occasionally there were Old Fae characters, and in a few places, what looked like scribbled notes which were faded and barely discernible. The actual pages of the book, and what appeared to be printed text and diagrams, however, were as pristine as the day they were laid down. Whatever the book was made of, it didn’t seem to age.

“These diagrams,” said Candice pointing to a page. “Could this be some kind of instruction manual?”

“That’s what Mar… er, Professor Poppins and I were thinking. But a manual for what?”

“It certainly doesn’t look like a combat manual,” said Michelle frowning as she paged through the other book. “I don’t recognize any… hey, wait a sec…” I saw her quickly scan through the pages until she reached the end. “These symbols at the bottom, do they mean anything to you, Douglas?”

“We saw that the placement was similar, but we couldn’t find anything specifically special about them, why?”

“I… I think that it’s mathematical.”

I looked at our own book and saw a row of about twenty seemingly random symbols along the bottom of each page. Flipping forward revealed nothing that helped explain them.

“Mathematical, Shell? How?” I asked.

“Well, after you got hit with that Black Blood thingy,” she explained, looking slightly embarrassed, “and Cailleach was trying to break the code, she had me look at the symbols numerically and suddenly the anomalies made sense. This is kind of like that… these strings of symbols are sequential, but only when looked at through a mathematical formula.”

“What mathematical formula?” asked the Headmaster.

“Um… I think it would be easier to write…”

The man handed her a paper and pen and the redhead scribbled for almost a minute, stopping here and there. Finally, she looked up and handed the paper to Brightly, whose brows rose in surprise.

“I’m no dunce when it comes to arithmancy, but I think this is well out of my league. Candice?” He passed the paper over.

She stared at it for several seconds before her face lit up. “This… This is a hash key!”

“A what?” asked Douglas. I had a vague idea of the term, and I saw by the look on the Headmaster’s face that he was familiar as well.

“A hash key is used in computer science for a number of purposes. Typically, they are associated with databases or cryptographic functions… Checksums, authentication, data integrity, search optimization…” replied the man.

“So, these strings at the bottom of the pages are for… authentication?”

“It might be, but it’s more likely used to validate the content on each page and serve as a marker, holding information that makes retrieval of information much quicker.”

“Sort of like how we put numbers at the bottom of books so we can find a page easily,” I suggested.

“Exactly,” he continued. “Only these strings would not only tell you what ‘page’ you were on, but the encoded keywords for the page and a possible verification of the content.”

“That’s handy,” said Michelle. “But a little cumbersome… I mean look at that line of symbols! Hardly easy to decipher, and I have a knack.”

“It’s only hard because until now, we didn’t have the formula to decode the hash,” answered Candice. “Though I have to admit that doing this quickly in your head would be seriously difficult.”

“No,” I interrupted. “Not for the people who wrote this. Mandarin is hard to read if you don’t know it, but if you grew up with it, it’s just… normal. Whatever race this book belongs to, understood it the same way we understand the numbering at the bottom of one of our books. Professor, you mentioned that you thought the weapon systems guarding the world gates were made of the same material as Douglas’ shield… Weren’t those weapons made by the elves?”

“Oh! Oh!” squealed Candice. “Then that would mean that the language this book is written in is… elvish!”

“That would make sense,” answered Douglas slowly. “But the elves, and almost everything known about them, were said to have all disappeared thousands of years ago. So we still can’t translate the book, even if we know who wrote it.”

“Maybe… Professor, you said that the hash keys could contain keywords describing the page.”

“Possibly. I’m only guessing of course, but it would make sense. The hash could hold the keywords just as easily as a checksum.”

“So, if we know the keywords even if we can’t translate them, and compared similar pages until we found one with an example in Old Fae…”

“I would do it the other way around, but I see where you’re going. Alright, we have a plan of attack then. How do we proceed?”

“Uh… well, I guess everything centers around Michelle. She’s the only one that can crack the keys. I suppose we should find all the pages with anything in Old Fae and get her to work on those pages first. What do you think, Shell? Are you up for some heavy crypto?”

“Heavy what? If it’s just those symbols at the bottom, I think I can do that, but it’s oddly taxing, even though I’m trying really hard NOT to think about it.”

I took the book off my lap and set it on the Headmaster’s desk. “I think it would be best if we organized our workspace. Sir, would it make more sense to move to the Great Hall?”

The man looked a bit concerned. “Hmm. I’d rather keep this confined to this group only for now, if that’s okay. Until I know what we’re dealing with, and its implications, it would be prudent to be sure that the Sluagh can’t get wind of this.”

“The Sluagh?” exclaimed Candice, looking worried. “Do you really think that’s a problem here, within the walls of the Academy?”

“Well, that curse used on Miranda was extremely specific. They would have had to have known how to bypass significant portions of our security to get it in here… Oh yes, there are very old and tried spells protecting this place I assure you, spells that should have caught that curse the second it entered our halls. The fact that they did not, means it is very likely that we have some leaks.”

“Shaina?” asked Michelle.

“Possibly. But, being a First, it’s highly unlikely she would know enough to make a difference.”

“Who then?” Douglas looked more curious than worried.

“I have my suspicions, but nothing concrete. So, it’s all the more reason to keep this quiet, and that means no one; not lovers, or close friends, or even instructors, are to know about this, understood?”

We all nodded.

“Right,” he said, standing abruptly. I guess that means we’ll need this space…” With a flick of his hand, every one of the dozens of little gizmos and gadgets on his desk, along with pens, papers, and a few books, suddenly lifted into the air and spun off to find a place on the shelves around the room, leaving the desk completely free and open. I grinned at the very cool display of magic. Michelle looked stunned, and Candice actually clapped.

“Miss Stuckey, since you will be doing the bulk of the brain work, you may have my chair.”

The girl beamed. “Really? Sweet!”

“I’ll let the four of you set up and work for a bit. And since time is of essence, I shall make myself useful and take this opportunity to procure us some lunch. Douglas, if you carefully make your way to the back of my study you will find an enchanted ‘white board’ of sorts tucked between the second bookcase and the wall. Use it however you see fit.” With that, the man bowed and stepped from the room, closing the door behind him.

There was a soft, “whoosh” as Michelle dropped into the high-backed leather desk chair normally occupied by the Headmaster.

“Oh yeah…” she sighed, smiling.

I snickered and noticed that my boyfriend was grinning as well. Shaking his head, he made his way to the back of the office.

“What do you think, Ran?” asked Candice from the window bench. “Is such confidentiality warranted?”

I thought about it. “A week ago, I might have questioned the Headmaster’s intentions. Not any more. He knows that if he screws up again it will cost him. We were willing to let him off once. He won’t get another chance. As for the actual need for secrecy… Yeah. He’s right. Someone on the inside had to have supplied the Sluagh with specific information to circumvent the security.”

“Any thoughts on who would do that?” queried Douglas as he set a large whiteboard on a stand to the side of the desk. Once it was up, he scratched his head for a moment then swiped the surface with his finger. A solid blue line traced everywhere his finger touched. When he used three or more fingers it erased the lines. “Handy…” He commented.

“Well,” I considered, “he’s right about the Firsts. We didn’t know squat about this place. It would have to have been one of the upperclassmen at least, but more likely an instructor. Put the books on the desk so Shell can see them clearly.”

Candice brought hers up next to the one I placed there and turned it in front of the redhead, open. Michelle flipped through the pages and frowned.

“Man, where do we start?”

“Douglas? You’ve had the most exposure to these. Anything pop out at you?” I asked.

He thought for a moment, then sighed. “Honestly, no. There were a few places near the end of the one on the left that seemed to contain more Old Fae than the rest, but the tomes are surprisingly uniform. There doesn’t even seem to be a table of contents or index.”

I closed the book closest to me and then opened it to the first page. My lover was right. The very first page was exactly the same as all the others. No blank page, credits, or even a title. It was just the same odd mishmash page layout, with blocks of copy seemingly turned sideways and upside-down almost at random. About the only uniform feature was the strip of characters at the bottom… the hash.

Curious, I opened the other book to the first page and found the same thing. I could see that the books were not copies of each other though.

“Back to front maybe,” suggested Candice.

I flipped the books to the last page. It was exactly the same. However, in doing so, I noticed that the covers of the books had markings along the inside edges as well.

“Douglas, did you see this?” I pointed to the markings. “These characters go all the way around,” I mentioned as I followed them. “Does it mean anything to you?”

“He shook his head. “No… but that writing does look different from the text on the internal pages. It’s almost…” He was tilting his head.

“What?” asked Michelle.

“Candice, do these look like spell marks to you?”

The girl leaned over the open tomes, getting so close that her nipples were brushing the table as she squinted over her glasses for a better look.

“Well, certainly not like any I’ve seen before, but they could very well be.” She was moving between the two books when she turned her head the same way that Douglas had. “That’s interesting,” she noted. “Some of these characters are similar in placement, but…”

“But what?”

She took the book on the right and slid it upwards and above the one on the left. Then, she moved it down until the bottom edge of the open cover was matched with the top edge of the other. As soon as the two books came within an eighth of an inch of each other, there was a soft flash and they snapped together like magnets.

“Shit! Did you see that?!” asked Michelle.

I grinned. “It would seem there’s a lot more to these books than we first thought.”

“That’s an understatement,” commented Candice as she pointed to the open pages. “The text changed.”

Douglas looked stunned. “Are you sure?”

“I watched it shift. It’s just as unreadable, but clearly not what was there before.”

“She’s right,” I added. “I had a good look at both pages before. These are different. The layout is the same, but the copy has changed completely.”

“No,” said Michelle from her seat. “The layout is almost the same, but not exactly. Look…” She pointed at the edges of both books. There was now an additional hash running down the right edge of the top book, and the left side of the bottom.

“Losh and laddies,” exclaimed Douglas. “What the hell does that mean?”

I was viewing things from the other side of the desk, reverse of the others. “Do they still come apart?” I asked.

Michelle placed a hand on each one and gave a little shove. There was another flash but the books separated. “Only a bit of resistance.”

“Candice, turn the top one over…”

She smiled. “I think I know where you’re going with this.” I knew I was right even before she positioned the top tome again. I could see where similarities of the spell line on the covers would match up. Sure enough, she only had to get within an inch before the books ‘snapped’ into place. The flash was the same, but this time there was a soft low bell sound. Once again, the new hash marks appeared, but now they were on the same edges.”

“You know what this means…” I said, stepping back.

Douglas finished for me. “That there are four books to the set, not just two?”


There were no more major surprises before the Headmaster returned with what he somewhat jokingly referred to as a lunch cart. I’ve no doubt that he had to use magic to keep the piles of various sandwich slices, cheeses, fruits, and a half dozen bottles of wine from falling to the floor, but it all looked delicious. We passed around the goodies, and left several plates out on the desk so any of us could munch freely.

He was quite impressed with our discovery, and had us repeat the experiment so that he could see for himself how the books snapped together. We actually couldn’t pull them apart in the new configuration until Michelle had a brainstorm and simply closed the one closest to her. The ‘magnetic’ attraction ceased at once.

“A set of four,” he said to himself. “All linked and changing. Fascinating, truly fascinating.”

“I’m sorry we couldn’t get very far with the key comparison,” commented Candice as she nibbled through a ham on rye.

The Professor waved it off. “Nor will you, until we somehow acquire the rest of the set. It seems obvious now that these books were not meant to be read separately, but rather as a whole. Whatever secrets they hold, their makers wanted to be sure that the entire work was present and unaltered.”

“But, then why not create a single book?” asked Douglas.

“That’s a very good question. Perhaps the information was simply too sensitive for a single group to hold. By giving one book in the set to four different groups, it would ensure that the contents couldn’t be abused for personal gain. It would take unity to access them.”

“That certainly hasn’t happened in a long while,” I noted and accepted the Headmaster’s offer to refill my wine glass.

“No, it hasn’t. More so, it increases the possibility that one of the four tomes could be lost, rendering the whole collection useless.”

Michelle popped another grape into her mouth. “So, do we have any idea where the other two volumes are?”

“No,” replied Douglas, with some frustration. “We know for sure there are no more books like this in our own library…”

“And if we take Cailleach at her word, then this is the only tome of its kind in the Unseelie Royal Library as well. Of course, there’s no guarantee that the books need to reside in either library,” continued the Headmaster. “They could have been removed long ago and never returned. There are still many areas in both courts that have not been fully explored. Even here in the Iron Mountain, there are vast areas that were simply closed off when we first reopened the school.”

My lover was suddenly alert. “What? But… We should search them… as soon as possible!”

“Calm yourself, Mr. McBride. We closed those sections for good reason. There are many dangers there, some obvious, some not, and I won’t risk the lives of my four most promising students on what could turn out to be nothing more than a phenomenally dangerous snipe hunt. We will continue to search for the remaining tomes elsewhere and venture into the darkness only as a last resort, am I clear?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Douglas, looking somewhat dejected.

I was swirling my wine when something occurred to me. Leaning forward, I compared the covers of the two books. They were very similar, but certainly not identical. The layout would suggest that they were designed together, but the symbols that served as the “title” were obviously different.

“Professor?” I asked. “Would the other books in the set have the same cover layout? Or maybe I should ask, are there other books that look like this that wouldn’t be part of the set?” I pointed to the slightly odd cover structure.

“There’s no way to be certain, but I highly doubt there are any other books with those symbols on the cover that aren’t elvish in origin, in fact, it was those symbols that Marly used to form her request to search the Unseelie library. These books are thousands of years old.”

I frowned. “And you said that the books could be outside the libraries… Anywhere outside the libraries?”

“Well, that stands to reason, why?”

I closed the tome I was looking at. “Because I know where I have seen these symbols before.”

“Good grief! Where, child?”

“At the Market.” I turned to Douglas. “Your wandering bookseller with the cart.”

“Sticky,” exclaimed Douglas, surprised.

“I don’t know her name.”

“Douglas?” asked the headmaster, tentatively.

“Er, Sterra… Her name is Sterra-ola’migst, Sir. She’s known less formally as ‘Sticky’ to those she trusts.”

He was thoughtful. “A brownie? I think I may have met her.”

“Yes, Sir. She has a pushcart, and a reputation for being able to find rare tomes. She’s been quite helpful in my studies. Ran, are you sure?”

The Headmaster got up and went to one of his shelves.

“Well, I wasn’t looking for them, but yes, I do remember seeing a binding with these three marks specifically,” I answered, pointing.

“Mr. McBride, I would like you to take this and procure that tome.” He handed my lover a fairly heavy bag that jingled when it was set in his palm. “I trust your skills as a bargainer, but I can’t stress enough that we MUST have that book. If Sterra becomes aware of its value, you may need to return for more. Promise her whatever you need to, Douglas.”

“You don’t think she knows what it’s worth?” he asked.

The man’s face became very serious. “If she did, she wouldn’t be pushing it around in an open cart… Damn, you all had best go. It would be good to have some other players in case you need to set a ruse. This is just too important.”

I could tell by the half grin on my lover’s face that he was seriously feeling the pressure of that importance.


Douglas stopped us as soon as we passed through the portal to Aonach na Milseáin, the Candy Market.

“Look, I need you to understand what’s going on here,” he started. “We need to convince Sterra that we’re just here casually. She’s a damn shrewd brownie, and if she even slightly senses that the book is of value to us, then she’ll raise the price, maybe even refuse to sell it while she looks for a wealthier buyer.”

“Sounds like my uncle Merle,” commented Candice, smiling.

“Hey, I’m serious!” said Douglas more loudly than he meant, and the girl drew back.

“Sorry, D… I was just trying to stay positive.”

My lover looked really nervous, uncommonly so.

“We have to focus, or this won’t work…. she’ll…”

I stepped in front of him and put my hands on his shoulders.

“Douglas, look at me… Relax. Either we convince her or we go to plan B. But you can’t take this so personally. Be yourself and let go a bit. If you can’t convince us, you certainly aren’t going to convince your brownie friend.”

“I… I know. It’s just that this is really crucial, and the Headmaster is counting on me, and…”

“And you’ll do the best you can. Just remember that he asked you to do this because he knows you can work with the situation no matter what happens. This isn’t about saving the Court a few bucks, it’s about getting that book. He trusts you, and so do we. So tell us what to do and turn on that magical charm of yours, okay?”

He took a deep breath and let it out slowly, forcing himself to relax.

“You’re right. Sorry, Candice,” he said, turning slightly to the girl.

“No sweat. So, what do you think, would it help anything if I ditched my top?”

He made a lecherous grin. “Sure… and it might even help with Sticky too.”

I smiled. “That’s what I’m talking about.”

Douglas gave each of us a role. Michelle was probably the least interested in books, and so she would serve as the one trying to draw us on to something else and limiting our time at the cart. Her job would be to convince the brownie that we were just browsing as we passed through.

Candice was going to be our ‘distraction’, both visually, which she did naturally, and by finding something else in the cart to take a real interest in. It wouldn’t be hard for her, she was almost as much of a bibliophile as my lover.

Douglas and I would be the ‘serious’ customers, and would see a few tomes, one of which would hopefully be the mystery book, which we would buy quickly with the others so as to appease Michelle.

“Stick to your roles, but don’t overdo it,” he suggested. “Be as ‘real’ as you can. I should also let you know that Sterra is Unseelie, so don’t say anything that could tick her off… everyone ready?”

We all nodded.

“Good. Okay, she’s probably parked her cart with the others in the center square. Let’s go.”

I recognized the short humanoid from previous trips to the Market. Unlike most of the Fae, the brownies wore more clothing than was usual, and today was no exception. She was decked out in a flamboyantly blue and black outfit and what looked like a large pirate hat on her head. A single white feather extended back from the cap.

As soon as Douglas saw her, he fell right into character, alerting the rest of us as we walked briskly toward the cart.

“Oh, come on, Ran… I’ll only be a couple of minutes, I promise!”

I picked up on his theme. “Right. You… and books? I think we better come with you. Last time I had to send Michelle to threaten your life.” This wasn’t entirely a lie.

“Okay, okay. I promise to be quick… just a look-see. I won’t be but a… OH! The Howard’s Guide to Selkie Lore… And a Red Cap Compendium! Sticky, you’ve been holding out on me.”

The brownie smiled. “Hey, McBride. I thought you might notice those. There’s also a couple of new maps at the front.

My lover raised his brows and shifted places with Michelle, who sighed and rolled her eyes as she was pushed out of the way.

“‘scuse me, love. Always interested in a new map… or an old map… or almost any map…” He began carefully idling through the rolled documents. I could see he was really taking his time, so I decided that was my cue to look for our missing tome. I turned to the cart and spotted the book right away, but kept my excitement to a minimum and pretended interest in a few other things first. It wasn’t hard, Sterra certainly had a fascinating collection. I picked up one entitled, “Tobilar Enchanting – Volume 2” and leafed through the pages. After a few moments of being genuinely intrigued, I turned to the brownie and asked her if she had the first volume as well.

“Sorry, lass. That one has been missing for centuries. I’d love to get my hands on it. I’d pay a good price too. Great resale value, that.”

Douglas had selected a pair of maps, two more books, and was quietly drifting toward the subject of our visit when I placed my ‘find’ on the stack in his arms and pretended to ‘notice’ the odd symbols on the missing book. I reached down, slipped it out and popped it open, feigning interest. Then, with a shrug, I placed it on top of the others in our ‘buy’ pile. I noticed that Douglas casually added one more, a guide to sexual magic, which caused my brows to rise… and other things, when Michelle cleared her throat.

“Should I just meet you in the Red Hat then?” she asked, impatiently.

“Just a minute more…” replied Douglas, never taking his eyes from the cart.

“Relax, Michelle,” said Candice. “It just means he’ll have to wait extra long for you and I at the confectioner’s.”

“Alright, alright… Sticky, shall we get to it then? This stack, and the two maps.”

The brownie scanned the titles, and then looked up at Douglas. “Hmm… The maps are easy. Two marks apiece, firm. Not much profit there. Why don’t you give the others a go yourself?”

My lover looked slightly surprised. “Uh… well, okay. I hope I don’t insult you…”

The brownie smiled. “It was my request, so I shall hold no ill will. Go ahead.”

I saw that Douglas started at the bottom of the stack by tipping the books we had set aside on edge so he could see the titles.

“Okay, well these two are rare, but not overly so… shall we say, four apiece?”

She nodded. “For a start. Go on.”

“Ah, the Compendium is a find, and I wouldn’t offer less than twenty. It’s in good condition too, so we could start at twenty-five.”

“Reasonable,” she agreed.

He had reached the books I had added and frowned.

“These are yours, aren’t they, Ran?”

I nodded.

“I’m not good with technical literature… Maybe ten apiece,” he started to set them aside and move on to the last one, which I now understood would be a beautiful diversion because of its erotic nature, when the brownie reached over and slapped her hand down on our special one. She fixed her gaze on Douglas, her eyes searching.

“Too low,” he asked, looking surprised.

“You’re good, McBride. Really good, especially considering you’re a human.”

I saw my lover’s shoulders droop as he let out a heavy sigh.

“Something wrong?” asked Candice.

“The jig is up. She’s seen through our ruse.”

“What gave us away,” I questioned.

She smiled. “Any one of you others picking up this book on your own, might have passed for casual interest. But not you, McBride. This is an oddity. It’s been sitting on and off in my cart untouched for decades. Nothing like it, no one even able to read it, bein’ in some weird garbled tongue… All ‘o that should have lit you up like a virgin seeing her first manhood, but you glossed it. You should have at least been curious, but you lumped it in with the others.”

“Damn… She’s right,” he said turning to me with a half grin. “If I had seen this on my own I would have been intrigued and at least have asked about it. Sorry guys, I blew it.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself. I’ve been selling books in one form or another for almost eight hundred years, and far better than you lot have tried to put one over on me.”

Douglas bowed to the brownie, who I noticed smiled briefly.

“So,” she asked when he had straightened. “Why don’t you tell me what this is really about.”

He took a deep breath. “I was sent to retrieve this book as part of a set. We have several of the tomes already, and as you said, they seem to be in an unknown tongue. That is itself enough of a reason for my mistress to look for its companions. The other tomes are equally unreadable I’m afraid. We hoped that with more to work with, we might gain some insight into their historical significance.”

The brownie was rubbing her chin, considering the man’s words, which I noticed were all truthful while still leaving out a few key points. I fervently hoped the others would keep quiet and not correct Douglas in any way.

“I see. Well, that does change things, doesn’t it. You mentioned a set… How big a set?”

“I’m not that green, Sticky. Let’s just say that this volume will not complete it, so no bonus there.”

“You could be lying…”

For a moment, Douglas actually looked hurt.

“You know me better than that. I might try and toss you a straight ruse, but I would never be so much a fool as to break the merchant code, Sterra.”

She nodded after a moment. “Tis true enough. You’ve been an honest customer, McBride, and one of my most profitable…”


“…So, I’ll be straight with you. I’m going to want something extra for that tome.”

“Understandable,” he agreed.

“Eight hundred fifty…”

Douglas gasped a bit, though I suspected he thought the price would be even higher. Turned out he was right.

“And,” she continued, holding up one finger.

“And? And what?”

“A kiss.”

He frowned, confused. “You want me to give you a kiss?”

“Not you,” she said with all seriousness. Then she turned and looked me right in the eyes. “Her.”

“Me?” I was completely surprised. Douglas, I noticed was suddenly very alert.

“That’s the deal. Eight fifty in advance, and a kiss from the girl.”

“Douglas?” I asked nervously, a bit out of my league.

He answered at once. “Careful, Ran. In this case, I think a kiss means more than you think it does. Brownies can steal memories with a kiss.”

“Is that true?” I asked the Fae woman.

She nodded. “I’m only interested in one memory in particular, however.”

“And what would that be?”

“You’re the girl who had the Telling…”

Suddenly I understood. “If we pay you, and I do this, then the book is ours?”

She smiled. “The whole lot,” she said pointing to the other books in our stack.

I turned to my lover.

“It’s up to you, Ran,” he said, looking a little worried. “I don’t want you to do something you don’t want to. This was my task, I’ll take responsibility.”

I looked back to the brownie.

“I have to warn you, I was just a vessel. I have no recollection of the event personally. You may end up with nothing from me.”

“Noted. Do we have a deal then?”

I considered things for a long moment. “Yes.”

“Excellent!” she replied, clapping her hands once. Douglas extracted the bag and began counting out coins, when the appropriate amount was set up on the board of her cart, the two bargainers nodded at each other and the woman made the coins go away. Then she turned to me.

“What do I do?” I asked.

She regarded me oddly. “You have been kissed before, yes?” I saw that she looked over to Douglas briefly. I kept a straight face.

“Not by a brownie,” I answered simply.

She nodded slowly. “Aye…” she said. “No you have not. Though, you might not remember it,” she added jokingly. “You’re too tall,” she said without emotion.

I wasn’t about to argue that it might be a matter of perspective. To her, I was too tall. Not that you couldn’t lock lips with someone who was no more than four feet in height, but it made for an awkward angle. I was only five foot eight, but that was still quite a ways to bend down. I looked around and found a medium sized crate to sit on, leaving us almost eye level.

“Remember, just the one memory,” I cautioned her, growing a little more nervous.

She walked up in front of me and placed a hand to the side of my head. I knew she would have to get close to me for the kiss, but I was caught a little off guard when I felt her thigh pressing between my knees. She slid forward, slightly arching her back, until her whole torso was pressed up against mine between my parted thighs. She glanced down at my chest and smiled. I doubt the others could see what the brownie noticed both by sight, and I’m sure, touch, as our breasts ran into each other, but I certainly did. Without her hat, the small Fae woman’s hair spilled out and hung down nearly to her waist, and despite her age, she was soft, and beautiful.

She was also very fully developed, like a miniature human rather than one simply short, or young, though I suspected her head might be slightly larger in proportion to her body than a human’s.

“Close your eyes,” she asked softly, her hands now playing gently along my belly and sides.

I took a deep breath and released it slowly, then did as she asked. I felt her fingers drift around my waist, and then a soft pair of lips on my own.

I was surprised by the sudden fogginess that flowed through my body, but not nearly as much as the sense of lust that followed it. It was a little like being drugged, or maybe drunk, but with a kick-ass sense of eroticism mixed in. I moaned, and opened my mouth to hers, drinking in the sweet feeling of relaxed sensuality. I no longer cared that anyone else might be watching, or that the humanoid kissing me wasn’t even the same species, let alone Unseelie. There was only the slightly almond taste of her tongue and the soft, gentle undulation of her body against mine.

I opened further to her, both physically, my hand finding her hips, and also mentally. I could sense some aspect of her dripping down into my mind like warm oil, arousing and stimulating as it slowly worked deeper and deeper. I pulled at her, wrapping my hands around her rear, drawing her tightly between my thighs while I caressed her backside, lost in the pleasure of what was quickly filling me. The warmth started to pool in my lap, and with it, a growing urgency. Seconds passed like hours. With each beat of my heart I was tickled sensuously from the inside out, and I felt myself grow wet. A building tingle in my pelvis told me that I was close to an orgasm, and I clutched her thighs between my own, squeezing her in an effort to reach that moment. The warmth filled me until all at once I cried out softly and was lost into a white hot flash of bliss.


And then I found myself panting, the body of the brownie no longer against me. She was standing a few feet away, but the look on her face wasn’t one of shared pleasure, it was abject terror. I realized that she must have broken away just as I peaked, but to see her face in such a state of shock and fear, was confusing, especially when I felt so damn good.

“I… I’m s-sorry,” she stammered. “I shouldn’t have… I d-didn’t know. Please forgive me.” She then turned to Douglas. “The books are yours.”

Then, taking up her hat and cart, she quickly moved away and was gone, almost at a run. Douglas came briskly to my side.

“Ran, are you okay? Did she hurt you?”

I looked up at him as I tried to catch my breath. “I’m fine… better than fine.”

Candice, who was the most physically sexual of our group, asked the obvious question.

“Did she, I mean… Oh hell, did you just have an orgasm?”

I laughed softly. “Yeah. You forgot to mention that part about brownie kisses, Douglas.”

“Hey, I wasn’t exactly speaking from experience you know… What was all that stuff she said to you after? She looked downright terrified.”

I shook my head. “I have no idea. She did seem surprised, didn’t she. I wonder… Maybe the memory she got was from Gaia’s perspective.”

“Wasn’t that what she wanted?” asked Candice.

“Perhaps, but seeing the event through the eyes of the Earth Mother would probably scare anyone I imagine.”

“Well, so long as you’re alright and she didn’t steal anything more…” said Douglas with concern as he helped me to my feet.

“I’m not sure how I would know,” I replied. “But I seem fine. At least we got the book. Sorry about the price, lover.”

A slow grin formed on his face and I got the feeling that I had missed something. Squinting at him, I quickly played back the last half hour in my head. It was only then that I saw it.

“Oh, you sneaky little…”

“Um, what’s up?” asked Candice.

I laughed. “Sterra wasn’t the only one who got played today.”

She looked confused. “I don’t follow… I thought our ruse failed?”

“It did,” I replied, staring at my lover. “It was supposed to, wasn’t it.”

He held up his hands in defense, obviously enjoying the moment. “Hey, it had to be convincing. I knew that we would never keep Sticky from seeing through a cheap setup like that. No offense, but you guys are kinda transparent…”

“Hey!” exclaimed Candice. “You were the one who tipped our hat, remember?!”

“He needed to,” I interjected. “It was part of the plan all along, even before we came through the portal.”

“Huh? But why?”

Douglas jumped in. “To let Sticky save face.”

“She needed to see through our ruse so she would feel sorry for us,” I added. “That way, when it came time to actually bargain, she would be reasonable. I bet that coin purse Brightly gave you was a lot heavier than you let on.”

“Let’s just say that I was more than prepared to pay ten times what we got that book for today.”

Candice whistled.

“By doing it the way we did, Sticky walked away with a fat purse herself, our friendship intact… I think… And the book in our possession. Everyone wins.”

“And the kiss?” I asked with raised eyebrows.

“Getting to watch you make out with another girl was just icing on the cake, my love. You did seem to enjoy it though…”

My mouth dropped open. “Unbelievable. But… bravo, Douglas. That was some very fine talent. I am most impressed.”

He bowed dramatically. “Thank you. Now what do you say we make a quick trip into the Red Hat for a refresher and then get this book back to the Professor, yes?”

He started to lead us away, but Michelle put her hand on his shoulder and stopped him.

“I’m afraid the pub is going to have to wait,” she said seriously. She had been pretty quiet during our exchange, and I now realized that she had been watching events outside our group.

“What is it, Shell?” I asked.

“Don’t look, but there’s a faerie just the other side of the last carts. She’s been tailing us since we came through the portal.”

“You’re certain?” asked Douglas, frowning.

“You’re good at what you do, McBride, this is my thing. I’m certain. We have a tail. The real question is what do they want.”

“We should get home right away,” suggested Candice.

“I second that,” I agreed.


She was quiet for a moment. “I think it would be extremely valuable to know who it is and what they are after. I have an idea, but it has some risk and I’ll need your help,” she said to all of us.

“Risk? As in dangerous?” asked Douglas.


“Does it involve classic deception and magical shenanigans with a low chance for success?”

“Almost certainly.”

“Oh yeah…” he said grinning. “I’m in.”

“Shit,” I muttered, realizing that Candice and I were being vetoed. “What do we need to do?”

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