Chapter 1

“You really do have a boring job, don’t you…”  Working at a bookstore, I had to deal with my share of obnoxious customers, and by the sound of it this was shaping up to be another one of those joyful encounters.  Which is why I was surprised, to say the least, when I looked up from where I was sitting on the floor shelving books to find myself staring at a very shapely, very furry pair of legs ending in a pair of paws tapping idly on the bookcase, just slightly above my eye level.

Looking upwards, I discovered the other end of the legs attached to the body of an attractive anthropomorphic vixen.  “What the hell…” I babbled inanely.  This wasn’t the sort of thing I encountered regularly at the bookstore where I worked, and my brain was having trouble assimilating things.  “Where did you come from?”  “You let me out of the prism I was trapped in a few days ago…”  “Huh?” I stammered, well beyond my threshold of coherency.  “You broke the little sparkly thing in the tree with your wand...”  She filled in helpfully, stretching, then hopping down from her seat on the fixture.

That part I remembered: I had been shooting targets out in the boonies on my day off, and as I was trying to beat sunset back to my car I took a potshot at something reflecting the day’s last light from a treetop eighty or so yards away from the trail.  I had assumed it was a reflector someone had put up to help find their deer stand.  That explanation made far more sense…  Still, as far as coherent perspective on reality went I was more apt to think that there might be a gas leak from the restaurant next door…despite the fact that the ‘gas leak’ was pursuing, rather enthusiastically, one of the store’s more… illustrated… romantic education manuals.  “Oh is that what they call that one!”  “Hey!  Put that down!”

“Oh relax.  Nobody else can see me unless I want them to.” She explained as she set the book back on the shelf.  “That would explain why nobody else seems to be paying attention…” “ Exactly.  Though you may wish to be a little bit more discreet…it’s been a long while, but the last I walked amongst your people talking to oneself was not looked upon kindly.”  “Good point.” I agreed, having to make a conscious effort to stare at the bookcase in front of me and not my new visitor.  Life is complex enough without the people at my job thinking I was a raving lunatic, and if these were the first signs of me becoming one, well, it would probably be best to keep that bit of information on a need-to-know basis as well.

Seeing as how reality was refusing to kick in and zap her back in to the thin air from whence she came, I decided it would be best not to think about it too hard, an instead just try to go along with it for now.  As such, the next big, or rather most immediately big question seemed to be the matter of her intents.

“So, umm…not to sound rude or anything, but what do you want with me?” I asked, then seeing the annoyed look beginning to cross her muzzle, quickly tried to frame the question in perspective.  “I mean, if you’ve been locked away from things for a while, I’d think you would have a lot of stuff to catch up with back home…”  “True,” she agreed “but you kind of struck my interest for some reason, so I followed you home and have been watching you go about your life…”  “You’ve been spying on me?” I hissed, blushing deeply at the realization of just what she could have seen me doing.  Putting a finger to my lips, the fox stifled my protest so she could continue.  “Observing.” She corrected mildly “And you must admit you do some intriguing things…which I’d like to discuss in great detail later when we’re someplace more private.”  “Uhh…” I stuttered, well past the point of any useful reply.  “The point is that you seem kind of lonely, and I thought you could use a friend.”  Still embarrassed and unhappy about being spied on, I was feeling a lot gruffer than is usually my nature, and couldn’t help but take a jab back.  “Do I really have a choice in the matter?” I snipped.  “Well yes.” She sighed in a much smaller voice “It would be pretty ungrateful of me to bother you after you did me such a big favor the other day.  I was just hoping…”  Turning towards her, I found myself face to face with the most pitiful set of puppy dog eyes I had yet to encounter.  “Okay, okay.  You can stay, but no more spying!”  “Yay!” she laughed gleefully, jumping up to give me a hug and nearly knocking us in to a bookshelf in the process.  I’ve never been all that comfortable with physical contact and tensed up in surprise, (a pretty typical reaction for me) but there was just something about her, the softness of her fur, or just the genuine happiness in her smile, that couldn’t help but relax me, and I soon found myself returning her hug, oddly at ease.

“When do we get to go back home?  It’s sort of boring here…”  “When the store closes.” I sighed, really rather wanting to continue our conversation in a more comfortable environment.  The bookstore is a nice place, don’t get me wrong, and one of the better jobs I’d worked at, but it was getting a little awkward trying to covertly converse with what in all appearances was thin air.  “When is that?”  “A while after the sun goes down.” I explained before getting interrupted by a radio call summoning me to try to straighten up the never-ending disaster zone that is the children’s section.

“Gods I hate the kid’s section.” “Really?” she asked curiously “That’s more than a little surprising considering that in the few days I’ve been watching you there has been more than one occasion when you…”  “Oh, I like the section.” I interrupted, quickly steering the subject away from what she might have seen me doing over the last couple of days.  “It’s the little rug-rats whose parents let run amuck that I’m not fond of.”  “How bad could it be, they’re only…” she trailed off as we walked in to the separate little area and she got a good look at what I meant.

Things were in their usual state of disrepair: furniture randomly moved around, the shelves in disarray, and books, toys, and plushies scattered around everywhere.  Luckily the coffee shop hadn’t been passing out samples today, so at least I’d been spared food mixed in with the mess.  To make up for small mercies however, one of the spinning display racks at the front of the isles was knocked off its pivot again…rather an amazing feat actually considering how much the steel fixtures weighed.

“One of these days that’s going to fall all the way over and squish the little something or another into an amorphous blob of goo…” I grumbled, savoring the image as I did my best to cram everything back into shape.  “Would that really be such a bad thing?” my furry shadow questioned, somewhat rhetorically since it was pretty obvious to anything with eyes.  “Nope, except I would probably be the one who got stuck cleaning up the mess…”

We eventually lapsed in to a comfortable silence after that.  Or more accurately my companion lapsed in to a silence while I kept up a steady stream of viciously creative profanity covering the entire spectrum of relevant existence, from children and overly permissive parents to company policies forbidding corporal punishment of customers, and ending up as a general diatribe about people and society as a whole.  At about the time I was passing judgment on the manufacturers of our furniture (too comfortable makes people hang around, not buy stuff…) I looked up to see that I had run out of mess to clean up.  “Well I guess that’s all of it.” I sighed happily.  “Good, you were turning a really unhealthy color there for a while.  I was starting to worry I would have to find a book on first aid!”  “Let’s just get out of here.”

Just as we were rounding the corner, there came the pitter-patter of little feet, followed by a crash and cheerful giggling.  “I could eat them.” My shadow offered “Then we wouldn’t have to go find lunch for me later…”  “As attractive as that suggestion sounds right now you probably shouldn’t…umm, you aren’t in the habit of eating people are you?” “Not especially, no.” she blushed “It only happened the one time, and I didn’t actually eat him…”  “Do tell…” I said, stopping and crossing my arms as I waited for an explanation.  “Well, I told him if he tried to grope me again I’d bite his hand off… That’s how I ended up stuck in that crystal actually.  It’s a long story really…”  “Well…” I started before realizing something “What’s your name by the way?”  “Oh!” she said with a start “I guess that a couple hundred years stuck in a shiny rock tends to ruin one’s manners.  I’m called Ælley.” “Well Ælley, I think that’s a story I’m going to need to hear after I get off work…”

“Oh, and you’ve never wanted to bite someone’s hand off!” Ælley snapped, seeming more embarrassed than anything else.  Seeing me quickly step back out of biting range, she sighed and explained: “I was caught by the mage who trapped me in that crystal, which meant that I would traditionally owe him a favor: the usual magic questions or tasks kind of thing…It’s more of an ego trip for the mages than anything else, and it’s quite an embarrassment for any but the most minor beings.  Well this mage was an ugly, lecherous old man, and when he saw what he had dredged up…” At this point Ælley paused in her story to pirouette gracefully, taking a joking little bow before continuing “…he decided that he wanted…other…things in exchange for my release.  Naturally he, being a person such as he was, did not respond well when I told him it was never going to happen, and…well it sort of went downhill from there.”

“I see…” I nodded, obviously accepting the hand-removal story much more favorably after hearing the details “So he just dumped you out in the middle of nowhere after that?” “Nope.” Ælley grinned “He said he would check back with me in a couple of years to see if I had changed my mind.  Then a few days later when he was trying summoning again he accidentally ended up with a creature from the deeper parts of the Darks.  Which promptly ate him and blew his house to the winds.”  “That taught him I guess…”  Nodding in what could only be embarrassment, she suggested that “Can we please change the subject?”

“So eating children is okay, but dismemberment is embarrassing?” I joked, not quite willing to let it go without pointing out the flaw in her logic.  “No.” Ælley interrupted, looking at me like I had missed the whole point entirely. “Dismemberment has nothing to do with being a little…perturbed with myself.  Losing my temper and responding in a manner fitting for a far less intelligent Fae is the regrettable part.”  “So you’re embarrassed you didn’t act more creatively.” I reiterated, still trying to figure out the thought process.  “Exactly!” she agreed, seeming to be quite pleased that I had picked up on the important part, if late then still better than never.  “That being the case” I joked “shouldn’t you have suggested a more random and ironic solution for my store’s rug-rat infestation?”  “Of course not!” Ælley exclaimed, sounding somewhat miffed at the mere suggestion “It’s impolite to play with one’s food.”

“Your people don’t have a very black and white concept of morality, do they?” I mused as I returned to the task of shelving books and Ælley found herself a comfortable perch on a nearby table.  “Few of the Fae do.” She shrugged “Most have a code of honor, at least the smarter sorts do; and gathering places always have a set of rules participants must abide by.”  “Arguably that’s not exactly the same thing.” I mused “That really is more of a cost of doing business thing: you don’t have to believe or agree, just merely follow for the duration.  Though I guess one would be honor-bound to keep their ends so others would continue to deal with them…”  “It’s a bit more complex than that, but you have the essential…” cutting off in midsentence, Ælley burst out laughing hysterically.  “What?” I asked, completely baffled by her sudden and inexplicable shift in tone.  Still giggling, Ælley just pointed to the shelf heading we were sitting under.  Western Philosophy.  “Oh.  I guess that is kind of fitting in an ironic sort of way.”  “One thing my kind is very big on is irony.”

Luckily for me, and really everyone else in the building, Ælley had a lot longer attention span than I do, and seemed to be quite content wasting time catching up on a couple of hundred years of current events.  To my great amusement, in both the ‘History’ and ‘Mythology/Folklore’ sections, they being one and the same to her I suppose…  Meeting Ælley, even for the few hours that we had been acquainted, was forcing me to rapidly reevaluate a great many aspects of my world-view.  From a more practical standpoint we faced a more immediate issue: as it was almost lunchtime I was getting hungry, and could only assume Ælley was too…what exactly would she prefer to eat; did she in fact eat at all?  “So, umm…food?” I questioned the next time we were relatively alone.  “I don’t know, either whatever you’re going to have or else whatever runs the slowest around here.”  “Burgers it is.” I sighed, debating if I really wanted to ask if there was going to be a rash of ‘missing pet’ fliers around the neighborhood over the next few days.  “Burgers?”  “It’s a local sort of sandwich.  Pretty much.” I explained.  That seemed to satisfy her curiosity for the time being, and I didn’t hear any more about it until a while later when we were in the parking lot on the way to lunch.  Popping the power locks on the car, I wasn’t exactly surprised with Ælley’s familiarity with the vehicle.  “So, how did you manage things when you were spying on me?” I asked curiously, waiting a moment to make sure she was settled after turning over the engine.  “Oh, I just got in when you were still eating breakfast.  Though I had to learn to be careful when you were throwing your stuff on the seat!” Ælley laughed ruefully, rubbing her forehead at the memory.  “Sorry about that.” I blushed.  “You didn’t know any better.” She nodded forgivingly.  “Well, I guess that’s a downside to spying on me…” I chided. “Shall we discuss the upsides now?” she joked back, getting me to blush again.

Since it would have taken quite a while to explain all the choices at the drive through window, I just ordered two of my usual, then detoured to one of the vacant tracts of land near where I worked.  (One of the benefits of being out of the city a bit: lots of privacy.)  Grabbing our food, we settled in on the expansive hood of my old car.  “That’s good!” Ælley declared approvingly, trying her burger.  “Glad you like it.” I nodded, trying my best not to laugh as she tentatively sampled her soda.  She was obviously unfamiliar with carbonation, smelling her drink a bit dubiously, then screwing up her muzzle and sneezing as the carbonation found its way in her nose.  “Wouldn’t do that…” I giggled, flicking a French fry at the amused looking fox.  “Brat.” She accused, thinking better of pitching something back.  “Sometimes yes.” I agreed.  “It may come back to get you later!” she grinned playfully.  “Sounds like fun!” I grinned back, sticking my tongue out at her before we mutually dropped it and got back to the food.

The problem with lunch breaks at work is that they tend to be just long enough to let things fall behind at the job, and of course things were no different today: luck never seems to like to buck a trend.  Our return to work found me racing around trying to get caught up enough to maybe go home early, and Ælley mostly doing her best to pass the time somewhere out of the way.  (We both wanted me to go home on time so we could talk more conveniently.)

Our game plan seemed to be going well until almost closing time when the relative quiet of the bookstore was broken by a large crash coming from the restrooms.  Realizing I’d not seen Ælley in a while, I rushed to the back of the store, not having a clue what I might find waiting for me there.

From inside the women’s room came the distinctive sound of running water, punctuated by a small flood soaking out from under the door.  “What the hell did she do!” I gasped, staring at the spreading mess in disbelief.  “It wasn’t my fault!  I was just going to use the facilities when the accursed thing attacked me!  I had to fight it off and I barely escaped with my life!” Ælley explained excitedly, appearing, soaked through and disheveled, from the stockroom door across from the restrooms.

I was utterly confused for a moment before it dawned on me.  “The motion sensors on the toilets…” I sighed, rushing her out the rear exit.  “I’ll explain later, meet me back at the car, I’ve got to try to get the water shut off.”  As Ælley disappeared around the corner towards the parking lot, I did my best to sort through the maze of junk in the utility closet until I eventually got things figured out and was rewarded by the beautiful sound of silence as the plumbing’s rebellion cycled down.

The thing about modern plumbing is that there’s few ways things can go wrong where they don’t go really wrong: a one inch diameter pipe flowing thirty psi. of water is usually necked down to half an inch or less at the fixture, and even that can fill a sink in a minute or so…and if the main pipe breaks, well, it can make a real mess real fast.  My only bit of luck in the whole debacle was that the strip mall’s maintenance guy didn’t believe in wasting time that might result in his job getting harder.  Within a few minutes of calling, I was eavesdropping on him explaining to my manager that for some reason the toilet had shifted and caused the water pipe to break.  And while I didn’t figure that the vengeful wrath of an unexpectedly wet-bottomed vixen would cross his mind, I was still relieved the incident was blamed on the ‘crappy work of the morons who built this dump.’  It added a good bit of credibility to my half-hearted denial of having the foggiest idea what had happened in there.

A short time later as I was trying to think up an excuse to head out to the parking lot to check on Ælley (the best I’d been able to come up with was that I thought I’d left my doors unlocked—“Yes sir, I need to go check on my visitor from the realm of the Fae, I’ll be right back.”) they came over the radio to inform the employees that because of a flooded electrical junction box we would have to close early, and for us to all please try to contain our monumental disappointment.  Thus being spared having to come up with two lame lies in the same day, I managed to scurry out to the car in record time.

I found Ælley in the passenger seat making a sadly pathetic attempt at drying herself off with a stack of paper napkins from my glove box.  Letting myself in the car, I handed her my jacket and immediately began to shiver a little as I waited for the heater to warm up.  Ælley, meanwhile, was busy toweling off with my coat.  “That works too I guess…” I sighed, glad I’d not brought my nice leather one.  “Not really, this thing isn’t very absorbent…”  Giving up on the whole thing, I hurried out of the parking lot before someone noticed my jacket in the passenger seat gyrating of its own accord.  When Ælley had decided she was as dry as she was likely to get in the present circumstances and hung my coat on the back of the car’s seat, I couldn’t help but laugh a little.  The still damp vixen really was not at her most dignified with her fur spiking out in all directions and her tail puffed up like a bottle brush.  “It’s not nice to laugh at another’s misfortune!” she grumbled at me, scooting around to better take advantage of the heating vents.  “Hey, I wasn’t the one smashing up the plumbing fixtures back there.” I reminded her.  “It was an honest mistake.” She sulked “It could have happened to anyone…”


Traffic was pretty light, and we got back to the house about as quickly as one could expect.  Letting Ælley inside, I showed her up to the bathroom.  “You’re dripping on my floor, and in this weather you are likely to catch a cold if we don’t get you dried off.” I cautioned, handing her a towel then rummaging through the cabinets until I found a hairdryer.  “And if you did get sick, where would I take you, a doctor or a vet? There’s always a cryptozoologist I guess…I’ll bet they’d just love to meet you…”  “I get the feeling that you’re lucky I don’t know what you’re babbling about.” Ælley grumbled darkly.  All was forgotten however as soon as I turned on the hairdryer.  “Oh!  That’s nice!” she exclaimed, just sort of trailing off in mid-thought. “I kind of thought you might like that.” I grinned “It’s one of the real perks of electricity…turn around so I can get your back.”

It ended up taking quite a while to dry all that fur out, but Ælley certainly didn’t mind, and truthfully I didn’t either.  It’s hard to begrudge something she was so obviously enjoying immensely.  When we had finally finished up Ælley looked like a giant, very happy puffball.  “Hmm…maybe I should blow up the plumbing in here too, then we could do that again.” She mused, earning herself a dirty look that made quite obvious my thoughts on that possibility.  “Kidding!  Kidding!” she laughed, throwing up her paws in surrender.

Before too much more time had passed, I’d gotten a quick dinner whipped up, macaroni in a box being a certifiable wonder of the modern era, then after dinner (at Ælley’s insistence) we sat down in front of the fireplace for a while.  I was a little startled when she scooted right up next to me and draped a blanket across us.  “Where shall we begin?” I laughed, accepting a mug of cocoa from the tray she had brought from the kitchen.  “I guess where are you from is a good start?”  “From Fae, as one would expect.” Ælley began “It’s a long and complicated thing.  Fae is collectively all the little bits and pieces of existence your people have forgotten about, chose to ignore, or have never found out about to begin with…as a species you are quite good at ignoring things which make you uncomfortable.”  “Can’t argue with that one.” I agreed.  “So Fae is the land where magic lives, and here is the land of science?”  “Not exactly.” She sighed “You have to get rid of the notion that they are different…science is a type, an interpretation of magic.  In some ways extremely simplistic and yet vastly complex in its own right.  Your science affects things through the use of other things; it’s totemism at it’s most complex, you have piles of little components affecting each other to get the result you want in a fragile and complex way, while yet missing the whole underlying point.  That’s why magic and technology mix so poorly: the more complex the device the more fragile it is and the greater the likelihood of some stray bit of energy finding its way in to mess things up.”  “Well you don’t have to be so condescending.” I sulked.  “No, not at all!” she explained “It’s really quite impressive what you have accomplished with but the most rudimentary of understandings.”

Changing the subject, Ælley declared it to be “My turn now!”  “Okay.” I nodded, sipping my cocoa.  “Why don’t you have a mate?”  “How do you know I don’t?” I shot back defensively.  Ælley didn’t bother to answer, instead gesturing around my house.  “Is it really that bad?” I sighed, making a mental note to go buy a painting or something.  “Beyond that” Ælley explained, tapping her nose “I can tell there’s not been a human female around here in quite a time.”  Throwing up my hands I ceded the point.  “The short version is that I’m shy and socially inept.”  “Why?” she asked curiously, oblivious to my growing discomfort.  “I had a hard time when I was little.  I got hurt…regularly…for a long time, and I guess I ended up a little bit broken.”

“May I?” Ælley asked, holding out her paws.  “Okay.” I nodded, not having a clue what I was agreeing to.  Taking my hands in her paws, she instructed me to look her in the eyes.  Doing so, I gradually began to get an odd feeling, as when one stares off at points distant and finds themselves in a sort of purgatorial nowhere. Nowhere is quite peaceful actually, or at least I have always found it that way, and after a hard, stressful day at work I was quite content to relax in the grey until the moment that the real world injected its presence upon my nicely serene moment.  The interjection being in the form of a very distraught anthropomorphic vixen.  “What happened?” I asked “Things seem to have gone wrong…”

“It’s okay, really.” Ælley explained “I looked at your memories of school and what happened to you there.  It’s shameful for adults to allow their young to be treated like that.”  Wrapping her arm around my shoulder, Ælley cuddled up with me protectively.  “I guess it does explain a few things though.” She sighed, then turned toward me “You don’t prefer being alone do you?  I mean it would be understandable if you just didn’t want to be around others more than you have to…”  “I get lonely.” I explained “I think I like having you around.  Besides, you’re just unbearably soft and cuddly!”  “Gee, thanks.” Ælley laughed, tickling my face with her tail.  Reaching out impulsively, I caught it as it twitched by.  “Mine.” I declared, burying my face in the fluffy red fur.  “On loan.” Ælley laughed “I don’t mind sharing, but I’m kind of attached to it!”  Staring blankly at her for a moment, the joke suddenly hit me and I burst into a fit of giggles.  “There we go!” Ælley grinned broadly “It took you a second there, I was starting to get just a touch worried!”

“So…next question…” Ælley began, sounding a bit self-conscious.  “And here we go…” I sighed to myself, having a pretty good idea what direction she was heading in.  “I did a little bit of background reading on your bookshelves and at the store, and it just seems…interesting, and well…right somehow.”  “I don’t know what you mean.” I denied innocently, getting a little bit of revenge for her bringing it up in the first place.  “Don’t be a brat!” she cautioned “I meant infantilism.”  “Oh…That…” I grinned, feigning dawning recognition.  “A lot of it is the feelings of comfort and security I get.  It’s relaxing and just…I don’t know…a safe kind of feeling for me.”  “You certainly did look relaxed the other night.” Ælley nodded seriously. “Spy!” I blushed, still nowhere near comfortable with the idea of someone watching me during such a personal moment.  “Yes, we’ve been over that part already.” She agreed, brushing it off and trying to keep me on the subject.  “So do you have someone you play with then?” Ælley continued eagerly.  “Nope.” I shrugged “I’ve never worked up the nerve to ask anyone.”  “We can take care of that then!” she grinned slyly.  “Wait, what?”  “I want to play too!” she nodded eagerly, before quickly explaining “It’ll be fun…and now you will always be worrying that I’m watching you anyway, so I might as well.  Pleeease?”  Looking at the big-eyed pleading look on Ælley’s muzzle all I could do was sigh.  She did have a point, it would be nice to have someone to play with, and Ælley was nice enough in her own strange sort of way.  And it never hurts that she also happens to be gorgeous…  “Okay.” I nodded “But we’ll take things slowly and see how it works out.”  “Yay!” she laughed before glomping me, knocking us both on the carpet.  “Enthusiasm is great, but please try not to cripple the human!” I grumbled as I picked myself gingerly off the floor.  It was a good thing I was wearing jeans, that had the potential for some nasty carpet burns.

At this point the sun had dipped below the horizon quiet some time ago, and after a day at work there really wasn’t a whole lot that I felt like doing.   I shoved the dinner dishes in the dishwasher and got that started, then excused myself to do the customary battening down of the house. ‘Lights & Locks’ doesn’t take all that long, so when I had worked my way back to where I had started I was more than a little surprised to find that Ælley had wandered off.

She wasn’t difficult to locate, abut the only place I had not been in during the immediate past was the far end of the house where the bed/bath/office were located.  Given the late hour and the events of the day, it was the obvious place for her to have gone anyway.  It would seem, a little to my annoyance, she was quite familiar with the layout of the house for reasons I could easily guess.

Approaching my bedroom, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit apprehensive.  I don’t clean it up all that often, and the muffled rustlings coming from down the hall made me hope I wouldn’t find myself needing to.  That actually brought up another thing which I hadn’t previously considered: I had turned my guest bedroom into an office/library/computer lab rather a long time ago, so where exactly was I going to let Ælley sleep?  “One thing at a time.” I shrugged to myself.  Then, walking in to my bedroom, I stopped in my tracks and snarled. “Or I could always just chain her up in the garage!”

The mess previously known as Nick’s bedroom was so acute a problem I could not even comprehend it’s full dimensions all at once.  The closet had been emptied of most of its contents in much the same way my dresser had ended up ransacked.  Clothes, shoes. And the occasional piece of bed linen created a patchwork affect across the green of the carpet.  With wadded up bits of printer paper scattered as haystacks after the fall harvest, my mind was working overtime to talk me into calling it ‘artistic merit’.  It just sounds better than ‘vandalized refugee camp.’

“I couldn’t find your play things.” Ælley groused, sounding almost put out by the fact.  “You could have asked…” I sighed, kicking my second best dress shirt into a pile that had amassed in the corner of the room. “Or at least tried to be a little less…enthusiastic with your searching.”  “I wanted to surprise you.  I wanted your first playtime, our first playtime, to be special.” Ælley sniffled, more upset than I thought a flight of fancy not making it off the ground warranted.

“It still can be.” I explained.  There was just something about seeing her genuinely upset over this that just kind of got to me.  We padded out to the living room and had another cup of tea while I explained exactly where I kept things she had been looking for.  And, as I was to discover later she very slyly picked me for information in the process.  I should have expected as much, the fox has earned a place as the trickster wherever it passes time.


Ælley had regained confidence and her good mood, and was dropping subtle hints about me going away for a little while so we could start the evening off again on a better footing.  Since it was a simple request, and since I really did want her to cheer up, I agreed, reminding her only that I wanted to take things slowly.  After her playful assurances, I wandered out to my workshop.  I do my best thinking while I’m working with my hands, and it would seem that I had a great deal of thinking to do…which assuredly is good news for the Enfield revolver having new life breathed in to it on my workbench.

What did I feel towards Ælley?  She seems to be a pretty good person.  She’s smart, and learns quickly.  Has an open mind.  Yet sometimes there’s a feeling of being overwhelmed with things in my world.  Then why doesn’t she go back home to the Fae?  The only thing she has shown more than a passing interest in is…oh crap.  Me.  Could I have possibly met someone who has a crush on me?  Is that good?  Is that bad?  Love is one of those things of which I have no experience and I don’t want to hit the wrong conclusions, but any way I look at it I’m very quickly growing fond of Ælley.  Quite confusing for an emotional cripple.  In the scheme of things I guess I’ll just see how it develops…  And with that concluded, I got back to the task at hand: the removal of almost a hundred years of caked on grime.  That I can handle with confidence…and carburetor cleaner.  Really mostly carburetor cleaner.

Picking at mechanical things has always been a relaxing waste of time for me, and before I knew it I’d pretty much put the whole thing out of my mind.  Padding up behind me, Ælley leaned her head up against my shoulder and took a look at the project.  “What are you up to?” she questioned a bit disapprovingly, wrinkling up her muzzle at the chemical smell.  “About the usual.” I shrugged “Fixing up old toys.”  “Smells pretty poisonous…” she grumbled, gingerly picking up a piece of the auto-ejector mechanism and examining it curiously before setting it back on the workbench.  “You have quite a few of them floating around here…I don’t think I’ve seen this many weapons outside of a village arsenal.”  “Yes, well…” I sighed, having been lectured on this more than once over the years “Just don’t go playing with things, ‘old’ doesn’t mean ‘harmless’…”

“That’s one thing I’m still having trouble with.” Ælley mused “With magic, age brings with it an intrinsic power.”  “Well then my car must be truly a mighty thing.” I joked.  Cuffing me gently, Ælley just rolled her eyes.  “You enjoy being a brat, don’t you?”  “Maybe a little.” I agreed, letting her drag me away from the workbench.  “You’re just lucky you are so cute.” She nodded severely “Now let’s get out of here, the smell is starting to get to me…”

Not bothering to deny the inarguable, I allowed myself to be drug back in to the house, or more specifically in to the kitchen.  With the instructions to “See if you can scrub the smell off.” Ælley turned her attention to the refrigerator.  I kept an amused eye on her while washing up.  The food in the refrigerated part mostly seemed to get her approval, but the freezer was a bit of a different matter.  The frozen bachelor-food didn’t seem to make an impression, though Ælley did seem to be moderately amused with tapping things against the side of the ‘fridge to see what would rattle.  Clearing my throat to get her attention, I held up my hands and announced they were “all clean!”  “Growing a little more enthusiastic are we?” she grinned, practically dragging me down the hallway.  “Nope, just trying to distract you so you’ll stop letting out all my cold air!” I grinned back, theatrically digging my heels in to the carpet.  “Don’t think for a second that’s going to help you!” Ælley laughed before mumbling something under her breath and snapping her fingers.

With a startled yelp I found my feet leaving the ground.  “What the…I’m flying!” I beamed, not being able to contain my glee.  “Floating, technically.” Ælley corrected, then slapped a paw across her muzzle with a surprised look.  “Listen to me, I’m turning in to my old teacher!”  “It happens.” I agreed.  “I’m glad you are so tolerant.” Ælley laughed “Oh, and if you would like we can try actual flying…it’s a good way to waste an afternoon.”  “I can’t even begin to express how much fun I think that would be!”  “I keep forgetting how easily amused you are…”

Beginning to float a bit off the ground herself, Ælley ended up (with quite a bit more grace than I had managed) sitting cross-legged next to me several feet above the hallway carpet.  Meanwhile I had discovered for myself her point about flying and floating.  The difference, it would seem, involved if you had any control in the matter.  Closing my eyes, I did my best to absorb the experience.  The nearest comparison I could come up with was floating atop a thick liquid resting upon overly gelled jello.  I was immersed in something invisible, yet very real that got denser as one pushed lower into it.  And all the while invisible to the other senses.

Ælley, meanwhile, had decided to take advantage of a convenient distraction to slowly transport us down the hall, so that by the time I turned my attentions outwards I was floating less than an inch over my bed.  It took a few seconds for me to blink back to reality, where I couldn’t help but notice that Ælley had put a great deal of thought and effort in to setting up the room.  My bed was made and plushies fluffed.  She had set out my big-boy sized footed sleeper, put together a tray with everything needed for diaperings, and another for feedings.  One thing which I noticed was lacking was an appearance from my rather extensive collection of kids movies.  Several reasons for it came to mind and were considered before I eventually decided that it didn’t matter.  Ælley had taken it upon herself to plan something special, and it would be ungentlemanly for me to second-guess her plans.

“Well, here we are!” Ælley waved expansively.  “Sit down on the bed and I’ll be right back.”  Nodding my agreement, I plopped down on the bed and began taking off my work boots as Ælley put on my mp3 player before bustling around with some candles scattered around the room.

  “We gonna live forever,

  Don’t let this be whatever.

  I’m going to make you believe in something good.

  We going to live forever,

  If you never say never.

  We’re going to make it all right…”



“You were trying to make a point with that song, weren’t you?” I sighed.  “Point taken then?” Ælley asked while helping me off with my shirt.  “That you have been digging through my psych records?”  “No need to get snippy…I just meant that there are some fundamental assertions you’re going to make if I have to knock them into your head with a club.”  “You wouldn’t be the first to try that.” I sighed beginning to subconsciously distance myself from the conversation.

“Come here you!” Ælley laughed, catching my foot and undoing my boots before tossing them aside.  “You shouldn’t be wearing shoes in the house anyway…”  Flopping down on the bed next to me, she wiggled her toes to help make her point.  The sharp little claws on the tips of each toe were painted a glittery shade of pink.  “They didn’t have nail polish when I was locked up.” Ælley commented, noticing my stare.  “They look nice…” I agreed, to Ælley’s obvious pleasure…if I didn’t know better I could have sworn I saw her blushing under her fur.

“Now why don’t you be a good boy and lie still for Mommy Ælley now, okay?” she cajoled, putting her paw on my chest and gently pushing me to the bed.  Still a little bit nervous, I nodded my agreement, feeling a rising excitement as well.  Lying passively, I felt Ælley unbuckling my belt, then suddenly felt a draft as she worked them over my hips and off, folding them neatly and setting them aside.  My shirt followed a moment later, then my boxers, leaving me completely exposed to the cool air still circulating through the house. (Not to mention a certain vixen who was now staring at me playfully…)  “You don’t have to blush quite so vigorously.” Ælley grinned “It’s not like I haven’t seen you naked before…”  “Yeah, but this is the first time I’ve known about it!” I shot back somewhat halfheartedly.

Lying passively, I allowed Ælley to get started.  Taking a diaper from the pile she had set out, Ælley unfolded it, then I found myself floating slightly again as she slipped it under me.  Next she sprinkled a light coating of baby powder on my diaper area before folding up the front.  Examining the tapes on the sides for a minute she nodded her approval while fastening everything up.  “That’s a lot more self-contained than pins used to be.” She observed.  “Uh huh. I agreed, rolling over and putting my head in her lap as she idly stroked my hair.

“It’s a little late for playtime and a little early for bedtime…” Ælley mused.  “We’s could watch a movie…” I lisped in my little-boy voice “Movies are good…”  “Okay, that will work I guess.” Ælley agreed.  Taking her paw eagerly, I hopped off the bed and hauled her back to the living room.  As she made herself comfortable on the sofa, I flopped down in front of my DVD shelf and began the arduous task of selecting the evening’s entertainment.  The nice thing about it was that no matter what I picked it would be new to Ælley, so I didn’t have to worry about her having already seen my favorites a million times when she was growing up.  (Score one for magical imprisonment!)  I ended up settling on Disney’s The Fox and the Hound, and in short order had the video up and running.

After returning to my comfortable little spot on Ælley’s lap we settled in to watch the movie.  She seemed to be enjoying it pretty well, absentmindedly levitating over a mug of tea and (which really impressed me) managing to get one of my bottles of juice she had prepared and left in the refrigerator earlier, all without taking her eyes off the TV.  “It’s really not that big of a deal…” she sighed, tapping me on the nose.  “Nothing to see here, everyone please go about your business.” I agreed.  “Exactly.” Ælley nodded, shifting around so that I was in a more upright position.

Taking the bottle from where it sat on the end table, Ælley removed the cap and offered me the nipple, which I accepted with a happy little ‘erf’.  Ælley seemed to enjoy feeding me just as much as I enjoyed being fed, every now and again reaching across with her other paw to sip her tea.  I ran out of juice before she ran out of tea, coughing a little when the bottle got down to the last bit of froth at the bottom.  “Don’t choke.” Ælley chided as she patted me on the back.  “But it’s not empty yet!” I argued, reaching after my bottle as she set it back on the table.  “You’re done.” She disagreed firmly.  “Yes mommy.” I conceded, earning myself a big smile.

The movie was only about half over, so after grabbing the decorative blanket from the back of the couch I snuggled up against Ælley again, wrapping the blanket around us.  “You’re not cold are you?” Ælley asked, sounding a bit concerned.  “A little, but the blankey is good though!”  I assured her.  She seemed a little less than convinced, setting about tucking it in a little better here and there until she had satisfied herself that I was adequately warm and snug.  “There, that’s better.” She nodded decisively.  Giving me a big hug Ælley explained apologetically that “I should have had the sense to turn the heater up a bit higher if my little boy is going to be walking around in just his diaper…”  “S’okay, don’t feel bad Mommy Ælley.” I yawned, beginning to tune everything out a bit as I started to drift off.  It had been a busy day at work even before Ælley had made her appearance, and it had only gotten more exciting since then.  Besides, Ælley’s lap was so comfy and safe-feeling: soft, fuzzy, warm…I could feel her heartbeat through her chest, and every now and then a little gurgle from her tummy.

Neither of us were particularly eager to leave our comfortable little spot, instead choosing to leave the DVD player to its own devices.  Ælley had begun to doze off too, and by the time the movie had ended it was pretty much just background noise anyway.  Eventually I found myself just idly looking up and watching Ælley.  She had her eyes closed, the muscles of her face relaxed into a contented little grin of the sort that are notoriously easy to fall in love with.  Every now and then as I watched her sleep her whiskers would twitch or her nose would wiggle, leaving me to wonder what she could be dreaming about.

Comfortable is all well and good, but by the time the DVD player was about half way through The Fox and the Hound for the second time (or was it the third?  I did drift off there for quite a while...) I was beginning to get an urge I wouldn’t be able to ignore forever, no matter how loathe I was to disturb Ælley’s sleep.  There was always the obvious solution, I tried to convince myself, after all I was…kind of set up for that particular problem.  But still, I felt a little bit odd about wetting myself while sitting on someone’s lap.  On the other hand, Ælley had wanted (even insisted) to play, so she probably wouldn’t get too weirded out by it…

Making the decision and putting it in to practice, it turned out, were two quite different things…Closing my eyes and trying to relax, I just couldn’t seem to make myself start until to my great surprise Ælley shifted a bit in her sleep.  With a startled “Eep!” I felt the warm wetness beginning to spread around my groin as the diaper did its job.  Which brought up another slightly worrying thought: “Please don’t let this be the one that leaks!” I thought, pleading to whomever might be listening.  It wasn’t something that happened with any sort of regularity, but every now and then I did have an unpleasant little surprise that would lead to me having to wash bedding.  Only this time it would be my fuzzy new friend, who, I admitted to myself, I hoped to continue playing with in the future, who would need washing.  Surreptitiously trying to not wake Ælley, I felt around my bottom until I had satisfied myself that all was as it should be.

I was just settling back down when Ælley announced that “Somewhere is warmer than everywhere else!”  “Oh…umm…yeah…” I stuttered, trailing off into a blushing silence.  “Now don’t start that again.” She laughed before continuing a little more seriously. “Does my little guy need a change or will you be okay for a while?”  “I’s okays.” I lisped.  “Okay then.” Ælley agreed “But why don’t we move somewhere a little bit warmer…”  I agreed with her sentiment, taking her paw and following her back to the living room, where the fireplace had gotten itself going in our absence.

Grabbing a few throw pillows off the furniture, we set up a cozy little spot in front of the fire and settled in for a while again.  By the time the goosebumps had faded I was stretched out comfortably on my tummy and was falling back in to a rather pleasant warm-air stupor.  Ælley meanwhile had taken up a position sitting cross-legged behind me, propped up on a huge pile of miscellaneous pillows and cushions.  We sat that way for quite a while, just sort of enjoying each other’s company while basking in the fire’s radiance.  (Ælley had, I noticed with a sniff, apparently added some wood whose scent I didn’t recognize, permeating the house with sort of a sweet-spicy smell somewhere in between a coffee shop and a bakery.)

“You know…” she mused, shifting positions a bit and ending up with her toes wiggling idly in front of my face “They’ll still be fixing the plumbing tomorrow, so you probably won’t have to go to work.  We could go visit the Fae…you would probably have a lot of fun, and I could catch up on some things.”  That got my attention, and I guess Ælley felt me perk up.  “Oh, like that idea, do we?” she laughed, giving me a hug.  “We’re going to have to find you something a little bit more inconspicuous to wear though.  I dropped in briefly last week and things were pretty much as they were when last I visited…fashions change rather slowly there you see…”  “I’m not going to have to wear tights, am I?” I grumbled suspiciously, eyeing her over the tops of my glasses.  “But you would look so cute in tights!” she joked “They’d show off that cute little bottom of yours!  And besides, what else goes with a Victorian ruffled collar?”  “This is me not laughing.” I observed.

“No sense of humor.” She sighed. “Don’t worry, we can put something together out of your closet.”  “You seem a bit too eager to dress me up.” I observed as I scooted over a bit to warm up my other side.  “Dressing, undressing, either way.” Ælley agreed, grinning playfully.  Deciding that there was probably no way to win this one, I just grunted noncommittally and tried not to blush too obviously.  “That’s fun.” Ælley decided “I think I’m going to keep track of how often I make you do that…” “Now you are just being mean.”  Grabbing the end of her tail I declared that “I’m keeping this until you learn to behave yourself properly!”  “You’ll get tired of it long before that happens.” She disagreed patiently.

As soft and oh so fluffy as her tail was I quickly decided that since she seemed to be okay with it  Ælley’s tail would make a marvelous plaything.  Yawning vigorously I buried my face in the big puff of white fur at the tip of my new cuddly and happily drifted off into an almost but not quite sleep.  Deciding that she would let me have my nap, Ælley selected a book from the stacks that always seemed to pop up on any flat surface I spend time around and was shortly engrossed in a rather exhaustive history of migration and settlement in the Eastern Urals.


Time that passes pleasantly has a tendency to move a good deal more quickly than one expects, and when next she took notice, Ælley discovered it had become much later than we had realized.  “Hey.” She whispered, poking me gently “Time to get up and go to bed…” “Too late, already asleep.” Came the garbled protest from somewhere under her tail.  It was patently obvious to everyone that this was going to be an uphill battle all the way.  Deciding that first things are first, Ælley began to patiently extract her tail from my grip before trying to figure out how to go about waking me up.  Finally, with an exasperated sigh she decided to take the direct approach.  With a snap of her fingers she put out the fire before striding across the room and throwing open the windows.  Yelping helplessly, I was up and awake in a record time.  “Was that strictly necessary?” I whined as Ælley closed the window again, then took me by the hand and led me back towards the bathroom. “We need to go to bed now, and this needs to be taken care of first.” She explained patiently, patting the damp bulge in the front of my diaper.  “You don’t want to go to bed wet, do you?”  “No…” I agreed in my little voice.  “I didn’t think so.  Now let’s go get cleaned up, okay?”  I was asleep enough to be as cooperative as possible, as well as the cold being a very effective motivator, and Ælley soon had me cleaned up properly and bundled in to one of my sleepers.  (Truly one of the great advantages of cold weather...)  Proceeding back to the bedroom, I hopped in to bed and had quickly burrowed down in to its fuzzy depths.  Sighing happily as I peeked out from under the blankets I watched Ælley’s far more graceful bedtime preparations.  Being self-conscious about nudity apparently was a human tendency I discovered, blushing deeply and turning around quickly to give her some privacy as the realization struck.  (Though not before making the fascinating discovery that the white patch of fur that started under her muzzle went all the way down to her inside thighs…hey I’m a guy, we notice these things.  Must be scientific curiosity!)

“Oh please.” Ælley laughed, walking back in to view in one of my extra sleepers.  (They’re a favorite, and I’ve bought several over the years.)  “I’ve seen you naked…you actually seemed less embarrassed by that.” Sitting down on the side of the bed, she almost daintily found her way under the covers and next to me.  “Maybe.” I sighed, begrudgingly ceding the point as she curled her tail around us.  At which point a thought hit me.  “How did you get your tail through there?” I queried, afraid I’d already guessed the answer.  “You’ve got a bunch of them…” she answered a little defensively.  “It’s okay I guess.” I sighed.  I could always just order another one tomorrow.  “I knew you would understand.” She nodded seriously as I reached over to my nightstand and turned out the lights.

“I think I like candles better.” She mused “They’ve just got a cozy way to them.”  “They’re great until you have to work with small parts using them…” I agreed “But as long as you don’t have to actually do anything with them they’re great!”  “Brat!”  “Technophobe!”  “That’s not true.” Ælley disagreed cheerfully “There’s all sorts of technology that I’m quite fond of.  Like your refrigerator…that must have been handed down by the gods.”  “Refrigerators are nice but they aren’t that good.” I disagreed “Now the 350 short-block, that’s another matter entirely.”  “Huh?” Ælley replied, sounding confused in the darkness.  “I was trying for a joke.” I sighed.  “It worked about as well as a Gnomish astrolabe.” She accused ironically.  “Okay, okay! I see your point. I’ll try to avoid incomprehensible references in the future.” I promised.  “That’s better.” Ælley chided, snuggling up a bit closer before we mutually allowed the silence to grow once again.


In very little time Ælley and I had drifted off to sleep. ‘To sleep, perchance to dream.  Aye, for there is the rub…’   If the eyes are the windows of the soul, and one needs only to stare down a predator and a sheep to know the truth in this, then surely dreams are a soul’s door…

As soon as I had drifted firmly off to sleep I began to develop some first hand knowledge about the concept.  I awoke, if one can ‘awake’ within a dream in a woods, next to the banks of a picturesque little stream.  It seemed like such a pleasant spot that I decided to settle down there for a bit.  After I had gotten all comfy in the grass the gurgling of the little brook was soon to be interrupted.  “May I sit with you, child?”  Looking up I found Ælley to have come up behind me as I was staring off in to space.  It all seemed perfectly natural and not the least bit odd or surprising.  Nodding happily I patted the ground next to me, and she took a seat with a contented little grunt.  “Almost there.” She nodded, tapping my nose with her finger.

To my (not altogether) surprise, I felt a warm tingling sensation spread throughout my body, and looking down at myself saw it was bringing about a change with it.  Before my eyes I found myself quickly growing smaller and quite a lot fuzzier.  Crossing my eyes I watched myself sprout a muzzle, coated in a fine reddish-brown fur.  Coincidentally it also made my nose quite a lot easier to see.  For some reason this struck me as wildly funny, and I was soon giggling uncontrollably as I collapsed into my pile of now massively oversized clothing.

When everything finally quit moving around I found myself to be a small, naked, anthro fox kit buried in a pile of clothing.  The novelty of which was such that it took me a moment to notice the naked part.  The realization struck at about the same time I was doing my best to turn all the way around to see my tail, which makes balance tricky enough on its own, and ended up with me flopping over completely on to the pile of clothes.  Wrapping my old shirt around myself modestly I glared up at Ælley’s laughing expression.  “It wasn’t that funny!”  “No, I guess not.” She placated, reaching over and plucking me out of the pile, despite my protestations and struggles for some semblance of modesty.  “You’re not going to be a naughty little boy now are you?” she questioned semi-rhetorically.

Quieting down, I allowed Ælley to carry me with her into a little glade of trees where there sat a changing table and a little dresser, both painted in a light blue-green pastel hue.  “Don’t look at me…” Ælley laughed merrily “It’s your dream, I’m just visiting.”  Setting me down on the changing table, Ælley dug through the dresser and came up with a cloth diaper and a handful of diaper pins.  “I’s wear disposables…” I commented a bit questioningly.  “Well,” she explained “One of the nice things about being the mommy is that I get to make the decisions, and this time we’re going to try out cloth… Besides, you may like them better!”

Ælley had a point about that, and I did my best to cooperate as she lay one out on the table and set me down in the middle of it.  Then, lifting up my bottom she slid my newly-acquired tail through the tail hole, followed by sprinkling on some powder and pinning up the front.  “There, what do you think?” Ælley asked, setting me back on the ground.  “They’s softer, but they’s don’t crinkle…” I decided after a while.  “Decisive as always.” Ælley laughed, tousling my headfur.

I took Ælley’s paw and together we just kind of decided to wander around the woods for a while.  One of the things about dreams is that there’s only as much stuff to do as you want there to be, and apparently I really didn’t feel like doing a whole lot of anything…which really did work out pretty well all in all.  Ælley helped to pass the time quite well by telling me all sorts of random little stories about her world and her experiences in it.

“Wish I had some good stories…” I sighed.  We had settled down on the banks of a little stream where I had been occupying myself by idly trying to skip river pebbles.  “Oh, I’m sure you have a few…” Ælley disagreed. “Everyone inevitably does, it’s a side effect of being alive.”  “Yeah, but there’s a big difference between melting a barbecue grill and meeting a dragon…”  “True, but as I mentioned the dragon was a really cranky old guy.”  “You’re not helping.” I sulked, flipping another pebble out into the stream.  “Umm…honey?  You’re being a little hard on the weather.”

Looking around for a minute, I discovered that Ælley was right about the weather: it had clouded over menacingly, and the wind had picked up.  “I did that?” I questioned dubiously, forgetting completely my annoyance of a minute ago.  “I told you” Ælley sighed patiently “It’s your dream.”  “Oh, right.” I nodded, before having an idea “So I can do whatever I want with it then!”  Laughing at my playfully evil expression, Ælley shook here head.  “There’s a problem with that.”  “Oh, what’s that?”  “It’s morning back in the real world!”


I woke up with a start to find sunlight filtering through my bedroom curtains, which is my usual non-alarm clock induced method of waking up.  “Hello sleepyhead!” Ælley greeted cheerfully, sitting on the end of the bed, having apparently woken first.  “I had the oddest dream last night.” I yawned, stretching.  “You were in it actually…”  “I know.”

“Umm…what now?” I asked, growing more than a little confused.  “That was me.” Ælley explained patiently “I wanted to see what you would think about being turned in to a kit for a while, but I didn’t want you to maybe think it was scary or something before you tried it out, and I decided a dream might be a better place to suggest it…”  “You may be right about that.” I conceded, giving her a hug.  “I don’t recall ever being turned in to anything before, now that you mention it…”  “We may have to fix that deficiency before too long.” Ælley grinned before being interrupted by my tummy making itself known.  “But not before breakfast…”

Ælley explained her plans for the day as I put together a healthy breakfast of toaster waffles and orange juice.  “I was thinking we could go run some errands I need to get done in the Faye today.”  “Okay.” I nodded with growing interest as she explained that she was ‘a bit’ behind in her to-do list after being trapped in a rock for a few hundred years.  “Though we’re going to have to find something a bit less…noticeable for you to wear.” Ælley continued.

After breakfast we went to take a look at the clothing options presented by my closet, which admittedly weren’t exactly diverse.  “What about this?” I asked, showing off a really great cape I had left over from a Halloween costume from several years back.  “No, too hard to run in.” Ælley decided a bit regretfully.  “Run in?” I questioned suspiciously “There isn’t anything there that might try to eat us, is there?”  “Well, never say never.” Ælley shrugged, ducking the question.  “Right.  Armed it is then.” I nodded in mock cheerfulness.  It’s not that I particularly dislike things trying to eat me, it’s just always been a personal preference of mine to know about it ahead of time.

Ælley eventually sorted out some garments that she felt were the least likely to draw unwanted attention: a faded-out pair of fatigue pants and an older, almost grey t-shirt under a longish flannel (earth tone) shirt.  “Are we going hunting then?” I joked as I quickly changed in to her selections.  “Any of your dressy clothes stylistically would have stuck out like a sore paw.” She explained, taking off the brush hat I had absentmindedly added on my own and hanging it back on the wall.  “No cape, no hat…” I grumbled “Next you’re going to say that never-never land is a weapons-free zone.”  “You can take a weapon if you want, just not the hat.” Ælley placated before adding as an afterthought that “You should probably make sure it’s not something too new, so magic doesn’t affect it adversely.”

“Old it is then.” I agreed as I spun the lock on my cabinet.  “And not something too big.” Ælley added quickly.  “We don’t want to look like we’re starting a war.”  “Aww…” I sighed in disappointment, starting to look again.  “How big is too big?”  “Smaller than that one.” She decided, tapping an Enfield No. 4 at the front of the rack.  “Drat!  Thwarted again!” I grumbled theatrically.  Small and old don’t often go together, for reasons of applied chemistry, and my choices eventually boiled down to a slicked model 1300 or a very well-used M1 carbine that I had not gotten around to restoring yet.  I ended up going with the M1 since I actually had ammo for it, which can be an important feature in a weapon.  Dropping a spare clip in to my shirt pocket, I grabbed my old High Standard and clipped it on to my belt for good measure.  There’s nothing wrong with being over prepared, as long as one doesn’t go too horribly overboard. (“If your belt can support the weight, you’re still doing great.”)

“So how exactly do we go about this?” I asked curiously, really not having the foggiest idea how one actually gets to the Faye.  “Well” Ælley explained, taking my hand “First you close your eyes and try not to squirm too much.”  “Okay.” I nodded obediently, closing my eyes.  “Now, whatever you do, don’t think about breasts.”  “What?  Why…aw crap…”  I stuttered as my thought process immediately turned to Ælley’s chest, and just as suddenly I felt an odd sort of shifting feeling deep in my tummy spreading out to the rest of my body.


“You couldn’t do it, could you?” Ælley laughed playfully.  “Not funny.” I grumbled back, opening my eyes to find us deep in a forest that didn’t even have a passing resemblance to my living room.  “So we’re here I take it?” I questioned, toying with the notion of pointedly staring at Ælley’s breasts for the rest of the day, then deciding to come up with something more subtle later. “A brilliantly astute observation.” She agreed.  “I don’t see a town around here anywhere…” I commented, surveying the surrounding area.  “It’s not possible to teleport in to most towns directly, and it’s considered somewhere between rude and outright hostile to do it even if you could.” Ælley explained.  “It keeps unwanted visitors out that way…”

That made a lot of sense when I thought about it, particularly in light of Ælley’s inability to guarantee nothing was going to randomly try to eat us.  Slinging my gear, we set out at a brisk pace.  Ælley apparently had a pretty good idea where we were going as she led us along, until, after a few minutes we ran into a dirt road through the woods.  “That looks a bit more promising.” I commented as we began following the road.  Another two miles or so down the road we crested a hill, which brought a good sized town into view.

The town looked very much like a romanticized version of what one would see during the European renaissance: stone walls, wooden shingles, and cobblestone streets all surrounded by a thirty foot tall stone wall dotted with guard towers and fronted by a huge wooden gate banded in iron.  “Well that’s something I’ve not seen before.” I nodded appreciatively.  As we approached the gates we were waved through by a bored looking guard in an actual chainmail tunic.

Something about the guard struck me as just a little bit off.  He looked human enough (though more than a little bit ugly) but his arms seemed just a little too long and his forehead a little too pronounced.  And then he smiled, showing two rows of altogether too many long, shark-like teeth to even vaguely pass as a person.  Ælley didn’t seem to be concerned, so I filed it away as something to ask about later.

Passing the guard tower, we entered what must be the equivalent of a ‘main street’ back home.  Shops extended down until the curvature of the wall took the street from view, and expanded down the branching side streets as well.  A huge variety of different beings bustled about on their daily tasks, lending a vibrant air of excitement to things.  Excitedly I surveyed the scene and was about to gleefully dive in to it all when Ælley grabbed my hand.  “I have to take care of a few things, then we can go explore some.”  I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed, but after all that was why we had come in the first place.

Ælley led us to a huge, thick-walled building whose tiny windows were set high off the ground, and whose doors looked almost as formidable as the town gates. My immediate assumption was confirmed upon entering when we found ourselves facing a row of teller-windows.  “Wait here.” Ælley instructed “Groups make them nervous.”  Nodding my understanding, I settled down on a bench by the wall as Ælley spoke with a teller (whom I decided looked a lot like an elf on the cover of a fantasy paperback: tall and thin with long hair and slightly pointed ears) then followed him to the back.

As far as banks went, this one didn’t have much in the way of advertising or other lobby clutter.  I guess your account options were ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  You have to have checking to offer free checking it would seem… I guess I should have been bored out of my mind, but people watching develops whole new levels when the people aren’t really ‘people’.  I was starting to wish that I’d not sold all my Dungeons & Dragons manuals when Ælley returned from the depths from whence she had departed.  Since she didn’t seem to be fleeing anything I figured it was safe to assume things had gone reasonably well.

 “Right.” She announced as we continued on our way back outside “Now that we’ve got that taken care of we can move along to more interesting things.”  “Good, good.” I joked, taking her paw “I’m not sure how much more of this banality I could have sat through without falling asleep…”  “Brat!” she laughed, playfully cuffing me on the back of the head.  “I didn’t complain when you were doing things at your job…”   “No, you just threatened to eat children, then blew up the plumbing…”  “I offered, I didn’t threaten.”  “I’ll give you that one.” I conceded as Ælley led us in to what, judging by the intricately carved wooden sign above the door, was a book shop.

“Here’s something different…I can’t remember the last time I was in a bookstore.” I grumbled.  I had to admit though, this did not seem the sort of place to tolerate poorly behaved patrons.  The inside of the building was an open, two story layout built of dark, antique wood with ladders running along brass tracks along the walls and a delicately patterned marble floor.  Looking towards the counter by the front window, I did a double-take and quickly mustered up the most polite expression I could manage, which elicited an amused laugh from the humanoid dragon leafing through a huge leather-bound tome behind the desk.  “Tourist, eh?” he grinned in a friendly, but oddly hissing voice.  “Is it that obvious?” I grinned back before trailing after Ælley further in to the store.

Ælley’s path was quite direct, and her selections definitive: she obviously knew what it was she was looking for before we had come in.  After making her initial selections her manner changed and she seemed to become much more content to just look around.  I gave her maybe forty-five minutes or so of undisturbed browsing before my attention span gave out completely and the urge to wander won out.  I wasn’t sure quite how authorized I was to go rooting around through the dragon proprietor’s stock, so I did my best to avoid making any sort of mess with the potential to put me on the list of justifiably digestible.

Since I couldn’t read the language the texts were written in, I very rapidly found myself hunting through the shelves in search of books with lots of illustrations.  There was a much bigger selection than one would expect, and it didn’t take long at all for me to forget being bored while waiting for Ælley.  Initially finding an area with atlases, the huge, leather-bound maps kept me busy for a while until I worked my way through the history section, then stumbled across (literally, it stuck out much farther than the width of the shelf) a massive book with brass fixtures and two imposing-looking latches holding shut the gilt pages.  Sitting down on the floor with the huge book in my lap I discovered that it was an intricately illustrated encyclopedia of animals.  And not just the ones I had heard of…  Instantly fascinated, I was soon deeply engrossed in the tome.

I was eventually interrupted by Ælley calling me from the direction of the front of the store.  Looking up suddenly, I found myself face to pointy little face with what I imagine you would get if you cross-bred a sewer rat with a hyena.  The ugly little thing was standing on its hind legs like a rat and eyeballing me with obvious malice.  It was just opening its massively elongated jaws to hiss at me when I reflexively walloped it with the book I had been reading.  Whatever the thing was, it was no match for the inches-thick tome, and with a startled kind of rasp it became a whole lot thinner.  I was quite relieved until I noticed that I had gotten a significant amount of squished rodent on the back cover of the book.  The dragon was not likely to be pleased with that…

It was with a great deal of trepidation that I approached Ælley and the shop clerk at the front of the store, book and crushed rodent corpse in tow.  “I kind of…” I began to explain before being cut off when the ecstatic clerk interrupted me.  “You got the thrice damned thing!” This was not the reaction I had expected.  “I’ve been trying to get it for months now!”  “Uhh.” I nodded dumbly.  “It’s a salis.” Ælley explained. “They’re like a great-granddaddy elder rat, and they’re horribly destructive.”  Taking the book from me, he wiped off the back cover, then opened it to the relevant article before handing it back.  “I can’t read it.” I sighed apologetically.  “Oh! Sorry…” The dragon said, waving a hand over it.  The words instantly shimmered around for a second, sorting themselves out into English.  “Neat trick!” I grinned appreciatively.  “Keep it” he nodded “You’ve done me a huge favor.  Lammet’s Bestiary was probably the most exhaustive ever written, and as far as anyone knows that’s the only surviving copy…I saw you over there looking at it earlier, I think you’ll give it a good home.”


A short while later Ælley and I were back on the sidewalk, my backpack significantly heavier from both my book and her purchases.  “It’s always the male who ends up carrying things.” I griped as I followed Ælley across the street.  “Historically yes.” She agreed cheerfully “It does usually work out that way.  Besides, you have so much practice carrying books I’m sure you will do a much better job of it than I would…”  “Not funny.” I laughed, at least appreciating the irony of the situation.  We wandered around for a good bit after that, just looking over the offerings of the various street vendors and shop windows.  Despite getting the impression from those around me that the vast majority of things were the kind of shiny impulse-buys one encounters at shopping mall kiosks, the newness and mystery of it all was more than enough to keep me entertained for hours.

Our next stop turned out to be a magic version of an antiques store.  “This one is always worth a look.” Ælley explained.  There were apparently a lot of beings who agreed with her, and the store was just a little on the wrong side of ‘too crowded’.  It stocked all sorts of things: furniture, artwork, clocks, and quite a variety of things I couldn’t even hazard a guess at.  If I hadn’t been constantly worried about knocking things over or bumping someone I would have really enjoyed myself.  As it was, I was mostly satisfied to keep in sight of Ælley without drawing any hostile attention to myself.

Ælley seemed to know her way around well enough, and she traversed the floor with a graceful ease that mocked the trouble I was having.  I nearly bumped into a table of little crystal vials of dubious contents in my surprise when she dropped a hat onto my head.  “Argh!  Don’t do that!”  “I think we’ll get this one for you…” Ælley laughed “It looks much nicer than that one you have back at the house.”  Taking it off and holding it out in front of me by two fingers as one would with a potentially dangerous object, I looked the thing over critically.  It was sort of a brown-green forester’s hat with a long pheasant tail feather sticking out of the leather band.  The band itself was brown with tarnished little silver tack-buttons and a decoratively engraved little buckle.  “It’s a nice hat.” I agreed “But I kind of doubt that they will take my credit card here.”  Ælley just rolled her eyes at me.  “I’m pretty sure that I’m financially secure enough to afford to buy you a hat!”  The matter settled, I found myself once again being drug through the crowd in the general direction of the front counter.

While Ælley was exchanging cheerful banter with the clerk (who she apparently knew) I wandered over to the shelves near the window and began picking over the random hodgepodge of stuff set out on display.  Nothing really interested me all that much, and I was just turning to see if Ælley was done when I noticed an odd little glass figurine collecting dust way in the back.  Moving a couple carved wooden boxes and an inkwell out of the way, I had just delicately maneuvered it from behind the junk when the lady at the counter noticed what I was doing.  “Don’t touch that!” she practically yelled, nearly startling me in to dropping it.  A second passed without any earth-shaking reaction, and the clerk got sort of a confused expression on her face.  “Huh.  It likes you.” She mused. “It doesn’t like anyone.”  “What do you mean ‘it’?” I wondered examining the odd figure.  It was a four-legged animal of some sort, but seemed to be intentionally made too vaguely to sort out exactly what it was meant to be.  The body had patches that were completely clear intermixed with grey and almost black glass that had a fogged texture that made a surprisingly good representation of fur.  The only color on the figure were two brilliant purple chips inset in the head as eyes.

“That’s a mirror spirit.” She explained, reflexively backing up a little as I set it on the counter.  “It’s a spirit of chaos from the deep Darks, and a really vindictive little monster to boot.”  Gesturing for me to get it off the table, she explained that “The store owners found it in an old trunk they bought some time ago, and up until now has injured anyone who touched it... the thing has been understandably hard to get rid of.”  “It’s alive?” I marveled, turning it over in my hands.  “In as much as anything from the elemental planes are, yes.  Someone summoned it and trapped it in corporeal form, and there you are.”  “No wonder it’s pissed off then.” I nodded sympathetically “Can’t you just let it go?”  “Then we would have an angry, vindictive and relatively elder spirit loose in here.  No thanks.”

Finishing up her transaction with Ælley, the clerk decided that “You can have it if you give me your word you’ll never bring it back here again.”  “Can I?” I asked Ælley, trying to give her what I hoped were convincing puppy-dog eyes.  Sighing, she gingerly reached out and poked it with the tip of her finger.  To both our relief again nothing happened.  I guess it was trying to make puppy-dog eyes too…  “Good.” I laughed “Because I would hate to have to point out the irony of you making me leave it in there…”  “Brat.”

A few minutes later Ælley and I were in a conveniently secluded alleyway with a piece of broken mirror the lady in the shop had found for us.  “Now all you have to do is set it on the mirror.” Ælley explained, stepping back cautiously as I gently set the figure down.  Immediately the mirror started to ripple, and the figure sank into the surface, as if in a shallow puddle of water.  A moment later the mirror began to slowly shrink.  With great curiosity, I watched as it was being absorbed by the figure until the mirror had disappeared entirely, leaving only the little glass animal sitting in the dust of the alley.  “It looks like you’ve got yourself a pet.” Ælley observed, handing me the figure.  “What do you mean?”  “It likes you.” She laughed “If it wanted to leave there wouldn’t have been anything left after the figure was destroyed.”  “But it’s right here.  It wasn’t destroyed…” I protested.  “That’s the spirit.” She corrected “The cage is gone.”  “Oh.” I nodded, still confused.  As I put the figure in my shirt pocked, I could have sworn I saw one of the purple eyes winked at me.

“So how smart are they?” I wondered as Ælley and I continued our window shopping. “Very.” She shrugged “At the least they’re highly intelligent, and probably at least possess a low level of sentience.  It’s kind of hard to tell with elemental forms of chaos, they don’t tend to be all that interested in conversation.”  While I was disseminating that bit of information Ælley bought two very dubious looking and unidentifiable pieces of roast meat on a stick from a sidewalk vendor.  Seeing me staring at it hesitantly, she firmly instructed me to “Eat it, it’s good for you.”   It turned out to taste pretty good, which passed my typical criterion for food.  Despite its size it was quickly gone.  “See,” Ælley grinned “Everyone likes the rat on a stick.”  “Rat?” I questioned, beginning to feel a little sick.  “Got you!” she laughed cheerfully, thwacking me on the shoulder.  “Not funny.” I griped “How am I supposed to know ‘yall don’t eat rat?”  “Okay, okay.  Here, I’ll make it up to you.” Ælley sighed, beginning to feel a little guilty about it.  Pulling me down a cross street for a few blocks, Ælley stopped in front of the most colorful storefront we had seen so far.  Besides being painted in bright colors, the building’s windows were stained glass, and the sign over the door had its lettering colored in gold: ‘Toy Shoppe’.

“Ooh!” I grinned almost giddily, imagining the possibilities a magical toy shop presented.  Ælley just grinned, holding open the door.  Inside it certainly delivered on its promises of wonder.  Shelve upon shelve of goodies filled the building, old favorites and things I remembered from years past as well as new things which defied description.  “You’re going to have to pick your jaw up off the floor before you trip over it!” Ælley laughed, cheerfully amused by my reaction.  “The only place I’ve ever been that was cooler than this was the armory of a National Guard museum.” I decided.  “What was that like?” Ælley laughed, picking up a couple of building blocks from a shelf and stacking them up on thin air.  “Probably a hundred million worth of rare and antique guns…not counting the tanks and arty.” “But did they have blocks that could float in midair?” She teased.  “I can’t say that I recall anything like that, no.” I admitted “Though we probably won’t be able to find an electric mini-gun around here…”  “Well life is full of trade-offs.” She consoled jokingly “Next time we’ll go somewhere you suggest…”

Picking just one thing was going to be hard, I decided after quite some time spent enthusiastically looking around.  Magic was new and interesting, and toys aren’t bad either, so between the two of them I could easily have kept myself amused for several hours.  Ælley, unfortunately, was getting a bit tired of the other loud and enthusiastic patrons of the Toy Shoppe.  After the third or fourth child ran in to her, stomped on her foot, or tried to play with her tail, I caught her examining my rifle (which I had given her to hold) with a keen sense of interest that did not bode well for those around us.  “Ælley…” I said in a severe tone, slightly miffed about having to act like a big boy somewhere this fun.  “I was only going to kill them a little bit…” she smiled sweetly.

At that point it had become painfully apparent I needed to make my selection and head to less aggravating surroundings.  It was easily the hardest decision I had made in several weeks, but I ended up with a box full of some oddly glowing blocks of various sizes and colors, which all seemed to pay attention to gravity in their own unique ways: some would fall quickly, some slowly, and some would just kind of lazily float around the room as if they really didn’t care if gravity had an opinion on the matter in the first place.  “Good choice!” Ælley nodded “Those little things have always been one of my favorites too.”  Glancing over the shelf I’d gotten them from, she grabbed two other boxes.  “You’re going to want another box of floaters, and a box of force balls too…” Seeing my mildly perplexed look Ælley just grinned.  “You’ll see when we get back to the house…now let’s get out of here before these little urchins make me do something I won’t regret for a minute!”


Ælley seemed quite pleased with herself as we exited back out on to the street.  “Tell me with a straight face that you had noting to do with that little Elvin boy tripping and falling on his face?” I sighed, stopping for a second to give Ælley what I hoped was a witheringly disappointed look.  “I didn’t touch him.” She defended patiently.  “That isn’t exactly answering the question.” I pointed out before just letting it go.  It was getting towards late afternoon and we still had to hike back out into the woods before Ælley could whisk us back home again.  I was getting tired of walking, and on top of that the roast-small-dead-thing from earlier had pretty much run its course: the tummy was beginning to hint that soon it would be time to look in to throwing something else down there.  Or else.  “So are you ready to start heading home little guy?” Ælley asked somewhat rhetorically.  “Just about…” I nodded, leaning down over my pack for a minute.  “Let me just see if I can get everything to fit into here…”

“Ælley.  It’s been some time since last we spoke.”  An icy voice interjected flatly.  Looking up, I saw a female Fae, surrounded by several guards.  She was extraordinarily beautiful, but in a cold, lofty way that left one with no question that this lady in the lace-trimmed white gown was nobody to trifle with.  Her guards looked similarly competent, dressed in chainmail tunics and military uniforms in shades of blues and grays.  Adding to the effect was the array of weapons scattered about their person in a casual but very obvious display of force.  Ælley muttered something under her breath in a language I couldn’t understand, but whose meaning was obvious: oh hell.  None of the approaching party, particularly their leader looked the least bit friendly.  “You need to get out of here quickly!” Ælley whispered urgently “I’m not going to be able to talk my way out of this one, but we may be able to keep you from being involved.”  “The human may go, but you and I have business to attend.” The ice-woman agreed “Business that has been very long in coming.”  “Go now.” Ælley instructed me miserably, giving me a kiss on the forehead before gently pushing me down the street.

Confused and hurt I looked over my shoulder to where Ælley was somberly looking at the ground.  She was clearly in very deep trouble, and just as clearly didn’t want me to overreact and get myself involved in her mess.  But then if now wasn’t the time to overreact, when would be?  I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have time to make one.  I didn’t even know who these Fey were…  When in doubt, go with casual, confident violence.  With a sigh, I stepped back up behind the group’s leader, dropping the High Standard’s safety with a metallic ‘click’.  “Human, you have no idea the storm you have…” the lead guard began before I cut him off.  “Yeah, yeah, kill me, kill Ælley, I got that part.  Look, let’s speed this up a bit: ‘yall can kill Ælley and I very dead.  Thing of it is there’s no way you’ll ever manage it before I get a shot or two into your protectee’s head here.  Now a .22 is a tiny little bullet, not all that powerful comparatively.  It will just punch a neat little hole into the skull.  It’s almost certain it won’t even come out the back.  What it will do however is bounce around in there turning her brain into jelly until it runs out of momentum.   There’s a chance it wouldn’t even kill her, she’d just….kind of lose bits and pieces of herself.”  “You would certainly die for it.” The ice-woman informed me.  “True, but I’m willing to bet I could slow them down enough to give Ælley a good head start.  It’s up to you, do Ælley and I walk out of here, or do we find out how the story ends?”

She thought for a moment, then to my absolute astonishment genuinely laughed.  “There is a third option which will satisfy all parties’ honor equally well: join the Winter Court under my protection.”  “What now?” I questioned, completely lost.  “That’s Mab, the queen of the Winter Court of the Fae!” Ælley whispered urgently “She wants to bring you in to the court as one of her own.  Winter appreciates bravery and unflinching conviction, it would make this whole thing merely and introduction and give you both an honorable out.”  “What about Ælley?” I asked Mab, not allowing the High Standard to waiver.  “As an accepted member of your house she would be welcome in Winter’s domain.  Our business would be concluded.”  It didn’t take a whole lot of thinking. “Agreed.” I nodded, flicking up the safety and re-holstering the weapon.  “Good.” Mab nodded curtly.  Reaching across, she brushed a finger along my hair, sending a chill along it like a winter’s wind.  Turning on her heel she departed with her guards in tow.  “You know we both nearly died, right?” Ælley groaned, letting out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding.  “Yeah, but I would have taken a lot of them with us.”


After the encounter with Mab and her guards Ælley and I made tracks as quickly as we could manage back home.  “Well I can’t say that wasn’t exciting.” I groaned, slumping down on the couch.  “Well, we may as well let the pet get settled in.” Ælley mused, setting the little glass figure I had gotten on the mantelpiece.  “Mir.” I nodded.  “Excuse me?”  “It needs a name: Mir.” I shrugged.  “Fair enough.” Ælley yawned, dropping down next to me on the couch.  “I’m thinking bath, then naptime…”  “Bath-time then naps sounds great.” I yawned.  Nearly getting killed tends to wear one out a bit.  Reluctantly I drug myself up off the couch and convinced the tub to do its thing.  The bathroom cabinets were helpful enough to produce a bottle of bubble bath with a minimum of effort, and things were finally starting to shape up well for once.  I had settled down idly to watch the bubbles form as the tub filled, when something caught my eye in the mirror behind me.  Turning for a closer examination, it struck me.  Where Mab had touched me all the color had drained out of my hair, leaving a finger-width line of the grey-green-blue of oceanic ice.  Obviously I had been marked, but for the life of me I was too tired to question the ramifications of Mab’s action.  Plus, the steely streak in my hair was a surprisingly good match for my eye color, I decided.  In any event these struck me as matters for tomorrow’s concern…

Ælley, meanwhile, had migrated to the bedroom I used as a kind of office and was putting away our various purchases from earlier.  I found her having cleared off my ‘random catalog shelf’ and was cheerfully moving in the books she had bought.  “You need a floor stand for your encyclopedia.” She informed me, not bothering to turn from her work at the shelf.  “I’ll get right on that.” I laughed, setting it on the next best thing: a map table I had gotten for when I needed to spread stuff out to study.  Mostly it got used when I needed to tear apart one of my piece of junk computers to replace whatever had burned out most recently.  “There we go.” I nodded “That will do for the time being…”  Finishing up her task, Ælley looked over my placement with approval.  “Add a few candelabras and that will make a nice looking little spot.”  “Though the big question still remains: what did you do with all the catalogs that I had there?” I asked.  “I threw out all the old ones and shelved the two or three that were left.” She informed me. “So anyway, did you get the bathwater drawn, or shall I go and get it started?”  “I took care of it.” I shrugged “All in all I still feel it’s best if we minimize your contact with plumbing that I have to pay to get fixed.”  “You are not encouraging me to learn….” Ælley grumbled as she drug me into the bathroom.

Despite the great many laces and fasteners decorating her garments, Ælley had wiggled her way out of everything before I had managed to get my second boot unlaced.  Pulling off my socks I turned to see Ælley had already slipped into the bubbles and was watching me intently with an amused grin on her muzzle.  I couldn’t help but blush a bit at her grin, which only made it wider: Ælley was enjoying embarrassing me immensely.  “It’s nothing I haven’t seen quite a few times before!” she informed me in a cheerful, singsong voice.  “You madam” I grumbled, pulling my shirt over my head “May be” the pants found themselves added to the pile, my belt buckle clicking on the tile floor as they went “the single most aggravating creature” my underwear topped the pile, taking with it the last vestiges of modesty I had “I have ever met!”  “That may be” Ælley grinned “But I have every indication you don’t seem to mind.”  Looking to where she was pointing I discovered that I could in fact blush harder than I had been up to that point.  “Hop in the tub before you get cold.” She laughed, not giving up on my predicament just yet.

Gratefully I slipped into the bubbly water.  Aside from the fact that the bubbles hid my obvious ‘enthusiasm’ for the situation, Ælley was also right about getting cold.  Since there hadn’t been anyone home all day but a selection of houseplants, I hadn’t bothered to leave the heat at a comfortable setting, and the ambient temperature was less than pleasant.  “Better?” Ælley asked, as we shuffled around a little sorting out a comfortable spot.  “Uh huh.” I nodded, soaking in the warmth.

There’s always something nice about pleasantly warm, and it didn’t take long before I was almost drifting off to sleep.  Ælley had settled in pretty deeply too and was idly playing with my hair.  I was quite all right with it, it only seemed fair since I had ended up between her and most of the bubbles.  Which, incidentally, I ended up doing my best to build something structural out of.  It was working a little too well, but I was too preoccupied to notice until a basketball sized mass of suds broke off from the top of the pile and started drifting towards the ceiling.  “Mamma’s cheating.” I observed in my little boy voice.  “Just a little bit.” Ælley agreed.  “You were pretty busy there, I was wondering how long it would be before you noticed.”  “Bubbles are fun.” I explained in a tone that made it clear I felt it shouldn’t require an explanation.  “They are.” She agreed “But now it’s time to wash up and get out.”  “Aww…” I sighed.  I was comfortable and really didn’t have any particular urge to move.  “Nope, it’s time.” She decided firmly “Besides, the water has just about run out of warm, so that kind of ends the discussion, doesn’t it?  Now sit up and scoot forward a bit…”

Ah well, it was going to happen eventually.  Taking the soap and washrag Ælley started a quite thorough job of bathing me.  “Now don’t squirm or you’ll get soap in your eyes.” She warned. “Wasn’ta.” I denied before relenting to an “Okays.” Under the pressure of a disbelievingly arched eyebrow.  Either Ælley was getting quite good at this or I was more of a pushover than I had allowed myself to believe.  At the moment everything was way too agreeable for me to put either thought or concern into the matter.  Ælley seemed to be quite happy with things as well, so in the grand scheme of things nobody really had the inclination to wax philosophical about it.

“There we go, all done!” she declared, standing up and helping me out of the tub.  Tossing a large towel around me, Ælley instructed me to “Just hold on there a second.” Then to my confusion got back in the tub and closed the shower curtain.  “What are you…” I began to ask.  Tensing up her shoulders a little Ælley shook herself dry like I had seen dogs at the park do.  Then after flicking a few extra drops of water from the end of her tail she stepped back out of the tub.  “That was actually really impressive!” I marveled.  “Fur holds a truly disturbing amount of water once you actually soak through all the way.” She nodded mater-of-factly as I attacked her with an oversized beach towel.  “I can get it.” Ælley protested half-heartedly under the onslaught of fuzzy towel.  “You probably could.” I agreed “But meanwhile you would be dripping all over my carpet.”  “Sure, it’s all about the carpet.  You just want an excuse to ogle me naked!” she accused humorously.  “Exactly.” I agreed, stopping the drying for a second to hesitantly give her a kiss.  Leaning in to me, Ælley returned it with quite a bit more vigor.  “Besides, Mir is finding us all quite entertaining!”  “Eep!” I gasped, clutching for a towel when I noticed the purple-eyed little figure in the bathroom mirror.

“Oh relax.” Ælley chuckled, completely immodestly “Elemental spirits don’t even have a gender!”  “It’s snickering at me!” I accused, pointing at the mirror where Mir was, in fact, snickering at me.  “Mir’s an elemental of chaos.” Ælley explained patiently “Of course it’s enjoying this!”  “Oh…” I nodded, feeling somewhat mollified.  Mir just winked and settled down on a mirror-towel to groom itself contentedly.  “You’re starting to get goosebumps.” Ælley observed, changing the subject away from my strange little pet.  “I think maybe it’s time to finish getting you ready for bed!”  “I’m not that tired yet.  It only just got dark out maybe ten minutes ago.” I disagreed “I was still going to try to get some work done around here…”  “It’s cold, you’re clean, and that rules out any kind of real work until tomorrow.  After you’re ready for bed you can play with your new blocks for a while before naptimes, but that’s the only offer I’m going to make right now.”  “I’ll take it I guess.” I sighed, making a real show of glumly wandering over to the bedroom.  “You’re not fooling anyone.” Ælley informed me cheerfully “We both know you’re tired, so you may as well…” Her thought was interrupted by a loud banging from out in the hallway.  Looking out the doorway, Ælley went out to see what all the racket was about.  “Oh.” She laughed as she dropped back in to the room “Mir is feeling left out…do you have a looking glass floating around here somewhere?” “Top drawer of the dresser.” I nodded, indicating the furniture in question with a wave.

Digging through the drawer, Ælley located several small mirrors.  “Kind of an odd collection…” she mused “Why so many little ones?”  “I was playing with laser pointers a couple of months ago, and I got a bunch of old makeup compacts form a lady at work.”  “Mir will like that.” She nodded “Plenty of elbow room.”  Taking the whole pile, Ælley scattered them around the bookshelves and other pieces of furniture in the room.  Not surprisingly a darting, purple-eyed figure followed along behind her as she went about her task.  “How was Mir making all that noise?” I wondered aloud. “Isn’t it sort of incorporeal?”  Answering my question quite simply Mir banged in to the inside of the nearest of the little mirrors, knocking it off the bookshelf with a clatter.  “It can also form a body in our plane out of pretty much any reflective material that is available to it.” Ælley informed me “It’s pretty neat to see actually, just not what anyone would consider cuddly.”  “Like that little figurine.” I nodded.  “Yep.  You ought to look it up in your book.  You’ve got one of the best references ever written on the subject, it would be a shame not to put it to use…”

“I would be quite happy to let you read it if you would like.” I offered, picking up on her less than subtle hints.  “I may take you up on that at some point.” She nodded “But right now it’s nearly bedtime, so we have some other things to do instead.”  “I thought you said I could play with the blocks some first.”  “Once we’ve got you out of that towel and ready for bed you can play with the blocks for a while.” Ælley agreed “Now just hop up there on the bed and we’ll have you all done in no time, okay little one?”  “Okeys!” I nodded, hopping up on the bed and waiting patiently as Ælley got out all the necessary supplies and accessories.  “You’re going to get the bed all wet with that…” she chastised, deftly whipping the towel from around me and depositing it in the middle of the floor.  “Now lift your bottom up a bit for me, okay?”  Nodding, I did my best to help the process along, and Ælley was soon pushing me back down into the soft, crinkly padding.  “It doesn’t work so well with you up in the air like that!” she teased “Besides, since there’s a ceiling fan in here it’s probably not a good place to play ‘levitate the little one’…” I could see the logic in that, but yawned at her anyway, just to make it perfectly clear I was only agreeing to humor her.

“You’re only being contrary because you’re tired.” She sighed patiently, fiddling around with the twist-cap on the container of baby powder.  “Stubborn blasted thing…ah there we go!  How this is an improvement over the cork stoppers we use I’ll never know…” As she segued into a minor rant on the merits of packaging, Ælley sprinkled on a good helping of powder before folding up the front of my diaper and fastening the tapes.  “There we go!” she announced “Now we just need to pick out what you’re going to wear to bed!”  “The hard part of the evening…” I nodded in mock seriousness.  “You mean the difficult part.  As I recall the hard part was something else entirely.” Ælley corrected suggestively before sighing slightly “But that’s a matter to be pursued at another time.  As I recall it’s time for pajamas and blocks!”

Nodding, I watched as Ælley dug in to the appropriate dresser drawer.  “I found something in here earlier that I wanted to see you in, so it’s not really a selection process, per se.” she explained, producing a green two-piece pair of jammies with a very subdued (almost unnoticeable actually) cammo print.  “Where did you get these, anyway?” she questioned as she helped me pull the shirt over my head.  “They were on sale, and they’re comfy.” I defended as I stepped into the pants bottoms. “Cute too… Now how about those blocks?”  Ælley agreed.

Laughing happily I sat cross-legged on the bed while Ælley dug through the pile of things she had set on my computer table earlier.  “Here it is…” she declared, setting the three boxes in front of me before selecting a book from the stack and settling into bed herself.  Paying her no mind as she propped herself up with a couple of extra pillows, I dumped out the contents of my boxes and was soon building a castle using some of the floating blocks as the base.  It actually turned out to be a lot trickier than I expected: some of the blocks seemed to have less gravity than others and would want to slowly sink under the same amounts of weight.  I gradually began to get the hang of it, it seemed to mostly involve adding extra blocks under the ones that were sagging until they relented and remained where I put them.  “Look at Mir!” Ælley laughed, catching a glimpse of the little creature’s antics over the top of her book.  Mir was enjoying the blocks about as much as I was, scurrying over them like some sort of floating jungle gym.

It quickly turned into a game between Mir and I.  I’d build pathways and platforms and Mir would try to catch the end of the trail.  Things largely remained a tie up until I was startled by the discovery that Mir could be too heavy for a block on it’s side of the mirror and the one on my side would begin to sink too.  I paused for a second while the magic\physics quandary completely failed to sink in to my brain, when I was rudely interrupted by an indignant chattering from the other side of the lenses.  Mir, apparently, hadn’t noticed I had paused in my road building, which resulted in a decidedly undignified tumble.  “Sorry!” I winced “I got distracted….forgive me?”  Mir just yawned and started to groom its ‘fur’, apparently none the worse for wear.  “Did I miss something?” Ælley asked, setting her book down and making sure I wasn’t doing anything that should be supervised (or prevented…).  “Nothing serious, Mir was just trying to fly…”  “It probably can fly.” Ælley yawned “Most elementals and spirits can to one degree or another.  It’s one of the benefits of being a shapeshifter…” “I wish I could fly.” I grumbled, getting less and less concerned with not sounding like a petulant little brat the more tired I got. “You have a tail.  Mir can probably-certainly fly, and I’m stuck being all earth-bound and ordinary.  It’s really not fair when you stop to think about it, how come I always…” Deciding on the optimum way to settle me down, Ælley popped one of the pacifiers from my nightstand into my mouth, ending my sentence with a “Mmph!”  “That’s better…” she nodded cheerfully “It would seem that somebody is up past his bedtime and is getting just a tad cranky…”

Nodding my head ‘yes’ I decided that she was inarguably right in this matter—largely since I really didn’t have the energy to make a go of it.  Scooping all the non-flying blocks back into one of the boxes, I took a pillow and just thwacked the flying ones in the direction of the far side of the room where they all piled up with various degrees of grace.  The glowing ones left dim little trails in there wake, and it occurred to me that they would actually be some intriguing nightlights.  “I’ll let you get away with that tonight.” Ælley frowned “But you’re going to have to pick them up in the morning…and don’t think for a second you’re going to make a habit of it.”  “No mamma.” I agreed.  Curling up next to her I burrowed down in to the sheets a bit, not even bothering to spit out my paci.  I was quite done for the night, thank you very much!  Ælley looked at her book again, memorizing the page number before setting it aside and turning out the lights.  “Good night, little one.” She yawned.  I just nuzzled her side by way of a response, already well on my way to sound asleep.


Morning has the annoying tendency of arriving regardless of my desires one way or another on the matter.  I really had never particularly been a fan of the thing, it had always struck me as being a kind of devious time of day, what with the way it was always sneaking up on a guy and all.  Unfortunately, Ælley was apparently a morning person.  (Come to think of it she really seemed to be equally perky and upbeat no matter what time of day it was…)  This morning proved to be no exception, and the first thing I saw as I was trying to blink my way through the haze that is waking up in the morning was her sitting cross-legged on the bed next to me, apparently waiting for me to wake up.  “Too early.” I mumbled, rolling over and trying to catch back up to the sleep threatening to fade into the distance.  “It’s morning!  Time to rise and shine!”  “Not going to.  Can’t make me.”  “Oh can’t I?”  she laughed playfully.  Before I knew what was going on she had pinned my shoulders to the bed with one arm and was tickling my tummy mercilessly with the other.  As I tried to squirm away I quickly discovered that Ælley was much, much stronger than she looked, and more to the point there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

“Okay, okay! I’ll get up! I surrender!” I laughed, willing to give in to the inevitable defeat to stop the barrage.  “Nope, too late!” she grinned “You should have thought of that when you were in a position to negotiate…”  “Turning a little red in the face and beginning to hiccup I stuck out my tongue in defiance.  “You’re only making it worse!” she informed me cheerfully, not letting up for a second.  “But I think I’m going to….” I began a little too late as my bladder released and a warm wetness began to spread in my nether regions.  “It looks a little too late for that…” Ælley observed as my diaper began to swell.  “Just lay there a minute, there isn’t any hurry now.”  “Bah.” I yawned “See if I bother getting up now.”  She just rolled her eyes and moved to the edge of the bed and began putting on her boots.

“Hey, what’s this?” I wondered, noticing a folded piece of antiqued paper closed with a blob of blue sealing wax on my nightstand.  Breaking the seal, I unfolded the paper and read the flowing script: “Queen Mab requests your presence at the meeting of the winter court, the afternoon of the sixteenth day of winter, eleven hundred thirty-nine.”  “Well, at least today won’t be ordinary…” I sighed.  Giving me a hug, Ælley just laughed.  “You’re not going to see ordinary again for a long, long time…” 

To Be Continued...