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Nov 21, 2018 2:51 AM
A human finds the fairy realm and signs up to be a fay's pet.
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Mab checks their watch again and sighs. 11:25. Either they've missed the bus, or it isn't going to get them to work on time anyway. They heave their bag over their shoulder and start walking, wondering if they shouldn't try and make friends with a car-owning coworker. It would certainly save time.

A car zooms by, and Mab loses their balance - thankfully away from the road - and tumbles into the gully between the forest and the asphalt. When they're right-side-up again, almost everything has spilled out of their bag onto the ground.

"Great," they mutter, and pick themselves up. There's a long scrape down their elbow; it stings and oozes blood, but it'll be fine until they can get to work and wash it off. More important is their belongings, most of which - spare clothes, a small notebook, their wallet - is easily gathered up, but they can't find their pen anywhere.

They look further into the forest, scanning the ground for it.

Oh, mushrooms, Mab's brain says. Mab almost discounts it, then looks again. It's not just mushrooms. It's a fairy ring.

They know this is stupid. They're twenty-eight. Fairies aren't real. Brownies don't help around the house, it's the women not getting enough credit. Mushrooms grow in a circle like that because the underground fungus eats everything in the center and spreads outward.

But.

But.

They glance around and confirm that no one's watching, make sure their silver cross necklace is still around their neck, and in a sudden rush of why-the-fuck-not, poke at the graze on their arm until it drips a little bit of blood onto the nearest mushroom. Then they step into the center, close their eyes tightly, and turn in a circle three times counter-clockwise. Unable to stop themselves from hoping, they open their eyes-

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and the world has changed.

The trees around them are much taller, ancient beings whose roots leave no room for undergrowth. 

The road is gone. 

There is birdsong, but not a type of birdsong they've ever heard before. One bird carries a melody and another pipes in with a harmony. A third bird begins a dissonant restrain and the entire thing dissolves before starting up again. 

There is a smell in the air they can not identify, but it might be accurate to say it smells like warm sunlight feels when you've been slightly too cold for hours.

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Oh. Oh.

They can't move, for a moment terrified that they'll tear it apart with some careless motion. Then the wound on their arm twinges, and they flinch without thinking, and the world stays steady and firm and oh, oh.

It's real.

They take a careful step forward, then another, then look around again. The fairy ring, and it is undoubtedly a fairy ring, is the only thing that's remained unchanged, and with no obviously visible path through the woods, they don't want to lose what might be their only way back.

If it even works the other way around, but Mab really can't care about that right now. They rummage through their bag and come up with a half-used pad of purple sticky notes. They snort. Well, fairy land or not, it'll work. They set off in a semi-random direction, pressing sticky notes to the trunks of the trees they pass.

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A few minutes of walking later, they hear the sound of a small stream.

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That's good. They were starting to run low on sticky notes. When they reach it, they start heading upstream. If they don't find anything, at least they'll wind up at a better vantage point.

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They don't have to walk upstream far before they run into one of the fay. 

Though there is nothing nameable that marks the being as one of the fay, no wings or pointed ears or shining hair, they could never mistake this being for a human. The fay is playing in the water, creating little rapids with small, round stones. They are very beautiful. 

They look up at the sound of Mab's footsteps.

"Mortal," they say. "I have never seen you before."

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"Hi, um," says Mab, and desperately hopes the next thing out of their mouth isn't going to be idiotic. "Should you have?" No dice.

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The fay laughs.

The sound is no more human than the rest of them and no less beautiful. 

"Is this your first visit to our court, mortal?"

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At the mention of "court," everything Mab has ever learned about the Fair Folk thunders through their head and leaves one screaming impression: BE POLITE.

They execute an awkward little bow. "I think it must be. I don't know where I am, and I apologize deeply if I've been trespassing. Are you my gracious accidental host?"

Because fuck everything if Mab has this one weird encounter and then never sees any of it again. They want to see all of it.

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The fay laughs again.

"No, the court is welcome to all who respect our Lord's decrees and am far from gracious or a host. But, you are still a far way from the court's heart. If you tell me how you arrived here, I will be your guide."

The fay's last sentence sounds different. It carries a weight, a pressure missing from Fay's other words.  

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Do not bargain with the Sidhe. Do not accept gifts.

"If it would please you," Mab says carefully, "to lead me to your Lord, then I would tell you I came here by a fairy ring, some ways from this stream."

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"Thank you," the fay says with a blinding smile.

"I will lead you to the court. If you wish to meet our lord, you must find your own way. She has little time for mortals."

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"Thank you as well," Mab says, noting the pronoun but deciding they don't really have a leg to stand on there, and bows again. This feels weird, but better safe than sorry. They wait for the fay to take the lead.

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The fay leads them away from the stream, deeper into the woods on the side opposite from where they came.

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The thought crosses Mab's mind that at the other end of this trip there might turn out to be an axe murderer, but honestly, wandering aimlessly through the woods alone would be an even worse idea. They walk in silence for a time before it occurs to them that more information wouldn't be unwelcome.

"How large is the court?" they ask. "And is there anything special I might not know I'm supposed to do?"

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"Everything has a price, including answers to your questions. But I am feeling generous today, you will get an answer for every one you give."

The fay's last sentence carries the same weight as the fay's previous offer. 

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Mab thinks about it. "That sounds fair. You can go first, if you'd rather."

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"What is your name?"

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Gee, that's not a loaded question at all. "You can call me Mab," Mab says. It's a nickname, and mostly a Shakespeare reference anyway. They wouldn't use it on a legal document, which is sort of the same thing. "What things should I do or not do to avoid offending the average - fairy? fay? person?"

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"Do not lie. That is one answer. You must earn your second. What season is it in the mortal world?"

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Taken off guard, Mab blinks for a second. "Uh - it's like March - late spring. Kinda rainy and chilly where I live."

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The fay nods and looks at them expectantly.

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Oh. They'd thought they'd keep going with the one question. Uh... "Will eating or drinking anything from here affect me in ways mortal food wouldn't? Or doesn't, I mean?"

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"Afterwards, mortal food will never completely satisfy you and you will always be able to tell the fay and the mortal apart."

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"Fay and mortal food, or fay and mortal anything? Or does that count as another question?" They count on their fingers. "I think it's your turn."

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"You are owed a full answer. Everything. Nothing fay can pass as mortal and nothing mortal can pass as fay. How did you open the doorway?"

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