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Jo held Puck’s hand tightly, letting the sprite guide him through shadows. “This is why no one sees fairies unless they want to be seen,” he said on wonder.
She grinned. “You, lucky child, have the privilege of knowing one of the best kept secrets. Anyone asks, you don’t know anything.”
“Who would believe me?” he ran his fingers through the black smoke that hovered around them. “How does this work?”
“We move between the worlds. The world is like a layer cake, many different ones laid upon each other and ours happens to be in the icing.” She paused. “Would you like to see?”
“How?”
“We open the curtain on the window into the other world. Right now, you’re in the icing. My world.”
“I always thought the fairies lived in these woods full of sunshine and flowers, had wings and pretty faces.” He squinted at her. “Not sure I’d say you’re pretty.”
She stuck out her tongue. “Rouge. You see it like this to protect you. Time moves differently for us. To me, you elves are children.” She moved her hand across the smoke in front of her, making a solid wall. “Here.” Her fingers drew back a layer of the darkness, revealing Tag, Anthony and Meh standing in the elven town square. They faced the armed guards with nothing in their hands but showed no fear. As Jo watched, Anthony clapped his hands and fireworks exploded. The guards gaped at the spectacle, not noticing they had pushed past them to head toward the palace.
Puck drew the curtain closed. “It’s time to find your mother.”
“How?”
“Like I said, time doesn’t move for us as it does for you. Just as icing and cake are different, so is the notion of space for us. “I’ll show you.”
She opened the curtain again and showed him Zelda sitting at the kitchen of the noble’s home he had called home for years. She absently shelled peas and kept looking over her shoulder. When the fireworks went off, she shot up out of her seat.
“Our cue.” Puck started to reach out to the image.
“Wait...” Jo grabbed her arm. “Can I come back? See your world? See the other places you’ve talked about?” He let go of her. “I want to learn more about your race. So much of what we know is wrong.”
She dropped her arm and knelt in front of him. “I know that your intentions are pure. I know you just want to know because of curiosity but to keep my people safe, there are rules that we cannot break. I, the Queen’s biggest headache and rulebreaker, have to tell you that I would love to take you places and show you the wonders that are right under your nose. There are those who would use what you know and hurt a great many people in ways I care not to imagine.” She broke the tension with a smile. “But I can show you a glimpse of my world when we are done. It’ll cost you six months of your life. Time won’t move for you but your life span will be shorter.” She held up a finger. “Think before you answer. Agreements here cannot be broken.”
He nodded. “I understand.”
“Good.” She winked. “Let’s go scare the pants off Zell.” She shoved her hands deep into the shadows and parted them.

Zell nearly fell over when Puck and Jo stepped from the shadows. He grinned and waved. “hi, Mom!”
She hugged him tight and smiled at the sprite. “You’re timing is excellent!”
“As always.” She winked. “Your escort is waiting below to take you to the exit point.”
“What is going on here?” said a cold, female voice. The lady of the house appeared in the kitchen in a thick silk robe.
“An escape.” Puck smiled. “Ya know, you elves put such pride in building with nature that you forget that this house was once a tree. All I have to do is remind it what it once was and it’ll go back to that. Which means you’ll be on the ground in the mud like the rest of us.” She grinned. “Kinda appeals to me.” She whispered some words in a language Jo had never heard before and whistled. “Zell, Jo, grab my hands.”
Thick branches crashed from the floor and ceiling. The kitchen collapsed on itself, the lady clinging to a branch and shrieking, all pretense gone. A gentle branch curled around Puck and her companions, moving them away from the chaos as the house shattered in a kaleidoscope of debris. They were set down on the ground to watch the show from a safe distance.
The ancient oak tree, reminded of it’s glory, shook off the house as if it were taking off a shirt. Shattered furniture, bits of pottery rained among rainbow colored pieces of fabrics. Shredded books and parchment fell like confetti. Restored, it spread it’s branches to the night sky with a deep sigh of contentment.
“Beautiful.” Puck admired her handiwork, ignoring the screams from the nobles stuck in the branches. “They can climb down,” she reassured Zell, who was looking from smug sprite to laughing child in a daze. She gestured to the woods. “Your escorts.”
Finch and a small gray Malevolent sat on the edge of the treeline. The cat twitched his tail and smiled. “Jo! Zell! You’re safe!” He stood up, nudging the youngster into movement. “Come, Marti’s waiting for us.”
“Change of plans, ‘cat.” Puck called as Zell and Jo ran toward the woods. “No time to explain. Zell, you need to use the door.”
“But the tree broke the mirror-”
“Finch will take you to the grove. You’ll see.” She hugged the elf. “Go! I have to save your husband.”
Zell took Jo’s hand and ran into the woods, cats right behind her.
Puck shook her head. “People are strange.”

Tag stood proudly at the gate, Anthony at his side and Meh pacing behind them, a growl in his throat. “Steady, friend,” he whispered to the ‘cat.
“This place is not natural...” Meh grumbled.
Anthony nodded. “Agreed. Always found the city a bit spooky.”
An elf that looked like a butler in a satin robe and slippers approached the gate with guards. “Explain yourself. Prince Tallavon is unavailable.”
“I’ve come for my son.”
The butler sneered. “You mean the heir apparent. He is also unavailable. Please take yourself elsewhere.”
Puck stepped from the shadows. “Greetings, Tallavon. Heard a girl kicked your butt and took the kid.”
“Really?” Anthony turned to the sprite, not surprised by her appearance.
“That’s the way I saw it.”
Tag stared at the butler. “You’re Tallavon?”
He glared at them. “Yes, I’m the Crown Prince. I posed as the butler so I could get to know Joseph better and persuade him that this was the life he was born for.” He spit on the ground. “Damned sprite. Your kind would be best serve us by being locked in lanterns and lighting our city.”
“Think so? Our Queen would have something to say about that.”
Tallavon sneered. “Yours is nothing more than rats in these forests. The sooner you vermin are removed the better. Then we can expand our city without your interference and get rid of the animals that threaten our way of life.”
“‘Animals’?” Meh snarled. “This from the one who would kill our cubs-”
“Spare me.” Tallavon rolled his eyes. “With all of you dead, my life would be easier. Hell, I could actually get some sleep. As for the kid, he’ll be back. He’ll have no choice. I sent soldiers to burn down Tilldae and will do the same to Border Town unless he comes back to me.”
Puck laughed so hard tears rolled down her cheeks. “Elves are so damned funny! You really think you have control over everything! At least humans admit they can only control their own actions.” She wiped her eyes. “Wow. Can I let them loose now, Tag?”
The elf’s face was white, fists balled. His eyes never left Tallavon. “Please do, Puck. Let’s shut down this arrogant fool for good.”
The sprite whistled. The lamps glowed brighter, fireflies moving from them to hover be the trees. Their whispers filled the air and the trees began to shake and stir.
The gate in front of Tallavan began to twist in on itself, the trees muttering to each other.
Tag smiled and waved at the prince. “Enjoy your evening! I think we should take our leave now.”
“Sounds good.” Anthony offered Puck his arm. “Shall we?”
She took his arm. “Of course. He wasn’t joking about Tilldae. Bunny, Amy and Marti are there now. Not sure where the others are.”
“Then can we speed things up a bit?” Tag asked through gritted teeth.
“Sure.” Anthony took a silver ball from his bag and dropped it at his feet. “Get close.” He snapped his fingers and they disappeared, leaving the city in chaos.
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August 2011

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