Find out who you really are
It does, indeed, end up being a long night.
Understandably, Miranda has many questions about demon-ship and, to my annoyance, the witch actually has the best answers for her. Carl and I have rudimentary knowledge about other magical beings, but very little specific knowledge about demons, so most of what we can offer are anecdotes and hearsay.
The witch, on the other hand, provides concise information, some of which are news even to me. I had, for example, no idea that demons could summon particular ghosts, nor that they could ask the ghosts to do ghostly favours for them!
"What I don't understand yet," Miranda states after about two hours and at least three cups of hot chocolate, "is why."
That, admittedly, is always a very good question.
"Why you can see ghosts?" Carl raises an eyebrow and adds some more whipped cream to his cup.
Miranda nods. "Yes. I mean… is there a… a purpose to anyone seeing ghosts?"
"It's like in The Sixth Sense," I offer while popping a mini marshmallow into my mouth.
"You can see ghosts that have unfinished business," elaborates the witch calmly. "They might not know it themselves, but the souls that linger are the ones that aren't done with life yet. Often, they have a message for a loved one that needs to be conveyed."
"And that's my job?" surmises Miranda.
"If you want it to be," I tell her with a shrug. After all, I've long come to the conclusion that everyone should do exactly as they please.
"They won't go away though, will they?" she wants to know. "It's not that I have to help a set number of ghosts to fulfil their unfinished business and then I can go back to normal, is it?"
Carl grimaces in sympathy. "Unfortunately not. Once a demon, always a demon."
"Demons can't choose their fate. They're turned from human into magical being against their will, like vampires, and they can't turn back again," explains the witch.
Miranda cocks her head to the side. "Vampires?"
"They don't sparkle," I deadpan. "And they're not actually in the habit of falling in love with teenagers."
"Just as well," mutters the witch. "After all, vampires are really just dead bodies and not for nothing is necrophilia illegal in most countries."
"Vampires are actually quite antisocial and mostly want to be left alone," remarks Carl, ignoring any and all comments about amorous relations with animated corpses. "A lot of them are harmless, too. If you want to find a vampire, your best bet is a group of computer nerds."
"Or stockbrokers," adds the witch drily. "At least vampires have no problem keeping the crazy hours."
A frown appears on Miranda's face. "Do they… do they…" she breaks off, as if not daring to finish the question.
"Drink blood?" Carl does for her.
"Nah." I shake my head and smile at her over my cup of hot chocolate. "They used to, but then Coca Cola was invented and they realised it made a good substitute for human blood."
"Coca… Cola?" repeats Miranda, haltingly.
"Not so much the drink as the substance that put 'coke' into, well, coke," I clarify.
This time, Miranda looks confused more than scared. "Cocaine? It hasn't been an ingredient of Coca Cola in years though. Or has it?"
"No, and when the recipe was changed, vampires had a bit of a problem for a while," confirms Carl.
"What did they do?" Miranda wants to know.
"Let's just say they have a lot of very good contacts to South America," I answer.
"Which is to say," clarifies the witch, "they mostly run the global cocaine trade, out of sheer necessity."
"At least they do when they're not busy playing World of Warcraft or messing with world finances," amends Carl and grins.
It might not come as a surprise to hear that among magical beings, vampires don't have the best standing. They're not actually feared, it's just that it's a bit difficult to take them seriously. Really, most of us secretly roll our eyes at them.
"So, we have demons, shapeshifter, vampires and… wizards?" Miranda ticks off the list of magical beings on her fingers.
"Witches," corrects the witch. "The term is actually gender-neutral. It's modern fiction that decided to use it for women only, but in reality, we apply it to men and women alike."
"It's actually quite easy to tell witches and wizards apart," I supply helpfully. "A witch can do actual magic but will usually try to hide it. A wizard wears a pointy hat and does card tricks to scam people out of money."
Miranda blinks, then nods. I can almost see her committing this piece of information to memory.
"There are dwarves, too," states Carl, adding to her earlier list of magical beings. "Though if you mentally picture small, bearded men right now, you're dead wrong. No-one knows how that myth came to be, but there's no truth to it."
The witch nods agreement. "The assumption is that many years ago, there must have been a small, bearded dwarf with a proficiency for silverwork, who became the prototype of all the legends. In reality, they're much more diverse though, both regarding their skills and their looks."
"Dwarves are known for their creativity and skill," I explain, using what little knowledge of dwarves I have. "Silverwork is just one of their possible skills. They paint and sculpture, compose and make music, write and act. Anyone who's an artist is likely also a dwarf."
"Anyone who's a good artist," amends Carl cheerfully and toasts us with his cup.
"So, dwarves are born as dwarves?" Miranda enquires.
"Yes. There's not necessarily a lineage, so a dwarf might be born to humans, whereas the children of dwarves might be humans themselves, but any dwarf is always born as such," replies the witch. "It's up to them to hone their skills or not, but even if they chose not to, they still retain their creativity, so they're always dwarves,"
I give him a calculating look that he doesn't seem to notice. "Which is how they differ from witches, by the way. Witchcraft is a taught skill, so any witch is born human and then choses to learn how to be a witch." Admittedly, I might be a tad smug, saying it, and now the witch looks at me and rolls his eyes.
"Whereas demons and vampires begin as humans and then are turned against their will," continues Miranda, nodding, and looks satisfied at having retained this piece of information. "What about shapeshifters?"
"We're born with the disposition for shapeshifting," explains Carl. "It all depends on which stars you're born under and where. A day later or a different place and it's zilch with the shapeshifting. However, we don't really become shapeshifters until undergoing a ceremony where we chose our animal. If we decide against the ceremony, we remain human. If we decide to go for it, we get an adult sponsor who explains everything to our parents and prepares us for the ceremony. I had mine when I was twelve."
Yes, and it resulted in him having so much fun studying the other rats that he hardly turned back into his human form for the next couple of months. His parents were quite exasperated with him and it's safe to say they came to regret giving their permission to this shapeshifting business. Carl even had to be held back a year in school because he played truant so often, but on the plus side, that meant he ended up in my class and while we had been friends before, we practically became inseparable from thereon out.
Miranda nods slowly, processing this. I must say I admire how well she's reacting to this information dump concerning everything magical, but I suppose at this point, it's so surreal that she's beyond doubting it. Still, I shouldn't wonder if she wakes up tomorrow and considers all of this a very weird dream – at least until she stumbles into the first ghost of the morning, that is.
"What about you?" Miranda draws me from my thoughts and when I look up, I see her watching me curiously. "You're magical, too, aren't you?"
Lovely. Just the subject I didn't want to talk about.
"Not really," I evade, or try to. "I'm perfectly boring."
Of course, you can't be 'not really' magical. It's like you can't be not really pregnant either. You either are or you aren't, with no in-between. Unless, that is, you're me, in which case it's been proven to be entirely possible.
"What does that mean?" Miranda scrunches up her nose in confusion. Carl pushes some more mini marshmallows my way, as if hoping to bolster my courage.
"On paper, I'm magical," I explain reluctantly. "In practice, I'm not."
Which, I guess, isn't much of an explanation for poor Miranda either. I just really, really don't want to talk about it.
Carl jumps to my support. "She's a fairy."
"A fairy without any magical powers," I correct and grimace.
The witch, I notice, is studying me with interest. He knows, of course, that I have no magic in me despite, technically, being a fairy, and I think it's precisely what piqued his interest in me in the first place. Come to think of it, it might form part of the reason why he came here tonight. I mean, it can't have been just to educate Miranda!
"A fairy?" Miranda looks at me in wonder.
I shrug. "No gossamer wings, I'm afraid. We're also bigger than thumb-sized." It helps, a little, to emphasise the absurdity of the entire subject. "We're also not immortal and we age like everyone does. You want to look to vampires for eternal life – or death, I suppose, since they're really just walking, talking corpses. Whichever."
Miranda blinks and looks lost for words. I can't blame her.
"Fairies," the witch now explains to the newling in our midst, all the while watching me from the corner of his eye, "always have a fairy for a mother. If a fairy has a daughter, she's inevitably a fairy as well, whereas sons are normal humans. The magic of fairies is instinctive and instant. It's just there, without there being any need to learn, practice or awake it."
Uh-huh. That's the theory.
All eyes, I notice, are suddenly on me. I sigh silently.
"My mother is a fairy and my three sisters are fairies," I state. "By rights, I should have been one, but I've got no more magic in me than a common slug."
"That's not true!" protests Carl. "You can –" He breaks off when I look at him sharply. We've been over this before and I have no desire to repeat this conversation. Certainly not with witnesses to hear it.
Miranda looks from one to the other, her face showing that she doesn't fully understand what's going on. The witch, alas, has his eyes fixed on my face.
"Have you ever –?" he begins, but I cut across him before he can get any further.
"Tried?" I finish, somewhat mockingly. "Of course I tried. I tried and my family did as well. They tried every trick on earth to turn me magical. However, you can't force something that isn't, so eventually, everyone gave up and accepted my utter lack of magic. But you better believe that we tried!"
The witch raises both hands and if I didn't know any better, I'd say his expression was apologetic.
"I didn't mean to offend you," he assures. "I've just never met a fairy without, well, magic."
"Looks like I'm the first one, then," I reply sarcastically. "Glad I could broaden your horizons."
He opens his mouth as if to speak, but then shakes his head slightly and appears to decide against it. Instead, Carl jumps into the breach, probably sensing that there's a potential storm brewing and deciding to soothe any tumultuous spirits.
"I say it's late and we're all tired," he proclaims and gets to his feet. "Maybe it's time we turn in for the night?"
"He's not staying," I blurt out quickly and point at the witch.
Carl tuts at my lack of politeness, but the witch just grins. "I never meant to. I was here to answer questions and I say my task is done."
Well, then, good riddance.
"You're staying, of course." I turn to Miranda and make sure to soften both my voice and the expression on my face. "The sofa pulls out. It's not the most comfortable place you've ever slept on, but I have it on good authority that it'll do in a pinch."
Miranda smiles a tentative smile. "Thank you. That's very kind."
I wave a hand to brush away her thanks. "Don't mention it. I'll get you some pyjamas as well and I think we also have a spare toothbrush left somewhere."
As I speak, I'm aware of Carl accompanying the witch to the door, but I don't turn to wave him off. He behaved decently, at least until he started prying, and he neither hexed nor killed anyone, but I'm not sorry to see him go. Manners or not, we don't trust a witch.
Having deposited Miranda on the pull-out sofa with one of Aunt Marilla's quilts and my second-cosiest pyjamas, I retreat to my own little corner room – and am not at all surprised to find Carl following me. No matter the late hour, tonight's events were too juicy for him not to want to discuss them.
"Did you bring any offerings?" I ask while shedding my day clothes and changing into a nightdress with too-cutesy little hearts printed on it.
"I figured you have enough chocolate in your system for the time being, so I brought these instead." With a flourish, Carl tosses a bag of maple hard candies onto my bed. Someone – Una, in all likelihood – must have sent them to him.
I raise an eyebrow. "I also had enough reminders of home for tonight," I point out before turning to the mirror and proceeding to rub off my make-up.
"They're sweets," argues Carl while plopping down on my bed and picking up the bag of candies again. "They're harmless."
Not for my figure, alas, but neither was the hot chocolate, so I suppose today's a cheat day anyway. Or tonight, as it were, because it's so long past midnight that I don't even dare look at the clock.
After quickly pulling a brush through my hair, I join Carl on the bed and accept the bag of candies he offers me. Might as well be hung for a sheep, and all that.
"So, tonight was weird," he remarks and watches me with a studiously casual look as I suck on my candy.
"Not as weird as it was for poor Miranda." I sigh, thinking of the young woman who's hopefully now sleeping next door. No matter all the questions we answered, her life changed irrevocably tonight and not necessarily for the better. I mean, after the novelty has worn off, I can't imagine it's much fun to see gruesomely murdered ghosts wherever one turns.
"Yes, it must have been even weirder for her," agrees Carl and selects a candy for himself. "Though I shall still mark the day in my calendar as the first time you willingly allowed a witch into our home."
"We don't trust witches." The words come quick and almost mantra-like.
Carl rolls his eyes, but smiles good-naturedly. "Have you ever even talked to a witch for long enough to determine whether to trust them?"
That's obviously a naïve take, but I mustn't blame Carl for it. He might be a shapeshifter, but he was raised by human parents alongside human siblings, so he hasn't grown up with the unshakeable truths of my family, one of which is that vampires are odd and another is that witches shan't be trusted.
"I talked to a witch tonight," I point out. "The experience was not designed to make me feel more pre-disposed to trust them. I mean, this particular witch followed me around in a dark alley and then basically invited himself to my home in the middle of the night!"
"Creepy," decides Carl, but he says so very mildly.
"I say!" I insist and glare at nothing in particular. Carl, noticing it, dangles the bag of candies in front of my face and actually succeeds in raising a reluctant smile from me.
Biting down on the candy in my mouth, I start chewing it and listen to the satisfying crack, crack sounds the hardened sugar makes between my teeth. Carl tuts at me with a long-suffering expression on his face. He doesn't need to say it for me to know that he thinks I'm destroying my teeth by doing this. To show him I don't care, I grin and plop a second candy into my mouth to join the remains of the first.
I feel Carl watch me for a few moments, but don't react to it. He'll speak when he thinks he ought to and until then, sitting in silence with him isn't uncomfortable at all. It never has been.
"Are you alright?" he asks finally and if that isn't one of the most loaded questions on earth, I don't know what is.
I could smile and tell him that sure, everything is just dandy, but a) he wouldn't believe me and b) he doesn't deserve it. Friends don't lie to friends.
So, I sigh and shrug. "I don't know. It's been a long day and an even longer night, so I don't know to which extent I'm really just tired and cranky," I begin slowly. "I know I feel for Miranda and I know the witch unsettled me today. I don't think he meant any harm, but… he made me feel… vulnerable."
"Because he followed you outside?" Carl wants to know. "That's such an idiot thing to do."
"It is," I agree. "It was more than that though. It started much earlier than that. Part of it was just the fact of a witch being present where I didn't expect one to be and part of it was… how easily he had me figured out."
Carl snorts. "I can say one thing for sure: He hasn't even begun to figure you out."
I smile weakly. "No, probably not. But he immediately knew I was a fairy. I hadn't even spoken to him and somehow, he already knew."
"How can you be sure?" Carl asks, while picking out a second candy for himself
"He tested me," I explain and grimace. "He 'accidentally' spilled water on me to see whether he could provoke me into magicking it away."
"Rude," Carl decrees, not missing a beat.
It was rude. It's not like there are strict rules that we magical beings live by, but to try and reveal another one's magic is definitely bad manners. It's dangerous, too, because normal humans don't usually take the revelation of a magical world as calmly as Miranda did.
"I normally pass easily for a human," I muse, frowning down at my hands. "You might like escaping into the sewers at times, but I've taken a lot of care to live as normal and human as possible."
"You've turned normalcy into an art form," agrees Carl. "At least inasmuch as 'normal' means 'not magical'."
I give him a mock glare for the possible insolence implied by his words, but I don't mean it and he knows it. His grin tells me as much.
"By rights, I should just have been like any other human waitress to him," I continue, "but instead, he identified me as a fairy right away and he knew about my lack of magic within minutes. It just… it makes me feel uneasy, is all."
"It's like that little trick you can do as well, isn't it?" Carl wonders. "You also immediately know whether someone is magical or not. Which is, incidentally, proof that you're not as normal as you claim to be."
I sigh and give him a look. We've had this talk before and we're not having it again, not today. Or tonight. Whatever.
"Fine." Carl nods, accepting my silent request to steer clear of this particular discussion. "But you can't deny that you yourself can always tell. Maybe he can do something similar?"
"I've never met anyone else who can though," I reply reluctantly.
Carl laughs and bumps his shoulder against mine. "So maybe you're not as special as you think, eh?"
Almost despite myself, I join into his laughter, if only for a moment. I know he means to tease me, but the question of what constitutes 'normal' and what one has to do to be 'special' comes with too much baggage attached to make for a very good joke.
Sensing where my thoughts are going, Carl leans forward and puts a companionable arm around my shoulders. "You'll always be special to me," he promises and really, it's so cheesy it should be absurd, something right out of a bad movie, but there's comfort to be had in those words and I lap it up.
"I'm the only fairy without magic," I remark, trying for a joke of my own. "Surely, that makes me most special of all?"
"That's the spirit!" praises Carl and grins, all the while puffing out his chest comically.
"Clown." I lightly swat at his shoulder, but without any force behind it. I'm also smiling as I do.
"It made you smile," points out Carl. "That's good enough for me."
And he's right. I feel better than I did all night and that's because of him. He is, after all, my favourite person ever for a reason – or, really, for a whole lot of reasons, if we're being technical.
"You did make me smile, so well done and go collect a brownie point for your efforts," I tease him, but with affection. "And afterwards, do be so kind and take yourself to your own bed because I'm tired and I intend to use this one to sleep."
"As the lady wishes." Carl scrambles from the bed and bows deeply.
Laughing, I throw a maple candy at him. "Go! Sleep!"
"Good night, good night," he singsongs and turns for the door. Before he leaves, thought, he stops and looks at me over his shoulder. "What will you do about our newly minted demon?"
I pull the blanket over my legs and shrugs. "For now, I'll let her sleep. Tomorrow, I'll make sure she gets home okay and gets in touch with some of her own people. I didn't mind giving her a hand tonight, but I have no intention of adopting her as my responsibility."
"No." Carl shakes his head, a glint in his eyes. "Because when do you ever?"
The pillow I throw at him hits the closed door with a thud.
Shaking my head at his antics, I settle down in my bed and switch off the light, hoping that the tooth fairy will forgive me for spending one night with bits of maple candy stuck between my teeth. It has, after all, been the longest day and with the night already over by half, I don't want to miss another moment of sleep.
I'm so tired I fall asleep right away, though if I hoped for a good night's sleep, my hopes are dashed before the sun has yet had chance to rise completely. It is not yet fully morning when I'm rudely ripped from my dreams again.
Disoriented, I blink up at an anxious Carl shaking my shoulder.
"Wake up!" he implores me. "Miranda is gone."
The title of this chapter is taken from the song 'Wish I could fly' (written by Per Gessle, released by Roxette in 1999).
We're still in the world building phase, so I apologise if not everything makes sense right now. I hope this chapter helped in keeping the different magical beings straight and I promise that as far as 'main' magical beings go, the six types describes here are the only ones. I won't start throwing gnomes or chimeras at you in two chapters' time ;). We also won't see everyone do magic all the time. In fact, being ten chapters further ahead with writing, I've observed these particular magical beings appear to be more drawn to long conversations than to making things explode. ;)
The other Blythes are, indeed, also magical beings, or at least some of them are. As Rilla explains, her mother and her sisters are fairies, but her father and her brothers are normals humans without magical powers. Rilla herself is the odd one out for being female but being unable to wield magic as well, which is why she feels inferior - and also has a bit of a chip on her shoulder concerning magic in general and magic in her family in particular. She might claim she's okay with it, but truth to be told, she isn't, not really.
Neither Carl nor Rilla have more than rudimentary knowledge about demons, so while they can offer up some information to Miranda, Ken is objectively best equipped to share his wider knowledge with her. Rilla wasn't happy to have him come along, but by then, she'd talked to him for quite a while without him hexing or attacking her, so she grudgingly decided he likely wasn't going to. He also has a bit of a point when it comes to who gets to help Miranda - she has no better claim to the saviour role than he does. She wants to help Miranda 'just because' and, much as she dislikes it, she can't discount the fact that he might want to help for that very reason, too. Of course, what good that help will do remains to be seen...
Yes, I'm afraid the first two chapters were a tad confusing (which also means any existing confusion in your review is forgiven automatically), but I hope this chapter was nice and exposition-y and lifted some of the confusion that was present hitherto. I don't want to clobber readers over the head with lots of information right away, so I'm trying to reveal them in a sort of measured way over the course of several chapters. We did lot of world building in this chapter though and any questions still open right now will, I hope, be answered in due course =).
Yes, Carl was indeed the one who studied rats in the trenches! That's why my mind instinctively went to him turning into a rat as his shapeshifting form. I tried several other animals, but none stuck. I always ended up going back to the rat form - and since rats are small and able to sneak around places unseen, it's coming in handy for plot reasons, too. I also totally repurposed Miranda Pryor from RoI as my newly-minted demon. After all, canon describes her as having eyes "that looked as if she had been badly frightened", so who better to pick as the characters who can see brutally murdered ghosts? ;)