runaway star

. … .

Ever since the Dark Sorceress was defeated, her once-gloomy lair was turned into a sparkling garden, full of beautiful flowers and beautiful beings made up of the elements in their purest forms, the Fairimentals. The Garden serves as the Fairimental's secret base, keeping track of the evil forces trapped in the Otherworlds, as well as any dark magical activity affecting the Magic Web. The Sorceress's castle and its vast labyrinth of dungeons have been searched, and all the prisoners have been freed. All the prisoners, that is, except for one little fairy that was locked away in the Sorceress's own private chambers. Karman, an Air Fairimental, was sent in an attempt to brighten the Sorceress's inky living quarters and stumbled upon the hidden room.

The room was small and made of stone. Its entrance had been hidden away by a stone bureau full of an assortment of useless and drained magical items. The space proved an insipid living space for the fascinating creature trapped there. Karman, nearly invisible and made of shimmering air, stared and stared and stared, trying to figure out why this glittering fairy is trapped so close to the Sorceress's own bedroom. He floats closer, reaches out and brushes two fingers against the girl's cheek in a sudden burst of curiosity—despite her proximity to the Sorceress, she seemed to be in better condition than some of the other prisoners. At his touch, the fairy shifts over in her sleep, curling more tightly into herself in what seems an attempt to get away. Karman blinks, then drifts backwards. I must tell someone… he thinks, turning sharply and flying swiftly back to the ground, searching for that 'someone'—someone who wasn't air and could actually do something about this girl. He had to help her—Avalon knows how long she'd been locked in there. She could be in real danger.

. … .

Aly woke up to sunlight filling the hollows of her eyes—the darkness turning into a orangey-red light. Said light hurt her eyes, and she blinked them open, taking a moment to take account of her surroundings. She was still in the chamber she'd woken up in every morning for as long as she could remember. Granted, life had grown so completely and utterly dull that she couldn't remember very much. Aly let out an airy sigh and disentangled herself from the awkward position she had fallen asleep in. Her elbows were over her head in an almost defensive way, the metal cuff imprinting onto her cheek. Her legs, pressed against the wall with her knees digging into her collarbone, slid gingerly along the stone, stretching straight out. Aly winced as the highly unpleasant tingling sensation filled her muscles—like being bitten by fairy dragons, she thought. She rolled away from the wall onto her back and stared at the cracked stone ceiling above her, reaching her arms upward to stretch them, then froze with her arms in midair, over her head.

Something was different. It was a very something something, perhaps the most somethingest something to ever be discovered. Trying to elude that something and make it think that she didn't notice it, she sat up and bent over, stretching to reach her toes. Then she slowly turned her head to look at the scratched black wood of the dresser that she knew would be there—and gasped. It was gone. That was very odd. She frowned, standing up shakily, shuffling towards the door to look into the room that had haunted her dreams since she was very young.

She was very surprised and also kind of scared to find the room empty, devoid of furniture—except for that dratted dresser—and life. Aly's eyes jumped to the bureau, and her mouth dropped. There was nothing out of place. She crept closer to it, terrified that the Sorceress would return and find her out of the room. Her fingers ran along the smooth wood, then began to pull the drawers open. She was searching for something specific—something hers—so that she could get out of this place. Her fingers delved through the magical knickknacks, and then she felt cold metal. She struggled to retrieve the chain—it was caught in a corner against a broken unicorn horn. Biting her lip and looking determined, she pulled the drawer out of the dresser, and pulled the chain to freedom. Her eyes alighted on the star-shaped stone attacked to the bracelet: a shiny turquoise color with sparkling patterns of white-gold and silver churning through it. Grinning in triumph, the fairy gently slid the drawer back, making sure that there was nothing else out of place and clasped the chain around her left wrist.

As quickly and quietly as her feet could manage, she hurried down the stairs and into a chamber—thankfully, whoever had cleaned the Sorceress's bedchamber hadn't completely emptied the castle. Aly needed supplies—she had no idea where she was going, but she was definitely going away from here—and she knew where to find them. Then she heard voices ascending the staircase and ducked into the closest room. She stood motionless behind the doorframe, holding her breath, listening and taking assessment of the room's contents so that as soon as those voices were inaudible she could grab as much as she could and get out of this place.

"I swear, Gremmil, there was a little girl in a tiny room behind the Sorceress's dresser!" the first voice was light and airy, but it spoke with a feverish, frantic tone, like it was worried.

"I believe you, Karman," the second voice, Gremmil, said. Gremmil's voice was rough and dry, as if it needed a nice, healthy dose of water. "We just need to find the girl and make sure that she's okay."

Aly frowned, pressing against the doorframe. She peeked around the corner and saw a man that seemed to be made of twigs and leaves walking down the hallway, and the shimmering outline of a person in the air beside it. Karman and Gremmil, Aly thought, making a mental note in case she ran into those two. As they turned a corner in the corridor towards the room she'd just left, Aly ran through the room and grabbed what she could: a sword in a belted hilt went around her waist, her feet slid into pair of thick leather shoes with a dagger hidden in the sole—weapons are necessary in the wasted Shadowlands; you never know what kind of creature you would meet. She took one more look and nodded, seeing nothing else of value.

She rushed down the stairwell into another chamber. A metal table stood in the middle with a hand-drawn map of Aldenmor spread out across it—and a sparkling globe next to it. Aly blinked, grabbing both the parchment and the glowing sphere and sliding them into the bag. She wasn't sure what the globe was, but she decided it could come in handy at some point. She bit her lip, plotting a course of action. She knew there probably wasn't much food in this castle, but she needed to find some. She also knew that there was a store of food in the dungeons—another way the Sorceress would mentally torture her prisoners—and decided on a whim to see if it was still stocked. She crossed the chamber and found herself in another winding corridor. She took a left turn and followed it to another stairwell, descending it into the gloom.

Aly's disgruntled sigh echoed through the dungeon. The food was gone. Aly sighed and mentally started over, and set about making a new plan. She bit her lip in frustration, then blinked. Mirrors… she thought, and crept down the labyrinth corridor. There was a mirror connected to the system in the middle of the dungeon, she knew—she'd watched the Sorceress meticulously set it up. She wasn't sure where the mirror would leave, but she was willing to risk finding out. She quickened her pace, the soles of her shoes making soft clunking noises as she walked. As Aly's eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, she caught sight of a large, round object. Her eyes narrowed and she stepped closer, trying to examine the object in the darkness. The stone on her wrist exploded in a burst of turquoise light that nearly blinded her but also allowed her to briefly catch sight of her reflection. Aly let out a gasp at herself as the light faded—the person she'd seen couldn't possibly have been her. The other girl had Aly's pale skin and fine features—a straight nose, full lips, large green eyes and a frame of thick dark eyelashes—but her expression was hollow and her lips chapped from biting. Her elegant neck was strained, and her thin shoulders were stiff from sleeping on the floor. Her white gold hair was greasy and matted, sticking up at odd junctures in back. She shook her head, clearing that desolate sight from her mind, and dove into the mirror.

. … .

Aly was falling through darkness, trying to get her bearings. There weren't any bearings for her to get, however—she was still in-between worlds, not quite in the Shadowlands and not quite at her destination. She was so tired she felt frozen; she didn't even whimper when she landed on her back on flat surface. Then she heard a female's voice call, rather uneasily, "Oh my gracious—a child just fell from the sky!" She heard a man's voice say something so softly she couldn't understand it, and felt herself being picked up.

Her eyes opened, blinking away sunlight filtering through leaves. Then she sat up abruptly, mind spinning with the sudden vertigo. She was under a tree, a great bloody tree that was larger than the Sorceress's castle! Her eyes widened at the realization. The tree had multiple hollows and rooms cut into it—or, at least, it had many hinged doors—and—there was a man holding her, and a woman looking at her and fussing, brushing her hair away from her face and smoothing it back, asking a million questions a second. Aly didn't care to pay attention, she couldn't possibly have understood what the woman was asking even if she wanted to. Aly's eyes closed and she felt her body lean against the man's shoulder as she drifted into a deep, dreamless slumber, better than anything she'd encountered in a long while.

. … .

When Aly woke up, she was in a bed with green leaf-printed bedclothes. She was still in the torn and dirty dress she'd left the castle in, which was a good sign, but the two people she remembered rescuing her—even though she didn't really need rescuing—were nowhere in sight. She heard voices on the other side of the closed door and sat up slowly, afraid to feel the vertigo that had put her to sleep earlier. To her relief, the dizziness was gone, and she felt calm and relaxed and ready to face whatever her saviors asked of her. Turning and swinging her legs over the side of the bed, she stood up and crept towards the door, opening it a crack.

"Ulla, we need to find out who she is," the man was saying. He had a sympathetic expression on his face and a calm voice, as if he were dealing with a crying child.

"Merle, don't you dare wake her! She's had a rough day, and she fell from the sky! She doesn't need us to question her, she's quite clearly shown that." Ulla sounded hysterical and worried, as if Aly were her own daughter.

Aly fought with a lump in her throat and coughed softly—a pathetic, eh-heh sound. Both Merle and Ulla turned to her, a bright and sunny smile on his face and a sympathetic smile on hers. "You're awake!" Ulla said, face lighting up. "Did you have a nice rest? Are you hungry, or thirsty? Is there anything I can get you? All you have to do is ask, and it's yours!" she spoke quickly and brightly, it took Aly a second to catch everything she'd asked.

After deliberated silence, Aly returned their smiles politely, but not so enthused, and said, "Yes, ma'am, I slept well."

"Fantastic!" Ulla's smile brightened more, and Aly had to wonder if her face would stick like that if she didn't stop smiling soon. "Are you hungry? Thirsty?"

"No, ma'am."

"Is there anything I can get you?"

"No, ma'am."

"Are you sure?"

"Ulla—stop badgering the poor girl." Merle interjected with a rather uncomfortable sigh. "Let her breathe."

Ulla sighed, pouting like a child. "Is there anything you need?" she asked slowly.

Aly blinked. "Ah—no—I couldn't intrude on your hospitality."

"It's all a part of hospitality, child. Would you like me to draw you a bath?"

She's almost too kind, Aly thought. "I—I… I'd like to take a bath, ma'am, but, you see, I think I can manage," she said aloud with a smile.

Ulla's expression softened, "Come along. I'll just show you where everything is, and we'll talk after you get dressed."

Aly blinked, realization hitting her. "I don't have clean clothes!" she all but wailed, hand flying to her forehead with a resounding thwack.

"No worries. There's a wardrobe in the bathroom," The older woman's eyes glowed. "Just ask for whatever you want."

Aly, unsure how a wardrobe is the answer to clean clothes, smiled and nodded. "Thank you, Ulla," she said softly, turning towards the bathtub and turning on the tap as the older fairy left her to her thoughts. When the tub was full, Aly slipped out of her rags and into the water, humming to herself. She stretched out and submerged herself, running her fingers through her hair, trying to untangle it. she sat up, reaching for shampoo. She poured the thick crème onto her fingers, inhaling the flowery scent before lathering it through her hair and sinking under the water again, scrubbing the suds out. Surfacing again, Aly reached out for the soap, scrubbing the nut-scented bubbles into her skin and then scrubbing it off.

Aly stood up and grabbed a towel, drying off quickly, trying not to shiver under the now-chilly air. She blinked, stepping into the wardrobe.. How does this work? She gazes at the wicker wonderingly. "Uh… I want a new dress," she said, kind of self-conscious. "I want it to go down to my knees, and it has to be blue, with spaghetti straps. And a new belt for my sword." She bit her lip, and then a saw the dress hanging in the wardrobe. I love magic, she thought, taking it down and slipping into it, grinning. It was a sky-blue color with thin straps, falling just above her knees. She clapped happily, spinning in a circle before strapping the white leather belt to her hips and turning to the mirror hanging on the wall to comb through her hair. The white-gold tresses fell down to her waist and immediately curled at the ends as it dried. She smiled, and walked out of the bathroom to meet the questions Merle and Ulla had to ask her.

"Did you have a nice bath?" Ulla asked sweetly, all traces of hysteria gone from her expression completely.

"Yes, ma'am," Aly nodded, still smiling. "I feel much better."

"That's good," Ulla said, taking Aly's hand and leading her to a sitting room with a rocking chair and a couch—Merle was already sitting on aforesaid couch, so Aly quickly plopped down in the rocking chair. She sat in hesitant silence, unsure what to say.

"What's your name, dear?" Merle asked, turning to look at her.

Aly bit her lip, uncertain if she should tell these two kind people her name.

"Or, rather, what do you call yourself?" Ulla offered softly, smiling reassuringly.

Aly sighed, and answered softly and timidly, "I call myself Aly," she said.

Ulla nodded. "Where did you come, Aly?"

"I come from the Sh-Shadowlands of Ah-Aldenmor."

Merle sighed, "That's no place for a child like you."

"That's not where I was born though—I'm from the Fairy Realm." Aly's voice raises a few notes, frantic now. "My mother took me to the Shadowlands when she got exiled—"

"Wait a minute, Aly. You mother took you to the Shadowlands?" Merle's expression darkened.

"Yes."

"And she was… exiled from the Fairy Realms?"

Aly was silent for a long while before she answered with a shaky, "Yes," while she bit her lip hard, not even able to wince. She was so worried about what Merle was about to say.

"That's...ah," the older man sighed, brows quirking together, "surprising," he said at last.

"You know, it is." Aly agreed, nodding quickly. Her eyes were wide, but she was starting to relax. "It really is."

Ulla coughed, breaking the awkward silence that resulted. "Where were you planning to go?"

Aly blinked, not completely understanding the fairy's question. "I'm not sure."

"You fell from the sky, and you don't know why—"

"No. I don't know where. I just had to get away."

"From what?"

Aly swallowed a lump in her throat, now very frightened of the way this interrogation was turning. The silence was building up with static and she felt like she was about to cry—she didn't need to remember her past now; that was behind her.

Finally, she whispered, "The Sorceress."

Aly could read Ulla like a book; the older fairy was obviously thinking: How did this girl meet the Sorceress? Aly gulped, then stood up abruptly. "Wh-where's my stuff?"

"Your what? Oh—I left them by the door." Ulla's smile shifted from sympathetic to forced, and Aly flinched—she didn't have the right features to force a smile.

"Great! Um, thank you very much for helping me. I'll just—um—be on my way." Aly's words were hurried as she rushed towards the door, slipping her feet into her shoes and the sword into the hilt of her new belt, throwing the bag over her shoulder.

"Wait, Aly, where are you going?" Merle's voice was thick with worry.

Aly turned back, eyes wide and curious. "I don't know. I'll go wherever." She forced a cheery smile and walked out the door.

Her eyes widened as she realized she was in the gargantuan tree she'd seen earlier—right before she passed out. She bit her lip before inspecting the metal cuff on her wrist. That definitely needed to come off as soon as she got out of this tree… it was only a question of how. She could fly, but she was terrible at landing. That seemed to be her only choice at the moment, so she took a running jump from the tree—a shaky, subconscious memory named it Okawa—and let her silver gossamer wings catch lift and float her away from the great tree's branches. As she angled her shoulders for descent, she felt herself losing altitude and gaining speed, which probably wasn't a good sign. Whimpering softly, she closed her eyes tightly against the ever closer ground. She opened her eyes when her feet grazed the grassy field—only to trip the toe of her shoe over a rock. This sent her tumbling in a motion caught between a somersault and a cartwheel, sprawling out on her stomach with her bag flying off her shoulder, its contents scattered in front of her.

"Nnh…" Aly grumbled, gathering herself up gingerly and making sure she hadn't hurt herself badly, and as it happened she'd been rather fortunate with her bad landing: she had scrapes and a few deep cuts on her arms, her elbows and knees were bruised and her back hurt when she moved, but nothing was broken and she was still alive—and better yet, the thick cuff on her right wrist had a long, thin crack in it that almost traveled its entire length. This got her thinking again… I need to get this blasted thing off!

Aly stared at the cuff, eyes narrowing in concentration. C'mon, break already, she commanded, focusing her magic on the metal and willing it with all her strength to break. The star stone on her other wrist crackled with energy until a bolt of aqua light shot from it to the cuff, lengthening and deepening the crack so that it came off and crumbled in the grass. "Yes!" Aly grinned, rubbing her free wrist. She was free now, completely unencumbered by her memories of her mother, the Sorceress, and her adventures with the aforementioned witch in the Shadowlands of Aldenmor. She closed her eyes and let her skin ripple over itself, the cuts and bruises disappearing to be replaced with new skin, until she looked like she hadn't fallen at all. Goodness, I'm a little out of practice with that, she thought. Her father had been a Skultum, able to change his appearance at will, and she was very glad to have inherited that. Her power of shapeshifting had allowed her to escape many dire situation—that is, until her mother locked it away by putting the enchanted metal cuff on her, making it so that she couldn't change unless it was off. Aly shook her head, standing up shakily and brushing her fingers through her hair so that, again, her fall was less noticeable.

Her eyes drifted around the now-quiet Fairy Glen before she quickly rose to her knees and the image was about to put the map of Aldenmor and the sparkly globe back into her bag when she noticed a blinking dot on the sphere. Puzzled, she picked it up and examined it closely, touching the blinking dot with her index finger—and to her surprise, the other dots drew further away as zoomed in, focusing on the one blinking star (at least, she thought it was a star). She could see a thin silver line connecting it to another pulsing dot. She bit her lip, trying to figure that out as she slid the bag over her shoulder and stood up, walking forward. She stared at the globe as she walked, trying to see if it would shift positions the way a compass would. Even though she found it didn't move, she kept walking until she felt herself fall. It was almost like falling between mirrors, but it was different. Instead of falling straight down between planes, she was shooting through something of a tunnel, shifting through space and time at a rapid speed and emerging in an unknown place, winded with her hair plastered back. Looking around curiously, she found she did not know where she was. She looked at the globe to get her bearings, and found it confusing beyond recognition when there were no other blinking dots.

Instead of being utterly dismayed by no signs of civilization, she thought wonderingly, I want to be able to travel like that. Expression shifting from confusion to wonder to determination in all of three seconds, she stared at the dry dirt before her and closed her eyes, imagining the ground opening in an invisible hole leading to… Aly blinked, breaking her concentration. Where did she want to go? Civilization, she reminded herself. Sighing, she started over again, this time imagining herself walking through the portal and landing in grass behind a dull grey building, composed of dull grey square stones. It was a pretty logical thing to imagine—there were grey buildings in the Fairy Realms, she remembered, and the Sorceress's castle was a large grey building, although darker and more sinisterly shaped. She kept going over the process in her mind, until she thought she saw the ground change; she thought she saw something change, like a rift between two worlds. Like a portal. Aly's eyes were drawn to her speckled globe, and she was pleased to see a new pulsing dot where there was once empty space. She stepped forward, telling herself there was no reason to be scared because she already knew, in a sense, where the portal would lead. She let herself fall, and emerged in a grassy grove surrounded by trees, with no grey building in sight.

"Blast it!" she cried out, glaring at the hostile grey sky above her (so different from the cheery blues of the Glen, but slightly less dangerous than the dark, greenish clouds of the Shadowlands—what kind of world was this?) before noticing a dirt path winding through the trees. Curiosity again getting the better of her, she followed it until the forest was less dense, then nearly jumped out of her skin when she saw a thicker, black path lined with neat green grass. It didn't look wild, the way it had in the grove, instead it looked almost… well, obviously tamed. But how had it been managed? She stepped daintily onto the black path, wary that it might be some sort of sticky trap, or stagnant poison river—but to her surprise, it was flat and solid. Gaining confidence, she walked along it, then looked curiously at bushes that seemed to grow square as the plants began to dot its flanks. Aly was so lost in her thoughts that when she began to hear voices coming from the other side of the bushes, she cried out in shock and dove into the nearest bush, gazing through branches and leaves at the owners of the voices.

She was too far away to hear exactly what was being said, but she could observe the creatures that inhabited this place. To her growing surprise, she found these creatures to look a lot like fairies—only they didn't have wings, and their ears were rounded and had stones set in them. How do they get the stones to stay? Aly thought, blinking, then picked up two rocks that lay next to her and held them to her ears, almost expecting them to stay there by magic. When they fell back to the ground, she bit her lip in dismay. How did the stones work? Quickly, she let her wings melt into her skin (she didn't want to draw attention to herself in an alien place—it wouldn't do well.) and she crawled back out of the bush, making sure to take any stray twigs and leaves out of her hair. For good measure, she also slipped her sword-belt into her bag also, heaving it back over her shoulder.

"Excuse me!" she called, waving to attract the two girls' attention. "Can you tell me how you get stones to stay in your ears?"

The one of the girls giggled, covering her mouth so that it wasn't too noticeable.

"Nikki, shut up!" the other girl said, rolling her eyes. "It's simple—you get them pierced, and by the earrings."

Earrings? Aly blinked, confused, but didn't show it. "Oh! Wait—what do you mean by pierced?"

The girl who giggled, Nikki, said, "You need to get a hole in your ear so the earring will stay." Her tone reminded Aly of an impatient mother, scolding her child.

Aly's eyes widened. "A h-hole? Is that necessary?"

Nikki nodded, the epitome of seriousness, and the second girl rolled her eyes again, "No it's not—but clip-on earrings are hard to find."

"Oh." Aly forced a smile and said a hasty and cheery, "Thank you very much," before turning to shuffle off.

"Hey, wait!" a hand reached out and touched Aly's shoulder, and she stiffened before turning around. The second girl, the nice one, said, "Did you just move here?"

Aly bit her lip, "You could say that."

"Cool! Where are you staying?"

"I… um. I don't know."

The other girl frowned, "…You don't know?"

"I just got here, and I'm trying to find a place to stay," Aly smiled hesitantly.

"There's a motel in town," the girl said, seemingly sympathetic about Aly's runaway status. "It's not very expensive, and my brother owns it. How much money do you have?"

"Money?" Aly was more confused about this 'money' than she had been about 'earrings'.

"Yeah. You have to pay for your room nightly."

You have to pay to live in a room? This place is so confusing! Aly's mind spun with the concept. "I don't have any money," she said worriedly, "and I'm afraid I don't have a way to get any." This was mostly because she didn't know what money was or how it was acquired, but she knew that she probably had to find out.

"Oh! Um…" the girl's eyes closed as she thought. "I guess that doesn't matter. Just tell the clerk that Morgan told you to stay there."

"Your name is Morgan?" Aly said, smiling. She trusted this creature more already, even though she didn't know anything about her other than that she had her ears pierced.

"Yeah, Morgan Bright." Morgan returned her smile, "Just keep walking up this road, and if you get lost you can ask anyone how to get to the Bright Motel." Her smile turned into a grin. "And when you get in, tell the clerk to tell the manager that Morgan sent you—and if they don't believe you, they can call me."

"How will you know if they're talking about me?" Aly asked, simply because it was in her nature to find loopholes in plans and find ways to fill them in.

"Well… what's your name?"

"Aly."

"Aly what?"

"It's j-just Aly."

"You don't have a last name?" Morgan blinked.

"I don't know it."

Nikki interrupted, "What are you running away from?" she sneered, every possible implication in her voice.

Aly's expression remained quizzical, "Nothing is chasing me."

"Are you sure?" Nikki asked, eyes narrowing in a predatory way as her mouth curled into a wicked grin that seemed too familiar to Aly for her taste.

"I'm positively certain." Aly said, staring into the girl's eyes.

"You need a last name to get a room…" Morgan said softly, lost in her thoughts. "And an I.D.—you have to be eighteen to rent a room."

"I can pass for eighteen," Aly smiled.

"No you can't!" Nikki frowned in distaste. "You look like you're ten!"

"I'm almost fourteen." Aly retorted, rolling her eyes.

"I can probably find a fake I.D. for you," Morgan said, shooting a glare at Nikki—her friend could be a real pain in the neck if she didn't like someone. "But you'd have to make yourself look like the picture—hair dye and make-up and stuff. You can come in and borrow my make-up." Her eixpression softened. She didn't know why she was being so nice to this little girl but something about her was different. Aly seemed innocent and vulnerable, but at the same time she looked like she could easily fend for herself.

Nikki glowered at Morgan and Aly, then rolled her eyes. "I'm not gonna help with anything illegal. Later, Morgue," she said.

"See ya, Nikki…" Morgan sighed.

"I-I can just leave if you want her to stay" Aly said frantically, hands flying into the air.

"It's no big deal; she's just in a bad mood." Morgan sighed sympathetically. "She doesn't like meeting new people very much."

"Oh…" Aly brushed her hair away from her face. "Y-you don't have to help me if you're putting yourself in danger." She didn't know what the word 'illegal' meant, but she didn't much like the sound of it.

"It's no danger at all," she smiled. "My brother used to do it and he inadvertently showed me how. It's really no big deal."

Aly swallowed a lump quickly forming in her throat. "Oh-okay."

Morgan nodded, then gestured towards the house behind her, "C'mon in." Aly, thankful she'd met someone so hospitable, followed her inside.

. … .

One fake I.D. and a major makeover later, Aly stood in front of Morgan's closet. "Your dress is too much like something a little kid would wear," the girl was saying, "and you're supposed to be twenty, so you need something a little more… professional. But you might have trouble finding something that's professional and fits you." Morgan eyed Aly's thin body and tiny waist with an amiable sort of jealousy. "You're almost too tiny to be twenty," she said, before dragging Aly into her closer, laughing.

Aly's eyes widened when she saw just how big the closet was. "There's nothing in here but clothes?"

"And shoes, too." Morgan grinned. "That's what closets are for."

"Oh!" Aly couldn't help but giggle while Morgan looked at each outfit appraisingly, coming out with a deep purple halter top and a pair of black jeans. "You should try this on while I look for shoes," she said. "I got those jeans a month before a growth spurt, so they're kind of old. I still think they'd fit you, though. And you have good shoulders for a halter top." She winked and turned back into the closet while Aly slipped back into the bedroom to change.

When Aly opened the door of the closet again, she really did look more like the woman in her I.D.'s picture (thanks too a little secretive shapeshifting). Morgan stifled a gasp and held out a pair of silver stiletto-heeled shoes. "Put those on. They should look good with those skinny jeans." She grinned.

Aly slipped the shoes on and stood up shakily. She wasn't used to wearing shoes, and these shoes were really hard to walk in. Muttering, she stumbled back into the closet. "Do I look okay?" she asked.

"You look amazing, Aly." Morgan laughed.

"So—am I ready to go?" she said, clapping happily at her newfound friend's approval.

"Not yet!" Morgan said, grinning like a little kid and handing her the fake I.D., before reaching down to pick up a suitcase. "You know, I don't wear half the stuff in my closet."

Aly looked surprised and confused. "…You don't?"

"Nope, not even close."

"That's weird."

"Yeah, well, now they have a good use!"

"I don't understand. How are they useful if you don't wear them?"

"Well, Aly, you need more clothes. You'll look suspicious if you book a week's stay at the motel without a suitcase." She gestured towards the left side of the closet. "You can take whatever you like!"

"Buh-but… but I-I can't!"

"Of course you can!"

"No, really, I can't! I don't know how anything will fit on me!"

"Well…" Morgan paused. "You can take as long as you like, and take whatever I have that will actually fit you right." She smiled, taking Aly by the arm and leading her into the closet. "Just put whatever you like into the suitcase."

"When should I give them back—?"

"Don't worry about that. My mom's been bugging me for days about cleaning out my closet. I'll just tell her I went through and gave lots of stuff to Goodwill."

"Who's Goodwill?" Aly tilted her head to the side, confused again.

"It's a store that helps homeless people."

"Like me?"

"Oh, Aly, you're not exactly homeless."

"I'm not?"

"No. You can come over whenever you need to." Morgan grinned, then shut the door of the closet, leaving Aly to look at her clothes.

. … .

By the time Aly had convinced herself she wasn't stealing from her new friend, gone through the clothes, fit it all into the suitcase, and gotten to the Bright Motel, it was very late. The lighted clock sitting at the counter proclaimed a message of 11:28, but Aly wasn't quite sure what that meant. She stood against the counter, not sure what to do—then she remembered what Morgan had said:

"Just tell the clerk that Morgan sent you."

Still wondering how that could help, she called out, "Clerk?"

A fat little man wearing a red shirt and blue pants came out of a door in the wall—a shiny white rectangle on his shirt said 'Clark'—but Aly wasn't sure if that was the name of the job or the man.

"Are you Clerk?" she asked, tilting her head to the side and blinking.

"Yeah, I'm Clark," Clark said. "How can I help you?"

"M-Morgan told me I could get a room here."

"Morgan Bright?"

"Yes, Clerk."

Clark's eyes narrowed. "How do I know you're not lyin'?"

"She said you could ask her."

He sighed. "Fine, I'll book ya. But I need some I.D."

Aly took out the wallet she'd gotten from Morgan ("Go ahead, take it—I never use it.") and pulled out her new I.D., sliding it across the counter towards the clerk.

"You Alyssa Mason?"

"Yes."

"How long are you stayin'?"

"A week."

Clark typed her information into the computer, then handed her a room key, "You're in room twelve. The key won't work as soon as your time's up, so don't go thinkin' you'll get more 'an a week. Got it, Miss Mason?"

"Yes. Thank you, Clerk." Aly took her I.D. and the key and smiled hesitantly, taking her suitcase down the hallway to room 12. She slid the thin plastic rectangle into the thin-plastic-rectangle-shaped slot, and jumped back when it made a loud beeping sound and clicked open. She took the key out and put that in her wallet along with her I.D., and walked inside. The room was dark, and ran into the corner of something and hit the wall. Something clicked, and the room flickered with a warm, yellowish light.

Aly looked around, saw that she'd stumbled across the bed, and laughed somewhat hysterically, because she'd thought it had been some sort of monster. She dropped her suitcase on the floor and peeled back the blankets on the bed—the peeling was necessary; the blankets were stuck together and folded underneath the mattress. It took a lot of energy to get the blankets free, and the already tired fairy was exhausted by the time she actually got into the bed. She fell asleep seconds after her head was on the pillow.

. … .

"Housekeeping!" someone said in a muffled voice, knocking on the door. Aly sat up abruptly, blinking the light away—had she turned it off last night? No. She didn't know how. She rolled out of the bed and walked towards the door, opening it quickly just as she heard the same schnik she'd heard yesterday when she'd put her own key into the door's mouth.

She was pleasantly surprised to see Morgan standing in the doorway. "Aly!" she flung her arms around the girl, laughing. "How was your night?"

Aly blnked, not quite used to this kind of affection, then a little belatedly slipped her arms around the girl's waist. "It was comfortable," she said with a smile.

"That's wonderful!" Morgan smiled. She looked at Aly and laughed, "You didn't change out of you clothes!"

"Of course not! I almost fell asleep in the hallway."

Morgan laughed. "You should take a shower. I'll treat you to lunch—and we can go to the school and get you signed up, Mrs. Mason." She emphasized Aly's fake name with such seriousness that they both burst into laughter.

That is, until Aly realized that she didn't know what school was. "Wait—Morgan, I've never been to school."

"Oh, you were homeschooled?"

Aly considered this. "You could say that," she said, smiling. She could say that. It just wouldn't be right.

"Well, at least you're a freshman this year." She laughed.

"A what?"

"You're in ninth grade, right?"

Without even thinking, Aly said, "Yeah."

"So you're a freshman."

"Oh! Okay!" Aly smiled nervously.

"You should get ready for the day, and I'll be waiting in the lobby."

"The what?"

"Where you got your room." Morgan smiled, standing up and walking towards the door. "See you when you're ready!"

"See you!" Aly smiled, and as soon as the door closed after Morgan, flopped back onto her bed, wondering just what school was. Then she got up, brushed her hair, and opened her suitcase, looking at its contents. She would have to be 'adult again today—so she settled for a white ruffled shirt with orange floral prink, a pink v-necked shirt, and the stilettos she'd worn yesterday. She looked at the clothes in her suitcase, and took a pulled a white ribbon from a wraparound shirt and pulled her hair up in a loose ponytail before grabbing the wallet from the bedside table. She then walked out the door to the lobby, where Morgan was waiting dutifully.

"Oh my gosh! Aly!" Morgan grinned. "What do you want to eat?"

"Um—ah—I'm not hungry."

"Okay! So you just wanna get to the school?"

"Sure."

"Awesome. We can walk there if you like, and you can get to know the town—but we have to stop by my house on the way there and put some make-up on you."

"Do I need make-up?"

"Well—you look a little older than you would without it, but that's only because you didn't wash the old stuff off."

"Oh—right." Aly walked beside Morgan, looking at the houses as they passed, amazed at the variety of the buildings, until she noticed one in particular that was relatively familiar—Morgan's house. Only something wasn't so familiar—there were a ton of cardboard boxes that hadn't been there the night before.

"C'mon in!" Morgan said, smiling and opening the door for her and leading her into the bathroom. "I'll do your makeup for you."

Aly smiled and sat on the toilet, wincing slightly at the cold porcelain's touch against her bare legs as Morgan reached for her make-up kit, rustling through it and coming up with black eyeliner, grey and pink eye shadow, blush and pink lip-gloss.

"Morgan, are you a 'freshman?'" Aly asked, closing her eyes so that the eyeliner could be applied, all the while praying her eyes wouldn't be gouged out.

"Nope," Morgan said with an audible grin as she gently put a line of black liner on her upper lid.

"Then what are you?" Aly asked, then whined in protest as she felt something wet on her eyelids after the liner.

"I'm the housekeeper at the Bright Hotel," she said, dipping her makeup brush in water before carefully applying the grey eye shadow, because Aly had begun to squirm uncomfortably.

"But aren't you in school?"

"I graduated early." She was putting the pale pink on over the grey, then stepped back and smiled at her handiwork. "Okay, your eyes are good."

"How old are you?" Aly asked, opening her eyes and blinking.

"I'm turning seventeen in a couple months." She flipped open the blush and twirled the brush through the powder, dusting it on Aly's cheeks. "But I'm afraid I'm moving soon."

"Moving?"

"Yeah, to New Hampshire. I'm going to college there," she said, putting the lip-gloss on Aly's lips.

"Mmph?" Her eyes widened.

"I've lived here all my life, and I just need something new." She sighed, putting all the make-up back in her bag. "You're good, girl."

"How soon are you moving?"

"Next week."

They stared at each other in a slightly-awkward silence, until Aly broke the silence:

"Hey, Morgan?"

"Yeah?"

"Thanks."

Morgan smiled. "Don't mention it. Good luck with school."

"You too." Aly stood up and nearly fell over. "Good luck with everything."

Aly nodded, walking to the door with Morgan before walking down the road to Main Street, then going along that until she reached the school. She gasped when she saw the building—large, rectangular, and made of grey brick; it was the building she'd wanted the portal to end up at. She let out a squeal before walking briskly up the steps towards the school, opening the door and looking for the door to the office. Upon finding it, she walked in and waited for assistance, clutching her wallet nervously.

"Can I help you?" A matronly old woman smiled at her from behind the counter.

"Good morning!" Aly said cheerily. "I'm Alyssa Mason, and I'm here to enroll my daughter at your school."

"Fantastic! I just need you to fill out this form." She passed a salmon pink piece of paper to her.

Aly picked up a pen form a cup on the counter and began filling it out.

"And I'll need to see your I.D."

Aly smiled and set her wallet on the counter, gingerly taking her I.D. out of its slot and giving it to the secretary before continuing with her form.

"Lucky for you, the Stonehill Board of Education just passed a bill that stopped registration fees." The older woman said, smiling. "School starts at eight, and ends at three twenty. I hope your daughter enjoys it here."

"Thank you very much. I'm sure she will." Aly smiled, taking her I.D. back and passing the form back to the lady. "It was nice meeting you."

"It was nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Masons."

"It's 'Miss,' actually." Aly smiled.

"But you have a child…?"

"I'm twenty-one, ma'am, and my daughter is almost fourteen; I adopted her in Glendale."

"Glendale…?"

"It's in California, north of L.A." Her smiled brightened. "Have a good day, ma'am," she said as she took her leave.

Tomorrow is going to be very interesting, Aly thought, biting her lip as she left the school. I'll have to try to be normal… and remember the story Morgan made up for me. She walked back to her hotel room, lost in her thoughts, and sat on her bed, wiping the make-up off her face and looking around. She needed to get to know the customs of this planet. Aly stood up again and looked at the black box on the dresser, curious. She poked at the large red button on the side, and jumped back against the bed as it made a large ZAP! and commenced to buzz to life. Her eyes widened as a voice came from the box:

"Introducing new Powertronic electric juicer! This product—" the voice shut off as Aly pushed the button again. She sighed, not quite sure what to do—but she most definitely would know by tomorrow. She had to fit in here. Morgan had told her about things like 'music' and 'television'—she remembered the names of things called 'bands' and 'shows'. She was pretty certain that she'd be able to recount things like songs and 'episodes,' and she knew she be able to fit in here. She promised herself she wouldn't let her past get the better of her—she would pretty much become as close to human as a fairy could.