It’s me again. No, really, I’m still out there in the world. Still writing…sometimes…mostly just trying to finish my training, put a life together, leave the country. You know, the usual things.
I can’t promise perfection, consistency, or completion at this point, but I can promise one thing: I won’t stop coming back, so long as I’m physically able. Without further adieu, the far-too-long awaited Fae and Folly Part 13.
The summit was everything I expected – awkwardly-placed nametags that never stick, insufferably long conversations with charming people who were much better at politicking than I would ever be, and mediocre food. You’d think that at a summit where the attendance could be expected to be at least 25% Fae there would be a couple decent vegan dishes, but we were of course relegated to the salad bar, per protocol. I was still hungry when I lined up in the heavily windowed “pre-assembly” area. I saw some mention that the San Gabriel ballroom (irony, the Fae meeting in a room named for an archangel of protection) could hold up to 1,500 people, and it seemed to me that we might hit that capacity. I hovered in the air just a couple dozen people away from the door. The crowd growing behind me was a sight to see.
This next session was supposed to be a town hall-style discussion with Neo at the helm, as the bridger of “honor” and representative of the Austin area. It was something of a keynote, with the sessions earlier in the day representing a prelude to the major discussion that was supposed to happen after lunch. How this many people were supposed to have a discussion was beyond me. This was the largest such meeting I’d ever attended, to be sure. I hadn’t seen Caleb since we split up for our respective sessions at breakfast.
“Look who it is!” I startled when Jess, our cab driver, appeared in line beside me looking all the more professional in a button-up top and tie. His smile was boyish, remnant of the moment where I flashed some magic at him.
My smile muscles screamed when I gave him my best pleasant-face in return, which at this point at least was genuine. “Jessie! Good to see you. You’re here for the townhall?”
“I am! I figure no one will be coming by my booth with the crowd like it is anyway. This moderator, Neo, is he someone you know? He’s a bridger too, yeah?”
“Just from last night, but he’s a friend of a-” I paused, not knowing, then decided it would be too complicated to use any other word, “friend. Caleb’s good friend, actually.”
“I was reading a little about him being the bridger from Austin’s glade. Isn’t that weird? I know my state senator and house rep and all that – you know, in business it’s good to know those things – but I didn’t know who my bridger was until just today…” he trailed off, and his cheeks flushed just this side of strawberry. “I think that’s on me. I should take responsibility for the fact I didn’t know. I should do something about that.”
“That’s all we can do, yeah?” I didn’t feel the need to go out of my way to reassure him, and I understood all too well. The Fae were hardly considered their own government and the concept of a human knowing the name of the bridger for their area was new. Jessie wanted to make change and I could hardly penalize him for it. “If you ask me the Fae should have shown themselves to humans way before The Reveal. Most of my people still think dealing with the mundane world is futile, that we should stay in our glades.”
“Mundane?” he grinned, “is that what you call us?”
“All of this,” I looked around the room for emphasis, “buildings, cars, streets…watches. Fae don’t have much time for, well, time. Trying to get someone in a glade to meet you at a place and time just can’t be done. I only started to understand your clocks a few years ago when I started getting into activism. It’s all so…different…than the world I grew up in. Not wrong. Just different.”
As I gestured about the room I took notice of the scene outside the window, beyond the pleasant trees and unbearable sun, where a crowd of protesters gathered to mirror the crowd collecting in our meeting space. The landscaping around the conference center created a sizable barrier between us, enough space to muffle whatever nonsense they chanted. I could make out picket signs with phrases like,
HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST
FAE LIVES MATTER
CLIMATE CHANGE = FALSE IDOL
Jessie started to say something I didn’t catch when an expertly-launched apple thrown by one of the protesters hit a nearby window. Apple bits splattered against the glass, and in my head I mourned the sacrifice of the innocent tree who provided the projectile. Jessie reached out a hand almost as if to protect me, but hesitated. Several other summit participants took notice of the world outside, prompting the human workers in the room moving into action to corral people towards the open ballroom doors. The protesters howled in disapproval. Fortunately for us, there were no windows in the cavernous ballroom.
“I guess you don’t see this as much in the Northwest, yeah?” Jessie asked as we patiently filed in, leaving behind the cacophony of angry humans. Their proximity and hatred gave me a chill. We’d walked past them this morning when they were much calmer. It seemed the heat of the day had only added to their rage.
“Not so much,” I replied. “Whatever ire there is seems much…quieter. There have been a few riots in downtown, but on the day to day we rarely see much action.”
“I like to think it’s getting better even here. This isn’t exactly normal for us, either.” I knew he meant well with what he said, but at the same time, there weren’t enough Fae walking around downtown Austin to test the limits of these humans. It was easy to assume there was no problem if the targeted beings were out of sight, out of mind.
I sighed, setting my books on a chair to prop myself up at an oblong table littered with water pitchers just two rows back. The table had so much surface area that I had to look downright comical sitting at it, the water just far enough away that I would have to practically climb over the top to reach. It made me grateful for the booklets I’d collected so far, since they gave me a good 2-3 inches of rise so I could at least be properly seen. Jessie took a seat next to mine and graciously poured me a glass without making note of the issue.
Neo sat on a conspicuously tall stool at the front of the room, looking disinterested as he no doubt recounted the talking points in his head. He brightened when I caught his eye, winking and flourishing his wings in my direction. I knew I always appreciated seeing a known face in a crowd, even if I met them one day prior.
It was getting close to time for the townhall start. Fae and humans filled the seats, and I realized that all around me were government officials, activitists, bridgers, and staffers to support them all. I spied a couple of people from the press, too, and wondered how much pressure Neo felt with so many respected eyes on him after just a few months as a bridger. Caleb appeared, as if by magick, in a seat close to Jessie and I just one row ahead. He glanced over his shoulder to acknowledge me. He managed a cool, neutral exterior that brightened just slightly – yet still appropriately – as he greeted the people adjacent to him.
Neo cleared his throat, audible through the microphone he’d affixed to his collar. Attention snapped back up to the front of the room. Neo stood, smoothing out the creases in his neatly-tailored forest green suit. He took the center of the stage, flanked by four humans government representatives on one side, and four Fae I’d seen walking the conference on the other. I assumed they were other bridgers from the south; we were supposed to have a meeting just for the bridgers this afternoon.
“I’d like to offer a belated welcome to the summit,” he had started talking a couple minutes before the technical start time, though with a clear intention of creating a distraction from the disruptions in the pre-assembly area. People continued to pour into the room as he spoke. I counted myself lucky to have a chair to sit in, even if it was an oversized one at that. Some people slid down to sit against the walls at the periphery.
Heartening, on the one hand, to have so many people present to talk about the most important issue facing the survival of not just the Fae, but the humans as well. Still, this many people in one place made me…uneasy.
“This summit is a landmark of cooperation between the Fae and human governmental bodies, and represents the commitment to change – on both sides,” he took a breath and looked at me – directly at me. “For some this change has been a long time coming and sadly we have farther to go than any of us could have imagined. The time for action is not now, but yesterday, and we can spare not a second more if we are to move forward on this planet as friends. Holding this summit now, in this place, is no coincidence – we have taken the fight to the region of greatest opposition, and it is here we must make our most impassioned statement: the assault of the earth can go on no longer.”
Caleb’s sharp head-turn in my direction caught my attention before anything else, the look in his black eyes something I couldn’t understand at the moment. “What-?” I started to speak, then froze.
A hum started at my feet, growing to a rumble I felt deep in my chest. Warmth – not heat, but life-giving, encompassing warmth spread across my skin. My heart beat faster and my wings spasmed in response, lifting me out of my chair. My eyes closed as if by reflex, my lungs filling with pure forest energy. My entire being seemed melded with the world around me, and in that moment I felt no pain, no worry. The world opened up to surround me with connection – to the earth, flora, fauna, and the elements themselves, like I had only experienced when I stepped into…
…into a glade.
No. I shook myself free of my comfortable ecstacy and collapsed to the table with a clatter, having apparently floated several feet higher than I thought. I scrambled to my knees, suddenly aware of the shimmer that trailed in my vision. The room was all green-and-gold sparkles, Fae floating high above the tables, caught up in the magick emanating from at least two dozen Fae in a ring, holding hands in flight where a chandelier might have hung. They spun as one, shrouded in light, Neo at their center with his arms to the sky.
The humans looked as their cinema portrayed ghosts, half-faded to nothing, their faces etched in a state of permanent shock and wonder. They witnessed magick in all its wonderful, terrifying glory.
“Amelie!” Caleb shouted at me, and at once I realized how loud it was in here, the sound of wind, thunder, and the roll of the sea all meshed into one. The pull to follow that sound into near-earth pained my very soul, yet something told me not to go. I turned to Caleb’s voice. “Help me!”
He crouched on the floor, one hand pressing Jessie’s chest into the ground, as if forcing Jessie back into his body. Jessie appeared half-passed out, his body flickering probably between dimensions, for all I knew. I swallowed, diving down beside them and placing my hand on top of Caleb’s. “What’s going on?” I was breathless with shock. “What do I do?”
Caleb shook his head. It seemed to me that he must have known something about this, but from the look on his face whatever he expected wasn’t quite this. “We have to keep him here in this reality before he slides to near earth, or…somewhere else.” Where else is there?
“How?” My eyes tensed with threatened tears. This wasn’t what magick was for…and how was this supposed to help, anyway? “How do we keep him here?”
“If you don’t slide, he won’t slide,” Caleb paused, “I hope.”
So he, too, was lost in this chaos. I swallowed, concentrating on keeping us all here, away from the seduction of the glade and the noise that surrounded us. If we could just keep Jessie here in the mundane world, maybe nothing bad would happen to him…
What I couldn’t answer, but wish I had known, was what would happen to everyone else.