The Present

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The Present

Postby Miki Yamuri » Thu Jan 07, 2021 2:32 pm

The Present

By: Miki Yamuri and Realliljennie

character list:

Citrina - Living Babydoll

Duke Armillaria

His older daughter Collybia, over 2000 years old

His younger daughter Amanita, celebrating her 2000th birthday
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Stories had been handed down for as long as human memory. Of course most of the tales were thought to be fantasy and legend, not something real and tangible. I had been warned not to bother those strange cleared rings surrounded by glow in the dark mushrooms, but this is the 21st century … that’s just vague superstitions … right? And those stories were all from the Old World anyway. Nobody even told them about forests in North America. Did they?

It had been a very nice day. The cookout proceeded wonderfully and all were having a great time. I decided to take a walk into the forest. I knew my way fairly well, so there was little chance of getting lost. Besides, just follow the sound of running water and it would lead you to a stream, or just keep going in the same direction and you’d come to a road. They asked whether I should be going alone, but no one wanted to come along and I was in pretty good shape and a frequent hiker.

The thing was … wasn’t the light getting dim earlier than it should? I looked at my phone. Usually it showed the time down to the second. But the seconds weren’t changing. Great, my phone crashed. I tried to reboot it, but neither its screen nor its buttons would do anything. I’d have to take the battery out or something, I thought, but then … It was quiet. Very quiet. No sound of running streams, no birds in the trees, no distant highway traffic. So … had time stopped? No, that was ridiculous. That doesn’t happen.

Where was I? It was a small glade in the forest. A rock outcropping to the south probably cast shadows that discouraged young trees from growing here. Instead there was a relatively flat patch of grass with mushrooms dotted here and there. Looking twice, I realized that they grew in a circle. I’d heard about these -- some mushrooms grew that way, and there were silly children’s stories about them. People who stepped into them died within a year, or disappeared, or were forced by the fairies to dance with them all night until they were exhausted.

Well I wasn’t superstitious, but still -- best not to ask for trouble. I stayed away from the mushrooms.

I felt a chill cross through me and large chill bumps rose all over me. I looked around. It looked like firefly were coming out for their nightly errands. I noticed how they all seemed to be gathering in the circle as they flitted gracefully about. After looking hard in the failing light, I realized that those creatures weren’t fireflies, but something else with gossamer wings and a steady yellow green glow. Slowly, I inched closer to see if I could get a better idea of what kind of insect those things were. Unfortunately, I didn’t pay attention to where I was and crossed over into the circle. Things changed when that happened.

I was suddenly in the midst of many flitting and swooping creatures that appeared for the world like … very small people with wings. They all appeared to be celebrating and dancing amid the many sparkles of what ever was showering all about.

Along one edge, where the mushrooms were thickest and had the brightest glow, was a regal-looking male dressed in a green waistcoat, a pair of green knee pants, shiny black pointed shoes, and a glittering jewel-encrusted crown of what looked like solid gold.

On each arm he had an extremely beautiful female of his species. They both wore very delicate golden tiaras with many sparkling jewels. The man waved his arm, and a throne-like chair with smaller versions on both sides appeared. He escorted the two females to their seats, then allowed them time to arrange themselves and store their wings comfortably.

The tiny man turned and bowed cordially, “Welcome, O mortal wanderer. It has been many a long year since one of your kind came to a Fairy Dance.” He gestured all around the now brightly glowing circle filled with many winged beings of both genders. “You have solved a great problem I had. You see, I made a promise to my daughter here that I would give her a present for her 2000th birthday …”

The other woman interrupted, “But, dearest … I want one too. It’s my birthday too.” and she poked out her bottom lip adorably.

“Now now, Collybia, I love you dearly, but it’s not your 2000th birthday,” the crowned fairy said. “Remember, you got a jeweled sky-carriage for your 2000th birthday. Cost Daddy lots of gold, and I know you love it -- you’re always flying around in it.”

“But-” I began, and even to me my voice sounded horribly loud and rude after hearing these tiny beings’ quiet and refined voices. All heads turned toward me, as if they had forgotten me and just noticed me again.

“Oh, that will hardly do,” said the man. “You’re still in your world. Come, join us,” he said with a beckoning gesture, and I was suddenly no longer in a forest at all, but in an elaborately decorated ballroom, with a marble floor thousands of feet below and walls made all of crystal windows with silver filigree frames. It was dark outside, as it had been before, and the room was lit with thousands of candles on the walls and floating in the air among the dancers. And now all the people around me were the same size as I was -- or perhaps I was now as small as they were. It was hard to tell.

“What -- what’s going on?” I asked, but now my voice sounded like a voice and not like a thunderclap. I looked down apprehensively, as I appeared to be standing on a small disc of crystal with a wrought silver frame. I didn’t dare move.

“Oh, I quite apologize,” said the crowned man. “I cannot assume that mere mortals have heard of me. I am Duke Armillaria, and this part of the realm is mine. And I am asking you whether you’d like to help my younger daughter Amanita here with her birthday present.”

“Oh, Father!” said Amanita, who was an absolute vision of unearthly beauty. “Thank you, thank you! I can already see my living babydoll before me!”

I was in the presence of royalty, apparently, and I didn’t know what else they could do to me if I refused. “Well … Sir, yes, anything to help out,” I said.

“Excellent,” said the Duke, and waved his hand. Instantly there was momentarily a sharp pain in both my earlobes, and I shut my eyes with the pain and disorientation that I suddenly felt. “Obviously you’ll want to get her dressed, Sweetheart; you’ll find I’ve had proper clothing and furniture brought to your royal bedroom. Remember, one or both of those earrings must remain in place at all times.”

“Eeeeee she’s so beautiful!” I heard Amanita squeal in delight, and I felt myself lifted up as if I weighed nothing. For some reason I couldn’t open my eyes. Now what was happening?

I knew I had been carried somewhere and was sat on a flat, but very soft surface. A familiar smell drifted to my nose as I felt something being sprinkled on me, and something very thick and soft pulled between my legs. Next my arms and head were put through something and it was tugged down over my body. I shivered at the wonderfully cool tingly sensation it brought. My feet were threaded through a pair of some kind of bottoms and they were pulled up.

I knew I was being cradled in someone’s arms as the young female cooed softly, “I promise to make sure you never grow up and are always this cute little Babydoll.”

I was placed to her shoulder and my bottom lightly patted. Each gentle pat seemed to set off a major explosion of joy and pleasure in my mind. I was almost totally helpless. But when she held me up, my eyes could open, and I saw another room. This one had an entire side of the room covered with elaborate curtains, which were drawn; everything in this room was white with hints of pink and gold.

Was I a babydoll? I couldn’t see my reflection. There was a mirror on Amanita’s vanity, but I wasn’t in the right position to see myself. I looked down and could only see an ornate white dress with pink and gold highlights, blending in with the room. I raised my hands; my arms seemed short, and my hands now had small, pudgy fingers, the nails painted in white with pink jewels pasted to them.

“What happened?” I asked, and my voice was tiny, high-pitched, and very cute.

“What happened was you’re my new Babydoll!” said Amanita in her beautiful voice with a childish giggle. She held me to her and spun in a circle. I caught a glimpse of this room’s floor, or lack of one -- like the ballroom, this room’s floor was hundreds of feet below. I was only up here where the furniture was because Amanita was hovering in the air with her wings. “I promise I will take good care of you, forever and always!”

She was like a little girl with a new toy, and I suppose I was a new toy, although I knew she had just turned 2000 years old.

I reasoned that I must be having a dream, though a very elaborate and peculiar one. Perhaps I had drunk too much beer back at the campsite, or perhaps someone had slipped me something, like Jim with his magic mushrooms that he was always trying to get me to try. But this dream had already gone on for quite a long time.

“Oh, I absolutely must show you off back at the party!” Amanita said, holding me up to face her.

“But … what if I don’t want to be a Babydoll?” I said in my tiny voice, sounding like a very small child.

“Nonsense, you’re absolutely lovely, and just think of all the wonderful happy feelings!” she said, patting my bottom and its strangely thick padding, and suddenly I felt waves of happiness and pleasure throughout my small body. “But you’re not used to it yet. Maybe this will help.” She picked something up and guided it into my mouth, where it went right in, feeling soft and soothing, and something made me immediately begin to suck on it. This, too, caused waves of soothing, relaxing pleasure to radiate through me, but it didn’t stop. I felt content to just enjoy this. Besides, it could still be a dream. It had its good points. “There you go. Good girl,” she said to me, and those words, “Good girl,” vibrated through me with even more joy and pleasure, making me want to do more things to get her to say it to me again.

Out in the corridor, Collybia stared with a jealous look through the slightly-open door. “Such a valuable gift,” she said to herself, “is truly wasted upon my silly infant sister.”

“Err, yes, Ma’am,” said her attendant, looking nervously around in case someone saw them there.

“That Living Babydoll must be mine,” she said.

“But Ma’am, your father … the sky carriage …” the attendant tried to remind her.

“Silence. Yes, Father went well out his way to please me when he gave me the sky coach, but this! This is a far more valuable gift. The capture of a mortal was forbidden by the Queen during the Black Forest Treaty 800 years ago. Father had to bribe exactly the right officials to get them to look the other way for this. Nobody has owned a living Babydoll in all that time.” Collybia scrunched up her face into a dark scowl as she watched Amanita. “I must come up with a way to get that doll away from my dear sister.”

Suddenly the door opened. “Oh!” said Amanita, surprised to see her. “Sister! Why are you here?”

Collybia lied easily, “Ah, dear sister, I was about to knock on your door. The guests at the ball are asking about you and your … present.”

“Oh, dear!” said Amanita. “I’m afraid I’ve been quite selfish, giving my time only to Citrina! I must go apologize!” She darted down the hallway carrying the Babydoll in her arms.

“But … how?” Collybia asked herself.

I knew I was being carried down a long hall. I was almost senseless as Amanita softly patted my padded hinney. She had left my pacifier in her bedroom, and an impulse overcame me that was also an irresistible need … My thumb went into my mouth and I began to suckle it. Between the extremely wonderful sensations caused by the hinney pats and the intense feeling of contentedness brought on by my thumb, I was unable to think.

Next thing I knew, I was being posed on a table. My legs were splayed and Amanita was wrapping my arms around a cuddly soft and fuzzy toy Snow Leopard that smelled so much like cotton candy. My eyes focused … OMG!! Everything and everybody were huge compared to me. Many of the extremely beautiful creatures would come up and coo softly or tweak my cheek, or even pat me on the head.

One obviously extremely old Female cooed softly, “Oooo such a pretty little girl. I remember my first living Babydoll. Almost 6 thousand years gone. She was so cute too.” the woman sighed wistfully, “but I forgot to keep her small and she grew up. She made a good maid around my room. Keeps it spotless to this day.”

Part of me was confused … how did this all work? Was there no way back to my former life? But most of me was still overwhelmed by the pleasurable but simple sensations of cuddling the plush toy and sucking my thumb. And, of course, the seemingly endless parade of these beautiful people telling me how adorable I was.

And then came the sister of Amanita … Collybia, I think her name was. She bent over me just as all the rest had, but what she whispered in my ear was shockingly different. “My dear sister doesn’t deserve you half as much as I do, pretty little plaything. I can’t lawfully just steal you away, but there are still things I can do. In the meantime, I can’t have you tattling to her about what you see and hear me do, so I’m afraid I’ll just have to take your words away from you. Don’t worry -- your babbling will just make them think you’re that much more adorable!”

Before I could protest, her fingers brushed against my throat, and I felt them … catch something there, pulling it out as if unraveling a thread they had found there. I felt it slide out of me. In shock I cried out, but it was nothing but an “Aaaah!”

“Aw, what’s wrong, my sweet?” said Collybia in honeyed tones. “Perhaps you need your bottle or a diaper change? Poor Babydoll, it seems my dear sister has one that can only babble and cry!”

And I tried to answer, I really did, but all that came out was meaningless babble. “Ya! Boo blah dah goo!” Try as I might, I could no longer form words. My thoughts were intact, but there was nothing I could do to express them. Or so I thought at the time.

Collybia smiled evilly as she contemplated the very best way to get the doll from her sister. The very best way would be to trick her into making a fairy wager with the babydoll as the prize for winning.

About that time, the entire interior of the ballroom changed. The ceiling became a wonderful panorama of twinkling stars and the occasional shooting star. The room itself took on the aspects of a magical pool, surrounded by many types of magical creatures. The one that caught my eye was a real live Unicorn. It was solid white with the very tips of its main, ears, and tail tipped in a strawberry color. Many huge neon green glowing moths flitted all around, giving the area a beautiful and warm glow.

The very old woman walked to the center of the pool in the middle of the area. I was impressed how she made it appear she was walking on the water. At her feet rose this small rock looking thing with a small hole in its top. She clapped her hands together, a large spark, and a blue flame leapt out of the hole to begin burning steadily.

The woman spread her arms and said softly, but all could hear her ethereal voice, “Come, gather round for the story lamp is alight. ‘Tis time to hear the legend of the very first Living Babydoll.” The woman looked at me for an instant before continuing, “A long time ago, even before I was born …” the younger fairies Oohed and Aahed, “Lord Entrith had two children. One was a male the other female. The boy was easy to find gifts for, the girl … not so easy. She wanted a special kind of doll, one magic could provide, but it wouldn’t be the same as a living doll. So he went to the village down in the glade to capture …”

She wasn’t reading this from a book, but she knew the words as if she had been there. That made me wonder whether these people had books and whether their language, which I was obviously able to understand, had writing. Could I read it? Could I write it? Because if I could write it …

“And so Lord Entrith stole the human child away, and bound upon him many spells, spells of youth and beauty, spells of helpless infancy, spells of affinity and attraction. And as his daughter had wanted a girl doll, he had to become a girl-child -- a simple matter, of course. He bound these spells upon a jewel, a pendant on a chain around the child’s neck, too short to fall from her head. When his daughter received her gift, she was overjoyed and doted on her new Babydoll for many years. Others saw this and were consumed with desire to have a Babydoll of their own, and so many mortals were stolen and changed." a soft murmur rounded all the intently listening fairies.

The old woman waited for this to subside before she continued, "They learned that the mortal need not be a child. They also learned something else, for one day, centuries later, as Entrith’s daughter was bathing her Babydoll in the warm water of a hot spring, a Nixie who lived there appeared and was taken by the Babydoll’s beauty. She quarreled with Entrith’s daughter, and in the quarrel the Babydoll’s pendant was broken, the jewel coming loose from its setting. And with this separation the spell was broken."

Another slightly louder murmur rounded all before the old woman continued her story.

“The Babydoll returned to human form, but it had been centuries, and humans are mortal. The human soon became his natural age … and humans do not live for hundreds of years. Entrith’s daughter was beside herself with sorrow. What was more, the humans were unhappy that so many of their number were vanishing, and when they discovered the cause they girded for war. They discovered many other things that incensed their ire as well, and perhaps in some of them our side may have been in the wrong. But hostilities were ended with the Black Forest Treaty 800 years gone, as you know. Only one Babydoll is allowed each century, and only the Queen may grant permission to take a mortal to become a Babydoll. They are rare and special, and therefore those who quarrel over them are cursed. In exchange the humans forgot their grievances. Indeed, to this very day, they do not remember. But if the Treaty is ever broken, war will return.”

She curtsied as the audience applauded her telling of the tale. I knew they probably all knew the story already, but it was the skill of the storyteller that they applauded.

Of course old Duke Armillaria didn’t get to be as many centuries old as he did without being smart and learning to observe. He knew, beyond any doubt, there was some kind of storm brewing between his oldest and youngest daughters. He watched closely. Amanita’s aura remained white with a tinge of blue which was normal for a child her age who wasn’t up to any mischief.

Collybia, on the other hand, her aura had changed subtly. It was now more red tinged with green than what it should have been. Duke Armillaria nodded slowly as he contemplated the many ways Collybia had caused mischief over the years. Nothing serious, just the things that gave Imps their name to the mortals. This, was a bit more serious, as the aura gave away her little secret.

As far as the rest of the gathering, from somewhere large platters of food began to appear on gilded platters. Amanita placed me in a high chair and magically strapped me in. She lowered the tray over my head. When she placed the bowl of food in front of me, all I could think about was how wonderful a mess this would make … and how great a facial cream it was. Of course I was overjoyed by the ensuing mess.

Then, I slowly realized that I’d been reveling in the role of a Babydoll, which gave me pause. This spell had buried itself deeply in my very being. I was changed. It sounded like the only way to change back was to remove the earrings in my ears -- apparently they’d switched from pendants to earrings at some point for some reason. Perhaps they were harder to damage accidentally.

Several of the other younger fairies arrived with small, ornately carved boxes made of cedar and decorated with inlays of precious metals and stones. When one of the pretty fairies opened her box, it contained many different kinds of outfits obviously designed for an infant … or a really adorably cute Babydoll. I realized as several of them began removing my dress, that they intended to dress me in them. My legs were thread through a really cute romper covered in lace and ruffles.

One of the young fairies said to Amanita, “We knew your father had permission to capture a human, but we didn’t realize the human actually agreed to it.”

As Amanita tied the bib behind my neck she replied, “It was so neatos too. It means that some lucky girl will have another Babydoll since we didn’t capture this one … she willingly agreed.”

Wait, I didn’t agree to this! I tried to object but nothing but baby babble came out of my mouth. I was frustrated and even started to cry, but with just a little tickling I forgot completely what I’d been crying about. I did see Collybia look somewhat surprised at this; she left the vicinity shortly after.

The group of female fairies giggled as they continued to play with me. I couldn’t help myself as all the attention made me happier than I could remember.

Amanita was lovingly feeding me a baby’s bottle filled with something amazingly sweet and light. It was a sparkly pink inside the bottle; I had no idea what it was, and I couldn’t ask. But it was very good and made me feel all tingly throughout my tiny body.

Then I heard Duke Armillaria’s voice saying, “Daughter, I can’t see why you can’t let your sister have her day. Your day will come. Do not doubt that I’ve already begun planning your 2500th. Can’t you wait until then?” He and Collybia drifted into the ballroom, some distance away from where Amanita and I were.

“But Father!” Collybia countered, “You have permission now! You can get another one now! How long will it be before someone else manages to divert the Queen’s favor away from you?”

“Not today, Daughter,” said the Duke. “Today is your sister’s day. Besides, legal or not, it would be risky to take another. Our existence as we know it relies on the mortals believing that we’re just a story. They’ll probably investigate this one. If we take another, they’ll investigate doubly, or more.”

“Just take one from the other side of the world, Father,” cajoled Collybia. “I’m sure the humans kidnap and murder each other all the time. They won’t notice a pattern when its only possible solution lies in old legends. They don’t believe in us, any more than we believe in an underground human civilization that keeps rebuilding the surface civilization whenever worldwide disasters destroy it.”

The meaning of their conversation gradually rose to the top of my consciousness. Oh no! If she got her way, they were going to kidnap someone else! I fussed, but Amanita just shushed me and kept holding the bottle, which I couldn’t stop drinking from.

“Your suggestion may be within the letter of the law, my dear, but it goes against the spirit,” said the Duke. “And I’m bound by both. No, it simply can’t happen. Yet. Remember, there’s always next century, and it’s right around the corner. Can’t you just wait a few short decades?”

Collybia sighed without really answering. From where I was, nestled in Amanita’s arms, I could just barely see her, but she didn’t look satisfied.

In another reality, many people began to look for their missing friend. The police bloodhounds tracked the scent to a glade about 200 yards from where the last evening’s party was held. To the very best of the investigative resources … The missing individual just simply walked into nothing. The scent trail ended abruptly at a rather large circle of mushrooms and what appeared to be manicured grass.

While the forensic team did their very best to determine what happened in this confusing disappearance, many of the old timers that owned the property on which this party happened, began to talk. They told of a centuries old mystery and the wee people. Most of the people from the party laughed at the stupidity of the country folk. Although, one police officer from Ireland, remembered the tales handed down in his family … one of fairies, and a binding treaty.

“... so since this one came willingly, Father actually has permission to get another one,” Collybia was saying to Amanita. “But I don’t think he’s going to -- so maybe someone else can instead.”

“Someone else?” Amanita asked. “Does that mean … that soon someone in the land might have ANOTHER Babydoll for poor lonely Citrina to play with? Oh, I do so hope so!”

“Dear Sister, it means that YOU might have a second Babydoll,” said Collybia. They were talking about this quietly in a corner, and Amanita was holding me in her arms, so I heard everything.

Amanita made a sound of glee, something akin to a shriek or squeal, that seemed likely to shatter some of the glass goblets on the table nearby. Several heads turned our way, but when it became clear that no one was being murdered, they went back to their conversations. “TWO? I might have TWO Babydolls? The very thought makes me the happiest I’ve ever been!”

“So you see, I have a little proposition for you, Sister,” Collybia went on quietly. “If you …”

“Do you think they could have the same color hair and skin so they’d match?” Amanita interrupted.

“Er, yes, I believe the magic can be done that way,” Collybia went on. “But what I’m saying is, I want to challenge you, dear Sister. If you win, I’ll get you a second Babydoll. Of course, if I win, I win Citrina, but of course I’m your sister so you’ll be seeing her all the time. But if you win, two Babydolls!”

“Oh dear, I don’t know, Collybia,” Amanita hesitated, “if I lost Citrina I just don’t know what I’d do. I already love her so much!” She was in fact clutching me for dear life. I was making upset sounds, because I didn’t like where this was going, but Amanita just loosened her grip and said, “Oh! I’m sorry, Citrina, was that too tight?”

“And I’ll even let you pick the game,” Collybia went on. She must have been confident on her ability to win, or at least cheat, I figured. “So all you have to do is agree, and choose a contest. I’ve had the agreement drawn up already.” From a sort of jeweled purse at her side she removed a rolled-up scroll, written in elaborate glittering calligraphy.

But the important thing was that when I caught a glimpse of it, I realized that I could read it. It wasn’t English, but it seemed that the same magic that made it possible for me to understand what they said also enabled me to read their language. That meant that I might be able to write in it too, if I could only get something to write with, and on.

As Collybia and Amanita discussed the upcoming game they were going to play, Amanita lay me next to her as she read the elaborate scroll. My eye grew large as I saw a huge crayon just lying there next to a large scrap of paper.I managed to pick up the huge crayon in both hands and started to write the best I could, ‘Collybia is going to try and …’

I didn’t get to finish as Collybia noticed what I was doing and took the crayon from my hands. I looked at her with big eyes for a minute before I was unable to help myself and started to cry loudly.

Amanita reached around and cradled me in her arms lovingly as she cooed softly, “There, there, snuggle bug. It’s alright.” She began to pat my bottom in that way that caused the massive explosions of pure joy and contentedness to flood my body. Although she did manage to get the paper I was writing on along with me.

Amanita said with a tone of suspicion, “What in the world is my Babydoll trying to tell me? Why did you take the crayon from her anyway? It’s my crayon and I don’t mind if she has it.”

“She’s probably just trying to tell you she’s hungry, or her diaper needs changing, or some such Babydoll thing,” said Collybia. “It’s all they think about, of course. The spells see to that. But Sister, the agreement …”

“Well, I love Magic Riddles. That’s the game I choose.” she looked down at the magical parchment, “I can’t very well sign the acceptance with a crayon, can I?” asked Amanita. Collybia was about to give her a silvery quill pen when Amanita interrupted, saying, “You know I never sign anything without my special pen. Let me go get it.” She picked me up and took me to the hallway.

I struggled very hard to tell Amanita what I thought her sister was up to. I could feel whatever it was that was missing from the vocal cords. I watched as Amanita got her magical pen and returned and placed her magical signature on the paper.

Immediately, Collybia said in one of the many ethereal voices I had come to know fairy folk could use, “I am all things … and nothing. I am everywhere … and nowhere. Just what am I?” Collybia looked at her sister with an impish grin, “You must answer the magical question with your very next words, or I win. If you answer correctly, You win … what’s the answer?”

Amanita didn’t have a clue. She knew she could wait for 1000 years to answer, but she would be totally unable to talk or say anything until she answered her sister’s challenge. Unless, of course, Collybia sets a time limit later. It was also her right under game rules.

In a lonely office within the local police station, Joe McLockleir rummaged through his desk. He was looking for that book his great grandfather had given him before he died. His great grandfather had gone to great lengths to tell him the story of the Black Forest Accords signed with the fairy folk. Joe had always thought this a fairy tale his elder told him for entertainment, but now … he had discovered an exact disappearance as described to him in the long tale. Couldn’t be real, could it? After all, wonders and miracles weren’t part of modern life, as they seemed to have been in the distant past. But … what if there were a reason for that? He began thinking about some of the other tales his great
grandfather had told him.

I could tell Amanita was thinking carefully about the riddle. I also knew that thinking wasn’t her strong suit, although she wasn’t exactly stupid, just easily distracted as any toddler aged infant might be. She did, however, hum a happy tune whenever she held me or played with me, and it was hard not to like this fairy girl.

But I did manage to get a crayon and scrap of parchment again, and I wrote in shaky but readable letters, “SHE TOOK MY WORDS.” At this, Amanita looked surprised at first, but then nodded her head sadly. “CAN YOU WRITE?” I wrote. She shook her head negatively. I remembered the wording of the agreement: her next words must be the answer, or she would lose, and that meant either spoken or written.

So I wrote, “CAN YOU DRAW?” Her eyes lit up. With her pen she quickly drew an exquisite picture of what seemed to be a dragon. “BEAUTIFUL,” I wrote.

Then I wrote my feelings. “IF YOU LOSE, I GO TO YOUR SISTER. IF YOU WIN, SHE KIDNAPS ONE OF MY PEOPLE. BOTH BAD.” She read this and nodded sadly. I know she loved the idea of someone, anyone, having another Babydoll, but she had a kind heart and didn’t want the Babydoll to be unhappy, deep down. She thought I had volunteered for this, though, when in reality I hadn’t known what I was getting into. She took out a new piece of parchment and started to draw. She was drawing a plan, without words. It seemed that she knew some fairy magic too.

Joe found the old and yellow parchment paged book. He removed it from the air tight plastic box that protected it and carefully opened it. The cracking and creaking of the binding made it clear how old this handwritten manuscript was.

After reading the preamble, he turned the brittle page. To his total amazement, an exact drawing of the large circle of mushrooms with the well manicured grass in the center showed. He also saw the depictions of what he had at first thought were fireflies. Closer examination of the exquisite drawing revealed humanoid like creatures with gossamer wings, not the insects he had thought they were all these years.

The more Joe read, the more he was convinced this wasn’t a simple disappearance, but an abduction by creatures thought only to be fabrications of an ancient mind, not a reality that bound humankind to another superior species. This was outside his purview as an officer of the law -- there was nothing in modern law that covered this -- but he still wanted to do what was right. Was there something he could do to get the missing man back anyway?

I was trying to think of an answer to Collybia’s riddle. Her plan centered on answering the riddle correctly. Everything and nothing? Everywhere and nowhere? What kind of a riddle was that? It was so … vague. The answer could be “thought,” I supposed, because one could think of any of those ideas. But that was pretty vague too. In English they all had a letter H in them, but it hadn’t been “I am in everything and nothing”; it had been “I am everything and nothing.”

Besides, in the Fair Folk’s language, the words weren’t spelled in the same way and didn’t share a common letter anyway. Was it “reality?” But I didn’t see how that would work -- perhaps nowhere and nothing were contained somewhere in reality, but one couldn’t really say that reality was nothing, or nowhere.

Meanwhile we had another problem. “I just wanted to come and visit my doll, Dear Sister,” Collybia said, barging into Amanita’s bedroom and picking me up out of my crib. I screeched and cried and howled and tried not to let her get her hands on me, but I was simply too small and weak to escape her grasp, just as I couldn’t even muster the dexterity or strength to remove my own earrings, or indeed to prevent myself from wetting my own diapers. “See how overjoyed she is to see me?”

I babbled helplessly as I tried to deny it. But she held me like one holds a sausage as she spoke, her eyes on her sister and not on me. This wasn’t really about me, was it? It was about ruining Amanita’s birthday. If she got me, she’d obviously neglect me; she’d probably let me starve to death without a second thought.

Amanita glared at her. Perhaps Collybia was trying to goad her into speaking so she’d forfeit. But she stayed silent, except for a bit of a growl in her throat, which was not a word.

Collybia laughed. “Not mine yet? Perhaps you’re right. But remember, Dear Sister,” she taunted, “you have until the end of this day to answer my riddle. Four more hours. No more. And if you don’t, or if you answer wrongly, then little Citrina here truly is mine.” She laid me back in my crib, laughed some more, and walked out. Amanita locked the door this time.

Joe had stayed up until the eastern sky began to lighten and turn colors. He had managed to scrounge up the few of those delightful stories his family had written down of the fairies and their impish doings over the many years. Joe had thought all this was just a vivid imagination being put into words.

The most amazing thing he had discovered, was in the old family house, one of the many books told of a secret place behind a stone in the den floor. Within, and Joe had almost fainted when he had found it, was some sort of ancient document, written on extremely aged vellum pages.

He stood and grabbed his hat. His grandparents’ farm wasn’t very far from here. It would take maybe an hour to drive. He had to know if this was real …

“So you say a man disappeared, and his tracks led to a mushroom ring and then just stopped?” his grandfather asked. Grandpa Jim was bald on top with some gray hair left over his ears and a gray mustache. “Sounds a lot like those stories I used to tell you back when you were a wee lad, back when we lived in town.”

“I went to the old house,” Joe said, “and I found something …” He held up the old document, which he had placed in a plastic sleeve for its protection. “What do you say about this, Grandpa?”

“Heavens!” said Grandpa Jim, adjusting his glasses and holding one of the pages up. “Why, this … my dad would tell me about this. But … he always spoke as if it were real. Maybe it was. Look here … on the last page, this seal. It’s just as he described.”

“What is it? It’s all in English except that inscription.”

“The seal of King Bryan of the Fair Folk,” said Grandpa Jim. “Or so my dad said.”

Joe sat back with big amazed eyes as he asked, “I never heard much about my great grandpa’s life, just the stories he told me … who was he and how,” Joe pointed to the plastic covered pages in his grandfather’s hand, “would he be someone that would have that kind of document?”

Grandpa Jim smiled a strange smile as an even stranger expression came to his aged features. He rose quickly and walked to the kitchen as he said, “It would seem I’m to the age where the first born son of the first born son of a Keeper should know his heritage.” He stooped and opened a small cupboard and removed what was obviously a handmade clay jug with a corncob plug in the narrow neck. “If two Irish gentlemen are to begin a discussion about the wee people, it should be done right and proper over a pipe of cee and a bowl of poteen.”

He returned to his chair with the jug and two glasses, removed the plug from the jug with a deep pop, then filled the glasses with a clear liquid from the jug.

Joe was equally surprised when his grandfather picked up a hand-carved box from the table next to his chair. Joe remembered the ornate box with its many finely carved runes from as far back as he knew … and it had always been locked. His grandfather pulled a small bejeweled key from under his shirt that had hung from a chain around his neck since Joe could remember, and unlocked the box.

Within was a large bone pipe carved from the skull of some creature Joe had never before seen the likes of. Beside the slot the pipe rested in was a large covered area of the box, from which his grandfather removed the lid. Within was a rather large amount of herbal mixture with which the old man began to fill the bowl of the pipe.

When he was finished, he leaned back, lit the pipe, and took a long draw from the stem before handing it to Joe. “This is a magical mixture of herbs. I was told it was mixed by the wee people themselves to aid humankind to see and understand. Am told it’s called Cee.” He then drained the tall glass of poteen. When he was done, he filled the glass again and looked at Joe.

The aroma of the mixture in the pipe was wonderful as it drifted lazily throughout the room. Joe picked up the glass of poteen as he took the pipe from his grandfather with the other hand. He sniffed the top of the glass. Immediately, his eyes watered and his nose tingled with the strength of the liquid within.

His grandfather chortled as he said merrily, “‘Tis a drink fora man. An’ I promise ye it’ll put those curly hairs on yer chest.”

Joe snorted once as he tried to take the drink the same way his grandfather had. It was like drinking sweet liquid fire as it went down. Joe could feel it hit his stomach and spread rapidly through his body.

Joe began to cough, so his grandfather patted him on his back as he skillfully refilled Joe’s glass with more poteen, “That’s a good lad for sure. Now we sip the rest. First,” and he lifted Joe’s hand that held the pipe, “you need to have some of this.”

Joe got ready to take a deep lungful of the smoke from the pipe … but he got no further than a short draw before collapsing into a coughing fit, despite having inhaled smokeable drugs like marijuana, Salvia, and Opium during drug enforcement training.

“Aye, lad, that’s what it’s always like the first time,” Grandpa Jim said. “Ye’ll get used to it. And once ye do … ye’ll never be the same. It’s been nigh on 30 years since the last time for me, and I’m still havin’ no trouble.”

But just from that, Joe had a burning sensation in his lungs -- well not burning really; more like tingling. Like when any carbonated drink goes up your nose. Joe tried again, though, more slowly and carefully this time, and he was able to inhale fully. And when he did … he didn’t feel the mellow high of pot or the anesthetic dulling of opium. It was more like the experience of Salvia … he felt like he was moving and sitting still at the same time, going somewhere in his mind or
soul while his body remained where it was.

“Since ye’re a police officer, let me reassure ye that there’s no law ‘gainst any o’ this, my lad,” Grandpa Jim said, “on account of it not bein’ from this Earth. Not sure what any scientist would make of it, assumin’ they got their hands on any, which they never have, to my ken. But ye can feel it now. There’s another world, and more than one, right here, right now, just not in the same … layer. An’ ye can look out an’ see it now. Go ahead.”

“I see … plants and flowers that shine with golden light,” said Joe. “I see monsters and dragons. I see knights on flying horses. I see people with wings.”

“Exactly, and this is how we know this isn’t just some, whatcha call, chemically induced hallucination,” said Grandpa Jim, “because you see, I see the same. Call it what you will, call it Fairyland, but they call it Ildathach, among other names, the land of many colors.”

Grandpa Jim leaned back as he took the pipe and inhaled deeply from the stem one more time before he said, “My father was a Lord in his day. To be precise it would make you a Count in the long scheme of things. He led an army against the fairy folk. Had the aid of the dwarves if I'm not mistaken. They made the weapons and armor that prevailed that day. An agreement was made, He and his first born are chosen to become Keepers of the Bond. That title now falls to you.” Grandpa Jim handed the small key on the chain, and a large ring with a wonderfully blue stone of the purest color.

Joe reached over and took the items, all the while in total shock to discover all this mystery, wasn’t so much a mystery after all. Joe asked, “What does … being a Keeper entail?”

Grandpa Jim smiled as he took a large sip of the poteen, “It requires that you more than likely have to accept that individual’s disappearance and call it unsolved.”

Joe took another swallow of the cloyingly sweet, hot, and powerful drink. He shivered as it went down. It was all starting to make sense. Mankind made a deal to offer up other humans to become a play toy for some weird mythical critters.

Joe stood up and said as he slammed the glass on the side table, “Never! I’ll never leave without at least trying to save him.”

“Oh, I never said nothin’ about not tryin’,” said Grandpa Jim. “I just meant that’ll probably be how it turns out in the end.”

“I have … so many questions,” Joe said.

“An’ I’ll answer as I’m able. But I don’t know everything, Joe lad. Even we Keepers only catch a glimpse. And even the Fair Folk, who know a sight more than we do, they think they know everything, but they don’t neither.”

“Space,” said Amanita to Collybia. “It is everywhere, but empty space is nowhere. And it is everything, for everything is in it, but it is nothing, because it cannot be touched or held.”

“Ohhh, I’m sorry, Dear Sister, but that is incorrect,” Collybia said in a mock-sorrowful tone. “So I will be taking my prize now …”

“Ah, but first, my daughter, I would be very interested to hear the answer to this riddle,” said Duke Armillaria, emerging from behind a column into the ballroom, where the celebration was still going on after many hours. “So please tell us, what is all things and nothing, everywhere and nowhere?”

“I … uh … well …” Collybia began, stammering nervously. I had somewhat suspected.

“I see,” said the Duke. “And do you know that asking a riddle for which you have no answer is the very definition of cheating in a contest of riddles? Have I raised a cheat? This means, of course, that you have lost by forfeit.” He turned to Amanita. “What was your prize, if you were to win, dear?”

“She -- she was going to get me a second Babydoll,” Amanita said, for she could now speak again. “This one came willingly, so she said …”

“I begin to realize that Collybia says a great many things,” said the Duke, “only a few of which have any truth to them. I am very disappointed in you, Collybia. But you gave your word and signed your name to it, so I’m afraid you have no choice but to follow through. It is true that according to treaty, it is lawful for our people to choose one human to make into a Babydoll, will he or nill he. But that is the letter of the law. This one gave consent, it is true,” he said, motioning toward me, nestled in Amanita’s arms, “but I suspect it was not informed consent, so it goes against the spirit of the law. However, you must still uphold your end of your agreement, daughter.” He turned to Collybia.

“Fine, I’ll go grab a human,” she said. “How hard can it be?”

I wanted to object, to say no, but I could only make complaining-sounding babbling noises.

“I thought this one was able to speak,” said Duke Armillaria.

“She could, until Collybia put a spell on her,” said Amanita. “She can write, though.”

“And will you be removing this spell, daughter?” the Duke asked Collybia. “Remember, it was done to the property of another. What you do revisits you threefold.”

Collybia, however, crossed her arms and spitefully refused to do anything.

“There is nothing about this in the agreement,” the Duke said, “but there is the matter of obtaining a second Babydoll for your sister. You are bound by this, and the Geas will ensure you do so, like it or not.”

Joe sat in the car for a long time before he started the motor. He couldn’t believe what his grandfather had just told him. The vellum document in his hand clearly stated the condition under which the fairy folk could capture a human … and the fact there was only stipulation for the one. Joe managed to catch a smaller inscribed wording on the back of one of the vellum pages. It stated clearly, and had many signatories, some that didn’t look like they were made by anything human, and it told that if a human volunteered, it still meant the hunt for a viable human capture was still valid.

Joe started his car and left the family farm in a spray of gravel and a large cloud of dust. Joe drove furiously back to the location of the mushroom circle. He was determined to try and rescue the individual who had been captured.

Collybia went to the very floor of the ballroom and stood at its very center. Amanita and her father followed, and since Amanita was carrying me, I went too. “Oh look,” she said, “there’s already a mortal here.”

I suppose she was right -- it was hard to tell. There was a giant, shadowy figure in the center of the ballroom, towering up to its heights, but it was mostly transparent. We could see the other side of the ballroom right through it. Was this how humans looked from this side? The figure’s voice boomed, loud and deep, “As Warden I demand that you release the victim you kidnapped last night!”

“Warden!” said Duke Armillaria, “Daughter, I’m not sure you realize -”

“Father, I care not what foolish titles these mortals arrogate to,” Collybia said, “here’s an opportunity to discharge my obligation, and I’m taking it. Come on across, human,” she said, and the figure solidified and shrunk until he was the same size as us -- well, the same size as the adult fairies. I was still quite a bit smaller.

“I -- see,” the man said. He was dressed in a law enforcement uniform. He’d come to look for me? Why did he know about these people and their ways? Yes, I’d learn more about Joe later. “Is that the human you took earlier? I’ve come to secure his release.”

“He came willingly,” said Collybia, “which means we’ve still got the right to take another.”

“Technically that right is still mine,” said the Duke.

“Fine,” she said. “Father, I ask you to relinquish your right to take a mortal to me under the treaty.”

“Are you sure, Collybia?” asked her father. “Do you really understand the consequences?”

“Consequences? You got one and it was fine.”

“Then very well, on your own head be it,” said the Duke.

“Good!” she said. “You, mortal, are chosen for this great honor!”

“What?” asked Joe, as I’d later learn was his name. “As Warden, I --”

Collybia began working the spells, the same spells that her father had worked upon me earlier. But something just felt different. Maybe it was because Joe was fully unwilling, and maybe it was because he was this Warden, which I didn’t understand at the time, but the magic wasn’t working the same way.

A large sphere of fire and multicolored lightning encircled the Warden. Like a wild creature in torment the tendrils of energy crawled all over his body. The chamber shook as small particles began to rain down on our heads.

The Duke grabbed me from his daughter’s arms and launched the both of us high up in the ballroom, well above the growing conflagration below. I had this incredible urge to suck my thumb as I watched Collybia as one of the tendrils lashed out and encircled her.

She screamed loudly as it appeared she had begun to change, then the massive electrical fire went out, leaving Joe, and Collybia, with her now wallowing in the oversize garment she had been wearing. The treaty specifically said that the Warden could not be the one chosen and that anyone who tried would have the spell rebound on them. What’s more, the Babydoll that had been Collybia was clearly incapable of words, as she was now on the floor bawling her eyes out.

“It seems you have been taken by the Law of Three, daughter,” said the Duke, picking her up. “I did not expect to have to care for another infant again, not after your late mother’s passing. Ah, I miss her so. I still see her in my daughter’s faces. But no, I see you do not understand me. Your curse on Citrina now affects you threefold. I doubt you can read or write either, and I suspect you may have an infant’s mind as well. Time will tell. But first we should get you dressed. You will need a diaper as much as Citrina does.”

“Does that mean I can talk again?” I tried to ask, but all that came out was baby babble. Oh no -- did this mean that I would never talk again, since Collybia was certainly not capable of removing the spell now?

“Seems she asked for it, and she got it,” said Joe. “I’m sorry this had to happen to your daughter, Sir, but it looks like she made some poor choices.”

“Indeed she did, Warden,” said the Duke. “Now, there is the matter of the other human. He came willingly, but I suspect he did not know what was being asked of him. The spirit of the treaty states that he is the one chosen and that there may be no other. However, because he is in a gray area …”

“No, I don’t want to lose Citrina!” said Amanita, on the verge of tears.

“Well, you’ll have Collybia as a Babydoll,” said the Duke, “for I don’t think we’ll be undoing that spell until she’s truly learned her lesson -- perhaps another few millennium will be long enough to change her perspective. But perhaps Citrina can spend part of her time here and part in her world. We can always ask her. If you would place her in the center of the ballroom floor, Amanita …”

Amanita did so, and suddenly with a few words and gestures from the Duke I was my original size and shape, although still dressed rather ridiculously in diapers and a baby dress, which had enlarged to fit me -- probably the magic at work. I tried to stand up, but the bulky diapers made it difficult.

“Your Grace,” I said. I could talk again! I bowed.

“Greetings, mortal. I propose you spend part of each year in your world and part with Amanita as Citrina. What say you?”

“I … have come to treasure my time with Amanita,” I said. “I am agreeable to this. I have family whom I love and who would miss me if I were gone forever. But if I only went on … ‘vacation’ now and then, they would understand.”

“Then so shall it be,” said Duke Armillaria. “Day or night?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I mean, shall you spend the day or the night with us?” the Duke asked.

“Oh. Your Grace, if it please you, I would rather spend the day in my world, and when it is night in my world, I am happy to come here and brighten Amanita’s hours as she brightens mine. Even if I will be unable to speak, I will still have joy.”

“You speak quite eloquently for a mortal,” said the Duke. “It would be a shame to silence those words. Very well. We shall put forth the effort to remove the curse Collybia laid upon you -- right now it is only held in abeyance by your proximity to your own world. A spell is only easily removable by the one who cast it, but their family can remove it with some effort.”

And so it was that Joe brought me back with him the next morning, with a story that I’d gotten drunk, wandered out into the woods, and gotten myself lost. When I went home, I found that there was a circle of mushrooms in my backyard now.

In another place, beyond time and places as we would know them, A young girl played with her very special Babydoll. Amanita was overjoyed with her newest Babydoll. It was so much fun to play with her cuz it was also her closest friend.

Duke Armillaria smiled as he watched his two daughters play with each other. According to the Fairy Council of law, Collybia was officially a Fairy Babydoll and now belonged to her sister. The other serious infractions of the law were amply recompensed by a law older than they that bound all magic folk. The Law of Three could not be forgotten nor overlooked.

As Duke Armillaria quietly closed the door to his daughter’s playroom, he thought of the most recent visit by the other Babydoll. He and his family would enjoy Citrina’s company for many years to come.

~~ A new Beginning of an Old Tradition ~~
Miki Yamuri
 
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