They arrived at the empty space, Max slid into the booth and Doug followed his example, when he looked up he jumped, Max shook his head, hiding a small grin. There was a woman sitting across from them, even sitting she was tall. Her skin was pale, with a faint blush on her high cheek bones, her blonde hair was shaped upwards in an intricate hairstyle, she wore a bright white dress that hugged the curves of her body. She looked beautiful, exceedingly so. Everything about her was perfect, he met her eyes, they were a light grey, but as he watched they changed and shifted, like storm clouds moving across the sky, she was the most exquisite being he had ever seen and- a hand waved across his face, causing him to jump, Max was saying something.
“What?” He looked at Max,
“I asked if you were all right.”
“I, uh, yeah, I’m, yeah.” Doug looked back at the woman, she was smiling faintly. Her eyes were a light green with hints of hazel, they weren’t changing colour. Her skin seemed a little darker too, as though she had more colour than before, her hair was still blonde, but now it hung casually around her shoulders. Her dress had changed to a simple t-shirt and jeans. She looked a little embarrassed.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for that to happen. I can’t always control it.”
Max’s eyes widened, “you didn’t.”
“I’m sorry. I really am.”
Max shook his head, “Do you know what you could have done?”
She nodded, lowering her head.
Max sighed, then looked at Doug, “Feeling ok?”
“Yeah” his voice was thick, Doug coughed, clearing his throat, he answered again, sounding more sure of himself, “Yeah, what happened?”
“I showed you what I look like. Properly. Without all this.” She gestured at herself.
Doug remembered the woman before and felt a small throb in his stomach, he wanted to see her again. He opened his mouth to speak, Max cut across him. “Stop. Don’t ask. She won’t do it again.”
She looked at them both, “I will look like this for the remainder of the evening.”
“I…What are you?”
She chuckled, “I’m queen of the fairies.”
“So, you grant wishes then?”
She smiled at him again, “Of a sort. I make trades. Nothing is for free. There are rules to what I do, ones that even I cannot break. Ancient bindings. I do what I can to help, but my nature doesn’t always let me.”
“What do you mean your nature?”
“The change didn’t just change me physically. It changed me mentally too. I know over time I will shift and change more. I will probably become crueller, harsher. Even now I can feel alien thoughts pushing in my mind. Everyone here knows to be careful of me. I’m sure you were warned too?” She glanced at Max, then back at Doug, “Now, I’m going to provide you with my own warning. I cannot lie, but I can speak falsehoods. We might become friends and that will protect you for a while, but I will be fickle soon. I control it now, but soon it might control me. If that happens I cannot stop it.” She looked at Max again, “I say this for your benefit too.”
Max nodded, “I know. I’m well aware of what you are going to become, but that doesn’t worry me Mags.”
Her expression hardened, “It should. In a few months I will move on from here.”
She glanced at Doug, “for now though, I am here and I will answer some of your questions.”
“Who were you before the change?”
“I was a teacher. I taught children, and enjoyed it. I cared for them very much. When the wall came down I protected them, some until their parents came for them, others for longer. It wasn’t only adults who were trapped here when the walls came down. I stopped people from hurting them, using them. I was one of the first to change. I didn’t know what was happening, neither did the children, but they accepted it, I was their world. We played games and made merry until it was time for them to leave.” She shook her head slightly, “it was a time of learning for us all.” She looked sadly at the table, then she took a sip of her drink.
“It was difficult, trying to protect them and preserve their innocence. If I didn’t think their parents could look after them I invited them to join. Most did. When things settled, I released them when they wished to leave. Almost all of the children are gone now, some have stayed with me as there was no where else for them to go. I look after them still, keep them safe. Teach them. I worry for them, when the gates open. I fear that some of them may not be accepted by their parents. I know what it feels to be rejected by the ones that you love and I cannot bear the thought of any of them going through that.”
“Surely their parents would still love them, even with the change.”
“You would be surprised at the reasons some people give for abandoning their child. We don’t know what will happen to them until they hit puberty, we don’t know how they’ll develop and grow. At first we thought that the change would hold off until puberty for the children, but we were mistaken.”
“Are there any others here who look after the children and provide schooling?”
“Of course, there are many others. I am not the only one who protected children while the worst of it was happening. Even in my own school other teachers stayed and helped as much as they could. Of those that left, most returned, some alone, some with their families. We cared for one another, kept everyone safe.”
She took another drink.
“tell me, have you met the Baron yet?”
She looked at Max, a faint smile on her lips, “I see dear Max hasn’t told you of him. He made a grab for power when the wall came down. Tried to use intimidation to rule. It failed, fortunately. A few people stood up to him, got him to back down. He’s still there though, a blight on our city.”
“I was planning on bringing it up once he’d seen the good side of the city.”
Doug doubted it but didn’t say anything. “Is he dangerous?”
“That depends on who you are and if he wants anything from you.” Mags finished her drink, “I’m afraid my time here is short and I must leave. I hope to see you again before you go. It was a pleasure meeting you Doug.” She bowed slightly at the waist to them both, then simply vanished. Noise came crashing over Doug, he hadn’t noticed while they were talking, but the background noises of the restaurant had faded away. Max scowled at where Mags had been standing. “Should have expected her to say something like that, try to set you on edge. She can be a bit tricky sometimes. Don’t worry though, you’re safe. The Baron isn’t a danger to you at all.”
“What is he exactly?”
“As Mags said, he’s a criminal, tried to make a grab for power, he failed. He tries to keep crime going, we stomp it out, he’s a powerful businessman these days. None of us trust him, but we can’t go seizing his assets without enough evidence, so for now we have to leave him be mostly.”
“Would it be possible for me to meet him at some point?”
“Yes, I’m sure he’d be more than happy to arrange it, however personally I don’t think it’s a good idea. He is powerful and while I cannot imagine him hurting you, I don’t doubt he’d try to manipulate you and feed you lies to reach his own goals, which, frankly, no one really knows but him.”
They left the restaurant, having been told that the meal was “On Rosie” by the golden waiter. The air outside had gotten chillier and rather than being discomforted, Doug found that it woke him up a little. The day had been a long one and despite his earlier nap he was ready for bed. He hadn’t seen as much of the city as he would have liked, but he knew a lot more than he had this morning. Despite his tiredness, he knew he had some work to do when he got home. They walked back the apartment, Max had offered to show him the subway system, but Doug declined, he was tired enough as it was and he feared that should he sit anywhere, he’d fall asleep. Besides that it was a short enough walk to the apartment. Max left him at the doors and walked off in the direction of his office, promising he’d see him tomorrow. Doug made his way upstairs, taking the elevator. As he walked down the corridor of the fifth floor he could hear occasional muffled noises. It was comforting and reminded him of his own apartment building. He let himself in and again locked the door behind him. As he did so he reminded himself that the area had to be safe, the council wouldn’t have put him somewhere dangerous, but that didn’t stop him turning the lock and sliding the chain across it. When that was done, he went into the kitchen and got himself a beer from the fridge, he had spotted them earlier. He sat down at the table and began to fill in his notes, jotting down impressions and views. He transferred any notes he had made by hand onto his laptop, typing them out with few mistakes. When he was done his eyes were gritty and sore, he rubbed them, downed his beer, then stood from the table. He shuffled things together to make it look a bit tidier then he stumbled into bed. He set his alarm then rolled over and fell into a deep sleep.
The alarm woke him early in the morning, as he sat up he could hear the faint sounds of others moving around the apartment building. He stumbled into the sitting room rubbing the sleep from his eyes and got himself a glass of water, he downed it, then filled it again. As he sipped his second glass he looked out of the window, outside people were moving about the street going, Doug assumed, to work. A few cars trundled passed, surprising him. He had thought that cars weren’t in common use in New Town. He’d have to ask Max about it later. He left the glass on the table and went into the bathroom.
Ready for the day Doug returned to the kitchen, he had a quick look in the fridge before grabbing an apple from the bowl on the counter, deciding he wasn’t all that hungry. It was crisp and delicious. As he ate he read over his notes, adding a few things here and there.