The moon was full, but the oracles could not see it. They had gathered in their chamber, preparing for a strike of the insight. A scribe slept against the wall, in case of a prophecy.
The air thickened. All seven of them gathered- the time was nigh upon them. Soft slippers glanced off of cold stone. One was the first to speak. She massaged her forehead, beckoning for the scribe.
"This will need to be written down!" She hissed.
He woke with a jerk, collecting his pen and paper. She gritted her teeth, slipping into the trance. The others gathered in a protective circle around her as she began to levitate, eyes open and glowing unnaturally. Her mouth jerked open, controlled by invisible forces.
"Days, six, years two fifteen,
a baby born to two between,
heart human, body king
save us all
from darkness bring."
Her mouth closed and she fell, slumping to the floor. The scribe gathered his things and ran- the royal family would be eager to hear this. Little did he know, however, that there were other things on their minds- like the prince who had just been born.
An was late to work. Again. Well- her real work, that was. She frowned as her floor manager passed by her.
"My, uh, my shift was over at three."
She nodded her head towards the wall. 3:07.
He rolled his eyes. "Listen, just stay until Becky gets here, all right?"
"Becky's always late! I have something I need to do!"
He didn't say anything, just raised his eyebrows and pointed to table three- the table three that had been empty until two seconds ago. She groaned internally. She had to stay on- otherwise she would lose her job.
With a sigh, she retied her apron and put on a cheery smile. Pen at the ready, she faced the masses.
"Welcome to O'Hairys! What can I help you with today?"
Originally a small town diner, O'Hairys had become a small time restaurant chain, complete with souvenir merchandise. If she hadn't worked there, An would have loved it. They combined everything that she loved- bigfoot, pie, and cheap menus.
She didn't love it. She hated it.
I could be writing my article right now! She moaned internally as the father of the family looked through the menu. She cleared her throat. "Would you like drinks?"
He looked up. "We'll have, uh..." The mother tapped him on the elbow and leaned forward to whisper something to him. "Two cokes, and one juice."
"No thank you."
He ignored her after that, returning to his menu. An wrote down the order and turned towards the kitchen- he interrupted her with a snap of his fingers. "Wait! You!"
Her resentment turned to pure anger. She tried to restrain her glare with a smile. She... possibly seemed deranged. Not such a good look. "Yes, Sir?"
"What's today's special?"
"Home-cooked pea soup and crackers."
He nodded, then turned back to his menu. She turned away again, this time hightailing it to the kitchen. She gave the chef the slip- just as Becky came in. The smaller girl pushed her way in, grinning.
"Sorry about that!" She shrugged. "I had a date with Mitch, and we, like, totally lost track of the time."
Thanks, universe, An thought. Not only did she have to stay late, but she also got to be reminded of how single she was every time she talked to Becky. She was also forced to face how unsuccessful she was- becky was only a sophomore in high school. An was a twenty-six college graduate.
And I still live with my parents. She sighed, out loud this time.
Taking off her apron, she turned to face Becky again to reprimand her- only to find that the younger girl had disappeared. Great.
She glared at herself in the mirror of the hallway as she pulled on her coat. Black hair up in a messy bun fell down onto her face, complete with stray hairs pointing towards the ceiling.
I should probably freshen up before heading to work. She glanced at the clock again. 3:40. Her shift started at 3:30. No time!
She finished buttoning, then she ran to the bus stop. Why was she always late to the job she actually liked?
An arrived at the office early enough to catch the boss. Lauren smiled as she waved for An to come over to her desk.
"An! Just in time. We've had a call from the courtside area, something about a fairy? I thought it might work for your column."
It would definitely work. An wrote the Farsight column, focusing on the accounts of people who saw extraordinary things. Her latest article had been about Bigfoot. Fairies, however, were a first.
"That sounds great! I think I'll go out and interview them, actually. Did they say who they were?"
Lauren shook her head. "No, he didn't seem to want to be interviewed... he just said that you should check the east side fountain for evidence. He said it would be obvious."
Real evidence: even better. An could hardly wait. She hadn't even taken off her coat yet- and it didn't seem like she would need to. She made a U-turn and hightailed it out of the office.
Fairy, here I come!
An tapped her foot. The bus was late. Everything was late!
The east side fountain was a disappointment. An walked around it, then walked around it again- nothing. Nothing! She huffed in irritation. Stupid prank callers.
That was when a hand slammed over her mouth, pulling her back into someone she hadn't heard coming. Her entire body tensed in panic- until she inhaled some of the chloroform.
The last things she saw were the cracked tiles of the courtyard.
An blinked as her blurry surroundings resolved themselves. She was lying in a bed much more luxurious than the one she owned. A soft pink canopy floated over her head, seemingly unsupported, and the pillows were plusher than anything she had ever touched before. The covers were stitched intricately with the designs of flowers.
She pushed herself up. She was on top of the covers, still fully dressed and a bit muddy from the rain. This inconsistency with her surroundings convinced her- this was real life, not a dream. Still. It was a pretty weird life experience.
As she stood up, wincing at the stain her clothing had left on the sheets, she considered her situation. Aliens? No, too earthly. Aliens were more sci-fi. Maybe the fairies she had been looking for?
That could work. She made her way across the room, looking for anything that would indicate who had captured her. She found a pair of scissors (disappointingly human), a dressing table (mysterious bottles- magic perhaps?) and a door.
As she was inspecting the doorknob to check for spellcasting runes- you never know, right?- the door swung open, hitting her in the face. Stumbling back, she checked her nose for blood. Nothing.
"Are- are you all right?"
A concerned face swam into view with a helping hand extended. She groped blindly for it, her eyes swimming with tears. It was only as she got up that she realized- this was the same person who kidnapped her! Karate lessons, don't fail me now.
"Hya!" She swung into a defensive position. The man looked bewildered. He was the same size as her- short- and was balding at the crown. He seemed to be at least sixty.
"Dear, I think you should stop that before you, uh, hurt yourself..." he wrung his hands nervously. She didn't stand down.
"Are you the snake people? Sorcerers? Fairies?"
She was somewhat doubtful on the last one, given that fairies were supposed to be around an inch tall, but every option had to be considered.
"Fairies- or, well, elves, but... it's the same!" he said holding his hands up. He looked like a deer in headlights. "Really, you need to calm down, or I'll have to sedate you again!"
She calmed down. She really hated the smell of chloroform.
He readjusted his tie and cleared his throat. "Hrmph. Well, I am advisor Titus, and I'm here to make you an offer."
He leaned forward and took one of her hands in both of her own. "You need to marry the king."
"It's a prophecy! The king needs to marry a human, and he needs to marry her soon." He gave her hand a comforting pat. "You're our only hope."
"Okay, uh, several things I'd like to clarify with that statement." An withdrew her hand. "One: why does he need to marry a human? What does the prophecy say? Two: why doesn't he just date people like a normal person?"
The advisor- Titus- looked uncomfortable. "The prophecy- well, apparently something bad will happen, and the only person who will be able to save us will be the child of the king and a human."
"And he can't go out and date, he's a king! Also, our kind have to remain hidden! It would be a dreadful idea to have him go out onto the "scene", as you young people say. No, we had to choose someone for him- and you're our choice, dear."
An was very, very disappointed. (She was also curious about how Titus managed to imply quotations in a sentence without moving his hands) "What? I don't even get to be the hero of my own prophecy?"
Titus looked very fed up with this. "Do you accept the offer or not?"
She didn't like where the conversation was going. "What happens if I reject the offer?"
"We return you home with all your memories intact- we're not barbarians."
She was torn. On one hand, An wanted to go home- and she certainly didn't want to marry anyone. On the other hand.... it would make an amazing article to have married a fairy king. She thought back to where she lived, with her parents, working a deadbeat job.
There was only one problem. "My cat. I want to have her with me."
Titus looked relieved. "Of course! We'll get your cat right away. So- you agree?"
She nodded. Well, this will be interesting.
He beamed. "Here! Sign this, and then the servants will get you ready to meet the king!" He produced a massive stack of paper.
An scanned the last half, then signed. She was ready for this. Well, she thought so.
"One more thing!" the advisor called. "Do you have any allergies? We're preparing a royal feast."
The servants engulfed her. The last thing An saw before she was whisked out of the room was Titus speaking to the other maids- something about colors?
Before she could listen for real, however, she was sat down in a parlor even more luxurious than the room where she had woken up. Thick purple carpet covered the floor, tapestries covered the walls, and all the light fixtures seemed to be made of crystal. Nice. The attendants swarmed her.
She noted with satisfaction that they looked much less human than Titus. Cool! One of them had totally blue skin, with pink hair. An was jealous.
"What's your name, miss?"
"Oh! Anastasia Lexon."
One of them winked at her. "It'll be Anastasia Volail soon."
An blushed. "Just call me An." Even though she had agreed to marry this guy minutes ago, she still didn't even- she didn't even know his name! "Uh... what's the kings name?"
This question was met with much giggling. "Iben Volail!" Another girl swooped down to stare at An. "How did you not know that?"
"Titus, or whatever his name is, didn't tell me anything!" she defended herself.
Pink hair took pity on her. "Well, he's tall, and handsome, and he's super responsible." she giggled. "He's also supposed to be great in bed!"
An blushed. She wasn't a virgin, but she was inexperienced.
"And he's willing to give someone like me a chance?"
"Oh, he'll always do his duty. I bet he won't take mistresses or anything." said a girl with purple curls seriously.
"Besides, you're really pretty! And by the time we're done with you, you'll be stunning." Pink hair said. "I'm sooooo jealous of your hair." She held up a black tress as an example. "And your eyes! They're gorgeous!" An blinked at herself in the mirror. Brown had never seemed to be very exciting to her. Especially compared to the colors she was seeing right now- violet? Really?
Her thoughts were interrupted by other attendants swooping in with a dress. It was beautiful- blue silk with glittering crystals sewn in. She was hurried into it, then the dressers stepped back.
"Excellent job." Titus had come in sometime in the last few minutes. He looked over her approvingly, then took An by the elbow. An felt herself being steered towards yet another door. "I think it's about time you meet your future husband."
An was beginning to feel as if she had been kidnapped by a whirlwind. She had signed up for this, sure, but a lot had happened in the last five minutes. She stared over at the hall as she was taken away by Titus, stumbling a bit in her heels.
"Could you tell me a bit more about this? I don't really have that much info on your marriage traditions, or whatever." She pulled her elbow free from Titus, sending him a questioning glance.
He sighed, walking quicker. "We don't have much time, His Highness has a very busy schedule." He paused as they came around a corner. "However, I suppose you could use some more background." He turned again. "His highness is currently twenty-six years old, the same age as you. We have planned a month-long courtship period, then a wedding."
"What about my parents?" An hurried to catch up.
"What about them?"
"I know I forgot to ask this earlier, but- I have parents, and I want to know what they can know about this. They probably think I'm kidnapped or something, I don't want to worry them."
Titus's shoulders grew tense. "We can't tell any humans about us. You are an exception."
"But- they won't tell anyone, I promise!"
"Your promises do not apply to them." Titus stopped and turned toward her, his eyes serious. "The only person who could possibly approve a request to tell your parents is King Volail."
At least An had a chance. "Uh. Okay."
Titus resumed walking, gesturing for her to follow him again. "You must try to be polite. Your customs do not apply here."
"Speak only when spoken to, bow when you greet anyone- that will change if you end up becoming queen, but for now you should show respect- and do not smile with teeth."
"It's a sign of a challenge. Trust me."
They were rapidly approaching a set of gilt doors. An had a feeling she knew what was behind them. Titus slowed once more, nodding to the attendants who stood to either side of the handles. The doors swung open slowly, revealing a dimly lit room.
"I would like to present your bride, King Volail!" Titus called.
An swallowed, her throat suddenly dry.
A silhouette stood up, clearing its throat. "You may leave us now. I'd like to speak with her alone."
Titus moved away quickly, leaving An and the figure alone. She moved forward- what was this king like? Was he hot? God, she hoped he was hot. She had already signed on to marry him, but there was nothing wrong with hoping...
King Volail came into view. An's throat went dry.
He was very, very hot.
She held in a swoon as she looked over him. He was exactly what she liked- tall, beard, wide shoulders. Still, he seemed a bit odd for a fairy.
"Are beards something you guys have a lot?"
He closed his mouth- he had had it open? Shit. - and looked at her. Then he sighed. "Have you been listening to anything I've said?"
She felt her cheeks grow hot. "I. Well."
"Well, I can go over it again for you." He swept over (how majestic!) and faced her directly. She nodded, cheeks still flushed.
"Yeah, that would- that would be helpful."
"Well," he began, leading her over to a chair and waving a hand towards a teapot, "I thought we should discuss the future before we finalize any engagement."
An nodded. "Yeah, okay." The king poured her a cup of tea, then made himself a cup as well. He leaned back as he stirred in sugar: his eyes raked over her, feeling like an x-ray. An tried not to squirm. "Well?"
He took a long sip. "How do you think you would do in court? If we marry, you'll become a Queen. That comes with many duties."
She tried the tea. Mint. "I'm not an expert, but I think I would be able to learn."
"Our culture is quite different." He drank more tea. "Will you be able to adapt?"
"I think new cultures are fascinating! But..." She set the cup down. "I think I'd adapt better if I was able to contact my parents."
"What, so you want them to think I died or disappeared? I don't want to worry them! They deserve to know what's happening in my life."
"You're a grown woman. I'm sure you'll do fine without them."
She huffed and drank more tea. "If I can't tell them at least where I am, the agreement is off."
They sat in silence. The king sighed once more. "We got off on the wrong foot." He gave An a smile, albeit one that didn't reach his eyes.
"My people have a myriad of marriage traditions. I thought that it would be best to skip all of them, as you were- unfamiliar with them. Since the time until the prophecy comes into play is short as well, a quick courtship would be ideal."
Here he paused. An shrugged. "It can be quick. I just want my parents to know I'm not dead."
The king responded with a more true smile here. "No, no, I agree. I was too quick to do away with tradition: it serves a purpose, after all. In fact, I think we ought to do this correctly."
He stood up formally and brushed off his formal tuxedo. He gave her a charming smile, swept out a bow, and said, "I would be most pleased if you permitted me to meet your parents in person, so that I might request your hand in marriage."
An was quite literally speechless.
The silence grew longer. The king started to falter. She had to say something- anything!
"Well. I guess it can't hurt?"
She took his hand and stood up, almost tripping over the settee. Ooops. "Just a warning, though. My dad has a shotgun."
"What?" Her- well, her future husband, apparently- looked absolutely baffled. She stopped herself from giggling. Barely.
"You'll find out, don't worry."
She stepped neatly around him and moved towards the corridor. "Oh- and where's my cat? I thought you were going to bring her in?"