Ethan winced slightly as he slid his bedroom window closed again. Most of the adrenaline in his system from the fight had dissipated, but that didn’t stop his nerves from feeling like a bow string pulled too tightly. So long as he didn’t start another fight, he could wait off the need to recharge until after dinner. Any activity that didn't involve fight or flight (or probably just “fight” if he was being realistic), was fair game.
Ethan sighed deeply and awkwardly squirmed out of his school uniform and into a t-shirt and shorts, wincing and hissing as he strained his body. He could hear talking voices somewhere downstairs. He checked his appearance in his mirror, just in case he crossed anyone’s path. He looked fine enough.
Ethan glided across the hallway and began descending the stairs. It was enough of a pause to identify that the voices he’d heard before were coming from a news channel. He slipped through the dining room to peer into the sitting area. No one was there, they had just left the T.V. on.
The reporter was covering the damage dealt on a newly built radio station. A swarm of pixies had completely trashed the place sometime early in the morning. Honestly, the humans should have been more cautious where they decided to build the towers, or at least where the local monsters were that might take offence at the radio signal. Then again, it was hard enough trying to get people to believe in the "unthinkable". It was easier in Mayburn, since they were so close to the swamp and interactions were… inevitable, but there were always disbelievers.
Some blurry images of a hooded figure in a decorative mask began to appear alongside clearer images of scratch marks and footprints. The image switched over to a completely upturned parking lot on the other side of Mayburn. Unnatural lichen clawed over the wrecked cars that had been fine only an hour before. Some pieces of pavement were still smoking. A line from the scrolling text below flashed across his vision briefly.
Is the Monster responsible?
Ethan turned off the T.V.
He walked back through the dining room, noticing a mess of cryptid-hunting supplies where their dinner would normally be set. Ethan’s parents had been better lately about keeping their stuff in the study, or their lab, but old habits die hard. Most of these supplies seemed to be newspaper articles anyway. Mom and Dad must have left the news on when they rushed out. They were probably already out going after the Mayburn Monster, hoping to still catch its trail before it vanished again after another brawl.
That was fine, he’d see them later for dinner at 6.
He made his way to the back of the house, taking his keys off the hook on the wall.
“Where are you going?”
He startled, turning around to see his twin sister leaning in the hallway. Ethan blinked. “Out. For a drive.” He told her. “I’ll be back before dinner.” he added quickly.
“Yeah, but where are you going?”
He shrugged. “Around.” He said quietly. She stared at the floor indifferently. Ethan didn’t like this conversation. It wasn’t really like Nicole to start interviewing him, and he wasn’t ready to answer any of these questions. He didn’t react well when he was caught off guard anymore, he could already feel his heart rate flaring up again. He sincerely hoped his features weren’t starting to twist out of human expectation.
Nicole slouched against the doorframe, her face scrunching up a bit conflictingly.
“I know you’re the Mayburn Monster.”
The adrenaline vanished coldly. “Huh?” He asked dumbly.
Nicole frowned. “You’re the Mayburn Monster. I know.”
Ethan’s throat closed up. He stared at her face while she avoided his gaze. “For how long?” He managed desolately.
Nicole shrugged. “A few weeks, I guess. Maybe a month.” She admitted. Ehtan blinked, his pupils dilating slightly. That long? And he hadn’t noticed--hadn't been more cautious? He blinked faster, swallowing again and feeling like he was choking on cotton.
Nicole frowned, tilting her face further away from him. “I guess I was hoping you would tell me. That maybe you just weren’t ready yet?” Nicole stared at the front of his shirt. “Were you ever going to tell me?”
Ethan shifted his weight, still staring at her face blankly.
Her gaze found something more interesting on the wall to his left. She seemed to think for a moment. “I’m not gonna tell them. I haven’t told anyone, you know? I wouldn’t do that.” She promised him suddenly.
He blinked at her again. Right. He hadn’t even known that she figured it out, and yet she did. And she didn’t even tell him. Not at first. His eyes burned uncomfortably.
“Where are you going?” She asked, uncharacteristically softly. “I won’t tell anyone that either, but, would you tell me?”
She hadn’t told anyone. “I’m going to meet a friend.”
“A human one?”
Ethan shifted his weight slightly. Nicole sighed through her nose. “They’re not “your friend”, are they? They're some kind of cryptid or fairy or-- or something else that wants to kill you.” She concluded.
“No,” He corrected adamantly, meeting her gaze defiantly. “He’s a friend.”
“How do you know it won’t hurt you?” She demanded.
His eyes flashed angrily, burning a sickly green color before cooling back into something closer to brown. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, remembering all too clearly one of his enemies’ more recent taunts. He really hated them, but they had a point. He had a temper. Ethan breathed again, staring critically at the peeling wallpaper.
“Nick, I know him. He’s not like that.” He insisted.
He waited silently for another challenge, but instead he heard a few tentative footsteps approach and then stop again.
“Sorry,” she muttered. “I don’t want you to get hurt.” She forced out.
“That’s what you want to know? If he would hurt me?”
She shrugged with mock casualty. “What else?”
He breathed a bit shakily. “Do you trust me when I say that I trust him. With anything.”
Nicole looked at him seriously. She nodded after a faint sigh. She chuckled rigidly. “Sorry, I just-- the attacks have been getting more frequent and you're always there to fight them-- do you ever put yourself first?”
He stared at her. “You, you really don’t mind that I’m…the--ah….”
She recoiled minutely. “No, of course not. You know that, right?” Her eyes narrowed. “You know that now, right?”
She settled back slightly. “A friend, huh?” She asked repetitively. “How long have you known him?”
Ethan stared at her, considering something very carefully.
He crossed his arms loosely, worrying his lip between his teeth. “Do you want to meet him?”
Normally the car rides they shared were overwhelmed with music blasting from the radio. Ethan really didn’t like the tone of the silence they had unanimously opted for instead.
“Is there anything I should know about this guy?”
Ethan glanced at her briefly. “Well, for starters, he’s a lake monster, he doesn’t speak or understand English. The little guy is very intelligent though, and he knows to fear humans.”
“Doesn’t that make it a bad thing that you're trying to introduce us?”
“No, he trusts me.” Ethan replied confidently.
Nicole seemed satisfied enough. They lapsed back into silence. Nicole kept glancing over at him every minute or so. Finally she sighed hesitantly.
“So, how did it happen?” She asked casually.
Ethan stared at the road. “I got stung by a fairy dart.”
Nicole squinted briefly. “Eh? Oh, I think I saw notes of them on dad’s desk. They’re weapons, right?”
Ethan made a so-so gesture with his head. “Fairy darts act like weapons, but they don’t usually kill people.” He answered easily. He seemed excited to talk about it, to explain something he understood. It made his existence more explainable. More normal. “Do you remember the Briar Rose fairytale?” He asked earnestly.
“Sleeping beauty, yes.” Fairy tales had been their parent’s chosen bedtime stories to read to them. Now that Nicole really thought about it, a lot of stories involving fairies featured a deathly sleep via some curse or hex.
Ethan nodded sagely. “The needle on the spinning wheel was a fairy dart,” He explained. “It was powerful enough that the curse covered the entire castle even though it only drew blood from Briar Rose.” He squinted thoughtfully at the road. “And that leads to the point I need to make. Darts are imbued with dangerously high levels of fae magic, enough that the wood of the dart isn’t really made of wood anymore.”
He frowned, trying to figure out how to explain the concept. “It’s like… it's like their molecules don't act like wood. The splinter can’t burn or anything like that. It’s like it stopped being a vessel for magic, and became the magic. Usually the victim is just enchanted with the spell, but magic is a bit wild, right? So in my case, I… I sort of became the new vessel. I replaced the purpose of the dart.”
“But if fairy darts are meant to knock people out in a magic coma, why didn’t you fall asleep?”
“I did.” He answered simply.
Nicole furrowed her brows in thought for a moment until her face slacked suddenly. “Oh.” She stated numbly. “March 25th.”
Nicole still remembered how her phone nearly slipped from her hand upon reading the messages she had received from Dad. She had been ignoring the relentless tones issuing from her phone, trying to continue playing the game she had on her console. But less than an hour before, Ethan’s friends had showed up at the hospital from their camping trip, dragging him inside. He was completely unharmed, and yet he didn’t even twitch for over a week. No warning, no evidence, it was like he had dropped dead.
“But you woke up again,” She stated obviously. And then he had attempted to hide a number of what seemed to be sicknesses at the time, or random noise and light sensitivity, and a range of new and weirdly specific allergies and sleeping patterns. But he was awake again, at the time, that was all that seemed important.
Ethan inhaled through his nose deeply. “Fairies can’t fall under a fairy spell.” He whispered in resignation.
“I--” He sighed. “I became immune to the magic. It's almost like I got infected with a virus, and the virus didn’t kill my, but it also didn’t leave my system. When the dart stung me, I became the new vessel, but I’m not a human-shaped dart now, I’m--” He paused suddenly, mouth hanging shut for a moment before closing with a dull clack. “I’m not really human anymore.” He admitted quietly. He blinked, shifting his grip on the wheel. “I’m fairy-kin.”
“Fairy-kin,” He repeated. “That name is technically a status, but also… a species? Not officially, but I can-- I can do things humans can’t.”
“Like what?” Nicole prompted.
He opened and closed his mouth a few times, like he was silently choking. “You’ve seen them.”
He was right for the most part. She had seen a lot of what he was capable of by observing his fights. Nicole glanced subconsciously at his forearm before looking away again. The veins had begun to stand out a little more obviously as the conversation went on. They seemed darker, almost a shade of green. She knew he wouldn’t like it if she pointed it out.
Ethan turned the car onto a dirt road. Loose stones rattled and dust billowed around the car as they began to enter the denser trees.
“How do you, like, change costumes so quickly?” She asked.
“Oh. My uh-- costume, as you put it-- is inside an enchanted duffel bag, and the zipper is set to get ridiculously stuck anytime someone who isn't me tries to open it. But I only open the bag itself when I need to make repairs on the outfit or mask. I have a code phrase that switches the clothes I’m wearing with the costume, and then my old outfit is the one in the duffel bag. There’s a different code phrase to turn back again.” He explained loosely.
“Cool.” She commented. “So you like, enchanted all those things yourself?” She asked.
He shook his head quickly. “No, I don’t even know if I’m capable of that. I met with a fairy princess--Shaira-- and she did it for me. She gave me the mask too. Her spiders made the outfit.”
“Her wha--okay.” Nicole decided, shrugging to herself. “That was nice of her.”
“You could put it that way.” He mumbled.
Nicole looked at him. “What do you mean?”
He glanced over at her briefly. “Oh, uh, it wasn’t a favor. I mean, it was a favor, but favors aren’t free. They’re like currency, an eye for an eye and all that.”
“That’s why honesty is so important to them,” She realized. “Dishonesty is counterfeit currency.”
He winced slightly. “It’s a bit worse than that. Honor is a piece of a being’s identity, even more so than for humans. Monsters in the fae classification are especially dangerous because they cannot be trusted under any circumstance,” He said firmly. “They don’t hide the fact that they plan to betray you as soon as they get the chance. Fae are masters of loopholes and fine print. The devil is in the details or something like that,” He said, waving his hand aimlessly. “And your worth is in your words.” He added in a much more subdued tone.
Nicole stared at him silently. She wondered if he ever sacrificed his worth in the mythical community. What did her brother’s promise mean to a fairy or imp? Lying was just so much more natural for humans, teenagers especially.
Nicole looked out at the passing scenery. “What did you promise Shaira?”
Ethan stared forward. He sighed, making a kind of humming sound in his throat. “Can’t say.”
“You're not sure?” Nicole clarified.
“I'm not allowed to tell anyone.”
The dirt road expanded out into a square plot. Ethan parked the car and jumped out quickly, locking the doors as soon as Nicole followed suit. He smiled eagerly and began jogging into the trees, before stopping and gesturing with his hand for Nicole to catch up to him. He took her hand and walked more slowly through the thicket.
The trees opened up before a lake, with short patches of a stony beach cut up by thick bushes and reeds. Ethan kept walking along the side of the lake, seeming to follow a straightforward and familiar path through the wild berry bushes.
He led them to a crown of rocks splintering upwards along the side of the lake. Large boilers stacked and balanced against one another, making small islands scattered around the shallows, and a granite wall partially shielding the already tourist-free lake.
Ethan stopped 20 feet from the water and began taking off his shoes.
“Just sit down around here and don’t make any sudden movements or loud noises. Nessie’s sight and hearing isn’t as good above water, but we should try not to startle him.”
Nicole nodded and sat down on one of the flat rocks. She watched as Ethan waded into the lake, waving his hands around in the water gently. Nicole put her chin in her hands and waited as Ethan splashed around on his own for a few minutes. She sat up straighter as she saw the blue-green surface ripple and churn before a massive serpentine head rose up from the water.
Nicole startled backwards off the rock as the giant monster arched its head above her brother. Just as fast as he had risen from the lake, Nessie’s head plunged downward and tackled Ethan into the water.
She heard him laughing moments after he splashed back to the surface. A long scaly neck coiled around his torso, nudging him closer to the deep water cautiously. The monster’s throat rumbled as he twisted his head from side to side, attempting to watch her with both of his wide iridescent eyes. Ethan pet Nessie’s scales, running long strokes down his neck reassuringly.
Nicole refused to move. She gaped at her brother accusingly. “That’s ‘the little guy?’”
Ethan looked at her, smiling sheepishly. “He’s just a baby.”
Nicole blinked, staring upward at Nessie. Her heart hammered. Nessie was tilting himself away from her, trying to drag Ethan along with him. A logical part of her brain was recognizing that he was frightened, the other more defensive side was recognizing that his mouth was big enough to swallow her whole. She forced herself to stay still, watching as Ethan continued deliberately petting Nessie. It sounded like he was... humming.
Nessie reacted slowly, letting Ethan go and lowering his head back down with another rumble. It was kind of like a purr. Ethan grinned happily, glancing back and forth between them triumphantly. Nicole could tell they were understanding each other in a way she couldn’t.
This was a much bigger secret then the Mayburn Monster. Nicole looked at Ethan laughing freely as the lake monster nuzzled against his arm. Ethan was right, Nessie was just a baby, a little kid without a parent to protect him. Ethan rested his head on the scaly hide and they seemed to pause, as if sharing some secret knowledge between them.
Nessie did have Ethan. The Mayburn Monster had repeatedly interfered with the mythical in favor of human safety, but Nicole wondered whose side he would play if it were a clash with the nervous lake monster.
For now, she knew that they could keep Nessie a secret. That would keep them both safe, for now. Nicole sat back down and watched the two play together in the shallows.