Mark heard from Lenita the next day, when she called for the combination. She said she should know something by the end of the week, that they would receive their protective charms by the weekend, and that the spell Kristen needed for the baby had been sent, encrypted, to Aaron's email.
The spell turned out to be almost disappointingly simple. A couple of white candles and a promise was really all it was. Kristen performed it that evening with no visible effects, but he did notice a very faint, very vague feeling of relief in the air once she was done.
On Thursday evening, Mark received a package from Lenita. It contained four small cloth bags on leather cords, and a folder full of papers. The first page of the folder was a poem by Thomas Boyd, an Irish poet who died in the early 1900's, entitled "The Fairy Mistress", with a scrawled note from Lenita in the margin -- This is the best fit, so far. Read the enclosed documents, and take care. Somehow, Mark didn't think those last two words were just a polite close. The poem read, in part:
_And would he, entering on the brimming flood, See caverns vast in height, And daimond columns, crowned with leaf and bud, Glow in long lanes of light.
And there the pearl of that great glittering shell Trembling, behold thee lone, Now weaving in slow dance an awful spell, Now still upon thy throne?
Thy beauty! ah, the eyes that pierce him thro' Then melt as in a dream; The voice that sings the mysteries of the blue And all that Be and Seem! Thy lovely motions answering to the rhyme That anceint Nature sings, That keeps the stars in cadence for all time, And echoes thro' all things!
Whether he sees thee thus, or in his dreams, Thy light makes all lights dim; An aching solitude from henceforth seems The world of men to him.
Thy luring song, above the sensuous roar, He follows with delight, Shutting behind him Life's last gloomy door, And fares into the Night._
Mark frowned, and read through the rest of the packet. The Leanan Sidhe, also called Fairy Mistress, or Fairy Sweetheart, did indeed have some resemblances to Kristen, but there was a dark, unpleasant theme to the legends. She was said to be a Celtic muse, possessed of unearthly beauty capable of generating unquenchable desire. Her victims -- as most of the papers described her lovers -- tended frequently to be artists, writers, or other creative men. They would fall under her spell immediately, and be completely unable to conceive of leaving her after that. In exchange for the loyalty, love, and lust she fed upon, she inspired genius in her lovers... though for a very brief time.
There were a few notes, though, that suggested that the premature demise of her lovers came not from her draining them of life and spirit, but from the unbearable heartbreak or sorrow when she left, and maintained that the Leanan Sidhe herself was not a malicious being. While the lover typically considered her attentions a precious gift, they would quickly deteriorate into total self-destruction once she has left, and the author maintained that it was this that inspired the belief that she was evil and dangerous, with some even comparing her to a vampire that chose to use only one victim for a long period of time.
All of the papers agreed that she was radiantly beautiful, so beautiful, in fact, that all other women, in comparison, seemed lifeless and dull, but there was mention that, once she had chosen a lover, she might gain the ability to become invisible to all others.
Lenita had underlined bits here and there, and jotted little notes in the margin. Passages dealing with 'glowing' beauty, the unnatural lure of the Leanan Sidhe, about her 'feeding' from her lovers... all of these she'd marked, noting the similarities to what she'd gathered from Aaron and Mark about Kristen. After reading through it all, Mark remained uncertain. He handed the packet to Kristen so that she could read it, too, and she did so, becoming more and more unsettled with each page. He sat beside her on the couch. "Love? What's wrong?" he asked.
She looked up at him, her green eyes wide and unhappy. "I... these things kill their lovers, Mark. They use them up, it says. A... a kind of vampire."
He shook his head. "Read more carefully. The bad stuff actually happens if their lovers leave them, or drive them away. Which is exactly what I'd expect from Kayla's description of a life-bond."
She wasn't convinced. "I don't know... not all of those quotes have that bit. Just one page does, really. And look at this..." She shuffled through the papers to find the particular sheet she wanted, then handed it to him.
_So the poet, living in an all encompassing yearning for his immortal lover, is inspired to great writings. This happens because the Leanan Sidhe has the power to make the creativity of an entire lifetime burn though the poet in a short time. Having taken her fill of his quickened life force, he then must go to an early death.
As a vampire, she uses this life force to keep herself beautiful and to weave her spells upon yet another mortal. Though seduction is deadly, it is nothing but Otherworld ecstasy for the human soul she feeds from._
As he read it again, she said, "And it's right. My looks come from the people I feed off of."
He shook his head. "I don't think so, love. I don't feel drained at all. If anything, I have more energy. And besides, this is a from a website, it says, so we don't know where the author got their info, even. And you'll note that none of these writers ever say that they met one of your kind themselves. For the most part, it's a description of a description. Like I said the other day -- I don't think you are feeding from us, I think that sex generates your energy. And remember how negatively sex has been viewed for the past too centuries, too. Anyone who inspired it must be evil, by those standards."
She sighed. "Maybe. So do you think I'm one of these... these leaning fairies? I can't even pronounce the damned word!"
He caressed her cheek, smiling, then shrugged. "I don't know. It's possible, I suppose."
"But what do you think?" she asked. "Aaron's mother obviously thinks I am." She looked thoughtful, then added, "But she didn't tell him to stay away from me..."
"Well, honestly," Mark said, "it does seem to fit you fairly closely. It could be that's what you are, or you could just be something similar. Do you want to call and talk to her?"
She thought about it for a second, then shook her head. "No. I want to look it up myself first, and see what I can find. With a name to start with. If I am, though, then it seems to imply that I'll be able to make myself invisible, did you notice that?"
He nodded. "Yeah. That's... interesting. It'd be useful, too. By the way, what are we getting Kayla for her birthday tomorrow?"
"Um. I have no idea? I kinda hoped you'd have something in mind."
"I'm not sure," he said. "Um."
"Um?" she asked.
"Well," he said, shrugging, "What do you think she'd like that we can get her without raising questions?"
"Hmm. Something that would give her an excuse to get out of the house would be good," she said. "Like... um... you could give her coupons to take her to the Natural Science Museum in Fort Worth, or things like that. It wouldn't look odd coming from a teacher to a promising, sure to win scholarships with a little encouragement, favorite student. Giving her an excuse to spend more weekends with us. Out of Prudence, too." She smiled shyly and reached for her sketchbook. "I'm going to get a frame and give her this."
He looked surprised. "You think I could get away with that?"
She nodded as she flipped through her portfolio. "Yep."
"I like that idea," he said. "I'll print some up tonight. Whatcha got there?"
She pulled out a large, 11X14 sheet. "Remember when you wanted me to draw Kayla?" she asked as she handed it to him. "What do you think?"
It was Kayla, but done as an elven warrior maid, chainmail bikini and all. Hair loose and flowing around her face, eyes sparkling with bloodthirsty glee. Sheer, violent beauty. A delicate female, reveling in massive bloodshed.
He stared, speechless for a moment, then said, "Oh, wow. That's beautiful."
"Do you think she'll like it?" Kristen asked anxiously.
She smiled happily. "Great! I just need to pick up a frame then." She put the picture carefully away.
Since the discovery of the corpse on Monday, the town had been miraculously free of strange happenings. By Friday, people were pretty much assuming the dead drifter had been the cause of all of the things that had happened, though they still had no idea how he'd managed to get into that one locked house.
Friday morning, Kristen got her cast wet in the shower, and as it'd already started to disintegrate, Mark agreed that it might as well come all the way off. Her ankle was healed and perfect, with no signs that it'd ever been otherwise. He was rather unhappy to lose the tracking device, though, so he hid the little bug in an unused pocket of her book bag, in case it might do some good there. Friday was a nice, calm, rumor-free day.
Kayla couldn't come over that evening, though. Her mother was taking her to town after school to get her new contact lenses. "She also said something about shopping, too, damn it," Kayla griped. "I hate shopping."
Mark chuckled. "Have fun."
She glared at him a moment, then snickered. "Yeah, you too. You need to take Kristen shopping, too, you see. She can't keep wearing those same two damned sweaters. People are starting to wonder if she's hiding bruises under them. Especially since she skips showers so frequently after gym. Get her some heavy, long-sleeved things, enough variety that she won't be noticed wearing the same thing twice in a week."
"Good point," he said, smiling cheerfully, and she stuck her tongue out at him.
Kristen was reluctant to buy clothes, and put up a bit of an argument, still, but gave in since he was really determined, and they headed to the nearest department store. She went straight to a rack of discounted sweaters, and started pulling them out. "And 3... 4... 5. There. That's a week's worth. We can go now."
He looked at them skeptically. She'd grabbed five knit pullovers, plain, high-collared and long-sleeved. They were in different colors, but the same basic design. They wouldn't look bad on her, exactly... a burlap bag wouldn't look bad on Kristen... but they were boring as dirt. He was pretty sure her primary reason for picking them was the sign on the rack that read: _Clearance! Under $8._
He looked at them for another moment, then took them and put them back on the rack. "I don't think so. Let's look over here," he said, leading her over towards another rack, not on sale, but with things that would actually accent her coloring and look good on her. Her reluctance to consider anything over $10 as reasonable made it hard for him to choose for her, though, so he recruited a saleswoman to help him, telling her that Kristen was his niece, who'd never had money to shop for good clothes before and that he didn't want to embarrass her.
The woman glanced over surreptitiously to Kristen, who was still at the rack looking skeptically at the price tags. "Jeez," she said. "If she had good clothes, you'd have to beat 'em off with a stick. You sure you want to dress her up?"
He laughed. "Yep."
"Well, buy a shotgun, then. Okay. Green is good. Soft things, cut to be just slightly form-fitting. Too tight and you'll make her look like a tramp. Just a hint, and she'll look like an angel who doesn't know how pretty she is. Black would look good with that skin. No yellow. White... iffy. Stick with dark colors. And buy from the women's section, not the girls. She's too elegant looking to be wearing the crap teenagers dress in today. A leather jacket would be nice, though. And if you ever have real money to burn, take her to a tailor and let them have fun."
He hadn't even thought of that. "How much are we talking about when you say 'real money'?" he asked.
"Eh, couple three thousand bucks at least. More if you want formal wear."
Damn. The lack of a rent payment, thanks to Steven's wedding present, meant that he could go up to $500 or so, but that was just too much. He resolved to save for it, though. She deserved it. If, of course, he could persuade her to let him. He smiled and shook his head. "Oh well. That'll have to wait a bit, then. Maybe for her prom."
Armed with a better idea of what he was looking for and the determination to not let her make choices based only on price, he thanked the woman and returned to Kristen.
She looked up at him, frowning. "Mark, is there an ATM in this store?"
"Ah, I'm not sure, why?"
"I'd like to see how much money I have before I pick out clothes," she said, "since you don't like the cheap ones."
He stared at her for a second. Another man might have been hurt, or insulted, but he was just saddened. Of course she expected to pay for her own clothes. She'd never had anyone take care of her before, and she wasn't used to it. "Don't worry about the money, love," he said softly.
She shook her head stubbornly. "No. Remember? That's why Daddy gave me this check card the other day, Mark... to get things for school. And Vanessa always gave me $50 for school clothes, so I'd assume it's an acceptable expense."
He blinked, trying to imagine a teenage girl who could buy a year's school clothes on $50 and finding it impossible. "Well, yeah, if she gave you money for clothes, but I was going to get them for you..."
She gave him a brilliant smile. "You're so sweet! But Daddy specifically asked me to buy school stuff on the card, because he felt so bad about it, so I need to use it for something, and I really don't need anything else, you know?"
A machine was located. She swiped the card, tapped in her code, and waited on it to print, then tore off the little paper and stared at it. She frowned, then repeated the process, then stared in total confusion before handing him the slip. "What does he think I do at school, anyway?!"
"Something wrong, l-- Oh. My." He stared at the slip. The balance listed was $9753.14. "Ah. Why don't you call him and ask?" he suggested.
She agreed, and he listened to her arguing with her father.
"What?" -- "What field trips?" -- "Not that much!" -- "Yeah, but..." -- "But..." -- "but..." She sighed hugely. "Okay. Love you, too. Bye."
She hung up, then shook her head disgustedly. "It's guilt money, Mark."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"He said it was just what I should have been getting all along. That 'school is expensive and you should have everything you could possibly need. You'll have field trips and things where you need money.' I think he just still feels bad about Vanessa and is trying to make up for it which is stupid because that's not his fault and I was never mad at him for it at all so isn't that just dumb?" She looked up at him, exasperated.
He squeezed her hand and smiled. "Why don't you just let him do it?"
"Cause then I'll feel guilty," she said.
"Love, it's an easy enough thing to let him do. It'll make him feel better, and it'll make him feel god to see you dressed up."
"You don't think it's taking advantage of him?" she asked. "I don't want to be a leech."
He shook his head. "Love, if Vanessa embezzled a couple hundred grand and he never noticed...let him, okay? It's not going to hurt him. Let's go and get you some good clothes."
"Well. If you're sure, I guess it's okay."
He smiled happily. "Wait here, then, I'll be right back with a surprise." He went to ask the saleslady he'd talked to before if she had the name of a tailor.
The woman smiled knowingly. "Changed your mind about off the rack, huh, 'Uncle'? Okay, I'll write down the address for you." She fetched one of the store's business cards and a pen. "Here's the address of a good tailor. He's just recently started accepting female clients, but he's really good. The sister of one of my co-workers had her entire huge wedding party done by him, and the pictures were amazing."
"Wonderful! Thank you."
[quote regarding Leanan Sidhe as vampire is from: http://www.geocities.com/ladyelizabeth3/FaeryTypes.htm ]
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