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Ch. 22 - The Mask

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Grayson flipped his golden hair out of his eyes.

"You!" Rhianna remembered the black-clad fairy who had almost pulled the moon from the sky. "You danced last weekend."

"And you did not." He gave a little bow that seemed to be a request to enter.

Rhianna dropped her arm from the door and stepped back to let him in. Teasel's words came back to her. Stay away from Grayson Demonsprite.

"I'm not sure you should be here," she said, her voice faltering.

He was dressed in black, but very human and ordinary, clothes. Motorcycle leathers. Though, there was no sign of his motorcycle in the drive and he wasn't carrying a helmet.

He walked into the barn, and Kasubia neighed shrilly. Despite the storm and the saturated oppression of the post-storm landscape, he and his black leather was completely dry.

"Quiet with you, turncoat," Grayson said, his voice booming. Kasubia's protests cut off. Even the clamor of words in Rhianna's head ended abruptly.

Rhianna backed away from him. "What did you do to Kasubia?" Trying to keep one eye on him, she went to the horse's stall and peeked through the bars. Kasubia stood against the back wall, blinking mutely, but she seemed ok.

Grayson turned his head this way and that, his chin tilted up. "Where does one sit in such a place?" His attitude the day she had ridden home on the back of is motorcycle had seemed like a shy curiosity, but any trace of that Grayson had melted away.

Rhianna gestured to pile of straw bales.

He snapped his fingers and suddenly the golden straw became a golden throne. He sat down gingerly. As much as it looked like a throne, he still seemed to squirm as though he was getting poked by straw.

Rhianna stared for a moment. But this wasn't any more unusual than a talking horse or dancing fairies. Not long ago this kind of thing would have made her afraid she was going crazy. She had to laugh.

Grayson frowned at her laugh. "I came here to be helpful. You insult me and refuse to provide adequate hospitality. That is very rude."

"I'm sorry. It's just—" She wondered if fairies had mental institutions. Probably not. "What is it you are helping me with?

"You wanted to know about me."

"I did?" She blushed. Could he read her thoughts? She hadn't been thinking about Grayson though. Or had some embarrassing thought slipped in there amongst thoughts of her fath—

She backed up into one of the support beams in the barn, her eyes wide. "Are you...how?"

"Smarter than you look. Yes, I claim you as my daughter, and it's less like reading your thoughts and more like being in a room with someone shouting." He waved his hand toward his pointed ear. "You really should try to reign that in."

Rhianna slid down the beam until her butt hit the cold floor. "But, you're young. Like my age."

"Hardly!"

"Ok so fairies read minds, look super young, and turn straw into gold. Got it." Rhianna made herself sound composed and logical but she was complete turmoil inside. Then it occurred to her that he could probably hear her turmoil. Her masks were useless. She couldn't hide what she was feeling from these people.

"It doesn't have to be that way."

"What way?"

"You could stamp down those thoughts and keep it all behind lock and key again." He grimaced as he shifted on his throne and pulled a long piece of straw from behind his back. "I for one could certainly use a break from the oversharing."

Rhianna blushed. Great. He and every local fairy was getting broadcast a non-stop Rhianna channel. Had he heard it when she had thought of him as a cute boy? Her eyes popped wide open and she clamped her hand over her mouth, as if that would help.

Her cheeks burned brighter. "I'm sorry I don't mean to. I'd give anything to know how to stop it."

"Deal," he said, steepling his fingers and leaning forward.

The grin on his face sent a chill through her and the realization that she had just promised anything to a fairy. But he was her father. Every species on the planet had some kind of parental instinct. It couldn't be that bad of a bargain.

He chuckled.

"What do you want?" Her voice wavered.

He stood and brushed straw from his leather pants. The room dimmed slightly as the golden throne turned to dull hay bales again. But it was still light enough to see by, and it wasn't quite clear where the light was coming from. It was like the full moon was glowing overhead, even though there was a roof and layers of clouds between them and the moon, whatever sliver of moon there was to see.

He looked her up and down as if measuring. "I will get back to you on that."

"I don't really have much to offer." Maybe she could get out of it. Was hiding her thoughts really worth making this kind of deal? She really wished Gretch was here. She always knew how to avoid the fairy traps.

"Not yet anyway. Now, let's get on with this. What exactly are you doing?"

"I'm not doing anything. I am just thinking."

"Hmm. Curious. You aren't pushing out with your thoughts?"

"Of course not. Why would I do that? I thought you knew something about this. If you can't help, I think our deal should be voided." She had a way out.

He turned away from but she could see him considering her from the corner of his eye. "No my girl, I have been playing this game longer than you. But nice try."

She stood up, not liking the way he towered over her. But she kept her back to the support beam. She needed to hang on to something real. "But if you can't help—"

"You talk too much. I can help, I am just gathering my thoughts. They get scattered through the centuries you know."

"Prove it then!"

The room went dark except for Grayson. His eyes burned with fire and he closed the distance between them in a heart beat, sweeping across the floor, without seeming to move his feet. Straw twirled up around him caught in something like dust-devils and his face was suddenly very close to hers.

She tried to lean back, but the beam was firm behind her.

"You should respect your elders," he said, the darkness gathered around them, solid and alive. It had been a long time since Rhianna was afraid of the dark.

She managed not to whimper, and she held on to that as a point of pride, even though she knew all her thoughts and fear were an open book for him.

The darkness faded and the strange fairy light came back, but Grayson stayed close, peering into her eyes.

"You don't push out on purpose, but perhaps your resting state is to push out. You need to keep them in, behind your mask." A mask appeared in his hand, covered in glittering jewels ranging in color from gray to black to deep dark purple.

She tried to turn her face away and slip out from between him and the beam, but his other hand clamped onto her shoulder and there was no escaping the mask as he pushed it toward her face.

She gasped as it closed over her face, the sound of trickling water on the roof was muffled and then disappeared. His hand pressed the mask hard into her face. The beam pressed into the back of her skull. It was like her head was caught in a vice.

She tried to speak, but her mouth wouldn't work, or maybe it was covered. She couldn't see anything but black and grey and deepest purple.

She tried to breath and discovered that wasn't working either. The pressure in her lungs grew as much as the pressure in her head.

Her struggles were useless, she couldn't get free. She felt herself growing weaker. She was going to black out. Black. Blackness everywhere. Would she know the difference if she—

A/N: Oopsie....did I just hang you off a cliff mid sentence. Comment if you hate me right now :D

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