The Collector, pt. 3

During the night, Rokag saw her parents vanish for seemingly no reason. In her panic, she shouted while she searched for them, but nobody answered except her neighbor, Tabris. Knowing far more about the Fair Folk and their ways, he takes it upon himself to navigate the other side with Rokag, and help her find her family.

This is a modern alternative universe about Finn, Agrat, Rokag, and Tabris. It’s a longer one, so it’s posted in three separate parts.

Word Count: ~5300 (of ~13,500)
Rating: PG
Warnings: None

In the morning, Tabris walked over to Rokag’s home and rang the doorbell. Inside, she snored softly. Only after did it ring a second time did Jacques perk up, stare at the door with concern, and jump off. The tinkling of the bell on his collar disturbed Rokag from her dream, and she opened her eyes. Then, without thinking, she sat up and tossed her comforter aside. She checked her parents’ room, and saw that they hadn’t yet returned. With a frown, she realized that this would be more difficult than she imagined.

Once she pulled on a hoodie, she answered the door. There stood Tabris, wearing his usual clothing—save for a leather wristband with a flat piece of iron shaped like an oak leaf, and a silver ring on his thumb.

“Ready to go?” she said.

“I should ask you that,” Tabris said. He held up his arm and pointed at the wristband. “Do you have a piece of iron and something made of silver? We need both.”

“I don’t know,” she said. “What’s it for?”

“Two purposes. It’ll help us find them, and it’s our key to get back to our side, just in case the doorway closes,” Tabris said. “On a night like this, that probably won’t happen, but it’s always good to take caution. Anyway—let me look and see what sort of jewelry or supplies you have.” She pointed to the top of her dresser, where several storage bins sat. Among them was a much more decorated chest with four small drawers.

“I don’t have much,” she said, “but most of it’s in there. I’ll check around in Dad and Papa’s room. I’m sure Papa has something made of iron, and Dad might have some silver cufflinks or something.”

“Great,” Tabris said. “I’ll look through this.” He opened up the bottom drawer and dug through her collection of necklaces.

Meanwhile, Rokag searched her parents’ bedroom. She felt odd walking in and opening drawers and investigating their closets, like she intruded their space. Their bed was perfectly made, untouched since they disappeared. Agrat’s side table was neatly-organized and sparse. Inside its drawer next to his journal was a small pocketknife, possibly made of iron. Finn’s was messier. There were bottles of medicine, a stack of three unfinished books, and two cups with teabags still inside them placed around the base of his lamp. Inside the drawer rested a few more necessities, a package of batteries, a bottle of scent-free lotion, pens, small notebooks, his journal, and a shining commemorative keychain from his office. She took that—it looked like it had silver embedded in it. Curiosity beat her, and she opened his journal. The last few entries talked about how tired he was feeling and the vividness of his dreams. He also wrote about how Agrat seemed cold to him lately, and avoided him during the day. In the most recent entries, Finn went on about how he and Agrat patched it up, and how now Agrat was in his dreams, too.

After a moment of examination, Rokag noticed that Finn’s handwriting—sharp yet connected—seemed to change. In the most recent entry, it looked organic. Almost flowery. Letters formed petals and stalks and leaves and even roots; each word was a garden. A spatter of stray ink had wings, antennae, and a stinger—a bee. Periods were snails, commas slugs. Question marks looked like birds, and exclamation points formed trees.

She opened Agrat’s notebook. His handwriting was messier than Finn’s—unrefined and scrawled. But it, too, turned into a floral arrangement before her eyes. She put them away and hoped they’d be back to normal, and the subtler effects of being whisked away would soon disappear.

“I found some things,” Rokag said. “Are they the right material?” She handed the knife and the keychain to Tabris and he inspected them. He passed them back to her with a nod.

“Yes, those will both be fine,” he said. “Now, just so you’re aware, the knife won’t hurt them or anything. But it will anger them.” She stared at him.

“I wasn’t planning on using it for that,” she said. “I’m angry at them, but I wouldn’t do that.” Tabris seemed relieved.

“Good. I wasn’t worried, just so you know,” he said quickly. She decided not to press it and slipped them onto a ball-chain necklace—the knife had a small hole in its end so it could be attached to something.

“Do we need anything else?” she said.

“Just a watch or some other way of telling the time,” he said. He lifted up his wrist and showed off a simple watch. “Do you have one?”

“I just use my phone.”

“The battery might drain too quickly. Go see if Finn keeps a mechanical watch; I’ve seen him wear them before,” he said. So Rokag went back to his room and found his watches alongside his cufflinks. Tabris helped her identify one that did, indeed, wind up, and they prepared it and set it for the accurate time.

They drove to the university and hurried to the library. There, Tabris led her down the elevator to the stacks. As soon as the doors opened, everything went quiet. Everything felt subdued, as if invisible fabric hung in the air to dampen the noise. Rokag heard a student cough and sniffle, but nothing else. Above her, one of the fluorescent lights buzzed and flickered just enough to bother her eyes.

“Now, Rokag,” Tabris said. “It may seem like we’re in the liminal space for only a few hours or so, but several days might actually pass in our world. I doubt Agrat and Finn are going to return of their own accord at this point—they’ve been there for a long time, but it may feel like just an hour to them. Plus, I imagine they’re eating their food and drinking their wines.”

“What does that do?” Rokag said.

“It decreases their attachment to our world,” Tabris said. “I should say, the Patrons don’t do this on purpose, and don’t give them food out of anything but hospitality. They simply don’t understand why it’s a problem when mortals spend too much time there, since our lifespans are so different. But when they touch the iron or the silver, they should get caught up to speed once more, and we’ll be able to get them out.” They made their way to the southwest stairwell together and Tabris pushed open the door. It stuck at first and clicked in his hand, but he forced it and it popped open with a crunch. Inside, the concrete walls looked closer than they actually were. The light turned the white paint yellow. The handrail that spiraled down the central column was chipped with wear and tear, yet the dust settling on the floor made it clear that nobody came here often. On each stair, the lines of rough, nonslip substance seemed to sparkle in the light.

“Alright,” Tabris said. “Down we go.” Rokag followed him down the stairway, one flight, then two, then three. And four, five, six… they just kept going down, down, down. Each level still had a door, but Rokag’s gut told her not to open them. Something was wrong—tremendously so. They were going ever deeper, always turning another corner, always stepping down the same number of stairs. Finally, they came to the bottom. A door appeared in the middle of another flight, and Tabris looked back to her.

“So, this is the entrance to their side?” Rokag said. He nodded.

“Are you prepared?” he said. “Do you know today’s date and time?” She nodded back. “Then let’s go.” He turned the knob and pulled the door open. It bumped against the stair above it, and they had to turn sideways and squeeze themselves inside. Rokag wondered how Agrat was going to get out through such a narrow opening. But she decided that she’d cross that boundary again later, and stopped worrying about it.

The other side of the door led to more of the stacks. Rokag looked left and right quickly. Nothing looked out-of-place, and the room had the same layout. Eight rows of shelves on each side of a narrow passage made everything claustrophobic, and sucked up any noises. Tons of books of all sizes—small and narrow, wide and bricklike—stood side-by-side, arranged by subject and alphabetized. There was even an empty shelf for books to be reshelved, and a few volumes from The Syringe’s archived issues sat there. Someone seemed to have been doing research here.

“Everything’s the same,” Rokag said. Tabris nodded.

“It’s a good replica,” he said. He lifted a book off the shelf. “But, imperfect. Pay attention—this is how you recognize when you’ve gone too far into a liminal space.” He opened its cover to a random page and showed it to Rokag. It looked normal, until she read just one paragraph:


Supposing that in the tarrying cityscapes of the west riverside depository sixteen and three-quarters indivisible experts were to galactically and grammatically irrigate the stones, our governmental pine trees could justify their place. After windows curve leftward to the east the water shatters and fundamentally spills its hairy, lucid, lacking, lucky, licky, loving, loving, loving signal to the sky. And how? Perhaps boots of geese provide snacks to factories answers.


She wrinkled her nose and shook her head.

“I get it. It’s just a façade and nothing actually makes sense,” she said. Tabris nodded.

“Be on the lookout for anything with language. It gets jumbled whenever things pass through these boundaries, and any book, poster, or even a handwritten note will clue you in,” he said. He closed the book with one hand and replaced it. “Now it’s a matter of getting out of this structure in the other side, and to wherever Agrat and Finn are. They won’t be difficult to find—once we step outside, you’ll see what the iron and silver’s for.”

She followed him through the hallways and into another elevator. The numbers printed on the set of six buttons were at least three figures long each. He hit the highest one— floor 25,692,710,286. The elevator rose for a few seconds, dinged, and opened once more. Rokag’s eyes widened as they stepped into the outdoors of the outside.

Lush forest covered everything, and puddles of crystalline water pooled in the dark grass. Small, glowing arthropods skittered on the water’s surface or between the blades at the bottom of the pools. Their tiny claws only barely left ripples. The trees twisted and curved into a thick ceiling, preventing them from seeing the sky. A massive spider—with a body the size of Rokag’s curled fist and legs that could reach the ends of her pillow—climbed up one of the huge tree trunks. Along its body, delicate, shining lights looked like etched markings in its skin. Its eight eyes reflected the floating, translucent orbs that wandered through the air. She stepped backwards, away from the creature. It watched her with a calm, indiscernible expression.

Everything smelled fresh and earthy, like mulch around a fountain. From one of the larger trees, a waterfall flowed down from a hole in its side. Little fish with sharp, brightly-colored fins swam up and down with ease, as though the current didn’t affect them. From a hole in the tree, a claw slipped out and snatched one of the fish. Rokag peered inside from afar and saw five compound eyes looking back while its prey split in two and became a smaller fish. She looked back up into the branches. All the leaves were different. They looked like oak leaves sometimes, but mixed with maple. Or perhaps birch. And some branches even sprouted needles instead of true leaves. The air, sweet and crisp, reminded her of drinking cold water during a scorcher. A slight taste of gala apples and peaches stuck to the back of her tongue as she breathed in. Where there wasn’t grass, there was ground ivy. The same, bright-orange mushrooms in her backyard grew here, too, except they were much, much larger. Some came up to her ankle. Shelf fungus stuck to every tree, and slime molds seemed to twitch and grow bigger with each passing second.

But most striking to both of them were the colors. They were both colorblind; Rokag had never seen such vivid hues before. She knelt over and looked at everything closely, eyes wide and utterly entranced. She turned back to Tabris, who felt similarly fascinated.

“I’ve never seen this color before,” she said and gestured to a purple flower growing from the base of a tree.

“It’s purple,” he said. “It’s red and blue mixed together.”

“So, this is a color that we have in our world, too, but only humans can see?” Rokag said. Tabris nodded.

“Yep. It’d be even more intensely-colored to someone who can see purple normally on our side,” he said. “Finn must be having a fun time with the colors, too.” With her mouth parted in awe, she straightened up and tried to focus again.

“The iron,” she said quickly. “And the silver. What—what do we do with that, again?”

“Oh—of course,” Tabris said. He held up his wrist. The iron and the silver also changed. The ring around his finger shifted and spun, like liquid, while the iron fluidly morphed into a pattern of spikes that moved with the momentum of his arm. Rokag looked at her necklace. The same was true for the keychain—it looked like a pool of metallic water, but felt solid, and the knife’s blade transformed its shape over and over. “They work a little like magnets for finding mortals. So, think of them like a compass that points only to Finn and Agrat, or to us.”

“Which one shows the way?” Rokag said and held up the knife experimentally. It didn’t point anywhere in particular.

“You must combine them,” Tabris said. He slipped the ring off his thumb and onto the iron oak leaf. “Metals like these exhibit some peculiar properties in their side—as you can see. The purer, the better.” As soon as the ring touched the leaf, it traced its edge and coated it. The metal shivered and shook until it formed a miniscule bead. It rolled in itself and down one of the leaf’s many tips, pointing at Tabris. He held it closer to Rokag, and it moved to her. “See—it will point towards the nearest mortal.”

“Then it’s useless,” Rokag said. “We’ll always be closer to it than they will.”

“There’s a trick,” Tabris said with a chuckle. He dipped his fingertip into the liquid silver. It acted more like mercury, and formed a bead on his nail. He brought it to his mouth and swallowed it. The silver only pointed to Rokag, now. “See, if you ingest a little bit of silver, it won’t hurt you. But it’ll disrupt your essence enough to make our compass stop reacting.”

“Then this must be how we get out, too—after we find them, we make them swallow a bit of silver, then it’ll point to the entrance. Right?” Rokag said. Tabris smiled.

“Exactly!” he said. “That’s assuming we’re the only mortals in here, of course. But you really must want to enter these spaces to come in, so it’s very unlikely that there’s anyone else here.” Rokag followed Tabris’ example and touched the keychain to the knife’s blade. It acted like his ring and pointed beyond the knife’s point to curve towards her. Once she took a bit of silver, both the oak and the knife pointed deeper into the woods.

“There’s our goal,” she said. They watched their steps as they hurried towards the unseen beacon. It seemed as though the forest grew denser around them. Roots rose as they got closer, and branches bent. The undergrowth thickened and creatures darted into their paths. Rokag cringed as she walked right through a spider’s web, its delicate string tickling her face and sticking in her hair. Tabris gasped and stumbled as a massive dragonfly swooped from above and barely missed the tips of his ears. Every sound amplified and rang in their ears. The clicking and chirping of insects dominated all they could hear.

“They’re not happy that we came in unannounced,” Tabris said, doing his best to speak over the racket. “They probably remember us and know that we’re here to take their guests.”

“I don’t care!” Rokag yelled, stomping ahead. “They took my family—they ought t’ expect me.” The noise quieted. The trees, which looked so swollen and oversized, seemed to let go of the breath they held and shrank. Their roots also returned to the ground while bushes scuttled aside and opened the way. Rokag continued on with confidence.

Even with an easier passage to follow, Tabris worried. The Patrons of the Horn were generally trustworthy, and more curious than wicked at heart. But they could be cruel and manipulative when they wanted to be, and some of them delighted in gaining a mortal’s trust, only to betray them.

As they got closer, notes from an ambling song floated through the air. A deep croak provided bass, while waterdrops sang the melody. The splashing of liquid on stones accompanied the music with an occasional plop from something heavy tossed into a pool. Cool light emanated from beyond the thicket. Rokag saw thin, tall figures silhouetted against the leaves and thick vines. A spidery hand drifted into the flora and pulled it aside like a stage curtain. Standing on the other side was that same deer-looking person. They stared down at Rokag with unblinking eyes, their oval-shaped pupils dilating.

Rokag halted. They really were far taller up close. This one stood a full four feet taller than her. She looked right back and set her jaw, sticking her tusks out subconsciously.

Tabris caught up and stayed at Rokag’s side. He also met the Deer’s eyes, but he smiled.

“Sorry to intrude,” he said. “We’ve come for Finn and Agrat.” The Deer looked back over their shoulder into the musical scene, sighed, and opened the vines for them to enter. Now the sounds of speaking reached Rokag and Tabris’ ears. They couldn’t make out what the words meant—they all blended together—but they did hear Agrat’s mirthful laugh. The same one he made when he’d been drinking for a bit. Cautiously, Rokag dipped her head underneath the leaves and entered, Tabris close behind her.

The Patrons sat in a circle on cushions made from leaves, large toadstools, moss, lichen, and even slime molds. A big, flat table grown from bizarrely-shaped trees, with thin trunks and outspread branches, held platters of all manners of food. Everything looked like a plant at first, until one of the leaves on a plate twitched and skittered away. Goblets made of quartz held thick, shimmery, golden liquid that sparkled when someone brought it to their lips. Fruits of all kinds—mostly berries, some citrus—grew from the table itself. The leaf insect, whatever it was, stopped its scurrying to munch on a big strawberry next to a big decanter full of the golden wine. One of the Fair Folk, a Robin, plucked the strawberry from its vine and stroked the insect’s back. It shivered and its shell split to unfold two wings, and it levitated into the air. Dust fell from its wings, onto the berry, and the Robin smiled and ate it whole.

Each Patron looked like some sort of common animal. There were several Deer, of course, and Robins and Jays, one Fox, and a few Squirrels. Only one looked a bit different from their natural form—a Magpie, with red feathers instead of black. They were all thin as twigs, and all had horns or antlers. Emerald vines adorned their heads, wrapped around their antlers or draped between their horns. Small crystals hung from these vines in an irregular pattern. They twinkled with each movement, each small breeze, and clinked against each other to add to the music. The melody came from a pond a few paces away from the table, where a group of other Fair Folk played tunes on delicately-carved flutes, patted rhythms out on drums, and tossed stones in time with the beat. The dinner-goers went on speaking to each other in their sing-song language and only glanced at Rokag and Tabris with disinterest.

The silver compasses pointed to two people with their backs to Rokag and Tabris. There Agrat and Finn sat, drinking and speaking to the Tall Ones, in their finest clothing and their everyday slippers. They both were also smoking, leaving hazy smoke surrounding them and the Patrons nearby. Agrat used a pipe made from a rich, red-colored wood, and Finn used a long, onyx cigarette holder. While Finn talked at-length to the Fox—who nodded along politely—Agrat looked over his shoulder, saw Rokag and Tabris, and grinned.

“Well, fancy seein’ you two here, Rokag, Tabby!” he said and took a swig from his goblet. He tapped Finn’s shoulder and broke him from his one-sided conversation. “Dear, look—we’ve got some familiar faces here.” Finn looked back at Rokag and stood with his arms outstretched.

“Oh, superb!” he said. “Rokag, Tabris—I’m glad t’ see that you found your way in. We ended up staying later than we intended, but we just love talking to these kind Folk. Fox here has a lot to say, and I don’t want t’ just leave in the middle of a conversation.”

He gestured at Fox, who smiled and gestured with their hands. Tabris recognized that they were using simplified sign language, and the Fox said, “I haven’t heard a word he’s said, but he’s very fun to watch even if his hands say little.”

“We need to go home,” Rokag said to them. “I know you’re having fun, but being here is ruining your health.” The Magpie raised an eyebrow at her and stood. The music hushed, but the band played on, their eyes on the Magpie. The Magpie walked over on their backwards-bent legs and loomed over Rokag and Tabris.

“You weren’t invited,” they said, their voice speaking right into Rokag and Tabris’ ears, even if they stood several feet away.

“We do apologize for that,” Tabris said. “But it’s very—”

“Yeah, so?” Rokag said. “You kidnapped my family and tricked ‘em into coming here! They’re gonna waste away like this. Of course I came without an invitation.” Tabris clamped his mouth shut and gave up on being polite. With Rokag around, any efforts he made would only be reversed. The Magpie smiled and showed off a row of small teeth.

“You’re plucky,” they said. They turned to Agrat and Finn. “Esteemed guests, your daughter and your friend want you to return home—but the night has only begun. Our musicians have only been warming up.”

“Really?” Agrat said. “Well, in that case, we’d best stay a bit longer, Rokag. We ‘preciate yer comin’, really, but it’s so rude t’ leave in th’ middle of a performance.”

“Mm-hm,” Finn said as he drank from his goblet. The Fox poured more golden liquid into it for him once he set it down. “It would be tremendously rude to leave now.”

“But papa, dad!” Rokag said with a glare. “Do you know how long it’s been since you’ve gotten here?” Finn and Agrat looked at each other.

“About two hours or so?” Finn said. Agrat nodded.

“Yeah, ‘round that time, I suspect.” Rokag held up Finn’s watch. It was already three in the afternoon, to her surprise.

“You’ve been out for twelve full hours!” she said and pointed.

“Oh, pft,” Finn said. “That clock’s abnormally fast.” Tabris took out his watch.

“Mine’s not,” he said. “It really is about three in the afternoon.” They looked at the watch with confused expressions. The Magpie’s feathers puffed out and they narrowed their eyes. Their face softened.

“Time passes differently here,” the Magpie said. “I reassure you, anything that happens in your side will not be a big deal.”

“Bullshit!” Rokag said.

“Rokag, watch your tongue,” Finn said.

“I won’t! Why do you want t’ keep them around, anyway? It makes no sense!” She pointed at the Magpie accusingly. Why the Magpie wanted Finn and Agrat to stay for so long confounded Tabris, too. Normally, the Patrons did not force their mortal visitors to spend a lot of time with them. They typically lost track of time, both in their world and the mortals’ side. When someone disappeared for years, it was almost always an accident. Of course, the Tall Ones felt no true remorse; they thought of these visits as a way of enriching mortal lives. While he dwelled on it, Tabris noticed something. As Agrat took a sip from his goblet, his ruddy, brown skin shimmered. The same phenomenon happened to Finn, too. Tabris squinted. As soon as he saw the cause, he gasped. Miniscule gems and semiprecious stones grew from their pores, in lieu of sweat. The crystals and minerals stuck to their skin and glittered in the softly glowing light. The reflections twinkled in the Magpie’s eyes.

“Rokag,” Tabris said and tapped her shoulder. She broke her glare away from the Magpie and looked at her parents, where Tabris pointed. “Their skin—I think that our Magpie companion is trying to collect them.” Rokag cupped her hand over her mouth once she realized what was going on, and snarled at the Magpie again.

“You’re turning them into rocks?!” she said, voice tight. Agrat and Finn raised their eyebrows, looked down at their arms and touched their faces. Realization seemed to settle in their faces. They stopped drinking the golden liquid and stared into their goblets.

“No, no,” the Magpie said. “Just helping bring out their natural glow!” They smiled and clasped their hands—a mixture of fingers and feathers—together. “Aren’t they shiny? So much shinier than regular mortals, like you two.” They looked down their beak and wrinkled it disparagingly at Rokag and Tabris. Finn rubbed at his face and the backs of his hands, trying to get the gemstones off, while Agrat stood and made fists.

“Hey now, we never said you could do this!” he said.

“The Esteemed Magpie, how could you?” Finn said. “We’re going home—that was so disrespectful!” As he also got up to leave, the light in the forest dimmed and turned red. Above, the tree branches parted to show off the moon—a big, crimson sphere, pockmarked in all the wrong places compared to the mortals’ side’s moon. Its light felt warm on their skin.

“We need to go,” Tabris said in a trembling voice. “Come on. Now!” He yanked Finn and Agrat away from the table. As he pulled them away, the Magpie grew larger and bulkier. Finn’s cigarette holder clattered to the ground and shattered. The sound made the Magpie jolt. They rushed forward while the other Patrons leapt out of the way.

“Don’t you dare take my treasures!” the Magpie screeched. Their hands cracked and claws burst from their fingertips. They swiped at Finn and Agrat with both talons. Their wicked, sharp, hook-like nails left a deep cut on Finn’s arm and Agrat’s thigh. The Magpie’s claws caught on their clothing, but Rokag helped just in time to free her parents from the Magpie’s grasp. They rushed through the thick forest while the Magpie cried out behind them. While the mortals ran, the Magpie followed at breakneck speed. All the while, the branches and trunks of the trees grew bigger and knottier.

“Use your knife!” Tabris said as they stumbled away. “It’ll help us get out!” Rokag sliced the air with her blade. Leaves and vines curled away from it, bothered by such cold, hard metal. Tabris held out his oak leaf behind him. The leaf’s appearance made the Magpie faint-headed and ill, and they slowed to hold their head.

“Come back—we’ll treat you so well!” the Magpie said. “You’ll be my centerpieces. My prizes. My treasures! How could you betray me?” They let out a groan that shook the air. Tabris pointed to a brown-painted, steel door set into a small stone, about as tall as a fire hydrant.

“The library!” he said. Rokag tugged them forward and tore open the door. She held it open, shoved them inside and followed. The Magpie got their claws into the stairwell and grasped for them, but she slammed the door shut. With a howl, the Magpie scratched as the door. They dashed up just two flights of stairs and spilled out into the stacks—the real stacks, the same ones Tabris led Rokag through. Rokag pressed her back to the door while Finn and Agrat collapsed on a shelf and Tabris leaned against the wall. The four of them slid to the floor, panted, trembled, and started to chuckle. Then they laughed, knowing no other appropriate reaction to their escape at exactly the right moment.



Tabris took Finn and Agrat to a goblin medium afterwards to figure out what to do about the gems growing from their bodies. She told them to rest and not worry—as long as they weren’t drinking the golden liquid, the minerals would stop sprouting from them. She also warned them about their wounds. Any blood shed because of a Patron was bound to be meaningful later, when they least expected it.

It took a few days for Agrat and Finn to become fully lucid after their encounter. Rokag took care of them by herself for the most part, but Tabris stopped by to check up on them as well. Agrat, who’d spent less time in the other side, felt better faster. He and Finn helped each other pluck gemstones from their backs, and collected them in a shoebox.

“What a ridiculous problem to have,” Finn said, cupping his face in both hands while Agrat searched through his scalp for errant minerals. Rokag worked on homework from the floor.

“Found it,” Agrat said. He tugged a tiny, light-pink stone from Finn’s head and whistled. “That’s a nice one. Some sorta quartz, I think.” He handed it over to Finn, who held it up to the light, squinted, and turned it between his fingertips.

“Huh,” he said. “I knew there was still a couple left. How’re you doing?”

“I think mine’re all gone,” Agrat said. “It’s jus’ th’ cut I’m worried about, now.” Finn looked at Agrat’s thigh and then to his arm.

“Yeah,” he said. “Well, whatever. That’s a bridge we’ll cross when we find it.” He turned to Rokag. “How’s your homework going?”

“Good,” she said. “I’m almost done with this stupid story problem. Oh, and did you ever figure out that missing cash, by th’ way?” Agrat rubbed his forehead and Finn crossed his arms.

“Turns out he withdrew it and bought a tux with it, and got it altered,” he said and gestured at Agrat with his thumb. “Doesn’t remember it, of course.”

“It’s about high time I got a tux, anyway!” Agrat said. “I never have formal wear.”

“I’m not complaining,” Finn said. “You should’ve asked me along. Could’ve helped you with picking colors and such. The tie you got for it actually clashes horribly.” Agrat shrugged and lied back with his hands under his head.

“Well, whatever,” he said. “Dunno what was goin’ through my mind, anyway.”

“Wonder if we can get it back by claiming temporary insanity,” Finn said with a sigh. After a moment, he shook his head. “Nah, never mind. That’d never hold up anywhere because it’s not even a legal issue.” Agrat and Rokag chuckled, and gradually, life returned to normal.

The bright mushrooms in their backyard stuck around for a few days, as if the Magpie hoped they would return on their own. But they didn’t. Once the Magpie knew they wouldn’t step into the portal again, the mushrooms vanished as quickly as they arrived, and the door shut.

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