The Auction

09 – A Sweet Drink

The limo ride was comfortable, if long.

Curt stared out the window, taking in views he wasn’t likely to see again. The casual tourist appreciation of an unusual-looking house, or a restaurant that might have been nice to stop at.

There were no fairy stairs that led directly into wild lands, at least none that were publicly accessible. A direct courier – being carried by some fae who could fade long distances – was possible, but had been decided against.

About an hour in, long after the polite conversation had exhausted itself, Mags had pulled out a smaller version of the folder she carried everywhere and started to do Agency paperwork.

Eventually, they reached the border.  There was an automated station that they stopped at for a moment, where the driver took care of the necessary admin. Then the limo drove into the wild lands.

The name of what amounted to a small city state translated as “Petal’s Peril”, which, although sounding vaguely ominous, was simply part of a poem describing the end of spring.

Another short stop. This time, he heard both of the front doors open.

‘Don’t worry,’ Carmichel said, ‘this will be their escort joining us. It’s a good thing.’

They drove for another half-hour, this time, the stop-start flow of inner-city traffic and finally pulled up in front of a hotel that went so far beyond opulent that it almost curved back around to simple.

The limo doors were open, and each of them was helped out by the driver.

Their bags and gear were already being loaded onto trolleys, and three uniformed staff members waited on the plush white carpet.

‘Cresta Lan Oca,’ the left-most one said. ‘I’ll show you to your room.’

Carmichel turned to them. ‘I’ll see you two at the canapes.’

The one in the middle stepped up to Magnolia. ‘Attendant Magnolia? We received your request for a set of adjoining rooms for you and attendant O’Connor. Unfortunately, it’s in a different wing than La Lan Oca, but we’ve provided welcome baskets as compensation for the additional travel.’

The third nodded. ‘As my colleague said, the hotel sends its apologies. Please follow us, Attendant O’Connor.’

Magnolia adjusted the wide silk wrap that hung around her shoulders, a perfect offset to the ball gown with the plunging neckline, and followed the staff inside.

He hung back a couple of steps and his assigned hotel staffer fell in beside him. ‘Your companion said “La Lan Oca”? I haven’t heard “La” as a form of address before?’

There was an almost imperceptible flash of confusion on the staffer’s face, probably surprise that he wasn’t just making a demand or asking for some task to be done. ‘Hobbish, Attendant. It refers to someone of the highest station in a relative situation. I would address you as “La” if you had booked in as a single guest. However, La Lan Oca was listed as the primary of your triad, hence our deference to him.’

He nodded. ‘Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.’

Magnolia and her staffer took the last two spots in an elevator, and his staffer directed him towards the one that would arrive next.

Their elevator was empty and was glamorous in the old Hollywood sort of way. Rich golds and brasses, mixed with fae touches, like sculpted living wooden walls.

‘Se,’ his staffer said quietly.


‘If you don’t know how to address someone at the event, use “Se”. It’s respectful, indicates you think they hold a higher position than yourself, without necessarily calling yourself lesser, as using “La” would. Don’t use “La” unless you want to seem like you’re grovelling.’

Curt slipped a hand into his pocket, caught the edge of a note in his wallet, and passed it to his staffer; it was only twenty-five dollars, but it added some weight to his whispered “thanks”.

The staffer showed him to his room and gave him a quick tour of the amenities. Magnolia had already opened the connecting door between their rooms and waved him through as soon as both of their staff left.

‘Turn. Spin.’ Magnolia ordered, and he obeyed, rotating slowly so she could inspect him. ‘Fine. Good. You didn’t fuck up your clothes on the way over.’ She straightened one of his jacket sleeves. ‘Come.’

She slammed a black cloth roll onto the bed, then unfurled it with the flick of her hand. He expected knives. He saw make-up brushes. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, ‘it’s just a bit of red correction and some powder. Just to make you more presentable.’

Less than a minute later, she was done.

She moved to the bedroom’s big mirror and did some touch-ups to her own make-up. ‘Keep the small talk small,’ she said. ‘Keep your ears open.’ She dropped a brush and then rubbed her cheek with a finger. ‘They won’t have all the auction lots out at first-’

‘I went to the same briefings you did, Mags.’

‘Yeah,’ she said, turning away from the mirror. ‘I’m just hoping this doesn’t turn into a bloodbath. We don’t have the numbers for that to turn out well for us.’

Two elevator rides, one escalator, and ten minutes later, they were in line to be scanned into the event.

Whoever was handling Hoyt’s estate had booked all of the hotel’s available event spaces. The main floor was the largest, where the auction items would be displayed. A mezzanine floor overlooking the display floor had sit-down meals available. The third floor hosted a plush, comfortable theatre where the actual auction would take place.

They stepped up to the host station, who brought up their photos on a tablet and had each of them sign in.

A pair of immaculately dressed staffers opened the double doors behind the host, and they were admitted into the party.

Immediately, he felt like Bond or some other super spy. Every person around them was dressed like they’d unlocked something so fancy they could spit down on “black tie” from their mountaintop.

He almost offered his arm to Mags but stilled the movement, knowing she’d either break his arm or threaten to break his arm, and neither would be good for his ego or their objective.

A waiter passed carrying an empty tray under their arm, and Mags stopped them, slipped off her silk wrap and handed it over, asking for it to be put into the coat check. Under the bright lights of the event space, her black dress shimmered like a star field.

She was gorgeous.  She was always gorgeous. Attraction wasn’t like it was in cartoons or bad romcoms. You didn’t suddenly fall for a girl because they took their glasses off or changed their hair.

In her usual goth loli outfits, Mags was beautiful. In cargo pants and a sweat-stained tank top, she was beautiful. In a ball gown that–if it hadn’t been required–could have paid for a car, she was beautiful.

This just wasn’t a style he’d seen her in before, and there was no harm in admiring it.

The way the exhibits had been laid out gave a suggested flow, which most of the guests were following like some much, much fancier version of IKEA. Some pieces were displayed in glass cases, and others were open to the air.

Each listed a lot number. Some also listed an artist, a brand, or other piece of information about the piece’s providence.

Magnolia paused in front of a painting, her forehead wrinkled, then her arm shot out and grabbed his.

‘What, and where?’ he asked, his body shifting into fight mode.

Mags rolled her shoulders. ‘Fuck. Just. Fuck.’

‘Magnolia?’ a woman’s voice called.

Mags’ hand fell away from his arm, and she turned. ‘Magpie,’ she said, her tone as neutral as a newborn agent.

Approaching from about ten metres away was a handsome, dark-skinned woman in a structured black-and-white dress. ‘I felt you,’ Magpie said and clutched Mags’ hands. ‘What’s the Agency doing here?’

Curt bowed his head and remained silent. Not drawing attention in the presence of a queen was probably the best and only thing to do.

Animal fae were as numerous as there were species on the planet, and each group was legally a minor court and treated as such within Faerie. Theory and practice being two very different things, how the animal courts interacted with the rest of Faerie depended very much on the court in question.

The Great Grand Mossy Secretariat – the name the Sloth court gave to their ruling body — did little more than issue a newsletter and attend inter-family and major Court events when called upon.

Other animal families struck deals with major courts for power and expected a lot more than the sloths did of their people.

He didn’t know much about the magpies. It had never been on his list of priorities to get to know the intricacies of a court that, until this moment, he’d never dealt directly with.

Somewhere in the last eight months, he’d picked up on the fact that Mags was one of the Warden’s – the queen of the magpies – children. The fact that this technically made Magnolia a princess was a thought he’d tried never to have whilst in the same room as her, lest she throw him out a window or straight up stab him.

‘There’s several items we’re interested in,’ Mags said, her voice tight but respectful.

‘They’re not on display yet,’ Magpie’s companion said. Tall, in a tux. The same kind of generically handsome white man that many agents seemed to aim for. Even with both Solstice and Agency training making him pick up on a lot of little tells, you usually couldn’t tell at a glance who was human and who wasn’t. Still, the man read as human to him.

That wasn’t overly unusual. The Agency weren’t the only ones who employed humans.

‘Pardon?’ Mags said.

The man gave a restrained smile. ‘Lot sixty-four, I’m assuming. They, along with several other lots, won’t be on display until after dinner.’

Curt wished he was better at distinguishing between accents. All he could gather was…English, or British, whatever you were supposed to call it. Not stupidly posh, not like a parody accent, but something he’d heard before. Probably an accent that one of the Doctors Whos had.

‘That gives us more time to look at the other lots, then.’ Mags turned back to her mother. ‘I can’t imagine you’re interested in an agent, Mother.’

‘I’ve got better things to spend my money on. But, walk with me for a few minutes, tell me how you are.’

Mags’ eyes flashed to him, then nodded to her mother. ‘I can spare a few minutes,’ she said, and he could hear the implied, “let’s not make a scene”, laced in her voice.

‘That leaves the two of us,’ the man said and appraised him for a moment. ‘Allow me to buy you a drink, young man.’

Mags’ unsaid “let’s not make a scene” rolled around in his head, and he put his perfect, polite “Recruit Curt” smile on. ‘If you insist.’

The man offered his arm, then stiffened like he’d done something wrong.

A few moments before, he’d felt like Bond entering the room. If he had to play the part of a Bond Girl instead for a few minutes, that was a sacrifice he could make. The man had obviously done his research about the auction, and any facts they could gather would help tip the odds in their favour.

Curt quickly slipped his arm around the man’s before he could withdraw it. ‘Again,’ he said, ‘if you insist.’

A genuine smile broke onto the man’s face. ‘There’s a bar near the east doors. Have you been that way yet?’

‘No,’ Curt said as they walked. ‘We just got here.’

‘I need to know your name,’ he said, allowing his body to come into casual contact with the man as they headed towards the bar.


‘Curt. Recruit O’Connor.’

They came to the bar, and one of the staff presented Francis with a gold-edged menu, all of the menu options in hobbish and Below-Nine, neither of which he could read fluently.

It wasn’t surprising, but it did remind him of how far he had to go. Joining the Agency had opened an entire new world to him, one he was trying to learn as much as he could about, but he was limited by the number of hours in a day.

Even with help from Carmichel, even with language apps, he had to pick his battles. Right now, he’d chosen to learn the spoken languages but not the written. He’d rationalised it as more functionally useful, something more likely to help him in emergency situations.

Almost everywhere he went in Fairyland was practically guaranteed to have at least some Glyph translations available, meaning he could read directions or order from a menu. Glyph, even though it was limited compared to a full language, was, even in this world, a thing of real magic that stunned him whenever he encountered it.

An alphabet that translated before your eyes to the language you understood best. Useful magic, and prominent in the towns he frequented. Invaluable for tourists, and a good fall back for someone like him, who was still in the early stages of becoming bilingual.

Listening to conversations, however, or being able to communicate with a fae in distress, required being able to understand the language.

Being able to say “I’m here to help” was more beneficial than being able to read “the cat was fat and sat on a mat”.

‘Are you drinking tonight, or are you on the clock?’

He gave a neutral smile. ‘I can have a drink.’

Francis, apparently having no language issues, ordered two drinks in fluent hobbish.

The drinks were delivered in short-stemmed glasses, the stems green to indicate that they were alcoholic.

It was part of the pervasive culture of consent that was part of Faerie as a whole. All drinks that were served came in colour-coded containers to let the imbiber know if it was alcoholic, magically enhanced, or under another half dozen conditions.

He clinked his glass against Francis’s and took a sip. It was strong but sweet, as so many fae drinks were. Another sip gave him a chance to take in the man’s details, and his first impression that he could have been looking at an agent survived a longer look.

Conventionally handsome. Impeccably put together. His tux was quality, enough to say he belonged, without drawing attention to himself.

‘Thoughts?’ Francis asked, ‘I can feel your eyes on me.’

‘The pin,’ Curt said, reaching out to curl his fingers around Francis’ lapel and then brush his fingers over a small, round enamel pin, where three colours circled in on each other. ‘I don’t recognise the meaning.’

‘Hmm,’ Francis said as if he’d failed some test. ‘I thought so, but hope flames eternal.’ Francis caught his fingers and guided them over the colours of the pin. ‘For men,’ he said, indicating the blue. ‘For women,’ the pink. ‘And for those for whom neither label suits,’ he said as they landed on purple. ‘I’m bisexual, young man.’

He thought about the times he’d seen pride flags of varying designs. ‘Isn’t it usually laid out in, ah,’ he paused, ‘straight lines?’

Francis let out a gentlemanly snort, brought Curt’s hand closer and laid a gentle kiss against one finger before releasing him. ‘Generally true, on Earth. The triple ring design here is one of the Fairyland pride symbols, so this design allows me to wear my cross-planar identity.’

‘It’s never been my world,’ he said as Francis ordered two more drinks. ‘But I’ve been making an effort to learn. I’m…’ he stared down at the bar and tapped his fingers on the menu. ‘I’m not proud of who I used to be. How I used to act.’

‘Learning is all we can do, Curt. We have to flow with new information and new context. Life is nothing without love, so we must seize it when we can.’ He touched the pin. ‘It’s always been my world, for good and for bad. I enjoy Faerie because I’m not just accepted here; it’s normal, and it’s so much easier to be yourself in a place where what you are is unremarkable.’ He stirred the green drink that the bartender placed down in front of him. ‘The worst damage flirting with a young man will do here is give me a reputation for going after someone probably too young for me.’ Francis smiled. ‘And that’s little enough mark on a sparkling reputation, especially when the company is as handsome as yourself.’

Like when Raz made comments about him being good-looking, the compliment was welcome, and he was glad that this new man he’d become had finally silenced any part of him that would have cried out in dismay about gay germs.

‘Just so you know-’

‘Oh, I know,’ Francis said with a note of sadness. ‘But you’re flattering me by sharing my company anyway. Until the Queen and your partner are done, that’s enough for me. Would you care to look at the exhibits before the auction starts? Unlike the recruit you’re with, I have a feeling you’re far newer to all of this, so I’m happy to offer my expertise in answering whatever questions you may have.’

‘That would be appreciated, yes, thank you.’

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