The Other Side

The emergency crystal chimed, jolting me awake. I peeled my face from the half-dried puddle of drool on my desk and squinted at the hourglass. Quarter past midnight, Fairy Standard Time. Just once, I wish they’d call when I wasn’t asleep. Or hungover. But pixies like me? Our wishes never come true.

Princess Alyxie’s voice trilled through the crystal. Her miniature dragon had gone missing. Sounded like the whole glimmerin’ realm was gonna end if I didn’t find it.

Great. Just how I wanted to spend my night—peeking under sugarplum trees for a spoiled teenager’s misplaced pet.

“Oh, and don’t tell Mother,” she said. “She’ll be vexed if she finds out I lost Sparky. She traded an elfin kingdom for him.”

A whole cookie-makin’ kingdom? For a lizard that wasn’t even big enough to pull a coach? I shook my wings.

Royalty. Go figure.

“The lizard went through your mirror?”

“Sparky’s a Teacup Dragon, not a lizard,” she snipped.

I hadn’t thought Princess Alyxie’s nose could snoot any higher, but it did.

“No offense, Princess, but I’ve never heard of a mirror that acts like a revolving dragon door.”

“It’s a special mirror.”

I bet. Didn’t look special. It reflected me and the princess, and sparklin’ farts, I was a mess. Shoulda polished my wingtips before I flew to the castle.

“Care to explain how it’s special, Your Highness?”

She sniffed and touched its surface. “Mirror, mirror, excuse this grumpy lout. Show us the Royal Detective’s office, to ease his doubt.”

The reflection hazed, and my desk shimmered into view. A half-empty bottle of Witchy Brew tilted at an impossible angle. Took me a second to figure it out. I was seeing my office through the mirror that hung askew on my closet door.

“You spy on people through their mirrors?”

“Yes, and they don’t even know.”

A Peeping Thomasina? Princess needed a new hobby.

“So where did the lizar—uh, Sparky, go?”

She tapped the glass again. “Mirror, mirror, I’m so worried. Show us Sparky’s hideout, and do hurry.”

A dim room appeared. Boxes lined the walls and golden trinkets littered the floor.

“Sparky’s building a treasure hoard?”

Alyxie nodded. Her baby-blues darted to the writing on the boxes—human words. Master Bedroom and Hall Closet scrawled in black ink. Each wall of the room was stenciled “U-Store It!”

Great goblin balls. The dragon had crossed into the mortal realm.

“You understand the human world better than anyone, Detective. Will you help me?”

I pinched the point of my nose and sighed. Guess I’ve always been a lollipop.

We stepped out of the mirror, expanding to mortal-sized dimensions. The dragon’s hoard glittered with gadgets and jewelry in the center of the storage room, but Sparky was gone. A teacup dragon-shaped hole gaped in the side wall. He must have barreled straight through the U-Store-It corrugated metal construction. Discarded knickknacks spilled out, meandering into the moonlight.

I turned to the princess, but froze before I could utter a suitable gripe. An aura of dullness shrouded her, diminishing her diaphanous wings and draining the color from her once-sapphire ringlets. Transformed, she appeared more human than fairy.

“This isn’t your first crossing,” I accused.

She looked away. “Sparky and I come here sometimes, when we’re bored.”

Looked like more than “sometimes.” She’d obviously been here too long, too often. The wonder-starved mortal realm had sucked most of her magic away. Without extended regeneration time back in Fairy, she’d lose it completely.

“Why keep coming here? Your magic is drying up.”

“Sparky likes this place,” she whispered, toeing a heap of treasure.

“You risked getting trapped here? For a pet?”

“Detective, you might not understand this, but… Sparky is my only friend.”

Well, pox.

Outside, long squat storage buildings lined up like the Queen’s guard. Moonbeams blanketed the concrete walkways, and scruffy dogs patrolled the chain-link perimeter. The mutts stopped occasionally to sniff around the fence but didn’t pay us any mind.

You’d think it’d be easy to find a dragon in a place like that. But no, Sparky had made a merry mess of things. Alyxie’s dwindling wings sputtered, useless, so we proceeded from building to building on foot, following a trail of tarnished coins, shed scales, and metal shavings.

One unit held a promising clue: an overturned box of porcelain dragon figurines. Did Sparky want to add other miniature dragons to his hoard? I tucked one in my pocket and we continued the search.

The next unit contained an automobile, gold trim clawed off. Unit 4 smelled of mothballs and licorice. Unit 65 was filled with barrels of paper money.

Humans are weird.

“This isn’t working, Princess,” I said after the tenth dead end. We slumped to the ground. “What drew him to this place?”

Alyxie gazed at the stars. “Maybe he’s looking for another dragon. He’s been lonely at the palace.”

I ran my thumb along the edge of the figurine in my pocket. “Only glass dragons exist here.”

She sighed. “I know. But you get desperate when you’re cooped up, alone all the time.”

Were we still talking about lost pets? “Princess—” I began, but a bark interrupted me. The guard dogs scampered between storage buildings, yipping and kicking up a spray of gravel.

“Princess, how does Sparky look now? Has he changed?”

“His wings disappeared, and he doesn’t blow firebubbles anymore.”

Moonlit fur glinted as the dogs raced around the corner and out of sight. “I think your lonesome dragon might have found a new kind of hoard.”

We followed the sidewalk to the back of the property. The dogs woofed, romping and chasing each other in circles. The biggest one sniffed the air, then turned a panting grin on us. Alyxie gasped.

“Sparky! I barely recognize you!”

The dragon-dog bounded over and flopped into Alyxie’s arms, covering her with slobbery kisses. She laughed and hugged him. Her eyes had faded from baby blue to slate, but her voice bubbled with so much contagious joy that even I was tempted to smile. Sparky wriggled as she scratched his ears, then he rolled over for a tummy rub.

“I appreciate the candy-coated rainbows and all, but we need to buzz back to the—” My throat tightened. Motes of fairy dust rose, fizzing and popping as the last of the teacup dragon’s magic dissipated. His final dragonscale morphed into lush brown fur. Sparky stood and shook himself, then trotted away with his new pack. All hound now, he’d be trapped on this side of the mirror forever.

Alyxie crumpled as she watched him go. Her sob almost put a crack in my sour heart.

I propped my feet on my desk and scowled at the mirror hanging crookedly on my closet door. Was the Princess watching me, even now? Smoothing the frown creases from my face, I waved hello, just in case.

It was too bad about Sparky, but the princess knew he’d be happier with his new canine friends, and she could visit him once her wings regained their sheen. She made me promise to keep an eye on him in the meantime.

Her mother had been mad enough to spit firewasps when she found out what the princess had been up to, but she calmed down when she saw how miserable the kid was. She finally agreed to let her attend Pixie High with the other young fae. It’d take time, but the princess would be okay.

And I had the thanks of a grateful queen. Not a bad night’s work.

The emergency crystal chimed, jolting me out of my thoughts. Hey, whaddya know? I was already awake, and I wasn’t hungover. Maybe pixies like me do have our wishes granted, once in a while.

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