“All finished!” Bluey announced, proudly placing her paws on her hips. “Bingo, come look!”
“I can’t! Bartleby isn’t in his fancy vest yet!”
Bluey shook her head. “Oh, that Bartleby.” She ran around an assemblage of blankets, sofa cushions, and chairs to find her sister still struggling to tape a construction paper tuxedo onto a lifelike dog doll.
“Bartleby, you’re going to be late for your first day of work!” Bluey scolded. “We can’t have this! You put on that vest this instant, young man!”
“Got it!” Bingo said at last. Her tail wagged as she stood up. “Okay, I can come look now.”
Giggling, the girls ran back around to the front of the fort with a flailing Bartleby in toe. Before them, peaks and valleys of blankets rose and fell atop imprints of furniture. At the base of it all was an entrance to the dark undertow, marked by a flap in the blanket.
“Okay, Bingo, let me see Bartleby, now.”
Bluey took the doll. She cleared her throat, and with a posh stride made her way towards a tiny plastic chair stationed just outside the fort’s entrance. She gave Bartleby a stern look.
“Now listen closely, young man,” Bluey said in a low, gruff voice. “My brother and I are going to explore this magic cave this afternoon. I need you to stay here and make sure no one else comes and tries to steal all the cave’s treasures while we’re in there.”
She placed the doll in the chair. He slumped over at once, his head hitting the back of it with an audible thud. The girls giggled again.
“Keep a special look out for any big blue guys,” Bluey went on, sitting the doll up again. “They’re always up to no good.”
“But Bluey, what if mum comes by with snacks for the explorers?”
Bluey stroked her chin. “Good point, Bingo.”
“No, I’m Leo, now.”
“Right, good point, Leo. Did you get all that, Bartleby?”
The doll was silent.
“Good!” said Bluey. She turned to Bingo, who’d already put on a red scarf and hat with a white pom pom. Bluey nodded and put on one of her own. “Right-o, Leo, safety first when exploring magic caves. Now let’s go get that treasure!”
Shouting in glee, the girls ducked inside the cave entrance and disappeared.
“Bluey, I can’t see anything in here, it’s too dark.”
“I’m not Bluey, I’m your brother Lucas.”
“Oh, right. Lucas, I can’t see anything in here, it’s too dark.”
Bluey paused. “Quite right, Leo. Let’s have a look-see with our…Oh, biscuits.”
“What is it?”
“I do believe I’ve lost my torchy light somewhere around here,” said Bluey in her posh, gruff voice. She began to feel around on the floor.
“What’s a torchy light?”
“It’s fancy talk for flashlights. It’s what torchy mice chase. That’s what Frisky calls them, remember?”
“Oh, yeah! But um, how will we ever find the treasure without our torchy light?”
Bluey looked up again suddenly. A light beckoned from the far side of the cave. It was small and jagged, like a tear in the fabric, and so bright that it illuminated the scarlet blanket canopy above it.
The longer Bluey stared at it, the more her ears seemed to play tricks on her.
“Was that always over there?”
“Was what always over where?”
“That hole over there. And do you hear birdies, too, Leo?”
“Huh? What birdies? Bats live in caves, not birdies.”
“Oh, nevermind. It looks like the big blue guy who made this cave wasn’t very careful. I think it opens back out over that way. Come on, I’ll race you!”
The girls took off into the dark, bee-lining for the far, dim light. Transfixed by the promise of fun and adventure, they weren’t the least bit shocked to see trails of grass reaching into the cave, growing through cracks in the floor.
They stopped by the cave exit, a large gash in a stone wall. A sprawling mountaintop opened up before them, bathed in sunlight and covered in foliage. But it wasn’t the flora that caught the girls’ attention. Bug-like creatures of various colors flew around overhead on iridescent wings, perching on moss-covered walls and chasing their friends through the air with twists and spins.
The girls made themselves known within moments, gasps giving way to shouts.
“Big fairies!” Bingo screeched. She dashed from the breach in the wall and clasped the leg of the nearest fairy. It winced in surprise.
“There are so many of you!” Bluey marveled. Running over to her sister, she promptly demanded the gaze of her new best friend. “And what might your name be, big fairy?”
“Uh, Cornicle,” said the big fairy. He lifted his hoof and watched the other young dog slide down it. “Who are you? And where did you come from just now?”
“From that hole in the wall over there,” Bluey said, nodding backwards. “I’m Lucas, and this is my brother, Leo. We’re exploring a magic cave we found. Have you guys seen any treasure around here?”
The fairies exchanged looks and began to chatter among themselves. When one of them flexed his gossamer wings, Bingo screeched again and chased him from his spot.
“Beetle fairies in the light, oh so fast and oh so bright,” she sang, skipping along after him. “You’re all so pretty! I didn’t know beetles could have so many colors.”
“Such childish behavior,” Bluey mused. She gently grasped Cornicle’s tail and scrutinized the veins flowing through it. “Hmm, yes, quite right. Quite a specimen, this one.”
“What is happening?” Cornicle whispered to his neighboring fairy friend. She snickered.
“Let’s take them to Thorax.”
“Is that a moose?!“
The voice crack alone was enough to put the entire room in stitches. Bluey and her sister ran up to the biggest fairy of them all, sitting on a throne made of wood.
“Mistah Biggest Fairy, is this your house?” Bingo asked.
“It’s all of ours,” said the biggest fairy. Stepping off of his oak throne, he knelt down to meet his guests properly. “My name is Thorax. What are your names?”
“I’m Bingo,” said Bingo.
“No you’re not!” accused Bluey.
“Oh, right,” said Bingo. She looked at Thorax apologetically. “Sorry, I’m Leo right now, actually.”
Thorax beamed. “Well, it’s nice to meet you, Leo. And what’s your friend’s name?”
“I’m Lucas,” said Bluey.
“But her real name is Bluey,” Bingo whispered. Bluey sighed, then shook her head.
“Honestly, I don’t know where he gets all these crazy ideas from. What even is a ‘Bluey’?”
Bingo giggled, and the fairies all around the room smiled.
“We’re sisters—I mean brothers,” Bingo added. She wagged her tail. “And we’re looking for treasure!”
“For treasure?” Thorax repeated, chuckling. “What kind of treasure?”
“We don’t know,” Bluey said, shrugging. “We thought it would be in that cave but then we came out here instead.”
Thorax stood up again. “Well I’m not aware of any treasure, but you’re welcome to stay awhile. Do you two have any guardians here with you?”
“What’s a garden-ian?” asked Bingo.
“He means our parents, Leo,” Bluey said. She looked at Thorax. “They’re on the other side of the cave. But we can stay awhile! Can you show us what sorts of things fairies do for fun?”
Bingo gasped. “Oh yes, what do fairies do for fun?!”
“Ahh, the dragon’s already here, Bahori! Run!”
“But I haven’t finished healing my wolfie yet!”
“Do it later!” Bluey yelled, stepping before a fairy wearing a crafted dragon costume. She waved a cardboard sword at him threateningly. “I’ll hold off the dragon.”
“Vampire dragon,” came a fairy from the audience. Bluey looked at him with bewilderment.
“He’s a dragon and a vampire?!”
The fairy nodded. Bluey looked back at the costumed fairy, then to Bingo.
“Bahori, there’s been a change of plans.”
“Save room in your cart for me too, please!”
Bluey fled to the far side of the stage with a shout, dropping her sword in the process. Chittering filled the audience.
“Off we go, then,” Bingo said merrily. She draped a stuffed blue wolf over her shoulder and sat on the stage, facing away from the approaching dragon. “Don’t worry wolfie, we’ll make you feel all better in no time.”
“You’ll face the wrath of the Heeler Order some other day, dragon!” Bluey cried, shaking a fist. She and her sister scooted along the stage until they were behind the curtain and out of sight.
Murmuring infested the crowd.
“Is this in the script?”
“No, but let them cook. I have a feeling this isn’t over yet.”
The room grew quiet. The fairy in the dragon costume stood alone on stage, looking forlorn.
He was subsequently tackled by Bluey and Bingo from out of the curtain behind him.
“Swing dancing can be pretty energetic and has a lot of quick movements, so I think you both might like it.”
Thorax turned to watch a pair of drones demonstrate a few steps and turns. He looked to the girls, watching as well. Their tails wagged in offset sync.
“Can you spin your partner until they get dizzy?” Bluey asked.
“Well sure, though that wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do.”
“What about if you both spin until you’re dizzy? Then you’ll be equally dizzy.”
“It’s really less about the spinning and more about—”
“Maximum dizzy!” Bingo shouted, thrusting up her fists. Thorax raised a mildly concerned brow.
“You guys are just gonna spin, aren’t you?”
Bluey giggled. She looked at her sister and cleared her throat, adopting a regal tone. “May I have this swing dance, Sir Figglepot?”
Bingo giggled as well. “Yes, you may.”
Bingo took her sister’s paw and together they spun. Their giggling spurred smiles from all around.
“Are we swinging well enough?!” Bluey called out, tilting her head back to spot Thorax as she spun. He grimaced.
“Faster!” shouted an orange fairy with a folded ear. Thorax glared at him.
“Roger that!” Bluey yelled. “Sir Figglepot, you call this swing dancing?! I’ve seen better swings on a playground!”
Bingo gasped. “I’ll show you swings!”
Bingo leaned back on her heels, angular momentum speeding her up. Her confidence lasted only moments. Her heels slipped and she slid underneath her sister, knocking them both over in a heap.
The room laughed with them.
“I am going to make a big pot for all the fairies to hide in when they get scared,” said Bingo, diligently patting down a molded lump of clay. “And it will have all sorts of pictures so that they can spot it from very, very far away.”
“Oh, such a grand idea, Leo,” said Bluey, molding a dome out of her own pile of clay. “What do you think, Biggest Fairy?”
“I think it’s a very thoughtful idea,” Thorax said, smiling. He glanced around the circle, to the many other pottery projects being designed. “It doesn’t look like anyling else is making a hideaway pot, either. I bet we’ll definitely use yours, Leo.”
“Hurray!” Bingo exclaimed. She gently pressed her paw into the pot wall and left a decorative paw print.
“Might be a good place to keep dry when it rains. Right, Thorax?” a fairy next to Bluey said with a chuckle. Thorax nodded.
“Hang on, fairies don’t like the rain?” Bluey asked incredulously. She planted her paws on her hips. “That’s silly, rain is one of the best things about being outside! You can dance, and splash, and build little walls for the rain to go around.”
“But Bluey, the fairies have buggy wings,” Bingo said sorrowfully. She glanced at a neighboring fairy, who flexed hers for emphasis. “And buggy wings don’t like to get wet, remember?”
“Oh, yeah…” Bluey’s ears folded. “I guess that makes sense. But what do fairies do when it rains and they can’t go outside, then?”
“Well, lots of things,” Thorax said. “We can do crafts, put on plays, play games, or take naps together. We take shelter in the lower parts of the hive where there’s a ceiling, and it’s always warm down there.”
“Going to sleep while it rains is very nice,” Bluey acknowledged. Having finished her dome, she gave it a pat and gently moved it aside. “Do all fairies take naps together when it rains?”
“Most of them do,” Thorax replied. He looked to a few of the other fairies. They grinned. “We feel a lot better when we rest together, even when it doesn’t rain. I guess you could call it fairy magic.”
Bluey and Bingo’s eyes lit up.
“What other types of fairy magic do you have?!”
“Heee! Again! Okay, okay—Miss Junebug, if you’d be so kind as to step over here now.”
Apidae nodded and trotted into place.
“And now Mister Droplet, if you could join her on the left.”
Tibia also moved into place. He shot Apidae a bemused look.
“Ah yes, very good,” Bluey said with a nod. She wagged a stick around behind her back. “You’re all such lovely fairies, very colorful, but I think we need something different around here today. Right, Leo?”
“Yes, this just won’t do,” Bingo replied, crossing her arms. “We need more animals.”
“Of course, more animals. Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be any magic asparagus around here, but this magic stick should be just fine. Now, Miss Junebug, if you would, please turn into a…GIRAFFE!”
Bluey pointed the stick at Apidae. She was gone in an instant and replaced by a giraffe.
Bluey screeched in delight.
“Let me do Mistah Droplet now, Bluey!” Bingo insisted. Bluey handed her the stick, and she danced on the tips of her paws. “Mistah Droplet, what’s your favorite animal?”
Tibia tapped his hoof with his chin. “Well, I think flamingos are cool. And I never usually have a reason to turn into one.”
Tibia became a flamingo. He honked, and Bingo shrieked along with her sister.
“So now we’re running a nursery for other species’ young, too?”
Thorax reflexively smiled as another wave of giggling filled the room. The flamingo had begun to playfully peck and nibble at Bingo’s ears.
His face fell again when his brother’s brow creased, demanding his attention.
“Do you even know where they came from, Thorax?”
“Well, no,” Thorax began. Pharynx rolled his eyes into orbit. “But they’re just children, Pharynx. They just want to play around and make friends.”
“I seem to recall Chrysalis keeping company that matched that description pretty well. Nearly squeezed the continent dry of magic when nobody was looking.”
Thorax sighed. “I wouldn’t call that a very common occurrence.”
“So? Still happened.”
“I think your protectiveness might be overreacting again, Pharynx.”
“Is it? Let’s try looking at it from your perspective, then. You said they have guardians nearby, didn’t you? Do you really want to keep entertaining these children’s whims to goof around when their guardians could be worriedly looking for them? That’s what you would do, right?”
“That was rhetorical, by the way. The answer is, ‘yes Pharynx, I would, and I’d blubber to you about it the entire time. I enter panic mode if I haven’t seen a particular changeling for more than a few hours.'”
Thorax shook his head. He wore a tired smile.
“It was almost easier to argue with you when you just rejected empathy outright.”
Pharynx smirked. “Tough break. We’re changelings, we adapt. And you know what? It turns out using your own sap against you is both entertaining and effec—”
“Other Biggest Fairy, look out! He’s on a rampage!”
Pharynx barely had occasion to turn around before a frantic, honking flamingo slammed into his face.
“…I’m sorry, Biggest Fairy. I didn’t mean to get Mister Droplet in trouble like that.”
“That’s alright, he’ll be fine. Pharynx is loud but he’s not mad, not really. He was more startled than anything else.”
“How come he looks like you?” Bingo asked.
“He’s my brother.”
Bingo’s tail began to wag. “Is that why he’s got big antlers on his head like you?”
Thorax laughed. “That’s right. Pharynx helps me look after all of the fairies here, since it’s pretty hard to do by myself.”
“He’s way different from you, though,” Bluey said. “He seems a lot grumpier. How do you take care of all these fairies when you’re so different?”
“Well, you and your brother don’t always get along, do you? But I’m willing to bet that you still try. Pharynx can be grumpy sometimes, but he’s very protective of us, and just wants us to stay safe. He shows his love in a different way than most of us.”
The trio rounded a corner and stepped through a doorway obscured by vines. The girls gasped.
“This is the same room from before,” Bluey remarked. She eyed the familiar gash in the far wall, as well as a half-dozen fairies.
“Aww, does this mean we have to go home now?” Bingo whined. She placed a paw on the biggest fairy’s leg. “We just got here.”
Thorax fought against a quivering lip.
“I think it might be for the best, for the time being,” he explained while kneeling down. “I don’t want your guardians to get worried about where you are. My brother is also a little spooked about how you guys got here, so I think we need to give him time to try and figure out what happened.”
“Yeah, it’s for the best, Bingo,” Bluey said encouragingly, patting her sister’s head. “It’s about supper time anyway.”
Bingo nodded through a few shallow sniffs. “My name is Leo when we’re here, okay, Bluey?”
Bluey’s ears and eyes fell briefly. They softened again when she promptly hugged her sister tight.
“Of course, Leo, that was my mistake.”
“…Mistah Biggest Fairy, can we come back again after your brother isn’t spooked anymore?” Bingo asked, hugging Thorax next. He returned it, easily embracing them both with one leg.
“Of course you can. And you’ll have something to remember us by in the meantime. I think I found pieces of that treasure you mentioned, while you guys were turning Tibia into a flamingo.”
“For real life?!” Bluey exclaimed. Thorax nodded, and with a flare of teal magic, levitated three almond-sized seeds out for the girls to see. They were grass green with a curling, pink pattern along the length of their shells.
Bluey clasped her mouth in her paws, enthralled. Even Bingo’s attention was harnessed, her tears already forgotten.
“These are seeds for the Ambrosial Lily, also called the ‘Immortal Lily,'” Thorax said. “They don’t pollinate very often because they don’t need to. Unless they’re stepped on or hurt by something, they’ll live forever. They’re magic flowers.”
Thorax dispelled his magic, and the seeds gently fell into Bluey’s awaiting paw.
“I’m not sure if they’ll bloom where you come from, but I want you to have them. If they bloom, you’ll have a bit of fairy magic in your home. And if they don’t bloom, bring them back the next time you visit and we can plant them together. How does that sound?”
“It’s the greatest treasure the explorers ever saw,” Bingo whimpered, sniffling again. This time she was smiling. “I’ll make another pot to keep them safe, too. Thank you, Biggest Fairy.”
“We’ll make sure they bloom no matter what!” Bluey proclaimed, gently closing her fist around the seeds and punching the air. “Thank you so much, Biggest Fairy! I can’t wait to see you all again soon!”
After another round of hugs and goodbyes, the sisters made their way back through the gash in the wall. There they waved a final farewell to the fairies before venturing into the depths of the cave.
“My name is Lucas, silly.”
“No, Bluey, I want to be Bluey and Bingo again now.”
“Oh, okay, sure. Yes, Bingo?”
Bingo paused. She glanced back, to the far edge of the cave, where only the scarlet blanket wall now sat.
“Do you think we’ll really get to see the fairies again?”
Bluey looked back as well. She then looked to her paw, still filled with seeds, and to the bright light up ahead of them. She smiled.
“We definitely will. After all, we still need to show them the kinds of games the explorers play. And we can’t have these seeds staying here forever—they’ll get homesick.”
Bingo nodded and smiled as well.
Only then did the girls’ ears perk to a familiar set of voices, echoing from beyond the mouth of the cave.
“Bluey, Bingo, are you still in there? C’mon out, girls, supper’s getting cold and I can’t hold off your father forever!“
“I wonder who left these perfectly good meat pies lying around. Oh, what’s that, Bartleby? Some cave explorers left them just for me? Well, how nice of them! Guess I’ll just help myself, then!“
The girls shrieked in unison, and with renewed resolve they bolted for the front of the cave, and the familiar light of home.