“What’s wrong with you?!” Oboe said, staring up at Grandmother. “Not all fairies are wicked! That’s terrible! Why would you say that?!”
Bassoon rested a hand on Oboe’s shoulder with a patient smile. “Walk with me.”
The elder faun stepped out into the corridor, taking her answers with her. Oboe followed her into a long steepled hall. The walls were lined with old sylph-weave tapestries. Her memory of school was rusty, but Oboe remembered that these were pictures of important moments in the Circle’s history.
“You enchanted a human.” Bassoon kept her eyes forward. “Why?”
“I…” Oboe’s anger was muddied with her shame. “I lost control. I tried to stop but my body wouldn’t listen.” She held herself, feeling sick again. “I couldn’t stop.”
Bassoon looked back with eyes like ice. “That’s not what I asked you. Why do you think your body didn’t listen?”
Even now it was hard for her to admit it. “…I wanted it. I wanted to use my magic. It had been so long. Saying no hurt so much.” She clenched her eyes shut, hating herself. “It was worse than starving.”
“There.” Bassoon pointed. “That’s the truth of it. How long had it been? Ten? Fifteen years? Your magic was trapped inside you, screaming, fighting for expression. I’m surprised you survived so long.”
Oboe swallowed. “Transforming myself helped. It’s enough.”
“Is it?” Grandmother raised an eyebrow. “You’re cutting your life short. Your body knows it needs Fates to survive. You’ll die without them, no matter how much you shapeshift. Your instincts were trying to save you.”
“No!” Oboe shouted. “Stop! I don’t care what my body says! I’m not going to be wicked!”
She laughed at her. “It’s too late for that, you wretch! You said it yourself!” Bassoon’s smile was excited and wide. “You’re wicked, and nothing can change that.”
Oboe’s heart was pounding. Grandmother grabbed her by the chin, and went on: “But that’s what I want to see. Not this stupid, naïve little doeling. I want the wicked faun buried deep inside you. The instincts that brought you this far. The fairy who enchanted the prince and got away with it. The Oboe who wormed her way into the office of the Ranger Deputy to take control.”
Oboe pulled away, horrified. “I didn’t worm my way into anything! Theo is my friend!”
“Do not lie to yourself,” Bassoon said. “I’ve met the boy. There’s something strange about him. The way he denies his potential, but it’s there despite him. There’s a feast of Fates incubating inside him. Enough to extend a life by decades! Even if you refuse to see it, your body knows. We can both taste it. That’s why you’re at his side.”
“That’s not true!” Oboe said, but the doubt was planted. She had been so desperate to help him, even when he didn’t want her help. Had her motives been pure? She had been nameless for so long, and helping Theo had made the other fairies look at her, listen to her, and even talk to her. “It’s… not true.” She said it again, weaker this time.
They came to the end of the hall, which ended at a wall taken up by a massive tapestry. It showed a scene of rows and rows of humans looking frightened and amazed at a circle inside a circle in the sky above them.
Bassoon squatted down low enough to meet Oboe face to face. “It’s okay.” She wiped the tears out of the corner of Oboe’s eyes. “You can let go. You can be the real you.” Her tone was a mother’s love. “It has been a long time since any of my children have managed to impress me. I damned you to a life of suffering, but you’ve shown the guile needed to live. You’ve proven yourself worthy of my attention.”
She wrapped her arms around Oboe and whispered in her ear. “Oboe Woodwind, my daughter, it’s time to come home. You need only do as I say and I will restore your name. You can return here to the Circle, where you belong.” Oboe was trembling, but Bassoon held her tight. “Serve me, and embrace what you are: My child.”