The Phantom Inker

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Faerie Ring

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Danae looked up sheepishly. "It's — you."

I stared, trying to fathom what I could possibly be looking at.

She bit her lip. "I — I guess an explanation is in order," she said.

She looked down at the forest floor, where the glow was gently softening. "The first time I came out here, I didn't expect it. I was just taking a walk. I couldn't sleep. Needed to clear my head. It had been a bad day at the office, and I just — I didn't know what I needed, but it wasn't tossing and turning in bed.

"But — the fairies knew. I was walking here, and I didn't realize I'd stepped into a fairie ring. Then they were all around me, and their magic, and then — this. It was pretty weird, but — they were right."

She looked up, her eyes shining. "Oh, that first night! I ran and I ran, and you have no idea how good that was! I needed the natural world, and magic in my life, and I just needed to be more than a girl at a desk. I — came back the next night. And after that."

Danae turned away, biting her lip again. "I come out here most nights now. Just for this. Just to be this, to be free, to run and feel the wind in my hair and the grass under my feet and my tail flying behind me, to chase the moon, to run free like nothing matters, like there aren't bills to pay and a faucet that leaks and a thousand things we have to do. Back there is home, I know. That's where our life is. That's where my life is, still.

"But out here, my spirit is so free. My heart is so free. I know — I know it's crazy, but I have to keep coming here, to keep doing this, to keep being this, even if it's so short every time. And I know I should have said something, I know it, I'm so sorry, I am. I wanted to tell you for so long, I wanted you to know for so long, but — but — I didn't want you to tell me to stop."

She paused for a long time, not looking at me, and I didn't know what to say. The fairies floated around her, satisfied that they'd done good.

Danae twitched her tail, and then looked back at me. "This could be our secret together," she said softly. "I always wanted you to know, to be here, to be with me, to live this with me, to see this world the way I've seen it. And — you could. The fairies would do it for anyone."

She turned around and paced toward me. She stopped a yard away, holding out her hand, and her eyes welled up. "Join me?"

I first drew her lineart in 2017, and last week, my wife asked me to color her, so after another dozen hours or so, here we are.

High-resolution version is available on Patreon.

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