oboebandgeek99-xi
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The locals are always suspicious. They have odd habits you would never even notice if you weren't paying attention. They'll take the longest route back home after dark if it means avoiding the woods. They're very careful about counting the hills when they arrive at and leave the meadow. Honestly, they don't even do weird things, it's more like… they never do things directly.

But when they do actually do weird things, it's hidden. Coded. They speak in euphemisms of the gentle creatures of the woods or the fair folk who live a village over. They politely bow to the oldest trees in the forest. And they all have their own intricate, complicated rituals for stepping over mushrooms. It's always the mushrooms.

I could say I should've paid better attention. But that's a lie. I knew what I was doing. I saw the mushrooms. The implicit circle. It's said that they're left there when a tree stump dies. The locals know better. I should've too. But curiosity overcame me. I think my grandmother knew when I said I was going out for a walk. She saw a shift in my eyes, or perhaps a determination. Or maybe she was just really lucky that she chose today to give me her necklace.

There wasn't much difference inside the circle versus outside. Not that I noticed at first almost. I stood there, quietly expecting to be mystically transported somewhere else. But the scenery never changed. I had given up and was going to head home, but when I turned around something— someone— blocked my path.

"Good morning," I quickly said. He seemed uninterested in my greeting.

"Your name?" he said, holding out his paw expectantly. Part man, part beast, part… insect? I wasn't sure. It took me a moment to realize he had asked me a question, and another to realize why I shouldn't answer honestly. I had to think of something fast.

"I don't have one," I quickly said. He closed his paw, looked away and squinted, his mouth slightly agape.

"I'm… fairly certain that's impossible."

"I wasn't given one," I doubled down. "I was an orphan."

"Even orphans have names, and you have not given yours to me, so," he held out his paw again. I gulped.

"You may call me Athena, if you must." He slowly closed his paw once more, gritting his teeth. I had failed to fall for his trap.

"I suppose that shall do for now." He made notes. I forgot that. He made notes. How had he done that? Did he have a notepad? I like to think that's what it was. I was overwhelmed. I should've paid more attention. "And what is your purpose here?"

"I was invited." The words came tumbling out of my mouth, unable to stop yet compelled to lie. "By the fairest woman I ever met, her hair like a waterfall at midnight, my raft crashed on the deadly rocks below."

He looked at me, skeptical. "That sounds highly unlikely. Just how did you meet her?"

"Our meeting was short yet unforgettable. As I sat by the edge of a pond, she emerged, completely dry, and whispered how to find her later as she walked behind me. When I turned to ask more, she had already disappeared, leaving nothing but the suggestion of the color red."

"I don't understand how…" he sighed and shook his head, making another note. "Never mind. I suppose you may enter." He eyed my neck, the strings of the necklace very visible. "Though you will have to take that off. You can't keep iron here." He was trying to trick me again, to take away my only protection.

"It is not of iron, but of the stone of a comet which fell in the hills near my house. With the comet came the voices of my ancestors, scattered among the stars, who bade me to never be without them again. I'm afraid I can't take it off." I bowed, as politely as I could, but I had gone too far.

"Okay, how?" he asked angrily.

I paused, caught off guard. Of all the one word questions, this is the one expected least.

"I'm afraid I don't understand what you are asking."

"How are you doing that?" He demanded. There I stood, still stunned. The creature groaned. "I word everything so carefully, such that nothing I say about my intent and my identity untrue. I create loopholes and double meanings the likes of which no lawyer could compare. I toil to find the technically true. So how can you just stand there and… lie?! So cavalierly too! I don't think a single word out of your mouth has been true."

"Wait, you're… asking me how to lie?"

"How do you do it? I can hardly omit as things are, and you just told me no fewer than eight lies in a row. And all I asked was what to call you, why you were here, and to take off your necklace. Just simple things."

The fair folk. Ha. This was anything but fair.

"No, you asked me for my name, my purpose, and my protection. None of which I am giving to you, because they are mine," I quickly said, forgetting my manners. "Now who's a liar?"

"I'm not a liar, I merely exploited the expected message from my questions. And you still saw through that. And you lied, you just made up a woman and a backstory and a comet. How?"

"Bold of you to assume any of that was false."

"…It was! Blatantly so!"

"And you think I would just admit that?"

He groaned, eyeing me with… disgust? Fascination?

"Look, it's just me here. You don't have to admit anything. I'll even let you leave, no loopholes, rules, innuendos, or anything else that would keep you here. Just tell me how you do it. How do you lie?" I stared at him, more suspicious than ever. But I'd always heard of the calm demeanor the gentry had through the roughest of circumstances, and this was… not that.

"Well, I guess I simply acknowledge what is true, from my perspective, and simply… contradict that."

"But how?"

"I just do. Like… I am many things. So I'll start a sentence with I am. But I'll simply say something that cancels out the things I am." I took a deep breath. "I am a ten foot tall Elephant with pink skin and cyan eyes that plays the bassoon."

"How?!?!" He exploded. "How are you doing that?!"

I shrugged.

"I… don't know. I just am. I can't explain it."

He took a deep breath and clasped his hands in front of him mouth. He stared away, deep in thought. When he finally looked back to me, there was a determination in his eyes, like he'd made a decision.

"Teach me," he said plainly.

"What?"

"Teach me how to lie."

I stared back at him, bewildered.

"I don't think I can do that," I responded, uncertain.

"If anyone can, it's you. Look, I've met many humans, and very few have caught on to my tricks. But you are so much farther beyond that, you are the best, most incredible liar I've ever met."

"…Thank you?"

"If I can learn how to lie, you have to be able to teach me."

"Yeah, I'm not so sure about teaching a powerful and potentially malevolent fae how to lie so they can deceive other humans who weren't smart enough not to fall for your entrapment."

He pondered this for a moment.

"What if I promise not to use it on humans?" I chuckled. He kept staring on me.

"I guess I don't see the point of it then. Plus, how do I know your word is good? An unfulfilled promise isn't the same thing as a lie."

"It's not just that I can't lie to humans. I cannot lie. Period. I've never met a fae that could. Do you know how hard it is to navigate social decorum without lying? Having to talk to people you hate on a daily basis and having to be honest with them all the time? Stretching the truth becomes so common you know somebody is being rude, so then you have to stretch it further to seem sincere, and then it just completely spirals out of control." I don't know why, but I knew he was telling the truth. Not exaggerating, not stretching, pure honesty. Still, I was hesitant.

"That still doesn't tell me why I should believe you'll make good on your promise."

"Then a deal. If you promise to teach me how to lie, I promise not to use it on humans. I mean, they're pretty gullible in their own right so it would honestly be a waste." I wondered what part of this was supposed to endear me to this deal.

"Sorry, not interested. It's getting late, and I should head home," I said, preparing to walk out.

"Wait!" He shouted, desperate now. He gritted his teeth as I paused and waited for whatever his response was. "I'll give you access to the realm of the fae."

"…Keep talking."

"I'll… I'll offer you my protection to travel between your world and mine as you wish. I can show you around or you can freely explore as you teach me."

"I'm intrigued," I finally admitted. "But what's the catch? What aren't you telling me?"

"…My protection is basically worthless. If you wish to navigate my world and survive, you must keep your wits about you. Something you seem to have no trouble with." He held out his hand. "What do you say?"

I hesitated a bit longer. I would have to make a choice quickly. Surely, exploration of this new world was not worth the danger I would have to put myself in just to explore it. Right?

But my homeworld had become too boring to bear. I had stepped into the circle for a reason, fully knowing the risks. This was what I wanted. And this was my best chance of getting it.

I took his hand, and felt the energy pulse between us.

"It's a deal." Before he could let go, I pulled him close. He eyed the necklace, dangling mere inches before his face. "No using it on humans. I can come and go as I please. And with your protection."

He stared back at me. "So long as you hold up your end of the bargain." He broke the handshake, releasing whatever was between us like a static charge returning to the earth. "I have a feeling we'll make a good team, Liar," He said to me. I smirked back.

"No, I am no liar. I'm merely an expert storyteller." I winked at him. "Nice try, though." By now he was expecting my circumvention, but there wasn't frustration at a last ditch attempt to control me this time. Only a fiery determination. He stepped aside to let me leave.

"See you soon," he said as I stepped over where I had entered. I don't know how, but I knew I was back in my own world. I don't know how long I had been stuck in the other place, but night was beginning to fall. I quickly made my way back home. My grandmother hugged me a bit tighter than normal when I got back; I pretended not to notice. She didn't ask me where I had gone or what had happened, but I suspected she knew something. We continued through the night as if everything was normal.

But as I pondered, the more worried I became. How was I supposed to teach a magical being how to lie? Was it even possible?

"What's wrong?" My grandmother asked. I looked up, only then realizing how long I'd been staring at the table. I wanted to tell her. But I didn't know how she'd feel about what I'd done, or even if she'd believe me. I had to play it carefully.

"On my walk today, I met… a gentleman from the next village over." My grandmother pondered this for a second, and nodded for me to continue. "I foolishly agreed to help him with a matter of… deception. One that he swears is harmless. And I believe him on that matter. But now I'm wondering if I can do what I promised him. And the consequences that will befall me if I can't." I looked up at her, and she smiled, knowingly, but there was a devious spark in her eyes.

"I may have just the thing." She disappeared into the next room for a few seconds, searching for something. When she came out, she was carrying an old tome. She set it down in front of me and flipped the pages until she recognized something. "Ah-ha! "On Teaching the Fair Folk to Lie." Collected from my own studies. This will teach you everything you need to know." I looked at her with fascination. I had a feeling my world was about to become a lot more interesting. She smiled back at me, excited.

"Shall we get started?"

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