A story fragment from a future project, in which a teenage girl who believes in Faeries accidentally awakens the Winter Queen in New York City... and together with a Faerie Princess by the name of Stella Starlight must save the world from a Thousand Years of Winter by finding the Summer Queen before the Winter Solstice.
The retirement home was located in the Hollywood Hills, and was a forgotten collection of old bungalows from the 1920's in a quiet neighborhood surrounded by gently waving palm trees. Painted in soft pastel colors with spotless white trim, the buildings were preserved in perfect condition, as though somehow frozen in time. Emily could sense a faint shimmer of faerie magic in the air like heat waves over hot pavement on a summer day, and she knew that someone was using glamour to conceal the place from mortal sight as well as prevent the passage of time.
Wandering among the buildings, Emily experienced further evidence of faerie glamour: strange compulsions to wander in random directions whispered through her mind, and her sense of direction would easily have been confused were it not for the gentle hand of Stella upon her shoulder, steering her through the bewildering labyrinth of similar buildings and identical footpaths. At last they passed beneath a huge wooden torii gate and arrived at a Japanese garden of truly breathtaking beauty, where a waterfall cascaded down a series of lava rocks to a koi pond below. A wooden bridge spanned the pond, while Japanese maples, red and black pines, juniper bushes, and stands of bamboo were carefully arranged around the garden according to the proper artistic principles. Someone had spent many decades cultivating the garden, and not only was it a thing of great beauty, but also great power: stepping onto the bridge, Emily could sense arcane forces of immense magical might beneath her feet; but what were the Faeries using it for?
"Do you like my garden?" a soft and pleasant voice said unexpectedly from behind her.
Spinning around, Stella and Emily found themselves facing an elderly Japanese gentleman who was barely five feet tall and had to be at least ninety years old. In spite of his advanced years, the gentleman appeared to be in good health and wore the traditional robes of a Shinto priest. The gentleman regarded them with an amused smile, and his jade-green eyes seemed to contain the wisdom of the ages one moment and sparkle with youth and laughter the next.
"It's the most beautiful garden I've ever seen," Emily replied.
"Thank you. I have been tending this garden a long, long time. My name is Akiro Ito."
"Emily Grant. Pleased to meet you."
"Stella Starlight. Pleased to meet you too, Akiro-Sama."
The Gardener raised an eyebrow. "I know what you are, Miss Starlight. No doubt you have looked beyond the mask and known me for what I am. Since time is of the essence, shall we put aside our masks and get down to business, as you Americans would say?"
"Be my guest."
Emily started in amazement as with surprising speed and grace, the Gardener whirled in place and was transformed into a handsome humanoid fox who was lean and athletic in build and stood nearly six feet in height. Revealed to be one of the Kitsune of Japanese mythology, Akiro Ito wore the classical robes, sash, and trousers of a noble samurai while a katana instantly appeared in one hand, which the Kitsune promptly sheathed in his obi; even more peculiar, the shapeshifting fox had snow-white fur and jade-green eyes, while protruding beneath his robes were five tails.
"Five tails?" Stella exclaimed. "I am indeed honored to meet your acquaintance, Akiro-Sama."
The Kitsune smiled and gave a graceful bow. "It is not often I meet a Princess of the Daoine Sidhe. I too, am honored. But we no longer have time for such pleasantries; the Sunset Queen has need of you, and I fear we may already be too late."
Solstice: A Winter's Tale.