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In Fae mythology iron is very harmful to them. They cannot stand to be near it (in some versions it even harms them) and their magic does not work on iron or on anyone holding iron.

If a Fairy was captured by a town full of humans and placed in the center of an iron cage she would be completely helpless. How could her friends free her from this trap given that:

  • The Humans hate and fear the Fae, none would willingly help them.
  • The fae cannot approach within a meter (3 feet) of the cage.
    • Their magic also fails to work inside that area.
    • Even a fae outside the area cannot create magical effects inside it.
  • They are small, can fly, and can turn invisible but they are no match for humans in a fight.
  • Their magic is limited to auditory and visual illusions and weak telekinesis.
  • They do have a limited supply of fairy dust that can make one or two humans unconscious but not enough for the entire village.
  • The cage is not heavily guarded, there is usually one or two people near it.
  • The cage is inside a building and while not anchored down it is heavy enough that it would be hard for the Fae to lift, especially while staying one meter away from it.
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  • $\begingroup$ What is the range of telekinesis? A file (made of their magical metals) to cut the cage, levitated to the bars from a meter away? Also, how big/heavy is the cage and how guarded/attached is it? I think of options of stealing the cage by third party (friendly animals?) $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 25 '15 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ @SF. Clarified. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 25 '15 at 11:40
  • $\begingroup$ They could... damn. Ferrous oxide, or rust, is mostly iron too. No, they can't burn a hole in the cage with thermite. $\endgroup$ – SF. Mar 25 '15 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB How many floors are in the building and which floor is the cage on? $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 25 '15 at 12:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre Originally I was thinking a single story building with a main hall containing the cage and a medieval setting. None of those things are essential to the story though so I'm open to answers using more advanced technology or a different building layout. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 25 '15 at 14:59

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As far as I can tell all the guards would be immune from being put to sleep, or at least form being illusion ed or deceived, making bowlturner's answer unfeasible based on "their magic does not work on iron or on anyone holding iron.". Any weapons or armor in a setting with iron will likely have iron making enchanting the guards to be impossible given the rules as stated. In fact, any illusion is stated to fail at the point of opening the cage: "The fae cannot approach within a meter (3 feet) of the cage.Their magic also fails to work inside that area."; and any knife would presumably be itself made of iron.

The fairy dust working independently of the person having iron on them would still allow for the knocking out of the guards, but it doesn't allow for having any human to willing open the change as any illusion to do so would fail as soon as they move into the range of the cage to open it.

Really it seems to me that their best bet would be to create bow drills, which people such as the Maya and the Maori used to shape Jade which is harder than steel. They would probably want to work from the top of the cage (not a problem as they can fly) and the drill would be pretty long. The guards would need to be asleep for the operation to work and sand would be needed at the drill heads which would require usage of the telekinesis. I don't know that cutting through the entire cage would be needed, if it were cut through enough then dropping something heavy enough would break it the rest of the way.

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I think instead of putting both guards to sleep, you put all but one to sleep, the last you make drowsy. Then use auditory and visual hallucinations to trick the remaining guard to open the door, maybe make them think they are opening a small cupboard with some gold hidden inside.

With the other constraints the fairies need an ally, so creating one in this instance is the best bet.

Editing to use the example that ByronDowd brought up in the comments.

Knock out all the guards, steal a knife from one, have the trapped fairy lay down and pretend to be dead. Wake up the guard with the stolen knife (preferably the one with the key) and lay an illusion on them to make them see the fairy dead in his/her cage with HIS knife sticking out of his/her ribs, even better put the knife in the cage too. The guard will try to open the cage to get their knife back so they don't get into trouble, with luck they won't notice the fairy isn't really dead until the door is open, at which point put him back to sleep and everyone escapes.

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  • $\begingroup$ This is exactly what I was thinking. It gets around the constraints and still utilizes magic to accomplish the task. $\endgroup$ – James Mar 25 '15 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ I was thinking nearly the same. But with a small twist. Knock all the guards out, and then wake one of them, but use illusion to convince him that the prisoner has escaped while he was unconscious. Naturally, his first instinct is to rush to the cage and open it to investigate. Of course, this requires that you can maintain the illusion as the guard enters the 1m range. Another possibility is the illusion shows the prisoner murdered. This way, as the guard goes to open the cage, he may not notice the illusory part vanish. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Mar 25 '15 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @BryonDowd another good one, it would be less obvious if the fairy laid down in the cage pretending to be dead too $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Mar 25 '15 at 16:20
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    $\begingroup$ Exactly. Fairy lays down, and an illusion is cast that makes it appear from the guard's perspective that there is a knife in it's chest. When the guard gets to the door, the illusion vanishes, but he is too distracted fumbling for the key and unlocking the cage to notice. Even better if it is the guard's weapon in the fairy (his real weapon was removed, carefully). So know he wants to get it before anyone asks why he killed the prisoner. $\endgroup$ – Bryon Mar 25 '15 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Bryon Nice, I like it :) $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 25 '15 at 16:44
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As @MontyWild suggested, the free fae could reconnoiter the guards families to find out what each guards' children or loved-ones looked like. Then, leaving the families unharmed and naturally sleeping, the free fae might cast a few illusions, before approaching the night guards to make a deal. The next morning when the cage is found empty, one of the guards would have a rather strange tale to tell...

The small crowd of the little ones flew right up to us, brave as can be. Shimmering light dancing around them as their leader addressed me with terms...

"Human, release my kin from that cage, or you shall never see your child again!"

From behind him, one of the female fae flew forward. In her arms..., she was holding my baby, Amy... wrapped in a faerie blanket and shrunk down to be small like them.

"Human, we're taking Amy down under hill where she can serve our Lords as a slave. As long as you keep one of us, we shall keep one of you."

I knew what I had to do. I reached for the cage, to unlatch its' door. Bernie tried to stop me, but I drew my dagger... He stepped out of the way. As soon as the cage door opened, they all disappear, even the injured one that had been captured inside.

I ran straight home to make sure that Amy had been returned. Found her there sleeping, as if nothing had happened at all.

I don't care what you do to me for letting the little one go. I'm never going to oppose the fae again. They play dirty but they deal clean. Amy is safe and that is all that is important to me right now.

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  • $\begingroup$ I almost expect a follow-up story of "Amy was dragged from my house and stoned, I now await my hanging for treason" $\endgroup$ – Twelfth Mar 26 '15 at 0:24
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Since these Fae have telekinesis, they can use sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid reacts with iron to produce hydrogen gas and iron sulphate, as is indicated on the Wikipedia page. The acid can be placed in glass jars and dropped onto the cage; they might be able to throw the jars from beyond the 1-meter radius, but telekinesis is still their best bet. Sulfuric acid can even occur naturally, as the Rio Tinto demonstrates.

Even if the process doesn't destroy the cage, it should at least weaken it to the point where a rope wound around the bars can be used to break or bend them.

Note: Remember to wear gloves, face shield, and apron when working with sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is detrimental to health.

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  • $\begingroup$ Look, this makes me want to downvote it. Simply because you are handwaving away the question how can small fairy obtain such acid. (keeping your answer without any vote though) $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Mar 25 '15 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek Again, telekinesis will help. Assuming, of course, this form of telekinesis works on liquids. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 25 '15 at 12:51
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe it is just my own problem: I instantly imagined medieval setup of this question, where getting such acid can be very hard. But point for you: Re-reading the question, this can be in any setup $\endgroup$ – Pavel Janicek Mar 25 '15 at 12:56
  • $\begingroup$ @PavelJanicek I imagined a medieval setting as well, which is why I went looking for a naturally-occurring source of sulfuric acid. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 25 '15 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ Throw a jar of acid at the cage (but don't splash the fairy inside) and hope the acid dissolves the cage rather than simply rusting it shut. This isn't going to work. The rust will form a protective barrier from further reaction. If you could immerse a portion of the cage in acid and agitate the solution, then maybe, otherwise, no. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Mar 25 '15 at 18:33
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Since the Humans are - to fae perception - implacable in their hatred of fae, willing to place a fae in an iron cage which would effectively incapacitate them (I'm presuming that the captive fae would be prostrate with pain from the proximity to so much iron if fae can't normally approach within a metre of iron at all) and may eventually kill them, then the rescuing fae have no reason not to be ruthless.

If there are two guards, find out if either of them has loved ones available. This may take some time and reconnaissance, but invisible fae should be good at that.

Then, at night when there are few humans moving around, use illusion to lure out one or both of the guards' loved ones from their home, preferably a child or two. Take the child(ren) to the building where the captive fae is being held. Take the other guard hostage if necessary by putting them both to sleep and then waking them at (non-ferrous) knife-point, and threaten the remaining guard with the lives of the hostages and demand release of the captive fae. If necessary, injure or kill a hostage to prove that this is not a bluff (this is why you need at least two hostages, as one is basically useless)

The guards may be able to out-fight the rescuing fae if they thought about the situation logically, but since they (as stated in the question) fear the fae (with good reason) as well as hating them, their fear should lead them to capitulate.

With their friend freed, the group of fae can use the hostages to cover their retreat.

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This is fairly simple. The free fae put the guards to sleep during the hours of darkness, and find a rope with a hook. They then hook the rope to the cage by the rope and use their telekinesis to help them lift the cage and fly away with it under the cover of darkness to some place where there are more fae who can use their telekinesis on a non-ferrous lever to pry open the cage.

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  • $\begingroup$ Doesn't work if the guard have iron jewelry (a high possibility for the guards) $\endgroup$ – ratchet freak Mar 25 '15 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ Putting the guards to sleep might be achievable, lifting the cage would be hard though as it is fairly heavy (being made of iron) and as it is inside a building (sorry I didn't make that clear earlier). Keeping the cage above the ground while at the same time keeping the ones lifting it more than a meter away from the bars would be tricky. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Mar 25 '15 at 11:42
  • $\begingroup$ This is not so simple, then. I had anticipated the cage being like a largeish birdcage on display outdoors with its captive slowly dying inside as a warning to other fae. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Mar 25 '15 at 22:27
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Want a cartoonish // comical way of doing it? If the cage is kept on the second story (or higher) of the building...and it'd actually work better if the cage was anchored.

A single fairy sneaks into the room late at night and puts the two guards to sleep...leaving one of them just barely asleep and the other in a much more deep sleep. The fairy then finds a rope and slides it through the iron cage to the trapped fairy, who in return slides the end back through a different hole in the cage. The rescuing fairy then ties the rope to our dozey guard and starts about creating the illusion that the room is around 1 foot larger than what it actually is. The one dozy guard is awoken and the fairy takes up a boxers stance goading the guard into a fist fight. The guard thinks this has to be the silliest thing he's ever seen and proceeds to swing at the fairy. The fairy dodges the few lazy blows and moves the fight towards an open window...the illusion makes the window seem a bit further away than what it actually is and the guards punch at the fairy throws him off balance. A weak little telekinetic push and the guard falls out the window. The rope tied to him stops his fall before the ground (don't want to kill anyone), but the force of it pulls the side off the iron cage (which sees the guard drop the rest of the way to the ground). Stunned guard lying on his back on the street watches the two fairies fly away.

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You say the fae are no match for the humans in a fight but that's only an up-and-up fight. The weapon of choice is a fae-sized lance. Two fae pick up lances, turn invisible and charge (flying.) Their objective is the eyes. Against a target that's not constantly moving around this should be very effective. Blind the guards. Blind anyone else in the vicinity. Eventually they will be able to cut the cage bars (any hard grit attached to a string--two groups of fae pulling it back and forth) free of interference by the humans.

The only defense the humans have is a face covering that they can see through but the fae can't attack through--a knight's helmet. How likely is it that there will be a knight about??

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It sounds like the fae can't open the cage without help from humans. Humans can be tricked or threatened into helping, but note that they can also be straight-up hired.

The fae can steal some gold coins from someone (or perhaps they already have some?). They can find some criminals or bandits and offer gold in exchange for the live return of their friend. They can offer the gold half-in-advance if trust is an issue, with the reminder that breaking a deal with the fae will result in the usual retribution.

If even criminals won't willingly deal with the fae, the fae can make an illusionary human lord and negotiate through him.

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Create an illusion of a human, who wants to take ownership/control of the prisoner. This could be the owner of a circus, or similar, or it could be a spy, thief, assassin that wants to employ the faerie. Depending on the nature of the human, they may come with illusionary treasure, threats, or simply the promise that the villagers will no longer need to worry about the faerie. The villagers could free the faerie, in the knowledge that they are sending the faerie off to a horrible fate, so this does not count as helping them.

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