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“I’m so glad you survived the fire, Sadika,” Fuairead said, choking.  “It means I get a shot at killing you if I ever find out that you knew about this… this connection.”

 Our eyes locked. “You mean…” I tentatively asked in my mind, praying that her implication was wrong.

“Yes,” was her hesitant reply to me, although her lips never moved.

“Oh, great,” was Chang-Ying’s reply, and I had only a moment to think how clever she was to have figured it out so quickly, before I was fighting back the building panic of having Fuairead back inside my mind. I started to build up the walls, reinforcing them stronger than I had one hundred years ago. I could not endure her inside my mind again.

One moment I could feel Fuairead’s coldness and Chang-Ying’s warmth, and in the next they were gone. It felt oddly disorientating, which was wrong, so wrong—it was my mind, after all, why should I be distressed by their absence? I could tell by Chang-Ying’s stricken face and Fuairead’s puzzled one that they felt it too.

“Well, that went mostly according to plan,” I mused out loud as I wrapped the bandage tightly around Fuairead’s leg. I replayed the events of the night in my mind, thinking of the love I felt for Chang-Ying, a residual feeling brought on from her grandfather, the blood from our cuts seeping into and renewing the land, our true names etched onto Fuairead’s too-pale skin. I let out a shriek. Fuairead looked up at me inquisitively. “Briar Rose,” I said, hearing the disgust in my voice. “Love, blood, and rhetoric.  Bitch couldn’t be a little more specific? If I hadn’t poisoned her roots already, I’d poison them again after hacking each individual branch off of her body. Bloody hell.”

“You’re trying to change the subject,” Fuairead said. I pulled the bandage tighter and Fuairead grimaced. “Sadika, I…”

“You’re angry,” I said coolly.

“So are you. We need to address this issue.”

“Not now, we don’t. Besides, our arguing is distressing Chang-Ying, who looks like she’s ready to faint.” I turned my head towards her in concern, but Aminah was already there to catch her before she fell. I turned my attention back to Fuairead, who was struggling to get into a standing position. “See, I told you. Maybe you should just follow suit and pass out already. You’ve lost a lot of blood, and Trethon has come back to swoop you up in his arms and whisk you unceremoniously away. He did not, however, bring more bandages.”

“You are the most infuriating Fae I have ever met,” she spat out as she finally stood, breathing heavily.

“Really?” I looked disdainfully down at her hunched-up figure. “I thought you had killed Totmacher because you found him so annoying.”

“Right now, I rather wish I had killed you. Damn you and your stubbornness, Sadika. I think—” but I was saved from hearing what she really thought as she slumped back into Trethon’s waiting arms. He picked her up more tenderly than I thought one of Unseelie might carry their queen and turned to walk towards Gallea and Heidrek.

“You do know how to properly dress that wound tomorrow? It would be a shame if you let your Queen die because you did not know how to tie a bandage.”

“Your tone is mildly insulting, High Queen of Seelie,” Trethon said, aggrieved.
“I meant it to be. I am not sure how I feel about you yet,” I replied.

“Nor I you,” he said as he walked away.

I felt Sharak come up behind me and I leaned against him, my strength gone. “Do you think we can trust them to protect her? It would be a pity if she died now.”

“I have seen none more loyal,” Sharak replied.

“Except you,” I smiled softly. “Now take me some place safe,” I said quietly, fading into darkness.

                                                                                      *  *  *  *  *

“Veronica, I love you,” Paul said.

“I know,” I replied, “and I’m sorry.”

I woke to the warmth of sunlight streaming across my face. I reached across the bed towards Paul and found Chang-Ying beside me instead.

“How long have we been sleeping?” My voice sounded husky and my throat felt parched.

“Three days,” Aminah said, smiling as she passed me a glass of water. “I am glad that you are finally awake, My Queen.”

“I see we are staying at the Meadowside Inn in Adorabella’s kingdom. So we have twelve hours to get back to the high court before Lord Elric does something drastic to himself before the gift opening.”

“I am sure he is managing quite well,” Aminah said. “He is quite loyal to Seelie.”

“There is that,” I agreed. “Help me get dressed. We need to take Chang-Ying back to her grandfather before we return home.”
                                                                                *     *      *     *     *

We stepped out of the portal and into the park. It was midday and the park was full of suits eating sandwiches and tourists taking pictures of the famous mermaid pond. I paused to stare at a billboard. “Thank the Four Winds of Faerie that this week is RenFaire in various parts of the city, because I do not have the energy to hold glamour and we look sorely out of place.”

Aminah was eyeing a girl with a shaved head and a spiked Mohawk wearing skinny jeans. “My Queen, we look out of place?”

I sighed in exhaustion as I shifted Chang-Ying’s sleeping form in my arms. “We do,” I said. “Now stay alert, do not stare, and stick close. Keep your gloves on at all times, as there is iron everywhere in this city.  There will be a carriage we can take to our destination.”

At the gates of the park there was a row of carriage drivers, hawking towards the wide-eyed tourists clutching their cameras. I nodded to one and Sharak climbed in. I transferred Chang-Ying into his arms, then I climbed up behind him and turned to the driver. “1218 Broom Street, and may I please borrow your cell? I have a local call I need to make.”

“Sure thing, madam. Did that young one have too much excitement for the day? I’ve never seen such a spectacle—weapons demonstrations, falconry, even tournaments!”

“Indeed. We are just taking her home and will come back later to enjoy the revelries.”

The carriage started moving and I dialled the number, staring out into the street. Trying to memorize every inch of the city as I passed it by.



“Sadie, thank Seelie you are alright—”

“Meet me at the shop now. Take the subway.”

“Sadie, I—”

“See you soon, Michael,” I said, hanging up.

The carriage stopped and we disembarked. I cradled Chang-Ying in my arms and was about to kick at the door when it swung open. Wu opened the door and I solemnly handed his granddaughter over to him.

“I am so sorry, Wu. I know you wished never to see me again.”

“The day I followed Adara into Faerie was already the day I began to pay for my choices. This is just another result of my actions. I am just thankful that you have continued to watch over my family.”

“You should hate me,” I whispered.

“I already hate myself enough for the choices I made,” Wu said solemnly.

His wife came up from behind him and kissed him gently on the cheek. “Those choices were in the past. The future is our own and there is only room for happiness in it.”

Wu smiled sorrowfully. “Whatever would I do without you?”

“Not get your laundry done,” she quipped.
The shop bell chimed and the door swung open. Sharak was at the door in a flash, with a sword to Michael’s neck.
“Sharak, stand down. That’s Michael.”

Sharak removed the sword and gave Michael a short bow, “My apologies, Michael. It is a pleasure to finally meet you. My Queen has spoken quite highly of you.”

Michael turned to look at me and started, “My High Lady—”

I stared at him in horror, “Michael, not you too.”

He shook his head and smiled. “Ah, for a moment I was mistaken, but now I see that you are just the same Sadie.”

“You’re lying,” I said softly.

“That’s why you keep me around,” he replied with a grin.

“That’s not the only reason.”

I turned to look at everyone. “Is it so obvious? Have I really changed that much in the last week?” I could tell from the uncomfortable silence that they could see it as well. “Wu, why don’t you and your wife put your granddaughter to bed. She’ll wake up in a couple of days. I need to talk to Michael, and then we will reconvene over tea and I will explain what has happened. Michael will set up wards to protect the shop and I will take my leave of this family. This time, Wu, it is my greatest wish that I never see you again. Come, Michael, let’s talk in the office.”

Wu Ruiling’s office was a tidy room with bookshelves lined with folklore and precious antiques too valuable to be in the store. Her desk was littered with photos of her family: her wedding, her daughter’s one-hundred-day celebration, Chang-Ying learning to ride a bike. Michael closed the door. “I didn’t come straight here. I stopped off at the deli on fourth to buy all of your favourite things. Abraham was working the register and told me he misses my beautiful sister and her sassy pink mini-skirt and asked when she was coming again. I also got you this extra-large mocha with a double shot of espresso and a shot of caramel. I am also glad you survived the fire.”

“That’s what she said.”


“That she was glad I survived the fire.”

“I see,” Michael said, offering me the coffee. “Did everything go as planned?”

“Almost everything.” I gratefully took the cup from his outstretched hand.

“There’s always a few hiccups, I would guess,” Michael said.

“The ceremony not only renews the connection between Faerie and the Mortal realm, it creates a bond between the high rulers and the mortal. It’s why you must do everything in your power protect Chang-Ying.”

“What kind of bond?”
“She was inside my mind,” I spat. My words felt like venom. “Fu was right there speaking to me in my head. I could feel her anger as if it were my own.”

“Ah,” Michael said thoughtfully. “The one thing you cannot abide from her after what happened. So you can feel what she feels now.”

“No. As soon as she spoke I severed the link. But it could become a danger. Chang-Ying can feel what we feel as well. If this became known to anyone, her life will be in danger. I saw Wu has purchased fresh holly in anticipation of her granddaughter’s return. You must help her reinforce to wards and make them strong.”
“Sadika, what happened after the coronation? Can you not feel what I see?”

I sipped my coffee. “I thought you were mistaken.”

“I lied.”

“Fu said she could see a fire behind my eyes after I returned from Agni. After the coronation I felt Seelie, the land. And it felt sick. If Adara felt the same way when she was Queen, then her death was too merciful. She should have been made to suffer as the land has suffered. Maybe it’s Seelie you see.”

“And now that the tithe has had its offering, how does the land feel?”

“Still sick, but renewed. Like Spring is in the distance.”

“Says the Fae who is from the Kingdom of Summer.”

“But now I feel Seelie more intensely. When I awoke after the tithe, I felt like I could feel my whole realm. That if I closed my eyes I could feel every individual blade of grass blowing in the wind, every fox running lightly over the ground in pursuit of the field mouse, and it all feels like mine. I now long for Seelie the same way I once longed for the realm of mortals. And as each moment slips by, my desire to return to the lands of Faerie grows.” I rubbed my arm; it almost felt like my body was itching for me to return to Seelie.

“I see,” Michael said solemnly.

“Return with me,” I said suddenly, and almost winced at how desperate I sounded.

“You already know that I will not return with you. I refuse to watch you die.”

“I understand. Promise me you’ll guard Chang-Ying and watch over Paul. And order flowers every year for Thomas’ grave and you’ll make sure the kitsune clear the graves on Tomb Sweeping Day.”

“I promise I will never forget, Sadie.”

“Thank you. After we have talked with the Wus, will you escort me back to the park?”

“Only if you let me buy you another coffee on the way.”
02 February 2014 @ 01:22 am
"And they want you to doubt every trust that you've known
And they want to find the holes in the armor exposed
And they come on whispering,
"If you just do this for me..."
And turn and show their teeth just before they're sinking in
And better than described and deeper the decent
I never thought we'd have to learn to doubt our friends
And better than described, so much deeper the decent
I never thought we'd have to learn to doubt our friends"

-"Black Betty and the Moon," The Horrible Crowes

My hands were shaking, but I tried to keep my face impassive as Sadika pulled the shift over her miraculously unmarred skin. Chang-Ying looked past the point of tears, trembling occasionally, but she kept a stiff upper lip.

I took a deep breath and turned to do my part.

Gallea and Trethron had obeyed my orders to the letter, I noted as I examined the armor, weapons and other gear they had laid out. The fact that all their preparations might still not avert the loss of my life prevented me from being too exuberant in my praise, however.

To apply any kind of armor, one always has to make sure that the clothes underneath are seamless, without a single wrinkle, or you’ll be wearing the blisters from that armour for at least a week following. The pants I wore were chosen to suit the armour, but my shirt was too frivolous.

I pulled the hem up over my head and threw it to Trethorn, while Gallea held up a more practical black underlayer for me.

Sadika gave a wolf-whistle. “Hey, Fu, you been working out? Your daily regimen of drowning puppies, slaughtering minions, and cracking courtiers’ skulls must really do it for you.”

I rolled my eyes as I shrugged into the undershirt, “Well, if you lot weren’t so focused on braiding daisy chains, or whatever it is that you do there, you’d be in the same condition.”

It made me wonder for a moment when did Sadika get her sword practice in? She must constantly be busy, what with the plotting regicide, acting as a double agent, and faffing about with her photographer, and yet I knew her to be very competent fighter.

I glanced at Wu’s daughter, who was looking slightly bemused at our exchange. Of course, Sadika wanted to put her more at ease, that was it.

Next I pulled on brown doeskin boots, and Trethorn began applying the greaves and other pieces to my legs while Gallea helped pull a queer, soft armor over my head. It was a dull black, and made out of many segmented scales in the same manner as chainmail, but without the heft or the bulkiness. I felt as though the armor were merely another shirt.

“Excellent craftsmanship, Your Majesty,” Gallea whispered, running a finger along it. She did up the clasps at the back, made sure it laid flat along the shoulders and neckline, then stood back to hand me all the weapons and accouterments.

My favourite sword, the one that had belonged to Totmacher, hung with reassuring weight at my hip, while two of my favourite small blades were tucked into each boot. I picked up a light-weight halberd and hung it in its special scabbard across my back. Gallea gently placed a light black helmet on my head. Unlike my practice helmet, this had been made specially, with the etching of a crown and emeralds embedded on the surface.

Trethorn handed me a shield, and both stepped back. They looked mesmerized for a moment, far away from their sharp, calculating features. In what seemed like a daze, they both dropped to their knees.

“Fare thee well, my Queen,” said Gallea, her eyes wide.

“I will not accept a defeat,” I said in reply, spinning on my heel to join Sadika and Chang-Ying as we walked towards the fire.

Out of the small leather satchel I’d instructed Heidrek (and only Heidrek) to bring, I produced Arthur’s Grail, briefly gleeful that it was still in my possession and not that old grouch, Merlin’s. In the dying light of the fire, it appeared a hot, glowing gold and Chang-Ying’s eyes widened.

Then Sadika held out her hands as well, and for a moment I remembered the flash of her hand as she’d thrown her small, jeweled knife with chillingly accurate aim, jamming the portcullis chain, and allowing us to escape from the ogres so many years ago. I looked up at her steadily, willing her to understand that I trusted her, and I had so from that moment, but she raised an eyebrow and shook her head.

“It’s a rare knife,” she explained. “During a time of peace between Seelie and Unseelie, they forged two identical knives, with Summer engraved on one side of the hilt, and Winter etched into the other. It seemed poetic to put it to use.”

“Very appropriate,” I affirmed. I glanced over at the well, squinting to see if there was any activity yet, but nothing had changed. Then I realized I should never have needed to squint at such a short distance, regardless of the dark. I looked closer and saw that there was a thin fog drifting from the well opening towards us.

“Better do this fast,” I said, holding out the cup and my hand above it. “I’ll start.”

Your lands will spring to life again,
If blight or curse is set on them,
Through poisoning or witchery or worse.

Sadika spoke, raising her hand over the Grail, her knife poise over her palm.

Obtain some honey, milk, and balm,
A splinter of every type of tree
A leaf of every plant you have that has a name.
And drip, drip, drip…

As she said it, she flicked the knife and rich, deep red blood welled up from the cut on her hand and fell into the chalice.

Drip the mixture carefully,
into the belly of the land.

I nodded in the direction of Wu, and Sadika gently took her hand, waiting for the girl to give a shaky nod before slicing her hand swiftly. I knew I’d chosen well when Chang-Ying barely flinched.

I continued the invocation, swirling the cup, then held my hand out above it for Sadika to cut. The pain was miniscule and I flexed my fingers to increase the blood flow.

Widen, heighten, multiply,
Fill this land unto its limit,
Be blessed in the shining moon,
The burning stars and brilliant sun.

The fog around us was increasing now, almost pulsing. I made the mistake of flicking my eyes up to Sadika’s, seeing her sidelong glance to the mist rising around us. She looked scared. I raised my eyebrows. I can handle it.

I held the cup high in the air and yelled into the night.

Eastward I stand and favours entreat,
The earth I beseech and each of her keepers I summon to this field,
Into your ears this glamour I pour
From my teeth I speak each word and will not fail,
The blooms are sure to bloom once more, the fruits to fruit
The land grow whole and full once more for worldly use,
Plentiful for us once more.

I brought the cup down and to my lips, taking a small sip. I held the cup out to Sadika, who made a face and drank, then took the cup. She offered it to Chang-Ying, who made an even worse face and shook her head vehemently. Sadika placed a hand on her shoulder, giving it a small squeeze and pushed the cup into her hands, glancing around nervously at the fog as she did so.

The air was so hazy now, I could hardly see, but I said the last of the verse as Sadika dipped a finger into the cup and pushed up the sleeve of my armor.

Widen, heighten, multiply,
In reverence take this tenantry,
For the joy of soil beneath your soles, prevail!
Let the trees rise straight-backed forever,
Let flowers flower and seeds seed and yield yield to me!
Grant our lands fortified against all adversaries!

Sadika touched her blood-stained finger to my arm and began to write.

“With my blood and true-name, Alethea Saisha Vera, I pronounce thee champion of these realms.”

She rolled up my other sleeve and dipped Chang-Ying’s finger in the chalice and held my forearm for her to do the same.

“With my blood and my only name, Wu Chang-Ying, I pronounce thee champion of these realms.”

Then Sadika dipped her finger into the chalice for the final time. She unsheathed my sword and poured the blood down the blade, then put the hilt in my right hand. With her finger, she wrote across my forehead.

“And now marked with thy true name, Siobhan, be our champion and safeguard against the shadows.”

As the last word left her lips, she gasped and glanced to the well. The mist abruptly vanished from the air around us and began to coalesce in front of the well. Sadika grabbed Chang-Ying and began to back away.

I tightened my grip on my weapon and started forward.

The mist was swirling and pouring forth from the well, solidifying before me into a towering form nearly twice my height. Expecting it to sublimate and leave a creature more to my size, I was taken aback when the form suddenly stopped rippling and spinning and hardened.

Nothing stirred for a moment. I held my breath. Then the shadow being opened its eyes. It smiled. But it had no eyes, and no teeth, only an inferno where these features were supposed to be. The flames seemed… hungry.

I roared a challenge and ran toward it, my sword held out before me. The Shadow-being grinned widely.

Reaching it, I realized I was no higher than the middle of its rib cage, or at least where a rib cage would be for a Sidhe. This was insane. I made a feint towards its belly, hoping to draw it out, to scar up its arms a little first.

The being only laughed and struck out with its foot. I jumped back but caught a harsh blow to my shoulder that nearly made me drop my sword.

I tried to contain a growl of frustration. The thing was just going to kick me around like a dog if I let it. The sword suddenly seemed like the wrong weapon to have brought.

The beast kicked at me again and complemented it with a swing of its Volvo-sized arm. I dodged the kick but the swing sent me sprawling across the wet grass, my head spinning.

Think, Fuairead, think.

Standing sentinel over the well was an enormous tree, the oldest I could remember in the whole Faerie realm, its branches stretching up into oblivion. I eyed it for a second and as the Shadow-beast lumbered towards me again, I picked myself up, grabbing a handful of mud and grass. I sheathed the sword, pulling out my halberd instead and spinning it in anticipation.

Come and get it, I thought. I’m old as Cain and I know all the dirty tricks.

The Shadow-beast lumbered toward me like a juggernaut, making the ground tremble. It swung its arms and legs with shrewd rhythm, trying to slam me or squash me. It was fast for its size, and I barely kept ahead of it. I tried to gauge its reflexes, darting forward and back, side-stepping and lurching around to avoid its fists and feet, and to get it into the right position. We moved around the well, trading jabs, as it slowly gained ground.

I couldn’t play that game too long, knowing I would get tired before it did. I waited as long as I could to discern a pattern, then swung as hard as I could at its arm with the halberd, whipped the dirt in its eyes, and kept running forward in a full-on sprint, dropping into a slide across the grass, right between the beast’s legs.

I heard it shriek with outrage at the wound but hadn’t even managed a look. I was on my feet and running, clearing the last few feet to the tree and half ran, half scrambled up the branches to the right height. In a fraction of a second, I glanced behind me, chose my target, and kicked off into empty air.

As I somersaulted and landed on the beast’s neck, I reached for the dagger in my boot and tried to stick it somewhere lethal as I struggled for purchase. But a second later, there was nothing to grab, the Shadow-being had dissolved and I dropped to the ground, landing badly and wrenching my leg.

The chilling sound of its laughter caught my attention, and I hauled myself up as the being rematerialized a few meters away. This time, it was more my height, but my celebration was cut short as I noticed the sets of five claws sprouting from each of its hands, each claw as long as a butcher’s knife.

I switched the short knife to my left hand, pulling out Totmacher’s sword with my right. This time the Shadow-being was swift, and it flew at me, deadly talons coming from all directions.

I parried, but the attacks came from everywhere, and I felt long, deep cuts on my arms as the claws penetrated my armor.

I retreated, blocking madly with my sword, hardly able to see the being as it continued its flurry of attacks. With my left hand, I desperately grasped at the pouch on my side and scooped the contents into my hand. I whipped my arm around, scattering thousands of dried poppy seeds on the battleground between us.

The Shadow being stopped for a moment and I tried to catch my breath, each inhale and exhale sounding violent against my ragged throat.

I thought by some freak chance I might have happened upon a weakness, even though I had no real hope of my little trick working. The Shadow-being looked contemplatively at the poppy-seed trail, seemingly entranced. Then it turned and gave a nasty little smile.

It wasn’t fooled at all.

“You tried the poppy-seed trick again!” It was Sadika’s voice and I gave a quick glance over my shoulder to see her standing at the outskirts of the field with her hands on her hips.

“Well, it worked that one time in Romania!” I replied scornfully. Then I focused once more on my enemy. I stretched out my hand and muttered, "Vigere!”

The thorny branches of roses erupted from the ground, rapidly entwining the being’s legs. It sneered at me, evapourating into a cloud of mist. I heard a noise behind me and the being was there, looking like some kind of hell-spawn, a man-sized frog, with leathery spiked wings protruding from its back. It was on me before I’d even raised my weapon, hitting me full in the chest and knocking me to the ground. For a moment, I fought to breathe.

I rolled to the side, expecting another assault, and drew one of the short knives in my boots. I stumbled to my feet, disoriented, and heard a shriek of glee right before the beast crashed into my back.

This time, I wasn’t so quick to my feet, and I’d dropped my knife somewhere. I blinked, trying to clear my vision, trying to catch my breath, but every part of my body was in pain, every limb and every bone was aching from beating, the falling, and the claw assault.

I grabbed the other knife and took a ready stance. When you’re beaten down, always go back to the basics.

The Shadowling and I circled each other, though why it was waiting for me to make a move I didn’t know. Maybe it was seeking the best way to finish me off.

No, I couldn’t lose. Sadika and Chang-Ying, Gallea, Trethorn, and Heidrek, they could all die if I lost. Everything would be lost. I was their champion. I was chosen to fight back the Shadowlands. I had to fight back.

I advanced slowly, trying to get a measure of the beast’s plan. Agonizing pain shot up my leg every time I moved. But slowly, carefully, I moved forward, holding my knife up like a totem. The beast was eyeing my leg quite obviously with every step I took. It knew where I was weak, where I felt the most pain.

I let a little more show, stepped a little more gingerly on the ball of my foot. I pushed with my back knee, dangling my front leg as bait. The Shadowling tensed and before I even heard it shriek I knew where it was striking. I brought my knife down wildly in the direction of its body as it struck my leg, striking and bending the bones with a terrible crack. I screamed. The Shadowling screamed. I wondered if I would actually pass out from the pain.

The beast pulled its dematerializing trick again. I swore and dragged myself towards the edge of the field where Sadika was, crawling using my arms and my good leg.

She was kneeling down in the grass and tears were running down her face. I collapsed with my head almost in her lap, then grasped at her shoulders pulling myself up. Blood streaked her gown where my hands touched, staining it.

“Sadika, Sadika,” I rasped, and more blood from my lips and face fell onto the snow-white silk. My hands clasped around her neck, my voice was so weak I could hardly hear it myself. I pulled myself up so my mouth was even with her ear.

“Sadika, I’m going to lose,” my voice broke, “I want to you to run. Do whatever you can. I’m sorry.” Every word came with a horrible effort. Talking was wasting energy I should be using to make a final stand.

“You idiot, I’m not going to run away while you die.” She tried to help me sit up more. “I’ve seen you look worse than this, come on.”

I would have laughed but it came out as more of a sputter. “Seelie aren’t supposed to lie.”

She tilted her head at me in a quizzical way, like she couldn’t believe I was making jokes at a time like this. As she turned her head, one of the knives in her arsenal of hair pins caught the firelight and I gasped. I clutched at the air, then reached up to snatch it from the coils of auburn and gold curls. I stared at the knife with stupefication and awe, not too mention a bit of anger.

“Fu! What are you doing, that style took me HOURS. Come on, let’s get you up.”

I was already struggling to my feet and gaped at her in disbelief.


“I thought it might come in handy- why are you suddenly yelling!”

“It’s a phurba! It-“

“Fuairead, the Shadow!”

I turned back to the field where my opponent stood waiting. It had taken the form of a snake this time, a huge grey-black cobra with glowing orange eyes. When the black forked tongue slid out, I could see the fires of its throat. It was rearing, swinging back and forth like a pendulum and slowing moving towards us.

I grasped the phurba and limped forward, my right leg of hardly any use. Strange, the difference a weapon makes. Shamans used copies of the phurba to cut or bind realities together. I could only hope that the real thing, the basis for all the shamans’ models, would cut the Shadowlands away from Faerie.

The snake approached, twisting and swiveling through the grass, certain of its prey. I held ground, hardly able to walk anymore. The cobra reared up before me, hissing, hood spread out in preparation for a strike.

I braced myself and the Shadowbeing dove forward, fangs extended. My aim held true, the thick black of the knife sliced forward, right into the grey diamond on the cobra’s foreheard.

There was a rushing sound like a tornado passing, a keening like the wind over the moors, and a low baritone note like the earth was shuddering. The snake crumbled, like it was sand or ash, the flakes drifting down to the ground and a freak wind picking them up. They were sucked toward the well, and the strange noise halted as they disappeared down into its depths.

I collapsed to the ground. Hands prodded me tentatively and I heard yelling, but it seemed like it was coming from far away. I could see my hand lying in the grass beside my head, still clutching the phurba and covered with blood and a black viscous liquid.

I could hear strange whispers in my mind. One of them said, “She’s not dead, she can’t be dead, it’s not possible, she’s only injured. Where are her infernal guards? What use are guards that don’t even rush to defend their Queen. Unseelie wastes of space!” And there was a softer voice, less indignant, saying, “Is she okay? I don’t know why I care if she’s okay, I mean, she kidnapped me. She’s awful and scary and makes me drink blood. But I think she was fighting for me…”

I felt like the ground under me was spinning vaguely. Or maybe it was the trees. I was sure the trees were moving around me.

“Fuairead! Snap out of it!” Sadika’s voice came clearly through the dizziness in my mind. “You there, bring poultices, bandages, and clean water! Are you completely incompetent? Have you never dressed a wound before? Oh, let me do that.”

I felt a cool cloth against my face, wiping tentatively at the gore.

“Nrgh,” I mumbled.

“Oh, you’re alive, good!” Sadika bent down to look me in the eye. “You are a very lucky Fae. Actually, we’re all lucky. But mostly you, because I won’t be angry with you for ruining my hair. This time.”

I let go of my grip on the phurba and made a beckoning motion to her. She leaned closer.

“I’m so glad you survived the fire, Sadika,” I croaked out, my voice sounded quiet and hoarse, like something was stepping on my chest. “It means I get a shot at killing you if I ever find out that you knew about this… this connection. “

“You mean…” Sadika questioned in my mind.

“Yes,” I said, uncomfortably.

“Oh, great," moaned Wu Chang-Ting.
I sat at my vanity, staring into my mirror as my hands worked furiously to secure various objects into my hair. Aminah was staring at me with a perplexed expression, torn between wanting to help and scared to voice her concerns. I tucked another into my hair, hiding it with a pinned curl, and reached across the table for the final one.

“Is that really necessary, My Queen?” Sharak asked. I tried to ignore the uncertainty in his voice.

“I like to be prepared,” I answered as I gestured for Amidah to help me secure the up-do with a final clip.

I went to my closet and pulled out a blood-red gown. I had toyed with the idea of wearing a pure white shift, but that would hint at innocence that I decidedly did not have. I pulled on black riding boots and placed a dagger in each. Aminah draped a heavy black velvet cape over me, then came around to fasten the golden phoenix clasp.

I took a deep breath. “I believe we are ready to leave.” I was unsure if I meant Sharak, Amidah, and I, or just myself. “If you would wait outside, please?”

When the door had closed behind them, I walked over to my armoire and removed the silver package hidden at the back. There was a distasteful joke in the packaging, but I had no time to wonder if my friend, the infinite trickster, had planned a greater joke with what was inside. I unwrapped the box slowly, letting the ribbons gently float to the ground, before carefully removing the lid. I placed my hand inside and brought out the fruit within. Then, placing all my faith in Monkey, I bit into the peach.

I met Sharak and Aminah outside a moment later. Lord Elric was there and he bowed nervously. “Everything is in place?” I asked.

“Yes, but…” He looked distraught.

“Calm down,” I said soothingly. “No one is asking you to lie. I left the party with a very pretty faerie; my court will draw their own conclusions. They will most likely not even miss my absence. I hope to be back in time for gift opening.”

“You hope?” he squeaked and Sharak silenced him with a glance.

I pursed my lips. “I do,” I said.

We took side passages to the stables. Sharak whispered something to the stable boy that made the boy clutch the reigns of my horse tighter. I mounted Swiftwind and, with a last glance at the castle, galloped off into the night, Aminah and Sharak trailing quietly behind on steeds as black as night. We would have travelled more incognito if I had put a glamour on Swiftwind to blend in with the dark but his pure whiteness gave me a shred of comfort. Swiftwind’s bells, however, which usually rang so joyfully, were eerily muted, as if they too knew the severity of our mission.

I was alone with my thoughts as I rode. Although carefully planned and executed in the manner of old, the coronation was merely a formality. A binding of my subjects to me, and me to them. A solemn promise to keep the sacred lands of Seelie, but it was only half-fulfilled, and soon I would have to make good on the rest. I prayed it would not go wrong. So many things were contingent upon one another, and Tötmacher had made a mess of everything to begin with by performing the Hunt at an inappropriate time. My only hope was that it was the ceremony itself that would save Faerie.

The journey to the border between the realms seemed to take a lifetime, and then suddenly the mountain loomed before me and the Well of Life was in my line of sight. I left Swiftwind with the midnight steeds already at the mountain’s edge and walked into the clearing.
I saw the pyre first. Stacked high with wood, and a stake standing ominously in the centre. I suppressed a shudder. Fuairead stood to the left with her witnesses: her Master of Hounds Heidrek, and two members of her Royal Guard; Gallea and Trethorn dressed in armor the colours of jade and jet. I wondered at her choice. Then I saw who was at Fuairead’s feet, hands and legs bound. I bit back a hiss of outrage at her audacity and my gaze turned red as Chang-Ying gazed at me bravely, if not a little bewildered.

“How nice of you to join us,” Fuairead said, cocking her head to the side at my gaze. “Shall we begin the ceremony, Queen of Seelie?”

I grabbed Sharak’s arm. “Watch them,” I muttered, pointing my chin at Queen Fuiaread’s chosen witnesses. My grip tightened as I dug my nails into his arm. “And whatever happens, do not interfere. You and Amidah are here as witnesses, no more. You know your roles as I know mine. Promise me, Sharak, that you will not interfere.”

“I promise,” he muttered, placing a chaste kiss on my brow. “Good light be upon you, fair lady, my Queen.” A shiver went down my spine at the echo of Kendrick’s words.

“And may the light always be nearer than the dark,” I whispered.

I walked towards the center of the pyre, while Amidah and Sharak took their places next to Fuairead’s witnesses. Queen Fuairead’s hand was on Chang-Ying’s shoulder, leading her towards me. Fuairead had cut her restraints now that there was nowhere for the girl to run. The pyre was next to the well that stood evenly on the border of our two lands. I thought I could feel the shadows pulsating from deep within trying to get free. I stopped at the edge of my border and Fuairead stopped at hers.

Fuairead’s voice was grave when she began to speak. “Since the dawn of Faerie, the monarchs of Seelie and Unseelie have sworn to protect and watch over the two sacred courts of Faerie, to tend to the land so that it does not sicken, and the Fae, that they do not lose themselves. And whensoever we may be at odds, the rulers of the Courts must still uphold our obligation. Tonight we reaffirm our promise to Faerie and give to the land in right and just course, an unblemished sacrifice. Tonight, I, Fuairead, Queen of the High Court of Unseelie, do offer Wu Chang-Ying as a tithe to the land.” Fuairead pushed Chang-Ying towards the stacked wood.
I stared at the pyre, the wood perfectly stacked and waiting for a sacrifice. I glanced over at Chang-Ying looking solemn and frightened. I knew how much Wu adored her, and I knew how I felt about Wu. Fuairead had said she had never wanted me to play the martyr, but she had arranged events in such a way that she had left me no choice. I wondered if she realized that now. However, we all had our parts to play, and I knew mine. No one could say that I had not played mine until the very last.

“I Sadika, Queen of the High Court of Seelie, may it forever be blessed, do willingly offer myself as sacrifice in place of Wu Chang-Ying.” My words seemed to hang heavy in the air, but perhaps it was only my imagination.

I confidently stepped up on the pyre, squeezing Chang-Ying‘s shoulder reassuringly as I passed. I had every faith that, regardless of the outcome of the night’s events, Sharak would get her to Michael, who would see her safely home. I fleetingly wished that Michael would have come to stand witness as well, but he had not, bitterly voicing why he thought my choices were ill-advised.

Fuairead bound my hands to the stake—which, I felt, went beyond the gesture of willingness, but the ritual was old and had to be performed correctly. Fuairead was speaking words of ritual as she set the torch to the wood, but I barely heard her—my mind was full of the dead. Their names performed a litany in my mind and formed silently on my lips. I could feel the gentle caress of the flames. I had never feared fire, only the lack of it. When I had been unable to call on fire in Tötmacher’s prison, I had almost gone mad at its absence; upon its return I had continually brought into being small flames that nestled in my palm, just because I could. It had become like a compulsion: watching them burn, extinguishing them, and then relighting them, almost reassuring myself that it could be done over and over; that I would never lose the ability to call flame again.

The fire was suddenly, intensely hot, and I couldn’t breathe. I fought down panic as I felt myself entirely engulfed by the flames. My body was on fire. And it was agonizing. Suffocating. I felt scorched. Dead. I fought back tears. I would not cry. It would be pointless anyway—the moisture would just evaporate. I refused to scream. I wondered if Fuairead would take satisfaction in that. Was this how it felt to die? How had Queen Aine endured this? I thought the pain would never end.

The flames were dying down, and the rope that had secured my wrists had burnt through. I took a shaky step forward on the pyre. The heat in the soles of my feet was unbearable. Every muscle burned. I looked down at my body, expecting to see charred flesh, but my gaze was met with pale, milky skin. My dress had burnt away, but my skin was left untouched. “Monkey,” I breathed, my voice coming out smoky and cracked. My throat burned. I curled up my lips into a small smile of thanks.

I walked towards Chang-Ying, who was standing with a white shift in her hand. I knelt down while she pulled it over my head. Fuairead had obviously been trying to make a joke when she picked out the dress. I took the bowl of water Chang-Ying offered, trying to drink it steadily, without spilling, willing my hands to stop shaking.

Finally I stood up and met Fuairead’s eye. Her gaze was unreadable. It was her move, and I was still willing to play. I hoped that what remaining will I had to give would be enough.
“I guess the moon it had it out for us
And the night and the stars the same
Everything she touched turned to stone or died eventually
Or was never seen the same again.”

- “I Think I Witnessed a Crime,” The Horrible Crowes

In a big city, it was easy to feel like you didn’t exist. I moved across the borders of Faerie and drifted through the metropolis on foot, unnoticed by the mortals. I was, after all, just a figure from a children’s story.

The evening was warm and balmy, the type you get in August when the day has been pleasantly hot instead of stifling. The sun was just beginning to descend into the ocean, turning the water of the bay and the sky to seashell pink, gold, and orange. The mountains were shadows, hazy and navy-purple in contrast to the sky’s warmth.

The wall along the bay was jammed, even at the close of the day, with tourists, cyclists, and roller-bladers, so much that it was hard to move unhindered. Like a watering hole in the Serengeti, all the city’s inhabitants had flocked to the sea’s edge at sundown.

I wasn’t in a hurry. Trying to stall the evening’s agenda was pointless, and without my first task completed, it didn’t seem that the night had even begun. I was still in the interlude after taking the leap, but not starting to fall.

Still, I left the waterside, turning east towards my goal. The sun followed at my back, illuminating the old apartment buildings in the drowsy evening. I could hear someone playing a violin. The mortals were visible through their windows, and my pace slowed. I loved to watch them. There were the ones sitting in their funny rooms that they kept only to sit in and stare at screens. Some sat to read, some to simply gaze. I liked the elderly ones, who moved so quietly, carefully doling out the limited energy they had, as though they were saving it to last longer. The families who gathered around a table, passing their food and talking, they only made me confused.

I used to want freedom, solitude, a full moon, and wild places. Now what did I want? Security? A resting place? Someone who gave a damn about me? It was preposterous. No one would ever sit at a table and laugh with me. That was not my world.

The quaint, older buildings with their treasured trees and hedges soon fell away to a dense pocket of chrome and steel. There was nothing green in sight. The car exhaust, the people, and the smell of cigarettes nauseated me, but soon I was within sight of the four red pillars that marked the entrance to Chinatown and their stone dragon guardians. The sun was nearly set, and as the darkness closed in, crimson and gold lanterns shone brightly in the dwindling light.

I walked through a strange circular door and sat in a pagoda overlooking a small pond. It was matted with lily pads, and every few moments, a ghost-like koi breached the surface to nip at mosquitoes. The garden was public, though at this hour there wasn’t a soul to be seen and it gave it a sense of seclusion. I eyed the lanterns balefully.

“Gryffindor colours, indeed,” I sniffed. Then I looked down at my ensemble of dark evergreen denim pants and black silk shirt and came to a few unsettling conclusions about myself.

The rest of the walk to Wu’s shop was unpleasant for me, as I looked at the pageantry of the Seelie Queen everywhere. It was a reminder of how much she would detest my current actions. This neighbourhood seemed like an extension of her territory.

It was, of course, a bad thing for the humans here regardless. A bit of Fae attention puts more eyes from our world on them, and I was about to show how disastrous that could prove for a single family. I would see Sadika shortly, and she would be angry with me for what I was about to do. But she would realize the necessity, how it would fit perfectly with our course thus far, and what was to come.

Wu’s shop was close to the garden, but to get into the second floor window on the southwest side without being seen took longer than the usual route. I was hesitant to waste any excess energy with glamour or enchantments when I would need all possible strength later that evening, so like a common cat burglar, I approached from the roof. I slipped onto the window ledge and found that the window was already partly open.

Wu’s grand-daughter stirred as I entered her room and the wind picked up behind me as I stepped over the threshold of the windowsill. It gusted around the room, fanning my hair around me, causing her to shiver. She was huddled up in a ball, her back to me, half of the covers on the floor. She didn’t wake until I’d rested one hand on her shoulder and the other over her mouth.

“Wu Chang-Ying.”

Her eyes opened very wide and she screamed, but the noise was muffled by my palm.

“Listen now, Wu’s daughter,” I told her calmly, not enchanting her, but staring intently into her eyes. The wind cut through the window behind me, tossing my hair awry and flapping the curtains, whipping loose clothes on the floor. It was suddenly cold.

“I’m not here to hurt you.” Lie. There would be hurt later on, I was sure of it. I was about to change this girl’s life forever. But once your family gets caught up in the games of the Fae, it becomes impossible to break away. “I am Queen Fuairead of the Unseelie Court, and tonight you, Wu Chang-Ying, will be my guest in Faerie. You claim to be brave, but tonight you will know the truth in those words.”

Chang-Ying narrowed her eyes at me, which was a good sign, I thought. Better that she was evaluating what I was saying than screaming or crying. I really didn’t like it when children cried, though maybe it was something I should acquire a taste for, as ruler of the Unseelie Court.

“Get up now, and don’t scream, or your family will have more to worry about than your absence.” I paused meaningfully. “We’re going to meet a friend of mine. You know her –tall, flighty, with curly red hair.”

Chang-Ying was starting to look more nervous about my rambling than she had to me standing over her as she slept. I knew their family had to be rejoicing about her grandfather recently returned from his long absence, and to take away that relief so soon after it had been granted was cruel.

“You will come with me, whether you want to or not. And you’ll do so quietly and quickly.” A gust of cold air whipped through the room again, blowing her hair back and making her eyes seem even more large and frightened. “I can make a human believe whatever I want. I can make your grandmother wave goodbye happily as I carry you gagged and bound out the door. If you do precisely as I say, you may see them again.”

Chang-Ying was back to giving me an assessing look. I took a chance and moved my hand away from her mouth. She wiggled her jaw a few times, as though I’d been holding it too tightly.

Then she took a breath as though to scream, but her mouth was promptly obstructed with a black silk gag. She hadn’t even let out a squeal, but as I tied the knot tightly behind her head she began to struggle, flailing her arms and legs at me. Well, that did it.

A minute later, Wu’s beloved granddaughter was bound and gagged, looking not particularly impressed with me. I slung her easily over my shoulder and looked out the window. Beneath the window was a cycle rickshaw, one of the rare available forms of transport without exhaust and iron alloys. I dropped lightly down into the street, landing behind the passenger seats, and cleared my throat softly.

The driver had been arranged a short time ago, and he grinned toothily to see me. To his mind, I seemed only a small Chinese woman carrying a bundle of packages. He waved me into the seat and I settled Chang-Ying beside me like I was adjusting my cargo.

I didn’t have to say where to go –it had all been arranged beforehand. He gave a grunt and started pedaling in the direction of the park –and the portal back to Faerie.

I sat back as the rickshaw got going and the early evening air washed over me, trying to fend off the fear of what was to come. I looked to Chang-Ying and our eyes met. We were both afraid, she and I, and terrified of what could go wrong this night, of what we didn’t know.

By daybreak, we would know the greatest secrets of the Fae Realm. Or we’d be dead.
20 January 2013 @ 11:29 am
Nothing for now.
15 January 2013 @ 02:05 pm

I was dreaming that I was soaring towards the sunrise, gliding on the wind and merging with the gentle rays as I became the morning light itself. A song echoed in my mind, the mournful cry of a lonely bird.

It was that cry that woke me, and as I slowly drifted back towards consciousness, the mournful call remained with me, swimming in the back of my mind.

When I opened my eyes I was alone, the early morning sun spilling through the branches of our shelter. I blinked to clear the sleep from my eyes. Beside me, lying on my pillow, was a long, brown-tipped feather. I picked it up gingerly and ran my fingers over the silky down. I blinked at it in confusion for a moment, slightly unsure of what I was seeing. Soon after Taka appeared, pushing aside the carpet-door and coming to sit at my side. The feather was momentarily forgotten.

“Good morning,” he said, and kissed me.

I kissed him back, so overwhelmed with love for this man I thought my heart might burst. He pulled back slightly, kissing the corner of my mouth and smiling down at me fondly.

He started to lead me from the tent, but my feet had gotten caught in my oversize gown and I tripped, falling forward into him.

I growled in frustration. “I hate this dress. Let’s burn it.”

Taka laughed. “As much as I would appreciate you walking around with nothing on, I think you might get cold.” Drawing one of his knives, he knelt before me and carefully sheared away the bottom of the skirt, so my legs were free. “There’s a town not too far away, so we can get some food and clothes, maybe check into an inn and clean up,” he told me, pulling me from the tent.

I smiled brilliantly. “I knew there was a reason I fell in love with you.”

He rolled his eyes. “And here I thought it was my charm and devastatingly good looks.”

“That too.”

I scanned the woods for Riley, but finding no sign of my friend, I asked Taka. When he faltered and refused to meet my eyes, I was confused.

“Taka,” I pressed, “where is he?”

“He’s gone,” Taka told me. He spoke as if the words burned his throat. “He took off, about half an hour ago. I’m sorry, Lily.”

At first my brain had trouble registering just what he meant by gone. I blinked and my mouth might have opened of its own accord while I stared at Taka.

“He left?” I finally managed. I dropped Taka’s hand and he took a step away from me, looking awkward and unsure. “Wait a minute, wait a minute,” I murmured, steadying myself, while my brain attempted to make sense of the impossible. “He just left? Without saying—anything?”

Taka nodded slowly. He shifted and reached for my hand again, rubbing his thumb over my knuckles, then moved closer, smoothing his hand up my arm. I could tell he needed this, this constant contact.  It seemed he was still reassuring himself that I wouldn’t suddenly disappear.

I realized I needed it just as much. “I don’t understand.” My voice broke. I stepped into him. “I—I might never see him again, and he—” I choked and buried my face into Taka’s chest. He pulled me tight to himself, but I didn’t cry. I was too shocked for tears. Had Riley really changed that much? I wouldn’t have thought so, but maybe I didn’t know him as well as I thought I did.

“He’s my best friend,” I said, uncomprehending.

“I know, Lily, I tried to stop him. But I was destroyed when I thought I’d lost you, I can only imagine what he’s going through. I mean he’s got to love you as much as I do—”

I pulled away from him abruptly. “What?”

He blinked. “What?”

“You said—you don’t mean—Riley loves me?”

Taka nodded slowly. “Of course, he hates me for taking you...” he trailed off as he gauged my reaction. “Oh no, oh Lily I’m so sorry, I thought you knew!”

He tried to pull me back into his arms but I shifted away, throwing my hands over my mouth in horror. “Oh God,” I gasped through my fingers. “Oh God, Taka, the things I said to him!” I squeezed my eyes closed in an attempt to hold back the memory. “I joked with him, I acted like—he crossed the whole of Faerie to rescue me and I go and—last night! Last night I told him I wasn’t going back with him and—it must have destroyed him and I didn’t—I couldn’t—” I sobbed into my hands, which were filthy, and I felt dirt smear over my face. “I’m a monster.”

“You’re nothing even remotely close.” Taka closed the space between us and this time succeeded in putting his arms around me. “Riley knew what he was doing. This whole time he just wanted you to be happy. You should know he was the one that came after me. I ran away from you, but he wouldn't let me just give you up. It didn't matter that he was doing just that.”

“He’s in pain,” I sniffed. “He left because I hurt him.”

“He’ll recover.”

I stared at him; he sounded so sure. “How do you know?”

“I know,” he assured me, kissing my cheek with exaggerated tenderness.

I pulled back to look at him. “Would you have?”

Taka frowned. “No, I wouldn’t have. Of course, I’m kind of pathetic.” He sighed and looked down. “I couldn’t—function without you, Lily. I was lost and—being with you now—I feel like all the pieces of my life have fallen into place.”

“You love me,” I said.

He laughed, slightly hysterically. “You caught on!”

I shook my head. “No, I mean you love me. There have been so many people I’ve tried to be, so many versions of myself that I’ve pretended to be to make everyone else happy. I was the perfect daughter, the perfect friend—then I came here and I couldn’t—I couldn’t recuperate, and so when I met you all you ever saw was me.”

He cupped my face in his hands and smiled. “Lily, all I ever needed was you.”

I kissed him even while, low and sorrowful, the cry of that single lonely bird still echoed deep within the corners of my mind.

When we finally parted I pressed my forehead against his. After a moment I sighed. “How’s this going to work?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he murmured, eyes closed.

“You and me, in Faerie—what will we do? Where will we go?”

Taka was surprised. “Anything we want. Oh Lily, there are so many things I want to show you, so many places we can go and just be together.” He took my hand. “I’m going to spend every day making you smile, making sure you’ll never regret staying with me.”

“There’s no way I’ll every regret that.” I bit my lip. “And you?” I asked. “What if you get tired of me cramping your style?”

Takeshi looked as if I insulted him. He refused to answer, instead pulling me forward for another kiss. I crushed myself to his chest, but he pulled away all too soon. I whimpered in protest and he chuckled.

“You once thought of me as a beast,” he said.

I blinked at him, uncomprehending for a moment. Reciting the story to the family of kappa seemed so long ago, another lifetime. I smiled. “I was wrong.” I strained for his lips and he indulged me briefly. “I never did tell you how that story ended, did I?”

He smiled and shook his head and pressed his forehead to mine.

I giggled. “Like all good stories, the girl saves the guy, he becomes human, and they live happily ever after.” I grinned. “What do you think?”

He pretended to mull it over. “The girl saves the guy?” he commented sceptically. I giggled again. “And happily ever after? I don’t know—”

I made a face. “What’s wrong with happily ever after?”

He shrugged. “Seems awfully boring.”

I considered this for a moment. “Well, happily ever after with a lot of love, adventures and some disappointments, but definitely lots of excitement in between.”

Taka beamed his approval. “That’s more like it.”

Current Location: A forest clearing
Current Mood: contemplative
Current Music: Birds singing
08 January 2013 @ 04:08 pm
Placeholder! Look for my post in February.
I dreamed of the holy forest.

It hurt to leave. I didn't know where it was, if it truly existed. Did I create it? What did I want? Maybe I wanted not to be unholy. Maybe I wanted to be purified.

I think part of me wanted to be annihilated.

I don't know what the forest would have done to me, or if leaving was the right choice.

I fear I will dream of it for the rest of my life.

I stared into the crack of light between the lean-to and Takeshi's magic carpet. His erstwhile cape had become a makeshift door-flap, keeping in the warmth. The day was dawning. My mind was full of cobwebs, and I began to feel a claustrophobic panic. I turned my head to glance at the sleeping couple, limbs entwined. We'd all had a rough day, and if not for my nightmares I would be dozing just as soundly. Especially since I'd taken forever to fall asleep the night before. But even though I rose as quietly as possible, Takeshi turned over and looked at me as I took my first step away.

The corner of my mouth twitched. I waved my hand so long, and pushed past the carpet. The little campsite lay in odd colors; it was the morning twilight, when human eyes had trouble understanding shadows.

I threw on my backpack and started walking, but there was a faint rustle behind me, and I felt Takeshi carefully extricate himself from Lily. He caught up to me a little ways away.

"Where are you going?" he whispered, keeping pace beside me because I hadn't stopped.

I shrugged. I figured I'd one-up him on being quiet, and thought him a reply. Who knows.

He shivered, gave me a look. I stared back just as coolly. He started speaking again, and it took me a moment of incomprehension to catch onto his switch to Japanese. "In the night without a word. Huh, I thought a lifelong friendship would mean more to you than that, Hayes."

I rolled my eyes, stopped walking. Realized I should be insulted that he hadn't tagged an honorific to my surname.

"Because you love her."

Stop pretending you know me, Takeshi-san. I put all my sarcasm into the last syllable. I was stretched on that fine line between rage and exhaustion. Would you let it go.

He met my glare with his own. "No. Did you think this was some kind of contest, or something? Were you only in this to win her?"

"Anata wa baka taka!" I spat. And was momentarily impressed by how much ruder Thou stupid hawk sounded in Japanese.

He bulldozed on, unhearing. "Because I was never trying to win, or get back at you. What I'm saying is, this is selfish. This isn't about you. How do you think she's going to feel wh—"

IT ISN'T FREAKING ONLY ABOUT HER EITHER! I mentally shouted, glaring.

He didn't flinch. "Wakarimashita—"

Nothing! You understand nothing! I spun and stomped away.

He jogged to catch up, his voice growing louder as we got farther away from the campsite. "Hai, I think I do. You’re angry and you hate me more than you’ve ever hated anyone before—"

Pretty much.

"—and that’s okay. I’m not out to prove myself, especially not to you. But please don’t go, don’t punish her because of your anger towards me."

"Lily will be fine. She has you, doesn't she?" He opened his mouth, hesitated. I continued, "And you're everything I've never been, everything I can't be. You can protect her and love her and keep her safe. It's all good."

"No, it isn't!" He grabbed my shoulder. I snarled and I almost fought him then, almost did something regrettable, but his eyes widened and he quickly let go. I was thinking, That's right, I'm not human, did you forget? Shall I do more to remind you? But he went on, "So that’s it? You’re going to leave me to clean up your mess?"

"Yep, good luck with that."

"Don’t go wishing me luck. This time I’m not the one hurting her."

"And I pray you never will be."

I had no composure left to win any glaring contests, so I turned on my heel and walked quickly away. After a few seconds he began to slowly slink back to the campsite, where I sensed Lily was still undisturbed. Good. Let her sleep as long as she could.

My restless stride finally carried me to the river we'd been following out of Toride, the same river I'd learned to fly by. It was set into the land, which was why it formed a nice aerodynamic ridge lift. Takeshi had named the river as Bern, and said that it was the smartest way out of the city. I supposed it was lucky I'd picked south as the direction to run from the Imperial Guard, but the point was moot since they'd caught up with us anyway.

I pulled off my backpack, jacket, shirt, socks, and shoes, so I was only wearing sweat pants. I crammed my extra clothing into my backpack, which I then put it on backwards, carefully unlocking the straps and relocking them crosswise behind me. It was the best way I'd found to carry a load flying, but I already had ideas of how to build my own bag on a more tengu-friendly design.

Finally I held my arms stiff before me and watched as I let go. It was easier now, to remember what I was; it was like relaxing a muscle that I was so used to holding clenched that I didn't notice it most of the time. What was it like? The quills spiked out from my skin and bloomed into full feather. It was like pulling slivers. Concentrate on the similes, on the understanding, and most of all on the pain. It seemed my limbs were longer now, all gone to scales beneath my knees now, my toes and fingers lengthening now and growing nails like talons. And lastly the beak, to wipe away all trace of humanity from my face, so I could never be mistaken for an angel.

I cawed quietly when my transformation was through, and preened my wings with beak and claw to sooth the itching pain of their birth. With new and different muscles I flared my retrices, the dozen awkward but oh-so-functional rudder feathers that extended beneath the small of my back. As I adjusted the waistband of my sweats to accommodate them, I felt a stab of mixed emotion for Pardi—both pity and jealousy that she didn't have tail feathers, another pang of worry about whether she was okay since I'd abandoned her, and a longing. I was more alone now than ever.

But that was a good thing, since altogether I must look somewhat ridiculous: whoever heard of a tengu whose only functional clothing were sweatpants? I need tengu clothes, I thought wistfully. I need to talk to my own kind. But there was no way I could go back to Toride now.

I took wing over the river, flying low. The sun was rising on the horizon to my left, a brilliant amber that turned the sky pink and the clouds purple. Living in the city I could count on two hands how many times I'd seen the sunrise. But no, don't think about memories. Think about weather patterns, flight skills, fishing soon. Anything. Fight for that lack of focus, to think of nothing much. Feel the minutes tick by in light, the sun marking time in its ascent.

I flew harder and harder, beating my wings, concentrating on exactly how to hold each feather, spreading my claws and feeling the wind and mist begin to cling to my clothing. I realized what the problem was. With every flap it was clearer that tengu don't wear clothes at all. At least not flying. Clothes are ridiculous to flight. The mist was fine on my feathers, shucked off as water again, but even the light layer of clothing I wore became heavy with damp.

I needed a landmark.

I set my glide to drift upward, until the river stretched beneath me like a line. The pine woods were thinning into scraggly brush, slowly but surely over the distance. Ahead I saw an interesting wrinkle in the land. The river would take me right to it. I soared down and was delighted to find that it was another river, an eastern channel that merged into the Bern. I noted the rock formations, the look of this particular place, then drifted over the land between them, to where the scrub was thickest, and ended up hanging my backpack and wet clothes in the tallest tree I found.

Then I set off again, following Bern's steady current.

Maybe Bern would go all the way to the sea. Maybe I could see what the ocean looked like in Faerie. Maybe it would be a bit of an adventure.

I kept my wings high. The force of the air pushed a stream of water from my human eyes up into my feathery crown and to the tips of my pointed ears.
23 November 2012 @ 11:41 pm

Hello all. Here is an updated posting order. Would you like in on the action or need anything removed or changed? Post in the comments^^ Happy writing!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Early Morning 5am

Riley ch 105

(Phaidra) ch 106

Morning 8am

Lily ch 107

Morning 10am

Randall ch 108

           Fuairead ch 109


Sadika ch 110

Fuairead ch 111

Sadika ch 112

Sometime at the very end

 Lily Epilogue

06 May 2012 @ 01:46 pm

Our escape could have been thrilling, or ridiculously easy. It could have been daring and heroic, or perhaps embarrassing, causing us to sacrifice some of our dignity in the process. Whatever it was, I would find that in the days to come I would never be able to recall how exactly we’d managed to escape the Prince’s palace unscathed.

 Prince Uendtheris' death, however, would remain with me for years to come.

I remembered cowering in Riley’s arms, frozen, while Taka held the Prince by his throat, a mere twitch away from ending his life. I didn’t remember, but it was entirely possible that I’d called out to him at that moment, or maybe it had been a simple whimper, or a gasp for breath.

Whatever it was, Taka looked up at me and our eyes met. Something shifted in his gaze as he stared at me—he turned back to the Prince, dropped his hand and pushed the fairy backwards onto the ground.

“You’re not worth another mark on my soul.” Was all he said.

He was walking away from him, back towards me when it happened—this time I remembered screaming. The knife appeared in Uendtheris’ hand, as if from thin air. He lunged forward and Taka turned a moment before the blade could be thrust into his back.

There was a low oath of pain and both men stared at each other, eyes wide for a single endless moment. The prince choked and Taka backed away from him, his shuken sliding from his enemy’s chest.

Prince Uendtheris fell to the ground, dead.

Perhaps it was because my brain had been completely overwhelmed by the horrific aftermath. The image of his blood coating Taka's hands seemed to overtake everything else. The red gore stood out with perfect clarity in my mind. His expression as I strolled towards him, unfazed by the carnage. I remembered taking his hand and holding fast to him, while he tried to pull away.

"This washes off," I told him, taking up the fabric of my gown and wiping away the mess. "You see? It washes right off."

Now, that clarity was gone, while I clung to Taka as he steered the carpet quickly away from the prince's fortress. He followed in the wake of Riley's elegant flight. I almost wished I were in more of a state to appreciate the grace Riley displayed while he maneuvered through the air, almost a part of the wind itself. However, my mind was bursting at the seams.

 I was a puppet whose strings had been suddenly cut. Instructions assaulted my mind and merged together until they made no sense at all. The further we flew from Uendtheris’ palace the more my stomach tied itself into panicked knots.

Taka had ordered me to come with him, yet the Prince had told me to never leave. I was running away, even though I had been ordered to obey without question. I was a slave—I was free. I was Lily—I was no one.

I lurched forward, unexpectedly as Taka brought the carpet down into a clearing. We landed with a jolt and I pitched forward into him arms when he whirled around to face me. I realized then I was shaking and sobbing. My body felt as though it had caught fire.

“I can’t—“I gasped.

“Lily?” Riley had appeared at my elbow, his voice anxious.

“Help—“I choked.

“Lily what’s wrong?” Riley demanded.

 “I can’t—I’m not suppose to—“

Taka caught on “Be free of all previous commands, Lily Clara Morgan.”

I instantly felt myself break free of the control.  I could have cried with relief, instead I retched on the ground and collapse into Taka’s arms, suddenly exhausted.

“Easy fix,” Taka murmured. His voice was too steady, too calm, while he cuddled me close.

“Wish it was all that easy.” Riley replied. He sounded very far away.

I sat up suddenly, dazed and disoriented.  It took me a moment to realize I’d fallen asleep.  Someone had carefully wrapped me in the flying carpet and I struggled briefly to free my arms from the thick rug.

Taka was nearby working steadily on a log shelter, which was nearly complete. He came over to me when he saw I was awake and helped me detangle myself, before pulling me to my feet. My wide, air dried gown crinkled and billowed out around me and my legs shook slightly under my weight.  I felt dirtier than I ever had in my whole life. I ran my fingers over the pleats of my dress and followed a mass of stickiness into one of my pocket where an assortment of squashed fruits, icing and even an entire fig had been left behind from my fall into the buffet. Riley was nowhere in sight, but I could hear the slight disturbance of the forest and knew he was near.

"You alright?" Taka asked, and then because I think he couldn't help himself, he pulled me into a tight embrace. I hugged him back with all my strength and immediately felt better.

I pressed my face against the crook of his neck and felt the slightest pressure of his lips against my hair. "I desperately need a bath," I told him.

He shook his head. "You're perfect."

"O Lily! The brightness of thy cheek doth shame the stars, as daylight doth a lamp!" Riley had reappeared, his arms loaded with a variety of sticks and twigs. "Thy eyes in heaven would through the airy region stream so bright, that birds would sing and think it were not night!" He dropped his load unceremoniously in the middle of camp.

I smiled slightly but didn't look away from Taka's face as I replied. "I pray you, when you shall these unlucky deeds relate, speak of me as I am; make no excuses for me. So you might speak of one that loved not wisely but too well."

I had impressed him and so I was pleased with myself when he replied with "touché." I was less pleased when he turned away from Taka and I, still gripping each other tightly.

Taka squeezed me one last time before pulling me to the gathered timber. I crossed to Riley and placed a hand on his shoulder. He turned and automatically held his arms open for me. We embraced and I found myself laughing into his shoulder.

“Thanks for coming after me, again.” I said.

“You are like a magnet for trouble! I wasn’t even gone an hour and you got yourself kidnapped again!” He pulled away from me. “Really Lily, is it so hard to keep yourself out of danger?”

“It wasn’t my fault.” I told him pointedly, and then something else occurred to me. “Monica!” I gasped “it she okay?”

Riley rolled his eyes. “Oh she’s fine, just ask her. A bit of a bump on the head but nothing serious.”

I sighed in relief and allowed myself to collapse to the ground, beside Taka. He was eyeing the pile of kindling Riley had gathered dubiously. He bent to pick up the biggest piece. "Um... yeah, this won't burn. Its way too wet. You need the dead stuff for a good fire."

"I'm not <i>stupid</i>," Riley said. He took the branch from Taka's hands. "Feels dry to me, but I'm sure you know what you're talking about." He sighed, chucked the stick back into the forest, and went to look for more. Taka selected a few more pieces and tossed them into the trees, then started shaving one of the acceptable branches into thinner kindling with one of his weapons.

I watched him work over the temporary fire pit and tried to relax my tense muscles. I kept my eyes on his face, studying his features set in a focused mask. Quite suddenly Taka abandoned his task and moved to my side, wrapping his arms around me and resting his cheek on the top of my head next to me. We didn't speak, the most important question hanging in the air between us like a heavy fog.

What now?

Eventually he pulled away to cradle my cheek in his hand. For a moment he looked like he was about to speak. He seemed lost and though his mouth opened no words would come. I rubbed his arm, reassuringly, while I frowned at the bruises marring his features. “Uendtheris really did a number on you, didn’t he?” I ran my fingers over his swollen eye and cheek.

He chuckled dismally “actually that was Riley.”

My eyes went wide, “what?” I moved to the smaller bruises along his collar bone “but—these?”

“Riley as well.”

I touched the cut on his arm.


“Why was Riley beating up on you?” I demanded, finally.

“Apparently, I needed some sense beaten into me.”

“Darn right.” Riley had reappeared with a fresh load of wood.

I glared at him, “whatever Taka’s done, you didn’t need to beat him up.”

Riley blinked at me, “I beg to differ.”

I clutched Taka’s arm possessively “are you alright Taka?” I asked him. “You’re not in pain?”

Taka shrugged and made an effort to look like he was putting on a brave front. “Maybe a little.”

I was not fooled, but I pulled him to me anyway and hugged him tightly. “My poor baby.”

Riley groaned, exasperated and dumped his fresh bundle of wood into the pile in front of us, promptly breaking up the pity party. Taka moved away from me and pulled a piece of flint and one of his weapons from his bag. He made a move to light the timber, but Riley stopped him.

"I got this!" he said, a smile on his face that was partly smug and partly excited, like a kid with a new toy.

Taka and I watched him, while he stared at the pile of timber with deep concentration. As the seconds passed his eyebrows knitted together more tightly, his face grew red, and a fine sheen of sweat appeared on his brow. Finally, just when I thought Riley would drop dead of a heart attack, Taka knelt down and, with a swift strike of the flint to his blade, lit the wood.

Riley shook his head and expelled a huge sigh, while Taka easily coaxed the fire into a bright blaze. "So aside from the tengu thing, you're pretty useless." It was more of a statement then a question.

"I can quote poetry," Riley told him, slumping next to me on the ground.

"I think one performance is all I can take right now."

"Yeah, I thought so." Riley's sheepish smile was enough to lighten my sprits all the more. I reached over and squeezed his hand, smiling at him with reassurance. He returned the smile, truly grateful.

After a brief rummage through his pack, Taka managed to produce a few sticks of dried meat which were filling if not completely satisfying. He didn't take my hand again and I felt suddenly cold, despite the warm fire.

Riley was chewing his portion with a mild expression of disgust. He set it on his knee to rummage in his own pack. When he pulled his hand out it was empty, but his fingers were clenched as though holding something. With the other hand he began to make a twisting motion and I suddenly recognized the gesture as he unscrewed the lid from an imaginary jar. I laughed as he retrieved an imaginary knife from his pocket and proceeded to 'spread' the contents of the jar onto his dried meat.

"Oh Riley," I sighed, watching him with soft eyes.

Taka looked back and forth between the two of us. "So, anyone going to explain to me what exactly it is he's doing?"

"Well, I thought it could use some horseradish. It needs something, that's for sure." Riley told him, dead serious. "Honey mustard might be good too." He reached into his bag for another "jar." "Would you like any horseradish or honey mustard?" he asked me. His face was so composed I almost believed him.

"Alright," said Taka. "So basically, you're just stark raving mad."

Riley sighed, exasperated. "Come now. Hasn't Peter taught you anything?" He spoke with a thick British accent, so the name sounded like "Petah."

I couldn't reply, as I was laughing too hard, more at Taka's reaction than Riley's antics.

"Why, you're a Lost Boy," Riley explained patiently.

I managed to catch my breath. I leaned back against Taka's shoulder and looked back at him upside-down, unable to hide the huge grin plastered across my face. "Once upon a time there was a boy named Peter Pan, who decided not to grow up—"

Riley nodded and took a bite of his meat. He looked pleased. "Now Peter Pan lived with the Lost Boys, whom he often peer-pressured into missing meals entirely, since to him"—and for this he switched back to his British accent—"make-believe and true were exactly the same thing."

Taka looked down at me and for the first time in too long, his eyes sparkled. "Only boys?" he asked.

"Of cou'se," said Riley. "Girls, you know, are much too clever to fall out of their prams."

I knew Taka was starting to relax, as he wrapped his arms around me. "What's a pram?"

"Fancy British word for baby carriage, wot." I snorted. He sounded ridiculous. "So tell me, Takeshi: did you fall out of your perambulator, were unclaimed for seven days, and sent to the Never Land to defray expenses? Or did you run away to live with the fairies because you didn't want to grow up?"

Taka stiffened and a bit my lip, yet his voice remained calm. "It's more likely that I grew up right away and skipped childhood altogether."

Riley gazed at him, his face a mask. Finally dropping the accent, he said "I'm sorry you had to shoulder so much responsibility so quickly. But that's no excuse for not knowing how to pretend." He took another bite of his food and looked thoughtful as he chewed. He reached into his bag once more and proceeded to shake his empty fist enthusiastically over his meat stick.

When he finished I held my own stick out to him and he repeated the process. "Remember when we used to do this as kids?" I asked.

Riley nodded and smiled, but there was sadness behind his eyes that I almost missed. "That was a long time ago." After another brief rummage his pack he produced an imaginary water bottle, complete with straw. He puckered his lips and made sucking noises before offering it to me.

I sighed. "Nothing stronger?"

"Lost Boys don't drink! They're all underage," he told me.

"I'm not," I said, "and I think I'm really going to need it."

"Why?" he asked. He refused to look at me. All his playfulness had gone.

"I'm not going back with you, Riley."

Riley had seen this coming from a mile off. He'd know all along that this—the time we spend together right now—was precious. What I hadn't expected was Takeshi's reaction.

He jerked away from me, violently, whirling around and kicking up dirt and ash as he rose to his feet. "You're both crazy," he said. He ran his hands violently through his hair before facing me. "What do you mean you're not going? You can't mean you're staying here?"

I met his gaze. "What? Now you won't have me?"

"That's not the point, Lily!" he told me, angry. "I'm not going to take you away from your family!"

"That's my choice, not yours."

"You don't know what you're saying!"

"I know what I want! I want you!"

"I'm not worth it!"

When he started to raise his voice I was on my feet, drawing myself up to face him down. It worked, slightly. The space between us was heartbreaking, but Taka's stance was rigid. His walls were up and it would take patience to bring them back down again.

Unfortunately, I was fresh out of patience.

"God, Takeshi!" I nearly shouted. "I've had it, you hear me! I'm through dealing with your self-doubt issues! I crossed two worlds for you."

"And don't you think I'd do the same for you?" he countered. "I want—need you to be happy and Lily no matter what you may believe you won't be happy with me. And one day you'll wake up and realize that I'm not worth it and you'll leave..." He trailed off.

My eyes lit in realization. "Oh, Taka. I'm not going to leave you. I don't think I can, honestly. Even a short time apart has shown me that much."

"Don't," he said. "Don't promise me anything."

I strolled up to him, crossing the distance with three long strides, and forced him to look at me. "Tell me," I said. "Look me in the eye and tell me you don't love me."

Of course he couldn't.

He put his head in his hands, made a noise of pain, gave me a look of desperation. "Of course I—but I can't—you need—"

"Stop it! Stop it, stop it! Stop rationalizing this! Stop trying to pretend that you're not good enough—"

"I'm <i>not</i> good enough—"

"I'm sick of this! What do I have to do? I love you!"

He breathed out a long, shaky sigh, and then shook his head slowly. "No. You need to go home. You need to go back to your family and be safe. Especially from me."

Riley had been silent all this time, but now he let out an aggravated growl. "Takeshi, you freaking <i>moron</i>—"

Looking at Taka then, I felt his pain. I had given so much of myself to the man before me. I knew it would kill me to be parted from him. What scared me was what being together would do to him. A mad thought crossed my mind and suddenly I knew what I had to do.

"Trust me." I whispered. I thrust my hand into my pocket, sorting through the sticky mess of berries until my fingers found the tiny fig. It was dented on one side and the skin had broken, leaking juice onto my fingers. I barely noticed, not even bothering to wipe away any pocket lint before pressing the fruit to my lips and, to Taka and Riley's utter astonishment, biting into the flesh.

Taka's hand shot out to stop me, a fraction of a second too late. I swallowed quickly, yet the lingering taste of the fruit on my tongue was better than anything I'd ever known. I was stunned for a moment at the flavour. Coming back to myself, I smiled up at Takeshi, slow and satisfied.

"Hmmm... they weren't just whistling Dixie about fairy food, were they?" He seemed to still be frozen with shock. I stretched up to press a delicate kiss against his lips. "I love you."

He blinked, unfreezing. Grasping my arms, he shook me, slightly hysterical. "You just—do you know what you just gave up? You can never—"

"I am home."

Out of the corner of my eye I could see Riley staring at me, dumbstruck. He had almost stood up, but now he sank back down to the ground, suddenly looking tired. He sighed and shrugged. I favoured him with an apologetic smile, before turning back to Taka and resting a hand on his cheek.

He met my eyes squarely and immediately his gaze told me what his lips would not. "Lily—"

I smiled and he pulled me forward crushing me to his chest. "I love you," he said. "I love you, I love you—" He lifted my face to his and kissed me with such desperation I thought my heart might stop from the intensity of it. When we finally parted, there were tears running down my cheeks. I rested my forehead against his and smiled, completely content.

"Thank you," he said after a moment.

"What for?" I asked.

"Loving me. No one's ever given me a greater gift."

I laughed, suddenly giddy. "Anytime."