Playing Catch-Up

Marcy was starting to wonder if this guy’s scowl was a permanent feature or if she had just managed to piss him off that much.

“You have yet to explain how you came to this world, Weaver of Silken Words.”

That last part sounded more like an insult and she barely suppressed the urge to make a retort. Play by the rules. Play their game.

“Ah, but I did. As I said, I wove my way between the worlds.”

He took one step to close the distance between them, glaring emerald daggers down at her.

“I grant that you have the smell of the wild spirits about you, but you are mortal. Mortals do not walk the worlds unaided and you cannot lie to me. I am not some mewling whelp of a Faerie kitten, I am the Prince of Thorns and Knives. Now tell me who brought you here and why, in truth, before I decided to flay the flesh from your bones.”

She started to open her mouth and the air shimmered just to her side.

“If you touch my friend, blood-brother, I shall be so very vexed with you.”

The Prince turned, his dark curls bouncing just slightly.

“So do you claim this mortal, Cliff?” Then he paused. “You did not have her when you were here earlier. Is she your pet or have you forgotten my sister?”

Cliff’s voice was soft, tender even.

“I could never forget her. You know that.”

The Prince had the grace to look embarrassed.

“You have my apologies, my brother. But, how do you come to look so very different from when Mother’s servants went to your mortal world to fetch you?” He gestured at Cliff’s hair, shaved on the sides and let grow some on top. “Your hair was much longer and you have never been a one for frequent glamouring. There is too much of truth in you.”

Chewing his lower lip for a moment, Cliff made a rapid decision. Obviously the Prince had seen Kate and might know where she was.

“That wasn’t me. They took my twin sister.”

The Prince grabbed Cliff by the shoulders, Marcy entirely forgotten now. Alarms showed in his eyes.

“A pageboy took your sister to begin the quest meant for you. The quest given by the High Queen.”

“Oh shit.”

“My sentiments entirely, brother.”

“Tell me where to find her. You must know.”

The Prince nodded quickly.

“Come, both of you. We will need to travel quickly.”

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Return to the Mortal World

A dark-haired teenager lounged in a chaise, a book of battle tactics open in his hands. His build was toned and athletic and his piercing green eyes were sharp and intelligent. Physically, he appeared to be about seventeen years old, in truth, the lordling was approaching 575 years old. As he tilted his head to the side as he read, his hair shifted, revealing the pointed tips to his ears. He wore a dark green tunic of fine cloth over a white shirt and hose. There was a sword belt on his waist that showed much wear and bore the marks of a sword and dagger that were not currently hanging from it. A short, rotund grandmotherly figure known as the Bean-Tighe sat in a corner, plying away at her knitting. She looked up as the lad sighed and turned the page.

“Not enjoying your studies, Master Hayden?”

The teenager looked up at his nursemaid and smiled wanly. He closed the book and stretched.

“I have done nothing but studying for the whole day and the Weapons Master is not to come by today. Mother said he has important business in mortal country. Why go to mortal country, I said. But she refused to tell me.”

The Bean-Tighe frowned slightly, her eyes intent on him. She lowered her knitting to her lap. It was that time again, as it had been many times, but now Master Hayden was old enough to venture out if he so chose. The problem was that if Hayden chose to venture out into mortal country, the illusions on him would fade and his true nature would be revealed.

“Master Hayden…” She said slowly. “Perhaps you could practice on the dummy yourself? Or perhaps one of the guards would oblige you with a match?”

“Maybe.” He seemed resigned. The Bean-Tighe watched him carefully. Master Hayden was attached to his parents and he knew as well as any did that when it was time for a walk in mortal country, one of them would be venturing out.

The boy stood, stretching, and walked over to the weapons rack in the corner. He gazed at the weapons for a moment, his eyes measuring each blade, until he reached out and picked up a single practice weapon. It was a fine blade, even for just a practice weapon, with a perfect balance and a leather-wrapped hilt that fit his hand perfectly. He stepped up to the practice dummy and made a complex pass at it.

“But why go into mortal country in the first place? Is it not a wild and lawless place?”

It took the lad no extra effort to speak while he practiced his fencing. He was in quite good physical condition.

“Not exactly, Master Hayden. The mortals are much like we are. They have likes and dislikes, hopes and fears. They have their own rules and ways of looking at things. Before you ask, it has been years since last I was in the mortal countryside.”

Hayden frowned, he had been about to ask more questions. He thrust at the dummy, ducking in close to move in past his pretend opponent’s guard. Hayden had always been curious about things, especially all things mortal. Most children of Faerie didn’t even know that mortals existed, but Hayden’s father was one of the border lords, defending against the possible threat of mortal incursion. He had never heard of mortals invading, but it was considered to be a possibility by those who were in a position to know.

“But what about-”

Hayden didn’t get to finish his question. The door to Hayden’s room opened suddenly, his mother appearing in the doorway.

“Hayden…” She said slowly. “Hayden, my son.”

“Mother?”

She looked distraught as she came towards him. She caught him up in a hug and the sword fell from his grasp to the floor.

“Hayden, my dear little boy. You have to understand, please understand. They found us out, my foundling boy. I hoped to never have to tell you, oh how I hoped that never would they catch us…”

“Mother?” Hayden’s voice was startled. His mother sounded like a crazy woman. “Mother, please, what is going on? Are you alright?”

“I am fine, my lad, but you need to know. Come sit down, Hayden. Please…I have a story to tell you. And please, no matter what I tell you, please tell me you will not hate your father and I.”

Hayden sat where she directed him, leaving the practice saber on the floor.

“Mother,” he said slowly, almost afraid to startle her. “I could never hate you. Tell me what is happening.”

She sighed, ringing her hands, as she gazed at him, her eyes full of memory.

“It was almost 600 years ago by mortal reckon, that I found the list of names on your father’s desk. The names belonged to mortal children all around their world. One of them, was…well…you, my son. I went out into the mortal country, to a small village in the countryside, found you and stole you away before the king’s men could find you.” She couldn’t look at him, not with tears streaming down her cheeks as she finally let the truth burst forth. “We have a treaty with Hell, for what I am unaware. But every few decades, they demand a tribute of souls. We call it the Tithe, my son. I stole you away. I refused to let Hell win, and taking you from the mortals, from where the king’s men could find you. It was my way of beating the Tithe, even if just for a few years.”

Hayden could only stare at his mother in shock. None of that made sense. No, he knew he couldn’t be mortal. He was a Faerie, like his mother and father. There was no way it was possible. His hand reflexively combed through his short black hair and he felt the pointed tips of his ears.

“This is not true.” He said, his voice expressing his disbelief.

“I’m so sorry, Hayden. I’m so, so sorry. You have to go to mortal country. They’ve found us out and they’re coming for you. The spell on you will fade when you get there and you’ll look like a mortal once again. Your time in Faerie Land has no doubt affected you, but you should be able to blend in until your father and I can come for you.”

The Bean-Tighe approached suddenly, a pack in her arms. There were tears streaming down her withered old face as she looked up at her mistress and the lad she’d spent all these years raising. Niamh took the pack from the Bean-Tighe and handed it to Hayden.

“This should be everything you need for a month or so, my son. We will come for you as soon as we can. But you have to go quickly now, if you stay in Faerie Land, I fear the king’s men will find you and…” She couldn’t bring herself to state her fears, almost as though giving voice to them could make them true.

Niamh stepped back from her son and turned to the open air. She made a complicated pass at it, light surrounding her hands as she did so. Slowly, a doorway opened up. As the light streamed forth from it, a sound began to be heard from outside the room: the tramping of boots. Hayden turned towards the door to his room just in time to see one of the house guards flung backward by a spell followed by seeing a man in the uniform of a royal soldier.

“Hayden, go!” hissed Niamh.

He looked at her in shock for just a moment and then the Bean-Tighe pushed him slightly and he half stepped, half fell through the portal. As he fell away, he watched his mother cry, and he watched the soldiers come in. To his horror, they had swords out and advanced on his mother and the faithful, old Bean-Tighe. Niamh stared at them defiantly. When one of the soldiers moved to cut her down though, the Bean-Tighe stepped in the way. Hayden screamed his defiance of the act even as he fell away from it. He watched the blood as though it was in slow motion and then everything went dark.

The Hidden Princess

“Hey! Ellie!”

The dark haired girl turned, grinning broadly. Two of the girls from her sorority were walking towards her waving a flier excitedly.

“Carmen, Lex, what’s going on?”

“Party up at ZOT tonight. They’re putting a cover to raise money for the animal shelter. How sweet is that?”

Carmen was practically cooing. Lex beamed proudly.

“It was John’s idea. He’s just so smart and he knows how much I love animals.”

Ellie smiled at them both, really smiled. It was so refreshing living among mortals. There was so much more honesty, and even then, the backbiting was nothing compared to what the Peers of the Seven Halls got up to when the High Queen wasn’t looking.

“Sounds great. Spread the word, alright? I’m gonna go call Tanya. There is no way I’m letting my Little miss this one.”

“Come on, Lexy. We’re girls with a mission now.”

Ellie laugh as they joking saluted her and marched off. She turned slightly to pull her phone out of her handbag. Just as her fingers brushed the plastic of the case, she froze. Had those shadows moved? She started to reach instead for a bronze figurine, a sword and shield crafted in the likeness of the ones she’d trained with as a child. Her eyes didn’t waver from that shadow until she was quite convinced it had just been her eyes playing tricks. There was no way anyone could have followed her, could have found her here. Her mother would surely have done something to prevent just that. Wouldn’t she? Taking a few breaths, Ellie tried to relax. She would just enact a sending to her brother later. Felix would know if there was anything going on at home that she would worry about. Punching the call button, she let the tension ease out of her shoulders.

“Hey Tanya, wanna grab lunch? We have got so much to talk about.”

As the Princess of Shooting Stars and Falling Leaves walked off towards the student center, two sets of eyes opened in the shadows and followed her progress down the street.

Missing: The Wrong Twin

Marcella stood frozen in the doorway, hand still raised from knocking. She’d expected Kate, not her twin brother. But the one standing in front of her was undoubtedly Cliff, despite the very strong resemblance.

“Marcy… I was about to call you.”

“Where’s Kate? Not that it’s not great to see you, but…”

“But I live 2 hours away and this is my sister’s house. But she never lets anyone but her answer the door. Yeah, I know. I called her, no answer. Repeatedly. Tried her cell. Nada. So I drove down. She’s not here, Marcy.”

Marcy stepped inside as Cliff moved aside. He looked almost…defeated. Like he was assuming the worst and blaming himself.

“She might just…be out? You know Kate. Maybe she lost her phone again… Or…”

But it was just hopeful thinking. That sort of ‘if wishes were horses’ sort of thing. Right now, between the desperate hope and downright nightmarish self-blame, they were fit to open a stable. Taking a place on the couch, Marcy looked up at Cliff.

“Has anything weird happened lately? Anything at all.”

He shrugged noncommittally.

“It’s sort of hard to gauge weird with our bunch, Marcy. You know that.”

“Point.” She leaned back and looked up towards the ceiling. “Well, we’re in luck. Your sister decided to start listening to me.”

“What are you-? Oh… Oh no.”

Understanding dawned on Cliff’s face and he took a half-step back.

“Honestly, I don’t understand why you’re scared of them. They’re harmless and helpful. And this little fellow is barely full grown.”

Standing on the couch with a silent apology to Kate for putting her sneakers on the cushions, Marcy reached for the spider sitting in the corner where the wall meets the ceiling. The tiny creature eagerly moved to her hand, letting her move back to sitting. Cliff perched on the arm of one of the two matching plush armchairs, doing his level best not to panic entirely as he watched a sight which really should have been normal to him by now. Marcy raised the spider up so she could look directly into his eyes.

“I’m dreadfully sorry for bothering you, but I need to ask you some questions. My name is Marcy. What’s yours?”

Cliff could see the little legs moving as the spider danced back and forth and Marcy spoke softly to it.

“I’m…gonna go make a pot of coffee and grab my pack from the car. Lemme know if your friend there says anything interesting.”

Marcy nodded and waved Cliff away with her free hand. By the time he returned with two steaming mugs, she looked like she was either going to cry or murder someone and Cliff really hoped she was being particular about who she murdered. He set the mug down on a coaster, smiling slightly that it was one of the lunar phase set he’d gotten for his twin for their birthday a few years back. Marcy took the coffee and stared into it, the spider back up on his perch.

“Well?”

“They thought she was you.”

“They? They who? What?”

“The Midnight Court. They thought that… Well, alright. They didn’t think Kate was you so much as they thought that…um…”

“They thought Kate was Alycia.”

He said the name like it was a brand scorching his flesh, like even something so simple as uttering it would undo years, decades of training and adjusting and medical procedures and Faerie glamour. Cliff scrubbed at his face, looking very much like a man staring down his own death.

“But…why would they want… I mean, they knew! They helped me change!”

“And they never saw the end result. Or, at least, they never saw adult Cliff. Just awkward, gangly Cliff. You also said they never remember you don’t glamour yourself to look like that anymore.”

“And now they have my sister… Who is very not me. Did they say anything about where?”

“The little one, I named him Archie, by the way. Archie said they talked about their web. That’s basically spider-speak for home.”

Cliff sagged into the chair.

“My sister has been kidnapped by Faeries who think she’s pre-op me and you named her living room spider…Archie. Glad to know nothing around here ever changes. So…” He leaned forward, suddenly shifting gears. “How are we doing this? I’m pretty well kitted out for a rogue troll here and there, but you’re talking about storming the Moonless Palace.”

“Yeah…and they have our only real magic user. So frontal assault is out.”

“We could play it like that time in Boston.”

“The time you got drunk and forgot to round your ears and we had to convince people you were a Trekkie?”

“No! The time we charmed our way into the knitting show with your silk and then busted the goblins-”

“-Who were trading in unicorn tail hair. I remember now.” Marcy paused. “You want to impress your way into…a Fae stronghold…in the Otherworld…with silk?”

Cliff shrugged.

“It’s the best plan I’ve got. My other-other idea involves really thick gloves and you loading my clips.”

“We are NOT taking bog iron rounds into the Otherworld! Do you remember last time? You’re lucky you lived!”

The grin that crossed Cliff’s face was not nice, comforting or human.

“Well then, we’d best figure out how to charm our way in before they realize they didn’t get the right toy.”

Princess

A tower rose up through the gloom and haze that was the normal state of Hell. A lone female watched through the bars on the windows as small shadows were herded together into a pen beneath her tower. She hated this time of year, the time when she was reminded that not only she paid for her imprisonment among these creatures, these denizens of Hell. Tears coursed down her cheeks as she watched the pitiful little parade. Those poor mortal children, cursed to live a short painful life at the hands of the demons of Hell. Those poor parents, never knowing where their children had gone, or even never knowing that their children were gone, assuming her people used their magical arts. Cursing loudly, the woman turned and grabbed a vase that sat on a small table nearby and flung it at the stone wall. The pieces shattered everywhere and pain coursed through her body.

“Now, now, Princess Linette, you should really know better than to have these little outbursts by now.” The voice that spoke in her mind was harsh, but also welcome and familiar. It was the sign that she was still alive, still a prisoner, still where she had been for the last untold centuries.

Linette began to cry in earnest now. She knew full well that she was the reason these children suffered and died and the reason that their parents would mourn their loss, whether they realized it or not. At the same time though, she had come to know this place, to belong here, to need to be here. She was afraid that she would find a way to escape and return to Faerie Land. She was afraid that she was no longer the gentle, beautiful princess that had been stolen away. She didn’t even know if she was still in her natural form. She barely remembered those days, eons ago, when she had frolicked in the fields of Faerie and led her people in joyous revels. A scream tore through the air and she sighed. She was not in Faerie, she was in Hell. So far gone was she, that the scream didn’t do anything but remind her where she was. She had long since become immune to the screams and torment of adults, but never to the screams of children.

Disguise

Lady Niamh smiled down at the bundle in her arms as she walked into her husband’s study. Lord Tellys sat at his crystalline desk studying maps and ledgers. She could see the frustration evident in his form as he studied one list in particular. With a growled curse, he crumpled up the parchment and flung it across the room.

“Why?” He raged, slamming his fist on the desk. “Why must we continue this foolishness? And why does the King refuse to tell us the reasons?”

The shouting stirred the little boy and he awoke with a start. As the little human began to cry, the elven man at the desk turned, eyes wide, to gaze upon his wife.

“My dear lord Tellys, I have returned from a walk in mortal country. I took one of the marks and left a Fetch in his place.” She gently rocked the little boy until his crying abated. “His name is Hayden, and he is to be our son and no part of this foolishness, as you called it.”

Tellys smiled broadly, some of the stress on his face easing. He stood and embraced his wife and new foundling son. He took the little boy into his arms and looked him over. Nodding his approval, he passed a hand over the boy’s head and placed a strong magic on him to disguise his nature. His round little ears came to a point and his eyes sharpened to become slightly more feline. His little fingers became slightly longer and some of his baby fat thinned out. His rough homespun was replaced with fine silk and his little feet were in warm, soft slippers. All in all, he was a proper little elf. Then Tellys put his hand over the boy’s eyes and spoke a short word that just about crackled with power.

“There, Niamh. Now no one will ever know that our son is, in fact, a mortal child and no one will ever try and take him away from us. I also saw to it that he will see through Glamour, though most mortals are unable. I think though, that you should go a find him a proper nursemaid. And I shall correct the reports to his majesty to reflect the fact that his capture was not successful.”

There was an open smile on her face, so pleased was Niamh with this subtle rebellion against the horridness that was the Tithe. She cooed to the child softly, holding him against her breast as she strode from the room. Tellys smiled broadly as he sunk back into his chair and gaze at the records, maps, and lists before him. They all seemed inconsequential at this precious moment when he had beaten the Tithe.

Abduction

The morning air was chilled and dew rested on the grass. A sound broke the tableau, accompanied by a smattering of lights. It was the sound of a giggling child crossing the green, shadowed expanse. The boy-child tottered unevenly, holding the hand of what appeared to be a tiny little grandfather. They were an unusual looking pair to be sure, and the boy tugged on the diminutive old man’s hand, trying to pull him towards the little lights that danced and swirled around before them. Out of the forest ahead of them, stepped a shadowy figure. As the light of morning slowly began to dawn, her features coalesced. She was beautiful, a tall and lithe figure that moved like a dancer. Her every motion seemed to have been planned out ahead of time by some great artist to ensure that in any position, she was the perfect model for his art. Her raven black hair was tied up in a braid and she wore an elegant dress of pale green silk tied with a white sash around her trim waist.

“Very good, Brody, very good. Let me see the child.” The lady’s voice was as elegant as she was, nearly a lilting song as she spoke.

The tiny little man bowed, his knees knocking together, and thrust the child forward to his mistress. She scooped the toddler into her arms and examined him. His hair was a dark mass atop his head and his pale, green eyes gazed up at her with no fear what so ever.

“Yes…very well done indeed, Brody. I think that I shall keep him. Prepare the Fetch to replace him.” She braced the boy on her hip and began to walk back into the forest. “Has he a name he answers to?”

“He does, Lady Niamh. The lad is known as Hayden.”

The little man bowed again, trotting over to a cloth-wrapped package with far more alacrity than his wrinkled and knock-kneed form should allow him. As the lady stepped fully into the forest, Brody unwrapped the package to reveal what appeared to be the body of a child. He smeared a vile smelling oil on the forehead of the little body and it shook for a moment, then lay still again. Brody cursed softly and then began to move his hands in a complex pattern. Lights swirled out from his hands, encompassing the little body until it shaped into the form of Hayden and stood.

“Go back to your bed, Hayden. You saw nothing on this night and nothing is out of the ordinary.”

The little Fetch tottered back towards the village while the real Hayden fell asleep in the arms of the Lady Niamh and passed into Faerie Land without ever seeing the changeover.