All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Author's note: This is one of my most recent pieces, and evidently shows my love for anything fantasy. I've still only completed the first chapter, and truthfully I'm a bit worried that my long record of procrastination will pop up to haunt me. (TvT) Anyways, just enjoy, relax, and don't take it too seriously. (Oh, and don't worry if I don't write more for a while - I'm not dead) Cheers,
Marley Jenkins considered the young man who had just walked into his store. He was the kind of person who you would expect to see in a movie. He was certainly handsome enough, with hair of a queer mix of black and blond, strong and nominal features which bordered on proud and haughty rather than conventional delicacy, and piercing emerald green eyes with coal outlines which were often half-hooded, but no one would mistake that for idleness. He had a black-and-blond pigtail that fell down his neck to the middle of his back, a large jade gem in his ear, and wore a tailored grey suit open to reveal a black waistcoat with inlaid silver buttons. He wore leather gloves and twirled a hat in his fingers. Everything about him shouted of richness.
It was the delicate tattoos on his cheek bones that gave him away, Marley Jenkins thought. Even without those he would have been a very obvious person on the street, and he would definitely never pass without notice. No one would dare claim that he was normal. But if he had been human – a real human – he wouldn’t be boasting those red, slit-like marks on his face.
“What may I do for you, my Lord?” Marley Jenkins bowed deeply. Usually his store was a mere antique second hand shop which was seldom visited and Marley Jenkins thought himself that the ancient artifacts were hardly worth considering. But his side job – or rather his one of many side jobs – was anything but unprofitable.
The haughty-looking young gentleman took his time in slowly walking to the front counter, brushing his hands across the numerous dusty statues that lined one side of the store and observing the resulting filth that emerged on the surface of his gloves. He lightly dusted his fingers off, and then came to a casual stop in front of Marley Jenkins, tipping his head upwards so that he looked down his nose at him. He didn’t need to; Marley Jenkins was already so short and bent with age that he found it hard to crane his neck to look at the young man’s face. Even in his young age, Marley Jenkins thought, he would still be far shorter that this man; he was massive.
“I hear you sell stories,” said the young man in a low, smooth voice which practically oozed with self-confidence and drawl. He gazed at Marley Jenkins sharply behind the lids of his eyes. So he was aiming for stories, was he?
“You have heard correctly, my Lord.” Marley Jenkins bowed and shuffled to one of the statues behind the counter; a round, peaceful bronze bodhisattva with four arms. He pressed the crown of the head of the small statue, and as he did, the whole wall behind it rippled open like a shutter to reveal a massive bookshelf with crisp brown scrolls and massive leather-bound books arranged in neat lines.
“What story do you have in mind, my Lord?” asked Marley Jenkins, climbing up in readiness onto a short stool ladder.
“A story about fairies,” drawled the man. Marley Jenkins smiled with a light ‘Ah,’ and pushed the stool over to the other side of the bookshelf.
“We have many stories about fairies, my Lord. Would you like to sample some of them, my Lord?”
“Wings,” said the gentleman suddenly, and Marley Jenkins froze. “I want a story about fairy wings.”
Marley Jenkins licked his lips and uncertainly turned to look at the young man. He was slowly turning his hat in his hands; smiling slightly with his broad lips..
“Wings, my Lord?” he asked. “Well…we certainly do have some ‘special’ books about fairy wings…”
“I neither have time nor place to read a book, old man,” said the gentleman. “I only want to hear a story. Tell me what you know about the wings of fairies.”
Marley Jenkins turned around and sat – or rather fell – with a thump on the ladder stool. “Fairies themselves are a rather intricate topic…but I assume that you already know about them, my Lord?”
“Elusive creatures,” said the gentleman. “Highly magical. They can be divided into four elements, of earth, fire, water, and air. Free-spirited, solitary, and wary of humans. People are lucky if they ever meet one in their lifetime.”
“And the wings,” said Marley Jenkins. “The wings themselves are the most magical thing that a fairy holds. There are rumors…well, one can never know with fairies, but there are rumors that the wings are the source of a fairy’s magic.
“The wings of fairies are made much like a butterfly’s wings; small feathers make up a translucent extension that can extend from three feet outwards and six feet lengthwise. The fairies can hide their wings, so it is very hard to identify one, but most are very small of stature and slight; but masters of disguise. The wings can come in all sizes, shapes, and colors.”
“Hunters,” said the young man in a declaratory way. Marley Jenkins mopped his brow and sighed. It would come to that.
“Hunters are people who hunt for fairy’s wings. Fairy’s wings, you understand, are very magical and can sell for very high prices; they have qualities of being able to heal, provide youth, and give luck to the holder. Each feather can sell for a fortune, but most fairies will die if too many of their feathers are pulled out. And the wings are rendered useless if their owner is dead. Even if only a few feathers are pulled out, though, the fairies are put under excruciating pain and sometimes lose their magic partially.”
The young man looked brooding. “Do different wings have different qualities?”
“Of course, my Lord,” said Marley Jenkins. “It mostly depends on age; the older the fairy, the better the quality of the wings. But, it is rumored that the black wings are the most powerful.”
“Black wings?” asked the young man. “I have never heard of fairy wings being black.”
“That is why I said it was a rumor, my Lord,” said Marley Jenkins with a small bow. “No one has ever harvested black fairy wings before. There have only been fleeting sightings, and those are vague. But there are very solid legends in Fairy Tales that suggest that black wings can practically grant the user anything they wish.”
“Is that so,” said the young man slowly. He crooked an eyebrow at Marley Jenkins. “Anything else worth telling me?”
“Only that fairy wings can only bring you sadness, my Lord,” said Marley Jenkins, bowing so low that he could only see the young man’s shoes. He heard a dry chuckle and a rustle of clothes, then a waft of cold air. He looked up and saw the young man at the door, placing his hat carefully on his head.
“My secretary will arrange a check to be sent in the morning,” he said with an emerald glint in his eye, then turned around and disappeared into the inky midnight black. Marley Jenkins sighed with relief and mopped his brow again. He pressed the top of the round bodhisattva’s head and walked to door which he firmly locked while the hidden shutters of the wall fell into place.
The night held dark, dangerous things.
Jacque often was used to watching his master go off on harebrained schemes. As his personal valet, he found it was often his own responsibility to keep him out of harms way. Master Silvande, though, was not the kind of person who needed keeping out of harms way; he was perfectly capable of becoming harm reincarnate itself if it suited him. At the moment, though, Jacque felt that it was his duty to protest.
“Master Silvande,” he said calmly a step to the left behind him, lugging two large suitcases full of inexplicable things in either hand. “I think that we ought to reconsider this. If your mother the Duchess ever finds you loitering in a place like this…well, I suggest we go back to the castle.”
“Stop mumbling,” was the only answer Jacque earned, and he sulkily resigned himself to walking in silence. Master Silvande was a tall, well-proportioned man, wearing a hand-stitched thin gray suit despite the chilly late autumn weather. The only sign he gave that displayed any sense of cold was the patent leather gloves he wore and the hat perched on his head, though neither were much use against the weather. A long black-and-blond ponytail bounced against his back, held at the nape of his neck with a silver oblong charm.
Jacque had been employed in Master Silvande’s services for neigh ten years, ever since the master had only been a young boy; a young, mischievous boy. Jacque himself had only been a few years older, and he had many a regretful memory of chasing the small, haughty boy around, trying to get him to wear a cravat. Jacque had been an accomplished valet at the time; trained thoroughly in all the domestic arts for the sole purpose of serving Master Silvande. Of course, it was one thing to train about serving mischievous boys, and another entirely to serve them in reality.
Jacque had become used to Master Silvande’s frequent temperamental reversals in the years he had come to serve under him; Master Silvande often required action in his life, and if one minute he was peacefully reading a book, then next he would be dragging Jacque off to France or Switzerland in search of the very legendary magic potion he had been reading about. Jacque, though, was not an ordinary valet; he was well-versed in magic of all kinds, capable of using fifty different common place objects as weapons, and among other things, was able to speak seventy different languages, including dialects. This was all, of course, because he was a hobgoblin.
Hobgoblins were famous for being sharp, shrewd, smart, and quicker than any human; one wouldn’t exactly match the employment of valet to the name, but they were perfectly capable as one if trained properly. Jacque had been orphaned at an early age, though how he had managed to come to be trained as a valet under a prestigious blue-blood family was beyond him. Hobgoblins were mostly employed as bankers, gambling tykes, or most often, involved in organized crime. Hobgoblins were good at that.
Hobgoblins didn’t look much different than normal humans, except for height and slimness that was often associated with elfish roots. Jacque had long pointed ears which were impossible to hide and small fangs which could grow to his bottom lip if he ever so wished. Black eyes, also, were often common among the race. As it was, though, Master Silvande was a towering man – it was rumored that elves had inbred into the Heverstone family at one point – and Jacque could look the younger man in the eye without difficulty. For other people, though, Jacque found that he had to maintain a polite hunch to try to reach their voices.
“If you would every so deign to listen, Master Silvande,” tried Jacque yet again. “If you are seen in the Underground, nonetheless at such an hour, then your future heir-ship could be vastly shaken.”
Master Silvande chuckled, a sign Jacque often associated with something outrageous to come. “I don’t give a damn about heir-ships or whatever my ever-so-esteemed mother wants me to be – give her time and she’ll get over it.”
“I highly doubt that, Master Silvande,” said Jacque, tactfully avoiding a puddle of some kind of steaming black stuff. “I would think that she would like to pass on the Dukedom to someone inside the family, rather than one of your plentiful cousins who lap at any chance to assassinate you in your sleep.” Jacque would know; he was often responsible for stopping assassins or magical devices bent on killing in the middle of the night.
Master Silvande chuckled again and Jacque started becoming really worried. “Stop worrying, Jacque; it’s bad for the heart.”
“I can think of many other highly dangerous things for the heart, and several of them are associated with this street,” muttered Jacque, and immediately regretted it from the chuckle that resulted in front of him. The Underground, where many magical creatures resided under the oblivion of the human populous, was hardly respectable during the daylight, and when the sun went down, such things went on in the wee hours of the morning that Jacque tried not to think about directly. He couldn’t fathom what Master Silvande would want to do in a place like this, other than the suspicious fact that he had managed to slip away without Jacque knowing for three hours before being found wandering around aimlessly in the bright streets of New York. Then, with a haughty ‘There you are,’ as if Jacque had been the one missing, he had dragged him to the Underground and was now walking with purpose to some unknown destination, chuckling nonetheless. It was not exactly a situation Jacque was comfortable with, especially holding two heavy suitcases, the contents which he knew nothing of.
“I must protest,” Jacque finally said, still keeping a respectful distance from Master Silvande, but in a way so that he could peer into his master’s piercing emerald green eyes. It was a trick one learned with time. “Master Silvande, if we go back now we may be able to avoid the brunt of the trouble with the Countess. If you may so kindly recall, she was planning on you entertaining a few nocturnal ambassadors from Dorick this evening; an arrangement which is already three hours late. I find it very alarming that we shall not find a convincing alibi which to pacify your revered mother with.”
“Stop being eloquent, Jacque,” said Master Silvande. “It doesn’t suit you. And I don’t want a nocturnal wife; you can tell my mother that when we return.”
“Master Silvande!” Jacque said desperately, but they seemed to have arrived at the place where Master Silvande had been getting at. Jacque moaned at the crooked, broken wooden sign hanging above the door, labeled incoherently in dwarvish. It must have said something along the lines of ‘Pug’s Tavern’ in its early days.
“Come on, Jacque,” said the master with a high level of amusement, then stepped into the decrepit place as if he were used to it. Jacque shifted the suitcases in a way that he could reach his knife if he should ever so need it, and then walked in after the master.
The place was dim and smelled of hay and sweat; it was surprisingly clean, for a dingy place, but it was still unrespectable. There was a long counter on one side, dishing out mugs of indescribable green potions, and scattered around the rest of the building in a hap-dash sort of way were round tables with shadowy creatures having low conversations around them. A man played a guitar absently in the corner, strumming a dark tune. Everyone turned to look at them as they came in.
Master Silvande seemed to be able to ignore the staring. Nevertheless, under numerous hostile glares, Jacque took a firm holding his knife and shifted both suitcases to one hand. The master surveyed the tavern with a critical glance, eyes sharp, and then sat down at a table in the corner. It was almost too dark in there to see, but hobgoblins have exceptional eyes. Jacque sat in a chair with an advantageous location from where he could jump practically anywhere if someone dared to attack them.
“Pray what,” whispered Jacque, “are we doing here, Master?”
“Waiting,” said Master Silvande with a low drawl. “If my luck kicks in tonight, we may just see what we came for.”
“What you came for,” reminded Jacque, flitting his eyes over the occupants of the tavern. None of them seemed to be human.
Master Silvande’s luck was a matter which was highly curious. Jacque had heard about it when he was still in training as a young boy, and after he had come to serve under the master, he had witnessed it in blaring obviousness. Perhaps he would walk across a room in muddy shoes and just happen to miss the Main Butler who was coming in one direction and his mother the Countess who had been going in another direction at exactly the right time. Or maybe it would be the fact that he could fall from any tree, cliff, or balcony – he had a fondness for heights – and not end up with as much as a bruise or scratch for all his trouble. Though Jacque had heard plenty of rumors about his young master’s luck – curses, blessings, and deals with the devil – he believed none of them. He had a natural distaste for gossip, especially since he seemed to be the topic of most of the pieces he came across.
They didn’t have to wait for long, as Jacque had suspected. After only five minutes, during which Master Silvande had ordered two mugs of dwarf liquor – the strongest there was – the door opened yet again and a slim, slight figure slipped inside. Jacque could see the person perfectly well from his position; it had to be a woman going by size, though one could never tell with non-humans, and she was clad in a short black cloak which hung over her face in a way that shadowed her features. Beneath the cloak she wore an explosive kind of skirt of bright, giddy colors – a gypsy’s dress – that came to her ankles and showed pointed boots with three inch heels, scuffed and covered with dirt. The person carried no possessions, other than a backpack which she had slung over one shoulder, and the way she approached the counter without hesitation and ordered a drink showed that she must be used to such places. Master Silvande stirred – this obviously was what he had been waiting for.
The woman took a mug of steaming liquid – oversized in her petite hands – and settled down by a table across the room, knees crossed. Jacque observed the woman closely. She seemed by all reason to be a drifting gypsy, though why she was traveling alone, he couldn’t say. Her skin, by all he could tell, was fair, and the few locks of long, straight hair which escaped her hood were either a dark brown or inky black, and her features – of which he could only see her chin and mouth – were delicate and almost porcelain. Despite the shadows, her bright skirt stood out like a beacon of light in this dreary place.
She seemed fidgety, Jacque thought. Though she sipped her liquid slowly and carefully, it was a deliberate action – Jacque saw her head turn in margins as she surveyed the occupants of the tavern. It hardly stood to reason that she could see any of them, but she might not be entirely human. Her foot jerked now and again, as if she was trying very hard to keep her legs relaxed, and Jacque saw an imperceptible, sharp rise and fall of her shoulders, as if she was breathing very heavily; she must have run here. Her very being radiated caution.
“Jacque,” muttered Master Silvande. “Go and get her. And give me that suitcase; I might need it.”
Jacque stared levelly at Master Silvande, but he knew he shouldn’t argue. A valet, no matter how old and experienced, never argued with his master. Jacque stood and fluidly passed Master Silvande the heavy suitcase, then walked to the other side of the room in such a way that he blended into the shadows. No one saw him, at any rate.
He approached the slim woman from behind. He thought about this for a moment, hidden in the particularly deep shadow of a beam, and then sidled around so he would be in plain view when he approached her. She didn’t seem to be in the right state of mind to be surprised from behind, he thought.
Jacque straightened his tie and smoothed back his hair – long and wavy, to disguise his three inch long ears – and stepped into the woman’s line of vision. Her head immediately swiveled to lock on to him; he could almost feel her invisible eyes latching onto his every detailed feature. He was sure she saw the artfully hidden dagger and gun under his coat, but that was just a thing that couldn’t be helped.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” he said in a soothing, mechanical voice. “My master is kindly asking you to join us at our table. If you would so oblige…?”
The full force of the spell hit him like a brief hurricane. The only reason he was able to resist it was because it was so weak. The woman must have been very tired; he could tell that she could do much worse. She obviously thought it had worked, and Jacque temporarily pretended that it had.
“I’m not here,” she said clearly and slowly, in a weary voice that reminded Jacque of bells. “You never saw me. You never knew me. You will go back to your master and tell him so. You will forget I ever existed.”
Jacque wondered what one was supposed to do in a situation like this. He wavered for a short second, and then decided that Master Silvande wouldn’t be too pleased if he came back empty-handed.
“I’m afraid not, madam,” he said, smiling. “My master means you no harm.” At least, Jacque thought he didn’t. Hoped he didn’t.
The woman cursed softly under her breath, then went silent. Her fingernails made a dim rhythm on the table top. Then she stood. People stared at them again. “Fine, then.”
Jacque led the way, though not so far from her that he couldn’t stop her from bolting. She seemed to realize this. That didn’t stop her. As they neared the table, she dodged with surprising agility and made for the door like a bullet. Trying not to cause a scene, Jacque clamped his long fingers around her arm – a feat which he was quite proud of, considering her speed – and wrenched her around to sit in the chair. Master Silvande was almost invisible from where he sat.
“Thank you, Jacque,” he said lazily, then leaned forward. He had the suitcase lying on top of the table. The lock was undone, and it was slightly open. Jacque stood behind the woman and kept a firm grip on her arm, to still her squirming. She felt like little more than a bundle of matchsticks that would break with much the same ease if he held her too tightly.
“Who are you?” hissed the woman in a chiming way. “What do you want? Let me go! I demand you let me go this instant!” She jerked her arm, as if to pull away, and Jacque held fixedly on. The occupants of the tavern, though most likely used to such sights, were still staring at them hotly. The man who was plucking at the guitar – perhaps the only human other than Master Silvande there – had forgotten about his music – a few twanging chords echoed out, but mostly he was just staring daggers at them.
“I advise we make this quick, master,” said Jacque softly, twisting the woman’s arm as she tried to wriggle out of his grip.
As Jacque found was often the case, Master Silvande ignored him. He was looking at the woman; her hood had fallen off in the struggle, and though Jacque couldn’t make out her face from where he was standing, he could see a leather band dyed different colors of the rainbow holding back half of her hair, beads and feathers dangling. She had several silver combs in her hair, along with an equally bright kerchief which had evidently been around her head, though it had slid down to her neck in the struggle.
“If you want help,” his young master said, “I can provide such services immediately.”
Jacque couldn’t make head or tail of this sentence, but the woman evidently did. She froze in Jacque’s grip and he quickly loosened his strength in order not to hurt her.
“What are you talking about,” said the woman; not as an actual question, but more of a rhetorical one.
“Do you want my help, fairy?” whispered Master Silvande, leaning forward intensely. Jacque felt his heart drop several feet to the floor. Oh, good god no, not fairies!
There was a racket at the door and the fairy gave a little gasp. She turned quickly back to Master Silvande. “Yes. Yes I do. Oh, hurry up!”
One did not tell the heir of a Dukedom to ‘hurry up’, but Master Silvande took it in stride. He opened the suitcase and Jacque caught an amazing glimpse of a room inside the suitcase, made up of what looked like miniature furniture. But it wasn’t; the room had depth that defied all laws of nature, and Jacque knew immediately that the suitcases were charmed. At least, one of them was.
“Hop in,” said Master Silvande, and without hesitation, the fairy reached out her free hand and put it inside the suitcase. It immediately shrunk with a blue flash to the size of the room. She turned around to look at Jacque, and he caught sight of a pair of big brilliant, blue eyes as she stared reproachfully at him.
“Well?” she said, and Jacque let go, though he was still ready for her to run. She didn’t. She put her other hand in, then grabbed a hold of the edge of the table with her miniature hands and dragged the rest of her into the suitcase with a good deal of flashing blue light. Jacques saw for a split second a small, angry-looking woman staring up at him from the bewitched suitcase, but the next second Master Silvande had snapped it shut with a click and spun the lock. Then, quite as quickly, he handed it to Jacque, then took the second one and put it on the table, unlocking it. As he did, the door burst open and three shadows leaped into the tavern. Their features weren’t too remarkable, but they all shared red, panting faces.
“Where is she?” hissed the lead-looking person; skinny with lanky blond hair and fingers that twitched as if they itched to choke someone. Immediately, everyone in the tavern jumped out of their seats. Guns and knives were drawn with alarming swiftness; Jacque groaned and clutched his head. What a marvelous situation they had got themselves into, now.
“Here, now,” said the burly bartender, coming out with two heavy Niners trained on the intruders. “We don’t take kindly to violence, here. Git out. Now!”
“Oh, you pest,” hissed the lead man, and the man next to him promptly shot the man through the shoulder. The bartender fired both his shots and they landed solidly in the wood behind the trio’s heads. A knife soared across the room and landed next to one of the men’s ears. This was turning ugly.
Suddenly Jacque realized that the second suitcase was open. A much less comfortable-looking room, not unlike a jail cell, was revealed in shades of gray. Master Silvande had stood and looked supremely comfortable and happy in his surroundings. He hadn’t even drawn his gun. Jacque groaned silently, but knew better than to get in his master’s line of violence; he instead drew both his knife and gun and held them loosely at his side, ready to kill anyone who tried to harm his charge.
“Now, then, gentlemen,” said Master Silvande loud enough so that everyone jerked to look at him. “Let’s not be violent, shall we?” Then, with a snap of his fingers, he pointed to the suitcase. The three yelled, bellowing as they were swept off their feet and all jammed into the suitcase. They didn’t make a very nice fit; they looked cramped, red, and angry inside their little cell as they yelled in tinny voices, confused and trying to find a way out. But Master Silvande quickly snapped the case shut. He handed that to Jacque, too. Then he stood and walked without fear to the middle of the room, where the bartender was lying, groaning and clutching his shoulder. His supposed wife had come out from behind the counter – a surprisingly pretty lady with slit eyes and fangs – and she hissed at the young master as he approached. Jacque groaned and followed discreetly; he was groaning too much tonight.
“I apologize for the damage. Go to this doctor; he will treat him for free if you give him my card.” The woman settled into a low, cat-like growl, but nonetheless she snatched the card away and stuffed it into her pocket. Master Silvande promptly turned his back on the assembly and walked out of the door. Jacque followed, though he didn’t dare turn his back on the hungry crowd. In the fresh air outside, he let out a sigh and shook his head.
“You are bad for the heart, master.”
“As are a lot of things, I hear,” said Master Silvande wryly, and then set off into the night.
Aer Aliyesta sat down with a thump on the thick carpet. Her name wasn’t really Aer; it was Aerwyn, but most people called her Aer or Wynn. But since both of the names sounded so respectively individual, Aer had decided in a finalizing way that her name would be Aer, and only Aer – if not Aerwyn – and had banned people from referring to her as Wynn. Of course, over the last few years, she had often masqueraded as Wynn Sky – a perfectly gypsy name – and she was positive that only her fairy kin knew about her ‘Aer’ name.
Aer felt panicked as she sat on that lush carpet; nothing indicating that she was inside a normal-sized suitcase other than the fact that sometimes she was jolted gently, just enough to make her stretch out a hand to steady herself. She tried to keep calm and catch her breath as she observed her surroundings.
The suitcase room was very fancy and rich-looking; there was a mahogany table and matching two chairs on one end, though one chair had slid with the shaking to the wall, and two long couches were on the other end; a looking glass hung up behind the couches, and a dim magical light lit up the whole ensemble. It was sparse, Aer thought, but still rich.
Aer berated herself for going along with the human’s scheme. She thought he had been human, at least. ‘You’re too trusting of humans, Aer,’ her extended aunts and uncles had often told her when she was still a wee sprite. And maybe they had been right; unlike her kin, who were distrustful of anything not fairy to the point where they hardly ventured out of the Sanctuaries, Aer had been surprisingly free-minded about the matter. She had always been fascinated rather than fearful of the outside world, and she had often disguised herself as a human and ventured to the town down the road of her home Sanctuary as a young sprite. Observing humans – for it had been a human village – going on in their daily life, catching their little habits and ruts, it had been a game to Aer. But games, she had found out in later life, had a way of getting messy very quickly. Curiosity killed the cat, she reminded herself.
Who was that human, she wondered, gripping handfuls of carpet at a particularly violent jerk. How had he known she was a fairy? She had disguised herself as a gypsy, and she conceded meekly that other than the obvious lack of gypsy companions, she had pulled off the disguise fairly decently. Aer had adopted that disguise ever since she had left the Sanctuary, and had even travelled with some real gypsies at times. Gypsies, she had found, were sympathetic with fairies; they would rather die than see a fairy come to harm. But despite that, Aer had never been comfortable living amongst humans; not after ‘that’ had happened.
Aer unlaced and wrested off her shoes, groaning as they rubbed her blisters. She massaged her aching feet, feeling the accumulation of sore muscles and bones slowly seep over her, rendering her unable to move. Shoes which had been snatched hastily from a store window – two sizes too big – weren’t really ideal for running away from people. Running away from those three Hunters. Those vermin had been chasing her ever since ‘that’ incident five years ago when Aer had left the Sanctuary; left running. They had persistently dogged her, showing up at unexpected places and surprise attacking her when she thought she had finally gotten rid of them. It was a tiring business, but Aer had managed to lose them two years ago at Beruna. But they had suddenly reappeared a week ago just as Aer was crossing into the US. Since then, she had been running from them without rest or stop, jumping onto trams or weaving disillusionment spells to throw them off. It didn’t work. They always seemed to catch up to her, and she had been truthfully terrified that they were going to catch her.
Aer crawled to one of the couches, shoes in hand, and sat down with a groan, not daring to lie down unless she should actually fall asleep. She cast her mind back to the man who had captured her; she hadn’t seen him very well, in the deep shadows, and she hadn’t been really concentrating either way; her mind had been stuffed with panic and ideas to get away. But he had helped her, at any rate; or had he. No, he definitely hadn’t – if he knew she was a fairy, then he would want her wings. He might even be a Hunter.
Aer’s mind raced and she tried to come up with some plan despite the sleep that threatened to press down on her like a tempting canopy of warmth. No, concentrate!
She stood up quickly, wincing as her blisters rubbing against her laddered stockings, then walked to the middle of the room where she stood stiffly and tried not to fall asleep on her feet. How long had it last been since she had slept? No, she shouldn’t think of that. What she should be thinking about was a nice, nasty spell for that man when she got out of this place so she could run away.
She tentatively tried to weave a simple spell to bring a cushion from a couch. It didn’t work; she could tell this room had an enchantment set upon it so the person inside couldn’t work magic. Besides, the quantity of the spells she was thinking about seemed to be beyond her – she was tired, and more importantly, her wings ached despite those many years which had passed since ‘that’ day. Her magic still hadn’t recovered, only worsened since she had started being chased again, and while it might have been simple back then to turn a few humans into guinea pigs, it was like lifting a lodestone now.
Aer decided that magic might not be the best gamble, since the man was most definitely a sorcerer or magician. Fairies were better at running away than fighting, anyway. She pulled out the two short knives she had hidden on her person and stared at them forlornly. She had never liked fighting, and she had never learned properly how to. Either way, that man had been big. She doubted she could even get near him since his servant was non-human and had reflexes faster than a fairy – and that was saying something. Aer felt hopeless.
Still, Aer decided that she wouldn’t go down without a fight, and with reluctance and wincing put her boots back on. The toes were pointed – that might help. Men often disliked people aiming pointed toes at them. She stood up again, since even kneeling down made her feel like sleeping. Good god, even standing made her sleepy. She marched around the room resolutely, stifling yawns and slapping herself whenever she started drifting off. She jumped up and down, did jumping jacks, and talked to herself to keep awake.
“God, Aer, what a situation you’ve got yourself in. How many of your feathers you suppose he’ll take? If he’s ignorant, he’ll take all of them, and you’ll die, but you deserve that, don’t you? You ignorant swine. How could you actually jump from one frying pan into another? You might have been able to escape from the three vermin, but from this? Not likely. What’s wrong with you? You’ve definitely taken leave of your senses. I shall see to it that the next time we meet, you shall be slapped silly. (Here Aer actually did slap herself.) There. And you deserved that.”
Aer staggered as she felt a particularly large jolt that sent her to the floor. She froze as she heard loud, angry voices from outside the suitcase. A woman’s voice, she thought, high and shrilly. Then they were going up stairs – she could tell by the thumps and jolts – and after what seemed to be a very long time, the suitcase came to a halt. She felt it being placed on somewhere level. Aer scrambled up and pulled a knife out, freeing the other hand to work a spell. Despite her weariness, she went into a crouch, ready to jump out at her first chance.
She hard an echoing click, the same she had heard when she was first locked in the suitcase. Then, a thin sliver of light. She saw a massive finger sandwiched between the mouth of the case, opening it. When it was opened wide enough, she jumped out, stabbing the finger while she was at it. She rolled to the floor neatly, her original size. She was summoning a Helper before her first breath was out – it seemed the most helpful spell in this situation. She didn’t know if she could make it with her current strength, but if she didn’t, she was dead. Or in different stages of agony, but either way, she didn’t like her options.
Her eyes locked onto the man she had seen before at the tavern; the other man, the man with the blond and black hair. He was walking towards her, holding up his hands passively. And he had a whopper of a spell on its way towards her. Without having to think, Aer abandoned her Helper spell – she wouldn’t have made it by a long shot – and uttered the simple word for Fire. From her hand came a rolling, bright red nest of fire which shot at the man. He easily batted it away. While he did so, she dived at him, low to the floor, aiming for his abdomen with her knife. Before she was even a step towards him, something very big tackled her and she skidded to the floor.
It was the other man, she thought distantly, but she really wasn’t in a state to think. Her knife hand was pressed to the floor so strongly that she let out a cry of pain and released it. But she wasn’t done. She did a simple engorgement spell and slashed at the man’s face with her elongated nails. He caught her hand, but he hadn’t anticipated the nails – he cursed as four nasty wounds marked his cheek to his chin. Since he didn’t let go, Aer kneed him in the stomach, but even then he didn’t budge. He was like a rock.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” said the man with infuriating calmness, then Aer felt her limbs snap to her sides as an immobulous spell hit her with force. She couldn’t even twitch a finger. Breathing was hard; her mouth was slightly open, and the breath that rasped in and out was shallow and not at all what she need. Her deprived lungs screamed for oxygen. As the man crawled off her, she saw black spots appearing in her vision.
“Stop that, Jacque,” she heard the black-and-blond one say in a lazy drawl. “She can’t breathe.”
Aer anticipated the dissolving of the spell. As the last threads were unraveled, she kicked her leg at the man who had come into her sight; she felt hopelessness sink through her yet again as he caught it without difficulty. She hoped the toe had hurt him, at least.
“Stop struggling,” said the man, still holding her foot. His eyes, like burnished emeralds, seemed to glow from behind his lids. “I want to have a civilized conversation and you’re making it very hard.”
“Fine,” said Aer, and as he let go of her foot, she snatched her other knife from out of her belt and stabbed him in the foot.
“Damn!” someone bellowed, and that was the last thing she heard as she sank into a bewitched sleep.
“You are alright, Master Silvande?” asked Jacque anxiously, hovering around his foot like a bee. Silvande gave an irritated snort and waved it in his valet’s face.
“I’m perfectly fine, Jacque. Luck, remember?”
It had been luck. The knife had gone straight through the shoe, and nicked the side of his foot, but other than a trickle of blood he had stopped with ease, he had no wounds. The shoe, though, was ruined. He laughed in remembrance of the fairy’s furious and unrelenting struggle to try and get away. He stared at her thoughtfully as Jacque launched into a long speech about how fairies were never good news.
She was lying on the couch on her back, colorful skirts flowing over the side. Her face, dropped in a bewitched sleep, was almost porcelain in its calmness. Unruly strands of black hair fell around her translucent skin and framed her small face delicately. She was, in all respects, a fairy; what he had always thought a fairy would look like. Except for the fact that her long gypsy skirts were torn in places, her stockings had too many ladders to count, and her face and hands were smudged with dirt that looked days old. Dark bags of sleepless nights surrounded her eyes; her whole face was sunken, almost like a skeleton, and she looked so frail that Silvande thought she might just crumble and disappear right then and there. He glanced at the other suitcase which rattled now and then, still locked tightly. They must have been chasing her for a long time. Well, so had he.
Not her in particular, he admitted. Any old fairy would have done. But he had had a particular one in mind; a fairy he had only glimpsed in passing three years ago in Italy while on vacation. A young girl wearing gypsy skirts, long black hair, and amazingly big blue eyes which had looked at him hauntingly as she passed. The way she had looked at him, for some reason had made him spin around and call out to her. But she had disappeared; if he wasn’t himself, he would have thought she was an illusion. He hadn’t known she had been a fairy back then, but he had had a strange premonition. And he had been right.
This was the fairy he had met before, no question about it. She was still almost exactly the same, and she had had the exact same look in her eyes. He was transfixed by her. Maybe it was the same with all fairies, but he felt like he could never take his eyes off of her.
“And I will not tolerate!” Jacque was saying, “One of those things inside my room! Your mother with not tolerate her inside this room! And I dare you to try to hide her for as long as you no doubt intend to keep her!”
“Wake her up, Jacque,” said Silvande, not listening to him. Jacque went silent with a snap.
“No.” he said firmly, and Silvande turned to look at him. Jacque had been Silvande’s valet since he was ten; he was more of a brother than a servant, but Jacque insisted on going by protocol. He had long, wavy blond hair which he kept neatly brushing his shoulders, in a vague attempt to hide his three inch ears which protruded from behind his head. His eyes were inky black, and at the moment his fangs almost brushed his bottom lip, but other than that, he would have passed for a very handsome human. Human aside from being practically aside himself with snarling.
“Do you understand, Master Silvande, what fairies are? Cursed creatures! Sly muses! They will trick you and swindle you and even with the noblest intentions you will never end up on the better side of a bargain with a fairy. Their wings will give you temporary pleasure, yes, but that will never last; anyone who owns a fairy wing fragment ends up as unhappy as a sinner on Sunday!”
“Stop with your lecturing,” said Silvande with a tired sigh. “I know what I’m getting into. And now, will you cancel that spell, or do I have to do it for you?”
Jacque seemed to take a hold of himself. He took a deep breath, exhaled it, then stood and walked to the side of the fairy. He cleared his throat and made a gesture with his hand. The fairy’s eyes opened with a snap, but then drifted close again.
“Mmm,” she muttered, rolling herself into a ball. “Raddie?” she asked, and then fell of the couch with a scream. She immediately sat up with a start and reached for her belt where she had been hiding her knives. She cursed as she came away with empty air, then hissed and started weaving a net of complicated magic. Silvande immediately waved his hand and canceled it.
“Stop struggling,” he said, curious about why she fought so much for such a small being. “You won’t get anywhere by fighting.”
She looked up at him fiercely for a moment, and then a horrifying look of dread washed over her face. She went paler than a corpse and she started shaking like a leaf in the wind. Her fists gripped handfuls of her skirt and she shivered.
“What…what are you going to do with me?” she asked quietly, obviously trying to act brave. Silvande found a strange, confusing feeling welling up inside him, but he ignored it.
“Nothing for the moment,” he said, then crouched down and stared her in the face. Jacque made a noise in the back of his throat, but he made no physical protest. She stared back wanly into his eyes, pale and frightened. Her perfectly rosebud-shaped lips quivered and several gulps traveled down her throat.
“I would like to see your wings,” he told her quietly, searching those eyes for any sign of emotion. It came like a flood. Anger overcame fear and she shook her head violently.
“Never,” she hissed, and shuffled backwards on the floor. Silvande made no attempt to follow her.
“Can I know your name?” he asked, resting his chin on the palm of his hand. She stared at him warily, and then cautiously arranged her colorful skirts over her legs.
“Wynn Sky,” she told him with a waver, pushing her bangs out of her eyes. Silvande was convinced that it was an alias – it wasn’t a very fairy name – but he didn’t press the matter. He stood and walked to the table where the suitcase was and gestured to it.
“You go in there, I’m afraid,” he told the fairy – Wynn – and when she shook her head again, he sighed. “I assure you that it’s much safer in there than it is out here.”
“It’s a prison,” she hissed venomously, pushing herself across the room again till she came up against a wall. This seemed to frighten her. She scrambled to her feet with such an expression that one would think she was a cornered lioness ready to fight to the death. Silvande had no such wish to do so, though.
“You don’t have much choice,” said with what he knew was an evil smile, and she blanched another shade of bleach white. Then she stiffened her shoulders and drew herself up regally. It would have been much more impressive if she was a few inches taller.
“Fine,” she said stiffly, though the effect was ruined with a quivering lip. “Come what may.” She crossed the room unsteadily, skirted Silvande and Jacque by a large margin, and then arrived at the suitcase. She stared at it hatefully, then reluctantly pushed her hands inside and slipped into the miniature room, after which Silvande closed it with a definite click. Then he turned to Jacque.
“Now, we will go to see my mother.”
Jacque looked more tired than surprised, now. “Master Silvande…would I be enlightened if I asked why on heaven’s earth?”
“No,” said Silvande promptly, smoothing his waistcoat and buttoning his jacket. “Blind trust is required from you, Jacque.”
“How frightening,” said Jacque dryly, smoothing his own suit almost unconsciously. People who went to visit Silvande’s mother often found that perfection was on the top list of her many requirements; one crease out of place and she would refuse to take you seriously. Even Silvande, her own son, found that he was completely ignored if he had mud on his shoes or a missing cravat.
Jacque crossed the room and opened the door with a small bow. “I am blind, Master Silvande.”
“Good. Cast a spell after we’re gone – Mother will try to invade it after we’re gone.”
“My thoughts exactly, Master Silvande.” Jacque closed the door after Silvande left, weaving a spell of protection. Silvande strode down the familiarly over-decorous corridors, not waiting for him to finish. Not a shadow of a living being could be seen – Mother had a very strict law about servants being less than invisible – and Silvande found that the resounding silence was slightly calming. He heard a ruckus downstairs and followed the shrieking noises with a wry smile.
It was a long walk to Mother’s quarters, and the sheer fact that he could hear her from the opposite wing proved just how upset she was. Another fiancée gone, another fortune forsaken – Mother must be furious. And she was in just the mood he wanted.
Silvande climbed down the stairs leading to the main receiving hall and saw Gretchen approaching. She was wearing her usual plain black, modest dress, hair pinned up in an elegant bird’s nest. Small delicate glasses were perched precariously on the bridge of her nose, and the look on her face was a mixture of furious, frustrated, and half-fearful.
“Silvande, where have you been?” Gretchen quickly fell into stride with him and struggled to keep up. “No one could even go near the West Wing; that spell was highly uncalled for!”
“If I hadn’t,” said Silvande lazily, “Mother would have taken a battering ram and used it to crush in my head.”
“True,” said Gretchen dismissively. “And no one’s to say you didn’t deserve it. The Matron of Dorick is a very powerful person, and you just made the Duchess let a very handsome deal go slipping through her fingers. She’s practically livid.”
“Mother can be livid if she wants to, but I have no desire to marry someone with ears and a tail.”
“Oh, why not?” huffed Gretchen as they climbed a flight of stairs. “She’s perfectly nice.”
“Gretchen, she has fur!”
“Well…one can’t be perfect.”
“Yes, but one can be fur-less.”
“Oh, dear, here we are.”
Silvande had noticed. They were standing in front of the doors of Mother’s main parlor, listening to the noise of complete chaos from behind them. Jacque cleared his throat quietly and muttered something indistinct while Gretchen had the look of a soldier going back into the fray. Silvande merely pushed the doors open.
The Duchess of Everon, Egwene Heverstone, was a tall, regal woman with steel gray hair and equally steely gray eyes. The beak-like pinch of her mouth suggested a youthful beauty, but just the same youthful personality. As in, a very sour personality. At the moment, though, the Duchess was beside herself with anger, forsaking all notion of calm – hair out of place, eyes bulging, and face stretched like a mummified doll. It was frankly frightening to look at.
“… AND I WILL NOT TOLERATE THIS ANYMORE…!” Mid-scream, the Duchess caught sight of Silvande and went deathly calm. “Silvande. My dear, dear son. So nice of you to join us.”
“Greetings, esteemed mother,” said Silvande with a slight bow. He looked up with a smile. “What a fuss you’re making.”
“Fuss?” hissed his mother with venom. “I will make any fuss I wish! Can you even fathom how much money I lost tonight? And for what?! A FEW HOURS OF MY IDIOTIC SON’S TIME!”
“Now, Mother, we mustn’t yell…”
“I WILL VERY WELL YELL IF I WISH SO!” The Duchess bellowed, and then paused, seeming to partially compose herself. “Now – explain yourself, please.”
“That had been my plan,” said Silvande dryly, then sat himself down on one end of the couch and kicked his feet up onto the coffee table. Mother’s two advisors, several Chairmen, and various other personal staff were in the room, looking distraught and tired. They all stood in readiness to go, but Silvande waved his hand.
“No – you may all stay. It’s something I want you to hear.”
“Oh, gladly, Master Silvande,” said one of the gray-haired men politely, though the whole crowd gave an invisible, collective groan. Silvande turned to his mother.
“I think I’ve found a solution to our problem, Mother.”
“Problem?” snapped the Duchess sharply. “I have a lot of problems at the moment. Money, wrinkles, and an idiotic son who can’t spare his mother three hours of his precious time!”
“Of course, of course. But I am talking about the problem of the Fairy Covenant.”
A murmur passed through the room. Mother sat up a little.
“The Fairy Covenant? That mess?”
“Yes, Mother. That one.”
The Fairy Covenant was a messy business. Twenty years ago, the law had been passed to allow a ban on Fairy Hunting in all but ten communities, known as Black Spots. Back then, most people had been on the Fairies’ side – seeing them as a helpless, underrepresented species which needed protection. But as the years passed and the Fairies showed no sign of thanks – or any reaction at all – people started going sour. They started thinking that Fairies were a savage kind of magical creature, not to be trusted, and not worthy of the millions of IUC invested to keep the free zones from getting sucked into the Black Spots. The Fairy Protection Association (FPA) lost power and slowly the Hunters’ Guild started garnering force. And now, the nest-hoot of old geezers in the Council had decided to revoke the Fairy Covenant.
Usually blue-blooded aristocrats like the Heverstones wouldn’t have cared if every magical species was hunted off the face of the earth, but this time it was different – some aristocrats, along with the Duchess, had invested millions of IUC in the Fairy Covenant; as usual, leaping at the chance to make even more money. If this Bill fell through, then a lot of blue-bloods would lose a lot of money. Also, the new Provision the Council was writing up allowed the Hunters to have free rein over forty-two new communities, and if there was one thing blue-bloods didn’t want, it was mercenaries going rampant on their land. In every way, it was a lose-lose situation for the people sided with Mother.
“Yes, well, son, what about it? I can’t seem to find anything that can drag us out of this horrible mess.” The Duchess seemed to have calmed down – she leaned back in her chair, groaning and covering her eyes with a wrinkled hand.
“I do. I’ve caught a fairy, Mother.”
This statement didn’t seem to register in the Duchess’ brain. The other people assembled in the room, including Gertrude, though, started coughing very pointedly, and Jacque muttered darkly under his breath, ‘We didn’t catch her.’ The Duchess slowly looked at her son and leaned forward.
“What did you just say, Silvande?”
How long had it been since Mother had called him by his first name? Oh, well, now wasn’t the time to be touched. “I’ve caught a fairy, mother, and I plan to make her the diplomatic representative of the fairy race.”
“If I may interject, sire!” said a pompous looking old man, shifting numerous papers nervously – and pompously – in his hands. “My lady, if Master Silvande speaks the truth, I fear drastic measures must be taken. We mustn’t get involved with the Fairy Folk, Madame.”
“Quiet, what’s-your-name,” said the Duchess with an irritated wave of her hand. She seemed half in shock, though a rare smile was slowly blooming on her face.
“Silvande…this is absolutely amazing! Brilliant! Why, this solves everything!”
“Ma’am!” This time is was Gertrude who stepped forward to interrupt. “If I may speak frankly, this is not the wisest thing one could do. We must consider the repercussions seriously – the Fairy Folk cannot be dealt lightly with.”
“Oh, hosh-podge, Gertrude. Those rumors about bad luck are rumors and rumors only. I thought it was beneath you to believe superstition.”
“But Madame,” said Gertrude shrilly, “this is not superstition! There are many proven and recorded cases in which Fairy wings bring bad luck and disaster to the holder, and…”
“Who said anything about Fairy wings? As long as we don’t touch the wings, we’ll be fine, correct? Well, then, son – I forbid you to touch that fairy’s wings. Where is she, anyway?”
“Safe,” said Silvande simply, smiling in triumph. “I won’t have you dabbling with her, Mother.”
“Yes,” said the Duchess with a sniff. “She’ll need some dabbling if she’s to represent her whole race. Has she agreed to doing so, yet?”
Silvande gave his evilest smile yet. “Oh, yes – she has.”
Aer felt like crying. In fact, she had actually sat down and silently let the tears fall down her face for ten seconds, letting her situation overwhelm her. She was captured by a frightening, cruel man who most likely would pull out all her feathers and cause her excruciating pain. At best she would be sold to a zoo or freak show, sold for Fairy experiments, or worst, die. Well, death wasn’t so bad.
After crying for ten seconds, Aer had stood and started banging her hands against the walls. Nothing had happened, of course. Then she had realized that nothing could be done and sat down with another sob on the floor. She took hold of herself and shook her head. She just couldn’t sit there and cry! But what else could she do? Aer looked longingly at the comfortable-looking couch – big and cushioned – and shrugged. Well, she could sleep, at least.
Thus, when the suitcase next opened, Aer was found sleeping and refreshed. But Fairies in general – and humans, for the most part – were extremely grumpy when woken from a comfortable sleep. She snappishly refused to come out of the suitcase when asked politely.
“I see no reason to,” Aer growled, crossing her arms and rolling around on the couch.
Thus, she had no one to blame when she was rudely shaken out onto the floor, along with a chair and several cushions which popped back into their original size once out of the suitcase.
“I resent that,” Aer mumbled, crouching on the floor and rubbing her head where one of the chair legs had hit her.
“Yes, well, I’m an impatient person. How did your sleep fare?”
Aer looked up carefully at the man who was talking to her, and for once, actually looked at him closely. She thought she had never seen such an enigmatic, charismatic person in her entire life. He seemed to stand in giant-esque proportions – every one did, to a Fairy, but this one particularly – and everything about him seemed to reflect the word ‘big’. He was dressed elegantly in a dove gray suit and black overcoat, as though he had recently been outside, and he had his arms crossed haughtily. All his hawk-like, handsome, proud features were fixed on Aer, and though both his eyes were half-hooded, he didn’t look lazy or tired at all. His emerald eyes were piercing and frightening, seeming to analyze every aspect of her being. His black-blond hair was immaculately messy, and on cheekbone was tattooed a red slit-like design which Aer hadn’t noticed before. She struggled to remember what it meant.
“You are in the presence of Lord Silvande Heverstone, future Duke of Everon.”
A Duke? Well, future Duke. What on earth was a Duke doing as a Hunter? Aer kept silent and slowly pressed herself against the table-leg till she was hidden in the table’s shadow. Small confined spaces made her feel secure, she found.
“Sit,” said Silvande, gesturing with his head towards the couch. Aer reluctantly crawled out of her nook and cautiously walked towards the couch. Traces of sleep still remained in her fuzzy brain, and she stifled a yawn as she sat down quietly in the couch. She smoothed her gypsy skirts and tried to find peace in her frantic mind. None came.
“Oh, she’s not fighting, now,” commented Silvande, turning towards his servant. Aer noticed with a startle that the servant was actually a goblin – he stood as tall as Silvande, and had a more smooth kind of handsomeness, compared to his master’s haughtiness.
“It’s useless, now,” said Aer miserably, trying to garner sympathy from her captors. “I’m worse than dead.”
“She’s very gloomy,” added Silvande, addressing his goblin-servant.
“Yes, Master,” said the goblin, giving a small bow.
“Won’t you have a heart?” tried Aer, widening her eyes in a puppy dog way that never ceased to move a person’s heart. Apparently, Aer had lost her gift; both the men in the room had taken to ignoring her completely.
“She’ll need some new clothes,” said the goblin-servant, judgingly looking Aer up and down. Aer quickly pulled in on herself and looked away.
“A bath, first and foremost,” said Silvande, looking disgustedly down his nose at Aer. “And then another one.”
“Lavender? Studies compute that fifty-two percent of the Council favors lavender-smelling women.”
“No – make it rose. Rose is more…mysterious.”
“Is that what we’re going for, Master Silvande?”
“Obviously. And we’re going to have to find her a teacher; unless you would like the job, Jacque?”
The goblin Jacque bowed graciously. “I will find a suitable teacher immediately, Master.”
“Excuse me,” Aer timidly raised her hand, and both pairs of emerald and black eyes turned sharply to look at her. “Are you a…Hunter?”
“Of course not!” snapped the goblin Jacque, then turned back to Silvande. “What colors would suit her?”
“Throw away all the blue and red,” said Silvande consideringly. “Try serpent green…and lighter colors. Light blue might not be bad. And I dislike pink – remember that.”
“I have already called the tailor, Master,” said the goblin with a small bow, and at that moment the door opened with a bang. I round-shaped man dressed in fancy, ruffled clothes came prancing in, two skinny young boys on his heels.
“The Master…the Master Silvande…called?” He was panting with hands resting on knees, red-faced and pudgy.
“That was a record,” said Silvande lightly. “Jacque?”
Jacque proceeded to run off a list of instructions while the two skinny pages scribbled furiously in their notebooks. The pudgy man just nodded knowingly and glanced from now to then towards Aer. Aer was stunned.
“Light blue and serpent green,” said Jacque, gesturing towards several squares of material pinned up in a book which the round man had produced from his satchel. “No pinks, reds, or dark blues. You know the Master’s preferences.”
“All too well,” said the tailor with a wheeze, mopping his sweating brow. He turned to Aer and tilted his head to the side, studying her like she was a rare piece of food. Aer recoiled. “Hm…yes, yes – very good materiel. An elegant sort of image, I’d say – lots of folds to distract from her height. A few full skirts would do nicely…low square necklines, I’d say. Hm-hm…very perfect, very perfect indeed.”
“What is going on?” asked Aer finally, standing up angrily, confused. “What do you want from me?”
“Only your complete cooperation,” said Silvande emotionlessly, leaning against the edge of the table with crossed arms. He was staring intensely at Aer and making her extremely uncomfortable.
“But I…!” Aer cut off with a gasp as one of the skinny men gently raised her arms and the other started measuring her waist efficiently. Before she had time to protest, the man had already moved on to her arms, softly whispering numbers to the other skinny man who was swiftly jotting them down in his notebook.
“Perhaps we should explain, Master Silvande,” said Jacque chidingly. “She’s going to find out in time, and it’ll be to our advantage if it was sooner rather than later.”
Silvande shrugged. “Fine. Listen to me, Fairy. Do you know of the Fairy Covenant?”
“Of course,” gasped Aer as she was spun around by the two skinny men. “It’s useless but effective.”
“Why is it useless?”
Aer was spun around again, but by this time she was used to it. And she was babbling – she didn’t know what to think, really, at the moment. “Because even though it’s enforced, it doesn’t stop the Hunters from breaking it. It only helps because the Hunters have to be more careful not to go public.”
“That’s a way to look at it. Either way, it won’t matter in a few weeks, because the Council has decided to repeal it.”
Aer froze in the act of lifting her foot onto a board with shoe sizes inked on it. One of the skinny men gently lowered it for her. She stared at Silvande with wide eyes, chin quivering. “You’ve got to be…joking.”
“I’m not,” said Silvande, crooking an eyebrow. “Because of the lack of cooperation from the Fairies’ side, the Council has begun to favor the Hunter’s Guild and will make forty-two new Free Zones into Black Spots. It’s practically passed already.”
Aer allowed herself to be spun around like a doll by the two skinny men, facing the wall, now. She felt empty and shocked. She tried to sort out her thoughts. This man was not a Hunter, but he was a Duke – and she had no idea what he meant to do with her. One of the few hopes for the Fairy Folk was just crushed and even more of her kin would die. What was she supposed to say?
“How…How can this be?”
“The Fairies are uncooperative. The Council has heard no word from them, and so far in history there has never been a Fairy representative. Without a representative in court, it’s inevitable that they’d lose favor.”
“But…what about the FPA?”
The Duke snorted. “The FPA is a renegade group of revolutionists with hardly any organization and not taken seriously in a place like the Council. But there are a lot of them. If this Bill is repealed, the FPA is threatening for all-out war against the Hunter’s Guild.”
“War…” muttered Aer, feeling shell-shocked. Then she looked up sharply. “And what do you want with me?”
“As I said – cooperation. You will become the Fairy representative.”
Aer would have choked if she wasn’t so disbelieving. “Why me?”
“Oh, anyone would have done,” said Silvande nonchalantly. “You were just at the right place at the right time.”
“But I’m not a diplomat!” exclaimed Aer, kept in place only by the two skinny hands on her shoulders.
“You’re a very short diplomat,” snickered Silvande as one of the skinny men muttered a height. Aer blushed.
“What can I do?”
Silvande raised his hands emphatically. “All the Fairies need is a representative – proof that the Fairies are civilized and grateful, and that this Fairy Covenant is worth their time and money. You can save your race.”
Aer’s eyes narrowed. “And? What’s in it for you? A few of my feathers? Money? Why would you want to help the Fairies?”
“Investments,” said Silvande bluntly. “Many blue-blood families have invested millions of IUC into the Fairy Covenant Program. Plus, I don’t favor war. Contrary to belief, not many of the royalty profit from a war.”
“Hard to believe,” muttered Aer, watching the two skinny men as they quietly bowed away. “But again – how am I supposed to be a diplomat? I’ve had no training – I’m only seventeen!” Aer immediately regretted telling him one of her personal details.
“Age doesn’t matter,” said Silvande smoothly. “All you need to do is say what I tell you to say. You can do that, can’t you?”
“Of course,” snapped Aer, and then paused. “And my Wings? What do you want with my Wings?”
“Nothing,” snapped Jacque quickly. He was glaring meaningfully at his master. “We aren’t touching your Wings.”
“Of course not,” said Silvande with a sly smile, and both she and Jacque shivered.
“My lord,” said the tailor suddenly, bowing with a huff. “I thank you for your audience. If I may go now and work on the young ladies’ clothes?”
“Go on,” said Silvande with a dismissive wave, and the tailor bowed himself out quickly with his two bobbing skinny helpers.
“So?” asked Silvande, turning back to Aer. He was staring at her like a hawk. “Do you agree?”
Aer paused, and then nodded quietly. Something firm was resolving inside her. “Yes – I agree.”
“Inhale, Mistress Sky! Yes, that’s it – deep breaths, now. And a one, two, three…!”
Aer tried not to hack as the maid braced her shoe against her rump and heaved at the thick, strangulating corset strings around Aer’s waist which the plump woman seemed determined to make the width of a pencil. Aer gasped, clutching onto the thick mahogany bedposts and desperately trying to intake precious oxygen, which seemed impossible since her whole insides were squeezed to the point of rupture. Any more of this and her bones would start snapping.
“Once more, Missus Sky.”
“God, no!” gasped Aer, voice coming out slightly pitched. “I think…I think this is quite enough. How small did he make those things?”
‘Those things’ were, of course, a line of pristinely made dresses folded out onto the bed – it had only been a few hours since that pear-shaped master tailor had taken her measurements, but already three elegant dresses had been delivered; one seemed composed mainly of ruffles and ribbons, dyed a shade of deep purple and maroon. The bodice laced up at the front, and the wide gap left by the plunging neckline was trimmed with the most delicate black lace Aer had ever seen. The second was a light sky blue, almost white or gray, and relatively simple, though the skirt was hitched up several times to reveal another layer of darker blue petticoats underneath. The neckline wasn’t as extreme as the purple one, but it still plunged in a V-shape to what were dangerous depths, trimmed with a meager width of white pattern. The third one, which Aer was meant to believe was the one she would be wearing, was serpent green, almost shimmering like a real sea snake. The neck was surprisingly modest, though the bodice molded in such a form-fitting way till her hips that Aer blushed just looking at it. One side of the extensive skirts was piled up to shape like a kind of rose – lopsided, but balanced out by a stream of petticoats of cream revealed underneath. Aer found herself confused just looking at it – how on earth had they made that in just three hours?
“Oh, Madame, don’t you know?” The plump maid – Martha – cheerfully tittered away as she readied herself for another tug at the corset strings, shifting her foothold on Aer’s backside. “In high society, the best tailors always make the waistline two sizes smaller than the actual measurements – lends a sense of delicacy to the woman, if I may say so. Ooh, but what a skinny little thing you are, missus! You feeling alright? Short of breath?”
“I’m suffocating,” Aer said dryly, finding that breathing shallowly was the only way to go about it. “And as hot as hell. How many undergarments am I supposed to wear, really?”
“Oh, Madame!” giggled Martha. “This return to the Elizabethan age is all the rage in fashion now! You must go through it by the books! Well, them in the outside world can have their Versache and Alexander-what’s-his-name, but down here we dress in proper class, we do.”
“Charming,” grunted Aer, then gasping as Martha pulled another string tighter.
“Hold it in, Miss!” exclaimed Martha, furiously tying off the cords. “Just a little more!”
When it was finally done, Aer tottered on the brink of collapsing. But she was quickly recovered by a many-plumed fan waved in her face, along with a lemon scent which gave her a rude, sharp awakening.
“And that’s what’s these for, missus,” said Martha with a wink, then made Aer stand up. She took the dress reverently, then stood on a chair as she slipped the whole mass of it over Aer’s head and raised arms, as if dressing a doll. When the whole thing was settled on her correctly, Aer almost tottered with the weight.
“Good god!” gasped Aer, grabbing onto Martha as she momentarily lost her balance. “Why must it be so heavy?”
“Fashion is a curse, milady,” said Martha solemnly, then started lacing up the back – this process, thankfully, went much quicker.
“There,” said Martha, stepping back with a content smile. “Pretty as a French doll. My, you’re a lovely lady, aren’t you?”
Moving slowly and carefully in dangerously-heeled boots – supposedly specifically issued by Silvande himself – Aer walked to stand in front of a gilded body-length mirror that was in the corner of her new elaborate chambers. She stared at herself for a moment, hardly recognizing that street rat that had climbed out of a shady, hay-littered bar a few hours ago.
The dress itself was remarkable; molding itself to Aer’s every meager or artificial curve. Her hair, after two baths in scented water, had been successfully rid of all the rat’s nests and had become sleek and soft, tied up relatively simply into a loose bun with strands of natural curls slipping from its grasp. She had become so used to seeing her face look dirt-covered and harrowed that she was almost surprised at the clean, rosy-fresh expression before her. She touched her cheek, smiling a little as she ruefully remembered the days when she had looked as young and careless as this. Days, unfortunately, long gone and ground into dust as a memory of another life.
“Like it, Miss?” asked Martha, popping out from behind Aer in the mirror.
“Very,” said Aer with a smile, then pressed her stomach with a groan. “But if there is cake then I’m afraid I’ll have to refuse.”
“Oh, there’ll be no cake, Miss,” said Martha reassuringly. “This is a formal invitation to an audience with Master Silvande – you must be formal and such, you see. Not many people are personally invited to meet and greet him; but I suppose you’re his special guest, now.”
Martha’s eyes shined with some barely hidden hope of a good bite of gossip. Aer just smiled weakly and newly discovered that sighing was one of those things which were impossible to do in a corset.
“Is he really that important? Silvande, I mean?”
“Oh, Miss,” said Martha with wide eyes, as if Aer had just said something sacrilegious. “You’ve never heard of the Master before? The Heverstone family, you see, has been continued for over a thousand years, right at the root when the first blue-blood families were established. Strong, strong ties, you see – deeply involved in making the very roots of this magic society as we know it. And not only do the Heverstones have influence, but they’ve also married into the elves; and you know what that means, Ma’am. Once in a while a child with overflowing magical power is born into the family. Master Silvande, Ma’am, is one of the strongest to date! And a truly troublesome lad he is, I’m afraid. No one can control him now. Not even that Hobgoblin butler Jacque De’mon. Truly remarkable fellow that man is – and so handsome…”
As Martha tittered away, blushing slightly at the mention of Jacque, Aer leaned against the bedpost and rested her eyes, cupped her freezing hands against her burning forehead. She wasn’t sick – it was just the general constitution of Fairies that was weaker than most normal people. In three hours – seven hours counting the time she and Silvande had first met in that pub – so much had changed that it made her head hurt. She had graduated from the suitcase room, evidently, and was now located in a room decked with such grandeur that Aer couldn’t stop fidgeting with awe. Silvande had disappeared mysteriously after issuing an edict that ‘she shall get two baths before anything and at least try to look presentable’. Aer was thoroughly stumped by that man. She couldn’t fathom a life in which his pure haughtiness and confidence could be so well-founded.
“Alright, Miss?” asked Martha, bustling around, hanging up the other two dresses pristinely. “Don’t worry – won’t last for more than an hour, I’m sure. And afterwards I’ll take off the corset and you can have a nice nap here to rest up your bones. How’s that sound, Miss?”
“Lovely,” sighed Aer, smiling minimally. It really did sound ‘lovely’ – though she had rested before inside her suitcase room, it hadn’t really been a proper rest, neither had that bewitched sleep been. That dream she had had during her sleep, though; it haunted her, summoning up old ghosts of the past she had kept firmly under lock and key. Names came floating – scenes and words so vivid that Aer couldn’t believe it was a dream. Again, this was a curse of the Fairy race – dreams were never just dreams.
“Here we go, Madame,” tittered Martha, helping Aer up and leading her toward the door. The heeled boots made her calves shriek out in violent protest. At the door, she was met by a silent, solemn butler who bowed, then walked before her down several plushly-lined halls. There weren’t many decorations – the carpet and walls were painted such vivid colors themselves that furniture seemed unnecessary – but once in a while a rare painting would come into view. After a while, Aer noticed that they seemed to be lined up according to date; from oldest to newest stretched back towards where Aer had come from. One such portrait caught her eye; dated a hundred years back. The placard read ‘Marie Eve Heverstone’, and the woman in the picture was about as beautiful as Aer had ever seen.
The woman stood solely in front of a background of crimson curtains, regally drawing up her chin and lightly gripping a fan with the edges of her fingertips. She was dressed as if to match the scene behind her, in a voluminous ball gown with a plunging neckline, shaded every color of red imaginable. The result was a startling rainbow with bloody hues – but the dress didn’t manage to overpower the owner by a long shot.
Marie Eve Heverstone had beautiful black-blond hair, cascading impressively in tamed curls down to almost the backs of her knees, though the upper half was held back by an elaborate pin decked with rubies of every kind. Her face was of porcelain perfection; her strong, almost handsome features reflecting the steely grace which aristocracy bred. She wore hardly any rogue that Aer could see, though even so she seemed an epitome of perfection. But all that overwhelming beauty wasn’t what caught Aer’s eye – it was the three red slit-like designs lining each of her cheekbones.
“Elf…” muttered Aer unconsciously, and the butler half-turned around with a nod.
“Yes, Mistress Sky. That is the Master Heverstone’s grandmother.”
He didn’t seem to find reason to say more.
“She’s so beautiful…” Aer whispered, but the butler didn’t turn around this time.
“Naturally, she was.”
Aer bit down on her lower lip as she followed the butler silently to wherever they were going. Elves, like Fairies, had generally more longevity than the average human being, though they were not immortal like the myths. Though the constitution of Faires and Elves were so remarkably different – Fairies being weak and prone to illness, Elves strong and hardy – they both had an average lifespan of 130 years, some even going to 150. Most human magicians lived easily to a hundred years; other-wordly ones even longer. That meant that Silvande could live to at least 150 years, at the most; uncommon amongst mixed breeds, but you always had to add up for his magical abilities.
“Here we are, Miss,” said the butler with a stiff clear of his throat, stopping in front of one of the doors which decorated the halls at even intervals. ‘Hawk’, said the golden placard on the door; Aer gulped at an inconceivable level.
The butler knocked on the door twice, sharply, then opened it majestically with a practiced swing of his arm. “The Mistress Wynn Sky, here on the behest of Master Silvande Heverstone.”
“Let her in,” said a familiarly haughty voice, and Aer strived for a graceful entrance as she tried to calm the butterflies that were being strangling in her stomach.
The room was plain not to the point of bare, yet decorated tastefully not to the point of extravagance. A massive fireplace lay sparklingly clean on one side, neighboring several mahogany bookshelves which housed massive, moth-eaten tomes. A line of sofas surrounded a low coffee table, on which three impressive men sat.
One, of course, was Silvande – lounging with his feet on the table in his shirtsleeves, balancing a saucer on his pinkie. The hobgoblin butler Jacque was sitting on the same sofa, stiff yet sleek at the same time, a cup of tea in his lap. The third person was a new face; a woman with a regal, feline face which stared bullets into Aer’s skull.
She was a tall woman with a severe, neatly symmetrical haircut till her shoulders, silky brown bangs falling across her forehead. Her eyes were narrowed and piercing, pupils like a cat’s; yellow with a black slit down the length. Her nose was sharp but elegant, cheekbones rising high into her hairline, and she had a pinched mouth which bordered no-nonsense. She was dressed not in dresses, or anything conventional, really; if Aer could compare it to anything, it may have been sea captain’s clothes. Over a tight silk shirt she wore a short navy blazer with sleeves that ended near her mid-forearm, wearing black leather gloves with finger holes which revealed gracefully long fingers. Over black pants with a long white stripe running up the sides, she wore thigh-high boots, worn with evident age, but meticulously wrought with care. The heels must have elevated her to a height comparable to Silvande; a feat which Aer found commendable. The woman sat with a teacup poised near her lips, staring at Aer keenly while taking a slow sip.
“You can go,” said Silvande, gesturing lightly towards the butler, then turned his attention to Aer.
“Mm…yes, green matches her.”
Aer just stood there, not sure whether she should bow or curtsy, two things she was sure she couldn’t do either way wearing that corset.
“You might as well sit instead of standing there like a fish on dry land,” snapped the woman, revealing two long incisors in a line of pure white teeth.
Aer smiled. “I don’t plan to stay here long; no thank you.”
“Rude,” said the woman consideringly. “But strong. You’ve picked a sharp one, haven’t you?”
“There was less picking and more spur-of-the-moment involved,” said Jacque with a tired sigh, placing his tea back on the table.
“You, Fairie – this is your new tutor, Lyza Becketh.” This came lazily from Silvande, who didn’t seem to find the need to address Aer by her real name (even if that real name was fake).
“Wynn Sky,” said Aer with a politely gritted smile.
“Pleasure,” said Lyza in a drawl which made it evident that she didn’t mean it by a long shot. “So this is it, hm? A Fairy.”
‘It’, Aer thought wryly; not ‘her’.
“Think you can whip her up in time for the Senator’s Ball?” asked Silvande, tilting his jaw upwards in a way that suggested that he was asking a rhetorical question.
“It’ll be a welcome challenge,” said Lyza with a sudden smile. She stood, placing her cup on the table, then walked around it to stand in front of Aer. Aer stiffened, finding the prospect of so many tall people in the room hurtful to her neck. Nevertheless, she managed to find a way to crane into Lyza’s face without taking one step back. She was proud of that, in a way.
“I like the fire in her eyes,” said Lyza after a while of staring into Aer’s eyes. Aer herself was ashamed to admit that she was almost relieved to break that suffocating eye contact. “I wouldn’t like to tame that; but I’m thinking that the Senator’s would think otherwise. A fine line, you’re walking, Silvande – a very fine line.”
“I don’t need another worthless puppet, if that’s what you’re saying,” said Silvande dryly, crossing his arms. “No one will listen to a pretty doll reading lines off a sheet of paper.”
“If I may interject,” said Jacque hastily, leaning forward. “I sense this conversation going down a very alarming path…”
The two other tall people in the room ignored the hobgoblin.
“Interesting…” hummed Lyza, fingering her chin. “A Fairy not afraid to speak her mind – controversial, but she’ll garner the support of the people, if not the Council. Your mother won’t like this, Silvande.”
“Oh, hush, you know that what my mother wants is the farthest thing from my mind. I believe she’s thinking that I’ll shape a perfect, proper young Fairy lady who is respectable and coy and all that rubbish. I couldn’t care less about the Council, the old fogs – if the people don’t support her nothing will get done. It is officially a democracy, after all.”
Aer decided that she’d have to get used to being ignored while she was in the room around these people. Her breaths were becoming shorter and shallower, and she inconspicuously had to lean against a nearby dresser to support herself. An hour at the most? How could she possibly survive an hour when only five minutes was enough to make her faint?
“She looks civilized enough,” Lyza was saying, staring down her nose at Aer (which everyone seemed to do, here). “Does she have an education?”
“I do,” said Aer darkly, trying to suppress the steady glare that was growing in her mind’s eye. In truth, Aer had only studied till pre-education because of ‘that’ incident, but five years of running around the world gave one experience that they didn’t teach you in the textbooks, if not the knowledge that was the norm elsewhere.
Lyza narrowed her eyes at Aer, then pressed her hands against her hips and towered over her – not that she needed to, with her height. “Now listen here, Fairy. I’m not the kind of person to judge a book by its cover, but neither am I an easily-persuaded dimwit who gives credit where credit isn’t due. Obviously you think very poorly of me, and for the moment, as do I of you. And if you think I’ll go easy on you just because you’re a poor, delicate little rarity, you might as well bundle those thoughts up and dump them on the street corner for the Monday garbage circuit! Believe me when I say this, I’ve educated a string of the most hard-headed, stubborn, stupid, and uncooperative children of all ages – including this young Master Heverstone sitting thus. I’m not suggesting we get along with a cup of tea and all fun and games, but just know that I’m not going to despise you just because of who you are. If I did that, then Jacque over there would be on the upper heights of my list of hated people.”
“Oh, dear,” mumbled Jacque, covering his eyes with a tired hand. Aer glanced towards the two men on the sofa – Silvande had settled down to ignoring them altogether – then looked back at Lyza. She carefully nodded, then took a step back. Not that she didn’t believe in what the tall woman was saying, but she still distrusted her – she distrusted everyone who wasn’t a Fairy, and even among her kin she could never truly let her guard down for fear of rejection. She wasn’t keen on trusting; it had gotten her nowhere in the past.
“Well,” muttered Lyza, running her fingers through her hair with a sigh. “At least she’s not an idiot.”
“Idiocy is a gift, sometimes,” said Silvande with a murky smile, but then his gaze alighted on Aer. He raised an eyebrow. “What’s wrong? You look horrible.”
“How rude,” said Aer, though she knew what he was talking about. Over the past few minutes she had felt her light-headedness growing worse and worse, spreading a tingling sensation to her fingers and making her forehead and tongue burn as if they were on fire. She knew this sensation – it was the Fairy equivalent of a common cold. True, she had been run down lately, so it wasn’t surprising; but she wasn’t keen to the idea of falling sick in the care of humans, especially these ones. Who knew what they would do to her. The thought of being helpless in front of a man like Silvande made her feel like breaking into a cold sweat (which she was doing anyway, because of her symptoms).
“You do look flushed,” said Jacque with surprising concern, gracefully leaping out of his seat. Well, it wouldn’t do them any good if their valuable Fairy was damaged, would it?
“It’s just the corset,” lied Aer, abruptly cutting off her words as the world spun around her. She managed to stay on her feet, but Lyza, who was standing directly in front of her, noticed. She reached over to press the back of her hand against Aer’s forehead, then snatched it away in genuine surprise.
“You’re burning! What on earth…?!”
“It’s nothing,” panted Aer, feeling bouts of dizziness come down upon her with flecks of darkness dancing about her vision. “Just…mmm…just a bit tired…weak…weak constitution…”
Aer gasped for breath, but found her lungs to be squeezed too tightly for deep inhalations. Her lungs burned for air – the insides of her eyelids felt like they were being pricked by needles. She heard in a distant dream, the voices around her, as well as cold hands being pressed against her fiery neck and forehead. But she was sound asleep before she knew it, sucked deeper and deeper in spirals of weary exhaustion. Sleep, a voice whispered in the back of her head. When you wake, this will all be a dream.
Aer sincerely hoped so.