DISCLAIMER – This story features images of violence, adult language, and some adult situations.
The following story is Copyright © 2015 Padraig O’C. Copying this story without permission from the author is strictly prohibited.
A few days after meeting with Jennifer and Nyla was still unsure of what she had seen. She had left the Dive-Bomb with her mind set in finally getting a leg up, but her results had not been as expected. She found the store, and even was able to cajole the clerk into giving her a description of the woman. From what she could tell it matched the description of Radovan’s daughter Bozena Knezevic. Nyla then turned on the charm she still posssed in her already bedraggled body, and was able to get the clerk there (a somewhat scruffy slightly nerdy teenager) to hand over the surveillance footage from the past week.
Apparently the girl matching Bozena had been showing up rubbing her neck in repetive motion like a junky. Her arms from what the clerk said were covered in spiraling vine tattoos that almost appeared to have been physically burned into her skin. There was a distinct reason the fae called them the briar-brands. With each level of magical knowledge taken in study there is potential to be driven to madness. To be driven farther, and farther into the twisted lands of the other realms as one’s mind was devoured by the demands of taking on a slice of fae physiology.
How the young woman had the actual markings herself was a slight mystery. Likely the demands put upon her father switched to the young woman after his incarceration. Once the briar’s stole the mind of someone the Fae came to claim the victim. However, if that was not possible, the Fae who enforced the contract often embued it upon a nearby relative, usually a child. Yup, I love how fucked up this shit is. She sat down in the back of the store and watched the disk. With a clear shot of Bozena’s face she was able to identify the woman via her lips and the arms as the Alchemist (same build as well).
“To quote Vader – I have you now,” she said with a smile. That was a few days ago.
Now she knew what the Alchemist looked like, and the woman’s damn face. After nearly being killed multiple times by one Bozena Knezevic, Nyla assumed she finally had the upper hand. So it was then upon the night of Yuletide that she found herself waiting for the grand feast to be held in Bellingham by Laughing Crow of the local Dawn Court. The move was quite expansive as the usual Yule Feast was being held not only for the local nobility, but ones from abroad. Emerald Eyes of the Court of the Stars would be arriving along with Bronze Falcon of the Dusk Court. Only the Court of the Storms would not be present over a tiff that had occured when a duel between one of their own and Lady Emerald Eyes went south.
She was going to have a -huge- headache after the end of the soiree. It was already throbbing as she sat in her apartment and slowly started to go over her outfit for that day. Instead of the usual attire she was going all out and just letting where she felt would be the best for the night. That being fluidly picking a wonderful green sweater turtleneck dress which would cling and fit to her body. For years she had been self conscious about her form, and it was not until Gerry that she started realizing how fluid her identity really was. As a kid she was mostly a tomboy, but Gerry and later individuals had brought out her internal feminine identification. So now and then the jackets and jeans were discarded for somethign that would fit her curves.
Years of training with Jack had turned softness into muscle, and her thighs were decently carved now from running daily. So when she finally put on that dress for Yule there was a small bit of pleasure in relishing in her appearance. Her hair was long and glossy from hours of prepping with new shampoos, and conditioners. Did she mention lip gloss? Yup all out for this night. Why not as she would be likely in a few hours tattered and dirty in a fight with a slightly (more correctly outright) insane magic-user bent on, for reasons yet known, binding Cold Iron in a contract with the mundane world.
Her own theories about why the Alchemist was working so hard impinged upon the notion that her father’s contract with a Fae for magic had transferred to her. And as Nyla walked down stairs with a pair of heels in her hand, and a purse over her shoulder she could only wonder of the pain that Bozena Knezevic was undergoing in her quest to end the advancement of the briar-brands. Outside Jack and Aoife were waiting for her in what turned out to be a brand Jaguar. Where Jack had gotten it she did not know (nor did she want to know), and she simply wanted to enjoy the night (well except for the part of a possible trap).
Her focus was split as she sat down and turned to see Aoife in her full true form wearing a traditional long sleeved dress made of what looked like green silk.
“Looking good little one,” the woman said giving a smile filled with sharpened teeth, and enhanced by her liquid black inky eyes. Jack was in a traditional victorian bit of garb combining along with long overcoat, a red cravat around his neck, and black waist coat with crimson embroidery around the buttons. In fact he even had a stove pipe hat sitting between he and Aoife. Fae had such strange tastes in fashion, and often sticking to whatever archaic attire they loved in past lives. Yule was formal for the Fae, so it would likely be a large scale mixture of advantgarde and couture fashion en masse.
They were in the car for a while. They were heading to a mountain lodge on private property along the the state route highway twenty owned by the local Fae proxies. The drive itself was already laced with snow as they spent an hour or more on the road moving through the mountain towns and communities that appeared along the upper reaches of the Skagit river itself. The actual location of the lodge was slightly off the beaten path. Magic was sewn into the borders and she could feel it while they drew closer and closer along the road.
A mountain resort was passed as they finally stopped in front what appeared to be an old abandoned gate overgrown with blackberry vines and underbrush. Aoife opened up her window and flicked her hand rapidly over to the right in a fluid gesture. Then click she snapped her fingers. The sound echoed around them as the road in front and beyond them was completely deserted. The sound came reverberating back toward them and the underbrush in front of the car shuddered. All at once the vines, and the brush in general started to move on its own volition. Then a perfectly cut forest driveway appeared with well worn tire ruts, and Jack took the queue to drive the car onward.
Behind them as they passed the gate once againg became overgrown as the warding spell placed to keep annoying mortals and other mundane things away. Their drive along the driveway seemed to go on for another hour while they moved deeper into the forest of the Cascade mountains. Alpine weather was clear that evening as they pulled out of the forest and came to a large clearing that opened up upona ridge just above the valley theyw ere driving through earlier. It was a very large built mountain lodge crafted in the style of germanic homes found in the Swiss Alps.
It was a three story building built from local cedar, and pine. The roof was low-hung and was widely stooping over the boxy shape of the building itself. Facing toward them as they moved toward the hall was made out of a series of wide open bay windows that showed the internal design of the building. They pulled up along a semi-paved turn-in and parked the car. Below and situated in the center of the webwork of windows stood two tall carven doors. Each was made from hard wood, likely ash, and carved with a fantastical scene straight from mythical legend. In this case the art was Salishan in design and depicted Raven stealing the sun from the Chief of the Sky People. A rough legend found among a few local tribes.
The doors were pushed open as two men clothed in black suits, and wearing dark glasses greeted them at the door. Nyla could not tell if either was Fae, but one did seem a bit too nice and neat for his own good. Jack walked up while moving with his cane and keep an arm for his escort who was in this case Aoife. The two were first in as a man dressed in what appeared to be fashions straight out of the rule of Valois France declared, “Lord Jack of the Silverarm Clan. Lady Aoife of the House of the Phantom Queen.”
Then the announcer clicked his great staff colored in a variety of precious metals, but mostly gold and silver upon the thick hardwood floor. Nyla was next, when the man saw her his black inky eyes widened as he took a breath and his skin appeared clammy. That – was weird. Why did she warrant such a reaction? Surely I am not the the half-bred scum here right?
“Lady Nyla Three-Ravens, the Thricebound of the Wanderer, the Threefold, and the Sunbringer.” All wonderful little titles which made only part sense to her. Nyla could pick out a possible reference to some kind of powerful Fae which got such strange names. She was sure that Threefold was one of the goddesses from the Celtic Tribes, all of which usually had three forms throughout their lives. Nyla then ignored the rest of the announcements as she brushed past a woman in a full flapper girl outfit and looked for Jack and Aoife. Her two chaperones were apparently gone.
That left her alone in a grand hall filled with Fae from usually warring Courts, and feuding Tribes, and Clans. A fact she did not want to suddenly see herself in the crossfire of. Her eyes roamed around the room as she noted the high vaulted ceiling that curved outward from the windows. The walls were made from wood like the rest of the house and were decorated in tinsle, lengths of braided pine branches and ornaments. There were candles all over carefullly arranged just a few feet above the heads of those present and all were floating. She had seen a few times in the past when attending smaller parties, but this entire affair was just a simple display of power and the decadence of the Fae.
Across the grand hall were three standards each placed in a section of the hall and surrounded by a circle of talking Fae. Most were all in their human or humanoid forms with a few sporting wings, fur, and other strange inhuman appearances. The first of the standards was gold and yellow and display a rising sun over a silver horizon. Along the edge of the script in ogham read, “Tírionn tholar solaos.” – Light shall come. The Dawn Court always used such provocation and altruistic statements. Opposite it stood a different banner. This one held a setting sun of red with a silver crescent moon inlaid within above a horizon of black bluing night. This banner read, “Uiche Sirhaodé.” – Night eternal.
The Fae did love their standards, each carefully crafted to display the blatant opposite of the opposing court. So blunt were the markings in many Fae standards and iconography that it was almost on the level of naval flagging was conducted. Subtle signs, and information was passed between standard bearers in an almost semaphore like manner.
Her eyes then flicked back toward the final standard, one bearing a circle of stars over a night blue field. There was no motto written on that banner as its meaning was clear in how its courtiers stood, ‘Keep to the Stars’. Oldest of the Courts, and the most regal (or so they claimed) in the Fae world. Nyla stared at all the preening, the primping, and silent glares. Fae were completely caught up in their symbolism, and the history behind each emblem.
Her eyes watched as beneath the standards were carefully hewn stone chairs. The court of the Dawn’s was carved from a single block of white marble and inlaid with gold filgee. She walked toward it and watched as Laughing Crow sat down wearing a great cloak woven of cedar, and a mantle made of raven feathers. His eyes zeroed in on her as she could feel them burning into her soul. Laughing Crow was strange even for Fae, and he had a hidden motive somewhere in those inky depths. Admist the throng of the Court of the Stars sat a tall bald woman with dark ebony skin. Her pupils were like solid emeralds among the depth of her abyssal black sclera. That is most definitely Lady Emerald Eyes.
Then finally upon the throne of Dusk hewn from black obsidian and granite was a man in ancient Tsarish splendor. A fine coat straight out of the time of Peter the Great in the colors of a high ranking Russian Soldier, Lord Bronze Falcon. His hair was dark and his face was hawkish with a sharp knows and pointed chin emphasized by a thin black triangular goatee.
The Fae Lords were arrayed in a three point circle facing each other as their various syncophants pulled away from the thrones. Soon the moot or the gathering of the nobility would begin. When only those of divine blood could speak. Nyla wondered to herself as she was drifting about the room without any direction. Where did she stand in the politics of the Fae. A true consideration to make. Her body was drawn toward the far side of the hall as the doors to the mountain lodge burst open to admit someone unpexpected.
THUMP, THUMP. The Seargent-at-Arms manning the door cried out for guards to seize the intruders who were walking into the hall without pronouncement. At the head stood a woman clothed in a long sea-green dress that feel along her legs. Her skin was pale as newly fallen stone, and her hair was the color of molten silver. She moved with an inhuman grace, and yet her body seemed aged, and strained while being disguised in youth. Behind her came two twins both grey-skinned with white hair. Their liege was perhaps six and a half-feet tall whereas they were only just reaching the edge of six-feet. They were kitted in full armor straight from the middle ages with full suits of mail, and plated greaves and gauntlets lacquered in the same sea green as their liege’s dress.
“ANNOUNCE ME,” the arisocratic introduer boomed to the Seargent-at-Arms. The man took his great fasces stick and struck it upon the ground and yelled, “Lady Snow, Keeper of the Keys, Duchess of Winter, and Lady of the Court of Storms.”
Lady Emerald Eyes rose to her feet as the other two Fae Lords sat and watched. Nyla wondered if the african fae woman would rebuke the pale skinned Duchess’ party crashing, but instead the ebony woman embraced Lady Snow.
“Snow, why are you here, I did not think you meant to arrive when the younger courts were at an impasse,” the Seattle bound Fae woman asked.
“I came as someone is meddling in my affairs, so thus I come to clear my name,” the woman said. The two talked for a bit longer, and it was then that Nyla noticed that Lady Snow was dropping glances at her. Shit. Fae saw Changelings in a mixture of lights, and in a complicated rainbow of agenda.
After the niceties were finished the council was called. All members of the retinue of the Fae were carefully cleared from the hall and only those of importance were left. Nyla soon found the guards moving towards her, however Jack appeared with Aoife to dissuade them for reasons he left unexplained. All he said was, “They want you here.”
Great. The big bad four want me present to be the new shiney pet for the fae.
One of the many interpretations of Changeling life was that you were owned by the Fae, well the Fae that eventually claimed you if you did not already have a liege or feal-lord to swear loyalty too. Mortals were much worse, often merely as playthings, or as food to some. Soon before she could even think of what they were going to do the meeting began in earnest. Words purely in Elder Tongue flashed between the four ruling Lords. All held the title of Duicas or Duke, they sparred for what seemed like an hour before Lady Emerald Eyes and Lady Snow rose from their thrones. Behind Lady Snow sat the the golden lightning bolt set over a sea green field of waves marking the emblems of the Storm Court.
“I called Lady Snow here tonight to discuss the recent events dealing with the advancement of the Treaty of Old Oak in the region of the Salish Sea. For centuries we have lived here in a modicum of peace, and yet recently an unknown adept has broken our truce,” the Lady of the Court of Stars levelled her complaint. A dire one. To suggest an adept, a human sorcerer had broken the Treaty was to imply, no nay, accuse a Fae of intentionally breaking one of mosst sacred vows of their people.
“The Dusk Court seized territory from the Court of Stars last year,” came a blunt complaint from the crowd gathered outside the general circle.
“We did no such thing!” growled Lord Bronze Falcon.
“Typical of Dusk Fae, lying through their teeth,’ chuckled Lord Layghing Crow.
“The Thorns are breaking their vows,” returned Lord Bronze Falcon as he glared at Laughing Crow, his eyes appear as bright cinders.
“Mundanes always meddle when they should not,” agreed Lady Snow as the woman once again took a quick glance at Nyla. What am I the new cow up for sale? She was interested in the goings on of the Duicasí, the Dukes, of the various Courts. Each was perhaps cenutries if not far older. Lady Snow was said to have lived in the time of the God-Kings when mortals were still playing at chipping flint tools.
“Enough bickering,” Lord Laughing Crow interceded. He joined the standing lords and rose from his seat and then elegantly pointed to Nyla while saying, “A member of my House, Nyla Three-Ravens has located evidence of a madman’s daughter who has been using Dhélmais í Fúol.”
He’s calling it Blood Charms? The word choice in Elder Tongue usually inferred a greater meaning that English would never convey. Quickly Lord Bronze Falcon interceded with his own assesment of the situation beginning with a lengthy denial that it was possible a member of his court assisted the madman and the madwoman. The Wila then went on to further state that the adept in question was likely just an alchemist of little rote attempting to harness the power of the Fae.
“I agree with Lord Bronze Falcon this individual is of no general consequence,” Lady Emerald Eyes simply replied. The discussion went on for a tad longer. All the while Lady Snow sat beneath her banner in a bronze casted throne underneath the words, Taranaeth shann, ‘We Thunder.’ She was intent upon watching Nyla still, this time far more overtly than before. This is getting a lot creepier the longer I am here.
Nyla sighed, and sighed while slowly making here way toward the retainers circling the outer ring of the moot. She pushed past someone as she headed towards the doors. The argument in the background was getting more heated as Laughing Crow was offering a counter to Bronze Falcons inferences.
The night’s chill met her as she pushed the doors, and ducked outside for a breather.
Next Part: Chapter 22
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