Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wicked & Wonderful: Chapter 9 - Of Dukes and Princes

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Imps did not like electricity. Who knew? And in an ingenious combination of magicks, Milo had gone from tossing lightening balls into the horde to electrifying the metallic nets from Zeke’s hands. So much like the gnomes, there were hundreds of sticky balls of imps all over the store. Unlike Mrs. Gonzales’ house, they were not being bagged for relocation.

No, Vince was covered gigantic head to hairy clawed toes in dead imp and whatever groceries items they had managed to hurl at him before he crushed their little bodies into so much jelly. They apparently did not taste too good, though, he had informed the guys as he picked the bones of one that had inadvertently flown into his maw during one window-shaking, howling war cry. Somewhere between sardines and stagnant demon ichor. Nasty.

Not that Zeke and Milo were any cleaner. They had the imps on the run, yes, but the damnable fairies were quick little suckers, and while the imps depended on their taloned hands and feet, their nasty little mouths, if they were in close quarters, fairies were armed, well, to the teeth. Thankfully, it had not taken too long for them to realize that there were not as many of the winged warriors as they had originally thought. The joy of glamour and a little mind screw.

But the dozen real fairies were bad enough without their shadowy faux counterparts. The first one Milo had managed to fell looked for all the world like a Hollywood pirate, all breeches, eye patch, black eye liner and tri-cornered hat. If fairies could have grown facial hair, which he knew for a fact they could not after one drunken conversation in an Other World cantina when he had first come into his powers, this guy probably would have looked like that Depp guy in that one pirate movie.

“Milo!”

The mage ducked, and then there was a zip of escaping, chittering imp followed by the leaping form of a half-were above him. The telltale hum of fae approached just after, and Milo threw up a wall of air. Thunk, thunk, thunk. Three more fae hit linoleum. “Zeke!”

The other man skid across the debris and dead imps, magickal bag in hand. “Quick, before they come to!”

Milo scooped up the three limp bodies and tossed them into the bag where the first one had gone. A portal bag was useful in times like these, when they had to capture their quarry and not just outright kill it. Because despite the fact that these dark sidhe had attacked first, killing them would break a very tenuous truce currently in place between the fairy courts and, well, the rest of the world. And when you are dealing with an entire culture with a size complex…yeah, you did everything in your power to keep them happy.

These guys, if they were lucky, they would be considered stupid adolescent fairies and maybe tortured a little for their transgressions. If they were less than lucky, if the court decided they were dissidents, traitors, warmongers against the truce, well, death would be nice. Kind of a drawback for a race that healed quickly and had a high pain threshold. As his mother had always said, there were always things worse than death.

“How many more?” Zeke asked. He sounded determined but exhausted, and there were more than a dozen minute sword wounds across his chest and shoulders.

Milo thought about it for a second. “We decided there were only about twelve, right? And we’ve got four? Yeah, dude, the math…”

Zeke sighed and shook his head. “Vince! How’re we doing with the imps? Vince?” They both turned around to find the werewolf pawing through the bodies and, er, mush. “Vince?”

He looked up from his work. “Counting.”

Milo raised a brow. “Let’s call it an even four-five hundred, okay?”

Vince cocked his head to the side. “Okay. I win.”

The mages laughed. “Yeah, dude, you win,” Zeke said, “but we still have a problem.” He pointed upward to the flurry of fairies hovering in the center of the vaulted ceiling. “They’ve sealed us in.” Milo gave him a questioning look. “While you were helping Nate, I tried to get the doors, the windows, to open, the whole sunlight and imps thing, but they would not budge. Those frickin’ fairies have seals on everything.”

“Vince!”

But it was too late.

All eight feet of super monster bolted across the store and slammed into the glass doors. There was no follow-up sound of shattering glass, no creak of bending metal. And Vince was on his hands and knees, panting. “What the hell?”

Zeke shook his head. “Magick. Fairies. What do we do?” Vince smiled, but the mage raised his hand. “And remember why we can’t just kill them, okay?”

Milo looked up at the ceiling, where the contingent was seemingly organizing. “What if they want to negotiate?” Both Zeke and Vince gave him the ‘what the fuck?’ face. He pointed up, and as their eyes followed his finger, the confusion gave way to cautious understanding. “Either they’re gearing up for one last attempt, or they’re getting ready to talk.” There was always the third option, that it was a trap designed to make it look like negotiations just to get close enough to attack, but Milo did not see a point in mentioning the obvious.

A small cough issued from above them. Where imps were tiny, palm sized, fairies averaged a foot to two feet tall. The one drifting toward them with gentle flaps of his iridescent wings. The other three remained behind him at a respectable pace.

Four? Milo looked at his teammates and saw they had done the same math.

The fairy waved his hand at them. “I sent the others away with one who had accidently caught himself amidst angry, idiot imps. I am Duke Alistar, Lesser Court of the Moon. I’ve come to strike a deal.”

“You’re not really in a position to negotiate,” Zeke said.

“Oh, but I am.” His arrogance would have been grating had it not been expected behavior from the sidhe. “But so are you.”

Milo crossed his arms. “We’re listening.”

“In your bag of holding is our liege, Crown Prince Gaelin of the Dark Court. His capture is a bit of an embarrassment,” he glanced back at his compatriots, and Milo suddenly knew why they were not standing with him. “And we would really like to have him back. And the other members of our party, if you are so inclined.”

“And in return, we get, what?” Vince growled.

The fae duke had the audacity to look offended that the werewolf had spoken, but he quickly smoothed his features, crossed his dainty arms below his chest and continued. “We’ll take care of this mess.”

Milo smiled, that curve of lips he saved for moments that he could never describe as happy. “We have a team who does that. Now why would you want to take good money away from humans?” He shook his head. “You’re going to have to do better.”

Alistar grimaced. “What would you propose?”

“A fairer trade, perhaps?”

The fairy’s mouth scrunched in an angry line in protest, but he must have thought better of it. “I’m listening.”

“We’ll give you back your courtiers for information about this attack. Because I don’t know how it might look in twisted dark sidhe court logic, but this stinks of an ambush. Anyone else agree with me?” He raised a hand. Two more shot up behind him. He lowered his hand. “And an ambush would be grounds to negate the truce. I don’t guess that would bode well once your queen discovered that it was fae handiwork, not human.”

Alistar sighed. “And for the prince?”

Milo looked at his friends, who nodded their backing. “For your prince, a boon.”

His little pale face reddened in an instant. “We do not grant such things. The information I will give as keeping it hidden does us no good, and you
are correct in your assumption that our hierarchy would be less than pleased should they discover what has occurred here. But a boon to a human, to a human mage and his supernatural compatriots, is beneath us. We will not be held at the beck and call of those such as yourselves.”

The mage shrugged. “Then all bets are off.” He held one hand up for the duke to see, and it came alive with electricity again. Vince howled loud enough to shake the rafters, and Milo could feel the pulse of Zeke’s readied magick. “And we are left to finish what you began. And considering that we dispersed your imp horde and already bagged half your party, I’m thinking the odds are in our favor.”

The other fairies drew swords, but Alistar gave them a stern look. “Put those away, you idiots. There is no victory to be had here, and no heroic homecoming if we do not return with Gaelin.” They sheathed their weapons. He turned toward the team, looking suddenly weary. “A boon then.”

“To be called upon whenever we deem necessary,” Milo added.

Alistar nodded. “Agreed. And as a measure of our good faith, let me take care of this mess for you.” He did not wait for an answer, but waved a hand in the air. A small portal opened above them, and out poured a legion of brownies, the maid service of the Other World. Without another word, they set about righting the store.

“I have agreed to your terms. Give us the prince, then.” He settled atop a watermelon that had somehow remained unscathed in their battle.
Zeke picked the bag up from the floor where he had dropped it, and he opened the mouth of it, and the four bodies levitated from inside, still unconscious. The fairies flew over and gingerly grabbed each body and popped through to the Other World, leaving only the duke in their presence.

Alistar grimaced, but nodded his thanks. “Now, what do you want to know?”

“The doors?” Milo asked. The duke waved the other hand, and the glass double doors slid open. Behind the mage, the protective bubble around their psychic popped with the lack of excessive negative magick. Vince and Zeke glanced at Milo. “I’ve got this. Take care of Nate.” They walked over, Vince slid the apple cart away, and they picked up the sleeping albino and carried him outside to the van.

Milo pulled an empty wooden crate up to the duke’s position and sat down. “Why would fairies, much less dark sidhe, care about the mischievous doings of imps?”

“You give us far too much credit, mage,” Alistar chuckled. “We don’t care, to put it simply, but you ask the wrong question. Better to ask what we of the dark court would gain by employing imps to our cause.”

“The imps were a distraction,” Milo thought aloud. “Cannon fodder to see what you were up against. And when you saw that we could hold our own, that we weren’t just mundane humans playing at ghostbusting…”

“We sought to disable you.” The duke shrugged. “We were not sent for murder, just an evaluation. You seem to have caught the attention of bigger, darker forces than us, people who could distract our queen while we did their bidding.”

Milo ran a hand over his bald head. “Seems a stupid option for a prince to be involved in, why let him? And once you saw what we were, why not send him away?”

“Have you met a fairy prince before, mage?” Alistar groused. “Promises of a throne held by someone strong enough to survive the ages is a
frustrating fate. He cannot kill his mother, because even among the dark sidhe, there is a code of honor, fragile as it may be. But he cannot, in his adolescence, fathom simply waiting to outlive her. So when the opportunity for adventure arose, let’s just say his passions turned from the ladies beneath him to the sword in his hand.”

“But,” Milo interjected, “he could not go back and brag of his conquest. It was a clear violation of the truce. His mother would surely be less than thrilled about it.”

Alistar eyed him curiously.

“What?”

“I am elder fae, content with my position and the things I gain by holding it. I love my wife, my brood of children, and I clean up the messes of those above me with little complaint. I thought I knew of the world we were bordering, and the folk who lived on the other side, human and super alike. But you, mage, surprise me with your insight. If I may, this is the most riveting conversation I’ve had in over a century.”

Milo rolled his eyes. “Nice, I amuse you.”

The duke held up his hands. “No, no, I speak true. In the court, it’s all sleight of mouth, manipulation and backstabbing, sometimes literally. But you, you want to know the truth not to better your own position with me, but because, dare I say it, you care about those around you. And in feeling such things, such loyalty, you see things in my words that help you to that cause. It’s admirable.”

“The short of it is this: A message was put out in the appropriate channels on the dark side of the Other World with some urgency for you. Yes, mage, you in particular. There aren’t many bald elemental mages in this state, you know. Somehow you have caused concern in the shadows, and while a death warrant has not been issued, there are those on the other side who would think themselves better at fulfilling the mission with your head on a platter.”

“I haven’t done anything,” Milo whispered.

“No?” Alistar raised a brow. “Perhaps there is a slight you did not think you gave. We are a disgruntled bunch, the dark side of Other World, and easily offended when we think our respect has been waylaid, especially by humans.”

Milo stood up. “Then there will be others.”

The duke nodded. “Most likely.”

“And there will be no dissuading them?”

“Unless you can right the supposed wrong, or the message has been retracted, no.”

A sudden chill rose up Milo’s spine. “Well, fuck.” He looked at the fairy. “You don’t know who sent out the message?”

Alistar shook his head. “No, I have no name, as is commonplace in such occurrences, but I will tell you this: it carried with it the stench of death. Dark, bloodly death.”

Continue: 10

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