Saturday, April 18, 2020

The Fairy Code-2 by Kaitly Weiss

The Fairy Code: Chosen of the Shadows
by Kaitlyn Weiss

Release - June 10, 2020

Part One
A Time of Doubts

Chapter One

“I think I’m dying,” I groaned as I watch the greenish glow beneath my skin slowly fade. It’s like my veins were radioactive or something. I had to say, it really was eye-catching. To any onlookers I probably looked like I was wrapped in LED strips. Come to think of it, considering my locale it’s not likely anyone would look twice at me.
“That’s the 10th time you’ve said that. Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re not going to die,” said Aerona, wearily. She and Jioladh sat on one of the dozens of stones that were picturesquely scattered about the valley. And it was his fault we’d been caught out in the open. “It’s a shortcut,” he’d said. Some shortcut. Right away we’d been attacked...yep.
I looked at the creature laid out at my feet. No, I really hadn’t wanted to kill it. I still felt all messed up inside, like there was something dark and slippery in me. I’d held back until the very end, hoping the creature would reconsider and skedaddle. But, no.
But by then I was really scared, and that’s when it happened. Yet another outburst of magic. Again, the dark smoky ribbons. They’d entangled the creature and it was like they instantaneously desiccated it. All that was left was a dark little heap. Not a good look even for a creature that specialized in creepy. In life it looked like a huge canine skeleton with scraps of skin stretched over it lit from within by a fire. And as it bounded toward us, it left a trail of fiery footprints, like a comet. A fiery tail of burning light.

“It’s been ages since I’ve seen one of those,” said Jioladh. Yet again, he’d suffered the most damage. The beast had slashed him in the side with a single swipe of its fiery paw. Now, blood was oozing out of the wound. That being said, already the wound was starting to mend. It’s like the old faery adage goes, “Heal thyself like a faery.”
“What do you mean ‘one of those?’” I asked, lowering myself onto the warm earth, onto soft black sands mixed with orange and gray. My attire – pants and vest, was none the better for this little tussle. Once upon a time they’d been dark green shot with silver, but over the past week they’d acquired a dull, dark, grayish hue. That was just as well, of course. It was a natural camouflage.
Actually, the valley looked peaceful, with shiny dark brown stones scattered over the tiger-striped sands, and the distant mountains completing the picture. A forest shimmered ahead of us, perhaps a mirage? In the Wasteland, the landscape was deceptive and alive. I knew this already from personal experience.
“Hounds from the previous Wild Hunts,” explained the redheaded charmer. He tried to prop himself up, and bit his lip. The faeries’ abilities to heal were not exaggerated, but that didn't mean they didn't feel pain. And the creature had really slashed him.
At this point, Aerona got up and drew near where I was standing over the dead beast. Squatting, and without a hint of disgust, she touched the remains of the creature.
“You’re right,” she said, raising her eyebrows. “I’d forgotten how they look. This means they still roam the Wasteland. But they’re completely wild.”
“Wait a minute,” I said hoarsely. “Are you telling me this is one of the Wild Hunt’s hounds? What’s Doran using, then?”
“Before we migrated to Alveheim, when we still lived on Earth, the Wild Hunt belonged to the Court of the Unseelies. And the leader of the Hunt was the King of the Unseelies.”
“I’m sure he wasn't happy about losing his standing.”
“Ha! Not very!” snorted Aerona. “But he had no one to blame but himself. He screwed up the transition between the two worlds, and all of the hounds were stuck between them. Not for long, just for a couple of hours. But that was long enough to shift the transition vector such that the hounds were all thrown into the Wasteland. Worse still, they all went stark raving mad here, and no longer recognized the Unseelies. In the end they ran off helter skelter.  Now and then, one of them shows up.”
“But why ...” I shook my head, finally calming down a bit. “How did Doran become the Leader of the Hunt? If it belonged to the Unseelies, I mean.”
Jioladh grimaced, and touched his wound, growing even paler. Ironically, healers can heal others, but not themselves. Could he at least alleviate the pain a little, and stop the bleeding? It looked like that’s what he was doing. Theoretically I could help him, like I did before. But I didn’t. And it wasn’t because he and Haedyn had tried to spirit me out of Ruadh. The thing was that I couldn’t control my powers yet. Really, not at all.
“So what's up with Hunt?” I asked, to distract myself from all the blood.
“Not much, really,” Aerona responded, still squatting and running her fingers over the hound. The warm desert wind played with her dark hair, lifting it gently. “Doran entered into an alliance with Chaos and summoned the stallion of the Wild Hunt to his side. And since it heeded his call, my brother was deemed worthy of serving as the Leader of the Hunt. But the Unseelies were enraged. Truly.”
Hearing about Doran sent a stab of pain through my heart. A week ago, I was beside myself with anger, but now all I felt was a dull, ever-present feeling of melancholy. Just then Aerona turned toward me and asked, “Aurora, can't you at least tell us why they’re trying to kill you?”
I threw a look at her and said, “But don't you know already?” Aerona simply shrugged, and as if speaking to a fool, she said, “In our court, anyone designated by the Tree for ‘coupledom’ isn't usually a target for killing. At most, they’d be struck unconscious.”
Well, That would probably be just fine with you, I thought.
I coughed and decided to leave it at that. All the more so as silver flashes of light were appearing in the light gray sky, which was starting to darken. It was time to take shelter somewhere. The faeries had it that you’d better not be around to see what transpired at night in the Wasteland. For hundreds of years, wild, uncontained magic had given birth to bizarre phenomena that were best avoided.
I took one last look at the hound, and mentally asked it for forgiveness. Yes, I knew it was out to slay us, and perhaps eat us. But just the same...
Twenty minutes after we again set out from where the hound had stopped us in our tracks Jioladh had recovered to such an extent that he could easily keep up with us. I drew his attention to a curious fact:  Now that twilight was upon us, many of the stones were glowing, as if they slightly radioactive. They were like enormous mutant fireflies, only sleeping.
“Just ignore it,” said the healer. 
By the time we reached the forest, which, fortunately, wasn't a mirage, the darkness was complete. I was cheered to see that at least the trees looked much like the trees on Earth, although a misty, glistening pollen hung in the air. This lent a surrealistic aura to our surroundings. Involuntarily, I thought about Ruadh at night, and I stumbled. But then I got a grip on myself. I bit my lip and made a point of focusing.
We had to find shelter for the night. All the more so as the forest was giving me the creeps — every sound was ominous, sending tingles up my skin and making my hair stand on end. Like that slight whirring sound there on the right. That might be the fluttering of giant dragonfly wings. And right there, on the left, something zipped past us. I shuddered a bit, and quickened my pace. At least this forest was clear of fallen trees and foliage. In fact, it was so pristine and lovely, it reminded me of a fairy tale.
Hey, ‘princess,’ you are in a fairy tale, I thought. But instead of a handsome prince, you’ve got a Tyrant King, and instead of serenades, you’ve got mournful howling. Just don’t linger here forever.
We came upon shelter all of a sudden. The trees seemed to part, and we saw several huge boulders carpeted in soft, fluffy moss dotted with sparkling white flowers. The effect was a beautiful, rather deep cave. And it was empty. To be on the safe side, Aerona created a roving light to explore the area. Back in the day, roving lights were used to lure pretty maidens into the waiting arms of errant faeries.
“Looks clear,” said Aerona, snapping her fingers to extinguish the light. And I breathed a sigh of relief:  I was aching with fatigue by then. And yes, sleep was calling. But first I needed to eat.
“Aerona, how are we doing on supplies?”
I plopped down on the ground while she set about creating new roving lights, which she then sent upwards, to the ceiling. Soon the cave was suffused with a trembling, bluish glow. It was clean, and the floor was also carpeted with the flower-embedded moss, which was soft, and a little springy. I was looking forward to sleeping on it.
“So what about food, Aerona?”
“I’ll take a look.”
We each had a backpack made of thick, waterproof leather. Yesterday we’d used up the supplies I’d been carrying.
“We have enough to last another two weeks,” said Aerona, pulling out some small yellow bricks that looked like butter. At least from the outside. Faery C-rations. Whoever would have thought? And they didn't taste bad, especially if consumed with water. Fortunately, finding water wasn't a problem in the Wasteland.
“I suggest we rest up, and then talk about where to go from here in the morning,” said Jioladh. He shed his clothes and stretched, his muscles rippling along his entire graceful frame. Like most faeries, he was flawlessly constructed. Except for one peculiarity. Which some might regard as a plus, actually. His ‘plus’ was particularly impressive in terms of its size, and the tip was more like a knob. I’d blanched a bit even, the first time I saw it. And it still had that effect on me. I looked, I blushed, and I quickly turned my head away.
“Good thing we bathed in the afternoon,” said Aerona, pulling her dusty clothes off. “Otherwise we’d be stumbling around in the dark.” That being said, I heard the murmur of running water nearby.
I finished my ‘brick’ and drank the rest of the water in my leather bota bag. Clearly it was charmed. Although it held three liters, it weighed little. I was wiped out by then. I could barely keep my eyes open.
As I fell into a deep sleep, I could hear Jioladh saying “I’ll set up security.” It was like submerging into a deep, dark pool. And I slept so very soundly, right up until I felt something as if pushing me from inside.
My sleep was troubled these days — ever since our flight from Ruadh. I’d fall asleep right away, but then I’d pop awake again and again, listening to the sounds of the night around me. Like right now. My eyes snapped open, and my heart was pounding. A lonely glimmer under the ceiling — our  night light,  and the magical shield at the entrance to the cave gleamed a little. And nearby I heard the sounds of, well, you got it....Again, I blushed. And my ears started burning, even. I should be used to by now. Every night they got it on — my two travel companions.
I put up with it for another five minutes, and then couldn’t take it anymore. I turned my head a little and peeked, although I knew better. I mean, really, why? But I felt like someone was inciting me to look.
Two bodies moved in the half-darkness, itself filled with sighs and light sobbing. Aerona’s hands were braced on Jioladh’s broad shoulders as she thrust her hips into him. The red-haired healer leaned into her, breathing hoarsely. Doran’s sister had beautiful breasts:  they were full, but not too big, and the nipples were pert from excitement. Obviously Jioladh was pleased with them, because he was practically crushing her.
Enough, though. It was too much for me. I closed my eyes and turned over. I was just thinking about plugging my ears when I heard Aerona’s purring voice.
“Rory, are we bothering you? Why not shed your inhibitions and join us?”
In a flash my eyes grew round as saucers. What? Just like that? I automatically turned to face the lovers. Aerona was now mounted on the healer, who’d propped himself up onto his elbows and was looking attentively at me. His green eyes glittered a little in the gloom, like a cat's. Right, an impressive tiger-striped tomcat with quite the package below his belt.
“Say wh-what?” Yikes! I was starting to stutter. Bad, bad faeries who don't understand free sex.
“The smell of desire is wafting off of you,” said Jioladh hoarsely. “Get over here. Join us.”
And in fact, listening to the gankoner, I suddenly felt like I was pulsating with desire. I bit the skin of my wrist to somehow break through the fog in my mind. It was out of the question! Just plain wrong! I couldn't give in to this lust just because they wanted me to.
“So double the pleasure, r-r-right?” I swallowed, my throat dry. “Sounds g-good. B-but I think I’d rather s-sleep.”
“But you want it!” said Aerona, truly surprised. I watched as she encircled Jioladh’s nipples with her slender fingertips, and I nodded. “Yes, I want it. But I don't want to betray Doran.”
And as soon as I uttered his name the painfully sweet flames inside me subsided and died.
“Betray?” Now the healer was amazed. “Rory, you’re thinking like a human with that kind of ridiculous ‘morality’. Do you really think the King is following suit?”
“What matters is what I think,” I responded calmly. “Enjoy yourselves.”
Do you really think the King is following suit?” I tried to push his words out of my head. I drove thoughts of what Doran was feeling out, but Jioladh had inadvertently opened the floodgates to a rush of poisonous musings. And my rich imagination only fleshed them out. By now I was only half-aware of the sounds of the duo’s play nearby. I sank ever the more into a morbid jealousy. Doran is the King, and his court was chock full of beauties. Really, faeries were all beautiful. All of them. And those flaws so many of them had — no one noticed them.
My traitorous imagination conjured up images that made my blood run cold: Doran bedding three beauties at once. In the same bed we once shared. Why not? After all, their moral code was different from mine. Alien to me.
And yet, I still wanted to believe that Doran was somehow different, smarter, better than your run-of-the-mill faery. And didn’t think with his well-endowed dick.


“My King, you know full well that it’s almost impossible to find fugitives in the Wasteland. There’s serious interference from wild magic and...”
“Kahir,” Doran's quiet voice made the Shadows cringe and freeze in the corners of the spacious study in lilac-silver shades, “I am well aware of the situation in the Wasteland.”
He looked at his new adviser, his eyes black. Although Kahir visibly blanched, he didn't look away. Good for him. The King’s adviser must never, ever display cowardice. But his approval flashed and disappeared under a flurry of contradictory feelings — feelings that had been raging through him for a full week now. And which must be hidden from everyone.
“My Rory, the one to whom I am bound, has fled,” he gritted his teeth, realizing that he was close to the breaking point, “along with my sister and that red-headed Seelie bastard. So shut up and order the mages to prepare a portal to the Wasteland. Just. Shut. Up. Kahir.”
The adviser gave a curt nod and kept further thoughts about searching the Wasteland to himself. He simply asked, “A portal for Wild Hunt in full force?”
“That’s right.”
Clearly Kahir had something else on his mind. But he contemplated Doran, who stood as if frozen by the transparent wall that opened onto the city of Ruadh, and his gaze took in the Shadows, as well, and he simply nodded again.
“Yes, my King, as you wish.”
And until the adviser exited the chambers, Doran remained impassive. It was only after the door closed that he noisily exhaled and muttered a curse. For the first time the stone walls of this study oppressed him such that he felt stifled. This strange feeling pursued him no matter where he went in the palace, although he felt a little better when he was in his bedroom.
“I’m proud of your fortitude.”
It was Chaos speaking, who’d emerged in the middle of the study. This time he appeared in the form of a huge owl with round, slightly bulging eyes. A flurry of sparks crackled around him. They died out before hitting the floor.
Doran said nothing for fear of snapping. In the gray light of the day, Ruadh was colored in grayish lilac hues with splashes of black, like the hide of a wild beast. A wealth of Shadows coursed through the city. In the event of anything out of the way, they’d immediately report to the King.
“Doran, you will not find her in the Wasteland.”
“I can feel her.”
Chaos hooted just like an owl, expressing his doubt, then continued.
“Well, let's say you find them and even catch them. Then what?”
“I need to make sure she's fine.”
“If I were you,” said Chaos evenly, “I’d get my hormones under control. And I’d try to apply reason to the matter at hand. She ran away from you, finding in you a deficit of empathy and a surplus of pigheadedness. Maybe you should rethink your approach?”
“I’ll be the one to decide what I need to rethink.”
“Well, well,” muttered Chaos. “Okay then. Tear yourself away from your emotional turmoil, and tell me this: What have you found out about sayphors? What kind of being are they?”
“There is no mention of them in any of the chronicles of the Magic Folk. Which is yet another reason to go to the Wasteland. That’s where Simidh lives — he’s an old magician, very powerful. I know that he studied the most obscure races from among the Magic Folk, conducted experiments on them, for which he was unloved by the both the Seelies and the Unseelies. It’s possible that he’ll have something to say to me. Or else I’ll force it out of him.”
“Show up in all of the splendor of the Wild Hunt?”
“That way he’ll take me seriously right from the start. But it drives me crazy that a faery from the Seelies was involved in Rory’s abduction.”
“Do you think there’s a connection here to their Queen?”
“Ornia is a cunning bitch, and shrewd, but it’s a stretch to call her smart. Nevertheless, I’m keeping an eye on her.”
“Sleep with her,” said Chaos. “For you, it’d be easy. She’s been lusting after you for some time now. And don't women want to open up after sexual intimacies have been exchanged?”
It used to be so easy. Doran looked at his hands, and was no longer surprised to see his fists clenched so tightly the knuckles were white. But any pain this caused was a faint echo of his inner turmoil —  it was like his guts and bones were twisted and drenched in acid that burned and corroded everything inside him, including his thoughts. The King had even turned to a healer for help, but in vain. The careful examination that ensued revealed that physically, he was fine. As for his emotional status, well, Doran already knew he was out of whack. And he blamed it on Rory —  he was fine before she came into his life.
“If Aurora were here,” muttered Chaos, as if answering his thoughts, “then she could do a blood test to see what was up with you. What would it reveal? I think I know. It’s what people call ‘love’”
“It's a weakness,” Doran said tightly.
“I won’t argue with you, because I don’t know what it is to love.”
“It's hellish, judging by the sensations. Again and again I’m as if burning up.”
Rory in the wild Wasteland, alone with that redheaded freak, and without any control over her magic, nor completely bound to him yet. This made Doran’s eyes go black at least once a day. He was dying to get into Jioladh’s head and see how tightly she was clinging to him by the neck. And then he’d rip his arms off and move on to that ‘sword’ between his legs. The mere thought of Rory under the sway of the gankoner was maddening, and a crimson haze of barely suppressed rage clouded his vision.
“I was right in concluding,” he said with difficulty, “that love is a weakness. It compels you to act rashly. It’s like fog in your head. I have never felt this way. Faeries are not jealous, nor do they feel antipathy toward others.”
“Or else they’ve never loved,” responded Chaos. “Rory’s human essence awakened that which was dormant here in Alveheim. You left Earth, where you were revered. And the memory of you gradually faded from human consciousness, and even the legends no longer speak of you. It would seem that nature itself no longer has any need for you. But with Rory at your side, you’ve come back to life.” Saying this, Chaos paused, and said “It's hard for me to talk at your level. I’ll be gone now.”
“And the others, too, shall come to life,” Doran said resolutely. “I have taken an oath to protect my Court.”
The ‘owl’ extended itself more and more until it was a thin band, and was, in fact, gone. Doran remained at the transparent wall, still looking down upon Ruadh.
A Shadow appeared before him, mentally reporting that Nuala had arrived.
“Let her in,” the King answered aloud. Yes, he himself had ordered the palace stylist to appear at the appointed time.
After entering, Nuala bowed respectfully, slowly straightened up and clicked her tongue. The stylist looked magnificent as always:  swift, light, in a translucent flying outfit. Silver and lilac locks sparkled in her long dark hair, her eyes seemed even larger thanks to her talented application of eyeliner.
“My King, you look disgusting. Let me put you together again. Is this why you summoned me?”
A calm devotion burned in Nuala's gaze. But then again, so had Haedyn been his devotee. Only to then betray him. And he still was anguished at the thought that he’d been deprived of the opportunity to interrogate his former adviser, who’d also been his personal healer.
“I'm flying off with the Wild Hunt, so I do not need any grooming.”
“Then why do you need me?” Nuala was surprised. “Or is it that you need my attentions in another sense? Is it sex you seek? You have your own favorites.”
Doran looked at her such that the stylist instantly looked down and muttered some kind of apology for her stupidity.
“What kind of rumors are about in the palace?” asked Doran.
“My King, the Shadows know ...”
“But it is you I am asking. You and your assistants know all the gossip in this Court. What are my subjects saying?”
“If you mean what are they saying about Rory, then there’s nothing new,” Nuala shrugged. “To many, she’s still considered a slave. And when a slave goes on the run, it’s not such a big deal, unlike, say, if she was the Queen.”
“I suppose not,” muttered Doran, who hadn’t let out much about Aurora’s origin. “What is it she needs?”
“You’re both females, Nuala. What do you think it is she needs? Why in the name of Chaos did she run off?”
The stylist extended a hand as if to scratch her nose, but then she stopped herself. She smoothed her hair instead, and calmly said,
“My King, she grew up amongst humans, and she most likely regards herself as one of them. And you know how notorious the human race is for its mystifying behavior. But it looks to me like she simply wanted to be free. She was burdened with a heavy load, and it probably was too much for her.”
“Too much indeed!” exclaimed Doran, startling Nuala. “So she hightails it out of here! Excellent solution! Worthy of the King’s betrothed!”
He gestured toward the exit.
“Leave me.”
And in a flash, Nuala was gone and all that was left of her was a trace of her signature perfume. It was a pleasant scent, effervescent, and somewhat reminiscent of summer. Of a summer on Earth. In Ruadh, there were no seasons as such. The weather was always rather murky and cool. In contrast, the Unseelies were always in the throes of a frigid winter, while the Seelies enjoyed a mawkishly sweet summer, complete with butterflies, dragonflies and prancing unicorns.
But the lingering aroma quickly dissipated, to be replaced by that scent that made everything within him ache and then sweetly contract. That scent that always first drove him crazy and then would make him erupt in anger. He’d end up clenching his fists, and spitting out bursts of magic, just like in his long ago youth.
It was Rory. Her scent. All her own, with tinges of lavender. This was the scent she favored here in Ruadh. And now it ripped him apart, leaving an open wound in his heart. A deep wound that throbbed when he thought of her.
A wound that would not heal until he had Rory by his side again. Yes, love was a weakness, if only because those in love had an Achilles’ heel. And as he wasn’t there to protect Aurora, she was in danger. If anyone of influence found out that the runaway was to be his betrothed, then he or she might try to use Rory to wield power over the Court of Shadows. And it would be worse still if they knew how he felt. About how he’d learned to feel.
With a wave of his hand, Doran made the transparent wall vanish, and a warm wind saturated with the spicy smells of Ruadh hit his face.
And at the walls of the palace he could already hear the song of the Wild Hunt. They were calling for their leader, and celebrating the imminent hunt. And the sounds made his blood begin to boil as the magic within him began to respond in time to the song.
This was more ardent than any orgasm. More splendid than the greatest victory. Sweeter than any power.
The Wild Hunt...
Doran spread his arms out and simply fell over the edge, feeling at his back the flapping of his smoky wings.
It was the call of the Hunt. And it was stronger than ever before, because on this day, Rory was the prize. Adrenaline and magic flowed through his veins like molten lava. And drove him toward the chase.
Run, Rory, run. It will be all the sweeter when I catch up with you and bring you back.

Chapter Two

“I don't understand you.”
I was just bending over a stream to wash when the words startled me. I jerked back and almost fell. My hand landed in the icy water, and I turned around with an involuntary cry. There stood Aerona, fresh and well-rested, calmly regarding me. You’d never guess she’d spent the entire night in the throes of sexual ecstasy. Maybe that’s precisely why she looked so refreshed this morning. I turned back to my ablutions, asking as I sputtered, “What do you mean?”
Funny, but this stream wasn’t here yesterday. But that’s the Wasteland for you. That big boulder you’re looking at might become a lake in the space of an hour. I now knew how Alice felt after landing in Wonderland. It was all very surrealistic.
Aerona crouched next to me on the shiny, dew-encrusted grass. Drawing her knees to her chest, she asked, “Why do you deprive yourself?”
“Say what?”
“You need sex, Aurora. When you’ve been coupled with someone by the Tree, this generates a release of hormones. It’s the bio-energy binding the two of you. That’s why I invited you to join us yesterday. I know how hard it can be when your guy is so far away.”
I shook the water off my hands. Aerona operated under the moral code of the faeries. For them, casual sex was just fine .Maybe human nymphomaniacs all had some faery bits in their DNA? Or in their psyche?
“What are these bio-energy bindings worth if you can still fuck whoever and however you want?”
“That’s just sex!”
It was like she expected to confound me with her exclamation, which was buttressed by her expression. I guess last night I’d failed to live up to her expectations, and so now all these questions. I guess since I was now one of them, I was supposed to act more like a faery.
“What’s the point of being a couple, then?!” I asked.
“Being a couple means you’ll have a child. That’s how it used to be on Earth, anyway, until the Tree went dormant. But then it came back to life once it paired you with Doran, and now, the connection between you and Doran will grow stronger with every day that passes.”
“Oh, joy,” I muttered, recalling that not too long ago I’d said the same sarcastic thing, back when Doran had threatened to turn me into one of the Wild Hunt’s bitches.
And that has been the start of all of the good times to follow: The kidnapping, then the tree pairing me off with Doran, then the ‘threats’ of love until the end of time or whatever, and then this invitation to jump in and have sex with Aerona and Jioladh. Before all this craziness in ‘Faery Wonderland’ my life had been simple:  Go to work, then go home, then go to work, then go home. Predictable. Boring...
“So that means that sooner or later, Doran will find me? It’s just a matter of time?”
“Well, it’s interesting, actually.” I heard a sleepy voice. It was Jioladh, stretching as he emerged from the cave, and only then fastening his trousers. I took a swift look at his torso, reminiscent of Michelangelo’s David, and said, “Go on.”
“It’s true the connection between you means you’ll start sensing each other. But the magical interference in the Wasteland is very strong. Everything is distorted, including our location. So if he’s looking for you, he won’t get far if we play our cards right. I suggest we have a quick bite, and in the meanwhile, I’ll figure out our route.
He then took out the flute he’d carved at the start of our journey. It didn't matter what it was carved from, what mattered was the craftsman himself. Jioladh’s magic was such that he could fascinate women and control animals. I tensed up. The last thing I needed was to succumb to the dulcet tones of his melodies, but this time I couldn’t even hear what he was playing. And a couple of minutes later, a creature fell at our feet. It looked part canine, and part hawk.
“A hawk-dog?” I asked, stepping back a little. I wanted to get away from the sharp, bent beak and the intense stare of the eagle-eyes. The face was dog-like in shape, save for that strong beak. The fantastic elements of the Wasteland were rich, indeed!
Both faeries threw a strange look at me, but elected not to respond to my aside. The hawk-dog stared at Jioladh, and then with a squawk that sounded like someone running a fork across a pane of glass, it sailed upwards. Meanwhile, Jioladh continued playing a soundless tune. His bright green eyes rolled back in his head so that only the whites of his eyes were revealed. It was kind of creepy.
I was transfixed by the sight, but Aerona got right down to business. She extracted a sword from its sheath, examined it and rubbed it. All faeries had excellent cold arms, and were well-equipped to wield them. They even had a saying:  ‘In the right hands, magic is omnipotent.’ That being said, the magical resources were not distributed evenly amongst them, and so weaponry could serve as an excellent backup.
I did not possess a sword, but Joiladh promised he’d teach me the basics. Until then, all I had was a dagger in a sheath at my side. Which could come in handy in a pinch.
Meanwhile, morning was breaking. Silver streaks lined the light gray sky, the tender grass was soft and wet, and the crowns of the trees rustled. I saw faces appearing now and then on some of the tree trunks, and I pointed them out to Aerona.
“Hello, this is a popular spot, Sweetie,” she responded languidly. “Just don’t get too close to them. That’s all. For the most part they’re harmless. If they weren’t, they’d immediately attack us.”
I squinted at the nearest tree again. I saw the face of a woman with enormous eyes emerging from the dense bark. Then it slowly disappeared and reappeared a little further up the tree. I definitely didn’t want to get near it.
A strange sensation rose up in my chest, as if hundreds of champagne bubbles were starting to pop. And just then Jioladh shouted, “Hide! Now! NOW! It’s the Wild Hunt!”
And then I heard a distant howl. My hair stood on end, my blood curdled and all of the champagne bubbles inside me burst, giving way to icy waves of fear. There was something so primordial in that sound that I wanted to curl up in a ball and whimper. I pressed my hands to my ears, when someone jerked me to the side.
“Follow me!” barked Jioladh.
Aerona was already racing ahead. She’d had the wherewithal to grab both her backpack and mine. Her black tresses sailed behind her like a slick wave of oil.
I couldn't speak. I simply ran, everything inside me contracting from the sounds of the howling. Again it rang out, but now it was much closer. The gankoner looked around and cursed in a language that was alien to me.
We ran headfirst into a thicket and kept on going, faster and faster. A shadow flashed somewhere above us, like a dark cloud passing overhead. From the corner of my eye I saw a couple of flowers simply wilting, and then the trees as we rushed by, yet again. There were faces in some of them that traced our flight with their eyes.
“Turn right!” Aerona yelled.
Jioladh instantly swerved in response, yanking me behind him. A rough tree trunk flashed before my eyes, a piece of sky, then some shiny dark green boulders. We hid behind them.
Everything around was quiet. So quiet that even our breath was loud, like the rumble of thunder. In fact, it felt like all of nature was anticipating a thunderstorm.
But it wasn’t a thunderstorm we awaited. It was the Wild Hunt. And the sound of it was enough to tear me to pieces inside.
“Are we safe here?” I asked, barely audibly. The words came out in a plaintive squeak.
“The stones are luminous,” whispered Aerona. She pressed her back against a boulder and looked at a spot of sky that was visible in a gap in the bright green foliage.
I was about to start worrying about radiation when Jioladh explained.
“Many things radiate wild magic here in the Wasteland. They greatly distort reality. Theoretically, the Wild Hunt could lose us.”
“We haven’t had the chance to see if it works yet,” he explained.
We all fell silent, listening.
Another howl, and I clamped my hands over my mouth. Just the same, I couldn’t quite stop myself from whimpering. And inside, I felt an invisible string suddenly extending. It was stretching out towards where the Hunt was prancing about.
Doran ... our connection. He feels me. If we made it out of this one, I was definitely going to work on my magic skills and learn how to mask myself.
“Donkey dicks!” cursed Aerona. “Run!”
And she rushed to the left. I bolted after her, setting a personal record for speed. And at our backs I heard the triumphant howling of the flanks of the Hunt and the hollow sound of the hunting horn. I ran even faster, although it seemed an impossible feat.
I felt their breath down my neck. I could feel the saliva from their bared mouths, evaporating all living matter it fed upon.
Closer and closer ...
The horror I felt was primal and real and my legs were turning to wood.
Jioladh pushed me so that I rolled down along a knoll. Right into some solitary, thick bushes situated among the trees.
“Stay still!”
I froze, trying to regulate my breathing. The sky grew considerably darker. Next to me Aerona hissed,
“They tracked us.”
“They used magic to track us, and they hunted us down! Yesterday you zapped that hound, and the Seelie faery also did some conjuring. But the Hunt knows who its after. For it, our smell is the most compelling, the most vibrant and sweet.”
I gazed upward above the trees and saw as if in a dream something flickering like a dark ball of paws, claws and wriggling bodies. The invisible string in me was yanking me, almost painfully. It was calling me there. All I had to do was stand up and take a couple of steps.
I turned to the side and froze. A pair of eyes stared at us from behind a tree. The eyes were enormous in its tiny face, which was covered in a light golden wool.
We stared at each other for a couple of seconds, and then the mysterious creature extended its five-fingered paw toward us and beckoned to us. I silently poked my companions and pointed out the nameless guest.
“A winky,” whispered Aerona, as if she couldn't believe her eyes. “What luck!”
“They’re benevolent?” I asked in a whisper.
“That’s right. Let's go.”
I reached the tree in just one jump, and so did the others. And then I saw a spacious passage leading downward. It was so skillfully concealed that you’d never notice it from the outside even if you were right there. The winky was already looking up at us from below and beckoning us to follow him. Aerona and Jioladh clambered down after him without a moment’s hesitation. I followed suit. We ended up in a roomy, dry subterranean space. It was probably sort of an entrance hall: a round room with earthen walls, floor and ceiling that were tamped to stony hardness and decorated with a wealth of tiny colorful crystals. The patterns of the crystals were like an exotic web.
And then the winky led us even further downward. The corridors were so low we had to hunch over a little, and then we passed through a series of intersections until we exited into an enormous space. It was a real underground village, with streets lined with tiny houses and greenery, even. Not to mentions the crystals. They grew everywhere. Long and extended, and also collected in clumps. Lightly swaying, they produced a gentle chiming sound.
I felt like Gulliver in the land of the Lilliputians. The curious little winkies barely reached my waistline, so everything around us was miniature sized.
The lights were generated by round fireflies covering the walls and ceiling. The atmosphere was warm and soothing. It was heavenly after what we’d just been through.
“Who are these beings?” I asked Jioladh in a whisper. Meanwhile, Aerona sat on her haunches and clasped one of the winky’s paws. By now we were surrounded by them. They just stood there watching us, making not a sound.
“Winkies. Once upon a time they lived with the Seelies. They made sure that human children went to bed on time and they also kept nightmares at bay. And they were imaginary friends to the children.”
“But children still play with imaginary friends.”
Jioladh shook his head. An incomprehensible melancholy crossed his face.
“Now they're really imaginary, Rory. Once we left Earth, there was no need for the winkies anymore. And so the Seelies banished them to the Wasteland.”
“That’s awful!” I exclaimed.
“Those who serve no purpose have no place at the court,” responded Jioladh. “I did not approve of the Queen’s decision, but it’s clear that the winkies are doing just fine out here.”
“Underground?! By the way, what about the Hunt?”
All this time I’d been unconsciously listening for the howls of the hounds.
Aerona responded, saying “The Hunt has been flying over the Wasteland all this time. We’re safe here. The interference down here is powerful.”
Doran's sister got up and brushed off her pants. I could see the same wistful sadness in her eyes as I’d seen earlier on Jioladh’s face.
“The winkies suggest that we stay with them until tomorrow.”
I felt a touch on my knee. I looked down. One of the winkies clearly wanted to talk.
“Hi,” I said, carefully sitting on the floor. I felt how warm he was, as if he had a little generator inside him.
The winky took my face in his paws and stared at me with a steady gaze. His huge eyes were sparkling. Fascinated, I stared into their depths, and felt a strange calm envelop me. And I also realized how abnormal my childhood had been. An orphan, I never did know the love of grandparents or parents, but right now I felt just like a kid waking up in a warm bed and knowing that her loving family was just outside the door.
The winky smiled a little, making his face look even funnier. And then he took a locket from his neck. It was carved from a light brown stone, and was on a leather string. He handed it to me.
“Wow!” quietly marveled Jioladh as I examined the gift. “That’s a dreamcatcher. Put it on and nightmares will pass you by.”
The medallion was a little warm to the touch. It hung just above my vest, and I felt a little calmer.
“So what now?” I asked, as the winky left to join the rest of the inhabitants of the underground village.
“Now we rest,” said Aerona. “And it’s time for you to get some training, Sweetie. It’s our good fortune that we have the opportunity now to hide our magical tracks.”
I stood up and looked at the winkies. Some continued to watch us, but most were already busy going about their own affairs. Right they were. They’d saved us. Enough said.
“Why didn’t the Court of Shadows take them in?”
Aerona shrugged, “They never asked us to. And it’s not like Doran to wander the Wasteland offering refuge to all and sundry. Those who want refuge show up at the Court. He doesn’t seek anyone out.”
We went a little farther and sat down near a couple of houses that looked a bit like they were made of Play Doh. Jioladh kept looking around, fiddling his fingers and then he began to tug at his ginger-colored braid of hair.
“What’s with you?” I asked, “Are you afraid you’ll be called to the carpet as a representative of the Seelies?”
“Something’s bothering me,” he responded, “Something’s off. I was born shortly before we left Earth. And I remember the winkies when they lived at the Seelie Court. They always played around with the children. Not only human, but also ours. I don’t know why the Queen drove them away. Maybe I’m just remembering what the Seelie Court was like back when we were on Earth.”
“So it’s not so very ‘Seelie’ anymore here in this world?”
“They admired us there. People wrote legends about us, we were both respected and feared. And we blossomed from the attention. Now that we’re here, all we’re doing is...existing. But enough of this chatter. We need to train you.”
Here we go again. But yeah, I did really want to learn how to control my new abilities. It’s just that try as I might, I could never get it right.
Jioladh was the one training me. Aerona would just observe, and make occasional comments. Usually she got on my nerves.
“Aurora,” the gankoner repeated for the hundredth time as he stood facing me, “don't focus so hard. Magic is a part of you. When you breathe you’re not thinking about it every time you inhale and exhale. It happens by itself. The same principle applies here. Just feel it inside of you.”
Easier said than done! I tried to picture it. I closed my eyes and sat in a lotus position. I even tried to breathe while imagining I was exhaling magic. All I got for my efforts was yet another of Aerona’s snarky asides. Jioladh was so frustrated smoke was practically streaming out of his ears, but he kept a grip on himself.
“Aurora,” I said through gritted teeth, dreaming of rest. My head was buzzing, and inside everything was trembling.
I listened to myself, reached out toward an empty space and ...
And nothing. Unless something dark flashed down there and immediately vanished.
“Dammit!” I was confounded. “What the hell?!”
Jioladh took a deep breath, and calmed down.
“Aurora, your main problem is that you lived for many years under the guise of someone else. And you perceive magic as something alien and incomprehensible. But it’s simply a part of you, that’s all it is.”
“We’ve grown up with it, from the time we were babes,” added Aerona. “But for you, it’s more difficult. You don’t have a clue, really.”
“Gee thanks. I feel loads better now.”
Aerona shrugged.
“Well, if the soft approach doesn't work for you, maybe what you need is to get really pissed off.” And in fact I was kind of angry. Such potential—what a waste.
Actually, I wasn't angry so much as offended, because insofar as I was wasting my potential, it was in terms of my personal relationships. I always went for mama’s boys, or self-proclaimed ‘geniuses,’ or...faery kings. Of course, the latter really wins the prize. He’d wormed his way into my head and my heart.
A hot wave rose up inside me from these thoughts, and suddenly I was surrounded by Shadows. Huge Shadows with bright green eyes. The elongated faces of faeries, along with the eyes of one of the winkies flashed before me, and then it was over, as fast as it began.
I just stood there, afraid to budge. Sure, the Shadows were gone, but panic now reigned in the village. The winkies rushed about, waving their arms and soundlessly screaming. This silent chaos was seriously creepy. Aerona darted around calming them down, while Jioladh looked at me with round eyes. In addition to fear, there were hints of admiration in his gaze. Just what I needed now was the approval of the gankoner!
“How did you do that?”
“It happened by itself. I don’t know how, really.” I raised my voice to reassure the inhabitants of the town: “I’m sorry! I’m not good at wielding my magical abilities, but the Shadows will not harm you!”
Suddenly everyone stood stock still and stared at me. Hundreds of pairs of huge eyes. I swallowed and continued on.
“I'm sorry I scared you. After all, you saved us...My magic really isn’t something I can control. And if you drive us out, I won’t blame you.”
Aerona shook her head and rolled her eyes. Okay, I get it. The higher faeries would no doubt never talk to other species like that. But I felt really badly about this. The last thing I wanted was to frighten such cute little critters.
A winky stepped forward — apparently the elder. It was the same one that had given me the locket. Obeying a sudden impulse, I sank down on one knee in front of him, which provoked Aerona to issue a sigh.
“I didn't mean to hurt you.”
The winky nodded and smiled broadly, after which he threw his arms open.
“Does that mean we can stay here until tomorrow?”
He nodded and turned to the other inhabitants of the village. They calmed down at once and again went about their business.
“So this is our future Queen,” hissed Aerona softly, walking up to me. “Kneeling down before whomever.”
I calmly held her gaze, and just as calmly responded,
“First, I never said I wanted to be Queen. Second, we all have the right to admit it when we are to blame.”
Although we didn’t have a quarrel as such, Aerona nevertheless pouted for awhile. I paid her no attention. But I dared not practice my magic skills anymore lest they again burst out of me like that. I spent the rest of the day wandering around the village. And then I started questioning Jioladh. My main concern was to find out if we were on the right path. I mean, since the Wasteland was in a constant state of flux, couldn't we easily lose our way?
“Every morning I verify our route. Everything is just fine and we should reach Mirna in three days.
“It’s too bad we can’t just open a portal. But they might be distorted by the Wasteland, and you could end up a hundred miles off-target.”
In the end, the day was too uneventful. There was no need to flee, to hide, to seek out shelter. We dined on our own stash of bricks since the winkies ate what looked like grass. It wasn’t anything that looked edible to me.
Finally, it was almost completely dark, and only a few twinkling lights burned here and there. We settled ourselves on the outer edges of the town. The winkies made up beds of dry grass and flowers. The smells were simply inexpressible. It was like plunging into hot summer. I lay down, inhaling the rich aroma of summer, and....was asleep in a flash.
Only to awaken with the feeling  that something was wrong.


There I was. In that room. Right away I recognized it. Doran’s bedchamber, where I first came to see that I meant something to the King of Shadows. And where I later realized that it was up to me to make him see that my place was not only at his feet, as his mate and mother of the future conqueror.
Really, sounds just like some historical melodrama.
But what’s this? The King wasn’t alone. Ah, I see. My secret fear is being manifested in this dream. A winsome faery was with Doran. She was slender and graceful, with long dark hair and huge eyes. Her only attire was a thin strip of fabric that served as a skirt. And her hands were almost upon the King's pants. She knelt and rubbed her cheek on Doran's hip.
“Here we go,” I muttered loudly. “Just what I expected.”
One thing in Doran’s favor was that he seemed rather indifferent. He turned aside and it seemed that his pupils were dilated. Amazing how like the real Doran this dream version was.
Yes, I could tell that I was dreaming. But that didn't make it any easier for me.
The charming faery was swept away all of a sudden, as if a hurricane had suddenly passed through the room. Doran didn't seem to even notice. He took a step towards me and asked quietly:
The King ignored my correction.
“Where are you?” he asked, drawing nearer. Even in a dream he was pushy.
“Somewhere else. I love it here,” I said, watching him move towards me. “Meanwhile, I’m glad to see you’re not bored.”
Why not say it? This was only a dream. Why not unload how I felt? All the more as it wasn't getting any easier. I needed to get it all out.
“I must say, you’re great at this coupling business, King. Kudos to you!”
“Rory, where are you?”
He walked right up to me and extended his hand. I needed to back up, but...but I just couldn’t. My breath caught in my throat as he reached out to brush my cheek.
But his hand passed right through me.
I blinked, but just the same shied away. Doran tried to catch me by the shoulder, but yet again he clutched only empty air.
“This is quite the dream,” I said. “Even in my sleep you can’t get to me. You might as well poke your favorite little underlings.”
“Dream?” asked Doran.
The slight surprise on his hard face suddenly gave way to comprehension. And mischievous joy suddenly sparkled in his dark eyes. I felt that this was a bit out of place.
“Rory, you think this is a dream?”
“Yes. I mean, I’m sleeping, after all. It makes sense.”
Doran laughed softly. And the look he gave me was the kind that lit a fire within even as I slept. I felt the liquid spreading through me like a dark, sweet wave of molten lava.
“But I'm not sleeping, Rory.”
“What do you mean?” I whispered, a sudden doubt dawning on me. “How can that be?”
Right, how can such a thing be in a world ruled by Chaos who sometimes takes the form of a kitten, and where imaginary friends show up to save faeries? You’re simply not used to it yet, Aurora. But it's high time you were.
“Are you for real?!”
“They gave you a locket,” Doran said.
He now was right next to me. I could smell him, and everything inside me responded to his scent. Devouring me with a look, it was like he was caressing me with his thoughts.
“If I’m not mistaken, I believe it’s a dream-catcher. What you don't know is that a dream-catcher allows your spirit to travel while your body is at rest. And the winkies are the only ones who have them. Fun little people, aren’t they? So you are either with them, or somewhere nearby.”
Although my heart sank at how quickly Doran had put two and two together once he’d seen the locket, I nevertheless rushed right into battle with him.
“So you know about the winkies?”
“Of course,” Doran nodded, smiling. “Who doesn’t? They’re simple, gentle folk. Thanks, my dear. Now I know where to look for you.”
“What for?”
“What do you mean ‘what for?!”
“Why look for me?” I inquired coldly. “You’re doing fine without me. You can bed whoever you want. No problemo.”
Doran hesitated for a moment, and then shook his head. He held out his hand, but remembered that he couldn’t touch me, and he clenched his fingers into a fist.
“Rory, you are mine. We are a couple. All this is just a fuck.”
“I’ve heard that song before. More precisely, from an ex-lover. ‘You’re the one I love, Rory. It was just sex. It means nothing.’ Sure, I felt better. But of course.”
“I don't have any desire to hear anymore about your past lovers.”
Judging by his tone, I could tell I’d gotten under his skin. But I didn't derive any pleasure from it.
“Rory, all day long I flew over the Wasteland. I felt your presence, but couldn't find you. When I got back, I was in a foul mood. But I was excited, riled up by you. You’re my obsession. Just imagine how I felt. I knew I was near you, and yet you managed to slip away. I had to clear my head and let loose a little.”
“But of course, and so do I. I’m so glad I have Jioladh right here. I’m sure he’d be happy to help out with such a small indulgence. I mean, you’re mine and we’re a couple, and so it’d be, well, like drinking a glass of water.”
Apparently I’d struck home when I mentioned the gankoner. Doran’s eyes turned midnight black, and something dark and smoky started to gather at his back.
“Don’t even think about it!” he hissed. “I’ll tear the bastard apart, understand? If he even touches you!”
“The thought of someone else touching me is unbearable to you?”
“That’s right. It’s strange.”
Doran pressed his hand to his bare chest, taught and drawn, and said angrily,
“I’m ripped apart inside from the mere thought of you with someone else. It makes me want to lash out at everything around me.”
“That’s called jealousy. Now imagine how I feel when I see you with other faeries.”
“Once I find you I won't need anyone else.”
“You’ll never find me until you learn not only how to have me at your side, but to respect and listen to me.”
The atmosphere in the bedroom was sizzling by then, and I suddenly realized that everything was blurry. From Doran’s blurry face I could tell that I was starting to fade away. He rushed toward me, but he was too late.
I disappeared from Ruadh only to find myself again in the underground village of the winkies. But I felt like I’d gone from the pot into the proverbial frying pan.
All around me everyone was sleeping. I tried to scream, but couldn’t. My throat was constricted. I was shaking all over and watched as my hands plunged right through the floor as if it was a big puddle of sludge. A network of luminous green lines snaked across the surface as if from my submerged wrists. And I felt the heat rising in my chest, hotter and hotter. It was unbearable, and before I knew it I passed out.
Fortunately, I quickly came to again. Everybody was still sleeping. I quickly examined my hands and the floor around me. Nope, nothing amiss. Had it all been a dream after all?
But everything within me was screaming at me — Hello! That really was Doran you spoke with! That meant we had to skedaddle out of there. I spied Jioladh not far away. He was spread out in all his glory. At least he had his trousers on.
I’d used him to get at Doran. Not the smartest move. But now I looked at the gankoner with new eyes. True, he was handsome, without a doubt. Mother nature was clearly having a good day when she’d fashioned him. Broad shoulders and a narrow waist with a muscled chest and taut abdomen. Yet he wasn’t at all lumbering. On the contrary, he exuded harmony and grace. He had long, limber legs, slender, tapered fingers, strong wrists, and a courageous, expressive face. And his fiery red locks made you want to run your fingers through them.
But, as they say, he didn’t do it for me anymore.
I drew near him and hesitantly touched the bulge between his legs. And immediately felt him grow hard through the thin fabric.
“So do you want to do me after all?” the red-haired hunk asked, his eyes wide open and instantly alert. Bold, green. I drew my hand back and said dryly:
“I guess that’s a great way to get you up, no pun intended. Last night I spoke with Doran. We need to get out of here.”
In a flash, the faery’s saucy smile vanished.
“Where did you see him?!”
Both Jioladh and Aerona, who was propped up on an elbow, spoke in unison.
“In his bedroom! This thing is what made it happen!”
I indicated the locket hanging round my neck. They looked at it uncomprehendingly, then they turned their gazes to me.
“You mean you used the locket to contact Doran?”
I took a deep breath of the dry air, and filled them in on what had transpired. And with each word, the panic on Jioladh’s face deepened. The King’s vow to tear him to pieces had quite the effect on him.
Aerona was the first to spring to her feet and don her backpack.
“We’ve got to get out of here fasto-pronto,” she said quietly. “What Doran says is what Doran does.”
“What about the winkies?” I asked, “Will he hurt them? For helping us.”
Doran’s sister paused, and I went on.
“It’s not right. They saved us and now we’re throwing them to the dogs. What can we do to help?”
“How do you communicate with them?”
Aerona looked at me in surprise.
“I use images. You don't know how?”
“I’d like just never occurred to me.”
“You have so much to learn,” she sighed. “Alright. I’ll do it.”
She went to the elder’s house, and I sat and waited, wondering where the incomprehensible weakness I felt came from. It wasn’t bad, really. It was even kind of nice. My stomach suddenly roiled, and I felt like lying down. And purring.
“Get up, Aurora.”
“Wow. You called me by my name,” I said, still sitting, “Doran could care less. Meanwhile, he’s getting blow jobs from winsome brunettes.”
“What’s the big deal?” asked Jioladh, puzzled. “Lord knows he’s got to relax somehow. Why are you just sitting there?”
“I’m tired. I think it’s the aftereffect of using that locket. I’ll lie down for a couple of minutes and feel better.”
“What kind of aftereffect?” Jioladh frowned. Glancing quickly over to where Aerona had gone, he crouched beside me and ordered, “Lie down. Let me see what’s wrong.”
“I don’t think it’s anything serious. I feel fine. I’m just really tired for whatever reason. That’s all. Maybe it’s just the stress of seeing the King.”
“I think that kind of stress manifests differently,” grumbled Jioladh, in healer mode now. Then, still crouching at my side, he passed both hands along my body. I just lay there, staring up at the high ceiling lit by the fireflies, and for some reason felt at peace. From what I’d learned from Doran and Haedyn, faeries didn’t get sick, and I’d also seen for myself how easily they were able to regenerate. More pressing was the thought of what Doran was up to right now. Most likely he was getting ready for the pursuit. Meanwhile, the jealousy I still felt ate at me.
“Oh, Chaos!” the strangled cry of the healer roused me from my jealous thoughts. Jioladh was frozen over me in a half-bow, almost like he revered me.
Judging by the look on his face, I knew I’d better steel myself for what came next.
But for whatever reason, he said nothing. He seemed to be speechless.


Doran was exaggerating a bit when he’d said he knew where the winkies lived. He knew the direction — more or less—but that was about it. Fortunately, that was enough to give the Wild Ones an image of the fugitives, and that’s all it took for them to hunt them down wherever they were. And now he know why it was so hard to pinpoint where Rory was. The magical interference was incredibly powerful.
The King turned as the door creaked open.
“You haven’t dismissed me yet,” said Nissa, who not so long ago one of his favorites. Doran used to love looking into her eyes as she gave him blow jobs.
Now, though, his blood was boiling in a combination of rage and jealousy. Rory really knew how to hit him where it hurt. Knowing she was with that red-haired bastard made him grind his teeth. Gankoners were irresistible to women. And Rory was far too trusting — even naive. And the body wants what the body wants.
These explosive thoughts stupefied him, interfering with his ability to think. He knew he couldn’t lead the Hunt like this. He could lose control and that would be dangerous.
“Come here,” said Doran, nodding at Nissa. No more was needed. She knew what she was there for. She obediently knelt before him, and then she unlaced his pants. His cock was already rock-hard, but not from her touch. It was thoughts of Rory that did it. She was just here, a step away. And he couldn’t touch her, although the tips of his fingers itched to feel her skin.
Nissa’s tongue flicked along his shaft, and her lips gently sucked and caressed the taut flesh. Deeper and deeper...Doran grabbed Nissa’s head between his palms, directing her as she worked on him.
But inside he felt desolate. A mental image flashed before him of Rory on her knees, not here, with him, but with the gankoner.
This thought cut into his orgasm.
He didn’t feel much better, although he was more clear-headed. Glancing down at Nissa as she licked him, Doran absently stroked her cheek.
“You can go now.”
Damn! He felt lousy inside.

Chapter Three.

“Jioladh!” I exclaimed, alarmed.
The faery continued to stare at me with great solemnity. I didn’t know what was going through his head. I waited for an explanation, and, maintaining my composure, said,
“Jioladh, enough, tell me what’s going on. Is everything okay?”
“It’s been so long!” he whispered, his hands still hovering over my stomach. Which he was staring at as if in awe. It was like he was looking at a miracle in progress.
“What are you talking about?!”
“You! You’re pregnant!” exhaled the fiery-haired healer. “I can’t believe it! The King will have a baby!”
Aerona’s head swiveled toward us from across the room. She stood stock still, gazing at me with wide eyes.
“You’re pregnant,” she whispered, as if experimenting with saying the word.
“Wh-what?! It can’t be!” I gulped, caught totally off guard. “Hey you two, I was on the pill. I’m talking about birth control. I don't think we had unprotected sex more than once or twice, if that much even. After the first time, I was examined and the doctors said nothing was amiss. I guess we did it another time a little over a week ago. That’s not long enough for anyone to tell if I’m pregnant or not!”
“Hello. We’re faeries. We can tell. I totally feel it,” said Jioladh, pressing down on my abdomen a little harder. “Oh, yeah. You bet! There’s no doubt about it!”
“Good God!” I gasped, realizing the magnitude of this news. It’s one thing for me alone to be on the lam, but a pregnant ‘me’  was all the more motivation for Doran to go all out looking for me.
“Let me!” said Aerona moving up to me and touching me.
“You can’t feel it this soon,” grumbled Jioladh. “Maybe a month or two from now you’ll be able to. The infant must first grow stronger.”
I sat up, still roiling from the news. I didn’t feel at all pregnant. And an abortion was totally out of the question. I just knew that here, where birth was so sacred, it was a non-starter, to say the least. So then, how will this pregnancy work here in ‘faeryland’? How should I proceed?
And as if she could read my mind, Aerona said quietly, “You have to go back to Ruadh.”
Hearing this, I was jolted out of my stupor.
“Did you talk to the winkies?” I jumped up, staggering a little and putting my hands out to keep my balance. “Don't worry, I’m not going to faint. All is well. So is it your custom here to lock pregnant women up for nine months in quarantine?”
“Five,” said Aerona.
“The term for faeries is just five months. It’s usually not difficult at all until the actual birth. But the birthing process is easier if the mother-to-be moves around and generally stays active while pregnant. And I’ve talked to the winkies, and they want you to pass on a message to Doran.”
“What message?”
Aerona hesitated a little, but then admitted, looking askance at Jioladh,
“That you don't want him to touch them, and that you’d like them to be accepted as subjects in the Court of Shadows. They will make excellent nannies for the future heir to the throne. Doran will heed what you say.”
She looked so fondly at my stomach that I felt like covering myself with a blanket and then she said, “If you suddenly die, Aurora, then I’ll be an excellent mother to your baby.”
“First, let’s get out of here. In the meanwhile, it’s not up for discussion!” I added, glaring at her. Oh, these fairies!
Fortunately, Aerona, though she be Doran’s sister, did not insist I go back, and instead she silently took the lead as we trudged upward, making our way out of our underground refuge.
“We’re not going to make much progress moving on foot,” muttered Jioladh “And we’re an excellent target out here.”
“Are there any kind of horse-like beasties out here?” I asked, also feeling like we were just plodding along. On top of it all, I could feel traces of my morning fatigue.
“There are kelpies about,” shrugged the healer. “But it’s not worth the effort to find them. And they’re hard to catch. They’re aquatic changelings — nykurs.”
I listened to him talk, and an idea started coming to me. It was totally crazy, for sure. But then again, so was everything else around here.
When you think about it, why not play by the prevailing rules and make the most out of what was to be had?
We broke free of the underground just as dawn was breaking over the Wasteland. Looking at the grass, I blinked. It shimmered with tiny, multi-colored drops of dew, and the leaves were murmuring as a breeze wafted through the trees. Jioladh quickly recruited a flock of birds flying by to scout the area.
“All clear ahead,” he said. “No changes to the terrain since last night, but we should move quickly. I see traces of Lorelei around about. And it was raining last night, so that means she’s not far off.”
“Who is Lorelei?” I asked. My vague background in mythology and folklore led me to think she had something to do with the sea. And Jioladh confirmed my hunch, if only in part.
“She’s a water maiden. She is not a faery, she was created by nature to protect bodies of water, but out here she runs amok.”
“So she’d attack us?”
“That’s right. There aren’t many who would approach her watery domicile. So she’s acquired the ability to use the rain, snow, and hail to move about. She preys upon the living, sucking all of the fluids from their bodies.”
I shuddered, picturing the horror of it. Really, I know before I fled to the Wasteland that there were beasts galore out here. But my imagination seemed to always fall far short of the reality.
And now, holy hell, I was ‘with child.’ Suddenly I had more than myself to think of. And that meant I had a lot to consider, seriously.
Walking through the forest was pleasant right now — the air was cool and clean. In the afternoon, though, the atmosphere would heat up and then it would be like walking through dense, humid, jellified air. Although a hurricane could suddenly descend on us. What with all the magical anomalies, the weather in the Wasteland was as unstable as the landscape.
I suddenly felt something pierce me inside. It wasn’t painful, but I didn't like the way it felt. I stopped and listened: No. Nothing seemed to be amiss. I could even hear birdies singing. If that hoarse croaking sound could be called singing.
Aerona and Jioladh froze. And, as if on command, faery swords suddenly appeared in their hands. Narrow, sharp, shiny blades with a bluish tint.
“I feel something,” I explained in response to their questioning glances. “I don't know what.”
“What? Danger?”
“It’s more like some kind of warning. Like there’s something up ahead — something not so good. Damn, I can’t explain it!”
“Okay. We’ll check it out.”
Aerona took me at my word, which was a relief. Her sword at the ready, she inched forward, sending out some roving lights to scout. They scattered merrily about. And were back in five minutes.
“There are traps all around,” said Aerona. “It’s my brother. He set them. They’re configured to our blood. So if we trip them, faeries from the King’s personal guard will be here in a matter of minutes. Or the King himself, along with his hounds.”
“I’m sure we’d merit the King and his dogs,” I muttered, growing cold at the thought that we could have been caught so very easily.
“Aerona, how far out do the traps extend?”
“My lights can travel about five hundred steps. And they go at least as far as that.”
I swore inside, and then Aerona asked, hesitantly,
“Aurora, maybe we should go back? I mean, I know how you feel. I totally get it! No way would I want to be branded like you were! But circumstances have changed. If anyone should find out that you are carrying the King’s child...” Aerona said in a whisper.
I looked at Jioladh, who shrugged.“I have to agree with Aerona. You’re a real sweet prize for anyone who’s got a beef with Doran. And that includes a lot of folk in both Courts.”
“But how will they find out?” I frowned. “You’re the only ones who know. The winkies? As far as I know, they don’t talk much, nor do they communicate with the outside world, generally speaking. Jioladh, you won’t say anything. You’ve got the seal of Chao on you. And if you shoot off your mouth, you’ll go up in smoke.”
The red-haired gankoner cringed, and I went on.
“Aerona, perhaps you’re dying to share the big news? Hmmm?”
“No,” she answered calmly. “By the way, if I were you, I would put the seal of Chaos on me, too. That way, if we get caught and they started torturing me, I wouldn't talk.”
“Okay then,” I said, “that means so far nobody knows a thing about my pregnancy. But if we return to Ruadh, then we’re done for. Everyone will know by sundown. And after that, Doran will stash me away in the highest tower. But you just know that they’ll get to me anyway. You know it’s true:  no matter how good the guards are, where there’s a will, there’s a way. And on top of all else, I’d be miserable sitting all day and all night surrounded by Shadows and gazing mournfully out of the window. You know that’s what I’d be facing.”
“Because,” and I patted my stomach, “this isn't just any baby. I’m carrying the heir to the King and the future conqueror of Earth. Aha! I can see by the look on your faces that you don't know about that last bit, right?”
My two companions were looking at me as if I were a ticking bomb.
“You mean he’ll open the portal?” asked Aerona solemnly. I nodded and, clenching my fists, I said,
“And he will lead an army of Shadows and faeries to Earth. Doran wants to send his people back to their homeland. We’ve discovered that the faeries lost their fertility because they were separated from the humans. I already spoke about this phenomenon to you. Symbiosis. And ... faith in magic.”
“Is he planning on taking over Earth?” frowned Jioladh. I was no longer afraid of saying too much. Anyway Jioladh was unable to pass on what I said.
“Wait!” Aerona broke in. “Why conquer Earth when we can just go back and again live as we used to, like hill people? Or why can’t we revive Avalon? The land of Avalon was invisible to mortals. I don't see people honoring us like they used to if we burst in on them like an army of invaders.”
And at this point I shared with them my thoughts. How oppressed I’d been feeling, like I’d been carrying this huge weight on my shoulders.
“He doesn't give a damn about how he looks to the humans. All he wants is to ensure the humans are at his side. I don't want such a fate, either for my child, or for Earth.”
“So now what? Do you plan on fleeing until the end of time?”
“At least until my child is capable of making decisions on his own,” I said, realizing as soon as the words left my mouth how empty they were. I couldn’t be on the run for that long. I was already torn apart by my longing for the King. Even though deeply offended, I was overwhelmed by the desire to see him again, to touch him. But what about a year from now? What about ten years?
Right now this plan of ours to flee didn't seem like such a good idea. After all, we were both civilized, rational beings. We could talk things out. Doran wasn't a fool.
If I have to, I’ll use force. The words he’d spoken suddenly entered my mind, along with the image of him crushing my birth control pills, as if to demonstrate that his word was the Law — with a capital “L”. How do you talk things out with someone like that? No thank you. I never did understand women who put up with tyrannical bullies for husbands. Love and respect go hand in hand. Period. I didn't think of myself as a feminist per se, but I wasn’t about to be anyone’s doormat, either.
And most important of all — I won't let him, or anyone, turn my child into a soulless monster.
“Let’s go,” I forced myself to say. “We’ve got to get around those traps. We have to get to the faeries you’ve been telling us about, Jioladh. I can't think about all of this right now. Not yet, anyway.”
There was one thing I noticed here in the Wasteland. Once you let yourself be distracted, you were in for trouble.
We had to circumvent our route by two kilometers before we found a gap in the perimeter of traps. And it was strange how we found it. The roving lights seemed to miss it completely at first. Then, suddenly, there it was.
“It that normal?” I asked Aerona. She shrugged and answered:
“There's no such thing as ‘normal’ in the Wasteland. We just got lucky is all. Let’s go.”
We walked under the traps, and through an underground roundabout with crumbling walls and a suspicious chomping sound from somewhere to the right. It sounded like a gigantic worm was having lunch or something. If it’s what created the gap in the traps, awesome, thanks, I thought to myself. Of course, I wouldn't want to actually meet whatever it was that had created this ad hoc tunnel.
We reached safety, and then I noticed my companions’ glum faces.
“What is it?”
“The traps,” said Aerona. — There’s something off about them. Did you notice?”
“Um, no.”
“I didn't check all of them, but I have the feeling that Doran used them to mark off a certain area.”
“Like we’re being corralled?” asked Jioladh, and Aerona nodded.
I didn't like feeling like the village idiot. Not a good feeling.
“What are you talking about?”
“I know my brother well and have learned a thing or two about his tactics. He’s studied a certain area of the Wasteland and set his traps about all over. Sooner or later we will surely stumble into one of them. We’re not likely to make it very far.”
Aerona looked at me somewhat sympathetically, and went on.“Think, Aurora, think. There’s a reason my brother is the King. And you, of course, though very strong, are extremely inexperienced and pregnant. You’re not on equal footing.”
I gritted my teeth so much that it hurt. Not just physically.
“We’ll never be on equal footing. If we go back now, though, Doran will conclude that my escape was a capricious girl’s folly. A little girl who simply ran into a bit of trouble and went running back to her big, strong King for protection. Back to her golden cage and ardent lover.”   “Unless we’re on equal footing, then I don't want to be with him.”
“But that won’t happen,” sighed Aerona. “He is the King of Shadows, but you, though strong, well...sorry, but you simply aren't his match, his equal.”
Ah, that means brains are of no matter here. Good to know, and lest I forget, to be deemed equal to the Kind, I have to be just as arrogant and conceited, and wield the same kind of ass-kicking magic. As for the latter, all is not lost. I’ll keep on training and we’ll see what transpires.
“Don't forget about the Hunt,” Aerona went on, casting a glance at me. “There is no power equal to the Wild Hunt. Do you understand?”
“That I do,” I nodded.
I stopped and looked around. The forest was thinning, and piles of boulders began to appear between the trees. Some of them were heaped upon each other so precariously that it seemed like they might collapse with a roar at a moment’s notice. I noticed pale shadows curling around one such pile, and pointed them out to my companions.
“Ghosts,” Jioladh said.“Harmless if you don't come close.”
“But what if you do?”
“They’ll attach themselves to you and start moaning. You’ll get a headache from it.”
We walked on by the specters. By now I got it: If you see something living whilst walking though the Wasteland, keep on going. That’s the safe thing to do, and also less of a hassle.
We stopped next to one of the stacks of boulders. My legs ached, and my body was racked with fatigue. This was unusual for me, and I could see that my companions weren’t so tired.
“There’s nothing amiss,” said Jioladh in healer mode. “It’s normal for you to feel waves of fatigue. And if you think about it, it’s not at all strange. After all, the strongest magician in the history of the faeries is developing inside you.”
“The strongest?”
Jioladh paused, then nodded:.
“Adding up everything you’ve told us, I’d have to say he’ll be the strongest. The last time such a being was born was back in the 13th century in Earth years. His name was Gregorian, and he opened the portal to this world. And then he worked with a lot of mages.”
“And then what?”
“Then the portal consumed him,” Jioladh replied abruptly, sending a chill down my back. An awkward silence ensued. Aerona looked away, but I got the drift. My child could suffer the same kind of fate.
And Doran is aware of this!
“I need protection,” I said dully, trying to avoid thinking that Doran would sacrifice his own son to make it back to Earth. “I need to defend myself from Doran.”
“There is no defense against the Hunt. All we can do is run ... at least for awhile. Aurora,” said Aerona. And she continued, touching my hand, “I understand how you feel. But I don't think my brother is capable of sacrificing his child. Your son will become a ruler, not just a magician who sacrifices himself to open a portal.”
“It’s not like faeries lie, but that doesn’t mean they tell you the whole story,” I said. “Doran never said that our child would rule happily ever after. And he never told me what the prediction was in its entirety.”
“So why not just ask him? Go chat with him in a dream. Of course, there is the danger that he’ll somehow figure out where we are.”
“Will he tell me?”
“Ask him in a way that forces him to tell you.”
“That’s one idea,” I agreed. “Check out the territory. I want to do some training.”
Jioladh silently rose and pulled out his flute.
“Go ahead — do some training. We’ll keep an eye out for anything. Just remember that Doran can feel you.”
“So what’s the solution?” I asked irritably, rising to my feet. “I don't train and don’t grow stronger, or else I do train, but at a risk. Let’s just be ready — what more can we do? Maybe Doran will be busy with the winkies, and their magic will mess up my trail.”
I wanted to try out some things. I wanted to tune into my abilities. It's like they were telling me, I didn't have to concentrate to activate my magic. It was supposed to be effortless.
I went behind the boulders and found myself in a cozy nook formed by some heaped up stones. I didn't see any lurking dangers, but I felt better knowing my two companions were on the alert. I also relied on my own intuition.
I sat down cross-legged and closed my eyes. All I needed now was to start chanting a mantra. Like usual, I felt like giggling at the worst possible time. What popped into my irreverent head were these yoga lessons I dropped in on once. They didn't cost much and were led by a smarmy coach who leered at all the women. And his beard made him look like a goat. I put up with him staring at my breasts, but after that, I never went back.
Colored spots swam before my eyes. A thought was beating in my head: pregnant, pregnant, I'm pregnant. What will it be? A boy or a girl? It’ll be one or the other. And Doran....No, best not think of him...Inside I began to hurt — like acid was scalding me in there. I never thought he could offend me so much.
My breathing gradually leveled off, but just the same, I was not at peace. Au contraire — now alone with my thoughts I was just working myself up into a bit of a frenzy. Was I acting like an idiot going on the run like this? What should I have done? What should I do? Good god, if we all knew what we should do, then how much simpler it would be.
And how very dull.
Moreover, I didn't feel like I was pregnant. Not a bit. I couldn’t believe that I was going to be a mother — in just five months.
Me — a mom! It sounded unreal to me.
And I felt like everything in my stomach was clenched together. I felt overwhelmed by emotions. My feelings were bowling me over, seething, seeking an escape. There was so much in the balance, and it was all on my shoulders.
I miss you, Doran. I’m crazy with longing, trembling, it’s painful, unbearable. I felt like a raw nerve next to you. But now, you’re always on my mind. Now I know how much it hurts to love someone you don't trust.
So much for training. I was all twisted up. I brushed the tears from my face, and opened my eyes.
And then I gulped, and froze. I couldn't even breath. I wished I could at least say “Mama mia!” but the words were stuck in my throat.
A few steps from me stood the wild hound from the last Hunt. Huge, jet black, radiating crimson from within. Crimson fire erupted out of its eyes, its nostrils and from between the pieces of flesh on its bones. The skeletal beastie had its eyes fixed on me.
I looked to the side and could just see Jioladh and Aerona, frozen in place.
“What should I do?” I asked them, telepathically.
The hound did not attack, but continued to stand and stare at me, it’s muzzle down. Which was the kind of attention I could do without.
Our silent group just stood there. And then I sneezed. The sound was as if incredibly loud. Even the trees seemed to flinch. And the hound emitted a hollow baying bark. It was like a small pile of boulders was falling over.
This seemed to signal that the hound was about to attack. Meanwhile, the air around Aerona was starting to tremble, more and more. Her magic was fiery, and quite powerful. But she had a weak side:  It took awhile for her to accumulate the strength to strike. And that must be what she was preparing to do. Now, what she was trying to do was fry the hound from the inside out. Nuke it. Essentially. Like in a microwave.
The “doggy” screeched, making my ears ring, and leaped toward Aerona. All three of us scattered in different directions. As he ran, Jioladh kept playing his flute in an effort to keep the hound at bay. But the effect on the beast was minuscule. He swiped at Aerona, who screamed and jumped to the side. Then she froze, her hand pressed against her side, blood oozing through her fingers.
Jioladh’s shout was so intense that even the hound stopped dead in its tracks. But it’s dull, exceedingly unpleasant, reverberating baying continued.
“Stop, before I morph into an Unseely!” whispered the gankoner in an awestruck tone. “Aurora, its protecting you!”
The hound really was as if on guard between me and the other two, its back to me as it snarled. The hairs on my head stood on end from the sound.
“What do you mean?” I whispered, fighting the urge to scream. In contrast, the faeries never seemed to need to, well, panic. What was up with that?
“D..d...doggie,” I stopped and then continued. “H-h-here d-d-doggie. Um, c-c-come here!”
The hound turned her skeletal head towards me and simply stared. With burning eyes of fire.
“Ohhh,” I breathed softly. “That’s a g-g-good doggie. Don't touch them.”
My throat was dry, like in a desert. I had to constantly lick my lips. The hound continued staring at me, and I wasn’t sure what was in its head. Was it studying me, or getting ready to attack? But at least it wasn't snarling anymore. I hoped this was a good sign.
Then, suddenly, it slowly walked toward me.
I saw Jioladh, his eyes round. He managed to make his way to Aerona and was now healing her wound. They were not in a position to help me. And for all practical purposes, the hound could just lash out and take my head off.
I kept on kneeling, waiting for it. I bit my lip, afraid to breathe, even. And the hound walked right up to me. I could smell her:  she smelled like sulfur mixed with musk. The hound noisily exhaled and poked it’s bony snout into my stomach. I swallowed and whispered, “Mama....”
It set about sniffing me, snorting every now and then, each time causing my heart to sink. Finally, ‘doggy’ roared so loudly that I plopped onto my butt and tried to crab-walk backwards. Alas! I was up against a boulder.
Jioladh lurched toward me, but the hound merely turned its head toward him and barked such that my ears were blocked. And then it lay down at my feet and froze.
“What is this?” I asked Jioladh, mouthing the words with my lips. He looked at Aerona, and she spoke like someone who has seen something remarkable.
“She will protect him.”
“Whom?” I exhaled, already having an idea of what she was about to tell me.
“The child. She has sensed a strong faery, and wants to serve him. You see, originally the hounds were created to be with the Unseelie. And to serve them.”
“But I’m not Unseelie!”
“Actually, we don’t know what you are,” said Jioladh, who was quickly recovering from the shock of the situation.
“But the hounds only heed the Unseelie,” chimed in Aerona, doing fine now, if a little paler than usual. “But even they were unable to get them to come back after the move to Alveheim. But that one showed up on its own volition. Chaos, Rory, that’s some kiddo you’re carrying inside you!”

Release - June 10, 2020

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