Shannon Donnelly was on a mission. As self-declared best friend of Mara Anu, the Faehunter, he had to do his best to help and support her, or at least as best he could.
Faeries terrified him, and Mara knew as much. The stories spared no detail about what happened to people with the Second Sight, people like him. Eyes torn out, kidnappings, the only comfort seemed to be that they didn’t seem to outright kill. Thinking too hard about it made him feel no small amount of panic and he was already growing queasy, he pushed it to the back of his mind.
He had a job to do and he would do it, simple as that.
They, Mara and Shannon, had lived in the city of Twinefold close to their whole lives, but there will still secrets that evaded them, things the fae had hidden all too well in the place they thought they knew.
Just the other day, Adalee, a girl who worked with Mara at the Wayworn Inn, and her detail of screaming friends started giggling about some strange superstition. Apparently, in the center of the large park in the upper district was a throne that supposedly belonged to The Stranger, the God of Death and the Unknown. Whoever sat upon this stone chair would die within seven years, or so the story went. The idea was preposterous and he’d told them as much, but he knew better. The throne could very well be where the Queen of Air and Darkness sat and held Court.
Shannon leaned back against window of the streetcar, making note of the name of the street they were barreling down and checked the paper map in his lap.
He hated to look like one of the numerous tourists who took up whole sidewalks with their huge charts unfolded, but it was important to keep notes of where they had already explored and searched. Besides, the park could be treacherous and difficult to navigate at the best of times and he loathed being lost and turned around even more.
It also gave him a distraction from the people crowding the packed car. Even with his Second Sight, it was impossible to tell the difference between a mortal, or a faery wearing a glamour spell – a mortal face.
Was it her, the dark-skinned girl with huge tufts of pink and blue multicolored hair? Or the man wearing women’s skirts under a swallowtail suit jacket? There was no way to know, and while people made him anxious in general, knowing any one of them could haul him off and rip his eyeballs out for staring only made matters worse.
Shannon stood and gave the signal cord a sharp tug.
He was over five blocks away from the park, but he just couldn’t handle the disquieting feeling any more. He needed air.
A man who looked more like a pile of ragged quilts shook a rusted tin can with a few coppers rattling in the bottom as Shannon stepped off. He sighed and dug out a few coins, tossing them in with the rest before a woman with a waist-long braid twisted with bells jingled behind him. A faery? No way to know. He broke into a panicked run.
DeLange Park, named for some wealthy family from centuries past, was sparsely populated this late in the year, the city people instead cozied up in cafes around warmed drinks than wander outside. He wished he could join them, wished he was safe back at his magic shop with a cup of hot tea and a good book, but there was work to do.
Shannon stuck his hands in the pockets of his wool coat as he turned off the main pathway and into the bare, welcoming arms of the trees.
It seemed all at once as if the entire world fell away, the tall buildings melting into taller trees, the hum of carriages and conversations fading to the simple rustling of leaves. This was impossible, of course. There was no part of the park where you weren’t a few minutes walk from the bordering streets, even from the center, the few tall buildings looming perpetually overhead. It was a good sign, it could only mean that there was powerful magic at work and he must be close to the Court. It also meant he was closer to the fae, which made him push up his glasses and run his hands through his sandy-blonde hair nervously.
Coming up the rise of a hill, he instantly spotted it. A half-circle of white stone sat in the curve of the hill as it swept down, at its center a chair of rough hewn-stone and behind it an intricately carved door of the same set in the earth.
Sitting upon the chair was the most beautiful woman Shannon had ever seen. Dark hair that shimmered iridescent blue and violet shone in the soft sunlight filtering through a blanket of clouds. She herself seemed as if she was one with the stone surrounding her, carved like the statues of antiquity from alabaster marble, her eyes were as hard and pitiless as uncut rubies.
Shannon ducked behind the thick trunk of a tree, hand heavy on his heaving chest. This was her. The Queen of all the things that could kill him at any given moment, the ruler of the creatures that would kidnapped children and haunted those who cut trees and carried iron.
No. He had to be brave, he had to be strong for Mara.
Slowly, he crept from his hiding spot and ducked low among the fallen leaves and underbrush, hoping he was concealed enough by the thorny branches.
Surrounding the dais was a team of tiny people in miniature armor, small halberd spears in hand as they sat mounted on ginger-colored dogs, their pointed ears pricked forward with interest. The knights bowed their heads, the dogs resting their leathery little noses on their paws.
“Is everything meet for tonight’s Gathering?” the Queen asked.
One of the faery knights urged his dog forward, breaking the line to answer, “I am about to head out now to ensure of it,” the second replied.
“Good, good. You know my distaste for surprises.”
“So long as our friend Deaglan doesn’t make trouble tonight, all should be well.”
The acid way the second faery spoke, it didn’t seem as if he and this ‘Deaglan’ were friends at all.
Suddenly, the Queen sprung up from her throne, holding a hand up, “Hush now, there is a spy among us. A mortal listens in on our plans. Lady Gwyllion?”
The knight in the center moved closer.
“Yes, my lady?” she asked, her voice like a bark.
“Do take care of the problem, will you?”
“Aye! Guard, atten-tion!” she cried.
The row of dogs snapped up, their riders hefting their huge halberd spears in their hands.
Shannon’s heart leapt into his throat, he had to get out of there now.
“Posi-tion!” the knight shouted and her warriors shifted their spears, their dogs taking tiny steps to get into line.
He jumped up and broke into a full sprint, only hesitating briefly once he finally spotted the surprisingly comforting gaze of the city’s towers and the carpet of cobblestones below his feet.
But by the time the knights had spun around to face the supposed spy, he was long gone.
“Wait, where’d he go?”
Shannon didn’t truly catch his breath or calm his rattling heartbeat until he was aboard the streetcar home, standing on the back platform where people didn’t crowd, the night wind in his hair.
Mara was exactly where he left her when he left the shop in her care for the night, feet resting casually on the table, a huge book in her lap that she seemed altogether bored with. There must not have been many customers, which was good, he felt no guilt about spinning the open sign around and spell-locking the door so they wouldn’t be disturbed.
“You okay?” she asked, noting his sweat-soaked forehead and still-heaving breath.
Shannon nodded before collapsing beside her at the bench behind the table. He spun one of the many books around to face him, Ways of the Fae, it read. He turned it back, not wanting to think too hard about the mission right now.
“It just never ceases to astound me, just how many fae live among us that people don’t even know about. Even I can’t tell the difference between a mortal and a faery wearing a mortal face, not the way you can.”
He’d tried to broach the subject before with her, but it was clear she couldn’t relate, she’d hated and fought the enemy since the day she was born. For now though, he simply needed to give his fears voice.
Mara nodded, “Oh yeah, it’s even worse around here in the city. More people, more fae. Like the people who pick through our trash at night for returnable glass? Fae.”
“Well, you know how the Castle pays two copper for every-”
“No, I know that. They’re fae?”
“Mortals aren’t actually that weird, it’s just faeries who are bad at pretending to be us. Most of the people playing music on the corners, or the kids selling candy on the streetcars – don’t eat those by the way,” Mara listed on her fingers, “There’s also Mister Trolley-Man.”
He blanched, his eyes wide. No child in the three provinces of Rosínaire didn’t know Mister Trolley-Man and his magic carriage. He traveled all around the area telling stories of morality and being a good citizen, he was beloved by generations.
Mara arched an eyebrow, “He runs that trolley all by himself with no track. Normal people can’t do that kind of magic.”
“I thought- thought that the people with the puppets helped?”
She sat up, swinging her feet from the table and tilting her head quizzically, as if unsure how to word what she said next, or delicately put it.
“Shannon,” she finally spoke, “Those aren’t puppets.”
Thank you for reading!