Flesh Masks

Can I Play With Madness?

Can I play with madness - the prophet looked and he laughed at me.

Can I play with madness - he said you're blind, too blind to see!

~ Iron Maiden

The moon was just beginning to rise when they reached Wren's Nest. The three men jogged up the steps and Jenny greeted them at the door. Her face was pale and her mouth set in a grim line as she rubbed her hands up and down her forearms. Not quite making eye contact, she stepped back to let them in.

"Where is she?" demanded Harry.

The question came out more harshly than he had intended. Jenny flinched and gestured helplessly to the closed double doors that led to the parlor. Sam and Dean began to hurry in that direction but stopped short when the wizard grabbed the back of their shoulders. Giving his head a slight shake, he moved past them and eased the door open. Motioning for them to remain quiet, he slipped into the room.

Glancing back at Jenny, who was staring at the doors with teary eyes and her hands clasped in front of her mouth, the boys exchanged a puzzled look before filing in after Harry.

The parlor was freezing. Crouching by the open window, Kess stared out at the moon. As soon as Dean stepped into the room, she stiffened and whirled around to face them, her eyes wide and nostrils flaring.

Her usually pale skin glittered silver-white in the moonlight. Wavy, black strands had come loose from her braid and hung about her face. The flexing of her fingers dre Sam's eyes down to her hands. His lips tightened as he noticed that her fingernails had grown into claws that were sharp enough to draw blood. He nudged his brother and jerked his head towards her fingers.

Dean didn't respond to his brother's hints - he was too busy staring at Kess's eyes. No longer human, they had deepened from their usual clear blue to a vivid sapphire flecked with gold. As she stared back, Dean saw that her pupils had become cat-like and slitted and were constricting and dilating rapidly.

He shifted into a fighting stance. She snarled softly, peeling her lips back from white teeth. All of them could see that her canines had grown sharper.

Unblinking and unmoving, Kess stayed by the window. The chilly night breeze lifted the strands of hair off of her face. Her nostrils flared again.

"Can you hear them?" she whispered. "They're running."

"Easy, Sprite," Harry moved cautiously towards her.

She growled again, louder this time. Setting his blasting rod on the floor, Harry stopped and held out his hands in a placating gesture. Sam surreptitiously drew his knife and began to inch around the edge of the room to flank her. Dean grabbed his wrist.

"Wait," he whispered hoarsely.

Sam looked at his brother as if her had lost his mind, but stopped moving.

Abruptly, Kess's eyes shifted. Once again fully human, they filled with tears as she hugged herself and started trembling. Harry crossed over to her quickly and wrapped his arms around her shoulders.

"It's happening again, Harry. I thought it had gone away," her voice shook, muffled against his chest. "Why is it happening again?"

"Shhhh," the wizard soothed. "It'll be over in the morning. You can hold out that long, can't you, Sprite?"

Kess shuddered, but nodded her head. She defiantly wiped at the few tears that had leaked out, before abruptly clutching at the sides of her head and moaning.

"I can feel it… the songs echoing in my blood." Her eyes were wide as she looked at Harry. "Make it stop," she whispered, pleading.

She spasmed suddenly and, with a shriek, launched herself away from Harry. As she rushed across the room, her braid caught on the corner of one of the low tables and the tie snapped. Glossy black curls spilled out. With a snarl, she shoved them back, uncovering a pair of delicately pointed ears.

Sam's grip tightened on the knife. Frustrated, he glared at his brother. Dean held up his hand and eased towards Kess. She snarled and backed away, eying him warily. While her focus was on Dean, Harry quickly turned and closed the window at the same time that Sam locked the parlor doors. Kess whirled at the sound of the window latching shut.

"Let me out!" she screamed, slitted eyes wild. "Let me out!"

Gnashing her teeth, she sprang forward, but stopped short when Dean stepped into her path. Eyes narrowing, she lunged again, but he caught her by the shoulders and held her fast. She thrashed wildly, straining to get at the window. Harry picked up his blasting rod and readied his shield bracelet.

"Damn it, Kess!" Dean snarled, dodging her flailing claws.

She suddenly went limp, breathing heavily. Once he was certain that she was calm, Dean let her go. Immediately, she shrank back into the corner and began trembling again as she pressed her back against the wall, clutching the sides of her head – a terrified human once more.

"Care to tell us what the hell is going on, Dresden?" Dean snapped, breathing heavily.

"Wait til morning," Harry ran his hands over his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose. "It's always over by morning. We'll explain then."

"This has happened before?" Sam glared incredulously at the wizard.

At his hostile tone, Kess jerked her head up, feline eyes staring out from behind tangled clumps of hair. She hissed and bared her teeth again, slowly raising herself off of the floor into a crouch. Dean shifted to stand in front of her and she froze.

Harry nodded slowly.

"A few times since she hit puberty," he slowly, in a soothing tone, his attention fixed on the woman crouched in the corner.

The rest of the night passed slowly. Harry guarded the window, keeping his blasting rod close at hand. Dean had pulled out a footstool and sat, forearms resting on his thighs, in between Kess and the rest of the room. Sam never took his eyes off her as he leaned against the parlor doors, knife at the ready.

Kess alternated between hissing and whimpering. Her eyes shifted constantly – human one instant, feral and cat-like the next. When human, she curled into herself and covered her head with her arms, concentrating on taking deep, even breaths. When she changed, she paced in her corner, snarling, though she didn't attempt to move past Dean again.

"You think she'd feel calmer if we cracked a window?" Sam asked quietly at one point as they watched the dark-haired girl prowl back and forth. "Y'know, cornered animal instincts and all..."

Keeping his voice pitched low so as not to startle her, Harry glanced at the hunter.

"Believe it or not, that makes things worse." Turning his attention back to Kess, he offered no other explanation.

When the moon reached its height, she let out a keening wail. The sound rose and fell, sounding eerily like singing. It reverberated through the boys' bones. Sam grimaced and Dean pressed his fingers against his temples, looking frantically at Harry. The wizard stood with his arms folded across his chest, jaw clenched. His eyes were full of sympathy and his stance was weary.

"Almost done, Sprite. Just hang in there," he murmured, gritting his teeth against the vibrations running through his skull.

As the moon sank, Kess stopped howling. The night wore on and her moments of lucidity grew more frequent, and her feral moments more subdued. Harry allowed himself a few sporadic moments of sleep and Sam relaxed his grip on his knife. Even Dean slipped into the occasional doze.

Finally, the first pale light of dawn began to color the sky. Kess spasmed and her pupils shifted rapidly for a moment. When the last star faded and the sun was just barely visible over the horizon, she slumped back against the wall and looked at Harry in relief.

"They're gone now," she rasped. "My head is my own again."

Shaking, she climbed slowly to her feet. Brushing the strands of hair – now limp and damp with sweat – from her forehead, she rolled her shoulders and neck. She stumbled as she hobbled to the sofa and Dean reached out to steady her. She stiffened ever so slightly in his grip and looked up at him.

"Why didn't you kill me?" she asked. "If I had been anything else…"

Dean just shrugged and helped her to the couch. Leaning back into the cushions, she closed her eyes. Almost instantly, she fell asleep, her chest rising and falling rhythmically.

Sam unlocked the doors and moved to stand by his brother. Both boys watched Kess for a moment more, staring at those pointed ears, the only supernatural feature that hadn't disappeared with the dawn, before turning to Harry.

"Gonna tell us what that was all about?" asked Sam.

"In a moment," replied Harry. "Lemme go get Jenny. She'll have a few details to add."

The wizard left and Sam turned to his brother.

"Why didn't we kill her, Dean? I mean, did you see the teeth, the claws, her eyes?"

"Yeah, I saw, Sammy, I saw." Dean sounded tired as he ran his hand over his hair, keeping half an eye on the sleeping woman on the couch.

"She wasn't human, Dean. She could've killed us all. Besides, aren't you usually the one who wants to shoot first and ask questions later?"

Dean swung about to face his brother.

"We gave Madison a shot didn't we? And we knew what she was."

Sam visibly deflated at the mention of the werewolf girl they had failed to save. Dean continued.

"Whatever was going on with her last night, she was still in there. That means she sure as hell isn't the Skinwalker and I've never seen a witch act that way."

"So we're gonna hear what Dresden and Jenny have to say?"

"What'll it hurt?"

The parlor doors swung open and Harry walked back in. Jenny followed shortly after him. She hurried over to the couch, stopping a few feet back and peering warily over the back. Sam and Dean exchanged glances.

"Whatever happened last night is over," said Sam coldly.

"Where were you, anyways?" snapped Dean. "I mean, your daughter's going ballistic, and you're just, what, not available?"

Jenny's lips tightened and her nostrils flared as she moved around to the front of the couch.

"Whatever prompted my daughter's reaction last night also affected other guests," she matched Sam's frosty tone and then lowered the temperature a couple more degrees. "Crowd control isn't easy, Mr. Winchester, especially when a lot of them forget not to use their claws."

"So you have Dresden and us deal with them." Dean wasn't buying her reasoning. "Kess is your family!"

The woman in question stirred and wearily cracked one eye open. Jenny patted her hand and gently brushed a strand of hair off of her daughter's temple before straightening and turning to face them all. For just a second, she looked almost defiantly at Harry. The wizard's face, usually so warm and mischievous when around her, was drawn and unyielding.

"Go on," he ordered. The tired slump of his shoulders belied any anger and softened the command.

"'Go on' what?" asked Kess, propping herself up and pushing her hair over her shoulders. She looked confusedly at her mother. "Ma?"

"It's a long story, Kess. One I should probably tell from the beginning." She straightened her shoulders and looked her daughter in the eye, "I used to be a witch."

Dean cut her off. "'Used to'? Last I checked, that wasn't something you could just turn off!"

Irritated at the interruption, Jenny's nostrils flared.

"That kind of power fades if you don't use it and I haven't used my powers in a long time. I doubt I even have the strength to cast a small spell these days." She turned back to her daughter. "I found out I had power when I was nine years old. It didn't come as a shock, since my mother was also a witch of some small ability. She called in a few favors in her coven, and I started learning just what my powers were and how to control them. I didn't have much – certainly not enough to be noticed by the White Council –"

"What's a White Council?" It was Sam who interrupted this time.

"We don't talk about it," snapped Harry, scowling.

"They really don't," Jenny nodded in confirmation, looking sheepish at her slip. "Anyways, one day, when I was twenty-four, I came across a summoning spell that would call the King of the Faeries. It was too good to pass up and I wanted to prove myself, so I made my circle, laid out the ingredients, and said the words."

"I think I see where this is heading," murmured Dean to Sam. Sam nodded.

"The creature that came across the Veil was a King of Faeries to be sure, but not the one I thought I was summoning." Jenny looked rather forlornly at them all. "I had summoned the Erlking – Lord of the Underground and Master of the Wild Hunt."

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