In the dead of night, the shadows whisper. Those whispers carry on the wind, shrieking with it as it billows forward like galloping steeds. The wind taints them, makes them unheard to human ears.
But, Charles Conway hears them, or at least knows they are there.
He sits rigidly on the porch of his house. Rough floorboards dig into him but he takes no notice. Nor does he take notice of the bone-chilling cold that knaws at his skin, trying to peel back the layers of it. Although, he probably doesn't notice because he has been cold all over for days now.
For days their presence has been like an itch he couldn't scratch. Charles isn't sure how he knew, but once he noticed he couldn't not feel it. The taste of magic and glamour was like a poison that burned with each breath. He smells it now, a bitter taste that makes him twist his face in distaste.
He should've expected it — their arrival. It has been a long time coming, and Charles shouldn't have been ignorant enough to ignore what they would come for. Who they would come for.
"Come out," he spits, the apprehension making him quiver. "Show yourself, faeries."
Sparing no moment, the Faeries slip from the shadows and come into the light. There are two of them, each beholding their own definition of beauty and grace which Charles can't ignore. One has skin pooled from pure starlight, it shimmers under the moon's silvery rays. Chiselled features born with tension and silky midnight hair as dark as ink, drips into fierce forest green eyes. This one doesn't impishly smile like the last one Charles encountered. There is no devious spark to catch his eye but rather a shadow which tugs at them.
The other isn't quite so handsome. His skin is more like marble, dented with brutal scars. One freakishly large one journeys across his cavernous charcoal black eyes, delving into his cheek. His large pointed ears peek out through wiry black hair.
Charles shivers as that fae smiles.
"Mr. Conway, it seems you have been expecting us." Scarface grins a wicked smile. It makes all of the hairs on Charles' arm stand rigid.
"Expecting? No." Charles stands, feeling the aches from his dulling bones sweep over him. It has been a long time since he has spoken to a Faerie, especially a pair of such high ranks. Charles knew quite a lot about Faeries considering his status as a human — a lot more than could be disclosed. He is aware of the presence of High-Fae, how they look similar to humans but are not.
He keeps his hand firm around the amulet forged with iron burdening his pockets. "I smelt you from a mile off," Charles tells them. "Now, what are you doing here?"
"This will be a lot quicker if you don't try to evade." The pretty one's eyes sear into Charles' own. His head tilts slightly and Charles is reminded of a predator taunting its prey. Not an appeasing thought.
Scarface steps forward, a little jaunt in his step. "Human, you made a deal ten years ago and it is time for that debt to be repaid." There's an edge to his expression, like the threatening edge of a knife as it presses into its victim. "Or did you forget? Humans are forgetful creatures after all, quite stupid actually—"
"I remember," snaps Charles, wringing his face into a sneer. "I could not forget."
"Wonderful." Scarface claps his hands together and looks at his comrade. "Shall we?" His eyes flare with notable mischief, but not the alluring kind. It's the sort that makes every bone in Charles' body tense up. It starts a fire that curdles in his stomach brighter than any bonfire he has ever seen.
His thoughts stray to the young girl sleeping soundly in her bed upstairs and her younger brother in the room beside hers. Charles' lets that propel him forward until he is eye to eye with the Faerie mauled with scars. His voice is low as he speaks. "You will not take my boy, he has no part of this." Charles' voice wavers, and Scarface smirks. "Take me. Take the house, have our gold. There is much else for you to take. My son is of no use to you."
Something sweeps over Scarface's expression, Charles feels the severity of it wrack his bones. Only a Faerie could pull that off. Dread floods through Charles' system, dousing that flame of anger which he had wielded.
"We have not come for your son, human," Scarface explains almost proudly. Charles hand tightens on the iron amulet in his pocket. "We have come for your daughter, your eldest child."
A cold feeling drenches him. Suffocates him. Charles feels like he's been bled dry, that the words uttered are a vacuum and now he is reduced to nothing. He was prepared to fight, to wager anything instead of his son. But, now his plan has been derailed. They want Grace? He thinks wildly.
"Bu...but I made the deal for Chase." Charles hardly pushes out the words. He feels like the wind has been knocked out of him. "The deal was that you make my son better. Grace wasn't even involved."
Pretty-face looks slightly saddened, pitiful. Something Charles does not appreciate. "Unfortunately, bargains do not play fairly," he says.
"It is simply a child for a child." Scarface shrugs as if that is explanation enough.
Charles almost sways on his feet. "You will not take my children from me, faeries. They played no part in this, they are innocent. Are you really so cruel that you would impose punishment on defenceless children—"
"Let me remind you that it is you who made that bargain, Conway." Pretty-face steps in, though his words are not intended to be harsh. They are nothing but a hurtful truth which Charles finds difficult to swallow. "The risk was made clear to you from the beginning."
There was no way Charles could stop them from taking her, he hates to admit it, but Charles isn't stupid. Or at least, he isn't as stupid as he had been ten years ago when he'd made that deal. But, Chase was severely ill, barely clinging onto a thread at seven years old. His well-being was a slide of deterioration that only worsened with each growing second. Charles was in a pit of despair along with Grace, who was asking if her little brother was going to leave for heaven. Options were scarce, so Charles decided to take his last resort; he knew of Faeries for reasons his children were unaware of, he knew where to find them; in the middle of a circle of oak trees layered with vibrant daisies, deep in the forest. In the centre was a decaying wishing well, all Charles had to do was put his hands on the damp brick and drop an item of great importance into the well.
Back then it had seemed like the right thing to do, the consequences seeming too far away to feel real. Wishing for Chase's well-being had been the best decision he made. Now, it might cost Charles another child.
"Please." His voice softens, the resolve in him dissolving. "Please don't take her from me."
"You know that does not abide by the law of Faerie," Scarface sneers, unaffected by the emotion Charles was seething with. "You come to us, ask for your heart's desire. We grant and we decide the debt you will owe."
"Just give me a day." If he cannot save his daughter then Charles will fight for just a little more time. "It's her eighteenth birthday tomorrow. Just let us have this." He's begging now, but he can't find any dignity in himself to care. All he can think is: I've let them down. I've let them down. I've let them down. Each one is another shot to his heart.
"Fine." Pretty-face replies, quicker than Charles could blink. His companion looks stricken with shock, completely and utterly opposing his friend's words. But, he continues with his eyes narrowed in warning. "You have tomorrow, but we will come for her on the night and there is no escaping it, Conway. Don't make this harder than this has to be."
Later when the human drags himself inside, Julian and Hadrian evaporate their glamours so that they can be seen in the world. A world which holds a broken man, oblivious children and an angry Faerie.
"What was that, Julian?" Hadrian growls. His wiry hair falls over his face, covering up the scattered scars on his forehead that people don't dare to look at. "Why let the human off so easily? You know that is not the way of the court—"
Julian sighs, sitting back on the tree branch with his leg dangling off the edge. "Because he was so emotional," he replies. "It was irritating."
"I quite agree with you there," Hadrian agrees with a troubling smirk, anger vanishing as if it was nonexistent. He always did enjoy hating on the humans. "Such unpleasant beings, humans."
Hadrian leaps down from the tree branch, landing without a sound just like a whisper of wind. When he straightens, the sword at his belt gleams against the moonlight, reflecting in Julian's eye. "Check on the house, Julian, make sure the idiot hasn't tried to escape."
Julian doubts he would. The man was clearly aware of Faerie culture. Nevertheless, he checks anyway because he doesn't want Hadrian pestering him on the way back to the court.
The house looks clear and habited from what Julian can see. Lights are off but the sound of heartbeats thumping softly reaches Julian's ears.
Julian prepares to leave just as his ears catch the sound of one of those heartbeats stuttering. It falters in unrest, continuing to do so for a few moments. Turning, he curiously follows the trail of the heartbeat which now quickens its stride. He follows the trail to the back of the house and up to the top floor. It doesn't take even an ounce of strength for Julian to leap upwards and catch himself on the window. Nor does he make even a slight sound as he eases it open and slips through. It's as if Julian is nothing but a breath of air to walk the world.
On the bed lays a girl, sheets strewn over her waist but not covering her top half. Her arms are spread out and her chest heaves slightly. Golden brown skin is swathed in a thin veil of sweat that travels all the way up to her forehead. Julian steps forward and his hand grazes curly brown hair which shines against the light pouring in through the window. He wonders what could be troubling her as she is yet to know what is to come.
He leaves then, not wanting to stare at the girl whose fate has been sealed.