Rashell was trying to hide it but he was scared, however, his determination was stronger. He had to distract Greymen long enough for Rayanna and her companions to sneak away. Greyman leaned over, grabbed his hand, and kissed it mockingly. The fairy boy lunged at his face but smeared pastry on his torso instead.
“Shame, little Emperor, wasting good Croissant,” Greyman chided. Rashell grimaced, at the Erkling’s nickname for him. The one he only used when Rashell had displeased him.
Greyman moved closer, the Leanansidhe moved back, his eyes never straying from Greyman’s nose. He couldn’t bring himself to look into those green eyes. If he did Rashell knew he’d lose himself, maybe to fear, maybe to something he had buried long ago. It was ironic, he supposed, all those dark fairies and Rashell always faced them with a sword in one hand and a cocky smile, but now he just wanted to run to someplace safe and shove the blankets over his head so he didn’t have to look at those cruel eyes. “Come now let’s not spoil the evening with a fight in front of these lovely guests.” It was a warning a reminder he had a cover to keep. The Leanansidhe felt as if he had a war drum planted in his chest.
“May I have this dance?” The Erkling motioned to the circle of dancing fairies who were still leaping about despite the Erkling’s presence.
He drew on his years of experience at court to come up with a retort. ” It seems I made a mistake, sir, however, it grows late. I bid ya adieu.”
“Come now,” The Erkling grabbed his arm, Rashell flinched.
“Please, let me leave this night and ya may have me company some other night.” he tried to bargain. Yes, at the end of me sword. Rashell thought to himself.
Greyman chuckled in amusement. “How gracious of you, little emperor,” Then he pressed his callused palm to his lips and let out a high pitched whistle.
Rashell’s eyes went wide. “No, it couldn’t be.” Suddenly, from out of nowhere, six snarling, huge black dogs bounded into view. Their maws dripping with blood. Slowly, they circled him, drool dripping from teeth sharp enough to bite a man in half.
Rashell eyes darted about wildly, there had to be a way out, there was always a way.
“You brought your hellhounds,” Reaper said tightly.
“You said he couldn’t draw blood, you said nothing about his dogs,” Sealiea defended.
“You just want to see the muse get torn apart,” Jenny scoffed.
“And the problem with that is?” the siren questioned sweetly.
“What’s the matter, little emperor, I thought you liked animals?” The Erkling’s smile was chilling.
“N...not you...urs.” he stuttered.
“That’s a shame, I brought them just for you.” the Erkling responded.
" Yer scaring me,” Rashell played the defenseless waif in hopes someone would interfere when all he wanted to do was draw his knife and attack. Sometimes he hated having a double identity.
The Erkling started clicking his fingers. The snarling dogs advanced and lept at him. Suddenly, there was a flash of turquoise blue and an angry yet familiar sound. Meleck had sprung out of nowhere and was now attacking a hellhound with his beak and talons. Rashell gave a cry of fear when the dog managed to shake Meleck free and send the pet falling to the ground. “Meleck!” The peacock lay on the ground winded, the angry dog advanced its black fur matted with blood. Thinking quickly, Rashell placed himself in front of the dazed peacock and pulled back his lips and let out a warning snarl. The dogs looked at each other and gave whines of confusion. Rashell let out a warning growl in response his eyes fixed on their fiery orbs.
The Erkling laughed heartily at the sight. Then his eyes narrowed seriously. He looked past Rashell. “That will be enough of that, my feathered friend.” Meleck froze and his eyes darted from Rashell to Greyman. “Come here.” the Erkling beckoned with a finger. Rashell felt shocked as he watched the usual proud peacock slowly walk toward Greyman.
“Meleck, no, he’ll hurt ya!” Rashell insisted. Meleck gave him an almost sad look and a squawk and went over to Greyman. His head drooped forward in submission, as the Erkling got down on one knee to stroke his head.
“Unlike you, he knows who he belongs to.” A twisted smile crossed his lips. Rashell’s breath was caught in his throat, no, no, he wouldn’t. But the Leanansidhe knew he would. Rashell couldn’t help but look at him searching his eyes desperately trying to reestablish a broken connection.
Then he made one last desperate attempt. “Erkling, why are we standing around fer when there’s a moonlit waltz calling our feet?” Rashell fixed on an inviting smile. Greyman came close and put his arm straight through the blond muses and started to lead him to the floor. The Leanansidhe felt as if he was trapped in a nightmare.
" Stop right there!” Makulu, Lord Feather, and Brigid arrived at the exact same time. Rashell froze but still hung onto Greyman like a monkey.
“Ah, Feather, how’s your back?” the Erkling asked politely.
“Ahhhhhhhh!” To his shock, he saw Count Arwel rush at Greyman, the plump fairie man knocked him straight to the ground and raised his fist.
“Arwel, not on sacred ground!” Rashell screamed. A realization came over the others face and he froze, the Erkling grabbed him by the silk collar of his shirt.
“Ah, Monsieur Count Arwel, I’m pleased to meet you,”
The noble puffed out his chest. “The feeling is not mutual, you knave, harassing Rashell like that. He’s a good boy; a bit rough around the edges due to your savage upbringing no doubt.” Arwell yet out noise as Greyman tightened his grip. Rashell felt his throat clench, if he spoke, tried to bargain for his guardian’s life, the Erlking would snuff it out.
“Grey, come on, that dance floor is still waiting.” He tugged on the Erkling’s arm like an impatient child and was shaken off roughly.
“Savage? You call moi that, you and all of fairie” The Erlking locked eyes with every fairie in the clearing, his jaw twitched, his body tensed as if he was about to spring. Rashell stiffened, the Erlking was angry. Suddenly everything he learned about tactics, combat, and guarding was forgotten and replaced by the urge to pacify the man.
The small fairie boy put his hand on the other's arm a soothing gesture. “Sir, I bid you, please let my dear friend go, forget your anger make merry,” Brigid stated.
“Ah, you must be Mademoiselle Brigid,” the Erlking stated with far too much appreciation.
“Get away.” Rashell mouthed to them.
“You heard the Muse.” Greyman held out his hand green sparks danced on them, suddenly, the ground began to shake
“Run!” Rashell yelled, leaping up and scooping up Meleck. It was too late, huge roots sprang up from the ground and launched themselves at the group. He watched helplessly as Makulu threw himself to the ground, and lay there, wide-eyed and shaking. The roots wrapped around Feathers and Brigid’s, and Count Arwell’s torsos and pulled them to the ground, continuing to pin their arms to their sides. Rashell ran to help them all.
“I ask you kindly to don’t move!” Greymen made a swishing movement with his hands and a tendril crept up Lord Feather’s body, ripping through his shirt to reveal his badly scarred torso and wrapped itsself teasingly around his neck. The Erlking eyed the scars as if transfixed. “How did it feel when I sank moi’s claws into your skin after I killed your people?” he asked excitedly. Feather’s face was stone cold. “You know for a fairie, you’re not particularly fun.” The Erlking teased. Rashell felt like he couldn’t breathe, suddenly, his legs wouldn’t work. Brigid was pale-face; drained of color as the roots squeezed her waist.
“You overstep your bounds sir treating gentlemen and ladies like this.” she said in a tight voice
Greyman scowled. ” A true gentleman does not covet other gentlemen’s belongings.” He squeezed Rashell’s shoulder. “In fact I ought to teach you Seelie not to steal.”
Rashell’s eyes widened he couldn’t mean. “Stop it, leave them alone.” It came out as desperate and scared.
“Why not, it taught you a valuable lesson, didn’t it, Rashell?” he questioned innocently. He took the boys hand and traced his smaller fingers carefully his eyes gleamed. “Although unlike you their lesson would be more...permanent.” The Erlking snapped his jaw for emphasize mimicking a crunch. It was happening again, he was back and once again Rashell was too bloody weak to stop him. He dug his nails into his own palms, trying to fight his impulse to either run or fight. “Normally, I’d take them in a fair fight, but I must abide by the code of my new people,” A murmur swept through the crowd. “I lay my claim to the Unseelie Throne.” The Erlking stated firmly, there was a cry of outrage from the crowd. “This isn’t an alliance violation,” he said sounding indignant. “Dagda was killed this morning, if you didn’t know, well, now you do.” More uproar.
"Silence!” Reaper wailed. The whole crowd obeyed. “He’s correct; Dagda was... is gone, we were waiting for the right time.” Jenny put an hand on his shoulder, he brushed it off sharply.
“If anyone wishes to challenge me, keep in mind this is simply a small taste of my power” The Erlking said flippantly. There was silence then a loud scoff as Makulu wincing pulled himself to his feet.
“Yes, because menacing children and an animal shows real power.” the senator stuck his chin out defiantly and walked straight up to the Erlking. Greyman let out a bark of laughter.
“What the bloody hell are ya doing?” Rashell demanded nervously.
“Don’t worry I have this.” The senator shot him a reassuring and very toothy smile. Rashell groaned in response.
“You’re a very amusing human, would you like to be eaten with honey glaze or barbecue sauce?”
Makulu’s expression was priceless. “Say what? No, in fact.” He straightened himself and smoothed his suit. “I Makulu Sahib challenge you, Greyman, for the Unseelie Throne!” he proclaimed loudly. A dead silence settled over the entire fairie population.
Rashell himself was deep in shock Wait did he just - ? No, I must of misheard. he thought.
“Wait a minute, it’s not against fairie law to have a non fairie compete for the throne is it?” Sealiea proclaimed loudly.
“No! you are not shatting all over His Highness’ legacy,” Reaper informed her.
“Some legacy. ...” The death fairy snarled and grabbed a handful of her short hair.
“Don’t say another word, you ignorant wench,” he warned. The two of them broke out into a fight and Jenny got off of Treasure to go hold Sealiea back. It looked like the siren girl wanted to scratch out his eyes.
“What did Monsieur say?” Greyman demanded.
“You heard me, everyone heard me.” the senator addressed the crowd. Then he continued. “Fairies of the courts, for years you have been under the thumb of a cruel oppressor; this Greyman,” He paused then continued, “you are so filled with fear at the very sight of him, that you’d stand and watch as mere children are tormented by him.” He motioned toward Rashell and his friends. There was an uneasy murmur that swept through parts of the crowd some of the fairies shuffled uncomfortably. “It is clear to me that he has robbed you not only of your families.” He looked at the fairies in the crowd, daring them to lock eyes with them. Some fey looked shocked or angered by his speech but some looked like they were listening. A women started crying loudly. “Friends.” He locked eyes again a few more fairies looked uncomfortable. “Greyman has also robbed you of personhood. I know what you’re thinking, that what would a lowly human such as myself know of your struggle; but I do. It is not insolence, but fact. I myself am part of an oppressed people. My people who were dragged half way across the ocean chained and shoved into a cargo hold where they were forced to perform hard labor from sunup to sundown. They lived in terror and fear of the whip of their master’s lash. As you now coward in fear at the very sound of his voice!” Makulu pointed an accusing finger at the Erlking.
“My people were brought to a strange land where they couldn’t speak the language of their oppressor and were torn from their children. But despite their hardships, they triumphed over their cruel white captors. They rose up and fought back, so let me ask people of Fairie are you just going to let this Greyman guy push you down and stomp across the backs of you and your children and your children’s children. He will do this simply to plant his privileged butt on the throne, and then he will continue to terrorize and hurt all of you. Is what you want or will you follow in the footsteps of me and my people and rise up and throw off your shackles!” Makulu exclaimed.
Complete silence swept over the clearing as everyone just kind of stared at him and Greyman in utter confusion. “Great!” This was Treasure who bounced to the front of the crowd, the bells on his stupid hat jingling. “The Erlking versus a Human; what great sport! What fun, a gamble to top all gambles!” he said enthusiastically. The crowd tittered with excitement, fairies loved games, especially high-risk ones. “We’ll test their mettle, their toughness, and put them through absolute...Tartarus.” the boy siren chirped the crowd roared its approval.
The Erlking grew irritated. “Wait a minute!” Treasure skipped over to him and danced about in front of him in a distracting manner. “Think of it, Your Wildness, he threw out his hand dramatically. “Yes you just kill him now, but that’s boooooooring.” The siren boy faked a yawn.
The Erlking gave him a warning glance and curtly responded .“I’ll not be mocked, Siren.”
The siren boy gasped in mock surprise/ ” Mock you, sir, I would never. I admire your greatness far too much!”
A look of shock crossed the Erlking’s face. “Admire?”
Treasure nodded. “Why you’re the greatest villain in all of fairie!” He announced it as if this was a great accomplishment.
Greyman scowled. “Why is that something to praise?” he demanded he looked at the siren as if he was muck on the bottom of a unicorns gleaming silver hooves.
“If one devotes their whole lives to anything they might as well be great, otherwise, why bother?” Treasure replied.
“What of your own wife?” Greyman demanded bitterly.
“Why she is a fiend of the highest caliber, and I love every bit of her.” Treasure declared.
“How do you live with yourself siren?” Greyman demanded.
“I’ve learnt to laugh at my own reflection.” was his cheerful reply.
The Erlking chuckled despite himself. “Oh, Treasure, how I long to rip out your careless tongue,” the Erlking stated. After looking thoughtful he commanded. “However, you do amuse on occasion, go on,”
The young siren continued. “You and Dagda believed in the power of fairie. That’s why we’re here, here’s your chance to prove it.”
At that point Rashell wordlessly took advantage of the distraction to dive for Feather’s abandoned sword. Swiftly, he started to hack through the older man’s bonds, then he moved on to Brigid. Treasure was still going about the glory, fun, and amusement the Unseelie Court would achieve with a smile so forced, it seemed his face would crack.
Rashell handed Feather his sword. ” You’re absolutely right, fool.” He watched the Erlking sling his huge arm around the shoulder of a surprised Treasure who visibly cringed at the contact. The Lenansidhe felt utter empathy for his enemy at that moment. Sealiea, Jenny, and Reaper all tensed up as if scared to say anything, they all eyed the scene nervously. Greyman gave them a mischievous wink.
“Um ,you know this is a bit too personal, mind letting go?” Treasure asked hopefully.
“Should of thought about that before being pesky,” The Erlking retorted, then an smile crossed his lips. “However, you do make good point, ma petite beaute grecque”
“Um, thanks I guess,” the siren boy squirmed slightly.
“Being an ami of the Unseelie i know how one earns their crown, mind explaining the rules to our brave human?” The Erkling squeezed Treasures jaw so he couldn’t answer.
“A quest! You and the human each go to Boudicca Hall, to choose a rare magical weapon, which you’ll then use to fight a duel to the death. The winner gets the Unseelie Throne and the chance to prove which is better.” Sealiea finished quickly and nervously.
“Conditions?” the Erlking asked peevishly .
“The questies get aid a group to help them carry out their quests. Both you and the human can choose your own members. Also, neither of you can kill each other until the final duel or slaughter each others companions” Treasure added in response to his wife’s silence. There was a pause as he eyed the Erlking fearfully.
“Very well, I find those terms acceptable, however, we need confirmation.” He looked at Reaper patiently.
“Fine. You can have your quest and duel, once you release Treasure.” The Erlking threw the siren boy carelessly to the ground, Sealiea and Jenny ran over to him. Both girls helped him up glaring at Greyman murderously.
The Erlking ignored them and casually walked up to Makulu “Do you find the conditions acceptable, monsieur?” Rashell shook his frantically; this was a bad idea. Greyman was known for his twisted hunting games. “Nothing makes catching prey sweeter than when it thinks it has a chance...” His words came back to haunt the Muse who shivered.
Makulu scowled “Hold up how are we going to find magical weapons?” he questioned.
“The veil has dumped the enchanted forest in our midst,” The Erlking drawled.
“How does he know that?” the human whispered to Rashell.
“The Erlking has control of nature itself; he can sense the natural world,” the Leanansidhe whispered back.
“Telling him my secrets, little emperor?” The Erlking sounded annoyed.
“He deserves ta know what he’s up against,” Rashell declared.
“So you’ve already allied against me again, you treacherous salope.” Greyman spat. “Well, go on, play hero again.” Those words sliced through him as if he were a tree facing an axe. “I hope you get the freedom you crave, maybe then you’ll realize it’s not so great.” Then with a hateful glare, he stated softly. “If your body ended up in a ditch somewhere like Lenora’s you’d deserve it.”
Rashell didn’t know what to say his mouth dropped open and his eyes widened. He knew Greyman hated him now but he didn’t realize it was this intense. He should feel good about that right? When evil people despise you, it means your doing something good. That’s what Captain Feather had said once. So why did Rashell feel like he was the betrayer?
“We’ll gather our allies and meet back here within a week.” The Erlking said to Makulu then he turned and approached Reaper respectfully. “My condolences to you and your court. Dagda was a great man.” Reapers face grew somber. “I would like to assist with the former Kings pyre.” The Erlking added.
Reaper stood there a great tension crossed his face. ” the...pyre!” There was a sense of realization in his voice. “Dagda’s pyre.” the death fairie repeated. “Yes, I suppose it is your right as his closest ally.” he said in a far off sort of voice.
“Then it is settled. Come.” He clicked his fingers, both the hellhounds and fairie guests dressed in furs came and surrounded him. “I bid everyone ado. Au revoir, little emperor, I’ll be seeing you and your sister very soon.” He bowed his head, transformed back into a wolf, and bolted off the hunt following him silent and serious.