Aryssa crossed to the window and allowed the bird to leap onto one arm while using the other to untie the scroll attached to one of its legs.
We have never met but I understand you help those who are falsely accused. I hold no hope in asking for your assistance.”
Aryssa smiled inwardly. The Dark Fairy was notorious even among her own kind yet she reached out to a Fairy Godmother for help. The fact that so powerful a creature knew of her existence was flattering but was she innocent of her crime or did she simply expect Aryssa to set her free.
“What is it?” Pepper asked.
“The Dark Fairy Ravenshade wishes to see me.”
“Ravenshade, you’re not serious? She killed the princess, everyone knows that!”
“Do we?” Aryssa asked, rolling up the scroll. “Perhaps a visit to the Black Tower will shed some light.”
To the raven, Aryssa nodded. “Tell your mistress I will come.”
The Fairy Godmother’s crystal carriage, its golden wheels gleaming in the dying evening light, was in stark contrast with its black and barren surroundings. The white horses that drew the gossamer thing nickered uneasily on approach to the troll-manned booth whose gate momentarily barred passage across a long forbidding bridge to the austere island upon which loomed Black Tower Penitentiary.
Climbing out before the gate that yawned above, Aryssa was met by a gloomy-looking hunchback. The subdued browns and grey of her cloak and gown seemed cheerful beside his attire of blackest leather.
“Evening ma’am, who ya here to see then?” The hunchback shot her a toothless grin.
“Good evening, Gorred. The Dark Fairy, Ravenshade, is expecting me.”
“Yer no taken up with that demon, are ye?” He gasped.
“I’m not taking up with anyone, Gorred. ” She replied easily as she tucked her hands into the opposite sleeves of her gown.
The hunchback looked dubious. “Orders from the queen are ain’t no visitors for the likes of her but seein’ as it’s you I reckon it’s alright.”
“Now Gorred, I don’t want you to get into trouble. What say, if anyone asks, I am paying a visit to a few clients and we’ll make no mention of my meeting Ravenshade.” Aryssa said, hugging herself against the chill and giving the wand hidden in her sleeve a gentle wave to cast the spell.
Gorred’s eyes glazed over a moment before he nodded slowly and set the lever to open the gate. Inside, Aryssa made her way up the damp stone steps, peering down hallways dimly lit by smoky torches until she reached the level holding the most dangerous criminals awaiting transfer to Demon’s Gate Maximum Security Prison for execution. A Goblin hunched beside the door, his snoring echoing off the bricks.
Aryssa stepped lightly to the gate and reached out when she heard. “There now, where ye think ye go?”
Aryssa closed her eyes, of course, he wasn’t asleep. “I have business here.”
“No in there ye don’t.” The Goblin grinned. “No one go in there.”
The Goblin laughed, a rhythmic raspy hiss that grated on Aryssa’s nerves. She absolutely hated Goblins, the greedy opportunistic bastards. Goblins were shrewd creatures immune to the influences of Fae magic. You needed a heart and a conscience to succumb to magic and Goblins were driven solely by the need to obtain riches. She reached into her sleeves again.
“You misunderstand me, Goblin.” Aryssa smiled through clenched teeth. “It is you and I who have business.”
From her sleeve, she drew a gold chain on which dangled the golden figure of a woman strategically encrusted with gems and diamond dust. The Goblin’s eyes widened, thin needle-like teeth glinting in the firelight as a grin split his reptilian face.
“Is tha- no, it can’t be!”
“It is and it can be yours if you let me inside and look the other way.” Aryssa held it up and let it swing back and forth in front of the Goblin’s face.
He practically drooled as his eyes remained locked on the treasure almost as if he was hypnotized. He reached out a shaking, bony hand and nearly touched it when Aryssa snatched it away again. The Goblin moaned like a disappointed lover.
“Do we have a deal?” She cooed.
A low growl emitted from the Goblin’s throat for a moment before he snorted and barked, “Be quick an you no try nuffin’ funny. Gawdmuvva or no, you try to free prisoner an’ I enjoy tear flesh from bone!”
Aryssa turned her palm up to present the necklace. Her stomach turning from the rotting stench emitting from the Goblin’s mouth as he substituted his prize for the key to the cells. The Goblin opened the door and a cacophony of sound assailed Aryssa’s ears. Nefarious creatures hooted and hollered at Aryssa as she passed from behind doors of wood, glass, and steel that lined the walls.
Gremlins cackled madly while hanging upside down from the bars of the windows. Imps and Gnomes leered at her and made rude gestures and suggestions, decorating the walls of their cells with their seed. Orcs and Trolls glared silently, their eyes glowing like embers in the darkness. Finally, Aryssa reached a cell with a steel door and fit the key into the lock. She stepped inside and waited for the echo of the slamming door to subside in the otherwise soundless chamber. She was in complete darkness.
There were no windows, no chinks in the walls through which some semblance of light might invade. The room was completely sealed, a cell of steel to hamper any efforts at magic. Aryssa’s own magic was cut off, a concept that should have rattled her but didn’t. Here the Fairy Godmother and the Dark Fairy were equal in strength.
“Godmother, you came.” The low velvety voice held a hint of surprise.
“I sent my reply with your raven but I assume you did not receive it.”
“I did not.”
“Would you mind if we had some light?”
“Darkness does not disturb me, however, you may have a light if you wish.”
Having anticipated the restrictions of the Dark Fairy’s imprisonment, Aryssa made sure to carry a candle and matches on her person. In the dim light, the Fairy Godmother got her first good look at her potential new client.
Though no one ever really knew the exact age of a Fairy, Ravenshade appeared to be entering middle age. She was clad from head to toe in a gown that melted into the darkness while her pale, translucent skin seemed to glow in the candlelight. Deep amaranthine eyes gleamed beneath dark, slender brows, above a long thin nose and high sharp cheekbones. Her lips were dark and full, the ends twitching with amusement.
“Aryssa Thornhart, you are younger than I expected or perhaps more vain.”
Aryssa grinned. “The summer solstice marks my 330th year.”
“A babe for so lofty a position. You must be as good as they say.”
“I try.” Aryssa shrugged.
“Will you help me then?”
Aryssa was surprised Ravenshade would ask the question so directly. Was it possible this odious Fairy was frightened?
“It will be difficult. The kingdom finds you guilty, your death warrant is all but signed.”
“I understood you to be a seeker of justice.” Her tone was cool.
“You understand rightly but justice does not come for everyone. Through my best efforts, I may not be able to save you.”
“You have never failed to solve a case before.”
“There is a first time for everything.”
The silence that followed assured the Fairy Godmother that Ravenshade understood the gravity of the situation. The deck against the Dark Fairy could not have been stacked higher and she insisted on making no promises she could not keep.
“Tell me your story,” Aryssa said.