The Piper, The Faerie, and The Man
Mark Ulf made love to me often during the (relatively) short journey but he kept a room to himself. Jean and Jeffery, the devious pair, wouldn’t leave me alone for anything. They hunted me across the ship and the sailors laughed when they’d catch me and drink my blood. My only respite was the few hours during the day when Mark and I withdrew our protective shells keeping the sun from destroying them. I was glad when we arrived in Italy. The maloks boarded with us at an inn. While Jean and Jeff ran off to find fresh blood, Mark and I sipped wine by candlelight and discussed our mission. He’d brought Jean to this time period to assist in the apprehension of Tauro Minelaus. The Black Death was his fault. He had a horrible habit of turning nearly everyone he met into a vampire. Even animals weren’t safe. That’s why the rats were so dangerous now; they spread the vampirism as well. Since only certain people could become vampires, those Minelaus or his children turned ended up becoming vitally challenged instead.
Er, yeah, I have to say I never imagined battling a zombie apocalypse. All the vitally challenged people I knew had at least marginal awareness and an excellent sense of humor. But these guys were of a different ilk altogether. They either died horribly or had to die. They just blindly kept trying to turn others. Mark had been tracking the spread of the disease in order to pinpoint its true source. Through Tauro had begun infecting people in Mongolia he stayed on the move. Eventually, the big guns were called in to assassinate him. A ragtag team of random Others. We would wait at the inn to meet up with them and join forces. “Relax for now. There’s not much to be done yet,” Mark Ulf told me. He sat across from me Indian style but was crouched over like a moody teenager.
“Hey, Mark…what exactly are you? I’ve never asked.” I decided to change the direction of our conversation.
His black eyes flashed and he shifted a bit. “They’re commonly known as en-suckers. Energy suckers. More incubus than ragnir, though. Ragnir sip from souls; my kind in particular merely eats physical energy. We all come from Nephilim, though. That’s what I originally am. Um…” he paused, glancing at me. “I’m also something else. But it’s locked away. Mikassa knows.”
“When we finish up here, if we survive Mikassa’s wrath, I’ll help you find out what else you are. If you want.” I ducked my head, mildly embarrassed. We rarely discussed specifics about the future.
He reached out and placed a hand on my knee. “Allison Mae, thank you. It’s a big task. I know the answer to my origin is impossible. I don’t recall where I came from, only why I’m here. It’d be nice…to have help.”
“Cool,” I grinned.
“Do you know why I want you? Why I’ve spent so long working behind the scenes to save you?” he asked quietly. I shook my head. “I admire your search for truth. The weight you bear for no one’s sake but your own. Your soul is a diamond. It shines so beautifully. I want to be close to that, to be reminded of it. And before you ask, yes, Mark Blue feels the same way I do.”
I leaned back against the legs of the ornate chair behind me. I still wasn’t ready to accept that the biggest difference between Mark Ulf and Blue was simply a matter of time. I studied the gorgeous dark wooden walls and floor instead. There were paintings of the owner’s family on each wall. Surprisingly, the owner seemed to be the raven-haired woman. She had a widow’s peak and stormy grey eyes. Her hair was incredibly curly. Her portrait looked off to the side as if she held disdain for the artist painting her. The rest of her family seemed equally grim and sported the same dark hair, though their eyes were of a few different colors. I cleared my throat. “Say, Mark, who exactly are we waiting to meet? What are these people like and how many are there? Who could they possibly send to stop Tauro and a horde of zombies? That’s a monumental task,” I spoke in wonder and a bit of awe. I realized that Macton was alive, albeit very young, somewhere on this planet. And he was with Mark Ashton. Or rather, Mark Ashton’s form in his last life. Fatima. And myself; the last me was somewhere sleeping. How the fuck could I have slept through this? I berated myself.
Mark raised an eyebrow at me. “We are who we are. You’re here now. That’s all. As for this group: they call themselves the Irresistible. You’ll see why when they arrive. Nearly all of them will or have already had myths and fairy tales created around their person. They also each possess a highly desirable skill; something that allows them to affect many people at once in mysterious ways. Quite like Minelaus but for once put toward what can be considered a positive purpose. A bit like yourself. I actually reckon you’ll like them. At least at first. Once you know what they’ve done and that they were assigned by the VC to this task as a punishment for those past and future deeds, I believe you might see them a bit differently.”
“Hm. Useless as always,” I teased him and stood. “Think I’ll draw a bath. That water’s been on long enough, yeah?” I nodded at the large pot over the fire.
“Go ahead. I’ll keep Jean and Jeff entertained. They’ll be back soon.”
“Thanks, love.” I grabbed one side of the cauldron and lugged it down the hall to my room. I’d dragged the bath in there earlier since the others didn’t need it. I poured the scalding water into the tub, shed my clothes, and slipped in. A fleeting moment passed where I thought of my luck that my skin hadn’t burned from touching the metal of the cauldron formerly or from touching the water contained therein. Randomly, I visualized Mark Blue in his tub, gazing up at me with desire and hope. I shut my eyes but that vision was simply replaced by another memory of him, this one when he’d asked to lay with me. He’d seemed like some lost little boy. No, that wasn’t quite right. He’d seemed…innocent. And weary. I huffed and rolled back and forth in the bath in an effort to rest my brain. Why was I thinking of him now? Of all the people I missed he was certainly near the bottom of the list. Wasn’t he? My heart skipped a beat as I thought of his sneer and then of how hot he’d looked fucking Damon at our little meet and greet party.
Shit! Maybe jacking off to him just once won’t hurt.
“She’s a bit tiny,” a female voice snorted.
“Nothing wrong with that,” a male voice replied in an annoyed tone.
“Lay off it, Rump. It’s just that for someone so legendary you kind of expect them to tower over you,” a third voice chimed in. Why were they all speaking different languages?
Groggily, I opened my eyes to witness my visitors. A tall willowy blonde, a stout little man, and a dark-haired man dressed like a 20th century butler. “Mm, do you mind?” I grumbled, swinging my feet over the edge of the bed.
“You are in our headquarters,” the blonde shrugged. She sounded Swedish but she was speaking Italian.
“Fair point, I suppose,” I sighed. “I guess you all know I’m Aeryn.”
“Pea,” she nodded back.
“Sebastian, at your service,” the dark-haired man bowed, speaking French.
“You can guess my name,” the stout man said good-naturedly. “Call me Rump or Stiltskin but never both.”
I choked back a laugh and got to my feet. Jean (and/or Jeff) had laid out a simply cut dress for me to wear. I stepped behind the folding screen to freshen up and change. “So where are the others? There are more of you, right?”
“They’re not as nosy as we are,” Sebastian smiled. “Ah, I should clarify. I’m not quite one of the Irresistible. The little lord here is my liege. He can’t touch or be touched, you see? So I perform most daily tasks for him.”
“Interesting,” I noted, peering at the small, rough-looking man. He very closely favored a gnome. He wasn’t bothered in the slightest by my curiosity. He seemed to understand that I sensed he was more than met the eye.
Sebastian took the lead, gliding out of the room and flouncing down the hallway. He was definitely flashy. It was as if he were the star of his own show. Stage most assuredly. He’d blow up a screen. Pea flowed down the hall regally, her sharp blue eyes aware of every little thing. Quite fitting that she was so discerning. Rump sort of lurched down the hallway, sometimes hopping with glee, but careful never to walk too closely to anyone or anything else. I could also see a shimmering bubble of energy around his form, like a precursor for the biospheres the BTS crew had. Was he the source of it then? Hm. When we reached the common room Sebastian made a beeline for Jean and Jeff. Dear god, there were too many of them! I chuckled as they fawned over the different materials in their clothing. Deciding to leave the fancy Frenchmen to their own devices, I made my way over to the woman I recognized as the owner of the inn. Taking a page out of Stuart’s book, I lifted her hand and brushed my lips across it. “Enchante, mademoiselle,” I addressed her.
“Bonjour, Aeryn. Je m’appelle Belle. Bienvenue. C’est moi plaisir de vous avoir ici,” she spoke quickly. She was absolutely gorgeous. She also dressed a bit anachronistically; more like a steampunk Domme than a 14th century woman. Her large grey eyes had the longest lashes I’d ever seen. I reached up and ran my hand quickly through her thick curls. So lovely. Her eyes brightened and she gave a slight smile.
“Your inn is quite beautiful. A bit eclectic for this time period,” I complimented.
“I take care to only board those who care not,” she remarked wisely. “This is my team. You’ve met a few of the others. The rest are all out at the moment. Allow me to introduce Piper, Sandy, Madison, Pietro, Tinker, Zeitelia, and her sister, Tali.” She gestured to the assembled group of people. It was no shock to see exactly why they’d dubbed themselves the Irresistible. Their power and energy levels were off the charts. I felt dizzy in the presence of such gifted people. Tinker, Zeitelia, and Tali all had wings yet Tinker’s were like Saje’s used to be: bright and colorful. The sisters’ wings revealed them as Faeries instead of fairies. I also recalled their names and descriptions from the books Razi had given me. Tinker flitted around Pietro, who appeared to be an elf. I think all elves were partial to green because Piper was also adorned in a dark green outfit. The style of their clothing was different and Pietro’s outfit was lighter in shading, but that in addition to their pointed ears was a dead giveaway.
By far, though, the strongest contenders were Piper, Sandy, and Zeitelia. Sandy sat arm wrestling with Madison, whose thoughts were racing. I could tell he was more than a little crazy and it wasn’t merely his dusty bowler hat and mismatched clothes that tipped me off. I’d be sure to be careful around this manic person. My eyes travelled back to Piper, whose purple eyes were eerily familiar. I held back a shudder and switched to looking at the others. Sandy had long jet black hair and eyes. He was solid, pure muscle. My eyelids started to droop as I began to feel sleepy. I shook my head. He glanced up at me apologetically. “I have another name: Morpheus,” he shared in a low rumble of sound that was felt as much as heard.
“It certainly fits,” I grinned, despite knowing he was the one who’d had the factories built for Marduk. I think my smile was more an effect from the dreamy quality he cast out. Or was there more than one god of sleep? I was a bit confused. I’d find out later.
Zeitelia leaned down and draped her arms about him. “When all are sleeping he keeps me awake,” she purred.
“Isn’t that the best?” I replied happily, relaxing.
“I prefer a lucid dream myself,” Piper piped up, wandering closer.
“You remind of a guy that I once knew,” I blurted out.
“Oh? Praytell? Who was this captivating man you knew?” He extended his arm about my waist and began to dance with me.
“He was a dick. He’s actually why I’m here right now. Maybe you’ve heard of him.”
“Maybe I have,” he agreed, whirling me to and fro. His voice was lyrical like Lex’s but it was also leading. You wanted to follow that voice anywhere. He continued spinning me around and around and before I knew it we were in another room. It had to be his; there was a bej in the middle and plants fucking everywhere. He spun me so that I landed on his bej and lay beside me, non-threatening and leaving me plenty of room to escape if I wanted to. “So how did you get here? Zeitelia is the Faerie of Time. Right now you’re supposed to be sleeping, she says.” His eyes glittered.
“That guy…he’s changing time by killing my family. He’s erasing me,” I revealed.
Piper’s eyes moved to a corner of the room and hardened. “That M.O…” he murmured. He shouted for Zeitelia and Sandy and sat up, no longer playful. “We’ve got another problem. Tauro isn’t the only asshole on the loose,” he told them, his accent coming out a bit stronger. I finally placed it as being Germanic. That made a lot of sense if he was who I thought he was.
“Aeryn?” Sandy turned to me.
“I assume you all know about Mikassa Ahmed Shekran,” I began.
“That little nutcase,” Zeitelia groaned. “He’ll destroy the timelines at the rate he’s going.”
“Z, we have to help. Aeryn’s here to help us, after all. It’s the least we can do since this is our fault,” Piper pointed out.
The hair on the back of my neck rose as one of my suspicions was confirmed. “How is this your fault?” I asked them.
“The VC sent us each to hunt down Tauro for different reasons. We all broke our Promise in some way. This is our punishment-to fight the zombie apocalypse all by ourselves. But for us in particular, there’s an additional punishment…” Piper revealed.
“At some point in the future the three of us copulate and later give birth to three children,” Sandy continued when Piper trailed off. “One of them, Mikassa, will kill us shortly thereafter.”
“Sorry but what? How did the VC find out? How can three people have a kid all together and Mik has siblings?” I sat up rapidly.
“The VC…has kept a prisoner for a while now. You may recognize her. In ancient Greece her name was Cassandra,” Z answered, kneeling in front of me.
“So they have an oracle locked away somewhere?” I ground my teeth and clenched my fist.
“Yes. We’d like to save her if possible. But that’s another matter. On to your next question. Our physiology is different due to none of us having any genetic ties to humans at all. I was created by a god.” Z pointed at herself.
“Whereas I am one,” Sandy added.
“You already know I’m an elf. Completely different. It’s actually me that’s the key to the three-parent offspring. You see: elves reproduce, birth, and partner in triplicate,” the Piper explained. I could feel him peeking into my mind, examining my memories, figuring out what I knew. I opened my mind to him willingly since he was sharing so much with me.
“Kind of like en-suckers, right? They always give birth to triplets as well,” I remembered. Why would Mikassa leave me in a world where I could meet his parents? Did he want me to know all of this about him? I felt very uneasy. If he would let all this be revealed I’d hate to see what he was hiding.
“Yes. I believe that’s why Mik took such a liking to them,” the Piper said with a touch of sarcasm. He held his forehead in his hands. “Mikassa has a brother and a sister. You’ve met his brother,” he stated darkly. A dark cloud of energy was congealing around him. Just like…
My first reaction was going to be to ask him what the hell he meant but then I took a closer look at the three of them. The Piper, the Man, and the Faerie. The Pied Piper with his power of persuasion. The Sandman with the power to control dreams and sleep. The Time Faerie who controlled the flow of events. The way the energy was dark around Piper. I thought back to the books about Mark’s childhood. “We’re brothers, Mark. Brothers by blood,” Mik had said to him. I felt the bile rising in my throat and the brick walls closed in on me. The Piper slid behind me to keep me from falling and the Sandman leaned down and said, “Let me take the pain, babe. We have much more to discuss,” in a tone reminiscent of Mark. His other son.