“Seena Amethyst Lancaster.”
I blinked, craning my neck to try and catch a look at the woman calling to me from a dark corner of the alley. It was still day, so I had my goggles on, otherwise I wouldn’t have had any trouble seeing in the shadows. With them on, my vision was a little worse than someone with normal eyes.
Then she stepped out of the shadows, and I wished I had ran screaming in the other direction the second I heard her voice.
She was a naked Caucasian woman with long, waist-length brown hair and a large chest—a fey, most likely of the Autumn Court, though sometimes I had trouble keeping them straight. You could tell by their hair colors, but it was hard to remember. Spring was yellow, Summer red, Autumn brown, and Winter black, right?
“I need your help, Honored Nightstalker.”
No time for contemplation. I had dealt with the fey before, and while I put up a brave face to my friends, I was well aware of how stupid it had been. I wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice.
So I turned and ran.
I didn’t get far. Standing at the other end of the alley, blocking my path, was another fey. No, wait—it was the same fey. An exact clone of the one who had spoken before, right down to the freckles above her groin.
This was…bad. Probably. The fey rarely bothered to pilot multiple homunculi at once; it strained them unnecessarily. Something was up.
“Please, Honored Nightstalker,” the second one said pleadingly. “Don’t be afraid.”
I glanced around for an exit. There was no way—no, wait. The alley walls were constructed with kemos in mind, with cunningly-disguised handholds in easy reach. I didn’t have claws, but I should still be able to make use of them.
I rushed the nearest wall as fast as I could, fully expecting the fey to try and stop me. She didn’t, she just gave me a bit of a disappointed look.
I scrambled up about a dozen floors in barely restrained panic. By the time I pulled myself up onto the roof, my hands were scraped and bleeding. They stung horribly, but I ignored the pain and just lay on my back, staring up at the sky, too exhausted to do much else. Thankfully, I had a few buffs that would make my blood clot a bit faster.
Then a pale woman stepped into my field of vision, looking down at me with a critical eye. “Are you quite done, Honored Nightstalker?”
I swore and spun away, leaving bloody handprints on the roof as I scrambled into a fighting crouch. The naked woman wasn’t making any moves, but you could never trust a fey.
She sighed. “As I am sure you are aware, if I wanted you dead, you would be dead. Instead, I would prefer to have an intelligent conversation. Is that so much to ask?”
I narrowed my eyes. She was right, and I didn’t really have much choice, anyway. “Who are you, exactly? An Autumn Crone, I’m guessing?”
The long-haired fey nodded. “Correct.” She bowed deeply. “I am the Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow, the Crone of Night’s Southern Autumn.”
That was really weird; normally the Night Court fey only came out at night, and were equipped with nighteyes. This one was braving the day, and her eyes were baseline to boot. What was going on?
Whatever. I hadn’t met any of Killing Sparrow before, but it didn’t matter. All fey were the same. Giggling little monsters with no regard for how their actions would affect others. To them, everything was just a game. And…
The Queen-Mother wasn’t giggling. Or smiling, or bouncing around like a girl in a candy store. She was…serious. I don’t think I had ever seen that before.
I slowly rose from my crouch, wary but willing to listen. “Fine. What do you want, Honored Crone?”
A smile split her face briefly—very briefly. “I need your help with something. You aren’t going to like it, but you are the only one I can ask.”
My suspicious were returning. “What, exactly?”
“Your warlords have recently come to a very stupid decision,” she began without further preamble. “They have decided it would be in the best interests of everyone to kill the Paladins’ retinue.”
I frowned. I hadn’t heard anything about this, but that wasn’t all that surprising. I was a babysitter; I hardly knew anything about missions even after they had been completed. “Why would they do that? The Generals are as against the Composer as anyone else.”
“Three reasons, actually. First, one of the retinue is a changeling, and they are convinced he is a spy for me.” She shook her head and sighed. “Just because he doesn’t shoot me on sight…regardless, that one is my fault, and I would feel bad if young Jarasax was killed for my mistake.”
Feel bad? A fey feeling guilt? Was…was this a joke? Was this just a couple of random naked twins hired to play a prank on me?
“Second, another member of the retinue is an angel. Completely cut off from the Saints, but your masters are still suspicious. Killing him—and the giant, for that matter—is really just being thorough.”
“And the third reason?” I prompted. Joke or not, the fastest way out of this was to get answers. I couldn’t think of anything more damning than an angel—with Baal’s murder still fresh in everyone’s minds, that would probably have been enough.
“The third reason is because the leader of the retinue is a Belian,” the fey said flatly. “An exceptionally dangerous one, at that. She’s renounced her culture and is on the fixer, but…” she shrugged. “You know how these things are.”
This didn’t make any sense. Belians were the enemies of pretty much everyone, true—they were strung-out chem-heads, they couldn’t really help but antagonize everyone around them. And yes, ex-Belians who lost their fixers tended to relapse within hours, if not minutes. But still, to kill her for no other reason than that…
I narrowed my eyes. “There’s something you’re not telling me. What’s the real reason they want to kill the chem-head?”
“Exactly what I said,” the fey insisted calmly. “Drakela Sanguinas is a ridiculously dangerous Belian, in more ways than one. However, the exact details are not mine to share. Suffice it to say that she has no desire to relapse, and that her death would rob Domina City of an important asset.”
I scowled. “That’s not good enough. I’m supposed to trust the word of a fey?”
I expected her to be offended, or maybe lapse into giggling—that was their normal response to insults. Instead, she just rolled her eyes.
“I swear, you are the stupidest person I have ever met. You insist on trusting when you should act suspicious, and you act suspicious when you should trust.” She rubbed her forehead. “Fine, we’ll do this the old-fashioned way.”
The rooftop access door opened, and another of her homunculi walked out, dragging behind her—
My heart stopped in my chest. “Jelena?”
The Glasyan looked around, seeking my voice. “Seena?” She kept her eyes firmly shut; she didn’t have any daygoggles, so it was either that or get a splitting headache. “That you?”
“Yeah, I’m right here,” I assured her. “What happened? How did you get captured?”
There was a long pause.
“Well, you see…”
“She sold herself to Fevered Day,” the homunculus with the firm grip on Jelena’s arm explained bluntly. “In exchange for a bit of information her subculture needed to stay competitive.”
I stared. “You what?”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” the vampire insisted. “It was only for three days. And…today’s the last day.”
Well. That explained where she had been the last few days. I had assumed she was just busy with the Glasyans, but I hadn’t really had time to confirm that. But… “Wait, then what are you doing with Killing Sparrow?”
“I bought her,” the first homunculus explained. “I traded a very nice gargant for her.” She glared at the vampire girl, who still had her eyes closed. “I hope you realize that I overpaid.”
“But its the last day of her debt, right?” I asked a little nervously. “That means you have to let her go.”
The fey gave me a dangerous look. “I don’t have to do anything, Honored Nightstalker. I bought the girl, not her debt. That means it is on Fevered Day to return her, not me.” She grinned cruelly. “And if Fevered Day can’t find her, well, that’s not her fault, now is it?”
I swallowed. I had never heard of a fey not honoring a deal, but they liked loopholes, and they could get away with it for the simple reason that no one could stop them. Not only were they individually powerful, but they commanded legions of monsters, were masters of the toy maker, and no one knew where their real bodies were.
My path was obvious.
“Tell me what to do.”
The homunculus holding Jelena smiled. “I knew you’d see reason. Here,” she shoved my friend forward, into my surprised arms. “A gesture of good faith.”
“You’re releasing her?” I asked dumbly. “Before I do your job?”
“As I said, a gesture of good faith.” The smile widened into a cruel grin. “Besides, if you cross me…”
“Fine,” I snapped. “You still own me. Got it. What exactly do you want? You still haven’t said.”
“Isn’t it obvious? You need to foil the assassination plot.” She shrugged. “I don’t particularly care how.”
I frowned. “That’s all? That seems like something you could do yourself.”
“Killing the assassins won’t work, and warning the retinue will only delay the inevitable,” she explained. “If it were that simple, yes, I could do it. But your warlords are the kind of people who consider setbacks personal insults. You have to convince them to stop, however you can.”
“Wait,” Jelena interjected. She had her hand shading her eyes, and was squinting in the fey’s direction. I noted absently that the other homunculus, the one I had first seen on the roof, had disappeared. “Are you telling her to kill three warlords?”
“That’s certainly one solution,” the naked woman noted. “That wouldn’t be my first choice, for a number of reasons, but the warlords are worth less than the retinue at this point, so yes, that is on the table.” She shrugged. “It’s up to you. But the assassination is scheduled for October 1st. You have twenty days. The assassins will spend that time gathering intelligence—I suggest you do the same. Inform me when you have results to discuss.”
“Wait,” I called as she turned to leave. “How do I contact you?”
She grinned. “How do you think?” Then she left, slipping through the door and down the stairs as silent as a whisper.
Jelena looked at me, confused. “What does that mean? How do we contact her?”
I winced. I didn’t have the heart to tell her.
She had been the fey’s prisoner for three days. She didn’t have any obvious modifications, and her mind was still intact. But they wouldn’t have left her untouched. Killing Sparrow’s parting words only confirmed my suspicions.
Jelena Aune was now an unwitting spy for the fey.
Behind the Scenes (scene 73)
I’ve gotten quite a few questions about the fey naming conventions, and I think this is as good a time to bring it up as any. Let’s take the fey that appears in this scene as an example: The Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow, Crone of Night’s Southern Autumn. “Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow” is her name, “Crone of Night’s Southern Autumn” is her title. Therefore, if you want to be polite (which is always a good idea with these people), you’d refer to her as “Honored Crone.” You wouldn’t say “Honored Queen-Mother,” any more than you’d say “Honored Derek.” “Lady Queen-Mother” (the equivalent of “Knight Derek”) would also work, as would “Honored Lady” (mirroring “Honored Paragon”).
A few characters have gotten this wrong several times already, which is intentional. The fey’s naming conventions are confusing even in-universe, and most people just try to stay away from them rather than worrying about it. If someone makes the mistake in front of a fey, the fey will usually correct them, unless they’re distracted by something.