“Noble Nyashk!” the fey with the shoulder-length black hair cried joyfully. “So wonderful of you to join us! Would you like a seat?”
“…I’ll stand, thank you,” I said thickly. A young kemo with blue fur offered me something in a delicate wine glass; I brushed it away. “I’m here to see Veda.”
The fey domain, their demesne or castle or whatever, didn’t have a name that I was aware of. Mab—the Unseelie Matron who owned the place and was now smiling at me—probably had some unpronounceable name for it based on some obscure Irish myth, but I didn’t care enough to ask.
The demesne was underground, which was only to be expected, with the only entrance from the surface that I knew of a small service tunnel from the nearby sewers. The entrance, directly behind me, was a long metal walkway over the water, covered in a thick layer of frost like a freezer.
I stood now in some sort of receiving hall, a mid-sized concrete chamber with a cold mist swirling in the air. The floor was a soft white carpet probably meant to look like snow, and the walls had grills for the hidden fans that kept the place below freezing.
There were a few other exits from the room, apparently unguarded, likely leading deeper into the domain. The only other features of note were the dim lights in the ceiling (off now, since we all had nighteyes) and the variety of chairs and couches scattered around, all carved carefully from living ice.
My warlord buffs were impressive, and made the arctic temperatures feel only barely chilly, but you can understand why I declined to sit.
The girlish fey tapped her chin thoughtfully. “Veda, Veda… can’t say that rings any bells.”
“Razvan,” I ordered.
One of my bodyguards stepped forward and fired, shooting at one of the grills in the wall. The device screeched in protest as the bullets chipped off pieces of the spinning blades, which quickly lodged in sensitive areas and ground to a halt.
The fey-slave, or whatever they were called these days, flinched away from the display of force, but Mab wasn’t impressed. “Vandalism is not going to help you,” she said chidingly. “Do you know what prince she serves under?”
That did help, actually. Back at the Wild Hunt, when Veda had introduced herself, she had… well, she had introduced herself. I couldn’t remember what name she had used, but the title was simple enough. “She is the Prince of Night’s Southern Autumn. She was the announcer for the Wild Hunt, with the Prince of Day’s Southern Autumn.”
The fey blinked her black nighteyes in something that almost looked like surprise. “Oh, you mean Aitil Péine? Why didn’t you say so? Yes, she’s here. She lives in the Killing Sparrow quarter of the demesne.”
“Thank you,” I managed with forced politeness. “Would you please take us there?”
“I could, but she is not there at the moment. She is in the Forgotten Dawn quarter.”
It took me a second to recall what that meant. I had been reading up on the fey quite a bit these days, all things considered. “That would be… Night’s Eastern Spring?”
Mab beamed. “Correct! You see, the demesne is constructed in a natural pattern—”
“That’s not really important at the moment,” I interrupted. “Can you just take us there? Or tell her to meet us here, or something?” On second thought, having her meet us here was a bad idea. Walking through the fey domain would provide us with invaluable information on the way they had formatted their ‘culture.’ I shouldn’t have suggested anything else. I still wasn’t thinking like a warlord, even after everything.
“Sure!” Mab chirped. “Bláth Sioc will take you to her.”
Luckily, the fey were still crazy.
Mab disappeared down one of the hallways with a vague wave goodbye, leaving us behind. The blue-furred kemo—well, he wasn’t actually a kemo, I guess—who had offered me a drink bowed politely. “This way, Noble Nyashk. If your guards could stay behind, I’m sure Matron Mab would be most appreciative.”
Marcel, my other bodyguard, stepped forward with a frown. “We’re not going to—”
I silenced him with a raised hand. “It’s fine. Just stay here and make yourselves comfortable.” That was code for ‘watch the warlord.’ They’d follow Mab down the other hallway and report on her movements.
Bláth Sioc bowed again, and led me down the hallway that his Lady had not taken. It was about the same as the waiting room—cold, with every available surface covered in frost—except there was no carpeting on the cold concrete floor. That was fine with me, but still something I found interesting.
After a dozen or so twists and turns over a relatively short walk, clearly meant to confuse newcomers as much as possible, we finally exited the hallway, and I realized we were in the demesne proper.
Now that I saw it, I felt silly for calling the waiting room a part of the domain. Oh, it was, but it was like a restroom in NHQ. It was not intended to be anything impressive; it was just a minor, functional room.
This was not a minor room.
This was clearly intended to be impressive.
And by all Nine Hells and the Black Gates that guarded them, it worked.
We came to an open area the size of football field, stretching nearly out of sight both left and right. We were in a corner, and across from us the walls were so distant that they were just featureless blurs. If there were any tunnels like this one, I couldn’t see them.
And then there was the pit.
A deep black pit that started ten feet from where I stood. No, that was the wrong way to describe it. Rather, the massive, square pit the size of a football field was ringed by a lip of stone ten feet wide. It was deep enough that I couldn’t see the bottom, but I could hear the splash of water and sirens’ songs. Was there a tunnel to Whitecap Bay down there?
But while the bottom of the pit was too distant even for my enhanced eyes to see, the walls of the hole were another story. The walls were sloped sharply, like an upside down pyramid, and would eventually create a sharp point at the bottom if taken to their logical conclusion.
The walls had windows carved in them, and even a scattering of wooden walkways constructed to lead from one to another. There weren’t too many people trotting on the scaffolding, but enough to confirm that that was their purpose, and to divine the meaning behind the windows themselves.
It was a city, where the fey-blessed could live and work. It really was like an inverted pyramid. After the hole was dug—however they managed that miracle—they must have started carving out rooms from the walls.
“Noble Nyashk?” my guide asked pleasantly. “Is something wrong?”
I shook my head. “No… nothing. Can we see the Forgotten Dawn quarter from here?”
He nodded. “Yes, of course. It’s right there.” He pointed to a point across the pit, near the top. I frowned, realizing that he was indicating the east wall of the pyramid. Was that intentional? Mab had been saying something… gah, I should have paid more attention.
“We can just walk over there, right?” I asked. “You don’t need to have wings?”
Bláth Sioc smiled. “Most of us do not have wings, Honored Noble. Prince Péine, while not quite unique in that respect, is still exceptional. They are still in extremely early stages, you understand, and cost a lot of time and money to maintain.”
I nodded. Made sense.
“Now please, follow me, and stay away from the edge. You might be able to survive the fall, but I really don’t want to find out on my watch.”
I smiled as I fell into step behind him. “I promise I’ll watch my step.” I peered over the edge, once again hearing the sound of water splashing deep below, followed by laughter. “Are those sirens down there?”
“Of course. The Unseelie court has had a positive relationship with a number of the Whitecap Bay cultures since the end of the war. This is one of the few places we can interact with them on their terms, since we can’t exactly go hang out on the Ring in plain sight.”
I smiled at the thought of it. There would be riots.
“As I understand it, the Princess of Wind and Frost has a particularly good relationship with the sirens. She might be down there now, you could meet her later.”
Wind and Frost was… Maeve. The one who had recruited Veda and killed Delphie. Failed to save her. Whatever. “I think I’ll pass on that, actually.”
“As you wish. If memory serves, she is the one who recruited and modified Prince Péine, so I assumed you would enjoy the chance to speak with her. And I personally find her quite charming. She is a delight.”
Huh. Honestly hadn’t expected that. The fey had been sniping at each other for so long, I had just assumed that their followers would be the same. Maybe Bláth Sioc served the Unseelie as a whole, rather than one of the individual Ladies?
We really did need more intelligence. Hopefully, Marcel and Razvan would have luck on that front. I couldn’t afford to be distracted from my goal right now.
It didn’t take long to reach the east side of the pit, where the furry little fey-blessed showed me a door in the wall, which hid a set of stone stairs spiraling down. We only had to go down two floors before getting off at Forgotten Dawn.
I found Veda the second I opened the door.
She looked the same as she had the day she had announced the Wild Hunt, an event that had been interrupted by the Composer. Honey-brown skin, brown hair, and onyx black nighteyes. Even her three pairs of translucent insect wings had been repaired.
She wasn’t wearing the dress from that night though. Instead, she had on a pretty basic black t-shirt, with most of the back missing to make way for her wings. It had to be cold in this environment, but she showed no signs of it. Only to be expected, I guess.
The feyborn Prince nodded to me. “Noble Nyashk.”
“Cut the crap, Veda,” I snapped. “You have a lot of explaining to do.”
Veda turned to my guide. “Thank you, Bláth Sioc. I can handle it from here.”
The blue-furred man bowed and left without another word.
Now that I had a moment to calm down, I noticed that the room we were in was surprisingly small and austere. Everything was bare stone, with the wall with the window angled due to the inverted pyramid shape of the hole outside. Other than a cabinet in the corner, a table, some chairs, and a rug on the floor, the room was completely empty.
“What is this place?” I asked. “I was under the impression it was Forgotten Dawn’s audience chamber, not… a broom closet.”
“It is. The audience chamber, that is. Or, I suppose it’s more of a meeting room. A simple little spot we can use to talk to each other. Nothing so large or ostentatious as the ones we show to outsiders.” She smiled and indicated I should sit; I did, hesitantly. She crossed to the cabinet. “Would you like some wine?”
“No thank you,” I declined graciously. Though with my new metabolism, I could knock back a couple dozen bottles before I started to feel the effects. Outside the window, I caught another peek at the massive construction. “When did the fey have time to build this place, anyway?”
“They’ve been around pretty much since the beginning, you know,” she reminded me. “Since shortly after the angels were formed.” She thought about it. “That’s… what? 1986? So yeah, they’ve had fifteen years or so.”
That still seemed like a lot of work to finish in fifteen years, especially in secret. But I suppose having an army of slaves and a complete lack of morals helped speed the process along nicely.
Regardless, that wasn’t why I had come. “Veda, I’ve got a lot of questions for you.”
My transformed friend nodded as she poured herself some wine. “Understandable.”
“All right, let’s start simple. Why’d you join the fey?”
“I needed a patron, and Delphie needed a rescue,” she said blithely. “It was a simple exchange, and one I was happy to make.” A dark look passed her face, and she took a sip of her wine as she sat down. “Though I’ll admit it was more painful than anticipated.”
“And where is Delphie now?”
“Dead. She did get half her face burned off, after all. Lady Maeve did her best, of course, but it was too little, too late. In addition, the acid was poisonous.”
“If your reason for being here is gone, you should leave.”
“My reason is not gone,” she said. “Weren’t you listening? I was looking for a patron. I was a powerless kemo of a quasi-culture so small we literally did not have a single warlord to our name. I wanted this.” She eyed me over her glass. “As a warlord yourself, I would think you’d understand.”
I sighed. “Fine. You’re ambitious. I get it. Tell me what was up with that Wild Hunt.”
I blinked. “No?”
“No,” Veda repeated. “I think, if everything had gone as planned, I would have explained. But with the Composer interrupting and then giving everyone in the city powers…” She sighed. Things are a bit too crazy at the moment.”
“Too crazy to explain for five minutes?” I snapped. “Come on! It can’t be that complicated!”
“It’s not,” she admitted, as she swirled the wine in her glass. “It’s just… with the powers, and whatever happened with that Elizabeth look-alike, and Soaring Eagle fleeing the city, and the colleges, everything is just too jumbled up right now. It’s not that the Wild Hunt is too complicated to explain. It’s just too irrelevant to explain right now. There are simply other things to worry about.”
“Like these colleges you mentioned?”
The fey Prince nodded. “Exactly. You’ve heard of them, I take it?”
I shook my head.
“Oh.” She pulled another glass from somewhere, and poured out some wine for me. “This might take a while.”