I am called Jarasax of the Blood-Doused Hunters. That’s not my name, of course. I don’t remember my name. When the Queen of Harvest Black kidnapped me, she shaped me and molded me so much that my memories were lost in the transformation. Like all changelings, my name is simply something I chose. And as is traditional, I chose an outlandish name to further identify myself from the fey’s apathetic cruelty.
Unlike most of my kithmates, my first memory is not a particularly unhappy one. I awoke in a human form, serving as a living chair for guests visiting the Court. That might sound horrible and demeaning, but there are much, much worse fates available at the hands of the fey.
By the time I escaped, the Queen had taken a bit of an interest in me. I didn’t look even the least bit human by the time I reached a ‘sarian compound. The only reason I survived was because of the thick armor plating I had been given; the soldiers shot on sight.
But, thankfully, they thought it was odd that I refused to fight back, so they took me to Clarke’s lab, where the lovely Mary Christina (the lab tech, not the one who runs the city now) realized that I was actually human underneath all the toys.
They rebuilt me over a few months, but there was only so much they could do. No one—including myself—knew who I was, and toys aren’t things you can just unplug. They had no idea what I was supposed to look like. So, they were forced to use my DNA as a map. It said I was male, average height, and of Middle-Eastern descent, so that’s what I ended up looking like. I had no idea if any of that was true, and in all honesty, I’m sure there are at least a few details that are very wrong.
“Jarasax,” my companion snapped. “Pay attention.”
I instantly straightened. “Apologies, Honored Mother. I let my mind wander. It won’t happen again.”
The First Monster sighed. “Honestly, you’re almost certainly older than I am. How many times do I have to tell you not to call me that?”
“At least once more, Honored Mother,” I responded without a hint of sarcasm.
She rubbed her forehead. “Fine. Why don’t we talk about the fey?”
I blinked. “My lady?”
“That is what you were thinking about, right?” she asked, eying me carefully. “I can always tell when you’re thinking about them. You get a…look.” She shrugged. “We need to clear out your mental cobwebs. What’s the problem?”
“I…” I cleared my throat. “Nothing, Honored Mother. Don’t worry about it.”
She glared at me for a moment, then rolled her eyes. “It’s about the Courts, isn’t it? How organized they are?”
I tried not to let my reaction show on my face. Instead, I shook my head. “Please forgive me, my lady. But…I would really prefer to talk about something else.”
She eyed me carefully, then nodded. “Fine. Consider it tabled. Let’s get back to the matter at hand. How are the screamers?”
“As well as can be expected.” I shrugged. “There’s not really much Clarke can do to study them without invasive procedures.”
The Mother Monster raised an eyebrow. “Are my strictures really that confining?”
I shook my head again swiftly. “No, not at all.” Then I paused. “Well…yes.” I shrugged a little helplessly. “But to be honest, most of the people involved don’t think there’s really anything they can learn from the screamers. Dissecting dead ones hasn’t found anything different from normal humans, why would doing it on live ones be any different?”
“I’m not here to give you a cost/benefit analysis on vivisection,” she noted drily. “I just want to make sure no one is being hurt.”
I shrugged a little helplessly. “Well…they’re not. I mean, sometimes they bash themselves against the cages, but there’s only so much the lab techs can do to stop that.”
“They’re doing their best,” a cool female voice noted. “More than enough to satisfy your strictures, little one.”
Like I said, I don’t have the same blind hatred towards the fey as most changelings. Honestly, I like my current life, with Necessarius and the retinue and everything else, and I’m a little bit grateful towards them for giving it to me.
But the second I saw the Queen-Mother of Killing Sparrow standing there as though nothing was out of the ordinary, I had my gun out and aimed at her face.
Grateful or not, the fey were ridiculously dangerous. If nothing else, their homunculi cheapened their feelings towards death and made them more likely to use lethal force.
My employer glared at me. “Put that down.” I obeyed grudgingly, and she turned her gaze on the fey. “You’re not going to do anything stupid, are you?”
For all appearances, the woman in front of us was an exact clone of the Princess of Killing Sparrow I had met earlier, during the burners incident. But while the Maiden had short-cropped brown hair, the Crone’s was long, reaching past her naked rear end. It was a distinct enough hair style that it was generally called a crone’s cut in Domina.
The nude woman grinned. “Of course I’m not going to do anything, Honored Mother. What ever gave you that idea?”
My employer sighed. “What do you want, Crone? You didn’t sneak past ‘sarian security on a lark.”
Killing Sparrow giggled, making sure to get her chest to bounce around as much as possible. “You sure about that?”
The fey settled down a little. “Ah, but yes, I did have something I wished to speak to you about.” She smiled devilishly. “Politics.”
“Politics,” my employer repeated dully, making no effort to hide her feelings on the matter.
“The Courts are in disarray, Honored Mother. My sisters, my nieces and grand-nieces…” she shook her head. “It looks like war between the séasúir will be inevitable.”
Fifteen years ago, when the toy maker was first introduced, the owner of a sanitarium went crazy and started torturing and experimenting on all his patients. There were ninety-six survivors, who split themselves into thirty-two Courts. First were the four seasons (the séasúir), then the four primary compass directions (treo), then night and day (éadrom). Each Court consisted of three women, a Maiden (the Princess), a Matron (the Queen), and a Crone (the Queen-Mother). Then they used the toy maker on people and animals and whatever else they damn well pleased.
That was the official line from the fey. Well, the short version. If you did meet one, one of the easiest ways to distract them was to ask about the Courts. They’d spend hours ranting about the politics, all while dropping bad Irish at strange moments.
But it didn’t quite sit right with me, and a lot of other people as well. The fey were completely chaotic and insane—and yet all ninety-six of them agreed to pretend to be Celtic fairies? It didn’t help that their homunculi made an actual headcount impossible.
The prevailing theory among the changelings was that the Nameless One (the only way the fey would refer to their former psychiatrist) had used Celtic mythology as part of his tortures, imprinting it on the survivors. The fey always laughed at this suggestion, though.
But actual war between the Seasons…that was rare. Virtually unheard of. Yes, they were chaotic, yes, they were as likely to smile at someone as kill them. But that was part of what kept them at peace. When you don’t care about anything, you don’t take offense to getting attacked by monsters every once in a while. The functional immortality probably helped too.
The Honored Mother just raised an eyebrow. “What’s this war about, exactly?”
In response, the Queen-Mother grinned. “The Cumadóir, of course.”
I knew a smattering of Irish, and I had to restrain myself from spitting in disgust. “The Composer. You’re going to ally with him.”
“Well…maybe.” The Crone shrugged. “That’s what the war’s about. Spring and Summer think the song is interesting, and think we should all become amhránaithe. Autumn and Winter are not convinced.” She grinned. “So we shall go to war. Isn’t that the best way to solve problems?”
Worried, I pulled my employer to the side. “Honored Mother, a war between the fey is—”
“Nowhere near as devastating as it sounds,” she muttered tiredly. “Don’t fret. Their contest will not spill into the streets.”
I frowned. “But—”
“Jarasax,” she said calmly. “I know what I am doing.” She turned back to the Queen-Mother. “Crone. What are the rules of the war?”
“Homunculi only,” the Crone replied with a grin. “And we’ll keep it underground.”
The Honored Mother blinked as realization dawned. “You’re asking permission.”
Our uninvited guest shrugged. “Take it as you like. I just want to make sure the cainteoirí don’t interfere.”
My employer frowned. “Cain…” she turned to me. “Jarasax?”
“Well, uh…it means ‘speakers,’ but I’m not sure in this context…”
‘Curfá’ was Irish for ‘chorus,’ and was the fey name for the screamers.
The Honored Mother narrowed her eyes. “You’re talking about the Paladins.”
“Of course I am,” the naked woman said with a sigh. “Really, dearest, do you have to make this so difficult? I’ll speak plainly.”
Suddenly, something was different. The way she stood, the way she held herself. The fey’s childish exuberance and enthusiasm was suddenly gone.
“The fey are going to be busy soon,” the Queen-Mother said flatly. “There will still be monsters, but very few new ones. Just lots of old designs. Once we come back, we’ll have decided whether to help the Cumadóir or your cainteoirí. If you interfere, it will greatly increase the chances of us siding with your enemies. Thuiscint?”
My employer nodded slowly. “I understand.”
“Good,” the Crone said, her grin quickly returning. “Have fun, dearest. But not too much.” She began to fade back into the shadows. “You remember what happened last time.”
Behind the Scenes (scene 72)
This one took me a while. I needed a scene with more detail on both the fey and the Mother Monster, but I couldn’t find a good way to deal with both at the same time. Except for making it from one of their perspectives, which I didn’t want to do yet. Then I was reminded where precisely Jarasax’s allegiances lay, and suddenly it all fell into place.
Also, it’s annoying to write dialogue between more than two people when only one of them has a name. Okay, technically both of the women have names…and technically Jarasax doesn’t…but still. Not being able to use simple labels is frustrating.