This is one of my longer projects: my faerie AU!
I began it a while back, when I was living in a horribly abusive living situation with someone I thought was a friend, but who actually just used me and mentally/emotionally abused me from the day we met. I'm happy to say I've completely cut that awful person out of my life and am doing infinitely better because of it. I also had a great friend of mine (who was also being abused by my abuser) fly down with her service dog to visit me a few months ago! She was nervous about flying, but wanted to travel to see me, and we had a blast!
This fic is currently updating, and though I'm not certain when I'll have updates done, but I do intend to finish this one.
Hope you enjoy!
The bakery had been closed for an hour.
Shion swiped a damp cloth across the glass cases. Little pastries sat behind, wrapped in plastic to keep them safe another day. His mother had slaved away in the kitchens for the better part of the afternoon, crafting little scones and muffins for tomorrow's display.
Venturing behind the front counter and swiping away the smudge of children's fingerprints, Shion focused on the circles he made with his right hand. The scratch of his mother's broom as she swept the back kitchen. The low buzz of the overhead bulb Shion was certain would go out sometime this week. The conflicting smell of cleaning chemicals and the buttery warmth of new pastries.
He focused on the little things that kept him attached to this world: the human world. Not the safest of worlds, to be certain―but better than the other one Shion knew about. The one he pretended not to see when he went outside the iron protection of the bakery walls. The world filled with teeth and blood and magic.
"Almost finished?" Shion's mother stepped out of the kitchen. She always reminded Shion of the bakery itself—Karan was warm and inviting, eternally gentle and wise beyond her years. She untied her crisp white apron from around her waist and folded it over her left arm. The purple handkerchief tucking her hair out of her face.
"All done." Shion tossed the cloth into a small bucket beside the trash can. Karan would take them home and wash them alongside the laundry. "I wrapped the pastries, too."
"Somewhere to be?" Karan laughed. "You usually wait for me to help you."
Shion walked over to the coat rack, where he and his mother kept their jackets in the winter. His bookbag hung from one of the hooks, and Shion pulled it down over his shoulder.
"Safu and I have an assignment for Japanese Literature," he explained. "We had plans to meet after the bakery closed."
"Oh, I see." Karan squinted out the windows, their dark blue curtains pulled back slightly, and into the emptying streets. "It's getting dark. Will you be all right?"
Shion opened his mouth to tell her yes—when something small bounced against the windows.
Karan yelped at the sound, and Shion's shoulders shot to his ears. "Oh!" Karan's hand flew to her chest, her cheeks flushed with surprise. "Was that a bird?"
Shion didn't dare to look. "Probably?" His voice didn't tremble the way he feared it would, and he was grateful. He couldn't be nervous. Karan wouldn't want him to walk to Safu's if he seemed nervous. Truth be told, Shion didn't want to walk to Safu's either. He would have preferred to ride in a vehicle, something safe and made entirely of iron—but his mother couldn't afford a car, used or otherwise, and none of the train stations dropped off even remotely close to Safu's neighborhood.
He knew, in the pit of his soul, that a bird hadn't crashed into the bakery window. If he looked over his shoulder, he would most likely see a glowing purple figure, no larger than his fist, shaking itself off and resuming flight. The smaller ones weren't bright. This wasn't the first time one had smashed into something.
"Shion?" His mother's warm brown eyes narrowed with worry. "You look a little pale. Are you feeling all right?"
"I—I'm fine, Mom." Shion plastered a smile on his face. "I, um, I've got to get to Safu's. I'll text you when I get there, OK?"
Karan looked skeptical for a moment, but, thankfully, she simply gave Shion a kiss on the cheek and told him to be careful.
"I will," Shion promised.
"Should I save dinner for you?" Karan asked, leaning against the door frame as Shion stepped out into the street. The tall lamps lining the sidewalks were beginning to turn on. The sky had transformed into a beautiful array of reds and purples. In a few minutes, the sky would go dark, and the silver stars would begin to pop up.
Shion shook his head. "I'll just eat at Safu's. Her grandmother's making dinner."
Bidding his mother a quick goodbye, Shion sunk his teeth into his lip and began to walk down the street.
Don't run. He forced his hands to stop shaking. He kept his steps even and his head high even when he felt like running. Staying calm—or appearing so—was the only defense Shion had beyond the protection of iron walls.
Karan couldn't see what Shion saw. Her eyes had never caught the flash of large wings in the middle of the night, or the sprays of blood as a wolf tackled a little girl and bit her open. All of them inhuman in every possible way. All of them monsters who were so beautiful that people would do foolish things to please them.
Shion would have avoided walking at night, if he could help it. Something about the absence of sunlight made the creatures in Kronos more active. Bolder. More prone to violence.
The Fair Folk were once creatures of the night, Shion remembered. Safu's grandmother had told him that years ago, but Shion remembered it as well as his own name. Any knowledge of the Folk was better than nothing. Any information made him safer than he had been.
The early-evening streets of Kronos weren't vacant. People stepped in and out of shops, or lingered on their porches. None of them saw the silver wolf slinking through the shadows, visible one moment and then camouflaged the next. The old woman carrying grocery bags into her house didn't spot the gargoyle napping on the hood of her car.
Shion envied all of them. The Fair Folk might have been beautiful, but there was cruelty behind it. The Folk were not kind.
Turning away from the creatures, Shion focused on getting to Safu's house. He tucked away from a man in a business suit who nearly crashed into him. Shion murmured an apology that went ignored.
Sometimes he wished he could tell the Fair Folk to leave him alone. Sometimes he wished there was a way to take the Sight from his eyes and toss it into the ocean.
He knew it was an impossible dream. The Folk might have been able to take his Sight from him, if Shion were to ask—but Shion also knew that the faeries might take his eyes, too.
Ever since he was a child, Shion had been taught of the cruelty of the Fair Folk. Safu's grandmother had picked up on his gifts at an early age. She'd been kind enough to pull him into her world, filling him with the same knowledge and warnings she'd given her own granddaughter. Never let the Folk know you have the power to see them, she'd instructed them both. No matter what horrible things you've seen them do, remember that they will do worse to you, should they discover your secret.
And so Shion had averted his eyes and pretended to see nothing. He'd forced a smile on his face when a skeletal woman took a bird's head in her bony fingers and crushed its skull. Living with the Sight was a game of eternal acting—but Shion wasn't certain how much longer he could keep up the pretense.
He'd just rounded the corner that would take him by the train station, when a low murmur washed through the small cluster of Folk lingering in the streets.
Shion couldn't help it. He turned his head, pretending to be drawn by an odd scent or the flash of a coin in the dirt. His gaze drifted briefly to the mouth of an alley—and then Shion spotted him stepping out from the darkness.
The faerie he saw again and again, in various spots around Kronos.
He was devastating. He was only a bit taller than Shion, but he carried himself as if he towered above even the tallest of the fae. His long hair was dark as the midnight sky, but Shion had never seen it down. He usually kept it in a messy ponytail that would have looked good on a regular human. On him, it was striking—but not nearly as much as his eyes.
Silver. Not a human shade, faded green or blue or a hodgepodge of the two, but the color of a thunderstorm. Clouds reflected in a sharpened blade. Shion had never seen eyes like this on any of the other fae creatures that lurked around Kronos. He felt like those eyes would cut him if he were to catch their gaze.
If the boy had been human, Shion would have been drawn to him. He might have even tried to talk to him. The boy wasn't Shion's usual type—cold and distant in a way that made him untouchable, someone who reeked of trouble and held the entire world in the palm of his hand.
The boy moved as if he were someone important. In the rare moments when Shion spotted him in the presence of other fae, they had given the boy a wide berth. Even the creatures that looked menacing treated the boy as if he was someone to fear.
That terrified Shion, too. He might have thought the boy was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, but he didn't know if he wanted to know him. If it would be safe to know him.
Whenever Shion saw the boy, he was bombarded with the scent of jasmine flowers and winter wind. He could hear the wind rustling through tree branches. If he closed his eyes, he could picture himself wandering through the woods in the dead of winter. Crisp white snow would fall all around him, and he would walk into the depths and never be seen or heard from again. It was so easy to imagine. A beautiful dream that blurred the line and threatened to become a reality.
Shion walked a little faster, not exactly running. He never ran around the Folk. If he did, they would give chase. The Fair Folk enjoyed a good chase. It pleased them when their prey ran.
A couple blocks down, Shion ducked into one of the small cafés tucked in the corner. He felt safer among the scents of coffee beans and vanilla sweet cream. Every time the streets were overrun with fae, Shion would hide in the café or in the supermarket, intermingling with other humans until the worst of the creatures had passed.
There was a girl sitting in the back of the lobby. She was invisible to all the others, and Shion could tell in an instant that she wasn't human. Her ears formed into little furry points at the tips, and her long hair seemed to be made of ruby filaments. The dim overhead lamps caught in the jagged strands as she turned her head toward him.
Shion stepped away from the girl and ducked into the line. He wasn't much of a coffee drinker, but he figured it would look suspicious if he didn't order something. Suspicious was never good when it came to the Folk. It attracted their attention, and that was exactly what Shion wanted to avoid. He scanned the menu for something he might enjoy.
And then the silver-eyed boy walked into the café—still glamoured, still invisible to all the humans aside from Shion—and headed straight toward the fae girl.
Shion swallowed a lump in his throat. The Folk walked past him on a daily basis, invisible and impossible to hear unless they willed it. The particularly strong ones could weave glamours to hide in plain sight. Shion had never seen a member of the Folk create a human glamour. He didn't ever want to. The idea that any of the people surrounding him could be fae was almost as frightening as what could happen if one of them discovered that Shion could see them without their glamours.
The boy marched to the table. The girl lifted her head, spotted him, and her eyes went wide. She bared her teeth—sharp and serrated, like a shark's—and whispered, "Nezumi."
Her voice was as jagged as her teeth, and the name stumbled over her tongue. Shion's heart caught in his throat. Nezumi. The name flowed through his head like dandelion fluff on the wind, and Shion imagined it would taste strange on his lips. Nezumi.
The boy pulled back the chair opposite her and dropped into it. Shion looked around to see if any of the other human patrons had noticed that the chair had been yanked back by invisible hands.
No one seemed to notice much of anything. Not the couple closest to the window who seemed on the verge on an obvious breakup. Not the barista watching Shion with a disinterested smile, waiting for him to hurry up and order. Not the young mother desperately trying to corral her unruly toddlers. No one noticed the two creatures sitting in their midst.
Shion found himself wondering, not for the first time, what the silver-eyed boy would look like as a human. His hair would darken to a dull black, or perhaps a steely blue that appeared gray in the sunlight. His eyes would be more difficult to hide. Shion couldn't think of a color that would suit him better than his own sharp silver, but silver was not a normal color. Shion tried to picture him with dark blue or brown irises, but he didn't like the thought.
"He sent you, didn't he?" The girl's gravely little voice pierced through the low hum of conversation in the café. "The King?"
Shion's stomach hit the floor. The silver-eyed boy served a king. That's not good. Safu's grandmother had told him countless stories of faerie courts. Reigning over them all were two large kingdoms: Seelie and Unseelie. Light and Dark. Day and Night. There were so many stories, Shion didn't know which of them were true—and he didn't have a means, or a desire, to find out.
Only a court as large as the Seelie or Unseelie would have a king. Shion didn't want to think what it meant that court fae were wandering through Kronos. He needed to put distance between himself and the two creatures sitting in the café with him.
"He's pretty pissed at you," Nezumi replied, and Shion's heart fluttered. His melodic voice pierced through the air like shattered glass. Shion could easily imagine falling asleep to that voice. Could imagine listening to it for centuries. Dangerous, he thought, forcing his gaze to drift around the café, as if he were looking at the decorations rather than eavesdropping on the nearby conversation.
"It's not a crime to abandon a court," the girl replied. Her voice trembled at the edges. "We do it all the time, you know."
"Your intentions were to leave for the Seelie Court," Nezumi said. "That's rather suspicious."
The little bell above the door jangled as a woman in a black jacket stepped inside. Shion stepped aside and let her take his place in line, pretending to still be mulling over the menu.
"There's nothing to worry about," the girl assured. Shion watched her from the corner of his eye. The edges of her red hair glinted in the dim light. She was smaller than Nezumi—smaller and more colorful. She wore a faded copper dress that looked as if it belonged in the past. "My intentions to leave were—or rather, there's no harm in letting me go. I'm not a threat, Nezumi. You have my word."
The Fair Folk were incapable of lying. Shion wasn't foolish enough to think that meant he was safe. Safu's grandmother had warned him that faeries could manipulate the truth. Bend it until it snapped on its own.
Even so, Shion thought a faerie's word might be as good as any promise. He didn't know what harm it could do to let the girl switch courts—didn't see how she could be a threat to a faerie king—but from the look that crossed Nezumi's face, Shion had a sinking feeling that the girl's word wasn't enough.
The girl seemed to have the same opinion. "Please." Her big eyes filled with tears. They were filthy and gray, dripping down her cheeks and leaving tracks of silt in their wake. "Just let me go. You know—you know better than anyone what a monster he is."
"I do," Nezumi replied.
The faerie girl's shoulders relaxed. At one of the tables, the woman with her two toddlers dropped her purse on the ground. The contents spilled out on the ground. A blue compact mirror rolled out and struck the edge of Nezumi's black boot. "Shit," the woman muttered to herself. She rose from the table, stomped over, and snatched her compact from the floor. She didn't notice Nezumi sitting there. Nezumi didn't look up at her as she walked away.
"I do know what a monster he is," Nezumi echoed. His silver eyes flickered to the window. Shion followed his gaze outside. He spotted a few faeries in the streets. More than half of them seemed to linger by the café door, never venturing inside. "But they're watching us."
The chair screeched across the tile as the faerie girl jumped from the table.
She turned—but Nezumi was faster.
Something silver glinted from his side. Shion watched in abstract horror as Nezumi drove his arm forward, his fist connecting between the girl's exposed shoulder blades.
Blood sprayed from her open mouth. Splattered in an arch across the glass. She tripped over one of the empty tables and crashed to the ground. Her skull bounced against the leg of a nearby chair. Its human occupant glanced over at the sensation of his seat being jostled, but, seeing nothing, turned back to chatting with his companion.
Nezumi flicked his wrist. Blood whipped through the air, sliding from the edge of a silver blade. He slid it back into a small sheath at his side.
Shion didn't watch. He stared dead ahead. Stared at the wall as Nezumi shoved his chair back, rose to his feet, and stalked out of the café without looking back.
The smell of jasmine went with him.
There was nothing left but the overpowering stench of copper.
Shion exhaled, his breath shuddering out of him.
"Sir?" The barista tapped her index finger against the counter. She had an impatient smile on her face. "Sir, are you ready to order?"
The girl's corpse lay sprawled on the tiles. One of the toddlers laughed and sprinted by her outstretched fingers.
"No," Shion said. His voice sounded thousands of miles away. His body had gone cold, all the warmth bleeding out on the floor alongside the faerie girl's pale blood. "No, I—I'm sorry. I don't think I'm going to order after all."
Nezumi stood on the rotten-wood porch of a broken-down house. He watched the silent figures in the weed-saturated gardens move swiftly as shadows. The humans passing on the street sensed their presence, despite not being able to see them, and avoided the yard altogether.
With the glamour intact, it looked like a junkyard. An abandoned house whose owners had left it decades in the past. Beyond it, the rundown house looked even more foreboding. The broken window shutters crafted narrowed, judgmental eyes. The broken beams of the porch yawned like a mouth filled with sharp teeth. The staircase made for a convincing tongue. The mouth of a great beast whose stomach held a world of darkness and misery.
At Nezumi's back, cars zipped down the street. The sound of tires crunching over gravel was drowned out by the distant screaming beneath the mountain. The run-down house was just an entrance leading to a deep underground tunnel that twisted through the forests, opening up into the heart of a mountain the men and women of Kronos believed to be cursed.
The stench of rotten flesh, grave soil, and the almost tangible chill hovering around the entrance of the Unseelie Court made it difficult to breathe.
Home sweet home, Nezumi thought. It had never felt like home. Then again, the Unseelie King had never felt like much of a father. Blood only ran so deep in the world of Faerie—and it meant even less in the Unseelie Court.
Inside the heart of the Court itself, the air made Nezumi's entire body ache. He supposed he should have been lucky he could survive as long as he did beneath the mountain, surrounded by the rotten mana that sapped his strength.
As a dark elf, Nezumi had both light and dark mana coursing through his veins. He could survive without sunlight and fresh air for weeks, but even he had a breaking point. He couldn't live in the shadows forever. The King was a creature born of the darkness, commanding shadows with a flick of the wrist. He could send Nezumi to his knees with nothing more than a simple glance.
Bracing himself, Nezumi reached for the door handle.
The Unseelie King flung it open before he made contact. He must've been waiting for me, thought Nezumi. In his free hand, the King held a goblet filled with a thick red wine that stank of salt and rotten strawberries. Blood. Nezumi wondered whose blood might have been unfortunate enough to grace the King's goblet tonight, but decided not to dwell on it. Dressed in a black robe, long hair piled on top of his head in the tragic mockery of a crown, the Unseelie King leaned forward.
"There you are," he remarked.
He looked deceptively plain—by the King's usual standards. His feathered wings were freed of the iron cords typically wrapped around them. Through the ruined black feathers, Nezumi could see the deep burn marks embedded in the flesh. The King's throat, wrists, and waist were unadorned by jewelry or the bones of his victims. His lips and eyes were unmarred by decorative paint.
Despite that, the Unseelie King was beautiful. Nezumi hated to admit it, but there was something about the smooth lines of the King's face, the elegant white column of his throat, and the inhuman color of his black eyes that made mortals crawl on the dirt for a chance to please him.
The King held the goblet beneath Nezumi's nose. Inside, bits of flesh and fruit pulp battled for a spot on the surface. Nezumi wondered if the King had bled his victim straight into the cup.
"It's fresh," said the King, waggling the goblet and sloshing the wine. "Care for a taste?"
Ignoring him, Nezumi ducked beneath his arm and walked into the room.
The Unseelie King must have spent the day redecorating. When Nezumi had snuck away in the early hours of the morning, well before the rest of the court awoke, the entrance to the Unseelie Mountain had been the same on the inside as it was on the outside: a large sitting room with holes in the floorboards, the corpses of dead mice littering the floor.
Stepping into the room now felt more like taking a few steps into a torture chamber. Black stone walls without windows surrounded him on three sides. Sleek stones had been washed to get rid of the splatters of blood, but Nezumi could still smell them. Battle axes and scalpels and several sets of pliers in a variety of sizes hung from moldy hooks on the walls. Nezumi could see in the dark, but a thin faelight bauble hung in the center of the room. Nezumi didn't have to squint to see that it was coming from a tiny sprite held prisoner inside a glass bulb.
The Unseelie King and Nezumi were the only sources of life inside the chamber aside from the sprite and a single gnome trembling in the corner. He'd been badly beaten, and the bones in his cheeks jutted out as he lifted his head to acknowledge Nezumi.
"You certainly took your time taking care of that nasty business." The Unseelie King shut the door with a loud bang and sauntered across the room. His black robes swished around his ankles. His tattooed feet were bare. "Did she fight?"
Nezumi could still see the accusation in the girl's wide eyes. Could smell her blood as it burst from her back. He hadn't wanted to catch her. He'd wanted her to run until she reached the edge of the Seelie Court.
Nezumi pressed his lips together and bit back the foul taste on his tongue. He walked past the gnome and wandered to the torture display. He'd felt almost all of these tools against his skin at one point or another. Beneath the stench of blood, he smelled human hair and sweat. Fresh sweat. A recent victim. He tasted metal on his tongue. He'd only been out of the house for eight hours. How had the Unseelie King killed someone already?
"Well, that doesn't matter much now, does it? You've kept me waiting long enough. I've got another job for you tonight." The Unseelie King paused on his way across the torture chamber. "And stop making that face." He held the goblet out toward Nezumi and brandished the foul contents once more. "It wasn't a child."
Nezumi lowered his head. He hadn't realized he'd been making a face. He needed to be more careful than that around the Unseelie King. It didn't matter that it hadn't been a child. It didn't matter at all.
"Sentimental as ever." The King sighed like a long-suffering lover. "That's the Seelie in you. Try as I did to beat it out." He swished his free hand through the air. "In any event, dinner will be ready soon. We'll discuss business afterward." Then, humming a wretched lullaby that Nezumi remembered from his childhood, the King left the room.
Nezumi knew that if he followed the Unseelie King, he would find an army of enslaved gnomes and sprites bustling about in a kitchen that better resembled a slaughterhouse.
The King might have changed the appearance of the place, but the spirit never changed. The Unseelie Court was nothing if not a prison. The King had never once cooked for himself in the time Nezumi had been in the Dark, and why should he have to? He was the King. He had been the King for well over three centuries.
And despite the murderous thoughts that surged through Nezumi's head, the daydreams of mounting the King's skull on a spike and tossing his body into a pit of vipers, he knew he would never be strong enough to destroy the Unseelie King.
The gnome shifted against the wall. "You're—you're a knight, aren't you?" His trembling voice tumbled over his lips like gravel beneath a tire. His cheeks had been blackened with fists and wooden clubs. Tears filled the little gnome's brown eyes. "Please. You must help me. I—I don't know why I'm here. I didn't do anything. He just took me from the woods. I was trying to get home to my family!"
Nezumi ran his finger down the wooden handle of the ax. He'd felt the bite of it on his back three or four years ago. It was difficult to discern when the torture had occurred, only that it had.
Behind him, the gnome continued to weep. Growing up in the Dark Court, Nezumi understood what horrors awaited the unlucky victims of the Unseelie King's boredom. More than likely, the gnome had been wandering in the woods and happened upon the borders of the Dark Court—and unfortunately, the King, too.
"Please," the gnome begged. "Please help me."
Nezumi had lost count of the bodies the Unseelie Court consumed. The thousands of tiny Folk who would never go home to their families. He stepped away from the wall of torture instruments. There was no point in counting them anymore.
To Be Continued...