Thursday, January 07, 2021

Flash Fiction #440/ The Fae Underground/16


Thump, thump.

And the sound of the soldiers shouting as they prepared.  Lycan turned my way with his eyes wide and the edges of his teeth showing.

"I know," I said.  I can hear it.  My Queen, we have no time for more discussions.  We seem to be under attack."

"What have you brought on us, boy!" Suntour demanded.  I looked at him with a little surprise because I hadn't thought he was that blind.  He even dared a step closer --

Lycan had a blade in hand before I could protest.  Sylph moved just as quickly, though, strands of her hair snapping out, one of them cutting across his face and others wrapping around his neck -- but those did not cut, I was glad to see.

"Shall I slit his neck, great Queen, and we can get on to the business of survival?  Do you hear that great booming sound that makes the building shake?  We are in trouble."

"That we are," the Queen said.  She rose and gave a sigh that sounded far too much like regret.  "Please let the fool go, Councilor.  We might still have use for him."

"We could toss him to the oncoming trouble," Lycan suggested.

Suntour finding himself released, put a hand to his bleeding face and retreated in haste.  The look he gave Sylph showed there might be more trouble there, later.

However, they would have to survive to reach that point.  The guards signaled the Queen, and she stood without argument.  Everyone bowed their head out of habit, but by then, the building had started to tremble.

"Take what cover you can," she told to her people and then looked at me and gave a quick nod.  "I am going to the tower."

I nodded as well and then glanced at my companions and back to her.  She gave a subtle second nod that others probably didn't notice since they were rushing to getaway.  I half expected to see some transport straight from the room to somewhere -- anywhere -- else.

Fae, in general, are not easily frightened.  However, there was a feeling to this attack that I think must have left us all on edge.  The thumping unsettled thoughts.  The feel of strange magic in the air made me shiver.  This was more than just some other clan coming to take hold of Queen and Castle.  This was not anything I'd felt before.

The Queen left, and I followed in her wake, a nod to my companions who looked uncertain if they wanted to go along as well.  I didn't blame them.  Wherever we went, we were bound to be in the heart of the trouble.

I was surprised to see how fast those who had been in the castle had cleared out, though.  I saw Lycan give a snarling look around, too, and I thought it best to settle that trouble right now.

"They were not the soldiers, you know," I said, even though I would have liked to have seen some willing to actually stand with the Queen.  "Sometimes, it is best that those people are out of the way."

"All of my people are warriors," Lycan replied with a lift of his head.  Then he gave a slight shrug.  "But some more than others.  And the High Fae are not the same, are they?"

"Not at all," King Pixie replied.  He had gone very quiet but seemed happier that we were doing anything at all.  I tried to feel the same way.  "I do not like the feel of whatever is out there, my friends.  I think this is a new aspect of the war.  Something such as this would have been mentioned before now."

The Queen had stopped at a locked door to the highest tower where only she could go, along with those she invited.  The guards had already spread out to guard the door, and I thought I saw the shock in the faces of a couple when they realized that my friends and I were going up with her.

"My Queen," her captain said, his voice soft.  "I ask --"

"Yes, yes," she said with a wave of her hand.  She had always been impatient.  "You and one other with us.  But I trust these people, Captain Yating.  Don't let me regret bringing you up with us."

Yating gave a nod of gratitude to her, maybe just in knowing that she did trust him.  Under the circumstances, that reason for going with us might be more critical than any mistrust he felt toward the strangers.  Whom did you trust in the High Court these days?

I had been gone too long.  That meant I knew nothing of what was going on -- and that I was suspect for the very reason that I was away in the human lands.

Oh, and because I came to the Queen in such odd company.  That didn't help.

I had only been up these stairs once before in my life.  As the son of the Queen, my coming of age ceremony took place on the highest tower in the brisk wind of what I had considered an unseasonably cold day.  Someone could have fixed that, at least for the ceremony.  

I knew we would face more than bad weather once we reached the summit this time.  Even here, the walls shook, and I wondered about the wisdom of going up in the tower in this situation.

I said nothing.  I looked at the fair, white walls and thought of the countless others who had come this way, usually on more grave business than a coming-of-age ceremony.

My companions said nothing, but if they knew anything about the Fae Queen's Castle, they knew that outsiders rarely went up these steps.  In fact, I couldn't think of a single one.

I remembered coming out into the bright, blinding light of day and feeling as though I stood before the gods for judgment.  

Instead, we stepped out into utter and complete darkness.

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